Saturday, 12 January 2008

Openings and a re-writing tip.

How effective is your novel opening? Does it raise a question? Does it tweak the reader's curiosity? Does it force them to read to the end of the paragraph/the end of the page/ the end of the chapter to find out what happens? Does your novel opening make your novel unputdownable?

Say a reader walks into their local bookshop and they're after a novel to read during their summer holidays... there's Sophie Kinsella's new novel, Kate Harrison's new one, Rowan Coleman's new one, Lucy Diamond's new one, Jane Green's new one and....your novel (if you're writing women's fiction). How are you going to persuade a book buyer who has read and loved Sophie,Kate,Rowan Lucy and Jane's novels to buy yours?

She know she can trust the published authors to deliver a stonkily good novel because she's read and enjoyed their novels before but she's never heard of you before. Your novel opening needs to be at least as good at the published authors, if not better if they're going to buy your novel instead. This advice remains whether you're writing women's fiction, crime, horror or sci fi.

So, re-write tip one: Raid your bookshelf/the library/your local bookshop and read the opening lines/paragraphs of published novels. If a handful of novels grabs you - work out why they grab you. Does your novel do that?

If you've edited your novel so many times you can no longer read your novel objectively here's a tip from Sol Stein's "Solutions for Writers":

Take the first page of your novel and, where you've written:

"Novel Title"


Your Name

Replace "Your Name" by the name of a writer you admire / your favourite writer. Change the font, the layout, the size, anything to make the page look different from the page you've edited to death. Now print it out. Tell yourself you've been asked to review the new book by your favourite writer and read the opening. Are you gripped? Do you want to keep reading or...are you a bit disappointed? If you're not gripped and you're disappointed in your favourite writer you need to rewrite your opening.

This tip is also useful for re-writing your entire novel. Get it into your head that you're reviewing a novel by someone else. Make it by your favourite writer, someone in your writing group or even one of your friends. Read it as though you're an expert that has been paid to make someone else's novel better (a book doctor). Do any passages bore you? Do you skip ahead at any point? If you're doing that your potential readers will too. Mark any points where you're bored or you skip ahead and keep reading. When you've finished reading the novel you can go back and re-write.


Anonymous said...

Pretty cool. Yeah. I've read some of Soll's work. Pretty practical stuff.

Leigh said...

By the time I'd reached the end of your second paragraph, I'd thought about giving up! Then, in the middle I thought, well, that's a good idea, I'll try that. But then, when I got to your questions at the end, I made my decision: no hope!

(Dick Francis always opens with a stonking line. Always)

CTaylor said...

Wayne: He knows what he's talking about doesn't he!

Leigh: Oh crap. I don't want to make people feel depressed! I just wanted to share what I'm going through at the moment and it's difficult!

Chris said...

Good advice! Since this is where I'm at with my mystery, I'll take this advice to heart. Thanks for posting!


Really sound advice. I read something similar, recently, as part of an interview with Sci-Fi author, Orson Scott Card, who said that the most common mistake new writers make, in his opinion, is that "the revelation of the idea is always set up as the climax of the book, instead of the first sentence," which really gave me pause for thought, and motivated me to change my opening paragraph. Great post.

SpiralSkies said...

If you go to you can read the openings of loads of novels in all sorts of different genres.

Beats having to go out in the rain :)

Leigh said...

Don't worry, Cally. It's just a good reminder of how hard it all is, and will continue to be.

If anything, it makes me more determined (despite the hopelessness!!!)

Emerging Writer said...

Just as readers in bookshops stop reading after a couple of paragraphs or pages and have decided whether to buy, so too with agents, so too with publishers. First 3 pages, first 3 paragraphs.

HelenMH said...

That's brilliant advice. One of the things I've been trying to do recently is to 'read like a writer and write like a reader'. It really helps to try to analyse what works and what doesn't!

Lucy Diamond said...

Cally, I LOVE you for putting me in that list of 'stonkily good' authors. Cheers!!