“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Last night, I stayed up way too late pretending that I was rocking the baby to sleep when, in reality, I was furiously rewriting the beginning of one of my stories on my cell phone. (Not the most efficient way to write, but when you have one free hand and a sleeping child on your chest, you make do.) This is the fourth or fifth beginning to this particular project, and it’s the first time that it’s felt right.
We all know that beginnings are important–they grab the reader, slice into the meat of your story, and set the tone for the whole novel. So let’s talk a little about how beginnings go wrong and how to fix them.
1. Nothing happens. This is, sadly, the most common and most unfortunate error in kicking off a book. The character wakes up, brushes her teeth, and heads off to school, where she attends three classes before, twenty pages in, AN ASTEROID CRASHES INTO EARTH AND TRANSFORMS HER ENTIRE SCHOOL INTO RADIOACTIVE MUTANTS.
Skip the twenty pages of tooth-brushing and start with the asteroid.
2. Info duuuuuuump. How many times have you gotten through the first paragraph of a story and needed to come up for air? “Okay, there’s a girl, and she’s got seven siblings with crazy unpronounceable names, and those are all their ages, and they live in a magical kingdom underwater that uses fish to bring fresh air down from the surface only the fish are dying and by the way civil war and social rankings and whaaaaa . . .”
We don’t need (or want!) to know the ENTIRE story in one page up front. Pick one important plot point and introduce it (NOT explaining in detail) throughout the first scene. Pull out your outline and figure out how to let the information reveal itself naturally.
3. Starting event isn’t pertinent to the main plot. Maybe you’ve got a great action scene written that takes place during your character’s jujitsu tournament, but if it’s there just for the sake of the action and doesn’t advance the plot or character development, I don’t want to see it. Make sure you springboard your readers into what your book is really about, or they’ll feel cheated.
4. Inconsistent tone. If your book is lighthearted, start out lighthearted! If it’s serious, set the stage! Don’t have a page of doom and gloom and then turn around and start cracking jokes.
Now, be careful with this. Remember that I’m talking about TONE, not PLOT. All plots are going to have some element of tension and danger to them–that’s what drives the story. But all narrators are going to relay that tension in a different way. Make sure your narrator is consistent.
What are some problems you’ve run into with a story’s beginning?
“Sometimes,” I said, “you have to let one story end so the next one can begin.”
“How do you know when that will happen?”
“You don’t,” I said. “Which is why you should always carry on.”
(Finding Winnie, Lindsay Mattick)
I can’t believe I just opened a Twitter account. This is so dumb.
What are you even supposed to say in 140 characters? Maybe–nope, how about–still too long–GAH!
Whatever. I don’t have anything witty to say anyway. I’ll just link to my blog.
What’s with all the cat pictures?
OK, OK, I’ll tweet, but I’m NOT using hashtags. I don’t even get how those work.
All these other writers are using the #amwriting hashtag…I guess that one’s harmless enough. I’ll try it.
HOLY CRAP, like ten people just followed me! That, like, tripled my followers!
…aaand most of them are spam bots.
Why do people even like looking at Twitter? All I see are the same self-promoting tweets sent out about five times a day.
Wait, you can mute people who don’t do anything but scream “BUY MY BOOK”?
Heyyyy… That’s better. Some of these people are actually kinda fun to follow.
Wait–one of my favorite authors just followed me back! Eee! Must–control–fangirling…
Favorite author just REPLIED TO MY TWEET! Stay calm… Don’t blow it… Say something cool… In less than 140 characters… Is it OK to abbreviate when tweeting an author? Is she going to judge me? How else do you get under 140 characters? There’s not enough room to reply to her comment AND tell her how many times I’ve reread her books. Should I tweet her twice? Is that annoying?
Dude. I’m totally Twitter buddies with a super awesome author.
Actually, there are a lot of awesome authors on here. Follow… Follow… Follow…
And agents! Look at all the agents!
And #MSWL! Whaaaat?! Coolest thing EVER!
NETWORKING! WRITING COMMUNITY! TRIBES! CAT PICTURES! (OK, no, I still don’t get the cat pictures.) TWITTER FOREVER!
“But of course we can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.” (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)
I’ve been absent from the internet for a while here, busy with our new arrival:
I hope you are all making great strides toward your life goals, dreams, and ambitions! I’ll be back to blogging and catching up on blogs soon enough, but in the meantime, enjoy your weekend and have a beautiful Easter Sunday!
I’m having a hard time getting anywhere with my writing this week. I’m probably burned out on most of my projects, but just not writing isn’t an option for me. I’d go stark raving mad.
So yesterday, I decided to shift perspective on one of my stories and write a bit from a side character’s point of view. It was refreshing and led to some great character development, which in turn influenced how I’m seeing this plot unwind.
AND it made me realize:
I’m telling one of my other stories from COMPLETELY the wrong perspective.
And so, this morning, one of my stories changed from adult to middle-grade. An extremely lame plot arc has turned into an exciting and emotional adventure. It’s gonna be good.
Sometimes, all we need to push out of a slump is a new way of looking at the old, tired things spread out in front of us.
Have you ever had to completely change who is telling your story?
The launch party was a great success on Saturday! It was so fun to talk books and writing with so many readers.
And now Stone Alliance is out in the world, and I’m waiting for this baby to come out into the world too. Between being roughly the size of a rhinoceros and coming down with a ridiculous cold, it’s been increasingly hard to do anything remotely productive, so I’ve been catching up on some reading. Here’s what’s in my stack this week:
Beastly Bones by William Ritter
Charlie Bone and the Time Twister by Jenny Nimmo
President of the Whole Sixth Grade by Sherri Winston
Nightmares! by Jason Segel
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (although I’m struggling to get anywhere with this one, short as it is)
What are you reading this week?
“To be always peaceful is no more a part of progress than it is of a river, which piles up rocks and creates barriers as it flows; these obstacles cause the water to froth and humanity to seethe. This leads to disturbance; but when the disturbance is over we realize that something has been gained.” (Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Someone asked me this week how I find time to write, which is easily the most common question put to me when people hear I’m an author. The first thing that came to mind was this wonderful quote from JK Rowling:
“People very often say to me, ‘How did you do it, how did you raise a baby and write a book?’ And the answer is–I didn’t do housework for four years. I am not superwoman. And, um, living in squalor, that was the answer.”
In a week where I had a book release, beta reading, layout designing, piano teaching, toddler wrangling, AND I was praying desperately that I wouldn’t go into labor before my launch party on Saturday (good news: looks like I’ll make it!), this quote resonated deep in my soul.
We don’t have the time to do everything. So make the time to do what’s important to you.