BE MY GUEST: How To Write Gripping Openings & Endings By Dan Coxon

Before I hand it over to Dan who tells his viewpoint on this topic as an “author”, I cannot resist but tell my opinion as well, being an eclectic reader.

Here are my two-cents as a reader and reviewer of books:
Whenever I read a story, be it short story, a novella/novel or even non-fiction like memoir or say travel book (Yes, I do like to read a variety of genres!), the first thing that I judge as a reviewer is: was the writer able to pull me in the story from the very first chapter? In fact, I can gauge from the opening lines or sometimes by reading first few paragraphs of the book, that whether the story is going to be engaging or not (with few exceptions of course, where the story does get interesting after a slow start!).

That being said, when I am nearing the finishing chapters, I am always intrigued and desperate to find out as to how the writer put all the strings of the story together and gives a coherent and satisfying resolution. For example, in most of chick-lit, it is simple stuff like: was the girl able to establish her own career and be independent? Was the boy successful in winning over the girl? Will she choose guy A or B?

In a memoir, it depends mostly on which phase of writer’s life is emphasized and at which stage is the writer going to finish it? (Read “Unimagined” to know what I am talking about!) If it is theme based, then I want to know the stance of the writer, which side is he/she taking? What is his/her opinion? How he/she perceives that topic/phenomena/dilemma? The perfect example could be Caitlin’s book, “How to be a woman” or “The Funny Thing Is…” by Ellen Degeneres.

Okay, so that was how I felt on writing the first and the last lines of a book, needless to say, a very subjective opinion as I am not the expert writer who knows all the tricks of the trade. I felt it was important to share my thoughts so the readers of my blog can get a full picture: from a book reader’s viewpoint as well as from a book writer’s viewpoint.

So, now let’s move on to Dan who is not only the author of travel stories but also has a wide experience of writing on variety of subjects, which means he knows what he is talking about! Over to you, Dan! 

Guest Post:
How to give your stories gripping Openings and Endings 

By Dan Coxon 
How to give a gripping opening:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”

“Call me Ishmael.”

We’re all aware of the great opening lines of classic literature, and at times my family used to turn it into a guessing game at holiday gatherings (for the record, the origins of the four openings above are as follows: Pride and Prejudice, 1984, Lolita, Moby-Dick). It’s a well-known truth that books can stand or fail on the quality of their opening, and a strong beginning acts as a promise to the reader that we’re in safe hands, that this writer knows how to reel us in and keep us guessing.

My personal favourite comes from Iain Banks’ The Crow Road: “It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.” Who wouldn’t want to read more of that? 

Giving your own stories – either fiction or non-fiction – this kind of gripping opening isn’t quite as easy, however. We all know that we should start with something intriguing, something that compels the reader to read on, but that’s harder than it sounds. As always, the best idea is to learn from the classics.

If you look at the examples above, they all pose questions and puzzles that will be answered during the course of the story: Why did his grandmother explode? Is it really a ‘truth universally acknowledged’ that a man must want a wife? Why are the clocks striking thirteen? Try to include an element of mystery in your opening and the reader will want to continue with it – if only to discover where you’re heading.

Strong openings rely on more than just a single line, however, and if you want your story to truly grip the reader then you’ll want to think long and hard about your opening page, or pages. You’ll want these pages to immediately give your readers an impression of the world the story inhabits: the kind of story it is, where it takes place, who the main characters are.

If you read beyond that curt opening line of Moby-Dick you’ll find that Melville quickly tells us that his narrator is a seafaring man, and a philosophical one at that. We already know that this will be a book about the sea, and that its narrator will sometimes be given to philosophical asides.

We also come to realise that Ishmael feels compelled to take to the sea, and it’s this concept of compulsion and obsession that drives the rest of the novel. We would do well to learn from Melville here. Not only is it important to set the scene and the characters in the opening pages, but you’ll want to set the tone and the themes too.

If you’re writing a memoir about growing up in China, then you’ll want to make that clear to the reader from the outset; but you’ll also want to hint at your future themes too, such as the interplay of foreign cultures, or the difficulties facing a Westerner in an unfamiliar culture.

One of the ways to achieve this is to think of your opening as posing a question, and I’m not just talking about the mysteries posed by the opening line. The first few pages of your book should set up the theme for your story, and if this isn’t already clear in your mind you should give it some thought. It can be as complex as ‘How can mankind live together in peace’, or as simple as ‘Will our heroine find love’ (Jane Austen uses that one quite a lot). 

Depending on the length of your story, you’ll want to have at least a couple of questions posed at the start, and identifying what they are can help you plan and structure the rest of the story too. You don’t have to explicitly ask them (although you can), but you should drop hints for your readers so that they recognize your theme and can become engaged with it.

How to give a gripping ending: 

Of course, the joy of setting questions is that they lead you to answers, and it’s here that the gripping ending comes into play. If you’ve done your job well, and posed questions at the start of your story, then you’ll want to make sure that you wrap them up at the end too. Usually this will involve your protagonist undergoing a number of ordeals and adventures, then returning to the setting or outlook that you used in the opening – but with some new information or self-knowledge.

To use a simplistic example from modern storytelling, The Lord of the Rings trilogy opens with the question “Can a small, unassuming person conquer evil?”, and the answer at the end is “Yes he can – but only with a little help from his friends”.

If you’re struggling to find a satisfactory ending to your story it’s worth going back to the questions you posed at the beginning, and making sure that they’ve all been answered. Naturally, you won’t want to spell the answer out for the reader (they should have to work a little too, after all), but if you haven’t tied up all the themes of your story then the reader will usually feel that the story is unresolved or unsatisfying. They’ll be looking for a resolution – even if it isn’t the one they expected at the story’s outset. (In fact, especially if it’s not the resolution they expected – there’s nothing more satisfying than a story that surprises us).

There’s far more to writing than this, but if you can bear in mind these techniques then you should at least have something to draw the reader in, and leave them satisfied after they turn the final page. The rest, as they say, is up to you.

Note from Dan: The ideas used here are drawn in part from Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers. If you don’t already own a copy, you may want to invest in one!

About the Author:

Dan Coxon has recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, having spent ten years living in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the author of Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand and The Wee Book Of Scotland, and he currently works as the Seattle Editor for CultureMob.com, while also contributing to The Nervous Breakdownand Spike. His fiction has appeared in the anthology Late-Night River Lights, and in numerous small press magazines and journals. To know more about him and his writing, visit his website, http://dancoxon.com/ or read my exclusive interview with him as we talk about writing, travel places and more! To read this interview, simply click here. 

About the Book: 

The New Zealand All Blacks are one of the most recognisable team franchises in modern sport, and their performance of the Ka Mate haka prior to international matches is known across the globe. But how many of us know anything about the Maori people to whom this haka belongs?

Ka Mate: Travels In New Zealand takes us on a three month journey around New Zealand, through the vineyards, over the glaciers, and across the fields of boiling mud. Freelance journalist and writer Dan Coxon does more than simply entertain us with anecdotes of his travels: he unravels New Zealand's complex history of migration and settlement, and reveals an intriguing story of British colonisation that still has repercussions today. Plus there's time for a rugby match or two along the way.

To buy his book, “Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand” on Amazon, click here

To read my detailed review of this book, click here. 

International Giveaway!!! 

Open till 11th March, 2012 

Prize: “Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand” E-Book to FOUR lucky winners!!! 

To enter, just write a genuine comment on this article. 
Yes, it's that easy!!! :)
If you are a writer, share how important you find the openings and endings of a book and what are your tips to make those interesting for the reader. If you are a book reader, tell which book made an impression on you because of its engaging beginning lines or a surprise ending. Share what you feel on this topic. After the comment, please leave your name and valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you are one of the FOUR lucky winners. 

You do not have to be a follower to participate, share this giveaway through Facebook or Twitter, it will be highly appreciated. Thanks so much! So write your comment and get a chance to win this fantastic travel book! 

Good Luck Everyone! :-)

Only the genuine comments will be published and counted for the entries. The winners will be chosen through Random.org. They will be notified by e-mail. A BIG thanks to Dan for providing four copies of his e-book for this giveaway!


BE MY GUEST: Author Interview & Giveaway With Catherine Stine

I am so pleased to host Catherine Stine, brilliant author of many books. She is one of those versatile authors who have written in a variety of genres. Today, she is here to talk about her latest release, “Fireseed One”, a futuristic thriller involving lots of twists and turns. When asked where she got idea for this book, she said, “From pain can come beauty and soulful meaning.” To know more about the ideas behind this book and her writing journey so far, read on! Oh yeah! Also look out for the surprise giveaway at the end of this interview, great news...right? :-)

RG: Why did you become a writer? Did some person or incident in life inspire you?
I was always writing stories and illustrating them. In fourth grade I decided to write a novel. I got to the third chapter and couldn’t figure out how to do the rest. But by sixth grade, I’d written my first fantasy, called "A Better World" about kids who escape from an attic window to an exotic jungle world. My teacher Xeroxed copies for all my classmates!

RG: Why did you choose to write a futuristic thriller?
More and more, I love to write suspenseful page-turners. I love plot twists and turns; a book that keeps you up at night. And I love speculating on the future. But it has to have romance. Fireseed One does! Varik and Marisa have a very fire and ice love affair.

RG: What books have you published so far and what are they about?
My young adult novel is called Refugees. It’s about two modern refugees: Dawn, a runaway from San Francisco and Johar, a boy from Afghanistan, and how their paths connect in unexpected ways. I’ve also written middle grade fiction: A Girl’s Best Friend, a choose-your-own-adventure for girls.

RG: If you could be a character from your books, who would you be? Why?
I’d choose Marisa from Fireseed One because she’s beautiful, rich, and pretty wild. She joins a terrorist organization and gets into big trouble, but in the process she gets to hang out with a famous and handsome marine biologist’s son, Varik, and travel with him into exotic desert lands in search of a magical hybrid plant. She changes in shocking ways, but I won’t say how! You have to read "Fireseed One" to find out.

RG: Where do you get ideas for your stories and characters?
Everywhere! From people I meet, from odd articles, from parts of myself, from issues that upset or fascinate me. One of the inspirations for Fireseed One came from a dark place: the shocking news that a very old friend had been murdered while snorkelling. I dedicated the novel to her. From pain can come beauty and soulful meaning.

RG: Would you like to give some writing tips for those who want to venture into writing fiction?
Writing is revision! In your story, make the stakes high. Do lots of free-writes and outlining before you even start that novel, it’ll save you time and big headaches. Get into a committed writing group with people whose writing you respect, and workshop. Read a ton of good novels, you learn so much about writing that way.

RG: Do you think book blogs play a vital role in getting books across to readers?
For sure! Some of the most avid readers are online book reviewers, and readers flock to good review sites to look for novels. The online community is great, very generous and helpful about paying it forward. You do need to find your proper audience though. If you write nonfiction, don’t approach a reviewer who likes mysteries. On the other hand, you never know who might fall in love with your novel. It can be quite surprising.

RG: Printed books vs. E-books. What’s your take on this?
I love them both! I have a Kindle Fire, fully loaded with all kinds of ebooks. On the other hand, I still enjoy holding a paperback in my hands. And as an author who has published both traditionally and independently, I feel as if the future trend is not towards one or the other, but toward an author who can go fluidly from one to the other, depending on the project.

RG: How much time does it take you to complete a novel? What was your routine?
"Refugees" took me two years, as I was new at writing a novel, and it involved research. My first children’s book for American Girl was a manic write. I was under contract to write the darn thing in one month! I wrote a chapter a day. "Fireseed One" took me a year, but the revision, forever and a day. I’m getting faster though. I go to a writing space, and I also have a home office-full of photos of my characters.

RG: How do you balance your family life and your writing commitments?
My two boys are off in college. Glorious, I feel like a teenager again, with all of the writing time I want between teaching gigs. My hubby and I both love to work, and then have a late dinner out.
RG: Are you inspired by any particular author? Who is your favourite author?
So many! Cherie Priest is the queen of fantastic suspense. I love Nancy Werlin, who does YA thrillers. And then, the classic authors like Cormac McCarthy and Camus. It’s all good! Favorite author? Ray Bradbury, the king of lyrical tales about Mars.

RG: Among other author’s books, any character you relate to and you’ll always remember?
I adored Briony Larkin in Billingsley’s Chime. She was made to believe she was a witch who caused her twin’s terrible accident. I won’t say what happens, but it’s a real surprise. Billingsley works this idea of dreadful guilt, kneading it like taffy.

RG: I believe that there are only two categories of books: good books and bad books. In your opinion, what are the qualities of a “good book”?
A great book is one that haunts you way after you read it, one that makes you see something in a new way, one that makes you cry and laugh and gasp.

Now, time for some fun questions:

RG: Share with us three favourite childhood memories.
Making a lending library with all of my books, getting a pearl bracelet from my dad for Christmas, selling my handmade paper dolls at school!

RG: Tell us about the craziest thing you ever did in your life.
I painted the walls of a half-built apartment building that I really hated with tar. (It was being built right behind our old house) My father made my friend and me scrub it all off. Ick. I also locked my teacher in a closet-by mistake!

RG: How do you relax when you have free time?
I go to a spa and get a massage, go to a movie with a friend or read. Oh, I also love bad TV shows.

RG: Complete these sentences:
· Love is... all around if you know where to look.

· Life is... such a gift!

· Writing is... a rollicking adventure.

RG: Thank you so much for stopping by my blog during your virtual book tour. I wish you all the best for your books!
Komal, thanks for hosting me on Review Girl!

About the Author:

I’m Catherine Stine and I write novels for teens and new adults. I love suspenseful page-turners of any kind. I am published both traditionally and independently. I’m also a professional illustrator. Fireseed One, my new futuristic thriller, has nine of my drawings in it.

Author Links:
Goodreads Author Page:
Website: http://www.catherinestine.com
Blog: http://catherinestine.blogspot.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/crossoverwriter

About the Book:
Fireseed One:

What if only your worst enemy could help you save the world?
Fireseed One opens onto a near-future earth of floating island farms, people zipping around in amphibious boats, and 18 year-old Varik hanging out with his dolphin, Juko by the water’s edge. All Varik really wants to do is to party on SnowAngel Island with his fashion-hound friend, Audun, and flirt with the college girls he dreams of joining next year in his quest to become a doctor. Instead, he inherits a vast sea farm, following the drowning of his marine biologist father. Things turn treacherous, when a beautiful and shrewd terrorist named Marisa Baron, breaks into Varik’s father’s secret underwater vault that stores the world’s food supply.

Varik is forced to take Marisa, who knows way, way too much about things that are none of her business, to scorching desert lands in search of a magical hybrid to try to save the food source. Problem is, the Fireseed plant Varik’s father envisioned may not have ever existed off the drawing board! Things get truly daunting, when Varik and Maria are captured by a cowled cult who worships Varik’s drowned father. Will the cult chop up Varik, the founder’s son and eat him to gain magical Fireseed powers? Will Varik and Marisa ever get back to Ocean Dominion?

Fans of Divergent and Feed will likely enjoy this YA thriller, as well as those who like a generous dash of romance with their page-turners. Illustrated by the author.

All eBook formats, $2.99

Collectible illustrated paperback, $7.99

Purchase links for “Fireseed One” are given below:
For Amazon Kindle and Paperback, click here.

B&N Nook and Paperback: click here.

iTunes for iPad or iPhone: click here.

Sony Reader: click here.

To “LIKE” the Fireseed One Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fireseed-One/160174947415366

To see complete list of FireSeed One’s Virtual Book Tour Stops, Feb 20 through March 19, click here. or Simply click the banner to know which blogs are hosting Catherine.

International Giveaway!!! 

Open worldwide till 11th March, 2012 

Prize: Fireseed One (E-Book) to THREE winners!

To enter, simply do the following: 

“Like” Fireseed One Facebook page, here

Follow Catherine’s blog, here.

Join “The Review Girl” Official Facebook Group, here.

Now, once you follow these three simple rules, just write your Facebook name and valid e-mail address in the comment section below, so the author can contact you, if you are one of the THREE lucky winners. 

That’s all! Pretty simple, right? :-)

Good Luck everyone! 

The winners will be chosen through Random.org. 
They will be notified through e-mail by “The Review Girl”. 
It is the responsibility of the author to send books to winners. 
Last but not least, a BIG thanks to the lovely author for offering 3 copies for this giveaway! 


BE MY GUEST: How To Choose An Apt Book Title By Karen Lenfestey

I will say this is an excellent article contributed by a successful author, who knows what she is talking about. If you want to be part of the writing industry, this information is a must for you especially if you are an author or want to be one. Learn from the expert as joining my blog today is an extremely talented author Karen Lenfestey (Author of "A Sister’s Promise" and "What Happiness Looks Like"), talking about the secret behind intriguing titles and how you can create one. Over to you, Karen!

Guest Post:
How to choose an apt book title 
By Karen Lenfestey 

“What’s the title of your novel?” the writing instructor asked. Proud of mine, I volunteered, “Small Town Colors.” I thought it was brilliant because my story included diverse cultures in a small, Midwestern town. On the cover, I pictured trees in the midst of their autumnal color change. So clever, I thought. The instructor emitted some sort of disapproving, unimpressed grunt. Then called on her next victim.

I went home and asked myself, “What is my book really about?” I made a list of words that described my novel: marriage, sisters, motherhood, childlessness, guilt, jealousy, promises, lupus, and secrets. As it turned out, diverse cultures had little to do with the story I’d actually written.

Who is my audience? Women who read for fun, women who are considering motherhood or are mothers, women who want to read about relationships and marriage.

What words speak to that audience? Along with the artwork on the cover, titles signal to the reader if a book is in their preferred genre. The word “sister” immediately designates my book as geared toward women. So many of us either have sisters or wish we had sisters. Ultimately, my story is about a sister’s promise and a wife’s promise. My protagonist, Kate, must break one. I decided on the title "A Sister’s Promise".

I have to admit, people have mixed reactions to the title of my second novel, "What Happiness Looks Like". It’s about how our lives don’t always turn out the way we envisioned. I heard a woman in a movie accused of being miserable say, “This is what happiness looks like.” I immediately thought it sounded like the title of a novel.

How many other books have that same title? Often when I think I’ve created the ultimate book title, I discover it’s not so original after all. For example, I thought “Forgotten Dreams” would be a great title. Well, so did a lot of other writers. Go to amazon.com and do a search for your book title. If several books already have that title, I suggest you alter it. You want your title to come up first when someone searches for it.

Is my title too long and complicated? When I tell friends and fans about my book, I don’t want them to say “Spell that for me” like they do when I tell them my last name is Lenfestey. I want my title to be memorable but simple. Recently I pulled up the titles of the New York Times bestselling hard covers for one week in February 2012. Most of them are fairly short and sweet. Maybe we can learn something from them: Home Front, Private #1 Suspect, Taken, Defending Jacob, and Death comes to Pemberly. Now look at the books on your shelf or on your e-reader. Study the titles and think about which ones you picked up on your own without a recommendation. Ask yourself what word(s) in the title intrigued you.

What if I can’t decide? Come up with a few possible titles and poll people through FaceBook, Twitter or your website. Ask those in your critique group or anyone familiar with your work. Everyone has an opinion and we love to be asked!

Basically, if your title works, readers will pick up your book rather than emitting some sort of disapproving, unimpressed grunt like my writing instructor did. (Although her lack of enthusiasm is what pushed me to work harder, so I’m thankful for that). Now that you’ve had my crash course in titles, see if you can match the book title from some of my favorite authors to its genre below:

Name that Book Quiz:

The Detroit Electric Scheme--by D.E. Johnson non-fiction

Pink Champagne--by Nicole Green urban fantasy

Declutter Your Diet--by Tanya Isch Caylor thriller

Prophecy Denied--by ML Rigdon historical fiction

Wolf’s Bane--by Judy Post romance

The Perfect Crime--by Les Edgerton fantasy

A Fatal Waltz--by Tasha Alexander mystery

Visit www.karensnovels.weebly.com to check your answers or to read the opening chapters of "A Sister’s Promise" or "What Happiness Looks Like".

About the Author:
Karen Lenfestey, a Midwest Writer’s Fellowship winner, writes women’s fiction with characters you care about. "A Sister's Promise" is currently #4 in Amazon's drama category and has sold over 26,000 copies. "What Happiness Looks Like" was recently released and is #11 today in Amazon's drama category. Her books are available as e-books and in paperback at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

About her Books:

A Sister’s Promise:

Kate Hopper can list a million reasons why she doesn’t have kids. No, more like reasons why she shouldn’t have kids: genetics, a demanding career, and ultimately, the fear that she wasn’t cut out to be June Cleaver, Carol Brady or Claire Huxtable. TV moms always make it look so easy, but Kate knows better. When Kate’s sister faces death, Kate is willing to say anything to save her sister’s life—even promising to have a baby. Kate decides to keep her rash words a secret from her husband until she can figure out whether she really wants to be a mother. Especially since they agreed their marriage would remain childless. A sister’s promise and a wife’s promise: Kate must break one. Should she risk everything she has for the unknown?

To purchase this book, click here.

What Happiness Looks Like:

Joely Shupe had a vision of what her thirties would look like: she’d be the mother of two, finger painting with her kids during the day and cooking dinner for her loving husband at night. Instead she’s a single mother struggling to provide for her young daughter. To make matters worse, her ex-fiancĂ©, Jake, shows up--unemployed and reeling from a personal tragedy. He claims he’s ready to parent the daughter he abandoned five years ago. Joely is more interested in Dalton, a devoted father to his own son, who offers to take care of her the way no man ever has. Should Joely risk her daughter bonding with someone new or with the man who broke her heart? One thing is for sure: this is not the life Joely expected. Is it time to adjust her idea of what happiness looks like?

To purchase this book, click here.

How do you choose the titles of your books? Do you find it difficult to go for that perfect title? Did you find this article informative? Share your feedback in the comments section below.

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