Monday, October 24, 2011

Ordinary World

We talked last week about writing a strong proposal. I mentioned that you need to wow your editor because ultimately the first chapters of your book, typically submitted in the proposal, also need to wow READERS.
Last weekend, I attended the New Jersey RWA chapter's conference (and had a great time) and in my workshop JOURNEY STEPS, A NO-FRILLS GUIDE TO PLOTTING, we talked a lot about the first scene/first chapter of your book and how important it is.

Your first scene/first chapter, has to introduce characters (establishing who they are because they have to grow and we need a reference point of how they grow). It has to start a chain of events that will roll through the entire book and that chain of events is typically started by an inciting incident, terrible trouble, or day/moment everything changed.

One of the questions I've frequently gotten when giving this workshop is "What about Vogler's Ordinary World?"

Well, you've gotta get that in you're wowing readers!

Actually, I like to USE ordinary world to wow readers. But I don't use an entire scene or chapter to demonstrate who the character is and how he or she lives to orient readers. I get all that stuff into the scene I'm writing as the inciting incident scene.

Take THE BABY PROJECT. The heroine is a lawyer who is named co-guardian in a will with the hero. I set the first scene at the reading of the will. Her dad is her boss and also the lawyer who wrote the will that named her co-guardian. So what better way to open this book than in the scene right before the will is read (before the hero and his brothers come in) when her dad warns her that she was named co-guardian.

She says, Oh, no. I can't do it.
Dad says, It's been 2 years since your baby's death. It's time you moved on. If you can't, your mom and I think you need to start seeing Dr. Miller (her therapist) again.

Two lines of dialogue tell us a great deal about the heroine and her internal struggle.

We're also "in" her regular environment. We establish her "ordinary" world very easily just by having her sit down on a leather sofa and talk with her dad as both a boss and a father.

But what about the hero?

He and his half-brothers are called into the office for the official will reading. As they walk in, the heroine's observations about him tell us a great deal about his "ordinary" world.

First, he's beyond good looking. (LOL! Aren't they all?) But he's walks into the room first. His half-brothers follow. He's the one who speaks. Proving he's the leader. His half-brothers also dislike him. That's clearly displayed in their body language.

But...what's his ordinary world? How do we get HIS ordinary world in when they aren't in his office?

He's an international businessman. Technically anywhere he has his iPhone is his office. But ordinary world isn't so much about how many lamps he has and who his secretary is. It's more about who HE IS at the moment of the inciting incident...the reading of the will.

So we have this tall, good looking, clearly a leader, neat and clean and careful with his appearance and his words hero...who's about to get a spitting up, crying, peeing, screaming baby.

Do we need to see his office to have a good idea of what it looks like?

Do we need to see his "estate" to know that's how he lives?

Do we needs to see him in his quiet house to know a baby is going to upset the balance?

Nope. Most times you can get ordinary world into a scene through character more easily than showing us the sunrise over the Atlantic.

And...think this through...doesn't that opening with him strutting his stuff more effectively "wow" readers and editors than two pages describing his shiny desk, efficient secretary and black limo?

Yes and no. (LOL...nothing like comparison!)

Sometimes showing us his sleek office, efficient secretary and black limo can be used to tell us as much about his character as character can be used to describe ordinary world.

The trick is playing with what you have ... figuring out which format...using ordinary world to show us your character or using your character to show us his ordinary best for your story. Which one will drop them into the story at the best possible point and most effectively introduce character?

Because in the end it's all about entertaining readers. Find the best thing that works for your story, then run with it!

Happy Monday!



Anonymous said...

Great post! Love the two lines of dialogue that tell so much about your heroine.

Susan said...

Thanks, Aimee.

That was a great book to write. Character driven stories always are. And these two had a boatload of trouble.

But I love pondering first scenes, figuring out what's going to drop readers into the story so quickly and easily they forget they're reading! =:)


Unknown said...

Great post! You make it sound so simple and provide clear examples to show rather than tell. Very helpful! Thanks!

Susan said...

I love simple! LOL

Seriously. Some explanations get to complicated that they're almost too hard to understand.

I love simple. :)