I tend to cast around for a long time till I find the start of a book—and even then, I often get it wrong, either deleting what I have in favour of a later passage, or writing something earlier that leads up to my original first chapter. As a writer, I want to start in the middle of the action, but in a place that lets me bring readers into the story quickly, without a lot of explanation. I want to avoid the acronym SDT in the margins. Show Don’t Tell. My friend and editor Mari Christie sends my drafts back with that plastered through them, but so far I’ve been able to avoid the dreaded letters in my first chapters.
So my methodology for starting a book is to write until I recognise the beginning, then second guess that decision once I’ve finished the first draft. Next month’s new release didn’t get its beginning until the final edit. The current work in progress still starts with the first words I wrote in May.
How about you? How do you begin? And does your beginning change as you work your way towards publication?
Here are the first words of A Raging Madness, the first draft I’m hoping to finish by the end of the month. As always, please post your extracts in the comments.
The funeral of the dowager Lady Melville was poorly attended—just the rector, one or two local gentry, her stepson Edwin Braxton accompanied by a man who was surely a lawyer, and a handful of villagers.
Alex Redepenning was glad he had made the effort to come out of his way when he saw the death notice. He and Captain Sir Gervase Melville had not been close, but they had been comrades: had fought together in Egypt, Italy, and the Caribbean.
Melville’s widow was not at the funeral, but Alex was surprised not to see her when he went back to the house. Over the meagre offering set out in the drawing room, he asked Melville’s half brother where she was.
“Poor Eleanor.” Braxton had a way of gnashing his teeth at the end of each phrase, as if he needed to snip the words off before he could stop chewing them.
“She has never been strong, of course, and Mother Melville’s death has quite overset her.” Braxton tapped his head significantly.
Ella? Not strong? She had been her doctor father’s assistant in situations that would drive most men into a screaming decline, and had continued working with his successor after his death. She had followed the army all her life until Melville sent her home—ostensibly for her health, but really so he could chase whores in peace, without her taking loud and potentially uncomfortable exception. Alex smiled as he remembered the effects of stew laced with a potent purge.
Melville swore Ella had been trying to poison him. She assured the commander that if she wanted him poisoned he would be dead, and perhaps the watering of his bowels was the result of a guilty conscience. The commander, conscious that Ella was the closest to a physician the company, found Ella innocent.
Perhaps it had all caught up with her. Perhaps a flaw in the mind explained why she tried to trap Alex and succeeded in trapping Melville into marriage, why she had not attended Melville’s deathbed, though Alex had sent a carriage for her.
“I had hoped to see her,” Alex said. It was not entirely a lie. He had hoped and feared in equal measure: hoped to find her old before her time and feared the same fierce pull between them he had been resisting since she was a girl too young for him to decently desire.
“I cannot think it wise,” Braxton said, shaking his head. “No, Major Redepenning. I cannot think it wise. What do you say, Rector? Would it not disturb the balance of my poor sister’s mind if she met Major Redepenning? His association with things better forgotten, you know.”
What was better forgotten? War? Or her poor excuse for a husband? Not that it mattered, any more than it mattered that Braxton used the rank Alex no longer held. It was not Braxton’s fault Alex’s injury had forced him to sell out.
The Rector agreed that Lady Melville should not be disturbed, and Alex was off the hook. “Perhaps you will convey my deepest sympathies and my best wishes to her ladyship,” he said. “I hope you will excuse me if I take my leave. I have a long journey yet to make, and would seek my bed.”