False Starts and Introductions to Novels: Too Cliché or A Forgotten Skill?

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“At dawn, the sun either shines itself or hides behind clouds, promising what the day will bring. So it is with introductions in stories.” —anonymous

Most agents and editors would balk at the suggestion of a false start intro. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with an exciting beginning, so long as it’s done well. Then again, the last time I read a false start in a novel was years ago. Is it now a forgotten technique, shunned by writers? The problem is that false introductions are usually poorly done and give off a flat feeling for the rest of the book.

First Paragraphs

The first few paragraphs of a book introduce an author’s style—his or her prose rhythm, subtle insecurities, and other narrative patterns. A book is like an onion; it has layers of emotional and mental components embedded into the prose.

This is especially the case in early drafts, where the author is still figuring out what he or she wants to do with the story. Analyzing one’s writing patterns in drafts can lead to improvement and growth for writers. It’s what I do. I read and reread over my manuscripts to analyze them.

A Handy Exercise on Introductions in Prose

There’s an exercise in this article that I recommend. An author examines the first 250 words of the story. Heavily. Dissect it, break it apart, and ask:

  1. What is the purpose of this introduction?
  2. Why is it set up like this?
  3. Is there a hook for the reader?
  4. Is the introduction short enough for the sake of clarity and pacing, but long enough to express its purpose?
  5. What patterns does this intro reveal about the book as a whole?

These questions are by no means exhaustive. Invent questions and discover how many perspectives and shades of grey the introduction can produce.

The first 250 words are crucial to the rest of the story and should let the reader know what they’re in for. Most readers picking up a book at the store—or skimming it over on Amazon—will do this to see if the story interests them. If it’s worth their time, money, and energy. Books, writing, and reading are all about an exchange of energy.

Can the author provide a worthwhile exchange for the reader?

Keeping Introductions to Novels Interesting

I once heard a fellow writer say:

“Stories are like skirts. They have to be long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep things interesting.” —anonymous

While that might not be the cleverest of examples, he did have a point. Stories, and particularly introductions—since introductions are a significant part of the prose—should be short and sweet, including everything that should be there.

Hooking Readers in the Introduction of a Novel

Here’s a helpful article on hooking readers in the introduction. The author mentions driving the prose with curiosity and conflict—elements that provoke the reader, tempting them to read further.

Internal dialog or exposition can hint at a character’s insecurities, flaws, or other issues. I’m not big on exposition myself—too many writers turn internal narration into a dry monologue that is boring to read, but that’s a topic for another time. Still, its a useful tool and it does have a place.

Stress is…Good for Readers?

Readers love stress and anxiety in a story; they hate it in real life—so, give them what they want, am I right? And do it early on, promising them the reward they will receive if they delve deeper into the story. Dangle that carrot! Gosh, sometimes I feel like a drug dealer with these dopamine-filled scenes. 😦

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Don’t be Afraid to Use False Introductions

Approach the introduction with a sense of clarity and purpose for the reader. Have a plan for the intro, and reflect that throughout the story. The promises made in those first 250 words should come full circle. Otherwise, the introduction is nothing more than a prop that can not—and should not—stand on its own.

Striking a Balance

A solid introduction to a novel is vital. Take time with it, and review it on a routine basis. Even after the twentieth read through, authors may discover new insights about themselves as writers. Even as souls. Each piece of the story, the characters, the scenes, are reflections of the author.

Ask:

  1. Is it long enough to cover everything?
  2. Is it short enough to keep it interesting?
  3. Does it dangle the carrot appropriately, leaving the reader begging for more?

If a writer can bond the reader with the main protagonist and the story within the first few paragraphs, then congratulations! That writer has accomplished a feat that most struggle with. Beginnings are, for me, the funniest part of a new story, but they can also be the hardest.


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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks again for reading!
—Ed R. White

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Making Fantasy Fiction Maps in GIMP: Tips and Tricks

Crafting a map for a fictional universe can be a handy resource for readers. Not every fiction has a cartographic reference, nor is it a requirement for good work. However, when done correctly, a map benefits both author and reader.

In this article, I’ll give an example of how I create my maps. You can take what you find appropriate and apply it to your projects. Hopefully, this tutorial will get you started. It may be a bit complicated and technical but bear with me.

Setting Up

You can use whatever media you want to design your map. I use a free program called GIMP. Set your image borders appropriately, and use a DPI of 300×300, in case you ever print out the map. Search under advanced settings for this feature.

Layer 1: The Background

When you have your blank canvas set up, first address the background. My personal preference is a basic fill tool. Your mileage may vary, depending on what kind of background your story needs. Most maps are continents, so they require an ocean or blue background.

Something like this:

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I did a fill command in GIMP for the ocean backdrop here, then added some darker shades to indicate ocean depth.

Layer 2: Landmass

The next layer I work on is the outline and general fill of the land. Choose a yellow, peach, or brown color that resembles dirt or clay—or do whatever you want of course—for the land color.

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You can use a pathing or pencil tool to create the black outline of the land, as shown, then use the fill tool. Most land isn’t perfect or smooth. Go for jagged edges along coasts or coves to simulate water erosion. You can also get creative and design fragment islands.

Layer 3: Land Color/Features

With the general land layer in place, you can focus on the more detailed facets of your map. Color coding. This step can be done in several ways, but in my example, I use pure color to indicate trees and mountains.

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I used a light green to represent grasslands, dark green for forests, blue for lakes and rivers, brown for mountains areas, and white-brown for snow. Select all of layer 2 with a wand tool, so you don’t create color outside the landmass.

For the water masses, I went back to layer 2 and erased parts of it. Doing this allowed layer 1 to fill in where lakes and rivers lie.

Layer 4: Additional Land Details

This is another optional and flexible step, depending on what you want for your map. I added redundant mountain figures and then floating islands here. This gave the map more depth.

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Here’s a tip: create one mountain figure and then use the clone stamp tool to easily replicate it. This makes it a lot easier! 🙂

Layer 5: Landmarks

Now that you have your land finished, it’s time to add landmarks! What do I mean? Cities, castles, special areas, and so forth. No, you don’t have to draw an entire castle—use symbols to represent them.

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I used simple dots with minor details. You can certainly be creative with this and draw one small castle—then, using the clone stamp tool, replicate it wherever.

Layer 6: Map Legend

Every map needs a legend—a reference to tell readers what your landmarks mean. A north arrow or distance bar is also handy. You can make one yourself, or download a free-stock photo.

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Position your legend so that it doesn’t overlap over map details. Choose a location where there is a lot of “empty space”; this will add visual balance to your map.

Layer 7: Captions

You need captions that specify major or minor points on the map. Include text for your legend, a title, and any additional information a reader should know. A small bit about who authored the map is also good.

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In this example, broader or more critical areas have a larger font size, while minor or smaller areas have a lower font size. If I were to do this over again, I’d probably make the font size for cities a bit larger, but at the same time, I don’t want to crowd the other map details with text. On an ebook or actual copy, the text would scale larger, but in the thumbnail here, it’s smaller.

Also consider using New Times Roman, or Courier. You want text that is easy to read, not necessarily fancy ones like I tried above.

Try adding in a background behind certain captions to improve readability. Don’t make it too sharp, just enough to accentuate the caption’s letters. Notice the difference below:

Layer 8: Border Details

Try adding in some special effects to your borders. This will help your map stand out! Maybe mist or fading out of the ocean. I went with scroll parchment.

Other Things to Consider

You could also add in fantasy details like sea dragons swimming in the ocean, or maybe other mythic creatures that add an “ancient” feeling to your map. Clouds with shadows are nice too. Go wild! Remember, this is your map and fictional world.

Creating maps is a fun activity that adds important detail to your story. A map can be a wide variety of things—and the example above is just a few of them. Remember, there are thousands of ways to design a map, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

I hope this article has helped get you started with the map making process. Cheers. 🙂


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Why Do Writers Write?

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“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success…Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”

—Nikola Tesla

Each author has his or her own means to spur the imagination, the motivation to sit down and write. The source of an author’s motivation is vital to the writing process—and understanding it will enhance the quality of any written piece.

In this blog post, I’ll explore some of the reasons why writers write and then I will discuss my own experiences.  If you’re an aspiring author seeking direction, then this article will provide some useful guidance. Maybe you can relate to your own experiences—I’d love to hear them in the comments below. 🙂

—Why Do Writers Write—

To Express Creativity

“The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.”

Sir Ken Robinson

There’s nothing like an adrenaline rush at the onset of a brilliant story. Writing brings us into a world of creativity, full of whimsy imagination that expresses our intellect in profound ways.

One of the main reasons why writers write is because they need to release this beautiful energy. Bottling it up is like putting a stopper on a volcano.

To Gain Recognition

The ego is a strong motivator, especially for writers; many authors want to be inspired by their success and the praise they get from the world. Not everyone wants to be the next Stephen King or George Orwell, but many do.

To Influence the World

You may have heard the classic phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”. Well, it’s true; a written piece can alter history and modify how the world sees itself—especially with religious prose.

Others, like news companies, can control how the public is informed on local, national, and world issues. When you think about it from that perspective, that pen is sounding quite powerful.

To Explore Life Itself

Since time immemorial, storytellers and philosophers have addressed the meaning of life and what gives humanity purpose. Writing is a therapeutic exercise that allows the mind to explore reality around us.

Writers attempt to tackle many of life’s questions, hoping to inspire others in the process. In this way, writing is more of an altruistic ritual for empowering humanity. See this recent article on the Hero’s Journey for more information.

To Make Money

There’s nothing wrong with writing to put food on the table. Many people use writing as a second job to supplement their main income. Writing can be a fun and immersive hobby, and making some money while doing it is certainly appealing.

That said, writing isn’t very rewarding. Most writers get paid little each month for their publications. There are those that defy the odds and become rich, but that isn’t the typical scenario.

—Why I Write—

How did I start as a writer? What interests me and motivates my writing sessions? In this section, I’ll elaborate on these questions. The answers should give you a different perspective to reflect on—and some of them might surprise you!

How I started as a Writer

I never planned on being a writer, the art gradually crept up on me in my adult years. During my childhood, I was into roleplays, which were short stories co-authored with friends.

My dad owned a small library of science fantasy books, which I consumed voraciously. Science fiction and fantasy were my favorite genres, but I also enjoyed romance, horror, and spirituality.

From the roleplaying forums that I had joined, I gradually developed a cast of original characters, plot themes, and mythical creatures. It went further and I designed a magical system, technology, names for races, continents, and planets.

The project snowballed when I was unemployed, bored, and depressed. I chose something that I could actively do myself, rather than relying on an email response from an IT company for a job while I sat at home.

My old roleplaying friends had also moved away from the forums, and I was left to my creative devices. Little did I know what the result would be…

Startling Revelations

Several months later after starting on my little project, I sat up from my computer chair, staring at a 300,000-word rough manuscript.

I couldn’t believe it, and I remember pounding the computer desk in disbelief.

I’d written something so extensive to be worthy of a trilogy, and I didn’t have any English college credentials! Talk about a wild trip into my imagination!

Since finishing the rough draft, I’ve reviewed my manuscript and discovered the horrors of rereading, rewriting, and editing out the myriad mistakes we humans continuously make in our work. Thankfully, the manuscript for book 1 has progressed significantly over the many grueling—yet fun—hours I’ve put into it.

My motivation

I write to fulfill myself-—to release the creative demons that lurk within my heart. Every day they beg release. There is a warm satisfaction in finishing an article or writing/editing an original chapter of my novel. I cherish my characters and readers, considering them good friends.

Looking Back

I understand that writing is difficult, but so are many things in life worth doing. Writing, especially with my original series, fills me with a warm fulfillment that other pastimes do not. When I look back at my life, I’ll have no regrets working on Ethereal Seals, my blog, or any of my future projects.

Despite the struggles—as shared by many authors—, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it as an amateur writer and blogger, pioneering into my own creative world.


What is your spark? Are you also seduced by the rewards that creativity brings? Leave it in the comment below if you feel inclined. Thanks for reading everyone!