Posted on March 30, 2012
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?
Posted on March 20, 2012
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.
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.
In case they decline…
YOUR TURN: Join the fun and post a Lucky 7 Meme from your novel/WIP in the comments.
Posted on March 16, 2012
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.
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?
Posted on March 14, 2012
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.
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?
Posted on March 5, 2012
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.”
What are your favorite colloquialisms and weasel words? Do they slip into your writing?