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Category Archives: Critique

Perfecting Your Pitch

writers blockWe spend hours, days, months, and sometimes years writing our stories. One idea turns into many and we write them down to create worlds and adventures that allow people to escape and believe anything is possible. After all this work, we’re then asked to shorten our story into a few paragraphs, then one paragraph, and finally, into a single sentence. The one sentence pitch.

Some people find this easy, while for others, this takes a lot of time and thought. I’m one of those for whom it took some time. Instead of telling you how to write yours, I’m going to leave you a map of the sites I utilized to figure out the puzzle.

The first site I found is a blog by Nathan Bransford. He’s a published author and former literary agent. He’s got a great website, full of helpful information: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/how-to-write-one-sentence-pitch.html 

The next is a website written by agent, Rachelle Gardner. Her post isn’t very long, but it does give a good overview: http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/11/writing-a-one-sentence-summary/ 

Querytracker’s blog was another helpful resource: http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2009/02/writing-loglinethe-one-sentence-pitch.html

Here’s another from Writer’s Digest: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/thrillerfest-2011-pitch

Elana Johnson is an author who wrote a post about this very subject and included several links to help people craft their pitch: http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/2010/04/one-sentence-pitching.html 

I’ve given five different sites that I used and found helpful. The web is full of information, some of it more useful and true than others. I tend to stick to names I know and recognize when I’m looking for help. I wanted to use links, instead of putting it into my own words, because I can’t give you the magic formula for writing the perfect pitch for your story – only you know your story well enough to narrow it down to a few words.

If you’re feeling up to the challenge, post your one sentence pitch in the comments for critique. Please be sure and identify the genre and myself or one of the other writers will tell you what we think. Good luck and keep writing!

Join us on Wednesday when guest writer, Vaughn Roycroft, will be discussing the technique of using multiple points of view!

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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Craft, Critique, Pitch, Uncategorized, Writing

 

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Stepping into POV

20130208-163533.jpgThanks for continuing to follow us through our February workshops. A special thanks to those of you who have been brave enough to share your work with us. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity offer up some of the things we’ve learned over the years, but also the chance to learn from you. If you haven’t yet, be sure to enter to win a 25 page critique from Month9Books editor, our very own Courtney Koshel.

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
— Roger Miller

Today I’d like to talk about point-of-view, something that has always been highly important to me and something that has evolved in my writing over the years. For those of you who have read my stories, you know I like to dig my heels deeply into my characters’ hearts, set up camp, and then invite you in for a hot cup of coffee. It’s the best seat in the house.

There are three common points-of-view used in fiction: 1st person, 3rd person limited, and 3rd person omniscient. Two things usually dictate which one you choose: your writing style or your story. For me, first person is a choice I’ll make 9 times out of 10 because that’s how I connect to my characters and that’s what shapes the tone of my story. It’s a stylistic thing.

For others, it may vary from story to story. For instance, fantasy is often written in 3rd person because of the vast amount of world building that needs to be done, while Young Adult is commonly 1st person to create the familiar emotional intensity of adolescence in the reader. I’ll let you Google the many articles out there about which one is right for you, but no matter your choice, there are some common tips that mean the difference between watching the story play out on a mental screen and stepping into the character’s shoes.

Eliminating Filter Words

Courtney already gave us a wonderful post on filter words and in it she says, “They distance the reader from the story. It’s one extra step the reader has to take in order to experience action with the character.” There’s no better way to say it so I’ll leave it at that and encourage you to check out her post again for a list of common filter words.

Sensory Details

Including the five senses is essential in each scene yet it often gets overlooked. I think we’re so used to experiencing the world through them, we take for granted that without them I wouldn’t be able to feel the warm blanket over my legs right now; I wouldn’t hear the space heater running beside the couch; I couldn’t see the screen in front of me to type this, or taste the remnants of the Granny Smith apple I ate a few minutes ago. I could have simply said I’m typing this on my iPad in my living room but don’t the use of my senses create a much clearer picture?

Character Thoughts and Feelings

In any given moment, a person has an emotional reaction or thought about what is happening around them, or what happened earlier in the day or week or month. They have feelings about what other people say or do, or what might happen in the future. It is a rare moment when we aren’t reacting to our surroundings. Bring your character to life by giving us a glimpse into his or her mind and heart with internal monologue, skillfully included using the POV of your choice. Make us feel it too.

There are many ways to put readers behind the eyes of your characters but these are just a few. They say you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, and a novel is a cross-country trek. Bring us along.

In the comments, I would love to see a few paragraphs of your work-in-progress where you might need a little help with implementing these techniques. The ladies and I here to support you and speaking from experience, nothing helps your grow in your craft more than trial and error with an encouraging group or writing friends. 🙂

Photo by Newtown grafitti

 

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To Great Beginnings!

I just liked this picture. Photo courtesy of:http://www.flickr.com/photos/cloppy/8444077598/

I just liked this picture. Photo courtesy of:http://www.flickr.com/photos/cloppy/8444077598/

Writing the beginning to a story is hard. There are so many things that have to be just right. Are you starting your story in the right place? Will it grab the reader’s attention? Is there too much detail and description or not enough? Is there conflict? But most of all, will your beginning make the reader want to keep reading to chapter two and beyond?

One of the problems a lot of writers run into is where they start their story. Every story and character has a background and the writer knows this world so well and they want to share it, so the reader can experience everything the writer intended. However, too much detail about the setting or character can slow down the story. The reader doesn’t need to know everything the character has done leading up to the starting point, weave it into the story. Too much setting has the same potential to slowing down the story. Give enough setting to make the story come to life and let the reader feel as though they’re with the character. If the first five or so pages consist mainly of describing the school and playground where the main character attended fifteen years prior, that’s a good clue that rewriting may be in the near future.

A lot of craft books talk about creating conflict and showing what’s at stake. That’s something that’s extremely hard to do in the first few pages, because a lot of times, the character doesn’t know enough about their situation to realize what’s at stake, unless you’re writing a crime novel that starts off in the middle of a burglary gone bad. With bullets flying and a police chase, we can all see what’s at stake. However, most other genres don’t have this luxury. The writer has to be creative and come up with ways to integrate it into the beginning without being so blatant. Though, of course, there are exceptions.

Research has shown that if a reader reads through the first paragraph, they’ll read the first page. After reading the first page, if you’ve kept their curiosity  they’ll continue through the first chapter. If the story holds their interest and they want to know what happens to the characters, they’ll read the second chapter and beyond. This is what every writer wants, someone to read their book from start to finish because they genuinely care about the characters and their situation. If large blocks of description interrupt the flow of the story, they’ll skim over it. Use dialogue to interrupt description. Move the story along. Go for emotional impact. Create a connection between your readers and your characters, give the reader a reason to care what happens, particularly in the beginning.

I think we’ve all read books that don’t follow the rules. I know that I tend to skim if there’s more than a few paragraphs of nothing but description without a break. It doesn’t matter what it’s describing; a dress, a new car or a high school. Unless you’ve got a killer description that somehow becomes a character in and of itself, it doesn’t move the story along. It lets the reader see what you see, but you can lose them if you don’t pick the story up again. Remember to show, not tell.

A few little things that you can watch for are:

  • Overuse of adverbs – examples are lazily, slowly, happily, etc. Show in your dialogue instead of telling the reader what and how the character responds. A few adverbs are fine, but if every dialogue tag has one, that may be something to watch for.
  • Pacing and flow – does the pace of your story make sense? Does it flow from one scene to another? Is the reader going to have and stop and go back to see what happened? For example, if your story starts with a daydream, will the reader know when real life comes back into play?
  • Give life to your settings. Make the reader feel a part of the world you’ve created. For example, “it was a small town, like any other.” Umm… I’ve been to lots of small towns and they were all different. Give the reader a little more to go on, weave it into the story with dialogue and action. Keep it moving.
  • Keep your dialogue clear. Show the personalities of your characters. Make sure the readers knows who’s talking. Make them interesting and let them fly.

In doing research for this post, one of the most common things I read was that the first five pages can make or break your manuscript. I guess I’m not surprised considering one of the books I use frequently is Noah Lukeman’s, “The First Five Pages.” He’s a literary agent and his book is quite helpful when zeroing in on problem areas. I’d highly recommend it.

As part of the workshops that we’re offering this month, I’m going to offer critiques of the first 500 words of your novel or work in progress. If you’re up for it, copy and paste the first 500 words (give a take a few, if you need to finish a sentence or paragraph, feel free) in the comments section and myself or one of the other lovely Hugs and Chocolate writers will critique your work. Please tell us your genre and feel free to ask any questions that you may have, we’re here to help you.

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35 Comments

Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Craft, Critique, Writing

 

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Write Better Dialogue

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    We begin the first in a series of workshops today. I’m sharing the fundamentals of dialogue. On Monday,  Rebecca will discuss the first five-hundred words of your novel. All month-long, we cordially invite you to share excerpts from your novel for critique. After reading today’s post, feel free to post dialogue from your work-in-progress for critique and discussion. Thank you!

“I try to leave out the parts people skip.”

     ~ Elmore Leonard

 

     Dialogue matters. Agents and editors will reject a story based on stodgy or expository dialogue. Readers will skip pages, if not lose interest and turn on a re-run of Jersey Shore(and another book plunges to an ink-splattered death). I don’t know about you, but as I work on another round of edits of my novel, the very idea makes my head hurt, and I take Mr. Leonard’s words to heart. Dialogue can make or break a story.

Here’s my personal motto when it comes to rules of writing: learn the rules, then break or use them as the story sees fit.

I share this with you before I go into the basic rules, so that you, my dear reader, understand that when it comes to our word-smithing and world-building, rules of writing are meant to guide like the benevolent hand of Dumbledore, and less like the persnickety claws of Umbridge. (Yes, I was up late reading Harry Potter and haven’t had my minimum dose of caffeine yet.)

Basic grammar principles of dialogue:

* Quotation marks show where the exact words of a speaker begin and end:

“Umbridge gives crazy cat ladies a bad name,” she said.

* A comma separates the words that tell the reader who is speaking. A question mark or exclamation point can take the place of a comma.

“You’ve never read Harry Potter?” she exclaimed.

* Some quotations are divided.

 – If one sentence, use commas, but don’t capitalize the second part of the sentence.

– If two sentences, use a period after the dialogue tag. Capitalize the first word of the second sentence.

“It’s not insomnia if it’s a good book,” she said, “it’s a matter of addiction.”

“He’s in the chocolate sauce, again,” he said, pointing to the fridge. “Some would call that abstract art.”

* Use a new paragraph each time the speaker changes. Remember to keep the dialogue tag in the same paragraph.

“We should install a lock on the fridge,” she said, and grabbed a roll of paper towels.

He leaned over for a kiss and said, “At any rate, have fun with our little Picasso.”

* Remember to capitalize the first word of the quotation- it is a sentence inside a sentence.

The tot held out his cup and said, “More chocolate milk, please.”

Make your dialogue work to enhance the story.

Good dialogue:

Advances the story

Advances the action

Reveals and builds your characters

Is believable

Is interesting

Read your dialogue out loud.

Does it slow down the story?

Are you relying on the dialogue to carry the exposition of your story?(Characters are revealing too much and telling what the story should show the reader?)

Does it sound like a natural conversation, yet focused and meets the aforementioned criteria?

Dialogue tags are not like that uncle you hear about, but never meet.

Sure, we don’t want the reader to get hung up on them, but used thoughtfully and skillfully, dialogue tags and the occasional adverb (Gasp!) can grease the gears and aid a reader in tracking who says what, and keep that baby moving forward.

Read authors who write great dialogue.

http://litreactor.com/columns/top-10-authors-who-write-great-dialogue

One agent’s take on bad dialogue:

http://writeoncon.com/2011/08/dialogue-tips/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
10 Comments

Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Critique, Dialogue

 

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The End or The Beginning?

A friend of mine, April Snellings, took this in Toronto. I had no idea anyone else knew about this word I dreamed, but they did!

A friend of mine, April Snellings, took this in Toronto. I had no idea anyone else knew about this word I dreamed, but they did!

Those are beautiful words, aren’t they? I finished my story on December 30, because I didn’t want to drag it into the New Year. I was so excited and I emailed my friends, posted it on Facebook and had a little celebration. I know, seems kind of overboard, but I started this story three years ago and it’s finally done. The next morning when I woke, panic set in. Now what?

Let’s see. I’m holding steady at 80k words, which is good for a YA novel. I know for sure that I have two semi-major scenes to rewrite. Then I have to go back and clean it up and do lots of revising. Right now I’m working with one critique partner and will have to start looking for a couple more. Then, after I make additional corrections I need to send it out to beta readers and get a feel for their reaction. Oh. But I also need to write a one sentence pitch and I have to write the synopsis and query. Ugh. I’d much prefer just to write. But this has to be done. I love my story and want others to see it as I do – which does not include me telling the person what I meant to say here or was trying to get across there. My story has to be above and beyond. No story is ever perfect, I know, but I don’t want to have to make make excuses for my writing. Yes, I know not every story is liked by everyone, but I just want to be able to tell this story as best I can. And as you can probably see from this paragraph, I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to storytelling.

So, I’m going to do something that I have a hard time doing. I’m going to ask for your help. I want you to tell me what you think and how you feel about the idea for my story. This is also to get a feel for the upcoming workshops we’re going to be offering. By “exposing” myself like this, I want to show you that we not only want to help each other, we want to help all writers. I’m trusting you, my friends, to not laugh at me or tell me I’m a complete nutter. This is really hard for me to do, but I want you to know that you can trust us with your beautiful stories also. Here goes…

The working title of my story is LUMA. This is NOT my one sentence synopsis, but just an idea of what the story is about: Two seventeen year old best friends are given a gift by a down on his luck, tired superhero.

Need more? Yeah… I thought so. Deep breath. Okay. This is NOT my synopsis, but just a general idea of my story: Seventeen year old Abbey is a party girl. When she hears about an underground club being held at an abandoned amusement park, she has to go. She loves the club scene and everything to do with it. This is the world where she feels she belongs, but one kiss changes everything. A stranger hits on her and after seeing her best friend, Callie, is occupied with her jerk boyfriend, Abbey kisses the stranger. To her, it’s nothing but a hope that he finds her beautiful, but to someone watching, it’s a death warrant – for her. Callie interrupts their moment and tells Abbey they have to leave. Abbey gives the stranger her number and she and Callie leave, but instead of finding their way home, they find themselves trapped in the amusement park. After being hunted through the park, they find themselves in the basement of the old theater. There, they find a man shackled to the wall. After saving his life. he gives them a gift. A gift that only a superhero can give – strength, power, abilities and many things in between. As their abilities grow, so does the danger around them. Someone wants this gift they’ve been given and will stop at nothing to get it (cliche, I know). Abbey and Callie have to decide not only what’s worth fighting for, but who is worth fighting for.

Sucky, I know. But, that’s part of my problem. I don’t know how much to give away and when to keep my cards hidden. I know I’m not the only one with this problem, which is why I’ve posted my issue. So, tell me, is this something that would interest you? What else do you want to know? What questions do you have? I know I’m not the only person with this question, so feel free to post your story summaries in the comments and I’ll see if we can help you. Synopses are hard. They have to be perfect. I want you to see that I’m struggling with mine and though my story is finished – I’m really having a hard time.

I work on my story everyday. Right now, it’s labeled as a YA dark urban fantasy, but it sneaks into so many other genres. I have to incorporate them all somehow. What problems do you have? Let’s work it out together and make sure we help each other reach our goals. I’ve taken a huge step by trusting you, what leap of faith will you take for your story?

 
11 Comments

Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Critique, Motivation, Revision, Support, synopsis, Writing

 

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My Favorite Hugs and Chocolate Posts

Sometimes, a hug is all what we need – Jesslee Cuizon

What a good year it’s been over here! I though that the best way for me to end off things would be to share a few of the post by the wonderful ladies I share this blog with. If any of the links go to places they shouldn’t, please let me know.

It’s been such a pleasure getting to know all of you this year. I’m giving all of you big virtual bear hugs. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring us.

It’s been an honor, ladies and gentlemen.

Jamie Raintree

My Romance With Writing

Who Cares About Writers?

Instruction Manual for a Full-Time Writer

Why Character Archetypes Aren’t Just About Commercialism

Why I Heart Scrivener for Outlining

How to NaNoWriMo During Thanksgiving

Tonia Marie Houston

Bring Your Shovel

St. Patrick and the Writer’s Trinity

Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life

33 And It Feels Divine

Give Your Characters Quirk

Synopsis Fundamentals

Heather L Reid

Learn to Love Writing Queries

Dream Big and Never Give Up: How I Landed a 2 Book Publishing Deal

The Third Perspective: Why I Love Third Person Narrative

The First Editorial Letter: Let the Revisions Begin… Again

Riding the Revision Coaster: Completing My 30 Day Deadline

Rebecca Fields

What If…

Luck of the Irish?

The Magic of Fairy Tales

A World of Ideas

Pardon Me, Social Media

Read A (Banned) Book

Courtney Koschel

Filtering Filter Words in Your Writing

Questions to ask When Hiring an Editor

I Suck Syndrome: Recognize it and Beat it

Giving and Getting the Most Out of Critiques

Common Comma Issues

Manuscript Formatting

Jani Grey

Support from the obvious places

Need a little motivation or inspiration? I have some of that for you

Personal Perspective: Why I write 1st person POV

Let me tell you why you’re a winner

The Small Things

Why the subject of your blog post is so very important

Guest Posts

Visualize Your Way to Success: Guest Post by Vaughn Roycroft

DIY Editing and Proofreading Part 1 with Karen S. Elliot

Editing, Proofreading, and a Contest with Karen S. Elliot

Pants on Fire: Guest Post by Laura Long

Guest Post by Brian Taylor: Take a Walk… On a Tightrope: One Writer’s Journey

I’ll see you next year. Have a happy and safe new year!

 

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Help!

008NaNoWriMo is done for another year. How did you all do? I didn’t participate, but had fun watching the updates fly by. Congratulations to all the winners!!

This is going to be a short post this week, because I need feedback – from you. I’ve asked the other Hugs and Chocolate writers if this is something they’d be interested in doing and the majority of the response has been extremely positive and exciting. I’m going to list a few questions and would look forward to reading your answers. We’ll discuss them and see what we can do to best help you.

Now that NaNo is over, we know you’ve got a ton of words, but it may not be ready for publication. However, we also know that it’s December, which means it’s crazy busy with Christmas and New Year’s coming up and you probably don’t have a lot of time to devote to writing this month. So…

1. If the Hugs and Chocolate writers were to offer workshops and critiques via the website, would you be interested in participating?

2. What subjects would you like to see covered? Revisions and editing are difficult. Some of us have done them or are doing them as I write this. What, in particular, would you like to know more about?

3. We were thinking of offering a critique workshop also. Would you be willing to submit the first 500 words of your story in a comment and have it critiqued? Or perhaps your one sentence description? Tell us what you need and how we can best help you.

4. Are you in need of a critique partner? Perhaps, via comments, you can find someone else who’s looking.

5. Timing. Because December is so busy for everyone, when would you like to see this happen? We want to create a community that helps you succeed and we’re looking for feedback about what our readers want and need.

 

 
18 Comments

Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Critique, Editing, Feedback, First Lines, NaNoWriMo, Revision

 

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