Some of you may recall a recent post of mine when I described my experience with a scathing critique of my newly completed novel. And actually deep-sixed the novel since it seemed unredeemable, based on the extent of the criticisms. Part of the recommendation was that I return to the fundamentals of story development. This, of course, insulted me, since I’ve completed two well-reviewed novels. I spent a few weeks licking my wounds and deciding what to do next.
I decided to open my mind to some of what the critique recommended, if for no other reason than to prove her wrong. (Yes, that’s a bad attitude.)
I’ve since been doing some remedial reading on the basics of novel construction. And there are (eureka!) some things I could do better. A writing instructor once had recommended that I return to the classics to observe how the great writers open their stories, hook the reader, and keep them hooked. I started with Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms). And then, with all the hype about Harper Lee releasing a new novel after over sixty years, I decided it was time to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird, which I’d last read in high school – nearly fifty years ago.
All I can say is “wow!”
Bells rang. Lights flashed on and off. In just the first chapter I “got” the whole thing about starting the real action and introducing all or most of the primary characters right in the first few pages. And keeping the tension high, ratcheting it up and pulling back a little, but never letting it drop to ground level. Clearly defining what the story was about, the main character’s goals, who plays critical roles in the main character’s life. What the main character’s challenges are. How the characters fit in each other’s lives. And so on.
I used to think it was impossible to cram all of that into the first five pages. But done artfully, each piece is introduced but not detailed. Just enough to whet the reader’s appetite.
And now I’m eager to revisit the first chapter of my new book and apply this epiphany. I will continue to work on the fundamentals. But like all new or improved skills, I want to try them out, see how they fit and what needs further work as I progress forward with Gram and Me.
Who knew acknowledging (accepting?) my weaknesses could be so uplifting?