Crafting A Successful Opening

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not long ago, I pulled out a piece of writing I'd started over a year ago that I had abandoned shortly after realizing it just didn't work. I thought maybe taking another look at it, so long after I had actually written it, would help me see it in a new light.

I started to read and quickly realized what the problem was. I didn't start the story in the right place.

Everybody knows that an incredible number of really good, maybe even brilliant, novels and other literary forms never get read by agents or publishers. Or, at least, they never get read past the first few paragraphs or pages. And why is this? Because they have bad beginnings. When an agent or editor comes across a poor beginning, they don't bother to continue reading.

Les Edgerton, author of the book, Hooked: Writing Fiction That Grabs Readers At Page One and Never Lets Them Go, tells us that the goals for an opening scene are:

1. To successfully introduce the story worthy problem

2. To hook the readers

3. To establish the rules of the story

4. To forecast the end of the story

If your opening fails to accomplish any of these elements, your opening will fail.

In his article, Crafting an Opening Scene That Lures Readers Into Chapter Two, Mr. Edgerton examines these elements more closely. He tells us:

Introduce The Problem

Mr Edgerton explained that this is the opening's most important goal. He says,

"Without a story-worthy problem your story doesn't have much of a chance at success. The problem is the heart and soul of the story. The majority of the novel or story contains the protagonist's struggle to resolve this problem.

You must set the stage for the story-worthy problem's eventual unveiling (which is gradually revealed) right from the beginning to give the reader a compelling reason to keep turning the page.

This is done via an inciting incident, which is the event that triggers the first surface problem and sets the story into motion."

Hook The Reader

"A hook is something that intrigues the reader and it can be virtually anything that makes the reader want to continue reading.

Good hooks have strong inciting incidents that plunge the protagonist immediately into trouble...the trouble that's going to occupy the rest of the story.

The surest way to involve the reader is to begin with an opening scene that changes the protagonist's world profoundly and creates a story-worthy problem."

Establish Story Rules

"A novel (and short story) has certain rules...rules you, as an author, must establish and convey to readers so your story can be read intelligently. These rules can be almost anything you desire, so long as they follow one ironclad dictum: They must be consistent. You have to establish what kind of story it's going to be right from the beginning.

However you begin the story, voice, tone, the way the story is narrated, that's the way it has to continue through the ending. Consistency is key to writing a good novel."

Forecast The Ending

"The beginning of the newest stories often contain at least a hint of the endings. When a student approaches me, stuck on how to end their stories, my first advice is always to look back at their beginning, for the answer should be there.

Begin with a brief hint of what's to take place at the end and you'll create a story that comes full circle."

In the end, Mr. Egerton assures us that a story that begins in the wrong place won't be read past that point. That if the good stuff happens later on, "in all likelihood, an agent or editor will never read it."

What are you working on now? A novel? A short story? Did you start your story in the right place?

Want to know more? Check out my article on writing first chapters.

For more information by Les Edgerton look to Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go

Until next time!



First-Person Point Of View: Advantages and Disadvantages

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hello, everyone! I hope you're having a good week so far. 

Today I'd like to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of using first person point of view. 

What makes me want to go over this? Well, I've mentioned before in other articles that I always prefer third-person point of view. So the other day, I was kind of annoyed to find another young adult novel I wanted to read was written in first person. There's a lot of them, young adult novels written in first person, in case you haven't noticed. So I figured, if so many authors choose it, there must be something good about it. So I decided to look into it more and what I found is that there are some advantages to first person point of view and some disadvantages.

But first, what exactly is first person point of view?

In The Art and Craft of Storytelling, Nancy Lamb explains that in a first-person story, the narrator is the I of the story. That means that everything told in the book is told from this singular point of view. She says:

"When you write a story in the first person, your ability to shift from place to place and person to person is limited by the experience of the narrator. Everything you write about must be witnessed by the narrator or told to her by another character. The narrator can only observe and reflect upon these observations; she may not assume anyone thinks or feels anything unless it is manifested in some way. Your plot development options are limited when you can't report on anything that takes place out of sight of the narrator."

She also asks us to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of first person before choosing it as the point of view for our stories. 

Advantages of First-Person Point Of View

  • You create a sense of connection. The immediacy of first person sets up a direct communication between reader and writer.
  • The reader experiences the intensity of a personal story. In this point of view, readers have a sense that the story is being told just to them, as if someone is whispering secrets from the pages of a book.
  • You can create an intimate portrait. Readers feel closer to the action and the hero. It's easy to slip your imagination into the mind and heart of a first-person narrator.
  • You can create a variety of moods. You can write in the voice of a tough guy or the voice of a dreamy romantic. It all depends on the story you want to tell and the feelings you want to convey. 
Disadvantages of First-Person Point of View

  • Your story is limited to one point of view. Since your story can not expand beyond what the narrator thinks, sees, and hears, no action can take place out of sight of the first-person narrator. The narrator can, however, interpret reactions.
                   Linda looked worried when her mother asked me about the money.


                   Dan's voice shook when he told me what happened. 

  • Closeness to story can diminish perception. If the point-of-view character is too close to the action, she might not have the perspective to tell an interesting story.
  • Beware of dangerous Is. Too many Is spoil the prose and bore the reader. 

So I can see why so many writers choose first-person point of view. I can see how feeling that sense of connection with the characters would be appealing. 

What do you guys think? Do you like first-person POV? Or are you like me and prefer third?

Let me know in the comments. 

And if you found this article helpful, consider signing up for my email list, where every week I'll send you a list of the most helpful articles the internet has to offer. Especially for those of us who are beginning writers. You can find the sign up form in my sidebar. 

Well, until next week! 


For more info, check out The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb


Understanding Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hello! Welcome to the all new The Beginning Writer site! I am so excited to be back!  I have worked long and hard to bring you the best site and the best help that I can give you. Along with the new site design, starting today, you will find new articles here every Wednesday. If you sign up for my email list, you'll get an email from me on Fridays full of links to other blogger's articles that are helpful to beginning writers. So let's get started!

This week I'd like to talk about something that I've only recently learned about: the difference between the active voice and the passive voice.

It turns out that verbs come in two types, the active and the passive.

With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence.

Here are some examples:

Harry ate six shrimp at dinner. (active)
At dinner, six shrimp were eaten by Harry. (passive)

Sue changed the flat tire. (active)
The flat tire was changed by Sue. (passive)

We are going to a movie tonight. (active)
A movie is going to be watched by us tonight. (passive)

Mom read a novel in one day. (active)
A novel was read by mom in one day. (passive)

Writing instructor Sarah Domet talks about choosing the right voice in her book, 90 Days To Your Novel. She says:

"Writing in the active voice makes writing more vivid, convincing, and confident. Active voice also helps you avoid unnecessary redundancy and awkward phrasing because active voice is more direct. Passive voice tends to lead to generalizations, and sentences and descriptions that lack specificity.  

That's not to say that passive voice has no place in your fiction, and certainly is not realistic, or possible, to eliminate all uses of the passive voice. However, good fiction writers pay attention to the difference between active and passive voice and, when the can, strive for the former rather than the latter."

In his memoir on writing, Stephen King says he thinks timid writers tend to like the passive voice because it feels safe, but two pages of passive voice makes him want to scream. He asks us:

How about this: My first kiss will always be recalled by me as how my romance with Shayna was begun. Oh man! Who farted, right? A simpler way to express this idea might be this: My romance with Shayna began with our first kiss. I'll never forget it.

You might also notice how much simpler the thought is to understand when it is broken up into two thoughts.

Here's a little trick I found to help you recognize which voice you're using.

Isn't that great? I love it!

So if you can add the phrase, "by zombies" after the verb, and it makes sense, the sentence is passive. If it doesn't make sense, it's active.

For example, take these two sentences:

The two kings are signing the treaty.
The treaty is being signed by the two kings.

If we add, "by zombies" after the verb, we have:

The two kings are signing by zombies.
The treaty is being signed by zombies.

The one that makes sense is passive.

What do you guys think? Did you already know about the active and passive voice? Does this little trick help?

Talk to you later!


For more info: 90 Days To Your Novel By Sarah Domet

Examples of Active and Passive voice come from

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