Friday, January 15, 2010

Do You Know Why We Use...A Beginning that Rocks!

We made it through the week.

For today, I want to go back to the beginning. I pulled down a couple of the prior RWA National Conference Handout books and scanned through to see what sessions had been offered. In this case, I went back to the Atlanta conference. That sealed the deal as to what I would talk about. There were 2-3 sessions focusing on the beginning of the book. Some focused on "The Hook" others focused more on "The first chapter." Still it's all the same.

For many authors, they have a great idea for a book. I talk to people all of the time and I would highly agree that the premise they have pitched is awesome. I would pick it up in an instant. I see the same thing in queries that are sent to me, either electronically or through snail mail. But here is the catch. This is just the premise. This kicking idea they are thinking of happens AFTER the story has started.

Although the words in the first sentence, of the first paragraph, of the first chapter, start your story, it is not the beginning of it. Unfortunately, many authors dive too soon into the main story and then they have no where else to go to. A great analogy of this is the singing of the National Anthem. Have you ever seen someone start singing a bit too high? When you hit "the rocket's red glare..." you have no where to go to. The same works for a story. Still, those opening pages have to suck me into the story, and it has to do it fast. But why?

Let's start with agents and editors. We get a ton of submissions coming through all of the time. This is on top of the work we are doing with our writers, meetings we have with other agents, calls to editors and so forth. We simply don't have the time to read something and "hope" it picks up later. This means we go back to the idea of "movement" and "action" in your story. Get us going with something other than a huge amount of backstory and scene building.

I saw a tweet from Nathan Bransford reading through e-queries. He read and responded to 25 in 25 minutes. No, he wasn't rushing, but if you were in that batch he read, you had 1 minute to convince him. But wait there's more. If you want to see the ton of stuff we are working through. Lucienne Diver commented yesterday she worked until 6 pm, had dinner and then went back to working. She clocked over 190 pages of reading the day before and hit the ground running this morning with more reading. Look, we are busy.

As for readers, you work the same way. This point really won't take long. How many of you hae started a book only to put it aside after chapter 3 (if you even made it that far?). Most readers simply don't wait to see if it gets better.

But here is the error. When we say that we need the beginning that rocks. We need something that will stick with us. We are not looking for some forced, workshop prepped "great first line" although something like that is great if done well. We are not looking for you to dive us into the mind of the psycho killer immediately. We just need something that really works. Movement, dialogue, a situation. Something that will make us say, this is great.

Your homework this weekend? Go find all of the books you liked. Find those of the authors that know what they are doing. And then check out just the first pages. Why did you want to keep reading? Now, go back to the beginning of your story. What are you doing? Please, figure that one out before you start sending things to me.


1 comment:

  1. I have really enjoyed reading your blogs this week. They have been so helpful. Thank you.

    I have a question that I haven't found an answer for yet. I hope I don't sound ridiculously naive, but I received some feedback saying my premise was too forced. I understand what the agent meant by forced writing, but what does a forced premise actually mean? Is my whole story idea wrong? Or did I just write my synopsis really badly?
    I have to admit that I've found my story quite complex and therefore hard to put into a one sentence high concept, is that where my problem lies?

    Any help you can give me would be much appreciated.