They say Margaret Mitchell wrote the last chapter of Gone with the Wind first and wrote the first chapter last. Romance writers do that all the time; you have to see the happy couple together before you can figure out how to get them there. Starting a story may be the most difficult part because you have to engage the reader immediately without tipping your hand too early.
In the spirit of today’s theme of sharing works in progress, I’m going to share the first part of a women’s fiction novel I'm revising. This is the story of Persephone who is hoping that you really can go home again:
He stole something from me, but I let him. She kept thinking those words over and over, let them chew her gut into a million pieces. Follow your gut people always said, but how was she supposed to know if it was her gut or her head speaking, and why should she trust either one of them?
Persephone Jane Willis admitted defeat by taking the key from her pocket and opening the front door to her aunt’s house, a house that had stood empty for over a year. As her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light, she saw cobwebs and dust. She saw the yellowed Co-op calendar with its picture of perfectly parallel corn rows, still open to Aunt Sam's last month on earth. Each day had an X as though Aunt Sam somehow knew the end was near.
Compare that longer novel with the beginning of a short contemporary I’ve been kicking around. I’m hoping you’ll see the difference between a slow build and a quick start.
Hannah Delancourt had a lot on her mind. So much, in fact, she didn’t realize that Ellery now had a new traffic light, one that she ran red at the corner of Main and Maple, thumping into a pedestrian hard enough to throw him to the pavement. She almost forgot to throw the truck into park she jumped out so quickly.
“Oh, my God, are you okay?” she asked as she extended a hand to the man. He was already to his knees with his back to her. “I am so, so sorry. I was thinking about everything I had to do today, and I had no idea there was a new traffic light here, which is silly. I should have been paying more attention.” She was rambling, and she couldn’t stop herself. “I should have been more careful, I should have—”
He turned around and took her breath away. Of all of the street corners in all of the little towns of the world, why did Austin Langford have to step off one in front of her?
“I should have backed up to see if I could have hit you a little harder,” she said as she whirled around and jumped into the cab of the battered Ford pick-up.
Go ahead, tell me what you think. Which one do you like better and why? In the meantime, happy writing—oh, and did I mention that the next most difficult part was keeping on keeping on with the story you just began so beautifully?