First Pages That Kill

This is a guest post by Rachel McClellan. Rachelwas born and raised in Idaho, a place secretly known for its supernatural creatures. When she’s not in her writing lair, she’s partying with her husband and four small children. Her love for storytelling began as a child when the moon first possessed the night. For when the lights went out, her imagination painted a whole new world. And what a scary world it was”¦

You can connect with Rachel online on her website, blog, Facebook, or twitter. You can also see the trailer for her book Fractured Light here.

Fractured Light, Rachel McClellan, YA Fiction Paranormal, FantasyWriting the first chapter of a novel is very difficult. Where to begin? A common mistake writers often make is telling readers everything about their main character: where they grew up, why they hate Aunt Sally, why they sleep in the upstairs room instead of the one in the basement, etc. And all this in the first chapter before the real story even begins. This is called backstory. Lame. Boring. I’m already asleep.

A common rule authors go by is the “two minute rule”. That means a novel has just two minutes to capture the attention of the reader. The last thing an author wants is for a reader to start reading their book but then get distracted by thinking of the laundry they need to switch when they get home.

So how do you capture a reader’s attention in two short minutes? By following the 3 C’s rule: Capture, Captivate, and Convince.

You must capture you’re readers attention. You can do this many ways, but one helpful tidbit of advice comes from fiction editor Beth Hill who stresses the importance of knowing your genre and your audience. She recommends the following:

  • A murder mystery should open with a murder.
  • Suspense, thrillers and horror should set the reader on edge, get his emotions churning. These books, even from the start, should make the reader uneasy or fearful or expectant.
  • Romance should introduce hero and/or heroine in an appealing or amusing or lustful way.
  • Literary novels should introduce an intriguing character, someone readers will be eager to know

Another way to capture attention is with a sharp, strong voice, an engaging style, and starting the action and story immediately, rather than spending a chapter describing your character’s morning or looks.

Rachel McClellan Author of Fractured Light, Paranormal Romance, YA fantasy fictionCaptivate
The best way to captivate your readers is to introduce conflict as soon as possible. There is no story without conflict. Your main character must want something, but because of different obstacles, they can’t get it. This is conflict.

Go re-read your first chapter and ask yourself, “What does my main character want? Why can’t she have it?” If you can answer these questions easily, you’re off to a great start.

In addition to all of the above, you must also convince your readers that the events in your story are actually taking place. To do this you have to punch them in the gut with two fists named emotion and environment. Give your readers an emotion they can relate to, and give them an environment they can feel. Incorporate all five senses if you can.

If you follow these easy rules, you will have a first chapter that will be sure to capture the interest of agents and editors, and most importantly, your readers.

How to Write Dialogue

This is a guest post by Rebecca H. Jamison.Rebecca is the author of Persuasion: A Latter-day Tale, a modern twist on Jane Austen’s Persuasion. She grew up Virginia, attended Brigham Young University, and now lives in Utah with her growing family. You can learn more about her at

Even the best writers sometimes fall short when it comes to writing dialogue. Here’s an example of dialogue gone wrong in Star Wars Episode III:

Anakin: Don’t you see, we don’t have to run away anymore. I am more powerful than the Chancellor. I can overthrow him, and together you and I can rule the galaxy.

Padme: I don’t believe what I’m hearing… Obi-Wan was right. You’ve changed.

Anakin: I don’t want to hear any more about Obi-Wan. The Jedi turned against me. Don’t you turn against me.

Padme: I don’t know you anymore. Anakin, you’re breaking my heart.

The dialogue in this example reminds me a little of a seventies pop song”””I don’t know you anymore “¦ You’re breaking my heart.” People don’t actually talk this way, which brings me to my first point.

Dialogue should be realistic

As you write dialogue, ask yourself whether people would actually say the same things in real life. But don’t go overboard with realism. You don’t need to include the boring stuff like “and um” or “Hello. How are you?”

Each character’s speech should be a little different

Each character should have a distinctive style of dialogue. In my novel, I sometimes let my main character Anne stumble over her sentences to show that she’s nervous. Neil’s dialogue is snappier and more confident. I wanted him to sound cool.

Some characters may use bigger words than others. Some may use a little slang. Some may have quirky tendencies. For example, Rachael Renee Anderson’s character Stella, in Minor Adjustments, has a tendency to drop trivial facts into her dialogue.

Be careful not to overdo dialogue differences. A little bit of slang or quirkiness can go a long way.

Persuasion: A Latter-Day Tale by Rebecca H. Jamison, Rebecca Latimer Jamison, Jane Austen Spin off, LDS authors, utah authors, Fiction, chick litExplain Actions in between dialogue

Instead of using words like, “he said” or “she explained,” use the characters’ actions to show who’s talking. Here’s an example from my book, Persuasion: A Latter-day Tale when Anne runs into her ex-boyfriend for the first time in eight years:

Because I can’t seem to say anything, Neil has to be the first to speak. “Hi, Anne. It’s nice to see you.” He reaches his hand out to shake mine. But I’m holding the toddler who is now kicking and screaming.

I try to smile. I remember hearing somewhere that a smile is the most important accessory. That’s good because it’s all I’ve got. “Oh, hi, Neil. It’s good to see you too.” The toddler continues to scream.

Neil cocks his head and looks at the little boy in my arms. He isn’t going bald at all. His hair is still dark and thick on top. “Do you need some help?”

I can hardly believe that he is still so handsome, and I’d forgotten how his voice is so gentle and deep. “Oh, no, I’m fine.”

He puts his hands in his pockets and rocks back on his heels. “So, are these yours?”

I smile. “Yeah.” Then I realize he’s asking about the children. I guess he hasn’t been Googling my name lately. “I mean, they’re mine, but they’re not mine. I mean, they’re my sister’s kids. They’re my nephews. I’m watching them for her.”

Use Dialogue to Advance the Plot

Good dialogue should move the action forward and explain the characters. Be careful, though, that you don’t explain everything all at once. Every novel needs a little mystery, and dialogue is a great way to increase the sense of mystery. Let the readers guess what’s going to happen next.

I’d like to hear what you think. Do you have any tips for writing great dialogue?

Writing From the Heart

This is a guest post by Jennifer Ann Holt.Jennifer grew up as a farm girl in Enterprise, Utah so she is very good at moving sprinkler pipe and mucking out calf pens. She can hold her own when handling a tractor as well. An avid reader singe age 4, Jennifer loves the power of the written word to heal, uplift, encourage understanding, bring people together, and entertain. She graduated Cum Laude from Brigham Young University, and went through 5 years of fertility treatments and was blessed with 2 adoptions to create her family of 3 beautiful children. She and her husband Shane have lived all over Utah from Enterprise to Logan and currently reside “north of the border” in Boise, Idaho. Besides reading and writing, Jennifer enjoys wakeboarding and visiting any zoo, aquarium, or museum with her daughter and two sons. Check out her blog for details on her blog tour going on now and entering her Delivering Hope book giveaway. You can connect with Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, or watch her book trailer.

Delivering Hope by Jennifer Ann Holt, Adoption, LDS Fiction, LDS Authors, Utah Authors, PregnancyI am an infertility survivor. After five years of fertility treatments, two amazing adoptions, and a life-threatening (literally) pregnancy that ended at 28 weeks with an emergency C-section and a 2 lb. 8 oz. baby boy who spent 61 days in the NICU, I can truly say that I survived it and came out on the other side a more loving, understanding, hopeful person. I want to help others do the same.

That brings us to the release of my debut novel, Delivering Hope. A fictional account of one woman (Olivia) struggling with infertility, and another woman (Allison) facing an unintended pregnancy. It is a story about infertility and adoption, heartache and healing, and the power of love to provide hope in the midst of trials.

While the characters and events are fictional, the emotion is all very real, and I drew from my own struggles and feelings as I wrote. Although it was a little difficult to lay those true-to-life thoughts and feelings out for all to see, I knew what Olivia would have been going through and could write it very honestly. It was a little morechallenging to convey Allison’s story because I have never been in her situation. So, I listened to many birth moms, and took what I learned to create Allison. Then instead of just telling what happened to her, I put myself in her shoes and tried to actually feel what she would have felt. This helped me to write her story with honest, heartfelt emotion.

If we want to touch people’s hearts and uplift or encourage them (this was my goal), our readers have to be able to relate with the characters we write, and I believe that one of the best ways to do this is to provide them with some common ground. Because we all live in a world of real emotion, portraying this honestly and without manipulation is a great way to give our readers something to connect with.

So, don’t be afraid to get so caught up in your characters that you shed a tear or two along with them, or let out a little cheer when they succeed. If you’re writing from the heart, your readers will feel it and it just might bring them a little bit of hope, love, or happiness. What could be better than that?

Know Your Audience

This is a guest post by Leon Scott Baxter.Baxter, “America’s Romance Guru” is the author of The Finance of Romance: Investing in Your Relationship Portfolio, Out of the Doghouse: A Man’s Secret Survival Guide to Romance and A Labor with Love. He’s spoken to over 20,000 people about love and relationships. His website,, allows visitors to access his book, articles, reports, seminars and phone coaching.

Leon Scott Baxter lives in Southern California with his college sweetheart, Mary””who he has been married to since 1992″”his two beautiful daughters, Madison and Maya, and his Boxer/Terrier mix, Lucy. He enjoys playing basketball, skimboarding, and watching reruns of the hit TV series The A-Team.

Leon Baxter, America's Romance Guru, The Finance of Romance: Investing in your Relationship portfolio, AuthorIt was 1987. I was a senior in Mrs. Borelli’s honors English class at San Lorenzo Valley High School. Mrs. Borelli liked my style, thought I had talent, but warned me to know when to use humor and when not. I had a tendency to make her writing assignments my own, by taking the topic and turning it on its ear, like “write a biography on an influential American.” I wrote a piece on my best friend, who happened to be and American as well as the class salutatorian and who others at school admired. I called the piece “Jeff O’Leary: The Man, the Myth, the All-Around Good Guy.”

I made a mockery of the assignment, quoting myself as the topic’s best friend, writing about his ground-breaking theorems (“hippo + hippo = butterfly” which he discovered at lunch one afternoon when he found two hippo animal cookies connected back-to-back making what appeared to be a butterfly) and taking quotes out of context, including Mrs. Borelli’s own words, to make my best friend appear more important than he truly was, just for a laugh.

I used the five paragraph structure Mrs. B had taught us, but, although structurally sound, Mrs. Borelli gave me a “B” and warned me to think of who my audience was for a better response.

In the spring I learned that I’d been accepted to the University of California. I’d have to take a writing exam so the university could place me in the proper English class. I don’t recall the topic of the writing test but I do remember thinking I wanted this essay to get the attention of the readers. They needed to know they had a talented word-smith entering their institution.

So, in the first paragraph I stated my topic and my three supporting ideas. In the next three paragraphs I expanded each of those topics. But, it was that final paragraph I thought I’d have some fun. Again, I wish I could recall the writing prompt, but I proceeded to tell the reader that the first four paragraphs were a bunch of hooey, and if anyone followed that line of reasoning they lacked a couple of screws in the attic, and I continued to refute each supporting idea and finished stating the exact opposite of what I had initially stated. Content with my skills as a writer, I returned home to await my results.

The Finance of Romance: Investing in your relationship portfolioA few weeks later I learned that I’d been placed in English 101, or, as the student body referred to it, “Bonehead English,” basically remedial English for relatively intelligent people. After five weeks in the class reviewing sentence structure, comprehension of popular American literature, and how to write a five-paragraph essay, the professor finally pulled me aside and asked me why I had wound up in her class. Apparently I didn’t fit the MO of the traditional English 101 student.

With my eyes looking at the floor, I told her about my attempt to wow the university readers, and she informed me that there was a time and a place to write in that style, but it wasn’t on a college entrance exam. She told me, as Mrs. B had, that good writers knew their audience, understood what they expected, and wrote in a voice that they would appreciate.

At the end of the semester, all the Bonehead English students were forced to take another writing exam if they wanted to stay at the university. My professor warned me to give the readers what they expected. Nothing more.

On the day of the writing exam, we were all surprised to see that we’d been given the exact same writing prompt (which I still can’t recall) we’d not passed originally. So, I proceeded to write virtually the same paper I had initially written, save for paragraph number five, which restated my topic and supporting ideas and finally wrapped up all the pieces with a concluding statement in a nice neat package topped with a bow.

I passed. But, more importantly, I had been humbled. More important than my skill as a writer is my understanding of my audience and delivery to touch them. I’ve taken that lesson with me these past 25 years as a writer, but just wish I would have listened when I thought I was too good to listen.

Stick to Your (Guns) Rods

This is a guest post by John Gubbins.John lives with his wife, Carol, alongside the Escanaba River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Spending his teenage years studying traditional theology and philosophy, Mr. Gubbins later attended the University of Chicago where he received a graduate degree in humanities, and Columbia University Law School where he received a Juris Doctor degree. After pursuing a big-city law career, he came to his senses and settled his family near some of the Midwest’s greatest trout streams. He and Carol spend their free time fishing, camping, and reading poetry with their family.

Profound River by John Gubbins, Fly-Fishing Nun, Historical Medieval Life, Outdoor sports HistoryProfound River is not my first novel. It is my first published novel. My first novel was a legal mystery set in Chicago. In style it was a cozy. A Midwestern publisher liked the book and offered a “six figure advance” if I put more sex and violence in the story. I thought about it for two years. We were living in the Driftless Country of Southwest Wisconsin, dairy country and home to many great trout streams. Carol and I both fly fish. We could have used the money. Our family restaurant had just failed. In the end I decided I would only publish books my mother could read without embarrassment. My mother was a strict churchgoer, so any revisions like that publisher wanted to my cozy mystery were out. My wife Carol supported me in this decision.

I started researching other subjects for a novel. Dame Juliana seemed right. She wrote the first book of sport fishing as well as books on hunting and hawking. To all historical reports, she was a religious person of great integrity and intellectual accomplishments. Her books were Britain’s best sellers between 1496 and 1650. Her fishing book was only eclipsed in popularity by Isaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler. Since then she has been forgotten.

My mother will never see Cedar Fort’s beautiful edition of Profound River. The month I am writing this piece is the month she died a year ago. I can confidently say she would have approved of the Profound River. It is hard in our culture to write and have published a book without sex and violence, but in the end so many people you respect can read it without reservations. That is your reward. Those people are your market.

John Gubbins, Author of Profound River, Fly fishing, Dame JuliaThe greatest lesson I learned from writing Dame Juliana is not to fall in love with my own writing. You have probably heard this before. It is a hard lesson you will need to remind yourself of every day you write. When you first start off, you feel like you are tearing a part of your heart out every time you delete a favorite passage. It must be done. If I finish the day with 600 words, I will have discarded easily another 600 to a 1000 before retiring for the day. The next morning when I review what I have written, I will delete more. Edit, re-edit, and re-edit. It is the only way to get to something new and fresh. Growing more callous about what I write, I am now at the point where what I first put down has a shelf life of about thirty minutes. So I repeat: edit, re-edit, and re-edit. It is the only way.