F is for...

Monday, May 2, 2011

F is for First pages
-- First page, first paragraph, first word - they're all essential. More so than a random page in the story, in fact. If James Bowie were drawing his famous line in the sand across your book, the first page is where it would be. That's where you stand or fall when it comes to attracting readers. The cover may get them to pick your book up; the blurb on the back may get them open it, but the first words in which you introduce your world and your MC (and your plot if you can make the hat trick) is your shot to hook their attention and make them read the whole thing.

F is for Fresh voice -- No matter the era in which your book is set, it shouldn't read like Jane Austen wrote it. Or James Joyce. Or Charles Dickens. Or any of the other "classics" you read in high school (or at least watched the moves for). Times change, and readers change with them. One of the easiest ways to lose a reader is for the voice of the character not to be one they can relate to.

F is for Framing -- and I don't mean the frame we all know you're waiting to stick your first dust jacket into. (It's sitting empty on the desk next to the one for your first contract, or is that just me?) How is your story structured? Is a story within a story? Is it linear? Does it hopscotch around twenty different time periods? Framing a story is like framing a house ... make sure it's plumb or things are going to slide. Then the foundation will crack. Then the doors between areas won't work the way they're supposed to.

F is for Freakin' Friggin' Frakin' F-bombs
-- My usual, personal variation is actually 'frick'. It's a safe bet that were I to change it up and shorten that to four letters, nothing world-ending would happen, but why tempt fate? Just kidding - although I can't quite figure out how one would pronounce 'frck'. It looks a bit like one of those "Artist formerly known as..." names.

All of that is a lot of space-wasting for me to say this: Characters can curse, even if you don't. Characters don't have to curse, even if you do. The character, while a product of your imagination, is not you. Therefore, there is no need for them to speak like you if it isn't in character for them to do so. While it may sound natural for me to say 'frick', or for my 12 year-old girl character to do the same, were my character a 29 year-old Marine in combat, it would be... um... strange.

Cursing is fine in YA. (If you don't believe that, listen to your average high school kid). Like anything, it shouldn't be for the sake of "startle factor", but if your kid has a mouth, then he has a mouth. Really the only genres where it would get you instant rejections or even funny looks would be MG or picture books.

F is for Flashback -- Long ago, in a memory far, far away... Once up on a thing that happened before the story starts... When I was your age, you little whipper-snapper. Stories don't exist in a vacuum, and sometimes it's necessary to show what came before. If you can't do this through dialogue, then it's likely you'll need a flashback scene. They're not evil, but they can be tricky. Try and keep them clearly defined so the reader can tell which time period they're in. And, like anything else, make sure you really need the scene.

F is for fans, famous, forgettable and finished.

Fans are great. We all want them, right? Fans mean repeat business for sequels. YAY! However, fans also bring with them: Fan Expectations, Fan Favorites, Fan Art, Fan Fiction, and Fan groups/boards. All that writing you used to do for yourself, just got a lot more complicated. Now, you have the means to know that 62.9% of your readers want the heroine to choose the guy you intended to lose the tug-o-war. That toss-away character from chapters 7 and 19? She's got her own Yahoo group and her quirky style has unintentionally struck a cord with your core reader group... maybe you shouldn't kill her of after all. Did you know that two of your main characters were secretly engaging in an affair off the page? Did you know they were both of your male MC's? No? Well the fanficcers did... welcome to slash-fic. Fans change the game in ways you may not have thought about.

If you're writing to get Famous, then - yes, I'm laughing at you. Fame through writing is a slow crawl toward a very distant horizon. And you have weights on your legs. And it's a desert. And you have no water. And that buzzard over there's been tracking you for two days. Sure, you might find an oasis or some nice guy in an Army Jeep might give you a lift, but mostly... it's a desert and you're out of water. Aside from Stephen King, JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and James Patterson, who have been on the TV in the last week, name me three writers you'd know on sight in a crowd. You may end up a known name, but I'm not sure I'd equate that with fame.

Forgettable is one of the worst words starting with F for a writer. If you don't stand out, if your book isn't distinct, if the characters don't sparkle (figuratively, in most cases) then you're going to find it difficult to build a following. That means it will be difficult to convince people that book 2 is worth their time and money. On the flip side, throw one mega-tantrum on-line and no one will ever forget you. Ever.

Finished is a great feeling. It's that moment you think you might want to do a handspring or twelve like Gomez Addams (hopefully followed by the moment you remember you weren't a gymnast and would rather not break both wrists and a leg or two). Finished is the moment of accomplishment.

Next time - G is for genre, galleys, green (as in eco-friendly, not cash :-P )

3 Chiming In:

Kimberly said...

The only one of those famous authors you mentioned I would actually recognize in person is Stephen King. I'm not sure I know or remember what the others look like. :)

Anonymous said...

Josin -- I found your blog from a fabulous comment your left on Confessions from Suite 500. I loved your rewrite of the author's first page re: cougers, and I'm loving your writing here as well!

Wishing you all the best of luck with your query process. Looking forward to continuing to read your work!

-- Julia

The Beans said...

Fans are just awesome. Tru dat. ;-)

-Barb the French Bean

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