Where Does the Story Start?

OWFI SEPTEMBER Virtual Workshop Transcript
SEPTEMBER 27, 2018


Linda Apple [6:59 PM]
Okay group, here are the "rules of etiquette"  for our time together this evening

  • The SPEAKER will give the presentation first.

  • WHEN the speaker opens the floor to questions:

  • TYPE - ??

  • WAIT to be called on by the moderator, namely, me, aka Linda Apple

  • WHILE you are waiting to be called on, TYPE your question so you can send it as soon as it is your turn. This keeps the conversation moving forward without holding up others as you type.

  • Those speaking out of turn will not be acknowledged. Remember: ??

  • If I miss calling on you, just type ?? again. I’ll do my best to keep up, but should questions start popping all at once, I might get names out of order.  :wink:

  • IF you come in late and the presentation has already begun, make sure what you want to ask has not been covered already. It is distracting to have to go back over what has already been discussed.

  • A LOT of grace is to be given to the moderator, namely, MOI, in case I miss someone's ??. Just sayin...

And now, I have the honor of introducing my friend and publisher, Rhonda Penders
I'm sure you all have read her bio, but I have a little extra to add...
Rhonda is also a writer. And because she is so PRO WRITER she started The Wild Rose Press to help other incredible writers to get a start.
The funniest thing I can say about Rhonda is that she doesn't really get us "Southerners." Once, when Ruth Weeks and I intruded on a couple in a restaurant to hear there story she was so mortified about our intrusion, she paid for their dinner...
Ha! Welcome to the South my friend, and now I present to you...RHONDA PENDERS!  Take it away!

Rhonda Penders [7:04 PM]
Thank you my dear dear friend Linda.  I will say that one of the best things about this company has been the amazing friends I've made and I include you in that circle.
I'm not sure how many of you here tonight I've met in person
So if you've seen me at conference, you already know I"m pretty casual.
So let's go by the rules and not ask questions out of turn but I promise this is meant to be an interactive workshop so there will be plenty of times for back and forth questions.
First thank you to the brave 5 of you who sent in your pages for me to critique
I'm sure by now if you sent pages in you already read the comments I made and I hope you know I gave them very constructively and not to be mean.
Anyway, for an editor - just like any other reader
the first few lines, the first paragraph is what draws you into the story and makes you keep reading
If the first paragaph is boring or the first page is dull it sets the entire tone
Although a lot of times an editor will keep going and read more, the disappointment is alreayd there if the first page doesn't grab you.  As a writer I know this is a huge challenge.  I get that.
Anyone wnat to ask anything yet?
So there was one entry tonigiht that really stood out and was the perfect example of a good beginning

The Return of Seth Adams
This story starts exactly where it should start.  Right in the scene.  I'm goign to type the first paragraph here for you.
.."With any luck, Sheirff Melody Parker woudln't get herself shot full of holes on her son Jesse's first birthday."
That first sentence immediately did several things.

Pepper Hume [7:11 PM]
joined vw_rhondapenders by invitation from Jack Burgos.

Rhonda Penders [7:11 PM]
It told me who we were reading about, the fact that she was a sheriff and a mom and that she was in some type of dangerous situation.
I was hooked and hooked right away.  Excellent example of a good beginning.

Linda Apple [7:12 PM]
Makes me want to read it too!

Rhonda Penders [7:12 PM]
Yep and it just kept getting better.  As an editor I wanted to keep going and see if the rest of the manuscript held up to the promise of the first page.

Linda Apple [7:13 PM]
Were there any examples of ones that needed work?

Rhonda Penders [7:13 PM]
Yes, so the other four were in various stages.
The one that I really have to say was not a good example was a western
The scene started with a character talking but we had no idea who he was or where he was.
Starting a story with dialogue can work and work brillaintly but you have to, right away let us know who is talking, where they are and who else is there.
A good example of this is...
"We have to get married."  Abby stared at the rippled muscled back of Cole Pritchard as his pitchfork paused in mid fling.  The pungent smell of the barn tickled her nose and the sight of him half naked again tickled her in other places.
Now that doesn't tell us what time frame we are in but the next paragraph goes on to drop clues that this is a contemporary story and not a historical but that's not the point.  The point is fro the first sentence you are invested in this couple and want to  know why
Another submission that wasn't too bad was called The Lottery: A Bunco Club Mystery
This writer took us into a scene of women playing bunco.  It could have worked really well because we are being dropped into a scene and there's conversation going on about somethig that happened to the heroin earlier in teh day - a possible date.
But her first sentence was this:
"Snake eyes stared back at her for the second time that night."
So at first, of course, you are thinkig there's a snake and that's where your mind has already gone to.  The second sentence doesn't help...
"Once was a bad omen; twice was, well a run of bad luck for sure."
So again I"m thinking ther'es a real snake and she's facing it.

Linda Apple [7:19 PM]
Not being a bunco player, I'm not sure of what "snake eyes" are, so I get your point

Rhonda Penders [7:19 PM]
Exactly.  So I think the author was trying to be clever  and that's fine but it sent me the reader off to a place where I shoudln't be.  It took a while for  my
mind to wrap around the fact taht snake eyes is a fall of the dice.
So in her third sentence she says "Bridgette Olsen stared at the dice and shifted uncomfortably in her chair."
So now my head id thinking snake, outside, fear, danger and it takes a few seconds for my mind to come back to a game.
See how that threw the reader?

Pepper Hume [7:21 PM]
So the third sentence should have been first?

Rhonda Penders [7:21 PM]
I think in this case if the writer had started the story with some gripping dialogue like "Hey who was that gorgeous hunk of male species I saw talking to you at your desk today?"  Naira eyed her speculativey as Bridgitte gave the dice a final shake and a kiss for good luck.
The weekly bunco game was heating up.  or something like that.

Pepper Hume [7:22 PM]
Or combined, inserting snake eyes after identifying the dice.

Rhonda Penders [7:22 PM]
But we need to put the game second to the conversation

Linda Apple [7:22 PM]
good point

Rhonda Penders [7:23 PM]
These women are talking about a man Bridgitte met earlier in the day at work.

Linda Apple [7:23 PM]
Regarding the other entries, how would you have improved them?

Rhonda Penders [7:23 PM]
The wesetern one?

Linda Apple [7:23 PM]
Any of them

Rhonda Penders [7:23 PM]
With the weestern which was called Arbuckle, Indian Territory it needed a lot of work.

Linda Apple [7:24 PM]
In your opinion, where does a story start?

Rhonda Penders [7:24 PM]
I really had no sense of place or time or the character.
Linda, its not a simple answer.
The story starts where it  needs to start.
So going back to our very first story the sheriff lady - that story started in the perfect spot
It started in the middle of a problem in her story.
Not a big info dump about her life

Linda Apple [7:25 PM]
Should we worry about that in the first draft or wait until future drafts?

Rhonda Penders [7:26 PM]
When you first start working on your manuscript you shoudln't be thinking about any of this, you shoudl just be thinking of writing the story
Then when you go back over it, you need to  make sure the story starts where it will grab the reader.
Sometimes writers try to give you way too much information.

Pepper Hume [7:26 PM]
That last statement should be embroiderd on a sampler!

Rhonda Penders [7:27 PM]
Always better to weave info into the story rather just toss it up front and dump it all in

Linda Apple [7:27 PM]

Rhonda Penders [7:27 PM]
Thanks Pepper
See as writers we think readers need to know as much about our characters and their lives and their grandparents lives and their town
and we simly don't
we only need to know what we need to know for this story
Its especially difficult when you are writing the second or third book in a series.
The balance between giving too mucha dn not enough.

Linda Apple [7:28 PM]
Good point! So, let's open this to questions. Remember ?? and I'll recognize you.

Rhonda Penders [7:28 PM]
Here's another great opening line:  This is from a Susan Elizabeht Phillips book
"More than a fe wresidents of Wynette, Texas though Ted Beautdine was marrying beneath himself"

Thomas Schultz [7:29 PM]

Linda Apple [7:29 PM]

Thomas Schultz [7:29 PM]
So for a second book how much background is needed

Rhonda Penders [7:30 PM]
For a second book you need to make sure a reader who hasn't read book 1 has enough information to jump in
BUT you can't put in so much information that readers of Book 1 are now bored.
Its very difficult to balance too much from not enough

Thomas Schultz [7:30 PM]
sprinkle like salt?

Rhonda Penders [7:30 PM]
yes like salt
too much is too much

Linda Apple [7:30 PM]
I use dialogue

Rhonda Penders [7:31 PM]
Llinda yep exactly that's the best way to weave it in
Having characters share information

Linda Apple [7:31 PM]
What about prologues

Rhonda Penders [7:32 PM]
prologues can be tricky
They can either be done really well or just put in there to catch everyone up

Linda Apple [7:32 PM]
Pepper, remember ??

Rhonda Penders [7:32 PM]
I frankly think soemtimes a prologue is cheating
But if there's no other way to get the info to the reader then that's what you have to do

Linda Apple [7:33 PM]
Do any of you write prologues?

Rhonda Penders [7:33 PM]
I had anoher one we didn't talk about yet

Thomas Schultz [7:33 PM]
I did

Rhonda Penders [7:33 PM]
This one was a spooky one

Linda Apple [7:33 PM]
oooooh, tell us

Rhonda Penders [7:34 PM]
So the reader started it off pretty slow.  The character is in bed and something wakes him/her up out of a deep sleep.
First problem I had was I had no idea if it was a man or a woman so hard to see it in my head.
I pictured the character as a woman probalby because I am a woman.
Anyway, even though the character heard something and was scared - as the reader I wasn't.
I wasn't invested in the character's fear because the writer didn't make me feel the story.  Instead of showing me the story and having me in the action it was told to me.

Linda Apple [7:35 PM]
Remember ??

Meg Dendler [7:35 PM]
I write "previously in the series" pages at the front of each book.

Rhonda Penders [7:35 PM]
There's a creature of some type out in the garage and the narrator goes to investigate but I wasn't afraid.  I needed to be afraid.
Meg, If that works for you, its fine but frankly its so much better if you can weave your previous information into the book

Linda Apple [7:36 PM]
How could that have been written to increase tension?

Rhonda Penders [7:36 PM]
First shorter sentences.  Instead of this...
"I woke in the dark of nigth to a strange feeling"
It shoudl have been something like...
"My eyes flew open as fear squeezed my heart."
"No clue what had tore me from a deep sleep, I lay there listenign to my own fast breathing as I listened for any sounds in the dark house."
I don't know something like that makes me get it.  Maybe toss in somethig like "my nightgown was twisted around my legs" and immediately I know I'm a woman and not a guy right?

Linda Apple [7:38 PM]
good point

Rhonda Penders [7:38 PM]
There's so  many easy simple ways to let the reader know immediately the sex of the narrator.
Don't leave them wondering.
Same thing with details that put you in contemporary times versus historical.
Get that all in there right up front so a reader knows what she's reading

Thomas Schultz [7:39 PM]

Rhonda Penders [7:39 PM]
I feel as if this workshop is a bit awkward.  Honestly, it is somethign that works so well in person when I can read to you and we can work it out together

Linda Apple [7:39 PM]

Thomas Schultz [7:39 PM]
Do you like time and place tags at the beginning of a chapter

Rhonda Penders [7:40 PM]
Um, I don't think I have an opinion.  I'm reading a Jodi Thomas book right now and she is using them and I guess they are helping me keep the characters straight but I don't think they are necessary
I do think they are necessary for flashbakcs
If you are going to flashback you really should put a time and place header up

Thomas Schultz [7:41 PM]
My historical fiction takes place in 1348 and I start each chapter with the date and place

Pepper Hume [7:41 PM]

Linda Apple [7:41 PM]
Rhonda, give us an example of a book that checks all the boxes for starting at the right place. I'll give you time to think. :slightly_smiling_face: Everyone else, type your questions and add the ?? and then I'll call on you.

Rhonda Penders [7:41 PM]
Thomas for a historical it might help guide the reader.

Pepper Hume [7:42 PM]
Backstory can be tricky in dialog.  - In playscripts, it is deadly to have one character tell another something the other already knows simply to inform the audience.

Linda Apple [7:43 PM]
Pepper, you are a script writer then?

Rhonda Penders [7:43 PM]
Pepper its the same in writing.  You can't have stiilted dialogue

Pepper Hume [7:43 PM]
I do both. Theatre background.

Rhonda Penders [7:44 PM]
But a new character, one who doesn't know the whole story, can be invaluable to relaying information to the reader.

Glenn Vermillion [7:44 PM]

Rhonda Penders [7:44 PM]
But it has to be done in a natural way not in a info dump way

Linda Apple [7:44 PM]

Glenn Vermillion [7:45 PM]
Lets say kids are going to a haunted house. Would you have them start in the car, giving background on them or walking up the steps

Rhonda Penders [7:46 PM]
Oh that's easy Glenn
I'd have them walking up those creaking steps on the porch.
the car is too much backstory - take us right to the point where they are about to open the door to the house and that porch creaks scaring them to death
or a couple kids standing at the foot of an old staircase with a flash light daring each other to go up.
We don't need to know who the kids are right off the bat or why they are there or even what the house is, we are in the middle of the scary part.

Linda Apple [7:47 PM]
Carolyn, I see you've started to write  several times. Do you have a question or comment?

carolyn leonard [7:47 PM]
nope just listening and learning!

M.Carolyn Steele [7:48 PM]
Yes, although it is Carolyn Steele that is hesitating....

Linda Apple [7:48 PM]

Rhonda Penders [7:48 PM]
Carolyn my friend - hugs.
Was thinking of you just today.

M.Carolyn Steele [7:49 PM]
Ah thank you. Off topic....Rhonda, what is your preference with the dialog tags. Just having an argument about that yesterday...said or whispered or yelled, etc

Rhonda Penders [7:49 PM]
Dialogue tags are like salt - too much is going to ruin everything.
Use them when they are necessary. Sometimes we just happen to need to know that someone shouted or whispered or whimpered.

M.Carolyn Steele [7:50 PM]
Sooo, your prefer only using "said."

Rhonda Penders [7:50 PM]
I would use a variety

M.Carolyn Steele [7:50 PM]
Thanks....I'm validated, now. I'll gloat to my writer friends.

Rhonda Penders [7:51 PM]
Or none.  For example.  "Carolyn, I like your blouse."  Sally reached out and touched the sleeve of her friend's latest purchase.

carolyn leonard [7:51 PM]

Linda Apple [7:51 PM]
I have a fun exercise, whatever you use as a tag, try it out loud first. I tried to laugh a statement and it was ridiculous! Ha!

Rhonda Penders [7:51 PM]
see no dialogue tag

Linda Apple [7:51 PM]

Rhonda Penders [7:51 PM]

Linda Apple [7:51 PM]

Rhonda Penders [7:51 PM]
sorry Linda

carolyn leonard [7:51 PM]
I liked Linda's suggestion - give us an example of a book that checks all the boxes for starting at the right place. I

Rhonda Penders [7:52 PM]
I  knew you were going to come back to that.  Honestly, tonight I'm going back to the entry I had that's in the files.  With the Sheriff

carolyn leonard [7:52 PM]
1.  Start with the action.  I heard that one!

Rhonda Penders [7:52 PM]
That story starts exactly where it should. Tells us who the character is, what's happening and what might happen.
Its perfect.

Linda Apple [7:52 PM]
Sooo, whoever wrote that better enter it into the contest! :slightly_smiling_face:

Rhonda Penders [7:53 PM]
yes definitely
Is she here?
Should we out her?
The Return of Seth Adams

Sue McMurphy [7:53 PM]

Linda Apple [7:53 PM]
We kept them all a secret just for that reason, the contest

Sue McMurphy [7:54 PM]
That was my entry to this session.
It's the second book of a series.

Rhonda Penders [7:54 PM]
Sue you did a great job.  My only concern with that is that the rest of the manuscript can stand up to your beginning
Sometimes writers spend a lot of time getting a great beginning but then let us down.  But I know you won't do t hat :slightly_smiling_face:

Sue McMurphy [7:55 PM]
I hope so! It's not quite finished. I pitched the first book to you in May. Have not sent it yet!

Linda Apple [7:55 PM]
Does anyone else have a question about the manuscript tey entered?

Rhonda Penders [7:55 PM]
Hmmm I think it needs to get sent in.

Pepper Hume [7:55 PM]

Linda Apple [7:55 PM]
Yay Sue!!!

Pepper Hume [7:56 PM]
Is it really necessary when introducing the character to use the full name? Or can you just say Gwendolyn did .....

Rhonda Penders [7:56 PM]
The old way of doing things was to get the whole name in there but these days I don't see it as much.
I don't think there's a hard and fast rule.  Personally, I like to see the whole name up front at least once

Pepper Hume [7:57 PM]

Linda Apple [7:57 PM]

M.Carolyn Steele [7:57 PM]

Pepper Hume [7:57 PM]
When the setting is nearly a character in the story, how do you go about showing that importance?

Linda Apple [7:57 PM]
M. Carolyn, after Pepper

Rhonda Penders [7:57 PM]
Pepper if the setting is critical than you need to take us there right away so we know where we are.

Set the scene immediately so to speak.

Pepper Hume [7:58 PM]

Linda Apple [7:58 PM]
Pepper after M Carolyn

M.Carolyn Steele [7:58 PM]
Starting a novel with dialog....what is your opinion. I've heard that editors don't especially like that.

Rhonda Penders [7:58 PM]
I love dialogue at the beginning
Drop me in to the conversation as if I've walked into the room
That pulls me in right away.

Pepper Hume [7:59 PM]
But that's not action... it's hard to express that.

Rhonda Penders [7:59 PM]
Pepper, if the setting is crucial to t he story the reader will realize it as you go along

M.Carolyn Steele [7:59 PM]
Aw, good. I always felt like,,,,yes, like I just walked into a conversation, especially if it is interesting

Rhonda Penders [7:59 PM]
I don't know that you need to have it right in their face
Carolyn, as a writer to me, that's an easy way to start a story.  As a reader, I want to know what the heck theya re talking about so I keep reading
I hope I've given you some good tips tonight

M.Carolyn Steele [8:00 PM]
Understand. You can't have dialog that isn't telling you something, or pulls the reader into the story.  Dull conversation puts people to sleep.

Rhonda Penders [8:01 PM]
Just remember editors are just like readers, we want to be grabbed and pulled into your story.  Dont' let us be able to walk away
Carolyn, exactly.
make the conversation something worth listening to

Linda Apple [8:01 PM]
Ok Kids! Time is coming to a close. It is 9:00 where Rhonda is. Let's give her a virtual applause! Thank you soooo much Rhonda!

Rhonda Penders [8:01 PM]
Thank you so much for having me.  I sincerely hope this worked out okay even virtual

Pepper Hume [8:01 PM]

Staci Mauney [8:01 PM]
Rhonda, this was excellent! Thank you so much!

M.Carolyn Steele [8:01 PM]
Thank you, thank you. This has been fun

Julia Mozingo [8:02 PM]

Shelley Pagach [8:02 PM]
Absolutely wonderful! So much good information!

Rhonda Penders [8:02 PM]
Happy writing!!

Thomas Schultz [8:02 PM]

carolyn leonard [8:02 PM]
Thank you Rhonda. Fastest hour of the year!

Sue McMurphy [8:02 PM]
Thank you, Rhonda. You'll be hearing from me!
Excellent help.

Rhonda Penders [8:02 PM]
Good girl Sue.
good night all.  Hugs.

Linda Apple [8:03 PM]
:slightly_smiling_face: Love ya girl! Thank you!!!!

Glenn Vermillion [8:03 PM]
Thank You for your help, Rhonda

Julia Mozingo [8:03 PM]
Thank you! Good night!

Meg Dendler [8:06 PM]

carolyn leonard [8:07 PM]
I guess that's a wrap.