Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Middle

Now that the beginning chapters are out of the way, it’s time for the middle. This is the meat of the story. Here is where the characters are developed, the main plot evolves, sub plots are wound around the main plot, etc. This is another place to lose your reader too.

You’ll hear the term, the sagging middle. After the great action beginning, and everyone knows the ending is always great… there is the middle. Don’t let this sag or not live up to the expectations of the beginning. How to do this? There is no formula or outline that works all the time. You have to feel your way through it. (A great book to read on this subject is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. This is a good ‘structure’ book.)

The middle needs to be like a rising stock market graph. The story is always trending upwards. There should be peaks and valleys in the story but always heading upward to the final climax. Why valleys in the middle of the story? Well, you can’t have the tension all the way through the story. You have to let the readers rest sometimes in the story. Give them a break to catch their breaths before you send them up the next peak, right back into the action.

Again, everything leads to the climax. Everything. You can wrap up some sub plots earlier in the story. Or you can have them wrap up with the climax. Watch out about having them wrap up after the climax, because it might confuse the reader as to when the real climax is. Or best… Let a few sub plots dangle, not being answered at all.

If you are writing a series, then letting sub plots dangle is a good way to write. You never know when a sub plot in one book will lead to a major plot in another book. Or you can write more in a European style where not all things get resolved in the end. Unlike the American style of writing where most things get wrapped up.

By using the upward trending graph style of plots, it ensures that the reader stays involved in the story. The reader is given momentary breaks but always heading to the ever important climax. There are no sagging middles. And no lost readers. Action. Movement. Reader involvement.

Stay Tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC.

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Keep Writing

Writing is not easy. Any writer can tell you that. Everyone thinks that they can just sit down and write a novel. And the beginning is usually the easiest to write. But it takes perseverance to work all the way through a full manuscript.

As you work through the first couple of chapters of the book, you must expand the plot, bring out character flaws, create drama, conflicts, sub-plots, etc. And at the same time you have to weave all of these together into a cohesive group of words that not only makes sense but also keeps the readers attention at all times and make them want to keep reading. It’s a complex and time consuming job.

There’s a famous saying that goes like this: ‘Writing is easy. All you do it sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.’ This was said by Gene Fowler. And it is so true. There are many times that it truly does feel like this. Don’t let it discourage you, keep writing. Keep that blood flowing.

Another thing about writing that no one tells you, is the soul searching that you must do as you write. Every character takes a piece of you. Each and every one. And there are scenes that in order to make them believable and true to life, you must dig deep inside of yourself and touch a part of yourself that you don’t want to. Many writers will take the easy way out and just skim the surface, but not if you want to be a successful writer. You must dig and bleed and put it on paper so that your reader will also feel the same. You must feel, so that your reader can feel too.

If you aren’t willing to expose your deepest, darkest secret, at least sort of, then don’t even start your manuscript. You must put yourself, literally, into each and every scene. If you cry, laugh, cringe or whatever, at a scene then so will your reader.

It is that important. Really. Bleed on that manuscript. Make yourself cry. Laugh. Be embarrassed. It will be important in the end when you hear from your readers that they could really understand what the character was feeling.

It makes all the effort worth it. So right now, don’t take the easy way. Keep writing with feeling. It will pay off.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC

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Still On The First Draft Beginning…

Okay, so you’ve written the first draft. You’re ready to go back and find your starting place. Don’t get discouraged if you restart your manuscript several times. Questionable Ethics, the first in the Mel Addison Mystery Series, had seven beginnings before I finally settled on the one that it has. They all started in the same scene, just differently.

First, it wasn’t a good hook. Two or three drafts later, I had a good beginning hook but had to work on the first line. That was another two drafts. Finally I narrowed it down to the one that ended up the as the finished product. I thought I would never be satisfied with it. Then it happened. It was good.

Most beginning writers go through this process, so don’t let it get you down. Even now after I’ve been writing for this long, I still rewrite the beginnings several times. I’ve generally can get it to just two or three drafts now. The latest in the series, the beginning was spot on, I just needed to work on the first sentence hook.

Here is what separates the hobbyist writers from the professional writers. Hobbyist writers are willing to get it mostly right, but since they aren’t really trying to get published they’re willing to stop at okay. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you are wanting to get published, you must be patient with the process and continue working until you know, I mean really know, that it’s the best it can be. Sometimes that means letting your agent/editor tell you it’s ready. And that’s okay too.

It is still a process. A craft. A work in progress. And we are only talking about the first draft and the beginning. There is still the rest of the manuscript to come.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and an Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC

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Where to Begin?

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” The King in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland says it very succinctly. However it is a dilemma for all writers. Where to begin a story? For the first draft, as I said in my last blog, I just start wherever I want. It is when I come back after that draft for the first rewrite that this comes in to question for me.

The beginning of the story has so many jobs. It must establish the feeling or tone of the story, set the pace for the story, grab the reader’s attention (and the editor’s attention before the reader) and hold that reader’s (editor’s) attention as it leads into the story… among other things. So again, where to begin?

The mantra is ‘in media res’. It’s a Latin phrase, in the middle of, which means that you start the beginning in the middle of the action. This action can be any number of things. In mysteries many times they start out with the murder, or the detective coming upon the murdered body. In the past, it would start with the detective getting a visit from a new client. A lot of movies use the technique. They start the show in the middle of a battle or car chase or some other action scene. It could be as simple as starting the story in the middle of an interesting conversation that has a very important part of the plot.

Either way, start your story with some sort of bang. In the first book of my Mel Addison Mystery Series I start the entire series off with Mel getting a gun shoved in her face on her first day on the job. It leaves the reader with the question, why is someone threatening this person with a gun. And since my mysteries are in the first person (another blog about this later), we get a very visceral feeling along with the character.

Starting off in media res, keeps the narrative and exposition at a minimum in the beginning. This is important because these have a tendency to be slower and most of the time have less to do with the plot and moving the plot along. Many times exposition is used to slow down the action and give the reader a break before notching the action back up again. Don’t start off your manuscript slow.

In media res also grabs works as the hook for the manuscript. I believe that this is the biggest job of the start of the story. If there is not a good hook you will loose the reader (and make the editor throw your manuscript on the reject pile). You must hook the reader for the beginning sentence and continue until you have them totally hooked into the story.

When you are trying to get your manuscript published, if you don’t have a hook, you will never get to the stage of having readers. At a writer’s conference I went to long ago, an agent was there taking pitches, (another blog on that topic too) and he told us how he looks at manuscripts sent to him. He opens the envelope (yes, it was when few agents/editors took email submissions and I’m dating myself but the idea remains the same), pulls the manuscript out just far enough that he can see the first line. Read that again… the first LINE. If the first line, not sentence… line, captures his attention, he pulls it out further to reader the first couple of lines. If that is still interesting to him, he’ll read the first paragraph. And it continues until he is intriqued enough to pull it all the way out of the envelope. At any point if the submission loses his attention, he shoves it back in the envelope and puts it on the reject pile for his secretary to send a rejection letter.

Think about that. One line is the first check point. If you can’t get his attention from the very first line, it’s done. No waiting because it gets better later. Nope. Right away or not at all. And remember what I’ve mentioned before, the agent/editor is looking for any, and I do mean ANY, reason to reject a manuscript so he/she can move on to the next manuscript and maybe the next best seller. Don’t waste they time and yours. Grab them right away.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC.

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So You Want To Write A Book…

For the next few weeks I’ll go into detail about how to write a manuscript. Your first question is what is the difference between a book and a manuscript? A manuscript is what your story is before it is published. A book is what your manuscript becomes once you actually are published. Not a big difference in description except to professionals. So if you want to be a professional, then you need to start using the terms of a professional.

Let’s talk about the first draft. This is the very beginning of your manuscript. For the first draft, just write. Get it down on paper. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. All of the nitpicky stuff will come later. This is the time to just write.

When I write, I write the first draft for me. That sounds weird but it’s the truth. I add stuff that I know will get cut or suspect will get cut but I enjoy the idea of escaping into the world I’m writing about. So I just write. I don’t worry about the beginning, if it sags in the middle, scene and chapter breaks or even all of the plot twists. Since I don’t like exposition, I almost never add much description about things like setting and stuff. In my mind’s eye, I know what it looks like and just get the plot and characters down on paper.

Now this may not be your style of writing. I am not a plotter. I am a pantser. What, you ask? I write by the seat of my pants, so to speak. I do not sit down and do an outline of the story, craft scene outlines, or outline the entire manuscript from middle to end. I do not even always write my story in complete order as when it is finished. I usually know the main character, who ‘dunit’ (remember I write mysteries) and why and usually the climax. Sometimes that’s it when I start my manuscript. This is what works for me.

If you are truly a new beginner then you need to find out what works for you. So beware of writing books out there that say, ‘this is how you write a book’. (Notice the terms.) There is no one way to write a manuscript. Find what works for you and stick to it.

Back to the first draft. However you do it, do it. Write it. Get it down on paper from some sort of beginning to some sort of end, even if the middle is lacking. Get it down. Do understand that this is a first draft, so don’t fall in love with any thing in this draft. What I mean by that is that you need to realize that almost everything will change from a first draft. Don’t be so much in love with your own words that you can’t cut something. Because coming up in the second draft, that’s what you need to do. Cut and rewrite

But for now enjoy the first draft. Do it for YOU and you alone. Really enjoy the experience of escaping into your own made up world and live in your manuscript. Enjoy. Because all too soon, the second draft will be here.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC

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Book Review (A little late)

Every time I do a book signing or speak at a conference, there is always one question that is asked. What advice do you have for a beginning writer? This is a hard question to answer in a short time. There are so many rules and things that beginning writers need to know. However, I always fall back on one item when asked this question.

Read, read, read.

Read everything you can get your hands on. I mean it. Everything. This serves several purposes. It helps you identify good writing from bad. It helps you learn sentence structure (and we all continually need to learn that). It helps you learn cadence. And it helps you increase your vocabulary. There are lots of other things it does too, but I think you get the picture.

I do have to confess one thing though. I was always told, by experienced authors giving the same advice, to read tons of stuff in the genre that you write. My confession is this… I almost never read anything in my own genre. When I do read mysteries, I tend to read it more as to picking it apart and finding fault with the work. Maybe it’s just me but I read everything I can get my hands on in other genres but not my own. I know its going against all of the advice I received but there you have it.

I especially like to read classical literature. Not that I really enjoy it, although I sometimes do. But it allows me to see how other people in other centuries wrote, but together sentences, created suspense, etc. The main caveat with reading older classics is that you have to realize that back when these were written the people didn’t move at the pace we do today. They didn’t have so many different things tugging at our attentions like we do today. They could actually take the time to explore parts of character interaction that would be quickly edited out by today’s standards. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m unsure since I’ve only grown up in today’s society. I tend to skip exposition in the classics due to the total boringness of how much detail they go into. However, when I’m feeling especially energetic and patient, I will actually analysis how they do it.

With all of that being said, here are some of the best classics that I’ve read recently. (I miss my book groups in Boise, Id. They made me read one classic a month, one mystery a month, and one newer book a month.) These are the classics that I’ve studied… The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Silas Marner by George Elliot, anything by Edgar Allen Poe, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, anything by Alexandre Dumas, Dracula by Bram Stoker, and many more. But these will get you started.

I won’t actually do a book review of the above other than to say I’ve read all of them and learned from all of them. So can you.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and is an Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC.

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