You’ve Got Five Pages, #BeastsandBeauty by #SomanChainani, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

We interrupt this month of mystery with a dark fantasy recommended by my daughter!

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales by Soman Chainani

I had originally planned a mystery for today, but once I saw my selection directly tied back to a previous book without much context, I took my daughter Blondie’s offer to read Beasts and Beauty by Soman Chainani instead. I’m so glad I did!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

The illustrations of the first story, “Red Riding Hood,” are stark and bleak–a perfect balance with the vivid yet succinct prose that describes the story-world. Just look at this first sentence: “On the first day of spring, the wolves eat the prettiest girl.” That right there is intense and violent while also providing a sense of time and action. Even though the story is written in third-person omniscient, we as readers feel like we are a part of the story, watching the girl who never thought herself beautiful be chosen by the wolves for their meal. We watch her discard fear, take up her red cloak and knife, and enter the forest. We have heard this tale a thousand times, yet we cannot help but read on, for we don’t know where Chainani’s unique tellings will take us. His control over language is pure magic, and I cannot wait to see his imagination play with the story-worlds of Snow White, Peter Pan, and other classic fairy tale folk.

No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #AGhostofCaribou by #AliceHenderson, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Another January day, another mystery!

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

A Ghost of Caribou by Alice Henderson

Once again, we have a prologue, and once again, this is where the action happens.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

On a technical level, the writing itself is fine: the pacing of the action is clear. The details help us see the woman being chased by a “thing.” Yet this prologue also feels very distant; we’re not really feeling things as the character feels, but merely stand as witness as this old woman runs and is eventually captured. And that’s something that snapped me back to reality, too: a seventy-two-year-old is outrunning what sounds like a drone through dangerous terrain in the dark. Whaaat?! It reminds me of the opening sequence to a tv episode like X-Files, where we’ve got to see someone in danger so we can be motivated to keep watching and see that person be saved.

But this is not TV. This is a book. And so we have the words and ability to gather the words that could help readers feel what someone in danger is feeling.

The first chapter’s opening pages continue to give me those “TV vibes.” After writing the characters’ full names for the reader, Henderson then has the characters say their names as if they’ve not seen one other in twenty years. “Alex Carter!” “Ben Hathaway!” But they did see each other only a year ago. Why this double-dump of information? It happens again when Ben asks if Alex wants to get something from the coffee shop. We get double-details that the shop is decorated with local art on the walls and has an “artistic” vibe. This kind of repetitive description simply isn’t necessary, especially since such an environment has become quite common in the western world and therefore is easy for readers to picture. Again, it feels like these details are there as if a script needs a quick setting description before the dialogue starts.

But this is not TV. This is a book, where every word counts. And when one’s writing a mystery, those words should always propel us toward the mystery’s heart rather than its “artistic” walls of generic detail.

No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #ThePersonalAssistant by #KimberlyBelle, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

We take a darker turn today into a thriller fueled by the virtual illusions created on social media.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle

Ironically, the prologue is my favorite part of the opening pages in Kimberly Belle’s The Personal Assistant.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

These first two pages are a well-paced scene with balanced external action and sensory detail from the perspective of an unnamed girl without a dime to her name. Her car’s run off the road by a farmer in the middle of nowhere, her tire blows out, and she has no one she could turn to for money. The prologue ends with a mysterious man pulling up to her vehicle offering aid.

Now I mention in my episode that prologues make me nervous because they seem to be the author’s backup plan to hooking readers when they know the first chapter is a slog.

Lo and behold…

We meet protagonist Alex, a social media influence married to a financial talking head named Patrick who also does a lot on social media. The opening pages detail how happy she is with her rise to fame, his skepticism about why people care enough to follow her online, and how he never cared about her daughters.

+++CORRECTION+++ It is not clear in these opening pages if Patrick is the father of those girls or not. In the episode, I interpreted that he is, which makes him sound like an even bigger jerk than he is supposed to be. Upon checking later pages, he is not the father of those girls, so at least this guy is decent with kids. Just wanted to clarify that. +++

Kimberly Belle clearly knows how to craft a scene. Belle knows how to balance detail and action, and she knows how to use dialogue to relay information. If I spot another book by Belle, I’ll likely give it a try. I just struggle to read a story about this particular kind of character. For folks who enjoy the realm of social media drama, or thrillers with that social media flare, this fiction will fit right in with your tastes. As one who is not as keen on such drama, I struggle to relate to such personalities. So, I’m going to see what the next mystery from my library contains.

No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #TheTwistofaKnife by #AnthonyHorowitz, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Happy New Year, my fellow creatives! I’ve got a trove of mysteries from my library for this month.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz

CORRECTION: Over the course of the podcast I say The Twist of a Knife is the third book of Horowitz’s series, but it is actually the fourth. My apologies!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

One of my favorite styles of writing is writing with personality. Horowitz’s The Twist of a Knife has plenty of personality in the prose because the narrator, Horowitz himself, IS a character in the series. It’s a delightful homage to the Watson-style storytelling approach Doyle took for chronicling the adventures of Sherlock Holmes–except in Horowitz’s case, the story begins with him and his Detective Hawthorn parting ways.

NOOOOOooooooo…..

Of course, they can’t stay parted. There is a whole book here, after all. But such a beginning does help establish some immediate conflict between protagonists that is bound to help make future points of plot–such as the murder of Horowitz’s critics–more challenging to overcome. The pair’s banter and chemistry were a joy to read, rather like the Thursday Murder Club in Richard Osman’s series. My one niggle here is that Horowitz opens his story with an exposition dump. While I appreciate we are getting exposition from the character in character voice that establishes the story-world, it’s still a bit of a slog, especially when compared to the quick, delightful dialogue that follows it.

I hope you’re ready for a few more mysteries to get you through these coming weeks. 🙂 No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#WriterProblems: The Absent Protagonist (or, a Quick Rant about a #MissMarple #Mystery)

Featured

Happy New Year, my fellow creatives! I hope 2023 is a kind one to us all. I’m eager to work with my university to develop strong goals as an educator, an advocate, and as a writer. That includes chatting with you here, and (fingers crossed) getting something published before 2023 ends.

To start the year off right, I picked up a cozy mystery my husband Bo had given me for Christmas…in 2021, but better late than never. Miss Marple has really grown on me over the past couple of years, and since I’ve not read all her books, I wanted to see if I could cover the rest in 2023. So, here we are with her third mystery, The Moving Finger.

One of the creepier covers.

And I’m peeved.

Not deeply peeved, mind you. The mystery itself is rather good. A brother-sister pair settle in to the countryside for a few months while the brother recovers from a back injury. With the peaceful setting situated, the “harmless” crime of poison pen letters begins with a flurry of notes to different members of the community–Jill’s a floozie, Tim’s not your husband’s child, etc. Even the urban siblings receive a letter that they’re not really siblings. The town gossip burns bright, but no one really takes the letters seriously.

That is, until a woman apparently commits suicide. When her maid is later found murdered, the letters suddenly feel like ticking time bombs. When will the next letter lead to the next death? Cue Miss Marple….

…a few dozen pages before the end.

That’s what brings me here for a brief rant/chat with you all. I know my blogging was rather sporadic last year as I continue to find my place academically and creatively, but one thing that I hope will help is to keep my blog posts shorter than the 5k essays I’d been writing. The short story collection I began in November reminded me just how much fun creative writing can be when we give ourselves time to actually write. We must still take a moment to learn from others, though, and that’s why we’re here.

No Pevensie to be found here!

When one writes a series, one cannot just use the same group of characters over and over and over again. A story-world is usually populated by more than a dozen folks, yes? So, there must always be someone new to the mix. Perhaps that new person is a side character, or perhaps that new person is a real first-stringer, a protagonist in their own right. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this in an established series so long as we establish why the, well, “established” protagonists are on the sidelines. For a big example, see the Chronicles of Narnia. The four Pevensies are only protagonists in two of the books; two Pevensies are protagonists in a third with their cousin, and then that cousin is a protagonist with a schoolmate in another book. Two books have nothing to do with the Pevensies at all, yet they’re still in the series because the series is focused on the world, not those characters.

Okay, let’s look at a series based on a character–James Bond. Bo, who chides me for not having read the Bond books yet (shall I remedy that this year?) explained that The Spy Who Loved Me, Fleming’s ninth Bond novel, doesn’t bother introducing Bond into the story until around the halfway point. Because the story is told from a civilian woman’s point of view, we can’t just pop over to wherever Bond is, even though this is technically a James Bond novel. We’ve just got to wait for him to show up.

I assume a moped is involved in the story somewhere…

Diana Wynne Jones also has some stories like this in her Chrestomanci series. Technically, technically, Witch Week is a Chrestomanci novel because he has to get involved to make things right in the chaos of a world where burning witches is the law and schoolchildren are on the run for their lives. But like Marple, Chrestomanci does not show up until Act III of the story.

Yet I’m not peeved about Chrestomanci’s late arrival like I am with Miss Marple’s in The Moving Finger. Why?

It has to do with agency. Chrestomanci may have been late to the Witch Week party, but he took action. He dealt with the witch-burners and saved the children. He DID SOMETHING.

Includes The Magicians of Caprona, which also fits my concerns with the absent hero, too.

I’m not going to spoil the resolution of The Moving Finger, but I will say that Marple’s interactions with others can be counted on one hand. Readers don’t see her talking to police or many townspeople. She’s with the vicar’s wife, and she talks to the urban siblings. That’s it. Yet she gets the pages of explaining the mystery at the end? What did she DO???

For the record, I think the mystery’s plot is fine. The characters are a little cheesy with the romance, but not to the point of irritation. What bothers me is that Marple’s absence from the story would not alter the story’s outcome. A little tweaking of interactions with the regular cast here would lead to someone realizing the truth and catching the culprit. Miss Marple had no real agency in her own story, and that just leaves me confused as a reader: why is this a Marple story at all?

There’s nothing wrong with a different cast shining inside an established protagonist’s universe. The key is to make sure that established protagonist still has a moment to shine themselves. So long as readers know their favorite hero(ine) is still ACTIVE in the story-world, they will be happy to see others take action, too.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #TheHouseAcrosstheLake by #RileySager, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, my fellow creatives! A New Year means a time to reflect…on a mystery. Dunh dunh DUNH!

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The House Across the Lake by Rile Sager

Welp, we’re back to prologues.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

Thankfully, the prologue is brief–a little over a page–and does accomplish two important things. First, there is a childhood memory used to establish the ominous mood and setting where the story takes place. Second, the narrator is very restrained and a little ominous in her word choices to the point where we can’t–or shouldn’t–trust her as a narrator. The first chapter shifts into the present time, a casual interrogation between a police detective and our narrator, Casey. The dialogue is very taut, and any exposition relays to the action, including the narrator realizing she has to lie to the police.

I’m not a fan of time-jumping between the prologue and first chapter (and the by looks of it, several chapters throughout the book), but I do appreciate Sager’s choice in keeping the narrator’s inner reflections to a bare minimum. Sager doesn’t want readers to trust the narrator, so the narrator’s language reveals very little. Some readers may not care for such a small amount of insights into our narrator, but a mystery can’t remain a mystery for very long if too much is revealed too soon. So, if you are keen for a cozy mystery situated in the cold, silent autumnal woods, then I think Sager’s tale will set your nerves on edge perfectly.

And what will we find on the library’s New Release shelf next week? I can’t wait to find out. 🙂 Cheers!

No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, The Twelve Topsy-Turvy, Very Messy Days of #Christmas by #TadSafran and #JamesPatterson, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, my fellow creatives! I was happily surprised to find a new release at my local library that touches on the Christmas spirit.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Twelve Topsy-Turvy, Very Messy Days of Christmas by Tad Safran and James Patterson

To be blunt, the first chapter of The Twelve Topsy-Turvy, Very Messy Days of Christmas by Tad Safran and James Patterson was infuriating.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

The first page begins with a lighthearted approach about the worst Christmas present being different kinds of socks–this is relatable and fine. Then the next paragraph goes in a different direction and says the worst Christmas present for two siblings was the death of their mom. This is a shock so early in the story, but also something many of us can relate to. We’re even ready as readers to sympathize and perhaps even empathize with the characters.

But unfortunately, the exposition establishing this family’s situation is so distracting that it turns off any desire to empathize and actually inspires us to abandon those kids to their fate, unread. The narrator wants to be lighthearted about their dead mom–don’t worry, they didn’t “technically” lose her because she’s in a cemetery. Don’t worry, she’s not a zombie. Don’t worry, she didn’t spend all her time outside because she wasn’t house-trained. What on earth was this supposed to be? Humor? I can appreciate that folks use humor to cope with grief. Again, completely understandable. But we are brand new to this story-world and this family. We want to meet this family and understand them, but we can’t if we’re only told poor jokes about the family member all of them love and miss so much. If anything, we only learn about the narrator in this first chapter, and what I’ve learned does not encourage me to stick around and get to know the narrator better. It’s a shame, really, because there really are some lovely lines about the family at the end of the first chapter that, sadly, are soured by what came before.

Perhaps you are fine with this brand of humor. Please enjoy! As for me, I think I’ll see what’s on the library’s new release shelf next week. No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #TheManWhoDiedTwice by #RichardOsman, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, my fellow creatives! After a bout of illness and some time writing for NaNoWriMo, I am finally back and able to read the opening chapters of various new releases at my local library.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Man Who Died TWICE by Richard Osman

It’s been a while since a story truly tickled me, and Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died TWICE did exactly that.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

Here we watch a group of four friends having lunch after their “Murder Club” meeting, where they get together to study cold cases. I didn’t even realize this was the second book of the series until I caught this brief exposition in the first chapter, and thankfully, that was all I needed to be brought up to speed. The chemistry and personalities of these characters will have readers chuckling before they’ve even gotten to the third page, let alone to any murder. When a writer can establish four unique characters through a single lunchtime conversation, then you know their writing is worth a study! For those who need a lift in the heart and spirit while also tucking into a good mystery, then I have a feeling Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series will be the perfect fit for you. I know I’m excited to find the first book!

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #Haven by #EmmaDonoghue, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, my fellow creatives! After a bout of illness and some time writing for NaNoWriMo, I am finally back and able to read the opening chapters of various new releases at my local library.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Haven by Emma Donoghue

When I first grabbed Haven, I was admittedly hesitant because of my mixed feelings for her previous novel Room. Once I saw Haven is a historical novel featuring monks, though, my hesitation dissipated. 

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

I’m a big fan of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose and the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters, so another mystery with monks? Sign me up! And as a writer, Donoghue packs a lot in those first five pages for readers. We open with an active abbey meal from the perspective of a young, hungry monk. We see the importance of the abbey to a community and the power the abbot enjoys. Yet there is an outsider visiting the abbey who, as the rumors say, is far more intelligent, far stronger, and simply far more blessed than any resident of that abbey, and this conflict reveals itself in a brief public interaction between the abbot and the outsider.

It’s a terrific setup for a number of possible progressions of plot, especially since we know from the book’s blurb three monks are going to essentially be stranded on a small island. Will that be by choice, or by punishment? The worldbuilding, too, is artfully done. I mentioned earlier that we can see the abbey is a central part of life, but I particularly dug how Donoghue utilizes the vocabulary of the period with her prose so that modern readers can use context to know what she’s talking about. This is one of the biggest challenges of historical fiction, and these early pages show that Donoghue conquered that challenge. 

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#LessonsLearned from #NaNoWriMo2022: Start the Story with Conflict, Not Contemplation. #Writetip #ShortStories

Featured

Good afternoon, my fellow creatives! May your words be flowing free to the page this National Novel Writing Month.

I was doing so gosh darn good at getting the story out every day. Sometimes the installments here were dialogue-heavy, other times detail-heavy, but the stories did come.

And then I got stuck.

This may be partly due to choosing a story inspired by my daughter Blondie. An amazing writer in her own right, she has not stopped asking, “When are you going to write about me?” Ever since I used her little brother Bash for “The Boy Who Conquered Goose Island.” When the kid actually knows she’s a muse, she gets, um, a bit assertive about it (“Will there be dragons? Can I ride dragons? When do dragons show up? YOU HAVE TO HAVE DRAGONS!”). At this point, I had alluded to the presence of dragons in the world where Pips Row resides, but if their eggs are illegal to carry, then how on earth could I have dragons buzzing about the town? When I did hit upon something she’s genuinely worried about that would make for a compelling story…well, now she doesn’t ask what I’m writing about.

And that stung a bit.

And I got more than stuck–I was downright stucker.

The first installment I shared about Choosing Day still feels like the best path to take, as we all relate to what Soffire will be dealing with: the expectations of society vs. our own dreams. Blondie’s feeling that now as she creeps closer to the time of high school and those expectations society puts on teens: get a job! get straight As! be on social media! start dating! do what other people like so you fit in! be amazing at everything you do, especially in front of other people!

I initially liked starting the story “Graduation Glums and Glamours” at the Choosing Day ceremony. That’s in the moment, right? That moment of pressure, of a townwide amount of things to look at and see. Lots of action, right? Plus it’s relatable–many of us have experienced some form of a graduation ceremony in our lives. Plus it reminded me a little of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, or some of those other Young Adult dystopian books that love the whole “I choose” kind of ceremony. But to me, The Giver route was more important, as we need to consider that not all characters can simply buck what society says.

And frankly, isn’t that what we expect as a bored reader at this point? The defiant teen feels as cliche as the “cop who doesn’t play by the rules.” Let’s not do that.

But as a writer, that put me into the very real conundrum of how to move the story forward. Do I walk through the entire Choosing Day ceremony? That could be fun worldbuidling, but that’s not where the story is. I tried writing a second installment of Soffire’s classmates helping her calm down by sharing their own worries, but the story isn’t about them, either. Both chapters had to be scrapped–they just grind the plot to a halt.

And that got me thinking–why start with the Choosing event? Was it because I wanted that scene from The Giver a little too much?

So I pulled back and thought: where does the story REALLY start?

Soffire dreads Choosing Day. Why? Because her dream is to go to a university in another town and study dragons. But Pips Row graduates are designated to jobs in Pips Row. No one leaves Pips Row for university.

Well no one’s going to know that if I start with the Choosing Day ceremony. Sure, I could flashback later, but why? Plus, this is a short story. Bouncing around timelines is tricky. I already did that a little in “The Boy Who Conquered Goose Island” because the character-narrator is telling the story. We have no such speaker here.

Where does the story REALLY start?

Short stories need to do the same job as a novel but with far less time and far fewer words. I needed to get Soffire’s inner conflict established immediately, or any of the other conflicts–with her mom, her town, etc.–just wouldn’t make sense. She’d just be another Defiant Teen to readers, and that’s the last thing I want for this character, this fictional piece of my Blondie. Readers need to see what Soffire wanted so very badly and why this Calling Day was, in Soffire’s eyes, the end of her dreams.

So let’s try starting this again.

~*~*~ Another Try at Story 4: Graduation Glums and Glamours ~*~*~

Calling Day. Her Calling Day.

“Soffire?” A quick two raps on the door—her mom was getting impatient.

Soffire straightened out the shoulders of her long white robe. It looked ready to hide her…or drown her. Both, maybe.

“Soffire, did you hear me?”

“I know, I’m getting my shoes on.” But those were already on. Soffire had to look one more time, just once more, at the University’s catalog. She pictured herself walking through its campus on Ford’s Bluff along the sea. Imagined meeting other teens who wanted to keep learning amazing things they could never understand in their own stupid little towns. Stuff about inter-being relations, the science of Workings, the geography of the Land Between Existences. About dragons.

Especially Dragons. All the best pilots, warriors, explorers—they all began with Dragon Studies.

One rap. “Young lady, I will vanish the door if you don’t open up.”

Soffire slammed the catalog shut and threw it under her pillow in time. “Sorry.” She opened the door with a small smile. “Sorry,” she said again.

Her mother sighed as she straightened Soffire’s plain woolen headband to keep her while curls out of her face. Her own mother’s wild hair had long since tired into a drab bun on the back of her head. “We have got to get a move on or you’ll be late for the processional line.”

“I know.”

Even Soffire’s mom caught the sadness in her voice. She cupped her daughter’s face and stroked her cheek. “Calling Day is scary for everyone, and I mean everyone. No one knows what comes after school until this day, but everyone finds their place in Pips Row this way. And your place is going to be special,” she said with a kiss on Soffire’s forehead, “I just know it.”

Soffire just didn’t have the heart to tell her mom the last thing she wanted was to grow old in this town like everyone else. Now more than ever, Pips Row felt like a prison she’d never get out of. Calling Day was just the final sentencing.

~*~*~ End Scene ~*~*~

This is still a work in progress–it is NaNoWriMo, after all–but I feel this opening scene of just a mom and daughter allows the inner conflict of my protagonist to actually be seen. No mysterious allusions to her shattered dreams like I had in the first go at this story. Here readers see the representation of what Soffire wanted for her future as well as what she has to do: bury it and walk away.

No one ever wants to bury their dreams.

This is something all readers can relate to, and I think such a start adds more weight to the Choosing Soffire will be given later in the story. Yes, this erases the “mystery” of why she was sad at the ceremony, but that mystery is not the point of this tale.

I just need to have a better way to segue away from mom-and-daughter to the ceremony. I don’t like telling readers, HEY, THIS IS WHAT THE PROTAGONIST IS FEELING. So, still some kinks to work out, but much happier and less stuck than I was before. 🙂

Of course, now I don’t know how to end this post, so I’m going to reshare something I posted two years ago from Donald Maass’ The Emotional Craft of Fiction. This excerpt fits perfectly with my new conundrum, so I’m going to ponder this and see what I come up with over the weekend.

This excerpt comes from the chapter “Inner versus Outer” discussing that ever-nasty writer problem of showing vs. telling.

Writing out what characters feel ought to be a shortcut to getting readers to feel that stuff too, shouldn’t it? You’d think so. After all, it’s through characters that we experience a story. Their experience is ours. Actually, the truth is the opposite. Put on the page what a character feels and there’s a pretty good chance that, paradoxically, what the reader will feel is nothing.

Here’s an example: His guts twisted in fear. When you read that, do your own guts twist in fear? Probably not. Or this: Her eyes shot daggers at him. Do you feel simmering rage? Meh. Not so much.

Such feelings fail to excite us because, of course, we’ve read them too many times. Those daggers have dulled. What gets readers going are feelings that are fresh and unexpected. Yet those feelings also need to be real and true; otherwise, they will come across as contrived–they’ll ring false and fail to ignite the reader’s emotions. ….

Human beings are complex. We have emotions on the surface and emotions underneath. There are emotions that we minimize, hide, and deny. There are emotions that embarrass us, reveal too much, and make us vulnerable. Our emotions can be profoundly trivial or so elevated that they’re silly. What we feel is unescapably influenced by our history, morals, loyalties, and politics.….

We’re clear. We’re vague. We hate. We love. We feel passionately about our shoes yet shrug off disasters on TV. We are finely tuned sensors of right and wrong, and horrible examples for our kids. We are walking contradictions. We are encyclopedias of the heart. ….

With so much rich human material to work with, it’s disappointing to me that so many manuscripts offer a limited menu of emotions. I want to feast on life, but instead I’m standing before a fast-food menu, my choices limited to two patties or one, fries or medium or large. …They work only with primary emotions because that is what everyone feels, which is true, but this is also a limited view.

So how does one create emotional surprise? …

Be obvious and tell readers what to feel, and they won’t feel it. Light an unexpected match, though, and readers will ignite their own feelings, which may well prove to be the ones that are primary and obvious. third-level emotions. That’s the effective way of storytelling.

Have you encountered any conundrums this NaNoWriMo? I’d love to hear!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!