Wednesday, May 16, 2007


And your first line
by Billie A Williams © 2007

Spending a lot of time on that first line, that first paragraph — the hook of your story-- Is it worth it? Compare what you have come up with now with that of a couple authors and we’ll look at something that speaks of perseverance and polishing, and pushing through to get there.

Michael Crichton wrote State of Fear, here is the first line from that book.
“In the darkness, he touched her arm and said, ‘Stay here.’ She did not move, just waited. The smell of salt water was strong. She heard the faint gurgle of water.”

We talked about that first line before. Well ,what we didn’t discuss before was Michael Crichton’s career. He won both Emmy and Peabody awards. Crichton created the TV show ER and his books have sold over 100 million copies in 30 languages, 12 were made into films and he directed 7 of them.

Crichton’s books and films include: Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Twister, and Westworld to name a few. He was the only person in the United States to have the number-one book, the number-one movie and the number-one television show all at the same time. That is some kind of record to emulate, wouldn’t you say?

“Books aren’t written—they’re rewritten,” Crichton says.

That may be true. Ernest Hemmingway wrote Farewell to Arms 39 times (or should I say re-wrote) before he was satisfied that he had ‘gotten it right’. Let’s look at his first sentence in that book.
“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”

Is that enough to pull us in? Sure, we think 'so what?' and 'What year?' But is it enough? Hemmingway probably knew it wasn’t. But the rest, the first paragraph, speaks to us further, let’s read on.

“In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white [emphasis mine] in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”

This paragraph presents a nearly ominous feeling of troops marching and leaves falling early. Is he hinting that the men who marched by were too young to fall like the leaves off a tree early—early in their lives? He starts and ends the paragraph with the “dry – and white", then bare and white”—neatly packaging what he wants us to see and feel.

If Hemmingway could rewrite A Farewell to Arms 39 times to get it right, what makes us think our first draft is perfect, what makes us think once is enough? Not that we should be paranoid and never let go, never finish tweaking. You need to be satisfied at some point. But working on it is never a waste of your time.

Another example of going the extra mile, persevering, for your career is M. Scott Peck – his non-fiction book—The Road Less Traveled — he believed so strongly that it was a good book worthy of being read and re-read he invested himself in the marketing and promotion of it by being interviewed on 1,000 radio shows in the first year after it was published. Did he stop there? No, for the next 12 years he did at least one interview a day at the minimum on radios wherever he could.

His book hit the New York Times Best-Seller list and stayed there for over 540 weeks (a record) selling 10 million copies in over 20 languages.

I venture to extrapolate that the messages here are perseverance pays off whether it is in tweaking your story for the 39th or 100th time, or getting out there and hawking your wares once it is published.

If you want to succeed in this game of becoming a highly successful author you have to walk the walk and talk the talk, but then you have to get out their and promote until you make it. INVEST IN YOURSELF! As Mark Joyner would say “Hit it until you hit it!” or put another way “Fake it until you make it!” as Wayne Dyer says.

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