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Saturday, July 12, 2014

HOOKS FOR BOOKS-The Opening Line



"It was a dark and stormy night…" 
No, no, never begin a story with the weather. The reader will skip ahead and look for action or characters, or heaven forbid, close the book.

Okay, let's see. "I was falling, falling…and then I woke up." 
Nope, I remember, now, NEVER open a book with a dream--or an alarm clock or phone ringing.

What about something really funny? For example, "Nearing the counter with a full tray, her foot slipped on spilled…." Uh, oh. That's on the list of no-no's, too.

Such a lists exist, in fact. The admonitions may vary slightly, but editors are programmed to stop reading a submission after the first sentence or first paragraph if she/he sees these red flags. The nineteenth-century Gothic novels opened with long brooding descriptions of the weather, or a monologue recounting the entire genealogy of the family in the story, enough to make one's eyes glaze over.

In today's world, the reader wants and deserves action, the inciting incident, the reason for the story, and he wants it right away. In some manner, the opening sentence or first paragraph or first chapter must give the reader what he wants--"What is this novel about?"

Grabbing the attention of an editor you'd like to impress or a reader you'd like to keep is an art form all its own. Books galore sit on shelves or can be found on-line that help the budding author or the experienced one who wants a refresher course learn a bit more about a good beginning.

Here are the beginning lines from six different novels.

1. The truth had long been settling on Jonathan Gray, sneaking into his resisting corners, but it had finally resounded in the deepest part of him. (The Fulfillment: LaVyrle Spencer)

2.  He'd known all day something was about to go down, something life-changing and entirely new. ( Montana Creeds: Dylan: Linda Lael Miller)

3.  Sister Bernadette Ignatius and Tom Kelly sat in the back seat of a black cab, driving from Dublin's airport through the city. (What Matters Most: Luanne Rice)

4. It was well known around Russellville, Alabama, that Tommy Lee Gentry drove like a rebellious teenager, drank like a parolee fresh out, and whored like a lumberjack at the first spring thaw. (The Hellion: LaVyrle Spencer)

5.When Ella Brown woke up that morning, she didn't expect it to be a momentous day. (Rainwater: Sandra Brown)

6. A sharp clip-clop of iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods and out over the sage. (Riders of the Purple Sage: Zane Grey) 

These opening lines come from Best-Selling authors. Do we need to pay closer attention to the novels we read? Go to a bookstore, find a shelf of best-sellers in romance, and open several to study the first page. Just read the first line.

Make a list of the kind of hooks that interest you in a book. Your list may be the same as mine.
1. Attention-getting
2. Exciting
3.Pulls me into the story
4. Straight forward
5. Brief and punchy
6. Rouses curiosity
7. Emotionally charged
8. A declarative sentence

A beginning sentence need not be earth-shattering and memorable--such as "It was the best of times, etc."--but it should be strong enough to elicit some response from the reader.

The worst openings are paragraphs and pages of descriptions, telling the reader what she/he will read. This is a common mistake with new authors--trust me, I know--I was one. I had to adjust my style and stop trying to describe the people, the surroundings, the landscape, the...you get the picture. 

Hooking your reader is not easy, but with a little self-study, you can improve your chances with editors and nail that contract. With your next or current WIP, try writing five opening sentences and ask fellow authors or your critique partners help you select one.

If you self-publish, try out your opening line with a few readers and learn their reaction. 

Thanks for visiting my blog.
 

Friday, May 16, 2014

What Makes a Book "Good"



How many times have you finished a book, closed it, and said, "That was a good book."

Why did you say that? In what way was the book "good?"

My questions stem from a group discussion in a friend's living room this past week. This is a monthly book club that has been in existence about 40 years. I've only been a member about 25 of those years, and intermittent at best. This particular discussion made me think and re-think my ideas about "a good book."

The novel was about the wife of a real person in American history. Since it's fiction, we had a difficult time separating truth from fiction, and especially since we didn't know the full truth of the man's life in the public eye.

More than one member said, "I didn't like the book."
Why?
"It was depressing and he really was a cruel person."
 All right. But what about the story and how it was written? The member maintained her stance--"I didn't like the characters."

A few others agreed, and a couple said he was horrible to treat his wife the way he did.

I thought it was a "good book" and I was not the only one.
The story fascinated me, whether it was truthful or not. Even though it was depressing, I still maintain it was a good book.

The author is young, but she wrote a very good story. The book is published by one of the big publishers, hardback, etc., great cover, and not so long that it tired me to finish.

So, what does make a book good? Here are a few ideas:
The book is Good...
--If it has a satisfying ending--not particularly happy.
--If the hero is a good man and does the right thing in the end.
--If I can't put it down.
--If I learned something new.
--If the story is compelling.
--If I don't take anything personally.
--If it has nothing offensive, or at least very little.
--If there's an element of mystery that surprises me.

None of these ideas stand alone. We might make several statements to support our belief.

I've read novels with titles such as: Cutting for Stone; Germs, Guns, and Steel--the Downfall of Human Societies; Voices from the Dust Bowl Years; and came away saying, these were good books.
I've read romance novellas that were only 100 pages with titles such as The Cowboy and the Scarlet Woman, (I made that up, but you get the idea) and came away saying, this was a good book.

On the flip side, here's a list that makes me say, "This was not a good book."
--Poor passive writing--even if the plot might be good.
--Far too much narrative, page after page after page, that does not allow me to use my imagination. (I just finished one like this and wouldn't review it because it was so bad.)
--No emotion, flat dry drivel for conversations.
--Characters, both male and female, who were TSTL.
--Stiff dialogue with the characters doing nothing as real people might when they talk. He said, she said.
--Written in short choppy sentences.
--Written in long sentences with multiple ideas in one.

What element of a book makes it good in your opinion. What in particular do you look for? What just makes you grind your teeth in frustration?

Want to know the title of the book?
The Aviator's Wife. The story of Anne Morrow Lindberg.
By Melanie Benjamin

Thanks for visiting.
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas

Monday, April 21, 2014

IS YOUR WORLD A CIRCUS?

By Celia Yeary

If you’re like most writers with families, day jobs, or other community duties, you might think you qualify to join the circus.

First, there are three rings in a circus, and while you might prefer to think you’re the ringmaster, you might instead be a performer in one of those rings. RINGMASTERS stand in one place, don’t they? They crack the whip, announce the next event, all the while dressed to the teeth in a fabulous outfit complete with top hat and tall black boots. Nary a hair out of place, or a smudge of jelly on his red coat, or a harried look upon his face mars his perfection. No, we are definitely not the ringmaster. You might as well admit some invisible puppet master is behind the scenes directing the hours in your day.

Circuses have JUGGLERS. Yep, I bet you just said, “That’s me! I juggle so many things in the course of a day. I breathlessly stay on my toes, hoping I don’t drop the ball, or miss a cue, or confuse one thing for another and make a mess of everything. Yes, that’s me—I’m a Juggler.”

Circuses have HIGH WIRE PERFORMERS. You say, “That more closely resembles me going through my day—walking a fine line, meeting deadlines, carpooling the kids, making doctors’ appointments on time, taking my turn at the Food Bank, or making my word count for the week. That’s me—I’m a High Wire Performer.

Circuses have performers—sometimes animals, sometimes humans—who jump through hoops. Maybe you are really a PERFORMER WHO JUMPS THROUGH HOOPS. You re-write an entire chapter at the request of an editor, you try to remember your husband’s instructions on taking the car to the repair shop, or you forgot the one dozen cupcakes for your child’s school the next day, so you stay up until midnight to complete the task, or…fill in the blanks.
We are a busy people, aren’t we? Circuses are supposed to be fun. Children squeal with laughter, parents smile when they see their son or daughter clap with delight, and the entire audience applauds every feat.

Hmm, something’s missing here. Fun? Are we having fun yet? Yes, I suppose we are, although some days might make us want to shut our bedroom door, crawl under the covers, and sleep the day away.

Personally, I’ve never cared for circuses, and my children didn’t either. Somehow, it all seemed more like work, and at times, a little cruel, and too controlled.

So, I prefer to see my life, especially my writing life, as an ADVENTURE. Sure, I sometimes walk that high wire to make a deadline; or I juggle three things at once in order to get my blog written, my 1000 words for the week, and my most recent edits finished; or I jump through hoops to please my editor, my publisher, my husband, my readers, and hopefully, somewhere along the way…myself.

But I won't quit writing until it ceases to be fun.

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas