Sunday, January 6, 2013

What Makes a Great Beginning by Jessi Gage #guest

Well, I'm officially back from leave, so I'll start kicking up the notch with my blogging again. Today I welcome fellow Lyrical Press author Jessi Gage over. She's chatting about how she starts her stories as well as celebrating the release of her novel, Wishing for a Highlander. Welcome, Jessi!

As for how I start my stories, hahaha... Just ask some of my betas who stop me from giving way too many botanical and architectural references... LOL! What can I say? My inner travel writer needs to be reined in from time to time.

* * * *

Thanks so much for having me, Nerine! I'm so excited to be here. Not only do I love your blog and the authors your highlight, but today is very special to me. It's release day for my very first novel, Wishing for a Highlander (Lyrical Press), a new beginning, if you will.

I'll give a blurb for Wishing for a Highlander in a bit, but first, I wanted to talk about beginnings of a different sort, story beginnings.

When you open up that fresh document and start clacking the keys on a new story, how do you introduce compelling characters and build a convincing world without bogging the action down with back story?

How do different authors tackle the start of a story?

How do I?

My stories always start with a scenario. In paying attention to other authors' descriptions of how they come up with story ideas, I've noticed I'm not the only one who often envisions a single scene and has a story take root from there.

That first imagined scene is usually vivid and full of character and action, but it is often a poor place to start the story on the page. I often need to work backwards to get to a point where the action logically begins.  I've heard this called the Inciting Incident (Candace Havens' online workshop). Inciting incidents can be anything from action packed drama to a subtle turning point in the character's life or way of thinking. The inciting incident draws a clear line between everything that happened before in the character's life and what happens after THIS STORY begins.

Many books I've read start with an action-packed inciting incident. This style of beginning is well suited to fast-paced works and sets a tone of action, action, action. One story that comes to mind that opens with this kind of beginning is Thea Harrison's Dragon Bound. With this first in a series, Thea does an amazing job of throwing the reader into the action with just enough hints of backstory peppered in so we know why her heroine is on the run.

Action-packed inciting incident is just one example of a way to begin a story. There are countless others. A method I tend to prefer is establishing a bit of character and world before tossing the character into the fray. This can work well if the character is doing something interesting or unexpected and if the inciting incident occurs quickly, hopefully on the first page.

There are countless other ways to begin a story. If you're a writer, how do you like to start your stories? Do you find it challenging to get into the action while establishing a world and characters? If so, what strategies do you use to overcome those challenges?

Thanks again, Nerine, for having me today! Below is my blurb on Wishing for a Highlander, out today with Lyrical Press and half-price there all month! I hope your reader's will peek at my beginning (get a free sample on any e-reader using the buy links below ) and see if I've hit the right balance.

While examining Andrew Carnegie’s lucky rosewood box, single-and-pregnant museum worker Melanie makes a tongue in cheek wish on the artifact--for a Highland warrior to help her forget about her cheating ex. Suddenly transported to the middle of a clan skirmish in sixteenth-century Scotland, she realizes she should have been a tad more specific.

Darcy, laird in waiting, should be the most eligible bachelor in Ackergill, but a cruel prank played on him in his teenage years has led him to believe he is too large under his kilt to ever join with a woman. He has committed himself to a life of bachelorhood, running his deceased father's windmills and keeping up the family manor house...alone.

Darcy's uncle, Laird Steafan welcomes the strangely dressed woman into his clan, immediately marrying her to Darcy in hopes of an heir. But when Steafan learns of her magic box and brands her a witch, Darcy must do what any good husband would--protect his wife, even if it means forsaking his clan.

WARNING: A pregnant museum worker, a sixteenth-century Scot, and a meddlesome wishing box.

Size might have its advantages when it came to fighting, but those few boons fell far short of making up for the problems it caused. Being the biggest and the strongest had gotten him into far more trouble than it had gotten him out of. Swallowing his regret for how careless he’d been with her, he sought to determine whom she belonged to, whom, saints forbid, he might owe.

“Whose wife are ye, then? Not a Gunn’s or I wouldna have had to rescue you from one.”

“I’m not married,” the lass said. “And thank you for the rescuing, by the way. I can’t believe I dropped the dirk. Stupid.” She shook her head.

His heart warmed at her thanks. He didn’t hear many kind words from the lasses and would take what he could get, even from a dishonored woman who had caught a bairn out wedlock. Oddly, he didn’t think poorly of her. Whether it was her worried brow, her guileless, soft mouth, or her vulnerable size, he had not the heart to condemn her.

He didn’t even mind so much that she found him distasteful for his size, although talking with her now, she didn’t seem overly upset to be in his arms. He endeavored to keep her talking, keep her distracted from her disgust.

“Ye never answered my first question,” he said. “Who are you? And where are ye from if ye’re no’ English?”

“Ugh. I don’t know. Is there an answer that won’t get me burned at the stake or locked up in a ward for the hopelessly insane?”

Like most things out of her mouth, that had been a peculiar answer. “Ye could try the truth,” he offered, slowing his pace since he heard Archie’s voice not far off.

“No,” she said flatly. “I couldn’t. At least not the whole truth. How about we just go with my name, Melanie, and with the honest fact that I’m a long way from home and I have no idea how to get back.” Her green eyes pierced his. “I’m afraid you might be stuck with me, Darcy Keith.”

Buy link.
(Title is 50% off on Lyrical Press's website for the month of January. It will be featured on Lyrical's front page, though, so clicking this link should get you close.)

Follow Jessi Gage on Twitter.

For anyone who'd like to see my bio or see what else I've got cooking, here are links to my blog and website.


  1. Thanks for having me Nerine! And there's nothing wrong with loading a first draft up with details on architecture and nature:)

  2. Hi Jessi. Great topic. I love jumping to the action and working my way back out. My problem is finding the 'right' action to jump into. LOL Congrats and I wish you well in your writing!

  3. Congrats on your release day, Jessi!! So excited for you! And yes, my novels tend to begin from a single scene that's quite vivid in my mind...then I'm left with the task of trying to figure out why the scene occurred, and where the story goes from there.

    Looking forward to reading your book!

  4. Thanks again for having me, Nerine! I wanted to announce the winners of my giveaway. They are Betty (from RR@H Novel Thoughts & Book Talk) and Angela (from Laura Lee Nutt's blog).