Thursday, February 20, 2014

Paula Mowery: Are You Starting Well?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / iqoncept
As an acquisitions editor, I read a lot of manuscript beginnings that don’t get off to a good start. I often push on through at least the first few chapters, but a reader isn’t required to read on. We authors want our readers to be captured and reeled in, not wanting to stop reading our work.

So, how can we start well? Let me offer a few suggestions to help us evaluate whether we’re off to a good start.

Does my story start in the middle of the action?
We’ve heard this taught and read it in writing craft books, but what does it mean? This means start with something exciting, something that will hook the reader. Often writers begin with a beautiful description of setting or pour on the historical background of the main character (backstory) to make sure the reader is up to speed.

Don’t make your reader wade through all of that background information. Jump into the story. Shock that reader! After you capture their attention then you can go back and fill them in a little at a time as the information is needed.

Is my story showing the reader what is happening?
Yes, the dreaded show versus tell is important in the beginning. Don’t cop out by using telling words like felt, thought, wondered, and remembered. Show me in detail how the character felt. For example:  Telling - She felt sad.  Showing – Her chest ached and tears slid down her cheeks and off her chin. Don’t tell the reader she felt sad. Make the reader feel the sadness. That will further hook your reader and make them stay for the rest of the show.

Am I following the rules of grammar?
Ugh. English class. You got that right. Check to make sure your writing is in proper sentence form as well as consistent in verb tense. This is another common problem. The normally acceptable verb tense to write in is past tense. This means that you write scurried instead of scurries. The only times that you include present tense verbs are in dialogue and internal monologue.

Is my POV consistent?
At the beginning of a story make sure you choose a main character or the main character to begin. Write only what that character can see and experience. This includes not having that character describe her own physical description. Do not switch point of view unless you indicate this by some kind of wingding like three stars (***) or something similar. Remember that the POV character can’t see herself turn red or blush. In her POV, blushing would be warmth crept to her cheeks.    

Should I start with a prologue?
Can I be honest here? Many of the prologues I have read are just backstory dumps. Presently, I don’t see editors really keeping a prologue.

Refer to the first suggestion – just jump into that story. You can trickle backstory in as needed later.

Also, I’ve seen a prologue completely give away a story. Don’t do that. Keep that reader guessing so she can’t put down that book until she reads: The End. 

These are just five simple elements a writer needs to guide her in making sure she gets off to a good start with her story. Before clicking that send button, really study your story’s beginning to make sure it captures your reader and reels her in, not letting her go.

PAULA MOWERY is a pastor's wife and a former homeschool Mom. She’s also a Christian writer. Her articles have appeared in Woman's World and in an ongoing column on She also writes Christian fiction. Paula’s debut novella, THE BLESSING SEER came out July 6, 2012 from Pelican Book Group. The sequel, BE THE BLESSING, released Sept. 13, 2013. She is an author and acquisitions editor with Prism Book Group. My story, Forgiven, is in the anthology, Brave New Century which released Nov. 13, 2013. This book appeared on Amazon's Top 100 Bestsellers in Religious Historical Fiction.


  1. Thanks for the reminder all authors need.

  2. Thanks for stopping by. We all need to "jog" our memories for what makes a good story start sometimes.