Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tip: Beginning a Novel

Yesterday I began another novel.

Don't panic.  Hold your horses.  Yes, I'm still rewriting The Book of Shaldu--no worry there.  I'm not giving up.  I have a stubbornness disorder, remember?

My new novel is called 'Revolution', a highly allegorical tale about three brothers who attempt to spark a revolution to regain their father's throne.  But the allegory is a secret.  See if you can find it.

Now, the plan is this: for every one thousand (1,000) words I write in Revolution, I will rewrite five hundred (500) words in The Book of Shaldu.  I've already started: yesterday I wrote 1,200 words in Revolution, and went on to rewrite 600 words in TBOS.

In this way, I have an incentive to rewrite in TBOS.  Why?  'Cause I am utterly addicted to writing, and I'm not utterly addicted to REwriting.  Haha.   So far, the arrangement has been working in a fantastic manner.  I love writing again.

Now, to business.

What do you want to find in the beginning of a novel?  What do you need to do?  How should you write it?

You've probably heard before that you need to grip your reader for the first page.  I believe someone once said (for the life of me I cannot remember who it was) that you need to "grab your reader by the throat and never let go."

What does this look like?

Obviously, in thrillers and such, you grab them with a line like "Joey McBurphy was about to die--by train."   You want to interest them and make them ask questions.  Like Krawg said (in The Ale Boy's Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet), "Questions are the life of the story."  The more your reader questions, the more they will want to read.  Why was Joey about to die?  How does one even die by train?  Why does he have such a ridiculous name?

However, it is not only the plot that will grab a reader--it's the way you write the plot.  Someone once said (another guy I can't remember) "There are no boring subjects: only boring writers."  There can be books with a terrible plot, so cliche you could choke--and yet, the writing is captivating.  With such writers, you could read whatever you want by them in any subject--with such writers, you read whatever they right just to get another taste of that fantastic writing style.

This, more than a thriller hook, is what I aim for in my novels.  Take a look at the first paragraph of 'Revolution':

"The night sky yawned high above the earth, and the moon hid behind its shadow. The moon was new: there would be no light tonight."

By the way, random note: I've fallen in love with description.  I took an experiment in Revolution and discovered that I love writing creative description.  Haha.

While the writing is mysterious enough to provoke attention, I was taking the 'captivating writing, not captivating plot' approach.  This novel has an interesting and rather unique plot, yes, but instead of writing a thriller hook, I took a chance and wrote a descriptive hook.

Perhaps readers will like this, perhaps they won't.  But I've discovered that I enjoy taking my time to describe and unravel the plot.  This novel will never be a NaNoWriMo novel, for that reason, and I refuse to write it in that fashion.  I write slowly, but surely, in Revolution.

And perhaps they'll be captivated by the way I write.  I hope so.

In celebration of the start of a new novel (which is always a breathtaking experience, a flood, a deluge of new ideas and styles, aye?), I shall share a bit of my first chapter in 'Revolution': Conspiracy in the Dark.

The night sky yawned high above the earth, and the moon hid behind its shadow. The moon was new: there would be no light tonight.

Forest creatures burrowed deep into their various nests and sleeping places, and the owls glided across the dark sky every once in a while, restless. A second or two passed in silence, until the scurry of a mouse rustled the grass.

The stars shone coldly above the wild landscape of firs, oaks, and a motley band of other trees struggling for room. The creatures settled, and silence again covered the trees and the underbrush, free from the stirrings of beast and man. But not everything was silent. The woods spoke to one another beneath the black sky, whispering with their leaves and murmuring amongst themselves. A change, a shift in the sky spoke to them volumes, and the news made their twigs shift in astonishment. They shuddered, and the leaves stirred; whether in excitement or in fear, a mere mortal could not tell.

A loud rustle of leaves erupted from the forest, and the trees froze, as if taking a deep breath. A man's shape was seen, covered in a dark cloak of green, dwarfed by the giants of the forest.

No, it is not one man, but three, moving as one. All are cloaked in the same manner, hoods drawn loosely over their heads. The trees shifted in the wind, moving out of their way.

Up they climbed, atop an expansive hill that towered over the rest of the forest, rising above it like a dark mountain. They vanished into a thicket that stood there, a tangled array of vines and small trees. Weaving through the underbrush as if they had done so a thousand times, the three men halted in the center. There, the thicket opened up slightly and yawned upward, creating a natural chamber that hid the stars' gaze with a tangle of branches.

A glass lamp, holding a cupped, wavering flame, was lit. It shone into the darkness and sent the shadows of the trees dancing at every flicker. The men, hanging the lamp on a nearby tree limb, sat down on the grass and stared at one another for the longest time.

The curious trees bent over the light, and gazed seriously into the faces of the men, but the three were absorbed in silence. An owl lighted upon a nearby branch, and cocked his head.

The features of the three men, startlingly alike, were half-shadowed by the lamplight cast down upon their gathering.

At last, one of them spoke aloud, breaking the silence that was set upon the woodlands. "It has been a long time, my brothers."


(This or any portion from any of my works of writing may NOT be copied or reproduced in any manner.)

Critique it to your heart's delight, readers. I need some feedback. What did you like about it? What did you not like? What should I change?

Tell me what you think.


Eldra said...

I think it sounds great! I'm not one for writing descriptions (at all) so this seems amazing compared to what I usually write. The only thing that bugs me is this line:

"No, it is not one man, but three, moving as one."

It almost feels like you're switching to present tense, instead of past, like everything else. But maybe that's just me. Other then that, it's great.

Oh, and I'm writing the post for the contest right now. Should be up in ten minutes or so. Just thought I'd let you know, in case you want to get first dibs. *wink*

Jake said...

Thanks, Eldra! :) Glad ye liked it. Haha, I'd get first dibs anyway. :|

Eldra said...

So maybe it took me a little bit longer than ten minutes. Oops.

Isaac Permann said...

Great starting! I really liked it... good description!
You are starting a 'revolution' in description! lol. OK, that wasn't that funny... don't have to laugh...


Hannah said...

Hi Jake! This is a great piece and I enjoyed reading it!
Here's what I thought, because you asked for feedback. I think it is slightly over-descriptive. I know your goal is to make it descriptive, but I think it's a little much.
And: I think the dialogue is...slightly unbelievable, if you know what I mean. What I'm trying to say is that would somebody actually say that?
Don't get my criticism wrong, it is quite a good piece. I'm just adding my two cents. ;)
And also: don't think you have to listen to me! :)

Thanks for the article! I just scrapped my whole 11 chapters of my book, and decided to start over, changing a lot of things (in fact, the only thing I'm keeping is the main character), so this has been very helpful! :)

Sarah said...

Ha! I totally agree with your opinion on unraveling plot, Sir Jake. I shall never do NaNoWriMo since even my shortest book took me about two months to finish. I simply cannot write faster than my plot allows me. Your idea of how to keep yourself on one story while allowing yourself to begin another is excellent as well. I wish I had heard of this a little less than a year ago when I abandoned a story to work on my first book which I didn't know would be a book. (LOL) I like your exert, and it sounds interesting. (BTW, please post something on your writing thread on the UG . . . please . . . please?)
Thanks for sharing this! Never Alone!
-Lady Sarah, Dreadnaught of Berinfell, Swordmaiden of Alleble, and/or Elven Princess of Middle Earth, depending on who you ask.

Jake said...

*laughs* Thanks for the input! :)

Thanks for the feedback, Hannah! About the description: what do you mean by OVER descriptive? Was it just excess description that wasn't needed? Do ye mind expanding? :)

Considering these people are in a fantastical world that doesn't exist...WOULD they actually speak like someone from this world? ;) As a further explanation, these three men are the sons of a king. Their speech, naturally, is more refined than that of a common man. I write fantasy so I can do the unbelievable and create something that doesn't exist. I WISH I could speak like these guys, haha. :) Most characters from Lord of the Rings don't speak normally either. :)

Hey, Sarah! Thanks for stopping by!

Normally, I do like to write novels in a furious fashion (I did manage to do so for NaNoWriMo), but I'm experimenting a lot with Revolution. It's almost like a science project. :) A guinea pig. Good luck, Elf, with your own endeavors!

Hannah said...

Well, I thought there was unneeded description, yes, and though it is beautiful description, sometimes less is more if you know what I mean. :)

As for the dialogue: I think that in LotR, I find a hard time actually relating with (and even loving, dare I say it. I do love the LotR characters, but that took a lot more time than in a book where they were more human-like) the characters a lot because of the way they talk. They become immortal in a way. Ya know what I'm saying? But I do see your point.

Jake said...

'Tis rather interesting, but these three characters...ARE immortal. So, to hear that my characters speak in an archaic manner is to hope that I might have succeeded. More than that I cannot say.