I have always had a lousy sense of smell, and no, before you ask, I’ve never smoked cigarettes in my life.
I’m not one of those people who scent something, and are plunged back into another time or day, or memory of a loved one, or a place. Music does that to me. Music puts me right back to what I was doing the first time I heard, say, ‘Royals’ by Lourdes (current favourite). I was driving home from Mandurah after a lovely lunch with blogger/reviewer extraordinaire Monique Mulligan, coming home from the Romance Writers Australia conference in Fremantle this year.
Madonna’s Express Yourself, and Black Box Ride On Time, and the Lambada, are songs that all remind me of a certain nightclub in Crete, and a certain Queensland cane cutter who could move like Jagger on the dance floor.
I love trying to describe scents and smells in my writing, and I always notice how other authors describe them, and whether I think those descriptions are done well. I mean, aren’t there only so many ways to describe the scent of a beach? And how about all those romance heroes who smell of ‘clean, warm, male’…?
Wine helps a lot. No! Not drinking wine as I come up with whackier and whackier ways to describe how my hero smells! 😉 Seriously, wine labels are wonderful founts for description of texture, colour and scent. My love of gardening and nature helps too. But how many people know what I mean if I try to describe my heroine’s skin as ‘pale cream, tinged with pink, like a White Wedding fuschia?’
I found this article in The Weekend Australian magazine:
Opulent, muscular, reminiscent of cigar boxes: sommeliers are famously loquacious when describing the nose of a good vintage. But now scientists claim all smells can be broken down into 10 basic scents and described precisely as percentage scores of each of eight categories (fragrant, woody, fruity, chemical, minty, sweet, popcorn, lemon) and two kinds of “sickening” odours (pungent and decayed).
Neuroscientist Jason Castro of Bates College in Maine, who led the study, says until now it has been an open question how many fundamental types of scent there are. It’s not clear how the results, published in the journal Plos One, relate to the workings of the nose, which contains 1000-plus chemical-sensor neurons; a unique pattern of neuronal firing is then translated by the brain into a smell.
It doesn’t help much, does it. I can hardly start describing my hero’s aftershave as 80% woodsy, 18% chemical, with 2% fruity now, can I?
I’ve been working on my golf romance, Fairway To Heaven. Here’s a little taste of how my hero smells.
I rise on tiptoes so I can put a hand against his incredible face. His whiskers brush my palm—silky smooth—not quite a beard, too long to prickle.
My breasts press his shirt, all the muscles of his chest beneath the fabric, hard and ripped. He smells of summer and salt, and as I shape my lips to his, that’s how he tastes. There’s a millisecond there where I think I smell tequila.
The Golf Pro clears his throat again, then studies his computer screen. “What can I say? Those clubs are perfect for you. I wouldn’t recommend we modify a thing.”
Brayden lifts his head from mine: “This guy has worse timing than me.”
It’s eight years since I felt those lips on mine and I don’t want to stop now. I could kiss him forever.
How important is the sense of smell to you? Do you notice description of scents in the books you’re reading, or writing? Are you one of those people who can sniff a rose and discern the components of a perfume factory? Or are you like me, lucky if you can make out ‘floral’ or ‘bouquet’ or ‘peaches’?
If there’s a description of scent in the book you’re reading now that you think works – I’d love if you’d share it in the comments.
Elizabeth Ellen Carter celebrates her debut release, Moonstone Obsession, on October 18. It’s my pleasure to get in early and welcome her here.
Like me, Elizabeth Ellen Carter has a journalism, PR, and media background, and when we were talking about article ideas, this one kept recurring: as journalists trained to gather and report the facts, how do we write creatively? I know from personal experience how much I struggled! Please take a look at her wonderful thoughts on the subject below!
How We Write by Elizabeth Ellen Carter
There’s an old saying that every journalist is a frustrated novelist at heart. This may or may not be true.
What does seem to be true, is that when any child is discovered with a gift for creative writing at school, teachers and guidance officers promote journalism as a career option.
Creative writing versus fact gathering. Hmmmm – that might go a long way to explaining why you can’t believe everything you see (or read) in the media.
When Lily Malone asked me to pen a post about what being a professional writer has taught me about being a romance writer, I found it to be an excellent opportunity to take stock of how many different styles of writing there are – technical manuals, research papers, advertising copywriting, web site content, media release writing, news and feature article writing – and all of that before we get to individual styles one finds in writing novels!
So before your wildly talented would-be junior novelist gets shoved down the road of career opportunity, making a left turn down the nearest wordsmithing gig before taking a wrong turn through the dodgy part of town in Mediaville, then making a U-turn at PR Road and then back on to the career freeway towards Novel Town, let’s take a look at each of these writing professions to see whether any of them can help you pen a best seller:
The Good: It will teach you how to share ideas succinctly. The Bad: You’re stuck developing a linear narrative with no opportunities to surprise the reader.
“In some cases monetary limits apply to contents cover benefits provided under the Insured events defined above,” she breathed in ecstasy.
“Where no specific limit is mentioned,” he moaned thrusting in her again and again, “the maximum amount payable under contents cover is the sum insured noted on your policy schedule.’”
The Good: It will teach you how to thoroughly research for authenticity. The Bad: Your story may get bogged down.
He grasped her hand as they ran across the sand, staying close to the sandstone mesas to evade their pursuers. Sweat soaked their skin, but the warmth of his hand in hers was a lifeline.
“Oh no!” she cried, tripping over a stunted cactus bush.
He turned and with his finger, lifted her trembling chin tenderly as she picked the dislodged needles from her bleeding thigh.
“Darling,” he said. “Needles are arguably the most important part of all cacti and are without a doubt the most obvious sign that a plant is in fact a succulent. The reason needles are so vital to cactus survival is because they protect the plant’s stem, where photosynthesis is performed and water is stored. Without this protection, cacti would still be suited for desert living because of their unique methods of surviving the extreme temperatures, but they would also be an incredibly popular source of food and water for desert animals.”
The Good: You can get to the heart of the emotion quickly. The Bad: There’s not a lot of character development.
Freda eyed off the young tanned Greek bar man. She had only been in Thessalonica for three days, but she was sure he was flirting with her.
Feeling a buzzing at her side, she broke off eye contact and rummaged through her handbag for the phone.
At last the elusive lump of plastic came to hand. The screen was blank.
“Dammit! I’ve accidentally hung up on Guido again!”
An equally middle-aged woman seated across from her looked up and handed her the Alcatel One Touch 668.
“That’s why all my friends end up borrowing my Alcatel phone when they need to make a call,” she said. “Thanks to Southern Phone, I now have a mobile that has great features and is easy to use!”
The Good: You learn what a deadline is. There’s nothing like having a subeditor scream in your ear that your 500 word story has to be filed in 15 minutes.
The Bad: As a journalist you’re supposed to giving the readers all the facts from multiple points of view in the shortest length available. POV shifts happen within two paragraphs.
So, what is good preparation for authors?
Life – No matter what your day job, look for opportunities to talk to people and develop an understanding of human nature then you are well on your way to being able to tell a gripping story.
Read – If you want to be a great author, then read great writing in the genre that most interests you. Develop an understanding of why your favourite author is compelling.
Write – The story in your head is a block of fine marble, your words are chisels and hammer that you can wield forcefully or gently to create a sculptural masterpiece. But it will never happen until you pick up that tool.
See! That was fun wasn’t it! Love those examples. Thanks so much for visiting Elizabeth Ellen Carter and huge big wishes for the release of your new book! You can find more information about Moonstone Obsession below.
Elizabeth Ellen Carter is that writer who went through that dodgy part of town into Mediaville before making that U-turn into PR Road (by way of Marketing & Communications Street) and she is now on her way to Novel Town.
Her debut novel, a historical romance, Moonstone Obsession will be published on October 18 by Etopia Press.
If you’ve had half an eye on my blog of late, you might know that I’m currently working on a new book called Fairway To Heaven. It’s my contemporary golf romance (though they don’t seem to play much golf).
This weekend, I hit 34,565 words after having two good writing days on Saturday and Sunday. Writing days are gold for me. I have two young boys and a husband who aren’t great fans of me locking myself in a writing cave for extended periods. Lucky we don’t have a dog as well. Or a cat. Lucky too my family copes with things like sausage rolls (homemade – thanks mum) for dinner (x2); and soup, and baked beans on toast (plus leftover red sausages from the previous weekend’s birthday party) for lunch!
If it hadn’t been for the two preliminary football finals (AFL), I’m sure I would have racked up a few more words!
But here is the interesting bit. I’m a pantster. And if the jargon isn’t familiar to you, that means a writer who doesn’t plot out their books… but just flies by the seat of their pants.
I’ve seen and read blogs from other authors who have wonderful whiteboards and reams of post-it notes with ‘three-act structures’ and ‘plot points’ and ‘conflict boxes’… arrows running everywhere.
That is not my style. Arrows and flow charts and diagrams make writing seem too much like math. (Did I mention I hate math?)
Now please don’t get me wrong. I always have a basic plot in my mind before I start. A sense of what will happen in the beginning, how it’s going to end, and what might happen as we go along.
In His Brand Of Beautiful, I did at least fill a couple of diary pages with notes about what might happen in each chapter. The Goodbye Ride was a novella, so it already felt short. I can’t remember making notes for that story at all. And definitely with Fairway, not a dot point got jotted down anywhere.
Last night, that changed.
At 34,565 words, I finished Chapter 11. What I then did is kind of unprecedented for me.
I wrote chapter heads for 12, through 20, with a Chapter 21/epilogue at the end, and then for each heading I’ve written a very rough synopsis of what’s going to happen.
See: Plotting for Dummies, and nothing mathematical about it!
Now I get to see how it works. Wish me luck.
If you’re interested in a learning more about Fairway, please click here.
I first met my wonderful Beta Reader, Marion, when His Brand Of Beautiful, published by Escape Publishing, was released in March 2013. At the time, I approached Marion (who reviews for the US website, Ravishing Romances, as Musing Maddie) to review His Brand Of Beautiful for me.
That review sparked one of those ‘online’ friendships you sometimes get where two people just click. One of the most interesting things is, Marion didn’t 4 or 5-star rate my book. She gave it 3 stars and a very honest, tactful review that included the things she loved about my book, and what she felt I needed to “unpack” more. I continue to love that phrase!
I remember Marion saying in an email to me after the review that she hoped her review hadn’t “discouraged” me. Why would it? 3 stars meant she liked it. Her review included this section:
“From the outset, their interactions were snarky, heated and volatile. Their attraction – instantaneous and sizzling. His Brand of Beautiful had a little bit of drama, witty humor and entertaining interaction between characters. Lily Malone’s descriptive prose was enchanting.”
How could any debut author not take positives out of a review like that?
Marion and I became Facebook friends and she offered at the time to Beta Read for me at a later date and I’ve just taken that offer up with my new novella, The Goodbye Ride. This time I’m self-publishing, mostly because my book is set over the June Queen’s Birthday long weekend and it seemed a shame to miss the opportunity to publish it in time for May/June.
The way I see it, there is a step between Critique Partner and book Publisher/Editor – and Marion’s Beta Reading & Proof Reading services sit right in that pocket. If you’re self-publishing, the opportunity for your book to be seen through such qualified eyes is gold.
“In the past, authors turned to editors at publishing houses and fellow authors for storyline advice. The self-publishing generation realises the value of cutting out the middle-man and hearing directly from the readers. I’m an avid reader and I know there’s nothing more frustrating than stumbling over errors that detract from a story. It’s very easy to miss simple spelling errors, punctuation or timeline errors when you’re familiar with your own writing.
“I like books with meat, that are not completely predictable and that keep their readers invested. I’m not good at accepting mediocre, so I challenge authors to dig a little deeper. I take time to consider what an author needs from me to help them create the best they’re capable of creating.”
I would add right here: Editors/Publishers read and reject a lot of books and read and accept a fair share too. Generally in this day and age, I think it’s fair to say Publishers/Editors don’t have a lot of time to spend tweaking a manuscript so it’s important it is in the best place it can be when you either provide it to a publisher, or self-publish it. I’ve been impatient before, and I’ve learned the hard way that impatience prior to making submissions isn’t a good mix! Note to self, Lily Malone, DO send your manuscript to Critique Partners/Beta Readers first!
“A Beta reader can provide the author with feedback such as strengths and weaknesses, timeline, character and plot inconsistencies, whether any laws of physics were broken, and whether or not they liked the story. Which scenes did they love? Did they laugh, cry, sigh etc. Was the story believable and was it credible.
“A proof reader can go a step further providing light copy-edits, and highlight text that might require re-phrasing, deletion or inclusion. Often, as authors become familiar with their work, it is easy to fall in love with a scene, thus becoming blind to its shortcomings. A proof reader can lend the scene a new set of eyes and give options for the author to consider, if it is not working in their eyes.”
In her Beta reading of The Goodbye Ride, Marion gave me what I like to term, “a lightbulb moment’. I like writing dialogue and while people tend to say that dialogue is one of my strengths, I can also be guilty of ‘telling’ my story through dialogue.
To illustrate, let me show you the version Marion read as Beta Reader, with where this scene is now.
Scene 1: (and the ‘chunk’ he refers to is a chunk of hair, for your context). The comments in bold are Marion’s.
Owen moved closer, trapping Liv between his big body and the Hyundai’s back wheel. “This damn chunk falls across your eye all the time. I can’t look at it without wanting to do…this.” He picked it up, tucked it behind her ear, and turned her insides into butterfly jelly.
“We’re going out tonight.” Owen scorched a kiss across her temple, so that it felt like a circle of flame branded her skin. “I’ll see you at your place about seven.”
“Where are we going?” I was expecting a ‘she breathed’
“It’s a surprise.”
She could feel pink flushing up her throat. “Do I need riding leathers?”
“Wear them if you want, but we’re not going riding tonight.” His mouth feathered from her temple, down her jaw, each breath hot with promise.
Liv shivered. “I never really liked surprises.”
“You’ll love this one.” I haven’t read the next bit to this yet, but what is happening for Liv at this point? What is her response to his proclamation of a surprise? I don’t know if it really matters, but you want to avoid letting the dialogue do all the talking if that makes sense.
Did it make sense? I thought dialogue was showing not telling… but when Marion picked this particular point up a few more times in the manuscript, that’s when it clicked. I also kept remembering that keyword from her review of His Brand Of Beautiful.‘Unpack more’. So here is this scene now. No doubt about it, when Lily Malone unpacks… she shakes out the whole dang suitcase!
Owen moved closer and Liv lost sight of his aunt’s retreating back and the camellia trees flanking the front steps. She couldn’t see anything but the solid wall of his chest and the mesmerising rise of his hand as he lifted it toward her face. “How can I think about transfer papers when this damn chunk of hair falls across your eye like that? How can I look at it without wanting to do…this.”
He tucked the stray hairs behind her ear. Roughened fingertips skimmed her earlobe, caressed the skin of her neck, and Liv felt all the breath squeeze from her lungs. Could Owen feel her pulse? Surely he could hear it?
“How should we celebrate all our hard work, Liv?”
“I don’t care,” she said. And she didn’t. Anywhere with him was fine.
“Should I surprise you?”
Liv had three pairs of jeans in her wardrobe, including the pair she now wore. She hoped he wasn’t thinking of anywhere too ritzy.“I never really liked surprises.”
Owen’s eyebrows arched. “You’ll ride the flying fox in the school playground but you don’t like surprises?”
“At least give me a clue about what to wear. I can hardly drag out the party heels if we’re riding the bike again.” That’s if I owned party heels.
“You’d look good in anything,” Owen said, banishing all thought of footwear from her brain as his mouth brushed her temple. “You’d look incredible in nothing.”
The husky promise in his voice—his hot breath on her skin—it turned her knees to jelly.
Owen breathed her scent, his nose in her hair. He nibbled a path around her ear. A shudder racked her body and she surrendered to the delicious things he was doing with his lips. Liv closed her eyes, slid her hands up his bare arms, great arms, shaping the muscles she felt there, loving the underlying strength.
It took a raucous whistle from the house to break through Liv’s trance.
“Bloody Mark,” Owen muttered against her jaw, lifting his head.
She took the chance to sidle sideways and hook her fingers under the door handle, her face flushed from a hot mix of embarrassment and desire. Owen held the door for her while she settled behind the wheel, glad to be sitting so he wouldn’t see her legs shake.
“Drag out the party heels if you like, Lovely. We’re not going riding tonight,” he said, big fingers splayed loosely against the window. “Tonight I want to end up somewhere with you that’s much more comfortable than the back of a bike.”
Another up and coming Aussie author, who is a great proponent for self-publishing and for self-promotion is the author of A Beautiful Struggle, A Beautiful Forever (with a new book, Alter, about to be published) Lilliana Anderson.
Lilliana also has Marion on her team of Beta readers, and this is her take on what Marion can provide:
“I need someone to pull apart my work and ask lots of questions. While it’s great having someone take a look at it and shout ‘Yay! Awesome!’ it’s not really conducive to the type of work I am trying to put out there. Some may have been happy with me releasing the book on the first draft and I’m not happy enough with that. That’s why I need Marion! I NEED her.”
Marion has now made her services more ‘official’ and has set up a new website with more information. She says her aim is: “To provide authors with an affordable proof or beta reading service, which helps produce a clean manuscript, enabling readers to remain engrossed in the story – rather than distracted by avoidable editing blips. I offer kind, honest comments laced with good humor and integrity.”
While she can tailor her services to each author, she identifies three levels of service:
When I told my Mum that my book was going through the “Revision Process” she was rather taken aback.
“But I thought you’d finished it,” she said.
“Yes, Mum. But I have an editor now. A real, proper one. She goes through it and then I get to see what she thought was good or bad and that’s called Revisions.”
I think you can tell from my answer – I really had no idea what to expect! So for those people who have found my blog because they’re doing just what I’m doing… working and writing with that great overhead goal of becoming published, I’m going to share as much of the process as my limited knowledge of WordPress technology allows! If you’re an author who has been through this process, I can already see you nodding and perhaps getting a giggle over some of this!
First: This is the email that accompanied my Revisions. If you read it, I think you’ll see why my Editor “had me at hello.” She could have red-lined the entire book from there and I’d still think she was wonderful!
Please find attached the edited copy of His Brand of Beautiful. I have used track changes in Word to make all the edits and I have queried anything other than minor changes (spelling etc) so you can see why the change is suggested. Please could you use track changes to make your own revisions? Please accept any changes you are happy with and comment with any that you prefer to leave or that are confusing etc. (Although you can also email me if there’s anything that doesn’t make sense, of course!).
I don’t think there is anything major here – I really loved this story and got completely sucked in! I think the tension and suspense is handled perfectly; all the story strands unravel at just the right pace and I really enjoyed the mix of love/lust and angst, balanced with such snarky quips. I had quite a few laugh out loud moments and I like the fact that none of the characters are perfect but are still likeable.
One thing the publisher has mentioned (as a general point, not specifically re: HBOB) is the use of song lyrics and the concerns re: copyright and legalities. I have marked up all the lyrics quoted throughout as well as the book section as I am not sure whether you have sought permission for any of these already.
Once again, I apologise for the delay in getting this back to you – I know you’re rushed off your feet with moving and getting organised for that. If you could have a look over the edit and let me know when you think you can get it back to me, I shall plan accordingly.
Along with the edit you’ll also find my notes and style sheet, which just clarify some of the changes made throughout.
All positive right!? By now I had already rung my husband who was at work to read the bit about “I really loved this story and got completely sucked in!” And chucked a couple of cartwheels over the couch. (Figurative ones, you understand).
And then I opened the file and started scrolling down.
AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!! The comments column on the left hand side was filled with blue and yellow. Comments. Deletions. Corrections.
I quickly discovered my use of commas sucks. I also discovered the book that I’d written thinking its best opportunity for publication was with an American audience, now needed Australian English spellings. I also discovered I was being overly descriptive, which slowed the pacing through my first two scenes.
These are some of the first comments and I hadn’t yet made it to page 2:
Since this story is largely told from either the POV of Christina or Tate and we are in their heads during these scenes, direct inner thoughts are rarely necessary and should be avoided. It means when a character does make an aside, it stands out more.
Love this description, too, however, this has become a very long description about the car and it slows the pace and distracts the focus. We’ve been instantly hooked by Christina’s own curiosity and now the reader will want to know who she’s looking at and why. Creative description is excellent, but if used too much in any one spot can feel heavy handed.
As above, description needs simplifying to tighten flow. Suggested changes have been made. Eg: we don’t really need all the precise details of how characters move from one location to another; readers will fill in blanks and add detail themselves. Simplifying some description allows more poetic lines to resonate better and avoids doubling up – ie: if his jacket is flapping in the wind, we probably don’t need a description of how the wind affects his hair; if he prowls across the road, this is itself a catlike movement and doesn’t need qualifying further.
The banter between Tate and Christina is witty and sexy, but it works better if we can see them bouncing quips back and forth. The sharp back and forth is slowed and lost if it is repeatedly broken up with lengthy asides and descriptions. Sometimes simple is better – keeps the flow clean and lets the more lyrical descriptions pop when they are used.
That famous phrase which I think I first heard in Stephen King’s On Writing, springs to mind. Kill Your Darlings! I actually thought I was reasonable at cutting stuff out, but obviously! No! So like a knight of the realm I leapt boldly forward, sword high, and started an almighty slash, hack through the start of the book.
Once I reached Chapter 2, life got better. Many of the comments about me being overly descriptive stopped. I was into a big stretch of dialogue which seems to be something people feel I do okay, and the yellow boxes at the side of the page stopped turning my computer screen into a banana.
Here are some more gems that I thought I knew, but obviously, was still guilty of including now and then!
Speech tags are best kept simple and to a minimum. Here, for example, we know it’s a greeting. “Said” or “replied” is better, if tagging is even necessary.
Try to keep the flow tight and sharp. Eg: in dialogue sandwich a line of dialogue with a line of action then another line of dialogue (or the other way around). This is done pretty much perfectly throughout but keep an eye out.
These are some of the things that made me laugh:
My book: “Come here.” He reached strong arms for her, tucked her against his hard length. His heartbeat thumped her shoulder-blade and the heat was instant. She felt her body mould itself to his.
Editor’s comment: “hard length” is frequently used as a euphemism in romance and could be misconstrued here!
My book: Leaning her elbows on the rail, she let her fingers dangle. The Acrylic nails shone. They looked ridiculous here.
Editor’s comment: Throughout – watch out for disembodied body parts. (Her Acrylic nails shone).
My book: On a shelf, slivers of multi-coloured soap were mushed into a single larger piece, all cracked and dry, leached of colour and cemented with God-knew how many pubes. The idea of it anywhere near her skin made it crawl.
Editor’s comment – (linked to my multi-coloured, leached of colour soap!)
And yet multi-coloured?
There were more – but those might be a bit x-rated to share here!
The good thing for me was, the bulk of these comments were early, and then it was really a case of picking up small inconsistencies and errors (like the multi-coloured soap and the disembodied body parts) and times when my descriptive fingers just got way too over the top.
One thing I found, and I suspect most writers do this: the opportunity to take that one final read of your book (especially as I hadn’t read it for a couple of months since making my successful submission) is that it is hugely tempting to make further changes. I know I did. I also found I didn’t feel I’d nailed the climactic scene in the book, and really went back through that with a fine-tooth comb.
Right now, my revisions are back with the editor. I hope they hold together. I hope I get one more chance to see it before we fly out to the West on Wednesday. (We’re moving from South Australia to West Australia this week and my computer connections won’t be quite so easy.) But I’ve been promised one more look before it gets locked-in and submitted, on the road to being published with Escape Publishing in March.
That thought itself is terrifying me! It’s like presenting your baby to the adoring (or not so adoring) masses… who are all then going to check it has ten fingers and ten toes… and make snide asides about multi-coloured disembodied birthmarks…
Let’s hope this thick skin that I’ve grown during the past two years of submissions, rejections, and now revisions, holds me in good stead!
If you have a LOL revisions comment to share – I’d love to hear it!
Jenn McLeod got me in a singing mood yesterday with her lovely introduction to my first author interview on her truly fabulous blog, Author Harvest. You can read it here, where, amongst other things, you will see wonderful photographs of otters and learn what an otter can do to an oyster before breakfast!
Many writers host other writers on their blogs. It’s a great opportunity to get to know writers and authors and what makes them tick (in my case, it’s men in skirts). I’ve been thinking of a theme for my own semi-regular author interviews and the working title for these is: From Left Field, with Lily.
In keeping with how my blog began, and remains, a story of this writer’s road to publication, I wanted my author interview questions to work along this theme.
Late last year, Jennifer Crusie wrote a post about a book she first started in 2002, called You Again, which has resurfaced several times during the last decade and has never been finished. She lists the first paragraphs for each time she tried to rewrite, and goes on to include reasons why she felt these starts did or didn’t work. I found it fascinating. One resonating line for me out of this was: Start Where The Damn Story Starts. I took her words to heart. I hacked out my entire opening scene to His Brand Of Beautiful. When I did this (and I did other things too), the first two publishers to see this new version both said they wanted to publish my book.
In the next few weeks, I’ve invited some of my bravest author friends to come and be part of From Left Field, with Lily. Some of the brave things they have to do is share older versions and original drafts of their opening sentence and compare it with what they have today (and what has made it to the printed, or e-page).
I thought it was only fair if I’m asking my author friends to “be brave” that I do this myself. So I’ve been hunting for as many versions as I could find of my story and its start. I am not the ‘keeper’ that Jennifer Crusie obviously is – most of my older stuff gets diligently ditched to the Trash.
My writing friend Kylie Kaden says writers get so hung up on making the perfect start, they put so much pressure on themselves the whole thing can start to sound so forced… I agree with her. Everything you read says the start and the hook is everything, (like EVERYTHING) and if it doesn’t work no one will read more than two lines before putting your book back on the shelf, cyber or otherwise. “Oh!” As Lucky Number 7 says in the Lotto ads: “The Pressure!!!”
So here are a few starts to His Brand Of Beautiful.
August 2011 (The original, original). Heroine’s perspective.
He looked exactly like she’d expected he would look, and somehow, exactly how he shouldn’t. She hadn’t expected the suit and briefcase, for one; but she had expected the body and the biceps. Christina opened the door wider, the man, and the smell of rain and wet bitumen, slipped in.
September 2012 (Hero’s perspective). For most of my story’s life, it started like this (Hero outside in the car).
Tate Newell drummed his thumbs against the worn arc of the Jeep’s steering wheel and wondered what to make of the bunch of balloons tied to the wrought-iron gate. Fat purple and gold balloons they were, helium no less, gyrating at the end of silver strings like horny teenagers at a rave.
October 2012 (Villain’s perspective) This was a Prologue, set seven years previously. At this stage, Crit Partners weren’t seeing the ‘nastiness’ of my villain… so I felt like I had to build in some very early backstory via a prologue. I quite liked this prologue, one day I will post it in full. It wasn’t long.
Bulletproof, that’s how he felt. Bulletproof. With a big fat capital B.
Man, he loved this bike.
He rode through Tewantin, heading for the blue shine of the river, letting six-cylinders thrum, making his way back to Noosaville—the line of speed he’d sucked up his nose at Eumundi giving him that extra pop.
December 2012 (Heroine’s perspective). At least three people who, by this stage, had read HBOB all told me I was starting in the wrong place (and I’d ditched the prologue idea – because it didn’t set up a contemporary romance to me – it felt more like romantic suspense). In Jennifer Crusie’s wise words, I wasn’t starting where the story started! So I cut to the second scene, where we had Christina inside her house, spying on the dude in the car, wishing he’d damn well hurry it up. Which in essence – was going back to the original idea.
Christina Clay cracked her front door wider and craned her neck for a better view of the tank parked in her street. If she used every inch of the three-inch heels, plus a little extra bounce, she’d discovered a hole through the camellia leaves that let her see the driver’s side window and the dark head inside it. The problem was, holding the position gave her cramp, finding the position gave her cramp, and he’d been parked there five minutes. Her calf killed.
And that’s how it’s stayed… (we will have to see what my editor makes of it though… there may yet be another incarnation.)
Any author friends feeling brave, give me a shout out in the comments, or check my email in ‘About’. If you don’t mind sharing some of your early drafts, I’d love to have you be part of From Left Field, with Lily. (There are other questions too and they’re not so tricky!). Jenn J Mcleod and Juanita Kees will kick this segment off soon.
I mean how hard can it be to write a back cover blurb? I’ve lived with His Brand Of Beautiful and its characters for all this time, surely I can sum up what the book is about in three catchy paragraphs that will make someone want to read more? It’s just like writing a query, isn’t it? Err… no, apparently not. The query is to make an agent or a publisher want to read your book and they want to know what happens, and some of them even want to know how it ends (the cheek).
The back-cover blurb can’t tell the reader what happens… or they won’t need to read your book (See the one-third rule below). And possibly if you tell them the wrong thing, they’ll decide it isn’t for them (even if it might be perfect).
It’s simple! All the blurb lives for is to get readers to buy. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. 🙂
To get started you’ll need to ask yourself some questions:
Who is your book being marketed to?
Your blurb should speak to those people you imagine are most interested in the type of book you have written. A blurb for a book for teenage girls will have a different tone to one for teenage boys, for example. An overview detailing how the story will help Suzie mature into a well-rounded adult is not as enticing to a teen as a short sentence telling us Suzie will get sweet revenge on her tormenters, so keep you audience in mind as you write.
What is the most interesting aspect of your book?
Is it the characters, the location, the era, the conflict to be resolved, the plot twists, the moral dilemmas? I can understand that having immersed yourself in your book for so long you can’t see the forest for the trees, so ask a friend or partner to offer some words or phrases they think summarises your book. Create a list of synonyms for those words and circle the evocative and fresh ones.
Once you’ve done this you can start to put your blurb together. These points should help:
• Use the one-third rule. When outlining your story, try not to reveal anything that occurs more than one-third of the way through your book. Your blurb needs to encourage reading on, not spill the beans.
• Avoid cliches. Tired, overused phrases will not coax a reader to continue reading, so look for fresh ways to express ordinary ideas.
• Avoid too much detail. Remember, you only have two or three paras to make your point, so don’t waste space saying Johnny had a red wagon when he was ten if it has nothing to do with the story. Any characters that do not drive the story in a major way should not be mentioned.
• Use evocative words. A back cover blurb is your last chance to persuade someone to buy your book, so you want to make them feel emotionally involved in your story, and a clever way to do this is to use words that evoke feeling within the reader. Words like laughter, glamour and whisper, or terror, dread and shriek are better than amused, well-dressed and quiet, or scared, worried and loud. Using active rather than passive sentences will involve the reader further.
• Shoutlines. If you come up with a great sentence or phrase that encapsulates your book, use it as a shoutline (one or two lines in a larger and bolder font). Movies call them taglines and they can be very effective, for example, ‘In space no-one can hear you scream’ (Alien, 1979) and ‘See our family. And feel better about yours’ (The Simpsons Movie, 2007).
The structure of your blurb is limited by the available space, but if you use the following as a guide, you’ll be on the right track:
Short novel: 2–3 paras
Longer novel: 3–4 paras
1st para — Introduce characters and give basic plot outline.
2nd para — More detailed plot outline (what is the conflict/dilemma/challenge of the characters).
3rd para — Can be effective to have questions here, such as will Suzie be humiliated or triumph?
Keep your audience in mind, be concise and evocative.
There is no strict formula to writing a good blurb, but time must be taken to ensure your book is presented at its best to potential buyers. Hopefully some of these suggestions will be helpful and we encourage you take a look at your own bookshelf and on the internet to get more ideas (search terms such as ‘back cover blurb’, ‘writing a book blurb, ‘shoutlines’, ‘passive active voice’ will get you started).
Good luck indeed! Here’s what I came up with. I tried a ‘shout line’. Any thoughts? Would it make you want to read His Brand Of Beautiful?
Sometimes to get a woman out of your head, you have to let her in.
When Tate Newell first met Christina Clay he had one goal in mind: tell Christina he won’t design the new brand for Clay Wines. Tell her: thanks but no thanks. So long, good night.
But Tate has always been a sucker for a damsel in distress, and when a diary mix-up leaves Christina in need of his help, it’s Tate who gets more than he bargained for.
What does a resourceful girl do when the best marketing brain in the business won’t play ball? She bluffs (badly). She cheats (a bit). And she ups the ante (by a mile). But when the stakes get too high, can anybody win?
Falling in love was never part of this branding brief.