Ditch the Gimmicks & Tell the Story

I would like to give a big warm welcome to my friend and fellow writer, Steven James. Hope you enjoy his words of wisdom. :) Also, note to all of you. Be sure to come to my new website www.devinberglund.com for fun, inspiring posts about writing, life, traveling, and health. I will be moving there permanently and would love for you all to join me! P.S. I am giving away a book for free… and all you have to do is sign up to be on my mailing list. You can even do it here.

In fiction, story matters more than anything else.

Yet, all too often, authors forget this and in their zeal to impress readers or wow editors, they end up peppering their writing with distracting gimmicks that undermine the story.

Never let anything get between your story and your readers. Here are six ways to remove some of the most common stumbling blocks:

#1 – Tone down the symbolism

A few years ago I picked up a literary novel that everyone was talking about. In the first chapter there was a storm; in the second, someone was washing his hands; then a character was crying; then there was a baptism. I remember thinking, “Okay, I get it. Your image is water, your theme is cleansing, now get on with the story.”

And from that point on, guess what I was doing?

Yup.

Looking for the next way the writer was going to weave a water image into her story. And she delivered, scene after predictable scene.

As a reader I was no longer emotionally present in the story. I’d become a critic, an observer. And that’s definitely not what a storyteller wants her readers to do.

The more your readers are on the lookout for your images, your theme, your symbolism, and so on, the less they’ll be impacted by your story.

Rather than building your story around a theme (love, forgiveness, freedom, etc . . .) or advice (“Follow your dreams,” “Be true to your heart,” etc . . .) or a cliche (“Every cloud has a silver lining,” “Time heals all wounds,” etc . . .) drive your narrative forward through tension and moral dilemmas.

So, instead of using the theme “justice,” let the story ask the question “What’s more important, telling the truth or protecting the innocent?”

Rather than giving the advice “You should forgive others,” let your story explore the dilemma “How do I forgive someone who has done the unthinkable to someone I love?”

Let your story do more than reiterate the cliche “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.“ Instead, challenge that axiom by asking, “When do the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many?”

Respect your readers. Assume that they’re as smart as you are. If you can identify imagery, symbolism, theme and so on, expect that they will too. And as soon as they do they’ll be distracted from the story itself.

#2 – Stop trying to be clever

There’s nothing less impressive than someone trying to be impressive. There’s nothing less funny than someone trying to be funny. Eloquence doesn’t impress anyone except for the person trying so hard to be eloquent.

So look for places in your story where you were trying to be funny, clever or impressive, and change those sections or remove them.

Some writers shoot for humor by using speaker attributions like, “she joked,” “he quipped,” “he mentioned in his usual fun-loving way,” and so on. Don’t fall into this trap. If your story is funny, you don’t need to tell your readers. If it’s not funny, you don’t need to draw attention to the fact.

Some authors resort to using a profusion of speaker attributions. Their characters chortle, grunt, exclaim, reiterate, gasp, howl, hiss and bark. Whenever I read a book like this I find myself skimming through the dialogue just to see what the next synonym for “said” will be. Readers get it. They know you own a thesaurus. Just tell the story.

In the same way, inserting your authorial voice intrudes on the story.

Drop those antiquated, obscure or uncommon words unless they’re necessary for character development or for maintaing the narrator’s voice. This isn’t to say that you can’t write intelligent, incisive, challenging stories, but any time the meaning of an unfamiliar word isn’t immediately obvious within the context of the story, choose another word that won’t trip readers up. This is especially true as you build toward the story’s climax since the pace of the story needs to steadily increase.

Also, avoid the temptation to impress your readers with your research, your vocabulary, your plot structure, or your knowledge of the flora and fauna of western North Carolina.

When readers pick up your book, they’re not preparing for a spelling bee or a doctoral dissertation or a medical exam; they’re hoping for an entertaining, believable story that will transport them to another world and move them on a deep, emotional level.

It’s your job to deliver.

#3 – Avoid contrived literary devices

Writing something like, “She cautiously closed the closet door and crept across the carpet,” might have impressed your high school English teacher, but it does nothing to serve readers in today’s marketable fiction.

As soon as readers notice the alliteration they’ll be distracted—whether they’re counting up the number of times you used the letter “c,” or rolling their eyes at your attempt to be clever, you’ve caused readers to momentarily disengage from your story. And that’s the last thing you want to do.

You don’t even want readers to admire your writing; you want them to be so engaged in the story itself that they don’t notice the way you use words to shape it. Anything that jars readers loose from the grip of the story needs to go, even if it seems to make the story appear more “literary.”

Weed out figures of speech that don’t serve the mood of the scene. During an airplane hijacking you wouldn’t write “the clouds outside the window were castles in the sky.” Castles carry a positive connotation and undermine the suspense in this story sequence. If you were to use a figure of speech, perhaps choose one that accentuates the tense mood: “the jet plummeted through the dungeon of clouds.”

Over the years I’ve heard of authors who’ve written books without punctuation, or without using the word “said,” or without quotation marks, or novels that contain an exact predetermined number of words. But by becoming more important to the author than the reader’s experience with the story, those artificial constraints handcuff it.

Whenever you break the rules or keep them, it must be for the benefit of readers. If your writing style or techniques get in the way of the story, cause readers to question what’s happening, analyze the writing, or page back through sections they’ve already read in order to understand the context, you’ve failed.

You want your writing to be an invisible curtain between your readers and your story. Any time you draw attention to the narrative tools at your disposal, you insert yourself into the story and cause readers to notice the curtain.

In order to improve their writing, most authors need to cut back on the literary devices they use (whether that’s assonance, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, overwrought similes, or whatever), rather than add more.

#4 – Keep readers from asking “why?”

A plot flaw is, simply put, a glitch in believability or causality. When a character acts in a way that doesn’t make sense, or when one scene doesn’t naturally follow from the one that precedes it, readers will stumble.

Imagine that your protagonist hears that a killer is in the neighborhood and she decides to go make pasta. Readers will think, “What? Why doesn’t she lock the door, or call the police, or run to her car and get out of the area?”

Do you see what happened? At the very moment in your story where you want your readers to be drawn deeper into the narrative, they’ve pulled away and started to question your character’s actions, and, to some degree, your storytelling ability.

As soon as an event isn’t believable it becomes a distraction, so ask yourself, “Is there enough stimulus to motivate this action?” And then make sure that there is.

Always anticipate your readers’ response.

Try to step back and read the story as objectively as you can, through the eyes of a reader who has never seen it before. If you come to a place where you think, “Why doesn’t she just . . . ?” or “What?! That doesn’t make sense!” you’ll know you have some editing to do.

Pointing out the story’s plot flaws can often solve them. Have your character say something like, “I couldn’t believe she would do such a thing. It just didn’t compute.” Readers will think, “Yes, exactly! I thought the same thing! There’s more going on here than meets the eye.” The more you admit that the scene has a believability problem, the less readers will hold you responsible for it.

Make sure every special skill or gadget needed in the climax is foreshadowed earlier in the story. Coincidences drive a wedge in believability. Foreshadowing removes them. So if the diver suddenly needs a harpoon gun to fight off the killer barracuda and he reaches down and—how convenient!—has one, readers won’t buy it. Show us the harpoon gun earlier so it makes sense that he has it at the climactic fish battle.

#5 – Reevaluate your “hook”

Many well-meaning writing instructors will tell you that you need to start your story with a good “hook” to snag your readers’ attention. And they’re right.

To a certain extent.

While I was teaching at one writers conference a woman gave me her story for a critique. It started with an exciting car chase. I said, “Great, so this is an action story.”

“No,” she told me. “It’s a romance. The woman goes to the hospital and falls in love with the doctor.”

“But it starts with a car chase and explosion. Readers will expect it to escalate from there.”

“I had a different opening,” she admitted, “but my writing critique group told me I needed a good hook.”

It may have been true that her story needed a better hook, but she landed on the wrong one. Hooks become gimmicks if they don’t provide the platform for escalation.

An effective hook needs to do seven things:

1. Grab the readers’ attention.

  1. Introduce a character they care about.
  2. Set the story’s mood.
  3. Establish the storyteller’s voice.
  4. Orient readers to the world of the protagonist (and enable them to picture it).
  5. Lock in the genre.
  6. End in a way that is both surprising and satisfying.

Too many times a writer will grab readers’ attention early on, but not introduce them to the characters or setting of the story. Consequently, she’s forced to insert excessive backstory that undermines the forward movement of the story. Take your time, trust your readers, orient them to the world of the story, and then drive the story forward without having to explain why you started it the way you did.

#6 – Answer readers’ questions as they arise

Never annoy your readers.

Sometimes I read books in which the author withholds information from readers “to create suspense.” But failing to give readers what they want doesn’t create suspense, it causes dissatisfaction.

For example, don’t leave a point-of-view character in the middle of an action sequence.

So, if, during a chase scene, you write (about your protagonist), “She careened around the bend and crashed into the cement pylon jutting up from the side of the road,” and then you close your chapter, readers will obviously want to find out if the woman is conscious, dead, etc . . .

But some writers will then jump to another point-of-view character, often in a less stressful situation, then come back to the woman in the car (or maybe she’s in the hospital by then) a chapter later.

If readers are tempted to skip over part of your story to get to a part they want to read, you need to fix that section. That means that as you write you’ll constantly ask yourself what the readers want at this moment of the story.

Then give it to them, or surprise them with something even better.

799bb96230fe0e8c3cb120093b8266a9Steven James is the award- winning author of 30+ books including the critically acclaimed Patrick Bowers thriller series and the newly released Jevin Banks series. He has an MA in Storytelling, is a contributing editor to the Writer’s Digest, and has taught writing and creative communication around the world. When he’s not writing or speaking, you’ll find him trail running, rock climbing, or drinking a dark roast coffee near his home in eastern Tennessee.

This is Clamillda My Baby Word-Count Dragon…

Photo Credit : mightykatara deviant art

Hello Everyone,

It’s only two days till NaNoWrimo begins and I have decided to find something that would push me to write everyday. I am going to reward myself everyday by doing something for myself. I need to start going to the gym… so, that will be one of the things that I will poke Johan and I to do.

This adorable little creature in the photograph is my word-count dragon. And through out November you will see her glow, glitter, and grow.

I just recently read something on the Nano site about word-count dragons and how you have to keep writing because YOUR wordcount feeds your dragon… and well, we all know what happens when you don’t feed your dragon. You end up with an antsy, grumpy, and fiesty fire blowing or ice blowing dragon, depending on what kind of dragon they are. (who may just eat you, if you aren’t careful.)

I have decided to name my dragon Clamillda. She is a gold-ish pink dragon that lives in the mountains near the sea villages in the country of my story. At the moment she is just a baby (I am sure you can tell… hehe). But her mother has been missing in action. She was the fearless beast that ravaged treasures and ancient lands golden ceremonial ground. The pirates off the coast hunted her down in search for their treasure – they were quite sick of arriving at empty treasures. They found the mother and killed her, but have yet to find her cache of gold or little Clamillda. Will they find her?

Add me on NaNoWrimo and I will be your buddy too.

What about you? What is your Word-Count Dragon’s name? Tell me their story?

 

The Collectibles

The Collectibles

by: Devin Berglund
Four were still needed to complete his collection. He had already collected a few. They looked at him from on top of his desk. He gently tapped each of them on the head with his crooked finger. Their heads bobbed back and forth to life until they weren’t moving anymore. He laughed and grabbed his white phantom mask and his black cape before leaving the house.
****
Earlier Adriana, Justice, and I helped Mom string the fake cobwebs from one side of the room to the other, but some had to be real, because this house had been vacant for a long time. The wooden steps creaked as I made my way down the stairs. The Jack-O’lantern in front of the door reminded me of my last Halloween Party many years ago. One could barely compare it to this party though because my last one was a 5th grade party in our classroom where three of my classmates came wearing the same costume as me.

Most of my childhood memories were of playing with kids we had just met in RV parks and studying on the road. I think that is why Dad decided to have a Halloween themed house warming party. He felt it would be an exciting event for us. He was right, but I think he felt bad we hadn’t had the pleasure of slumber parties with friends and school plays like most other children had. My cat sneaked up and rubbed her head on my leg while looking at me before disappearing down the steps.

I looked over the banister and tip toed down the rest of the steps into the music room where Adriana’s harp and Justice’s guitar sat in one corner. Mom had placed some new furniture in the other corner just to make sure that people wouldn’t think our house was empty. The pumpkin pie scented candles flickered. Where did everyone go? I asked myself. Suddenly loud music started drumming through the door leading to the backyard patio.

Oh, maybe they are outside. I answer my own question. My high-heel shoes clink on the wooden floor as I reach the kitchen. A knock came from the front door.

“I’m coming.” I pulled the door open to find a tall slender man with a black cane in his right hand. He resembled the Phantom of the Opera with a black cape, white gloves, and a matching mask.

“Uhh, hi!”

“Hello Tessa! How have you been” his voice was deep. He leaned in while speaking to me.

“Hi…uhh, good…” I tried to hide the uncomfortable feeling that was rising inside of me, so I bit my lip.

“Who are you?” I cocked my head to the side. His eyes were surrounded by the darkness inside his mask.

“I was the music and choir teacher at Lake County Middle School. Your brother attended many of my classes.” He offered his hand for me to shake. The hair on the back of my neck stood up straight. I was experiencing the same instinctive feeling that I imagined the cave men in my history book had felt when a saber-tooth tiger stalked them. Fight or Flight. I shook his hand. He gripped my hand tightly while smiling, and didn’t let go.

“Yes, that sounds a lot like Justice.” I said while shaking his hand awkwardly. I resisted the urge to rip my hand from his clutches and slam the door in his face. I need to be polite, but something is strange with this man, I need to find everyone else.

“Speaking of which, I need to go find him and my sister.” Chills crawled up my spine as he let go of my hand.

“But it was nice meeting you again. I think they’re on the patio.” I smiled while pointing towards the door. I heard him behind me as I slid the patio door open, my cat ran out.

I escaped to the patio after my cat while covering my eyes from the blazing torches on the edge of the grass. The music was blaring so loudly, that my ear drums were ringing. I hit the power button as silence filled the patio.

“How can you all stand the music this loud?” I said as everyone sat around the table quietly as though they didn’t hear me. I recognized my mom in her Cruella de Vill costume, but something was wrong with her face. Her mouth was gaping open, her cheeks were hallow under her skin. Her eyes were blood-shot and her skin was pale and it wasn’t from the make-up on her face. I ran up to my mother and set my head on her chest.

No heart beat.

“Mom! Come on, you can’t do this to me!” All the others around the table had the same sullen and frightened look on their faces. I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye. No one was moving. Who are all these people, I wondered while I backed away from the table. Someone did this to them. Where is everyone else? I looked around for the Phantom, but he was no where to be seen. I thought he followed me out here.

My heart pounded faster. It felt like the world was shrinking around me, entrapping me like a snowman in a snow-globe. I couldn’t see anyone moving or hiding in the trees, but as I turned my head I saw a shadow run across the yard toward the garden shed – it was my cat. I jumped when I heard the steps creak and ran toward the shed where my cat was sitting.

“Kitty, Kitty…” I called. My cat would have usually responded when I called her, but she didn’t. Instead she sat there with her fur on end, while oddly purring calmly. Her tail went slowly back and forth without shifting her tranced stare from the second storey bedroom window.

“Psst…” a quiet voice from behind the shed called to me. I turned to see who it was.

“Jason? Is that you?” I remembered him, but his face had changed a lot since the last time I had seen him. He became my first crush when he helped me hide my string-beans in my milk container at the cafeteria for lunch.

“Yes, it is me. Come here!”

“What is going on?” I kicked off my high heel shoes and ran toward him, “Do you know where my brother and sister are?”

“No, but someone here can not be trusted.”

“Do you know who?”

“Not really, but he had a white mask and gloves.”

I gasped as the face of the Phantom came to my mind. He was the last person I had spoken to and fit Jason’s description perfectly.

“So what are we going to do now?”

“Escape?”

“What about my brother and sister?”

“They probably already escaped with some of the other people, while I hid here.”

“Do you know what happened?”

“Just a little. I hid to see what was happening, and wish I hadn’t seen it. The Phantom was back here. When he lifted his cane, everyone around the table screamed, but it was covered with the blaring music.”

The patio’s door slid open as I hid behind the shed with Jason. I peeked out and saw the Phantom. He walked to the table and chuckled at the people. He started humming to himself and turned to look the other way. Jason and I ran to another clump of trees when all of a sudden pain shot through my legs and I couldn’t move them anymore. Jason grabbed one of his legs too.

“I can’t move.” He whispered.

“I know… I can’t either.” I felt like I was running in a nightmare, but couldn’t get away from the evil that was chasing me. I peeked to see if the Phantom was still on the patio.

“He was no longer there!” I gasped, “Where did he go?”

“Right here, dearie.” A hauntingly familiar voice responded as I looked back at Jason, who was now in the Phantom’s arms. His white gloved hand covered Jason’s mouth muffling his screams.

“Oh silence.” The man spoke.

“What do you want?”

“You… Tessa. All of you kids.” He stretched his cane out towards me, my head spun. Everything around me became larger. I must have been thrown into my snow-globe after all.

****
His collection was finally complete.

“It’s a pity you don’t know how talented you are.” He spoke to them.

But the time would come for them to know their destiny, but for now they were mere collectibles that sat on his desk approving his future plans whenever he’d bobble their heads. When he’d need them, he’d call on them and they would obey.

© 2012 Devin Berglund 

Writers Can Learn MORE From Television Shows…

Photo Credit : The Walking Dead – AMC

__________________

Writers Can Learn MORE From Television Shows
Than Just Procrastinating From Writing

I am fond of certain television shows.

Do you have your shows that you love watching?

Are you a writer and do you enjoy watching certain television shows?

Do you ever wish you were as good of a writer as some of those script writers?

Do you want to know how to write like those script writers that can pull you into their story as easy as a witch waving her wand?

If you answered yes, I know a few points and hints that may help you!

The shows I have found myself drawn into are The Walking Dead, Switched At Birth, The Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars.

INTRIGUE & PASSION

There are funny moments in a show where I am sitting on the edge of my seat with my nails tearing the cushion because of the conflict in the writing. I know exactly when more conflict will enter the story. It’s as soon as good things start happening to characters.

eg. 24 – This show isn’t running anymore, but I have been watching it with Johan lately and when ever the characters have a chance of being safe or getting what they want. It is then, at that very moment that something bad happens. (MISSION: What does your character want Most?” In the first season, Jack Bauer’s wants his wife and daughter and when they are one step closer to being back together together what happens?

Something causes them to be seperated for longer. This reminds me of what Best-Time-Selling Author Steven James once told a bunch of writers at a Writer’s Conference, “What does your character want most? When you figure that out – tear that “Wanted” thing or person away from your character.”

“What does your character want most? When you figure that out – tear that “Wanted” thing or person away from your character.”

Television writers are really good at this. I hadn’t always been into tv shows, but it makes me happy that I can see the conflict coming. In your writing you want to make the readers so happy that your father character and daughter character are about to be united again… but then, WHACK you need to throw your readers for a ride. Oh, Oh… She gets kidnapped again? NOooo…

This also is a great way to build conflict and pace your story! AND not to mention it will make your readers continue reading. :)

I have made up a list of some things I don’t like about some screen-writers: (Things that can push a reader/watcher away from a story)

Pushy or preachy (Pretty Little Liars) (Mr. Brooks) Shows and movies like this cause problems in my mind… they deal with things that are not okay in society and make them seem like they are okay. Like in Mr. Brooks, the pov character is a serial killer, and throughout the whole movie it makes you feel like you are the killer…

And with Pretty Little Liars, I have already posted on that one day… I hate how they are pushy with gay stuff. I mean there are shows with gays that I have watched and been able to keep watching – but I think what bugs me so badly here is that I really love the story because it is well written, but then they throw in a gay girl and only have one pair of glasses and that is a fully accepting view. It bugs me because I do not agree with that…

I don’t like watching things that make me feel icky and bad for the next few weeks… I like reading, watching, and writing things that make a person walk away from the show, story, or book with a good feeling.

I have found these are some really important things to stay away from if you want to keep your readers. :)

  1. What are some things that you like and dislike about television shows
  2. What are your favorite shows?
  3. What can watching tv shows do to help you with your writing? 

Be Blessed x

Devin Berglund <- I enjoy walking through gardens, having picnics and spending time with my boyfriend Johan. I find old train stations to be romantic and I love to writing about everything from my journey in Australia, my writing, and life. Follow my blog and twitter. I’m also on facebook! This month I’m working on my 1st novel in a trilogy. I’ll also be participating in NaNoWrimo. Add me as a buddy if you are also participating! I love meeting new people, especially writers. Add me and I will add you back! Can’t wait to get to know you all. Be Blessed! x

Day 4 of Writing Contest!!! What is the story here?

 

How to take part in this writing contest!

Rules:

  1. Every day in October I will be uploading a new picture into this file on pinterest and also on my facebook page. (and if you don’t have either of the two sites… get them, you will be thankful
  2. For each day when a new picture is put out you can pic out a picture and write a short story if the muse gets your inspired.
  3.  And then send it to me at devinberglund (at) live (dot) com and you could win a prize!!

Deadline: End of October! :)

Check out pinterest file with pictures!

Day 2 – Haunting Extravaganza! 100 Followers!

Day 2 – of “The Haunting October Short Story Writing Extravaganza” Contest

What are you bringing to this Short Story Extravaganza? I imagine that we are all standing at a barn dance. Today I can see that the people are starting to set up the games. There is a poster on the wall with a donkey on it. The man pulls a small grey thing out of his front jacket pocket and then sticks it into the behind of the donkey. In the other corner – there is an apple dunking contest. Small children sit on tables gobbling down candy corn and pumpkins.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Also, I just wanted to share a quick “YAY” with all of you, because without you my words wouldn’t be leaving my fingers to reach your eyes somewhere in the world. Today my blog finally hit “100 Followers”, which made me so excited, so I thought I’d share it with you!

The Haunting October Short Story Extravaganza

I am very excited to announce the Second Day of the “Haunting October Short Story Writing Extravaganza”. This is the second year that I have hosted an eerie but beautiful photo prompt everyday in October.

All you have to do is:

  1. Use the photo to break through the surface and give you echoes of story-ideas.
  2. Write a smashing hauntingly amazing short story.
  3. When you finish the story, send it to Devin at devinberglund (at) live (dot) com.
  4.  And the winners will win something and don’t worry – I think up awesome surprises. :)
  5. Are you ready to join us in this journey??

To see the winners from last year, check out these links.

Emily Kunkel – The Farmhouse 
Abigail Anderson – The Monster Inside of Me

Photo Credits: http://pinterest.com/pin/26599454018662714/

Everyday I will upload a new hauntingly beautiful, slightly creepy, and enchanting photograph to my facebook page for your inspiration. Please check it everyday and see if you are prompted to write a short story that has something to do with the photo you picked. It doesn’t have to be word for word what you see – it just has to be creative and creepy since October is the month of Halloween.

I really enjoyed this last year! Once you have written it you may send it to my email with the Subject Box filled in as “Short Story Extravaganza” You have the whole month of October to do this. Have fun!!

How about you?

  1. Are you in? Are you going to enter this contest? 
  2. Also what would you see at a Haunting Extravaganza? Use your imagination! :P 

Hauntingly Awesome Writing,

Devin

Writing Opening Lines That Sparkle & Shine

This is a guest post I did on a collaborative blog called “Blue Monkey Writing”at http://bluemonkeywriting.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/writing-opening-lines-that-sparkle-shine/

 

I absolutely love going into bookstores and smelling new books. When you crack open a book, what do you smell? Does it fill your senses, like it does mine? I love that new book smell, but other than that what draws you into a book other than the cover art and back copy? What is the first thing that really determines if a reader will continue reading your book?

I don’t know what you do when you are looking at a book, but I flip to the first page. I find this is the test on whether I will like a book or not, as I have a short attention span when it comes to what I read. I’ve struggled getting into books when reading some first lines which resulted in my setting the book down on the shelf again. But then there have been other books where I have found myself reaching for the next page inquisitively.

That is true of every piece of work out there! If the first sentence or first paragraph doesn’t make me want to keep reading, then I close the book and set it back on the shelf. I like it when an author pulls me into a story filled with intriguing characters, unique plot, and beautiful prose from the get go.

Do you want your readers to continue reading after the first line and first paragraph? Do you want your readers to be spellbound with your words from the first line of your book?

If you answered yes, then I believe I know a way to help you make your opening lines sparkle & shine.

I have heard many people say that there is no rule to writing an opening line for your book, but writers can learn by looking at their favorite books opening lines to see how their favorite authors did it. So, first off – I want you to do something – go get your favorite books out of your bookshelf and look at the opening lines. What makes you want to read on?

Recently, I read a book “The Forgotten Garden” by an Australian Author named Kate Morton. I opened her book in the bookstore and was spell-bound from the words in the first sentence.

“It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.”

Right away this sentence had me asking questions, like “what had she been told? Where was she? And why was she crouching someplace? Was she hiding? And if so who was she hiding from?” When I read the second sentence I was caught up in the tale even more. Before I even knew it, I had finished the first page and found myself turning to the second. At that moment I knew I had a great book in my hand.

After you have figured out what made you want to keep reading, make a list.

My list for Kate Morton’s opening lines:

  • After reading it I have somewhat a sense of place
  • The first line had me asking questions
  • I have a main character who I am interested in knowing more about
  • I like the style of writing.

Another example:

It is a little-known fact that, over the course of a single year, about twenty million letters are delivered to the dead – Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat from book lollipop shoes)

  • First question that comes to my mind is “why are letters being delivered to the dead?”
  • Just the voice and style make me inquisitive.
  • It was somewhat shocking and dark (I like to have dark elements in my stories as well, so I can bring light out of the darkness at the end.)
  • The detailed prose in how she wrote it

After knowing what you like in an opening line, you can use that information while writing yours. For instance, I really like how Joanne Harris wrote her opening line with such beautiful prose and tone. And with Kate Morton’s opening line, I really love how I have that sense of place, a person, and her thoughts. I like that both of these examples filled my mind with questions right away. I wanted answers and in order to find out the answers, I had to read on. (You get the idea, soon you are hooked!)

Writing Process

First off, write your book so you know where your story begins, where your characters are, and so you know your world and setting. Then you know everything about your story. While writing, just make sure you get the story out on paper before worrying about the opening line. Because while writing I have spent a majority of time trying to make my first chapter perfect and then you don’t move on.

Your Edits

When writers edit their WIPs, they work and rework their opening lines. Take into consideration the list you made of what you liked about your favorite authors first lines. Make your opening line, make your reader want read on.
Some Things to remember while editing:

  1. Capture your “Who” – And I am not talking about your own little fluff with a little world on it called Who-Vill. Even thought Horton had his Who’s. haha! (Not all first lines have a distinct “Who” in it. Joanne Harris’ example had no “Who”, but Kate Morton’s does.
  2. Use your voice – It is important you write true to yourself. Let your muse speak – don’t use someone else’s voice.
  3. Give a sense of conflict – This is shown in Kate Morton’s first lines “as she crouched”. It gives the sense that she is hiding. She may not be in trouble, but it has the reader wondering.
  4. Set the tone – 
Joanne Harris wrote with a mystical and eerie tone in the example up above with the letters to the dead. Which I really like, because it has you asking, “Why are letters going to the dead?” and it made me read on.
  5. Make the readers ask a bunch of questions after reading your first line.

What’s the first line of your current WIP? What are some of your favorite first lines from books? And what are some ways that you make your first line sparkle & shine?

Choice One

Choice 2

You ask, “Devin, how can I win one of those amazing journals?”

This contest will be taking place this coming week. I will be giving away 2 journals of your choice for the prizes, but in order to stay in the running you must:

  1. You must be a follower of my blog! :)
  2. Share the blog with your friends on facebook, twitter, your blog, and other sites during the week! (I will get notifications that you have shared so, I will know!)
  3. Comment. Answer the questions & ask questions. You can answer one of them or all of them!! :D
  4. And last but not least, take part in conversation in the comments. The posts will be showing how to dig deep in our journalling and how that helps us in our daily walk!
  5. The contest will begin today and will run till the 29th of September! :)Good LUCK! :) May the Journals be in your favor! :D
  6. The more you share, facebook, tweet, and comment the more of a chance you will have to win one of the amazing journals.

How About You?

  1. What are some of your favorite opening lines from books?
  2. If you are a writer, what is your current WIP’s first line?