Thursday, September 27, 2012

Breaking the Rules

Beginnings are hard, whether it's a new job, a new relationship, or pulling up roots and moving to a new town.  Same with starting a new novel.  Beginnings are a bitch on wheels.  How to engage the reader/agent/editor and pull them into the story?  Here are a few examples/generally accepted rules about how NOT to start a book:

1.  An action or battle scene.  The reader doesn't know your protagonist from a hole in the ground, and doesn't have a clue who to root for.

2.  Prologues.  Yeah, I know.  Tons of writers open with a prologue, but they are generally frowned upon.  Readers/agents/editors want you to start the story where the story starts, at a turning point or game changer for the main character(s). 

3.  Dialogue without grounding in the characters and the story.  Again, the reader doesn't know who to be invested in, and readers like to be invested.  I know I do.

4.  Dreams.  Starting your book with the protagonist having a dream (yes, even THOSE kind) is considered cliche.

5.  Ditto on starting a book with the heroine looking in a mirror and reflecting on her looks or her past, or her troubles, or the cute guy she saw the day before on the bus.

6.  Double ditto on starting a book with a flashback.

7.  A description of the weather.  One word: boring.

8.  Backstory/info dump.  The reader wants to know what's happening NOW, not when Susie was in the seventh grade.

9.  Too many characters with weird names (more common in the fantasy genre), or confusing titles. Lord Huffinstuff, Baron Selby Corningware Shellfish, Lady Whistlebloom, and the Earl of Gladbottom, all in the same paragraph makes the reader go Wha??

10.  The main character waking up or running from something.  Again, considered cliche.

These are just a few.  Most romances start in either the hero or the heroine's point of view, to invest the reader in the main characters and the romance right away.  After all, that's why we read romance, for the love story, right? 

In Demon Hunting in Dixie, I open the story with Addy, my heroine, getting attacked by a demon and saved by Brand, a hunky demon hunter.  Hero and heroine meet right away.  In my novella, The Bride Wore Demon Dust, the story opens at the wedding.  My hero and heroine have tied the knot and wham!  My heroine learns (a) her dream man is an immortal demon hunter; (b) she is no longer human; and, (c) she's pregnant and fears she may be carrying some kind of supernatural ET.  In book two, Demon Hunting in the Deep South, Evie Douglass finds her high school nemesis dead on her desk at work, murdered with Evie's letter opener. She is whisked from the crime scene by the hero.

All three books follow "the rules."  The main characters meet in chapter one and all three begin in the heroine's POV. 

Not so Demon Hunting in a Dive Bar.  In book three, I break the rules.  No big deal?  Au contraire.  I am a rule follower.  I don't break the rules . . . as a rule.  But, in this book I do.  I start the book in the POV of a secondary character, introducing the heroine through his viewpoint at the end of chapter one.   

***

OPENING SCENE: Demon Hunting in a Dive Bar 

Being a zombie sucks. It’s hard to feel sexy when you’re bloated and starting to smell. And zombies have little or no job security. Once the zombie master is done with you, you’re leftover meat.


Tommy never planned on being a zombie, but then who does? One minute he was standing on the sidewalk outside One Shell Square in New Orleans, thinking about what he wanted for supper, and the next minute he was dead, the victim of a freak window-washing accident. Smacked upside the head by a squeegee dropped from the forty-ninth floor. He had a permanent dent in his scalp to prove it.

At twenty-four, death was the last thing on Tommy’s mind. He had a girlfriend and a job managing the Subway Shop on Poydras Street. As jobs went, it paid the bills. There was even a little money left at the end of the month to tuck into his savings account. Tommy had a plan. He was saving up for culinary school at Delgado Community College. After graduation, he and his girlfriend Robyn would open a restaurant of their own. They’d call it The Happy Vegan, and the menu would include things like homemade tortillas served with refried beans and farmer’s cheese, avocado and tomato salad, and sweet fried plantains. It was gonna be kickass.

And then Tommy screwed the pooch by getting himself dead. Sucked didn’t begin to describe it.

He was still flitting around his body in disbelief at the morgue, unable to comprehend the wrong turn this bitch of a day had taken, when his new boss showed up. The guy didn’t look like a zombie maker. Tall and handsome in a dark-haired, lean, and feral kind of way, he had the loose-limbed grace of a young, fit animal.

He was also way too skinny. Zombie maker dude needed to eat a sandwich. Seriously.

But it was his eyes that had caught and held Tommy’s attention. Purple eyes, the guy had honest-to-God Elizabeth Taylor purple eyes. A man and a woman were with him, a couple of sketchy characters. Dirty and ragged, with the nervous, used-up appearance of meth addicts, they hovered around him, skittish as a pair of stray dogs.

“Fresh,” the woman had said, eyeing Tommy’s body with ghoulish interest. Her teeth were rotted black stumps in the gaping hole of her mouth. Tommy was dead, and this chick gave him the willies.

“He’ll do,” Grape Eyes said, and waved his hands over Tommy’s body on the slab.

Quicker than he could say Jerusalem, Tommy had been sucked back into his body. He sat up and looked around, blinking. The examiner on the night shift had slipped out for a quick smoke. Ironically, his nicotine addiction may have saved his life. No telling what the Maker and his scary companions would have done to the poor sap.

“I have a job for you,” the Maker had said to Tommy. Seriously, Grape Eyes was a freak. He acted like talking to a dead guy was the most natural thing in the world, and maybe it was to him.

And just like that, the guy had made Tommy an offer he couldn’t refuse. The s.o.b. put a geis on Tommy—a kind of zombie maker curse that gave him total control over Tommy.

That was how, three days later, Tommy found himself here on a riverbank at the end of nowhere more than a hundred miles from his beloved New Orleans. Hannah, the sign at the outskirts of town had said this bit of backwoods Alabama was called. Tommy had never heard of it. Before now, that is; whoever said “ignorance is bliss” sure knew what they were talking about.

The good news? The Maker had put a spell on Tommy that kept him from decomposing at the regular zombie rate—which, apparently, was roughly the decomp rate of garbage in the hot Louisiana sun. The bad news? He was rotting from the inside out. No one else would probably notice it, but Tommy could smell himself, and it wasn’t pretty. He was a fastidious guy who took pride in his personal appearance. He’d rather be dead than stink. Lucky him, he got both.

On the bright side, it could be the inside of his nose he smelled. Who was he kidding? There was no bright side to being a zombie.

***

Leave a comment for a chance to win my prize pack (US only, please): a $20 gift card from Books-A-Million and a copy of my novel of your choice (choose from Demon Hunting in Dixie, So I Married a Demon Slayer (the novella), or Demon Hunting in the Deep South.  I will pick a winner randomly and announce it around 5 p.m. Central on Monday, October 1st, my birthday!  

And don't forget, every commenter is also registered for a chance to win a Kindle at the end of our Blog Blitz!




56 comments:

Lisa J said...

You are a rebel with the rule breaking.

Ingrid Seymour said...

As with prologues, I see a lot of books starting with action scenes. I've read a few that actually worked for me. So I'm kind of on the fence for that one. I do remember cringing when I opened The Hunger Games to have the book open with Katnis waking up. Talk about breaking "the rules" and winning. Man!

As for me, I guess it is smarter not to take any risks :)

Great post!

Alison said...

I didn't know prologues were against the rules. I love prologues!

M.V.Freeman said...

Yay on breaking the rules! I'm all for it.
:)
And zombies--who doesn't love zombies?! :)

Naima Simone said...

I think I've broken the rules with every book! LOL! I'm such a rebel! *pump fist*

Awesome post! And the excerpt is so funny! I swear sarcasm should have its own font. If it did, Lexi, your entire book would be printed in it! LOL! I love your voice! And books!

Lexi said...

Lisa, I know! It's kind of liberating. ;-)

Lexi said...

Ingrid, I've read plenty of romances that start with a prologue and make it work. Take Lord of Scoundrels, for instance, one of my favs! Writers break the rules all the time. Easier to be a rule breaker when you're published, though.

Lexi said...

Alison, it all depends on the story. If it works, it works. Prologues are used more often in fantasy, I think. Like I said, it's all about the story, and if a prologue is what it takes, then I say go for it!

Lexi said...

Mary, the hubster is a huge rule breaker! Opposites attract, I reckon. As for the zombie thing, it was great fun but a bit of a challenge, especially since he's a vegetarian.

Lexi said...

Naima, you are a born rebel! And with your skills, you can break any old rule and make it work! Glad you like my voice. Me=beaming BTW, you were the FIRST to read this excerpt. Remember?

Ingeborg said...

Rules are meant to be broken.lol
Kit3247(at)aol(dot)com

sheryl said...

I don't mind if rules are broken! Haha
Great preview of what's to come, can't wait to read it!

Lisa G. said...

I'm afraid that I'm guilty of a couple of these "Don'ts", but I'm sort of a rule breaker, anyway. I'm a huge fan of prologues -- both as a reader and a writer -- but I try to keep them short.

Love the excerpt! Thanks for this; it's very helpful!

Tina B said...

Very interesting excerpt. I have not read a zombie story yet, but this one is intriguing. :)
I know that there are some ways that authors open that annoy me, but I can't think of any at the moment. Lol.
I will, however, continue to read the story regardless. Some great advice though. ;)
Thank you for sharing.

Lexi said...

Ingeborg, I'm going to write that down and stick it on my computer, so that when my rule-following instincts kick in I can step back and remember to be brave!

Lexi said...

Glad you liked the excerpt, Sheryl. I remember someone said once in a craft workshop that it's okay to break the rules, once you know them!

Lexi said...

Lisa, prologues never bothered me, either. If the story is compelling and draws me in, I don't care how it starts. ;-)

Lexi said...

Tina, the one thing that drives me crazy is incessant head hopping. It's okay in a love scene when you want to know what the H and H are both thinking, but otherwise it makes me nuts! Other than that, I'm pretty laid back. Don't care if it's a dream sequence, mirror scene, etc., as long as the story is good.

RedPeril said...

Ah, Lexi...you at least obeyed the grand unspoken rule: Know the rules before you break them. ;)

Really, with your level of humor, I think you can safely get away with a lot of things the rest of us would have trouble pulling off. And on that note, thanks for the blurb! I'd been so curious about your books, but hadn't gotten a chance to crack one open. I look forward to reading one of your series---soonish!

And Zombies, always a treat. A smelly, shambling, free-will lacking treat. ;)


~Angela Blount

Dana said...

Rules, smules!

That opening would grab my attention even if I hadn't read your first two fabulous demon hunter novels. The humor and voice just shine, and seriously, who else could make a zombie sympathetic?

At this stage of the game, with your series established, I think taking a few risks is acceptable and will probably keep the story fresh - which should help poor zombie fella :)

Lexi said...

Thanks, Angela! When I started writing, I had NO idea there were "rules." I was a complete do-do bird about it. Didn't even know about acceptable word count per the different genres! I've learned a lot, but there's a lot more to go. That's the cool thing about writing. You never know it all and it's always surprising, I think! Love my zombie. He's a cool guy and saves the day!

Lexi said...

Glad you liked it, Dana! Tommy is my first ever zombie, and he was an interesting character to write. I didn't deliberately set out to "break the rules," but that's the way the story came to me and I went with it. Glad you think it works! It's all about the story, isn't it? As my mama always says, "There's more than one way to skin a cat." Never quite sure what that means, but glad I'm not the poor cat!

Gwen Hernandez said...

The rules are really more like guidelines, right? Any of them done well will overcome. ;-) Love the excerpt! Your voice always shines through, and your books are so much fun, Lexi.

Lexi said...

Thanks, Gwen! Guidelines, yes, I agree. People break them all the time, so there! Like Shakespeare says, the story's the thing.

Ingrid Seymour said...

Yep, that is why I decide not to break the rules right now. If one day I do get published. Watch out! :)

Lexi said...

Wise move, Ingrid. Get your foot in the door and then break 'em!

CrystalGB said...

Love your list. Rules are meant to be broken. Great excerpt. Sounds good.
Crystal816[at]hotmail[dot]com

Jane said...

I've never read a book featuring zombies so it'll be a new beginning for me.

JoAnn said...

Great post, Lexi!

Lexi said...

Thanks, JoAnn and Crystal! Jane, I've never written a zombie before. I got the idea from a blog comment where someone mused about who had the worst job in fiction. I figured the dead guy, and the zombie came from there!

Twimom227 said...

In general, I don't like it when authors break their own rules. However, if it's explained... I'll take it!

Lexi said...

I think of them more as guidelines than hard and fast rules, Twimom. And I'm with you. I don't care as long as the story grabs me and pulls me in!

Jacki C. said...

I'm going to have to see how many of my favorite books "break the rules". :)

A Zombie's POV is different, but in a very good way.

Shadow said...

I like prologues! More than more has caught my attention. Thanks for sharing the rules! Very interesting! ;)

Martha Lawson said...

Ilove prologues and epilogues! I cannot wait to read Demon Hunting in a Dive Bar, it sounds wonderful!
Thanks for the chance to win and happy early birthday.

mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

Donna Coe-Velleman said...

I don't mind prologues as long as they're short. I've seen some that are 10+ pages and I'm like geez either make it into a chapter or figure out how to mesh that info in somewhere else - please.

bn100 said...

Happy birthday! Nice scene.

bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

Lexi said...

Jackie C., my zombie is a heck of a nice guy. And he doesn't eat brains . . . or at least, he tries not to!

Lexi said...

Shadow, I'm a fantasy geek, so I like prologues too. There you go; it's a matter of taste.

Lexi said...

Martha, Demon Hunting in a Dive Bar is a little darker than the first two, but with plenty of laughs. Beck, the heroine, is a strong character and so is Conall, her demon hunter. Fun to write.

Lexi said...

Donna, I know what you mean. If a prologue drags on too long I get impatient. Which is silly, I guess, since I don't feel the same way about chapters. ;-)

Lexi said...

Thanks for the birthday wishes, bn100!

Amanda K. said...

Great post Lexi! I think you have to earn the right to break the rules and you definitely have!

Tina B said...

I totally understand. It drives me crazy when it is in the paragraph. :)

Bama said...

all about breaking rules mostly lol

Lexi said...

Thanks, Amanda! Thanks, Bama! What's that old Kenny Rogers song about knowing when to fold 'em and know when to show 'em? Got to know the rules before you break 'em!

Lexi said...

Tina, I never minded head hopping before I started writing. Now it makes me nuts!

Arleigh said...

lol I've seen a lot of authors breaking the rules then XD and those 3 books sound like very good books!

smartmouthtexan said...

I absolutely love your series. Thank you so much for the chance to win your books.

Ashley

Lexi said...

Arleigh, some authors have the skill to handle the head hopping so smoothly that it's not jarring. In that case, I don't mind it.

Lexi said...

Thanks, SmartmouthTexan. Me=grinning with delight!

Natalia J said...

Some rules are meant to be broken . As for the preview I love so putting it in to my books to read. I can't wait. :)

Chris Bailey said...

Bwahahahahahaha! This is hilarious. You maybe broke some writing rules, but you're passing along all kinds of zombie rules, and that's what I call skilled world-building! Awesome! (Also, are you sure that woman character wasn't a meth addict? Those teeth!)

Lexi said...

Yay, Natalia! Shoot me an email when you've read them!

Lexi said...

Chris, Tommy is my first zombie and he is such a nice guy, tries to do the right thing and not give in to his craving for brains. He's a vegetarian. Thanks for the world building comment. Made me grin.

Bama said...

Happy Birthday Lexi! :)