BLANK PAGES AND OPENING LINES
C. Neuroticus Absolutus
You stare at a blank page wondering what words to write. What words will grab the reader's attention and get him or her to put your book in the digital shopping cart? Attention grabbing words like those describing a shot ringing out just as the papal procession passes. Do your words need to excite, like those depicting thundering hoof beats as a courageous horse streaks towards the finish line with a frail heart that's about to burst? Will your words strike fear as a tiger stalks a preteen girl lost in the jungle? Will your words capture the unforgettable fragrance of a rosebud as it bursts open? Will your words evoke the reader's passion as the forbidden lovers embrace and kiss in a clandestine paradise?
You while away an hour, thumbing the pages of your well-worn Thesaurus, looking for just the right words, those words that will introduce your Great American Novel.
Still your your page is bare. Maybe you could hire an artist to convey the dark, bloody scene of the murder you're planning for the opening. But that would be switching from mental to visual artistry. And it wouldn't even be your art.
Well, maybe your problem isn't in your choice of words at all.
It's not easy to write words when you don't know what your story is about. Is that your problem?
Writing is story telling. If you haven't defined the story you're about to write, haven't chosen a route from point A (the beginning) to point C (the end), you'll likely never get there. Of course, Point B is everything between point A and Point C.
While you've got that blank page up on your word processor, write a few paragraphs, or pages even, and tell your story like you're talking to an old friend. Don't stop to look for synonyms, to check punctuation, to determine the correct conjugation of a verb, to decide whether or not to use an adverb or even worry about spelling. Write the story as fast as you can. Then read your story aloud and imagine each actor, action, and each scene. Can you see it? Is that the story you want to tell? If it is, than you're ready to decide your actual starting point.
Will it start as the killer silently watches his prey as he stealthily closes in, or when the point of his knife penetrates the pale skin of the innocent damsel's neck?
Will it start as the dragon crushes its prey's ribs between its fiery jaws or when it opens its reptilian eyes from slumber and hears the footsteps of an intruder in it's lair?
Or perhaps it starts when the eyes of soon-to-be lovers first meet across a room?
You see, you still have to choose what words to use. That's your first decision. Point A, the starting point. But now it's easier to choose the words. Don't worry. You may decide later that you favor a different starting point. Perhaps you've wasted words before you got to the real starting point of your story. That happens often with beginning writers as they try to set up the scene. Check out the following two-paragraph story beginning:
“It was a dreary day. The windshield wipers clacked a steady rhythm as I listened to Adele's latest song on the new HD Audio system I'd just had installed at Best Buy. Got it on sale. Great price! I'd just waxed my Porsche and was miffed, not just about the rain, but also about the UPS truck that got in front me and kept splashing torrents of oily road water on my car. Knuckle-dragging cretin!
“I got my Glock 19 from the overstuffed glove compartment and moved around a UPS truck, still certain Lady Gotham hadn't seen me following her. I inched forward into her blind spot and held steady. As we entered a tunnel, I guided my Porsche alongside her, rolled down my passenger window, took aim and shot. She never saw me. I goosed the Porsche and flew out of the tunnel ahead of her. In the rear view mirror, I saw her drift across lanes, broadside a pickup, bounce away into the tunnel wall and spin around. Her car flipped over as the UPS truck T-boned her. Traffic behind them became a pile of scrap metal.”
“Rot in hell, bitch!”
Notice that Paragraph One adds nothing directly relevant to the story. Delete it.
The story begins with the first word of Paragraph Two. Check to ensure that your opening paragraph is pertinent to the story and includes no extraneous words like overstuffed as in Paragraph Two above. With, “I got my Glock 19 from the glove compartment,” the interest and excitement begins, not just for the paragraph, but for the story.
Most fairy tales begin with something like, “Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince . . .” Did you ever wonder why? It's a slick, very successful gimmick to immediately let the reader know a fairy tale follows (a specific sub-genre), what it's about (probably a fantasy romance―the prince is handsome), and who it's about (a handsome prince). The fact that you've can discern this much from the first sentence should alert the writer as to how important the first words are. Look at the first sentence above (Paragraph Two): “I got my Glock 19 from the glove compartment and moved around a UPS truck, still certain Lady Gotham hadn't seen me following her.” Without further ado, the reader knows who the narrator is, that he has gun, the make of the gun, and that he's probably trying to kill Lady Gotham. By the end of the first sentence, the reader is either interested or not. That's why the first words are important. The reader gets hooked and gets the book from the shelf and into the shopping cart. By the end of the first paragraph, (Paragraph Two above) the reader knows that the narrator is a killer, that Lady Gotham is dead, and the reader is left wondering why. One question this mystery must resolve is why Lady Gotham was killed.
That's in the unwritten contract between the writer and the reader.
Okay. Now you know. No more blank pages. Just remember: It's all about telling the story. So go tell your story. Process some words!