René Penn

Aspiring author writing about the journey.

Leave a comment

Quick Points on Rewriting the First Line, First Paragraph, First Chapter

I’ve rewritten the first chapter of my WIP about six times. First paragraph? Probably a few more than that. first sentence wordcloud2

I had received feedback from one beta-reader that my second chapter was stronger than the first. And another beta-reader informed me that she got into my book “after the first chapter.” After isn’t good. During is ideal.

The feedback encouraged me to take a closer look at what I had written. After extensive research—otherwise known as scouring the internet—here are the tips and related articles that really resonated for me about rewriting the first line, first paragraph, and first chapter of my novel.

Ways to craft your first line, including examples from classic books, are posted in this great Writer’s Digest article:

  • make your opening line a statement
  • use one of seven sure-fire concepts for that statement, such as:
    • a statement about a simple fact: “I am an invisible man.” — Ellison
    • a statement to introduce voice: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” — Nabokov
    • a statement to establish mood: “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” — Plath
    • all seven statement examples, and details about each, are here

And for help on the second sentence, check out this article: Guess These Famous Novels By Their Second Line.

C.S. Lakin’s article mentions the following about the first paragraph and chapter:

  • showcase your protagonist
  • start your opening scene off with a bang
  • introduce your protagonist’s goal

Alexandra Sokoloff’s article gives it to ya straight, cursing included, about the first paragraph and chapter:

  • provide an urgent, immediate event—something that tells what the story is about
  • have the main character caught up in an action
  • stay away from backstory
  • use the six senses

Ann Weisbarger keeps it simple, reminding us that a first paragraph includes:

  • person (main character)
  • place
  • time
  • tone
  • conflict

Weisbarger says the first paragraph should be so powerful for readers that it will: “shake them by the shoulders, and spark a fire so high that they leap into the second paragraph.”

Now Novel suggests that one or more of these comprise the first chapter:

  • unanswered questions
  • intriguing actions or events
  • troubling, unusual, or suspenseful scenarios

Do you have more tips? Please share…

I must reiterate, I’m no writing expert. My blog posts are merely a window into the challenges I’ve experienced while working on my novel. And I use my blog to share the resources and solutions that have helped me. I hope the tips I collected above are helpful for you, too, including these posts on Writing a Novel Synopsis and 3 Formulas for Writing a One-Sentence Novel Summary.

Now, let’s go finish our book!




Writing a Novel Synopsis, a Book’s Highlight Reel


A novel synopsis is just a 500-words-or-less summary of my book. No big deal to write, right? Wrong!

I thought that I could recycle my outline–cleaning up the scribbled, rewritten, mangled mess that it was. But it’s ain’t that easy.

Luckily, there is help. And this post on PubCrawl was the best that I found on how to write a novel synopsis. I’m talking: I read that article, dropped what I was doing, and started working on my own synopsis right away.

  • PubCrawl suggests that it’s good to thread together portions of the Hero’s Journey to craft a synopsis. Here are the 11 threads that should make up the fabric of the summary:
    • opening image
    • protagonist
    • inciting incident
    • plot point 1
    • brief conflict and character encounter(s)
    • midpoint
    • the “winning-seems-imminent, but…” moment
    • crisis moment
    • climax
    • resolution
    • final image
  • It’s a perfect approach, because it creates a synopsis that isn’t just a spew of facts. This point is described well in another post by Glen Strathy.

Strathy explains that it should not be a bare bones plot summary. “First this happens, then this happens, then this happens…” It should have the excitement and intensity of a sports article highlighting last night’s game.

  • Besides the fact that the synopsis should preferably be one page, single-spaced, written in first-person, present-tense, and include information about the protagonist and their goal, it should describe the central characters as well as their conflicts. This article details these points and provides great nuts-and-bolts information about how to format a novel synopsis.

Okay, I tried my best to follow these rules above. Here’s the synopsis that I drafted for my historical romance book The Unroyal Princess. What do you think? What changes should I make? And what tips would you like to share about writing a novel synopsis?

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 2.10.29 PM

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 2.04.50 PM

1 Comment

3 Formulas to Help Write a One-Sentence Novel Summary

I’d like to post about some of the “book basics” that I’ve found particularly challenging, starting with the one-sentence book summary.

One way to write a great summaryanastasia-zhenina-65700-unsplash.jpg is to see examples—by browsing, for instance. But you know where I found some fantastic, concise, summary grabbers? Right on TV, while thumbing through the channel guide. There is a treasure trove of summaries right at my couch-potato fingertips. It’s a great tool to see what types of summaries you like, and see what may work for you. But first…

What is the one-sentence summary?

A one-sentence summary is a description of your book in 25 words or less. Some people even say that 15 – 20 words is ideal.

It may also be called a pitch, a one-liner, or a longline (the latter is often used by screenwriters for their scripts).

Why do we need it?

It’s the quickest way to explain or write what your book is about. It’s the hook to entice readers to want to buy your book. It also serves as our compass, our true north, as we continue writing the book.

When will we use it?

Provide the one-sentence summary when family, friends, and agents ask what your book is about. It’s a concise, informative, high-level description—and it won’t make their eyes glaze over with rambling details.

It will be used on query letters to agents. And you’ll probably include it in the future on marketing materials for your book.

It’s also a valuable tool for the author, itself:

“If you read that one-sentence summary every day before you write your next scene (or edit it), you’ll always know when you’re going off track or when you’re already derailed.” — Randy Ingermanson

When should we write it?

Many resources say that it’s best to write the one-sentence summary at the beginning of your book project’s journey, or as close to the beginning as possible.

How do we write it?

Ah, the tricky part. There are many posts that go into great lengths about this. But here are the three formulas, for lack of a better term, that resonate for me.

Formula 1:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 8.34.34 AM

I like this style because it clearly defines your protagonist, your antagonist, and your protagonist’s goal. Those are the things needed to tell the story and create tension. It’s a one-sentence teaser of what readers can expect.

IndieWire describes this concept in an article about loglines.

Formula 2:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 8.51.12 AM

This approach may work better if the antagonist isn’t a person. For instance, your book may be a situation where the protagonist is battling their own demon—they are their own antagonist. Or, it may be helpful if your book is based on a theme. This may also work better for romance novel summaries.

Nathan Bransford talks about this more in his post.

Formula 3:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 9.04.08 AM

Who is the story about? What is the problem? What are they trying to accomplish; what is the goal? What is at stake if they don’t accomplish that goal? How does the story end?

Marni Freedman covers this more in her post.

This formula is great for making sure that you have enough meat and potatoes with the story. When I struggled with the saggy/soggy middle during an earlier iteration of my book, I went back to this formula. It helped solidify what the story was about, and the sag went away.

Other helpful resources:

What tips did you use to write your one-sentence summary?

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash



Leave a comment

So, There’s This Pitch-Your-Work-On-Twitter Thing, #DVPit


Did you know that aspiring authors can pitch their work on Twitter? Okay, maybe you did. Clearly, I did not—or, it just didn’t fully fire through the ol’ brain synapses until today. Either way, I’m excited about it, which is good blog fodder.

Today, April 26, 2018, from 8 a.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET, post a one-, two-, or three-line summary of your adult fiction/non-fiction manuscript. Add the hashtag #DVpit.

“#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches from marginalized voices that have been historically underrepresented in publishing.” — #DVpit

Agents from around the world will be following #DVpit. If they are interested in learning more about your pitch, they will hit the heart-like button on your tweet. (Insert happy dance here.) Check out their Twitter page, see how they’d like to receive your manuscript, and research them to make sure they’re a good fit for you.

Yesterday, the #DVpit event was dedicated to children/teen fiction and non-fiction only. Today is for adult pitches only.

What if your background does not represent “marginalized voices that have been historically underrepresented in publishing” per the #DVpit guidelines? Or what if you’re not ready to participate today? There are other events similar to #DVpit. Thanks to @RealLitBulbs for compiling and sharing this great list on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 8.53.52 AM

Do you plan to participate? Hey, you just might find your agent on Twitter like this author did.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


How the Arrests at Starbucks Impact Writers of All Colors

I’m not a protestor. I don’t really participate in boycotts. I don’t even like to post about hot-button issues on social media. But I went against my normal protocol this morning and tweeted this.

Screen Shot 2018-04-16 at 11.32.03 AM

That statement isn’t a big deal. It’s not vulgar or loaded with anything provocative. It’s more of a self-observation. To a fault, it’s pretty safe and doesn’t cast judgment on any parties involved.

This blog, however, seems like the perfect place to explore my thoughts, right or wrong, for better or worse. And I’m not limited to 280 characters.

When I go into a coffee shop, I purchase something 99.9% of the time. That’s because I’m using one of their seats, and maybe even their restroom.

While at my table, I don’t throw out the cup or wrapper until I leave, even if it’s been sitting on the table for 3 hours. Even if it’s taking up my table space or attracting flies. I want to make sure the employees know that I have purchased something for the time in their seat.

I don’t know if I do this because I’m black—sometimes these things are too ingrained to tell. It’s possible that non-blacks may adhere to the same protocol as me, from a patron-etiquette perspective. I’d be curious to know.


I can’t help but think that unconscious bias was at play during the Starbucks incident. If so, that validates why I need to keep my protocol in place. And I need to do it 100% of the time, as opposed to 99.9%.

But let’s say the Starbucks incident didn’t occur because of any unconscious bias. Let’s say it happened because there was an expectation placed on an individual who wanted to use the restroom. An expectation that you should buy a product. Otherwise: No coffee, no bathroom. Well, what about the expectation of a person who wants to use a table?

Ah, the net of concern is cast much wider now.

Because writers—as I mentioned in my tweet—spend a lot of time at coffee shops. That means writers are using Starbucks’ restrooms and their seats. So I can’t help but wonder if this incident will impact the way writers, regardless of color, will behave at Starbucks?

Will it change the way you’ll do things when you arrive at a Starbucks?

Buy coffee or tea first. Scope out empty table later.

Will you worry about how long you’re at a coffee shop before you order something?

Scenario: You walk in and see a long line at the register. You also see that there’s only 1 empty table available. You may normally snag the table and wait for the line to go down before buying your croissant. But would you still do that?

Will you no longer use a seat or table without paying for a beverage?

When a person patronizes the same cafe a few times a month, occassionally one may think, “It’s okay not to buy something this time.” Does that now give you pause?

Will you not use their restroom?

Have the arrests at Starbucks taught you that you’d rather hold your water than feel forced to buy one at the counter?

Are you thinking about patronizing non-Starbucks coffee shops?

My guess is that there are other cafes in your city or town that aren’t Starbucks. Are you so upset at Starbucks, that you’re thinking of boycotting them?

Will you go the non-profit route? 

I go to libraries to write, where there’s no pressure or expectation to buy any products. I also won’t be turned away for using their bathroom or seats. The drawback, of course, is that there’s no tea available.


Have the arrests at Starbucks impacted your way of thinking or how you’ll conduct yourself at Starbucks?

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash and Denisse Leon on Unsplash



10 Reasons I May Write a Novella Instead of a Novel

Don’t know whether to write a novel or novella? Me neither. And I’m still not sure where this train is headed.

my_tweet-12I’ve been diligently working on a novel for the last six months, and it’s been tough. No surprise there—that’s part of the writing journey. But while digging up writing tips, I stumbled upon various articles about writing novellas, like this really good one. Something about the concept speaks to me.

What is a novella?

A novella is typically a work of fiction between 10,000 – 50,000 words. It’s longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.

Here are some reasons why I’m interested in writing a novella instead of a novel—and reasons that the devil’s advocate whispers against it.

  • My novel manuscript is too short. This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled to get a manuscript to an ideal 80,000 word count. I abandoned a previous project because of that issue. When I come against this problem, I create subplots just to beef up my story to a novel-length. Many times I think it’s to the detriment of the story.

Devil’s advocate: Perhaps I need to pick better subplots.

  • I tend to write fast-paced scenes. I like to get in and out without a lot of languishing. This could be a fault to work on, or it could just be my style. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Devil’s advocate: If I work on my technique, the scene can be expanded without feeling like fluff. Should I consider writing a suspense or thriller where fast-paced scenes are expected?

  • A novella still uses the three-act structure. I like the format of a novel. It provides good guidance for the writer and leaves a reader feeling fulfilled. A novella adheres to that same structure, which still gives me plenty of room to play around and have fun.

Devil’s advocate: If I like the novel structure, then I should just write a novel!

  • I have a lot of story ideas. Like many aspiring authors, I have a lot of ideas swarming around in my head—nine at the current moment. I have a list of them so I don’t forget. But there is something to be said for striking while that iron is hot. When the iron cools, I lose the creative boost that got me excited to begin with. This leads me to my next point.

Devil’s advocate: There will always be ideas. Just stick with one idea at a time until it’s done. Improve my “writer-stick-to-it-ness.”

  • I want to start working on the next idea. If I write shorter manuscripts, I wonder if I can crank through them faster, which will allow me to get to my next idea quicker. It’s all about feeding the creative beast.

Devil’s advocate: That’s an excuse. I’m a writer—which means, as long as I’m alive, that writing beast will be hungry.

  • Novellas are series-friendly. My current WIP is about one character, but I envision writing separate books with points-of-view of two other characters. Series are hot and hook readers. They can follow the continued life of a character, provide a spinoff for other characters, develop more opportunities for world-building, or link a connected, interesting theme.

Devil’s advocate: I can use these ideas as subplots to increase the length of my manuscript to the size of novel.

  • I want to finish. I’m impatient. I want the satisfaction of completing the novel, having it proofread and completed. I love writing, but there’s something to be said for finishing a project. The sense of accomplishment is satisfying, and it could happen more often with novellas.

Devil’s advocate: Patience is a virtue. With practice and perseverance, I’ll finish novel-length projects faster.

  • I could self-publish. Novellas are getting more and more popular, especially within the digital space. The shorter length works well for readers who like snack-size books, as well as meal-size novels. This market is perfect for the self-publishing industry, giving authors the chance to have total control of their creativity and marketing.

Devil’s advocate: When writing novellas, there really isn’t much choice but to self-publish anyway, for the most part.

  • Novellas can be bundled into a novel. If I decide to follow the same character through two or three novellas, for instance, they could be bundled together to create a novel. That book could then be sold separately to satisfy the needs of readers and agents interested in a conventional, novel-length work.

Devil’s advocate: If the end result is to get to a novel-length book, then why go through the trouble of working on shorter ones?

  • I can test the waters. Releasing a novella allows for faster feedback from readers, especially with a series in mind. If the feedback is good, it will provide incentive to keep going, all while building a reader base.

Devil’s advocate: I can also receive feedback from beta-readers—on a book of any length—without having to release a novella.

As you can see, I’m still deciding what to do. And there are some good cases made here by my Devil’s advocate.

Are you writing novellas instead of novels, or have you written both? Please share why have you decided to write, or not write, novellas.


Adverbs are bad in fiction? Seriously?

my_pictureWhen you type “using adverbs in novels” in the Google Search box, you get the following first five results:

All of these articles imply that adverbs have cooties. They must be avoided, cut, used properly, or not used at all. Why do adverbs get such a bad wrap?

(Definition according to Wikipedia, which means it’s correct.)
1. a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc. (e.g., gently, quite, then, there ).

In screenwriting, adverbs are considered a no-no. They are fluff. And in the world of film, fluff costs money.

But novels are different than scripts. To me, novels are a fluff-friendly environment. Case in point: there are scores of posts, articles, etc., devoted to fluffing up a lean manuscript to reach the coveted 80K word count. Yet a darling adverb deserves to be nixed? Hmm…

Case in point #2: How many times have you read a book that allots paragraphs to describe a tree, the weather, or a man’s bulging biceps? Some consider high-levels of description to be great word-smithing and applaud the use of details. If there were adverbs in those paragraphs, would they suddenly be ruined? Hmm… Perhaps if the description was for “hugely bulging biceps.”

Okay, so adverbs can be superfluous. But when the tone is right, I think they’re totally fine when used in moderation. See I just used one, and I don’t think anyone gagged. And if you did, sorry (not sorry).

Do you think it’s bad to use adverbs in fiction?