Tearing myself a new one – Round 1

First off, I’d like to thank M-E for giving me the idea of critiquing my younger and more inexperienced writer self.  We all started somewhere, green horns with much to learn and writing that was, for some of us at least, a few hundred miles from stellar.

I thought it would be a hoot to dredge up some of the skeletons in my laptop so I could poke at myself and laugh see what I would have done differently now that I’ve been slinging words for a while.

This passage is from the second novel I ever wrote called Across Morrow Bridge, an adult PNR.  The first I wrote was a middle grade novel of all things, and those who know me will understand why it didn’t work.  I’m totally an adult writer.

So, here we go.  Yikes.

Across Morrow Bridge

Chapter 1

I always thought happiness would come to me if I waited patiently enough for it.  Time dragged me from those innocent childhood years when everything was still unwritten and hopeful, and when I got tired of waiting for something extraordinary to happen to me, I went in search of it.  I wandered through short, meaningless relationships and reached what I thought were extraordinary goals, but happiness still it eluded me. 

I understood the concept of the emotion, but could only imagine what it would feel like.  A few years ago, I finally accepted that it will always elude me.  My blank canvas would never return any swirling colours of beauty brushed into thought-provoking designs, and the script of my future was already written in black ink.

I would spend this life alone. 

This life.  It seemed a strange thing to say, like there was some hope of another life to come.  The mere thought of another of these lives was too hard to take.  When the light of my soul finally blinks out, I’m sure it will be lost forever, my energy returned to the earth to be consumed by other living things.  At least, I hope that’s true.

The faces in this coffee shop off the beaten track of Toronto are windows into two distinct kinds of people: those who have felt real joy to the core of their bones at least once in their lives, the Normals, and those like me, who realize that we’re different somehow, maybe unable to feel such things.  We are the Ghosts.  I’m not unhappy, as such, but I feel like an empty shell waiting to be filled up by something, surviving and blending as much as possible.  It took a very long time for me to master the mannerisms of happy people.  This is my camouflage.  Now that I blend more easily into society, I recognize the people who have yet to master their shield.  The Rookies.  They are exposed to those of us who have perfected the illusion.

“Brin!”  A familiar voice screeched across the stranger’s heads who sipped coffee and crunched pastries.  “You’re here!”

I waved, outwardly enthusiastic, but inwardly only slightly more at ease with the day.  My best girl, the one who had the most tolerance for me was grinning as she waded through the sea of tables to reach me in the back corner of the café and looked as if she was going to start climbing arms and stepping on shoulders if she couldn’t find her way through fast enough.  Her curly red hair was half contained in a clip on the top of her head and wisps of it trickled down her pale cream cheeks.  Her name is Stevie.  Her parents had hoped she would be a boy.  We all had our issues.

~~~~~

Critique

Well, all right then.  What did I do wrong here?  Take your time, I’ll wait.  *grabs a cup of joe while shaking my head at myself*

Okay, lay it on me.  Mmm-hmm, *nods*  Yep, you’re right.  It’s BORING.

Why?

Because nothing happens.  My MC blathers on for, count them, five paragraphs.  About herself.  Starting with back story, in my opinion, is a big no-no.

The statistics show that you have about three paragraphs to hook your reader, so a story needs to start with a WHAM! not a woe-is-me.

This is also a classic fail on the show and not tell method.  I should have let the reader learn about Brinley during her story through her actions and interactions, not shoved it down their throats in the first paragraph.  There are also tense and grammar issues.  I won’t even get into punctuation.  As I said, yikes.

Let me try again.  This was the last draft of the first paragraphs I wrote before shelving this story back in 2009.

Chapter 1 – take one billion and fifty-two

Brinley stood at the edge of the world, arms spread wide.  The angry wind whipped her hair out behind her like a dark flag.  Victoria Falls plummeted over the cliff to her right, sending a storm of white spray into the air and shaking the ground beneath her hiking boots.

She’d been standing there for a long time, hoping to feel something:  fear, anxiety, excitement.  Anything would be better than the roaring emptiness that had filled her body since the day she was born.  If attempting a jump like this didn’t evoke an emotional response, she decided nothing would.  If she felt nothing, she wouldn’t release her parachute.  This time, it was feel, or die.

~~~~~~

Okay, that was a little better.  Within two paragraphs, my MC is about to base-jump to her death if she fails in her goal to evoke an emotional response in her body.  A little more exciting, right?  You didn’t yawn as fast as before?  Not perfect, but definitely better. 

What was different?  Plain and simple, something was about to happen.  Maybe something bad.  It raises questions in the readers mind, like why can’t she feel anything?  What has led her to such desperate measures?  And who is going to stop her from jumping to her death?  Or will someone?

There aren’t really any sure ways to hook a reader, but starting off some sort of conflict will hit more often than miss.

What’s your favorite opening paragraph of all time?  What did you like about it?

{Blog Tour} Lichgates by S.M. Boyce

Welcome to a tour stop for Lichgates, book one of the Grimoire Saga, by S.M. Boyce.  I’d like to introduce you to the book, and the author herself.  I’m always looking for new reads, especially in the fantasy genre, and this sounds like a fascinating one.  To celebrate the book release, she’s giving away a great prize.  Check it out.

lichgates tour

Back of the Book

Kara Magari is about to discover a beautiful world full of terrifying things—Ourea.

Kara, a college student still reeling from her mother’s recent death, has no idea the hidden world of Ourea even exists until a freak storm traps her in a sunken library. With no way out, she opens an ancient book of magic called the Grimoire12900806 and unwittingly becomes its master, which means Kara now wields the cursed book’s untamed power. Discovered by Ourea’s royalty, she becomes an unwilling pawn in a generations-old conflict—a war intensified by her arrival. In this world of chilling creatures and betrayal, Kara shouldn’t trust anyone… but she’s being hunted and can’t survive on her own. She drops her guard when Braeden, a native soldier with a dark secret, vows to keep her safe. And though she doesn’t know it, her growing attraction to him may just be her undoing.

For twelve years, Braeden Drakonin has lived a lie. The Grimoire is his one chance at redemption, and it lands in his lap when Kara Magari comes into his life. Though he begins to care for this human girl, there is something he wants more. He wants the Grimoire.

Welcome to Ourea, where only the cunning survive.

 

Praise for Lichgates

Wow, the world building on this one was breathtaking. The world of Ourea is just full of so many things. Surprises are around every corner.
~Alexia P.

From the first few pages into this story, it was obvious that Boyce has a way with words.
~Author Becca Campbell

Excerpt

Thunder rumbled overhead. A dark cloud churned in the sky, and her heart fell into her stomach; there hadn’t even been a single fluffy cloud up there ten minutes ago. That didn’t make sense at all—how could the weather shift so suddenly?

She glanced to the door and then back up the trail, hesitating, but her decision was soon made for her.

A blinding bolt of moss-colored lightning flashed, striking something in the sinkhole. The hairs on her arms stood on end. Heat coursed through her calves, and she caught her breath. Her ears rang.

Wait. That lightning was definitely green.

The cliff trembled as a deafening boom shattered the air. A drizzle of rain began, but it quickly melted into heavy drops that pelted her skin and clung to her hair. Another rumble coursed along the far edge of the valley. Kara needed shelter, and the last place she would go in a lightning storm was up a hill.

She turned back and twisted the door’s handle, sighing with relief as it openedunlockedand swung inward. Still, as wet as it was outside and as much as she wanted a safe place to wait out the rain, she lingered on the threshold to examine the room.

Mud covered everything from the floor to the ceiling, and since there weren’t any supports to hold the roof, she couldn’t figure out how the ten-by-ten dirt shelter hadn’t caved in yet. The air within was heavy, moist with the rot of dead leaves, and her only guiding light streamed in from behind her. Roots dangled from the ceiling like stalactites reaching for the floor. The wind picked up, howling as it pelted rain against her back.

She tested the ground with her sneaker. The dirt floor supported her weight, so she tip-toed into the room and left the door open. Rain fell in lingering drops on the threshold before disappearing into the growing pools of mud. She stuck her hands in her pockets and watched the raging storm outside.

A flash of dark brown blurred past her.

She jumped. A tan flicker snaked along the roof, and clumps of soil fell in sheets. She glared at the ceiling, holding her breath as the settling dust rained onto her shoes.

It had almost looked like a root moving, but—no, that was crazy.

Another streak of motion raced down the opposite wall. It passed through a shaft of light, and Kara saw its pointed, wooden tip. Tiny veins sprouted from it like hairs, digging into the dirt so that it could travel.

It was a root moving.

Author S.M. Boyce

S.M. Boyce is a fantasy and paranormal fiction novelist who also dabbles in contemporary fiction and comedy. She updates her blog a few times each week so that you have something to wake you up in the morning.

She also has a B.A. in Creative Writing which, naturally, qualifies her to be pompous and serve you french fries.

Twitter * Website

Giveaway

Prize:  $25.00 Amazon Gift card or Paypal cash.  Who couldn’t use a few more books?

How do you enter?  Click the link below and follow the instructions.  Easy peasy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

{Author’s Corner} The importance of reading

So you want to be a writer, huh?  Where do you start figuring out just what kind of writer you want to be?  What genre will be your genre?

Reading, that’s how.  Reading everything you can get your hands on, not necessarily for pure enjoyment, but to learn from.  Books are your best teachers.

stack-of-books

What inspires you about the book?  What parts of really catch you, make you feel?  How did the author lead up to that moment in the character’s life?

Even for established authors, reading is one of the most important aspects of growth.  Pick up your favorite book and read it as a writer instead of a reader.  Wear your inner editor’s cap and dissect as you read.  Break the book down into “acts” like a play.  What did the author do that really worked?  What didn’t?  How did they establish their back story?  Build their characters?  Introduce the primary conflict?  How did they begin the story?  How did they end it?  What made the characters real to you?

These are all great questions to keep in mind while reading.

An even better and more direct method of learning from others, is to jump onto a critiquing site like http://www.scribophile.com.  Not necessarily to post your work right away, because that’s a little akin to standing naked on a stage and asking for others to point out your flaws, but to read what others write and the advice they receive.  I learned more by critiquing others work than I did posting my own.

Give yourself time to learn.  It won’t happen overnight, but if you take the time to absorb all that you read, your writing will begin to shine, too.

What book inspired you the most, made you decide, Yes, I can do this?

{Author’s Corner} Diversifying Character Voice

What is character voice?  To me, it’s the distinctive way a character talks and thinks and moves, the way we know through dialogue alone who the character is without any speech tags to tell us.

When you write multiple works, how can you make sure they don’t all sound exactly the same?

This is actually tough, at least for me.  We all have a certain way we speak in a mish-mash of local phrases to go along with body language all our own.  It’s easy to write a character in your own “voice”.  Writing The Glass Man came out like breathing because I wrote as I would naturally speak.  Now, with my new series, the main character is nothing like me in manner or voice.

I’ve discovered a little technique while preparing for the Muskoka Novel Marathon, where I endeavor to write a novel in 3 days to raise money for adult literacy.  I needed a way to feel out my main characters before I started the novel, so could know who they were before the clock starts ticking and I begin the story.

It’s simply this.  Take your two main characters.  Put them in a public place, my favorite is the mall, and have them observe the crowd and interact with each other as they discuss what they see.  It always surprises me, the character traits that just sort of naturally appear.  A catch phrase that comes out.  What attracts them, repels them.  A prejudice, views on politics and religion, fashion choices, body language, it all comes out clearly.

No two characters have ever come out the same when I do this.  They all end up with their own little quirks, shortcomings and strengths.  They speak differently, use different terms of endearment, curses and humor.  It’s such a simple process, but it really works.

Try it out and let me know how it turns out.  Post me a little paragraph here so I can meet your creations.

{Author’s Corner} The magic ingredient to a page-turner

The page turner.

Oh yes, you know the one.  It’s two in the morning and you have to get up at six to go to work.  Your eyes are dry and tired.  Your brain is half asleep, and you promise yourself…just one more page and I’ll put it down.  One pages turns into ten.  Ten turns into the rest of the book which leaves you with exactly one hour of sleep and a smile on your face.

Kindle

What’s makes a book a page turner?  I’ve read great stories that don’t have me pulling an all nighter, so what it is about those few that hot-wire themselves into my restless mind and demand to be read?

There are a lot of little magic ingredients required to lay the foundation, I think, like compelling characters and tension galore, but there’s one main one I keep coming back to:  the questions that need answering.

Often I know I have a page turner within the first paragraph.  The writer has raised a question in my mind that I just have to know the answer to.  Before I get that answer, another question is raised, and another and so on, until I get to the climax and I go Ah, that’s why so and so got so upset about whatchamacallit.  You get my drift, right?

There are lots of ways to raise questions in a reader’s mind.  It can be as simple as a heated look between two characters that isn’t explained.  An object that keeps appearing without an explanation of why it’s important.  An errant thought that causes a character an extreme emotional reaction.

Here’s an example from the new YA novel opener I wrote recently called Sparrow:

The creak of floorboards shattered my dreams of beef jerky and peach pie.  Mom’s smiling face disappeared from the sun-dappled clearing we were picnicking in and left me staring at the naked rafters of a strange, cold house.  If the dick slinking around the lower floor hadn’t come to kill us I’d stick a shiv in his neck.  I only got pie in my dreams. 

I wrote this specifically hoping to raise questions in your mind.  Why is this girl in a strange house?  Who might be downstairs and why might they be coming to kill her?  Why does she think about it with cold detachment?  And why does she only get pie in her dreams?

I don’t plan to answer most of these until at least chapter 2, and at that point I’ll be raising other mysteries I hope will pull the reader along, making them flip those pages even when they have somewhere else they should be.  At least, that’s my evil plan. *insert dastardly laugh here* 🙂

Another important trick I often employ is to end the chapter with a bang, during some tense moment that leaves the reader sliding to the front of her seat. I’ve made it sound simple, and essentially it is, but it often take a few tries to get just the right twist at the end of each chapter.

Master this tease and feed method, and you’ll have your readers well and thoroughly hooked.

Happy writing!

{Author’s Corner} Overcoming a Short Attention Span

I’ve had a few people ask me lately how I can write a novel so fast.  It isn’t without a great deal of effort since I have the attention span of a gnat, or so I’ve been told.  🙂

My attention issue is why I need to write fast before I lose interest.  And as for the how, it’s quite a simple technique, actually.

For me, the biggest stress and time suck of writing–being the total pantser I am–is figuring out how I’m going to link all of these scenes I have floating around in my head.  Because that’s my biggest worry, it’s the part I have to get out on paper first, bare bones, unadorned, a basic skeleton structure of the story.

My first drafts often have nothing but simple action and dialogue.  I don’t stop to worry about scenery or what a character looks like or much of the backstory.  I forget about timing issues and continuity.  Those will all get worked out in the editing once I’ve sorted the scenes into a workable order.

I write half of the story like this before going back to add flesh and color to the scenes, descriptions, character building hints and interactions, beats to add flow and movement to the dialogue.  I do this to gauge how many words I have left until reaching my goal word count before continuing the skeleton until the end of the story.

I’ve pumped out a first draft in as little as seventeen days.  It was as bare as it could be, but it took the stress away, of what would happen next, and left me free to explore the scenes one by one to add the layers that give it life.  The editing goes much faster as a result, too, because I can turn off the part of my brain that searches ahead for the next plot turn and switch on my creative side.

This may not work for everyone.  I know some authors who don’t leave a scene and go on to the next until it’s polished to perfection, and that’s great.  If you have the patience for that, power to you.  For those who are impatient like me and need to know how the story will turn out, my method might just carry you through the chapters until you reach THE END.

How do you write?  I’d love to hear your tricks. 

Author’s Corner – Descriptive overload

What kind of reader are you?  Do you want to follow the character into a room and be fed every detail of said room?  Or do you want the basic lay of the land and those few details that tell us something about the owner of that room? 

How about the character whose eyes you’re looking through and the man she’s talking to?  Do you want to know everything from the color of their shoes to the brand of their clothes?

Open book magic on blackPersonally, I’m a bare bones kind of girl.  When I see pages of description for a person or object in a book, I often skip it.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the author’s brilliance, the way he or she captured that vase on the mantle with perfection and the design on the rug, but I’m more interested in what’s happening.  Who are these people?  Why are they yelling?  Why is that guy’s stare shifting around the room?  Is something about to happen?

Because of my reading preferences, while writing, I tend to trust my reader’s sharp mind to construct the scenery and cast from my brief description so I can have more real estate with which to build the characters and tell their stories.  Some people need and like all of those details to become immersed in the story, but for those who don’t, I’d like to suggest an alternative.

I used to participate in a peer critiquing site when I began writing in 2009.  One of the authors whose work I’d been following ran an interesting experiment with one of his stories.  He asked that we read the story, and at the end, he asked a question–what did the main character look like?  It wasn’t until then that I realized he hadn’t given us a single description of her, yet I had a solid image in my mind.

The first thing I noticed was her voice sounded young, confused, a little afraid.  She was running along a wooded trail, so I imagined her to have an athletic build, loved the outdoors and probably had a long auburn braid tapping against her back as she sped along through the trees.  I also imagined her to be wearing a ball cap, tank top and clingy yoga pants, all in dark colors.

It shocked me how similar all of our descriptions ended up when none of us spoke about it to compare, and we all had the same seemingly generic person to describe.  I learned a lot from that experiment, relying more on the nuances of the character and his or her surroundings to help the reader form a mental image instead of using explicit descriptions. 

I’m liking it.  Loving it, in fact, though it’s a difficult art to perfect.  I’m far from it still, but now that I have it on my mind as I write, it’s coming easier.  I still find places during editing where I can add in a movement, a look, an action, an inflection to the voice that tells volumes more than saying he or she wore a designer suit, and remove some of the superfluous descriptions that fall flat without telling us anything useful.IMG_3036

Take this picture for example.  If I described a plaid sofa, wood floors, and a view of the forest out the bright bay window, do I need to say the owner of this house loves the country and the simple things in life?  If I put a woman in the room, I bet you’d have an image of her in your mind long before I gave you one, and would it really matter if your image matched mine as long as you understand who she is?  There are a thousand subtle ways to teach us about your characters without drowning the page with description.

The locale, voice of the character and actions are often enough to give us three dimensions.  Picture your character clearly in your mind, follower her around the room, note how she interacts with her surroundings.  Does she touch the picture on the wall?  What does she do when she’s sad, angry, hurt?  Again, don’t concentrate on what’s IN the room, but how she interacts with the room and her clothing.

Who is your favorite author that gives you the most vivid pictures in your mind?  I’d love to hear from you, read what you love, as much for enjoyment as to learn from the masters.