Saturday, April 30, 2016

Software Writing Tools

Tools are important and need to fit how you think and write. There are lots of tools to choose from and these are just the ones I've chosen because they fit me.   I hope they help you find the right tools for you.

What sets a writer apart from the crowd?

This post comes from Caleb Pirtle III at Venture Galleries, connecting readers, writers and books, which is quickly becoming one of my "must reads," ...

No newsman was ever as trusted as Walter Cronkite. His was the voice of knowledge and authority.
No newsman was ever as trusted as Walter Cronkite. His was the voice of knowledge and authority.
THE NEWS was good.
Paul Harvey said it was.
He made us smile.
The news was bad.
I could hear it in the words.
Walter Cronkite could chill us to the bone.
What someone says may not be that important.
How they say it is unforgettable.
How they say it is all that matters.
It’s always the voice that we remember
In my days of long ago, there were two voices that I couldn’t wait to hear at the end of the day.
One belonged to Walter Cronkite.
We would gather in front of the television set, watch the images flicker in black and white, wrap our minds around the six o’clock news, and listen to Walter Cronkite tell us: And that’s the way it is.
The voice was distinctive.
It was different.
It rang with authority.
We heard the news.
We believed it.
We trusted it.
We knew that’s the way it was.
No one doubted it, especially when Cronkite offered up such nuggets as:
There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.
Or, Objective journalism and an opinion column are about a similar as the Bible and Playboy Magazine.
The other voice I won’t forget belonged to Paul Harvey.
He was a self-styled newsman who didn’t dabble in hard news.
He preferred catch phrase like:
In times like these, it helps to remember that there have always been times like these.
Or, if pro is the opposite of progress, then what is the opposite of “progress.”
Think about it.
Paul Harvey told us the rest of the story.
Paul Harvey told us the rest of the story.
Paul Harvey would spin a yarn with a surprise ending and tell us: Now you know the rest of the story.
We heard it.
We believed it.
We trusted it.
We now knew both the story told and the story that had never been told.
The New York Times said that Paul Harvey personalized radio news with his right-wing opinions, but laced them with his own trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average American and today’s observations that evoked his heartland, family values, and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around he dinner table on Sunday.
He, like Cronkite, had the voice that made a story worth listening to whether the story was any good or not.
Much the same can be said about writing.
When it’s all said and done, it’s not the story that counts.
It’s not the characters.
It’s not the plot.
It’s the voice.
We all tell the same stories about love and hate, greed and revenge, ambition and jealousy.
They bleed with mystery.
They ‘re breathless with romance.
They are stories about times both future and past.
Some even involve worlds that don’t exist and will never exist anywhere except on the pages of a book.
And there is only one thing that can make a novel different and give it a cadence and a rhythm all its own.
That’s the voice. .
You read: Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic. The second is intimate. The third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.
And you know it’s Raymond Chandler.
Pure and Simple.
You read: When you die, it’s the same as if everybody else did, too. … War was always there. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting the ultimate practitioner.
And you know the writer must be Cormac McCarthy.
It has to be.
No one else writes that way or has the talent to write that way.
You read: Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with somebody in order to get something or someplace you want or you believe it has to do with how your body responds to another body like robins or bison or maybe you believe love is how forces or nature or luck is benign to you in particular not maiming or killing you but if so doing it for your own good. Love is none of that.
And you know those words came straight from Toni Morrison.
She has a style and her voice has a depth that no one else has reached.
What makes a book good, perhaps, is the plot.
What makes it unforgettable, perhaps, are the characters.
What makes readers coming back for your next book and then the next is the voice of the story.
The voice is your signature.
It is as distinctive as a fingerprint.
It’s what sets you apart from the crowd.
And keeps you there.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Premise Statement: Best-Seller Analysis

Analysis of Premise Statements (or “Hooks”) for 33 Best Sellers

These premise statements or "hooks" are taking directly from New York Times best-sellers lists and analyzed according to the following:

- the IPA Model (Identification - Problem - Action)see previous post)
- the verbs used (active or passive)
- the number of words used
- the interplay with the title

The star rating (from one to five) is purely my call on the actual premise statement and has nothing to do with the quality of the book. I’ve tried to write a few words of explanation about what I think is lacking or weak when the rating has been less than *****.

I hope this helps you write a brilliant premise statement.

**** THE OBSESSION, by Nora Roberts. (Berkley.) A woman is haunted by her father’s crimes as she tries to pursue love and her work as a photographer.  IPA (20) Weak action.

** ONE WITH YOU, by Sylvia Day. (St. Martin's Griffin.) The chronicle of a tempestuous marriage comes to a close. P (10) No identification and weak indication of problem.

**** STUCK-UP SUIT, by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward. (EverAfter Romance.) An arrogant businessman's phone, lost on a commuter train, leads to an unexpected affair. IPA (14) Weak indication of problem … the affair is unexpected but did it have consequences?

***** FOOL ME ONCE, by Harlan Coben. (Dutton.) A retired Army helicopter pilot faces combat-related nightmares and mysteries concerning the deaths of her husband and sister. IPA (18)

**** ME BEFORE YOU, by Jojo Moyes. (Penguin.) A woman who has barely been beyond her English village finds herself while caring for a wealthy, embittered quadriplegic. IPA (19) Weak indication of problem and action.

***** THE NEST, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. (Ecco/HarperCollins.) Siblings in a dysfunctional New York family must grapple with a reduced inheritance. IPA (13)

***** MOST WANTED, by Lisa Scottoline. (St. Martin's.) A woman discovers that her sperm donor is a murderer. IPA (10)

***** NOW THAT I'VE FOUND YOU, by Bella Andre. (Oak Press.) An artist breaks his rule of never painting women when he meets a reality TV star.  IPA (16)

***** AS TIME GOES BY, by Mary Higgins Clark. (Simon & Schuster.) Secrets emerge when a television journalist searching for her birth mother covers the trial of the widow of a wealthy doctor. IPA (21)

*** THE NIGHTINGALE, by Kristin Hannah. (St. Martin's.) Two sisters are separated in World War II France: one in the countryside, the other in Paris. IP (17)  Without hinting at their “action,” there’s no sense of what the sisters will do. 

***** MAKE ME, by Lee Child. (Delacorte.) Jack Reacher pries open a missing-persons case that takes him across the country and into the shadowy reaches of the Internet. IPA (21)

***** THE MURDER HOUSE, by James Patterson and David Ellis. (Little, Brown.) When bodies are found at a Hamptons estate where a series of grisly murders once occurred, a local detective and former New York City cop investigates. IPA (26)

**** THE PLAYER, by Kresley Cole. (Valkyrie Press.) A grifter weds a man with a shadowy past in the third installment of the Game Maker series. IPA (18) Weak action, too many words allotted to series status.

**** THE 14TH COLONY, by Steve Berry. (Minotaur.) The covert operative Cotton Malone must thwart an agent loyal to the former Soviet Union. IPA (15) Weak action.

***** LISTEN TO ME, by Kristen Proby. (Morrow/HarperCollins.) Everything changes for a restaurateur when a former rock star walks into her Portland hotspot. IPA (15) I would have given this one six stars.

***** How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto A grad student who discovers hope in the personal stories of the ladies of her grandmother's quilting circle. IPA (18)

*** THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS, by Dominic Smith. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux.) A painting links a 17th-century Dutch painter and a modern art historian (and sometime forger). IPA (15) Weak action, plus it’s the painting that’s doing the action … although I do want to read this book!

*** ONE WITH YOU, by Sylvia Day. (St. Martin's Griffin.) Fighting for the love to which they have committed could set Gideon and Eva free, or break them apart; the finale of the Crossfire series. IA (25) No problem identified, weak action, plus awkward wording and no identification for new readers of this series.

***** A MAN CALLED OVE, by Fredrik Backman. (Washington Square.) An angry old curmudgeon gets new next-door neighbors, and things are about to change for all of them. IPA (18) 

***** THE GUILTY, by David Baldacci. (Grand Central.) Will Robie, the government's ace assassin, learns that his estranged father is charged with murder, but his investigation is unwelcome. IPA (20)

**** LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE, by Jessica Knoll. (Simon & Schuster.) The life of a successful New York magazine writer is shaken when secrets from her past are revealed. IPA (18) Passive verbs make the action weak.

* MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, by Elena Ferrante. (Europa.) The first installment in the author’s Neapolitan series, about the lifelong friendship between two women. No identification, no problem, weak action, too many words devoted to the series status.

*** MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S SORRY, by Fredrik Backman. (Washington Square.) A girl is instructed to deliver a series of letters after her grandmother dies. IA (14) Weak identification and action and no problem indicated, although, with the title, it’s an intriguing premise.

***** THE LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP, by Nina George. (Broadway.) Monsieur Perdu dispenses books to help mend broken hearts and decides to finally confront his own long-ago heartbreak. IPA (18) Another six-star candidate that makes me want to read the book!

**** MILLER'S VALLEY, by Anna Quindlen. (Random House.) A young woman comes of age during an assault on the land and the people she loves. IPA (17) A stronger action would have been good. Katniss anyone?

*** FAMILY JEWELS, by Stuart Woods. (Putnam.) In the 37th Stone Barrington novel, the lawyer becomes entangled in a mystery involving a wealthy divorcĂ©e’s ex-husband. IP (18) Too little action, too many series words.

*** ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, by Anthony Doerr. (Scribner.) The lives of a blind French girl and a gadget-obsessed German boy before and during World War II.  I (18) Good identification, no action, weak problem.

* THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR, by Helen Simonson. (Random House.) Life in Sussex, England, at the beginning of World War I. (11) No identification, problem or action.

***** JOURNEY TO MUNICH, by Jacqueline Winspear. (Harper/HarperCollins.) In 1938, the psychologist Maisie Dobbs travels to Germany to impersonate the daughter of a prisoner. IPA (16)

* THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, by Paula Hawkins. (Riverhead.) A psychological thriller set in the environs of London. (9)  No identification, problem or action. Which only goes to prove that some books can succeed, wildly succeed, in spite of their premise statement.

***** PRIVATE PARIS, by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan. (Little, Brown.) Jack Morgan, the head of the Private global investigative agency, probes the murders of members of the French cultural elite. (20)

*** THE MURDER OF MARY RUSSELL, by Laurie R. King. (Bantam.) In the 15th Mary Russell novel, the focus is on Clara, the housekeeper for Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, who is not who she appears to be. IP (28) No indication of action although paired with the title, it is implied.

* LILAC GIRLS, by Martha Hall Kelly. (Ballantine.) A story of three women’s lives during and after World War II. I (12) Weak identification, no problem, no action.

Last Resort

Again, if you’re still stuck and need help, send me your 15 draft statements and I’ll provide feedback and some word-smithing ideas … for $50. (This definitely should be your last resort, but it might be worth it if you’re really stuck.) 

Premise Statement: Simple as IPA

Finding the right “coach” for your novel writing journey can be tricky, but, once in awhile, you find someone who says exactly what you need to hear, exactly when you need to hear it. That happened to me with Randy Ingermanson’s brilliant “Snowflake Method” for designing a novel. Not only is it brilliant, but the basic article is FREE! (Randy is the author of the best-selling Writing Fiction for Dummies.)

After starting my new novel, Yellowstone Howling, and writing happily through several chapters, I hit a wall and realized I didn’t know where I was going. I had written my first fiction work, a young-adult, fantasy novella, (Sarana’s Gift) as a “pantser,” someone who just starts writing and follows along wherever it takes her. It was such fun that I wanted to do all my writing that way. But, now it wasn’t working.

I knew I was in trouble, so I started down the path of the “planner,” trying to develop an outline, put everything into Scrivener, developing full character sketches and so on. It wasn't working very well; I was bogging down and felt the joy of writing melting away.

Being Simple Minded

Then I discovered Randy and his snowflake article and the idea of “designing” a novel which seems to neatly merge the craft and the art of fiction. What really made me a believer was his simple structure: three disasters plus an ending. Maybe I’m just simple minded but that broke a log jam of confusion that had been created by dozens of “story arc” and “character transformation” books I’ve read over the years. Suddenly, I just had to find three disasters and I already had one really good one.

So, I jumped naively into Randy’s Step 1: the “premise statement.” He states,
"Step 1) Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel.”

"Great!” I thought. “I’ve got an hour.” I bet you know where this story is going.

I spent an hour and thought I had it, even if it was longer than his recommended 15 words. I went for a walk and realized I didn’t have it. It sucked.

Another hour, another “it,” another walk, another failure. Should I stop walking?

This went on for a few more rounds and finally I thought I had it nailed and sent it to a friend who basically said, “Barf."

At that point, I realized that I hadn’t followed one of Randy’s recommendations:  
Read the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list to learn how to do this. Writing a one-sentence description is an art form.
So, I analyzed 33 fiction best-sellers and developed a model for a one-sentence book premise. (This analysis will be included in the next post.)

If you’re wondering why a premise statement (sometimes called “the hook” is so important, read Randy’s article … or take my word for it … it is CRITICAL not only for future marketing but as your touchstone for what your book is. It might change, but until it does, this is the book you’re writing.)

 IPA Model: Identification - Problem - Action

This isn’t an arbitrary model. It’s based on what hooks readers into wanting to read a book: 
  • Identification with character, place or time (specific)
  • Problem or challenge that is significant or interesting
  • Action that promises a result, good or bad (active verb)
My analysis of the 33 best-sellers (and lots of years in marketing) confirmed this as an effective model. When I used it to write the premise statement for Yellowstone Howling, it pulled me out of the mounds of possibilities into a simple statement that I can now use as a way to describe the book to others … and to remind myself of where I’m going. And, yes, it might change, but, if it does, I now have the criteria needed to re-write it. 

Example from Randy

Randy has a software program, Snowflake Pro, and it shows his one-sentence hook based on Gone with the Wind: A self-willed Southern Belle struggles to survive the Civil War and win the love of the one man she can never have. 26 words. Perfect, huh? (although a bit longer than his own recommendation.) 
  • Identification: A self-willed Southern Belle ... Civil War
  • Problem: the one man she can never have
  • Action: struggles to survive ... and win the love ...
BTW, after looking at Snowflake Pro for about a minute, I bought it.
Ta Da - Mine!

Two life-weary women and a broken-hearted teenaged boy embark on a journey and discover a secret that changes everything. (19)
  • Identification: Two life-weary women and a broken-hearted teenaged boy
  • Problem: life-weary and broken-hearted … (Implied: how will they find purpose/happiness?)
  • Action: embark on a journey … discover a secret that changes everything. (action verbs)
Your Turn

Using this model (and the analysis in the next post), you might actually be able to develop your premise statement in an hour. I would suggest writing fifteen versions and picking one to live with for a few days. Write it on an index card. Say it out loud frequently. Send it to a friend. Listen and rewrite.

Last Resort

If you’re still stuck and need help, send me your 15 draft statements and I’ll provide feedback and some word-smithing ideas … for $50. (This definitely should be your last resort but it might be worth it if you’re really stuck.) 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Snowflakes and Story

I love simple. Especially thinking models which are memorable and pull you into deeper thinking processes.

One came to me in the midst of a Dara Marks workshop on transformational arc as a reminder that emotion is critical. I call it my one sentence story workshop: Make 'em laugh, cry or wonder "why?"

I've wondered for some time if other writing experts had similar simple approaches to story and just found one from Randy Ingermanson at Advanced Fiction Writing. He calls his process the Snowflake Method and it's interesting, but what I loved was his story one liner: Three disasters plus an ending.

I was in the midst of "designing" (a term he uses and I like) my novel when I read that. So, I tried writing down my three disasters ... and that was a disaster. However, within a few minutes (after months of worrying with the plot), I came up with disaster #2 ... and it changed everything.

Now, if I can figure out disaster #3, I think I'll have a real plot. Thanks, Randy!

More about the artwork: In the Garden of East and West by Joyce Wycoff

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spiral Editing

I like to think of editing as a spiral starting at the outside and working down until you reach that polished point. The process of editing is always in the process of refinement ... editing editing? ... but here's the current version:

Mantra: Make em laugh, cry or wonder why!
Search and destroy passive … is/are, was/were, be/been, has/have, -ing (-ed),
Run spell check.
Search on trouble words and rewrite to eliminate them.
Read for show don’t tell … more action … more body language
Read for cliches … sharpen metaphors
Be bold … push the envelope … character quirks or tells
Run spell check again

One of the things I've found helpful in editing is having a list of words to check. These aren't necessarily "bad" words but they are often weak or signal an area that could be more powerful.

In short, these are words that simply don’t add much to the story. Here’s the list I used for Wayfarer‘s edit:
  • Asked
  • Begin/Began/Beginning
  • Breath
  • Could
  • Exhale
  • Feel/Felt
  • Glance/Glanced/Glancing
  • Hear
  • Inhale
  • Just
  • Look
  • -ly
  • Moment
  • Replied
  • Said
  • See/Saw/Seeing
  • Seemed
  • -self (his-, her-, your-, my-, it-)
  • Smell
  • Sound
  • Start
  • Taste
  • That
  • Think/Thought/Thinking
  • Touch
  • Turn
  • Very
  • Wonder