“Crafting a Killer Beginning” Workshop

It was a dark and stormy night…

Wait, you mean that’s been used already?!


Just before meeting Ally Carter last week, I attended a writing workshop called “Crafting the Killer Beginning,” put on by The Writer’s Center.  First writing workshop attended at age 16: Check.

In the 85 degree, 95 % humidity, we listened and discussed and churned around in our brains the topic of what makes a good opening line.  (And listened to a girl in the back blow her nose a lot.  Sorry, guys.  I have Allergies.)

Our first exercise was to take 5-10 minutes to write a sentence.  The opening sentence.

I already knew what mine was for my story: “Fog rolled through the trees, making it hard for Star to see.”  I knew it wasn’t out-of-this-world good.  Which is why I wanted to go to this workshop.

We then talked about what three things an opening sentence (and a story as a whole) should have.

1) Tone

2) Plot

3) Character

These things should all be balanced.  At this point, I didn’t feel too bad.  (Except for having to blow my nose again.)  My opening sentence had all three!

Tone: foggy trees, forest, hard to see, mysterious, dark, damp.

Plot: Hard to see – Star NEEDS to see something, and the fog is giving her issues.

Character: (obviously) Star

The first sentence is a bit like a handshake.  It sets up the reader’s expectations.

We talked about this for a while.  What type of expectations are set up with this opening sentence?  Hmm.

Our next exercise was to look at some sample opening sentences in some different categories.

First, we had the Nail in the Coffin, where someone died.  Then we had The Corker, which toyed with your sense of reality.  This was followed by The Outsidewhich looked at scenery,and The Inside, which was an introduction to someone’s mind.  Next came The Cheeky (which played with words), The Spoken (dialogue), and The Hello (an introduction), and a few others.

*A note on The Outside: I raged about setting here.  But this workshop – especially looking at The Outside – re-emphasized my recent epitome: setting must do something.  It can’t simply exist.  So in The Outside, it either sets the tone or drives the plot.  Which, actually, is what it should always do.

At this point, we had to sneak out the back of the tent to go see Ally.  We missed the tail end of the workshop, but it was still incredibly awesome to be stuck in a tent with twenty-five other writers, talking about writing!  

Did I ever come up with a perfect first sentence?  Nope.

Did I love the workshop? Yes!

Maybe next time it won’t be so humid and I won’t run out of kleenex.

foggy trees


First Impressions

Camp NaNoWriMo started yesterday.  My first impression is that it’s the best thing in the universe.

I went into it with high expectations.  Reality has surpassed them in every way.

Yesterday, I had zero time.  SERIOUSLY, ZERO TIME.  I had a history test to study for, a chemistry project to do, and I was busy all evening.  But guess what?  I wrote 606 words.  I did a 10-minute word sprint.  I made time for writing.  And it felt awesome.

For those of you who don’t know what word sprints are… It’s a bit like this:

fianl count take 3

sitting pretty on 43

It’s a friendly competition between writers as we slay orcs – I mean, uh, word counts – together.  To see who can write the most in say, ten minutes.  It’s nearly as much fun as a LOTR marathon.

Anyways, today I wasn’t so busy.  One of my classes got cancelled, so I got home from school early.  As of now, I’ve written 1,252 words today.  Okay, that’s not as many as I need to reach my goal, but I’ve still got time tonight!  Sure, it might mean skipping an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but we writers have to make sacrifices!

So, 1,252 words today, at least three word sprints, and numerous back-and-forth messages via our cabin forum.  You know what?  My cabin is all teenage girls.  They’re all struggling with school and life and writing and word goals.  Which gives me a unique type of support I’ve never gotten before.

Am I behind on my word count?  Yes.  Will I catch up?  Hopefully.  Does it really matter, in the end?  No.  What matters is that because of NaNo, I have 1,858 words I didn’t have two days ago.  I have a new, improved background for my MC.  I have an awesome new beginning to my story.  And I have inspiration to write tomorrow.

Thumbs up

Which, if you ask me, is pretty good for two days of CampNaNoWriMo.

Toothbrush Rewrites

You’ve heard me rave about Critique Circle.  I was on the website today and this caught my eye:

Toothbrush Editing

That sums up my life right now.  My novel is written — finished.  And now it looms before me like a filthy basement floor.  That the cats have puked on and the dog has tracked mud on (at least I hope it’s mud) and is that a dead spider?  Here sits this inexperienced author feeling like she’s armed with nothing but a toothbrush.  Kinda like this:armed with a screwdriverI mean, come on!  Some bleach would be nice!  Or at least a pair of latex gloves?

What?  OH!  That’s right!  CAMP NANOWRIMO is just around the corner!!!  YAY!!!

tom smiling gifSo today I compiled my Camp NaNo Survival Kit.

Laptop (with Scrivener)

Itunes (with all the LOTR music)

Notebook with a mess of notes about my story (maybe I should straighten out those notes)

The Emotion Thesarus


Fuzzy Tardis blanket


A stash of apples (to gnaw on when I hit plot holes)

A (bigger) stash of chocolate (to devour when I can’t get out of plot holes)

Favorite gel pens and a bunch of colored pencils… cause, hey, sometimes you need to put ideas down on actual paper

This April, armed with my determination, my inexperience, and a toothbrush/screwdriver, I will finally begin thorough re-writes.  Basement floor, here we come.


The Power of Critiques

Sometimes, turning a good story into a great one is as easy as getting a critique.  As easy and as hard.  Critiques are powerful tools, not to be taken lightly.

The things I’ve been taught by critiques — too many to count.  How to slay passive voice.  How to deepen POV.  What parts of my writing really stink.  Practical ways to show instead of tell.  Grammar refreshers.  Awkward sentences to fix.  Places that lag.  Generally, how to write better.  Sometimes it hurts, but it’s always good.

I love Critique Circle because each chapter I put up gets 2-4 (or sometimes more) critiques from people who all have different backgrounds, experience, expertise, and things they look for.

For a while, I even had a “crit partner”.  We got to the point where we knew each other’s stories well, and knew each other a bit, so that we could yell at each other when we messed up.  I loved it because he wouldn’t let me get away with things.  He’d say, Beth, I know you can do better than this.  Now go fix it.  And he loved it because I was meticulous at catching his grammar errors and making sure his story improved.

Critiques have taught me so much of what I know about writing.  And you know what?  They’ve put fuel in my tank to keep writing and keep improving.  People that enjoyed a chapter of my story.  People saying “I want to read more.”  Those are lifelines to an author.  People saying, “You know what, I wish I could write dialogue like you.”  And even sometimes, “This totally stinks, but keep you head up and keep writing anyways.”

Now, there is a hidden, sometimes overlooked value in critiques: what you learn by giving them.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve been giving a crit and said, OOoooh, that’s a vile thing to do.  Wait…. wait, I do that too.  Oh crud.  So then I can go fix it.  ANNND, it’s trained me to be a much more meticulous proofreader of my own writing.  And every piece of writing I come across.

WARNING: being a writer and giving critiques may make you paranoid about all writing.  You may be reading magazine articles, published books, children’s stories, etc, and feel the need to critique them.  I know I certainly do.  But the pros of Critiques far outweigh the risks.  🙂

Camp NaNoWriMo

camp-participant-2015-web-bannerI’m sure any of you who have been in the writing world for a while have heard of the infamous NaNoWriMo — National November Writing Month.  Each year, writers everywhere lose their sanity and try to write 50,000 words in just 30 days.

But wait…. you say, It’s March.  Why are you talking about this now?

Well, April and June are CAMP NANOWRIMO!!!!

What the heck is that?

A bunch of writers.  With their very own word-count goals.  Thrown into virtual “cabins” with other writers.  For a month.  To write.

Yup, you heard correctly — other people who actually CARE about you meeting your daily word count, people to have word-sprints with, people to brainstorm with, people to write with.  For an entire month.  Let the cheering commence.

No, I’ve never actually done NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNo before… but I did visit the forums last November and had a blast with the NaNoWriMo word sprints, community, and inspiration.  It was awesome.

Which is part of why I’m so excited for Camp NaNoWriMo.

Still not convinced?camp nanowrimo

Why you should do Camp NaNoWriMo:

1)  It encourages you to write

2)  The great community

3)  You’re connected to other writers

4)  It just sounds fun!

5)  It’s more flexible that NaNo in November — in Camp you can set your own wordcount, create your own cabin buddies, or even come back with a MS that needs revision (which is what I’m doing).

Hope to see you all there!

What about you?  Are you doing Camp NaNoWriMo?

Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo?  What were your experiences?

BONUS: Awesome jif I found, for all my fellow Whovians and Writers out there.