Dare to Read

October 2, 2010

Would You Read More?

Filed under: On Writing — carmenferreiroesteban @ 12:08 am
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by

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban

To tease or not to tease that is the question. Whether to hook the reader on the first page with a teaser, the introduction of a later scene where the life of the protagonist is in jeopardy, or to trust the reader to give you time to build the setting, the characters, the conflict at your own pace?

The purist in me think it’s cheating to do the former, and yet …

In the old times, when Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Bram Stocker weaved their classic tales, teasers did not exist. The writers took their time to tell their stories with detailed descriptions, beautiful prose and long paragraphs, seldom broken by dialogue. And the readers stayed with them.

But in our times of twitter, text messaging, and Netflix, readers, teenagers specially, are not so patient. They give you one page tops before tossing the book for the easiest thrill of any of the a fore mentioned devices. So to add a teaser to hook the reader seems to me, an inevitable evil.

Stephenie Meyer did so in her Twilight series, and no one will argue, it worked well enough. She called it a Preface, not a teaser. But in that, she’s wrong. For as Wikipedia tells us “A preface (…) is an introduction to a book (…) (it) covers the story of how the book came into being, or how the idea for the book was developed. (…)” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preface).

Yes Ms. Meyer was wrong. But who is complaining? The teaser, by any other name, accomplished its mission: to hook the reader.

And so it is that after giving it a lot of thought, I have decided to start my new YA fantasy with a teaser, not because I don’t trust the intelligence of my readers but because I recognize the pressure this vapid, high speed culture sets upon all of us.

I leave you then with my teaser (see below) and the question every writer asks, Would you read more?

They talk in whispers around me as we do around the dead, out of respect, I guess, or out of fear that our words would bring them back. But I’m not dead. I hear them and could, if I so choose, answer the ladies’ questions and join them among the living. Instead I block their voices and retreat inside my mind, to Father’s room, to the moment I first saw Mother’s broken body lying still against the wall, and the King’s guards, dragging Nowan away.

“He killed the queen,” Father says.

His laborious breathing is in my ear, his hands heavy on my arms, restraining me as if he fears that, left unchecked, I would run to him, to the boy who just killed Mother. But his fears are unfounded. I will not protect Nowan. Not after what happened this morning, not after I learned his love for me was but a lie.

My eyes follow the boy. There’s blood on his white shirt, blood on his hands, and a stream of blood runs from his nose, but there is no hate in his eyes now, no will to kill, only despair.

I look away from him and run towards the hearth, towards the place where Mother lies, calling her name.

“I should have killed him,” Father says, his voice hoarse with hate. “I should have killed him long ago, the day he first defied me.”

I hold Mother’s body in my arms, so foreign already in the stillness of death, and wish he had.

June 10, 2009

A Killer Beginning

Filed under: On Publishing — carmenferreiroesteban @ 5:10 pm
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Pearl DSC_0015

by Carmen Ferreiro Esteban

A killer beginning doesn’t guarantee publication but may be your only chance to catch the editor’s attention.

With publishers receiving thousands of manuscripts/queries every month, it is a mathematical impossibility that they read them all. If you are lucky, an overworked editor will pick yours and read your first line. In those precious seconds the future of that novel you worked so hard to create hang in the balance. It is that first line that will determine whether he/she will read more or discard your submission to the reject pile together with your dreams.

The importance of the first page is no secret. First Page readings are a part of most Writers conferences and workshops. In them, editors/publishers read different first pages and explain why or why not they would keep reading.

Over the years, I have collected a list of things editors look for on a first page. Among them: memorable, relatable characters, engaging story telling, and a good sense of place. Editors, tell us, want to be tickled, surprised, transported to another place and time. They want to know by the end of the first page to whom, when, where and why this is happening and they want to care enough about your characters that they cannot stop reading.

Also, I almost forgot, they want the piece to have a voice, that elusive element “they recognize when they see it.”

Not bad, for a mere 250 words.

Never to be discouraged, last year I decided to create a perfect first page following all the advice above and send the resulting creation to a local workshop. It worked. They chose my piece and, apart from some minor tinkering the three editors like it well enough.

But my triumph was short lived. My first page was perfect, thank you very much, but I had no idea where to go from there.

So this year I decided to go the traditional way and write the story first. I sent my first page to the same workshop. This time they didn’t choose it. I didn’t mind. Not too much, anyway. I know I am on the right track. The story is strong in my mind, the characters are speaking to me, and the setting is gorgeous. I have even found my voice.

So, for now, I’ll stick to the writing and worry about creating that perfect beginning when I’m done.

In the meantime, I leave you with several killing beginnings taken from published books I and other readers have added to a thread I started some months ago at Goodreads. You can check them at:

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/67351-once-upon-a-time

You are welcome to add yours there or here as comments.

And don’t forget to keep writing.