6 Tasks to Accomplish with Act 1 of Your Novel – Part 4

You want to write a best seller. What writer doesn’t?

First you’ve got to come up with a good story idea. Then you’ve got to get that idea from Point A to Point Z and figure out everything in between. (That’s my hardest struggle — plotting.)

You’ve got to hook your reader —  and keep them reading.

Or your chance at that best seller list gets fried like a fly on bug zapper.

The truth is debut novels usually don’t make the best seller lists, but that’s no reason not to put your best effort into every book you write.

If you’ve been following this series, you’ve learned ways to write a stronger story and thus increase your chances at getting published and selling lots of books.

Here’s what I’ve discussed so far in 6 tasks to accomplish in Act 1:

Hook the reader: Grab that reader with the first line/paragraph of your story.

Establish a bond between the reader and your main character: Readers want to identify with and root for your characters.

Create your story setting: This is not just about the physical world of your story, but also the daily routine of your lead character.

Now let’s look at setting the general tone:

To a degree, the genre of the story will give the reader a clue as to the tone of a story. I’m not a fan of horror, but I wouldn’t grab a horror story and expect lighthearted laughs all the way through. I’d expect suspense, tension, and a lot of fear, and I’d hope for some comic relief here and there.

Tone isn’t just mood.

Is your story plot-driven — filled with action — or character-driven — all about the characters’ growth.

What’s the general pace of your story? You want to vary pace, but here I’m talking about the overall pace. Is it leisurely, frenzied, or somewhere in between? Thirty Days to Glory, which I have mentioned in the three previous posts of this series, has a leisurely pace.

Let’s look at some examples.

Here’s the opening of James Scott Bell’s A Greater Glory.

The sharp rap on the door jolted Celia Harcourt to wakefulness.

She’d been dreaming, and the knock came just as an ax had fallen on her neck. In the way of bad dreams, Celia had awakened just before the awful moment when death’s cold hand gripped her. For a second or two she did not know where she was. It might have been Baltimore again — terrible Baltimore.

But no. Another knock on the door, more insistent this time, reminded her she was safely at home in Los Angeles.

Here’s the opening to Sandra Balzo’s Dead Ends.

“But that’s what Daisy told me to do,” Joshua Eames insisted, blue eyes wide and innocent as he used his work book to sweep away a brown long-legged spider that was angling toward them.

While AnnaLise Griggs was prone to believe the young man — and grateful for his intervention with the creepy-crawler — his boss apparently wasn’t buying it.

“If you’re going to kill the thing, Josh, kill it.” Fred Eames, Josh’s father and proprietor of Eames High Country Builders, stomped hard on the still-wriggling spider to make his point.

Both these stories involve murder, but I’m sure you can tell the difference in tone between them both.

From start to finish, there should be a consistency of tone.

What’s the tone of the examples above, and what helps you perceive that tone? Leave your answers in the comments below.

Related posts:

Six Tasks to Accomplish with Act 1 of Your Novel – Part 1
Six Tasks to Accomplish in Act 1 of Your Novel – Part 2
Where in the world is your story? Act 1 – Part 3
Who’s the Big Bad Wolf in Your Story? Act 1 – Part 5
What do Football and Fiction Have in Common? Act 1 – Part 6

Want to get published but don’t know where to start?

Maybe you have a finished manuscript or just an idea stuck in your head. Email me today at Deb [at] DebraLButterfield [dot] com, and let's discuss how I can help you reach your dream of publication.


  1. Please enter me in your contest. Thanks for the help and information you give to me. 🙂

    • Hi Paulette,
      As a subscriber you are already on the list for the drawing. Plot & Structure is a fantastic book and has helped me immensely. I’m glad I have been able to provide you with help.


  1. […] to Keep Your Reader Reading – Part 2 Where in the world is your story? – Part 3 6 Tasks to Accomplish with Act 1 of Your Novel – Part 4 How to Ensure Your Characters and Plot Don’t Flat Line How do Plot and Scene Work Together? […]

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