Obviously, the opening of your story is important. Other than the back cover synopsis, this is the first experience readers are having with your story. This is where you introduce them to your world, to your characters, and to the story that they’re going to be reading (or not). Many readers take a peek at the first page of a book before deciding whether or not to buy it. I don’t necessarily support the pressure that’s always put on the first line of a story, but I do think the opening, as a whole, is important to consider.

Common wisdom says that you should include some type of “hook” in the beginning of your story. Often, this means something super exciting or super confusing. If it’s something exciting, that will spur readers on to continue reading because they’re caught up in the action. If it’s something confusing, that will cause readers to continue because they want to figure out what’s going on. However, beware of making your beginning too confusing. If you’re really throwing your readers in the deep end, give them some type of life raft to hang onto — make a connection with a character (perhaps one who is as new to the story as you are) or describe a really lovely and intriguing setting. Anything you can do to offset the confusion is helpful.

Personally, the opening needs to work for me just as much as it works for readers. I don’t sit down to write until I have some type of opening in my head. I’ll often come up with a line of dialogue, some exposition, or a scene I want to describe and then go from there. Once I’ve formulated that, I can move forward pretty easily. So think about what you like to write and also what you like to read. Do you enjoy when books jump right in and start their story in the middle of the action? Do you prefer a slowed-down description of a character or a setting? If you’re feeling stumped on how to start your own story, go back to stories that you really loved and examine how they begin.

In a recent article on Writer Unboxed, author Donald Maass discussed openings and what type of tone you should try to achieve. At the end of his article, Donald boiled it down to two very simple guidelines — “find something warm and human that your main character cares about” and include “something different, odd, curious, puzzling, weird, contradictory or hard to explain.” It’s important to make a human connection with your readers by describing the humanity of your main character. And, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s good to have something weird or confusing that makes readers want to keep reading to figure out. Just make sure that you explain it eventually!

Openings can be difficult to crack, and you might even want to postpone working on it until you know your story really well. There’s no shame in getting to the action and then returning to formulate your beginning later on. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Premiering in the summer of 1992, the fourth season of “Tales from the Crypt” is full of few high points and far too many low points. We do see some of the biggest stars the show ever got in this season, with Tom Hanks directing the season premiere and Brad Pitt and Joe Pesci starring in their own respective episodes. But even the big names cannot save this season from mediocrity.

The season premiere, which is directed by Tom Hanks, is called “None But the Lonely Heart.” One of the better episodes of the season, Hanks’ first foray into directing is a strong one. He makes this one of the more goofy and fun episodes of the series. The episode centers on a con-man named Howard Prince. Mr. Prince is a particularly low breed of con-man, the kind that marries rich old women just to kill them off and rake in their inheritance. He’s done this routine many times before, but when he starts getting blackmailed about what he’s been doing, he begins to panic. Who could know, though? This episode seriously just put a smile on my face, even during its creepy ending. Featuring cameo appearances by Hanks himself and former champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, this episode is just extremely goofy and entirely fun.

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Hello, blog readers, and welcome to another installment of Pick-a-Poem! For those who aren’t familiar with this feature, every Wednesday we choose a new poem to share with you here on the blog. All of these poems come from the very helpful website Poetry Daily, which has a new poem for you to discover every day. This week we’re featuring a poem entitled Inductionwhich is written by Annie Freud.

According to her bio page, Annie Freud has had two collections of poetry published. These include The Best Man That Ever Was (2007), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and The Mirabelles (2010), which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. She has been named by the Poetry Book Society as one of the Next Generation Poets 2014.

Induction by Annie Freud

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Hello, blog readers! Last week, I wrote about the importance of building up a history for your characters. Giving them a strong, fleshed-out background story will make them more real for your readers and for yourself as you write their story. This week I have more character-related advice because I honestly think characters are the most important aspect of a story. Before your readers can really know your characters, you have to know them really well. One great way for you to know your characters and therefore make them seem more real to readers is to utilize dialogue. This is a really simple way to create background for characters and it can also be quite fun.

On the topic of using dialogue, our good friend Chuck Wendig has this to say: “Plot is whatever happens in the story: a sequence of events. This happens. That happens. Then another thing. In the process: characters talk. Characters are everything, and it behooves you to know them. One of the ways you get to know them is: let them have conversations.”

If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. If you want to get to know an actual person, you talk to them. If you want to get to know your characters, you have to at least let them talk to other characters so you can eavesdrop. Of course, having your characters do things is important as well because it gives them agency and gives you something to write other than non-stop back-and-forth conversations. But those conversations can be really important. Depending on who your character is talking to, he or she will act differently, say different things, and reveal different amounts of information. If you have your character talking to his or her best friend, for example, you can probably get a lot of information out of them.

Now, let’s be honest, not all of these conversations are making it into your final draft. You might indulge your characters and let them yammer on for pages about their favorite flavor of ice cream, but readers aren’t going to care about that. After you hit the ice cream conversation, though, you might stumble across something that’s important to the plot or simply important to your character’s development. You have to get through the ice cream conversations first to find those nuggets of information.

So, let your characters talk! Aside from being helpful, dialogue can be so much fun to write. I know that I always get higher word counts when I’m writing dialogue. Exposition can go on and on and begin to feel stale, but giving your characters voice and personality is always interesting. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Welcome, blog readers, to another installment of “Pick-a-Poem.” For those who don’t know, we choose a new poem to feature each time Wednesday rolls around. Hopefully, on one of these Wednesdays, you find some new poetry to read and perhaps a new poet whose work you can follow. As always, this week’s poem comes from Poetry Daily, which is a great poetry site. This week we’re featuring My Herculaneum by Jennifer Franklin.

According to her bio page, Jennifer Franklin work has appeared in a chapbook called Persephone’s Ransom. She has also been published in journals such as Antioch Review, Pequod, New England Review, and The Nation. She is the co-editor of Slapering Hol Press, which is the small press imprint of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. She teaches poetry workshops at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center.

My Herculaneum by Jennifer Franklin

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I’ll keep saying it because I believe it’s important: characters are the backbone of your story. If readers care about your characters (or vehemently dislike them), they will care about your story. Why do people return to soap operas week after week? Because they want to see what will happen when one character destroys another, or discovers another character’s secret, or sleeps with another character’s boyfriend. You don’t have to write stories that are as tawdry as those you would find in a soap opera, but you should have compelling characters moving through your plot. One of the important components of creating a compelling character is crafting a history for them.

For this post, we return to the wisdom of my favorite internet dude — Chuck Wendig. In his post, “25 Things a Great Character Needs,” Chuck talks about the need for a character history. He says, “Your character didn’t just come karate-punching her way out of some storytelling womb. She wasn’t born pale and featureless like a grub only to grow her wings and limbs halfway through the tale. The character’s been around. Whether she’s 17 or 70, she has history. She has life. Stories. Things that happened to her and things that she did…What we see of a character in a story is just the tippy-top of the iceberg, just a nipple poking out of the water while the rest of the body remains submerged.”

This is so, so central to what makes a good character and I think Chuck has articulated it really well here. Just as you’re introducing readers to a world or to a storyline, you’re introducing them to your characters. What you choose to show them as your story begins should not be the only information you have on those characters. Say you begin by telling readers about the job your main character currently has and that he or she is married right now. That’s fine if that’s all you want to reveal to begin with, but you should know the character’s past jobs, past loves, and just about anything you can invent for them. Having all of that background knowledge allows you write a richer, more complex character who has believable motivations. Those richer, more complex characters will help readers engage more fully with and be more interested in your story.

There are plenty of character profile sheets out there on the internet. But I don’t think those sheets are always necessary. If they help you, then go for it! They can be a great guideline if you’re not sure where to begin when constructing your character. But I think writing a rambling, stream of consciousness description of your character can work just as well. Try opening a new document and just beginning to type anything that comes to mind about your character. If you want, make it more structured and write a mini biography of your character, explaining their past and fleshing out their life. Make the character as real as you can by filling in minute, specific details. You can call up those details later when you need to justify a character’s action or explain their feelings.

Once you feel like you really know this person, so that you could predict how he or she would react in certain situations, you’ve got the character history nailed down. Then you can confidently write your story and know that if a reader were to ask you a question about this character, you would have a realistic answer for them. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

“Tales from the Crypt” returned after it’s very successful second season in June of 1991 with a fourteen-episode third season. Although the second season was pretty great throughout, the third season is very top-heavy. The season leads with a fantastic first half of unique episodes before shifting to some boring and downright uninteresting episodes in its second half. The season is very reminiscent of the first season in that there are episodes that show off the true potential of “Tales from the Crypt,” but there are still too many episodes that take away from that potential.

The debut episode, “Loved to Death,” is a fine start, but the season doesn’t really kick into gear until its second episode, leading into a fairly long stretch of fantastic episodes. “Carrion Death” stars Kyle MacLachlan as an escaped convict on the run attempting to get across the border to Mexico. Too bad for him, though, as a state trooper is on his tail. After an encounter with the trooper, MacLachlan’s character ends up handcuffed to the trooper as the trooper dies, with no way to get the cuffs off. Now he has to lug this heavy body across the border in the heat of the desert. Things aren’t looking good for him, especially with a vulture lurking overhead. This episode is a ton of fun with some cool action set pieces, but the quality comes mostly from MacLachlan’s performance. He plays the deranged convict-type perfectly and quite charmingly as well, almost making you root for this psychopathic killer to make it to freedom.

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