Write: The True Phrase Technique
On Monday I talked about how to find a good plot for your novel. Today I want to continue on this path, and I will talk about how to start writing your novel. And for this, I am going to explain the technique of the true phrase .
Starting the story, contrary to what it may seem, turns out to be one of the most complicated moments in writing. Putting those first words on the white background, those first sentences … for some professional ghostwriters (without falling into clichés of blocks) can be somewhat complicated.
It is something that has happened to all of us at some point, facing the first sentence is never easy. However, it has a solution.
How to start a story like Hemingway
Like Hemingway ?! But Hemingway was a genius! Man, you won a Nobel Prize in literature! Yes, you are right. But even he found himself many times in front of the blank paper, not knowing quite what to write. If he failed, what chance do we have? Well, the truth is that we still have some, because we have him as a teacher.
Sometimes, when I ran out of ideas, when I didn’t know how to start a new story, I would sit by the fire, and bring the skin of the oranges closer until they lit, to see the small blue flames. I would get up, go to the window to see Paris and think: don’t worry, you’ve written before and you will do it again. All you need is to write a sincere sentence , write the most sincere sentence you can.
Ernest Hemingway, Paris was a party.
How to start your story with a sincere phrase
The idea of starting your story with a single sentence is not Hemingway’s, throughout history other authors and scholars of writing have developed this technique:
- Hemingway, in Paris it was a party , he calls it a sincere phrase .
- Robert McKee, in Story , calls it the idea of control .
- Lajos Egri, in The Art of dramatic writing , calls it a premise .
However, they all refer to the same thing : What you are trying to tell. You can call it what you want, but the reality is that you need to know where you intend to take the reader. You have to know where you are going to get with your story.
That’s where the technique hides. What do you believe in? What do you have to tell the reader? What do you want to explain? That is your sincere phrase.
No idea, no situation is powerful enough to catch you for a whole book, if it doesn’t have a powerful premise.
Lajos Egri, The art of dramatic writing.
It has to be your story, the one that attracts the reader’s attention and forces them to continue reading until the end of the book.
Writing is the creative demonstration of the truth. A story is living proof of an idea. It is the transformation of an idea into action. It is through the events of that story that one expresses first and then proves that same idea … without any explanation.
Robert McKee, Story.
You still shouldn’t worry about your characters, stop mulling over the location, don’t even worry about the plot yet. Think of something true, something you sincerely believe in. Write it. Make it the truest thing in the world.
A problem, an opportunity
I know what you’re thinking: Catch the reader with my truth? You will most likely achieve the opposite, shouting your truth like a cheap preacher. If you just write a story with “your truth” you will end up doing a sermon, pure proselytism. And that is not what we are looking for. Sermons are boring because in them the essence of the story is lost: the conflict .
An apocalyptic phrase
Now that you have your true phrase, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to write the opposite. Go ahead and write the most vile thing you can think of. Write something totally false, an apocalyptic phrase.
Now we are moving forward. Why? Because if you are able to confront your “true phrase” with its opposite, then you have a conflict on your hands. And with the conflict, history is born.
How to start a story: Personification
Robert Mckee hits the nail on the head when he says: no explanation . It’s yet another way of saying: show, don’t count . Neither your true phrase nor its opposite should appear in your story. They are just our references. What we need is to embody its essence in the characters.
You are free to use the archetypal characters to personify your phrase. Surely the protagonist will be on the side of the truth, while his antagonist will be the personification of our apocalyptic phrase. Your story may not be so simple, your positions may cross, blur, change. That depends on you. Think about how you want your characters to embody that conflict.
How to start a story: Plot
Well, we are getting closer and closer; we already have our sincere phrase, our false phrase, and the characters that will embody them. Now we need something to illustrate that conflict. For that you need something to happen .
The plot, the plot is the central part of your novel, that’s where you are going to have to put all the meat on the grill. Writing a good argument is not easy, but I already gave you some tips on how to find great arguments.
How to start a story: Examples.
Here are some great honest phrases:
- There are no morals or ethics in espionage. The spy who emerged from the cold .
- Wake up England! The Germans are coming! Intrigue on the beach (The Riddle of the sands)
- Spying is ridiculous. Our man in Havana.
Two things to keep in mind:
- The true phrase never appears in the books (although in Beach Mystery , it almost appears) Its truth is shown, not told.
- You may not share their truth, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that they believed in it and shared it.
How to start a story: Write a true sentence
The next time you find yourself blank, staring at your computer screen, the ceiling, the street out the window, or that damn blank sheet of paper, don’t panic.
- Think of something true.
- Write your true sentence.
- Think about how you could use creative techniques to shape that phrase.
Now you are thinking about how to write the story and not what to write. And that’s better than staring at a blank screen, right?