writing the beginning of a story (too fast?)

I’ve been working on a new series with a co-writer lately– a somewhat experimental venture at that: a series of novellas telling a too-long, epic, episodic tale of cursed immortals, other worlds, demons, high magic, technology, and everything from dinosaur-riding cowboys to cyborgs and big guns.

Since novellas aren’t really published traditionally, and because this is a project that builds on itself (like seasons of tv episodes instead of a movie), we’re going to put the first novella online for free, then sell each ‘episode’ for e-readers for a dollar each.

So my co-writer and I started the first book. Stopped. Talked about form, composition, motivation. Cleared the board. Started again. Stopped, rearranged everything. In doing this over and over (we’re halfway done with what I think will be the final first draft now), I’ve noticed something about the writing.

I have a lot of groundwork to cover. I only need a few of the characters for now, but I need to hint as to the presence of other important figures that will come in later in the series (we’ve already written about fourteen novels of raw material for this project). I need to hint about three countries’ cultures, introduce the main character, several forms of magic, the tone of an unrequited romance…

And I’ve just noticed that I have a tendency to try to jump into action and skip the foundations of the story I’m writing. I rush beginnings like I rush music, thinking that playing faster will impress more people.

Which leads me to a question: how much time do you get, to lead into the conflict? A paragraph? A page? A chapter? I’ve had ‘hook the reader’ chanted at me so many times that I wonder if I overdo it now. Have we as writers (and readers) really limited ourselves to material of instant, flashy gratification?

And has writing, in response, lost a quality of its traditional graceful entrance?

The author of the book ‘Hooked’, Les Edgerton, seems to think so, but then, Hooked leaves no room for such openings as ‘In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.’ I wonder if Edgerton would have started Tolkien’s masterpiece with Bilbo and the dwarves about to become troll-food.

And if I need to set a character’s routine before I throw a wrench into everything, can I take my time enough to do it right?

finishing chapter one

The second rewrite of my first chapter has just been completed. It’s much stronger, the setting is firmly in place, it’s terribly long (7,500 words), it sparks with tension, and it just may be the best thing that I’ve ever written. I am thrilled, exhausted, and slightly terrified, because I’ve printed out copies for my four test readers. Once they finish, it goes to my writing critique group. I am now ready to continue with the first rewrite, with has languished for the last few days while I’ve slogged on this piece. Expect my word count meter to start climbing again soon.

I will say this much. Wyrren Jadis is an amazing character. I’m terrified that I’m going to handle her badly. She’s frustrating to direct, stubborn, impossible to express. But when I can use her correctly, she outshines them all.

I love this book.