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Sum it Up in One Sentence

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They make it sound so easy… so off-the-cuff, so matter-of-fact. “In one sentence, what’s your book about?” HUH?! One sentence? Really? Okay, here’s what I’ve realized. If you are looking for an agent or romancing an editor, these people want to figure out in a millisecond whether they should spend the next millisecond considering your work. That’s why you need a good pitch or hook. That one (or two if you have enough hubris) sentence that will snag them on the end of your line.

Having been a reporter I know all about hooks – or ledes as we call them in the business. I spent a lot of time poring over these precious sentences, making sure that they grabbed the reader’s attention and made them beg for more. And now that I’m writing fiction, I can thank my editor at the paper for helping prepare me for this next stage of writing.

Have you perfected your hook? Is it polished and does it sing? Make sure you spend time doing this because it might be the difference between the trash can and a phone call.

Write on everyone.

Building Character

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Protagonists, antagonists, supporting characters… Where do they come from? Our heads of course. We can shape them, manipulate them any old way we choose. And by adding bits here and there we eventually leave our readers with an impression of the person we’ve created. If it’s our protagonist, we usually want our readers to feel empathetic towards him or her so maybe we make them vulnerable. If it’s the antagonist, we often imbue this character with traits that conflict with the protagonist thus creating tension.

We can get lots of mileage from physical attributes as well. Take Captain Hook for instance. He was mean and menacing and what could be scarier for a child than a villain with a silver, pointed hook for a hand. Or how about Fantine in Les Miserables? We see her beauty fade as she first sells her hair, her teeth and then her body.

Right now I’m creating characters for my next novel. Piecing together parts from people I know or characters from movies, books and television. Kind of like a quilt of granny squares. The eyes for one of my main characters, a 13-year-old Jewish girl, I got from from the cover of a book. It’s pinned to my bulletin board. Her friend looks a lot like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver – tough and lanky.  And the Jewish grandmother is soft and round with an ample bosom just like a dear friend I once knew.

And if we’re really good at it, creating a character, sometimes that fictional being takes on a life of his or her own. One such character for me is Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Francie sang to me. I loved her spunk, pluck and tenacity. I found myself wishing that I had known her for we’d surely have been best friends.

So what characters have left a lasting impression on you?

Write on everyone!

Another Award!? First, I’d like to thank my mother and Old Man Winter…

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You guys are awesome! This blogging thing is going to my head. The lovely Kate Loveton of Odyssey of a Novice Writer just nominated me for the prestigious Lighthouse Award. And I want to publicly thank her for her support. Sometimes we wonder if anyone even cares out there and so getting these little bits of affirmation really helps. So that’s why I’m paying it forward by in turn, nominating a few other blogs that I feel deserve mention.

First off, of course, is Kate’s. She is crazy about books, writing and is very witty. She likes to review novels and is into contemporary adult fiction feel-good kind of stories. So click the link above if you’d like to see her stuff. (Or see what she had to say about my blog.)

The following are some other blogs that I think you might find interesting and helpful:

Margaux’s Blog      One Book, Two Books, Old Books, New Books     DonCharisma     Writers in the Storm     Travel Chick Diaries     From the Laundry Room     Interestingliterature

Ok. There they are. The newest list of Lighthouse Award nominees! Please check out their work. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. That’s one of the things that blogging allows us to do. Spread the love. If there’s a particularly informative or inspiring blog I like, I pass it on. Especially for my fellow-writing friends out there.

Also by blogging, I am able to use my experiences to help others in similar situations. I mean, let’s face it. Writing is a lonely occupation. And sometimes we just need someone to listen. Or sometimes we need to feel someone else’s pain. That’s what the blogging community can provide.

And lastly, I want to entertain. I guess that’s the true test of a fiction writer. We want to tell a story. We don’t want to teach a lesson. I remember reading that somewhere in On Writing by Stephen King. He said for most of his novels, he simply wanted to tell a story and scare the shit out of people. Yup. My kind of guy. So while I don’t want to scare the shit out of people I do want to elicit a reaction – good or bad. So hopefully, soon, there will be more posts of the fictional sort that will entertain and not just inform.

So I think I’ve fulfilled my duty as a Lighthouse Award recipient. (Thanks Kate!) Good luck to all those nominated and don’t forget to pay it forward!

The criteria for accepting the award are:

• Display the Award Certificate on your blog.
• Write a post and link back to the blogger that nominated you.
• Inform your nominees of their award nominations.
• Share three ways that you like to help others.
• Nominate as many bloggers as you like.

Write on everybody.

Are You a Panster or a Plotter? Weigh in.

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Battles rage about this issue. When writing – especially something large or complex – are you one who flies by the seat of your pants (Panster)? Or do you carefully outline the story from beginning to end (Plotter)?

Take a moment to answer the poll. It will be interesting to see which one comes out ahead…

Myself? Well, I’d say I’m a Semi-Plotter.

It all started in grade school when my teacher, Mrs. Harding, made us outline our book-reports. You know I, II, III followed by A,B,C and then 1.2.3 yadda, yadda, yadda. Sometimes it got so convoluted that I’d forget where I was in the scheme of things. I’d draw arrows from III.C.4 to I.B.2 and then erase like crazy. By the time I was done, there would be holes in the paper and tears on my cheeks.

But over time, I realized that this kind of planning was good for me. To an extent. It helped organize my thoughts, figure out where I was headed and finally bring it all together in a neatly wrapped package. Years ago, when I wrote for a local paper, I would often jot down a rough outline to get a good feel for the flow of the story. Then I would fill in the missing pieces of information. Often, I would find myself surprised when my story simply concluded on its own as if by magic.

So I’ve taken this non-fiction type of outline and plan to apply it to my next work of fiction. But in a much more organic way.

I have the story in scenes written out randomly on my laptop. Yesterday I cut up a brown-paper bag like you would if you were going to use it as a book-cover.  Next, I raided my daughter’s art cubby and scavenged a nice assortment of colored markers. I plan to sketch out a timeline of the scenes on the brown paper and use it as an “outline.”

So for those of you content to simply let the pen fly willy-nilly, I bow in respect.

But you won’t have a pretty piece of brown paper with rainbow- colored jottings to hang up on your wall now will you?

Tools to Make Your First Pages Stronger

Advice from someone who knows…Linda P. Eptein, literary agent. Take heed those of you putting pen to paper!

The Blabbermouth Blog

Old Antique Tools in Vintage Carpentry WorkshopThere’s nothing more boring (to me) than a manuscript that starts off with nothing happening. Or starts off with the main character staring at themselves in the mirror (and hating their eyes or fixing their unruly hair or noticing their cheekbones are like their dead mother’s). Or begins with the main character waking up and looking around their surroundings (and describing them in detail, as if they’ve never seen it before, or love it so much, or hate it so much). Actually, can we just agree that manuscripts shouldn’t start at all with a character waking up? Start with something happening!

In the first pages of Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight, the main character Rafe is being dropped off at his “new home.” His dad is trying to take a picture of him with his iPhone and he tells Rafe to do some silly things for the camera and…

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