I've been reading “Creating Magical Words”, a collection of blog posts from the Magical Words blog organized into a book of advice on writing, specifically, writing speculative fiction. Two essays in a row were by Edmund Shubert (yet another editor who has rejected my stories). He posted one blog about titles (something that rarely comes easily for me) and another about beginning stories. On beginnings, he emphasized the need to do more than string well-written words together into a story; he wants a setup that is then developed over the course of the story. Something that sets the reader’s expectations.
The morning after reading this, I began listening to part 2 of the Writers of the Future Anthology vol 24 on CD for my morning commute. The first story, “Epiphany“ by Laura Bradley Rede, was such an excellent example of what Mr. Shubert was saying about beginnings that it really cemented what he was saying; there it was, lesson and illustration. The next day I dismantled the beginning of my work-in-progress story and changed it so that the new beginning better set up the situation of the main character, his wants and the dilemma he is presented with, all within the first page or so instead of spread out over the first few pages. Voila, feedback from my story critiquers was that the story was much improved (though I do still keep changing the title-sigh).
I think that’s part of the fun of this whole creative process, trying something new with a piece that’s not working and watching it change for the better. Writing is a constant learning process with so many elements to master - plot, arc, dialog, pacing, characters, style, world-building...not to mention marketing and publishing. No wonder it's so addictive.