Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Crafting the perfect beginning

I hate writing beginnings.

The current opening of Project Fun is too slow and expository. I've thought about ditching it entirely and starting with chapter 2. Or possibly ditching the first several chapters and opening when the action really starts, in chapter 9. But one of my beta readers takes the cake. She thought chapter 17 (almost halfway through the book) could be crafted into a really good beginning. I don't think she intends for me to delete chapters 1-16. I hope.

Anyway, I've been thinking about beginnings a lot, so I was quite struck with an interview on NPR's Fresh Aire with Robert Zemeckis, the director of the movie Flight, which is currently showing in theaters.

Flight opens with a drug-addicted, alcoholic pilot (Denzel Washington). His plane experiences a mechanical malfunction which sends it plummeting from the sky. The pilot's daring maneuver and landing saves almost the entire flight--though three passengers are killed.

I heard the interview almost two weeks ago, but I've been unable to get that beginning out of my head. It seems to hit every beat perfectly.

Firstly: action. I'm sure the audience is gripped watching this plane careening out of control, wondering what's going to happen, if the pilot is going to be able to do anything. The stakes could not be any higher.

But even more impressively, Zemeckis' beginning manages to combine action with character development. The audience knows the pilot's weakness and problem. Potentially the pilot might come across as a despicable character, risking the lives of his passengers. But in those opening scenes, the audience is already rooting for him, praying he'll be able to land that plane.

Plus, the beginning sets up the entire rest of the movie. Of course, the pilot will be lauded as a hero, thrust into the spotlight: a worst-case scenario for a man trying to keep his addiction a secret. And the mechanical malfunction and passenger deaths will need to be investigated. Will the pilot rise to the occasion and save himself? Or fall apart under the press and law's scrutiny?

See, I could write the teaser myself! Course, I haven't actually seen the movie. I don't think it's doing that well, and I've heard rumblings that it isn't very good. Perhaps because the entire premise is based around the opening scene? Regardless, I refuse to judge.

The beginning has been an inspiration to me as I tackle Project Fun's opening. What inspiration have you found in crafting beginnings?

Oh, and perhaps now that I've intrigued you, here's the teaser for Flight:


  1. Beginnings should make you CARE. A lot.

    1. So simple, but such a great reminder. Excellent advice, thank you!

  2. Ugh, I hate writing beginnings. I never too much worry about them until the final revision. I like Mirka's answer. I should CARE. This is why I don't particularly like "action-packed" beginnings. I don't even know who to care about yet. But that's just me. Ha.

    1. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of action-packed beginnings either, unless they really do make me care, as Mirka says. But I do find the publishing industry seems a lot more impressed with them. Sigh.

  3. Robin LaFevers said something great on FB yesterday:
    "Today I realized that I spend over 50% of my time working on the first 25% of the book..."

    This made me feel better about how much time I spend on the openings of projects.


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