Writing Books/starting


QUESTION: My name is Lisa and I'm 15 years old, and i have a problem. I have this story that i have been planing for some time now, but i have no clue on how to start it. The begging is about that girl that lost her mother and shes at the funeral, i just don't know how to start that. And i have never been to a funeral so i cant speak from experience. (thank god) I hope that you can help me. Thank you for your time!

ANSWER: Hi, Lisa-Marie!

Sorry to be so long in responding, but apparently I didn't get the first email. Fortunately, the site sent me a reminder your question was waiting. Thanks for being patient.

On to your question. I think opening the book at the funeral can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how it's handled. I do understand about not being able to convey in words something you haven't experienced, though, so maybe it would help to ask questions of some knowledgable people. You probably have a funeral home in your town and it might be just the place to ask these sort of questions. If you just asked the receptionist there if you could go into one of the empty rooms where they hold services (not the graveyard services, but where people gather to mourn or stand and remember about the deceased) I'll bet they'd let you. Then, you can describe the room, from the chairs/pews to the drapes on the walls and the carpeting, plus you might be able to look at a real empty casket so you can describe that too. Funeral homes sell coffins and often keep a variety of caskets for people to look at when they're shopping to bury their family member in. You could describe the shock your character feels when she learns just how much they cost, because they aren't cheap (you can probably buy a used car cheaper!)

Research is an important part of writing, and most people will understand you wanting to get the "feel" of the book right--even if you're a teenager. You just need to be careful not to sound too pushy when you ask. They probably won't let you sit in on a funeral or see a dead body or such. But they'll probably offer to let you see something, so long as you ask nicely.

Otherwise, what might work easier for you is to start the book right AFTER the funeral, when everybody gathers back at the house to share a few moments of friendship and comfort for those left behind. Then, you can describe any non-descript house and people walking in and out of the kitchen or sitting in a favorite hide-out in the backyard--like a treehouse or on a swingset, talking to her friends.

Hope that helps a little, and feel free to ask any other questions that come up as you're writing.  Good luck with it! :)


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QUESTION: Thank you so much for the advice! I just have one more thought. Im usualy writting in 3rd person but for this story I dont think that i can write it in 3rd and still get the feelings that my character is feeling across. So im trying to write it in 1st person, it's not going so well, do you have any advice?

Hi, again! Glad my answer was some help. It might well be that the book/story requires 1st person. It's a story-by-story thing, I've found. I actually *prefer* to write in first person, because it's so easy to get inside the character's head.  Here are some tips to get the most out of the first person POV (point of view):

1.  Let your character use all senses. Even if you don't realize it, all people use their ears, nose, eyes, fingers, tastebuds and "sixth sense" when they enter a room. For example, in a funeral home, what might your character smell? Perhaps her mother's perfume that still lingered on the dress they chose to bury her in. There might also be chemical smells she doesn't quite recognize but that bother her (embalming fluid and makeup that they put on the deceased for viewing.) What emotions would that evoke? She would see a lot of people wearing sunglasses--indoors. A lot of women don't like to be seen with puffy eyes, so at funerals, they wear veils or dark glasses. More importantly, who ISN'T wearing sunglasses (meaning they aren't sorry her mother is dead) and why? For touch, funeral homes spend a lot of time and money making things feel "soft" to be comforting. Smooth wood and brass, silks and velvets for fabrics. She'd probably think of that if she's grieving.

2. Try to avoid saying "I" with every sentence. It takes a little practice, but it's not too difficult to change a sentence like, "I went to the store and I bought some bread." to "The trip to the store gave me a chance to buy a loaf of bread." See? Not a single "I" in that second sentence, but it says the same thing. You can use "I" occasionally, but don't rely on it too much or the reader will get bored.

3. One of the nice things about first person is the person gets to THINK. You can let character make sarcastic or hurtful comments in their head that nobody but the reader will ever hear. To make it stand out, use italics to let the reader know when it's an internal thought, as opposed to something coming out of her mouth. You don't have to use quotation marks, either. The italics replace those.

She'd hear sobbing that might make her break down over and over, just when she though she had a handle on things. And don't forget that her muscles work just fine. Let her dig her fingernails into her palms until she draws blood--it keeps her from screaming or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Let her hug people, or scramble away from people wanting to hug her . . . because she doesn't want to be touched.

4. The most important thing about writing first person is that the reader gets to discover things right along with the character. She can't know what's behind a closed door, or what horrible things are being planned without hearing it, so the reader doesn't either. She can only see the face or hear muffled yelling and guess. But for as hard as it makes it to write, it also opens a lot of opportunity to put the right people in the story at the right time. You get to develop "secondary characters" for the heroine to interact with. Haven't you ever seen someone really angry at a party and asked a friend "Hey, what's up with Tom? He looks ticked off." Then you hear the story about something that happened when you weren't in the room. You might hear four different stories from four different people, or EVERYONE saw Tom get drunk and lose it. It just depends.

5. You get to talk . . . and THINK . . . in sentence fragments. Dialogue in first person is just like the person talks. You can start a sentence with "And then he screamed." or say things like, "Pfft! Like that'd happen." It's really pretty awesome. :)

Mostly, though--with first person you have to decide what you WANT the character to find out. Not everything gets wrapped up neatly with a ribbon in first person. Some things forever remain a mystery from the reader. But so long as that's okay with the character, it's also okay with the reader.  Here's a link on our site to one of the books we've written that's written in first person female. It might give you some ideas of what I'm talking about regarding the senses.


Hope that helps, and let me know if you have any more questions. :)

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Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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