Monthly Archives: July 2013

Writing Tips: Beginnings

From my mentor of sorts, Doyle McKim.

Writing Tip of the Month: Beginnings

Aside from providing the first steps of a long path, a beginning has one overriding purpose: to draw the reader into the story and to hold him. The following are guidelines that will increase the writer’s chance of doing that. There are five of them:  The Hook, Time and Setting, Characters Present, The Vein, and the Conflict.

The hook should come in the first sentences. “The last camel collapsed at noon.” Or: “When I opened my eyes, I could see nothing but white.”  Simple declarative sentences.  Nothing is stronger. Then keep writing. Build the story. Do not stop for flashbacks, do not stop for memories though long blocks of introspection. Show where your character, or characters are, when it occurs, and what they are doing.

Establish the vein. Is it humor, drama, or romance? Your beginning is the promise of what is to come. The reader who thinks he is getting drama but finds it is light satire, will be unlikely to look for your name on the next book he buys.

Through all of this, provide the conflict, or enough hint of it to hold the reader. What does your character want? Why can’t he have it? What does he do, or intend to do about it? The conflict is the reason for the story.

If you plan on parallel plots or subplots, bend them toward the storyline in a way that lets the reader know there is, or will be a connection.

“The Dog” Chapter One, re-written in 3rd person limited

Chapter One

Marty stood at the gas pump, hit the button for the cheap stuff, and let out a sigh.  It had been too long between stops, another day heading nowhere.  But he felt the need to keep moving, stay on the road, and leave the memories behind.

Dark clouds hung low and the air felt stale; it smelled like dirty rain and old gasoline.  He locked the nozzle on full, leaned against the camper shell, and that’s when he saw the dog.  She trotted around the back end of his truck, sat down on the other side of the hose, and gave him the look.  She held her head tilted, her eyes bright and unblinking.  Her ears stood at attention, though the tips folded over.  She looked young and clean, delicate but not small; medium sized around thirty five pounds he guessed.

Her appearance mesmerized him.  She had light brown eyes that literally sparkled.  Her coat looked like a mixture of black, white, and gray coloring with copper highlights on her face that enhanced those eyes.  A ribbon of white fur ran from the patch on top of her head, between her eyes, to her full white muzzle.  It had been a damp day, spitting rain at times, but she looked dry.

The loud clank from the nozzle shutting off jolted him from their connection; she didn’t appear to notice.  He removed the nozzle and replaced it in the pump, screwed the gas cap back on, and secured the little door.  She sat there and watched him the entire time.

“So, whatcha doin’?” he asked.

Her lips parted and she gave him a small smile.  She started panting very slowly, her eyes locked on his.  It wasn’t a challenge, but he knew her full attention was focused on him.

He smiled back at her and tried his best line, “Do you come here often?”

No answer, but she cocked her head to the other side and stopped panting.

A greasy looking man had come out of the gas station’s office and stood in the doorway.  He had that look of perpetual irritation on his face.  “Is that damn mutt yours?” he yelled

“No, she just came over to say hi.”

“It’s been hanging around since this morning.  It won’t let anyone get near and it hasn’t gone near anyone else, so I thought it was yours.”

“Nope, but she is a cutie.”

“Grab it if you can,” the greasy man yelled, “I’ll take it to the pound.”

Marty held his hand out, index finger up, to stop the greasy man.  He turned back to the dog.  She still waited, watching him.  He squatted, keeping his distance, and asked her, “Are you friendly?”

She offered him her right paw.  It was white and elegant, like the rest of her feet.

He stretched out and took it, being as gentle as she looked.  “Nice to meet you, I’m Marty.”  He released her paw.

“She’s wearing a collar,” He called out to the greasy man.   It hung loosely around her neck; a blue plastic tag with lettering was attached.

“Can I read your tag?” he asked her.

She scooted closer to him, stretched out, and gave him a light kiss on the corner of his mouth.  She sat, her tag now in easy reach.

He grasped the tag, turned it, and read aloud, “I am Yours.”

She woofed at him in agreement.  A big grin broke out on his face.   He stood up and opened the door of his truck, “Okay, if that’s how it is, load up.”

She leaped, light as a feather, up into the driver’s seat, hopped across to the passenger side, and sat down, looking as if she owned the place.  He noticed she had a very short tail, making her rear look trim and compact.

He waved over at the greasy man, “Yeah, she is my dog, I just didn’t know.”

The greasy man looked disgusted, flapped his hand in their direction, and went back into the office, slamming the door shut.

As he took his receipt from the pump, he looked in at the dog and wondered who she really belonged to.  He felt sure she must have a home, as well kept as she looked.  He knew he wasn’t lucky enough to have this fine animal fall into his lap from nowhere.  Probably another cosmic joke being played on him; a prize dangled and then snatched away.

But then, there was her tag, “I am Yours”.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

She leaned closer to the mirror, pushed stray strands of her long dark brown hair back behind her left ear, and examined that side of her face.  A small reddened area next to her cheekbone marked where he had smacked her.

“Thomas George, you asshole,” she muttered, “You’re lucky you didn’t give me another black eye.”  The bell rang from the front, announcing a customer, so she checked her look again and left the restroom to get back to work.

Well, well.

No, I don’t need water.

I apologize for letting this blog sit unused.  I became addicted, as many are, to writing here and counting the hits.

I had to break the addiction.

I did.

And now I am dipping my toe in.  I would say carefully but that is implied by dipping.

I have been taking writing classes, attending critique sessions, writing and editing my own work.

I still need to write more.  I want to focus on my story, The Dog, and get it done.

After the four chapters I’ve posted here I decided to change the story and switch from 1st person to 3rd person limited POV.  It took a lot of re-writing.  That also enabled me to improve the story.

So… I will post my new/re-written chapters here soon and anyone who looked before, please read and comment.

 

Thanks for your patience.