Start your book right–keep them up all night!

I’m up at my writing retreat in northern Minnesota this week working hard on the final edits and proofing a book due Friday. (It’s book #5 in my Montana Rescue series. Book #3—A Matter of Trust hits the shelves in a week!)

The first thing I always do in my final pass is make sure the first chapter has done its work. Writing a first chapter is soooo challenging because it must do the work of launching your external plot, creating a connection between your reader and your character, attracting the attention of the reader, igniting the internal plot and wooing the reader with your voice. (and, you must make the reader worry enough about the problem raised in chapter one to turn to chapter two!)

That’s a TON of work for poor chapter one. But if you do it right, you’ll create a book that keeps readers up all night.

Unfortunately, we often write chapter one first—before we really know our character, our plot, and before our voice has had a chance to warm up. That’s why I always go back and rewrite it last, after the book is finished. It might end up very much the same as when I started…or I might scrap it and rewrite it knowing what I know now.

Last week, and for the next two weeks, we’re taking first scenes in our weekly Novel.Academy peptalk. We’re going through a series entitled Extreme Book Makeover, where we learn how to root out problems, and then learn tools to fix them. We then follow up with a couple weeks of feedback on submitted scenes.

What are some symptoms of weak first scenes?

  • The scene doesn’t raise interest…there’s no danger or intrigue that arrests our emotional interest or adrenaline)
  • The lead character isn’t likable—meaning he/she isn’t heroic or sympathetic
  • There is no hint at long term trouble, and therefore, no reason to keep reading (in other words; Stakes)
  • We don’t know where we are…lack of storyworld (really, this is important!)
  • Too much pipe…Meaning, we are taking WAY too long to get into the scene (this is usually a backstory dump problem).

I find it easier, as I’m editing, and rewriting, to start by asking myself big questions. I’ll dig down into the words later. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:

  • Does my first line pique a reader’s interest?
  • Do I have a mental picture of the character and what he/she does?
  • Would I want to spend time with this person, or at least learn more about them?
  • Can I relate to their current problem?
  • Do I know where I am? (and when?)
  • Do I have enough dialogue for my character to come to life for the reader?
  • Am I worried about my character when the scene ends?

Are you working on first scene today? Remember, how well our reader connects with and cares about your character determines the success of a story.

Your story matters. Go! Write something brilliant.

Susie May

www.learnhowtowriteanovel.com

P.S If you’re struggling with how to overhaul your story, you might want to check out our Extreme Book Makeover series in Novel.Academy. Along with overhauling your plot, characters and scenes, we also have classes on how to get that book published (along with over a 100 hours of classes on craft, industry, indie publishing and much much more.) Learn more at Novel.Academy.

That time we attended a seminar in our pajamas…and learned awesome stuff!

So, every time I teach someplace, people say to me–Hey! when are you going to teach a seminar on how to write a romance?

Good question. I LOVE teaching on how to write a romance. Because writing a great romance isn’t just about a boy who meets a girl, falls in love and lives happily ever after. A powerful, heart-tugging romance goes deeper. The romance that moves us is the one that heals the deep wounds of the characters, grants hidden dreams and helps them become better people.

Makes an impact on our world.

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C’mon–even BRAVEHEART has a romance. Deep down we all love a romance that overcomes dire obstacles and wins the day. And because of that, a great romance is about the expectations. We expect to fall in love, just a little. To feel something when we close the book.

And yet, people think romances are easy to write, simply because there are so many of them. (did you know that romance is the #1 selling genre?) And yes, there are plenty of bad, sappy, poorly written romances out there. But, there are also romances that deeply move us, change us, spark hope in our jaded hearts. And those…the ones that matter…take thought, deliberation and skill.

But here’s the truth..yes, romances all use the same powerful ingredients. How they are combined, along with powerful characters and an author’s unique voice makes each romance a different story. Still, it behooves us to learn the ingredients and how to combine them to deliver that powerful story.

A few years back, I gathered aspiring romance authors together and taught them all my secrets. Many of them are now published. (Waving to you, PT Bradley, Beth Vogt, Melissa Tagg, Lisa Jordan and so many more.) But as my schedule got crazy, and hotel prices went up, I thought…there has to be a better way.

What if…what if held the romance seminar online? So students didn’t have to leave their homes. They could even, I dunno, wear their pajamas to class.

And, I could make it cheaper, because no one has to travel! (This seminar starts at $297..and goes down from there. Read more!)

And, finally, with Facebook, I could hang around help students after the class was over.

Soooo….

I’m super excited to announce an ONLINE SEMINAR on How to Write a Brilliant Romance! (Excited? Me too! Click here for details!)

April 21-April 22!

In your house. Or cabin. Or apartment. Or dorm room…wherever you are, right?

If you want to learn how to write everything from a thread of romance to a full out romance, this seminar is for you!

You’ll learn:

  • How to structure your romance
  • How to create heroes and heroines readers will fall in love with
  • How and when your hero and heroine should meet
  • How to make two characters fall in love
  • How to write a sizzling kiss
  • How to create believable conflict
  • How to keep the tension high in the middle of a story
  • How to put romance on every page

Most of all, how to write a romance that makes an impact.

AND, I invited, amazing, brilliant, NYT best-selling author Rachel Hauck to help me. SUPER AWESOME!

Click here to read more about the Brilliant Romance Seminar.

Listen–for the next three days, we have an EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT that gives you nearly $30 off the price of admission. (10% off!)

Use coupon code: BR-EARLY-BIRD to get your discount! (OR, let’s make this easy–click HERE for the coupon link! You’ll see it applied at checkout. Easy-peasy.)

Unfortunately, my webinar platform only allows me limited seating…so, the live event is only open to the first 125 people. (So grab your seat!)

I can’t wait to hang out with you all, help you write brilliant stories, share my secrets…maybe I’ll even stay in my pajamas!

Your romance matters! Let’s write something brilliant!

 

Susie May

Novel.Academy

Rainy Days and Mondays

It is 56 degrees in Minneapolis today. And raining.

Here’s a glimpse of my gloomy backyard.

But…all is well because I’m leaving in two days for sunny Destin, Florida, for our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat. This year, again, we have a full house, and about half of our retreaters are repeaters (say that fast five times!) Why? Because although we change up the retreat classes every year, we always offer the same essential content: Encouragement. Brainstorming. Fellowship. And, most of all, a clear path to plotting your novel.

We watch and dissect movies. We read passages from books and discuss why they work (or don’t) and we brainstorm everyone’s story from the inside-out, putting their plots on giant pieces of paper (like these).

Our goal is to give people tools to help them build brilliant books.

Our biggest tool is The Story Equation. It’s a cool technique that I developed, with the help of my writing partner, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hauck to help get the story on the page.

Randy Ingermanson, author of the Snowflake Method and Fiction for Dummies called it pure genius. And my writing heroine, Francine Rivers said she wished she’d learned this method years ago.

Yes, I’m flattered, but mostly I’m just super happy that it works. That it takes the complicated process of storycrafting and drills it down to the bones, makes the process logical and organic.

And did I mention, fun?

Frankly, although storycrafting is hard work, my favorite part about the Deep Thinker’s Retreat is the fun we have together as we bring a story to life, watch it emerge from the dark corners of our brains and onto the page.

I remember, years ago, when I was starting this writing gig, I said to myself, “Suz, if you want to make a career out of this, you need to figure out a way to write a brilliant book, every time, on deadline. A system, a plan, a technique, a process.” Now 54 books later, I use the SEQ for every single book. Meet every single deadline. And write stories that readers enjoy.

What is your process? Your method? How do you get the story on the page, meet your deadline and build a career even when life feels gloomy? Whether you use something like the SEQ, or a combination of many great techniques (e.g Randy’s Snowflake Method, which is a super way to get started!) (or James Scott Bell’s LOCK method) you need to develop something to help you write consistently excellent books.

(And it helps to get away with friends who understand this method brainstorm, too!)

So, my encouragement for you today is figure out YOUR method. Your process. Develop it, hone it, master it. Make it work for you even when the muse is tucked under a blanket, refusing to emerge.

Your story matters. Go, write something brilliant!

Susie May

P.S. If you’d like to check out the SEQ method, you can pick up the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LWXKLZV/

And, by the way we have a mini-course that teaches the SEQwith 2 free lessons to get you started! http://novel.academy/p/theseq

3 Brainstorming Sparks To Get You NaNoWriMo Ready

Photo by Karen Andrews
Photo by Karen Andrews

NaNoWriMo, the write-a-novel-in-a-month challenge, is not for the feint of heart.

But you aren’t chicken. Chances are you’ve faced down an editor or agent pitch with only two cappuccinos. Quite possibly you wake up before the sun rises or stay up after it sets to put words on the page, while raising a family, or working a full-time job.

Your life is the stuff of the courageous.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like you scale mountains, but you’re in a career where you know you will receive numerous rejections, still you face them fearlessly and swallow back disappointments with grace. (Outside of maybe that tub of Ben & Jerry’s you didn’t tell anyone about.)

November is your month to go big or go home. How do you get the first sparks for your NaNoWriMo? From your own courageous journey infused into your character.

3 Brainstorming Sparks To Get You NaNoWriMo Ready:

*First, start a spark journal. This is your NaNoWriMo thought bank. It won’t just be pieces of your characters’ journey and story structure. It will be emotions, words, stressful moments, music, muse, and so much more. Mark these segments with sticky dividers so they are easy to find.

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 Spark One: Determine the place your hero/heroine is in at the start of the story. Identify their favorite thoughts, music, places to think, and where they go to find peace. If you love collage, cut out pictures that represent that either online, or from magazines.

This is what I call the frame of mind spark. Every day you sit down to write, review the pictures and sounds of where they are at in life before you start.

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Spark Two: Determine your hero/heroine’s down and out response in the story. Create a segment that shows the thoughts, tension, fight music, junk food cravings, music binge that they take when discouraged.

Use your own life experiences to put this into emotional words. The hardest point of your month in October should be journaled about here. My Book Therapy taught me to keep an emotional journal. This is a very specified emotion you might find in it.

If your hero/heroine is to spend a good amount of time facing hardships that bring them to change, that is an emotion you should connect with on multiple levels of severity.

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Spark Three: Geek out about your passion. If you love your hero/heroine, your plot, or your setting, here is the place to fill the pages with why you love your favorite one of these. Cut out pictures, write your emotions, pour it all on the page. Add musical inspiration, pictures, or prose.

Why? There will be a point this month where you will need to remember why you love this story. That is the time or times when this spark will be helpful.

Are you planning on doing NaNoWriMo? What other sparks will you add to your spark journal?