The NovelNook Flash Fiction Writing Contest Second Place Winner IS…

Running a Flash Fiction Writing Contest is a lot of FUN!

Addicted to FUN?

Photograph by Anne Petersen

I learned something from this contest experience that I think may be of value to many of you authors. All of our entries were fun to read. A number of them were ruled out because of MAJOR editing mistakes.

A punctuation oops can cost you an opportunity.

A punctuation oops can cost you an opportunity.

Grammar and punctuation, I can’t stress it enough.

When all the entries were in, each judge read all of them, and then we set them aside for a week. Then, we reread all of them again. It was amazing how much our perspective changed as a result of a second read.

There were six submissions that really stood out. We set them aside again for another week. On our third read, (and vote), our winner, Susan Pawlicki, was the clear victor for first place. But, second place had become a real battle royal.

At this point, we were able to narrow it down to two stories. We put them aside again and did another read and vote several days later. What really differentiated our second place winner was how the two authors handled the theme. In light of that, I’ve decided to give an honorable mention to an author who was so close that the voting tally was almost imperceptible. I’ll name that author at the end of this blog post.

Authors, this is what I want you to hear.

When you submit a story and receive a rejection letter, don’t take it to hard. You may have been so very close. It may have been the smallest element in your story that kept it from being accepted. It may have been personal prejudice on the part of the person reading it.

I’m willing to bet that in many cases a story, or book, is given a cursory read.. If your story doesn’t resonate with that decision-maker immediately, you may be rejected. It may have nothing to do with your book. It might be something that happened to the decision-maker that day.

Does this make your story bad? No. In fact, if that same person were to reread your story on a different day, they may have a completely different perspective on it. (We did.)

However, I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH how much GOOD EDITING will affect the outcome of your submissions. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY enjoys reading a poorly edited book. I hope you will take that one statement and…

MAKE It YOUR MANTRA!

I’m proud to announce

that our second place winner is…

Sue Butler with her story, “The Unexpected“.

Sue wove an intricate plot into a flash fiction piece that we really liked. We felt that her interpretation of the theme was strong. We also liked her character development.

“The Unexpected”

by Sue Butler

Our Employee of the Year is John Mulcaster.’ The words rang out like a hammer hitting a gong. I stood up and stumbled towards the podium; I had never won an award l before and had no inkling that this one was to be mine. Nervously, I accepted the shield and envelope from the Chief Executive; the former had my name and the year engraved on it, below Sheila Thomson in 2012. I would have to give it back at the end of the year, but the envelope contained vouchers for a large department store, and they were mine to keep. I returned to my seat amid the applause, nodding to the people who smiled and patted my arm  in congratulation, a big grin on my face.

I decided to celebrate in the Rose and Crown on the way home: it was only a small detour. I was still grinning when I rang my wife, Julia, and left a message on her voicemail, telling her what had happened, and that I wouldn’t be too late. She was probably shopping for the guests we were expecting later, some long lost relatives of her’s that I’d never met. I sat at the bar, and during my second drink, fell into conversation with a bloke who came in shortly after me. He seemed a nice enough bloke, a family man if I recall correctly, a wife who worked at the hospital – not as a nurse though, something in administration, and two daughters who were playing up, pubescent, like. Anyway, he drinks up and says he’s got to run because the missus is going to be a bit late shift, and he has to get the girls ready to go out. As he rushes off his wallet falls to the ground a few feet away from me. There was no one else about, there hardly ever was on a Monday afternoon, not even the staff. I glanced around anyway, just in case, like.
I had to pick it up, didn’t I? I couldn’t leave it there for any old geezer to have. And yes, I know I should’ve handed it in, but I thought if his details were in it, maybe, I could give it to him in person like. As if……
Close examination of the wallet, courtesy of a quiet bench in UpTown Park, reveals two store cards, one debit card and three credit cards. Pure stupidity; why carry so many? You only need one debit, one credit, and maybe the store cards, if you are intending to go shopping. Aside from the money, the collection of cards also includes an expired gym membership card, and a driving licence proclaiming the owner to be Geoffrey Smythe of 22 Battenburg Lane, Deltham. The rest of the wallet contains £170 in notes, which I pocket. I hold the wallet, toss it in the air gently, and then catch it. Battenburg Lane is about twenty minutes away if you walk a bit sharpish. I could get there, post it through the letterbox and be away before I am seen. That way old Geoff gets his cards back – he probably hasn’t had time to realise the wallet’s gone, so he won’t have cancelled them, and I get the cash; my reward for finding the wallet, you see, and old Geoff, he can afford it, I could tell by looking at him.
There was a lot of flashing lights at the Battenburg crossroads, both police and ambulances.  A tearful woman was saying, ‘He was looking for his wallet.’
I can’t see the face underneath the blanket, but I know it is Geoff. I want to vomit; I feel as if I’ve pushed him under the lorry myself. As I approach, his wife turns her tear stained face towards me and spots the wallet . She snatches it from me and screams at it and shouts at his corpse for being so stupid. She’s lost it completely, and the paramedics take her away in the ambulance.
I have to make a statement, and the police thank me for my honesty in attempting to return the lost wallet. That’s a joke, my honesty. My phone rings; the screen shows, Julia, and although I do not want to, I answer it. Her voice sounds like a stranger. She tells me, in-between sobs, that she is on her way to the hospital to see her half-sister-in-law. He half-brother, Geoff, has been killed in a road accident. My brain numbs, and although I know what she is saying, I hear nothing. I feel bad, dirty and traitorous, and the £170 is burning a hole in my pocket. I finger the notes guiltily and hear my wife’s parting words,
‘And the bloke must’ve nicked the cash, I hope he rots in hell.’
I arrange to meet her later, end the call, and hurry to the rubbish bin outside the Asian supermarket. The entrance is clear. I carefully lifted out some rubbish from the bin and shoved the cash inside, intending to cover it again. Delayed shock made me throw up over the money, and I stuffed the emptied out rubbish back to cover it. My eyes were watering and blindly I stumbled to the corner of my road. Nausea overcame me and I sat down, breathing slowly.
I hear Julia’s voice calling, ‘John?  What’s up? What’s the matter?’
I looked up to see her concerned face looking at me from a black cab window. I am about to speak when the woman sitting opposite her shrieks, ’That’s him, that’s the bloke who had Geoff’s wallet!’
I gazed helplessly at them, not able to utter a word, and watched as the taxi drove off. I am sweating now, and still feel sick, but cannot find my handkerchief. I checked in my pockets again, but can only find a small certificate proclaiming me Employee of the Year.
My shame knows no boundaries as I wiped my face with it and began to cry.
The End

Now that the contest is over, and the winners have been announced, I would like to give an honorable mention to, Kate Baggott, for her story, “Salvation“. Kate’s story was in the thick of the voting right to the bitter end. We liked her story a lot. However, in the end, we felt that her story didn’t represent the theme as clearly as our winners. Good luck with placing your story elsewhere, Kate.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Hopscotch”, by Julio Cortazar.

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

 

The NovelNook Flash Fiction Writing Contest Winner IS…

Our First Ever Flash Fiction Writing Contest Was a HUGE Success!

Winner

It was a real battle!

We had a number of fantastic entries and it took every minute of the time we had allotted to come to our decision. In the end, our first place winner was a clear victory. Second place required several heated debates and will be announced on August 26, 2013.

So, without further ado…

Our Winner is?

Susan Pawlicki with her story, “A Change Is As Good As A Rest”.

The judges felt that Susan’s story captured the theme of – A Victory at Work, and, A Defeat at Home with the most creativity. We felt that her entry presented the strongest voice, both her own author voice, as well as her character’s voices. We also liked the subtlety of her plot and the reveals within it. Many of our entries were kind of “in-your-face” with the theme and didn’t allow our reader’s imagination to kick in. Susan’s story revealed some highly creative thinking, and we liked her plot twist. Her story was also one of the best edited entries that we received. All-in-all, we found it an entertaining read.

Congratulations, Susan Pawlicki!

“A Change Is As Good As A Rest”

by Susan Pawlicki

 
“Really? I get a day off?” The apprentice fought to keep his face sober and not break into a smile.

His mentor, who had much experience on the job, looked sideways at the beginner’s eager face and thoughtfully thumbed through the red spiral notebook in his hands. “Well, ‘day’ is a relative term.  You get a break from what you’ve been doing, anyway.” The teacher’s lips moved silently as he counted with his finger down a column in the notebook.  When he reached the bottom of the column, he tapped his finger twice on the paper.  “After all,” he said slowly, “you’ve done so well, bringing over forty potentials to the Organization this month alone—and in such unexpected and original ways….If anyone deserves some time to think away from work, it’s you.”

 If the apprentice could have blushed, he would have. “Wow….I never expected….I mean, I thought once the Organization took you on, you didn’t get time off.  And you came all the way to my place to tell me.  I never thought that was even possible.”

 “Well, nobody ever knows quite what to expect going to a new job.  I mean, no one ever really understands what he’s getting into, does he?”  The trainer looked up. “Even with all that instructional material out there—new stuff year after year, books and magazine articles, lead after online lead, videos, CDs—and everyone thinks he understands how the Organization works…but until you’re out in the field, you just don’t know.”

 “That’s the truth if I ever heard it.”  The words were out before the apprentice thought, but he heard them as he spoke.  His eyes widened, betraying the fear and dismay that sprang up in his stomach.  He looked down quickly, aware his face would give him away.

 “Pardon?” The teacher continued thumbing through the notebook without looking up.  “They’re really quite amazing, your numbers.  And your originality—seeing that woman’s potential and nabbing her in the bakery, for example—well, you’ve given all us senior personnel quite a lot to think about. You show incredible promise.”

Maybe he didn’t hear what I said, the apprentice thought. “You’re right,” he tried.  “What you said before, I mean—that’s right.  No one is ever fully prepared and all that, no matter how much you’ve read or watched and think you know…”

The trainer closed the notebook thoughtfully and turned to face his employee.  “Yes… and I do appreciate your attempt to cover your own lack of preparation in such a simple yet effective way—just a lie, an unpretentious untruth to calm waters that may be less quiet than they appear…to calm me, in fact, after I’ve heard not just an unpleasant word, but a rude one.  A forbidden one.  One that merits notice… and punishment.”

 “I’m sorry!”  The apprentice took a step backward.  “It’s hard to stop using words you’ve used all your life! You know I didn’t always recognize the ‘Truth’­­­­ when it was put before me in the past, but I always recognized the truth when it worked in my favor, when what it said was right for me, like I recognized the truth of what you just said!  What you said is true, even if you said it! No one ever is prepared, especially for a job like this one!”

“Please, don’t make excuses. It’s unbecoming.”  The mentor reached out for his apprentice’s arm.  “Given your numbers, I’m surprised you didn’t bother to ingrain the list of unspeakable words into your being a little more firmly.  What if you let that word slip with a potential Organization member?  It might undo all the work you’d done for us, and we’d lose that person Forever.  Don’t you understand that?  And Forever is a very long time here.”

 The apprentice stared at his forearm, where his teacher held him.  “Please let go,” he said, trying not to jerk his arm away.

 “Does it hurt?”  His mentor’s face was blank, but he tightened his grip slowly.  “Does it burn?”

“Yes!”  The apprentice gave up and began trying to wrench his arm away.  “You said I got time off to think!”  His voice took on the high pitch of desperation.  “Does one slip take away forty victories?”

The triangular tip of his teacher’s tail began switching back and forth with increasing speed.  “Oh,” he crooned, “you get time off from work.  You get time to think.”  He picked up his pitchfork.  “I’m just going to give you something to think about.”

The End

Great Story, Susan!

novelnook flash fiction writing contest

A Devil of a Tale

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “The Time Machine”, by H.G. Wells.

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

           

 

 

 

 

Mastering The Written Word

I want to Master the Written Word!

mastering the written word

Illustration by A. Skripin

Do you?

The idea of mastering the written word takes a lot of time and effort. My belief is that anyone – you, me, the guy down the street, that has an aspiration to be a great writer – must study the written word of others who have blazed a path before us.

I’m sure each  of us has our own plan of attack on achieving a level of success with our writing.

This has been my plan.

  1. I took online courses to make sure that I knew, understood, and implemented, the basic building blocks of good writing: punctuation, grammar, plot, dialog, etc.
  2. I began to volunteer (and become active) in various writing capacities around the internet. I wanted to learn from my peers. This effort resulted in landing me a position at Every Day Fiction as a slush reader. My experience there has been immeasurable in helping me grow as writer. I have learned from the mistakes and triumphs of other writers. Plus, I get to see first hand how real editors react to a story. I get to hear their ‘real’ thoughts; the thoughts that never make it into most rejection letters.
  3. I enter every contest that doesn’t try to take advantage of me as an aspiring writer. What does this mean? I don’t expect to pay an exorbitant entry fee. I don’t expect to give up my rights to my work. I don’t expect to have to keep my work in limbo for any longer than four months. Read the fine print on contests. The biggest career advancement (that I have achieved) through a contest entry was this – I placed 4th in a short story competition with Boroughs Publishing Group. As a result, they published my entry in E-book format. But that wasn’t the big deal as far as I was concerned. I got to work with a top-notch editor at Boroughs, for free. I learned the EXTREME value of a good editor to the final product (even a short story).
  4. I study the work of authors that I admire. And when I say study their work, I don’t mean that I just read their stories. I mean that I analyze their stories line by line. I look at every word. I try to figure out why their sentences, paragraphs, and ultimately their story move me so much. I’m especially attracted to writers from Latin America. They visualize the world and transfer it to the written word so eloquently. I don’t want to write just like them. But I want to incorporate their style into my writing. This is my goal.

Julio Cortazar

mastering the written word

Photograph by Modern Review.

Julio Cortazar is one of my favorite Latin American writers. If you haven’t read any of his works, I highly suggest that you read it, and study it.

To tantalize you a bit – I’m including one of his short stories, here today, in this blog.

The Continuity of the Parks

By Julio Cortazar

He had started reading the novel a few days before.  Urgent business made him abandon it for a time; but he returned to its pages while on his way back to the farmland estate.  He gradually let himself become interested in the plot, in the characters.  That evening, after writing a letter to his representative and discussing a matter of sharecropping, he took up the book again in the tranquility of his study which gazed out upon the park of oak trees.  As he lounged in his favorite chair with his back to the door that would have bothered him with the irritating potential for intrusions, he let his left hand stroke the green velvet once then again, and he began to read the final chapters.

His memory retained with no effort the names and appearances of the main characters, and so the novelist illusion came upon him almost immediately.  He took an almost perverse pleasure in letting himself tear through line after line of what surrounded him.  All at once he felt his head relaxing comfortably in the velvet of the old recliner, cigarettes persisting within reach of his hands, and, beyond the large windows, the evening air dancing below the oaks.  Word for word, absorbed by the heroes’ sordid dilemma, he cast himself adrift towards the images which concerted and acquired color and movement, evidence of the last meeting in the mountain cabin.  First the woman came in, mistrustful.  Then her lover arrived, his face hurt from the whiplash of a branch.  Admirably she clotted the blood with her kisses, but her caresses were rejected: he had not come to repeat the rituals of a secret passion protected by a world of dry leaves and furtive paths.  The dagger grew warm against his chest, and below beat cowering liberty.  A breathy dialog ran through the pages like a stream of serpents, which felt as if it had always been so.  Even as these caresses swirled around the lover’s body as if trying to hold him and dissuade him, they drew at the same time the abominable shape of another body which had to be destroyed.  Nothing had been forgotten: alibis, mishaps, possible mistakes.  From this hour forth, each moment would have its use, minutely detailed.  The merciless re−inspection was hardly interrupted for a hand to caress a cheek.  It began to get dark.

No longer looking, bound rigidly to the task which was awaiting them, they separated at the door of the cabin.  She had to follow the trail that led north.  From the opposite trail, he turned for a moment to watch her run with her hair flowing loosely.  He then ran in turn, taking shelter beneath the trees and hedges until, in the mallow mist of twilight, he was able to make out the avenue that led to the house.  The dogs were not supposed to bark; and they didn’t.  The majordomo (master of the house) would not be in at this hour; and he wasn’t.  He climbed the three stairs of the porch and went in.  In the blood swishing between his ears rang the words of the woman: first a blue room, then a gallery, then a carpeted staircase.  Upstairs, two doors.  No one would be in the first room, no one in the second.  The door of the living room, and then the dagger in his hand, the light of those large windows, the old recliner with green velvet seat, the head of a man reading a novel.

The End

What did you think of this story?

I love the way the words flow, the unusual use of description, and the hidden plot.

I would love to hear your thoughts! I would also love to hear what steps you’re taking to advance your writing career.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

Narrative Modes in Fiction – Telling Your Story Writing Essentials

Narrative Modes in Fiction

I came across this article by Editor Beth Hill. It struck me immediately because I know there are a lot of writers out there who don’t understand the basic building blocks of writing a story. I see it all the time in the slush pile at Every Day Fiction. If you’ve ever asked yourself, ‘ What is POV? What is too much telling? What is tense? What is exposition?’ etc… This is the article for you.

Broken type

“Broken Type” Photograph by Javier Garcia

This is an excellent article on the building blocks of storytelling: a superb informational piece for beginners and a nice refresher for the old salts…

What is narrative mode and what are the different narrative modes in fiction? An introduction to the methods used to present story and plot in fiction.

(Click the title below)
Narrative Modes in Fiction ”Telling Your Story Writing Essentials.
Type Collector

“Type in Order” Photograph by Aurimas.

Analyzing Videos – An Amazing Way To Improve Your Writing

Improve Your Writing

By Analyzing existing success stories!

an·a·lyze
/ˈanlˌīz/

Verb

  1. Examine methodically and in detail the constitution or structure of (something, esp. information), typically for purposes of explanation…
  2. Discover or reveal (something) through such examination.
Synonyms: analyse – decompose – construe – dissect – anatomize

There are many tricks, and techniques, that writers use to improve their craft. Today, I would like to talk about one that perhaps you hadn’t thought of – YouTube.

YouTube is one of the world’s most comprehensive websites, for entertainment, ideas, and in this example, an education. You can use their video uploads to find book trailers, book reviews, book readings, movies, movie trailers, movie reviews, comedy sketches, television shows, scenes from television or movies, music videos, poetry readings, etc.

Do you see a common theme here?

They all involve writing!

This is how I like to use YouTube. I research successful examples of writing and analyze them. This is easy to do because you can filter your search results by rating, views, genre, title, industry, and keywords. When you find a video whose ratings, and views, are high, you can bet the farm that there are nuggets of golden information for you to mine from that writing.

Let’s give it a try!

I searched: television, situation comedy, less than 4 minutes run-time. The list came up, and I zoomed through it until I found something that looked interesting.

Here is what I chose –

This particular television show is one of the most successful situation comedies on TV today. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “I could just watch the television show. Why do I need YouTube?” And you’re right, if you’re interested in writing comedy, you should watch the entire television show series. These writers are doing everything right – much can be learned about writing comedy by studying their methods.

The reason I’m advocating the use of YouTube is because it covers many genres and styles of writing. Plus, it saves time. Let’s say you set aside twenty minutes a week to do your YouTube research, in that short period, you could locate videos, watch them, and make notes on writing techniques, and you’d still have time for lunch before you get back to that work in progress! If you find a video that is particularly interesting, you can bookmark it,: and then you return to it over and over. You can also stop the action as you make your notes, or, replay it instantly.

Let’s breakdown this scene

And see what we can learn from it.

(I’m going to illustrate by using notations from my research)
  1. Opening scene – life as usual. Three very different women sit in a car talking. One is mousey. One is bold. One is eccentric. (varying personalities) They have skipped out of work to go to Disneyland.
  2. Comedy elements – The absurd situation of adult women skipping work to go to Disneyland for a princess make-over. The eccentric woman’s over-the-top efforts to escape from work. The bold woman’s lack of concern over deserting her job. Conflict – they argue over who gets to be Cinderella. Funny – the mousey woman turns belligerent over her desire to be Cinderella. Funny – mousey woman pulls a ‘junior high trick’ by threatening to pull her car (toy) from the plan.
  3. Descriptive elements – Eccentric woman – Big Mouth, overtly expressive – happy, facial tics that look like the cat that ate the mouse, slumped shoulders, leaning forward in excitement. Bold woman – Set jaw, distant eyes, lips closed, sarcastic expressions, back straight, little head movement. Mousey woman – Eyes set, business-like expression, some smiles (as a character she fits between the other two – creating a well-rounded character group), at the end of the scene the mousey woman snaps and turns mean (again well-rounded characterization, nobody is all nice or all bad).
  4. Dialog highlights -“Throwing up like a fire hose .” – Excellent metaphor / strong visual impression. “And now I’m going to Disneyland!” – Excellent comedic play off an old phrase that many people would recognize. “I work at The CheeseCake Factory. I said, Bye.” – Funny because of its lack of caring. (Give your characters things they care about and things they don’t care about.) “You’re kidding right? We’re not going to just get drunk and go on rides.” Funny because it creates a mild conflict between the characters expectations of the day. (Give your characters different expectations about the same situation.) “We can’t all be Cinderella.” An unexpected twist – all the characters instantly come to the realization that they want the same thing – conflict. “Well it’s simple. This was my idea. I’m driving. I’m Cinderella. You bitches got a problem with that, we can stop the car right now.” Character change – The mousey woman goes completely out of her normal element in making this statement. (Comedy comes from unexpected change.) Make your characters do something unexpected.
Scene Two – Disneyland
  1. The women are now at Disneyland.
  2. Comedy elements – The women are now dressed as Disney characters, colorful flowing dresses, unusual hair, overt make-up. (Remember to include visual descriptions that will allow your reader to see your characters.) A woman pushing a stroller passes. (Funny because it highlights the absurdity of their situation. Disneyland is geared toward families, not adult women wearing fantasy costumes.  (Think of small clues to add to your story, that are outside the main story-line, yet support your idea.)
  3. Descriptive elements – The eccentric woman and the mousey woman are having fun. The bold woman sits off to the side,by herself, eating popcorn. – conflict (This is a good use of subtle conflict simply by their placement within the scene.)
  4. Dialog Highlights – “I’m Doctor Fowler, and I’m a neuroscientist.” (The professional title does not fit the situation. It creates comedy.) “From an early age, we girls are taught to care about the way we look, rather than, the power of our minds.” (What makes this funny, and quite powerful, is her actions do not match her words.) “Unless you want to be Cinderella.” (This is great because it returns to an earlier funny moment. It supports it and builds on it. Don’t let your characters experience an important situation in a story and then never bring it back up. That would make it unrealistic and lessen the importance of the original event.)
Scene Three – The Aftermath
  1. Overview – Scene three completes a story arc. The comedy comes from the disparate reactions of the men.
  2. Comedy elements – Each husband / boyfriend of the three women returns home from work to find their significant other dressed as a Disney character. (The comedy is derived from their reactions.)
  3. Descriptive elements – When the mousey woman tells her husband that there is a surprise waiting for him. He reacts by hoping that she is dressed as Cinderella. This is a twist and a reveal. We now know that this is a fantasy of their’s, and the mousey woman had an (ulterior motive) the entire time. (Give your characters hidden motives for their actions – reveal those motives late in the story.) As the husband crosses the room to her – this is a superb example of body motion as a comedic element. He galloped across the room, his belly undulating like jello. The Bold woman’s scene creates comedy from her boyfriend’s unexpected response. The mousy woman’s situation creates comedy by her boyfriend’s lack of response. It’s three disparate views, of the same set-up that bring laughs.
  4. Dialog – “Please be Cinderella. Please be Cinderella.” (Unexpected reaction. Desperation.) “What are you doing?” (Unexpected reaction. Exasperation.) “I heard you the first time.” (Expected reaction. Lack of empathy)

Here is what we learned from a simple breakdown of this YouTube video!

  • Even a scene, or a situation, should have a complete story arc.
  • Comedy is derived by unexpected situations or expectations.
  • Each character should have a distinct set of personality traits, but these traits can, and should morph with an unusual situation.
  • Give your characters distinct physical attributes, and they don’t always need to be pretty or handsome.
  • Create metaphors that are extremely visual but fit the scene.
  • Give your characters things that they care about and things that they don’t care about.
  • If there are multiple characters in a scene give them different expectations over the same set of circumstances.
  • Include elements (such as the family passing by in Disneyland) outside the main scene to add realism.
  • Let your characters act differently than what their dialog indicates.
  • Use character placement within a scene to create tension.
  • Don’t let an important event happen in your story and then let it disappear. Return to it later.
  • Have different characters react differently to the same set of circumstances

Not a bad education for twenty minutes of effort!

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

The ‘Value Added Marketing’ of the First Line in your Book

Value Added Marketing

as explained by Shrek

Video courtesy of ryanmorrison31

Marketing Has Layers

Value added marketing

Photography by Joe Gatineau

Marketing is the message that brings buyers to your story.

Imagine marketing as an onion.

Now place yourself in a book store.

You’re walking along the aisle and a cover catches your eye. It looks interesting.

You pick it up. (Layer one, of the marketing onion, has just been peeled away.)

You hold the book in your hand, and then you flip it over to the description on the back. The description tickles your imagination. (Layer two, of the marketing onion, has been peeled away.) You flip the book back to the cover. Your hand opens the book, and your eyes gaze down at the first line of Chapter-One. (You are now staring at the third layer of the marketing onion.)

What is value added marketing?

Value Added Marketing: Creation of a competitive advantage by bundling, combining, or packaging features and benefits that result in greater customer acceptance. (Courtesy of businessdictionary.com)

How does the first line of my book become value added marketing?

Let me tell you a little story

Many years ago, I was visiting a friend. As we chatted, I perused their bookcase. My eyes settled on the spine of an innocuously colored book. It was the typography, title, and author’s name that caught my attention.

I pulled the book from the shelf and looked at the cover. This author is a particular favorite of mine. In fact, I would go so far as to say that two of their books (in that time) were some of my all-time favorite reads. But, I’ve also read some real clunkers by this same author. I stared at the cover; I was intrigued, but not sold.

I flipped the book and read the description on that back. Oh crap, I thought. It was the first book in a long series. If I commit, I’ll be reading this ‘ongoing’ story for months.

At this point, layer one of the marketing onion had succeeded, but barely. However, it did its job because I picked up the book. That’s what cover design is all about. Layer two, the book description, was less successful. It almost cost the author a reader. It was really the author’s reputation that pushed me to move forward to layer three.

This is a really important point. Imagine this scene in your mind; I was within seconds of sliding that book back into it’s slot on the shelf. If I had, there’s a good chance it may never have resurfaced in my life. But, I didn’t. I flipped it open to page one and read the first line. It read –

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.

Value added marketing

Photo courtesy of theaudiobookbay.com

By Stephen King

Here is where the concept of value added marketing comes to play.

Mr. King’s first line of, The Gunslinger, induced me to action. The cover got me to pick up the book, the description almost cost him the sale, it was the first line of the story that sold the book. I bought that book within days of reading it at my friend’s house. Then, because The Gunslinger is book one of a seven book series, (and it is superbly written), I went out and bought books two, three, and four about a month later. Finally, about five months later, I bought books five, six, and seven.

Think about this – That first line of, The Gunslinger, was the motivation behind a seven book sale. It had residual value and that’s value added marketing! 

Don’t we wish we could all do that.

I’ve thought about that line many times over the years. What makes it so powerful, so intriguing? The prose is quite simple. I think there are three components that are key to its success –

Antagonist, Protagonist, Conflict

It reveals all three of these elements in a twelve word sentence.
There’s no blood, no violence, no complicated structure

It introduces the Man in Black (mysterious), the Gunslinger (strong mental image), and conflict (the word fled). Stephen King could not have chosen a better word than fled. Even just speaking the word conjures up a feeling that something is about to happen!

There are all kinds of famous first lines and lists of them are plentiful in every corner of the internet. Stephen King’s line from, The Gunslinger, is almost always on the list. It’s that powerful. It sells books. It sells a series of books. For me, it is the epitome of the perfect first line. It has value added marketing!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but every story I write gets considerable processing time for that first line. I want that value added marketing in my books. I want a potential reader to get hooked from my first words and find themselves compelled to buy more of my books because they remember that line.

I’ll share this first line from one of my stories. It’s an unpublished short story titled, You Don’t Shoot No Owls.

Claire Brown, was fourteen years old the first time her daddy stuck a gun in her hand and told her to go shoot something.

value added marketing

Illustration by Clarisa Ponce de Leon

This is my favorite first line (of my creation) to date.

I’m striving for that powerful simplicity that Stephen King captured in The Gunslinger. I know I haven’t hit it yet. But, I keep trying and that’s what’s important.

One other interesting note about, The Dark Tower Series, if I had picked up any of the other volumes that day, their first lines would not have had the same effect.

A fantastic first line is not easy.

Back to value added marketing

I hope that today’s blog will inspire you to consider how important each component of your book is:

  1. Writing an interesting story
  2. Giving that story a powerful first line
  3. Writing a synopsis, tagline, and book description with the same dedication that you wrote the story.
  4. Edit every aspect of your writing, thoroughly
  5. Design your cover carefully

Each of these components bring value added marketing to your efforts. As human beings each of us is unique. We all see things differently. You never know which element, or combination of elements, will click with a book buyer.

And finally, maybe one of your first lines will bring you a dedicated reader. One that will follow your efforts for years to come, just as Stephen King did to me.

I’d love to read some of your favorite “first lines” in our comments section.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

Authors Allow Yourself to Let Go and Fly Free

I Want To Let Go and Fly Free

authors let go and fly free

Photograph by Matt Preston

But it’s a difficult task for me.

Today, I want to talk about something that is a personal issue when it comes to writing my manuscripts.

I suspect that I’m not alone in this dilemma.

Perhaps, we could consider this group therapy

authors allow yourself to let go and fly free

Group Therapy Illustration by Daneel Ariantho

The group moderator points at me. He says, “Will you please stand, tell us your name, and why you’re here today.” I stand on wobbly chicken legs, steady myself, and trudge to the front of the group. I spin around and see forty-eight pairs of accusing eyes burning a whole in my spirit.

I clear my throat.

“My name is Kent, and I’m a… a… well, for lack of an official term, I’ve made up my own. I’m a revisionist, an over-editor, a re-writer, a chronic restructurer, a plot replacementist, a text evangelist, a perpetual fixit monger, a do-over demon, a prose replenisher-” (I pull out a hankie and blow my nose).

I know it’s wrong to do these things. I’m well read in the reference books for writers.” (I blow my nose again.) “But sometimes, I just can’t help myself. When I begin writing, I try to go back to the place where I left off in the manuscript- And then some line catches my eye. Some perverted, twisted, little fiend of a sentence that calls out to me from two chapters back. It’s seductive, luring me in.

I know I can make it better, I tell myself.” (I’m now in a full-blown cry.) “I tell myself, just this one. I’ll fix this one line! And then I’m going straight to where I left off.”

The Moderator asks, “And do you Kent? Do you fix the one line and then go straight to where you left off, so that you can move forward in your story?”

No! You idiot! That’s why I’m here!

(A murmur rises from the group.) (I’m sobbing.)

No… That one sentence leads to another, and then another, and then… before I know what’s happened, It’s been a month or more, and all I’ve done is rewrite Chapters one through six, several times!

(I’m gasping. It’s getting messy).

The moderator hands me a box of tissues. “Is there anything else you want to tell us, Kent? Is that the extent of it?”

My bulging red eyes are so full of tears, I can barely see him. He looks straight at me, and asks, “You’re a manuscript regurgitater aren’t you?”

I bite my lip Hard before responding, “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that name; that’s a good one.”

“Answer the question please. Confront your demons, Kent. Confront them, and it will allow you to let go and fly free.”

His straightforward pushy attitude emboldens me. I straighten up and look defiantly into the eyes of my accusers.

“It’s true. I am a manuscript regurgitator. I’ve fought this… this weight upon my shoulders for a long time. But recently… recently… it’s turned into a real battle. A story that I wrote two years ago.” (I’m blowing my nose.)

“I put the finishing touches on that manuscript two years ago. But, I keep going back to it, and I read it.

AND EVERY TIME I DO- I WANT TO CHANGE IT AND MAKE IT BETTER! I can’t stop myself. I’ve been working on it for months- A story I finished two freaking years ago!”

The moderator put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay, Kent. That’s enough for tonight. Sit down, and the group will show you that you’re not alone.”

I sit down in the back row, bring my knees together, and let my head hang. But, I’m still peeking from the corner of my eye.

The moderator clears his throat. “Is there anyone else here tonight who is a perpetual fixit monger?” Hands went up. “Do any of you battle internal do-over demons?”: I raised my head- more hands went up into the air. “Okay, how many of you are manuscript regurgitators?” Almost all the hands drop.

I sneer. (Whatever)

The moderator points at me with one hand, and another person (whose hand is still raised) with the other.

“I’ll bet one hundred dollars, right now, that you two are perfectionists. Just shake your head, yes.”

We did.

The moderator continued, “Listen to me, and listen to me good.

There is no such thing as perfection. You need to learn to let go and fly free!

If you can’t return to the point in your manuscript, where you left off writing, without starting another rewrite-

Then have someone else get the manuscript to that point for you!

Reward yourself for success! And punish yourself for faltering!

Stick a piece of paper on the wall behind your desk that says, ‘Don’t you dare go back and look, Stupid!

Then, tape another sheet to the wall. On this one write on many edits you think you need to produce the best product possible!

How many edits, Kent? Tell me right now!”

“I need… ten… ten edits.”

“That seems excessive. But we all know you have a problem. So, Kent needs ten edits! Now Kent, you write one through ten on that piece of paper. Every time you edit through your story, you cross off one number until you hit zero. And when you hit zero, you NEVER go back and edit that story again.

Capiche? And if you do- You’re going through the spanking machine! Got it?”

blurry birthday spankings

Group Session Over

Any of this sound familiar to you?

All of this came to a head for me the other night when my wife and I went out for dinner. We were sitting in one of those sports bar type places, where you order burgers, fries, and a beer. Big screen TV‘s splashed with the noise of sports action encompassed us on all sides.

authors let go and fly free

Photograph by The Cable Channel

I was sipping my beer and looking at the screen above us. This particular television had the European Stunt Motocross Championships on it. I watched with mild interest, as I saw a young man fly up over a very large hill of dirt. His motorcycle jettisoned from the peak and flew thirty, maybe forty, feet into the air.

He then did something that made my jaw drop. He let go of the motorcycle.

The television cameras immediately switched to slow motion. I could see the wheels of the bike spinning. The man flew several feet above the motorcycle, his arms spread back into a V shape – like he had wings. He looked like, Superman, flying through the sky.

He sailed above the bike for what seemed like a very long time, then just before the arc finished, and the bike was about to descend, he gently reached down, grabbed the handlebars, and pulled himself back onto the motorcycle. He performed the stunt flawlessly.

Instantly, I wondered what it must have felt like the first time he attempted that stunt.

After a few moments of thought,
I knew the key that would unlock the door to my writing issues.

I visualized that stunt driver’s attitude on life. I discovered that I need to believe in my ability to perform, just like he did. I must have the strength, and courage, to let go and fly free, confident in my ability to land and perform again.

That moment changed my outlook.

All of us, here at NovelNook.com, want you to succeed. Write your best stories possible, edit them to the best of your ability, and then let go and fly free!

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

Bellakentuky