I sometimes have to give up on a book without finishing it. Why? Because I can’t read through a long information dump. It’s just too boring.
Good writers understand the importance of the first line in their novels. Readers these days don’t have a lot of time, and they don’t spend more than a few minutes evaluating a book. If the first line is boring, they may not continue reading.
I’m currently participating in an assignment to send two alternative first lines to James Patterson. He will choose the most popular — the ones that get the most shares and re-tweets.
Here are mine, from my upcoming novel Virgo’s Vice, which is the third in my Zodiac Series:
I’m thrilled to have just finished writing the first complete draft of my debut psychological thriller, and novella, “Sheer Panic.” Although I had already started writing this story with no outline, and not knowing how it would progress, I decided to stop and get the outline down.
Here’s the start of it.
1. Tori avoids Roderick, ‘the Freak’ as she enters the cafeteria at college. He has been harassing her for a while and she is afraid to report him, in case he retaliates. (Here’s where I know I should make a new chapter — each chapter should be one scene.) Later, Dorky Dorian tries to flirt with her when she is putting her stuff into her locker. Her friend Janet tells her she’s weird because she has opted not to go to Panama City Beach at Spring Break. Instead, she has agreed to babysit her niece so her sister can go. She never discusses the real reason she is afraid to go with her friends.
2. One afternoon when Tori is taking her neighbor’s dog, Panda, for a walk in the park, Dorky Dorian tries to force himself on her and the dog attacks him. Panda’s owner, Mrs. Stanley tells Tori she should get a dog of her own for protection. Tori reflects on her love life. She knows it’s a total disaster, and if she had a steady boyfriend the weird men would leave her alone.
3. Tori is friended on Facebook by Lance, the boy she chased at high school to no avail. Although it seems a little odd that he has suddenly had a change of heart, and decided to pursue a relationship with her, she is still totally smitten with him, and she goes along with it. She hopes it will turn into something serious, and take her mind off the stolen kiss with her sister’s boyfriend, Dan that has been plaguing her. (This scene needs something to make it more exciting.)
4. Tori takes her niece, Shari horse riding and sexy Joaquim …. etc.
Once I had completed the outline, it was easy to write the story, although it’s still in the first draft rough format. I found that I deviated a little from the outline when I came up with a better idea, and as I went along, I changed the outline at times. I love the finished draft.
Here are some other things James talked about in his videos:
- First lines — We all know it is essential to capture your audience right away, yet so many writers start with something mundane and boring. Mine is: “I just don’t get why your love life is such a total mess,” Janet said. “It’s just not right. It’s not that hard. You must be the only nineteen-year-old in the whole school who isn’t getting laid.”
- Be yourself. Imagine you’re sitting across the table from your best friend telling them the story of a movie you watched. If you wouldn’t use pompous and puffed up language and fancy words when speaking to them, you shouldn’t be using them in your writing.
- Try writing a couple of different endings. Make them as outrageous as you can. I did this and absolutely loved the new one I came up with. It was far more exciting than the original ending.
- Try writing the same piece in the POV of more than one character. You could fall in love with a version you never thought about before.
- Don’t be afraid to break the rules. Whatever works for you is okay. We’re all different, and so are our readers.
- Do your research. Don’t just wing it. You must know what you are writing about to build credibility.
- Don’t be afraid to rewrite if it doesn’t feel right to you.
More in my next post.
When I found out that James Patterson, the most prolific and successful author of our time, was holding a writing class, I was all in.
The outline is the most creative part of writing your novel, and sometimes, James says, he writes several different outlines for the same story before he decides how it will all work out. He can be working on an outline for months before he is happy with it.
Before you start the outline, you need the raw idea. This is a one-paragraph summary of your story, and if your story is to succeed, the idea has to be something more than a little disparate, create tension and conflict, and should grab readers’ attention from the start.
Here’s the idea for my upcoming novel, ‘Virgo’s Variant’:
So my next task is to write an outline. This is a summary of each chapter, with one or two paragraphs per chapter. Every chapter is a new scene, and should contain something that propels the story forward and adds a new twist.
Once the outline is all written up — and typing it out in Word works for me — you can go back over the scenes and experiment. Add new twists, reorganize the order of events, make notes for future reference, add something to create more suspense, and make a note of how the events affect the personal lives of each character.
Here you will edit, edit and edit again before you go any further.
The one thing I did notice about the outline is that, without dialogue or the internal conflict and thoughts of the characters, it’s pretty blah, but that all comes later, and James goes over the do’s and don’ts of dialogue and creating conflict in some detail.
Only when you are completely happy with your outline should you start the novel, which will flow easily now that you know how the story progresses. I used to be a pantser, but now I know better.My greatest problem with this particular novel was that I had already written it before the classes with James, and it was with my publisher, Soul Mate Publishing. I received the first edit from them soon after completing the course. I found that with the outline, I was able to do a lot of editing that I probably wouldn’t have done before. I cut out a lot of unnecessary explanations and changed some of the events. (Show don’t tell). I also ended up with double the number of chapters I originally started with, because short one-scene chapters make the story move at a faster pace, and if your story drags, your readers will lose interest.
If you are interested in taking the class, here is a link: James Patterson Teaches Writing