If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our July author interviews: Ellen Byerrum (7/5), Day of the Dark anthology authors (7/12 and 7/19), and Nancy Cole Silverman (7/26).

Saturday Guest Bloggers in July: 7/1--Fran Stewart, and 7/8--Nancy Cole Silverman. WWK Saturday bloggers write on 7/15--Margaret S. Hamilton, 7/22--Kait Carson, and 7/29--E. B. Davis.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.”

In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on October, 18, 2017. Look for the interview by E. B. Davis here on that date!

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Opening Six-Pack

A number of years ago I attended the Amelia Island Book Festival and jotted notes from one of the better writing sessions. The question at the top of my notes was this:
WHAT MAKES A STRONG OPENING?
Below were six bullet points—the opening six-pack.
1. Hook the reader
Unless a reader is already committed to reading your story, you have a limited amount of time to capture his attention and convince him to continue reading. You can bait the hook with wonderful language, great dialogue and fascinating characters, but unless you get the reader to take the hook, they’ll put your story down and pick up something else.
One key is to start the story where the action starts, not with paragraphs or pages of prelude. The action does not have to be physical action. The opening hook can be, for example, an ominous mood, which if done right will keep the reader turning the first several pages.
2. Establish a bond between the reader and the lead character
Readers want to connect with the main character. They don’t necessarily have to like him, but they have to have sufficient understanding to be interested in the character. No interest, and again they’ll choose something else.
This is one reason many prologues do not work. My practice novel originally started using the victim's point of view to describe his murder and last thoughts. It did a wonderful job establishing a bond between the reader and the victim. However, it did nothing to help readers understand anything about the protagonist. That meant I had to restart the bonding process again with chapter one.
The murder was a wonderful scene. It had a memorable first sentence. It ended up on the cutting room floor because the reader had no feel for how and with whom the story would proceed.
3. Set the scene
Readers want to build a picture of the world you ask them to enter. It doesn’t have to be a complete picture, but they want to know whether they should be visualizing mountains or desert or a tropical island. They want to know whether the story is contemporary or historical or set far into the future. Is the story taking place today in a tent or in the 1880s in the formal dining room of a Victorian mansion?
4. Get the conflict going (either internal or external or both)
Without conflict there is no story of interest. Who cares about the story if the main character gets what he wants without overcoming any obstacles? Readers want to know there will be struggles, that the main character may or may not get what he wants; or that what he thinks he wants is not what, deep down inside, he actually wants.
I have often read the advice for mysteries that “the body should appear on page one.” This presupposes that finding the body is the trigger for the conflict. If the protagonist is the accused or the detective then perhaps the advice is appropriate. However, sometimes the body comes about only as a result of earlier conflict and that earlier conflict is the place to start the story.
5. Describe the protagonist sufficiently for the reader to develop at least a minimal picture
Young/old, boy/girl, rich/poor, blue-collar/blue-blood. Readers want the basic framework of the character so they can start to draw a picture. If you wait too long, (and they haven’t put the story down), readers will create their own picture and woe to the author who surprises the reader by later providing information that contradicts with the image the reader has drawn for themselves—unless the writer does it intentionally, in which case the reader will come to that knowledge and instead of being angry will say, “No kidding! I didn’t see that coming at all. Boy, did she get me that time. Brava!”
The main character of my novels is Seamus McCree. Many in the U.S. are not familiar with the name Seamus and left to their own devices would pronounce it as it’s spelled, “Sea-mus.” Within the first dozen or so pages of each novel, I have to cobble an opportunity to introduce the correct pronunciation, “Shay-mus.”
6. Surprise the reader – maybe even startle them
I think of the surprise as setting the hook you earlier baited. You do not want the reader to be able to put down your book at the first scene or chapter end. If they can, they may never pick it up again. Here’s a better way: The reader may be saying to himself something like, I’ve figured out this story, it’s going to be boy next door meets girl next door; boy moves away and loses girl; boy returns in the nick of time to save girl and wins her back. Read a million romances, ho-hum—and just before the first visual break in the story, BANG, a vampire waltzes in and sucks them both dry. The scene closes with the vampire shutting the door on the pellucid bodies and the left eyelid of the girl twitches.
Heck, I just made that up and I want to know what happens next.

There you have it, a complete six-pack, all the elements for a great beginning.

14 comments:

Gloria Alden said...

Good bullet points, Jim. One that every writer should keep on hand to refer to when starting anything new.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Wonderful advice! Most of this, we writers already know. However, the six pack deserves reinforcement because each point is so well-taken.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

I've found that "knowing" and KNOWING are two different things. While I am in the "knowing" category, I need to refresh my memory until it becomes a part of me and then it is KNOWING.

~ Jim

Paula Gail Benson said...

I just finished a story this weekend and used your message as a checklist to help me tighten the prose. Thanks, Jim, and Happy Father's Day!

E. B. Davis said...

As I read your blog, I mentally reviewed a story I'm working on to evaluate it. I think I'm covered on your points, but I will go over it again. Thanks for the reminders.

Unknown said...

Great summary. Worth printing out to look at when starting out.

Kaye George said...

Good things to keep in mind, no matter how many new starts we've made. I like the new picture of you, BTW.

Kara Cerise said...

Thank you for the opening six pack, Jim. I will refer to it when I begin a new story.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Paula, thanks for the Father's Day wishes. BTW I just finished writing some scenes in Columbia just because you asked!

Kaye, not even in my college athletic days (soccer) did I have a stomach that looked like that -- my legs on the other hand ... well, it's all ancient history. A couple of your Neanderthals probably thought they had good legs too :)

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

I just went over my opening scene with these pointers in mind (whew, not too bad!)
Hope you are enjoying your day!

Pat Browning said...

Great post. I'm printing it out and keeping it close by as a reminder. Many thanks.
Pat Browning

Sarah Henning said...

Love all the points in this post! Uh, and the pic is nice,too:)

Warren Bull said...

Nicely stated James.

Joanne Guidoccio said...

Great advice! Thanks for sharing, Jim :)