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"Musings" for July 2004
by Margot Finke
Welcome to "Musings " new home, under the splendid banner of Harold Underdown's "Purple Crayon." This is a new beginning for me, so I thought it appropriate that my first column here should reflect that. Writing is rife with new beginnings - your first title, first paragraph, first page, and first chapter. Writers are doomed to suffer the angst of repeating some firsts every time they begin a new story.
Do you handle "firsts" well?
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Your First Title:
First titles, like first kisses, can never be repeated or forgotten. You can waste many hours and scribble sheets on just the right title. Don't bother. It's fine, if something wildly appropriate comes to you at the outset, but don't sweat it. The truth is, editors take a perverse pleasure in changing titles that we writers sweat over. Save your energy and talent for a killer plot and memorable characters.
That First Paragraph:
For some writers, the first paragraph is a black hole. Nothing they put into that hole comes out right. Should they throw in lots of actions to grab interest? Should they begin with heavy emotions? What about humor? They tweak a hundred times! However, it doesn't matter a hoot what element of your story you choose for that first paragraph, it's the words you choose, and the way you mix them together, that knocks an editor's socks off or not. A Thesaurus is your best friend. Find powerful and compelling verbs. Mix these with evocative and fresh adjectives. Follow the rules; yet write out- of-the-box. Make sure you begin at the heart of your story.
The First Page:
Does that first page make you crazy? Do you rewrite it countless times? Yet you always feel it lacks the panache needed to sell the rest of your book. If your first page introduces your main character, and sets up the time and place, it's almost there. To get it "there," tweak it so the last paragraph hints at things to come. Portents rule! This is called a HOOK, and nothing to do with fishing. Planning your first page, so it ends with a tantalizing, funny or scary hook, is a way to make sure readers (and editors) keep reading. Writing with unique style and flair helps.
Your First Chapter:
Face it; if you want editors to read your entire book, the first chapter had better be stunning. Take every crumb of advice in the above paragraphs, and expand upon them. Keep the panache flowing while you develop your main character and add others. Widen the time, place, portents and hook, into the creation of a gripping plot. Give your POV (point of view) character a "voice" that can grow and develop as the story progresses. And end the chapter with a hook guaranteed to lure readers into chapter two. NOTE: If all this fails, forget the first chapter, and complete the rest of your book. Sometimes, the first chapter only falls into place when you have the rest of the story under your belt.
So, there you have it for July 2004 my first for The Purple Crayon.
Happy Writing Mates.
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