Thursday, August 8, 2013

Start Your Novel, by Darcy Pattison

Start Your Novel is the newest writing book by author, teacher, mentor, and speaker Darcy Pattison. If we've been writing for very long, or querying or submitting our work, we've learned the importance of a novel's beginning. When we send sample material, what does the agent or editor want to see? The beginning. Apply for an SCBWI grant and what must you send? The beginning. Include  pages for critique along with a conference or workshop registration, and what do they want? The beginning. Enter a contest, and what do they ask for? The very beginning! And what does a potential book buyer skim before deciding whether or not to plunk their money down? Yup...the beginning. It's no wonder that the beginning of your book can make or break your chances of getting the kind of attention that can lead to agent rep or a book contract. An entire book that guides you through planning, writing, and revising your beginning is a big help indeed.

Darcy Pattison divides her subject matter into six steps:
  • Clarify your idea
  • Review your skills
  • Plan the opening chapter
  • Plan the opening line
  • Now, write!
  • Revise
Even if you've already sat down and written your first chapter by the seat of your pants, Pattison's steps can help you revise it, and revise it again, until it's just right.

I think the material on backstory and flashbacks is especially valuable. My favorite quote from the book is this: "You put the backstory at the point where it impacts the emotional weight of the story." That is right on! The author presents practical techniques for writing flashbacks, but just as important is the discussion of the wheres and whys of flashbacks. She says, "Why include this flashback? It must up the stakes, provide motivation, increase the emotional tension; it must relate to the current novel in a vital way. If it doesn't do this, if it's just there to give us a history lesson, cut it."

I also appreciate that the author says a word about trying too hard to grab readers with your opening. Frankly, first lines that try too hard to be weird or bizarre or over the top jerk me out of the story before I'm even in it. She covers so much more, too, such as providing context in your opening (where are we? How are we, emotionally?), types of openings such as "the moment before" and the prophetic opening, using a mentor text, classic patterns for opening sentences, and assignments that can help you get unstuck. Whether you already have a draft of your novel's beginning or not, for guidance as you zero in on honing that beginning, try this helpful book.

19 comments:

Faith E. Hough said...

Sounds helpful and inspiring! I have a love/hate relationship with beginnings--I hate how hard they are to get perfect, but as soon as I get an idea for how to make them better, they're one of my favorite things to write...even if I have to write a dozen or so. :)

Medeia Sharif said...

Beginnings are so important when one is getting a foot in the door. This sounds like a wonderful resource.

Anne M Leone said...

I'm terrible at beginnings. I feel like I've read all the stuff on them, too, but this feels really wise and thoughtful. Definitely looking into it. Thanks for the review!

Vijaya said...

I love beginnings, all the possibilities, but hate how long it takes to get them right. Thanks for this review. Will have to check this out ... Have you read Hooked by Les Edgerton (sp?)? Care to compare?

Leandra Wallace said...

Great thoughts on when to use flashback. I'll definitely have to remember that advice!

Dawn Malone said...

Thanks for pointing this out, Marcia. I'm definitely getting this book. I, too, love beginnings but they're so hard to write. Any advice for easing the pain is welcome, especially if it comes from Ms. Pattison!

Barbara Watson said...

Sounds like a good resource!

And it's interesting...of published works, sometimes I love their beginnings, but sometimes I really do not...

Marcia said...

Faith -- I think that's a really accurate way to look at it. Beginnings are both wonderful and really frustrating.

Medeia -- They sure are. A book that focuses on them is a big help.

Anne -- It's a good thing we can just keep rewriting them.

Vijaya -- *Reaches back in memory.* Yes, I think I did. I like Edgerton's stuff. I'd have tor reread to compare. :D

Leandra -- That WAS a wonderful point.

Dawn -- I think it helps to know that you can do it all again once you reach the end.

Barbara -- I know, there are plenty of beginnings that don't snag me, actually.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks for telling us about the book. I've read a number of great resources about beginning the story. That doesn't mean I don't still struggle with it. :P

Janet said...

Sounds like great advice, Marcia. Thanks for telling us about it.

Kelly Hashway said...

Sounds interesting. Beginnings can be tough sometimes.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

I always rewrite beginnings by the time I get to the end. :0) - sounds like a great resource book.

Bish Denham said...

My beginnings rarely stay the same. In fact I've cut the first chapter or two on more than one occasion to get to the beginning! I'm sure this book would be a big help to eliminate that step.

Marcia said...

Stina -- It helps to look at a troublesome aspect from several different approaches, doesn't I?

Janet -- You're welcome!

Kelly -- And to me, the trouble in beginnings is often more hidden. It's easier to figure out what's wrong with chapter 11.

Jaye -- Richard Peck says you don't know the beginning until you know the ending, because the first chapter is the last chapter in disguise.

Bish -- Yup, sometimes the real beginning is chapter 3! In fact, that's kinda what I just found out.

Emily R. King said...

Great steps to remember. Thanks!

Rena Jones said...

Sounds like a great book, and probably one I should look into myself. I'm struggling getting into the beginning of a middle grade book right now. By that, I mean reading it, not writing it. :) Beginnings are so important!

Marcia said...

Emily -- It's nice to hear a summation of what chapter 1 should accomplish.

Rena -- They are indeed! Unfortunately, I quit reading quite a few books whose beginning I can't get past.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

This sounds like a must read. Thanks for spotlighting it, Marcia.

Marcia said...

Ruth -- Thanks for stopping by. :)