You Only Have Ten Seconds

So you’d better make them count

© Can Stock Photo/ stillfx

You have about ten seconds to capture a reader’s interest. Ten seconds. So my advice to you is to make them count. People have short attention spans, and social media is making them even shorter. This means you, the novel writer, had better grab their attention fast. If you don’t hook them within those first few seconds, they are far more likely to toss your book aside.

I think of my opening sentences as, “Lights, camera, action!” I always start with an action narrative. Nothing overly dramatic, such as explosions going off, but with something interesting enough to intrigue the reader so he or she will want to learn more. So, how do I do this? I write an opening sentence that creates tension, and I’ll use the first sentences from some of my Marina Martindale novels as examples.

Strong opening sentences

Rosemary McGee had the next traffic light perfectly timed until a car from the other lane suddenly cut in front of her minivan.

Well, I’m sure that got your attention. What happened next? Did she have a accident? You’ll have to read more to find out.

My openings aren’t always this dramatic, but even if the opening subject matter is more mundane, I can still create tension in my first line.

Emily St. Claire reached for another tissue to dab the sweat off her forehead and grab her water bottle, but the once-cold liquid had turned lukewarm.

Well, that certainly feels uncomfortable. So where is Emily? And why is it so hot? Again, you have to keep reading to find out more.

Opening lines and your characters

No doubt you’ve noticed I’ve included a character’s name in these opening lines, and you certainly want to start introducing your characters as soon as possible. However, you don’t necessarily have to include them in the opening sentences, nor does the opening line have to be about a leading character. Rosemary was actually a supporting character. My lead character is introduced a few sentences later when Rosemary asks her if she’s okay. Emily, on the other hand, is the lead character. My stories are all different, so my openings are different as well.

A descriptive opening line

Some authors like to begin their stories with a descriptive narrative of where the story takes place. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, you still need to create some tension. An opening paragraph that’s nothing more than a flowery, detailed description of the scenery without any action or tension is less likely to capture the reader’s attention. So unless something really interesting happens within the next paragraph or two there’s a good chance the reader will set the book aside. My advice is to end that fluffy narrative with something to suggest things aren’t quite as peachy as they appear. Here is a descriptive opening from another Marina Martindale novel.

The moonlight reflected off the snow-covered mountains, creating a dreamy, picturesque landscape, which could easily hide a deadly hazard.

Yikes! So what kind of hazard could be hiding there? Again, you have to read more.

Remember, when writing fiction, the conflict drives the plot, so you want to create as much tension as you can. The sooner you start creating that tension, the quicker you’ll draw your reader in.

Gayle Martin, aka Marina Martindale

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And Now for the End of our Story

Every story ever written has two things in common; a beginning and an ending. It’s at the end of the story where we, as storytellers, deliver the punch lines which will impact our readers.

Regardless of your genre, most readers want, and expect, a happy ending. One which ties up all of the loose ends and leaves them satisfied. More often than not, this is what they get. In my genre, romance, it’s pretty simple. Boy meets girl. They fall in love, but there are conflicts and obstacles to be overcome. Then, once the conflicts are resolved, everyone lives happily ever after. THE END. Then again, some of the most well-loved and compelling romance stories ever written didn’t end with the couple living happily ever after.

Remember Romeo and Juliet? This timeless tale of two star crossed lovers ended with a double suicide, which compelled their two warring families to put an end to their bitter feud.

More recently there was Gone with the Wind. After thinking she was in love with Ashley Wilkes for all those years, Scarlett suddenly realizes she’s been in love with Rhett the entire time. Unfortunately for Scarlett, Rhett’s response is to walk away and slam the door behind him, leaving her to ponder her next move. This ending certainly left us wanting more.

Another famous ending comes from the movie, Casa Blanca, which was actually based on a play called, Everyone Comes to Rick’s. It too is a love story with a twist. Boy meets girl. Girl ditches boy. Boy meets girl a second time, only now she’s brought her husband along. So, along with some unforgettable dialog, (“Of all the gin joints in all the places in the world, she had to walk into mine.”), we all root for Rick to get Ilsa back. Instead he puts her and her husband on the plane and sends them away for good. The final scene ends with the plane taking off while Rick walks away with Louis Renualt saying, “You know, Louie, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Good stories aren’t always about happy endings. Sometimes they’re about doing the right thing, even when doing the right thing isn’t so easy to do. The same can also be said of real life.

Gayle Martin

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Redeemable vs Non-redeemable Villains

© Can Stock Photo / hjalmeida

I enjoy streaming a syndicated radio talk show called, Ground Zero with Clyde Lewis. The show has interesting, offbeat topics, and listening helps me unwind at the end of a busy workday. The other night Clyde talked about the latest Godzilla movie. He described how the title character has evolved from an evil beast to a defender of the planet. That’s quite a leap indeed, and it was a fascinating discussion.

While I don’t write science fiction or horror myself, those genres do allow more leeway for using symbolism for political undertones. This may be the case with Godzilla. However, there are certain unwritten rules that fiction authors must follow because it’s what readers expect. High on the list is that good always triumphs over evil.

Fiction plotlines, regardless of genre, are conflict driven. The antagonist creates the conflict when he or she interferes with the protagonist. The antagonist is there to block whatever goal the protagonist is trying to achieve. This is why most antagonists are villains. And the more devious and evil the villain, the more drama and intensity to the story.

In real life, however, people can and do make poor choices. Some learn from their mistakes. In fiction, they would be redeemable characters. For example, Josh, from my recent Marina Martindale novel, The Letter, is a con artist. He’s working a Ponzi scheme with two unseen characters. However, as the character took shape I noticed he had some redeeming qualities which made him quite likable. So, I did a rewrite and made him into a redeemable villain. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I’ll sum it up and say that things aren’t always as they appear.

Most of my villians, however, are unrepentant. Some, like Maggie in The Deception, remain defiant, even while they’re carted off to prison. Most however, are their own undoing. They police shoot them, or they’re killed in accidents while trying to escape. They’re the unredeemable villains. The Godzillas, who have to have their comeuppance, otherwise readers won’t accept it. After all, karma’s a bitch. Not only in fiction, but in real life as well.


GM

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Let’s Just Say No to Sensitivity Readers

and Other Forms of Censorship

© Can Stock Photo / alexandrum

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about a disturbing new trend, particularly in traditional publishing. The use of so-called, “sensitivity readers” to censor the author’s work. Their job is to ferret out any so-called trigger words from the authors’ manuscripts.

Here in the United States, our constitution guarantees our right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This would include artistic expression. Our constitution was never intended to protect anyone from being offended. In fact, it’s opposite. It insures our freedom to debate opposing points of view.

What is and isn’t offensive is oftentimes subjective. Let’s say, for example, that I write a scene in my book where two of my characters enjoy a burger together. If a vegan reads this, he or she might be offended. A chef, however, can read the very same scene and be inspired to create a gourmet burger for two.

I’m a woman who writes romance novels. Therefore, I include male characters in my books. I also write in the third person narrative. This means some of my chapters will be written from a male character’s point of view, even though I’ve never been a man. I’m not trying to make a political statement. I’m simply trying to tell a good story. However, to the so-called, “sensitivity expert,” I could be “stereotyping” men. And because I’m allegedly stereotyping men, I’m no longer allowed to write anything from a male point of view. This tramples on my right to freely express myself as an artist

Sensitivity is the new, politically correct word for CENSORSHIP. As a writer and and artist, censorship goes against everything I believe in. Well guess what? I’m a U.S. citizen, and I have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Therefore, I will continue to write the stories I wish to write, and if the sensitivity thought police don’t like it then they can go straight to Hell. 

Gayle Martin

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The Problem with First Person Narratives

Graphic by Gayle Martin.

As fiction writers, we have two ways to present our story; a first or a third person narrative. This time, however, I’m going to speak as a fiction reader, and not an author.

As a reader, I simply hate the first person narrative. To me, it’s the narcissistic narrative. It’s all, me, me, me, I, I, I, me, me, me, I, I, I. That gets really old, really quick. However, I still get it. The author wants me to have a more intimate relationship with the lead character. Unfortunately, not only does the narcissistic tone turn me off, I also want to know what other characters, particularly the antagonists, are up to.

I love reading fiction written in the third person narrative. To me, and no doubt to many others as well, reading a novel is, essentially, watching a movie in my head. I want to see the bad guys cooking up their evil schemes. I want to be with them when they do their dastardly deeds. I want to experience the moment of shock and surprise when the protagonist gets caught their trap. Likewise, I want to experience the protagonist’s feeling of triumph when the bad guys get their comeuppance. This is why, as a reader, I only read third person narratives. I get to see multiple points of view, and I get to see scene changes with different characters, just like they do in the movies.

I realize this is a personal take, and that other readers may like the first person narrative. To each their own. However, I personally don’t care for it, which is why I always write my own stories in a third person narrative.

Gayle Martin

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Why I Don’t Recommend Using the F-bomb

I recall once looking at a sample chapter from another author’s novel, and there, in the second sentence of the opening narrative, was the dreaded, F-bomb. That was it. I was done. The book may have had an intriguing title, but once I saw that expletive I was immediately turned off. I had no reason to read any further.

I’m not saying I’m a total prude, and, for some genres, this kind of language may be both suitable and expected. However, it’s not appropriate for my work. I write contemporary sensual romance. In my genre there simply is no reason for profanity, and most romance authors don’t use it. To me, profanity, especially when used in the narrative, a sign of a lazy, sloppy writer. A rank amateur. A good storyteller doesn’t need to use profanity. Plain and simple.

What about the dialog?

There will be times when an, “Oh my goodness gracious me,” simply won’t cut it. That’s when I’ll use an occasional damn or hell, or similar verbiage. However, I never use the F-bomb, or any other vulgar synonym for human genitalia. And the keyword here is occasional. As in infrequently. My characters aren’t potty mouths. Even my villains have more class than that.

Sometimes there will be an occasion when a stronger word may be expected. For example, I had once had a scene where one of my characters had just found out that her husband had been kidnapped. She’s understandably upset, and her response is, “What the —?” Another character interrupts her before she could complete her sentence. Some readers may have interpreted it as, “What the hell?” Perfectly appropriate for the circumstances. Other readers, however, may have interpreted it differently and assumed she was about to say an entirely different word. Either way, I left it up to the reader to decide.

Sure, it may be the 21st century, but there are still plenty of people out there who find profanity, particularly the F-bomb, offensive. So why risk alienating potential readers who would have otherwise loved your book?


GM

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Outline or Treatment?

© Can Stock Photo / katielittle25

It can be a perplexing question for authors, particularly newbies. Do you write an outline, or a treatment, before you begin your book? Or do you just sit down and start writing?

Outlines are recommended for nonfiction books. They can be more precise. However, this blog is for fiction writers, so I’m going to talk about what is the best approach for us. And that is to write a treatment.

A treatment is a short summary of what your story will be about. The amount of detail you wish to include is entirely up to you. Some fiction authors may choose to write treatments summarizing each chapter. Others simply write a brief one or two paragraph description. It’s all a matter of personal preference. We’re creative writers, not technical writers, and the keyword is creative. For us, writing is an art, not a science.


My treatments tend to be short; no more than one to one and a half pages. My objective is how I will begin my story, and how I will end it. I used to fret over what to include in the middle. However, experience has taught me to keep it brief. The details will come after I begin writing. In other words, my treatment is my launching point.


Some fiction writers write bios for their characters, and that’s certainly okay. However, I don’t do it myself. My characters come to life rather quickly, and once that happens they have minds of their own. (This may sound freaky to non writers, but every fiction writer experiences this.)

Some authors like to refer back to their treatments as they write. And that’s perfectly okay. I prefer to put my treatment aside once I begin my story. As your characters come to life you may want to go in a different direction than you originally planned. Other ideas may come to you as you delve deeper into your story. Again that’s okay. We’re creative writers. This is how creativity works. 

Once my manuscript is complete I like to go back and look at my treatment. My books never end up as described in the original treatment. They always turn out better. That’s because I let my creativity flow as I write, and many new ideas will pop into my head as I go. My favorite example would be my first Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion.

One of my supporting characters, a young man named, Jeremy, was intended to be a rogue character. He would do his dirty deed and quickly disappear from the story. However, Jeremy was also leading man Ian’s son. And as I got into the story, I soon realized that Ian would never have a son like that. So, Jeremy went from rogue villain to a rival, competing with his father to win leading lady Gillian’s affections. This made for a completely unexpected twist in the story that resonated with me, and my readers. 


As I’ve evolved as a writer, my treatments have also evolved. They’ve become less detailed and more generalized. But, as I’ve stated before, how you choose to write your treatment is entirely up to you. As far as I’m concerned, there is no right or wrong way to go about it. 


Gayle Martin

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How to Write a Spicy Love Scene

As I enjoyed my morning coffee I came across something hilarious on Facebook. A BuzzFeed article featuring snippets of so-called love scenes from male romance authors. Some men write romance and do it well. Then there are others who, frankly, have no business picking up a pen. Their work was nothing but poor syntax and descriptions that went way beyond any sense of believability. It resulted in some of the funniest stuff I’ve read in years. Unfortunately, I don’t think writing comedy was their intention. 

So, how you do write a spicy scene that won’t make your readers burst out laughing? Just like with any other writing, it’s all about the proper technique. In one of my other blogs, Marina Martindale’s Musings, I wrote an article called, Sweet, Sensual or Erotic Romance?  It discusses the different romance subgenres. I write sensual romance, which is probably the most common. However, the advice I’m giving would also apply to writing erotica.

Have a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology.

Human beings come in two body types with two distinct sets of equipment. This equipment only functions in certain ways. When in doubt there are plenty of medical websites out there where you can get more information.

Handle euphemisms with care.

While you can call body parts by name in erotica, they may be too graphic or harsh for sensual romance. Euphemisms can be substituted, but be careful. Certain words, such as manhood, tend to be overused. Others, such as butterfly, can be downright corny. If you’re new to this kind of writing I would recommend reading some erotica from established authors, such as Anais Nin. 

Use proper grammar, syntax and punctuation

Nothing screams amatuer louder than poor writing. No matter the genre, if your story is poorly written it won’t be read. This is why even the most well known authors use editors and proofreaders. 

So, if you’re ready for a good belly laugh, I’ve posted a link to the article below. Be sure to put your coffee down first as an unexpected burst of laughter while you’re swallowing may result in the coffee coming out of your nose and splattering your computer screen. 


Gayle Martin

And here’s the article. 
I’m So Sorry, But Here’s How Some Male Authors For Really Real Described Women In Books

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Storytelling 101

Fundamental Plot Development

Graphic by Gayle Martin

All stories, whether it’s a short story or Anna Karenina, revolve around conflict and basic plot structure. I call it, The Four “Cs” of Writing. Other writers may call it something different. It’s the formula I use with every story I write, and it works each and every time.

The four C’s of writing

  • Characters
  • Conflict 
  • Climax
  • Conclusion

Characters

Who is your story about? Without characters there is no story to tell. I begin my stories with my lead protagonist(s). However, I don’t consider this a hard and fast rule. Depending on your genre, you may wish to begin your story with a minor character or even your antagonist. Whichever way you go, the plot revolves around the characters and what they do.

Conflict


The meat and bones of the story. It’s all about the conflict because conflict creates the drama. Imagine a story about a happy couple who never argue or disagree. Nothing bad ever happens to them. They live a long, happy, charmed life where nothing ever goes wrong. The end. Now let’s take that same couple. He tells her he has to work late that night, but he arrives home in the wee hours of the morning. She can smell another woman’s perfume on his clothing. She sees lipstick on his collar. Guess what’s coming next?So, which story would make the most compelling reading? Plotlines revolve around conflict, and how the characters react to it.

Climax


The high point of the story. The punch line. They argue. She grabs a lamp off the nightstand and coldcocks him over the head. He falls to the floor, unconscious and bleeding. Meanwhile the neighbors heard them fighting and called the cops. The cops soon arrive and bust down the door. He’s lying dead on the floor while his blood, and her fingerprints, are all over the lamp. 

Conclusion


The loose ends are tied up and you end the story. She’s hauled off to jail, goes on trial, and is convicted. Since I write stand alone novels I resolve the entire conflict and leave my readers with a definitive, satisfying ending. Once again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Some authors prefer a more ambiguous ending. They may leave the readers with a hung jury. And if you’re writing a series you’ll certainly want to leave something unresolved to continue in the next book.


And there you have it. The four basic components of plot development and storytelling. 

GM

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Is Writing a Memoir a Good Idea?

© Can Stock Photo / khunaspix

Writing memoirs has become a popular trend. When I was publishing books for other authors, it seemed like most of my inquiries came from people wanting to write their memoirs. My advice today is the same as what I gave back then. Ask yourself what is it about your life story that’s so compelling that other people would want to read it. It’s a question you need to answer honestly before proceeding any further.

Our life’s journey is certainly interesting to us. After all, we’re the star of our own show, but I want to be brutally honest here. No one, other than your immediate family, and perhaps your closest friends, really cares about how wonderful your spouse is or how smart your kids are. Nor does anyone care about the details of everything you did on that cruise to Hawaii. So, the first thing you need to do is to check your ego at the door.

Have you overcome an obstacle that was beyond the ordinary? For instance, have you survived a violent crime? Did you survive an accident or horrible disease that would have been fatal to most people? Have you traveled to some faraway, exotic destination, such as Antarctica, which few will ever see? Were you ever a first responder? Were you ever in showbiz? Have you had some other extraordinary life experience which few people ever will? Most importantly, would your story be an inspiration to others? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then perhaps you should give some thought to writing a memoir.

People read books because they want to be entertained, inspired, or because they want to learn something new. In other words, there has to be something in it for the reader. Your memoir should be a story that inspires others, and perhaps changes people’s lives for the better.

Gayle Martin

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