Return to the Weird

By Carrie Esposito

I signed up for Dana Spiotta’s class on novel openings because I’ve been struggling with the beginning of my novel for some time now—two years to be exact.

From the first draft, I’ve always known that my novel about a woman accused of having a sexual relationship with her teenage daughter’s boyfriend would begin with the woman catching her daughter and the boy together.

However, I’ve always felt a sense of dissatisfaction with how it was playing out. It felt wooden somehow, lacking the passion and emotion that will make a reader’s hairs stand on end, thinking, I’m about to enter a place that I cannot wait to dwell. That is the reaction I seek, and yet I knew it wasn’t there.

Up until Dana’s class, I tried to create tension through having the woman at first believe there’s an intruder before coming to understand the reality of the situation with her daughter. During Dana’s class, I realized that the tension in this moment was false and didn’t organically rise from the story at hand, at least in the way it had originally fascinated me.

[caption id="attachment_9123" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Lighthouse Writers Workshop | Dana Spiotta and Jess Walter | Dana Spiotta[/caption]

Dana says, as writers, we need to return to what is weird and eccentric—the nuances that compelled us to want to write this particular story. Tension, we can trust, will arise from specificity.

Our primary job in the opening, of course, is to make the reader want to read more. But what I learned after spending two mesmerizing hours with Dana is that what will make this happen is simply immersion in the world you’ve built. Not murders or monsters or intruders. (Though if that’s your world, great.)

Be true to the world of your novel right from the start—its themes, patterns, setting, style, language system, and voice, and perhaps your opening will write itself.

If only. But at least I’m about 10 steps closer than I was to an opening that will entice readers to come inside, explore the world I’ve built and find out what happens there.

Carrie Esposito is an educator turned fiction writer and is eternally grateful to Lighthouse for having amazing classes where she can hone her craft. Find out more at