Getting Past the Blank First Page
As discussed in previous chapters, staring at a blank first page is probably the most frightening aspect of writing a romance novel. Probably for good reasons, too, when you consider that finding the opening line — the right opening line — is a challenge for even a seasoned pro. What most new writers fail to recognize, though, is that more often than not, the much-sought-after “perfect opening” doesn't reveal itself until the author is already involved in the writing of the book.
Bestselling author Michael Crichton probably put it best when he said that books aren't written, so much as they are rewritten. Experienced authors of all genres recognize the wisdom in his words but many new authors often find it difficult to embrace the concept that writing is rewriting. However, it's true. Most writers, regardless of genre, spend more time polishing and tweaking their revisions than they do on writing new copy.
Romance writers are no exception.
How many drafts do most romance writers write of a novel?
The answer varies from author to author. Some writers may do numerous rewrites, while others only do one or two. Of those who do multiple rewrites, some revisions could be minor tweaking. Other writers may do more extensive revisions or focus on one particular aspect of the novel, such as intensifying conflict or adding sexual tension.
Accepting the inevitability of revisions can free your creative muses. Once you've given yourself permission to create imperfect work, you are more likely to focus on the creative aspects of writing. That's when elements such as adding unique twists to your plot or incorporating a fresh take on familiar characters take priority over producing “perfect” copy. It's a good tradeoff. After all, the technical aspects of writing, such as proper sentence structure, tweaking the language to make a suspense scene more suspenseful, etc., can be easily accomplished during a rewrite.
So, are you ready to write the first page of your romance novel? By this point, you probably have the opening scene visualized. This includes knowing whose POV you want to use, the tone or mood of the opening scene and whether it reflects your intriguing premise or precipitating event. However, knowing what you want to write about doesn't always lead to an easily created first page.
Or, to a first line, for that matter.
Many authors confess to rewriting their first chapter multiple times, and for good reason, too. First chapters — first lines and first pages, especially — are critical to a novel's success. However, when you start a novel, you don't know your characters and their story as well as you will by the time you write the ending. Hence, the need to revise and rewrite.
Fear is usually the culprit. One of the first “rules” that new authors grasp about writing a publishable romance novel is the importance of having a well-written and compelling opening. But those attention-grabbing first lines are usually the result of multiple revisions, rather than a first try in a first draft.
In other words, you shouldn't worry overly much about the quality of your first draft. Focus, instead, on getting your story down on paper. Chances are excellent that you will have many opportunities to find the perfect opening as you write your romance novel.
If you're still worrying about writing that first page, try using a declarative sentence that summarizes the conflict in your opening scene. Then, follow it with another few sentences that build upon that opening until you've completed your first page. Think of these first lines as temporary placeholders that you'll replace once you feel the rhythm of your novel take hold.
A good temporary placeholder doesn't always have to be a declarative sentence. Think about having your POV character ask a question that alludes to the opening scene's conflict. Make it actual dialogue or a line of internal thought — what matters most is that it sets the story in motion.
For example, if your opening scene for a romantic comedy has the slightly shady bad-boy hero telling the skeptical-about-trusting-men heroine to trust him while he handles a potentially disastrous business deal, you could open with a declarative statement that summarizes the situation and establishes the tone of the book. The placeholder might read as follows:
It's doubtful the opening lines will survive a final edit but they serve their purpose as temporary placeholders: They allow you to start your novel. What's more, they also establish the book's tone and hint at the romantic conflict ahead for the hero and heroine, as well as put you into the middle of a scene. Who could ask for more?