Writing: the importance of a strong beginning

I am rewriting the beginning of “Dreams”. A storuy in the “Decline of Europe” cycle.

I wrote earlier about the importance of Promise and Delivery. This post can be seen as an extension.

“Why the fuck would I read this?”

The main question I am asking myself now, when rewriting and editing weak parts is: “Why the fuck would I read this?”

What is in it for me as a reader? Why would I make the effort? Even if and when stuff is well written, cute, this is not enough a motivation. Stories are more than just nice sentences put together. Lets summarize them (again).

  1. Connection with the character– Do I connect with the character? Do I get enough feeling?
    1. Voice/point of view – Is the voice of that character clear enough? Does it come through in the writing? You can get away with a lot. I found my own writing became more powerful when  the character is speaking to me and not the writer.
    2. Connection/direction/choice – If the character (or something in the story) does not have a clear direction/connection with the world around it, it tends to start floating around. All elements might be present to make the story good or even awesome, but without direction, without a clear choice (by the writer, the character) everything is equally relevant/irrelevant. Things happen but who gives a shit?
    3. Making it personal – I found that some generic descriptions, put there by me, became more readable, more exiting and less boring when I made them personal. Part of the life and views of the character. While part of the neutrality might get lost, I found the alternative to remove it as a whole.
  2. Connection with the world – Where are we living? What makes that world so special? Why would I — as a reader — be interested?
  3. Contrast – Starting with “enough”. Do we see at least a clear picture or is everything greyed out or oversaturated like we are watching things in a big mist or like some failed photograph with too much contrast: erasing all details and nuances?
  4. Subjects – Do the subjects presented in the first chapter and the first paragraphs taunt me? Are they stimulating? Could they be?
  5. Foreshadow – Do we foreshadow the type of story that is to come, the type of things that are revealed? Will it be natural to see the things happen that will happen? Do we balance this out properly?
  6. Balance – Balance has to do with everything in this list. Is it balanced? Do we see enough variation to understand that we are looking at something that has good and bad sides, that can be fun and dark? Are we overdoing it? Or are we too vague? Is it just one voice, one side, one reality or do we already see nuances? Are we foreshadowing things too much? Giving away the punchline before we even started?

The roller coaster principle

When you enter the roller coaster, you will be dragged up the slope first. A slow process. While it is part of the experience, the real fun begins when you are on top of that slope, looking down.

It is that second part where the story should start: ready to roll down, ready to drag you with and through cork screws and loops and whatever. At least in the stories I like to write and read. I do not want to be bored by a slow beginning. The long and boring introduction. Just skip that part and engage me. Give me the action.

Example 1: foreshadowing / making it personal

Old version

2027 was the year of the first IP war, mainly fought in Africa, where countries like Zambia and Uganda said “Fuck you, stay out” to the rest of the world after they allegedly bombed churches shops and business centers. As usual our news casting mostly gave our point of view and it took many years after those events for me to learn more about the other side of the story, which included a lot of strange facts and definitely seemed to make more sense to me.

New writing:

While I grew out of my diapers and learned to walk and talk, the first IP wars broke out. It was 2027 and whatever we saw of it was just the American/European version, biased, warped and completely not representative for what really happened. Churches and shopping malls got bombed in Zambia. Similar things happened in South Sudan and Congo. War drones were sent out to restore order. A very specific group of people got killed and defamed all over the globe in response.

We never saw the entire message the people of Africa sent to the rest of the world, only that they told us to fuck off and stay out. We never learned about the real reasons. I never did until I went to Nigeria in 2047.

Differences

  1. Foreshadowing – The foreshadowing is more clear. We know now that she will go to Nigera. Seed planted.
  2. Connection – The date of 2027 is now more clearly connected to the main character growing up
  3. Point of view – The new part is more personal, and made more relevantly linked to the main character, making it more lively

Example 2: adding contrast

New version:

When I was seven they gave me my first wearable and an external screen, an older model that had belonged to my mother and was wiped clean and provided with a new account: mine. “Asabol15712XJ”. Something completely random containing part of my name: “Isabelle”. It helped my parents to keep track on me via the coordinates it would broadcast: revealing my position, but also to track my health and to help me train myself in using it so that I would not fall behind in school.

The part of the internet I was able to access was only open for kids and had no interactivity, just read-only content. The screen was new. I was too young to wear the lenses my parent had and it was for a long time the only means and my only window to watch what I was doing when I was moving around in the virtual space projected around me when I was not near some kind of big screen.

Old version:

Not present

Differences

  1. Clarification/contrast – The wearable is an important part of the world. It replaces basically everything that is not a physical object. You drive a car, operate your house, open your door using your wearable. Kids apparently do not yet wear the lenses adults do. It also works toward a clarification of a second part shown below following directly on that part

Clarification and more contrast to:

When I was eight my father took me with him to Paris where I saw a man gesturing empty handed under the red brick arch of the de Galle metro station. He was like the drunkards you sometimes saw: brains so damaged that ghosts from memories and hallucinations merged into the reality they perceived. The main difference was that this man was carefully groomed and dressed in Armani.

Most people who made calls just stood silently in some corner, sometimes mumbling but usually just frozen and moving their limbs and mouth seemingly randomly in tiny spasms like they would do when sleeping. It looked stupid. Especially because I was able to do it more naturally, grown up with my own wearable

My father just shrugged when I looked up passed his arm, tugging my hand in the gesture. “Yeah, whatever.”

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