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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » those first 13 lines

   
Author Topic: those first 13 lines
ozwonderdog
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Cruising through these forums, I am beginning to understand the importance of those first 13 lines. Its kind of like one of those tricks of the trade you're not told about.

So, I think I might have discovered a problem with my writing. I've written novels through NaNoWriMo, so I am used to pacing out a story for a longer length. Two short stories I have polished up, looking at them with the first 13 lines in mind, it seems like a slow burn, that nothing cool starts until AFTER these first 13 lines.

This is bad for me, huh...

So, do you re-write the story to change those first 13 lines? Or try and maintain integrity because the rest of the story rocks?


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Bent Tree
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As you have probably already learned, the first thirteen is your window of opportunity not only to grab the attention of a potential editor, but to get the attention of a potential reader. I read more shorts than most non writers, but not by much. The average reader may read a little more than the first thirteen, but it is important to get their attention.

I understand your dilema. It seems that your tendency to stretch stories is common. I too have that problem at times. We build these worlds in our mind and it is our natural instinct to want to tell the reader what we know, but pulling the best story from that milieu is essential to good writing.

A better story can be made by showing that world through the view of an interesting character. It is a balancing act. Good exposition reaveals just the right amount of the world to tell the best story.

Finding the best place to start a story is often difficult, but it is our job I guess.

Good luck.


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KayTi
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I try to introduce the speculative element, and start with action, in media res as they say. Not necessarily with a heroine trapped behind enemy lines with rocket shells exploding all around her, but mid-conversation, mid-action, in the thick of it.

That's what I focus on for the first 13.


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ArachneWeave
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I think there's something to the idea that beginnings need the most revision.

Because until you've written the whole thing you don't actually know how it's going to come together, sometimes it's just a little off. Or while your brain is kicking into gear for the story you fill the page with material that isn't necessary.

Of course practice helps, but editing is always necessary.

To get a nice 13 sometimes I have to think about what is really engaging about a story, and that can be a good process, too.

[This message has been edited by ArachneWeave (edited March 11, 2008).]


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Wolfe_boy
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quote:
So, do you re-write the story to change those first 13 lines? Or try and maintain integrity because the rest of the story rocks?

I don't get entirely what you're asking here. You wrote a story and the first 13 are boring and nothing happens, then your story takes off and completes itself in a satisfactory way. Now, you're asking if you should rewrite your whole story to match those 13 lines? Or are you asking should you rewrite the first 13 to match the story, vs. leaving it as it is, with a crappy beginning?

Not really much of a choice, is it. Rewrite your first 13.

And keep in mind, a first 13 for a short story & a novel are different things. In a short, you need to compel me to continue reading by introducing me to many of the significant elements, or at least a few of them, right off the bat. 13 lines might be as much as 5% of your total story. With a novel, it's much less of the total, and basically you just need to have it crafted well enough that the reader is comfortable and has a good sense of where things are at - their setting, the POV they're in, etc.

Jayson Merryfield


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InarticulateBabbler
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Show us an example. (In Fragments & Feedback)

If the story is good, but the first 13 aren't, the story really isn't because the first 13 aren't. Maybe you're reading too much into the comments and assuming the majority wouldn't like the 13 because of the pace. That's not necessarily true. It can be slow, as long as it delivers a hook. There are myriad types of hooks.

So let us judge for ourselves.


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ozwonderdog
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Okay, I've posted the first 13 lines of the short that got the form letter reject in the short story forum.

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Collin
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I often start a story with a prologue that is exciting and that explains something in the past in first-person view. Then I start the story with something that's not exactly WOW kind of exciting but that makes the reader want to read on and not use the book when they need to become tired for a nap.
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Owasm
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There is advice out there that often your story starts in Chapter 2. I wrote a short story after I read about this and it was amazing. I chucked the first chapter and ended up in a much better starting place, picking up the action in progress.

It's difficult to do that if you have a prologue. There is a school of thought that also says chuck the prologue and tuck the information in the flow of your story.

I don't know if that helps, but it has helped me.

- Owasm


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extrinsic
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It's worth noting that 13 manuscript lines averages 130 words, at 150 words per minute average speaking rate that's slightly less than one minute's elapsed time if read aloud. Given an average comprehension reading speed of 300 words a minute, that's less than 30 seconds elapsed time. Studies of bookstore shoppers shows that an average of 15 seconds is spent browsing a book in order to make an acquisition decision.
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Tiergan
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Nothing really to say about the first 13, other than its important. But on a side note this is the second time I got all excited because Jason (wolfe-boy) was back only to find out its an old post.
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Nick T
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Huh, I went to look for the rejected story and couldn't find it...until Tiergan pointed out that the first post is a year old.

I've always been puzzled about some of the resistance to the concept of making the 1st 13 as good as you can. Sometimes the advice can be misinterpreted to mean that the 1st 13 has to have a whiz-bang action start, but I've always taken it to mean that your first 13 has to have something to keep the reader reading. The nature of a hook can vary (a mundane scene can be carried by great writing), but you must not do anything in the 1st 13 to turn the reader off.

Nick

Nick


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