About the Author
Anne Bernays, a novelist and writing teacher, is the author of eight novels, including Professor Romeo and Growing Up Rich, as well as two works of nonfiction, including The Language of Names written with Justin Kaplan and What If? written with Pamela Painter. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous major publications, among them The Nation, the New York Times, Town & Country, and Sports Illustrated. She lives in Cambridge and Truro, Massachusetts with her husband, Justin Kaplan. They have three daughters and six grandchildren.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
First sentences are doors to worlds. -Ursula K. Le Guin
New writers oftne find beginnings difficult--whether they're starting a story or a novel--because they take the word "beginning" too literally. They cast around for the "beginning" of a story--forgetting that beginnings rarely have the necessary ingredients for trouble, for conflict, or for complication. Your story can begin with dialogue, narrative summary, description, whatever, but it must begin in medias res, in the middle of things. You must resist the temptation to give the reader too lengthy an explanation as to how things got to this point. Remember, you are trying to hook the reader's attention, to pull the reader into your story so that he won't wonder, What's on television tonight?
Another stumbling block to beginning a story is that new writers think they have to know where their story is going and how it will end--before they begin. Not true. Flannery O'Connor says, "If you start with a real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen; and you don't have to know what before you begin. In fact, it may be better if you don't know what before you begin. You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don't, probably nobody else will."
The following exercises are designed to encourage you to think about real characters who are involved in situations that are already under way--situations that are starting to unravel because of, or in spite of, the desires and actions of their beleaguered characters. Don't worry about middles or endings yet. Just give yourself over to setting stories in motion--you will soon know which stories capture your imagination and seem unstoppable, which stories demand to be finished. Till that time, begin and begin and begin.