Tag Archives: Storytelling

Things with Wings. The Detail that Makes Your Writing Fly. #MFRWAuthor #IAN1

Grabbing a reader’s attention is all about hooking her emotionally. Prying beneath the surface as she scurries along from sentence to sentence and page to page. Hitting her where she truly lives – in her heart.

We do that first and foremost by creating a main character about whom the reader not only cares but cares very much. So much so that she begins to behave as if this character were a real-life human being.

Red Jeep 1The reader roots for your character to succeed and dreads that she may not. When such rooting and dreading happens your reader is engaged on an emotional level with your story and that engagement keeps her eagerly turning pages all the way to The End.

Meanwhile, beyond this deftly drawn main character, lies another engaging element of great storytelling. An element that compels your reader to stop short for an instant in her pell-mell plunge through your plot to be hooked yet again by the Deeply Felt Detail.

This detail draws your reader to a particular moment in your story and holds her there to experience a flash of connection. She recognizes the essence of what you have written. She responds at an emotional level even if she doesn’t consciously understand why.

You’ve caught your reader on the hook of your deeply felt detail. But first you must experience that detail even more deeply yourself. Where do you find such resonance – moments, sights, objects, whatever they may be? You find them among your own deeply felt attachments.

For example, I feel such attachment to my red Jeep Wrangler. When I think about that vehicle my heart flies to a fond place, soft and warm and sentimental. Or it can fly more frantically to a place of terror. The difference depends on the circumstances of the scene.

Fond and tender if that scene is of my grandchildren filling the backseat with cookie crumbs and squabbling between bites. Frantic and fearful if that scene involves a wrong turn of the steering wheel that could send us hurtling to disaster.

I drive my red Wrangler onto the page and make my story fly straight into my reader’s psyche and most especially into her heart. I do that by revving my writer engine to the max on every drop of drama fuel this detail holds for me personally. I give it storytelling wings.

I possess a lifetime’s worth of emotionally potent details – moments, sights, objects, whatever they may be. You do also. Think back. Feel deeply. Engage your heart and your nerve endings in the search. Make a list. Then use those details in your writing and watch your stories soar.  Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com/

RR

A Villain for Vanessa – Riverton Romantic Suspense Book 4 and my other books are available from Amazon HEREA Wrong Way Home – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 1 is a FREE EBOOK  there also.

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Life is a Blizzard Where I Come From

Me in My SnowsuitWhen I was a little girl I thought everybody lived in blizzard country like I did. I thought every child wore a snowsuit for nearly half of the year. This is me in my snowsuit in a few old photographs.

That was life growing up in the North Country. Blizzards and snowsuits. Sleds and ice skates. Double-knit mittens and hats created on Grandma’s needles. The memories of those years are sharp and reside in all of my senses.

I see the snowbank so high in front of our house that there was a photo of me standing on top of it grasping a power line. We’d had a power outage of course. Wires were down somewhere nearby – snapped by heavy ice.

Outages happened often in winter but we were cozy at 439 East Avenue because we had a coal furnace fed by my father from a bin in the basement. I feel the rush of heat when he opened the cast iron door and threw coal into the fiery center.

I hear the chuck of his shovel pushing into the bin and the whoosh of release when he let the load fly into the flames. I smell it too – the not unpleasant char that scratched my throat just a little until the furnace door was closed and latched again.

The most vivid flavor of my blizzard season memories comes from outside the house – the snow I ate despite my mother’s claim I’d contract a terrible disease with a long name I’ve forgotten. I taste the strangely satisfying hint of brackishness as snow crystals melted on my tongue.

Memories urge me to give them life on the page. Tire chains clanging down a quiet street at night. Young ears pressed to morning radios for school closure bulletins after a four-foot overnight snowfall – as a white wonderland waits to be explored and enjoyed.

I offer a glimpse of North Country winter in  A Vacancy at the Inn – Book 4 of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series. There’s a blizzard near the end but this is a novella and an intense personal situation. Not much page space remains for weather in detail.

Or maybe I held back. Cherishing the magic of my private memory winters in a silence as deep as the silence of a snowscape after a storm. Still I sense a Riverton Road story in my future – and I hope in yours as its reader – where life is a blizzard big time.

Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com.

RR

A Wrong Way Home – Book 1 of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series – is a FREE eBook at Amazon and other online retailers. All of my books are available at my Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Alice-Orr/e/B000APC22E/.

 

Free Sample of a Free Book – Riverton Road Monday

Free - Image 1A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book 1

Prologue

 Anthony Benton

Anthony Benton wasn’t in the habit of walking across the lawn to his condo complex, especially not on a miserable night like this one. He valued his Bruno Magli’s too much for that. What if somebody saw him slipping and scrambling through wet leaves like a snake in the grass?

Good thing nobody important enough to care about would be out here in this damned weather. It was supposed to be spring, but you’d never guess that in this godforsaken place.

Spindly young trees whipped in the wind as far as their short trunks would bend while Anthony counted the weeks backward in his mind – one, two, three, four, a month. This crap had only been going on for a month. Aggravation made it feel a lot longer.

He woke up each morning with anger churning inside him. He could barely remember when he didn’t have to think about things like whether taking the straight route across the lawn was safer than the longer way around the curved sidewalk.

How could he have ended up in such a humiliating position? Scurrying from his car to his house like a scared animal. He’d worked too hard making himself into Anthony Benton for this to be happening. Worst of all, there was nowhere in this jerkwater town he could turn for help.

What was he supposed to say? “My dim bulb ex-wife is persecuting me?”  He’d be the butt of jokes from every hayseed in the county. Too many people envied him, and most of them were dim bulbs too. He’d have to put up with their sneers or be roasted all the more. That’s how it was in a place like Riverton.

The damp mist had turned into steady drizzle. Anthony cursed under his breath and walked faster. He’d left his umbrella in the car. A month ago he would never have made that miscal­culation.

He’d have had a plan all laid out in his mind with each step thought through and not a single flaw in the thinking. He’d have grabbed the umbrella from under the driver’s seat and had it at the ready in the outside pocket of his briefcase.

He’d parked under those dripping trees tonight because the walkway to the complex was only a few yards across the macadam from there. He’d done that because of her, to cut down on the chance she’d catch up to him between the car and the building, the way she did two nights ago.

She’d shouted and sniveled and grabbed at his clothes. He was sure some of his neighbors must have witnessed the scene from their windows. She’d made threats, too, said she’d get a gun and come after him.

He’d itched to pick her up and throw her as hard as he could onto the pavement right then. He was plenty strong enough to do that. He’d picked her up and thrown her before, but that was in private. If he laid a hand on her in public and somebody saw it, he’d be the one in trouble.

That’s how it went these days with bitches like her. They’d whine about being victims and everybody was on their side. But he knew what to do about that. When payback time came for all of this, he intended his revenge to be very sweet, with an extra measure of punishment for the soggy leaves on his car. And he’d make sure payback time came soon.

The wind picked up in a chill, wet blast down Anthony’s neck. He didn’t have a raincoat any more than he had an umbrella. He hunched as far as he could into his saturated shirt collar. Payback was on its way for this, too. He’d make her regret every discomfort he’d suffered because of her. He’d commit himself a thousand percent to that happening.

She whined about how unhappy he’d made her in the past. Those days would feel like a kindergarten picnic compared to what was coming in return for these past four weeks. With tonight at the top of his list of reasons for making her sorrier than she ever thought she could be.

He hated her so much it almost warmed him up on this frigid night. He hated her so much he’d love to choke her dead with his bare hands, squeeze harder and harder till he felt her bones snap under his fingers.

As soon as he could figure out a way to kill her, he’d do it, not with his own hands because he’d be too likely to get caught. He’d have her killed without a second thought or a single regret. He knew guys who’d do that for a price, one guy in particular.

The bitch deserved it, but that pleasure would have to wait. Right now all he wanted was to get out of this rain and into the classy condo he loved almost as much as he loved his car.

Anthony flashed on an image of Victoria opening the door the way she liked to do every now and then, wearing nothing but the fur coat he bought her last Christmas. She wasn’t anything like his ex-wife.

Victoria was the kind of woman who knew how to make a man feel good. He almost smiled. Maybe it was the vision of Victoria slowly opening the coat for him that caused Anthony to relax his cautiousness for just an instant.

Or, maybe he was forced to pay too close attention to his footing. The harsh Northern New York State winter, the first since this condo complex was com­pleted, had already heaved some flagstones out of line with the others, making for treacherous walking in the cold April rain.

Whatever the distraction may have been, Anthony didn’t hear the footsteps behind him or sense the jagged rock lifted above his head as he finally reached the top of the stairwell leading down to the basement service door that was the building entrance closest to the parking area.

He did have time to feel the edge of sharp pain and hear a voice echo out of long-ago memory. It was his mother calling to him, though she’d been dead a dozen years.

“Be careful, Tonio!  Don’t fall!”

Then everything went black and silent for Tonio Bento, aka Anthony Benton, and would remain that way forever.

RR

 A Wrong Way Home – the eBook – is FREE at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T9RVGGC. Also at Barnes & Noble and iBooks and KOBO. This is my 12th novel and I’m thrilled to make a gift of it to you. Alice Orrwww.aliceorrbooks.com.

 

Daughters and Their Mothers – Riverton Road Monday

Mother-Daughter Split imageA Year of Summer Shadows is the second story in my current romantic suspense novel series and it is a hotbed of daughter-mother contention. As follows.

I’m Hailey. My mother is Annemarie Lambert and she’s a stranger to me. I was my father’s girl until he died and left me to watch my mother falter and stumble in a daze from one foolish choice to the next.

Too many of those bad choices involved men. A string of them – each more useless than the last. We live in a small town called Riverton. Everybody saw my mother’s behavior and gossiped about her in hushed tones. I heard them anyway and felt ashamed.

She still lives in our old house on Academy Avenue which has deteriorated along with my mother since Dad died. I go there as little as possible and try to live my life in an upstanding and responsible way so I may never be mistaken for Annemarie.

I’m Julia. My mother is Virginia Hargate and I wish I could get free of her. She’s loomed over me for as long as I can remember and dictates every moment of my life according to what she thinks I should be. She even took my best friend Hailey from me when I most needed her.

My father was an important man in Riverton but he was a busy man too and hardly ever anywhere but his office. So I rattled around alone in our huge house on Blakely Street doing my best to keep out of range of the sound of Virginia’s harping voice.

She wants more than anything for me to be a lady the way she sees herself to be. Admired and envied. Perfect in every way. Her desire for that has given me my revenge. I’ve made myself into the opposite of a lady. I’m neither admired nor envied. I am Virginia’s shame.

I am Angela Kalli. I have four sons but no daughter. I made a special room in our house at on Riverton Road – yellow and pale blue and empty except for the occasional guest. I go there when my husband Gus is away and daydream about the little girl who might have grown up here.

These are the daughters and mothers of A Year of Summer Shadows at the beginning of my story. Will they be changed at the end? We will simply have to read and see.

 RR

 A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – Mark & Hailey’s Story. Launched with summer on June 22nd at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 13th novel. I am its mother and it is my daughter. We had a contentious relationship but now we’ve reconciled. Alice Orrwww.aliceorrbooks.com.

 

How to Knock Their Socks Off on Page One – Ask Alice Saturday

Socks Knocked Off imageQuestion: How do I write an opening that knocks their socks off?

Answer: Let’s talk about openings that keep the footwear solidly in place.

This is my second “Ask Alice Saturday” post about story openings. This should tell you how critical I believe they are. This is also “Ask Alice Saturday” happening on Friday because I’m on the road tomorrow debuting a new workshop called WE’VE GOT THE POWER: How Choice Changes Everything about Publishing Today. Wouldn’t it be great to see you there?

Back to story openings. First there’s the nineteenth century standby – the weather. Contemporary writers too often forget what millennium we’re in and default to this outdated opener. As a general rule weather is a non-starter start – a wheel spinner – a bore.

UNLESS – the weather is actually foreshadowing. A haunting hint at what’s to come that sets the reader on edge. OR – a blatant contrast with what’s to come that sets the reader up to be shocked and surprised. In each of these cases there’s a plot purpose for the meteorological beginning. Otherwise it’s just – ho hum – the weather.

Ho hum no-no number two. Transportation scenes. On a plane or in a car are the transportation alternatives most popular with writers. Unfortunately cars and planes are confined spaces. This dooms your opening scene to a static bit of non-business. Talk talk talk and little action.

UNLESS – the vehicle is involved in a chase. OR – is about to crash. OR – is being hijacked. OR – is the setting of a truly traumatic character interaction. All of these are high tension situations that serve the purposes of a taut story line.

A high tension situation gives your story and your reader a slam bang start. Slam bang is the pace to pursue when crafting the opener for any piece of writing – fiction or nonfiction. Start slam-bang into the middle of things where the action is for fiction. Start slam-bang into a high interest anecdote for nonfiction.

Don’t ease us in. Drop us in. Straight to the thick of things before we have a chance to get away. Or put the book back on the bookstore shelf. Or stick the magazine back on the newsstand rack. Or switch the device to a different screen. Hook us into intensity before we can make any of those dismissive moves.

Do this and we’ll be hanging on your every word and hungry for more. Plus we won’t want to walk away and leave our knocked-off socks behind.

RR

A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – Mark & Hailey’s Story. Launches with summer on June 22nd at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 13th novel and by the end of the Prologue you just might be barefoot. Alice Orrwww.aliceorrbooks.com.

 

 

A Year of Summer Shadows – Riverton Road Monday

 

A DELETED SCENE

A Year of Summer Shadows - Final Cover -JPG file smallThe memory rush didn’t happen immediately.  Todd unlocked the door while Hailey stood behind him on the wide veranda.  He swore softly as he fumbled with the key.  He’d had some trouble getting it in the hole, and when he did the key wouldn’t turn.  She wondered if he might have had a drink or two earlier, before the club.  She took a step backward and pretended to look out over the vast lawn toward the street.  She didn’t want him to know she’d observed his fumbling.  She was that careful of people’s feelings, at least some people’s feelings.

He turned and looked at her, a fleeting glance in the dim light from the carriage lamp wall fixtures on either side of the double, glass-paned door.  Each of the two panes was etched in a smoky pattern of scroll shapes around an M for Massey in script at the center of the design.  Hailey didn’t so much see as remember that monogram in the dim light, but she could see the expression on Todd’s face.  His eyes were uneasy and his smile unnatural, as if to convey that everything was all right while he felt anything but.  Hailey understood then that his problems with the key had nothing to do with how much he’d had to drink.  Todd was nervous.

She wondered if he might be thinking about how she’d never been invited to this house when she was growing up in Riverton.  She and Todd had gone through junior and senior high school together.  He and his family gave lots of parties in that time, but Hailey hadn’t been on the guest list for any of them.  She wasn’t the sort the Masseys wanted in their circle, not back then anyway.  She felt a stir of anger, not untinged by triumph as he finally succeeded with the key.  She was here now, wasn’t she?  If there was ever to be a concrete Riverton affirmation of her current status as a successful woman, a hometown nobody who made good, standing here on this veranda just might be one.  Walking over the thres­hold into the Massey house was another.

She had actually been here once before, but that didn’t count because she was only tagging along with Julia at the time.  Her mother Virginia had insisted on it as one of her very occasional attempts to make a silk purse out of Hailey’s sow’s ear.  The evening didn’t turn out well, but the full picture of its disas­ter didn’t become a visual recollection until Hailey was inside the house and Todd had switched on the lights.  They were standing at the top of the two carpeted oak steps that led down into the gra­cious living room.

Hailey didn’t remember this room at all.  She’d been a junior in high school at the time of her one previ­ous visit.  She imagined the place had been redecorated since then, maybe more than once.  Mrs. Massey had always been known for her exquisite home.  She was most likely the type who updated that exquisiteness, and added a notch to her reputa­tion as a decorator, regularly.  What Hailey guessed to be an Aubusson carpet on the living room floor attested to that reputation being well de­served.

Hailey turned away, partly to squelch the distaste she generally felt in reaction to shows of wealth.  That was when she saw the staircase and the memory picture came.  She’d brought her friend Lucy with her that one other time she was here.  Hailey had understood she was the poor friend Julia had been forced to drag along to the Massey party. Hailey would be on her own once they got here.  The thought of that had terrified her.  What if nobody spoke to her?  That was entirely possible among the snobby types Todd and Julia hung out with.  Hailey knew how humiliating such a snub would be.  Her solution was to bring Lucy.

Even at the time, Hailey wasn’t sure why she’d picked Lucy for that honor.  Maybe because Lucy would jump at the chance to rub shoulders with Todd and his rich friends.  Hailey had been right about that. Lucy was in her glory, or so she thought.  She’d come dressed in her version of high style – a low-necked, tight-bodiced, short-skirted dress and too-high heels.  Her toothy smile clearly signaled that she was ready to make that shoulder-rubbing quite literal with whatever guy might indicate an interest.

Hailey only half-noticed Lucy’s mention that she was going upstairs to “powder her nose” before she’d hip-swayed off and Hailey suddenly realized she was alone.  Just as she’d feared, nobody spoke to her.  Nobody seemed to notice she was there.  Julia had long since disappeared into a crowd of her cronies.  By the time Lucy started back down the staircase from the second floor powder room, Hailey was anxiously awaiting her return.  She smiled upward at Lucy whose own smile swept the room in accompaniment to what she obviously intended as a grand entrance.

Lucy’s smile faded only a little when the slip first happened, and a slip was what it had to be.  If she’d caught her heel in the stair runner, she would have pitched forward.  Instead, she went down backward, onto her rump, but she didn’t stop there.  She continued to slide down the stairs, from one to the next in a bouncing motion, all the way to the bottom.  Hailey should proba­bly have run to the rescue, but she didn’t.  All she could think of at the time was how much she hoped no one would remember she’d come to the party and how much more likely it was that they’d never forget.

RR

 A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – Mark & Hailey’s Story – Launches with summer on June 22nd at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 13th novel. When you read it see if you can figure out why this scene didn’t make the cut. Alice Orrwww.aliceorrbooks.com.

 

How to Be a Pantster – Ask Alice Saturday

Flying Woman imageQuestion: Are you a Planner or a Pantster?

 Answer: Back when I was first a book editor then a literary agent and still a publishing author I was a Planner big time. I even wrote an article called “The Painless Synopsis” for Writers Digest Magazine. I was devoted to planning my stories in detail up-front. I had to do that because my writing life was regularly interrupted by my day job.

My workday mind had to be deep into agent tasks. I needed a synopsis to keep track of my story as I dragged my head back and forth between my agent brain and my writer brain. My guess is that most people juggling a full-time job with a writing regimen need to do the same.

Now that I’m a full-time writer I can indulge myself with the joy of making it up as I go along. Because I write Romantic Suspense I start out with three characters – a murder victim, a heroine and a hero. I also know the conflict that motivated the killing and at least a little about how the heroine and hero fall onto opposite sides of that conflict.

I also try to have an idea how the story ends – who committed the murder. But I’ve written two books this way so far and by the end of both of them the identity of the killer had changed and the stories were better for it. I now understand that I shouldn’t cast the ending in stone up-front. It’s better to leave room for my imagination to find its way.

Kurt Vonnegut compares this approach to driving at night. You can see as far as the headlight beams allow you to see. A former client of mine Jo Beverley calls it “Flying into the Mist.” I call it fun.

I’m playing with my story and my story is playing with me. I can afford the luxury of this playfulness because my head is pretty much always in the story. I no longer have to interrupt the flow to bury my gray cells in my day job.

In my case at least the choice between Planner and Pantster couldn’t always be about preference. It had to be about my circumstances. Like so many of us – I did what I had to do. I feel blessed that what I have to do now is have a storytelling good time.

RR

My current novel is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – available at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. A YEAR OF SUMMER SHADOWS – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #2 – launches with summer on June 22nd. These are my 12th and 13th novels and both were Pantster born and brought to life. Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com.

 

Nobody Wants a Sagging Middle – Ask Alice Saturday

Question. How do I keep the middle of my story moving at a fast pace?

Answer. The struggle in your story is the drama of your story. That struggle must begin at Casablanca - middleyour dramatic opening and continue forward without letup. The course of the struggle is the course of your plot. The more intense the struggle – the more intense the plot.

That’s all there is to writing a page turner story. Escalate the power – intensity – drama of your main character’s struggle and you’re in the winner’s circle. Until you get to the middle where you might find a muddle. Because the middle is where the story line is likely to sag.

When your story loses momentum in the middle you must make a crucial assumption. You need to know more about your characters. You need to ask three crucial questions.

  • What hidden relationships could there be between your characters?
  • What further conflict lies beneath the surface of their relationships?
  • What further secrets do they have and why have they kept them from you?

In “Well Begun is Well Done” my blog post about the Dramatic Opening I used the classic film Casablanca as a story example. Let’s continue with that.

At the dramatic opening we found Rick – played by Humphrey Bogart – bitter and disillusioned. But we’re well into the story before we learn the source of his bitterness. Near the opening there were hints at the problems in Rick’s history but we still don’t understand what’s up with him. Then beautiful Ilsa arrives – played by Ingrid Bergman – and Rick reacts.

We would say he overreacts because we still don’t know what’s really going on inside him. Ilsa is with her husband Victor so we don’t get an explanation until she returns later to the closed café where Rick is alone. Now we find out about Paris and the love affair between Rick and Elsa that sent him soaring then smashed him back to earth.

We are hooked as the suspense plot becomes a love story too. We’re hooked in the heart even more deeply than our adrenaline was pumped by the danger. We’re also at the middle of the story and there’s no sagging anywhere. Because we’ve learned more about the characters. Hidden relationships – deep conflicts – secrets that had been kept from us.

Want even more momentum? Make another crucial assumption. The hot water you’ve put your characters in needs to get much hotter. Now you must ask three more crucial questions.

  • What additional misfortunes can happen to your characters?
  • What potent dangers surround your characters?
  • What can happen that will jolt your main character?

Casablanca has the mother lode of misfortune and danger – World War II and Nazis. And a potent villain in German Major Strasser. Nothing accelerates story tension better than a truly evil bad guy. There are high stakes too. Ilsa’s husband Victor must be smuggled to neutral territory or be captured and tortured and his heroic anti-Nazi work will end.

The jolt to main character Rick comes via the Letters of Transit. They are what Alfred Hitchcock called the Macguffin. The thing everybody in the story wants for good or evil reasons depending on who they are. Rick has these letters. They will decide Victor’s fate. They will also decide the fate of Rick and Ilsa’s rekindled passion. Da Da Da Dum!

Drama – high stakes – an uncertain outcome. The middle of Casablanca provides all of this and more. Make your story middle do the same by digging beneath the surface of your characters as you see them now. Excavate your own mother lode. When you find it all sign of sag will disappear and never return. Plus – you’ll always have Paris.

 RR

 My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series – Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 12th novel and the middle doesn’t sag. The same is true of A Year of Summer Shadow launching May 15th.

 Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com

 

Well Begun is Well Done – Ask Alice Saturday

Question: How do I make my opening sell my story?

Casablanca - RickThe opening of any story is crucial. A potential reader may be standing in a store aisle scanning the first few pages or reading the free sample offered on an electronic device. The situation is the same. A storyteller gets one chance to make a first impression and mustn’t squander that chance.

So – begin with a Dramatic Opening. That doesn’t mean you have to start out with a murder scene the way I like to do in my romantic suspense novels. Your opening can be more subtle than that. But it must be dramatic. Let me use an example from a favorite film of mine – Casablanca. Which is in my opinion one of the great romantic suspense stories of all time.

By the way – I’ll often use movies as storytelling examples. Maybe more often than I use books. I do this because I find that more of us have seen the same movies than have read the same books. And I want all of us to be able to relate to the examples I use. You also have easy reference to these examples because you can stream most of them on your computer.

Casablanca came out in 1942. Already the world was immersed in the most dramatic of times. The opening taps directly into that with a map of Europe and then Africa and Northern Africa beneath the credits. Maps meant something very significant in WWII. They ran in newspapers almost daily alongside stories of heart-stopping events. Battles – even troop movements if they could be made known. Maps were a life and death visual to a 1942 audience.

There’s also music. Exotic at first as the map moves toward North Africa. We’re headed for a world distant and different from our own. A complicated and possibly incomprehensible world. We need to be on guard and maybe even afraid. On an abrupt beat the music changes. Loud and rousing – La Marseillaise makes our hearts beat to a different tune. Even more dramatic and affecting than what we’ve already heard. And we’re not even past the credits yet.

We aren’t even at Rick’s Café Americain with Rick himself at the bar. Brow furrowed – cigarette stub smoldering – weight of a heavy wound beneath the square shoulders of his white dinner jacket. Want to see what a romantic hero – or any kind of hero – looks like? Screen this scene ASAP. Plus in the next two minutes you’ll see his inner character nailed as well.

A story’s dramatic opening has a lot of work to do. A lot of weight to carry beneath its square shoulders. This film does that in spades as clear and unmistakable as the ones on the cards the croupier turns in Rick’s gambling den. Does your story opening carry that weight as well? Why don’t you ask it if it does? Here are the 10 Crucial Questions to use in that interrogation.

1.   At this moment my protagonist must be plunged into a situation where she feels as if her world is being yanked out from under her. Is that happening and how does it happen?

2.   From this point on his life will never be the same again. How, specifically, will his life be changed?

3.   From this moment on, my protagonist will be engaged in struggle. How specifically does that struggle begin in this opening scene?

4.   This scene must begin in the middle of something dramatic already in progress. How specifically is that the case in my story?

5.   I need to describe what my main character looks like. I must describe her or him via a couple of significant details rather than by interrupting the dramatic action of the scene. What specifically are those significant details?

6.   This scene must at least suggest that something important is at stake for my character in this story and preferably for others too. What specifically are the dire circumstances that will result if my character fails to succeed in this story?

7.   Obstacles to that success must already be evident in this scene. What specific obstacles to that success are already evident or at least hinted at in this scene?

8.   My main character must make a conscious decision to act in response to the situation in this scene and that decision sets the story in motion. What specifically is that decision and how does it set the story in motion?

9.   My character must be a person with whom the reader will wish to identify – motivated to act by something the reader can relate to and find sympathetic. How specifically does my character fulfill these expectations?

10.   The action of the story must begin immediately in this scene. How specifically does that happen in my story?

Re-read these 10 Crucial Questions. Think about them in terms of your story. Be hardnosed with yourself and with your story as you answer each one. If your responses aren’t solid and dramatic – your story opening isn’t solid and dramatic. Make it so.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed – stream the opening of Casablanca. Take notes on how simply all of this is managed there. And be specific yet again.

While you’re doing that. “Here’s looking at you kid.”

 RR

 My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 12th novel and it has a dramatic opening.

Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com

 

Kara Comes Clean – Riverton Road Monday

Some people think I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. But really I have a wound in my heart. In my head I associate that wound with Riverton, New York a place everybody else seems to love.

My memories of Riverton are mostly painful. From my tortured mentally ill mother to my own torRiverton Downtown stock phototured connection with Anthony Benton. He is a cruel man who preys on the vulnerability of others – especially women. I was one of those women when I made the worst choice of my life and turned to him.

I’d lost the man I loved and I was shattered. Anthony Benton promised comfort and protection. He gave brutality instead. Until I was able to escape from him and Riverton and every unhappy memory here. Unfortunately that meant I had to leave Aunt Dee – the one person in the North Country I truly cherished. Besides Matt Kalli the man who had destroyed my heart.

Now Aunt Dee has died and left me her wonderful old house on Flower Street. But there are strings attached and I’m tangled in those strings. That’s why I’ve come back to Riverton where hard memories assault me the minute I drive into town. I’ve remade myself and my life since I left here. I’m no longer shattered or vulnerable. Quite the opposite in fact.

Still all the old hurt and confusion return in an instant. Maybe that explains the impulse to call Matt Kalli. In Riverton less than a half-hour. Already making foolish choices. And I don’t even know yet that Anthony Benton has been murdered.

Discover more about Kara in A Wrong Way Home – Book #1 of the Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series – Matt & Kara’s Story. Love and danger feature the Kalli family, the four Kalli brothers and those who find safety and a warm welcome at Kalli Corner on Riverton Road. A Year of Summer Shadows is Book #2 in the series and launches on May 15, 2015.

Find my books at amazon.com/author/aliceorr.

Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com