Picking up from four weeks ago, I have a new post on the top things you should know about your own book. It is simple stuff, but if your WIP is missing that vital something, that special element that sets it apart from other unpublished books on the market (or hopefully someday on the bookstore shelves) perhaps you’ll spot it here. The better we know our books, the more likely they will interest an agent or editor, and the better they will interest the reading public. Knowing our books better can make us more confident writers, and take us to the next level in our writing. And if we discover that we can’t answer a question or two, that is an area of weakness that we can address now, before an agent sees our baby.
09. Where does your story begin?
Most wannabee writers forget that the story begins the moment the conflict appears on the page. This opening of conflict needs to be fresh and new. Often a first novelist will open the story in a well-used (over used) device. Perhaps with the main character on the couch or in bed and the phone rings or the doorbell rings, bringing with it bad news and the introduction of the conflict. At which point the story starts. Or the opening is an info dump that tells the readers the information the writer thinks his audience needs to understand his book, instead of giving the bare minimum (which is wiser) and letting the readers discover that same stuff on their own, bit by bit, through the narrative and the unfolding story. Of course, not every book can have the story begin on the very first page, but in today’s market, that is the best way to actually interest an agent or editor in the book. It’s part of the hook that can grab your reader and help your book walk off the shelves.
BTW, Misty talked most recently about conflict here: Conflict
08. How do you intend to maintain the tension throughout the story?
Story arc and the flow of conflict and plot are taught all the time, but while I’m actually writing, I usually just remember two things: a. something new has to happen, or the character has to discover something new, and react to that new thing, every ten pages. Ten pages is about as long as the average reader can maintain interest in a story without the need for the new. Next time you find yourself suddenly disinterested in a book, stop and count back the pages to the last interesting that happened. Betcha it’s around ten pages. So when we study story arcs, we need to remember the ten page rule of thumb. J And b. The character has to care what happens or the reader won’t care. The character needs to want something important that is perpetually denied him, something to fight for, that he achieves (hopefully) by the end of the book.
07. What stands in the way of your protagonist?
See para above. Your protag wants something that is denied him or her. To create conflict and maintain tension (again see above), he needs to be denied that by the developing plotline.
Okay. Now I’m going to be honest. I hate this stuff. I am the kind of person who learns by example, so I’m going to answer the above questions from one of my own books by way of example.
Jane Yellowrock, book one, Skinwalker. And yes, there are spoilers.
Where does your story begin? Page one, when Jane, who kills rogue-vampires for a living, rides into New Orleans on her Harley to see a lady about a job, except the lady is a vamp and a pretty boy makes a pass at her the moment Jane steps from her bike. In this opening, I set up the main character (rogue-vamp killer), the conflict (hunt, down and kill a rogue-vamp who has begun to kill the local citizens, local cops, and turned on the vamps themselves for sustenance), two of the most important secondary characters, the vamp Katie and the pretty boy undercover cop, Rick LaFleur. I introduce on page one the genre and subgenre: urban fantasy. Page one gives the reader a lot, and by page five, the main character is in danger.
How do you intend to maintain the tension throughout the story? Jane has to learn new things just to stay alive: things about the vampires she has hunted but never understood, things about herself that that she had lost in a traumatic amnesia, and how to track a thinking, sentient being, when she has previously only hunted and killed mindless revenants. Something interesting happens every ten pages or so. Jane has to build new relationships along the way, frankly, something at which she sucks. And she has to (gets to) discover herself and her past, things she lost long ago.
What stands in the way of your protagonist? Jane has a steep learning curve, about her new job, her new bosses, her new city (New Orleans) and herself. The creature she chases is smarter and faster than she is, and he’s psycho crazy too, with a brain that no longer functions as it should, but is warped by the magics he uses. And when she finally traps him and kills him, that act robs her of a deeply needed, lost, personal history. It is a bitter sweet ending, leaving Jane with more problems than she started. But really, isn’t that the way of life?