This is part of a series I’m posting as I write THE KALEIDOSCOPE A Novel of Unusual Circumstances.
I’ve been reading about making great openings. As soon as I’d arrived at a conclusion (notice I didn’t say The End yet) of most of the story threads, I zoomed back to the beginning.
I don’t know about you, but when I read a novel, I want all the pieces to fit together and the journey to end in a satisfying, even in a clever way, that the author had my satisfaction in mind both from the first to the last.
I picked up a copy of Jeff Gerke’s First Fifty Pages and devoured it/lost sleep/highlightedtheheckoutof. Trained as a screenwriter (and having worked as an editor and successful author), he zooms right to several points I could understand how to implement, and WHY.
Last night, I had critique group to attend, so I printed out my first three pages. After some a lot of tweaking. I even moved an entire scene to the beginning based on Jeff’s advice. My opening had bogged because it was a lot of blah-blah narrative. But I need the reader to know my guy, I whined.
So Jeff, when is it OKAY to give information? Here’s what he says:
A) when the reader must want to know it
B) when the story cannot go on without the information (Kindle loc 683)
As you know, I wanted to raise the bar on myself, so instead of beginning in dialogue or action, I had started out in my MC’s head, and that was borrinng, but he’s a complicated guy.
Aannnddd then I read Jeff’s advice and now I have my MC DOING something, the thoughts in his head are now generic to what he’s doing, even though he’s just on his way to work (I’m also establishing his normal, another necessity of an opening), we see a lot by how he thinks about what’s around him. Notice I said SEE?
So did my tweaking work for my critique buddies Veola, Ron, Ralph and Kelly?
Here’s one of the opening paragraph for which I got several positive comments:
“He double-timed the staircase and sailed inside the office building. His steps clapped against tile, echoing around the bank’s tiled lobby. ID card drawn for the guard and swiftly replaced, he tapped a loafered toe to send a subliminal message to the couple selfishly absorbed in a personal discussion, and by 8:58, pushed the elevator button. Despite the challenges of the morning, it was going to be a good day.”
What’s interesting about this one is, I had it buried about five pages later, and when I read Jeff’s logic, I brought it forward to the opening. (BTW, he’s just bypassed a homeless encampment, and that’s why he’s in such a hurry…nice guy, right?)
Something else Jeff said resonated as I realized my “cuts” file is getting longer than my MS. “What you lose in detail, you more than make up for in reader engagement.”
To write complicated characters, which makes them more compelling and makes the reader want to know what happens next, you need to know a LOT of details and background yourself. In first drafts a lot of inner thoughts may find the page, but to follow Jeff’s most compelling nugget now burned into my writerly brain: “Can the camera see it?”
Like I said, he was a filmmaker by education, but that explanation makes it so much easier to remember than the tired old, “show don’t tell” which doesn’t really say anything to the 21st century brain. But I get camera angles and the importance of “the visual.”
Also this week, I hit a low when I realized how long this was all taking, and I want the book done NOW.
But I read the terrific writer, Jess Walter’s BEAUTIFUL RUINS, a complex, character driven, yet plot complex story about an American actress, and the Italian hotel owner she meets when she’s looking for privacy…a great read y’all.
A big shout-out of thanks to both Jeff and Jess this week. (And Rebecca’s critique group)
Writers, what’s helped you with your opening?
Readers, What keeps you interested past page one…or worse, what makes you toss the book aside and reach for the remote?
I’m having fun writing The Kaleidoscope, A Novel of Unusual Circumstances, where the main character, Harold, finds himself the custodian of a magical scope that reveals much more than just colorful shapes! Here’s a Pinterest board where I’m gathering images of the characters and setting for Kaleidoscope.