Monday, April 30, 2007

Technical Topics -- Openings

ADVICE THE FIRST -- WRITE THE BEGINNING LAST

Or at least, do the agonizing perfect polish of those first three chapters,
last.

I'm paraphrasing somebody else here ...
can't remeber who just at the moment.

One problem with story openings is that they are technically difficult,
and we write them just when we are least prepared to do so.

We write the opening before we know our characters well,
before we have negotiated the conflicts of Chapters 13 and 22,
before all the 'aha moments' Chapter 8 and Chapter 11.

One way to solve the 'opening problem'
is to sketch out the opening,
finish the ms,
and return to lock down those first three chapters,
last.


ADVICE THE SECOND -- DON'T BE AN AMATEUR

There are some openings
that an agent picks it up and just groans.
Because many many amateur mss start this way.

AAAARRRRGGGGH goes the agent.
You do not want to do this to the nice agent, do you?

Do you want to know what amateur openings look like?

Go thou out to the web and find display sites.
Google -- "writers" "post" "your" "manuscript" "showcase"

Read fifty or a hundred of the offerings.
You only have to read to the point where you know this story sucks.
Look at why you know this story sucks
and don't do that


ADVICE THE THIRD -- SOME STUFF TO PUT IN CHAPTER ONE

Your story has a couple Main Characters. (1)

Your story has something that makes life just hell for an MC. Something that wants to let the air out of his tires and steal his underwear and bite his liver out and chew it up into little pieces and spit it out on the pavement. (2)

Your story also has something an MC would give his right arm up to the elbow for. (3)

Chapter One should contain (1) and either (2) or (3) or both.
It should contain those elements right from the start.

Not the beginning of the element or what will become the element. The element itself.


ADVICE THE FOURTH (AND FINAL) -- STRUCTURE

Do not put in a teaser for a few paragraphs
and then nip away somewhere else --
to yesterday or twenty years ago or Nome, Alaska.

Because wherever you nip to,
it is not as exciting as where you have just been
and the reader knows it.

When you start in a place and time,
with your MC and either (2) or (3) or both,
stay there
for the whole opening scene.


NON-ADVICE --
just an observation.

You can do any durned thing you please,
except bore the reader.
If you write well enough you can start Chapter One with the Vladiivostok telephone directory.
.
.

6 comments:

  1. Oh gosh, Jo--so right about polishing the beginning (first three chapters) last!

    I love writing the beginning of the story, but it's rarely the beginning when I'm done with the manuscript.

    To test my begninning I entered it in a few contests. I finaled in one of those. After I'd finished the manuscript, and polished, polished, and rewrote the beginning, I entered it in eight contests. I finaled in seven.

    Cathy (aka Eadarainn from the Beau Monde), who is waiting for your book to make it to her nightstand.

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  2. Jo--Just a heads-up to let you know I linked to this post on my blog:

    http://thestoneriver.blogspot.com/2007/05/cardinal-sin.html

    Good stuff, particularly the part about not boring the reader.

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  3. Trying again with that link:

    http://thestoneriver.blogspot.com/
    2007/05/cardinal-sin.html

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  4. Hi Cathy --

    Sorry not to get back sooner.
    I'm desperately trying to get MY three first chapters written for JESS ....
    which is why I was pondering beginnings donchaknow.

    I think I'm about done.
    After many many iterations.
    I'll let my latest version sit overnight and mail it out tomorrow.

    (Proofing it first, of course.
    I'm about to print up the 'proofing' copy in Courier.)

    I hate to read Courier.

    Interesting that you would love writing the beginnings of stories. It drives me quite 'straws in the hair' nuts.

    I'm still not sure I've tucked in sufficient backstory ...

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  5. Hi Beth -

    Oh. How absolutely cool.

    You would not believe how far behind I am with everything.

    Do you think a Regency person would say
    'You would not believe ... etc.'
    as in
    'You would not believe how strange it is inside my head right now."
    ?

    Or is that both modern and American wording?

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  6. You're asking me what a Regency person would say?

    I have no idea. But fwiw, "You would not believe how strange it inside my head ('mind,' maybe?)" is not something I would stumble over.

    And I saw that you got the copy edits. Here's hoping they're few and palatable.

    ReplyDelete