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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.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


The first chapter is the most important chapter in the book because it is the first chapter your 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.

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.

Start with Conflict or a Point of Interest

While the first chapter doesn’t have to start with soap-opera drama, but it must have enough action the 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.

You need to start where the action begins, not with a lot of who, what and where explanation about your character and how he got in 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 should 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

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.    

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 on 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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Common Plotting Problems and their Solutions

Scenes that just don’t work, uncooperative characters, plots that take a wrong turn...what's a writer to do? Any of these situations is enough to make a writer be tempted to toss their manuscript aside.  Yet, many common plotting problems can be remedied by a little thought and revision.  Here are some suggested solutions.

When The Next Scene Doesn’t Work

Many writers do not know until they begin the actual writing that a certain scene or planned event just isn’t going to work.  The idea for the scene may sound fine in the plot outline, but in the actual writing it may backfire because the author hasn’t thoroughly thought it through. 

For example, Mike sees an employee steal something at work. The employee  begs him not to tell.  What is Mike going to do next?  The plan was to have him turn the employee in, but that seems too simple a resolution.    

 Solution: Try alternatives.  Pull the plot along by making two or three rows of different scenarios.  Each different choice produces a different outcome.  Mike tells the boss, but the employee turns the tables and accuses Mike of the theft; Mike is tempted to blackmail the employee with his knowledge; the employee threatens Mike and says if he tells he’ll get even.

Writers must keep thinking up alternatives until the right one comes along.  When stuck on a particular scene, it sometimes helps the author to take a break or sleep on it. Sometimes the subconscious mind will work overnight and right path will appear clear in the morning.

The Characters Won’t Cooperate

The writer has decided that Joe, a minor character, is going to get into a fatal accident in Chapter 9, but Joe has other plans.  He refuses to die or be written out of the story.     

Solution: An author should always listen to the characters when they speak.  They usually are trying to tell something important.  The subconscious mind often works in strange ways.  When an event feels wrong, the writer shouldn’t be afraid to explore alternatives.  Maybe Joe doesn’t die but everyone thinks he’s dead. An alternate course of action, something unexpected, might deepen the plot.

The Plot Takes a Wrong Turn Somewhere

Many writers think they have their plot pinned down to the last twist and curve, only to find in the actual writing that the entire structure has fallen like a house of cards.  Not only doesn’t the next scene work, the entire book is unsatisfying and doesn’t come to any good conclusion.

Solution:  There is something wrong with the plot structure.  The author must go back and find the place where it went wrong and takes steps to remedy it.  First, the author should take some time off to distance himself from the manuscript.  Identifying the place where the book veers away from its best course is often easier to find after some time has passed.  Reviewing the story's key events can be of help in determining whether the novel has enough goals and conflict, and if they fall in the right place. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Best Known and Most Familiar Quotes about Writing

Write What You Know, Kill your Darlings, are oft-quoted sayings about writing.  But where did these quotes originate and should they actually be applied?  We've gathered up some information about them below. 

Write What You Know

These might be the most quoted, misquoted and misunderstood words ever uttered about writing. Still, Write what you know may well be the first words aspiring authors hear from teachers, friends and other writers.

Who said them first? Who knows?  Though there are similar quotes, the origin of the quote, write what you know in its purest form has been lost.  And it may be a good thing. In the words of P. J. O’Rourke, Creative writing teachers should be purged until every last instructor who has uttered the words "Write what you know" is confined to a labor camp. Please, talented scribblers, write what you don't. The blind guy with the funny little harp who composed The Iliad , how much combat do you think he saw?

In any event, write what you know has become a cliché.  It is open to many interpretations.  Some take literally-- to mean that you should not write about things you have not personally experienced.  Others interpret it to mean you should write about what you love, what you care about.  In the words of Valerie Sherwood,  Don’t write what you know—what you know may bore you, and thus bore your readers. Write about what interests you—and interests you deeply—and your readers will catch fire at your words."

Kill your Darlings

This quote is most often attributed to William Faulkner (1897-1962), though it has also been attributed to Mark Twain (1835-1919).  Probably both of them said and practiced it. So what does it mean?  Many misinterpret kill your darlings to mean one should strike out any fine passage.  Kill your darling” doesn’t mean a writer should murder the muse or throw out fine writing.  However, every writer has “darlings”, little anecdotes or bits of wisdom they would like to stuff into their current work even though they know the passage doesn’t quite fit.  If a witty phrase or observation fits, use it, if it doesn’t add to the overall purpose of the novel you are writing, then it should cast aside.  What it means in a nutshell: cut the bull.

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

This quote is attributed to Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966), though there are many variations.  Author Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) said, The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair.  Same difference.  The meaning is perfectly clear.  If a person does not go about the task of writing and do it often, the book will never get written.  (I once heard a variation of this quotation as apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and when you get up twenty years later you’ll be a writer)  As Thomas Edison said, Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Other Quotes that Commonly Appear in How to Write Books

 Writing is like prostitution.  First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends and then for money.

One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.  Anton Chekov  

There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
William Somerset Maugham

Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until a drop of blood forms on your forehead.
Douglas Adams

Everything stinks till it's finished.
Dr. Seuss

For more writing tips, check out our book on writing:  Fiction: From Writing to Publication.