Stephen King is pretty freakin cool…

 

stephen king book

So I recently read Stephen King’s memoir on writing (Stephen King/On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft). He has always been an author that’s intrigued me and after reading this book he does even more.

He’s an author of more than 50 books and all of them worldwide bestsellers. Not many authors can claim that. I thought that I would share a few things he said that spoke to me in his memoir. May I strongly suggest also, whether you’re a writer or just a fan to go pick this book up or order it online. It’s a must have.

From the King himself:

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

Although you’re the creator of your characters, they can actually teach you some unexpected things along the way. According to Stephen, Carrie White, his main character in the book, Carrie, was the one character that taught him things no other did.

“The most important is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a shitting position.”  

“-…but I think you will find that, if you continue to write fiction, every character you create is partly you.”

“And if you do your job, your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own.”

Everything matters. Even where you place your writing desk.

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

You have the honor of writing a book, which is what Mr. King calls, “uniquely portable magic.” However, that comes with a seriousness of the responsibility it holds.

“Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again; you must not come lightly to a blank page.” 

“-it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.”

Words, Tense, Averbs…

“Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.”

“The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of the full meaning.”

“You should avoid passive tense.”

“The adverb is not your friend.”

Whether you’re a first time author or you’ve written a million books, there is still a small steady fear that whatever your writing is crap and you had no business being an author in the first place. That’s okay. Just don’t let it consume you the writing will be bad if it even gets written at all.

“I’m convinced that fear is the root of most bad writing.”

“Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as “good” and other sorts as “bad”, is fearful behavior. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with.”

One of your must-have tools…Reading. You MUST read…without ceasing. Second, write. Anything…everything…just write.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

“You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”

“We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience the different styles.”

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like that phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor”

“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.”

Keep it fresh in your mind. Yes, some of us have other jobs, families, or responsibilities, but you MUST forge through with your writing and keep it going.

“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind–they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death. Writing is at its best–always, always, always–when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.”

“For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction.”

“I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader.”

Description is the essence for your reader. That skill does not come overnight to a writer.

“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot.”

“Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience. It ends with your translating what you see in your mind into words on the page.”

“If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.”

“The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary.”

“Practice the art, always reminding yourself that your job is to say what you see, and then to get on with your story.”

Dialogue…truth…

“As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty. And if you are honest about the words coming out of your character’s mouths, you’ll find that you’ve let yourself in for a fair amount of criticism.”

“You must tell the truth if your dialogue is to have the resonance and realism that Hart’s War, good story though it is, so sadly lacks–and that holds true all the way down to what folks say when they hit their thumb with a hammer. If you substitute “Oh sugar!” for “Oh shit!” because you’re thinking about the Legion of Decency, you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader–your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story.”

“Everything I’ve said about dialogue applies to building characters in fiction. The job boils down to two things: paying attention to how real people around you behave and then telling the truth about what you see.”

1st drafts…2nd drafts…and self doubt…

“I don’t believe a story or novel should be allowed outside the door of your study or writing room unless you feel confident that it’s reasonably reader-friendly.”

“With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes to my mind, only looking back to check the names of characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”

For all writers, the act of writing is something extraordinary, a feat that cannot be put into exact words, a window that opens to endless possibilities if they can imagine it…

“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”

“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

“Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink up and be filled.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Things you may not have known about J.R.R. Tolkien…

JRR

Happy Friday!! In honor of Fun Fact Friday, I thought I would end our week with a few little facts about one of my FAVORITE authors of all times, and perhaps yours too!!!

Who doesn’t love Lord of the Rings!?! Who isn’t just mesmerized by the depth of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing endeavors? He would definitely be on my list of top people to meet if he were still alive. Just awesomeness…

Anyway, here’s the article I found by Jason Todd. Enjoy!!


In honor of the The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, here are nine things about John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and his work that you might not have known.

He did not write The Hobbit for children

“I am not specially interested in children, and certainly not in writing for them: i.e. in addressing directly and expressly those who cannot understand adult language,” he wrote in a letter. The Hobbit reads like a children’s story because Tolkien had children of his own and was in the regular habit of making up stories for them. Nevertheless, he did not believe in writing down to anyone, especially to children. He took them seriously, even if they were not his main audience.

Though he was a voracious reader, he rarely read the same book twice

In An Experiment in Literary Criticism, C.S. Lewis said that a mark of the unliterary was that they rarely read the same book twice, and that was an accurate definition for Tolkien. “Nothing, not even a (possible) deeper appreciation, for me replaces the bloom on a book, the freshness of the unread,” he wrote. “Still, what we read and when goes, like the people we meet, by ‘fate.’”

He invented more than 14 languages

There’s debate over exactly how many languages Tolkien invented, but he was certainly a lover of languages and started inventing his own at a young age. He used some of his invented languages in his writing, and he also mastered and wrote in extinct languages such as Gothic and Medieval Welsh.

His faith unconsciously seeped into his writing

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision,” he wrote. “That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

In the mind of his creator, Sam Gamgee was the real hero of The Lord of the Rings

“I think the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero’s) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the ‘longing for Elves’, and sheer beauty.” If you want to understand the books, look at how Sam loves his wife.

He would have felt right at home in the Shire

Perhaps the writer created Hobbits a bit in his own image. “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.”

He was a WWI veteran

Tolkien served as an officer in the Battle of Somme, but eventually had to return home when he developed a chronic fever. Several of his closest friends died in the war.

He had a very simple view of the meaning of life

“It may be said that the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks.”

His fictional world and his real life often intertwined.

In The Silmarillion, Tolkien wrote a story about Beren, a mortal man, and Lúthien Tinúviel, an immortal elf maiden. Lúthien gave up her immortality to marry Beren. Two months after the death of his wife, Edith, Tolkien wrote, “I met the Lúthien Tinúviel of my own personal ‘romance’ with her long dark hair, fair face and starry eyes, and beautyiful voice. And in 1934 she was still with me, and her beautiful children. But now she has gone before Beren, leaving him indeed one-handed.” Tolkien and Edith are buried side-by-side. Below their names on their gravestone are written “Lúthien” and “Beren.”

In 1944, Tolkien’s son, Christopher, was having a rough time in camp with the army. His father wrote the following encouragement, “Well, there you are: a hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them. You are inside a very great story!”

A majority of the quotes from this article are taken from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien.


Happy Friday Ya’ll!! I challenge ya’ll to get some writing done this weekend!!! I know I need to!

Adverbs…NOOOOOOO!!!!!

armadillo

We all have our struggles, our little negative habits or tidbits that we desperately need to overcome in our writing. Whether it be terrible spelling, procrastination (ME, ME, ME!!!), confusion with POV, or…using the dreaded adverb too many times (ME, ME, ME!!).

If you were like me when I first started out, I thought adverbs were fabulous! They helped with description and some just sounded better with the big ‘LY” at the end. Yeah, no. It took a little bit of research on my part, to realize how much adverbs can water down your story and that, they are not, I repeat, NOT your friend.

As Stephen King put it, “I believe the road to Hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” And he’s right. One major reason an agent, editor, or publisher might put your manuscript down and move to another, is if your writing is drenched in adverbs. Here’s a little more on what Stephen King had to say about the adverb and on the simplicity of style.

“Employ a simple and straightforward style,” Mark Twain instructed in the 18th of his 18 famous literary admonitions. And what greater enemy of simplicity and straightforwardness than the adverb? Or so argues Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft (public library), one of 9 essential books to help you write better.

Though he may have used a handful of well-placed adverbs in his recent books, King embarks upon a forceful crusade against this malignant part of speech:

The adverb is not your friend.

Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came beforeHe closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?

Someone out there is now accusing me of being tiresome and anal-retentive. I deny it. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.

I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions . . . and not even then, if you can avoid it. Just to make sure we all know what we’re talking about, examine these three sentences:

‘Put it down!’ she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.

In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:

‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.

The three latter sentences are all weaker than the three former ones, and most readers will see why immediately.

King uses the admonition against adverbs as a springboard for a wider lens on good and bad writing, exploring the interplay of fear, timidity, and affectation:

I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. If one is writing for one’s own pleasure, that fear may be mild — timidity is the word I’ve used here. If, however, one is working under deadline — a school paper, a newspaper article, the SAT writing sample — that fear may be intense. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.

Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as ‘good’ and other sorts as ‘bad,’ is fearful behavior.

It’s funny to me how Stephen King vocalizes that he believes that “fear” is at the root of most bad writing, when he is in fact, the author of some of the most terrifying stories of all times. His readers will probably agree with me, that in Mr. King’s case, he might have mastered “fear” to his advantage in his incredible writing.

Just remember, that some adverbs are okay when used moderately (or in moderation-see what I did there?). There will be times you catch yourself still adding an adverb where you don’t need it to be. But as you grow, just like trained singers, writers who’ve mastered technique can make magic with their voices, captivating their readers and making them turn pages. Such a writer’s voice can pulse with vitality, swing like music, create all kind of effects inside readers, compel them by sheer syntactical energy to keep turning the pages. It can only do these things, though, when the writer—like all those great writers from earlier eras—has studied, practiced, and mastered the repertoire of syntactical techniques available to those of us writing in English.

Including how to use—with precision, with care, with passion—the adverb.

Happy Writing Ya’ll!!!

6 Ways to Hook your Reader from the Very First Line

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I’d like to take a quick second, and wish everyone a great writing conference experience this weekend! Do ya’ll have butterflies yet? Are ya’ll panicking that you forgot to pack something? It’s crazy to think that it’s been a whole year since I was doing the exact same thing as all of you. Like I said before, just relax and have a great time!!! I’ll be thinking about ya’ll! I would love to hear some experiences when ya’ll get back!

So, on to our subject today. Obviously, it’s important to keep your readers interested. Sure, not all of your book is going to keep your reader on the edge of their seat (well, unless it’s an intense thriller or mystery). But, let’s face it, there will possibly be a slow paced part in your manuscript. That’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But, you need to make sure that it’s not excessive or lingers throughout your manuscript. The worst thing a writer can do, is fill the pages with words just for a word count. You don’t want your reader to start skipping or skimming over pages. It can happen in all sorts of ways, starting with too much description, or dialogue that doesn’t really have a purpose. With the snap of your fingers, it can cause your reader to sit your book down and move on to the next. Believe me, there are plenty of choices for them out there. Don’t aid them in choosing a different book.

But, before you start worrying about the middle or end of your manuscript, the valleys and peaks of it, you must concentrate on capturing your audience with the first few pages. This is very important as well, when searching for a literary agent. Agents are VERY busy, and if you can’t grab their attention in the first single page, some will simply move on to the next manuscript in front of them.

Something they said at the conference that stuck with me, is that every reader who picks up a book, goes through a process when they’re interest is sparked. The cover or title of the book catches their eye first, then they flip the book over to the back. Still intrigued, they move to the inside jacket flap, and if you’ve hit gold, igniting their interest even more, they begin to read the first page or first few pages. This, is where you get them hooked. So, the question is, how do you do that? How do you capture your readers, whether it’s a literary agent or a bookstore customer, from the very beginning?

I found this article by, Suzannah Windsor Freedom, about how to do just that.


Although I consider myself an avid reader, I must admit I have a short attention span when it comes to getting into books. If you fail to grab my attention in the first few lines, I start spacing out.

Most readers are like me. Most people don’t want to spend the first 50 pages trying to get into a book.

Here are a few things I find annoying in the first lines of a story:

  • Dialogue. Nice somewhere on the first or second page, but not in the first line. We won’t know who’s speaking or why we should care.
  • Excessive description. Some description is good, but not when it’s long winded. Skip the purple prose and opt for something more powerful.
  • Irrelevant information. The first few lines of your story are crucial, so give your reader only important information.
  • Introducing too many characters. I don’t like to be bombarded with the names of too many characters at once. How are we supposed to keep them straight when we don’t know who’s who?

The last thing you want to do as a writer is annoy or bore people. Instead, try one of these 6 ways to hook your readers right off the bat:

(N.B. One of the easiest ways to check out the opening pages of nearly any book you want is with the ‘Look Inside!‘ feature on Amazon.com.)

1. Make your readers wonder.

Put a question in your readers’ minds. What do those first lines mean? What’s going to happen? Make them wonder, and you’ll keep them reading.

2. Begin at a pivotal moment.

By starting at an important moment in the story, your reader is more likely to want to continue so he or she can discover what will happen next.

  • “It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.” ~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden
  • “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” ~Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

3. Create an interesting picture.

Description is good when it encourages people to paint a picture in their minds. Often, simple is best so it’s the reader who imagines a scene, instead of simply being told by the author.

  • “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” ~Daphne DuMaurier, Rebecca
  • “She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.” ~Michael Ontaatje, The English Patient

4. Introduce an intriguing character.

The promise of reading more about a character you find intriguing will, no doubt, draw you into a story’s narrative. Most often, this is one of the main characters in the book.

  • “I was born twice: first as a baby girl on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” ~Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

5. Start with an unusual situation.

Show us characters in unusual circumstances, and we’ll definitely be sticking around to see what it’s all about.

  • “They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.” ~Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked
  • Last night, I dreamt that I chopped Andrew up into a hundred little pieces, like a Benihana chef, and ate them, one by one.” ~Julie Buxbaum, The Opposite of Love

6. Begin with a compelling narrative voice.

Open your story with the voice of a narrator we can instantly identify with, or one that relates things in a fresh way.

  • “As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.” ~Alistair MacLeod, No Great Mischief
  • “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” ~Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants

No matter how you start your book, keep your readers in mind. What will make them want to continue reading? What will potentially make them put down your book?

How does your favorite book open, and what makes it so compelling?


Hope everyone has a stupendous, exhilarating weekend!!

Happy Writing, Editing, Pitching, and Conferencing Ya’ll!!

Tips on Writing a Page Turner

If you can’t tell by now, I’m a huge advocate of Writer’s Digest. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned just by reading the articles they have available on the internet. Not to mention, some of the books they have as well. If you haven’t checked them out yet, here’s the link! http://www.writersdigest.com/

Anyway, I found this great article by, Chuck Sambuchino, on 5 steps to write a page turner. There’s some really good tips in here. Enjoy!

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a quiet novel about old age, a historical romance, or a spy thriller. All writers face the same challenge: how do you keep a reader turning the pages of your novel? Imagine you’re rushing to work when you see a crowd of people, film cameras and lights. Some people say it’s Tom Cruise, others insist it’s a car commercial. Now you’re curious, and you stop to watch, even though you’re going to be late for work. As a writer, the most powerful emotion you can tap into is curiosity. You want the reader to stick around and see what happens in the end. How do you do this?

  1. Create a question in the reader’s mind right at the beginning.

This might seem like a cheap trick, but even a literary writer like Marquez uses it at the beginning of a novel: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

(Can you re-query an agent after she’s rejected you in the past?)

What? The Colonel is facing a firing squad? How did he get there? Will he survive? And notice the secondary information: ice in this world is a novelty. Where is this place? How long ago is it?

In my own first novel, the beginning is tighter: “The Senator’s wife was late. Very late.” Hopefully the reader is intrigued: Who is this woman? Why is she late? Will she show up? And as the protagonist of my novel waits for the Senator’s wife, the reader waits, too, and gets sucked into the story.

  1. Little questions can lead to larger ones.

You do not have to start of your novel with something dramatic: an explosion, a body dropping, a woman standing on a window ledge. It takes time to build the world of a novel. If you introduce the main conflict of the novel too soon, the reader may not care: your characters are strangers, after all.

Instead, you could start with a quieter situation: your main character wakes up with a hangover, and doesn’t remember what happened the night before. A child searches the house for his missing candy bar. A cab driver picks up a beautiful woman who he thinks he recognizes.

These everyday situations will all pique the reader’s curiosity, and while they wait to find out what happens, you can develop complex, sympathetic characters and create a vivid setting. Then, when your main character goes on an epic journey, the child’s mother dies, and the cab driver is accused of murder, the reader will be fully invested in them, and read on to see what happens.

  1. Identify the main question at the heart of your book and don’t answer it till the end.

Ask yourself: What is keeping the reader intrigued? What is the most important question that remains unanswered till the end?

This central question of the book is often called the ‘narrative engine’. It is what keeps the reader turning pages, waiting to find out what happens. Once this question is answered, all the mystery drains away, so keep it alive till close to the end of the book.

Here’s the engine that powers my second novel, in one sentence: “When an Indian cab driver in New York City is accused of the murder of a Bollywood actress, he has ten days to find out who did it.”

Other classic narrative engines that keep entire novels chugging along: Do the lovers get together in the end? Do the travelers make it to their destination? What really happened in the past? Does he/she recover from a broken heart, a death, an illness?

  1. You can answer the main question right at the beginning and still create a page turner.

This completely contradicts what I’ve just said! Yet, the novel ‘Tinkers’, which won the Pulitzer Prize, gives everything away in the first sentence: “George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died.”

This might feel like a real spoiler. But, unlike a thriller or a mystery, this novel doesn’t hinge on knowing whether the man lives or dies. Instead, it explores how he came to be dying in his bed. If you are writing a quieter novel, it turns out how something happened can be just as compelling as what happened.

You could start a novel by revealing that the ship sinks, the marriage ends in divorce, the movie star ends up an alcoholic. Then the entire novel becomes a gradual unfolding of how it all happened. And the reader will stay with you for the ride.

(Learn how to protect yourself when considering a independent editor for your book.)

  1. Create a layering of questions.

While there is an overarching question that keeps the reader turning pages till the end of the book, 400 pages is a long time to wait for answer. If you, the writer, withhold all information throughout the book, the reader will get frustrated, and stop reading.

It is your job to introduce smaller questions throughout the book, and to answer them at different times. In my second novel, as my cab driver struggles to find the actress’s murderer, he takes up with a nightclub hostess; but what is she hiding from him? What exactly is happening at her nightclub? And do they end up together? While the main question remains shrouded in mystery, these smaller mysteries keep the book moving from chapter to chapter.

To conclude: please note that I started this post with a question, and you’ve read this far to find out the answers!

If you want to know even more, you can check out this website on Writer’s Digest as well – http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/how-to-make-your-novel-a-page-turner

Happy Writing Ya’ll!

Agent Interview on what they REALLY want…

1950s-chimp-in-overalls-sitting-in-chair-at-typewriter-with-pencil-and-steno-padI came across this article by Natalie R. Collins, and I thought it would be really good to share since we’ve been talking so much about literary agents lately. Let me know what you think!


“I wish I knew what agents are looking for,” a writing friend of mine said the other day. “If I could only read their minds, I’d be in!”

In today’s tough publishing climate, most big commercial presses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts or queries from authors, and instead use agents to sort through the slush pile and bring them the best work around.

This means the most important contact a writer can or will have is with his/her agent. There are many things to consider when choosing an agent, including their sales record, affiliations, reputation, and client list. As you query the agents that meet your criteria, you will undoubtedly meet with much rejection.

Once you have an agent, don’t imagine you’re on easy street. Most agents will tell you to put aside that dream of instant success and royalties that pour in unchecked, and prepare to go to work. New writers must be willing to actively market their work, a job that is both time consuming and tedious. No agent wants

a client who thinks once the book is written, the job is done. Since I’m seriously short on psychic skills, I decided to do the next best thing and ask a few successful agents some questions. I asked four questions of three agents:

Jeff Kleinman of Graybill and English, LLC [JK], Liza Dawson [LD], and Felicia Eth [FE].

All three are successful non-fee chargers with proven track records and good reputations. One fact came out loud and clear: Writers are making the same mistakes over and over again. Here’s your opportunity to learn what an agent is looking for, directly from the source.

  1. What is the worst thing a writer can do in a query letter?

JK: Hmm, that’s a tough one. How about three things: ramble for more than a page and a half; sound desperate; and make grammatical, punctuation, or spelling mistakes.

LD: Here are two worst things. One, write the letter like it’s a promo piece for Publishers Clearinghouse, i.e. “Dear Ms. Dawson: I’d like to offer you the opportunity at a sure bestseller. I’ve heard you’re brilliant and so successful and that’s why I’m sending you and the other fifty agents on this e-mail submission this letter.” Two, beg me in hysterical language to pay attention because you’ve never written a letter to an agent and you’re really scared and you know that no one will ever listen to you.

FE: Bore me. If the letter does, probably the manuscript will too. Boast about it — tell me it’s sure to be a bestseller, tell me I’ll make lots of money. Send it to me, but address it to another agent. You’d be amazed how often this happens. Make it clear it’s a form letter, where my name is hand-written in. It makes me think it’s been to a million other agents.

  1. What catches your eye and makes you want to read someone’s work?

JK: A tightly-crafted letter with a great single- or two-sentence description of the work, and an author with very good credentials — published in national magazines, or with a national platform; winning awards, and so forth.

LD: One, a recommendation; two, a clear description of the work with few superfluous sentences; three, previous publications.

FE: Pizzazz in the query letter. Good, maybe great credentials — either on the person’s expertise, or publishing background. An original approach without being overly corny; sometimes writers cross the line in making something way too cute. It’s strong, original writing that catches my eye.

  1. As writers, we hear stories of the “good old days” where agents and editors would nurture a promising writer with two or three books until they reached top form. In your opinion, was this ever the case, and if so, what changed it?

JK: I think that’s still the case with agents and editors. It’s all about nurturing and building up a brand name.

LD: It was true a long time ago. Agents will nurture for longer than editors will. Editors now must justify their salaries in a way that they never had to before. Unless that writer gets fabulous reviews and there’s a whiff of a Nobel prize in the air, then that editor has to maintain a wall between himself or herself and the writer — or else the editor will end up standing next to the writer, looking at the publishing house from the outside rather than the inside.

FE: I’ve been around for a while, and though things were never ‘great’ still there are definite differences today. People used to buy a book they loved but didn’t think would be a great commercial success, for small money, publish it well and hope that it would help establish a writer for his/her next book. Today no one (of the major houses at least) wants to spend small money on a book with small expectations. They just can’t buy those books; they need to meet minimums in terms of the number of copies they can get out. Also, previously if someone was a good writer, credentials and platform weren’t nearly as important as they are today. Now, without that, it’s a long, difficult, uphill battle and most editors aren’t willing to fight that fight. So yes, things are different.

  1. If you could give a new author one piece of advice to help advance his/her career, what would it be?

JK: Build up your credentials! By that I mean: One, learn to make your writing as solid, tight, and wonderful as possible; and two, become an “authority” on your subject, with some kind of very strong regional, or national, platform.

LD: Cultivate a following on National Public Radio. Come up with a high concept gimmick.

FE: Build credentials — short stories or magazine and newspaper pieces. Contests, supportive quotes from any major name you know. Build up a good case for why your work needs to be taken seriously, and then, amazingly enough, it will be. That’s no guarantee it will be bought, but at least it will be read and that’s an important first step.

I also asked one final question, half-jokingly: “When you become a literary agent, are you automatically required to use the word ‘subjective’ in your rejections?” Liza Dawson says yes: “Every time we send out a rejection notice we’re afraid that we’re going to spark a suicide, or reject a fabulously successful novel and the author will then make merciless fun of the agents who rejected the book and post the pompous rejections on his web site.”

Felicia Eth had this response: “You know, I do use ‘subjective’ myself, because it is. In fact, I don’t love ‘commercial’ novels, with all that implies, and probably reject a fair number of them that are good and likely to sell. But that’s not what I do, not what I like, and though other agents probably think I’m nuts, that’s my criteria. Authors should know that. I told someone this week that I don’t do Mob novels — and said, ‘yes I probably would have rejected the Godfather.’ So that’s how subjective it is.”

An important thing to remember is that this ruthless business is also difficult from the agent’s perspective. The goal of an agent is not to crush the spirit of a new writer, who often has great potential but simply is not ready to seek publication. The only way to succeed is to write, rewrite, edit and write again, until your work is perfectly polished. At that point, remember the business of publishing is, indeed, subjective. What one agent hates, another may love.

More of What Agents Really Want

Dear Author: Your work sounds intriguing. I would be interested in seeing the first fifty pages, along with a synopsis and your original query letter.

Best, Joe Agent

Now what do you do? Page fifty leaves the heroine dangling precariously from the outer tip of

See my point? Should you send forty-five pages, which ends a chapter and has a better breaking point, or should you send seventy-five pages, which ends the chapter you started on page forty-six?

For this question, I went straight to the source. I asked six agents exactly how they felt about the following questions:

  1. If you ask someone for the first fifty pages, and they send you fifty-two, because that is where a chapter breaks, are you going to disregard their work because they didn’t follow your guidelines?
  2. Should a writer automatically send a synopsis? If so, how long should that synopsis be?
  3. How long should a query letter be?

Overwhelmingly, the agents I asked stated that a writer sending extra pages or a few less than requested would not really affect how they look at the work. They had differing opinions on whether or not to send a synopsis and how long it should be. From their answers I believe that you should only send a synopsis if the agent requests it. All were in agreement again, however, when it comes to a query letter being only one page long. Keep it short.

Kind enough to respond politely to my inquiries were B.J. Robbins of B.J. Robbins Literary Agency; Liza Dawson, of Liza Dawson Associates; William Contardi, formerly of William Morris who is now with Brandt and Hochman; Pam Strickler, of Pam Strickler Literary Management; Simon Lipskar of Writers House; Linda Hyatt of Hyatt Literary Agency; Jeff Kleinman of Greybill and English; and Nicole Aragi, who recently left Watkins-Loomis to start her own agency.

If you ask someone for the first fifty pages, and they send you fifty-two, because that is where a chapter breaks, are you going to disregard their work because they didn’t follow your guidelines?

BJR: No, I would never disregard or reject out of hand someone’s work if they sent me a few pages more than I had requested. I ask for the first three chapters, which eliminates this problem.

LD: Of course not!

WC: Of course not… fifty pages give or take, this is a writerocracy not an agentatorship.

PS: No, that would be fine.

SL: Of course not. If there’s a natural break somewhere near fifty pages, then send that many pages. However, if the first chapter ends on page ninety-seven and the agent has requested fifty pages, just send fifty pages.

LH: Two pages will not break or make a writer. But, when I am overwhelmed with submissions and I respond with “I am not accepting submissions at this time” I do expect the author to heed my statement and try at a later date.

JK: I’m a completely crappy person to ask about that kind of stuff, because I frankly don’t care very much. I tend to think, though, that writers should try to follow an agent’s requests–because there are a lot of completely anal-retentive agents out there. The feeling is that if a writer can’t follow simple directions like send X, they’ll probably be difficult to work with for editing and editors.

NA No, of course not, the fifty-page guideline is just rough. I usually ask for fifty pages, or three chapters, or whatever “cut” seems most logical. Under no circumstances should they send a mix of chapters. It’s infuriating to receive a query letter with chapters twelve and thirteen enclosed. Like any reader, an agent wants to start at the beginning.

Should a writer automatically send a synopsis? If so, how long should that synopsis be?

BJR: I don’t request a synopsis, since I find them tedious to read, but if a writer wants to include one that’s fine. It should be short (those twenty-eight-page chapter outlines are a complete waste of time and I never read them) and in narrative form if possible.

LD: A short one. One to two pages. Short is better.

WC: [I’m] not that interested in a synopsis, more about the writing itself. Doesn’t hurt, but Êseveral lines in a cover letter is just as if not more effective.

PS: I think so. I prefer five pages or less.

SL: Yes. One to two pages maximum.

LH: I prefer a pitch letter, with writing credentials and the points of the story so I will be able to tell right away if it is something I can market. A synopsis should be as long as is necessary to work as a selling tool for the novel.

JK: It never hurts. I rarely read ’em unless I really like the book, and then I always want to see how the book will go. I think you should try to limit it to one to two pages, maximum. Double-spaced, of course. And make it read really, really smoothly, too. (Yeah, right–it’s far easier said than done!)

NA: It can be helpful, but is not essential. Whereas receiving a synopsis without a sample chapter(s) is distinctly unhelpful. Reading a sample of the text is the only way to make a judgment. [The synopsis] should be no more than a couple of paragraphs.

How long should a query letter be?

BJR: Query letters should be short and to the point, no more than one page. I want to know who you are, what you’ve written, where you’ve studied, and any other pertinent information that will help you stand out from the pack. Avoid cutesy, gimmicky letters or anything overly obsequious or grandiose.

LD: One page. Unless it’s brilliant and there is a lot to say.

WC: One page-ish with writer credits and a paragraph summation of the book.

PS: Short, on one page.

SL: No more than a single page. Remember, though, if you can’t write an enticing query letter, agents will invariably assume that you can’t write an enticing novel.

LH: A pitch letter can be one or two pages.

JK: Never more than one page.

NA: Again, a couple of paragraphs, not more.

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So there you have it. Keep your query letter to one page. Make it concise and to the point. Do not tell the agent his or her business. Rather, let them know what your credentials are, and why they should read your book. Don’t forget your hook. Your first line is without a doubt the most important one in the whole letter. If the agent asks for a synopsis, send one, but keep it short. Don’t send lengthy chapter outlines. Do send sample chapters, beginning with chapter one.

And if your fifty pages need one or two more pages to complete a chapter or an important scene, by all means include them. When an agent responds to your query positively, pay attention to what they are saying. Most often, they will tell you exactly what they want. Staying within the guidelines as closely as possible guarantees you the best chance of success.

Happy Agent Seeking Ya’ll!!!

Did you know? Reading is Important!

Happy Friday Everyone!

I know we talk mostly about writing on my blog, but there’s actually something even more important than that. GASP!!! I know, I know, how could I possibly utter those words? NOTHING is more important than writing, right? Well…how about the very reason we write? The purpose of why we spill words onto the page…is to read.

Reading is so important, no matter what stage of life you’re in, or so I believe anyways. Here is a small article I found with some reading facts you might find interesting.

There is overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people’s life chances. A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote.

It is vital that children enjoy reading – motivation is essential for acquiring literacy skills. Reading for pleasure is more important than either wealth or social class as an indicator of success at school.

Young people’s reading and literacy

There are approximately 23.3% young people aged under 18 in the US today.

  • In October 2013, 16 to 24 year olds came 22nd out of 24 countries measured for literacy levels by the OECD.
  • 46% of 16 to 24 year olds don’t read for pleasure.
  • More young people volunteer than any age group, in fact 40% of all young people volunteer. Despite this, only 12% of media stories about young people are positive, almost half the articles about young people are crime related and only one in ten stories about young people actually bothers to quote a young person.
  • The UK has the lowest child wellbeing of all UN countries surveyed in 2011, below Hungary, Poland, the US and virtually every European or western nation.
  • 15.9% of all 16- to 24-year-olds in England are not in education, employment or training.
  • Reading books is the only out-of-school activity for 16-year-olds demonstrably linked to securing managerial or professional jobs.
  • 70% of pupils permanently excluded from school have difficulties in basic literacy skills.

Adults’ reading and literacy

There are still far too many people whose poor basic skills put them at a huge disadvantage in modern society.

 

  • 35% of adults don’t read for pleasure.
  • 42% of men don’t read for pleasure.
  • 60% of the prison population has difficulties in basic literacy skills.
  • 15% of the working age population in the US (5.1m people) are at or below the level of literacy expected of an 11 year old. This figure was 16% (5.2 million people) in 2003.
  • More people are at the lowest level of literacy than in 2003 – 1.7m compared to 1.1m.

There is a new understanding of the importance of adults enjoying reading, and reading for pleasure. It helps to improve skills at the same time as increasing enjoyment, self-confidence and motivation.

Libraries and reading

Reading is one of our most popular pastimes. It’s more popular than gardening, going to the cinema, going to the theatre and concerts and doing DIY.

Libraries are the US’s most significant providers of the reading experience. They have an extraordinarily wide demographic reach, and play a vital, socially equalising role by giving everyone in a local community access to reading materials, and specialist support to encourage reading for pleasure.

Libraries’ work with readers builds people’s literacy levels, educational attainment and employability. It builds confidence, self-esteem and well-being.

  • Children who are read to every day at age three have a vocabulary at age five, nearly two months in advance to those that are not.
  • A child taken to the library on a monthly basis from ages three to five is two and a half months ahead an equivalent child at age five who did not visit the library so regularly.
  • Research suggests that regular reading is associated with a 35% reduction in the risk of dementia. It can reduce stress levels by 68%.
  • Taking part in social reading activity like reading groups can help people feel less isolated and develop mental concentration and mental agility.

Hope everybody has a great weekend! Happy Reading Ya’ll!