Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night Once Upon a Time

I'm supposed to be working on "Third," and I am. I swear I am! I have, however, taken the past week off, so easing back into work is sometimes not smoooooove for me. A little blog post usually helps me get into a more worky-work girl framework of mind, so here goes.

Part of the second-draft revisions I am doing for "Third" include switching the first and second chapters (and making the corresponding chronological changes). The first line of Chapter Two (the old Chapter Two, now Chapter One) read: "Anne awoke at six a.m." I knew I'd have to change that. Starting with an awakening scene is usually a big no-no. Besides, I can think of many better ways to hook a reader than that line.

My thinking on first lines...hmm. They're like everything else. Take care with them. Put forth the best line possible, but don't overthink it (or the first page). The book as a whole has to be good. That said, a bad first line and a bad first page will cause me to put a book down and read no more.

Here are the first paragraphs (with my comments below them) from my works so far. The short-story collections are not included.

"The Odd Couple": Morrisey Hawthorne could not believe June had come already. It did not seem possible that two months had passed since her father's heart attack. She had shivered through his funeral in April, had put up with overcast skies and that miserable, gray drizzle. Now the sky was blue and unblemished. The sun was out in full force for what promised to be a hot summer filled with trips to swimming holes and quality time with Gareth. But Morrisey wanted to go back to April—to April 20th. She could have stopped by her parents' house that day while her mother was out shopping. She could have called 911 and maybe...well, maybe her father would not have died alone.

My comments: The opening paragraph from my first published book has a bit of weather stuff, but I give it a purpose. It is not overkill. Writing books generally say to avoid weather-ish opening scenes. Is this the best first line/first paragraph ever? Nope, but at least there was a point to the weather references. Can you tell this is my first published book? Maaaayhaps.


"Strange Bedfellows": Frances hoped the prostitute would have alcohol. Surely she would. The other one, from three years ago, had. Every time. Besides, the agency had asked again about Frances's drinking preferences for a reason, right? High class, the agency. Their people knew that drinking preferences could change in three years. Not hers, though. A rum and Coke would hit the spot exactly, calm her nerves. She would have one glass. Maybe two. If she really needed a third, fine. Any more, and she refused to risk driving home.

My comments: Not bad, especially the first line. The opening few pages to "Strange Bedfellows" were something I kept changing. Heck, "The Odd Couple" first few pages too.

Caris sighed, trying not to say her wife's name, even if it was just in her mind. But she could not help it. Dale. Dale. Where are you? There's no excuse. It's 10 a.m.!

My comments: This was an opening I didn't sweat as much as the above two. It's generally not a good idea to open with a "thoughts" scene, but it works for "Waiting."As long as the interiority is compelling, I say go for it. Here, a mystery is raised: Where is Caris's wife? Also, why is Caris so scared she won't say aloud her wife's name?


"All in the Family" (publication begins January 1, 2012): Allison did not like the woman with the big black hair who bounced into The Addict a moment ago. Allison's dislike was not because of the nasal Jersey-accented voice that made her want to invest in good earplugs. Nor was the dislike because the woman, braying with laughter at her own indecision, kept changing her order, from a black coffee to a latte to a cappuccino then back to a plain coffee with a brownie.

My comments: You're generally supposed to write in "positives" language, not "negatives" language. This is to say that instead of writing: "He could not afford a car," you might want to write: "A bike was all he could afford." Something like that. So why is the AITF opening kind of a Negative Nellie? Well, this opening paragraph definitely has a purpose, which becomes clear quickly. One thing I've noticed about my openings is that I try to raise questions readers would like to see answered. Breaking the rules is fine as long as you do it with conscious purpose.

"Third" (rough draft): Anne's teeth used to be bad, so she had a workaround for when she brushed them. No matter that her teeth were marvelous now. In her mind, they would always be worn little pebbles. Her workaround was simple: no looking in the mirror. Anne wandered through her apartment, taking in the library, the neatly stacked books, the many paintings she had done and the living room with the security guard, who was usually Jordan. When she was almost finished brushing her teeth, she went back down the hallway. Afterward, Anne usually took a long, luxurious bath, complete with bubbles. This morning was no different except that after her bath, Anne used a Ped-Egg to touch up her heels.

My comments: This is a rough-draft opening. Could be risky. I mean, opening with bad teeth? Um...really? Bad teeth? But then again, back to the "unanswered questions." Why did Anne have bad teeth? Why are her teeth marvelous now? Why does she have a security guard in her living room? Is he related to the teeth?

I liked the old opening better. Maybe after "Third" is published, I'll explain why I switched the first two chapters. Here's the old opening (now begins Chapter Two):

Helen would have to kiss Devon good night. No doubt about it; after three dates, Devon had been giving Helen certain looks, certain touches. Helen tried to focus on her dinner—chicken and baked potato—but could not taste the food. The chicken probably was good; it was thick, succulent and juicy. And Devon was nice, with kissable lips: full and pouty. In other circumstances, kissing them would be no tragedy.


Well, OK then. This is my cue to get back to work on "Third." :-D

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