Welcome to our Blog about Writing

Welcome to our blog! Find out about our current projects and excerpts of our new books and short stories. Check the sidebar for this month's FREE, 99c books, bargain books and giveaways. For aspiring writers, we will also be including some posts about writing fiction. Please also visit our web page. To learn more about our two series and upcoming releases visit our Jeff McQuede and Ardis Cole Mystery blogs.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Writing the First Chapter: How to Plan a Strong First Chapter

Developing a strong first chapter is often a matter of trial and error.  The first chapter is usually the one that is rewritten the most.  Here are some tips to help you get it right the first time

The first chapter is the most important chapter in the book because it is the first example of your writing the readers will see. It must have the power to draw them in and interest them in the rest of the book. The first chapter also determines the voice, tone, and atmosphere of the story.

Start with Conflict or a Point of Interest

While the first chapter doesn’t have to start with soap-opera drama, it must have enough action to interest the reader.  Many writers choose to begin their story at a point of conflict such as at a place where the hero is in immediate danger.  For example, the logical place to begin a mystery would be with the discovery of the body, not the detective commuting to work or reading the morning newspaper.

Providing Background Information

Many instructors habitually advise their students to throw away the first chapter.  Should you?  That depends.  Many writers make the mistake of including far too much background information in the first chapter.  This is because they are anxious to set the groundwork for the rest of novel. They want readers to know everything about their character from the start.

The first chapter should start where the action begins.  This action can be either physical, such as a fight or a boating accident--or emotional such as losing a love one or other trauma that might cause strong feelings. 

The first chapter should not start with a lot of who, what and where explanation about your character and how he got into this mess. The first chapter should provide only the bare essentials in background information.  For example, it might be necessary for the reader to know where your hero lives, but not, at this point, where he went to school, how many kids he has, whether or not he gets along with his mother.  These points can be introduced if and when they become pertinent to the story. Though additional information is necessary, it does not all have to be crowded into the first chapter.  If there is too much explanation, most of it can be discarded, and what is essential should be threaded into to a later part of the book.

What goes in the Middle of the First Chapter

Now that you have gotten their interest, you must develop the chapter by deepening the conflict.  If you have started with a point of action, now is the time to bring into focus the details of the event, and the character’s reactions to the event.    

If the chapter begins with a car accident, now the protagonist can react to the situation and a bit can be told about his or her reaction the the situation.

End with a Question or Cliffhanger

Just as the first chapter begins with a bang, it should not end with a whimper.  The final lines should pose a question that draws readers into the next chapter.

If your book is a mystery, have the detective discover an unusual lead or clue he plans to follow up on.  If your story is a romance, cut the first chapter off at the point where the boy asks the girl for a date, not after the reader already knows her answer.  If you are writing a thriller, stop the first chapter with the hero hanging onto the ledge of the building, not after he has jumped to safety.

By the end of the first chapter the reader should
*be introduced to the main characters
*know where the story takes place
*Have a feeling for the atmosphere of the book
*be introduced to the main problem or conflict and some kind of mental or physical excitement

  More Writing Tips:  Fiction: From Writing to Publication

Check back for more tips on writing the middle part of the novel and the ending!

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Prologue and the Epilogue in Fiction

 Both the prologue and epilogue are devices that help explain a complicated story.

A prologue appears at the beginning of a novel, and serves as an introduction to tell what has gone on before.  An epilogue appears at the end of the novel and tells what happened years after the story has ended.

It is not necessary to have both a prologue and an epilogue.  Many books have a prologue with no epilogue.  Others have both.  However, an epilogue is seldom used without a prologue.

The Prologue

A prologue is an introduction that is not quite a chapter. It is set apart from the rest of the book either in time or in viewpoint.  Its purpose is to provide necessary backstory for the novel which cannot be told in any other way.

A prologue may be used for dramatic effect.  A common use of the prologue in a thriller is to have the prologue either be in the villain’s viewpoint, or to start the story with a murder scene or crime in progress, an evil face peering into a window, or someone hearing the footsteps of a stalker. Then the novel begins with the detective or main character’s viewpoint.

The Epilogue-“And they Lived Happily Ever After…

An epilogue is a short piece tagged on to the ending that is usually not quite as long as a chapter.  Its purpose is to tell what happened long after the story has ended.  Often, it will tell whether the main characters married, had children, moved to a farm in the country. 

An epilogue is not necessary unless you have a novel that spans a long period of time or have an event such as a birth or a wedding that is not covered by the ending.  Often, in a historical romance, the book will end with a kiss, and the epilogue might start seven year after and tell that the couple married and had three or four children and lived to ripe old ages.  Facts the reader might want to know, but that take place far after the ending of the story.

 Use of a Prologue and Epilogue to Indicate a Span of Time not Covered in the Novel

In Mary Higgins Clark’s I Heard that Song Before, the prologue introduces the main character as a little girl who overhears a cryptic conversation in a hidden chapel on the Carrington Estates, of which her father is landscaper.  The first chapter begins with the same character as a grown woman.  She returns and falls in love with Peter Carrington, but what she overheard that night might be a clue to the murders her new husband has been accused of.  An epilogue tells the state of affairs a year later.   

Use of a Prologue and Epilogue to Span Years of History

In a novel that spans years or decades, a prologue might serve the purpose of  explaining  events pertinent to the plot that went on before the novel begins. For example, Robert Goddard’s historical suspense novel Name to a Face has both a prologue and an epilogue.  The prologue begin at an earlier time than the story takes place  Godfrey Schillingstone has discovered a mysterious secret he is about to reveal to the world, one that will bring him great academic fame.  But before he can show what his discovery, he is murdered.

The actual first chapter begins with another character, Tim Harding, who in modern times finds Schillingstone’s discovery has some bearing on a mysery in the present.

Here is a sampling of books with prologues and epilogues.
Dead Souls  Ian Rankin  (prologue)
The Associate Philip Margolin (prologue)
I Heard that Song Before Mary Higgins Clark  (prologue and epilogue)
Name to a Face Robert Goddard  (prologue and epilogue)
Cruel and Unusual  Patricia Cornwell (prologue and epilogue)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Christmas Mystery Writers Special! Sample Half a Dozen Authors for only .99c a Book! Three Days Only. December 4-6.


Back by Popular Demand: Choose one. Choose some.  Choose all.  
FOR THREE DAYS DECEMBER 4th, 5th and 6th sample these selected author's books for only 99c a book!  CLICK ON THE RED BOOK TITLE LINKS ACROSS FROM THE AUTHOR'S NAME TO ORDER!



When Katrina Hunter is forced to shoot her sister's stalker, she takes the required leave of absence from the SF police department as her chance for a long over-due sail to Mexico. 
But when she discovers a floater close to her first port-of-call, she naturally does the right thing; she reports the dead body to the Mexican Navy. Except that doing her civic duty brings her into the Ensenada police station where she comes face-to-face with her unfortunate past. A past that could cause her to lose her hard won position as a detective in the San Francisco police department. 


Dana Logan Grayson finds the body of her gardner in her yard. He's been stabberd but was he the intended victim? Her friend Sarah arrives from Texas to help her discover the killer and they flee for their lives to Texas and the Alaskan outback before the killer is discovered.


 A crime thriller about a well-to-do New Jersey man who foolishly brags about his wealth and high cash position to win a political argument at a holiday party. Big mistake. He might win the argument, but he loses the war. Seems not everyone in the room is as well-to-do or honest. In fact, some are downright criminal. Rex Jones’s big mouth makes him the target for a group of lowlifes who plan to use his wife, Lena, and daughter, Laurie, as leverage to extort his cash. Can Rex save his family? Does he even have the ability to go up against these violent thugs? 


Marilee Anderson dreams about a murder and wakes to find it really happened. She and David Nichols, the victim's brother, become the prime suspects. Though they have their secrets and aren't sure they can trust each other, Marilee and David team up to find the killer in this psychic suspense.


No sooner does psychic Lottie Baldwin pull up stakes and move to Cheyenne, North Dakota, than she finds herself up to her neck in a series of mysterious robberies. Can Lottie and the handsome new man in her life, deputy sheriff Harlan Erikson, solve the crime spree before Lottie becomes the next victim?

CRYING WOMAN BRIDGE by LORETTA JACKSON AND                                                             VICKIE BRITTON 

Haunted bridge, crying woman, missing baby!   While returning from Professor Dawson's lecture on haunted places, the last thing Sheriff Jeff McQuede and Dawson expect to encounter is a terrified woman clinging to the railing of Mirabella's Bridge, crying for her lost baby. It looks as if Rae Harris has thrown the infant over the bridge in a fit of despair, but she claims he has been stolen by a ghostly figure she calls Mirabella.