1 Simple Equation to Help You Start a Scene

by Beth K. Vogt, @bethvogt

When you unpack a novel, it is nothing more – and nothing less – than a series of scenes strung together in the proper order: action, reaction, action, reaction, and repeat for 95 thousand words or so. Voila! You have a novel, which you then rewrite.

You didn’t think I’d skip the rewriting part, did you?

But it all begins with a scene.

Which begs the question: How do you begin a scene?

A few weeks ago, a writing friend and I were discussing a scene she was writing. We’d tossed it back and forth for several days, always coming back to the same question: How could she write the scene stronger?

I considered a variety of techniques I use to prep my scenes. But then I throttled back on my advice and emailed her a basic writer’s equation to help her clear away the clutter in her scene:

POV Character’s Main Emotion + POV Character’s Thought = Scene Opening

POV Character’s Main Emotion:
It’s vital to know the main emotion of your scene. If you don’t laser in on one key emotion, then your POV character will wander around from discouragement to anger to sadness. If your POV character wanders emotionally, then guess who else gets lost? Your readers. Oftentimes when I judge contest entries, I’ve seen writers overload a scene with too many emotions rather than choosing one main emotion for their POV character. Prep your scene by selecting one main emotion and then weave that emotion through the scene using dialogue and action – think action tags/body language – and Storyworld.

POV Character’s Thought:
You figured out what your POV character is feeling, now ask yourself: When this scene opens, what is my POV character thinking?Before I begin writing a single word of my story, I’ve done the work to know who my character is by developing their Dark Moment Story, their Wound, their Lie, their Fear.I know how my character thinks. Now I sit back and imagine my POV character in this specific scene.I think like my character. Sometimes I go with the first thought that pops into my head. Sometimes I mull for a while before I settle on a sentence or two that accurately represents my POV character’s thoughts.

Here are three examples of how I’ve opened my novels using POV Character’s Main Emotion + POV Character’s Thought:

  • Thousands—even millions—of women had routine choose-a-church, select-a-dress, plan-a-reception kinds of weddings. For some unknown reason, she was not one of those women. (THOUGHT)Vanessa scanned the brochures spread out across the scarred top of her mission-style coffee table, her plate of Chinese beef and broccoli shoved to one corner. (Emotion: Anxiety) Crazy Little Thing Called Love
  • She never should have said yes.(THOUGHT) Allison smoothed the bodice of the wedding dress, the fitted lace sleeves clinging to her arms. Waves of material billowed out from her waist, threatening to overwhelm her like a silken tsunami. (Emotion: Regret)Wish You Were Here
  • What exactly was she celebrating?(THOUGHT) The question haunted Kendall all day long. It was her birthday—she ought to be able to answer it. (Emotion: Disappointment)Catch a Falling Star

While there are more elements that go into constructing a compelling scene, remembering this simple equation is a good starting point for any writer:

POV Character’s Main Emotion + POV Character’s Thought = Scene Opening

Figure out what your POV character is feeling and what they are thinking when your scene opens. Write a sentence or two based on those two factors and then continue from there, weaving the main emotion throughout the rest of the scene.

What would the scene starter equation look like for the scene you’re writing?

Almost Like Being in Love
She’s won a luxurious dream wedding—now all she needs is the groom!

Winning an all-expenses paid Colorado destination wedding might seem like a dream come true for some people—but Caron Hollister and her boyfriend Alex Madison aren’t even engaged. How is she supposed to tell him that she’s won their wedding and honeymoon when he hasn’t asked her to marry him? And while everyone says they’re perfect for each other, how strong is a relationship when it’s built around protecting secrets?

Realtor Kade Webster’s business savvy just secured his company’s participation in the Springs Tour of Homes. He never imagined he would run into Caron Hollister—the woman who broke his heart—right when Webster Select Realty is taking off. When Kade learns his home stager won’t be able to help with the Tour of Homes, he vaults past all the reasons he should avoid Caron, and offers her a temporary job helping him on the project. This time, their relationship is purely business—Realtor to Realtor.

Spending time with Kade again has Caron questioning who she is and what she wants. The man intrigues her—at times infuriates her—and reminds her of what she walked away from. Has she been settling for what everyone expects of her? How can Caron say “I do” to one man when she’s wondering “what if?” about another?

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Now Beth believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” Beth’s first women’s fiction novel for Tyndale House Publishers, Things I Never Told You, releases May 2018. Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner, a 2016 ACFW Carol Award winner, and a 2015 RITA® finalist. Her 2014 novel, Somebody Like You, was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. A November Bride was part of the Year of Wedding Series by Zondervan. Having authored nine contemporary romance novels or novellas, Beth believes there’s more to happily-ever-after than the fairy tales tell us. An established magazine writer and former editor of the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth blogs for Novel Rocket and The Write Conversation and also enjoys speaking to writers group and mentoring other writers. She lives in Colorado with her husband Rob, who has adjusted to discussing the lives of imaginary people, and their youngest daughter, Christa, who loves to play volleyball and enjoys writing her own stories. Connect with Beth at bethvogt.com.

Four things I Learned from a Writing Retreat

By Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first writing retreat. For those of you who aren’t sure what that is exactly, it’s a chance to get away with other writers for a short period of time and simply write without the concerns of home and job.

But it’s more than that. During my week at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I learned so much, it was almost like a mini writing conference! Here are four things I learned from my retreat:

  • 1 – Be Prepared

One of the great things about a writing retreat is actually getting to write! No dirty clothes calling to you from the laundry room, no boss peeking over your shoulder wondering what you’re doing. You just get to write!

But if you don’t know what you’re going to work on, you can waste valuable time. Before each of us left home, we’d each made our goals for the week and set our writing schedule. Some of us planned to get down as many words as possible, some did edits while still others needed to brainstorm scenes. The great thing about planning is we could lay out our goals to each other. For a week, we had live-in accountability partners to cheer and encourage when needed!

Being prepared also means bring those things that make your writing day easier. Need your office chair to be comfortable? Throw it in the back of your SUV! Can’t write without your favorite coffee cup? Pack it in your suitcase! This week is about getting down words, and if you need your Keurig to do that, then do it!

  • 2 – Be Ready to Learn

I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m the world’s most unorganized writer. It’s not unusual to find little piles of books, articles and notebooks laying around our family room on end tables or the floor. The worst part is digging through material takes away from the time I could be blogging or marketing my books.

When I noticed that one of my housemates had a whiz-bang way of organizing her materials, I asked if she could show me more. For the next hour, she walked me through her system, even sending me templates to use that would make my writing go faster. Just a week later, I can tell a huge difference!

But that wasn’t the only thing I learned. Because we had such a wide variety of experience in our group, we shared about writing programs (I’m finally sold on Scrivener! And OneNote—WOW!) and marketing tools that work over dinner or during a break in writing. And because we were together for a week, we could get together one-on-one and talk about what works and doesn’t work, be it in our stories or our writing world, then brainstorm ideas to fix the problem.

  • 3- Be Aware of Other’s Writing Styles

We had two distant groups in our house—the early morning crowd and those who wrote late into the night. The early morning group was generally up by seven and at their computers by eight. It wasn’t unusual that these guys were half-way through their word count by the time the night owls came out of their rooms.

Same thing goes for the night crew. There were many nights I’d peek out of my room to find one of the girls working out in the living room. These differences are reminders of how uniquely and wonderfully made we are. Be respectful of these differences and remember—just because someone goes to bed at nine doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It just means they’ve got to be up at seven to go to work!

  • 4 – Be Open-minded to New Ideas

One of the things I loved about the retreat was the location itself. The Outer Banks plays a part in the next book I’m writing so I had the chance to visit various areas where scenes might take place. But the more I learned about its rich history(did you know there’s a British cemetery there?)the more I found myself brainstorming ideas for other books that could be set there.

So get out and explore for a little while each day. Visit the nearby towns and villages. Talk to the locals. Tell them you’re a writer. You’ll be surprised what you might learn or who might be interested in helping you. I met a lovely lady who owned a small independent bookstore in a village not far from where we stayed who offered to host a book signing for me. A local historian gave me a list of names of people who might be helpful with the research on my next book. Put yourself out there. If you don’t feel comfortable going on your own, see if one of your housemates will go with you. Just think of all the brainstorming you can do in the car on your way!

By the end of the week, everyone had signed up for next year’s retreat. We’d worked, made friends, even been silly at times(ask me about the Russian in the Sound.)I’d barely pulled out of the driveway before I was looking forward to next October!

Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands Romance Collection

Seven women seek husbands to help them rebuild a Kansas town.

Meet seven of Turtle Springs, Kansas’, finest women who are determined to revive their small town after the War Between the States took most of its men. . .and didn’t return them. The ladies decide to advertise for husbands and devise a plan for weeding out the riff raff. But how can they make the best practical choices when their hearts cry out to be loved?

Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will
be available in July on Amazon.

Are You Ready To Publish?

The world of publishing is changing. And you know this unless you just awoke from a long 10 year nap.

There are more options available to writers today than ever before. 
The e-publishing entrepreneurs have changed the way we see book publishing. 
Writers around the world rejoice. Authors with no platform, or with a stack of rejections can publish their books on their own.
Long time authors holding rights revisions can now do something affordable and effective to revitalize their out-of-print books.
And the publishers can do the same. There’s new life to backlists. I recently had a four year old title, The Wedding Dress, hit the New York Times Bestseller list.
If you’re not published yet, traditionally or independently, you have all kinds of options. But you must ask yourself, “Am I ready?”
Just because you can be published doesn’t mean you should be published.
I know, I know, it’s so hard to wait when you’ve been working on a book for months or perhaps years. 
You’ve edited that thing to death and your crit partners have read ad nauseam and refuse to read it “one more time.” 
You are ready to get your book out there. After all, you love your story. It’s your baby. But traditional publishers have failed to see it’s merits. So, you sneak over to Amazon’s CreateSpace and think, “Hmm.. I could just publish it myself.”
I love your entrepreneurial thinking. Going outside the box and finding a way to tell your story is key to being a great author. 
I did something similar back in ’02 when I sold my little romance, This Time, to an e-publisher. No one had ever heard of a Nook or Kindle back then but I thought, “Even if one person reads it and enjoys it, one person outside my circle of friends, then it’s worth it.” 
While it’s a sweet story, it’s not my best writing. It was only the second book I’d ever written. I’ve learned so much since then.
There are more things to consider about writing than “being published.” Or that the publishers just don’t “get” or like your story.
Publishers have to consider their market. They must give something to the sales team that they can pitch to a bookseller in a few short minutes. If that.
Publishers have to consider their own business goals and brands. Your story might be fantastic in every way but not a product that fits the vision and goals of a publisher. 
There are times I’m not sure I can come up with a high concept, pitchable story idea that will fire-up a sales team. So I consult with my writing partner, my agent, my editor and on occasion, my dog. She’s a good listener.
For every indie success story such as J. A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking there are a hundred Noname Jones and WhoAreYou Smith with books languishing in e-publishing la-la land.
Indie books, above all books, it could be argued, need to be a cut above. Why? Because the competition to be seen is incredible. 
If you are considering independent publishing, or even going with a small publishing house, consider these things:
  1. Rewrite your book. Serious. Don’t just edit and “fix.” Rewrite. Books need to be crafted. And they are not written, they are rewritten. Fork out the money for a substantive edit. Then for a line edit. What’s the difference? A substantive edit is also called a macro edit. It’s a wide review of the story and characters from a trained eye to see if all the components work. You need more than advance readers in order to craft a good story. Readers often don’t have a critical eye. They overlook inconsistencies. They don’t understand craft. A skilled editor can help with characterization, plot, symbols and metaphors. But again, a macro edit is a sweeping, top-down view of your story.  I once worked with a private client who’d been through many professional “editors.” While they helped her with grammar and perhaps some minor elements of the story, they provided no services to her with story crafting. Her story and premise were riddled with holes. So find someone to help you craft your book. 
  2. Hire a good line editor. Also called a micro editor. I love line editors. They really get into the “weeds” of the story. They focus on sentences and words where a substantive editor focuses on scenes, chapters, story and characters. Line editors can really help shore up a story and fine tune minute details.
  3. Hire a good cover artist. Unless you’re a skilled artist, don’t try to do the cover yourself.   I hate when I see a poor quality cover on an indie book. It makes me not want to read it. There are a lot of skilled artist who will create a cover for a reasonable price. Also, research components of a good cover. Writers usually want way too much detail. But covers are really visual concepts of what the story is about. Covers should convey a feeling. It’s true, books are judged by the cover.
  4. Pricing. The free verses cheap debate. Should authors give their work away for free? Aren’t we worthy to be paid for our labor? But free often gets the consumer’s attention. But so does cheap. Latest news I’ve heard is $.99 and $1.99 are fair and solid prices for new indie authors. But do your research. 
  5. Build your tribe and social media platforms. Build relationships with other writers, with readers, with publishers. Be a friend. Be a fan. Be a supporter. Talk about others as much as you talk about yourself. I know when readers or other writers shout out to their social media venues about my books, I’m more than happy to do it for them in return. If I like a book, I post about it. I write a good review. Get involved in the writing community. Networking is the key to just about everything. Publishing, especially indie publishing, is no exception.
  6. Set aside at least $1,000 to $3,000 for promotion. You just have to do it. Network with indie authors who have experience with promotion. Consider Book Bub and other indie promotional sites.
  7. Pray. Be patient. Trust the Lord’s timing is perfect for you.
I hope these help to help. Remember, no book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble is better than a bad book. 🙂


New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Rachel Hauck lives in sunny central Florida.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in uncomfortable chair to write full time eight years ago.
Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, a conference speaker and worship leader.
Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Here latest novel, The Wedding Chapel landed on Booklist’s Top Ten Inspirationals for 2015.
Visit her web site: www.rachelhauck.com.

Crafting The First Line of Your Novel

By Rachel Hauck

There are times we don’t want to craft a novel. We just want to write one and be done with it.

But those books are closet books no one wants to buy or read. Those are the books that draw rejection slips. 

Books are crafted. They have to be thought out, at some level, and orchestrated to some glorious, perfect end.

Books must be a continual flow of the story with daring obstacles that knock the protagonist off course, that challenge is resolve to get to the bottom of the story problem.

In the midst of the story there are overarching themes and questions. The infamous “story question” is the rudder to you vessel.

Will the heroine achieve her dream to star on stage and screen?

Can true love last through the decades? Or will it fade away?

Can one wedding dress be worn by four women and never fade, wear out or need to be altered?

There are other questions I ask as I’m writing:

What can the protagonist do in the end she couldn’t do in the beginning? 

What does she want? 

What is this book about? 

Why? I ask “Why?” a lot. When ever I make a declarative statement I follow with a why to get to the deeper meaning.

But all of these MUST be asked and answered in some form to really craft the best possible opening line.

The opening line must indicate some truth, problem or question about the story. It must set the hook, draw the reader into the story.

Far too often I read opening lines that are merely a physical action to begin the opening scene. 

“Judy waved to her neighbor as she walked into the house.” 

Okay… unless she’s in garden wars with the neighbor and the next line is, “She dreamed of haunting that woman on a dark and stormy night,” waving to the neighbor isn’t all that engaging.

It doesn’t draw me into the question, the emotion of the story.

Let’s look at Judy in the midst of a yard war with her neighbor.

“Judy waved to that crazy Linda as she made her way inside the house. If that woman stepped one foot in her yard this gardening season, she’d haunt her like a ghost.”

Now we get a sense that something has gone on between the two women. And frankly, I’m a bit intrigued. What’s going on? 

Opening lines must set the emotion and feel for our books. 

From Conversations with a Book Therapist, Susan May Warren offers this advice:

A Voice. I don’t love starting with Dialogue, because we don’t know who is talking, but sometimes it can be effective in first person.
For example, “Call me Ishmael.” (Moby Dick), or maybe something from contemporary literature, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into if, if you want to know the truth.” (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger).
This works because we are immediately introduced to the character and get into their head. Ultimately, we are wooed by their personality.
Rachel Here: I’m not a fan of opening in dialog either, but I opened Once Upon A Prince with, “What did you say?” because I felt like it drew the reader in to the same question as the heroine. “Yea, what did you say?”

Author great Gabriel Garcia Marquez said this about the first line:

“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph.. in the first paragraph, you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be.”  Gabriel Garcia Marquez…1992 Nobel Prize for Literature (100 years of solitude).  Sold over 10 million copies.

Persona. Start your story with the description of someone iconic. Someone that stands out in our minds.
“There once was a boy name Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis.)
RH: Isn’t that a great line?!
Or, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell).
Note that both these voices are omniscient, but you could build a strong character introduction through the voice of a POV character.
Consider the opening to John Irving’s, A Prayer for Owen Meany. “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God.”
If the character will have a profound impact on your story or your POV character, perhaps start with a snapshot of that character.
Reminiscing.  Many coming of age stories start with a step into the past, some statement that sums up where the character finds themselves today.
Susie did this in Everything’s Coming up Josey. “It’s important to acknowledge that Chase was right and if it weren’t for him I might have never found my answers.”
Basically, it’s a summary of the past, spoken from the present. And the rest of the book is about proving or revealing the impact of this reminiscence.
Here’s one from The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. “In my younger and my more vulnerable years my father gave some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
A Statement. I like to start stories with a sort of starting place. A statement of opinion or fear or hope.
Jane Austen does this in Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
When you make a statement, you are setting up the story question in a novel. You’ll spend the rest of the book making a comment about or proving your statement.
 I did this in How To Catch A Prince. My opening line, “With each passing day, she remembered she had a secret,” set the stage for a huge secret the heroine harbored in her heart.
Secrets always draw us in, don’t they? What is the secret! We want to know. 
In Princess Ever After, my opening line was a statement and it indicated exactly what I wanted the reader to know about my heroine at the beginning of the story:
“She’d found bliss. Perhaps even true love. Behind the wheel of a ’71 Dodge Challenger restored to slant-6 perfection.”
This line says my heroine wants for nothing. She’s found her passion, her life’s goal. Why would she need anything else. Why would she want to go anywhere else? 
Well, the story is about challenging that very same opening line!
Let your opening line set the tone of your book. It should grab hold of the theme, the want, the story question in some way. 
Change up the way you do it now.
Instead, open with what they are thinking, feeling, experiencing. 
I’ve bought books based on the opening line. And rarely am I disappointed. 

Here are a few first lines from some award winning authors:

“She’d come 3000 miles to burn to death.” by Susan May Warren
Susie says, “I like this because we are immediately worried, but also, wonder what she’s doing there.  It makes the reader want more.” From Where There’s Smoke—out in June. 
“Gabe Talmadge felt the backside of his navel rubbing against his spine. An interesting sensation, he thought before losing consciousness.” by Robin Lee Hatcher.
Robin says, “I think it works because the reader knows in a few words that Gabe is in desperate circumstances. I love it for that same reason.” From The Shepherd’s Voice (winner of the RITA Award) 
“The Kansas sky matched Piper Kendall’s mood—gray and stormy.” by Deborah Raney.
Deb says, “We learn where the story is set, what the day is like, how the character feels, and I think we also learn a little about her just by hearing her unusual name.” From a work in progress, Going Once, Going Twice.

“Annabelle Grayson McCutchens stared at the dying man beside her and wished, as she had the day she married him, that she loved her husband more.” by Tamera Alexander.
Tammy says, “It encapsulates the heroine’s dire circumstance and her most urgent regret in that moment.” From her novel Revealed.

“When it comes to burning bridges, I am the Queen of Kerosene.” by Julie Lessman
Julie says, “I like it because I think it’s somewhat funny and pretty much sets the tone for the rest the book as far as being a story about forgiveness.” From Isle of Hope

“There was a time in Africa the people could fly.” by Sue Monk Kidd 
Great opening—sparks interest and makes you want to read on to see how the author answers that unspoken question. From Invention of Wings.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
—George Orwell, 1984

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
—Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. —Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)


New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Rachel Hauck lives in sunny central Florida.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in uncomfortable chair to write full time eight years ago.
Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, a conference speaker and worship leader.
Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Here latest novel, The Wedding Chapel landed on Booklist’s Top Ten Inspirationals for 2015.
Visit her web site: www.rachelhauck.com.