Welcome to A Novel Approach, a weekly note about writing. Join us and follow us. I’ll post the tip on Twitter at JWLBooks and the full note on Facebook at Jack Woodville London, at the MWSA site, and right here at the blog. Here we go.
Cart precedes horse
A punch line is only as good as its set up. But, no more than a comedian could start a joke without knowing its exact punch line, an author cannot write a memorable beginning until he has written the ending. The writer must set the pace, tone, conflict, and resolution of the work before he is able to instill expectations in the reader that will last until the denouement.
There are many techniques but I suggest writing the opening only as a place holder, then forgetting it until you have finished your novel, history, or story. The beginning sentences, indeed even the opening chapters of the story, are no more than drafts until the story itself is finished. So, in my view of the process, you should write and re-write and edit your work until you have completed the final draft of the denouement. Only then should you return to write the final version of the opening sentences of your story.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude, when at last General Buendia does face the firing squad, the expectation of the novel’s opening sentence — General Buendia facing a firing squad while remembering the day when his father took him to discover ice – is fulfilled. But not until Garcia-Marquez had written the history of Buendia’s discovery of ice, his taking up of arms and the destruction of his community, until he had chronicled Buendia’s leadership and betrayal and his pact with the firing squad, could Garcia-Marquez have written the first sentence in its final form.
In a nutshell, it is easier to revise the first sentence to comport with your story than to revise your story to live up to your first sentence.
Now, get back to your thousand words of today. I’ll see you next week.
Jack Woodville London is the Author of the Year of the MWSA for his novel French Letters: Engaged in War. Follow us here, on Facebook, Twitter, and on Dispatches as the MWSA site.
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Jack Woodville London’s French Letters series has been praised for its meticulous historical research and ability to capture the language, attitudes, and moral culture of their setting in prose described by reviewers as “beautiful, but not pretentious.”
French Letters: Engaged in War is the second volume in the French Letters trilogy. The companion to French Letters: Virginia’s War, it is the story of Will Hastings, an army doctor caught up in the D-Day landings in Normandy and the drive to capture St. Lo, France.
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