The Journey to a Bestseller: “Something came up” and Writing Descriptions (Series #7)

Today I want to share with you the one fact in writing: something else will come up when you are trying to write a book. For you it might be something like an emergency home project that simply needs to be done, or you could have a school paper that you must do. For me, it’s another book. As I got penciled in for a release date for the third book in my trilogy, I realized that in order to get ads for launch, I need early reviews. And to get those, I need to have gotten feedback from my betas, so the first thing I must do is finish going through the novel with my new knowledge of the publishing world and my ongoing growth in writing. I haven’t touched this book since I wrote it, four years ago.

And guess what I found out:

My manuscript had the main characters coming down from the cliffhanger in book two and then traveling the twenty-five days back to where they came from to start the epic battle. BUT, she needs to take the journey in order to deal with her new pain and she starts to have memories of her previous life. Also, there is no inciting incident, it just launches right into boring.

I am appalled I wrote it. Yet, I have to find a way to fix it. It’s going to have to be re-written.

So I decided, ladies and gentlemen, that my bestseller WIP goes on hold while I edit my manuscript to send to betas in September. I don’t know if it will be early or late September, the point is I made a deadline for myself. I even included other people in it so I have to stay on track.

The lesson here is: when something comes up, go ahead and put your pen down or however that works for you, but tell yourself when you will be coming back to it. Don’t “make a goal.” I mean, that’s good, too. But when you have a goal, that feels somehow optional. “I hope I make my goal…” Or you hear, “My goal is home ownership some day…” It might happen. It might not.

But a deadline is required. It is when consequences happen if you fail. Maybe you tell yourself that if you meet the deadline you’ll reward yourself with a Starbuck’s gift card, but if you fail, you aren’t allowed Starbuck’s for as many days as you were late. There’s some motivation. Tell your bestie about it and make them hold you accountable.

And, unless you are doing something that requires lots of research or writing, make sure you are reading. Keep those imagination juices flowing.

If you are writing with me, keep going! I’ll catch up somehow. You may have something come up later. If you’re so dedicated you need to take a break with me until September, I guess that’s cool too, in a non-stalkerish way, I hope. heh heh

And thanks to all my new beta readers! I was so pleased at the response for my request seeking beta readers. Twenty-three people asked to join the team and I couldn’t be happier. It will be wonderful to have so many varied viewpoints. I was warned by two of them that they aren’t nice. To which I responded, “Constructive critique I can take, rudeness I cannot.” There is no excuse for rudeness, in my opinion. You are already nervous letting someone else read a manuscript that you know isn’t done, and then someone says, “You should go back to your day job, your writing sucks.” What’s the point in being nasty? I mean, you don’t have to believe in karma for it to kick your behind.

If you are writing the beginning of your novel, the part I am editing, make sure that the beginning “hooks.” Some people worry so much about their first sentence they have a mini stroke. It’s really not that important. I mean, the first sentence is important but not because it matters how you form it or how literate you sound. It’s important, because like the rest of the first paragraph, it needs to capture the attention of the reader. So many people pick up a book and read the first three sentences to see if they want to read more.

They’re not looking at your style of the format of your paragraph. They are reading to see if it sounds interesting. They are checking out your voice, the way you tell a story, and seeing if it jives with them.

Show a little bit of your MC’s life in normality before the inciting incident, so we can see just how much the “thing” changes their life. Even if you are beginning in the middle of the story, again, give us at least enough time to know what’s going on and who your MC is, so that we have a chance to care about them and care when disaster befalls them. Then weave in the background info and descriptions of the world.

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When describing a character, link each description to the reason why it is the way it is. As in this description:

“She was small for a girl her age, the shortest one in the class photo. Her glasses were taped on the side from her sister, Penny, repeatedly knocking them off her head; but her wiry hair kept the tape partially covered until she tucked it behind her ear. Her clothes were either too small or too big, depending on how much her older sister had grown that year. And her shoes were perpetually full of holes from walking the gravel road home, the laces trailing behind her. The only feature she really enjoyed was the brilliant blue color of her eyes, that appeared to be hers alone and not handed down from anyone.”

See? Every description of the girl comes with a bit of story, or a reason why it is the way it is. Her glasses are taped because her sister hits her. Her clothes don’t fit because she wears hand-me-downs and has to wear whatever doesn’t fit her older sister. Her shoes are holey we know, because she lives on a gravel road. We are getting a lot of info in this one small paragraph.

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But what if you want to just list attributes? You can do that, too. Look at these two descriptions from Harry Potter. They list attributes, however, the attributes are still tied to an event or purpose.

From Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, 1998) •

“He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors.” (p. 1) •

“A giant of a man was standing in the doorway. His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.” (p. 46)

See? the description of Mr. Dursley is compared to the description of Mrs. Dursley, and her description is related to an event that she likes to partake in (spying on neighbors). And the second paragraph shows his size relative to the doorway, and describes his hair because it covers the eyes, which are the subject of the sentence.

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Weaving in back story should be similar to this approach. It’s all part of world-building. When you go into a new space, tell us what you see. We notice things in our world because they are either familiar to us and remind us of something (another thing or even an emotion), or because they are very unfamiliar to us, but then we often try to identify something else we can relate to it so it makes sense in our experience with the world. Humans are creatures of habit whether we want to admit it or not.

And you can give a lot of world in a small description. Let me try another one:

“He entered the huge domed room that reminded him of the time he went to the capitol building on a field trip, except this dome was stained-glass. The beauty and colors reminded him how far he was from home. A large golden telescope stood at one of the tall side windows, framed with burgundy velvet drapes that matched the oriental rug he stood on. He wondered if he could see Earth from it. The furniture was surprisingly not that different from the old Victorian velvet couches and wing back chairs in his grandmother’s house. Not for sitting. He didn’t want to make the same mistake here, so he stood waiting for the butler to return with the man in charge, clasping his sweaty hands.”

Okay. So we know he’s in a tall domed room with a colorful glass ceiling, and he’s not on Earth, and he’s nervous. He’s waiting for someone important, and the furniture reminds him of some other furniture that he was not allowed to sit on, so he remains standing. Can you see the room with the opulent furniture and the telescope? There’s probably a globe somewhere and a potted tree. It fits a pattern of what we perceive from the information we’re given.

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In summary, make sure your beginning is interesting enough to hook your readers, have an inciting incident that catapults us into the story, and weave in your descriptions by relating them to other objects familiar, or unfamiliar, to you and the character. If you are doing all that, it doesn’t matter what your first sentence is because you will know where to start your story and start letting it flow.

Conversely, if you don’t know where to start your story, start with the first bit of action in your outline. It doesn’t have to be “moving action” necessarily, but some kind of event that shakes up your character. It might be when they decide to finally leave the orphanage for good because they’ve had enough of this treatment. Or it could be someone they don’t know coming into town with a mission for them. Or it could be an opportunity to change something about their lives or themselves that they don’t like. But where ever you decide to begin, if you capture us, we’ll be with you.

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So write what you’d like to read. Some people are going to love it. But realize that some people will hate it no matter what you do, or how you write it. I will venture to say that if Harry’s series had been full of mistakes, info dumps, and a weak story arc, it could have had the same events, but no one would know because they wouldn’t read seven books of that. I hear you saying, “I would! I would!” And that suits my point, too. Someone will always want to read what you write, and someone won’t. Try not to take it too personally.

I have a family of seven and though I’ve had five teenagers for years, none of them will read my YA fantasy books to give me an opinion, or to share with their friends, which would have been fantastic. Nope. I was salty about it for several years, but just as every book is different, the readers and the journey to write it are different as well. I had to accept that this was my journey and I wasn’t going to get help from my loved ones; so I formed a creative writing group that meets at my house every week for several hours and we talk books. It’s my social time.

We meet at a table with snacks, tea and coffee. Two people are assigned to write for the week and we all read their submission in our Google drive beforehand, then we talk about it when we meet. You can find a group to belong to, as well. I found several at www.meetup.com. You can find things going on in your community and there are always some kind of writer’s group. And if there isn’t, make one yourself! See who calls you to meetup with them.

A good friend of mine and I take a creative writing workshop through the local community college in the spring. We used to have a writing group, but it disbanded when members moved away or got new jobs. So this spring when we were in class, we found people that we liked and identified with, who were serious about their interest in writing. And we asked them if they wanted to make a group. It was that easy. You can do that. Go on, give it a try. Then come back here and tell me how you did it.

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I’m excited for those of you who are just beginning your journey. I hope what I had today made sense to you and if you are anywhere in your writing, you can’t go wrong with these suggestions. Start with some action or a decision toward the beginning, and make sure your descriptions are woven in. Keep writing and I’ll see you next weekend!

~jenn

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