Second chapter, first lines

It was so encouraging seeing all your first-chapter, first lines on Wednesday. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one sitting alone at a desk trying to herd those literary cats. You guys have some great ideas. Today, I’m going to open the blog up for more as I keep this first-line madness going.

After a hellacious afternoon yesterday, I’ve got the first few lines of chapter two of SKINS to share, and if you have more of your work ready for visual consumption, post it! I think it’s fascinating, and a good exercise, to see how much of a story comes through from just those first lines.

In genre fiction, chapter two doesn’t have to be as attention getting as chapter one, and you can see that as the focus turns from action/dialog to a little more scene setting. In my case, chapter two introduces the three main characters in a setting I will be using over and over. (Chapter one introduced the “sparkle element,” the thing that makes the story unique, the secret that I slowly reveal through the first third of the book to keep you interested.) Again, I’ve started with dialog just because I tend to be description heavy in the first three pages of any chapter, and I need something to break it up.

If you want to make an exercise out of this show-and-tell experiment, give me two versions of your opening chapter two: the first as you have it, and the second rewritten using dialog if your original lacks it, or pure description, if your original has dialog. See what happens. (But please, limit this exercise to no more than five lines of text. 🙂

Original chapter two, first few lines from SKINS

“Gosh darn tower is still down,” Nat muttered, squinting at the faded screen in annoyance. Her body was angled so her shadow would fall across it, but the morning sun was so intense, it made little difference.

rewritten without dialog, expanding on sensations and place setting:

The heat of the sun on her back was intense, and Nat squinted at the sun-bleached phone screen in annoyance as the little beachball of death spun. Either she was in a dead zone, or last night’s storm had taken out the towers.

The first has more action, the second more back story and connection to the previous chapter, both work. Interestingly, though, the first feels more connected, as if just the act of speaking makes a deeper connection.

Your turn! Show and tell!

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Clearly there are a few writers out there

Small town, Irish Pub. Mmmmm.

I had a great response yesterday to the share-your-first-line invitation, and as always, I’m surprised at how many of you out there write, and write well! Great responses, and in every case, I could tell who your target audience was and the feel of the story in general. (This is why most screeners of manuscripts only need to read one page to know if what you have will fit into their book line.)

A good first line immerses you into the world, makes a connection with the reader, or simply draws you into reading the next sentence with curiosity. When I was first starting out, someone told me that most best sellers had dialog within the first three paragraphs. I don’t know how true that is anymore, but getting to the dialog has always been one of my goals, which can be hard when my style naturally gravitates to three pages of scene setting. Getting dialog sprinkled in there helps keep the pace moving.

A good exercise is to read your first three pages aloud, as if you were an audio book, and if you find you’re getting impatient to get to the good stuff, you might want to throw in dialog to break it up or just start deeper into the manuscript and drop in the setting where you can.

I was going to have the first line of chapter two today, but I didn’t get nearly far enough yesterday. I’ll open up a new page tomorrow for your second chapter, first lines.

Happy writing!

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Share your first-line madness

BplantI’ve decided that summer is my favorite time to write, with my office completely open and all the windows wide so the wind blows through and I need to use paperweights to keep everything down. It’s warmer, too, and anyone who writes knows how cold that gets. Look at the old photos of your beloved writers’ s offices, and ten to one, they have their back to a fireplace or live in a warm clime.

If I’m lucky, I’m working rough draft in the summer, giving me solid office time in the morning/afternoon before it gets too hot, and garden/plotting time in the afternoon/evening. Dialog one day, full text the next. It’s a pleasant way to spend the hot months, half dressed and sitting at a keyboard while my mind is in another dimension making mischief.

So far this summer, I’ve hammered out a novella I’m thrilled about, and am now starting my next full length UF called SKINS. And because I’m excited to share it with you, I’m going to give you the first line of every chapter as I write it.

Are you working this summer? Share with me your first 130 characters of each chapter as they happen. (But no more than 130 characters, please! This is not meant to be a way to get your novel out. It’s an exercise in first-lines, and if you respond here at the blog, I will read/comment on them!)

Here’s my chapter one:

“Joe? This isn’t a good idea. All these places got generators.”

Chapter two tomorrow!

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The difference a week makes

It’s raining, but I don’t mind, because it makes it easier to sit at my desk a few more days and hammer the last few chapters of Joe and Sidney’s story out of rewrite so I can get back to Peri again.

I like rewrites. I always say I like whatever stage of the book I’m in the best, but rewrites are where the magic really happens for me: a road ignored–taken, a new thought out of the blue that shapes and enriches the rest of a person’s life the story. Yeah. That.

But it’s raining, and my garden has really begun to wake up. The bees are appreciating the early blooms, and giving them a head start will help insure that my cherry tree gets pollinated later this spring. The Crocus are giving me a good show, not yet trampled by wind. I’ve got lots of new ones popping up in unexpected places, because, like a squirrel, I forget that I plant them.

Most of these shots are from my front corner garden, wrapped by sidewalk on two sides, my yard on the third. It was nothing but Juniper, a few rocks, and bluebells when I moved in seven years ago? The first time I tackled it, it took two days to clean up. Now it takes about fifteen minutes. Boom, baby! That’s what I like. Landscape that takes care of itself.

The bluebells needed more light and were moved. The Junipers were drastically trimmed to look bonsai-ish. I added a few wheelbarrows of rock, and tidied it all up with moss and miniature plants. The crocus are new this year. And before you crab about the Christmas lights, they’re up all year on my corner garden, bringing a little fairy magic to it all. Soon as we get another nice day, I’ll put the mini-houses up. 🙂

Siberian Iris

Bloodroot?

 

Grandkitty came to visit again. Aleix still isn’t sure about it.

Also, the mass market for The Turn just popped up for pre-order. Not a bad price! But the Nook won’t drop to match it until the mass market actually comes out.

Amazon

B&N

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Garden Tour! Green stuff coming!

You can’t stop the earth rolling through its gravity track, and the longer days have finally made themselves felt. My bulbs and early buds made it through the last few inches of sudden snow, and though we might get a few below-freezing nights, the stuff that’s up in my yard can take it. This weekend, I’m going to plant the pansies that I bought two weeks ago and brought into my office when snow threatened. Pansies can overwinter with a little protection, but I was not about to plant them with inches expected.

Now, though, the ground is soft again, and the buds on my Cornelian Cherry (which is actually in the Dogwood family) are ready to open. It is one of the first bloomers, and I put it in my yard for the early bees, starving when they wake up. The Mason bees, especially, appreciate them, and I’ve grown my volunteer colony from one or two bees up to many over the last five years. The red fruits are etible, but I usually leave them for the birds.

The Hellebore is a fairly new plant for me, but it thrives in shade with a bare hour of sun now and again, and it will sometimes flower late fall, holding the lion share of buds to open in the spring. They have got a lot of new varieties now, and I adore this as a replacement for Hosta as it looks good even in the spring. The one pictured here has only been in the ground for two years, and it has been flowering since February.

My crocus have been in the ground for almost six years, but I add a handful of to my established beds every fall. The yellow come up first. Always. This is where that ungodly expensive spice, Saffron, comes from.

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Second star to the right, straight on till morning

I’ve been doing what I’m doing for what seems like forever now, so I’ve become pretty good at realizing when something is off in my process and pushing on regardless, getting it done if not by the joy of it, by muscle memory, so to speak. Not to imply that I can push out a book with no thought, because even on the bad days, there’s the satisfaction of the technique.

But every writer, published or not, knows when they find the zone that time has little meaning and you purely experience what flows through your fingers and onto the page. It’s reaching back to touch what drew us to the written world when we were five, or ten, or fifteen; to be more than what we are, if only for a moment and remember what we knew then: to live it in your mind is to have lived it. Period.
The zone is the unicorn of the writing world, oft seen in the distance, worked toward, grasped for, interrupted and broken by the dog, the kid, the phone, the spouse, the printer running out of ink. Life intrudes. But when you find it, even for an hour, you connect to the essence of why we put up with the rest of the crap of plot holes, bad motivations and pacing, and the career killer, indifference.

I don’t want to say it’s been a while because I don’t keep track of my zone days. But I can say I’ve been finding them more lately, that the pure peace of creation has crept back into my daily routine again. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not roses and cream over here. Every day is still “the best day” my dog is going to have, there’s this winter that won’t let go, and the “6:00 pm” haze of background noise coloring everything. But what defines me is satisfying again. There is movement, a growth toward the pure simplicity of story as the heavy dross is knocked away.

I think you’re going to like who I’ve been spending my day with, and if you don’t? Well, I’ve still got the zone.

 

 

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Bluebirds remind me of my Grandpa

If you’ve been lurking on my blog for any length of time, you know that I live right in the city, but being small, my “city” is kind of rural, as in the middle of cornfields, lakes, and woods.  I can walk to a handful of restaurants and shops, but there are deer jumping my fence to eat my Hosta, and we’ve caught them more than once resting in the middle of the road to soak up the heat. With Ann Arbor and the university culture only fifteen minutes down the road, there are a lot of artists and retired teachers around, and our farmers market has everything from maple syrup tapped just down the road, to artisan goat, sheep, and cow cheese made within spitting distance.

To say I love living here between forest frog ponds and higher learning is an understatement. I’m doubly lucky in that not only did I have the good fortune to grow up here with the belief that this kind of mental diversity and artistic talents overflowing into cottage industry is normal, but I left it for over a decade so that I recognized that it is not. At least, not everywhere.

But I was supposed to be talking of my grandpa and bluebirds. I saw my first bluebird on a walk with my grandpa, who lived at the end of a winding dirt road between a shallow lake and a twisted woods, and so when they show up at my city feeder, I’m always reminded of him.

This week, the sudden four inches pushed them from the thickets a block over and into the city looking for the feeders and some open water. I probably won’t see the bluebirds again after the snow melts. Still, it was nice to see them just this short time, to know they are still around.

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