Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Getting There From Here: 5 Ways to Jump-start That Opening Chapter
















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You’ve finally finished the book and are eager to send it to an editor or agent. But you rein yourself in, deciding to run your opening chapter by contest judges or a few trusted friends for feedback. Who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to bathe in the oohs and aaahs your masterpiece will elicit?
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But then...
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“The opening didn’t grab me.”
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“This is a sleepy first chapter.”
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“I don’t like the heroine/hero.”
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“I was confused.”
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“It wasn’t clear what the story is supposed to be about.”
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OUCH! That’s not at all what you expected.
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As you’ve probably heard many times, an editor or agent can often tell within the first five pages--and certainly by the end of the first chapter--if a book has what they and their readers are looking for. Yes, sometimes a rare editor/agent might request a full manuscript based on a query alone and “soldier on” through a lame opening, be delighted with the story, and offer a contract contingent on the author working with them to give the opening chapter a major makeover.
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But more often than not, few in the publishing industry will have the opportunity, time or desire to view your completed work of genius if it’s hidden behind a less than stellar opening chapter. Most ask first for a query. If the query’s concept grabs them, then they ask for a first chapter or maybe a proposal (3 chapters and a synopsis). Only if the opening catches their interest will they ask to see the entire manuscript. First chapters must GLOW.
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So today, let’s chat about FIVE ways to “get there from here” -- how to impart fresh or renewed energy into that opening chapter. Naturally, there are more than five ways to do this. I’m not intending this post to be all-inclusive, but merely following orders and conforming to our Seekerville FIFTH birthday party theme. :)
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“The opening didn’t grab me.” Go to Walmart or Barnes & Noble and pull a few books off the shelf. Take a look at those first lines. Do some invite you to read on? Do you stifle a yawn as you place others back on the shelf? “Well,” you might say, “so-and-so-bestselling author doesn’t have great opening lines.” True. But as a newbie writer you’re not yet in competition with that bestselling author whose loyal readership trusts they’ll “get to the good stuff” soon enough. You’re in competition with other aspiring writers to grab an agent’s and editor’s attention. They receive THOUSANDS of queries and submissions a month. Take time to make that first line and paragraph stand out from the crowd.

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“This is a sleepy first chapter.” Many times it’s because, well, nothing HAPPENS on the page in front of us. I don’t mean that you need to blow up a car, sweep through town with a tornado, or have someone pull a gun on your heroine. I mean that the characters aren’t engaged in dialogue or an activity that holds reader interest. The reader isn’t plopped into the middle of a conflict as the story opens. Instead, they’re watching the heroine gaze out the window as she ruminates, page after page, on what has led her to this very moment. Nothing slows down your opening chapter like a lengthy walk down memory lane. Keep it short and sweet--just enough to clearly anchor your reader. Sprinkle it in gradually on a need-to-know basis throughout the book. You may be surprised to learn that the reader doesn’t need to know every single detail of your character’s past that you do.
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“I don’t like the heroine/hero.” Very likely it’s because we haven’t laid the groundwork for our hero or heroine to elicit reader empathy. We haven’t made them three-dimensional. We may have an irritatingly angry heroine on page one, but haven’t slipped the reader into her head to hint at the whys of her behavior. We haven’t shown her doing something kind or considerate for another. We haven’t seen her from another character’s point of view who understands, likes and admires her. We haven’t given her a goal or motivation that readers can relate to.
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“I was confused.” Sometimes we know our own stories so well and have so much of it “all in our head” that we forget the reader doesn’t have that advantage unless we’ve plainly put it down in words. Make a point of establishing time and setting. Take care not to let your dialogue be reduced to “talking heads” without description, motion or emotion. Make it very clear, through deep point of view techniques, which character’s eyes we’re seeing a scene through. Don’t throw too many characters into the opening chapter so that readers have difficulty distinguishing between all the names and faces. Introduce them gradually.
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“It wasn’t clear what the story is supposed to be about.” You’ve heard of GMC, right? Goal. Motivation. Conflict. What goal/dream is this character out to attain? What motivates them to work toward this goal? What stands in their way of achieving it? These questions are critical to an opening chapter, even if the initial GMC changes as the story gradually unfolds. You don’t have to fully disclose the deepest motive that will be revealed further along, but you can hint at it or provide a current motive that the reader will empathize with. Perhaps the hero himself believes his goal is one thing and he’ll later learn that it’s another. Or the opening conflict might only be the tip of the true iceberg. But that opening chapter needs to pose questions in a reader’s mind so that they are assured the story has a point and that it’s not going to wander aimlessly. They want to cheer on the hero and heroine and be able to recognize when the goal has or has not been achieved.
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What unexpected feedback on an opening chapter have you received from contest judges or a critique partner? What did you do to fix it? What other ways might you jump-start your opening chapter?
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By the way, I’ll let you in on a little secret... ALL of these points are comments I received from judges when, years ago, I first started entering contests for feedback!
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Glynna
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If you’d like to be entered in a drawing for a complete 6-book set of the Love Inspired “Texas Twins” series (including book #4, my October 2012 “Look-Alike Lawman”), please mention it in the comments section, then check our Weekend Edition for the winner announcement!
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A Little Boy’s Hero. When big-city cop Grayson Wallace visits an elementary school for career day, he finds his heartstrings unexpectedly tugged by a six-year-old fatherless boy. Gray offers to mentor the child, but widowed mother Elise Lopez wants nothing to do with men in uniform. Now he can’t get the struggling Lopezes off his mind. All he can think about is what family means—especially after discovering the identical twin brother he hadn’t known he had in Grasslands. Maybe a trip to ranch country is just what he, Elise and little Cory need.

Texas Twins: Two sets of twins, torn apart by family secrets, find their way home.
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Glynna Kaye’s “Dreaming of Home” was a 2010 finalist in the “ACFW Carol Award” and “Maggie Award,” as well as a first place winner of the “Booksellers Best” and “Beacon” awards. Her “At Home In His Heart” garnered a 4 ½ star review and was chosen as a Reviewers Choice finalist by national magazine “RT Book Reviews.” She just signed a 3-book contract for three more stories set in Canyon Springs, Arizona!



Happy Birthday to us!!


154 comments:

Melissa Jagears said...

And I'm just brainstorming where exactly I should start my novella. I need it in the thick of things but not so much so it's confusing. And how to go about it.....But yeah, that beginning....

Keli Gwyn said...

Great tips, Glynna! You're not alone in your comments from contest judges. I got some of the same kind when I sent off my first entries. My favorite was that my heroine sounded schizo. No wonder no one liked her. =)

Congratulations on your contract!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Glynna,
I'd like to be entered in the drawing.
Thanks,
Katie N.

Cindy W. said...

This is a keeper post for my notebook. Thank you Glynna!

I would love to be entered into your drawing. Thank you very much.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52@yahoo.com

Kyle Stephen said...

A car blowing up in the first page would really get my interest. I like reading books with adrenaline. The prologue, aside from the summary at the back of the book, is my deciding factor in buying a novel/book. If the first page will captivate me, chances are good that the whole book will.

Debra E. Marvin said...

Congratulations on the new books, Glynna!

I am happy to say I've heard all those comments on my first chapters, too. Ahh = but much less now!

Helen did start the timer for the coffee so it's ready and I'm grabbing a cup before popping back into edits.

I think the hardest part of the first chapter is sneaking in the GMC through a careful use of backstory, That's also the same way we create empathy but backstory can be a prickly thing to play with.

Mary Curry said...

Congratulations on the new contract, Glynna!

I hate beginnings. I usually gloss right over them and then agonize later when I have to go back and fix. Later is now for me on the current WIP, so thanks for all the helpful hints.

I'd love to be entered.

Tina Radcliffe said...

GREAT POST. And I saw your book in Walmart last night, Glynna!!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

She sure snuck that contract part in.

CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

Julie Steele said...

Been there and heard that! Thanks for letting us know we are not alone!

Would love to be in the drawing.

Peace, Julie

C.E. Hart said...

These tips are so helpful. I need to go back and take a look at my first chapter. As I've written my current WIP the goal changed slightly from what I intended in the beginning. (I tend to do that a lot!) ;)

Thanks for this post, Glynna! It's just what I need.

I'd like to be entered in the drawing. The story of Grayson Wallace sounds fabulous. I bet it's an emotional read.

pol said...

Glynna as a reader and not a writer I can tell you how true that is about the beginnings, I hate to "work" my way through a book, I want to know what is happening or about to happen soon not later. thanks for sharing your tips today.
I would love to be in the drawing for the Texas Twins books. thanks
Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com)

Jackie said...

Thanks for the great tips.

I'm headed back to look at chapter one now.

Congrats on your contract!

Jackie

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Seekerville. I'm glad to hear Helen put coffee on the timer as you all are EARLY BIRDS. It's only 4:30 here in Arizona! Hopefully someone who is more awake than I am will bring us something yummy to nibble on. :)

Glynna Kaye said...

MELISSA -- I love novellas, especially the holiday ones. I've never written one myself, but a few Seekers tell me they're tricky when you're used to working with a lohger format. What's yours about?

Glynna Kaye said...

GOOD MORNING, KELI! There's nothing quite like a heroine with personality 'challenges,' is there? :) We've come a long way since our early contest days, haven't we?

All -- Keli has a special place in my heart. Four years ago I didn't know her, but as a judge for the Golden Pen contest she picked out my entry to be a finalist--which sent it to Love Inspired editor/finals judge Melissa Endlich. Melissa gave it the top award AND offered a contract! :)

Glynna Kaye said...

KATIE N - Consider yourself entered!

Amy Campbell said...

Congrats on the contract. Great post. I would love be entered in the drawing. Thanks.

Rose said...

Glynna-

Congratulations on the three book contract!

AND who wouldn't want to be entered in your give away, including me! I think that twin series is a 'novel' idea!

Glynna Kaye said...

GOOD MORNING, CINDY! I'm happy you found the post helpful. This past summer when I was working out in the garage I came across a HUGE box of old contest stuff--score sheets, pages with judge's handwritten comments. I hope in the months to come I can find time to go thru it all and see what I can glean from it that might help other aspiring writers. And I have no doubt I'll find some things in them that I STILL need to work on!

Glynna Kaye said...

HI KYLE! I'm betting you're a Bruce Willis "Die Hard" fan. Am I right? Or a fan of Mary Connealy's comedy with cowboys stories that start off LITERALLY with a bang! I think her recent "Over the Edge" opens with something like "A bullet slammed through the door of the stagecoach." And you're so right--a strong opening can make the difference between whether or not a reader walks to the checkout counter with your book in his/her hand or slides it back onto the shelf.

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS, DEBRA M! I enjoy writing about the little mountain community of Canyon Springs, so three more in that locale should be fun to write.

I, too, find getting enough of that GMC into the first chapter to satisfy a reader (and editor) is tricky--especially in a Love Inspired where the published first chapter might only come out to be 10-12 pages long. GMC is based so much on backstory.

Jan Drexler said...

Glynna, thank you for the tips (and reminders)!

I'm also working on the first chapters of a new WIP, and trying again to find that balance between setting up the story/characters and keeping the readers (and myself) interested enough to keep turning the page.

It does get easier with practice, right?

I'd love to be in the drawing!

Jan Drexler said...

And congratulations on the 3 book contract!!!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS, MARY C! I kept thinking I'd ask Tina to announce it with fanfare in a Weekend Edition (maybe she can still do that now that I officially got the contract? hint, hint).

Sometimes I can nail that first line or chapter of a new story immediately and keep it all the way to publication. Other times I sense it's "lame" and have to go back to jump-start it before I send the proposal to my editor.

Good luck with your WIP's first chapter "triage" !!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS TINA! This first one is due at the end of November, so I'm busy, busy, busy!

Linda Bonney Olin said...

Thanks for the tips, Glynna! Please enter me in the drawing.

Where to jump into the story timeline is a dilemma. Don't want to bore readers with backstory but I hate flashbacks.

Glynna Kaye said...

GOOD MORNING, JULIE! I have a feeling that some of the comments I received early on will be deja vu for many who've tried the contest route. I'm a fan of unpubbed contests because you can learn so much so quickly as it applies to YOUR OWN manuscript, not just writing in general. Unlike Ruthy, I love reading books on the craft of writing, but nothing can beat having someone knowledgable directly illustrate those principles in context to your own story.

Glynna Kaye said...

HELLO, C.E.! There's absolutely nothing wrong with a goal morphing throughout the story. Our goals in real life often do that. So in our stories we can have the reader watch the goal change over time as the hero/heroine grows or we can go back to the beginning of the story and make that "morphed" element the primary goal right off the bat.

Glynna Kaye said...

GOOD MORNING, PAULA! Thank you for confirming how important opening chapters are from a reader's standpoint. Sometimes as writers we get all caught up with a multi-dimensional story in our head and forget that the reader only knows and understands what we put on the page!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Good Morning Glynna, How about some cinnabons? I can smell the mixture of yeast and cinnamon now.

And a large crystal bowl full of fresh fruit. Crunchy apples, pecans, shredded coconut, pineapple, berries, and pears.

And I borrowed an omelet chef from the Double Tree in Tucson. He said he'd be happy to whip up an omelet to order for us here at Seekerville.

Saw your book in Fry's this week and bought one. Couldn't wait to see you. chuckling.

Congrats on the contract. I'm not surprised.

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS FOR THE CONGRATS, JACKIE! Let us know how that "second look" at your first chapter turns out!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANK YOU, AMY! I love multi-book contracts because it helps me keep up the momentum and allows me to weave things into one book that will affect something in the next!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANK YOU, ROSE! I enjoyed working with some of Love Inspired's top authors who wrote the other books in the Texas Twins series -- Marta Perry, Barbara McMahon, Arlene James, Kathryn Springer and Jillian Hart!

karenk said...

a great posting...and thanks for the giveaway, too ;)

karenk
kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Pepper said...

Great post, Glynna.

Oh man, I've gotten the 'didn't like your heroine' crit before.
And 'i'm confused' one.
Thankfully, as you said, with some good brainstorming those points can be corrected.

I'm working on a first chapter of a new WIP too and once I get to the end of it, I need to go back and see if it's meeting the checklist of your five things, Glynna.
I've checked off #1 - but the others I'll have to go through again :-)
Thanks for the post.

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS FOR THE CONGRATS, JAN! And I'll be sure to let you know when it gets easier. :) First chapters can be tricky, especially finding just the right place to start it. You want to be in the thick of things, but don't want to confuse the reader because they don't yet know who these people are and why the situation you've thrown them into should matter.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I noticed you started by saying *after* you've finished...then dig into that first chp. I agree 100%. Too often writers (at least I do) get so caught up in fine-tuning a section that we don't move forward and FINISH the book first. So much can come to light as the story unfolds that will have bearing on that opening scene (including all those story elements you mentioned).

PLEASE toss my name in the Sheriff's hat to win the Texas Twins series! I'd LOVE that! :)
And best wishes on the success of your newest book.

-Emily
emily_reynolds(at)hotmail(dot)com

Glynna Kaye said...

LINDA -- As I just mentioned to Jan, deciding on that opening scene is critical. Where to start? It has to hold a reader's attention, arouse their curiosity, and pose questions that they want to know the answers to--yet not do a back story dump. It's a high-wire balancing act for sure.

Jeanne T said...

Glynna, I loved your points and suggestions for fixes. I have changed my first chapter so many times. :) And, I'll probably have to change it more before I send it out on query. Your tips help a lot.

My biggest challenge has been making my heroine likeable. She's coming along. Slowly. :)

Glynna Kaye said...

OH, THANK GOODNESS, SANDRA! You brought FOOD! :) Thanks, too, for the congrats AND for buying the book. But I imagine you'll soon have TWO as one will be landing on your doorstep anytime now--posted it Monday as I don't think with this book deadline I can make it to NARWA in November. :(

Glynna Kaye said...

Thanks for stopping by, KAREN K!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Oh Boo Hoo. We will miss you at NARWA

But oh yeah. I'll pass the one I bought on. It will make a great gift.

Glynna Kaye said...

HELLO, PEPPER! I'm glad to hear I'm not alone. :) First chapters can be SO MUCH FUN to write, can't they? All of a sudden these people who have been populating your mind for weeks or months FINALLY appear on the page with all their hopes and dreams being challenged.

Jeanne T said...

I forgot to ask that you put my name in the drawing. Thanks again, Glynna!!

Glynna Kaye said...

HELLO, EMILY! You're right--it's so easy to spend way too much time on that first chapter, polishing it to death when you might be better off moving forward to THE END. I wish I'D have done more of that before being published so maybe I wouldn't have so much to learn NOW!

I sell on proposal, so I have to come up with a first 3 chapters that are as strong as I can initially make them before the whole book is written. But even then, I do go back as I continue writing the book to weave in things to clarify GMC. Often my editor and agent look at those opening chapters and synopsis and give me objective feedback on what needs to be beefed up or played down.

Julie Lessman said...

LOL, GLYNNA ... GREAT blog and CLEVER spin at the end, stating these were things you heard from judges before!! Gosh, haven't we all ... and then some!!

Regarding your second point -- I still laugh at how in my original drafts of A Passion Most Pure, I had Faith mired in internal monologue and backstory the first seven pages!! YIKES ... no white space!! "Move the action up front," a paid critique told me at ACFW, because nothing -- not dialogue, not action -- happened until page 7. So I did -- moved it up to page 5, then page 2, then FINALLY plopped it right on page one -- a kiss within the first few paragraphs. DEFINITELY my kind of "action"!! ;)

And then your 4th point -- confusion! Guilty as charged, although with writing a continuing series in a seven-book family saga, trust me -- I've been forced to get better at clarity in the beginning of each book in those cases where the reader may have not read any of my others and doesn't know what's going on!!

GREAT POST, Glynna!!

Hugs,
Julie

Glynna Kaye said...

GOOD MORNING JEANNE T! Making our hero and heroine sympathetic is key. But it's not easy to do when you want them to start out, well, less than perfect with a lot of what I call "growing up in God" to do. So again, a balancing act!

Glynna Kaye said...

HEY, JULIE! Why am I not surprised you kept inching that kiss scene closer and closer to the opening? :)

You're right about series books being tricky. It about killed me to bring the action to a halt in my Texas Twins book to provide a chunk of backstory. :) I'd woven it in gradually over several chapters, but the editor who is very experienced with reader expectations of continuity series books indicated they needed to know more about my hero's family in the first chapter.

Paula Mowery said...

Good stuff!
I've eyed your Twins series for awhile. I'd love the opportunity to win the set.
Thanks for the chance and for the good info.

Glynna Kaye said...

HI, PAULA M! I'll throw your name into the drawing!

KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

Glynna,

Great info here. Thank you. And especially for sharing that those were comments YOU received. Wshew. Though they hurt at the time, the comments obviously spurred you on!

Thinking about the story so much, that is true. It really must be put into words. That sounds so silly when you think about it, but... It's very true!

Seein' as to how I'm from Texas, and my Daddy is a twin, would love to win!

Helen Gray said...

Glynna, congratulations on the new contract. Keep'em coming!

Fresh coffee's a brewing.

I've just finished the first three chapters of a new wip. Now it's time to go back and check that first chapter and be sure all the elements are there.

Would love to be in the drawing, but I have one of the books. Arlene James spoke at a recent MOzArk meeting, and she gave us each a copy of her book. Real sweet of her.

Helen

Glynna Kaye said...

GOOD MORNIN' KC! Those are some of the NICER comments I received! :) Writing isn't for the faint of heart, that's for sure! I encouraged my now-published writer cousin Kathleen Bacus to enter contests along with me so at least I'd have someone to commiserate with on the journey! Then eventually along came my Seeker sisters and our "whine only for 24 hours" rule.

Glynna Kaye said...

HELLO, HELEN! Thanks for the congrats and for freshening up the coffee! Cool that you got to meet Arlene! I REALLY like her and her books.

Marianne said...

Hi, Glynna...are all readers attracted to stories about multiples (twins, triplets, etc) like i am? i would probably suffer through a sleepy first chapter if that was the story. But, as a reader, i know what you mean. i just finished reviewing a book like that, and it ended up being a good novel, but i wouldn't have finished if i hadn't said i'd review it. i would absolutely love to win your series of novels, and thanks for being here on Seekerville! and for the chance to win this awesome giveaway

marianneDOTwanhamATgmailDOTcom

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Yep, I heard some of the same feedback on my stories, too. Sometimes nothing happens in my first chapter and other times, it's too much. I'm focusing on strong opening chapters a lot more these days :) Thanks for the tips!

Donna said...

Congratulations on your new contract, Glynna!

There is no other topic I could have wished for more than this today.

Yesterday I got an idea for the beginning of my wip after months of Chapter one writer's block. (I have been working on other chapeters) Reading this post and comments, I realize Ch.1 doesn't need to be perfected yet because I'm going to want to go back and implant ideas and change things as I go along.

Please enter me to win the Texas Twin series!

Pam Hillman said...

A 3-book contract? Boy-howdy, that's something to grin about!

Congrats!!!

And Look-Alike-Lawman looks like a lawman story to arrest anyone's interest. Can't wait to read it. The whole series sounds like a ton of fun.

Logging off. In the middle of edits and finishing up today. I've been crazy busy the last 5 days, but loved digging back into this story. I actually love it more now that my editor has tweaked it. She's amazing!

Mary Connealy said...

One of my great contest comments from a judge was, "Your story doesn't start until page 19."

At the time I didn't even know what in the world she meant by that. It took me a couple of more years to improve my writing skills, learn more....figure it out.

In the meantime I abandoned that book (The Husband Tree) and wrote a few other books. But I kept coming back to The Husband Tree, because I loved it and I tried to just START the book on page 19, but that wasn't working either.

It was a struggle but it was part of me learning to explode a book. Dive into it in the middle of an action scene.

Yes, there is an occasional gun being pulled.

But setting up that beginning to explode isn't just a device, a trick. The story really does need a catalyst to kick it off. A REASON for the story to even exist.

Your story doesn't start until page 19???

She gave me pretty good scores, too.

Now, in my judges comments I'll often say, "This is all backstory, it doesn't belong here. Thread it in later."

My own way of saying, "Your story doesn't start until page 19."

Glynna Kaye said...

HI, MARIANNE! Multiples DO seem to be popular, don't they? It's always an interesting twist when they're identical and switch places. Of course, I loved the original "Parent Trap!"

Mary Connealy said...

PAMMY!!!
This line right here:

Look-Alike-Lawman looks like a lawman story to arrest anyone's interest

This should be the blurb on the back of the book. LOL

Or wait! Maybe it is???

Glynna Kaye said...

GOOD MORNING, CINDY R.W.! Maybe some of us have had the same insightful judges! The wonderful thing about being pre-pubbed is you can CHANGE the opening--unlike once it's in print! :)

Pam Hillman said...

lol - Not that I know of, Mary. Okay, really logging off now.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Glynna! This is why beginnings almost paralyze me! Because I know how hard it is to get those first few chapters right. And while reading this, I've decided I need to take out the first chapter of my Cinderella story, which comes out next October, and let the second chapter be first and use the first chapter as something to be sprinkled in later in the story.

Great article on opening chapters!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS FOR THE CONGRATS, DONNA! And I'm glad today's post 'hit the spot.' And truly, the first chapter doesn't have to be perfected before you move on to the next. As I get to know my characters, their personalities, inner thoughts, etc., those are things I can weave in at a later time. I can later boost or alter the GMC as needed as well.

Glynna Kaye said...

HEY, PAM! THANKS FOR THE CONGRATS! I'm glad you're wrapping up those edits--and am DELIGHTED this story will soon be published. I loved reading it in it's "infancy!"

Kav said...

Woooohooooo, congrats on the new book deal, Glynna. That's got to be exciting! It is for your readers. LI knows a good thing when they see it!

Loved this post -- and since visiting Seekerville I now pay more attention to first pages. Sometimes that's how I decide which book to read first -- but I'd still give a book a fighting chance if the first chapter is a dud. :-)

I'm soooo character driven though that I really have to connect with the hero and heroine early on or I can't stay committed to the read.

Oh -- and the other thing I like in a first page is when the author hints at something bigger. Might be about the heroine's past or something looming in the future but it's enough to reel me in and make me want to know more so I keep reading.

Melanie Dickerson said...

It's a good thing *I* have plenty of time to *ruminate* on how to fix my opening chapters!

Glynna Kaye said...

MORNIN' MARY! I'd say you took that "your story starts on page 19" to heart and turned it around to your trademark explosive first lines! Who can pick up one of your "comedy with cowboys" books and not have trouble putting it down until The End?

Glynna Kaye said...

HI, MELANIE! It will be interesting to see what you think of it when you flipped chapters! I've done that, too. And at times I've had a Seeker reader say, flip the opening POV to the hero versus the heroine as he has more at stake here. Sometimes doing something so simple is a minor change but really energizes things.

Glynna Kaye said...

HI, KAV! Thank you for the congrats! I'm enjoying getting to continue "living" in Canyon Springs a little bit longer!

I'm glad you give books a second chance even if the opening line doesn't suck you in. I know there are some really great stories I'd have missed out on if I hadn't read a bit further on. And as authors, we can't ALWAYS nail the opening--and an opening that grabs one reader by the throat might miss the mark with another.

Glynna Kaye said...

I have to slip away for a few hours, but I'll try to check in noonish my time! Have a great day, Seekerville!

Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Glynna!! I haven't heard that "sleepy first chapter" point before. Although I have heard mine didn't "sparkle." I assume that's the same thing. :)

Congrats on the new contract!!! Woo hoo!!

Erica Vetsch said...

Yay for a new contract!!! :)

I've come to the conclusion that the first chapter is the one I write (rewrite) last. If I don't treat it that way, I have a hard time letting that first chapter go and getting on with the rest of the story. Once I tell myself I will come back and rewrite the first chapter, I can barrel on, knowing I will rework the opening a couple of times later. :)

Dianna Shuford said...

Glynna- awesome post! I'm not ashamed to admit that I've seen all of those comments from judges too. Now I know I'm in good company!

Whenever I receive comments like this back from contest judges or critique partners I try to take an objective step back and try to find what will fix my problem. (Yes, the objective part is kind of hard to do sometimes.)

Usually, when I get the comments pointing out problems addressed/fixed, another set of comments are sent my way. LOL. The more I learn, the more I realize I have much more to go.

I would love to be included in the drawing for your books. Loved the last book of your that I read.

Myra Johnson said...

Wonderful tips, Glynna! And congratulations on the 3-book contract! Canyon Springs is such a lovely community to visit, and you've done a great job with the series!

Speaking of continuing series, those can make it really hard to get a first chapter off and running. When we (the author) already know all these recurring characters, it becomes tricky to introduce them to possibly new readers in a way that doesn't sound like backstory dump.

When I'm judging a contest entry, it's often pretty easy to tell when the submission is the second or third book in a series, just by the way secondary characters are brought in.

But each book really needs to stand on its own, because you never know whether your reader will have already read the previous book or not.

Renee (SteelerGirl83) said...

Hi Glynna! I have to admit I'm one of the readers who by the end of the first few chapters if I don't like a book I pretty much give up unless it's a book I have to read for a blog tour even then if I'm pressed for time and a book is boring me to tears I won't finish it. I'm also one of the readers who often wants to buy every book in the inspy section but my budget won't allow for it. I pick up the books I can't decide between and read the first few lines and sometimes *gasp* I'll even read the last few pages. Whichever book catches my interest, I buy!

I'd love to be entered to win your book. Thank you! :-)

Cara Lynn James said...

Too many characters in the beginning can turn off and confuse a reader. Also, unsympathetic characters always get bad comments.

Great tips, Glynna! The opening chapter is so important.

Melinda said...

Good morning Glynna. I want you to know that I love all your books. I love the great tips that you gave us today. I will sure be using them. You are one of my favorite authors.

Yes Please enter me into the drawing. It would be great to win all your books.

Take care,
Melinda

Natalie Monk said...

Some feedback I got was "the opening line seems cliche'd", "opening seems contrived" and "I didn't get a good grasp of who the heroine is."

So I tried to think "gripping, but not over-the-top." I checked out the heroine and all she did was sneeze, smile, and look curious. lol. The opening scene was a flashback that cut to a boring section of reality, so I scrapped it and fast forwarded to conflict within character interaction, not in hero's head. Still not sure it's where it's supposed to be, but maybe it's a little better.

Great stuff, Glynna! I'm bookmarking this page.

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Awesome post!!!

This is why Seekerville rocks.

I now wish I'd saved my first book's first chapter instead of burning it with gasoline/ putting it through the shredder/ pushing delete.

It was all of these things.

You're 'confused' comment made me think of a convo I just had with a lovely industry person. I was explaining a Southern women's fiction that was an Austen mash-up and had Civil War re-enactors....


Silence. "Well, glad you got THAT out of your system."

Hahahahaha! Yeah, sometimes our vision doesn't translate so well to teh page... or the 3 minutes phone conversation.

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Oh, and congratulations on that book deal!

I love hearing my favorite authors have deals because that means MORE FOR ME TO READ! :D

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Glynna,

Great post and I'm sure most can relate to those judges' comments!

I recently added a prologue to one of my stories because I needed to a) show the heroine's ordinary world and b) start with a bit more excitement and c) make the reader understand her motivation a bit better. I'm hoping the prologue did this.

Love to be in the drawing! And congrats on your new contract!!

Cheers,
Sue

Terri said...

Congrats on the new contract! I once had a contest judge tell me my heroine was so mean she'd kick a puppy. Ouch!

Terri said...

Oh and I definitely want in on the drawing!

Digging for Pearls said...

Great thoughts today. I learned a lot from my previous book to this one about how to write a gripping first chapter that reels the reader in. :)

Blessings,
Jodie Wolfe

Janet Kerr said...

Thank you for the great tips on the opening chapter.
I am interested in reading your books to see how you open each one.
Thank you for your generous draw.
Jan

Carol Moncado said...

"I don’t mean that you need to blow up a car, sweep through town with a tornado, or have someone pull a gun on your heroine."

That sounds like something Mary would do ;). Only it would be a wagon during a shootout with a tornado bearing down.

I recently received a rejection from a major publisher - a personalized one with nice comments to go with the 'no thanks'. And one of the good things she said is that I knew where to open the story. For whatever reason, this is something that it seems I do well. [Trust me - there's plenty of other things I need to work on, but it seems I generally know where to jump in at.]

But I've done all of those things at one point or another as I think about where to start it.

I already have the new book :D. Waiting to read all 6 at once [it's 6 in the series isn't it?].

And now back to edits...

Carol Moncado said...

We won't mention my first MSs where this is not the case, btw.

Plus - I missed the sneakiness. CONGRATS!!!!!!!!! on the contract!!!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Sue, in one of my unpublished mss. a publishing pro recommended I consider a prologue as a setup for the main story. Chapter 1 is very much in the heroine's "ordinary world" so a hint of things to come but not that much immediate excitement. The prologue hopefully adds some intrigue. I hope yours has the effect you're going for, too.

Janet Dean said...

Wonderful post, Glynna. Excellent points on hooking the reader. The most important reader is the targeted editor. Besides going to bookstores to read first chapters, I've suggested going to Amazon and looking at your targeted publisher's books and read the first chapter. At least LI puts the first chapters on Amazon.

Congratulations on your three book contract, Glynna!! To celebrate I brought the makings for rootbeer floats. Today is gorgeous, warm and sunny here. A perfect day for an ice cream treat.

Janet

Glynna Kaye said...

Hi, MISSY! Thanks for the congrats! I don't know if "sleepy" and "doesn't sparkle are the same thing or not. Whichever way, it wasn't GOOD! :)

Glynna Kaye said...

Good afternoon, ERICA! I imagine you write on proposal, too, so that's one thing that now keeps me from overwriting and rewriting and rewriting that first chapter before moving on to the next one. Can't waste any time, so just have to draw a line in the sand and say "no more for now!" :)

Glynna Kaye said...

DIANA -- When I'd get those "downers" it usually took me a good 24 hours (or a good night's sleep) before I could start to lucidly evaluate the comment to see how it might be addressed in my WIP. The beauty of writing is it's a never-ending journey of growth to improve our craft.

Glynna Kaye said...

HI, MYRA! I know what you mean about writing a series. I try to keep my secondary characters, well, secondary in my ongoing Canyon Springs books and focus primarily on the hero/heroine of the current book. I don't introduce everyone at the beginning and don't even have everyone from previous books put in an appearance. Occasionally there will be "cameo" or someone from a previous book mentioned in passing just so readers of previous books will get a sense of continuity and a warm & fuzzy reminder of an earlier book, but (hopefully) not laid on too thicks so a new reader would be lost.

Glynna Kaye said...

HEY, RENEE! Again you've confirmed how the opening of a story really makes a difference. People see the cover, flip it over to read the back blurb (which, some of you may not know, is usually NOT written by the author), then they turn to that first half-page and read. None of us have unlimited funds or time, so we have to make a choice. The opening that communicates to the reader "I want to what happens" goes to the checkout counter.

Glynna Kaye said...

HI, CARA! You're so right--so much depends on that opening chapter!

Glynna Kaye said...

HI, MELINDA!!! Good to see you here! I'm so glad you enjoy the Canyon Springs books! They've really been fun to write.

All -- Melinda's a fellow member of Northern Arizona RWA. We haven't gotten to meet yet as the town we meet in is quite a distance from both of us, but hopefully one of these days we'll both show up at the SAME meeting!

Glynna Kaye said...

NATALIE -- That cliche'd thing--I've gotten that one, too (thanks to my now-buddy Camy Tang! LOL!). it sounds as if you made some good modifications to your WIP!

Lyndee said...

HI Glynna! Another superior guide in crafting. Thanks so much!

For me it's the stuff that's in my head that doesn't make it to the page because, HEY, I KNOW what happens! LOL. That's something I have to constantly watch. By the time I've proofed my work, I have memorized the sentences! It drives me crazy, because I have a hard time stepping out of my writing to be an outsider reading it for the first time, even if I've laid the WIP aside for two weeks. Contest feedback has been a key for me.

Would love to own the Texas Twins series. And CONGRATS on the new three book contract. That rocks!

Glynna Kaye said...

VIRGINIA! I'm afraid I've kept my contest stuff if only to look back and see how far I've come. And, believe me, I've come a LONG way and am hoping five or ten years from now I can look back on what I'm writing at this time and know I've continued to improve. I DID get rid of some stories I wrote in high school and wish I'd kept them. I do still have an historical and a romantic suspense or two I wrote in college. They will remain in a dark corner of the garage for now, but who knows! Maybe one day I'll put them out and breathe new life into them!

Glynna Kaye said...

HI, SUSAN! I only tried writing a prologue once and failed miserably at it according to a contest judge. Sometimes a prologue is just what you need to hint at something that will happen later in the story or to set the stage for the opening.

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS FOR THE CONGRATS, TERI! Mean enough to kick a puppy! That's DEFINITELY a BIG OUCH! What did you do to redeem her in the revised version?

Glynna Kaye said...

JODIE -- I learn something new in every book, too. Sometimes, though, I have to remind myself of things I already learned. I think it's Mary Connealy who says when she sits down to write she prays "Help me to remember everything I know."

Glynna Kaye said...

GOOD AFTERNOON JANET K! If you're curious about how I've opened my books, go to Amazon.com and type in my name to bring up my books--you can click on the covers and it will bring up the opening chapter of each.

Glynna Kaye said...

CAROL -- that's a great compliment. Knowing where the story starts is something that's not intuitive for everyone. And thanks for the congrats! :)

Glynna Kaye said...

Thanks for the congrats, JANET D! That's a great idea to go to Amazon and read opening chapters of books by publishers you're interested in writing for!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS, LYNDEE! My editor has to sometimes remind me to PUT IT ON PAPER, too! :) It especially gets tricky when I already feel as if I HAVE put it on paper because it's in a 12-15 page synposis that I gave her. Then I realize written in a synopsis is the equivalent of just having it all in my head!

Glynna Kaye said...

I have to be out-of-pocket for awhile again! Will check back later!

Ganise said...

Great advice, Glynna!
Very helpful for an aspiring writer, like me, who's currently taking a creative class. It's always so hard when at first you think your work is good. Then the next day you just feel like forgeting about the whole thing. But then, ta-da, finally time to let (the teacher- in my case) read it...oh, the stress!

Bless you for this post, dear Glynna. And my congratulations on your contract!

A lovely evening to you all.

:-)

CatMom said...

Great post, Glynna--and one I KNOW I'll be re-reading. Congrats on your 3-book contract--how exciting! Hugs from Georgia (where we are having beautiful Autumn weather), Patti Jo

Jenny Blake said...

I have this book (Thanks to winning it at seekerville)
As a reader its interesting seeing the writing processes.
thanks.

Jenny Blake said...

ps congrats on the 3 book contract.

Jill Weatherholt said...

Wonderful post, Glynna! It's hard to believe you would have received any of the comments you listed ~ thank you for your honesty. I feel I can now relax and breath. Congratulations on your 3 book contract!

Jes said...

Great post! Congrats on your 3-book contract. :) I'd like to be entered in the drawing. Thanks!

Jes
jswaks at gmail dot com

Piper Huguley said...

Glynna,

Thanks for sharing from your contest pile. It makes the whole process less isolating and lonely. Congrats on the contract!

Piper

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the 3 book contract!
Interesting post....and yes, I would love to be in the drawing.
Thanks!!'

Jackie S.

Jamie Adams said...

Congratulations Glynna!

Nancy C said...

Glynna, what fantastic news! Happiness abounds.

Thank you for sharing the judges' comments ... and how to improve my writing :-)

Nancy C

Christina said...

I am so late to the party.
It's been a long, emotional day and now I'm packing for a trip tomorrow. Unrelated to the emotional day. I'm hoping I get to see the ocean.

Glynna, thank you for such a great post. I've gotten some of those comments as well as others. I think my favorite one was that my heroine was cliche because she had red, curly hair.

Y'all have a good birthday weekend. I'll try to get on while I'm away.

Glynna Kaye said...

Hmm. Blogger just ate my comment. I'll try again!

Thank you, GANISE for your congratulations! What kind of creative writing class are you taking? Short stories or do you get to work on your book-length one?

Glynna Kaye said...

Hi,PATTY JO! Thanks for the congrats! :) I'm jealous of your beautiful weather. It snowed on the mountains here a few weeks ago and snow flurries at the lower elevations. It will be getting down in the low 20's the next several nights, so I've covered up my geraniums and chrysanthemums in hopes of getting to keep them around another week or two! The aspens are still aquiver with brilliant yellow leaves, but the beautiful maples are stripped of the gorgeous red of last weekend. I guess winter is on its way!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS, JENNY!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANKS, JILL! Believe me, ALL of the Seekers have taken some "blows" in the contest realm, but we were determined to learn from it all and not give up. It really helped when we joined together in 2005 to provide encouragement, prayer support and feedback on each others work. Which is why we created Seekerville--because we know it's not easy and it can be a lonely and discouraging journey by yourself.

Glynna Kaye said...

THANK YOU, JES!

Glynna Kaye said...

HELLO, PIPER! Yes, working toward publication can be lonely and isolating. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be published today if it weren't for Seeker support!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANK YOU, JACKIE S!

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Glynna, I'm glad you kept going!!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANK YOU, JAMIE! I'm looking forward to spending more time in Canyon Springs!

Glynna Kaye said...

THANK YOU, NANCY C! I'll have to find time to dig out some more judges comments for a future post!

Glynna Kaye said...

CHRISTINA - Sounds like you had a rough day. I hope seeing the ocean helps make up for it. Nothing is more soothing than walking a beach barefooted. You'll have to fill us in on your trip when you return!

And red curly hair is a cliche? That's news to me!!!

Glynna Kaye said...

EVA MARIA - I'm glad I hung in there, too -- but there were times when it was REAL touch and go.

Glynna Kaye said...

Thanks everyone for celebrating my latest contract with me! It's always fun to share good news...and tomorrow it's back to my work in progress!

Audra Harders said...

WooHoo, Glynna!! Congrats on the 3 book contract! You're stories are wonderful escapes from the reality of life. And really, where better to escape to than the mountains of AZ??

Loved your points. Each of them has smacked me in the face, too. Pick up the pace, yet get inside the character's head while you establish the scene and setting...this writing books business is not for the faint of heart!

You've illustrated the pitfalls beautifully.

Ganise said...

Hi Glynna! It's more of a program actually. It introduces the students to the art of creative writing and the different types like poetry and all. It's not an English class - or rather a French one that is, (it's all in French)because they continually challenge us to write as if we were real authors. Hopefully my explanation helps you to understand...

Thanks again and Good night, all!

DebH said...

wow. lots of great information to refer to when i review my first chapter so hopefully i can avoid too many similar comments from judges or even CPs.

congrats on your contract, Glynna. i'm glad we can celebrate with you.

i've got one of the texas twins books (won it here @ seekerville) the others of the series are very much on my wish list. i really like the idea of the series.

Audra Harders said...

Ooops, make that YOUR stories, not you're...

That what happens when you let your fingers do the walking : )

Mary Preston said...

I do like to be drawn into a story from the very beginning. It makes the experience more memorable.

Count me in for the set of the Love Inspired “Texas Twins” series thank you.

marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Glynna Kaye said...

Hi, AUDRA! Thanks for the congrats! I love the Canyon Springs setting--but I doubt my poor beleaguered heroes and heroines would agree they've escaped the realities of life!!

Glynna Kaye said...

That sounds like a very intersting class, GANISE!

Glynna Kaye said...

Hello, DEB H! I think it's most fun to read the Texas Twins series in order. While I know the basics of what happens in each story, the authors didn't get the opportunity to read each others' books until they are released! So I'm awaiting Books #5 & 6! We weren't given a free set of the series, so I'm in line at Walmart to get each one just like the rest of the world!

authorkathyeberly said...

Thank you so much for your writing tips! They will be helpful as I continue to write. Yes, please enter me in the drawing!

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Mary P! You're an early bird this morning! I'm an early bird too--except east coasters don't know it because I'm THREE hours behind them!

Diane Kenyon said...

I know I'm supposed to start with a great hook, but how close to the actual inciting incident for the novel should this be?

LeAnne Bristow said...

Thank you, Glenna! The posts at Seekerville never fail to inspire me and yours was exactly what I needed. Please enter me in your contest as well.
Thank you!
LeAnne

Sarah said...

I would love to win,Enter me!!
Thanks for the giveaway!!
Sarah Richmond
sarahrichmond.12@gmail.com

Ginger said...

Thanks for the jump start. :)

Please enter me in the drawing.

ginger[dot]solomon[at]gmail[dot]com

Meghan Carver said...

Thanks for the great advice! Please enter me in the contest -- the books look terrific.

shelia hall said...

Would love to win the book set!

Debbie Maxwell Allen said...

Love your tips. Contest judges can sometimes be so harsh, or too easy.

~Debbie

Becky Doughty said...

Oh my goodness. I was blessed to win a critique by a big name agent and the agent said, almost verbatim, “I was confused. It wasn’t clear what the story is supposed to be about.” Are you sure you didn't read my critique????

Thanks for the tips - I'm really working on this area of my WIP right now.

I'd love to be entered into the drawing for your series, too - I've been wanting to read your Look-Alike Lawman since it came out!

Blessings,
Becky

Edwina said...

Glynna, Great tips!

Please enter me in the drawing!

Veronica Sternberg said...

I'd love to be entered in the drawing for the set of Texas Twins books! They look great!
shopgirl152nykiki(at)yahoo(dot)com