I'm back -- and the rule of 20


Written on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday June 30, 2009

I'm back from a very long week of traveling and school, and am soooo happy to be home. But I also learned a ton, most of which will hopefully make it's way onto my blog over the next couple weeks.

So today's great little tidbit - the rule of 20. This is from an article Debbie Macomber wrote, which was generously passed on to me by a very awesome class-mate.

The rule of 20:

If you're stuck (and this works for anything -- for motivations, conflicts, plots, etc), list 20 possible options.

The first five will be ones we've all seen over and over again in novels

The last five will be too absurd to put in a novel

The middle ten, however, will be bursting with possibilities. And chances are, one of them will set your imagination off and point you in the right direction.

So I gave this a shot. I'm a at a point in my WIP where I knew what had to come next, but not how to get there. So I took a blank sheet of note paper and wrote across the top, "How do Kersey and Naomi get back to the castle." And I numbered it 1-20 down the side of the page (and felt a bit like I was back in school, taking a pop quiz ;)

So I started jotting down options. And you know what? It worked. The first few were plain and boring, and the things that had been floating around in my head that I knew just weren't quite right. The next few were a bit better. But then the ideas started getting more and more creative until BINGO! I got it.

This is my new "How-to-get-unstuck" trick. Hope it helps!



Written on Friday, June 19, 2009 by haleigh

Friday, June 19

I will be MIA for the next two weeks -- off to start my second semester in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University. This semester, I'm taking classes on marketing trends in romance, synopsis writing, showing vs. telling, and conflict & plot.

So I'll have lots of fun stuff to share upon my return!

news from the contest front


Written on Thursday, June 11, 2009 by haleigh

Thursday, June 11, 2009

So I'm finished judging my first ever contest. And you know what? I found myself writing the exact same comments over and over again.

And before you ask, no, it wasn't because I was lazy and just copied and pasted my comments. It was because I kept seeing the same problems over and over again.

I'll bet you can guess what my most-used comment was. Yep, that's right: "Can you show this, instead of telling us?" I can't even explain how many times I wrote that. That was problem number one. Of the five MS I judged, 3 had big-time problems in the "show don't tell" front. The second-most common problem: a shallow POV.

Now, this doesn't surprise me in the least. Mostly because "show don't tell" and "use a deep POV" are probably the hardest pieces of writing advice for new authors to wrap their minds around. It's taken me years to figure them out, and I wouldn't think for a second that I have it "perfected." These are concepts every writer must struggle with and strive for every day. These aren't ones you figure and are suddenly done with.

So no big surprise, that this is where contest entrants fell on my judging scale. I've certainly gotten contest points ripped off for this very thing on numerous occasions.

But the issue I kept running into that really surprised me? Some of these entries were....well...they were boring. I'm not saying this to be mean, I'm really not. But while reading, my mind would wander, I'd skim through page after page of introspection, I'd leave it and come back....in other words, nothing compelled me to keep reading.

There were no questions in my mind I wanted answers to, no suspense to keep me intrigued (and before you say it, I was judging the romantic suspense category, and by 30 pages in, there should be some suspense). You know what I had instead? Pages and pages of each character explained to me. That's right, every single entry used several pages of introspection to introduce each main character. By the time I had finished chapter two, I knew everything about the hero and heroine.

Notice I didn't say I knew the hero or heroine. I knew about them. There's a big difference there, even if the wording is subtle. I could tell you their histories, their past traumas, their desires, their conflict. But you know how in a really good book, you know the characters? You know how they'd react, how they feel, what drives them, etc. I didn't get that feeling.

To be fair, I was only reading 30 pages. But it made me wonder if I do the same thing. If I'm so busy telling my readers about my characters to introduce them, that I forgot to show their characterization. Anybody else have that problem?

paramedic method of revision


Written on Friday, June 05, 2009 by haleigh

Friday, June 5, 2009

On the pirate ship today, Janga mentioned the Paramedic Method of revision, which piqued my interest. And man, oh man, is it good. A simple, easy concept, but one that I think will make a huge impact on my grammar and sentence structure. Check it out!

in the beginning...


Written on Monday, June 01, 2009 by haleigh

Monday, June 1st, 2009

So I offered to judge my very first contest. I thought it would be exciting, but alas, it's giving me the same stomach ache that grading papers gives me. Can't I give everyone an "A for effort?" lol!

But one of the first things on my score sheets is the opening hook. Does the opening make you want to keep reading? Does it draw you into the story?

Now, we all know that opening hooks are important. But I don't think I really got how important until judging this. Because I have to say, of the five entries I received, only one opening actually drew me into the story. But you know what? It really drew me in. I read the first sentence, said "ohhhhhh," leaned back in my chair, put up my feet, and was five pages in before I remembered I was supposed to be scoring the opening.

It wasn't a shocker opening, it wasn't graphic or violent or funny. But you know what that very first sentence did? It raised a question in my mind, and damn it, I wanted to know the answer. And of course, the next sentence raised a new question, and the next, and within the first paragraph, I know this was one of those books I wasn't going to set down any time soon. Because now I was invested. I wanted my questions answered. I wanted to know what happened next.

Isn't that the best thing about hearing (or reading) a story? Finding out what happens next? It reminds me of that Friends episode where people kept starting a story and then walking out of the room mid-sentence. And Monica, with this horrified look on her face, throws up her hands and yells, "People have got to start finishing their stories!"

It's the suspense. It's the "don't torture me by keeping me waiting, just tell me what happens next!" feeling. And if you're not writing a suspense novel full of life and death stakes, how do you get that suspense? That desperation in your readers to keep turning the page and finding out what happens next -- questions. To quote one of my lovely professors, "Before you answer a question, make sure you've raised two more." So by the time you get around to answering one question, you've raised so many more with your readers, that they still have to keep reading.

So how do you do it? How do you hook your readers? What makes you desperate to keep reading a good book? Ever been so desperate to know what happens next that you can't concentrate on anything else?