Thrill Me With a Blog!
When a book usually starts off bad, it usually continues in this 'eye-rolling' vein until the very end. Some of these books, at most, have a good plot, but the poor writing is to the extent that it drives the reader away, looking to find something more worthwhile to spend hours with.
I'm very blunt, as you can see, but try and stay with me. If you are an aspiring writer or an indie author who has published but your book isn't selling like you thought it would, please continue reading. I'm a fiction coach who has helped others, as well as a published author whose debut book has reached Amazon's top 100 paid bestsellers. I'm also an avid reader and book reviewer with a decent rank on Amazon.
What makes a poor book beginning? I will give you several taken from recent books I have purchased. Unfortunately, these books were written by indie authors. However, I have read some fantastic indie books which I have rated 4 and 5 stars!
Examples of a poor beginning:
1. Too much narration.
These are the books where the author feels they can't get to the storyline until they explain every little thing about the main or sub characters mentioned in a scene. Picture someone at an amusement park, will you? They've waded through the books to purchase, have stood in line or paid online to begin reading. Once they crack open your book, they want to be entertained by a thrilling ride. Imagine them buckled into the seat of a rollercoaster, and instead of the rollercoaster operator (the writer in this case) hitting the switch to shoot them forward into mind-boggling glee, the operator is on the loud speaker explaining what type of rails the coaster will be moving on, the scenery to pay attention to while they're traveling at g-force speed, who built the craft and how they felt when they built it.
Get to the action. I beg you. Explain things as you go along, and only if it needs explaining. If you're unsure if you need to explain something, remember that your readers are quite intelligent and have the ability to figure some things out for themselves.
2. Horrible Flow
FLOW is very important to each book. It should be smooth. While reading, your reader should glide like a fish in calm water. Have someone who reads often preview your story for feedback. An avid reader will tell you why your book is different from other books they've read. I listen to all of the people that offer me feedback on my novels. Feedback, at times, can be crucial and are very important. Not adhering to them may be the difference from a 2 star review and a 5.
Milieu is the physical background of the scene you are writing. Never start your book off with a character sitting in a room or a car or anywhere thinking of what happened in the past or the present day. The reader hasn't gotten to know your character long enough to care. It makes a slow and bad beginning and nine times out of ten, the reader will put your book down to begin on another with a more captivating start.
What makes a good book opening? Action, great dialogue and the type of flow where the readers feels from the first words that they are in for an interesting ride.
Poor Beginning Examples:
Peggy sat in a chair in the library with a cup of tea in her hand thinking about everything that happened the day before. (This lacks tension, excitement)
How can you make this better, you ask?
"If you don't get out of my face right goddamned now, I'll put my cigarette out on your cheek and scar that pretty face of yours!"
The teacup rattled in Peggy's hand as Vanessa's words slammed into her brain like a big rig colliding into a Ford Festiva.
Do you see the difference? Tension is key. The right flow is necessary. I'm giving small examples. If you need just a little more, contact me on my contact page. I provide one-on-one coaching all the time.
Another example of a poor beginning...
Jack stood at the dock. His dog, Fido, who he'd first gotten when Fido was 2 weeks old and haven't left his side since, stood when he saw the tall man approaching. Jack turned to the guy. He was very tall and looked familiar. Once he recognized him, he thought to himself that he would have rather ran into anyone else that early morning. (Too much narration which interrupts the flow)
How to make this better?
His dog, Killer, leapt on hind legs, baring teeth sharper than the devil's tongue, growling as Remo got way too close to his master.
Do I even need to add more? The difference is obvious. Flow wins over narration any time.
I love fiction. It is a fact that is unquestionable. The love of being introduced to new or sometimes familiar characters with interesting characteristics fascinates me. I love sharing in their plights, their fear and smile-inducing moments of triumph. I purchase approximately 30 – 50 books a year, and because of this, I subscribe to online book sellers so that I can conveniently see what books are being offered for the week at a discount.
Here’s something to ponder, and I thought worthy of a mention. As a reader, there are several things that will instantly cause me to reject a purchase, even if it’s free or reduced to $.99. Think of it this way; time is valuable. No one wants to commit 4-5 hours of leisure time (the average time to read a 400 page book) to something they conclude may be humdrum, mundane, stale or even irritating. The extra adjectives were used to cement my point. If I, an avid reader, avoid books that contain the following below, the possibility that other avid readers are also avoiding books for similar reasons is likely. This post is not to bash or put down authors and publishers. It’s an assist to those who are planning marketing ideas and want to avoid a possible loss of sales.
Here is my list of Look-Away-Don’t-Purchase or download for free instinctive guidelines.
The reuse of original titles of extraordinary books that many have loved UNLESS the original author has written it. This seems to be a sudden trend that I hope will quickly go away. Seeing titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird Again or Sixty-Two Shades of Grey isn’t appealing. As a reader (although I’m an author, I’m giving my reading preference point of view), seeing titles like these makes me think the author was unimaginative. If they’re unimaginative with the title, they may be unimaginative with the storyline as well. Why take the risk?
Book covers that are complex or hard to understand. In example, one of my subscription ads sent a promo for a reduced book. The cover made me squint and lean closer to my monitor, because I was confused as to what I was looking at. After heavily scrutinizing, I realized I was seeing talons on the lower half, parts of a pistol mid-center, and the left side of a man’s face at top. Sounds cool, right? The problem is, the entire cover was smeared with a red foreground with designs running through it, and the images were peeking through. Most readers like feeling some sort of connection to the cover and title. If not, readers usually move on, as once again, time is precious.
Book covers that are poorly put together and possibly made from any computer using simple programming, as well as contain overly used fonts such as Comic Sans or French Script. If the publisher/author didn’t care enough to clothe their novel with attractive skin, perhaps the care of its contents is equal. Is it edited? Did anyone bother proofing the plot? Why take the risk and spend money on this one?
Titles in contrast with the picture on the cover. If the title is, The McMillan Werewolves, why is a scantily clothed woman lying in an erotic position on top of a bed? Is this werewolf porn? Do I have time to read the blurb to find out what this book is about? Usually not. Let’s see what other books are discounted this week, which means I, and perhaps other readers, simply move on.
Too long titles that doesn’t seem appealing. Unless this title is listed on a bestsellers list and I want to know what all the hoopla is about, I usually keep my search going and avoid this one. However, if the title HAS appeal I’ll continue at least to check it out. For example, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has some appeal, in my opinion. It definitely captured my curiosity. Compare that title with Stealth: The Guyana Dilemma (The Joseph Taylor Chronicles) (Volume 1).
Poorly written blurbs with grammar issues and incorrect spelling. I haven’t seen this often, but enough times to make a mention.
Blurbs that read similar to recent bestsellers. I’ve read that story. No, thank you. I don’t wish to read a different version again at this time. As a reader, I’m looking for something original and ‘new.’
Pricing books can sometimes be difficult. Here is my rule of thumb. If I’m purchasing a novel from one of my favorite authors, price doesn’t matter. I’m so sure I’ll enjoy the novel; I’ll get it to add to my growing library to read now or even later. For unknown authors, I’m willing to spend $.99 per 100 pages. It doesn’t sound like much, but think of it this way. Paying $6.99 for a fiction novel that is less than 200 pages from an unknown author isn’t an investment I would like to make.
Novellas. Any fiction less than 300 pages I avoid. I will purchase $.99 flash fiction if the cover and blurb is appealing, but from authors I’m familiar with only. For example, New York Times Bestseller James Scott Bell has a flash fiction series that I love. Unknown authors I typically avoid, unfortunately.
Genres that hasn’t been established in the literary world yet. Most readers are creatures of habit. They know what they like and usually don’t deviate from it. The most common and bestselling fiction genres are (in no particular order) Crime/Detective, Fantasy, Historical, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Suspense/Thriller, Literary and Romance. Popular genres such as YA, Erotica, Westerns, Paranormal, etc., usually fall under one of the previously mentioned genres. For example, Paranormal is usually found under Horror or any of the others.
If you’re an aspiring author or currently planning your marketing strategies, perhaps these few points can help you.
Writing good subplots can turn your book from mediocre to a bestseller listed on the NY Times Bestseller’s list. Do you, as an indie author, want to be on this list? Do you think you can reach it by being included in an anthology sold for $.99 with a royalty split of $.35 between 7 other authors? What if YOU can generate this success with one book, YOUR book and earn the royalties that all authors are hoping for? One of the ways I believe you can achieve this is by adding a subplot so great, your name will be known all over the world.
Why a subplot?
I can answer that question
easily. We are all familiar with The Wizard of Oz. But before I get into that, let’s define the word subplot so that you know exactly what I’m talking about. Bing’s dictionary defines a subplot as, 1. story secondary to main story: a second
and less prominent story within a book, play, or movie. One of the most successful literary agents, Donald Maas, makes a reference in his NY Times Bestselling book, Writing the Breakout Novel, to a subplot as a way to add depth to secondary characters that
brings them to life. My definition of a subplot is quite simple. It is a secondary path in your storyline that, when the secondary path connects to the main plot’s path, will have the effects of fireworks on the 4th of July.
Let’s skip backwards to The Wizard of Oz. We’ll use this book, because there won’t be any fear of including spoilers. One of the subplots was Dorothy having to kill the wicked witch. As a reader, we knew that Dorothy was a sweet innocent child from Kansas who had been swept away by a tornado to the Land of Oz. There she faces the wicked witch who wants Dorothy’s red slippers. The wicked witch doesn’t care anything about Dorothy, especially how Dorothy is a nice girl with a genuinely good heart (taking the time to rescue three others from their own dilemma while she faced her own). All the witch wants are those slippers. She’s powerful, and mean, and has enslaved people. Not mean you say? She set the scarecrow on fire and has flying monkeys to do her bidding. How can a sweet girl from Kansas compete against that?
AND THIS IS WHERE THE PLOT THICKENS…
A subplot was added.
You know the story. Now think of seeing the movie or reading the same story without the subplot of Dorothy having to kill the witch. Would it have made good reading if the witch had met her demise from some strange accident or the good witch, Glenda, killing her instead of Dorothy? Not at all! Pitting your characters against an impossible task is a suspense builder. Never ever shy away from doing this. All great books have one thing in common: TENSION. Without sufficient tension your book will plummet to a status of mediocre.
Will Dorothy survive?
How can she kill the witch?
We know Dorothy is a good girl with no fighting skills. Her friends are a dog, a scarecrow made of straw, a tin man with no heart and a cowardly lion. The witch has evil, flying monkeys and great powers. Readers were likely wondering if Dorothy will be turned into a slave and forced to stay in Oz forever when all the reader wanted was for Dorothy to get back to her family in Kansas. Do you see the intensity this subplot delivered? It changed the entire dynamics of the book from being mediocre to one well known and made into a movie. Although I’m using a children’s book as an example, I’m sure you’re getting the idea.
A well written book make readers wonder if YOUR character will survive whatever they’re going through. So I implore you to put your characters through the ringer while inventing your plot. Why do you think the 50 Shades trilogy was as success as it was? It wasn’t just the kinky sex between Anastasia and Christian Grey that women were into, but the SUBPLOTS that explored why both characters were the way they were, which caused them to be so fascinated with each other and gave them the glue to build a relationship between two people who would have never come together without it.
Add depth by adding that intriguing subplot to advance your story into one that will be unforgettable.
This is only one example of how not to begin a novel, as there are many. If you are hoping to write the next bestseller, pay close attention!
Do NOT begin a novel with your main character's (or any character) view point of the world. Can I give an example? Sure I can!
Hailey believed everyone in the world was stupid...
Starting your novel off with a sentence similar to this, and following that sentence with reasons why Hailey believes what she believes is a sure way to lose a reader faster than prisons its prisoners through unguarded doors. Don't laugh at my reference to a prisoner. Trust me. That's exactly what a reader will feel like if forced to read through one or more pages of a main character’s thoughts, especially at the start of a novel. Why? Because your readers doesn't know your character well enough to care about what they're thinking.
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s not. I’m an author, avid reader and fiction coach. I have helped many writers advance in the craft of writing good fiction. We were all poor writers in the beginning, even the best of us, New York bestsellers included. As someone who has been reading and writing as long as I have, I want to help you by telling you something that may take years to learn on your own. Agents and publishers don’t have time to tell you why your manuscript was rejected. You may believe you have a story that the world wants to read. And guess what? I believe you. But first things first. Beginnings. You must know where to start that next bestseller.
Some writers believe they must explain on page one. Ditch this idea completely. Think of it this way. You have seconds to imprison a fan. Readers want to be sucked into YOUR fiction universe. They are standing there waiting to ride the Plot Rollercoaster, but instead you’ve decided to give them a tour of how the rollercoaster was made, the strong metal used to ensure safety, the reason the color was chosen, and anything else as a guarantee that they have chosen the right universe to experience for the duration of four hundred pages. But guess what? There are over one million universes all within hands reach. Does the reader want to waste time with a tour or will they simply hop to the next universe to see what it has to offer?
So you have that next bestseller, how do an unknown author start? Notice I said unknown, as this applies to writers trying to break into the market. Known authors with solid fan bases can start a novel how they choose, because their fans already know that they are in for a good ride despite how slow the first page is. Known authors are given the slow-start benefit, but unknown authors are not.
The answer is dialogue or action. If you started off with musing, cut it out and paste it in a separate document and save it for later to use as a reference. I suggest using whatever vital details you’ve included in the musing to be injected when needed as the story moves along. If you start off with dialogue, it must be gripping enough to force the reader to turn the next page. This is sometimes hard for a writer, as thinking up a good spoken sentence that will make a reader marry your book is hard to do. Action is simpler. Don’t over think action. Remember, a book is like a rollercoaster. As long as there is movement of some sort your reader will give YOU the benefit of the doubt. I have used the beginning of my novel, The Blood Feud, as an example of opening with action/movement.
It was the eleventh hour.
Three hours into a twelve-hour shift, ER Nurse Michaela Cosenza held up a syringe of Demerol toward the light at the same time she saw what appeared to be the naked buttocks of an elderly man fleeing fast across the room.
Something is happening! There’s movement. There’s life. Who is Nurse Cosenza? And better yet, who is the elderly man and why are his buttocks exposed?
Do you want to read more?
Notice that in two sentences, I have given you the time, a name and a location. The reader knows his rollercoaster ride in MY fiction universe begins in a hospital and something is about to happen. In two sentences I have challenged the reader to continue reading. How? My readers now have questions. People are curious by nature. They must know what it is they don’t understand. Why is someone fleeing in a hospital? People don’t run in hospitals. Why did the first sentence say it was the eleventh hour? Doesn’t the eleventh hour reference the latest time before something happens or is to occur? Guess what folks? In two sentences I have gotten readers to buy this five hundred page book. This is also what I want for you!
Here’s an example of a manuscript that starts off with musing.
Her day had not gone well. Not one cute guy came into the clinic. She didn’t like when that happened. On some days there were lots of hot guys who walked through the door. But today there was none. Just old people and crying babies. She’d had enough of old people and crying babies…
There’s a lot wrong with this opening and I will address them at another time. My only question to you is if you had six bucks to shell on an e-book, which example will you choose?
Starting off with musing when you’re an unknown author is the same as giving someone a life sentence to boredom. And what will the convict do with his time? Plot an escape to a fun and thrilling universe, where he/she will be titillated on every page. How do I know, you may ask? I have fans that don’t read thriller/suspense, yet they have purchased my books and are begging for more. Literally. Readers will read whatever it is you have to write about if it is written well enough. You want to write the next bestseller? Remember dialogue and action and leave musings for someone who doesn't care about book sales.
If you want to learn more about fiction writing (beginnings, middles and ends), contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy helping writers hone their craft.
Some writers use it, others avoid it. Emotions. Most women readers look for it, no matter how small. Men can do without it, as they prefer sentiment. As an author who writes from a woman's point of view, I embrace it. Regardless of 'fiction', it drives the story along, compelling readers to read more. A character's emotion during struggles lends that bite of reality, enduring readers to want the main character to triumph. "I feel your agony. You can make it through this life or death experience." Emotions. How much do you look for in fiction novels?