- Two for Tea. In your opening scene, try to avoid having your POV character alone on stage. In so many openings, a character is a)looking out a window, b) riding to a destination or c) eavesdropping on a conversation. By isolating your character, you limit that character’s involvement with the story. It’s hard to build tension/conflict with no one else in the scene. Take a hard look at any opening scene where your character is alone. Is it a thinly disguised way to stuff back story into the novel? Remember the bit about in media res–starting in the middle of the action? Learn to weave the character’s thoughts with the action.
- One Thing After Another. A successful novel opening gives the reader a hint of the character’s major story goal. This goal provides the novel structure, and everything that happens has an effect on that goal. If your story is merely a series of “unfortunate events,” (Sorry, Lemony Snicket), you may have a difficult time expressing the character’s major goals in the first few lines of your synopsis. Things blowing up, burning down or other catastrophes don’t always add up to conflict that grows out of your character’s goal. Keep running the “one sentence” test until you can state the main story goal concisely.
- Feelings Count. At the start of a novel, the writer has many things to convey to the reader. The character’s goal, the setting, other characters and their interactions are important, but in my little opinion, many new writers give short shrift to their characters’ emotions. Let your character’s feelings be palpable for the reader–so the passion and desperation that character has for the situation and/or goal forces your reader to care. Most readers are willing to sacrifice information (such as back story) for feelings. In your opening scenes, let your character’s emotions come through dialogue, body language and inner thoughts.
- Who Cares? A main character who is so depressed he/she doesn’t care about much is going to be a difficult character for the reader to follow. Many new writers want to start off with that apathetic character and show him/her regaining their passion, but most readers will not stick with the story long enough to see the transformation. For all except the most skilled novelist, a mad/sad character is easier to convey than one who doesn’t give a rip.
Wanna know a secret? Good, because I’m dying to tell you a couple of techniques that can transform your writing from average to outstanding.
Since I work with new writers on an ongoing basis, I’m happy to encourage and guide them toward developing their skills. As a judge for some fiction writing contests, I’m anonymous, but I often wish I could whisper SECRETS into the ear of some of these writers.
Writing Tip for Today: Writing publishable prose takes practice–a lot of practice. Yet a few techniques seem to help new writers or first-time novelists more than others. In the title I call them SECRETS, but really they are only tools. If you master these tools, you might just go from entering contests to winning them. Here are a few SECRETS to rev up your writing: