Chapter Four: The First Few Pages, Continued

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Okay, we've talked about starting a book the easy way. Describing a scene and then putting two or three characters in the scene. Notice I say two or three. I hate books that start with half a dozen people. I can never figure out who is who. That's why I think it's best to begin with a max of three. Of course you can quickly add others -- after we know who the first three people are.

Again, I keep repeating the same point. Potential readers, when they pick up a book, feel slightly uneasy. They need to get comfortable with your story before they'll buy it. Hit them over the head with too many characters and they'll put the book back on the shelf.

I needed to get that point out of the way.

We've also talked about starting a novel with a hook.

You might want to try it -- if you can come up with a clever hook.

The main topic I want to cover today is: WRITING WITH A POWERFUL VOICE. If you can start a book with a single character talking about what happened to him or her, and hold the reader entranced, then you have finally arrived as a novelist. It took me a decade before I was able to do that. Before I had the nerve to write in first person -- from the "I" point of view -- and just tell a story from a single perspective.

The odd thing is, the majority of beginning writers want to write in first person. That's usually a mistake. Why? Because their stories end up sounding like unabridged diaries. From my experience, writing for ten years in third person helped give me the professional distance I needed to tell a story without intruding upon it.

I suspect most of you know what I mean because I know all of you have read books where the story is going along nicely when suddenly it's as if the writer jumps off the page and starts spouting his or her own prejudices -- ones that usually deal with religion or politics.

The fact is writing in first person requires more skill than writing in third person. It's my belief most people shouldn't even attempt to write in first person until they've written three or four novels in third person.

However, when you're finally good enough to start with a strong narrative voice -- a voice that's unique to you alone -- then you can work miracles. The book Simon & Schuster is currently posting on this site, REMEMBER ME, was the first book I wrote in first person. Read it -- see how it grips you from the opening paragraph. Yet keep in mind it took me a decade to learn to write like that.

I'm not a genius; it's possible you might be one. But most of us normal hacks take years to develop a powerful voice, a voice so hypnotic it can carry a story even without a complex plot.

Remember Me became a bestseller. Years after I wrote it I again tried my hand at first person when I wrote: THE LAST VAMPIRE. Let me show you how that book begins...

I am a vampire, and that is the truth. But the modern meaning of the word vampire, the stories that have been told about creatures such as I, are not precisely true. I do not turn to ash in the sun, nor do I cringe when I see a crucifix. I wear a tiny gold cross now around my neck, but only because I like it. I cannot command a pack of wolves to attack or fly through the air. Nor can I make another of my kind simply by having him drink my blood. Wolves do like me, though, as do most predators, and I can jump so high that one might imagine that I can fly. As to blood -- ah, blood, the whole subject fascinates me. I do like that as well, warm and dripping, when I am thirsty. And I am often thirst...

Sita is the vampire who narrates The Last Vampire -- which has since been re-titled THIRST -- and it's her voice that largely carries the story. If it took me a decade to learn to write a book like Remember Me, it took me fifteen years to write from Sita's point of view. To this day Sita is my most popular character.  Millions of people have read the story of her five thousand year old life...

How do you develop a powerful narrative voice? Time and hard work. Or else incredible natural talent, which, if you had it, you'd already be famous and you wouldn't need to read these posts.

A powerful voice, that's distinct to you, will only emerge after many years of writing. It appears naturally, over time, and when it does you feel as if you've finally been touched by the angels. Seriously, I can't tell anyone how to develop their own voice.  It's like a gift given to you by the universe -- after you've killed yourself for years earning it.

Keep writing and one day it will appear.

Then you'll be able to write any book you wish.

We'll continue with another topic tomorrow.

Yours, Christopher Pike

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