Friday, February 8, 2008

Notes from the writing front


Yesterday on this blog we were talking about stress—and naturally, that topic made me think about writing. I found this photo of hands beating against the monitor (or maybe they’re struggling to escape); to me, the picture perfectly illustrates my current source of stress, aka the pressure starting a new book.

Some background: in January, I wrapped up the second book in the Fat City Mysteries (called A KILLER WORKOUT).Then I started writing the first couple of pages of Book Three.

Fast forward to February, and I’m still working on the first couple of pages of Book Three, which features murder, mayhem and plastic surgery (the working title is FINAL CUT).

My struggle has to do with getting all the pieces just right in those first few paragraphs: character, humor, tone, plot and mystery elements. Once I get them defined, those elements, like the hands, take hold of the body of the story. From there, everything else flows more easily. But those first few pages are always tough.

So I’m wondering—what are the elements that most powerfully draw you into a story, that keep you turning the pages? As an author, are the first pages the most difficult? Which aspects are hardest to establish?

9 comments:

Camille Minichino said...

Lately I'm satisfied with good, standard writing!

No "between you and I. .."
No "he only wants to eat . ."
No "Being a plumber, I was wondering if you ..."
No "Sitting down to eat, the table was full ... "

Give me that, and then I'll start enjoying characters and story.

sheila328 said...

It's hard, when you're writing yourself, to be objective when you pick up a book in a bookstore. You look at the jacket copy, you look at who blurbed it, you may even look to see who designed the cover. But look at the words?

I check page one only to see if I've read it before. Ideally I'd like page one to grab me, but I don't expect it. I have to say I'm more likely to buy the book if there's something on that first page that makes me laugh, even if it's a dark thriller. A hero/heroine who can laugh at him/herself is someone I want to know.

As a writer, I have to "see" that opening in my head, make it multi-dimension, and then try to get it down on paper. I can pretty up the language later, but I want the reader to be inside my character from the beginning.

Monica Ferris said...

What Sheila said.

Though Camille has an extremely good point, as well. I will forgive the first sentence with poor grammar, but not the second. When I talk in the schools, I get enthusiastic about my work, but then I say, "And now the bad news: You have to know how to spell and use proper grammar. These are the tools of your trade. Like the carpenter has to know maple from pine, how to read a blueprint, which nails to use, and how to make a chalk line, the writer has to know how to write." This message is more important today than ever, because there are editors out there who don't know the difference between your and you're, or it's and its.

Kathryn Lilley said...

I'm on an eternal search for that sparkle, that extra ooom-ph that sucks the reader right into the story. It's very hard for me to quantify fresh, dynamic writing--it's like the Holy Grail! As long as one keeps improving and striving for that goal, I suppose that's success.

Camille Minichino said...

On Monica's point .. I had a copyeditor once who challenged my use of possessive before a gerund because, "though it's correct, it sounds funny."

oh dear. And why do you suppose it sounds funny? I wanted to ask.

Terri Thayer said...

Monica - I'm going to be speaking to a group of middle schoolers at the behest of their English teacher. Mind if I quote you? The carpenter is a wonderful analogy, one that might get through to that age group. Unless of course, they all think they're going to make a living playing video games or sports.

Kathyrn - I'm a big believer in not writing the first words until I've written the last. So many times I had no clue what I was really writing about until I finished.I do write the opening, but then I try (try!) to leave it alone until I'm through at least one draft.

Terri, who's worried she used improper grammar somewhere in this post.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Kathryn,

Isn't it weird, I couldn't put into words what makes a great opening, but I know one when I read it!

Kathryn Lilley said...

That's true, Joanna! And I wish I could wait until the last phase of writing to write the first chapter, Terri, but the first chapter of my next book is printed in the back of each book that is published, so I have to have it ready way before the end of the writing period...

Kathryn Lilley said...

That's true, Joanna! And I wish I could wait until the last phase of writing to write the first chapter, Terri, but the first chapter of my next book is printed in the back of each book that is published, so I have to have it ready way before the end of the writing period...