For everyone, a book starts in a different place. Recently, while I was on vacation, I received a mystifying text. I was sitting on a bus with my two kids, waiting to cross the border from Tijuana to California when my cell phone pinged. Unknown number. Then I read the message:
I did my best with the knife. The rest is up to you.
To say that I was shocked and alarmed is an understatement. But since I’m also a writer (and that means I’m also a little crazy), my imagination immediately kindled with possibilities. What a book started off that way? With a mysterious text and the protagonist doesn’t know what’s going on anymore than the reader? It would be a fascinating hook and a great angle for a suspense or horror story. Some books start out with a trigger event in real life. Others come from a snippet of overheard dialogue. Sometimes it’s a dream. And at other times, these voices have been in your head for so long that you can’t imagine living without them. The only way to exorcise those characters is to tell their story.
I don’t think I’ll write the suspense version, but I could see myself doing psychological horror. I’m told that Hell Fire (the second Corine Solomon novel) is horror more than urban fantasy anyway. I didn’t know that when I wrote it, but if that’s the case, then I can definitely do horror. I don’t think the knife text should be translated directly to fiction, but I have another idea; and it’s just as hooky. (Is that even a word?) I tend to store all these starting points up until I have a chance to decide which ones I really want to pursue. So that’s my tip regarding beginnings. Keep a file of all your inspirations (but don’t abandon your current project).
How do you find the place to start? Sometimes even after I know the story, I have a hard time figuring out exactly where the book should begin; that means multiple rewrites and a lot of angst. A strong first line and an unforgettable first page will draw the reader in.
So when do you know if it’s right? What are your tips and tricks?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s ~jjjohn~