Returning to the Source – I come back from my adventures out west and offer some advice on story beginnings

My first day of the conference, an ecstatic empty vessel, ready to be filled with the words of sages.

To be surrounded by the  kindred spirits of our international SCBWI “tribe” for four days was exactly what I needed. Every speaker added a little more to my depleted well of the creative self deep inside me. I left completely filled up and then some. Many speakers brought me to tears. I hate crying in public, damn it. Still, the tears spilled and inspiration came by the truckload. So much so that I had to just sit with everything for about a week after returning home to let it all soak in before I wrote one word.

Not only did I get to spend five days away from home, meeting new friends, filling my brain up with literary wisdom while surrounded by like-minded individuals, Ialso spent most of my free time with some of my dearest writer friends from our local Oklahoma region of the SCBWI. And what did we do after listening to fabulous speakers all day? Talked more about books and literary stuff! *sigh*

(A very special thank you, thank you, thank you! must go out to my ever-so-patient mate who suffered through countless rounds of questions like ‘where’s mom?’ and ‘when is she coming home?’ and ‘are you sure she didn’t run away for good this time?’ so I could take this much needed journey. You are my rock, and I love you!)

I even talked some of my friends into dancing their butts off with me at the Hippie Hop party on Saturday night. It had been way too long since this mama had dragged her tired self out onto the dance floor. We laughed at ourselves and kept on dancing anyway. Sorry for those of you who had to witness my out of control dance moves, but when the music commands it, you gotta shake it!

Fellow SCBWI’ers getting into the spirit.
Although my roommate Barbara, and crit partner extraordinaire, didn’t “dig” the rap music, she stayed and danced like a trouper.
Me and my Regional RA Assistant Feeling Groovy.

To top it all off, I had the best critique discussion ever with a fantastic agent who wants to see my entire manuscript.  YES! YES! YES!  There was a celebratory dinner in my honor. (Did I mention how much I love my writing friends?)

The week could not have gone any better.

I wish I could share all of the knowledge and insight I learned in detail, but alas, it is forbidden.




I do understand the reasoning. After all, the presentations are the property of the speakers and many of them put so much of themselves into their words, that there is no way I could relay the depth of their presentations here. I can only give brief overviews, a quote here or there, my impressions of the keynote addresses and break out sessions that I attended, and what I learned overall.  Still, I think you’ll find many of these things very enlightening and useful. I shall be spreading this information out over several posts during the next few weeks.

(I don’t want to blow your minds all in one sitting.)

You can also find tons of information about the conference from the official conference blog site here.

To start us off slowly, here’s the first lovely literary tidbit to nosh on:

Several speakers addressed a recurring problem they see with manuscripts they read; the story doesn’t start in the right place.

Either the writer is giving the reader too much history or back story in the beginning of the book or the writer is starting off at a break neck pace, leaping right into an action sequence without allowing the reader to make any connection to the character at all.

Take some time to think about your story and the best possible beginning it could have. Then start where the actual story starts. This may seem like a simple idea, but it’s harder than it may seem. If your story, for example, is about a girl who’s running away from her problems at home, who then lands in even bigger trouble while living on the streets when she crosses paths with a gang of street hustlers, do we need to see the precipitating event? The family dynamic, that drove her from the security of the familiar? Or do we want to jump straight into the action and watch her sneaking out in that first scene? It could be either way. It may depend on what story you are telling and where the story actually starts.

The best beginnings incite questions in your reader.

“What happens next?”

You need to introduce your main character and the conflict of the story as soon as possible without causing confusion and yet at the same time entice  your readers enough to want to turn the next page.  Give them enough set up of the character’s world so that they feel connected to it, but don’t give them so much of an information dump that they struggle to understand what is happening or get bored with a lecture on the history of the Land of Nod or with who begat whom.

If your reader is lost or unable to follow your plot, they will put your book down and cease being your reader. No author wants that.

One of the agents at the conference, Linda Pratt of the Wernick & Pratt agency, suggested that “It can be helpful to re-evaluate an opening line and/or page upon a work’s completion when you know how the whole novel plays out because a good opening sets off the whole work.”

Be flexible (another phrase I heard often) and try moving things around to see what makes the most sense. Figure out where your story truly begins.

That’s something to think about, eh?

I’ve got a ton more planned, so make sure you stop by every few days to see what’s new. By the way, I couldn’t get all 1,244 conference attendees to stand still long enough for a group pic, so here’s a panorama shot of the main ballroom right before a keynote speech. Most of us are in there. Hi, all!

One last thing, I’ve been interviewed – for the first time! – by AG over at Nerd Couture. So if you can’t get enough of me – I certainly can, but there’s no accounting for taste – stop on over and check it out. I’m going to pop over myself just to see what I’ve been whispering behind my back.

So glad to be home!

smile, everyone!

9 thoughts on “Returning to the Source – I come back from my adventures out west and offer some advice on story beginnings

  1. Exciting stuff! I’ve done Seattle’s conference and got to talk with Steve Mooser, which provided a spark to do LA or NY. I look forward to more posts!

  2. Oh, beginnings. You drive me crazy, you know that?

    I have about three different beginnings for the novel I’m working on, each taking place in a very different point in the story. I chose the one that makes the most sense in setting up the motivation for my character (the equivalent of showing the girl struggling at home before she decides to run away). But I’m sure a good author could make the story work if it started somewhere else.

    You seem like you had a blast. I hope everything goes great with the agent!

    Thanks for sharing. :0

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