Posted On September 28, 2015 by Print This Post

S.T.A.N.D. and DELIVER by Cynthia Tennent

Welcome to author Cynthia Tennent who’s here to tell us how to make your book even better with S.T.A.N.D and DELIVER!

My Kindle is littered with the carcasses of dead samples. At one time or another I clicked “Send Sample” in hopes that I was going to read my next favorite novel. But too often I just couldn’t pull the trigger.

Most of the books in my sample graveyard had great covers and intriguing story lines. A few of them even had great reviews. So, what was the problem?

After reading the first 15 pages, I was just, well. . . bored.

Writing a novel these days is a lot more complicated than most people think. Readers want to be hooked in the first chapter and engaged the rest of the way through. It’s enough to shatter any writer’s nerves.

Recently, I borrowed from a wise musketeer of old to help me hone those first few chapters. My personal motto, and handy-dandy acronym, is….

“S.T.A.N.D. and DELIVER”1

 

S is for SUPERB STARTING SENTENCE

It may not seem important. After all there are many more sentences that follow the first. But the first sentence is your signpost; your cue that you know where you are going.

I have many favorite first sentences. But the one I love the most is from Something Wicked This Way Comes. “First of all it was October, a rare month for boys.” It is simple, but there is so much to it. As a reader I ask, why is the month rare? Is this a story about boys? October is autumn when summer is fading into winter. Halloween. Scary Stuff. And that is what the book is actually about. Young boys caught in a dark mystery and a father confronting the winter of his own life.

I am no Ray Bradbury, but my own novel, A Wedding in Truhart starts with “We were late to the dinner party and I was crushed between my great-aunt and my mother in the backseat of a battered taxi stuck in the slow lane.” Did you read between the lines? My heroine’s life isn’t moving ahead and her family is quite possibly the reason. Aha!

 

T is for TROUBLE

Something is changing and it is creating a conflict for your character. Your readers want to know it right away. Otherwise . . . yawn.

I love happiness. But I don’t want to read a book about happy characters. I want angst. I want rage. I want tears. But I don’t want it from you when people don’t buy your book. I want it in your story. Give me a hint that the book will be about personal and outward conflict. And let me know it is going to happen right away in the first chapter so I don’t waste my time or my $3.99 on happy characters that bore me.

In A Wedding in Truhart, I foreshadow the conflict ahead. Annie and her aunt and mother have just gotten off a cheap flight from Michigan and are changing clothes in the back of a steamy cab. Annie ruminates, “Sometimes I think my family avoids luck as if it is a nasty four-letter word. Well, I guess it actually is a four-letter word. But so is love, and we have plenty of that. I just wished love came with air-conditioning and a restroom to change in.” And then they step out of the sweltering cab into the air-conditioned posh engagement party for Annie’s big sister. The contrast between the two settings sets up the rest of the story.

 

A is for APPEALING Hero and Heroine.

Readers want a reason to care about the main characters. If you are going to put them through all that angst and conflict, something about them has to appeal to the reader at the beginning of the story.

James Scott Bell describes it as a “pet-the-dog beat”. It’s the soldier who saves the dog in the field of battle. The thief who shares her bread with the waif. The main character must have a redeeming quality that makes me actually like them.

In A Wedding in Truhart, my character, Annie, is a big mouth and a hustler on the golf course. But she gives up her own dreams to help her family run their ramshackle inn. I try to write characters that may be flawed but are worth rooting for until the bitter end.

N is for NOW

No back-story, please! This is my number one pet peeve. And I was totally guilty of it when I first started writing.

My rule of thumb is that I never let back-story run longer than two paragraphs in the first chapter. Whether it is a memory or an explanation of how the character ended up in trouble, the tiny amount of back-story I write has to have absolute clarity and purpose to my character’s conflict.

“Wait,” you say. “The reader has to know—” Stop! I don’t have to know anything right away.

Did you watch the 11:00 PM news because the anchor told you the full story during the commercial? No. They teased you with a sound bite and you were curious. That is what you need to do as a writer. A sound bite. A teaser. Then keep writing and get on with the NOW that is happening in the first chapter.

 

D is for Deny

You’re probably thinking I just made this up because I like the acronym. But actually, DENY is important. It is the hint of the theme to come. As Michael Hauge says in his “From Identity to Essence” workshops, your character will eventually do the one thing they never imagined they would do to achieve their goal. Every great character does it. Scarlett O’Hara makes it clear she will always love Ashley. Harry Potter thinks they have the wrong boy. Protagonists love to DENY their destiny. They deny the thing in the first few chapters that they will actually end up doing in the end.

In my own first chapter, Annie makes the statement, “And now I had another goal. I was going to make sure this wedding was everything my little sister dreamed it would be.” Oh boy. Now that she said it in the first chapter, you can be absolutely sure it will not happen like that!

And finally . . . DELIVER. That part is easy. Now that you can S.T.A.N.D. , you can Deliver. With a great first sentence, a conflict, compelling characters, a story that starts now, and a theme based on a character’s denial, you are ready to deliver the promise in the plot that follows. It’s all mapped out. Just like a musketeer with a sword, standing up and declaring that you have a great story is the perfect way to start. It makes a reader want to BUY!

***

RU Writers, do you have a writing system that you follow?

Join us on Wednesday for the fabulous Janice Hardy!

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sohn cynthia 9518 (2)Bio:Cynthia Tennent was the original book thief, stealing romance novels from underneath her mother’s bed when she was just twelve. As an adult, she grew serious and studied international relations, education, and other weighty matters while living all over the world. In search of happy endings, she rediscovered love stories and wrote her own when her daughters were napping. She lives in Michigan with her husband, three daughters, and her collie dog, Jack. Her first novel in the Truhart Series, A Wedding in Truhart, will be published September 29, 2015. It has been selected as a “Notable Romance” by Publisher’s Weekly for Fall 2015. Her next novel in the Truhart Series is Skinny Dipping Season (April 2016).
You can find out more about Cynthia at www.cynthiatennent.com
or follow her on facebook – www.facebook.com/cynthiatennentauthor

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5 Responses to “S.T.A.N.D. and DELIVER by Cynthia Tennent”

  1. Evening Cynthia!

    Sorry, been at a flat out run all day!

    I too have a collection of books on my Kindle I just need to delete…they’re like 8% read and not going anywhere!

    I also struggle with backstory, ugh! I want to put it all in, and right away!

    But this is the part that hits me the most “They deny the thing in the first few chapters that they will actually end up doing in the end.” I have to go back and fix that in some of my first tries at writing, I know I missed that mark!

    thanks so much for posting with us today!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 28, 2015, 6:35 pm
  2. Ooh – I love this and best of all, it’s a guideline I can actually REMEMBER!

    I love your Ray Bradbury reference. He was an absolutely brilliant writer.

    The best thing about this post? I’ve been focusing on lots of other things besides writing and I was starting to wonder if I’d ever get the urge to really get into it again.

    Something about your post pushed my buttons, and now I’m playing with ideas again. Thank you so much!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 28, 2015, 9:37 pm
  3. Hi Cynthia,

    I agonize over the first line, and I always end up changing it once the story is finished. I’ve said this so many times; my Kindle is a graveyard of books I couldn’t finish. Most of them have great first lines but then story falters in the first few pages. Too many details and backstory overload are the usual culprits.

    Thanks for a fabulous post.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 28, 2015, 10:02 pm
  4. Fantastic post! Thanks.

    Posted by Catherine Castle | September 29, 2015, 8:43 pm

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