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The Joys and Pains of Query Letters

As you know by now I’ve written three YA novels, the first I’ve deemed ‘not ready’ and the other two of which I have been seeking representation for. I began the whole query process roughly a year ago. It came back with all rejections for months, and then in the summer I got a requested full. I finished writing my next book while I waited for news to come back.

Unfortunately, being a literary agent is a very busy and stressful job, and the agent fell behind on reading through submissions and news still hasn’t come. That’s okay, I understand. I was beyond excited to get that full request in the first place. It gave me hope and a push to keep trying. I could wait. But I decided to start sending out more letters in the meantime, this time for newest manuscript.

Again, let the rejections roll. Then I started hearing about pitch contests on Twitter (as you also know by previous posts) and I participated in three of them. I received 3 favorites, 2 favorites, and 6 favorites for each pitch party (which means the agent/editor requested a partial of my material). Out of those 11, so far I have received 4 rejections, 1 full request, 2 I’m still waiting to hear back on, and the rest I decided not to send to because it felt like the wrong fit for me. So I know. I know how hard it is to wait, what it’s like to be rejected, how it feels to get a request, and all the crazy what-ifs that run through your head, both good and bad. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re at this same, crazy stage.

Don’t let the rejections kill your spirit. I know it hurts. You just want someone out there to believe in your work. You know how when you check your email on your phone or device you can usually read the first couple of sentences before you even open the letter? I got to the point where if I saw the word “unfortunately” in those first couple lines I already knew what the rest of the email was: a pass. And yes it got increasingly harder to shrug it off the more I received, and yes I began questioning myself. Was I not ready? Am I not good enough after all? Should I just give up? No, no, and no. You MUST believe in yourself. You MUST keep trying. If you put in the work, believe in your writing, and create the best project you can then somewhere down the line your time will come.

Don’t compare yourself to other aspiring writers. Don’t hate them for their success. You might hear of another writer getting a request, an offer, or even a publishing deal. It will probably sting a little. You might wonder why them and not you? Maybe they haven’t been at it as long as you have. Maybe you think your writing is better. Seeing another writer’s dreams come true while yours are still unrealized can make you question your self-worth. Don’t do that. Be happy for that writer. You know how hard this is. We’re in this together. Their success does not in any way make you a failure.

I won’t tell you to have patience. I know that’s impossible. But don’t obsess. I know how nerve-racking it is to check your email and wonder if today might be the day there’s good news waiting in your inbox. I know how one week can feel like one month and one month can feel like half a year. But you can’t stop living in the meantime. You can’t stop writing. You can’t focus solely on what may or may not happen when you could be focusing on making things happen. Start a new manuscript. Become a critique partner or beta reader to give back to others. Write some short stories. Don’t stop creating.

The query process is full of ups and downs. It can raise you up or tear you down if you let it. It requires you to strike a balance between remaining realistic and holding onto hope. I know it’s hard to put yourself out there and put your dream in the hands of someone else. I know it’s equally exciting and crushing. But it’s necessary if this is the route you want to go with your work. And it is worth it. I’ve been doing this a year, and I’m not ready to give in yet.

I remain hopeful.

I believe.

What are your experiences with query letters and requests? How do you handle the ups and downs? Reply below!

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Should These Pitches be Ditched? Part 3

This is my third installment of this, and I’ve only just realized I obviously missed the mark the first two times around. If you remember I originally did these as part of a school assignment where we were creating pitches for our work. The class never really explained what pitches were or how to go about doing them. We were just instructed to pitch our books in 3-4 sentences. Well, I ended up focusing on the 3-4 sentences part and trying to squeeze as much a possible into that. The end result was that my pitches sounded more like jacket summaries and were much too long.

Then a contest via Twitter came to my attention. It was called #pitchmas and the idea was to do the same thing: pitch your novel. Only this time I had much less room to work with because of the character limit and the requirement of adding the genre and hashtag into the pitch as well. It forced me to really cut, tighten, and perfect my pitches so that they were clear, concise, and hooking. Finally, I understood pitches.

The reward for the contest was that agents/editors/publishes watched the feed and would favorite the pitches they liked. This equaled a request for more material. At the end of the day-long contest I received three favorites aka three requests to see my work. I was shocked. Coming from someone who didn’t understand pitches and who had really just begun writing them, I was surprised mine got any interest. Now there were other writers who got many more. I heard of 14 from one and 20 from another. It was a great opportunity to not only write pitches but read other writers’ pitches as well. And I always learn from reading and seeing other examples. I also retweeted a lot of pitches I would actually really love to read the corresponding full books on. I hope they get published one day as well.

If this sounds really fun or helpful and you’re upset you missed out, don’t worry. Another pitch contest is being held on Jan 8th called #PitMad. Check out the info here. Work on your pitches and head over to Twitter on that day and see what happens! You have nothing to lose and only experience and good things to gain.

Here are some of my tightened up pitches.

Book 3 Pitches

*There are a lot of things Ezra Winchester didn’t see coming: his mother’s death, becoming a millionaire, and getting kidnapped. Now he sees things clearer: he’ll either fight for his freedom or die a hostage.

*Being a hostage was not part of Ezra’s plan for junior year. Now escaping with his life is the only thing that matters.

*Ezra is kidnapped for his money. His friends are taken because they’re witnesses. Together they’ll fight for their freedom or die captives.

Book 2 Pitches

*What if the bad boy is actually a gentleman and the good girl has a dark side? Can opposites attract if no one is who they say they are?

*Maddie knows how to take orders, not make choices. Cameron can take a beating, not give trust. Love will change them both.

*Maddie Carlisle and Cameron Dawson shouldn’t be together. She’s the lapdog for her popular clique, and he’s the defiant transfer student overflowing with secrets and bruises. When she trades ‘forbidden’ for ‘freewill’ opposition erupts everywhere.

And the Pitch I wrote in Part 2 for my current WIP I now realize could have been completely cut to just the first sentence:

*When eighteen-year-old Oliver Reid’s girlfriend dies and mysteriously appears as a ghost, he embraces the haunting, disregards the impossible, and sets out on mission to put the love of his life back together again.

What a difference!

For this post I’ll offer to help hone and critique anyone’s pitches. If you want to participate in #PitMad but need an extra set of eyes before next Wednesday, post your pitches in the comments, and I’ll give you feedback. I’d be happy to get a conversation going here!

Or if you see any issues or possible improvement for my pitches above, feel free to post that as well!

Happy pitching!

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New Year’s Promises or New Year’s Lies?

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. They’re just excuses for people to pretend they’re going to make life changes when they know from the start they don’t plan on keeping them in a few weeks or months time. And why should we only think about changing ourselves one time out of the year when that year is ending? Improving ourselves or working towards goals should be a constant. It shouldn’t be something we go after heavily for the first few weeks of the New Year.

Some people only make resolutions they think they can stick to. They make them lesser so that they’re easier to follow. Instead of committing to a complete new diet they vow to stop eating one certain bad food. Instead of exercising daily they promise to at least do it once a week. And that’s fine. At least, they’re making an effort. But why make it all? Are we peer pressuring each other into new year’s resolutions? Are we competing to see who can follow theirs longer or more successfully? This is your life, not anyone else’s. So if you want to make a change, make it for yourself, not because some tradition or group of people influenced you to do so.

Me? I could vow to read more books, finish the ones I’ve started, stick to a stricter writing schedule, or promise to write X number of books by the year’s end. But these are things I tell myself all year long, anyway. Sometimes I do better. Some months I read way more than others, and some days I’m a more successful writer. But these are my goals and changes I want for myself at all times, and I work on them little by little throughout each year.

I understand the New Year promises a new start and that’s why some people look at it for making changes. But halfway through the year it isn’t new anymore. It’s just life again. So make sure you’re happy with how you’re living, and make each day a new resolution, a new goal, a possible change or hurdle to overcome. Because before you know it, that New Year will end and the next will start all over again. You can’t measure your life’s importance by how well you follow that resolution each New Year.

So don’t make excuses. Don’t go after the smaller goal because you know the bigger one will be too hard. Don’t compete with others or get roped into making changes just because it’s expected. Don’t put that extra pressure on yourself or let others put it on you.

Don’t make promises you can’t or aren’t willing to keep.

Love yourself. Love your life. Love your passions and your goals. Go out and make things happen at your own pace, in your own way, for your own reasons.

Just live.

What are your thoughts on New Year’s resolutions? Post below, and have a safe and happy New Year celebration!

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Book Officially for Sale!

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season and discovered new stories to tell through their celebrations and gatherings. I know watching my family interact definitely inspired some new character types!

*Announcement time*

The anthology I mentioned that I am a part of is now live on Amazon! It is $2.99 and can be bought for your Kindle device or downloaded to read through the Kindle app on your smartphones and tablets.

Again, this is a charity anthology. All profits received go directly to Sandy Hook Elementary. The theme and title of this book is Everyday Heroes.

My personal contribution is a short story about a teenage Reaper who interferes with the balance of life and death. His disruption with fate turns the world into chaos, and he sets out to make things right and save those he put in danger. It is called Reaper’s Redemption.

This is a pretty cool feeling to be a part of a book for sale. Typing in the title of the book brings up my name and typing in my name on Amazon brings up the title of the book. It makes me proud and thankful to be involved in this project and also hopeful for any future projects. I’m happy not only to get my name and work out there, but to be amongst such awesome fellow students and writers and give back in our own way to a worthy cause.

Thank you for following my journey with this, and I hope you will check out our book!

SHAnthology

http://www.amazon.com/Everyday-Heroes-Patrick-Donovan-ebook/dp/B00HHLWI5U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388100103&sr=8-1&keywords=danielle+thurby

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Writing in 2013: A Look Back

This has been an exciting year for me with writing. At the beginning of the year I finished my second novel, a YA contemporary about a girl’s personal struggle with hating herself for being a follower instead of her own leader and how a new transfer student helps her change that. After I finished it I started researching literary agencies, how to query, what a synopsis should look like, and I began sending out letters seeking representation. Replies came back with plenty of rejections and one full manuscript request.

During the summer I began writing my third novel, a YA thriller centered around a kidnapping and the ensuing struggle for survival, to keep me busy while I waited on news from the queries. I finished it in only a few months and have just recently begun crafting and sending query letters for it. I’ve learned a lot this year about the writing industry, and I believe my work and I have both grown and improved. More than ever, I know this is something I need to keep pursuing.

Yesterday I answered questions about books I read this year for a blog link-up/e-book giveaway that this blog is running. Today, I promised to answer the writing questions. So here we are!

Check out yesterday’s post if you want to know what sort of books I read recently or if you need some new recommendations.

How many books did you write this year? (Estimate your overall wordcount for us too!)

I’ve written two this year. I wrote my second novel in the first half of the year which is 105,000 words. I wrote my third novel in a couple months later in the year, and it is stands at 60,000.

Which was your favourite to write?

My second was a totally different route from my first book, and I really like how one small idea came together and grew into what the book became. I had no idea where I was taking the story initially. All I knew was I wanted to write about two teenagers who lived across the street from each other and were from totally different worlds.  Seeing where it ended up from that idea feels really rewarding. The characters just took over and told their stories.

Which was the hardest to write?

I’d say 2 was also the hardest. I planned Book 3 out more whereas Book 2 took a lot of discovery which was really frustrating and overwhelming some days. Writing a female perspective was tougher for me as well because I usually do male narrators. Some days I just didn’t want to tackle the task. Book 3 flowed easier when actually writing.

Tell us about you favourite Male Character you wrote this year!

Book 2 introduced my MC’s love interest, Cameron Dawson, a mysterious bad boy next door that completely shakes up everything for my female MC. He’s damaged, but doesn’t take crap from anyone. He’s brutally honest and strictly secretive at the same time. He’s romantic and sensitive but violent and hardened. I liked his layers. I like writing rebels and damaged heroes.

And how about your favourite Female Character?

My MC in Book 2, Maddie Carlisle. She went through a complete transformation. At points you can hate her and her actions as much as she hates herself, but you feel sorry for her too because of the hard situations she’s in. You root for her then want to smack her when she doesn’t step up. She’s very dependent on others, and by the end it’s interesting to see if that’s still the same case. She has plenty of adversaries, but really she’s her own worst enemy.

Can you introduce us to some awesome sidekick(s)?

In Book 3 my MC’s best friend Tyler Hammons starts out as a flirty, pompous tough guy, and we’ll just say he gets a new perspective. Also in that novel a guy named Jasper Riley is a character who juggles a lot of different roles and affects the main character in ways he didn’t expect. His sidekick status isn’t that he’s funny or laughable, but shown in the importance of how he changes others and furthers the development of the story.

Any romances in your writing? Which couple didn’t go together as expected?

I’m not going to ruin the romantic subplots! But I will say all characters were meant to be together.

Show us the full cast in pictures from one of your books.

Actor Ezra Miller as Jasper Riley

Actor Ezra Miller as Jasper Riley

Actor Jake Abel as Tyler Hammons

Actor Jake Abel as Tyler Hammons

Actor Penn Badgley as Ezra Winchester

Actor Penn Badgley as Ezra Winchester

Actress Denise Vasi as Sadie Atwood

Actress Denise Vasi as Sadie Atwood

Actress AnnaLynne McCord as Peyton Hammons

Actress AnnaLynne McCord as Peyton Hammons

Epic quote(s) you wrote?

(Note: From Book 3. This quote ties into the title and has a lot of meaning for the events in the plot.)

“Ezra, on the road of life you have two choices.  You either stare in the rearview and look at where you’ve been until you crash and burn, or you look out through the windshield and focus on where you’re headed.”

Last word from your manuscript(s)! Go!

Book  2: journey.

Book 3: most.

Show us your favourite funny scene!

(Note: This is from Book 2 when the new guy, Cameron, first comes to Maddie’s school. I always hated when teachers would make you introduce yourself and then ask the class to say hi back so maybe this was my way of finally saying what I wish I could have back then.)

             Mrs. Nelson, our homeroom monitor, stands up with her attendance book and a happy smile on her face.  Before she starts calling off all our names or passing out fliers though, she walks over to Cameron’s side of the room and addresses the class.

            “Everyone,” she says, “we have a new student joining us today.  All the way from sunny California!” she says with added pep.  “Let’s do our best to make him feel welcome here at North Hill.”  She turns to Cameron with her smile spreading from ear to ear and gestures a hand at him.  “Do you want to tell us a little about yourself, son?”

            He finally looks up and tilts his head at her.

            “Are you actually giving me the option or just presenting me with a really nice command?” he asks back without missing a beat.

            Mrs. Nelson looks like someone knocked the wind out of her.  Her smile slowly turns into a frown and her brows furrow.  She stands meekly, confused that the new guy doesn’t want to stand up and share in her excitement.  When she doesn’t respond he says, “Okay then, I’ll share.”

            He stands up and faces the majority of the class. They stare back, sizing him up and ogling over his busted up face, trying to figure him out for themselves.  He isn’t speaking very long before they get
it.  Loud and clear.

            “My name is Cameron Dawson,” he begins.  “And I don’t care.”  Everyone stiffens as one.  “I don’t care if you don’t like me.  Chances are I won’t like you.  I don’t care if I hurt your feelings.  I don’t care if you want to talk about me because of it.  I don’t care about this piss poor town or your stupid school.  I don’t care if I pass or fail or even graduate.  I don’t care about your problems or how you want me to be.  And I don’t care, Mrs. Nelson, if you or any other teacher wants to punish me for not caring.  So I guess that covers my introduction.  You can spare me from all of yours’ because, you guessed it, I don’t care who you are.”

            He sits back down casually to a shocked silence.  Everyone is glancing around the room at each other between staring back at him. Mrs. Nelson is the worst of us all.  She’s frozen in place with her brows raised high and her mouth hanging open.  The silence drags on until someone finally shouts, “Freak!” from the back of the room.  Cameron just nods, like he was expecting it.

             And still doesn’t care.

Show us a snippet of dialogue you’re proud of.

(Note: From Book 2. Cameron is switching from his persona of not caring to pretending to have feelings for Maddie’s queen bee Jen in order to be accepted into their circle. He sits with Maddie during Jen’s dance practice and acts like he loves watching even though he can’t stand Jen.)

            “You know you’re pretty good at faking,” I say.

            “Yeah, well, it’s easy enough to act how I’m expected. It’s just more fun not to.”

            We watch them grind and shake and flaunt their bodies for a few minutes.

            “You know I’m like those girls you said you don’t want. I dress the same way Jenny does and let all sorts of guys stare me up and down, only letting them dream of ever being with me. I’m just like Jen.”

            Cameron breaks his gaze on the girls.  He stares into my face, suddenly serious.

            “You’re nothing like, Jen. You just don’t realize it yet.”

Tell us about some funny typos or writer-bloopers you’ve had this year!

I had two characters whose names both began with J in Book 3: Jasper one of the kidnapped teens and Jimmy one of the abductors.  I mixed them up in an important scene because I was typing so fast. Not good.

What has writing taught you about yourself this year?

I really started believing in myself a lot more this year. I started taking writing more seriously than just a hobby I’d do here and there. I committed to it more. I’ve learned about rejections and taking risks when you put yourself out there. I’ve felt defeated, but learned to keep going forward. It’s a process based on hope and fear, love and hate, uncertainty and confidence. It’s a strange thing.

Best piece of writing advice you learnt this year?

Read. Best advice is always read. Whatever type book you want to write, read as many as you can. Just as you learn from doing, you learn writing by reading.

Anything big on the horizons for next year? Plans to query? Publish? Edit?

Book 2 has been under consideration at an agency since the summer. Querying 3 is a definite next step. I also plan to edit Book 1 and make it presentable to query at some point.

Tell us a bit about a book you’re super excited to write in 2014!

I have so many ideas. One involves a guy with an eidetic memory who is thrown into a murder mystery. Another involves a comedic paranormal tale about a ghost, a necromancer, a reaper, and a psychic in which the MC’s girlfriend dies and comes back as a ghost, and the other characters are enlisted to bring her back to life again. I’d also like to do this modern Greek-myth fantasy, and I really want to write a book about gamers and videogames.

That’s it! Thanks for reading! Post any comments or questions below, and be sure to visit the original blog to enter the giveaway or answer these questions yourself!

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My 2013 Reading List: A Look Back

Okay so this post is related to this lovely blog. They’re awesome and have posted different questions (1 set relating to reading and 1 set relating to writing) as a way to look back on the books you read or wrote in 2013. It’s also part of a giveaway where the winner will pick from 4 e-books (The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, OR Unbreathable, OR Steel Lily OR Click to Subscribe) so go check that page out and enter to win! Today I’m going to answer the reading-related questions. I’ll post links to the books’ Amazon pages so you can find their descriptions and purchase them if you’re so inclined. 🙂 Here we go!

What was your overall favourite book this year? (Yes. Pick one.)

I can’t. You’ve asked the impossible.

Which books did you reread this year?

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith and Bottled Up by Jaye Murray.

Favourite cover(s) this year!

The Marbury Lens might be my favorite cover of all time.

marbury     passenger

Its sequel Passenger is just as good and when you put them on the shelf together, oh my god, even the books’ spines are awesome.

Lockdown, but actually all the books in this series have great covers, and I still need to read them all.

lockdown

Scowler, another one on my to-read list, but look at that cover. How could you not want to read it?

scowler

Worst cover(s)?

The Mortal Instruments City of Bones (movie tie-in version). This pisses me off to no end. It’s a complete rip off of The 10th Kingdom, a genius fantasy TV miniseries and novel from 2000.

mortal instruments          The 10th Kingdom

Which book(s) gave you a massive hangover?

The freaking Marbury Lens by Andrew freaking Smith. Every single time.

Best standalone you read?

Runner by Carl Deuker

Biggest book(s) you’ve read this year?

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes.

Most disappointing book(s) you read this year?

I hate calling books out. But Feedback, the sequel to Variant , really disappointed me with its ending. It could have been so much better. But it was still a great book. Until that point.

Favourite leading-female character?

Did I read a book with a leading-female character?

Favourite leading-male character?

Sam in Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride.

Best romance(s)?

There’s this romance that gets flipped on its head in the book Variant by Robison Wells. I can’t even talk about it without giving away the twist.

What book(s) hit the DNF list? (Did not finish.)

I’m not going to say. A lot of times I start books and get 20-70 pages in and then stop because my mood changes and I want to read something else. But I usually go back to them. For example, I’ve been trying to finish one book since Xmas 2011. It’s going to happen.  I’m close.

What book(s) did you read out of your comfort-zone?

I read No Country for Old Men and The Great Gatsby for school. I liked both.

Which author did you read the most from?

Last year it would have been Andrew Smith. But this year it was Michael Harmon. I read Skate, The Chamber of Five, and The Last Exit to Normal, and I’m currently reading Under the Bridge. Also, Brutal is waiting for me on my shelf.

Top 5 books you’d recommend from all the books you’ve read this year?

Boot Camp by Todd Strasser. The topic this book covers really hits a nerve with me.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz. A beautifully sad and sweet novel. It’s one of the books that has made me cry.

You by Charles Benoit. I loved the approach to this book, and the ending I did not see coming.

The Chamber of Five by Michael Harmon. I just love this author. He has a gift for voice. This novel has a way of making you feel uncomfortable because it’s so believable, and you don’t want to think the things within could happen.

Stick by Andrew Smith. Smith could write instructional manuals for furniture assembly, and I would buy them. But this book is much more honest and beautiful than those evil, rage-inducing things.

 How many books did you read this year all up?

Come on. I like reading not counting.

What’s a book you’re hugely excited for coming out in 2014?!

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. Yes. Please. Give it to me now.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. I love her books, and I’m thrilled to have a new one to get my hands on.

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. I’ve been waiting for this sequel! I’m so excited! The first one was such a pleasant surprise. I didn’t want it to end. I was ecstatic when it was left open for continuation. This will be a release day buy for sure.

That’s it! Have you read any of these titles too? Are you going to read any of them now? What does your 2013 reading list look like? Post below!

Be sure to visit the original blog to enter the giveaway and answer these questions yourself!

And stop by tomorrow for answers to the writing related questions!

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First Pages: Making Sure Your Novel’s Beginning Isn’t Its End

There are certain dos and don’ts you can think about when you’re writing that first page. First pages are critical. They’ll either excite your potential reader enough to keep reading or annoy them to the point where they drop your book before giving it a chance. I know. No pressure, right? Don’t let the first page stop you from starting though. The important thing is to begin writing period. Get your idea down, make a rough draft, and just tell the story before you lose the idea or drive to create. Then go back. Study that first page. Tear it apart, rewrite it, explore your options. Question everything. Does it hook you immediately? Is it boring? Could it be improved?

Imagine someone who doesn’t know the story picking up your novel for the first time. They don’t know about that awesome twist that comes in the middle, the tearjerker ending, that super witty exchange of dialogue you created on page 132, or if and when the novel really gets good. All they know is that first page. So is it good enough to make the reader stick with your book long enough to discover all those other great things? Or is your beginning actually the novel’s end? And by end I mean death. Because no book can live and enjoy a long life with its readers if it never gets taken home.  So do right by your book and give it the beginning it deserves, not the one you think it needs. Yes, I’m indirectly quoting a certain bat-themed superhero movie.

Moving on.

Here are some tips, rules, and examples to get you thinking. Some should be followed. Some should be broken.

Open With Action

Generally this is good. Action means excitement right from the start. We don’t have to wait for the novel to pick up because, bam, it started with a bang. Just make sure your action serves the story and isn’t a cheap special effect. And don’t make it last too long. Tease me and make me curious, but let there be an end in sight. What makes action good and spicy at the start can be lost if you spend the first ten pages on it.

Showing & Telling

Show, don’t tell. I hate this phrase. I hate hearing it, I hate reading it, I hate that it’s everyone’s go to piece of writing advice everywhere, all the time, forever. But dammit it’s some good advice. For example if your MC, or main character, is a burglar with a heart of gold who robs corrupt socialites and then anonymously donates the score to charities and those in need, show me that, don’t say it. Don’t say, “I’m a professional thief who is tired of the corruption in my town. At night I make a difference by stealing from the rich, and the next day I attain justice by giving that money to the ones who really need it.” Don’t narrate who he is and what he does. Throw me into the robbery. Write about the reactions of the recipients of the money or the rage of the people who were stolen from. Make it all tie together until we can see why your character does what he does and how it affects everyone else.

Description of Setting: I’m Looking at You, Tolkien

For the love of god, please, don’t start your book with paragraphs of description, especially if you’re describing the setting or mood. Tolkien, I love you to death, but sometimes I just want to cry in frustration at your pages and pages of details. Usually, I’m good with a couple sentences of description. I like to infer and imagine some of it on my own. Give me the building blocks, enough to form an image and follow the flow of the story. Then let me color in the rest. Think of it that way. Like a coloring book. What you write is the black outline of the shapes on the page. What the reader does is color in the shapes. Everyone’s won’t look alike, but it will always start from the same groundwork.

Starting in the Middle

The way I use this in my third novel is by including a page before the actual first chapter. It isn’t really a prologue; it’s an excerpt of a piece of action that happens much later in the story. It tells the reader they can expect this to occur later in the plot, and then when they begin the book they wonder how in the hell the characters start at point A and end up at that point B later on. What changes? How do things progress to that point?

Another example is that initially in my first book I began at the start. And by that I mean it was the first day of school, and I was introducing all the classes and all the characters in a nice little linear succession. This is my first class, this is my second class, now it’s time for lunch, now the day is over, this is best friend1, best friend2, ex-girlfriend, enemy, love interest, etc. I realized that was tedious later. Instead, I changed things to where it wasn’t the first day, but just any old day at school, and the characters didn’t get stupid intros like that, they were just there. My main character wouldn’t have a need to introduce everything he already knew. It was his life, just another day, and the people in it had been there all along. I wanted the readers to feel like they were part of his day, not being introduced to every new thing like an awkward acquaintance. A friend would know these things already and be immersed right into it.

Back Story- Save It for Later

Another mistake I made in book one was starting with two pages of back story. I was explaining why my MC’s father suddenly moved home, how it felt to lose his mom and meet his dad again after over ten years apart, how their relationship has been since then, and how his friends help him deal. It’s all important information. But not how you want to start a book. I needed to build up to that and be giving away tidbits of back story in the meantime while I was setting up the plot and relationships. Eventually those pages of back story became spread out. Instead of leaving it as pages of information, I broke it up into paragraphs and incorporated places to fit it in in the middle of the narrative. That way readers understand where my MC is coming from without the plot being broken up with heavy explanations. Show the back story as you go. Make it relevant to the characters’ present. It’s part of their development.

Flashbacks & Dreams

I’m not saying don’t use this at all. Dreams are an important part of revealing information in my third book. Just don’t use these as an opener. We need to know who your character is before we care about who they were. We want to know what’s happening to him in the present and what his current struggle is before we want to fall into his past or see his nightmares. Plus, come on. Starting with a dream or a flashback and then making your MC jolt awake, wide-eyed, heart-hammering, and sweating? Cliché alert.

Speaking of…

Clichés

You know this anyway. If you’re writing a novel, you’re committing to creativity. Don’t ignore your imagination and take something that’s been done and overdone. Once upon a time…It was a dark and stormy night…the whole dream thing…just don’t do it.

Conversations & Too Much Dialogue

I love dialogue. I love writing it, I love reading a witty exchange between characters and then rereading it because it was so clever, I love when a character says something vicious, cruel, underhanded, sarcastic, hilarious, etc. But I don’t love when your novel starts this way. If your novel begins with a page or two of fast-paced dialogue, I’m not going to care. I don’t know who these people are. They might be hilarious, sarcastic, or witty, but why do I care what they’re saying if I don’t even know who they are or how they know each other? It’s a personal preference, I suppose, but I like to establish my characters and their relationships and the inner narration before throwing them into heavy conversations. I want a chance to get to know the character before I read about his interactions with others. Maybe I’m just clingy like that.

Okay, presentation time.

I guess this is only fair. Here are the opening lines from my first three novels. Judge them how you wish. There’s nothing saying they have to stay this way. That’s what writing, editing, and critiques are all about.

1. Fourteen. That’s how many scars I find on my body. I remove the bandage from my cheek. It’s stained red from the cut, but at least the wound has closed up. I stare at the thin slit and wonder how noticeable the scar will be a week from now.

2. The glass breaks at my feet as my parents scream at each other.  I don’t know who threw it this time, only that I’m not sticking around to get caught in the crossfire.  I step around the sparkling shards and head outside, closing the door on their dysfunction.

3. I’d never held a real gun before.  It’s not like I was trained to use it or could hit all the right circles on those paper target dummies.  I didn’t know how to properly hold it, aim, or anything.  But none of this mattered in that moment.  You could have given me a spear, a slingshot, or just my bare f***ing hands and I would have found a way to make them deadly.  He needed to pay for what he did.  After all we went through, everything we’d seen, there wasn’t anything that could stop me from hurting him.  I raised the gun and cocked the hammer.

So there it is. Advice on writing first pages. Take it and do what you think is best. Just make sure you’re doing something. Write. “The hard part is getting to the top of page one,” remember?

What are your thoughts on first pages? What stops you from reading further? Do my opening lines work or fail? Post below!

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