Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why is the Raccoon Falling?



(Now that I sent out critiques, I’m receiving responses to the First Five Pages Project. No suicides, so that’s good. A few of the writers mentioned having read and appreciated the writing advice essays I’ve posted on this blog and are presently ensconced in the bar on the right. I had no idea my ramblings on writing had impact, but since it appears to have, and because I see a number of people struggling with how to start a story, I thought I would make another.)

Take offs and landings are always the scariest parts of any flight—stories are no different. Getting off the ground in time to clear the trees and not spill the luggage from the overhead bins isn’t as easy as skilled pilots make it seem.

Writers, invented world fantasy writers especially, often feel like the concerned friend walking into the living room of a horder. Where do you even begin? When you set a story in a new universe, there is so much you need to get across to the reader before they can begin to grasp the story you want to tell. The result is often an explosion of information, what I call the wall of noise, and others refer to, more affectionately as, the learning curve. Many authors have famously built giant walls with indifference to the reader. This sink or swim mentality is often lauded—among those who swim. The deeper the water, the stronger the deadly current, and the farther the opposite shore, the more the successful swimmers brag of the author’s excellence, mostly due to their own sense of pride in having survived the struggle. This hazing initiation has its merits, but I feel it has even more detriments. The most obvious is lack of audience, and quite often lack of career.

So how can you avoid the wall of noise in a story where many words don’t even have definitions yet? And how can you build characterization and setting without huge piles of exposition? And how can you grab a reader’s interest, and hold it?

One way to approach the opening of a novel is to treat it as a short story with a loose end, and that loose end can work as a splinter in the skin of the reader. But such a splinter can’t be inflicted on a reader without some context. A scream, or someone yelling “help!” isn’t too likely to elicit a response because anyone hearing them won’t know the circumstance. Maybe the shouting person is just kidding, or playing a game. This is why a fantastically exciting start to a story isn’t good enough. Without context, it can be bewildering. If, however, you can see the person screaming is a child standing next to an adult who is bleeding on the street, a response is more likely to result. To truly set the splinter deep, you first need to establish what’s going on, and who is involved.

The trick to this is that the situation needn’t be complex. It can, and often should be, simple. A character can be in a panic having lost their keys or glasses. They can run out of hot water in the shower. They can step in a puddle on the way to a crime scene, or they can be determining which wire to cut on a bomb with ten seconds left to decide. The point is that the issue at hand needs to be easily comprehended by the reader, because the problem, or tension, in the scene isn’t the point. The real purpose of the scene is to establish the character and setting. The crisis is merely the vehicle. Allowing the reader to quickly, and easily, grasp the situation—the goal and the obstacles to success—grants them the ability to focus on the Who and Where. And how the players in the drama act is the means by which a writer can establish characters, and show rather than tell.

In the opening scene of House of Cards, the main character is faced with a mortally injured dog. This has nothing at all to do with the plot of the series, or even the episode, but everything to do with establishing the character’s personality and the tone of the show. Often the opening of a story isn’t about The Big Event, but a scaled down version, the first symptom, or instance, of the coming storm—as in Stephen King’s The Stand. Sometimes this first instance can be a failure that provides the learning experience that comes in handy in the big moment. This is best handled as an insignificant event that the reader will dismiss, such as losing one’s glasses or keys.

You never want to confuse a reader. That is the surest way to get a closed book. Boredom is another and often holds hands with confusion, as being confused is often boring. Just present the situation, and after that you can have fun.

This brings me to the raccoon.

I know you’ve been wondering about the raccoon since you read the title, and have been thinking, “what does all this have to do with a falling raccoon?” That’s the point. Imagine a story that begins…

“The raccoon fell from the bridge and Bob had to catch it.”

This is easy to read and simple to understand and yet it asks so many questions that readers will need to read on to find the answers to. Why is a raccoon falling from a bridge? Why does Bob have to catch it? Who is Bob? What bridge? What is this all about?

Okay, a catchy opening isn’t that hard. Just throw out some absurd sentence (or raccoon) and you’ll catch attention. So, of course, that’s not enough. You need to back it up. A bait and switch will make a reader dislike you very quickly. Writing: “The President killed…!” only to follow it up with, “with his State of the Union speech,” won’t win you an audience. The opening has to be a shining example of your style and tone going forward. (This is often why many writers just write a book and then cut off the first chapter or two, starting where the story gets going, where they’ve hit their stride.) Creating a short story, or limited scenario, at the start helps this, and also helps limit the scope. You don’t need to explain everything; you just need to explain this one little thing.

The landmine to avoid is the explanations that you feel a need to make to ensure the reader knows why. Resist it. Make it clear what is happening, but drag your feet on why. The reader is a bystander with bad timing. As a writer you hold your finger up toward the reader and say, “Hang on a minute—I’m busy. Can’t you see the falling raccoon?”

String the reader along. After all, you have a perfectly good reason—the raccoon. You’ll explain later, but right now you have this issue of a plummeting animal to deal with, so let’s focus on that right now, okay? And by the time the crisis is over, this bystander (the reader) is impressed by the ingenuity, the courage, the quirky cynicism, the hilarious optimism, or the incredible skill or superpower of the main character, and the focus stops being on why did this raccoon fall and more on who is this interesting person I just met who catches raccoons?

So the first scene should be immediate, active, simple, engaging, and not necessarily connected to the main storyline except in a symbolic or hidden manner, but allow for character and scene development on a limited scale. Once this little intro-short story is over, the reader should be adequately ensnared in your web of words and hopelessly unable to escape your bonds of intriguing questions. At that point you can begin filling them in, a bit at a time leading them ever deeper into your world, a place from which they will never leave, or want to.




18 comments:

  1. So I've read through a number of the "How To" writing articles and have been wondering, how do you come up with names ... names of people, places, and such? I my writing dabbles I've often used license plates (GXT 144 and KLM 808 becomes the name Gexta Kalim or something like that) and I've used text from signs, boxes, and such. The bottle on my desk has "advanced hand sanitizer gel" on the label and of course that becomes the name of the great warrior/wizard/mystical place know as "Avanhasangel." George Sullivan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
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  5. I am so Happy to be writing this article in here, i am here to explore blogs forum about the wonderful and most safe cure for HERPES SIMPLEX VIRUS.I was positive to the Virus called HERPES and i lost hope completely because i was rejected even by my closet friends. i searched online to know and inquire about cure for HERPES and i saw testimony about DR Ebhota online on how he cured so many persons from Herpes Disease so i decided to contact the great herbalist because i know that nature has the power to heal everything. i contacted him to know how he can help me and he told me never to worry that he will help me with the natural herbs from God! after 2 days of contacting him, he told me that the cure has been ready and he sent it to me via FEDEX or DHL and it got to me after 4 days! i used the medicine as he instructed me (MORNING and EVENING) and i was cured! its really like a dream but i'm so happy! that's the reason i decided to also add more comment of Him so that more people can be saved just like me! and if you need his help,contact his Email: (drebhotasoltion@gmail.com) You can contact him on WhatsApp +2348089535482 He also have the herb to cure difference cure for any sickness (1) HERPES,
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  6. I am so Happy to be writing this article in here, i am here to explore blogs forum about the wonderful and most safe cure for HERPES SIMPLEX VIRUS.I was positive to the Virus called HERPES and i lost hope completely because i was rejected even by my closet friends. i searched online to know and inquire about cure for HERPES and i saw testimony about DR Ebhota online on how he cured so many persons from Herpes Disease so i decided to contact the great herbalist because i know that nature has the power to heal everything. i contacted him to know how he can help me and he told me never to worry that he will help me with the natural herbs from God! after 2 days of contacting him, he told me that the cure has been ready and he sent it to me via FEDEX or DHL and it got to me after 4 days! i used the medicine as he instructed me (MORNING and EVENING) and i was cured! its really like a dream but i'm so happy! that's the reason i decided to also add more comment of Him so that more people can be saved just like me! and if you need his help,contact his Email: (drebhotasoltion@gmail.com) You can contact him on WhatsApp +2348089535482 He also have the herb to cure difference cure for any sickness (1) HERPES,
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  8. HOW I GOT CURED FROM HERPES VIRUS HELLO  I'm from USA , I have been suffering from HERPES virus for the past 2 years and i had constant pain especially in my knees, During the first year I had faith in God that i will be healed someday, but this disease started circulate all over my body and i have been taking treatment from my doctor, few weeks ago i came in search on the internet if i could get any information concerning the prevention of this disease, on my search i saw a testimony of so many people who has been healed from Hepatitis B, HIV/AID, MRSA Diabetes, HSV, ALS, HPV, LUPUS and Cancer by this Man called Dr ALAHO and he also gave the email address of this man and advice we should contact him for any sickness that he would be of help, so i wrote to Dr ALAHO telling him about my HERPES Virus he told me not to worry that i will be cured from this deadly disease i never believed it, well after all the procedures and remedy given to me by this man, few weeks later i started experiencing changes all over me as the Doctor assured me that i will be cured, after some time i went to my medical doctor to confirmed if i have be finally cured behold it was true, and now i'm cure totally with Dr ALAHO medication, So friends my advise is if you have such sickness or any other at all you can email Dr ALAHO on this email; DRALAHOHERBALHOME@GMAIL.COM or add him up on What-app +2347064370626. his website: https://dralahoherbalhome.wixsite.com/dralahoremedyhome he will help you also.

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  9. My health was horrible before I decided to try the Protocol Of taking Dr Ebhota herbal mixture. I felt there was no hope for my health and I was doubtful to try the Protocol thinking it wouldn’t work because I have visited so many hospital but same result. However, I was convinced by my friend to try the herbal medicine because I wanted to get rid of HPV/WART. The herbal mixture that was given to me was really quick and easy to take, and since I have be taking it for less than 3 days I have less outbreak. But within one week i was fully cured from WART/HPV. The herbal medicine really work and I will like to share this great herb doctor contact with you all email him drebhotasolution@gmail.com or whatsapp +2348089535482. Pls try and help yourself out of warts completely today. he also c My health was horrible before I decided to try the Protocol Of taking Dr Ebhota herbal mixture. I felt there was no hope for my health and I was doubtful to try the Protocol thinking it wouldn’t work because I have visited so many hospital but same result. However, I was convinced by my friend to try the herbal medicine because I wanted to get rid of HPV/WART. The herbal mixture that was given to me was really quick and easy to take, and since I have be taking it for less than 3 days I have less outbreak. But within one week i was fully cured from WART/HPV. The herbal medicine really work and I will like to share this great herb doctor contact with you all email him drebhotasolution@gmail.com o r whatsapp +2348089535482. Pls try and help yourself out of warts completely today. he ure DIABETIES ULCAL CANCER etc.
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    ReplyDelete
  10. My health was horrible before I decided to try the Protocol Of taking Dr Ebhota herbal mixture. I felt there was no hope for my health and I was doubtful to try the Protocol thinking it wouldn’t work because I have visited so many hospital but same result. However, I was convinced by my friend to try the herbal medicine because I wanted to get rid of HPV/WART. The herbal mixture that was given to me was really quick and easy to take, and since I have be taking it for less than 3 days I have less outbreak. But within one week i was fully cured from WART/HPV. The herbal medicine really work and I will like to share this great herb doctor contact with you all email him drebhotasolution@gmail.com or whatsapp +2348089535482. Pls try and help yourself out of warts completely today. he also c My health was horrible before I decided to try the Protocol Of taking Dr Ebhota herbal mixture. I felt there was no hope for my health and I was doubtful to try the Protocol thinking it wouldn’t work because I have visited so many hospital but same result. However, I was convinced by my friend to try the herbal medicine because I wanted to get rid of HPV/WART. The herbal mixture that was given to me was really quick and easy to take, and since I have be taking it for less than 3 days I have less outbreak. But within one week i was fully cured from WART/HPV. The herbal medicine really work and I will like to share this great herb doctor contact with you all email him drebhotasolution@gmail.com o r whatsapp +2348089535482. Pls try and help yourself out of warts completely today. he ure DIABETIES ULCAL CANCER etc.
    He also told me that he has solution for the flowing.
    1 Cancer cure
    2 Diabetes cure
    3 Ringing ear
    4 Herpes cure
    5 Warts cure
    6 HPV cure
    7 Get your ex back
    8 Pregnancy herbal medicine
    9 Prostate enlargement
    10 Hepatitis B
    11 Disability
    12 Kidney problem Etc.

    ReplyDelete
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  12. I GOT CURED FROM HERPES VIRUS I was diagnosed of HERPES virus and i have tried all I can to get cured but all to no avail,,until I saw a post in a health forum about a herbalist man who prepare herbal medications to cure all kind of diseases including #HERPES virus,at first I doubted if it was real but decided to give it a try,when I contacted this herbalist via his email and he prepared a #HERPES herbal cure and sent it to me via DHL delivery company service, when I received this herbal medicine, he gave me step by direction on how to apply it,after applying the way I was instructed,I was totally cured of this deadly disease called HERPES, all thanks to Dr OGODO Email this great herbal doctor via his email Ogodoherbalhomesolution@gmail.com
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