Four Tools for Revising Your First Chapter by Crystal Collier

Welcome Crystal Collier here today to share her new book and some writing tips!

In 1771, Alexia had everything: the man of her dreams, reconciliation with her father, even a child on the way. But she was never meant to stay. It broke her heart, but Alexia heeded destiny and traveled five hundred years back to stop the Soulless from becoming.

In the thirteenth century, the Holy Roman Church has ordered the Knights Templar to exterminate the Passionate, her bloodline. As Alexia fights this new threat—along with an unfathomable evil and her own heart—the Soulless genesis nears. But none of her hard-won battles may matter if she dies in childbirth before completing her mission.

Can Alexia escape her own clock?

BUY: Amazon | B&N
4 Tools for Revising Your First Chapter

Thank you Misha for having me here today!

We all struggle with beginnings. Let’s face it. You’ve got an epic story, but that first sentence is the toughest to get on the page.

My advice?

Skip it.

That’s right jump over that first sentence and just write.

What?!? Here’s the deal. It’s almost guaranteed you will come back and restructure your beginning. Hovering over the first sentence is like worrying what flavor of icing you want before deciding the flavor of the cake.

When you come back to revise, start as late into the story as possible. No traveling to the place where the story starts. No sitting and pondering the upcoming trouble. As a writer, it’s your responsibility to drop us into a boiling vat, right from the get go. (Meaning trouble–not necessarily climactic action.) What inciting incident sets the characters on a journey? Start us there.

So if you’re at the point where you’re ready to revise and make your beginning kick trash, where do you start? Good editing is about asking good questions. Here are some aspects you should question about your beginning:

(Disclaimer: I will be using examples from my books, not because I hold myself as an authority, but because this is a blog tour for my new release. Now BUY MY BOOKS. *winks*)

The first sentence: We appropriately put weight on this one line, but it doesn’t have to be a mind-blowing literary masterpiece. What it does need to accomplish is AT LEAST two of these things:

  • Introduce a question or problem.
  • Show us the viewpoint character. (Including the perspective of the story–1st person, 3rd person, etc.)
  • Establish the mood.
  • Give us a snatch of the setting.

Example: (MOONLESS) Alexia was reasonably confident that exiting the carriage was the equivalent of stepping into Hell. (Character, mood, setting, and problem.)

The first paragraph: By the end of this paragraph (or two), your reader MUST be asking a question. If you’ve done your job right, the reader will be immersed in drama, care about your character, and be anxious for the next line.

Example: (SOULLESS) Alexia’s eyes snapped open, heart thundering. Well, she wasn’t dead. Yet.

The reader might wonder, “Why does she think she’s going to die?”

The first page: By the end of the first 250 words, the reader needs to be grounded with the basics:

  • Who–is this character? (Name, gender, age, occupation, ethnicity or culture, orphan or surrounded by family/friends.)
  • Where? Physical location, time, etc.
  • What–is the problem?
  • Why–should I care? (Did you hook the reader on this character?)
  • and How–is the character going to face/overcome this problem?

If using an “all’s-well” opening (where we KNOW life is good and it’s going to be disrupted), there had better be a hint of trouble either foreshadowed or mentioned.

The first chapter: At this point, we all hope to have a bear trap clamped around the readers ankle. To do this, we need 1. a character they want to root for, or 2. a problem they need to solve, or 3. a metaphorical rug that got ripped out from under their feet. (Preferably, all three.)

1. This making us like the character, how does that work? Blake Snyder calls this the “save the cat” moment. The character has been placed in a circumstance where they have to show their inner convictions. In the first chapter of Soulless, Bellezza shows up to murder Alexia. Yay. Not only does Alexia escape her murderess by using her ability to freeze time, but faces Bellezza to interrogate her. (All while suffering through a blinding migraine caused by using her gift.) We see that she is angry and injured, but a person who confronts her fears rather than running away. There’s something to root for.

Source

2. A problem that needs solving. We are all creatures of comfort. If there’s a problem, it creates discomfort in the reader’s mind, and a need for resolution. In the first chapter of TIMELESS, Alexia is battling the Knights Templar…eight months pregnant. (Yup. There’s the problem.) They have hunted her and her companions from one place to another…all while facing the inevitable deadline of birth. Which could happen on the battlefield. Get to solving, Alexia!

3. The rug ripped out from under your feet. This is that moment, that last line or thought that makes you go, “Brrr?” The first chapter of Moonless ends with a mystery. A man straight out of Alexia’s nightmares has appeared at a social gathering–the man she saw in her most recent dream standing over her dead host. Who here has met someone face to face who first appeared in their dreams?

In the end, formulating the perfect beginning is just about hooking your readers. Do that, and you’ve got it made.

What is your favorite/least favorite story convention for hooking readers?

Crystal Collier is an eclectic author who pens clean fantasy/sci-fi, historical, and romance stories with the occasional touch of humor, horror, or inspiration. She practices her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese.

Find her and her books online HERE.

(Email address is required for awarding prizes.)

https://www.crystal-collier.com/spinner/

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Looking for Critique Partners for the IWSG Competition

Even though I despaired of ever writing anything related to The War of Six Crowns in fewer than ten thousand words, I’ve managed it.

This weekend, I finished the rough draft of The One Who Would Wield the Sword in about 5000 words, although I’ll probably be adding a thousand more in edits. (I’m the consummate adder-inner. You know… the kind of writer who adds in words while editing. As supposed to the bodily organs of a snake. That would be weird.)

Wow. Let me rein myself in and get back onto the topic before I digress way too far (as happens when I blog this close to my bed time.)

Ahem.

Okay.

I’m going to do rewrites and edits this week, but I would ideally be looking for some extra pairs of eyes on my works (metaphorically.) before I submit my entry to the competition.

Which made me think I probably wouldn’t be the only one.

So if you’re looking for someone to trade short stories with, get in touch with me at mishagerrick(AT)gmail(DOT)com. I’ll make the exchange on a first-come, first serve basis.

And, if you don’t have time to read my short story but still want me to critique your story, I’m currently doing full critiques of short stories for $5 (and a service review) per story on Fiverr. It’s a sale I have going to build up my track-record there. Fiverr accepts PayPal, and you can change the price into your own currency.

To qualify for the sale, you have to be one of my first 100 customers there (which is a distinct possibility.) and PM me from the site I linked you to. (There’s a big green button that says “Contact me.”)

Anyone entering the IWSG competition? Looking for critiques for your work? 

Thursday Feature: M Pepper Langlinais

Hi everyone! It’s that time of the week again. Every Thursday, I like to host another writing blogger either with a guest post or an interview. Today, M Pepper Langlinais is stopping over to do an interview with me. (My side of the interview is bold.)

Welcome to The Five Year Project! First things first. Why don’t you tell everyone a bit more about yourself?

Thanks for having me. I’m an author and also a playwright and screenwriter. I’ve had one play produced at two separate venues, and that play was then turned into a short film that premiered in San Diego last November. On top of that, I write Sherlock Holmes stories and have just had my novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller published by Tirgearr Publishing.

More personally, I grew up in Texas and attended UT Austin. I did the Shakespeare at Winedale program there and later used what I’d learned to teach Shakespeare at summer camps. I also interned on the film set of Hope Floats. Then I went to Boston to get my graduate degree at Emerson College, and that’s where I met my now husband Scott. Boston is great in a lot of ways, but driving in snow and ice gave me panic attacks, so we moved to California, which is where we live with our three kids and a hamster.

Sounds like you’ve had a very interesting life. Tell me a bit more about The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. What’s it about? What inspired you to write it?

The book is set in the 1960s and is about a gay British spy (Peter) whose lover is accused of being an enemy agent. Peter manages to escape with Charles, but then he begins to wonder whether the accusations could be true. When he’s offered a chance to return to the Agency, Peter uses that access to try and discover the truth about Charles.

I’m not sure what inspired the story exactly. I think the story started as I was brainstorming new Sherlock Holmes ideas but then morphed into something else entirely. The first part of the book came spilling out quite rapidly. The rest took much longer. All told I spent almost three years on the whole thing.

Sounds like a fascinating project. What’s your favorite aspect to the story?

I’m primarily a character writer. I love exploring the depths of people. When I write, I fall a little bit in love with my main character(s), and so Peter himself is one of my favorite aspects. The way he thinks, the deep well of his feelings . . . There is a scene in which he comes home to an empty flat (apartment) and thinks Charles has left him, and his response is, I think, beautiful. A testament to how quickly he fell for Charles, how important Charles has become to him. That was a tough scene to write because I had to feel everything for Peter and it was painful, for him and me!

So this is no fast-paced James Bond of a story. It’s more psychological. I liken it to John Le Carre’s works.

I also hurt for my characters when they’re in pain. How do you approach your stories? Do you plan ahead or do you go by instinct?

I have a weird hybrid of planning and feeling it out. I go in with usually only two things: 1. A scene that I’ve played over and over in my head until I’m ready to write it down, and 2. A vague idea of how it will end. The middle is always mushy and up for grabs. It’s sort of like having two points on a map but it’s up to me to figure out how to get from A to B.

And the scene I have might not even be the first scene. So I’ll write it, then decide what, if anything, needs to come before. So what I’ve really got is a point in the story and an end point, but I sometimes still need to find a starting point!

It’s not the most efficient way of writing, but it’s the only way that works for me. I can’t outline. I can’t work under too much structure. I do, however, keep a notebook beside my computer, and I will write down plot questions and then answer them so I can understand WHY things are happening. I think motivation is important. That’s a character thing again. I’m really all about character.

So I take it you have substantial edits by the time you’re done with your rough draft?

I wish I were a fast writer who could spit out a first draft and then get down to editing. I really do believe that’s actually the best way–just get it on paper and then perfect it. Alas, I’m not that kind of writer. I can’t speed through the first draft. I pick at it and fret over it. I want it to be perfect the first time, and then of course it isn’t and still has to be rewritten.

When I finish a draft, I have to give it to others to read. I’m too close to the material; I won’t see the flaws as clearly as they will. My husband reads it and so does my critique group. I ask them to mark anything that doesn’t make sense, anything that slows things down, whatever. Most of them will also mark spelling and punctuation, but that’s not crucial at this stage. Then it might still be a while before I’m ready to tackle the story again. I’ll usually try to go write one or two short stories, a short play or something between novels.

Right now I’m doing a rewrite on a YA fantasy. One of my critique partners slashed whole chapters at the beginning because she wanted to the book to get to the action more quickly. It was valid, and I think it makes the book better, but it was still painful to hear that I needed to cut huge chunks of material! Back when I was an editor, we would call that a “bleeder” because of all the red marks on the pages.

I also swear by having my books critiqued. What’s your best advice for finding a critique group?

I lucked into mine. I met someone at a writers conference who turned out to be from the next town over from mine, and she already had a group and they invited me to join. We meet weekly which, based on what I hear from other writer friends, is more than many groups who meet maybe once or twice a month. But of course all of us might not make it to every meeting either. It’s very fluid and comfortable and I can’t imagine a better group.

If I were going to go looking for a group? It’s easier, I think, to start online. But the person-to-person aspect is important, too. Body language sometimes says a lot more than words being spoken. And you can hug one another if you’re face to face! So I would check with local libraries to see if there are any groups, or maybe post at the library to start a group. Local bookstores might also know of writing groups, and certainly there are local chapters of writing associations (here we have the California Writers Club). They can usually hook you up with a critique group if you become a member.

Good tips. 🙂 Last but not least, where can people find you and The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller?

Well, my main site is here. I’m also on Facebook and on Twitter at @sh8kspeare.

The best place to find The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller is on the publisher’s website. There’s an excerpt there and all the buying links for various formats/e-readers. It’s only available as an ebook for now, but if it does well enough the publisher says it will consider a print version.

You can also find all my books on either the Shop page on PepperWords, or on my Amazon author page.

In 1960’s London, British Intelligence agent Peter Stoller is next in line to run the Agency—until he falls in love with cab driver, Charles, and his life goes off the road. When Charles is accused of treason, Peter is guilty by association. Peter manages to extract them both, but the seeds of doubt have been planted, putting Peter’s mind and heart at war. Is ignorance truly bliss or merely deadly?

Thanks again for hosting me!

You’re most welcome! 

Anyone else wanting to sign up to be featured is more than welcome. (Regardless of whether they’re published or not.) All you have to do is mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com with “Thursday Feature” in the subject line. 

Who else gets empathetic pains when their characters suffer? 

Editing and Warm and Fuzzies

First things first: Let me start with a quick flash of admin. In case you missed it, I’m still looking for critique partners to help me edit my Historical Romance, so if you think you might be interested, please head over and check it out. (I do return the favor if you help me.) 

Secondly: The Vanished Knight is being featured on Andrea Washington’s blog. She’s a bit new to the community, so I’d love if you said hi. 

Okay? Okay. Now let’s get into today’s post.

(How’s that for a smooth segue, eh?)

After putting out a call for critique partners for that romance, I decided to open it up one more time before it went out for a critique. The last time I had time to do so was in April.

I’m actually glad I waited so long, because I have a rather interesting relationship with ES1. See… this is the first book I ever tried to write when I seriously became a novelist. Then stuff happened and I moved on to greener pastures. The book stuck with me, though. Again because of a character walking into my head while I was reading. (It happens to me a lot. The Vanished Knight started in much the same way.)

I kept coming back to it, though. Even working on it on weekends while working on the beast that would become The Vanished Knight and The Heir’s Choice. (Yes, it was once one book.) In other words, ES1 became the second book I ever finished. Then I rewrote it and lost the entire rewrite the day after I finished it.

I know. It was horrible. The loss, I mean. The book was (I think) good. Hard to tell. See that draft is a lot like a dead person to me. You know how dead people suddenly become saintly and perfect after they died? Yeah… like that. There’s this part of my mind that keeps clinging to the idea that that draft was simply marvelous. Even when I never even edited it. Seriously, it was the worst time to lose a draft. Right after the high from finishing it.

Needless to say, I didn’t have the heart to start again, so I put the story on the back-burner and worked on three more books. It took me a year, and when I came back to the rough draft, I realized that it was a mess.

Which meant one thing. Redraft. I went through the book and basically split it in two. Don’t worry, these stories won’t end in a cliffhanger. It’s just that I had a huge cast of characters. I split it in two, which allows me to tell two previously competing plot arcs as stories in their own right. (I still need to write the second one. It’s on my to-do list.)

This time, I loved the story as I wrote it. I loved my rewrite even more. After the pain and slogging that goes with writing the War of Six Crowns series (no seriously. I take four times as long to rewrite any of the books), ES1 was a joy.

So when I read it two months after the rewrite, I still had the warm and fuzzies.

Six months later… Not so much. Okay, okay I’ll admit that it still makes me go “AWEEEE!” every now and then. It’s just that now that I’ve been able to look at it without my other writing experiences coloring my vision, I’m noticing things.

Things like: I deviated far from the genre norms in certain places. (Which is fine. I do it all the time. Just wondering how it’s going to go over with the readers.) Or… I noticed I glossed over a lot of scenes. Which now makes me wonder if I’m being overly critical (glossing over boring things is a good thing), or if I really didn’t put enough attention into some aspects of the story.

I’m mulling this over for now, and will continue to do so while the manuscript is with my critique partners.

Do you also suffer from warm and fuzzies after finishing a draft? How long do you have to wait to make them go away?


Calling all Critique Partners!

It’s Friday again and I’m yet again sitting here, shaking my head and wondering where the heck my time went.

It’s actually the same with the whole month. Next week is the last week for October, which means that I should have done this a while ago…

Calling all Critique Partners!

I’m currently looking for critique partners for my Historical Romance and am willing to return the favor. 
What I’ll Critique for you: Basically, I read almost all genres, but I don’t critique MG, Picture Books, Memoirs, Erotica and Horror. Nothing against any of those things personally. I just don’t “get” them, which means that I’ll be pretty dang useless in reading them. 
You don’t need to be ready for a critique to sign up for this, though. If you’re still working on something, I do keep a tally of people I owe critiques to, so if you help me now, you can drop me a line whenever you’re ready. 
What I’m Good at Critiquing: Plot, Characterization, Dialogue, copyedits. 
What I’m Looking for: Pretty much everything, but just let me know what you’re good at so I know when is the best time to send my manuscript my way. 
About the Book: 
It’s set in Texas before the Civil War. I’d classify it as a steamy romance. Not too hot, but the love scenes are there. 
A rough idea of the blurb: 
Wanted: A housekeeper and governess for five children. Position requires living on a ranch in Texas. Family welcome. 

Sarah McAllister is out of options. Her husband was killed, leaving her with two children and without any prospects. She’s desperate enough to move into the wilds of Texas to save her family. But when she arrives, she encounters: One gunfighter in the making whose best friend is a gambler, one taciturn fourteen year old, twin girls who’ve been allowed to run wild and one boy who’s fixing to be as wild as his older brothers. None of them want her there. Turns out, neither does her employer. 
Yes, Grady Kincaid had asked for a well-bred, well-read lady from back east. Heaven knows his children needs someone capable to get his children ready to meet their grandparents. What he hadn’t asked for was a very pretty widow with more guts than sense. It’s a nuisance to have her around, especially when his neighbor and enemy is interested in her, but when it’s clear that she’s in trouble, he can’t turn his back on her. So he’s stuck with her, which is a problem when he can’t ignore his attraction to her…
If you’re interested in helping me out, please mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com and we’ll take it from there. 
Have a great weekend everyone!

PS If you could spread the word to people who might be interested? Pretty please with shiny sprinkles on top!

Peeking Out of the Editing Cave

*Blink blink.*

Holy cow it’s bright out here.

*Blink blink blink.*

People, things are going rough on my end. I’m having to prep both my books for publishing and grow my business at the same time. Which is why I’ve been so very conspicuous in my absence this past week.

I’m pushing to get final submission for both done this weekend, though. This is for two reasons: I still have a Europe trip looming sometime around the end of June and I want to give my reviewers a month’s time at least to read the books before the official release date.

Right now, I’m doing the final hard-copy proof-read of The Heir’s Choice. Basically to check if there are any edits that I’ve missed or any formatting for the paperback that’s gone wrong. Then I just need to implement the fixes and edits. After that, it’s the final formatting and adapting the covers to the paperback template, and I’m done.

Sounds easy enough. Just… not so much while my business is taking off at the same time. Because where I used to have plenty of quiet afternoons, now I don’t.

Of course, I’m not complaining. It’s good to have a thriving business again. And it’s amazing to see my books starting to sell once more.

I’m just feeling the pressure right now.

I don’t regret it, though. The sooner these books come out, the better. And the sooner I can get back to writing again. I really miss it. Haven’t written any fiction since the beginning of May and it’s really bothering me.

I just can’t focus on writing with my publishing to-do list lurking in the back of my mind.

A bit of good news is that things are currently going very well on Wattpad. Right now, I have two books on writing and The Vanished Knight ranking in their genres. (One book on writing is in the top 100.)

So yeah. That’s me in a nutshell right now. How are you doing? Anyone else prepping to self publish? Or entering the query and/or submission trenches?

Mayday! Mayday! (AKA May Update Day)

Hi all! Today’s the last Friday in May, and that means that it’s time for another update for my monthly blogfest. 

For those of you who are new to my blog, Beth Fred and I host a blogfest where the participants list their goals, then post monthly updates on progress. We then go around and cheer each other on or commiserate. Whichever works best. You’re more than welcome to join if you have a huge, hugely important or just plain crazy goal. You can click here for more information and to see who else is participating. 
And now… My progress report. 
Remember when I said that May was just going to be a nice calm month for me? 
Well… Turns out it wasn’t. Because I realized that I’m very very close to publishing two of my books. Which means that I’ve now set a release date for both: 31 June.
I set this goal on 1 May, which is why it didn’t make it into my previous goal post, but it’s had a huge effect. See, I thought that I’m close to finished with the stories, so I should be able to get the final, formatted versions done in no time at all. 
Which was good in theory, but I’m still editing. Why? Because my business is popping back somewhat like a mushroom at the same time. 
Having learned from the great shoe disaster of 2014, I’m trying to keep the growth controlled so that my mother and I (we’re business partners) can maintain a hold on the business without it taking over everything in our lives. 
The thing is, this takes effort too. 
Add to all this a flu that keeps leeching my energy levels and we have a perfect storm. 
Anyway, these are the goals I set, along with what I achieved or didn’t achieve in May:

My Goals for May:

Writing:

1) Write, edit and/or rewrite something every weekday.

There were 21 weekdays in the month, and I wrote and/or edited something on 18 days (although I did put in extra hours and some weekends to stay more or less caught up.)
2) Continuity edits between Wo6C1 and 2.

Just so we’re on the same page, these are The Vanished Knight and The Heir’s Choice. I’m through TVK, but have only just started with THC.

3) Copy edits for BvB1

I sent the version out for critiques yet again, but I’m thinking I’ll just not work on this until I’m done with TVK and THC.

4) Revisions/Edits for ES1 and the Untethered Realms Anthology story I submitted.

Did Untethered Realms Anthology. ES1…no.

5) Finish rewrites to O1.

No.

6) Flesh out concepts for P and my Science Fiction story idea.

Nope

I did, however, also achieve a whole slew of related things that I’ll mention under the Social Media heading. And I finished and posted two back cover blurbs for publishing. Oh AND I sorted out a few mess-ups about my ISBNs.

Reading

1) Read King Lear.

Still haven’t gotten to this.

2) Read something by one of my blogging buddies.

Three words: Mark. Of. Nexus. I’ll hopefully be reading the last book in the series this weekend.

3) See how close I can get to reading 10 books this month.

Currently at 5 books, with me maybe reading the sixth by Sunday. I’m planning to have a lazy(ish) weekend in bed in an attempt to kill this flu bug.

Social Media

This is assuming that Internet and/or my country’s electricity provider actually work like they should…

1) Catch up on blog visits.

This I managed.

2) Catch up on Wattpad Critiques I’ve promised.

This I didn’t.

I did, however, also do the following: 

1) Sort out my author page(s) on Amazon. 
2) Expand my Wattpad readership
3) Start a tumblr blog (mishagerrick.tumblr.com in case you’re interested)
4) Add both the new version of TVK and the first edition of THC to Goodreads. 
5) Reach C in my blog sort out (Yep, still ongoing) and took part in a blogfest that’s not my own. 
6) Post much more regularly on both this and my lifestyle blog than I’ve done in almost a year. 
7) Basically I’ve confirmed most of my blog tour and cover reveal running up to the book releases. 

Life

1) Mainly, my goal is to get back to my happy place this month. (Other than my continuing goal of getting my business back off the ground.)

Happy place mostly achieved, partly because the business seems to be hovering off the ground and ready to fly.

2) Do something artistic or crafty that isn’t writing related every weekend.

Eh…I’ve been driving around a lot to meetings in the week, so I crocheted in the car a lot. So weekends ended up being when I caught up on edits.

Still with me? Awesome. Have a cookie. Don’t worry, my June goals will be quick:

Basically: Yesterday, I realized that I might be going to Europe in June for work, which might make June one heck of a complicated month for me.

As such, I’m going to go the simple route.

Writing:

1) For TVK and THC: Finish everything that needs to get finished for the final formatted submissions by mid-June.

2) Send out review copies by mid-June. (Or a week after that if I must.)

Reading:

Read enough to keep sane, but other than that, no set goal.

Social Media:

1) Get started on the materials needed for the blog tour.
2) Continue with the stuff I’ve been doing because it seems to be working.

Life

Basically to keep growing my business and not go insane while I’m putting myself through a publishing hell of my own creation. Which might mean letting off steam with other crafts.

How are you doing on your goals? Think I’m going to make it or are you finding seats for the possibly inevitable fireworks of disaster?