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Writing A Better Beginning (1 Viewer)

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Ajoy

Senior Member
I finished the second structural draft of my novel at the beginning of the month and have been letting it rest/getting reader feedback for the last month. I've been researching the query process in the meantime, and my research has left me unsure about what I should do with my beginning when I start revising on June 1.

The beginning of my novel starts with a dream. It is a dream with essential information that is part of a tale woven in throughout the novel. Also, the fact that it is in dream form is completely plot relevant and goes through its own development (it's a form of magic which only comes as dreams before the MC knows how to control it). Over the first few chapters, the reader knows the basics of all this, BUT sleeping/waking/dream stuff is pretty cliche and a big fat red flag for agents from everything I've learned so far. I have three routes I think I can go with this.

1. When I revise it, make sure it is very, very strong.

2. I can make the opening dream into a prologue and have chapter 1 open with the MC in a more active scene. I've already worked out the details, and it would also give me a good opportunity to get in a few stronger lines setting up my character voice and arc. This change would eliminate the waking from a dream, though technically, the prologue is still a dream. Also, it includes a prologue, which can be a risky play (especially as a debut author). My research indicated that prologues are often done very poorly, making their existence a red flag. My prologue would be connected directly to the MC and her story from page 1, but just like starting with a dream, the first thing I'm showing an agent by using a prologue is often seen as a potentially problematic device.

3. I can open with a more active scene and move the opening dream to a place right before the climax. It would technically work there, but would change the overall vision of my structure. The opening dream is directly relevant to what happens in the climax, so there was a sort of mirror image thing going with it in the beginning. This change causes some vibe changes (I'm not sure if they're better or worse vibes).

The unrevised Ch 1 can be found here if you want a better idea about how the opening comes across:

I feel a bit greedy starting a thread just to ask a 'me only' question, so feel free to use this thread to also share your general thoughts about beginnings and prologues! :)
 
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Ajoy

Senior Member
I posted too soon. Option 4 came to me! No prologue, no opening dream/waking, but the scene is still in the first chapter, keeping the structural vibes I was going for. Yay.

I'd still love to hear about interesting ways you all like to start your stories or use prologues
 

Riptide

WF Veterans
What did you work out? I remember really enjoying your story... so did you move it to after she falls asleep again at the end of the chapter? Or something else entirely?

Personally, I struggle with beginnings. I either pack too much in, start too late, or start too early. I've rewritten my WIP' beginning like 10 times, trying to pinpoint exactly what I need to keep readers interested.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I remember reading this before and really liking your style. I also recall feeling quite a jolt in the story when she wakes up. And I wasn't entirely certain it was just a regular dream or that it was some sort of fantasy world that would take place later in the story. Now I see that it remains a dream and relates to the climax, and only indicative of her powers yet to come.

Personally, I would prefer it either as a prologue or at the end. It would depend on whether aspects of the dream are foreshadowing. I actually enjoyed the story more after the dream ended, but that could be personal taste because I'm not a fantasy reader. But with your talent as a writer, you could win me over to supernatural powers if they occur gradually and are tied into her real life. So bear in mind, that you may lose a reader if you put it at the beginning and they don't realize it is a dream. Or if you can somehow signal that it's not part of the actual story by putting it in the prologue and labeling it in a way that lets the reader know it's not real life.

What was your original intent of putting the dream at the beginning of the story?

I have started my novel with a prologue. It is a scene that would take place just before the climax. I put it in a prologue because it is in a different POV than the rest of the novel, and is also foreshadowing for the theme. I'm not sure it is effective. I'll be interested in what my beta readers think, but easy to move if I need to.

I enjoyed The Memory Collector, by Fiona Harper. It has a prologue that I found very effective. It seemed unrelated until the very end. And it was really only an image that was important. The prologue is also labeled in a very interesting way. Have a look:

 
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Ajoy

Senior Member
What did you work out? I remember really enjoying your story... so did you move it to after she falls asleep again at the end of the chapter? Or something else entirely?
I'm planning to open in the present tense, but in a waking scene (out in the mountains behind their village) where my MC has some lovely opportunities to show off some of her more self destructive character traits before getting herself knocked out from a fall. That moment will allow me to insert what was the opening dream and then everything after that will pretty much be the same going forward in my early chapters (except for a few setting and transition details to weave together the new and old).

I actually started writing it last night, and I like it a lot. The dreams/visions are essential to the entire work, and I'm glad I'm keeping the opening one in the beginning. I think this new way will ground the reader a lot better. We'll see! Maybe I'll post the updated chapter into that old workshop post of mine once I get it all cleaned up! :)
Personally, I struggle with beginnings. I either pack too much in, start too late, or start too early. I've rewritten my WIP' beginning like 10 times, trying to pinpoint exactly what I need to keep readers interested.
I feel that! The draft before the one I posted in workshop leaned really heavy on the info dumping side of the scale (because I tried to start too late). Going back in time by a couple of days was the ticket in my case.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I remember reading this before and really liking your style. I also recall feeling quite a jolt in the story when she wakes up. And I wasn't entirely certain it was just a regular dream or that it was some sort of fantasy world that would take place later in the story. Now I see that it remains a dream and relates to the climax, and only indicative of her powers yet to come.

Personally, I would prefer it either as a prologue or at the end. It would depend on whether aspects of the dream are foreshadowing. I actually enjoyed the story more after the dream ended, but that could be personal taste because I'm not a fantasy reader. But with your talent as a writer, you could win me over to supernatural powers if they occur gradually and are tied into her real life. So bear in mind, that you may lose a reader if you put it at the beginning and they don't realize it is a dream. Or if you can somehow signal that it's not part of the actual story by putting it in the prologue and labeling it in a way that lets the reader know it's not real life.

What was your original intent of putting the dream at the beginning of the story?
Yeah, I think your initial reaction to the dream, then waking scene was realistic, and not what I want to leave an agent thinking about. I was torn about moving the dream to that later, pre-climax place because it does serve as foreshadowing and scene setting from its place in the beginning. Luckily, I thought beyond my first three ideas and figured out how to rearrange chapter one to firmly establish the present story before giving a look at the dreams and all that comes with that. Fingers crossed, I found the right time and place to start this time (I'm not even sure how many iterations of the beginning this is!) :)

I have started my novel with a prologue. It is a scene that would take place just before the climax. I put it in a prologue because it is in a different POV than the rest of the novel, and is also foreshadowing for the theme. I'm not sure it is effective. I'll be interested in what my beta readers think, but easy to move if I need to.
From what I've learned, this is one of the typically effective ways to do a prologue. :)

I enjoyed The Memory Collector, by Fiona Harper. It has a prologue that I found very effective. It seemed unrelated until the very end. And it was really only an image that was important. The prologue is also labeled in a very interesting way. Have a look:


From my deep dive into prologue research, the example you shared here works well because it's clear from the beginning that there is a connection between the MC and the prologue. Also, it creates a strong sense of suspense with a good hook, which the first chapter does as well. Both offer something to the reader and enhance each other. I THINK my opening dream as a prologue could function, but I decided to try to do it without, just because I feel like I found a more effective way to get all the same feelings and information across within chapter 1.
 

Gamer_2k4

WF Veterans
I really don't like prologues, and I hate it when authors treat "in medias res" as meaning "start with an exciting action scene to hook the reader, then rewind to the boring stuff and proceed to get to that exciting action scene in proper chronological order."

Figure out what the inciting incident is in your story and start there. Your readers will learn about the characters by how they react to that incident, and they'll learn about the plot because it stems from that inciting incident. If you need a prologue to explain your story before your readers can enjoy your story, that's a sign that the story itself isn't strong enough.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I really don't like prologues, and I hate it when authors treat "in medias res" as meaning "start with an exciting action scene to hook the reader, then rewind to the boring stuff and proceed to get to that exciting action scene in proper chronological order."
That was the other issue with my unrevised beginning. By the nature of the 'dream' I had chosen to open with, it went right into a form of action scene, but there was no knowledge of or emotional attachment to the characters in the scene.

Until recently, I was a reader who skipped prologues because I often hated them. (I typically read them now.) I thought this was just a bad reader habit with me personally, but in my research, I learned that a lot of readers skip prologues!
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I finished rewriting my beginning, and I think I like it a lot better, but I'm so close to it, making it hard to trust my own judgment. :) It came out really different, but I think it still accomplishes what I was going for (maybe even better).

I posted the new version in the fiction workshop if anyone is curious, but I'm happy to report I avoided the prologue and the dream/wake opening.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Let it sit while you work on the rest of your novel. You can come back to it then, and will likely see things differently.
There are some in the industry that turn up their noses at an opening scene that's a dream, as it is with all things though, execution is key.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I can't continue a story without a good beginning. Of course that's subjective and others may not see my beginning as good. The objective is to set the tone and voice. Without establishing that, the rest of the work loses focus and feels inconsistent. Once I've written a couple of pages and can continue the voice/tone without too much thought, I'll go back to the first paragraph and keep adjusting it until I've got what I consider a grabber. This process will continue throughout the writing of the story, each time extending that grabber through paragraphs 1 ... 2 ... 3 etc.

At every opportunity I try to make each sentence a standout sentence, each paragraph a self contained event and each scene a mini story that flows naturally from other mini stories to the next. I have a 'start strong, end strong' mentality on everything, from sentences to paragraphs to scenes. When I start writing a novel, I'll extend that to include chapters.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I can't continue a story without a good beginning. Of course that's subjective and others may not see my beginning as good. The objective is to set the tone and voice. Without establishing that, the rest of the work loses focus and feels inconsistent. Once I've written a couple of pages and can continue the voice/tone without too much thought, I'll go back to the first paragraph and keep adjusting it until I've got what I consider a grabber. This process will continue throughout the writing of the story, each time extending that grabber through paragraphs 1 ... 2 ... 3 etc.

At every opportunity I try to make each sentence a standout sentence, each paragraph a self contained event and each scene a mini story that flows naturally from other mini stories to the next. I have a 'start strong, end strong' mentality on everything, from sentences to paragraphs to scenes. When I start writing a novel, I'll extend that to include chapters.
It's interesting because this is the approach I'm taking now that I'm revising my 3rd draft (since my first two drafts primarily focused on putting together and then smoothing out plot stuff.) Of course my method involves a lot more overhaul writing. :)
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
Let it sit while you work on the rest of your novel. You can come back to it then, and will likely see things differently.
There was about a half a day after I rewrote it where I felt unable to move on because I'd just made big changes to my opening. Since then, though, I've taken your advised approach and been working through the rest of the draft. I'm onto chapter 3 today, and my new opening is feeling better and better. Every early scene is feeling stronger because of its relation to the tone and details in the revised beginning.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
It's interesting because this is the approach I'm taking now that I'm revising my 3rd draft (since my first two drafts primarily focused on putting together and then smoothing out plot stuff.) Of course my method involves a lot more overhaul writing. :)
And it's clearly working. I'm currently going through your story in the workshop and it's STRONG writing. There are elements there I can certainly learn from and will. :)
 
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