Thursday, August 19, 2010

SWAT Boot Camp for Novel Beginnings

By C.L. Phillips

You're a successful writer and novelist. So why are you constantly reworking and tweaking your first ten pages? Oh, I get it. If the first ten pages don't hook your reader, then you might as well go home, right.

So what are you doing about it? Besides gnawing on your fingernails? Do you need a little tough love from Sargent Wordslayer's SWAT Boot Camp for Novelists.? What? You don't know Sargent Wordslayer? Sure you do. He's that little voice in your head screaming, "this is the best you can do? Drop and give me twenty." At least, that's what he says to me.

Sargent Wordslayer's SWAT Boot Camp, that's SWAT - Stop Whithering Away Tension, kicks your opening chapters into shape. Sargent Wordslayer doesn't care about your fears or phobia's. He turns introverted middle-grade poets into vampire thriller writers. He can turn you into a world class, ass-kicking word-bashing samurai. But do you have what it takes?

Test yourself. Take out your first ten pages. Read them quickly. Now, put them away. Really. Turn the pages over. Better yet, take those first ten pages and put them in the freezer. Get a Popsicle while you are there. Sargent Wordslay encourages the use of sugar in all forms.


We're going to put your hero in the three opening scenes of famous books. You're going to take the details of your story and insert your characters and try to make it work. Let me give you an example. You are writing a mystery (obviously, or you wouldn't be here, now would you?).

Example One: Ordinary day turns to....incoming danger. Put your hero into a scene like the opening of Micahel Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer. Your hero is going to work. A normal day. S/he gets a phone call. Something unexpected happens, and you are off to the races. Sargent Wordslayer says "Get that iincoming bomb in the first 150 words."

Example Two: Get the story problem in the first line. Example, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. The first line. "It wasn't a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance." Give Sargent Wordslayer six new first lines that foreshadow your story! Get writing. You've got three minutes. Put that Popsicle down and get cracking. No looking around the room. Write, golly-gosh-darn-it.

Example Three: Pick a fight. Check out Harlen Coben's Deal Breaker. Make your hero pick a fight with a throw-away character so we can bond with his righteous indignation, ability to protect the weak, and possibly admire his mental acuity and muscular body. Sargent Wordslayer gives bonus points if you can make the fight happen in two pages while simultaneously demonstrating your hero's internal psychological flaw and one endearing little quirk.

Did you do it? Or did you just read about it? Sargent Wordslayer says, "Private, print this blog post out and tape it to your forehead until you do it." You'll feel better. Promise.

Write on!
C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787


Judy Clemens said...

What fun! Thanks for sharing this very helpful and enjoyable post. I will look forward to putting my work through the paces.

Joyce said...

I'm definitely going to try this. After I finish the push-ups and the popsicle.

Great post!

C.L. Phillips said...

I'm sitting here with twenty pages, filled with circles and squares. And the popsicle box is empty.


Christine Hammar said...

Ack! Left my MS in the freezer for too long. It froze and crumbled to small pieces! Have to start all over! Hope to come up with a hooking sentence...

Thanks for this great post! Made the wheels turn & churn...