Tag Archives: plot

Carol’s Homework Assignment Post WIFYR 3

7456038The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes.

Prologue and first chapter were read: 19 pages. (We never discussed this, Carol, but I assume a prologue is not a legit chapter but a prelude and needs to be included.)

“Paul is dead!” What an opening line! (I’m showing my age, but I immediately saw the Abbey Road album cover. For those of you too young to understand, Google “Beatles Paul is dead.) Once I brought myself back to the present, it was still a killer first sentence (pun intended).

For me, it went somewhat downhill from there. It’s smoothly written, but the author pushed too much backstory, too much flashback, too much telling not showing. (Brenda is going to disagree with me on this.)

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some strong storytelling here. What surprises me is how the author breaks every rule Carol presented in class. Okay, with the exception of the “Paul is dead!” opening line.

The point of scene is excellent. The story takes place on a small Caribbean island and the descriptions are as lush as the landscape.

Characters are aplenty. There was the main character, Esti, of course. Then we have: the police officer who questioned her; an old family friend (in flashback); Paul, the victim (in flashback); Lucia, a local who had seen Esti talking with Paul. That would be five in the first nine pages, the prologue.

The actual first chapter introduces us to Esti’s mother, Aurora. Then come the two uppity kids from the school who seem to be members of the elite crowd: Danielle and Greg. Their main purpose seems to be to instruct Esti (and, in the process, us, the readers) about local legends, history, idioms and island patois. Oh, and establish that Danielle is in direct competition with Esti for the role of Juliet in the school play. Apparently, she’s sizing up the opposition.

The chapter had too much going on. The locations were varied and moved rapidly: the school grounds, the theater, another area in the school grounds, a flashback to the cemetery in the States, and, finally, her house. Her house took up the first chapter. The others took place in the prologue, the first 9 pages.

Prologue moved fast, first chapter not so much. Too slow, too much backstory. The two schoolmates showing up didn’t fit with the flow, I didn’t think. It seemed out of place.

Bottom line, it’s a ghost story and a murder mystery. How can you go wrong? Besides, Brenda says I’ll love it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I got much in the way of finding improvements for The Other Siders.

 

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Carol’s Homework Assignment Post-WIFYR (Yes, I said “POST”)

The assignment is to read the first chapter of 50 books in the Middle-Grade and Young Adult venue. They can be sci-fi, fantasy, or into whatever genre they fall. I am to read them from a writer’s perspective, paying special attention to: intro to main characters, plot development, intro to other characters, anything useful that points to why these books start out well and, as a result, get published.

So here is the first book. “Edgar Allan’s Official Crime Investigation Notebook” by Mary Amato. Middle-Grade. 140 pages.61K7EpEI-qL

From the School Library Journal:

The kids at Wordsmith Elementary School get a lesson on poetry when a thief stages a series of classroom thefts, leaving behind small poems at the scene of the crime. Edgar Allan keeps notes in his crime journal and writes some verses of his own as his classmates compete to solve the mystery. He thinks his home life is strange with his parents both employed as clowns, but when he learns more about the thoughts and personal lives of his classmates through the poetry they write, he gains a deeper understanding of himself and his community. With characters named Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett and a teacher who drinks Tennyson Tea, readers will get thinly veiled lessons describing alliteration, meter, and metaphor. … A good springboard for introducing poetry units.

Opening paragraph shows the reader the crime of stealing the class goldfish.

Characters introduced:

  1. Edgar Allan (MC)
  2. Ms. Herschel (teacher)
  3. Kip (a skinny boy whose leg was jiggling against his desk)
  4. Taz (the class clown)
  5. Maia (the person who gave the fish to the class)
  6. Gabriella (the new girl)
  7. Destiny Perkins (Another classmate. I’m guessing she’s going to be an important character later. She’s the first character given both names)
  8. Patrick Chen (Edgar’s nemesis)

Eight characters introduced in the first four pages. One complaint about my storyline was the introduction of five characters in eight pages. Apparently too many characters are not always an issue. Further study on this will be necessary.

It’s a fast beginning. The theft, the discovery, several theories of who did it, and Edgar and Patrick’s competition to discover the culprit before the other are all laid out by the end of the first chapter (page 6). Fast paced and quick. That part I get.

One comment in a review section said, “It’s a little slow paced as the story progresses and sometimes Edgar seems to think older than a fifth grader.” To people who consider that fifth graders must sound a certain way and be only so intelligent, I divert your attention to “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”

I had similar complaints that my characters sound older. They sound like I sounded at 14-16. My friends were, for the most part, the same way. We were avid readers and had been for a decade or more by that age. Nerdy kids who read a lot don’t sound like kids who don’t. They don’t think the same way either. I may try to tone it down some, but if I do it too much, the characters will lose their personalities.

I’ll definitely finish Edgar Allan’s Official… It has the makings of a good ride.

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BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/30/15

The End‑of‑April Last DAILY Prompt (at least for a while- See the last note): Think of three quite different emotions. Imagine which one of your characters might feel all three of those emotions within a fairly short time period. Write a scene which shows the character flipping from one emotion to another, and possibly even back again. Does s/he then come across as a person who has “flipped out,” or one who is displaying expected and rational feelings? Which of those ways would you most like your reader to think of your character? Just have fun with it!

YES! I DID IT! Disgust, Desire, Fear — I’ll take these three. My MC, an early 30‑something male, wakes up at mid‑day from a nightmare and looks around his habitation: it is cluttered and filthy, and it’s all his fault, as he lives alone. He walks outside and takes a short break from his filth, as well as a drag on his last remaining cigarette, and slips psychologically back into a dream‑state, only to see a luscious, though imaginary, woman — with wings! She’s teased him with her presence before. He wants her — too bad she’s doesn’t seem to be real. He dismisses the idea of trying to find a “real” woman like that. In the next moment, a screeching and mewling, as if of a hundred cats, assaults his ears. And the sound all seems to emanate from his upstairs window. In spite of his terror, he runs back into the house, to find the reality: his pathetic and dilapidated apartment is full of cats — some of them hurt or mutilated. And they blame him and begin to attack, wave upon wave.

He moved from disgust with his life style, to desire for a phantom woman, to fear of the cats. I think most readers would believe him to be a rather reprehensible person, but not one who has “flipped out”. Women readers, in particular, might find his life style disgusting and lazy, and might be disgusted at his interest in the “desirable” winged creature, but his fear of the cats would certainly be understandable. I think male readers could more easily imagine themselves in a position such as his, and might feel a trickle of fear (at least FOR him) as the cats attack. They might sympathize to some extent.

OOooo! I liked the idea of combining several emotions, and writing a scene where a character had logical reason to feel one the other without seeming crazy or out of touch with his reality . . . Okay, it’s a given that HIS “reality” is NOT Reality. But the EVENTS themselves seem even crazier than he does.

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )


WRITING PROGRESS REPORT:

And for my April 30 Minimum GOAL: 1 hour (this should have been a “clear” day, and therefore a 2‑hour goal day, but family circumstances dictated otherwise, sometimes that happens) so — YES! I DID IT! I worked on finding “order” among the events of this very convoluted story I’m writing. Part of that is in re‑doing parts of it, more or less like the Prompt I gave some time ago about creating a SITUATION, and then coming up with COMPLICATIONS within the situation. In fact, I think I’ll do even more of that with the rest of the story as well.

Note from Herb: As many of you know (and some may not) I do not write the blogs. I just post them. Brenda (BB) is the main engine on this enterprise. I have written a few in the past, but this month has been all her.

We’re getting ready to go on vacation, but we will be posting periodically while we’re gone. There isn’t a set schedule at this time or even a set format. We’re open to suggestions. How about a Throw Back Thursday where we republish one of the more popular blogs from the past two years? A weekly or every other weekly book review? Let us know what you’d like to read about.

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BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/29/15

From Cheryl: Look at the politics of your world. J.K. Rowling: civil rights to executive actions during war time. Hunger Games, more political than romantic. What goes on behind the scene? Abortion? Gun control? Freedom of Religion? Free Speech? Universal Healthcare? AND WHY do they feel this way? Write it down, but don’t reveal it — and watch characters take on new life. So here’s a writing prompt you don’t need ‑‑‑ in fact, should NOT — to share with your “readers.”

YES! I DID IT! Just a few samples of my thoughts on the politics of my world in Twisted Oaks Hollow: I scarcely think about politics in MY life, let alone in the lives of my characters, so how do I do that? These are good ideas, but how to approach them? Roles of women vs. roles of men might be a way to start. Lackley, for instance, has no property rights, but then her father was an over‑seer more than a land owner. He acted as though he owned the land, but in reality, it would have belonged to the Ultimate Leader, whether King, President, or whatever (I won’t say which here) — and how would I portray that in the story? What if Lackley had been a boy? Would he have inherited his father’s title? Could be. So is it time for Lackley, perhaps on her return, to take over for her father? So far, and I am really at the beginning of this look at their world, she seems to have no siblings, so that might be one way to approach it. What would happen to her father’s “legacy,” if he should die? Or abdicate, or whatever? Since Lackley will have a “sort of” happily ever after at the end — but will have learned much getting there — it only seems natural that she would share the burdens of leadership with her “significant other.” But HE will already have decided to . . . . .

I’ll leave it there, though there’s more. That’s just the beginning of my “secret thoughts” on the politics of Lackley’s world.

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )


WRITING PROGRESS REPORT:

I made a “happy mistake” on April 28’s report, so here’s the update: I wasn’t supposed to start my 3 hour minimum goal days until May 6, where I wrote it supposing my 2 hours was not enough. So, by doing 2 yesterday, YES! I REALLY DID DO IT!

And for my April 29 Minimum GOAL: 1 hour — YES! I DID IT! and made my one hour by thinking through and writing about the politics of my Twisted Oaks Hollow’s politics. As it turns out, it will particularly have impact on the eventual denouement! Yay, Me!

Tomorrow’s report (for April 30) will be the last of the “daily” blogs which we’ve posted through this entire month. Check in then, to see our announcement of our “What Comes Next” plans!

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BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/27/15

I was sick all last night — throwing up (and worse) every two hours . . . my Garmin Vivofit bracelet informs me I got 1 hour and 27 minutes of sleep last night. It made me think about my characters — well, by LATE today, I thought about them. Do any of your characters get sick? I mean, probably with some characters that’s what the story is about. But what about the average Joe (or Jolene) who’s just going about his/her day and then gets really, REALLY sick? How does it interrupt the story? (I know this has knocked me out so far for two full days, and still counting). Who helps take care of him/her? How does s/he deal with the illness? Is it lasting? Or just a blip on the map?

Your prompt: give one (or more) of your characters an illness, short‑lived or long, you decide. What is its impact on the character? The story? The other characters? The flow of what’s happening next?

YES! I DID IT! It has delayed my character’s planned trip into the “outside world,” She is frustrated, angry at herself, unmotivated (at first) to stop and deal with it. But it’s bad enough she has to find a way. It’s effects are NOT lasting, except that it makes her more sympathetic to other characters who’ve had interruptions within their lives — whether long or short — because she “gets” it. Fortunately for her (and for me), there don’t seem to be lasting effects. Hmmmmnnnnnn!

(Feel free to re-use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications — I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . .)

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Picture This!

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

At times in the past, I have modeled characters’ looks, fashion sense, even personality on unknown models in magazines. I’ve even cut them out and then built characteristics for that person on the same page or on a 4×6 card. Or I’ve envisioned an old time actor (or a current one, for that matter) as my “hero,” “villain,” “sidekick,” or whomever.

I’m going to suggest another way to utilize pictures of unknowns from magazines or books to help your writing (and the above paragraph has some good ideas too: if you’ve never tried it, give it a go and see what you think). Look through a magazine or illustrated book, preferably one you haven’t read already, or an old one you’ve forgotten all about. Find a picture with at least two main “characters” on it. THINK of these two as major characters in a story you haven’t yet thought through.

Just allow them to begin interacting with each other. Don’t “plan” ahead (this will be a good one for all of us ‘pantsers’), because this is designed to give us practice in a more “organic” method of plot construction. Just start “recording” the story’s events and let them spin out in front of you. Pay attention to other props or objects that appear in the ad or picture. If there are other people in the picture, ignore them for the moment. See how or why the two might interact with the props, objects, bits of scenery, in the picture with them. Record items and events as faithfully as possible without thinking about the “rules” of story plot structure.

Once you’ve recorded the scene, note whether your characters interacted with or used any of the props, etc., given them by the picture. What did they do with items there? Twiddle nervously with papers on a desk? Pick up a coffee cup and look for a refill? Grab a hammer or bucket of paint, intending to use it as a weapon?

How did your characters interact with each other? Were they friends or strangers at the start? What relationship was forged during the scene: adversarial? Conciliatory? Pleading? Helpful? and so on.

Go ahead. This is just a writer’s PLAY ground. Have FUN in it ! ! !

(And, at the end, is there anything salvageable there? Can it be incorporated in your current WIP? Is it the beginning of a short story? An article? An editorial? A children’s book? Even a brand‑new novel?)

See you next for Saturday’s Spellbinder!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Thinkin’ Lean and Mean

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

I suppose plenty of writers have first drafts so lean I might call them “skimpy”. They go back and pad — in college my friends and I called this “pad it and fake it.” I am not one of those writers. What I need to do is stop over-writing: saying everything two or three times to be sure I’ve been understood.

Even the best of writers can get caught up in that trap. Years ago, Irving Stone had a stop-over in SLC, and was kind enough to speak to the League of Utah Writers just after his book, The Greek Treasure, came out. He told us the story of publishing The Agony and the Ecstasy. He’d offered it around many times, but it was always a “no” from editors. He took it to a secretary he knew, asking her to take a look and tell him what was wrong. She said she knew nothing about writing, but he insisted her fresh eyes might be a help.

After reading the manuscript (can you imagine how long it was? It’s a huge book still!), she said to him, “You’ve said everything three times.” She went through it, trying to see which time he’d said it best. He (they?) slashed it mercilessly and sent it out again. It sold right away. He took the advance and used it to marry her, and she edited all his books after that! Gotta love a love story!

But how to go about it on your own?

I know I love every golden word I put down. But maybe if I look at small bits at a time…? I’m talking sentences, phrases, words … maybe even syllables.

Cut redundancy.

Redundancy is irritating because it contains no new information. It might also make the reader lose trust in your story. Trust your reader. And trust yourself to be able to write with clarity. Don’t lose the readers’ trust in your authority.

Deliberate repetition, for an effect, can be good. Just be sure it adds impact to the plot on an important point. Repetition just for the sake of repetition is . . . redundancy.

Get rid of over-explanation.

If you feel you have to explain or excuse something, it’s probably not on the page. In what ways do you “defend” your choices in the midst of a critique group? Instead, assume that the reader is at least as smart as you are and can figure things out. It can be tough figuring out what most people know or don’t know, but consider your target audience: if you’re writing historical romance, is the word “farthingale” going to throw them off without explanation? Probably not. In any case, they’ll probably figure it out through the context in which it was used.

Pick up the pace.

“Pace” can be thought of as how much new information a reader can absorb per page, or per 100 words. Fat-free paragraphs should be clean, crisp, quick. Getting them slimmed down may even cut your verbiage by half, or more.

Think of that as taking a novel from almost 170,000 words to 90,000. Look carefully at your mss. and cut every word you can — it will teach you what makes “good” writing.

Get over yourself, when it comes to “literary effect”.

Finally, cut for literary effect (I often think I’m writing for literary effect, when I’m probably over-writing and obliterating the “effect” part!). Instead of cutting the fat, this means omitting connections where you’ve pointed the way, so the reader can puzzle those connections out for himself. Get readers involved, and they’ll likely keep reading. This takes careful analysis on the writer’s part: focus on the most climactic incident, or the moment of realization. How can you cut the actions down which lead to that result in order to force the reader’s deduction of what those actions were? Is that a stronger, more enhanced version of your story?

A Caveat or Two

These guidelines for cutting don’t apply in the same way to dialogue. Your dialogue characterizes, not only by content, but by form. Your character may be a repetitious person, someone who over-explains. S/he may be pompous, insecure, lonely — and such dialogue will help to show his/her real nature.

Remember, too, that some very successful books are heavily padded. If they were/are truly successful, they obviously have something else to offer: exciting action, thrilling characters, intriguing ideas, etc. Yet it never hurts to offer the reader clean, crisp prose, which can make the difference between sales and rejections — especially important for as-yet unpublished authors.

See you next for Spellbinding Saturday!

[Note: last Tuesday I offered some Tom Clancy ideas from an old issue of Writers Digest. Many of the ideas here came from an article in the same issue by Nancy Kress called “Wielding the Scalpel”.

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