Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Art of Writing No. 4
So, you have written a gripping first sentence or two for the browsing buyer in the bookshop but books get published by publishers and that means sending the first three chapters and a synopsis of the plot of the book to an agent. Hardly any publishers are interested in looking at new work, even from established writers and prefer the agent to do the wheat from chaff processing. It feels wrong, I know, to have to desecrate your work by amputating it in this way.
For what it’s worth, agents are not necessarily that bright. They have fixed ideas of what sells, they want to do as little work as possible for maximum financial returns and that means often making crass decisions that nearly precluded Lord of the Flies, Harry Potter or Watership Down ever being published. So we can all curse and spit on their graves – but take heart, I suspect the democratising effects of the internet e-readers will level the playing filed eventually.
Having said all that, the first three chapters need consideration. Given that your opening sentence gambit presents a definite come on, then what follows must help to accentuate the reader’s curiosity. My advice is to get into plot as fast as you can and keep your long descriptions of people and places until later. I know that if you are a clay writer this can be difficult since you feel you are channelling your creativity from your unconscious realms but there it is. The fishing analogy is that many fish don’t bite on the hook straight away but need ‘playing’. Of course if you are the son or daughter of Dickens then your long descriptive opening is a lure all on its own. But its best we don’t have such high personal opinions!
Being brief at the beginning also serves two other purposes; the first being that the reader can exercise more imagination the less you attempt to nail everything and the second is that the discipline of saying as much as possible in as few words, carries you through the book. It becomes part of your style.