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The first sentence or paragraph
Pamvhv
Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 7:57 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 5


I am so stuck, beyond stuck. Stuck isn't even the word anymore; unmovable, dire, over-dramatic

I cannot get the story flowing. It is outlined and perfect and in my head and I love it but I cannot for the love of all things zombie get the first bit going. 

Advice?

Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 11:39 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 90


Here's my all-purpose method of dealing with being stuck--works for writing, acting, and painting.

When I'm stuck, I sit down and study what exactly I'm stuck on: what am I thinking and feeling. So say I'm writing a zombie story and I'm stu-u-u-u-uck. The way I'm feeling is stuck, but beneath that, I'm feeling hopeless about getting anywhere on this damn story, pissed that it's not working out as I'd hoped, eventually the feeling turns to worthlessness and fear, all about personal I-suck-as-an-artist type issues. But the trick is to take those feelings and thoughts which are burning a hole through my brain-pan and GIVE THEM TO MY MC. Whatever I'm feeling, they're feeling. And then I construct as immediate an excuse to feel that way as crosses my mind and put it in the story.

So, why am I feeling hopeless, angry, worthless, and scared in a Zombie Apocalypse? Wull, 'cause it's a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE of course! So, those feelings pretty much apply...ALWAYS in a Zombie Apocalypse, don't they? The trick is to focus in on those feelings that you're having right now in the context your writing life, and express them in the context of zombies and the end of the world.

This is the mysterious truth behind my little trick: whatever you're feeling, right now, this minute, as you stand poised on the threshold of the next moment of your story's life, is the feeling you need to write about! And since you're feeling it RIGHT NOW it should come easily. So, say you reply, "But Kevin, I don't feel ANYTHING!" then I say, "Ah, so your MC feels numb, overwhelmed, emotionally void--what's making her feel that way, do you suppose?" See what I mean?

When we get stuck as artists, we start feeling all sorts of fascinating feelings--the only trouble is: they're painful and we'd rather not dwell on them too much, but...TOO BAD! You're an artist and your emotional life is the most important tool of your craft! We start having so many emotions when we're blocked creatively, it's easy to get flooded. But so it is at the most important moments of our lives, right? And a novel usually concerns itself with the most important moments from a life. So, really, you got it made, 'cause you're writing about a Zombie Apocalypse and you're utterly miserable! What could be more appropriate??? You just won the game before it's even begun! Congratulations!

Does that help at all?

-Kevin
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 7:42 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


don't start at the beginning. write the scene you most have in your head, are most comfortable with.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 2:50 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


Alternatively, start at the beginning. If you're stuck, it may be because you don't know where the story ought to begin. Worse, you may have the wrong start point and your subconscious realizes it. Back away, find the start, and the rest will flow.

Just remember one thing - a fair amount of the time the first scene won't wind up as the first scene, and it's the one that will be rewritten the most. Don't sweat it, just get it down. and start writing. Better to write the wrong thing (which you can correct) than write nothing.
LisaMarie
Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 9:03 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216


Are you stuck because you don’t know how to open your book? Or do you know how to open your book and don’t know how to write it? These are two different things.

I’ve been freelancing for more than twenty years. Crafting a “lede” never gets any easier. Never. I’m sure there are a few people out there for whom crafting an opening hook is second nature. For me, the introduction is something that I really have to sleep on and mull over for a long time before I put it down on paper.

I like Alexander’s advice – start where you feel comfortable. What I find extremely helpful is to draft a very detailed outline. I started with a 50-page outline, in fact, so I could take a look at my plot and see where it worked and where it didn’t.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 10:56 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


50 page outline? My first draft outlines are generally 3 -4 paragraphs of main highlights, and one 500ish word scene that started the idea of the book in my head. lol.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 8:04 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


@Lisa - yeah, you've really intimidated me there. 50 pages? Whoa.

Alex has me with his '3-4 paragraphs of highlights'. Generally I've got a word doc with half a dozen bullet points of research materials, like the sources of names, or song lyrics, or some weird factual details I'll forget.
LisaMarie
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 8:45 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216


@ Robert and Alexander

Not only that; I did market research before I wrote the book, because I'm writing to a very specific demographic that makes up more than 20 percent of the female population in the U.S. and has certain characteristics attached (urban, well-educated, white collar -- basically, a lot of consumer juice).

Am I scaring you yet?
Robert C Roman
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 4:48 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


*blink blink*

Again, I emit a Keanu-esque 'Whoa'.

Here I've just gotten a new idea for a YA novel based on some odd thoughts I had while waking up, and figured I'd slot it into the queue after the... um... five that are there now.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 7:20 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


Lisa, you have a bigger writer epeen than robert and I combined.
Personally, I dislike the idea of market research. I don't aim my stories, I let them fall as they may. I find the idea of changing the story to better attract readers, well, I dunno, not my thing. But I recognize how much WORK doing so is, and salute you!
LisaMarie
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 8:10 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216


@Alexander

I actually got my marketing idea from reading forums for couples and singles who are childless by choice (nonparents). What I noticed in the “books” forum was that while a lot of the women want to read romance novels, they eschew them because the HEA involved the protagonist getting pregnant – or intending to. They have the same issue when it comes to other forms of entertainment. When it comes to books, television and film, they don’t want the whole “nonparent” issue to be a … well, an “issue.” They don’t want a preachy book, either; they just want romance novels in which characters made different choices that reflect their lifestyle.

So I researched the demographic further and discovered that this makes up more than 20 percent of American women – in the U.K., European countries and Japan, it’s even higher. Then I started a survey of sorts to get a feel for what kind of characters and plots this group related to. The responses conformed to what researchers already know about this demographic: urban, well-educated (four year degree +), white collar professional, and financially comfortable. All of these things factored in when I created my characters and storyline.

This is a niche market, but it’s large enough to target successfully, given the right strategy. Five, ten years ago a book like mine would have been something publishers would take a chance on; however, it wouldn’t be today.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 9:35 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


Hunh, romance for the child free. Most of the romance I've read ends before the getting knocked up part of the story, or just mentions it in epilogue. I could see the whole, he's good with kids, thats such a turn on, trope not being used anymore. But other than that, I wouldn't think you'd have to do THAT much to the story. Then again, I didn't do the research!
LisaMarie
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 10:04 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216


@Alexander

“Hunh, romance for the child free. Most of the romance I've read ends before the getting knocked up part of the story, or just mentions it in epilogue.”

Yup, and that’s where the disconnect occurs for this demographic. Ergo, they turn to horror, suspense, thrillers, sci-fi, etc. instead. Being in this demographic, I can assure you that if the female protagonist gets knocked up, that’s when I put the book down. No offense – I realize that this plotline has mass appeal. It’s attractive to publishers, because this is what slightly less than 80 percent of women relate to. It makes sense to appeal to the biggest segment of the female population, even if it does mean alienating the outliers.

But that 20 percent is still there. I remember when, about ten years ago, a popular single title romance novelist wrote a book about a couple who knew they didn’t want to become parents. It was a huge hit; many female reviewers commented, “It’s about time!” I loved the book and basically used it as my template.

The trick is do execute this type of romance gracefully using a nonobvious “live and let live” tone. I’m turned off of the term “childfree” and the socio-political issue it has been made into by certain more rabid contingents. I love my parent friends. I love my nonparent friends. Gay, straight, you name ‘em -- I love everybody. ☺

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 7:49 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


my point is that usually happens in the last like, 20 pages of the book. Its usually not an overarching theme, to my experience, just a thought peppered in here and there, yes no?
LisaMarie
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 8:00 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216


@Alexander

I can't enumerate the number of posts I read about how well a certain book/t.v. show/film could have been appealing, except for the HEA. It doesn't take too many of these books to make an entire demographic eschew the genre entirely. I always read the end of a romance novel first to make sure I don't get that particular HEA. If I get the "knocked up" ending, I simply don't buy it. Many people don't have time to do this, though. And if books are purchased on Amazon, it might not be possible to vet for this.
Mahesh Raj Mohan
Posted: Friday, April 8, 2011 6:59 PM
Joined: 2/28/2011
Posts: 60


@Lisa, I am impressed by the research you've done for your market. It's like you found the place where your non-fiction writing and fiction writing worlds intersect. I don't see too many writers taking that kind of initiative (including a survey!) I guess the upside to the fragmentation of the reading audience is that you can discover the right audience for your book if you're willing to do the legwork and research. Rock on, dudette!
Stacy Jones
Posted: Sunday, May 1, 2011 3:42 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 6


@Lisa, I also admire what you're doing and appreciate you taking the initiative to create something that inspires you and feeds your soul. I think that when you're ready to put your work out there, you'll be surprised at how successful you can be with a piece like that.

As far as being stuck...

When I get stuck, I get up from my computer.

I walk the heck away.

5 minutes, count them. 5 minutes. Not 4, not 6, 5.

During that 5 minutes I will get some chore done that has to be done that particular day weather that's making a phone call to update my account information, or play fetch with my dog. Whatever. It's not important what you do, it's just important that you do something else.

When your five minutes have passed, sit down and write. Do not think about why you were stuck. Just start writing stream of consciousness... whatever comes out is fine, eventually whatever was holding you back will show up. You'll recognize it for what it is and you will be able to move on.

Works for me every time. The key is not focusing on what has you stuck for a few minutes. It's about doing another project and getting involved in that so that you stop thinking about being stuck before you take another swing at it.

Hope this helps.
Mimi Speike
Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 2:18 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014


On the BC Blog today, Hillary Jacques gives the best advice I can recall for starting your story: She says, "I've heard the advice that stories should start with action, and I sometimes disagree. Give the reader a reason to care."

.

Am I nuts, or does this woman look astonishingly like Hilary Mantel? Take a look and tell me if you agree.

 


 

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