Opening Your Story

Do you read books on how to write?

The latest I read talked about opening a story and checking for four criteria.

Does your opening start with:

  • the protagonist,
  • conflict,
  • movement,
  • setting?

This is a lot for an opening, and I’ve been studying novels to check if authors do this.

The first point, the protagonist, doesn’t seems to happen consistently. There are books that start with the protagonist, the villain, a minor character, or a character that doesn’t appear in the rest of the novel at all. I like all of them. So I guess on this one, you have to decide for yourself if your protagonist is the best place to start. I do agree the protagonist should appear early in the story.

Conflict: This one seems more consistent. Sometimes the conflict is quiet or subtle. Sometimes it’s a full-out battle, but it’s there.

Movement: I find books with no movement boring. Even if the character is walking, it’s better than sitting still, or worse yet, if there’s no mention of what the character’s doing.

Setting: This might only be one word, one line, one paragraph or this could be more. To me the setting it important at the beginning. I like to know where the character is. Are they in a city, in the country, on a mountain or in outer space? This helps me figure out what kind of story I’m reading.

Do you follow any guidelines for opening your story?

Thanks for reading . . .

To Keep Reading or Not To Keep Reading?

Sometimes I feel bad about starting a book and then not finishing it. I don’t do this often, but here’s one reason why the book goes back on the bookshelf.

Last week, I blogged about Likeable Characters and why an unlikeable character might make me put the book aside.

Then I started reading a book, which I won’t name, and tossed it aside after three chapters. I picked it up again and examined it. The first three chapters were all telling and a bit of back story put in.

I couldn’t connect with the character. I felt no desire to find out what happened to them. It’s not that I didn’t like the character, it was the writing was too distant for my taste.

Too much telling and not enough showing puts distance between the reader and the character. Too much distances lessens the connection and give the reader on reason to keep reading. As usual, just my opinion.

What makes you put a book down?

Write From Experience


Do you have scenes in your novel that are beyond your experience?

If you do, why not try the things your characters are doing? Everywhere you look, someone writes about writing being lonely. Well, it doesn’t have to be. Writing can be your excuse to be adventurous.

In The Final Gate I have a scene where my main protagonist is in danger while snowshoeing in the mountains. Having spent many hours snowshoeing in steep, rugged terrain, I found it easier to describe than if I’d just read about it.

My husband gets to do all these things in the name of writing a good novel and is happy to pose for a photo.

Character Balloons

purple latex balloon 24" in diameter with...
Image via Wikipedia

How to organize your cast of characters quickly. #writetip I don’t draw, but this is an easy cartoon anyone can create. If you’re like me, you’ve kept a list of characters, however small the role, somewhere on your computer. Mine are in a spreadsheet.

I start with the protagonist,  putting her/his name in the center of a blank page and drawing a balloon around her/him.

Now the fun begins.

Add the antagonist. Don’t worry if you have more than one. Pick the character who has the largest interaction with your protagonist.

Draw a line between the protagonist and the antagonist. Then write their relationship on the line. Father/daughter. Boss/Employee. You can put any other relevant information in a balloon. Words like killer, victim etc.

Continue until you have all your characters on the page. Draw a line between balloons that hold characters who have some type of relationship. This can get messy. I use dotted lines if I have to cross through one balloon to get to the next.

Add then end, you’ll have a spiderweb of  balloons.

Now you can analyze it and “see” if all the connections make sense.

The drawing will show me if there are two characters I could fold into one or if I’ve confused any relationships. Best of all, it often gives me scene ideas. Here is where I can “see” if there are questions I need to answer or  story lines I’ve left unfinished. This is why I leave this exercise until I’m close to a first draft.

Have fun with this one. It’s an entertaining way to look at your novel.