Thursday, June 20, 2013

#7 Critique Partner Series - Focusing Your Opening

I am in no way a professional.  I don't have a fancy education to back up writing (that is reserved for mathematics), but I do know what I like to read and I do know when I read something that doesn't quite jive for me.  So WELCOME to my CRITIQUE PARTNER SERIES!  It is minus the partner, because I don't actually know any of the writers whose work I am reading, but here I will offer my advice.  Much of my advice you can find everywhere else on the internet.  None of it is professional.  All of it is...I can't think of anything to finish this sentence with.  I liked the whole "Much of it, none of it, all of it" thing I had going on at the start of each sentence, but I'm far too lazy to spend time thinking how to end that sentence, especially when this is only a blog developed for my personal enjoyment.  Ready…set…go!

#7 Critique Partner Series – Focusing Your Opening

Book 1:  Chapter One of your novel opens with detective Miles Gumby finding the body of Brianna Kelley on the roadside.  Miles turns to see homeless man George Georgeson lurking nearby.  Miles speaks with George, but then goes home.  There, Miles speaks with Cindy, his loving wife of twenty years.  Who’s the main character?

If you think it’s Miles, you’re wrong.  Actually, it’s Cindy’s younger sister Mary who falls in love with Kyle.  And the novel is a romance, not a police procedural.

Book 2:  Chapter One of your brother’s novel opens with the Huns attacking.  They rape and pillage (not that I know if Huns rape and pillage, but that’s what they do in the novel).  A mysterious boy jumps from a window, knocks a Hun from his horse, and kills the Hun.  The other Huns run in fear.  Who’s the main character?

If you think it’s one of the Huns or the boy, you’re wrong.  Actually, Chapter Two fast-forwards twenty years when we discover the main character is a young woman who’s going to spend the next two hundred pages breeding horses and finding a husband.  In fact, that heroic boy doesn’t make another appearance for the rest of the novel.

What do both of these novels have in common?  Their opening doesn’t have focus. Yes, both openings may grab your attention, but when those openings have nothing/little to do with the overall plot, the reader begins to feel swindled.  Your reader won’t be able to tell who or what is important.

If your main character is Mary; I recommend starting with Mary.**  Let’s say Miles and Brianna and George and Cindy and Larry, Curly, and Moe are all main characters, though.  I’d hazard to guess you have too many main characters and need to pare it down to a few.  The reader wants to know whom she is supposed to care about.  If you don’t show the main character until later on, she’ll be able to figure it out eventually—your readers are smart—but she might not get that far.

If your brother starts with a battle and that battle is important, but he feels he needs to jump forward twenty years before he introduces us to the main character, I’m willing to guess there are pieces from the first chapter that can be added later in the story.  Tell him to try slashing the entire first chapter and start with chapters two or three.  Get rid of all that extra stuff.  That’s what I had to do when I wrote Celia.  Then insert little bits of what was important from the battle into chapters throughout the novel.

Let’s start with the real story!  Let’s start with the characters we’re supposed to care about!

**That’s not to say you have to introduce your main characters all in the first paragraph.  We don’t need alphabet soup either.

My question for you:
How much do you find yourself cutting from your opening?