Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Week 12 - The Beginning

18 Mar - 24 Mar: Once Upon a Time...?

Every writer faces the challenge of convincing a reader that he or she should invest time in a character and their journey.  What makes a reader want to turn past page one when so little is known about the people introduced there? How does a writer draw in readers and make them care about what happens?

In the Writer's Digest article The Very Beginning: The Opening Scene, Nancy Kress suggests that an opening should represent a promise.  A promise of being entertained, educated, tantalised, or scared silly in the middle of the night.

In The Art and Craft of the Short Story, Rick DeMarinis suggests opening a story with a history in mind, so that the reader is introduced to a character who is already in 'a situation.'  If the situation raises interesting enough questions for the reader, he or she is likely to turn the page to find the answers.  History can mean any number of things: relationships, origins of character flaws, and, of course, deep dark secrets.

This approach suggests that an effective opening will provide the reader with only parts of the picture, and the reader must go on to find the missing elements through observation and deduction.

John Gardner notes that the usual opening to a novel is "some disruption to order," so that the reader is presented with something unexpected, and is impelled to go on to see how things turn out.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld's article 10 Ways to Launch Strong Scenes, provides excellent discussion and advice on different types of scene openings, including action, narrative, setting description and summary.

Exercise 23.  Write an opening paragraph that raises at least one question, eg. Why did he do that?  Who is she talking about? How did he get into that situation? etc.

Exercise 24.  Write a first page (about 200 words) that includes introductions to a) the main character, b) the main conflict, and, c) the setting.  Give only snippets of information on each and think about how the initial details will contribute to development of the overall plot.

During Week 13, I'll look at the opposite bookend, The Ending.

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