Friday, 19 November 2010

The First Hundred Words

Look! I found my missing blog post (it's a long story I won't bore you with), so here it is:

I attended a great workshop called ‘First Hundred Words Challenge’, given by the wonderful Julie Cohen at an RNA South East Chapter meeting. Most of us took along the first hundred words of our work in progress and Julie read them aloud and we discussed them (constructively and respectfully, of course).

We looked at whether those first hundred words conveyed the type and genre of book, who the main character was and even that short paragraph or so hinted at the coming conflict. And most of the time it did. It was amazing just how much you can pack into such a tiny word count.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about my first hundred words even before I (ver bravely) took my print out to the workshop. I’d dithered between writing my current book in the third person and the first person, and my beginning reflects that. And while I usually start my stories right in the middle of the action with one of my main characters, this time I haven’t.

I tried that approch with the very first version of scene one and it just didn’t work. It felt as if I’d arrived with a bump in an alien world, rather than getting a tantalising glimpse of a character I wanted to know more about. Too much all at once. So I tried something different: I imagined it a bit like a movie scene, where the camera starts off wide and then zooms in slowly on the heroine. (Yes, already I can hear some of you tutting and murmering ‘newbie mistake’, but even slightly more experienced writers can fall into the same old pot-holes – but that’s a whole ‘nother post…)

Here’s my first hundred words as they stand at the moment:

Deep in the heart of Greenwich, under the watchful eye of the Royal Observatory on top of the hill, is a neat row of cream Georgian buildings. The ground floor of each boasts a shop or a boutique of some sort that caters to the diverse local population.

Right on the corner, near the park, is the all-organic coffee shop where the Yummy Mummies hang out. If you go there mid-morning, the floor space is cluttered with high-tech pushchairs and the air is filled with lively debate on the merits of the local private nurseries.

It’s okay. It does what I’d intended it to do. The next couple of hundred words describe the other shops in the row until we finally focus in on my heroine. It gives a good sense of setting, a hint at my narrator’s personality, but the more I listened to other people’s beginnings, I realised the one I had wasn’t the one I wanted. I wanted a first line that grabbed. I want the first paragraph to be bursting with my heroine’s character because, for me, Coreen is this story.

Interestingly enough, as we discussed each other’s beginning paragraphs, sometimes we found that a perfect first line was hiding away further down the page. I mulled over this for a few days and then went hunting in my first chapter to see if I had a zingy first line. I found a few that might have potential:

A girl’s gotta keep herself in lipstick and stockings somehow.

In my opinion, a pinkie finger isn’t properly dressed unless it’s got a man comfortably wrapped around it—and I always make sure I’m impeccably dressed.

I discovered early in life that an ample chest and a well-timed pout can get a girl just about anything she wants.

Much better. There's a real sense of who my heroine is, and just how many men she likes to eat for breakfast, right from the get-go. Am I going to use one of these? Maybe. I’m going to go back and tinker with my beginning once I’ve finished my first draft. But whatever I end up with, I want to try and zap readers with a beginning, brimming with personality, that hooks them in and refuses to let them go.

No pressure, then. Sigh.


Julie Cohen said...

I'm about to do the same workshop tomorrow with another group, Fiona, so thanks for reminding me that it worked! I *love* the lines that show character, particularly the pinkie finger one!

Fiona Harper said...

Thanks so much for the workshop - it's always good to see your work through someone else's eyes, and I don't have a critique partner, so most of the time I'm pretty much muddling through in the dark.

I then was reading Blake Syder's 'Save The Cat' and was hooked by his idea of an 'opening image'. I think I'm going to have to devote another post to that, though, cos I'm gonna run out of room here!

Carol said...

CarolC said...

Glad you found the post Fiona. Unfortunately I was floating in the Dead Sea on the day of the workshop so was unable to attend. As I expected, sounds like a missed a good one.

How exciting to see you setting a novel in Greenwich! Your original first 100 words was spot on description, but the new one is definitely funnier and more engaging.

I also wasn't able to attend the RNA party which sounded fab, but hope to run into you somewhere soon. Make sure you give me a bell if you're doing research in the area, I would be delighted to join you for a drink and a chinwag.