Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I'm looking at the title up there, unsure if that's what they used to call it. Maybe you younger people didn't experience this hallmark of grammar school like I did. It's where you found something at home to take to school. Usually on a Friday, after lunch, when the teacher had had enough (though this insight comes to me as an adult.) One by one, we would all take our turns going to the front of the class where we would reveal what treasure we had brought from home and tell something about it.

What does this have to do with writing? Er...nothing.

Wait, maybe it does. I mean, sometimes you had something stunning to bring and you planned and plotted that heart stopping moment of unveiling. You thought about what words you would use and anticipated your audience's gasp of amazement as they joined you in celebrating the wonderfulness of your discovery.

And sometimes, you had nothing. Literally nothing. Sometimes you stood in your bedroom and frantically pirouetted, teeth biting lower lip, palms sweaty as you tried to glom onto something that would do. That rock? Nope, did a rock before. That doll? No, the boys smirk when someone brings a doll. But I can't take nothing. I have to share SOMETHING!

So, you took the damn rock and did your best to dress it up as a chipped arrowhead from some fancy car trip to Idaho or a shard of petrified dinosaur bone.

You made stuff up and kind of hoped the teacher was dozing off during your turn.

So, while we have talked about beginnings of books before, let's do it again. Let's show and tell. Paste in the beginning of an unpublished book. Make it the first paragraph, say. Some people write a single line followed by a paragraph -- if that's what you have done, send both.

And then answer these questions (and any other that occur to you):

1. Did you struggle with it or did it come easily?

2. Did you find yourself editing it before you stuck it in? In other words, knowing it was going to be seen by the millions of people who daily read out blog, did you make changes that you didn't see being needed before placing it here under this spotlight?

3. In retrospect, do you think you accomplished your goal of hooking a reader right off the bat (assuming that's your goal) or does it get really good a few lines further down the page? Is there a way to move that really good part closer to the top? Show and tell how you think you should do this, please.

Here is mine from the second book in the current proposal:
Joey Ryder was ready to call it quits. Two days of lurking around in the cold, snapping pictures of old buildings, old streets and old ranchers had left her stiff and grumpy. Skulking behind fences, loitering in alleys, ducking behind garbage cans -- what was she doing here?

1. This beginning is essentially the same as it's been since day one, only the words have been written and rewritten dozens of times. That's not a struggle in my book, that's just writing. A struggle means the book started somewhere else, in someone else's POV, at a different time in the story, etc. So this one was not a struggle.

2. I am resisting the urge to rewrite it though it did seem better back in the book then it does here!

3. I have no idea if I hooked a reader. If anyone can tell me, I'd appreciate it.

I truly love reading the openings of books and only wish Danita's computer hadn't blown up (we all know how much of herself she puts into the start of a book) and that more of our members dropped by to join the fun. Whether you're a member or not, if you are reading this, feel welcome to show and tell what you're working on.

Finally, I have to ask you all, did you like my rock? It's an unpolished diamond, honest.


Karen Duvall said...

Alice, I adore your rock. And I believe you about the diamond. 8^) Show and Tell time often got me into trouble because I'd ask my mom for cool stuff to show, then I'd lose it at school.

Here's the opening to my WIP:

My name is Chalice and I'm a thief. I don't steal because I want to. I steal because I have no other choice. For you to understand me, to know what led me to the life I live now, I must tell you of the day everything changed. It was when I confronted true evil for the first time, not yet knowing that its presence in my life would be a constant ache in my soul for years to come. It's as clear to me now as it was then, relived through senses sharper than what's considered normal, making the memory feel just as real as when it happened twelve years ago.

1. This isn't the same beginning I started with when I first wrote chapter one because I've changed the pov from third to first person. Because the story starts when the main character was just a girl, I found I needed to frame it as a recalled memory. The new beginning came surprisingly easy.

2. Because it came to me so easy, I don't trust it and will likely flirt with the idea of rewriting. But I like it well enough for now. I didn't feel an urge to change it after posting here. It is what it is... for now. 8^)

3. I think it stands as a good hook. I aimed to strike at the reader's curiosity and I think I accomplished that. I know if I read something similar about a reluctant thief who's about to tell me how an event changed her life and that pure evil was involved, I'd want to know more.

Alice, I really like your beginning. I want to find out about this woman and why she's sneaking around with a camera. I'm currently reading a book about a woman who sneaks around the seedier parts of Las Vegas taking pictures, and it's a while before the author reveals why. It really hooked me and I wanted to know more, so I think your beginning accomplishes what you want it to.

wavybrains said...

Okay here's mine:

There should be a rule prohibiting being fired at a funeral. Especially if that funeral were for your father. There were rules for these sorts of things, and Gen depended on them. No, she needed them.

1) Hahahahahaha. This is the product of the last week and a half of trying to come up with a new beginning for my WIP. Original beginning is in Hero's POV and will most likely be chapter 2.
2)No, but I was tempted to include the dialogue that follows the paragraph. Is this a clue that I should start with the dialogue? I'm not sure.
3) I have no clue. I'm too close to this work right now. It's like a seven year marriage--I love it deeply, but I also hate it and all its flaws with the hatred that only comes from so deep a love. The two readers I showed the new beginning to said they were hooked, but I'm not sure I'm believing even them right now.

Not trying to sound like a candidate for the psych ward--I'm just really frustrated with the direction of editing this book and the beginning is symptomatic of that.

GREAT post Alice! I liked your analogy to show & tell.

wavybrains said...

I love your beginning Karen! Don't re-write it too much! Since this is a fantasy, I'm not sure if your characters are really formal or not (I've read many fantasies where they are), but if her speaking voice is more casual, you might trim some of the bulk to allow the emotional impact to increase. But if this suits the overall tone of the story/genre, then discard that advice--it's perfect.

It definitely works as a hook though! I really want to keep reading to know about that day and why she's a thief. And I think the change to 1st POV adds a neat dimension to the recalled memory--much more powerful than 3rd.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Wavy. 8^) As far as informalizing that intro paragraph, you may be right. It's a gritty tale, and Chalice is a rather abrasive person as an adult, but as a child she was a precocious innocent with English as a second language. So I have a clash of character voice going on; the innocent girl vs. the jaded thief.

Not sure how I'll fix it, but the child Chalice is only in chapter 1. I'll figure something out. 8^) But any advice will be appreciated.

Alice Sharpe said...

Karen -- Your beginning got me for all the reasons you mentioned. I think it's just wonderful. I have a suggestion for you to take or leave and that's to delete the last sentence.

The reason I say this is two-fold. First, it doesn't add anything new except that her memory is better than people usually have. If that is a special skill of some kind, then I can see why you need this. In that case, I would shift it to the next paragraph because the sentence directly preceding it (the one about evil) is very strong but it gets buried by the long sentence following it.

The second reason may just be me. You wrote, "...not yet knowing its presence in my life would be a constant ache in my soul for years to come. It's as clear to me now as it was then.." I had to read this twice as I became confused by the statement "not yet knowing" followed by "It's as clear to me now." I understand what you did, I just got confused for a moment.

Anyway, take that for what it's worth. I'm kind of shrinking away from mine in that I used all those ing words! Plus the next sentence or two has her thinking "Is that what I'm trying to do? Impress a dead man?" and that might be stronger.


Karen Duvall said...

I like your idea, Alice, and I totally see your point. Thanks!

Alice Sharpe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alice Sharpe said...

No mystery about the removed comment -- it was me.

Wavy -- would you be willing to reveal the dialogue that comes next? It sounds as though you're struggling and you mentioned that you had some upcoming dialogue. It got me curious. I actually have ideas about how you could possibly rework the first paragraph, but seeing as I don't know what you've already done, it seems pretty cheeky to be rewriting your stuff!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Ack! Okay, I wasn't going to rewrite my paragraph, but reading everyone else's I feel the need to tweek.

*resist the urge, resist the urge*

Okay, this is the first paragraph from my new WIP - the one I use as a distraction technique from the (other) WIP that will never end. (And yes, I'm one of those that has a line (or two) followed by the first paragraph.)

You aren’t going to die.

You can do this.

Blackness dimmed the alley below Rylan St. Clair where she peered over the edge of the fire escape of her sister’s Pearl District apartment. Beneath her ribbed turtleneck sweater, sweat slicked her skin even though the damp January night was cool and crisp with just enough bite to have her wishing she’d thought to bring a jacket.

1. Did I struggle? Sorta. This is the second opening. Originally I'd started with the scene where she meets the hero, but this one has more punch. Since this book is my avoidance technique though and I've only written a chapter, I honestly haven't spent a lot of time playing with it.

2.I WANTED to tweek it, but I left it alone. ;)

3. Did I hook the reader? Who the heck knows? I think that's up to a reader. I can tell you what I'm hoping to get across here, but if you can't figure it out by reading it, then that simply answers that question.

Fun blog, Alice!

Alice Sharpe said...

Eli -- Catchy. I like single lines of thought. They always grab me. Like Karen's beginning confession, there's something that makes you want to read more.

I know what you mean about hands twitching to tweak. Mine just gets worse as it sits here!

Thanks for playing along, guys.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Working from memory here, since I'm reading at my desk while I eat my lunch.

Okay, so I killed a guy before I finished grade nine. Don't make a big deal out of it, okay?

(Do I need to tell you this is a YA?) Steve and I are collaborating, and he wrote the opening, which I don't think has changed at all.

Generally, I don't feel like I struggle with the opening sentence or paragraph - I struggle with where to start, and when I finally figure it out, then the first few pages are easy. It everything that comes after that that's hard!

Chris York

Alice Sharpe said...

Yea Chris, good to hear from you. I love that beginning and you're right, it screams YA.

I feel your pain on the what comes after the first few pages. Like a plot.

It's pain going through the anonymous steps, right? I finally figured out how to do it. On the first screen when you come to the site, click on sign in up in the right hand corner. It'll take you to a new screen (be patient, on my machine it takes a few moments for that part of the screen to show up.) Then type your user name (mine is my email address) and then your password.

Be sure to hit "remember me."

Course, maybe you don't want to do all this on a work machine, but I thought I'd tell you in case you didn't know.

Thanks for chiming in. Come back again soon. Consider being a guest blogger -- we'd all love to know what's on your mind.

wavybrains said...

Here you go Alice:

“Listen, I know this is awkward timing--“
“Awkward? Stu, in 15 minutes, I have to walk into that Sanctuary, sit next to my family--my grieving family--and pretend that I wasn’t just canned because my father made some business mistakes?”
She ducked behind the Arbovida rimming the parking lot of the River’s Edge Christian church.

Any advice you have is welcome!

wavybrains said...

Karen--The jaded thief is the one telling the tale. She's the one looking back, so it's HER voice we need, not the innocent child. The contrast between the abrasive woman she now is and the innocent child we meet in the subsequent paragraphs actually enhances the hook IMHO. I'd like to see her abrasive self shine through a little more. The precocious part will be very clear later. I really liked Alice's suggestions too.

wavybrains said...

Eli & Chris--LOVE your hooks!

Great to see you on the board, Chris!

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy-- You asked for help, so here goes my attempt to help. I think you may be too close to the forest to see the trees.

I actually like the dialogue better as you are showing us your character while your first paragraph, to me, comes across like a mission statement. But I enjoyed what you were trying to say in that first paragraph, too, so there's the rub.

Plus, the first couple of sentences in the first paragraph are a little tricky to read for an opening and there's actually a conundrum when you start with "there should be a rule" and end with "there were rules." Which is it? Rules or no rules?

How about trying something like this (giving me the required freedom to guess at what you are trying to do) --

Gen was pretty certain had she not been so numb, she would have been very annoyed with Stu's audacity. Why in blazes would he choose her father's funeral as an appropriate place in which to "terminate her employment."

Weren't there rules about such things? There should be. Life was easier when there were rules and people followed them. Gen liked rules.

No, Gen admitted. She needed them...

“Listen, I know this is awkward timing--“ Stu mumbled as though his conscious finally got the better of him.

She just stared at him. In fifteen minutes she had to walk into the Sanctuary and sit next to her grieving family, pretending she hadn't been canned because her father made some questionable business decisions. Oh, call a spade a spade. Stu thought her father had been a thief!

Her father!

A little of the numbness wore away. She was annoyed. Very annoyed. She said, "Yeah, Stu. You could say it's awkward. You jerk."

Oh, I got carried away. I'm tempted to delete this and leave you to your own good sense, but I did that once today when I thought I was butting in, so I'll let this go. There are a million ways to write the same things as you will know. I hope my little attempt here helped you clarify what you love about your own beginning.

I think your dialogue is great and you could easily start with it, weeding in Gen's fascination with rules as you go. I think that would work well.

Thanks for your tolerance, Wavy

Paty Jager said...

Wow! You have all added some great beginnings!

Okay, here's my beginning.

Water filled Dove’s lungs, dragging her deeper into the murky depths of the lake. The pain in her chest was nothing compared to the despair in her heart. When the Evil One took her body, she never dreamed he would also take her from her people. Shame and humiliation motivated her to take this drastic action.

1. Did you struggle with it or did it come easily? this came easily because I had thought the beginning through and knew how it had to be to make the ending work.

2. Did you find yourself editing it before you stuck it in? no, I didn't edit it.

3. In retrospect, do you think you accomplished your goal of hooking a reader right off the bat (assuming that's your goal) or does it get really good a few lines further down the page? I think I hooked the reader

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty-- I think you hooked your reader, too! That's a great beginning!

How was your talk?

wavybrains said...

Thanks Alice--That helped, and in a really unexpected way too.

It's the voice. Isn't always the voice? But it's the voice. With my YA the voice was so clear and that's what drove the story. That's why I didn't have plot problems or editing nightmares. That's WHY it was a gimme book.

The voice with this story has been more problematic, more stilted in places--and the places where I've let it out have pretty much written themselves.

It took seeing you put it in a different voice to get that. It's not about the opening so much as it's about the voice and being true to my natural voice while letting these characters out more. I'm still not quite deep enough in the POV either. Ever since Karen's revelation, I've been tempted to make this a 1st person story and I think that was a clue too as to what was wrong. Voice.

So, thanks, Alice and Karen. I'm not sure HOW to fix it yet, but at least I'm getting closer to the heart of the problem that's plaguing me.

wavybrains said...

I like your opening Paty.

Genene said...

Wow! Great openings; great suggestions revisions. How's that for wimpy?

Here's the opening of my WIP:
Don’t you die on me too, Zach Zacata. The thought ricocheted through Lauren Westover’s mind amid flashes of memory.

Did I struggle with this? Nope. This one came easily.

Did I edit it before I stuck it in? No, but I've caught the twitchy fingers urge to tweak it now!

Did it hook the reader? I think so. My bigger challenge is keeping the "promise" of the beginning throughout the book. Not to have such a stunning beginning that readers lose interest if the entire book isn't that stunning.

Alice Sharpe said...

Genene -- Nice one! Catches me!