Alice’s Restaurant

January 31, 2007

Hooking Readers

Filed under: Writing Technique — aliceaudrey @ 1:44 am

A hook is anything that makes a reader want to read more.  Hooks are generally found at the beginning and ending of scenes and chapters.  They are what give you the cliffhanger feeling.

Most of the time hooks are questions the writer intentionally places in the reader’s mind.    Probably the most common is, “What’s going to happen next?” 

Having been both panned and complimented for my hooks, I think I have a reasonable idea of how they work. The best hooks seem to come from something substantial in the story itself.  The questions left in the reader’s mind will involve something to do with the characters motivations, goals, or conflict. 

There are always elements about a story that are simply too big to fit in.  It seems to me most new writers react by simply telling it.  These over-sized elements are excellent sources of hooks, provided you show instead of tell.  For instance, a spy who may be a double agent can provide plenty of hooks, so long as you never come out and say she is a double agent.  Leave the reader wondering – is she, or isn’t she?

Withholding important information does not necessarily make a good hook.  A lot of times it will simply backfire by leaving the reader confused.  If a character is behaving oddly because he is a werewolf, and you don’t get around to saying he’s a werewolf until page 150, then most readers are going to get frustrated and pitch the book.  Withholding a pet’s name without a very, very good reason will backfire.  Withholding all of a character’s motivation or goal will backfire.  Withholding some, on the other hand, can be tantalizing.

The point is you have to give the reader enough information for them to make some guesses about where the story is going to go.  Keeping back too much undermines the real hooks.

When you do set a hook, it should be with an eye to the theatrics involved.  Unveil the answer to one question, only to leave the reader about another.  You could say the double agent DID put a sleeping powder in the hero’s soup.  But she didn’t intend the soup for him. So who did she intend it for?

Don’t ask the question for the reader.  Leave it hanging out there and let the reader come up with the question on her own.  Don’t be to quick to answer it.  But don’t wait to long either.

It’s a matter of balance between how much you reveal and how much you hold back.  A lot of the time setting and releasing hooks is a matter of feel.  As they say “always leave them wanting more.”
Alice

January 30, 2007

PUN-ishment

Filed under: Day to Day Life, Writing Life — aliceaudrey @ 12:01 am

I had a couple of friends in high school who enjoyed puns.  They would spend minutes, if not hours, competing with one another, trying to come up with puns.  Silliest pun, strangest pun, simplest pun, or best of all worst pun, they got into it. These sessions were often referred to as pun-ishment.

The thing about this kind of punning around is that you have to have a certain sensibility to do it.  It isn’t enough to have a twisted mind.  Punning is like living through opposite day.  What’s good is “bad”.  What impresses should receive a “boo”.  The louder the complaints, the better the pun.  To enjoy one pun after another you must enjoy the strangeness of it.

So what I posted on Pam’s blog was intended as the highest of compliments.
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Alice
 

January 28, 2007

Tag: Womens Fiction Book Meme

Filed under: What Are You Reading? — aliceaudrey @ 3:40 pm

Contemporary, Historical, or Paranormal?

All the above!  Seriously, I read them as they come to hand.  I try to read more of whatever type I happen to be writing, but will often simply grab as the mood strikes me.

Hardback or Trade Paperback or Mass Market Paperback?

Mass Market

Heyer or Austen?

Both!  Repeatedly.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?

Brick and Mortar when I don’t know what I’m after.  Amazon when I’m after something in particular.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?

Both.  Preferably with a gift card in hand.
Woodiwiss or Lindsay?

Lindsay.  I find Woodiwiss a little slow-paced.
First romance novel you ever remember reading?

Already blogged this.  Not a straight answer.
Alphabetize by author Alphabetize by title or random?

Alphabetized?  Hah!  Heaped by just read, reading, going to read soon, and going to read sometime.  Now and then they make it to a bookshelf.

Keep, Throw Away or Sell?

Keep if I absolutely love it or learned a particular lesson from it. Sell if I can.  Um… we won’t talk about what happens to the rest.
Read with dustjacket or remove it?

Dustjacket?  What dustjacket?

All right, on those rare occasions when I actually have a book with a dustjacket I keep it on.  Generally I have to because I’m going to have to return the book in the condition I got it.
Sookie Stackhouse or Anita Blake?

Neither
Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?

At the top of the nearest left side page.  But then I only stopped because one of the kids wants to use the bathroom so I can’t hide there any longer.
It was a dark and stormy night or Once upon a time?

Once upon a time it was a dark and stormy night?  If I’ll put up with the purple prose, I’ll put up with the backstory too.  Maybe.

Crusie or SEP?

SEP?  Yay Crusie!

Buy or Borrow?

Beg, borrow, buy, or check out from the library.  I’ll take them any way I can get them.
Buying choice: Book Reviews, Recommendation or Browse?

Mostly Browse, but I can be moved by friends.  I don’t read many reviews.
Tidy ending or Cliffhanger?

Depends.  I hate cliffhangers that are forced, or that make me wait a year for the next book.
Morning reading, Afternoon reading or Nighttime reading?

Any time I can sneak off to the bathroom.  They don’t call it Mommy’s Reading Room for nothing.

Series or standalone?

Both.  But series will put me off if I happen in the middle and can’t figure out what’s going on.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?

No such thing.

I tag

Oh boy.  Here comes the hard part.  Hmmm…..  Bev’s in revision Hell.  Pam has been quiet lately, but I think she said something about being swamped.  I’ll bet I can catch Kelly lurking, and maybe Christina.  That’s it!  I tag Kelly and Christina!

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Alice

January 27, 2007

Post Cards From the Better Half

Filed under: Guest Blogs — aliceaudrey @ 3:10 pm

My dh, also known as Mr. Al, has been making his own post cards for years.  He has an unusual sense of humor, which comes out in his cards.  For years now I have been the only one privileged enough to see these cards.  Now, in the spirit of a guest blog, I’d like to share them with you.

Warning.  He tends to be a bit irreverent.

One for Anastasia

Been there, done that.   

 Ah, California

Oh Gawd, not again

Mr. Al by way of Alice

January 26, 2007

Suzie’s House 4: … Or Broken….

Filed under: Suzie's House — aliceaudrey @ 1:37 am

When Vin brought his limping taxi into the Capital Cabs garage, the left fender  rubbed the tire, the muffler scraped the ground noisily, and the right rear view mirror hung by a wire.  At least Vin hoped the mirror still hung there.  Considering the way it had flopped around during the worst of it, the mirror might be long gone.  The smell of gasoline and oil assailed him as he got out from behind the wheel. 

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“Vinny, Vinny, Vinny.  What are you doing with my cabs?”  Walter came out of the office to inspect the damage as Vin attempted to close the driver’s side door.  With a metallic screech of protest it popped open two or three times.  “This is the third one this week.”  Vin gave up as Walter glared at him.  “Are you paying for this one too?”  .“My client will.  Relax, Walter.  It’s covered.”  Vin crossed his arms, turned around, and propped his butt on the wayward car door. 

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“It isn’t just the repair bill, Vinny.  Now I have another cab out of commission and the first isn’t back from the shop yet.”  .“It isn’t?”  Drew would have his guts for garters if he couldn’t come up with a cab tomorrow.  Without it they’d never catch the instigator of The Crash Course on video.  He pulled the red beret off his head and shoved it into his back pocket.  “I thought you said the repair guy was almost done.” 

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“Apparently the axle wasn’t good after all.  They have to replace it.  Why don’t you rent a car?”  Walter spaced the words to make the suggestion a heavy-handed hint.  He hadn’t wanted to loan his cabs to Vin to begin with.  .“You’ll have to loan me another one.  It’s important.  Give me the oldest one you’ve got.” 

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“You’re worse than that Straus fellow who got drunk on the job.  Unlike you and the rest of these clowns, he had an excuse for all the accidents.”  Walter’s eyes moved with Vin’s hands as Vin pulled off the black-frame nerd glasses and the little brown mustache. .“Trust me.  In the long run you’ll thank me.”  Vin saw a familiar, feminine shape entering the garage.  He felt like a deer in the headlights – unable to chose between talking Walter around and going to her.  She won, but Walter would understand.   

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Vin stepped around his friend with a wave.  “See you tomorrow.”   .She dressed like a dominatrix today; black leather skirt, thigh-high leather boots, black bustier,  black wig, and a little fringed purse that could double as a whip.  Walter let out a low whistle.  Vin ignored him. 

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“Marvin,” Miranda greeted in a Zsa Zsa Gabor voice.  “I have marvelous news.” .When she gave him an air kiss by either cheek he resisted the urge to show her a real kiss.  He and Miranda had an understanding.  So long as he never crossed the line she would tolerate him.  Every day she tolerated him, he got a little closer to what he really wanted.  So he air kissed her, biding his time. 

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“I can’t wait to tell you,”  Miranda gushed.  “Remember that little problem you were telling me about?”  .“Little problem?”  He quirked an eyebrow at her.  Typical Miranda to make him look bad in front of  the guys. 

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“With your apartment.  Didn’t you say the subletter wanted it back sooner than you expected?”  Clearly oblivious to her slander on his manhood, Miranda gave him an impatient look. .“Yes.”  He took her elbow and guided her out through the garage bay.  After a moment, his mind caught up with her words.   

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He had told her the story of his near homelessness in the hopes she would invite him to move into her apartment with her, or at least let him crash for a few days.  Of course it was completely true.  He was about to lose his Spaight Street apartment when the sublease ran out, but he could afford to buy a house if he wanted.  And as soon as Miranda agreed to be his bride, he’d let her pick one out.  .Now, at last, it appeared she was going to invite him in.  He hadn’t even had to wait until the last, pathetic moment in which to find some other place so she’d take pity on him.  He felt like pumping his fist in the air, but managed to keep it to himself as they turned onto the sidewalk along Brearly and headed toward East  Washington. 

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“What do you have in mind?”  He prompted her. .“Suzie’s house.  She needs renters in order to cover the mortgage.” 

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So much for his hopes and dreams.  “Suzie’s house?”

.  “You don’t have to sound so down about it.  It’ll be great.  She’ll provide meals, and you know what a great cook she is.  And it’s a lot nicer than either of our places.  And it’ll always be clean without our having to worry about it.”. 

“Wait.  You’re moving in too?”

. “I’m moving in this afternoon!”  Miranda grinned.  When Miranda grinned, Vin’s world did a little spin as if it was a merry-go-round and she the central pillar.  He grinned back.  Her smile softened.  “So you’ll do it?  You’ll move in with us?”.

 “Yes.  Sure.  Um… next week end.  I can move in next weekend.”  He made himself stop nodding.  And grinning.

.  “Great!  Only one thing.”  She gave him the sidelong look that always meant trouble.  “We have to get Andrew to move in too.”.

 Vin’s world stopped turning. 

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January 25, 2007

Don’t Sweat The Little Stuff

Filed under: Writing Technique — aliceaudrey @ 1:49 am

Yesterday I gave examples of why details are important in writing fiction.  This week I tell you not to worry about them.  What?  Make up my mind?  Paradoxically, I believe both are true because of two things.

1]  Details are easy to layer in and can be layered in at any point in the writing process without creating huge problems for a story.

2]  Too much concern over details at the wrong points in the writing process can cause writer’s block.

Admittedly some details are too important to let slide.  How the hero gets the heroine off the roof of a burning building when she’s afraid of heights and hugging a chimney, for example.  Other details are best to deal with fairly early on because they are going to come up over and over.  What color the heroine’s eyes are, for example.  But for the most part, details can wait.

It is far more important to get the heart of the story down.  You can use details to make the heart beat afterward.

Alice
 

January 24, 2007

The Life of Your Story Is In The Details

Filed under: Writing Technique — aliceaudrey @ 1:07 am

The devil may be in the details, but so is the life of your story.

This was not a lesson I learned easily. It was darned hard for my critique partners to get my head out of the clouds so I could focus on the five senses.  To this day I have to remember to go back and add more.

Details make a huge difference.  I’m afraid this is the sort of thing most people aren’t going to believe without seeing for themselves.  So lets get straight to the examples.

Since I have no intention of really doing anything with it, let’s use the FanLit Forever Challenge 3 Round One story about the two brothers.  We’ll take the story from the point where Benedict has ridden out to Andrew, found him alive after the plain crash, and done what he can for him.  Andrew has a broken leg, but he’s awake and aware.  Remember, they had a falling out over a woman years earlier.

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***

“She wasn’t worth it,” Benedict said.

Andrew only raised an eyebrow in reply.  He looked like he was in pain.  Part of Benedict wished he could do more to take the pain away, but another part took some satisfaction in his brother’s condition.

“She never loved either of us.”

“How do you know?”

Benedict poked the fire with a stick.  He glanced at Andrew.  “I read her diary.”

“That wasn’t a nice thing to do.”

“It was years ago, but I remember every word.”  Benedict had a good memory.  “The whole time she was going with you or me she was trying to go with this guy named Joe Tison.”

“Wasn’t he the guy she married?”

“I don’t know.  I never heard.”

“No.  No, it wasn’t.  It was Howard Tison.  She married Joe’s brother.”

***

This is both “white room syndrome” and “talking head”.  The two are both the result of insufficient details.  White room syndrome is the effect of feeling like the characters are sitting around in a white room.  They have so little contact with the world around them and so little description of it that they could be anywhere.  Talking head is where the characters seem to be disembodied.  It makes it much harder to see them as real characters.

Let’s try the exact same scene again, only with more details.

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****

“She wasn’t worth it,” Benedict said.  He gave a sidelong look at his brother, whose leg rested on the sleeping bag Benedict had carefully placed close enough to the fire for warmth and far enough for safety.

Andrew only raised one dark eyebrow in reply.  Under a mop of ebony hair, pain etched itself into his forehead, making washboard of wrinkles.  The wrinkles looked too deep to have come about recently, and didn’t go away when Andrew gazed into the yellow glow of the fire, his jaw tight.

Seven years and they still had not laid to rest the ghosts Samantha put between them.  Benedict wished he could smooth away his brother’s lines, yet smiled ruefully.  If he couldn’t forgive, then he deserved them.

For long moments they both huddled in their sleeping bags while the evergreen forest around them grew darker and colder, the air pungent in pine needles and tension.

“She never loved either of us,” Benedict said to the fire.

“How do you know?”  Andrew’s voice reflected the quiet of the night.

Benedict poked the fire with a stick.  He glanced at Andrew.  “I read her diary.”

“That wasn’t a nice thing to do.”  Andrew’s eyes narrowed with censure.

Benedict looked away, feeling guilty even after so many years.  Andrew had always been the noble one.  Not always practical, but always noble.

“It was years ago, but I remember every word.”  He could hardly forget the white, lined paper covered in swirls of cruel, black ink, her words having engraved themselves in his mind.  “The whole time she was going with either you or me she was chasing after this guy named Joe Tison.”

Andrew straightened up.  “Wasn’t he the guy she married?”

“I don’t know.  I never heard.”

“No.  No, it wasn’t.  It was Howard Tison.  She married Joe’s brother.”

They shared a bitter smile, a smile of brotherhood and understanding.

****

It gives you a better feel for who and where they are, doesn’t it?  But what if we had picked a different set of details.  Let’s try it again and see what could happen.
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****

“She wasn’t worth it,” Benedict said, putting his chin out, though he didn’t really expect his brother to argue.

Andrew only raised a questioning eyebrow in reply.  The lime-green bedroll under him must have shifted because he winced, and rubbed the injured leg.  Benedict reached for the splint to check his work, but Andrew waved him away.

Always carelessly stoic, Andrew had the streeky-blond good looks of a beach bum.  In spite of the paint he must feel he looked around at the pine trees around them and breathed deeply, a hint of a smile on his face.

Benedict shook his head in grudging admiration.  He knew Andrew would never ask what he meant, probably didn’t want to hear it, but he had to say it anyway.  “She never loved either of us.”

“How do you know?”  Andrew betrayed himself with no hesitation.  He’d known what Benedict was talking about all along.

Benedict poked the fire with a stick.  He glanced at Andrew.  “I read her diary.”

“That wasn’t a nice thing to do.”  Slowly, a mischievous smile and twinkling eyes lit up his face.  Benedict tried not to smile back.

“It was years ago, but I remember every word.”  He remembered all right, and what she’d said still made his stomach clinch.  “The whole time she was going with either you or me she was angling for this guy named Joe Tison.”

“Wasn’t he the guy she married?”  Andrew leaned back on his elbows and looked into the deep, starry night, supremely unconcerned.

“I don’t know.  I never heard.”

Andrew sat up too quickly, making himself wince.  “No.  No, it wasn’t.  It was Howard Tison.  She married Joe’s brother.”

They stared at one another in stunned surprised.  Then Andrew started to laugh.  Benedict didn’t want to join him, but the longer his brother laughed, the harder it was to resist.  Soon they were howling, laughing until tear ran down their faces.

****
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It’s the same dialogue.  You’d think the story would be the same either way.  And yet they come across very differently.

That is the power of details. 

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Alice

January 23, 2007

FanLit Forever Challenge 3 Round 1 Deadline

Filed under: FanLit — aliceaudrey @ 8:36 am

Just a reminder, the submissions aren’t due until FRIDAY, folks.  You’ve got an extra day to work on them.  But don’t slack off and make me post them all on Friday at midnight, please.  Even I sleep sometime.

Alice

Testing YouTube

Filed under: Uncategorized — aliceaudrey @ 12:13 am

Let’s see if I can get this thing to work.

Yes!  Break through! 

 I love music videos.  😀

Next up?  Beer ads!  You’ll have to go see Jill for the singing cookies.

Alice 

January 20, 2007

Curly Hair

Filed under: Research — aliceaudrey @ 11:09 am

One of my reading pet peeves is the way writer’s portray curly hair.  Too often it is clear the writer has no idea what curly hair is like.  So in the interest of authenticity, I thought I’d talk about it.

First of all, like most things, one head of curly hair is not necessarily like another.  Since I didn’t have curly hair until my early teens, and no one in my family could help me deal with it, I became morbidly fascinated.  Any time I got a chance to talk to someone who had naturally curly hair I would do so.

I did not find any universal techniques or conditions, but most of the people I talked to had a few things in common with me:

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1] Do not have other characters mess around with the hair of a curly haired character.  No running of fingers through the hair, no petting, and spring only when intended to give offense or testing issues of trust and respect.  Every time I see a description of a hero running his fingers through the heroine’s hair I go “ouch!!”  This in spite of the fact I finger comb my hair every day.  Every person who has tried it on my hair has gotten their fingers stuck within inches.  Petting makes it frizz.  Springing makes the curls spread and frizz.  Rings worn the the fingers running through curly hair are likely to result in pulling out a fair amount of hair.

2] No hair brushing or fine-toothed combing of curly hair.  The teeth of combs break off.  Brushing makes it frizz big time and tends to mow down the curls.  If the hair gets mussed, it’s going to stay mussed until the character has access to water and/or styling products.  I’ve never been able to get a straight answer out of other people about how they take care of theirs – with the exception of the lady on the roller coaster.  I work styling gel and water into mine and comb it out with my fingers.  I use a pick in the shower with a lot of slippery cream rinse to get the worst tangles out.  Styling mousse isn’t anywhere near as useful as gel.

3] Putting curly hair up is easy.  Keeping it that way is not so easy.  I’ve had the kind of decorative combs that were popular in the 80’s fly across rooms.  I’ve seen the teeth of them permanently warped from one wearing.  I’ve had hair clips suddenly give way and fall apart.  I’ve had pencils and chopsticks simply disappear, buried by hair.  Rubber bands that are wrapped in thread work well.  The ones without thread, like they used to put around newspapers, tend to take a lot of hair with them when they go and sometimes have to be cut out.  On the other hand, I can twist it and skewer it with a pencil quickly and easily and it will look all right.  Sometimes the pencil will hold it for hours.

4]  Sleeping on unbound curly hair is a good way to start growing dreadlocks.  Corn rowing curly hair and then leaving it that way for several weeks is a good way to start growing dreadlocks.  Camping out for extended periods without braiding it up is a good way to grow dreadlocks.  If the character is living in the medieval period and doesn’t have time to mess with it a lot every day or wash it regularly with special unguents, just assume it has either turned into dreadlocks, or become one nasty, solid mat of hair, or is kept very, very short.

5]  Curly hair does NOT bounce with every step.  It springs a bit with a good, solid jump, but not simply from taking a step, even stomping.

6]  If a character with curly hair gets wind-blown, their hair is going to poof out like a dandelion and stay that way until it is put up or gotten wet.  Most curly haired people are not all that enamored with convertibles. Blow dryers can have truly gruesome effects on curls.  A diffuser helps a lot, but drip-dry works best.

7] Frizzy hair drifts in the slightest breeze.  In a strong wind it can writhe around like Medusa’s snakes.  When someone with curly hair is out in the wind people tend to stare and go “Wow” and mutter things about lion’s mains, wild and woolly, witches, or say things like “You look so… so…  I don’t know but you really do!”  They may even remember it and shake their heads in amazement weeks later.  It tends to take on a life of it’s own.

8]  People with curly hair are used to having strangers go out of their way to talk to them about it.  Women are much more likely to do this than men are.  Men tend to get annoyed with women who want to touch it.

9]  Most people with curly hair owe some of the curl to frizz.  There seems to be a notable exception.  Some people have a kind of loosely looping curly hair.  Individual curls can have a two inch diameter with this kind of hair.  It tends to be smoother, glossier, and easier to manage.  Those people can actually comb their hair and may not even need to get it wet.

10] Curls can do all kinds of weird things.  They can wrap around one another, zigzag, and change the direction of rotation all on a single lock of hair.  I have as much trouble with individual hairs tying themselves in knots as with split ends.  The curls can curl more tightly on some days than on others.  The differences can make the hair appear to lengthen and shorten by several inches.  Some locks of hair are more likely to curl than others.  I have a fringe of  straight or nearly straight hair on the underside.  I don’t know why.  It just grows that way.  Some people with curly hair will have it permed in an effort to make it more uniform.

11]  Most beautician say they would love to get their hands on curly hair, but when they do, they haven’t the foggiest what to do with it.  The one you want to cut it is the one who has someone with curly hair in their family.

12] Curly hair can itch.

Outside of that it’s just like any old hair.

Alice
 

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