Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Beginnings

It isn't always easy to come up with a winning first paragraph and even if we do that, it's tough to keep our winning words going through our entire book. But if we're trying to capture the attention of an editor, our critique partner or even our best friends' it's more than a good idea to get them interested early on.

Years ago I heard something like this: "An editor looks at only the first few paragraphs, the first page if you're lucky. If you don't capture his/her attention by then you never will."

Even though publishing is changing, (we are doing so much more online and self-publishing than ever before) a reader wants a good story, one that will make her think--and even, change her life.

Is your book such a creation?

New writers may find that it isn't until about their third chapter that things begin to get interesting. Even established writers find that they tend to cut out most of what they write early on. Why is that?

It takes some time to get the good stuff flowing.

Photo by redcargurl, courtesy of Flickr

I like to take my writing clients through various writing prompts that get them out of their head. In the beginning, they tend to write as if their offering doesn't really matter, that it's the facts that matter, or that their beginning is the next best thing to pizza. Everything they write is good even if it isn't. I work on getting them beyond that.

I want them to see that the best writing comes when you least expect it; when you're not trying so hard. When you're thinking and feeling about that experience with a boyfriend or a root canal, maybe in the same sentence. It's the expression called "heart" that really makes the difference, the use of symbolism, metaphor and the five senses. It's about being "real" when being real is difficult and makes the writer hurt.

The best beginnings take me into the story right away. The beginning isn't hindered by long stretches of set-up; you know, "let me tell you what happened first before I tell you the story." A great story gets me involved from the get-go, like this one:

"It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened" (The Giver, by Lois Lowry).

Or this:

"In the shade of the house, in the sunshine on the river bank by the boats, in the shade of the sallow wood and the fig tree, Siddhartha, the handsome Brahmin's son, grew up with his friend Govinda" (Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse)."

Both of these beginning sentences are different but they capture the main character and the experience the character is dealing with--right now, at the very moment you've picked up the book. It's as if you are there to experience each of their lives with them.

And you are.

Today, go through your latest novel and find the line that speaks of the character and who they are. Cut out all the extraneous stuff (you can add it later if you want). Begin your story.


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