Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Writing Tip Wednesday #4

What can we learn this week from Elizabeth Lyon's book Manuscript Makeover?

Without reservation, I recommend that you begin your novel with a scene. One reason why is because of the problems inherent with sequel and summary. Sequel means that readers have been deprived of the suspense of the off-stage scene that occurred before the opening of the novel. Now they are held hostage to "listen" to the reaction of the character or characters. It also means that the author will be tempted to narrate too much, to retell the scene that triggered the emotions and quandary, and tell, tell, tell-- everything. More than not, sequel beginnings feature one character alone with his or her thoughts and feelings. I don't recommend that any unpublished novelist begin with one character alone, because the character will inevitably turn inward, which means lots of telling versus action. [...]

Scenes are based on forward-moving action. They operate to get the story launched, to put the characters into situations where they must overcome obstacles and move toward commitment to a life-changing quest. Scenes also contain sounds, smells, temperatures, touch-sensations, and visuals. They create the verisimilitude, the sense of reality that is missing in narrated summaries or thought-based sequels. Scenes are more dynamic than sequels or summaries.

I am always amazed with how good novels begin so close to the action. I think it's pretty bold but it's also the thing to do. The advice not to start with one character alone is interesting but it makes sense. What else can the character do but think? Unless she starts talking to the wall. Although, I think it can work sometimes, depending on the structure of the book. I think the trick is to keep these tips and "rules" in mind but play around with the narrative until you find the most interesting way to really tell the story.

I really need to read that book front to back. I'm working on it!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Summer!
    A really good writing book I'm devouring at the moment is called Polishing and Submitting Your Manuscript, and another one called The Creative Writing Coursebook - both so useful!