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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Components of a Solid First Chapter ~ by S. Dionne Moore

Born and raised in Manassas, Virginia, S. Dionne Moore moved to Greencastle, PA in 1993, then to Mercersburg in 2008. Moore enjoys life in the historically rich Cumberland Valley where traffic jams are a thing of the past and there are only two stoplights in the whole town. Moore is author of the LaTisha Barnhart Mystery series as well as new historical romance release "A Heartbeat Away."

Leave a comment for S. Dionne Moore and be entered in a drawing for her book. U.S. residents only, please. The winner will be announced on Novel Rocket's Facebook page tomorrow. Be sure to like us there!

Components of a Solid First Chapter

When I judge contests the one element I want to see in an entry is that hint of the character’s goal. I want to have evidence that we have a destination. Whether that destination changes and shifts along the way is not of concern, just let me know where the character is headed, and give a hint of the conflict they’ll have to endure along the way, and I’ll pack my bags and climb on board for the ride. But what I often find in my judging is that the writer introduces a character and describes some surrounding, then the first chapter is complete. 
When writing that all-important first chapter, there are elements you want to include. You want to show the pull of emotions drawing the character into a journey of self-discovery. A well prepared first chapter puts the reader right into the head of the protagonist so that they can see what the character sees, know what the character is thinking (intuitively), and want what is best for them.
Expectation is foremost when a reader begins a book and the journey to motive begins in chapter one. A character should not know exactly what is wrong with them by the end of the first chapter, otherwise their journey toward epiphany is greatly shortened and the reader has nothing to look forward to. No expectations. Readers want to move with the character through a fictitious journey full of hope, hurdles and, if romance, love, that will ultimately end satisfactorily. 
Front-loaded backstory is a sign that the writer is still fleshing out their characters and is often nothing more than a synopsis disguised as a first chapter or, worse, a badly written prologue. Think of how you would talk to someone you are first introduced to. Would you tell them every terrible thing in your life? No, of course not. Some of us don’t even realize the bad things from our childhood that have affected us so deeply until we are far into adulthood.

It is the same in a fictional relationship. The main character will not pour out their entire life’s story in the first chapter. Backstory is essential only to allow you to better understand how your protagonist should act and react in the situations you create. If adding backstory is necessary to understand a character action or reaction, it should be very short and to the point.
Writing a solid first chapter is not for the faint of heart. It’s tough work. You need to have a strong idea of where the story and the characters are heading and convey that to your readership in such a manner that is both engaging and sympathetic. Not easy, I know. But work on it by planning ahead. Know your characters before you start.

Understand who they are and what they want--give them a personality!--then take it from there. Most of all, don’t be shy to ask someone to read your chapter for you, or better yet, read it out loud to yourself! You’ll be amazed at what you’ll catch, and hearing your story will tell you whether the words and those clever turns-of-phrase you used really worked or just muddled things up.
Whatever you do, don’t stop writing. Don’t freeze up. Stop and think. Get to know your character. Pound out a synopsis. It doesn’t have to be detailed or long, but it should be a general idea of where the story is going. Couple that synopsis with knowing your character as if they were a friend and you will be well on your way to writing an exceptional first chapter that will knock the socks off any judge!

A Heartbeat Away

When a band of runaway slaves brings Union-loyal Beth Bumgartner a wounded Confederate soldier named Joe, it is the catalyst that pushes her to defy her pacifist parents and become a nurse during the Battle of Antietam.

Her mother's mysterious goodbye gift is filled with quilt blocks that bring comfort to Beth during the hard days and lonely nights, but as she sews each block, she realizes there is a hidden message of faith within the pattern that encourages and sustains her. Reunited with Joe, Beth learns his secret and puts the quilt's message to its greatest test—but can betrayal be forgiven?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How to Do Radio Interviews Right by James L. Rubart

My second novel in the Well Spring series (Memory’s Door) is about to release so I have a bunch of radio interviews lined up over the next month or so. It’s a great time to remind myself (and you) how to interview in a way that sells more books.

Long ago, and not so far away, I was on air at a radio station where I did interviews. So the modicum of wisdom I have to offer comes from having been on both sides of the microphone. 

And yeah, you’ve probably heard most of these before, but it never hurts to go over the fundamentals.

  • The Interview is NOT About You This is an easy mistake to make, since you’re the focus of the show. But you’re not the focus of the show. Or at least you shouldn’t be. Who is the star of the interview? The host. It’s their show. They are always the star. Make them look good. Give them the respect they deserve. Follow their lead. If they want to do the Tango, and all you know is the Waltz, don’t stop. Keep dancing and do your utmost to with their flow. Or said more succinctly: You better be ready to go with their style, not expect them to match yours. Mirror, mirror, mirror.
  • The Interview is NOT About You Part II The only other person the interview is about is the listener. Which leads us to the third point:
  • Don’t Bore Them or Their Audience Whether it’s Howard Stern on one side or Rush Limbaugh on the other, good radio show hosts understand they are providing entertainment to their listeners more than anything else. So they want guests who can entertain. Here are some specifics on how to be intriguing to listeners: 
    • Vary the volume of your voice
    • Vary your pacing
    • Vary your sentences length. (Some of you are saying, “Just like I do in my novels?” Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like) 
    • Have some fun, interesting, stories ready to be told
    • Be controversial
    • Be funny
    • Inspire them!
  • Practice! A bad radio interview is far worse than no radio interview at all. I was about to do an interview a number of years ago and there was an author on just before me. She talked in a soft monotone voice and didn’t say anything remotely interesting.  I felt for her because it was obvious she’d never been coached on how to be on air. People would listen to her and figure if her books were as boring as she was, they weren’t worth picking up. My guess is most of you have first readers, or critique groups for your writing … you need one for your radio interviews too. Ask them to listen and tell you what worked and what didn’t. Get a friend and role play. Go wild (this will be difficult at first) and record yourself in a mock interview. Listen back and do a self-critique. This alone will take your interviewing skills miles ahead. 
  • Elevator Pitches Aren’t Just for Pitching Editors and Agents If you’re doing a ten minute interview, there’s no time to ramble on for two or three minutes each time you answer a question. There isn’t even time for thirty seconds. You have to learn to answer in quick sound bites.   Remember that 25 word pitch for your latest book? Think 25 words for every answer. Now don’t misunderstand. This is a GUIDELINE, not a rule. Sometimes you need a longer amount of time to give a coherent answer. But I hear far more authors go on too long than answer with responses   that are too short.  Hosts appreciate a concise answer. I did one pre-recorded interview where my longest response wasn’t more than fifteen seconds. When we were through, the host said, “Wow, thank you much! It’s rare that we get an author that keeps from talking in long run on sentences and it makes it so hard to cut up the interview.
  • Have Fun I know, you’re saying, “after all the To Dos you just gave, we’re supposed to have fun?” Yep. Because in the end, most people won’t remember a lot of what you said, but they’ll remember if you had fun, if you laughed, if you were passionate, if you made them think. And if they remember those things, they’ll probably be sold on you. Which leads to being sold on buying your book.

Is that it? No, there are a number of other points we should talk about. But we’ll save them for another column down the road because I’ve already gone on too long. And I know you are just dying to start practicing. 

James L. Rubart is the best-selling, award winning author of four novels, including Soul’s Gate which just won a Christy Award and an INSPY Award, and Memory's Door, his second book in the Well Spring series which is inches away from releasing. 

During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps authors make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and loves to dirt bike, hike, golf, take photos, and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at

Monday, July 29, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me and YOU!

To celebrate my birthday this year (43 if you must know :) ) I’ve decided to give away some books!
Purchase a copy of Wings of Glass, (online or in person)on JULY 30th(my birthday) and I will mail you one of the following (your choice):
1. Autographed copy of Dry as Rain
2. Autographed copy of Crossing Oceans
3. Copy of Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend
4. Autographed copy of Wings of Glass
Once you’ve purchased Wings of Glass, email me a copy of the receipt along with your address. Indicate your preference of which of the above books you prefer.
That’s it! My email is rnglh1 at yahoo (dot com)
(Due to cost of mailing, you must live in the continental US)

What do you mean "Find Your Voice?"

Fiction writers are told to find their voice. Well, what is voice, and for that matter, how do you find it?

I mastered the mechanics of good writing by learning and following the guidelines or ... stay with me here ... the rules. Then, I began to understand when and how to break them to turn my manuscript into a symphony or a dance of words.

About that same time, I started a new series, and when I sent my critique partners the first chapter, they told me I'd found my voice. Cool. I didn't know I'd lost it. I mean, I didn't have laryngitis or even a sore throat.

Okay, I'm being silly and probably not that funny, so you can stop rolling your eyes. In truth, I'd been working on voice. I read Les Edgerton's book Finding Your Voice. I highly recommend it if you're still looking for yours.

In Edgerton's book, he said go back and look at letters you'd written when you were young or at least before you began to write. There was your voice.

As I thought about that, I remembered how our friends always told me they loved my Christmas letters. Mine were the ones they actually read and looked forward to. When I was late with it one year, I received a few "Where is it?" emails.

Instead of a travelogue or a report on the kiddos' doings, I made up stories about the major events of the past year, poking fun at us and liberally adding embellishments.

I pulled out those past Christmas letters and studied them. I noticed the cadence, the style, and the sound of them. That's what I wanted to get in my fiction.

I then tried a new game of "Name that Author."

First, I went to a multi-author blog—it doesn't work on any other type. (NOTE: This needs to be a blog of authors well known to you.) I chose Girls Write Out. Before I looked at the signature or by-line, I tried to guess who wrote it. 

Between the post and their fiction, I could see the similarity in the "voice." It was natural and organic to the author. While some may have similarities, especially if they write in the same genre, each author does have a unique voice.

If you're still developing your voice, read ... a lot. Don't copy another writer, but rather study what they do and how they do it. Then look at something you wrote before you started perusing a writing career. Forget the mechanics for a moment. What did the writing sound like? That's most likely your voice.

Try it for a while and see what happens. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

LAYING A FIRE by Cynthia Ruchti

A midsummer night's dream--sitting around a campfire at the water's edge, listening to the loons calling, "Where are you?" to their mates.

But the fire roared in the fireplace inside the house. A sudden cold snap made us face a question no one wants to entertain in late July. "It's either crank up the furnace or light a fire in the fireplace. Which do you want?"

We opted for the romantic warmth of the fireplace. Furnaces aren't known for their romantic side.

My husband collected an armload of kindling and "laid the fire," as they say. You know. They. They say a lot of things.

As I watched the kindling catch flame, I complimented my husband on his fire-making skills. "Those survival shows on TV could learn a lot from you, honey."

"Matches help," he said, without missing a beat.

It takes more than matches. A well-laid fire will catch quickly, burn with a minimum of smoke and soot, and burn long and strong. A poorly-laid fire will struggle and die out too soon. He's had a lot of practice with campfires and our garage-sale fireplace, but that's a story for another day.

Heat, fuel, oxygen--fire's necessities.

Most amateur fire-starters err in the oxygen category. They start with logs the size of the final product they want and pile them tight. Frustrated when the logs won't catch, they fuss and worry any lisping ember until it gives up in exhaustion.

I read a novel last week that stopped me at a scene where the characters started a fire on the beach...with fat logs piles high and no mention of kindling or airflow or letting smaller sticks get established before adding larger pieces of wood.

Patience and oxygen. Key elements of fire-building.

In what other areas of life are we impatient to get to the end result without considering the project's basic needs, the most effective way to lay the foundation, and the value of starting small?

Parenting? A new business? Friendships? Education? The workplace? Publishing?

"Don't despise small beginnings,"cautions Zechariah 4:10.

As I watched my husband lay another beautiful, efficient fire, my thoughts wandered far beyond the confines of the fireplace. Whatever the project, do I understand its basic needs? Am I laying the foundational elements in a way that it will be easy for it to catch fire? Is there room for it to breathe? Am I letting the small pieces get well established so they become the source that feeds the larger pieces?

I don't know what kind of project came to mind for you. But if it's struggling to take off, ask if you're smothering its chances or patiently fanning it into flame.

I'd love to hear the story of how that kind of thought has played out in your life in recent days.

Cynthia Ruchti is an author and speaker who tells stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark. Her recent releases are the novel When the Morning Glory Blooms and the non-fiction Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People's Choices, from Abingdon Press Fiction and Abingdon Press Christian Living, respectively. See what else is catching fire at, or

Friday, July 26, 2013

Add Depth to Your Characters by Using the Narrative Part of Your Scenes

by Edie Melson

I love to read, and I spend a lot of my reading time with novels. I also spend a lot of my editing time working with fiction writers. And one thing almost all beginning (and some not so beginning) writers struggle with is characterization. 

And I’ve found one way to add depth to your characters is through the narrative.

The narrative is the part of the book that isn’t dialogue. It’s mainly classified as description, but when done right is so much more. It sets the stage for the reader, giving them a context for the story. It involves all five of the senses, and there is definitely a learning curve to getting it right.

But the key to good narrative is POV (point of view). Point of View is determined by whose eyes the reader is seeing the scene through. I don’t want to go into all the rules of POV here, but instead want to give you some things to consider when you’re describing what we’re experiencing through a character’s POV.

When I’m writing a scene the first thing I do is get the framework in place. For me, that’s dialogue. I tend to hear my characters’ voices in my head before I see the story unfold. After I have the basis of the scene, I go back and begin to fill in the setting. Here’s what I ask the POV character to help me visualize what’s happening:

What does the setting look like. If it’s a room, I want to know about the lighting and the size and the furnishings. If it’s out of doors, I want to know what time of day it is and what the surroundings are.

Then I move on and ask the character what he’s hearing around him.
  • I ask what he’s smelling.
  • I also ask about touch and even taste.
And here’s where it ties into characterization.
  • I ask my character WHY he’s noticing these things.

Think about it. We live in a world rich with sights, sounds, smells, etc. And we all have different filters. Put seven people in a room for five minutes, then remove them and ask them to describe their experiences and you’ll get different things from different people. Maybe one person noticed the smell of the lilacs in a vase on a table. Ask why and you may find out that lilacs were his mother’s favorite flower or a scent his grandmother always wore.

Another person will mention the lemon yellow of the walls. Perhaps it’s the same shade her mother painted the kitchen in the house where she grew up. The possibilities are endless and the answers your characters give will often surprise you.

Everything your character notices won’t necessarily have a story behind it. Sometimes something just catches our eye, with no rhyme or reason. But take time to ask your character why and the insights you’ll uncover will add a depth and dimension to your writing, just wait and see.

Edie Melson is the author of four books, as well as a freelance editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. Her popular blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands of writers each month, and she’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Her bestselling ebook on social media has just been updated and re-released as Connections: Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy and the social media director for Southern Writers Magazine. You can connect with Edie through Twitter and Facebook.