Friday, September 02, 2011


Many thanks to Bethan for supplying this photograph of my New Voices workshop at Pontardawe Library this week.  It was a lovely afternoon and over-subscribed sadly, so some people missed out.  If you'd like a copy of the handouts I prepared, please do email me at liz at lizfielding dot com - it doesn't matter where in the world you are!

New Voices is getting closer! Have you registered here yet?

I hope you’ve started writing, but it’s not too late. You have until the 10 October to post your chapter, although the earlier you get it online the more reader feedback you’ll have, which can be hugely useful. It isn’t votes from readers that count, however; the editors will choose the best twenty first chapters to move onto the next round.

Getting the first chapter right is vital.

• The opening tells the reader who the story is about. Who. Not where, or why or what the weather is doing. Romance is character led.

Have you got all the ingredients in place? Here are some questions to help get you started:

• Who are your characters?
• What do they want?
• Why do they want it?

A great opening to a romance raises questions in the reader’s mind; questions that what make her read on. To achieve this you must:

• Start with something happening
• Get the hero and the heroine on the page
• Grab the readers attention

Stories begin with an inciting incident.

• Cinderella meets the disguised prince in the woods.
• A rich bachelor moves into the neighbourhood.
• Bassanio asks his best mate, Antonio, for a loan.

A Lee Childs I read recently started with a drunk picked a fight with Jack Reacher for no reason other than he was feeling belligerent. He gets a broken finger (he poked Jack – how dumb can you get?) and nose for his trouble. Unfortunately he’s the local cop and when he sobers up he comes after him with handcuffs. Reacher knows the best result is going to a beating in police cell and he hitches a lift out of town.

In Tempted By Trouble, Elle answers a ring at the doorbell prepared to fend off a nosy neighbour and instead finds herself fending off not just the bone-meltingly gorgeous Sean McElroy, but the ice cream van he insists is hers.

Everything that happens in these stories stems from that moment.

In all instances the stories begin with action, movement, dialogue.

That first meeting isn’t the end of chapter one, however. In the space of four thousand words the reader will find out a great deal about them.

They will have an idea what they look like – have seen them through the eyes of the other character. Not a descriptive shopping list, please. Leave room for the reader to fill in her own fantasy. Just small details. The shape of a nose. A tiny scar spotted when the characters moves and it’s emphasized by shadow.

They will, from their reaction to this meeting, know a little of their hopes, their fears and the reason why they won’t simply enjoy this unexpected meeting and move off into the happy ever after that is waiting for them.

These characters have to earn their HEA. Discover things about themselves, grow, become stronger – strong enough to deal with whatever is keeping them apart. At the end of a book should – heaven forbid – the romance fade into no more than a sweet memory, your hero and heroine should have taken control of their lives, faced their demons, be looking forward rather than back. They should be winners. That they have a partner to match them in every way is the icing and the cherry on top of that cake.

But first they have to meet. And bless Amazon for allowing you to download the first chapter of eBooks to your reading device – your PC if you don’t have anything else. You can study first chapters by your favourite authors, by authors you’ve heard of but never read, without spending a penny. (I cannot be held responsible if you feel you have to buy the book to read on, but if you do, ask yourself why.)


Suz said...

Really informative blog Liz, as always! Just wish I could have come along to meet you. Have emailed to request copies of your handouts which I'm looking forward to reading. Thanks :-)

Chris Stovell said...

What a great post, Liz. Sorry I couldn't make it down, but, goodness, you hardly needed me for a bum on the seat, did you! So glad it went well - plenty of demand for the next one too, by the looks of things.

Marlena Cassidy said...

Great advice, Liz! This is really helpful to anyone who's looking to break into the romance field (like me), and you've stated everything very clearly and succinctly. Thanks for sharing it!

Liz Fielding said...

Thanks, Suz. You should have the handouts by now.

Liz Fielding said...

We were full up, Chris and sadly had to turn people away. Hope your writing is going well.

Liz Fielding said...

Pleasure, Marlena!

Toni Kenyon said...

Thanks for the great advice, Liz. The generous offer of supplying notes to those who could not make it (not just because we live on the other side of the world) is most appreciated.

Liz Fielding said...

Thanks, Toni. There are more NV blog links on the Harlequin Romance Author blog this week - there's a link on the sidebar. :)