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Friday 5-Reasons to include a Nerf gun in your current story.

**I did not receive any compensation from the Nerf company for the use of Nerf guns in this post.**

Symbolism:

It’s all about the symbolism, right? The thematic statement of your story. Just think about what a Nerf gun can represent – war, peace, hatred, love – deep stuff. But primal, which is what you want.

Let’s use an example of two teens, Alex and Julie.  Picture this: The Nerf gun lies on the floor. Forgotten. The two teens arrive home from a party where Julie’s best friend flirted with Alex. And he’d flirted back. Tensions are running high. As they march through the door, Alex trips over a small trinket on the floor. A nerf gun. The symbol of their upcoming battle. Very subtle but will sink into the subconscious of your reader.

Subtext:

Subtext is important. You know, all that stuff that is really happening in your scenes but no one is talking about.

So, let’s go back to Alex and Julie. Same scene. Julie is pissed. They enter the house, but instead of fighting and tripping over the Nerf gun, it lies on the kitchen counter. With stiff, jerky movements, Julie uses her domestic expertise to cook up a bag of microwave popcorn. With kernels popping in the background, Alex nervously talks about the Nerf gun. I’m not sure what exactly he’d say about it – maybe he always wanted a Nerf gun when he was in 3rd grade and now, he always wants things he can’t have. Scarred for life. But really, he’s not talking about the Nerf gun but Julie’s friend. Julie lets the popcorn burn.

Foreshadowing:

Foreshadowing is all the cool elements you scatter through out Act I that hint to what will happen in the future.

Okay, Alex and Julie. Maybe two days before the party where Alex flirts with Julie’s best friend, Alex is fooling around with the Nerf gun (because of his traumatic past) and he shoots it and accidentally knocks over a framed picture of them. The picture falls to the floor and the glass shatters. Uh-oh. Not looking good. (I realize that’s not very subtle, but you get the point. Cut me some slack.)

Humor:

Even a serious story can use a bit of humor.

Same scene. Except this time, the Nerf gun isn’t even in the room. Alex and Julie storm into the house. Julie burns the popcorn. As she’s bringing it over to slam on the counter in front of Alex; her pesky little brother, who wants to be a secret agent, aims and shoots. His orange Nerf dart pierces the air thick with tension. Julie, who thought her pesky little brother was at Grandma’s, jumps and spills the popcorn everywhere. Instead of fighting, Julie and Alex start a food fight with her brother and end up laughing. The fight put off. For now.

Characterization:

We all want three-dimensional characters in our story.

Think about Alex’s long and complicated history or backstory when it comes to Nerf guns. As a writer, if I weave that fascinating tidbit about Alex’s childhood earlier into the story, then the power of the Nerf gun in this scene will triple fold. All of sudden, the reader will empathize (or not) with Alex for flirting with Julie’s friend. Or we’ll feel for Julie and hope she tells Alex to suck it up and move on. Either way, you have character with deeper motivations for their actions and dialogue.

Other benefits:

  • Nerf guns will not date your story. I think they’ll be around for a while.
  • Sensory details – the pop, pop, pop.
  • Colors: The nice sunshine yellow of the gun, the orange darts, the red laser.
  • Nostalgia: Boys reading your story probably had a Nerf gun at one point in their life and will remember those days and like your story even more. Girls will remember when their annoying brothers kept hitting them in the face, making the symbolism and humor even greater.

**I would like to dedicate this post to my kids’ Aunt Susan and Uncle Philip who gifted our family with a set of Nerf guns in December.**

What are some other benefits of including Nerf guns in your story?

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Friday 5 – Tips on opening chapters from Nightshade.

I’m not a huge vampire/werewolf fan. But I love a great story and a character that sucks me into the story. Needless to say, Andrea Cremer did just that. I’ve only read the first two chapters on my Kindle. The rest will come! The opening sold me.

1. Involve the reader in the protagonist’s internal struggle right away. (chapter 1)

Opening paragraph: Many would say the opening was risky because Calla was fighting a bear. I mean, where’s the set up? Shouldn’t I be invested in the character first? But excellent writing trumped the risk. For every action Calla or the bear made – Calla’s reactions showed her personality and internal struggle.

  • Bears’ roar and hot breath  – fueled Calla’s bloodlust. (showing)
  • Boy’s ragged gasp – desperate sound made her nails dig into the earth. Calla snarled at it. (showing)
  • And the clincher for me came at the end of the first paragraph – Calla’s internal thoughts that made her seem like a regular teen. What the hell am I doing? Talk about a hook. There are obvious implications in that thought beyond the fact she could die fighting a bear.
  • Throughout chapter one and two we see Calla’s internal struggle as she saves this boy.  But I’m assuming it’s not a gimmick and this boy will play a role later in the story.

2. Show hints of the external storyline. (chapter 1)

Opening pages: After Calla chases the bear away, she approaches the hiker.

“I’d betrayed my masters, broken their laws. All for him. Why?”

No long paragraphs of set up explaining her world. We know she’s a wolf. We know she just made a rebellious and brave decision and could get in trouble for it. The details will come later. Perfect example of revealing just enough but not too much.

3. Use sensory details connected to the emotion of the moment to make the writing come alive. (chapter 1 and 2)

  • Strong verbs
  • Sensory details and imagery – lots of smell and sight
  • Well-placed description with vibrant adjectives
  • Incredible internal thoughts that showed her emotions instead of telling or explaining (R.U.E. Resist the urge to explain.)

4. Show a likeable character. (chapter 1 and 2)

Calla “saved the cat”. At personal risk to herself, and more than just physical safety, Calla saves the boy from the bear and helps heal him. She made herself vulnerable. Right there, I was hooked. Don’t underestimate the power of this screenwriting trick.

5. Show the story world and conflict instead of telling. (chapter 2)

  • Through a visit from the alpha female of another pack and a conversation that scolds Calla to be more lady like for her upcoming marriage with the other pack’s alpha male – we learn everything. It wasn’t done in a sequel, where Calla feels sorry for herself. And most importantly, it didn’t feel contrived. Masterful dialogue.
  • The alpha leaves and Calla has to deal with her mom. Through dialogue and interaction with Calla’s mom we learn about her family structure – without one spec of telling. Incredible really. Hard to do. Rarely done.
  • End of the chapter, Calla’s brother mentions that if she ever doesn’t want to marry this alpha male, he’d rebel with her. Wow.

What I love best so far is the juxtaposition of this normal teenager – messy room and everything – with the ancient tradition of a wolf pack. Ironic. Unexpected.

I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I can tell it will be really good. And isn’t this the kind of opening we want? I have 6 samples on my Kindle – guess which one I’ll be buying?

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Friday 5-Five ways your query reflects the writing in your manuscript. Or not.

Once upon a time, I didn’t really believe the writing in a query reflected the writing in the manuscript.

Voice:

Voice seems to be the one aspect that will sell a manuscript, or at least catch interest. Not just to the agent, but to the editor, and eventually to the reader. You might be able to get away with a weak voice in your manuscript because you can distract your crit partners with the action, dialogue, and mystery of your story. But in a 250 word query, you’ll be out of luck. No distractions in something that short.

Show your protagonist’s goal and her/his consequences through the eyes and voice of your protagonist.

This could include: certain phrases, vocabulary, sentence structure, emotion…

If your query doesn’t have a strong voice – good chance your writing doesn’t either.

Boring word choice:

This doesn’t mean go through a thesaurus and sub words throughout your query letter. It means use strong verbs and nouns. It means say what you want using the least amount of words possible. Cut out the deadwood. Those words that create no visual image and do nothing but sit there. I know. It’s hard.

If your character/story is dark and mysterious – show it with the words you use.

If your character/story is fun and whimsical – show it.

If your query isn’t peppered with strong words – good chance your writing isn’t either.

Rambling:

It’s easy to write about 300 words and not really say anything at all. The dialogue, if cut out, wouldn’t be missed. The internal thoughts repeat the same thing every chapter. The exposition shares unimportant or boring info. Or something is really funny, so we take the scene farther than we should. Or, we needed to show a certain aspect about a character but the scene isn’t moving the story forward. Ah, the curse of the rambler.

If your query doesn’t get to the point  and stay focused on the main storyline – good chance your writing doesn’t either.

Lack of emotion:

This one is tricky. Your manuscript could be filled with great emotion, but maybe you, or I, haven’t been able to get that across in 250 words. Maybe you tell your emotion instead of showing it, which means there really isn’t much being felt by the reader. You’ve got to be able to show heart in your query. Extremely hard and why we write many, many, many drafts.

If your query doesn’t show the emotion and heart behind your story – good chance your writing doesn’t either. (Remember not to go overboard and get melodramatic.)

Too much telling or being too vague:

Even if you “show” well in your story, remember you must show in your query too. Instead of using too many adjectives, show the character in action. Show the creepiness, without using the word creepy. And don’t use vague phrases to describe your story. Like ‘and secrets were revealed’ or ‘her life was changed forever’. Get specific!

If your query doesn’t show as well as it should or doesn’t use specific, vibrant wording– good chance your writing doesn’t either.

If your manuscript has all the aspects above – make sure your query does too! But then again, if your manuscript contains voice, strong word choice, tight writing, heart, and great showing – good chance your query will too!

I loved reading through the queries featured on The Guide to Literary Agents blog.

What do you struggle with the most when writing a query? (If you didn’t already snag an agent with one!)

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Friday 5 – Revision tips for the under writers.

Some people over write. Some people under write. And, yeah, the latter would be me. Here are five areas I’ll be working on when I revise (in a couple weeks).

Internal thoughts:

  • Expand internal thoughts. My fault. Totally me. Deep down, I fear the reader will get bored, so I miss out on opportunities for the reader to connect.
  • Look at the importance of a scene and the weight of the event happening; and in proportion to those elements, expand the main character’s internal thoughts. Not just fluff or padding. Thoughts that dig deep and deal with emotion.
  • Delete the repetitive thoughts from chapter to chapter.

Setting

  • Flesh out the setting with more specific details and sensory details.
  • Tweak it so the setting is part of the emotional tone and written in the voice of the main character.
  • Make sure the details are important to the story.
  • Show the characters interacting with the setting.

Secondary Character emotions:

  • My first draft is all about the main character. I try and flesh out my secondary characters beforehand but I need a pass to add depth.
  • Through their body language, facial expressions, dialogue, and through the reactions of the main character, I try to show that these secondary, but important, characters have goals and struggles too. And that they are the hero in their story.

Important scenes:

  • Often times, the key scenes are there, but I need to revise a bit, which usually means adding words, to show the emotional impact on my main character. Usually, I need to slow time down and add more action beats.
  • Make sure a scene follows the action/reaction sequence.
  • Check that my character shows enough of a reaction to important events. And most importantly, check that the main character is the one making choices and dealing with the consequences.

Backstory/set up

I know, I know. Most people need to eliminate info dumps and backstory. But I commit the opposite sin and withhold too much. Again, maybe it’s fear that I’ll slow down the action or bore the reader? Our reader should always understand what’s going on in a scene. The mysteries and secrets are different from a well-executed set up in the opening chapters. My crit partners usually help me figure out when I need more backstory. And adding it in the right way is a whole ‘nother issue!

Are there any other under writers out there?  If you’re an over writer, what problem areas do you have to revise? Tell all!

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