I’ve written six full-length novels, two novellas, and two short stories, and one thing I can tell you is that I agonize over the first page of anything. It’s not easy to find a “hook,” something that might interest a reader. Looking back on my first few paragraphs in the Saint Maggie series, I must confess that sometimes I succeeded in writing what I considered to be a “good hook.” Other times not so much.
So let’s take a look at the openings of some of the full-length novels’ openings.
Maggie is a woman who writes a journal. Originally, the first book was told in first person. When an author friend advised me to take it out of first person, I actually put the novel away for a number of years. Why? I didn’t want to lose Maggie’s voice. When I went back to the novel, I realized that, since Maggie was an 1800s Methodist, she might have kept a journal, like so many women of her time did. Brilliant! I realized that if I used her journal, then I could keep her voice, even though the majority of the novel would be written in third person.
The opening of the Saint Maggie is below. Her journal entry raises questions. What changes were there for Maggie? What is the thing that she never “would have dared” to imagine? What hard lessons did she learn?
(*Sigh* Scribd is malfunctioning again, so I must resort to dividers and different type again...)
Saint Maggie Intro
The changes that have occurred over the past year for my country and my family have been great. In the spring of 1860, I would not have been able, nor would have dared, to imagine that which has transpired.
I was so delighted when the Presiding Elder came to me and asked if my boarding house could find a room for the new minister. At last, I thought, perhaps the people of Blaineton will afford me and my establishment some respect. This past year has taught me some hard lessons, indeed.
The questions Maggie's comments raised are not answered in that first page. But they are as the reader dives into the book. What starts as a story about a boarding house owner who welcomes the new minister to her establishment eventually turns into a mystery, one which Maggie, with the help of Eli and some of her boarders, try to solve.
As for the second novel, Walk by Faith, I absolutely love the way it starts - with a bang, or more correctly with a fire. The book has a faster pace than the first and reads a bit more like a movie, rather than a novel because of its short scenes and quick cuts.
Walk by Faith Intro
She stood watching the flames lick upward. The air outside was bitterly cold as snow fell thick from a starless sky. And yet the heat coming from the house was strong – strong enough to make her sweat even though she was in the middle of the square.
Maggie Smith clutched her adopted son, Bob as if she was afraid the fire would shoot out and snatch him from her arms.
How did this horrible thing happen? Bewildered and strangely numb, she could only stand and watch as the Second Street Boarding House was swallowed up.
The fire is only a start to a journey that leads Maggie and family to Gettysburg and the battle. The stress puts a wedge between Maggie and Eli, and calls the other members to action and courage.
I’m not as thrilled with the intro to the third book, A Time to Heal. I opened with Maggie’s journal, which sought to bring readers up to date with what they were about to encounter. And, honestly, now that I look at it, I did the same thing with Seeing the Elephant. Consider it my author growing pains. I'm not going to bother putting them up here. Or at least not today!
But I do really like the second scene in Seeing the Elephant. It is Eli’s nightmare, and I feel this is what should have kicked the novel off for a number of reasons. For one, it is just plain weird. Secondly, it makes sense because Seeing the Elephant is primarily the story of Eli’s struggle with PTSD.
Readers may enjoy writers' blogs because it gives them insight into how authors go about their craft and what the writing life is like. But I'm finding that blogs are helpful to Janet the Author as well. Writing this piece allowed me to be critical of my own work. And I’m now thinking of returning to Seeing the Elephant in the near future and switching the scene below with Maggie’s journal entry.
Eli Smith was inside the house. It had been eerily quiet until someone or something began to keen. He frowned. That had never happened before. Who or what would make a noise like that? And why? He went down the hall and as he did, his heart began to pound, and his breath came short.
He’d been there before. He knew what he would see. But he opened the front door anyway.
Outside was a horrifying sight. People, horses, and wrecked wagons were strewn everywhere. Knees shaking, Eli stepped onto the porch. He hated this place. Even though it resembled his old family home in Gettysburg, it was completely alien at the same time. It was his fear made manifest and palpable.
I don’t want to look, he thought, squeezing his eyes shut. Don’t make me look.
But he knew he had to. He had to see it.
Finally, here’s a sneak peek at the new novel’s introduction. The Good Community’s start has more in common with Walk by Faith than with the other books. It has a definite hook that might make readers wonder just what is going on. Was there another fire? Why? What’s with the crowd? Why are they angry? And what is Maggie about to say? When did she become a public speaker?
A Good Community Intro
The air was still acrid with the smell of smoke. It stung Maggie’s nose as she tried to take deep breaths to calm her racing heart. But calm was difficult to find when a never-ending reverberation of angry voices was pounding her body. Its sound bounced off the walls of the old courthouse, echoing back to the crowd and encouraging them to shout all the more.
Back and forth. Back and forth. It felt as if it would never end.
Fighting panic, Maggie wondered: What am I doing here?
\Nonsense, her practical side argued, you know precisely what you’re doing here. You’re going to stop this madness before it goes any further.
Mouth dry, she straightened her shoulders.
I must speak, she thought. Lord, give me the words.
Taking a deep breath, she began…
On Monday, let’s have some fun and look at how the Saint Maggie characters propose marriage or suggest a relationship. As you’ll see, Eli is really pretty inept, while the other male characters' proposals vary Reminder: proposing marriage was a man’s job in the 1860s. Also, marriage was perceived as being between a man and a woman. But there were other relationships in the 1800s, just as there are now. And one of the characters in Saint Maggie is gay and may be on the edge of a relationship. (Another character is transgender – Bill from The Enlistment. But we’ll talk about Bill another day.)
Enjoy your weekend!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder