Tag: first drafts

first drafts

The Beginning (full stop).

  Great opening lines are memorable. I suspect many people can quote the opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities even if they don’t know what they are quoting.  The first scene in a book is often the first one written. It may even be the scene that inspired the rest of the book (that image that won’t leave the writer’s mind, taking over until it has spawned characters, plots, settings, and hopefully a satisfying conclusion).  Fingers tap the keyboard or grip the pen, speeding through the first pages, tumbling onto the next chapter, and the next until it is time to type The End. Of the first draft, that is. Then reality sets in. The first pages are the ones that sell the book. They are the hook. The decision to continue. They become THE EVERYTHING. I suspect that first pages, or first paragraphs or better yet, first sentences are more studied than any other pages in any manuscript.  Workshops are organized around perfecting these critical pages (our very own Paula Munier frequently lends her expertise to a First Ten Pages bootcamp through Writer’s Digest). This is an excellent opportunity to receive critical feedback. However, what if you don’t have the ten pages yet? What if you have an idea for a story but keep fiddling with opening pages, second guessing yourself, until it is clear the book will never really start?  I have two suggestions. First, read the first pages of books that are well regarded in your genre. How do they treat the action and introduction of setting or characters? Precisely how are these pages setting up the story for the reader? Second, visit Art Taylor’s blog The First Two Pages. Art features various writers each week, each critiquing their own work, explaining the whys and why nots of their decisions. When asked to post as a guest on his blog I was surprised by my recollections of earlier drafts. After a refresher glance at my old manuscripts’ pile I could trace my own decision making processes. The beginning shouldn’t be honed to the point that the rest of the book falls short of its sheer perfection, but those pages are critical. Should I turn that page, and the next, and the next all the way to the end? That is the ultimate reader’s question. Hopefully the end of the first sentence gets, a Yes. The end of the first paragraph, a second Yes and by the end of the first page it’s no longer a question. It’s a given. Then you can start to worry about a conclusion that surpasses the perfect beginning.

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The next book. Where and when to begin….

 Good morning Miss Demeanors! I’ve been on the road recently, first to the wonderful Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green, then to the Mystery Writers of America symposium in New York, and finally to Malice Domestic in Bethesda. At every point, there was talk about writing. Lots of talk about writing.  One of the questions is how to know when it’s time to start a new project. My question today is, what part is the most difficult for you? The initial idea, outline, writing the first pages? Do you have a process to go from idea to “start”? ROBIN: The opening scene. I try to subscribe to the crappy first draftprocess where I focus on getting the story out of my system. Ideas areeasy, 3-dimensional characters take a little more time, knowing whereto start the clock ticking is hard, a great first sentence is where I agonize. I have to remind myself I have permission to just spit thefirst draft out and worry about that all-important first page whenI’ve got some clay on the table to work with. SUSAN: I’m with you, Robin.  I really like to know the opening scene, and even though I plow forward with a rough first draft, I’m never truly happy until that first scene is set. Once that’s done, I usually have a pretty good idea of where I’m going, but I go over and over it obsessively, even though I know I shouldn’t.  CATE: Hi everyone, I outline extensively before I start writing so, for me, the outline is the most difficult because that’s when I try to put down the character arcs and all the moving plot points on paper to see if the story will work. My outlines often change as I go along and am writing, but that initial outline is probably the most difficult.  ALISON: I don’t think I can improve on what Robin said. I’ll add that once I have the first draft, I find it’s at the 60%-75% point that I really struggle. For my first book, I completely pantsed it. This second one, I did a rough outline (nothing like what I did for my dissertation, so I won’t call it extensive). Regardless of process, though, when I pass the halfway point and can see the end I feel like I’m standing on a rock in a fast moving river and don’t know where to jump. I’m there right now…so I better get back to it.  MICHELE: Sometimes I want to dive into a new manuscript before I’ve finished the one I haven’t finished. I get all excited about starting a new book and so the most difficult thing for me is to have to put it on hold. I do jot down ideas and fragments of character sketches so I don’t forget them. ALEXIA: The initial idea is the most difficult part for me. I have so many ideas competing for space in my head, it’s hard to choose one. Which idea will transform itself into a fully developed story? Which idea will lead me down a rabbit hole of wasted time to a dead end? How much time should I devote to developing an idea before I give it up as a lost cause? I’m always fighting with my inner editor, which can be positively demonic at times, because it tells me, “That’s a dumb idea, no one wants to read that,” “This story’s will go nowhere so don’t even start,” “That’s a horrible/boring/otherwise inadequate opening/sentence/paragraph no one will want to read it.” I need a brilliant idea diving rod and an inner editor exorcism.

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