Friday, September 7, 2012

Where and how do you start a book?

My progress:  Finished Draft 2 of Elusive Hope, book 2 in my Escape to Paradise trilogy! Yea!  Basically it's in pretty good shape. I will need to go back through it one more time and add some additional details, tweak, polish, and prime.. and it will be ready to be turned in November 1st!  Right now, I've set it aside to give my brain a rest for a few weeks. In the meantime, I've started gathering ideas for book 3, Abandoned Memories. 

I've started a Pinterest Board for the series!  Here it is if you want to check it out!  Escape to Paradise

Now for this week's question:  How do you know where to start a story and how do you go about starting it? 

Every good writing book will tell you that it's important to start your book with a bang!  Start it with something exciting happening, something adventurous, or something tragic.  This event doesn't have to occur on the very first page but it should happen in the first chapter.  For example in my books

The Redemption:  Storm at sea and shipwreck
The Reliance:  Wife is blown up
The Restitution: Baby kidnapped
Falcon and the Sparrow: Heroine lands in England to be a spy for France
The Red Siren:  Heroine, who is a pirate, captures Hero's ship
The Blue Enchantress:  Heroine is about to be sold as a slave on the island of St. Kitts
The Raven Saint: Heroine is kidnapped by French pirate
Surrender the Heart:  Heroine is knocked unconscious on hero's ship and it sets sail
Surrender the Night: Heroine is attacked by British Lieutenant and saved by hero
Surrender the Dawn: Heroine is attacked by ruffians, saved by town rogue
Veil of Pearls: Heroine escapes slavery on island of Barbados

So basically whatever your storyline or plot is, start it with something that will grab your readers attention. Of course you can't just have straight action without giving the reader enough information about the character(s) so they actually care whether they are kidnapped or attacked. This is where the hard work begins. There's a fine balance between great action and either internal dialogue or giving background information about your character. I can't say I always achieve it, but I sure try.

For example, in Veil of Pearls, why should we care whether Adalia escapes slavery? Who is she?  By the end of chapter 1, this is what we know about her:

  • Sir Walter Miles is a cruel owner who often drinks and who keeps her locked up in his house like a pet 
  • She is wearing shackles
  • She is one-quarter black but doesn't look it. She hides from the townsfolk, worried the color of her skin will send her back to slavery
  • She loved her mother. She has brought along her mother's pearls.
  • She's also brought a Bible which alludes to her character
  • She has no money and no idea how she will survive but she doesn't care. Freedom is worth it

All this was woven into the action of her escape from the plantation in Barbados and her barely avoiding getting caught while boarding a ship to Charleston.  Could I have given more information and made the reader even more connected to Adalia. Yes. But here is another fine balance to achieve. You never want to give too much information up front about a character or situation because you want the reader to learn about the character by observing the character not by being told what he or she is like. 

Just remember, the more connected your reader feels with your character, the more sympathetic they feel, the more they will care what happens to her, and the more pages they will turn to find out!   And what do readers sympathize with the most?  I'd say it's a character who is down and out. Someone who has had a bad shake in life. Someone who has been mistreated, had dealt with injustice, someone who has been hurt, abused, used. And in particular, someone who is trying to rise above her problems, her struggles, to make a better life for herself! Who doesn't relate to that?

Can you think of a book that had such a great beginning, you couldn't put it down?


  1. Fri Sept 7th,
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    First off ... good for you, with finishing Draft 2 of 'Elusive Hope' ! And, I'm so happy to hear you can 'set it aside' to give your 'brain a rest for a few weeks' ... well deserved, I'm quite sure !!!
    And now, 'in the meantime' (as you say) ... gathering ideas for Book 3 !!! And, I checked out your Pinterest Board ... wow ! You said before, that 'if' I really knew you, I wouldn't think you were organized and/or disciplined ... Well, truthfully MaryLu, with all of your logical and orderly planning ahead ... I still believe you "are" organized and disciplined ! You'd have to be (maybe more than you realize), to keep up with all that you are undertaking !!!
    Besides all of "your novels", there are some others I have greatly enjoyed too. A trilogy comes to mind -- "Maire", "Riona" and "Deirdre", by Linda Windsor. I didn't want those stories to end either.
    Anyway .... thank-you, yet again, for sharing -- 'how to know where to start a story, and how to go about starting it' ... your books always 'grab my attention', giving us readers enough information, drama and excitement to draw us in, and craving to read on.
    Enjoy some nuch needed "R & R" for that very busy brain of yours, MaryLu !!! But, knowing you ... I don't think your brain will come to a halt ... as you said, 'you will be gathering new ideas' !!!
    Take care, and, God Bless.
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. Why do we have to wait so long!!!! Oh my goodness. It kills me that you are working on the THIRD book and the FIRST ONE STILL ISN'T OUT! ahhhh

  3. Thank you, Brenda! If you saw my office, you would retract your statement about me being organized. LOL. I love Linda Windsor's books too!! I'm not surprised you mentioned those.

    Charity... yes.. it's a weird business, isn't it? I think the problem is it takes a publisher a LONG time to process a book, edit it, get it typeset, create the cover, book trailer, do all the preliminary marketing etc.. and then the printing.. so it's a lengthy process..

  4. I can't wait to read your next series!
    Luckily, so far, I have not had trouble with where to begin my stories when I am writing.
    Oh, have you ever hear of American Girl stuff? I used to read their books all the time. They are historical fiction for young girls and they were what I used to read all the time when I was younger.
    Anyway, I saw they had a new character and she reminds me of some of your books! The series is set during the War of 1812 and it is about a girl who loves sailing on her father's ship! I thought of you when I saw it.
    Here is a link to the American Girl website that shows about the book:
    I thought it was cool that it made me think of your books and I wished they had had one like this back when I used to read them!

  5. Heather, I've heard of The American Girl series.. just recently, in fact, but I haven't read any. A couple of my writer friends said they grew up on them.. if these are the same ones. Anyway, I'm going to check this one out! It looks great!

    Have a great weekend!