Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beyond the First Sentence. Elements of a Strong Opening Scene

Readers around the world have heard it a thousand times: Hook the reader on the first line or lose them forever. And so, we fret over that first sentence. We dread it and we love it. We write it a hundred times and erase it a hundred and one. Most writers are never completely satisfied with their writing in general, oh, but that first line will give us nightmares.

Thing is, there are very few memorable opening lines in literary history. Even with the abundance of classics and well written, award winning stories. Contrary to what has been drilled into our heads, readers will go beyond the first line, and they'll stay with you if your whole opening is promising enough...

So, how to craft an enticing opening? I recently came across Les Edgerton's book, Hooked. It is an easy to follow, light read with a ton of great advice for writers, beginners and experienced alike.
I don't know you, but I started writing empirically, meaning I followed the example set by those authors I admired. I knew the elements of a good story because I had read many, but I couldn't necessarily name them. This book helped me do just that. It helped me grab concepts that before were ethereal to me and suddenly I could see things I hadn't seen before. For example, two of my stories where in a state of limbo. Even though I had told the story I wanted to tell, they seemed incomplete. Something was missing and I just didn't know what. Well Les Edgerton changed that.

While I will share with you some of that knowledge I found helpful, in no way am I sharing all there is to this book. If you find this article helpful, I cannot be emphatic enough: Get the Book. You won't regret it.

So here we go...

Every novel, short story, or flash fiction is composed of three basic elements:

The Inciting Incident: A single event or action that starts the domino effect of situations that'll drive the plot forward. This incident (In Titanic, for example, Rose's suicide attempt) will generate a...

Surface Problem: Resolving this problem is the final goal of your main character (Jack's interested in her, but even worse, she's interested in him). This is the motor that drives the whole story, and it must give us an inkling of the...

Story-Worthy Problem: This is the psychological inner workings of the character. At first the MC doesn't know what lies at the root of his/problems, but as he tries to solve the Surface Problem, the real, psychological problem becomes evident. (Rose lives under the control of her mother and husband-to-be. If she's to be ever happy, she needs to become the owner of her life.)

So, and this is where the real trick lies, a successful opening will show the reader in one single scene that inciting incident; it'll make it clear, or fairly clear, what the MC's motive will be; and it'll foreshadow the inner demons behind him/her cool facade.

Interesting, right?

Because scenes can be quite long and this is a blog, not a book, I won't include other examples, but go ahead, open any book you want and search for those elements. See them? Great, now pay attention at how the author weaved them seamlessly into the opening scene. Quite the trick, I know. And now's your turn to try.

For more examples of these elements and others, grab a copy of Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Feeling Good about Writing

Holy cow! Can you believe it's already May? Wow, the year has really slipped by for me. All things considered, it's been a good ride so far, and thanks to all your support last month, I'm feeling much more positive about the impending move. So, when I was thinking on my post for today, I decided to dedicate it to a few words of encouragement instead of the usual angst. I'm hoping to repay your kindness with encouragement that will hopefully made you feel better. At least for today.

The path to create something subjective like art or novels is a difficult one. Not only are we confronted by our natural need of being accepted and loved, but we receive constant negative or derogatory comments. It seems the world thinks writing books or painting watercolors is as easy as changing socks. Every-freaking-body thinks they can write. I keep hearing from non-writers how they wished they had the time to write a book, 'cause they have these great ideas! Some of those ideas are actually great, but you and I know writing a book takes a whole lot more than time. We know because we do all kinds of time-bending and soul-gymnastics to write from the deepest, most personal nooks in our minds. And even if it were only about time, I usually wonder if these people think I do nothing but stare at my computer all day. Who raises my kids, cleans my house, cooks? And that's just because I'm lucky enough not to need a day job (thanks to God and the hubby for that!). While non-writers daydream and complain, every writer I know squeezes every last second of the day to manage a few words more.

So there. Give yourself a pat on the back!

But that's not our only daily triumph. We keep pounding the keyboard without any certitude that the many hours we've poured into our fictional worlds will ever see the light of day. And when we finish, we are confronted with the terrifying reality of searching for acceptance out there, in the real world. We send our babies to agents and publishers, hoping for the best and dreading the worst. We receive harsh criticism on a regular basis. And yet somehow, every time we find the strength to do it all over again. Just the fact that we've written THE END on something is a big accomplishment. Do you know the failure rate among wanna-be-writers? You have given a HUGE step forward. Your ms may seem like garbage to you now, and it is far from finished, but you have accomplished what millions before you have not.

So, there's another reason to think you're awesome!

And like I was saying just now, if you have send anything to a publisher or have queried innumerable agents seeking for representation, you are brave. It's not easy to put yourself out there and open to being rejected--which you most probably have experienced at least once. That requires courage! And to send your story to a new publisher/agent after it was rejected once, twice, or a million times requires not only courage, but tenacity. Those are the steppingstones to success.

So take a drink on your name, eat a celebratory donut with sprinkles on top, or a sunday. Recognize the strength in yourself on a daily basis, that way when your insecurities come a-knocking, you'll know what your heart and mind are made of. What you are writing/feeling/going through may not be good, but as long as you remember there's a grain of greatness in you, you'll find your way to the top.

Thanks to Alex for giving us this great outlet to vent/find support. Don't forget to click on the IW Support Group page on top this blog to visit more writers and keep spreading the good vibes!