I wish I was a close friend of HelenKay Dimon. I love her writing, I love listening to her speak, but her sense of humor is delightful. I can’t get enough. And she’s a published author who enjoys helping new authors. I want to be her when I grow up.
She still goes to craft talks because there’s always something new to learn. But she can’t believe some subjects are presented as if this process you are about to learn is the only way to do it. Like Romances can’t start from the hero’s point of view. “Huh?” Or her book, The Fixer, has the heroine looking out a window in a coffee shop. That is not allowed. “Huh? No, no, no.” Break the rules, that’s the way writing evolves.
HelenKay Dimon went on to tell us: How I failed. She’s writing a domestic thriller for another label under another name and had to write 30 pages to get the deal. The publisher bought it. Then she realized she started it in the wrong place. When she told us how it should have started, we all said WOW. “The book is about X and she’s hiding the ball.” HelenKay had 30 pages of backstory that wouldn’t appear in print.
As an avid reader, she bought a book titled One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus. This Young Adult novel’s burb said: “Like the Breakfast Club but one of them is murdered.” Now that’s a hook! Be able to put your pitch on a sticky note, sum up the story in one sentence. (Here’s what I came up with for Crazy for Trying: The new man in her life needs to solve the crime he didn’t commit before the real embezzler kills them both.) Remember those campfire stories people tell out in the wilderness? An escaped killer with a hook. Nothing you don’t need to know, little or no back story. A couple teenagers necking in the car, when they hear tapping. The girl panics and the boy, while trying to act heroic, agrees and they drive off. Later, when he stops at her house and comes around to open her door, he finds the hook hanging from a back door handle.
Yeah, that one still gives me shivers. Could I carve my story down to that kind of impact in some places? That’s the plan at this time.
Next, we read some opening lines to various novels that had strong beginnings. Susie opened the door to her apartment and notice the lack of cats (domestic thriller). Have you been told your book needs to start with action? No, it needs to start with being active. Ground the reader with who this person is, first. Watching the movie Independence Day #1, she learned a lot about the hero in the first scenes. The TV series Lost was huge, but they never explain why the plane crashed. Got you attached to the characters. You had to go back for more.
Every sentence is aimed at the audience, does that sentence keep the audience moving forward? Genre romance has expectations. HelenKay used Ravished by Amanda Quick to show the author’s ability to ground the reader in the world of the story and the tone. Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith, is a book about a serial killer in the Soviet Union, the hero is the least likely to care about saving victims from a serial killer. Also, Russia is perfect at that time, so no one wants to hear that there is a serial killer. This is an example of how the setting plays a role in the story.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn uses alternating first person. Maybe more like rotating POV, first-person. Lesser relatives, second cousins, friends of friends. Don’t be lazy and write Kansas 1978. Or Scotland 1822. Think outside the comfortable.
Characters need to grow during your story. You might be told your character isn’t likable enough like HelenKay was about her hero in The Fixer. She prefers to say, Compelling. A writer needs to develop setting and grounding, and the person you want the reader to connect with. If you are writing about Flocking Vampires, your readers want to know, who do I care about? The guy in the corner who refuses to vote. The person leading the meeting. The one who storms in late, hungover and mad at everyone. Those people are compelling. This person matters.
These are the first two important goals to meet in your strong beginnings. There are a total of 5, and I hope to get back to finish those soon. But remember, the first ten pages need to be your best. If an editor or agent asks you to submit ten pages for critique and you want to ask if you have to make it the first ten, you started at the wrong place. Here are the total of 5 steps per Ms. Diamon:
#1 Break the Rules
#2 Ground the Reader in Place and Tone
#3 Show your voice
#4 Keep Moving Forward
#5 The Hook
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.