Mary: Welcome, Liana, before we get started, please tell us a little about your publishing journey.
Liana: I started writing in 1988. In 1993, several manuscripts later, I had my first romance published by Meteor/Kismet, which was actually Ashton’s Secret. In 1994, I had my son, and my life went off in a different direction. I stopped writing for a while. In 2002 I started up again, and in 2006 I sold Thin Ice to Rhonda Penders at The Wild Rose Press. I think Thin Ice was the first book-length manuscript she personally contracted. She likes to tell how she was sitting in the hospital with pneumonia, reading it, and couldn’t put it down. Rhonda is one driven and determined lady. Nothing keeps her down for long.
After Thin Ice came out, I sold them Jake’s Return, and then I completely re-wrote Ashton’s Secret and submitted it again, as it had been turned down by TWRP the first time for being too out-of-date. Which it was. Completely so.
I had a blast re-writing it, including new twists and secrets in the story that I hadn’t been able to before due to word-count constraints. It the end, it came out a much better book, and I am thrilled with the reviews it’s been getting.
Mary: Why do you think opening Lines are important?
Liana: Opening lines are what hook you into the story. You want to catch the reader from the first moment. Picture your reader standing in the store, your book open in her hand. Do you want her to take that book home with her and spend the rest of the evening/night/weekend with it? Then you need to start with an attention-getting opening. (And once you have that, you can’t let up. You need to keep the pace going so that your reader never wants to put that book down. The highest praise an author can receive is “I couldn’t put your book down!”)
I had our local postmistress say to me one Monday morning when I walked in to get my mail, “I’m so mad at you! I didn’t get anything done all weekend!” and then, “When’s the next one coming out?” She then sold several of her customers on my books by telling them how much she enjoyed them.
That’s the kind of reader you want to have, and hooking them in from page one and keeping them hooked is how you get them.
Mary: How do you hook your reader into a story? I know you’ve written articles about this subject.
Liana: I like to come up with opening lines that immediately put questions into the reader’s mind. That’s the best way to explain it. Why is this person sitting alone? Why does nobody like him? Or why is everyone nervous when he walks into the room or building? Why is there a dead body on the floor? Why is there a piece of evidence missing? How did this person land in this situation? (You want the reader to ask that question…but you don’t want to answer it right away. Because keeping them wondering is what keeps them reading.)
To kick things off, I’d recommend a snappy line of dialogue, a short one-liner that implies something big is about to happen, or something philosophical (profound or whimsical, depending on the mood of the story) from the main character’s point of view. Something that will either be proven or disproven during the course of the story. You can also use the setting to open the story, as long as the setting will remain a significant and active part of the story…almost like a character. The full article can be read at http://www.wrwdc.com/index.php/newsletter/opening_your_book_with_a_bang/
Mary: Explain why you feel most writers do not start their stories at the beginning of the story?
Liana: Most writers feel like they need to set up the story. To give the reader the background of the story…what got or brought the characters to this point. But that can be filtered in later in one and two line increments of narrative. You never want to spill all the beans right up front. Then your book loses all its suspense, and I’m not talking suspense in the sense that it’s a suspense story, but in the sense that the reader is wondering “what will happen next?"
One of the biggest mistakes I see writers making (and one I used to make, myself) is what my editor calls, ‘Susie has a plan.’ It goes like this: Susie had a plan. She would do this, and then that, and then when the villain/hero shows up he’ll be trapped/realize she loves him/whatever.
After explaining the plan in narrative to the reader, the writer then proceeds to write the scene. But all the suspense is gone, because you’ve just told us what’s going to happen and then shown it happening.
Just skip the telling part. Stop with Susie had a plan. End of chapter. Next chapter, show Susie implementing that plan. Let the reader be as surprised as the hero or villain, or even Susie, when things don’t go according to plan.
I think I’ve gotten away from discussing beginnings. But a lot of writers do this in the beginning of their stories, as well as throughout. In addition to telling us how the characters got to this point, the writer will then go on to tell us where the character is going, and why. We don’t need any of that. Just show us what’s happening now.
Mary: How do you think a reader picks a book, and how long to make that decision?
Liana: I think a reader picks a book by first looking at the cover, then the back cover blurb, then by opening the book either to the first page or a random page in the book and reading it. I’d say the whole process takes less than thirty seconds, especially since books are usually impulse purchases. Especially books by new authors. I think a reader will do the same thing in a library, though.
Mary: Is there anything thing else that you’d like to tell us? Something I haven’t thought to ask?
Liana: Oh, I could go on and on all day about writing in general. How about ten quick tips for things to avoid in a manuscript, generously provided by my editor and her partner, who have opened their own freelance editing business. The full article can be found at: http://muchcheaperthantherapy.blogspot.com/2008/10/top-ten-pet-peeves-we-hate-to-see.html (and, as you can see, number 7, the example about ‘Susie has a plan’ really stuck with me).
1. The story is filled with happy coincidences that magically solve problems for the hero and heroine.
2. Writers who manipulate the plot to suit their ideas of what a nice scene would be, and it doesn’t logically follow the plot.
3. Characters not acting in character.
4. Characters who stomp, stalk, clench fists and glare at each other, exhibit no self-control and are victims of their emotions, including passion.
5. Writers who think bickering equals conflict.
6. Writers who think every line of dialogue must be answered, and every inner thought conveyed to the reader, in case they ‘don’t understand’ what you are trying to say.
7. Don’t tell us what the characters are about to do, then show them doing it.
8. Writers who don’t know how to end the scene with a hook.
9. Point of view violations.
10. Overuse of qualifiers.
Mary: Thank you, Liana, for agreeing to let me interview you and sharing your knowledge with us.
Liana: Thank you, Mary. It’s been a pleasure. Happy New Year to all, and I hope I’ve been of some help.