Monthly Archives: September 2017

Magic Wand Words

Remember the Disney production of Cinderella, when the good witches waved their magic wands of blue, red and green? Their glitter flowed like Fourth of July sparklers, creating magic.

That’s what my blog is about today—the magic that happens with words. In an entire novel, only a few or at most several dozen of them may appear. When they do, they connect us to the characters, embed us more deeply in the setting and emotions of the scene, and increase our enjoyment and understanding of the story. They linger in our memories.

These are a few of my favorite magic-wand words. Enjoy! May these words that so inspired me also inspire you to dig deeper in your creative reservoir. May your current work in progress sparkle!

Nora Roberts, Spellbound:  

… an exquisite simile

And she was there, just there, conjured up out of storm-whipped air. Her hair was a firefall over a dove-gray cloak, alabaster skin with the faint bloom of rose, a generous mouth just curved in knowledge. And eyes as blue as a living star and just as filled with power.

Nora Roberts, Public Secrets

… another one

She would remember the feel of the air against her face, air so moist from the sea it might have been tears.

 Nora Roberts, Sanctuary

… a character-enriching analogy

She walked to the water’s edge, let the surf foam over her ankles. There, she thought when the tide swept back and sucked the sand down over her feet. That was exactly the same sensation he was causing in her. That slight and exciting imbalance, that feeling of having the ground shift under you no matter how firmly you planted your feet.

Katie Schneider, All We Know of Love  

…melding scene and character

The clouds are pulled thin like cotton. I understand how they feel, out in the middle of nowhere, unsure of quite where they’re heading.

Laura Kinsale, Flowers from the Storm

…skillful use of the senses

“I saw you in India.” Mrs. Humphrey had about her the slightly sour tang of an unchanged baby. “You took my clothes off.”

…expression of fury, revenge, stunning rhythm and great example of back-loading

He thought of the look on the Ape’s face, the relish of terror, the time it would take; he’d once seen two men hanged and quartered—the expression of the second condemned traitor as he watched the executioner cut down and butcher the first: that was the fear, that was the struggle, the prolonged kicking and spasms, that was the cringing, weeping, purple-faced, swollen-tongued, bloated sickening twitching entrails-sliding agony he was going to inflict.

Mary Jo Putney, Loving a Lost Lord

…fresh imagery

He wouldn’t need her, and that was as it should be. … When she was old and gray, the time she had known Adam would be the merest ripple in the lake of her life.

Annie Proulx, Close Range-Wyoming Stories

This passage slams the reader into the scene

“Hey, you’re old enough almost a be my grandmother. I rather eat rat jelly than—”

But he was edging closer and Mrs. Freeze saw his trick and the red-flushed neck swelled like that of an elk in mating season, the face beaded with desperate sweat.

…succinct characterization

“Think about it, give me a call.”

“I don’t need a think about it,” said Mrs. Freeze. She dropped the cap of the whiskey bottle, kicked it under the chair. She didn’t need that, either.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

Memorable, humorous, backloading

“I don’t know where you keep finding these Mexican strawberries,” he said, referring to the beans. Bolivar … mixed them with so many red chilies that a spoonful of beans was more or less as hot as a spoonful of red ants.

Barbara Bretton, Just Like Heaven

…exquisite rhythm and backloading

…she clung to his shoulders so she wouldn’t slide off the face of the earth and into some vast unknowable universe of shooting stars and fireworks and whispered warnings that some things are too good to be true.

Jacquelyn Michard, A Theory of Relativity

…another memorable simile

He had never been able to think of that except as “innocent,” as guileless and tender as a childhood Christmas.

Tina St. John, Lord of Vengeance

…word choices

The answer came swiftly, softly at first, a dark whisper that curled around him, anchoring his soul to the earth with shadowy tethers.


UPDATE: I’ll be presenting a “Magic Wand Words” workshop at RMFW’s writing conference on Saturday, September 9 at 2:30 pm. You can learn more at http://bit.ly/2xQsKk8 (on page 16 of the brochure).

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Power-charge your book blurb with hooks

Now that you’ve completed your novel, your next big challenge is to write a good blurb that condenses your 100,000-word novel into a short, captivating sentence worthy of the so-called “elevator pitch.”

I, too, cringe from writing blurbs. I’ve even given workshops on blurbs. I recognize great ones when I see them, and can de-construct them to reveal their strengths. I can write blurbs for other people. Yet sitting down to write my own? Blek.

For many years, I used the journalistic approach to writing my blurb. I thought of it as a mini-synopsis. Now, though, I’ve grown to think of the blurb more as a fishing expedition. Fish don’t always want the same things, and all fish don’t respond to the same temptations. Sometimes they want a sparkling lure, other times they’ll bite some drab, rubbery thingy. Sometimes its best to adjust your bobber so the hook sinks deeper in the water, other times more shallow. Whatever the variation, though, readers (and agents and editors) need to be hooked.

What are the currently hot tropes/hooks? The editors and agents are always quick to point out that they only know what they used to be—what they were last week, last month. They are ever-changing, fickle as the market.

There are some trusty tropes that seem to live forever, though. Cinderella. Survival. Strong female lead. Fish out of water. Returning home. Family betrayal. Change of fortunes.

What makes your story unique? I think this question is what paralyzes writers. Their answer (like ours) is probably … everything! “It’s my story,” we may say. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and there are many reasons why it’s unique.”  So we expound and expand.

If we stay with the fishing analogy, this would be like spilling a dump truck of junk into the water, gooey stuff that contains an odd mixture of many, many ingredients. Some of it may be really good, but it’s been amalgamated into an incomprehensible sludge.

Setting aside all the wonderfulness of your story, what sets your protagonist apart? Perhaps your response is: My novel has a kick-ass heroine. Okay, but how can you make that more interesting, and specific to your novel? Consider these from the archives:

Tough widow Norma Rae has a lot on her hands, working to the bone at a textile mill–and fighting to unionize her hazardous workplace.

Feisty young mother fights for justice any way she knows how. She takes on a powerful utility company and won’t take no for an answer. (Erin Brokovich)

 It is one woman’s fearless quest, criss-crossing the globe in an amazing attempt to save the world.  (Lara Croft, Tomb Raider)

 Gutsy Lieutenant O’Neil dares to earn a place with the elite Navy SEALS.  (G.I. Jane)

 Going beyond the cliché of something like “kick-ass heroine,” what dominant trait does your female protagonist possess? In what unique/interesting ways does she demonstrate that?

Be it kick-ass heroines, secret codes, ghosts, secrets, or intergalactic wars, remember to craft your hook as well as you crafted your book–and use tantalizing bait.

So here’s your chance to practice before you meet that editor or write that headline  … what’s your blurb? Hook me!

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