While deciding whether or not to start with a prologue, I recalled advice I had received from a workshop facilitator: “Use only if the prologue adds an interesting and integral layer to the narrative.”
Interesting and integral…Definitely a challenge and one I decided to tackle in my new release, Too Many Women in the Room. Having written the rest of the novel in the first-person POV, I wanted the reader to be privy to the thoughts and feelings of the victim in his final hour.
Nancy G. West
Aggie Mundeen, with her wry take on life, sees humor in most situations. She’s an advice columnist and amateur sleuth in love with a commitment-averse San Antonio detective who doesn’t appreciate her inserting herself in his investigations. So their relationship is frequently contentious, often humorous and always dicey.
By book four, River City Dead, the new book in the Aggie Mundeen mystery series, these two have survived crime, calamity and confusion, but they realize they love each other and should attempt to reset their relationship in some idyllic place away from crime. They choose to rendezvous at a San Antonio River Walk hotel during Fiesta week. With Aggie involved, nothing goes as planned.
J. Marshall Gordon
If you’ve ever written a story, you know how easily the first few paragraphs kind of write themselves. You wake up one morning, toss down your juice, slug a mug of coffee, and cannot wait to commit your fully formed story to the page. Perhaps you crack your knuckles as the computer comes to life, take a deep breath, and find your story rippling through your fingers onto the keys.
When I was scheduled to appear on B.K. Stevens’ renowned First Two Pages today, I thought of using one of my short stories from an anthology who accepted four stories from the six I submitted. The anthology, Soundtrack NOT Included was published in 2012. After reading some of the first pages of other shorts on this specific site—some nominated or having won awards and all lengthier than mine—I didn’t think my stories lent themselves to a good enough dissection of the first two pages. I have to admit also being humbled by the strength of the short stories already posted on this blog.
I wrote The Centaur Project, published this spring in Enter the Apocalypse (Tanstaafl Press) many years ago. I thought it was a good story (I am often under that misapprehension) but while a couple of editors admired it, no one offered to give it a home. By the time I looked at it again, my computer no longer recognized the word processing program and I had to retype the whole thing.
Eleanor Cawood Jones
The first thing I want to say is, it’s not my fault. Not my fault I really did get snowed into Green Bay, Wisconsin at a hotel hosting a clown convention. (One of the darker weeks of my life.) But I attract weird, which is fortuitous for a writer, or so I believe. Also not my fault: Some twenty years later the Malice Domestic mystery convention put out a call for anthology stories with the theme, Murder Most Conventional. It was—you guessed it—all about murder at a convention.
Well. Did I have an idea for that. But how to set it up to reflect that darkly hilarious moment in time, add fiction to reality and make it believable, and, as all mystery writers ask themselves on a fairly regular basis, who was to die?
I was crazy-happy (still am) when I learned the editors at Level Best Books accepted my supernatural mystery story “Most Evil” for their anthology of law enforcement tales, BUSTED! Arresting Stories from the Beat (released in April). It’s a pleasure to give a peek behind the curtain at The First Two Pages.
“I hate how Miss Marple solves murders and remains completely unaffected by them,” said my friend Jessica. “I like that Hope is real.”
Dr. Hope Sze is real to me, too.
The problem is that Hope has gotten a little too real in my latest book, Human Remains.
After the hostage-taking in Stockholm Syndrome, Hope has post-traumatic stress. Which means I have a few problems, as a writer.
- PTSD may not be compelling to read about. Hope is numb and antisocial and angry. Not the cute little pixie detective your average reader might want to get to know.
- Hope has a lot of backstory. For starters, I have to mention the hostage-taking and the fact that she has two boyfriends, without too many spoilers.
- Normal writer concerns: I try to set up character, setting, and a problem in the first paragraph, ideally in the first sentence. I also need to establish that she’s an Asian female physician and that the story is set in current-day Ottawa, Canada, just before Christmas.
I recently scanned through my story “Parallel Play,” looking for a short excerpt that would give readers a sense of the story and perhaps tease them into reading it in its entirety. (This was for a blog post at SleuthSayers, hosted by B.K. Stevens, who is also hosting this essay today—not just a tremendous short story writer herself but a true supporter of our whole community.) I knew the passage I was looking for: a short scene that kick-starts the central conflict, that sets all the drama into motion, really the beginning of main character Maggie’s long ordeal.
Conflict, we know, lies at the heart of fiction. That seems especially true of mystery fiction, where conflict usually leads to crime. But it’s not always possible or appropriate to open a mystery with a moment of intense conflict. Sometimes, I think, it’s more effective to begin with a quiet scene that drops hints about conflicts to come. And if our characters are so engaging that readers both expect and dread the conflict, that can be a good way to keep them turning pages.