Fifty point CHAPTER BREAKS

We LOVE to play Scrabble at our house. Play it all the time.  My husband and writing partner is the current fifty point word champion.  That’s him with the scorepad and board to prove it!

We’ve played on-line at the official Scrabble website. If I had an iPhone, I could download a Scrabble APP and play on my phone.  

To score fifty points, you have to have the right tiles, the perfect fit to play on the board and the RIGHT word.

Hooks in chaper breaks are the fifty point tool of the writer. 

Back in the dark ages (1914 to be exact), a silent movie series titled The Perils of Pauline starred Betty Hutton as Pauline, the damsel in distress menaced by assorted villains, pirates and Native Americans. In each episode the audience was convinced poor, pitiful Pauline’s situation  would surelyresult in her imminent death until at the last minute she was rescued or otherwise escaped the danger. The damsel in distress and cliff hanger endings kept movie goers returning.  

According to Wikipedia, in 2008, The Perils of Pauline was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Successful writers need compelling characters like Pauline and strong chapter breaks to keep their readers satisfied. How do we write our fifty point chapter endings to score hits like the screenwriters did with The Perils of Pauline?

I ran across two great blogs with answers to the question. Both bloggers agreed the key  to powerful chapter breaks is raising the reader’s curiosity.

 K.M. Weiland suggests these ten ways to raise questions in the readers’ minds.  

1. Promise of conflict to come.

2. A secret kept.

3. A major decision or vow.

4. An announcement of a shocking event.

5. A moment of high emotion.

6. A reversal or surprise that turns the story upside down.

7. A new idea.

8. An unanswered question.

9. A portentous metaphor.

10. A plot turning point.

Weiland warns “not every chapter needs to end with a cliffhanger, but they do need to encompass a question powerful enough to make the reader crazy to know the answer.” If you read her blog here, she elaborates on how to use all ten ideas she suggested. 

In the other blog, NY Times bestselling author Laura Griffin identifies characteristics of poor chapter hooks —

The sleepy time chapter end  – letting your heroine end her action-packed scene by going to bed

Disaster averted  – ending the chapter when the crisis is resolved

The threepeat – Using Pauline-in-peril gimmicks repeatedly. Unlike the silent movie success, overused in writing can turn your reader off

Lacking punch words – not ending the last sentence of your chapter with a punch word at the end.

Check out Laura’s blog at Romance University here for fixes to the problems she points out.

 Whether you’re a Scrabble player or not, as a writer you play with words. You have to “scrabble” ways that keep the reader hooked into turning the pages. 

YOUR TURN: What’s your 50-point strategy for chapter endings?

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AAR on KL’s BtoB class

Today’s word in case you’re unsure from the title – AAR

What the heck is an AAR? You’re probably wondering — especially if you have no military background.

At the conclusion of every mission employed, an AAR, AFTER ACTION REVIEW is conducted to determine the effectiveness of the mission. Sometimes called a debriefing, too.

I’m the daughter of an Army Air Corp/Air Force officer, the spouse of a retire Army officer and a former DAC. I thrive on order in chaos and demand order/structure.

My life, until my husband’s retirement, was pack, unpack, establish a nest, pack, unpack, and establish a nest. I’ve gathered lots of fodder for my writer’s mill and skills I’m sure I’ll not live long enough to use.

Two years ago I took ex-Green Beret Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer A-Team course. I’m not sure Mayer offers the course anymore, but the book WHO DARES WIN, The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear and Succeed is available here

His Special Forces tactical approach applied to a writing career resonated with me. I credit that class as the turning point in my writing. I especially loved the AAR, After Action Review. I now conduct AARs on all writing activities and projects. 

Sound silly. Not really. 

We all do AARs unconsciously. We just don’t call them After Action Reviews. Bet you’ve said. “Been there done, that not going again” or something like that. And I’m guessing you’ve also said, I loved < you fill-in-the-blank>, too. You just did a mini-AAR.

 After every move, my family discovered ways and methods to make the next move easier, more palatable for the children and the travel to the new location more fun. All the while, reviewing what we’d learned at our last location.

Guess what, we were doing an AAR!

My husband’s favorite AAR, if the experience is unfavorable: “Done that for the first and last time.” Our shortened code developed from long years of being together: “first and last for that” or FLT

My AAR  for Kristen Lamb’s Blogging-to-Brand class follows. Risky, I realize.

After all, Kristen might read it. Not worried.

Knowing her association with Mayer, she’ll probably conduct her own AAR. My thoughts can contribute. Or be a testimonial. Or not.

AAR Step 1: My goal (mission) in taking Blogging-to-Brand

I needed to learn about branding and social media. I have two novels, The Pendant’s Promise and its prequel, In the Land of the Morning Calm, in the publishing pipeline. I want readers to recognize my name, buy my books.

I’d read Kristen’s book WE ARE NOT ALONE. Actually bought it at Bob’s workshop. I agreed with what I read and decided the class would provide added benefit.  

AAR Step 2: Was my goal or mission accomplished? 

I’d say DEFINITELY…the class nearly exploded my head!

I have to admit I signed up reluctantly. When I say reluctantly I mean screaming about why, why, why? I’m a writer, not a marketing person. 

Not that I wasn’t familiar all the social media places. I was. See the links in the right hand column.

I have a website 

a Judythe Morgan FB page

Twitter  

a page on Shelfari where I list the books I’ve read and make a recommendation

And, now after KL’s BtoB, a blog! Which you already know because you’re reading this.   

I thought I was off to  a good start. Kristen’s class took me further.

  • My circle of followers has grown. More importantly, I’ve met some terrific people I might never have known existed.
  • I discovered social media is about more than marketing. I really, like these people. We share our heartbreaks, our troubles, our cares, our concerns. They’re good people. Good writers.
  • I know I am not alone in my writer’s journey.As Kristen says, it’s all about the WANA love. Thanks to all for the follows, the comments, the WANA love.

AAR Step 3: “If you accomplished your goal, determine the fine-tuning.”

As much as I did learn, I’m still sorting through the technology intricacies and would be totally lost without help from WANAs and my techno-savvy daughter. I must follow-up with

  • classes for fine-tuning my blog, my tweets, and my FB postings
  • learning to utilize HootSuite, TweetDeck, and FB Time Line effectively

4. Summation:

KL’s Blogging to Brand was Informative EnlighteningTime consuming.

The class forced me to accept what I knew, but didn’t want to admit—

to be a successful, productive writer I must learn to juggle many balls.

Writing. Blogging. Tweeting. FBing. Marketing. Eating. Drinking. Sleeping.

But then, as Ursula, the evil octopus from Little Mermaid says: “Life’s full of tough choices, innit?”  

Hard choices. Sometimes not fun choices. Especially on wonderful spring days when the porch swing is calling and not the computer. 

YOUR TURN: You done any AARs lately? Or want to share what you learned from Kristen’s Blogging to Brand class?

 

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The Attack of the Lucky 7 Meme

It appears the Lucky 7 Meme zombie virus for writer-bloggers has arrived on my front porch via Cora Ramos!

I thought I might escape being in lurker mode and all. Not so…Cora found me. 

Unfamiliar with The Lucky Meme virus?

These are the rules:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors, and let them know.

Game on

My Seven Lines:  

Annie bit her lip. Two cots barely fit in the room. The shower looked like an RV bath. Still it had a floor, no dirt, and a door, not a piece of cloth, and there was even plenty of bottled water beneath the bedside table. “Thank you, Mr. Welds.” And, thank you, Aunt Gerry.

“Please. It’s Fred. See you at the house.”

A short time later, they gathered around the table in the tiled dining area. Martha served fried plantains and a vegetable salad with a pitcher of fruit water.

“I’d go easy on the sauce. It takes some getting used to,” Fred warned.

Erin began to cough, grabbed her glass and chug-a-lugged all the liquid. “Ya say?”

The laughter that followed drained some of the tension from Annie’s shoulders. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

 Annie’s not talking about playing Lucky 7 Meme, but I have to agree this virus isn’t so bad!

Rule #3 was easy.

Rule #4, a bit harder. I’m hoping they’ll join the fun! Even if they don’t check out their websites.

  1. Janice Heck
  2. Jenny Hansen
  3. Jodi Lea Stewart
  4. Kristy Lyseng
  5. Carrie Daws
  6. Wayne Borean
  7. Elaine Smothers

In case they decline…

YOUR TURN: Join the fun and post a Lucky 7 Meme from your novel/WIP in the comments.

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JIGSAW FUN for Cognitive Training

Research shows our brain needs as much exercise as our body. So far I as know, there aren’t any brain gyms but there are brain games for cognitive training.

 My favorite game is Jigsaw puzzles.

At our house we keep a designated puzzle table in our living room. Amazing to see how guests gravitate to the puzzle table. All the while protesting that they don’t do jigsaw puzzles. Next thing you know, I’m begging them to leave and join the rest of us.

Here’s the current puzzle underway. Charles Wysocki’s Cape Cod Fishing Party

The table is downstairs on the direct route between the bedroom and the kitchen. I stop by the puzzle table and add a piece frequently.  I’m exercising my brain. In fact there is some strong research to suggest that working jigsaw puzzles renews your mind and helps stave off Alzheimer’s.

When I’m upstairs in my office and have a writing block moment or a piddling urge, I click on a website called  JigZone  to work a puzzle.

Cool site with fun stuff. You can even create your own jigsaw puzzle from a picture or a book cover.  NY Times best selling author Jo  Ann Ross has all her bookcovers as jigsaw puzzles on her website.

For daily exercise, Jigzone will send a puzzle to your email daily. Click and give one a try: Fruit and Veg Jigsaw Puzzle

Everyone have a great weekend. I won’t be on the porch. It’s raining pollen here.

YOUR TURN: What’s your favorite brain game? 

 

 

 

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FLAT STANLEY Adventure

I should have spent yesterday writing my ONE WORD WEDNESDAY blog for an  early morning post today. I didn’t.

My daughter volunteered to help the son of an on-line friend in Minnesota  with his Flat Stanley Project. She  invited me to tag along while she and Flat Stanley visited the state capitol of Texas. I had a fun and enlightening  adventure.

You’ve haven’t met FLAT STANLEY or heard about the project?

FLAT STANLEY is Stanley Lambchop the protagonist of Jeff Brown’s 1964 children’s books series. The story goes…

Stanley and his younger brother Arthur are given a big bulletin board by their Dad for displaying pictures and posters. He hangs it on the wall over Stanley’s bed. During the night the board falls from the wall, flattening Stanley in his sleep. He survives and makes the best of his altered state, and soon he is entering locked rooms by sliding under the door, and playing with his younger brother by being used as a kite. One special advantage is that Flat Stanley can now visit his friends by being mailed in an envelope. Stanley even helps catch some art museum thieves by posing as a painting on the wall. Eventually Arthur changes Stanley back to his proper shape with a bicycle pump.

In 1995, a third grade schoolteacher in Canada used the book for a letter-writing lesson between schoolchildren as they documented where Flat Stanley went. The students created a two dimension “paper doll” fashioned to look like them and mailed Stanley to pen pals everywhere.

That project has now become a worldwide adventure for children with Flat Stanley projects. The objective of which is for the child to explore through Flat Stanley’s adventures. Sometimes by writing diaries for language arts skill or travel journals of Flat Stanley locations for geography and social studies skills. Check for the full concept here.

Flat Stanley does get around. He’s traveled to Russia with me once. As you see, my Stanley was a small, easily transportable and pose-able paper doll.

The Stanley from Minnesota was a life-size ten year-old butcher paper cutout, flimsy and awkward to pose. March winds forced us to tape him or hold him upright for pictures. We had to strap him into the seatbelt for the trip to Austin!

Some of those observing our antics recognized Stanley from their own school projects. Others scratched their heads and thought we were two crazy ladies. Can’t post the pictures until the Minnesota student completes his project, but I will get snapshots on my Judythe Morgan FB page  as soon as I can.

We began Stanley’s adventure on the University of Texas campus. One of the fringe benefits of spending the fun day with my daughter was touring her old college town haunts, her condo, the intramural field where she worked refereeing softball games, and campus buildings where she’d had classes. Her reaction to the familiar places all these years later was like seeing a child opening a Christmas present. Great memories for her, and I got a glimpse into what her life on campus had been when I sent her off to the big, bad UT.

I shared my memories of growing up in Austin. Flat Stanley saw my high school, the places I went on dates with my daughter’s daddy, houses I lived in, and some of the ancestral history of her great-grandparents who were among the founding residents.

I thought she’d be bored.  Poor Flat Stanley didn’t get a vote. My daughter claimed to be delighted to see this side to her mother…the giggles and smiles made me believe her. She suggested I compose a tour plan complete with an Austin map marked with locations for her siblings. Great idea for a memoir.

Before we ended our visit, my daughter wanted to stop by and see my eighty-five year old aunt who still lives in a small group home for the elderly.

I hesitated. Would my aunt even remember her namesake? A stroke four years ago left my aunt blind. Already deaf, the loss of another source of sensory input and the stroke damage caused memory issues.

As silly as it sounds—my daughter’s a grown woman, I didn’t want her feelings hurt or the imagery of an old folks’ home stuck in her head. I suggested lunch at a favorite Austin eatery instead.

Imagine my surprise when over lunch my daughter told me she knew what those places are like. During her years at UT, she’d gone to see her grandfather in a nursing home nearby twice a week until he passed away. She’d be fine with seeing my aunt and insisted we go.

Tears nearly blinded me, and I gave her a hug. Shocked and pleased, the value of respect and honor for elders that her daddy and I tried to instill had worked. 

Best part, when we saw my aunt, she remembered my daughter. We had a lovely visit. And over-sized, floppy Flat Stanley had quite the adventure. 

YOUR TURN: Have you ever had a FLAT STANLEY adventure or an enlightening moment with a child?

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ARE YOU A PIDDLER?

ONE WORD WEDNESDAY and today’s word is PIDDLE. No not what puppies and kittens and small children do. Piddling is spending time in a trifling, or ineffective way according to Dictionary.com 

Some call it dawdling. The dictionary defines it as wasteful. I’m not so sure about that wasteful part. I think we all need piddle time.

Southerners are said to have fine-tuned the act of passing time, without waste or regret into a fine art. The whole idea of piddling is to kill time, but without any great effort or much meaning, according to Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. He claims it’s a cause worthy of lifelong study in his February 2012 Southern Living essay column, The Fine Art of Piddling

Piddling is not a necessity. In fact in most circles, it’s frowned upon. In Western pragmatism, we have to do most of the time. I’m a diehard multi-tasker. I loathe just sitting and doing nothing. Though you will find me stopping to smell the roses, not for long! The one exception–I can easily lose myself in a good book for hours until I come to THE END. Much like Rick Bragg described his wife, I piddle with purpose.  

But sometimes, piddling’s a forced condition. My latest piddling was neither planned nor welcomed, an unfortunate necessity. A torn rotator cuff took me down. I’ve had no choice but to kill time waiting to regain full use of my repaired shoulder muscles. Weeks in an immobilizing sling, now Attila the Hun physical therapy.

I’ve whittled away the hours sleeping with my guard dogs at my side.Or we watched movies. Turner and Hallmark movie channels mostly. I learned a lot about plotting and story development from those so I guess technically it wasn’t wasted time.

We also found some fascinating History channel offerings like Pawn Stars and American Restoration. Toby, Buster and I learned a lot! I really missed my daytime soap operas. Made me mad all over again that CBS canceled Guiding Light and As the World Turns.

Timing was the pits too. Two weeks into Kristen Lamb’s Social Media class. Wore me out typing one handed to get in my tweets, FB, and blog out there.I’ll be out of the sling soon and up to speed on the keyboard. But I’m thinking I’m gonna miss the piddling. Ironically, it’s been relaxing, refreshing and renewing. I’m thinking I’ll keep at least some piddling a part of every day.

Sentence Game Time: Dictionary.com suggests He wasted the day piddling around.

YOUR TURN: Have a sentence to share? Or a comment about your piddle habits or a time you were forced into piddling?

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COLLOQUIALISMS and WEASEL WORDS

 When I shared a recent chapter with my critique partners, one of them called me for this sentence, “He found himself in deep water.”

 She didn’t understand that my POV character’s internal thought meant he found himself in trouble. She thought I put him in a swimming pool and forgot to put that detail on the page. Another problem I have… getting what’s playing in my head accurately portrayed on the page. But that’s a topic for another blog.

Her stumbling over the phrase led to a discussion of colloquial language and how words, phrases, and even clichés vary from one geographical area to another.

 Being from Texas, we have a whole slew of regional words. I just used another one—slew, meaning a whole bunch. We’re always y’all-ing and gonna and fixin’ when we talk. Foreigners sometimes need an interpreter. Consider these colloquial phrases I’ve been known to use verbally and in my writing:

  •  hot as tin toilet seat – in Texas we know that’s HOT
  • screaming bloody murder or  screaming banshee– used to stop the  pleasant sound coming from a kid or grandkid
  • grumpy as an old sitting hen – gives a more vivid image than grumpy old men
  • bone tired – yep, been there
  • slow as molasses – can’t you just see that black syrup oozing out of the jar?
  • keep your pants on – meaning not what you think, but to be patient!

 Besides colloquialisms that slip into my first drafts, I have “favorite” words that pop up when I’m being lazy with my writing or rushing. Words like: had, that, could, was, felt, knew, thought, saw, walked, come.

“Weasel words”  Margie Lawson,  editing guru, calls these words and colloquial phrases. I learned in her deep editing class, The EDITS System, to keep a WEASEL WORD CHART listing phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés and opinion words. The chart is easy to populate. The words we overuse stand out like sore thumbs. (Sorry, Margie had to use a cliché to make my point.)

Then, during the revision stages, I use the chart with my word processor’s search and replace function to eliminate them.

BUT sometimes using colloquial language fits characterization. Sometimes it has a function in dialogue especially if the protagonist is a Texan or the piece is written about Texas.

 Throwing such informal colloquialism into novel narrative, on the other hand, can be a stumbling block for readers by pulling them from the story. And, then they do what no writer wants—quit reading!

If using colloquialisms is your writer’s voice, okay. I caution you to be sure your reader can understand from the scene context what you’re saying.

 REMEMBER: Our writer’s responsibility is to always make sure in the battle of words that story reigns.

 What did I do with my CP’s suggestion? Eliminate the phrase or not?

 In this case, I believed the reader could discern the meaning from the rest of the scene and left the phrase “deep water.”

Your turn:

What are your favorite colloquialisms and weasel words? Do they slip into your writing?

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