Friday, February 07, 2014

The Things You'll Learn On Twitter

The first rule of novel writing regards the opening of the novel. Never, ever, unless you're an established author and can do what you like, open your story with one of the characters waking up from a dream.

Editing and revising
To literary agents and publishers, it's a cliche opening and one that they consider lazy. It's too easy to create a spark of interest in a reader because a dream is not your character's reality so you can manipulate things in ways not possible in ordinary circumstances. The reader is then left disappointed when they discover it's all a dream and the time they invested in reading the sequence is wasted. To punish the author, they abandon the book, and that's no way to boost sales.

If your novel starts with a dream sequence, go back and rewrite it. Scrap that whole first chapter and start over.

But wait, there's more.

Who knew there were other openings that will land you on the rejection pile? I didn't know all of them until I checked Twitter.

Alec Shane is a literary agent at Writers House, a fairly prestigious and large agency in New York City. He's on Twitter these days, chatting in 140 characters about the things that agents often chat about. That is, he's promoting his authors when they have new books coming out or responding to writers who wonder what he's looking for.

Then there are the tweets that offer tips to writers. Little pointers that MFA students might learn early in the creative writing program but you don't know about because you're not in a position to go back to school. Here it is:

"Overused opening scenes for books:at a funeral, running/getting chased, waking up/getting woken up, on a plane/car on the way to a new place"

And here I am with a manuscript ready for submittal, and the opening features the protagonist on the way to a new place.

Using travel opens up a host of possibilities to drive the narrative, including meetings between characters that will then set the novel in motion. Until Mr. Shane tweeted it, I never would have noticed, and as a voracious reader you'd think I would have noticed it before. But then again, I don't confine my reading to debut novels and it's a fact that established authors get to break the rules which misleads those of us still learning the craft.

The writing idea I had before will now have to be stored away while I take out the manuscript and completely rewrite the entire opening. A new way has to be found to bring the key characters together. A different approach has to be taken to introduce the protagonist and present the first hints of the conflict with her parents that will make her later actions logical.

All because of a short burst on Twitter.

You can learn something from amazing sources. Like the fact that Twitter is more than a place for advertising or your friends' announcements of where they are or what they're eating or how hungover they are. It's definitely educational, in between the drivel.

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