The Originality of a Beginning

guide to literary agentsSome of us spend a countless amount of time thinking about those first few lines.  We are told over and over again, by countless sources, those first words are absolutely essential.  In the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents it is explained that, “Writing a compelling first page is very difficult.  It’s a balancing act of action, description, and dialogue, and somehow – no matter what it is you are writing about – you’ve got to make it interesting and employ a unique voice” (p. 42).

While the above example is talking about the first page, others talk about the first sentence or sentences.  This article, 7 Keys to Write the Perfect First Line of a Novel, written by Joe Bunting, offers a bunch of famous beginnings you can sort through.  You’ll see all the usual suspects – Melville, Dickens, Rowling, Tolkien, and a few unexpected ones.

Nice Intro.jpgWhat this article offers, and the book I listed above allude to, is the idea that you need to find a unique twist to somehow blow the readers mind to pieces.  The underlying concept is that you must be original.

I don’t know if I agree with this sentiment of originality.  Not entirely.

When I think of beginnings I think of one I say almost everyday to my son, “Once upon a time.”  When you hear those words, what do you think of?  I think of magic beans, talking animals, witches, heroes, and princesses.  For many of us, those stories are the first stories we ever hear.  They are the building blocks of our own lexicon of stories and mythology.  It is stamped into our brains.  Hardwired.  When we see that line, it opens a door.  A door encouraging us to believe in the unbelievable, to dream, to hope, and to imagine.

once upon a time.jpgIs it any surprise when George Lucas penned, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” it became such a classic line?  When you see that line (assuming you are familiar with Star Wars) you think of Jedi, lightsabers, The Force, and a host of other Star Wars related concepts.  But at the core of, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…,” is, “Once upon a time.”  His first line tapped into the power of those countless childhood stories, and he wielded it wisely.

For me, when I saw that line for the first time I was a just a kid.  My dad said, “You’ll love these movies Corey.”  I shoved the tape into a VCR, smashed the tracking button until the image was clear, and carefully read the scrolling prompt.  That first line hooked me.  It threw the door open to imagination.

This door became harder to open the older I got.

The door became harder to open because the more I learned about writing, the more rules were shoved down my throat.  Teachers, instructors, and experts, tell us, “No, no, no, not like that – like this!” or, “It’s a good first line, but it seems pretty similar to [insert story].”

portal.jpgIn the struggle for originality, many authors stray from one of the core concepts of storytelling.  This concept is that the line should work to transport someone into your world.  It’s a cue, overt or covert, that opens the forgotten door and encourages them to once again – believe in the unbelievable.  It doesn’t have to be some crazy twist of phrase.  It doesn’t have to be packed with hidden metaphors and symbolism.  It can be, but it doesn’t HAVE to be.

I would encourage you to look at children’s books for inspiration.  This article, 100 Best Opening Lines From Children’s Books, is a great compilation of those works.  Despite the primary audience of these books being children, the opening lines have great impact.

They have great impact because all of us were children at one point.  It is a universal concept uniting each and everyone one of us.  All of us, at some point in time, dared to believe in the unbelievable.  We didn’t care how crazy it seemed.

For me, I spent hours of my childhood trying to use The Force to move things around in my room.  I believed, beyond reason, if I just tried hard enough, it might just happen.  I could be a Jedi.  I just had to believe.

It never happened for me.  I never did move something with my mind.  And here I am now with a child of my own.  Despite my childhood being long gone, sometimes, when no one is looking, I still try to move things with my mind.  I part of me still believes.

That’s the power of a story.  That’s the power of a beginning.  Don’t stress originality, tell your story.  If the story is yours, the beginning will be too.

That’s it for today!  Do you have a story from your childhood that impacts you to this day?  Do you have an opening line that really rocked your socks off?  I’d love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Writing Past Dark: Blurb, Book, Collage

Writing Past Dark (final).jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Past Dark, written by Bonnie Friedman.  As usual, you can click the image, or go here, to view it in higher resolution on my Flickr.  And as always, it’s made by me and free to share.

 

Writing Past Dark, written by Bonnie Friedman, is sure to stir up the inner writer inside of you.   For you folks who are already relentlessly pounding away on the keyboard, you will find more fuel to stoke your inspirational furnace and keep the monsters at bay.   After all, most of us deal with writing demons.  They chase away the muse and leave us jaded.  This book will help you smite those black eyed beasts.

At 146 pages, you will roll through this one in no time at all.  Friedman uses personal anecdotes to drive you through the books core concepts.  Her style and voice are very appealing and I found myself swept along by her words.

writing past dark.jpgAs someone who struggles with their own writing demons, and works daily to help others find the light, I found the sections on Writer’s Disease, Distraction, How to Get the Meaning In, and Why We Can’t Write to be the most impactful.

What resonated for me in this book was the heart of the writer – Friedman.  Some authors have a way of connecting with the reader on a very deep and personal level.  Friedman snagged me early and wouldn’t let go.  Again, if you are struggling with the craft, this book might just be what you need.  And given the short length it’s not a huge investment of time.

I‘m always looking for new books!  Especially books about the craft.  Is there one you were thinking about but haven’t pulled the trigger on buying yet?  Let me know – my trigger finger is always itchy and Amazon is a click away.  As for now, I have another weapon to use against the darkness.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Dream Journals: Create While You Sleep

bad muse.jpgNovelist Will Self advises us, Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever.”

Many of us take his advice, but do you remember to bring your note taking device with you when you go to sleep?  I think all of us have woken up from a dream and said, “Wow, what a thought, I better remember that,” only to lose it forever upon waking.  If this has happened to you, you might consider keeping a dream journal.

When I first began researching dream journaling I was filled with skepticism.  It didn’t help matters when many of the online sources I found were filled with mysticism instead of solid information.  I’m sorry, but I’m not going to sleep with crystals surrounding my bed, candles lit, or with air full of incense.  I’m not saying doing things like this won’t help some people, but for me, not so much.

Here are the practices and applied concepts that worked for me.

*Note*  I’m not an expert or dream shaman by any means.  These are just the things that have worked for me in the past and what I employ.  The result is maybe one fully formed thought or concept that could be viable for projects per week (at best).

hydrate.jpgDrink five quarts of kitten blood before going to sleep.  Okay, maybe not.  But going to sleep hungry or thirsty doesn’t help.  It’s common sense, but for many of us over-caffeinated starving artists, it doesn’t hurt to remember to eat and hydrate.  Our brains consume a huge amount of energy in our bodies, more than any other organ.  Those gray cells require a lot of nutrients to do their work.  Make sure you feed and water them.

As you drift off to sleep, focus on sensory input.  Your mind is a gun, those thoughts bouncing around in it as your drift off to sleep are bullets.  You need to steady the gun as you sleep to ensure proper aim and accuracy.  For me, with a background on the ocean, I focus on the sea.  The sound of the water, the colors of the night sky bouncing off of it, the luminescent glow of algae being stirred up by the ships propellers, and so on.

science.jpgIt can be a memory, or it can be made up entirely (whatever elicits the most response and focus).  But try to focus on sights, sounds, feels, smells, and tastes.  There is some weird science going on, but the skinny of it is that is begins priming your brain as you drift off to sleep.

Here is a scientific article from the academic journal, Trends in Cognitive Science, that might help you understand more about the science behind this (if you check out the link make sure to click on full text button, or you will just be reading the abstract).

If you can’t focus on a sensation, use a mantra.  This works really well for me.  If my mind is racing then I can’t focus on anything.  If this happens, I tell myself over and over again (silently, because my wife would kill me and be freaked out otherwise), “Remember your dreams, remember your dreams.”  Focusing on these words creates a calm that allows me to drift off to sleep better, and it also seems like my brain takes the advice.

alarm clock service.jpgSet an alarm.  This was a trial and error step for me.  I’m not going to get into how the brain works too much, but I will offer this basic concept.  Your brain goes through cycles when you sleep.  It switches back and forth from REM (the stage where you dream) and NREM (deep sleep that repairs and revitalizes you body – no dreams).

If you can stage an alarm that coincides with REM, upon waking, you may have more success recalling what was happening in dreamland.  To do this successfully, your sleep schedule needs to have some consistency.  With that being said, a rule of thumb I have seen on multiple website (like here) is to set an alarm for four hours from when your head hits the pillow.

Penlight.JPGHave tools ready to record.  When the alarm goes off, you are going to be in a weird state.  Especially if you succeeded in pulling yourself out of a dream.  If you have a spouse, or person you share a room with, flicking a light on and rifling through things is not going to win you any awards.  I have a notebook and a pen with a little built in light tip.  When I click the back of the pen a tiny LED light comes on.  I jot down what I can recall and try not to focus on organizing it.  Even if it is just fragments that don’t make any sense.

Analyze entries once a week.  Pick a day and go through the entries you made.  Sit down and treat it like a writing session.  Really analyze what you wrote.  With a clear and fresh mind those fragments can turn into something new and exciting.

Be as consistent as you can.  I get it.  Sleep is in short supply and setting an alarm for four hours to interrupt it doesn’t sound like much fun.  But if you can do it every now and then, your power to recall will improve.  I’m sure there is more weird science here, but the more you exercise the desire to recall dreams, and the more you force yourself to record them, the clearer the dreams will be and the more information you will be able to record.

angel and demon.pngDon’t blame me for what you recall.  Think how amazing your brain is when you are awake.  Especially as writers.  But your brain is being restrained by your analytic self when you are awake.  Now imagine if your brain could roam free.  The worlds created aren’t via words, but actually exist.  You are just a casual observer or participant in it’s mad games.  Who knows what joys, or terrors, you might find.  Good luck…

That’s it for today.  Do any of you keep dream journals?  Do you have any tips that might improve my understanding of them?  I’d love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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The Kick-Ass Writer Collage: Quotes

The Kick-Ass Writer

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, The Kick-Ass Writer, written by Chuck Wendig.  High-res version is located here.  Made by me, and free to share.

 

I’ve got a boatload (a cargo-container sized one) of writing to get done tonight and some editing to do for the Brown Pipe Gang (my writer’s group).  So in the interests of providing you all something cool to look at, and meeting my daily posting goals, I tossed together this little quote collage.  All of these quotes come from the book, The Kick-Ass Writer, written by Chuck Wendig.

I just recently finished his book, and it was a nice change of pace from many of the dry “how-to” writing books in my library.  It’s a fast paced, action packed book (which is a strange thing to say about something instructional), and in my opinion – worth reading.  So if you have the itch, scratch it!

In case you missed the link in the photo description, a shiny high-res version of this image is available here.

Did I miss your favorite quote?  Don’t grind my bones into flour to make your bread! Instead, take a breath, and leave a comment.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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High Resolution Images: A Tool Added

The Elements of Style

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, The Elements of Style, written by William Strunk Jr., and E.B. White (Fourth Edition).  High-res image available here.

 

Just a quick note to let you all know I have updated the, Elements of Style Collage: Quotes, blog post from a few days back.  I received a few messages asking about receiving high-resolution versions of the collage (flattering to say the least).  I figured the easiest way was to toss it into Flickr and link it, which is what I did.  The link is here – feel free to share. Moving forward I will make sure to link high-res images (at least the ones I create myself).

Now – back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

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On Writing: Finding your Muse

onwritingcoverstephenking

I‘ve been reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  It’s a pretty decent literary jaunt.  I was searching for a cover art image of the book and stumbled across the magnificent collage above.  It was created by a fellow WordPress warrior by the name of Stephen C James.  If you click the image you will be teleported to the location where this image originated.

The quote below really resonated with me today.  I thought I would share it and point it’s location out to you.

“Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three.  If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping on his cigar and making his magic” (p. 157).

And here I’ve been sacrificing woodland creatures and chanting into the sky during full moons to appease the muse.  I certainly should have read this book first.

I would highly recommend the book if you in a creative rut or are just curious about what makes King tick.  I did a more thorough discussion of the book here.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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