The novel I submitted, THE LIFE MAKEOVER CLUB, came about during my own life makeover, and had many makeovers of its own (revisions, revisions, revisions) and I’m so glad it’s finally ready to be ‘out there’ and has caught the attention of Joelle Delbourgo from Joelle Delbourgo Associates, Inc in New Jersey, USA.
This milestone has made me realise how far I’ve come in the last four years. So often we keep thinking about the future, wanting to get somewhere, achieve new things, that we can forget what we have achieved already. When was the last time you took a step back and celebrated your progress in life?
Since I made the commitment to being a writer in October 2009, I’ve written five novels (3 with publishing contracts), two novellas (both published), several short stories, and a few partials (3 chapters and synopsis of a potential story), as well as MANY title and plot ideas! I have a title fetish. I collect them and think of new ones all the time, jotting them down on my title list. For me, a simple, catchy title can inspire a whole story idea.
When I came up with the title for The Life Makeover Club, I knew it was something I had to write. I’d been trying to think up an idea for my first story. All I knew was that I wanted to write a novel. I’d participated in a couple of self improvement and business coaching programs, and thought it would be fun to write about people who wanted to change their lives in some way, and who took major action to make their dreams a reality. And so this book was born.
After about seventy queries to agents over three months, I am now one step closer to my dream of having this book published. I had several requests for the full manuscript, a few for the partial, and two offers of representation. Of course, I could only accept one, and let me tell you – it was a very hard decision to make! Especially as during that week I was dealing with the sadness of our old home burning down in the Blue Mountains bushfires. My son grew up there, and the house was mostly designed by my mum, and so much work had been done on it. But it’s the memories we had there that made it so sad. It was heartbreaking to see it burning on the TV news, and then to see the mess of the rubble in photographs afterwards. They say big things often happen all at once, and over those few days they certainly did! Anyway, I was thrilled with both agent offers, and ultimately decided to put myself in the capable hands of Joelle.
Next step: make some improvements to the manuscript to prepare it for submission, then wait and hope a publisher (or two, or three…) wants it!
I’m ready, I’m excited, and I hope to be sharing this story with you soon!
1. Create a High Concept Hook
Can you summarise the premise of your story in a short sentence? Does this sentence clearly state what the book is about? If not, you might need to work on either clarifying what the heart and soul of your premise actually is, or reworking your idea to be more ‘high concept’ and unique.
Try to incorporate character, goal, and conflict. Who is your character, what do they want, and what’s going to make it difficult for them to get it?
The main thing to remember is to be specific, not vague, and make it memorable.
For example, here’s the one sentence pitch I used for my novel, Fast Forward:
Aspiring supermodel, Kelli Crawford seems destined to marry her hotshot boyfriend, but on her twenty-fifth birthday she wakes in the future as a fifty-year-old suburban housewife married to the now middle-aged high school nerd.
From this we can tell who the character is (Kelli, a model), what she wants (her boyfriend to propose), and what her conflict is (she wakes up 50 and married to someone else).
A less memorable way of writing this could have been:
A young woman wakes up on her birthday to find that she’s middle-aged and married to someone else.
It still has some merit, but it’s not specific enough. To turn it into the high concept premise mentioned earlier, instead of just saying ‘young woman’ we point out her name, her occupation, and her age. Instead of saying ‘middle-aged’ we say fifty years old, in the future, and a housewife. And instead of saying she ‘married someone else’ we make it known that her husband is the nerd from high school who is now middle-aged. See how being specific makes a huge difference?
>>What can you do to your premise/hook to make it more specific and interesting?
2. Start Your Story at the Inciting Incident
Your story could start in several different ways, so make sure you choose the way that best showcases your story’s premise and kick-starts the plot. By the end of the first chapter your high concept hook/one line pitch should make sense, and the reader should be motivated to read on and see what happens. Don’t start with backstory and then only begin the real story in chapter three, start the story where the story starts.
Have a think about what sets off your story, what is the key action that puts your character into the situation that propels the story forward, and start there. Action and dialogue are key to starting the story with a bang. Avoid excessive narration and description.
For example, in Fast Forward, the story starts with the main character, Kelli, on the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday. We first see her enjoying everything that’s great about her life, and then she gets a rude shock when she wakes up in the future and finds that she’s doubled in age. By the end of chapter one, the story premise has begun and the conflict is unfolding.
>>What is the best, most interesting place to start your story? What action is needed to kick-start the plot?
3. Have a Punchy First Line
Not only do you need to start your story off right, you need to start with a line that shows something about the character, the goal, or the conflict. Or something that immediately sets the tone or voice of the story, catapults the character into the action, or poses a question that the reader will want to have answered.
Using the example of Fast Forward again for the sake of consistency, the first line is:
I can’t help that I’m beautiful. There, I’ve said it.
Immediately we know that Kelli is beautiful and she knows it, and is probably a bit conceited, though she sees it as just being honest. Of course, this type of character may turn some people off (and I was totally prepared for that!), but the idea is that it will be more fun when we see her get her comeuppance in the future when she’s no longer young and beautiful, and we can have a bit of a laugh at her expense. I also wanted it to contrast with the last line in the book (which I won’t reveal but has to do with beauty) to show how far she has grown as a person by the end of the story and what she has learned about what’s really important in life.
>>Write down some possible first lines for your story… how can you first introduce the character, goal, or conflict? Also, try to end the chapter with a punchy line as well so the reader wants to read on to find out what happens next. Take a look at some first lines from your book collection to get some ideas.
4. Minimise Backstory
You might feel that you have to tell the reader a whole heap of stuff about your characters and their past so they can ‘get to know them’, but you don’t. Character is mostly shown through action, behaviour, and dialogue. Backstory can be filtered in here and there in a subtle way that adds to the story rather than dragging it down.
Going overboard with backstory will slow the pace and become boring. The best thing to do is immerse your reader into the action of the story first (and by action I don’t mean shoot-outs and car chases, unless that is the type of story you are writing!). The type of action can vary depending on genre. It can be a heated conversation, a meeting between two people, an unfolding dilemma, or a funny or embarrassing situation the character finds themselves in. Focusing on some sort of action will reduce the need for backstory.
This doesn’t mean you can’t include any backstory in the beginning, just be subtle and don’t lump it in all in one go. Fast Forward begins with an argument between Kelli and her sister on the eve of her birthday. I included a small amount of backstory in the fourth paragraph to add context to their argument, but then the action resumes quickly. If you include backstory, make sure it serves a purpose that enhances the scene, and not just as a way to ‘tell’ the reader something.
>>To reduce backstory in the beginning, have a think about the absolute minimum amount and type of information needed to make the scene work. Anything extra – get rid of it, and filter in gradually as the story progresses.
5. Show Don’t Tell
Showing means using character behaviour, dialogue, and action to tell the story, as opposed to narration and description.
This doesn’t mean there can’t be any ‘telling’ in your story, some is needed here and there to balance things out and get vital information across, but showing should predominate. Showing helps the reader visualise the scene more clearly and have a more immersive experience alongside the character.
You can improve your showing versus telling by thinking visually, and also by searching for unnecessary words in your manuscript including: starting, started to, began, was, were, almost, saw, heard, and felt. These are filter words, they filter your reader’s experience rather than immersing them in it. They can still be used, but sparingly, and only when necessary.
Here is an example of telling:
I stood in front of the mirror and couldn’t believe what I saw. My belly was loose and flabby, and my breasts were droopy.
And here’s how it can be changed to better ‘show’ what’s happening (from a scene in Fast Forward):
I finally stood again at the mirror, my mouth gaping. I lowered my hands to my abdomen, lifting and prodding clumps of loose skin that felt like a bag of jelly.
What in the name of Dior happened to my flat stomach? Not only did I have a freaking jelly belly, my breasts drooped so far south they were practically residents of Antarctica.
Instead of telling the reader that the character ‘couldn’t believe it’, show them, eg: ‘my mouth gaping.’ And instead of telling the reader that her belly was loose and flabby, put some action into it, eg: ‘lifting and prodding loose clumps of skin’.
Keep these filter words handy and catch yourself out when you use them to see if there’s a better way of writing the scene. Until you get used to minimising these words, you can also just leave it until the editing process and then change them, by using the ‘find’ function on your word document.
Keep these 5 tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to starting your story with a bang! Good luck to those doing NaNoWriMo
Like this post? Tweet it by copying & pasting any of the following into a tweet:
Writing Tips for #NaNoWriMo from author @Juliet_Madison http://bit.ly/Hd7ASB
Examples in this article taken from the book, FAST FORWARD, available from all online ebook retailers.
Attention writers! Fancy a free, fast, five-page critique of your work? The first ten people to buy or gift a copy of FAST FORWARD and forward their receipt to me will get one!
I’ll critique five standard pages (word document, 12 point font, double spaced) of anything fiction-related you’d like feedback on: the first five pages of your manuscript, a synopsis, back cover blurbs, or a brief synopsis and a few pages of a chapter – whatever you can fit into five pages in total. Any genre.
Here’s how to score a critique:
1. Buy FAST FORWARD anytime from now till the 10th June (Queen’s Birthday long weekend), or if you’ve already got it you can gift a copy to a friend.
2. Send your receipt or a screenshot of your proof of purchase to me at fastforwardbook(at)gmail(dot)com – replace (at) with @ and (dot) with .
Receipt should be dated 8th, 9th, or 10th June, or if you’re international and not yet up to Australian time and it’s still the 7th, I’ll accept that too. Basically, from the moment this blog post is live you’re eligible.
If you’re one of the first ten, I’ll let you know and you can send me your five pages.
The critique will be via Microsoft word ‘track changes’ (comments in the side margins and some suggestions within the manuscript), and will include general feedback on the story as well as grammar, showing vs telling, dialogue…etc. It may also include the odd smiley face and exclamation mark. You have been warned.
Get in quick! Buy FAST FORWARD worldwide via…
Then forward your receipt to fastforwardbook(at)gmail(dot)com
I look forward to reading your work!
~ Tweet this post by copying and pasting any of the following into a tweet:
Want a 5 page critique? Get in quick at @Juliet_Madison’s blog! http://bit.ly/ZxQmp8 #critique #amwriting
Writers! 5 Page critique of synopsis &/or manuscript to first 10 people! Details here via @Juliet_Madison: http://bit.ly/ZxQmp8
When I’m editing, and before I do a final read through and tweaking of my manuscript, I use Microsoft Word’s ‘find’ feature to search for the following ten words. These words can usually be deleted in order to tighten up the writing and focus on ‘showing vs telling’.
Sometimes ‘almost’ can work but often it’s not needed. Eg: With his sunken eyes and pallor he
almost looked like a ghost. An example where it may work could be: She almost slammed the door in his face. Or instead of that, it could be changed to: She resisted the urge to slam the door in his face.
Usually there is a stronger word available to replace the need for ‘very’, or the phrase can be changed completely to something else. Eg: ‘very sad’ could become ‘despondent’. Eg: It was very sunny. Better: It was sunny. Even better: She squinted as the sun’s glare rebounded off the pavement and hit her eyes.
When this is used alongside ‘to’, as in ‘started to’, it’s probably not needed. Eg: She started to get dressed. Better: She got dressed. Even better: She zipped her jeans and put on a t-shirt.
This is similar to ‘started’. Eg: It began to rain. Better: Droplets of rain dampened her hair, or: He flicked on the windscreen wipers as rain blurred the road ahead.
5. stood up
Remove the word ‘up’. If someone stood, it’s obviously up.
6. sat down
Remove the word ‘down’. If someone is going from a standing position to a sitting position it is obviously ‘down’. Except if the person is lying down and then changes to a sitting position.
Removing ‘heard’ or ‘hear’ gives the reader a more vivid experience. Eg: She heard someone call her name. Better: A voice called her name. Eg: I could hear the rain pelting against the window. Better: rain pelted against the window.
Same as with ‘heard’. Eg: She saw his face through the window. Better: His eyes glared at her through the window. Eg: I could see him coming towards me. Better: He came towards me.
Telling a reader what a character felt is not as powerful as showing them. Eg: She felt relaxed and happy. Better: She leaned back in the chair and a smile eased onto her face.
Eg: If she could
just find a way to get through to him, he might understand. Eg: “The shop is just around the corner.”
There are more suggestions of words to search for at this very useful site.
Have a search of your manuscript and see how many of these words you can find and change to improve your book.
Are there words that you often overuse in your writing?
I’m over at the Life In A Pink Fibro blog today talking about how to write a romance novel and the ten things I’ve learned on my journey to publication. It was interesting to look back on where I was a few years ago to where I am now. I hope you’ll get a lot out of this post!
And if you haven’t visited my blog for a while, here are some other recent posts you might like to check out:
- I took the plunge like Jenn J McLeod did and interviewed myself! Past Present Future with…me!
- Annie Seaton shares her Promotional Tips for Authors.
- Sandra Antonelli and I discuss the issue of ‘older’ women in fiction at the Escape Blog.
I’m also thrilled to have received some great reviews for Fast Forward recently, over at Novel Escapes, YA Novelties, and Chick Lit Club! A BIG thank you to the reviewers for taking time to read the book and write the reviews.
Coming up soon on the blog, an interview with Natalie Charles, a guest post by Ros Baxter, and a post on Twitter Basics for Authors. Stay tuned!
Every now and again I get the urge to write a short story. Especially if there’s a competition (Aries competitive nature). Earlier this year Country Style magazine held a short story competition with the theme ‘Cooking from the heart.’ The $5000 prize was a big motivator to enter, but even though I didn’t win I enjoyed writing my story and am proud of the result.
When I heard what the theme was, it was the perfect theme to match to a story idea I’d had for a while, so with enthusiasm I sat down and wrote the story all in one go till the early hours of the morning.
2000 words doesn’t seem like a lot, but with short stories you have to plan the plot and create characters just like in a novel, in fact, sometimes short stories are more challenging because of the restriction in length. You have to focus on a moment in time with only a couple or a few characters and have a satisfying emotional ending to the story. Sometimes the ending is not an ending but the start of something new, but the event that takes place in the story is the driver for that new beginning.
My ‘cooking from the heart’-themed short story, SISTERS AT HEART, is now published on Smashwords. It’s set in the fictional town of Tarrin’s Bay where I am setting a series of novels, the first being THE JANUARY WISH which is completed and the second being FEBRUARY OR FOREVER which is a work in progress. SISTERS AT HEART is women’s fiction with a twist; there’s a little surprise at the end that some people may guess and others may not.
Here’s the blurb…
Grieving the loss of her sister and breakdown of her marriage, Carrie moves to the small seaside town of Tarrin’s Bay for a fresh start with her young son. When she volunteers for the school cake stall, a remarkable coincidence has her realising the incredible power of the human heart.
You can read the first page here, and if you like the sound of it and want to see what the twist is, the full story is only 99 cents
I’d love to hear what you think about it! I might write more ‘Tarrin’s Bay’ short stories.
Do you have any short stories published? If so, let me know in the comments
Writers often slave over their manuscripts for months, sometimes missing out on sleep, and the writing is only half of it. Then comes editing, revising, editing, and so on. But because we love our craft we keep going – book after book after book. There is nothing like the reward of a finished book and a story well told.
Another option for those who need a writing ‘fix’ is to try your hand at writing a novella. Longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, novellas allow us to tell a story in a shorter amount of time but with that same thrill of creating characters and scenes that will take us (and the reader) on an emotional journey.
Shorter doesn’t necessarily mean easier though – you have been warned! You still need to work on characterisation, goal, motivation, and conflict, and be able to show enough character growth through the shorter word count. But they are usually much quicker to write and edit, and because of the advance of e-publishing and self-publishing, novellas seem to be more widely available nowadays.
Novellas can be produced more quickly, you can explore certain ideas that may not be sustainable through an entire novel, they are good for seasonal stories (eg: Christmas), and they can also be used as prequels or sequels to longer works of fiction. For the reader, they are a bite sized read that can be devoured in one go during a lunch break or before bed, but often still providing that same sense of emotional satisfaction that comes from reading a novel. They are a good way to discover new authors too, without committing to a full length book.
I recently wrote my first novella, STARSTRUCK IN SEATTLE; the first in a series of novellas linked by a quirky character named Lulu. It took me about three weeks to write the first draft. And when I say three weeks, I don’t mean three full-on weeks, I mean snippets of writing time here and there around motherhood and other duties! So if I didn’t have much else to do, I could probably have written it in about a week (says the optimistic part of me )
How did I come up with the idea for my novella? Sleepless in Seattle was on television and because I am a sucker for stories of ‘fate’ and romance that is ‘just like magic’, an idea about an online matchmaker and Love Coach came to me. But in this case, the matchmaker has a little secret. Here’s the blurb for the story…
Actress Anna Hilford has a major crush, but not on just any guy – Karl Drake, the leading actor in the television drama on which she works as an extra. Sick of being loveless and second best in the shadow of her famous sister, Anna seeks the help of Lulu from LuluTheLoveAngel.com to give her the courage and determination to follow what she believes is her destiny and transform from ‘extra’ to ‘leading lady’ in both life and love. What she doesn’t realize however, is that Lulu really is an angel and destiny has other ideas.
I found writing this novella fun and rewarding, though still a bit of hard work here and there! And in case you’re wondering, Lulu’s website does exist, though she told me she’s having a little vacation on Cloud Nine and will hopefully be back soon
~ Have you written a novella? Feel free to give yours a plug in the comments.
~ Do you read novellas? What are some that you’ve enjoyed reading recently?
A gourmet dinner at the hotel buffet after the recent RWA conference led to more than just a full stomach. It led to the birth of a new writers club for me and my fellow dining companions. We decided we were committed to being up on the conference stage to collect our First Sale Ribbons as soon as possible, and created a club to help each other achieve that goal – the goal of our first publishing contract.
Our desired outcome comes down to several factors of course, some of which are outside our direct control, but we believe that through commitment to our craft, consistency in action, support of each other, and confidence in our work we can achieve that outcome. And when the time is right for us, we believe we will be on that stage celebrating our first sale.
The club is now in its third week, and already I have achieved more than I would have without the club. Each Monday we state our weekly goals to the group, and share what we achieved from the week before. Doing this makes us focus on the little steps needed to lead towards our bigger goals, and helps us to be more productive.
For writers, life often gets in the way of being consistent with writing, especially when you’re not yet contracted and you feel like you should be doing something else. But having a few like-minded people around you who share your goals is a huge help, and helps you to prioritise your writing and take action towards your dreams.
There is something exciting about writing down your goals and ticking them off as they are completed, even more so when you share these goals with others. Having a writing buddy or a small writing group gives you the power of accountability. No one wants to check in with the group and say they didn’t achieve their goals, so knowing you have to share your progress with the group acts as a strong motivator to get things done, and to stay on the path you have chosen.
If you don’t have a writing buddy or group, I strongly recommend joining or starting one. First of all, join RWA (The Romance Writers of Australia), as they are such a supportive organisation for writers and I have learned so much through them and made great new friends. You don’t even have to be a romance writer to join, we have writers of many different genres in RWA. Then, hook up with a suitable critique partner so you can provide feedback on each other’s work. RWA has a critique partner match-up scheme, or you can find one by asking around online and sharing a few samples of work to see who you click with. I found mine rather organically… we began a conversation on facebook earlier this year and never stopped, and after sharing a sample of work we decided we would like to work together and have been critiquing happily ever since (and our facebook chat is still continuing to this day!). Now through my new writers club I have an additional CP, as it can be good to get two different opinions on your work (plus, I have found the processing of critiquing another writer’s work helps me with my own writing).
So if you find yourself getting to the end of the week and wishing you had written more, learned more, or read more, then consider starting an ‘accountability group’; a group that doesn’t necessarily have to read each other’s work, but exists for the main purpose of helping each other achieve weekly or monthly goals. It makes a huge difference!
A synopsis is a summary of a novel’s main plot points and characters, from the beginning right through to the end. Most agents and editors like to see one when assessing your manuscript for possible publication, so it’s something almost all writers have to do at some point. I’ve noticed many publishing professionals request a ‘brief synopsis’, which I take to mean about one or two pages at the most. Others may ask for a more detailed five or six page synopsis. But this is something many writer’s struggle with, me included.
How can you possibly take a 300-400 page story and explain it in only one or two pages?
I don’t claim to be an expert on this (far from it, although I do my best!), but here are some things I’ve learned while writing my own synopses. I’ve called it ‘The Russian Doll Method’!
Open your manuscript and summarise all the main plot points, as though you’re giving someone a running commentary on a TV show or movie they can’t see. Use present tense. Don’t worry about length at first, just get the main plot points down (big Russian doll), and add in a taste of your voice, so if it’s humorous, show some of the humour, if it’s suspenseful, add that element to the synopsis too, as long as you don’t leave any questions unanswered. A synopsis’ purpose is to tell a potential agent or editor/publisher what the book is about and what happens throughout the story, including the ending.
Once you’ve written the summary, go through and highlight the most important events affecting the main character/s in yellow. Then highlight the slightly less important events, but still a required part of the story, in another colour such as grey (just one shade, not fifty. Sorry, couldn’t resist;)). You might find that some events can be left out of the synopsis, for the sake of brevity.
Now start again, writing the synopsis focusing on the highlighted parts, and tightening up the sentences (smaller Russian doll). Check the length to see if you need to cut further, and if so, go through the highlighting process again (even smaller Russian doll). Also, see if some plot events can be combined into one sentence as an overall summary of the situation, so rather than:
John arrives at his grandma’s house and notices the door is unlocked. He searches all the rooms in the house, but finds them empty, so he walks out the back door and through the overgrown garden. She isn’t there either. He goes back inside and stands in the kitchen, scratching his head, then notices a half-eaten toasted sandwich resting on the table. He picks it up and finds it is still warm. Thinking his grandma might have been abducted only moments ago, John immediately calls the police. (forgive the crappy writing, this is just an example!)
Using the highlighted parts (which I’ve underlined instead because I don’t know how to highlight on this blog!), the paragraph could be changed as follows:
When John arrives at his grandma’s house it is empty, and her half eaten lunch is still warm. Terrified something bad has happened to her only moments before his arrival, John calls the police.
And if you had to cut it even further it could be changed to:
John calls the police on finding his grandma’s house empty.
Sometimes it’s easier to work this way, starting with a long synopsis and gradually breaking it down. If you end up trying this process, I’d love to hear how it goes for you – let me know!
How do you go about writing a synopsis, are there any valuable tips you’ve learned through the process?