How’s This for Openers?

Mark Twain once said, “Stopping smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” In a slight twist, I’ve stopped writing fiction forever, not hundreds of times, certainly, but probably at least a dozen. Sooner or later I always start up again.

I’ve been batting around some ideas for a new mystery that’s set in a fantasy world. Discarding various approaches to the project, dreaming up new angles. The lovely thing about fantasy mystery, of course, is that you don’t need to research police procedure. You can make it up as you go along.

Last night I joined a nearby critique group that’s very active, people reading from their works in progress and others then responding for a few minutes. This went on for three hours, with twelve readers given 15 minutes each. And I have nothing to read to them, so I felt I ought to write something.

This morning I started out with a handful of fuzzy ideas. I sharpened them up a bit and then wrote a very satisfactory 3,000-word opening chapter. 3,000 words is a lot, but the truth is, I’m a pro. I can write that much in one day without breaking a sweat. The hard part is figuring out what to write! So tomorrow I won’t write the next chapter. Tomorrow I’ll start developing an outline.

I’ve been mulling over this handful of ideas for months, off and on. It’s not like you hit the ground running with no foundation laid. Last week I did some fairly serious world-building. When writing fantasy, I feel it’s advisable to do the world-building before you hatch the plot. Trying to fit a world around a plot that you’ve already committed to can be difficult.

I still don’t know who the criminals are or what their twisted agenda is — all I know is what they’ve done. What they’ve done presents a vivid and difficult plot problem, one with a time limit and the prospect of mayhem if my urbane sleuth doesn’t learn the truth. In the course of introducing the story, not only did I discover a nice emotional dynamic between the sleuth and his assistant, but the nature of the plot problem took a twist that I had not remotely anticipated.

This is how it’s supposed to work. I’m happy.

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