Friday, April 11, 2014

A Tale of Two Beginnings

Sometimes when you write, you realize that everything you just wrote is not what you needed to write. I'm not sure that makes sense, but I'll try to explain.

Recently I decided to change the opening scene of my novel. It seemed like the eighteenth birthday of the main character was a good place to start. Lots of important things happen on that day, and it would cut out much of the back story that I tend to overwrite. (I'll plug in the back story in small bits scattered throughout the novel.)

So I started the writing with Catherine, my main character, waking up. She gets dressed, goes downstairs, talks with the cook of the house, walks down the hill, gets a bus to the beach. (At this point, I know I need to do more research to find out whether she would have taken a bus, train, streetcar, omnibus, or horse and cart to get to her destination.)

While on the bus she talks to the conductor, is serenaded by two young drunk bucks coming back from a night on the town, and finally reaches her destination, the beach. As I finish writing all this, I realize that the book should start with her already at the beach, and all those words about getting there are more unnecessary back story.

But at this point, some facts push forward from the little research I have done. The Sutro Baths are close to where Catherine would be walking on the beach. I immediately imagined an alternative opening with her swimming in one of the salt water pools on her birthday.

So, there is my current dilemma. Here are the two opening paragraphs which I have quickly crafted. I submit both to you, my faithful readers, and you can tell me which one would make you want to read further.

Beginning Number One:

Catherine unlaced her high boots and removed her stockings. She loved to walk barefoot in the sand, to feel it squish between her toes. The difference in the feeling between the dry sand and the slightly wet sand at the water's edge made her feel like she was heading somewhere important, even if it was only closer to the ocean. She had come out to see the ocean shortly after arriving in San Francisco, and she returned on most of her days off. She would walk along the shore and imagine her life. Today she was imagining what might happen at dinner, and hoping Edward would propose. Since she wasn't paying attention, a wave came up and caught her, getting the bottom of her dress wet. Catherine was glad she hadn't worn her new dress. That was for later tonight.

Beginning Number Two:

Catherine's head emerged from the saltwater, slicing through the surface into the air. She breathed in deeply, loving the damp murky scent of the Sutro Baths. She had hopscotched from pool to pool, the water getting progressively cooler each time. Now she was in her favorite element, the coldest of the seven salt water pools. She had not known that she had loved swimming while growing up on the plains of Nebraska. There had been nothing like this there. Now Catherine could think of no better way to start the celebration of her eighteenth birthday. Later in the day she would see Edward for dinner, and she hoped that he would propose, and they could begin a new life together. But right now, she grinned at the light streaming in the giant windows and slipped beneath the water to once again feel free.

P.S. By the way, be gentle, as these are both hot off the press, with minimum revision.


  1. I don't think I'd have a preference as to whether she'd be swimming in the ocean or the salt water pools except that the salt water pools are just interesting. I do like the second paragraph better - just seems like a better flow and the wording is more interesting. Not sure how to describe it....but feel free to email me with questions if you want to discuss. Being an IT person I am exactly the type of person you would want to talk to about editing your novel. :)

  2. I like 2 better. I definitely like the opening sentence better.

  3. Ah. A Tale of Two Catherines, I see.

    Catherine #1 is a timid little creature. She's passive, waiting for reality to imprint itself upon her life. She goes for a quiet stroll along the beach, drifts into a daydream and gets soaked by reality. Later tonight, if Edward doesn't propose, she will accept it stoically and wait patiently for the next change in her life. Who knows, it might even be better?

    Catherine #2 makes things happen. She hopscotches from pool to pool searching for the perfect temperature. She dunks, she slices... she yearns to be free. Later tonight, if Edward doesn't propose, she will grab him by the ear and say, "Listen goofball, are we going to be an item, or not?" (Maybe not in quite those words.) Whether he proposes or not, she will grin and move forward -- shaping the course of her life to fit her desires.

    So who is Catherine, really?

    Don't ask me how I got all that -- just an emotional reaction based on subtle differences.

    I enjoyed both openings and, while watching a woman unlace her boots and roll down her stockings has great appeal, I enjoyed the dynamics of the second opening more.


  4. Sand is great but it has been used many times. Coming out of the water is much more interesting. However, we should see your original opening to properly compare and contrast.