Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Novel Beginnings" with Guest Marta Perry!

More years ago than I care to count, I attended my very first romance writers workshop, held by a fledgling chapter of RWA that eventually went on to become Pennwriters, the state-wide Pennsylvania writers group. As I sat there, bouncing my pristine notebook on my lap as if it were a baby and sure that anyone looking at me could tell I was a fraud in a roomful of writers, the speaker started talking about the importance of the first pages of a publishable book.

She said something like this, “Above all else, be sure that you don’t begin your novel with the tired old cliché of the heroine on her way to a new place via train, plane, automobile or stagecoach with a letter in her pocket.”
Everyone else laughed knowledgeably. I sank down in my metal folding chair and tried to pretend that my current manuscript did not open with the heroine in her car, driving to a place she’d never been, with a letter in her pocket. I wondered if they’d give me my money back if I confessed that I was here by mistake and was not now, nor would I ever be, a writer.
But this isn’t about my fumbling beginnings, although I hope my experience might give another new writer a little hope. This is about another kind of beginning—the beginning of your novel. I’d like to share with you some tips that are of use to me each time I face that blank page. And trust me, after fifty-some books, it is still just as intimidating!
The first pages of a publishable popular-fiction novel should show an interesting character portrayed with drama. The reader must empathize with the main character and want to stay with her for several hundred pages, so give the reader a reason to like and/or empathize with the character. The first page of my novella, Fallen in Plain Sight, out next month, starts with the protagonist’s mother speaking.
     “If you are not careful, Sarah Elizabeth Weaver, you will end up a maidal, as lonely and sad as that old man you work for.” Mamm had what she obviously considered the last word on the subject as she drew the buggy to a halt.
Aside from the fact that this is obviously an Amish story, we’ve learned quickly that Sarah is under pressure from her family to marry, and though we haven’t yet heard her speak, I hope we sympathize. I’m sure my daughters would have, during the years when I thought they were never going to produce grandchildren for me! (My kids, always over-achievers, eventually produced six grandkids in eight years, which keeps me plenty busy!)
Another important function of the first pages of the story comes from famed writing teacher Dwight Swain: Start on the day that is different. Start with trouble. Start with something that changes the main character’s life irrevocably. If you wait, telling yourself that there are so many other things the reader needs to hear before getting to the Terrible Trouble, you risk losing the reader. I’m a firm believer in this adage, and on page three of Fallen in Plain Sight, Sarah discovers the body of her elderly employer, lying dead at the bottom of the stairs.
Another important job of the first few pages is to show that the story is true to the conventions of the genre. Horror, romance, mystery, western, thriller—the reader should be able to trust the author to know and apply the genre’s conventions. I once read a story for critiquing which seemed to be a classic second chance at love plot. Right up until the last page, when the man I thought was the hero killed the protagonist! If it’s a thriller, we need to know that early on!
The opening pages should also show well thought out conflict against formidable odds, terrible trouble. The character can’t walk away from this trouble. In Her Surprise Sister, my July release from Love Inspired, the protagonist discovers that she has an identical twin sister she’s never heard of. Obviously, she can’t and won’t walk away from this discovery.
The authorial voice has to make it clear the author knows the setting and is not simply using it as window-dressing. Have you ever started a book, only to stop a few pages in because it seems clear that the author didn’t know the setting he/she was portraying? That’s a particular red flag for me, and I’ve been known to throw a book across the room when the author makes an obvious error in the world of the story.
I’ve learned the hard way, after needing to explain facets of Amish life to editors and copy editors, that if something is true but might seem false to the average reader, it’s advisable to address that in the book. In one of my books, the character might think something like this: It probably seemed odd to the Englisch world, but the Amish believed that… This answers the question almost before it has time to arise in the reader’s mind. Whether you’re writing about military life, cowboys, or police officers, there may well be details or terms that could raise questions in the reader’s mind. Don’t let them go unanswered.
The opening should stress dialogue and/or action when at all possible. Slow, descriptive openings belong to another century, and few modern readers, accustomed to a quicker pace, will hang around long enough to get to the dialogue and action if it doesn’t occur quickly.
And finally, I come back to the first piece of advice I received as a beginning romance writer: avoid the clichés of the genre: a character in transit with a letter in her pocket; a dream; a weather report.
I once asked my then-editor, Krista Stroever, what made her keep reading when a new proposal crossed her desk. She didn’t have to hesitate for her response: A good book opens with a memorable personality or a powerful action. Thanks, Krista!
Do you have questions or comments about novel beginnings? I hope you’ll post them here. I’ll stop back and try to answer!
If you’d like to be entered in a drawing for a copy of Marta’s “Her Surprise Sister,” please mention it in the comments section--then watch our Weekend Edition for the winner!
ABOUT MARTA: A lifetime spent in rural Pennsylvania, where she still lives, and her own Pennsylvania Dutch roots led Marta Perry to write about the Plain People and their rich heritage in her current novels. The author of more than forty novels, with over five million copies of her books in print, Marta is active in her church and community. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Faith, Hope and Love, and American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband enjoy traveling and visiting their six beautiful grandchildren. For more information, visit Marta at
Her Surprise Sister
July 2012
iseries: Texas Twins
ISBN: 9780373877522
Imagine her shock when Violet Colby discovers she has an identical twin sister she never knew existed. Why her family was torn apart remains a secret no one can answer—yet.
Hoping to develop a sisterly bond, Violet invites her sophisticated city twin to the Colby Ranch in tiny Grasslands, Texas. But when her sister's former fiancé arrives with questions of his own, country girl Violet finds herself drawn to handsome businessman Landon Derringer. And learns that true love requires faith—and a heart as big as Texas
“Her Surprise Sister” is Book #1 in the new 6-book Harlequin Love Inspired "Texas Twins" series, followed by “Mirror Image Bride” (Barbara McMahon), “Carbon Copy Cowboy (Arlene James), “Look-Alike Lawman” (Seeker Glynna Kaye!), “The Soldier’s Newfound Family” (Kathryn Springer), and “Reunited for the Holidays” (Jillian Hart).


Carol Moncado said...

I am soooooo looking forward to the Texas Twins books! I <3 twin books! [I have twin books written...]

Praying for everyone in CO. The pics are heartbreaking. Tina, Audra, who else?

Done writing for the night but back at it tomorrow...

Iola said...

This is definitely a post to bookmark and refer authors back to. Thank you.

Melanie Carter Winkler said...

I just thought I would take a look when someone suggest this. And all of sudden I realise my soon to be released novel has most of those good beginnings. I liked it but didn't realise how well I had done.
I have felt the same way at my first few writing courses/seminars I went to.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Marta, so glad to read your post as I am a new fiction writer and a huge fan of yours! Definitely printing this post out.

You really helped me with the conundrum of explaining things that are true but seem, well, not. I am writing a historical and discovered some of the common language is definitely different. Odd things happened. Things folks would question.

Echoing Carol on the concern for our CO friends. Praying.

Peace, Julie

Ausjenny said...

I have a review copy of Marta, texas twin book I know I am going to have to buy the rest of series.
(wish it was Maine Twins or Vermont Twins)

Praying also for the People in CO

Debby Giusti said...

So glad you can be with us in Seekerville today. Your books are such treasures! Congrats on your well-deserved success.

Thanks for providing such great info about crafting powerful beginnings.

I just started writing a new book and struggled with the opening, as I always do. The first line, first paragraph, first scene are all so important. Providing enough information to hook the reader and invite her/him into the story without bogging down the pace with backstory is always the challenge for me.

Rose said...


I think we've all been in that situation when we attended our first conference!

I just love that Texas Twins series idea. Can you (or Glynna) tell us about the series? Do the characters, setting overlap to each story? Was it fun and a challenge to work with five different authors?

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Seekerville!

It's amazing that just a year ago this month that my editor contacted my agent to see if I'd like to be included in writing a book in the "Texas Twins" continuity series. It was so exciting to work with so many Love Inspired authors I'd read and enjoyed for years -- Marta Perry, Barbara McMahon, Arlene James, Kathryn Springer & Jillian Hart!

So, WELCOME WELCOME TO SEEKERVILLE, MARTA! Book openings have to pack SO MUCH into them to hook the reader and your tips here will make a great checklist for future reference!

Janet Dean said...

Marta, welcome to Seekerville!! Your tips for writing the opening of our stories are terrific! As are your books! I'm sure other publishers focus on strong first chapters, but I know Love Inspired does. Congratulations on your success. Thanks for sharing with us today.


Anonymous said...

Hello Martha!
Thanks for visiting and thank you for the post.
One thing I find difficult to write is settings. Especially if I'm trying to make up my own place, that could ressemble a historical one, but is not.
But I'm retaining the fact that you said (about settings):
Know what we are talking about and not to make the description too long.

A great day to you! :)


Anonymous said...

Hopefully my idea up there made sense?? :)

Thanks again for the post,


Jamie Adams said...

Marta, thank you for this very timely post! I've just started a new story... it opens with a girl on a stage going to a new place BUT there's no letter in her pocket :)

Now to decide if I should back up and open with the reason she's traveled across the country or go forward to her new start. hmmm

Marta Perry said...

Thanks so much for the kind words, everyone!
Texas Twins was a really enjoyable continuity to write--my only problem was that I know next to nothing about Texas! But fortunately we had a couple of authors who were very familiar with the settings and could set us straight.
The series unrolls the stories of siblings who were separated at an early age, and each book is one sibling's story, along with unraveling the family secret which led them to be separated to begin with.
One thing that was different about this series from some I've done is that many of the books are either set at the ranch or have several scenes there, so it was very important that we all have the same vision of the house and property. Lots of e-mailing back and forth to get it right!


Jeanne T said...

Marta, what a fabulous post! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

I'm finding that the trickiest thing right now is making my heroine (in the opening scene) more empathetic. I'll definitely be coming back to this post.

AUDRA--praying for your part of Colorado! These fires are tough to watch and breathe through.

Marianne said...

Seekerville is doing such a great job pointing me to awesome authors and their novels. Of course you were not new to me, Marta, and i would love to win "The Surprise Sister". You'd almost think i was a twin the way i am drawn to stories about multiple birth siblings, but i'm not! Thanks for the chance. And though i am a readaholic, not a writer, i can see that the points you gave are what make the novels i read great. (Do you need an influencer, Marta?)

marianne dot wanham at gmail dot com

Marianne said...

Seekerville is doing such a great job pointing me to awesome authors and their novels. Of course you were not new to me, Marta, and i would love to win "The Surprise Sister". You'd almost think i was a twin the way i am drawn to stories about multiple birth siblings, but i'm not! Thanks for the chance. And though i am a readaholic, not a writer, i can see that the points you gave are what make the novels i read great. (Do you need an influencer, Marta?)

marianne dot wanham at gmail dot com

Jan Drexler said...

Hi Marta! And thanks for stopping by Seekerville today.

I had to laugh as I read your post - guess what the heroine is doing in the beginning of my WIP? Yup. On a train, with a letter in her pocket.

Sheesh. Even my crit group said they loved it. But I'm scrapping it now. It goes in the file of backstory that may or may not reach the light of day!

The most valuable point in your post for me was "The authorial voice has to make it clear the author knows the setting and is not simply using it as window-dressing."

I write Amish historicals, and I'm constantly having to stop and ask myself if the reader is going to be as familiar with this setting as I am -- probably not. I do have a character who's struggling with aspects of the Amish doctrine and can use conversations with other characters to round out those points, but I'm never sure how much to address and how much to just mention.

Editors are a big help, though, at pointing those types of things out.

And I'm with you - I'll often stew about authors who haven't done their research. One book I read recently took place in a town/area I'm very familiar with - I lived there in the past, but it was obvious the author had only visited via Google maps. And yes, I wanted to throw the book across the room.

But it was on my Kindle, and I had committed to reviewing the book, so I kept on.

There is so much more in your post I could comment on, but I'll wait and see what others say. This one is definitely a "print-off and keep in my binder" post!

Thanks again, Marta.

Tina Radcliffe said...

After all the requests from Love Inspired yesterday isn't this just the PERFECT POST!!

Welcome to Seekerville, Marta, and thank you.

Glynna Kaye said...

MELANIE W -- I'm sure it was a relief to see your book includes most of Marta's suggestions! So pat yourself on the back!

JULIE S -- Marta's so right that we need to remember our readers don't necessarily know the details we know about things and anticipate what might cause confusion or misunderstanding. Then we can be proactive about addressing it with just a few explanatory words.

JENNY -- So you're doing another round of reading books set in every state of the USA?

Glynna Kaye said...

GOOD MORNING, DEBBY! You're so good at getting all that stuff into the opening of your Love Inspired romantic suspense stories, especially setting the mood and getting the action started!

Connie Queen said...


Yesterday I happened to find some old contest entries. The most common statement would "too much telling and not enough showing." This was a hard concept to grasp and still is. It's so much easier to just tell! :)

And if this the beginning doesn't make me concerned for the characters, I'll get up to switch a load of laundry and never pick up the book again.


Glynna Kaye said...

ROSE -- A Love Inspired continuity has a basis in a story idea conceived the the editors or a freelancer. In a story 'bible' the background, main characters and core situations are presented that will take place in each book and ongoing threads that carry over from book to book. So while each is a "stand alone" romance for the couple featured in a book, there's an ongoing mystery that carries throughout all six.

Each author has a lot of freedom to make the story their own as you only know basics about what needs to be included. They provide names, ages, apperance and a brief background. For instance, in "Look-Alike Lawman" I was told the hero is a Fort Worth, Texas cop and the heroine's husband is a police officer killed in the line of duty. She has a young son who idiolized his father. So that was my core conflict that I needed to build around.

Then I needed to weave in the other elements that surround the from book-to-book issues. Characters and situations from the other books play a role in each of our books as well, so we had to do a lot of posting of descriptions and such in our emails and discussing situations and approaches to those situations at length. About 670 emails total!

It was fun to see "behind the scenes" how these continuity series come together!

Jessica Nelson said...

The funny thing is that my first book (now pubbed! woohoo!) started with the heroine on a train, deep in thought. In fact, her thoughts lasted for ten pages. *grin*

I'm still learning how to make a powerful beginning, but at least my dialogue starts on the first page now! lol

Jackie said...

You've given me some great points to consider as I edit my finished story.

Thanks, Marta.

I've got your new book sitting by my chair, can't wait to start on it.

Jackie L.

Mary Curry said...

Thanks for this wonderful post, Marta.

I find that I often write a scene just to get my story started but it rarely lasts as the actual opening scene.

Because I'm a mist writer I generally rewrite that opening scene once I know what's really important. Now I have your great guidelines as a checklist.

Yes, Tina - quite timely!

Julie Lessman said...


What a great post this is and SO true!! I am a first-line freak and think that a first line should do more than just open a book or hook a reader. Like you indicated above, it needs to set the tone, give some clues what the story will be, etc. Which is why I am particularly fond of opening with a thought by a character because to me, that draws you right in to the heroine's world in an intimate way PLUS gives you a clue to their personality AND the problems ahead of them in the book. For instance, in my first line of my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure, I tried to set the tone for sibling rivalry that is at the heart of the story: Sisters are overrated, she decided. Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it.

I honestly could read (and write) 1st lines all day long -- LOVE 'em!!


Julie Hilton Steele said...

Glynna Kaye, so excited you are in the continuity too!

And you know, for some, Texas is a different planet. Explanations definitely needed. I have cousins there but didn't realize how big, how different parts of the state are!

Peace, Julie

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for this post, Marta.

Especially for unpubbed writers, the first page is crucial to attract the attention of an agent or editor.

What I struggle with is the concept of showing the main character's 'ordinary world' before the big call to change. To me, this goes directly against what you, and most others, say we should be doing.

Very confusing sometimes!

Yet I can recall several really good books by well-known authors whose stories start with a heroine arriving on a train, or on a stagecoach (with or without the letter in the pocket!) It didn't bother me at all!

Would love to win a copy of your book. The whole series concept sounds great!

sbmason at sympatico dot ca

Glynna Kaye said...

JANET - You're SO right. LI likes a grabber first line and an opening paragraph that pulls a reader in.

I can remember in some of my very first stories in junior high and high school, I tried to mimic the writers whose work I enjoyed, so my stories would start with a long description the house or scene or my heroine thinking, thinking, thinking. Of course the styles have changed so much and we readers are now too impatient for five pages of that!

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Mary, thanks for the reminder about the misting. And permission to go back and rewrite.

Peace, Julie

Glynna Kaye said...

GANISE--Sometimes it's helpful when creating a fictional town to base it on a real-life town, just change the name and other details. Then you can search on-line for photos and info (even for historical settings)and describe what you see.

When I write about settings, I try to keep the descriptions short and sweet and weave the into the body of the story. For instance, not just saying "it was a hot and muggy day along the Mississippi" but having the heroine gaze down at the churning waters as she wipes away sweat trickling down her neck. Or have her describe a scene in only a way she can. For instance, if she makes clothing, I could describe the farmland stretching out before her like a patchwork quilt, its fences the seams, etc.

Or describe things in relation to how she's feeling that day so her emotion is tied to the description. For instance, thunderclouds rolled in from the flat, western horizon, no less turbulent than the racing of her heart.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Which reminds me! Notes from the Love Inspired Meet and Greet. They want those H & H folks meeting immediately. Conflict (GMC)evident immediately. STRONG STRONG FIRST CHAPTERS!!!!!

Glynna Kaye said...

MARIANNE - That's interesting that you're drawn to stories about multiple birth siblings yet you aren't one. I've always been drawn to stories about sinking ships--Titanic, Lusitania, Edmund Fitzgerald. I love ships from all eras. Good thing I'm not planning any cruises!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Carol, my area is safe-Audra is safe. It is the Colorado Springs area, the Air Force Academy area.

Jeanne T checked in and she is well.

Prayers for agent Rachelle Gardner and family, her husband is a fire fighter.

Prayers for my friend Mark who is a Littleton firefighter who is always volunteering in these situations.

Prayers for Beth Vogt who is in that area.

Glynna Kaye said...

JAN -- I had to laugh that you started off with a train trip and a letter in a pocket. (I imagine many others here have if they'd only CONFESS!) ALL of us probably have some of those openings stashed somewhere or other!

Tina Radcliffe said...

I want to know how you keep track of details in a continuity series, Glynna and Marta.

Do you keep a notebook or a site for info gathering online accessible to all?

Glynna Kaye said...

JESSICA N - Another honest Seeker Village confesses to that classic opening! :)

Helen Gray said...

It's been a long time since I've committed the beginning on a train, etc., but I admit to having done it.

Back in the pre-internet days I didn't have the resources--like today's post--to learn from.

Thank you for the tips.

Glynna Kaye said...

JACKIE -- I just finished reading "Her Surprise Sister" -- so fun to see the final version!

Glynna Kaye said...

MARY--I often write an opening line just to get something on the page, too, then go back and tweak it--or sometimes change it totally! Other times, I stick with my first version opening line. I don't know why some are easier to write than others.

Marta Perry said...

I think I hit a nerve with the "heroine on a train with a letter in her pocket" mention! Yes, of course some wonderful authors do begin with this sort of opening, but that just means they're doing everything else so extremely well that we don't mind. A wise mentor once told me, "Until you can emulate x's virtues, don't emulate her faults!"
And in regard to beginning in the protagonist's ordinary world, I struggle with that, as well, because it's such well-known advice, but I find with contemporary popular fiction, it's better to keep that ordinary world to glimpses seen in contrast to the Terrible Trouble, whatever that may be.
I remember reading ten pages of a manuscript in a contest a couple of years ago. For nine-and-a-half pages the heroine mused about the terrible driving weather and wondered about the message she'd received sending her on this trip. At page nine-and-a-half, she entered the house, having a feeling something was wrong. But I never found out what, because the dead body didn't turn up until page 11!

Glynna Kaye said...

TINA- In addition to having the story 'bible' by our side (we ARE able to change things in as long as we get editor approval) we had a Yahoo loop dedicated to the series so all our posts and responses would be received by all of us. We shared character and location photos. I also not only moved the emails to a special folder where I could easily access them, I printed out particular critical decision-making emails and kept them in a binder to review each day.

How did you keep track of everything, Marta?

Mary Connealy said...

You are NEVER gonna believe how I start Over the Edge, coming in August.
Shooting of course.


Chapter One

A bullet slammed through the door of the stagecoach, threading a needle to miss all four passengers.

“It’s a hold-up!” Callie grabbed her rifle. “Get down!”

The stage driver yelled and cracked his whip. More flying lead hit, higher on the stagecoach. The man riding shotgun got his rifle into action.

“Get on the floor.” The woman sitting across from Callie was frozen with fear. That endangered Connor and it made Callie furious.

The bullets came fast. They were going slow on a long uphill slope. With the driver's shout the stage picked up speed. From the roof came a steady volley of deafening return fire.

Reaching across, Callie grabbed the woman by the ruffled front of her pink gingham dress and dragged her off the seat. The woman shrieked but didn’t put up a fight, which was smart of her. Callie would’ve won that fight.

Somewhat more gently, Callie picked Connor up from the seat beside her and set him on the woman’s lap. Eight-month-old Connor yelped, more a shout of anger than a cry. But crying would come soon enough. Her little wild man didn’t do anything quietly.

“Can you shoot?” She shouted at the young man, hoping he’d snap out of whatever panic had seized him. He shook his head frantically. “Get on the floor.”

Callie used her whiplash voice and hoped it got the man moving. She threw herself across to the woman’s seat to face backward. With her Colt in her left hand and her Winchester in her right, she shoved the curtain aside.

Mary Connealy said...

Marta, I recently judged a contest entry that begins with a phone call telling a young woman someone died. The whole excerpt I read was that young woman driving to where ever the dead person was mulling over everything that had happened to her to bring her to this moment.


Mary Connealy said...

And I recently read a book by a beloved author who spent the first two chapters on TELLING and BACKSTORY.
You know what? I trusted that author to have a great story for me so I read on but the whole slogging way through that opening I was thinking, "Shame on you! You know better than this!"

Nancy C said...

Marta, the series sounds fun.

Glynna explained about the continuity, etc., but do the characters in the different books all know each other?

I can usually get past a writer not knowing a detail about a setting as long as it's something minor. Really minor.

I find I am not as compassionate :-) when the mistake is about where I live ... and particularly when it is an historical error/stereotype/cliche. Do any of you react that way when reading about the place you live?

Thoughts with those who live in Colorado ...

Nancy C

Myra Johnson said...

Marta, it's so nice to have you as our guest in Seekerville! Great advice here on story beginnings. What beginning writer hasn't erred in at least one of these areas?

And, oh yes, I well remember the sage advice to "start on the day that is different." That was drummed into me nearly 30 years ago when I first began serious study of the fiction writing craft.

Mary Connealy said...

I'm a big advocate of exploding beginnings.
I know I've talked about this before but once, in my unpubbed days, I just exploded a room and had my heroine be blasted out a fourth floor window.

I very deliberately didn't plot one spec. I just blew her up and then let the story take me where is wanted to.

That book is still unpublished but not because the beginning isn't really fun!

Mary Connealy said...

Ooh, Myra, I like that. Start on the day that is different.

Cool way to put it.

Nancy C said...

Phew! My second historical starts right after the heroine steps off the train. No letter. And not a clue for the reader about her previous life or why she's where she is. Although she is contemplating shooting someone ...

Nancy C

Mary Connealy said...

The beginnings of my stories.
Petticoat Ranch-Man falls over a cliff into the path of oncoming floodwaters
Calico Canyon-naughty boys terrorize teacher with a snake, her skirt rips and falls off in front of their father
Gingham Mountain-Blizzard, single man adopting children, angry woman trying to stop him
(these aren't all explosive, right? Emotionally explosive but nothing really blows up)
Montana Rose...hero burying heroine's freshly dead husband. She attacks him and nearly falls into the open grave
The Husband Tree...Belle Tanner threw dirt on Anthony's worthless, handsome face. (she's burying worthless husband #3)
Wildflower Bride...Gunfire jerks the hero awake. An indian village is massacred, the heroine is nearly kidnapped
Deep Trouble...woman attacked and punched, her treasure map stolen. She's left in a high cave with no ladder.
Doctor in Petticoats...runaway stagecoach
Wrangler in Petticoats...heroine shot and falls over a cliff
Sharpshooter in Petticoats...hero scaling cliff to kidnap heroine and haul her home and marry her since she's to stubborn to come to him.

Carol Moncado said...

Mary - I'm gonna need a copy of that file.


Because August is too far away.

Carol Moncado said...

I've not ever started on a trip with a letter in the pocket I don't think. I'm not sure I've ever written that at any point actually.

Right now my opening line is:

"I ain't gettin' married." Zachariah stomped out of the general store and away from the meddlin' proprietress. Sendin' off for mail-order brides might work for some of the men around Allegiance, Missouri, but not him.

Allegiance MO is based on my hometown but is a fictionalized version of it so I can use what I want and make up what I want :D.

Glynna Kaye said...

JULIE L - I love your openings. LIke in "A Hope Undaunted" : Now this is how love should be--nice and neat.

Who wouldn't have to smile and keep reading?

Glynna Kaye said...

JULIE S -- Yes Texas IS, as they say, "A whole 'nother country." As a half-Texan who's made many, many cross-country trips to visit family, I was still enormously pleased to have former Texan Arlene James as a part of the continuity to keep things straight!

Glynna Kaye said...

SUSAN M--That "ordinary world" thing is really tricky and in our books, especially shorter ones like Love Inspired, it might only consist of a few lines to ground the reader. For instance, the "ordinary world" of my Look-Alike Lawman hero is being cop. But I nevertheless started it out in the MIDDLE of being a cop:

“My daddy was a policeman, too. A bad guy killed him.”

Grayson Wallace stared at the boy gazing up at him. The little chin jutted in evident pride, but the dark brown eyes searched his own for understanding. A connection. Acknowledgment. He was only a first-grader, not too much older than the son of Gray’s former girlfriend. Way too young to have lost his daddy, let alone lost him to a bad guy.

Glynna Kaye said...

SEEKER MARY -- Why am I NOT surprised that your book opens with someone shooting someone?? :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, Marta touched on some important stuff here... what IS real compared to what seems real by how we convey it...

Guilty as charged!

Marta, welcome to Seekerville!

Hey, it's mid-day and I'm working, but I couldn't stop by without food so I brought chocolate trifle... layered with homemade chocolate pudding, dark-chocolate peanut butter brownie scraps, angel food cake (store-bought) and homemade whipped cream.

Cool. Creamy. Totally NOT carb-friendly, LOL! But enjoy!

Glynna Kaye said...

MYRA -- "start on a day that is different." Excellent!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

And Glynna, what an honor for a new author, to be included with this group!

So stinkin' proud of you!


Glynna Kaye said...

NANCY C -- No, not everyone initially knows each other. For instance in this series, twins didn't know they had twins and they don't all meet in the first book.

Glynna Kaye said...

THANK YOU, RUTHY! I couldn't believe it when Melissa & Emily asked a newbie like me to join in on it!

Glynna Kaye said...

I guess I need to put a train in my next book. They sure seem to be popular! Just a few years ago I took Amtrak to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Wonderful way to travel--and MUCH more comfortable that it would have been for those heroes and heroines in our historical-set books!

Myra Johnson said...

Starting on the "different" day always seems to kick things off. You're still in the ordinary world, but something's changed. The protagonist has some choices to make, or someone else (your villain?) has decided to make not-so-pleasant choices on the hero/heroine's behalf.

Some examples from my books:

ONE IMPERFECT CHRISTMAS starts when Natalie's mother has a stroke.

AUTUMN RAINS begins when Healy is released from prison.

A HORSEMAN'S HEART starts when Kip finds out his troublesome mother has tracked him down . . . again.

A HORSEMAN'S GIFT begins the day Nathan serves as best man when his sister and mother get married in a double wedding, AND Nathan's childhood best friend walks back into his life.

Valerie Hansen said...

I have loved Marta Perry's books for years and always have trouble putting one down once I've started it. Now that she's polished her craft so well, I bet she could keep us all reading even if she DID start on a train with a letter in a pocket!

Valerie Hansen

Mary Connealy said...

I can think of two books with time spend minimally on a train. Hmmmm... I may be missing a whole area to explore here.

Can trains blow up???

Butch Cassidey and the Sundance Kid, so YES!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Ruthy, sweetie, I gained weight just reading about your trifle!!!

PatriciaW said...

Just started Her Surprise Sister this morning. What a helpful post! I think I've heard it all, but then there's always one nugget of new information that gives me pause. Start on the day that is different.

Glynna Kaye said...

Sounds like a good opening conflict, CAROL M!

Good Examples, MYRA!

VALERIE -- I agree! Certain writers can get away with anything because they do it so well.

PATRICIA--I thought Marta started out with an intriguing opening for "Her Surprise Sister":

What could she possibly say to a father who had walked out of her life when she was an infant? Hi, Dad, it's me, Violet?

Missy Tippens said...

Marty, what a great post!! Thanks for being with us today.

I had to laugh, too. My first rejection from Love Inspired was for a book that started with a woman driving back to her hometown, thinking. No letter in her pocket, though. LOL

Glynna Kaye said...

MARTA--How many continuity series have you been involved with? And what are the challenges you have writing for three diverse publishers!?

Debby Giusti said...

Marty, I'm reading Rachel's Garden. Lovely!

I lived in Carlisle, PA, and find that area of the country charming, and many Amish lived nearby. Their stalls of produce and fresh baked items were always my first stop at the outdoor markets.

Also lived in Ohio, not far from Plain City. Big Amish/Mennonite communities there as well.

We once talked about making homemade noodles. My German grandmother measured flour with her hand, and her noodles were out of this world. Plus, she served them with gravy and heaped over mashed potatoes.

Did Ruthy mention carb overload!?! :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cups of tea are another no-no.

If your heroine is contemplating life over a bracing cup of tea, have someone shoot her.

And find a new heroine.

If she's contemplating her peaceful life whilst hangin' laundry, shoot her. Twice, if needed.

If she's trying to figure a way to get the nursing baby up, out of the canyon, away from the fire while the heroine crawls branch over branch, the baby's sling caught in her teeth as her useless left leg thankfully goes numb...

Let her live to tell her tale.

Debby Giusti said...

Marty, give us a peek into your life. How do you schedule your writing since you're so prolific? Daily page count? A certain amount of time spent at the computer each day?

And how do you find time to play with your sweet grandchildren?

CatMom said...

Thanks, Marta--this is definitely another Keeper Post for me! ~ Congratulations on your successful writing career, and how encouraging for new and/or unpubbed writers to learn that you started out so unsure of yourself. And now look at how well you've done!! ~ Please enter my name in the drawing for your book, and thank you again for this great post. Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo p.s. A dear friend brought me LOTS of blueberries recently, so I've baked blueberry muffins and blueberry cobbler for today--ENJOY!! ;) PJ

Mary Cline said...

Thank You Marta,
Now my questions:

What if the story starts with THE LETTER? I mean the letter written out for the reader to read? When I was a kid (just a couple years ago) I loved books that had a letter or two in them. It felt so personal to be reading someone else's mail? Is that something that would still fly for editors and readers today?

My WIP does start out with the heroine flying somewhere not with a letter but a dog to deliver. Would that work?

And how about a beginning with the hero's POV and the heroine heading his way? With our without the letter? Do readers and editors like that? It's what I am thinking of doing now in one of my WIPs

I think I have read "Start on the Day that is different" I thought I read that here, that's where most of the good stuff is.

Clari Dees said...

Ruthy! Was that you typing or did Mary take over your account? Cause that scenario sounds like classic Mary Connealy to me. ;-)

Mary Connealy said...

Are you using that? Cuz if not, DIBS!!!

Marta Perry said...

Keeping track of things while writing a continuity can be challenging, and anyone who's worked with me knows I mess up! I do keep a separate file with all the discussions, although sometimes that's problematic because we talked about one way of doing it and and decided on another.
I've done four continuities, and they've all been different experiences. It can be difficult if you have one person who "doesn't play well with others" as teachers sometimes say! I think the suspense ones are more difficult to plan, because it's so crucial not to include spoilers for someone else's book.
It is challenging to write for different publishers, but I enjoy it very much. I like the fact that I can switch from writing the slower-paced, more character-intense Pleasant Valley series for Berkley to writing the plot-heavy suspense for HQN. And writing a shorter LI feels like a vacation after the longer books!
Someone asked about my writing schedule. I am fortunate to be able to write every day, and whenever I have a new contract coming up, my agent and I sit down with the calendar and figure out the timing. I always allow myself some blocked out weeks for the holidays and time spent with the grandkids. When I'm with them, I focus totally on them, because I want to make a memory with each one of them.
I use a Freelancers Workweek chart which is available free to download at This gives me a yearly chart, a quarterly chart, monthly planners, and weekly planners. That way I can plan out what's happening when, right down to how many pages I'm writing a day in order to make my deadlines. I normally write about 10 pages a day, but that may vary according to whether I have edits to deal with as well. If I'm falling behind on my quota, I want to know it! I'm very much a planner, and when I'm writing a book I have frequent brainstorming sessions with myself to come up with all the things that need to happen between where I am now and the next plot turning point. This really helps me, although my system would probably drive some people crazy!

Myra Johnson said...

Just rereading Marta's post, and this gem caught my eye:

Avoid the clichés of the genre.

That can be harder than we think sometimes. I mean, how is Mary going to avoid shooting somebody?

What other genre cliches can you think of?

Marta Perry said...

I like the way Mary thinks! Let's blow something up! (Unfortunately, that seldom happens in an Amish novel!)

Re the use of letters in novels. I've done that a time or two, and I think it can be effective if done sparingly. However, I do feel, just off the top of my head, that it might make it more difficult to set up the necessary affinity with the main character if you start with a letter.

Of course, you can have whole epistolatory novels--but that's more likely in literary fiction.


Pepper said...

Great post!
Thanks for sharing all this wonderful advice.

How bad is it that two of my novels have women in the midst of travel?
One in a boat (Lusitania)
and one just getting off a plane.


Digging for Pearls said...

Love your ideas Marta. I'm finally checking in after having my nose, okay fingers to the keyboard all day. Surpassed my goal of 3000 words so I'm happy.

Please enter me in the contest Marta.

Jodie Wolfe

Myra Johnson said...

3000 words in a day??? You rock, Jodie! I'm coming up on 1500 this afternoon, which is my daily goal, so I'm happy.

Pepper said...

3000 words? Wow! I'm always thrilled when I can get 1K in.

Fabulous work, Jodie (and congrats, again)

Sally said...

Great post! I would like to be entered in the drawing for a copy of Marta’s “Her Surprise Sister,”. Thanks!
tscmshupe [at] pemtel dot net

Ausjenny said...

Yes Glynna reading from the 50 states. This year New York, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma are popular.
I have read 32 states I think.

Jennifer Thompson said...

Uh me worried now.

My WIP starts with a train. But it's what happens at/on the train that starts everything it stays.

Really hoping not everyone is tired of the cliched woman on a train...

Piper said...


Thanks for the great post and the heads up on a new planner. I love planners!


Digging for Pearls said...

Thanks Pepper, congrats to you too. :) I need to keep up writing 3000 words each day, six days per week for the next few weeks to finish my WIP to submit, and allow time for edits. Don't know that I've ever prayed so hard through the writing process as I am now. :)

Jodie Wolfe

Virginia said...

Arg! I need to start coming here in the early AM because by now I've missed the party!

How long is too long for a descriptive opening? A paragraph? A few lines?

I really struggle with openings. This was a great tip sheet.

Cindy W. said...

This is definitely a 'keeper' for my book! Thank you Marta!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.


marybelle said...

I'm always happy to learn.

I'd love a copy of HER SURPRISE SISTER thank you.


Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Thank you for suggestions on novel beginnings, Marta. I've enjoyed all the comments, too. I'll be bookmarking this. Never read your novels but know of you through a writers group here in SE PA. I grew up in Amish country near Lancaster. Similar to Pepper's stories, in one of mine after a precipitating event the protagonist boards an ocean liner early in the story. I've heard good things about your writing, Marta, and would love to win a copy of your latest.
Pat in Philly

Jodi Janz said...

This is good advice. This is the area of writing I am struggling with the most- starting in the right spot. Writing all the key elements into the first few pages and making them inviting and real and everything else. Thanks for the tips. I'm printing this one off.

jodi janz at gmail dot com

Jo Huddleston said...

Marta, I would love to win your book in the Texas Twins series. Thanks for the great info on beginnings of novels.

Anonymous said...

For me, the story begins from the beginning. That's how I usually see the story starting out. I'm the lucky one. But, I'm not so lucky with endings. I don't write romance stories, so it's always harder to see the ending.

misskallie2000 said...

Hi Marta, Thanks for sharing the info on beginnings of books. Who knows who might need that tidbit. "wink" I would love to win your book “Her Surprise Sister”. You wonder how this could happen where twins are split up but he does happen. Thanks for stopping by to chat and share with us.

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

Emma said...

Please enter me in“Her Surprise Sister,” contest. Thank you for the opportunity to win. Have a great weekend.I enjoy reading all of your books.