New Beginnings


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.

Mercy Blade
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.




16 comments to New Beginnings

  • This is wonderful. I think every writer should be required to do this with his or her most recent book — kind of like a random drug test. Too much writing happens without forethought, without purpose, and thus without direction. Words matter; actions matter. Putting stuff in to fill the pages is not good enough. I love this breakdown of Jane’s thoughts, and your thinking behind them. Terrific stuff, Faith.

  • mudepoz

    I enjoy it when you dissect your story and explain the whys and wherefores. Howevah! “I don’t write romance,”

    Yeah. Right. Might not be LABELED as sech, but there is plenty o’ Romance.

    Mud *Toddles off for more good drugs*

  • Unicorn

    Thanks for the very interesting post, Faith. Every word is there for a reason. I really need to focus on making each word count, I tend to write such terribly bloated stories.

  • Interesting stuff, Faith, and further evidence that God is, indeed, in detail.

  • I was not ignoring the site today, I promise. We lost Internet this morning and only got it restored just now. Dang squirrels ate through the line. This is what happens when the hawks have plenty of water and nest higher up in the neighborhood instead of in the back near the creek. We have pests that do not feed the raptors.

    David, thank you. Breaking down ones work is a good exercise and a way to see what is really needed in a scene and what is not. For instance, in the short description of Jane, I didn’t say how tall she was, what color her eyes were, or anything else except that she has very long hair. It was enough for here and all the other stuff can be put in elsewhere. This avoids an info dump that slows the pace.

  • Mud, you have a point. There is a lot of romance, but nost of it unsatisfied. Makes the romance readers grind their teeth. Hope your back gets better quickly and you can get off the meds!

    Unicorn, there is nothing wrong with bloated stories at this point in your carrer. The fact that you *know* they are bloated is excellent. It means that your brain is ready to start writing (or maybe rewriting?) leaner. Why not take scene (a thousand words or so) and start cutting. Just to see what happens to your voice and the tone of the story. It’s a great exercise.

  • Thanks, AJ. And of course the thing is in print now, yet I can see how I’d change and cut and make it even leaner. Sigh…

  • Love it. And I think David had the right idea: I propose we get a bunch of these posted by MW writers and see what different folks are thinking as they construct their openings (which, as everyone knows, is so vital to the pieces overall success).

  • Edmund, I love the idea! I think I’ll put openiigns for the next several weeks.

    Now —
    I apologize for not being on MW very much today.
    I had a catastrophic PC failure at 4:28 p.m..
    I now own a new PC. My brilliant IT director brother saved my files. I should be back up and running tomorrow.
    I do have to go back to the PC store — they left out the freaking (proprietary) electric cord.

  • A few days ago we were looking at “rules” and breaking them. Faith, your book opens with the MC waking up.
    As you said though, this is book 3 so you need to remind everyone of Jane’s life up to this point. But, did you get any feedback to make the opening more actiony or more telly (as if they are two polar opposites).

  • This is great! I love reading these explanations, dissecting the mechanics and subtly teaching this technique. Thanks, Faith.

  • *Where you are doing the dissecting, explaining, and teaching. Sorry, crazy morning. Coffee still seeping in. Why they scheduled W. Bush and Clinton to talk at an economic summit at the same hotel as my writing conference, I still can’t entirely fathom.

  • John, I HATE *waking up* openings! The origianl opening was an action scene with a werewolf attack in a biker bar. That became chapter 2. Editor wanted a slower building opening. Her idea not mine! I think that to *sell* a book or series to an *editor* you need an all action opening. To sell book 3 or better to fans, you need a slower opening. We writers need different type of opanings for different purposes, and an acceptance that the editors might ask for something different later on.

  • You are welcome, Laura. Sorry to take so long to get back. Still no PC.
    Yeah, back to store this morning. I paid for plug and go and have lost 24 hours of usage. I’ll have a PC later today.
    Then the hot water heater died.
    Then the cable went out.
    Then my electric toothbrush died.
    I am death to everything today.

  • ashmorelj

    I literally just began this book a few days ago, so this post was timely! I hope it won’t matter too much that I haven’t read the earlier books in the series yet. And I agree with your editor- if you’d begun this book in the biker bar, I’d have been less interested, mostly because while I love kick-ass heroines, I like getting to know them before the hot and heavy action. (Wait, that came out wrong…)

    I’ve been lurking in this blog for months now and you’re one of my favorite contributors- it’s the main reason I finally picked up your book. OK, it was the wrong one, but still… *g* Thanks so much for thoughtful posts like these. I’m an aspiring urban fantasy writer and this is one of my favorite sites.