Monday, September 29, 2014

Open Your Book with a BANG

with guest Laura Scott.

Good morning Seekerville! Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and hang out for a while. I hope you're ready to have fun today as we talk about writing good romantic suspense by starting your book with a BANG. 

Literally. A Bang! As in guns, bombs, tear gas, bad guys with get my drift.

Tina James, my fabulous editor from the Love Inspired Suspense line, has apparently been using my newest book, Down To The Wire (SWAT: Top Cops - Love In The Line of Duty) as an example of how to start off suspense books in a way that sends the hero and heroine right into danger and action.  Who knew? 

So when Tina Radcliffe graciously offered me a spot here to party and celebrate with all of you, I was honored. And then came the moment of panic when I thought, what am I going to talk about? All of you wonderful readers and writers in Seekerville know everything there is to know about reading and writing good books already, don't you? 

Of course you do. You are an amazing and super talented group of people! 

But since I'm here, and you're pretty much stuck with me, I figured I'd talk about the one of the few things I supposedly do fairly well. And that is starting my books with danger and action. Immediately pulling the hero and heroine into danger and forcing them to work together to get away safe.

How many times have we heard from readers, "I read the first few pages and lost interest and never picked up the book again."

Too many. We are far from the days of starting our stories with, "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Take a few minutes to think about your suspense plot and your characters. How do your hero and heroine first meet? How can you get them into the heart of danger right away? In my first book in the SWAT series, Wrongly Accused I open the story with my poor hero who was picking up his daughter from her foster mother after being released from jail where he'd been sitting for over a year after being wrongly accused of murdering his wife. All Caleb wants to do is to pick up the pieces of his life and to start over. 

But five-year-old Kaitlin is afraid of her father and drops her stuffed giraffe "Griffy" to wrap her arms around Noelle's neck. When Caleb bends down to pick it up, a bullet hits the doorframe where his head had been.

Instantly he barrels into the house, pulling Noelle and Kaitlin with him away from the door and to the back of the house for safety. 

This all happens within the first three pages. And from there, Caleb and Noelle are on the run with Caleb's daughter trying to stay one step ahead of the killer.

In Down To The Wire, my second SWAT book, my hero Declan is the SWAT team expert at diffusing bombs. As I thought of ways to start this story, I decided to plant the bomb under the schoolteacher's desk. And Tess, my heroine who is the teacher, is trapped there until Declan can get her free. Declan believes Tess is a personal target and when a second bomb goes off a short time later, the two of them are forced to work together to find the bomber.

Take a few minutes to think about your suspense plot. What is the threat or danger? Is there any way to plug your characters into danger right from the beginning? If so, see if you can find a way to put your character's first meeting right in the center of that danger. Using short sentences can really help set up a fast pace.

In addition to danger, there also has to be tension and conflict between your hero and heroine. That conflict needs to be in the forefront of their minds as they are thrust together by danger. In Wrongly Accused, Noelle doesn't know for sure that Kaitlin's father is truly innocent of the crime he was originally arrested for. But she's also not willing to leave Kaitlin alone with her father, either. Noelle is forced to accept help from one dangerous man to avoid a separate danger. All of this helps grab the reader and bring them along, into the story.

Once you have your dangerous situation figured out, then take a few minutes to think about your characters conflicts. Do they know each other? Or are they complete strangers? Do they trust each other? All of these facets of your characters can help create tension which will again draw the reader into the story. 

Starting books isn't easy (although I confess, it's my favorite part). There's always the tendency to set the scene a bit, or to give some history of our characters. Because we know them and love them so well. We've all been told to avoid too much backstory especially in the opening pages. However, we are expected to weave in a bit of the backstory, enough so that the reader knows and understands what's going on. And if you can find a way to create a dangerous situation, right at the beginning of the story while weaving in the core of their conflict, you'll have a winner. 

 I challenge each of you, okay maybe at least the ones writing suspense, to think of a way to get the hero and heroine together and in danger right from the beginning of the story. It's really not as hard as you might think.

I hope this talk about guns and bombs didn't put anyone off their breakfast, lunch or dinner.  As many of you know, I'm a nurse by day and an author by night, so nothing puts me off food for long. 

I'm happy to give away two copies of Down To The Wire today. (Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.)  

And thanks so much for having me! I've enjoyed being here very much.


Who placed the bomb under schoolteacher Tess Collins's classroom desk—and why? There's only one man who can save Tess—SWAT cop Declan Shaw. Her survival depends on him defusing the bomb and protecting her from an unknown enemy. He can't afford to be distracted by the alluring beauty who was his onetime high school crush. But keeping her safe soon becomes more than just a job for the highly trained explosives expert. And it'll take all his professional skills to catch the madman targeting Tess before it's too late.

SWAT: TOP COPS—Love in the line of duty

Laura Scott is honored to write for the Love Inspired Suspense line, where a reader can find a heartwarming journey of faith amid the thrilling danger. She lives with her husband of twenty-five years and has two children, a daughter and a son, who are both in college. She works as a critical-care nurse during the day at a large level-one trauma center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and spends her spare time writing romance. Visit Laura at


Marianne Barkman said...

I enjoyed having you here. You're novels are amazing. I would love to win!

Helen Gray said...

Thank you, Laura, for your tips.

Coffee's brewing for morning.

Now I'm going to bed. And I may sleep all day tomorrow to make up for the sleeping I DID NOT do this weekend.

Helen Gray said...

Thank you, Laura, for your tips.

Coffee's brewing for morning.

Now I'm going to bed. And I may sleep all day tomorrow to make up for the sleeping I DID NOT do this weekend.

Suzie Johnson said...

Wonderful tips, Laura. Thank you!

Cindy W. said...

Hi Laura! Thank you for the great post and tips! I love suspense and I love it when it pulls me in at the very beginning.

I would love a copy of your book.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Kav said...

Blissful sigh...there's nothing like a Love Inspired Suspense book to get your heart thumping overtime -- especially in the first chapter. Love when they start out with a bang like yours do.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I love those sizzling starts!!!! Adrenalin pumping, what comes next blast-offs!!!!

Laura, thank you for being here today! I am so impressed with your advice and I love that Tina James is touting those openings as the way to go because boy that draws the reader in from the get-go.

Good for you!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Helen, you tired and wonderful soul, thank you for the coffee!!!!

Laura Scott said...

Wow, so many early birds this morning! So glad to see you all here. I have liberally doused my coffee with French Vanilla (my favorite) and am ready to face the world. Let me know if you have any questions! Thanks.

Jackie said...

Laura, thanks for the great tips. I'll definitely keep these in mind as I edit my WIP and start my next story.

Thanks so much!

Helen, I definitely need the caffeine.

Have a great day everybody!

Cara Lynn James said...

Thanks for the coffee, Helen. I've turned mine into a cappuchino. It's a great way to start the day.

Welcome to Seekerville, Laura! I love the way romantic suspense stories start because they draw me right in. I don't like to read novels that start slowly. It's too easy to lose interest.

Laura Scott said...

Sleep well, Helen!

Glad to see so many suspense writers here. Again, let me know if you have any other questions.

And I'm happy to share my French Vanilla creamer, too!

Jeanne T said...

Laura, I love your tips. And I think you can apply them to some extent even to non-suspense books. Making sure we have a beginning with tension and fitting action is still important. :)

Thanks for sharing your suggestions!

Vince said...

Hi Laura:

In Oklahoma we say SWAT.

Start With A Tornado.

Have the cop trying to disarm the bomb with a tornado bearing down on them. Up the ante! The stress has sent the heroine's blood sugar up to 600 and she needs insulin fast but the insulin is in her purse which is on top of the bomb. Danger: the bomb is a fake! The real bomb is in the plant on the heroine’s desk! Then the power goes out. The hero sees a light coming from the plant. Which bomb does he work on? Will the tornado kill them first? Will she die of shock anyway?

Here’s my question: it seems easy to pantser a great SWAT opening but how do you get out of it?

Are you a plotter?

Next: do you have any SWAT experience? Have how gone on an exercise? Have you gone to the Writer’s Police Academy?

I’d love to read your story about the man who has a daughter who is afraid of him because he may have killed her mother. That’s a powerful theme for a non-suspense romance. I can just see the heroine discovering even more planted evidence that he is guilty as the black moment begins.

BTW: I’ve read a LI where the story did open with a tornado and Mary Nealy has a book that opens with the bomb actually going off! But what do you do after that? How do you get them back on the farm when they’re seen ‘Gay Paree’?

Even if you are a pantser, do you plan the steps ahead in how you are going to always be upping the conflict as the story progresses to the HEA?

Please enter me for a copy of your book. I’ll be in suspense until the WE! : )


Janet Dean said...

Laura, welcome to Seekerville! Always fun to see you, whether in person or online. I'm impressed that you handle a tension packed job as a critical care nurse and still have the energy to write your wonderful stories!

Congrats on Tina James using your book as example of starting a suspense story with a bang! Even if we don't write suspense, we need to hook readers immediately. Thanks for the excellent post.


Amy C said...

What a fab post, Laura! Congrats on the release. :)

Myra Johnson said...

Laura, it's great to have you in Seekerville today! I think you and Mary Connealy must have studied the same books about starting with a bang!

But I agree--nothing draws me into a book faster than a solidly written action scene. Lengthy passages of description and setup? Not so much.

Tina Radcliffe said...

WELCOME to Seekerville, Laura. I am a huge Laura Scott suspense fan.

You manage to hook the reader in and never let them go.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I refer every new suspense writer to Laura's books because she does it so well.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Seriously, Helen. I went to bed at 7 pm last night. I slept very little at conference as well.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Welcome to the waking world, conferees!!!!!


(Umm, the rest o' youse: Ix-nay on the alk-tay about ocolate-chay.


Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Laura and welcome to Seekerville. Great post on the opening line because it is super important.

Thanks for joining us today.

Have fun. Hope all the Seekers are awake and recovered from St. Louis. smile

Jennifer Smith said...

Just reading about how you started these two books captivates me. :) I'd love to be in the drawing!

Lyndee H said...

HI Laura,
Your post is so timely for me. About half way through the first draft of my current WIP I wrote a scene that not only had the hearts of my hero and heroine pounding, but mine, too. That's when I knew that it was the opening and shouldn't be buried 30,000 words in. Thanks for your tips!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Don't you just hate when that happens, Lyndee.

But I like revising more than writing. LOL.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wake up little conference attendees. Time to greet the world.

Anna Weaver Hurtt said...

Thank you for visiting us today, Laura! I write romantic suspense also, so this is a very helpful post. Thanks for sharing!

Tina Radcliffe said...

The ACFW First Impressions contest is coming.

Get ready all you rom suspense authors.

DebH said...

hi Laura
this post is very helpful to me as I am working (slowly :( ) through editing a suspense MS. along with the editor feedback, your post helps the lightbulb pop on in the darkness of my creative mind. THANKS!!!! so helpful!!!!

i'm always up for winning books, so please put my name in the draw.

Laura Scott said...

Hi Vince, I love your SWAT tornado example too funny! Yes, I did talk to a SWAT officer to get some details, easy for me since they are on our hospital campus when they're not doing SWAT stuff.

And you do need to find a way to get yourself out of the mess you've started with, and that does mean plotting ahead of time. I sell on proposal so I have a pretty lengthy synopsis that I turn in. Not that I always stick to it, but it's a big picture framework of the suspense plot, the romance and the faith journey. Thanks for stopping by!

Laura Scott said...

Hi Lyndee, I really hate when that happens, but you can still probably use some of those other scenes, just reorder them. :)

So glad I could help!

Laura Scott said...

Tina, MEGA CONGRATS on your ACFW win! I'm so happy for you.

Raising a glass of grapejuice in a toast!

Laura Scott said...

Hi Debbie H, so glad I could help spur your creative juices. I love brainstorming sessions and that's how I always start when it comes to a new suspense idea.

Thanks for stopping by!

Laura Scott said...

Wow, so thrilled to have so many of my esteemed LI authors stopping by! Waving madly at each of you! Thanks for posting...

Laura Scott said...

Thrilled to see so many reader/writer comments to be in the book drawing. Thanks so much for stopping in for a visit.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I love revising.... it always brings a new depth to the story that I can miss the first (second, third, fourth) time through.

I'm not even kidding.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Deb H., I got that same feeling. A light bulb AHA!!! moment.

Lyndee H said...

Tina, yeah, I am stumped revising and would rather write! That's why I'm taking the (Official commercial)

Oct 1-31 class -


Back to regularly scheduled
posting... ;)

Terri said...

Laura - I LOVED book one in this series. I'm eager to read book two. You definitely know how to keep the suspense strong. Can you tutor me?��

ACFW was a blast. But I'm a little confused, were we supposed to sleep while we were there? I just kept piling on more makeup!

I loved seeing everyone and hate that I missed so many who were there. I have lovely pictures of several Seekers.

Congrats to Tina on her fabulous Carol win!

Next year in Dallas- I can't wait!

Terri said...

Yeah, Piper!

Tina Radcliffe said...

LOL, Terri. I felt the same way. Some days I didn't know if I was coming or going.

So if you look at the conference pix, on Thursday I look good and refreshed. By Saturday night I am a bit zoned out.

Wilani Wahl said...

Laura, I will be adding your name to my list of Love Inspired authors I want to buy. Alas I don't have enough money to buy every Love Inspired book so try to keep to a list of the authors I have read and enjoy. You sound like the kind of author I love.

Please enter my name for drawing.

Recently I was only going to read the first chapter of a book because I had too much needing to be done. Well, before I knew it I had read 5 chapters and it was difficult to put the book down and get my work done.

Have a good day everyone. I am hoping to have a productive week.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Go Wilani!

Let's let that ACFW momentum get us going!

Meghan Carver said...

I remember Declan from Wrongly Accused. I'm glad to see he has his own book!

Starting with a bang has been a bit of a challenge for me, but the more I read and the more I work on it in my own writing, the more I enjoy it. Thank you for this great post, Laura!

Laura Scott said...

Thanks so much, Terri!

Laura Scott said...

What Tina said about the ACFW First Impressions contest is true, I have judged in the past and it's a great way to hook the reader and grab the attention of an agent or editor!

Laura Scott said...

Thanks for posting, Wilhani! I'm always wishing I could read more, too. My husband probably doesn't know how much I spend on books, LOL.

Laura Scott said...

Sounds like I missed a great conference, sob! Terri and Tina thanks for all the kind words on my books. You're both very sweet!

Laura Scott said...

Myra, obviously I need to read Mary Connolly's books, thanks for the kind words.

Laura Scott said...

Hi Meghan, yes Declan does deserve his own story, and I'm actually working on another three SWAT books. On deadline, book 4 is due on November 1st.

Thanks for dropping by!

Chill N said...

Fun that an editor uses your writing as an example for other writers!

I marvel at suspense writers -- don't know how you do it, but I'm glad you do.

Aside: love the name Declan :-)

Nancy C

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thanks, Laura. Great advice!

Congrats Tina! I cheered when your name was called out and then sat in awe as you approached the dais with such grace. Yippeeee!!!

Sorry didn't get to spend more time with Seekerdom in St Louis, but aches wouldn't let me play much this year. Hope to make it up here. :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

One of our very own Seekervillian's Mary Curry just sold to Love Inspired Suspense, BTW.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I love the very cool series names for the various Love Inspired Suspense, SWAT: TOP COPS and Seekerville's Debby Giusti's MILITARY INVESTIGATIONS.

The LIS line really is diversified!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Anita Mae! You are so kind.

Grace? Wow, I guess all those years of my mom yelling, STAND UP STRAIGHT. DON'T SLOUCH, really paid off.

For the record I was really not graceful. I was TERRIFIED. ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

And there's a suspense continuity, isn't there? Where the background suspense follows through stories????

I'm not sure how you do that when it was tricky enough to keep all my ducks in a row on a regular continuity, but boy, was it fun!

Still, a suspense continuity is like old-time serials and I loved them!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Lots of those LI authors stopping by are Seekers.

Of the 13 Seekers 8 are Harlequin LI or Heartson authors.

We love us some Love Inspired/HS.

Missy Tippens said...

Trying again to comment. My Internet is sketchy today and driving me crazy!

Welcome, Laura! I loved your openings. Makes me want to try my hand at suspense! :)

Valri said...

Laura, I think I've read most, if not all, of your books! They are fantastic! Thanks for your post today!

Laura Scott said...

Thanks Valri! You're too kind!

Laura Scott said...

Ruthy, writing a suspense continuity must be really difficult. I did a mini one with my linked book Identity Crisis and Twin Peril. The suspense started in the first book and didn't get completely resolved till the next book. Two was hard enough, can't imagine more!
Thanks for stopping by!

Connie Queen said...

I had worked on a story for the Killer Voices contest that was about a father wrongly accused of killing his wife and the heroine works at a daycare. (My hero got wasn't convicted by most believe he'd killed her.) Then I bought Wrongly Accused and thought, "So that's how I should've written it!"

Several similarities except yours was so much better.

I'm not sure I cut out for writing suspense. I always go back to my historical westerns.

Thanks for the post. Makes complete sense. And please toss my name into the hat to win your book.

Laura Scott said...

Hi Connie, obviously great minds think alike! I couldn't imagine writing a historical so if that's what you keep coming back to, then that's what you should be writing. Follow your heart!

Thanks for stopping by.

Debby Giusti said...

So great to have you as a Seekerville guest today. Sorry I'm arriving late. I've spent most of the day catching up after ACFW! :)

Loved your post on starting with a BANG! That inciting incident is important, no matter the genre, but especially so with suspense.

Call me twisted, but I like to open with a dead body! :)

Congrats on all your success! Don't know how you write so many great books AND work full-time at such a demanding job! You inspire me, Laura!

Hugs and love!

Debby Giusti said...

So fun seeing all my ACFW buds leaving comments today. Wasn't it a great conference? Loved being with all of you!!!

Also loved, loved, loved watching Tina accept her well-deserved CAROL AWARD!!!

Such a special moment!

Congrats to Melissa Jaegers! Another Carol winner!!!

Waving to Jeanne T, who won the Frazier Award!!!

Candee Fick won the Genesis! Yay, Candee!!!

Kristi Hunter won the Carol!!! Yay!

Who else am I forgetting?

Congrats to all the winners.

Sandy Smith said...

Enjoyed your post, Laura. I don't write suspense, but I think there is a lot here that can apply to any writing.

I would love to know what your writing schedule is with a full time job, and such a demanding one at that. As someone who also has a day job, I am always trying to make it work.

Your books sound so good. Please enter me into the drawing.

Laura Scott said...

Hi Debby, great to see you! I started one book with a dead body, but maybe it's time to think about that again. Hmm. Gives me ideas. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Laura Scott said...

Hi Sandy, I wish I could tell you great things about my writing schedule but the horrible truth is I don't have a life. :(

I am a fast writer, so that helps, and plotting ahead of time helps, but I try to do a chapter on Saturday and a chapter on Sunday. Sometimes I only get one chapter done on a weekend, but I work that wiggle room into my contract. Luckily I have a fantastically supportive husband!


Donna said...

Thanks Laura! Your post spurred an idea for conflict in the middle of my story.
I'm definitely going to add these two to my to be read list!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Kristi Ann Hunter won the Genesis.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Sara Ella won a Genesis too.

Mary Preston said...

This does sound like such an exciting read.

Edwina said...

Great information, Laura. Thanks for sharing! Your books sound awesome - would love to read one!

Eliza Watson said...

Yep, you always start with a bang. Great books and thanks for sharing!

Julie Lessman said...

WOW, LAURA ... you DO know how to open with a bang, girl -- my pulse rate accelerated just reading your description!!

Sorry I'm late getting over here, but it was definitely worth the wait -- EXCELLENT points, each and every one, so THANK YOU!!


Debby Giusti said...

You're so right, Tina! Kristi's book doesn't come out until next, as you mentioned, she won the Genesis!

Yay to all the winners!

Alexa Verde said...

Great post, Laura! Thank you for the tips. And I love your books!

Mary Curry said...

I'm really late commenting here, but I wanted to chime in. Laura, I love your books. I recently recommended them to a friend as great books to study for suspense!

Frances Cavallo said...

The books all look great! I would love to win but Good luck to everyone!!!

Carolyn Chambers Clark said...

I'd love to win! Your novel sounds thrilling.