Category Archives: Writing

Nano Wrap Up

Today is the last day of Nanowrimo so I thought I’d give you guys a rundown on how it went.

I was pretty solid with my word-count for the first couple weeks and I even managed to get ahead before Thanksgiving (after four years I know full well that family plus turkey does not equal much writing time). But despite that head-start I somehow hit the second week slump in my fourth week. I managed to reach 50,000 words on Monday but it was an uphill slog. And since my personal goal was to write 75,000 words this month, I didn’t quite make it. At least I learned something. I have a very hard time working on two projects at once. Whaddaya know? I’m human after all.

One of my favorite parts of Nanowrimo is the community. My writing partners and I get together once a week at the library and have our own write-ins. Hard at work above are my sister and Rebecca Green Gasper, who was kind enough to answer some questions for us last week along with Susan Oloier. Becca’s been one of my critique/writing partners for a couple years now. If you haven’t checked her out yet, you should take a look.

So, I’m coming out of this side of November with half of a new novel and about 8,000 words of a devotional (that was supposed to be 25,000, I told you the dual projects thing didn’t work, right?). Not bad all things considering, and I’m really looking forward to finishing up The Robber Bridegroom. So far it’s been a blast to write. The devotional has been more of a battle but just as rewarding. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me this next year.

 

Here’s a sneak peek at The Robber Bridegroom:

“The building was large and imposing. Until now it had always meant fear and danger to me. Along with the rest of the Reaper’s crew, I had avoided it for the last ten years. I swallowed and mounted the steps. One, two, three, four, five steps separated my past from my future. Such a small distance for such a huge leap of faith.

I couldn’t keep myself from turning one last time to glance behind me. Across the street, Clarence and Aalan stood watching. Clarence’s lips were twisted in a contemptuous sneer but Aalan’s eyes were wide with horror and disbelief. Like the Reaper, he didn’t believe I would do it. He didn’t think I had it in me to throw away my whole life, everything I’d ever known, all the family I had, just for an ideal.

This was the end. If I took this step, I’d be hunted. I’d go from being the Reaper’s employee to being his next target. No forgiveness, no leniency, no second thoughts. I’d made my decision a long time ago but this was the moment it would become real.

I lifted my chin and stepped into the police station.”

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The Lovely Ladies from Moxie Writers

Today I’ve got a couple special guests over from Moxie Writers. Rebecca Green Gasper and Susan Oloier are both young adult authors out on their Break Out Against book tour.

Rebecca is the writer of young adult fiction. Before becoming a writer, she was a high school special education teacher working primarily with students with emotional disabilities. She also worked as a tutor and coach. Rebecca grew up in the mountains of Colorado. She now resides outside of Denver with her husband and two children.

Susan is a mom, a wife, and a writer of YA and Adult fiction, as well as non-fiction. She has been published in Inside/Outside Magazine as a columnist, at http://www.fertilesource.com/, and in Cliterature Journal. She just finished a travel memoir about her family’s year in the national parks.

Rebecca and Susan take on some of the tougher issues in young adult fiction nowadays and I thought you might like a closer look at what they write and how they go about writing it.

Where did you get the idea for your book?

Rebecca: Break From You started with a dream about a fire and a cowboy, and another element I can’t tell you about because it will give away the book. Eventually the idea developed into a story about dating abuse and became Brooke’s story. I did a lot of research about dating abuse, abusers, and victims.

Susan: Outcast has been a part of me since junior high. I was the victim of bullying in both junior high and high school. The experience of being picked on and singled out has been with me my whole life. It was a book I needed to write. Initially it was for catharsis, but it later turned into something more.

How long did it take you to write?

Rebecca: It doesn’t take me long to write once I get going. Break From You took around two or three months to write. The editing and publishing took a lot longer.

Susan: I started Outcast in 2001. It went through many drafts, edits, and revisions over the past 11 years.

Are you a planner or a pantser? (do you plan your novel before writing or do you write by the seat of your pants)

Rebecca: I plan, but not always on paper. I will make notes and write some scenes. I also write out a brief outline, but for the most part, when an idea comes, I spend a lot of time brainstorming and developing the story in my head long before I start writing. I also spend a lot of time researching. For Break From You, I did research on dating abuse, victims, and abusers.

 Susan: When I have an idea, it brews in my mind for 4-6 months. The characters become real to me in that time, as do the details of their lives and situations. Then I begin taking notes and write a rudimentary outline. With two of my books, I wrote detailed outlines (Outcast being one of them). So I’d say I’m a plotter, but I always leave room for the characters to do what they want—as they always seem to do.

Do you edit as you write or wait until the first draft is finished?

Rebecca: I do some editing as I go, but most is done when the story is finished. I find that I need the whole story laid out in front of me before I can start working on the editing.

Susan: I am notorious for editing as I go, which is why it takes me a year or so for a “first draft” to be finished. I always go back and reread what I wrote, then revise and edit before the version is ever complete. Writers as a whole seem to frown on this, but it’s a process that works for me.

Was there any part of this project that gave you more trouble than the rest?

Rebecca: Brooke’s emotions gave me the most trouble. Brooke has strength, but she also displays a lot of weakness and showing why she made the decisions she did was a very difficult task.

 Susan: I didn’t like a lot of Noelle’s choices. They weren’t things I would do in a million years. So letting her get involved in decisions I didn’t approve of and allowing her to plot revenge were really hard for me.

Where can we find your books?

Love shouldn’t hurt this much…Brooke Myers wants to believe she has it all: the perfect guy, the perfect relationship, the perfect life. She wants to believe it so much that she’s willing to overlook the fear, the isolation, and the pain her boyfriend has caused her. She knows it isn’t right but tells herself that love isn’t always easy. However, when a fire destroys the restaurant during homecoming dinner, she forms an instant bond with the boy who saves her, one her boyfriend wouldn’t like. With the pain of a concussion reminding her of how bad things can get, she is forced to re-evaluate the relationship she has with her boyfriend and face the ghosts that haunt her. Brooke once believed love was all it took…but is it enough? Is it truly love when you’ve lost yourself in it?

Amazon- http://www.amazon.com/Break-From-You-ebook/dp/B009YLW5NG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1353426083&sr=8-2&keywords=break+from+you
Smashwords-http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/249896
Barnes and Noble-http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/break-from-you-rebecca-green-gasper/1113712532?ean=2940015898903

Website- rebeccagreengasper.blogspot.com
Twitter- @rgreengapser

Noelle dreams of a different life, one where Trina Brockwell doesn’t exist. Trina has bullied Noelle since junior high. Now she’s tired of it. With the help of her black-sheep aunt and a defiant new classmate, Noelle seeks revenge. But vengeance comes with a price: Noelle risks friendship, her first love, and herself to get back at those who have wronged her.

Amazon- http://www.amazon.com/Outcast-ebook/dp/B009Z5A3PI/ref=sr_1_cc_2?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1353426297&sr=1-2-catcorr&keywords=outcast+by+susan
Smashwords-http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/250017
Barnes and Noble-http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/outcast-susan-oloier/1113779699?ean=2940045052269

Website- susanoloier.blogspot.com
twitter- @narrawriter

Thank you, ladies for stopping by. If you want to see more from Rebecca and Susan, stop over at moxiewriters.blogspot.com and be sure to follow the rest of their tour as it’s sure to be interesting.

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Nano Pep Talk

So, how is everyone doing on their nano novel? I figured it was time for an update myself, and time to spread a little encouragement to my fellow writers.

Miraculously, I’m on target. But the next couple days are going to be hard as I try to get ahead for Thanksgiving. We have family coming into town and I know myself well enough to recognize that I won’t get any writing done while they’re here. With that on the horizon: full steam ahead.

We’re coming up on the end of the second week, which means we’re still making our way up the hump. Week two is probably the hardest part of Nanowrimo. You’ve lost some steam after week one, you’re staring at the blank page thinking “I have no idea what happens next”. And in week three everything starts to sound like it was written by a drunk zebra. But don’t despair. Remember it’s quantity that counts in this race, not quality. If you’re behind, there’s still time to catch up. And it gets better. By the end of the month you’ll be taking charge again. In that rush you’ll remember exactly why you wanted to write this novel in the first place, and the going will be easier.

So, keep plugging along. Don’t let the mid-month slump discourage you. And above all. Keep writing.

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Ready, Set, Nano!

So, if you haven’t been paying attention, yesterday was the first day of Nanowrimo. I got off to a good start, met up with some friends for a write-in, met my word quota (though didn’t get any extra written like I’d planned). If you were thinking about joining in but feel like it’s too late now, think again. In 2008 I started my first Nanowrimo nine days late. I heard about it at church and decided that afternoon that it was something I couldn’t miss. I finished on November 30th with about 50,200 words of a book called In the Company of Pirates. Still hoping to do something with that one someday.

My point is, you can still take a flying leap onto this bandwagon. Roll call in the comments, who’s in? If you’re already taking a chance with all the rest of us, you’re probably feeling excited and maybe a little overwhelmed already. Here are some last minute tips I forgot to include two weeks ago.

  • Don’t write in OpenOffice. OpenOffice has this weird word count voodoo where it counts quotation marks as words, inflating your word count and causing a panic on the last day when you realize you’re three hundred words short. Not a happy moment. Don’t do it. Use Scrivener or Microsoft Office. Avoid panic whenever possible.
  • Update your word count on Nanowrimo’s website often. Multiple times a day if you can manage it. This can be a bit distracting (especially if you get sucked into the “procrastination station”) but I find it really helpful to see progress and Nanowrimo makes this tangible with a handy dandy status bar. Super cool to watch it fill up. Scrivener’s project targets dialogue box is great for this too.
  • Word padding is a completely legitimate, accepted, touted, effective, and overall not cheating strategy. This is your chance to get away with all those pesky things you’re not supposed to let sneak into your writing. Throw in as many adverbs as you want, give your readers a lecture about the mechanics of REM sleep, repeat descriptions until you’re so sick of them you can’t help but come up with new and interesting ways to say flying, purple, gyrating kangaroos.
  • Tell everyone you know what you’re attempting. That way you’ll be too embarrassed to quit halfway through. Sounds kind of shallow but it works.
  • Never end a day not knowing what comes next. It feels all nice and neat to wrap up at the end of a chapter or a thought, but it’s very hard to get started the next day when you have no idea what the next scene or even sentence is going to be about. Some people say end in the middle of a sentence, but I have a little OCPD in me that makes this maddening.

So, what are you waiting for? Get busy and I’ll see you in a month.

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A Month of Nuts

Two Thursdays from now is November 1st, meaning Nanowrimo is less than two weeks away. Aah! For those who don’t know, Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel (really more of a novella) during the thirty days of November. That’s 1667 words a day or approximately six double spaced pages. If you hit 50,000 words by the end of the month, you win! Your prize: the right to say “I’ve written a novel”.

I know it sounds daunting – 1600 words a day? Are you nuts? Well, yes, some of us are a little nuts when November rolls around. But you can be nuts too. What about that idea you’ve had burning a hole in the back of your head for year? Maybe it’s about time you go it on paper. Even if you have no idea what to write about, you’ve just always wanted to write a book, this is a great opportunity to get started.

And you won’t be alone. With over 300,000 writers participating around the world, you have a great support network and a community to cheer you on. You can check out nano activity in your region and join other local wrimos for write-ins. Once or twice a week you’ll get pep talks from other writers and published authors.

If you’re still in school and 50,000 words really is too much, there’s the Young Writers Program designed specifically for kids who want to write a book. They can participate individually or with their class and they set their own word count goals.

Thinking about jumping on the band wagon? Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Get in the habit of writing every day now. You’ve still got a little less than two weeks. If you get used to writing just a few paragraphs a day, it’ll make those 1600 words seem a lot less daunting come November.
  • You can’t start writing the book until Nov 1st, but you can do as much planning as you like. You can jot down ideas, figure out major plot points, you can have the whole story outlined in color-coded marker if you want. I’m a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants). I go into Nanowrimo with very little structure. But even I benefit from doing a little research and getting the big stepping stones figured out before setting pen to paper.
  • Don’t edit as you go. The whole point of this is quantity, not quality. You’re trying to see what happens when you just let go. This is going to drive you nuts, guaranteed, but you have to ignore the little voice wailing in your head, otherwise you’ll never hit 50,000.
  • You’re going to get stuck. It’s a fact of life. The key is not to panic. Find some tips for writer’s block – here’s a couple to get you started. And if you’re really hurting, there are some tricks of the trade. Like adding something unexpected. How about a flying purple ninja. You can play with your character’s reaction for a couple pages until you get back on track. Who knows maybe the flying purple ninja will end up saving the day.

So, who’s going to join me on this crazy endeavor? If you need a writing buddy, look me up on Nanowrimo’s website. I’m kendramerritt85 and I’d love to see you there. I’m still on a fairytale kick. Last year was Beauty and the Beast. This year it’s going to be The Robber Bridegroom/The Singing Bone. Well? What’s yours going to be about?

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Kendra Does The Next Big Thing

I was going through my Google Reader last week and found an awesome surprise on my friend Becca’s blog. She tagged me for “The Next Big Thing”, and I’ve been having fun hopping around and reading about what everyone’s working on.

Since you guys have heard plenty about By Wingéd Chair already, I figured I’d give you a look at a brand new project. So new it’s not even on my WIP page yet. Save your gasps of awe till the end, please. The rules for “The Next Big Thing” are simple: answer a few questions about your book and tag more people who write, whose current WIPs you want to hear more about!

What is the working title of your book?

Right now I’m calling it The Robber Bridegroom because that’s the fairytale it’s loosely following (that and The Singing Bone, but it can’t have two titles). Not terribly exciting, I know, but titles are tricky things for me. Sometimes they’re the first thing I know about the story, but most of the time they don’t show up until I’m halfway through the book (Skin Deep didn’t show up until the last line, obstinate little bugger). At least The Robber Bridegroom is better than Magic Cop which was the file name for years.

Where did the idea come from?

Usually it’s easier for me to pinpoint the idea that spawns a whole book, whether it’s a scene like Blue Fire, or a concept like Catching Cinders. But this one is more of a patchwork of different thoughts and feelings, and it’s actually a really old idea. It’s been sitting in my futures notebook for several years waiting for a story to go with it. I wanted to write about a world where magic and technology have evolved side by side through an industrial revolution resulting in a setting that looks very similar to New York or London in the year 1900. A certain important plot element and its accompanying feelings came from a dream, one of those where I wake up scrambling for a pen. And some of the tone and themes were inspired by Boondock Saints.

What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult Fantasy with kind of a thriller vibe

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’d really rather there was never a movie version. Sorry. I write novels, not screenplays.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A seventeen-year-old cop with OCD must reconnect with her vigilante father in order to catch a serial killer. What do you think? Is this any good? I think it sounds a little generic, and I can’t figure out how to fit the magic in without making it too long.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Kind of a cart and horse thing considering the stage of the project, but I’m nothing if not goal-oriented. I’d really like an agent and a publisher. I’m good at the writing stuff, but the legal and marketing stuff? Yeah, not so much. By Wingéd Chair is currently on submission to the first batch of agents, so we’ll see what comes.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Um…wait. It’s supposed to be done? Heheh. This is my newest project, and I haven’t actually started writing it yet, just getting it all in order. Lots more research than any of my others so far. But if it follows the normal patterns then I’ll get most of it (at least 50,000 words) on paper this November for Nanowrimo, and then I’ll spend the next two or three months hemming and hawing before I write down the end. I’m not sure why but this always happens.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hmm. I hadn’t actually thought about this yet. I’m going to go with Tamora Pierce’s Terrier (because of the cop element and because Tamora Pierce is probably my deepest influence) and Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study (because there are some lovely secrets and horrible pasts to conceal and discover and Snyder pulled this off with gut-wrenching style).

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Same thing as the rest in the Valeria series. I feel a need to read (and consequently to write) about unlikely heroes, characters who don’t fit the mold yet who still reach out and touch something in all of us.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is my first novel to feature a character with a disability entirely different from my own. Aschen, Merry, and Anwen all have trouble walking. Kallan has what we would recognize as OCD. So not only does she have to overcome a questionable past and a manipulative (and slightly psychotic) father, she also has to work around obsessions and compulsions that continually screw up her attempt to straighten out her life. The prospect of writing Kallan is both exciting and terrifying. I can’t wait to meet her.

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Bow Chicka

Recently, I was reading an article about JK Rowling, and I came across a quote that made me laugh and die a little inside at the same time. I decided I couldn’t leave this rather shallow and idealistic view of fantasy without a rebuttal. Rowling probably isn’t looking for an amateur writer’s opinion, so y’all get to listen to it instead.

Rowling was talking about her upcoming release, The Casual Vacancy, a contemporary adult novel, and how she was excited to branch out from the fantasy genre. I guess because she felt restricted. “There are certain things you just don’t do in fantasy,” she said. “You don’t have sex near unicorns. It’s an ironclad rule. It’s tacky.” Maybe I’m taking this the wrong way, but to me, she’s saying sex has no place in fantasy. Really? I’m sure Jacqueline Carey, Anne Bishop, and Marion Zimmer Bradley would love to hear about this rule they’ve obviously overlooked for the last fifty years or so.

I don’t know what rulebook Rowling is reading, but I’ve never felt like sex is taboo in fantasy. In fact, in my experience, it’s a genre where the boundaries can be tested and the envelope pushed without the social mores of the real world getting in the way. I’m talking about books like Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series where magic is not so subtly bound up in sex and gender roles. Or Anthony and Lackey’s If I Pay Thee Not in Gold with a character who’s an incubus until the act of sex transforms him into a succubus. Or there’s Valen in Carol Berg’s Lighthouse duet who is addicted to a drug that converts pain into pleasure (not always in the context of sex, but it’s a good example of the envelope I’m talking about). There’s even a subgenre of erotic fantasy now, as illustrated by Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.

Wow, from this angle my shelves look positively pornographic. Even if Rowling is talking specifically about the genre of the Harry Potter books, middle grade and young adult fantasy, her claim doesn’t make sense. Middle grade books probably shouldn’t have sex in them whatever their genre. However, plenty of young adult books, both fantasy and contemporary, deal with adult issues. Look at Tamora Pierce’s In the Hands of the Goddess and Simone Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry. I don’t necessarily think that teenage characters should have sex, but that’s another issue entirely.

Fantasy is by definition fantastic. Full of magic, fairies, wizards, other worlds, whatever floats your boat. But it still has to be grounded in reality. We need anchor points, things we can relate to, otherwise we drift through the story without letting it really touch us. The themes, the morals, the emotions we’re supposed to be feeling sail right overhead because we can’t imagine how it applies to us. I’m not saying sex is required to make fantasy realistic. I’m saying that sex is real. It should be utilized as all other tools and plot elements are utilized: tastefully and appropriately, where a story calls for it.

Excluding sex seems very limiting for a genre that’s supposed to be the ultimate imagination getaway. And it’s naïve and incredibly silly to exclude it just because you think unicorns are too innocent for such worldly pursuits. So tell me, where do baby unicorns come from? And if unicorns are perceptive enough to tell the virgins from the deflowered, doesn’t that mean they’re well aware of sex and all its accompanying drama, if only to choose those who haven’t been touched by it?

I feel like Rowling hasn’t read very much at all in the genre she dominated for ten years. Not really a great way for an author to portray themselves. If she wanted to rectify the situation, I’d recommend she start with Mercedes Lackey’s Fortune’s Fool from the Five Hundred Kingdoms series where unicorns and sex share space in a single scene. The effect is hilarious and not at all tacky. Or even kinky.

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First Lines

First impressions are everything. At least, that’s what everyone says. Now, I don’t think that’s entirely true. You can recover from a bad first impression…eventually. But I can’t deny they’re important. Which makes the first line of a novel equally important. Let’s say the first page of a book is like a job interview and the reader is the boss. They’re saying, “All right, here’s your chance. So, entertain me.” That means your first line is like your suit and your smile. Important, right?

In The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass (intense book, I’m sure I’ll talk about it at some point) he has an exercise for first lines. He says “Try this at your next critique group session or chapter meeting of your writer’s organization: Ask everyone to bring in two opening lines: their favorite of all time, and the first line from their current manuscript. Mix them up in a hat. Read them aloud and ask people to raise their hands if they want to hear the next line. I promise you, you will see the intrigue factor at work again and again – or not!” See, didn’t I say it was a good idea to learn from the masters?

Let’s do that here. I’m going to take the first lines from some of the books in my library and see what it is that makes me want to go on. Normally, I give authors more than just the first line before I’ll put the book down. In fact, I’ll usually read the whole thing telling myself it must get better on the next page. That’s something I need to work on but not today. Today we’re just going to look at the first lines.

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.” The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

You know, I respect Tolkein but I don’t think this one works. I recognize he wrote in a different time but this doesn’t make me want to know more (except maybe how he can be that old, but this is fantasy, the genre is full of ancient wizards and wizened dwarves).

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.” Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I’ll preface this with: I really don’t like Twilight. But I thought it deserved a look since it’s so popular. I have to admit, it’s not a bad first line. Really melodramatic and a little cliché (not to make excuses, but that’s setting the tone for the rest of the book), but I definitely have some questions. Why is she dying? What’s been happening the last few months? And what kind of person doesn’t think about dying, especially if she had “reason enough”? Well, someone who seriously has no imagination.

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.” The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Another popular one, though it can’t be because of its first line. This gives me no sense of the character, and I think waking up in the morning has to be the least interesting way to start a story. Though, I’ll admit, once I got past the first couple pages, I couldn’t put it down.

“Your grandfather,” said Vanyel’s brawny fifteen-year-old cousin Radevel, “was crazy.” Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

This is one of my favorite books but not one of my favorite first lines. This doesn’t tell me anything about the protagonist. I know I’m supposed to be thinking “Why is the grandfather crazy?” but what’s actually going through my head is “Why is the grandfather important?”. And the thing is, he’s not. We learn pretty soon that he’s dead and his craziness only matters right here in the first paragraph. It has nothing to do with the rest of the book. Kind of misleading, if you ask me.

“People…they do the craziest shit.” Nightlife by Rob Thurman

This one just makes me smile. As you read on, you realize this is a perfect introduction to Cal’s character. And it raises questions. Who are the people and what are they doing?

“That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me.” Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Oh, so many questions. And what a great intro to Ella’s voice.

“I am not as I once was.” The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

What a great promise to start a book with. I know right off the bat that this character is going to grow and change and not necessarily in good ways. The tone of the voice is almost one of regret or forgetfulness, but in just a few words it gives us a sense of Yeine’s character.

“On my seventh birthday, my father swore, for the first of many times, that I would die face down in a cesspool.” Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg

This is one of my favorites. How could you not keep reading? The language is beautiful, the sentiment is shocking, and I already have so many questions about the character, I’m not sure which one to pose first. Maybe: What is up with his family? That actually turns out to be one of the most compelling things about the book.

So what I’ve learned from this exercise is that I expect the first line of a book to give me a glimpse or a sense of who a character is. I expect questions to be raised, otherwise why would I want to go on? And those first words should set the mood or the tone of the entire book. Something I didn’t realize before I started was how important the promise of the first line is. In the case of Magic’s Pawn, I felt misled. But The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms stayed true to its promise, though not exactly the way I’d imagined. That isn’t something you can tell until you’ve finished the book, but it is definitely something that your readers are going to notice if they go back and read it again. Something we all hope for.

Character, tone, questions, promise. That’s a lot to scrunch into one sentence. What do y’all think? Anything you look for in a first line? Did you disagree with any that I talked about? I think these elements are important but writing is still subjective. A line that works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. In the end you need to know what would keep you reading.

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Learning from the Masters

I’ve said before, I don’t have a degree in writing. I took one creative writing class in high school, that’s it. And I’m not really planning on going back to school. Yet I can study under masters of my craft like Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Terry Pratchett without budging from my library. I can improve my writing by reading and studying the authors I admire (not to mention practicing what I’ve learned).

What amazes me is how many people out there think to themselves “Hey, I could write a book” without having read anything but the morning paper over the last five years. Do you think Jacques Cousteau said “Hey, I could be a marine biologist” without ever having been to the beach? Reading familiarizes you with genre requirements, reader expectations, and above all, feeds your imagination. That last sounds cheesy, I know, but think of it like a linebacker. It can’t do its job unless you feed it four course meals full of carbs and protein. Agent Kristin Nelson has said on her blog that she wishes she could demand authors submit a receipt with their manuscripts proving they’ve bought (and hopefully read) a book in the last month.

You can learn directly from your favorite authors. Study their words, their language. Francine Prose calls this “close reading” in her book Reading Like a Writer (though I don’t recommend close reading this book unless you really like literary fiction and classics and/or plan on writing literary fiction).

What books did you absolutely love? What was it about them that made your heart beat faster? Why do you pick that one particular book up over and over again like a favorite blanket? How can you recapture the feeling you get from those pages? Reading isn’t supposed to be a chore but if you keep these thoughts in mind as you read, you’ll start to see the details that slipped by the first time. You’ll notice the mechanics that make the story work this way and not that way.

One of my favorite books is Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Pawn. My copy is worn and dog-eared from so many readings. Finally, I decided to figure out what it was that had captured me the first time I read it as an ignorant high schooler and kept drawing me back over and over. It didn’t take long, since I was so familiar with it already (seriously, I read it about once a year). It was the character. Vanyel is strong and appears unapproachable, but as the reader you can see the vulnerabilities that he tries to hide from those in his world. That fragile strength that could break with just one wrong word made Vanyel so real and tangible.

Elizabeth Haydon has written a series that kept me up at night. The Symphony of Ages is a long read, but I found myself losing hours flipping pages. After some study, I figured out that it was one specific plot element that made this such a compelling read. At the very beginning, the two characters cross paths and diverge again, and they go on operating under a false assumption. They believe they’ve lost each other, but the reader knows the truth. Through three fairly hefty books I watched and waited and squirmed, knowing a secret that was killing me. I could not physically tear myself away from them because I had to see when and if they would learn the truth. Oh, such sweet agony.

These authors are obviously doing something right, and I hope that maybe some of that will rub off on me. I try to take what I’ve learned from them and apply it to my own writing. Right now, it’s just baby steps, but maybe one day, someone will be reading my work and thinking “Hey, I could write a book”.

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GUTGAA Meet and Greet

So I’m posting out of order and on a different day than usual for a special reason. I saw this really cool event going on and decided the timing was just too perfect. Deana Barnhart is hosting a Gearing Up to Get an Agent blogfest. Very awesome and timely. I could have waited to post this until Friday but that’s the last day of the meet and greet, and since half the point of this is to make new friends and connections in the writing world, I wanted to get this up a little earlier. Hope y’all don’t mind that there’ll be three posts this week (oh my gosh the world is coming to an end).

And in keeping with the meet and greet portion of our program, here’s a little about me. I’m a 27 year old writer, and I live in Denver with lots of books, a husband and a service dog. If I’m not writing, I’m reading, and if I’m not reading, I’m playing a video game, and if I’m not doing any of the above, I’m trying out something less nerdy. I’ve been writing since I was fourteen but for the last six years I’ve been concentrating on retelling fairytales about characters with disabilities. It’s been a blast.

-Where do you write?

At my desk in my library, surrounded by books. And in restaurants, at the dinner table, on the couch, at a friend’s house, or anywhere else where I figure out what happens next.

-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?

A bookcase full of writing books and my editorial calendar. And a wall.

-Favorite time to write?

Uh, am I supposed to stop writing sometimes?

-Drink of choice while writing?

Vanilla coke. But I had to cut out caffeine so…

-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

No music, no TV. I’m too distractable. On the rare occasion that I’m possessed and I have to have sound, I’ll listen to the Lord of the Rings soundtracks. But nothing with words ever.

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

The one that I just finished polishing? Or the one I just thought up and haven’t written down yet? I’ll go with the first since it’s more interesting. I got the idea while sitting in rehab (in a wheelchair) that I wanted to read about fantasy characters like me, so I wrote the first page of what came to be By Wingéd Chair.

-What’s your most valuable writing tip?

Just write. It’s impossible to edit something that doesn’t exist and you’ll never get better if you don’t practice. Get out of your head and just put pen to paper.

That’s it for me. Click here to blog hop.

Don’t forget to stop by tomorrow when I start my new series Accessible Excerpts.

 

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