Elements to Include in a Novel’s First 5 Pages – Part 3

image by Pexels

Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising an early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in 30 days! —Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Learn more at the end of the post.

To pull readers into your story, you’ll want to include six elements. In Part 1, we covered the first two: Intriguing Opening and Grounding the Reader. In Part 2, we addressed: Protagonist’s Ordinary World and Hint of the Protagonist’s Inner and External Goals.

Today, we’ll look at the last two more elements.

5. Hint of the Protagonist’s Greatest Fear

Your protagonist’s greatest fear usually stems from a “wound” in his childhood. The protagonist creates a shield to avoid the pain the wound inflicted.

image by KELLEPICS

Hint at the protagonist’s greatest fear and how he tries to avoid it. No backstory, just a hint. You need to know the wound, but don’t go into it in the first five pages. If the wound is important for the reader to know, reveal it after the first chapter. Revealing it much later may help a sagging middle. You’ll need to tease the reader into wanting to know what happened in the past.

Example 1

A doctor’s greatest fear could be that she will cause harm to a patient. By accident in her childhood, she caused another child to fall off her bike and break a leg. The other child’s parents came to her house, and in her presence, demanded her parents whip her so she’d experience the same pain their child did.

Now we might see the doctor being overcautious, double-checking her actions and notes and making sure the patient is not in undo pain. That’s the hint. Don’t overdo the hint, though.

Example 2

An abused woman’s greatest fear could be fear of being abandoned. In her childhood, her single mother often told her how worthless she was, and if she didn’t obey, her mother would leave her.

Now, we might see her pacing her bedroom. She wants to join her sister on a trip to visit her ailing grandmother, but she’s afraid her no-good boyfriend won’t like it and leave her.

6. The Inciting Incident (if possible)

The inciting incident is the event, no matter how small or big, that sets your protagonist on his story journey. If the setup of the protagonist’s ordinary world requires less than 5 pages, bring in the inciting incident. If you’re submitting your first five pages to a contest, it may help your scores to include the inciting incident.

image by Comfreak

The inciting incident could be as small as another character’s comment or as big as a spaceship landing.

Example 1

The protagonist never vacations away from home. She fears flying, seasickness, and car accidents. Then she overhears her best friend confide to another friend that the protagonist won’t join them on their trip to Europe, because she’s foolish and consumed by fears. They joke about her fears.

Her friends have hurt her feelings deeply. She decides she’ll join them on their vacation to Europe to spite them. Her friends’ conversation is the inciting incident. She leaves her ordinary world to begin a new journey (which happens to be an actual trip).

Example 2

In the protagonist’s ordinary world, she is an elementary school teacher. She loves her first graders, giving each special attention. Then on a Saturday, she sees one of her students crying and dragged down a back street by a woman who is not the mother who attended the Meet the Teacher conference. This is the inciting incident that invades her ordinary world.

She calls the family and learns their daughter is home and fine. She can’t escape the image of the child crying and resisting the woman. The child is not the happy child she once was in the classroom. The protagonist begins an investigation, which takes her on her story journey.

What is the inciting incident in the novel you’re reading?

Buy Page

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,” http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/  

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. 

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart. www.tanyahanson.com

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Elements to Include in a Novel’s First 5 Pages – Part 1

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Learn more at the end of the post.

Don’t lose potential readers. To pull readers into your story, you’ll want to include six elements in the first five pages. In Part 1, we’ll cover two. The full six will help you to

  • hook your reader;
  • place the reader immediately into your story;
  • ground your reader in the who, where, and when; and
  • persuade the reader your story is worth reading.

1 Intriguing Opening

image by geralt

Begin your story with sentences that make your reader ask a question they want to know the answer to.

Example:

Gretchen wiped tears from her cheeks and breathed in fresh air bearing a pleasant gardenia scent. So this was what being outside felt like. She lifted her face to the sunshine warming her head and shoulders. Her seven-month confinement was over.

Questions the reader might ask:

Where has she been that she hasn’t been outside for seven months? Why was she confined?

2 Grounding the Reader

As soon as possible, let your reader know the who, where, and when.

image by Free-Photos

Suppose after the opening hook and into the second page of the story, Gretchen thinks about the things she wants to do in her new freedom. She rises to her feet and takes a few shaky steps, then turns back and sits down. Then a man adjusts his work hat and says, “Let me help you inside.”

Now your reader is asking different questions, but these questions stem from confusion. Where is Gretchen? What is she sitting on? Who is this man? And he wants to help her inside what?

The reader is confused.

image by Engine_Akyurt

The reader’s possible thoughts:

Where: Is she outside a hospital? Why didn’t people take her outdoors during her long stay? That’s unrealistic. People would have taken her outside in a wheelchair. Maybe she was in a coma. That could be the answer. She’s probably sitting in a wheelchair now.

Who: But wouldn’t someone be beside her to help her? Where’s the person who pushed the wheelchair? Is the man who spoke the one who pushed the wheelchair? Or is he a driver of a car that’ll take her away? Or is he the aide who’ll take her back inside the hospital?

When: Well, at least I know it’s daytime. The man adjusts his work hat. If he’s a taxi or ambulance driver, they don’t wear company hats anymore. Neither would a hospital aide. Maybe the story takes place in the past.

I’m confused!

The reader puts the book down.

Do you really want your reader going through all that rumination?

Grounding after the opening lines:

Gretchen is sitting on a porch step of an old Virginia farmhouse, tears spilling from her eyes. Her seven-month ordeal is over.

Two police cars are parked askew out front. The husband and wife who held Gretchen captive sit cuffed in a police cruiser’s backseat. Sirens blare in the distance.

image by GregMcMahan

The sun has become intense. As Gretchen stands and walks toward a bench under a shade tree, a Virginia State patrol car arrives. The trooper climbs out of the vehicle and adjusts his broad-rimmed campaign hat.

The bright sunlight and Gretchen’s weakness make her woozy. The trooper steps forward and says, “Let me help you to the bench.”

You get the idea.

Join me next month to look at:

  • The protagonist’s ordinary world
  • Hinting at the protagonist’s inner and external goals

What in the first five pages makes you put a book down?

Buy Page

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

 


If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,” http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/  

Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising the early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly, writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in only 30 days!

—Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. 

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart. www.tanyahanson.com

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

It’s Never Too Late to Write a Novel

image by Bru-nO

My guest today, Joanie Walker, gives hope to those who have always wanted to capture their life adventures into a novel. Joanie’s writing journey is a good representation of what writing hopefuls need to do to be successful. Read more about her novel, Drafted to Deceive, at the end of her post.

A late-blooming writer confesses all …

 

image by TheDigitalArtist

Fifty years ago, I was almost a Spy… I had flirted with D.C. area intelligence work during college, then refused a clandestine assignment with the National Security Agency after graduation, besides having dated a few spooks during my two years serving Uncle Sam as a civilian in Cold War West Germany. All that should qualify me to write a spy novel, right?

So why did I delay a half century to create my first fiction? Well, my marriage to an inveterate adventurer/business man kept my suitcases packed and adrenalin racing. Our saga includes sailing our 38.8-foot Bristol sloop throughout the Chesapeake Bay and bareboating in the Virgin Islands—until the vast blue of the sky beckoned. Our sailboat morphed into a succession of single and multi-engine fixed wings. For twenty years I sat in the right seat while my pilot husband flew us around the country for business and as an Angel Flight volunteer, moving patients to hospitals for treatments or transplants.

I detailed our thirty-two-day odyssey from Virginia to California in our A-36 Bonanza for the American Bonanza Society’s monthly magazine. “From Sea to Shining Sea – Bonanza-Style” was a three-page spread with photos. Nonfiction I could handle (journalism-trained at The College of William and Mary), but fiction I had never attempted.

image by iamanilozturk

In early 2016, with my pilot retired and suitcases stored in the closet, I decided to weave real-life adventures into story form. But, how to begin?  

When I sent an SOS to my editor friend, she rescued me with writers’ lifesavers like excellent how-to books for novelists, directions to a novel writers’ conference, and links to articles and blogs focusing on successful fiction writing. She also invited me to join her critique group which evolved into a Word Weavers chapter with great fellowship and support each month.

With my detail-type personality, I latched onto the “Plotter” method in formulating my story with timeline charts, stock photos for main characters, index cards noting each chapter’s action, and a binder filled with characters’ backstories and idiosyncrasies. It worked for me.

However, I failed to tabulate my total word count. I emerged at The End to discover I’d written the equivalent of two books, word-wise. Determined to pare down and polish at the same time, I spent months editing the manuscript at least twice, which improved it immensely.

Meanwhile, I learned the value of entering my first chapters in contests for feedback from judges. Before conferences I also paid a nominal fee for critiques by faculty members to gather more helpful suggestions.

By the time I wrote The End again, I had two agents plus a publisher interested in the novel. I signed with the agent who has encouraged me ever since he heard me say at my first conference, “fifty years ago I was almost a Spy.”

See how a woman who was almost a Cold War spy wrote a novel later in life. Click to tweet.

What’s holding you back from writing a novel?

Drafted to Deceive

Still stinging from a ruined romance, twenty-four-year-old Christina Hayword opts to leave heartache behind by traveling the world and serving her country. Poised to depart the U.S. for a two-year contract in Cold War Europe as a Department of Army civilian, she is snared by Military Intelligence for some mysterious undercover work halfway across the globe as well.

After initial reluctance, Christina agrees to assist the special task force searching for East German counterfeiters who plot to undermine the West German economy with bogus currency as well as destroy U.S./West German relations. Her mandate:  detect suspicious behavior among the civilians, military, and local nationals she meets through her Special Services position in Nuremberg, West Germany.

Despite her resistance to any new emotional entanglements, Christina is enchanted by two valiant team members vying for her romantic attention, besides her ex-fiancé’s appearance in uniform at a nearby installation. While juggling both her regular and undercover work, she finds threads of the Soviet-motivated scheme intertwining both. Remnants of former Nazi operations figure into her ultimate identification of the counterfeit masterminds. When a gunshot heralds a harrowing climax, Christina alone must thwart the counterfeit masterminds to save West Germany and her own life.

Visit joaniesolingerwalker.com for more information about Drafted to Deceive, Joanie’s first novel in her Cold War Conquests series.