‘Never take your eye off the prize,’ as some say. The prize? Well, your writing of course. Whatever ‘it’ happens to be. For me, that’s my novel. My novel, how many times I’ve said those two little words, or written them as I’ve just done here. My novel! The truth is, I’m sick of seeing them and hearing them but that’s all down to me.
So, you finish your novel, then what are you going to do? Well, if you’re deadly serious that it has to make the grade, it has to be published, then you’re not just going to edit and do a few re-writes are you? No. So, I sent mine off – not all of it, merely the first chunk of 10,000 words for a professional critique by a well established author, editor and doer of many other writerly things.
The result? Well, I can tell you that I was expecting many negative things so I truly was not prepared for the rather more positive reception my piece generated. Honest -it’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But I’m not bragging (I hear the alarm bells ringing). There was hardly anything negative with the second part of my piece, which is the first half of chapter two. But alas, my coveted chapter one required some work, and yes, I rather did have to agree with the critique. There’s only one nagging doubt and that was with the main comment made overall. ‘Begin your story Media Res.’ You writers out there already know that one all too well – begin in the middle of the action. Okay, I hear you, I thought. But I had done so in a sense, although there is no immediate action jumping out at you in the first two lines, but my protagonist is doing something. Then very quickly, the action begins – it’s all on the first page. It has been suggested that I begin from half way through the chapter (sighs with a heavy heart). Yes, I rather think she has a valid point (thank heavens for people with a sense of direction – and as an aside, I’m a hopeless map reader so you do not want to go a road trip with moi).
But how did I get it so wrong? Well, it’s easy really. You just sort of pick up your pen and write, or hit the keyboard, whatever you prefer. And no, I’m not being sarcastic, honest. This is really all I did. But seriously, how did I get it wrong? It’s not necessarily wrong, I think it all depends on whether you trust the person giving you professional advice, trust and agree. Then you have to make a choice. Now, having received this critique back in August, I have yet to make a change. Procrastination has once again reared her ugly head and I have been delaying. Instead of cracking on with chapter one, I have been moving forward with other chapters. It’s all good work but I have to get to grips with this beginning. And if that wasn’t enough, everywhere I go, everything I watch on TV, or hear on the radio, there’s a sign that sings to me. Signs – they’re everywhere – maybe you have to be receptive to them, I don’t know, but I do know that they jump out at me, all reminders or pointers to my novel. I sometimes wonder if the people I’m writing about are behind this, willing me on to get it finished once and for all.
In truth, I read books like devouring food – and many, so many I have discovered, do not begin in media res. Or it could be argued that they do not and yet they have made it out of the slush pile and into print – even books recently published. I guess it all depends on how you define action. Perhaps I missed that finer point. Beginning in media res does vary – one book might begin with a fist fight in the very first line, or a bomber plane struck by enemy fire. Another might begin more subtly, in the midst of a party followed by a brief paragraph of description. So often it can be a fine line to tread. But as long as there is some action – some hook to draw in the reader and make them wonder why this character said that or did that. What’s going to happen next? This is the key – the reader must want to read on past the first page – so must the agent and publisher (rather important if you want someone to publish for you).
And so it is now time for me to address this in chapter one. This is the week to get to grips with it. And I’m only giving myself this week, no longer. It has to be sorted and then I can move on. But you know, the fact is that this is my joy. It’s not a pain or a nightmare, it really is pure joy. Once you begin to take charge again, re-writing and changing the course for a character, it’s creative utopia. So you see, that’s what writing is to me. I have no wish to be rich nor famous, merely to be heard. More importantly, I’m telling stories, real life stories of people who once lived and did great things and were perhaps not given the recognition they deserved and have long since been forgotten. It is a living history and history needs to be preserved and given the chance to breathe every now and again.