Friday, April 30, 2010

Scene 1, Take 3

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a writer was that every scene has to do more than one thing. I happen to like old fashioned stories that meander along establishing character and place before diving into "the story."

But like everything else around us, pacing is faster these days. Here's how David Farland says it:

A real first scene will...create a setting, develop a conflict, and introduce characters at the same time. It will simultaneously set a tone for the novel and drive the story forward toward its inciting incident. 

And people wonder why we get writer's block. That's a lot to expect from the beginning of a book!

I'm rewriting the first scene in a new novel and trying to make sure it does all of these things. Remembering that there's a rewrite coming helps me get past the fear of getting everything right. It doesn't have to all be there on the first draft. Or the second. But before it goes out, that first chapter needs to shine or agents/editors/readers won't keep reading.

What important lessons have you learned as a writer?

21 comments:

Anna said...

Have you read HOOKED by Les Edgerton? It's a great book on story beginnings, but it's also a bit intimidating to see a list of ALL the things an opening is supposed to do. If I get even a couple of those things into a beginning, I'm happy! :-)

Carolyn V. said...

I've learned that too much detail can slow down the story. Too little can leave a reader confused. (I do the too little part, but have read some wips with too much.)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

So much! Mostly I've learned how to add more conflict to a story.

T. Anne said...

Edit, edit, edit!!!! Have a great weekend Sherrie!!

Lydia Kang said...

Turn off the inner editor when writing that first draft.
Happy weekend!

Corey Schwartz said...

Wow! That is a lot to expect. But Lynn us right. Turn off the inner editor for the first draft!

Sandy Shin said...

That's one of the most difficult things I've found, too -- having a scene do several things at once. Good luck with it!

Like Lydia, I've learned to just write the first draft with my editor hat off. Otherwise, I'd never get anything written. :)

Becky Levine said...

That we can drop the reader a lot further into a scene than we thought--especially for those of us (yes, me, too) who DO enjoy those rambly beginnings from our childhoods. :)

I second Anna's recommendation of HOOKED. Yes, intimidating, but I start to see all that in the really good openings,since Les showed me what to look for!

Cindy said...

That's a great description to remember when working on the first chapter.

The biggest thing I'm learning lately is to start the story in the right spot. You might have conflict in the first chapter, and all your characters and the tone, but if the first several lines are boring then no one will get to the rest.

Candyland said...

I've learned to always keep Advil on hand:)

Laura Pauling said...

I just recently cut 6,000 words off my manuscript, realizing that some scenes were only character development during transition.

But recently, I learned that I usually start a scene too early and end it later than needed.

Bish Denham said...

Write what you love and the rest will follow.

Elaine AM Smith said...

I have never been able to look at page one of my wip without changing something. The start of any book is busy!

Piedmont Writer said...

I re-worked my first project's first chapter to death. Just to make sure I met all the criteria.

The second book wasn't so hard.

Great post.

Rena said...

Editing as I go -- that's a real time killer.

Indigo said...

I tend to want to get the details right on the first run...not happening. Slowly I'm learning 1st draft write the story. There WILL be other drafts to get the specifics right. Case in point I realize I have a couple major changes to make, if I stop now I'm going to lose the momentum I have. Perfect solution - I keep a notebook detailing what changes need to be made and where. A template for the next draft. (Hugs)Indigo

Solvang Sherrie said...

Anna: I'm embarrassed to say that I DO have Hooked, but I haven't read it yet. Guess I should move that to the top of my pile :)

Carolyn: I do too little as well. My second draft is when I fill in detail.

Diane: I had a hard time with conflict too. I kept writing sweet stories where not much happened...

T.Anne: You have a great weekend too!

Lydia: That inner editor can be cruel, don't you think?

Corey: Great advice, but so hard to follow!

Sandy: My inner editor is very stubborn. It's so hard to shut her up :0

Becky: Yes, those rambly starts can be so lovely IMHO :) Guess I really need to read Hooked!

Cindy: I sweat over the opening lines. So hard to make them brilliant!

Candy: Ha! I prefer M 'n' Ms :D

Laura: Six thousand words is a LOT! Those character development scenes are so tough to cut. I sympathize!

Bish: I hope that's true :)

Elaine: One author I interviewed says she still changes stuff after the book is published. She'll just write in the margins then use the revised version when she's reading to kids!

Piedmont: In some ways it gets easier with the next book, but the opening is always tough for me.

Rena: Yeah, the editing as you go can be killer.

Indigo: The notebook is a great idea! Keeps the writer AND the editor happy :)

Blee Bonn said...

Take breaks once in awhile, preferably before you burn yourself out!

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Great post! And I love what everyone else has learned. There's not much left to add except that Noah Lukeman offers a some great advice on starting a novel in The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

beth said...

*shudder*

I LOVE writing beginnings. But I'm crap at them. I'm so crap at them, that I've begun dreading them. *sigh*

Creepy Query Girl said...

SO many lessons in the last year. Book beginnings...pacing, flow..all of it has come into question and I've learned so much.

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