Midweek ROW80 check-in

This week has been spent editing the first two chapters of a novella I entered in a contest. I made it to the final round (yay!) and have an opportunity to edit it before progressing to the next round, but I only have a few days to do so. Add that to grading, class prep, etc., and it’s been a busy week.

That’s all I’ve managed to accomplish on the writing front this week. I did manage to write 3,532 words last week, so I am making progress.

Hopefully in the next few weeks I can find a way to balance writing and teaching and really get some work done on the Cabot Sisters series. I also want to get back into a blogging and social media routine. I try to visit three to five blogs a day, but that just hasn’t been happening lately. Please bear with me as I seek ever-elusive balance.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants!

What about you? How is your writing coming along? What projects are you working on? How do you find balance in your life?

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How to write a compelling first line, paragraph, or page

It’s no secret. Writing the opening sentences, paragraphs, and pages of a book is hard. I read a lot of book beginnings, not just because I read a lot of books but because, as a Kindle user with a seemingly endless number of books available at the press of a button, I read a lot of samples. Some of them grab me right away. Others are strong but start slower. Still others don’t appeal to me, so I set them aside.

What are you looking for in a book opening? Here are a few things that I look for:

An interesting main character

I prefer them to be likeable and clever and think for themselves, but sometimes a character who starts out as unlikeable becomes likeable over the course of the book. But what I want is a well-drawn character that I like enough—or am intrigued enough by—to stick with their story for hundreds of pages.

I love Harry Potter right away because, despite the fact that the Dursleys treat him terribly, he still seems like a good person. He’s becoming a good person despite the way they treat him. We get a sense of that right away. We get a sense that he’s destined for so much more than living in the Cupboard Under the Stairs.

A hook

I want the writing to grab me immediately. Yasmine Galenorn opens her book “Dragon Wytch” with the following line:

“There was pixie dust in the air.”

It seems deceptively simple, but I kept reading because this opening got me thinking. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What does that mean? What’s going to happen? Are pixies in this world evil, mischievous, or sweet? How will the character react?

A good opening raises a question to which we must read on to find the answer. Charles Dickens opens his famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities” with this infamous line:

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

And we read on because, well, how can it be the best and the worst at the same time? We’re intrigued; we’re hooked.

An opening disturbance

We don’t want to spend twenty pages following a character around as they muse about the weather, chat with their friends, walk through the forest, or go to work. We want to be quickly plunged into the action, and an opening disturbance does just that.

That doesn’t mean we can’t open with a seemingly normal, everyday scene—a teenager waiting for the bus, a woman walking into the bookstore she owns, a man stepping off a train and onto the platform. But the opening disturbance needs to quickly follow. For example, the teenager waiting for the bus sees a ghost, the woman walking into her bookstore finds it ransacked, the man stepping off the train meets a stranger. Something happens that shakes up the main character’s everyday routine.

Typo-free

If I pick up a book and find three typos in the first five pages, I’m not likely to buy it. What if I purchase it and find the rest of the book riddled with typos? If we find a lot of typos up front, we’re less likely to feel that the book can deliver on the promise of being a page-turning or thought-provoking work of fiction. In short, typos are distracting; they pull us out of the story and back into our workaday lives.

I think if the opening sentences, paragraphs, and pages of a book have these things, we’re much more likely to read on. I don’t want to read twenty pages of the woman walking through her bookstore, opening boxes, dusting the shelves, counting the change in the cash register. I want something to happen. I want an old flame to walk in the door. I want the place to be turned upside-down. I want a vampire to slink out of the corner. Something. And if it’s something happening to a character who intrigues us and the story is written in an engaging way, we’re much more likely to keep reading.

Lastly, a midweek ROW80 check-in…

So, I’ve decided to set a goal of writing 3,000 words/week during the semester. I don’t want to burn myself out, and 3K seems like a word count I can manage and still find time for grading and class prep, etc.

So far this week I’ve written 1,479 words in “Chosen by Magic.”

I haven’t managed to read any chapters in a book on writing. Hopefully next week I can get back into that.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? What do you look for in a book opening? What hooks you and draws you into a story? And what is your favorite opening line to a book? Please share below!

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Midweek ROW80 check-in

So, writing hasn’t really been happening since we moved to the new place two weeks ago. The hours have been filled with painting, unpacking, and class prep, since I’ll be teaching this fall. The course is coming together. I have most of the assignments for the semester finished, the syllabus is done, and I have my lesson plans through the beginning of November. I still have a few assignments to write, but I’m fairly close.

But when you’ve been writing basically every day and you go two weeks without writing, you start to get…itchy. That’s how I would describe it. There are all of these words in my head that belong on the page. There are stories that need to be written, and characters who need their stories to be told. So today I opened a blank Word document and just wrote. Anything. I ended up with 1,028 words written.

I’m hoping that next week I can get back into a writing routine so that I can finish the next Cabot Sisters book, “Chosen by Magic.” I love that world and that series and I’m starting to miss it. But the plan for this week is just class stuff. Maybe I’ll write in my character voice journal just to stay connected, but I’m not going to sweat it if I don’t write until after the first day of class.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

Well, I’m off to do more class prep. What about you? What are you working on this week? If you teach or have kids, are you ready for back-to-school?

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Caught in a Whirlwind

So, it’s official. Hubby and I are homeowners. We moved into our new place last Wednesday, and the past week has been a flurry of unpacking, cleaning, painting, and endless trips to Lowe’s. We are slowly but surely getting settled in, and we’re excited—tired, but excited.

Of course, that means that basically no writing has been getting done. I have been doing some prep work for the course I’ll be teaching this fall, and have been making decent progress.

But there is some wonderful news on the writing front: I finished the second draft of “Called by Magic” in a little over a week. I’ve never revised anything that quickly—and the revision included some substantial rewrites. It’s a novella of about 20K, so not novel-length, but that was still a fast turnaround. I wish every story could flow so smoothly.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned that I’ve decided to focus on The Cabot Sisters, a series of six novellas following sister-witches Laurel and Brigit and their adventures in the faerie realm. So up next is plotting the third book in the series, “Chosen by Magic,” and getting started on it. But right now class prep comes first.

I’ve really shifted my focus for this round, so here are my new goals for the third round of ROW80:

  • Finish a second draft of “Called by Magic.” (check!)
  • Finish a first draft of “Chosen by Magic.”
  • Finish a second draft of “Beckoned by Magic.”
  • Read two or three books on the craft/business of writing.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

What about you? What projects are you working on? Any home improvement projects this summer? What are you currently writing?

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Sunday ROW80 check-in

I’ll keep this one short. We’re planning to close on our new home this week, so soon my life will be a whirlwind of boxes and paint brushes as we move in, prep, and unpack. But last week was a slow week at my in-laws’ farm, spent writing and taking long evening walks. Looking forward to the new place, though. I’m most excited about my purple office, where I’ll write while sipping Earl Grey.

This week’s check-in…

Writing: It was a productive week. I wrote 5,208 new words in “Called by Magic,” not including any writing I did during revisions (as opposed to rewrites, which some of the chapters needed). I rewrote/revised five chapters total. The story is short, probably 10 chapters max, so I’m about halfway through the second draft! I also started a character voice journal for The Cabot Sisters series—“Called by Magic” is book two in that series.

Reading: I finished reading Rachel Hartman’s “Seraphina” and Roz Morris’s “Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Your Readers Captivated” and started reading “The School for Good and Evil” by Soman Chainani and “On Writing Romance” by Leigh Michaels.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? Did you make any progress on your goals this week? Any plans for the upcoming week?

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Cover Reveal: “Alicia” by Gloria Weber

Alicia by Gloria WeberALICIA
by Gloria Weber
Published by Solstice Publishing
(Summer Solstice imprint)
Release Date: August 18, 2015

aliciapromostayed2Blurb:
Leon has decided it is better to remain silent and accused of Alicia’s murder than admit the truth. The truth, well… that’s so unbelievable it’s crazy.  Not that Detective Dorndorf believes a word that comes out of Leon’s mouth. Dorndorf just wants a confession and figures dragging Leon to the last spot Alicia was seen might just pry it out of him.  Will the detective’s plan work or will the truth come out?

Price: $0.99
To Be Sold At: Amazon and Solstice Publishing’s website

Bio:
Gloria Weber lives in Ohio with her husband, son, daughter, and many pets. She has been writing for publication since March 2006 with over a dozen titles published. Her favorite letter is L.

Website: http://gloriaweber.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @GloriaWeber ~ http://twitter.com/GloriaWeber
G+: http://plus.google.com/107706782152210234267/posts
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GloriaWeberWriter
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/GloriaWeber

Creating complex characters with author Celine Jeanjean

Today, except for a brief ROW80 check-in at the end of this post, I’m turning the blog over to Celine Jeanjean, author of The Viper and the Urchin, for a discussion of character development. Celine’s book is full of well-drawn and memorable characters, and she offers some good tips below for how to make your characters shine as well.

And now, over to Celine…

When Denise asked me if I’d be up for writing a post about creating complex characters, I was so flattered! With that in mind, I’ve put together some of the things I did while building my characters, in the hope that it might be helpful. I focused specifically on two aspects: voice and dimensions.

Voice:

assassin_fullThe Viper and the Urchin is told from both Rory and Longinus’ points of views. Rory is a scrappy urchin girl, while Longinus is a fastidious and snobbish assassin who’s afraid of blood. Since they’re very different, I had to make sure their voices were just as distinct.

The first thing I did was play around with their language by creating a list of curses, slangs, and general expressions for each of them. I find language can be really helpful in showing a character’s personality, as well as where they’re from and the world they live in.

Most of the expressions didn’t make it into the book in the end, because the right conversations didn’t crop up, or because I made up others on the spot, but I found it a very useful way to start developing each voice in my head.

Once I had a bit of a feel for their voices, I wrote a synopsis of the story as if each character was sitting down and relating the story to a friend. This was a great way to ‘practice’ each voice, and it also enabled me to get to know their personalities a little better. Would they tell the story in a few sentences or go into blow by blow detail? Would they take creative license and play down certain aspects and highlight others? (Longinus’ creative license turned out to be pretty extensive!)

Dimensions:

I found the three dimensions of a character as outlined in Story Engineering by Larry Brooks incredibly useful as a base from which to develop Rory and Longinus. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, the dimensions are as follows:

1st Dimension: the surface and appearance of a character (they way she dresses, quirks, the way she talks, opinions, tastes, etc. Basically anything that can be perceived by an outsider)

2nd Dimension: the reason behind the choices and behaviours that define a character’s appearance – or the reason behind the character’s efforts to control her appearance. Backstory, agenda, etc, fall into that dimension.

3rd Dimension: what the character is like deep down, beneath it all (their moral compass, their soul.) The third dimension is usually revealed when the stakes and pressure are high and it doesn’t necessarily align with the first two.

Thinking about the layers of a personality in that way was really helpful in finding places to add conflict. A classic way to do this is to have the third and first dimension clash: the cad who turns out to have a heart of gold, or someone with the appearance of a hero/good guy who turns out to be a coward or a traitor.

Another way of introducing contrast within a character is by looking at the idea that appearance is driven by a combination of what a character thinks about herself and what she wants others to see. Those two things can be aligned, or they can be in contradiction. Especially if said character holds conflicting views about herself (as a lot – most? – of us do.)

For example in my case, Longinus is incredibly ashamed of his fear of blood, and deep down doesn’t feel like a good enough assassin – so he overcompensates by trying very hard to come across as the perfect gentleman assassin. He’s arrogant and superior, partly because he genuinely believes himself to be the best alchemist in town, as well as the best-dressed man, but also because it’s a comfort zone for him. It’s easier for him to be arrogant than to face his failings.

I found that adding contrast and delving into the why behind the quirks and outer traits helps makes them more than just a superficial, amusing details – it helps make them part of a more complete personality. Especially in the case of a humorous character like Longinus – spending time working out the reasons behind his many personality quirks stopped him (I hope!) from veering into the ridiculous, and made him a bit more complex.

So there you have it — I hope it’s been helpful. I don’t pretend this is the best way to go about creating characters but it certainly helped me with mine. If you disagree or if you use different methods when working on characters, I’d love to hear!

About Celine:

Celine Jeanjean PhotoCeline Jeanjean is French, grew up in the UK and now lives in Hong Kong. That makes her a tad confused about where she is from. During her time in Asia she’s watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, lost her shoes in Vietnam, and fallen off a bamboo raft in China.

Celine writes stories that feature quirky characters and misfits, and her books are a mixture of steampunk, fantasy and humour.

To find out more about Celine or just to chat, visit her on:

Website: http://celinejeanjean.wordpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CelineJeanjeanAuthor

Goodreads:https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14128308.Celine_Jeanjean

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CelineJeanjean

Lastly, here’s my midweek ROW80 check-in

Writing: Wrote 4,008 words in Called by Magic. Did 45 pages of critique. Started a character voice journal for Called by Magic.

Reading: Finished reading Roz Morris’s Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Your Readers Captivated. Finished reading Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Just bought The School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, so I might start that one today or continue reading The 10th Kingdom by Kathryn Wesley.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

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