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#16--A GREAT BEGINNING

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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WriterFearNot
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Postby WriterFearNot » Tue Jun 22, 2010 2:59 pm

glorybee wrote:To include a quote here on the message boards, just click the 'quote' button at the upper right corner of the message you want to quote from...


Fabulous! Thank you!

WFN :D

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Postby grandmalovesbabies » Tue Jun 22, 2010 6:01 pm

1. Here's my intro sentence:

With a death-grip on the driftwood, Kira shivered in the rapids realizing her grandmother's prophecy had come true.


2. Favorite titles:
"The Moon is Down" - A short story by John Steinbeck. One of my all-time favorites. In fact, he was a master when it came to his book and story titles - "The Grapes of Wrath", "Winter of Our Discontent", "Of Mice and Men" are just a few that come to mind.
In the twilight of my years, may His Light shine more brightly.

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Postby glorybee » Tue Jun 22, 2010 9:21 pm

Lollie, how interesting that you chose Steinbeck's titles--because at least two of them prove that everything I say can be taken with a grain of salt! Specifically, I said that you shouldn't use familiar phrases, or ones that had already been used--but "The Grapes of Wrath" is a phrase that he took from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "Winter of our Discontent" is straight out of Shakespeare. Yet Steinbeck is one of the great American writers...

Your own first sentence is wonderful, needing only a comma after 'rapids'. It's definitely got lots of conflict, and that suspense that makes me want to keep reading. Well done!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby grandmalovesbabies » Wed Jun 23, 2010 10:12 am

Didn't even think about the fact that he had some "borrowed" titles. He's still a good read, although I have to read him in small doses because he takes you on an emotional roller coaster.
In the twilight of my years, may His Light shine more brightly.

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Postby OldManRivers » Thu Jun 24, 2010 7:50 am

Favorite title: I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven

Question: What about the notion that a story flows out of its first line?

A first sentence:

Beneath the gaze of neon dragons, I found the horror of my soul.
May God's gentle grace be with you.

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Postby PamDavis » Fri Jun 25, 2010 4:40 pm

Hi Jan,
Hate to be a school dropout; garden season is taking up most of my time!

Pam
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Postby glorybee » Sat Jun 26, 2010 6:23 pm

OldManRivers wrote:Favorite title: I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven

Question: What about the notion that a story flows out of its first line?

A first sentence:

Beneath the gaze of neon dragons, I found the horror of my soul.


Jim, sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you--this is a crazy week in my house--company coming and going for 10 days!

As to your question--I'd never specifically heard that notion before, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

Love your first sentence--it's packed with great words, conflict, and enough 'huh?' to make the reader want to keep going. Superb!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby ElizaEvans » Sun Jun 27, 2010 12:58 am

Jan....AWESOME!!

I hope we never have another board crash because these lessons are invaluable. Thanks so much

I'm too shy :oops: to put my hand up in class and too slow to think on the spot, so I don't participate much...but I like sitting in the back and listening. :)

And I did have fun with your sample sentences. :D

My name is Ishmael. ~ Moby Dick

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink ~ I Capture the Castle

You can't tell nobody but God. ~ Beloved (I think...)
ps
I was wrong. It's The Color Purple.

I can't even think of a favorite title. :| Will I get scolded if I say "Gone With The Wind"? It's not the best title but it's the best title for that book...and evokes such an ache and a sigh whenever I think of it.

Jim picked a great title!
Last edited by ElizaEvans on Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby swfdoc1 » Sun Jun 27, 2010 2:20 pm

glorybee wrote:
OldManRivers wrote:Favorite title: I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven

Question: What about the notion that a story flows out of its first line?

A first sentence:

Beneath the gaze of neon dragons, I found the horror of my soul.


Jim, sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you--this is a crazy week in my house--company coming and going for 10 days!

As to your question--I'd never specifically heard that notion before, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

Love your first sentence--it's packed with great words, conflict, and enough 'huh?' to make the reader want to keep going. Superb!


Here's a war story: When I wrote my novel (still unpublished :cry: ) the first three sentences (which came to me as a complete idea) generated the idea for the entire novel. Of course, I added a few twists and turns and sub-plots as I went. BUT the complete MAIN plot--beginning, middle, and resolution of the story line--flowed from those three sentences.

Then, based on some paid critiques and meetings with editors, I decided those sentences would have to be cut to make the novel sell-able. "Watching" those sentences hit the editing room floor was one of the toughest things I ever did--without those sentences, the novel never would have existed--BUT it was critical to getting requests for proposals from agents and editors.
Steve
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things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Postby glorybee » Sun Jun 27, 2010 9:23 pm

Interesting, Steve--care to share those first three sentences?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby pheeweed » Mon Jun 28, 2010 4:26 pm

I've had a hard time with titles ever since I wrote for a newspaper and my editor always changed my title, but never told me what was wrong with them. I've tried to use your advice about salsa words, punctuation and short or long in my challenge entries. I think I've had a few good ones.

Here's my first sentence:

Forrest stopped going to church five minutes after he moved out of his parents' house.

Phee
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Postby pheeweed » Mon Jun 28, 2010 4:35 pm

ElizaEvans wrote:I write this sitting in the kitchen sink ~ I Capture the Castle



One of my favorite titles. It's the reason I read the book.

Phee
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A friend of the Bridegroom

http://www.delightedmeditations.blogspot.com

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8 NLT

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Postby swfdoc1 » Mon Jun 28, 2010 8:47 pm

glorybee wrote:Interesting, Steve--care to share those first three sentences?

OK. But I have to tell a bit of a story about it or you may think I don’t understand what is "wrong" with the original version. I hope I don’t take this beyond people’s interest level:

The original idea that came to me was of a story of a writer who we first meet as he is struggling to come up with a great opening first line for his novel. During that process he decided to check out “great first line” lists on the Internet. Two that he finds that will play huge roles in the story—although the reader doesn’t know it at this point—are “In the beginning God . . . ”and “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy” (the opening line to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).

All of this was set in motion by the very first three sentences I thought of (although I’ll give 7 here):
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“Call me Ishmael.”

He thought he was going to scream. “What makes them so good?” That question had become a torture. Why couldn’t he come up with a great first line? Not a passable first line, but a great first line.


The very first piece of negative feedback I got on the book was that the opening was “self conscious.” BUT, I was trying to write a kind of fiction called “metafiction.” And one of the “bibles” of metafiction is called “Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-conscious Fiction.”

So I asked the person who had given me this feedback whether he meant this in a bad sense or whether he just didn’t like metafiction. Actually, this is the short version; I asked specific questions using standard jargon for this kind of writing and the person responded that he didn’t even know what the terms meant. This person has major Christian publishing credentials, so I immediately suspected I was in trouble. When I got similar feedback a second time from a Christian publisher, I knew I had to change things. The problem was everyone wanted the book to open with “action” even though it was very important for the book to start with this one person in a room completely by himself.

One of the MC’s main “motivations” is anger at God due to his wife’s death. So, one “book doctor” even suggested that I could start with a prologue before the man-in-a-room-alone chapter one in which the wife would die in a horrendous, fiery car crash to get that all-important action up front! Just one problem—it was important for the wife to die of cancer because it was important for the couple to turn to God believing for healing because it was important to show what happened to the MC when those prayers weren’t answered.

So instead, I decided to let the reader know about the wife’s death chapters earlier than in the original version so that the reader understands the MC’s motivation much earlier on. This allowed as much “action” as I could get in a writer-alone-in-a-room-trying-to-come-up-with-an-opening-line scene. The new opening (quoted at greater length than the original) goes like this:
For the sixth time in three hours, Peter Johnson double clicked in the left margin of his document and hit the delete button. “More garbage,” he yelled at the empty bedroom.

Peter stood up abruptly, knocking over the desk chair. He looked down at the monitor, shaking his head. He began pacing around the room in as much of a circle as the furniture would allow, racking his brain for the words that were eluding him.

He stopped in front of a picture of Daphne and him. <I>I’m not going there today. Today I’m writing. Today I’m not going to play “what if?” </I>But he did.

What if Daphne hadn’t died? What would his life—their lives—be like? Why did she have to die? And why had they been so stupid, believing that God would heal her? How had they fallen for all those lies of a God who cares? Well, he knew now that there was no god. Peter wouldn’t even dignify him—or, rather, the bogus concept—with a capital “G”. They’d prayed and prayed and prayed to this god. And Daphne had died.

Peter just stared at the picture, replaying memories in his mind. The fear and trepidation of asking her for that first date. That glorious first love that he could literally, physically feel. Picnics in the park after the first warm spring day arrived that first year.

The years marched by—their college years, the wedding, the honeymoon. But then the darker memories came. The loss of the first love. His increased intolerance of her annoying habits. His first thoughts of divorce. Finally screwing up his courage to tell her, only to have her preempt his announcement with her own announcement. “Peter, I have cancer.”

Cancer. The word that changed everything. Peter never told Daphne of his divorce plans. Instead, he fell in love with her again. Only to lose her. “If you were real, god, I would hate you.” Peter spat the words into the empty room.

Peter picked up the picture, drew it closer to himself, and stared at it. He felt that old familiar fear. Had she really known? “Oh Daphne, I’m so sorry.” He placed the picture back on the dresser, facedown. He lingered a moment longer. “I’m sorry.” This time it was a whisper.

Peter reluctantly resumed his pacing. <I>Oh good, now I get to spend another three hours producing nothing. Why can’t I write a great first line?</I>

With a deep sigh, Peter righted his chair and sat down at the computer again. He googled “great first lines” and got 6,732 hits. Sure enough, three hours later, Peter was still digesting the results.


This opening (in the context of a full proposal) was enough for two editors and one agent to ask for proposals. Interestingly, at a writer’s conference, the editor who did a session on literary fiction liked the original version (which he saw more of than I put in this post), although even he liked the second version better.

By the way, I did eventually work “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and “Call me Ishmael” back in.

So that all of this may have some benefit to your class, Jan, maybe the points here that would apply even to the Writing Challenge are these: 1) start with “action” (broadly defined), and 2) show the MC’s motivation early.

Again, sorry if this is more than you wanted to know.
Steve
nlf.net
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"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:17 pm

Thanks, Steve--I really enjoyed this glimpse into your writing process, and the back-and-forth between writer/editor/critiquer. Thanks for sharing!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:18 pm

Phee, your sentence is vERY intriguing--it brings all sorts of questions to my mind.

Do you have a story in mind for it?
Jan Ackerson

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