Hookin’ the Big One

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Do you remember that song by Blues Traveler? No, not the one on the Flipper movie. Get the image of Crocodile Dundee sticking his fingers into coconuts out of your head. I’m talking about their other song. It’s called The Hook. Go ahead, look it up. I can wait.

You get an “A” if you figured out what subject of today’s lesson is was from that song. I’ll give out extra credit if you caught what heck he said during that quick part at the end of the song. I still can’t figure that out.

Today’s lesson is all about “The Hook.” Do you know when you’re flipping around on your TV and a show grabs your interest? That is the product of that TV show’s writers successfully using a hook. Most commonly these happen right before commercial breaks or before the title screen. (When the theme song plays) This device is their best hope to keep you along for the ride through the break.

Using the hook is huge for fiction writing. We live in the day and age of high speed internet, Google, smartphones and tablets. Any and all information is available to us instantly thus we tend to have a much shorter atten..Oh what’s that? A butterfly?

Ahem, where was I? Oh yeah. We tend to have a much shorter attention span so it’s that much more important to use any and all tools at your disposal to keep your readers attention on your book.

Most articles that I have read try to get you to focus on one really big hook towards the beginning of your story. There’s nothing wrong with this method, but again, we are trying to keep the attention of our readers. That’s tough to do with only one hook, even if it’s a really big and shiny one.

I’m not much of a fisherman, but anytime I’ve went fishing with someone who knows what they’re doing, we use these things called rigs. They have three or four different hooks on them; not to mention open spots for weights and such. That’s a lot different than your grandpappy’s single hook fishing line. Times have changed and your hooks should too.

You can create the hook by putting your characters into a situation that seems like it’s impossible to get out of to the reader, or you could reveal some very big information. This can sometimes be categorized as a plot twist. You basically want to ask a question and then save the answer for later.

So where do you put these hooks? Imagine where your reader will stop. The end of chapters seem the most reasonable spot to me. It gives your book that “I just couldn’t put it down” quality that people love. If you want a really good example of how to apply a bunch of tiny hooks, look no further the any of the Hunger Games book. I’m serious; I swear those books move faster than Usain Bolt.

One word of caution, there is such a thing as too much. You have to let the reader breath on occasion. Plus every time you let them breath, the hook will be that much more effective the next time you use it.

Happy Fishin’

Fermenting Your Manuscript

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Just like a mother hen and all her little chickies, I love all of my posts the same. However, this one is near and dear to my heart. This is one of those instances when I get to link two of my favorite hobbies. What are those hobbies you ask? Writing (of course) and home brewing. Yep, I brew my own beer and no, I’m not a drunk. I’m not. Really, stop looking at me like that.

I don’t own a five gallon system or brew using whole grains like that hardcore guys, at least not yet. I have a little MR Beer System. I order the ingredient kits and essentially just follow directions. But don’t let that fool you. I’m always adding other things to the brew as I’m making it that I think will complement the taste. I guess you could say I’m a Noob Brewer.

The best part of adding these different things to the brew is that you never really know what you will get when the beer is finished fermenting. That’s what I want you to apply to your writing. But first it might help for you to actually know what fermentation actually is. Fermentation is what happens when you combine the sugary substance called wort with yeast. What happens is the yeast eats the sugar and creates carbon dioxide and alcohol. That’s how your beer gets its alcohol. This usually takes a week or two depending on the type of beer you are fermenting.

After the two weeks are up you have beer. Viola! Okay well it’s flat beer that you still have to bottle and carbonate but you get the idea.

Once you finish the first draft of your manuscript, I want you to do the same thing with it. The best part is that you won’t have to send Mr Beer any of your money.

So find a nice dark place to stick that bugger. An empty desk drawer works perfectly as long as you don’t touch it! I’m serious you can’t disturb it. Wort needs a dark place where it won’t be bugged, so does your manuscript. The only difference is that your manuscript will have to stay there for at least a month, preferably two.

I know that is a really long time but it’s totally worth it. You would much rather send your manuscript directly to a literary agent so you can get your millions just like J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and E.L. James. However, your manuscript with need to ferment first.  Trust me on this. You wouldn’t want to send a literary agent a gross sugary manuscript would you?

Instead take this time to start writing another story. It can be anything. The idea is to get your mind off of the one that’s fermenting. If you don’t have any other ideas then read another story. Do some research within your fermenting manuscripts genre. Better yet, read books that have nothing to do with the one you just wrote.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out, it’s not the manuscript that’s fermenting but you. Your unconscious self is organizing the characters and plots all on its own. By the time your month(s) is up, your manuscript will feel foreign yet familiar. It’s one of the coolest feelings in writing. The most important thing is that you will be able to truly evaluate what needs to be corrected. Those rose tinted glasses will still have a hue of pink but they’ll be mostly clear.

When this happens you’ll have flat beer. You can taste it and get an idea as to what the final product will taste like. Go ahead take a taste. But remember you still need to bottle and carbonate it for it to really be beer. So get that red pen out and go to town it’s time for draft number two!

A Little Housekeeping

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Have you ever noticed before a speaker starts his or her actual speech they always say, we have some housekeeping to attend to? Then they usually start talking about events that could be coming up or they thank those who made it possible for them to speak that night.

Well that’s what I’d like to do with this post, a little house keeping. No I’m not going to make you come to some half-baked event or bore you with the people who put this blog together, (which is just me.)  This form of housekeeping is knowledge that you need before you can start your book. It’s the basics of grammar, punctuation and structure.

Wait, where are you going? Come back. It won’t be that bad, I promise.

Did you play Pokemon cards as a kid? How about Yugioh? Magic? None of them? And now you think I’m a nerd, great. Well think of this as your starter pack for your favorite card game. This is everything you’ll need to get started but we will go more in depth with other subjects later. As a bonus you can trade those with your friends. See feeling better already aren’t you? So without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Sentences- A sentence is a thought. Remember in grade school when they talked about subject and predicate? Something (the subject) acts on something else. In fiction this definition of a sentence is stretched. Sometimes a sentence can be one word and other it can be one hundred. These end with a final form of punctuation like a period, question mark or very rarely, exclamation point. Don’t use exclamation point too often in your book. It takes away their emphases.

Paragraph- A paragraph is a complete thought. It’s a combination of the tiny thoughts that were your sentences. This also has no set length in fiction. Just make sure that your though is complete before you start a new one. Leave a complete blank line after you end your paragraph.

Scene- A scene is a section of time in your book. You know when to change to a different when you have to jump forward or backward ing time. Or change the setting (the place where the story is taking place.) Many times when an author changes a scene they will just end the chapter but that isn’t always the case. If you would like to change scenes but aren’t ready to end the chapter quite yet simply leave a blank line below it like the end of a paragraph and mark the next line with a few asterisks like this.

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Chapter- As described earlier, a chapter can be one scene or a collection of scenes. The best point to end a chapter is really up to the writer. Keep this in mind though. Most readers like to read a chapter or two before bed at night. If your chapters are extremely long they may get tired and stop reading before you want them too. Plus shorter chapters seem to make the book feel like it’s moving faster which is always a positive. When you end a chapter, insert a page break and start with the name of the next chapter on the following page.

Dialogue- Your characters are going to have to talk. Here’s how you allow them to do that. Insert quotation marks before and after their quote like so.

“That’s Crazy, there is no way you’re going in there alone!” Jack said.

Notice how I tagged it at the end with “Jack said.” You should do the same with your dialougue. This allows your audience to see exactly who is talking. However if you have only two people talking for an extended period of time you can drop the tags after a while. It just flows better that way. Speaking of flow, read that quote again. Now read this one,

“That’s Crazy,” Jack said. “there is no way you’re going in there alone!”

Which one sounds better to you? The second one, right? When you have a character who speaks multiple sentences or a sentence separated with a comma, insert the tag after that first pause. It flows much easier that way.

Okay well that wraps up our lesson for today. Are you still with me? Sure, there are plenty of other things I could go over but we’ll leave those things for the expansion packs in the future. For now, you have your starter pack. One important thing to remember about these rules is that they are very flexible when it comes to fiction.  As long as you understand the general idea of each, you’ll be fine. So start working on that first draft. Seriously, you’re ready. Go on, get out of here you stupid animal! Nobody loves you!

But come back next week, we’ll have another topic raring to go.

The Problem with Portals

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My Novel was finished. I had gone through dozens of drafts, sought out critiquers both professional and non professional. I researched and wrote the best query letter I could. It was ready to hit the market. I knew it.

I was wrong.

Countless rejections later I realized that. Every rejection letter was worded about the same. “I dont think this book will work for me.” I was lost. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my book. I didnt know what to fix. Then I stumbled across a series of blog posts and found my answer. I saw what was wrong with my book. It was the book itself or rather it’s genre. It was a portal fantasy.

What is a portal fantasy you ask? It’s a fantasy story where your main character otherwise known as a protagonist, travel through some sort of portal to enter a magical land. Starting to ring some bells now isnt it? The Lion Witch and the wordrobe where the kids walk through the wordrobe to find Narnia. How about Alice in Wonderland where Alice ventures down the rabbit hole to find herself in wonderland. Want another, more recent, one? Harry Potter and the sorcerers stone where good ole HP pushes his cart through platform 9 & 3/4.

But Zack, you say, these are all great books. What could possably be wrong with them?

They’re way too common. Literary agents dont want them and publishers wont print them. Why not you ask? They get too many as it is. About one third of the fantasy scripts an agent receives are portal fantasies! That’s a lot of secret door ways! And from what I heard from different literary agents they’re usually not that good. This could be from a bunch of reasons but the one they assume most are because its the writers first novel.

Just like Dobby had to warn Harry not to return to hogwarts. Im warning you. “The young master Novel Noob must not write a portal fantasy!” This is for you own good.Your Query letter and novel could be written really well but if it involves your main dude or dudette going through a portal, it could get overlooked. I’m sure you’ve read plenty of writing advice that says to “tell the story in your heart, no matter what it is” and I agree with that whole heartedly, but if that story happens to be a portal fantasy, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.

Are you Plotter or are you Pantser?

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The Killers once asked “are we human or are we dancer?” I want to know are you Plotter or are you Pantser?

Whether or not you are aware, there are two warring factions that battle for supremacy in the writers domain. They are are the Plotters and the Pantsers.

The ideal Plotter plots and plans almost every aspect of their novel before they type “Chapter 1” or even “prologue.” They know everything ahead of time. They know their characters names, jobs, backgrounds, mothers maiden name, favorite type of pizza, you name it anything. They know all of their scenes and have them mapped out to boot.

The Pantsers are the exact opposite. The prototypical Pantser writes his or her first draft somewhat like you did in high school when your literature teacher made you turn off the computer monitor and just write blindly for a set amount of time. The pantser knows nothing going into the process, absolutely nothing. They fly completely by the seat of their pants. Hence the name pantser.

So which side do you choose? You don’t know? Both seem too extreme you say? How dare you!

Actually pretty much everybody falls somewhere between the middle of the two. I tend to lean more toward the Pantsers. As you probably read in my last post, I usually have the main idea for my book figured out before I start typing. I usually have a few key scenes that I know I’d like to hit along the way as long as they don’t hinder the story. Other then that I just pants it. I feel like the story devlops more organically that way.

Since you’re starting out, I would suggest trying both methods. Start with whatever one sounds most intriguing and see if you like the process.

Wanna try pantsing? Open up you computer and just start typing. See where it leads you.

Would you rather do a little plotting? Then grab some index cards or scraps of paper and write out some ideas for scenes. Move them around and see what catches your interest.

Either way the choice is yours but you will most likly end up somewhere in the middle. Just don’t tell the other writers that I told you. It’ll be our little secret.