by Julie Tollefson
I recently wrote the first 444 words of a new story. I love beginnings, when anything is possible. I find so much optimism in plotting murder.
That story has grown to 6,500 words and now has a middle, a climax, and a denouement. And I'm still polishing the beginning.
In January, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the mega-hit musical Hamilton, tweeted:
Pro tip: You’re always working on the opening #. Everything you add: check back on that opening #. Accept it. This is a few days before we opened?
That tweet referred to one of his earlier tweets, from a decade ago, in which he said he “is, as ever, working on the opening number."
Now I'm in no way comparing my writing to Miranda's, but I do relate to the process. As my stories develop and I get to know my characters, I uncover themes that I can make stronger if I tweak the opening scene. I discover plot points that could be hinted at early on. Truths can be made clearer with changes in the beginning.
Sometimes I'll make the change as soon as I realize it's necessary, but often I'll make notes to myself so I don't break the current flow of words. A good friend of mine, though, has mastered the revise-as-you-go strategy. As a result, by the time she reaches "The End," her opening scenes are clean, tight, and a balance of tension and foreshadowing that pulls the reader into the story and keeps 'em there.
This same friend reacted in horror when I confessed that I love revision. For me, revision is writing. It's where themes become clear, logic falls into place, and story fully emerges. Revision is where I'm comfortable, where I feel most like a writer.
Last week, I sat at my favorite coffee shop (Hello, Myers Hotel Bar!) and reworked my first scene again. An hour and a half of concentrated writing/revising time later, I had a net word count of negative 22. But the resulting scene is so much better and I'm much closer to achieving the vision I have for this story.
This is my last regular post for Writers Who Kill. I've enjoyed the last two and a half years of sharing Sundays with Jim and hope to return in the future to make a guest appearance or two. You can still find me on Twitter (@jtollefson), the web (http://julietollefson.com), and Instagram (julie.tollefson). Hope to see you around! In the meantime, you can bet I'll continue to work on my opening number.