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Aaron Greene Aaron Greene
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Writing Blog 1: Beginnings

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First Day on my Own


Read this and you’ll be entertained, thrilled, saddened, nostalgic, or uplifted.  But always absorbed.  Fiction is an escape from reality.  An escape from the boring everyday grind, the annoying co-workers, or grumpy boss.  Fiction is made to take one away from this world and let you explore one where you are going along the ride with a new friend.  Even if its about this world we live in, it should give the reader a new perspective.
The beginning of the story, about the first three paragraphs of a short story, or the first three pages of a novel (give or take a few) should give the reader the initial bump, so to speak, to read on.  It should give the reader the promise that something great is to come.  The goal of the story should be here, in the first set of pages or paragraphs.

Within that first scene, there should be a character to focus in on.  He or she should be integral to the story.  Whether you start out with the bad guy, or antagonist.  Or the hero, or protagonist.

Within the first scene there should be some sort of conflict or just something as subtle as a thought or feeling of angst in one of the characters.  But whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be completely shown in the beginning.  But the nature of it must be somewhere in the beginning.

The beginning should also have specific details when dealing.  Details that make your work stand out from the others, ground your story in concrete reality.  Whether alien or earthbound.

Your story should be written very well, but if it’s dull, confusing, clichéd or implausible, then the reader will not BE interested.  Though some books are sold on things other than good prose: a strong story, author’s reputation, or the characters in a given genre.  Credible prose means you are in control of several factors.
- Diction: Words are not used and abused.  Little to NO clichés.  The writer knows the difference between similar sounding words.  Allusion and illusion, unaffected and uneffected.  There, their and they’re.  Only if the person in the story would say things like that.
- Economy: An author should use only as many words as is needed to create its effects.  It shouldn’t drag on and on.  If something is described in 100 words and can be cut down to 50 without losing its effect, it’s a good call to do it.
- Sentence Construction: Although this is more for style, good beginning sentence construction will help any opening.  The reader will find it easier to read then awkward, cryptic sentences.
- Sentence Variety: Varying the length of your sentences can do a lot to keep your reader from losing interest.  Short ones mixed in with long ones are easier to read, so it doesn’t read like a technical manual.  Monotonous.  A good range is 3 to 15.
- Parts of Speech: A couple other pointers.  Don’t overload your work with excessive adjectives and adverbs.  Keep them at a minimum while strong verbs and nouns are used instead.
- Tone: Keep whatever your tone is; humor, serious, ironic, and leave yourself out of it.  As in, don’t indulge the reader with how many common slang terms you know, or the use of foreign words, or excessive punctuation.  Like more then one exclamation points or all caps.
On credibility, don’t worry to much about it in the first draft.  If you want to keep an eye on it during the 1st draft go ahead.  It’s the subsequent drafts that matter.  For the first draft get the story down and worry later about the fine details.

The ending of the first scene of your book should invoke some sort of emotion.  A subtle set up for the rest of the book.  Like most of your scenes, make this one count.  Your opener should draw the reader in the end of the 1st scene should get them eager for more.
Even the first sentence should be something to lure the reader in to the first paragrph, then the first page and so on.

The Prologue
Some books have an opening scene before the opening scene.  The prologue often happens years or days or some amount of time before the first chapter first scene.  But if you use a Prologue, you will be writing 2 first scenes.  It can also have the effect on the reader.  They may be discouraged in reading it due to the fact that it may give the reader double the chance to put it back down.
But a prologue can give an easier transition between a huge time and space gap between 2 scenes.  And it can give the main story a bigger boost.  Whether you use it or not is up to you, but use it wisely.

There are two kinds of writers.  Those who blaze through each scene like a racer racing to the finish line.  And those who stop to polish up each scene.  The latter gains a benefit.  They will have a better grasp on their characters, the conflict and story as a whole.  And you will be less likely to wander off track.  Plus it will make rewriting after the first draft easier.  If you have a firm grasp of the characters, conflict and story already, then by all means, shoot through the scenes to get that story down.

Sometimes a writer may want to incorporate a second scene into the opening.  In this case you have 3 different options.  Backfill, flashback and continuation of the storyline.
Backfill basically explains who the people in the story are and how they got to where they are at the beginning of the story.  This can be done by either a character reminiscing or a straight exposition in the authors voice.  This can have the effect of slowing the story down after an explosive first scene.  Some readers may welcome it.  A break in the action is always good.
Flashbacks work well as a second scene if the opening one roots the reader firmly in the character’s present.  In that we have enough sense of the character as an individual and of their present situation as dramatic potential.  Flashbacks are never good openings.  How do you know a character before you know them?  And use the flashback sparingly.  Don’t go jumping back and forth in time.  It can become confusing, fast.  If the past is so important, consider writing two books.  And also, indicate how much time is in between each scene.  But no matter what the circumstance, the flashback will almost always distance the reader from the main action.
Continuation of storyline.  Just like it sounds, you keep going with the story.  A continuing second scene will undoubtedly have some conflict in it.  But it shouldn’t be a continuing of, for example, a shouting match between characters.  As with all scenes, everyone should have different levels of action/drama/conflict.  A movie with constant explosions will get boring quick.  Freddy and Jason never hacked and slashed for 2 hours straight.  Neither should your book.

The first couple scenes should do several things.  They should establish your characters, the conflict and what your characters are wanting out of all of it.  And as far as characters go, these first few scenes should give the reader a good idea of the personalities and quirks of the characters.  Through their actions, reactions to other characters, dialogue, thoughts, body language.  Even the way they dress can give us a good mental image of them.

How many characters to you put in?  That’s up to the writer.  But keep in mind that the more characters you throw at the reader the more confused they will be.  Especially in the first scene.  The reader will not only become confused but irritated.  Then there goes the reader to find something else.  When introducing new characters, do it in a way that gives the reader something meaningful.  Give them some kind of description, that way the reader isn’t sitting there wondering who in the world it is.
How many characters can a story hold?  A long novel can hold hundreds.  Maybe not all of them a detailed out as the main characters, but a lot none the less.  A shorter story will do best with just a handful at most.

There are two functions the beginning must adhere to.  The first is to setup the implicit promise that you will develop through the course of your story and fulfill in the end.  The second is that your story must be an enjoyable reading experience.  It must be full of character, situation and with a satisfying language.  It must keep us reading.

Narrative Mode.  All fiction is created out of five different forms: dialogue, description, action, thoughts and exposition.  Some writers rely more on one of these then others.  Romance writers use a lot of description.  Their characters appearance, clothes, homes.  But a complete, full story relies on all 5.  Each mode can vary depending on the situation. The beginning is often dominated by one mode, sometimes to describe a situation by one character, or by heavy dialogue as in the case of an argument.

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