Thursday, August 27, 2009

Name That Novel #8 -- Back to the Classics

Returning to the past and another great, widely read classic: Title and Author, please.

"We didn't touch an oar, and we didn't speak nor whisper, nor hardly even breathe. We went gliding swift along, dead silent, past the tip of the paddle-box, and past the stern; then in a second or two more we was a hundred yards below the wreck, and the darkness soaked her up, every last sign of her, and we was safe, and knowed it."

Good luck to all!

Congrats to Cara for the correct answer: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Flashback: Another Way to Make Your Writing Pop and Sizzle!

"Jane was a shy girl. She never talked to anyone unless they spoke to her first. Maybe this was because she wasn't very pretty, wore thick glasses, and stood taller than most boys."

Seems like an okay description of Jane, right? Maybe if you were describing her to a friend in conversation or mentioning her in a letter. But for your novel or story? No. It's boring. At least if you wrote your character descriptions this way all of the time, it would be. So, what can you do about it? You definitely don't want your writing to be boring. What publisher would want to buy that? Come to think of it, what reader would want to read it?

Let's try this again with using flashback as a tool.

"Jane walked into the reunion, her palms sweating. She could see one of her classmates waving to her. Oh, God. Why did I come? She thought of turning around. This always seemed to happen. It never changed.

Her mother had taken her by the hand right up to the front door the first day of school. After some persuasion and a gentle push, Jane walked into the room and sat in the back row. All the kids were laughing and chattering. Jane kept fidgeting with her glasses. They felt heavy and awkward on her nose. One boy sitting next to her turned to stare.

'Your eyes look funny with those on. All big and goofy.'

Jane opened her notebook, brought it close to her face and studied the inside.

'What's a matter? You deaf?'

Jane popped out of the chair and scrambled over to another desk.

'Wow! You must be ten feet tall!'

Now, everyone was staring. Tears welled up in her eyes. Jane ran out of the room and out of the building.

'Jane Goodman! It's so good to see you after all these years. And you look great.'

Jane turned to see a face she would know anywhere. Even if there were a few creases around the eyes and grey in the hair. She smiled and nodded. Maybe this won't be so awful after all, she thought."

Now, if you will notice, the flashback to Jane's first day at school helps the character to come alive. This way, the reader begins to "know" Jane, become familiar with her. And in the long run, the reader will become "invested" in her character, care about what happens to her. When readers have this kind of empathy for the character(s) of a book, they want to keep on reading, they have to know what will happen.

Flashback is a wonderful tool, but there are a couple of warnings that go along with using it.

1) Don't announce the flashback with phrases like "it brought me back to" or "I remember the time" or even using ellipses ... Changing the scene with a certain look, (for example in mine the setting is the first day of school) and introducing it with the past perfect verb tense (in mine I used, "Her mother had taken her") is one example of how this works.

2) Don't announce the return from flashback with phrases like "that was in the past" or "I was brought out of my daydreaming". Just changing the setting with a few words or even a bit of dialog will work. (In mine I used: "Jane Goodman! It's so good to see you...")

3) While you are new to using flashback, be careful of the length. The longer the flashback, the harder it may be to transition in and out. Many use a separate line of asterisks **** or white space.

Overall, giving your writing a bit of variety with flashbacks to describe characters or to explain needed information without literally "explaining", i.e. telling instead of showing, will make your writing pop and sizzle off the pages, make your readers cry for more. And that's what we all want, don't we?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Flash Forward to the Present and Name That Novel #7

Okay, so this one is contemporary. In fact it's on the bestseller list. And it's a mystery. So... title and author, please:

Sherlock fell to her knees beside him. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm okay."

"What's this?"

Savich knelt beside the girl, turned her over, and jerked off the ski mask. He looked at her young face, deathly white, mouth bloodied from biting against the pain, dark hair matted to her head. "This is one of them, Sherlock. She's only a kid." The girl moaned, her eyelashes fluttering. When her eyes opened, he stared down into her pain-glazed dark eyes. He leaned close. "What's your name?"

She spit at him.

"What's your name?" he repeated.

The kid snarled, "I'm going to kill you, shoot you in the head, watch it explode."

"Charming," Sherlock said.

"I kicked her pretty hard in the stomach. She needs an ambulance."

She was whimpering now, tears clogging in her throat, choking her, and she was saying over and over, "Mama, Mama. I want my mama."

There you have it. And good luck :-)

Congratulations to Michael (Innocent Owner of Mad Cats) for getting it right! Catherine Coulter and Knock Out. The clue would be in the character names -- Savich and Sherlock.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Do's and Don'ts of a Query Letter

Okay, this is in response to Cara's suggested topic: The Query Letter. First of all, in brief, a query is an introduction of you and what you have to sell. Rather like a resume, this is your first connection with a potential "employer", i.e. a publisher/editor or agent, so you want to make it good. No, you want to make it GREAT! (Otherwise, he/she may reject your idea and never, ever invite you back :-(

So, what does this mean? What should you do to make sure it is GREAT and you nail that first impression? Well, first of all, your query should have five components: 1)the hook; 2)the pitch; 3)the body; 4)your credentials; and 5)the closing.

Start by making sure you address your letter to the name of a specific editor, if possible. Then you include ....

Hook: This is a tricky component to write well and effectively. For example, DO come up with something that intrigues the one you're trying to impress, and has him/her curious to ask for more (your story) or at least to read the rest of your letter! My personal favorite is the "question" Example: "Do you ever wonder if there are space aliens watching us?" and your work, of course, has something to do with a space alien invasion. DON'T start with "Hi, my name is" or suck up with "I am such a fan of your magazine", etc. The person reading this may gag and toss your query in the trash :-(

Pitch: This is when you want to let them know what you have to sell. Example: " I would like to submit my completed manuscript, Gone with the Wind, a 500,000 word historical saga, for your consideration".... and so on.

Body: Here you want to give a brief summary of your story. Rather like what you read on a dust jacket flap or back cover of a book. A couple paragraphs should do it. But be consise, pack everything essential into those paragraphs. Remember, you want to peak their curiosity, to make your work stand out as a unique, fresh proposition. Read some examples from books you have to get a better idea.

Credentials: Toot your horn a little, if you have already published work, taught a writing class, etc. If you have websites or blogsites, mention them. If you belong to a writers' organization, let them know. Networking is a big deal to publishers who want to feel that you'll be active in marketing your work. DON'T mention things that have no relevance to writing, such as "I've worked as a babysitter for ten years." It doesn't mean anything to a publisher. Nor do they care about such events in your life. Of course, unless you've written an article on tips for babysitters.

Closing: Wrapping it up should include thanking them for taking the time to read your query and that you would be glad to send them the completed manuscript for review. Give them your contact information (email, address, phone numbers).

Bottom line, if you are submitting work to a specific publisher who happens to have a website, and on this website they have a page with info on writing an effective query letter.... please check it out and give them what they ask for.

There are many, many websites with advice and examples of query letters. Here are a few to check out ----

The wisest approach to writing an effective query is to practice writing them! And reading examples. Again, there are plenty found online or in books on writing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Buffet Style.....You Pick!

I have an idea. The idea may fizzle out like a wet firecracker, but I like to try new things (and I can always find new firecrackers!) Anyway, I'd like to try some writing tips on topics you may want to read about... buffet style, so to speak. It could be about character or plot development, or even tips on the publishing end of the business, like where do you go to find magazine or book publishers or agents, how to write a query letter, etc. (even though there are PLENTY of blog sites and others who post about that one... I don't want to run that one into the ground). Anyway.... let me know your suggestion. If I can get a few responses, I'll pick one to write about. Then I'll work my way through the list. AND if I don't think I'm qualified to write about a particular topic, I will try to find you a site that does. Sound good?

Okay then, let's give it a try and see if this works. :-)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Hunting We Will Go .... Take another guess: Name That Literature! #6

Okay, so I've fine-tuned the particulars, replacing the word name with literature since I would like to occasionally stick some poetry here, or essays, or whatever ;-) In any case, this excerpt truly is from a novel. Soooooooo, here we go!

"When the breakfast was cleared away, the merry old gentleman and the two boys played at a very curious and uncommon game, which was performed in this way. The merry old gentleman, placing a snuff-box in one pocket of his trousers, a note-case in the other, and a watch in his waistcoat pocket, with a guard-chain round his neck, and sticking a mock diamond pin in his shirt: buttoned his coat tight round him, and putting his spectacle-case and handkerchief in his pockets, trotted up and down the room with a stick, in imitation of the manner in which old gentlemen walk about the streets any hour of the day. Sometimes he stopped at the fireplace, and sometimes at the door, making believe that he was staring with all his might into shop-windows. At such times, he would look constantly round him, for fear of thieves, and would keep slapping all his pockets in turn, to see that he hadn't lost anything ...."

All right then, title and author, what do we have here? It is a popular classic, and I don't think too difficult to guess. Then again, I'm on the other side and with unfair advantage!

Yeah! Cara got it! Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Congrats.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another Week and Another Quote...Name That Novel #5

Another quote from the classics, and it's close to home. See if you can guess the title and author:

"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road."

Gook luck to all!

Congrats to Cara! (and to Adam for the Author) It is Walden's Pond by Whitman. And I do apologize as it shouldn't be referred to as a novel :-( I guess from now on I will just have to broaden the title post, like "Name That Literature" or something like that. And by "close to home" I was only thinking of U.S.A. versus Europe or elsewhere.

In any case, great job, Cara. And so soon! I guess I'll have another one up before the day's out....

Friday, August 7, 2009

Opening Lines .... Let Me Introduce My Story.

Can you guess the number one flaw of the opening chapter to a novel? Explanations. Yep. Too much info, too big of a set-up, just too, too much stuff! I'm sure you've heard about the hook. Every book on writing, every instructor of writing, every successful author will advise you to include that great opening line or opening scene, something exciting, tintilating, something with that "WOW" factor to hook your readers, to guarantee they will want to read more.

Yet, at the same time, you don't want to confuse your readers about the story. You need setting. You need background. Details to give readers an accurate picture. Right? So, you decide to include some explanation, to answer the who, what, where, when , why of the situation. And you explain. You may start by including a little more about the main character's background--where he came from, why he's here, etc. Then you figure while you're at it, you should add more about the setting, and before you know it you're flooding the chapter with all sorts of details to describe the story. And you haven't even had a chance to begin the story! It's drowning and sinking so fast that you'll never be able to bring it up to see daylight and your readers again :-(

Start with a situation, exciting, eye-popping, throat-catching, heart-pulpitating action to leave your readers begging for more. And all that explanation? That detail? Bring it in gradually. No hurry. As you write you will find places where those bits and pieces of detail fit perfectly. Don't underestimate your reader's intelligence. They will put it together and figure it out. And they will stay interested while they're at it.

Think about it. The fact that Aunt Gertrude was a flapper back in the day and used to drink bath tub gin may be an interesting tidbit, but not a relevant detail on page one. However, if you fastforward to a later chapter when Mattie is reading a diary she finds in the attic, she could read about Aunt Gertrude and her flapper days. In the first chapter it just slows things down.

James Bell (and yes, I know, I'm on a James Bell kick) suggests if you think your first chapter is a boring slug, then start your novel with chapter two. He calls it "Chapter Two Switcheroo". Cute, heh? Then, you can add in all those details from chapter one later on.

Now, what should you include in an opening chapter? Well, let's start small. An opening line. Ones that work best have two elements in them. The character's name and an action, something that happens or is about to happen. If you manage that, you are off to a great start.

So, what do you think? Is your chapter one a yawner? Or is it poppin'? Remember, there are sooooo many books out there that readers may choose from, and you want them to choose YOURS. Right? :-)

Happy writing to all of you. Enjoy!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Name That Novel #4

Okay, we are back with "Name that Novel Title and Author". This excerpt is from the classics. See what you can do with it:

Apparently Armstid has never once looked full at her. Yet he has already seen that she wears no wedding ring.... "How far you come from?" he says.

She expels her breath. It is not a sigh so much as a peaceful expiration, as though of peaceful astonishment. "A right good piece, it seems now. I come from Alabama."

"Alabama? In your shape? Where's you folks?"

She does not look at him, either. "I'm looking to meet him up this way. You might know him. His name is Lucas Burch. They told me back yonder a ways that he is in Jefferson, working for the planing mill."

.....Well, there you have it. And good luck to all!

(And, people, PLEASE try not to be tempted to google the character names first. That is sooooo like cheating!)

Okay, time's up! Yes, the author is William Faulkner....and the title? Light in August :-) I will be back with another one, soon.