The First Sentence: Setting the Stage

It always begins with the first sentence—this opening line is of utmost importance to a novel, for it sets the stage for the entire book. The initial impact is vital in order to tantalize the reader into staying for the entire chapter. At this point, details are not important. A question must be posed, confusion instigated, an air of mystery, or some item of fancy that leads the audience to want to know more.first-lines

I find it interesting to look into the first sentence of different books. Of course there are some pretty famous first lines:

  • Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
  • I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

It is a tricky business writing that first line. Many a writer sit dumbfounded with that blank page starring coldly at them, unable to pen those allusive opening words. The trick is to just start. Write something down—anything. Once the story unfolds, then go back and rework that opening line.

This sentence is the beginning of a relationship you hope to build with your audience. Work it, rework it, until you give the reader a line that says, “Come and stay awhile; I am worth your time.”

Yet more can be revealed within those first few words than may be initially evident. There is value in examining on a deeper level.

What does the first sentence of my novel, THE STONE OF EBENEZER, tell the reader?

Let’s take a look:

The sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley, laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth.

What do you see? What do you feel?

If you look deeply into the folds of this sentence, you find a field of contrasts:

light—dark                 lush—ruin

warm—cold                 life—death

Now look further; where does the story begin?

The first sentence starts in the middle of the action. So we ask, what has happened to lead to this event?

And as you read further, it is evident that a deep history resides prior to the opening of this novel. The first sentence may begin your book, but it is not the start of your story. Your reader has entered the novel at this point, but does not yet know how they got to this place in time.

This opening line provides the reader with not only what has already occurred,

(the sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley)

but with a crisis that has changed the scene; life has grown barren and cold

(laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth).

Hope and beauty, barrenness and despair—all within the same plain.

Opening lines can be complex or a few well-placed words that open a floodgate of questions. So here is your opportunity to tantalize us with your first lines.

In the comments below, share the first sentence of your latest book. Let us see what can be revealed within the opening lines of your story.

 

~ Susan

 

 

 

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The Stone of Ebenezer Official Book Trailer

Grand Prize Winner of the New Look Writing Contest

The Stone of Ebenezer
by Susan Van Volkenburgh

Coming Summer 2015

NAGAD’s life was perfect until it was torn apart by the ravages of war. Now, haunted by his past, this young conscript must meet the enemy in battle. With shaking rage the nations collide in a fierce conflict for dominance. Yet more is at stake than the survival of a people. The dispute contests the claim of immortal supremacy, the outcome to prove whose god reigns omnipotent.

And so, Nagad of Benjamin pushes on through the raging tide of battle. But to no avail. Soon crushed by the mighty war machine of Philistia, thousands of Hebrew soldiers lay slaughtered upon the carrion infested field. Hope has abandoned them. Then it is remembered, that in the days of their fathers, any army that bore the Ark of the Covenant could not be defeated. They need the Ark, for only then can the Chosen of God prevail against the enemy.

But they are wrong.

Book Cover Reveal: THE STONE OF EBENEZER

It has been long in coming, but here it is–the official book cover for
The Stone of Ebenezer
Book 1: Trilogy of Kings Saga

stone-of-ebenezer

Self-Publish: Doing It My Way

I don’t know when it began. It just started—the need to have control over every aspect of my life. Call me a control freak, but I desire to be the master of my own fate.

I first became aware of this side of my personality when I started homeschooling my daughter. I bought the popular kindergarten curriculum, you know, the one all the experienced homeschool mom’s recommended. It was subtle at first, that growing resentment of someone telling me what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

“Who are they to tell me what is right for my child?”

“Do these experts know her unique learning needs?”

“Does every child need the same skills at the same time?”

“For what purpose are these exercises prescribed? Is there a specific skill being developed or is this just busy work?”

The questions kept coming.

I have never had trouble with authority figures before. So what was happening? Why was I questioning the status quo?

I was becoming a rebel, but a rebel with a cause. The welfare of my right-brained daughter was at stake. I would sacrifice anything, learn everything in order to provide the best for my child.

But what does that have to do with self-publishing?

Everything.

It was through the experience of creating my own curriculum designed specifically to meet the needs of my children that grew in me the confidence needed to plunge head deep into publishing my first book.

book cover 1My story was my creation, born through the events of my life. I discovered a deep-seated desire to present the book in an unadulterated format—one truly of my own making. Yet the process was new to me, so some guidance was necessary. That is why I chose a publisher like WestBow Press. They offered me the freedom to control the process without abandoning me to the process.

I saw it as the best of both worlds.

Yet, that was my non-fiction. I finished work on a fiction novel. I wanted to do right by my creation, my child, so I began investigating the traditional publishing route. I even sent out some writing proposals to prospective agents.

What I learned is that there is a code to writing a query letter, yet the proper way to approach the query is very specific and mysterious. There are many willing to give instruction concerning the qualities of a good proposal. Unfortunately, each has different advice. It is all very confusing. As an analytical thinker, this left me baffled. But I kept at it, and my skill grew. Yet, the joy of writing began to fade. I spent so much time learning the query process, it left little time to actually do what I love—write.

One needs an agent before you can approach a traditional publisher (the agent will require about 15% of you royalties). Then the process begins again; this time it is the agent that takes your query before the publisher (the publisher will require up to 80% of your royalties). All this takes a long time. And just because you have an agent, it does not mean a publisher will pick you up. Let’s face it, there are many people trying to get books published.

Wait—15% + 80% = 95%

That leaves only 5% for the author…

WestBow Press has a 50-50 relationship with their authors and no agent required.

With traditional publishing, you are counting on numbers—more exposure means more money. It is true, a traditional publisher does have more contacts in the industry than you. Their name speaks volumes. If a traditional publisher choses your book to publish, that means you must have written a good book, right? So the populace will buy your book in droves!

Well, not really—I know I have read some not-so-well-written books published by some well-known traditional publishers. There are no guarantees.

The traditional publisher is taking a risk on your book, so they are picky on which works they gamble. It is their money upfront. They have everything to lose. And you, the author, will not see another dime until you have sold enough books to pay back the publisher’s initial investment.

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by pannawat @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some publishers only allow you three months to prove your worth. That is not enough time for most unknown authors to establish a following. If you do not reach expectations in a timely manner, the traditional publisher, who, by-the-way, has the rights to your manuscript, can shelve your book. What this means is they pull your title from the shelves and recycle all printed copies of your work. You cannot do anything with your story until the contract runs out with the publisher and the rights to your work revert back to you.

It is true that most bookstores will not place self-published books on their shelves, but this is not as important as it once was. Shelf-space on the internet is unlimited, so online bookstores, such as Amazon, will gladly carry your title, and for as long as your title is active. This allows the new and upcoming author time to build a solid author platform.

It does take much effort to draw a following for your work, but marketing is not just for self-published works. Yes, the weight of it does fall on the author’s shoulders. But traditional publishers are looking for authors who are willing to self-market their own books as well. Do not think that with traditional publishing, you do not have to worry about marketing. Whichever way you decide to go, marketing your book is your responsibility.

Do not fear, there is help out there for the self-publishing author. There are many agencies you can hire to market your work. These can be costly. If you do not have a budget for this type of marketing, there are other avenues to follow: blogging, social media, Google-ads. It is all doable.

Do not get me wrong. I am not against traditional publishing. As an author, one must weigh the cost-vs-benefits of all forms of publishing.

You, as the creator of your work, must decide what best fits your needs.

A traditional publisher is all about selling, after all, they have invested large sums of money on your product. With sales in mind, editing your book will be about what the publisher believes will be popular with the public. The names of your characters, what they wear, how the story plays out: all aspects of your work will be edited and rewritten to meet the goal of a profit margin. And you, the author may have some say, but the editor has the final word. I heard from one author who said that only 20% of her original manuscript made it through the editing process. It is possible she needed the editing, yet this prospect frightens me.

If making a living at writing is your goal, the traditional publisher may be right for you. After all, they do have experience in the field and have been successful with other books.

For me, I decided to self-publish. After careful consideration, I believe that my goals are contrary to that of a traditional publisher (at least at this point in my life). I write for the pure art of writing. My literary style, the cadence I use, the words and phrases I choose, are done so for the lyrical value of my work. While I appreciate the advice of a good editor (I do strongly suggest using an editor), I want the final say. With self-publishing, I am the chief contractor for my enterprise. Everything passes before me and gets my approval.

With that said, my future rests in my own hands. My decisions will be the success or failure of this crazy, wonderful expedition on which I have ventured.

Will I ever publish traditionally? I cannot say. Circumstances and goals change. But for now, I enjoy the prospect of being the master of my own fate.

Happy writing.

~ Susan

SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GO WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story) is available through WestBow Press and online bookstores: Amazon, Barnes and Nobles.

Look for Susan Van Volkenburgh’s award winning novel, THE STONE OF EBENEZER, Book 1: Trilogy of Kings Saga, coming the summer of 2015.

It’s In the Works…

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have been asked by several readers when they can expect my novel to be available. With this in mind, I thought I would take a moment to update everyone on the progress I have been making.

At present, THE STONE OF EBENEZER (book one in the TRILOGY OF KINGS series) is in the hands of my editor. She has informed me that she is approximately half way through her edits. She knows you are waiting, but really, give her a break, it is a long novel.

Trilogy of Kings: the Anointed One

The book cover design has been chosen. My illustrator is tweaking the drawing to meet my demanding criteria. Once she receives my approval, then off she goes to fully detail and digitalize the image. I think you will like what she is creating.

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After my manuscript is returned to me, I will have to go through each edit and make corrections. This will take some time. This will be the final rewrite of the novel and the hope is to present the reader a well-written, clean copy (no typos, grammatical errors, etc.).

Then the manuscript is handed over to the publisher. The publisher takes the manuscript and formats it for eBook or print. The final cover design will be applied. And voila, you have a novel ready for reading!

SKU-000524494_COVER

So as far as predicting when THE STONE OF EBENEZER will be available, well, that is hard to say. But it is in the works and I feel good about saying sometime this year.

If you need something to do while you wait, read my non-fiction book, SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story).

~ Susan

Just to let you in on a little secret – this week I finished the first draft of THE ANOINTED ONE, the second in the TRIOLOGY OF KINGS series.

 

 

The Seduction of Words ~

I was thinking today about the vocabulary, or the loss there of, within the English language. Everyone seems to be in such a hurry that words are simply discarded. Even the SAT vocabulary list has been “dumbed down.” It saddens me to think how lightly we hold words. Without words, how would we express ourselves, tell a story, or give instruction? It is hard to estimate how many words are available for our use, but it is clear that the average person speaks only a small percentage. Although Shakespeare made use of the vast vocabulary at hand, he found that there were not enough words for his taste. So he coined new words, somewhere around 1700, such as eyeball, mountaineer, bedroom, and of course puking, green-eyed monster!

Words are descriptive, specific, and waiting to be used.

You do not have to be a erudite, or a philologist, to appreciate a broad vocabulary.

Words are available for everyone. Each word has a unique meaning: some general, and some, are very specific. These are the words that make the difference between good enough writing and great literature.

In light of that last statement, I would like to share the following post from an earlier entry, for words are my passion. As an author, how words are put together in a sentence is as important as what words are engaged in telling a tale. Here is insight into my use of words….

~~~~~

Words, words, words… I have a love affair with words. I am a word collector. I even keep a leather bound word journal. When I am reading, I will stop as I come across a word or a phrase that I especially enjoy. I will pause, turn around and go back, rereading the words slowly as I mull them over in my mouth, feeling the texture of the words as I express them audibly. Then, so as not to forget the sensual experience of these beautifully crafted words, I carefully write them in my journal, noting where I gathered them so that forever I can return to experience their pleasure once again.

As a writer, I often have vivid scenarios that play out within my mind, so real and detailed that I actually view myself within the scene, watching intently as the action unfolds before my eyes. The question is how I, as a writer, relay to the reader the striking images of my vision. I find that authors often miss out on great opportunities to fully express their imaginative conceptions. They assume that the reader sees what they perceive. But if one is not careful, details are missed as the author fails to deliver an adequate description of all that is within the folds of their mind.

We must never assume that the reader can see into our thoughts. Words are the key. It is said, the genius is in the detail. Nothing should be left unsaid. As I view a scene within my mind’s eye, I look all around and ask myself:  what do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell? Then I painstakingly transcribe each detail into information for my audience, written in just the right way so that they can be caught up into the action with me. I say painstaking; for that is the way it is for me when I write. I have spent two weeks writing one paragraph, thinking, ingesting, researching, for just the right words so that the images flow as a leaf upon a fair breeze. I do not just tell the reader what I see, or hear, or smell. The way I write, the words I choose, the order in which I place the words, are just as important as what I write.

Below is an example. I could say this…

~~~

Nagad stood upon the rise, looking over the land before him. The rolling hills were covered with flowers that waved in the breeze. The morning air was fresh and new, bringing to mind visions from the past.

Or I could say …

Dominating the landscape, across the undulating ground, Nagad beheld various shades of yellow and crimson, short-lived flowers of summer, fluttering in the soft morning breeze. The smell of spring, of the uncertain glory, hung in the air, a variant wave of freshness faintly perceived, coming with the distant scent of apples wafting up from the golden blooms of the crown daisy. Breathing in the smell of the field, the green lap of the vernal season beckoned from sleep and issued forth a flood of memories of youth and peaceful times, of white linen robes and youthful love, and the soft laughter of a virgin.

~excerpt from The Stone of Ebenezer, Trilogy of Kings

~~~

So you see, how a scene is written is so much more than the delivery of information. Not only do I want to describe my characters, my scenes, I want them to come to life, to jump off the page. I desire my reader to have a visceral reaction to all that is transpiring within the words on the page. They should experience the story as a member of the action, not a passive observer, but an integral part of the story. The narrative should flow off the page without difficulty. The story line should be easy to follow; the burden of the saga should be on the author, and not the reader.

So then, go forth and read. But not only read, study how the words are composed. What makes the author’s words come alive?

~Susan

~Living History

Michal Marcol, digital artist

How can one live history? For if history is an account of events that have occurred in the past, how can one actually live history? For those of us that really enjoy studying the past, living-books enwrap us in the arms of past events, transporting us into a world that is beyond the scope of our present reality. The term ‘living-book’ was coined by the great British educator Charlotte Mason (1842–1923). She envisioned an education, with interest and emotion, which spoke directly to the child.

Historical fiction are living-books. It tells a story placed in the past. Events and settings are real, drawn from history in which the spirit, manners, and social conditions of persons and events are captured. Historical fiction provides a medium that is entertaining as well as rich in education. How better to identify with a time and place than to be wrapped in the events of a beloved character in whom we can relate? When we make that emotional connection to a character in a book, we are better able to remember the facts and events that are often presented as dry information in history text books.

The series, Trilogy of Kings, is such a story. It is a historical fiction that will enrapt the reader in a thrilling adventure that is based on true events. Guaranteed to entertain as well as educate, follow the three kings of Israel as they face the personal and spiritual struggles common to the human condition.

~ Susan