Opening Lines

As the Bouchercon afterglow fades, I’m taking a new look at my current work in progress. I’m taking an even deeper look at my work habits. Or lack thereof.

One of the things I came away with was how many successful writers write EVERY DAY. I knew this. But other things kept getting in my way. Doctors’ appointments, critique groups, blogs, email…Facebook. And the big one: the 2009 Pennwriters Conference of which I am coordinator. Lately, it seems, I start the week gung ho and write some pages on Monday. Then I feel guilty for not spending more time working on the conference, so I spent all day Tuesday on it. Wednesday and Thursday, my focus shifts to teaching my yoga classes. Friday, I have to take my mom shopping, which means grocery lists and coupon clipping prevail. By then, the week is over. I have obligations on the weekend to friends or family. Or the house needs cleaned. So those pages I wrote on Monday are the only thing I’ve done on my manuscript all blessed week.

It’s too early for a New Year’s resolution, so I’m making a Bouchercon resolution. Largely because I want to go back and having a book contract would make it more feasible. And the only way to get a book contract is if: A. Miracles happen and a new editor decides they want the two manuscripts already in my agent’s hands even though they’ve already been roundly rejected. Or B. I finish the new manuscript and my agent succeeds in selling it.

A isn’t likely and B will only happen if I finish the damned book.

Therefore, I pledge as my 2008 Bouchercon resolution to WRITE EVERY DAY.

So far, this week, I have succeeded. But I’m judging what is writing rather loosely. I’m not exactly STUCK. But I have needed to regroup and reexamine where this story is going. That means plotting. And plotting is exactly what I’m doing this week. Alexandra Sokoloff has done a fascinating blog post on the topic that pretty well mirrors what I’m doing.

The other thing about my WIP that bugs me is the first chapter. Yes, it’s a shitty first draft and I’m trying to keep moving forward instead of back. But I’ve made a few changes in the first one hundred pages that make that opening chapter just plain obsolete. One of the characters is gone. She wasn’t doing anything other than providing a little comic relief, so she’s outta here. Someone else can be funny AND advance the plot. These are tough times, even for fictional characters. Downsizing is an issue everywhere.

While I’m contemplating my first chapter, I’m taking a long, hard look at opening lines. I don’t like mine yet. I love grabber opening lines. I currently have two favorites by authors other than myself. From Lisa Scottoline’s Devil’s Corner: Vicki Allegretti always wondered what it would feel like to look into the barrel of a loaded gun, and now she knew.

I love it! I HAD to read on. There was simply no choice in the matter

And from Warren Ellis’s Crooked Little Vein (which is coming up to the top of my to-be-read pile): I opened my eyes to see the rat taking a piss in my coffee mug.

Okay, I know that starting a book with a scene in which the protagonist is just waking up is considered cliché, but honestly, there is nothing clichéd about this line. Gross, yes. Cliché, no. As I haven’t read the book yet, I withhold further review. But I love that opening line.

So I’m trying to come up with a catchy one of my own. I may run a few of them by you all here or over at Working Stiffs one of these days to get your reactions. Stay tuned. As for now, I have to go get my daily writing done before I take Mom for groceries.


Sara said…
I must have been having sympathy pains for you the other day: for some reason I had the remembered sensation of grief and dread that comes from realizing you have to euthanize a big chunk of something you've written, though you've LABORED over it, and start all over again.
Good times.
Annette said…
Ahhh, Sara, but there is another solution. I keep a separate file where I copy and paste all my exquisite prose that doesn't quite fit or work in the current project. Then, in theory, I can use those lines in another piece. It's not plagarism if you steal from yourself.

Of course, I rarely go back to use the cut lines, but it's less painful than simply hitting delete and watching them vaporize.
beckylevine said…
In terms of opening--have you read HOOKED, by Les Edgerton? It's a writing book that focuses SOLELY on openings. It blew me away when I read it and really (I HOPE!) helped me rework the opening of the middle-grade mystery I'm currently revising. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Annette said…
Hi, Becky! Yes, I do have that one. In fact, because of it, I've already changed my opening once. But I'm still not satisfied with it. Maybe I need to re-read HOOKED.
beckylevine said…
It took me a few times going through Edgerton's opening chapters to get to fixing mine!
Kathleen said…
I too feel the pain of squeezing a drop of writing time out of a full, must-do schedule. Writing needs time. It just took me three hours to write and rewrite three paragraphs. SCREAM!!! I can only hope that the flow will begin to come more easily.

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