Sunday, June 23, 2013


by Earl Staggs

I’m working on the opening chapter of a sequel to my novel MEMORY OF A MURDER.  When I began, I thought it would be easy.  After all, I knew the main character, Adam Kingston, quite well.  He first saw life in a short story and everyone who read that story liked him so much I decided to put him in a novel. When you consider the initial writing plus the rewriting, getting MEMORY OF A MURDER into publishable shape consumed about three years of my life. Yes, Adam and I spent a lot of time together and since I already had the plot of the sequel worked out in my mind, the opening chapter would be a breeze.

Then I began thinking about all I wanted to do in the first chapter.

I have to introduce Adam, of course, so readers can visualize him as soon as possible. How old he is, whether he’s tall, short, thin, fat, that sort of thing.

Then, I need to explain that Adam is a private investigator with a unique twist.  He has a psychic gift.  When he visits a crime scene or touches an object related to a crime, short, swift images flash in his mind. Sometimes these images contain clues which help him solve a case.  Sometimes they only leave him confused because he has no idea what they mean.  That’s how it is with real-life psychics. It’s not an exact science. 

And, no, he does not see or talk to dead people.  A medium does that, not a psychic.

Anyway, in the first chapter, I wanted to explain Adam’s gift and how it works without doing it as an info dump. 

Next, some characters from the first book will appear in the first chapter of the sequel.  I want to introduce them and describe them and tell readers about their relationship with Adam. Naturally, I don’t want to do that in one big boring narrative clump.  I also don’t  want to repeat it exactly as I did it in the first book.  People who read the first book might remember and think I’m cheating.

Brenda McCort is a recurring character, for example.  She’s a homicide detective Adam met in the first book.  They’ve been dating for about a year now.  There’s a subplot about their relationship I want to introduce in the first chapter.

There’s also setting.  Adam lives in Ocean City, a family resort town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  His place is on the sixth floor, overlooking the Boardwalk, the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.  That’s where Adam happens to be when the story begins, so I need to describe all that in the first chapter.

Naturally, I need to include something about the main plot of the story.  Not much, of course, but enough to let the reader know Adam is going to get involved in something  interesting very soon.  If I do it right, readers will want to continue reading.  Yes, we call that a “hook.”

I think that covers all the important points I want to put in the first chapter.  I want to write all that in such a way that readers will be intrigued and drawn into the story and not even realize I’ve pumped so much into it.  I don’t want readers to suspect I’ve stuffed an elephant in a sock.

Easy peazy piece of cake, right?  Maybe if I fold the trunk and pin the ears back. . .

 Someone is leaving a trail of bodies from Baltimore to Ocean City, and only Adan Kingston can stop him.

"A stunning book, beautifully plotted, and its characters jump off the page with life.  There’ no putting this book down."

"The story is smart, laden with suspenseful twists, and capably laid out. . .an extremely credible novel." 

MEMORY OF A MURDER available online at Amazon and B&N 
Read Chapter 1 at



Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

It isn't easy, but when you write a series, you go through that same process with every new book.

Susan said...

I agree with Marilyn - it has to be done with every book, it has to be done differently in every book and it has to be done so the reader doesn't feel he is being force-fed information. No easy task. That's one reason I don't write series!

Great post, Earl, as always.

Susan, aka Janis

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Susan is right. With a series, you don't want to be repetitive and yet readers forget or you get new readers as well. So you do need to find ways to get the info from past books into the new one. And you're right, it isn't easy!

Morgan Mandel said...

With your talent, I'm sure you're up to the challenge,Earl!

Morgan Mandel

Kaye George said...

I'm not sure you have to do all that in the very first chapter, Earl. Maybe decide what's most important.

Cindy Sample said...

I'm going through that now, Earl, with the third book in my series. I had no idea how difficult it would be to dole out important backstory to new readers without boring returning fans. And throw in a dead body to boot! When you figure it out, let me know!

Vonnie said...

The old info dump -v- readers' need-to-know, huh?

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts

I knew when I started it would not be easy but sometimes venting (whining?) makes a tough task a little easier. I appreciate even more now what writers like Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Marilyn Meredith and others are faced with in their long running series.

It's definitely a challenge and I'm anxious to see how it comes out.

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

you don't want to give them so much of the backstory they don't think they need to read it to catch up either.