When The Story GRABS ON And Won't Let Go!

Friday, December 19, 2014

     Why is it that one story will grab your right from the beginning and another, although just as enjoyable, may not engage you until part way through? Is it the words? The characterizations? The story? The answer is not that simple.

     When, where, and if a story grabs a reader is a very subjective thing. A writer cannot predict a reader’s likes and dislikes or know where the reader is emotionally when they pick up the writer’s book. It’s safe to say that it won’t matter how good the story is if the writing isn’t up to snuff. So the answer, if there is one, is found somewhere in the middle of where good story, good writing and good characterizations meet up with the preferences and the mental and emotional state of the reader; nebulous at best.

     I’d been enjoying Comfort, a wonderful middle-grade novel written by Joyce Moyer Hostetter, a chapter or two at a time, stretching out the delight, until I reached Chapter 29. That’s when the words grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. That’s not to say there was anything wrong with the first 28 chapters, I did say I’d been enjoying the story, but something that happened in Chapter 29 made me sit down, first thing in the morning, when I didn't have time, and read it to the end.

     This experience got me to thinking about the manuscripts and books I’ve written. Has a reader ever felt that way about my work? Has anything, any word or character or situation buried in the chapters of a manuscript a Beta reader is currently pouring through, caught her attention? Is she laboring through it or savoring each word? And what about the agent who asked to see it? Agents reject quickly, right, one page and they can already tell if they like your writing style and your story? Has the agent even opened the requested email yet? Is she so engrossed that she’s shared it with colleagues and is putting a contract together? I can only hope.

     I've enjoyed many books without pulling an all-nighter. But let’s face it, if I spend five plus years of my life writing the next great American novel, I want to hear someone say, “The story grabbed me and I couldn't put it down.” That's what all writers want to hear, right? 

     What story or stories have your read recently that grabbed you? Can you put your finger on what made the difference?  I’d love to hear from you.

*     *     *     *

Sandra’s adult novel in waiting is called, They Called Me Blue, the story of two brothers whose lives are changed forever when one disappears on the last Orphan Train to leave New York in 1929, and the other spends the next fifty years of his life searching for him. 

Two biographies written by Sandra Warren about nurses who served in the Persian Gulf War, When Duty Called: Even Grandma Had to Go and Hidden Casualties: Battles On The Home Front, are said to have those, "can't put it down," qualities. 


Bear Burgers = Finishing A Novel

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

     I had bear sausage for breakfast the other day and bear burgers for dinner, compliments of a daughter who migrated to Alaska over a decade ago to seek adventure in the wild and in the classrooms of the Valdez school system. She's embraced the lifestyle. She seldom eats domestic meat. There's no need. She, her husband, son and daughter bring in all the salmon, halibut, shrimp, moose, caribou and bear they could ever consume.
    You might wonder where this is all leading and what bear burgers have to do with writing? Well hold onto your stuffed Smokey the Bear toys, I'm getting there.
      While standing at the stove cooking up the bear sausages, I was contemplating the novel I'd just finished. As I flipped sausages, the smell wafting through the house, my mind wandered back three years earlier when I thought my novel was finished once before and I wondered, was it really finished this time around?
     Time got away from me while I was cooking, my mind on the novel not on what I was flipping. So imagine my surprise when I looked down at what I thought might be overcooked, near burnt burgers to see the meat still red, as red as can be, fresh out of the package red, raw meat red.
     Were my eyes deceiving me? I looked at the clock and back at the pan, surely they'd been cooking long enough, but had they? They didn't look done. How was I to know?
     Okay, now I think you can guess my point.
     Three years ago, I thought my novel was finished, would have sworn it was, but it wasn't, no where near. I didn't know it then. Fortunately for me, an agent liked the premise and took the time to tell me exactly where improvements were needed. I could have chalked her comments up as only one agent's opinion, but I didn't. I am serious about my writing and I want it to be the best it can be, so I listened.
     Now, three years later, it's done, at least ready, really ready for submission. How do I know? I know because during the last three years while revising, I've also been honing my novel writing skills, listening and discussing pieces parts of the manuscript as I've gone along, added and enhanced and cut multiple passages and scenes and words and pages I was in love with. I know because when I re-read it, I'm no longer stopping to make changes along the way. It's ready to submit and I'm excited.
     Now back to the almost burnt bear sausages. They were done, they just didn't look done. Apparently, unlike domestic meat, bear meat does not brown when cooked. How did they taste? Well, let's just say they'll take some getting used to. I didn't dislike them I just didn't love them. Bear burgers served with all the typical hamburger trimmings was tastier to me than the breakfast sausages. Will I have them again? Probably. My daughter is still in Alaska living and loving the lifestyle and sharing the bounty.
     What are you markers for knowing when your manuscript is complete? I'd love to hear from you.


When Life Parallels Your Character's Life

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

     I finished a novel the other day that I've been working on for over five years. Three years ago I thought I was done but it was awful, truly awful. Thanks to an agent who took the time to critique it, I was able to do a rewrite and fix the problems. I believe in this story or I would have just pitched it. Now, it's ready and I'm hopeful that this time will be the charm.
     The characters are friends, like distant relatives but more because I know them intimately. And strangely, my life has paralleled events written into my character's life. You'd think it would be the other way around but no, not in this case.
     In the novel, a life was put on hold for fifty years while my main character searched for his long lost brother. My character believed that all would be well once his little brother was found. Until then, everything else in his life, his marriage and his son, was pushed aside.  
     I realized about three quarters of the way through the final rewrite that in real life, I was doing the same thing as my main character, putting my life on hold, house work, yard work, cleaning out overstuffed closets and cupboards, until the manuscript was finished. I believed that all would straighten out once the novel was done.
     But, as we writer's know, finishing a manuscript is not the end of the work. Up ahead will come more rewrites as an editor has their say. The writing won't really be done until the book rolls off the presses ready for market. And then the real work begins, the promoting, the marketing, the selling.
     Perhaps I should revise the beginning of this post to say that I finished my novel enough to put into a book proposal package, enough to present to an agent or editor. Regardless, I feel a tremendous sense of relief and joy to have completed the story arc, the plot points and sequence, the character development and the tearful conclusion in a way that pleases my critique partners and pleases me.
     Have you seen yourself in your characters in surprising ways? If so, please share.



When Did “Interesting” Become a BAD Word?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Language changes. I get that.  Old words or usage fades away and new words become accepted. 

Think of all the new words or new meanings to old words that have come about over the last two decades: net, cell (meaning cell phone), Internet, Web, Website, ebook, blog, and text. These, as you know, relate mostly to technology.  One of the words, “texting,” has produced a whole new language in and of itself. 

Yet even the new abbreviated words in a texting dictionary have suffered confusion. For example, when you send LOL are you “laughing out loud” or sending “lots of love?” Folks still get those confused, sometimes with hilarious results. You have to grab the nearest teenager to interpret what is being said, emailed or texted.

Then there are phrases that when spoken mean the opposite of what the words say they should mean. Consider, no way, get out, hold the fort or yes way, or that’s so sick or so bad. No wonder folks trying to learn English have trouble.

That brings up the word that started all this – interesting. It’s interesting to me that when I moved to the South, suddenly things couldn't be “interesting” anymore. When a neighbor sent over a lovely dessert and I described it as “interesting,” she said, “Oh, so you didn't like it?” She took offense. I was flabbergasted. I meant no disrespect. I thought I was giving her a compliment. Her dessert was "interesting" as in different, unusual and unique. Her “interesting” dessert was also delicious. 

Just so you know, coming from me “interesting” is a good thing.  So, if you receive a critique from me and I say your new book was “interesting,” please know that I found your work to be something of importance or consequence that engendered curiosity on my part and made me take notice, like the dictionary says.

What words that have taken on a different connotation bother you? 

Your Writing Career: It’s More Than Your Books

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

     Once you’re published, many new adventures come your way. It’s not just about your book(s) anymore. Folks will become interested in you; who you are, what you write, why you write and how you write? You may not have bargained for more than an autograph party or two but like anything in life, when you finally achieve a goal, there’s always more waiting for you than meets the eye.

     Speaking at a local school was the first request I received. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of presenting to school children from Alaska to Florida, and British Columbia to London, England. I’ve spoken to parent groups, other educational organizations, at library and educational conferences on the local, state, national and world levels, and even addressed business meetings; sometimes about my books but more often about the process of living and working as a writer.

     Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Gretchen Griffith, author of Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School, and other works of non-fiction and children’s books as well, to offer a class on memoir writing that we titled, Preserving the Past: Collecting & Recording Family History & Life Experiences.  Between the two of us we've authored five memoirs including nurses serving in the Persian Gulf War, a female pastor in the Salvation Army, the story of a school, and an early entrepreneur who built stagecoaches, brought roller skating to North Carolina and helped people turn moonshine into gasohol. 
     This opportunity came to the two of us because others heard about our books and wanted to know how to write their own memoir. So, we took our knowledge and experience and turned it into a two-hour workshop. It wasn't a session on “how to” write a memoir. Our focus was directed at our process; what each of us did that was similar and more importantly, how our processes differed. We looked at gathering and organizing information,  researching facts to enhance the memoir, resources to help and legal things to consider, just to name a few.  Our goal was to encourage students to develop their own strategies because, in the end, no matter how many classes or webinars or seminars you take, when it comes to writing, you have to take that information and make it your own.

     If you’re already published, then you know what I’m talking about. If not, get ready. Your time is coming, hopefully, sooner than later.

     If you’re already published, please share the most unusual request you've received for a presentation or one that took you by surprise.
     Gretchen and I are ready to take the memoir writing class on the road. If you know of a group that might be interested, please have them contact us at one of the following websites:

Why Negative Reviews & Negative Critiques Hurt!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Your critique group trashes the latest chapter in your novel. Out of 25 positive reviews on Amazon, someone gives you ONE STAR. Why does it hurt so much?

Why is it that one negative comment out of 25 or 50 or 100+ sticks like glue in our brain over the multiple positive ones? Am I just too sensitive? Well, thanks to a segment on CBS Sunday Morning, which aired the morning of Oscar Sunday, I now know that there is scientific evidence to support that there is more to it than my personality.

According to psychological studies, there is something called, Negativity Bias, that supports the theory that our brains are affected by negative things more than positive. The brain is good at learning from bad experiences and bad at learning from good experiences.

A doctor from the University of California-San Diego has identified two regions of the brain, the Amygdala and the Medial Prefrontal Cortex, that grab onto negative comments or criticisms and block out the brains ability to do anything else at the time. Dr. Rick Hansen, Ph.D., describes it this way: "negative comments stick like Velcro in the brain while positive comments roll off like Teflon." In other words, the brain works harder when processing criticism and can keep the brain from processing anything else. Dr. Hansen has written a book, Hardwiring Happiness, that teaches how to beat negative bias.

Somehow, I’ve learned to endure the negative criticisms from my critique group because I know they care about me and my work and they want what I want—for my manuscript to be the best that it can be. An agent recently rejected representation of a novel I submitted but took the time to tell me what was wrong. Grateful, I poured over every point and began a complete rewrite. Those negative comments taught me where my manuscript was weak and how I could improve it. I value that kind of negativity. It pushed me to be a better writer.

On the contrary, a negative Amazon review has stuck in my mind like glue. I recently put a Kindle version of my children’s story books, Arlie the Alligator, up on Amazon. There was a glitch in the technology—I paid a company to covert the story for me—that wasn’t realized until folks began to download it. Not knowing where to lodge their complaint, five purchasers chose to complain by posting a ONE STAR review, even though it had nothing to do with the quality of the book. Now, I can deal with the THREE STAR review it received, not everyone can like your work, but those ONE STARS based on a technology glitch I had no control over, are frustrating. I struggle to forget that they’re there.

Some writers suggest that you not read negative reviews. But sometimes you don’t know the review is negative until you’ve already started to read. By then, it’s too late.

What do you do about negative reviews? How do you let go? I’d like to know. 

Ten Wishes for Writers in 2014 - The LIST GROWS!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A few days ago I posted Ten Wishes for Writers in the New Year and asked you to add to the list. Here are a few additions: 

May 2014 bring you: 

  1. Writing time carved out of your day with NO distractions. 
  2. Ideas that pop into your head and won't let go until you write them all down. 

  3. A "brutally honest" critique group to help you tighten up your manuscripts. 
  4. The wisdom to listen with an open mind, not get defensive and make the changes that strengthen your story. 
  5. The COURAGE to submit. 
  6. The persistence to continue submitting in the face of rejection.
  7. An editor or agent to invest in your story, your ideas and you. 
  8. A contract or multiple ones to help you share your story with the world. 
  9. Time to post your marvelous work via social media. 
10. Perseverance to keep writing and do it all over again. 

Here are some wonderful additions: 
11. Writing buddies that will absorb your tears and celebrate your triumphs all day long!(Linda Vigen      Phillips)
12.  I wish for all the joy of a surprise email with a publishing offer. (Gretchen Griffith)

 Let's keep this list going. Please leave a comment and I'll it add to the list. 


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my writing friends! This will be OUR year if we wrap up all those manuscripts collecting dust and SUBMIT, SUBMIT, SUBMIT!

May 2014 bring you:

1. Writing time carved out of your day with NO distractions!
2. Ideas that pop into your head and won't let go until you write them all down.
3. A "brutal" critique group to help you tighten up your manuscripts.
4. The wisdom to listen with an open mind, not get defensive and make the changes that strengthen your story.
5. The COURAGE to submit.
6. Persistence to continue submitting no matter the response.
7. An editor or agent to invest in your story, your ideas and you.
8. A contract or multiple ones to help you share your story with the world.
9. Time to post your marvelous work via social media.
10. Perseverance to keep writing and do it all over again.  

What would you add to this list?

Contest results for Fallen Prey by Ann Eisenstein
Congratulations to Gretchen Griffith. She won a copy of Fallen Prey by commenting on the December 10th post about Ann Eisenstein http://www.sandrawarrenwrites.blogspot.com/2013/12/an-intriguing-glimpse-of-mg-mystery.html

Subscribe By Email

About Me

My photo
Hi! I’m Sandra Warren, a writer with very eclectic writing tastes. I’ve been fortunate to have publications in multiple genres including children’s, gifted education, parenting, how to, poetry, journal, educational activity guides and biography as well as audio and video production. I'm a city gal recently transplanted to the mountains of NC where glorious mountain vistas inspire latest renderings.

Comment By RSS


Search This Blog