Opening Scenes

I've been to quite a few writing classes over the years regarding how to hook your reader from the first page.

The general consensus is that something BIG has to happen right away. In fact, some presenters have gone so far as to say that your opening hook should be the moment of change for the character - the catalyst that thrusts them out of their current state.

For the most part, I bought into it, but I was never quite sure.

However, now I'm starting to seriously doubt whether this is the right approach.

Take the Hunger Games, for example. While I think she could have started it out a little faster, I think Collins did the right thing in putting the catalyst for change on page 20 rather than page 1. It's true that the first few lines didn't grab me by the throat, but we NEEDED the setup in the first chapter in order for the moment of change to MEAN something to us.

Katniss's moment of change is when Prim's name is called at the reaping. What if Collins had started her book there? We wouldn't really care. We wouldn't know what the reaping is. We wouldn't know about the tessera, the slim chance of Prim's one slip of paper being pulled out, or the fact that Kattniss's main goal in life is to protect her younger, vulnerable, sweet sister. We wouldn't know anything about what the Hunger Games are at all.

Yes, Collins could have filled that backstory in bit by bit, but by then the impact of Prim's name being called and Katniss taking her place would have been lost.

Maybe the main goal of some authors does need to be cutting out some of the fat in the first chapter, but I'm thinking I actually need to add a little more setup to my first few pages of Free Agents. We have to see the world the way it is before the change in order to understand why the change matters.

That's not to say the first line, paragraph, page, chapter should be dull backstory. No, they still need to be interesting and engaging and pull the reader in. But I think they need to be an interesting BEFORE picture. Otherwise, the AFTER picture loses much of its effect.

That's what I think, anyway. But I want to know what YOU think, too. Did Collins do the right thing by giving us a BEFORE picture? Should every book do that?

Down to the Basics

This isn't writing-related. At least, not technically, though you know me - I can turn anything into a writing metaphor if given enough time.

No, this is about music. I've always loved music. I've learned to play 5 different instruments over the years, sung in the choir (and in my car and shower), and have put all my kids in music lessons.

By far, my favorite music teaching tool ever, though, is called Let's Play Music, and it's all about teaching young children the basics in very fun, accessible ways. Instead of droning on about how a note high on a staff makes a higher sound than a note low on the staff, they sing a fun song about a red balloon. As the notes in the song go up, the balloon goes up and the kids all stand up and wave their own red balloons in the air. And then as the notes go down, the balloon goes down and the kids all move their balloons down with the music.

By the time they learn to play the piano, no one has to tell them what the staff is all about because they've learned the basics without even knowing they were learning.

One of my children is in her third and final year of Let's Play Music, and she's learning to do things I barely know how to do - like find the root of a chord, transpose music on the fly, and even compose her own song.

They're having a big giveaway right now, so go to the Let's Play Music Blog to check it out, or take a look at their website to learn more about the program.

It's a Matter of Opinion

I've been talking to people off and on over the years about the curious phenomenon that happens occasionally where one person absolutely adores a book and highly recommends it, and then others downright hate it.

Some friends were talking about the book Leviathan the other night, and I happened to be in the middle of reading it, so I was interested to hear that one of my friends loved the book, but another thought it was only so-so, and they both generally read and like the same kind of books.

I continued my reading, and found that I really enjoyed the book a lot, though I didn't think it was over-the-top amazing or anything - I think I'll give it 4 stars. And I'll definitely be reading Behemoth, the sequel that just came out this month.

I hadn't read hardly any steampunk at all before this, and I found the genre quite interesting. Leviathan is a strange mishmash of futuristic beasts and machines colliding with WWI history, and I can see how that might turn some people off and light other people's fire. For me, it was exciting, it was different, and Westerfeld kept the pace intense throughout, with only slight lags when changing character viewpoints, which I've come to expect.

What are some books that you loved and others hated? Are there any you hated despite the fact that others loved them? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Lost Book, Found

Two years ago, I moved 5 bookshelves into the library in my office. I was stressed at the time, so I filled all the shelves randomly with the full intention of coming back soon and organizing them.

That never happened.

The last few weeks, I've been desperately looking for a book (Save the Cat) to no avail despite combing through every shelf multiple times. Then, I proceeded to turn the house upside down, thinking it must be in a box or a drawer or a pile somewhere.

After a lot of that, I finally got desperate enough to start organizing my shelves, at least to some small degree. I cleared off one shelf for self-help books, another for picture books, and another for writing manuals and how-to's, etc. After about 45 minutes of that, lo and behold, I found the book I was looking for at the far end of one of the lower shelves.

I've been working on organizing a lot more than my books, and I'll be talking more about that in future posts, but I wanted to share this one small triumph with you today.

So, how do you organize your bookshelf? By type? Size? Color-coded? Alphabetically? Or some other way I haven't thought of yet? I'd like to get some ideas for mine as I fine-tune it. :o)

Being a Good Friend

At critique group last night, we were talking about going out into the blogging world and making friends - going to blogs, commenting, replying to comments, etc. I've obviously been very bad at that lately, but I'm trying to do better.

Anyway, the whole conversation got me to thinking about that old saying, "To have a good friend, you have to be a good friend." So when I got home, I actually googled the above saying and funnily enough, I came up with a WikiHow on making friends. You can read it here if you're interested. I personally found it funny, but still enlightening and profound at times.

My favorite line was, "Friends seldom come knocking on your door while you sit at home playing computer games."

It's the sad truth, friends. If you want lots of people to follow your blog and comment on it, you have to follow lots of blogs and comment on them. If you want to have lots of friends who are writers, you have to go to conferences and signings and other places where writers gather and talk to them.

I haven't been devoting much time lately to being a good friend because life has been overwhelming, but you can expect to see me around a little more here and there. Because I'd like to be your friend.

Drop me a comment and let me know what you do to make friends - on or off line.

Genre Discussion - Dystopia

I've been reading a lot of dystopias lately. On top of that, I'm writing one! So I thought it would be fun to talk about what a dystopia actually is.

My first lesson on the subject was that it is a dysfunctional utopia. The Giver is often listed as a prime example of a dystopia, and it fits the bill. Imagine an absolutely perfect utopia - no pain, no violence, everyone is the same, everything is fair, everyone is happy. And then, of course, are the dark underpinnings that the society is built on, thus the dysfunctional part of the dystopia.

But not all of the dystopias I've read lately have any kind of utopian element. For instance, the Hunger Games. Yes, there is a lot of happiness and carefree-ness in the capital, so maybe that's where it comes in. Would you say the capital is a utopia, though? I wouldn't, not really.

Another example I'm thinking of is a book I'm currently reading, The House of the Scorpion. Not a utopia in any way for anyone.

So my current definition of a dystopia is:

A fictional work dealing with what our society could potentially become if we keep going down a path that we are currently on, sometimes with a utopian element.

Okay, so that's my definition. Now, I'd like to hear yours.


It's that time again! WriMo's (WriMoose, as we are sometimes called in the plural) are gearing up to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and I've committed to doing it. Again. Because it's just so darn fun! (Go here to learn more about National Novel Writing Month)

 Up through the end of October, I'll still be writing as it comes to me, but for most of my writing time I'm planning to do some intense character sketches, work on getting to know my world, and building it.

On top of all that, I have a book in my possession that has been recommended multiple times, most recently by my friend, Ali, called Save the Cat! I'll be reading that and potentially using it to plot the novel ahead of time.

Wish me Luck! And good luck to all of you who are embarking on this crazy, wonderful journey, too!

* updated to say: if you want to become my friend on the NaNo site, my username is jennylou *

Fantastic Friday News

I'm going to indulge in a little "good news minute," the idea of which came from my fabulous friend Nichole. (Is the alliteration getting to you yet? 'Cuz it's getting to me.) :o)

So, as I cast my mind about for some good news, the first thing that came to mind happened a couple weeks ago at the League of Utah Writers banquet. One of my submissions to the contest came away with an Honorable Mention.

(Interrupting this message to inform you of how exciting it is to hear your name called and to have your whole table burst into raucous applause despite James Dashner's stern warnings to hold our applause to the end. It's awesome.)

The win came for my picture book manuscript, "Annie is Such a Copycat." This is the one I already felt the best about, and having it be honorable enough to be mentioned conformed to me what I've known for a long time - I need to start submitting something, and this is my best shot at being published at the moment.

So guess what I'm going to start thinking about maybe starting to try to possibly do? Starting . . . soon . . . ish.


President Uchtdorf told an awesome story in conference this past weekend, and it goes along beautifully with something that happened to me very soon after watching it. Paraphrasing, this is the story:

When it was discovered that a ball-point pen wouldn't work in space, scientists spent thousands of dollars and millions of hours developing a pen that would write anywhere, in any temperature, and on nearly any surface.

In the meantime, what did the astronauts do? They simply used a pencil.

I'm afraid there are times when I'm spending massive amounts of energy, time, and money in order to do things the sophisticated way, when using something simple would work just as well.

Shortly after hearing this talk, I had a scare where I thought my laptop had crashed and all my work lost. Luckily, that wasn't the case and I was able to quickly back up the stories I was working on. And then make a silent vow to back up more often.

Though I will be using them more than before, I'm not going to switch to writing entire books with pad and pencil. But I am looking for other ways to simplify. For one thing, instead of making elaborate chore charts for my kids that I spend more time designing than using, I'll just tape up a piece of paper and mark off the times the chores are done. Easy peasy.

How are YOU simplifying? I'd love to get more ideas.

Reporting In

Right after talking up my schedule, I missed posting this morning. But it wasn't for lack of trying, I promise! I guess I just don't know how to do this whole scheduling a blog to post in the future thing. So, we'll see how it goes for the blog post I have scheduled to go live on Wednesday morning.

On to the point of my post . . . I did great for the beginning half of the week, not so stellar for the second half. I ended up writing for 215 minutes, which works out to be 3.58 hours. I had good reasons for missing some of my time, but reasons = excuses too often. Still, I'm glad I did what I did, and I'm hoping to do even better this week.

Now go check out my friends' blogs below to see how their weeks went. And be sure to drop me a comment and tell me how YOUR writing's going.

The Dreaded Schedule

Do you hear the spooky Halloween music in the background? You should. Because today I'm talking about scheduling

I'll just put it out there: I hate schedules. I hate being hemmed in by them. I hate feeling like I'm always behind.

On the other hand, I love the IDEA of a schedule. I'd love looking at the clock and saying, "Oh, Johnny, dear, look, it's eleven o'clock. Time to read stories . . . and now it's eleven thirty, so we're going to eat lunch now . . . oh, look, it's twelve o'clock. Naptime!"

Doesn't it sound like such fun? Maybe some of you are even living the dream.

For me, though, this is how it goes: "Oh, crap! It's eleven forty-five and I've totally blown an hour reading reviews on Goodreads, and now we've completely missed reading time, and lunch time is practically over and what the heck am I going to even make, and I can't even work in this kitchen because I skipped cleaning-the-countertop-time in favor of reading just one more (and then one more) chapter of that book I can't put down, and now it's way past naptime, and Johnny is fighting me tooth and nail because he hates taking a nap!"

Do you see why the scary music cues at the mention of the word schedule?

However! (This is the big BUT you've been waiting for.)

I'm finding that just a bit of scheduling here and there is actually serving me well. As I mentioned on Wednesday, I write while my daughter is in preschool. And that's working for me.

And now, I'm also setting up a schedule for my blog. I keep hearing about the need to blog often, and to blog on a schedule, but I screamed and got in the fetal position every time the word was uttered. Now, though, I feel good about it. Because my good friend Elana has finally convinced me that I can write my posts whenever I want (hallelujah!) and schedule them to post at the days and times I want them to go live.

Hmmm. Maybe I should just scratch this post and say:

"Hey, guys! I'm such a disciplined, scheduled person, that I'm going to get up every Mon, Wed, and Fri morning and post a new blog for you to read at 8 a.m. Mountain Time. Sharp."

The problem is, no one who even remotely knows me would believe it!

So, how about you? Do you blog on a schedule? Write on a schedule? Live on a schedule? Or do you duck and cover at the mention of the "S" word?