Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens #MerryChristmas

Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” was first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, Dec. 15, 2014 under the title, A Christmas Carol–what I’ve learned from Charles Dickens. Because I adore the works of Charles Dickens, and especially love A Christmas Carol, I reprint this article every year during the week before Christmas. It has become my little Christmas card to you and to the world.


Charles Dickens was a master at creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s take the first line of my favorite Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol. I love each and every version of it, will watch any movie version I can get my hands on:

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

I hear a great deal of argument about how modern 21st century genre-fiction is nothing but sixty-second soundbites and bursts of action jammed together in dumbed-down prose.  I hate to say this, but that has been true of popular fiction for centuries–and if you look at this tale, you will see what I mean. The popular prose, at the time it was written, was more descriptive and leisurely than we enjoy nowadays, but even so, the popular tales leaped straight to the action.

In that first paragraph, Dickens tosses out the bait, sinking the hook, and landing the fish (the reader) by foreshadowing the first plot point of the story–the visitation by Marley’s ghost. We want to know why Marley’s definite state of decay was so important that the conversation between you the reader, and Dickens, the author, was launched with that topic.

He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker:

“Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face. 

“Marley’s face.  It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.  The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.  That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

“As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.”

You must admit, it’s a huge thing for a man of as limited an imagination as Scrooge was known to have, to suddenly see his dead friend staring back at him.

This is also the second foreshadowing of the events that will follow and makes the reader want to know what will happen next.

At this point, we’ve followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, at this point, is named only as ‘the clerk’ in the original manuscript, but whom we will later know to be Bob Cratchit, and we’ve met Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. These two subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge’s redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these disparate mini-stories—he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit’s family, who are suffering but happy despite the grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears responsibility.

We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well enough off in his own right, but craves a relationship with his uncle with no thought or care of what he might gain from it financially.

All the characters are in place. We’ve seen the city, cold and dark, with danger lurking in the shadows. We’ve observed the way Scrooge interacts with everyone around him, strangers and acquaintances alike.

Now we come to the first plot point–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends, and the story takes off.

Dickens raises the tension. The bells begin ringing for no apparent reason and “The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

Scrooge, of course, is dismayed and tries to deny the strange happenings. He desperately clings to his view of reality.

“It’s humbug still!” said Scrooge.  “I won’t believe it.”

However, he can’t deny this phenomenon forever and refusing to recognize it won’t make it go away.

“Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before: he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

“How now!” said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

This is the turning point, the place where Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with a situation in which he will either succeed or fail and what will happen to him, the reader can’t guess. A deep sense of mystery now surrounds this miserly old man–what could possibly be so important about him that a man he cared so little for in life would go to such trouble as to return from the grave to save him?

In 1843 Charles Dickens showed us how to write a compelling tale that would last for generations. We start with the hook, use foreshadowing, introduce the subplots that ultimately support the structure of the tale, and arrive at the first plot point–these are the things that make up the first quarter of this timeless tale. Get these properly in line, and your story will intrigue the reader, involving them to the point they don’t want to set the book down.


Credits and Attributions:

Passages quoted from  A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, by Charles Dickens, With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. PD|100

Marley’s Ghost, and Scrooge’s third visitor. These images are two of four hand-coloured etchings included in the first edition. There were also four black and white engravings. Date1843. PD|100. John Leech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Merry Christmas to you and to your loved ones from me, and my favorite author, Charles Dickens!

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under writing

#MerryChristmas: Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol”

achristmascarol1999coverCharles Dickens was a master at creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s take the first line of my favorite Christmas story of all time,  A Christmas Carol. I love each and every version of it, will watch any movie version I can get my hands on:

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

I hear a great deal of argument about how modern 21st century genre-fiction is nothing but sixty-second soundbites and bursts of action jammed together in dumbed-down prose.  I hate to say this, but that has been true of popular fiction for centuries–and if you look at this tale, you will see what I mean. The popular prose, at the time it was written, was more descriptive and leisurely than we enjoy nowadays, but even so, the really popular tales leaped straight to the action.

In that first paragraph, Dickens tosses out the bait, sinking the hook, and landing the fish (the reader) by foreshadowing the first plot point of the story–the visitation by Marley’s ghost. We want to know why Marley’s definite state of decay was so important that the conversation between you the reader, and Dickens, the author, was launched with that topic.

He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker: “Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face. 

Faux Marley Door Knocker“Marley’s face.  It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.  The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.  That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

“As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.”

You have to admit, it’s a huge thing for a man of as limited an imagination as Scrooge was known to have, to suddenly see his dead friend staring back at him.

This is also the second foreshadowing of the events that will follow and makes the reader want to know what will happen next.

At this point, we’ve followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, as yet, is named only as ‘the clerk’ in the original manuscript, but whom we will later know to be Bob Cratchit, and we’ve met Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. These subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge’s redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these two separate mini-stories–he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit’s family, who are suffering but happy in the midst of grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears responsibility.

We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well enough off in his own right, but craves a relationship with his uncle with no thought or care of what he might gain from it financially.

All the characters are in place. We’ve seen the city, cold and dark, with danger lurking in the shadows. We’ve observed the way Scrooge interacts with everyone around him, strangers and acquaintances alike.

Now we come to the first plot point–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story takes off.

Dickens raises the tension. The bells begin ringing for no apparent reason and “The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

Scrooge, of course, is dismayed and tries to deny the strange happenings. He desperately clings to his view of reality.”It’s humbug still!” said Scrooge.  “I won’t believe it.”

However, he can’t deny this phenomenon forever and refusing to recognize it won’t make it go away. “Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before: he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

“How now!” said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

1999-xmas-present Desmond BarritThis is the turning point, the place where Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with a situation in which he will either succeed or fail and what will happen to him, the reader can’t guess. A deep sense of mystery now surrounds this miserly old man–what could possibly be so important about him that a man he cared so little for in life would go to such trouble as to return from the grave to save him?

In 1843 Charles Dickens showed us how to write a compelling tale that would last for generations. We start with the hook, use foreshadowing, introduce the subplots that ultimately support the structure of the tale, and arrive at the first plot point–these are the things that make up the first quarter of this timeless tale. Get these properly in line, and your story will intrigue the reader, involving them to the point they don’t want to set the book down.


Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” was first published by Connie J. Jasperson here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, Dec. 15, 2014 under the title, A Christmas Carol–what I’ve learned from Charles Dickens. It was true then, and it’s true today!

7 Comments

Filed under #FlashFictionFriday, writing

#amwriting: The Art of Foreshadowing: Charles Dickens

Ghost of Xmas Present[ Desmond BarrittAnother Christmas is about to join the Ghosts of Christmas Past–although, until December 26th, it is still the Ghost of Christmas Present. And as always, I want to talk about my favorite Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens was a master when it came to creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s have a look at the first lines of this tale:

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

In that first paragraph, Dickens  tosses out the bait, sinking the hook, and landing the fish (the reader) by foreshadowing the first plot point of the story–the visitation by Marley’s ghost. We want to know why Marley’s definite state of decay was so important that the conversation between you the reader, and Dickens the author, was launched with that topic.

1999-xmas-present Desmond BarritHe picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker, where Scrooge sees the face of his late business partner superimposed over the knocker.

At this point we’ve followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, as yet, is named only as ‘the clerk’ in the original manuscript, but whom we will later know to be Bob Cratchit, and we’ve met Scrooge’s nephew, Fred.

These subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge’s redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these two separate mini-stories–he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit’s family, who are suffering but happy in the midst of grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears a responsibility. We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well off in his own right, but craves a relationship with his uncle with no thought or care of what he might gain from it financially.

All the characters are in place. We’ve seen the city, cold and dark, with danger lurking in the shadows. We’ve observed the way Scrooge interacts with everyone around him, strangers and acquaintances alike. Now we come to the first plot point in Dickens’ story arc–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story begins to take off.

christmas-carol-1999-patrick-stewart-scrooge-desmond-barrit-ghost-of-christmas-presentI love tales of redemption–and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens remains one of the most beloved tales of redemption in the Western canon. Written in  1843 as a serialized novella, A Christmas Carol continues to inspire adaptations, in both movies and books.

This is a short tale, but it is a deeply moving allegory of the Christian concept of redemption that remains pertinent in modern society.

In this tale, Dickens asks you to recognize the plight of those whom the Industrial Revolution has displaced and driven into poverty, and the obligation of society to provide for them humanely. This is a concept our society continues to struggle with, and perhaps will for a long time to come.

It is that deep, underlying call for compassion that resonates down through the centuries, a call that is, unfortunately, timeless.

Comments Off on #amwriting: The Art of Foreshadowing: Charles Dickens

Filed under Fantasy, Literature, writing

A Christmas Carol–what I’ve learned from Charles Dickens

1024px-Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843Charles Dickens was a master at creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s take the first line of my favorite Christmas story of all time,  A Christmas Carol. I love each and every version of it, will watch any movie version I can get my hands on:

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

I hear a great deal of argument about how modern 21st century genre-fiction is nothing but sixty-second soundbites and bursts of action jammed together in dumbed-down prose.  I hate to say this, but that has been true of popular fiction for centuries–and if you look at this tale, you will see what I mean. The popular prose, at the time it was written, was more descriptive and leisurely than we enjoy nowadays, but even so, the really popular tales leaped straight to the action.

Patrick Stewart - A Christmas CarolIn that first paragraph, Dickens  tosses out the bait, sinking the hook, and landing the fish (the reader) by foreshadowing the first plot point of the story–the visitation by Marley’s ghost. We want to know why Marley’s definite state of decay was so important that the conversation between you the reader, and Dickens the author, was launched with that topic.

He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker: “Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face. 

carol-disneyscreencaps_com-1887_gal“Marley’s face.  It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.  The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.  That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

“As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.”

You have to admit, it’s a huge thing for a man of as limited an imagination as Scrooge was known to have, to suddenly see his dead friend staring back at him. This is also the second foreshadowing of the events that will follow, and makes the reader want to know what will happen next.

achristmascarol George C ScottAt this point we’ve followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, as yet, is named only as ‘the clerk’ in the original manuscript, but whom we will later know to be Bob Cratchit, and we’ve met Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. These subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge’s redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these two separate mini-stories–he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit’s family, who are suffering but happy in the midst of grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears a responsibility. We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well enough off in his own right, but craves a relationship with his uncle with no thought or care of what he might gain from it financially.

All the characters are in place. We’ve seen the city, cold and dark, with danger lurking in the shadows. We’ve observed the way Scrooge interacts with everyone around him, strangers and acquaintances alike. Now we come to the first plot point–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story begins to take off.

Alastair Sims - A Christmas CarolDickens raises the tension, the bells begin ringing for no apparent reason and “The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

Scrooge of course is dismayed and tries to deny the strange happenings. He desperately clings to his view of reality.”It’s humbug still!” said Scrooge.  “I won’t believe it.”

However, he can’t deny this phenomena forever, and refusing to recognize it won’t make it go away. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before: he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

“How now!” said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

disneys a christmas carol jim careyThis is the turning point, the place where Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with a situation in which he will either succeed or fail, and what will happen to him, the reader can’t guess. A deep sense of mystery now surrounds this old miserly man–what could possibly be so important about him that a man he cared so little for in life would go to such trouble as to return from the grave to save him?

In 1843 Charles Dickens showed us how to write a compelling tale that would last for generations. We start with the hook, use foreshadowing, introduce the subplots that ultimately support the structure of the tale, and arrive at the first plot point–these are the things that make up first quarter of this timeless tale. Get these properly in line, and your story will intrigue the reader, involving them to the point they don’t want to set the book down.

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Sinking the Hook

book-cover-middlemarchThe books that ring my bells all start out with a really great hook–in some cases the first line is the clincher, but most definitely by the time the first page has passed, I am hooked and ready to be enthralled.

Some of the best first lines ever: George Eliott’s Middlemarch starts, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” That line makes you want to know Miss Brooke. And who is the observer who chronicles this?

How about this first line from Ulysses, by the king of great lines, James Joyce: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

pride and prejudiceOr, take this quote from the Guardian regarding the first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The one everyone knows (and quotes). Parodied, spoofed, and misremembered, Austen’s celebrated zinger remains the archetypal First Line for an archetypal tale. Only Dickens comes close, with the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light etc…” 

Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. Our first lines must make the reader beg to know what will happen next.  We have to think about that first line, those first paragraphs, and how to land our reader.

TheEyeOfTheWorldDoes your first line have to introduce your main character? I think not. Dickens introduced an era in his opening lines, and it works. In his Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan frequently opened with a glimpse into the side of evil, illuminating that which Rand Al Thor must somehow prevail against, and that always hooked me.

Regardless of what you introduce, the hook MUST pertain to the tale. It must reveal something about the book in such a way that it sticks with the reader. Do not waste time in getting to the plot, because even a good hook cannot save a bad novel.

The first pages of books that intrigue me introduce a “dramatic question” and even if the reader doesn’t realize it, that question can often be answered with a yes or a no–will the hero succeed? Will good conquer evil? Will love triumph? What the hell happened to drive Lews Therin Telemon mad and what will happen next?

Consider these things when writing the opening paragraphs:

1. The opening lines set the tone for the story

2. The opening lines introduce the dramatic question that is the core of the story

3. The opening lines introduce the sense of place, the setting of the story.

Ask yourself where the story truly begins, and start there. What came before that can be cut from the final draft, as it is just background information that is necessary for your reference.

I think it’s good to read books outside your genre, and read them with the idea of understanding what makes them classics. Read literary fiction, read romance, read sci-fi–read widely if only to see what a different genre is about, how it is different from what you write. In all fiction, the first pages are the ones that kidnap the reader. Covers and blurbs may sell the book, but the first pages plunge the reader into your world.

 

Comments Off on Sinking the Hook

Filed under Battles, Blogger, blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, WordPress, writer, writing

The 2nd Draft—Part 2, The Last 5 Hurdles

CC_No_06_A_Tale_of_Two_CitiesIn your first draft, the rough draft, you have the basic story down. Once it is finished, and you have let it rest in a dark closet, out of sight and out of mind for a month or more, only then will you pull it out and feel fired up about it once again.

This is where we’ll mend those plot-holes and narrative gaffes that we couldn’t see when we were in the throes of the writing frenzy.

The previous post covered items one through five, and can be found here: Part 1, The First 5 Speedbumps.

So now, we continue working on the second draft of our manuscript, with roadblocks six through ten:

  1. Too Much Description (my own particular bugaboo–I love words)

Take this quote from the ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ the classic novel by Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Though it is beautiful writing, and in my opinion, perfect–it would never fly today. In prose as in clothing, fashions come and go, even in fiction. Readers once liked flowery description and even demanded them. People took the time to read a story, and were in love with words. And while some readers, like me, still love this style of poetic description, most readers aren’t so patient. It is sad, but modern editors and publishers don’t want to see this sort of work in their submissions pile.

One of the things that is drummed into us in our writing forums and groups, is that modern readers have no attention span and want action from the first page, the first paragraph. They want it from the first word and they don’t want pretty and descriptive prose unless they are into literature as opposed to modern action-adventure style novels. Therefore, go easy on the descriptions. Use them sparingly as if you were seasoning a good meal. A little bit goes a long way if you are writing modern genre fiction.

The wrong way to slip  in a lengthy description is to use a phrase like: “He felt his eyes roll over his host’s attire”  and then follow it with a paragraph describing the host.

That unfortunately phrased line is from an indie book that I am trying with all my heart to read right now in order to review it, but I’m not sure I can finish it, if this is what I have to look forward to. The thing is, I write goofy stuff like that in my first drafts, too. I try to eliminate them in the second, because if I don’t catch them first, my editors will beat me with them! So for the sake of my bruised ego, I try to slip descriptions in less obvious ways, with no clumsy lead in that announces a lengthy exposition is forthcoming.

Descriptions must be part of the background, so the reader doesn’t notice them, and the second draft is where you weed out narrative boo-boos.

Easter_Bunny_Postcard_19077. Head Hopping (Oh yeah–guilty as charged!)

I love that term! It makes me think of the Easter Bunny! However, head hopping creates confusion. One important rule of good novel technique is to restrict each scene to one character’s point of view (POV). This strategy puts the reader in the character’s skin for a more immersive experience.

For me, writing love scenes is particularly tricky. First you are in her head making sure you have all that down, and then you are in his head, and –oh, the agony of whiplash!

Few things are more distracting for the reader than being in Adam’s head for the first paragraph and then being suddenly yanked into Eve’s head two paragraphs later.

In our first draft when we are just getting the story down we are all guilty of this, and so it is very important when we are working on the second draft that we are mindful of whose head we are supposed to be in, and we must make sure we stay there.

Head hopping turns a book into a tennis match. In each story, there are times when we write from different character’s point of view, but it’s important to remember to shift that POV only at the beginning of a new scene or chapter, and here in the second draft is where we make sure that is done properly.

This is a particularly difficult thing for me, because I want to write EVERY character’s POV all the time!

In the “The Mists of Avalon” Marion Zimmer Bradley handles that POV switch perfectly. One chapter is told from Morgaine’s point of view in the first person as the narrator, and in the next chapter  the author tells the story using the third person omniscient voice.

 

hook-movie-poster-1991-10101960168. A Slow Beginning (I’m sorry! I’ll never do it again!)

We are always told that good novels, even those not considered suspense, should begin with a clear dramatic hook, a story problem big enough to entangle the main character and promise struggle from the opening pages to the ending’s resolution.

Sometimes beginning writers spend too many opening pages or chapters showing normal life and wait too long to start the story. In some ways this is how info dumps happen.

My very first novel that I started writing in 1993 began with an info dump that went on for the entire first chapter. I had no understanding of the importance of beginning with an intriguing, active first page, and sustaining the rhythm of conflict-resolution-conflict throughout the novel.  This was a bad habit I carried though many of my novels until I was fortunate enough to fall in with a good writing group. Dramatic hooks are good and need to be plentiful, particularly at the ends of scenes and chapters.

 

Ulysses9. Long Speeches

Sometimes beginning novelists have characters speak in lo-o-o-o-o-ng stretches, seemingly without pausing for a breath. James Joyce in his novel,  Ulysses, enters the head of Molly, in the final chapter spewing an internal dialogue that runs on for more than 24,000 words with only ONE punctuation mark. The final paragraph of the book goes like this:

“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. “

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t take too much of Ulysses in college no matter how often our young, rather arrogant professor assured us that a thorough understanding of this book would educate our literary palates.

We are constantly admonished that it is crucial to keep paragraphs short and eliminate long character speeches, in order to keep the attention of your readers. Many gurus who are hosting writing seminars these days seem to have a poor opinion of our readers, implying they have limited intellects. I disagree wholeheartedly–I believe modern readers are extremely savvy and intellectual, but they are pressed for time and we have created an entertainment culture that delivers instant gratification, and now readers expect it too.

There is a rhythm to storytelling—each scene leads to a new struggle for the protagonist, to  either an accomplishment or loss of some kind, and then to new goals, always building toward the completion of the core challenge facing the characters.

Some writing coaches have likened this technique to how a skater moves across the ice. Push—glide. Push—glide.

 


10. A Novel Lacking Overall Direction

Successful novels must present several important ingredients:

  1. A beginning with a bang, some major action or conflict
  2. Characters readers care about, people who immediately strike a chord with the reader.
  3. A big problem that needs fixing, and only your hero can do this.
  4. A conflict-riddled struggle that nearly defeats your hero.
  5. The successful conclusion to the conflict that  winds everything up, even if it is supposed to be the first book in a series.
  6. An ending that leaves the reader glad they read the novel, and wondering what happened afterward.

you've been warnedBeginning novelists often fail to do the necessary pre-planning to make these ingredients work together. They think they can just plunk into the chair and start writing—and a wonderful novel will magically appear. Some seasoned authors may write this way, as James Patterson seems able to do,  but most of us can’t, and it shows clearly when the reader downloads the book.

Good, strong, characters must have incremental goals that complement the story, and the story must move along with conflict, drama, action, and emotion.

Once we have completed the second draft, we set the manuscript aside for several more months and work on something else. Then, after once again gaining a bit of perspective on it, we begin the process of rewriting and formatting it for submission to an editor. We use these same guidelines when we make our final revisions before sending it off to our prospective editor, because despite our best efforts, we have missed a lot of rather obvious bloopers, and I’m not just talking about typos.

You will find that when the editor has her hands on your precious manuscript, that is when the real work begins.

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing

HUW the BARD Launch

HTB New Front Cover with gold frameToday is the official launch of HUW THE BARD, a novel set in the alternate medieval world of Waldeyn.

I am doing something quite unique, for me–I am hosting a Virtual Launch Party via Facebook, complete with virtual canapes, champagne, and caviar. The link for this event is here: Huw The Bard Launch Party. Any and all are welcome to stop by and share in the revelry.

This is the hard part of going the indie route–I wrote, had it edited, got it published, and now I have to sell it. There is an art to this, I ‘m sure! Some people with moderately good books are quite successful, and others with truly great books, not so much.  Even Charles Dickens had trouble selling his work, back in the early days of publishing. In fact, most of the early authors of books we now consider classics were unheard of in their own time, except by a few intrepid readers.

So now, in this modern era of social media, I am trying to let the world know I wrote a book. I want folks who might be interested in it to be able to find it.

But I want to do this in such a way that I am not spamming my Facebook friends — because they get enough of that already without me adding to it. Hence, my launch party, open to the public and of course, my friends. How this will go, I don’t know, but I have been looking at other avenues of exposure, and now begins the (tasteful) twitter campaign. Also, many of my friends are supporting me by posting reviews, excerpts and cover reveals on their blogs, which is a huge help.

Carlie M.A. Cullen posted a lovely review.

Maria V.A. Johnson also posted a great review.

Fresh Pot of Tea, Alison DeLuca hosted the cover reveal, and posted an excerpt of the book.

So if you are available, feel free to stop on by  the Launch Party, have a virtual canape and swap a joke or two with me and my friends. I will be posting medieval music that I have come across on YouTube, and of course, we will talk about the book.

HUW THE BARD on Amazon.com

YouTube video book trailer featuring the music of Tom Cusack

 

Lute onBlack Background

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Battles, Books, Dragons, Fantasy, History, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Romance, Uncategorized, writing