The Beginning at the End
William Zinsser warns writers to refrain from “committing an act of literature” in the beginning of a work of fiction or nonfiction. John McPhee says that a good beginning should be “a flashlight deep into the piece.” I often refer to “placing a gun in the right-hand drawer.”
Whatever hardware or weapon serves as suitable metaphor, you must deliver a sense of drama early on, though it must be done in artful fashion. (Sledgehammer is not a suitable metaphor.)
My beginnings are crafted simply as placeholders, seldom surviving in their original form. So they become the last thing I finish – because only after I fully understand the heart of the manuscript can I provide that flashlight or pistol.
The writer must promise something substantial to the reader – and then deliver it. It is, after all, a presumption that anyone out there will want to read what we write, so we must make it clear why the tale we’re telling is worth a reader’s time. Foreshadowing is crucial to your effort. And to do it well you might want to save the beginning for the end.
– Lary Bloom