Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tracy Montoya on Openers

What I'm reading: Highlander's Challenge by Jo Barrett

Yesterday's guest brought out lots of nostalgic food memories. Thanks again to Jennifer Johnson for sharing.

A couple of promotional bits -- I'm one of the featured authors at The Romance Studio for March. The interview, featuring When Danger Calls, is here.

Also - if you belong to a book club and are interested in reading When Danger Calls for discussion, the publisher is offering a very nice discount. Email me for details.

And, if you missed the post where I offered a copy of my Dialogue Basics handout, you can email me and request that one as well.

On Saturday, our RWA chapter hosted author Tracy Montoya who spoke about openings, pacing, and compelling scenes.
Keep Reading...
She shared "The Worst Novel Opener in the World" -- her own designation, and since she wrote it, she's not harming anyone's reputation.

If you're an author, you want your reader to be dragged into the story on page one. Paragraph one. Even sentence one. If you're trying to sell, you want that agent or editor to keep reading. And if you ask agents and editors how many pages they read when they get submissions, they'll say they read until there's a reason to stop. If they're not caught up, that might be after the first paragraph. No use in saying, "It gets really good in chapter seven." It's got to be that good on page one. An opening sentence can bias the editor's opinion of what comes next.

Start in the midst of the action, Tracy recommends. Caveat: you want the reader to be curious, not confused. You want them to ask compelling questions. You want them to care about the characters and want them to wonder what's going to happen next, right from the opening paragraph.

OK -- I'm not a plotter. And as I'm reworking one of my novels, I'm playing with a new one. Since my agent recommended holding off on writing another Blackthorne, Inc. story, I figured it might be a good time to start from scratch. My approach tends to be, "write something and see where it takes you. Then develop the characters, then the story."

So, after the workshop, I went and looked at my opening few paragraphs. Are there any questions that arise? What do you think? Are your questions the 'good' kind, or do they fall into that, "Why should I care?" category?

Lights flashed on her phone like lightning bugs on steroids. Megan pressed the intercom button. "Crystal, I've got to get this proposal finished for Mr. Davidson. Can you please handle these calls?"

Damn, Megan missed Sandi. Consoling herself that her efficient and unflappable secretary would be back in two weeks, Megan kept most of the aggravation out of her tone. "Tell them I'll get back to them."

"I'm sorry Ms. Wyatt. I tried, but they insisted it was important. I said you were away from your desk, like you told me, but they kept saying they'd hold. Like they knew I was lying."

Of course they did. The kid couldn't stretch the truth, much less lie, even over the phone. Crystal seemed on the verge of tears, as if she'd shatter like her name. Again. That's what Megan got for letting Human Resources send her a wet-behind-the-ears temp instead of someone inside the company to fill in while her secretary was away. So what if it was Sandi's honeymoon. She should have been able to predict that March would be hell month before she picked her wedding date.

Megan took a cleansing breath. "It's okay, Crystal. Who do I have waiting?"

There was a shuffling sound, as if Crystal was consulting her notes. Good. At least she realized her memory wasn't reliable.

"Mr. Holland, Miss Breckenridge, Mr. Davis or Davidson or something like that, and … and someone named Angie, who said you'd know who she was and to put her right through. I told them all you'd call back, but they—"

Shit. Angie? Calling her at work? She stared at the flashing lights. "Which line is Angie?"

Thoughts, anyone? Is there any reason to care about Megan? To wonder what happens next? Or do you put the book back on the shelf and pick up another one to sample? And why?


Elaine Baskin said...

I'm a reader, not a writer. I don't care about Megan, but I am curious: a) why she has a secretary when she sounds like one herself (I have to finish a proposal for Mr. ...), and b) who Angie is. Megan doesn't sound very likeable, being frustrated that her regular sec'y is gone, but she does sound kind to Crystal, realizing it's not Crystal's fault.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Elaine -- those are the sorts of thinks it's helpful to know. What questions are being raised, and are they the right ones.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Dal Jeanis said...

It seemed okay to me, although something better happen fairly soon.

1) I don't necessarily agree with Elaine that using titles makes Megan Wyatt seem like a secretary. This may be a generational thing, though; it indicates a formality in the company that is unusual nowadays. It might help if Megan had an internal comment about Mr Davidson that didn't use the title - this shows that the formality is a cultural thing with the company. Especially if she emphasizes the word "Mister" in her dialog.

2) The telling point is that Megan feels she has to lie in order to have a closed-door working session. Which means she's very low-status. She seems more researcher or low-management to me.

3) Megan has a private secretary but doesn't seem confident enough to say, "I am on a high priority project and not taking calls, take a message and I will break to return calls at 11:00."

She's probably disorganized as well as underconfident.

4) The fact that Megan is reacting to the phone lights is (to me) a problem. If she is working on a critical job, she should be able to block out the fact that there are people camping on her lines. Better, perhaps, if she needs to make a call down to research and all her lines are tied up?

5) One of the calls is from Mr Davidson, the guy the proposal is for, and she doesn't react? I'd suggest that you NOT mess with Davidson's name -- you have to give her at least one beat of reaction to his call before you spring the name "Angie". That moves the Angie thing up in the reader's brain. She's working on a critical proposal and Angie takes precedence anyway.

6) At this point, we don't know what Megan does at all, and we have no reason to care whether that proposal gets done. There's nothing at stake. Not her job, not a promotion, not her company. No context has been established.

Therefore, we have no way to judge how important the call from Angie might be.

Perhaps something to make the situation less generic?

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Dal -- some good points. First drafts of first chapters, for me, are always in flux (and nobody's pointed out that 'secretary' is an outdated term nowadays!