Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where are you?

I want to know where you are right now. I don't mean geographically speaking, although now that I'm thinking about it, I do want to know that too--I'm wildly curious that way. I mean, where are you in your writing right now? That magical/hellish first draft? First revision? 100th revision? First novel? 10th novel? Agented? Pre-agented? Published? If you don't write but love to read, you can just answer the geographical part.

I'll even go first to break the ice. Geographically, I'm in Colorado but you'd think I was in Kansas with all the hail and tornado warning we've had recently. 

Writing wise, I think I'm about finished revising my first YA novel. Don't ask me how many revisions I've gone through because I've lost track--either that, or my brain has blocked out the trauma. Also, this is the 3rd or 4th time I've thought I was really, really, finally finished, so I'm not placing bets. I'm about to jump head first into some hard core querying, but I want my Sisters to see my "newest really, really, finally finished draft" first. Also, I'm terrified. To ease the stress, I'm working on a new YA ms which is SO. MUCH. FUN. I love, love, love 1st drafts.

Enough about me. I want to know about you. Where are you?  

Monday, June 28, 2010

Contest Monday

The Story Siren is giving away very cool BEA prize packs, including an ARC of The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller and an ebook of Paranormalcy by Kiersten White. The deadline is July 16th. Click on the link for more details.

Over at Courtney Writes, you can win a signed ARC of Angelfire! Enter here.You can also watch the uber creepy book trailer while you're there!

UPDATE: Fabulous agent Suzie Townsend is giving away an ARC of Personal Demons. Warning: this contest involves doing actual work--as in writing something. Deadline is June 30th. Good luck and enter through her blog here.

That's all I found contest-wise across the blogosphere. If you have a contest you'd like to promote, feel free to enter it in the comments below. Thanks and Happy Monday!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rebel Moon: An Anthology of Supernatural Tales

I'm going to take today to do a little shameless self-promotion. Some of you had mentioned, during the last giveaway, that you'd like to know more about us and what we write. I'll only speak for myself.

I'm a big fan of paranormal, dark, edgy, and/or sad books. That doesn't mean I don't like contemporary romance or literary books, because I do. But I don't think I could write them. Maybe some day I'll give a romance a shot, who knows.

A short story of mine was recently published by an independent publisher in the UK, Rebel Books. It's available for purchase online (in the US and elsewhere). The anthology is a collection of 16 stories by 16 different authors and all of them are YA paranormal, but very different.

My story is called PARALLEL. It's about an adopted teen werewolf who has a hard time choosing between the wolf she met in the woods, and her human friends and family. Sometimes the choices are made for us, and they aren't always the best ones.

Here's the description from the publisher's website:

REBEL MOON: An Anthology of supernatural tales

Have you ever wondered what Death would look like if he approached you at a bus stop? Or what would happen if a vampire’s chosen victim turned out to be more than they had bargained for?

Rebel Moon is a collection of stories that will whisk you into worlds of vampires, werewolves and witchcraft so prepare yourself for a bumpy ride as sometimes the dead have more of a life than the living and if this book teaches you anything it is to always expect the unexpected!

From the teen witches you wouldn’t want to cross in One Witch Down to the dark comedy of Evil 101, this is a book you won’t want to put down.


Paperback 220 pages

ISBN: 978-0-9565035

Price: £8.99


If you happen to get a copy, feel free to let me know what you think! Either here, or via my contact form.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Good Telling The J.K. Rowling Way

Not long ago, I did a post on Telling When You Think You're Showing which I hope was helpful in highlighting some of the common mistakes we make when it comes to showing emotions.

Since Show Don't Tell is the bane of most writers' existence I figure you can never get enough info on it.

So today I direct you to Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole's blog and her post When To Tell Instead of Show because it's done way better than I ever could.

I highly recommend that you also check out A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter which is referenced in her post, as well. It's a really clear and amazingly insightful piece!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Love

One of the cool things I learned from your awesome feedback in our 300 Followers contest was that plenty of people who follow our blog don't write--but love to read. I'll keep doing posts involving writing tips, etc. but wanted to take a moment to shout out my book love for the week. Here's what I started reading this morning and won't go to bed tonight until I finish because it's REALLY THAT GOOD! I don't usually like contemporary YA as I'm more a ghosts, freaks, and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night kind of girl, but this book is amazing! Seriously, if you haven't read this yet, you should!


A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.
When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.
In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart. 

So, tell me, what's your book love of the week?

Monday, June 21, 2010

300 Followers Contest Winners!!!

Thanks for all the comments and it was awesome to see so many people de-lurk! Now, for the 3 winners picked by the random number generator at Randomizer.org. We will contact each winner to see what book they want and where to mail it. The winners are: 1) Shelli (srjohannes) 2) Lale and 3) Anonymous (aka Carol N Wong).

Thanks again and congrats to the winners!!! Oh yeah, and Happy Monday!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Agents Wish You Knew - Or Why You Should Wait Until Your Book Is REALLY Ready To Query!

When I was just a fresh-faced Midwesterner, brand new to LA, I thought, hey, I'm in LA, maybe I should be an actor! (Because, you know, everyone was doing it.) So I started going to these Casting Director (*Casting Directors are the ones who go out and find actors, and audition them for roles in movies) workshops where actors would get a chance to hear a Casting Director speak about what they're casting, and give out some acting advice. One of the things I heard over and over from Casting Directors was "We want you to be good."

No one believed them.

The veteran actors who had been auditioning for years were sure that it was just some line they used to make them sound good, (because Casting Directors only wanted already famous people, anyway). And newbie actors thought, why would that famous casting director care about me? I'm nobody, there's no way they'd ever cast me.

It wasn't until I became a Casting Director myself and was faced with casting 6 major roles in my own film that I understood. It's true, Casting Directors are praying that every single actor that walks through the door is so amazing that they're THE ONE. They get excited by each new face they see. They really truly want actors to be good.

Here's why:

1. Auditioning actors is very time-consuming.
- First they have to sort through hundreds (literally) of headshots to find the ones who look most like what the role requires.
- Then they have to schedule auditions for all those with the right look (that might be a hundred again).
- Then they have to sit down with each one of those actors and have them read through the scene, narrow down the good ones, and do it all over again until they have 5 or 6 of the best that they can take to the director and producers.

If an actor comes in who is so amazing that they get immediately skip ahead to the meeting directors and producers stage, think of all the time the Casting Director has saved!

2. When a Casting Director finds the perfect actor for a role, that actor and film can win awards, which means more recognition and more money for the Casting Director. It's not in their best interest to cast their Uncle's cousin's best friend's kid. It just isn't.

Hmm... Does any of this sound familiar?

If you substitute Writer for Actor, Agent for Casting Director, and Editor and Publishers for Director and Producers, (and okay, obviously, books for movies) it sounds a lot like the publishing world, doesn't it?

So this is what I want you to know:


Before they click open your email they probably say a silent prayer like, Please God let this one be THE ONE!

Even though they might complain about their overflowing inboxes, they secretly thrill at all of those potential bestsellers just waiting for them.

How You Can Take Advantage Of This Knowledge:

Then, write a query letter that SHOWS your book is THE ONE. (Don't write "This is the book you've been waiting for!" Just. Don't.)

Don't let yourself think, It doesn't matter anyway, it's not like that agent will ever really rep me, I'll just send my query/partial/full and get the rejection over with. (WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?? WHY WOULDN'T YOU WAIT AND SEND SOMETHING YOU BELIEVED IN 100%?)

Because trust me, that agent isn't looking at their inbox thinking I can't wait to reject all of these losers today! They're thinking, PLEASE let this next one be THE ONE!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Advice from Literary Agent Sandra Bond

Thanks to the wonderful Casey over at Literary Rambles for having me as a guest blogger--again! If you don't follow her blog, you should!

*Don't forget you have until this Sunday to enter our 300 Followers Contest!

I spent Sunday afternoon with the wonderful members of the Parker Writers Group listening to literary agent Sandra Bond of Bond Literary Agency discuss numerous agent-related topics. She was kind and gracious, staying an extra half hour to answer all the audience questions. Some of the info was geared toward those at the beginning stages of writing and I won't go into the basics that were addressed (e.g. writing a synopsis, how to pitch to an agent/editor, the importance of the first line, and researching which agents to query)--for those topics, you can see our prior posts here, here, here, and here.

Fun Fact about Sandra: She doesn't like synopses and rarely asks for them. I know some of you are jumping for joy right now! 

Book I'm Most Excited to Read by One of Sandra's Clients: I just picked up Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber (and got it signed by him). I can't wait to read it!

Here are a few key questions that Sandra answered for the group:

What makes a manuscript pop?  Sandra stressed that agents have different tastes and likes/dislikes. She prefers great writing over story (some agents look first at the story/hook) and acknowledged she likely would have turned down a writer like John Grisham. What makes  a submission pop for her are:
  • great writing (she always looks for this first, above all else)
  • the voice
  • the characters
  • the first sentence, first paragraph, and first chapter are respectively, the most important parts of the manuscript. She knew within the first page of the manuscript that she wanted to sign several of her clients!!! HINT: If you feel your story doesn't really pick up until Chapter 3, you may want to revisit the first chapters.
  • Another important aspect of submitting involves following agency guidelines (Sandra asked a writer to submit the 1st two chapters of their novel, and he responded that although he knew what she wanted, he thought he'dsend the last chapter instead as it was a better chapter.) DON'T DO THIS! 
What should an unpublished author put in the biographical part of their query letter? I'll do a comprehensive post on query letters in the future, but this question is important for those sending out that first query. Again, you need to research individual agents to see what they prefer but Sandra likes a writer to include the following information if applicable:
  • membership to a professional writing group (e.g. SCBWI)
  • writing conference attendance
  • established critique group membership
  • career which involves writing
What is she looking to represent right now/what is she not looking for?

In fiction, Sandra stated she is always looking for a well-written, commercial crime/thriller novel. She emphasized the "well-written" part several times, and said she's looking for a James Lee Burke. So far, she's only taken on one client in this genre because of the well-written part.

She's also seeking a variety of commercial and literary fiction, including women's fiction and YA. For kidlit writers out there--while she is open to urban fantasy in YA, she's not really looking for any post-apocalyptic scenarios.

Sandra does NOT represent romance, adult fantasy, poetry or science fiction.

In non-fiction, she is seeking interesting, well-written narrative NF (e.g. Eat, Pray, Love or Three Cups of Tea). She would also love an interesting science book by an expert--remember that having a platform is a key compoment of selling most NF. Memoir is an area that she hasn't taken on, because the genre is so tricky--great writing is the most important aspect of memoir and she hasn't yet found it.

Sandra is NOT looking for any self-help books. She doesn't usually represent history, although she did sell the incredible book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America.
How to Query Ms. Bond: send a query letter via email or snail mail to her attention (see her link above for her email and mailing address.) If interested, she'll ask for more. Due to the number of submissions she receives, she won't reply if not interested--so don't take it personally.

Final Note: It's so awesome when agents take the time to do things like this. It's not like they get paid for it, and it's a huge benefit to aspiring writers. If you get the chance to attend an event like this, be sure to thank them!!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

300 Followers Giveaway!!!

We're so excited to have reached 300 fabulous followers! How excited? We're doing a giveaway to commemorate the occasion. We're making it easy--you don't have to fill out a form. You don't have to blog, Tweet, post anything on Facebook, or sacrifice any small animals. All we want from you is feedback. Just leave us a comment below telling us what you like about the blog and/or topics you'd like us to add/expand in the future. And be a follower. That's it. You have until this Sunday, June 20th at 9pm ET to leave your comment.

There will be 3 winners: one for each hundred of you wonderful readers. The winners will be selected by a random generator and I'll announce the lucky peeps next Mon. June 21st. Each winner will get to choose one of the following books: The Forest of Hands and Teeth-Carrie Ryan, The Hunger Games-Suzanne Collins, The Maze Runner-James Dashner, or Bleeding Violet-Dia Reeves. You can email me your choice if you're one of the winners. Good luck!!!!

P.S. The contest is open to those living in any place where the Book Depository ships.

Other Contests: Angela over at The Bookshelf Muse is celebrating reaching 800 followers--there are great prizes including 2 full manuscript critiques!!!! Head on over there and enter before Wed. June 16th.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Importance of the First Line

Today the gals over at Adventures in Children's Publishing are hosting a contest judging first lines of completed manuscripts and it got me thinking about the importance of first lines.

With my first WIP, the opening had no real hook aside from the setting. It's a historical and takes place in an era we're all familiar with (or should be familiar with) so there's tension, but the line wasn't a hook.

With my newer WIP, I have a definite hook. The reaction to the two is very different. And not just because of content.

Someone said (and if I can find who, I'll post a name) that the first line sells the book, the last line sells the second book.

Out of curiosity I grabbed the closest book, LOW RED MOON by Ivy Devlin, and opened it up. The first line reads: I was covered in blood when the police found me.

That is a GREAT opening line! It catches my attention and it makes me ask questions. Why is she covered in blood? Who's blood? Was it a murder? Was it an accident?

Not all great books have a great opening line. In some cases, such as with TWILIGHT, the author uses a catchy prologue to grab your attention. This, in my opinion, is fine if that prologue serves a purpose. If you come back to it later. If you don't it can upset your reader. I can think of a few books who had catchy prologues that made me ask a lot of questions, but then those questions weren't answered in that book.

In most cases I think we as writers need to avoid prologues.

Suzannah over at Write it Sideways came up with a great list of what NOT to do in your opening lines:

  • Dialogue. Nice somewhere on the first or second page, but not in the first line. We won’t know who’s speaking or why we should care.
  • Excessive description. Some description is good, but not when it’s long winded. Skip the purple prose and opt for something more powerful.
  • Irrelevant information. The first few lines of your story are crucial, so give your reader only important information.
  • Introducing too many characters. I don’t like to be bombarded with the names of too many characters at once. How are we supposed to keep them straight when we don’t know who’s who?

And a great list of thing you want to do:

1. Make your readers wonder.

Put a question in your readers’ minds. What do those first lines mean? What’s going to happen? Make them wonder, and you’ll keep them reading.

2. Begin at a pivotal moment.

By starting at an important moment in the story, your reader is more likely to want to continue so he or she can discover what will happen next.

  • “It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.” ~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden
  • “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” ~Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

3. Create an interesting picture.

Description is good when it encourages people to paint a picture in their minds. Often, simple is best so it’s the reader who imagines a scene, instead of simply being told by the author.

  • “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” ~Daphne DuMaurier, Rebecca
  • “She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.” ~Michael Ontaatje, The English Patient

4. Introduce an intriguing character.

The promise of reading more about a character you find intriguing will, no doubt, draw you into a story’s narrative. Most often, this is one of the main characters in the book.

  • “I was born twice: first as a baby girl on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” ~Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

5. Start with an unusual situation.

Show us characters in unusual circumstances, and we’ll definitely be sticking around to see what it’s all about.

  • “They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.” ~Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked
  • Last night, I dreamt that I chopped Andrew up into a hundred little pieces, like a Benihana chef, and ate them, one by one.” ~Julie Buxbaum, The Opposite of Love

6. Begin with a compelling narrative voice.

Open your story with the voice of a narrator we can instantly identify with, or one that relates things in a fresh way.

  • “As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.” ~Alistair MacLeod, No Great Mischief
  • “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” ~Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants
Write what you love, write the book you want to read, but always know your target audience and keep your readers in mind. From the first line to the last.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Telling When You Think You're Showing

You've heard it time and time again, SHOW, DON'T TELL. If you have crit partners you've probably gone cross-eyed from reading it in your ms at one time or another. But you're past that now. You've worked hard on your prose, you're showing all over the place. Or are you?

Using internal physical reactions is a quick way to show a character's emotions. You've seen sentences like these:

My heart raced with fear.
Nervousness twisted her stomach.

These sentences seem, on the surface, that they're showing but in reality, they're telling. Why? Because it tells us what emotion the character is feeling. Fear, in the first sentence, and Nervousness in the second. Chances are, if the physical reaction is appropriate to the scene, that the naming of the emotion is simply excess information. This is sometimes called tagging your emotions and it's usually unnecessary.

In this case, that extra info creates a distance between the reader and the character. In a tense or emotional situation, the reader should be right there with the character, experiencing and connecting to everything the character feels. When something happens that causes your character's heart to pound your reader feels it, when you add in "with fear" you push your reader back a step because they're forced to process an external observation.

Think about it. When you're in the middle of a scary situation, you might notice your heart is pounding but do you actually think - hey my heart is pounding because I'm afraid? No. You just feel afraid.

I work with the rule of thumb that unless a character is experiencing an emotion that is unexpected (like, rather than fear, a character's heart pounds with excitement at being chased by an axe murderer) there's no need to name it. If you've done a good job at creating your character and revealing what makes them them to the reader, they will know what your character is feeling. And even more than that, they will feel a part of that character's experience.

Trust your reader! You don't have to explain everything to them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Writing the Dreaded Synopsis

I'll admit it. I love writing books. I love writing queries--I know, I'm weird that way. While I don't love writing synopses, I don't mind them either. They take me back to grade school when I had to do book reports and sum up what I read in 2-3 pages. You'd think it would be easier to do your own synopsis--being that you wrote the book yourself and know it better than anyone else. Easier said than done, right?

One of the biggest mistakes I saw when I recently judged a writing contest was that the synopses often read like my aforementioned book reports. Dry. As in drier than the Sahara dry. e.g. Jane did xxx. Then xxx happened. Then Jim Bob came along and did xxx... Then this judge almost died of boredom and had to get a glass of wine to revive herself.You want your synopsis to be like a book report...on acid. Think more like a jacket cover, but with the ending included. You want to excite the agent, not induce a coma.

Pam McCutcheon, the author of Writing the Fiction Synopsis, gave a great presentation on this topic at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Check out her website and her books. (Yeah, I'm not done blogging about the conference yet, so you better hope I attend something else soon.) After keeping in mind that you need to do your research to see what format and length each agent wants, the following guidelines from Pam's book are amazing tips for all synopsis writers out there.

Pam started with a line of plot points A-E.

A (ordinary world)--B(trigger point)--C(change of plans)--D(black moment)--E(resolution)

1. The beginning of your synopsis should include the goals, motivations, and conflicts of ALL major characters, their typical world (Plot point A) and the trigger event that sends them in a different direction (Plot point B). Tip: Start the synopsis with your logline.

2. The middle is where you add scenes that lead up to the change of plans at the midpoint (Plot point C). This is usually where the character moves from being reactive to proactive.

3. End the synopsis by describing the dark moment where it looks like the hero will lose and the villain will prevail (Plot point D), followed by the conclusion (E). Make sure to tie up loose ends in the plot (especially the ending-it annoys agents when you leave this out.)

Consider adding other things such as genre, tone, theme, and setting. You'll have to make adjustments based on the specific length requested. Most agents want anywhere from 1-5 pages. If it's longer than one page, it should be double-spaced. It's best to have several saved in different lengths, so you're ready to go depending on agent preferences.

I'd start by filling in your plot points A-E--then add the acid. Good luck! Any other synopsis tips out there?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Contest Monday

Two great contests to start off your week with a bang:

1. The fab Shelli at Market My Words is hosting a pitch contest to be judged by agent Bree Ogden with Martin Literary Management. Have a 1-3 sentence pitch ready and visit Shelli's blog today (Monday). The winner gets to submit their entire manuscript!

2. Cool contest judged by agent Natalie Fischer with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. It involves the first line of your novel, and if that line is good enough, possibly the second line, third, etc. It's this Thursday June 10th at 8am ET and 12 noon ET. Get the rest of the details here. Get a 25-page critique from Ms. Fischer among other great prizes!

Addendum: Amazing book giveaway over at YA Highway, including Ally Condie's Matched, so check it out!

Happy Monday!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Book Recommendation!

It's Friday! Woohoo! And in case you might be interested, my first ever interview is up on the We Do Write blog! On to the books!

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

Product Details

  • Reading level: Young Adult
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: EgmontUSA (December 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1606840576

Product Description: from Amazon

Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared--the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in his own blood--but she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night held.

The memories her family has tried to bury resurface when Daniel returns, three years later, and enrolls in Grace and Jude's high school. Despite promising Jude she'll stay away, Grace cannot deny her attraction to Daniel's shocking artistic abilities, his way of getting her to look at the world from new angles, and the strange, hungry glint in his eyes.

The closer Grace gets to Daniel, the more she jeopardizes her life, as her actions stir resentment in Jude and drive him to embrace the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind the boy's dark secret...and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it--her soul.

This book is completely original, imaginative and full of awesome! I can't really say much more than that without revealing one thing or another. I will say The Dark Divine is easily one of my favorite books of 2009.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

BEA and Other Ramblings

I have no idea what to write about so I think if I just ramble on, something will come to me. That's usually how my novel writing process goes. I am completely out of coffee so I can not be held accountable for whatever falls out of my mouth today.

As you may have heard from our previous posts, (and tweets and facebook statuses) Valerie and I attended BEA on Wednesday. And we're hoping that next year all three of us will be able to attend together! Unfortunately we weren't able to attend the panels at BEA, aside from the very inspiring author breakfast, hosted by Sarah Ferguson (yes that one). And I apparently live in a cave because I didn't know who she was until Valerie told me.

I posted a recap about BEA on my personal blog and I'm sure you can read more about it on Valerie's blog as well. All in all we had a great time and we met some of our favorite authors and people in the publishing industry, including Elizabeth Law of Egmont and Andrew Karre of Carolrhoda books.

If you ever get the chance to go, I highly suggest it. And best if you get a three day pass. We were kicking ourselves for only going on Wednesday.

One conclusion that can be drawn from Book Expo America, is that the industry is thriving even in our cruddy economic state. People still love books! And publishers are still producing quality literature. Makes me feel very optimistic about our futures as YA authors.

Did you attend BEA? Have anything you'd like to share about the future of the book industry?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Invoking The Senses

I'm editing this because the Worst Airline In The World (aka Delta) has returned my luggage and all my books are in tact! Yay!

Now, onto the senses.

When writing description it's important that you tell us more than just what something looks like.

When setting a scene use at least three of the five senses in the description.

I've seen it said many times, so I'm not sure who said it first but most recently, Ellen Hopkins spoke at my local SCBWI conference on this. One thing she said that really stuck with me is that everyone has one or two senses that they respond to and focus on the most. While it's true that most people are visual and it's important for the reader to understand what they should be "seeing" it's not the only thing that draws a reader into a scene. Some people react strongly to smell, others to sound, or touch. If you leave those out, you could be distancing whole groups of readers who "can't connect" to your writing.

What are the five senses?
- Sight
- Hearing
- Smell
- Touch
- Taste
(and for writing purposes I like to include internal - both physical and emotional - ie. heart pounding, etc.)

I think most of us tend to focus heavily on the visual when writing so, for example, if you want to set the scene as a summer evening at sunset you might say:

It was a typical summer evening. The sun was just setting behind the trees, coloring the sky in bands of red, gold, and purple.

That's nice, but it doesn't really give the full sense of what it's like to really be there.

Now here's the same night with the rest of the senses added in:

It was a typical summer evening. The sun was just setting behind the trees, coloring the sky in bands of red, gold, and purple. A slight breeze tickled the hair on my arms as it rustled the leaves of the Maple trees and carried the scent of the rosebushes throughout the yard.

See how incorporating touch (tickling), sound (leaves rustling), and smell (scent of the rosebushes) adds depth to the scene? There's something for everyone to relate to and it's accomplished in three fairly short sentences. It's succinct enough not to drag down your story, and active enough to not feel boring and/or tacked on.

If you wanted to add in some internal physical/emotional sense that also helps to set the scene before diving into the story, you might add on something like:

Even with the sun sinking, the heat of the day still pressed down around me, making even the smallest movement feel exhausting. -- But you know, say it better than that!

I find this tip most helpful during revision when I'm trying to flesh out scenes. If there's a scene you have that's not quite working take a look and see if there are some senses missing. They might be just what you need to turn a moment into an unforgettable MOMENT.

Pay attention to what senses you focus on the most. After Ellen pointed out that everyone has a dominant sense I realized I tend to focus mostly on the sight and touch and rarely mention sound unless it's plot specific. This helped me immensely in the re-write process.

If you think about it, the moments we remember most in books are the ones that we can really connect to and feel like we know exactly what the character is experiencing.

Re-read some of your favorite scenes and see how much sensory detail is included. If it's done well it's invisible and yet it totally adds to the overall experience.

I wanted to post an example from a published book but I don't have it with me. So I'll just tell you that one author I noticed that does this really well, is Kelley Armstrong. The particular scene I'm thinking of takes place in The Awakening, and at the beginning of the chapter, she completely creates the setting in about three short sentences. I'm going to have to get my hands on that book again and come back and post it.

What about you? What senses do you focus on the most? What are some great scenes (or great authors) you've read that suck you in with all your senses?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Q&A with Agent Steven Malk

Super-agent Steven Malk from Writers House graciously agreed to answer a multitude of questions over at Casey's awesome site, Literary Rambles. My question was one of those addressed, so hop on over to check out the great advice Steven had for aspiring writers.

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend and I'll be back next week with a regular post. The topic: writing your novel synopsis. For those of you who think writing a synopsis is the literary equivalent of getting a root canal, I promise it'll be less painful. I think. :)
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