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Wednesday, June 07, 2017


Reason #673 Why Writing is Difficult: Beginnings

There are a thousand ways to begin a story. But what happens if you and your inner editor don't agree? I'd like to share a recent dialog I had with Heditor (the editor in my head) on my quest to begin a story. It's not pretty. Please don't judge.

Writer: After the rain stopped, I put the croissants in the oven.

Heditor: Why wait until the rain stopped?

Writer: I don't know, it's what happened.

Heditor: What does one have to do with the other?

Writer: Nothing, I guess.

Heditor: So why go there?

Writer: Well, the rain had stopped.

Heditor: So?

Writer: It's the truth, you know, write what you know.

Heditor: Oh, please. When did you start making croissants? Wait, did you really MAKE them, or just open a can.

Writer: Open a can.

Heditor: I thought so.

Writer: But I also had to pull them apart and then roll them up on the cookie sheet.

Heditor: Maybe you should write a cookbook.

Writer: Write what you know, and I know how to open a can and pull them apart and roll them up on the cookie sheet. And they were good. Hey, maybe that's my second sentence.

After the rain stopped, I put the croissants in the oven. And they were good.

Wait, do I need to say I ate one before I say it was good? Probably. And I need to take them OUT of the oven.

After the rain stopped, I took the croissants out of the oven and ate one (or four). They were good.

Do I need to say I waited a minute so I didn't burn my mouth? I don't have to say every little thing, but I can't just skip important stuff, either. But what is the important stuff?

Heditor: Why start here anyway? Will the fact that it's raining and a can of croissants have some deep meaning that will transform the reader? Or you?

Writer: I don't know yet.

Heditor: So you have no idea where you are going with the story. How do you expect the reader to follow if you don't know where you are going?

Writer: Sometimes the story is about the journey.

Heditor: You could start by buying the croissants at the store, and maybe having a witty conversation with another customer also buying croissants. Is this a romance?

Writer: I don't know. Maybe

Heditor: What if your character always wanted to go to Paris, but can't, and meets a man from France at the refrigerated case where they sell croissants, who always wanted to see Cincinnati and is now living his dream, and encourages you to live yours.

Writer: I don't like the idea of having a conversation with a stranger in front of the refrigerated case, because the one that comes to mind is the one at my local super store, and it's the least romantic thing I can think of. To begin a possible romance with the least romantic thing I can think of is just wrong.

Heditor: What about juxtaposition, and all that?

Writer: Yeah, I get it, but it doesn't work for me here. I want the image in my mind of a cool, rainy day and hot croissants coming out of the oven. It's comforting.

Heditor: Even if the croissants came from a can?

Writer: Yep. No one has to know that.

Heditor: But you know.

Writer: Yes, but it will be my little secret. I can live with it. And I can't defend it, or explain it, but it's my story, and I can write it my way. And later, if I don't like it, I can always rewrite. Who knows, this story could end up being about eating a bagel in a snowstorm, and that's okay.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and sometimes argues with Heditor about writing.

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Blogger Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--This conversation made me chuckle because it was so steeped in what we think and grapple with as writers.

Thanks for a bit of levity AND reality to begin my day...

5:36 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

I'm going through this right now. I'm working on an essay and wrote three different beginnings. The battle with Heditor continues! Thanks for the fun post, Mary. :)

10:01 AM  
Blogger Lynn said...

Heditor, I'd like you to meet the editor in my head, Judgement Gremlin. Why don't the two of you go out and play on the freeway?

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Mary Horner said...

I had fun writing this a few weeks ago before I realized it would be a blog post that some of you could relate to! I also think it could be used against me in a mental health evaluation! And Lynn, you pick the freeway and I'll send her there!

7:43 PM  

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