Well-written novel openings draw readers right into the story—and the really good ones convince readers to put aside whatever else they are doing!
Way back in 1993 we were packing up to move. I'd taken on the task of boxing up books (a much bigger task now). This involved sitting on the floor as I packed books into cardboard boxes. In the middle of this, I came across Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King. I hadn't had a chance to read it yet, so I decided to take a peek. I opened the book and I began to read.
What did you ask, Andy Bisette? Do I "understand these rights as you've explained em to me"?
I didn't stop reading until I finished the book. This isn't as long as some of his books, but still. Instead of packing books into boxes so we could get moved—and we really wanted to get out of that place—I sat there and read the whole book! Effective openings have that kind of power. It isn't just the first page of the book either. Great novel openings show up at scene and chapter breaks too. They reel you in past all good sense.
Where do you get your ideas for stories? Do they come in the mail along with other assorted junk destined for landfills? Or maybe the muse's breath tickles the fine hairs on your neck with whispered inspiration? I've heard that some ideas are inhaled on the misty vapors of a hot shower. A man I knew in New York swore that he got his best ideas while eating big, crisp, dill pickles as long as his hand.Continue reading
I like the movie Stranger Than Fiction. I've watched it many times. It's fun, even though it shows an image of a writer as an eccentric, chain-smoking, and depressed person subject to the demands of a publisher, working in a spacious suite with marble floors. A literary author. It's an odd view of a writer, but one that reflects many of the stereotypes around writers.
“Sitting in the rain won't write books.”
Despite this, I really enjoy the characters in this story. Harold pulls me into the story. That's something that I want to do in my own work.
What do you do when you enjoy a story, be it a movie or a book? Do you ask why? What did the story's writer do to pull you into the story? How did they do it? Especially when you come back to a story more than once.
We pick up story everywhere. Our whole lives we here, read, and watch stories. Our subconscious picks up on story. It filters through and comes out when we write. With focused attention, we can study works we enjoy to pick up techniques. Dean Wesley Smith covers this in his lectures on Practice.
In coming at this reboot of my writing career, learning is key. I've spent many years writing and I continue to learn. After finishing my MLIS degree I realize that I need to focus much more on learning my craft as a fiction writer. I always want to get better. I want my writing to improve. This year is a year of reflection, planning, and rebirth.
I'm looking forward to it.
I'm writing a story each week and I plan to practice as I write those stories. So far I'm hitting each week this year (I started back in December). I create a card on my Trello board for each story which includes the deadline, target word count, and I've added a field for the technique I plan to practice.
This gives me an easy reminder each time I look at the card. I've added the word count and the topic using the custom fields power-up. I'll update the word count when I finish the story. And a title. When I finish the story, it goes out to a market following Heinlein's Business Rules.
What about you? What do you do to learn and improve your craft? Are there resources you recommend? Techniques that work for you?