In WriteStuff entries, I want to share some guidelines I wrote down for myself about writing fiction.
1. THE OPENING
Start with the precipitating event or character’s decision that marks a change which leads to the whole thrust of the novel – then write fast and furiously, never looking back. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Just get the story in your head down on paper. Don’t stop until you get to an end.
When you do look back through it, you will almost definitely go “Ugh”. It doesn’t matter. You have the most important elements down; beginning, middle and end. You have a story. So what if the end is poor? At least it is an end. I believe nothing kills a nascent novel more effectively than anxiety about what you have already put down, and where it’s going to.
The first draft is the truly creative part; you are discovering the story for yourself in a raw and wandering exploration of your fictional world. Relish in it. Enjoy it. You are blazing a trail for later when the heavy machinery follows behind making that meandering path into a slick straight highway.
So what if you characters seem a little incomplete at first? You will get to know them as you go along, see their place in the story when the first draft is done, then round them out in the re-write.
So what if you make appalling grammatical errors? Write like a child where imagination is all. The child does not worry that it is not presentable. Technical second, emotion first.
Your first draft should be all about passion and fire and imagination. Put your clinical editor’s head on later.
2. LINE ONE, PAGE ONE
Go for a killer first sentence if you can. Think Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of time… Fantastic. In one line he managed to sum up the whole story. And that’s what you ought to try, if not in the first line, then the first paragraph. Try to hint at the theme of the novel and foreshadow what is about to happen. If you’re really lucky, you might hit on something that encapsulates the whole story.
If you can’t come up with the killer line, then at least make it solid and assertive. You need to grab a commissioning editor’s attention here much more than a potential reader’s. Remember that a reader who has invested hard-earned cash to buy your book will not throw it aside if your first words are less than awesome. They will give you time to engage them, which you must do within a couple of pages. Editors, having nothing invested, are not quite so patient. Get the deal first, then change your opener later if you need to.