It seems to me these days that the beginning is one of the hardest parts to write. While most of my to-be first book went through some iterations, it’s the beginning I had to reconsider several times. In this post, I’ll look back into it and try to see the reasons why writing the beginning seems to be harder.
Setting up the story/world
This is, without doubt, one of the biggest challenges I faced. Hell, I delayed part of this intentionally to avoid blocking myself.
The struggle: I’ve delayed writing the prologue – the part that sets up the world and backstory – for the second draft. It had several issues – a lot of backstory was dumped at one place despite the prologue having the size of maybe three chapters. I reworked that in the third draft and eventually discarded in the fifth in favor of taking a different approach, putting the backstory aside as a potential prequel and opting for a shorter set-up (as well as hinting pieces of the original prologue through the story itself).
In addition to that, I’ve eventually made massive cuts to the first 6 chapters, of which I kept maybe 40% (and changed the order of some events) to make sure it’s not too drawn-out.
The reasons: As said by the headline, most of it is tryong to find the optimal way to set up the story and characters, AND at least the very base of the world-building. For me, the first stage (reworking the original prologue) was about eventually realizing that much of this backstory is not that important. The latest stage (reworking the first 6 chapters) was mostly about set-up of the main characters. Much of these early parts were the very first points of my long learning curve – and only by learning, I was able to see how much of the early chapters could be cut.
Bridging the gap
While this issue is mostly related to the beginning of the sequel(s), it can touch the early chapters of the first books as well, should your story start in the same way my story does: the prologue happening some time before the main story. If there’s no significant gap between the prologue and the first chapter (or between the end of book X and beginning of book X+1), this issue might be completely avoided.
The struggle – book one: In the early stages, the gap between the prologue and chapter one was several generations. Thus, while I had several characters in the prologue, it was to focus on the worldbuilding more (as those characters became historical figures, even if with strong ties to the main events).
Changing the prologue to the current version shortened the gap to some 17 (before the cuts) – 18 (after the cuts) years. Thus, I set up two main characters and hinted some others (including the newborn son of one of those two). Chapter one then follows the father and his almost adult son into the actual main story, already having the main connection between the characters set up by the prologue and building on it in the early parts of the first chapter.
The reasons – book one: I actually think the issue is reversed here. I looked at it from the beginning of chapter one and looked on how to connect it to the prologue. Since the prologue was no longer generations before but a bit short of two decades, all I needed was a few paragraphs to bridge the gap and use the now-almost-adult son to strengthen the bonds between the characters as well as to show the creation of new bonds.
The struggle – book two: As I started to work on the beginning of book two between drafting #1, I was facing this challenge again. Due to reasons I can’t mention for spoiler reasons, there’s roughly five-year gap between the end of #1 and the beginning of #2. However, the situation changes slightly – and I had to find a way to show that and make sure it actually ties into the story instead of being an info dump. It’s something that’s getting to my attention now as I presume I’ll give the first draft of #2 a look as soon as the current draft of #1 is complete and I already know the first few chapters will go through a makeover which will include a lot of cutting.
The reasons – book two: As said above, the main reason is to show how exactly the events of the first book led into this five-year gap (even though the final chapter of #1 gives that a strong hint) and how it affected the characters. After all, five years without significant action does not mean those five years were completely free of important events for some of the characters. Yet, without a strong and direct tie-in to the main story, personal events such as a promotion or the birth of a child might not need to be fully shown and a short retrospective on these matters is enough. It can also help to avoid an info dump at the beginning and instead split it to several parts told when the specific characters appear again.
Book three – struggle avoided? While it’s hard to guess, I might have an easier time when the time comes to work on book three – the gap between the end of #2 and the beginnig of #3 is shorter (less than a month, IIRC) and it continues the chain of events directly. Yet, I know it’ll bring some kind of challenge – it might just be different.
The curse of captain placeholder
A struggle related to the very early day of my writing is the fact I was using placeholders, nicknames, and titles/ranks to identify characters before I settled on their final names. While editing this in most of the draft required one-for-one change, it was not as easy during the set-up parts. Explaining the background of the now-dropped nicknames became irrelevant and thus I was dropping these parts, which often led to rewriting whole sentences/paragraphs. If the background of those nicknames was tied to a character’s backstory, I then had to find an appropriate time in the book to mention it – and establish a connection not dependent on said nickname.
This post is getting quite long already so I’ll end it here. I’ll make a similar post about the challenges I faced with the endings (ETA: in two weeks). For now, I’ll welcome your comments: what were the challenges you faced when writing/drafting the beginning of your story? Were they the same I faced, or different?