Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hook 'Em

[T minus six days until Paris!]

One year ago this week I decided to begin a long put off writing career. I had a story in mind, one that would require a lot of preliminary research, but the bug had bitten, and there was no turning back. Of course the actual writing did not begin until my summer vacation, but the plotting and planning were in full swing.

So what I have learned during the past year? This morning I asked myself: if I had to pick the one most important lesson I’ve learned out of all the many daunting aspects of this craft, what would it be? The answer came to me quickly. Write a compelling and hook filled beginning. Hook the reader. Make them want to keep reading. And it is easier said than done.

For most of my reading years, I have happily read books which required a degree of patience from the reader. I knew that effort had to be put forth at the beginning of the book where everything was set up, before I could reap the joys of the more interesting middle and end. But today’s reader requires a faster start, and that has been a challenge for me. If they aren’t interested right from the start, they won’t stick with the book.

This is more important now than ever before. Last weekend I had the opportunity to hear the delightful literary agent April Eberhardt speak on the topic of today’s publishing trends. With the rising popularity of the e-book, writers must catch the reader’s interest faster than ever. A prospective e-book buyer can download a free sample of the book and decide within the first 1,000 words whether or not they want to continue reading and pay for that pleasure. There is no time to leisurely set up the story; the writer must plunge in quickly.

Speaking of books with great hook filled beginnings, I am finally reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Probably the last person on the face of the earth to read it, but better late to the party than never. Wow, talk about a book that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go! There’s a writer who really knows how to hook ‘em!

Next time I’m sure I’ll be full of stories of Paris! Till then…

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lessons From Hemingway

As I prepare for my first ever trip to Paris at the end of this month, I’m reading Ernest Hemingway’s ode to the city and the life of writing, A Moveable Feast, just finished my third viewing of Midnight in Paris, and am about to begin the current bestseller, The Paris Wife. I prepare for trips in a slightly different way from the normal traveler. While the art and history are always enormous draws, I always seek out the literary history of the place as well. Our favorite London hotel is right around the corner from one of Virginia Woolf’s homes. I’ve sat in Charles Dickens’ favorite seat, the ACTUAL seat, as in same bench, at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. (Rebuilt following the fire of ’66, that is 1666 of course!) And no trip to England is complete without the requisite pilgrimages related to Jane Austen, most recently to her grave. So, it is a given that part of my precious little time in Paris will be spent finding the haunts of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, et al. To prepare, some reading/rereading is in order. Hence, A Moveable Feast.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know,” Hemingway advises us. Of course this lesson is told in the spare, unadorned language that is so Hemingway. I never cared much for his writing when I was forced to read it in high school and college. Too spare. Like baroque music, it lacks the flourishes and emotion of the romantics like Shubert. But now that I am trying my hand at his art, I read him with a different sensitivity. And this quote about the true sentence has been haunting me for days now. What is a true sentence?
Knowing Hemingway, the true sentence probably shows rather than tells. It uses active verbs, and very few if any ‘to be’ verbs. I doubt there would be a place for those dreaded adverbs. It would be full of sensory information though. The reader would know what those oysters taste like, what the rain sounds like, what the crowded bar smells like. It would be true.

I’m adding the ‘true sentence’ to my toolbox. And I’m excited for Paris: the art, the history, and the literary tradition. Bon jour!