Sunday, July 26, 2009

Visual Writing Prompt: 7-26-09

When writing and/or editing a novel, writers tend to stress over the opening word/line/paragraph/page/chapter. All of those. They want the opening words to be ones that will pull in the readers or agent -- will make them keep reading, turning the pages into the next chapter and the next.

And so those opening lines become a test for the author. Can s/he make them so compelling that the agent will sign on, the editor will buy the manuscript, the reader will buy the book? An author probably spends more time on the first chapter than any other, writing, re-writing, perfecting.

The opening lines and pages are important. So is the rest of the book.

If you imagined your book as a home, what would the walk-up to the book look like? Is it wide sweeping steps? A narrow pathway? Are there flower pots and bursts of color? Is it dark and spooky? Are your words open and inviting or are they a trick, luring the reader into the danger ahead? Is the mood light and happy? Do your words evoke emotions that send the readers’ hearts racing?

What does the door to your story look like? Does it have stained glass? A peephole? Is it wood or made of metal? Is it a screendoor? Do your readers get an idea of what will happen in the coming chapters? Are they unsure where you’re leading them? Have you revealed too much? Too little?

What will happen when your readers open the door and move into the story, into the lives of your characters? How will they react when they enter the house of your book? Will they continue reading? Will they rush to the end? Savor your words slowly? Or leave this book you’ve written?

What kind of entry into your plot have you created?

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  1. I love your analogy, Helen.

    Gosh, I hope my first page looks better than the walkway to my house! We need to do some weedeating. And then, there's the problem of the dying potted plants...

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. You and me both, Elizabeth. I'm better at sitting at the computer than pulling weeds. 'Course, realtors say curb appeal is very important if you're trying to sell your home, so that could carry over into trying to sell your book, as well.

  3. Sometimes I think authors stress too much over that first line or paragraph. I've yet to read a book where the first few lines just knocked my socks off!! It's not can that first line zing, but as you've shown with your photo - is the story inviting? Does it draw the reader in further with every step?

    L. Diane Wolfe

  4. I agree with Elizabeth. That's an analogy I hadn't thought about before.

    Here in St. John's there are some interesting colours for the downtown row housing. Other homes may have conservative colours, but front doors that are painted shocking, outlandish colours.

    Hmm, my entry will be garnished with a bit of shrubbery, a couple of stately carriage lamps, paving stone path leading to an red door with brass fixings...

  5. That's a great analogy, something to visualize and remind me of what piece might still be the walkway!


  6. Love this. I'd never considered the analogy, but keeping that visual in mind can help the writer as much as the reader. It helps to visualize with our craft, to be creating an ambiance reflected in that image.

  7. Hi everybody! I think often you create this opening into your home, but it doesn't necessarily have to be in order. In the past, authors would have a lengthy opening. Here is the walkway, look at all the flowers and plants, see the front porch, examine the door... and so on. Today's books tend to be, bam! open the door, then they present the lead up to that door. And that's fine. It can work. But you still have to present the other stuff in order not to lose the reader.

  8. Curb appeal! I never thought about it that way. I know I'm ready to start writing a book when that first sentence comes to mind. From there, the words just flow.

  9. Sometimes it's the opening line for me. Sometimes it's a character that won't quit talking or a scene in my head.

  10. I agree with Diane Wolf. I do not have an expectation that the first line or first paragraph will WOW! me. But I do need to be WOWed, or have the sense that I will be WOWed, very soon. Just not in the first paragraph.

    Stephen Tremp

  11. Great post as usual, Helen. I like the idea of considering the opening of a book as the walkway to a house. For some stories there is more time to linger and notice the little details that set the scene, for other stories, the reader wants to hurry in to see what the plot is all about.

    And I do think opening sentences can be very important. Here is an example from Raymond Atkin's new book Sorrow Wood: "Wendell Blackmon considered the dead dog lying before him and wiped his sweating brow with a white handkerchief pulled from his back pocket."

    Doesn't that make you want to read on to find out how the dog died? Did Wendell have something to do with it?

  12. That's a great reminder of what to do when trying to invite the reader in. Mind you, having accepted the invitation I'll have second thoughts if the interior doesn't deliver what it promises.

  13. So true, Chris.

    Maryann, that opening line is even more intriguing to me when I see it's from a book titled "Sorrow Wood."

    You are a lot more patient, Stephen, than a lot of readers today.

  14. Excellent analogy. I think the opening SCENE - not necessarily does it have to be first line or paragraph, but at least the scene as a whole has to have that WOW factor. Also I've found that the 3rd chapter is key - often it is the pivotal point where the reader decides if they want to finish the entire book or if it's become a yawner and put it down. So in my own books and the books that I edit I make sure the 3rd chapter has again that WOW I gotta read on element to it.

    The Old Silly

  15. Great idea, Marvin. It's also good advice for writers - figure out what is your "third chapter" point in your book and make sure it will keep your readers turning pages. See if it can be a pivotal turning point scene.

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  19. Oh oh you got some Chinese junk comments, talking about health food!

    Anyway with the photo, it reminds me of a scene from Pride and Prejudice:

    "They were within twenty yards of each other, and so abrupt was his appearance, that it was impossible to avoid his sight. Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of both were overspread with the deepest blush."

    Bargain with the Devil

  20. Hi Enid. I love Pride and Prejudice.

    And thanks for deciphering the Chinese letters. I can't read them and have been deleting as I find them. I do wish they'd stop. I hate to have to put the squiggly letters or numbers for commenters to decipher before they can comment.

  21. Interesting. I often think of endings visually but not beginnings. Good idea.


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