Saturday, December 18, 2010

Craft Book of the Month: The First Five Pages

As I've read and inwardly digested The First Five Pages, it has struck me that I could just quote page after page of its gems. How's about this, for example:
Writing is like steering a ship: one will inevitably--and constantly--fall off course on the way to one's destination...
Or, how about this:
It is the writer's job to distance himself from his work and then to return to it with a merciless eye, an eye that ignores the beauty of the language, the brilliance of the characters' improvisation...
Throughout Chapter 17 ("Focus") I found myself nodding in agreement. For example, I am beginning a new novel as I wait for the ideal agent--I know he/she is out there--to snap up the novel I'm querying. I have written an outline for this new novel, a very flexible outline. I have launched into the first chapter, and immediately the ship is fighting my controls, telling me that it has its own idea about our voyage of discovery. (I have to keep reminding myself of Anne Lamott's chapter of "Shitty First Drafts" in Bird by Bird.)

In this chapter about Focus, Noah Lukeman talks about "broad" focus and "narrow" focus. "Broad" focus suggests a theme or image which starts out the book and which the writer returns to in closing, giving the reader a sense of deep satisfaction.

In its narrower sense, focus can "be applied to individual chapters, paragraphs, and even sentences." Lukeman claims--and I have come to agree--that "each chapter must be thought of as its own complete unit, ready to excerpt should a magazine want it." And each paragraph should feel like a unit of its own. Otherwise, Lukeman says, the writing will have an unfocused quality.

As always, Lukeman gives examples and solutions to problems at the end of each chapter. And again, I completely agree with his opening paragraph about solutions.
The most painful of all editing is when focusing a manuscript, as it often demands doing away with perfectly good writing. The edit's principle is this: No matter how good the writing, if it does not further the intention or progression of the work, it must be cut. (You can take solace in the fact that you may be able to use the stricken material in some other work.)
With the idea of solace, and giving praise to word processors, I wish you all a good run-up to the Winter Solstice and to Christmas, or whatever way you celebrate the slow reappearance of light in the Northern hemisphere. May your writing be full of focus.

1 comment:

  1. A really interesting, provocative and informative post, Michael! Great information and it does make sense to me! Thanks for sharing the latest lesson! Have a great weekend!



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