Tuesday, August 11, 2009

First Pages, First Paragraphs, First Sentences

I'm still inching my way through Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. I've already run one highlighter dry with it! Right now the first 90 pages have more yellow than white paper. It seems that almost every word, every line, is something I need to remember--something I'll need to refer back to in the future.

I'll give you a few tidbits to tease your appetite.

(Page 26) "Sometimes a single omen can do the work of several if it starts the engine of the novel. A novel is like a car--it won't go anywhere until you turn on the engine. The 'engine' of both fiction and nonfiction is the point at which the reader makes the decision not to put the book down. The engine should start in the first three pages, the closer to the top of page one the better."

(Page 28) "If your aim is publication, your best bet is to start with a scene that the reader can see. Where do you start that scene? As close to its climax as is feasible if your aim is to involve the reader quickly."

(Page 29) "Successful writing immerses the reader in heightened experience--emotional, intellectual, or both--more rewarding than the life around him."

In discussing nonfiction on page 29 he states, "Information sticks best when it is crafted to touch the reader's emotions." The next six or eight pages give specific ways to make my nonfiction writing stick.

(Page 36) "Does your first sentence trigger curiosity to make the reader want to continue? What will the reader see in that first sentence? Have you focused on an individual? Have you given us a visible characteristic of that individual? Have you portrayed the individual doing or saying something? Is there a startling or odd fact that will trap attention?" Then he explains half-a-dozen ideas for making the first line an attention grabber.

He has a way of condensing thoughts into sentences that are precise, yet intriguing. He's writing about writing, yet he continuously grabs the reader by the throat and drags her through the book. At least, he does that to me. I keep thinking, "His use of language is making this stuff as exciting as reading a novel!"

Next week I'll share some things from his chapter on creating fiction characters. He gives concrete suggestions that I've read nowhere else, and certainly haven't thought of myself. Then segues into the chapter on markers. I had never heard the term applied to writing. Do you know what a marker is? Stay tuned, folks!


Cheryl Barker said...

Jean, I had already been thinking about making Stein's book my next read on craft, and now I'm hooked on the idea for sure. Hope to get a copy soon. Thanks for the recommendation!

Jean said...

You won't reret it, Cheryl.

Thanks for stopping by.