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Blogging By the Sea
Saturday, May 27 2017

May’s Round Robin topic is: Has so much emphasis been placed by readers and writers groups, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/chapter that the rest of the story gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?

We live in a world of sound bytes. We are bombarded daily with 60 second attention grabs, 30 second blurbs, even 15 second demands for our attention. Even good grammar has been abandoned in the name of quick, easy and attention getting when it comes to texting and other forms of communication. At the same time, our lives become more hectic and demanding. Remember the days when finding a hand written letter in the mailbox filled you with a wonderful feeling of anticipation? Almost no one writes letters by hand any more, or even types them. And far too few even bother to write notes to say thank you and let someone know how much their thought or gift or time mattered to us. We’ve grown to rely on email and texting or facebook and other social media for all our interaction with others not done face to face, and the geniuses who create our gadgets find ever more ways to make sure we are never OUT of touch. Even good old fashioned pick up the phone and call a friend to chat has given way to a text full of abbreviations and text jargon.

This need to grab instant attention has moved into our writing as well. With thousands of books being produced every day, every one of them is clamoring for your attention and you have only so much time to read blurbs and make a choice. So is it any wonder that so much emphasis is placed on getting into the action IMMEDIATELY? The "HOOK?" We want our readers’ hearts pounding and their fingers twitching to turn the page before they’ve even finished the first paragraph, or better yet, the first sentence.

I’ve been to the workshops. I’ve heard all the persuasive arguments. My first book to be published begins with: “He gaped at the tattered photograph that had just been slipped into his hand. His heart raced, and Senator Matt Steele, Democratic candidate for president, halted so abruptly his Secret Service agent bumped into him.” I was following the prescription, doing my best to grab the reader’s attention and throw them into the fray from the very first words. But no one has any idea where Matt Steele is, who he is, what he believes in, what he stands for. All we know here is that someone gave him a photograph that has caused some kind of alarm. I’m hoping, of course, that whoever picked that book up and opened it to the first page is going to be so instantly drawn into the story that they will buy my book.

But now think back to some of the best books you ever read that were published say 50 years ago or more. The ones that have stayed strong in your memory and probably still reside on your bookshelf. Did they begin with a bang, throwing you, the reader, and the protagonist into harm’s way in the first paragraph? Not so much.

One of my all time favorite novels, High Tide at Noon was first published before I was even born. The copy on my shelf has frail pages that I turn reverently and every time I am drawn back into that world. It begins like this:

   “The Island lay very still under the clear golden light of a mid-summer noon. The whole world was bathed in a windless silence, steeped in warmth. Yet the air, alive with a peculiar clarity, had a sparkling edge. 

  Here in the great bay the sea held a blue that shook the heart, but the sky laid hold on you in a different way. The islands rose from one blueness and touched another, and in the glowing light they shone white and creamy and tawny and red, crested darkly with spruce. On the farthest northern horizon the mountains billowed along the sky in richly tender curves, grape-blue with distance. It was a day to drink like wine, and feel its intoxication seep through your heart and soul.

   The dragger was incongruously dingy and loud in all this brilliant silence. Bound for fertile grounds far to the east, if had swerved from its course to enter the harbor. It was such a quiet harbor that when the engine stopped, and the boat slid noiselessly toward the wharf, the silence beat against the woman’s eardrums. Or was it her heart that hammered so?”

  (Copyright: Elizabeth Ogilvie 1944)

I wonder if that book would make it past the acquiring editor’s desk today. But think of the picture it paints. The reader can close their eyes and “feel” like they are there in this place and time. If they have been there, they recognize it instantly. If it’s a place they’ve never been they can begin to imagine it before the action starts. Before the protagonist wonders if the pulsing feeling is all around her or inside her.

The same might be said of the opening to Gone With the Wind – where we are treated to an entire chapter being introduced to Scarlett sitting on a porch with two handsome rascals and getting a feel for their world, the era and the ambiance before we discover at the beginning of chapter two that Scarlett is devastated by the news that Ashley is marrying someone else. Even when that book first came out in 1936 our world was far removed from the world of Scarlett O’Hara, but in that first chapter we are introduced to her world, her life and her experience, the ambiance of Tara and the old south and even the hint of war on the horizon. Would we want it any other way?

A lot of the books I enjoy are action adventure and involve men and women who are skilled in worlds I will never begin to know. The more I read, the more I become familiar with the tactics, the weapons, the ways of communicating, electronically, in dialog and by hand signals, the terrain of far away places, and the grueling training they are subjected to before they end up on these types of teams. But that feel for their world is gained not just through the book I’m currently reading, but all those I read before it. I wonder if I would have come to an appreciation for the lives and dedication of these men and women sooner had the first book I read begun more like Gone With the Wind with an introduction to their world of dedication and hard charging daring do? Maybe not, I am living in a world of sound bytes like everyone else, but who knows.

So, is there a happy medium between throwing the reader’s heart into overdrive in the first paragraph and taking an entire chapter to introduce them to a world they’ve never been in before? My current editor thinks there is. When I submitted my book Iain’s Plaid (Due out on June 2nd) to her she asked me to consider writing a prologue. I’d been so intent on that heart-pounding start, putting my heroine into harm’s way on that first page that I’d left the introduction to her world to be filtered in later on, bit by bit. Since I am traditionally published, I wrote that prologue for my editor and she was pleased. And now that it’s part of the book, I like it, too. I like that my reader knows what makes my heroine tick before I throw her under the bus, so to speak. My reader knows right from the beginning why she’s come to this unusual place where the tale begins and what she hopes to find.

I don’t really have an answer to this question. But I will offer this: If a tale is well written, and the characters compelling, the story will captivate the reader however it begins. So, my advice to readers is to spend less time worrying about a hook in the first sentence and more time crafting a story that will stay in your readers heart and imagination long after they’ve put it down, because if they were captivated, they will tell others and that first sentence won’t be so all consumingly important.

But I'm just one author - check out what all these great authors have to say...

A.J. Maguire  
Dr. Bob Rich 
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Helena Fairfax 
Marci Baun  
Victoria Chatham 
Rachael Kosinski 
Rhobin Courtright 

Connie Vines

Beverly Bateman  

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 12:01 am   |  Permalink   |  7 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, May 09 2017

One of the things I most looked forward to when I retired was the freedom to write whenever I wanted to, or all day when the muse was with me. At one point in my working career, I’d been laid off during one of those slumps where so many lost their jobs, and I spend months haunting job fairs and unemployment offices. I made sure I had the requisite number of interviews to keep the unemployment checks coming, and send out many résumés each week, but mostly I wrote. It was the first chance I’d had to just dig in and write with no competing demands for my time. My husband had passed away and my youngest child was in college. Only my dog wanted my attention now and then. I completely immersed myself in my characters’ journeys. I lived, ate and breathed their lives and loves. From the moment I got out of bed in the morning until I got back in at night. Eventually I did land a job and it was back to the 9-5 rat race, dancing to someone else’s piper every day. Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful boss and an interesting job. But my day didn’t seem to give me much in the way of writing time.

I’d get up early, eat breakfast, go for a walk, shower, dress and leave for work – my commute was about an hour long. Work 8 hours, sometimes a bit longer, grab a bite to eat in the middle and return home, another hour at the end of the day. My pooch, naturally wanted another walk and some playtime. He’d been alone all day while I was away. Even if I never turned the television on, it would be 8:00pm before I got to sit down at my computer. Then it would take another half hour to check email and respond. Then I’d open my manuscript and stare at the place I’d left off the night before. And stare. And stare. My mind a blank. So, I’d go back and read the last chapter written to get myself back into the story. Just when things started rolling, it would be time for bed. I had an alarm clock I’d be getting up to in just a few hours. I know lots of authors who do this every day, but it wasn’t working for me. I did get a couple novels written during this time, but it wasn’t the same lovely, all-consuming focus I’d had while I was laid off. Had I sold a best seller during that ten-month hiatus, I’d have had it made. Or so I told myself. That, of course, is a pipe dream. Rarely do writers hit it big enough on their first try to quit their day job. So, now my focus was on my retirement. I was getting close to that magic number. I just needed to hang on.

And then the day came.

But something else happened while I was waiting for the magic life of freedom to return. Social media, instant access to endless forms of tech stuff from games to research, photos of cute animals, political forums and pleas to support good causes, email, text messaging, smart phones (to keep you attached to this time consuming umbilical cord even when you are away from your desk) and so much more. Now I wake every morning with this song in my head that I have ALL DAY to write. I go about the needed tasks: walking the dog, starting a load of laundry, picking up a few things at the grocery store, mopping the floor, etc., with this urgent anticipation in my heart. TODAY I am going to write sooooo much. It’s going to be a great day. From time to time I glance at the clock so conveniently provided in the corner of my computer screen and I am always shocked by how late it is. My goodness! It’s almost lunchtime. Where did my morning go? Well, I might as well have lunch and walk the dog. Then I can sit down with my book and really get into it.

The other thing that has finally become clear to me is that those months of my hiatus from work when I lived in my current novel in progress (I wrote four 100,000 word books in ten months, albeit, rough drafts needing much editing) those months were a thing of the past. I sometimes wonder if I actually cut myself off from the internet and went on a sabbatical to the top of some mountain with no people or even my dog around to distract me, would I be able to find my way back to that time? But, of course, I’m not going into seclusion. Among other things, I did become a published author which means I have to spend a certain amount of my time promoting the books I already have out there, which means spending time interacting with my readers in one way or another.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my best writing time, regardless of when I get up, or what the day includes, is from 4:00 to 8:00 pm. I’ve also gone back to wake my computer up at midnight or even later and write for another hour or two. I have always been a night owl and not a morning person so perhaps that makes sense. I’ve come to terms with it. I try not to be disappointed that so much of my promising day has gotten away from me before I finally get into my writing. I enjoy my characters and I thank them for sharing their lives with me whenever they find time. I enjoy my neighbors who wave when they pass by or stop to chat for a bit. I relish the time I spend on the beach with my dog and I love going out to lunch with fellow authors and comparing notes. So, maybe it’s not that wild and crazy ride I was on during the months I was laid off, but it’s a good life. I’ve got a new book coming out early next month and I’m in the revision stage for another with an urgent idea forming in my brain for two more. I’m blessed.

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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    Skye Taylor
    St Augustine, Florida

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