A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #23: What Comes After Chapter One

outrider1I blogged a while back on openings—that is, how a writer decides how to start a story.

I decided to start the novel currently known as Holostar with a bang of a particular type. “Bang” being a highly technical term for an opening that involves elements of excitement, suspense, surprise, etc.

Well, what comes next? Moving into a novel, a writer has a host of things to accomplish. To wit:

150px-dash_rendar_soteeCharacter development: We need to introduce you, the reader, to the folks with whom we’re asking you to spend several hours of realtime and maybe months of story time. So we want to begin to establish the characters’ … well, character. Personally, I prefer the “show, don’t tell” method of doing this—letting you see Dash responding to different situations and people, so that you get a “feel” for him and his companions.

Setting up the plot elements: Mostly we know where we’re going, in general, when we start writing the book. So we begin pretty much from the beginning to set up the plot elements that will come together over the course of the story to form conflict, danger, intrigue.

eu_smForeshadowing: This is related to setting up plot elements, but it’s also about giving you clues and hints about future action. No, Dear Reader—saying, “Little did Dash Rendar know that he was soon to regret those words” is not foreshadowing. It’s spoiling the surprise. Foreshadowing, if done right, can give readers a great deal of pleasure as they make new discoveries and think, “Ha! I knew it! That was a clue!” It can take the form of something a character says or hears or sees or does. And, yep, it’s lots of fun to write.

Setting the atmosphere: There’s a lot in a story that can’t really be put into words. The atmosphere of dread or hilarity in a scene can’t be conveyed just by saying, “Dash felt sudden dread” or “Leebo was a funny droid who cracked jokes.” We have to try to make you feel the dread as Dash is feeling it, or try to make you laugh at Leebo’s jokes and quips.

Let the world in: And then, because this is a Star Wars novel, we have to be conscious of putting in elements that remind you that you are in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. But we have to do it in such a way that we don’t stop the story to paint a backdrop, let you peer at a calendar, or study the hierarchical charts of the Empire.

Well, now, that doesn’t sound like a very tall order, does it? Piece of cake, right?

Right. So, our job at this juncture is to get you to like, or at least take an interest in, the brash, irascible Dash Rendar and his companions, to put all the ingredients in place so that the plot comes together like a nice curry sauce (hm, I must be hungry), hinting delicately about things to come, filling out the world and making sure the world “feels” like the GFFA you all know and love … well, hopefully with a surprise or two that you’ll like, as well.

And the goal of all this? To draw you into the story. To keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next. Because of all the things we, the writers, have to do for you, Dear Reader, the most important is to weave an interesting tale. To give you threads you will be eager to follow through to the end.

Next time: Reality is in the nuts and bolts…

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A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #23: What Comes After Chapter One — 6 Comments

  1. What I want most in an opening – in a book – is to be intrigued. If the characters, the setting, the plotline are too clicheed, I will tune out, so for me having a situation that doesn’t make automatic sense (who is this person? Why would she act iike this?) works a million times better than the clicheed ‘there’s a threat and the hero must fight it/run away’ when I’m not invested in the outcome of the struggle. (One way to really turn me off: show me a character’s struggles and just when I’m sucked into it and want him to succeed, have him fail and die.)

    This is a really useful list; thanks for sharing.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s a fairly recent trend in killing off the reader’s favorite characters that some people seem to really like because “yeah, life is like that.”

      Life? This is fiction, I say. I HAVE a life it’s sometimes scary and unpredictable, which means that I don’t need or want my fiction to be that. There was some chat on the boards about why Jax Pavan wasn’t killed off at the end of Patterns of Force. Perhaps the answer is that he’s a useful character and Del Rey likes him. But the real answer is that Michael and I like him and the readers like him. If killing him off is the predictable thing to do (almost a trope of the genre, by now) then I say, “Let him live!”

      Well, let’s just hope that in the case of Holostar, I will have studied my Agrippa enough to pull off a satisfactory opening that draws the reader into the rest of the story.

  2. H’chu apenkee Maya and Company,

    Insightful blog as always, Maya. I found my self going over the many- ‘many ‘- Star Wars books of assorted mediums I’ve read, attempting to determine which of them strove to match your method of plot and character interduction. And, in retrospect, I found that many of the titles which did not were those I found myself not all that found of.

    As you mentioned in your response to green, one of the more common elements introduced recently in the Star Wars universe is this mind numbing facination with killing off well liked and established characters to facilitate a sense that the GFFA is a ‘real’ place where ‘real’ dangers exsist, i.e. if we as people can get hit by a passing car just going down the street to get some milk, so to can some of our beloved SW players, albeit their deaths tend to be of a more extrodianry, but idiotic, circumstance. An example of the two observations I’ve pointed out is the author Tim Zahn.

    One of the reasons I feel we all loved his Thrawn Trilogy was the fact that he was quite savy at quickly introducing us to characters we both knew and would come to know instantly and with, as you said, a bang; setting up the atmosphere, drawing us into their experiances, painting clear, though not too clear, pictures of their hopes, fears, etc. He did not have to bash us over the head with said reactions, we just got them in the same manner we percieve our own emotional responses. That being said, it comes to no surprise that you would choose a similar objective, opening with a bang, a few surprises, and making us become attached to these wonderful characters.

    To jump quickly to the second topic, I am very thankful you touched on the deaths of established characters for the sake of ‘realism’. As you said, we are already all to keenly aware of the sense of mortality in our real lives, and I for one have no desire to see that in the GFFA, or any window through which I wish to ‘get away’ from things for a short time. Sadly, the choice was made almost a year ago to kill Mara Jade, and though this was utilized as a major ‘plot’ element to move a certain ‘fallen’ character along their Dark path, the simple fact of the matter is the same goal could have been achieved with a lesser character, one not so beloved of the fandom. Even Mara’s creator recognized that her death was un-needed ‘shock factor’, and nothing more.

    In closing, I was quite overjoyed to see Jax live to see the end of the Coruscant Nights trilogy and look foward to seeing him again, (cough *Holostar cameo* cough) and I’m glad you feel it as being un-needed to bid a character fairwell for the sake of realistic ‘drama’ or ‘plot’. Back to you, Maya.

    Joe

  3. Sometimes a writer’s sense of a character’s worth (read: how much they like the character) will determine the character’s fate. And sometimes circumstances arise that make it more logical from a story point of view that the character NOT die or that a different character die. In fact, you may write yourself into a situation where you’d have to pull a god out of a box to kill the character off.

    Some writers will go ahead and do this. I try not to be one of them. I’m one of those whacko writers who feels that the characters help write the story. When Michael and I wrote MR. TWILIGHT, a lot of the plot developments came out of the interaction between the characters — their strengths and weaknesses, goals and fears.

    I can tell you that the character who died at the end of Patterns of Force is not the character we originally planned would die. By the time the plot had worked itself out and the characters had revealed all their secrets, the original idea no longer made sense and, well, as Michael said, “I like the guy.”

    You wanna hear the truth? I’ve never forgiven Joss Whedon for killing off Wash. I don’t ever want any of my readers to feel that way about me! 🙂

  4. (Quick post)

    Hey Maya,

    Thanks for giving me your perspective on the death of characters topic. When I wrote my post, I know it sounded like venting, but I was really looking for the opinion of an author who’s mind-set I trusted. For the record, I was happy with who you and Michael chose to kill off, even if that was not the established plan, since I never really liked that…um… ‘particular’ character. Kept getting in the way of a certain…’relationship’ I liked = )

    Joe

    P.S. I am one of those sad Browncoats that can not, will not, ‘ever’ let Wash go. Besides, who is better at bringing back characters he killed off than Joss? I mean, in one form or another…