Wednesday, March 02, 2011

#WW - That scary, blank first page

Before I launch into this week's #WW topic, I have some news.  Actually I have LOTS of news!

The penultimate chapter of REMEMBER ME, COWBOY is up at eharlequin! The last chapter is on Friday. Then you can read it from start to finish as all chapters are accessible.

SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER is a winner! I heard this morning that it took the Contemporary category in the Dunes and Dreams Picture Perfect Cover Contest! I can't take any of the credit - it's all down to cover artist Kanaxa who does such a brilliant job! Samhain is lucky to have her talents!

Yesterday I signed a new contract for an exciting project! Christmas 2012 will see a trilogy of holiday books in the Romance line! I've hooked up with Fiona Harper and Shirley Jump and I'm so excited we're going to be working on this together! My book is the middle they should be out in Oct, Nov and Dec 2012. revisions have gone through so it's official. HOW A COWBOY STOLE HER HEART will be out in the US and Canada in October and in the UK in November of this year.  Phew!

OK now let's get down to business - and the fact that this week marks the start of a new book for me.

I talked about starting a project earlier - casting, doing character sheets, maybe a synopsis or character background. That's all before you actually start WRITING. And I'm going to tell you a secret. It doesn't matter how excited I am to start a new project, there's something intimidating about sitting down, opening a blank word document, typing the words CHAPTER ONE and then looking at the blank screen. Like bleeding on the page, I sometimes procrastinate. Because openings are tricky.

I have a horrible habit of starting chapter one in the wrong place, for example. What I have in my head doesn't always work best on the page. Sometimes I write the beginning 2, 3, or 4 times before I know I've started in the right place. A fine example of this is my upcoming HONEYMOON WITH THE RANCHER. I wrote the beginning 3 times. Then my editor said nuh huh. It was still All Wrong. I ended up rewriting the whole beginning (as well as the middle and end, but that's a blog for another day. LOL).

I try not to overanalyze and I shudder when I think of following RULES but there are some things that are constant with beginnings. So here are Donna's rules for writing Chapter One:

1) Get the hero and heroine on the page together as soon as possible. If it's in the first paragraph, so much the better. Definitely in the first scene. The ONLY example in 18 books I can think of where I haven't had them together in the first scene is in PROUD RANCHER, PRECIOUS BUNDLE, because I have Wyatt in a particular bind and scene 2 is where he goes to Elli for help and I switch POV.

2) Make sure the characters are at a crossroads in their lives. It doesn't have to be anything as drastic as a mid-life crisis, but it has to be a moment of change. If you look at my first Harlequin Romance, HIRED BY THE COWBOY, Alex is single and pregnant and Connor is at a point where he might lose his ranch.  Sometimes only one character will be at this crossroads, but their appearance throws a monkey wrench into the other character's life. But there has to be a moment of transition.

3) Make sure there are stakes involved. Your characters want something, and the other protagonist is either the solution or going to get in the way.

4) Open with action - either dialogue or a really great opening hook sentence that leads into the action.

That's it. That's all my rules. Do I always get them right? Clearly not. Do I put in too much narrative sometimes? Yep. Do I dump in backstory? Yep. Do I follow the rules and it's still wrong? Yep. How do I know? Sometimes it's nothing I can put my finger on and it just feels wrong. Other times I've started with a turning point but it's the wrong turning point. A lot of times I start too early. And it takes some fooling around to get right.

But when it's right, the pieces fall into place. Because a strong first chapter is the foundation for your whole book. You know what they say about shifting sands, right? That chapter has to be rock solid.

Is it any wonder that blank page is terrifying?


  1. Wow thanks for the advice Donna! So great to read all your news. At least I know I'm not alone staring at a blank computer screen... :-)

  2. Great post Donna! Congrats on your latest acceptance :-)

  3. Ooo. Good basic points to remember. (The crossroads one is particularly helpful.) Great post, Miz D.

    (And major congrats!!) ;)