Friday, 23 September 2011

Where To Start?

Searching for directions on Googlemaps, it makes sense to request a route that starts from the point at which you know you will flounder, rather than starting from home-base, from where you are familiar with the first few turnings. It seems to be the same with my recent stories too.

I set off with a degree of confidence. And then I find I'm steering along less familiar lanes. It is daunting, but much more thrilling. I feel slightly unsafe, yet exhilarated. And that is where the story really takes shape. That is the important moment upon which the rest will hinge.

If I then look back at the start, I find it has little relevance to the real journey. It was necessary to get me started, but it plays no role now that I'm on uncharted waters. (I may have crossed from land to sea here. Must have veered a little off course. Damn Googlemaps.)

What I might be saying here is that I am deleting my beginnings. I can't do it until I reach the end and know for sure I've arrived at the right destination. But by the time I'm getting close, I'm itching to cross it out and insert the right, true opening lines, the point where the meat is. (Actually, that might be connected with my butcher story.) That first paragraph grates away in my head and, when I finally delete it, it's like scratching the sole of an itchy foot at traffic lights when you've been desperate to do so along an entire carriageway.

The story I'm writing started originally with a journey to hospital. But instead we go to a party in a railway canteen on VE Day. The hospital became invalid once I knew where I was going. It was a convoluted trip to that party, but I'm glad I began there in the end. In the end? Ah, that's another strange journey for another time.


  1. I know what you mean, Joanna.
    Writing a 'safe' beginning gives you a foothold from which to venture forth and once the story has its own security you don't need that anymore.

    Love the comment about the hospital becoming invalid BTW.

    (Bernadette - in case it makes me anonymous again as Google seems to think I shouldn't be allowed to leave comments any more!)

  2. That's a fascinating and original post about the journey of a story, Joanna. I always look forward to reading your published stories!

  3. But isn't that half the fun of writing, Joanna? Starting off into the unknown, and constantly being surprised along the way. My agent has suggested that for my next book, I write a synopsis of "at least ten pages", and the very idea terrifies me. I never plan. I love the twists and turns that stories take as I write them!

  4. Thank you, Bernadette. You're right about making a safe start. It gives you the confidence to get into the real core of the story, which isn't at all apparent sometimes at the start.

    Thank you, Rosemary, that's very kind of you and good to know. I'm really grateful.

    Thank you Frances. I agree with you about the fun of being surprised by the route the story takes. I don't plan at all. I just run with an idea. The thought of a ten-page synopsis is daunting. Occasionally, though, when a story doesn't take off as well as I'd hoped, I wonder whether a little bit more of a plan would have helped. But I still can't do it that way!

  5. I thought I'd learnt not to spend too long on my beginnings, as I've found from experience that I usually have to lose most of my original first page. But this weekend I've written the whole of a story, and realised that the actual story doesn't start until the end. So all I've managed to write is the bit before the story! When I have time to work on it again I will have to begin with the end and write on from there, but at least I already have some sense of the character and back-story so that's a help.

    Glad to see you blogging again!

  6. Thank you, Joanne. I'm glad to be back!
    I'm fascinated by your story that began at the end. It is like simultaneously reaching the end, but also the beginning, of an amazing journey. It's similar to the long drive on the motorway - you make progress and there is some scenery. You eat up the miles and miles fairly uneventfully. And then suddenly there is the ocean or the Grand Canyon or the first heart-stopping sight of a beautiful cathedral. And you realise that the real focus and purpose of the trip is approaching at last, even if it's still in the distance.

  7. Thanks Suzanne. It can be scary until it all falls together, but when it works, I feel euphoric!