Jeanne: A Body in Motion

I just finished reading a first chapter for a friend who’d been wanting me to critique for her. (Note: I’m pretty sure this falls under the heading of “Be Careful What You Wish For”).

Her writing is solid—clear, grammatical, easy to follow—and the character she introduced was sympathetic and likable. Great start.

The problem I had with the scene was that nothing much happened. And not only did nothing much happen, but the character in question didn’t even move around very much. He got out of his car, climbed the steps to someone’s front porch, dodged a bee, and knocked on the door.

That’s not a lot of activity for eight pages.

After I fired off my response email, suggesting she incorporate more action and present conflict, I hopped on Instagram, where I came across a meme on “8 Reasons Your First Scene Isn’t Working.” They were all good points, but the list didn’t include lack of action.

One of the things we learned at McDaniel was that readers judge characters, not by what they say, or even think, but by what they do.

All of that made me think about the motion/energy/activity level in my own new first scene. My scene has conflict, but there’s still a strong aura of “talking heads” about it—just two characters standing around yapping at each other.

Which, now that I’m aware of it, I can fix.

What are your thoughts on this? Is it okay with you if the first scene in a book is just people talking or thinking? Or do you want to see some bodies in motion?

Nancy: Echoes and reversals, beginnings and endings

Last week, a friend of mine, who happens to be a writer (quelle surprise!) posted in her Facebook group about being obsessed with beginnings and endings as she starts a new writing project. I’m in the same headspace right now for a couple of reasons. The first is that I’m about to embark on my own new writing project. The second is that my husband and I finally got to watch a proper ending for an HBO series we loved that died an unexpected death thirteen years ago.

We were Johnny-come-latelies to the prestige TV phenomenon of the series Deadwood. But after years of having the story recommended to us by trusted friends, we eventually watched the first episode. And we were hooked.

The very first scene* had a twist I saw coming but couldn’t quite believe would really happen. The first season introduced a community of characters who were sometimes repulsive but always magnetic, storylines that focused on character minutia but were simultaneously sweeping, dialogue that was vulgar while also Shakespearean. And as we watched the last episode of the third and final season, we realized with dismay what the show’s early fans had experienced in 2006–this amazing story, unexpectedly canceled after the third season had wrapped, never got a proper ending. Continue reading

Michille: Write Your Novel in a Year

wendig

As so many people say, or in this case after I googled ‘write your novel in a year’, so many web pages say it. I’ve discussed Writers Write and Anthony Ehlers series called Write Your Novel in a Year. The blog very kindly consolidated all 52 posts here. I have Chuck Wendig’s infographic on my bulletin board (if you don’t like foul language, skip this one). And I’ve tried the NaNo method (although I knew I wouldn’t write an entire novel in a month). I don’t read these because I think any one of them will be the magic bullet, but I do regularly find motivation to keep writing. Here are some of the new ones I found: Continue reading

Nancy: The Hardest Hundred Pages

A few weeks ago, I told you about the steady progress I’ve been making on my WIPs by working to a 20-page-per-week commitment with my writing coach. That’s approximately 6,000 new words per week. At that pace, I’d be able to write a 25K story in 4-5 weeks.

So now let me tell you about the 25K story it took me 2 years to write.

OK, I’m being a bit melodramatic. I didn’t take me 2 years to get through the new pages of the first draft. That took a few months, then the story went to critique readers who (rightfully) had some problems with the story. Then there were the inevitable months of compiling critique comments, formulating a revision plan, going back to the story drawing board, drinking before 4 PM, and reconsidering my poor life choices. And then I walked away from the story for a year.

Not to worry! I was not defeated, and the story wasn’t abandoned. I just needed to take a break. See other stories. Decide what I really wanted out of that novella. The answer was, a lot, and that’s why my time away from it was so important for fixing the story. My critique readers could give you lots of details about what was wrong with this book, like a heroine who was rather selfish, an out-of-the-blue physical encounter that would be a tough sell in a contemporary, let alone an historical, and that perennial first-draft favorite – wishy-washy goals.

But pulling back from all of that to take an big-picture view of my novella, I realized I’d written it too soon. It was under-proofed, under-baked, and just not ready for prime (or even critique) time. So how did I make such a mess of it? Oh, let us count the ways. Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Should I Hurt the Dog?

Here’s Trouble! from mplsmutts.com

Ladies, I need your help. I’m at the end of my book. I have a big fight scene. My villain, Vlad the Assassin, has a tire iron, and he’s swinging it like a madman. He hits my hero with it, a blow that separates his shoulder and requires five stitches.

Then Vlad hits the dog, Trouble, breaking two of Trouble’s ribs. I need Trouble out of commission (that is, off the page), and I think the best way to do that is to have the villain hurt him, because then we’ll hate Vlad even more, right? If he hurts the dog, it’s abundantly clear that he’s No Good.

I did a little research on treatment for this kind of injury. Trouble’s lungs aren’t affected, so he doesn’t need surgery. He’ll recover much like a person would who cracked a couple of ribs. Trouble just has to take it easy, and in a few weeks he’ll be good to go again.

In the final chapter, my hero and heroine jet off for a few days to get married, leaving Trouble with his best friends, the neighbors, who will take excellent care of him and spoil him half to death. He’ll be fine. Better than fine.

But here’s my concern. I just recently read a blog somewhere where a commenter posted that she’d never read another book by a particular author because that writer had injured a dog in her pages. And then a bunch of other people chimed in and said the same.

Argh! Whatcha think? Would you read another book in the series if Trouble gets hurt, if the injury isn’t life-threatening, and if he makes a full recovery? Or is hurting a dog beyond the pale?

 

Nancy: And In the End…Elements of Strong Finales, Part I

I’ve been thinking a lot about story endings for the past few weeks as I near the end of the first draft of my Women’s Fiction WIP. But in truth, I’m always thinking about story endings – mine and others’ – from the first page or a manuscript or book, the first episode of a TV series, or the opening scene of a movie. (Cue PSA: This is your brain on writing.) But when I’m actually coming up on a final page of my own, I have an irresistible urge to procrastinate look at beginnings and endings of other stories.

This topic was an important part of the McDaniel course training of the eight ladies, and with good reason. The ending has so much weight to pull. Tie together disparate loose ends, but not too tightly. Illustrate the character arcs with subtlety and call-backs to other important moments in the story. Keep the story promise that made the reader/viewer join you for the story journey way back in the beginning when you were just saying hello. And then there’s the kicker that applies to every part of the story, but is magnified for the writer at the end of a WIP (often resulting in a frenzy of head-desking, second-guessing, and thinking that something else – anything else! – would be a better/smarter/easier use of one’s time than writing): there is no universally right ending to your story, only less wrong ones. For proof of this, you need only read online discussions and dissections of every movie and TV series ending that has occurred since the advent of the internet.

I’ve had many of my own moments of ‘Oh no, they didn’t!’ at the ends of books, movies, and TV series. Looking just at TV, I was annoyed and let-down by the end of How I Met Your Mother, and am wont to believe the story (rumor?) that the writers expected a much shorter run, and never really adapted their vision of the ending when the series ran for many more years than they’d expected. Don’t get me started on the Seinfeld ending. And – yes, I’m going to go there – I have mixed emotions about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series ending, which missed a lot of obvious opportunities for emotional impact and story promise fulfillment, but that also got a lot right.

So over the past few weeks, as I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding my own ending preparing for the important task of writing a fabulous ending, I’ve revisited beginnings and endings of several books and TV series, and have broken them down into elements that set my little writer heart all a-twitter.

The Story Promise Revisited.   Continue reading

Michille: Recycled Novel in a Year

Start-Strong-Start-Simple-1Today (yesterday to readers of this post), I was noodling around looking for ideas for this blog post. I stumbled on a blog post from two years ago based on a series from one of my favorite blogs: Writers Write. Back in 2016, they were running a series called Write Your Novel in a Year (Anthony Ehlers is the blogger of this series, the link is for the 1st post – this is the last). He had a new post every week and at this time in 2015, they were up to week 14. Continue reading