Judging Book Covers Part 2, Planning, and Openings

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. 

Many thanks to Val Penny, Jennifer C Wilson, and Teresa Bassett for their author and book images for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.

Many thanks to Penny Blackburn for her image of me reading at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I adore Swanwick and am always happy to sneak in extra pictures if I get the chance and given Val and Jennifer are both Swanwick friends, I thought it was a good opportunity to do that again!

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Later on in this post, I’ll be looking at openings for magical stories but you still can’t beat the one below!

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today


Pleased to share Part 2 of my Judging a Book By Its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today. This week I chat about book covers with guests from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, Val Penny and Jennifer C Wilson, and from Authors Reach, Teresa Bassett.

Between them my guests have written crime mysteries, romantic historical fiction, ghostly historical fiction, non-fiction, and YA books! Not a bad checklist that!  And a wide range of cover experience to discuss and share with us. Hope you enjoy. I share the final part of this series next week and hope the entire series proves especially useful to those considering their cover designs now.

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Lovely day, despite a chilly breeze, and Lady had a smashing time playing with her friend, Coco.

Looking forward to sharing Part 2 of my new Chandler’s Ford Today series, Judging a Book by Its Cover. This week I chat to guests from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and Authors Reach about their most recent covers. They share their thoughts on what makes for a good cover. Link up tomorrow.

I don’t know about you but you do know a good cover when you see one. It can be hard to define exactly what it is that has drawn you in. What matters is that the cover has drawn you in to want to find out more. And once you’re drawn in, off you go for hopefully another wonderful read! No pressure then…!!


Lady had a smashing play time with her best buddie, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and her “gentleman friend”, Bear, who is a lovely tri-coloured Aussie Shepherd. Lady generally prefers playing with her girlfriends but Bear is one of the exceptions and he is a gent of a dog, which is probably why Lady likes him. And she can play with his Chuckit ball while he plays with her Chuckit ball etc. Three tired but happy dogs went home again… Delightful to hear a lot of thundering galloping going on here. Three reasonably big dogs at full pelt is a sight to be seen and heard.

Talking of being heard, how well do your character voices come across? Can you picture your people (or other beings) when you read their stories? When you have more than one character in a story, can you tell them apart by the way they speak? This is where pet phrases or certain words used by certain characters can help. I’ve written stories in the past where one snobby character did not use contractions at all. Good way of telling them apart from everyone else.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


I’ve mentioned the need to really know your characters before but how does that work for flash fiction with its word count restrictions? Simple! You have a simpler set of questions to ask your characters!

You’re not going to need to go into as much back story as you would if you were writing a novel but what I have found useful to know before writing that first draft of a flash tale can be summed up below.

 

Character Type – Not does not have to be human.
Character Mood – Doesn’t have to be a positive one!
Major Trait – Again doesn’t have to be a positive one.
Theme – And sometimes the theme can make a useful title as well.

I’ve outlined an idea for a mini-flash tale (50 words or under generally) as a quick line or two on a piece of paper as I realised I had two ways of taking that particular story and I needed to know which would work best.

Jotting things down on a piece of paper or in an Evernote file on the old phone still has much to commend it. I’ve always found an outline, no matter what its length, keeps me on track for my story and saves time and heartache later on.

The heartache can come if you find out no matter what you do the story isn’t going to work and you’ve written a load of it already and can’t see ways of salvaging it. That has only happened to me twice and for the same reason – I didn’t know my character well enough.

Lesson learned. A little forward planning pays dividends and if you’re not really a planner just jotting a note to yourself of where you think your character may take you is still useful.

Am currently preparing something to submit to The Bridport Prize in their flash category. (Wish me luck. I would love to be longlisted here!). Hope to sort out the final polish and submit over the weekend.

What is encouraging though is that flash, while now a regular part of this competition and many others, wasn’t always recognized. It is great to see opportunities like this and yes you do have to be in it to have any chance of winning it.
Incidentally my final polish will be to make sure I have followed the entry rules to the letter. I can’t stress how important that is.

I have judged competitions and you don’t want to have to disqualify entries because of that but it is unfair on those who have followed the rules to allow any to go through that have not done so. So don’t make the judge’s life easy. Follow everything to the letter so the judge doesn’t have “easy” reasons to turn your entry down. Much the same applies for submitting work to a publisher and/or agent of course.


There are many things I love about flash fiction but the chief one, I think, is being able to set my characters wherever and whenever I want. So I do! I’ve written historical flash, ghost mini-tales, crime ones, acrostics, and my trademark fairytales with bite (aka fantasy with a twist, often an ironic one).

But I also love using the first person for flash tales as I get to take you straight into the head of my lead character. You see what they do. You see why they think as they do. The immediacy of flash is what gives it its emotional impact I think.


Fairytales With Bite – Once Upon a Time – Opening a Magical Story

Once upon a time is the classic way to open a magical story, of course. Those four words immediately conjure up a world far, far away (in both distance and time) and encourage me to settle down for a good read. It also immediately sets up the magical environment in which the story is going to be set.

Those words are a good example of repetition (in so many stories) setting up a link that goes deep into our subconscious. Everyone who has read or heard a fairytale will know those words and have a good idea of what is come.

Anticipation of having a story delivered is also an important part of reading. After all, what draws you to a book? The thought of a good read? But that good read can only come from you taking in the opening and deciding you would like to buy or borrow said book.

So how to open a magical story? With my flash fiction, I often set a clue in the opening line or two that magic is likely to appear. For example, in my Seeing Is Believing from Tripping the Flash Fantastic, I open with “When Ben was unwell, strange signs appeared in the sky above his house.”.

So I am upfront right at the start of the story magic has to turn up in this tale somewhere – what else could explain the strange signs? Doing this again gives readers a sense of what this story is likely to be and hopefully be intrigued enough to read on to find out whether or not they were right.

For flash fiction, I keep the level of details down to a minimum (as I need to due to the restricted word count of 1000 words maximum. The advantage of that restriction though is it makes you keep in the story only what really matters to the story. For an opening, it means I have to draw a reader in quickly so I want to make the most powerful impact I can with my opening lines).

For any kind of story, magical or otherwise, those opening lines are vital to the success of your story. I’ve found it helps to put myself in the reader’s shoes and ask myself what would I want to read here? What do I absolutely have to know? And those are good questions to ask yourself as you edit your story. They will help you make your opening lines as strong as possible.

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This World and Others – World History

Does your created world have much of a back story in its own right? If you needed to write a history of it could you do so and which aspect would you look at?

History covers a huge field from the traditional wars and battles that changed history to changing cultural history and so on. Most of this would not be directly relevant to your story but is phenomenally useful for you to know. Why? You need to be able to give your characters a sense of the world they belong to – they should know where they come from and that in turn will influence their attitudes and decisions. That will affect your story and rightly so!

So work out what you think you will need to know. If one of your characters is an artist, what kind are they? Does their culture encourage creativity or stifle it? If, say, they’re a painter in a world where only sculptures count for anything, how do they handle that?

History feeds into the lives we lead now and this is just as true for our fictional creations.

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