Since I've started writing a new series, I've been researching this subject. We always want our latest book to be better than the last. We don't ever stop honing and learning our craft. There is always something new to learn. I'm focusing strongly on first chapters and pacing right now, because it sets the tone for the remainder of the book. There is a lot of helpful advice out there and I found Lee's process very helpful.
Promise and Deliver
I read a wonderful article by Peter Selgin in Writer a few years ago, and it stuck in my head. This part is what I really noted, in fact, underlined.
“Based on a book or story’s first chapter, the reader will form certain expectations, which, unless they are met, will cause consternation, disappointment or. . .amusement.”
I never want my readers to be dismayed or disappointed when reading my books. I definitely do not want them to laugh at me. I think this last would be the most humiliating. I like people to laugh at my words when I plan it that way, but never by any unintentional slip up.
So how could I make the opening of my stories promise and the rest of the story deliver? Here’s my simple-minded formula.
I write down the key elements of my story into a single sentence, sometimes two. Never more. That way I can focus on what I want my reader to expect after that first chapter.
When I’ve got a solid draft of chapter one, I find someone who’s a terrible out-loud reader—someone who doesn’t read my books or care to—and I bribe them to read the first page out loud to me. Believe me, the flaws become so apparent I want to cry.
During that excruciating experience, I listen
• for the tone and style I’d set out to capture.
• for the character’s voice and decide if the reader will know exactly what this character wants or needs.
• to find out if I was clear and precise in my choice of words and phrases, so anyone reading this chapter is ready for what’s to come.
Once that first chapter’s the way I want it, I go through the book, keeping an eye open for everything I’ve led the reader to expect. I’m still not editing for details, I’m looking for those main themes I promised, those character foibles I’ve hinted at, the consistency of tone and style that I established in that opening.
When I’m satisfied, I know it because I’m enjoying the story and that’s huge because at many stages of writing a story, I haven’t enjoyed it.
As Sol Stein says, “The pleasures of writer and reader are interwoven. The seasoned writer. . .derives increasing pleasure from his work. The reader in the hands of a writer who has mastered his craft enjoys a richer experience.” [Stein on Writing]
by C. Lee McKenzie
Cleo has struggled to heal after her baby sister’s death, but the flashbacks to the accident won’t go away. With the move, she vows to keep her tragedy a secret and avoid pitying looks.
Something’s strange about the abandoned house across the street—flashes of light late at night and small flickers of movement that only someone looking for them would see.
Everyone says the house is deserted, but Cleo is sure it isn’t, and she’s sure whoever is inside is watching her.
In one night, Belleza’s life changes forever. So famous, her only choice is to hide her secret from the world so she can silence small town bigotry.
Then Cleo happens.
Sudden Secrets does indeed sound intriguing. Lee's writing process obviously works and I'm going to study it very closely.
Thanks for sharing, Lee!