Thursday, May 28

Letting That Hook Go

You may fall in love with a line you've written, and if it happens to be the first one that opens into your story, you fall twice as hard. This hook is like your first kiss, your first acceptance, your first step toward the best story you've ever written... making it all that much harder to let it go when you discover it doesn't quite fit.

The opening sentences to your story should accomplish three things:
  1. Character
  2. Plot
  3. Tone
It's entirely possible that you may write a fantastic first, second, and third sentence to start your story, but as the story unfolds, you may start to have a nagging feeling that something is off. Going back to the hook, you may find it just doesn't fit. But you love that hook so much you don't want to give up on it. So you battle on, adjusting the story, writing it to the end. Or you may find yourself unable to write another word until you start again, capturing it in a new light that matches where you want to go with the story.

Can you let that hook go, moving forward to finish the story?
Can you let that hook go, and rewrite a new opening?

When I find myself in this uncomfortable spot, I put aside my writing and browse my bookshelf, reading the opening lines of many stories, and that is where I find myself inspired all over again. I can breathe in that space of great literary minds. I'll get it right, if not right now, then later.

Wednesday, May 27

The Best Advice From a Teacher

"Take your opening sentence and do the opposite with it."
From Mark Cugini (at The Writer's Center), who heard it from his teacher, who probably heard it from his teacher

Do you find comfort in starting story after story in the same way?
How does it begin...
  • vague and leaving your options wide open
  • drop the plot on the reader's lap asap
  • describe, describe, describe the scenery to set the tone
  • channel the character's feelings
  • cheeky and playful
  • dare to use dialogue
  • Call me Ishmael.
  • toy with reality so the reader is in disbelief
Here's one of my latest ones (rough stage that I gasp dare to share at the risk of exposing myself by sharing the very first draft)...

I watch my hands digging past the computer parts, the tarnished jewelry, even the occasional coin. My hands are like mechanical steel blades, mining this landfill, as I search for an unopened can of food and anything at all that can protect us from the sun flares. On good days, I come away with a decent jacket, maybe even a broken umbrella, but every day is a bad day if I don't find any food.

Now, according to Mark, I must take that opening and do something new with it. Rewrite it so it does start with dialogue. Attempt to be cheeky, playful, humorous with the situation. Paint the scene in layers like Hemingway would have done. Have the character introduce herself. "My name is Becca and I smell like..." First, I'd have to stand in or on a landfill to determine what she really would smell like, and then I'll let you know.

So try it out with your opening. Who knows, maybe you will stumble upon a new way to open your stories. Maybe you'll even change the way your current story begins.