Okay, so I’ve been struggling to rewrite the opening of one of my older novels for a year now. And that’s not hyperbole. It’s a common problem, too: sometimes there are entirely necessary parts of stories that we find ourselves unable to write. Here are a few of the finally-fed-up-measures I’ve been using to get this thing underway:
- Toss the chronological timeline out the window. The scene absolutely has to include this frustrating beginning. Fine. It’s your novel; it’s your judgement call. But that doesn’t mean the scene has to start at the beginning. Skip to the part you want to write, most likely the exciting part. Write that. Then jump back. Maybe you return to the very beginning, maybe you don’t. Jump forward again; pick up where you left off. Or don’t: show the character finally out of the situation and looking back on it. Bottom line: write the part of the scene that grabs you, no matter where it is. Skip around however you like. (Maybe you’ll even end up leaving the scene organized that way.)
- Completely change what your character was going to do. Often, you’ll find yourself stalled because your inner storyteller’s gut knows better than to let you move forward. Something here, the way you have it, just isn’t working. So step back and let your characters throw a curveball. Let them take hold of the scene, flip it on its head, and give it a couple of kicks to the stomach. Let everything go wild. At least something’s happening. Even if it’s all a little too extreme for your story, you may stumble upon a thread of action that can be watered down for a more appropriate edit.
- Change the location. Put your characters in the same basic situation, but shift them to a more dynamic location. If they’re sitting in a room talking to each other, put them on a crowded bus instead, or in a classroom during an important exam. Whatever they’re doing, put complications in their way. Make it more difficult for them. Have an aggravated stranger pick a fight with one of them while they’re unloading from the bus. Force them to track the teacher and whisper in order to communicate. Again, the scene may not end up being left in this exact form; just focus on getting yourself writing.
- Write from a different character’s perspective. If the person isn’t alone in the scene and you’re not writing in third-person-omniscient, dial in on someone else. Get their thoughts; observe the main character as they act rather than as they think. How do their actions look from an “outsider’s” perspective? Also, what is this new POV character of yours doing in the scene? What do they know about what’s going on, and what’s beyond their knowledge? Gain as much story information as you can, and then skip into a different head.