I write today's post from the sunny, warm brilliance of Florida. But, I'll be writing about my Pocono Mountain Retreat organized by the SCBWI's Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter. Hands down, I learned more about writing fiction in those 48 hours than, well, any other time in my short writing life.
Even though there were roughly 200 writers and illustrators in attendance, the whole retreat felt intimate and meaningful. The VIP editors and agents actually sat with the commoners throughout the retreat, which made them human. They laughed and ate and talked books, you know, like real people.
The break out sessions were where my brain got stuffed full of new and oh-so-valuable knowledge. My favorite session was on first chapters, run by Lisa Graff , an editor from Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, or FSG. Lisa is also an author of middle grade fiction novels - hard working woman. First, Lisa described the ideal first chapter and I scribbled madly...
- Must have a hook in the first paragraph & at the end of the chapter
- Must set up the main character's voice, goals, desires, challenges, personality
- Must set up the narrator's voice as well
- Must set up your themes
- Must set up the story arc & emotional arc
- Must set up the conflict
- Must set up the setting
- Must convey the tone of the novel immediately
That's a whole lotta jazz to have in chapter one, huh? Then, Lisa read aloud the first chapter from Barbara O'Connor's, How to Steal a Dog, to illustrate a brilliant first chapter, one that embodied all of the above seamlessly. Damn it was a great first chapter. It seriously hit every one of Lisa's must's.
Lisa also addressed the question of prologue'ing or not prologue'ing; and she made a very thought provoking point. She said the prologue only works well if something CRAZY happens later in your book, like maybe in the middle. Then, the prologue would do its job and suck the reader into your book from page one. She also said the prologue works really well when written from a different point of view and/or tense.
I had some time in between Lisa's break-out session and my one on one, paid critique, with agent, Sara Crowe, from Harvey Klinger Inc.
Guess what I did? I had a revelation...
I wrote a wicked Prologue & began ripping apart the first 50 pages of my book...again. I'll post my Prologue when I get back from Florida - I want to read & revise first. I've been repeatedly sneaking away to revise my first 50 pages and I am nearly done. I am so flippin' excited by how it turned out I think I may burst! The reader now gets right into the story, or for lack of a better description, right to the good stuff.
Remember, a few posts back, I told you about that wonderful writer I met at the SCBWI conference in NYC? The lovely woman from Switzerland? And she read my whole book? Remember that she gave me some incredible revising advice? Well, she essentially told me to do exactly what Lisa Graff explained with her first chapter must's. Get to the good part...SOON. Or kids will simply put your book down.
I'll also post the feedback I got from Sara Crowe in a future post...