First and Last

“The room still smelt of sex and sweat.”

It was such a great first line, but despite that fabulous start the rest of the story didn’t deliver.  I have rewritten it time and time again, with different protagonists, different themes and different endings but the narrative just doesn’t work.  Regrettably I think this will be binned in favour of a more suitable, banal first line that suits the tale.

It started as an exercise at my writing group; we had to begin a story, one to be sent to a competition. It came to my turn to read my work out; I offered my opening line but didn’t get to finish due to the astonishing and most unexpected effect on my listeners.   Only a moment elapsed before the words sunk in, then a ripple of laughter followed by wows and oohs completely drowned out my timid reading,  I stopped and when calm was restored to the room the general consensus was to hear what happened next.  Unfortunately on the night in question there was even less than there is now.

The reaction of my writing group is the reaction I, and I suspect every other writer wants, readers who pick up their work to have,  that need to go on and find out what is happening.

I attended another writing workshop later in the week, this one is more focused on feedback and we present our previously written 1000 words for scrutiny and advice.   The comments are always positive but open up weaknesses, misunderstandings and sometimes grammatical errors.    I struggle with critiquing others work, especially as they all write so much better than I do; some of them are successful writers and authors and they are asking me for advice.  But we all need beta readers who can be objective and point out things whatever status we have reached.  The paying public will be first to criticise our book and not buy it.  I feel I still have more to learn in the subtle craft of critiquing but am studying how the others comment and compliment and also use previous feedback in their redrafts.

I have been so busy editing Memories that the evening came round a little too suddenly for me.  I could not decide what I wanted feedback on.   1000 words from the chapter I was working on seemed a little random and I wasn’t sure what detail I needed comment on in isolation.  So many Irish names and complex characters to pre-explain; not to mention the history would take up my allotted 15 minutes before I even got to read my piece.  I opted to rifle through my binned drawer and pulled out a short story I had written many years before and never had the nerve to send.

Unexpectedly, it sparked a positive discussion, but  my listeners were all agreed on one thing it needed finishing off.  I had opened a lot of threads and where as I thought it was finished leaving the reader to decide where it goes, my listeners wanted more guidance to close the story for them.    The story was rife with internal angst, past drama and I thought future hope, which others saw too.  One person, however saw a very dark, sinister thread weaving its way to a sad and brutal end.   Another writer actually pointed out with a bit of creativity it could be sent to the very publication, I had in mind when writing it.   I wriggled, and glowed from the inside with the excitement of maybe not being so far off the original mark and the magazine might yet be receiving a copy sometime soonish if I overcome my nerve.

If I have learnt anything this week it is the importance of my first and last lines.  I think back to the drawing board or rather computer keyboard is called for. I now have a new story for the competition still looking for that hooking first line,  and I have another that needs finishing with a cracking last line not to mention a fresh look at memories opening and closing lines.

“…. you then killed her.  I so hate you!”


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