The Moment When Everything Changes
This goes along with the million other pieces of advice that we are supposed to deciminated and integrate... and all while we are to remain original and authentic. Sounds easy, huh?! I mean, really, within the first three chapters we need to introduce character, setting, motivation, conflict and good dose of imagination. And, if your writing a suspense or mystery you need to add in a few red herrings, a believeable crisis and maybe a dead body or two... So, how the heck do we do that when we have to start at a point where the characters are being thrust into a situation where they don't even know themselves or how they are going to react?
For years, I thought this meant that I had to start with an immediate action. For Obsidian, it was the moment when his friend's boat blows up and he finds himself witness to the horrific death. This is the catalyst that propels him to go beyond the boundaries of his job to investigate. For Three Truths it is something much simpler. Katie recognizes that her life has become stagnant and whimsically wishes for a change that is offered to her in the form of fairy godmother with matchmaking skills. Two very different stories. Two very different beginnings, but both have the same elements.
A change that is a catalyst and precipitates an awareness that causes the character to move beyond their normal "mode of operation".
Huh? What? This is no different than the advice we've been given all along. Why should I listen to you? No reason. Not really. Except that despite the fact that I've been fighting this instinct for years I have come to believe that the essence of the advice is good and true. Maybe with a little clarification.
Think about it. Fifteen pages of a character explaining about the shoes she bought or the way the moonlight is falling across the snow and we're all in for a snooze. I have limited time to read these days and we are all in an instant society, meaning you've got to catch my attention pretty quickly to keep me reading. I can't tell you how many books I've bought that I just stopped reading because I wanted to know one thing... "why".
Starting with a bang is great. It's needed for many books so that the tone can be set, especially if it's a suspense. But not all stories need to start with a boat being blown up. Some need to start with a whisper, with a hint that something much bigger is just a step away. Your reader and your character need to be breathless with anticipation, or anger, or curiosity, anything that will make them know that something is about to happen.
Ultimately, it comes down to motivation.
One of the biggest misconceptions beginning writers have is that they work so hard to set up the character's motivation at the beginning of the story that they believe it has to be strong enough to remain throughout. Not so. A good motivation is like a good character arc. It needs to grow and change, and sometimes, completely fall away. There is nothing so powerful as a character that must give up what they always believed was their greatest desire in order to benefit someone else. Think about it. Sometimes, it's not the major sacrifices that make the biggest impacts, but the smallest changes that create the biggest tremor in your book and your readers.
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