Jessica Iverson is currently working on her MFA in Children's Literature through Hollins University. She is particularly interested in reading and writing about diversity in children's literature. Her short story "Tap" was recently published as part of a collection of stories to be used in Ethiopian classrooms in partnership with the Peace Corps. Her first picture book manuscript is set in China during the Moon Festival.
Today's post is the second part of a two-part series on beginnings. You can read the first one here.
Now, because we aren’t having this conversation face to face, or even via video chat, I can’t critique your WIP during this post. Also, that would be weird and very public. I wouldn’t do it. Even if you begged and bribed me with bars and bars of Theo chocolate. Well…No, no I wouldn’t.
However, I will offer some specific thoughts on the experience I’ve had writing my own WIP.
Back in 2007, I had the first inklings of this story. I didn’t have much, but I knew the character was a young mom. As the years ticked by, I wrote a page here, and a page there but it didn’t feel right. But then it happened. My first breakthrough. Or what Han Nolan would call a small miracle.
I was writing the first moment of the first scene, and I knew it is where I needed to begin. My MC was waited outside of the college library, smoking a cigarette; the smoke mixing with her breath in the cold, winter air. Why was she standing out there? Well, it wasn’t just because she had been jonesing for a cigarette. She was waiting for her boyfriend. Waiting to break up with him, and he had no idea it was coming. Maybe there was a bit of denial there, but still it was going to come as surprise. The scene was going well enough, though the emotional climate was kind of a drag. He exited the science building as he was supposed to, noticed her across the sidewalk as he was supposed to and came up to her. But then something got stuck. My MC wasn’t answering his questions. She wasn’t acting how she was supposed to. And my MC was supposed to be my most cooperative character. After all I was giving, yes giving her the most story pages. She owed me. And then, right there, sitting at my desktop, hunched over my keyboard, I was hit with a truth. One that made me feel stupid and excited at the same time. She was Deaf. She was Deaf! Oh.
And then the pages came easier (this was after I asked if she really had arrived to her intended writer. She didn’t go anywhere, so I took that as a “you’ll do”). There was still a bit of slogging going on though, since the story started out so heavy. Also, I was writing it as a novel. Try constantly differentiating between signed and spoken dialogue through the written word. I used italics, dashes, dialogue tags. It was rough.
And then during the awful month of the Midwest’s February, the second small miracle happened. I wasn’t writing my story in its true form. My story was meant to be a graphic novel. Again, with the feeling stupid and excited. I wish I could pinpoint the moment and explain that I was reading an article on graphic novels or something, but it wasn’t like that. I hadn’t even read five graphic novels up to that point. Ready for a goosebump moment? A few days ago I looked back for the first time on a forgotten exercise I did for an online class in the fall where I listed MC personality traits and interests. Many of these traits hadn’t remained in my mind, and so were forgotten. One of the things I wrote was “likes graphic novels”. Reading this last week felt like a confirmation from my MC that yes, I had gotten it. Of course the story was going to be a graphic novel.
But I had fifty pages of novel written. They were pages that still had a true-ness to them. Should I just trash them though? Start at the same beginning, but write it differently? I was waiting for something. Another small miracle? Pretty please? Well, maybe it was one, or maybe it was the equivalent of an inspiring quote taken from a sermon, but here it was: You haven’t found your beginning. Yes the scenes in those fifty pages happened. But they happened before your reader enters the story.
Yes. Right. Okay. Now my current beginning introduces the MC as she is locking the door to the apartment she shares with her Gran. It’s drizzling out, and the MC is experiences waves of increasing pain. She is on the cusp of active labor.
I am so glad for you if you have found your story, but hopefully this post has encouraged you to ask yourself questions as you write, as well as where in the story you need to place your reader. Also, I wish you small miracles.