Sunday, May 27, 2018

Working and Reworking that Opening Number

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 (, and Instagram (julie.tollefson). Hope to see you around! In the meantime, you can bet I'll continue to work on my opening number. 


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

True, I work and re-work the opening scene, not only to set up the plot and setting, but to set the tone and introduce the main character.

Good luck with your story!

Grace Topping said...

Thank you, Julie, for all your posts over the past two or so years. It was a pleasure getting to know you through your writing. Good luck with your future pursuits, and I hope you will visit us from time to time. Best wishes.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Julie, I'm another revision-lover. We will miss your lucid posts. Best of luck!

Warren Bull said...

We will miss you, Julie. For the first story I ever published, spent an equal amount of tine on the opening sentence as on the rest of the story.

Julie Tollefson said...

Thank you, Margaret! Those beginnings are so important, and a good one looks effortless to the reader.

Julie Tollefson said...

Thank you, Grace! I value the friends I've made here. I'll be back for sure!

Julie Tollefson said...

Thanks, Linda! I'm glad I'll still see you in person from time to time!

Julie Tollefson said...

Thank you, Warren. I always feel like if I can just get that first line right, the rest of the story will fall into place. Sometimes, as you said, that takes as much work as the rest put together.

Gloria Alden said...

Julie, I'll miss you and your interesting blogs. I hope you will come back someday.

KM Rockwood said...

We'll miss you, Julie.

I often have an opening and a closing in mind when I start writing, and while I spend a lot of time on the middle, I keep going back to the opening (and the closing) to tweak them.