May 25th, 2011


In Which We Court The Elusive Muse (#ROW80 Check-In)

Or, The Importance of First Words

Opening scene is an exciting time for a writer.  We agonize over every sentence, phrase, word.  First words especially cause mountains of anxiety, cause let’s face it—they have to be perfect.  They have to convey so much—tone, character, voice.  The whole world.  It’s the first time we have an audience, and we want—need—to keep it.  First words step out on stage into a pin spot of light and a chorus of crickets.  First Words play to a tough room, full of challenging eyes.  As a result we have a tendency to overwork them, so desperate are we for them to be liked.  And through them, us.  First impressions and all that.

There are First Words that immediately intrigue.  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  There’s a reason Charles Dickens was a master of his craft.  These words immediately make the reader sit up and take notice.  A character waking up one morning and going about his business . . . not so much.  On the other extreme, some writers jump into the heart of an action at a frantic pace without allowing readers to get acclimated to the environment.

The trick, I think, is to find a middle ground between too much setup and too little.  Start right with Plot A, certainly—but leave a trails of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow.  Only give up hard, cold facts when absolutely necessary.

First Words open the door to First Scene, and then First Scene Sequence, which can comprise of First Chapter.  Each should have a beginning, middle and end.  By story boarding my key scenes I can make sure I’m hitting all my marks—character arc, plot and subplots, objects and symbols, dialogue with subject and subtext, and rituals.  A ritual can be anything from a handshake to making coffee to a wedding or funeral—all those things human beings observe and perform that makes them believable human beings.

This also ensure I include no unnecessary fluff that will have to be deleted later by writing only what is necessary.  This is called writing tight.  All the best stories have character and plot and subtext neatly layered and accessorized with objects and symbols without fluff.  This is why I try to avoid word count goals, because I’ll be tempted to stuff fluff into a scenes until the scenes pop just to be able to say “Whew! Made my word count goal! Time for some gamin’.” I’m a lazy writer, but a proactive one.  By writing as tight as possible now I avoid Rewrite Hell.  It also keeps me on task.

So!  Opening Scene present and accounted for, it’s time to flip the coin and consider Closing Scene, its bookend brother.  Check out the progress of fellow ROW-ers, by following the bouncing linky,
here.  Good luck, everyone!