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An exercise. Contemplate beginnings. Write the beginning before the beginning. Summarize your book in a single sentence and expand out, sentence by sentence until you find yourself back where you first began. 

The reason? When we begin, there is a certain clarity, an understanding of where we are and where we are heading. There are plots and diagrams; there are characters that we have carefully profiled. Somewhere beyond this beginning, however, everything twists, intersects, blends until it is a convoluted mess of intentions, profiles, and probably chaos.  Wading through this chaos can be a way to inspire and inform, but only if we have a way regain our clarity as the conductor of it all. 

As such, find your narrator. Bring him/her back to the beginning. How did they begin? Expand from there towards your story and towards a one sentence description of its purpose. You’ll be surprised where you end, and what you find your ultimate purpose is.

My exercise for Agnosia told through the point of view of its central narrator:

A Prologue

This is the beginning. I never intended it to be.

The beginning of this, at least.

 

Beginnings are strange things. They only exist in the looking back, after the ending. Only when those threads ravel back does their unraveling fixate to a single point. Like any story, the point begins somewhere in the center, expands, spirals out, filling the spaces between until everything blurs into one black dot. Impossible to escape, avoid. Everything falls in. Everything.

 

It works its way backwards – the beginning.

 

On the ferry, cutting through the shallow waves of Lake Erie, the last whispers of spring cling to the horizon.

 

The rectangular mass that is Cleveland. The steel mill has shut down. Cold. So has the Ford plant where my uncles screwed rivets into the passenger side doors of minivans. Vacant neighborhoods, inescapable shadows that slip and steal in the night, brick by brick, the sidewalks and concrete facades I filled with faces – the otherwise empty corners and yards. Crumbled.

 

I left because of this. The emptiness that I had tried and failed to fill with the memories of my mother and grandfather. A dying city, strung up on rum and whiskey, the grills and the gatherings they invited. This void of never enough. Never enough and then, just enough. Always just and barely enough.

 

I left and there were mountains the ridges of Colorado, of Denver, California. And I thought the beginning was there, somewhere in the fictions I crafted alongside Kerouac and other would-be writers and love drunk poets. Or maybe, it was with him, with the strange acts of marriage and marrying, of courting – or maybe it was in the settling, the house buying, or the standard commuting, the 401K, the stock trading, the 8-5-ing, the teaching, always, the teaching, the grading, the countless nights of questioning, the birthing or lack there of, the could-have-been children I dreamed and imagined into a separate, private reality I fought for and defended against everyone.

 

I thought that the beginning lies in the leaving, always in the leaving, those long roads of indecision and sudden realization. Fearless and open.

 

But those are only spirals, bleeding blotches where the ink ran and poured over.

 

The beginning is always in the going home, the going back, someone else’s history, someone else’s fiction. Something stolen or assumed. Something borrowed.

 

Everything else is a scene, a moment leading back to the beginning already in the process of ending.

On a ferry, on an island in Lake Erie. Dark and dirty waters, shallow waters and separate pools.

 

There are shadows in the water, ropes, and cracked steel.

There is whiskey and bad cocaine. And the women. The women, my grandfather says.

The work and the work and beaches covered in glass.

What my mother loved.

The lights on the water.

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