Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Where to Start? Be an Axe Murderer.

So I'm working on a few stories right now, but I've edited and reworked MORE THAN KARMA the most. I have a fantastic editor who has really helped me get a firmer grasp on my story and characters. However,  for the longest time I was hesitant to alter the first chapter too much. I liked laying out the scene and unfolding the story with the characters in a certain way. It felt a little more "Once Upon A Timey" in my early versions--which sort of appeals to me.

But a couple of days ago I decided to write a new first chapter. Just to try it. I promised myself that it didn't have to be permanent and I could always still use my original first chapter. So I had fun with it.
Now that I have written it-- it feels good. To start from a more advanced point from a fresh perspective. And it made me realize a few things about a couple of the characters that I didn't know before! (=
                                       *Cue shaft of light and heavenly choir*

Sometimes it's painful to give up our favorite and familiar bits and take risks for the reader. But don't be a hoarder.We write for our own enjoyment and to satisfy our muse but we can't afford to be entirely selfish because in the end writing is meant to be read--it is for the reader too. Sometimes that means you just gotta CHOP something out.

Here are some simple tips that most of us already know--but might be overlooking in our reluctance to "kill our babies".

1) Description: Starting with a dream or describing the weather is a bad idea. Don't ramble on with descriptions on the setting, story background, charcters or premise in detail.  Introduce the characters, preferably in action, at or just before a big moment. Hit the ground running--or at least walking fast. Description can be sprinkled throughout as you go--and will stick out to your reader more that way--otherwise they skim and miss important details in a sea of superfluous ones.

2) POV: Right away establish a tight and clear POV with a firm easy voice. Don't be shy--a confident voice that has "personality" and doesn't wander in POV and tense is important.

3) Action: Get it on. There's no room for a chapter where nothing happens. Think like a movie.

4) Avoid Chiches and Cheesy Hooks: Gimmicky writing is a turn off. Be original and allow the reader to be drawn in naturally by something that is compelling but honest--true to the story.

5) Backstory: Don't bury the reader in the backstory on characters or place before you get into the plot. Readers don't care about your character until you make them care. You make them care by their actions, not their story. Avoid the horrific INFO DUMP.

6) Dialogue: Right from the start, make sure your dialogue is tight, strong and relevant. The characters  should sound like people with different personalities.
These tips can keep all of your chapters dynamic and crisp.

Really examine that first chapter--it's like a promise to the reader that it will be worth their time to keep reading. If it isn't --KILL IT.

Writing should be an act of compassion--to be mutually satisfying.Think of it as being a good and respectful host-- you invite someone to come over and spend some time with you-- so clean house and be thoughtful. Don't ramble or dominate the conversation-- let your reader participate and have room to breathe and think. Serve them up something yummy and plate it in an appealing Food Network way. And most of all-- if something threatens to harass, smother, bore, or overwhelm your guest give it the AXE.
Do you have any favorite passages that might need to go?
Happy chopping!


TS Hendrik said...

I am the absolute worst when it comes to cutting out parts or editing my own work.

Phoenix said...

Ugh, I am so awful at this. It's so hard for me to murder my darlings and I think that's really what's stopping me from making progress on my script. Wish me luck with the chopping because something's gotta give soon!

Bluestocking Mum said...

Hi Jo

I've become quite hardened to cutting and can be brutal when I need to. However I have a secret fall back. I have a writing bin. Whatever novel or story I'm working on, I create a document by the same name and add bin. Then anything I cut from it as I edit, I keep it safe in there. You'd be surprised how many times those little passages/excerpts make a reappearance!

How great to meet you. Thanks for finding my blog. And I look forward to following your posts and writing.

warm wishes

Johanna Garth said...

I have a rule that anything I think is absolutely brilliant probably needs to go. I save it in another version so it doesn't hurt so much!

Angela Felsted said...

Can't wait until I'm done with the draft I'm working on so that I can start chopping things!

Anonymous said...

It's so, so hard, but you're right. Great post, Jo.

Anonymous said...

Great tips and reminders. When I write for myself I don't attract the reader. I have people who put me in check, though.

I'm going to be chopping in the weeks ahead. I have a wip to tackle.

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

I end up adding. Horrible!

Margie said...

I completely agree with this even though it is hard. Most of the time my favorite line or scene is not one that propells the story forward. I hate chopping something I love though, so that is why a writers group is awesome. SOMEONE gets to see it, thought maybe not everyone. :-)

Lois D. Brown said...

Amen to this. It's hard to kill something in your book that is good, but if it's not doing it's job, then go it must. Great post.

Wendy G. Ewurum said...

great post jo and once again, off to bookmark....thank you

Shannon Lawrence said...

Oh, the axe, sob. Yes, I've been doing a lot of chopping lately with this revision, but I also keep a folder where I put the chopped text just in case it makes me sense elsewhere or I come to truly regret removing it. It makes me feel better and I think I've only borrowed from it once.