Wednesday, April 24, 2013

9 Important Things I've Learned to Keep in Mind when Writing a Novel.

 1.  The Importance of a Great First Line

The past is foreign country: they do things differently there.” The opening line of L.P Hartley’s The Go Between

This  memorable line comes from a memorable novel. You may not wish to begin this way, but with the fast pace of modern life, it is even more important to capture a reader's interest quickly. Your first consideration when you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, is your hook. But don't go for a nonsensical grab line, make it logical, authentic and pertinent to what follows. You can't expect readers to stick with you until your story really begins pages into the book. Grab them with the first line, the first paragraph, the first page and then, if your story is compelling, they'll stick with you.
A good way is to study how the bestselling writer's do it.  
This is David Baldacci's first line in HELL'S CORNER:  
Oliver Stone was counting seconds, an exercise that had always calmed him. Baldacci builds suspense with the next: And he needed to be calm. He feeds us a few more intriguing details  without telling us much at all. The final sentences in the first paragraph: He was not going to run. He was through running. We have begun to ask questions we must read on to discover.

2. Be wary of prologues. I've used them when they seemed to work best for me, but it's important to note that many agent's don't like them. They see them as holding back the story. Or a lazy way of loading backstory into the beginning of the book.

3. Don't be tempted to bog the first chapter down with backstory.  Feed past details in slowly throughout the book. Readers want to get into the story as it unfolds.

4. Don't begin with a dream. An exciting beginning suddenly turning out to have been a dream from which the protagonist wakes is a cliche.

5. Write a compelling active scene with active verbs and not too many adjectives. Show rather than tell.
6. Don't describe the character's physical appearance in too much detail up front. We can learn more about them later. 

7. Don't build up a minor character in the first scene, and then dump them later.

7. Gone are the days when we can write pages of description of the scene. And don't begin with the weather unless it is important to the story.

9. Unwise to throw your protagonist into battle without introducing them first. Allow readers to become emotionally connected first.


Elizabeth Jayne said...

Interesting points, Maggie. Thanks for posting the information.

Nana Prah said...

Great advice. I wonder where that whole starting with the weather concept came from.

Cathrina Constantine said...

Well now I'm in trouble. My WIP sequel begins with a dream revisited from the first book. Is this bad??

Maggi Andersen said...

Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth.

Maggi Andersen said...

Something of a tradition, I suspect, Nana in the days when life was more leisurely. I'm a fan of Mary Stewart's writing, and she began The Ivy Tree with a three-quarter page description of the weather and the scene. She's a poet and did it beautifully though.

Maggi Andersen said...

I guess rules are made to be broken, Cathrina. Anything can be successful if done well. But it's something to bear in mind when seeking a publisher.