Sunday, September 29, 2019
When an editor evaluates your novel, he or she puts a lot of weight on the very first scene. Everyone wants to see a strong opening scene, but not everyone knows how to create one. You might be one of those writers who can’t start their book until they know for sure what that first scene is. If you’re like me you may start writing your book knowing that you don’t know where it should start. I’m always prepared to throw away the start of my books because he REAL opening scene is in chapter two or three.
Either way, you’ve got to set the hook and grip your reader. I think the easiest way to do that is to spark some curiosity. A curious reader keeps reading. Yu can create an interesting situation, or build a world so fascinating readers will want to know more about it.
When I read the opening scene of a submission to Intrigue Publishing I ask myself what readers will want to know more about. Did the writer suggest hidden secrets? Did he make promises that will need payoff later? The writer has a real advantage if he can get the reader wondering about something from the start.
I also want to meet characters who will intrigue the reader. A character the reader wants to know more about is a strong lure. So when you write that opening scene, ask yourself what is compelling about the character you’ve introduced. Does the character have a unique voice? Is he or she doing something that is intrinsically interesting? Most importantly, why should the reader care about this person? Remember, this person doesn’t have to be a hero. (Is there a more fascinating character in all of literature than Hannibal Lector?) But it needs to be someone the reader will want to get to know.
That’s all about character. Plot wise, a great opening scene makes it easy for readers to get into the story. So make sure it is clear what’s going on in the scene. Readers should understand what’s going on without having to hear an explanation or dig through a bunch of backstory. It’s good if your reader knows right away who the important characters are. And there should be just enough detail in the description to pull me in, but not so much that it distracts.
I have other thoughts on how to create great beginnings, which I’ll share next week.
Monday, September 23, 2019
The seventh edition of the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con is now history and after a couple of days the exhaustion is easing up. Still, there’s no denying that running a conference of this type is among the most rewarding, most empowering, and most exhausting things a writer can do.
Planning an event like this is a year-long effort. Dealing with the hotel is probably the worst of it – someone has to figure out what rooms you need when, plan meals, get coffee and bars in the right places and provide for security. We have to wrangle the keynote speakers- get them to commit, then get them to the event and to their individual presentations. On a lesser scale the same for local guests. Attendees have to be registered, money accounted for and panels thought up, set up, and staffed. We assemble an anthology, build a program book and run a twitter contest. And there’s more.
But how rewarding it is! To hear two great keynote addresses, do great author interviews and sit in on amusing, educational and moving panels. To get heaped with praise by the attendees. To see the faces of writers being asked to sign one of their books (in some cases for the first time.) To hear writers who have been to Bouchercon, Thrillerfest or other major events say that this is their favorite Con. And best of all, to make new friends, not just of superstar authors, but also newly emerging authors and aspiring writers who get inspired by the whole event.
And anything you accomplish on a large scale is empowering, right? What a feeling, to sit in the bar with New York Times bestsellers and hear their anecdotes. To look at a banquet hall full of smiling faces and be able to say, “WE did this!” When it comes off well, when the schedule works, the book signings are successful, the readings at Noir at the Bar bring people to their feet… it can give you the feeling that you can do anything!
Which may be the most important thing writers get from the C3 Con. Hearing David Mack say “The secret is simple…run your own race, don’t quit, and be kind.” John Gilstrap told us that “Failure cannot be inflicted, it can only be declared.” I a sense our Con is rewarding and exhausting for us, but empowering for every writer who attends.
Thursday, September 5, 2019
Last week I spent a 5-day weekend at DragonCon, an event designed for sci-fi and fantasy fans – genres I don’t write but do enjoy. At one point someone asked me for writing advice and the first thing I always say is “Write every day?” Naturally, they asked if I was writing while I was at DragonCon.
“No,” I said. But then I thought about it. “I’m not at the keyboard but, yes I think I am writing every day.” Now that I’m back in the groove I realize that I do a lot of writing when I’m not staring at the screen.
DragonCon was a good example. Being in a new place, especially if it’s packed with people being different than they are day to day, is an overwhelming sensory experience. Not just new sights (How’d she get her costume to do that?) but new sounds (like fandom specific slang) new tastes (what’s in these jello shots??) and even new smells. Newness makes us really BE THERE and experience things. I think about how I react to things, and all those feelings will inform my story telling.
Part of that experience is talking to strangers. People at Cons are very open and friendly, and they are often very different from the people I see every day back home. I pick up new slang (As it turns out, what’s pricey in MD is spendy in Oregon.) Plus, those strangers have different pasts, different experiences, and different opinions. All of that ends up in characters I create. Sometimes it can spark a story idea.
Then I thought about all the other things I do when I’m not writing. For example, I read other people’s books. When I react emotionally to a good book, I want to know how the writer did that – How he or she made me laugh, cry, get angry or get scared. So I take it apart and dig into the “how” and then consider how I can use those techniques in my work.
Similarly, I’m writing when I watch television. Again, I’m looking at the storytelling techniques. Most of my favorites are written to a formula, one that requires a cliffhanger at the end of each of five acts and calls for a secondary plot woven into the lead storyline. I learn from watching how it’s done.
I can say something similar about listening to music, and even when I’m refinishing my deck which becomes kind of a zen activity, during which my mind plays with story ideas. My point is, if you’re a writer at heart, you are probably writing all the time, even when people think you’re just daydreaming.