A Trio of Beginnings

I did another writing course this last weekend. It was a master class on Refining The Manuscript, led by the amazing Toni Jordan, author of Addition

photo courtesy of Toni's website

photo sourced from Toni’s website

(among other great novels). Seriously, this writer knows her stuff and learning from her was a brilliant experience. We covered a whole gamut of issues you should be focussing on after that first draft is complete, like dialogue, verbs and those pesky adverbs (the scourge of the literary world), point of view, endings, and, of course, beginnings.

Now, I blogged a little about beginnings here and their importance, but what we had to do on the course was take the beginning of our MS (the first paragraph) and re-write it three different ways using a style or technique she gave us. It was such an interesting exercise and more than one of us on the course is now changing the beginning to our novel.

So, how do you all feel about me sharing the three beginnings for Shadows  I wrote on the course? No? Good. I was hoping you’d say that. *wipes brow*

my scribbles from the course

my scribbles

What? You meant yes? Darn it!

Okay. Before we start though, a disclaimer. We were given ten minutes per opening and mine appear below as they were written on Saturday, unedited (except for spelling). We also got asked to read one out to the whole group and I got to read number three. Well, here goes….

I did tell you these are unedited, right…


1. The Concrete Beginning – where you plant your reader firmly in the story and there’s no mistaking what’s happening or who it’s happening to. This is the closest to my original opening. 

Alice Pond opened the door to the Kookaburra Creek Café expecting the brass bell to announce her arrival as it did every morning at precisely six-thirty-three in the morning. But when she pushed the glass door open she was met with silence. Everything else appeared to be as it should be; rainbow chairs stacked up on white tables, gingham curtains drawn, the coffee machine waiting for her over on the blue bench. It was only the absence of the loud clanging that made Alice pause. But it was enough to tell her that something was most definitely not right.

2. The Deep End – throwing the reader in with no clue as to where they are, who they’re dealing with, or what’s happening – being all mysterious like. I had to move a bit further along (to the second page) to pull this one off, and I don’t dislike it, but I’m not sure it fits with the overall tone of the MS.

She looked at the crumpled mess that lay at her feet. Was it alive? Was it breathing? She pushed it with her toe. No movement. She shoved it with her whole foot.

“What the Hell?” The crumpled mess jumped up, eyes darting left, right, arms tense, ready. 

“What the Hell me?” She reached behind her for anything solid. “What the Hell you?

3. Setting – one of the hardest ways to begin because setting is generally static, and our openings should be anything but static. The challenge here is to make something static feel alive. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Alice took the stairs in twos until she reached the deck below. The morning sun kissed the creek with soft gold glitter as it meandered through the green field and she watched the fallen gum leaves float upstream toward the white bridge. Maybe this afternoon she’d have time to dip her toes in. It would still be warm enough. She turned around and looked at the grey weatherboard building, a hand-painted sign swinging in the gentle breeze telling anyone who happened by they’d reached the Kookaburra Creek Café. Her café. After twenty years it still managed to surprise her – it was her café. She pushed the glass door open, expecting the brass bell to clang news of her arrival, but she was met with silence.

So there they are, in all their unpolished glory. I guess the only question is – what do you think? It’s okay. I can take it. *goes to buy more chocolate before reading comments*


It’s the last Wednesday of the month which means I’m hopping along with the wonderful Julie Valerie. Hop along too and discover other bloggers.  Like to party? Hop along the Hump Day Blog Hop on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog. Click here to return to the Hump Day Blog Hop.



22 thoughts on “A Trio of Beginnings

  1. Léonie C Kelsall

    Definitely number one for me…. I like a mix of sense of place and impending action.
    Also like number two, but I find starts like this then require a flashback/melding in of time and place setting.
    Number three I like to find part way through a story, when I’ve settled with the characters a little, and like more depth to their placement.

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      Thanks Leonie. You know what it’s like in the query trenches and how important the beginning is! I think number 1 (or a variation of it) will stay, mostly because it fits in tone with the rest. There’s no point me trying to be dark and mysterious when it’s not a dark and mysterious novel. Another couple of months and Shadows will be out there so I guess we’ll find out if I nail the opening. 🙂

  2. mattisburg

    I love nr. One and like nr. Three. With the second one you would have to keep me interested by going on tensely. It probably wouldn’t work for me.
    I’m rather curious and can’t wait to read it all.
    Lots of love!
    Going to see Claudia next week, must be 15 years since we met the last time…

  3. Julie Valerie @Julie_Valerie

    Okay. Um. WOW. First, I love all three pieces. But then, I love everything you write and really appreciate catching glimpses into your manuscripts. It sounds like you attended a wonderful writing class. I love the summary you give as an introduction to each type of opening. Very helpful!

    And I’m really thrilled you linked this to the Hump Day Blog Hop. 🙂 I love partying with you every month. 🙂

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      It was such a great class. Anything that makes you think about your writing in a different way is worth it. I’ve even come away with an incite into my ending I hadn’t even considered, but I can’t blog about that, because, you know, SPOILERS.
      Will party with you every month happily 🙂

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      It was such a great exercise looking at three different ways to start the same piece. I’d highly recommend. ‘Concrete’ is where I think I sit best, but I learned so much from the other two.

  4. paulinewiles

    It sounds like you attended a great class and I found these three opening styles incredibly interesting. Yes, we’re told so often to “hook” the reader from the beginning, that I suspect Option 3 has gone out of style recently (although it seems to me many classic novels start this way). I do like Option 1, it’s clear what’s going on but doesn’t waste time in hinting that Alice has a problem. Option 2 is fun to read, too, although obviously you’re going to have to fill in some scenery before long, and the backstory trap may be lurking here because of that.
    But, again, an extremely interesting way to think about opening styles. Thanks!

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      It really was an interesting exercise. I think #3 is more suited to the literary fiction type, which is not where I sit, and #2 was a stretch for me. But we only become better writers by stretching ourselves, even if we don’t use the prose that stretched us. Thanks for stopping by Pauline. I know you must be busy this week. Good luck with the launch on Thursday.

  5. cinthiaritchie

    Hi, Sandie, and OMG, what a great writing exercise. I love the idea of writing the beginning from three different perspectives. Except once you do so, you then have three different doors and they all open, and they all lead to three different styles–ahhhh! For what it’s worth, I like the first one, the concrete, opening the best. It feels more authentic plus the writing is stronger. The second one is faster and might initially hook more readers. But me, I like to laze my way inside a book and the first choice allows me to do just that. (I keep thinking of that TV show “Let’s Make a Deal” and your writing samples behind each door and if you choose wrong you’ll go home with a broken lawnmower instead of a literary success. So much pressure! But your writing is strong and lovely, and you totally don’t have to worry about a broken lawnmower, lol.) Good luck!

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      Are form rejections the literary equivalent of the broken lawnmower???? Thank you for your lovely comments.
      To me all three styles foreshadow a different style of novel and that’s a great way help decide where you sit/should sit. Assuming you’re not crap at making decisions (like I am!). I think the first one feels more authentic because it’s truer to my personal style. Still, it was such a great writing exercise. I’d recommend it to any writer.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Tina

    As a non writer but a prolific reader – No. 1 would have me continuing to read on, no. 3 would have me thinking – oh too many descriptions already (it has 3 colours mentioned in one sentence), lets just read a bit longer before deciding to put the book down, no., 2 – would have me thinking I was reading a mystery and I tend not to read those.
    My vote is for no. 1 – it has 3 colours mentioned, a few descriptions but not what a non writer me calls to many – and is the one I would definitely not even think at this stage about putting the book down.

    Looking forward to reading the books.

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      Ah T, trust you to notice how many colours are mentioned 😉
      Number 2 definitely indicates a different style of writing to what I actually write. And three also. I’ll be sticking with 1, tweaked and polished, as it’s more ‘me’, which I’m sure you can attest to 🙂
      I can’t wait for you to be able to read it (them, the next one…something!).
      Thanks for popping by.

  7. lahowlett

    Sounds like this was a terrific class. I have to admit that no.1 is my favorite although I also liked no.3. I seem to have a bigger problem with endings. That’s the section I tend to revise the most. 🙂 Your intro is intriguing. 🙂

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      Thanks Leeann. I think any writer would be served well doing the exercise. Thanks for your feedback. I don’t have as a big a problem with my endings, though Toni did point out a major issue with mine…So maybe I do have problems endings 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by.

  8. krystal jane

    That IS a really interesting exercise! I would love to do something like that!

    Honestly, I really like all of your intros, but I like the first one the best. I felt immediately grounded in the story and wanting to follow your character around. #2 is hilarious and fun, but it didn’t match the feel of the others. #3 is beautiful, and while it still made me like your character, it felt a little bloated. I’m definitely going to have to try this!

    1. sandiedocker Post author

      So totally try it Krystal. Worth it for sure. Thanks for your feedback. I’ll be sticking #1 (a little more polished), I think. Even though it’s the closest to my original, I think it definitely more my style.

  9. danafaletti

    I really love number one. It hooked me with the subtle mystery of something being off – the silence, but I also got a great sense of place. Sound like you attended a great workshop!


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