Okay, so recently, I turned in a novel I'd written to my agent. She read it (loved it--phew!) and gave me some feedback. Her only comment? It's going to blow your mind. Are you ready? Mind-blowing tarp all set up?
She said: "It starts too fast."
Okay, stop the pony. Starts TOO FAST?? Isn't that what we're always told? Toss the reader into the action? Grip them with the first word, the first sentence, the first scene??
Now, I'll admit that I'm very sensitive about the way my novels start. I don't like it when someone tells me to start my novels in a different place. Since I don't write in order, I don't write the beginning first, and I feel like I have a really organic process for finding the opening scene of my books.
So my agent told me this particular book was opening too fast. I re-read my first chapter, and saw her point.
Then I proceeded to write a different book for a different deadline. The problem of this other novel went into the notebook of Impossibilities I'm Going To Figure Out (see Monday's post)--which is really just my brain.
Then I finished the deadline novel. Sent it to betas.
And I had to face the opening-too-fast novel. So I read through it. Made some light edits, etc. Could not for the life of me see a different way to start it. So I did what any writer would do: I opened a blank document.
I was going to write a new first chapter, dang it!
And I did. Like 10 times. They all sucked. None of them were right. Or even close.
I could feel the haze coming, the need for sour patch kids and bacon and a good long vacay from writing.
Then the fabulous girls in my critique group gave me a book that changed my life. CHANGED MY LIFE.
I think they were skeptical that I would actually read the book. But I proved them wrong! Ha! I even filled out NOTE CARDS and MADE A FREAKING STORYBOARD.
That's right. Believe it (picture proof, FTW!). Now, those of you who've been here a while know that I simply don't do this. I don't outline. In fact, the mere thought of it makes me shudder and throw salt over my shoulder to ward off evil spirits.
Well, guess what? This book that changed my life? It showed me how to outline in a way that makes sense to me. MAKES TOTAL SENSE!
I know by now you're all screaming: How?! What book??! Spill, Johnson!!
SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. It's about screenwriting--and there's something magical about relating outlining and story construction to movies. I can "see" it. I can watch a movie and "see" everything laid out in only a matter of hours. I can't do that when I read.
So I read SAVE THE CAT, and voila! Just like that, I realized the missing piece of my book: Beat One.
That's right. Out of 15 beats, I was missing the first freaking one! And since The Fabulous Blake Snyder tells you what should have in each beat, I could suddenly "see" how my book needed to start.
I wrote the first chapter the next day.
SAVE THE CAT people. It will save your sanity. Buy it for all your crit mates. Get it yourself. Read it. Love it. Cherish it.
And I made my own Blake Snyder beat sheet for novels using the resources Blake has on his website.
Do you have a book on writing that changed your life? Do tell. (This may or may not but definitely is the one I've read the most of... I don't like to read to learn. So sue me.)
Also, I wrote a letter to my teen self, and it's up on the Dear Teen Me blog today. I will seriously send you good karma and kiss your babies and/or critique your query letters if you'll go comment on it so I don't look like a complete tool. Deal?