Monday, February 7, 2011

Stolen from Dybek: Words are Important!

No but really, they are.

We spent a long time in class talking about words, and Professor Dybek brought up something that may or may not be a fairly obvious point:

"A writer should always want every word he or she writes to be important."

True. While the comment has its merit, and we all know that sometimes we must kill our darlings if they aren't absolutely essential to our story, it's a bit... obvious, no?

But then he went on to talk about the focus points, which I believe are less obvious. Let's talk about them, shall we?

1) First line

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Come now, dear reader. I haven't actually read A Tale of Two Cities, but I'm painfully aware of this first line. It's good. Like, really good. And distinctive. A first line can hook your reader in, or turn them off completely to the idea of your book. A first line can make a reader forgive a slow beginning. A first line, in other words, can work wonders.

I think this also connects to the idea of first impressions. You never get a second chance, do you? Think of your first line as introducing your book to your reader. Don't worry, though. Your betas/critique group will let you know whether or not it works.

If only our friends could fix first impressions in real life...

2) Last line

Less important than the first line, I think, but that's just me. It is still important though. If written correctly, it will resonate with your reader. It will help your story stick with them long after they've set it down.

"All was well."

Whether or not you liked the controversial epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I'm pretty sure this last line is the epic punchline of the entire series. It sure as hell stuck with me.

If you mess up your last line, it might not do much to hinder your story. But (and this goes especially to short stories) it could throw off the entire thing. Be careful.

3) The Big Kahuna: Titles

See what I did there? That may not be a shining example of a GOOD title, but it's the first thing a reader will see when surveying your book, and it is often the deciding factor (along with the font, and cover design. Let's face it, we all judge books by their covers).

Titles are both ridiculously fun and ridiculously frustrating. Sometimes I have a lot of fun playing around with them, trying out the effect they have on the story's overall mood. Dybek said "The title of a story has a direct effect on the author and how they write it." Agreed, Professor. Agreed. A story needs a title, and even if you prefer to wait until it's done to name it, the title NEEDS to be there, on the cover or at the top.

Which is where coming up with a title can turn into a horrific mess. Did you know that Stephanie Meyer wanted to call her vampire book "Forks" for a long time? Yeah. Bad idea. My first Book is still titled for the city it takes place in. Also lame. It can be hard to come up with a good title so here are some tips:

a) Look around for main themes or recurring words (besides I, And, and It) in your manuscript. If it's not good enough for a title, it can at least be a starting point.

b) Do some free writing. List words even minutely related to your book. They can be characters' names, major plot points, etc.

c) Ask your beta readers for help! Sometimes all it takes for a good title is another mind in the mix. Bounce ideas around. Wine helps (but only if you're 21!). Trust me.

That's all, folks!

Remember: Words are important. Some more than others.

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