Friday, December 1, 2017

My belief is you have one chance to make a first impression. - Kevin McCarthy

Would you eat off a plate that still has spaghetti sauce residue on it because it hasn't been washed? Yuck, right?

Well, that's equivalent to what happens when you write a story and the presentation fails to capture the reader's attention from the get-go and flow effortlessly like a movie in the reader's mind. That's why it's said that you have about eight sound bytes (or one sentence) to catch a reader's attention.

So, what's involved in capturing the reader's attention? It amounts to:

1. A "hook" opening. Such an opening is the "grabber" that creates curiosity or raises a question that the reader becomes curious enough and reads the next word, the next line, the next sentence, the rest of the paragraph, the first page, and even that first chapter.

2. Action. But what exactly is meant by action? In truth, action can be many things. It can be dialogue – one with a speech tag attribute to the reader know if a male or female is speaking. It can be a character facing a decision. It can be a matter of life and death. It can be drama, urgency, or tension from something about to happen. 

3) A problem or dilemma. The problem can be a character frantically dealing with a problem (like being attacked) or it can be the hint of a problem brewing (like being stalked or a dam reaching critical a stage from flooding rains). A problem can be as simple as needing to get a new job or as complex as a group of crooks planning a heist.

Determining what makes a good hook or an intriguing enough story beginning isn't easy. However, determining what turns readers off the quickest is. 

Here are 15 elements of how not to start or open a story:

1) Do not start with spelling errors, grammar errors, paragraphing errors, punctuation errors (no semicolons or colons), or pronoun reference errors 

2) Remember that if you write genre fiction for the masses, the readability scale should be sixth to eighth grade level

3) Avoid starting with a description of the setting

4) Avoid starting with background information on the character's life (the writer needs such information to write the story, but the reader doesn't need it at the beginning of a tale)

5) Do not open with a dream or nightmare

6) Do not open with an alarm clock going off

7) Avoid an absence of dialogue (and avoid wall-to-wall words)

8) Avoid using dialogue from a character the reader has no idea who that character is (or how important to the story that character is)

9) Do not start with the weather

10) Do not start with a description of a character's physical being or attire

11) Do not start a story with a premonition or blatantly telling the reader "She had no idea how bad her day would become." or that "Death would be waiting for him before he had finished his morning coffee."

12) Do not start with a prologue (chances are the writer needed to know the information in that prologue in order to write the rest of the story. However, if anything—anything—from that prologue is in the text of the story, ax the prologue.) 

13) Do not start a story with a minor character. The reader expects the first named person to be an important person, who is usually the protagonist.

14) Do not introduce a cast or group of characters (Start with the main character (the protagonist) interacting with one other character. Then, one by one introduce other main characters.)

15) Do not start with a character thinking (however, if they are planning murder or some other interesting or intriguing course of action. Even so, keep the internalizing to a minimum.)

If you've looked over your manuscript and scrubbed all fifteen of the above from it, good for you. Only doing so is no guarantee the rest of the story is as polished as it needs to be. 

It pays to take the time to learn better storytelling craft and skills, ruthlessly self-edit, and even pay for the best editor you can (one who understands voice and your genre).

Wishing you all the best with your writing this holiday season.

Merry Christmas & have a Happy New Year!

***********January 2018 — Who should you believe?

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