That Evil and Illustrious First Chapter

It’s no secret that I want to begin querying soon.  But there’s just one more thing (well, five more things, but mainly one) that I need to work on.

That evil, infamous, obscure being; that illustrious yet arcane thing called Chapter One. The thing that hangs elusively dangled above the Unpublished Author’s head like freedom above a teenager.

Bad analogy.

My apologies.

better sorry.gif

But the fact remains that a lot of us find Chapter 1 hard to write.  Or rather, hard to get right.  Chapter 1 of The Sound of Color has had probably 12 or so revisions and two complete re-writes.  And I’m still not 100% sure this is the version I’ll end up using.

I think it’s because there’s so much resting on Chapter 1.  It’s the handshake, the first interaction.  It’s where you either catch the reader in your net or you let him swim away.  (I’m full of strange analogies today.)  Almost like a delicate recipe where there needs to be just the right ratio of action to backstory, dialogue to narrative, characters to scenery, etc etc.  And if you add just a tiny bit too much of one thing, it will catch on fire in the oven and burn your whole house – er, story – to the ground.

I’m not here to tell you how to write chapter one.

(Although here are some good links if you’re too lazy to Google this info:)

http://annerallen.com/2013/06/10-things-your-opening-chapter-should.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1y_E6sTYfA

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/05/29/25-things-to-know-about-writing-the-first-chapter/

Right, I’m not here to tell you how to write chapter 1.  I’m here for comradery.  I’m here to let you know that I too struggle with perfecting chapter one.  And that’s okay.

That’s why I love blogs about writing.  I love to see other people struggling with the same things I am.  One blogger I follow, John Berkowitz (fabulous author and quality blogger) said this recently about first chapters:

Writing the first chapter of a novel is hard. But it is hard over a long period of time; you will work on your first chapter longer than you will work on any other part of your novel. And you will be working on it until the moment it goes to press.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  And then he goes on to talk about how hard Chapter 1 of Book 2 is, and let me tell you, folks – I’m glad I’m only on Book 1.

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It Seems My Antagonist Isn’t Good Enough

Sorry for a bit of a hiatus on the blog posts.  It’s still winter break for some, and for those of us on the East Coast, there’s been a lot of snow and a lot of snow days.  My time has been spent shoveling, reading, and shoveling some more.

But something of great magnitude happened this past week besides the unnatural amount of snow:

One of my great Beta Readers for The Sound of Color finally got back with me.  Overall, she gave me very high praise (which felt amazing).  But maybe even better, she gave me some really good insight into what the story lacked.

And what needed the most work?

My antagonist(s).  Both my Main Antag and my Sidekick Antag are characters that we THINK are good but turn out to be evil.  (*cue the menacing laughter*)

But this Beta Reader suggested that I needed to work on them a little more.  You see, I’d never really stopped to think about why my antag(s) wanted what they did.  Sure, power always looks good.  But why?  Why them?  Why would they do what they do?  And just as important, how did they get people to follow them?

In other words, my antagonists read as plot devices instead of characters.  They were an evil force instead of a warped individual.  The result was a fatal flaw in my story.

all my antagonists.jpg

In most of my favorite stories, the villain is someone with a distinct personality, a concrete set of goals, a thought-out plan, and – most importantly – strong motivation.

Part of the issue is that I never took the time to really get to know my antagonist.  I’d never given much thought to his motivation, his personality, his goals.  He pretty much showed up to cause some trouble and then disappeared again.  He wasn’t someone I know very well.

Voldemort, Loki, Darth Vader, Moriarty, the Joker, Saint Dane, President Snow – they are all people that I could describe to you better than I could describe my OWN antagonist.

So here’s to getting to know my Antag.  (I can’t say his name cause it’s a spoiler.)  To adding some scenes that show us his motivation.  To giving him more personality, more life.  To making him the hero of his own story.

If you struggle equally with writing a quality Bad Guy, let me know!  An antagonist always seems like an afterthought to me.  Or, if you’ve developed some tricks and tips to making your antag fabulous, I’d love to hear that too.

eye of sauron jif.gif

 

Query Letter Help

Hope you all had a merry christmas full of reading, writing, and relaxing.

Now, I know that you must feel REALLY BAD that you didn’t get me a present… right?  *nervous laughter*  Well, now’s your chance to give me one.

You’ve heard me rage about writing a query letter, so I think it’s time you got to read mine.  And your christmas present to me will be a shiny new critique of it!

Hopefully.

Seriously, I’m dying for some more feedback.  Sentence structure, word choice, does it make sense, general advice…  And look, it won’t even cost you a cent.

Thanks in advance, and I’ll see you all next year!


 Dear _______,

 

I am writing to you because  __________________.

 

One thing sets Star apart from the other orphans: hope.  It comes from her only keepsake, a worn journal that once belonged to her mother.  Inside the faded pages are stories and secrets of the life of a Defender – someone who is a messenger between the kingdoms, an ambassador to the different races, and a keeper of the peace.

Ever since she could remember, Star’s dreamed of following in her mother’s footsteps and joining the secret Society of Defenders.  At sixteen, she finally meets some people who might be able to help her escape her hometown and find the Society.  But it means trusting her life to two complete strangers, and they’re full of secrets too.

Soon Star learns the real identity of these two: they themselves are Defenders, and they’re on a mission to find a magic Item that will greatly aid the Society in an upcoming war.  She helps them find the Item and they agree to take her to the Society.  Little does she know, getting to the Defender’s City won’t be easy, and training to be a Defender will be nothing like she’s imagined.  Just as she finds the title of “Defender” within her grasp, she realizes the society she’s put her hope in all these years is corrupt, crumbling, and preparing to end the peace it claimed to stand for.  Star and her new-found friends will have to turn their backs on everything they know and love to save everything they believe in.

THE SOUND OF COLOR is a young adult, high-fantasy novel complete at 68,000 words.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

If you’d prefer to leave your feedback in the CC forums instead of the comments, here’s the link to the forum where I have it posted.  (Must have a Critique Circle account to access.)

Also, if you leave a comment/ critique of it, you will get prizes!  Prizes such as views on your blog, returning the favor of critiquing your query letter, and – get this – my undying gratitude.  😉

The Great Printout

This was quite the momentous weekend for me.

On Saturday, I sat down at the computer in our kitchen, opened my MS, and edited.  Got some coffee and edited some more.  Refilled my coffee and edited some more.

For about two and a half hours.

All the way

To the end

Of the story.

Which means that I’m done.  Done with the big plot-edits.  Done with the trying to figure out where my plot was going.  Done with the first round of edits!

And ready for the next step.

On Sunday, I went to Kinkos with my MS on a flashdrive.

Twenty dollars, ten minutes, and one smiling employee later, I walked out with 135 pages of my soul printed out and hidden inside a little brown box.

I’m so excited that I’ve been able to get my MS this far.  So grateful to God for allowing me to have this amazing experience, to meet so many amazing people, to fall so deeply in love with a hobby.

I mean, look.  Just over two years ago, I had this:  Handwritten Six hand-written pages, the very poor start to a story that I didn’t know the ending to.  I never dreamed the journey it would take me on.  I never dreamed that I’d pour two and a half years into turning them into this:

CollageA hundred and thirty-five polished, proof-read, exciting pages that make up a complete book.

Now, I did have a purpose behind those twenty dollars I spent.  My plan is to go through my MS and mark it up with pen, paying closer attention to pacing, paragraph style, transitions, and even sentence structure.  But first, I’m taking a week off.  I’m letting my brain rest for a week and letting my mom read it.  Then I’ll spend the next two weeks reading through and giving it the second round of edits.  And then, on October 31st, I will share it with some of my friends via dropbox.  I will let my brother and father read it.  I will send it to my aunt.  And then I will write my NaNoNovel in November while my MS is out being read by my friends.

I think it’s crucial to print out one’s work at some point in the process.  Our minds see things differently on paper than they do on the screen.  Plus, it allows me to read it more as a reader than as a writer.  That’s what I’m going for.

I know I still have a lot of work ahead of me – especially if I pursue getting it published – but this is just a really cool milestone.

To see one’s work in print for the first time.  It’s a cool feeling.

Words & The End

Five Things That Made Me a Better Writer

The other day, I was thinking about my writing journey.  What got me from beginner to where I am now.  So, without further ado, here’s Five Things That Made Me a Better Writer.

1) Writing.  The first step to being a good writer is to just be a writer.  The simple act of writing, playing around with stories and characters – it’s taught me a lot.  I’ve learned by doing.  However, my progress would have been a ton slower if not for outside help.  Which brings me to my next point.

2) Getting Critiqued.  One of the best writing-related decisions I’ve ever made was to join Critique Circle, an amazing online writing group.  I learned so much by people telling me – in a constructive way – the things that I needed to fix.  But also, the things that I was doing well.  The boost of encouragement that I got every time someone said “hang in there” helped me to keep writing.

Now, if you think that’s the only benefit of something like CC, you are sadly mistaken.  Take a look at my next point:

3) Giving Critiques.  On CC, you have to give at least 3 critiques in order to submit a story for review.  Which means I spent lots of time critiquing.  Lots of time spent staring at words, figuring out what made me stumble over words.  Observing what makes a sentence work and what kills it.  The act of getting my hands dirty in other people’s work really helped me to see the issues in my own.  It taught me to be a better proof-reader of my own work, and it taught me to write better and avoid certain mistakes altogether.

Each time I give a critique on CC, I also look to see what other people have said about the piece of work.  I love seeing the things that other people caught that I missed, hearing other people’s opinions about how to fix something, and smiling at the typos I caught that no one else did.  🙂

4) Reading Books on the Craft of Writing.  One in particular really helped me early on: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  It has everything you need to turn your WIP into an amazing work of art.  I’m sure there are tons of other writing books out there that are just as good.  The main point is: get some professional help from a book on the craft of writing. (I’ve also heard tons of good things about Steven King’s On Writing.)

5) The Online Presence.  Probably top of this list is a blog called Crackin The WIP – it’s a blog by seven different writers, and it’s glorious.  There have been so many posts that have changed the way I thought about something (dialogue, characters, plot, etc) – and often times, just reading a post on that blog gives me the push of motivation to dive into my own writing once again.

But there are other blogs, too, that have helped me.  And forums on CC are a great place for information.  And sometimes, just Googling a question leads to a great article that helps my writing.

And that concludes my list!

What are some things that got you where you are today?  Have you used all of these resources?  Are there any important ones that I left out?  Drop me a comment and let me know.  Happy writing!

Getting it Write

This whole week, I’ve been working on one major plot point.

I knew where it needed to take the story, I just didn’t know how it got there.

So I thought.

And wrote some.

And thought some more.

And wrote some more.

But it never felt right.  I just wanted to give up.

Why write something if it was going to be terrible?  Why put effort into something that I was going to cut?  No, it was a better use of my time to check Facebook and Instagram.

But then I got an email from NaNoWriMo (even though I’m not doing July Camp, they still send me the emails for it).  It linked to a video title “How to Write When You Really Don’t Want To.”  I clicked on it.  And got motivated.  I needed to just sit down and write this scene!  Even if I wrote it wrong, I would know one way how not to write the scene.

So I sat down.

And wrote.

It was going wrong.

But then an idea struck me, so I went back and changed one part.

Then I kept writing, and another idea struck me!  So I changed that part, too.

Then I just kept writing.  Suddenly, BAM! It was like putting in the last few pieces of a puzzle – everything just fit.  The characters, the solution, the dialogue, the effect on the plot – it just worked.  And it felt so good.

So my advice to you?  Even if what you’re doing feels wrong, or is hard, or seems useless, keep writing.  Often times writing the wrong thing can act like a road sign that points to the right thing.

That’s what I learned from writing this week.  What did you learn?

My WIP

Close to two years ago, I had a dream.  A legit, eyes-closed snoring-loudly dream.  One of those dreams where you meet people you instantly love, where you do incredible things, where you don’t want it to end.  So when I woke up, I continued it in my head.  Then I started writing it down.  Then I started getting serious, creating new characters, developing a(n attempt at a) plot, and wondering if I would ever want to be a writer.

And then I joined Critique Circle, and things changed a little.  Okay, a lot.

I learned to give and take critiques.  I learned about showing and telling, deep POV, potting vs pantsing, pacing, query letters, beta readers, filler words, passive voice, perseverance, coffee, and just how much I love to write.

January 1, 2015, I finished writing my 75,00 word YA novel.  Now it’s being mercilessly edited by Yours Truly, and then it will be ruthlessly thrown out to CC, and perhaps torn apart by my library’s teen writer’s club as well.

So that’s the story of me and my WIP.  Let’s end with a little synopsis, shall we?  (Don’t be too brutal, it’s a WIP too!)

Sixteen-year-old Star has always dreamed of going to the city of Spiritus.  It’s where her mother grew up, where her parents met, and where people are trained to become Defenders.  She has little hope for this dream, as Spiritus is halfway across the continent… until Strider and Emmella, two mysterious strangers, show up.  They take her with them to Spiritus, where she finally has a chance of earning the title of Defender — except that an evil lord has plans of his own for the city of Spiritus.  Star has to risk everything she holds dear to save the city — and the people — she values most.