I’m having one-a-them days where I just can’t think of a thing to write. So I’m gonna cheat. This post is a *why I did it this way* post. I’m taking the first few paras of my last novel, Mercy Blade, and explaining why they were written the way they were, and what effect on the reader I was hoping for. I’ll put the explanations I add into the text in a different background color.
This is the third book in a series. The opening for book three in a first person POV series has to be a bit slower, do a hint of world building, and remind the reader of the where the character is now. It also has to introduce new readers to the character and story without spending ten pages explaining the previous books. I personally like to start the reader and character *in setting* and in media res. But in each book since number one, my editor has asked me to write something like this opening, and I end up adding a chapter to the front of the book. I totally see why it needs to be done, but I just can’t seem to do it. And, um, yeah, I’m 3/4ths of the way through book five and I know I’ll have to add a chapter. Gah.
With Mercy Blade, my editor came back and said, you open with a fight scene and I have no idea why. Here is what I want. Something slower that incorporates Jane and Rick.
Editorial criteria for the new opening: Jane and Rick were together in last book. Are they still? What is the nature of their current relationship? You show us the problems in the relationhip on page 143 and we need to see them right away as they are a major part of the book. Show us the setting in a way that reveals something about Jane. Show us the urgency of the opening conflict.
Chapter One Title: I Didn’t Know You Had a Brain
I write urban fantasy novels, which are a lot like thrillers in a paranormal world. Mine are a bit snarky, and I suggest this with my chapter titles. I title all of my chapters from a bit of text in that chapter. It’s become something my fans expect, and I take great joy in making the titles interesting and amusing. Chapter one’s title is very important and I waffled a lot on this one. There were three choices, and while I settled on this one, I could also have used either line from para four:
Overkill, Paranoid. Or, Stakes Twenty-four/seven Had Become My New Habit.
Should other writers do chapter titles? If it feels right. If it adds to the story and the reader’s experience. If not, then no. Used as a gimmick it just won’t work. It needs to be necessary to the reading experience. For me, it sets up the snark (and the tone of the book as well as the tone of the chapter) from page one.
I rolled over, taking most of the covers with me as I stretched. I felt like a big, satisfied cat—well fed, well loved, and nearly purring with contentment. Beside me, still snoring softly, was Rick LaFleur, my boyfriend—Crap. I had a boyfriend. I was still trying to get used to the idea. (I just broke a rule. For more on this see next week’s post. about rule breaking.) Jane Yellowrock is a loner, and she’s cagy about sharing her life with anyone. At the end of book 2 Jane rides off into the sunset (so to speak) with the new man in her life. My editor wanted the reader brought up to speed on what had happened since the end of book two, BloodCross, and to know how Jane felt about the changes in her life. That is hard to do without lots of telling, so I needed a *set-up scene*. I needed the reader to see that, though Jane is with Rick, she is still conflicted, as she is about everything in her life. I don’t write romance, so the relations between the lovers has to be just a little off. And, because with first person POV, we get to see inside the character’s head it’s easier to tell a bit more. We’d been together for over a month, when he wasn’t disappearing into the underbelly of New Orleans investigating—well, investigating something he had yet to share with me. Here is the start of the tension between them and the opening to the subplot (which later merges with the main plot). Their jobs pull them in different directions. Rick is a cop who is unable to share much about his life, and Jane works for someone the cops want to know more about, as we see in the next sentences and para. Or when I wasn’t tied up with vamp HQ security systems. The Master of the City had ordered a total upgrade of the grounds; I was earning my retainer.
Our jobs meant stealing moments when we could.
The relationship with Rick was still new. Still scary. I still wasn’t sure when to push the barriers of conversation, or sharing of info, and when to hold back. Rick is a cop, and so some things he can’t share; my job means keeping client secrets, so ditto on the not sharing. It puts a barrier between us at times. I just told the reader (not showed the reader) something important. I’ve found that there is a bit more telling in the openings of subsequent books in a series, just so I can bring the reader into (or back into) the story.
Worse, part of me was still fighting having him around. It wasn’t that I resisted commitment. Really. Part of me just resisted sharing my territory. Here I introduce the other soul how shares Jane’s body, which brings the conflicted part of her more clearly into focus. I mean, I already shared my body with another soul, and having another person around so much had seriously affected my lifestyle, stealing time from the other half of my dual nature. I hadn’t shifted into Beast in two weeks, and while she had nothing but good stuff to say about my sex life, my big-cat was pacing unhappily at not being allowed out to hunt.
I sat up on the side of the bed and retied my hip-length hair For new readers, I needed some description into a sloppy knot at the back of my head, tucking silver-tipped stakes into the makeshift bun. For a rogue-vamp killer, it was an action similar to a cop carrying his weapon with him to potty. Deliberate use of potty for voice and tone. If I had used john or toilet or water closet or any other word, it would have changed the tone and setting of the book and the voice of the character. My only other choice would have been bathroom, which is a tone-neutral word, and would have added nothing to the reader’s reactions. Overkill, paranoid, but once it had kept him alive, so it became habit. Stakes twenty-four/seven had become my new habit. The reader knows now that Jane is not comfortable with her life and thinks in terms of danger at every moment and in every possibility. They sense a cagy, worried, closed, emotionally distant, violent, conflicted woman, who is totally comfortable inside her own skin and inside her own mind, but who is less comfortable with other people and other beings. She is also one who faces danger often. If the reader is new to the series, my hope was that they would be pulled into the character. If they are fans, I have now caught them up.
Sometimes writing a book is a lot like building a wall. Instead of words and creation pouring out of you like water from a rock, it’s more like heavy work and sweat, placing words with a careful precision and deliberate purpose.
Hope you enjoyed seeing how I did an opening.