Friday, April 29, 2011
But many don't realize that writing is our passion, not a hobby. It's what's on our mind 23 hours of the day. We yearn to hole up, uninterrupted, to expel the voices in our heads. We work countless hours, months, years to bring our characters to life. We don't have the aid of a quick lightening bolt, only our determination and strong desire to create world for others to experience.
We face constant rejection, and yet we still push forward. And even when our project is complete, and our newborn lies in our arms, we still face ridicule. Some say our baby is ugly, empty, a complete waste.
But others love it.
They cry, laugh, scream, and mourn with our characters just like we did. They hope for more, to travel to our other worlds and discover what we already know exists.
And we are happy.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 1:17 PM
Thursday, April 28, 2011
One day I stepped in a cow pie. With jelly shoes. (Remember those?) I tried to pull my foot out, but my pink rubber shoe remained stuck. I slipped my foot back into it to try and pry it free, but every time I wiggled the shoe, warm manure would ooze into the holes of the crisscross pattern.
In the end I was victorious, but my shoe was a smelly mess.
This is how I feel about my blog at this moment. Ever time I try something new, I seem to mess things up. I'm a newbie to all of this, and I must say there's a huge learning curve.
I really hate to disappoint. I had a great "object" lesson to share, pictures and all. But for some reason the pictures I want to display are semi-transparent and this simply won't do. To fix this, I must turn to the Master Yoda of the Internet - my brother-in-law. I hope he can fix a few of these issues I'm having. The fate of my sure-to-be-awesome lesson rests in his hands.
Until then, let me leave you with a quote from Donald Mass about how to write a breakout novel:
"Breakout novels are written from an author's passionate need to make you understand, to expose you to someone special or to drag you somewhere that is important for you to seek. No breakout novel leaves us feeling neutral. A breakout novel rattles, confronts and illuminates. Their stories challenge our hopes, plumb our fears, test our faiths and enact our human will. Is there as strong a purpose to yours?"
Until tomorrow, happy writing!
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 4:18 PM
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Anyway, back to my mini-lesson of beginning do's and don'ts. Author Rita Herron gave the following tips:
- Riding in the car (transitional activities).
- Pages of internal thoughts -- the character thinking about his problems.
- Long winded descriptions of the setting.
- Scenes with secondary characters in which the main character is not present.
- Set-up scenes revealing backstory.
- Boring scenes showing characters doing mundane things -- for example, cleaning the house, showering, picking up dry cleaning, performing tedious boring jobs, etc. (the only exception to this would be a character driven story where this behavior or act reveals characteristics of the character or an action that is inherent to the plot and the character's conflict.)
- A scene where there is no external or internal conflict (Story is conflict).
Beginnings that rock:
- Scenes with action -- for example, a woman in jeopardy.
- The main character either physically or mentally on the run from a problem.
- One character meeting another conflicting character -- for example, they argue over external problem, clash due to personality characteristics, sparks fly sexually.
- Catchy dialogue between characters which reveal his/her conflict.
- A secret is hinted at or revealed which changes the course of the main character's life.
- Emotional scenes -- show the main character is an emotional situation which reveals his/her problem/s -- for example; he/she has just lost a loved one, he/she's in court on charges of murder, a good-bye scene between lovers, a childhood struggle, the character learns something about his past or present (a secret) which upsets him, creates a problem, or throws a new spin into his life that he isn't prepared for (for example; a man learns he has a child he didn't know about, a woman learns she has a disease, or she learns she was adopted,etc.).
All of these tips, along with the three C's from yesterday's lesson, will further strengthen your first pages. It may seem like I'm repeating myself, but it took me a long time to really understand how important the first chapter is. Because of its importance, it's also the most difficult to get right.
Tomorrow I will show a visual example of how frustrating your first pages can be if we don't follow the expert advice given by so many. A tantalizing tidbit...it involves something being swallowed and may be offensive. :)
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 10:57 AM
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Best selling author JT Ellison recommends living by the "two minute rule". She explains, "You have two minutes to get the attention of your reader. How many books have you picked up, read the first couple of pages and gone, hmmm, I forgot to put the clothes in the dryer. You do a few chores, come back to it, read a couple of pages and realize you really would like a Starbuck’s. I have read so many books like this, and it drives me crazy. Without realizing it, I’m finding other, mundane things to do instead of buckling down and reading. For shame. I want to be so engaged I have to drag myself away to feed Hubby, not decide that cleaning the bathroom is a better option than finishing out a chapter."
So how do you capture a readers attention in two short minutes? By following the 3 C's rule: Capture, Captivate, and Convince.
You must capture you're readers attention. You can do this many ways, but one helpful tidbit of advice comes from fiction editor Beth Hill who stresses the importance of knowing your genre and your audience. She recommends the following:
- A murder mystery should open with a murder.
- Suspense, thrillers and horror should set the reader on edge, get his emotions churning. These books, even from the start, should make the reader uneasy or fearful or expectant.
- Romance should introduce hero and/or heroine in an appealing or amusing or lustful way.
- Literary novels should introduce an intriguing character, someone readers will be eager to know
Another way to capture your reader is with a sharp, strong voice, an engaging style, and starting the action and story immediately, rather than spending a chapter describing your character’s morning or looks.
The best way to captivate your readers is to introduce conflict as soon as possible. There is no story without conflict. Your main character must want something, but because of different obstacles, they can't get it. This is conflict.
Go re-read your first chapter and ask yourself, "What does my main character want? Why can't she have it?" If you can answer these questions easily, you're off to a great start.
In addition to all of the above, you must also convince your readers that the events in your story are actually taking place. To do this you have to punch them in the gut with two fists named emotion and environment. Give your readers an emotion they can relate to, and give them an environment they can feel. Incorporate all five senses if you can.
Over the next couple of weeks I'll go into more detail on what I've just written about. Why? Because soon I'm going to have a contest, and I'm going to ask for the first few pages of your WIP. More to come...
Hero it up out there! The world is looking at you!
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 11:23 AM
Monday, April 25, 2011
What is the title of your WIP? Do you like it, or are you hoping for a better one?
This week I'll be discussing in greater detail how to make your first pages as appetizing as the first bite of a raspberry Oreo shake. Once an agent/publisher samples the goods, they'll be begging for the whole pint.
Have a great week, and remember, be a hero.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 10:49 AM
Friday, April 22, 2011
Think about the most interesting person you know. Are they colorful, highly accomplished, extremely smart, or outrageous? These kinds of people are often referred to as "larger-than-life". We can't help but be drawn to them. And we love to read about them. For example, Katniss in the Hunger Games. She wasn't one of the "normal" people in her district. She was brave, fought authority, strong; you name it. This girl was larger-than-life. Because of this, the book became a word wide sensation.
Donald Mass wrote an amazing book titled "Writing the Breakout Novel". In it, he discusses qualities characters need to become memorable. They are:
Strength - In any good book you will always find strong characters. They may have weaknesses, but it's their strengths we come to love.
Inner Conflict - A character who constantly struggles to obtain the impossible keeps us mesmerized.
Self-Regard - Larger-than-life characters are conscious of their emotions. They embrace life and they wonder about events that have happened to them and how they responded. Your character should be asking himself, "How have a I changed? Do I long to return to my old way of feeling, or am I determined never to return to that old frame of mind ever again?"
Wit and Spontaneity - Our characters need to do and say things that ordinary people would not. Have you ever slapped a teacher? Sped away from a police man? Told your date to loose fifty pounds? Frame your boss? Larger-than-life characters do we dare not to. Think of outrageous things your characters can do or say, and readers will not be able to set your book down.
When starting a novel, really think about your characters. Sketch them out if you must. Imagine them doing and saying things you've always wished you could do yourself. Memorable, larger-than-life characters will make agents and publishers want your book, and then readers will make it climb to the top of a best sellers list.
Sounds easy, right?
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 11:12 AM
Thursday, April 21, 2011
In an article by Camy Tang, she reminded authors that characters don't necessarily have to be "sympathetic" or likable, but a writer wants the reader to at least relate to the character on some level (empathetic) and want to continue to read the story.
We need to create an instant and deep psychological connection between the reader and our "hero". Ms. Tang recommends using one or two of the following events, to do just this.
- Victim of an injustice: Many times, a character has some event in his past where he was wronged unfairly or abused. This might have also caused long-term hardships or handicaps, whether physical, financial, or emotional.
- Abandoned, neglected, or rejected: This especially works with children, but this event in a character’s past can make her likeable. Loneliness is an emotion most readers can intensely sympathize with.
- Kindness: A character performing a kindness to another human being, a child, or an animal, usually creates instant likeability. Any action of love in the first five pages will show the reader the character is worth reading about because they have the capacity to love another.
- Extraordinary abilities: A character with exceptional abilities, whether intellectual, physical, social, or supernatural, naturally appeals to most readers. This also includes a good sense of humor or wit. Showing this ability in the first five pages in a small way will make the character intriguing.
If you can do this, readers will be interested enough to keep reading. They will love your hero as much as I love Death. :)
Tomorrow I will discuss how to make our cast of characters "larger-than-life", which will further tighten our grip on readers.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 10:55 AM
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
So what makes a hero relateable? Anyone watch the show Heroes? It was canceled last year, but basically it was about humans with special abilities and how their lives crossed paths. There were villains and your stereotypical good looking, buff heroes that we all enjoyed, but the one character that really had fans excited was Hero - a geeky looking man who seriously lacked in sophistication. But it was these "flaws" that made him one of the most popular characters on the show. People could relate to him. They understood his choices and actions.
Now don't get me wrong. The world needs a Superman--a hero who never falters, always makes the right choice and never wanes in the face of adversity. There is a place for those types of heroes, but if that's all we read about, would it make us feel inadequate? Can we, as regular people, ever achieve such perfection? So what type of hero do you like to read about?
Tomorrow I will focus more on how to create a likeable character within the first five pages of your book. If you can do this, your readers will be hooked.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 11:48 AM
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
- Bravery: This is the most important characteristic of a hero. A hero has to be brave to fight inevitable battles.
- Courage: You need the courage to fight a situation no matter how bad it is. Heroes have the fear of losing but they also have the courage to drive away that fear.
- Determination: When you have the determination to fight something, no matter how weak you feel you are.
- Dedication: Dedication in a task pays off eventually.
- Endurance: If you are strong enough to face failure, nothing can stop you from achieving your goal.
- Perseverance: When you are persistent, you are bound to be victorious eventually.
- Selflessness: You have to be selfless in your life to be remembered as a hero.
- Sacrifice: It is very difficult to make sacrifices but a true hero sacrifices without hesitating.
- Humility: You shouldn't have airs about yourself but be down to earth and humble.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 11:00 AM
Monday, April 18, 2011
For some reason the location of their race changed. It was supposed to be on a a flat, marked-off road, but at the last minute was changed to a hiking trail that looped around the park, including going up and down several hills. Because my children hadn't trained on hills, I was concerned.
Before they took off, I gave them a quick hug and told them to have fun and do their best. Now going into this, my son had already told his sister that he would not be waiting for her--he wanted to win. My daughter was fine with this--she didn't need no man's help, as she put it. :)
The buzzer sounded, and my kids were off. When they disappeared around a bend, I made my way to the finish line and waited. Soon, children began to arrive, starting with the older ones. I kept waiting, expecting to see my son any second, but after ten minutes, I began to wonder if something went wrong. A few more minutes passed until finally I could see him. He was running fast, making me wonder why he hadn't arrived sooner. Not far behind him was my daughter. If only my words could describe how she looked. Never before had I seen her expression so distraught.
As soon as she crossed the finish line, she collapsed into my arms, tears pouring down her red cheeks. "What happened?" I asked Grant, who stood over me breathing heavily.
"She kept trying to keep up with me, I told her to slow down, but she wouldn't. After a while she couldn't anymore so I ran ahead, but when I turned around I saw that she was crying. I ran back to her and asked her what was wrong and she said she was tired. I told her to walk, but she wouldn't. I kept telling her that she needed to walk, but she refused, so I ran with her."
I looked down at my exhausted daughter. "Why didn't you walk sweetie?"
I barely heard her voice when she answered. "You told me to do my best."
At the moment I was proud of both my children. They exhibited qualities every hero in a book should have. Although my son wanted to win, he had to sacrifice his glory to help someone he loved. And my daughter, who never gave up and endured to the end. They are real life heroes in the making.
Tomorrow I will focus on specific qualities every hero should exhibit. Until then, do your best!
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 2:16 PM
Saturday, April 16, 2011
I was nervous, but before I could express my concerns my sister has already signed us up. They slapped a glow in the dark sticker on our shirts and shoved is into a dark room. I stood still, gripping my sisters hand, and waited for my eyes to adjust. When I began to feel and smell a warm, putrid breath on my neck, I did what any sane person would do--I ran. The only problem was, my eyes were closed. Why keep them open when I can't see anything anyway? This seemed like reasonable logic until I smashed into a wooden beam. I stumbled back, stunned, but the "creature" continued to haunt me, round and round the small dark room. My heart pounded and sweat pooled in my pits. I really was scared. But then my sister grabbed me and pulled me into another, somewhat lighter, hallway.
From then on we were barraged by all sorts of monsters. Many of them took hold of our arms and shoved us against the wall all the while screaming in our faces about how they're going to rip our arms off and shove them down our throats. Although disturbing, I wasn't scared. Not like I had been in the black room with the unseen monster. This got me thinking.
What makes a great villain?
The villain's we know are there but can't see. The ones who aren't all up in our faces. As we write our novels, let's remember to take great care of our villains, even if that villain is our self. Our readers need to feel how I felt running around in circles inside that blackened room. Otherwise the whole reading experience will feel cheapened. That's exactly how I felt when I came face to face with a skinny, sixteen-year-old Dracula wannabe. The whole thing became silly.
To conclude, introduce your villains soon, but subtly. Don't let your readers know everything about them all at once. Now lets go scare some people!
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 6:16 PM
Friday, April 15, 2011
My first time terrified. I'd just completed a novel and really thought it was something special, but I had yet to share it with anyone. I drove thirty miles away, arriving a few minutes early, and thought, "This isn't so bad." There were only three of us. The other two were an elderly couple who could've been my grandparents. I settled into a floral sofa fully expecting positive feedback. But ten minutes later, eleven more people arrived, all carrying fancy writing satchels, lap tops, and one guy even set up a miniature desk including a fancy pen he removed from a wooden box. Each of them looked at me like I was fresh meat, and all I wanted to do was scurry beneath the old couch cushion among the crumbs of oatmeal raisin cookies and fruit cake.
But I couldn't hide, and my turn came. I shakily held up my paper and began to read. I was so nervous that I became a motormouth and was asked to slow down several times. It's a good thing I was sitting down. When I finished the room became a coffin: silent and suffocating. It took a couple of minutes for anyone to speak as they were too busy marking up my story.
And then the critiques came.
"Your writing in the passive voice", "Too many echo's", "Your telling not showing". I had no idea what they were talking about, but I just nodded and smiled, while tears flowed backwards down my throat. This was my first "rejection". It stung but was very much needed. I researched all that I could and really started to study others books. In fact, it's still hard for me to just read a book and not study the writing style or plot structure.
I learned all of this because I joined a writers group. I'd read plenty of books on writing, but somehow seeing those skills in action made all the difference. Later I will discuss in more detail the many things I learned, but for now--feel the power of a writers group and grow.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 6:51 PM
Thursday, April 14, 2011
See how that works? For me, it's easy to work backwards. In my head of course. Once I stop asking questions, I'm at the beginning. I know my climax and what needs to happen to get there. And of course all this is set to music. Every scene has a song associated with it. Like I said before, it's what works for me.
So what works for you? If you don't know, try outlining. A simple one; try six main bullets. If that's too hard, try three--a beginning, climax, and end. Then start expanding. If you find outlining totally blows, then just start writing. You're going to have to go back a million times to fix things anyway.
Whatever you decide, just don't give up. Your characters want to live.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 12:49 AM
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
STOP! I really don't like the direction this is taking. It feels all creepy now and that was not my intent.
I was talking about finding what helps you write. For me, it's music. I'm convinced in every note there is a story waiting to be told. There isn't a song out there that I can't set a story to. Try it. The next song you listen to envision action. What's happening? Is someone fighting? kissing? dying? If music doesn't work for you, try writing in silence, try different chairs, different locations. There's a Bermuda Triangle out there for all of us and as soon as you find it, new worlds explode into creation.
Grab a pen and paper and become a God.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 11:05 AM
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
This is our sweet two year old boy.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 11:59 AM
Monday, April 11, 2011
My haunting began in 2007 when my sisters and I planned a trip to fulfill my mother's dream - visit the land of her ancestors. In Ireland. Something magical happened when I stepped foot in that country. Call it the work of a fairy, or possibly a leprechaun (although I hear they hate Americans), but a spell was cast, and I've been writing obsessively every since. I finished two novels that year. A story of a witch and a vampire. It's my personal favorite but because of the vampire element I have yet to really try and get it published. Call it the curse of Twilight. One day soon...
I then began a young adult novel called By the Light of the Moon about a teenage girl who has the ability to manipulate light. When she discovers she's being hunted for her power, she decides to use her sacred gift as a weapon, even though that will ostracize her from her own kind. It's either that or suffer the same fate as her parents. (Sorry for the shameless plug.)
I felt good about this novel and began to query it immediately. I did get some interest from a well known agent who helped me make it even better. This process took months, but in the end the agent still rejected due to another author she'd just signed who's book had similar content. Ouch. That bandaid took a long time to come off. But onward and upward.
During this time, I wrote several short stories and won awards for them. One of them, Simon Says, is set to be published in a few weeks in an anthology titled, "After Dark: A Collection of Haunting Tales". How terribly dark is that? Love it. In addition to my short stories, I began two other novels. One is in the editing phases.
Back to By the Light of the Moon, a few other agents took some interest, but ultimately it was always rejected. I querried it 50 times, then decided to shelf it forever AFTER choosing to send it directly to Cedar Fort Publishing, a smaller but reputable publishing house. I was very excited when I received an email from them saying they wanted to publish my book. It will probably be several months before my book comes out, but still. A small reward.
Writing is a passion. A terribly, beautiful, time consuming passion. Get possessed.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 12:21 PM
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 7:59 PM
Saturday, April 9, 2011
And so I share with you my dream job, as humble as it may be. Ready? I long to be a writer for the show Supernatural. Not grand enough? It is for me. What's your dream job?
Here is a short clip of the infamous Dean on Supernatural: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb3G5Qj_Lo8. The show is dark, funny and very scary. Check it out when you can.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 5:55 PM
Friday, April 8, 2011
This really isn't a good idea, letting me splat my thoughts across a never-ending nothingness. But, alas, I am a writer. Words are my breath, and they rise and fall every day to the pitter-patter of my keyboard. The sound has synchronized with my heart beat, and if I ever fail to hear the familiar beats, I shall surely die.
Beyond being a writer, I'm also dramatic. How else can one tell an interesting tale? Conflict! I say. We must have conflict! Every story needs it. The drama, the sorrow, the pain. Take your character all the way to hell, bring him back and shove a knife in his heart. Sprinkle Cayenne pepper on the wound and laugh. Then sit back and watch as your character comes back to life and slaughters everyone in their sleep. My hero. This is what makes a great story.
I've written many stories. Some barf all over themselves, while others linger over my shoulder watching me while I eat my Bologna sandwich and Cheetos. They hope for an occasional scrap which I graciously toss until they become full. Then I sell them to the highest bidders. Are there bidders? Not really, but I don't tell them that. I just get rid of them to make room for others who long to be heard. They want to tell their story, and they haunt my head, sweating and festering, until I finally cough them out.
I must go now. There's a tickle in my throat.
Posted by Rachel McClellan at 2:00 PM