Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Free Good Read and a Writing Tip

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Chef Merle Blanc, he has the nose. And when millionaire Bernard Goldberg dies during his wedding luncheon in the chef's restaurant, Chef Blanc's nose, he smells the murder! What greater insult for Chef Blanc than that someone would be so callous as to commit a murder in his restaurant during a wedding reception he has so painstakingly prepared. But the doctors and police believe Goldberg's death was natural. Can Chef Blanc keep some forty guests and employees in his restaurant long enough for him to don his apron and cook a killer's goose before closing time?

Question from the Mail Bag:  People criticize my "opening sentences." They say reading my work is confusing as they often "don't know where they are." Any idea how to fix this?

Answer:  The opening sentence in any story, like the opening sentence in a newspaper story, should answer the questions: Who? Where? And When?

Writers call this the "transition," because that sentence moves the reader from his chair into the setting of the story. 

A lot of teachers will say to start with dialogue, because the reader will be involved immediately, and that can be a good ploy, as long as the speakers are identified and don't just shout at each other from outter space.

Name the character who speaks, be sure the reader knows where he is and what he wants...

A lot of this is plain common sense. I can't tell you how many manuscripts I see where scenes open with conversation between two people, often between He and She, with no real names anywhere. And they talk to each other for half a page before we  know where they are. 

Worse, many times a third person will say something, then following the speech, will be the words, "Danny Martin joined them on the post office steps." 

It's plain disorienting for Danny to speak, before he joins them. Sort of like someone sneaking up behind you and poking you in the back when you're not looking. And it's even worse if the first two people have been talking for half a page before we find out they're at the post office. Especially if we've already built them a street corner, or a grocery store parking lot in our imagination. 

Reading is a participatory sport. It's a partnership between you, the writer, and the reader. In a movie, it's all there for them to see. When a new scene begins, you have an "establishing shot of the post office and the two people coming out the door. Then the camera moves in and they begin to talk to one another. 

When Danny comes over, we can see him in his postal employee uniform with his mailbag over his shoulder, so we're not too surprised when he joins in their conversation. But in a book the reader takes what you show them with your words, and builds the set inside his or her mind

It's then the writer's responsibility to let the reader know Danny Martin is there, the reader's responsibility to "create" Danny in his or her imagination. That's why it's so important to describe a character when he or she first appears. From the name, the reader will usually infer a bluff, perhaps red-headed Irish postman and,unless you have shown him,  would be startled later to learn that Danny was a swarthy complected Episcopalian priest. 

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