Once upon a time, I took a night class on novel-writing. From 6 to 9 every Monday night for two weeks, I sat in a small classroom with seven other aspiring writers while the instructor, an old guy who specialized in Westerns and mysteries, taught us The Ways of the Novel.
At that time, I was chewing through the second draft of the manuscript that would eventually become Bulletproof Werewolf. It was complete, in as much as there was a beginning, a middle, and an end. I had more than the others; I was the only one with a finished novel in that room. Minus the instructor of course; he had a deal with a small publishing company, and the local library even carried a few of his books.
Maybe I was the only one who’d read the class description in the adult continuing education brochure: the class was for novelists who wanted to learn how to polish their manuscript and get it ready for submission to agents/publishers. We were supposed to learn how to do a query and a synopsis. We didn’t get to, because I was the only one ready for that.
One night, one of the students raised her hand during the second class and asked how she was supposed to start her story.
“At the beginning,” spake he.
She made a face. I guess she thought he was being sarcastic. But he wasn’t. It’s good advice. Start at the beginning, wherever it makes sense to do so. Start at the end and work back, as in Sunset Boulevard. Even To Kill a Mockingbird did it, with the beginning line’s reference to Jem’s broken arm.
Or start at the beginning, as in so many stories. Start when the hero’s wealthy uncle dies and leaves her that weirdly shaped key.
The problem lies in figuring out where your story starts, and that’s where rewrites come in. Nothing says that you have to keep that beginning.
Odd, true story: I started my story, way, way long ago, with the following line: “Once upon a time, I was bitten by a werewolf.” From that, I was able to jump in to how it happened; I ended up changing the line (and much . . . okay, all . . . of that original story), but the point is those four words, the best words of all time, gave me the push to get going.