Continuing the list from yesterday:
7) Begin where your character is facing a change in their world view. Thatâ€™s the terrible trouble. And it needs to be truly terrible — something that upsets the path they believe their life is on; something that will prevent them from achieving their goal which seemed to be right in front of them; something that will make it necessary for them to work with the other main protagonist. In other words, the terrible trouble has to create a situation that needs both the hero and the heroine to confront in order to achieve their goals. Now that doesn’t mean one of them couldn’t resolve it on their own. It simply wouldn’t be the same result, and it wouldn’t allow the character to face that black moment when they have to come face-to-face and acknowledge that great fear that has been setting up roadblocks in their way.
EIGHT) (sorry, but for some reason, it keeps giving me an emoticon here instead of the number, so I wrote it out)
Make your characters â€œordinary.â€ Make your situation â€œextraordinary.â€ There have been many women traveling west in search of a new life. Thatâ€™s ordinary. What is extraordinary about your heroine and her situation that will propel the story? What if she was traveling with a wagon train filled with secret military equipment or with prostitutes headed out to get a share of the gold in California or with a circus? Take an ordinary heroine and tip her life askew to make a unique story. Same with the hero.
9) Balance romance plot with story plot. Each book has multiple plot lines.
* Story plot (external plot â€“ what you say your story is about when someone asks)
* Romance plot â€“ the developing story of two people falling in love
* Heroineâ€™s GMC discovery and resolution (internal conflict)
* Heroâ€™s GMC discovery and resolution (internal conflict)
* External conflict
External conflict is defined simply as where the heroine’s GMC and the hero’s GMC interact (usually with fireworks). Remember they can have the same goal, but different ways of getting there because of their internal fears. That alone will create an external conflict.
Do you need all of these in the opening scene? Again, in a perfect book in a perfect world, the answer would be yes. In the real world with a real book, the answer is try to get as many as possible. It might not be possible to get both characters’ GMC in that opening scene because you’ll be in a single POV. However, both need to be clear within the first couple of chapters.
10) Donâ€™t start with a lot of exposition. The reader wants to be sucked right into the story. Descriptions of characters, etc. can come later. Think about what you would notice if you were in these circumstances. Donâ€™t add more.
Okay, this is what I tried to do with Anita’s questions from yesterday. We don’t need to know why the heroine is lost and how she’s dealing with it — we know as human beings the frustrations and fears of being lost — what we don’t know and what intrigues us as readers is what happens then. Notice I said “then” and not “next”. Because with the opening of a book, we need to be in that moment with that character so initmately that we know exactly how the character feels because we’re bringing our own emotions into the story.
I think that’s a very important issue that we seldom address — the reader’s part in the story. As writers, we don’t need to tell them everything. We need to leave some spaces to let them react and feel and bring their own experiences into the story, so they can feel an intimate part of it.
My current release — Lost in Shadow written as Jocelyn Kelley — starts with:
â€œIt was murder. Murder most foul.â€
At the whisper, Jade Nethercott glanced up from the book she had taken from a shelf.
I wanted an ordinary woman to have something extraordinary happen to her, and I set the tone and the expectation with a whisper you normally don’t expect to hear when you are standing by a bookshelf. Also I hoped to create a frisson of eager, kind of creepy excitement in the reader who wants to now find out what’s going on.
11) Make the characters consistent. A strong woman wonâ€™t stand by and let the hero fight her battles for her.
Okay, this is one of my pet peeves. Writers talk about writing kick-ass heroines, and then they have her stand to one side and do nothing any time there is a threat to the characters. You can start with a heroine that needs to find her inner tigress, and that’s okay, but at some point, the heroine has to stand up on her own two feet and face her fears. That’s not something the hero should do for her. She has to do it herself — no matter how hard it is. Having his love can help her do it, but she needs to do it herself. So in your opening, we have to see either that she’s already kick-ass or she has the potential to be. Ask yourself why any amazing hero other than Dudley Do-right (okay, he’s not amazing, but let me finish the point) would want a heroine who just stood to one side and wrung her hands or screamed like a character in a teenage horror flick while he’s getting the stuffing beat out of him (either physically or emotionally)? A strong hero deserves a strong heroine and vice versa. And those strengths need to be visible right from the first sentences.
12) Avoid using secondary characters. If you do have a secondary character in the opening, that character needs to be of prime importance to the resolution of the plot.
In the example I used above from Lost in Shadow, the speaker is the ghost of a murdered man who asks the heroine to find his murderer and bring him to justice. I could bring him in at the beginning of the book in the opening scene because I knew he’d be a plot device throughout the book and would be there at the black moment. Otherwise, he shouldn’t have appeared until later. Of course, then it wouldn’t have been the same book. And that’s okay. In my local writing group, we once did an exercise where everyone was given the same type of heroine/heroine, same opening setting, and the same external conflict. Eleven of us brought in eleven very different beginnings. So do what works for your ms.
13) Forget the back story. If you start your characters in terrible trouble, they donâ€™t have time to find out if they went to the same high school â€“ they need to deal with the problem at hand.
There are many examples of this in the movies. Steven Spielberg does it best. We didn’t get any backstory in the opening of Jaws or Jurassic Park, but we got sucked into the story anyhow. If your opening is strong enough, then the reader will get drawn in and you can provide that background informaton when it’s most important to the story a la the Roger Rabbit rule.