Fiction Writing: Elements of An Irresistible Opening– Test Yours!

I’ve had a couple of great days. Yesterday I located a buried body, excavated the grave site, collected evidence, studied the victim’s bones in the lab and was able to ID the victim from missing persons records. And all without leaving my living room.

How? I’ll tell you that later in the post.


In the meantime I want to talk about “the hook”. We all know what it is, but do we really know the best place to start our novels? You’ve heard the advice a million times: Start in the middle of the action. But does that mean in the middle of a gunfight, a bar brawl, a domestic squabble? Or is it better to start your novel right before the action explodes, when two men are sneering at each other from across the room, eyes crimped, arms curled, muscles flexing against stretched-thin tank tops?

I say it’s the latter. And here’s why. A great mentor/author once told me that you need to accomplish several things in that all-important opening paragraph.

1. You need to introduce your character and give the reader a reason to care about them IN THE OPENING LINE. Sympathy is the quickest way.

2. You need to raise ANY story question IN THE OPENING LINE.

3. You need to raise your Central Dramatic Story Question– CDSQ– IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH.

4.  You need to create conflict in the opening paragraph.

5.  You need to give the reader a reason a keep reading.


Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. This is why so many openings fail. This is why it takes me several rewrites to find the perfect opening for a new book. It is in no way easy. But it is necessary.

Now, you could say, “Hey, Sue, rules were made to be broken.”

You could say that. And that’s certainly you’re right as a writer. Please know I write these types of posts to help not to hinder. My only motivation is to save you days/weeks/months/even years of struggling that I’ve already endured so you won’t have to. These tips come from the heart, truly.

You need to introduce your character and get sympathy for them in the opening line.

The introduction is fairly easy. You’d simply say, “Sage Quintano (my character from MARRED) did such and such.” If you write in the first person I’ll give you a little extra time to get his/her name in there, but not much. Shoot for two paragraphs. You ought to be able to think of creative way to sneak your character’s name in by then. The easiest way is dialogue, having another character call them by name. Boom. Done.

But now you need to gain sympathy for that character, give the reader a reason to care if she gets killed/maimed/marred. Here’s where it becomes a little trickier, especially when dealing with characters on the wrong side of the law.

So how do we do this? We give them a trait that others can relate to. A flaw. A situation that tugs at the reader’s heart-strings. We’ve talked about flaws before. For anyone struggling with this I’d recommend the Negative Trait Thesaurus, which you can find here.

We all have flaws, some more than others, so it’s important that your character does too.

You need to raise a story question in the opening line.

For example in MARRED I showed Sage rubbing her belly, her heart aching over the life she lost. How did she lose it? When did it happen? That’s two questions AND I’ve gotten sympathy for her right away.

Raise a story question– any story question– in the opening line and it will keep your reader flipping pages to find the answer.

In the opening paragraph you need conflict.

Conflict drives your story. If your story was an automobile than conflict would be the gas. Your car will not go anywhere without gas and neither will your story without conflict. Get your character in conflict with another character or with themselves– inner conflict– right away.

Give your reader a reason to keep reading.

How do we do that? By giving our character a goal and by showing WHY it’s important that they meet that goal. This will not only humanize them, but it will give your reader a reason to root for them when they’re in terrible trouble. It will also foreshadow what’s to come.

I saw a great chart recently on– my go-to site for forensics and other crime related data. I’m mentioning this site for a reason, but that too you will have to wait for. In a guest post by K.M. Weiland she said, “In order for your story to resonate deeply with your very human audience, your character’s goal needs to be one of five specific things.”

Below is the motivation triangle in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, showing the five categories.


For a more in-depth look at each of these categories you can find the post here. It’s excellent. If you’re not familiar with K.M. Weiland or her blog, look her up. She’s amazing. And you can find her site here.

So now you’ve introduced your character, raised a story question, given your reader a reason to care, created conflict, and showed them the goal and why it’s important– all in the opening paragraph.

So we’re done, right? Wrong. One more thing.

Your central dramatic story question.

What is it and why is it important? The CDSQ defines your story. It IS your story. The moment it is asked– your story begins. The moment it is answered– your story ends. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. Figure out what your CDSQ is and build your story around it. It’s also a great way to stay on track and give your story structure.

For example, this is my CDSQ for MARRED: Will Sage find her way back to her husband, heal herself of a vicious rape and find her kidnapped twin in time to save her life?

Little tip for those going traditional: When you’re asked for a logline start with your CDSQ only reword to form a sentence instead of a question.


As a gift I’ll let you in on a fun but difficult exercise– that I got from– where YOU can play cop/coroner for an afternoon. It’s a virtual crime scene created by the pros. And the link is here. Enjoy!

Before I let you go let me tell you why I divulged my go-to site for forensics and other crime related matters. It’s because Garry Rodgers from DyingWords– retired mounted police officer/retired coroner/firearms expert– will be guest posting right here on the blog. If you write crime fiction or any story with a crime in it you won’t want to miss this one!

Now it’s your turn to test your opening!

You’ve got all the elements of a perfect opening– the hook– so why not test it with the rest of us? Leave me your first paragraph in the comment section and I’ll tell you how you did.

How To Romance Your Readers – And Sell More Stories

With us today is Dr. John Yeoman from Writers’ Village. He has an impressive resume, including being a successful commercial novelist for 42 years!  I’m honored to have him with us today, and to have his personal email in case I ever have a question.  Whoops, did I say that out loud?

Anyway, I’ve mentioned before that his blog is one of my favorites.  If you haven’t checked it out yet go here.  Just recently John created a new form of fiction.  At the end of this post I’ll give you a link that further explains what he did.

Take it away, John!

Thanks, Sue!

Here’s a fabulous tip for making sure our readers love your stories and want to read more. But first, let me ask you a question.

As fiction writers, do we always write about ourselves? Our character may be a mafia don, nun, pearl fisherman or – in a sci-fi novel – a thinking blob of mud but, however we camouflage ourselves, it’s us. Isn’t it?

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When is a writer an author?

When does a writer make the leap to author?

This is a question I’ve pondered for years.  I know what “they” say.  By “they” I assume it means industry standards.  They say a writer becomes an author once they become published.  OK, let’s use that standard.  Does that mean traditionally published or self-published?


First let me say I am not bashing self-publishing.  I’ve thought about it many times myself.  Please do not take this as an attack because it’s NOT.

So, you stay a “writer” until you get a book deal from a publisher.  OK.  Well, what if it’s a brand new publisher that no one has ever heard of?  Does that count?  Obviously if you’re lucky enough to get a deal from one of the “Big 5″ you have definitely morphed from writer to author.  But why?  Because you were in the right place at the right time? Continue reading

Real Life Serial Killers– What makes them tick?

The serial killer has become wildly popular in crime fiction.  Maybe they are so fascinating to us, as readers, because they are complicated creatures.  They are deliciously bad.  We, as writers, are told never to make our antagonist (bad guy) all bad, or our protagonist all good.

Dr. Hannibal Lector is a perfect example of this.  Especially the one depicted in the television series, Hannibal.


Dr. Hannibal Lector– played by Mads Mikkelsen– is a brilliant forensic psychologist and culinarian (although some of the ingredients in his dishes are questionable).  In one scene we see his soft side with Dr. Alana Bloom, and in the next, he is slaughtering people and arranging them in dramatic convoluted poses.  Far beyond what is necessary to end their life.  He’s an artist when it comes to designing a shocking display for the FBI.  Yet, part of me loves him!  Why?  Because nothing is black and white with him.  He’s justified in his actions, which makes him a perfect character.  However, in the real world the serial killer is a frightening creature.  And one I never want to come in contact with in a dark alley.

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Our characters come to life on the page

As most of you know I am a pantser.  With that, comes surprise after surprise at what my protagonist, Shawny, says and does.

I am writing the sequel to Timber Point, as I’ve said before, and lately I find myself shocked by  Shawny’s actions and reactions.  Not to mention her mouth.  Some of the things that come out of that woman’s mouth are absolutely unbelievable.



Yesterday I was writing in my sun room, my husband, Bob, sitting at the table reading, when suddenly, I burst into hysterics– laughing so hard I was literally in tears!  Seconds later, I gasped.

Some of the situations Shawny gets herself into can only happen to her. slowdown

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A writer’s busy life.

Writers have very busy lives.  I had no idea how busy until I decided to write full-time.

1.  You need to constantly work on your WIP (work in progress, for non-writers).

2.  Create and post regularly to your blog and/or website or both.

3.  You need to join the best social media sites to promote yourself and build your brand.

4.  Join Wattpad to start gaining a readership.  AND write stories for that, too!

5.  Keep up with what’s trending so you don’t miss out on any opportunities that could give you an edge.

6.  Tweet on a regular basis AND follow people so you don’t look like a jerk with no followers.

7.  Post to Facebook regularly to keep that audience happy.

8.  Pin it on Pinterest.

9.  Read it on Reddit to gain “karma points”.

10.  Find interesting things to add to your StumbleUpon profile.  This is one of the best sites to grow your audience, believe it or not.

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Five Elements of Thriller Writing… Creating Suspense and Tension in Thrillers

Since I am working on the sequel to Timber Point, I have to outdo myself in the original.  So I decided to research tips about creating intense suspense, twists and turns.  If who haven’t checked out my earlier posts on sequel writing, you can review them here:  Your Inner Author… Sequel Writing v. Series Writing and Book Two in a Series, Sequel Writing

For those of you who write thrillers, I read an incredible article by Writers Digest about the important five elements of thriller writing.  Even if you don’t writer thrillers you can still find these tips helpful to create suspense and tension to your writing.  I’ll be quoting some of the article, just to give the proper credit to Brian A. Klems, the online editor for Writers Digest.  I’ll be adding the techniques I use to the elements.

I didn’t see that coming!

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