The time has come again for self-reflection. After a year of work (which includes various breaks for revising Aetheria’s Daemon more than once, writing shorts, and various other things), this month I completed the first draft of my third novel (title still pending; I’ve probably mentioned the working title on this blog before if you’re curious enough to dig into it, but no one seems to like it so it’s stuck in limbo at the moment).
The following is a compilation of ideas I’ve had recently about how to write effective opening scenes for a novel or short story. The usual caveats apply: I’m an idiot, this is not a secret formula, a great writer can make anything work, etc. Use, ignore or argue with at your leisure.
Before we get started, some terminology: My Little Pony (MLP), is, well, My Little Pony. You know, that show from the 80’s that your little sister was into before she moved on to twisting the heads off Ken dolls? Bronies are people (typically adult men, with a minority of younger and/or female participants) who constitute a My Little Pony fandom, which although it might nominally encompass all things Pony, is really only devoted to the 2010’s-era show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, aired principally on various kid-centric cable channels.
And when I say devoted, I really mean it. As fandoms go, Bronies are pretty intense, encompassing not only the typical viewing parties, fan art and fan fiction, collectibles, etc., but also an annual convention which puts them up with (though certainly not anywhere near eclipsing) that other great single-franchise fandom, the Trekkies.
Besides their devotion, the main thing that stands out about the Bronies is how reviled they are. A quick googling picks up many “anti-Brony” and “Brony H8” groups online, and general trolling and harassment abound on every Brony discussion forum in existence. It’s not hard to see why–people tend to hate things they don’t understand, and it’s safe to say that, outside of the Brony community, very few people understand what the hell is going on with the Bronies. I mean, putting aside all the name-calling and the irony and various other distracting arguments, what we have is a rather large group of ostensible adults, spending inordinate amounts of time obsessing over a show that is clearly made to appeal to pre-teen girls. Why? It’s a question that’s plagued the Internet since the show’s inception, and thus far (to my knowledge) eluded all attempts to answer it.
Well, I’m here today to tell you, fine netizens, that I have cracked the Brony code.
Is The War of Art really a craft book? Maybe not by any reasonable definition, but it does cover a topic of great interest to many budding authors: if I want to write, how come I rarely actually write anything? If this question sounds absurd to you, you’ve obviously never spent much time on writer’s forums, where variants of it come up over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. See, with a little practice, anyone can figure out how to cut an adverb or cliché, but when it comes to the thorny issue of motivation, there are no easy answers–at least until now.
I read this book at the request of a friend who had heard rave reviews from various media outlets proclaiming it to be the greatest thing since spellcheck (perhaps the fact that he was too lazy to read it himself speaks volumes as to whether or not he needs it). Impressed by the blurbs, I put it on my Kindle and ended up consuming it over the course of a couple hours (it’s not that engaging, but it is very short). What I found was a pretty good self-help guide, mixed with a good smattering of nonsensical blather, especially in the final third. Read on for details.
The exposition…here we go…the exposition…what a show!
Ahem. Sorry about that, was channeling Mel Brooks for a moment.
Where were we? Ah yes, exposition. The bane of freelance editors and critique groups everywhere, because generally speaking, exposition is boring. In it’s purest form, it’s simply a way giving the reader information in the simplest, flattest way possible. No plot, no characters, no emotion–all the things we love about fiction are stopped dead so that the budding author-to-be can clearly explain everything he or she thinks you need to know about the cultural mores of his race of talking marmosets.
It’s an oft-repeated maxim in writing that good ideas are overrated: a good writer can make a good book out of an awful idea, and conversely, a bad writer will take a great idea and usually turn it an awful book. A common story, first brought to my attention by Brandon Sanderson, tells the origin of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. To quote Wikipedia:
The inspiration for the series came from a bet Jim was challenged to by a member of the Delray Online Writer’s Workshop. The challenger bet that Jim could not write a good story based on a lame idea, and Jim countered that he could do it using two lame ideas of the challenger’s choosing. The “lame” ideas given were “Lost Roman Legion”, and “Pokémon”.
The moral of the story, aside from “don’t make bets with Jim Butcher ‘cuz he really takes that shit seriously,” is: don’t spend too much time worrying about whether your ideas are good or not, when you could be using that time to write (and thus becoming a better writer in the process).
Chuck Wendig’s 250 Things You Should Know About Writing will always hold a bit of nostalgia for me. I was around a third of the way through my first novel when I stumbled across it on Amazon, and at the time I had never read anything about how to write–actually, it had never occurred to me that such books could exist. What clinched the deal was the price, 99 cents, and the pitch, which reads (in part): “Contained within are things you should know about plot holes, self-publishing versus legacy publishing, “on-the-nose” dialogue, story versus plot, metaphors, copy-editing, killing darlings with a claw hammer, cursing like an undead pirate, and generally being a cranky and irreverent creative type.”