Sunday, April 17, 2011

assignments from Nancy Knight's workshop, "Well Begun is Half Done"

Nancy Knight gave a great workshop at the April GRW meeting, talking about how to make the opening of your book compelling. She gave us a few exercises.

First assignment:
Write three openings of a novel.
One must be dialogue,
one cannot be dialogue,
and one must be combination of character and setting

Here is what I came up with. I'm not happy with the first, but I like the other two pretty well.


“Bite me.”
“Oh, THAT’S mature.”


Chas was falling, wind rushing past his face, buffeting his body. He’d heard that people falling to their deaths would mercifully pass out before landing, but he was vividly, horribly aware that he was seconds from a terrible, painful end.


Stephen inched past the stacks of sailcloth and coiled ropes, gripping the railing to keep from slipping on the wet deck, then leaned far over the gunnel and vomited his breakfast into the sea.


Second assignment: Setting
Write a paragraph – Use these items in your setting:
silver chalice
a jewel-handled dagger
an Aubusson carpet (fine, french carpet)
A bible
and a skull

I didn't realize we were supposed to write an opening scene using these items, so the scene I wrote could take place towards the beginning of my story, just not AT the beginning of the story.

The final product did not turn out like my first idea: [Heh. William’s cabin!!! offering meat at the end of the dagger, drinking from the chalice, lying on the carpet, *not* swearing on a bible, rapping on Philip’s skull.]

I'm also not sure if I really completed the assignment correctly, but maybe everything didn't have to show up literally?


“Come sit with me.” William sprawled on the carpet that covered the floor of his cabin, a platter of meat and fruit next to him. He lifted a silver chalice off of his desk and held it out to Philip. “Perhaps some food and drink will take the edge off of your temper.”

Philip frowned at the chalice and the carpet. He had seen a similar carpet in the home of Dr. Cordray, the richest man in town, and he knew that a pirate would not have come by such goods honestly.


William raised his eyebrows. “I beg your pardon?” He withdrew the chalice and took a sip himself.

“All of these items once belonged to someone else, and you stole them. I will not condone your actions by using them!”

“Well, then, lad, you’d better heave yourself overboard.” He set down the chalice and stabbed a bit of meat with the point of a jewel-handled dagger. “Surely you’ve brains enough in your skull to know that this boat and everything on it once belonged to someone else?

Philip gaped at him. William grinned and ate the meat off of the end of the dagger. “Besides, you’ve told me you don’t believe in God or the Bible, so what have you got against a little honest thievery?”


And the last assignment (details below) was to show how, using the same genre and plot device, everyone is going to come up with a different idea.

The premise of your story is horror. Use a blush-pink rose as a primary plot device.


There’s Serial-killer who kidnaps women, ties them up and bleeds them slowly while he scatters blush-pink rose petals over the blood that runs out of them. The Heroine works in a flower shop, sells him a rose one day or roses every couple of weeks, she thinks he’s taking them to his mother or girlfriend, or maybe to a hospital or oncologist’s office. Not until the rose petal part of the crime is reported or leaked that she realizes what’s going on.


It was all good fun, hearing the creepy things that people came up with, but later that day, when Bryonna and I were walking around Decatur, everywhere we went, there were blush-pink roses, rising up in horrible, threatening clumps, reaching for us with their hideous thorns, choking us with their perfume....No, actually, they were pretty and all smelled lovely.

The first ones we saw were in front of the courthouse, where a wedding took place around 6 PM. A fitting end to a romance writer's meeting day. :)


  1. I loved that workshop. You're brave. I have no desire to post my assignments--sheer crap writing but fun and I learned a lot!! Nancy Knight is amazing :-)

  2. LOL. I'm not brave, I just need something to post in this blog, even if it is the crap writing you see above. :D

    Nancy Knight really is amazing, and it's great to hear that she's an agent now. I have only one YA lit idea, but if I ever write that, I'm definitely going to hit her with it!

  3. They weren't crap. I really enjoyed them, B. I really love the opening "Bite me" "Oh that's mature" I laughed so hard and that would be a FABULOUS opening for something. Great job. I especially liked the scene in the cabin with William and Philip. An excellent scene.

  4. Thanks! Man, I'd forgotten all about that exercise. I need to read through those handouts Nancy gave us.