In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* Topic: The Value of an Opening
* Today redux
* Of Interest
* The Numbers
Quotes of the Day
“Reacher has remained a loner and a drifter, which allows Child the freedom to put his protagonist in virtually any role and in any setting and still continue the series.” Rick Pullen in an interview with Lee Child (see “Of Interest” below)
“Advice to Writers: Ignore all advice because you’ve got to imagine here’s your book and that book is going to be competing with several others. The only way it stands a chance is if it has a heartbeat of its own. Otherwise you’re writing by committee. So close your eyes and write the book you want. Then it stands a chance. There’s no guarantee.” Lee Child
This is a narrow focus, but for anyone using Serif Affinity design or publisher products for any reason (I’ve recommended them before), see “100 Days. 100 Commissions.” at https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/100-days-100-commissions/.
Yesterday, I did re-start the novel, but it was a very slow start as I played with several openings. I wrote probably 2000 words, but I didn’t count them as they weren’t “publishable” words. They were only me casting about for a new opening.
Today, I rolled out way late at almost 4 a.m. (very odd for me). As the coffee made, I realized I was looking forward to getting back to my very fledgling manuscript, even though I don’t really have a manuscript yet. Just some failed starts from yesterday. That was my creative subconscious wanting to go play. With what? I had no idea.
Still, once I got to the Hovel I held off. I wrote some of the stuff above and checked for items for “Of interest.”
Around an hour in, I finally turned to all the starts I’d written yesterday, and one immediately grabbed me (that’s the creative subconscious at work), though it wasn’t yet fleshed-out as an opening at all.
But I trust my subconscious completely, so I deleted everything else on those pages (around 1700 words) and read over the two or three hundred words that were left.
I was right. What was left was a really great seed. So I fleshed it out in a frenzy of writing (about 1600 more words in a little over an hour). Then, happy with the new opening, I went up to the house for breakfast.
And when I came back, I decided to turn the rest of this account into a topic:
Topic: The Value of an Opening
Common wisdom says to start a story in the middle of the action (in media res), and explain later.
Yet I’m always harping on starting any story, any length, by grounding the reader in the character and setting. You start with a character with a problem in a setting, and then you flesh that out with character description and setting description to make an opening.
So which is correct?
All readers read for Character. If the POV character isn’t intriguing to them, they won’t continue reading. They need to be invested in the character.
And all readers need to be able to identify with (see, hear, smell, taste, touch) the setting. In other words, they need to be grounded.
The secret (as revealed by any story from any Stage 4 or Stage 5 writer) is to let the reader FEEL as if the story begins with bang-bang action. Even though it really doesn’t. How?
By making the reader first feel the setting and identify with the character. Then when the action starts, the reader will care.
But don’t take my word for it. Check out any story by King or Koontz or Grisham or Oates or Child or Jack Higgins or James Lee Burke (or others, but only masterful writers). Those stories feel like they begin with action, but in actuality, all of them begin with a good opening that pulls the reader into the story, one that invests him in the character and grounds him in the setting.
Even for novels, my openings, during which I ground the reader in the character and setting, are usually only 300-400 words.
This one is different. It’s what I call a dual-summary opening, one that basically jerks the reader into two fantastic situations, one after another, that anyone in his right mind will fervently hope he will never encounter, specifically because he’s experienced the emotions of the characters involved.
So this opening will be in the 1200-1400 word range (vs. 300-400 words), but I can almost guarantee the SF fan won’t be able to put the book down. (If you can’t tell, I’m very excited.)
So as I said above, when I returned to my chosen story-start this morning, I fleshed-out that partial opening with setting and character descriptions and pulled the reader into a second-person (“you”) and present-tense opening, a very odd and very seldom used opening indeed.
Then I added a divider (a single, centered asterisk on a line by itself) and wrote the second part of the opening (also an unusual technique) albeit in third-person past tense (the natural voice of narrative).
This is a new scene in a new setting with two new characters on stage, and it will pull readers even deeper into the story. It will also focus their attention down and ground them on a planet in our galaxy but far from our solar system. A planet that is on the verge of literal destruction.
But although there’s some limited action in the second part of this summary opening, the reader will FEEL that the book opens with action from the very first sentence. And that’s all that’s required.
The real action (plot) will begin in Chapter 2, onboard an intergalactic starship on its way to Earth. How do I know? Because The Othgygnrkthers takes place on Earth. So what will happen in Chapter 2? Frankly, I don’t have a clue. But I’m betting it’ll be a ton of fun to write. (grin)
And best of all, once the survivors of the planet Othgygnrk get to Earth (where another opening is already written from the Earth POV character’s point of view), the opening I wrote this morning will feed directly into multiple new chapters that will fit nicely into the existing half-novel.
Maybe best of all, the opening I wrote this morning is the opening for a series, not only one novel.
And off I go. (grin) As Jean Luc Picard might say, “Engage!”
Note: Don’t be closed-minded. You’re a writer. Don’t automatically assume you can’t use the techniques I’ve describe above because this is an SF novel and you don’t write SF. Writing techniques can be used across genres. Just sayin’.
Today, since I didn’t write anything yesterday that I’m counting, I’ll post this edition of the Journal a little later in the day so I can report numbers in real time. So Day 1 below is actually today, Friday, April 3.
I wrote very fast for awhile, then let myself bog down. I described a starship, then wandered off into designing the stupid thing. I might need that later (but probably not), but not right now. So after about an hour of that silliness, I set it aside and went back to writing the story.
Later, since I’ll basically be integrating two novels, progress will probably slow. Then again, maybe not. After all, half the story is already told. I’ve never written one like this before, so I guess we’ll see.
But a good-enough first day.
Talk with you again soon.
See “My First Thriller: Lee Child” at https://crimereads.com/my-first-thriller-lee-child/.
See “Make Readers Happy” at https://mystorydoctor.com/make-readers-happy/.
See “Card Sharp Silver… Day 14” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/card-sharp-silver-day-14/.
Via The Passive Voice, see “Murder for Profit, Mystery Story Techniques Part 1” at https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/vintage-wd-murder-for-profit-mystery-story-techniques-part-1. FWIW.
See “Writing from the Bottom Rung: How to Sustain Your Creativity During a Pandemic” at https://www.janefriedman.com/writing-from-the-bottom-rung-how-to-sustain-your-creativity-during-a-pandemic/. FWIW.
See “How To Plot And Outline Your Novel” at https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2020/04/02/writing-tips-how-to-plot-and-outline-your-novel/. FWIW. Even the person who hosted this post is not a plotter.
See “Puzzlewood” at https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/puzzlewood. Interesting and maybe inspirational.
See “NASA’s Most Incredible Images” at https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/best-nasa-images-of-earth. Maybe story/scene ideas.
Fiction words today…………………… 2645
Nonfiction words today…………… 1350 (Journal)
Writing of For the Good of the Galaxy (novel)
Day 1…… 2645 words. Total words to date…… 2645
Total fiction words for the month……… 2645
Total fiction words for the year………… 210627
Total nonfiction words for the month… 3150
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 84300
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 294927
Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 3
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 12
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 48
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 208
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
6 thoughts on “The Journal: The Value of an Opening”
Good post, Harvey, but let’s hope Dean Koontz isn’t reading this.
Ah. Misspelling. I’ll fix that. Though if someone mentioned me in that light, I don’t think I’d mind them misspalling my name. (grin)
Love the Lee Child quote! (So close your eyes and write the book you want. Then it stands a chance. There’s no guarantee.”)
Again, I loved seeing your process at work. I do very much the same thing with scenes… casting around, starting over and over until something sticks and I can run with it.
I’m not having any problem trusting my creative voice, and I’m having more fun than ever, but I am struggling to START writing every day. Once I get started I’m fine, but I think that’s where my critical voice is getting me down.
Thank you for your thoughts and insights.
“I am struggling to START writing every day.”
Probably it won’t surprise you to learn I suffer from the same affliction. Even when I stop in a good place (middle of a scene or sentence sometimes) I tend to putter before I turn to the book, read back over what I’ve written, and start again. So yes, each day glance over what you’ve written, allow yourself to touch it to get back in the flow of the story, then keep writing. But apparently there are no rules about WHEN to do that. (grin)
(But apparently there are no rules about WHEN to do that. (grin))
Lol! It sounds like we have much the same process then. As i dictate, I go back and re-read the last page or so. I just don’t push the on button until I hit the end of yesterday’s words. Still… getting to that point every day is the struggle. Lol. If you find an easy fix, I’m all ears.
As an aside… have you ever tried for a BookBub ad? I had one on March 1st.
Dictating is a whole different animal. (I’d forgotten you dictate.) I imagine most of your cycling will take place as you transfer the words in voice to the screen. But that’s all good too, as long as you can stay in creative mind as you read and allow yourself to touch what you’ve written.
BookBub ads? Nah, not yet. I don’t think I’ve ever generated enough reviews to land a BB ad. But then, I don’t pay a lot of attention to reviews either, so…. I have a feeling my heirs are going to make a lot more money off my writing than I do.
Mostly I just write new stories and spend a lot of time falling off Heinlein’s Rule 4. At the moment I have at least one novel and 11 short stories I haven’t published. I need to get on that.
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