Herb and I survived WIFYR, the week-LONG marathon of learning how to improve our writing 10 hours (and more) a day. We’d both been struggling a bit with opening chapters and, as a parting shot, Carol gave Herb an extra assignment: Read the first chapter of 50 books. Read them as a writer, noting what happens, when and how throughout. Then post “reports” on what you found out in each one. I was in a different class, but I thought Carol’s idea was an excellent way to figure out what I was doing wrong in my first chapter. I made a template, of sorts, for myself: the things I should look for or notice in each chapter read.
Here’s the list from my template — please feel free to add items you think might be helpful and post them here for all of us.
3. World (as shown in chapter)
4. Main Character (MC) – how s/he is introduced
5. What the MC wants
6. The MC’s main problem (in getting it, or in life)
7. Introduction of other characters
8. Plot development (as revealed in just this chapter)
9. Opening (what we find out in the first few paragraphs and how it’s working — or not)
I also added a few quoted sentences which showed the tension, the created world, and a couple of the outstanding characters. By the time I’ve read 50 chapters like this, those sentences will also be a solid reminder of that specific book.
I just watched The Great Gatsby again and I’m wondering what makes it a classic. It’s not the writing, at least not for me. There are a few brilliant lines in it, but overall, it feels too flowery. The characters aren’t likable either. Each are burdened with flaws that can’t be vindicated.
I think the genius lies in the fantasy it provides. Everyone can relate to longing for The One Who Got Away. It’s such a romantic idea, to think that someone has been pining for you from afar. And on the other side, we have the quintessential American Dream. A young boy, dirt poor, who managed to rise up to be the greatest and the richest of them all.
And then there is the debate about soulmates. The definition of bravery. The concept of honor. Is it possible, after all, to rectify a mistake made in the past?
What do you think makes it a classic?
Off to ALA tomorrow.
Going with my little Caitlynne.
Signings on Saturday: at the Zondervan/ HC booth at 10 am and at S&S at 3 pm. Come see me if you’re there.
I won’t be able to write tomorrow as we’re leaving early in the AM. So here’s a FRIDAY exercise for everyone:
Get a cheap spiral notebook to keep your writing facts in. Save it always. Keep it near so you can add to it, like Brenda has. Ann Dee and I will work with you and this notebook the rest of the year, on Fridays.
To start–begin a collection of first lines and first paragraphs of novels. Write them into your notebook. Add title and author.
Analyze WHY these work or don’t.
How do you feel about the first line? The opening?
Do they fulfill a promise (you know this if you’re rereading)?
Do the first lines grab you?
What’s the tone from just that opening?
Are there wasted words?
Do you know what the book is about? How?
Why did an editor pick up this novel?
Is it successful?
Do this for the rest of the year. Analyze beginnings and why they succeed or don’t.
Remember Richard Peck said you are no better than your first line.
And Heather Flaherty, The Bent Agency, said she gives books three sentences.