Posts Tagged ‘Donna Schlachter’

Sweet Success for Donna Schlachter

By: Darby Karchut

Congratulations to Donna Schlachter! Writing as Leeann Betts, she recently released her latest novella collection from Barbour Publishing, ALWAYS A WEDDING PLANNER, with co-authors RL Ashly, Toni Shiloh, and Davalynn Spencer. This sweet and clean romance collection features four best friends who operate a wedding planning business in Loveland, Colorado.

Always a Wedding Planner, by: Donna Schlachter

ABOUT THE BOOK: 

Discover how keeping secrets from each other threatens four women’s friendships, wedding business, and own ability to find love in Loveland, Colorado.

Business partners Felicity Anderson, the cake baker; Kiki Bell, the seamstress; Cassie Blackthorn, the coordinator; and Chef Saffron Delarosa are best of friends in a town that is a romantic wedding destination for many couples—who work together at Weddings by Design to make every bride’s special day perfect. Could each falling into their own romance be the key to working out their differences and learning to trust each other—and God—with their futures? Copies of the book may be purchased through Amazon and Barbour Publishing

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter usually pens historical mysteries while her alter ego, Leeann, writes cozy mysteries. Together, they’ve penned more than 30 books and novellas. They also judge writing contests, teach online and at conferences, and offer writerly services such as editing and proofreading. They are members of various writers groups including Pikes Peak Writers, ACFW, Sisters in Crime, Writers on the Rock, and Capitol Christian Writers Federation. Visit Donna’s website and blog, and learn more about her fellow authors, Toni Shiloh, RL Ashly, and Davalynn Spencer.


Darby Karchut

Sweet Success is coordinated by Darby Karchut who is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. Visit her website for information on her publications. Click here to submit your Sweet Success Story.

The Challenge to Write

By Leeann Betts

(from her writing craft book, Nuggets of Writing Gold© 2015)

Several years ago I completed a 14-day writing challenge where I committed to do something every day related to writing. While I thought the process would be a breeze, it was anything but.

On Day 1, I listed the titles of ten books I’d like to write. This is what I put down for myself and for my real life persona, Donna Schlachter, who writes historical mystery:

Titles of 10 books Donna would like to write:

  • Then Sings My Soul
  • Christmas Inn, Colorado
  • Klondike Gold
  • Honor Denied – Book 2 of the Heart of Honor Series
  • Denied Liability – Book 3 of the Heart of Honor Series
  • Collusion – Book 2 of the Florida Detective Series
  • Resolve – Book 3 of the Florida Detective Series
  • My Surrendered Heart – Book 1 of the Echo Canyon series
  • The Long Trail Back – Book 2 of the Echo Canyon series
  • Home is where the Heart is – Book 3 of the Echo Canyon series

10 Titles I want to write:

  • There Was a Crooked Man — Book 2 of the By the Numbers Mystery series
  • Unbalanced – Book 3 of the By the Numbers Mystery series
  • Five and Twenty Blackbirds – Book 4 of the By the Numbers Mystery series
  • The Labyrinth – Book 2 in the Lighthouse Foundation series
  • The Landfall – Book 3 in the Lighthouse Foundation series
  • One Moment in Time
  • Of Horses and Wishes
  • Walking on Sunshine
  • Characters and Creeps
  • Remembering Mama

The good news is that Donna has written some of those books. She finished Christmas Inn, Colorado as well as My Surrendered Heart, and I have written There Was a Crooked Man and Unbalanced, as well as nine other titles in that series. She also finished One Moment in Time. Some of the others are still in progress or in the planning stages, and honestly, there are a few that I wished I’d made notes about because I don’t have a clue what I was thinking at the time.

All of this goes to my point: writing a book rarely happens in a vacuum. We get an idea, a nugget of dialog, perhaps a snippet of setting, maybe even a title, and before we know it, a plot and a character or two fall into place. When this happens, the creative juices flow, and we are off to the races. In this case, reviewing this piece ignited the desire to write these books. I’ve printed off the page with the titles and placed it in my “To-Do” pile.

Unfortunately, the muse can flee as quickly as she appeared, so that what once seemed like such a great idea fizzles like wet firecrackers.

What do we do when that happens? We can press on, force the story, force the ending, and maybe end up with something worth revising.

We can start at the beginning, with the gem that got us excited about this story, and see if we can find the true essence of the story in a different direction.

We can toss out the whole thing and start all over with a new project.

Or we can do a little of each, and treat it like a tossed salad of words.

In Donna’s case, for example, Remembering Mama was probably an idea for a coming-of-age story about a girl whose mother died when she was young and the impact that had on her life. There have been several books published with that theme in subsequent years, however, so she’s thinking she may need to switch the story around a little bit. Maybe Mama didn’t die, but ran away from her abusive husband, leaving her children behind. And the father forbade the children to ever mention their mother. But they do. The more he says forget her, the more they get together in secret to remember her. Except they don’t have much to go on because they were young, and so they make up a lot of the details. Until one day the father dies, and the mother comes back. And she isn’t anything like what they remember. Bittersweet for the mother and the children.

Plus, a while back, thinking about this story sparked an idea for another. Taking Daddy Home is about three estranged sisters who get together for a road trip to drive their deceased father’s ashes back to his hometown. What should have been a joyful reunion turns into something else. Donna isn’t certain what at this point. But that’s okay, because up to now, that’s about as much thought as she’s put into that particular story idea.

All this to say: Don’t be afraid to abandon one story idea in favor of another. All writing is good exercise for the brain, so nothing is wasted.

Takeaway: Writing requires discipline, but don’t try to shove a square peg story into a round hole outline.

Exercises:

  • Make a list of ten books you’d like to write. Make notes, maybe a couple of sentences, about the story so you’ll remember it later.
  • Choose the title that excites you the most. This would be the one where you can already see the main character and what’s going to happen to her/him.
  • Start writing that story. Let nothing stop you until you write “The End” on the first draft.

Leeann Betts writes contemporary romantic suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical romantic suspense. Together she and Donna have published more than 30 novellas and full-length novels. They ghostwrite, judge writing contests, edit, facilitate a critique group, and are members of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Christian Authors Network, Pikes Peak Writers, and Sisters in Crime. Leeann travels extensively to research her stories, and is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary LLC.

Website: www.LeeannBetts.com
Blog: www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com
Facebook: http://bit.ly/1pQSOqV
Twitter: http://bit.ly/1qmqvB6
Books: Amazon http://amzn.to/2dHfgCE  and Smashwords: http://bit.ly/2z5ecP8
Etsy online shop of original artwork, book folding art, and gift items: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Dare2DreamUS 

Producing a Novel – Part 12

Cover Design and Self Publishing

By Donna Schlachter

Cover Design

Research tells us we have less than five seconds to capture our reader’s attention, and that usually happens when they pick up our book based upon the cover. Which means that designing a great cover that fits readers’ expectations of your genre is key.

If you already have a contract with a traditional publisher, they will design the cover based on a Cover Questionnaire which you will complete, containing details on audience, genre, and story line. The designer will not read the book, so you must make certain to include any physical characteristics of your hero and heroine to be sure the designer gets the build, and the eye and hair color correct.

If you don’t have a contract yet, don’t waste your time designing a cover. A traditional publisher is unlikely to use it. However, continue reading, since this section will give you insight into how a designer will come up with the cover.

If you plan to self-publish, read on. Whether you plan to design your cover yourself or hire someone to do it for you, knowing the process will help.

First, here are some basics:
  • Our eye tends to scan in a Z pattern, beginning with the top left of the cover, to the top right, down the center to the lower left, then across to the lower right. Put important information in those key areas.
  • Choose fonts that are easy to read. It’s fine to mix and match fonts so that the keywords of the title are in one larger font, with the filler words in the same but a smaller font; the subtitle or title series in a smaller font; and the author name in a different font. Try not to use more than two fonts.
  • Imagine your perfect reader and design the cover to please them. You should already know this reader intimately, since you wrote the book for them and them alone.
Now, on to cover design specifics:
  1. Pick the best picture you can find. Don’t worry right now that it isn’t perfect. You can fix that later. Keep the genre in mind. I’ll talk more below about genre expectations.
  2. If you’re designing your own cover, buy the best software you can afford, or use a free online service, such as BookBrush or Canva. If you’re using a designer, or are publishing with a traditional publisher, they will handle most of the design process.
  3. Research books in your genre to see what the covers are like, the layout, the number of actors (usually no more than two unless the book is about a larger group such as a family). Study the fonts, the placement of title and author name, and the colors.
Genre expectations:
  • Romance: choose a script font, reminiscent of a love letter; choose colors that evoke romance, including blue, purple, red if passion is involved, turquoise and pink. Red and black are preferably used in erotica; for the image, typically the two lead love interests in either a close-contact pose (if the story is about a happily-ever) or in an oppositional pose; include elements from the story, for example, a wedding gown, cowboy boots, big city background or country setting background.
  • Cozy mystery: choose a font that emulates hand-penned font; choose coordinating colors that emulate paintings, or illustrations are popular right now; no dead bodies, blood, or half-clad characters for this genre; a scene from the book, the setting (town, rural areas); if there is a theme, such as cooking club, knitting or other craft, occupational, include an image related to that; blurred or frosted images; actor walking away from the camera or posed in the distance.
  • Thriller, Suspense, Mainstream Mystery: use a font that is bold and clean; choose colors that emulate the tone of the book such as black, red, green; often the images are dark, blurred; often the actor is in the top half and a background scene in the bottom; a cataclysmic scene from the book.
  • Fantasy: Choose an antique or gothic font; choose a vivid color palette; illustrations can focus on the main character’s special power, supernatural ability, or personal quirk; if magic is included, visualize it on the cover.
  • Mixed genre: incorporate colors and elements of both genres, with more from the primary genre. For example, if the genre is fantasy romance, choose an antique or gothic font for the title with script font for author name; include the lead characters but they could be separated by a fantasy element, such as a cauldron, if that’s in the story.

Should I Self-Publish?

Your book is written, polished, and edited, and you want to see your book on store bookshelves, but you don’t have a publisher. Do you spend time looking for one now? Or do you want to get this book out to the masses so you can move on with the next project?

Here are some questions you can ask—and answer:
  • Do you want to see your book in brick-and-mortar bookstores across the county? Most self-published books sell online as print or eBook, although it is possible to work through a book distributor.
  • Do you want to be on bestseller lists? You will need a traditional publisher’s media clout behind you, most likely. Not impossible with self-published, but it will take more work.
  • Is your reader niche large and general (but not too general) or is it specific and smaller? Traditional publishers are less likely to publish niche books that reach smaller audiences, so self-publishing is often the best route, particularly if you plan to reach your audience through in-person events, such as speaking.
  • How much work do you want to do? If you think writing the book and getting it ready for publication is difficult, marketing and promotion is about ten times worse for most authors. While the marketing budgets of many traditional publishers is relegated to their top-selling authors, they usually set aside a few dollars to promote your book. In self-publishing, you are your book’s best marketer.
  • How soon do you want to release your book? Traditional publishing generally takes 12 to 24 months from signing the contract to publication. If you have written a time-sensitive book, such as a political, medical, or social event, or perhaps one about the anniversary of a particular historical event, self-publishing is your best route. If you’ve written a book in a hot current genre, you might want to self-publish now to catch the wave of sales in that genre.
  • How much control do you want over your book? Cover design and distribution in a traditionally-published book rests almost entirely with the publisher. You retain more control when you self-publish, but you will do all the work.

The good news is that self-publishing doesn’t mean that’s the end of your traditional publishing opportunities. In fact, several decently selling self-published books tells a traditional publisher that you can complete a project and that you understand book marketing and promotion. Being a hybrid author—one who self-publishes and traditionally publishes—doesn’t mean you’re compromising. As you can see from the above questions, WHY we write a book is as important as WHAT we write.

Whichever path you choose, determine to follow it to its end. Keep working on the next project—always! And don’t try to cram your book into a publishing process because you need the validation of a traditional publisher or you don’t want to write the best book you can—readers need what you write. The myth that self-published books weren’t good enough for a traditional publisher simply isn’t true any longer—in most cases. So make your book the best it can be, then honestly consider your audience, your motivation, and your ability and resources.

Resources:

Fiction Book Cover Design: The Definitive Guide
3 Foolproof strategies for designing fiction book covers that work for any genre
Should You Self-Publish Your Book? 5 Essential Questions to Help You Decide
Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of Donna’s fantastic series, Producing a Novel. If you would like to read previous installments click on one of the links below:
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

Producing a Novel – Part 11

Self-Editing

By Donna Schlachter

Okay, you’re getting close to the end of writing your book. You’ve checked the character arcs, the plot lines, sub-plots are all concluded, satisfying ending. Time to type THE END and send it off to your agent or one of the dozens of publishing houses languishing for want of your book, right?

Wrong!

Now it’s time to edit your book until the prose shines. Until you make your word count squeak because you’ve tightened the writing so much.

There are several ways to approach this stage, but I will suggest the steps I usually take, and I’ll toss in a couple of options for you, as well.

The Process

Regardless how much editing you might already have done while writing the book, the following steps are critical to the success of your book. Having already spent hundreds or thousands of hours getting the book written, you don’t want to skip any important steps. If you do them in the order laid out below, you won’t waste time because getting the steps out of order will duplicate the work.

  1. If you haven’t already, you should put as much of the book as possible through your critique group. Everybody should have a critique group. Online or in person, it doesn’t matter. And once you receive feedback, incorporate it appropriately. Each member of your group should have their own particular skills. A grammar queen, a sentence structure guru, a big picture boss, and a story expert should comprise the basis of your group. So for example, if your big picture boss says to put a comma here, but your grammar queen says no, listen to the one who knows the grammar and punctuation best.
  2. Use an online tool such as Grammarly or ProWriting Aid. Don’t use this tool instead of a critique group. Use it after the critique group. Listen to what the program tells you, but choose wisely. In particular, use the Grammar & Style, Echoes, and Overused Words functions. Check the readability and strive to get your book to fall into the parameters listed. For example, if the program says your Readability is difficult to read, check out the Stats to find out why. Or if the program says your Passive Index is 45, and the target is up to 25, listen to them.
  3. If you have beta readers, send it to them now. These could be folks you’re related to, or friends, or strangers who offer to read your book for free when you ask for help. If you have a launch team, this could be them. When they send you feedback, listen to them and incorporate their suggestions.
  4. Print your book out in the format in which it most likely will be published. If you expect it to be a 6X9, or a 5X7, or a mass market size like 4.75X7, set the margins and print the book. I know, it will be a lot of pages. Still a great investment. Then read the book as if you were a reader. Mark any changes you want to make in red. Move paragraphs around inside the document with arrows and notes. You will sometimes see things on the page when it’s printed this way that you wouldn’t see otherwise, such as if every paragraph on a page or in a scene begins with “she”. Then make your changes to your digital document.
  5. Print the book out again, this time with regular margins on regular paper, single spaced. Find a quiet spot, and read it out loud. No, mouthing the words doesn’t count. Out loud. Mark where you stumble over words, where there are echoes—when you use the same word more than once in a paragraph, such as vehicle, book, hospital, tree, gun. Look for places where you can change the wording to eliminate the echo, such as identifying the kind of tree, vehicle, or gun. Make those changes to the digital version.

Things to Watch For While You Edit

  1. Pet words. We all have them. I tend to overuse: just, nearly, managed, begin(ning), start(ing), try(ing)
  2. Overused phrases: be able to; be going to; barely managed to; in fact; goes without saying;
  3. Redundant phrases: shrugged his shoulders; nodded his head; sat down — cut the underlined words

Make sure you have:

  1. Lots of body language – switch out dialogue tags (he said, she pouted, he whispered, she hissed) with action.

For example:
“Where are you going?” he whispered. “And can I come along?”
A better way to say it:
“Where are you going?” He gripped my sleeve. “And can I come along?” 

We can see the desperation or the boldness in the clutching at the sleeve.

  1. Highlight tension between and within characters through internal dialogue, particularly when what the character is thinking is opposed to what they say.

For example:
Jane twirled around the living room. “Don’t you just love this dress?”
Orange always did make her look fat. Paul gritted his teeth. “Lovely.”

  1. Tension on every page. Doesn’t matter what kind: physical, mental, relational, spiritual, internal, external (like with the elements or nature). Doesn’t have to be life-threatening, but make it important enough for the reader to ask, “Ooh, what’s going to happen next?” Tension keeps the reader reading. You can identify weak areas by underlining tension in red then going back and looking for places where there is no red ink.
  2. Make sure every scene and chapter starts by anchoring the reader in the character’s Point of view, and the time and place. Avoid going backward in time in the story. Keep the story moving forward.
  3. End every scene and chapter with a question, a problem, a danger, or a twist. Something that makes the reader want to keep reading to find the answer, solution, rescue, or explanation.
  4. Foreshadow what’s happened in the past and how it affects the character, and also suggest how it will have an impact on choices the character will make when pushed into a corner or out on a limb. Do this as if you’re sprinkling cinnamon on your oatmeal, a little at a time.

What’s Next?

Depending on many factors, you might want to hire an editor for a final set of eyes on your work. If several of your critique group or beta readers mentioned the same issues, such as not liking your main character, not believing your premise, not understanding why a character did or didn’t choose a certain action, then you might choose to hire a developmental editor to look at the story as a whole and make suggestions about structure, premise, plot, or characters.

If you find yourself asking yourself questions as you work through the above process, like, “does a comma really go there?” or “how should I format this paragraph”, you might choose to hire a copy editor or a proofreader.

In reality, there are as many kinds of editors as there are problems with manuscripts, each with their own price tag and level of expertise attached. Ask your friends for recommendations, or your agent. Just remember: a reputable agent or publisher will never charge you to edit your work. NEVER.

If you have any questions, while I don’t pretend to know all the answers, feel free to email me at donna@historythrutheages.com

Looking forward to seeing your book in a bookstore soon!

Resources:
Below I’ve included several websites and resources you might also find helpful. Many of these articles have a plethora of other useful articles on writing, and some include free downloads, newsletters, and blogs you can follow:
How to Edit Your Own Work
How to edit a Book
The Ultimate Guide to Editing Your Manuscript
10 Self-Editing Tips
How to Self-Edit a Book With Specific Strategies for Success
Self-Editing Your Manuscript
Self-Editing Basics: 10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book
Self-Editing Explained
Top 10 Golden Rules of Self-Editing
Mastering the 3 Stages of Manuscript Editing

Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh installment in Donna Schlachter’s fantastic series, Producing a Novel. If you would like to read more in this series click on the links below:
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

Producing a Novel – Part 10

Writing a Series

By Donna Schlachter

As with all of the posts in this series, the information below is only a summary of how to write a series. As with all good books, most of the work comes at the beginning. In the case of penning an ongoing series, that beginning point is the first novel, and preferably before you write it.

However, that aside, my alter ego, Leeann Betts, just concluded a 12-book mystery series, and when she sat down to write, she had no idea (a) if she’d even finish one book, let alone a series, and (b) she didn’t know it would be a series until she wrote The End, realized she loved her characters and didn’t want to say good-bye, so resolved to write at least two more and see where that led.

So, despite what I say below, you can write the first book and not know you want it to be a series. However, before you publish or submit said book, read this article and make sure you’re ready for the next, because there are tough questions you should answer before you begin.

Ask Yourself…

  1. Is my genre suited to a series? The best genres are fantasy, sci-fi, crime/mystery, historical fiction, and children’s/young adult. Otherwise, a standalone is probably your best bet.
  2. Is my plot suited to a series? Plots told from multiple points of view that weave together are best, as are stories that happen over a longer period of time. If there is room for extensive character development, world building, and multiple subplots, your story could be a candidate for a series.
  3. Are my characters suited for a series? Again, characters who need to grow and change do this best over a long period of time. Also, if you have a huge cast of characters in mind, planning to introduce them one book at the time might avoid reader confusion.
  4. Can I commit to writing a series? Once you start, readers will expect at least one book every year, with two books being better, and three or four better yet. Readers of a series don’t want to wait two years for the next installment. They’ll go on to something else and forget about you in the meantime.
  5. How many books do I need in order to tell my story? That depends on the genre, the cast of characters, subplots, and your character arc. Please don’t try to drag a three-volume series out into seven or ten just to increase sales. Readers are not stupid. They’ll see right through you and quit reading.

Tips for Success

Once you’ve answered these questions, the following are a few pointers on making sure your series has a good chance of succeeding:

  1. Writing a series is different than writing multiple books with unique characters in each. It requires planning from the get-go. You need to have a story too big (not necessarily the same as too long) for just one book. Longer-term or series-wide developments such as character growth needs to be present. Generally in a series, there is some amount of time between the happenings of each book, ranging from a few weeks to several months to years.
  2. Make sure your central conflict is enough to sustain readers’ interest. In crime or mystery, the sleuth’s expertise or involvement is often enough, while in other genres, an ongoing battle with the villain, an ongoing character arc, or a generational saga can keep readers coming back.
  3. Create a world that readers want to come back to. Make it rich in imaginative detail without boring the reader; make it distinct yet familiar; and give each setting its own character.
  4. Some would advise outlining your series in advance. That would be helpful for pretty much all genres except crime/mystery, where a notion of what that particular book is about should keep you going.
  5. Establish the central characters early in the story but don’t reveal their entire backstory. Let the reader see the wounds that the protagonist overcomes, one at a time, and reveal the source of the wound in that book.
  6. Introduce new characters in each book to keep the series moving. Consider changing out the setting to afford that opportunity, if needed. Put your central characters in new or unexpected settings to force them to act and react.
  7. Stretch out each character’s developmental arc, healing wounds slowly. Give them faults they struggle to overcome, show how their environment impacts and changes them, and keep a list of how they change from book to book so you don’t repeat any.
  8. Each book in your series should have its own strong central event, just as a standalone would, the catalyst for the protagonist embarking on this journey.
  9. Make sure your middle books in the series are strong and exciting, or else readers will give up on you.
  10. Tie the series together with a compelling series name and tie the titles together in some way, such as a pattern of words or numbers. Think Sue Grafton’s ABC murders, A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, and so on. Or Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who. . .  series.

Writing a series can be a very rewarding endeavor, but at some point, it must end. The final installment should wrap up all the plot lines of this book, as well as any outstanding plot lines remaining from previous books. The character arc should be completed for all major characters, and the conclusion should be satisfying yet hopeful that these characters have a happily ever after ahead of them.

****

Resources:
Ultimate guide: How to Write a Series
How to Write a Book Series – 10 Tips for Writing Smash Hits
How to Write a Series: 8 Novice Mistakes to Avoid

Did you miss any installments of this series?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

Producing a Novel – Part 9

Racing to the Finish

By: Donna Schlachter

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far as we discover the steps and craft elements needed to write a novel. However, we mustn’t relax now as we arrive at an important place in our book—writing a successful ending.

Quick Review

As a quick review, based on the Three-Act structure for a novel, your first act, or the opening/ hook/introduction, which comprises less than 25% of your story length, introduced your characters, setting, the problem, the lie, and the strengths and weaknesses of your hero and your villain.

Then the second act, or the middle of the story, which comprises the bulk of the book, the next 75% to 90% of the story, placed your characters into difficult situations, building in intensity, forcing them to make harder and harder decisions. You also introduced more characters and story lines, or subplots, in this part of your story.

And now you’ve arrived at the third act, where you’ll wrap up the plot lines, the character arcs, provide a satisfactory outcome (however that’s defined for the genre), and, if it’s a series, prepare the way for the next book. This third act should take up 15% to 25% of the book, but less is usually better.

One thing to remember about the three-act structure is that the first act will enable the reader to decide if they want to keep reading; the second act keeps them interested in the story and the character arc; but the third act will sell your next book. Resolving all the plot lines and questions creates a satisfying ending that gives the reader confidence that your next book will also be worth reading.

The Big Lie

What keeps readers reading is the Big Lie, what your character believes about themselves that wounds them so deeply and makes them question themselves and make poor choices, brings tension and conflict into their arc and the story. Alluding to the Big Lie in the first act, bringing it to the forefront and having it cause all kinds of problems in the second, naturally leads to the realization of the lie and the desire to overcome that belief by taking heroic measures in the final act. These actions should be based on what we already know about the character, which you would have told us previously, including any special abilities or talents. Don’t simply spring this on your reader in the final act.

Readers want your hero and heroine to confront the Big Lie and overcome it, but the process should elevate the stakes more than ever in the final act. Their final struggle is the Climax, which should take place in the final 5% to 10% of the story, where they have to make the toughest decisions and embark on the most dangerous journey to succeed. This victory isn’t all about external action; it should also include internal conflict. And it will solidify the story’s theme.

Regardless of the genre, this confrontation and victory must happen, or the reader won’t be satisfied with the outcome. They have been rooting for your hero and heroine to change, to meet the obstacle and overcome it, and to come out better on the other side for having done so.

Loose Ends

After the Climax, now is the time to tie up the loose ends. Make sure your hero and heroine have met their story goal, which might have changed from the beginning. If there were situations where the hero or heroine made a poor choice during their quest, now is the time to right those wrongs.

Once that is done, introduce your hero or heroine’s new normal, which should be a juxtaposition of where the story began. Show that they are different, they act different, and they’ll make different and better choices going forward.

Cover Your Bases

Here’s a list to double-check your ending to ensure you have covered all the bases:

  1. Don’t cheat – grow the ending from the seeds you planted along the way, and don’t rely on coincidence.
  2. Use callbacks and motifs – have a character repeat or restate something said earlier to tie the end to the beginning; thread a motif through the story, using the motif in a new and different way because of the changes in the character.
  3. Highlight the theme – while you should have alluded to the story’s theme throughout, now is the time to make that final point
  4. Wrap up any loose ends – keep a list throughout your writing of all the issues, topics raised, plot lines, and questions, and make sure you have resolved those. If you’re writing a series, you don’t have to solve every problem or resolve every issue, but at least give the reader the promise you’ll address it again soon.
  5. Don’t drag out the ending – the goal of the ending is to be unique, succinct, and satisfying. If you’re finding the ending, which should be less than 5% of the book, is long and convoluted, perhaps you have too much going on in the book. Cut some plot lines and save them for the sequel or another book.

The Final Act

One you enter the final act, no new characters and no new situations should be introduced unless you foreshadowed them earlier. Your hero and heroine should serve as the primary catalysts—they drive the climax, not simply respond to it. The hero and heroine should grow and change internally, learning from their past decisions, and emerging as a better person.

You want to emotionally vest the reader in the story right from the beginning so they feel the ending through the heroism of your characters.  To do that, plan the ending every bit as carefully as you’ve planned the rest of the book. Even if you’re not an outliner, make sure you’ve included all elements of a successful ending to ensure the reader wants to buy your next book. Folks love characters and settings, but it’s really the ending that they remember best. And that’s true whether they consider it a good or a bad ending. You want them to remember your book favorably.

Resources:
How to Structure a Killer Novel Ending
How to End Your Book: 5 Steps to Writing a Fantastic Final Chapter
The Third Act: How to Write a Climactic Sequence

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Did you miss any installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with her husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, devotional books, and books on the writing craft. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, Capital Christian Writers Fellowship, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.

Producing a Novel – Part 8

Overcoming the Middle Muddle

By: Donna Schlachter

The Middle of Your Novel

The middle of your novel comprises about 60% of your book and is the part of the story where stuff happens. The problem that happens in many books and movies—usually the ones we don’t finish watching or reading—is that the middle is boring. Unfortunately, the middle of our novel sometimes becomes a series of similar situations and circumstances that take up time and give the characters something to do, but doesn’t really move the story forward.

That’s the Middle Muddle.

Don't let your book suffer from Muddle in the Middle.

Causes:

  1. We don’t know where the story is going so we ramble on and on, revealing a little more of the character’s backstory here, explaining (or excusing) their behavior because of their past over there, alluding to what might happen, what could happen, what should happen.
  2. We write more about the past than the future, or more about possibilities than actualities, that’s a sure sign of a Middle Muddle.
  3. We spend a lot of time in the middle of the book trying to figure out what genre we’re really writing in.
  4. When we don’t start the story in the right place, we spend too many chapters getting to the First Choice or the First Turning Point.

Solution 1: Make the Goals Clear

Everybody has goals. Cinderella wanted to get to the ball to meet the Prince to get out of her life of drudgery. The ugly step-sisters wanted to get to the ball to meet the Prince and have him fall in love with them. The wicked step-mother wanted to get her daughters married off so she could enjoy a life of luxury. And the Prince wanted to find the woman of his dreams.

Even villains have goals. Few set out to destroy the world just for destruction’s sake. They usually want revenge, or power, or wealth, and they’re willing to do whatever they think it will take to accomplish that goal.

The power in every story is when the reader knows what the character’s goals are—even if the character hasn’t verbalized them or even acknowledge them—and then complications are thrown in to prevent them from reaching their goals easily or at all.

Complications can be internal, external, or spiritual. They can be evident to everybody but the character. They can involve only a personal struggle, or they can include the outside world, as in the case of overcoming an epidemic or a ticking bomb.

Solution 2: Add Tension

Begin each scene and chapter with a hook to catch readers’ interest, have a specific struggle or problem that is worked out in that scene or chapter, and reach a conclusion that propels the reader into the next scene or chapter.

Another technique is the cliff hanger, where the problem isn’t concluded at the end of the scene or chapter, but the reader is left hanging, and they want to keep reading to find out what happens. 

Repeated images, phrases, themes, and thoughts can also increase tension. So if every time a character asks, “What else can go wrong?” and something does, the reader wants to keep reading whenever that phrase is uttered.

Giving the reader a break from the action by ending a scene or chapter at a high point, and switching to another scene, perhaps of lesser intensity, with other characters, can also increase tension.

Solution 3: Add Subplots

A subplot is a secondary story within your story. It often uses some or all of the main characters, and explores another part of their lives. Just as we all have different overlapping circles of friends, family, and acquaintances in our lives, so do our characters.

While a subplot might feel like a rabbit trail, in reality, a new story actually enhances the telling of the original story, since the reader will wonder how the two (or three or four) are connected. Which they might be. Or not. These subplots should arise naturally from the characters and the circumstances, and should never be the destination—simply to scare or worry the reader. At the same time, subplots should delay and prolong that anticipation.

Introduce different subplots at varying times in the middle of your story, then resolve them at varying times and degrees of intensity, some before the third act, and some in the third act. All subplots will generally be resolved by the end of the story, however, for the reader to feel satisfied that all the “loose ends” were tied up.

Solution 4: Add Turning Points

A turning point could be the introduction of a new character, a new obstacle, new information. It could be a shift in attitude which alters how things happen. It could be a revelation—either internal or external—such as revealing a character’s secondary role or their realization that they aren’t willing to persevere to their original goal, or the understanding that they are going to be forced to do something they never thought they’d do. It could be a challenge or a disaster.

We can increase the impact of turning points by using strong verbs; introduce foretelling; give new meaning to ordinary objects; or put our character into an unfamiliar setting.

Conclusion:

Rule #1: Don’t think that you must incorporate everything in this article into every book.

Complete your first draft. Do a quick revision on it with regards to using stronger verbs, get rid of –ly adverbs, and tighten the writing, particularly dialogue.

Then ignore the first and third acts. Start reading where your first turning point happens. Are you still intrigued with what’s happening? If not, where can you interject tension or another subplot? Is the pattern of your intensity predictable? If so, how can you re-order your scenes to change that? Do you have enough turning points for each problem that faces the main character? If not, add some more.

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Resources:

I don’t know everything about the Middle Muddle, but I am happy to answer questions or offer insight, so feel free to contact me at donna@livebytheword.com  at any time.

I have written two books on writing, Nuggets of Writing Gold and More Nuggets of Writing Gold, comprised of articles on all aspects of the writing life as well as targeted exercises to apply the information in those articles. They’re available at Amazon and Smashwords.

I offer two quarterly newsletters, one for fans of historical novels and one for contemporary. When you subscribe, you’ll receive a free novel as a thank you, and you can also follow my historical blog and my contemporary blog for helpful articles from other authors, as well as book and author spotlights.

Here are books I used to develop this article:

  • Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis
  • Write Your Novel in a Month by Jeff
  • The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

And here are websites with great articles on writing in general:

Daily Writing Tips   
Writing to Make You Better
42 Fiction Writing Tips for Novelists
Writing Tips

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Did you miss previous installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.

Producing a Novel – Part 7

By: Donna Schlachter

Outlining Your Book

I know. I can see some of you out there rolling your eyes at the title of this installment. Outlining. Plotting. Plodding. Taking all the fun out of the writing process.

Then there are those of you who are rolling up your sleeves, doing high-fives, and enjoying yourself before you ever get down to work.

For the former, I hope I can alter your perception of how outlining can benefit you and your writing. For the latter, perhaps I can add a new dimension to your process.

Confession Time

First, let me share a confession with you: when I wrote my first mystery novel, I didn’t have a clue. I joined NaNoWriMo, determined to write 50,000 in a month. I sat down on November 11th and started writing. I spent two chapters developing my main character, telling her complete backstory, and sharing a prequel story to boot—just so readers “got her”.

About three chapters from the end—or what should have been the end—I realized I didn’t know whodunit, or why. I had no suspects, no red herrings, no nothing except characters I loved or hated, depending on who they were, and a town I felt like I’d grown up in.

So I had to spend time, in the last five days of NaNoWriMo, when I should have been writing, to go back, write in the suspects, the clues, the motive, amp up the crooks, until I figured out who and why. Only then could I go back and finish the novel. Which I did, writing more than 7,500 on November 30th to complete the goal and get the badge.

I learned a huge lesson with that book: if I don’t know where I’m starting (not two chapters of backstory and prequel), and I don’t know where I’m ending (whodunit and why), and I don’t know how I got there (red herrings and suspects), how can I expect to complete the journey?

So let’s talk about Outlining.

What Outlining Is

  • outlining is a long or short summary of the story – you choose
  • outlining includes character descriptions, motivations, goals, and obstacles
  • a great start to your synopsis, which an agent or editor will ask for
  • a chronological record of how the story goes
  • a place to make note of foreshadowing points, secrets withheld, information learned

What Outlining Isn’t

  • a carved-in-stone document
  • a road map with every single twist and turn
  • a verbatim reciting of the story
  • dialogue record
  • a way to steal your joy of writing
  • the only possible way to tell the story
  • the concrete way you’re going to tell this story

Hopefully, the list above will have settled some of your concerns. An outline can be as simple as one sentence (or part of a sentence) about each scene in each chapter. Maybe you’re not even sure where the chapter breaks should be. That’s okay. Write down each scene as you envision it, then decide later where the breaks are.

How to Develop an Outline

There are many ways to develop an outline. Here are a few that I’ve used in the past and the one I use now.

  • Index cards – for those who don’t write their story chronologically, write a sentence or two on an index card for each scene. This lets you go back and rearrange the scenes without being hindered by paper or cutting-and-pasting on your computer
  • Chart – most stories are crafted either on the Three-Act structure or the very similar Normal World—Inciting Incident 1—Decision—Inciting Incident 2—Decision—Inciting Incident 3—Decision—Point of No Return—Climax—Resolution structure. Simply jot a few words about each scene in the squares. If you’d like a blank copy of the chart I have used in the past, email me at: donna AT livebytheword DOT com and I’ll send it to you.
  • Sticky Notes – works much the same as Index Cards, but you put them on a white board or window or wall and move them around to make your story flow as you want it to.
  • Four colored pen technique – on a sheet of paper, down the side of the page, list the number of chapters you anticipate your book will contain, for example 20 chapters. Then make 4 columns across: Plot, Emotional Arc, Spiritual, Romance (if there is any, and face it, most books have some amount of romance). I like to use Green ink for Plot; Black for Emotion; Blue for Spiritual; and Red for Romance. Write a few words or sentence about what happens in each scene/chapter, then it’s easy to check that you have every element covered in every scene and chapter.
  • Write (or type) the key elements in the story in a single document, with one paragraph per scene, deciding later where to make your chapter breaks. This lets you see the story in four or five pages, sets up your synopsis, is easy to change if your story veers off plan, and throws a spotlight on holes in your plot, emotional arc, spiritual thread, or romance. This is the system I currently use, because I got tired of having to re-read the book to compile a synopsis.

A Few Links

Needless to say, there are as many other ways to develop an outline as there are authors, so I’m including links to a number I found online. I can’t attest to their effectiveness or ease of use, but am providing for information only.

How to Outline Your Novel in 5 Steps: Master Novel Template
How do you Write an Outline for a Novel? 7 Easy Steps
How to Outline a Novel with Template
How to Outline a Novel (with Template) from Squibler
Book Outline (with chapter by chapter template)
How to Write an Outline for a Romance Novel
7 Steps for Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story


Did you miss previous installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas and full-length novels. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.

Producing a Novel – Part 6

Character and Story Arc

By Donna Schlachter

So, you have a story idea, a couple of characters that just won’t leave you alone. You’ve come up with the perfect opening line, and you even have an idea of where the story is going and how it will get to the end.

That’s all you need, right?
Wrong.
Now you need something to happen.
But that’s the job of the plot and subplots, isn’t it?
Not quite.

Give Characters Something to Do

Merely giving characters something to do doesn’t make a good novel. It doesn’t even make a good short story. Or a good television comedy. Unless you’re Seinfeld, which the majority of us are not. Thus, we cannot simply write a novel about nothing happening.

Action and activity don’t translate into something going on in the story. The reader doesn’t want to meet the main character or characters in the opening line, only to find out that while there was plenty of action and activity, the characters are exactly the same at the end.

That’s not real life, is it? Every single event, every word spoken to us or about us, every dream we have that we achieve—or we don’t—changes us in some way. And readers expect the same of our characters. Otherwise, why bother? If we want mindless entertainment with everything the same at the end for us and the participants as at the beginning, we might as well watch professional sports. They get paid whether they win or lose. And tomorrow, our lives will be the same as today, no matter the outcome.

Okay, no more sports bashing, promise.

Characters and Story Arc Need to Grow

A story where the character doesn’t change isn’t real. So we have to figure out how to make our character different at the end. Your story and character arc start in the character’s real ordinary world, and are propelled in an entirely different direction because of the circumstances and situations facing them, and their decisions and reactions to those changes.

Here is a series of questions to ask about your hero, heroine, and villain to ensure they are forced to change: (I am using the masculine pronoun only to keep it simple. These questions apply to whatever gender your characters inhabit or adopt)

  1. What does he want?
  2. What will he die for?
  3. What would he never do?
  4. What would he never say?
  5. What is one good thing about him?
  6. What are three bad things about him?
  7. What is his one redeeming feature?
  8. At the end of the story, what does he really want? What can he not live without?

When you have the answers to these questions, now you can place the characters in circumstances and events and situations that tear at the thread of their core, that threaten their stability, and that bring out the best and the worst in each character.

The Police Officer

For example, let’s look at a police officer who is squeaky clean but knows half of his department is taking bribes from the mob to look the other way. He says he’ll never accept dirty money, but:

  • What if someone close to him needs an operation or medical treatment? His mother? His wife? His daughter?
  • What if the police medical care insurer won’t cover the cost because they say it’s a pre-existing condition, or brought on by poor lifestyle choices?
  • What if he needs the money, but he can’t beg or borrow enough for the treatment to commence?
  • What will this good guy do to change the inevitable outcome? (Think Breaking Bad)

And once he steps over that line into the grey area, how will that change him? Will he apply this new thought process to his everyday beat cop duties? Will he try to stifle his rage over the unfairness of how he’s treated? Will he lash out? Will he give up?

Let’s look at another example: a group of retirees who can’t live on what their pension plan pays them. The bank threatens to foreclose on their homes. They stumble upon a bag of money, and realize that they can rob banks, nobody gets hurt, and they keep their houses and eat meat every day. (Think Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

The Villain

Let’s look at your villain: a hitman who kills for money. BUT only as long as the target deserves to die. So he contracts out to abused women, ill-treated employees, victims of hit-and-runs and drive-by shootings so he can get them justice. But he would never shoot a man of the cloth. Except:

  • He learns about a televangelist who is on the run from the Columbian drug lords because of something in his past.
  • And he learns this televangelist, loved by millions, sells drugs to elementary school kids.
  • And he beats his dog.

Do you think this hitman might make an exception to his rule? And what will that do to him? Will he begin to question all of his decision-making parameters? Will it change what he does? How he thinks of himself?

Conclusion

As you can see, every choice our characters make changes them for better or for worse. Every time we put them between a rock and a hard place, they discover new strengths and new weaknesses about themselves that will now be reflected in their actions and thoughts. Usually what happens in a good story is that the main characters realize that what they thought they wanted at the beginning isn’t what they want now. Perhaps they’ve had to let something—or somebody—go. Perhaps they’ve had to admit that their dream wasn’t worth pursuing, but something else was. Perhaps they understand that dying isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

Whatever this discovery is, by the end of the story, the reader should find the outcome satisfying. They should have been able to see it coming, and it should resolve any questions they had about the character’s motivation.

In fact, the ending should feel like it really did happen, not simply that it could happen.


Did you miss previous installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

Producing a Novel – Part 5

Hooking Your Readers

By Donna Schlachter

Writing a novel is a lot like fly fishing: you tease, you tantalize, you toss your quarry a tidbit, and once they are so captivated by your offering, you reel them in.

And while our readers are a lot more intelligent than a fish, the principle works the same.

Readers want to get caught up in your story. They want to keep reading your book. They want to end with a huge sigh of relief because the story has concluded in a satisfying manner, answering all the questions that your opening paragraph, the cover, the genre, and the back cover copy promised.

If you don’t, they probably won’t read another of your books.

Unlike fishing for fish, hooks in books don’t just happen once—they’re an ongoing event. Every scene and chapter should begin and end with one. Readers won’t care about your characters and their predicaments unless you dangle a dilemma, pose a problem, or catapult a catastrophe at them.

So let’s look at hooks, their purpose, and their construction.

What is a Hook?

In literary terms, a hook is a sentence or paragraph, either at the beginning of a scene or chapter—the opening hook—or at the end of same—the closing hook—that makes the reader want to keep reading. We accomplish that goal by:

  • Asking a question
  • Suggesting a problem
  • Foreshadowing something to happen
  • Leaving our character in trouble (hence the old-fashioned term cliff hanger)

The form doesn’t really matter, but it’s wise to change up the structure so you don’t always begin with a problem and end with a question. That gets boring quick.

Opening Hook

The first opening hook, in either the Prologue or Chapter 1, is designed to draw your reader into reading the rest of the paragraph, the scene, the chapter, and ultimately, the entire book. This hook makes a promise to the reader that you will resolve the issue by the end of the book, in a satisfying manner.

Which is exactly why dream sequences are such a let down to the reader, since nothing is really resolved by starting the book with a dramatic nightmare. You get the reader wanting to know what’s happening, and why, but then CRASH! Ha, ha, it was all a dream.

The opening hook doesn’t have to be in the first line, but the sooner you grab the reader, the better. Absolutely the hook should be in the first paragraph. We get fifteen seconds from a reader for them to decide if they want to keep reading. They’ve already used some of that for the cover and back cover copy. Don’t waste time—let them know trouble is on the way.

That said, here are other ways to ensure the opening hook is well-constructed and reader-grabbing besides no dream sequences:

  • No weather, unless it’s used as a metaphor for the tone of the book.
  • No everyday stuff, like a character shopping, watching TV, making dinner, unless you get to the problem right away.
  • Anchor the reader immediately in the setting and time period.
  • No useless telephone chatter like, “Hi, how are you?” Go right to the punch line.
  • Make sure the tone and language is appropriate to reader expectations for the genre.
  • If possible, introduce the Point of View character for this scene immediately.

            Examples:

Bad: Mary stared out the window. It was raining. Would the rain never stop? She felt so bad because her husband just died.

Better: Mary turned from the window. Staring out there wasn’t going to get the laundry done. Or the kids fed. Or the bills paid. And she was the only one left to do all three.

Best: The rain buffeted the window like gunshot pellets. Mary jerked back, the image too raw. Too new. Sheets of water obscured her view of the pier where her husband’s fishing boat bobbed on raging waves. No, not her husband’s. Hers.

Here we see, in the Best example, showing, not telling. Rain buffeted. Gunshot. Sheets of water. And questions are raised: why did the sound of gunshot pellets upset her so much? And why is the boat now hers, not her husband’s? Is he dead? Did they divorce?

Closing Hooks

These are the sentences that end a scene or chapter, and are every bit as crucial to keep the reader reading. That’s our goal. We want to hear that our readers couldn’t put the book down, that they stayed up all night and slept in the next morning. Like the opening hook, closing hooks pose a problem, suggest a situation, or quicken our hearts with a question.

The closing hook can lead directly into the next scene or chapter, or the topic of the hook may not be addressed or resolved again for several scenes. However, once that point of view character comes back on the scene, the bigger the issue, the sooner it must be resolved. In real life, we don’t simply ignore problems and situations—we deal with them.

Examples:

Bad: She could do nothing about Tim’s love for her right now, so instead she went to the mall. Shopping always cheered her up. She didn’t need a man, right?

Better: Tim was a jerk, and the sooner she was rid of him, the better. Now, should she go shopping, or should she fix dinner? Shopping it was—fewer calories.

Best: She strode into the mall, her heels tapping an angry staccato. She passed a bridal shop but kept her eyes straight ahead. A month ago, she’d window shopped at this very store, envying the slim models and trying to figure out how to make even the least expensive frothy gown fit her budget. Well, no more worries about that. Not only wasn’t the gown worth it, neither was Tim. The jerk.

In the Best example, once again, we see the scene instead of just hearing about it. Strode, angry staccato. Kept her eyes. . . ahead. Envying . . . slim models. We hear her heels. We feel her anger. Her humiliation. A suggestion about her body image. Even a mention of her small budget. Then we see her determination to get over it and get on with her life.

Conclusion

The best hooks will do what good writing should: show, not tell. They will be full of description, strong nouns, and active verbs that convey the mood and emotions of the character. They will also quicken the reader’s heart rate and page turn rate, endearing you to them so they continue to purchase subsequent books.

Did you miss any installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas and full-length novels. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.
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