The first sentence may be king, but write it last.
While study the craft of writing, I often heard the first sentence is king. The advice about the first sentence relayed that an intriguing first sentence captures the reader. Tutors and texts along a similar vein stated, depending on the length of the work, an author needed to hook the reader by the end of the first paragraph or page.
As a result, I agonized over the beginning of the story to the point of giving myself writer’s block. I wanted to get the perfect beginning before confirming where the story went.
Listening to Writing Excuses Season 10 changed my approach to the beginning. The hosts said write the first sentence last. The beginning of the story often changes as the plot changes. The simple statement sounded obvious after hearing it.
I struggle with other aspects of writing and nailing the beginning is still important. Since I understand that the beginning changes as the story changes, I no longer agonize over it until after completing a couple of passes of the story.
Two friends recommended 4th Street Fantasy as a good place to discuss writing and connect with other writers. They both described it as a weekend long conversation. I attended with hopeful expectations.
To stay in the hotel or not?
Living locally, I had the option of not staying at the hotel and saving money. The website suggested staying at the hotel because of the conversations that go late into the night. This fit with the theme of a weekend long conversation.
Shortly after checking in, I nipped to the Cub Foods across the street to stock up on fruit and coffee supplies. Much of the food I brought returned with me. Groups of people went out for every meal. Breakfast consisted of quick food from places like Bruegger’s Bagels. Attendees took lunch and dinner at local restaurants. Meal ambassadors ensured first timers like myself dined with a group of people. Anne Totusek kept the ConSuite well stocked with fruit, cheeses, crackers and other food.
Without prior Thursday night arrangements with other writers, I looked forward to the open gaming listed on the website. However, I couldn’t find the gaming. I was a bit disappointed, but I re-purposed the time to go the grocery store and revise.
Holly Black and Ben Dobyns described other types of media and opened dialogs about how to convert Swordspoint to a game, a graphic novel, television, film, and new media. Holly, Ben, and the participants had lively, interesting discussions. Holly’s animated speech extolling the virtues of love for furthering plots was the highlight of the seminar.
The room was excessively cold because twenty of us attended the seminar in a room meant to hold over one hundred people.
Every panel I attended had a nugget of information I didn’t know I needed until I heard it. The panels had a bonus of being highly entertaining. Panelists mentioned several relevant books for those wanting to delve deeper into the topics.
Lessons and Laughs
- “The best way to learn to write a novel is to write a novel.” – Elizabeth Bear
- Being a visual writer means I may have scaffolding to clean up and that my first drafts could lack detail.
- Don’t mess with knife girl or her collective.
- “The beginning teaches you what the book is about. The middle deceives you about that.” – Holly Black
- “Chekhov was just one guy.”
- Life-threatening situations don’t hold readers attention as much as personal struggles do.
Conversations and Extras
Every lunch and dinner continued the discussion from the previous panel and started new discussions. Saturday the attendees from Viable Paradise 19 adopted me for meals and conversation. They talked up Viable Paradise and strongly suggested I should apply when 22 opens. They also warned that not everyone gets accepted the first year they apply for it.
Annaka Kalton shared her mead Saturday night. I shared my mead Friday night.
Fish! ended up being stressful because I tried to do it in the middle of a work day. I rushed to get there, arrived late and left early.
Notes to Self for Next Year
- Bring a sweater.
- Arrange to share mead on the same night if more than one brewer is present.
- Bring sampler shot glasses for the mead sharing.
- Make sure to record all of the books from panels.
- Fully commit to Fish! or don’t go to it.
- Only bring food for Thursday night and Friday morning.
- Bring cash in case someone wants to split a tab.
- Don’t forget the extra coffee for the room.
I often hear the advice to read my stories aloud. Taking that advice two steps further, I record the story and listen to the recording, a technique I discovered accidentally when recording a speech to memorize it.
I turned to Google looking for tricks to help me with the daunting task of memorizing a speech twenty minutes in length. There I found a technique of recording the speech and breaking up the recording into chunks roughly a minute in length. The subsequent step was to commit the chunks to memory sequentially.
While recording the speech, I found myself stumbling in places where the sentence construction was not correct. I read the whole speech through once making corrections on the paper. The next recording included those corrections.
When listening to the speech to break it up, I noticed paragraphs that didn’t make sense. It struck me that I caught different types of errors in listening to the speech than I had when reading it for the recording.
After a nervous, but successful speech, I realized this technique contained potential to improve my writing as well.
Try recording and listening to your work to see how both acts illuminate different problems.
The first step is to select a recording method. I used two free pieces of software: Audacity for Windows and GarageBand for Macs. I also tried a USB flash drive recorder but found the poor sound quality distracting.
Steps in the process:
- Read the story aloud completely through making corrections to the draft
- Record the corrected version
- Listen to the recording
- Make corrections to the draft
- Repeat if desired
Edits: At 4th Street Fantasy 2017, a couple of other authors said they couldn’t listen to a recording they created because they didn’t like the sound of their voice.
An episode of Writing Excuses also talked about using text to speech for novels because reading a full length novel can be cumbersome.
If you don’t like the sound of your voice, or your work is too long, listening to text to speech conversions could fulfill the same purpose as listening to self-recorded stories.
Ideas for stories often come at inconvenient times. Writers risk losing precious ideas when they are in the middle of other tasks and don’t have the tools to record them.
Four ideas came to me one right after another on a long road trip. There weren’t any exits ramps. I couldn’t get off the interstate and record them.
In a moment of inspiration, I called my Google Voice number using my car’s hands-free dialing feature. I left myself a long voicemail on my Google Voice number. After the road trip, I reviewed a text to speech transcription and audio recording of the voicemail.
I still take notebooks when I am going to writing events and seminars, but I can relax in knowing that as long as I have cellular or Internet service, I can record ideas that come while preoccupied with other tasks.