Monday, September 03, 2007


Recently, I attended a writers group in which one of the exercises was to develop first lines of the book. Everyone struggled to come up with those few perfect words to hook the reader, and some of them were pretty good.

But in reality, those first lines don't pop out at the writer's command. They are elusive, sneaky little devils that appear when they desire. Likewise, that first hook, that first scene may actually occur in the second chapter of the rough draft. I've written about this somewhere else, but there is a certain amount of dreck needed to get the story rolling. This bubble of creative energy when the story is turning within the writer can be revised and cleaned up later. It is most important not to get stalled while the storyline and the writer's energy is waiting.

Instead of struggling very hard to get the first hook in the first scene just absolutely right, it is far better to start writing and building the story. This doesn't mean to plunge recklessly into the story, or perhaps it does -- if that is a particular writer's modus operandi. (You know the old story about the plotters or the plungers. We're all different and what works and works.)

To help understand why it is far better not to spend too much time on that lead sentence in that first chapter (when first starting rough draft) remember this: a published book has passed through many many phases before it is in the reader's hand. First there is rough draft by the author and that has gone through many phases before submitted to the editor. The editor will likely look at the flow through of the story before turning it over to the copy editor, etc. Those first words have been polished and revised many times.

In rough draft, that published author may have written as many as three quarters of the book, prior to going back and revising the first chapter or that lead sentence. In the writing, ideas pop up. Somewhere in the struggle of writing the book, wresting it from the computer screen, some small gem of a lead sentence is going to pop up, or a lead scene is going to unfold on the screen. Then it is revise, revise, revise.

All writers take different paths to the same end. However, spending an eternity locked on that first sentence or in that first scene is a waste of energy. Write on, get into the story and have confidence that first hook will magically appear. And it will.

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