The First Sentence

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How important is the first sentence? A Writers Path had a recent post on the importance of the first sentence setting the tone for the entire story. That blog also had a similar post on The Importance of a Great Literary First Impression.

Aeryn Rudel of Rejectomancy had a post as well where he analyzed the first lines from his stories that were published last year. And The Write, Already! blog recently had a series of posts promoting John Brueckner’s “892 Opening Lines” book. There’s even a publication dedicated to the first sentence called, not so coincidentally, The First Line. I’ve posted previously about that publication.

I also recall an editor of Asimov’s or Analog year’s ago discussing how important the first sentence was. What I recall, whether I remember correctly or not, essentially was if the first sentence didn’t grip him, it had little chance of being purchased.

Clearly, this is on a lot of people’s minds. So have I practiced this philosophy? I’ve certainly tried with varying amounts of success. I’ve also tried to vary my approach. Sometimes the first line is dialogue. Other times it’s the narrator speaking.

To date my favorite is from a story I’m still shopping around. Indeed, I hope to use it as the lead story in my short story collection submitted to the C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize. (I wrote about this contest here.) The line is: “The naked man ran screaming from the room.” Don’t you want to read on to know why he is both naked and screaming? I thought so; I haven’t gotten an editor to bite yet though.

Do you try to nail that first line before proceeding with a story, or do you not worry about it? Do you have any first lines you’re especially proud of? Let me know in the comments.

 

1Q19 Update

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The first quarter of the new year is done, so it’s time to check on the ole productivity.

  • Words written = 11,070
  • Submissions = 26
  • Rejections = 32
  • Acceptances = 0
  • Publications = 1
  • Awards = 0

Not terrible, but not great. A fourth of my 2019 word goal of 60,000 would be 15,000. I fell short of that one, but I did better than I thought. I found it difficult to write this quarter.  Free time was not abundant, and when I had it, I felt unmotivated to write. I even had two business trips–my favorite writing opportunities–and still got very little writing done.

So what did get done? About 4000 of those words were the result of flash fiction stories. I finished three of roughly 1000 words and then another four that were some amount less than that. In addition, I added a little to the WIP novel (1600 words) and about 450 words to various existing stories I edited before sending out again. I also wrote the first 600 words in a story I’m collaborating on with a fellow novice speculative fiction writer.  I hope to have the opportunity to keep adding to the word total in that work.

The largest chunk of writing went toward finishing my long suffering novella. That was another 4200 words. I am pleased to report that project is now done! Well, the first draft is done. This was a weird one. Most of the novella is in final form already having finished it last summer. However, the consistent critique from my beta readers was it lacked a proper ending. So that’s what I’ve worked on adding intermittently for the last six months. I’ll have to see what my beta readers think now.

My goal was to finish the novella and then break it up into its three component short stories. That way I could include all three stories in the short story collection contest I plan on submitting to by the April 15th deadline. The rules for that contest limit any one story to 15,000 words. The problem is, even with breaking the novella into three stories, the third story now clocks in at 16,200 words. Whoops! Don’t worry, I have plenty of other stories to include in the collection. Besides, the newly written part needs editing anyway before it’s ready for submission.

I also was disappointed not to have an acceptance this quarter. Admittedly, I didn’t maximize my chances, having taken several stories out of circulation, so they’d be available to include in the contest collection. Still, I’d really like to get to where I’m receiving at least one acceptance a quarter. Those are huge motivators.

I did have one publication in Issue 8 of Broadswords and Blasters. Buy the issue here!  It’s a noir detective story with a sci-fi twist.

So that’s it. How’d your first quarter go? Let me know if the comments if you had any triumphs or failures.

Post #49 – Characters

11/29/18

The essence of any story is characters in conflict. To increase that conflict, or at least make it more interesting, some of those characters need depth.

Most of my writing has been limited to short stories. That form doesn’t provide room to dig much into a character’s background or motivations, at most a couple hints here and there. So when it came time to work on my novel this month, I didn’t have a lot of experience with developing characters. In prior months, I’d jotted down a few notes. This character’s parents died in an accident. This character’s brother saved him when they were kids and has suffered ill effects ever since. But I never fully developed them, probably because I didn’t know how.

I’ve attempted to read up on the subject. A Writer’s Path posted an interesting exercise titled Things I ask My Characters. By way of an interview, the author can get to know his/her character’s. The same blog then posted 3 Ways to Flesh Out Your Character’s Motivations as an additional exercise guide.

For a more classical view, Andrea Lundgren analyzed Victor Hugo’s techniques in Writing Lessons from Les Mis: Characterization.

ProWritingAid has had a series of blog posts this year examining Oscar Scott Card’s Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint.  The most recent is How to Nail Third-Person Narrative. I found these lessons helpful. This is a book I wanted to read last year when first starting to seriously write, but the book is out of print. Coincidence or fate?

Since I’m new to the novel writing, and thus character development, thing, what I don’t know is what works better for me. Should I develop full backstories for my characters before starting the novel? I am a plotter after all. Or should I come up with a few key points for each character and see what else the story demands these character be? That seems to be more a pantser technique, though it provides the greatest flexibility when writing.

For my current WIP, I’m following the latter course by necessity. I may wind up determining that after the first draft, I need to think through each character again and fill in their stories as I conduct an initial edit.

Let me know in the comments how your develop your characters. Do you map out their entire lives first, or do you wait and let the story dictate who your characters really are?

Photo credit: aixklusiv via Pixabay

Post #47 – Novel Revising

11/15/18

Since I finally started writing my novel, I thought I should research how to revise a novel. I’d saved a couple relevant links in the hope of one day needing them. Below are two.

How to revise a novel in 9 key stages

Then there is Casey Carlisle’s Editing Your Novel post.

Editing an entire novel seems daunting. It often takes me days (i.e. multiple sittings due to limited time) to edit a 6000 word short story. I do this the old fashion way by printing off the story and using a colored ink pen to mark it up. That process necessitates another day or two to insert my changes into the file.

I anticipate using the same process to edit my novel. How long will that take when applied to such a lengthy work? A long time.

First, I plan to let the novel sit for several weeks. Stephen King says he waits six weeks after finishing an initial draft before beginning the first edit. I don’t know if I can wait that long, but the goal is to gaining enough distance from the story and characters to be objective. That’s when I’ll do my first round of edits.

Then, I’ll send the novel to my beta readers. I anticipate they’ll have excellent suggestions requiring additional edits. I usually input those changes directly into the file, saving a little time. After that, I plan to revise the novel at least one more time, requiring the sacrifice of another tree and the spilling of additional ink.

At that point, I’m debating hiring a story editor. I want this to be the best work possible. After those changes comes the hiring of a copy editor, though they could be the same editor. I don’t plan to ask my wife to copy edit an entire novel. I like being married to her and want to stay that way.

My goal is to have the novel ready to send to the professional editors by next year’s NaNoWriMo. (I need to be free to write that next novel!) Maybe by Spring 2020, I’ll have a completed manuscript to shop to agents. It seems like a long time, but I suspect it will fly by.

(When NaNoWriMo is over, I also plan to read Dean Wesley Smith’s How to Write a Novel in Ten Days. At this point, that premise sounds ridiculous.)

Let me know in the comments if you’re editing process is similar to mine or if you take a different approach.

Photo credit: quinntheislander via Pixabay

Post #37 – Paradoxes and Other Fatal Flaws

9/6/18

The first two short stories I wrote involved time travel. I know, it’s arguably a tired trope, especially how I used it. There was no grand scientific achievement. No new method of defying Einstein’s theories. I merely used time travel as a plot device, a way to set up conflict for the characters.

Using such a routine sci-fi trope didn’t bother me, but both stories also featured a paradox caused by the time travel. The paradoxes in these stories did bother my beta readers and at least one magazine editor I submitted them to. My first reaction to their reaction was, it’s time travel. Paradoxes happen. Get over it. How do we know how time travel will work? Nobody has done it yet.

I was partially vindicated when a magazine accepted one of these stories for publication. I say partially because the other story has not yet found a home. The latter story was part of the novella I’ve spent much of the summer on. I saw was because I’ve since made it a stand alone story again.

When my copy editor (my very understanding wife) read through the novella, she pointed out the paradox. She had pointed it out when she read the original short story, but I hadn’t done anything with it. However, this time she commented that if I took out a particular sentence then the paradox was not so apparent. That got me thinking. If I tweaked a character’s reaction in one scene to be a little more ambiguous, I could avoid the paradox altogether and at the same time foreshadow how a forthcoming dilemma was resolved. So that’s what I did.

Of course, this made me wonder why I hadn’t considered it before. Wasn’t it a fatal flaw in the story, or did I just not view it as such? A criticism of almost every time travel story is it can’t work because of a paradox. I assumed a paradox was inevitable and accepted that without considering ways to avoid it.

Have I accepted other fatal flaws in my stories, knowing or unknowingly? I hope not. None of my beta readers have pointed out similar flaws in other stories. They’ve provided valuable feedback, but nothing along the lines of this story won’t work because of [insert fatal flaw here].

That’s why I have beta readers. Given the number of typos my wife finds after I’ve been through a manuscript however many times, I know how important a second set of eyes are. My beta readers’ eyes are needed to detect those fatal flaws I don’t see because I’m too close to the story. I’ve said it before, but thank you beta readers for your support and for keeping my stories from failing.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve written a fatal flaw into a story and whether you realized it or needed it pointed out. And let me know if you still ignored it or fixed it.

Photo credit: geralt via Pixabay