Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Writing Better Opening Lines

My cool roomie Allison at Mt. Hermon
I just returned from a conference in California, where I learned some terrific writing tips. Today's comes from bestselling novelist Angie Hunt.

Writing Tip for Today: How can you craft a better opening line for your fiction?

Fill Opening Lines with Tension.

This sounds basic but every good novel--even if it shows the character in ordinary time or everyday life--contains at least a hint of tension. In my opinion, in character-driven novels, emotional tension works best, although you may also give the character an external source of tension. Avoid backing into your novel with back story. Back story is anything which has already occurred as the story opens. A lot of times you can identify these bits of back story (aka flashbacks) by the use of the past perfect HAD. EX: She HAD fought with her husband the night before.

Stage the Character Right Away.

Although nineteenth century and some 20th century novels open with a description of setting with no one on stage, 21st century readers want a character on stage from the git-go. Don't allow yourself to wax poetic about the scenery without a point of view character who has that tension thing going on. Describe setting in terms of the character's attitude toward it: if all is well, the place seems safe and comfy. If all is not well, even the scenery and weather can be a little threatening. Use this to place your character in a particular place/time as well as give the reader info on the character's emotional and physical tension.

Plant a Question into Readers' Minds.

The coolest thing Angie talked about was to say that if writers insert a potential question into the readers' minds at the very first sentence, we are far more likely to HOOK those readers. It can be as simple as, "Why is this character in this place?" or as complex as trying to learn the answer to an urgent and upsetting situation. Be careful though, that you do not place your character in your highest risk or stakes scene. You need to create a question, but build up through the story to that highest stakes scene--aka the climax. Angie recommended listing all the risky things the character must face in order from least to worst and then using these scenes in ascending order in the story.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Marketing 101 for Writers

Marketing. Authors hate it! Yet-to-be published writers fear it. And some authors misunderstand it. We all know the buzz words: platform, book events, Facebook "likes," "Total Reach." But what does writer's marketing really look like and how can you begin?

Writing Tip for Today: Calm your fears and roll up your sleeves. Here are three ways to launch your writing platform:

Begin Yesterday.

Yep. You cannot afford to wait until you hold your book in your hands to start building that good old platform. Pre-published writers can start to build a readership long before they land that contract. First, ask yourself what topic (and be specific!) you are most passionate about-- aside from publishing a book. Do you write mysteries that involve a lot of food and recipes? Start blogging about food, join groups of "foodies" and set up a Pinterest board (easy peasy) featuring your favorite dishes or recipes. If you write romance and also happen to love dogs (not for the romance!), write man's best friend into your story and then get active where dog lovers hang out. If you write about religion, think of your average reader in terms of who will be most open to receive your flavor of spirituality. When that contract finally is offered, you'll help yourself by already doing what you can to build your platform. And your new friends will swoon when you mention that you have a book. At the very least, have a website or blog and pick a couple social media outlets (such as Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest) where you'll be active. Don't join everything and then be overwhelmed and do nothing.

No Hard Sell Please!

We tend to be annoyed with the person who is always pressuring you to "buy my book!" This is not the best strategy for building a readership. A platform is only as sturdy as the number of READERS holding it up.. Those who act like used car salesmen are probably not seeing the results they hoped for. Instead, let potential readers get to know you and you get to know them. Be interested in them and their lives--interact with these readers on a regular basis, not only when you want them to buy something. This takes time but build it slowly and you'll see steady growth. By careful tending the Garden of Trust, you build relationships. And that's exactly what a writer's platform is.

To Brand or Not to Brand?

Authors everywhere are struggling with this question. Famous and not-so-famous published authors are beginning to chafe at the idea of a one-flavor writing career. Some debut and newer writers experiment with genres until something clicks and then settle into a brand. Others dive in (especially in nonfiction) and are bound to a topic or cause for the long haul. At the beginning of the quest for a readership, you may indeed need to specialize. But as many prolific authors are demonstrating, it's possible to branch out after you've established your "platform." Remember, a platform boils down to who knows your name and who is eager to read what you put out. Tell your checkout clerk you write and make sure your relationships are willing to talk you up. The Internet is still free and it's the fastest most convenient way to spread your name around to potential readers (in a good way of course!) Now get out there and start nailing that platform!

Monday, April 7, 2014

3 Crucial Writing Questions

Fearless Leader John
Just returned from Writer's Weekend at the Beach in Washington State, where the wi-fi was feeble, the weather was fussy, but the attendees were fabulous. So much dedication to the writing craft! It got me thinking: what do fiction writers want to know more than anything?

Writing Tip for Today: If you are a new writer or you're trying to market your first novel, you almost always want to know where you can find a good agent. But here are three questions that many new writers (and their fiction stories) REALLY need to answer:

Is the Main Character in Enough Trouble?

Many new or first-time novelists understand that they must give their story conflict, tension, people-at-each-others'-throats. But think about this in a different way. Answer these questions: What does your  Main Character (MC) want MORE THAN ANYTHING and 2) What are the CONSEQUENCES if MC does not achieve this goal? The reason it's a good  idea to know these answers is that even voracious readers often perceive published novels' stories in a vague way. It's deceiving, though. Well-written stories that stick with you are carefully crafted with HIGH STAKES. Meaning that there is a lot on the line. If you ask the 2nd question, (sometimes phrased as "So what?") you can often detect if the stakes are high enough. Even if your novel appears to pass the test, try to think of at least one way to raise those stakes even higher. Try adding a "Time Squeeze" of the clock ticking, or introduce a larger consequence. For instance, you might layer your MC's PERSONAL consequences with consequences in the community, a country or even the world if the goal is not met.

How Do You Handle Cold Mashed Potatoes?

 More groans and complaints come to me concerning back story or flash backs than any other Act I problem. If you can let go of your need to tell the reader everything you know about MC in the opening pages, you can use both the Cold Mashed Potato Rule and the Rule of Three to tame your flash back tendencies. The Cold Mashed Potatoes Rule is all about where in time the reader is. If you show a character about to eat a bite of steaming buttery mashed potatoes but then character's "mind reels back," The potatoes are stuck in midair while Character remembers the flashback. The longer you stay in the flashback, the faster the reader forgets where the Real Time Scene is taking place. By the time you end the flash back, Character's Mashed Potatoes are probably cold. Instead, try using the Rule of Three: For every 3 sentences of back story (flash back) stop and return to the Real Time Scene, even if only briefly.

Do You Know the Wilson Principle?

Many first-ees open a story with a single character, sitting somewhere thinking. And thinking. (It's a sneaky excuse for flash back!) This traps readers in the Character's head and is not active. In the Tom Hanks' movie, "Castaway," Tom Hanks invented "Wilson," a volleyball Hanks talked to and interacted with as he was stranded on the deserted island. You can keep readers interested too, by getting another character on stage FAST. Tell a bit about the problem (OK and maybe a teensy bit of backstory--see the Rule of 3!) as you WEAVE it around the action and dialogue. Remarkably, readers are willing to swap back story for action nearly every time. Try these 3 tips--they really work!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Are You Brave Enough to Write Badly?

Are you struggling to get that first chapter/page/sentence just right? Do you beat yourself up because you believe it's never going to be good enough? Or are you sure you're going to hit the bestseller list next week, even though you only just started your first novel?

Writing Tip for Today: Writing is a craft, and you can learn a craft. But it does take time. So how do you start?

Write Regularly and Often. It's easier to talk about writing than to actually write. Writing can be isolating, lonely and frustrating. But it also can be exciting, fulfilling and freeing. Resolve to write on as much of a schedule as your life will allow. If it's before the kids go off to school, perhaps pledge to get up a half hour earlier to write. If you have a day job (and I hope you don't quit it to be a famous writer just yet!), maybe weekends offer more time for writing. The main thing is that you get your BIC (Butt in Chair) as long and as often as you can. Things like crying children, glaring bosses and neglected spouses probably do need your attention. But a few takeout dinners, dust-bunnies or passed up social engagements won't kill you or your loved ones. Resolve to write frequently and often.

Lose the Muse and DO It. If you think a writer must be talented, think again. Many writers are talented, but they still had to learn their craft. We don't expect cello players to pick up an instrument and the next day get asked to perform at Carnegie Hall. Why should writing well be automatic? The Malcolm Gladwell advice to practice for 10,000 hours is valid in writing. In addition to writing regularly and often, resolve to write a lot.

Write Badly. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Give yourself permission to fail at writing. Instead, just get it down. Later, you'll learn how to fix it up. The published bestseller you hold in your hands (and admire) did not start out so perfect. It likely took an entire team of the author plus several editors to polish it into the masterpiece you adore. Your writing should be that way too. Just let yourself go and get the story down. Ken Kesey said, "Junk it through." I hope you'll give your novel idea the chance to get out of your head and onto the paper, even if it's a dreadful mess of awful writing. It doesn't have to stay that way. Start writing today!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing Contests: Dos and Don'ts

Hi everyone. I learned so much last week doing the scavenger hunt! And today I'm rushing to enter a writing contest. The deadline for postmarks is TODAY! As my dad used to love to say, "Do as I say, not as I do!"

Writing Tip for Today: Students often ask about contests so I will share some tips I've learned over the years.

Are You Ready? If you are afraid you are not accomplished enough as a writer to enter a contest, there's good news. Many contests offer feedback that will help you hone your skills. I've been a judge for several contests and I can say I always give the most positive, encouraging advice I can give. The act of submitting your work to strangers is a growth step in and of itself. Don't worry about whether you're "good" or "talented" enough. Force yourself to polish up a piece and enter it!

Which Contest? As with many other writing-related tasks, do your research. My personal rule is that if the entry fee is more than $25, I skip that contest. Most contests entry fees range from $10-$25 per entry. There are even many online contests which are free to enter! Take a look at the prizes, what kind of "publishing" the winners receive and whether or not a hard copy will be available. Beware contests which charge more than an entry fee (or a very high fee) or which pressure you to buy a zillion copies for your family and friends. Stick with organizations you have checked out or that you trust. A good place to start is to research contests in the genre you write in.

Follow the Rules! Once you decide to enter, you will be nervous your first time out. Relax! Most contests have strict rules to follow and you don't want to overlook something just because you're rattled. Pay close attention to format, entry forms, how many copies required and most important, if the contest is "blind." Blind contests require that your name NOT APPEAR on the copy anywhere--not on a cover sheet, byline or even header or footer. If you don't follow the rules, you could be immediately eliminated. Spring is on its way, and the writing contests are a'blooming. Take that leap of faith and enter one soon! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quilts of LOVE: Maybelle in Stitches by Joyce Magnin

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Maybelle In Stitches
Abingdon Press (March 18, 2014)
Joyce Magnin


A word from the Author:

I am the author of seven novels. Five adult novels and two middle grade readers. I never wanted to do anything else but write and every day I wake up astonished that I get to do what I always dreamed about. My days are filled with words and images along with the usual family stuff. I have three children, Rebekah who is married to Joshua. They have three of the most adorable boys on the planet, Lemuel, Cedar and Soren. My daughter Emily Kate is a lovely young woman anthropologist and my son Adam is fourteen and a student--he's a genius who loves frogs and lizards and fish and plants. He amazes me.

I have never eaten a scallop. I love cream soda. Drink way too much coffee. I do not like elevators but I do enjoy needle arts and of course books. I prefer jazz over country (no offense), milk chocolate over dark, but not roller coasters although my life has often resembled a roller coaster ride.

One of my life's desires is to meet Amy Grant so I can tell her she saved my life.


Maybelle can’t sew. But when she finds an unfinished quilt in the attic of her mother’s house, she gets the crazy idea to complete it. At first, it’s just a way to fill the lonely nights while her husband, staff sergeant Holden Kanzinzki, is away fighting in World War II.

Yet when Maybelle discovers that the quilt is made from scraps of material that can be traced back through her family heritage, the project is suddenly much more important. Then word comes that Holden is missing in action, and with little else to do, Maybelle clings to the quilt as much as to the hope that her husband is still alive. As neighborhood friends gather around Maybelle to help her through the unknown days and nights ahead, it is the quilt that becomes a symbol of her unflagging belief that Holden will return—to her, to their home, and to their quilt-covered bed.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Maybelle In Stitches, go HERE.
You can contact Joyce at her blog HERE.

My Review:

I love all the Quilts of Love books, but I must confess that I secretly share Joyce Magnin's talent for QUIRKY. Perhaps it is due to my physical disability--my left arm was paralyzed after childhood polio. I'm a total klutz, so quirk appeals to me! When I met Maybelle, I sympathized. I do sew pretty well (created all my own clothes in my younger days), but I really identify with someone who can't thread a needle to save her life. I'm like that too--I can drive a car but I go crazy trying to peel a potato! Aren't we all dismal failures at SOMEthing?  You must check out Maybelle in Stitches. This book will leave you thinking about not only your own foibles but also about the way we treat others who are different from us. Linda S. Clare "Grace for the Chronically Different!"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Catch Us if You CAN Spring Hunt Stop #26

Catch Us if You CAN: Spring Scavenger Hunt

The CAN Scavenger Hunt ended at midnight on March 27, 2014. The Drawing for Rebecca Ondov's GREAT HORSE STORIES closes on SATURDAY, March 29, 2014. Thank YOU ALL for your enthusiastic participation! 

Catch Us if You CAN: Spring Scavenger Hunt! STOP # 26, Linda Clare's Writer's Tips Blog.

CAN or Christian Author's Network is a great organization and you can find out more about it HERE.

Here are the CAN Hunt’s official guidelines:

WELCOME, to the Catch Us if You CAN: Spring Scavenger Hunt! We hope you enjoy meeting Christian Author Network members as you chase down clues for the chance to win our grand prize: $200 in gift cards from CBD, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon, plus 29 free books, one from each participating CAN author!

·     2nd & 3rd Prizes: $50 Amazon, B&N, or CBD gift certificate!

·     Catch us on this hunt beginning at Noon on Friday, 03/21/14 and ending at Midnight on Thursday, 03/27/14. No need to hurry as you search for clues—you have almost an entire week! If you need help at any time during the hunt, check in on our RESOURCES PAGE.

·     Enjoy 29 stops, each featuring a different CAN author!

·     Gather the clues from each post, beginning at STOP # 1 and ending at Stop #32. Follow the directions and fill out the Rafflecopter form. Be ready to provide the complete clue in sentence form, gathered from all 29 stops, within 2 days of email notification or another winner will be randomly drawn. There is no need to email/submit the clue, unless you are notified by 03/29/14.

Sorry, due to international regulations, the grand prize will be awarded to US Residents only. Individual contests within the hunt may vary, please read rules presented with each giveaway.

Rebecca Ondov

Welcome, Hunters! I'm pleased to introduce Rebecca Ondov at this stop.
Extraordinary describes Rebecca Ondov’s life. From the 15 years she worked from the saddle, riding the craggy and narrow trails of the Rocky Mountains, Rebecca experienced hair-raising adventures: everything from falling off a cliff and encountering grizzly bears, to being trapped inside a 240,000 acre forest fire.
It was during these years that she met “The God of the Impossible”. Those encounters equipped her with a “hands-on” faith, with which she passionately shares. Her goal for her readers? Be Inspired with Blazing Faith.
Feel free to check out her books on her Website, where you can also register to win a free book and sign up for her newsletter:
Living in Western Montana, Rebecca invests her spare time into riding the high country trails with her golden retriever trotting by her side. 
Saddle up and ride with Rebecca, through the pages of her books, for an adventure of a lifetime.

Author of:
Great Horse Stories: Wisdom and Humor from Our Majestic Friends To be released April 2014!
Heavenly Horse Sense: Inspirational Stories of Life in the Saddle
Horse Tales from Heaven: Reflections Along the Trail with God

But wait! Rebecca wants to give away a copy of Great Horse Stories to a lucky treasure hunter!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Find Rebecca HERE. 

Thank you, Rebecca, and thank you, Readers/Hunters. Ready to continue?


Before you go, write down this STOP #26 clue: JOINING

Now, proceed to stop #27, REBECCA ONDOV'S SITE!