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Hooking Readers With The Opening Of Your Novel, by Kelly Inglis

It’s essential that the first few pages of your novel intrigue the reader, like the bait on a hook entices a fish. But if the fish doesn’t take the bait, then you’re having a plain old salad for dinner. It’s the same with a story: if the opening pages of your book don’t hold the reader’s attention, then they likely won’t finish it, and certainly won’t recommend it to their friends or provide a favourable review.

When I’m reading a new story, the first few pages have to grab me and hold my interest. By the end of the first chapter, I expect to be so absorbed in the plot and the character’s lives that I absolutely cannot put the book down.

So how does an author get their readers onto that proverbial fish hook?

Firstly, the opening pages need to make the reader feel something. Consider using either characters or scene to establish some sort of emotion in your readers. It may be that you introduce a great main character with whom the reader can identify. Perhaps it’s the girl next door who reminds the reader of their best friend, or the sympathy elicited by the devastated parent mourning the recent loss of a child. Or you may choose to introduce the loathsome criminal who the readers immediately want to see come to a remarkably unpleasant demise. To make the reader care about your characters, they need to be genuine, or the reader won’t be drawn into their lives and won’t keep reading.

You can also create emotion by establishing the scene. Imagining the horrors of the hundred children with their sunken eyes and malnourished bodies toiling away in a Bangladeshi sweat shop elicits very different emotions in the reader compared to those evoked by the imagery of an exclusive country club where tuxedoed waiters serve complimentary Moët to every guest upon their arrival. Regardless of whether you use characters or scene to open your story, those opening pages must make your reader wonder about the people or the places, and want to know more about them.

Another way in which to keep your readers reading is to establish a problem or conflict in the early scenes. For example, Emily has locked her keys and mobile phone in her car and it’s getting late. Does she risk walking home through the not-so-safe streets to get her spare key, or does she swallow her pride, knock on the door she just slammed and ask her cheating ex-boyfriend if she can use his phone to call someone to help her? Emily’s dilemma drives the story forward, making the reader want to turn the page to see which decision she makes.

Starting a story in the midst of the action is another way in which to draw your reader into the book. Having a drug deal going down in a seedy back alley or a bloody gun battle in West Somalia on page one creates momentum that can captivate the reader right from the start. However, you need to ensure you provide the reader with just enough information about the characters and scene so that they aren’t confused by the action.

Like any good fisherman would know, fishing is not quite as simple as just hooking the fish. Just because you’ve hooked it, doesn’t mean that you can reel it into the boat, so after getting the reader firmly hooked on your characters and plot you’ll need to ensure the rest of your story keeps them on the line until the very end.


Kelly Inglis’s bio page


     Wings of FearHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodRotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistThe Indigo Sky

Writing Novels in Australia


Getting My Novel Written And Rewritten, by Onil Lad

The concept for my novel had been rolling around in my mind for ages. About a year ago, I’d managed to squeeze out the first few thousand words. Since then, apart from re-writing the first chapter several dozen times, I’d done nothing but make notes – on my iPhone whilst going to work on the ferry, in notepads and on scribbled bits of paper.

After getting nowhere for so long, I took action and signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal was to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I managed about 5,000 words of notes.

About the same time, I read an article about how you’ve got nothing until you’ve put down a first draft. Once this is done, the real craft starts. You can hone in on the themes, develop the subplots and polish up the writing.

With the NaNoWriMo fiasco still in my mind and the desire to at least write a second chapter, I signed up for the Novel Manuscript Development Program.

After a couple of weeks, I’d written a rough outline. In the end, it wasn’t so hard. I should have done it months ago. Or maybe all the note taking was part of the process. It most probably took a year to get the plot clear in my mind.

Having a deadline changes your attitude. Since I started this program, all I do is run in the mornings, go to work and write at night. The novel is on my mind throughout the day.

Now that I’m four chapters in, I’m faced with more self-inflicted trouble. One of the other members of the group mentioned the daunting empty page. Well, right now, the full page is my current nemesis. That article stated that it doesn’t matter what the first draft looks like. The idea is to get the story down. It’s not meant to be read by anyone else.

On the Novel Manuscript Development Program, people can see what you’ve produced and when you’re working on a bizzaro type of theme that was over the top to begin with, the initial forays into the story are going to be more hit and miss than usual. Pride has to be thrown out, but still, I’d prefer that only my final re-written and polished version to be read, not a half-baked first cut.

To stop these thoughts from taking over you have to say, “So what? “ The dialogue may be weak and the structure flaky, but the concept is cool and I’m going to push on. If it works out, then by the third or fourth re-write I’ll have created something unique.

In the end, I suppose that the first draft is like every other goal. When you get there, there’ll be another mountain to climb, but it’s something to aim for and who knows what will happen along the way.


Onil Lad bio page

Revision and Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel (Write Great Fiction)Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into PrintWriting DialogueWriting: A User Manual: A Practical Guide to Planning, Starting and Finishing a NovelThe Complete Handbook of Novel WritingWriting and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock 'Em Dead with StyleYour Writing Coach: From Concept to Character, from Pitch to Publication - Everything You Need to Know About Writing Novels, Non-fiction, New Media, Scripts and Short Stories

From Short Stories To Writing A Novel, by Rebecca Raisin

I’m a true bibliophile, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I can’t walk past bookshops. It’s impossible. The magnetic pull of unread books draws me in, and only when I’m virtually penniless, albeit with pile of joy secreted away in an unassuming brown paper bag, can I leave. I get butterflies at the thought of where these new novels may take me and what I might learn. A big cheesy grin plastered on my face as I leave, my dinner plans forgotten, T.V- who needs it? I just want to go to bed. With my books. And then, writing came along. Ah…a delightful conundrum.

I ‘met’ (or stalked is another way to put it) a writer online, whose book I have loved from the first time I read it at age sixteen, and consequently still love and learn something new from, every time I re-read it. After a few months of chatting about books and life he encouraged me to start writing. I told him in no uncertain terms, I’m a reader- not a writer, but secretly felt excited at the prospect of being able to write a book. Imagine walking into a bookshop and seeing my name on a book? Heady stuff. Could I write? With no formal writing education but a lot, and I mean A LOT of books under my belt, I gave it a go. I took a TAFE six week creative writing course, and like the nerd I am, did every piece of homework and then some more for good measure. I entered one of my short stories in a competition and was highly commended and published, which inspired me to continue writing and sending pieces in. Luck seemed to be on my side and two years later ten of my short stories have been published around Australia. It’s easy to become lost in the magic of short story writing. The satisfying feeling of finishing a story is a constant because they’re quicker to write, so I found it hard to push myself into starting a new novel.

When I saw The Australian Literature Review‘s Novel Manuscript Development Program, the first thing I did was delay, and promise myself I would try next year, if Steve ran it again. It’s so easy to blame the world around you for not having enough time to write, but Belinda, a friend and fellow writer convinced me to take the plunge. After all, what was there to lose? I’d make writing a priority, rather than a hobby. Self-doubt, though, can sneak up on you when you least expect it….

The first three weeks focused on writing a novel outline, and like the scattered and seriously troubled person I am when I’m alone with my thoughts, I good copped bad copped myself.

The interrogation room in my mind went like this;

Bad cop – “Writing an outline is not possible, I don’t know what happens, because I haven’t written it yet!”

Good cop – “Just start at the beginning, you know the story, it’s been swimming inside your head for a while now.”

Bad cop – “Yeah, as a short story, not a full length novel!”

Good cop – “How about you stop speaking to yourself in italics and get on with it!”

Bad cop – “Ok, ok.”

So I did. I always thought of outlines like maths, too many formulas and equations, and all that planning would take the joy out of writing, but it didn’t. And surprisingly it poured out. It turns out I did have quite specific ideas of how I wanted the story to go. I saw potential weaknesses in the plot that I wouldn’t have seen without writing an outline. So, that bridge effectively crossed, I decided to do a complete 180 and work on a book I started two years ago, and was one of the first pieces I’d ever written, called Mexican Kimono.

I figured if I didn’t MK a chance, while I had the help and resources available, then I probably would never go back to it. I hadn’t looked at it for over a year, and expected it to make me cringe the way things do when you read your first attempts. But it didn’t. It needs a lot of work, and is about twenty thousand words short, but I think it has potential. When I first read it again, I laughed so much I cried. Upon telling my partner I was surprised how much I enjoyed reading it, he mentioned I might want to look up the word humble in the dictionary. Humble? I patiently explained he might want to look up enthusiasm, or better yet the rental section in Saturday’s newspaper. He’s read MK, and is a very reliable sounding board for any writing related questions. Didn’t you think it was hilarious? I asked, somewhat miffed. Yes, he said, but still, you shouldn’t tell everyone how funny you are, or it is, you should act more humble. Act humble? I said. I’m a writer, not an actor!

So onwards I go on this journey of completing my first book, and if I have to forgo a few things to do it, I will. The washing for instance, it’s washed but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go. If I shut the blinds the floors look much cleaner. I hope by smiling a lot, and generally looking cheerful my partner won’t notice everything else has fallen by the wayside. Until then, I’m having so much fun with my main character Samantha, I have to keep reminding myself she’s not real…I hope you’ll like her as much as I do.

You can find some of my stories at:

Rebecca Raisin bio page

Beginning My Novel, by Fiona McDonald

More than anything, apart from winning the lottery, I want to write stories. In my stories I want to escape from the humdrum world of working in an office or a classroom, waitressing, answering telephones and vacuuming. I want to work from home in my pyjamas at any time of the day or night and not brush my hair if I don’t want to.

In 2009 I decided to take my fantasy into my own hands and make it work. It all started with a knitting book.

Now I am embarking on the part of my writing apprenticeship where I get to write fiction. This is very exciting, a trifle daunting, but well worth the build up to.

By enrolling in the online class of The Australian Literature Review‘s Novel Manuscript Development Program I hope to discipline myself to work at a project that has not been commissioned. Commissioned work has given me deadlines, a structure, subject matter. Writing non-fiction does not need to have a climax or a plot, the characters are real people and information about them is already supplied.

My first idea for a novel for this programme was something I’d been working on for a PhD in Creative Writing. It had been discussed and analysed by my supervisors, other academics and fellow students. It was interesting from an academic point of view but it was not adding up to a commercially viable novel and I was beginning to hate it.

I have now withdrawn from the PhD. My aim, by enrolling in it, was to write a work of fiction. However, other doors have opened to give me that opportunity. And consequently I have discarded my original idea for a young adult novel for another and pulled out something from the bottom desk drawer that I started ages ago but which I have always felt very happy about.

Of course making such a change at this time in the course probably means I have wasted time I should have been using to get the novel up and running. It just means I will have to work twice as fast to catch up.

Agatha La Motte lives in a world similar to ours, in fact she may end up being in this world after all, or an alternative version. This heroine, or should I say protagonist, is feisty and independent unlike Miranda who appeared in my first attempt at a novel on the online program. Miranda was getting on my nerves and it was pointed out she was too passive.

Agatha inherits a toy shop from her great uncle, a celebrated toy maker who specialised in automatons. When he died he had been working on a secret invention for a dodgy bishop and the evil crew who run the city. Agatha knows none of this and is surprised and angry when the people around her expect her to sell the business, after all she is a young lady and will want to get married not bother herself with commerce.

These sentiments are the red rag to Agatha’s stubbornness and she is determined to retain the shop and make it a huge success. However, there are others out there who are plotting her failure, and perhaps even her death.


Fiona McDonald bio page

Knitted Fairies: To Cherish and CharmBabes in the Wool: How to Knit Beautiful Fashion Dolls, Clothes and AccessoriesGothic KnitsWriting Fiction: Creative and Critical Approaches (Approaches to Writing)The Creative Writing Coursebook: Forty Authors Share Advice and Exercises for Fiction and PoetryWriting Fiction: A Guide to Narrative CraftWriting Genre Fiction: A Guide to the Craft

Plotting and Outlining My Novel ‘Night of Thieves’, by Jeff Nelson

Over the coming months I will be writing my first novel manuscript, provisionally titled ‘Night of Thieves’.

The novel is set against the backdrop of the French Riviera in the early nineteen sixties, a period when the jet-set flocked to the Riviera’s sun drenched beaches and picturesque towns.

The story follows a man whose enviable lifestyle has been financed by a string of jewel thefts that hadn’t until recently attracted the attention of the Surete (French Police).

The novel opens with him restless and longing for excitement, and quickly moves to a glamorous party in Cannes announcing a new film to be shot on location on the Riviera. He meets and is immediately attracted to the film’s young actress who is wearing a rare and valuable diamond necklace that will be featured in the new film.

Challenges arise for him when his Fence (a buyer of stolen goods) has a buyer for the necklace and wants him to steal it and when his former protégé returns to the Riviera with her eye on the necklace.

Can he resist the temptation that the necklace offers, does he even want to? – And what of the French Police who’ll be looking at him should the necklace go missing. But the necklace also has a history and a violent background to contend with.

Night of Thieves is a story I’ve been pondering and plotting for a little while now and actually came about from plotting out a background story for another novel I was considering set in contemporary times! – So aspiring writers be careful that you don’t spend too much time working on back-stories for the characters and plot or you’ll never get started on the actual writing.

But now it’s time for me to consolidate my plot ideas into a reasonably coherent outline and from there the build of each chapter upon chapter…, but first the outline.

My outline grew and grew and became many pages long and was in many parts filled with questions and possible answers to particular plot points – if I did this what would happen next, how would the characters resolve this problem, get out of this situation etc…

I then found out about the synopsis, a generally 2-3 page outline of your novel submitted to potential publishers, and started to write one and failed – I ended up with 11 pages (they were double spaced however!), but what I did achieve is to finally shape those pages and pages of plot points, questions and semi coherent scrawling from my initial outlining into a reasonably coherent story and I now have a story outline, despite being 11 pages long from start to finish and in chapter order that I can work with.

The next stage will be consolidating those 11 pages into 2 pages for potential publishers and others that may be interested in the novel (but at least they can be single spaced!).

I’ve also began the start of the initial few chapters … but more on that in the next post.

Stay tuned….


Jeff Nelson bio page

B is for Burglar: A Kinsey Millhone mysteryThe Unreliable Life of Harry the Valet: The Great Victorian Jewel ThiefThe Fall of Lucas KendrickCary Grant: The Gentleman's Collection (Houseboat / Indiscreet / That Touch of Mink / To Catch a Thief) (4 Movie Boxset) Confessions of a Master Jewel ThiefStealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art HeistsThe French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers

Forming The Idea For My Novel (The Goblin Chronicles – Book 1), by Russell Cornhill

Hi. My name is Russell Cornhill and I mainly write fantasy satire – though I might branch to any form of spec fiction.

I have over forty ideas to be written as novels and have written and rewritten three manuscripts, all currently on the shelf awaiting another rewrite – though I’m reasonably satisfied with ‘Alternities’ and ‘The Year Reality Broke’.

The Goblin Chronicles was originally nine stand-alone ideas for fantasy satire with goblins as the central characters. I started writing the one that was bubbling and wrote a couple of short pieces as a fun bit of background. That’s when the idea occurred that I could link all nine ideas chronologically with a background story that would culminate in a tenth story; the only one concentrating on the overall story.

The problem was that the one I’d started writing fitted best as number six in the series.

Then came the chance to join The Australian Literature Review‘s Novel Manuscript Development Program. I put away book six and frantically started book one, which wasn’t bubbling and was, at best, a vague idea.

The first meeting was basically a get-to-know each other and what we wrote. Okay, I wasn’t shot down in flames.

The next two sessions concentrated on planning. This was good as I’ve slowly realised I’m more of a planner than a ‘seat of the pantser’ but this was when I realised I had another problem. Being something of a satirist, I tend to come from the theme or basic idea first. Then I weave a story around it. Then I create the characters, often while I’m writing. Yes, it doesn’t always work exactly in that order, but that’s the general procedure.

The problem was that the satire and theme I had planned didn’t really fit into the story as it had started to develop. It required a more developed society than I was working with and, you know how it is, the characters didn’t want to change.

Never mind, things were starting to bubble, characters were starting to form, and a slightly different theme, also ripe for some satire had begun to form. The result  is that this manuscript will probably be more story based and less satire based than my normal writing. Perhaps that’s a good thing

I do try to keep the satire in the background. I’m writing a story, not standing behind the pulpit preaching. Anyhow, I don’t pretend to know any answers, just, hopefully pointing out a few of the many absurdities in human society.

That’s about it. Now we’re concentrating on the writing and I’ve almost got myself organised. Working closely with three others is a great help and Steve is an excellent guide. Let’s hope a few people from the overall program can write that breakthrough novel.

Russell Cornhill bio page

The Princess and the GoblinGoblin HeroGoblin SecretsThe Grasping Goblin (Grim and Grimmer)The Goblin GateThe Goblins of LabyrinthGoblinoids: How to Draw and Paint Goblins, Orcs and Other Dark Creatures

On Plotting My Novel, by Kathy Stewart

A debate most novelists have is whether they’re ‘pantsers’ or ‘plotters’. Many confess to only having the beginning and end in mind and then fleshing out the middle as they go. That is, they’re pantsers. And that’s how I started – with a vague idea of the direction of the story, relying on developing the characters as I went.

But with Steve Rossiter’s help, I’ve now realised the value of plotting. This time, with my fourth novel, I’ve written out detailed character interviews and then drawn up outlines of each chapter so that I know ahead of time which direction each scene will take.

I must admit, though, that there is a certain amount of satisfaction in discovering the characters as you go along. It’s as if some part of your mind knows the story all along and was just waiting for you to uncover it. And I’m sure this will happen, even though I’ve done such detailed planning. I fully believe I’ll discover wrinkles and nuances I had no idea existed. That’s what makes writing so much fun.

At one stage I thought plotting would obviate the need to write so many superfluous words, but that was not to be. Given the detail included in my character interviews, and the detailed plot points in each chapter, I’ve already written many thousands of words.

But the value of all this planning is that I now know my characters really well. I can see them, feel their pain, laugh at what makes them laugh, so when it comes to writing the scene, I know what they’re thinking and feeling and it’s just a case of conveying that to the reader.

It sounds easy but I’m sure it won’t be. Finding that correct phrase and just the right word will still be as much of a challenge, as will be keeping the pace going to keep my reader interested.

In the first weeks, Steve had us write out the main points that would be covered in each chapter. We discussed at length the motivation for each character. He reminded us of the importance of keeping description and introspection to a minimum, to keep our characters full of action, allowing the reader to interpret the thoughts of characters through what they do and say, much as one would do watching a movie or play. All good advice and something I hope I can achieve as we progress through our novels from week to week.

I’ve set myself a 5000-word target to achieve each week and this is quite a big ask. This is when I hope all the plotting and planning will pay dividends by giving me a clear direction of where I’m heading.

Although previously I’ve I always thought of myself as a pantser, in actual fact I think this plotting might suit me very well. Only time will tell, of course, but I’m looking forward to the journey.


Kathy Stewart’s bio page

Scene and Structure (The elements of fiction writing)The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human MotivesStory Structure Architect: A Writer's Guide to Building Plots, Characters and ComplicationsWriting for Emotional ImpactPoetics (Dover Thrift S.)Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide to the CraftThe Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

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