Where to Begin
© Ginger Hanson 2010
Where to begin a story is not always easy to determine. If you’re a romance writer, the conventional wisdom says that the hero and heroine are supposed to meet early in the story. If they don’t meet right away, will an editor will buy your manuscript?
Conventional wisdom became a problem for me with Lady Runaway, my latest historical release. In my first draft, the heroine (Lady Riana Travistock) doesn’t meet the hero (Captain Devlin Carrington) until three chapters into the story. Instead of being romanced by Dev, Lady Riana is busy dealing with the villain. I really liked this beginning, but worried the “first meet” occurred too late.
I had good reason to worry. I had pitched Lady Runaway to an editor at a major romance publishing house based on her review and rejection of what would later become my first published historical romance. It was the typical “we can’t use this manuscript, but I’d like to see anything else you have.”
I gathered my courage and pitched a Regency. I had about three draft chapters and a partial outlined. She liked the idea of a doctor hero. Now, all I had to to was write the remaining 80,000 words. And for this publishing house, I knew I needed the hero and heroine to meet early in the story.
I went back to the drawing board and decided to put them at the same coaching inn en route to London in the opening scene. Unfortunately, by doing this, my original opening scene ended up as a flashback. You guessed it, once the manuscript was finished and I submitted it, one of the reasons cited for “passing” on the story was the use of flashback “which slows the pace.”
Undaunted, I tried opening the story in Dev’s point of view while he’s on the battlefield. That really didn’t work. Back to the drawing board I went, shuffling the scenes (printed on 4 x 6 index cards) around until I had a fast-paced opening with the first meet moved to Chapter 2. Problem was, I still had that all-important scene between the villain and the Lady Riana and no way to tell it except as a flashback.
My agent sent the latest version to many editors with no offer for a contract.
Time passed. My agent and I parted ways and I decided to revise Lady Runaway. Now, I have no way of knowing if hiding that key scene in a flashback was a reason for rejection, but it was my favorite opening for this story. I went back to my original version, putting that all-important scene at the beginning.
Surely, there had to be an editor who wouldn’t mind that the hero wasn’t introduced until several chapters into this story.
Last year I found such an editor at Twilight Times Books. Not only was she the first editor to see this version, she made an offer on the manuscript within several weeks of receiving it. This experience has made me aware that the needs of the story often outweigh conventional writing wisdom.