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Lee Garrett

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Beating the How-Do-I-Begin Curse
by Lee Garrett   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

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Nailing that opening scene.


A friend of mine was having trouble getting her story going and asked me for help. She had a couple paragraphs, but the thing wasn’t gelling. What I told her might help other writers out there, so I’m posting this for whatever value it may have.
Her start:
------- ----------------- ------------------
Honestly, today is going to be great. I finally get to move back to Sacramento. It’s been awhile since I’ve lived there, a few decades or so. I am a vampire, and I am about a hundred and twenty-three years old. My name is Laila. I’m roughly five foot seven inches with a very athletic build, lucky me. I’m a brunette with blue eyes and a stubborn attitude. Now you could be wondering what I’m doing moving to Sunny California, and you have a right to. All those vampire movies and books must have you thinking I’m about to commit suicide, but I’m not. I love the sun. That’s right. The sun doesn’t bother me, garlic doesn’t repel me, and crosses are just wood. Capes are so not cool, and I cannot change into a bat.
I stood there staring at the U-Haul truck I had rented to make the move from this run down town back to my beloved Sacramento. I refused to go back after I was made vampire by Eifah. Though I was eighteen when I was changed, I ran away from home, hoping that someday I would be reunited with my hometown. Today I was going to get that wish.

------- ----------------- ---------- ------------
Problem 1. This is telling. 1st rule of writing is show, don’t tell. The paragraphs didn’t really set the scene—readers don’t have a mental image of the main character’s surroundings.
Problem 2. The best general rule for starting a story is being ignored: START WITH ACTION, explain later. What you have here is all back-story, to be sprinkled in later in slower parts of book.

           Here’s how you start a vampire story:

------- ----------------- ------------------ 

          I sighed as an evening breeze billowed my sun dress. If I’d known violence was imminent, I’d have gone with jeans. And maybe a sword. Not that I know how to use one. Swords are cool, especially when you have inhuman speed and strength—and you’re too cute for words.
            I watched the guy coming from the corner, a white bandana holding his long hair out of his face.
 He thought a rip-off would be easy since all the movers are inside, dropping off the first load. Bandana Boy thought he’d just stroll past the big scary mansion with its gables and white marble columns, dead lawn—and bone-dry fountain—and pull a snatch-n-run.
            Yeah, right, except this is my stuff, and nobody takes from me. Not any more. I’ve learned my lessons. That’s why I’m back in the town I ran away from all those years ago.
            Bandana Boy is oh, so casual, with an effeminate face, wearing fashionably ripped jeans and a black Night Wish tee shirt … Icelandic Goth metal. I like that band too. Maybe I won’t kill him after all; just share a little of the pain that’s been dragging me around all these years.
            He doesn’t see me standing on top of the truck, looking down like a spirit of vengeance. I let him pick up a couple boxes. They’ll slow him down. I need the advantage—it’s proof of guilt—not that I’ll press charges.
            We vampires dispense our own justice.
            I draw a breath, my first one in hours, in case I need to talk.
            He’s ten steps away, as I launch into the air. No, not as a bat. Really! Does everyone believe those old stories?  I can mentally ride the mind of a bat, but not turn into one.
            This will be over fast. Being dead, I use my whole body. Normal humans fire one out of three muscle strands in every bundle. They fire the rest when adrenaline induces hysterical strength. We vamps are hysterical all the time. You know what I mean.
            The straw hat blows off my head. My long brown hair fans like wings. The evening sunlight warmly kisses my cheek. No, I don’t turn into dust. That part’s not right either. The world blurs past me, whipping crazily as I tuck into a spin, hanging upside down for a moment. I land in front of him.
            Reaching over the boxes, I seize his throat. I can tell from his expression—surprise edging into terror—that my eyes are doing that spooky, red glow thing they do when I’m excited. I hear and smell the rushing blood in his veins, O Neg, my favorite.
            I use my super-sexy vamp whisper to shiver his spine, “It’s not nice to steal from the living dead. How are you gonna make this up to me?”

------- ----------------- ------------------
There, see what I mean. Double duty is accomplished. Back-story always needs to be part of something bigger going on. Set scene sparsely so you don’t slow action, you can add more detail later. Most importantly, when dealing with supernatural creatures, show your vampire being a vampire, don’t just tell reader he or she is one. Because so many writers reinvent vamps and other creatures, when you deviate from traditional qualities, you need to tip the reader off early on what those differences are, just don’t bog the pacing with too much info and slow plot with a data dump. 
I hope this helps some new writer out there staring at a blank page of paper,  I've been there too.


Web Site: Lee Garrett

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Reviewed by Gwen Dickerson 7/22/2010
Splendid example! You are such a great writer. I always enjoy your works! Thank you Lee.
Reviewed by Mary Quire 5/27/2010
Awesome article, Lee. I know that this advice has helped me immensely. Hope all is well.
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