Thursday, August 2, 2012

I May Not Be the Brightest Crayon in the Box, But I Know Enough To Color

I don’t know about you, but I have to have music plying when I write. Right now The Doors are performing Light My Fire (timeless and cool.)
but i digress....
Recently I posted about the indomitable Les Edgerton.(July 21) This blog is not supposed to be a Les Edgerton fan club page, but his book HOOKED has the writing gears turning..

Writing is a lot like dieting. We KNOW we need to eat less and move more in order to lose weight. As writers, we KNOW if our beginnings suck, the rest of the story suffers, even that heartbreaking stuff in the middle, and the tear jerking ending. Why? Because readers won’t have enough patience to slug through three pages of chaff to get to where the REAL story starts. Yet many of us, myself especially, craft these dawdling, elegant beginnings where we take the reader on a sluggish raft to the beginning of the story.

If there were prisons were writing crimes, my FBI poster would read, WORDINESS. : Addicted to back story, takes three pages to three chapters to get to the point at which the story begins. (That was a wordy sentence. See what I mean? What am I going to do with me? I could have just said, uses too many words.)

During my incarceration here in writer’s prison, for which there is no parole, I read Les Edgerton’s HOOKED: write fiction that grabs the reader at page one and never lets them go . It’s a book about beginnings.

Last year, if you recall, I attended the Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop (OCCBWW,) and the critiques only focused on the first page. Each participants’’ first page projected in the room for all to see, naked, our flaws magnified.) See August 2011 postings for more highlights of the OCCBWW)
Here is my first page shredding

My drafts are always horrible. Sometimes it takes a year to look at a manuscript with fresh eyes. Even in its fine tuning and several drafts, my novel CHASING THE DRAGON, suffered by a tepid beginning. Les’s book helped me see the point of entry was wrong.( In an earlier draft, I had this three page prologue containing an incident a couple of years before the story begins, but at OCCBWW, I was advised to cut it and start with action.

In rewrite I had my protagonist, Kicker, walking into her house and get yelled at by her mother and stepfather. It was a three page scene. It was okay, but it lingered.

Les helped me ask, Where does the reader become engaged?
When Kicker has a flashback to her tattoo the night before. Duh! Put her in the tattoo parlor and start there.

The following is from my latest rewrite of the opening of CHASING THE DRAGON. Please don’t steal it.

Getting the tattoo hurt worse than she thought it would. Kicker Stevens pulled at the left sleeve of her plaid, flannel jacket to relieve the pressure on the one inch tall barbed wire tattoo around her left bicep

Kind of wordy and blah. With some tinkering, here is my rewrite:

Kicker rolled up her sleeve and studied the barbed wire on her left bicep, her skin swollen around the tattoo. Getting it turned out to be a bigger deal than she imagined, but there was no turning back. The ink etched her closer to becoming a full- fledged Flygirl.

I’m tempted to rewrite almost everything I have written, at least reexamine it. While the draft contains energy and passion, the real writing happens in rewrite.

Your assignment, besides reading Les’s book, is to reexamine the opening page(s) of a manuscript that you are having trouble selling. The flaw might be page one.

Happy Writing.


  1. I'm a fan of yours, also, Laura! Thank you so much for the shout-out--mostly, I'm just delighted that my lil blue book is helping out in your own writing.

    I'm still going through Antioch withdrawal... How do you get over that?

  2. It takes me months to process writing conferences and all that comes from them.
    I have more to post on Jeff Gundy, Jim Daniels, and Jerry Dennis, as well as other highlights. Plus I spent a couple of days crashing craft talks and readings at a friend's MFA residency.
    It never stops.

  3. Just remove all the adjectives and adverbs. Then see if there's any you REALLY need to put back.
    You were right, nobody cares what her jacket is made of , that's creative writing class stuff.
    "She walked briskly across the cold stone floor and slowly pulled open the heavy wooden door"
    or "She opened the door"....which one keeps the story going and the reader interested?

    1. Absolutely. Yet when I draft I still resort to wordiness. Writing is easy; rewrite is where the work begins.

  4. Well you hit it on the head... the carpenter ant undermining the foundation of my writing that is...I've also acquired Hooked. Now if I can only resist the temptation to redo everything starting with my grade two 'essay' kept by my mother....

    1. But your mother probably thinks everything you write is brilliant!

  5. Pah! Just tell the story. You'll never get everything perfect, and you don't have to wait for teacher to give you his approval,

    1. If I tried to be perfect I'd never write a word. All great stories have flaws.

  6. I lucked out. Once I figured out I needed to write a novel and then figured I needed to learn how to do that, the first book I bought was "Hooked." Once we figure out the inciting incident, then "all we have to do" (as if that makes it easier) is keep it up throughout the story. Easy Peasy. Like walking through fresh-poured concrete chest high. ;)

    1. I like how Les gets us to look at classics like The Odyssey as a framework for story. It's so obvious, yet many writers miss the boat and dog paddle through back story.