Training Wheels

Lg book case.brighterAfter more than ten years of research and writing, my biothriller set in Montana is nearing a final edit. Fatal Feast has had many beginnings. I always knew the middle and end but getting the story started at the right point is the most important part of any book.

This is the eighth book I’ve written, including two nonfictions Indy-published on Amazon. The first books were all training wheels for Fatal Feast. After many attempts that didn’t really get you into the story, I pulled out a stack of books I liked and surveyed the first 1-2 sentences. Do these authors get you hooked?

Stephen White Manner of Death: Adrienne’s tomatoes froze to death the same night that Arnie Dresser did.

Caleb Carr – The Alienist: Theodore is in the ground.

Grace Metalious – Peyton Place: Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, not for how long she will stay.

Ridley Pearson – The Angel Maker: The young woman’s pale, lifeless expression cried out to Daphne Matthews from across the room. Nearly all of the kids who sought out The Shelter were high on something.

Nora Roberts – Montana Sky: Being dead didn’t make Jack Mercy less of a son of a bitch. One week of dead didn’t offset sixty-eight years of living mean.

Sharyn McCrumb – She Walks These Hills: The woman had been running through the woods a long time.

Opening words of these novels made me want to read more. Many books didn’t sound interesting, even best sellers. I encourage you to look at your works. Do your novels give readers a jump-start with intrigue? Conflict? Foreshadowing something important? -Or do they drag your readers through a description or setting. Does your beginning get your readers into the who, what, when, where and why should they care?

Prologues are often skipped by readers. Prologues don’t show, they tell. To get your reader involved immediately, some experts say to open with dialogue. Show something is happening. Involve your readers. Get them hooked.

Writing skills evolve over time and reading many books in your genre is key. When I look back at my first books, I can see my writing has improved over years. Each conference, each class, each critique, and each completed manuscript added skills.

References My personal library is filled with books on writing. I found many of them useful including Stephen King’s book On Writing and Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure. But Jodie Renner’s Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing is the best I have read to date. Not only does she provide examples from many sources, this is a concise quick read I would recommend to writers of both fiction and memoir. Jodie will help you raise the stakes and not bore your reader.

A sample beginning:


Deathwatch September 2020

“Callie, I lied to you. I have Mad Cow Disease.” A shudder rocked my father’s frail body. His mumbled words delivered an aftershock of disbelief and grief. Anger flashed at him for his carelessness and at myself for not recognizing signs of the fatal disease. How could my scientist father have allowed himself to become infected?

His head bowed in shame. “Before I go crazy and demented like everyone with prions swimming in their brains, I’m going to kill myself.”

Sitting beside him on a rocky outcrop above a thousand foot drop, I put my arm around his shoulders to comfort him, but after his confession, I braced myself, fearing he might try to jump. In his weakened state, I hoped I could stop him.

Happy Writing and best wishes to the people participating in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. By the end of November, in just 30 days, many will have finished their first draft. Then the real work begins.

Betty Kuffel

One thought on “Training Wheels

  1. Betty, You are so on point. In between marketing Granny, I have been going over the short stories of Allen’s weddings and realize that the most important line is the first one. Can’t wait to read your finished product of Fatal Feast after being in on the beginning. Best thoughts, Ina

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