“Crafting a Killer Beginning” Workshop

It was a dark and stormy night…

Wait, you mean that’s been used already?!

Humph.

Just before meeting Ally Carter last week, I attended a writing workshop called “Crafting the Killer Beginning,” put on by The Writer’s Center.  First writing workshop attended at age 16: Check.

In the 85 degree, 95 % humidity, we listened and discussed and churned around in our brains the topic of what makes a good opening line.  (And listened to a girl in the back blow her nose a lot.  Sorry, guys.  I have Allergies.)

Our first exercise was to take 5-10 minutes to write a sentence.  The opening sentence.

I already knew what mine was for my story: “Fog rolled through the trees, making it hard for Star to see.”  I knew it wasn’t out-of-this-world good.  Which is why I wanted to go to this workshop.

We then talked about what three things an opening sentence (and a story as a whole) should have.

1) Tone

2) Plot

3) Character

These things should all be balanced.  At this point, I didn’t feel too bad.  (Except for having to blow my nose again.)  My opening sentence had all three!

Tone: foggy trees, forest, hard to see, mysterious, dark, damp.

Plot: Hard to see – Star NEEDS to see something, and the fog is giving her issues.

Character: (obviously) Star

The first sentence is a bit like a handshake.  It sets up the reader’s expectations.

We talked about this for a while.  What type of expectations are set up with this opening sentence?  Hmm.

Our next exercise was to look at some sample opening sentences in some different categories.

First, we had the Nail in the Coffin, where someone died.  Then we had The Corker, which toyed with your sense of reality.  This was followed by The Outsidewhich looked at scenery,and The Inside, which was an introduction to someone’s mind.  Next came The Cheeky (which played with words), The Spoken (dialogue), and The Hello (an introduction), and a few others.

*A note on The Outside: I raged about setting here.  But this workshop – especially looking at The Outside – re-emphasized my recent epitome: setting must do something.  It can’t simply exist.  So in The Outside, it either sets the tone or drives the plot.  Which, actually, is what it should always do.

At this point, we had to sneak out the back of the tent to go see Ally.  We missed the tail end of the workshop, but it was still incredibly awesome to be stuck in a tent with twenty-five other writers, talking about writing!  

Did I ever come up with a perfect first sentence?  Nope.

Did I love the workshop? Yes!

Maybe next time it won’t be so humid and I won’t run out of kleenex.

foggy trees

Forgetting the Setting

I’ve discovered a great oxymoron of my life: I’m a visual learner, but I hate description.

When I’m in class, I always wish the teacher would shut up and draw a picture.  When I’m reading, I always wish the author would shut up about the picture and tell the story.

I remember things through pictures, but I use my words to make them.

I received a crit today that suggesting I offer more setting — a request I’ve gotten often.  And my reply was “yes, I’m working on it.”  But the truth of the matter is, when I read, I skim the setting.  I don’t care what the heck the forest looks like, just what the trees are saying.  Forget the smell of the cooking bacon, give me characters fighting over it!

And that’s how I write.  Characters interacting, talking, laughing, fighting, swordfighting, doing magic, occasionally observing a tree or some grass.  But that’s it.  I love dialogue.  I write excellent dialogue!  (I’ve been told so from multiple different sources.)  But setting?  Hah, what’s that?

I’m stuck in the oxymoron box, knocking on the walls, trying to figure out how to get out, into the Land of Setting with all its sights and smells and sounds.

How to get out?  I guess the first step is to train myself to stop skimming.  Read the darn descriptions and figure out what I like and what I don’t.  And keep working til I get it right.

What do you skim when you read?  Is that what you skip when you write, too?the-setting-sun-1