Tag Archives: how to write

The High Stakes of First Sentences

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You probably already know that a story’s first line is of upmost importance. Not only does it set the tone and expectations for the rest of the novel, but the first line also introduces tension and hints at bigger things to come. Your story’s first line introduces readers to your world, and if readers don’t like what they read, they may not go to the next sentence.

That’s a lot of pressure for one line!

The best way to learn how to write phenomenal first sentences is to read a lot of first lines.

Here are some great examples:

“I tell Mama I waitress in the Village so she don’t have to cut me out of her heart.”

–Kiran Kaur Saini, “A Girl Like Elsie”

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”

–Norman Maclean, “A River Runs Through It”

“In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits.”

–John Updike, “A & P”

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

–Hunter Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”

“There are cavemen in the hedges again.”

–Stacey Richter, “The Cavemen in the Hedges”

The trick with first sentences is to start with the stakes high and then keep moving up. Grab readers from the get go and then don’t let them go!

What are some great first sentences you know of?

(Photo courtesy of Keith Williams.)

Writing is a Dream Job. Or is it?

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If asked, many people say that writing full time is their dream job. Who wouldn’t want to be able to live off their writing? However, for the vast majority of people, making enough money from their writing, or making any money from their writing, isn’t going to happen.

So, why are there so many people in the world who see writing as their dream job?

Perhaps it’s the image of the writer. The full time writer gets to choose her own hours. She gets to work from home, sitting at her desk, staring out the window, while she builds a fictional world. She creates beautifully crafted sentences and ideas come to her. Her imagination flows. Then, when she’s finished her manuscript, she sends it off to her agent and editor, and her work gets published.

Yeah, if only writing were like that.

Writing isn’t easy. It’s time consuming, frustrating, full of road blocks and self-doubt (there are times where you believe everything you’ve written is trash and you want to burn it all), and often lacks the satisfaction people believe writing gives writers (many writers aren’t happy with how their work turns out. They constantly strive to improve, and often see faults within their work, even if their work is a bestseller).

Writing can be wonderful. The accomplishment you feel from completing a novel or short story is fantastic. But writing doesn’t end there. The beautifully crafted sentences don’t magically flow from pen to paper. Usually, they come during the revision process, when you’re actively and aggressively editing your work.

A common saying in writing is to “kill your darlings.” Though Stephen King didn’t coin the phrase, he followed the saying with, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings,” in his novel On Writing.

Be brutal in the editing process. That is a difficult piece of advice because writers get attached to their characters, their storyline, etc. It would be great if the first draft of a novel was perfect and everything you wrote was golden. However, since that’s rarely the case, you have to put aside your ego (and let’s face it, everyone has an ego) and tear apart your work.

Better yet? Have a critique group that will shred your work for you. It’s a painful process, but when you do get an agent and editor they won’t hold your hand. They took you on because they saw potential in your work, and they will do whatever they believe is necessary to make your work the best it can be. This often means you receiving notes from your editor that force you to sit back and ignore your work for a few days for fear of burning it in a fit of passion.

For some people, writing it truly their dream job, as long as they have a realistic image of what writing full time entails. Those people who do write full time, they have something internal motivating them past all the hardships that come along with being a full time writer. As George Orwell said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon which one can neither resist nor understand.”

What drives you to write?

(Photo courtesy of Drew Coffman.)

Don’t be a Bad Writer! Learn What Good Writers Know

14753911496_29be0d1081_mMany people talk about bad writing versus good writing. Often the label of “good” or “bad” extends past the writing to the writer. There are many possible reasons as to why one writer may be considered “bad,” while another is thought of as “good.” But what is the main difference between good and bad writers?

Resilience.

Good writers are persistent. They refuse to give up. Bad writers stop when they hit a roadblock.

Most often a writer’s first novel isn’t all that great. Writing takes work, and the more you write, and the more you learn to write, the better you become at it. Writing a novel, short story, etc. is a big feat. However, writing a piece of work is only the first part. Revising and editing a piece comes after. Many times revision takes longer than writing the piece.

A writer friend of mine can write a novel in one month. Her first draft is a hot mess (she’s a pantser), which is part of the reason why it takes her months to revise. Typically, she’ll revise her novel twice before she gives it out to two to three beta readers. Then, she waits for their feedback, and when she gets that feedback, she listens to it.

Another friend of mine recently admitted that for the vast majority of feedback he receives, he simply nods his head and smiles, and then ignores whatever was said, rejecting it without any consideration. It’s not all that surprising that he is nowhere near as successful in the writing world as my previously mentioned friend.

Criticism makes your writing better. Having people other than yourself look at your work, allows you to see past your blind spots. You don’t have to be a perfectionist to be a good writer, but you do have to persevere, rewrite, and write consistently.

Bad writers don’t realize this, or choose not to.

You may have come across writers who get defensive when they receive feedback on their work. Maybe you’re one of those writers. It doesn’t help to be closed off to criticism. Yes, it can be frightening to think that your work it brilliant and then receive feedback and realize that your writing needs a lot of work. But in the end, your work will be more realistic and believable. It will have better pacing and will suck readers in. Make your work the best it can be, so that readers will stay up all night just to finish your work.

Do all you can to improve your writing. Be open to feedback and changing your work, even if that means cutting out a few chapters, eliminating a beloved character, or starting over. The goal is to make your work shine. Do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images)