Tuesday, May 3, 2022

My First Time...erm, Line


The importance of a first line--Do I buy it or not?

Ya know, if you can nail that first line in your book it is absolutely going to work in your favor. It's never not going to be a good thing. Charissa and James gave great examples in their posts from Sunday and Monday. Plus, "Best Of..." lists abound, and who doesn't love the free marketing of landing on those? Okay, okay, we also love the warm fuzzies of readers responding enthusiastically to our prose.

Is your work going to be an instant DNB/DNF if that first sentence doesn't grab the reader? I dare say, nah, as long as you've hooked the reader within the first page. My qualifier is that the longer it takes to hook the reader, the more readers you lose. Imagine the reader's attention being in a sieve, and the only way to plug the holes is with interesting content. At any point in the book, if you have too many holes exposed, the reader is going to get bored and put the book down. 

That's not to say you should fall into the trap of obsessing over your opening line. I've seen too many baby writers feel defeated because they can't "entice within ten words." Courage, my friends! Slap some words on the page and keep going. Write the book. Come back and revise that opening hook (and paragraph) once you've drafted the story. By then, you know your character and your world, so crafting a sticky opening is easier. 

Often, the first thing written is the last thing finished. 

Am I a mistress of hooky first lines? Depends on one's taste, I reckon. Nonetheless, here are the first lines from the first books in their respective series:

From Larcout:  Blood beings could be chattel or they could be char.

From The Burned Spy: The antidote burned worse than the toxin.

From Celestial Ascent (WiP): Summer’s night lay like a coarse wool blanket soaked in bull urine.

From Worthy (WiP): Negative humors held the color of wisteria glistening with fragile dew on a background of sinister blue.

Will those WiP openings change once I finish the drafts? Maybe. Possibly. Maybe not, though. I'm not done drafting the stories yet. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

The importance of a first line.

 Or, how to get a reader interested in your work. As far as I'm concerned you get one chance to make a first impression, and you should make it count.

Is it the most important part of a story? No. But it's rather like the first step into a large body of water. you put your foot in to test whether or not the waters are right for you, and if it's too cold, you might well decide not to go for a swim. 

The first sentence should catch the eye and keep your attention, the same way that an elevator pitch should attract enough interest to get n agent or editor interested in your work. You have one chance to get it right. Why not make that first impression as memorable as you can?

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Stephen King's first sentence from THE GUNSLINGER the first book in the Dark Tower series. It's a strong sentence. Who is the Man in Black? Who is the Gunslinger? What is going on between them? Why is this happening? There are enough questions there to catch your attention, and that's what you need, in my honest opinion.

"It was a pleasure to burn." 

Ray Bradbury's first line in the novel FAHRENHEIT 451. Once again, it sparks the imagination. What's burning and who derives such pleasure from destruction?

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

from J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT. What the hell is a hobbit and why does it live in the ground?

These are simple sentences and in each case, they ask questions that I as a reader, wanted to see answered.

"Looking at the homes, landmarks, and lush green hills, you'd think that Brennert  County and the towns like Wellman were just about postcard perfect, but as is often the case in the south, there are thus not mentioned, places not spoken of in polite society, that hold dark and sometimes even dangerous secrets."

'From THE TOURIST'S GUIDE TO HAUNTED WELLMAN, a forthcoming novel by yours truly and my coauthor, Charles R. Rutledge.

Maybe a little wordy, but once again, there are questions asked that want answers. 

Hopefully, at least. If I'm doing my job the right way.

There are other ways to catch the attention, I remember one book where the first line spoke about a cast iron pan being used to smash a bay's head into pulp in the first line. Of course, I kept reading. How could I not? The book, Ed Lee's THE BIG HEAD, started off with a disturbingly graphic scene of violence and continues on that way relentlessly. It was a dark book, but Lee made it work. his penchant for violence is only made tolerable by some beautiful prose.

The point remains the same in each case. The starting sentence is enough to water the fertile soil of the imagination. From that moment water comes the growth required to keep a reader interested if your writing is good enough.

A weak first sentence is never good for the chances of keeping a reader's attention and why, oh why, would you do that to yourself? That's a death sentence as surely as having your twelve-year-old nephew or niece who can barely draw a decent stick figure handle the front and back cover illustrations for your novel.  And don't get me started on that particular debacle! once upon a time a publisher I knew hired his talentless girlfriend to do the cover for one of my novels. It wasn't pretty. That same novel, with a truly wonderful cover by Lynne Hansen, has had phenomenal sales ever since the book was taken away from those publishers and treated with a little respect. No, not saying which book, but believe me the difference between the covers was monumental and so were the sales.

Listen, you want every advantage you can get when it comes to being noticed favorably. Take the time to do it right. That's really all I can say about the subject.

Keep smmiling,


Sunday, May 1, 2022

First Line Power

Hey all! This week's topic at the SFF Seven is The Importance of the First Line: Do We Buy It or Not?

Back in 2009, when I decided to start writing again, I wanted to learn everything I could about the craft. I can't begin to list all the writerly advice I absorbed that I've since realized doesn't work for every writer or every book. That said, one bit of advice seems to apply to most everyone in the publishing game: A catchy first line can hook your reader. But does it have to?

A hooky first line can act as a sales tool. If someone picks up your book or opens the sample online, that first line can make them curious enough to want to keep reading, thus hopefully purchasing your novel. A strong first line can deliver voice, theme, POV, and cause the formation of the first story question in the reader's mind.

Here's the first line from my novel, The Witch Collector:

It’s been eight long years since the Witch Collector took my sister.

Hopefully, that line entices the reader to want to know more about the above situation, who the Witch Collector is, why he took the POV character's sister, and why the POV character is stating this at the opening of the story.

Here are some of my favorite first lines. Note how each one creates a question for the reader--a desire to know more:

From The Golem and the Jinni:

The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship.

From A Discovery of Witches:

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.

From Circe:

When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.

But here's the thing about writing advice: it isn't always true. Great novels don't always have great first lines, and yet can still go on to be blockbusters.

I was absolutely enthralled by the novel Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It's fantastic. But the first line? I love Thursday nights.

Granted, the author relies on the question tool--Why does the character love Thursday nights? Yet that line in no way encapsulates the sci-fi/mind-bending novel that this book is. It does, however, create a question for the reader. Apparently enough of one to keep millions turning pages.

So do I buy into the advice of crafting a great first line? Most of the time. Is it wise for newer writers to craft strong first lines? I believe so. As a newly-published author, I try very hard to intrigue the reader with those first words because I can't risk the opposite. I don't have years of books under my belt or a massive fanbase that would overlook a weak first line. (Not that I'd do it anyway...it's not my style.)

But do I believe it's a must 100% of the time? No.

I'll leave you with the first line from my upcoming novel, City of Ruin, book two in the Witch Walker series:

Thamaos’s ancient temple is deathly quiet, save for the crackling flames of a hundred candles and the sizzle of my blood burning in the offering bowl.

What do you think? Would you read further?

~ Charissa

Friday, April 29, 2022

Top 5 Ways to Be a Happy Writer

I not at all comfortable pretending I know what it takes to be a success as an author. So instead, I think we'll chat a little about what makes me happy as a writer. A subtle shift, maybe, but an important one, I think.

In no particular order, I present Marcella's top 5 ways to be a happy writer.

1.  Writer know thyself.

Know what works for you. Know your process. Know your style, your voice, your genre. Know how your particular weird, creative brain works. If you don't know any of those things, find out. How? By trying all kinds of tools and methods and story types. You find out whether you're a plotter or a pantser by trying to plot a book or by through out your carefully laid out outline and seeing how it goes. You'll figure that one out pretty quickly. 

What's in it for you to know thyself: Trust. You learn to trust yourself and your process. You're harder to derail when a new workshop comes along and tries to tell you that you've been doing it wrong.

2. Create community.

Writing, by necessity, happens in solitude. Writers tend to be just normal enough that few people are willing to off you that 'oh, they're an *artist*' pass, yet writers are categorically odd enough to *need* that pass. Don't believe me? Go visit your browser search history and get back to me.  The best people suited to understand and commiserate with us are other writers. Not our families. Gods. Not our poor, beleaguered families. Your community need not be huge. A few other writers you can talk with about story arcs, business strategies, and writer drama will be enough to keep you from feeling like you've been chained up in an ivory tower.

3. Create accountability.

Use your community to help one another, if that works for you. If a little competition gets your writing blood going, set up a sprint room where other writers can join and you can compare word counts between sprints. Or set up a regular meeting time to write with another writer who wants the comfort of knowing someone else out there is writing, too, but without the pressure of comparing numbers. Meet at a coffee shop to sit together and mutually ignore one another while you write and drink your preferred beverages. While it helps to not always be alone, it really helps to know that someone else in the world is counting on you at the same time you're counting on them. It's common to find we'll do for someone else what we won't for ourselves.

4. Make space.

Make space in your day to day for writing. Make space inside you for deep work - which is a function of focus - which is attained with training. Make space inside your head for learning more, whether from classes or from other writers, or from reading other people's stories. Make physical space for writing, too. Whether it's a specific seat in the house, or a table, or a room, or a local dive bar. You need a place you can rely on where you can go and put the rest of the world on a shelf while you attend to creating your worlds. 

5. Be unapologetically you.

Write what sets your imagination alight. Never forget there's someone in the world making incredible bank writing about sexy, space-going dinosaurs. There's no reason you can't create something completely implausible and weird. In fact, I'll argue that you should. The moment you begin censoring yourself or pulling back out of fear over what you want to say, you begin to die as a writer and as a person. Listen. Just because you write something, it doesn't mean you have to share it with anybody. Allow. No limits. Not while you're writing. Those are second thoughts are for later. When you're editing and deciding what content will and will not be seen by other eyes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Jeffe's Five Effective Work Habits for Writing Productivity

My series rebrand of the six-book epic romantic fantasy saga, Sorcerous Moons, is complete! Book One, LONEN'S WAR, releases Friday in Kindle Unlimited (KU), with each subsequent book releasing one/day for the following week. 

This is my first (and possibly last!) real test of whether my books can be successful in KU. I've run A/B tests before and I've always made 2-3x as much money in sales on Amazon alone than via page reads in KU. But we shall see! Tell your KU-loving friends. :D 

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is The Write Stuff: What five effective work habits make a professional writer the most successful? I can only tell you mine and that's defining "success" as being productive. The other kind of success - fame, money, adulation, awards - depends hugely on timing and serendipity. But we're focusing on work habits, so here are mine:

1. Consistency

You don't have to write every day, at the same time every day - though I do extoll that as THE single most effective method for building a consistent writing habit - but consistency is key. I build my schedule around protecting my writing time and that habit carries me through all sorts of difficulties.

2. Persistence

The other piece of building a writing habit is keeping it going. So many writers give up without finishing a book - or finishing multiple books! - or they give up after a few books. Or, when attempting to write consistently, they take time off, change their minds, prioritize something else. Persistence is what gets words on the page.

3. Focus

Shut out the world, ignore the new shinies and frolicking plot bunnies. Close the office door, put in the noise-cancelling ear buds, disconnect the internet and silence the phone. Focus on the writing and only on the writing for the time that you're doing it. Think about the story and only that. All other considerations come later.

4. Integrity

Write what you believe in and write it your way. Don't chase trends or try to make your stories a clone of someone else's. This may not seem like an effective work habit, but it is! Keeping to the integrity of the story YOU are telling allows you to focus on that and not the market, or whatever the loud voices are currently shouting about.

5. Flexibility

The previous four have all been about ritual and drawing firm lines, but with those come a need for flexibility. Be ready to change up what you're doing if you have to. Reinvent yourself regularly. Try rebranding series and putting it in Kindle Unlimited. (See what I did there?) The world changes, sometimes rapidly, and we have to be ready to change with it. 


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Top 5: Habits of a Professional Writer

The Write Stuff: What five effective work habits make a professional writer the most successful?

My Top 5 Habits are all about Getting One's Head in the Right Mental Space for...

  1. Putting the words on the pages: Preferably in some semblance of logical order. Even better if that order conveys a plot, character growth, and a setting. James's post from yesterday goes into the WRITE, Damnit habits of successful authors. 
  2. Professional and peer accolades and criticisms: Critique partners, development and line editors, copyeditors, and beta readers are recommended resources for authors. Regardless of how pro writers publish, their peer and professional networks are going to have suggestions that should improve the book. Pros know the difference between personal attacks and creative guidance; they also know when to insist on their version and when to accept changes.  
  3. Public accolades and criticisms: Once that book is released, pros let.it.go. Sure, many read reviews but professionals never respond to the reviews (because reviews are not written for the author, they're written for other readers...even if the person leaving the review doesn't understand that). 
  4. Maturely handling pride, envy, success, and failure: Human nature is what it is, and denying emotions doesn't mean they don't happen. Professional writers know how to manage their own personality quirks so that whatever they privately feel doesn't become public. Whether it's the achievements of friends/strangers that simultaneously delight and disappoint, that negative voice no one else can hear, or the arrogance of attainment, professionals grok the path to success isn't through public tantrums or demeaning anyone.
  5. Don't Be A Dick: While drafting works is an isolated individual affair, what comes after that requires responsible collaboration. Long-term success means being the sort of professional with whom others want to partner. There is a wide, wide space between being a pushover and an asshole; successful professionals set boundaries and expectations so they can be firm but pleasant. When it comes to interacting with readers, DBD is the guiding principle (admittedly, the art of dealing with aggressive or manipulative fans requires an advanced skill set so as not to come across as a douchenozzle).

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Write Stuff: What five effective work habits make a professional writer the most successful?

 This  one is easy:

1) Sit your butt down and write. Have a plan and stick to it when possible. If necessary, turn off the distractions, like the internet and the radio and your phone if feasible.

2) schedule a regular time for writing. It's your JOB, treat it like one. Even if it's not your job yet, respect the process and treat it like the job you want to have.

3) Accept that sometimes life gets in the way. Make it the exception and not the rule. By that I mean if you lose a day for whatever reason, then you move on, you don't beat yourself up for it.

4) Set goals. They don't have to be realistic. Go nuts, aim for 10 pages or 4,000 words a day. even if you never achieve it, strive for it like a marathon runner strives for distance It's a goal. You keep trying. As I have said before, when I'm on a roll I can still knock out 5,000 words in a day. My best day was 11,700 words written and edited twice in 8 hours. It hurt, but i did it.

5) read every day, preferably from a plethora of genres and even, gasp, non-fiction. You need to see the work to understand and learn from the work. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

On My Mind: Treating the Writer Gently

 Yesterday, Jeffe shared a blog post from the SFWA blog with me.  Treading on Embers talks about the challenges of existing - much less writing and performing as a public-facing author - while managing chronic disability. In this case, it's invisible disability: chronic migraine disorder. It speaks to any chronic pain disability, though, and brings me to What's On My Mind this week.

How do you treat your writer gently?

Most of us in the writing trenches understand that 80 to 90 percent of the time, discipline is the answer to just about all of our writing woes. But there are days or weeks or months or (gods forbid) years where discipline is crumpled up like a used tissue and cast aside by Life Events (TM). It could be chronic illness that a writer has to contend with and which no amount of discipline will overcome. It could be a crushing and terrible diagnosis and subsequent treatment. It could be the deep pain of sitting in the hospital room with your slowly dying child. Or it could be a tornado of activity, instability, uncertainty, and circumstance changes crushing you into burnout.

Of course taking a break and allowing yourself to rest and heal is the first, obvious answer. But that's physical and mental recovery. There's also a subtler recovery required - more than emotional. I'm thinking about creative recovery.

Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way lays out a 12 week path to creative recovery. The program is laid out as a 12-step program because it was the way Julia Cameron charted her course for creative recovery after managing alcoholism. It is useful and it can be powerful. The current issue with the program for me is that it demands going out in public once a week. For me, that's a dicey commitment both with a pandemic that hasn't resolved in our favor and a chronic pain issue. It isn't that I don't *want* to go on Artist's Dates - it's that working a day job means there are no spoons left at 5pm to do anything but take a pain pill and collapse. That doesn't negate the rest of the program, granted. 

I'm just interested in how other people recognize their need for creative recovery and then what they do (or don't) in order to treat that writerly part of themselves with compassion and care - tempering discipline with a bit of nurturing. 

If you've considered how to treat your writer gently, what are you favorite ways of doing that? How do you approach creative recovery if it's ever been necessary for you?