First Chapter
So everyone says you need a damn good first chapter. It's true. Welcome to aggravating little corner where you have a competitive market colliding into ADD America.

The first thing about a good chapter is a DAMN good first paragraph, perhaps if you're talented enough a first damn good sentence. Here are some examples:

The adventure for Mr. Maule began in the fading daylight of a long June evening in Chicago, with the racket made by a terrified vampire pounding on his door. -- Fred Saberhagen, A Coldness in the Blood.

The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault. -- Jim Butcher, Blood Rites.

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. -- C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Justice?—You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. -- William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own.

While there are some really brilliant opening sentences out there, I wasn't lucky enough to find one. I settled for having a damn good paragraph though. My first paragraph sucked. It was brought to my attention why exactly it sucked, and after the brutal enlightenment, I agreed. It did suck.

So, I went out looking for a change. I wanted something that would grab the reader instantly, and let's face it -- you don't learn much about my MC when you first meet him, so I decided it would be best to give the readers a bit of a sticky note about the character.

In the original version of my book, Bryce Bourbon starts off 15 years old. When I committed myself to the re-write, I up'd his age to 17. I didn't want him to seem like such a frightened child like he was. With the two year age different, my little frightened boy has grown up. I've turned him into a pot head and womanizer. Don't ask me why, but it just seemed to fit.

While I'm still getting a couple of opinions and I might change it around, this is how I started my first chapter:

It was convenient my boss's granddaughter lived only two blocks away from the Arcade; even more convenient that my boss worked almost all hours of the day. I zipped up my pants as Ash's strawberry flavored lips continued to kiss me. Everything seemed normal today. I aced none of my tests. I skipped school after lunch. I hooked up with Ashley, and I was perfectly on time by being twenty minutes late to work.

I would have never guessed such an ordinary day would be the day that I came face to face with the devil.

Instead of using some brilliant catch line, I opened it up about my character. I made sure it wasn't too long and was a bit upbeat. It got the point across without flowery descriptions, storming weather, waking up, and a mirror somewhere in there. My point was it was a normal day. Yep, normal, boring, ordinary day that the reader probably doesn't car-- oh a devil?!

At least that's the effect I'm hoping it'll have. I'm still learning this.

Once you have an eye-catching paragraph, you're going to need a damn good continuation.

You need to start your story with some type of tension. Understand, this does not mean you need to start it with a bloody fight or people screaming and a warzone. It doesn't have to be action-packed, it just needs to have tension to hook the reader.

So get your character(s) out there. What are they doing? What are they struggling against? Why are they even bothering? What happens?

As always, I'm putting my book up as an example. The first chapter has lots of break out moments. You meet the main character. You meet the main antagonist. Bryce's parents are killed in front of Bryce's eyes, and his body literally is slowly getting taken away. Everything I added in there was for a reason.

As the two main characters are introduced (the protag and antag), they're aren't sitting down having tea. They aren't shaking hands and writing each other's names down. He doesn't just become suspicious of her. Shit hits the fan. Yes. In the first chapter.

Not every book can do this. I don't see many romances able to have shit hit the fan instantly, but look at your story. Can it? I saw some good advice floating around Absolute Write where somebody said, "Your opener usually should be what you start writing in chapter three." It makes perfect sense. By the time you hit chapter three, you're comfortable with your characters and the world they live in. Action usually starts once you reach that plateau.

So the best advice for getting the best first chapter?

  1. Hook the reader within the first five paragraphs.
  2. Have constant tension.
  3. Put as much action in the first chapter as you can.


Things you should avoid? (Now, please, realize people can make things work. You might be able to, but by all means, these are standard "nonos." None of the don'ts are truly off-limit. Just use 'em with caution.)

  • Memory loss.
  • A mirror.
  • A question (No matter how cool you think it sounds, my smart ass remark sounds cooler. And I'll set the book down after I crack myself up.)
  • A dream.
  • A character waking up.
  • Info dumps (Don't do these anywhere, though.)
  • Flash backs.
  • The weather.
  • Vague shit ("My life will be over if THE package doesn't come in two hours after noon.")
  • A list.
  • Too many characters introduced.

Think I've covered it all! Good luck! And remember, if you want great reviews Absolute Write Water Cooler has a share your work area where other members give you feedback. Their opinions are invaluable.

Different voices for different characters
Voice Voice Voice.

If you've read some of my posts, you'll notice I brag about being good with something and terrible at the other 90%.

Here's one of those things I'm terrible at. Voice.

So what is voice? Voice is how a character responds. It sounds easy, until you've got 30 characters and you have to make each one unique. So, I've been working on this and this is a little exercise that I'm doing which might just help you too!

First, list five character's you're pretty damn comfortable with. Mine are: Bryce Bourbon, Hank Jager, Miss Bombay, Jive Mudslide, and Sapphire Sherry.

Now think of something, it can be silly or serious, that happens. Let's go with something serious this time around: abortion. Let's say Tony Martini (yes it's a guy.. I know, but I've got to add a bit of humor to such a serious topic) waltzes up to each one of them individually.

"I've decided to have an abortion." Now, you have to think how each individual character would respond. This means you have to know they're opinion, what makes them believe such a thing, and the shock/tone/voice they're going to express themselves in.

Hank Jager is the calmest of the group. His face rarely shows any emotion, and he keeps his cold stare on the hamburger he doesn't feel like eating anymore. "Are you sure about this?" his voice is as calm as his expression. "If you need anything, just let me know." He says the words knowing no one will come to him for help.

Missy's jaw tightens as her lush lips thin. Everything on her face shows disappointment and disagreement. "Fuck off, Tony. I'll take care of it if you refuse to." Her lean arms quickly press her body up as she stiffly walks away.

Sapphire's baby blue eyes burst into tears the second she hears the words tumble out of Tony's mouth. "Things happen for a reason. They do. Please... just don't do it. Have a bit of faith in God to lead your life. Everything -- everything happens for a reason."

"Man," Jive sighs the word as he tries to encourage his friend. "You're doing the right thing. You don't need a kid running around. You've got a damn good life without one. Plus, this isn't the best place to raise a child if you know what I mean."

"There's nothing stronger or better than family. You're throwing it away before you even get the chance to know if it's right for you." Bryce Bourbon's voice barely shook as he repressed his anger. "It's a gift, Tony -- not a burden." Instead of walking away, Bryce waits for Tony's retort, yet nothing Tony can say will change his mind.

So while they might share the same opinion, they each have different ways of conveying that opinion. It's probably one of the hardest things to me when it comes to writing. Most of the time I say what would fly out of my mouth, not theirs which creates a very, very boring dialogue. These exercises really, really helped me constantly keep in mind what would they say?
How to mask the dreaded info-dump
So, while rewritting my first book, I've had to strain not to just infodump. Come on, I've written over three hundred thousand words about my characters and their world. I don't want to write another sixty five thousand without adding anything.

But I have to. It's my fault that I had to rewrite in the first place, and with taking full responsibility for that, I had to think of a way to deal with my urge to info dump.

So, I scanned the my original outline and noted things that were introduced in the first book. Once I had them all down, I squeezed them into my current outline, one chapter at a time. Yes, one dreaded chapter at a time. I also wrote a snippet about how this piece of information would be revealed. I tried to keep my character from stumbling across a book with the information. I tried to keep someone from telling him, and believe it or not, I had damn fun doing it.

I made Mr. Bryce Bourbon learn for himself, and the hard way.

For example, I wanted the first book to show the readers that Bryce Bourbon was the reincarnation of the devil. In my original series, this tid bit of information wasn't released until mid-way through the second book. It was a shock, even to me.

Anyway, since this is a huge piece of interesting story juice, I wanted it in my first book. (Really Alli.. story juice? Don't ask.) So, instead of having some character blurting it out, I have it planned to slowly happen. When he first learns how to manipulate fire, he's put into the ICU. While they're tearing the melted clothing off of his raw skin, his eyes shoot open as his conciousness painfully comes to him. As he wakes up, he sees Tony Martini helping the doctor shread the clothing off of him while cussing Bryce's teacher like a dog. "He's a damned demon for heaven's sake. What the hell were you thinking?" (It was a bit more dramatic than that, but there's the point.) So the fire happens in one chapter, he overhears that he's a type of demon in another, and later on he's going to get his ass kicked for the events that happened hundreds of years ago.

It's been so much more fun for him to learn the truth that way (and for the reader's to learn as well..) than for the prophet to tell him, "Hey, I know you... you're the devil!"

So, write out all the info dumping facts. Now, divide them into different chapters, and don't let your character learn the easy way. Put him or her through hell and back to learn the truth. You'll have an incredibly fun time with it.
This will be a short one.

Quit trying to be original for the simple fact of being original.

Be original to be interesting.

Be original to entertain the reader.

Be original to do something different.

For fuck's sake, don't be original to pretend to be original only to make your "original" thing just like the billions of other things in the world. For example, don't create something named Vakavan and really make another damned Vampire with one or two changes.

That's all. =)
Pen Names!
So hundreds of fresh writers out there want to know about pen names.

I was once that person, and I think every writer should really consider this.

The reason I decided I wanted a pen name is because my name is oh-so-common. Alicia Williams. There's nothing sparky about the name. There's nothing unique about it, and there is actually a not-so-famous writer that is also named Alicia Williams.

I don't want to be confused with anything.

The first name I thought of was Marley Austin. I was talking with one of my best friends about it one day and we combined my middle name, Marlene, and her middle name, Austin.

Later on, I decided I wanted the book cover to have a male's name. I took my last name and cut the 's' off in order to make it William. Then I was going through names on a random name generator (how retarded is that?) I came across Abell off of it, and I have to say, William Abell. I didn't have a flashy ring to it, but it made me think of willing and able.

I was willing to do everything I could to reach my goal of being a published writer. I had a long way to go. I still have a damn long way to go. I'm willing to do everything I can to become better, though. I'm constantly learning, and once I grow thicker skin, I can put my work out there to get individual crits to continue my learning process. I'm willing. And I'm going to be able to do it.

So, there's my story of how I came across the perfect pen name. I've known another writer that chose Olivia Ink. I live in ink. Some names don't have to be clever though, they just have to be right for you.

It took two years to find exactly what name I wanted to go by. So don't stress it. It'll come to you, just be willing to let it. Hope this helped.
Digging for Plot Holes
Have you ever gotten in the middle of your book and decided OMGAH THERE'S A HOLE. RIGHT THERE. AND IT'S EXPONENTIALLY GROWING?!

Well, believe it or not. I haven't. BUT I have seen so many people do it. I've got twenty billion things I'm terrible at, but plotting is the one thing I'm actually damn good at.

So in order to help you with your plot holes, or what could become plot holes, I'm going to make you look back into your past. That's right -- to when you were three years old.

"Mommaaaaaaaa, but why does the red light turn yellow and green?"
"To tell us when to go, stop, or slow down."
"Then why is it called a red light?"
"Because... Alicia Marlene Williams, I'm about to kill you."
"But mommaaaa -- how did you know yellow means slow down? Daddy goes faster? Why are yall different?"
"Because daddy's an idiot."
"I thought you told me if you don't have something nice to say, dun say nuffin at all?"
"Why do your lips always curl when you get angry?"

You get my point. And yes, I was that annoying kid. My mother had an amazing knack of ignoring me to death. =(

The good news is that being that annoying came in handy twenty years later. Welcome to digging for holes.. plot holes.

To give you an example, let's deal with zombies.

I'm going to write a zombie book (not really, but work with me here). I've got my characters down, and now I need to think of what needs to happen to them.
Well, what happens to zombies?
Do they miss being humans?
How do they become zombies?
Did they ever kill anyone?
Do they feel any human emotion? If so, do they regret killing whoever?
What does it feel like to be a zombie physically?
Do zombies have souls?
If two zombies had sex, would they have to worry about STDs?
I bet they'd get maggots instead of crabs...
Do zombies need glasses? Or toothbrushes?
Do they even care about their appearance?
What makes them different from humans?
What would each of my characters do if they had a cure that reversed the zombie effect?
How do they express any emotion?
How do they fight?
Can then connect to anything magical?
Are there any relics in the world that a zombie would strive for like the Holy Grail?
Do zombies fear death?
Will they even die?
What is their weaknesses?
Where do they live?
How would they decorate their house?
Do they have any pets?
I wonder if they'd play fetch with a dog by snapping off their finger and throwing it >.>?
Can zombies make zombie babies?
How exactly would that work?
Do they hold a hatred against those who are not zombies?
If so, do they want to destroy the earth?
What would happen if an alien met a zombie?
Do zombies have a currency?
How could you go about bribing a zombie?


Some of these questions would never be included in a story. Usually getting maggots instead of crabs during sexual intercourse means absolutely nothing to a plot. It's probably too disgusting to even throw in there for comedic value. But I wrote down every damned question that came to mind. And that's just about the race. You can do that about your protag/antag/secondary characters. You can do that with every single thing that has to do with your plot.

For my quartet, and I'm absolutely serious, I have two thousand nine hundred seventy-three questions written in a notebook. Of course, that's been over the months and months of working on this thing. And I honestly think THAT is why I don't run into holes.

It's hard to do all of these questions, though. If you want an easy way to break it down, start with questioning your characters. Set a goal of 20 questions per character. Then move onto the bigger pieces of your story. Set a goal of fifty questions. IF you find this too hard or you want specific examples, throw your plot at me or here for extra help. It's a fun thing to do though, and I enjoy the hell out of it.
To Outline or Not to Outline. That is the question.
Okay, everyone wants to know if they should outline or not.

My personal opinion - do it. Remember, it can always change. Always.

This is how I set up my outline:
  • Figure out my plot
  • Figure out my characters
  • Create twenty-five events [could be for plot reasons (which they usually are) or could be for characterization] -- these twenty-five events are what I use for each chapter.
  • Then I decide the word count. For example, I usually strive for 65,000 words since I write YA. 65,000 words / 25 chapters = 2,600 words a chapter. This isn't concrete, but it gives me something to go by after I write each chapter. I'm really really bad about shorting stuff. I'm not one of the fluffy writers who can write 91,000 words and then cut crap out. Just not my style.
  • After I've got the events and wordcount down, I begin taking a really deep look at my characters. Usually when I picture any character for the first time they're very Mary Sue (aka perfect). So I start working on their faults and how I'm going to bring it out in the story, and how it's going to effect the story. I make notes when, where, and why it's crucial to show these weaknesses.
  • Once that's down, I start looking more at the plot. What can make the bad worse? I constantly am thinking on strains I can put on the character during a certain part in the book. There's so much fighting going on all of the time, that I've got to keep it eventful and different. Is there a time limit? Is there a major wound? Is there something that's taken away from your character's strength? Is there someone getting in the way? What makes this situation feel impossible for you character to win?

Now that you know how I outline, let's get to the argument. To outline or no?

I say do it. Most people have their idea floating around in their head. They know where they kinda want to take the story, so they begin writing and see where they're characters take them. Many of these people feel that if you write a strict outline like I do, that it's boring to write because -- hell you've already written it.

I completely disagree. If you remember the time you finished your first book, you can almost feel the same buzzing excitement flowing through your body. You finished. Can you believe it? It's DONE! Six months later after you've beaten yourself up over editing, querying, and synopisissomething -- you look back on your work and see it's disastrous. It isn't good enough because you have so much fluff and so much crap that has basically not enough to do with the story. At least, that was my experience. I wasn't a naturally good writer. Every bit that I've learned, I've learned the hard way. And I'll tell you the biggest stepping stone between my elementary work and what I'm doing now is outlining. End of story.

With that being said, it isn't for everyone. If you haven't tried it, try it. Don't let it stress you because I promise you, your outline will change here and there. Your characters will take over it and make things go their way. It's okay. I look at the outline like I look at the bible: it's a damn good guide to how to live life. It isn't a strict rule book saying you HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY. It's just a nice guide.

So try it out. Don't stress. Make it fun. And if you get stuck, let me know. Throw a comment down, give me an email (, or go here for a bit of help.
I'm back!
So, it's been a while -- that's a given.

What in the world have I been up to that's kept me busy enough to ignore my blog?

1.) Work. It's been absolutely crazy.
2.) Rewrites. Yes, after all the editing I've been doing, I bit the bullet, gave the MS "the" finger, and started my first book. All. The. Way. Over.
3.) Working out. I got a bit heftier than I wanted to be -- forty-five pounds heftier. I'm glad to say, in six weeks I've lost twenty-five pounds and I've got another twenty to go.
4.) Gaming. That's right, I'm a gamer. MMO, at that. I started up Age of Conan for the first time in two years, and luckily I found someone that wanted a bit of written work done on the game. So I've got two articles up which you can find here and here, and I'll continue doing more since I enjoy working with Mr. James so much. =) Check them out if you're the least bit interested in gaming.

So I'd like to apologize for the dry spell, but no worries -- today I'll make up for all that lost time. If you guys want anything in particular, let me know.
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