February 24, 2005
Questions About Beginnings
The first few chapters and even the opening pages and lines of a novel are incredibly important. You have to hook people and keep them reading. At the same time you need to be sure the rest of the book lives up to a promising beginning.
So for those who've read Downtown Dandelions (and if you haven't, we're only talking about the beginning, so go grab the free PDF, read a few pages, and join the discussion), what do you think of the beginning?
Since I wrote the novel in 20 days and didn't spend much time going back to rework things, the opening is exactly as I first wrote it. I was actually echoing one of my very first Sedgewick stories when he gets off the bus as a child and we follow him home and listen in on his thought process. It actually made the beginning a lot easier to write, a lot easier to get back into Sedgewick's character.
But that doesn't mean it makes for a great opening. Effectively the opening is entirely character driven. You get a bunch of observations about life, and while interesting, I'm not sure that's the best hook. What do you think? Did the first chapter work? Were you hooked? Or did it take you longer to get really hooked?
I've always felt that chapter 3 is where the story really sinks its teeth into you. You get a lot of story movement with Sedgewick interacting with Connor, and then, of course, Allison is introduced. I've wondered if it'd be better to start with chapter 3 (maybe tweak things around a bit so we can still have the bus scene as an intro). Start with Sedgewick's interaction with Connor (which says just as much, if not more, about Sedgewick than following him home from the bus stop) and then introduce Allison.
Any thoughts? Any other ideas? Lay it on me.
February 10, 2005
Questions About Characters
For those who've read my book, I'd love to get some insight into what you think about my characters. Are they working? Are they believable? Are they too stock? Let's get at it.
- Is he believable?
- Does his stutter drive you nuts, or does it work?
- One reader commented that they wanted to know the origin of his name--does that matter to anyone else?
- The same reader wanted to know more about his past. I like the mystery of his past where bits and pieces of it are revealed. What say you: more or less history?
- Sedgewick is one of my favorite characters, so I'm hesitant to change anything about him. But lay it on me--is he up to the task of carrying the novel (since that's really what he has to do)?
- Is she believable?
- In my mind she is the least original, defined character. Does she come across as undefined? Does she need to be drawn with firmer, more intentional strokes?
- Is her handling of her mother's death believable?
Gertrude (Sedgewick's grandmother)
- Is she believable?
- Does she come across as the every-grandma, or is her character unique?
- Did you find yourself wanting more of the grandmother?
- Anybody else hate the name Gertrude?
- Is he believable?
- Does his sing-songy rhyming habit work for you or grate on you?
- Is he too much of the wise guru? Or does he give Sedgewick enough room to figure things out for himself?
Feel free to dive in and say what you think in the comments. These are characters, not me, so feel free to expose their flaws and mock them if need be.
January 14, 2005
Plagiarism vs. Hip References
While editing Downtown Dandelions I came up against a little moral quandary: I wanted to reference some of my favorite pop culture inspirations, but I wasn’t sure when I was plagiarizing and when I was just alluding.
(examples follow after the jump which aren't plot spoilers, but I guess could be construed as spoilers of sort. So be ye warned.)
At one point a girl in a grocery store wants some purple yogurt and her mother comments that purple isn’t a fruit (a reference to Homer Simpsons response to Lisa’s question about fruit: “This [donut] has purple in it. Purple’s a fruit.”). I let that one stand.
Later Sedgewick sees a chalk drawing signed by Grace. He comments that it’s the name of a girl and a thought that changed the world (taken almost verbatim from U2’s “Grace”). I felt guilty about that one and immediately gave credit to U2, though it comes across as clunky.
At another point one of the characters listens to country music, and really wanted to borrow the line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Xander’s been turned down by Buffy and goes home to mope and listen to country music, “The music of pain.” Can I just borrow a line like that alluding to Buffy, or is that plagiarism?