Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Steal, steal, don't reinvent the wheel

This is a mantra we hear over and over at workshops, seminars, etc. As librarians, we have enough to do without having to come up with new and inventive ideas all the time.And although it is touted as "stealing", that's only because it rhymes with wheel. I like to refer to it as "professional borrowing".

Which leads me to my next point and first sentences. I admit it. I am an aspiring writer and although I've never been published, I did co-win a short story online contest once three years ago that netted me eight free paperbacks. I have also participated in NANOWRIMO annually for the past four or five years. Sometimes I get stuck. I've read many a post from people who say they can't get started. Well, the librarian in me screams, "Steal, steal don't reinvent the wheel." Okay, well, don't really steal. Just borrow until you can get started and then change your first sentence to one of your own.

Imagine how many stories you could write if you started off with a borrowed first sentence and how different the story would be. Yesterday I said that I typically enjoy sentences that don't tell me too much. This is why.

For example, take this first sentence:
When a high-powered rifle bullet hits living flesh it makes a distinctive--pow-WHOP--sound that is unmistakable even at tremendous distance.

This comes from C.J. Box's OPEN SEASON. (It is personally in my favorite first sentence book.) I could write many stories if I borrowed that first sentence and I guarantee none of them would contain a Game Warden named Joe Pickett in Wyoming.

Another great sentence for this would be:
The car was just sitting there, its hazard lights blinking like beacons in the darkness.

That could be the first sentence of mainstream fiction, science fiction, mystery, romance, suspense, a vampire novel, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, the list is endless. It happens to be from the talented P.J. Parrish's PAINT IT BLACK.

Don't think that I condone plagiarism either. I don't. Just borrow until you get your best-seller written. Then change the sentence, publish and make millions.

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