1. Nina H

    Hi Molly,

    Thanks for the article. I’m doing rewrites on my first few chapters now and trying desperately to avoid the information dump while at the same time dealing with and setting up the romantic suspense premise.
    It’s a scary and delicate balancing act. So it’s always good to hear an experienced perspective, especially on craft issues, when you are writing.


  2. Kathy – the rules as tools ideas really helped me. I was totally paralyzed by all the things I thought I needed to do added to the the things I didn’t want to do – between those two sets – not a whole lot of room.

  3. Hey Nina – the Back Story Problem plagues all of us – no doubt about it. I always think error on the side of not enough information – because you can add in little snippets, answer the little questions so you keep the big questions rolling. But it’s a fine line that’s different for every book. I’m not smart enough to add another subgenre to my contemporary romance – I can’t build a world, or start a suspence subplot and introduce stuff – too many balls in the air for my poor brain. Good luck!

  4. Molly, such a great post. So insightful.

    Hi gang, good luck to the fortunate person who wins a Molly O’Keefe critique. As her CP, I can tell you that her critiques are worth their weight in gold!

  5. Joan Frantschuk

    Hey Molly, The more I learn about the craft of writing, the more disappointed I get with what I’m reading. Now, it seems like there’s too many written-by-the-rules books, not much that really grabs me and won’t let go. I like your idea of teasing the reader by answering little questions so the big question can pull the reader through the book. Thanks for your post.

  6. Connie Taylor

    Hi Molly:

    Excellent words of wisdom! Creating questions in the reader’s mind is so critical in keeping a reader turning pages. I love your suggestion that we should focus on that rather than the little nitpicky rules so we’re not all writing the same book! Good luck with your series.


  7. Kim Bowman

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Having a “guide” to follow while writing helps keep me on track and you have mentioned some helpful things to add to my manual.


  8. Connie – I always worry about that same book thing – and I also think all those rules rub out our voices which is the biggest tool we have in seperating ourselves from the rest of the writing world. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Oh my gosh Joan – writing has killed reading for me. Though I will say when a book pulls me all the way through it’s one of the best feelings in the world because it’s so hard. Over on drunkwritertalk.blogspot.com we’re talking about comfort reads – the books that writing could never ruin!

  10. I think this time around instead of trying to play by the rules I will just do my thing and then play with the rules when I am in edits. Hopefully I will have something left when am done. This is a very helpful post.

  11. thanks Joanna – glad I could help. I think that Steven king advice about first draft with the door closed, meaning no one else reads it no one else gets to be a voice in your head and then edit with the door open – makes for a much freer process. Is that a word – freer? more free. I’m a writer.

  12. Jill Q.

    Wow, great advice! I always struggle going from an outline to first draft and I think it’s b/c I haven’t thought enough about those small scenes.

  13. MarcieR

    Ah yes, start with a hook. Let that first sentence grab the reader. No one ever seems to talk about the second sentence or the second paragraph. I like it when I read a book and can’t pinpoint certain elements because I get so caught up in the story. Then when I’m done reading I end up wondering ‘how did the author do it?’

  14. Randi Kang

    I enjoyed your post. The more questions, the more the reader wants to keep turning the pages to find the answers, until they’ve reached the end.

  15. Bonnie Staring

    Great post, Molly! I totally agree on some small scenes being too darn small, and it’s hard to find that balance most of the time. Thanks for clearing things up!

  16. Molly- The series sounds so fun! I love books about people on the fringe and families that aren’t spotless like that. Give me cat burglars, pirates, con artists etc. all day. Add in the sultry heat of Louisiana, and it’s a home run.

    I do agree that writing makes reading a lot more difficult in the sense that it’s harder to get swept away. I was a “read anything I could get my hands on” type of person. Now, things I never even noticed before irk me and pull me out of the story. I wish I could turn off my inner editor and just read. That said, there are enough great writers that I still love reading, I just have to be more selective now!

  17. Carrie Tripp

    Awesome thoughts! I am a rule follower by nature. However, as much as I’d like to see my name on the cover of a Steeple Hill, Harlequin, or Silhoutte cover, I have a hard time following all the “rules” of one line. I think love and life is messy. It’s not always pretty and clean cut, yet love shines through even the darkest of moments. That’s the story I often find myself writing. The love in the midst of the character’s messes.

  18. Carrie – there’s always room for mess. My editor (Wanda Ottewell) says that a good romance, particularly a good superromance should be about a hero with stuff he has to deal with, a heroine who has stuff to deal with and then making it all that much worse – love stuff. Thanks for stopping by – good luck!

  19. Christine – that’s why the good books are like such gems. And now, I’ve started to overlook a lot of those little things and when I pick up the book I think – please please just give me one really good question. Which is funny as I finish up a mms – I’ve just thrown in every question and the kitchen sink at the reader – I should really simplify.

  20. Oh Bonnie! Thanks for stopping by – I don’t think I’ve cleared a single thing up – but thanks!! I feel like with every book I sit back and I go – oh hey – I totally got that right. i don’t have to worry about that little craft problem anymore and then I start the next book and I still don’t know what I’m doing

  21. Marcie – don’t get me started on my hate affair with chapter 4. No one talks about chapter four when a whole whack of questions need to be answered and then you have to somehow figure out a whole bunch of new questions!

  22. Great Post Molly. Learning to have your characters ask questions so that your reader will be engaged is a lot of fun. Makes you put on your thinking cap. I also agree that a grandma with a tarnished past could be good fodder for a book. Hmmm…. just how tarnished???

  23. Jennifer Faye

    Loved the post, Molly. I whole heartily agree the opening chapters are hands down the hardest to write with getting all of the necessary info in there and making sure you don’t bog down the pace. I struggle with them all of the time. By the time I get to the middle, I’ve finally hit my stride but those beginning chapters can be nightmare at times. Sometimes I think of myself as the queen of rewrites. LOL.

    And your new series sounds great!!! Paul Newman and pralines, huh? *G*

  24. Shannah

    This post was really helpful. I sometimes get too caught up in trying to follow the guidelines that I can’t write. Especially with having getting a perfect hook. Thanks for the great blog post!

  25. Kasha

    Really good advice no matter what the genre. I think I will bookmark this page, thanks so much for pointing me this way Lori.

  26. Shannah – this whole series I put together with a great hook – this gem theft thing but by the time I got to the second book I had to tear everything apart and then by the third book I had to tear it all apart again – hooks are really really tough. I’m doing a workshop at the New Jersey conference in a few weeks on hooks – the good the bad and the successful.

  27. Jennifer – I’ve totally turned my head around with rewrites. They are my chance to get things right – I adore them. I adore editor feedback and my critque group is invaluable. I can’t do all this stuff on my own. Too hard.

  28. Molly, I like starting with dialogue! But it’s usually halfway through the conversation. I do have a problem with conflict, though… Critique groups are amazing for pointing out the obvious that you’ve missed. *laugh*

    Congratulation on your new series.

  29. Cia

    Hi Molly,

    Have to confess. I came for the crit and found a great post.

    I’m about to rework a first chapter I was so enamored with, only to find it has serious flaws, so this perspective is timely.

    Did not know that the ordinary world had become a no-no, at least according to the rules. I certainly see the wisdom of rules = tools.

    Off to bookmark this site. Thanks Molly

  30. MarcieR

    Wait! There are questions that need to be answered by Chapter 4? As soon as it seems you have a grasp on what you are doing, something new crops up! Can you give a hint on what needs answered by chapter 4?

  31. Hey Marcie it doesn’t have to be chapter four, chapter four is just my waterloo and in series romance it’s right after the first opening act – so something big has happened – if you have an ambiguious opening – lots of action, lots of questions – let’s say a woman, dressed in leather is clearly working on some kind of team connected by a radio and she’s killing bad guys. With wings. But something new happens – a bad guy has wings and fangs. And this suddenly makes her pause and she gets hurt – team comes in to save her. There’s a big meeting with ehr team and we find out it’s say the future, and she’s a new woman on a crim fighting team and no one trusts her. while she’s all bandaged up and they ask what’s the story with wings and fangs – she lies and says she’s never seen it. That’s the new question – after the questions about who she is and where they are and if they’re in fact good guys get answered, now our new question is – why is she lying. that’s fairly sloppy but there you go.

  32. Brenda Littau

    I like your comment on giving the reader all the answers to the questions before they have a chance to ask them. Something to think about and give much consideration. I think the rules are so embeded in my head that I am just smuthering the reader with info and not giving any oppertunity for questions, except at the end of a chapter of course. But giving special attention to the little scenes too…so simple it’s genius. Thanks.

  33. MarcieR

    And here I thought you opened up with some conflict and had to have that conflict last throughout the whole story. You are very in-depth with the process so do you have a main conflict introduced in Chapter 1 and then mini-conflicts throughout the story?

    One more question – did you have a CP before you sold? Do you think someone could sell without a CP?

  34. Hi Molly,

    Great post. Figuring out how to start is always tricky. Finding that perfect balance between the right hooks and showing enough about the character that the reader actually wants to keep reading. Oi.

  35. Bec

    Thanks Molly. Great article. Putting questions in the reader’s mind is what I’ve been working on. I tend to put the story on an obvious path too early so it’s clear what will happen. Sigh… back to work.

  36. Wow – thanks so much to everyone for posting – Marcie – questions and conflict aren’t always the same thing. Your conflict has to change and grow and morph. It can’t just be static. I’m having that problem with a mms right now – how long does one person keep a secret before a reader stops caring and throws the book against the wall. It’s like the TV show Lost – I watched that show to the end despite how mad I was – if they had answered just one question, one, i would have kept watching and not been angry. Instead they saved up all thier answers until the end and those that kept watching were just angry. that’s what we want to avoid.

  37. MarcieR

    Molly – imagine the light bulb burning brightly above my head. The Lost reference – oddly that’s why i didn’t watch the show – made it all click. Thanks for taking the time to come back and answer my questions! Good luck with your mms.

  38. Diana Shelton

    Great point about making the small scenes as interesting as the big plot turners. Too often I find myself rushing through them to get to the ‘good stuff’. It’s obvious when I go back and re-read my work that I rushed, and I end up spending more time fixing than I would have doing in the first place.

  39. Excellent post. As a novice writer, I will take all your advice to heart. I want to write that story that will keep the reader turning pages. This is the biggest challenge in my life, yet so fascinating to explore.

    If I win, here’s my address:
    182 Schultz Rd
    Vilonia, AR 72173

  40. Toni Carter

    Thanks. This is a great help. Having written one YA and half way through a new novel I can go to Chapter one and test the theory.

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