Five Things Your Reader Needs to Know on Page One

Page one. The most important page of your book. If you don’t grab an agent or an editor with page one, readers will never see it. Each paragraph has a job to do on the first page. The writer doesn’t simply let the story unfold. We have to orient our reader to our story world. Taking the time to answer five important questions can draw the reader into the story.

1. Who is your character?

2. What are they doing?

3. Where are they?

4. When is it?

5. Why are they there?

It doesn’t necessarily have to be in that order, it’s just easy to remember–who, what, where, when, why. But I do like to introduce the character up front. First paragraph. Who will my reader live vicariously through during this story?

Because I learn best by example, below is the first page of my newest release, Rodeo Ashes. Read through it and then we’ll discuss the mechanics:

“How did I fall for this?” Lacie Gentry squeezed the steering wheel of her parked SUV until her fingers went numb. “Because I’m the biggest idiot in Texas. And to top things off—I’m talking to myself.”

Movement at the curb in front of her car, and strains of a cry-in-your-beer country song twanged out the open bar door. Please let it be her friends, ready to head home. She looked up into the leer of a man.

Oh goodness, what if he comes over here? Without taking her eyes off him, she found the lock button. The loud click broke the spell, and he turned away.

Her breath released in a huff.

She couldn’t stay here like a sitting duck, waiting for some carjacker. Or worse. She’d never heard of anything good happening inside or outside a bar. Maybe she could go somewhere else and wait. But if she did, how would her friends find her when they got done with whatever they were doing in there?

She waited until the man drove away, scanned the Fort Worth parking lot three times, unlocked the door, and bolted to the bar. The August night air hadn’t cooled one iota, but a chill moved through her.

Safer inside or out? At least there were witnesses inside. She scurried into the bar as if wolves waited in the shadows.

But the wolves were inside.

Now let’s break it down:

“How did I fall for this?” This lets you know why my character is where she is. She’s been duped.

Lacie Gentry squeezed the steering wheel of her parked SUV until her fingers went numb. Now you know who,
Lacie Gentry and that she’s nervous. You get a hint of where she is too—in her parked SUV. You also get a glimpse of when—she’s in a SUV, so it’s a safe bet to say the story is contemporary.

“Because I’m the biggest idiot in Texas. And to top things off—I’m talking to myself.” Here you get a bigger scope of where she is—Texas and her mindset, which gives you a little more of who she is. She’s been duped and she feels stupid for letting herself get duped.

Movement at the curb in front of her car, and strains of a cry-in-your-beer country song twanged out the open bar door. A tighter shot of where she is—sitting outside a bar.

Please let it be her friends, ready to head home. This tells why she’s there—waiting on her friends, the dupers.

She looked up into the leer of a man. Oh goodness, what if he comes over here? Without taking her eyes off him, she found the lock button. The loud click broke the spell, and he turned away. Her breath released in a huff. This gives more of who Lacie is. Definitely not someone who hangs out at bars. But proactive. She doesn’t just sit there waiting to be rescued.

She couldn’t stay here like a sitting duck, waiting for some carjacker. Or worse. She’d never heard of anything good happening inside or outside a bar. Maybe she could go somewhere else and wait. But if she did, how would her friends find her when they got done with whatever they were doing in there? More of who Lacie is. And hopefully the reader gets the concept that she won’t be duped again by her friends. She’s trusting, but not stupid.

She waited until the man drove away, scanned the Fort Worth parking lot three times, unlocked the door, and bolted to the bar. A tighter shot of where she is—Fort Worth. And now she’s out of the semblance of safety her car gave her.

The August night air hadn’t cooled one iota, but a chill moved through her. Now the reader knows when—a hot August night. And another glimpse of who Lacie is. She’s chilled by her predicament despite the weather. But she’s taking matters into her own hands.

Safer inside or out? At least there were witnesses inside. She scurried into the bar as if wolves waited in the shadows. More on where. Now she’s entering the bar.

But the wolves were inside. This is simply a hook to hopefully convince the reader to turn the page and see what wolves Lacie encounters. It was pure luck that this landed as the final line on page one.

Footnote for writers: answer each of the five questions at the beginning of each new scene.

Readers, I bet you had no idea how vindictive we writers are? That we make each sentence, each paragraph work overtime as we reveal our stories and hopefully draw you into them.

For me, it doesn’t turn out this way in the first draft. I write the page, then go back in the editing stage and answer questions. If the answers aren’t there, I make sure they are. And as I edit, hopefully my characters and their predicaments grab the reader and don’t let go all the way to the last page.

Shameless self-promotion now: Rodeo Ashes is available in Walmart, Kmart, and Meijers departments stores. On sale this week! I’m way too excited!

The Latest from Shannon Vannatter

If I could sum up Shannon in one word, it would be dedicated. She dedicates herself to everything she does – for her family, the church, her writing, and her friendships. As one of her friends, I appreciate that dedication, because she has been a great blessing in my life! I’m proud of you, Shannon! Thanks for sharing with us today. – Linda

Two of Shannon’s books up for grabs, White Doves and Rodeo Hero. Two books, two winners. Comment on this post to get your name in the drawing. Deadline August 17th, 11:59 pm central time.

Central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife, and award winning inspirational romance novelist. She’s had 5 books released since 2010 with four more to come. Find her books at amazon.com, barbourbooks.com, and readerservice.com. Her latest title, Rodeo Ashes will be available at Kmart in Sept. and Walmart in Oct. Learn more at http://shannonvannatter.com/ and http://shannonvannatter.com/blog/.

  • Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

I thought writer’s block was a myth until it happened to me. I work on another writing project. Usually, once I rid my mind of the project I got blocked on, the ideas start rolling. If that doesn’t work, I go for a walk, drive aimlessly, mow the yard, or shower. Any mundane task can get me thinking and when I think, I plot. Occasionally, it takes a change of scenery. Usually moving my laptop out to the front porch.

  • What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?

During the school year, I write from 8:30 to 2:30. In the summer, from 11:00 to 2:00 AM. When my family is home and awake, I don’t write. Occasionally, when I’m on deadline, I have to break that rule.  But I try not to let my writing take away from my family.

  • You write a lot of setting-based stories. Which comes first for you – picking the setting, the story, or the characters?

The characters and story come first, then I pick the setting. I used to base all my books in fictional towns. But after a few publishers wanted real settings, I realized it’s fun to use real places and it really draws the reader in. I try to use settings that I’ve actually been to. If I stick with that, all of my books will either take place in Arkansas, Texas, or Georgia. Yep, I’m a world traveler.

(Hey – you forgot North Dakota! Surely you haven’t forgotten the day the riff-raff went north! – LF)

  • While you are writing, did you ever feel as if you are one of the characters?

I become each character as I write them. Even the men. I try to get in their heads and get in touch with their feelings. I put myself in each situation and wonder how I’d feel if it happened to me.

  • What was the hardest part about writing your last book?

I had to do it in four months. If I don’t have to write a book, three months is no problem. But with a deadline, the words don’t flow as easily. Once I get a fourth of the way into a book, I know the characters and everything starts to flow. The beginning is always hardest for me.

  • What is your favorite part of the book-writing process and why?

The first draft midway through the book. I’m a pantser. And I honestly don’t know each little thing that will happen in a book. Even after I’ve written the synopsis first, things pop up as I write the book. Characters do things I didn’t plan and I love just going with it and thinking, Whoa, I didn’t see that coming.

  • What book(s) have you read that made you think, “Wow! I wish I had written that!”?

Everything I’ve read by Denise Hunter. I love her characters and the romance in her books. I fall in love with each hero.

  • Tell us about your recent research trip – do you research travel to get inspired for the story or do you already have the story & go on research trips simply to flesh out details?

Both. For my rodeo series, Rodeo Dust was turned in before I went to the Fort Worth Stockyards. I went to the rodeo and then added more detail and changed things I had wrong in the editing stage.

I witnessed a cattle drive through the town. I’d heard about it and pictured it as being like the running of the bulls. It wasn’t like that at all. The longhorns just meander along in an orderly fashion and turn when they’re supposed to. It inspired a scene in Rodeo Hero. I had one of my characters experience my expectations of the cattle drive verses the reality.

I visited the Cattlepen Maze, a human-sized maze and had the idea that my couple could get into an argument in the maze, but she can’t get out of it to get away from him. It didn’t fit in Rodeo Hero, so my characters almost kiss in the maze. In Rodeo Ashes, the argument fit, so I used it.

We recently took a Texas trip. I had a book signing at Moms on Main in Aubrey where all my characters eat after church. My second signing was at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame Museum at the Fort Worth Stockyards. After that, we went to visit family in Medina, near San Antonio. My husband took our son on a wild boar hunt and I think that’s going to end up in book four, Rodeo Regrets. My son took down a 175 pound boar with one shot of a 30 – 30. He’s ten.

We visited two Cabella’s and two Bass Pro Shops. I compared them to Hotel California. You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave. Still I got ideas for my hero’s cabin in book five, Rodeo Queen. In that book, my characters go to Medina and San Antonio. The hero is a Texas Ranger, so we visited the Texas Ranger Museum in San Antonio. I really didn’t think I’d use any of it, since it was all history and I write contemporaries. But I was working on my synopsis the other day and my hero takes my heroine to the museum.

I get lots of ideas on research trips. My husband can tell when I’m plotting and getting ideas. He says, “She’s not here anymore.”

(Thanks for taking time during your trip to stop for late night Starbucks with me! I’m SO glad you were able to stop & chat! – LF)

  • Tell us about your new contract – how many books, titles, who is publishing it, etc.

I recently signed a contract for three more rodeo titles to continue my series. Heartsong Presents is now owned by Harlequin. My agent sent the new editor an e-mail about me. The editor had just read book two in my rodeo series and loved it. My agent asked if I had anything else along those lines. I didn’t, but there was a character in the series, the rodeo slut that I wanted to explore. Book four, Rodeo Regrets will be her story. Book five, Rodeo Queen and six, Rodeo Song will be her sister and cousin.

The line will stay the same, the book club will stay the same, but with bigger distribution. The books will be available in K Mart in September and Walmart in October. So everybody go buy Heartsong Presents titles. If sales go well, it will become permanent.

Here’s the blurb about Rodeo Ashes:

It’s never too late to start over.

Lacie Gentry, a young widow and mom, is struggling with the aftermath of her husband’s tragic death. When she bumps into former classmate Quinn Remington, her future is undecided. She accepts a job teaching kids to ride at Quinn’s neighboring ranch, hoping to revitalize her life with an old pastime but soon sees in Quinn a chance to move forward with new love. . .if she’s ready.

It’s been years since Quinn has seen lovely Lacie Gentry—the girl he always admired in high school but never came close to dating. By the time they met, Lacie was engaged to rodeo star Mel Gentry then happily married. Now Lacie’s closer than ever. The attraction is still there, but so is a secret that might end any chance of romance.

Can they rise from the rodeo ashes?

Fall Fiction Favorites!

My to-be-read pile for fall is about twenty books deep–I’ll be kind and resist talking about all of them. But there are a handful written by my favorite authors that I’ve been impatiently waiting for and now they’re almost here!

Steven James has quickly become one of my favorite storytellers. He writes intense, complex thrillers that leave you on the edge of your seat from word one. This fall he has two new novels coming out!

In Opening MovesBowers Files Series prequel (Signet Select, September 20120 release), James takes the readers back in time with FBI Agent Patrick Bowers, back to the murder mystery that’s haunted him throughout the series. I look forward to gleaning more insight into what make Patrick Bowers tick.

Description: FBI agent Patrick Bowers’ first major murder investigation begins in Milwaukee, 1995. In a city still reeling from the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer, a woman’s body is found with the lungs removed. Local cops think a Dahmer copycat is on the loose. But Patrick Bowers, working as a homicide detective for the Milwaukee Police Department, sees from the timing and location of the crime that this is not a copycat at all, but a killer with an entirely different agenda.

Then Steven James introduces his readers to a brand new protagonist, Jevin Banks, in Placebo, Jevin Banks Series #1 (Revell, October 2012 release). I don’t doubt that this new series will be just as riveting as the Patrick Bowers series.

Description: While covertly investigating a controversial neurological research program, exposé filmmaker Jevin Banks is drawn into a far-reaching conspiracy involving one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms. After giving up his career as an escape artist and illusionist in the wake of his wife and sons’ tragic death, Jevin is seeking not only answers about the questionable mind-to-mind communication program, but also answers to why his family suffered as they did. Rooted in ground-breaking science and inspired by actual research, Placebo explores the far reaches of science, consciousness, and faith. Readers will love this taut, intelligent, and emotionally gripping new thriller from master storyteller Steven James.

Now if you’re not into highly-detailed thrillers, then I’d recommend Borders of the Heart (Tyndale House, September release) by Chris Fabry.  Fabry has won two Christy’s and was a finalist once. He’s an author who delves deeply into the heart of multi-faceted characters. He tells his stories with rich, musical prose that you want to savor like fine chocolate. I’ve no doubt Borders of the Heart will be equally as beautiful as the rest of Fabry’s novels.

Description: Desperate to escape haunting memories, J. D. Jessup travels from Nashville to Tucson and volunteers on an organic farm. The hardened landowner has one prevailing rule: If J. D. sees an “illegal,” call the border patrol. But when an early morning ride along the fence line leads him to a beautiful young woman named Maria, near death in the desert, his heart pulls him in another direction. Longing to atone for the choices that drove him to Tucson, J. D. hides her and unleashes a chain of deadly events he could never have imagined. Soon they are running from a killer and fighting for their lives. As secrets of their pasts emerge, J. D. realizes that saving Maria may be the only way to save himself.

I do have to throw in one debut author–I’m guessing we’ll want to have tissues handy for Kathy Harris‘s novel, The Road to Mercy (Abingdon, September 2012 release).

Josh Harrison, a contemporary Christian singer, and his wife Bethany face a difficult decision that also tests their faith. A rupture in Beth’s carotid artery leaves her on the brink of death even as she’s pregnant with their first child. While Dr. Ben Abrams urges her to terminate the pregnancy to save her own life, she and Josh step out on faith and decide to carry the baby to full term.

During the next few months, Josh struggles with his faith, Beth hides a secret that may destroy their marriage. She also discovers a decades-old connection to Dr. Abrams that could change his life forever.

 

And how can I not mention our very own Shannon Vannatter?! Her sixth book, Rodeo Ashes, releases this month for Heartsong Presents book club members, and it will be available to the public in September. Yeah Shannon! Of course since I’m her critique partner I already know it’s another heart-tugging romance that Shannon excels at. I can’t wait to hold the published copy in my hands!

Description: Lacie Gentry, a young widow and mom, is struggling with the aftermath of her husband’s tragic death. When she bumps into former classmate Quinn Remington, her future is undecided. She accepts a job teaching kids to ride at Quinn’s neighboring ranch, hoping to revitalize her life with an old pastime but soon sees in Quinn a chance to move forward with new love…if she’s ready.

It’s been years since Quinn has seen lovely Lacie Gentry—the girl he always admired in high school but never came close to dating. By the time they met, Lacie was engaged to rodeo star Mel Gentry then happily married. Now Lacie’s closer than ever. The attraction is still there, but so is a secret that might end any chance of romance.

Can they rise from the rodeo ashes?

There are sooo many more, but I’ll stop for for now … well, not without giving a handful of others a quick mention.

What books are you looking forward to reading this fall?