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Five ways to hook your readers with your writing.

1. Use characterization to show why your readers should care about your character- This is probably the most important thing you can do on the first few pages. Your reader wants to feel connected to your character. They want to have strong emotions for your character, whether good or bad. It’s very important to drop in those little, telling details so that they immediately get a sense of who your character is and what they are up against.

2. Don’t just rely on sight, use your other senses as well- Sure, sight is your go-to sense in fiction, but touch, smell, taste, and hearing will do more to draw your reader in. I like to combine a sight observation with one of the other senses, i.e. “The skeletal tree branches scratched at the sky while the musty, sweet smell of rotting leaves threatened to choke her.”

3. Keep the pace fairly quick in your first few opening scenes- Unless you’re writing literary fiction (which is a whole other kettle of fish), you want to keep your pace quick. Keep you reader turning the pages. Don’t let them put your book down.

4. Make sure you have tension laced liberally through your writing- This is a must. You need to have tension from the very beginning. Whether it’s one little detail that tells the reader something isn’t quite right in your characters world, or a massive disaster, make sure the stakes are high for your character.

5. Don’t use long chunks of description or prose at the beginning (unless you are writing literary fiction)- Make sure there is a fair amount of white space; that means dialogue, people! Dialogue is a great way to get a sense of who your character is and will also help quicken the pace of your story.

For more on this topic, there are two books I highly recommend. I’ve had them both in my writing library for years, and refer to them often:

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

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One of the Best Writing Books I’ve ever Read

I just finished The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner and I have to say, it is one of the best writing books I’ve ever read. Description from Library Journal:

“Lerner’s credentials include editorial stints at Houghton-Mifflin, Ballantine, Simon & Schuster, and Doubleday. Working now as a literary agent, she shares an insider’s perspective on the publication side of writing. Definitely not a “how-to” book or a style manual, this chatty, informal volume is anecdotal and encouraging to the novice or amateur writer. The first part describes various types of writers Lerner has worked with over the years and how a writer’s personality influences both the writing and the ability to get published. Stronger and more helpful, the next section covers the process of manuscript submission and offers concrete advice about literary agents, query letters, multiple submissions, working with editors and publicists, and dealing with rejection and writer’s block. Because of her unique approach, this book will find its audience among writers groups and workshops.”

The first section describes various ways writers can sabotage themselves, and ways to become conscious of the some of the bad decisions we might make and how to work around them. The second half shines a light on the actual business of publishing. It was fascinating, funny, and heartbreaking at times. I checked it out from the library but will definitely be buying a copy. The one most important piece of advice I took away from this book? Writers who never give up are the ones who get published. Thank you, Ms. Lerner, for strengthening my resolve to never give up. I have to admit, a few weeks ago it was wavering, but not anymore!

A Writing Reference Book that Every Writer Should Own

I recently grabbed a book off the writing reference shelf at the bookstore and didn’t realize what I had until I got home and read it. It is one of the most helpful writing reference books I have ever come across. It has improved my writing perhaps more than any other writing book I own.

Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon should be on your bookshelf. Not only should you buy it, you should read it, highlight it, and take notes. It’s packed full of helpful tips, tricks, and exercise that will improve you writing.

Back cover description: “From the first chapter to the last, Manuscript Makeover will show you how to revise and rewrite for a cohesive and consistent story line, strong and memorable characters, and a distinctive style. With this indispensable guide, you can create compelling stories that attract literary agents, editors, and publishers, as you learn how to: Create stand-out style, from accessing your authentic voice to applying techniques of “wordsmithing” that transform your prose, Rewrite characterization for dimensionality, universal need, and theme, Adjust your prose to match the style and structure of your chosen genres, Correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style, Strengthen story beginnings and endings, Increase plot stakes, create movement, and adjust pace for maximum suspense. In addition, Manuscript Makeover will teach you how to write and revise a knock-out query letter and a killer synopsis to sell your work.”

This is a book I highly recommended. What about you? What are some of your favorite writing books? I’d love to know.

The Writer’s Magic Wand

If you want to write fiction, then there is one thing I would recommend you have above all others, one thing that is truly a magic wand that will improve our writing more then anything else: a good grammar guide.

 

A good grammar guide is really indispensable. If you can manage to read and learn most of the basic rules, you’ll be head-and-shoulders above everybody else. Agents and editors might say that they don’t care about a typo here or there, but that’s really all they mean. A typo or two and few grammatical errors; that’s about it. If your writing is riddled with grammatical errors, it becomes basically unreadable to editors and agents, and they immediately stop reading it, unless you’re an extremely famous celebrity!

 

So here are some basic style and grammar guides, the best of the best. I highly recommend that you get one and familiarize yourself with the rules. There really isn’t any excuse not too!

 

The Elements of Style by William Strunk (Author), E. B. White (Author), Roger Angell

 

The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers Chicago Editorial Staff

 

The Gregg Reference Manual: A Manual of Style, Grammar, Usage, and Formatting Tribute Edition by William A. Sabin

 

The St. Martin’s Handbook by Andrea A. Lunsford

How to Get Over Discouragement as a Writer

Well I had my little pity party, now it’s time to knock the cotton out of my head and get back to work. So, let’s talk about some ways to get over discouragement.

1. Don’t read books within the genre you are writing if they make you feel like your own manuscript can’t measure up. It’s great to read them, and LOTS of them, before and after, but for me, it’s a mistake to read them during. I don’t know about you, but there always comes a time during the writing process where I feel like every word I write is crap. It doesn’t help to be reading the best examples of your genre at that moment. Trust me, I know. In other words, last night I put down the Sarah Dessen and picked up a J.D. Robb mystery instead. Better already!

2. Take a break. Go for a long walk. Play with your kids. Pet your dog. Spend some time with loved ones. Watch a good movie. Take a bath, get a back rub, whatever makes you feel a little better. Then, get back to work.

3. If you’re discouraged over a problem, like I was, brainstorm some ideas on how to fix it. Talk to someone you trust and ask for suggestions. Even if you don’t use them, they might spark some thought within you that gets the creative process rolling.

4. Go through your piles of rejections from agents and editors, and pick out the ones that aren’t form rejections. DO NOT look at the form rejections. I mean it. They won’t help. Go through the ones that aren’t forms. In my experience they usually tell you at least one thing they like about your writing, sometimes even more. Re-read those parts, and ONLY those parts.

4. Read books on writing, especially ones that are inspirational. I mean inspirational like get-your-butt-in-your-chair-and-get-to-work inspirational. Here are some of my favorite books that will inspire you to write. I own all of these and read them regularly. They are the best of the best.

             1. Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams by Heather Sellers

            2. Page after page by Heather sellers

            3. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

            4. Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen

            5. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

           6. Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury

6. And above all, remember, we are lucky to get to do this. Try not to stress too much, and remember we could be forced to clean sewers for a living instead.

Writing in First Person

In case you haven’t noticed, about 70% of YA fiction is written in first person. I’m currently attempting this in my NaNoWriMo project. I”ve written one other novel in first person, but the rest were all third person, which I find much easier to write. YA is mostly written in first person, though, because it make the reader immediately identify with the main character, which is really important for YA fiction.

I’ve been having a little bit of trouble with it, but I just came across a simple bit of advice in Elements of Fiction Writing-Description by Monica Wood that I feel has greatly improved my writing this morning. It’s so simple, at first I didn’t even think about it, but then it wiggled its way back into my brain. Here it is: when writing in first person, you need to remember that ALL descriptions are coming from your protagonist. Ms. Wood then goes on to say, “Make sure you erase yourself completely from the descriptions.”

Um… why didn’t I think about that before? My protagonist is a sixteen-year-old high school student, but in some places, her descriptions sound like they’re coming for a 31-year-old wife and mother! As soon as I applied this, my writing seemed to instantly have more presence, more voice. Somewhere inside myself, I already knew this, but it took one simple sentence in a writing guide to bring it to the forefront of my writing. Just goes to show you learn something new everyday!

 

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

Well, it’s almost time for the annual kickoff of NaNoWriMO, which is National Novel Writing Month (50,000 words in thirty days). I just signed up. I don’t know what I was thinking. It must have been peer pressure! There’s been a lot of talk about it over at the Harlequin Forums. I did it once when I was younger, and let me tell you, it is HARD! Do you know how many words a day that is, people??? If you don’t know, let me tell you. That’s 1,666.6667 words a day! Not so bad for a day or two, or even the first week, but then you miss a day and whoops! Now you have 3,333.3333 words to write, or about 14 pages! Anyway, because I am now married and have a toddler, I don’t think there is hope that I’ll be able to do the 50K that everyone is working for, but I am hoping to finish my WIP, a historical romance. I’m at 43,000 and my goal is 70-75k. Realistically, that will be an extremely hard goal to meet. I think I would settle for 20-25k, for a total of 63,000-68,000 words.

 

If you are at all interested in trying to write a novel in a month, I’ve included the link to the NaNoWriMo website in my blogroll, although technically it isn’t a blog. They have some great stuff over there, including word count trackers, forums, pep talks. Basically, everything you need to write your novel in thirty days.

 

There is, however, one more resource I would recommend, and that is the book No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMO. I found it invaluable the first time I did NaNoWriMO, and would never consider doing the program with out it. It has a week-by week breakdown of what you should be accomplishing and how to do it. It also is chockfull of pep-talks and little tidbits of advice. I’m going to start rereading it this afternoon!