Friday, 29 March 2013

Why do we write?

For money, for status, because it sounds an easy thing to do? I write because I love doing it. I love words, and stories and reading stories. I want to be able to create stories that people want to read. But whatever else it is, isn't easy.

For a start, it's difficult to know where to start. With research?  Of course, unless you are writing about what happened last week in the supermarket and you don't need to check a fact of any kind. You know baked beans are 45p a tine, right? (I guessed that price because I'm too disinterested in the price of beans to get up and check last week's till receipt or to think about how many ounces of beans, baked, lie therein).

But then how much research is enough? When to stop? When to start writing? and then - oh my, what will the first line be? You know, that first line-hook, that attention-grabber that will make everyone, including the agent, sit back and gasp. First lines have been the undoing of many a would-be writer. Conversely, wonderful opening lines in published novels make it look so easy. Remember the one everyone seems to know - "Last night I dreamed I was at Manderley again" - well, what's special about that? Is it an attention grabber? Not, I think, when you haven't read the book; but it is once you have read it.

But then, perhaps Du Maurier thought of the first line when she'd finished the book. Now there's a thought. When you think about it, the first lines are the lines that will probably change the most often as you start, and draft and re-draft the first chapter. Changes are so easily made these days. A little tap or two of the delete key and there you are, all set to go again. Read if you can, or get a glimpse, of the handwritten novels of the old masters - Hardy, Austen, Bronte to name but a few, and see the changes they made - some of the manuscripts are almost unreadable because of lines and words crossed out and re-written.
Most starts are false starts. How many of you, I wonder, have gone to press with the first page and first chapter as you initially wrote it? Not many, I would guess though I would be delighted to hear of any successes!


Dean Crawford said...

My debut Covenant made it to press with the first page unscathed by publisher editorials. So did the next two in the Ethan Warner series. However, I'd re-drafted the books many before submitting them, so I guess that's cheating a bit...

First line of soon to be released novel?

"We've got him now, brother."

Jen Black said...

Yes and No to cheating, Dean. I don't believe any author starts with a first line and never changes it and it goes through to publication - and you're living proof!