Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top Tips for 1st Chapters

I was following up on some recent comments on my "Top Tips" for writing blogs, when I realized something dire. Way back when, I promised my readers "My next blog will be tips for writing a great opening chapter..."

Well, there are several blogs after that one, and none of them are about tips of any kind. I'd lied. Although I didn't feel really, really, really guilty about my misstep, I knew I ought to fess up and put the situation right.

Except...I quickly realized that the likely reason I'd never done a post on opening chapters was because...I don't know how to write great opening chapters. How does an author, with just a short chapter's-worth of mere words, introduce a novel's characters, set the scene in time and place, begin the action, foreshadow the future, explain the past...and draw the reader into the story?

Beats me...

But it doesn't beat my fine friend and bestselling author, Cheryl Kaye Tardif. She graciously agreed to do not one, but TWO guest blogs on how to write gripping first chapters.

Thanks, Cheryl. You're a doll.

Creating a Gripping First Chapter: Part 1 - The Four Firsts

©2007 Cheryl Kaye Tardif

In fiction, suspense and foreshadowing create mood, tension and the desire to read more. You want your readers to be gradually drawn in to your story, reeled in by conflict and the need to see resolution. To accomplish this, consider The Four Firsts.

The Four Firsts: First sentence, First paragraph, First page and First chapter

First sentence: Make your first sentence count for something. Don’t start off describing the sky or field unless you can include something that will truly grip a reader.

A million stars twinkled in the sky and the moon hung full and white amidst them.

Does this sentence really grab you, make you want to know more, or tell you anything about the story? No. It’s a weak first sentence…boring.

On the night that Mary-Jane hung herself from the oak tree in her back yard, a million stars twinkled in the sky and the moon hung full and white amidst them.

How about now? Do you want to know why she hung herself? Who is Mary-Jane? Why did she hang herself outside? Maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was murdered. See how many thoughts come from that one sentence? You must toss out the bait to readers, then reel them in.

Introduce a character in the first paragraph―your main character if possible. Show us something about him or her. Give us a clue as to where this story is going. A study done a few years ago showed that most successful classic novels began with an interesting sentence containing a pronoun such as ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’.

On the night that she hung herself from the oak tree in her back yard, a million stars twinkled in the sky and the moon hung full and white amidst them.

Now we REALLY want to know who she is. And we want to know why she hung herself.

A first sentence needs to grip your reader like a pit bull and not let go.

First paragraph: The first paragraph needs to reveal something, a hint of the plot. It might only be revealed in that first sentence. Introduce a challenge or conflict. Use the setting or weather to create mood, if appropriate, but stay focused on the character. You want to keep the reader there, in that moment. Be careful you don’t switch them out of the mood.

On the night that she hung herself from the oak tree in her back yard, a million stars twinkled in the sky and the moon hung full and white amidst them. The fields glistened from the evening rain. A storm had raged through and left everything soaked. The barn doors flapped in the restless wind.

While the description above is engaging, it takes the reader away from Mary-Jane. What you want to do is find a way to bring her back into the story so that the reader will want to know more. To know more, they have to keep reading.

On the night that she hung herself from the oak tree in her back yard, a million stars twinkled in the sky and the moon hung full and white amidst them. The fields glistened from the evening rain, as if Mary-Jane had wept a river of tears before slipping the rope around her neck. To the left of her limp body, the barn doors flapped in the restless wind.

Again, the reader is drawn into Mary-Jane’s life and there is a hint of torment and a visual that is vivid and emotional. You can almost see her body hanging from the tree.

If your first sentence is dialogue, make it gripping. The first paragraph rule then defaults to that line of dialogue plus the next paragraph or lines of dialogue. Make them count!

A first paragraph will draw you into the story and make you want to know more.

First page: The first page is the page that the average reader will read in a bookstore and judge your work on. Some readers will read it to determine if this is the next book they’ll read or buy, or if they’ll grab another one from the pile.

In fiction, your first page must have enough action, characterization, dialogue, humor, mystery, adventure or suspense to make the reader turn the next page. That is your goal. You will need to find your balance between narrative and dialogue and introduce a character by giving us some insight into him, her or it, or give us a glimpse of the plot―by foreshadowing or exposing the murder, love interest, humorous incident, adventure to come, etc. Give us at least one conflict―internal or external.

Remember, this is the beginning of your story. You will be introducing characters and then as the story progresses, you’ll develop these characters―their physical descriptions, voice, moods, back stories, relationships to other characters and motives (good or bad) for all their actions. Don’t do a description dump (full body/clothing description) as soon as you introduce a character. Keep your narrative short! Tell us only what we need to know at that time.

First chapter: Make the first chapter count by having enough action and dialogue to keep readers engaged. By the end of this first chapter, a reader should know a few things about the main character and possibly some things about the antagonist or a secondary character. Show us your character's flaws and weaknesses, and their strengths. We should care about your main character in some way. We should know that something is going to happen. We should sense conflict of emotion or external conflicts. Foreshadowing grabs a reader's attention. Keep in mind, the first chapter is your prologue, if you have one.

If you haven't successfully baited the trap or planted enough suspense in this first chapter, a reader is more likely to put the book down and walk away. There is a key element to preventing this. It's called a Chapter Hook, which I'll be explaining in a future post here. Happy writing!

Cheryl Kaye Tardif is a bestselling author who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her novels feature varying elements of suspense, from light mystery in Whale Song to her gripping techno-thriller The River to her paranormal thriller Divine Intervention. Her latest releases are Skeletons in the Closet & Other Creepy Stories and her award winning novelette Remote Control. Cheryl has also branched out into romance, under the pen name Cherish D'Angelo, and Cherish's debut romantic suspense Lancelot's Lady will be releasing on September 27th, 2010. http://www.cherylktardif.com and http://www.cherishdangelo.com

My October PopSyndicate KidLit 101 column will be a review of Cheryl's popular "Whale Song." Watch for it!http://www.popsyndicate.com/member/5042

Eileen Schuh,Canadian writer http://www.eileenschuh.com/

Monday, July 19, 2010

"I'll be happy when..."

I learned to read when I was three. I nagged my older sister into bringing books home from school for me to devour.

Perhaps my passion for literature stems from the fact I was raised in isolation on a dirt farm on Alberta’s prairies. There were no televisions, telephones, iPhones, iPods/Pads, or playschools. In fact, there was no electricity. I quickly discovered that books were at least as entertaining as trapping gophers, petting piglets, and building tree forts. Their exciting worlds and colourful people deepened my life and stirred my imagination. It was about then that I decided I would write books.

As I aged, I discovered that writing wasn’t a lucrative career but rather something one must have money to do—a profession somewhat like farming. But, like farming, I decided, these difficulties could be overcome if one possessed a passion for the craft.

“Please, God,” I prayed as education, various paying careers, a marriage, and three children sucked away the years. “If you just help me find the finances to write a book, I will be happy forever. I promise.”

There were small writing successes—a children’s short story, a magazine article, a Journalism diploma. I managed to wangle a few years as a small-town reporter and a newspaper editor. My life took me through a dozen moves and through the decades many half-written books, sketchy stories, diaries, poems, and letters were packed away and forgotten.

The muses, however, never let me forget my passion. “Please, God,” they prayed with me. “Give Eileen the time, the energy, the money, the space to write and she’ll be happy forever. We promise.”

When my youngest turned 25, when the family business finally became self-supporting, when an able secretary finally took my place behind my desk and in front of the phone, I announced to my family and my world, that I, Eileen Schuh, was going to make her childhood dream come true.

Fifty years of pent up stories spewed forth. Words, phrases, settings, characters, and plots. Sunsets, autumn leaves, and azure skies. Page after page. Chapter after chapter. Sequel after sequel. I was writing.

“Please, God,” I prayed as my queries netted rejection after rejection. “If you just help me get one of my books published, I’ll be happy forever. I promise.”

A story resurfaced that had germinated during the time when I was mothering three toddlers. I transcribed it from my mind to my computer. I re-read, researched, re-wrote, and revised. I acquired a Book Marketing Coach--Cheryl K Tardif--and with her able help, I created a cyberspace presence. I learned to Tweet. I established a blog and a website. I joined writers’ groups and forums. I researched publishers and agents. I attended writers’ conferences.

I hesitantly sent out queries to publishers. “Are you interested,” I asked, “in a psychological crime thriller that spans two universes?” Two of the three publishers I emailed it to, rejected it within weeks. Thirteen months later I flicked on my computer, played solitaire until the internet connected, and then opened my yahoo email account and clicked on my first message:

Sorry for the delay. I’m finally getting caught up and I’m pleased to let you know that I would like to accept Schrödinger's Cat for publication by WolfSinger Publications in 2011….

Attached is a
contract.... I look forward to working with you….”

I stared at my monitor. My story would be a book in 2011…a book, with my name on. An ebook as well as a print book—“Schrödinger’s Cat” by Eileen Schuh.

I stared at the surreal email. I made a coffee and ate a candy. I paced. There were tiny little tears. Though I had met many along the way, this journey to fulfill a life-long dream had in essence been a solo journey. In like form, I relished the solitary celebration and savoured my success in quietude.

Not until hours later, when my husband arrived home from work, did I share the news. He looked proud.

I intended my son, Christopher, to be the next one I’d tell. I grabbed his passport from my safe and raced to town. He’d bought a motorcycle and was planning to cross the border on a business road trip to Reno.

I sat across from him in his office and hesitantly laid his passport on the desk. He still had the golden curls and blue eyes with which he’d been born. His warm smile was very familiar. As was his dimple. His chuckle. His grin.

“When are you leaving?” I asked. “When will you be back? Will you have your cell phone? Watch for other drivers. Don’t get lost. Call me.”

He printed his itinerary, scribbled phone numbers on the back. Smiled. He was happy. Excited. He didn’t want me to ruin it by worrying.

I stood to leave. “Drive slow. Watch for deer. Have fun. Call me.” I plodded back to my car, turn the ignition key, and whisper a prayer. “God, keep him safe.”

When I got home, I realized that I forgot to tell Christopher that I’m about to become a published author. I sent him an email.

The next day hubby and I went to our cabin. Our friends invited us next door for the evening. As we walked the path through the budding Saskatoon bushes, I rehearsed my announcement and anticipated their response. I accepted a beer and took a chair by their campfire.

We talked about the long and happy summer days of the not-so-long-ago—when we were younger, our kids were toddlers, and our parents still shared our lives. It was past midnight but the summer solstice twilight was still brushing orange across the western sky when we headed back to our cabin. I looked up at the distant, faint stars. Was heaven up there? “Dear God, please hold those we once touched and loved close to your heart.”

Not until I was in bed did I realize I’d forgotten to tell the neighbours that I was about to become a published author. For how many years had I longed for this moment? “Dear God, I’ll be happy when...” Here I was, with that when present, and suddenly so much other stuff seemed so much more important.

There are many morals to this story. However, the most important lesson I learned is that happiness isn’t derived from outer circumstances but rather bubbles up from within. Do not wait for happiness—reach out and grab it. Create it. Coddle it. Embrace it. Find it in many places.

Have many goals. Many successes. Many people in your life.

Never give up on your dreams.
Be passionate about your pursuits.
Live a full and busy life.

"Schrödinger’s Cat," an adult sci-fi novella will be published in 2011.

Chordelia finds herself straddling two of the alternate realities proposed in Everett’s Many Worlds Theory of Quantum Physics.

The emotional toll of living two diverse lives proves too much. She must decide if she is willing to sacrifice the chance to be with her dying child in order to save her marriage in the other universe.

She thinks she’s planned it well—she’s researched her choices, prepared herself for the consequences, put everything in place. She makes her decision. However....

Life, as it has the propensity to do, strikes back with the dark and unexpected.

WolfSinger Publications, out of Security, Colorado, USA, is a micro-press company that publishes short novels. Their print books are available through online retailers such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Borders.com and their ebooks are available from places like Amazon.com (Kindle), Apple (iPad), Kobo and Barnes & Noble.com, Smashwords.com and other ebook

Wofsinger offered contracts on 11 books for 2011.

Wolfsinger is also the parent for two on-line magazines:
The Lorelei Signal http://www.loreleisignal.com/
and Sorcerous Signals http://www.sorceroussignals.com/
as well as the print compilation of both - Mystic Signals.

They have a FaceBook page and a website

Eileen Schuh,Canadian Author
"Schrödinger’s Cat"

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Who's Schrödinger’s Cat?

My first published novel, Schrödinger’s Cat, will be released in 2011 by Wolfsinger Publications. But, who the heck is Schrödinger and what’s with his cat?

That’s what my hapless heroine asked when confronted with that phrase. It all has to do with quantum physics, believe it or not.

“Oh, I thought you meant cat, like pussy cat,” Chorie said.
“I do mean a pussy cat.”
“Quantum physics has pussy cats?”
Click to sample or purchase

Yes, quantum physics has a cat. A cat trapped in a box. A cat that is neither dead nor alive. It all started like this:

The tiny building blocks that make up matter, like electrons and photons, have dual personalities. Scientists can do experiments that prove these quanta are not particles but wave functions. Unfortunately for those of us who are rational, they also can do experiments that prove they are not wave functions but particles. Quantum physicists learned to live with the ambiguity and declared that it was the observation of these entities that determined which face they showed to the world.

Along about that time, Schrödinger said something like, “Wait a minute, guys. That makes no sense at all. Suppose you put a cat in a box and then you shoot an electron at it. Suppose the box is rigged to kill the cat if the electron turns out to be a particle and not kill it if it is a wave function. What happens to the cat until an observer takes a peak to see which face the electron showed us?”

Everyone went something like, “Oh, yeah. You’re right. There must be something wrong with our math. With our experiments. With our equations.”

Then along came Everett. And he said, “Wait a minute, guys. Your theory is correct because everything that can possibly happen does happen. Each possibility splits off into a new dimension. Schrödinger’s electron is both a particle and a wave function. The cat both lives and dies. The observer sees the cat both dead and alive. This is my Many Worlds Theory and it gets rid of Schrödinger’s troublesome cat and lets you keep your math and science and ambiguity. For in one world the electron is a particle and the observer finds the cat dead. In another world, the electron is a wave function and the observer sees the cat alive.”

Or something like that.

Schrödinger’s Cat by Eileen Schuh—a psychological crime thriller than spans two universes. Coming in 2011 from Wolfsinger Publications.

Stay tuned for more information on my writing career—and on Schrödinger’s nasty feline.

Eileen Schuh, Author

Schrödinger's Cat