Category Archives: The Writing Life

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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Filed under "Janet Lane", finding you book's hook, get published, self publishing novels, success techniques, summarizing your novel, The Writing Life

1, 2, 3: How to reach your goals

Wannabe goals. We all made them for the new year, right? Unbelievably, we’re now knocking on the door to June.

Often our goals are unspoken but sincere, something we know we need to accomplish to advance our writing. They inspire us for a moment then, in the face of our busy lives, we allow them to fade.

Write my synopsis. Develop my marketing plan. Finish my outline. Finish/Revise my book. Query my top five publishers. Learn how to blog. Get reviews. (Fill in your goals here.)

You know you need to do it. You keep thinking you will. But you don’t.

Read this. Follow the steps, and you’ll do it.

It starts with number one. Three Dog Night sang, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” When it comes to goals, I consider it the most difficult number.

If you’re having trouble reaching your goals, try starting with number one. It will help you progress to number two. If you’re not prepared to tackle number one, don’t read this blog. This information is only for those who are tired of letting important goals evaporate in the face of procrastination, laziness or fear.

Still reading? Okay, here’s the not-so-secret formula.

NUMBER ONE. Tell someone important. Your critique group. Your most stalwart friend who supports your dreams. “I am going to (specific goal) this (week/month/summer).

It must be specific. Not, “I’m going to write more,” but “I am going to write to The End by August.” Not, “I’m going to market more,” or “I am going to develop a marketing plan,” but rather, “I’m going to write a marketing plan by August.”

Something good happens when you commit to another person or group. The goal becomes real. Increase your odds of success further by insisting that your friend follows up weekly to ask about your progress.

NUMBER TWO. Generate ideas. Browse the Internet, searching for topics such as “How To (Goal)” and “Top 10 Ways to (Goal).” Then create a mind map, incorporating what you’ve learned from your initial research.

You complete number two to better achieve your number three goal.

NUMBER THREE. Brainstorm with someone with RMFW, or a professional organization within your field, who has accomplished this goal. (Having completed number two, you will have learned enough to ask good questions and you will demonstrate to your expert RMFW or fellow associate that you’ve given this some thought, and have taken those first steps already. Show you’re committed to learning, and others will be more willing to help you.)

Seek out friends and/or associates  have become known for their expertise in, for example, writing, editing, public speaking, workshops, book tours, blogs, reviews, podcasts—the list is extensive. Connect with them through your organization’s on-line loop, monthly newsletter and/or programs, and special events such as an annual conference. Be bold and ask for help, and you’ll appreciate the power and inspiration of having friends to cheer you on.

Remember that this is brainstorming, not mentoring, which represents an extensive commitment that may scare off your targeted expert. Make it clear you’re only looking for suggestions and resources that you will pursue to complete your own plan of action.

NUMBER FOUR. By now, you will have gathered a daunting amount of information and options to consider. Sort by level of difficulty, easiest to most challenging. If your goal includes some area of marketing, sort by affordability. Sort also by effectiveness, based on what you learned in steps three and four.

NUMBER FIVE. Create your action list. Based on the completion date you initially told your critique group or stalwart supporter, put dates on this action list that will reasonably bring you to the finish line.

Make adjustments, if needed. Share your list, and if you keep a hard copy or digital planning calendar, insert those dates with a big star, color code—whatever triggers you to remember the importance of your intermediate goals.

It’s a simple concept, proven over time and as reliable as gravity. It’s also proven over time that you must take step one first.

Go for it! And come back and share your success story with me.  🙂

 

 

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Filed under get published, Life skills, self publishing novls, success techniques, The Writing Life

Go to it! (Pursue what makes you come alive!)

I read the most touching article last week. Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a well known children’s author and filmmaker. It was titled, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” It was written along the lines of a match.com profile, and it described the charms, kindnesses, and deep expressions of love her husband had shown her over their 26-year marriage.

Eight days later, Amy, 51, would pass away from ovarian cancer.

Tragic, yes, but what I discovered about Amy after reading the article made me think of my RMFW friends, and the joys and challenges inherent with the creative path we’ve all chosen.

One of Amy’s tenets was included in her obituary. “I tend to believe whatever you decide to look for you will find, whatever you beckon will eventually beckon you,” she said during a 2012 TED talk.

I watched that TED talk and her message inspired me, so I am sharing it with you.

Amy begins by talking about coincidences such as the proliferation of “7” in our lives—seven days in the week, seven colors in the rainbow, seven wonders of the world. Seven music notes. Her TED talk is called “Seven Notes on Life.”

She mentioned walking the beach with her mother-in-law, when she discovered a heart-shaped pebble. Once she had seen that first one, she looked for another, and found many heart-shaped pebbles. Her mother-in-law was astonished, but Amy was not. She had observed many times that we find that which we seek out. “When our eyes are open, there is a subtle shifting of awareness.”

To demonstrate, she told the TED audience that she would imagine that she was speaking to a totally red audience, and once she focused on that, she would see instantly all the red clothing there.

She went through the seven musical notes. “F” stood for, “Figure it out as you go.” We don’t have to have it all mapped out before we embark on something new. Get a good idea, invest in it, and learn and adjust as we go.

These thoughts and others inspired me, but what left the lasting impression—the one that made me feel connected to you, my RMFW friends, was this: All the cell phones, iPads, laptops, and other technical devices create a huge amount of technical “noise” in our lives. All that modern noise demands something from us—a reaction.  Once we turn off the cell phones and all the technical “noise” in our lives, we become disconnected from the chatter, and are left with empty space. And what do we find in that newly empty space?

It is no coincidence, she pointed out, that with the individual letters rearranged, another important word emerges from “reaction.”

REACTION {changes to} ….. CREATION.

She ended the talk with a quote from Howard Thurman:

Ask not what the world needs.

            Ask what makes you come alive.

            And go to it.

What we need is people who have come alive. What, Amy asked, makes you come alive?

Go to it. Move toward what makes you come alive.

————————

A Chicago native and longtime resident, Rosenthal completed more than 30 books, including journals, memoirs and the best-selling picture stories “Uni the Unicorn” and “Duck! Rabbit!” She made short films and YouTube videos, gave TED talks and provided radio commentary for NPR, among others. Her loving optimism will be missed.

Read more: http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.777097

The TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxWgIccldh4

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Chapter One of Etti’s Love

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This is Etti’s view when she looks outside her gypsy wagon. When the story begins, eleven-year-old Etti and her kumpania of fifty relatives and friends are traveling to the horse fair in France. The year is 1401. (Photo compliments of pixabay.com.)

I’ve started writing my new novel! The working title is Etti’s Love. I always find the title to be as much of an adventure as the story, and I know there will be many attempts until the perfect title finally comes to me.

Etti’s Love is a prequel novella in my Coin Forest series. It’s Etti’s story, and she is a fascinating character. She has chosen a most unusual pet, and it’s causing conflict and ill feelings among her family members.

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Filed under Book News, Historical Romance, The Writing Life, Uncategorized

CAPERS – do you know what they are?

They’re delish. You cook with them, but do you know what they are?

I wanted a quick, easy recipe for tilapia, and found a delightfully simple, quick one that included wine, salt and pepper, butter and parsley – that’s it! Just my kind of recipe, and the tilapia is pan-fried, also simple and quick. (Just turn off the heat before you add the parsley and capers in the last step.)Capers

As I returned the small jar of capers to the fridge, I wondered what a caper was, really.  Google to the rescue. I found splendidtable.org and learned from David Rosengarten that capers come from a plant called capparis spinosa, and that capers are actually a bud that grows on the plant every spring. Left to itself, it will produce the lovely purple flower shown here. After the flower’s done blooming, the plant produces a fruit called the caper berry.

The berry resembles an olive, has a similar taste, and David says it’s quite delicious. In Greece, the leaves of the plant are also used.

The caper plants are grown in the Mediterranean, Asia and Australia. And yes, they can be cultivated. If I lived in a warmer climate, I’d try it myself. What a delicious conversation piece!Caper Flower

What, you may ask, does this have to do with writing? It’s research, which I always enjoy; they’re delish, and one of my characters will likely be cooking with them.

Want to know more? Here’s the URL:  http://www.splendidtable.org/story/you-cook-with-capers-but-do-you-know-what-they-really-are

Wishing you a fragrant, delicious day!

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Filed under Research Tidbits, The Writing Life, Uncategorized

Do fiction readers have better social skills?

These guys must have recently read some good fiction novels!(Photo courtesy pixabay.com)

These guys must have recently read some good fiction novels!(Photo courtesy pixabay.com)

I read a fascinating research report from The Wall Street Journal on March 8th. According to a study published by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, reading fiction can  improve one’s social skills or social cognition.

The Harvard University study involved 16 women and 10 men ages 19 to 26. They underwent MRI scans of their brains while reading excerpts from novels and magazines.

The fiction readers showed enhanced activities in regions associated with reading about people, and such enhanced activity was linked to higher scores on social cognition assessments.

This could explain why I love my fans, my book club discussion groups and writer conferences–because the people are so interesting.

You can read more about the study at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/377

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March 14, 2016 · 9:58 am

To the best actress: a vampire breast lift

What the Oscars reveal about good writingOscar

As Oscar Night nears, I’ve been movie viewing. Two years ago I decided I had approached this awards night unprepared too many times. Movie after movie was highlighted and praised, and too often my viewed flicks were limited to Disney and Pixar.

Then our daughters left home and I found myself no longer watching any theater movies at all.

My new MO is to list the Best Picture nominees and see as many as I can before the show. My current tally: 6 viewed, 2 still on the list.

I started with The Revenant (Leonardo DiCaprio). A “revenant,” BTW, is someone who comes back from the dead. Based on the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass, it’s the story of a man who, after being mauled by a bear, is stripped of his weapons and left to die in the wilderness by his friends.  Message for Novelists (MFN): Man Against Nature plots still work. Also, with an appropriate Author Note, the plotline of stories based on a true story can be massaged and altered to give a more complete character arc. (No spoilers, but after viewing the movie, look up the true story of Glass and see how they tweaked the ending.)

Next up was Bridge of Spies (Tom Hanks,  Stephen Spielberg).  With this talent, I knew it had to be good. Based on the true story of attorney James Donovan, which makes it even more incredible and appreciated. No tweaking with the story for arc’s sake—Donovan really was amazing. MFN: Look to this and similar true stories for inspiration, because they successfully define “hero.”

Then I saw Brooklyn (Saoirse Ronan) and fell in love with love. This is the romantic’s romance, a beautiful love story oozing with the charm, uncertainties and sacrifices of a bygone era. MFN: Love is timeless, and the movie reminds us that plotlines need not be complicated, convoluted or sensational to make a reader care, to make a reader cry.

The Big Short (Brad Pitt) surprised me. It tells the story of the banking industry’s collapse in 2008. From first glance, it seemed to be a distasteful topic. Who would want to revisit a flaming failure that left the middle class people bleeding, unemployed and homeless? MFN: The screenwriters triumphed with this by demonstrating that with care and creativity, a complicated story can be told in layman’s terms so everyone can understand it. I’ll still need to view it a few more times, just to absorb it all, but it’s a movie everyone with assets should see.

Spotlight (Michael Keaton) tells the story of the in-depth news team from The Boston Globe that broke the 2001 story of an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. I admire films that tell the story after the fact. Everyone enters the theatre knowing the ending, so the strength of the story has to lie in the story’s middle. This film is classified as a drama/thriller, and the creativity and strategy with which the team overcame obstacles to find the truth may inspire writers of mystery and intrigue.

Room (Brie Larson) is another inspirational survival story, but with a twist. Jacob Tremblay is magnificent, an outstanding new child star. Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue. MFN: a static setting is not at all boring when presented with a compelling character study and the bond of mother and child.  A memorable example of really getting into the skin of your characters. It’s definitely a book I’d like to read.

My journey continues as Oscar Night nears. Oh, and about the Vampire Breast Lift? It’s one of the gifts in the goodie bags that will be distributed to all the nominees. I’m sure the topic will be raised during the awards program.

What’s your pick for Best Film?

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Filed under Oscars Academy Awards, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing Craft