Friday, April 08, 2005

How I Got Here, Part 31

Happy Friday, BGs. Y’all are awesome! I so appreciated the comments from yesterday. Cheryl, thanks for posting for the first time. And I loved the feedback about my opening line. An edit from numerous “fresh eyes” always jazzes me.

As you’ll recall, the drafted first line was: Paige Manders harbored a restless kinship with the living dead.

BGs who wondered, of course you don’t know what “living dead” means. Zombies? Tired moms? The Sixth Sense? That’s the whole point. It’s simply to shake you up, throw questions into your head, get you to read further . . .

Randy, good catch about the word “restless.” Besides not needing it, the word did an overkill on the sentence rhythm. I have now deleted it. And I have to agree with you and Becky about not using the character’s name in the first line. I’ve only done that one other time. I think it’s more mysterious to start with a pronoun. Interesting thing here, however. I purposely used the name for two reasons. One, it makes the rhythm of the sentence work. The “beat” of the subject balances the “beat” of the final two words—“living dead.” If I just use “She” as a subject, that screws up the rhythm.

Second reason is foreshadow.

That said, once I wrote more pages today (yes, I did write!), I saw a better way to do the foreshadowing. So for now the sentence reads: She harbored a kinship with the living dead.

Still don’t like this rhythm, however. The sentence may well change. But for now I’m pressing on. I wrote 6 1/2 pages yesterday. And it took all day. Sheesh, the writing never comes easily at the beginning of a manuscript. So now I’m only 11 pages behind. Proud of me?

BTW, perhaps I owe a slight explanation here. I’m not usually so totally in the dark about a series that’s already contracted, and that I have to start writing—now. See, it’s like this. In January, when I had ye ol’ big marketing meeting with my publishing house, and we all decided I needed to focus on writing suspense only, I was working on the final book in my Hidden Faces series. Which meant I would soon be starting on my new contemporary (women’s fiction) series. I knew the general outlay of that series, and had the first book basically planned. Sort of. But then the whole thing got pulled. “Replace it with a suspense series,” Zondervan said. “Just let us know what it will be when you figure it out.”

Have I told you all this before?

Anyway, when is the operative word. Meanwhile I had to start writing this week. At some point (better be soon), I’ll email my editor and tell her what the series is about.

Sort of.

Oop, ding-aling goes the bell. Time to get back to NES (that’s Never-Ending Saga, for you newbies.)

So—we left off with new hope a’bubblin’ in my shriveled author’s heart. Two houses in the general market had my nonfiction, Getting Into Character. And one house in the Christian market had Eyes of Elisha.

We waited. (You know, I’ve written those two words so many times, I should just start using WW.)

First call finally came to my agent—from one of the general market houses. Regarding Getting Into Character? Nix. Nyet. No.

Hey, well. I didn’t really expect a yes. In fact, my other books were taking so long to sell, I figured this proposal might get off the ground in about, oh, five years. What really counted for me was selling Eyes of Elisha. When were we going to hear from Editor E?

E finally contacted Jane. She called me. I held my breath.

E liked Eyes of Elisha very much.

Ahhh!! Yayyyy!!!

E was taking it to pub board.

Oh. Right.

“Hang in there,” Jane told me. “This house is a good fit. Really. I know these things are totally unpredictable, but this would be a great place for you to be. Very strong house."

Yeah, yeah, keep that hope bubbling.


How many rejections in a row had I gotten at this point? Most of ’em at the last minute. I’m tired, God. Sure, I keep praying and all that, but I don’t know that I can take much more of this.

Days passed. Weeks. An eternity. Dratted pub boards.

Editor E finally contacted Jane. She called me. “It’s a yes! They’re making an offer on Eyes of Elisha.”

Oh. Wow. Oh, oh, oh! I cried, I Snoopy danced, I forgot to b r e a t h e . . . The sting of past rejections fell away. This was it! God had finally opened the right door for this first novel I ever wrote—after ten years! God, thank You, thank You, thank You. I called my husband at work, my mom, my sisters, the world.

Somewhere amidst all the elation, a little voice whispered. “Remember Editor C? The house that changed its mind—after pub board?”

Oh, no, huh-uh. Not this time. It simply would not happen again. I mean, really, who got struck by lightning twice?

All the same, I began to pray now that Jane wouldn’t call. That unique tone of my business line—didn’t want to hear it. Nope, nope, nope. If it sounded, I would cover my hears, hum real loud. Deny, deny.

Every day that passed in silence was a victory. Editor E’s house was working on the contract—what advance they would offer, what the royalties would be. It’s okay, Brandilyn, chill out. Everything will come together.

Another day. A few more. A week. Two weeks. This is a good thing, right? Still no call. Just waiting for ye ol’ fax machine to heat up, spit out those contract pages . . .

More days passed.

Then one afternoon—the phone rang.

My business line.

Don't stress, it’s just some writing pal calling to chat . . . But by the time I picked up the receiver, my heart rattled in my throat.

“Hi, Brandilyn.”

Jane’s voice.

Oh, no, oh, no. God, I’m telling You, I will not make it this time.

“Well.” She sounded matter-of-fact, as always. “I just heard from Editor E. About that contract we've been waiting for.”

Read Part 32


Anonymous said...

You stop here! On a weekend! Aughhhhhhh! Please post GOOD news on Monday - please!

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Ya had to do it to us, didn't you! Just part of your nature as a suspense writer. Hahah. Make us wait, even as you had to all those years. Ah--waiting. So this is how you learned so much about suspense!

Great stuff, Brandilyn. And yes, I'm proud of you for your six and a half pages. I imagine myself having to admit to the watching world what I write every day. YIKES!

As to your first line. More food for thought. With due respect to Randy, I think restless was fine. Whoever the "living dead" are, this kinship that she harbors can be either something she's comfortable with or not comfortable with. The restless lets the reader know she is not so comfortable. Truly, I liked every word in the sentence except her last name, but now I can see the advantage of using the pronoun to replace the entire name.

Enjoy your weekend.

Rich said...

I saw it coming. The build-up, just a little more, more, a little higher... BAM!! Hooked us again! Drat.
At least with a book I can drop all of my other important duties and keep reading!

Lynette Sowell said...

It figures. It's Friday. You're behind on your pages. So leave us sweating and wondering 'til Monday.

On your current WIP, you already have the basic idea sketched out? Or do you really not have a direction yet? Gulp.

Unknown said...

My seatbelt wasn't fastened. Darn that's gonna leave a mark. I'm glad to hear you're working so hard on the opening line. I feel much better now.

Katie Hart - Pinterest Manager said...

I prefered the original opening line, and like Becky, would keep the "restless" in. With the full name/pronoun thing, usually readers know the main character's name from the back cover. Restating it lets the readers know it's her, or if you don't start with the main character (like Brink of Death), that it isn't. But you might prefer a little ambiguity.

C.J. Darlington said...

I agree with Katie on the name thing. It helps to know right up front who's POV we're in.

Looking forward all the more to reading Dead of Night (and Web of Lies when it comes out).

Anonymous said...

Brandilyn, you are giving us a taste of suspense in "real time." More accurately, I guess we're getting about a one-to-one-hundred scale version of your ten-year wait.

Your story makes me think of the serials popular circa 1900 (I'm guessing at the circa date here, so would that be circa circa?). Readers had to wait between story segments.

But you see, we're a fast-food nation now. We want instant gratification. Waah! Tell us how it ends!

Seriously, thanks again for telling this tale. And for making us wait. (All right, who out there prayed to be taught patience?) Our storyteller here is an answer to prayer.


Anonymous said...

I'm Sally and I've just become a bloggee tonight. I was reading along, quite proud of myself for having come to the tale late. Becky's been telling me for weeks how great it is but I've procrastinated. And finally that procrastination pays off. I get to jump through all these terrific cliffhangers and go right on with the story.

Until I reached segment 31. Yikes! You are too cruel.

Now that I'm here I might as well muddy the first line conversation a little more. I think that "restless" was good and I think the first and last name of the character was good. I liked the original opening line, I mean. My only negative thought was that Paige Manders puts me in mind of someone meandering through pages. I like the name Paige but not so much the last name of Manders. It distracted me enough to take away from the shock of the living dead.

Anonymous said...

To my fellow bloggees (bloggies?) who are restless about the word "restless." I think it's a fine word, to be sure. But it's a telling word, not a showing word. Don't tell the reader a kinship is "restless"; show the reader a kinship that IS restless.

Sigh. Now that I've re-entered the fray (forgive me, Brandilyn!), I might as well plunge on. Fact is, the entire opening sentence, in either form, is telling and not showing. It's abstract. It makes for a great premise, which should hover in the background throughout the story. But it offers nothing specifically visual for the reader to "see." There's no scene or scenery. Something simple as "Paige Manders stepped from the parking lot to the turf of the cemetery and stopped" puts the character--and reader--immediately into a scene.

No, not every novel begins with scenery in the first sentence. Just more food for thought.

Meanwhile, I eagerly await Monday's installation of Brandilyn's journey-to-be-published saga.


Tina Helmuth said...

You may regret asking anyone's opinion about your opening line. I liked it the way you originally had it. Every single word of it. Although I have to agree about the first and last name being an unfortunate match.

The original line was a hook. I respect your opinion, Randy, and what you said makes perfect sense. However, in this case I don't think it needs to show scenery because it tells more about the story than a flash of scenery would. The bottom line is, it's unique and it made me want to read more.

I'm anxiously waiting for Monday's post.

Anonymous said...

Tina, you're exactly right. It "tells more about the story," whereas "a flash of scenery" with the character in it would SHOW the story.

It is a great hook. A lot of literary novels begin with a telling statement or "voiceover," as it were. Most suspense that I've seen jump right into the story, however. And the story doesn't begin until the reader sees something happening, scene by scene.

This is very stimulating, btw. Look what happens when we have time to fill over the weekend! =)

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

If we didn't know before, I think we all do now--why writing novels by committee never caught on. Hahah.

Randy, I, too, am going to differ with you on the "telling" issue. Stems from a critique I got from a published author (who just cracked the CBA top 10, I believe). She wrote something to the effect that I showed action and dialogue but told thoughts and feelings.

So how do you "show thoughts and feelings"? Internal monologue is one way. One writing book said that internal monologue has replaced the exposition of yesteryear.

One of the reasons I liked Brandilyn's first line was because it helped me connect with the protag. Not because of what she did but because of what she felt (a restless kinship to something she horrifyingly thinks of as the living dead). Maybe it's a woman thing--don't know.

Here's another interesting thing. At Mt. Hermon another author showed her take on writing. She drew a horizontal line. Anything above represents external conflict and below, internal conflict. "Commercial" fiction spends most of the time above the line; literary fiction, below the line. Her goal--and mine--is to have a balance, paced to provide different kinds of tension, one countering the other but increasing the stakes of both. It's something I think Brandilyn did masterfully in Dead of Night.

All this to say, the kind of "telling" that shows what a person thinks or feels is important to me as a reader, has become important to me as a writer. Up with more such "telling."

And, yes, Randy, this is what comes of us having to wait on WHN (WHAT HAPPENS NEXT! ; )


C.J. Darlington said...

Critiquing kinda reminds me of the three blind men trying to describe an elephant.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man. This is too much fun. We're quabbling in the peanut gallery during intermission.

C.J., come on. We're all looking at the total elephant here, the opening sentence. We're not describing different parts of it (subject, verb, direct object, preposition, indirect object). We're simply assessing whether this elephant is the best suited one for the circus (i.e. the suspense novel). Liking it or not liking it isn't very helpful. We must critique it according to how it performs. What does it do? What doesn't it do? Will it fidget outside the big tent while the master of ceremonies announces to the crowd, "The elephant's restless, ladies and gentlemen." Or will the elephant itself charge inside, skid to a stop in the center ring, back up, sway from side to side, and rise up on its hind legs?

I love word pictures, btw.

But did I have to tell you "I love word pictures" to show you how I feel? I bet you could have surmised that for yourself.

Becky, your example doesn't differ with my explanation of "telling." Internal monologue is an excellent way to "show" thoughts and feelings, as is dialogue, when used well. Internal monologue is the character speaking to herself, not the narrator speaking to the reader. For instance: "How could Fred still be sending her e-mails? Hadn't he died two weeks ago?"

That's a form of internal monologue. Third person, but still inside the character's--not the narrator's--head. The reader "hears" the character's thoughts. She most likely would not be thinking, "I harbor a kinship with the living dead." That doesn't work.

Becky, you said: "All this to say, the kind of "telling" that shows what a person thinks or feels is important to me as a reader, has become important to me as a writer. Up with more such "telling.""

That first sentence is an oxymoron. In the context of creative writing, "telling" doesn't "show" what a person thinks or feels. That's the whole point.

Telling is the narrator telling the reader what a character thinks or feels.

Showing is the character revealing her thoughts and feelings (to the reader) through her actions and words (including internal monologue).

Final example:
"The boy was so angry because he was sure his brother Doug had taken his football." (Telling)

"The boy stomped into the room, threw down his books, and shouted, 'Doug! Where's my football? I'm telling Mom!' But, where was Doug?" (Showing)

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

A lover of word pictures? Randy, you're a man after my heart.

Also, you present your case well (any lawyering in your background? ; )

You're right--Brandilyn's line isn't internal monologue. It is the type of exposition that I grew up reading--an omniscient peek into the protag's life.

But I don't know as that has to disqualify it. Look how many of us that line hooked. (And now ALL of us will race out to buy the book when it comes out, just to see what she did with the first line. Hahah. Unless, of course, we've made her paranoid about writing it because of this discussion. Hahah)

I think we have to be careful about "following the rules." New writers need to have the "show, don't tell" concept pounded in. But there comes a point of going with what works. Sometimes "telling" works--maybe better than writing a scene. Nancy Kress, columnist for Writer's Digest just had an article about this in the May addition of the mag.

One more point. I think sometimes writers try too hard to craft the perfect first sentence because so much emphasis has been put on it. I recently read an offering of first lines, many of which were unimpressive, not because they didn't show but because they went for some dramatic showing and came across as overdone.

A tidbit I learned at a conference last year (which I repeat as often as I can find an audience--it was that powerful an ah-ha moment for me). The opening of a novel should be the bridge between the story and the backstory.

Don't think it matters what kind of bridge. Rope bridge with wooden slats? That's fine, as long as we can get across.

(Had to end on a word picture! ; D


Anonymous said...

The circle of subjectivity. If we like it and it works (i.e. it hooks the reader), then who cares about the rest? Guess what. I agree. Totally. But oh, my--has this discussion ever been enlivening! (For me, anyway. Other people who have lives have been out living them this weekend, not lingering around blog sites.)

In my original critique post, I stated my preferences for the opening sentence. Delete "restless" and use "She" rather than the character's name. That's it, for reasons stated earlier. I didn't "disqualify" the sentence at all. I said it's intriguing, which it certainly is.

Now, Brandilyn, how about that second sentence? =) (And thank you, Becky, for the rope bridge word picture. Rickety and fun!)