Hooking Your Readers and NaNoWriMo Update

National Novel Writing Month has been a blast for me.  I’ve been knocking out about 1,700 words every day and it’s a great feeling.  My book “Dreamspire” is coming along nicely and I’ll be sure to share an excerpt soon.  

If you have not yet begun, it is not too late!  Get typing-today.  Even if you can’t quite hit the 50,000 mark, you’ve done something wonderful: you’ve got your start.  I find that that is often the hardest part about writing a book. Once you’ve gotten the momentum going, it is much easier to keep going.  

I would like to continue with my Roy Elementary writing series and talk about hooking your reader.  

It used to be that novelists were not expected to get right to the point.  They spent pages upon pages of giving background, describing the setting, etc, etc, ad nauseum.  Just pick up “Moby Dick” or “Les Miserables” or “War and Peace” if you want an example of what I’m talking about.  

Those days are gone. We live in an age of movies, TV shows and internet, where people want quick results.  They want to be drawn into the story right away, given a reason to care and then drawn along on exciting adventure.  If you don’t write like this, your potential reader will probably put your book down and go back to updating his Facebook status for the 10th time that day. 

The principles of hooking your reader are the same as hooking a fish: you need good bait.  The following are some things that you might consider using as bait for your readers: 

Mysteries/Good questions
High stakes/a lot to lose
Strange characters/places
Strong words
Interesting, vivid, quick descriptions

On the other hand, you don’t usually catch fish with poor bait.  For example: 

Cliché’s, things that people have heard before (It was a dark and stormy night)
Things that move slowly-long descriptions, a long back story
No action, “Is something going to happen already?” 

Consider the difference of the two beginnings to a story: 

“Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night.  Fred sat in his chair and thought of a summer, long, long ago, on a beach far, far away.” 

When Billy got home, a black box lay on his bed.  Atop the box, in vivid red writing lay a note: “Do not open until midnight on pain of death.” 

The first, is clichéd and launches us directly into a flashback.  The second creates an immediate sense of urgency and mystery.  

That’s all for this post.  Visit http://www.nanowrimo.org if you haven’t already and get your story started with the perfect hook! 

Sentence Soup

In talking to the young people about writing sentences that flow well together, I told them that writing a story was like making a good soup.

First I asked, what makes up a good soup?  I got all sorts of answers, from chicken, to veggies, to noodles and crackers.  So we decided that a good soup has a lot of good ingredients, but not too many of any one ingredient.

I then asked them if any of them like pepper on their soup.  Many hands went up.  Then, I asked, “But what if I came over and dumped the whole pepper shaker into your soup.  Would you like that?”  No one did.

So we agreed, that having too much of any one ingredient or spice can spoil the soup.  The same goes with writing. Here are the ingredients that I mentioned to them:

Sentence length: Mix up long and short sentences to make things more interesting.
Describing words: Add some adjectives and adverbs, but be careful not to add too many. (It’s like too much pepper)
Types of sentence beginnings: Sometimes leading with subject and verb, and other times leading with a clause.
Using strong, concrete verbs:  Think of different ways to say common words such as “walk” and “talk” to paint a more exact picture.
Have perfect punctuation: Use it when you need it, but don’t overdo it, such as using more than one “!”

I think the soup analogy really  helped the students grasp what I was saying, and I think it is a concept that any writer should think about.

Please join me next week for another installment, and on Thursday for a review of the first three books of the 13th Reality series by James Dashner.

Roy Writing: Week One-Organizing Your Writing

The great thing about organizing your writing, is that there is no one right way to do it.  The best way to do it, is whatever works for you.  This often comes down to personal preference and style. Different writers also want/need different levels of organization, running the whole gambit of micromanaging to only placing the biggest “landmarks” of a story to hit along the way.

My presentation to the students focused on giving a few ideas to try out to see what works for them.  I encouraged them to organize both their plot, but also their characters.

Here are some of the ideas:

Organizing Your Plot: 

o Sticky notes: Write down scenes or events that will happen and then rearrange them. (Put them in the beginning, middle and end piles)

Write an outline on paper or on the computer.  This can be like an essay, or in columns such as “Beginning, Middle, and End” 
Create a timeline and place the events of your story in order. 
Create an idea web with one bubble for each scene.  Make branches off each scene or chapter that describe what you want to happen and what the reader should feel.  

Organizing Your Characters: 

Write a “wanted” poster
oWrite a letter as one character to another
Write the character’s eulogy
Keep a “character book” which has how they look and how they feel in it
Create a problem (like a flat tire) and then write how each of your characters would handle it. 

See the entire presentation here, and find out how writing a good plot is liking riding a good roller coaster. (The presentation is attached to the page and is called “Organizing Your Writing.pptx”)

Feel free to post additional idea you have!

Roy Elementary Author Visit

This week, I had one of the best experiences of my writing career.  I had privilege of visiting Roy Elementary in Roy, UT to get the students excited about writing.  They are putting on a “Young Authors Fair” later this school year, and my visit was to help them prepare for that.

I gave two different assemblies to the school to talk about how I became and author (and how they can too) and then I was off to the classrooms.  Over the course of two days, I visited 21 different classrooms, ranging from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade.  Each teacher had been stressing some part of writing in their classrooms and they had me give one of four presentations about an aspect of writing that they wanted their students to work on.  I was so impressed how well-behaved the students were and how many of them were excited about learning how to write and telling their own stories.

It was a bit of a challenge tailoring my presentations to match the needs and learning levels of such a wide variety of age groups (for example, in Kindergarten, we just talked about ways to use your imagination, while in sixth grade, I could hold a lengthy discussion about the elements of a story), but in the end, I feel that I got the hang of it.

From an author’s point of view, it was a very worthwhile exercise. The principal suggested that I have books on hand for the students to purchase, and through this, I sold 33 books, which is far greater than most events that I hold in bookstores.

As a teacher, the experience was incredibly satisfying, as I saw those young minds light up and ask very intelligent questions about writing and I could tell they were getting excited about it.

I want to make the presentations I used available for use by other writers and by other teachers.  There are four in all, including:

How to Organize Your Writing
Sentence Fluency
Hooking Your Reader

I am going to use this opportunity to explore each of these topics on my blog; once a week for four weeks.  I will prepare a post on this topic and then the PowerPoint presentation file available for free download.

I would love to hear about other opportunities to visit schools.  If you know of any such opportunities, please contact me at thecanticlekingdom@gmail.com.