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Sunday, July 09, 2006

The First Few Words

Those are the hardest ones. Whether you’re writing a novel or a short story, you need to grab the reader immediately and tug him in by the lapels.

Or do you?

It seem to be the prevailing attitude at the moment. And though I don’t necessarily agree, I admit that I have no desire to ever read another opening where the author spends the first few pages describing the town, its local politics, and the impact the industrial revolution had on the region. Nor do I really want to know that the protagonist was a bed-wetter until the age of twelve when he went on to become captain of the debate team. Not yet, anyway.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be dropped behind enemy lines before I’m told who the enemy is. I’m not saying that this never works--I can think of a couple examples where it did--but dumping me into a dramatic action sequence in paragraph one usually bores the hell out of me.

I need to know ”who” I’m dealing with before I can get involved in the character’s predicament. For me, fiction is all about characters and how they respond to the drama that surrounds them. So while I don’t want to slog through the history of the world before you drop the first bomb, neither do I want to have to run for a bunker before I know who or what I’m running from.

For me, finding that sweet spot between introductory matter and dramatic action is tough. I just dumped the first chapter in my novel in favor of one, which I hope comes closer to hitting the mark. It’s weighted a little more heavily on the dramatic action side, but I think we learn enough about the characters to make the dramatic action dramatic.

Is this something you've struggled with?



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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.