Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Fish Model: Element (a) Starters!

The first element of the fish model
As promised, I will go through the fish model in making a good reading experience for your readers and today I will guide you through the first element: The Starter!

But first I need to clear something up
As these posts are a work in progress I will from time to time have to revise some of my definitions and explanations as needed. In my first post I claimed that the starter is the first 2-3 words in your work, but as I was writing the present post I realized that this definition is a bit off. The starter CAN be broader than those first words. It can be the title of your work, the first few sentences or even the image on the cover.

Let us begin
The Starter is, beside the obvious that it´s what starts your work, a teaser. It´s something you use to get the readers attention. In a commercial, the first few miliseconds are vital to getting out the message. To get an idea, think of a commercial you remember. How did it begin? What was it that got your attention? Was it the clothes the people in the commercial wore? Was it some text on the screen? Sounds maybe? Whatever it was, the thing that made you want to see more was an example of a good starter.

Three starter tactics
There are many ways to make a good starter and though it is impossible to set a complete guideline to cover every possible effective starter, there are a few tactics you can use to make a good starter.

The surprise tactic is when you - yes, you guessed it - surprise your readers, catch them off guard to open up their minds as to what comes next. The surprise tactic has it´s strength in being unique, ´cause otherwise it really wouldn´t be a surprise, would it? If someone else has already used what you may think is a good surprise tactic starter, then you may want to rethink it.

In my first English fairy tale I use this tactic in the title of the book: "Princess Lila and The Knight in Shouting Armor." It´s simple and effective, because you would expect a Knight in SHINING armor and instead you get a Knight in SHOUTING Armor. The reader´s interest is already on heels and I can begin to tell the story.

In fact, when I published this book on the number of sample downloads sent it straight to the top of my own book list passing books on it´s way that had been there for several weeks and I must admit, that the cover I had at the time was the worst cover I´ve ever had on any book!

Another example where the title is the starter is a Danish novel published fall 2011. It had the quite extensive title: "The 100-year-old, who climbed out the window and disappeared." This title makes you wonder, because it seems to be self-contradicting. Just to imagine someone that old climbing out the window is strange and we want to know more.

Yet another example is chapter 2 in my upcoming novel, "Hickory Street Changing," where the beginning says "Couple´s Therapy? How can cheating on your wife be Couple´s Therapy?" Indeed! How can it? I want to read more to find out and thus it´s a good starter.

The sounds tactic is a tactic rarely used, but when applied it can make a world of difference. Using a sound in the beginning of your work instead of words brings your story to a high paste level even before your reader has any clue as to what the story is all about.

I´ve used this tactic in some of my Flash Fiction and this is an area where it is most called for, because Flash Fiction being so short, you really need something to get things going right away. A sound will do that. I wrote a flash fiction a few months ago (in Danish, so I´m sorry, but you can´t read it) where the beginning is a car crash. It started with "Crriiiisjang!" being the sound of a car crashing.

The quoting tactic is a peculiar one to describe, but as you have already guessed this tactic is when you start with a quote. The quote can be one of your characters saying something interesting or it could be a quote from a paper, a book or a magazine, those being either from the real world or from the world of your story. This tactic is one of my favorites, but since it is usually harder to do well than the other tactics mentioned here, I try to not use so often.

This tactic is widely used in Science Fiction and Fantasy. The reason is probably because in these two genres you need more description of the story´s world than in most other stories. So, why not do two things at the same time: peek the readers interest with a good starter AND at the same time explain a bit of the story world?

An example could be Isaac Asimov´s trilogy "Foundation" It starts of with a quote from the galactic encyclopedia presenting one of the main characters, Hari Seldon and at the same time presenting a bit of the story world. This example is even better than most, because in addition Asimov uses this quote to presetn another main character, Gaal Dornick AND it leads us into the story by letting the encyclopedia tell of a meeting between these two people which then is the beginning of the story itself. Brilliant use of the quoting tactic!

The Peculiarity tactic is the last one I will present at this point. There will of course be dosen´s of other tactics, but not on this blog and certainly not today.

This tactic is quite simple to explain, but hard to master. The tactic is to use words in such a way, that it makes the reader puzzled enough to read on but, and this is the hard part, not so puzzled that your work is tossed and replaced!

How to do this is a matter of training and getting someone to read your peculiar start. Did I say "someone?" What I meant was as many different people on your target group as you can possibly gather! The challenge with this tactic is that you can never know how people will react to your starter. You never know when it´s going to keep them reading and when it´s a tosser starter, so the only way to get an idea is to let numerous people read it and give you some feed back.

My advise: stay away from this starter, unless you have the base for experimenting with it. If you fail with this starter you may even throw off potential costumers from ever reading another book of yours!

Final statement
Now, that´s it for today. I will get back to the other elements of a good reading experience as soon as I can, hopefully next week, though I cannot make any promises.

Was the above helpful? Do you agree with what I just said? Do you have any revising statements?