Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: February 2011 "Beginnings, Middles & Ends"

Beginnings: Part 2
It's been a busy week here at The YOWD (that's how I refer to my blog when in a hurry.) I've been posting more than usual, and have been working on my novel's own beginning, using all I've learned from Nancy Kress and the Bransford contest. Phew! I guess it's true what they say: a writer's work is never done.

But let's return to Nancy Kress. After applying all we learned last week we have, as she says, three brilliant paragraphs. Genuine character on the page. Hints of conflict. But, she asks, "what do you want that first scene to accomplish in terms of your story. Put another way, what should be different at the end of the scene from the beginning of the scene?"

Here's her answer:

The first scene will be much more interesting--and much easier to write--if something is different at the end of the scene than existed at the beginning. Thus, your first job in finishing that first scene is to figure out what that change might be, Here are some possibilities:
  • A character discovers that a task he's starting is more complicated than he hoped.
  • A character learns a disturbing piece of information.
  • A character arrives some place new.
  • A character meets someone who will significantly alter his life; even in the first scene the new acquaintance has begun to change the character's immediate goals and ideas.
  • An event occurs--a  murder, a spaceship landing, the arrival of a letter--that will lead to significant change.
Don't forget, Kress says, about the last sentence of the scene. That's the "power position." Make it count.

On Prologues
Here's Kress on the advantages: A prologue avoids a jolting transition between two scenes widely separated in time or space. And, if it's interesting enough, it can whet the appetite for the main story. The key is interesting enough. So, a prologue should contain a strong promise of conflict to come. It shouldn't merely "set the scene" with passive descriptions of landscape or character background.

Exercises for First Scenes
Here are a couple of Kress's ideas that appeal to the perpetual student in me. (Yes, I spent years in higher education.)
  1. Find an anthology/magazine of short stories. Read the first sentences of each. How many hint at future conflict or change?
  2. Choose two of the stories and study their first three paragraphs. Does each opening contain an individualized character? A hint of conflict? Specific, interesting concrete details? How do the openings differ from each other in their handling of these elements? Is there anything here you can use in your openings?
Kress recommends you do the above for novels, and then for your own stories--one you are not happy with and one that you are. And then: "Look at a story you're currently writing. What changes occur from the start to the end of the first scene? If nothing does, should something? What? Does the scene's closing line evoke that change? Is it a significant line in some other way?"

Nancy Kress's book has been a useful addition to my toolbox. Meet me back here at The YOWD next week to learn what she has to say about Middles. And, as always, happy writing!

1 comment:

  1. boy......this writing thing can be a lot of work


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