View Full Version : Getting started

August 16th, 2010, 02:09 PM
I have started writing several stories. I guess I'm trying to find my writing style or niche or something. I've tried the outline approach and found that after going back over it again and again to flesh it out I lose interest in the story itself from having read it so many times. When I tried the just sit down and write it as you would tell it kind of way, well, i get kind of stuck after the first chapter. So I guess I'm asking what are some things I can do to get over this initial hump so the story can start flowing better?

August 16th, 2010, 05:49 PM
So I guess I'm asking what are some things I can do to get over this initial hump so the story can start flowing better?

Hear hear! :rockon:

That's an issue every writer faces at some point. I deal with that myself. Here's hoping we get some tips along the way.

Red Dragon
August 16th, 2010, 09:13 PM
Hello everyone,
I'm looking forward to getting started, too. I hadn't thought of chapter one and chapter two serving different roles other than the opening of chapter one gripping the reader in the first few paragraphs and introducing the main character and problem/quest/goal. So, I can't wait to get my teeth into this, especially re chapter two.
I thought we would have started. It is midday on the 17th in Australia so I am champing at the bit. :)

August 16th, 2010, 10:10 PM
I'm also looking forward to hearing what Sue has to say about the first couple of chapters.

August 17th, 2010, 04:16 AM
How about trying to plan in 'broad brushstrokes'?

Take a really basic view of your plot:
- create a central character
- give her or him a problem to solve
- now, don't cheat! Make her or him solve it her or himSELF (in other words, make your central character proactive) via a pivotal moment.

Can you sketch out your story using the above as a guide? Like this:

- Jason is married to Cindy and they have a small child, Kimberley. (I would generally do a lot more character work than this, but you don't need to know it for the purpose of the exercise)
- Cindy has decided she wants to live apart from Jason. She expects Kimberley to stay with her. Jason, horrified, points out that they can't afford to run two homes. He tells Cindy that if she wants the separation, she'll have to come up with the way to make it work. Cindy's feeble solution is that she takes a lodger to help pay the bills.
- Jason says he will 'become the lodger'. He will move into the spare room while he and Cindy sort out their problems, therefore saving him from the heartbreak of living apart from his child and giving him a fighting chance of saving his marriage.

This kind of broad planning leaves a lot of interest still for the writer.

August 17th, 2010, 04:47 AM

Sorry to be a little late in my first post. I could blame it on the time difference but, actually, it's because last night I was appearing at the London Writers' Cafe and I got on the train and suddenly had that sinking feeling ... I had prepared my post but not posted it.

Which brings me to a salient point: I'm British. That means I will use UK English spellings rather than US. :yes: Just make allowances for me.

So, here we are.

Thank you for joining this seminar. The Webmistress is pleased with the take up and I hope you're going to enjoy my stuff. As well as being a novelist, I write short stories, serials and articles and and I'm a creative writing tutor and have written a 'how to' book called Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction. I know, from my experience, that there is a wealth of material out there about the basics of writing but that sometimes the nuances are neglected. And it's the nuances that can really take your writing on to the next level.

I'm going to begin with my hot favourite - character.

Let's assume that you know how to create a character. The next step should be to decide: What is your character's function in your story?

What it is useful to remember is that you need to be able to identify your character's function because characters will automatically be categorised in the reader’s mind as a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’. Why does this matter to you? Because you need to bear in mind your reader's expectation in order to cast your character in the correct role.

Look at your story and decide:
• which characters are intended to be sympathetic? (Sympathetic = the reader likes them. This is the Goodie.)
• which unsympathetic? (Unsympathetic = the reader doesn't like them. This is the Baddie.)
• what will the characters learn?
• will the reader feel satisfaction at a comeuppance or joy at a hopeful ending?

I think it helps to write with focus to know what one is writing to achieve. If Goodie is really the goodie then s/he will achieve his or her goal by the end of the book. Which is why you need to know what the character will learn. Baddie will be thwarted and frustrated - and you will have fun making certain that this is so.

If you get Goodie and Baddie mixed up you won't just confuse or mislead your readers - something you often want to do, especially if you write romantic suspense - you will make your reader toss down your book and say, 'Pah!' Making readers say, 'Pah!' is a bad thing. It means you've lost them.

Of course, you may want your readers to think that Character A is Goodie until he shows his bad side ... If you do that, make certain that you leave him or her a way from the Good Side to the Bad Side. If you have correctly identified Character A from the start, this will be a breeze and you'll be able to leave the reader loads of signposts so that they don't feel cheated.

In real life people are seldom all good or all bad. In romantic fiction, we reflect this - for the sake of plausibility (and to avoid 'Pah!') Goodie should have some human flaws and Baddie should have some redeeming features.

But, as well as Goodie and Baddie, there's a third option. A Robin Hood character.

Robin Hood lives with outlaws, he acts like an outlaw, yet we never think of him as a baddie (although he is a thief) as his motive is so good: he robs the rich to help the poor. If we examine this idea more closely we’re saying that it’s OK to rob people who have something to be robbed of, regardless of whether it’s their fault that others have nothing. Few of us would feel this in real life – but Robin captivates us with his larky character and his conviction that he’s doing something good, even when he isn’t.

Robin Hood makes a great hero in romantic fiction. He'll make us laugh, he'll drive the heroine crazy, his flexible morals will get them both in more conflict than you thought possible, just because he isn't a cookie-cutter hero. He's naughty but he's nice. But, at the bottom of him, he's good. Pretty much. Mostly.

So you really, really need to make certain that he's not the Sheriff of Nottingham. He's definitely a baddie.

Learn to recognise the difference between Goodie, Baddie and Robin Hood and your characters will fulfill their roles in your book, effortlessly.

Red Dragon
August 17th, 2010, 08:25 AM
Hello Sue,
Thanks for the broad strokes approach. It's bedtime in Oz, so I'll think on a plan overnight. Problems are easy. The solutions I find almost impossible.
Would it be too confusing to have goodie, Robyn Hood character and baddie all after the same girl. Robyn Hood would be a type of trickster, would he? I'd LOVE to write such a character, but imagine the escapades and resulting outcomes would be very hard to conjure up.

See you tomorrow.

August 17th, 2010, 08:46 AM
Hi Rusty,

Hope you had a good night!

No, I don't think that would be too confusing at all - I think it's a great idea. Robin Hood would be naughty but well-intentioned and probably drag the heroine into scrapes.

If you have trouble coming up with the solution to problems, especially in short stories, have a look at some problem pages in magazines and newspapers. In there, you get the problem and the resolution! It's just a case of picking out the ones that are unusual, correct for the publication and have enough mileage in them for a story. I have done this several times, and sold the resulting stories to magazines.

Red Dragon
August 17th, 2010, 09:03 AM
Hi Sue,
Just popped back in before I go to bed.
Getting solutions from newspapers and magazines is a good idea. I hadn't thought of that. I sort of expect to get everything from my head (the elusive muse) and I worry that any other way might be cheating [ie cheating myself].

August 17th, 2010, 09:27 AM
Gosh, if that's cheating then I think most writers 'cheat'. The writers who were on the panel with me last night in London said they looked for material all over the place. One writes crime so she keeps a keen eye on the headlines and the other writes YA paranormal so she studies mythology and folklore. You have to refill your well of creativity from somewhere.

August 17th, 2010, 09:32 AM
Anti-heroes can be more interesting more often than not because they can live/explore in shades of gray. There are a lot of anti-heroes on TV shows, making it pretty easy and fun research. ;)

August 17th, 2010, 09:36 AM
Sue, I love your insights! This is my first forum on Coffee Time, and so happy I found something that's a fresh take on one of my hardest subjects: getting the &%$@* book started! (Which is hilarious, because everyone who reads my stuff says my openings rock.)

Thank you most of all for reminding us of "Pah". The "Pah" factor should never, ever be forgotten. (And, I might add, never has it been so eloquently expressed!)

From the land of "Duuuuude!" and "Awwwesome!", I am refreshed and invigorated by your wonderful British voice. Keep on keepin' on, sistah! I'm a new fan.

August 17th, 2010, 10:06 AM
Thank you, Anneepf!

Duuude and Awwwwesome have made it over here, believe me! Particularly amongst the under 25 year olds. The differences between UK and US English seem to be a recurring theme in my life at the moment, probably because I'm writing an American heroine who has come to England to search for her English mum. The funniest differences come from words that are innocent in one culture and rude in the other, of course!

If you can write openings that rock, you have my respect. That single talent will get your work read by publishers and agents. Finishing the book is also helpful, though.:toot::toot::toot:

August 17th, 2010, 10:08 AM
Hi Kimrae,

I agree. I love the heroes in romantic comedy that have some anti-hero traits - Michael Douglas in 'Romancing the Stone' does it for me far more than Tom Hanks in 'Sleepless in Seattle', for example.

August 17th, 2010, 01:29 PM
Hi Sue,
Thanks so much for leading this class. Looking forward to learning how to deepen my writing and characters.

August 17th, 2010, 02:38 PM
This is my first time on the forum also and I already feel like I'm learning new ways to look at things, thanks so much Sue. Do you plan things differently if your main characters are unconventional? Such as different races, religions, or the same sex?

August 17th, 2010, 03:25 PM
Hi Ravenrose,

The more unconventional your characters are, the more potential you have for nuances.

I would just be careful that you don't make them different for the sake of it - instead, make their unconventional characteristics things that really count towards the story. For example, if you have a mixed-race heroine and a white hero, it's easy enough to find conflict for them. There might be challenges from within their families, for example - most writers would think of that.

But I would also be looking for things in their respective upbringings that might trip them up.

Were they brought up in the same country? And religion? Do they understand the same pop culture? Have they had access to similar foodstuffs? If not, what conflicts can you create from these things?

Same sex romantic relationships have their own tensions, too. I would certainly be looking for conflict from within the relationship as well as from without. One of my favourite places to stir up trouble for my characters is in their histories; something that has happened in the past that affects the future. In same sex relationships, there are more places to hide and disguise significant past events ie it can be harder, from the outside, to see where friendship ends and romance begins because there are no handy gender boundaries.

All That Mullarkey (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931247)
Starting Over (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931223)
Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (Accent Press ISBN 9781906373993)

August 17th, 2010, 03:26 PM

Great to have you aboard. Hope you continue to enjoy the seminar. (I'm enjoying it ...)

August 17th, 2010, 03:45 PM
As I was so useless in getting my first post up, yesterday, I'm going to post again, which will put me on schedule. (I'm one of those annoying punctual people who hates being behind schedule.)

The subject is one of my favourite hobby-horses: why characters should act, react and interact, and the workshop comes from my book, 'Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction'.

At some time, every writer is told, ‘Show, don’t tell!’

Unfortunately, this gem doesn’t always come accompanied with fuller explanation. If the distinction between showing and telling isn’t clear to you, think of a play. There are actors on the stage and there’s someone perched on the stage-side, speaking directly to the audience about what is happening/has happened/is about to happen. This stage-side orator is a shortcut, a way of dumping information on the audience so that they are prepared for whatever action is about to follow.

He is telling. His role should be brief.

In order to show, the characters must act. This means they’ll react and interact, as well.

Different characters react differently to the same incident, to external conflicts or stimuli, to internal conflicts and to each other. Let’s look at the following passage:

Josh squinting against the sunlight, wiped sweat from his face and watched Leanne, cradling baby Henry in her arms, fidgeting on a green-painted chair outside the café. Lewis, her brother, paced around her, a self-important and probably self-appointed guardian.

Josh’s heart contracted as he heard his son’s cry.

‘Josh!’ Leanne jumped up, hope chasing anxiety across her face.

Josh wanted to run over and bury his face in soft blonde hair. But pride held him back.

‘Leanne. I don’t think we need Lewis here.’

Lewis’s brow lowered. ‘I’m looking after my sister.’

Cheeks flaming, Leanne passed Henry hastily to her brother. ‘You don’t have to look after me! Hold your nephew while I talk to Josh.’

As Lewis protested, Josh steered Leanne out of earshot.

Her blue eyes were fixed apprehensively on his face. Now that she was close enough for him to touch, the haughty speech he’d rehearsed all morning flew from his mind. Instead of loosing a volley of hurt feelings he found himself squeezing her hands. ‘Do you think you’ve punished me enough? A week is a long time for you to stay away from home.’

Leanne stretched up to press her soft lips gently to his. ‘Why didn’t you come for me sooner?’

Josh, the viewpoint character, hears what the other characters say, sees what they do and assimilates his impressions and emotions. And he reacts.

Here are some of the things he reacts to:
• The sight of his wife and baby
• The sunlight
• The heat
• His son’s cry
• The look in his wife’s eyes
• His brother-in-law’s officiousness
• His son
• His wife’s proximity
• The strain of a week’s estrangement

He interacts with Leanne with love and respect, despite being in the middle of a marital dispute, because he’s hungry to put their relationship right. The cause of their temporary separation is so unimportant that he doesn’t even mention it.

In contrast, Josh finds his brother-in-law’s presence irksome. His lack of interaction with Lewis is an insult.

Leanne compounds this by thrusting Lewis into the role of babysitter with sisterly lack of ceremony. Yet, look at the subtext – she allowed Lewis to accompany her to this emotional meeting, so we can assume she was prepared to look to him for moral support. Abandoning him when expedient is typical behaviour between siblings. They understand the emotional shorthand.

The motives of both Josh and Leanne are easily understood: they wish to end the marital discord.

Lewis’s motive is ambiguous. Is he there to look after his sister? Or to make things awkward for Josh? Or is he just interfering by nature.

Try this:
Put your imagination through its paces by coming up with a sinister/heart-warming/funny idea to account for Lewis’s presence, something to impact on the relationship between hero and heroine.

Then list all the reactions your hero and heroine might have to it.

Remember that logic is vital in writing any interaction – this action will prompt that character do or say this or feel like that. Next time you feel your characters aren’t coming alive, check that you’re making them react to whatever’s going on around them.

And do, do, do put your characters in conversations! Dialogue is your friend because it breathes life into your characters and it makes them act out the story for you. That's why contemporary editors love dialogue so much.

If ever you're told you're doing too much showing, make your characters speak to each other.

And now you can speak to me!:phone:

All That Mullarkey (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931247)
Starting Over (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931223)
Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (Accent Press ISBN 9781906373993)

August 17th, 2010, 06:53 PM
Hi Sue,
I'm writing a novel at the moment, I've started several times but never finished, this one is almost finished, the first draft anyway. Sometime I think I put too much dialogue in it, is there too much?
I was also wondering about chapter length and do they need to be consistent?
Also how do I go about revising my novel, chapter by chapter, or I'm not really sure, I know there are inconsistencies in there that I will have to iron out.
Anyway any thought would be great!
Thanks for the last couple of posts, I did the broad strokes exercise.
Look forward to hearing more.

Red Dragon
August 17th, 2010, 08:38 PM
Good morning/evening my writing friends!

Thank you Sue, it's nice to know what I suspected might be 'cheating' is actually 'refilling our well of creativity'. :Jumble:

I tried your broadsheet plan, too. Do you want us to solve this first dilemma so that the solution creates more problems in the long run? Or do you mean a really broad sheet where the solution is the final outcome?

Now on to the 'Lewis' character. He could be a thorn, a balm or a 'Robin Hood'. A combination of all three :shifty: I like him already.

August 18th, 2010, 02:55 AM
Hi Rusty,

Broad brushstrokes plan

I had looked on it as a whole story framework but it would work equally well as one conflict in a chain of many, ie for a novel, novella or serial. It's worth remembering that the 'three act play' structure we hear so much about requires the second act, the middle, to have conflict building. So if you use the broad brushtrokes plan as part of a novel, can you link it to a subsequent, even stronger conflict? In the example I gave, just as Jason and Cindy sort out a way to stay together, even if it's not a marriage ideal, we could have Kimberley rushed to hospital. This has the advantage of being an external conflict, and one that Jason and Cindy can't control, potentially a no-blame situation. Or is it? What if their plan to occupy separate rooms meant Kimberley moving into a room that proved to have a dodgy boiler and she has been overcome by the fumes? Does the new conflict bring Cindy and Jason together or split them apart in a storm of blame?

To avoid a saggy middle (to your story!), you need to have stuff ready to hit your characters with: secrets that spill, lies that are found out, skeletons that rattle out of closets, people who get drunk and blab. Lovely, lovely conflict.


Yes, I agree, Lewis has potential. Josh and Leanne are all loved up, anyway, so we would want to run with Lewis, from this scene. Left holding the baby, as he is, he might be powerless to help a woman who is mugged right in front of him, a woman who he'd been trying to impress. Because knights who gallop to the rescue of damsels in distress seldom do so with their squalling nephew tucked under their arm ...

All That Mullarkey (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931247)
Starting Over (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931223)
Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (Accent Press ISBN 9781906373993)

August 18th, 2010, 03:35 AM
Hello Tristy,

Too much dialogue?

Is there such a thing as too much dialogue? Yes, if you are including trivia and senseless repetitions. Problem is, trivia and senseless repetitions are part of our real life dialogue so it's sometimes a temptation to include it in our fiction. All that stuff really needs to be stripped out.

I would also be careful of using dialogue to 'spoonfeed' the reader. I'm not talking about using conversation to give the reader information in a plausible way - that's a good thing. I mean having your characters give each information that they would already possess, just so that the reader can possess it, too. You see this often in shows on the TV. At a crime scene, the characters discuss how long lab results will take or what a certain procedure is called - and they're senior detectives so they ought to know! They do know. We've seen the same characters having the same conversation in previous shows, so we know they know. Their conversation is a device to pass information to the audience.

The way to get around this, of course, is to bring on a character who doesn't know, but needs to know. Then, when they are told, we'll all know. Plausibly.


Chapters do not need to be a consistent length. It can be interesting to throw in an extra short chapter, now and then, but, on the whole, I say a chapter needs to be the length it naturally becomes and this is decided not on wordcount but by judging where ending/beginning a chapter might have the most impact.

Do you wish to end your chapter on a cliffhanger? Or halfway through a scene? Or by asking a question that will be answered at the beginning of the next chapter? (Hint: your answer should be 'yes'.) Then that's where your chapter should end. At chapter ends, I have in mind a reader who has had a hard day and just wants to read a chapter before she turns out the light and goes to sleep. Then I make it my mission to stop her, by ending chapters in such a way that she will not be able to wait to begin the next one. This practice seems to keep the book bowling along and makes reader reviews contain phrases such as: 'I couldn't put it down.' Music to my ears.

This method can be complicated if you are writing your chapters from alternating viewpoints or places in time, but it's still possible, with a bit of thought.


I love revising my writing. I like it better than writing the first draft.

I have a few techniques that I feel help the process:
- I leave the story alone for a period of time before going back to it (this can be hard!) When I read it a week or a month later, I'm not so close to it so I gain some objectivity.
- I have writing buddies who also read my work and comment. There's enormous value in a fresh pair of eyes.
- I read work aloud. If it's a whole novel, this can be a bit of a drag but at the very least I read important scenes aloud.
- When I really have the story in shape, I try and use vivid verbs (for eg, to walk is bland. To rush, trudge, skip ... these are vivid verbs). I cut repetition, long-windedness (I hope), adverbs and some adjectives. I cut empty phrases such as There was and my 'pet' words that I overuse, such as just, suddenly, abruptly, oh and well. I try and make sentences active rather than passive (an active sentence is one where a character does something. A passive sentence is one where the character is having something done to them). I cut weak qualifiers such as very, rather, somewhat, a little, quite.

Congratulations on almost getting to the end of your novel! I hope you get a massive glow of satisfaction when you reach the conclusion - and maybe a twinge of sadness because it's over? Ends can be hard for me but there's nothing quite so satisfying as getting a good one.

When I was revising All That Mullarkey, my most recent published novel, I wasn't satisfied with the ending. It was OK but it lacked something. I went downstairs for lunch and was talking it over idly with my son (he writes songs so is kind of interested in what I do) and the final detail I needed just came to me as I spoke. I rushed back upstairs and incorporated it and it gave me huge satisfaction because it introduced a circular element to the novel - something happening in the final scene that reflects something important from the opening scene.

If anyone wants to read my books, by the way, they're available worldwide, shipping free (! yes really!) at www.thebookdepository.com, in your local currency (change currency in the little box in top righthand corner). They're available in all kinds of other places, too, and as downloads, but I thought I'd mention The Book Depository because it's a brilliant way to get books by UK writers to other countries.

All That Mullarkey (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931247)
Starting Over (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931223)
Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (Accent Press ISBN 9781906373993)

August 18th, 2010, 03:50 AM
As I'm going out later in the day to do some local radio (which I always enjoy and think I'm going to incorporate in my November 2011 book, working title: Liza's Story) I'm going to post now. Again, I'm using some material from my book Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction (Accent Press).

I was originally going to talk only about Chapters 1 and 2 but I've decided to say a little about prologues, too, because they can be important. And I like them.

Many books don’t need one.

But, in case yours does – what is a prologue? Typically, it’s three to five pages of introductory material. Its importance often doesn’t become clear until it’s revealed to be a catalyst or significant background story. It’s often characterised by being of a different date than the thrust of the novel.

Are prologues necessary? Take out the prologue and if the entire plot still makes perfect sense, chances are the prologue was written to set the mood. But if introduces a crucial scene that will impact the main plot, it’s earning its place.

That said, I’ve noticed some prologues seem to be merely interesting – integral to the book but could slot in elsewhere. They provide an extra hook and maybe a bonus to the reader by taking the form of a letter or a dream, fitting into the prologue model of being short and self-contained and perhaps introducing a significant character. It can be an opportunity to write something with an experimental tone.

While reading a prologue, the readers know full well that the real story is waiting because the first chapter still has to be the first chapter, and it takes extra mental energy to immerse oneself in a world from two angles.
You’re asking more of them. Make sure it’s worth it.

When Choc Lit took Starting Over I was asked to give it a prologue because the editor wanted to give me the opportunity of making the opening really hooky. To write a prologue provides two chances to write hooks. All I did was to take an email from Chapter 2 and make it the Prologue. I was happy with the result. (And it meant hardly any extra work. Bonus!)

Chapter 1
You’ve probably heard the saying that the first page sells the book (and the last page sells the next one).

Publishers like the first page of a romantic novel to grab the reader and haul them into a first chapter that sweeps the reader along until nothing else will do but to read the rest of the book. They want reviewers to shout:
‘It’s a page-turner!’
They want to turn browsers into buyers and a common thing for a browser to do is to read page 1 and some writers go for an explosive or shocking first sentence specifically to capture this kind of buyer. They’re making an offer to the reader: Read on and I’ll tell you what’s behind this startling first line.

Make page 1 appetising. Riveting, hooky, intriguing; make it drag the reader into page 2.

If your plot centres around a quest, introduce it.

But most of all, introduce your reader to the central character and make them connect. Make the character resonate; make the reader care what happens to her or him. Make the first page the first step in the character’s journey through the book.

Try this:
Write down, in a couple of sentences, an intriguing action. (Action helps move the story forward. Scene setting is static.) Maybe your heroine or hero is careering downhill on rollerskates. Climbing out of a window. Running. Grabbing someone from behind. Sheltering a child in their arms.
Now make sure that the action:
• Give the impression that the heroine or hero is at a point where everything is changing.
• Poses a question that the reader will discover the answer to by reading on.
• Makes them itch to do so!
It might be a love scene, a conflict, a humiliation, sad, joyous, frightening; but it will set the tone for the book, on-theme and on-topic. There’s not much point writing a great first chapter if the rest of the book turns out to be about something else.

If you list your novel’s conflicts, you might be able to sew the seeds now.
Make your hero turn away from the sight of a funeral in Chapter 1 if you want to let it unfurl later that he has just laid his best friend to rest.

Your first chapter should involve one of the protagonists – meeting them first will tell the reader who is important in the book. Some romance lines will want hero and heroine to meet in Chapter 1.

Consider having two hooks in the first pages:
• The action/incident/conflict/confrontational one.
• The insightful one; where the reader will feel that the character has awarded the reader a glimpse into their heart.

What to leave out of Chapter 1
If you think of Chapter 1 as an entrance corridor to the rest of the book, you’ll see that it needs to be uncluttered so that the reader can move forward through it.

You’ll clutter the corridor up if you include:
• Too much scene-setting
• Backstory
• Flashbacks

All of the above are static and you want Chapter 1 to have impetus. You need to know the backstory so it’s easy to assume that the reader does, too, but Chapter 1 should be teasing them with information, not dumping it on them. So, whilst: Victoria pulled away from Nick. He didn’t seem to get what ‘ex’ as in ‘ex-husband’ actually meant, might provide a heavy hint about the history between Victoria and Nick, the first chapter is not the place to flash back to the whole story of their divorce, her affair or his lies.

And if you give away too much of the story to begin with, your readers will be bored in ten pages and never enjoy the anticipation of embarking on an adventure with the characters.

Neither should you be like a bad host at a party and introduce them to every character in one breath. Chances are that the reader will engage with none of them.

Chapter 2
I’m not going to go through a whole book chapter-by-chapter but it’s worth mentioning that although Chapter 2 and beyond is far more flexible than the Prologue and Chapter 1, it can have certain characteristics:
• In can almost be another Chapter 1, just as hooky and demanding, introducing a whole new character and/or situation.
• It can be a continuance of, or reaction to, the dramatic situation contained in Chapter 1
• Or the background stuff you need to rationalise what has just taken the reader’s breath away in Chapter 1. Yup! You can have a flashback now. If you’re certain that you need one and it wouldn’t be better to bring the same information out in conversation/confrontation/introspection.
• Or a place for the reader to catch their breath with a complete change of pace.

Enjoy your writing!
All That Mullarkey (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931247)
Starting Over (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931223)
Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (Accent Press ISBN 9781906373993)

Red Dragon
August 18th, 2010, 09:16 AM
Hi Sue,
I can see how useful that third character can be to move the main plot along and also provide a side plot in a novel.

Thanks to your Broad Strokes Plan and the goodie/baddie/Robin Hood characters, today I wrote a 660 word summary (passive voice and all Tell, of course) using the initial problem of a girl who wants to get closer to two men she's attracted to, but who don't really know she exists. She solves this by getting her grandmother to throw a party for the 'regulars' who came to Gran's coffee shop each day, excluding a flirtatious Irishman who has a bad reputation and some say has a secret agenda. The two men are suitably attentive, especially when the Irishman gatecrashes the party etc . . .
From the full summary I can tell this could become a thriller/romance novel.

Now to move onto your chapters one and two. I could have the first of the two murders as a prologue, I suppose, since it happens off screen, but it could be referred to in conversation at the beginning of chapter one. (Just thinking aloud.):)

Miss Mae
August 18th, 2010, 10:38 AM
I'm getting in rather late, but hello to Sue, and everyone. I've read these posts with huge enthusiasm. Lots of goodies going on here! :)

Red Dragon
August 18th, 2010, 10:52 AM
Hi Miss Mae,
I wish I could stay and chat. It's 1:00am here in Oz and i should be in bed.
I love your book cover and your tag.

August 18th, 2010, 11:33 AM

So glad my ideas are helping you! It sounds as if you're firing on all creative cylinders and I don't see any issues with your plotting. You're on the way.

What I think is helpful about broad brustroke plotting is that you can be pretty general, to begin with, then get into the nitty gritty, afterwards. I have been using the method myself for the final episode of a serial I'm writing. Maybe I'm a bit dim but I find it easier to concentrate on the general ideas, first, then the writing after. To concentrate on both together can be just too much ...

Miss Mae, hi!
Cool cover.

Miss Mae
August 18th, 2010, 01:06 PM
Hi Rusty and Sue, thank you for the compliment. :)

August 18th, 2010, 04:00 PM
good info Sue. I've been wondering where the new threads were and found this under the old getting started one. Whew! didn't want to miss any of this.

August 19th, 2010, 03:22 AM
Hi to everyone who’s following this seminar – hope you’re enjoying it.

Today, I’m going to talk about an incredibly important subject: emotion.

I write romantic fiction so ... the readers read to fall in love, right? OK, they do. But first to be shocked or even frightened, to be galloped through an adventure, to be glued to the page by the need to find out what happens next.

If I don’t engage the readers’ emotions my story comes out as a list of facts. And a list of facts is unlikely to grip anybody.

It’s always useful to consider a) what emotions my characters are experiencing b) what emotions I wish to evoke in my reader. Sometimes they’re the same and sometimes different. For instance, going back to Cindy and Jason and their teetering marriage, Cindy might be feeling resentment, Jason feeling anger and misery – but the readers are feeling compassion. I don’t want them to feel impatience at the conflict or they’ll have a ‘Pah!’ moment and throw the book at the wall. So I need to make the emotions of Cindy and the emotional reaction of Jason understandable and plausible.

Happily, emotions tend to hang out in groups and it’s this that allows me to create scenes with nuances and complexities. The combinations and proportions of emotional mixes are endless. Arrogance might be accompanied by fear and dislike. Hope balanced by anxiety; joy blossoming with relief, euphoria. Writing is such a versatile art.

Try this:
Imagine you’re Jason and Cindy has just told you she wants a separation
Feel the punch to the heart as she confesses her feelings. The uncoiling snake of worry in the pit of Jason’s stomach, perhaps sweat breaking out on his palms, a horrid picture of the future as a weekend dad looming. (I’m beginning to feel bad for him!) Be careful not to make him feel just one single emotion – but the whole range. Some emotions might be conflicting: maybe his sorrow is tempered with anger as he wonders who Cindy is to be calling all the shots when he earns all the money ….

I often stop and list the emotions of a character during a deeply emotional scene. It’s then that I decide what I want to make the readers feel because once I know that, it’s quite straightforward to make them feel it.

Returning to the first part of this seminar – characterisation - I also need to bear in mind the function of the character in my story. If it’s a sympathetic character, I might want the reader to be sorry that he’s miserable. But what if my character is vile and wicked? Then the reader might be pleased and satisfied at his fear!

One thing is certain. Romantic fiction without emotion is like a comic book without pictures. :nolove:

All That Mullarkey (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931247)
Starting Over (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931223)
Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (Accent Press ISBN 9781906373993)

August 20th, 2010, 04:28 AM
Thanks Sue, for all your info!

I guess with my dialogue I'm trying to show the reader what is happening. I appreciate your help, when I've finished I'll give it some time before I go back and revise, then I'll make sure the dialogue works, and I'm not spoonfeeding the reader.

I've got a few friends that love reading so I'm going to call on them to read it and give me some feedback.

Looking forward to tomorrow's lesson!


August 20th, 2010, 06:16 AM
A couple of hundred years ago, storytelling wasn't necessarily anything to do with writing.


Because we didn't have common literacy. Storytelling was more closely allied to acting, than writing, and I think it's a shame we tend to forget that.

You've probably all heard of method acting. According to Wikipedia:
Method acting is a phrase that loosely refers to a family of techniques by which actors try to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters in an effort to develop lifelike performances. I advocate precisely the same technique when creating characters - just become them. Pretend you're them. Think how they think, know what they know, make the decisions they would make.

If I give a class ten minutes to create a character, every member of the class will complete the task. Some concentrate on appearance, some on personality, some on history etc. We're used to referring to the result of this exercise as a character sketch or a character biography. But the sketch is limited by whatever boundaries the writer's imagination imposes on the process, which is a shame, because there might be good stuff to know about this character if only you knew what to know.

So, to unlock some of this hidden stuff, this is what I do with my class. I give everybody a piece of paper containing four facts about the character they're going to create. Here's an example, but every slip of paper is different, of course:

Age: 21
Gender: Male
Has just lost his job
Likes dogs

Immediately, I've made the writer's imagination work outside of its comfort zone because it didn't pluck a character from within itself (often a stock library, I'm afraid) it has to work harder to assimilate, name and develop this new character.

So, the writer writes a sketch of the character incorporating those four facts, by the end of which the imagination has stopped its stretching exercises and is all comfortable again because the character exists, so far as the imagination is concerned. It knows all about them and can relax.

We can't have that, can we?

So that's when I begin to interview each character, through the writer, the creator.
Mr, Character, what's your favourite colour? How do you feel about your mum? Where did you spend your last holiday? Have you ever been in love? What do you really want from your next romantic partner?

Then I let the rest of the class join in with the interrogation. This is really fun, as the writers have to poke and prod their imaginations to answer questions that they have not asked themselves. I can't tell you how valuable this is. All kinds of things come out that the writer would not have thought of themselves - they're able to get input from every writer's imagination in the class.

So how is what I do in workshops at conferences and universities around England going to help you?

You can adapt the technique to help your own imagination work out, and adapt it easily. All you need is one or more writing buddies. Get together with them. Tell them about your character and let them ask you questions. you'll soon know more about your character than you thought possible as your writing buddies demand answers and your imagination has to supply them. This works particularly well if a meal and a glass of wine is involved, in my experience, but, equally, in a writing group or even during a train journey or during a phone call.

I often use the technique myself, when I'm with writing friends. What's important to the process is they never give me answers. They ask me questions. And that makes my imagination come up with the answers by itself. These answers are a mine of material for plotting.

As a postscript, I'm very pleased with my imagination this week because I had an idea for my June 2011 book that was incomplete in my head. I knew something had to be done to Hero by Outgoing Husband, something that might seem a small prank but would have far reaching consequences, especially for Hero's career. I just didn't know what the something was ...

Then, as I was eating my lunch the answer suddenly came to me! Ping!

Imaginations are magical. Sometimes it will really work for you.

And sometimes you have to make it work.

It's been great hosting this seminar, this week. I hope you've all enjoyed it, too. The message board is always live so send me a comment or question, any time.

Here's to imaginations, everywhere!:tequila:

All That Mullarkey (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931247)
Starting Over (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931223)
Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (Accent Press ISBN 9781906373993)

August 20th, 2010, 07:36 AM
Creating my characters' lives is one part I haven't had trouble with, yet, especially the ones in my 2 novels. (Though I've had them in my head 2 and 3 years respectively, so we've had time to get acquainted.)

I don't always convey that as well to the reader (not letting them know something I know that they should know), but I'm working on that.

August 20th, 2010, 09:14 AM
It's easy to get caught up on that. What I've just be ambushed by in my recent copy edits is taking a detail out of the book and then forgetting it has gone. So the copy editor says 'How do we know such-and-such ...?'

And I say, 'Dunno ...' And write it in again.