Death in Writing

This past week has reminded me about the frailty of life.

I started writing this blog post about how to capture death in our writing two weeks ago, before some of my favorite people in the entertainment industry passed away. Also, my husband’s childhood friend passed away suddenly and we went to the funeral over the weekend. I thought to discard this post because what is my little voice going to illuminate that others have said better? But I’m feeling brave, so here goes.

First off, I loved David Bowie. I loved his theatrics. He made me brave in my art and I’ve listened to him while I create art, music, and words. As a child, I fell in love with him in Labyrinth and then I became a big fan afterwards. Honestly, the Goblin King stirred the first feelings of being seduced to something that seemed wrong, but made my heart race in an unexplainable way. I talk more about that in an old blog post HERE.

Also I loved Alan Rickman most notably, for me, as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Snape. His voice will forever be one that hypnotizes and calls to us beyond the grave.

*This is where my post begins that I started writing

before any of these deaths occurred. *

I have thought a lot about portraying death through writing. I’ve killed off many of my characters and am in the process of learning the best ways to do that. After considerable searching and research, I thought I would share what I’ve learned.

I’ve gone to many, many writing conferences and realized that I don’t recall seeing very often classes available on how to write about death. Yes, there have been crime scene classes and murderous weapon classes, but not really ones that focus on the aftermath of death. So, I did a little bit of digging through old conference schedules and writing seminars and it’s true, this topic isn’t offered much. And yet, so many characters die in books.

The below photo is one of my most pinned images on my Pinterest account. Which tells me that people are searching for validation and understanding about the grieving process. They are searching for an emotional connection.

Let us, authors, give that to them.

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How do we honor deaths and portray it properly in our novels?

  • First – You, the author, have to care about the character. If you don’t care about them, then your readers won’t care. If they don’t feel a connection, then it will come off stilted, forced, and cheap. “It’s not about the death; it’s about the life.” So breath life into your character before you take it from them.
  • Second – Why is the character dying? Sometimes it propels the story or main character forward and is needed. I both love and hate to kill off characters. Most, well all, of the time it is necessary for the story to continue forward.
  • Third – Have the dying character leave a legacy. Have their death have meaning afterwards. Show how your character has been strengthened after the death of a loved one. Make them proud.
  • Fourth – Don’t leave your surviving characters to grieve alone. I realize that happens in real life, but long passages of isolation in fiction, with only one character, tends to get a bit boring. The reader will start to look for “white space” or dialogue. Your characters can grieve in their own way, but on your timing. Don’t let it go too long with bloated writing. The character might start to come across mopey or whiney and that dilutes a good death.
  • Fifth – Take a break from the scene and then come back to re-read. This is important because often times the writer gets too sappy, or the scene is too long, or not long enough. I fully believe that we should write with your whole heart during the sad scenes. Let the words flow. Then come back with new eyes and see if you captured the emotion you wanted or if it sounds forced or unnatural.

Tips to get in the mood.

 Let me clarify that this is not the action leading to the death. This is the after effects, the grief. This is the shock, the depression, the denial of which your characters will feel after the murder, or sickness, or how ever your character died.

  • Listen to sad, melancholy music. My go-to is Moonlit Sonata by Beethoven (Link to song). On repeat, over and over. I’ll play it on the piano even. Pandora has countless hours of sad melancholy music playlists. I don’t know if it’s physically possible to write about death while listening to poppy or happy music. I’ve found that during these scenes I don’t like music that has words. Except for Darkness, Darkness by Robert Plant. I LOVE that song. Here is the song link. I really hope I didn’t jinx Robert Plant. He’s another old man crush. Even more so than Bowie, more so than just about any musician.
  • Pour out your own emotion. If your scene doesn’t make you cry or sad, as an author, there is no hope that it will make your reader cry or feel emotion. So dig deep. Write the scene with all of the emotion and feelings attached. Do not fight, do not filter your words. It is therapy. Feel what you write, if you want it to be felt by others. HERE is a link to a blog post I wrote about crawling out of a hole, especially when writing a memoir.
  • You have to be in the right mood. Sometimes I want to write action scenes, or kissing scenes :), or happy scenes. Other times I want to write about depression and sadness and darkness :(. The key is to not force what you are not feeling. It will totally, completely reflect into your writing.
  • Go to a cemetery and just sit. Read the headstones, feel the spirits who dwell there. Embrace that death surrounds you. You will hear things, if you listen long enough. Isn’t being a writer observing human nature? So why is that any different than observing the unseen?
  • Visit a mortuary. Over Halloween I took a youth group to visit a mortuary. Yes, I’m morbid like that. But it was fantastic! We asked the mortician all these bazaar questions, visited the crematory, and saw the ins and outs of the workings of the place. I learned so much about the proper care and respect that they give the bodies to prepare them for the funeral.
  • Attend a funeral. Of all the funerals I’ve attended recently, two funerals in the past five years really effected me. I don’t know how to write about them right now without getting emotional, but I will try:

The first one is about my Grandmother. She collected porcelain bird figurines. Ironically, at the same time as her passing, I was right at the crux of a death scene in my novel Broken Smiles. I had jumped around to other scenes because I was intimidated about writing that scene. Months and months before my Grandmother’s passing I had written about ceramic birds that were touched upon in Broken Smiles, but later became my Christmas novella Eight Birds for Christmas.

So, ceramic birds and writing were a big part of my life at that point. Then my Grandmother’s own death came, followed by her funeral. It was an emotional time for me and I lived far away from my parents and siblings. Deep melancholy had been settling over me for a while before. I felt lonely and sad that I hadn’t seen her the days leading up to her passing.

At my Grandmother’s funeral I spoke and compared her aging body to a cage around a free bird and I paralleled it to her ceramic bird collection. Many of the words made it into my book Broken Smiles. During the plane ride home, the words flowed out of me and onto travel pamphlets and any scrap of paper I could find in the airplane. Here are some condensed words, straight from my book.

***

She smelled odd, old, and decaying. Her pallor and limp gray hair made her look eighty instead of forty-eight.

Her voice trailed off. It was strange how long she held her breath.

After a few minutes she let go of her life with a sigh. Her hand fell slack, and the wrinkle lines smoothed on her face.

Her spirit ascended like a bird finally being released from its golden cage.

***

The second funeral I attended was of someone that I had an incredible amount of guilt over. Luckily, about a week before the person’s passing, I was able to make amends. Still, to this day, a huge hole resides where that person used to dwell.

Because of these raw feelings, I was able to relate, fully and completely, with a character I wrote in a novel that murdered someone unintentionally and the guilt that followed. The novel hasn’t been published yet so I don’t want to go into further details, but to me, nothing I’ve written has effected me more. Nothing.

—That is where you need to go emotionally when you write about death.—

There is no skimming around it, no brushing it off. You have to feel the fiery despair of an ernest soul if you want it to be felt by others. You have to live the emotion and recreate it on the page. It is gut-wrenching and hard, but so satisfying.

It’s therapy.

And you never know how your words will effect a reader. Think back to how many times a book made you feel something, or made you cry. Like I said earlier, people are searching for a connection to understand death. Words tie people together.

I hope I have done this topic a bit of justice. If you have comments or experiences in your own writing or reading, I’d love to hear about them.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tara

 

 

Shadows of Angels

Shadows of Angels Blog Tour Image

I am happy and honored to be a part of the Laura Rollins blog tour for her debut novel Shadows of Angels.

Here is her Bio:

Laura Rollins is an avid dessert creator, fiction writer, and probably Lucille Ball’s biggest fan ever.

She homeschools her four young children and finds the kitchen a perfect place to teach them math – 1/2 cup plus 1/2 cup equals a full cup – science – add the lemon juice to the sugar because the acid is necessary for the sugar to melt – and, of course, manners – please don’t grab the beater from your brother, I’ll get you a spoon of cookie dough instead. While Laura enjoys all forms of cooking, baking, and any other culinary expression known to man, her heart always leads her back to deserts, treats and the sweet things on the table.

***

I met Laura through a local writers chapter. We became fast friends who were currently writing in the same genre. I’d just started dabbling in the young adult dark fantasy genre and so had she. I’d put my YA novel Vagabond on hold, while my other two books (women’s fiction) were published within three months of each other. We’d swapped first drafts of our fantasies. I felt bad to present her with such a mess of a work in progress as she had given me a polished, clean novel, which later became Shadows of Angels.

We would call each other and talk for hours about our novels. We’d exchanged edits back and forth, then back again. Every writer should—and needs—to have such a friend and critique partner. I love her descriptive, lyrical writing. I love her broad imagination. But mostly, I just love her as a person. In all honesty, by reading her bio, you’d never guess that such imagination and dark creatures could emerge from her brain. It’s surprising, if you know her, and that is another reason of what makes it so great.

Shadows of Angels is a dark fantasy with multiple points of view. Rollins tests her characters, both physically and mentally. Romance is not a main part of the story, although, there are traces and I am excited to see where she will be taking that element into her next novels in the series. Her many intriguing characters come alive on the page and dwell in a fabulous world.

So, please check out her new Young Adult novel Shadows of Angels. You won’t be disappointed.

Shadows of Angels Cover

Here is the blurb:
After the forest dwellers destroy her home and kill her father, Aerbrin sets off on a journey to find the truth about her people, her kingdom, and the mysterious Zaad stone that contains a power she never imagined. Magic and mystery join forces in this intriguing fantasy world. Full of shifting alliances and twists you won’t see coming, it’s a can’t-miss read.

Here is the excerpt:

Stay calm. Her father’s words echoed in her head. When you find yourself in danger, above all, stay calm. 

Aerbrin took a deep, steady breath and leaned down, reaching for her bow. One of the Forest Dwellers charged. It collided with her and knocked her to the floor. Raising a knotted fist, he bashed her head.

Sparks exploded across her vision. She tried to raise an arm, tried to call out. Her body wouldn’t respond. The Forest Dweller grunted again. The creature above her raised its fist again. She looked up. This was the end, she knew. When these monsters attacked, they killed everything. Animals, plants, and particularly humans. No one survived.

Closing her eyes, Aerbrin forced her body to relax. This time, there was no pain.

And Here are the purchase links:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Happy reading!

  • Tara

 

 

50,000 words of leftover casserole

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^^This is why I only wrote one blog post in November.^^

NaNoWriMo was hard this year. There were a few days, lumped together, that I didn’t write anything. Playing catch-up really killed the creative juices.

During the last two days of the month, I had to write 10,000 words to reach my goal. To me, that’s five chapters. Five! Those last words I wrote are comparable to mashing all of the Thanksgiving leftovers into one big glob of chunky casserole.

Early on, I’d prepared a nice, detailed grocery list, recipes, and outline for my Thanksgiving feast of words. See my outline HERE. I prepared for my meal all month and lovingly sprinkled words here and there like seasoned salt and pumpkin pie spice. They were glorious and touched on all of my senses. “Writing is the best thing ever!” I thought over and over, when I was naive and visions of delicious words consumed my thoughts.

The deadline drew closer and I still flitted around the kitchen with a smile, writing words that were beautiful to behold.

But soon it got sweaty in the kitchen. I couldn’t cook up the words as quickly as I had. The flavors began to muddle together. But I kept at it. I cinched my apron tight and pulled up my sleeves. I was determined to create something edible. The timer dinged just after I put on the last of the edible embellishments.

Edible is relative. Everyone has different tastes. I shrugged my aching shoulders and sampled my feast of words.

It stinks. The turkey is dry. The mashed potatoes are blobs of goo. My delicious novel is finished, yes, but it is dripping with plot holes, spelling mistakes, and red ink. Even the crust of the pumpkin pie is burnt!

It stinks BIG time.

But unlike a ruined feast, I can go back and fix things. I can take out and add and make it delicious. I can deconstruct the stinky casserole! The words are at least there. The concept, outline, and rough draft are there. I can clear the air and put gravy on the dry turkey. Pumpkin pie is better loaded up with whip cream and without the crust anyway, right?

After NaNoWriMo last year, I wrote a post on how to edit your novel. It is called “Whip it into shape.”  Here is the link.

I can fix this feast of a novel because I am determined to make it delicious!

Happy writing (and editing)

  • Tara

Plotting for NaNoWriMo

I wrote a post last year about how to edit your NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know what that is, here is the official link to the competition. Basically, it’s writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Sound crazy? Yes, yes it is. And so, so much fun! I’ve done it three times. Once I reached 50,000 words and the other two times I got somewhere near 35,000 words. I think the reason why I didn’t finish the other two times was because I hadn’t prepared and plotted properly.

I’m fixin’ to change that. Hopefully this helps you. I’ve plotted novels so many ways and this by far is the best. I mean the very BEST plotting I have ever done. I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error, started and finished four books, and started and NOT finished about twelve. I’ve always either gotten sick of the story or have no clue what happens after the honeymoon stage of a new book idea wears thin.

So what’s my secret to writing 12,000 words in one day, plotting the whole novel the next day, and currently being halfway through my manuscript after only three weeks?

Caffeine. Just kidding, I’m trying so hard to kick that habit to the curb.

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The secret is marrying the writing program Scrivener and the book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder!

If you are unaware of the program and the book and you are wanting to plot a novel, buy them now. I mean now! Scrivener was like $40 and so awesome! There is a learning curve, so learn the program before NaNoWriMo starts. Also, read Save the Cat before NaNoWriMo. I know it is a formula for screenwriting, but it works for novels just as well.  It will help your brain think in story structure before you even begin writing. So, before I show you my plotting technique, I’m assuming that you at least know the basics of both Scrivener and Save the Cat. I will try to be as simple as possible.

First: I thought of the word count I wanted to end at. 80,000 words for a young adult novel sounds about right for a starting point. I divided that into 40 chapters. 2,000 words per chapter, give or take. Along the left side of Scrivener in the binder section where it says draft, I named my book. Then I clicked on the green circle with the + sign 40 times and added in my chapters below.

Second: I started placing the Save the Cat plot structure at my chapters. I divided it into four parts first, even though there are fifteen major plot points. Chapter one – opening scene. Chapter ten – catalyst. Chapter twenty – midpoint. Chapter thirty – Dark night of the soul. Chapter forty – final image. These are all reference to Save the Cat. I started plotting big picture. What is my catalyst? What even is a catalyst? I put Blake Snyders definition in the white synopsis section on the right side and my story catalyst in the yellow note section. If you don’t see these sections in Scrivener, then press the i (inspector) in the blue circle in the top right corner and they will pop up. (See my bottom right photo below) Leave the inspector open as you write and plot. I did the same in chapter 20 – midpoint, 30 – dark night, and 40 – final image.

This four part story structure reminded me of J. Scott Savages class at Storymakers. He is a fantastic presenter and has many great writing tips on his blog. I’m highlighting him because he is my boy’s favorite author and he has another book releasing in a couple weeks. Anyway, you can check him out HERE.

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Third: I filled in the rest of the plot points. (See above left photo) After a bit of shuffling around, this is where my other fifteen plot points landed. Yours might not fall where mine did. No worries, this is how stories vary. I don’t want yours exactly like mine. 🙂

Chapter One – opening scene

Chapter Two – theme stated

Chapter Five – set up

Chapter Ten – catalyst

Chapter Twelve – debate

Chapter Thirteen – break into two

Chapter Fifteen – B story

Chapter Seventeen – fun and games

Chapter Twenty – mid-point

Chapter Twenty three – bad guys close in

Chapter Twenty seven – all is lost

Chapter Thirty – dark night of the soul

Chapter Thirty two – break into three

Chapter Thirty five – finale begins (gathering team, execute plan, high tower surprise, dig down deep, execute new plan)

Chapter Forty – final image

The thing I love about having this always visible in the left hand side is because I know what is coming and where my story should be heading. Before, when I wrote in word, I’d have different documents, plot books, and sketchbooks that I’d have to reference to on a constant basis to remind me where my story was headed. Now it’s always there. Pressing me forward, encouraging me. I take writing sessions in clumps and tell myself “just write to the B story or the debate, come on, that’s only 3,000 words away” or something like that. Or I look at the word count per chapter (at the bottom of middle screen) and encourage myself “only 400 words left to write in the chapter. You can do it!” It’s all a mind game, you know.

Forth: Because I love the readers of my blog, I have taken the time and highlighted the key elements for every plot point. I have put these under the white lined synopsis section on the right hand side of my Scrivener program. I still think you should read the whole book though.

  * Chapter One – opening scene – Very first impression. Sets the tone, mood, and type of story. Shows the starting point of the hero. Must Hook the reader. The opening and final image should be opposites. Because of some of these things, more often than not, a prologue doesn’t work. Here is a post I wrote about that.

     * Chapter Two – theme stated – Pose a question or make a statement (usually not by the main character) What is the story about?? State it loud and clear and follow through the goal with action. Is your hero’s goal clearly stated? A hero never asks questions. Is your hero active or passive? Do things happen too easy for your hero?

     * Chapter Five – set up – Plant every character tic that needs to be addressed later.
Show how and why the character needs to change to win. Show what the hero is lacking. The calm before the storm.

     * Chapter Ten – catalyst – Life changing events. It’s the opposite of good news. First moment when something BIG happens.

     * Chapter Twelve – debate – The last chance for the hero to say “this is crazy.” Should I go? Do I dare? Moment of truth. Make a firm decision and off they go.

     * Chapter Thirteen – break into two – Moment when we leave the old world. Hero must make the decision himself. The act of stepping from act one into act two must be definite. (Blake Snyder uses the three part story structure, which is great too.)

     * Chapter Fifteen – B story – The love story portion. The story that carries the theme of the book. B-story is a breather. Can introduce a brand new bunch of characters.

     * Chapter Seventeen – fun and games – The promise of the premise. It’s the core and essence of the book cover. What about this book is cool? Heart of the book. We take a break from the stakes and see what the idea is all about. Lighter in tones than other sections.

     * Chapter Twenty – mid-point – It’s either an up (where hero seemingly peaks) or down (false collapse.) Stakes are raised at midpoint. Fun and games are over—back to the story. False victory or false defeat. Nothing is as good as it seems.

     * Chapter Twenty three – bad guys close in – Mid-point bad guys are defeated. Bad guys decide to regroup and send heavy artillery. Internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy begin to disintegrate the hero’s team. Forces against the hero tighten their grip. Headed for a huge fall.

     * Chapter Twenty seven – all is lost – Opposite of the midpoint. False defeat—all hope is lost. All aspects of the hero’s life are in shambles. No hope. “Whiff of death”—
if it isn’t an actual death, hint at something else; dead goldfish, plant, etc. Old world, old thinking, and old character dies. Maybe attempt of suicide—that’s how low the character feels.

     * Chapter Thirty – dark night of the soul – Darkness right before dawn.
The hero reaches way down and pulls out the last, best idea that will save himself and everyone around him. But at that moment the idea is no where in sight.
“Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?” attitude. Hopeless, clueless, drunk, and stupid.
We admit our humility and humanity. We must be beaten and know it to get the lesson.

     * Chapter Thirty two – break into three – Tadaa—realize the solution. The characters in the B story and conversations discussing theme in the B story, and thanks to the hero’s last best effort to discover a solution to beat the bad guys who’ve been closing in and winning A story, the answer is found! A and B story intertwine. An idea to solve the problem has emerged.

     * Chapter Thirty five – finale begins – (gathering team, execute plan, high tower surprise, dig down deep, execute new plan) ACT 3 begins—Wrap everything up over the next few chapters. The lessons are learned and applied. The character tics are mastered.
Turning over old world and a creation of a new one—all thanks to the hero, who leads the way based on what he has experienced in the upside-down world of Act Two.

Dispatching of all the bad guys in order:
Lieutenants and henchman first, then the boss.
The chief source of the problem must be dispatched completely for the new world order to exist. New society is born.

     * Chapter Forty – final image – Opposite of the opening image. It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real. The End 🙂

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(example of my Break Into Three in chapter 32)

Fifth: I begin to fill in the story. Based off the turning points above, I’ll write my theme, or mid-point, or dark night of the soul, or final image scenes. This has helped me tremendously to see where my own personal story is going. I don’t outline scene or spaces between the beats or turning points. I’ve got to have some freedom and creativity! And it’s nice to have it all plotted out so that when I wake up in the middle of the night, dreaming about a scene that isn’t where I currently am writing, I jump up and write a quick scene in a future chapter.

Sixth: Now when I have a quick idea or gem of dialogue come to me (usually in the shower or in the middle of the night!) I put them in the yellow note section on the left hand bar or on the bulletin board which is another very cool thing about Scrivener.

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* I highly, highly recommend plotting before you start Nanowrimo or begin a new novel. This system alone has made writing easier and faster for me.

Now, let me say something about writing in such a formulaic way. If everyone did it, books would get boring. This is what I found works best for me after reading endless plot books, sitting through many conferences, and after a lot of trial and error. However, many people are considered pantsers and I have also written books that way. The wonderful thing about writing, is the variety. It’s the creative process. To me, I thought plotting in such a way would kill the creative process. But the more I write and want to do this professionally, the more I realized that I needed a system and schedule.

This blog post took forever to research and write and I hope it was helpful. Regardless, it’ll be good for me to have as a reference. I just wanted to share because I think this would be a great way to plot a NaNoWriMo and it gives you a month and a half to plan and plot before the craziness begins.

Was this helpful? Do you use another method to plot your novel, or are you a pantser? I’d love to hear about it! Thanks!

Good luck and happy writing! You can check out more of my writing tips HERE:

Tara

The Importance of Setting in a Novel

UPDATE: This blog post won an award for “media post” at the 2015 LUW writers conference.

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Write what you know. How many times have I heard that? Oh man, probably at every conference I have ever gone to, multiple times.

I know setting.

Long before I was ever an author, I would surround myself in settings which filled my soul with wonder. I would cover my limbs and face with autumn leaves to feel the smell. I would spend many nights under the stars, listening to the scurrying of little animals and the sounds of wind applauding my appreciation through the trees. The stillness would settle in my heart and when I began to bring pen and paper with me to different settings, my world became magical.

To me, setting should breathe like a character. It isn’t just streets, buildings, and names of towns — it is the lifeblood which weaves your characters and plot together. It shouldn’t be tacked in, but rather an integral part of the story. It grounds the reader.

It should also ground the author. The author carries the responsibility to bring details that are often overlooked. Especially, in my opinion, when it comes to nature.

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Pilot and Index Peak – Cooke City, Montana

Recently, I returned from a long trip through Montana and Yellowstone. I have visited many times and even lived there at one point. Those wild, rustic places are some of my favorite spots in the world and I felt the heavy burden to show my love for it in one of my novels. I hadn’t been up there for over a dozen years and I started creating the setting for my novel through memory. When I had finished my book, I was satisfied. But something tugged at me to visit those places again. Either my wild heart, or the pull to immerse myself in those mountains.

Arming myself with laptop, pens and journals, I was ready to take my story to battle and add details that were missing and change a few things. I was surprised when I came home and realized that I had never even written one word when I had surrounded myself in the nature I so dearly love. Why? It wasn’t a conscious decision by any means, but looking back, my body and soul yearned to feel the lifeblood of the setting. I didn’t need to muddle it with words, I needed to experience it and let the setting wash through me.

In this world where setting and placement are so often overlooked or replaced with handheld devices that capture our attention, authors need to work harder to ground the reader. We need to scream at our readers to notice detail. It breaks my heart every time I see someone surrounded by stunning scenery and their faces are aglow with the pale light of a handheld device.

Here are a few ways you can bring your setting to life in your novel, followed by some examples I have written.

*Be specific – it isn’t only a flower, describe the details. example: The vibrant purple petals stretched beneath an indigo hat which drooped over a white lip and a yellow bearded pouch. (Calypso Orchid)

*Sprinkle in similes and metaphors to connect – example: His temper was like a loose cannon. It could explode at any given time and I would be the set target.

*Use the senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, feel – This one is huge! I love to incorporate the senses. – example: My stomach was empty, which was good, because the smell hit me, and I heaved once more against the vacant remains of my belly. The putrid, decaying stench of rotten flesh made my eyes water.

*Show, don’t tell – instead of stating that its raining, describe the dripping trees, the puddles gathering in the crevices of rock, and the pattering on tin resembling tinkling bells.

Here is an excerpt from my novel Broken Smiles. The setting is in China, another one of my favorite places. I hope you can feel my love for it as you read my words.

Here and there rocks were covered with ancient moss. Orchids blossomed spontaneously upon the trees. Vines hung like ropes and twine, twisting upon the rubber and the banyan trees. Bamboo stood proudly against the moonlight, casting shadows that had been the same for thousands of years. Away from big city lights and pollution, it was easy to be transported back in time to ancient China. This land had managed to remain untouched throughout the different emperors and dynasties. As they walked, they passed a small ancient graveyard built against the hillside. The limestone shrines glowed mysteriously in the moonlight. Chinese characters and mini-sculptures were carved in the pale rock. Incense smoldered on the top of an old gravestone…

Thanks for stopping by –

Tara

First Liners – How to ‘pick-up’ on your readers. *wink, wink*

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I was tagged in a writing challenge to share the first line in my first three chapters on my work in progress. I chose to share from one of my YA fantasy novels.

First sentences are everything. They set the tone, the voice, the setting — they must hook the reader. Some people mull over and stress about this solid first line for months, maybe years. The daunting first sentence can become a wall that makes it so you never even want to start your novel. My advice would be to start anyway. Don’t think about fancy phrasing, or perfect eye catching action. Just start and let the words flow. Then go back and fix things. Personally, I love the itchy fingers when I think of a new idea. Sure I’ve written and re-written first lines over and over again, but this was usually after I’ve finished the book or the chapter.

The best advise I have received about a opening sentence, was the critiquing during a publication primer group. I also entered into a first chapter competition at the same time, and the feedback from the judges were exactly the same.

Below is my old first sentence, followed by the new first sentence. See if you can catch the difference.

Chapter 1
Old:
We ran, dodging cornstalks as if they were spears rooting into the land.
New:
I stood on a bluff overlooking our lower pastures. Against the scarlet horizon, chaos erupted from the small town.

I was dead set on the original sentence, thinking it was perfect to start with action. But the advise and feedback I received was that I needed a setting. “We ran” didn’t tell the reader anything about where they were, or what time frame we were in. In fact, the word “spears” made them think that the setting could be in ancient times, which was totally not the case. After that was brought to my attention, it was fun for me to create a one page scene before my characters ran. It still starts out with plenty of action, but my characters are witnessing it, rather then running from it.

Here are my first lines from Chapters Two and Three. (I’ve switched points of view in Chapter two, just so you know)

Chapter 2
“Master Caul, it is time to serve your birthday cake,” a timid voice carried from the doorway. As I glared out the window, my fingers gripped around the tapestry with one hand. I lifted the other to wave her away.
Chapter 3
Stepping out of the Ark and onto the ground above, grey ash fell soft like snow-flakes on a melancholy night.

* Now for my favorite first sentences in all of history, and I swear if my husband said this to me as a cheesy pick-up line when we first met, I would have said “yes!” right then and there. This shows a little glimpse into how much I love Tolkien. This is from The Hobbit. These opening sentences have everything; setting, senses, voice, character, and if you know the rest of the story which is filled with adventure, how perfectly humble it is to start inside a hole in the ground. It leaves us asking “what is a hobbit? I must read more to find out.” That my friends, is a hook.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down or eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.”

If you’ve got a first line you’d like to share, I’d love to read it in the comments below 🙂

– Tara

Gardening and Writing – how they relate.

I love to garden. I’ve always kept my fingernails as stubs because the feel of dirt between my fingers, invigorates me.

I’ve posted how teaching guitar and writing relate HERE.
I’ve posted how skiing and writing relate HERE.

Now I want to make the connection with writing and gardening.

I’ve worked on and off in garden centers for over fifteen years. I’ve narrowed it down to five stages of being successful in a garden and how it relates to writing.

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*Planning your garden:
Is it North facing? – re-think. How is the soil? – enrichment is key. What plants do you want to see in the fall? Think ahead. Envision your garden in its bounteous splendor! Envision what that homemade salsa is going to taste like. Can you taste it? “Hmm… maybe another plant of cilantro is needed.”

Envision your full grown garden.

*Planning your novel:
Basic bones here. Is it sci-fi, fantasy, romance, children’s, young adult?
Some authors are outliners. Some authors are pantsers. I am a hybrid between the two. I am too spontaneous to completely stick to an outline. When a scene strikes, I have to write it right then, on a napkin if I have to, just to get it out.
But, I am also a loose outliner. I have the outline to my novels hanging as butcher paper on my bedroom walls. Read more about that process HERE.
Also, when I write a scene, I have an outline below my cursor so I know where the story is going. If a word, or phrase, or dialogue strikes me and I am not in that part of the story yet, I put it in my bottom notes that just moves along with my writing.

Envision your story.

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*Planting your garden:

These little seedlings look so small and helpless. They need good soil, fertilizer, sunlight, water, and some need staking. It is a lot of hot, dirty work. (the part I love)

Set your baby plants up for success!

*Planting your novel:
We all start out uneducated and naive. We need to do the work and learn the craft. So go to conferences, join a critique group (or three, like me), build relationships in the writing world. It is a lot of work, and sometimes this stunts the creative flow, but your writing will get better.

Set your novel up for success!

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*Caring for your garden:
Sometimes the plants just need to grow. Make sure they are taken care of, then leave them alone to do their thing. You can love plants to death. In fact, I saw that more often, then with the neglected plants. Root rot is the cause of many a poor plants death.

Step away for a time!

*Caring for your novel:
After you have finished the novel, or the scene, or whatever you feel is done – leave it alone. Work on something else, go to classes, learn, get second opinions. Come back and look at it with new eyes. You will notice things that were not there before. This is so important to me. I often get so wrapped up in the details and the thrill of putting words on paper, that I don’t see the overall problems.

Step away for a time!

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*Harvesting your garden:
This is the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! You can see what plants did well and what struggled. Take notes for next year. You can share your bounty. (I mean who has ever had zucchini growing out of their ears!)

Share your talent and hard work!

*Harvesting your novel:
You have accomplished something that 81% of people say they will do, but 2% of people actually pull through! That is a huge accomplishment! Don’t focus on other people. Be happy with what you have accomplished. It took many seasons, rainstorms, weeds, bugs, whatever, to get to the end result.

Now share your talent and hard work!

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*Canning your harvest: (this is bonus)
Once you’ve harvested your garden, toiled endlessly over it, now is the time to package it into pretty canning jars.

This is for the future.

*Canning your novel:
No matter how you go about publishing, whether it be with a big or small publisher, self-publish, or just print a few copies for your family or generations to come. You have packaged it, preserved it in a timepiece.

This is for the future.

I love this quote:

‘I shall live beyond death, and I shall sing in your ears
Even after the vast sea-wave carries me back
To the vast sea-depth.
I shall sit at your board though without a body,
And I shall go with you to your fields, a spirit invisible.
I shall come to you at your fireside, a guest unseen.
Death changes nothing but the mask that covers our faces.
The woodsman shall be still a woodsman,
The ploughman, a ploughman,
And he who sang his song to the wind shall sing it also to the moving spheres.’

– Kahlil Gibran

Happy planting!
Tara