Monthly Archives: February 2009

First Pages of First Chapters

What is the most important chapter in your novel? Some say it’s the first, and others argue it’s the last. They’re both right for different reasons. However, if your first chapter isn’t dynamite, no one will see that great last chapter

With today’s agents and publishers so swamped with submissions, you must make sure you’ve done everything possible to grab their immediate attention – and interest.

It doesn’t matter the genre in which you’re writing; what does matter is how you present the material.

I listened attentively at conferences when agents and/or publishers spoke about submissions, and at one a few years ago, a top agent said she could tell within the first couple of paragraphs whether or not the writer knew what she/he was doing. She said it may sound harsh, but with so many submissions each week, she usually read the first page, perhaps the second, before deciding if the material was worth reading. Then she, or another agent or publisher, can’t quite remember, went on to talk about first chapters, how important they were and what they must accomplish.

Now I understand what that first agent meant, because by now I’ve worked with so many writers over the years, teaching, editing, that I, too, can tell very quickly. It may sound harsh, but as in any other profession, experience does give an advantage.

And I look for that quality when I’m considering a new book to read. It must grab me, make me want to read more, and the ability to do so takes skill. It doesn’t have to be a murder, a car chase, or even a bank robbery, but whatever it is, it has to be written in a way, as another agent said, to create curiosity, usually by forming a question or several questions in the reader’s mind, and they must read to learn the answer(s).

Of course it’s great to have that car-chasing opening scene, or a doctor going berserk in the operating room. But if that’s not your genre, think about creating questions in your reader’s mind.

EXAMPLE:

The opening of Ten Times Guilty:

He waited in the stand of poplars behind the bus shelter, his black sweats fading into shadows cast by the midnight moon. A ski mask covered his face.

At twelve-seventeen, a Denver city bus approached the residential shelter. Air brakes hissing, it rolled to a stop and Cindy Harris, a sweater draped over her blue scrubs, stepped to the pavement. Glass shards from the streetlight crunched under her feet.

She glanced at the shattered light, then to the houses lining the gloomy street. The older frame bungalows, many with porches holding swings and chaise lounges, stood dark and silent.

Where were all the people? Surely someone was still awake, but there were no lights, not even from an upstairs window. She felt like a lone astronaut landing on a stark, barren planet.

With a whine of the engine and a cloud of exhaust fumes, the bus pulled away. Cindy desperately wanted to run after it and beg the driver not to leave her alone, but she’d never get home if she stayed on the bus. And she needed to fall into her bed for at least a couple of hours before she had to get back to the hospital for another sixteen-hour shift. Nurse’s training had been grueling, but she hadn’t known rough until several nurses called in sick and she’d had to pull three double-shifts her first week. She would get through it though; she’d be the best nurse County General ever had. Registered nurse, she thought, fingering her shiny new pin.

Straightening her shoulders, she left the shelter. At least she had only two blocks to walk. That wouldn’t be so bad.

For more about Ten Times Guilty, click here:

I’d hoped to cause the reader to ask who was the HE waiting at midnight? And what, or who, was he waiting for? Then, in the next paragraph, I presented a possible answer, a bus with a nurse as a passenger. I wanted to show her reactions to the dark, gloomy night. Then, of course, comes the bigger question. If SHE’S who HE’S waiting for, will he get her?

Questions, questions, questions, with setting, etc, woven in.

See how you can create questions in your readers’ minds, questions they’ll feel the have to read further for the answer.

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A Whirlwind of Activity

For a writer who’s used to quiet and solitude in front of the computer, the past several months have been a whirlwind. It almost boggles the mind. But it’s all good.

In October 2008, I signed with an independent publisher, Vanilla Heart, for the release of my new mainstream novel, Beyond the Quiet, and my plotting how-to, Plot Your Way to Publication.

Scheduled for release in February 2009, Beyond is women’s fiction, a departure from my first novel, Ten Times Guilty, but it’s a story I had to tell. Perhaps later I’ll tell you why.

p2pub-small2Plot Your Way to Publication started as an ebook to help my writing students understand story structure. I went on a quest to learn early in my writing career, and when it finally made sense, I wrote the ebook and designed plotting chart templates. I spent several years on a quest to learn to plot, and I’ve condensed the story on my website:

Click Here for Plotting info on my Website:

It’s now February, and Plot Your Way to Publication is live on Amazon and B&N’s online store as a workbook, and it’s very exciting.

No matter how much work is involved in the writing, editing, and going over the proofs line by line, word by word, it’s all worth it when you see the cover of your book for the first time. And when the listing goes live, it’s as exciting as having a beautiful baby – only with a book, you don’t have to change diapers.

Click Here for Amazon’s online Store:

Click Here for Barnes & Noble’s online Store:

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