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 barbarambritton.com, and on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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

Just for Writers

Writing Like Everyone Else

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By nature, writers study other writers. We yearn to figure out the key to success. We fret over what makes us “good”. What can we do to get better? What book should we read? What software should we use? What publisher should we send to? Should we self-publish? Do we need an agent? I’ll stop right here before I cause myself some unwanted anxiety.

 

I’ll just do what they’re doing. Yeah, that’ll work.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read comments from writers about the best writing software and how everyone should try it because they love it and it works for them. The same can be said for how-to books on writing. I’m not talking about craft of writing books. Those are a necessity. We all need to learn the mechanics of writing and writing well. I’m talking about method books. Write from the middle, snowflake, etc. etc. Don’t get me wrong—they do work—for some people. Just not for me. I find that I inevitably go back to “my” method. Which obviously no one else wants to know about because I’m not a bestselling author by any means. Then there’s that popular writing software that seems to be making everyone a great writer except for me because I can’t understand the encrypted thing. It’s obviously written in a way that only real writers can understand because I’ve spent countless hours watching video, poured tons of money into the books for Dummies (which I have no shame in admitting I am one of) and googled and YouTubed every comment and link ever put out there so that I could be like everyone else. And…it didn’t work. At all. I ended up with a corrupted file, an empty box of Kleenex, and had to dig my way out of Hershey Kisses wrappers so that I could go back to work at my real job and earn a paycheck. Because I also had to accept that the last royalty check wasn’t even going to buy me a cup of White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks. No, not even a tall one.

Acceptance

After all the research on how to be a great writer, how to use the best software ever invented, how to market my book, promote with social media…inevitably, I’m still me. Still writing by the seat of my pants. Still using “another” writing program because I can’t figure out what everyone else is using. Still working a day job and still trying to carve out a few minutes a day to write something. Anything. Some days I feel proud just to write my grocery list in an order that makes sense after I get to the store. At the end of the day, I am who I am and my strengths and weaknesses belong only to me. This writing thing will either make or break me. Since I’ve been doing it for a very long time, I’m pretty sure it won’t break me but it hasn’t made much of me, either.  I truly want to be better. Wanting to be better is a great thing. Fretting over it isn’t. There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to be successful, but comparing yourself to others is not going to get you very far. Sitting angry, broken and jealous under a pile of chocolate wrappers is not how I want to go out. So how does a writer stay motivated? How do we stop comparing ourselves to others? How do we accept the talents God has given us and find peace and comfort in it?

Leaning on God, letting go of the world

Christian writers have it so much better. We have God. My favorite verse hanging in my office is Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

I don’t have to be jealous that other writers are being amazingly successful with their choice of writing software. Let’s be real. That software didn’t write their book for them. Those how-to books helped them but it didn’t put them in front of the computer day after day and make them build a successful career. We can’t compare ourselves to others so often that we begin to feel inadequate in our own talents. We shouldn’t constantly seek what other writers have as if it’s the secret to our own success. I find that in times when I feel I am inadequate as a writer it helps when I do things to build up others. Promote an author’s new release, help a new writer with something I’ve found that once helped me, offer to review an author’s book, or simply write reviews for books I’ve read and enjoyed. When I build up others, I’m also building up myself. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Write for Him

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When we let go of our own failures, inadequacies and insecurities and write for Him, our writing will flow. Find joy in your talents and do everything in your power to keep from comparing yourself to others. Learn from them, but respect that we’re all on our on path and that God knows better than we do where our paths will lead us. It doesn’t mean I can’t still try to learn that ominous software everyone else seems to love or buy the latest and greatest how-to book hoping to find some secret way to write a novel faster. Learning to improve on our talents is what God wants us to do. Comparing ourselves to others…not so much. The simple truth of the matter is that we’re not all meant to be a bestselling author—but you won’t know unless you try. Don’t listen to that negative voice inside you that tells you not to write because you’ll never succeed or be as good as everyone else. Go write! Write with joy. Write with conviction and a purpose. Write for Him and you can’t go wrong.

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven