Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Since I changed my internet service provider (upgraded to fast, cable-based internet instead of dial-up!), I had to move my Web site. I've often wondered why I have a Web site in the first place. I'm not a published author as far as novel-length fiction goes, but I do want to establish a presence with my nonfiction history articles, so decided to go ahead and keep it. With this new "upgrade", I figured I'd simplify things. The result is here: Official Web Site of Melissa A. Marsh.
Nothing fancy, and it was all done using Earthlink's free software, etc. But I hope to add a few features in the future, specifically focusing on World War II. And I'd also like to have a series of articles that go deeper into the writing craft.
One particular feature that I wasn't really planning on (but had the inspiration for last night) is my Writing Challenge. I found some great copyright-free photos from the online FDR library and wanted to post them, but I felt I needed something a little more. So, if you're ever in the mood to write a story set in World War II, take a look at the pictures and see if they spark your muse. I'm willing to post the stories on my Web site or blog (but I reserve the right not to post them if they're inflammatory, etc., etc., etc.).
While working out last night, I had a brilliant idea for a particular snag in my novel and couldn't wait to go home nad work on it. Unfortunately, this also made me work out a bit harder than normal and I came home sore. Ah well. The things we sacrifice for our art. ;-)
Monday, February 26, 2007
Saturday, February 24, 2007
In Stein on Writing, Sol Stein says, "A novel is like a car—it won't go anywhere until you turn on the engine. The "engine" of both fiction and nonfiction is the point at which the reader makes the decision not to put the book down. The engine should start in the first three pages, the closer to the top of page one the better."
Here are a few ways to achieve that opening hook:
1) Surprise - if the reader lifts his or her eyebrows the instant he/she reads your opening line, they'll keep reading. A surprising opening from the examples I referred to in the first post could be the sentence about the character wanting to strangle his mother, but knowing he'd have to touch her to do it.
2) Action - we're taught that you should always start a novel/short story in the midst of action because today's readers just don't have time to wander through a lot of backstory. The first line is the perfect place to do that.
A good example of a line that starts with action: One minute before the explosion, the square at Sainte-Cecile was at peace. (Ken Follett - Jackdaws)
But be careful not to let your opening hook be so unique that the rest of the paragraph that follows falls completely short of your promise. Noah Lukeman looks at this problem in his book, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.
"The most common problem is a hook that stands on its own, in the worse sense. In this case, the text that follows seems to be of a whole different work, and in retrospect the hook seems more of a one-liner, a gimmick to catch attention. The reason this is so is because the hook really is not part of the text. The solution therefore is to bridge the gap, to make the hook and text integral to each other." (pg. 155).
Perhaps the best way to really understand the power of an opening line is to take a look at the books in your library. Read the first sentence or paragraph. What makes it work? What makes you want to keep reading? Does it work at all?
Thanks to everyone who posted examples of their opening hooks. I loved reading them.
I hope this mini workshop has been helpful! Have a great weekend!
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Apologies for not posting the second part of my two-part look at first sentences. Life got a little in the way today and I didn't have time to devote myself to the project the way I wanted to. I hope to have it done either tomorrow or over the weekend.
Meretta had a point in the comments on yesterday's post, though. It's important that we have good first lines at the beginning of every scene and every new chapter. This keeps the reader turning the pages. And what about the end of a scene or chapter? I'd say it's important to have good lines here, too, for the same reason of keeping the reader turning the pages.
In the interest of fun, I'd love to read some of your first lines, whether from the beginning or end of your novel, scene, or chapter.
Here's some of mine:
From my very first novel, Possession, a Regency historical (a manuscript that will undoubtedly never see a publisher's desk because, let's face it - it's my first novel and riddled with errors).
The Comtesse d’Rouget lived in a perpetual state of cold.
“My dear Lady d’Rouget,” he murmured, allowing his gaze to slowly travel the length of her, “I have nothing but time for you.”
Here's one more:
By the middle of the first act, Nicolas felt as though his senses might explode.
And some from my current novel, Love Thine Enemy, an inspirational WW2 story.
For the first time since George’s death, she felt peace.
By the middle of the afternoon, Bess felt as wound up as a piece of barbed wire.
and one more:
In the age-old practice of men everywhere who are haunted by a woman’s face, Erich immersed himself in his work.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
In Sol Stein's book, Stein on Writing, he explores this concept through a mixture of examples, his experiences as an editor, and his teaching methods.
Stein says, "It is astonishing how much the first words of a novel or story affect editors, reviewers, and readers. They are the trigger of curiosity, what writers have long called the "narrative hook." (Stein, pg. 17)
Let's take a closer look at the narrative hook.
Take a look at these sentences, examples that Stein himself uses to teach us the importance of the first line.
Yank Lucas fell asleep late one night and left the gas burning on the kitchen range. (John O'Hara, The Instrument).
Are you immediately intrigued by this sentence? Do you want to know what's going to happen next? Then the author has done his job.
Let's look at the next one.
"What's the matter?" she asked. (James Baldwin, "Going to Meet the Man")
We're immediately drawn into a situation where there's conflict and tension.
And here's an opening line from one of Stein's students.
I wanted to strangle mother but I'd have to touch her to do it.
Wow. Look at the wealth of information in that one line. Are you intrigued? Do you want to know more? Again, another successful opening line.
Here are two questions that Stein suggests you ask yourself about your opening sentence:
"1) Does it convey an interesting personality or an action that we want to know more about?
2) Can you make your first sentence more intriguing by introducing something unusual, something shocking perhaps, or something that will surprise the reader?" (Stein, p. 20)
Look at the first sentence of your work. Does it grab your attention? If it doesn't, go back and think about revising it until it does.
Tomorrow, I'll dig deeper into the importance of the first line and the first paragraph and explain a few other ways to achieve an intriguing opening.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Quick post today - yesterday was a very nice day. I think the secret to working at home (at least for me) is getting out of the house at least once during the day and interacting with people. I went into the office after dropping off my stepson at school to send myself files to work on and that seemed to set a nice tone for the rest of the day. I didn't have the afternoon blah's that I usually get (although there was a moment of panic when the sound didn't work on my computer. Had to reboot it to make it work!).
But I haven't marked it on my calendar or anything. (Yeah, right.)
Monday, February 19, 2007
Friday, February 16, 2007
Thursday, February 15, 2007
My second article is up at Suite101. I'm having a blast with this new gig. I love being able to pick and choose what I want to write instead of having it assigned to me. Makes the whole process a lot more fun!
But because of this new freelance opportunity, I haven't looked at my novel for a few days. And really, that's ok. I think I needed a slight break from it. I don't feel too badly about it because hey, I've still been writing. Writing nonfiction for awhile offers a nice balance. Hopefully tonight I can crack open the laptop and look at it again. Or maybe I'll just wait until the weekend when I have nice long slices of uninterrupted time. Wait a minute...I have kids. There's no such thing as long slices of uninterrupted time! I've learned to adapt, though, and if I get pulled out of my story for some emergency, I can usually pop right back into the flow once I sit down again.
Short post today - nothing too pressing or illuminating in my brain on this Thursday morning. I attribute the below zero temperatures!
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Monday, February 12, 2007
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Friday, February 09, 2007
As anyone who has read my blog knows, I love Fridays. Love them. Why?
1. The work week is over!
2. Two full days of no work are around the corner.
3. Saturday morning is tomorrow - and I can forget about setting the alarm clock.
Your turn. What is your favorite thing about Fridays?
Thursday, February 08, 2007
There was a truck on our lawn spinning his wheels and doing cookies. When hubby yelled at the driver, the truck then proceeded to knock over our mailbox. Now we've had our mailbox knocked over before, and our intrepid neighbor rigged it up so that our mailboxes would be on a concrete stand and thus inflict a bit of damage on any vehicle that decided to run into it. We haven't had any problems with it - until last night.
Of course, the culprits drove off before we could get a license plate. Hubby went after them to see if he could at least find the vehicle and get the license plate. It turns out that ours wasn't the only lawn they were messing with in the neighborhood. Hubby never did see them again, but he's keeping his eyes open.
It just floors me how idiotic people can be. I'm pretty sure the driver was probably drunk or high on something. It takes a lot of guts - I call it liquid courage - to do that kind of stuff while the homeowner is standing there watching.
On the writing front, I took the night off. I finished reading my book and my daughter asked me if I wanted to do a "fun activity." LOL! I said of course and so we started coloring and drawing. She was a tired girl last night, though, and sort of mixed her metaphors when she said, "I'm so tired I could eat a whole elephant!" Ha!
Have a good Thursday...
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Lots of people I know come home from their day jobs, have supper, help the kids with the homework, then kick back and watch a couple favorite t.v. shows, read a book, or indulge in a good board game.
Then there's me.
I work the day job, go home, have supper, fire up the laptop, help the kiddies with the homework, write a little, throw in a load of laundry, go back and write some more, get the kids ready for bed, and sneak in a few extra minutes of writing. After all, I only have four hours to work with from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. And while four hours might crawl at work, they fly by in the evenings.
Last night, sitting on the couch with my laptop, I thought, "Am I crazy?" I don't come home and relax in front of the t.v. or crack open a book or sit in my chair and do some knitting. And you know what? I sort of envy the people that get to do that. I work an eight-hour job, come home and do all the normal routines (kids, supper, housework) and then get right back to work with my writing.
I know I'm not alone. A lot of writers do this - work the day job, come home and take care of the family, and squeeze in some writing time, either in the morning before work or after the kids are in bed.
There are times, though, that I wish I could come home and just relax - do all the normal routines, but then know that I have a few hours to kick back and read a book, play a game, watch a t.v. show, etc. But the writing is always there, hovering at the back of my mind. You should be writing. You want to be writing. Go write!
So I write. And hope that one day, this crazy routine will stop and the day job will be my novel writing so that I can have those few hours in the evening to spend with my family without worrying about the writing. Idealistic? Probably. I'm sure there will be many times when I'm on deadline that I have to ignore the evening activities and plant myself in front of the computer.
So to answer the question, yes, I am crazy. But I'm a writer. For me, the two go hand in hand.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Monday, February 05, 2007
Friday, February 02, 2007
It's occurred to me that my posts of late have been anything but exciting. I have no new nuggets of wisdom to impart nor do I have any witty anecdotes to share.
I attribute this lack of orginality to the fact that my sinuses are still clogged. Too bad there's not a Mr. Clean you can shoot up your nostrils.
It's been a week now since I've contracted this awful stuff and while I feel tons better than I did a week ago, I still don't feel 100%. So to cheer me up, here are a few things that have happened this week that have made me smile.
1. My daughter asked me to get out my old, decrepit laptop that is just gathering dust in the closet. She saw me working on my new laptop and wanted to do the same - even to the point of sitting on the couch and putting it in her lap. She started typing a short story about a skeleton and a tiger. I can't wait to see how it ends.
2. I persuaded hubby to stop by Wally World (Wal-Mart) last night (since he works right across the street from it) and buy me the new Chris Daughtry CD. I am in love with his song, It's Not Over and thanks to the magic of Amazon.com, I heard a preview of the entire album and decided to buy it.
3. It's Friday. 'Nuff said.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Even though I'm still not 100%, I decided to ignore the sink of dirty dishes last night and opened up the laptop. And I got to write for the first time in about a week. It felt great. Oh, how I love to immerse myself in my fictional world, especially when the real world is teetering on its axis a little too much.
If you're a writer, what's your favorite part about the writing process?