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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Getting Your Story Off to the Right Start

Please welcome guest blogger Beth Cornelison

Daisy Devreaux had forgotten her bridegroom's name. (Kiss An Angel, Susan Elizabeth Phillips)

"Megan Hoffman, you're under arrest." (My book, Danger at Her Door)

One hot August Thursday afternoon, Maddie Faraday reached under the front seat of her husband’s Cadillac and pulled out a pair of black lace bikini underpants. They weren't hers. (Tell Me Lies, Jennifer Crusie)

Kate Chabeau stared down at the sweaty blond man working feverishly between her thighs and waited to die. (Heat of the Moment, Diana Duncan)

Jackson McKay woke with a jolt. (My book, Under Fire)

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping. (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins)

What do these opening lines have in common? Well, besides being some of my favorite book openings by a few of my favorite authors, these story openings catch your attention. The reader asks, "How could she forget her groom's name?" "So whose underpants were they?" "Why is she going to die?" "What is a reaping, and why would it cause nightmares?"

In other words, these openings hook you from the get-go and make you read on to find out what is going on and what will happen next. More than that, the opening lines help set the tone for the book to follow, whether romantic comedy, suspense, or a dark futuristic adventure. And as the first lines of a book go, so go the next several paragraphs, pages, chapters.

The opening of a story is critical... and perhaps the hardest to write. An author has so many jobs in those first few pages: introducing the characters, the conflict, the setting. Filling the reader in on any pertinent background information. Creating a mood. Setting up a story question that will take the reader (and protagonist) on an intriguing journey. And making the characters, setting, background, plot, conflict, story question and mood so interesting that the reader can't possibly put the book down but will keep turning pages and go along for the journey.

Is it any wonder that some writers spend months doing the Opening-Chapters Waltz? And one, two, three... one, two, three...one, two, three...

In May, I'll be teaching an online class in which I'll detail how to make these many elements of opening chapters shine. I'll cover:

1. Pre-planning and plotting. Even if you are a "pantser" writer, a general vision of where you are headed is important. You don't want your opening chapter to wander or feel fragmented or pointless.

2. Hooking the reader. As the opening lines I shared earlier demonstrate, giving the reader questions to ponder, reasons to keep reading, can begin as early as line one. First impressions can make or break a story, and you often won't have more than a page or two to convince an editor or reader your story is worth their time. Make those pages count!

3. Setting up interesting, believable characters. Characters are so much more than a job or a physical description, and the decisions your characters make will drive the story.

4. Establishing tone, theme and all those other things that will make your high school English teacher smile. Attention to details and storytelling craft can turn a good story into a keeper shelf treasure.

5. Keeping up the pace. Many things can affect the pace of your story, and a dragging pace is murder to a good plot.

6. Avoiding cliches and keeping your story fresh.

It may seem overwhelming to keep so many things in mind as you start writing your book, but it's not as daunting as all that. You have a clear picture in your head of who your characters are and they are interesting to you or you wouldn't want to write about them. Right?

Good luck and happy writing!!

Getting Your Story Off To The Right Start, presented by Beth Cornelison, runs from May 16, 2011 through June 12, 2011

Rita finalist Beth Cornelison received her bachelor's degree in Public Relations from the University of Georgia. After working in public relations for about a year, she moved with her husband to Louisiana, where she decided to pursue her love of writing fiction.

Since that time, she has won numerous honors for her work including the coveted Golden Heart for unpublished authors awarded by Romance Writers of America. She made her first sale to Silhouette Intimate Moments in June 2004 and has gone on to publish many more books with Silhouette. She has also published with Five Star Expressions, Samhain Publishing, and Sourcebooks.

Beth has presented workshops across the country to numerous chapter meetings, conferences, online classes and book clubs. Beth Cornelison lives in Louisiana with her husband, one son and a fluctuating number of cats who think they are people.

Reyn's Redemption

To claim her love, first he must reconcile his past…and catch a killer.

When firefighter Reyn Erikson returns to the small Louisiana town that branded him a killer, he doesn’t want trouble. He plans to slip in, help his hospitalized grandmother, and slip out again as silent as smoke. Instead he runs into two unintended flashpoints: his grandmother’s plea to find the truth behind his mother’s death. And sexy redhead Olivia Crenshaw.

The deeper they dig into the past, the more they uncover dark secrets that threaten their sizzling attraction—and draw a killer out of hiding.


Anonymous said...

Hi Beth. Thanks for this post. I loved all the examples and was hooked with each one. Thanks for the great tips, too. Jordan www.evaprim.com

Beth C said...

You're welcome, Jordan! A really great memorable opening line is priceless!
Thanks for stopping by!