A Matchmaker’s Guide to Fiction Writing
by JASON LEBOWITZ on October 31, 2012
Dating. Love It or Hate It. First dates can advance to second dates. They can just as easily resort back to first dates. Repeat. The Compatibility Evolution.
This same theory holds true between Reader and Writer. Specifically, your initial impression. We all search for the perfect book. But it begins with the perfect first sentence. And then the next few. Let’s explore the relationship.
I know how much you love to write. Your life revolves around it. Writers love words! We obsess over words. We appreciate the way they look, sound and feel. Readers love words too! And nothing is more captivating than compelling conversations between the two. Establish that Reader/Writer connection. Entice your readers by creating story interest strong enough right from the first word. Slowly, reveal more to each other.
“Yeah,” you say. “I have this ability.” Charming. Does that guarantee a match? Not yet. A first date is a lot like a first chapter. Initial writing impressions happen during the introduction phase. Is sentence number one inviting or is it a turnoff? Does it spark interest? As the date continues, how do you get along? Does your reader find you attractive? Is there chemistry? Are they intrigued and want more, or bored and can’t wait for this date to end?
So how do we create instant writers appeal? How do we unlock this secret formula? Does the answer remain in some ancient textbook called ‘Words, Sentence Structures and Composition?’ I don’t believe in a formula, but more of a Fine-Tuning process.
Here are two different versions of the opening chapter in my novel:
- They called it the Battle of Timbuktu due to its intolerable junior high school marching band sound. It was dark and cold out on this late November night. The battle reminded me of those seventh and eighth graders performing out of tune. It could be compared to their halftime show. But this was sophisticated human interaction and was devastating. In the corner of the bedroom was an original 1954 transistor radio pleading for the couple’s harmonic balance.
- The Battle of Timbuktu began. It was comparable and equally as tolerable as a junior high school marching band. Think of circular, sporadically chaotic movement on the football field, when the seventh and eighth graders perform their first halftime show. Out of step and out of tune. Mutilation. Only this was sophisticated human interaction. Devastation. There in the bedroom corner, an original 1954 transistor radio pleads for the couple’s harmonic balance.
Although extremely similar in word content, Example Two engages the reader, whereas Example One bores the reader. Simply by controlling word placement, the dynamic drastically changes.
You can create words that flow gracefully, or you can painfully force too many overly descriptive words together in one small overloaded and unformatted sentence to create resistance and a complicated reading experience. Sometimes words need space apart from each other. Other times they can be close and even on top of one another making out. Making love. Whether your writing style is elegant and precise, or gritty and downright dirty, romance your date first. Don’t overwhelm them in sentence one. Too much information too early leads to another date one. Word Dating can work in your favor. It can also prove fatal.
Remember, all words are not created equal. Neither are readers. That doesn’t prevent you from going out again. You just need to give them a reason for a second date.