Thursday, November 17, 2011

Your First Five Pages--Pt. 2


In the first part of this little series of posts, I indicated one of the most useful tactics in selling that first novel to a traditional publisher (or simply e-publishing online), of baiting your reader--hook, line & sinker--is to start with a fabulous opening.  Grant you, I have yet to "sell" myself (well, not really myself, but one of my books) to a big to-do publishing company, I really found these few tips worthwhile.

The next tip I have--and, by the by, these were laid out in detailed form by best-selling fantasy author Faith Hunter via her short workshop last Saturday--but this is another very important part of writing that novel which will (hopefully) grab hearts, move mountains, and award you, dear author, readers for a lifetime.

CONFLICT.  I've heard so many published authors tell their personal stories of how they landed a book deal. I'll bet you have, too. One common feat, it seems, they all had to overcome with their respective agents and/or editors was the issue of conflict.  These are great characters, but where's the conflict?  Beautiful, flowing prose, but... Well. You get the picture.

So, what is conflict? It's struggle. Uncertainty. Pressure and tension. An imbalance, if you will, in what the protagonist (and possibly the antagonist, too) wants more than anything in the world, but, for one reason or another, it's always out of reach. Or maybe just out of reach. We, the author, build events in the story that make the conflict stronger and stronger.

Think of it this way:  It's the "but" in your GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) sentence. Katniss Everdeen wants to win the Hunger Games (G), because she knows winning will provide a lifetime of food and money for her and her family (M), but she is weaker than most of the other tributes in the arena and therefore must use wit over brawn to survive. (C)

Rather rough, I know, but you get the idea. Within the first 5-10 pages of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins paints a relatively well-defined picture of what the core of the conflict will be. Doesn't take long to figure out these people live in a sort of prison-like dystopia, where free-will is virtually non-existent. And of course there is that initial seed planted at the very beginning: This is the day of the reaping.

Novelist Caro Clark states that "a convincing story has many conflicts built into it, layered and connected."  The main character (and oftentimes the secondaries, but the mains are most important) will have internal and external conflict. Internal and external strengths. Internal and external weaknesses. These may change throughout the course of the novel, yes, but they exist nonetheless.

Draco Malfoy is but one of Harry's many external conflicts.

What about Harry Potter? Because you know I just love using him. :) ~ One of his main internal conflicts is the niggling idea that he will ultimately fail; that he'll never keep up with the other young witches and wizards who have, perhaps, been raised with magic their entire lives. So, how does Jo Rowling get him through it? By testing his abilities, letting him win and fail, putting him through external conflicts which will ultimately aid him with the internal. By defeating the basilisk in The Chamber of Secrets, Harry overcomes his insecurity of being able to speak parseltongue (snake language). He understands it is not evil, precisely, as everyone seemed to believe throughout the book, but a gift. One of the few perks of Lord Voldemort's curse.

Naturally, this is only one of the internal conflicts conquered by an external happening.

Remember always to respect your reader, especially when adding and building conflict. We want to reel in, not confuse. Personally, the author who makes me go back over and over, because I have to stop, scratch my head, and say, "Whaaaa?" too many times is the one I'm not apt to pick up again for a good while, if ever. But, of course, that is just me and what I expect out of myself in my own writing.

How do you lay out the conflict when writing your own novel? Do you plot it out? Pants your way through? Can you think of a story where you thought the conflict especially delicious? If so, please share!

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Your First Five Pages--Pt. 1

What can you do to engross your reader?

Saturday morning, at our monthly RWA meeting, multi-published best-selling author Faith Hunter spoke on the first five pages of a manuscript and how they can make or break a sale. Firstly, I just want to say how lovely she is and fun and vibrant. So committed to her work, yet striving to make it enjoyable at all costs. Much to look up to there. We were truly blessed to have her as a speaker, and I so hope she comes back again.

But moving on to her lesson: The First Five Pages. I won't break it down word-for-word, but I would like to tab out a few important things to remember--things that really grabbed me and on which I plan to work ASAP--before you send those few requested, vital pages to an agent or editor. The way I've planned this, however, is to give you a crucial part of the process with each blog post. Why? Many reasons, the main being 1) I can't do anything without explanation and examples, and too many can lead to a long, long post. Which brings me to 2) I want you to really chew on each morsel. Think it over. Because we all want to be the best writers we can be, published or no, right? Good! Here we go:

1. You must have a good, grabbing, baiting opening/beginning.  Now, that was a lot of -ing's, but hear me out: When was the last time you read a book that took, oh, a good chapter or two to really set your heels into it? Bet we can all remember one from recent weeks/days. But what about those that, when you read those first few lines, the first opening paragraph or patch of dialogue, you thought, "Wow. I wanna do it just like that." Or something close to it. Uh huh. I'll wager a buck-fifty one just popped into that brilliant brain of yours.

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

Those are the opening lines of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. From that small paragraph, what do we know? Whoever is speaking is likely... what? Poor? Female, perhaps? More than likely--she sleeps with her sister, after all, who apparently has nightmares. And the author provided us with the will to read on. How? That last sentence: This is the day of the reaping. What's the reaping? No clue. But I definitely want to find out.

Collins also delivers a simple, yet important example of what we all need to remember when starting a story: Today is the day of change. What do I mean by that? Your characters, the people you practically know as family now they've been in your head for so long, were going about their normal everyday lives. Washing dishes, paying bills, going to school/work, whatever. Until today. At the beginning of this story. This is the day of the reaping. Obviously, today is the day of change. This event should also prove pivotal later in the story.

Here's one more.

"Too old for this shit," muttered Craw, wincing at the pain in his dodgy knee with every other step. High time he retired. Long past high time. Sat on the porch behind his house with a pipe, smiling at the water as the sun sank down, a day's honest work behind him. Not that he had a house. But when he got one, it'd be a good one.

That is the first paragraph from Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes, and it's today's Kindle Daily Deal ($1.99--that's $23 off the normal price!). Unlike The Hunger Games, I haven't yet read this one, but from the several sentences which compose that opening bit of bait, I'd say this is a man, away from home--far away, even--who's perhaps waiting on an ambush of some sort. And he's done this many, many times, from the pain in his joints. Something also tells me he's also not gonna get that house anytime soon. I'll trust Mr. Abercrombie to fill in the pages to follow with battle and adventure, showing Crow's extensive cunning, bravery, and valor.

See how that works? Now, it's up to you, dear author, to tell us what happens next.



Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,


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Friday, November 11, 2011

A Veteran's Day Salute

The sunset over Long Beach, Mississippi

I grew up in South Mississippi in the small coastal town of Long Beach. Made my friends there, met my best friend there, and learned that writing would be my lifelong need and love. Developed a penchant for marching bands and full choirs, too, though I suspect that has a lot to do with the fact I played and sang in both.

A natural part of everyday life on the Gulf Coast includes the US Air Force training base, Keesler, which lies no more than a few short miles from my hometown to the bigger attraction of Biloxi. It's no big thing to walk into a local store and see several airmen in training. One simply gets used to it. For me, these guys, while automatic heroes for their sacrifice in serving our country, held little to no appeal in the dating/marriage department. One, I wasn't interested in traveling, which is inevitable for the spouse of a young soldier. Two... eh. I don't know. My adverseness to the military man could've attributed to the desire I harbored for an artsy-fartsy type. Perhaps a musician or a fellow writer, like myself. Someone with whom I could share mutual passions, likes, and dislikes. A guy who devotes his life to the Armed Forces couldn't possibly fill those big, big shoes.

At least, that's what I thought.


Now, here I am, fifteen years after high school graduation, and married to an avionics tech-sergeant in the US Air Force. And guess what? He loves most of the same things I do--music, good movies, panoramic scenery, chocolate, and good ol' Southern cooking. Plus, and he'll likely kill me for saying this, he likes musicals. I'm talking full-blown Broadway extravaganzas, with people dancing around and sporadically bursting into song. Yep. That's The Hubby. An all-American boy who would rather get up early, have breakfast at Cracker Barrel, and spend all day walking around historic Jefferson, TX, than sleep all morning and hit the nightlife/bar scene that evening. Now, as it turns out, no one can possibly fill his big, big shoes.

And I don't just mean that metaphorically.

*smile*

So, why am I telling you this? Easy. When my husband got up this morning, I made certain to wish him a "Happy Veterans' Day." And here's my challenge for you, dear reader: When you're out and about today, if you see a man or woman in the Armed Forces, tell them, "Thank you." And if you want to elaborate... well, then, elaborate. But you don't have to. Because they'll know. And so will you.

Peace, Love, Junior Mints, and Freedom Forever,



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Monday, November 7, 2011

Adverbs & Hearty Hand Slaps

I didn't mean to...

Woke up this morning, let the dogs out, got my shower. Tried to feed the dogs, but one can't eat because she's getting spayed today. So, naturally, the others won't eat, either. All for one, one for all, I guess. Sigh. Made coffee, sat at the laptop to check my email, and voila. A nice, sturdy, verbal hand-slap from a NYT Bestseller in one of my Yahoo! craft groups.

Wow, I thought. Certainly didn't mean to step on toes with what I said. Basically, I professed my dislike for when people say, "Nora can get away with it because she's Nora."  Meaning Nora Roberts, the bestselling romance novelist, for those of you who do not read this genre, can head-hop, overuse adverbs (not that she does; I'm just sayin'), and all sorts of other writerly crimes we little people cannot, cannot commit, else risk being turned down at every bend.

Needless to say, an entire can of worms apparently got opened, thanks to me.  Yes, yes. You're most welcome. Though I wanted to somehow find a way to verbally speak through the screen, into the group, "You're taking it the wrong way!!" ... I politely responded, "Didn't mean to step on any toes. My apologies." and left it at that. More than likely I'll not be adding my 2 shillings to anything for, oh, another decade or so.

Not to mention I still kinda feel like this...

Anyways. The original subject matter that kicked way too far into overdrive (big time) is what I wanted to bring up to you today: Adverbs. The author of the post mentioned that she recently got her hand slapped (whole lotta hand slappin' goin' on, yeah?) by an editor for alleged overuse of adverbs. She had, like, three on a page or some such.

But here's her argument: Sometimes you need adverbs to add to the overall flow of the manuscript. When using an adverb, we've all been told, I am certain, there's always a stronger verb. You've just gotta find it. Plus, too many can make your work seem amateur and altogether icky. And that's true. But I do tend to agree with this particular author in that 1) YOU are the writer; this is your story; if you want the adverb, add the adverb and 2) Adverbs can actually provide color and/or add to the flavor of the scene.

Preferably with words, though, not makeup

So, what is an adverb? Other than being your basic -ly words, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives us this definition:
: a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages, typically serving as a modifier of a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a preposition, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence, expressing some relation of manner or quality, place, time, degree, number, cause, opposition, affirmation, or denial, and in English also serving to connect and to express comment on clause content
Examples of this can show up in dialogue. "If you say so," he said blandly. (Suddenly You, Lisa Kleypas, 2001)

Or in regular sentences which compose exposition: Bravely she caught at the open edges of his shirt and urged his head down to hers. (also Suddenly You, Lisa Kleypas, 2001)

How about modifying an adjective, which, in turn, modifies a noun? She picked up a particularly frayed piece of linen and set it to the side.

We could seriously go on forever. What I'd like to know is how YOU feel about the use of adverbs? I'll bet you use them, but how often? Are there any specifically fabulous words you tend to use over and over and, therefore, have to slap your hand for doing so?

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Fun

... and at the office, of all places! (Click the images for a closer look.)

L to R: Tiffiny, Jennifer, Pam, Judge Wilson, Cyndy, Lisa, Edna, Terri,
Me, & Kristin

We didn't get much work done, as you can tell.

L to R: Jennifer, Tiffiny, Pam, Me, & Lisa

Me + Baby Jake (hidden beneath all the cobwebs) + Makeup = Halloween Spectacular


Most of us together, including the real owner of the top hat (sans makeup).

L to R: Edna, Cyndy, Kelsey, Tiffiny, Jennifer, Terri, Lisa, Me,
Kristin, & Rebecca.

We really had a great time, and I got to play makeup practically all day long, which I haven't done in what feels like centuries. For real, it's been at least a decade! Odds and ends of this and that composed most of our costumes. I purchased my former choir dress (empire waist, perfect for a growing Baby Jake) at Goodwill for $6.99, added netting and spiders from Walmart, and lacy gloves from Hot Topic. The makeup is thanks to all the awesome artists on YouTube--especially punkchyaz, pixiwoo, and goldiestarling.

Hope all of you had a wonderful, safe Halloween! Here's looking forward to next year's!!

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,

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