Guillermo Cabrera Infante said: ” When I write, the first blank page, or any blank page, means nothing to me. What means something is a page that has been filled with words.”
I don’t agree with this quote. In fact, I don’t like it.
To me, the blank page symbolises so many wonderful, exciting things: The start of a journey, unravelling a new novel; an adventure where characters and subplots reveal themselves in the unlikeliest of places. Mostly, I get the pleasure of setting up a blank document and novel file.
That simple act of clicking “Blank Document” in Microsoft Word and feeding it my basic settings – Adobe Garamond 12 point, double-spaced, one-inch margins, first line indent of 1.27cm, all pagination settings off – feels like a birth, the genesis of something new. It’s as exciting as those two little words everyone loves to type on the penultimate page of thier manuscript: The End.
I’m not so hot on writing endings. I’ve always preferred beginnings. The page is blank and white, a world made anew immediately after a snow storm.
Typing the first header, “Chapter One”, is akin to the moment of opening the back door to survey the garden after the snow has stopped falling. You take that first tentative step onto that pristine carpet. This first smudge that pollutes the whiteness of the page is like the first boot print trampled into the perfect, snowy garden.
The second step is the first word of the opening line. Then the next, and the next. They leave a trail like the boot prints in the snow as you continue to trudge around the garden. You look back and see that you have a sentence. One word leading to the next, like the tracks that lead back to the door. You realise that leaving your mark is fun, and you trample around some more, not minding the emptiness or uncertainty.
The next time you look back, you have a whole paragraph’s worth of boot prints on the snowy page. And by the end of the page, you’re having so much fun that the body of a snowman begins to emerge from the chaos…
That’s starting to sound like the opener to an icy thriller, but you get the point. By the end of the first chapter, the page is a web of boot prints. Your snowman has a name, a personal history, several goals and a motive, and an enemy breathing down his neck.
Yep, that’s right. The sun came out and the snowman has started to melt. That’s a great place to leave the first chapter and hit the “Page Break” button. Now it’s time for another fresh start, to stamp boot prints all over another blank page. Chapter Two begins, and our snowman is in serious peril.
Chapters are, in their own right, separate stories within the larger whole. Each has a beginning, middle, and end. It forms a complete cycle, leaving a tantilising tidbit to tempt the reader into starting over again with the next chapter.
Scenes, too, work in the same way. Even each sentence is a new beginning – a little piece of the snowy garden begging to be walked on. And we eventually get to that unmarked point, while looking for the stick that will become the snowman’s arms that he will use to eventually thwart his enemy…
Beginnings are neither bad nor difficult, and shouldn’t be viewed as such. They can be a little hard to navigate sometimes, but they each represent something new and exciting. A journey into the unknown. And each new beginning should be enjoyed. After all, what’s the point in opening a blank document if you aren’t excited about filling it with words?