Writing the opening scene of your novel

The horse’s hooves thundered across the ground. Tosh dug his claws into the saddle as his back legs threatened to slip off. A firm hand pressed against his side, pulling him closer toward the young man behind him. Feeling safer, Tosh leaned out to see the terrain up ahead. He blinked his eyes in disbelief at what he saw.

You can’t be serious.

“We can make it,” Nolan said, speaking directly into his mind.

Tosh looked up at him, but Nolan wasn’t looking at the ravine. He was looking over his shoulder at the three men on horseback chasing them. Tosh caught a glimpse of a hefty man with a red beard leaning forward, urging his mount to run faster. He clearly was gaining on them. Tosh looked at the ravine before them.

It is too far for her to jump.

“Ah come on, Tosh. She’ll do just fine.”

Tosh sighed. Nolan rarely listened to any advice he gave him unless it coincided with something that Nolan already wanted to do. Knowing there was no way and no time to change the young man’s mind, Tosh curled up against him. He dug his claws deeper into the saddle and wrapped his tail protectively around his body. He felt Nolan lean forward as the mare’s hooves left the ground. He closed his eyes, counting the seconds until he felt the mare land on the other side. She stumbled slightly, and Tosh opened his eyes to see a small section of ground at the ravine’s edge fall.

CIMG1036And thus begins my short story, The Search. I started with an action scene to draw the reader in. And that is the point of the beginning of your story. You want the reader to be hooked and want to keep reading.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to start with this type of scene. And if you start with an action scene, the reader might be confused on what is happening. They don’t know who this character is and have not built any connection to them.

When I first started writing Summoned, I had trouble deciding where to begin the story. I ended up re-writing the beginning countless times. I originally started with Lina’s first view of the city and then later changed it to them arriving at the city’s gate. Finally, I moved it to her having a dream, something that plays an important role in the story. Here is the beginning of Summoned.

The young woman tossed in her bed, muttering softly. She rolled over, her long honey-colored hair covering her pale face. Her fingers dug into the mattress. She shook her head as she sank deeper into the dream.

The yellow light cut through the dark. Her eyes stayed focused on it as it flickered before her like a hundred candles dancing in a soft summer breeze, growing brighter as she neared. As she walked, her hands reached out, touching the smooth, cold stone wall. That alone should have warned Lina something was not right. Even as her mind called out that this was all wrong, she continued down the hall toward the light and toward whatever was calling her.

No one called out her name. No, the calling was unspoken but strong. The urge to respond to it consumed every part of her. She knew she must obey. What was calling her and why were unimportant to her now. All that mattered was she must go.

As she reached the end of the hall, Lina paused. The bright light hung above a curved stone staircase. She lifted her hand, shielding her eyes. She wished she could block out the light. And the calling. Then she saw the doorway to her right. Without thinking, she opened the door, slipping into the dark room. She heard low voices coming from the adjoining room. She tilted her head as she listened but the words were too soft to understand. She moved toward the room, pausing in the archway. What she saw next made her tremble with fear. Her hand flew to her mouth as the cloaked man before her turned. Suddenly, the floor trembled. The walls began to tumble and the floor collapsed beneath her. She saw her hair swirl around her as she fell. She opened her mouth, a scream on her lips, yet nothing came out. She pressed her eyes closed as she waited for the impact she knew was coming.

If I wanted to start with more of an action or suspense scene, I could have started with the gypsies kidnapping her which happens at the end of the first chapter, but I wanted a little more introduction of my main character. Of course starting with a dream is not the best way to begin a story unless you let the reader know right off that it is a dream. (Starting a novel in a dream without letting the reader know it was a dream is listed as one of the worst ways to begin a novel – but then again so are prologues which I used in each installment in my trilogy.)

There are many different ways to start a novel and many websites describing those ways. (My least favorite is having a long description of the scenery Endless description is #2 on the 7 worst ways to begin a novel – the link is above.) For 12 ways to start your novel, check out this website that illustrates those ways with the “100 Best Lines from Novels,” as chosen by the editors of the American Book Review. But the most important thing is your story must start with a strong opening scene that hooks the reader.

Liven up your blog post with photos

Nothing is more boring than opening a blog and seeing a bunch of black letters on a white background. People are attracted to nice-looking sites and having a picture or image (or two) to break up your copy improves not only the look of your site but can draw readers in.

So where do you find these photos or illustrations?

CIMG10361.) Take your own photos – The easiest place to get pictures is to take your own. This especially easy if you are writing about family-oriented topics such as kids, cooking, or crafts.

I have taken a few photos to accompany my blog posts – blurb on the back of a book, my kindle, my kids, our dog and even one of my dragon statues. And of course I always take pictures to accompany my recipes (featured the first Wednesday of each month).

2.) Find them on the internet – You can also search for royalty-free images on the internet to use. LEGAL NOTE – you need to use ROYALTY-FREE photos and illustrations or get permission to use the images before you use them to avoid copyright infringement. Always check the site you are downloading images from to see if there are any use restrictions, especially if you are using them on a commercial site.

There are so many places to get non-copyrighted images, there is no excuse for stealing someone’s copyrighted work.

One of the easiest websites to use is Flickr.  You can find millions of images on this site. To find ones available for your use, do an advanced search. Scroll down the page and select “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.” Be sure to review the guidelines before using any of the images as some are not for commercial use and some require attributing the image to the photographer.

You can also check out Stock.XCHNG which offers free stock photos if you create an account.

I have only once used this option and that was to add a picture of the San Antonio Riverwalk to one of my quotes.

twitter3.) Take a screen shot – Another way to get an image for your post if you are talking about perhaps your ranking or another personal website would be to take a screen shot (by pressing the “print screen” button on the upper-right part of your keyboard and then pasting that image into image-editing software and saving it as a jpg.) I did this with pricing your novel and my experience with KDP posts as well as a few others. (The one on the right was a cropped screen shot for a post on Twitter.)

Transportation 03544.) Use a clip art disc/subscribe to a clip art site – You can find a large collection of images and illustrations on such sites as Dreamstime, iStockphoto and BigStockphoto where you can buy credits or a subscription to download their images. I used a these sites to create my book trailer for Summoned but have never paid for images for my blog.

One of the cheapest ways to get thousands of images for your blog is to buy a royalty-free clip art disc. I have an older set of eight discs called ClickArt that has 1.5 million images. fightNow while some of the images are already outdated (this came out in 2008 but technology advances fast), I still find quite a few good images to use. The one above is from my Pantser vs. Plotter post and the one on the right is from a post on writing fight scenes. I also used it on writing your first draft, developing minor characters and many more but honestly there are too many other posts to list since this is where I get a majority of my images. bad reviewI even sometimes edit an image in Corel Draw to create an image to fit my needs as I did for the importance of book reviews and  handling bad reviews (shown to the left).

Too many photos and illustrations can slow down the load time of your page but adding these items can certainly make your blog more interesting.

Violent media and my kids

In the wake of the shooting last month in Connecticut, violence on TV, movies and video games is once again in the spotlight (though not as much as guns). I do not know if watching violence on TV and in the movies or playing shooting-style video games leads to violent behavior. But I do think that as a society, we have been desensitized to violence.

Often my husband will be flipping channels and stops to watch part of a movie or TV show. As soon as the kids come in, I have to remind him to look at how violent it is. It is amazing some of the things we accept as “normal.”

Now, I am not one of these parents who wants to shelter my kids from every little thing. Heck, there is even a lot of violence in cartoons designed for kids. My four-year-old daughter loves Batman, Justice League, Super Hero Squad and Phineas and Ferb. All those shows have violence. I think I would have to limit her to Max and Ruby, Doc McStuffins and Dora the Explorer to be violence free. Even Disney movies have violence and death in them. It sometimes is surprising how much violence is in a simple cartoon. But I recall watching Tom and Jerry as a child. Talk about violence.

My seven-year-old son loves the Clone Wars and has seen all six of the Star Wars movies. He also loves playing video games. It started out with Go Diego Go but then moved up to Star Wars Legos and from there he has already advanced to playing some games that I wish he had waited until he was older to begin playing. It was really my husband’s influence that got him interested in shooting games like Star Wars Battlefront and later Halo.

Halo-10

Scene from Halo video game for the XBox

Yes, he is playing games that are rated for teenagers. But before you say anything, just look at the local arcade or Chuck-E-Cheese and you will find many shooting-style games. They may be for the older kids, but I see many 4 and 5 year olds playing them and enjoying destroying the aliens.

Even with Jase watching these shows and playing these games, he is not a violent child. He does what I consider normal boy stuff, which does include pretending to shoot bad guys. Even the neighbor whose children rarely watch TV, don’t have cable and don’t allow their children on the internet pretend to shoot each other. I always took it to be something little boys – or even little girls – did. As a child we played cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians. There was always pretend shooting and even playing with cap guns. The lack of a toy gun hasn’t stopped my son and his friends. Their fingers work just as well but so does an empty paper towel roll or a stick.

We have had many discussions with both kids about how the stuff they see on TV and in the movies is not real. We have talked about how the video games are just that – games – and that you don’t do that in real life. We have talked about guns and how they are best left to police officers and the military to use, and that you never play with a real gun. In our society that is riddled with violent images, I think it is better to do that then try to ban them from ever seeing or experiencing those things because no matter how hard you try, they are going to see it somewhere. What better place to address it than at home.

Today’s Featured Author: Kerry Dwyer

Today I am pleased to have author Kerry Dwyer on my blog.

Interview

How did you come up with the title of your current release?

The title came before the book. I thought of it during our walking holiday in Ireland. It seemed logical to me. We were walking or rambling and I was rambling on to my husband about everything and nothing.  I saw the title as very relevant as the subjects are somewhat tangential. The Freudian use of the word ‘rambling’ means talking using free association which is a therapeutic technique. People in this type of therapy say whatever comes to their mind. That is exactly what I do in this book.

What was the most difficult thing to write in this book?

I started to write about accents and the way that they can separate or join us. It brought back memories from my childhood of moving from the North to the South of England. My accent isolated me from other children who laughed at my northern tones. As a young girl I quickly picked up the southern accent in order to be accepted into this new peer group. I worked hard to do this very quickly. This new southern accent then separated me from my cousins and other family in the North of England. I don’t think I had thought about how painful that time was before I started writing about it. I made light of it in the book but it was a difficult thing to write about for me.

Have you started your next project?

Yes I have. It is a very different book. The working title is ‘The Book Exchange’. It is a fictional book based around an English book club in France. I regularly attend such a club and found the idea of people coming together and sharing small snippets of their lives, some of them quite intimate, intriguing. The book is still in the early stages but has grown considerably from first conception. I wrote the first fifty thousand words for NaNoWriMo in 2011, the word count has almost doubled but I think some of that will have to come out in editing.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

For Ramblings In Ireland I just started writing. The story was already there. I had the holiday as the basis and I knew pretty much what I wanted the end product to look like.

For The Book Exchange I planned it. I have the time line on a white board and I have also drawn a rough sketch map of the area where the characters live. The time line helps me to see gaps where there is nothing happening and I know I need to put something new in. It also helps me to relate one characters activities to another’s, to the season and to what is happening in the background. The map is a visual aid when I am moving characters from one place to another. I would like to include the map at the beginning of the book but it will have to be drawn much more professionally than my rough sketch.

Do you write full time?

Sadly no, although I would love to. That is one of the things that I find the most difficult, finding the time to write.  I have a full time job and I also have my family. Writing has to be fitted around those two important commitments. My family are not very demanding but I like to spend as much time as I can with them especially at weekends. I write when I can which is mainly in the morning when the house is quiet and before I start work. Although I also have time at the end of the day I find that I am too distracted by my day to concentrate on writing very much.

What is the worst thing about being a writer?

For me the worst thing is marketing. This is because I am an independent author. Authors published by big companies have a lot of resources to push their books forward. I read some advice recently on the internet about promoting books. It gave as an example The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Publicity included poster campaigns, a publicity day with jugglers and Tarot card readers and a circus tent, the list went on. Well that is great when you have the backing of a publishing house. Most independent authors need to do it themselves on a limited budget primarily through social networking channels. That is not what I want to be doing with my limited free time.

Marketing does have its positive side. I have found that guest posts and interviews on blogs are fun and allow some creativity and certainly interaction. I have met some lovely people through blogs and I am in regular contact with many of them. I like to read blogs and interviews or guest posts with authors. They give insights into their lives and you can see if you enjoy the writing style and will engage with their work. If I am interested in an author I will look for articles they have written. It is so much better to do this than to watch all the ‘Buy my book’ posts on Twitter.

Is there a place you like to write?

When the weather is warm and dry I like to sit out on my terrace with my laptop. My garden is quiet and there are a number of birds that come to feed. Whilst they can be distracting they give me something to focus on that can help inspire. The other place I like to write is on a train. On long journeys, and provided there are not too many noisy people, I can get quite a lot written on a train as the world swishes by.

What book are you reading right now?

I rarely read one book at a time. My mother gave me ‘Why be Happy When you Could be Normal?’ by Jeanette Winterson. It is quite tragic but also darkly humorous. I enjoyed her book ‘Oranges are not the only Fruit’ the author has a gift for weaving humour into the most tragic of stories. Last week whilst waiting for a delayed flight I bought a book by Donna Leon called Drawing Conclusions. I enjoy these detective novels set in Venice particularly for the descriptions of Venetian life. This is the first one I have bought as I got the others from the English book exchange.  I am also about two thirds of the way though Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I thought this would be about the Seymours but so far it is mainly about Thomas Cromwell and a lot about politics of the time. I have enjoyed Mantel’s books in the past but I am not getting on very well with this, I am finding it heavy going and finishing it has become a bit of a challenge.

Book Description

Ramblings in Ireland - Kerry Dwyer‘Ramblings in Ireland’ – a memoir of sorts.

This is not a book about rambling in Ireland.

It tells the tale of one particular walking trip and the memories and musings it inspired.

Exploring the West of Ireland is a time for meditation, spiritual reflection and strengthening the bonds of life. More practically the ability to read a map might have proved helpful. The tourist office in Ireland has all their paths clearly marked. You can’t go wrong if you follow that little yellow man. Or can you?

As British ex-patriate Kerry Dwyer leads Bertrand, her trusting French husband, astray once more, they reminisce and reflect upon accents and accidents, family and friends, love and what it means to be alive. Bertrand doesn’t mind getting lost – he loves Kerry all the more for going off the beaten track.

This is a book about ramblings in Ireland. Walk with Kerry and Bertrand and follow where your thoughts lead you.

Author Bio kerry dwyer

Kerry Dwyer is a writer and teacher of English as a foreign language. She was born in the north of England and educated in the south. She has lived in various parts of the UK and worked throughout Europe. She now lives with her family in Charente Maritime in the southwest of France.

You can find out more about Kerry on her website. Or you can follow her on Twitter or check her out on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Ramblings in Ireland is available from Amazon or in any e-book format at Smashwords.