Michille: First Lines

Take a HintI have blogged about first lines before – best, worst, would you keep reading, etc. One time, it resulted from my daughter (another voracious reader) bringing home a bag of random books and we sat around the dining table after dinner and read the first lines/paragraphs of several of the books. The motivation for this post came from a book I just started, which has a funny first line that gives a very good impression of the writing style and the language the characters use:

Talia Hibbert, Take a Hint, Dani Brown: The moon was high and full, the night was ripe for witchy business, and Danika Brown had honey on her tit. Continue reading

Jeanne: Finding Your Beginning in Your Ending

jen-malone-425423679Last week I attended an online workshop presented by Middle Grade and YA author Jen Malone on the topic of Show Don’t Tell.

The class focused on opening scenes, and how to write them in a way that provides enough information for your readers to understand what’s going on without drowning them in backstory. Following are a couple of gems I gleaned from the class.

First, a handy little rule of thumb for gauging the balance between showing and telling in your first scene. If you’re not sure if it’s too heavy on the telling, try visualizing it as a movie opening. If you need a voice-over to get through the scene, you’re telling too much.

The other thing she said that really struck me was to envision your main character the way you want them to be at the end of the story and then create a first scene that portrays the character as the opposite of that.

That was fairly easy to do for Lilith, my protagonist, because she’s a familiar character from my previous two books. The character I’ve been struggling with is Samael, Lilith’s ex-husband and the head of Hell’s legal department (i.e. the devil’s advocate).

I knew some of his character traits: ambitious, competitive (every lawyer I’ve ever met is over-the-top competitive) and a mind like a steel trap. But I couldn’t figure out what this would look like in my opening scene.

So, I tried out her method. At the end of the story, I want him to be:

  • Willing to give up being a power in Hell
  • Willing to lose if it will give him the life he wants
  • In touch with his emotions and able to recognize that not all choices can be made strictly via logic
  • Family-focused

Which means at the beginning I want to portray him as:

  • Ambitious
  • Competitive
  • Ruthlessly logical
  • Career-driven

This may not sound like much, but now that I know how to portray him in that opening scene, I feel like I have a much better handle on it.

What tricks do you use to help you get started?

Jeanne: The First Scene

shutterstock_785583991In an interview in The Atlantic back in 2013, Stephen King said, “I’ll try to write a paragraph. An opening paragraph. And over a period of weeks and months and even years, I’ll word and reword it until I’m happy with what I’ve got. If I can get that first paragraph right, I’ll know I can do the book.”

I feel that way about first scenes.  Until I have a solid first scene to use as a springboard into a book, I can’t seem to get anywhere. I may have a ton of ideas about all the things that could/should happen in the story, but until that first scene gels, I can’t seem to take that anywhere.

I think that’s because first scenes, as well as being the springboard into the book, also  (usually) introduce the main character. And until I really understand that main character (and her antagonist) I just tread water.

“Get the first scene down solid” is an axiom I’ve lived by for the past fifteen years or so that I’ve been writing a lot.

Unfortunately, belief in the power of that first scene as a springboard to a workable novel recently bit me in the butt. I wrote what I think is a really strong opening scene for a book I titled The Demon Wore Stilettos, where the protagonist, who has signed a contract to trade her soul to Satan in exchange for making the NYT bestseller list, watches a friend who signed a similar contract get sucked down to Hell. She comes away determined to save herself from a similar fate.

It’s a really powerful scene, as are the next few that follow, but after that I wandered off into weeds that look a lot more like women’s fiction than romance. Eventually I wound up on the shores of This-Isn’t-Going-Anywhere.  Continue reading

Jeanne: Another Delivery from the Girls in the Attic

In the atticWhen the Eight Ladies were in class at McDaniel College years ago, our instructor, Jenny Crusie, used to talk about the Girls in the Attic. The Girls, she said, were the source of inspiration. What they handed down might be weird and totally not where your conscious mind wanted to go with your manuscript, but you should never disregard them.

(The Girls, by the way, were Jenny’s answer to Stephen King’s Boys in the Basement, who serve a similar purpose.)

Last week I started noodling around with another demon book. I have no idea why. I have one manuscript with 60,000 words written that’s waiting for me to come back and mold it into a readable story. And the next logical book in the demon series isn’t the one I started playing around with.

Clearly, following a straight line is not something I excel at. Continue reading

Jeanne: Another Cover Story

originalsin-estridge-ebooksmallOn Sunday, Jilly shared the cover of her new novella, The Seeds of Exile. It’s spectacularly alluring and I think it will perform well for her. (Hope so!)

I, also have a new cover to share, along with a snippet from the short story it fronts.

If you’ve read any of my Touched by a Demon books, you’re familiar with Lilith, the she-demon who serves as one of Satan’s primary agents on Earth. Although Lilith excels at fieldwork, she ends each story headed for the maggot pit because she’s also Satan’s primary whipping girl when things don’t go as planned.

“Original Sin” is Lilith’s origin story and I’ll be giving it away as a freebie to anyone who signs up for my newsletter. It won’t be on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or any other vendor site–only as a reward for joining my subscriber list. (And to everyone who’s already a subscriber, of course.)

The cover was created by Paper and Sage, who also did my other covers. I love that this one echoes those, but it’s enough different to signal that this is something…different. A short story, rather than a full-length novel.

Here’s the tagline and blurb for the story:

In the beginning, God created Adam and…Lilith?

Meet the founding member of the First Wives Club. Before Adam met Eve, he was married to Lilith. Created at the same time and from the same dust as her husband,  Lilith views herself as Adam’s equal.

What if the original sin wasn’t curiosity?

Here’s the first scene (lightly edited in keeping with Eight Ladies’ PG rating): Continue reading

Jeanne: Memorable Beginnings

15390647 - monarch butterfly, milkweed mania, baby born in the natureLast week, I wrote a post about the need for motion/activity in the first scene of a book. Almost to a woman, the other Ladies disagreed. I’m pretty stubborn and opinionated, but consensus disagreement from so many people whose opinions I respect is enough to make even me stop and reconsider. So, I decided to pull last year’s most top 10 most popular romances on Goodreads and analyze them for the level of activity in the first scene.

The Kiss Quotient—Helen Hoang   Three people sitting at a table, talking. At the end of the conversation, the daughter kisses the dad and hugs the mom.

All Your Perfects—Colleen Hoover    Girl rides up an elevator to surprise her fiance, but when she gets to his floor, there’s an angry guy pacing outside his apartment door because, apparently, the fiance is inside boinking the guy’s girlfriend. At first she doesn’t believe him, but then they overhear the couple inside. Girl slides down the wall to the floor as reality hits her. Angry guy sits beside her. Another guy shows up with Chinese food. Girl refuses to allow hims to deliver the food and instead eats it sitting outside the apartment with the angry guy. Continue reading

Jeanne: What’s in a Name?

Recently, a friend in my RWA chapter did an advance read of The Demon’s in the Details, Book 2 in my Touched by a Demon series, which came out last Tuesday on Amazon.

demon's in the details ebook coverShe did a terrific job of catching little errors my copy editor and proofreader missed, but in one case, she brought my attention to a problem that I didn’t think was a problem. She pointed out that in the first scene, my protagonist thinks of her father and stepmother as her father and stepmother, but later she becomes less formal, thinking/referring to them as “Dad” and “stepmom.”

There is, she pointed out, a best practice in fiction writing of choosing a single name for each character and always using that name to reference the character.

As a general rule, I completely agree with her. When you have a character that is sometimes called, “Charles,” sometimes “Charlie,” sometimes “Chuck” and occasionally “Binky,” the reader has to stop each time and figure out who this is. While there may be valid reasons for switching names–maybe every other character thinks of him differently, or your POV character thinks of him by different names depending on the current state of their relationship–it’s extra work for the reader. And, in general, we want to make reading our books as easy as possible.

But in this case, I felt differently, for two reasons: Continue reading

Jeanne: The Complexity of Romance

muffins-2225091_640Romance may be the single most complex genre of fiction there is.

A romance author has to juggle five different arcs:

  • Story (plot) arc
  • Character arc for the heroine
  • Character arc for the hero
  • Relationship arc
    • And within that relationship arc, both the emotional arc and the physical arc of the romance

That’s at least double most other genres, which have a plot arc and character arcs for only one or two characters (and sometimes no character arc at all).

To make things even tougher on the romance writer (though easier for the reader), some of those arcs should line up, sharing common turning points.  Let’s do a hypothetical example:

Our Heroine wants to open a bakery in the perfect location in her little town. She has a character flaw, though. She hates confrontations and backs away at the first sign of conflict.

Our Hero wants the same spot to open a mobile phone franchise. He’s a good guy, but he’s very competitive. Continue reading

Jeanne: My First DNF (Did Not Finish)

censorship-3308001_640So I got a note from an old friend and former co-worker the other day, saying they couldn’t finish The Demon Always Wins because it was too scary. Pressed, she admitted that she never actually started it–just the idea of demons freaked her out.

I was sorry she couldn’t enjoy the book, but I didn’t really take it to heart. It didn’t feel like a rejection of my work so much as a rejection of the genre. Since I have no expectation that I’m going to convert anyone who doesn’t like paranormal over to reading it, I wasn’t upset.

What felt a little more personal was the lady at the gym who declined to read it because of the cursing in the first chapter. I pointed out that only the bad guys curse, but she wasn’t swayed. Cursing makes her uncomfortable. Continue reading

Nancy: Help a Pitcher Out

Over the past several months, you’ve been hearing a lot about my Victorian Romance series. On occasion, you’ve also heard about my Women’s Fiction story (or Commercial Mainstream Fiction, if you don’t like the WF label). Today, I’d like to focus the spotlight on that WF story, because at the end of the week, I’ll be pitching it to a panel of agents.

It’s always tough to send a manuscript out into the world. Scary. Nerve-wracking. Heart-wrenching. It’s even more difficult when you have to pare it down to a brief, bare-essence presentation as I’ll be doing this week. I’m participating in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) annual pitch session, and the rules are very strict. The only information you can include is book title, length, WF subgenre if applicable, then a 50-word pitch followed by the first 250 words of the story.

In manuscript terms, that 250 words is less than a page. Yep, the goal is to sell the agents on the main character, premise, and voice of a 300+-page book in less than one measly page. And as if that weren’t mission impossible enough, by 50-word pitch, they mean 50-word summary of the whole. damn. book.

And the gods wept.

But I will not be thwarted! This past week, I pitched my pitch and one-page submission to my book coach, and made a few tweaks based on her feedback. Now I need some fresh eyes on this sucker, because mine are bloodshot and bleary. Want to help me out? If so, post your thoughts, comments, take-aways, or recommendations in the comments. Most important is that the pitch give you a sense of what the book is, and the first page intrigue you enough to request more pages.

TITLE: Take the Money and Run

LENGTH: 95k words

SUBGENRE(S): WF with Romantic Elements; Commercial WF

PITCH: Continue reading