A few days ago I asked a reader to just read the 1st chapter and the first three paragraphs of the 2nd chapter of Troubled_Waters. I wanted to know what his reaction was without reading any further. His response was polite, but firm. Toss the first chapter and bring on the chat room dialogue earlier in the second. He had no idea how significant that first chapter was and that spoke volumes.
I've been told that I write with good restraint. I've never really been sure what that meant, but it was generally intended as a complement. Writing and reading poetry taught me that. So much of poetry is about the subconscious response to rhythms, word choices and the images they provoke as well as what the poet says on the surface. The other discipline I studied until I decided I would never, ever be able to write a straight forward work was literary short stories. They are only a step or so to the side from poetry. Consequently I am used to writing to the subconscious as much as to the conscious mind. Commercial novel writing (the mass appeal kind that I want to write) is different yet again. It is a very "in your face" art form. You don't expect the reader to draw from subtle details. You show them. Point blank.
I am quite capable of writing good opening lines. Anybody who half-tries can write an interesting sentence. But in the last week or so I've learned a valuable lesson about openings--the first scene/tone/mood setting pages. The key to a good opening (the first page or two) is one that gives the reader a strong, immediate sense of direction. Subtlety is not the name of the game. So I rewrote it and now I'm naturally concerned about it being OTT, but I suspect it's exactly what the book needed.
It's been a year or so since I last visited chat rooms and online dictionaries referencing chat speak so yesterday I decided to re familiarize myself with both. Like any foreign language, if you don't use it, you forget it.
I visited a teen chat room. It was as easy as lying about my age to get in. This alone disturbed me. The dialogue concerned me more. Most of the kids in there were just being normal teens, making small talk, playing silly games with words and so on. But there was at least two predators--one was quite open about the fact that he was "older" and that he wanted a private chat. The other was a lot more subtle, but persistent--trying to strike up conversations with the kids in the room. When that failed, he tried harder--announced that he was an older teen who just wanted to talk to a younger teen. Fortunately neither one seemed to have any takers (Praise God our teens are growing more savvy). What bothered me even more was that there was no moderating. These kids were in a well trafficked chat room that advertised itself as a room for kids ages 13 to 15 and no one was minding the door.
I called my oldest son in. "Look at this," I said.
"Eww! (he named the chat room)! Hey Mom! If you wanted to visit a chat room, there's better places." Last fall, he actually let me look over his shoulder while he chatted in a Christian Chat room and he helped me with the chat speak as well as the names. Most of the rest of my research came from online vigilante parent watchdog groups (who had my undying respect).
I assured my son that this exactly answered my questions and gave me a much stronger feel for what I was doing. I showed him the guys trying to pick up the teenagers and he was pretty matter-of-fact about it. "Yep. It happens. You have to be careful."
Since my book is not about chat rooms or chat speak, but online relationships and the dangers thereof all wrapped up in a cybernetic/supernatural/thriller version of "Nightmare on Elm Street" (okay, not really, but I'm not in the mood to look for a better one today) I did not spend more time there than I just needed to. All I needed was enough familiarity with it to sound authentic. I got more than I bargained for.
Tomorrow I turn 42 and I'm not sure I'm old enough to understand the world I live in.