In the NaNoWriMo world, I am 33,000 words into by November 2020 manuscript. That means I am almost 75% of the way towards my writing goal. For me, this is exciting. It means I am working my way to the climatic ending of the story. The most exciting part, which I personally find the easiest to write. This aligns well with the last Pillar because Pillar 7 involves revising and exploring the first line and last line of the opening and closing chapters, respectively. I generally do not review until a few weeks after I finish a manuscript, but for this book I am willing to try.
The book, Plot Development Step by Step, by Jesper Schmidt and Autumn M. Birt, is meant to be used before the manuscript writing process. However, I was in the middle of switching homes, setting up homeschooling, and purchasing basics for survival, so I did not complete it by the November 1st deadline. I will count it as a positive this time, as it energizes me to write the ending. I will have a few options already written to work with. But as I want to you read my story, I will share the exercise using only my opening. I hope that this will then energize me to begin the editing process once NaNoWriMo has concluded.
The story will begin with the protagonist’s normal world. In Ally’s case, on or near her friend, Riley’s cargo boat. Both Ally and Riley grew up along and on the Rhine River so I think this is the best place for the story to begin. As Riley is her only close friend and they are always staying with each other, Ally and Riley together makes the most sense. It also shows how busy her parents to leave Ally, on her eighteenth birthday, with their family friends with the intention of celebrating together at dinner time.
There are several ways to introduce the protagonist and engage the reader. The author can show the buried conviction; for Ally, it is her want for independence and to leave her family business. But she feels she would break their hearts doing so. This can make the character, Ally in this case, appear whiny, so the book suggests balancing the want by creating sympathy for the character. For Ally this can be done by showing her caring side. She loves her family and appreciates everything they do for her so she is making, what she thinks is, the honorable choice.
Schmidt and Birt also point out it is important to make sure the opening is not too action-heavy. The reader needs time to engage with the protagonist and the setting. Do not follow the movie pattern where there needs to be a lot of action to keep the reader in their seat.
The last point is to provide character details. This is aligned with what I have heard from other authors and professors: for a character driven story, the reader must connect with the protagonist. The reader engages best with a character they get to know. They will care about what the character is going through. I have also noticed in my reading, if the author holds back the description for too long, I create one myself, and am disappointed if their description does not match my own.
That does not mean to describe the protagonist, including their backstory and physical appearance, in too much detail. Rather provide enough to draw a sketch with intriguing details. They suggest starting with hair and eye colour, gender, something unique physical description. Not too much more than that. Let the reader fill in the blanks from there. Use the description as part of an action, such as brushing back her burnt red hair or he has to lean over to enter the doorway without hitting his head, etc.
The opening line is the first chance to snare the reader’s attention and to draw them into the story. The opening line must show the character, show the story’s soul, invoke curiosity, and use dialogue, it is the protagonist who is speaking. Creating an opening line that can show the protagonist, who or what they care about, and add a little mystery should hook the reader.
As Neil Gaiman is my inspiring author of the week, I will show his first lines as examples:
There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.Stardust, Neil Gaiman
The night before he went to London, Richard Mathew wasn’t enjoying himself.Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
Nicholas was older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to dieSmoke &. Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
I cheated a little it with the third quote. Sometimes I think it takes two line to set the tone of the book as well as to provide some mystery.
My current opening line is:
The ringing persisted. Ally was confident it was from one of the piles befouling her room.Wicked Currents,, Angela VanWell
As you can see I had two lines as well. I think it introduces the character well, and how she feels about messes as well as opening the question: Why is her room in that shape if she can’t stand it?
This is my first draft of my opening line, so I don’t know if it will still be that once the revising and editing process has begun. But I like it for now. If I wanted to add Dialogue, the first line could be turned into dialogue, action could be added by Ally searching the piles. There is a lot that can be done with it. But since I do not start editing until I am finished writing, it will stay as-is for now.
The closing chapter of the book needs to echo the beginning. Whatever question the beginning chapter of the book raises, must be responded to. The final sentence is best when lyrical. Several long woven sentences, followed by a short, punchy finale. Sharing final thoughts or dialogue from the protagonist provides closure and the chance to say goodbye to the protagonist. There can also be a hint of the future, implying life goes on.
She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky. And watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance o the infinite stars.Stardust, Neil Gaiman
And they walked away together through the hole in the wall, back into the darkness, leaving nothing behind. Them; not even the doorway.Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
Pillar 7 is the last Pillar in the book, but there is a bonus chapter! The bonus chapter is focused on writing killer Prologues and Epilogues. I won’t be using this bonus chapter, but I will write about it to share the full book.