Nicholas focused on the remaining daylight pooling on the floor in the magistrate’s office. He ought lift his head, show a measure of respect, but the cold wooden planks were preferable to the fire in Ford’s eyes. He sucked in a breath and held it, the tightness in his chest matching his nerves. Would this day never end? Keeping a foolish woman from harm, comforting his dying sister, finding his employer dead, and now this. Not that he’d never been dressed down by the magistrate before, but with fatigue fraying his tightly woven resolve, this time the man’s censure nipped particularly deep.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
The Magic Paragraph
Word Count: 37,550
Sentence of the Day: She lifted her chin, a more ladylike approach instead of lifting her palm and slapping the smirk off his face--though not nearly as satisfying.
Have you ever started reading a chapter and found yourself a bit bewildered? You read on, mostly because you just shelled out $15 for the book and you WILL finish the thing or die trying, and eventually you find out 3 paragraphs later that you're in the hero's POV. 2 paragraphs more and you discover he's in an abandoned warehouse. And it isn't until paragraph 7 that you find out what he thinks about the situation.
Whew. That was a lot of work to figure out.
And that's exactly what you DON'T want to do to a reader. Never fear, though, for I've got a handy dandy magic bullet to ward off this particular bugaboo...wait a minute...make that a magic paragraph.
Disclaimer: The Magic Paragraph isn't my invention. It's gleaned from Ron Benrey's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Christian Fiction.
Whenever you're starting a new chapter, the first paragraph is crucial. You've got to connect in several ways with your reader or they'll be confused, either outright or subliminally. So here's what you need to do every time you open a new scene:
#1. Signal whose head to enter.
Let your reader know up front which character's POV that they're in. Don't get cute and make them wonder. It's not cute and readers don't have time to wonder.
#2. Twang an appropriate sense, emotion or mental faculty.
Your reader is living vicariously through the POV character. What is that character experiencing at the moment? Share it. The best way is to show it via one of the 5 senses instead of telling by means of heavy internal monologue.
#3. Show an appropriate action or response to #2.
Cause and effect. That's what I'm talking about. For example, let's say we open in your hero's POV and you show him shivering at a bus stop. What's his response? Maybe he looks at his watch and curses out public transportation for being late. Or perhaps he tugs his coat tighter, the seam at his shoulder rips, and he's glad it happened now instead of when he was in the job interview he'd just left.
Then simply repeat 1-3 as needed and/or desired.
Here's an example from my current WIP. See if you can spot the steps.
There. Did you see it? The first sentence let's you know you're in Nicholas's head(1). He feels guilty for staring at the floor but not shamed enough to lift his head(2)...which makes him uncomfortable so he sucks in a breath(3).
That's the Magic Paragraph in a nutshell. Give it a whirl. It's a great hare to pull out of your writerly hat, and after using it awhile, it will turn into a good rabbit, I mean habit.
Wow. Do I need a cup of coffee or what?