Technique: Beginnings

(These are my notes and thoughts in relation to the second part of WritingExcuses podcast Season 1, episode 4 . I will also disseminate this information to the topical sections of my resource section).

How do you know where to start?

  • First lines are important. They are the promises that you make to the reader. A first line establishes the mood and shows your writing style.
  • In late, out early. Start as close to the action as possible, and leave as close to the action as possible. Your readers don’t want to see the characters getting dressed in the morning before their adventure (unless there’s a very good reason for showing it).
  • Writers sometimes write themselves in to stories. Be OK with writing something that is never going to be in the final product.
  • You don’t have to write sequentially: the first line won’t always be written first. The first line is important, but don’t allow it to become a roadblock.
  • Don’t over world-build at the start.

How important are “hooks” that snag the reader?

  • Hooks are very important, they are a sales pitch.
  • Don’t establish a false promise with a hook.

 

Examples:

Tolkien in Lord of the Rings is an example of a bad start to a book. Two long starting chapters about hobbit life and a a dinner party. (In defence of Tolkien he was setting the genre – and his audience was 60+ years ago, not the audience of now which has been fed a different diet of reading). Compare that to the movies which begin with an epic fight scene.

As I wrote on a previous blog:

Once you get into the story, it is epic… but before that, I noticed for the first time that Tolkien has a tendency to waffle. There is a great deal of information regarding Hobbits – family lines, the shire and the build up to Bilbo’s Big Party… all before the reader has been hooked by the story line. Granted, much of it is in the prologue, but most readers’ will read it, won’t they?  Being a world-builder myself, I do appreciate all the extra little tidbits of information – though even I found it a little too much. I now realise how the tangent-avenues of thought can detract from the overall story. I understand now why someone might read thirty pages of it, and then put it down – which would be a great shame.

  • James Bond movies; they start with an opening stunt (or the end of the previous story).

Personally I think that I am quite good at the opening line or hook. It’s more the rest of the book that I struggle with. 🙂

The Series (of which Vengeance Will Come is the first book)

“I wish that I did not know the future; that I could not see the prophecies unfold before me. At first light they invade my mind, holding it under siege until dulled by utter exhaustion which overwhelms. Even in the fitful sleep I get they haunt me as wild animals stalking on the scent of blood, pursuing me into my dreams; turning what little rest I get into an extension of my waking nightmare. There is no escape from them.

Vengeance Will Come (Novel, Fantasy, Currently working on)

Low-hanging clouds blocked the light from the stars and a thick drizzling rain gave the night an inky-blackness. The only source of light was the vehicle’s headlights and visibility was a mere half-block. Lining both sides of the road were row upon row of dilapidated grey factories and warehouses. Though physically untouched by war, economic conditions had closed them. These buildings, like the people were an empty shell ageing toward death.

The Rebel Queen (Novelette, Fantasy, incomplete)

The hermaphrodite Deckarian Chin-Le sat with her war counsel in the bowels of the colony complex.

Deadly Addictions (Novel, Crime, Incomplete)

Elena Kane shivered uncontrollably from the cold which had seeped into her entire body like a constant drizzling rain. The wool of her business suit and the ratty blanket covering her was not enough to insulate her body against the hard tiled floor on which she lay.

She rubbed her stinging fingers together, anything to get some sensation and blood flow back into them. She had given up trying to wriggle free of the restraints when her wrists had started to bleed

Bankrupt (Short Story, Dystopian, incomplete)

“Don’t do it Sam, let’s just buy food with the money we have; we don’t need to steal” Jessica pleaded, far too loudly in the still of night. A dog a few houses away gave a low warning growl.

The Captive (Short Story, Slice of Life)

A slither of daylight came through the shuttered window waking Mary from her restless sleep. With the new day came a resolution: she had to escape and return home to her waiting family.

Sinister (Short Story; complete but unpublished)

Exposed at the top of the mountain peak the wind blew with a ferocity that those who have never climbed such summits could never comprehend. The air was icy and its cold teeth bit into every piece of exposed skin with a numbing pain. The wind was savage, howling through the lower valleys and buffeting him with its full strength unbroken by other obstacles. His cloak was whipping against him violently as the wind tried to sheer him from the mountain top. Even the bravest and the most foolhardy would be afraid under such conditions and seek shelter, but he was oblivious to it all.

The Ruler sat entirely motionless, meditating. His hands steepled in deliberation as he concentrated with his inner eye that was not bound by the laws of physics or gravity. His body was on the mountain top, but his mind was elsewhere. His attention roamed to-and-fro around his territory, examining the humans who scurried about their meaningless and inconsequential lives. Ageless, he had learned through centuries of experience exactly how they thought and acted, and they truly were worthy of his scorn. Pathetic, base creatures. He knew them all so well that he could almost guarantee a cause-and-effect model of behaviour.

Escape from Hell (Novelette, complete)

I was dead and I knew it.

The Butcher of Mardul (Novelette, incomplete)

He was not Telmein Haras, a barely literate life-indentured slave as he had led them to believe for the past three months.  He was instead Telmein Schmidt, a chemical physicist who had come to the planet to with the intent to commit industrial espionage.  He had been a dedicated family man, a respected professional and an expert in his field.  Had been was the correct tense – what little remained of him was ebbing away with the certainty of the law of gravity.  Now he was a prisoner and a grotesque reflection of his former self, a wretched human scab.  The pain killers and the excessive doses of stimulants were all that were keeping him conscious and coherent; without them shock would have put him in a coma long ago.

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