Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Showing C.A.R.E in the First Chapter

Last year I had the opportunity to participate in my first speaking engagement as a writer. I lecture often in my job as a university instructor, so speaking on Autism or Speech-Language Pathology to a group of people isn't such a big deal.

As I was preparing to chat with a writer's group about the importance of first chapters, I thought of a cute acronym to go along with my teaching. (because it helps with memory, right?)

So - what keeps the readers reading in your first chapter?

Showing C.A.R.E. as an author. That's what!

C - Character relate-ability - If readers don't care about our characters in one way or other, they are less likely to keep reading. This doesn't necessarily mean that our characters have to be noble and righteous. It means they have to be relatable. An 'aha' moment of "I know how that feels" or "I've felt that way before", or "I've been there or done that" before. Somehow we have to relate.

So, if we enter the world of Narnia with Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, a reader might can't relate to the fears of WWII or stepping through a wardrobe into a magical world, but we can relate to being scared of something (like the children were of the bombs dropping in London) or of being in a new place (like in the Professors house), and we can remember 'dreaming' of imaginary places. It's wonderful.

A - Arrest the Readers Attention - Within the first page (preferably) an author must grab the reader's attention. Beginning your story in the beginning is not the best place, usually. Beginning the story IN MOTION is vital. Fairytales of years gone by which started with Once Upon a Time and then were followed with a five page narrative about the poor lost girl whose life was miserable, aren't hooking readers' attention or curiosity anymore.

Example: How do producers hook viewers for a 1-hour weekly series? The first five minutes (or less) of the show (before commercial break) begins with some arresting development. A body drops from a twelth story window onto the car of the hero/heroine; a recap of last weeks' ending reminds us that the heroine walked in on her boyfriend kissing another woman. Somethng happens to grab our attention and hold us through that commercial break.

The same is true for our writing.

R - Radiate a Sense of Place - Story Worlds are powerful places. From Middle Earth to Scarlet O'Hara's Deep South, to Dickens' London, or Brian Jacques' Redwall Abbey, place plays a big role in a reader's immersion into our stories. Downton Abbey is great for creating a sense of 'place' on the screen.

One of the BIGGEST reasons why fiction readers read is to escape their world or be entertained by someone else's story. Creating Story Worlds that do just that feeds the fiction reader's need, and makes them want to keep reading.

E - Emotions Draw Readers In - Relatability is one thing; An Emotional Connection is another. When the reader has an emotional response, he/she is usually hooked into reading more. If the response is caring, then great! If it's intrigue, good. If it is shock or fear (not my favorite ones, but some people like them), then they are more liekly to keep reading.

Jamie Carie begins her novel, Love's First Light, in the middle of the French Revolution with the hero's sister being executed. Emotional? Oh yeah! Mary Connealy usually begins her novels with the characters in peril. Emotional? You bet. Laura Frantz starts her novels off with historical beauty and depth of characters that create longing. Emotional? Definitely. And let's not forget humor! Like Janice Hanna Thompson or Deeanne Gist.

So, what do we need to do as writer?

Show our first chapters (and our entire books) a lot of C.A.R.E. and we'll really set the stage for a beautiful story.

Of the above 4 elements, which do you think is most important? Which one are you good at writing? Which one do you find most challenging?


Julia M. Reffner said...

Great thoughts, Pepper! Wish I'd been there to hear you speak.

The one I probably have the most difficulty with is story world. That's why I love google and all the wonderful places I can find. I haven't traveled much and I'm one that doesn't tend to notice my surroundings too much so its been a constant journey as a writer to learn to think more about place. Character emotions and relateability come a little easier to me.

Mary Connealy said...

It helps if you've got a strong brand like I do. Add in a cowboy on the cover and a reader is set in place. Everyrhing about setting becomes shorthand. Sure I need to tell them Texas or Montana or New Mexico, but seriously, we're in the Wild West Somewhere right?
And he's wearing a Stetson and a Colt Revolver. I don't have to do much more than a few quick lines about any of that and my reader is good to go.
So I can get right to the screaming and shooting. Saves SO much time. :)
Thanks for including me in your blog, Pepper.

Pepper said...

Google is my friend :-) I love getting those pics, Julia. Sometimes I'll use YouTube too - because then I can watch tours of places. Very fun!!!

Pepper said...

Okay, a stetson, wild west, and humor?
Yep, your story world is complete :-) I think that your characters build an amazing 'story world' and make it strong.

Laura Frantz said...

Oh, Pepper, love this post and love YOU for providing the link to it! Great examples and insights into what makes a good story tick. The CARE acronym is so clever and memorable.

I think setting is probably easiest for me, creating that story world setting I don't want to exit and hope readers don't want to leave either. I struggle with other aspects but we'll leave that for another chapter;)

You must be an amazing teacher/instructor. I'd sit in one of your writing workshops in a heartbeat.

Pepper said...

Yep, you have storyworld DOWN TO AN ARTFORM!! You are fantastic at drawing the readers in - and I don't want to leave it. Oh my...(plus your swoony heroes)

With historicals there's a certain 'idea' of the storyworld, just based on time period/place, but you are fantastic at adding skin and adornments to those basics in a memorable and beautiful way.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

You are always so good at Acronyms! Trying not to be jealous!!!!