Archive for January, 2014

10 Tips for Winning Writing Contests, Scoring an A, or Attracting an Agent/Editor

January 27, 2014

1. Hook your readers with a vivid scene right away. How? Read on.

2. Specific senses will get your reader to experience your story.

Example: Gary D. Schmidt’s Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy begins like this: Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for fifteen minutes shy of six hours. He had dipped his hand in its waves and licked the salt from his fingers. He had smelled the sharp resin of the pines. He had heard the low rhythm of the bells on the buoys that balanced on the ridges of the sea. He had seen the fine clapboard parsonage beside the church where he was to live, and the small house set a ways beyond it that puzzled him some. Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for almost six whole hours. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand it.

3. Show the protagonist’s problem right away. Turner’s is shown in his feelings shown in the last sentence.

4. Character dialogue must move the story forward. If it’s just talking back and forth to talk, remove it.

5. Use adverbs sparingly. Change them to verbs.
Example: He said loudly. Change to: He shouted.

6. Create suspense with tension. Author Steve Mooser employs the element of time. He says, “If the bad guys are due into town at sunset, if Friday is the day of the school play – that’s the easiest way to build tension.” In Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the hourglass shows how much time Dorothy has to live.

David Almond created atmosphere with action verbs and specific images in Heaven Eyes:
Mud. Black, sticky, oily, stinking mud. It was January who dared to lean out of his raft first. He dipped his hand into what should have been water. He touched mud, black mud. It oozed and dribbled from his fingers. The raft settled, and mud slithered across its surface, onto our clothes. It seeped through to our skin. It seeped through the tiny gaps between the doors. I took my flashlight out, switched it on, saw the doors disappearing as they sank . . . saw that we were being slowly sucked down into the sodden earth . . . Our feet, our hells, our knees were caught in mud . . . I grunted, whimpered, groaned. I slithered forward. . . My head filled with the mist and darkness.

7. Everyone loves humor. The unexpected is funny. Two unlike characters or objects placed together can be funny.

8. Read your piece out loud. Is it balanced? Not big chunks of description or pages of pure dialogue, but evenly paced?

9. Eliminate vague words: Possibly, many, pretty, terrible . . .

10. What has the protagonist learned or how has your character changed in some small way?

After several drafts, put away your manuscript for a while. When you return, read it aloud with fresh eyes. Are you having fun? If not, rework the story until it’s just right. You’ll feel that tingle of excitement when it works!

The Good Fall: How do your Characters React to Trauma?

January 20, 2014

While examining tide pools at the coast, I hopped from one wet, slippery rock to another. Down I fell . . . Bam!

As I lay on my back in the water and stones, pain throbbed from my knees, legs elbow and back. But relief did too. Nothing was broken. Within seconds, Bob stood above me, screaming.

“Get up! Get up! Get up!”

Starring into the blue sky, I reassured him. “I’m fine, really. Water seeped from the tide pools into my clothes. My back felt each stone and rock.

“Get up! Get up! Get up!”

“Bob, I just can’t pop up. I need a moment.”

A wrinkled face appeared on the opposite side of where Bob stood. “Take your time,” said the stranger, his voice soothing me and my anxious husband. “There is no rush.”

Then I noticed a crowd gathered around me. Many sets of eyes peered down. I could imagine their thoughts. “Would she get up? Do we call an ambulance?” As white clouds floated by I wondered if this was similar to a death watch. Then another strange thought popped through my aches. Did I hurt any marine life in the tide pools below me?”

Perhaps I groaned as I steadied myself into a sitting position before rising.

“Shall I take I take you to the hospital?” Bob said.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just banged up.”

Later, while recounting the incident, Bob said, “I yelled ‘Get up?’ Really?”

And me? Bruised and battered, I walked with a ‘hitch in my get-up’ as my Aunt Mary would have described. My knees and shins swelled to twice their normal size. My entire legs looked like I had been in a boxing ring.

But.

I was fine.

Writing Prompts:

1. Write about two characters in a traumatic scene. How do each of them react?
2. Take that scene and slow-down-the-moment, using your senses. Over-write the piece!
3. Next, choose the best tense. (Past? Present? Future?) As you rewrite, choosing which senses are the most important, and verbs which are active.

Write Out of the Box!

January 13, 2014

“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” Juan Ramon Jimenez

In kindergarten, my son’s teacher gave each student a construction paper Christmas stocking along with decorations. Their assignment? Cut them out and glue them too look like her example.

A couple other mother-volunteers and I entered the room while teacher and class were on the playground for recess.

“Look at all their stockings,” said one mom.

Each stocking was hung, identically in a row along the wall. They could have been mimeographed in their sameness.

“Wow,” said the other mom, observing one stocking decorated with magic marker Christmas figures on the tiny white edge of the stockings’ perimeter.
“Who did that one?” said the first mom.
They peered closely at the small signature.
It was Tofer.

I write this anecdote not to brag, but to show how one five-year-old figured a way to be creative even with a cut and paste assignment.

How will you show your individuality with your writing or art?

Writing Prompts:
1. Select one of your scenes you’ve already written. How can you make it yours and only yours?
2. Make one of your characters quirky. What distinguishes this character from every other one in your book? A particular secret, trait, or passion may allow her to be amusing or annoying or lovable!
3. Create a setting that shows its character. Being specific creates identifiable reactions and emotions within your readers. Can you show nostalgia? A comfort setting? A suspenseful place? Remember sounds, smells and even tastes will allow your readers to feel like they are there.