Starting a manuscript

Starting a manuscript is still one of my biggest challenges.

Sure,the NaNoWriMo “just get anything down on the page” format gets me to do just that; there are words at the beginning, and they lead to other words which eventually leads to the story. That’s not the “starting” I want to discuss, but it bears mentioning.

There isn’t a manuscript I have profiled on this site that didn’t need a complete from-scratch rewrite of its beginning (The Daughter of Storms probably still needs it, having never been put through any editing cycle). According to one beta reader, about one third to one half of The Crown Princess’ Voyage went by before it started getting interesting and solid.

That last half was still subject to sweeping edits, but when it came to the first half, I took notes regarding what was there so I wouldn’t lose anything when I blew it all up and replaced it outright. As long as I maintained all the setups and cues I needed for the second half to make sense, that was that.

From a failed 2006 first-attempt right to the year of its release (2015), The Gift-Knight’s Quest has had three or four different first chapters. The first two iterations that never made it, treated as standalones what I would eventually transform into Derek’s and Chandra’s personal threads. I don’t remember a lot about those iterations because they didn’t tend to go over three pages in Word, but mashing together the two failures created plot dynamics that got some length out of the story. The characters would start as each other’s antagonists. Now it was just a matter of fleshing it out and answering questions.

Once the mashup occurred and the result was tentatively called The Last of the Feud, all the early attempts began with Chandra; a mirror trope describing this character to you in crisp detail, or even the “bad dream” that I kept in some form for a later chapter. A beta reader pointed out that she’s not really an “action” character from the outset, and he felt that readers wanted someone who was at the very least going somewhere to do something, to start the book in a more interesting way. The only way I could see to do that was having Derek begin the story. And once that happened, he was destined to monopolize the cover of the book.

Chandra got the cover of the second book, TCPV. Neither of them get the cover of the third. I think this is fair. A publisher could come along, pick up this series, and make the covers their own, but for as long as the current state of things persists, that’s the cover plan.

Who’s on the cover of the third book? Some art belonging to that third character will be released to social media not too long from now.

But returning to my point, it’s not like these two learning experiences allowed me to suddenly write brilliant novel beginnings right from the rough draft. You can either say it was from 2006 or 2008, right up to 2015, before I finalized an intro to TGKQ that some critics still say is too slow. It took from 2010 to 2015, most of which was admittedly working on TGKQ and not looking at TCPV at all, to get TCPV’s beginning overhauled and in my opinion ready for publication.

(Time spent not looking at it can be useful; creates a distance between me and the text that allows me to more effectively see what’s on the page, and not the memory of what I intended to have conveyed on the page. After enough time I am forced to deep-scan the actual words to remember what’s there, and that’s when I’m forced to see the text for what it is and edit it properly. If it’s my own work, that’s how it goes. If you never have that problem and can edit perfectly seconds after writing the initial text, that’s wonderful for you.)

And as I look at last November’s manuscript, the prequel The Mad King Jonnecht, the trend continues. I could reread my own ending multiple times and enjoy it, but the beginning may just shift to being the middle after I write TMKJ a proper beginning instead.

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