Friday, August 19, 2016

Two series/serieses--why? Why not?

On FB, we were discussing whether or not to do character sheets/character questionnaires. I don't do this, because the one time I did for a class, I lost all motivation and interest in writing about the character. I would be the person who put all those details in instead of only the ones that were needed. I do keep a file with significant information, such as hair/eye color, occupation, and that sort of thing for each character. I sometimes need to know who knows Morse code or whatever without searching the file.

But once I realized I was writing two mystery series, both with thirtyish female amateur sleuths, I opened a file called "Jac vs Ari." Jacquidon's book is in intimate third person; Ari's story is first person. Jacquidon is the college grad who had such great career opportunities, Ari the loner who had a distant mother and an admired elder sister who got into trouble young. Jacquidon is the elder sister to Chantal; Ari is the younger sister to Zoe. Zoe had a child who died last year; Chantal is single and has a boyfriend who never comes on the scene in person but is a comic relief figure who has often JUST called and is often invoked or quoted or has given Chantal some piece of the puzzle somehow (or sent just the right tool to use to fix something)--this is used for comic effect as well as to advance the plot. He's like Mrs. Columbo--remember, we never saw her int he original series, but he was always saying, "MY wife--she thought of this, and I wanted to ask...."

That kind of thing. But the reason for that file was so that I could show others that they weren't at all alike and that I couldn't possibly "just make both books about the same sleuth" for the sake of having one series. The books are rooted in the world known to each character and what happens/plausibly occurs to her.

Jac's books are light, funny, witty, Snoop Sisters-type, like the Anne George novels crossed with Joan Hess (or so I fancy). Ari's stories are darker, deeper in a sense, have more emotional development and change (at the end of the first book, Ari's sister has come out of her self-imposed hermit state somewhat in the process of solving the crime, and may come back out into the world from which she retreated when her son passed.) Jac's story clues use technology/computers. Ari's are more traditional mystery clues.

So now you know. I could NOT "combine" them, no matter if that was a Penguin editor saying so. Note that Penguin has discontinued most of their cozy mystery series just a couple of weeks ago. They no longer have that hashtag on Twitter. SO they're serious about it.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Plot Nuts and Bolts, Part II (Conclusion)

Last time, I talked about plot bolts--a way to keep your story's threads tied together.

Okay, now for the PLOT NUT (nope, that's not a fan who has all the plotlines in the old STAR TREK series memorized.) What I'm talking about is a "helper" for your plot bolt. It's a reaction to the plot bolt that strengthens the connection. It's the equal and opposite reaction to whatever it was that prompted the "plot bolt." And it starts an entire string of events by its very presence or existence. This is tough to explain without an example. So--

Let's take an example from my upcoming standalone traditional novel, Southern Discomfort. Let's say that Christopher and Diane (two City Council members) know that Kimberly (a shrew, and his stalker--um, I mean she has a major jones for him and intends to win his heart however she can, even through blackmail or whatever) is watching them through the surveillance camera at the spa (she got a job there as an aerobics instructor just so she could follow him when he works out, say.) Chris and Di wait for a quiet moment in the hot tub and strip, starting to make out, just when they KNOW Kimmie can't get aloose and come bursting in on them (she's stuck covering the security cameras or something while others are at lunch.) This isn't real attraction, but just X-rated implication to frustrate and torment her. Let's say that, furthermore, they are doing this while they whisper about the conspiracy working against Kim (to reveal her theft from Chris's campaign's money when she was on his staff as treasurer.)

Twist the nut on a little: Kimmie shoves in a blank DVD where there's a convenient machine and records the whole "show." Then she mails it to, um, the local TV station--these two are high-profile city council members, let's say, and are assumed not to be involved with each other because of a conflict of interest, not to mention that they are both "taken." Whoa--the plot thickens! The station manager shoves the disc into his pocket and heads off to blackmail Chris.

On the way, the station manager has a fender-bender with a little old lady (in her car, not as a pedestrian!) as he's headed for the council meeting to confront Chris. He throws off his overcoat (which lands somewhere on the hood of his car) to change her tire and then to help the man hook up the tow truck for his Ferrari (these things are expensive, you know--you can't have Just Anyone touching the axle, or whatever.) The video DVD (you saw this coming, but you were giddy for it to happen, weren't you?) slides out of his pocket onto the pavement, of course. The tow truck guy picks it up to hold it for him and forgets to give it back. Guess what is in the pocket of the tow trucker's coat when the trucker gets back to pick up his wife, who runs the city's biggest day care place . . . and the owner's bratty kids pull it out, thinking it is their Rainbow Frog video he promised to get off the Internet for them. Suddenly, on the screens of the kids' day care room, there is a suggestive picture that does not go unnoticed. . . .

As someone said, imagine those smart missiles during the Gulf war suddenly showing DEBBIE DOES DJIBOUTI. And trying to find THAT target. (Not to worry: nothing graphic is going on at the beginning of the recording, at least not YET.) It's not a pretty sight, all those caregivers and mothers screaming and dashing for the DVD player. The one who ultimately snatches the disc out is the best friend of Chris's long-time girlfriend, a woman who has long hoped to "wake up" her friend and make her dump Chris because of what she feels are his Unethical Practices. She'd love to get him off the city's power base.

Now she has the ammo!

I'd say that this item is a little more than a maguffin, perhaps a Plot Nut that holds that Plot Bolt (which was the intersection between the Kimmie-is-stalking-Christopher thread and the City-Council-Scandal thread) firmly on. It helps to make the coincidences and implausibilities in the plot seem a lot less so.

I've used this technique to connect two wildly varying plotlines, such as subplot 1, the girlfriend who wants Chris and her friend to break up (hey--possibly so that SHE can snag Chris for herself, or so she can snag her girlfriend for her homely brother Gus who is in place to console her . . .) and subplot 2, the mayoral race in which Chris hopes to be a candidate, and which would be lost for him if he were caught fooling around with Diane, who is the wife of the current mayor. (This book is part screwball comedy.) Tensions heighten and the audience squirms in delicious anticipation of the blow-up that is sure to come.

Let's try something more subtle. Henry does not talk about his family, ever. In this mystery, the prologue and some scenes from the (unnamed) murderer's POV have established that he's doing it to protect a secret in his family. Every time anyone asks about Henry's holidays, relatives, etc., he quickly deflects the question, never having to answer. (There's the plot bolt.) Everyone suspects Henry, of course. (A nice diversion.)

Late in the book, Theo (our sleuth) is at a party where the punch is spiked and also (unknown to any of the party-goers) doped with a fashionable party drug. Theo (our heroine) is the only one besides Henry (and the real killer) who does *not* drink the Mickey Finn punch, leaving her the only one to deal with the killer who drugged the punch. Naturally, she's now convinced Henry didn't drink it because he spiked it, and therefore the killer blindsides her when he takes Henry hostage. The hero arrives, and the two of them play out the final confrontation with the killer, who now has Henry as a hostage. (Here comes the plot nut.) The reason Henry never spoke of his family is because he's ashamed: his father, who's all the family he has, has been jailed for (hot checks?) drunk driving (and has dodged the bullet once with a vehicular manslaughter charge) and is an alcoholic. And that's why he didn't drink the punch: he saw the gin being surreptitiously added, and he won't touch alcohol. The suspicion (a bolt throughout the book) is answered and ties right into why he's the only other one left on his feet for the confrontation, forming a plot nut.

Naturally, MOST of the best plot bolt and nut combinations are serendipity. Usually, when you were writing the first scene, you didn't realize why you were putting in that part about the alcoholic daddy until it came time that the later scene was flowing from your fingertips. And then people ask how you come up with these tight plots. Only another writer could understand the unexpected thrill of that plot nut screwing into place!

You can, of course, plan a connection between your subplots from the very beginning. That's why the subplots are there--to enrich the main story--and thus they need to be related. If you can come up with something that really sets up conflicts between major characters, such as his being a pilot and her being totally petrified of any thought of heights or flying, so much the better. Then she'll HAVE to get in the plane with him, barfbagging it or cowering on the floor of the light plane while they do the dogfight, or whatever. Conversely, maybe she turns out to be right about heights when he realizes the plane will NOT get off the ground in the shape that it's in, and then they jump out and let the criminals steal it and crash it into the stand of trees just across the road from the airstrip.

. . . this is called "setting up your crisis early" with things that your critique group tries to get you to cut, claiming you don't need these little hints that are obviously in there only for characterization. NOT!

The heck with them, say I. Plan your plot bolts, and place them throughout your book to strengthen it.

And if you find a nut for one of them, twist it down tight!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Plot Nuts and Bolts, Pt. 1

WOW. We just went without the Internet or cable television for a week, after a storm knocked a tree down on the cables that run from the house to the pole (narrowly missing the power as well, because other trees caught the top of the falling tree just short of that), and it was tough. I went to Starbucks a couple of times with my tablet to check mail, and I used an antenna to pick up some local stations to monitor the weather, but otherwise I was without global communication (LOL). I knew that Facebook was my major social outlet (most of my close friends keep in touch that way), but I didn't realize how isolated I would feel once I couldn't check in regularly.)

The world is wired in nowadays. I needed to do LOTS of business transactions by phone, and I'd always be regaled with how much easier it would be if I'd only come into the 21st century and do it online. I explained to people, and they said to move. (LOL)

ANYWAY! Let's talk for a moment about plot nuts and bolts, something I learned about in a long-Long-ago workshop that's worthy of your attention if you want to write stories.

(The article "Plot Nuts and Bolts" by Shalanna Collins is copyright 2016. A version of this appeared years ago on the FUTURES Web magazine site, but has been offline for a while.)

You've heard people talk about teaching or learning "the nuts and bolts of writing," right? Some time ago, SF writer Michael Stackpole coined the term "plot bolt," and now I'd like to discuss the concept, along with the nut that sometimes goes with it (and I'm not talking about the writer.)

What, you may ask, is a plot bolt? Just as a bolt fastens objects together by sticking through them and "hanging them from the holes," a plot bolt extends _through_ the plot of a story and helps to hold the parts together. Plot bolts pull a story together by helping the reader to see the connections and how things "all come together as a connected whole." The role can be played by a minor character (a "foil," for you literary types) who flits between the two major characters--perhaps the nosy neighbor ? la Mrs. Kravitz on "Bewitched," or a pet bird who flies between the two houses, or a cat like Pyewacket who runs away and has to be rescued; maybe, instead, it's a "maguffin" or semi-valuable object like the Maltese Falcon. These "minor" things are not so minor, and their scenes are not mere incidents, because the items or characters keep reappearing, helping to complete the circle of the story.

In the film "Bell, Book, and Candle," the cat familiar Pyewacket goes over to the Jimmy Stewart character's house and causes him to march over to the Kim Novak character's shop to return him? The cat also causes several other events in the tale connected to reconciliations or another fight. When he runs away, the viewers know that Gillian has lost her powers from being in love. All these functions bolt the story together at places where we'd otherwise have no connections (or maybe have to rely on coincidences).

Character "business," "tics," or "tags" may also add to the wholeness of the whole. Perhaps a characteristic little bit of action like Shalanna tugging at her earlobe when she's lying can irritate Drynxnyrd at first, until he figures out that she's always fibbing (she wouldn't go further than a compassionate white lie) or telling the incomplete story when she does it, and this can reveal to the hero later that she's not telling him the whole truth about that old boyfriend of hers who shows up later. It is something that starts out as characterization, and then the reader giggles when she sees it, but later she exclaims, "Of course! I should have expected that to be useful."

In Mary Stewart's THE GABRIEL HOUNDS, the narrator always reacts to the presence of a cat, even when she can't see it. This is established in an early chapter, when a kitten spooks her. Later in the book, she realizes that another character, supposedly a relative of hers, is an impostor, because the real relative shares this reaction--but the impostor doesn't even jump when a cat walks into the room. This one's related to all the movie scenes in which a character is "passing" for another character UNTIL the dog growls or snaps at him or her, and people realize that can't be good old Harryette. . . .

A plot bolt basically ties one strand of the plot into an entirely different strand. This may be the only thing that makes the subplots related. It's the realization of the reader that the romantic subplot that's been running through the last five chapters has just crossed paths with the minding-the-store thread, and they mesh. The reader doesn't see it coming in advance, but once it's there, it's inevitable. It's the only way things *could* be. And the book is praised as "tightly plotted."

Next time, the PLOT NUT (nope, that's not a fan who has all the plotlines in the old STAR TREK series memorized) and how it ties these bolts together so we have a framework that makes sense and the reader gets a wild ride through the tale.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Musing: why is there air? (Warning: thinky)

"Why is there air?" asked Bill Cosby on an early comedy album, WONDERFULNESS.

"To fill up basketballs. To fill up pool flotation devices."

Sure! It's that simple. For the persona in Bill Cosby's early comedy album, anyway. That's the important reason that there's air! A sports reason!

But then those of us who BREATHE it say, "If you don't think breathing air is important, try not doing it for a while."

The point being that we are all prisoners of our own viewpoints, and we often react by seeing what we expect to see or what we're accustomed to seeing. Why is air important to the coach? Filling up basketballs. Why is air important to the hot-air balloonist? We've gotta have lift. Why is air important to the rest of us? *cough cough*

But anyway . . . when you're writing, your character will notice what he is inclined to notice. It's probably not the same things about the room that you, a writer, would notice. Or that you, a firefighter, would notice. Or that you, a police officer, would notice. Are there fire exits and are they marked? Is there a place someone could lurk and surprise you? You see what I mean. Always question what you are doing, in the smaller and larger senses.

People who don't question what they're doing aren't usually doing anything important.

Is what you're doing important? Is what you're writing going to be significant to other people's lives? Is it going to make them see the world in a whole new way and encourage them to change their lives accordingly?

In order to understand if what you're doing is worth it, you must question everything. Ask yourself what you're trying to do. So many writers really just want to "have written."

Why do you write? You can try to answer this--and most have tried--but you probably won't be able to come up with a pithy, quotable answer. PLEASE don't cop out with, "I can't not write," because that only means you need a creative outlet of some sort. This isn't your fault. It's like asking "Why do you want to live?" It's not that the answer is bad, but that the question is stupid.

Why do you write? Is it to tell a story? To impart some wisdom and meaning to people's lives? To play with words and string them together into a progression of interesting thoughts? To present an idea that hasn't been presented before? Is it to entertain? To make money? To explain your life or views?

These are all valid reasons. Any combination of these would be a decent explanation. But you should think about which applies to you.

Why? Because if you know what you're doing, or trying to do, you're going to have less doubt about it. You're going to have confidence. You're going to find your mission in life.

And you won't leave this world without fulfilling your eternal destiny.

Your job is to find out what it is, and then start on that path. Now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cozies being cut by major NYC mystery houses--AAAACK

I was sorry to hear of the many cozy series being dropped by the major NYC houses. The astounding part of it for me is that many series are still popular, but aren't making money for the house, so they're discontinued. Also, some of the authors won't be able to take the series elsewhere because the characters or series name/identity is owned by the publisher.

I will venture a guess as to why the industry decided to downsize them, though. I realized the other day that the last six or eight cozy mysteries I have read were VERY similar in setting/form/setup. The sleuth is a woman who runs a shop on the restored main street of a small town or resort town. (A pickling shop, a cupcake shop, a popcorn shop, a yarn shop, or whatever.) She is next door to other women who are running similar businesses. She lives above the shop or nearby. A murder takes place and she is a suspect or her best friend/neighbor is. The circle of people she interacts with is full of suspects. The shop is popular when she is not under suspicion (and the town must be full of extremely unhealthy people, for they come to the chocolate fudge shop or cupcake shop daily to fill up! I have never seen such successful small businesses! LOL) and business falls way off when she is under suspicion or suffers from rumors. The sleuth usually has an estranged hubby who would like to either get her back or sabotage her. She also has a boyfriend (sometimes two!) and probably a dog or cat who helps defend the turf. Often the detective is a love interest.

OK, I will admit that I read and enjoy them mostly BECAUSE of the mundane details. I wish I could find such a town free of economic or environmental issues in real life. The recipes, the talk of neighbors, the puzzle (not generally super-challenging, though), the lack of overt gore and extreme violence porn (most of the time), and so forth make the books a reliable bubblegum read. You usually don't have to worry about animals getting seriously hurt (although there have been exceptions) or descriptions of extreme torture porn or yuckiness (ditto). You can usually relate to the protagonist, who is "determined to make it on her own without help from the ex and despite the town turning against her."

Those old ropes do fray, however. The problem is that there's so little originality and so much similarity. You could just about exchange one book in a series for another book in a different series and track right along. It stretches credulity that the shops could all be viable in a small town--because many stores are having to go out of business in real life, and this just isn't realistic. The authors are not stretching themselves creatively and the reader is getting into a rut. I'm pretty sure that this is another reason that the genre is being downsized. We need some new tropes and different plotlines. (Yes, the caterer's food was poisoned by a baddie who wanted her put out of business as a nice side effect. Many, many times. How about something new? True, there is nothing new under the sun. That IS a difficulty.)

Sorry to sound so harsh, but maybe the abandoned authors will now stretch and go to a more traditional mystery format. A traditional mystery that is not a cozy can be set elsewhere and might have different tropes. My own MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS is a paranormal without being a zombie/vampire/witch/werewolf deal, and NICE WORK explores the seamy underside of the BDSM lifestyle (and the minds of unscrupulous people.) Different, but still mysteries with the normal mystery feel. (Who did it? Why? Justice must be done. Goodness must prevail. Love conquers all.)

Who knows--the new books could even revitalize the field. After all, we do not want another "Twilight" fad with werewolves VS zombies or something to overtake the industry . . . aack! ;) Let's see if we can turn this to our benefit. Not to say that I never want to read another cozy-knitting shop-cozy again, but perhaps it IS time for the next fad to take hold. (Just hope it isn't more zombies.)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ensemble casts, part 1

The ensemble cast is what keeps readers/viewers coming back for more, every week (on TV), every few years (in the movies), or every few months (in books). What makes an ensemble cast so charming?

First, let's look at a few ensemble casts I see as being near-perfect.

The cast members must have chemistry. By this I mean they've got to have that spark when they interact. They must make me BELIEVE. (Alan Young of MISTER ED never gets enough credit; he made me believe the HORSE IS TALKING! That's what I mean when I say the actor makes me buy into it and I *believe*.)

My husband hates any show I like (and pretty much does it for spite, IMHO--LOL), so he hates EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND with Ray Romano and cohorts. But even he has to admit that this ensemble cast is nigh-unto perfect. Note-perfect with the relationships and with how they interact. I *believe* that Robert is the neurotic cop. I *love* Frank (did you realize that he's the one who played Frankenstein's monster in "Young Frankenstein"? They pay homage to that in one of their Halloween episodes!) And I would normally HATE any woman who acted as Debra is often forced to, because I just hate bee-yotch characters . . . but she HAS to get angry and be mean very often in the show, and I find myself saying, "Yes! Deb is in the right! No one could do any differently!" And thus I like her character, against all odds. I even like the interefering mother-in-law, Marie, because she is letter-perfect at being like my own mother and mother-in-law when they got That Way (not all the time, like Marie! Just occasionally.) The cast has chemistry and I *believe* that Robert and Ray are brothers. Watch a couple of episodes sometime and you'll see what I mean. There are almost no false notes (not even with Amy and her parents), and that's why I rank this one up top even above I LOVE LUCY (another ensemble that would not work without all four of them) and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (the original) and even THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW ("You have spunk. I hate spunk.")

My own ensemble casts, I hope, are like this one. I think Ari and Zoe French are a duprass of sorts; there are fans who want to see them in action again ASAP, and even fan fiction being written about them. They function well and are a sort of Bickersons pair. Compare to Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. When they get into it together, Katy bar the door!

Another of my ongoing ensemble casts encompasses Jacquidon Carroll and her sister Chantal. They are more like Lucy and Ethel, it has been said often, and they don't argue as fiercely as Ari and Zoe, but they complement one another when it comes to sleuthing. They have an ongoing foil in the form of Chantal's long-time main squeeze, who is referred to as "Smedley" most of the time. He's like Mrs. Columbo in that we don't see him, we don't hear him talk on the phone, but we hear about him and what he's doing or what he is about to do. It's part of the comic relief. It's a schtick, sure, but (I hope) a good one.

Often your ensemble cast will include a boyfriend/girlfriend or serious marriage prospect of the moment. I have this situation in both LOVE IS THE BRIDGE and in LITTLE RITUALS. If you don't have this, then you'd better have all sorts of flirting and the like going on with one of your main characters, because it's a big draw. Make the decision in the first book as to whether you will have explicit nookie scenes or will draw the curtain and let the waves crash onto the beach as in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, when we didn't get to see Burt Lancaster's hoohoo. Oh, well. But readers have distinct preferences as to whether they think a cozy should have hardcore scenes or not, so decide right away so as not to anger readers who skip that sort of stuff because they're older than fourteen and don't need an instruction booklet (can you tell which type of reader I am? Except for Henry Miller. I make an exception for Henry Miller. Don't ask me why. But if you want porn, you couldn't do better than Henry Miller, because he has interspersed sex scenes with his philosophical musings and other activities. Try the SEXUS/NEXUS trilogy. Or try D. H. Lawrence. If you want class with your, um, *ss, they're the ones, I guarantee. *Unless you can find a good translation of Baudelaire.*)

Other members of your ensemble cast will probably fill roles such as Sidekick, Mentor, Jester, Lovable (or not) Rogue, Guide (Spiritual/Moral Compass or Tour Guide), Guardian (or Threshold Guardian), Shapeshifter (this can be metaphorical, and generally is, at least to some extent), and even Trickster. Chantal and Zoe are (purportedly) the sidekicks in my mystery series books. Mentors come and go in all my books, but will be apparent when they first appear (so to speak, or "soda speak" as Kevin Robinson, mystery novelist extraordinaire, would say.) Gil Rousseau in MARFA LIGHTS is a Lovable Rogue--Tour Guide who is also possibly a Threshold Guardian and could even play Trickster in a pinch. Tricksters are a lot of fun to write, but you must be certain they're not taking over the story. Your heroine/sleuth/whatever MUST solve the puzzle for herself, save herself, have an epiphany of her own, experience growth and change at her own pace. Someone else can't do it for her, or the reader feels cheated.

So, anyway. You need to make sure your ensemble cast functions well together so that your readership will want more and will come back for more.

Your setting will often (ideally) be a character and will shape the way your cast interacts and what they do for fun (you ski in Denver, but you go tubing in San Marcos (TX) and you surf in Santa Barbara.) The best settings are the ones with a personality of their own and eccentric residents that are already familiar to your readers. For example, in New Orleans your characters will encounter street jazz musicians (and jazz funeral processions!), French quarter tourists, and voodoo priestesses. In Marfa, Texas, you will get the typical artists' colony weirdies plus the Marfa Lights followers. It's also a Western town, so you might even meet a few cowboys in their Airstream trailers. Consider your setting carefully, and be sure you do your research. A few road trips might be useful in this endeavor.

Next time--more about the archetypes and minor characters, and how they fit into this scheme.

Monday, March 28, 2016

For writers and readers: thoughts on structure

The beginning of a novel--ideally, the first few lines, unless we are in a prologue, about which more next time--should open a window and set a scene immediately. Readers should be able to see, hear, smell, maybe touch, and sometimes taste the setting and surroundings very soon, if not right away (because we're in a character's mind, or we're observing something closely, frex.)

Readers must know within moments who the main character(s) is/are and the situation at hand (the story world, the "ordinary world," if you will). Also, the TONE of this opening paragraph needs to signal to the reader whether this will be a light-hearted romp or a heavy, philosophical, convoluted read. However, this is all preliminary to "THE STORY." A novel doesn't have liftoff (even if we have readers already immersed in the Vivid, Continuous Dream that their minds should be constructing) until we pass through the Doorway of No Return.


What do I mean? Well, we're about to lose that ordinary world. The footing is unsure. A chasm is about to open beneath our feet. There is a door standing ajar, and perhaps a monster in pursuit of Our Heroine. Once she accepts the challenge and steps through the portal, she won't be able to get back home until the major plot problem is solved AND she has changed, fundamentally, herself. (A book has to be about the most important thing that has ever happened to the main character, and she has to undergo a transformation. Ideally, she will face her worst fear and conquer it. This doesn't hold for mysteries and series blorfs, but it SHOULD.) This challenge should be before the 20% mark or first 1/5 of your book, or else readers will get bored and drop the book. It really should be much earlier than that, for today's readers.

Is your hero or heroine intriguing, charming, worthy of following for 200+ pages? Is there a disturbance in the opening pages that pulls readers forward to know what will happen and/or if the character will succeed? Does this set the proper tone for the rest of the book? (Don't have a Torture Porn opening if you're then going to do a screwball comedy in the rest of the story.)

And most of all, for the author who is beginning to tell the tale: Can YOU live with this character, love her, root for her, put her through the wringer, for up to a year as you write the book? If not, you'd better go back and rework it so that you DO want to spend time with this person. Because if you don't like this character, readers won't, either.

Oscar Wilde Quote of the Day:
"There are men nowadays who cannot distinguish between the truth and the last thing they happen to have read."