My Passion's Pen

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Archive for the category “Storytelling”

Novel Boot Camp – Lecture #1: The First Page Promise

Ellen Brock


So here we are at our very first lecture for Novel Boot Camp! It only makes sense to start at the beginning – the very beginning – the first page of your novel.

If you follow my blog, then you know that I put a lot of stock in first pages. I provide free first page critiques every week in my blog series First Page Friday. I’ve probably written more about first pages and first chapters than anything else. And for a very good reason!

If your first page sucks, you’ve got nothing. Harsh? Maybe. But writing is a tough business. And because I’m an editor and love analogies, I’m going to compare it to another harsh business: the movie business.

Your Submission Package (An Analogy)

Most aspiring writers think of their first page as the setup, the part of the novel that just gets things going, the calm…

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Novel Boot Camp – Lecture #3: How to Avoid Info Dumping

Ellen Brock


Info dumping is a problem for many writers. Sometimes it’s lazy writing. Sometimes the writer can’t come up with an alternative way to convey the information. And sometimes the writer doesn’t know what an info dump is at all.

For those who don’t know what an info dump is, it’s an extended form of telling (rather than showing). An info dump is a big chunk of information that is “dumped” in the reader’s lap all at once. These info dumps are usually done through narration but can be found in dialogue as well.

Sample Info Dump:

Jessica was her best friend. They met in high school and spent every day together. On the day they met, they were at dance class, which they both thought was kind of dumb, but had attended on a whim. Jessica stood right next to her and they laughed together about how goofy the boys…

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The Seven Deadly Sins of Prologues

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala

To prologue or not to prologue? That is the question. The problem with the prologue is it has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, especially with agents. They generally hate them. Why? In my opinion, it is because far too many writers don’t use prologues properly and that, in itself, has created its own problem.

Because of the steady misuse of prologues, most readers skip them. Thus, the question of whether or not the prologue is even considered the beginning of your novel can become a gray area if the reader just thumbs pages until she sees Chapter One.

So without further ado…

The 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues

Sin #1 If your prologue is really just a vehicle for massive information dump…

This is one of the reasons I recommend writing detailed backgrounds of all main characters before…

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It’s Not Cheating to Use Writing Tips and Tools

It’s not cheating to learn from other writers. Take advantage of the experience of writers and use their tips and writing techniques for your own stories.

via It’s Not Cheating to Use Writing Tips and Tools.

Review: Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction

Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction
Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction by Marcy Kennedy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short, sweet, and to the point. Marcy has provided lots to chew on in this practical guide to showing and telling. She breaks down the examples used to clearly point out opportunities for deeper POV and guides the reader/writer through revisions. Her ‘Take it to the Page’ section will be a great benefit to my writing and editing. I’ve already purchased a few more of Marcy’s titles; I like her teaching style.

This is a great addition to any writer’s reference library. I know I’ll be coming back to this one often.

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Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What do I think?

I don’t even know…

The book is herky-jerky, beginning when Theo is a man, then he’s a boy, and the reader follows his misadventures until he’s a man again. The opening of the end was like a punch to the gut. Journals? Letters to his dead mother? Incomplete recollections?

I see why this book is renowned, the imagery is breathtaking. However, I felt woefully under-educated and inexperienced as I read. I would probably flunk out of this book club.

‘The Goldfinch’ is an education in art history, antiquities, high society and those middling others who slink about feasting on the scraps of the wealthy and trying to blend in with fanciful histories and equally fancy attire. ‘The Goldfinch’ offers lessons in wealth, ill gotten gains, addiction, abandonment, self preservation, (homoerotic) love, and obsession.

But I can’t say I enjoyed this book…

Once I made it through chapter one, the plot became more engaging. I felt deeply for the poor orphaned Theo. I hoped he would turn out okay, but he won’t based on the beginning of chapter one (an unhappy fact that stayed with me as I read the 780+pages). I continued to read because I needed to know how he ended up in such a state.

There was no escaping the sense of being told a story. The language and tone of the narration, the word choice all felt deliberate. A boy of 13 would not speak in such a way, despite acknowledging he was gifted in words from a young age.

What truly kept me turning the page was the colorful supporting cast. Boris, Hobie, Pippa, the doormen, the Barbours, even Welty and Mrs. Decker were much more interesting than Theo. Perhaps because Theo himself believed them to be more alive than he was.

But I can’t say I liked this book.

Clearly, there is a master at work in these pages. Tartt paints vivid pictures that only come alive in the presence of others. Theo is a drugged out, paranoid antiques dealer who suffers from PTSD.

The book was ridiculously long for a simple premise which repeated itself. Theo the accidental art thief coveted his treasure. The painting was then stolen from him, and he was never aware until one of his antiques customers confronts him about being swindled. Why Hobie made replica furniture was lost on me… Boris, the loveable scamp, showed up to confess that he’d taken the painting some years earlier and had amassed a fortune from it, but he will get it back for his beloved ‘Potter.’

All the best parts had Boris in it.

But I still don’t know if I liked this book.

All the highbrow talk became tiresome, although Hobie remained likeable. I too would have enjoyed spending time with him in his workshop. Theo’s constant performing became exhausting. However, for a first person POV, I appreciated the visceral connection to Theo’s experiences and the narration. I usually don’t care for first person POV because so much of what else is happening around the narrator is omitted and the reader is stuck inside one person’s head. Theo’s head is effed up. He’s paranoid, so he saw everything and had a detailed opinion about it. He was most himself with Boris, I think. At first I thought the author was a bit inconsistent with the two boys’ voices, but perhaps Tartt is just that skilled to show the nuances in Theo’s development. That he would speak, and maybe even think, with the same cadence of the company he kept.

That ending… I never believed this would be a happily ever after, but there’s no real end. Theo kinda sorta celebrated that he was a part of immorality while he watched Boris shoot up.

For character development, Tartt gets top marks. Plot. The story is layered and engaging. Delivery. It’s a bit too long, yet I’m not sure what could be trimmed, perhaps cutting back on the descriptions would help move things along. After a painfully slow start, the story picked up (at about 30%) and never really slowed down until about 95% complete.

Read it, but start maybe in chapter 2, part 3.

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Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve wanted to read this book ever since my kids’ junior high school library committee had a debate about adding it to our shelves. I live in an urban community with a diverse racial and socio-economic population, so the arguments against the book by a scant few parents were laughable to me. The students my kids go to school with live Eleanor’s and Park’s story in some way or another every day–hell, I was Eleanor AND Park at one time.

“Eleanor & Park” is music; it is art. Rowell tells the story with a fresh rhythm that evokes nostalgia, fear, and optimism. Set in the late ’80s, I “got” all the pop culture references–that’s my generation. I wonder if the book has been classified as YA simply because it stars teens. “Eleanor & Park” is technically historical fiction (I feel ancient), but as I read more, I felt Rowell wrote the book for herself and others of our generation. I am grateful that she did. “Eleanor & Park” is a stellar read.

Everything about this book is familiar, but not. Eleanor could be my mother. Park could be my father. I was both Eleanor and Park at one time or another during my adolescence…so was my husband. Everything about this book tells a story so familiar yet completely different.

The cast of characters are richly developed, and the care taken with each one is evident regardless of how small their role may be.

Eleanor is a troubled teen who miraculously doesn’t let her problems at home completely consume her. She’s new in school. Not only that, everything about her sticks out like a sore thumb. She’s got bright red hair and freckles. She wears clothes that, according to Park, make her look like a gypsy hobo. Add to that, she’s a full-figured girl. Happenstance places her on a bus seat beside Park–his initial greeting is less than warm, but Eleanor knows how to move through the sea of cliques with minor damage. She keeps her head down and speaks only when she has to.

One of my favorite parts is when Eleanor laments that Park chose a different comic to read during their bus ride when she hadn’t finished “eaves-reading” the last one. At the same time, Park realizes that Eleanor has been “eye-hustling” his comics, but instead of cuffing them, he opens the pages wider so she can see. Aww. All the while their internal narration argues that they dislike the weird other. When Park silently hands Eleanor a stack of comics, I melted. They still haven’t said but a few words to one another, yet there is this connection–this unspoken conversation between the two. Park isn’t fully aware of what he’s doing or why, but he can’t get Eleanor out of his mind. Eleanor is just as taken with the “stupid, perfect, Asian kid”.

Park’s life is less than perfect. He lives in the shadow of his little brother, and his father seems to dislike that he is more Asian than Caucasian despite the fact that he adores Mindy (his Korean bride and mother of his children).

Told in third person POV, “Eleanor & Park” uses a deep perspective that draws the reader in to the POV character. Time is spent almost exclusively in Eleanor’s and Park’s mind.

To me, this book tells three stories: Eleanor and Park’s budding friendship and eventual romance, Eleanor’s story of her tormented home and school life, and unveiling Park’s less than picture-perfect existence. Each facet works together like pieces of an orchestra, to create a richly layered song.

The pacing of this book kept my interest from the first line to the last. Although I figured out the true source of Eleanor’s torment rather early on, it was still a surprise at how things played out. That ending… This one ended by allowing the reader to insert their own vision for Eleanor and Park, but don’t forget the preface…

I was lost in this book, and I mean that in the best way. Rowell pulled me in to Eleanor’s and Park’s world right away. It didn’t matter to me that these kids don’t look like me or the kids in my neighborhood–they speak a language most teens (and former teens) can understand. The cover art spotlights the couple’s connection to music, but because music (except for oldies and classical) was never really my thing, I glommed on to their shared love of comics as what drew them together. Although their exchanges and her holding onto double-A batteries like she’s Gollum is deeply touching, the comics built the bridge, though.

They’re geeks and they’re in love. They’re best friends and they’re in love. They’re set apart from the masses and they’re in love. Their banter is hilarious and sweet and nerdy and sad and hopeful.

“Eleanor & Park” isn’t perfect (I can’t find anything to complain about except maybe I’d like more time with Park and didn’t care for stating whose POV we were in), but it is an excellent book. I highly recommend this one. Rainbow Rowell is deserving of all the success this book what wrought her.

I love when I find an author whose words strike something within me that I want to read everything they’ve ever written or will write. I’ll be reading Rainbow Rowell for a long, long time.

The quote “She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” is great–brilliant even, but I offer this one as my favorite: “You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.” *Swoon* That kid is smooth!

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Description—How to Make Readers Fall In & Never Escape

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Sidewalk chalk art near Regent’s Canal in London. Sidewalk chalk art near Regent’s Canal in London.

Today we’re going to address a topic that—GASP—I don’t believe we’ve ever covered in almost 800 blogs. Namely because it is a tricky one to address. We’re going to talk about description. For those who never use description or very sparse description? Don’t fret. That’s just your voice. Readers like me who looooove description will probably gravitate to other books and that is OKAY.

Personally, I’m not a fan of austere modern houses with stainless steel everything and weird chairs no human could sit in and most cats would avoid, but? There are plenty of people who dig it. I also don’t like a lot of knick-knacks and clutter. Makes me want to start cleaning.

Same with books. Not too little or too much. Yeah, I’m Literary Goldilocks.

Plain fact? We can’t please everyone. Description (or lack thereof) is a component of…

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The 5Cs of Writing a Great Thriller

@WritersDigest: The 5 Cs of Writing a Great Thriller Novel –

Personality traits defined by introverts and extroverts

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