Where to begin

From astrolog.com

From astrolog.com

Where do you start a book?

It’s something that still causes me a bit of confusion. And with confusion comes consternation and with consternation comes stress and panic and whammo, fun goes out the window like a cat fleeing the vacuum cleaner.

So, finding this answer, well, it’s part of my ‘return to the fun of writing’ quest.

It all started after I finished a book that made me think, gosh, they really didn’t start this in the right place. I remember back to a workshop that I took where the presenter looked at my first 20 pages and put the first 15 aside and said, start here, page 16.

Both stories had the same problem.

Both started with a lot of explanation or backstory. It’s like the author saying, ok, hold on a second, before I begin, there’s some stuff you gotta know or else the story isn’t going to make sense. Now, I know it may be a bit boring and may even lack context, but trust me, once the story begins, it’s awesome.

In fact, I think I sent a query like that. Dear Agent, this story is amazing, but you’ll have to read past the first 30 pages, ok, and then, like, it’s super good and you’ll love it.

fire in fictionHey, I get why those opening pages are hard. Look at what my man, Chuck Wendig says. Or read Don Maass. Or do a quick google search.

You have to have conflict and stakes and a strong setting and dialogue and a great opening line and no exposition and surprise and mood and tension and introduce the theme and main character and have a unique voice and…

Come on, is it any wonder we get all stuffed up on the first pages?

I think it’s easier to quantify, though equally hard to do.

Don’t bore the reader.

Ha. That’s like saying just write a great opening chapter, right? What an asshole suggestion.

But here’s the thing. Here’s what makes a good book for me:

Does your character have a problem that needs solving? It doesn’t even have to be the main plot problem. It can be a simple want, like Vonnegut said, your character ‘wants a glass of water.’ Is there something that buggers up his world?

Sure, it can have a bit of backstory. It can lack a wicked opening line. It doesn’t have to have zippy-zappy dialogue. It doesn’t have to have poetically beautiful descriptions or a gun battle with a shark.

But it does have to interest me. Engage me.

There’s a host of ways to engage the reader. All are good. But there’s no magic bullet.

All I can say is that you don’t have to do it all.

Simple as that.

However, you have do something right. Maybe two things. Three would be even better.

That’s the key, I think. I don’t have to do a hundred things in my opening, but I do have a do a few things well. So I’m going to pick my strengths and run with them.

And now here’s my last piece of advice, advice from someone who’s just written the opening three times.

It’s ok to write out a few ideas and see if one is better than the other. Sort of ‘what if?’ yourself. What if I start on the docks rather than the ship, what if I start in rain instead of sun, what if there’s a time factor? Explore the possibilities.

Hey, not all of us are Hemingway or Atwood or King. And who really knows how much they toss away, anyway. Am I right?

Believe it’s ok to toss stuff away. To have some fun with the opening.

And if you don’t get it right, that’s ok, too. You can go back and do your own, ‘wait, cut these 15 pages and start here,’ thing. Everyone’s got their own process. Just get started, get yourself interested in the story, and keep on writing. Have some fun with it.

Cuz if it ain’t fun on some level, it’s about a zillion times harder to do.

I’ll have more on this next week.

But in the meantime, what do you do for your openings? Bev? Sheila? Lisa? I’m looking at you.


Best show last week – Nothing to report, but this week the Walking Dead starts. OMG excited!

Book that I’m reading at the moment – Finished Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. I dunno. Sometimes I just don’t get why a book gets published.

Pages written on new book   Not sure but writing every day. I’ll do up a count for next week. Add up the chapters. Change the font to 16. Add a lot of page breaks. I’m hoping the number will look good.

Social media update – Last week’s post on research generated a lot of discussion on Linkedin. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Health  Still sick. But almost better.

Best thing last week  Stepdad blog. 

The BEST book he's written so far IMHO.

Ok, this will be the last time, but Unforgiven is out in Canada. Written by the politically incorrect, Sean Slater, I honestly believe it’s his best book.

So if you see it anywhere, buy it. Or hit the Amazon link below.


New Year’s resolutions for one writer

Joe’s Post #124

IMG_0274I was going to look back at 2014 and see what I accomplished. As a person, I accomplished a ton, including moving into a new house, being adopted by a new family and surviving our first family trip (to San Diego and Legoland).

But as a writer, well, you know what, I need to do better.

So what better way to start than with a new year than some good ol’ fashioned resolutions?

But how to start? What to do?

Silk’s list on the subject was impressive and extensive. I even checked out her links. Paula hit the nail on the head about being present and more deliberate in life.

But for all of us, I think it’s going to be personal to us, to who we are as people (or aliens), and as writers.

So here is what I decided upon. This is my writing list, not to be confused with my personal list that includes things like eating more steak, watching more TV and becoming the best Halo guy in the universe.

You will NOT defeat me!

1) I will work on making this blog better. Things like organizing the categories and adding guest bloggers and finding a way to link things to other people’s blogs (and books).

2) I will write every day. Yup, you heard me. It’s doable and it may not be for 8 hours, but I will not go to bed until I have written something. A blog. A short story. Another page or 10 on my novel.

3) I will read more. I already recognized how far I’d fallen off this bandwagon late last year. Like Monday or something. I’ve got a good load of books. I will make time to read them, and I will begin to learn from the best.

4) I will get a novel done this year. I would say 2, but let’s go for one since I somehow managed to get exactly 0 novels written last year.

5) Lastly, I will get my stuff out there, again. I took a real beating in the rejection area (which is like getting kicked in the nuts repeatedly,) but the true measure of a writer has to be not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up. I need to get up more, brush myself off, ice my nuts, and get back in the game.

I’ll still keep the weekly updates cuz, wells, they’re fun. I’ll keep blogging about all things writerly that excite me, cuz, you know, that’s fun, too. And I’ll help all my writer friends achieve their goals.

If I can do all of that, I’ll have a great year.


Best show last week – The Hobbit Part 12 or whatever. Ok, it was a bit indulgent, but it made me laugh, it made me cry and it had an epic battle that lasted for pretty much 2 hours. What more could a nerdy guy like me want?

Book that I’m reading at the moment – In The Shadow of the Cathedral, by Titia Bozuwa. Almost done.

Pages written on new book  25 (nothing on the book from the 25th to now, but I’ll get back on track).

Social Media update – You can never ever figure out what’ll get a lot of hits or likes or comments. Like any writing, it’s subjective.

Health Everyone in the house has a cold at the moment. Will I be next? It’s one nasty-ass cold, too, so let’s hope I stay healthy.

Best thing last week  Had amazing dinners with friends and family (including 19 people at our house, a turkey dinner in Victoria, and my best friend cooking a 12 course meal!) I am officially fatter.

Worst thing  You know what? Nothing. It was a great week and I am thankful for all the wonderful people in my life.

The BEST book he's written so far IMHO.

Writer Help – Please check out Sean Slater’s latest book, The Unforgiven, a fast-paced thriller written by one of the best out there.

And hey, if you like this post, please share it on facebook or twitter or linkedin or just tell a friend.


When to kill it

First of all, a big thanks to all our readers, followers and posters!!!! We hit 1082 followers this week, and of that, only 1081 think I’m an idiot. So, wow, awesome, and thanks!!! I love that people are reading about our journey, I love when people post their thoughts, (even when it’s not to say how awesome I am), and I love that we’ve kept up a barrage of material for over a year now (since Sept 2012)!

If anyone ever wants to guest blog, reblog, bloggie-mc-bloggie-blog, let us know, we’d be honored.

Joe’s Post #86

Thomas edisonHere are the three signs you’re working on a story that doesn’t quite work.

1) You haven’t put ass in chair to write it. I mean, if it’s a story you HAVE to tell, you’ll want to write it. Lemme give you an example. I HAVE to write my blogs. I hate that I don’t have a laptop to be able to write anytime, anywhere. But I find a way to get to a computer and write. I HAD to write my last novel. Took me a bit to get it right, but it had to get written.

2) You’ve written three outlines and still can’t make one work. That’s a sign that either the story or the character or the plot or something just isn’t working. It’s your subconscious telling you there’s a problem and no amount of cleverness is going to solve it.

3) When you pitch the idea to friends, other writers, your dog… they aren’t blown away by it. In fact, they usually hit you with questions about the very thing that’s bugging you. Like, “So, uhm, what if Indiana Jones had done nothing in Raiders of the Lost Ark, would the outcome have been any different?”

Make sense? Any of this ring true?

I remember one writer, soon to be famous and very rich, chucked out an entire novel that he’d written because it failed. Not that it was bad writing, not that it didn’t have a lot of what makes a novel good (great characters, unique settings, surprises, a bit of sex, a fast pace), but it just didn’t … work. (And that really goes to plot and structure.)

thT0P7JK8QSo after thrashing around for nearly a freaking month, I decided to let my story idea go.

And you know what happened? Yesterday, despite no laptop, despite being sick as a dog, I got the first chapters written and the beginning of an outline done. Now why I did those first chapters BEFORE an outline? Well, that just goes to the “I have to write it” thing. I had a scene that was burning to get out, a character that needed to be on stage, a plot that I couldn’t wait to dive into.

It felt… wonderful!


So, for me, letting go allowed me to move forward (one of the lessons I will have to learn and relearn a lot in this life).

It’s a pretty solid idea, though not as ‘big concept’ as the other one. But more importantly, it’s a story I’ll be able to write.

Let the writing begin!


Blogs Done This Week: 1

Movies Seen in Theaters: 0 (too sick)

Times I Muttered, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”: Just under a billion

Queries out this week: 0

Rejections for the last week: 3.

Queries Still Out there: 3

Hope Meter: 30/100 (Something new. The higher the number, the more I have hope that I’ll get published. It’s based on 50% facts and 50% feelings 10% on intake of alcohol and 15% on a failure to understand %s. Should it ever each 0, I’ll need some serious love. Should it reach 100, I gotz me a sale!)