Friday, July 23, 2010

Writing tips by John Desjarlais

Everyone has learned from Aristotle that a story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most stories fail at the beginning, because an agent or editor will read only a few paragraphs, maybe a few pages, looking for reasons to reject it. That's why the opening must capture attention immediately and compel the reader to keep turning pages.
Much has been written about the need for a great hook, a grabber of a first line or two that grips a reader by the lapels and doesn't let go, setting a mood from the get-go and hinting at a conflict or problem. Less has been written about WHEN to open.
There are three points when you can open in a chronological form:
1. Just before the problem comes up
2. Just as the problem comes up
3. Just after the problem comes up
Use #1 if it introduces the lead character well and emphasizes the gravity of the problem to come.
For example, in my mystery BLEEDER, protagonist Reed Stubblefield is shown driving into the rural Illinois countryside under a 'gun-metal gray sky,' far from his familiar cityscape, feeling anxious. A bumper sticker that says 'gun control means using both hands' and a talk with a gas station attendant who holds the pump like a pistol are small ways to allow reflection on his gunshot wound that has sent him on this retreat for recovery, while also hinting at trouble to come, especially when the attendant asks if he has come all this way to see the town's new priest, reputed to be a 'bleeder,' a stigmatic healer.
Use #2 if the arrival of the problem itself is more dramatic and interesting.
In my latest mystery, VIPER, insurance agent Selena De La Cruz is shown in her claims garage tinkering with her vintage Dodge Charger when she is interrupted by a phone call from a former boss - a team leader with the DEA - who says he needs her back to find a notorious dealer she helped to imprison who is now free, before he finds her.
Use #3 if the lead character's reaction or first move to solve the problem is more dramatic.
In my historical novel, "The Throne of Tara," the story opens with a man's resolution, "I have a son," Fedlimidh fumed, "and by the gods, he shall be high king of Erin one day!" In the next few lines, we learn in dialog that he has just been victimized by cattle raiders and this re-kindles his ambition for his newborn boy. He will name him 'Crimthann', wolf, at his baptism, to emphasize his warrior heritage and destiny. The mother has other plans.
As with all tactical choices in writing, there are advantages and drawbacks.
The potential drawback of choice #1 is running too long, dwelling on descriptions or causing the reader to wonder when the writer will get down to business. The biggest mistake beginners make is inserting backstory or a flashback early on, as a way to explain what is happening or to provide motive. This puts the brakes on a story and is a major reason why so many stories end up in the rejection pile. The same thing goes for 'prologs.' These are almost always a sign of an amateur and are nearly always badly handled. Use a 'prolog' only if the event in it is ten years or more before the main action of chapter one scene one. It's better to sprinkle in backstory 'bits' in the narrative rather than using a clunky 'prolog.'
The potential issue with choice #2 is that it can emphasize the problem over the character who has the problem. A reader will only be interested in the problem if he is interested in the character who has it. So make us care about the character first.
The possible problem of choice #3 is that a reader will feel disoriented, not knowing what has caused the character's reaction. This must be shown - not told - quickly, perhaps in dialog or some action, and not by an author's summary or explanation.
Beginnings are terribly important - the beginning of every scene, every chapter. They are what make a reader want to continue tuning pages to the end. As Aristotle said, "Well begun is half done."
John Desjarlais is the author of "The Throne of Tara" (Crossway 1990, 2000), "Relics" (Thomas Nelson 1993, 2009), BLEEDER (Sophia Institute Press 2009), and VIPER (Sophia Institute Press 2010). A member of Mystery Writers of America, he is listed in Contemporary Authors and Who's Who in Entertainment. His website is www.johndesjarlais.com and his blog, "Johnny Dangerous," is at http://jjdesjarlais.blogspot.com
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Who enjoys a great bottle of wine?


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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who enjoys laying on the beach, with eyes closed and listening to their favoriate book. If so, this is a great offer you should consider.
Johnny Ray

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Writer vs Programmer
I am sure I am not the first writer to learn that web designing and programming are a very large part of writing. I think this is especially important when you recognize the job of a story teller is to get his story out to the masses. The internet has changed everything and it is changing so fast. All models of selling are evolving daily.

There are so many talented writers in the world you have to compete with. the difference is the ability to market you stories. There was a time the publisher handled all of this for the author, but now it is up to the author to do most of the work. Perhaps one day the publisher will learn how to handle it again, but it will be after they determine how to make a profit from it.

Until then, it is time to learn a new profession and learn how to be a pro at it.

What new areas of expertise do other authors see coming. Where will we all be in a few years?

Be sure to check out my other blogs. a complete list can be found here http://www.sirjohn.org/bloglist

Johnny Ray