Thursday, May 23, 2013

Inspired by Beginnings: Thirteen Things to Consider

Beginnings are hard, especially in fiction writing. You've got to keep track of so many things. When I first started writing, I’d rework and rework my story’s start until it was as flat and lifeless as highway road kill.

Even then, I’d fret and rewrite and fret some more.

Now, I just start. I jot down words, sentences and paragraphs, figuring I’ll refine them later. I’m fortunate because I've had awesome teachers, some super-talented critique partners, and I rewrite fairly well.

 Anyway, after I've finished the first scene, chapter or rough draft, I step back, look at the first page, its initial 13 lines (250 words or so), then consider these questions:

  1. Did I begin in the right place?  If I’ve included lots of explanation and background facts — stuff I felt the reader had to know to understand the scene, chances are my story is much too slow off the starting block.
  2. Is my opening picturesque? With lots of description and scene-setting details? If so, it may be a lovely still life, a word painting, but it’s not likely to interest a reader. To fix this, I try to view the setting through my main character’s personality or through his or her actions. I’ve heard a story should start with action so I’ll add movement -- my main character interacting with the scenery if necessary.
  3. Can the reader tell my story’s place and time? How can I give them that anchor?  Maybe I need to add a date or a detail to nail down the story’s setting.
  4. The next point goes along with setting, but it’s more of daily life view. I ask: Is there a hint of where my protagonist is from? A glimpse of his/her everyday world so the reader can see the condition of my character’s life before the event that changes him or her and sets off the tale.
  5. Then I look to see if readers can easily determine the kind of tale I’m telling. Lots of readers are genre fans. They like mysteries or romances or thrillers, and they look for elements of their favorite genres in the novels they pick up. Usually a mystery has a crime at its heart while a romance revolves around the meeting of two interesting people. The genre elements help readers determine if the story is their kind of read.  I ask myself: Have I included appropriate elements for my genre?
  6. The next point: Can readers identity the main character?  Readers want to live the story with the hero or heroine, so it’s enticing if his or her personality stands front and center.
  7. These next aspects dovetail off the last: Does the main character have qualities and desires readers can imagine in themselves? If readers are going to experience the story's action along with my protagonist, they’ll have to understand and identify with him or her. How can I help them do this?
  8. Although my hero has admirable qualities, he/she can’t be flat. The main character also must have flaws to make him/her human and interesting. Complex characters intrigue readers. If I’ve only shown my character’s good qualities, a revision clearly is in order.
  9. Because readers can only view what I show them, I must ponder this question: Is the problem my character faces readily apparent? Can the reader readily identify with it? Conflict makes for a good story, so have I shown a conflict?
  10. Does the main character have an emotional feeling about what’s happening to him or her? Part of being human is that we react to events happening to us. My main character has to react as well. So ask myself:  Can a reader sense what my character’s feeling? If not, how can I better convey that emotion?
  11. Is there a villain or an antagonist? Someone or something that opposes the protagonist in the opening passages? If not, I should add that opposition upfront.
  12. Does my opening contain an Unintended Surprise? Something that jars a reader out of the story? A part that’s confusing?  How did this happen?  It's not good. Perhaps I’ve left out significant details in my telling, important details stored in my head, but not yet shared with the reader?  My fix: add those missing pieces ASAP. But don't get wordy.
  13. Lastly, I tackle this question:  Do I like the opening? If I don’t, it heads back to revision. If I do, regardless of whether it answers each of my questions, it’s a Keeper.
  Are you a writer? Or a reader? What do you look for in beginnings? Have I left out something I should have mentioned? Please let me know in the comments. I am, and always will be, a writer who wants to learn something new about my craft every day of my life.

Before I ring down the curtain, here's an awesome opening that satisfies many of my considerations. The opening motivates me not only to read the novel, but to study it carefully in the hope of someday coming up with a beginning as well crafted.

Are you a writer? Or a reader? What do you look for in your beginnings? Have I left something out I should have mentioned? Please let me know in the comments. I am, and will always be, a writer, who wants to learn just a little more craft.


   Too many to name: critique partners’ advice, RWA loop offerings, Waukesha
County Technical College writing classes, lots of books on the writer's craft, and many a helpful blog.  In other words, all the learning I’m trying to retain.

I want to include a special shout out to Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez for their Thursday’s Children weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Thanks.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Writing a Series: Book 1 Is Done, Now What?

I’ll admit it. I’m a slow writer. On average, it takes me about 2 years to write a book. Not 2 years straight. There’s a lot of down time, a lot of distractions (aka kids), and a lot of procrastination. One of the side effects of being an indie author who’s not under contract with a publisher or who doesn’t have an agent breathing down her neck asking, “When will the next book be done?” is you’re free to work at your own pace. Some authors’ paces are slower than others. *raises hand* Without the pressure of a deadline, we’re free to take our time and write when the muse is in the mood. Until…

A month ago I published my second indie book, Fire of the Dragon. I wrote it a while ago, but I’d been sitting on it since it’s the first book in a planned series and I wanted to have book #2 well under way (or better yet finished) before putting the first book out. I had visions of releasing books #1, #2, and #3 a month or two apart from each other, just like the traditional publishers do to increase series sales and reader anticipation. However, after my dad passed away last fall, I was finding it hard to write anything new. One of my critique partners urged me to go ahead and publish DRAGON since it was ready to go, so I did.

I did virtually no promo aside from announcing the release on Facebook and a few writers’ loops. I suck at self promo, plus I was sick with a sinus infection at the time so DRAGON was tossed out into the world with little to no fanfare.  Imagine my surprise when the book took off on its own a week later.  Somehow, readers found it and it climbed up the Kindle Time Travel Romance Bestseller list, hitting #2 at one point. I was freaking out. A month later, it’s still bouncing around on the Top 20 Time Travel Romance Bestseller list and the Hot New Releases list. I’m beyond thrilled.

But along with that success comes pressure. Readers know it’s the first book in a series, thanks to the little byline I put on the cover: Book One in the Bestiary Series. And I intentionally left a few threads hanging at the end of DRAGON to carry over into the next book. Now just about every review that’s been left for the book mentions that they can’t wait to read the next one. That’s a good thing, right?

Not if you’re a slow writer like me. Now I don’t have the luxury of taking 2 years to write the next book. I need to get it out there before readers forget about the first one. So what do you think? How long can an author go between books in a series? 6 months? 9 months? A year? How long is too long?

Friday, May 17, 2013

When Is A Book A Book?

It used to be simple. A book consisted of pages bound together with a cover either of hard or soft material. Shorter pieces (essays, short stories, novellas, etc.) were either printed in magazines or several were bound together into book form. From the time the printing press was invented, this was the way things were. Then the ebook was invented, and everything changed.

I have two novels and a novella published. The novel is available in both electronic (ebook) and paperback format. The novella is only available in electronic format. So, do I have three “books” or a two books and something else? And since the second full length is only available in ebook format right now, does that mean it won’t be a real book until it’s printed? The rules have changed, and both readers and writers are confused.

Conventional wisdom says that anything over 65,000 words was a novel. Above about 10,000 was a novella, and under 10,000 was a short story. Now, frequently 40,000 words is a novel. As I said before, a bound volume was a novel (or book), now an ebook can be almost any length.

So what are we, as readers and writers, to do? Well, my opinion is, to quote Steve Winwood, “Roll with it, baby!” If you’re buying an ebook, check the length to make sure you’re getting what you want. If an ebook says short story or novella, double check to see you’re getting what you paid for. Try different lengths, different authors, different genres. Leave reviews. It’s a new world, go forth and play!

In case you’re interested, my new book is The Ugly Truth, a full length novel (over 65,000 words) published by The Wild Rose Press. It's available only in ebook and only from Amazon until August 16th. Then it will be available in all the usual outlets—in ebook and in that magical paper format.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ghosts Along the Silk Road (and Beyond)

By Eilis Flynn

With my friend and workshop copresenter Jacquie Rogers, I present a series of workshops looking at familiar myths and legends and how they change as we look at them around the world. I was an anthropology major and write fantasy and paranormal, so this works well into what I’m interested in. But as I was doing the research for the latest, on ghost stories around the world, I realized something interesting. Most of the time I’ve been doing the research, it’s been more or less an academic interest I’ve had, research for the sake of research. But in the case of ghosts, there’s more than a smidgen of belief.

Everyone’s got a personal ghost story, whether they’re believers or not. It’s that something that can’t be explained, something that no matter how much rationalization goes into it, remains a bit—off, somehow. Everyone, every culture has a belief about ghosts. Whether it’s a message from an ancestor or an odd vibe in a place that turns out to have had a dark past, ghosts are everywhere, in more ways than you can imagine.

Well, maybe you can imagine it. Jacquie and I have gone through many forms of mythological creatures in our journeys along the Silk Road, and it wasn’t that surprising that sometimes we wouldn’t be able to find a true example. We found that stories about vampires are scarce in China (the hopping vampire was the best of it), while werewolves couldn’t be found in native form a lot outside of Europe, faeries were thin on the ground also out of Europe (but then there were plenty under other names), and dragons in variations, but ghosts … ghost mythologies can be found anywhere and everywhere. Where there is death, there is a ghost myth. There are feetless ghosts in Japan and hungry ghosts in China (complete with a festival to go with it), a friendy ghost named Casper in American kiddie entertainment, séances in any number of variations in every culture that has a ghost legend in order for the living to speak with the dead.

Intrigued by ghosts? Of course you are. We all are. Some of us are terrified, but we are still drawn by them. Before there were myths and legends about dragons and faeries or werewolves or vampires, there were stories about ghosts. As I mentioned before, ghosts—or more precisely, stories about and the presence of deceased ancestors or others no longer on this mortal plain—have been around since humankind itself has been around. As long as there have been people of one kind or another, people who have experienced death among their kind or against another, there have been ghost stories.

It’s not hard to say why ghost stories have been around for so long. Death and speculation about what lies beyond death have been the source of fascination for humans from the time that humans started to develop their own cultures. Was it that odd feeling of being watched when there was no one else around, or some sign that a recently deceased relative was somehow, inconceivably, sending a message from beyond? While there are many variations of how ghosts are perceived, one thing remains the same, whether as a source of comfort or terror: They are with us, unseen. Sometimes they indicate their presence, sometimes they are mute, sometimes the manifestation is human in form, sometimes when something is simply moved—the variations seem endless. As long as mankind has been sentient, there has been a ghost story waiting to be told.

Come along and check out what kind of ghosts you can find all over the world. Let us take you on a walk around the world to examine those myths, and see how they shift, change, and evolve as we travel. We’re with the Carolina Romance Writers for the next couple of weeks starting on May 13, looking at ghosts all around the world.

Eilis Flynn spends a lot of her time doing research, which is more fun than you can imagine! She writes various things under various names, but mostly fantasy romance. She lives in Seattle with her patient husband and ghosts of spoiled rotten cats. Find out more at