Monday, January 25, 2010

The Battle for Your Reader's Attention

IN THE NEWS:Police say Georgia mom forced son to kill hamster. Read more HERE.

Well, I had a very productive unplug week. I dyed my hair, shampooed my carpets, and picked out curtains for my bedroom! AND... I wrote a few thousand words on my new WIP.

I think I mentioned that I'm writing something a little different this time and even trying a new POV, too. Eeep! took me FOREVER (well, it felt like forever--and a day) to figure out where to start my story. I had a few ideas I toyed with, but eventually I went back to "The Art of War for Writer's" book and ended up with a completely different opening.

James Scott Bell wrote, "Because everyone, with the possible exception of your mother (if she reads your work), has a little voice in his head ready to shout, 'Life's too short. I don't have the time to go on with this'."

Not everyone is as forgiving as I am with openings. Thus, we as writers are in a battle for a reader's attention. We need to make a connection early on. How do we do this? How do we make a reader care so fast?

I don't know. (Well, I know a little bit, but I'm still learning) :)

I've heard in seminars that you should put your character in a danger of some sort and your reader will care. Hmm... Well, that's great, but what if you write romantic comedy? How can that apply, then?

Well, I really thought what James Scott Bell had to say applied to me as writer better. "If you want to sell your fiction, you must grab the emotions of the reader by putting a character in some sort of DISCOMFORT or a danger or the possibility thereof."

Ah--(lightbulb moment)--now discomfort is something I can use.

So that's exactly what I thought about to create my new opening. I did not put my character in danger, but I did put in her a position that she did not want to be in, and this position that she is in will eventually trigger her goal and also her motivation.

I spent A LOT of time working with the first page--much more time than I've spent on any other opening. But now that I'm finally satisfied, I think I can finally move forward with my story this week. Whew!

Tell me about what you're working on.
Is your character experiencing danger or discomfort in your opening?


Katie Ganshert said...

JSB is such a wise man! Yes, I strive very hard to find that uncomortable beginning! It's good to make our characters squirm. :)

Sande said...

Writing is as strategic yet better than chess.

Because you get to keep a copy of the game at the end.

Enid Wilson said...

I'm try to edit a Jane Austen sci-fi. I'm not happy with the beginning. Good heads up about putting the characters in discomfort. Thanks.

Really Angelic

Tabitha Bird said...

Funnily enough I too am editing the first five pages of my book. I spent all last week just getting to first 200 words right, because I wanted to enter them into this competition. Anyhoo, I think I am finally happy with the first two pages. No, on to the other three... and then the rest!

All the best as you edit and write. :)

sherrinda said...

I am reading The Art of War and am loving it! JSB is brilliant! I'm still editing and am trying to up the stakes in several places. ;)

Jennifer Shirk said...

Sande: I love that analogy!!

Tamika: said...

Openings are critical, I know I've set many books back on the shelf because I wasn't hooked immediately.

I love the discomfort angle- I know that well even in my own life.

Chicki said...

I have to get that book. It sounds great.

My new WIP I opens with my female protagonist going over her bills and agonizing about how she's going to get the money to open her dream business. In the next scene she meets a woman in the hair salon who tells her about how much she could make working in a strip club.

Kimberly Franklin said...

Love JSB's writing help books! They're great. Sounds like you've been one buy lady.

Good luck on your opening. They are always the hardest for me.

Happy monday!

Sarah Forgrave said...

I think sometimes I take that advice to the opposite extreme and torture my characters until they're ready to lay down and die. LOL I have a hard time reading a book where life gets too easy for the character, but I'm sure I could go a little easier on my characters from time to time. :-)

Kristen Painter said...

I'm actually working on a new genre too. It's a sooper sekret thing that I'm not really talking about yet, but it's fun!

Nisa said...

Wow! Light bulb moment for me too! Of course, that makes sense. And lucky for me, I don't have to change my book because I did that, but now I'll remember for future novels. Thanks for sharing your aha! What new POV are you working on?

Joanne said...

I like openings that put the character in pivotal situations, choices must be made, and the story feeds off of the character's decisions. Best wishes on your new story!

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Nice how you thought through it and got from danger to discomfort. Well done. Creating empathy is key. And fun.
~ Wendy

Tess said...

Yes, a feeling of unsettled, wanting, discomfort (as you say) is a great way to start a work. At least, it seems to pull me in as a reader.

I love your quote about how we all have that voice screaming in our head. I think I'll post that on my thought board to look at during edits.

Linda Kage said...

Discomfort! Oooo. I like that term. Thank you so much. I think I'll use this. What wonderful help you are!

T. Anne said...

I'm batteling with my opening as well. Not in my WIP but a novel I'm editing. I wish I knew back when I wrote it I need to get to the point rather quickly. What an editing nightmare I've pulled myself into.

Laura Pauling said...

My opening is finished. I think. I hope. I dare to dream. But my character has a challenge in front of her that she is about to confront.

For me to keep reading it's all about the voice of the character and feeling a connection to her or him. I don't need to know the conflict right away because I've read the flap and usually know what the story is about.

Glad you had a productive week and sounds like you are over the hump when it comes to starting a new wip.

R.M.GIlbert said...

Beginnings are difficult. There is so much advice out there:
Don't open with the weather,
don't open with dialogue,
open with action,
open with something heartfelt,
open with description so the reader knows where your character is,
don't open with description.

Gets a little confusing. But, in the end getting it down and moving on is sometimes best, and then revisit the beginning.

I feel my writing is stronger at the end of the manuscript so if I go back and rework the beginning, I can make that stronger as well.

As always, great post.

Cindy said...

Good tip, Jennifer! This is so helpful to me right now because I am still struggling with my opening scene. I usually write more serious books and hardly ever have trouble figuring out where the book will start. This one is a little more lighthearted AND I really want it to make an impact. Making my character uncomfortable could work :D

Susan R. Mills said...

I went with the discomfort angle too. I tried danger, but it just didn't quite work.

Renee said...

I love writing beginnings. I love trying to find the ultimate first for my characters. And I try to make them very uncomfortable or in danger.

Right now, I'm revising a Western. And slowly writing on a frontier (I am not sure what to call them because it isn't really western). And I have an ancient biblical set one waiting to be revised too.

patti said...

Jennifer, your posts are so fun...and thought-provoking.
Dyed hair, cleaned carpets and peril!!!

Yes, my character in the 3rd novel (edits) has been kidnapped by a Thai warlord. In WIP, poor Kai is imperiled by the Chinese govt. AND by a life-threatening disease!

elizabeth mueller said...

Jennifer, nice nice advice. I love that and oft wondered how I could snare my readers attention as well.

Thank you for bringing this to life!

(I've recently had to rewrite the beginning of my Rock Star novel! It is a YA romance novel and I had to throw the MC into some sort of discomfort!

Thank you!

Karen Lange said...

Enjoyed this post, thanks so much. Love James Scott Bell, actually just got his book Plot and Structure. Looking forward to diving in.

Jemi Fraser said...

The first page is so important - mine starts off with my character in danger. He's trying to find a murderer. I hope it's a good start. :)

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I think this is good advice, but it can be overdone too. I spent a long time on the first page of my WIP and I think it's the best first page I've ever written.

T. Sue VerSteeg said...

I just finished redoing my opening scene too! Wow, must be something in the water ;)

Diane said...

I can't wait to see all the discomfort you can come up with. You clever minx! I bet it's great... :O)

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

One day I'm going to write a book for myself that opens with six chapters of backstory and a good dose of commentary. Until then, I'm trying to start it with solid, heart stopping conflict. :0) Still learning how to do that in a way that interests me and future readers.

Terri Tiffany said...

I am glad your week was so good! I am thinking about doing that soon too.
Yes, my current WIp has the opening where the guy loses his job and everything he believed in:) Discomfort--yes.

Natalie said...

The MC in my last manuscript experienced some major danger in the first few pages, my current MC is just uncomfortable. I'm glad that works. :)

Natalie said...

The MC in my last manuscript experienced some major danger in the first few pages, my current MC is just uncomfortable. I'm glad that works. :)