I really enjoyed picking out paragraphs for this series of posts. It took me some time to wade through my shelves and decide which openings grabbed my attention but it was fun.
This week sentence structure played a big part in why I chose these two books as great beginnings. See what you think...
The next scene, from Nina Bang’s A TASTE OF DARKNESS, starts from the hero’s point of view. Werewolves-furry pains in the butt.
Werecats-sneaky, whisker-twitching manipulators.
Werejerks-every freakin’ loser with a were in front of its name.
Reinn hated them all. But most of all Reinn hated his job. Guardian of the Blood. What a crock.
He’d been a warrior in some form or another for most of his thousand years of existence. When he’d finally decided to walk away from that life, he’d bought a house and property in the Colorado Rockies, and then settled down to be alone. That was it. He. Wanted. To. Be. Alone. No friends, no emotional chains, no vulnerabilities.
Yeah, he was one cold bastard. But he was one cold bastard who was still alive.
Phew, that’s one dark, tortured hero. More questions? No answers? Oh, didn’t that happen in the last scene we read?
Take another look at the passage. Reread the first three lines. Do you detect a staccato rhythm in the descriptive phrases? Like the internal ravings of someone angry at the world. Hmm, emotional overtones.
Also note the broken structure of the sentence towards the end – He. Wanted. To. Be. Alone. Attention grabbing? You betcha. Effective. Yep.
And what about this? No friends, no emotional chains, no vulnerabilities. More strong emotion that creates a need to find out why. You’ve got to read on to find out more.
“The King must die.”
Four single-syllable words. One by one they were nothing special. Put together? They called up all kinds of bad shit: Murder. Betrayal. Treason.
I’m a huge fan of J.R.Ward but even if I hadn’t been, this opening scene from LOVER AVENGED just grabbed me and I was skimming the words as quickly as I could to find out who, why, where and what the heck was going on.
Very sharp, short sentences. Each word carefully chosen for maximum impact. Tension and excitement. The last four one-word sentence just go from icckk, to uh-oh, gasp, and ewww. The mind is calculating scenarios and the eyes are racing down the page wanting to read more. Know more.
The illiteration of the ‘s’-sound in the first sentence is great – single syllable words. And the character has attitude – look at the phrasing of the fourth sentence – They called up all kinds of bad shit… Pretty powerful for a such a short opening scene.
Ahh, what is it about the metallic pinging sound of rain droplets hitting the ol'corregated iron roof? The noisy drumming of a steady downpour is soothing an brings a smile to my face. The land certainly needs it at the moment - the wheat crops are looking yellow with stress, the cracks in the soil in my backyard are big enough for you to look into and see daylight from the other side of the world, and the bush/grass is dry enough to already be a major fire threat and Summer hasn't even started yet. That we're getting some good rain as I type is a Godsend - thank you, Lord.
How have you gone reading some of your "keepers" and looking at their opening few paragraphs? Did you analyse what made them appealing? Was it the author's voice? Did they open with riveting dialogue or a fantastic action scene or something usual with an unusual twist?
Here are two more of my favourite openings...
Not many people can handle the pain of being ripped apart, of having your limbs twisted and morphed until you are convinced your mind will shatter into a thousand tiny shards.
I can. And I’m tired of hiding my true nature so that humans can sleep better at night, convinced their actually in control of this tiny blue-brown planet. They need to know the truth-they need to realize that they’re not at the top of the food chain.
Far from it.
An unknown character’s point of view begins this scene in RED by Jordan Summers. The subject matter certainly grabs your attention in the first eleven words, doesn’t it? The second half of the sentence just makes you wince and wonder who this character is. Surely it can’t be the hero or heroine?
The ominous overtones deepen in the second paragraph. Why is this character tired of hiding his/her true nature? Why are they hiding anyway? Is this a world that doesn’t tolerate non-humans? Why do they feel the need to show humans they’re not at the top of the food chain? What did they do to the character to provoke him/her out of hiding?
Hey, more questions and a need to read on to find out the answers.
In SHADOW TOUCH by Marjorie M.Lui we meet our heroine in a strange situation. Shortly before being shot in the back with a tranquilizer dart and dumped half-dazed on a stretcher, right before being stolen from the hospital by silent men in white coats, Elena Baxter stood at the end of a dying child’s bed, her hand on a small bare foot, and attempted to perform a miracle.
She was good at miracles. She had been practicing them for her entire life, and at twenty-eight years of age, had become quite proficient at the art of doing strange and wonderful things.
I don’t know about you but my mind immediately said, “Hey, what?” when I read the part about being tranquilized and kidnapped. I just had to read on to find out why someone would do that.
Then I discover our heroine is a woman I can like – she’s at a hospital helping a child she doesn’t even know, risking exposure to use her supernatural ability to heal the child. How can we not care for her and worry when we discover she’s been harmed?
What do I do? Read on.
I'll post another in this series next week. Stay tuned! :-)
As writers we hear about hooking your reader from the very first sentence. But what makes for a compelling read? What makes the beginning of a book a good one?
Is there a trick or particular secret to writing an attention-grabbing opening?
I’ve picked several opening scenes from books on my keeper shelf and, in the next few posts, I’d like to share what drew me in to each of them.
Let’s start with the opening scene from NIGHT PLAY by Sherrilyn Kenyon. “I’m so sorry, Vane. I didn’t mean to get us killed like this.”
Vane Kattalakis ground his teeth as he fell back from trying to pull himself up. His arms ached from the strain of lifting two hundred pounds of lean muscle up by nothing more than the bones of his wrists. Every time he got close to raising his body up to the limb over his head, his brother started talking, which broke his concentration and caused him to fall back into his dangling position.
“Don’t worry, Fang. I’ll get us out of this.”
Wow. The hero in trouble from the outset; a life or death situation; edge of the seat stuff. And it began with a provocative line of dialogue. Active, immediate, tense, suspenseful.
What else happened when you read this? Did any questions spring to mind? They’re about to be killed? Why and by whom? Vane and Fang are certainly suffering. Why protract their deaths? Could it be for revenge? And why does Vane feel it’s his responsibility to get him and brother out of trouble? How’s he going to get them out of this situation? What’s going to happen next?
The tense situation compels you to read on and combines with the need for answers to these questions.
They were created, not born. They were trained, not raised. They weren’t meant to be free, to laugh, to play or to love. They were men and women whose souls had been forged in the fires of hell.
This brief excerpt comes from MEGAN’S MARK by Lora Leigh. The emotion that grabbed me from the start? Anticipation.
Look at the words used by the author that builds expectation and excitement from the first sentence – created, not born; trained, not raised; weren’t meant; souls; forged; fires of hell. Powerful, emotive words.
The structure of the sentences is also clever. Lora could have written – They weren’t born but created in a lab. Pretty boring statement. It’s much stronger flipping the words around - They were created, not born. That effect continues in the next sentence - They weren’t meant to be free, to laugh, to play or to love. She tells you what they weren’t meant to do rather than what they did do.
It made me want to know more – so, yep, I turned the page.
So, what captures your attention when you read a book? Post one of your favourite openings and let me know what worked for you.
Over the next few posts I'm going to share some of my favourite opening paragraphs/sentences from a few books I have on my "keepers" bookshelf and look at why those beginnings grabbed my attention. While I'm deciding which ones rate a mention (yes, there are THAT many), perhaps you'd like to share your favourite "grab you by the throat and won't let go" beginnings? Any genre, I don't mind. What's prompting these postings? Having been a judge in a few contests, and having entered several myself ;-), I've come to realise just how important those opening few paragraphs are in hooking the readers attention. Think about it - what do you do when you go into a bookstore and thumb through a potential buy? Unless you know the author and he/she is one of your favourites that you buy on name alone, how do you choose to spend your hard earned money? Is it based on the cover, the blurb or does the opening page or two become the deciding factor? Share your opinion and your favourites - perhaps they might end up being one of mine. :-)
Want a great month of writer-ly blogs full of information, interviews and interesting things? How about some great prizes to go with all that? Yeah? Then head on over to Eleni Konstantine's website and check out her link Eleni-fest. It's on the whole month of October and she's spending it promoting anything and everything to do with writing. Some of the things she's already talked about include critique partners, the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference "Hot August Nights" and she's interviewed historical romance author Anna Campbell. Anna is giving away a free copy of her latest book Tempt the Devil so make sure you leave a comment by the due date (if you want to know when that is get on over to Eleni-fest!). Future guest authors/writers include Trish Morey, Anne Gracie, Keri Arthur, Tracy O'Hara, Erica Hayes, Christina Phillips, Rachel Bailey, Elizabeth Rolls, Denise Rossetti, Nikki Logan, Anne Oliver, Mel Teshco, and Anna Hackett. The dates for these are listed on her Eleni-fest page. Eleni also has a swag of prizes and goodies to give away. Up for grabs at the moment include a copy of Valerie Parv's (et.al) Heart & Craft book and Tracey O'Hara's debut release Night's Cold Kiss. What a great way to while away the month of October!
For those of you on the journey to publication I thought I’d pass on knowledge gathered over many years concerning single title publishing houses, specifically in the mainstream sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal and romance genres.
Starting out I knew of a few major houses, mostly from looking at the spine of the books on my shelf but, over time and with the help of other writers and now my agent, I’ve sifted through the information and think :-) I have a better handle on it.
A couple of great research websites include Speculative Fiction Book Publisher Markets website - they lists many print & e-publishing houses, Preditors & Editors - they have a huge listing of publishers, in alphabetical order and with recommendations and warnings, and Book Crossroads - a directory of e-publishers with submission guidelines.
I hope you find the lists useful in your quest for publication. Unless otherwise indicated the publishing houses are based in the US market and are mostly listed as Publishing House, Company and/or Imprint name. Googling the names should give you links to their websites.
Mainstream SF/F Houses
Penguin Putnam :DAW
Penguin Putnam: ACE & ROC
Random House: Doubleday, Bantam Press, Black Swan, Bantam & Corgi (UK)
(Random House)Ballantine: Del Rey & Spectra
Hachette Book Group: Grand Central Publishing: Orbit Books
Pocket Books: JUNO Books
Penguin: Viking, Sphere, Orion & Signet (UK)
HarperCollins: Voyager & Angry Robot (UK)
Arrow Books: Legend (UK)
BL Publishing (UK)
Victor Gollancz Inc: VGSF & Magnet (UK)
Mushroom eBooks (e-publisher)
Romance SF/F/paranormal Houses
Harlequin: LUNA fantasy imprint
HarperCollins: EOS fantasy imprint
HarperCollins: AVON paranormal romance imprint
Penguin: Berkley Sensation & Jove imprints
Penguin: Signet novel imprint
Penguin: NAL romance imprint
Hachette Book Group: Grand Central Publishing: Forever paranormal romance imprint
Kensington: Zebra paranormal romance imprint
(Macmillian) Tom Doherty Assoc.: Tor romance imprint
(Macmillian) St.Martin’s Press: St.Martin’s Paperback romance (US)
Random House: Bantam Books romance imprint
Dorchester: Leisure paranormal romance imprint
Dorchester: Lovespell paranormal romance imprint
Simon & Schuster: Pocket Star Books imprint
Medallion Press: Jewel Imprint Sci-Fi romance
Hachette Book Group: Little, Brown Book Group: Piatkus (UK)
Wild Rose Press (e-publisher)
Ellora’s Cave: Romantica imprint (e-publisher)
Samhain Publishing (e-publisher)
Loose Id (e-publisher)
Wings e-Press (e-publisher)
Whispers Publishing (e-publisher)
New Concepts Publishing (e-publisher)
By no means is this a complete list - I’m sure I’ve missed many but it’s a place to start. You’ll have to do the leg-work to find out more about them and their latest submission guidelines :-) .
As much as we’d all like to follow our passion - writing - there are times when circumstances just thwart every attempt to scrimp a half hour or throw our routines out of whack. I work full time as a teacher, so for me writing time is scrimped from the early morning hours - I get up at 4.30am and (after breakfast) I write until 7.30am then drive to work. It’s quiet at this time - no phone calls, no visitors, very few interruptions - and I’m fresh so it’s a routine I’ve adopted for almost two years now. After the teaching day I spend the evening hours editing what I’ve written for the day (if I’m not doing volunteer work or attending some meeting). I think about what I’m going to write tomorrow. More often than not, it’s bed time when I do this and it’s the last thing I remember doing before I fall asleep. But what happens if a crisis in the family occurs or the pressures of a volunteer activity outside the home interrupts or the demands of work require your undivided attention and it sucks every bit of time out of the day/morning/night you planned to write? What do you do? Panic - you could, but what does it achieve except make you feel worse? Worry - hmm, yeah, but again, all that does is make you feel guilty about not being able to write and ends in the same result, feeling bad. Fume - OK, who hasn’t felt angry about your precious time being interrupted? Vent but move on to something more practical. Bend like a reed in the river? Be flexible, enduring, with the strength to let life flow over and around you but once the flood has passed, straighten and keep going. Nice image. A lot healthier than the other reactions. Life’s circumstances will always pry you away from your passion. Whenever you have a day, a week, a month where the rising waters of life submerge or dilute your passion for writing...remember... Flex, lean, bow. Be the reed. Next week will be better.
Today I’ve spent 4hrs training in road crash rescue with 5 other members of our State Emergency Service unit (we only have 8 total), and I’m knackered. Our scenario - we had a (fictional) casualty trapped in the vehicle turned on its side and we had to get her out using a full door and roof removal. So that meant we needed to stabilize the vehicle with pickets and holdfasts as well as acro props, carefully tip it back over onto its belly using the tirfor winch, stabilize it again with step blocks before taping up and smashing all the windows then remove the doors using a socket set as well as the spreaders before using a set of parrot beaks and combi-tool to cut off the roof. Towards the end our trainer complicated the situation by telling us the casualty was pinned in the drivers seat by the steering wheel, so then we had to use the steering wheel chains and spreader to lift the wheel enough to free her legs before we could get her out. Due to our geographic isolation, and with other emergency services that usually respond to road crash rescue being about 70kms away, our unit is one of several around the state accredited in road crash rescue - not all SES units do RCR. This is the second training scenario we’ve conducted at this “accident site” and it’s been a great learning experience for everyone, especially our newbie members who are just starting their accreditation. For me it’s been a much needed refresher and the chance to be team leader this time around. The sense of accomplishment after a day like today, even though some of us haven’t had the practical years of experience that a few of us do, is high as we all contributed something to the team effort. There’s also the realization that we may one day use these skills to save someone’s life. I enjoy the practical elements of SES training as it’s so different to my regular day-job (teaching). While the unit is small and, at times, we often struggle for members, I wouldn’t swap the years I’ve had in the unit. The qualifications and training is worthwhile but it’s the strong bonds of friendship forged with members that keeps me going back every Tuesday night and the odd weekend of training - some of them I’ve known for almost 20 years (gosh, where does the time go???).
Are you one of those people who respond well to deadlines or accountability or do you enjoy the challenge of earning self-imposed incentives? If you are then perhaps Book in A Week/Month is for you. What is BIAW or BIAM? Writing with accountability. Some use it as a chance to begin a new book, others to finish one, some to edit one already complete. Doesn’t matter what as long as it’s something writing related. It’s also a chance to get into a regular work habit and be held accountable. Sound familiar? Yes, the process mirrors the deadlines set by agents and editors. The only difference is that you set your weekly goals – whether it be a daily or weekly word count, editing X amount of chapters, setting aside 30mins a day to write, aiming to write so many times a week, whatever you feel you’re capable of. Most times you post your goal on the loop at the start of the week then you account for yourself daily or at the end of the week. It’s certainly great training to see what you are capable of as far as work production, efficient use of time and discipline. I like to participate in the RWNZ BI50D e-loop. We’re a smallish group of writers who use the time to get a book ready for the RWNZ Clendon Award . We encourage and support one another, an important part of the RWNZ BI50D’s process. Since we formed the group a few years ago, we’ve had a number of us final in the Clendon, something we might not have done if we hadn’t “finished the damn book”. All the loopies set weekly goals and report in daily. Usually I work with a weekly word count and reward myself at the end of the week if I achieve it – I’m a big fan of the dangly carrot theory and have discovered I’m more motivated and challenged if I’m held accountable. Incentives have ranged from a block of chocolate, to reading a book off my To Be Read pile or a night out to dinner (I tend to save that one for when I get close to finishing my book). If you think you’d like to try something like this then check out your writing groups or e-loops and give it a go. Both the ROMAUS e-loop and RWNZ Book in 50 Days e-loop offer this opportunity to members. RWNZ BI50D is starting up on October 1st. May your fingers fly over the keyboard – happy writing!
How many of you have ever done the housework, checked your emails, paid the bills, rearranged your workspace, surfed the ‘net, read a chapter or two of a book, found some obscure task to finish, or just plain wasted time doing “stuff” instead of sitting down and writing? Come on, hands up, let’s have a little honesty. Hmm, I see a few raised. Including mine. Self-discipline seems to pack its bags and go on holiday, the drive to make yourself sit down at the keyboard and work has taken a break, too. Why? Well, a good reason might be that you have “time on your hands” (perhaps it’s vacation time or personal leave from work). Maybe you’re between books and not actively working or revising one at the moment. Could it be you’ve temporarily burnt yourself out? Or is your mind subconsciously sorting the jigsaw pieces of your next WIP into order before your muse kicks and demands to be at the keyboard? If it’s reason one or two - and it’s worrying you then get back into your usual routine as if you were still at your other job. You need to be able to identify what writing process works for you and stick to it. Set yourself a “work time”, do it then enjoy the rest of the day as your holiday or break away from writing. Or vice versa if you work better in the afternoon/evening. Alternatively, if you’re on a roll then keep working past that set time. But don’t feel guilty over not working ALL day on writing - wastes too much energy and it’s counterproductive. If it’s reason three - (and I’ve been there, done that a few times) you need to divorce yourself from writing entirely and give yourself time to recharge and restore the keen edge of needing to write. For me, reading tends to do that. Curling up with a good book and enjoying it inspires me and I begin to get ideas, scenes, possibilities churning in the back of my mind. It’s like the boost you take when your body is low on vitamins. Find out what relaxes you and do it. If you don’t pamper or feed your creative self then how can you expect to recover? When you’re ready to return to writing you’ll know. Start small - planning, plotting, writing for fun not profit. Build yourself up to getting back into your routine and a new WIP. If it’s reason four (needing headspace and time in between books) - give it to yourself. It’s OK not to be actively writing (a hard thing to do when guilt and pressure is hounding you to get back to it). You don’t have to be pounding out the word count to be working on your next WIP. I read a great quote by Eugene Ionesco on the RWAustralia blog site the other day. He said, “For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” Sometimes the mind just needs time to think, plan, analyse, organise, plot, interview & sequence whatever you’re working on. Ever had that “feeling” of wrongness about your WIP and it stops you from starting or progressing in your writing? Perhaps you feel icky about the overarching plot, or maybe your characters motivations aren’t defined, or a scene you’ve been thinking about is in the wrong POV? Your subconsciousness is prodding you to take noticed (sometimes it just hits you over the hit with a 2 by 4 at 3am). Listen to it. Learn to let yourself think, daydream, visualise...whatever it takes to make your process work. Recognising what triggers your procrastination is important. It’ll help you diagnose the treatment you need to administer. Take heed though, one unrefutable fact underpins any “cure”. Self discipline - the strict mistress of all writers. The question to ask yourself is - do I have the passion for writing and strength to let her control me? Procrastination won’t have hold over you for long if she does.
Had I not joined RWAustralia I would never have discovered RWNZ or RWAmerica. I didn’t join all three organisations at the same time - RWA in 2002, RWNZ in 2005 and RWAmerica in 2008 but now I couldn’t imagine NOT being a part of them. Financial reasons tend to be the huge hurdle for most people when joining certain organisations. It was certainly the reason why I put off cross-membership, particularly when it came to RWAmerica. The one thing to ask yourself is - are you aiming for a career as a published author? If the answer is yes, then budgeting membership fees is a must. It’s an investment in your future career. For me, cross membership into RWNZ was for access to their writing competitions. RWA & RWNZ have very similar comp’s - for catagory & single title, partials & a synopsis as well as full mss. It gave me double the feedback (something I was looking for not being able to access a crit partner or writing group) and it gave me twice the chance to get in front of an editor or agent if I finalled. RWA/NZ also have an annual writers conference - how’s that for an adrenalin rush? To anyone who has been to either conference, imagine being able to attend another, consider the potential of accessing twice the knowledge, anticipate the networking and friendships you would establish by going to two?!?! While I haven’t yet been to an RWAmerica conference, the advantages certainly mirror RWA & RWNZ. Tapping into the huge knowledge base of our published and unpublished, honing your craft through the opportunities made available to members (workshops, monthly newsletters, competitions, on-line courses, crit partner services etc.), networking with industry professionals and meeting possible life-long friends are the distinct pluses of cross membership. If you’re serious about a career in writing - make it one of your goals - short or long term - doesn’t matter. For me, the benefits of cross membership have more than offset the cost. It has been, and will continue to be, worth it.
After the incredible fortnight of conferences I’m naming this year - 2009 - The Year of Competitions. While the boost to morale and affirmation of faith in my story-telling is great, I can’t claim all the credit. The success of 2009 has been a cumulative process of milestones and events over the last few years. The honing of my skills as a writer is the direct result of the incredible workshops offered at the annual conferences, the feedback provided by so many judges in the competitions and the support I’ve received from friends on both sides of the Tasman. My two most amazing “lightbulb” moments came from the wonderful Debbie Macomber and incredible Margie Lawson, both guest speakers at conferences past. Debbie spoke about setting goals - realistic or fanciful - & made us define 5 during her lecture then challenged us to achieve them over the next year. I discovered the dangling carrot scenario works for me. The second AHA! moment was using the EDITS system and Empowering Emotion lectures presented by Margie Lawson. I’m a visual learner and so the idea of using highlighters to identify dialogue, narrative, conflict, setting and emotion was a powerful tool. It’s one I now use regularly when I edit my work. (Margie’s website offers more information on these tools and I highly recommend you check it out) The hunger for learning the craft and absorbing the information on offer hasn’t eased and I hope it never does. I love getting my scoresheets back from competitions and the hour after I open the envelope I devour the comments, reading, analysing and assessing how best I can use them to improve my writing. I do the same the day the Hearts Talk or Heart to Heart magazines arrive in the mail - the contents page gets a quick skim then I dive right in knowing the knowledge contained in the articles will be valuable, like gold. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone back over past issues looking for that certain bit of information or to find an article to pass on to a friend. Another tool I found valuable in honing my skills was volunteering to be a contest judge. It’s a great way to develop your own writing and critiquing skills and you’ll be helping other writers during the process. Without the emotional attachment associated with my own work, I found it so much easier to identify what worked well and what needed improvement as I read other people’s stories. As a judge it helped me “get my eye in” and when I edited my own work I was able to identify my own strengths and weaknesses that much easier. So, if you want to fine tune some of your writing skills, and help our hard working competition coordinators and give back to the organisation that’s helped you then volunteer to judge. Believe me, you won’t regret it - oh, but a word of warning, you could end up addicted!