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Thanks so much for having me here, Benjamin! It’s a privilege. One of the things that many writers struggle with is how to begin their stories. And that’s not just a problem for new writers, either. Even very experienced writers can find that first bit of a story to be a challenge.
There are lots of different ways to get started, and no one way is ‘the right way.’ So, I can just share the approach that’s worked for me. I write crime fiction, and, most of the time, that means that at least one character is going to get killed. The thing is, though, that most of us couldn’t imagine taking a life. So, if a story’s going to be believable, there has to be something about the victim that gives someone a compelling reason to kill.
That’s one reason I start my stories by introducing the victim in some way. I want readers to get a sense of who this person is (or was). Then, I hope I can convince them that this is a plausible murder victim. Starting a story with the victim also gives me the chance to make that character seem like a real human being. This, I hope, invites the reader to engage in the story.
I’ve used different strategies to introduce the victim. In my first two novels, the first sentence of the story takes us into the victim’s life. Here, for instance, is the first sentence of B-Very Flat:
‘Serena Brinkman smiled as she took a deep breath of the crisp October air.’
The next sentences place Serena on the campus of (fictional) Tilton University, where she is a student. Then, she encounters other characters, and readers get a sense (I hope) of what her relationships with those characters are, and why she would become a victim.
In my second two novels, the victim’s basically dead before the story really starts (although in one, the victim dies in the prologue). Those novels begin as the victim’s death is discovered, and the police, as well as my sleuth, Joel Williams, start to ask questions. That approach lets me offer the ‘hook’ of a murder case to the reader, and still lets me introduce the victim as the case is investigated.
There are, of course, lots of other ways to start a story and invite readers to engage themselves. Some crime writers introduce a story with the sleuth. Others start with a particularly compelling setting or incident. I do it by introducing the victim, but there really is no one ‘correct’ approach. As long as the story gets the reader’s attention, that’s what matters.
Thanks again for hosting me, Benjamin!
Thank you so much for letting me stop by for a visit on your blog. I love to talk about books and writing.
Writers usually fall into one of two camps, plotters (those who plan, plot, and outline before writing), and pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants). Plotters know the path and the plan to get to the end. Pantsers go where the characters and story takes them.
I am probably a hybrid of the two, though I lean heavily on the plotter side. I plot everywhere. I jot ideas on sticky notes and on scraps of paper. I carry a notebook in my purse for plotting emergencies. I have outlines, character biographies, and color-coded storylines. I keep a chart of all the places and characters. I describe them to the nth degree. This is also helpful if you decide to write a series. That way, my character’s eye color or the color of her kitchen doesn’t change in a later work.
I also use this to take care of my urge to write backstory. I put all the details in this document. Some of the information will never see the light of day, but it keeps me from overloading the story with too much history. Backstory or historical details are better sprinkled in throughout the work.
After my major plotting, I’m ready to start writing. And that’s when the pantser raises its head. I always decide I like a minor character better than another, and sometimes the story takes a tangent. In my first novel, Secret Lives and Private Eyes (May 2016), I planned to keep one character around for the series to create some tension. But as it turned out, I liked another character much better, and his role took on a life of its own. So, without spoiling the surprise, character two is around for book two.
After the plotting and the first draft, which my friend Mary Burton calls the “sloppy copy,” I am ready to revise. This phase takes me the longest. I can write pretty quickly once I get started, but it takes me forever to reorder, change, and revise. And what I think is chapter one during the writing stage, never ends up that way in the final, published version.
I try to write every day, but it doesn’t always happen. I work full-time in IT, and sometimes the only thing I wrote in a week were performance evaluations and budget recommendations. Life gets in the way. I’m much happier when I stopped beating myself up about writing and hitting daily word counts. I write when I can. I binge write. I get up at 5:00 AM and write or do my social media promotion before work. I write at lunch. My coworkers tease me when I write in the cafeteria (but they always want to know who dies in the next book). I write a lot on my days off, weekends, and holidays.
You need to decide what works for you and create your style. It is harder to pick up your writing after you’ve been away for a while, but you need to balance your writing with everything else in your life. The best advice that I’ve received throughout the years is to be persistent and keep writing if you want to be published.
Heather Weidner, a member of SinC – Central Virginia and Guppies, is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. She has a novella included in To Fetch a Thief (November 2018).
Heather lives in Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers, Disney and Riley. She’s been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew.
Some of her life experience comes from being a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, IT manager, and cop’s kid. She blogs at Pens, Paws, and Claws.
Private investigator Delanie Fitzgerald, and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, are back for more sleuthing in The Tulip Shirt Murders. When a local music producer hires the duo to find out who is bootlegging his artists’ CDs, Delanie uncovers more than just copyright thieves. And if chasing bootleggers isn’t bad enough, local strip club owner and resident sleaze, Chaz Smith, pops back into Delanie’s life with more requests. The police have their man in a gruesome murder, but the loud-mouthed strip club owner thinks there is more to the open and shut case. Delanie and Duncan link a series of killings with no common threads. And they must put the rest of the missing pieces together before someone else is murdered.
The Tulip Shirt Murders is a fast-paced mystery that appeals to readers who like a strong female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations such as larping and trading elbow jabs with roller derby queens.
Website and Blog: http://www.heatherweidner.com
Pens, Paws, and Claws Blog: http://penspawsandclaws.com/
Amazon Authors: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HOYR0MQ
As a veteran, I learned early in my career that you need to plan to succeed, or you’ll fail from the lack of planning. But I didn’t adhere to this mantra when it came to writing. To me writing starts with an idea, a nugget of inspiration, or a pearl of wisdom. Actually, for me it started with the knowledge my cousin had written a story. It was a cozy murder-mystery set in the California wine country. But alas, he left it, unfinished, never to see the light of day. I mentioned to my wife that writing should end with the story being released to the masses. I decided I would write my own story, which I took on as a form of therapy from my day job, oddly enough, as a technical writer.
With my wife’s encouragement, I dove into the deep end. With a snippet of guidance from an online blurb on ‘writing your first novel,’ I started at the end, the dramatic finish. I soon realized I had no idea how to begin, having just created my ending. So, staring at the blank page of MS Word, I started to type what floated about between my ears. Soon, I realized, I had lost my way. My trouble lay before in not keeping track of characters, locations, scenes, and most importantly, time.
But, each evening, I would sit at my laptop, headphones in place putting a string of words together. After receiving feedback from fellow writers, I realized my passion had become a monster, and I had pantsed my way to nearly 113,000 words. After a moment of soul searching (and a few drams of Scotch), I pared my story in half. With each passing verse from ABBA to ZZ Top, I soon found myself reaching that first chapter I had written, the dramatic finish. After five and a half months, and over seventy-five-thousand words, I was finally able to type ’THE END’ to my first novel “The Irishman’s Deception.” Along the way I also took some of the fallen pieces and created a second novel, “Suspicious by Design.”
Over this time, I learned there is a 3-Part Act, there are emotional needs and inciting events, all parts of the story that should be included. Though I didn’t follow the ‘rules’ which so many others cite in their own terminology, I did learn that even though I enjoy the thrill of spewing forth words unencumbered on my laptop, it pays to have a few cheat sheets.
I now use a single sentence to establish my scenes, a sheet listing my characters and their relationships, and several shelves burdened with references. And thankfully, the ever-present hot key linking me to the internet, which allows me to view a myriad of information that the famous writers of yesteryear could only dream of.
Even though I’ve grown and continue to learn about the craft of writing, for me, the pleasure still remains in the act of writing what I’ve dreamed of, what inspires and intrigues me. And to think, it all started with an idea.
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