Category Archives: hooks

Hooks!

I’ve been posting words for #1linewed on twitter for a while now.  Do they help me sell books?  Maybe.  I have no idea, but once a week, Kiss of Death chooses a word that you’ve hopefully used in your WIP, and you can post that tiny section on twitter with the hashtag #1linewed.  I think it’s fun to share them and see what other authors have shared.  For example, for last Wednesday–the 5th–Kiss of Death posted:  Something different for our 12/5/18 THEME. Give us your best end of chapter **CLIFFHANGER** line. Hooks make a reader turn pages so show us what you’ve got! 

I have to admit, my wonderful critique partner, M.L. Rigdon, often catches mushy chapter endings in my manuscript and I have to beef them up, so the idea of LOOKING for cliffhangers worried me, especially in a first draft.  But bless Scribes, they’ve expounded the idea of hooks at the end of chapters so many times, I did better than I thought.  And they were easier to find than I’d first thought, too.  I just printed FIND for my manuscript and typed in Chapter, and ta-da!  I scrolled up to the end of the previous one and found my hooks pronto–something I should start doing on a regular basis when I polish my manuscripts.  For the end of chapter 1 in The Body in Apartment 2D, (what I’m working on now), I found:

 “Are you going to be okay?”

            Radley shrugged.  “You know Bain’s temper.  He’ll stew and grumble, then get over it in a while.”

            That’s when they heard a gunshot.  They all looked at each other, then raced for the stairs.

Not too shabby.  I posted it.  But I was curious now.  I looked at more of my chapter endings.  For the end of chapter 2, I found:

Jazzi’s heart sank.  She felt it shrivel and weep.  Bain.  Living with them.  And he’d be in a worse mood than usual.  But he was Ansel’s brother.  They couldn’t just leave him on the streets.  Could they?  No.  Shame on her.  But she wasn’t looking forward to spending time with Ansel’s oldest brother.

Not brilliant, but it would do.   At least for now.

Anyway, the whole exercise was a good reminder that EVERY chapter should end with some kind of hook, something to encourage the reader to turn the page.  I hope all of your chapters end well:)  I’m checking mine from now on.

Happy Writing!

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How Many Bodies does it take?

I’m working on a mystery.  I finally reached the third turning point (three-fourths through the book–and yes, I do construct my plots that way), and I’m heading into the last 80 pages.  This is when I look at my remaining plot points and pray that I have enough twists and turns to make it to the The End.  If not, a little creativity is in order.

Almost (there must be one out there that breaks the mold, but I can’t think of it) every mystery starts with a dead body.  A crime would work, too, but it’s not as common.  The body doesn’t have to be on page one.  It doesn’t even have to show up by page five.  But someone usually stumbles upon it by the end of chapter one.  Not always.  Mystery readers, especially for cozies or traditionals,  know that while they’re hanging out with the protagonist and getting to know her and the book’s setting, a dead body will show up eventually.  It’s worth the wait.

Martha Grimes, in her early books, grabbed her readers with a hook–a prologue. They’re frowned upon now, but I liked them.  Some nice, oblivious person would be walking along a street or locking her front door, and we KNEW she’d be dead by the end of the chapter.  A great way to build tension.  A lot of thriller writers use that technique–showing the victim in a way that we know they’re already doomed.  It works.  If you’re not writing a thriller, though, you have to space out victims more sparingly:)  You don’t off somebody whenever the pace slows down, so you have to come up with different devices to keep the tension high enough to turn pages.

The thing I loved about witing urban fantasy is that you could write a battle every time you wanted to up the tension.  Pitting your protagonist against someone who could kill her works really well.  I just finished reading Ilona Andrews’s MAGIC SHIFTS, and it was a FAST read because there was a battle in almost every chapter.  Lots of action.  I loved it, but that doesn’t fly in an amateur sleuth mystery.  Protags don’t wield swords or shoot magic.

What does work?  Having the sleuth at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Having her get nosy and digging through a desk that’s not hers when someone walks into the office.  I’m halfway through a mystery by an author who’s new to me:  A Cutthroat Business by Jenna Bennett.   I’m loving it so far!  First, her protagonist is a Southern Belle.  I haven’t read one of those since the last Sarah Booth Delaney cozy I read by Carolyn Haines. Bennett’s protagonist is a real estate agent…so, of course, she takes a client to a showing and finds a body in the last room they stop to view.  See?  The nice, bloody corpse comes at the end of the chapter. More fun that way!

Also, of course, the police show up and the client who wanted to see the house doesn’t seem to have any money, but he has done some prison time–and the protag knew him when they were growing up–a smartass, sexy ex-con. Bennett finds one clever way after another to keep her protag involved in the investigation.  Eventually, though, (and I hate to say this), another body is needed to boost the pace near the middle of the book.  Sacrifices must be made for every novel, and for mysteries, well…. someone must die.

I’m sorry to say (and my daughter wasn’t happy with me, because she fell in love with a certain character when she read the pages I’ve done so far), I had to kill off someone, too, for the second plot twist in my book.  And that made me wonder:  how many bodies does it take to keep a good book going?  In urban fantasy, you’re lucky.  Very rarely does one of the good guys have to die, and you can kill bad guys at random, on every other page if you want to.  In mysteries, though? Bodies are up for grabs.  Good guys die as often as not-so-good guys.  I’m thinking–and I haven’t researched this–that it takes at least two bodies to move a mystery plot.  The first body happens at the beginning of the book and somewhere later, the pacing and clues start to fizzle, and an author has to stick in another victim.

What do you think?  Can you think of a mystery that only has one victim and the entire plot goes from there?  Okay, maybe in a P.I., because usually the private eye gets beat up close to the time a second body would pop up in a traditional mystery.  LOL.  This is probably why it was so hard for me to write romances.  I couldn’t kill anybody:)

Jenna Bennett:  https://www.amazon.com/Savannah-Martin-Mysteries-Box-Set-ebook/dp/B00A6UMNRM/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1496516485&sr=8-8&keywords=jenna+bennett+savannah+martin+series+kindle+kindle

Ilona Andrews’s Magic Shifts:  https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Shifts-Kate-Daniels-Novel-ebook/dp/B00OQSF7GY/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1496517298&sr=8-3&keywords=ilona+andrews+kate+daniels+series

My webpage (with a new creepy short story):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Twitter: @judypost

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

 

 

What Drives a Story?

When I first started writing, I wrote short stories.  I love ’em, and sometimes I think it’s harder to write an awesome short story than it is to write a book.  Books take longer, yes, but they also give you more wiggle room.  In short fiction, there’s no room for mess-ups, so I think it’s harder to tell someone how to write a great short story than it is to explain the parts that add up to a good book.

For a book, we know the drill:

  1. A hook that grabs the reader’s attention
  2. A protagonist we can empathize with, who hits a major problem that he has to fix because it deals with an internal problem that he has to fix:)
  3. Tension that cranks up the longer the book goes
  4. Conflict of some type in every scene
  5. Characters, both major and minor, who stay with us, one way or another
  6. Pacing that keeps the story’s momentum moving
  7. A big, dark moment near the end that leads to resolution of some type
  8. A satisfying ending, either happy or not

What do you say about writing a short story?

My early short fiction was all based on ideas, sort of like delivering a punch line.  The shorter the story, the truer it held.  One of the first stories I “sold” (for free copies) was about a house that had been loved and cherished by the people who’d lived in it until the city changed, owners died, and it became a vacant building where kids came to drug up.  The house suffered until it called for its dead owner to return and save it from having to witness any more.    (It’s better if you can’t read the words.  I wrote this a LONG time ago, and I cringe when I read it now).

Image (12)

The story hinged on an idea.  I think most short stories do. With a few more pages, we can become attached to a character, but even then, if the story’s short, we only watch one slice out of that person’s life.  But what a punch that one slice can deliver!  The more pages you add, the more elements you can add to the whole.

For friends who’ve told me that they can’t write short, it might be because they’re trying to use the same elements to write a short story as they do to write a book.  Yes, we still use a hook and strong verbs and specific words instead of general ones.  We still vary sentence length, so the tools are the same, but the technique’s different.  A short story has a tight focus.  Every part of the story is used to deliver on that one idea or slice of life.

And if you’d like ideas on how to write short from a pro, here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s advice: http://www.openculture.com/2015/04/kurt-vonneguts-8-tips-on-how-to-write-a-good-short-story.html

For extra good measure, here’s advice from one of my favorite short story writers, Nancy Pickard:  http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2011/05/warren-and-nancy-pickard- discuss-short.html

 

My author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

My webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

On twitter:  @judypost

 

 

Outline to Finished Draft

This post is too long…again.  But it should finish explaining how I turn an outline into a finished draft.  I hope.  If you still have questions, let me know.  But here goes!

When I start a book, I do pretty detailed plot points.  I didn’t always.  I used to stick to the basics of what had to happen to move the story, but now, when I think of a chapter or scene, I scribble down whatever comes to mind, and the more I scribble, the more things I think of.  That way, when I read my notes, I just need to bring them to life.

Every book starts with a hook.  For Wolf’s Bane, I show Reece racing to her mom’s house. Her mom remarried after Reece’s father died and had two children with her new husband. Eugene’s proud that he has a son, but Jenny reminds him of his mother.  He doesn’t like his mother, so whenever he’s had too much to drink, he likes to smack Jenny.  Reece, who teaches martial arts, rushes to prevent that.

However, Wolf’s Bane isn’t a literary novel.  It’s urban fantasy, so Reece’s family isn’t the main plot.  When she jumps out of the car to rescue Jenny, she sees a woman sitting on a porch stoop.  The woman raises her face to the sky and howls before she runs away. Later, after Reece has sent Eugene to the kitchen and gotten her brother and sister to bed, when she starts to her SUV, a werewolf attacks a young man on the street corner.  The man seems doomed until a gargoyle plummets from the sky to rescue him.  He kills the werewolf, and it shifts back to the woman Reece had seen earlier.  Plot point 1.

Now, that’s all plot point 1 is, a summary of what happens in that chapter.  But I’d already decided that I was aiming for 80,000 words for this book.  As it happened, I ended up with 30 plots points, and the novel ended up being 364 pages and almost 91,000 words.  But at the time, when I finished figuring out my 30 plot points, I figured I needed 2,600 words for each plot point, or about 10 -12 pages.  Each point might involve a few different scenes.  For my latest romance, I plotted forty plot points for 70,000 words.  Why?  Because I knew I wanted shorter, punchier scenes and chapters, only about 7 pages each.  How do I make one plot point into 7 to 12 pages?  By bringing the scene to life.

In Wolf’s Bane, I’d already shown that Reece is attached to her step-brother and step-sister.  If they call, she’s there.  Why?  Why does she care?  How much of an age difference is there between them and her?  How does she feel about her mother now?  Why does her mother tolerate Eugene’s drinking?  And how does her mother feel about Reece popping in to protect Joseph and Jenny?  What was Reece’s father like?  And what does Reece do now that he’s gone and she lives on her own?

Plot point 2:  This is still set-up.  Usually, the entire first fourth of my books are set-up.  This scene takes place a month later.  Reece is back at her mom’s house, and when she leaves, the man who was attacked gets off the bus at the corner and starts toward her.  Moon light hits him, and he starts to change.  He attacks Reece, and again, the gargoyle comes.  This time, he saves her, but his wing’s hurt in the battle.  She drives him to her condo, and he notices that she’s been scratched.  The wolf’s paw mark makes a tattoo-like stain close to her heart.  A sign that she’s a witch.

Again, this plot point only summarizes what happens in this scene or chapter.  I have to add details to bring the scene to life.  What did Reece do when she watched the man shift into a werewolf?  How did she feel?  How did she feel when the wolf attacked her?  When the gargoyle came to help her?  Does she believe him when he tells her she’s a witch? How will she cope with that?  What does it mean?  etc.  Question after question to bring the characters and actions to life.  Anyway, that’s what I do–scene after scene.

For me, once I get the plot points, I can concentrate on “seeing” what’s happening, what each character is doing, what the setting looks like.  I can “hear” the characters, listen to the grunts and shuffling of the battles.  That’s how my outline becomes a draft.

Now, a quick note:  I divide my stories into fourths, and that helps me keep my plot points on track.  The hook is extra–something to grab the reader.  So here’s how I start:

  1. Hook:  Reece races to her mother’s house to protect Jenny from Eugene.
  2. Plot Point 1:  Reece sees a werewolf attack a man and a gargoyle save him
  3. Plot Point 3:  The man shifts and attacks Reece. The gargoyle saves her and she learns she’s a witch.

I know I want 80,000 words, and I’ve decided I can reach that with 30 plot points.  That means that I want my first turning point to come at the end of chapter 7 or 8, at the end of the first fourth of the book.  Reece knows she’s a witch, but she has no idea what that means or how to awaken her magic until the end of the book’s set-up (the first 7 or 8 chapters).  Also, a rogue werewolf tries to kill her, so she’s been targeted for some reason and doesn’t know why.  At the first turning point, an owl brings her a moonstone necklace to awaken her magic and she teams up with the gargoyles who protect Bay City to fight the rogues.

The second turning point comes at the middle of the story.  Wedge Durrow and his werewolf pack join Reece and Damian to fight the rogues, and they have an idea who the rogues are.  Hecate, a powerful witch, joins them, too.

The third turning point hits at the three-quarters point of the book, and the fourth quarter of the book leads to the final, big battle and resolution.  It ties up all the subplots, etc.  For plot points and structure, I highly recommend: http://storyfix.com/story-structure-dummies.  The point is, once you have your hook, first plot points, three turning points, and the end of your book, all you have to do is fill in more plot points from A to Z.  And then, all you have to do is bring each of those plot points to life.  Good luck and happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

Plot to Story

I blogged about how I rewrite last week and mentioned that I use plot points to keep  myself on track.  A fellow writer asked how I turn an outline into a finished draft.  I might make a muddle of this, and it might take me longer than usual to describe, but here’s what works for me.

1. My books always start with an idea, something that snags my interest and won’t let go.  For the romance I’m working on now, I wanted a protagonist who makes a habit of falling for the wrong guy, the guy who won’t be good for her.  I wanted her to work with a hot guy who doesn’t rev her hormones at all, and they become friends.  And finally, I wanted her to meet Mr. Right, but not realize it because he’s interested in someone else.

2.  Once I have an idea, I populate it with characters who’ll make it work.  Paula is a widow who lost her husband on tour in the military.  She has two kids.  And she’s a chef.  She moved to Mill Pond for a slower pace, but the resort she cooks for has grown so popular, she’s swamped, so Ian hires Tyne–Mr. Hottie, her assistant chef.  Jason delivers supplies from the area’s regions to her kitchen everyday.  And Chase owns the bar on the edge of town.

3.  Now, I can start writing.  First, there’s the hook–the event that shows the protagonist and draws the reader in.  The first chapter always makes me crazy.  It has to introduce the main character and some important minor characters.  It has to tell us the book’s big problem and the internal struggle the protagonist has to solve.  It has to ground the readers in a setting, to let them see the protagonist’s world and how it affects her.  And if there’s a romance, this is a good time to hint at it.  I rewrite first chapters over and over again.  So, in my romance:

Hook: Paula walks her kids to the school bus and waves them off.

Okay, this isn’t plunging the reader into drama, but it shows the reader what’s important to Paula–juggling a career and being there for her kids, even if it leaves her frazzled and alone after her husband’s death.  To bring the scene to life:  What does Paula look like?  How can I show her when I’m in her POV?  How old are her kids?  Use dialogue to “hear” them, to show what their personalities are like.  Why does she walk them to the bus?  What time of year is it?  What does the setting look like?  How does Paula shift from Mommy to chef every day?

Scene 2:  Paula hurries to Ian’s office (the man who owns the resort) to meet her new assistant chef.  Ian let her help choose him.

To bring the scene to life:  What kind of a boss is Ian?  What’s the resort like?  Describe Tyne.  Why did Paula choose him as her assistant?  Does she have any reservations? What’s he like?  Why did he want this job?  How is he qualified for it?  Let me “hear” the three people and see what they’re like.  Let me hear Paula’s thoughts and feel her emotions.

Okay, you get the idea.  A plot point is just that–an event that happens in the story. When I sit down to write, I have to bring that scene to life.  I usually write the first three chapters in my book before I try to work on any more plot points.  Why?  I need to hear my characters and see how they react to things before they become real to me.  I still don’t know them that well, but I have a feeling for them.  Then I work on character wheels to round out their personalities and histories, their strengths and weaknesses.  Characters need to be consistent.  That’s how we decide how they’ll react to things.  And finally, I start filling in the signposts (plot points) along the way from the beginning of the book to the end.  I always know my book’s ending, or how else can I aim for it?

So,  I know the book’s beginning:  the hook, the big problem, the internal problem, and the inciting incident.  I know the setting.  In the first fourth of the book, the protagonist reacts to the changes around her.  She tries to find her balance and make everything work. I usually introduce at least two subplots that mirror the protagonist’s struggles.  By the end of the first fourth, she comes up with an idea to meet her goal.  That’s a turning point, and that’s the plot point I aim for at the end of the first quarter of my story.  The thing to remember is that the character doesn’t just react to what’s happening to her.  She struggles to survive it, to move forward, and to reach her goal.  Plot points aren’t about what people do TO your protagonist.  They’re about what the protagonist does to reach her goal.  It won’t turn out the way she wants it to until the end of the book, but she doesn’t stop trying, (if you’re writing a happy ending).  At the end of the book, she saves herself. The hero/love interest might stand beside her, but she flexes her new muscles and fights her own battles.

 

This blog is getting long, so I’ll write more about plotting and bringing your plot to life next week.  If you have any specific questions, let me know in the comments.  And if you have something that works for you, please share.  More later…

Writing: Can a writer be too nice?

I live in the Midwest.  Last Monday, my husband and I drove to Shipshewana, Indiana to look for  a calendar.  I know.  A long drive to find one, right?  But we take our calendars seriously.  You have to look at the picture above the numbered boxes, counting down days, for an entire month.  We’d rather look at something we like.  Last year, my daughter, who doesn’t shop ahead like we do, ended up with a calendar of birds of prey.  I cringed every time I turned my head and accidentally saw talons, ready for a kill.  Besides, Monday was an absolutely beautiful day.  Sunlight gleamed on golden, crimson, and orange leaves. Farmers were working in their fields.   Best of all, Shipshewana is Amish territory.  We drove through Topeka and saw Amish laundry drying on clotheslines, stretched in side yards.  Horses grazed in pastures.  We had a wonderful day.

It was sunny enough that I needed my sunglasses.  I viewed the world through amber, not rose-colored glasses.  But the amber made everything brighter, more striking and dramatic.  That’s sort of the way I see the world when I write.  Everything’s amplified.  One of my friends teases me and tells me that I’m never mean enough to my characters.  That I’m too nice to them.  It’s possible, but I don’t need suffering and tragedy to keep me turning pages.   I just need enough tension and conflict to make me root for the protagonist to find the solutions he needs, characters that I care about, and a plot that twists and turns enough to hold my interest.

I thought about that as I worked on plot points for the Babet and Prosper that I’m writing on my webpage (I put up chapter 3, if you’re interested).  I started with a hook that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote the damn thing.  I kept seeing Hatchet chaining his vampire/wife to the wall of his basement.  Hatchet’s devoted to Colleen, and she’s devoted to him.  So why in the world would he lock her in silver chains?  And then the answer came to me.  To help her.  Happy day!  I liked my hook.  And I liked my villains.  Worthy antagonists make for good stories.

Now, I’ve read over and over again that most authors state the book’s “big question,” on the first page, if not the first paragraph or even the first sentence.  Sometimes, I do. Sometimes, I don’t, but it needs to be somewhere in the first chapter.  So I needed to decide what the big conflict in the book would be–what would the protagonists struggle with for the rest of the entire novel?  Once I had that, I concentrated on pacing, how I wanted to up the tension chapter by chapter.  And I was lucky enough to stumble upon K.M. Weiland’s seriously deep blog about the inciting incident and the first fourths of books.  She said–especially well–what I usually do (in a not so clear pattern).  She must divide her books into fourths, like I do.  Only she’s even better at it.  Take a read: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/your-books-inciting-event-its-not-what-you-think-it-is/

While plotting away, my wonderful editor–John Scognamiglio at Kensington–sent me the book cover for my very first romance novel that will come out next April.  I’m pretty excited about it, but April feels like it’s FOREVER away.  Some of my writer friends do awesome cover reveals, which I’ve never tried, so I’m trying to decide how to go about it.  No brilliant ideas yet:)  Anyway, last week was busy enough for me.  I wish you a Happy Halloween and a spectacular November!

Happy writing!

My webpage:  (chapter 3):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/chapter-3.html

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

Catch me on twitter: @judypost