Guest post: Open with a BANG! by Melodie Campbell

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of beginnings is brought to you by Melodie Campbell.

Open with a BANG!

Last term at Sheridan College, I asked my fiction writing students this question:

“How long do you wait when watching a movie or TV show before switching channels?’

Five minutes?  Two minutes?  30 seconds?  The responses varied, but averaged out at one minute.

I told them: “One minute.  That is one page of movie script.  The first page of a novel.  So you are telling me that if the FIRST PAGE of writing doesn’t grab you, you don’t give the book/movie/sitcom a chance?”

Struck dumb, is how they looked.  Yes, audiences are a fickle lot now.  I’ve found editors to be even more demanding.  You have to grab them on your first page these days, and better – with your first line!

How to do it?

Start in the middle of something.  Start with action or dialogue.  Do NOT open with the weather, or description of location, or simple back-story.  Start with the meat.

Here’s an example from my novel, Rowena Through the Wall:

“I saw the first one right after class.”

This is a perfect opening line to teach from.  This sentence does many things:

1. It opens with the protagonist.  “I saw” – from this, we know that the book will be in first person – we are introduced to our protagonist.

In fiction, readers expect the first person they encounter, to be the protagonist.  This is the character they expect to become attached to.  Don’t disappoint them.

2. It opens with mystery:  “I saw the first one…”

First one of what?  And – it’s the first, so we know there will be more!  Lots of questions to intrigue the reader.

3. It gives some clue to setting.  “…right after class.”

In those well-chosen eight words, we have introduced the protagonist, the setting and a mystery.

Other good openers:

“He was a well-dressed burglar, Marge had to admit.” (from “School for Burglars”)

Marge is the protagonist – we are in her head and she is watching a burglary in progress.  Talk about opening in the middle of something!  And we have a picture of the burglar in our minds.

“The thing that shocked Emily was how incredibly easy it was to hide a murder.” (from “Life Without George”)

Emily is the protagonist, and probably a murderer.  Will she get away with it?  Will we want her to get away with it?

And from the masters:

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” (from Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier)

We know this is a first person story – we have met the protagonist.  We know Manderley is a setting, and is important to the story because of that last word – ‘again’.

“I’d been waiting for the vampire for years, when he walked into the bar.” (from Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris)

First person again, protagonist in the first line, vampire is key to the story, and we know the setting.

All this, from one line.  Open your books with a bang!  Your readers will keep reading.

And maybe an editor will even get past the first line.

Thank you, Melodie! My favourite is Iain Banks’ from Crow Road: ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded’. I wrote one recently for one of my Tuesday Tales stories called Root of all evil which a reader has told me is one of his favourites: ‘Thelma was your root of all evil, not money’.

Melodie Campbell has over 200 publications and was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards. She is the General Manager of Crime Writers of Canada. Library Journal says this about Melodie`s third novel,

The Goddaughter (Orca Books, Sept. 2012): “Campbell`s crime caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans.  Wacky family connections and snappy dialogue make it impossible not to laugh.”

THE GODDAUGHTER on Amazon.

A PURSE TO DIE FOR on Amazon.

Follow Melodie’s comic blog at http://funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.com and her website is www.melodiecampbell.com.

The following is an excerpt from THE GODDAUGHTER:

We got through the border with no problem at all this time.  Of course, it’s much easier to get through borders without a semi-frozen dead body pretending to be asleep in the back seat.

***

Morgen: I love that. 🙂

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with crime novelist Alan Tootill – the four hundred and ninety-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Guest post: Interview With a Reader by mystery author Warren Bull

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of reader feedback, is brought to you by mystery novelist, short story author and blogger Warren Bull.

Interview With a Reader

In New Zealand I was able to track down and speak to a member of a highly desirable and rarely interviewed class — a reader. I approached with caution so as to not frighten the woman sitting on the couch in my living room and asked what she was reading. From there I was able to skillfully deflect the conversation into what she does and does not like to read. In the interest of avoiding the paparazzi, my niece, the said reader, shall remain anonymous. No matter what you do to me I will not tell you it was Jenny I spoke with.

Speaking of mysteries she told me she does not like a book ending where there is no clear conclusion: the experience left her frustrated. She also said she does not like plot complications that seem tossed in for suspense and do not advance the story. Her example was a woman character who knew she is being stalked and who head a strange noise in a dark parking garage. The character went to investigate unarmed and without calling anyone for assistance. My reader added that she does not like plots where all the interesting characters get killed off before the end of the book. (I admitted that is a pet peeve of mine also.) She mentioned in some books the dialog seems stilted and the problems seem too trivial to warrant being in a book.

She said she did not like authors who essentially write the same book over and over again although she understood that some readers do.

On the positive side Jenny liked multiple viewpoints and books that shift back and forth from the past to the present. She said she enjoys interesting characters and did not mind if the characters sometimes do something, “stupid” and “human”, especially in a tense situation where it would be hard to think clearly.

She said she enjoys how seemingly unrelated events end up connecting elements of the plot. Along with humor, including dark humor. Jenny liked well-set-up surprises as long as there are not unbelievable cliffhangers and surprises every few pages.

She wants to like the characters and be entertained.

What do readers tell you?

That they love what I write (quite a few) or never want to read anything by me again (thankfully few). 🙂 Thank you, Warren!

Warren Bull is a multiple award-winning author who has been nominated for a 2012 Derringer award. He has more than forty short stories published, the novels, ABRAHAM LINCOLN FOR THE DEFENSE, HEARTLAND and MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT are available at http://www.warrenbull.com/kindle_editions.html and a short story collection, MURDER MANHATTAN STYLE available at http://www.warrenbull.com. He blogs at http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com on Fridays.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with non-fiction author Kim Dalferes – the four hundred and first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.