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Friday, July 29, 2011

comments

A few people were kind enough to send me the first page of their second chapter. I did my part (see the purple pen), and now it's your turn.

Yes, that would be you.

I was going to put up a third submission today but since The Lullaby got zero comments I decided not to. Because Lullaby deserves your comments as well as mine. The author wants your comments. Your comments will help the author. Comments help all of us.

So please, comment. Let me know if I was wrong, or right. Let the author know what you liked, or didn't like, what worked and what didn't. Because when you send me your submission, don't you want some comments - besides mine? Not that mine aren't great but one person's opinion isn't nearly as helpful as say...five. I'll even throw in some pretty bookmarks for the first three.

Now who can resist that? 

Again, here's Lullaby - first page, second chapter:

The Giants (like...like real Giants? Like Hagrid?) sat at the round meeting table, their focus set on Temp. He sat ram-rod straight in his chair. His hands pressed flat against the wood, long spidery fingers spread. Periodically, one of them twitched. Sweat flattened his dark hair to his forehead and they watched his eyes move behind his eyelids.
Long minutes passed and his body stilled. His eyelids peeled back and he stared at nothing, the bags under his eyes seemed to have grown in size since he had shut his eyes. He started to speak, his voice raspy and hoarse, “He is not to be trusted.”
There was a pause, no one moved. “What do you mean?” Tela almost squealed, (I would think she'd yell in disbelief or denial, rather than squeal like a pig - but I'd rather skip the dialogue tag altogether here and let her action - the sudden frantic rocking - show us how she feels) she started frantically rocking the sleeping baby in her arms, “He’s just a baby. My baby. What could he possibly do? Tell me!” Her voice became shrill.
Temp regarded her, not blinking. Sometimes, with the way he sat so still, her brother reminded her of a corpse. Cold and unforgiving. It had never bothered her, he was the way he was. Now with those lifeless grey eyes turned on her, and her son, she had to resist the urge to shiver. Creepy!
Your baby isn’t supposed to be alive,” he reminded her, his voice creaking like old stairs. The accusation rang out clearly.
 Her tone became defensive, “Are you trying to say it’s my fault? Because it isn’t, and you know it, Temp. You, out of all of us, would know best what happened. But you don’t.. So how do you expect me to? He just… was there. I didn’t do anything.”
Temp’s eyes calculated (I like the use of this word, calculated. It gives insight into Temp -r whoever he he) the truth behind her words. The whole table sat in silence, eyes flickering from Temp to Tela to the baby. “Tilo,” Temp whispered into the silence.
Tela drew the baby closer to her chest, “What did you say?” Her eyes squinted in suspension at his meaning.
Temp drew in a long breath then let it out in a sigh, “Tilo. You’ve been trying to think of a name for him. Tilo is his name. The children were calling him that.”
Tela considered his words, “What children?” Tilo. A good name. Perfect for a Giant boy.
Temp considered, “There were many of them. The purple-eyed brother and sister. The dark haired twins. The boy haunted by the spirit. The flame obsessed one. Already bringing horrors to humanity at such a young age.” Ooh! Interesting. Are you sure this isn't YA fantasy? Anyway, definitely find this intriguing with the mention of the Giants - or is that their name? - right off and the way Temp becomes someone else, knows things apparently, and then this last reference to siblings with purple eyes. This sounds like a strange and interesting place. The only other thing is I might lose some of the dialogue tags (I crossed out the ones I thought could go). I think the whole bit would read better with them. But again, that's just my opinion. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lullaby

This is our second submission for first page second chapter, YA fiction. My comments are in purple.

 
The Giants (like...like real Giants? Like Hagrid?) sat at the round meeting table, their focus set on Temp. He sat ram-rod straight in his chair. His hands pressed flat against the wood, long spidery fingers spread. Periodically, one of them twitched. Sweat flattened his dark hair to his forehead and they watched his eyes move behind his eyelids.
Long minutes passed and his body stilled. His eyelids peeled back and he stared at nothing, the bags under his eyes seemed to have grown in size since he had shut his eyes. He started to speak, his voice raspy and hoarse, “He is not to be trusted.”
There was a pause, no one moved. “What do you mean?” Tela almost squealed, (I would think she'd yell in disbelief or denial, rather than squeal like a pig - but I'd rather skip the dialogue tag altogether here and let her action - the sudden frantic rocking - show us how she feels) she started frantically rocking the sleeping baby in her arms, “He’s just a baby. My baby. What could he possibly do? Tell me!” Her voice became shrill.
Temp regarded her, not blinking. Sometimes, with the way he sat so still, her brother reminded her of a corpse. Cold and unforgiving. It had never bothered her, he was the way he was. Now with those lifeless grey eyes turned on her, and her son, she had to resist the urge to shiver. Creepy!
Your baby isn’t supposed to be alive,” he reminded her, his voice creaking like old stairs. The accusation rang out clearly.
 Her tone became defensive, “Are you trying to say it’s my fault? Because it isn’t, and you know it, Temp. You, out of all of us, would know best what happened. But you don’t.. So how do you expect me to? He just… was there. I didn’t do anything.”
Temp’s eyes calculated (I like the use of this word, calculated. It gives insight into Temp -r whoever he he) the truth behind her words. The whole table sat in silence, eyes flickering from Temp to Tela to the baby. “Tilo,” Temp whispered into the silence.
Tela drew the baby closer to her chest, “What did you say?” Her eyes squinted in suspension at his meaning.
Temp drew in a long breath then let it out in a sigh, “Tilo. You’ve been trying to think of a name for him. Tilo is his name. The children were calling him that.”
Tela considered his words, “What children?” Tilo. A good name. Perfect for a Giant boy.
Temp considered, “There were many of them. The purple-eyed brother and sister. The dark haired twins. The boy haunted by the spirit. The flame obsessed one. Already bringing horrors to humanity at such a young age.” Ooh! Interesting. Are you sure this isn't YA fantasy? Anyway, definitely find this intriguing with the mention of the Giants - or is that their name? - right off and the way Temp becomes someone else, knows things apparently, and then this last reference to siblings with purple eyes. This sounds like a strange and interesting place. The only other thing is I might lose some of the dialogue tags (I crossed out the ones I thought could go). I think the whole bit would read better with them. But again, that's just my opinion. Let's hope we get some others...

Anyone? Anyone?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Orbital Shifts

Here's our first submission for the week, the first page of the second chapter of Orbital Shifts, a science fiction novel. My comments and suggestions are in purple. Please add your own but don't forget to be kind and helpful.

"Tanner hesitated at the Afterburner’s door. Traffic skimmed around him on the promenade, voices rumbling low in the background. The broad, long cylinder, cut from Ananke’s dark stone, was meant to be a docking facilities for guests’ ships. The square airlocks, one per set of docking clamps, ran in two parallel lines where the cylinder arched closest to the little moon’s surface. The rest had been sectioned up into vendors’ stalls. Branch tunnels emptied into the promenade from all directions. And Port Authority’s offices had been carved into one end. I like this first paragraph; it paints a great picture. But I think the repeated words should be replaced with others that can aptly describe the scene. No easy task, I know; I just looked up promenade and couldn't find another word that would do.

Afterburner was cut into the stone, too, a wide bar room with one line of unglazed windows doubling as doors. Julia, Early and Dominic were already on perches at the bar, (were already perched, maybe?) watching a cage fighting match. Maggie and her political discussion had the large table at the far end, (I don't think you need the comma) under a projection screen that had been set to some quiet background music. Clay was on security duty this time, (you may actually want this since in the last chapter someone else may have been on security in the the previous chaper) hovering against the wall and watching. The planet-grown chuck (chuck? I'm not sure what this means but maybe this was explained in the first chapter or we'll find out shortly) had more muscle on his bicep than a bootstrapper had on a thigh, (like that description) but still didn’t intimidate the way Shen did.

Tanner looked to the back of Julia’s head. She cheered the fighter who’d pinned his opponent. Barkeep, taking drink bottles from the dishwasher under the bar, spotted Tanner and his mouth twitched. Anxious. Putting a hand in his pocket and squeezing, Tanner skimmed into the Afterburner. Made a beeline for Maggie’s table and the empty quadrant of the round table. Stopped the conversation. Even the little camera bot looked when everyone else did. Tanner crossed his legs and tucked them between the tabletop and the stone floor. He put both clenched hands on the table and risked a glance at Maggie, then the camera." 
There are a lot of fragments in this last paragraph, which is ok, I actually kind of like it, but be careful of playing loosely with the rules of grammar - just sayin.' The only other thing that jarred me was this sentence:Tanner crossed his legs and tucked them between the tabletop and the stone floor. It just reads a little awkwardly to me, as if he's crossing his legs before he sits down. Other than that and my other comments, I like the atmosphere created here in this first page and I think those short fragmented sentences may fit Tanner. I'm also curious as to why he's angry and why even the spy bot watches him. Plus, I love scifi. All in all, an intriguing first page of the second chapter.

Now, what do you think?

Friday, July 22, 2011

first page, second chapter

I want to thank everyone who sent me the first page of their second chapter. I'll be posting them next week and I hope you will all stop by and offer your comments in addition to mine. If you guys like this maybe we'll do it again next month. It's different, kinda fun, don't you think?

Here's the schedule:

Monday - Orbital Shifts
Wednesday - The Lullaby
Friday - Hero Games

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

why

If you read my last post you might be asking yourself why on earth am I asking for the first page of your SECOND chapter. I'll admit, it seems odd. After all, how could I possibly critique that page without having read all those that came before?

Well, I'll tell you. I got the idea from Ebyss who held a contest in which you had to offer a pitch of two to three sentences, the second sentence of your first chapter, and then the first 250 words of your second chapter. Needless to say I entered and, because I was so intrigued by the idea, I stole it - hence the link :) After all, one must give credit where credit is due. But it's a great idea because not only does your first page need to be great but every page thereafter. I mean, if someone picks your book off the shelf and randomly opens it, whatever page they land on better catch their interest or else they're probably not going to buy it. So here's your chance to see if your first page/second chapter shines as much as your first. I have one slot left for next week and all you have to do is email me: marcy@tidewater.net with unicorn bell in the subject line.

I look forward to your submission.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How to write a story - part one

Most stories start with the shiny new idea, the 'what if' that inspires us. I'm pretty lucky in that I never lack for ideas. Not only do I have all those I've found in the past and haven't had time to write but I also find brand new ones all the time. Usually they just pop into my head while I'm doing some mundane chore like taking a shower, driving, or running with my dog.

But if, perchance, you have trouble finding new ideas here are some places I've discovered a few:

Art
Conversations overheard
Dictionaries
Fairy Tales
History
Newspaper or Magazine headlines

Maps of places you've never been to
Music
Myth
The Obituaries


 Where do you find new ideas?


ps don't forget to start thinking about next week. I've decided to do something a little different. Instead of your first page, I want the first page of your second chapter and the title/genre. Lets mix it up a bit, shall we?  email me here: marcy@tidewater.net with unicorn bell in the subject line.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

#3 One-Line Pitch Example

Title: Of Oak & Daemons
Genre: Urban Fantasy

After inheriting a preternatural rapier, Lee Amber Sterling accepts talking swords and daemons are real; accepting she is at war with the daemons is where she draws the line.


#2 Three-Line Pitch Example

Title: Sendek
Genre: Science Fantasy
Word Count: 87,000

Sendek is a world rich with a magical heritage the people have forgotten in favor of science and technology, but Talia Shannon's prophetic dreams foretell an invasion by scaled humanoids. Caught between her job at the Space Exploration Foundation and her magical nature, Talia struggles to find a way to warn her people without revealing her source and at the same time prove to the handsome Commander Sutton that she is not a traitor to the crown.

The arrival of the invading force makes one thing desperately clear--science cannot save them and magic is now their only hope.

#1 Three-Line Pitch Example

My three-line pitch that I submitted to the contest at Savvy Authors:

Title: The Magic Withheld
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Romance is difficult enough between humans but for wizards like Justus Aubre it can be lethal when their runaway emotions cause cities to burn. He avoids romantic entanglements but when another mage stumbles into his bar, an impossible relationship develops and his choices narrow down to losing what he values most or gaining a power he did not want.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Elevator Pitches, Loglines, and Two Giveaways

This is your chance to win my all-time favorite guide for stylistic writing, Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark. Easy and fun to read, he gives strategies and examples for the aspiring and professional author. This book never strays from my keyboard.

Also, I am offering a critique of your First Chapter.

Two winners for Unicorn Bells followers. Comment here. Link back to UB from your blog or Twitter account. If you prefer one prize to the other, let me know. Otherwise, the book is First Prize and the Critique is the second.

Now onto Elevator Pitches or Loglines, or How to Boil That Novel Down to its Bare Bones.

If you had one minute to tell me about your book, how would you start?

Let me give you a hint, if you began with, “Um, well…” You. Are. Screwed.

The Pitch can be one, two, or three sentences. It is a marketing tool. It is a hook. It is an introduction to your story.

It is vital.

Begin with an introduction. Who is your protag? Give me a name and a spare description to convey the setting, approximate age, and a character trait. One sentence.

Now, what is the conflict, your MC’s biggest inner dilemma? Specific, original details highlight your story and make it unique. One sentence.

The last sentence must leave the reader wanting more, the consequences if the MC fails to attain his or her goals. One sentence.

Now highlight the words your pitch simply cannot do without to create a one-sentence pitch.

In my research for this post, I ran across several examples of pitches. This is from Douglas Clegg:

"In this tale of swords, sorcery, and vampires, a boy grows to manhood in a brutal medieval world. Rising in his station through his talent as a falconer, he falls in love with the baron's daughter -- but when their love is found out, he is forcibly conscripted into the Crusades. There, despairing of life, he seeks death -- and finds his destiny as a messiah of vampires in the bloody embrace of a female vampire called Pythia.
Filled with ancient buried kingdoms, battles against the Saracens, as well as a quest for a legendary Priest of Blood who will bring power to this falconer, this is the first book of a proposed dark fantasy trilogy called The Vampyricon."

Even though the author went on to say this pitch needed improvement, his example sold me. I bought the book. Is it any good? I don’t know, not yet. The point is, the pitch alone created interest and it worked as a marketing tool.

Submit your Elevator Pitch to cdcoff(at)gmail(dot)com and I will post them for an open critique by members.

Comment here to win Writing Tools or a First Chapter Critique.

Link to Unicorn Bell from your blog or Twitter account.


You have until Thursday, July 14th, at 11:59 pm to enter. I will announce the two winners on Friday, July15th.

Good luck to all!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Keeping the reader hooked

Thank you for your first sentence submissions! I hope the comments were helpful in some way.

Now, lets talk about those other hooks I mentioned on Tuesday. Once you have the reader's attention, you want to keep it. You do that by hooking them at every opportunity. The beginning of every scene/chapter and the end of every scene/chapter.

I admit, this is something I'm still working on. Some of my chapter endings make it easy to put the book down--bad!

For a great example, think of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I'll admit it took me a page or two to get into this book, but by the end of chapter one Collins has you and she doesn't let go. Think about the end of each chapter. Did each chapter resolve?

No!

Collins was brilliant in her breaking the scene in half with her chapter breaks. That's how she kept you reading. You had to start the next chapter to see how Katniss made it through the immediate conflict/task. And then Collins started a new conflict before the end of the chapter making it VERY hard to find a place to put the book down and go to sleep.

Now, we can't all copy Collins because we have our own voices. But, think about ending each scene with a cliffhanger (hook) so the reader has to turn the page.

Here are some of the last sentences from Sendek. Some of them work as hooks. Most of them don't. Granted they work better with the context of what comes before. For the most part I have a lot of work ahead of me based just on my endings. I bolded my favorites.

Prologue
It was a high price to pay--his soul--but the demon would prolong his life and give him strength to carry out his plan for revenge.
1
How I wished he were here to comfort me now.
4
He hoped the magic of dragons would help him return to Dailya when all of this was over.
6
There were mages somewhere on the planet and he needed to find them.
11
I sighed as part of me wanted to accept his invitation.
14
Whatever potential he has will be wasted if he follows me onto the tram.
16 (scene break)
The whispers of his mind didn't have time to register before everything went black.
20
He trembled as he heard the lock click in the door behind him.
26
"Too bad for you this is the hell I came from."
29 (scene break)
My stomach flip-flopped as I realized I was about to meet more people like me. (This is a horrible sentence!)
34 (scene break)
I gathered the energy until I exploded.

Look through your manuscript and just read the last sentences. Make a list if needed so you can see all of them at once. It is amazing what you can learn about your writing.

I just learned that Talia passes out A LOT. I need to fix that.

Take a look and share what you learn about your MS and some of your favorite last sentences as well!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

First Sentences--Mixed Genres

I thought I'd break these up for commenting purposes. Same rules as before:

Please read and tell us if the first sentence grabs your attention and why. If it doesn't, tell us why as well. Please be respectful with your honesty.

Thanks!

1. Title: THE LULLABY
Genre: YA fantasy

“Are you sure you can handle them, Maggie?” Rieta hovered in the doorway.

2. Title: THINKING OF YOU
Genre: paranormal

The Enclosure stood solitary and alone.


3. Title: The Hunt (Goddess of the Hunt Series #1)
Genre: YA Science Fiction Fantasy Romance

Aurora Grey sits at the small round table in her kitchen and tries not to laugh at her mother.

4. Title: Unbroken (Staying Alive Series #2)
Genre: YA Dystopian paranormal romance

Pulling his mother’s SUV into the driveway, Liam finally allows himself to relax.

5. Title: Faerie Wings
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

"If I do this, you'll owe me big time Kevin." Ryanne swallowed hard and looked away from her best friend.

6. Title: Finding Me
Genre: Contemporary Women's Fiction

Every day I promise myself that today is the day I forget, but I never do.

First Sentences--Fantasy Genre

Read the first sentence and then tell us if it grabs your attention. Why? What does it make you wonder about, want to know, etc?

If it doesn't grab your attention--why not?

Please remember to be respectful in your honesty.

1.  Title:The Rapier
Genre: Urban fantasy

It waited in the shade by the cool pond.

2.  Title: Crystalline
Genre: Epic Fantasy

The legends gave them their names but time gave them their identities.

3.  Title: Broken
Genre: Urban Fantasy

The daemon was dead, no question about that.

4.  Title: The Way to Dendara
Genre: Fantasy

For Lucy, it began with a package, a small unobtrusive brown-paper wrapped package.

5.  Title: Fairy Tail
Genre: Fantasy

It looked like a celebration.

6.  Title: The God Chronicles
Genre: Fantasy

Actually, in the beginning, God was an apprentice.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hooks and Payoffs

What's the one thing we all want to know more than anything?
How to HOOK an agent.

Yeah. We can say we write because something in us compels us to write or we enjoy it, but the truth is if you're reading blogs on how to improve your writing you want something more. We want validation. We want to see a book with a great cover and our name. We want to see our story on the big screen and go to lunch with J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer.

*cough* Um, anyway. We hook an agent the same way we hook our readers. With the writing.

Yeah, funny how that works isn't it? Where does the writing start?

The all important first sentence.

The first sentence sets the tone for the entire story. It has to drop us into a situation, introduce a concept, character, setting, conflict--something that will make us want to read the next sentence. We want to feel emotionally connected in some way--curious, concerned, angry, tickled (if its humor), etc.

Some ways to hook a reader:

1. Open with a major change in the protagonist's life (inciting incident)
2. Set up a unique setting
3. Show the protagonist in conflict with someone or self
4. Start with realistic and snappy dialogue to show your voice
5. Ask a question that the reader MUST learn the answer to
6. Start with humor--if the story is supposed to be humorous. This is hard to do and if you start with a bad joke it could backfire on you--see below.
7. Start with suspense or mystery


Now for the No-nos? K.M. Weiland wrote an excellent post on Sunday with some examples. I'm going to list them, but highly recommend you go read the original post.

Don't lie to your reader to hook them by:
1. Starting with a dream--waking, none of it was real
2. Someone playing a joke to make it look like something scary/bad happened--unless the story is about someone who jokes like this all the time.
3. Hyperbole--overly dramatic statements when nothing really happened (ex. "my life if over!" when the parents simply said "be home by eleven" or something similar)
4. The false alarm--the "just kidding"

Why is it bad to stretch the truth a bit to grab the interest of the reader? They will not trust you, get frustrated and walk away. Remember, as writers, we may only get one page to convince someone they want to read the whole book.

Each hook needs a Payoff
I know this doesn't have anything to do with the post, but I thought the shirt was funny.

Hold on, what do you mean "each hook"? I thought I only needed one at the beginning of the book.

I learned an invaluable lesson from Lynnette Labelle when I took her Hook Line and Sinker class in Feb. If you want to keep a reader interested you need to end each scene and chapter with a hook. That way the WANT to keep reading.

Now each of these hooks MUST have a payoff. You can do this immediately (next scene starts where you left off and you get the payoff) or delay it (you end a scene with something shocking but the resolution isn't in the next one.)

Have I dumped a ton on you? Seriously, follow the links and it will make sense.

So, tomorrow I will start posting the First Sentences that you have sent me. Come by and comment on which ones hook you and why. Hopefully we will start to see what works and what doesn't.

You still have time to email them to charity.bradford@gmail.com with Unicorn Bell: First Sentence in the subject line.

Format the email as follows:
Title:
Genre:
First Sentence:

Monday, July 4, 2011

First Sentence Hooks

What are you doing here? If you live in the US you should be at the pool or lake or having a good time somewhere.

For those of you outside the US, thanks for being patient while we play.

Tomorrow we'll discuss hooking your reader. Right now I want to open up for submissions of the first sentence of your WIP. Let's see them standing all alone and see if they hook us. Send your first lines to charity.bradford@gmail.com. Please put Unicorn Bell: First Sentence in the subject line and format the entry as follows.

Title:
Genre:
First sentence:

If you have multiple stories, you can send as many first lines as you want in the same email.

Friday, July 1, 2011

And the winner is...

Donna Hole! Come on down!

Huntress just needs your address to send your book so email her: beccoff@nwmo.net and congratulations!

I would also like to invite anyone who wishes to have their first page or query letter critiqued next month to email me: marcy@tidewater.net and put unicorn bell in the subject line.

Enjoy the long weekend everyone who gets it :)