Monday’s Manuscript with Barbara M. Britton

Page Turner or Snooze Fest

Do you finish every book you begin? Or do you close a boring book and never reopen it? The opening of a novel can make or break the story. If you’ve heard, “the story gets going on page 30,” then page 30 should have been where the story began.

How do I know first pages are important? Contests ask for the first pages of a story to judge not the middle pages, or the final pages. When I pitched a story to a literary agent (who shall remain nameless), I was shocked that the agent only wanted me to send one page—the first page. One single page? Was the first page really that important. Yes. If a reader or an agent can’t get beyond the first pages of a novel, then the rest of the story won’t be read.

Where does a story start? At the “inciting incident.” I discovered this term in the book “Story” by Robert McKee and it was referenced at a conference by another author. I liked the simplicity. Your story begins when the main character’s life is changed forever, or something happens to the main character that creates the story problem. Your main character can create the problem, too. Who shows up at the door? Who’s on the other end of the phone. What does the main character discover that will set the story in motion? In other words, when does trouble begin? It should happen fast and furious and be filled with enough conflict to carry a novel for several hundred pages. Not a small task.

The author’s taller task is to make the reader like or relate to the main character, so the reader cares about the trouble. Remember the agent who only wanted one page? How do you make your character stand out in a few pages let alone sentences? When I am drafting characters, I think about what makes my character likeable and unique. How will the reader identify with my character? I also make my characters competent. Give your protagonist a skill or ability that sets them apart (Katniss in THE HUNGER GAMES with archery). The skill or ability should help them overcome the trouble that is going to create chaos in their lives.

Not every ability is a physical one. Some of my characters overcome trouble with their phenomenal faith, or their intuition. Those are harder to define than being an expert swordsman but work well in Biblical fiction or Fantasy. David’s faith in God made him confront Goliath. His slinging ability helped him down a giant. Israel’s army had many valiant fighters, but it was David’s sincere love of God that made him volunteer to face a nine-foot warrior.

Remember too, interesting details are engaging. The more specific the details, the better the reader knows your character. Glance at magazines and find an image that looks like your character. What styles are they wearing? Jewelry? Shoes? Habits? Creating a character readers want to hang with will keep them engaged in the story. Anyone remember Kojak? What did the detective suck on while solving cases? A lollipop. It’s been a few decades since the show was on TV, but people remember his quirky habit.

If you’re not sure where to begin a story, sit down and start writing. Later on, go back and have critique partners look at your pages. I’m sure you have heard the adage attributed to Nora Roberts, “You can’t fix a blank page.” The more you think about these things, the more ideas will pop into your head (And I don’t mean lollipop).

Happy “inciting incident” writing!

Barb’s Bio:

Barbara M. Britton was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but currently lives in Southeast, Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. She writes Christian Fiction for teens and adults. Barb brings little known Bible stories to light in her Tribes of Israel series. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America and Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. She is published by Harbourlight Books an imprint of Pelican Book Group. Barb has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate.

You can find out more about Barb and her books on her website, and on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Barb’s books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers.

Friday’s Feature with Barbara M. Britton

Jerusalem Rising

When Adah bat Shallum finds the governor of Judah weeping over the crumbling wall of Jerusalem, she learns the reason for Nehemiah’s unexpected visit—God has called him to rebuild the wall around the City of David.

Nehemiah challenges the men of Jerusalem to labor on the wall and in return, the names of their fathers will be written in the annals for future generations to cherish. But Adah has one sister and no brothers. Should her father who rules a half-district of Jerusalem be forgotten forever?

Adah bravely vows to rebuild her city’s wall, though she soon discovers that Jerusalem not only has enemies outside of the city, but also within. Can Adah, her sister, and the men they love, honor God’s call? Or will their mission be crushed by the same rocks they hope to raise.

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Read a short except first

Chapter 1

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! Lamentations 1:1

Seventeen-year-old Adah bat Shallum breathed deep. Deep enough to carry the pomegranate, cassia, and aloe scents from the length of her nose to the depths of her lungs. Was this fragrance a treasure or a stench? She trusted her senses. Her patience had produced a precious perfume worth several silver coins. Possibly some gold ones too. Careful not to spill a single drop, she poured her afternoon’s labor into small glazed jars, and lined them one finger length from the edge of the shelf and one thumb width apart. A piece of whittled poplar closed every opening and kept her fragrance captive.

“Adah. Judith.” The summons echoed down the street. A harsh inflection deepened her father’s voice.

She peeked through a hole in the wall—a rough-edged reminder of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege—and spied her father’s forward-leaning march. Wiping her hands on a clean rag, she scurried around the acacia wood table, a centerpiece to the small space she recently called her own. She crossed the threshold of her storeroom and hastened into the dirt lane.

Judith stood across the street in the doorway to their home, forehead furrowed, hands clasped. Did her sister think the booming call was Adah’s fault?

She fingered the beads of her necklace. Her months of worries had worn the sandalwood orbs slick as sapphires.

“Girls,” her father huffed, scarlet-faced. “Dress your mother. The governor is on the outskirts of the city with an escort of cavalry. We must be ready to receive him.”

How could this be? Her father had not mentioned a visit, and he ruled a half-district of Jerusalem. “Did the governor not send word of his arrival?”

Her father shook his turban-wrapped head. “Make haste. I must set up a banquet.” He kissed her forehead and stumbled as he approached Judith.

Adah reached out to steady him. “Stay a moment and have something to drink. Preparations can wait.”

Judith rushed to aid their father. “A few sips of water and you will be ready to return.”

Dashing into the cooking courtyard, Adah located a pitcher and poured water into a cup. Her father was too old to be racing across the city in such heat. A servant or neighbor could have relayed the message. But then she would not have seen the importance her father placed on the governor’s visit.”

She found her father in the shade of the overhang and offered him the cup. He drank as if a fire raged in his throat.

“Shalom, my daughters.” With a deep breath and a reluctant sigh, her father gathered his robe and trudged in the direction of the temple. “Do not be idle.”

What happened to the governor’s messenger? A nobleman did not travel without preparations being made for his arrival. And if her father had no knowledge of the governor’s journey then he had no time to prepare an offering. Let no one say the household of Shallum was inhospitable.

Adah grasped her sister’s arm. “You must tend to Mother. I have an errand in the marketplace.”

“Where are you running off to now? You have been absent all day.” Judith scowled. “Bread does not bake itself.”

Adah wiggled her oil-infused fingers close to her sister’s face. “If I had helped cook with these scents in my skin, the food would have been spoiled.” And I would have no gift to uphold our family’s honor.

Judith stilled Adah’s wave and sniffed the fragrance wafting from her hand. “This is new. Pour me a small jar of your perfume and all is forgiven.”

“As you wish.” Adah backed across the street toward her storeroom. “And do not forget mother’s embroidered sash. It was a gift from the governor.”

Judith rolled her shoulders as if an insult had escaped her sister’s lips. “Mother will not know one adornment from another.”

“Oh, yes she will. The weaves are stored up here.” Adah tapped her temple. “And arrange a robe for me. Toda raba, sister.”

Adah hurried up the straightest street in Jerusalem toward the temple. She passed the rubble of homes abandoned by her people. Waist-high walls and roofless dwellings marred the landscape of the City of David.

Running at a messenger’s pace, she raced through a maze of streets and alleys before arriving at a small marketplace. Booths, nestled near the Horse Gate, served the priests and visitors who had coins to buy artisan wares. Zipporah’s corner station stood empty. Where was the bartering woman? Why would a merchant be absent before afternoon prayer?

She sprinted down the hill by the battered city wall to Zipporah’s home and knocked on the door with an irreverent fervor. Later she would ask to be forgiven for her rudeness.

No answer came forth. Adah slumped against the worn lumber, huffing like a slave girl. Sweat pooled beneath her head covering.

“My mother is not home. She has gone to the well,” said a familiar male voice.

Praise God. She scrambled to her feet. “Othniel, you are a vision. Hurry and help me. I have coins today.”

Othniel slung his satchel near the door. The little storm of unsettled dust rising from the ground almost matched the amount clinging to his dark, curly hair. “What kind of greeting is this?”

“A hasty one.” Adah shook the folds of her skirt to loosen any dirt. “Our governor is coming to Jerusalem and my father is not prepared for his arrival.”

“Doesn’t Nehemiah send letters?” Othniel scratched his stubbled chin. He seemed in as much of a hurry as a bloated mule.

“None that my father saw,” she said.

His eyebrows raised as understanding brightened his eyes. “But someone received them?”

About Barbara

Barbara M. Britton was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but currently lives in Southeast Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. Barb writes romantic adventures for teens and adults in the Christian fiction and Mainstream markets. She is published in Biblical fiction and enjoys bringing little known Bible characters to light in her stories. Barb is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America and Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. She has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate.

You can find out more about Barb and her books on her website, or on Twitter or Facebook.