Friday, May 4, 2007

ESTABLISHING SHOTS – by Robert W. Walker

No, this is not about booze. It is about making the right opening moves in your story…first lines and first paragraphs which Establish character and much more.

When you open a story, you really have to rework it and rewrite it so that those opening moments are pure gold…as pure as you can make them. Clear as you can make them as well. Think of every good film that has SET the stage in the very first seconds and minutes of the film. These first shots establish time and place along with tension and character. Perhaps you might have a page or two to interest the reader in a character or the actions being taken by a character, but this can’t possibly happen if your story opens in a miasma of confusion in which we know nothing whatsoever of the setting, the time, the character, perhaps his or her occupation, where his or her hands are at the moment, what action(s) the character(s) are currently occupied with…what pie they have their hands in.

To become proficient at opening chapters and new scenes, all this has to be repeated again…over again with each geographical shift, point of view shift, time shift. Such shifts have to be carefully “glued” together by comforting road signs as with a time word or two such as since, before, then, now, when…

To become proficient at openings, read the back jacket copy of every paperback you can get your hands on, and tell me how many of these “interest” grabbers appear in paagraph one or two: Time period, setting with place names, character’s names (names have resonance), occupation of main character, chief tension or problem.

Take a lesson from the back-flap writers. In fact, become adept at writing your own “flap” to place in your query letter and synopsis. They say never judge a book by its cover, but when the flap is well written, go ahead—judge a book by its synopsis. Learn to write the most important short story you will ever need to write—the story of your story in its most elemental form, my dear Watson.

You can also use this in pitch sessions! You may want to begin with the word WHEN.
Just when Inspector Alastair Ransom had cut off the head of one snake slithering about the gaslit streets of Chicago in 1893, a second fiend raises his ugly head to mar the prosperity of the city and the success of the World’s Fair. In one fell swoop, one sentence, you get the name and profession of the main character, the time period and the location and a teasing tension. Write the copy you’d like to see on the back of your book!

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