I want you to watch this short video. I want you to look for what this writer did when he was trying to figure out how to write his beginning.
What did he do? What’s the lesson here?
My answer is below in white font. Don’t highlight and read it yet. Take a second and draw your own conclusion. What do you think one lesson is? Write it down.
Okay, now look at what I think.
I’ll tell you what I think. I do not think the lesson here is that you must use this exact pattern. For example, I don’t know that this pattern fits a Jack Reacher novel. I don’t know that it fits a Louis L’Amour. I don’t think it fits a lot of great novels, even though there are some hugely insightful things in this pattern. Dang it, it’s a type of story I’d like to try. But this specific type of story isn’t the lesson, as good as it is.
No, for me the lesson is that he went searching for patterns that worked, and worked well, for his type of story. And then he took those ideas and wrote his own spin on them.
The other thing is that he created a lot of sketches, didn’t he, before he came up with one that had the magic.
You might have to do that. You might not. But I hope the idea of sketching and drafting frees you from any performance anxiety.
You’re not writing gold. It’s just a draft. You might write 6,000 words of crap.
That’s awesome. It’s awesome because you’re the type of person who practices farmer’s faith. Farmers know that cow patties are good for the crops. They count on them, they spread them around, they pay good money for them.
You’re going to practice farmer’s faith and write crap, if that’s all you have in you, because you know that if you throw crap onto the garden of your mind, it will grow flowers.
This week is all about beginnings. Your goals are to:
- Identify what draws you in a beginning
- Clarify what you want the beginning to do to readers
- Write the first draft of the beginning of your novel
- Try sketching the scene before you write it
Let the fun begin!
Discovery Questions & Activities
Question 1: what types of things draw me in a beginning? (3 hr)
When I say “beginning”, I’m not talking about the whole Trouble phase of the story. I’m talking about the first paragraphs, the first page, and the first 2,000 to 4,000 words.
- I want you to get 5 to 10 beginnings that really draw you and sit down with those books. (You might want to get 5 that really don’t work for you as well to see the difference.)
- Identify what line or paragraphs hooked you and made you want to continue reading.
- Now see if you can figure out how they did it.
- What rhetorical mode was used in the first five paragraphs? Narrative summary, narrative detail, exposition, commentary, or description? If you can’t remember what those are, go back to the page for lesson two and read about them. Is there a common pattern you see in these beginnings?
- What’s going on in the story with these beginnings?
- What did these good beginnings do that the boring beginnings didn’t?
I want you to follow the pattern you see in your story. Take the key elements and give them your own particular spin. Write down what you’re going to try.
Question 2: what effect do I want to build in my readers with my beginning? (30 min)
Name the top three effects you want your beginning to have on the reader.
Identify what is going to cause that–what have you got to tell them to elicit that response?
Now I’m betting one of those things will be something like hook or grab their attention. Do not stop at that level. I want you to think about what hooks or grabs your attention. What elicits that response? Dig a little deeper.
Write down how you will use your answers in your beginning.
Question 3: how can I make writing the scene easier? (1 hr)
I want you to learn about one technique that has done wonders for me. Later I found other writers used it as well to the same effect. Basically, you take a few minutes before you start writing the scene to make it come alive in your mind. The way you do this is to sketch the scene before you write it.
Please read Generating Story 13: The Scene Primer with Author Laurel Amberdine (you don’t need to read any linked-to pages).
If you want another example, read Generating Story 14: Freewriting from Inquiry to Outline to Scene to Draft with Author Maya Lassiter.
I want you to try sketching your scene before you write it when you write your beginning this week. You can use something formal like Laurel does to help you. You can use something less formal. If you do nothing else, trying jotting down (a) what each main character in the scene wants, (b) what conflicts or obstacles he or she will face in the scene when trying to get it, and (c) a summary of the steps the main characters take to achieve their goals.
Question 4: what can I do to have fun writing this and be more productive than I have been in the past? (0.5 hr)
I want you to think about this question when driving or in shower or something else like that. I want you to come up with some concrete things to try.
Write Your Beginning (5 hrs)
Block out your time and write it. If you write slow like me, I’m expecting 2,500 words. If you write quickly, you might have up to 5,000 words or more.
Post (0.5 hrs)
Post the following here by EOD Monday.
- What you thought a lesson was from the Toy Story writer
- The key things that the wowser beginnings that hook you do
- The first 250 words of your beginning
- What you’ve decided to try to have more fun and be more productive
- Any other big insights you had this week about beginnings or writing
Attend the Meeting (1 hr)
Be prepared in our meeting to report your reaction to the other person’s opening and discuss your post.
I’m talking about the 3 grunts and aahs. I don’t want anything but three grunts and things that drew your interest. Be accurate in the report of your response. And if a beginning doesn’t pull you, just say that and state you don’t think you were in the audience for it. Why would you say that? Because it might be a great beginning for some other audience! How do you know if you’re representative of the target audience? You could be the one wackadoo. Even if you are in the audience, the author can’t know you’re representative until he or she has more data points.
Outline your novel project (1 hr, optional)
Putting in the time writing is the most important thing you can do this week. But if you have an extra hour, please read Lesson 8: Treat it like a project and the links to Correia, Aaron, and Anderson.
Outline your project including the date you target you can get it done and what your daily targets will be (hours or word count).