I preach it all the time in my critique group, so I don’t know why I have such a struggle doing it myself: grabbing the reader in the opening few paragraphs of my book; embedding him or her immediately in the drama.
Eventually, I always get things sorted out, but I usually have to get “slapped upside the head” before I do.
Maybe it’s because, as a friend who had an artistic bent once told me, “Buzz, your thinking is too linear.”
He was probably right. Thus, when I start a novel, I tend to create my initial draft in a “linear” or chronological fashion. That’s not necessarily going to tug a reader into the story. The golden rule of writing is–keeping in mind, as I’ve said before, there are no rules–start your story at the point of action (conflict).
For Blizzard, it took me several weeks before I realized my opening scene was buried in Chapter Seven. Once I dug it out and shoveled it to the front of the line, where it belonged, everything was fine.
Now I’m struggling again, this time with my newest manuscript, Tsunami (working title). I took the first few pages of Tsunami to my critique group earlier this month. Good writing, engaging, they said. But in reading between the lines, I could tell there was something they hadn’t said. Maybe they assumed, since I’m a published author, I was above reproach. Not true. That’s why I offer my stuff up for evaluation.
Finally, a veteran member of the group, John, spoke up. “The writing is great,” he said, “but you need to get to the point faster. I think if you cut out the first few paragraphs and started on page two, it would be better.” He paused. “I mean, you’re the guy who’s always telling us to capture the reader on page one.”
He was right. But as I reread the chapter after I got home, I realized that overall, even after applying John’s suggestion, it probably wasn’t going to work as the opening scene. So I wrote an entirely new first chapter and showed it to my wife. She, in essence, handed it back and said Try again.
Feeling she had a point, I did. But she wasn’t thrilled with my next effort either. But this time I thought I had it right. Over the weekend, I had lunch with another member of my critique group, and mentioned my dilemma to him. He said, “Send the chapter to me; I’ll look it over. I’ll let my wife see it, too. She reads a lot.”
So, my third take on an opening chapter is off for a mini-critique.
It’s not that I don’t trust my judgment, it’s that I know I can’t be totally objective about my judgment. I think I’ve nailed the opening scene, but I need someone else to tell me that.
But I’m open to a fourth attempt, if needed.