Three Secrets to Great Storytelling!

Whispering

 

 

 

3 SECRETS TO GREAT STORYTELLING as presented on Writer’s Digest. I found this article by Steven James helpful in forming the structure of scenes.  (this is a re-blogging from 2014 but I thought it deserved a revival now, because it is simple, straightforward, and to the point.)

As a novelist and writing instructor, I’ve noticed that three of the most vital aspects of story craft are left out of many writing books and workshops. Even bestselling novelists stumble over them – Steven James But they’re not difficult to grasp. In fact, they’re easy.And if you master these simple principles for shaping great stories, your writing will be transformed forever. Honest. Here’s how to write a story.

Secret #1: 
CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE KING.

Everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it.  As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story. But when readers are forced to guess why something happened (or didn’t happen), even for just a split second, it causes them to intellectually disengage and distances them from the story. Rather than remaining present alongside the characters, they’ll begin to analyze or question the progression of the plot. And you definitely don’t want that. When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers, kill the pace and telegraph your weaknesses as a writer.

Secret #2: 
IF IT’S NOT BELIEVABLE, IT DOESN’T BELONG.  

The narrative world is also shattered when an action, even if it’s impossible, becomes unbelievable. In writing circles it’s common to speak about the suspension of disbelief, but that phrase bothers me because it seems to imply that the reader approaches the story wanting to disbelieve and that she needs to somehow set that attitude aside in order to engage with the story. But precisely the opposite is true. Readers approach stories wanting to believe them. Readers have both the intention and desire to enter a story in which everything that happens, within the narrative world that governs that story, is believable. As writers, then, our goal isn’t to convince the reader to suspend her disbelief, but rather to give her what she wants by continually sustaining her belief in the story. The distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics; it’s a matter of understanding the mindset and expectations of your readers. Readers want to immerse themselves in deep belief. We need to respect them enough to keep that belief alive throughout the story.

Secret #3: 

IT’S ALL ABOUT ESCALATION.  

At the heart of story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation. As part of the novel-writing intensives that I teach, I review and critique participants’ manuscripts. Often I find that aspiring authors have listened to the advice of so many writing books and included an engaging “hook” at the beginning of their story. This is usually a good idea; however, all too often the writer is then forced to spend the following pages dumping in background to explain the context of the hook.

IN CONCLUSION

By consistently driving your story forward through action that follows naturally, characters who act believably, and tension that mounts exponentially, you’ll keep readers flipping pages and panting for more of your work.

 

THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower sounds delightful and a lovely fairy tale read. I am looking forward to reading it.

BOOKS FROM DUSK TILL DAWN

Firstly I wish to thank Katie Sunley of Penguin Random House for inviting me to read the second book in this amazing series.

36068234BOOK DESCRIPTION

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with…

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Moments

The moments pass,

One by one,

From dawn to dusk,

Bursting into life,

Light as air,

 

We sense their passing,

Like a shooting star,

A moment,

Across the sky,

 

Let us give,

To the moments,

What they deserve,

For theirs,

Is the strength of time,

 

For a moment in time,

Is a treasure,

Worth more,

Than the passing of a year,

 

I ask you then,

For precious moments,

We keep,

And care not,

For the dwindling years.

 

By K. D. Dowdall

 

 

 

Twas The Night Before Christmas….

 

This is the time of year where children’s books take center stage and all around us we see magical stories, Fairies, stardust, Reindeer prancing, Elf’s in fancy hats, jingles bells everywhere and snow falling. Yuletide Christmas Trees are brightly decorated with lights that sparkle, twinkle, and seem to light up the world with their glow.  While dear St. Nick travels afar, just to bring gifts to one and all.  It is a time when we can believe that there is more to the world than we can imagine and the gift of children helps us to believe in a world more wonderful than we know, and that anything is possible, if we just believe it is so. 


Delphi Altair Strange Beginnings Book 1

CHAPTER 1
THE MYSTERIOUS JOURNAL

On the day of her mother’s funeral, Megan Donnelly found a mysterious package, wrapped in faded brown paper and twine, on her dresser. She had no idea where it came from or how it got there. Somehow, despite her grief, the bundle of faded brown paper and twine seemed to have a strange power over her, as if she were spellbound. Megan was about to reach for it when her cell phone rang, startling her. She reached over to her bedside table and saw it was the geeky boy who lived in the house next door.

“Hello, Jake,” answered Megan. Megan was willing to talk to anybody, even Jake Peterson.

“I’m sorry about your mom, Megan. I really am. Is there anything I can do – like help you with your homework or something? Anyway, I was just wondering if you wanted to catch-up on what’s goin’on at school. Or, you know, I just got a brand-new Future Time game and it’s really cool. I thought maybe I could come over. It might help you, you know, take your mind off things.”

“Thanks, Jake,” replied Megan, gulping hard and trying to swallow her pain. “Maybe, but I’m kinda not into it right now. I’ll call you later.” She put her cell phone back on the table. “It isn’t fair”, she murmured. It was the saddest day of Megan Donnelly life.
Megan got up from the edge of her bed and walked over to her dresser. Her ginger-colored bangs fell over her hazel eyes in feathery wisps. She pushed the bangs aside, and as she did she looked down at her black dress shoes. She noticed bits of red dirt still clung to the bottom of her shoes. She inhaled sharply as a wave of grief enveloped her. Exhaling slowly, she picked up the package with her name scrawled on it and sat down on the edge of her bed.

She tore at the brown paper wrapping and stared at the leather-bound journal that included a lock and a silver key on a chain. She looked down at the journal on her lap and ran her fingers over the aged leather binding. It looks really old and it even smells old—like it had been wrapped in mothballs. She considered for a moment something she had not thought of— maybe my mom sent this package! It would be just like her to try and comfort me, but there was no note or card from her or anyone else. Megan slipped the silver chain with the key over her head. It felt warm against her skin. She put the key in the lock and turned it.

Thankful for any distraction from her grief, she shrugged her slender shoulders and flipped it open to the first age-yellowed page. It was written in an old style with ornate flourishes by a skilled hand—like historical letters she had seen in museums. Megan read the title aloud: “The Strange Beginnings of Delphi Altair.”
A strong breeze billowed into her room from the open window. She had not noticed until now that it was a bright sunny afternoon. It was Friday and there would be a football game at school tonight. Everyone would be there. She felt a sudden chill and got up to close the window.

As she turned around to pick up the journal she noticed the book now open to a different page and thought, that’s strange. Oh, well, it must have been the wind, of course, and scooped up the journal into her lap. What she found inserted into the journal was a letter addressed strangely: To Whom the Journal Has Found. Megan, perplexed as to who could have sent her the journal, began to read it in the hopes that it might reveal the sender.

TO WHOM THE JOURNAL HAS FOUND
AUGUST 1950

I found this journal by accident (or perhaps it found me). My mother and I had come to live with my grandmother after the untimely death of my father. The house we came to live in was a very old Sea Captain’s Manor situated on a bluff, overlooking the sea, in a time forgotten town.

One day, a very wet and windy day, I found myself with nothing to do. I was feeling sad and lonely, missing my home in New England, and my friends. In my room there was only a small bed and a very old sea chest. The house was very old and the mist of sea sprays had crept through the windows and doors over the years and I remember still the scent of sea spray on the weathered wooden walls.

Underneath the window sat the old sea chest. “The key to the chest”, my grandmother told me, “was lost long ago”. My very superstitious grandmother saw this as a sign to let it remain unopened and that was that.

Never one to let well enough of alone, I decided to see if by chance a key might have been placed on top of the wooden window frame. People did that sometimes I had been told. To reach the top of the window frame I had to stand on top of the old chest. I carefully climbed up and searched for it. To my disappointment there was no key to be found. As I gingerly stepped down off the sea chest the lid popped open, as if by magic.

I can’t say I wasn’t frightened, but then my curiosity was stronger than my fear. After all, it was just an old trunk with a rusty old lock that broke free, being so old, no magic needed. I slowly walked up to the old sea chest to see what treasure it might hold.
As I began looking through the numerous folded blankets and clothes, I saw a package wrapped in plain cloth. I opened the package to find inside a leather-bound journal. I opened the journal to the first page and on it was written, the Strange Beginnings of Delphi Altair. It was hand written in an old style with ornate flourishes. I felt oddly compelled to read this mysterious journal. Soon, I found myself being taken to a magical and dangerous place and time. I cannot say more. I daresay, to whom the journal has found, keep it safe, whatever you do. So much depends on it.

Megan sat dumbfounded. There was no signature on the written letter and not a single clue as to the author of the journal. Curious, she turned the page and began to read.

THE OLD SEA CAPTAIN’S MANOR

Beside a narrow strip of oyster shell road is an old Victorian Manor sitting high on an ancient bluff over-looking the sea. The manor was built long ago by a wealthy Sea Captain. As time went by, the Sea Captain grew older and bequeathed the manor to his sons who, in turn, bequeathed the manor to their sons.
The Old Sea Captain’s Manor had survived countless storms, gales, and violent hurricanes for more than hundred and twenty years. But oddly enough, when Eastern gale winds blow, the Old Sea Captain’s Manor begins to shake violently on its foundations.

The Tuttle family that came to live in the Old Sea Captain’s Manor was not put off by the manor’s mysterious quirks. A poor family, the Tuttles felt fortunate to live in such a grand place bequeathed to them by a far removed, extremely distant relative.
The gossiping town folk reckoned the Tuttles were strange enough, but the young girl who lived with them was more than strange. Delphi Altair had unusually bright violet eyes and a firestorm of shimmering dark red hair that almost looked purple in bright sunlight. But it wasn’t her looks, specifically, that cast Delphi in a suspicious light in the community. It was her very unusual way of being. The town folks would often say, “There is something peculiar about that girl.” Yet, no one could say exactly why.

Fortunately, the Tuttles did not care what the town’s people thought about Delphi. The Tuttles loved the strange girl that was not their own. Delphi was a foundling. They found her in an old shipman’s basket one cold morning, wrapped in a blanket. Clutched in the infant’s tiny fist was a small star-shaped pendant with a blue stone inset in the middle. A weathered parchment was pinned to the infant’s clothes. The only words written on the parchment were these: Delphinus Decima East of Altair. The Tuttles had never heard of such a place called Delphinus Decima that was East of Altair. So, they shorten the words to make her a name: Delphi Altair. The Tuttles believed it would be best to keep the infant as their own until someone came to claim the child. But no one ever came.

As time went by, the Tuttles had two children born to them, Scout and Scooter, known about town as the “scalawag” twins. By the age of eight, the mischievous and rambunctious boys, tall for their age, were without mercy to little Delphi, teasing and taunting her daily.

Most people in the old seaside town made their living in some way connected to the sea. It was a booming industry and the people in the town did fairly well by it. It was booming, that is, until the blight came to the sea and in turn to the people of this seaside town. In a small town suffering great hardship everything is suspect and nothing is ever forgotten. Someone had to be blamed for the town’s misfortune.

Delphi became the focus of all the town’s troubles. From the very beginning of the town’s decline, there was the question of Delphi’s mysterious discovery by the Tuttles on that cold winter morning. This was the mindset that kept the townspeople eyeing Delphi suspiciously (besides the fact they found her mysteriously strange anyway). Like an unchecked simmering pot, things were bound to reach a boiling point.

Book Review Monday! Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Uniquely Magical, Alien, and Danger-at-Every-Turn Mystery Thriller! Great Story!

This magical, alien driven, strong female heroine story, first captured my attention by its interesting cover and title. This story takes place in a normal appearing small town in the present day, with chapter one opening with, “Brutus is dead”. Well, I had to find out what happened to Brutus and from that moment, I was hooked and couldn’t stop reading. Our intriguing Heroine, Dina, keeps us guessing about who, what, where, and when, as she struggles to resolve the mysteries surrounding her – while managing to stay alive. This fascinating story takes you by surprise with exciting and scary alien adventures from the very first page with unique mysteries, good writing and complex characters that will make your head spin. The ending left some unresolved issues, however, they are carried over to book 2. Anyone looking for a good mystery involving human and alien magical interactions, this is it.

Foreshadowing – how much is too much?

ForeShadowing 3

I was working on my second edition of a middle grade novel when my editor told me that I should be careful about using foreshadowing to liberally.  It was my writing technique to include foreshadowing at the end of each chapter, if needed. In fact, she eliminated, in each chapter, all but one of my foreshadowing lovelies.  It was hard to take. So, in a state of rebellion I put several of the best, in my opinion, back where they belonged. I kept those rebellious foreshadowing evils in my revision.  The following is an example:

With Foreshadowing:

After supper, Laura cleared the table and put the dishes in the sink to wash them. The summer storm had passed and in its wake was a beautiful evening.  It helped Laura to forget about the nightmare that still haunted her.  At the kitchen window above the sink, Laura watched as the first star of twilight became visible. It was the Dog Star, Sirius; the star that guided wayfaring sailors home from turbulent seas. “I wish, I wish” said Laura, that I could fly up to the planets and discover the world my parents knew, my home, somewhere up there. Laura had no way of knowing how prophetic her words would become and the danger therein.

Without Foreshadowing:

After supper, Laura cleared the table and put the dishes in the sink to wash them. The summer storm had passed and in its wake was a beautiful evening.  It helped Laura to forget about the nightmare that still haunted her.  At the kitchen window above the sink, Laura watched as the first star of twilight became visible. It was the Dog Star, Sirius; the star that guided wayfaring sailors home from turbulent seas. “I wish, I wish” said Laura, that I could fly up to the planets and discover the world my parents knew, my home, somewhere up there.

Come what may, I will live with this decision. Of course, if anyone out there has  some sage words of instruction, I would love to know how other writers have handled this perplexing problem!