Made to Stick for Writers: Unexpected

Friday, July 30

To make something unexpected you must break a pattern. Doing so captures the audience’s attention. “Once upon a time…” is so common that the sentence fails to surprise.

In Patricia Kindl’s book Goose Chase she began with, “The King killed my canary today.”
Already we have several questions: Why did the king kill her canary? What does he have against birds or the narrator? Who is this king? How did he kill it? Was it an accident?

First of all, it’s surprising. It’s not the usual way for a fairytale to begin. Secondly, it’s interesting. We realize that we’re missing a lot of vital information and so we want to keep reading to find answers.

To be unexpected you must grab the audience’s interest and, more importantly, hold it.

Surprise
We become surprised because what we expect to happen doesn’t. In other words, our “guessing machines” fail us.
If that’s the case, then it should be easy to create a “hook” at the beginning of our stories, right? All we should need to do is write a surprising sentence. Wrong.

While our hooks need to be somewhat surprising, it can be difficult to craft one that avoids planting a red herring.
For example, if the first sentence was “Sitting in the shade of the tree early that morning, I could never have imagined that by sundown my whole family would be dead.”
What! We inwardly gasp. How did the whole family die?
We’d be curious to discover the cause and to read the, no doubt, thrilling adventure that led to their demise.

But what if the book suddenly begins describing every aspect of the narrator’s staircase. She then explains to us that her “whole family” consists of an old greyhound named Maddock who trips on said staircase and dies. Thus, by sundown, the narrator’s “whole family” is dead. It’s only after that episode that we get to the actual story, which is much less thrilling than we imagined.

You’d probably feel tricked and frustrated. The hook sentence turned out to be a red herring that did nothing but attempt to lure you into a dull story.

To write a successful hook it must both surprise and reflect the main idea, or the core, of the story. The stupid dog dying was NOT the story’s main idea and so it failed. Miserably.

Interest

Now that we’ve got the reader’s attention, how do we keep it?
Let’s talk Velcro; Velcro connects because one side is made of hooks and the other is made of loops. The hooks snag the loops and Voila! It sticks together.

We have the “hooks’, so to speak. We have the answers to the reader’s questions. But before we can answer their questions, we have to make them want the answer. We have to make them realize that they’re missing crucial information.

To do so, ask yourself, “What questions do I want my audience to ask?”

Once we know the questions ourselves, we can gently point out what the reader doesn't know by creating mystery.

“The man was killed by the king because he distributed treasonous flyers” leaves very little to become curious about.
By withholding information we can create mystery.
Instead, we could show the man being arrested by the king’s guard. We could show the guard proclaiming that, as a traitor, he will be tried.
Now we’ve got the reader asking questions; What did the man do that was so treasonous? What will happen at his trial? Will he end up dying?

Intro
Part 1: Simple
Part 2: Unexpected (You are here)
Part 3: Concrete
Part 4: Credible
Part 5: Emotional
Part 6: Story
Part 7: Epilogue

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Made to Stick for Writers: Simple

Monday, July 26

Let's get this straight; "simple" does not mean "dumbing down". It means "core".
For writers, who thrive on details, simple can seem like a misnomer. From what I can tell, the simple principle is very seldom used in the actual writing process. But it can help while planning and publishing.

Planning
Even if you don't believe in outlines, finding your core message beforehand creates focus. The story unfolds smoother.
Try to figure out the core, or main idea, by asking yourself;

In one sentence, what is the main idea of this story?

Twilight: A seventeen-year-old girl falls in love with a vampire who has a hard time not eating her.
Harry Potter: A neglected boy discovers that he's a wizard and goes to a school of magic.
The Hunger Games: A girl takes her sister's place in a cruel arena where only one person is allowed to survive.

These one sentence descriptions can later be used when you're attempting to publish your work.

Publishing
One of the biggest challenges in writing is convincing a publisher that your book will sell itself. Quoting from the book:
In Hollywood, people use core ideas called "high-concept pitches." You've probably heard some of them. Speed was "Die Hard on a bus." 13 going on 30 was "Big for girls." Alien was "Jaws on a spaceship."
So why do analogies work? Basically, it presents a new concept by tapping into a concept you already know. Take, for example, these book reviews;

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
"A delightful...debut from an author who dances in the footsteps of P.L. Travers and Roald Dahl."
-Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Dark Stairs
"Move over Nancy Drew, Herculeah Jones has arrived!"
-School Library Journal

Stormbreaker
"What if James Bond started spying as a teenager?"
-Kirkus Review

Wolf Queen
"A diverting escapade for fans of Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy and Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted."
-Kirkus Review

Piratica
"There's a taste of Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones."
-Kirkus Review, starred Review


Intro
Part 1: Simple (You are here)
Part 2: Unexpected
Part 3: Concrete
Part 4: Credible
Part 5: Emotional
Part 6: Story
Part 7: Epilogue

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Made to Stick for Writers: Intro

Friday, July 23

Every author dreams of writing a book that sticks, one that the reader thinks about long after they've turned the last page. One that captures their attention and, more importantly, holds it.


In Chip and Dan Heath's book Made to Stick, they broke down the elements of a sticky idea into six principles (the acronym spells SUCCESs. Clever, no?). The idea must be a

Simple
Unexpected
Concrete
Credible
Emotional
Story

How can this apply this to writing?
WriterSense presents Made to Stick for Writers.


Intro (You are here)
Part 1: Simple
Part 2: Unexpected
Part 3: Concrete
Part 4: Credible
Part 5: Emotional
Part 6: Story
Part 7: Epilogue

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Writing a Rough Draft: The Easy Way

Monday, July 19

When I start writing a novel, I get a picture in my head of the hefty two-hundred page book it will become. So I'm disappointed when the rough draft ends up around twenty pages. I add scenes just to lengthen it and bog it down with unnecessary sentences.

Well, I think I've got the solution.

Write your rough draft as if you're writing a short story.
I recently wrote a short story and it ended up about the same length as most of my rough drafts. Sure, the pacing is a little fast, but the point is, a short story gets to the point and doesn't have uncertain pauses. If I wanted, I could easily make it longer.

I don't know if you've ever read The Arabian Nights. While the stories could certainly be expounded, they are told in concise language;

"The grand vizier conducted Scheherazade to the palace and left her alone with Sultan, who bade her raise her veil and was amazed at her beauty."

This single sentence could be lengthened into several paragraphs;

"Scheherazade didn't speak; merely followed the grand vizier submissively. He glanced at her sideways. She didn't look like the rest. She wasn't sobbing uncontrollably, didn't claws at his robes and beg him for release. She had a thoughtful step and, while her hands trembled slightly, she did not seem afraid. The vizier shook his head. She was either incredibly brave or incredibly dim-witted."

See? Already a whole paragraph and we haven't even finished coloring in the sentence. We could tell how the vizier bowed once and scuttled out. We could add dialogue. We could write in the sharp intake of breath as Scheherazade raises her veil.

So, if you're having trouble fleshing out a story, write it so that you're telling instead of showing.
Write it as a short story.

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Posting Your Work Online

Friday, July 16

A topic I've always had a strong opinion about; posting your work online.
I don't know about you, but every time I browse Yahoo! Answers there's some teenager asking for people to read their novel and "tell me what u think about it? LOL, I hope its not 2 much like twilight."

Point One- Most people who post their writing online don't know anything about copyright laws or publishing. And frankly, very few of them are looking for real critique, just praise. Which isn't always forthcoming.
Point Two- Stop with the vampire stories!

But back to Point One.

In Gail Carson Levine's book, Writing Magic, she said this on internet publishing;
Not long ago a girl wrote to me, asking how to get one of her stories published. She said that I could look at the first three chapters of her story on the internet, and she gave me the website. As soon as she mentioned the internet, I thought, Oh no!...
The girl who wrote wrote to me...can't sell the exclusive right to her story  because she's made it available for free on the web. The publisher can't earn anything from it because no one's going to buy a book that's out there free for downloading.
Now, if you've written a short story that you have no intentions of publishing, sure, go ahead and post it on your blog. Just make sure that you're satisfied with never publishing it.

Now, about copyright laws. Unknown to you, people could be distributing and/or copying your work. Look at what happened to Stephanie Meyer; her first chapter of Midnight Sun was illegally posted around the internet. And she's not exactly an obscure, unpublished writer, as most of these kids who post their work online are.

Be careful with your writing. Give something to people for free, and they will take it.

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It's a Book

Monday, July 12

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Graphic Novels and ReMIND

Friday, July 9

I've heard some people say that graphic novels aren't real books. They're supposedly for "wimpy readers" and "are no better than picture books".

Sure, it's faster to read a graphic novel. But does that make it any less of a story?
What about The Arrival by Shaun Tan? It has no words. Zip. Zero. Rien. Yet it's one of my favorite books.

Alright, Here's how I see it; It is just as hard to create plot for a graphic novel as it is to create plot for, let's say, ...a seven hundred page book.

In fact (and most of you might hate me for this) it can be harder to make a graphic novel. The Drawings alone require serious effort.


Some people would argue this; "But...but, with graphic novels you don't have to worry about showing not telling, or character descriptions, or giving detailed scenery descriptions."
Well, no, but you don't have to worry about drawing the same character every stinkin' page.

Graphic novels, when done right, bring together story and art.

And while we're on the subject, let's talk about Jason.
Jason Brubacker has been working on his graphic novel for four years. He's been posting pages of it every Monday on his blog.
The story is brilliant, the art is breath-taking, and...he's publishing it in March!

Okay, now that we've established that this Jason is a writer just like the rest of us, let's give him our support. To get 2,000 copies of his book, ReMIND, printed, he needs $3,000 more. $6,000 if he wants it done nice, like in the picture.
I'm not saying donate. I'm saying BUY.
For twenty bucks (Free Shipping!) you can get a 135-paged hardbound copy of ReMIND when it comes out. If you're not sure whether you want to actually BUY it, check out his blog, read a few pages, and you'll probably be drawn in like I was.

Made up your mind to support your fellow writer? Good. Then click here to pledge.

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Guest Post: Writing Professionally

Monday, July 5

Hello, friends. It's Olive Tree, from HorseFeathers.
Let's see... I'm a pretty whimsical person, and I guess I write to share my crazy thoughts with others. A lot of the time I'll have a very vivid dream and turn it into a story or incorporate it into whatever story I am working on at the moment...I prefer to write fantasy, because all the rules are up to me — plus, describing new worlds and species gives me special joy. My current novel,...is nearly finished...I'm very excited about getting it published... I jotted down the first few sentences over three years ago! However, I actually published my first book this February.


One of the biggest problems I run into personally and that I see in other peoples' work is that it doesn't look professional. At all. This bugs the bejeezes out of me because I know that they have hopes to be published, but there's no chance when their work looks like that. So here's a few tips to make your writing sound like it was done by a professional author.

1: Make it proper

Improper spelling, grammar, and punctuation set off red flags everywhere! Spelling is something you can't skimp on when you want your writing to sound the best. Turn on spell check. Please. Punctuation is in the same boat... don't use more than one ! or ?, no more than three ..., use the proper "", and never use ?! or any other such combination. Learn how to use : , ; , and —. Indent and form a new paragraph when someone speaks. Instead of ALL CAPS, make it in italics. As for grammar, I suggest everybody read the Elements of Style. It's a short but very helpful book that will teach you how to make your writing look good. Of course, proper grammar all. the. time. is a big no-no as well... sentence fragments, run-ons, or dialect that may use improper grammar are all hugely important to give your book a personality and a style. But if you constantly make mistakes (especially in 3rd person) your writing will sound young and unprofessional.
Basically, read your favorite books (preferably not YA/children's books) and notice how the author uses the tactics above.

2: Make it plausible

If your villain is bad to the bone, or your hero has no flaws, your book will be really, really boring. Instead, give your villain an awful past, or your main character a violent streak they cannot control or some sort of internal struggle.
Also, if you use magic in your book, don't make everything ever-so-easy. You can't have your character sitting on the couch getting fat while his/her magic saves the world, with zero effort from the character.

3: Review

Whoops... suddenly your character has blond hair... wasn't it red in the beginning of the story? Or perhaps a minor character has switched names or genders without your noticing. And whatever happened to your main character's faithful dog? He seems to have disappeared.
If your work is inconsistent, even in the minor details, your book will die a very slow and painful death. Solution? Review! Either go back and read from the top every time before you begin working on it, or (if that takes several hours since your book is long, like me) every so often read the whole thing with a critical eye. Which brings me to number four...

4: Be your own critic

Okay everyone... ditch your ego and pretend you are a critic with a razor-sharp pen. Find any imperfections? Of course you did. Now go back to your usual self and fix what the "critic" found wrong or weak. I can't stress how important this is. Similarly,

5: Get a pre-editor

If you're not quite ready for a professional editor, get your most brutally honest friend, teacher, or family friend to read your story and give you honest-to-goodness feedback. Tell them to be merciless. Obviously a background in writing or publishing is preferred.
They might come back and tell you that your book is the worst they've ever read. Be ready for this. Authors must have a thick skin.
(I am always willing to read your work and give you feedback. Be warned... I'm one of those brutally-honest types.)

6: Variety and the over-use of it

If you're using "said" over and over, that's a problem. If you're repeating a name, that is a huuuge problem. Try using more descriptive words: "mumbled" or "cried"; "the girl" or "his friend".
But be careful! Too much variety will leave the reader confused and your work too wordy. Don't fall into the sandpit of variety. Teeter on the edge instead. It's a careful balance, one you have to find for yourself.

7: Have fun!

Add some humor. Make something silly. Go ahead, model a character after yourself, flaws and all. It's your book, and chances are that if you try to contain your style too much it won't sell, because it will sound like every other teen author trying to realize a foggy dream of authorship.

Good luck, and happy writing!
-Olive Tree

[If you would like to submit a guest post, e-mail me, Story Weaver, at writersnse@gmail.com]

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Why People Are Bullied

Friday, July 2

I was recently asked to write a post about the reasons a character would be bullied.
Why are people bullied?

In grade school, I was teased, jabbed at, and generally unliked. Why? Frankly, I think I deserved it. I was a stuck-up little snitch, teacher's pet. I thought I was smarter. (Give me a break, I was in fourth grade.)
I become quite good at comebacks and snide comments. I was both the bullied and the bully. Needless to say, those were lonely years.

So, speaking from experience, bullies will find any excuse to tease. And sometimes we give them that excuse.

The Bully
It is said that people bully from low self-esteem. Yes, that can be true. But for people who have a specific target it's either because they hate that person for some reason (i.e. target's father fired bully's father) or the target gets is amusing to tease.
Occasionally though, bullies think it's cool. Everyone else is picking on a certain kid so they do it to be with the crowd.

The Bullied
Here's a little gem of wisdom for those being teased; if you make a big deal out of it, they will too.
Sometimes, people are picked on because they're obnoxious, stuck-up (like I was), or they're simply easy prey. If a person slouches as they walk down hallways, doesn't speak, avoids people, and thinks ill of themselves, that's just begging for trouble. You might as well paint a hang a sign on your back saying, "Tease Me!"
Have you ever wondered why the popular are popular? It's not because they have designer clothes and the perfect hair, though people would like to believe that. It's because they have an air of confidence that draws people to them like a magnet. Confidence is the most attractive trait.
So it stands to reason that if you have a bullied character, they will lack confidence.

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