Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Questions, I Got Questions

Ask and ye shall receive. Thanks, BGs, for responding. You posed some very good queries. I can’t possibly answer all the questions from yesterday, so I’ll start at the top and work down over the next two days.

First--no one said peep about my answers yesterday. Is no one out there going to take me to task for my choice in music? My refusal to answer the favorite novel query? The question's I'd add Jesus? My choice of my bed on a desert island? You all are just so amazingly agreeable. Now if it was my daughter responding, you'd bet she'd latch on to the music thing. Which leads me to a quick story. A true one. Honest.

Setting--a year ago. I'm listening to the car radio with Amberly, then 14. For some amazing reason I have my own station on, instead of hers. (No doubt for 5 minutes only.) An old song by Bruce Springsteen comes on. I say, "Whoa, Bruce Springsteen," and turn it up.

Amberly gives me that teenage screwed-up-face look. "Who's Bruce Springsteen?"

I look at her like she's from Mars. "Who's Bruce Springsteen? How can you ask such a question. He's The Boss! You know, 'Born in the USA!'"

A bored shrug. "Mom, like I care where he was born."

Oookay. Little detour there. Back to the questions:

What should happen in the first three chapters of any story--not just thriller/suspense--that makes an editor say "I've got to buy this?"

1. The story needs to get off the ground quickly. Yes, particularly fast in a suspense, but in all books, it’s best if the inciting incident (major event that kicks off conflict for entire story) happens in the first chapter. An inciting incident can be delayed, but it takes a lot of skill to pull that off, because this incident is where the story really starts, and it’s what the reader’s waiting for when he/she begins the book. So best get to it right away. Place it in the first chapter, then end with a hook.

2. Introduction of main character, with as little backstory as possible (which will be half or even less than what you think you need). Weave backstory into the present story.

3. Depth of character must be shown. And depth of conflict. Is the conflict strong enough to pull a reader through the story? Is the character interesting enough to make the reader care what happens to him/her?

4. Tight writing. Strong use of verbs (remember compression from our AS edit). Good sentence rhythm. All those techniques we covered in our AS edit need to be established right up front.

How much do you know about a character before you start writing? Are you the type to have an extensive character dossier before starting, or do you discover the character along with the reader?

Character is primo, even in suspense, because character must drive the story. I know enough for my main character to be personalized, which is quite a bit. (Personalizing is a way to build your character from the inside out, discovering his/her “inner values” that drive the character’s choices. This is “Secret #1” in my book, Getting Into Character.) Still, I will learn more about my protagonist along the way. Secondary characters also grow during the writing process. If something new comes up with a character, I’ll go back and make sure everything beforehand flows with this new bit of characterization.

Do you always write the same way? For example: Do you first plot out your book before you start writing the actual story one time, then the next time you just start writing, then the next time, you do a character sketch first...etc.

I always write the same way. Kicking cabinets, casting about for a decent plot and a cool enough protagonist to carry the story. This will go on for a week, and two, maybe three or four. Somewhere along the way I find my story, plot out the twists, and begin.

Do you spend more time on any one part of your book? Or do you write it straight through and send it in?

I write it straight through, trying to get it pretty much the way I want it as I write each day. Some folks like to write a quick first draft just to get something down to work with. I’ve tried to do that (you know, that grass is always greener thing), but I just can’t. My story grows from the beauty of the words and the depth of character, and the only way I know to do that is write it the way I want it day by day. Then when I’m done I will go back and edit the whole thing a couple of times. But I’m changing minor things by then. One thing I never do is throw out scenes. I have enough handle on my story to know if a scene is needed or not, and if it ain’t, I’m sure not gonna waste time writing it.

Tomorrow I will be leaving for Eastern Europe which means a LOT of plane time. My laptop only give 2hr battery time (there's a sacrafice for less weight). I'm looking at about 13 hrs on planes, and four or five or more in airports. What would be the best way to work on my lately neglected novel? I want to take advantage of this travel time . .

Oh, sheesh, I’d have a second battery. But it’s probably too late for that. So take a pad of paper and write longhand. That’s way too much time to waste on the plane. Also take your cord and look for a plug-in at the airport, so you don’t waste battery time there, and you have some time to recharge.

All right, BGs, I'll get to the other questions tomorrow. If you have additional ones, you know where to leave 'em.


Tim Johnson said...

Hi, Brandilyn. Glad you're feeling better.

Dineen A. Miller said...

LOL! You're too fast for me. I posted on Tuesday's about showing and telling.

C.J. Darlington said...

Lol about Bruce Springsteen!

D. Gudger said...

Thanks for the advice, I have my plug w/ me as well as a printed out manuscript to edit :)

LaShaunda said...


After your Bruce Springsteen comment I had to post. Most of the music I love comes from my parents. My mother loved music and played different people all the time. Your daughter needs to hear Bruce LOL

I’m praying my love for music pass down to my kids. As for the list of music you mentioned. I was an 80s girl so I could relate. I still play my Journey’s greatest hits CD.

My mother loved KC and the Sunshine band. I sang Shake Your Booty to my kids when they we’re babies. They never actually heard the real song until they were older. They freaked out because they knew the song and didn’t know why.

Music is forever. One day Bruce Springsteen will remind your daughter of you and her riding in the car.


Domino said...

Daughter doesn't care where Bruce Springsteen was born? That's funny!

Kids are supposed to just know stuff. Right? Flipping through the radio or TV, they can catch an "oldies" (hate the term when it's playing my faves) station. I chaperoned a group of girls on an overnight church trip and said "Good night, John Boy." Silence. Then, "My name is Stephanie."

Becky said...

"My name is Stephanie." Hahah! That's as funny as "Mom, like I care where he was born." Both lines gave me a good laugh!

Brandilyn, great list of "what makes the editor buy." I've been thinking about beginnings again, but with a twist. I'm writing a trilogy--the 3 books, 1 story kind. In many respects, the inciting incident of book two occurred in chapter 1 of book 1. In your opinion, should there be a secondary inciting incident? Also, the characters are the same. How much reintroduction should there be? (Something I'm sure you face in a series).

OK, I'll bite. Why the bed if all you can take on the island are 3 precious items?

Oh, yeah, one more question. How come Blogger doesn't remember me any more?

Wayne said...

Brandilyn - you mentioned that the inciting incident should happen in Chapter One. Can it happen in the prologue? I don't have it handy, but I seem to recall that is how you handled it in "Brink of Death." Another question - I know on the ACFW loop you told someone that the prologue is separated from the rest of the story by time. Again, I don't think you handled it that way in BOD. Can you explain/clarify/tell-me-to-go-home-and-read-the-beginning-of-the book-again? Thanks!

Lynette Eason said...

Hi again,

You said: "I write it straight through, trying to get it pretty much the way I want it as I write each day. Some folks like to write a quick first draft just to get something down to work with. I’ve tried to do that (you know, that grass is always greener thing), but I just can’t...etc."

My question is, (and this may turn into NES part 2!) how do you plot out your story? After you finish kicking the cabinets, etc.

Could you take us step by step through the "BC (that's you) plotting a book strategy"?

Do you use post it notes? Index cards? Your photographic memory?

I took Ron Benrey's plotting class at the last conference I went to and found it REALLY helpful for the most part, but wondered if you went by his "13 step rule"? (Just a kind of formula that he and Janet use to plot their stories.) I can send you his power point presentation if you want it...ha.

Just curious how YOU do it,

Shannon said...

All right, I'll comment on the music. :-) I adore Boston and Journey, and "Carry On Wayward Son" is still one of my favorite songs. I was ROFL at your daughter's comment about Springsteen ... I'm not particularly fond of him. ;-)