Friday, November 30, 2007

Once Upon a Time...

We’ve heard from our fearless Captain that she envisions a happy ending for the wenches aboard her vessel, not only in a real life sense, but in a literary sense as well. A well-written ending for the characters in a story can make all the difference to the reader, as well as give credit to the characters. However, just as important to the story, is the beginning.

The beginning can make or break a story. I have a short attention span; the author has to pull me in with the first sentence or I lose interest. My favorite beginning is one of an emotional nature, which makes perfect sense because I am an emotional writer. I want my character’s feelings to be palpable. As a reader, I want to connect emotionally to the characters. It entices me to turn the next page.

The greatest credit you can give your characters is to place them in a well-described scene and have them react in the most human way possible. I don’t want to tell the reader what is happening I want to create what is happening. I want to begin the story as if the reader is interacting in the scene with the characters.

Excellent description is the key to enticing a reader. I also favor what I call a drop in beginning. The author drops you in a scene that’s already in motion, tension is high, you’re on the edge of your seat, and turning pages as fast as you can to find the results. We all know that the first paragraph of a story can be the most crucial, not only to the reader, but to literary agents, and publishers as well. It’s hard to market a book that has a flat beginning. It takes a number of ingredients to make a good beginning. Take a poignant well-described scene containing strong characters and it’s hard to miss. It’s easy to name the ingredients, but using them to perfect the right recipe determines the ability of the cook.

Are you a word reader or an image reader? Do you read the book as words on a page? Or do the words process from the page to an image in your mind? Well-articulated words should evoke an image automatically.

Have you ever sang The National Anthem and envisioned the words? I clearly see the night sky light up as the bombs explode. I see men falling on the battlefield, and most importantly, I see the battered flag waving in the air. Francis Scott Key wrote simple words that when sang, evoke not only emotion, but also a profound image. I am sure at the time he wrote The Star Spangled Banner he had no idea of the vast importance and greatness of his work.

Words are our tools. Use them well, and it may only be the beginning for you.

What type of scene sets up the beginning of your WIP? Do you know of any authors who have perfected first scenes like no other?


terrio said...

Fantastic topic, Lisa. This is such a problem for me. I have struggled with the beginning of my book until I think I've cut nearly 40 pages off the front. The book is better for the cut but I'm finding it hard to remember the reader doesn't know what I know. In my mind, quite a bit has happened before this starting point and it's very hard to NOT leave things out.

I love the idea of dropping the reader into a scene. I sort of do that. In my first draft, we go through the heroine's terrible day at work - locking her keys in her car, dealing with the annoying bimbo in her office, facing a FATAL ERROR message on her computer. But now we pick up after all that has happened and we get glimpses of it through dialogue.

I used to be good at writing catchy first lines but as I've written more, that part has gotten more difficult. How does that happen?

Lissa said...

I agree Terrio. I've scratched my opening scene several times to the point I've had to move on and hope something better comes to mind.

I look at the first paragraph of my story like an advertisement. It's a preview of what's to come. It has to be packed with enough information to lure the reader into the plot. Writing a beginning that works is a frustrating task. I've almost decided to go with a prologue to give some background information, but even with this it still has to spark interest.

And I have no words of wisdom about the ability to write catchy first lines. I think they either happen for me or they don't.

terrio said...

Lissa - the only thing about adding a prologue (and I think in some books it works great) is hearing people say, "You can't have a prologue in books today. No editor wants them." This is a generalization, of course, but I've heard it in different places. I think prologues work great for books with suspense elements or even paras. Especially great for setting the tone and the world in which the book is set. You just have to be careful with that as well.

Do you think about having the first line or paragraph of every chapter being as important? What about the last line of the chapter? That's where you get the "page turner" quality.

Lissa said...

I know a prologue is frowned upon by editors, but I think if I don't use one at some point a flashback scene will be in order.

I think the last line of a chapter is important, in order to get the page turner quality. I don't think every chapter has to have a wonderful opening line, if you've ended the previous chapter well, I think that sets up the next chapter for you.

terrio said...

Good point. I've heard of writers just writing straight through and going back to break it into chapters later. That might be an interesting way to do it and it seems more organic that way.

I love when two characters are talking for the first time because it's a great opportunity to give history and details in dialog. And I'm better at dialog than I am at the other stuff. At least I think I am...*g*

Lissa said...

I love writing dialog, but I suck at interspection. I'll be writing along and think "oh crap"....I've wrote an entire page of dialog without any interspection from the characters! And to me the interspection is what makes the characters shine, it adds so much to the story and relates the characters to the reader.

Marnee Jo said...

Great topic, Lissa. :)

I actually wrote an entire chapter as my first chapter, only to cut it out later. However, I am worried that my beginning is weak. You guys'll have to read it to make sure it's compelling enough.

I am going to show my ignorance, but I had no idea editors didn't like prologues. I actually like to read prologues. What's the reasoning?

MsHellion said...

Awesome blog! It smoothly talks about beginnings that begin with a bang and that all important writing proverb: show, don't tell.

I read books like I'm watching a movie (hence why I see many of the characters as the closest looking movie star. *LOL*)

Francis Scott, I doubt he was thinking of the longevity of his lyrics. Didn't he write that song as an expression of his grief? I thought his family had died crossing over. *confused brow* I think I'm confusing my songwriters. Must go investigate.

As for me, every once in a while I start off with a bang, but I don't do beginnings all that well. It takes about 10 drafts to get a good one.

Lissa said...

Marnee I would love to read your beginning any time:)

Some editors feel prologues are a less than flashy way to start out. They want catchy lines and visual lures:)

Lissa said...

Hellion~ I didn't research Francis Scott Key's reasons for writing the Star Spangled Banner.It eludes me if he wrote it over a tradegy, but now that you mention it, that sounds very familar. I just immediately think of the song as a perfect example of simple words providing a thought provoking image.

terrio said...

I forgot to answer the question. I see the scene when I read but since I don't always pay close attention, I'll picture the hero standing to the heroines right and then I keep reading only to realize he's standing to her left. I really should pay more attention. LOL!

Marnee - I've read a little of your stuff and I have every faith your beginning is just fine. But I have no problem reading it to be sure. *g*

MsHellion said...

I don't think it's that editors don't like's that they don't like most people's prologues. If you're using it for an info dump, they don't want it.

PLENTY of writers use prologues, I think, and I love them myself. I look forward to them!

I did used to have my Chapter 1 as a prologue (since it was the scene where he gets shot) and then launch immediately into chapter 1 as a flashback...but my critique group talked me out of it...and I'm not married to the idea of it being a prologue, so that's fine.

I think though for prologues, you should keep them short (I hear this one a lot too!)--no more than 3 pages, I think--because apparently romance readers have the shortest attention span since the avid watchers of FRIENDS.

MsHellion said...

You can make your prologue flashy. *LOL* I remember Julie Garwood starting out with a prologue and she's Queen of the One Liner--and it was the best one-liner. Something about "It was only a matter of time before the wedding party began brawling" or something to that effect...and it was wonderful.

MsHellion said...

Lissa, don't worry about your dialogue. I do that all the time...a page of dialogue and no introspection. That's for the second go through!

MsHellion said...

Okay, back from research! Key wrote it because he was inspired after watching the bombings.

The guy I'm thinking of wrote: It is well with my soul--which makes me cry just hearing the melody, it's so sad. He's the one who wrote it after his kids died during a ship sinking during an ocean crossing.

Lissa said...

I love Julie Garwood..she is queen of the one liner.

Lissa said...

And I meant intROspection instead of interspection I was thinking inter thoughts duh....geez I'm glad it's Friday...

Sin said...

Wow! This is a fabulous blog babe!

Okay so I'm late to the party today, but as I say (because I'm a pirate and procrastinator extrodinaire) better late than never. LOL

I always suck at writing the beginning. I always have. I dunno what it is about writing a beginning that is so hard for me. I like to write the action, suspense, a relationship already failing. Maybe it's the background I hate to write?

In Sadie and Ash's story I started off writing them in the middle of an investigation doing a bust. But it just wouldn't work for the overall storyline. There has to be some background in there before we get to that point, otherwise the reader won't have the slightest clue what's going on. But I love books that do that. In fact, those are some of my favs. Like TBO (remember Lis, with the Red Devil?) or in TS where Carmen shoots Steph's Mini? LOL

I like to read prologues. I like chapters to tell me what's going on. But I'm a rather strange individual.

Lissa said...

Thanks Sin. It amazes me that the blogs I think are crap everyone likes, or maybe you're all being kind to the flailing writer:) If so I appreciate the confidence.

I loved the beginning of TBO, and TS. And I'm sorry the action scene didn't work in DV because I loved that beginning. I love being dropped in the midst of the action.

I'm also with you on prologues. They're like a movie trailors to me:) I like to know what it's about before I begin.

Sin said...

It's okay about the beginning. I'll have to write the whole story before I can even write a decent first two chapters. LOL It's always been that way for me.

Confidence in your writing dear. You must have confidence and not dog yourself. You have no reason to, you're doing great!

MsHellion said...

Ditto what Sin said, Lissa! We're not lying to you. *LOL* Do I look like a sugar-coater to you?

terrio said...

Do you really want us to answer that?

We're all flailing, that's the point. We're in this together and if your own crew can't tell you the truth, who can?

Sin - I hear that all the time. I think that's what's great about knowing you can always go back and fix the beginning once you get to THE END. It's all do-over-able! LOL!

Sin said...

I'm the only sugar coater on this ship and even my sugar coating is not pretty. LOL

terrio said...

I don't have the sugar-coating but unfortunately I have the gooey center. LOL!

I didn't mean for that to sound dirty but somehow I think it does...

Marnee Jo said...

LOL! We're defintely not sugar coating. :)

I love Julie Garwood's one-liners. I wish I could write stuff like that. She has an amazing way of starting off the chapter with such a bang.

Do you guys like dialogue first lines or otherwise when reading or writing?

I usually like dialogue when I am reading, but my WIP has a statement as a first line. Thoughts?

MsHellion said...

Depends on the dialogue line. And how it's quickly followed.

Sherrilyn Kenyon had a first line I remember (sorta)--that was dialogue. Let me find it...I'll be murdered for quoting it...but it's damned good. You guys need to buy the book.


“There’s a traitor among us.”

With a completely stoic expression, Varian duFey looked up from the desk where he was wasting time on a Sudoku puzzle to meet Merlin’s worried gaze. As always, she was dressed in a long white medieval styled gown that was trimmed in gold while her pale flaxen hair fell around her shoulders and down her back like a mantel of silk. Unlike the Merlin who’d served King Arthur, Aquila Merlin was lithe and young with a beauty that was only surpassed by her intelligence and magick.

Scratching his chin, Varian merely arched a single brow at her agitated demeanor. “No shit, Sherlock. There’s always a traitor among us.”

Sin said...

Depends on the type of novel I'm reading. I don't mind my romances starting off with a statement. I like dialogue beginnings when I'm reading mystery but that doesn't mean that if I don't get them, I'll stop reading the book. Sometimes there just isn't room for dialogue in the beginning of a mystery. I just like action. Gimme something that's going on whether it be in a statement or in dialogue and I'm on it like white on rice.

terrio said...

I read that Kinley excerpt on her website not long ago and it cracked me. Especially since I've never read her stuff.

I don't think it matters to me either but if the entire first paragraph goes on and on about the color of a leaf or something like that, I'd get a little antsy.

Mine is dialog but I like sarcasm and understatement so if the first line makes me smile, that's good.

Marnee Jo said...

I have never read Sherrilyn Kenyon, but I have been meaning to pick her up. It's stuff like that that makes me want to get to reading her.


It pretty much sounds like a "whatever works" kinda think, huh? LOL!

Lissa said...

I also enjoy a funny beginning, a witty first line with some humor gets me every time. I guess that's why I like Evanovich so much.

irisheyes said...

Hey guys, late to the party again! (Xmas shopping - had to catch a couple of sales).

Anyway, great blog Lissa. I'm having problems with the beginning also. I think not knowing where to start is what stopped me from writing anything for soooooo long. Now when dialogue or a scene pop in my head I just get it down and not worry about what will come before or after.

I do agree that a good first paragraph is gold. I'm the type of reader who will hang in through the first chapter, at least. So you don't really have to work as hard to get me interested. I do some of the work myself. LOL

ITA about Garwood. One of my favorite first lines from her is from The Secret (it's also the first line in her prologue!)

"They became friends before they were old enough to understand they were suppose to hate each other."

I, too, like prologues. That's a great analogy, Lissa - like a trailer for a movie.

I do visualize what the author is saying. So, the better they are at world building or scene setting the more I like it. I'm also a sucker for dialogue. I would rather find out about the characters by listening to what they are saying instead of paragraphs upon paragraphs of explanation. I'm kinda different, though, in that I like introspection or self talk. I like to get inside the characters head and know what they are thinking.

Lissa said...

Irish~ fabulous first line from Garwood. That woman amazes me everytime.

So you're saying your an "easy reader" LOL Good for you. I wish I could be less ADD and stick with the book that long, but I always think if they can't write a good enough first paragraph to entice me how good could the rest of the book be? That sounds so unfair of me....but even when I've stuck with books that couldn't hold my attention in the beginning I was sadly disapointed by the end.