A Novel’s Critical First Page

by DiAnn Mills, @diannmills

A novel’s first page is critical to the success of a successful novel. Here the writer must hook the reader into the story:

  1. Establish genre
  2. Introduce a sympathetic character.
  3. Initiate a bond between the protagonist and the reader.
  4. Build a setting.
  5. Create a story disturbance

 

  1. A Strong Hook

Statistics show a reader makes a decision to purchase a book by the end of the first page. I’m worse! I choose to invest time and energy into reading a book in the first paragraph, and sometimes the first line.

The opening hook or first line of a novel plunges the reader into the story world by creating a curiosity or posing a question. Every story needs an alluring first sentence to entice the reader to continue on. The hook is the writer’s invitation to the reader to begin an exciting journey.

“Come join me in this adventure.”

The writer issues a subtle promise to readers that every word will be as powerful as the opening line. Writers spend hours delivering on their commitment. Our opening hooks establish the essence of our story and are designed to affect reader emotions.

I like what Donald New love says about opening sentences in his book Painted Paragraphs. “It is about the white-hot opening whose glow speaks for a story’s greatest strength: its spirit.”

The above quote inspires me to return repeatedly to my opening line.

  1. Genre

Establish the novel’s genre in the beginning: contemporary, historical, romance, suspense, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, western, young adult, or any of the other genres. Romance is often paired with other story types. The book cover and title often depict the type of story, but it’s the writer’s responsibility to establish genre in the beginning.

Are you starting a new book?

Hooks cover ssml

Get the mini e-book on how to hook your reader with the first line!

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
  1. A Unique and Sympathetic Hero or Heroine

Writers choose how to characterize their protagonists and antagonists in a variety of ways that suit the writer’s personality. Whatever method is used, the result is a character who lives in the reader’s heart long after the story is over. Spend time with your characters and endear them to the reader by making them come alive. The antagonist must be better equipped to succeed in reaching the goal than the protagonist.

  1. An Antagonistic Setting

Ensure the setting is constantly working against the hero or heroine. Like an antagonistic character, the setting can be charming, attractive, and have an emotional impact on the character.

  1. A Story Disturbance

A story disturbance is not the story problem, but a frustrating intrusion into the protagonist’s life. Some writers refer to this as the inciting incident. Introduce the disturbance on the first page and resolve it quickly. How the character responds creates a bond with the reader, who becomes the character’s cheerleader. The reader is assured that whatever problem the hero or heroine faces, the result will be an adventure.

While the above five items are critical to the first page of a novel, the writer moves forward by ensuring tension, conflict, and suspense are continuously in the character’s path. Before the first one-fifth to one-fourth of the novel, a problem is introduced and the character chooses to accept the seemingly impossible. The character steps through the first doorway into the plot with a firm resolve to do everything possible to succeed.

A story explodes on the first page. Writers work passionately to emerge a reader into a story world that is unforgettable. Can you take the challenge?


High Treason

When Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal visits Houston to seek cancer treatment for his mother, an attempt on his life puts all agencies on high alert. FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is the lead on the prince’s protective detail because of their long-standing friendship, but he’s surprised – and none too happy – when the CIA brings one of their operatives, Monica Alden, in on the task force after the assassination attempt. Kord and Monica must quickly put aside inter-agency squabbles, however, when they learn the prince has additional motives for his visit – plans to promote stronger ties with the US and encourage economic growth and westernization in his own country. Plans that could easily incite a number of suspects both in the US and in countries hostile to Saudi Arabia. Worse yet, the would-be assassin always seems to be one step ahead of them, implicating someone close to the prince – or the investigation. But who would be willing to commit high treason, and can Kord and Monica stop them in time?

DiAnn Mills is an award winning writer who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She currently has more than fifty-five books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Find her on the web at www.diannmills.com.

 

Finding the Writer’s Voice

by DiAnn Mills, @diannmills

When I was four, my mother took me to my first dancing class. I wanted to watch before I joined in. I didn’t understand that I had to participate to be a part of the class, even if I made a mistake. A writer who wants to develop a unique voice can’t simply read novels, she must write.

Does the subject of voice make you want to run? You’re not alone. Explanations run the gamut from the way a writer pens her prose to bigger-than-life characters who attract us with their view on life. Voice is everything the characters experience and express according to their traits and the writer’s individual style. A writer chooses unpredictable characters, both in actions and in dialogue, and establishes a voice that draws us into the story.

A writer’s voice is her fingerprint, a way for a reader to identify style. It can’t be developed by studying a textbook or taking a writing course. Each writer has a unique way of stringing together words and sentences, a subconscious activity stamped with personal style, word choice, originality, and passion for the project.

We develop our voice over time—by writing, polishing our craft, and knowing our characters. It’s much like our unique conversational style, but with a strong additive: the character’s voice. That means no two characters ever quite sound alike. A strong writer’s voice doesn’t overpower the character, but hooks the reader’s attention and refuses to let go.

I like how Donald Maass describes voice: “not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre…An original. A standout. A voice.”

Your ability to dive into character and create an adventure strengthens your voice. In establishing that voice, weigh each word choice. Is it succinct and descriptive? Use strong verbs and vivid nouns, the ones your character would use. Have you chosen the best word in the character’s voice, one you’re comfortable with? A writer’s genre also influences word choice. A lot to think about, but when you tune out the critics and write the story of your heart with a character you love (or love to hate), voice will be in your fingertips.

I went through several stages of forming my voice while following rules, not following rules, then allowing my writing to morph into my voice. When I concentrated on good writing and put the guidelines into perspective, aside, my voice came.

As Thomas Merton said, “Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally.”

How have you established a writer’s voice?


High Treason

When Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal visits Houston to seek cancer treatment for his mother, an attempt on his life puts all agencies on high alert. FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is the lead on the prince’s protective detail because of their long-standing friendship, but he’s surprised – and none too happy – when the CIA brings one of their operatives, Monica Alden, in on the task force after the assassination attempt. Kord and Monica must quickly put aside inter-agency squabbles, however, when they learn the prince has additional motives for his visit – plans to promote stronger ties with the US and encourage economic growth and westernization in his own country. Plans that could easily incite a number of suspects both in the US and in countries hostile to Saudi Arabia. Worse yet, the would-be assassin always seems to be one step ahead of them, implicating someone close to the prince – or the investigation. But who would be willing to commit high treason, and can Kord and Monica stop them in time?

DiAnn Mills is an award winning writer who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She currently has more than fifty-five books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Find her on the web at www.diannmills.com.

Tracking Story Characters

by DiAnn Mills, @diannmills

Have you ever been working on a novel and realized your method of tracking character relationships looked like a toddler’s art work? My character’s connections to each other and my plot bewildered me. Unless I solved the problem, my readers wouldn’t be able to follow the story.

I needed a character GPS or a book character relationship chart.

The many book character charts offered to writers were . . . massive, confusing, and overwhelming. Arrows, circles, diagrams, boxes, and icons were supposed to solve my crisis. While these methods obviously contained value for some writers, nothing fit the way my brain operated.

In the past when I needed a solution to organize an aspect of my writing, marketing, or promotion, I developed a chart or spreadsheet. My first attempt was hopeless. My techy husband looked at it and offered a better idea: a type of relationship matrix. He researched a simple way for me (and my hero and heroine) to connect my characters by their relationships to each other.

Plotting and initiating twists and turns in my story are now so much easier. I have a visual of my characters’ names, listed both horizontally and vertically, to determine who has a relationship with another. By using a color-coded text, I know who is family, business, personal, stranger, or unknown.

The system has worked so well for me that I wanted to share it with you: https://diannmills.com/temp/RelationshipMatrixTemplate-DiAnnMills.xlsx

Take a look. Let me encourage you to make the chart your own by personalizing it to your mode of working. This is the beauty of creating what we writers need to ensure our books are exciting and professionally written.

What have you designed to make your writing process easier?


High Treason

When Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal visits Houston to seek cancer treatment for his mother, an attempt on his life puts all agencies on high alert. FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is the lead on the prince’s protective detail because of their long-standing friendship, but he’s surprised – and none too happy – when the CIA brings one of their operatives, Monica Alden, in on the task force after the assassination attempt. Kord and Monica must quickly put aside inter-agency squabbles, however, when they learn the prince has additional motives for his visit – plans to promote stronger ties with the US and encourage economic growth and westernization in his own country. Plans that could easily incite a number of suspects both in the US and in countries hostile to Saudi Arabia. Worse yet, the would-be assassin always seems to be one step ahead of them, implicating someone close to the prince – or the investigation. But who would be willing to commit high treason, and can Kord and Monica stop them in time?

DiAnn Mills is an award winning writer who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She currently has more than fifty-five books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Find her on the web at www.diannmills.com.

 

Simplifying Writer Research

by DiAnn Mills, @diannmills

Writing and research go hand in hand. Every topic in a novel needs an element of research. If the manuscript isn’t accurate, the reader will recognize the flaw and toss our work aside. If a writer is spot-on, she will be rewarded with good reviews and more readers. Sort of a no-brainer for us writers.

How do we conduct the process effectively and efficiently?

Focus: List what is needed for the writing project in chronological order. This includes plot, culture, setting, dialogue, and characterization.

Develop: What specialty people need to be contacted to ensure reliable information? Determine if an email or phone contact is sufficient or if they can accommodate a face to face meeting.

Map: Where does the writer need to visit for experience and sensory perception? Can the setting be visited at the same time of year as the story?

The following questions and suggestions will help the writer focus, develop, and map out a strategic planand enhance your story for readers.

  1. Visit the area’s chamber of commerce.
  2. Conduct a web search of the area. Some apps will help with this: Google Maps, Google Earth, Weather Bug, or travel sites that can be found via apps or websites.
  3. Take or download more pictures than will ever be needed.
  4. Interview people living in the area. For a historical setting, this also means reading diaries and journals. How has history affected the community?
  5. Listen to how local people talk. Do they use a distinct vocabulary?
  6. What are the community’s values and expectations for life and each other?
  7. What is their diet? How much of their food supply is local?
  8. How is the area governed?
  9. What are the local hotels? Restaurants? What’s featured on the menus? Any daily specials?
  10. What are the sources of entertainment?
  11. How do the residents celebrate holidays?
  12. Does the community have special festivals?
  13. How does the area experience the seasons, and what are average temperatures?
  14. What are the medical concerns? What kind of medical care is available?
  15. In what kinds of homes do they live?
  16. Where do they shop?
  17. How do the people dress?
  18. Do the arts play a vital role in the community?
  19. How do the people view education, sports teams, and favorite colleges?
  20. How do they earn a living?

Other Considerations

  1. If the area is near a national or state park, look for research material in the visitors’ section.
  2. Discover the wildlife and birds of the region.
  3. Locate a map of the area.Visit the local library.
  4. View newspaper archives.
  5. Look for documentaries on the area.
  6. Visit themed or local museums.

When a writer is cognizant of what is needed to make a manuscript zip with authenticity, readers clamor for more.

How do you conduct writing research?

TWEETABLES

Simplifying Writer Research @DiAnnMills @NovelRocket #writing #writingtip http://bit.ly/2fqYSUy

Writing and research go hand in hand.  @DiAnnMills @NovelRocket #writing #writingtip http://bit.ly/2fqYSUy

How do we conduct the process effectively and efficiently? @DiAnnMills @NovelRocket #writing #writingtip http://bit.ly/2fqYSUy

_____________________

High Treason

When Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal visits Houston to seek cancer treatment for his mother, an attempt on his life puts all agencies on high alert. FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is the lead on the prince’s protective detail because of their long-standing friendship, but he’s surprised – and none too happy – when the CIA brings one of their operatives, Monica Alden, in on the task force after the assassination attempt.Kord and Monica must quickly put aside inter-agency squabbles, however, when they learn the prince has additional motives for his visit – plans to promote stronger ties with the US and encourage economic growth and westernization in his own country. Plans that could easily incite a number of suspects both in the US and in countries hostile to Saudi Arabia. Worse yet, the would-be assassin always seems to be one step ahead of them, implicating someone close to the prince – or the investigation. But who would be willing to commit high treason, and can Kord and Monica stop them in time?

DiAnn Mills is an award winning writer who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She currently has more than fifty-five books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Find her on the web at www.diannmills.com.