Monday, March 10, 2008

Novel Openings

I'm excited this morning to have romance writer Molly Noble Bull here at Joy in the Journey to talk to us about the importance of hooking the reader from the very first line. Molly is a wonderful lady and friend, not to mention a great writer. I know because the two of us are publishing a romance together early next year for Tsaba House. The book is an anthology of two short romances, but we'll cover that later.

Molly, your article, “Openings are Invitations” was published recently at Writers Corner at the website. Please talk to us today about openings for novels and how they might be described as invitations?

Molly Noble Bull:
I would be glad to. When I go into a bookstore to buy a novel, the first thing I read is sentence one found on page one of the novel. For me, sentence one is the opening hook and the most important sentence in the entire novel. If sentence one captures my interest, I will read the first paragraph. If the first paragraph catches my interest, I will read all of page one. If after reading all of page one, I want to read more, I will buy the book. If not, I will put it back on the shelf and pick up another book.

The opening hook should act as a sort of invitation. If after reading the invitation, the party or the book sounds exciting and fun, I attend the party or read the book. If not, I skip it.

T: Wow! I can see how important a hook is to readers like you. Can you give us examples of opening hooks that would make you want to read paragraph one? And what is it about those opening hooks that would make you want to read more?

M: An opening hook should introduce a present or future problem and present questions that the reader will expect to be answered during the course of the story. In my opinion, the best hooks and story openings pull the reader right into the story. Let me use my own published novels to answer that question and explain how good opening hooks might keep a reader reading.

Opening hooks:

For Always by Molly Noble Bull
Zondervan Publishing House 1986
(“Why didn’t you tell me you’d cancelled our honeymoon, Merrily?”)

This opening hook tells the reader that there is going to be a wedding, that the heroine’s name is Merrily, and that the groom doesn’t appear pleased that she’s cancelled their honeymoon. By beginning my book with dialogue, I pull the reader right into the story.

The Rogue’s Daughter by Molly Noble Bull
Zondervan Publishing House 1986
(She’d seen him again.)

This very short opening hook causes the reader to wonder who she is, who he is and if seeing him again was a good thing or a sign of danger.

Brides and Blessings by Molly Noble Bull
Love Inspired/Steeple Hill 1999
(It was now or never.)

The Winter Pearl by Molly Noble Bull
Steeple Hill 2004 and again in 2007
(I’m not one to go without a woman for long, missy.)

Sanctuary by Molly Noble Bull
Tsaba House 2007
(Death to Jews, she read. Death to all Huguenots.)

T: Wow again. You gave us a lot of information there. Now we have a better understanding of what must go into a beginning hook. So what must go into an opening?

M: The opening of a novel must answer the following questions -- who, what, when, where and why. I call them the W Rule Questions. All these questions should be answered within the first two or three pages of the novel. I try to answer them on page one, if possible.

A novel is divided into three parts – the beginning, the middle and the end of the novel. I once read that the middle of a novel does not begin until all the W Rule Questions are answered even if you are writing page 286. That is how important it is for an author to have a good opening hook and answer all the W Rule Questions.

T: Thanks Molly, you have really given us something to think about. Now tell us what comes first for you? Storyline or characters?

M: Both are extremely important, of course. But I would have to say that the storyline is most important. Here’s why.

Remember all those “Once upon a time stories” we heard as children? As a small child, I listened to those stories that were either told to me or read aloud because I wanted to find out what was going to happen next. Would the handsome prince rescue Sleeping Beauty from a very long sleep? Or would she sleep on forever? The desire to know the outcome kept me listening and reading then, and it still does today.

T: Are your books character driven or plot driven? Can you explain the difference to readers?

M: Some people like chocolate ice cream. Others prefer strawberry. Both are good. They are just different. Different strokes for different folks—as they say. The same is true in novel reading and writing.

I like plot-driven books for the same reason that I like to read and write novels with strong storylines. I want my readers to wonder what is going to happen next to my characters. I want them to care whether my characters win or lose.

To me, a character driven story is one where the plot in less important than characterization. In the plot driven story, the plot is very important.

My characters react to situations.
For example, a character turns on the TV and discovers that a tornado is headed straight for his or her area and in minutes. How would a character react to a dangerous situation like that? Answer: In many different ways.
That is where characterization comes in.

If my character is a “fraidy cat,” he or she might hide under the bed. Another character in that same situation might try to get everyone he or she knows to safety. While waiting in a shelter, another character might try to convince others to follow the Lord before it’s too late.

The situation was the same in all these cases, but the reactions were different.

T: I understand that you are teaching free fiction writing lessons for new writers. Tell us about that.

M: Yes. I teach Fiction Writing 101 every Wednesday at

T: Now, tell the readers a little about yourself. How long have you been writing? What's your next project? Where can we get your books?

M: As I mentioned earlier, I sold my first two novels to Zondervan Publishing House in 1985, and they came out the first time in 1986. Both were reprinted and came out from Guideposts, the Book Division in the nineteen nineties. Zondervan bought a third novel, but it never came out because they stopped publishing romantic fiction. I got to keep my advance.

Love Inspired/Steeple Hill published Brides and Blessings in 1999.

Two of my long historical novels came out in 2007—The Winter Pearl, my Steeple Hill historical, and Sanctuary, my Tsaba House historical. The Winter Pearl is set in Colorado in 1888, and Sanctuary is set in France in 1740. Sanctuary is the first of three long historical novels in the Faith of Our Father series about the Huguenots and forgiving the unforgivable.

Runaway Romance by Molly Noble Bull and Teresa Slack is really two short novels under one cover. Tsaba House will publish Runaway in trade paperback, and my novel is titled Alyson. A publication date has not been set at this time.
Now, I have a question for you, Teresa. What is the title of your short novel under the under the Runaway Romance cover?

T: Kyla. Each of our titles names the heroines in our novels. Yours is Alyson and mine is Kyla.

M: I am dyslexic, and The Overcomers: Christian Authors Who Conquered L.D. is a non-fiction book that tells the story of five published authors with learning disabilities. Besides me, the authors are Margaret Daley, Ginny Aiken, Jane Myers Perrine, and Ruth Scofield. Tsaba House has not set a publication date for this book either.

And of course, I must write two more long historical novels in the Faith of Our Fathers series.

Sanctuary and The Winter Pearl can be ordered from Barnes and Noble, Target, Borders, Parable, and bookstores all over the country, but they must be ordered. They may not be available on the shelves of all bookstores. They can also be purchased from online bookstores like Amazon and Just write Molly Noble Bull in the search slot and click. And of course, they can be ordered from my website.

T: Thanks for sharing, Molly. I hope you will come back real soon.

M: You can count on it, and I really enjoyed being here.

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