The Road to Hell is Really Paved With Killer Opening Lines

I’ve been thinking about first lines. Yes, you want to hook the reader, or at least have them think that oh, maybe this story won’t be a complete waste of my precious time. Yet there’s a fine line there between hooking the reader and false advertising, which is the same thing as cheating. And we’ve already been over the subject of cheating the reader, and all you really have to remember is this–don’t. Not ever. So I approach the subject of “first lines” with a mixture of fascination and unease. I’m kind of with Damon Knight on the whole notion, which I paraphrase: “The problem with starting a story with a really killer first line is that writers often spend the entire balance of the piece trying to justify it.” With the implication being that they’re doing this “rather than telling the darn story.” I think there’s truth in that. Yes, you want a good opening hook, but that hook is usually set in the first paragraph, not the first line. Even an impatient reader will trust you that far, if no farther. What you want is a first line that will lead the reader to the the second line, which leads them to the third and, well, you get the idea. A first line is important, but you don’t necessarily need it to grab the reader by the scruff if you can lead them by the hand. It is, as we’ve talked about before, a matter of trust. The first line has to convince the reader to trust you enough to read farther. The first line has to carry the implication, the hint, that you know what you’re doing. You may not believe you do, and that’s fine, nay even realistic. You’re trying to convince the reader. Continue reading

Just What the (Bleep) Do I think I’m Doing?

The story opening I hated yesteraday maybe now looks like it still has some life. Or maybe I’m kidding myself now. Maybe I just didn’t want to face the effort I knew this story is going to require. Maybe…

This is not really a proper post, it’s more of a footnote. A bit of errata for whatever cumulative inertia this blog is responsible for, and it is a simple statement of fact to you to use or discard–I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

There. I said it. I have no clue about writing. Not one. I like to speculate and ponder and take this position or that, and it’s all good fun but none of it changes the basic fact that every story is different, every book is different. Every one of them is its own thing and not the thing you worked on last time. It can’t necessarily be conquered by the weapons you used last. Necessarily? I’d bet on it. Those tools may be comfortable to your hand now, their workings and purpose comfortably familiar. Of course you want to use them again, but they just don’t work. Why not? Because last time you needed a hammer but now you need a chisel. And a hammer, no matter how hard you pound, is not now and never will be a chisel. Just as simple and just as diabolically difficult as that.

People wonder why some writers drink so much, but I never do wonder that.

What’s astonishing to me is that we all don’t.

Barking at Nothing

I sent out a couple of stories yesterday. There used to be something eternally optimistic about sending a manuscript out. Now it’s that plus the culmination of far too much research and poking about. Good markets — like this is news — are scarce.

I’ve had this same conversation numerous times before with some of my gloomier colleagues. The few really good markets have their pick and, if they sometimes don’t choose wisely, that’s their own fault. It’s not that the material isn’t being handed to them by the shovelful. Unless your name is of such magnitude that it alone will sell magazines or pull pageviews (or at least the editors think so) you take your chances with the hundreds or so others who sent in stories that month. Then you manage to get through anyway, and your story is bought and published in a good venue. Many happies and much joy.

Then what? Continue reading

Patience, Grasshopper

Patience. Probably one of the most ignored and overlooked items in a writer’s toolbox. Not unrelated to the subject of stubbornness (see persistence), but a different commodity. New writers especially don’t have much use for it. On another board a new writer asked, “If I send in a story now, does it appear in the next issue? How soon do I get paid?” The sound you doubtless heard was a thousand shiny pins forming a queue to pop that lovely balloon. After the realities were explained, you could practically see the fallen crest. “Oh. I didn’t know it was so complicated.” Continue reading

Rejectomancy for Fun and Profit

 Ok, I lied. There’s no fun in it and certainly no profit, at least directly. What there is, perhaps, is the chance to avoid wasting time, and depending on the market, money.

I know I’ve touched on this before. Heck, everybody has put their oar in on the fine art of Rejectomancy. The consensus is “Complete waste of time, typical amateur mistake of trying to read things into a rejection that simply aren’t there.” Or as Mike Resnick likes to say: “The key word in ‘personal rejection’ is not ‘personal.'” He’ll have no argument from me here–a rejection means “no” and that’s all it means.

So. A rejection means “no.” We all agree on that, yes? However, what it means is not all that it says, and what it says is not always merely a variation on “no.” Sometimes it’s a “tell.” Continue reading