So we all know first impressions are lasting impressions. We dress well for interviews and first dates and we behave appropriately when meeting the family or new friends. This is also very important when writing a novel. I don't mind if you don't blow me over with the first sentence or nail the first paragraph although it does help in the long run. What I want is those opening words to pull me into a different world. An interesting world where I really care what happens to the characters.
What a contest judge also needs is a page that looks like its ready to go to print right now. Today. I don't take points off for poor formatting but I've noticed more and more that newer authors are making mistakes that are so easily avoidable in a Word document.
--Don't manually indent paragraphs using the tab key. Use the ruler at the top of the page and drag the indent paragraph tab along to where you want it to be. Usually a centimeter and half.
--Please don't double space at the end of one sentence and the next. If you get into this habit, it's so easy to do it between words too. Quick fix is to bring up your find and replace. Tap twice on the spacebar in the find and then once on the spacebar in replace. Replace all.
--Insert page breaks at the end of a chapter. This will mean that no matter what you do in the editing process, the chapters will always stay where they're supposed to be. Always.
It seems like such a small thing but believe me when I say it is very important.
Even more important than formatting is the story itself. First rule of thumb is recheck where your story starts. When you're learning to write, nine times out of ten, you'll start in the wrong place. Most will be writing themselves into the story with details that just don't matter. Which is okay as long as you plan to erase the first few chapters. When I wrote Scandal's Mistress, I deleted the first three chapters. All of the set up and buildup. And the manuscript was so much stronger for it.
If you're writing category style romance you only have about 50,000 words to tell an entire story. This means the first 2000 are critical. By end of the first chapter and definitely by the end of the second, the reader needs to know where the story is going. We need to have a taste of the goal, motivation and conflict that we'll find through the book. If boy meets girl and they hit of off and wild sex and everything's great, you have no story. Sorry, but thems the breaks. Pick up the nearest five books to you and read the first chapters of each book. You'll very quickly see a pattern of the first meet and then something happens. If its a good happen then it should be followed by a bad happen. The push and pull between the heroine and hero should be already quite clear or at least set it up so we know something big is going to happen in the next chapter.
In the opening chapter of The Road to Ruin, I open with a virgin auction. The heroine, Daniella, sells her virginity to the highest bidder in a daring challenge to her pirate father. She hopes that her exploits will gain his attention and he'll come back to England to take her in hand. Instead of everything going to plan, she is purchased by her coachman who is actually a Marquess in disgiuse, also hoping to have a meeting with her pirate father. At the end of that first chapter we know some of their internal struggles (made completely clear in the first three chapters but I have a 100k to work with instead of 50k). We know there's going to be some serious conflict and sparks between James and Daniella. We know Daniella is in serious trouble and James just doesn't care. If I opened the story with Daniella waking up from a nice dream in her big comfy bed at her brother's house in the city, wondering what she'll wear to her downfall later that night, maybe an interaction with a maid or servant, snoozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. You'd be asleep. You'd be wondering why you picked the book up in the first place.
In the opening of Behind the Courtesan, we know the heroine is frightened of returning to her hometown and the repercussions she'll face now that she's a courtesan.
In Scandal's Mistress, we have an opera singer who can no longer sing well due to voice strain. She doesn't know what she will do until she is propositioned by a scandalous lord.
Something always happens. We always get a look into the why's and why nots. We also get a really great taste of the characters and their turmoil. By the end of the third chapter, you'll know for sure that I'm going to deliver an action packed journey with twists and turns and loads of emotion.
Before you turn in your manuscript to a publisher or even a contest, make sure you can hook the reader, make sure the pages look like the nearest book to you. Most of all, open your mind to the criticisms you are definitely going to receive. Especially mine. The page might be bleeding red but look at my comments. Really look at what I've written and suggested. I promise you won't be sorry.
PS if you want to know what qualifies me to write posts like this, check out the tab at the top that says The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.
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I'm a published author but I'm still mostly stumbling about in the dark looking for the right paths so this blog is about that, though sometimes something will give the me the shits and I'll have a bit of a rant. I'll try not to be offensive but occasionally my mouth opens without asking my brain's permission so I'll apologise in advance.