Friday, February 29, 2008

Blurb it!

Today I want to talk about writing blurbs and pitches. Blurbs are used for many different things: they are included in query letters, pitched to agents/editors at a conferences, and some end up on book jackets. In all cases, the blurb serves the same purpose, to entice the intended audience into reading more.

Most blurbs are only a couple lines long, maybe a couple paragraphs at most, and they have a lot to do in that small amount of space. Each word counts, and should work toward introducing main characters and throwing out a plot hook strong enough to draw in readers.

I've written a handful of blurbs (that may or may not be any good) but all have been for 'first books'. A couple days ago, I had a chance to see my agent face to face, and she asked me to send her a blurb for the sequel to the book she is currently pitching to editors, so she can pitch it as a series with a little more authority.

My first thought was, "Hey, no problem. I can do that." After all, I have (a very rough) first draft of the book written. How hard could it be to write a blurb about it?

Very, from what I've found. I'm really struggling with this blurb. I'm continuing with the same characters and world as the first book, and the book opens just a couple weeks after the last chapter of the first book. What I keep running into is, how much needs to be said about the events from the previous story? Do I start it assuming the reader already knows the main character, or in one dynamic sentence or two do I bring the reader up to speed on the changes that occurred to her during the first book?

How much is too much, and how much is too little? I think that is the problem I'm running in to.

So, I want to hear the opinions of other readers. In published series, who do you think writes truly wonderful back cover blurbs? What do you like to see/read when you flip over a book in a series. What draws you in? What pushes you away? And of those reading who are writers What tips can you share about writing blurbs?

Happy Friday everyone!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Festival

Good Morning everyone, and happy Friday!

It's wet and dreary here, but at least it's almost the weekend, and what a weekend it will be. Tomorrow is the annual SC Book Festival. (Well, technically some of the events start today but...) I try to make it to this festival every year, and it is the closest thing I've ever been to a conference. The festival is geared toward readers not writers, so aside from a handful of pay-per-class master classes, most of the panels are Q&A or Readings. All and all, a good way to rub elbows with some local (and a couple non-local) authors, and hang out with other book-lovers. Always a good thing.

This year I won't be taking any classes, but two years ago, (my first time attending the festival) I did, and that choice made a major impact on what has occurred over the last two years. (Hopefully for the good, but only time will tell. Ask me when I'm 80.) That said, the class itself was only marginally helpful. Sure, I learned a couple things, but the big thing, the life changing thing, was that by attending the class, I was at the festival on Friday, before the official opening. That doesn't sound terribly significant, except that by showing up to the class, I received the program early and learned there was a five page manuscript review by an agent the following day. There was also only a single slot left, and I filled it.

Now, you have to understand something, two years ago I was very green. (I'm probably still--but I like to think I've learned a lot since then.) I'd finished my very first manuscript a couple months before during NaNoWriMo, and by February, I'd only just begun editing. I signed up knowing the MS wasn't ready for the world, but no one else had ever seen it, and I wanted to to see how close I was to being ready--which looking back, is terrible. Today, I'd be...upset...with the idea of someone taking a spot with something they didn't think was ready to be seen, but, like I said, I've changed a lot in the last few years.

Two years ago almost to the day, I printed up my first five pages and sat in the room shaking as I waited for the agent to get to my pages. And I had every reason to shake--she ripped apart most of the pages given to her, and that was only reading the first few paragraphs and moving to the next person. If nothing else, it was very informative.

Then she got to my pages.

She pointed out a couple things, but over all, there were more positive comments then negative. Then she went silent a couple moments as she scanned down the second page. My heart stopped--I was the youngest person in the room by far, and I knew the MS wasn't ready. Had she seen through me? But when she looked up, she asked me to submit a partial!

I almost died on the spot.

The festival also falls on my birthday most years, and that year it did. So, happy birthday me, I was thinking, maybe I'm not a complete hack. The story after that point is long and complicated, and it was another seven or eight months before I ended up signing, but that event was definitely a kick-off point. Not only did it make me plunge into editing, but I also researched everything I could about the publishing industry. All leading me to where I am now--which at the moment I'm not 100% sure where that is besides the rhetorical here. But, it does make the Book Festival a special event for me.

So, have a great weekend everyone--whatever you may be doing! I shall be rubbing elbows with authors and book-lovers, celebrating the anniversary of a shift in my 'career', and at midnight tonight, I will say a final goodbye to the first quarter century of my life. Toodles! ^_^

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hooklines

I was talking about hooklines with one of the "Tri M"s the other day, and she suggested I blog about it. Now, I know there are dozens of other, probably better informed, bloggers out there who have tackled the hookline topic, but I decided to give it a go.

*Note: this post is completely composed of my own take on the subject gathered from what I've learned as a reader and what I've gleaned from other writers. As it is largely opinion, I may change it one day, and it may not be the same as other peoples.*

Hooklines: What are they and why do readers want to read them?
A hookline, in the sense I will be discussing today, is typically the first line (or paragraph) of a book. (Of course there are often hooks and hooklines at ends and beginnings of chapters, but that is a totally different discussion.) The hook is the first thing a potential reader finds when she/he opens a book, and hopefully grabs her attention. The best that I've read do at least a couple of the following things:
-Establishes an immediate 'problem' the main character is faced with.
-Makes the reader ask questions.
-Instantly immerses the reader in the setting.
-Establishes the 'voice' of the book.
-Introduces the main character in a unique way.

That's a lot to accomplish with a single sentence! But, like I said, most do some, not all of these things. Lets look at some great examples:

"The moment the door opened I knew an ass-kicking was inevitable. Whether I’d be giving it or receiving it was still a bit of a mystery." -- STRAY, by Rachel Vincent

What do these first two lines do? Well, for starters we are immediately asking questions like "Why is an ass-kicking inevitable?" and "Who will be fighting?" This is also an intriguing problem, because there is a sense of tension and possible danger involved. Thirdly, just in two short lines, the voice of the story--a little sarcastic and a lot of attitude--is established. If you are like me, you are going to go on read on just to find out what happens next.

Example 2:
"I stiffened at the red and blue lights flashing behind me, because there was no way I could explain what was in the back of my truck." -- HALFWAY TO THE GRAVE by Jeaniene Frost

One line. Just one line, and look how much punch it has. We have our problem there causing tension: there is something in the back of the truck that the MC can't explain, and she's being pulled over by the cops. We immediately want to know "What is in the back of the truck?" and "Will she get caught?" This also gives us some setting, we know the action is happening on the road, in a truck.

(Snips of dialogue also makes a good hook sometimes, and I wanted to find an example of this, but my books are at home where I have no internet, and I can't remember a book of the top off my head with this, though I know there are tons of great ones.)

Grab the readers attention and hang on; make the reader ask questions and immediately become involved in the story, the characters; That's what makes a great hook, and both the above ladies achieve that and more. Starting in the middle of the action, when things are just beginning to spike, seems to be the key. For example, Rachel doesn't set up anything about her character before this opening. She doesn't describe her school or tell you why she may end up in a fight. She starts it right at the moment danger first caresses the character. Then she slows down (just a breath) so you see the scene and the character a bit more before the hinted confrontation occurs. Likewise, the reader doesn't 'see' Jeaniene's character cruising down the road, or even loading the truck. She starts us at the moment when the character has the most at stake, and trusts the reader to catch up. It works, and it works well.

So, very quickly, lets cover some things that don't work quite as well. (And no, there are no examples for this part. You will have to judge the books you find on your own.) Most of these have more to do with what follows the first line than the line itself, but bear with me.
-Too much description. While it's great for the hook to drop you into a scene, this should be almost invisible. If the hook becomes description heavy, I get bogged down because I don't have any reason to care yet.
-A stunning first line that has nothing to do with the story. If a writer sets me up for a fast-paced, attitude ridden story, and by the end of chapter one the pace is slow and cozy, I'm going to feel rather duped and probably not continue reading (or buy anymore of her books.) This of course works in reverse as well.
-An opening that is intentionally misleading or confusing. It's good to be dumped in the middle of the action--It's bad to be so confused by the end of the first scene you consider ripping our your hair.

Okay, so that is a (fairly) quick run down of what I consider makes a good hookline. What do you think is necessary for a good hook? Or in reverse, what makes a hook fall short for you? What are some of the best hooks you've read recently?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's that pink day...

It's that day of the year that all the stores look like a bottle of peptobismol exploded on everything, cut flowers are way over priced, and chocolate shows up everywhere in cute little heart shaped boxes. Today, single people everywhere are twice as aware of that solo status, and the 'hottest' restaurants in town all have a full reservation list.

Ah, Valentine's day...people either love it or hate it.

It's a strange sort of holiday. People are probably on the right track accusing it of being just another consumer holiday, surely it's beginning has nothing to do with it's current condition, what with this being the anniversary of Saint Valentine's Martyrdom. But, it can be a sweet little day for couples.

There are some customs I confess to not understanding. Like the whole umpteen dollar flower bouquets. To me, cut flowers are always like saying "Here is a beautiful symbol of our love. Now watch it wilt and DIE!" Okay, maybe that's a bit over dramatic, but really, I'd rather something I could put in the ground and watch grow, than something that will wither away in a few days/weeks. To each their own though.

My hubby and I make it a cute day. He took me to lunch this afternoon, we exchanged little gifts (no flowers of course ^_^) and tonight we'll rent a movie and curl up together on the couch. Yeah, nothing fancy, but it makes us happy.

What are you doing this Valentine's day? Any thoughts on cut flowers?

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Music to write by

Recently there has been a lot of chatter about music, and what music writers use to 'set the mood' or what they see as 'soundtracks' to their novels. A couple of my favorite books from last year even came with a note on music in the back. (I believe both Kim Harrison and Carrie Vaughn do this, but as I am at work, and my books are at home--where I have no internet--I'm not 100% sure on that.) So, it got me thinking, do most writers create to music? Is it specific music? Do certain books have soundtracks, or is it more particular songs resonating with critical scenes?

Personally, my music tastes are very eclectic. I might be listening to broadway one day, rock the next, and J-pop the day after that. Usually I think of music as white noise. If it's not there, I go nuts, but if there is too much (or something I don't know well enough to filter) it will distract me. But, I do gravitate toward certain types of sounds during the highest points of emotional scenes. Like this week, I'm heading into a fight scene and have been playing a lot of Nickelback Daughtry, Hinder, and Finger 11. These bands have really struck the right cord between angsty and rocky to make good background noise. I was listening to a lot of Lifehouse and Live during the love scene last week, but I think that makes less sense. I guess at least I wasn't listening to Celtic Harp music...which I've been known to do at the oddest times.

So, those of you that are writers, do you write to music? How do you pick the music? Does it change by scene, or do characters/stories pick up songs that epitomize them?

In other news, I over did my goal by almost double last week (tiny happy dance) so I'm upping my goal for this week. I'm nearing the downhill toward those two big words, so I'm hoping to hit 70k by Sunday. Wish me luck (or just lend me some super glue for my chair ^_~)
Current Progress:
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
66,652 / 80,000
(86.6%)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

If all is fair in love and war, do you write them the same?

They say you learn something with every word you write. Well, I'm certainly learning today (I hope.) Today I'm tackling something new, and if you're glancing at the title of this post and trying to guess what it is, I'll you a hint: I've written LOTS of fight scenes.

That's right, I'm writing my very first love scene today. Yes, I've written two novels with romantic subplots before, and while there is (hopefully) a lot of sexual tension and some 'hot' moments, the relationship doesn't progress all the way to the bedroom (though if I ever write the rest of the books plotted for the series, they will get there.) I also wrote a short story last year that included a heavy hand of romance, but I copped out and (if you will humor me by accepting a film-technique analogy) panned out at the bedroom scene.

This WIP is different. I knew, almost from the get-go, that my main characters would end up rumpling the sheets at some point in the book. I started with an outline that I've mostly stuck to, so this scene isn't a surprise, but that doesn't mean I havn't been nervous as it approached. This is something new, something I've never tried to write before. Sure, I write new things all the time, but this is sex--guess you're always nervous when it comes to the first time, even in writing.

As I'm writing, what I'm finding is that love scenes are very similar to fight scenes. No, I'm not saying I have a violent ass-kicking-during-sex kind of scene (no bdsm here) but that the writing techniques I'm focusing on are similar.

In fight scenes I pay particular attention to cause and effect so characters don't react to things before they happen--this is important always, but can be especially confusing (and easy to fall into) during the fast pacing of a fight scene, the same is true for love scenes. Speaking of pacing, moderating the pace so it peaks at exactly the point intended is another similarity. Also there is the 'hand check'. You know, "where are everyone's hands (and other body parts) and when?" Just like your heroine can't knee the bad guy if her back is currently to him, she can't be groping anything interesting if her hands were both in his hair last time the reader 'saw' them. Then there is the trick of inspiring emotion in the reader. Of course, where a fight scene usually aims to cause the heart to race out of fear and adrenaline spikes, the love scene intends to portray other emotions.

I know what I enjoy reading (and what gets me skimming pages looking for the end of the scene) So, now the trick is to see what needs to be on the page to inspire what I desire in my reader. I enjoy a delicate touch when I'm reading love scenes. Words that evoke images, but don't shove them down my throat. The kind of scene that makes the reader grin, a grin that unconsciously spreads across his/her face without her knowledge, growing wider as the scene continues. The kind so layered with tension, that leading up to it, the reader is down right giddy because she/he has been waiting for this moment.

That is what I want to write. Now, if I've accomplished it, I won't know for a while. (at least until I reread it with fresh eyes, but truely not until beta readers see it.)

Those of you who are writers, any tips you can share about love scenes? What techniques do you find yourself focusing on?

Those of you who are readers (which probably covers everyone here) what do you like in a love scene? What was the best love scene you read recently?


On another, unrelated to craft, but interesting, note about this scene. I do a lot of my writing in the break room at lunch. Working on this scene this afternoon was an...unusually experience. I'm just hoping I didn't grin or blush so much people wondered what in the world I was doing. Lunchbreak writing sessions do add up though, so they will just have to wonder. I'm happy to announce I already hit my goal for the week, so anything else I write in the next few days is bonus. You bet that makes me happy (tiny goal and all, watch me feel accomplished.)

Current Progress:
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
63,436 / 80,000
(80.3%)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How many boxes does life fit in?

Wow, what a hectic week last week was. The good news: all our stuff is out of the apartment and at the cabin, and our apartment has been cleaned top to bottom, passed inspection, and the keys have been turned in. We can wash our hands of it. The bad news: now all those boxes we packed have to be UNpacked.

As promised, here are some pictures of the Cabin. These were taken before we moved in, so some of the previous tenant's stuff is still around, but you can see the attraction. I feel like I'm living at a writing retreat. Out one window I can watch the sunset over a spring-fed pond, and out another, the sunrise over the woods. There are deer around, and once in awhile I catch sight of my neighbor's horse on the other side of the pond. The cabin is rustic, and not real high on modern conveniences (or inside doors) but I'm hoping the lack of distractions will inspire me to get more work done (once we finally finish unpacking.)

The hubbie an I actually made lots of progress this weekend. Our living room no longer looks like storage space. Unpacking my books helped. I have six bookshelves of fiction, two of non-fiction, and two small ones of art related stuff. That equals a whole lot of books. I like to call it my library, but I can tell you, I don't want to move it again for a very, very long time. I actually agreed to thin out my fiction collection a little for the first time in my life and donated several boxes of books to the real Library. But, that still left a lot of books to unpack and reorganize. It should probably tell you something about me that I set up my bookshelves before I unpacked my kitchen. But, what can I say? The kitchen is on the agenda for this week because we have to stop eating out every night--my hips can't take all the fast food.

Of course, we can't spend every moment unpacking (that mentality might explain why only the bedroom and living room are unpacked) so I have been writing. GW crossed 60k this weekend, which doesn't sound like such a great accomplishment considering last time I checked in it was already at 54k, but I barely wrote while I was sick, so I'm thrilled to be sliding back into something like a writing routine. My goals for myself are not very high right now. I'm happy with a daily goal of 500 words (which makes a weekly goal of only about 3k) but for now it's okay. At least I'm getting something on paper. When life settles back down, I'll up it to something more respectable. But, even if I only write 3k a week (and I hope to write more, I'm aiming low so I can feel accomplished, not guiltily, at the end of the day) I should probably still finish the first draft of GW by the end of the month. I can live with that. I also accidentally started a YA side project that is way out of my normal comfort zone. I'm only about 2k into it, and not intentionally working on it, but when I wake up with fully formed scenes in my head, I'm not going to deny them the paper they crave (okay, so the scenes I have are in word files, not on paper, but it just doesn't sound the same.)

As I have internet only at work right now, I should probably get back to well, working. ^_^ Happy Tuesday everyone! (I'm personally celebrating Shrove Tuesday today, but there are probably many celebrating Mardi Gras today, so Happy Fat Tuesday!)