So why is this —
“At one AM on the morning of her thirty-third birthday, Detective Nita Dodd walked past two dead bodies and her ex-lover to enter Hell, where she met the Devil.”
–a lousy first sentence?
Because after the first sentence comes the second sentence. Continue reading
My mentor for my MFA, Lee K. Abbott, was a terrific teacher. Half of what I babble about in here, Lee taught me. Sittin’ and thinkin’? That’s pure Lee. And now as I’m ripping apart the beginning of Nita again, I’m thinking of something else he used to torture us with: The One Sentence Submission.
“Suppose,” he’d say, “that you could only send the first sentence of your story to an editor. And if he or she liked it, then you could send the second sentence . . .” Continue reading
Putting up all of these WiPs has given me a good look at a common problem in first drafts: the terrible slowness of setting up the world. It’s a conundrum: I have to hit the ground running with the plot but I have to establish the ground on where the plot is happening, not just the geography but the population. And although I have the first act to do that completely (roughly the first third of the novel) before I have to stop introducing new things and just start powering through the action, I really need to do some things in the first two chapters (roughly 10%), some things in the first chapter (roughly 5%) and some things on the first page (roughly first 200 words). It’s almost impossible to do that well in a first draft, which is why every first draft I’ve ever written has needed to be cut back. A lot. Usually by about ten percent, sometimes by as much 25%.
That means that the first page has to establish the mood, tone, world, and–most important of all-protagonist. The reader comes in looking for somebody to root for, and I don’t want to make her wait. I’ve never gone back and looked at all the openings of my books, but I’m betting the later ones all start with the heroine heading into some kind of conflict. Why conflict? Because two of the best ways to show character are action and what other characters think of my character.
So I have . . .
In any long-running series, no matter what the medium, writers come up against the same conundrum: People want the same but different.
They want the same things that have made them love the story over the course of several films/years/books, they don’t want anything they love to go away (SAVE BEAR!).
But at the same time, everything they love about the story is the reason it’s starting to feel shopworn: we’ve been here before. “Didn’t they do that in Season Two?” “I love X, but if she says/does Y one more time . . .” “Really? Another number of the week to save?” Continue reading
Some day, I’m going to do a post analyzing my top five TV pilots, and when I do, this episode will be one of them, along with the Leverage pilot and the first episode of the UK’s Life on Mars. (After that, I’m still cogitating.) It does everything a long form story beginning should do, and it does it brilliantly. Continue reading
I sent the first 14,000 words to Lani and Krissie, and Lani got back to me with damn near superhuman speed. And her conclusion was (my words, not hers), it’s not baked yet.
Okay, we all knew that, but I needed to hear it. I know I knew it because I kept saying that I was in love with the sound of my own voice, but as Lani pointed out, the problem is that I still haven’t found who Nita and Nick are. I know what they want, but it’s not on the page and worse, they’re not on the page. Everything I’ve written is set-up, but I’m not writing story yet. I’m following my nose as I reveal the world of the story to myself.
This is a good thing. Continue reading
Warning: TL,DR: I saw a TV pilot that made me crazy so I watched it twice more to see how I’d fix it. I still don’t know, but I wrote three thousand words about why I couldn’t figure it out. Also the show is really good, so plow through the pilot and then settle in for the remaining eleven episodes. It’s worth it. Oh, and it’s definitely R rated, so don’t watch it with the kids or if graphic sex and violence and full frontal nudity appall you. Also HUGE SPOILERS IN THIS POST. Last week, I decided to wind down before bed by trying out a new-to-me TV show, Sense8 the latest effort from Andy and Lana Wachowski, who brought us The Matrix and bullet time, and their co-creator and co-writer Michael J. Straczynski. An hour later, I was frowning at the TV; a good reaction to a pilot is not “I don’t understand most of that.” But I was really comfortable and I liked some of the characters, so I clicked on the second episode, and four hours later I was finishing up episode five, completely hooked. I finished the twelve-episode series in two more days, and then tried to process what I’d just seen. Continue reading
Since we’re starting our Sherlock Binge Watch with “A Study in Pink,” the first episode of the Sherlock series, let’s talk about beginnings.
The beginning of your story is a promise you make to the reader. That means everything in that first scene, especially everything on the first page, sets up all of the rest of the story. Continue reading