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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: chapters, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 13 of 13
1. Chapters Embraces the Lifestyle

50 Book Pledge | Book #10: Winter by Adam Gopnik

Chapters is not just about books anymore. Canada’s biggest book retailer continues to embrace the lifestyle. And, in my opinion, they solidified their stance on Thursday, February 9, 2012 with Ashley Minnings’ spring/summer preview.

Chapters

Part one of Minnings preview showcases merchandise ranging from dishes to stationary to decor. The scope of the merchandise Chapters plans to provide makes it abundantly clear that the lifestyle segment is not an experiment but a direction. Chapters has been widely criticised for their decision to veer away from books. Carolyn Wood, Executive Director of the Association of Canadian Publishers, states, “If there’s fewer books, then there will be less potential readers.”

I can understand where the critics are coming from. If Chapters no longer focuses on books, that places the industry in a highly perilous position. However, Chapters didn’t have a choice in the matter. The failure to change with the industry would have very well spelled catastrophe. Let’s not forget the demise of Borders in the US or the local independents that have been forced to close their doors.

Indigo

In fact, Chapters shift may end up being their saving grace. Yes, books aren’t front and center. There’s no denying that. But books by no means have vanished from either Chapters landscape or vocabulary. To say otherwise would be a gross exaggeration. Instead, they have positioned themselves perfectly because now they cater not only to readers but also to consumers.

I realize it’s not easy to digest your biggest ally shifting gears. But isn’t that better than losing your ally altogether? We’re quick to call Chapters shift abandonment when, in reality, it’s survival.


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2. Where Does This Chapter End

I was working on my WIP the other day, and became curious. So I tweeted a question. How long are your chapters? Well I got answers anywhere from 1000 to 5000 words. One person even pointed out some books that had chapters only a few words long.


The thing is, it depends. It depends on where the natural breaking point is. If we think of a chapter as a sort of mini-book we won't have to worry about things like length. How do we do that? Make sure it has a
  • beginning (problem/point of change)
  • middle (rising action/conflict)
  • end (resolution/action to address the conflict)
Let's use an example. Because I know you love those. Plus I have to bring in the "paranormal" somewhere, right? Let's go with our ghost example from my filtering through character post. Remember? Ghost is haunting her ex-boyfriend (Erik) who is taking another girl to prom. In our fake chapter let's have our ghost try to ruin the evening by messing with the prom date (Heather) at dinner...
  • Beginning: We start with the problem. Jealousy. Q: what's the first thing your character thinks or notices? A: The way Erik's hand rests on the small of Heather's back
  • Middle: This is where the meat of the action/conflict takes place Q: What would my MC do to solve the problem? A: Manipulate objects like food and drink spilling on Heather to make her look bad. Tripping her. Maybe even pushing her at the last second so she bumps heads with Erik when he goes to kiss her
  • End: Resolution. Q: What happens as a result of the MC's actions? A: Erik feels bad for Heather when she starts to cry, and tells her she looks good with spaghetti in her hair. Maybe he puts some on his own head to make her laugh and holds her head steady so he can carefully plant a kiss...
That works out well, no? A kiss after all that is a nice page turn. How long is this chapter? No idea. Probably pretty short (though honestly for me that's typical) but it really doesn't matter. What matters is it's a complete unit that's furthered both the overarching plot and character development. It has to be satisfying, yet make you want to keep reading. Piece of cake, right?
26 Comments on Where Does This Chapter End, last added: 5/7/2011
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3. IT'S OFFICIAL!

Well it's official.

Tuesday, MILO: STICKY NOTES & BRAIN FREEZE had it's real-live book birthday and I couldn't just sit on my butt at home. No siree, I had to have visual proof that the book was actually IN bookstores. Besides, I was too excited to actually stay home and write and so I drove downtown and hit the trio of book sellers there.

First up, Indigo books - a huge chain of stores in Canada. I went to their "flagship" downtown Montreal location. This was my very first stop and I was filled with excitement...anticipation... and ultimately, DISAPPOINTMENT!


Like Old Mother Hubbard, I went to my bookshelf, careful to follow the alpabetical path to the "S" names. To my horror - "Silberberg" did not exist. I quickly accessed one of their nifty search kiosks and what I found was...."zero available in this store". Oh, fortuna how low you have spun me!

Lucky for me - another chain store was just up the street. And so, hat in hands, I trudged off to visit the equally huge Chapters bookstore (owned by the same company as Indigo I might add).

I walked into the basement level kids' section with trepidation. But what did I see? The familiar BLUE COVER and white lettering! Eureka - MILO EXISTED!

Now I'm usually a shy guy - but there I was gleaming at the bookshelf, camera in hand, and it wasn't long before a helpful bookseller asked if I needed anything. I told her I needed to wish my book a Happy BookDay and she eagerly obliged!

0 Comments on IT'S OFFICIAL! as of 1/1/1900

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4. How Might You Challenge Yourself as a Writer?

or - THE WRITER’S CHALLENGE


by Robert W. Walker



There are indeed many challenges a writer faces from beating back inertia to becoming redundant on the page to using the wrong tack on approach to opening the story or novel in the wrong place and on and on and on. Building character is a challenge, but we must have in our lead role, our star character fully-realized; we are challenged to live with him or her for a long time, but we take that challenge to make this character special as the more we know him or her, the more easily manipulated along a storyline. We are challenged too by plot, and many of us find this far harder to come to terms with than character, yet a fully realized character can suggest or imply a plot.

I challenge myself with each book I write. I challenge myself by doing a setting that is for me exotic—that is out of my safety zone as I may never have been there.

I challenge myself by creating a character at opposite ends of the spectrum than myself – say a female Medical examiner and FBI agent or an 1893 Inspector in Chicago or a pair of interns on the Titanic.

I challenge myself often with a storyline that is meant to tease the reader into thinking one thing but second guessing himself at the same time.

Most recently, I have challenged myself to set up a novel with two separate storylines running simultaneously in two different time “zones” – one in 1912, the night Titanic went down, and the other one hundred years later with divers capable of working two and a half miles below the surface and swimming into and through Titanic’s interiors in 2012. This was indeed a huge challenge but oddly enough, I based my structure and desire on none other than the film and book Fried Green Tomatoes. It may sound at odds but I wanted to duplicate my own feelings coming away from that story – that I at once wanted to be in the past story and the present story each time I was inside the other story than the one I wanted to be in; in other words, each storyline was compelling. So my challenge to myself was to make each storyline so compelling as to make the reader want to return to BOTH whenever he or she was in past (wanting to get back to present), and in present (wanting to get back to past).

So what sorts of challenges do you set for yourself as a writer? Would love to hear about them here. I know if you write, you face umpteen challenges but at times one might have been particularly prickly and you might be so proud that you met it and overcame it well. So let’s hear about that!

Rob Walker
http://www.robertwalkerbooks.com/
http://www.speakwithoutinterruption.com/
http://www.1stturningpoint.com/

3 Comments on How Might You Challenge Yourself as a Writer?, last added: 9/17/2010
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5. Girls Write Now’s 2011 Chapters lineup

The second season of Chapters, the reading series I curate for Girls Write Now, begins this Friday, March 25, when our delightful first guest, writer and mentor Emma Straub, reads from her new story collection, Other People We Married. Join us at 7 p.m. at the historic John Street Church (no affiliation).

Coming up: Anna North, America Pacifica, on April 29; Tayari Jones, Silver Sparrow, on May 20; and Kate Christensen, The Astral, on June 17.

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6. Chapters Vs Scenes

First off, Lacey was interviewed! Read her interview at Simon Hay's blog!

So I was reading this awesome post at QueryTracker about writing a synopsis and the section on chapters got me thinking.

I don't write in chapters. My brain doesn't understand them. Like, literally - I find it confusing how sometimes a chapter can take place over a period of three days, and another time a chapter ends in the middle of a scene and the next chapter picks up at the exact same place. I can't find the pattern.

I think in scenes and scene sequences - thanks to all my film and screenwriting education, I guess. My first ms is a dual narrative and for the most part each "chapter" is one complete scene or sequence.

H.L. Dyer says at QueryTracker, "Each chapter, like a novel, should have a beginning, middle, and an ending."

This makes sense to me, and I think this is true of my scenes and scene sequences, they are just generally too short to be considered a "typical" chapter. I'm also a fan of the short chapter in fiction, so maybe that says something about me and my writing.

As I'm in the planning stages of my next book, I'm finding the chapter issue interesting. This book will have one narrator and so switching chapters at the end of each scene doesn't quite work with how I want this book to be.

I don't outline, but I do make note of all the major scenes I know need to happen, as well as my beginning through to the inciting incident, and my ending. I'm fascinated by people who use chapter outlines, and know exactly what will be in each chapter when they sit down to write.

I don't know how they do this. But then I also tend to be more fluid with my scenes. I will switch them around and re-order them in order to best build tension, make motivations clear, and keep the story moving forward.

At this point, I feel certain that I will have to write first and separate into chapters later. I will probably but in chapter breaks in places where it feels right, but other than that I won't know where a chapter ends and the next one starts until I finish the story.

What about you? Do you know exactly what your chapters will entail? Do you think in chapters or scenes? Does anyone else split and number chapters after they've written the book? Am I crazy?

8 Comments on Chapters Vs Scenes, last added: 3/23/2011
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7. Just TRY


I found my novel revision floundering a bit. As I said in my last blog post, I’ve been hesitating moving too far forward because I could only read five pages every two weeks at my critique group and I valued their feedback. But, I realized that if I wait for that, it’ll take a couple years to get through the book. Not ideal.

I was at a couple chapters that I liked, but liked with a “but.” The problem was, I wasn’t sure what the “but” was. (A lot of wass in that sentence.) I’d read them and think they’re fine, they’re ok, but that’s the problem — they’re “fine” and “ok”, not “great. I want to read more.” They weren’t what they could be.

I had some ideas, but I was hesitatant to make them. What if they didn’t work? I didn’t want to mess up what I had already.

This is the bad thinking. No one should think like this, especially in the time of the computer, because a quick “save as” preserves your earlier work. (Even if you write in a notebook or on a typewriter — some do — you can keep your earlier pages and start writing on a fresh piece of paper.)

But also, I thought, I didn’t want to waste my time.

This is even worse thinking. When it comes to writing, there is no wasting time — unless it’s the time when you’re not writing or not thinking about your writing. (Fun, chores and general life are allowed and encouraged too, of course. :) ) But through our writing, even those days when what we write isn’t the best, we learn and we get new ideas.

My floundering with these chapters led to me just not write. I used it as an excuse to sleep in. I’d have a late night the night before and instead of setting my alarm for early, I’d set it for later with the reasoning that a) I needed the sleep (very true) and b) I wasn’t sure what to do with these chapters anyway, so I might as well sleep on it.

That didn’t work. I got more sleep, which is good, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with my novel revision, which just frustrated me.

So, on Monday, I set my alarm for 5am again (I have to set it for 5 so I can get up at 6) and I started going through the chapters. Nothing much came to me on Monday, except more of, “I want to do something, but what?”

On Tuesday, I figured out what I didn’t like about the chapters but thought, “It might not be exciting, but it works and gets the information across.”

On Wednesday, I remembered an author’s seminar at the SCBWI summer conference last year in which the author’s main message was “TRY”. Try the scene in six different ways and pick the best one. Try what you think might work and what you think might not work. Just TRY. So, on Wednesday, I did a “save as” (I have a document of “discarded chapters” where I store old stuff in case I could use it later) and I cut. I cut out all the stuff that I thought dragged down the chapters — the first seven paragraphs of one of the chapters and a bunch off the end — and I rewrote.

An amazing thing happened along the way: I got an idea for the scene that I hadn’t had before, one that I think is much more entertaining to read as well as much more interesting for the characters and plot development. It doesn’t change the story, but it makes it a lot more rich. Now, I’m excited about my revision again and longing to get back to it.

The funny thing is, if I hadn’t cut out the stuff I was afraid to lose, I wouldn’t have had this new idea.

So, I pass on the same advice: TRY.

Got any advice you’d like to share?

3 Comments on Just TRY, last added: 8/21/2008
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8. Forts Spot Illustrations




Here are a few interior illustrations from chapters in the book "Forts" that I'm currently working on. Nothing amazing, just simple black and white drawings to go over the chapter titles. I'll put up a few more in the coming weeks.

Steve

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9. Re-Envision

10 Ways to Start the Process of Re-Envisioning

How do you start revisions? You’ve got a great draft, and it’s pretty settled in your mind that this is how the story happens. BUT, readers aren’t thrilled with it. Editors and agents pass it by with a nice personal letter. Great, you think. There’s something here, but it’s not quite right. How do you start the process of re-envisioning such a story?

Some suggestions:

  1. Add, subtract or combine characters. Add a new best friend, or a new villain. Take out a character who has supported the antagonist, leaving the antagonist to his/her own devices. Combine two friends into one, especially when it will combine contrasting characteristics in a quirky way.
  2. Give a character a definite attitude. Find a certain scene that troubles you and do this: give one of the characters a definite attitude about what is happening. The character loves the current event, despises it, wishes his sister were here to deal with it, - anything. Give the second character a competing, but not opposite point of view: this character also knows the sister would do a better job of things, but is determined to do it herself, without sister’s help. Now, re-write, focusing especially on the dialogue.
  3. Switch POV. Write a scene from a different point of view and see where it takes you.
  4. Change setting. Put the scene in a different setting, a different time of day or season. What changes? What is possible in the desert is not possible on the beach! What difference does this setting make to the story?
  5. Cut the first three chapters. Begin the story at chapter four and make it work; don’t allow any back story to come into the story until page 100.
  6. Question assumptions about characters. Yes, Snively Whiplash is still the villain, but maybe he sings rock music and you never even knew it. And he’s striking back right now against your character because at a Karaoke, the antagonist didn’t recognize Whiplash in his disguise and actually laughed at his singing. OK. A bit melodramatic (Snively does that to a story!), but you get the idea. Have you assumed a character is all good or all bad? Find the opposite quality in him or her. Question something basic about one or more characters and carry it to the logical extreme.
  7. Raise the Stakes. How can you make the outcome of a scene matter more to the antagonist or protagonist? The lost necklace belonged to Melanie’s grandmother, who brought it from Poland when she fled the Nazi regime. It had been given to her by her fiance before he went off to war and was never seen again. THAT is the missing necklace and it matters deeply to Melanie, who loved that grandmother. Or, make the stakes broader, with wider effects: the fire set by Jimmy and Prissy in the woods has spread and now threatens the whole community.
  8. Rethink the Plot Complications. What obstacles does the main character confront? Can you add one more, in the form of a subplot? Try to change the obstacles in intensity, scale, or sheer amount of aggravation. Instead of one puny kid objecting to the character’s call as a soccer referee, let the biggest kid argue the call; or let the whole team gather round our poor character and let him talk his way out of that one! Or, instead, the whole team heckles him throughout the rest of the game, nothing enough to get them thrown out, but enough to aggravate.
  9. Drastic Rewrite #1: Retype the whole manuscript, with the idea that you must change something on every page as you rewrite. But when a revision takes off, follow it and give it free rein.
  10. Drastic Rewrite #2: Put the manuscript in a drawer and open a new computer file or take out new notebook paper. Tell the story again, without looking at the first telling. Do this chapter by chapter if you have to until some new idea takes hold, and then go with it.

Caution: NEVER delete an old manuscript or type over it. always keep a copy, in case you need to go back to it. Often changes go too far and you need to back track some. The previous drafts are helpful to remind you of the options you have already explored and which worked and which didn’t.

Post from: Revision Notes Revise Your Novel! Copyright 2009. Darcy Pattison. All Rights Reserved.

Related posts:

  1. Characters That Count
  2. 3 Ways to Salvage a Scene
  3. Talk, revise, streamline, investigage, read, envision, play

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10. Aye-ayes, pirates and more competitions

Hello again! Thought I'd better do a catch up and tell you about some more competitions that are running and what I've been up to.
I've been out and about quite a bit, took a fantastic trip down the Manchester Ship Canal on the Mersey Ferry (although we had a bit of trouble at the Salford end with a bridge that wouldn't open for two hours!) and I've been on a small mammals workshop in Cheshire where I got to learn about trapping to find out species live in an area.
I got to see a common shrew and lots of wood mice up close and had to help weighing them and picking them up by the scruff of their tiny necks which is very tricky! It was a really interesting day - with a very early start! I'm sure it'll come in useful for my Dr Midas stories one day too, it's great to get first hand experiences like that.

small mammals workshop.jpg

small mammals workshop.jpg


Speaking of Dr Midas I've been working on the second book again in the hope of entering it for the Times/Chicken Book children's fiction competition (deadline October 30th for whole novel up to 80,000 words - http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article6733392.ece).
I entered the original competition with Dr Midas and the Pirates but didn't have any success and have wanted to try again but as you need a whole book I was a bit stuck. The only other completed children's book I have is the sequel Dr Midas and the Incas. I think it would be really hard to do well with a sequel but then I started wondering if it could be changed so that it read as a standalone which it is for the main part. The biggest hurdle is how to get round the fact that this is adventure starts with Max finding out that his sister Millie has been on a time travel adventure with Dr Midas. He is so jealous that he decides to do the same and steals the time machine.
I've actually entered the first few chapters in another competition and was happy with them but when Iooked at them again I realised the start was slow in the Max and Millie parts and definitely not strong enough for setting up a first book.
So I've re-written the first two chapters so far, now the book doesn't start at Max and Milie's home but at the museum where they are on a school trip. I'm much happier with the new start, but still have a good way to go. I also need to make sure I really keep in my characters heads all the way through. I do think that my writing has really come on since my Cornerstones critique.
Actually I got asked in a job interview last week (sady I didn't get it) how did I know if my writing was any good? It's an interesting question and my answer was that I'd had a couple of competition wins and some good feedback via my website and query letters but mainly I guess because I love reading and I know what makes me give up on a book. Of course it's much harder to judge when your so close to the work, but leaving a good length of time before revising definitely helps.
Anyway I promised aye-ayes, pirates and more comps!
Firstly aye-ayes - I hope you've been watching Last Chance to See with Stephen Fry - it's been a brilliant series so far, but the best is yet to come this Sunday (BBC 2 8pm) because he's going in search of Madagascar's aye-aye. In an interview with the Radio Times he was asked if he had a favourite animal from his trip.
He said: "We met a captive aye-aye eyeball to eyeball - and what strange amber eyes they have - and watched a wild pair from below a tree as they tapped and sucked at a coconuts. They're astonishing, but spooky too. I think the Mme Berthe's mouse lemur takes a lot of beating for sheer, unadulterated cute."
Another lemur fan! There was a great photo of him and zoologist Mark Carwardine with lemurs too.
Soon everyone will know what an aye-aye is! Hopefully they'll want to read adventure stories involving them and other lemurs too! I'm also pleased to read that the title of the next Pirates of the Carribean has been annouced. Apparantly it is going to be 'On Stranger Tides.' I'm glad pirates are still proving popular and marketable, especially as I'm still trying to find a home for Dr Midas and the Pirates! (I've sent it to another slush pile via email.)
Well there's the new Brit Writers' Awards which I saw advertised in Writing Magazine which is supporting this new competition. There are lots of categories including short story, novel and poetry and entry - which is usually £10.95 is free for WM subscribers. There are also young writers categories and schools can register so their pupils can also enter for free. There's a website www.britwriters.co.uk but information is a bit sketchy at the moment. The deadline is December 8th 2009. I'd be interested to know what other people think about this one - there's a big prize up for grabs too of £10,000.
The Sunday Times have also launched a competition for previously published writers - The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. There's a £25,000 prize for the winning story and entries can be up to 7,000 words long. For more details visit http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article6817172.ece
The Sefton Celebrates writing competitions are also open for entry again. Deadline is October 9th 2009 and the theme for this year is journeys. There are prizes for poetry, other writing (£2 to enter), and writing by young people (free entry) . Entry forms/details at http://www.seftonarts.co.uk/uploads/file/writing%20comp%20pdf.pdf Well good luck if you enter any of these competitions.
Susan :)

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11. Aye-ayes, pirates and more competitions

Hello again! Thought I'd better do a catch up and tell you about some more competitions that are running and what I've been up to.
I've been out and about quite a bit, took a fantastic trip down the Manchester Ship Canal on the Mersey Ferry (although we had a bit of trouble at the Salford end with a bridge that wouldn't open for two hours!) and I've been on a small mammals workshop in Cheshire where I got to learn about trapping to find out species live in an area.
I got to see a common shrew and lots of wood mice up close and had to help weighing them and picking them up by the scruff of their tiny necks which is very tricky! It was a really interesting day - with a very early start! I'm sure it'll come in useful for my Dr Midas stories one day too, it's great to get first hand experiences like that.

small mammals workshop.jpg

small mammals workshop.jpg


Speaking of Dr Midas I've been working on the second book again in the hope of entering it for the Times/Chicken Book children's fiction competition (deadline October 30th for whole novel up to 80,000 words - http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article6733392.ece).
I entered the original competition with Dr Midas and the Pirates but didn't have any success and have wanted to try again but as you need a whole book I was a bit stuck. The only other completed children's book I have is the sequel Dr Midas and the Incas. I think it would be really hard to do well with a sequel but then I started wondering if it could be changed so that it read as a standalone which it is for the main part. The biggest hurdle is how to get round the fact that this is adventure starts with Max finding out that his sister Millie has been on a time travel adventure with Dr Midas. He is so jealous that he decides to do the same and steals the time machine.
I've actually entered the first few chapters in another competition and was happy with them but when Iooked at them again I realised the start was slow in the Max and Millie parts and definitely not strong enough for setting up a first book.
So I've re-written the first two chapters so far, now the book doesn't start at Max and Milie's home but at the museum where they are on a school trip. I'm much happier with the new start, but still have a good way to go. I also need to make sure I really keep in my characters heads all the way through. I do think that my writing has really come on since my Cornerstones critique.
Actually I got asked in a job interview last week (sady I didn't get it) how did I know if my writing was any good? It's an interesting question and my answer was that I'd had a couple of competition wins and some good feedback via my website and query letters but mainly I guess because I love reading and I know what makes me give up on a book. Of course it's much harder to judge when your so close to the work, but leaving a good length of time before revising definitely helps.
Anyway I promised aye-ayes, pirates and more comps!
Firstly aye-ayes - I hope you've been watching Last Chance to See with Stephen Fry - it's been a brilliant series so far, but the best is yet to come this Sunday (BBC 2 8pm) because he's going in search of Madagascar's aye-aye. In an interview with the Radio Times he was asked if he had a favourite animal from his trip.
He said: "We met a captive aye-aye eyeball to eyeball - and what strange amber eyes they have - and watched a wild pair from below a tree as they tapped and sucked at a coconuts. They're astonishing, but spooky too. I think the Mme Berthe's mouse lemur takes a lot of beating for sheer, unadulterated cute."
Another lemur fan! There was a great photo of him and zoologist Mark Carwardine with lemurs too.
Soon everyone will know what an aye-aye is! Hopefully they'll want to read adventure stories involving them and other lemurs too! I'm also pleased to read that the title of the next Pirates of the Carribean has been annouced. Apparantly it is going to be 'On Stranger Tides.' I'm glad pirates are still proving popular and marketable, especially as I'm still trying to find a home for Dr Midas and the Pirates! (I've sent it to another slush pile via email.)
Well there's the new Brit Writers' Awards which I saw advertised in Writing Magazine which is supporting this new competition. There are lots of categories including short story, novel and poetry and entry - which is usually £10.95 is free for WM subscribers. There are also young writers categories and schools can register so their pupils can also enter for free. There's a website www.britwriters.co.uk but information is a bit sketchy at the moment. The deadline is December 8th 2009. I'd be interested to know what other people think about this one - there's a big prize up for grabs too of £10,000.
The Sunday Times have also launched a competition for previously published writers - The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. There's a £25,000 prize for the winning story and entries can be up to 7,000 words long. For more details visit http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article6817172.ece
The Sefton Celebrates writing competitions are also open for entry again. Deadline is October 9th 2009 and the theme for this year is journeys. There are prizes for poetry, other writing (£2 to enter), and writing by young people (free entry) . Entry forms/details at http://www.seftonarts.co.uk/uploads/file/writing%20comp%20pdf.pdf Well good luck if you enter any of these competitions.
Susan :)

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12. FIRST CHAPTER: Charles and Emma

Dear Meg and Allyson,

I’m not sure how to begin this posting other than by confessing my complete admiration for the first chapter of Deborah Heiligman’s award-winning book Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith. In the first chapter, Charles Darwin ponders a question of critical importance: to marry or not to marry. A true scientist, he draws a line down the middle of a piece of paper and begins listing support on both sides.

Under Marry, he writes “constant companion (& friend in old age).” Under Not Marry, he writes, “freedom to go where one liked.”

As the chapter proceeds, and Darwin adds support for both sides of his list, Heiligman draws the reader step-by-step into Darwin’s world.

In just eleven pages, the first chapter of Charles and Emma:

  • Provides background information
  • Introduces the primary character
  • Establishes setting
  • Introduces the central problem
  • Builds tension, and
  • Hooks the reader.

Of course, all of these items, with the exception of the first, are critical elements for any first chapter. First chapters have to work hard—every word counts!

So let’s pause for a second on that issue of background information. Charles and Emma is a work of non-fiction (winner, in fact, of the first ever YALSA Award for Excellence in Non-Fiction).

While most readers probably know the basics of Darwin’s life and his theories, they may not know the particulars, such as how long exactly the voyage on the Beagle lasted or how England was changing due to industrialization. Heiligman needs readers to understand Darwin’s world and character before moving on to examine how his marriage impacted his scientific work.

The first chapter includes a wealth of background details, which fall into four primary topics:

  1. Biographical details, including Darwin’s age, physical description, his father and brother, his extended family, and the death of his mother.
  2. Life in London in 1838, including friends, the changes brought by industrialization, current religious debates, possible romantic interests, and Darwin’s apartment.
  3. Work as a naturalist, including the voyage on the Beagle, specimens, discoveries, colleagues, theories about transmutation (evolution), and his encounters with native people in South America.
  4. General concerns about marriage, including the joy and burden of children, fear about illness, financial issues, potential dislike of in-laws, desire for companionship, and loss of time.

Despite the numerous and specific details that appear throughout the first chapter, the narrative never slows down.

How does Heiligman manage to maintain pace and interest

1 Comments on FIRST CHAPTER: Charles and Emma, last added: 3/26/2010
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13. Marie Mockett reads at Chapters

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I’ll be introducing Marie Mockett when she reads this Friday, May 21, along with the young writers of Girls Write Now, as part of our Chapters series at the Center for Fiction. Her novel, Picking Bones From Ash, was recently shortlisted for the Saroyan International Prize and is concerned with the unique power and difficulties of talented girls.

“There must be something deeply unsettling to us about [them],” she wrote, in a guest essay for this site. “They often don’t fare well in fiction.”

Girls Write Now’s mission is to bolster talented — and underserved or at-risk — high school girls, by pairing them with professional writer mentors who encourage them to express themselves. We received the Coming Up Taller Award from Michelle Obama earlier this year and recently celebrated our 10th anniversary.

The young artist Olivia Morgan (7), an audience member, captured the spirit of our last reading in the drawing above. If you’re free this Friday, please join us. There’ll be plenty of time to swing by the One Story Ball afterward.

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