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Monday, March 12, 2012

Beginnings: Why I Started Writing & How I Start My Books

Spring is almost here...although I think we actually skipped winter this time (at least near Kansas City). New hopes, dreams, beginnings.

So, speaking of beginnings, I thought I'd write about how I started writing. It wasn't a like-long dream; in fact, my goal had been to be a teacher. I graduated from college and began my teaching career, teaching mostly early grades, K-3.

But while my life was rolling along with my job description as "teacher", I was reading books. Lots of them. First biographies, then Shakespeare (was crazy about his works and took a number of Shakespeare-offered electives in college).

Reading romance books came next...and I was hooked. I started reading regencies and historical romances, and love Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer. Eventually, I started reading romances involving seasons (especially Christmas-themed books), then romances that had children in their stories. From there, I branched out to contemporaries and finally, paranormal.

As a voracious reader, I trekked back and forth to the library many times. Bought tons of books, too. And once all four of my kids were teenagers at the same time for a three-year period, I searched for a sanity release.

In the back of my mind, I harbored this niggling thought about writing a romance book. Finding that this was the escape I sought from "real" life, I ventured into the world of writing.

Not knowing anything, I bought a book titled, "The Romance Writers Pink Pages" and used it as a reference. I sat and wrote a book called, "Three Strikes to Love" (yes, baseball was involved).

Using my reference "bible", I sent queries to agents. Two asked to see the book, one asked for a partial. Two rejections came quickly; the last one actually had some advice...put dialogue in the book.

Yes, I'd written most of it as a narration so obviously I was clueless.

I went to some weekend seminars/workshops on writing and met someone from a local Romance Writers of America chapter. Intrigued, I joined. And, thus started my REAL journey to my writing career.

After years of learning the "ins and outs" of writing and the industry, I finally published my first book in 2007. It was a long journey, but an interesting one.

My books, contemporary/paranormal/erotic romances, all start with dialogue. My feeling is that dialogue immediately draws readers into the action, and that first sentence or two has to be a strong hook to catch their attention.

My favorite "first sentence book": Gone to the Dogs. I hoped that readers would be intrigued by this sentence: "Your dog ate your underwear." Actually, this happened to me...but it wasn't MY underwear the dog ate! Our dog ate my daughter's sock and two thongs. Luckily, no harm was done, and the items...ahem...made their exit from his body. Scared at first and then relieved, I finally saw the humor in this scenario and wrote the book based on this sentence.

Beginnings for my other books (either Marianne Stephens or April Ash):
MS-(Paranormal) Second Sight Dating: "I want him, not the other one you just showed me."
AA-(Erotic) Sexy Games: "I hate this job."
AA-Erotic) Strip Poker for Two: "I'm upping the ante. Bring underwear."
MS-Contemporary) Anything You Can Do: "Shit. Another message from that Minetti woman."
MS-(Romantic Suspense/Time Travel) Street of Dreams (there's a prologue then this): "Take Murphy with you on this one. She's a nut about the decade." you like reading dialogue first? Writers...what do you consider when writing that first sentence? Share your ideas!

Photos: Flickr: massdistraction and throgers photostreams 


  1. Hi Marianne. Nice post. I love hearing about how writers got started. Isn't it amazing that we can read and read and read and still not notice what "works" in a book, like dialogue? We just fall right into the story and as readers don't bother to notice the technicalities. That's how to enjoy a good book! Have a great day. Jordan

  2. Hi, Marianne: I love hearing about your journey and others. It's an unusual and interesting path in some cases.

    My friend challenged me because she knew I had a tiny seed inside me. I'd wanted to for a long time, ever since I read Dick Francis books and yearned to write like him. It took 20 years.

    Still haven't sold my books, but have sold lots of short stories.

    Dialogue does help. LOL

  3. I love dialogue:) A conversation is usually the first thing I 'hear' in my head when I'm beginning to write a story. Sometimes I have to tell my characters to 'shut up' so I can set the scene, and other times I simply write down the argument and fill in the blanks later.

    I'm sooooo looking forward to Anything You Can Do!

  4. I love books that start with either dialogue or a question. My favorite being a Sandra Brown book where the principal character wondered why God made dying so hard. Oddly enough, my current wip is also titled ANYTHING YOU CAN DO but it's m/m.
    Good Luck with your writing, Marianne.

  5. I've been a Dick Francis fan since forever. I also like John Francome.

  6. Beginning with dialogue is a great hook. I like to start my books with a short one liner, either dialogue or narrative, ie, from my third historical, Almost Silenced: "The bride yawned. Again." I also like to start in the middle of the action so the reader is dumped into the scene immediately and we all get to scramble to find out where the heck it's going!

    I like your blog format, Marianne. Great colors!

  7. Hi Marianne! Like you, I was first a reader, then a writer. I still have the love of reading, just less time to do so these days. Sometimes dialogue will hook me, but looking over my favorite books, it was being thrown into the middle of the action. The heroine running for her life across the rooftops, bullets flying. She takes a huge breath before leaping over the side, into empty space below...

    I find myself starting my books in the same manner. Great post. I really enjoyed this!

  8. Love your opening sentences. I generally start with action, but the first page is so important. Think I'll try your method to see how it works for me...

  9. Hi Marianne, I tend to start with an action scene; sometimes with dialogue and sometimes not. I haven't had a lot of time to read in the last few years. Promotion took up that time.

  10. Lol. Cute. We have many past experiences in common. The difference is that I wrote almost entirely dialogue and was told SLOW DOWN and add narrative. FWIW, and I believe it, I was told that those of us who write primarily dialogue are most afraid of entangling our own emotions onto the page (as in my case) and that those who excel at narrative are less fearsome of emotion. So you had a good start!

    I still prefer dialogue but endeavor not to skid around narrative. Gone To The Dos was fun, by the way. = )

  11. Thanks everyone...always love comments!
    My constant mantra: Dialogue...must have dialogue in romance stories!!!


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