Often PI novels start with the beautiful woman hiring the hardened PI for one reason or another. And often she turns out to be as much of a problem for the poor guy as the case itself.
For this, my tenth novel, I decided to be more deliberate about the beginning from the beginning. But I did follow the tradition of having a difficult client, although he’s a guy, not a femme fatale.
Of course, the female PI has to be tough, too, and the clients are often either liars or evading the truth, keeping back secrets.
For the three books so far in the Paula Mitchell series, I’ve had her meet her clients outside her office.
The Loser Mysteries begin with Killing Silence, published in 2012. I’d spent several months in a very nice neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, called The Fan. Across a main highway from the Fan’s genteel, lovely homes stood a drug store where homeless people hung out, which created a strange juxtaposition of haves and have-nots. Every day as I walked, I saw the same rag-tag group, who seemed well-acquainted with each other and the “rules” of living on the street: Hang onto your stuff, notice everything and react to nothing, and don’t bother the “normal” citizens passing by.
Lesley A. Diehl
The first two pages of the third book in the Eve Apple mysteries (Camel Press, Publisher), winner of a Readers’ Favorites Award, follow:
“Sharks? You’re worried about sharks?” I leaned back in my chair and let the wind blow the sweet smell of salt water into my face. I sat with Madeleine, my best friend and business partner, on deck in the stern of the cabin cruiser, the sun warming us as we headed down the mangrove-lined waterway.”
The first two pages of my latest novel, The Things We Said Today, are not the original beginning. As many writers discover while writing long fiction, I began somewhere else and realized after I had completed what I thought was the entire novel that I needed more at the beginning.
What begins a novel is a promise to the reader of many different things. A story-line, for sure, especially in plot-centric stories like mysteries or suspense. A promise of what and where the story is about. But also it describes a bond with a character, a person whom the reader can connect with, who will be with them, representing the reader throughout the novel. A compassionate, empathetic, sympathetic character, a friend whose corner we crouch in, hoping for the best.
Helen Dunn Frame
What does a mother do when she outlived her only son and an elderly Greek friend insisted his widow may have played a role in his death? Regardless of the truth, when this happened, I wrote a novel incorporating the traumatic event. It was cathartic, helped me to deal with grief, and to come to terms with the loss.
My son died in 2000 after a “minor” operation during which he developed Swiss cheese-like gangrene on the underside of his stomach and infection took control of his entire body. Months later, I began writing the book featuring the same sleuths from Greek Ghosts because it would be the second in the series of stories of mystery entwined with romance and human traits.
Two pages isn’t much space to fill readers in when they start reading a later-in-the-series book cold without having read the preceding books. That was the problem I had with book six in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series. Regan, the protagonist, and her husband, Tom, have to be introduced, their relationship needs to be made clear, they have to be made sympathetic, and that’s just for starters. It’s also necessary to set the stage, build tension, and introduce the overriding dissonant theme in of the book.
C. T. Collier
Have you ever performed a ritual to let go of something you once valued but have lost? The impulse to use a ceremony or ritual to mark a transition, such as “letting go,” is universal, and it’s part of the hook that draws the reader into my current mystery, Planted.
The first sentence … certainly the first paragraph … of a book sets the tone and should entice the reader. What is happening? Why? And … what will happen next?
Shadows on a Morning in Maine, published last month, is the eighth in my Shadows Antique Print mystery series. Books in the series take place about three months apart; the eighth book is set almost exactly two years after the first. During those two years (in addition to solving more than eight mysteries, of course) my protagonist, Maggie Summer, has dealt with being a new widow, run her antique print business and taught at a community college, fallen in love, and decided to adopt an older child. But Will Brewer, the new man in her life, doesn’t want to be a father, and tension on this issue follows through the series.
“I couldn’t believe they found Brad’s body. I thought I buried him deeper.
But eight years is a long time and a girl can forget little things like that. You know, stuff like: Where’d I park the car? Where’d I leave my shoes? Where’d I bury my boyfriend?
I knew where I buried him, just not how deep. Deeper’s better. Trust me. Anyway, the first time you kill somebody is always trial and error.
By the second one, I had improved my technique.
And number three was… sheer perfection.”
We put a lot of pressure on the first two pages of a book, bless their hearts. We ask them to introduce characters, set the scene, give readers some idea of what the story is about, and maybe a glimpse of a theme or two. And we want those two little pages to do all that while drawing readers in without bogging them down. Hoo boy. How do we do that? For Plaid and Plagiarism, the first two pages and I took big breaths and hit the ground running.
In my book When the Past Haunts You, retired Dallas homicide detective Harry Bronson is forced to face his painful past when his estranged sister begs him to rescue her.
Since the book is part of the Harry Bronson Mystery Series, I was hoping that the readers would know that Bronson does not have a sister. But now here, clear out of the blue, not only a sister appears, but she wants her Big Bro to help.
With this type of setup, I immediately encountered some dilemmas when deciding how to open the story. I needed to establish the fact that Bronson does indeed have a sister. But if so, why the big mystery? Why hadn’t he mentioned her before?
In my middle grade thriller, One Stone Left Unturned , I choose to tell the tale
from two different protagonists, who lived centuries apart. The first point of view is that
of Tatiana Romanov, the doomed daughter of Tsar Nicholas Romanov. The second point
of view is that of Augusta Ashford, a modern day teenager.
I must admit that I thought long and hard about which point of view to use in the
opening chapter. A former teacher, I know how easily middle grade kids can be bored. If
I began with an historical segment, would they be turned off, because, after all, the action
takes place a hundred years ago? They might think – who cares?
I chose this earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series to analyze the first two pages, because I enjoyed writing it, and many enjoyed reading it.
The opening line:
The phone ringing at night usually meant bad news. On Tuesday evening, the phone rang right after Tempe and Hutch settled into bed.
As an urban fantasy author, I found approaching the first few pages of my book, Truthsight, especially challenging. I needed to introduce readers to my characters, and make those characters vivid, empathetic, and compelling. I also needed to orient readers in the plot, so that they could follow the action that was unfolding. On top of that, I also had a lot of world building that needed to be explained pretty quickly in order for readers to follow and get caught up in the events that were about to take place. I needed them to know that my book’s main character, Amy, is running a secret clinic for supernatural creatures, that she is in danger and hiding from something, and that she is in constant, secret pain.
The book I am focusing on today is Double Duplicity, my first book in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series.
The reason I picked this book to use for the first two pages is due to the fact I had to really “stew and brew” the beginning. I use the stewing and brewing process with all my books. However, because this was a new series, I wanted to capture the reader’s attention in the beginning while giving information to make the reader wonder about Shandra Higheagle. The beginning of the book had to do two things—Draw the reader in and make them interested in the main character.