Monday, January 12, 2015

First Chapter Secrets by C. Lee McKenzie

C. Lee McKenzie is here today to share about her new release, Sudden Secrets, and to talk about writing the all important first chapter. After all, the story only has a small amount of space to grip the reader and make them care what happens to the characters or they'll put the book down.

Since I've started writing a new series, I've been researching this subject. We always want our latest book to be better than the last. We don't ever stop honing and learning our craft. There is always something new to learn. I'm focusing strongly on first chapters and pacing right now, because it sets the tone for the remainder of the book. There is a lot of helpful advice out there and I found Lee's process very helpful.
 
Here's Lee!
 
Promise and Deliver

I read a wonderful article by Peter Selgin in Writer a few years ago, and it stuck in my head. This part is what I really noted, in fact, underlined.

Based on a book or storys first chapter, the reader will form certain expectations, which, unless they are met, will cause consternation, disappointment or. . .amusement.

I never want my readers to be dismayed or disappointed when reading my books. I definitely do not want them to laugh at me. I think this last would be the most humiliating. I like people to laugh at my words when I plan it that way, but never by any unintentional slip up.

So how could I make the opening of my stories promise and the rest of the story deliver? Heres my simple-minded formula.

I write down the key elements of my story into a single sentence, sometimes two. Never more. That way I can focus on what I want my reader to expect after that first chapter.

When Ive got a solid draft of chapter one, I find someone whos a terrible out-loud readersomeone who doesnt read my books or care toand I bribe them to read the first page out loud to me. Believe me, the flaws become so apparent I want to cry.

During that excruciating experience, I listen

   for the tone and style Id set out to capture.

   for the characters voice and decide if the reader will know exactly what this character wants or needs.

   to find out if I was clear and precise in my choice of words and phrases, so anyone reading this chapter is ready for whats to come.


Once that first chapters the way I want it, I go through the book, keeping an eye open for everything Ive led the reader to expect. Im still not editing for details, Im looking for those main themes I promised, those character foibles Ive hinted at, the consistency of tone and style that I established in that opening.

When Im satisfied, I know it because Im enjoying the story and thats huge because at many stages of writing a story, I havent enjoyed it.

As Sol Stein says, The pleasures of writer and reader are interwoven. The seasoned writer. . .derives increasing pleasure from his work. The reader in the hands of a writer who has mastered his craft enjoys a richer experience. [Stein on Writing]
 
 
 
Sudden Secrets
by C. Lee McKenzie
 
 
Teaser:
one Secret
            Cleo has struggled to heal after her baby sisters death, but the flashbacks to the accident wont go away. With the move, she vows to keep her tragedy a secret and avoid pitying looks.
 
one Mystery
Somethings strange about the abandoned house across the streetflashes of light late at night and small flickers of movement that only someone looking for them would see.
Everyone says the house is deserted, but Cleo is sure it isnt, and shes sure whoever is inside is watching her.
 another Secret
In one night, Bellezas life changes forever. So famous, her only choice is to hide her secret from the world so she can silence small town bigotry.
 Then Cleo happens.
 
 
 
Sudden Secrets does indeed sound intriguing. Lee's writing process obviously works and I'm going to study it very closely.
 
Thanks for sharing, Lee!

 
BUYLinks:

 


All Lee's Book titles: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0042M1KYW

 

27 comments:

  1. These are great ideas, Lee. We just had a long discussion on first chapters at my critique group this week. Good luck with your book.

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    1. They are important. I picked up a book just last night and was so confused by the end of the first page that I closed it and went on to another one.

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    1. That reading aloud stuff? It does seem to help me. It usually costs me a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

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  3. Awesome ideas, C Lee! It takes a lot to make the first chapters shine.

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    1. I'm working on that now with another story. I haven't got it right yet. Wish me luck.

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  4. Congratulations, Lee! I tend to write out write out the key points of my stories in a couple of sentences too. It helps to keep me focused. However, I've had anyone read the first chapter out loud. I'm going to have to think about that one.

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    1. Nerve racking experience, Bish. You have to keep quiet and really take notes while the reader shreds your prose out loud.

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  5. I haven't bribed someone else to read my first page outloud yet. But I can see how that would be better than reading aloud yourself since you already know what you're trying to ring out through the words.

    I love your advice, C. Lee!

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    1. Let me know what happens if you try it out.

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  6. Those are great points. I have read books that don't deliver on the expectations raised in the early parts. Makes me reluctant to read anything else by that author.

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    1. And that's sad, isn't it? They might hit the next one out of the ballpark, but it's hard to invest in an author once you're disappointed.

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  7. Hey, thanks Gwen. I loved being here today. You're a wonderful host.

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    1. Thanks so much for being here today, Lee. I enjoyed reading about your process. You're always welcome here.

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    2. Great. I love it when I feel welcome.

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  8. Great ideas and interesting to take that type of reader to help you out. It would be hard, I think, to overlook the details and focus on the main parts first. I would keep looking at the small stuff and lose my process

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    1. Oh, I lose myself in the process all the time. You don't want to be in the room with me when I'm writing. There's always lots of growling involved.

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  9. Good post! Great cover! Shared!

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    1. Thanks, Shelly. Appreciate the comment and the share!

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  10. Hey Gwen and of course, the legendary superstar author, Lee,

    It's so good you have another release, Lee. You know I had a discreet with the warden. Aha. Seriously, well sort of seriously, congrats n' stuff.

    Never mind about the first chapter. It's the first sentence that has to be the grabber.

    Very nice of you to bring further awareness of Lee, Gwen. And yes, I share this.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing! Following! LOL.

    Gary :)

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    1. Great comment! Thanks for sharing! Following . . . I think. LOL back and so on.

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  11. So that's how you do it! You're definitely a master at the opening chapter.

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    1. Wow! That's a compliment. Thank you so much. I'm never sure if I've got that beginning right.

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  12. I like your idea of getting someone to read page one to you. Beginnings take the most work. They're so hard to get right.

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    1. It's startling to hear your words come back to you from a person who has no idea what he's getting into. It gives you the truth about your writing.

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  13. Really loved your advice . . . guess I'll have my hubs read my first page to me next time ;-)

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