Friday, May 10, 2013

HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL IN TWELVE STEPS: The Beginning... (#Six continued)

STEP SIX: Part B (THE BEGINNING - continued…) *up to here*
More needs to be said about the beginning, but we’ll stick to a summary:
If you are working within a genre, the beginning of your novel should:
·         Capture the reader's immediate attention
·         Give the reader a sense of place
·         Give the reader a sense of time
·         Introduce the reader (probably) to the main character or characters
·         Establish the voice and tone of your novel ie. Give the reader a sense of how you are going to write and keep writing your story. 
Think about it this way. When you pick up your e-reader, when you go to the store or the library, if you are a ‘serious’ reader or just a ‘mmm… I’m not sure if I really want to read this…’ type of reader, you are going to make your mind up within the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence (and that’s assuming you get beyond the cover or title). This is all before we focus on the quality of your writing (which is subjective, of course)…
Now, if you are a serious writer and still want to go the route of agent querying, you better make that first page un-put-down-able. I’m not kidding. Your entire novel is going to be judged on that first page. What I mean by this is, no one will read the second if the first doesn’t make them really, really want to… NO PRESSURE. Now, knowing all of that, you really have to relax into it and write like no one is looking. Pretend that maybe no one except you is ever going to read your work and remember, we’re still on the first page of your first draft.
Just make sure it makes some sense and keep the above dot points in mind.  Elaborate on them and you should have your first chapter. Keep working on it until you have a ‘working draft’ of the first chapters. A draft should have a beginning, middle and end.
I say this, but in my first novel (a grown up one) I remember going over and over those first three chapters before I’d written an entire draft. I wanted them to be perfect but this was not a ‘genre’ novel and it was almost a decade ago, before e-publishing became a serious industry and I knew I had to get through agents before my words would have a hope of seeing the light of day.
I still think you have to make the first part of your novel pretty stunning NMW (No Matter What). But, save some goodies for the ending. I mean, your ending just has to Kick A (you guys know what that means!)
In Pride & Princesses, I introduced the place – a made-up community (not too far from Bel Air). I chose that place because the area was familiar to me.
I also wanted a ‘fantasy world’ – a world where no one could say, “oh, that detail doesn’t exist in that place etc.” Also, I wanted the story to read (a little bit) like a teenage fairy tale and a (tiny) bit like a modern Austen-ization (but really only one scene – the scene of the school dance could even relate to Pride & Prejudice).
Time: This is tricky, or it might be easy. You could be as obvious as you like. In Wuthering NIghts (a teen vampire version of Wuthering Heights), I simply write the year the events took place on the first page.
Pride & Princesses is different. It’s kinda retro… Only readers who actually read the entire novel are going to pick that (for the most part) the novel is set at least a decade before the moment it was written. Readers who’ve read P&P are going to understand what I mean by this…. But for those who haven’t – the final chapter (or part of it) is narrated by a grown-up Phoebe (which carries over into the companion novel I’ve just finished, Popular.
Characters: I chose to focus on two main characters (best friends Phoebe and Mouche), their single mom families and the new boys who arrive in town… Sounds simple? It is – these are characters I felt I knew. You should find characters you know too.
Voice: This has to be entirely yours, lovelies, just like this is entirely mine. I could never tell you how to develop one – it’s… well, it’s yours. Lena Dunham for example (creator of Girls), has a strong ‘voice’ – it’s the thing I remember most from her television show. You might love her take on life and relationships, or you might not, but it is her voice.  As this is mine, as yours is yours. Find your writing ‘voice’, keep it and don’t let anyone take it away from you.