Kicking Some Writer Ass (including my own)

When I needed someone to kick my butt, to SHOVE me past obstacles like no time and self-doubt to finish revising my first book, I invented my own personal drill sergeant. So now he’s ba-ack!

Boot camp artwork is from the U.S. Army Online Gallery, this one by SFC Peter T. Varisano. Click for a full gallery of his work
Boot camp artwork is from the U.S. Army Online Gallery, this one by SFC Peter T. Varisano. Click for a full gallery of his work

Revision Boot Camp is a 21-DAY KICK IN THE PANTS for authors–especially if you’re working on mystery, thriller or suspense elements in your prose.I’m going to light a fire under your ass and send you off with a specific assignment. Maybe it’s about pacing or a turning-point scene. Maybe you’ll need to lay out a series of mysterious clues. What’s so suspenseful about that pause of suspense before your climax? Find the tension–or slash the whole scene.

Over the next three weeks, we’ll shear off those long locks of prose. You’re gonna cry when your words fall to the cutting-room floor, but you’ll get lean and tough. Your prose will be tighter than Gerard Butler’s abs. Complete your work or you may find yourself on LATRINE DUTY.  Or the Long Run!  (Trust me, you don’t want to find out what those are about.)

TODAY’S ASSIGNMENT is to take your opening chapter and amp up the inciting incident. It needs to make us sit up and take notice. If you’ve written a mystery, it might start with a body. Take a look at that corpse–what’s unique about him? There had better be something. Maybe you’re writing a short story focused in human interactions–what’s fresh about that opening complication?

You have to GRAB your reader’s attention or your book will sit on the shelf. Was the body found with a flamingo feather laid across its chest? Did the killer paint the victim’s nails with chartreuse nail polish? Did the girl spot her boyfriend with another woman–coming out of a jewelry store? Or was he dragging a human-sized, wiggling box to the edge of a bridge?

It has to be non-straightforward. Why in hell would a killer bother with a feather? Did the boyfriend need help picking a ring for the protagonist–or for that chica he had in tow? If you can’t think of anything, think of some of the most unusual things that have ever happened to you. Could a piece of one of them shake up your opening scene?

Contradictions
Another way to start is with a contradiction. One opening event seems to be contradictory to the next. Here’s an example from my most recent short story–yes, you can critique it all you want.

The Houston humidity stuck to me like the truth: I had cheated on Tom. On that first day home, I sat on the deck of Gyros Gyros and lied about it to my best friend. Mai had only known me for twelve years. She never suspected me of cheating.

See the contradiction? The protagonist cheated, admits it freely, yet her best friend would never suspect her of such a thing. This is not part of her normal character. Hopefully it tells you that there’s more going on here–and makes you curious. Try adding a contradiction to your opening–subtle or in-your-face annoying. It can drive your readers’ curiosity.

Now GET TO WORK, Private! Rewrite that inciting incident. Make us sit up straight.

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