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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: beginnings, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 33
1. Wednesday Writing Workout: Finding the Best Beginning, Courtesy of Lenore Look


Hi Everyone,
The clock is ticking! If you haven't entered for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) yet, see the link at the end of this post. The giveaway ends on Friday!

We're hosting the 2015 CWIM giveaway this month to celebrate the publication of my article in it: "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')." The article contains advice and insights from four award-winning authors known for writing books that appeal to reluctant readers: Matt de la PeñaLenore LookDavid Lubar, and Steve Sheinkin. Today, I'm pleased to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from one of those authors: Lenore Look!


Here's Lenore's bio, as it appears in the 2015 CWIM:
Lenore Look recently released the sixth book in her award-winning (and boy-friendly) Alvin Ho chapter book series: Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions (Schwartz & Wade). She is also the author of the Ruby Lu series (Atheneum) and several acclaimed picture books, including Henry’s First-Moon Birthday (Simon & Schuster), Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding (Atheneum), and, her newest, Brush of the Gods (Random House), a historical fiction account of the life of Wu Daozi, China’s most famous painter. Lenore taught creative writing at Drew University and St. Elizabeth College in New Jersey, and frequently speaks in schools in the United States and Asia. She has also co-presented the Highlights Foundation workshop "Writing for Boys" with Bruce Coville and Rich Wallace. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, and blogs frequently at lenorelook.wordpress.com.

I'm a big fan of Lenore's Alvin Ho books, which is why I approached her about participating in the CWIM article. I haven't read Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions yet, so I'll share the blurb for it that appears on Indiebound:
Here’s the sixth book in the beloved and hilarious Alvin Ho chapter book series, which has been compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and is perfect for both beginning and reluctant readers. 
Alvin, an Asian American second grader who’s afraid of everything, is taking his fears to a whole new level—or should we say, continent. On a trip to introduce brand-new baby Ho to relatives in China, Alvin’s anxiety is at fever pitch. First there’s the harrowing 16-hour plane ride; then there’s a whole slew of cultural differences to contend with: eating lunch food for breakfast, kung fu lessons, and acupuncture treatment (yikes!). Not to mention the crowds that make it easy for a small boy to get lost.
From Lenore Look and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham comes a drop-dead-funny and touching series with a truly unforgettable character.
Sounds like a fun read! J

For today's WWW, Lenore shares a great exercise in beginnings.

Wednesday Writing Workout:
Finding the Best Beginning
by Lenore Look

When I worked as a newspaper reporter, the first thing I learned was how important the “lede” or beginning of the story is. The first sentence is crucial. It’s called the “hook” because it snags your reader and reels them into your story. Without a strong hook, your reader will get away before you can tell them the five Ws and H – who, where, what, when, why and how.

When writing fiction, your hook is not just the best way to snag your reader, but it’s the place from which you will hang the rest of your story. It’s THAT important. For me, the beginning is the hardest part of the book to write. I’m faced with all my research, my characters, what I want to say, and a few ideas for scenes. It’s overwhelming. Where do I start? I pick something and have a go at it. It’s a mis-start, or a scrub, as they call it at NASA when a launch is aborted. I have many scrubs. When I find the spark that will finally launch my rocket, there’s more trouble.  Often I will agonize over the first sentence for days, re-writing it, tweaking it, throwing it out, starting it over, again and again. But when I finally get it right, it’s blast-off! And the rest of the book seems to write itself.

Here’s my top-secret recipe for finding the strongest beginning, and I hope it helps you find yours.

How to Find the Strongest Beginning to Any Piece of Writing.
1. Sit down.
2. Open your writer’s notebook.
3. Ask the following questions:
            a. Who’s your character?
            b. What’s your setting?
            c. What does your character want?
            d. What are the obstacles in her way?
4. Summarize the story you’re telling in one sentence.
5. Write your summary sentence in the center of a blank page.
6. Now surround your summary sentence with your answers to the questions from #3. Some people call this “clustering,” – if you draw circles around each of your sentences/ideas, it begins to look like a cluster of grapes. I don’t bother with the circles, instead I make lists, and surround my summary sentence with lists that answer the questions.
7. Add your research as they fit under the different questions in #3.
8. Step away.
9. Eat some ice cream.
10. Stare at the sunset.
11. Call a friend.
12. It’s important to start the next part with fresh eyes.


How to Find the Strongest Beginning, Part II
1. Look at your messy page(s).
2. Find the smallest, most simple detail that captures your entire story.
3. What you’re looking for is the KEY to your house. Keys are small. A small detail will open the door to the rest of the house, which is your story. All the rooms in your house are the different scenes that make up the story.
4. Study carefully the beginnings to books you like.
5. Using the detail you found in #2, and the inspiration you found from #4, write the most compelling beginning you can.
6. Let it lead you into the first room of your story.
7. Finish off the ice cream.
8. Stare at the sunset.
9. It may be the last sunset you see for a while.
10. Writing a book takes a long time.
11. Cry.
12. Cry your eyes out. It’s only the beginning. You still have the middle and the end to tackle!


            Writing Exercise Text © Lenore Look 2014, All rights reserved

Thanks, Lenore, for this terrific exercise! Readers, if any of you try today's WWW, do let us know how it works for you.

And don't forget to enter for a chance to win your own copy of the 2015 CWIM, where you'll be able to read additional helpful tips from Lenore. See my last blog post for details. The giveaway ends October 31.

Happy Writing!
Carmela

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2. Querying Your Opening Pages to an Agent? Get an Insider’s Feedback Before You Hit “Send”.

gI_75614_LitReactor logoGuest Post by Shannon M. Parker

Hello, loyal Ingrid’s Notes followers! Most of you know that Ingrid’s YA debut, ALL WE LEFT BEHIND will publish in 2015 from Simon Pulse. My own YA debut, CRUSHING, will publish under the same imprint in 2016. And, as if being this Ingrid-adjacent wasn’t awesome enough, she and I also have the same agent. That’s right. It’s my whole promotional strategy for my upcoming book: To scream to the writing world that I am an agent and imprint sister to Ingrid Sundberg. Because she’s that awesome. And because I admire her writing SO MUCH. I’m certain you agree. And I’m certain you know Ingrid’s route to publication. Now, she and I want to help you with your road to publication. How? Well, Ingrid invited me to chat about my upcoming online class at www.LitReactor.com that aims to polish polish polish your first ten pages—helping them stand out in an agent’s inbox.

Perfect 10

10 Ways Aspiring Authors Can Benefit from “The Perfect Ten” Workshop:

1. Indulge in a Literary Spa Day: Literacy agencies typically request opening pages as part of the query submission process. They want to know you can write more than a query letter. They want to experience the voice in your novel, get pulled in by the tension of your story. Immediately. Or they will move on to the next query—and there are always other queries to comb through.

“The Perfect Ten” will be like whitening your manuscript’s teeth for an interview, giving it that spankin’ new, professional haircut. You’ll work with the instructor (moi) and other students to make your pages pretty. Well, beautiful, really—beautifully effective.

2. Find Community: LitReactor is an online resource for published and aspiring authors. This course will give you a chance to connect with writers who are at the same stage of the process as you, while enjoying access to articles from industry greats. Where else can you find:

  • Suzy Vitello, Goddess of Prose
  • Mandy Hubbard, Agent & Author Extraordinaire
  • Chuck Palahniuk, Industry God
  • You
  • People Like You

3. Get Validation: It’s HARD to send your pages off to an agent. So hard. You crave acceptance, but the industry is filled with rejection. And the nerves and the waiting and the nerves are enough to make anyone batty. This course will help you engage with classmates to see what’s working in your pages, what already has the reader clambering for more…

And what’s not working for the reader and why.

4. Gain Critiquing Skills: This class will help you with those opening pages, but it will also provide you with tools to help you edit deeper into your work-in-progress, as well as future manuscripts.

5. End the Loneliness: Writing can be a lonely business. No one thinks it’s healthy to be stuck behind your desk all alone. So, take an online workshop and be stuck behind your desk with other lonely writers who cling to their characters for social interactions.

6. Find a Crit Partner: While there is no guarantee this will happen, it happens all. the. time. Makes sense, really. After all, you’ll be connecting with other writers embarking on the same journey.

7. Make your Pages Sing: Tighten tension; invite us to love your characters instantly; build a believable world; perfect pacing.

8. Learn From Peers: Critiquing another’s work is a great exercise for helping you determine the strengths and weakness of your own work. LitReactor provides a safe, supportive community where we all upload our thoughts, fears, dreams and writerly hopes (as well as our pages) onto a shared Discussion Board. The Board allows you to pop on when it’s convenient for you, and it allows you access to see all of your classmates’ works and the feedback they receive from the instructor and each other. There’s always strength in numbers!

9. Indulge in One Week: It’s easy to say we’re too busy and prioritize other things over our writing. But one week? This intensive will allow you to do all that other pesky stuff (like parenting, working, breathing) AFTER the course if over

10. You wanna: I know you wanna join us. I just know it…

Ingrid discusses where to start with your query process in her blog post from September 1stQuerying 101. If you know who you want to query and want your pages spit-shined, join us at LitReactor for The Perfect Ten workshop. I can’t wait to see you there! For lots of details on the class, including a daily syllabus, head over to:

LitReactor Perfect 10 Workshop Info

Thanks for taking the time to read my guest blog today.

You can find me blogging at www.shannonmparker.com

And tweeting @shannonmparker

Come. Be. Perfect. (Don’t forget to bring your imperfections!)

Shannon_HeadshotShannon M. Parker is the author of the YA novel Crushing, due out in Spring, 2016 from Simon Pulse, a division of Simon & Schuster. Her short stories have been published and won awards, but she’s happiest when writing novels. She is a proud member of SCBWI, and a passionate administrator for The Sweet Sixteens, a group of remarkable children’s authors debuting in 2016.

Shannon is an educator who has earned degrees from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, University of Massachusetts at Boston and University of Southern Maine. For nearly twenty years, Shannon has been dedicated to eradicating adult illiteracy and believes we should all have equal access to participatory citizenry.

 

 


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3. A Good Day of Drawing

Image

It was a great day in the studio.   My characters for my story are growing.  Can you see how they almost tell their own story?  Look at this little pigs face. Does he like cooking?  What is he making? What is he thinking?

Writers develop their characters with pen in hand. I also have pen in hand, but mine is to draw the characters first… then move on to writing the story. 

There is still so much to do… I have only JUST BEGUN!

 


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4. To Prologue or Not to Prologue?

Ready to startMany middle grade and YA authors debate whether or not to include a prologue when beginning their manuscripts. Prologues are sections of story that precede the first chapter, similar to an introduction, but their sequencing in relationship to the following chapter(s) is not necessarily chronological. Often structured as a flash forward or flash back, a prologue can provide details that justify a character’s motives later on, or offer a quick glimpse at the central action, conflict or climax of the story that lies ahead. (This kind of prologue was used by Stephanie Meyers in Twilight.)

It’s important to know that prologues are not wildly popular with editors – they can feel like a cheat, something the author has chosen to use because he or she can’t figure out how else to incorporate that information, or because their beginning isn’t strong enough.  They can also be viewed as a stalling tactic, a way to write your way in to the story, like a kind of literary ‘throat-clearing.’

Don’t decide definitively to include a prologue until your manuscript is complete… and even then, make sure you are including one for the right reasons. Below are some pros and cons of prologues that may help in choosing whether or not to create one for your story:

Prologue Pros

  • Can provide details that will explain character motives later on
  • May tempt readers to read on by allowing a glimpse of the excitement that lies ahead
  • Provides a place for important backstory without slowing momentum once the story is underway

Prologue Cons

  • Can be viewed as a stalling tactic or sign that you’re unsure how to begin
  • May be overlooked or ignored by readers, who may then miss the key information it contains

(Interested in more information like this? Check out my home study courses in writing picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels and young adult fiction, at JustWriteChildrensBooks.com

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5. Jump-Start Your Next Story with Two Truths and a Lie

Macbook Writing" by Håkan Dahlström Photography (Creative Commons)

The only way to be a writer is to write, right? This is the advice we give at WD, online and in the magazine. If you want to write, you must write. But sometimes getting started is difficult. Perhaps you have a fully-formed character but no idea what to do with him. Maybe your idea is a great plot, but you don’t know who the woman who must live it will be. I would argue that getting started—the actual act of sitting down and beginning something new—is the most difficult part of writing. (Your mileage may vary, of course, but for me, this is the hard part.)

Imagine my excitement this morning when I encountered the following paragraph as I read That Would Make a Good Novel by Lily King on The New York Times:

When I teach fiction I often start a workshop with one of my favorite exercises called Two Truths and a Lie. I tell my students to write the first paragraph of a short story. The first sentence of the paragraph must be true (My sister has brown hair.), the second sentence must be true (Her name is Lisa.), but the third sentence must be a lie (Yesterday she went to prison.). … The lie is the steering wheel, the gearshift and the engine. The lie takes your two true sentences and makes a left turn off road and straight into the woods. It slams the story into fifth gear and guns it.

Although this extremely useful exercise is not at all the point of King’s article, I think it deserves its own post here for those of you who, like me, have trouble with beginnings. So let’s do an exercise! This one is three-pronged:

1. Write the beginning of a story—three full sentences—using the Two Truths and a Lie method. The first two sentences must be true, and the third sentence must be a lie.

2. Carry that story out to at least 500 words. Write more if you’d like. Go wherever your lie takes you. Be ridiculous or be introspective. Whatever suits you.

3. Post your story on your blog, and leave a link here (with a title and your first three sentences to avoid being trapped in our spam filters) so that the rest of us can read it. 

BONUS: Tweet a link to your story, too! Use the hashtag #WD2Truths1Lie so we can all see your efforts.


headshotWDAdrienne Crezo is the managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @a_crezo.

 

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6. Querying Your Opening Pages to an Agent? Get an Insider’s Feedback Before You Hit “Send”.

gI_75614_LitReactor logoGuest Post by Shannon M. Parker

Hello, loyal Ingrid’s Notes followers! Most of you know that Ingrid’s YA debut, ALL WE LEFT BEHIND will publish in 2015 from Simon Pulse. My own YA debut, CRUSHING, will publish under the same imprint in 2016. And, as if being this Ingrid-adjacent wasn’t awesome enough, she and I also have the same agent. That’s right. It’s my whole promotional strategy for my upcoming book: To scream to the writing world that I am an agent and imprint sister to Ingrid Sundberg. Because she’s that awesome. And because I admire her writing SO MUCH. I’m certain you agree. And I’m certain you know Ingrid’s route to publication. Now, she and I want to help you with your road to publication. How? Well, Ingrid invited me to chat about my upcoming online class at www.LitReactor.com that aims to polish polish polish your first ten pages—helping them stand out in an agent’s inbox.

Perfect 10

10 Ways Aspiring Authors Can Benefit from “The Perfect Ten” Workshop:

1. Indulge in a Literary Spa Day: Literacy agencies typically request opening pages as part of the query submission process. They want to know you can write more than a query letter. They want to experience the voice in your novel, get pulled in by the tension of your story. Immediately. Or they will move on to the next query—and there are always other queries to comb through.

“The Perfect Ten” will be like whitening your manuscript’s teeth for an interview, giving it that spankin’ new, professional haircut. You’ll work with the instructor (moi) and other students to make your pages pretty. Well, beautiful, really—beautifully effective.

2. Find Community: LitReactor is an online resource for published and aspiring authors. This course will give you a chance to connect with writers who are at the same stage of the process as you, while enjoying access to articles from industry greats. Where else can you find:

  • Suzy Vitello, Goddess of Prose
  • Mandy Hubbard, Agent & Author Extraordinaire
  • Chuck Palahniuk, Industry God
  • You
  • People Like You

3. Get Validation: It’s HARD to send your pages off to an agent. So hard. You crave acceptance, but the industry is filled with rejection. And the nerves and the waiting and the nerves are enough to make anyone batty. This course will help you engage with classmates to see what’s working in your pages, what already has the reader clambering for more…

And what’s not working for the reader and why.

4. Gain Critiquing Skills: This class will help you with those opening pages, but it will also provide you with tools to help you edit deeper into your work-in-progress, as well as future manuscripts.

5. End the Loneliness: Writing can be a lonely business. No one thinks it’s healthy to be stuck behind your desk all alone. So, take an online workshop and be stuck behind your desk with other lonely writers who cling to their characters for social interactions.

6. Find a Crit Partner: While there is no guarantee this will happen, it happens all. the. time. Makes sense, really. After all, you’ll be connecting with other writers embarking on the same journey.

7. Make your Pages Sing: Tighten tension; invite us to love your characters instantly; build a believable world; perfect pacing.

8. Learn From Peers: Critiquing another’s work is a great exercise for helping you determine the strengths and weakness of your own work. LitReactor provides a safe, supportive community where we all upload our thoughts, fears, dreams and writerly hopes (as well as our pages) onto a shared Discussion Board. The Board allows you to pop on when it’s convenient for you, and it allows you access to see all of your classmates’ works and the feedback they receive from the instructor and each other. There’s always strength in numbers!

9. Indulge in One Week: It’s easy to say we’re too busy and prioritize other things over our writing. But one week? This intensive will allow you to do all that other pesky stuff (like parenting, working, breathing) AFTER the course if over

10. You wanna: I know you wanna join us. I just know it…

Ingrid discusses where to start with your query process in her blog post from September 1stQuerying 101. If you know who you want to query and want your pages spit-shined, join us at LitReactor for The Perfect Ten workshop. I can’t wait to see you there! For lots of details on the class, including a daily syllabus, head over to:

LitReactor Perfect 10 Workshop Info

Thanks for taking the time to read my guest blog today.

You can find me blogging at www.shannonmparker.com

And tweeting @shannonmparker

Come. Be. Perfect. (Don’t forget to bring your imperfections!)

Shannon_HeadshotShannon M. Parker is the author of the YA novel Crushing, due out in Spring, 2016 from Simon Pulse, a division of Simon & Schuster. Her short stories have been published and won awards, but she’s happiest when writing novels. She is a proud member of SCBWI, and a passionate administrator for The Sweet Sixteens, a group of remarkable children’s authors debuting in 2016.

Shannon is an educator who has earned degrees from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, University of Massachusetts at Boston and University of Southern Maine. For nearly twenty years, Shannon has been dedicated to eradicating adult illiteracy and believes we should all have equal access to participatory citizenry.

 

 


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7. WHAT HAVE I BEEN UP TO?

It's been a while since I updated over here, so what have I been up to?Working mostly.Was that a boring answer?I guess it was a bit of a boring answer and I guess I should elaborate.The final piece of the FORTS TRILOGY is on schedule and expected sometime before the end of the year (November). If you haven't yet scooped up a copy of the first two, my suggestion is to get on that. If you have no interest in scooping up the first two, prepare yourself for one of my patented knuckle sandwiches. Beyond that, I'm currently illustrating a picture book for Featherweight Press, and I've been slowly piecing together my next project.Check out the trailer below:The first volume of Goats Eat Cans is in the hands of my editor and set for release early next year. You can find more information at the OFFICIAL SITE.Even if you hated FORTS, give this one a try. It's nothing like FORTS.Nothing at all.Seriously.

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8. ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS HAS A RELEASE DATE!





That's right, the final piece in the Forts Trilogy arrives on the 14th of next month!If you were planning on reading the series from the beginning and just haven't gotten around to it, there's no time like the present to get started. 

 The links are HERE and the first book in the series is still a measly $0.99 for all the kindle owners out there.

Get on it.

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9. On beginnings in speculative fiction

Reader reactions are so subjective. One person might think there’s not nearly enough worldbuilding in a book (“give me more! MORE!”) and another might say of the exact same book that what worldbuilding there is was way too confusing (“I couldn’t keep all those made-up words straight!”).

So how do you, as the author, balance the needs of such a wide range of readers when you’re working in a complex world that needs development? And how do you balance the need to establish your characters, setting, and plot with the need to spool out information to your reader to intrigue them rather than confuse them?

This is a question that pretty much every author and editor of speculative fiction struggles with, particularly because we, as veterans of the genre, are already more comfortable with a lot of worldbuilding jargon than your average teen reader, particularly teen readers whose preference for fantasy runs more toward the contemporary paranormal variety. There are a number of reasons why I think Twilight was so popular on such a broad scale, but one of the biggest ones was the relatability of the situation. So what if you’ve never had a vampire show up at your high school? It could happen!

Think about all the really big fantasy hits of the last few years in children’s and YA fiction: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Twilight, Hunger Games. Of these books’ beginnings, only The Hunger Games is all far that outside the everyday experiences of your average young reader, and even The Hunger Games starts with a relatable situation—a coal mining family lives in a desperate situation and must hunt for food; while most kids who would have access to The Hunger Games don’t live under a despotic regime, it’s plausible that it could happen in the real world. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are ordinary kids going to school, living somewhat normal lives (even if abusive ones, in the case of Harry) before their worlds change with the discovery of magic. Their starting point is relatable.

What this means is that readers of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight figure out the world alongside the main character. Information is spooled out as the character needs it, so the reader doesn’t have to absorb everything at once. This is a low bar for entry, not requiring much synthesis of information.

What about Hunger Games? Now it gets a little tougher. Suzanne Collins starts out with a perfectly relatable (if a tiny bit cliche) situation, the main character waking up and seeing her family. We get some exposition on Katniss’s family and the cat who hates her. But it becomes non-cliche by page 2, when we learn about the Reaping. Ah! What’s the Reaping, you ask? We don’t know yet. Now the bar for entry is raised. There is a question, the answer for which you’re going to have to read further to find out. The infodumpage level is low, but there is still some exposition in the next few pages, letting us know that Katniss lives in a place called District 12, nicknamed the Seam, and that her town in enclosed by a fence that is sometimes electrified—and which is supposed to be electrified all the time.

Collins’s approach to spooling out a little information at a time is to explain each new term as she goes, but some readers think that feels unnatural in a first person voice because the narrator would already know these things, so why is she explaining them to the reader? It depends on the story, in my opinion—Collins makes it work because of how she crafted Katniss’s voice. It is a very fine line to walk—I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve gotten that start out with, “My name is X. I am Y years old. I live in a world that does Z,” an obvious example of how this approach becomes downright clumsy when

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10. ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS SAMPLE CHAPTER!

The book is arriving soon. Really soon. Before you know it, I'll be asking you to fork over some of your hard earned cash to read it. 


Until then, here's some free stuff.



16. TEMAZCAL 

   The heat was sweltering. The summer had been particularly rough and dry, and altogether uncomfortable. This was an angry heat, tailor-made for the suffering of those forced to live through it. In the backyard of the Jarvis family, tucked safely beneath the shade of a thick-trunked Oak Tree, sat the house of the family dog, Mr. Button. Built when Button was a pup, the years were noticeably rough on the modest dwelling. The rain had warped its walls and rusted the nails holding them perilously in place. Once a crisp, almost blinding shade of white, the paint had been peeling away for quite some time, exposing the worn and damaged wood beneath in softball sized clumps of pure ugly. The roof was little more than ragged jumble of partially rotted materials, and the likelihood of the structure's collapse grew substantially with every passing day. So pathetic was this shell of a once proud doghouse that Mr. Button had taken to lying outside rather than in. Even he was capable of understanding it was a disaster waiting to happen. 

   Despite the heat and the ever-present fear of being buried beneath a heap of rotted wood, jagged sheet metal and copper colored nail chips, eight year old Tommy Jarvis had been sitting cross-legged inside the funky-smelling piece of construction for hours. His hair was soaked with perspiration, his clothes drenched so thoroughly they could literally be ringed out. The dirt beneath him transformed into a moist, muddy-wet stew of yellow-tinted sweat and soil that smelled as bad as it looked. His throat was dry and his lips cracked to the point that that act of running his tongue across their surface no longer accomplished anything at all. 

   Despite his aching bones, and the fact that his vision had begun to blur, young Tommy had no intentions of leaving. 

   He was determined to remain exactly where he was. He wanted to sit there, and stay there, and keep himself angry, because anger was what he was feeling, and because it was all he wanted to feel. Would it have been possible, Tommy might have sat in that exact spot forever, until his skin peeled away, caught the breeze and fluttered off, until his bones turned to dust and became indiscernible from the ground beneath. 
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11. ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS IS NOW AVAILABLE!

The final part of the Forts trilogy is now available in both ebook and print editions. For all the links fit to link check out MY WEBSITE!The Kindle edition can be found by simply clicking the picture above.Let me just say that it feels great to finally have this series wrapped up. Could things have gone smoother? Sure. Would I have preferred to not have the issues with the original publisher of the series? Of course. In the end, I wrote three books.Me. I did that.That's nearly 600,000 words and three years of my life. Despite everything that's happened and the way things played out, it's something to be proud of. I like Forts.It was important to me to write it and even more important that I finished it. It was fun and it was therapy, and I learned a lot about myself and my work from it, and in the end I wouldn't change a word.That's a pretty cool thing.Steven

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12. Beginnings

What does it take to draw in today’s young reader and persuade them to keep reading?

Last week, in the children’s lit class I’m teaching at Stony Brook Southampton, we looked closely at the beginnings of middle grade and YA novels.  I made a list of important elements for my grad students… but I’d love to hear what else you consider when it comes to starting a story.

Here’s my crib sheet:

The beginning of your story has to accomplish several things. It must:

→ Introduce your setting
→ Introduce your main character/s
→ Establish the tone/rules of the world
→ Hook your reader and compel them to read on

The last point is perhaps the most important. Here, then, are some tips.

Good beginnings…

Start with an event, a problem or a change. Judy Blume says that novels should begin “on the first day that something different happens in your character’s life.” Don’t worry about backstory or exposition – that can reveal itself later.

Fulfill the premise – and promise – of your story. If your book is about a girl who can talk to animals, don’t wait 50 pages before she talks to, or hears from, an animal. Even if she doesn’t realize what’s happening yet, there should she be some hint right away of what your story is really about.

Raise questions. Questions propel the characters into action, and the reader into the next page, wondering what will happen next. What’s going on here? How or why did this happen? Who could have done this?

Avoid clichés. Childrens book authors often start books on the first day of school or the day a character arrives some place new. Although these are natural starting points because they involve a change, they’re also a little too common. Try to be fresh, original. Here are some other common/cliché beginnings to avoid:

→ The weather (“It was a dark and stormy night…”)
→ The hero waking up in the morning and thinking about his/her day
→ A dream or a vision
→ A death
→ Starting with the present, and then going into flashback mode to provide exposition

Establish the rules of the world. If your story is set in a world in any way different from ours, then some hint of how the world works, or the rules operating there, should be in your opening – but remember to show rather than tell. Reveal or demonstrate the rules in action as opposed to describing them through exposition.

Establish the tone, style and pacing of the book. Your opening scene sets the overall mood of your story, whether its dark, funny, contemporary, lyrical, whatever. Whatever the primary tone of your piece is, your initial scene should establish that feeling.

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13. How my first published book began

Now that a tight deadline is behind me, I've had a tiny slice of free time to clean out and sort through books, clothing, and papers I might not have touched in years. And look what I found! The beginnings to my first published book, Circles of Confusion.

Here's the Publisher's Weekly synopsis and review:
An amateur sleuth with an unusual day job debuts in this lively romantic mystery, Henry's first novel. Claire Montrose works for the Oregon Motor Vehicles Division in Portland, checking applications for vanity license plates. Her mundane job is interrupted by a call from her mother, who reports that Claire's great-aunt has died, bequeathing to Claire the contents of her mobile home. Aided by her boyfriend, an obsessively careful insurance adjuster, Claire sorts through Aunt Cady's belongings. Among the piles of old knickknacks, she finds a beautiful small painting of a woman sitting at a table. Aunt Cady had been in Germany during WWII and Claire suspects the artwork might be one of many masterpieces that disappeared in Europe around that time. To have it appraised, she flies to New York, where an expert tells her that the painting is a forgery. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, however, a handsome artist says that the canvas may be an authentic Vermeer. Attempts to steal the painting convince Claire that the artist may be right?but can she trust him? Or should she trust the expert who thought the painting a forgery? Danger follows Claire back to Portland, but she proves clever enough to outwit even the wiliest villain in her offbeat, vital first outing as a sleuth.

When I was writing the book, I needed to describe the possible Vermeer she inherits. It's believed that Vermeer painted in his own home, usually in one room, which is why the light falls the same way from the same window, the same chair appears in painting after painting... So I created my own Vermeer by cutting and pasting bits of other Vermeers. Here it is:



I also brainstormed what would happen in the book, starting with the words "Find Painting" in the center circle:



Now there's a program you can use for free to create mind maps like this, which you can find at bubble.us . I used it to brainstorm next year's book, Finish Her Off. I think I might start start a new one for 2014's book, The Girl I Used to Be.



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14. It's January 1st all over again

Two years ago, February 23, 2011, was the worst day of my life (at least so far). First, I got a bad piece of publishing news. And then I got an even worse piece of publishing news. (I don’t feel comfortable sharing what these were, but I guess the takeaway is that even after publishing more than a dozen books, not everything goes your way. In the second case, I was seriously worried about my career.) I was so freaked out that I just forwarded the second piece of news to my agent instead of calling her.

A few minutes later, the phone rang. I was so sure it was my agent that I didn’t even check Caller ID.

But it wasn’t Instead, it was LK (Lisa) Madigan’s husband with the news that she had died from the pancreatic cancer that had been diagnosed just eight weeks earlier.This all happened in the space of a couple of hours.


As the year wore on, I lost two more friends, Bridget Zinn and Craig Warner.

In 2011, I also had deadlines that I honestly did not know how I would make. I worked so hard that I didn't even remember what I used to do on evenings and weekends. I winced when it was sunny because the sunlight threw into relief just how dirty, dusty, and disorganized things had gotten

I declared February 23, 2012 the start of a new year.

I said I hoped to not go to any more memorial services.  And I didn't.  I did have two people very close to me diagnosed with breast cancer.  A third got very sick for a month and the doctors worried it was cancer - but it wasn't.  (They still aren't quite sure what it was.) where I hope to not go to any memorial services.

I said I would read more for pleasure.  To be honest, I sucked.  I'm trying again, though.  Right now I'm reading The Tenth of December.

I said I would live out the single resolution I made for 2012: “Less and more.” I wanted to go big with my family, my friends, my books, my fitness. I did pretty good!  I wrote tons, I got my orange belt, and lately I've been running as fast as I did ten years ago.

I also wanted to cut out the clutter in my life, chuck all the little things that don’t add anything.  And today I went through all my closets and asked myself if honestly I would wear everything.  I said no to a lot of things.  I should have said no to more, but its a start.

Here’s to a new year!

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15. Great first lines


I love the first lines of books — they’re so full of promise, and an intriguing one really gets me hooked. I almost never buy a book in the bookstore that has a dull first line (and a surprising number of books do — the weather, or the day/date, or some relatively boring description of the setting). And I think that as books struggle harder to catch the attention of readers used to movie trailers, TV, and video games (not to mention other books), they get better all the time. (This showed in our “first 3 lines” contest recently… although, of course, following up with a zillion more good lines is part of the trick, too!)

M.T. Anderson still gets my vote for favorite first line, with, “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” (FEED.) But there are plenty of great ones out there.

What’s your favorite?

— Joni, who can’t start writing until she has the right first line to follow, like the Yellow Brick Road

Posted in Joni Sensel Tagged: beginnings, first lines

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16. Nature of Beginnings

I've chatted a lot about beginnings on my blog. I've done the nuts and bolts of them. Go back to this link and read my five part series on Beginnings.

I had someone put a bee a bonnet this week about taking to time to figure out what kind of learner you are. This website has a good test to help you discover the way you learn. I was actually very surprised by what this test revealed. I am a naturalistic learner. No wonder I spent most of my years in school baffled and wondering why I couldn't figure this out this school thing. I remember only one teacher in all my years of school that ever took me outside. I can remember every moment of that class. Interpersonal learning is at the bottom of my list. Logical is right above that. Most of school was that and I had a hard time connecting.

Throw me into the natural world, and I will see what few see and find what few find. There is not a moment of my life that I don't feel this vast universe: from atoms, to ants, to weather, to planets, to stars and then the galaxies. I feel connections everywhere. I am so curious. The way I learn weaves it way into the way I write. So I thought I'd spend some time explaining how the beginnings in nature feed the beginnings of books for me. I know how plants grow.

They start with some good old plant sex, cross pollination. An idea is not enough to fuel a book. It's got to get mixed up with an equally provocative and compatible idea. So go after the stuff that interests you. Keep at it, and I guarantee some cross pollination is going to happen and that is going to lead to....(no, not a book yet)...a seed! A seed has the blue print to make a plant in it, but a seed is not a plant. A germinated idea is not a book either. An idea has to be watered. Like a plant needs lots of sunlight, needs good soil, needs room to grow, books -- they need time and they needs lots of nutrients: critique, plotting, character studies, etc. This growing a booking is hard work, and you're going to have to tend it or the thing will die.

One thing that really makes me laugh, is when people are stressing over the beginning of a book without writing to the end. It's like having a little tiny sprout and wondering if those leaves are the best ones. I mean those leaves are going to fall off and new stuff is going to take their place. I think if you begin with a true seed of a book idea, and you continue to feed that book through the seasons. Yes, winters will come and then springs again. You will someday have an awesome book.

I'm going to continue next week with more about nature and beginnings. Hope to ya here.


This week's doodle: What if a kid met a dinosaur?



Remember: ©Molly Blaisdell, all rights reserved. If you want to use my cool doodles, ask permission first. It is so wrong to take people's doodles without permission!

So here it is the quote of quotes on beginnings:

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. ~ Louis L'Amour

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17. When Chemistry Becomes Biology - Elen Caldecott

Don’t worry, though the title of this post might sound like the denouement of a Mills and Boon, there will be no ripping of bodices here. And no besuited gentlemen writhing in ponds. No. The chemistry I’m thinking about are the little atoms of ideas that strike me regularly. Each of which gets scribbled in my notebook. I’m sure most writers carry one or, failing a proper notebook, a handbag full of bus tickets written all over with a blunt eyeliner (or the male equivalent!).
My notebook (that's it on the right) says things like:

Punkin Chuckers is an annual US pumpkin flinging contest.’

A word is a semi-autonomous virtual machine.’

I like marmalade and clean sheets.’

The owl and the pussycat eyed each other warily.’

The notebook records thoughts, overheard gems and random nonsense. Each of these is a separate, discrete element, set apart from each other like atoms on the Periodic Table. Alone, they do nothing very much; they're no more than a bit of hydrogen, a drop of carbon, a dash of oxygen.

However, given time, something miraculous might happen. I like to think that my notebook is a kind of ancient swamp – the primordial soup – and that the ideas in it might just come together to create a living, breathing story. A narrative abiogenesis. I just have to fill the book up with enough interesting chemistry and, with luck, the biology will follow.

So, since submitting my last novel before Christmas, I have been spending a lot of my time filling the notebook. I spent a couple of hours looking at religious paintings; I saw the finalists in the wildlife photographer of the year competition and visited an abandoned shop which now hosts local artists’ shows. I’ve been reading fiction and non-fiction. I’ve been stealing ideas and dropping them into the swamp.

On the 1st February, I will sit down to begin something new. I’m not sure what it will be yet. I’m hoping that the notebook has been getting jostled and shaken and heated and when I open it on that day, something exciting will spring out. Or, of course, grey sludge might dribble onto my keyboard. There’s no way to know when just the right ideas will meet, so until then, I’m out in the world, scribbling in my notebook. Or on the back of a receipt if I’ve brought the wrong handbag.

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18. Nature of Beginnings (Part 2)

Hi folks, this will be a three part series on beginnings. This is part two. My posts will be short for a while but hopefully useful.

I'm relating beginnings to what we find in nature because that how I figure stuff out. Explosive beginnings are common in nature. Think the big bang. On a local scale -- volcanoes exploding, floods pouring, and meteors colliding. Earthquakes happen along fault lines. Epidemics sweep through populations unopposed. When searching for the beginning of a story, it's a good idea to get near to the day when things changed forever. If you are near the day nothing happened, your story is not going to fly. If stuff starts happening midway through the book, well, that ought to be the start. If nothing really happens to the end, you may have a lot of rewriting to do.

I hope you work hard this week and get tons done. :)

This week's doodle is "Kid Sees a Fish."



What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.
Pericles

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19. Beginnings or Grab that Reader and Never Let Them Go

I've been thinking a lot about beginnings for my MG novel. I'm getting ready to turn in the first 25 pages for a conference critique, and I want that first line, first paragraph, first page to really grab the reader. I know when I'm browsing in a bookstore, I read the back jacket flap, then I'll read the first line of the book. If the first line doesn't grab me, I stop. If it does grab me, I'll read the first paragraph. If that first paragraph grabs me, then I want the book. So, now I'm writing for the 8-12 year old reader and I'm figuring they'll stop at the first sentence, so it's gotta be a good one.

In Nancy Kress' book, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, she says the beginning must offer a promise to the reader of what they'll get out of your story. Look at these beginnings from some middle grade novels I love:

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee:  "I have been accused of being anal retentive, an overachiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things."  


BAM! I love Millicent already and want to know more about her. The rest of the story centers around the promise that this somewhat pretentious genius will be struggling to find her place, caught as she is between the adult intellectual endeavors she loves and the reality that she's still a kid.

Savvy by Ingrid Law: "When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it."

Savvy uses a subtle beginning (although I'm intrigued her brother's name is Fish) and then hits you with a surprise--he caused the hurricane? Can't wait to read on. The book centers around the promise that all the kids in this family have their own special power or savvy.

Which makes me think, perhaps it makes sense to find that one sentence that describes my story and then have my main character say it in his own way. What do you think? What kind of beginnings make you want to read on?

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20. Nature of Beginning (part 3)

Welcome to my back fence where I like to chat about writing and all things creative. I'm continuing my series on the nature of beginnings. I had an interesting chat with the multi-talented author Gail Carson Levine recently about CHAOS. Check out her blog for some ultra-fine writing advice.

Chaos is the study of systems that respond easily to change, especially at the beginning. These systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions. These conditions can vastly change the outcome of the systems. This sensitivity is called the butterfly effect. Initially, the wings of a butterfly can really set something like a hurricane in motion. If you look at the system later, a butterfly's wings will make little difference to the wild power of a hurricane. Yep, the beginning is REALLY important in a chaotic system.

I think that novels are chaotic systems, and this is why beginnings are such a bear. The first chapter of a novel is the place that beginning conditions are put in play. The first chapter will determine the course of the whole book. A book is very sensitive to changes in the beginning. The entire outcome rests on those first few pages. One of your goals is to find the butterfly wing events that set the engine of your story in motion. Yes, at times, this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I've said it before. In the beginning, write a first chapter with a "tossability" factor. It's easier to back track from the hurricane to the butterfly wings event than the other way round for me.

Don't be hard on yourself if you've tried going at that beginning on your current work the twentieth time. Just take a deep breath and keep going. This process is delicate, complex stuff. You are David taking on Goliath. The good news is persistence is the key. You will move into the a solid pattern with enough tries. Don't give up.

Cast off into the deep waters knowing that you will find currents that will take you to distance shores. I hope you enjoy the journey this week. I will see you next week with some GOLDEN advice. :)

Now time for doodle of the week. I call this one, "Carpet at Seatac".


The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though it in its highest form has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds.
Georg Cantor

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21. Start Your YA Novel with a Bang

James Killick just offered up another great post to help us improve our fiction. In a nutshell, he suggests rethinking the writing advice that urges us to start with action. Start with drama, he says. And I couldn't agree more. Starting with a dramatic situation that leads to a change in the protag's life kicks starts the entire novel and makes it easy to layer on complications that keep the reader intent on reading.  Make sure you've provided enough background for the reader to care about what is happening in the opening conflict, and ensure there is emotion involved in that conflict, not just action.
http://jameskillick.blogspot.com/2010/04/cries-and-whispers-how-to-write.html

Go get dramatic!

Martina

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22. Firsts and lasts

Grace

What firsts and lasts come to mind today?

Behind the question


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23. BEGINNINGS

Q: I am always curious what first goes through an author's mind when they begin to write a book.
 A: Pure, unadulterated panic!
 Q: No, I’m serious! I’m just not sure how to go about it. I have character names, as well as the general plot. I’m just always confused as to how to ‘start’ a book.
 A: In two previous posts, I discussed why some writers may begin with great enthusiasm, but lose momentum along the way. They run out of story before they have enough pages to make a book.
But sometimes the problem is getting started. Nothing happens until you put something down on the page. But how?
The cool thing about writing as opposed to, say, building brick walls, is that writing is easy to revise and reshape. Sometimes at first, you can’t really tell where your story begins. My advice: don’t obsess about it. Get something down, and then make your decision in revision. Slash away at the fat at the beginning into you cut into the muscle of the story. That’s the beginning.
For me, books begin with a character, what the character wants, and the obstacles in the way.  For example, in Twilight, Edward and Bella want to be together, but the fact that he is a vampire and wants to kill her from time to time gets in the way. Then other obstacles surface—Jacob, for instance.
In The Demon King, reformed thief Han Alister wants to earn a living for himself and his family without returning to the gang life. What’s in the way? It’s really hard to make a living in Fellsmarch, because of the ongoing wars, he’s been accused of a series of murders, his mother things he’s demon-cursed, and the most powerful wizard family in the Fells is out to get him.
Usually, a book begins with an inciting incident. In The Demon King, Han Alister encounters three young wizards setting fire to his hunting grounds. He takes an amulet from one of them, and that brings a whole load of trouble down on his head.
I think it’s best to begin your story in scene, with characters on the stage, ensnaring us in their story.  The opening of your story should establish voice and point of view, introduce conflict, and make a promise to the reader about the story to come.
It may be helpful to try reading opening scenes in books in your genre. How does the author begin? What does he or she choose to include, right up front?
As I said in my post on plunging vs plotting, you don’t have to have everything figured out in order to begin. Just know that there may be considerable clean-up at the end.

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24. WORK IN PROGRESS - FORTS THREE COVER





Progress on the cover for Forts 3 continues to putter forward. It feels pretty good to be woking on these characters again. I took too much time away.

Art has always been therapy for me and this has been a rough year.

Steven

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25. FORTS: ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS COVER REVEAL!



It's official!

The above image is the final cover for the thirds and final book in the Forts series, Endings and Beginnings!

The OFFICIAL WEBSITE is also in the process of being updated to reflect the look of the new book and I'll be adding some goodies on there over the next few weeks!

Steven

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