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.

Flash Fiction Workshop

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My Writers Club hosted an excellent flash fiction workshop last week. We invited local author, editor, and teacher Tara Campbell to lead the workshop. Another club member and I had attended a writing salon she taught at the National Gallery of Art. Space is limited for those, but if you’re in the DC area, I recommend attending. I left with most of a flash story drafted. Though I’m still shopping that piece around, I’m proud of the outcome.

This time, Tara led a shorter workshop focusing on three types of flash stories. The first task was to produce a story about an ordinary, everyday ceremony but with a twist. The second was to write something autobiographical about a time in our life when we experienced anxiety. The final story was to be something procedural, like a recipe or some other set of instructions but embedding a story therein.

We were given 10 minutes to write each time. And darned if I didn’t come up with ideas for each immediately and get most of a story for each on the screen in that time. The next day I finished all three and polished them a little, but most of the stories were there already. I’d count that as a productive workshop, and if you need inspiration, I recommend using the same three scenarios as the basis of for three stories.

In the interest of full disclosure, these stories are not long. They aren’t even typical flash length. Two are 200 words and the third is 300. However, I think each is a complete, self-contained story. I don’t have any plans to flesh them out further. I like them the way they are.

I intend to shop them around to the flash fiction markets. I haven’t had a flash piece accepted yet. Maybe one or more of these will break that logjam.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve attended a flash fiction workshop and whether you were pleased with the results. Did you get one or more stories out of it? Did you have any success in getting those stories published?

Collaboration II

I finally did it. I started the draft story I hope to collaborate on with one of my beta readers. I wrote about this way back on Post #27. See how long that took?

Here’s what happened. Back then, I had a story in mind the two of us could work together on. I sat down to write my part, but I kept going. And going. Until I finished the entire story. Oops! So much for that idea.

Then my beta reader was in town, and she and her husband came over for dinner. The beta reader and I talked writing while the spouses talked about something probably way more meaningful. Anyway, during our discussion, my beta reader mentioned an image she had for a story. She didn’t have the plot or any characters or really anything beyond this single image.

I decided to run with that image. I wrote the first scene which ends on that image and then sent it to my beta reader. While I mentioned at our dinner that I’d be interested in collaborating on a piece and possible using her story idea, I didn’t tell her I started the story until I sent a draft of that first scene.

The best part is she agreed to work together to flesh out the story. I proposed we follow the round robin method where each of us takes a turn drafting the subsequent part. She’s game for tackling the next scene.

I initially thought about including notes with my chapter about where I thought the plot could go and explaining a couple of vague references I included in that first chapter. Then I thought better if it. I don’t want to limit my writing partner with where she can take the story. For starters, it was her idea, but I also want to see what she comes up with. I want to be surprised just like a reader would be. I’ve been a little stagnant lately with my writing, so I like that this has me excited again.

Have you ever collaborated with another author? If so, did you use the round robin method or another technique? How’d it go? Let me know in the comments.

Procrastination

1/24/19

Some call it writer’s block, but I just call it procrastination. It seems to be on a lot of people’s minds. The Writer’s Path recently had an interesting post about writers block, and The Green Room had a post about procrastination yesterday. Is it a winter thing? I’d think being stuck indoors would lead to more writing when compared to the distractions caused by nicer weather. Maybe my own experience is indicative of this phenomenon.

After getting 17,000 words down in my WIP novel for NaNoWriMo in November, I did very little in December. I sent the usual batch of submissions as rejections came in for the various short stories I have out, but I did next to no writing, especially in the WIP novel. I maybe added 1000 words there the entire month.

So what gives? Honestly, I felt a little burned out after writing every day for a month in November. I’d never done that before. I’ve read, and I believe it, that writing is like any other endurance activity. The more you do it, the more you build up your ability to do it. However, too much can still burn you out. I’m an avid runner, but I don’t run every day. I never have. I’ve never wanted to run so much I get sick of it or risk injury.

I opened the file for my novel in mid-January and saw I hadn’t worked on it since December 19, over three weeks at that point. I needed motivation. I’d continued to plot the storylines during my runs, but that hadn’t driven me to put anything on the screen yet.

On one of those runs, I came up with the idea for a flash fiction piece. I immediate hammered that story out in the hopes the process would reignite the fire. It was to no avail, though that piece turned out fine and will start making the submission rounds soon after a quick edit.

Then a snow day hit on a Sunday, the day I reserve for my long run. With a snow storm forecasted, I decided to move my run up to Saturday afternoon, thus freeing up my Sunday morning. I took advantage. While the family slept, I got up and wrote.

It still took me awhile to get back into the story. I had to reread the last chapter to remember where I was and to fix some things in that chapter. I only ended up with about 300 new words before the family got up, but it felt good to get those down. Now I’m feeling better about continuing. I’ve since added some more totally about another 1000 in the novel. At that rate I’ll finish in four years. I’ll reserve figuring out how to increase that productivity for a later post.

The longer I was away from the WIP, the more likely I was to stay away. I’d find any excuse to do something else rather than work on the novel, even if the distraction was writing related. While I think a short break was needed after NaNoWriMo, the break I took was too long. It just made things harder.

What has been your experience with burnout, procrastination, or writer’s block? Are they all the same for you, or do they manifest themselves differently? How did you combat them?