Friday, July 29, 2011

Provocative Phrase Friday -- What are you doing tonight? + 11 Other Writing Prompts

Provocative phrases for July 29, 2011
  • What are you doing tonight?
  • Keep your eye on the ball…
  • I say I want…
  • Can you handle it?
  • In school, you…
  • Can we contain it?
  • So what did he…
  • It's like he's…
  • When you unload the car…
  • 50 years ago…
  • You can start now…
  • I am off on my first…

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The First Five Pages -- The Most Important Pages in Your Fiction

Hardcover book gutter and pages
Courtesy of Horia Varlan via Flickr
There is an old cliché that you “never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  Never is this more important than when you read a book. The first round of the Reading Elimination Tournament going on over at The 15-Minute Writer illustrates this well.  I am reading the first five pages of 64 books to determine if I want to keep reading them.   32 of these books will be eliminated using the following criteria:
  • Back cover/Book flap cover descriptions
  • Critical acclaim and quotes
  • Design and layout of the book
  • Author’s name and reputationn
  • Writing and content within those first five pages.

Of the five criteria, the writing and content within the first five pages is by far the most important factor in deciding if the book goes onto the next round.

As any agent or publishing professional will tell you, the first five pages of any fictional work has to be great.   It has to grab the reader by the throat and force him to keep reading.

One of the greatest books of all time on the subject, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Stay out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman, says it best in the introduction of the book:
"this book is not just about the first five pages of your manuscript; rather, it assumes by scrutinizing a few pages closely enough — particularly the first few — you can make a determination of the whole."
So if you have three typographical errors on the first five pages, you can assume that the book is riddled with them. After dialogue on those pages seems awkward or artificial, you can assume that it is the same in the rest of the book. If the plot or character bores you right off the bat, it's not going to get better from here. So as a writer you have five pages to get your best stuff on their to put the reader in and make them continue to read your book. This includes any reader not just agents or people who read books for a living, but the average the customer browsing the bookshelves, trying to decide between thousands of new books published every month which one she will read next.

The Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer, provides a checklist for what the first thousand words (about four double-spaced typewritten pages) should achieve. These pages should:

  • Introduce the hero character
  • Introduce, or at least allude to, the heroic characters worthy adversary
  • Present or strongly suggest the surpassing conflicts of the story
  • Deliver evidence of the danger, suspense or dramatic irony
  • Foreshadow crucial scenes
  • Foreshadow the climax
  • Demonstrate your ability to write at least one scene filled with action conflict imagery and dialogue
That seems like a lot, doesn't it? But try this: Get several books, read the first five pages of each, and see if the book meet some (or all) of these criteria. Chances are if it has met most of it, you‘ll want to continue reading the book.  Within the first round of the Reading Elimination Tournament over on The 15-Minute Writer, I analyze each book and determine why (or why they do not) make it to the next round, along with some other hints about making the first five pages of your story better.

This standard doesn't just apply to fiction, this can apply to any form of writing. So make sure that your first five pages are the best that they can be, because the readers are unforgiving judges with long memories.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Writing Topic Tuesday -- Money Edition

With all of the talk around the nation about debt ceilings, financial crises, bankruptcies, and the all-mighty-dollar, I think the time has come for a MONEY themed Topic Tuesday:
International Money Pile in Cash and Coins
  • What would you do if you received one million dollars in cash tomorrow?
  • For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. (1Timothy 6:10) True or false?
  • National Debt/Debt Ceiling – Does it really matter? Is it important? Or are we just kidding ourselves?
  • Monopoly – The business practice or the game.
  • Coins
  • "If you want to know what God thinks about money, just look at the people He gives it to." - Dorothy Parker Thoughts?
  • Bankruptcy
  • Your first paycheck
  • Get rich quick schemes
  • Budget/Budgeting
  • Taxes
  • Money and Relationships – According to this New York Times Article,  couples who reported disagreeing about finance once a week were over 30 percent more likely to get divorced than couples who reported disagreeing about finances a few times a month. What do you think?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Provocative Phrase Friday -- Her marriage was over + 11 Other Writing Prompts

Rome visit, June 2008 - 57 Photo courtesy of Ed Younkin via Flickr

Provocative phrases for July 22, 2011:
  • Her marriage was over…
  • How's that again?
  • Can you identify him?
  • Is it possible that…
  • He told me a week ago…
  • I have some bad news…
  • We have all the answers.
  • That was enough…
  • I'll tell you this about…
  • How to make a…
  • It's one less thing to…
  • You make me so mad!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What If - The Two Most Powerful Idea Generating Words for Fiction: Part 1

What if represents endless possibility. It represents all that will or can be. The first level of what if is to ask what if as it might apply to you, the writer.  These what ifs can be ordinary or fantastic. You know yourself and can create endless stories from pairing the words what if with an endless variety of interesting situations. 

Pick up any newspaper or magazine select a story and ask yourself what if you were entangled in that ordinary event or story?  How would you react? What would you do? How would it impact your life?
  • What if you lost your job tomorrow?
  • What if you were accused of murder?
  • What if you found yourself as a victim of a kidnapping on a family vacation?
  • What if there was a catastrophic earthquake in your town today?
  • What if you suddenly lost your hearing?
  • What if you witnessed a crime that required you to become part of Witness Protection?
You can also look at it as an imagination game, and ask yourself what if using fantastic ideas and events that don’t seem possible or believable.
Question mark sign
Courtesy of Colin Kinner via Flickr
  • What if I wake up tomorrow and the zombie apocalypse has begun?
  • What if you discovered that you could use magic?
  • What if you could go back in time and change one thing about your life?  What would it be?
  • What if you suddenly got a huge promotion at work, but it has a catch?
  • What if you won $200 million dollars in the lotto?
  • What if you encountered Bigfoot during a walk in the woods at a state park?
  • What if you had dreams that could predict the future at times?
  • What if your intelligence doubled overnight?
These are just a few examples of what if questions.  Come up with a list of your own with you in the starring role.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Writing Topic Tuesday – The Disaster Edition

I missed posting last week due to a severe thunderstorm.  A nearby lightning strike fried our cable modem and the cable company wasn’t able to replace it for several days. An inconvenience, yes, but annoying nevertheless.  This got me thinking about disasters.  (Check out Are You Ready for Disaster? Part 1 over at The 15-Minute Writer for tips on preventing writing disasters…)

Photo Courtesy of Qualsiasi via Flickr
So here are your topics this week:
  • Lightning
  • Flood
  • Nuclear meltdown
  • Wildfire
  • Riot
  • Mass panic
  • Earthquake
  • Tornado
  • Hurricane
  • Tsunami
  • Civil war
  • Explosions

Friday, July 15, 2011

Provocative Phrase Friday -- Her songs suck + 11 Other Writing Prompts

Provocative phrases for July 15, 2011:
  • How many times have you…
  • More things to worry about…
  • Does get harder or easier?
  • What keeps are talking:
  • Can you tell me…
  • Her songs suck…
  • So who really knows you?
  • Do you see that coming?
  • As she looks back…
  • What's in it?
  • Now I look like this…
  • Tommy hits the books.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Provocative Phrase Friday -- Me, scared? + 11 Other Writing Prompts

terrified sandwich
Photo courtesy of Sakurako Kitsa via Flickr

Provocative phrases for July 8, 2011:
  • Me, scared?
  • I have never enjoyed…
  • This just in…
  • I've been wrong before…
  • I hit it unbelievably hard.
  • I don't drive because…
  • We need only to…
  • I never talk like this.
  • You are not here to…
  • Some would kill for…
  • That's my other job…
  • When you're in a rush…

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Muse Review: Fiction Writer's Brainstormer by James V. Smith

Fiction Writer's BrainstormerFiction Writer's Brainstormer by James V. Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer by James D. Smith Jr. is an excellent book although somewhat misleadingly titled. It does indeed have some excellent brainstorming exercises, but it's great strength is in the many checklists that uses to help define and structure critical areas of fiction.

Chapter 16 entitled: Bonus! The Eighth Habit of Highly Effective Writers, has miscellaneous tips in it that make it worth the cover price of the book. I love how it uses miscellaneous techniques to help writers with description issues. It also shows several dialogue tricks which will help any writer improve his dialogue writing significantly.

The brainstorming portions of the book provide tools that any writer could use. One called the Bracketing Tool forces you to think of the many different solutions to specific problems and provides good examples of how they are used. It uses similar techniques for coming up with titles of stories or books, create specific images, and coming up with plot resolutions.

But probably the greatest strength of this book is the use of checklists throughout its. Instead of using brainstorming techniques it uses standard checklists to take a look at various story elements and helping make the book rates one example is that has a checklist for determining whether that you have a good story idea what should happen in the first hundred words, the first thousand words, 10,000 words and in the last 10,000 words. The specific checklists give you something to think about when looking at your story analytically. This book also uses a list of blank forms that you can photocopy out of the back to help you with writing tasks, scenes in your story, character information and even readability of your story. The book is broken down into many series of check boxes and bullet lists explaining what elements of fiction need to be in each area such as plot, seemed, character, conflict, and even good story ideas.

This book does an excellent job of hitting all the critical points of fiction. By providing some tips on how to improve without going overboard. Originally started reading this book to be a comparative title for the book I'm currently writing: Creative Thinking for Creative Writers, but found the book to include much more.

This book delivered much more than I expected, and definitely earned 4/5 stars and is well worth adding to your writing reference library.

Rating **** (Buy on Sale/Discounted)

About Ratings: ***** -- Well Worth it at Full Retail Price; **** — Buy on Sale/Discounted; *** — Buy Used; ** — Borrow It from the Library; * — Waste of a Good Tree

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Writing Topic Tuesday -- All Things Must End

These are just some random things that have been on my mind over the last week and a few current event topics, many of which seem to be about the end of things:
    Sunny, Our Yellow Lab
  • Space Shuttle – NASAs last shuttle launch of the Atlantis is due this week. What are your memories of the Space Shuttle?
  • Independence Day – Here in the U.S. we celebrated our Independence Day yesterday with parades and fireworks. What are your memories of the 4th of July or your Independence Day?
  • Fireworks – Are you just a spectator? Or do you light your own? Write about them.
  • Polar ice caps are melting – A gray whale made the voyage from the north pacific to the Atlantic last year by traveling across the Arctic. This is the first time this has happened in hundreds of thousands of years.  What does this mean for you? Does it matter?
  • Death of a pet – Our yellow lab, Sunny died in his sleep Sunday morning. We woke up to discover that he had passed away, sending us into immediate action: getting his body to the vet clinic for cremation, and having to tell all of the kids the sad news, and then shedding a few tears ourselves. What are your memories of your pets? How did you memorialize them?
  • Casey Anthony Trial – Another sensational, very public trial surrounding the death of a little girl… What do you think of the media’s portrayal of this sad event?  Why has it captured the rapt attention of so many people around the nation and the world? Did the legal system work in this case?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Provocative Phrase Friday -- Before it gets worse... 12 Writing Prompts

For July 1st, 2011 and a provocative photo prompt for you:
If You Put That Picture On The Internet I'll Call My Lawyer
  • You've crossed the line...
  • I've been thinking a lot about...
  • What's that smell?
  • Before it gets worse...
  • We've found a...
  • Would you mind talking to me?
  • The phone rings.
  • He has a drinking problem.
  • If you listened to us...
  • You'd be crazy to watch...
  • Three things you need...
  • How could you hear...