Tag Archives: Chuck Sambuchino

Effective Beginnings: The Secret Ingredients

On the popular blog, Writer Unboxed, Ray Rhamey offers a recurring piece called Flog a Pro. Rhamey identifies six key ingredients that the opening page of a novel must feature: story questions, tension (in the reader, not the character), voice, clarity, scene-setting, and character.

Here he breaks down the opening page of the runaway best-seller Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.

While it’s not a requirement to have all six ingredients, Rhamey writes, an author has a better chance of hooking a reader if many of these elements are present.

I am in the midst of refining the beginning pages of my work-in-progress and this effort got me thinking about effective beginnings. In researching this topic, I found a lot of advice from agents and editors about what not to do in the opening page of a novel:

–Start too slowly

–Dump a lot of backstory about the main character

–Include too much exposition

–Introduce the story with a dream sequence

–Begin with slam-bang action, mayhem, maybe even a few deaths. Action without context will only confuse the reader.

Here are more types of bad beginnings from agent Chuck Sambuchino:
Chuck Sambuchino

Rhamey’s list is a solid starting point, but it needs elaboration. There’s one more essential ingredient and it relates to one of his ingredients, character. One inviolate rule about effective opening scenes is the writer must make the reader care about the main character. What does that mean? To me, it means the writer must create an emotional connection between the reader and the character. This is by far the most challenging aspect of crafting an effective beginning.

I found a lot of great advice about opening scenes and I want to share it here:

This post is a fantastic mashup called the 21 best tips for writing your opening scene

Here are more tips from the Editor’s Blog. Here’s a post on how to hook your reader.

And some tips on opening sentences from the blog Fuel Your Writing.

Will Greenway offers eight rules.

Chuck Wendig, 25 things to know about an opening chapter is irreverent, funny and true.

To these many words of wisdom I add one more and this I cannot stress enough: spend whatever time is necessary to make the first scene sing. If you are not spending more time on the opening scene than on the rest of your manuscript, you’re not trying hard enough.

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Should I Read or Write?

I have a confession to make. I read more than I write. I don’t write each day (except during National Novel Writing Month), but I cannot go a day without reading. Writers should read widely across all genres and read nonfiction as well as fiction. Most writers do just that, but many struggle to keep up their reading.

In a guest post on Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog on Writer’s Digest, author Dayna Lorentz made a persuasive case for why writers should read.

In summary, Lorentz gave four reasons: reading nourishes your writing, it builds confidence, it enables revision and it helps the writer to sell by allowing the writer to see where her work fits in among popular novels and genres.

Read Dayna Lorentz’s Writer’s Digest blog post

Writers know they should read, but it’s another activity the writer must fit in amidst writing, keeping up with social media, blogging and marketing.

My best advice is to carve out separate blocks of time for writing and reading. Generally, I write during the late evening and I read right before I go to sleep. Reading helps me to unwind and decompress from my writing session.

Reading can help your writing. By focusing on how writers develop stories and scenes, a writer can unlock her creativity. I find when I am reading a particularly good book, I get energized about my writing.

Stephen King reads 80 books a year. He brings books with him everywhere he goes. If he has a few minutes of down time while waiting on a line, King cracks open a book. I even saw a shot of him reading a book on TV during a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

I’m currently plowing my way through Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. I’m probably spending too much time reading them, but my writing hasn’t suffered.

Reading, like writing, is a habit that is woven into our daily lives. Let’s always take the time to read.

How much do you read? Do you find it difficult to read and keep up with your writing?

 

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