Award time!

Last week I won a writing award at UVU for my unpublished YA fantasy novel, Vagabond!!!
When I sat down after my speech and chapter reading, I realized I didn’t thank my mom, or my husband, or anyone, really. 😬
My Mom came to the banquet with me because my husband was out of town. Her and I share the same mind and the same interests. She’s written 5 books, yet has no desire to publish them. (But she should!) She’s painted her entire life, yet has no desire to sell them. (But she should!) My mom’s my hero.
Also, I’ve been blessed with an incredibly supportive husband. He puts up with these two crazy ladies in this photo, that alone makes him a saint. 😀

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Ironically, last nights writing award banquet was also the night of the art show opening at the ‪Springville Museum of Art‬. You know, the show where I was rejected.
Lean in and I’ll whisper something to you… “I’d rather win a writing award than be in an art show.”
😀 🎉
You win some and lose some. Next year, how ’bout I try harder to do both.

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Thanks for stopping by.

-Tara

To Prologue or not to Prologue

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Whether or not you should write a prologue into your novel, has been a debate that I have seen over the years. The topic has come up many times in writing conferences and during writing competitions.

I have written prologues for every one of my stories… and then omitted them.

Here’s why…

* Most of the time I realized that prologues are big info dumps for either world-building or history. (click here for my post on info dumping) Sure, it is very important information, but can it be integrated or even changed to chapter one with a few tweaks? If you are using the prologue to set the mood or create the setting, uh, why wouldn’t you just do that in chapter one?

* I realized most of the time my prologue didn’t hook my reader. (click here for my post on how to hook your reader.) No one wants to read a boring prologue, no matter how vital the background information. When you pick up a book from the library or bookstore, do you find yourself skimming past the prologue? Studies show that most people do.

* Prologues are sometimes snatched from a scene in the novel and placed in the beginning. Personally, I don’t like this kind of introduction to a story. I think of movies that do this and one of the only ones that worked for me was in Breaking Bad. The opening scene was Walt in his underwear in the middle of the desert.

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Every scene thereafter leaves the viewer guessing… how did Walter White get there? When we finally find out, it clicks, but then the story continues past that scene. I think it is easier to do this kind of a prologue in movies, not books. It’s usually a sign of sloppy writing where the writer wants to tell the reader – wait, here’s a glimpse into the good stuff – but you won’t find it until half way through the book.

Personal experiences about Prologues.

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* I have entered my works in progress into many first chapter and beginning of book contests. Most every competition has stated that they do not want the prologue included. They want it starting at Chapter One. Why? Because the judges want to get to the meat of the story. When I started to see this over and over again, I realized that I think the judges probably have the same attention span as future readers.

* The best advice I received was for my work in progress, Vagabond. It is a young adult low fantasy novel. Many fantasy and sci-fi novels have prologues. I thought I could bend the rules and keep it in the story because of the genre:

I was told a few years ago, and I wholeheartedly agree, that my prologue had a different voice than my first chapter. My prologue sounded somewhat biblical, which made me happy because that is what I was going for. But, and this is a Big But… the young adult reader would most likely think that my entire story was written that way. People, especially teenagers, have the same attention span as a goldfish. What teenager wants to read something that sounds biblical? Yea, the light dawned for me, too.

* I am in five writing groups. I have read a lot of prologues-in-progress. Last week I went to Dave Farland’s professional writing workshop. Most of us were fantasy writers. Therefore, most of us had written prologues. We contributed and critiqued each others work and I could see how many of the prologues were unnecessary. A few things the instructor Dave said were: don’t use, don’t use, don’t use.

* Personally, I love them in books. I always read them. I write them, too. That is why I write them for myself and then keep them for myself. They are helpful to the author because it fleshes out important information. But it’s best to keep it to yourself or use as deleted scenes for when your novel becomes a blockbuster movie! Prologues generally can be sprinkled into the novel — preferably in the first few chapters. I have used dialogue and short glimpses of backstory from my main character to incorporate the prologue.

* It felt like cutting off a leg when I cut my prologue from Vagabond. Was my story enough to stand on its own? Yes, I think it is stronger now. But I still love my prologue. Most of it was in my villains point of view, so I have sprinkled it elsewhere. I’ll keep it for when my books become movies. 🙂

I would love to hear your comments. Do you like to read or write prologues? If so, why? I would love conclusive evidence.

Happy writing –

Tara

Here are a few other blog posts on writing prologues that you might find helpful.

David Farland – My Story Doctor – follow his writing tips! He’s fantastic. I scanned for one on prologues and became impatient because he has maybe a couple hundred excellent tips on writing. So just read through all of them 🙂

Kristen Lamb – 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues – follow her fabulous blog!

K.M. Weiland – skip the prologue – good read!

Foremost Press

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

The Wild Mustang

This weekend I spent an enlightening day at a wild mustang sanctuary called Wild Heart Sanctuary in Park City, Utah. Anyone who knows me, knows I adore horses.

They are my spirit animal. Image

Although my constant wish upon a star as a child to own a horse never came true, the cosmos smiled down upon me and bestowed blessings. Horse neighbors, riding lessons, and many opportunities throughout my life, filled the void. As a child, I was given packs of gum for payment to feed the horses everyday. Often times I found myself sitting in the middle of the pasture with velvet muzzles kissing my face. I am convinced that the most exhilarating feeling in the world is to run with a horse. Forget the roller coasters, the downhill skiing, the cliff jumping; I have done all of those. It is riding on the wind with a horse, that gives you the greatest rush. It is something that we, as a people, have lost. No longer the vehicle on which we depend upon for transportation, the horse is now a luxury.

And often times a burden…

This wild horse sanctuary opened my eyes to the cruelty of the atrocious holding pens and slaughter houses for the burden of the wild mustang. Oh, what have we done! We have erased the hoof print. There are currently over 50,000 wild mustangs in government holding pens. I urge you to go onto this website: Wild-Heart-Sanctuary and click on the documentary that my new friend and fellow wild heart Sonya Richins produced called MESTENGO. You can sign up and she will send it to you via e-mail for free.

Because of my love for horses, one of the main characters in my YA fantasy novel VAGABOND is a horse called Polaris. (hence wishing on a star when I was a child) Here is an excerpt from my novel.

He was a strange, powerful beast. I thought for the briefest of moments that he was born in this small space of time for me alone.

I peered deep into his horse eyes. The swirling fractals drew me in as if I was staring into the dark cosmos of space. Little bubbles of order formed around the pupil and I knew, just knew, that we had met before. In some other dimension or magnificent realm. The depth of his eye was not that of a young horse, but of a stalwart animal with old memories.

I knelt down before his face and buried my head into his muscular shoulder. His neck molded atop the crown of my head. Our hearts beat as one.

There was no ‘breaking in’ of this animal. How do you break in a wild creature? I drew my head back again and gazed into his infinite eyes, and I swear . . . I saw him smile.

– Tara

Don’t be set in Stone.

Over the course of the past couple years, I have received feedback from critique partners and betas that have asked me if certain parts of my stories are true. This happened again last night when I had taken a part of a biblical story and expanded on a small detail.

“Did that really happen?” I was asked.

“No, that is not a real character from the Bible, and no it’s not a real story.” My mind debated my claim, because to me, all of my stories are real. They don’t just seem real, they are real! Ha!

I love it when these conversations take place because I want my fantasy novel to feel real. One of my favorite parts about writing is the interlacing web of research. I start out with one idea and it spirals out of control into a completely different direction.

This happened with a certain stone I placed in my YA fantasy novel, Vagabond. Because I love minerals and geology, I was dead set on Rutilated Quartz (Venus hair stone). The mystical crystal is an energizing stone to help with mental focus, diminishing fears, and obtaining higher spiritual experiences. Absolutely perfect for my seer stone bracelet… or so I thought.

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My wandering research took me to find… Ringwoodite! This unique mineral is found in a vast reservoir of water, enough to fill the Earth’s oceans three times over, which scientist have found may be trapped hundreds of miles beneath the surface. The water is locked up in a mineral called Ringwoodite about 400 miles beneath the crust of the Earth, researchers say. Click here for a pretty cool article.

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Once I had switched the seer stones, from there, my story evolved, changed, became better. All because I was inquisitive enough to not settle with the first thought I had. In my writing I have tried not to write cliches. At times I have fallen victim, just like the rest of us, but I try to take my first thought and think of the opposite reaction.

Here is a chant from my novel Vagabond when my main character is gifted her seer stone bracelet.

“Ringwoodite be the name of the stone.

It is yours, it has found its home.

Formed in the earth’s ocean beneath.

Born from fire, pressure and heat.”

 

– Tara

 

Award time!

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My unpublished Young Adult fantasy novel, Vagabond, won an award!

Click here to read a short synopsis.

The thing that I anticipated most was the feedback from the judges. First, I want to start by offering encouragement to those of you who fear to submit your work. (Or fear critique and criticism in general.) Sometimes I have won, but more often than not, I have lost. It has been worth every emotion because of the feedback I have received from professionals in this crazy business of writing.

Here are a few judges comments that I received.

*I believe this is a page turner that young adults will very likely read in one sitting.

*This story appeals to me tremendously, and not just as a YA book. I think it is a very marketable concept. I would absolutely buy this book and then buy one for my niece.

The comment that left me grinning from ear to ear was

*Your love interest is captivating and oozes with sexuality. 

That one made me giggle! Because, for an author who writes clean romance, that is exactly what I love to hear. I do not write erotica, nor will I. I believe characters can have the same attraction, if not more so, by focusing on the dynamics of the relationship, not the dynamics in the bedroom. I have met a kaleidoscope of women and men in all their varying degrees and comfort levels of romance. Because of this, I have only respect for anyone who conveys their truth.

Speaking of clean romance authors, the lovely Sarah M. Eden (pictured above with me) was in attendance at the awards banquet. As she spoke to the gathered crowd, she reminded me about the “why’s” of writing, not the “what if’s.” If you have not read her books, you need to. Like, right now.

Authors are dreamers, inquisitive wielders of words and thoughts. It is easy for us to get lost in the “what if’s”, daydreaming about book sales and five star ratings, but that is not why we write. It isn’t for me anyway. I write because I must. I write because it is an outlet for my heart to bleed or vent or dream. I write for myself.

I want to thank you judges (whoever you are) and all of my fabulous critique partners. You guys make it fun!

Tara