Monday, December 26, 2011

E books for your Kindle!




Did you get that Kindle Fire for Christmas?

If you're in the mood for something spooky (hey, I know it's the holidays, but I just watched thirteen episodes of The Walking Dead back to back. Not all of us are in the Miracle on 34th Street mood)...

THE HARROWING, THE PRICE, and BOOK OF SHADOWS are now available as e books in various territories.

(Remember, you don't need a Kindle; you can download a free Kindle reader to your PC or Mac or i pad or phone).

For more information about all the books, and links to order, see below.

And Merry Merry Happy Happy everything to all!

- Alex


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BOOK OF SHADOWS


Synopsis:

Homicide detective Adam Garrett is already a rising star in the Boston police department when he and his cynical partner, Carl Landauer, catch a horrifying case that could make their careers: the ritualistic murder of a wealthy college girl that appears to have Satanic elements.

The partners make a quick arrest when all evidence points to another student, a troubled musician in a Goth band who was either dating or stalking the murdered girl. But Garrett’s case is turned upside down when beautiful, mysterious Tanith Cabarrus, a practicing witch from nearby Salem, walks into the homicide bureau and insists that the real perpetrator is still at large. Tanith claims to have had psychic visions that the killer has ritually sacrificed other teenagers in his attempts to summon a powerful, ancient demon.

All Garrett's beliefs about the nature of reality will be tested as he is forced to team up with a woman he is fiercely attracted to but cannot trust, in a race to uncover a psychotic killer before he strikes again.

Reviews:

“A wonderfully dark thriller with amazing is-it-isn't-it suspense all the way to the end. Highly recommended.”---Lee Child

"Compelling, frightening and exceptionally well-written, Book of Shadows is destined to become another hit for acclaimed horror and suspense writer Sokoloff. The incredibly tense plot and mysterious characters will keep readers up late at night, jumping at every sound, and turning the pages until they've devoured the book." --- Romantic Times Book Reviews, 4 1/2 stars

"Sokoloff successfully melds a classic murder-mystery/whodunit with supernatural occult undertones." --- Library Journal

"The discovery in a landfill of the mutilated corpse of Erin Carmody, the 18-year-old daughter of a prominent Boston businessman, presents homicide detective Adam Garrett with a particularly sensitive case. Marks on the body suggest the killer was conducting Satanic rituals. When Adam and his partner, Carl Landauer, question the prime suspect, Jason Moncrief, a college friend of Erin's, Jason chants the name of the demon Choronzon, then assaults Carl. Despite what appears to be an open-and-shut case, Adam can't discount the claim that Jason is innocent made by Tanith Cabarrus, an attractive witch who comes to police headquarters to report that she dreamed of other murders—and who believes that supernatural forces are behind the slaughter. As usual, Sokoloff (The Unseen) does a good job keeping the reader guessing whether a supernatural agency is really at work." - Publishers Weekly

(Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.)

BOOK OF SHADOWS is now available on as an e book in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain: just £2.14 on Amazon.uk, and €2.99 on Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es.

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THE HARROWING

Synopsis:

Baird College's Mendenhall echoes with the footsteps of the last home-bound students heading off for Thanksgiving break, and Robin Stone swears she can feel the creepy, hundred-year-old residence hall breathe a sigh of relief for its long-awaited solitude. Or perhaps it's only gathering itself for the coming weekend.

As a massive storm dumps rain on the isolated campus, four other lonely students reveal themselves: Patrick, a handsome jock; Lisa, a manipulative tease; Cain, a brooding musician; and finally Martin, a scholarly eccentric. Each has forsaken a long weekend at home for their own secret reasons.

The five unlikely companions establish a tentative rapport, but they soon become aware of a sixth presence disturbing the ominous silence that pervades the building. Are they the victims of a simple college prank taken way too far, or is the unusual energy evidence of something genuine---and intent on using the five students for its own terrifying ends? It's only Thursday afternoon, and they have three long days and dark nights before the rest of the world returns to find out what's become of them. But for now it's just the darkness keeping company with five students nobody wants and no one will miss.

Reviews:

'Absolutely gripping...It is easy to imagine this as a film...Once started, you won't want to stop reading'
---London Times

"Poltergeist meets The Breakfast Club as five college students tangle with an ancient evil presence. Plenty of sexual tension... quick pace and engaging plot."
--- Kirkus Reviews

'Sokoloff's debut novel is an eerie ghost story that captivates readers from page one. The author creates an element of suspense that builds until the chillingly believable conclusion."'
--Romantic Times

What better thing could strangers isolated in a big, near-deserted building while a raging storm takes out the electricity and compels the use of flickering candles possibly discover than an ancient, charred Ouija board? The previously unacquainted in question are five students sitting out Thanksgiving weekend in a 100-year-old residence hall. And that Ouija board turns wicked, of course, when it manifests a ghost named Zachary, who turns the place into a chaotic battleground for the forces of evil versus cosmic goodness and light. What seemed a sick joke one of the five was playing on the others has morphed into a situation in which no one can be trusted. Sokoloff sustains pace and suspense while encouraging the reader to identify with Robin, a young woman from a poor, alcohol-ravaged family, who yearns for acceptance. Will she get it from the all-American jock she lusts for; the slutty tease; the quiet, intellectual rabbi's son; and the brooding musician who are her companions for this scary ordeal? Good, engrossing fun.
--- Booklist, Whitney Scott
(Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved)

"The Harrowing is a real page-turner, a first novel of unusual promise."
---Ira Levin

"The Harrowing is a find: fast, original, and genuinely creepy."
---F. Paul Wilson,

"Alexandra Sokoloff conjures up a demon older than time and humanity and yet rooted in modern psychology. She brings all her skills as a screenwriter to a tale of supernatural terror as swift as a film."
---Ramsey Campbell

"Sokoloff's debut novel is a furiously paced, deftly plotted joy, bursting at the seams with disquieting imagery and carrying a disturbingly dark undercurrent. It gave me a nightmareƂ…and that's rare."
---Tim Lebbon


THE HARROWING is now available on as an e book in various countries, just €2.99 on Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es.
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THE PRICE


Boston District Attorney Will Sullivan dreams of becoming the next governor of Massachusetts. With his beautiful wife, Joanna, and adorable daughter, Sydney, Will seems destined for greatness…until Sydney becomes seriously ill. Now both parents resolve to do anything to save their daughter’s life.

But in the twilight world of Briarwood Medical Center, nothing is as it seems. Patients on the brink of death are not only surviving but thriving, while others wither away…and the recoveries all revolve around the ministerings of a mysterious counselor, who takes an unsettling interest in Joanna. When Sydney’s health miraculously improves, Will suspects that Joanna has made a terrible bargain to save their child. Now Will must face a powerful, unknown evil before he loses... everything.

Reviews:

"Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre."
—The New York Times Book Review

“A heartbreakingly eerie page turner…”
—Library Journal

"Sokoloff is simply amazing"
—Bookreporter.com

"A sublime second novel . . . Her gooseflesh-inducing imagery jumps right off the pages, and her rich, graceful prose calls to mind names like King, Saul, and Levin."
—Dark Scribe Magazine

“A medical thriller of the highest order... a stunning, riveting journey into terror and suspense.”—Michael Palmer

"Beyond stunning. It is harrowing in the true sense of real art.” —Ken Bruen

"A psychological rollercoaster that keeps the reader on edge with bone-chilling thrills throughout. I couldn't put it down." —Heather Graham

THE PRICE is now available on as an e book in various countries, just €2.99 on Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es.

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THE SPACE BETWEEN

Sixteen-year old Anna Sullivan is having terrible dreams of a massacre at her school. Anna’s father is a mentally unstable veteran, her mother vanished when Anna was five, and Anna might just chalk the dreams up to a reflection of her crazy waking life — except that Tyler Marsh, the most popular guy at the school and Anna’s secret crush, is having the exact same dream.

Despite the gulf between them in social status, Anna and Tyler connect, first in the dream and then in reality. As the dreams reveal more, with clues from the school social structure, quantum physics, probability, and Anna's own past, Anna becomes convinced that they are being shown the future so they can prevent the shooting…

If they can survive the shooter — and the dream.

Based on the short story "The Edge of Seventeen," winner of the ITW Thriller award.


"Filled with vivid images, mystery, and a strong atmosphere of danger... Sokoloff interlaces psychological elements, quantum physics and the idea of multiple dimensions and parallel universes into her storyline; this definitely adds something different and original from other teen horror novels in the market today. Highly recommended."
-- Seattle Post Intelligencer


THE PRICE is available on as an e book, just $ 2.99 on Kindle, £2.14 on Amazon.uk, and €2.99 on Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es.

Amazon/Kindle
Amazon UK
Amazon DE
Free in Kindle lending library!

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Rewriting: Expanding on Key Story Elements

There’s a saying in Hollywood that “If you have six great scenes, you have a movie.” Well, very often these six great scenes are off that list I gave you of the Key Story Elements. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Scenes like The Call To Adventure and Crossing the Threshold are magical moments: they change the world of the main character for all time, and as storytellers we want our readers or audiences to experience that profound, soul-shattering change right along with the character. These are numinous events, and we crave scenes that are worthy of them.

And I think it’s useful to study the more blatant examples — the way these scenes are depicted in fantasies like Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz — so you get the full-on, literally magical experience of a Call To Adventure or Crossing the Threshold scene first, and then start looking for more subtle variations in less fantastical stories.

Just as filmmakers consciously design some of these key story scenes for maximum emotional and visual impact, we as novelists can be doing the same thing on the page for our readers — making the most of critical scenes such as ESTABLISHING THE HERO/INE’S GHOST, THE CALL TO ADVENTURE, CROSSING THE THRESHOLD, ESTABLISHING THE PLAN, and so on.

So a very effective rewriting pass is to take a look at all of your key scenes and see if you're doing those moments justice.

In the next few posts I want to look more closely at a few of those key story elements (and that’s key to ALL genres) and detail some examples of how filmmakers create these beats as setpiece scenes.

And of course, these key scenes are very often used as act climaxes or sequence climaxes — we’ll talk about which elements are generally used as which act climaxes.

Let's start at the very beginning.

OPENING IMAGE

In a film you have an opening image by default, whether you put any planning into it or not. It’s the first thing you see in the film. But good filmmakers will very consciously design that opening image to establish all kinds of things about the story: mood, tone, location, and especially theme. There can be more than just one image or shot at work, too; sometimes it’s more like a whole opening scene.

Well, novelists, instead of (or in addition to) killing yourselves trying to concoct a great first line which will just as likely annoy a reader into throwing your book against the wall as make them keep reading, how about giving some thought to what your opening scene looks like? It takes a lot of the pressure off that first page anxiety — because you're focused on conveying a powerful image that will intrigue and entice the reader into the book.

What do we see? How does it make us feel? How might it even be a miniature code of what the whole story is about?

Take a look at a few of the films on your master list and see what they do with the opening image. Again, bear in mind that the opening image may be more of an opening scene — and the key image may not be the very first thing we see. For example, in Casino, the film starts with DeNiro walking out to his car, with narration over. Then as he gets in, the car explodes in flame — and the credits sequence begins, the visual underneath which is a long, long take on a cut-out of a man falling slowly through flame: a descent into hell. That falling through flame, with the blinking neon of the casino all around, would be the opening image, what Scorsese has chosen to fix in the audience’s mind — it is exactly what the story is about.

One of my favorite opening images/sequences is the credits scene of The Shining. I don’t think there’s a creepier opening to be found anywhere in film. It’s all aerial camerawork of those vast, foreboding mountains as that tiny little car drives up, up, up toward what turns out to be the Overlook Hotel. It’s vertiginous, it’s ominous, it emphasizes the utter isolation of the hotel and the circumstances, and somehow, through the music and the visuals and the constant movement, Kubrick establishes a sense of huge, vast, and malevolent natural forces. As a thriller writer (or whatever you want to call me), I am constantly looking for ways to convey all those things — that experience — on the page. Mo Hayder’s The Treatment is one of my favorite recent examples … when she focuses on a murder of crows strutting on the grass of a crime scene, evil just rolls off the page, and you start to wonder if you really want to keep reading the book. (It’s worth every shudder, but don’t say I didn’t warn you).

Here’s another great film technique to be aware of: The opening image will sometimes —often — set up a location that will return in the final battle scene or in the resolution scene of the story — only at the end there will be a big visual contrast to show how much the hero/ine has changed. A fantastic recent example of this is in the truly lovely animated film How to Train Your Dragon. It opens with a long aerial swoop down into the Viking village. It’s dark, torchlit, forbidding … and then smashes into the opening attack by dragons, a scene of chaos and violence. And we hear young protagonist Hiccup’s wry narration over it.

In the RESOLUTION, we see the same aerial swoop into the village, but now it’s daylight, sunshine, flowers — and instead of attacking, the dragons are flying with their new — well, not owners, but partners: the same Vikings who were fighting them in the beginning. And Hiccup’s wry final narration is the same as his opening narration, with only a few key words changed. The whole village has been transformed by Hiccup’s personal journey; it’s a magnificent visual of not just character arc, but also of the change in philosophy of the whole Viking society.

Here are some more romance-friendly examples:

The opening image of Romancing the Stone is a small, stuffy cabin — which quickly opens up to a classic, gorgeous Western landscape of magnificent buttes in a desert setting; the heroine of the opening scene is a voluptuous buckskin-clad heroine straight from the old bodice-rippers. It’s adventure and romance, which the voice-over narration also establishes as comic and tongue-in-cheek. It’s a great miniature of the whole story — this is protagonist Joan Wilder’s fantasy, which quickly becomes her not-so-appealing reality.

The opening image(s) of Notting Hill is a montage of movie star Anna Scott’s career: newspaper headlines, magazine spreads, photo shoots, paparazzi tailing her at premieres and the Oscars. This montage sets up this story’s unusual antagonist; it’s Anna’s fame that is the constant opposition to Will and Anna’s love, and the storytellers make that fame concrete and vivid in these images.

The opening image of New in Town is a frozen, wintry landscape, symbolizing the heroine’s frozen emotions, and then the first scene shows a group of three women scrapbooking and talking about the fate of the new plant manager, a scene that brings to mind the three Norns, or Fates, of Scandinavian myth.

Now, look, I’m not at all saying that an opening scene has to be visual to work. I had a student in a workshop recently who opened her romantic comedy with a series of dueling press releases. It was hilarious and perfect for her very funny book. As authors we have the luxury of not having to convey things purely visually. I’m just saying, if you’re struggling with an opening, this could be a technique that might help you pull it all together. It works wonders for me. And thinking of the opening visually instantly solves the problem that I’ve become increasingly aware of in the opening chapters of newer writers: they fail to set up the visual in any way, which leaves the reader floundering to figure out where the hell they are. Not an auspicious way to begin, let me tell you.

As human beings, we are primarily visual creatures (and no, I don’t just mean men. All of us.). So? Use it.

1. Make a list. Visual or not visual — what are some of your favorite book and movie openings of all time?

2. Now look at your own opening pages. Are they visual? Do we know where we are? Can you make that location, and the things we see in it, thematically meaningful?

- Alex

=====================================================

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)




- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rewriting: the Genre Pass

In my recent Rewriting blog I advocated doing several dedicated revision passes through your book focusing on particular elements of storytelling. One of the most critical of these passes is The Genre Pass.

Whatever your genre is, do a dedicated pass focusing on that crucial genre element.

I’m sure you regular readers have already gotten this message, but I’ll say it again anyway: whatever genre you are writing in, your JOB as a writer is to deliver the promise of that genre, the EXPERIENCE of it, to your readers/audience: comedy in a comedy, action in an actioner or action thriller, romance and sex in a romance, romance and sex and comedy in a romantic comedy, romance and sex and comedy and action in a romantic comedy/adventure (see ROMANCING THE STONE for an excellent example of delivering all the promises of those genres in one seamless gem of a movie).

So today we're going to talk about the Genre Pass.

Of course, for my money, your first step is always to make a master list – ten movies and books in the genre you’re writing that you can look at to see how the master storytellers deliver on the promise in the genre.

A great exercise is to go through a movie or book minute by minute, or page by page, and literally count the genre scenes. List each one and how many minutes, seconds or pages there are between each genre scene or moment. At the end of this exercise you should be able to say with confidence, for example, in GROUNDHOG DAY, there is a laugh-out loud moment every 4 minutes (or however many minutes it is) Seriously. This is a great way to internalize the rhythm of a particular genre.

I must confess, I personally believe that if you’re not a comedian right here, right now, you’re never going to be a comedian. BUT – if you are not a born comedian but are writing a romantic comedy, and you know need to get more laughs in, this a great way to do that. Other genres are, I believe, more forgiving than comedy and easier to learn how to do.

Another good method is to lay out your story on index cards or Post Its again, and this time use a particular color of card or Post It to signify a comedy (action, sex, suspense) scene. If when you step back and survey your story board and you see a long sequence of scenes with none of that color, that’s a good indication that you need to work that sequence and those scenes to layer in genre elements.

The other thing that is essential to look at is how the act and sequence climaxes in a good movie or book are almost always genre scenes. In a love story, these turning points are emotional or sexual. In an action story, they are action scenes, with the essential revelations occurring within the action (Think of the climax of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – Darth Vader didn’t reveal Luke’s parenthood to him while they were washing dishes, now, did he?). Even if you don’t quite pull off every single act climax and sequence climax as a rip-roaring genre scene, it’s not a bad idea to shoot for that, because then at the very least you will know that you have eight scenes that deliver on your genre promise, and that’s a really solid foundation for a successful story. And when you get yourself to think specifically in terms of genre scenes, your mind will be automatically looking for other places to insert genre moments.

While we’re on Act Climaxes, I just wanted to mention the concept of multiple climaxes (in storytelling; hopefully we’re all experts at the other). Some people make themselves crazy looking for the exact scene that is the Act Climax. Well, if it’s not obvious, then chances are you’ve got multiple climaxes, or what I like to call a “rolling climax”. ROMANCING THE STONE’s Act I climax is a perfect example of several different scenes that fulfill the genre promises of comedy, action, romance and sex, which all work togther to make up the act break – take a look at the discussion here:

And here are some posts to help you with identifying Act Climaxes:

- Identifying Act Climaxes

- Raiders of the Lost Ark - Act Climaxes

The good news here is that – you don’t have to get all of this into your first draft! These are rewriting tricks. Write out the bones of your scenes and the story, first, and then start to layer in these genre elements. Take a look at where you might combine two completely different scenes so that you get a big revelation or plot twist inside of a comic or fight scene, or in the middle of sex.

This is the fun part of writing – everything after the first draft is icing. So enjoy!

- Alex

=====================================================

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in e formats and as pdf files. Either book, just $2.99.



- Kindle

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)





- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

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Monday, December 05, 2011

Nanowrimo Now What? - Rewriting

Okay now, remember, if you just finished your draft on Nov. 30, taking time off from it before you jump into revisions is far more important than anything else I’m going to say here today.

But once you have taken the time off… how the hell do you proceed with the second draft?

Well, first you have to read the first draft. All the way through. Not necessarily in one sitting (if that’s even possible to begin with!); I usually do this in chunks of 50 pages or 100 pages a day – anything else makes my brain sore.

(And yes, if you’ve been paying attention (The Three Act Structure and The Eight Sequence Structure), that would mean I’m either reading one sequence or two sequences a day).

I picked up a tip from some book or article a long time ago about reading for revisions, and I wish I could remember who said it to credit them, because it’s great advice. Grab yourself a colored pen or pencil (or all kinds of colors, glitter pens - go wild) and sit down with a stack of freshly printed pages (sorry, it’s ungreen, but I can’t do a first revision on a screen. I need a hard copy). Then read through and make brief notes where necessary, but DO NOT start rewriting, and PUT THE PEN DOWN as soon as you’ve made a note. You want to read the first time through for story, not for stupid details that will interrupt your experience of the story as a whole. You want to get the big picture – especially – you want to see if you actually have a book (or film, if that’s what you’re writing).

If your drafts are anything like mine, there will be large chunks of absolute shit. That’s pretty much my definition of what a first draft is. X them out on the spot if you have to, but resist the temptation to stop and rewrite. Well, if you REALLY are hot to write a scene, I guess, okay, but really, unless you are totally, fanatically inspired, it’s better just to make brief notes.

When you’ve finished reading there should - hopefully! - be the feeling that even though you probably still have massive amounts of work yet to do, there is a book there. (I love that feeling…)

Once I’ve read through the entire thing, I make notes about my impressions, and then usually I will do a re-card (see The Index Card Method). I will have made many scribbled notes on the draft to the effect of “This scene doesn’t work here!” In some of my first drafts, whole sections don’t work at all. This is my chance to find the right places for things. And, of course, throw stuff out.

I will go through the entire book again – going back and forth between my pages and the cards on my story grid - and see where the story elements fall. There is no script or book I’ve ever written that didn’t benefit from a careful overview once again identifying act breaks, sequence climaxes, and key story elements like: The Call to Adventure; Stating the Theme; identifying the Central Question; Central Action and Plan; Crossing the Threshold; Meeting the Mentor; the Dark Night of the Soul - once the first draft is actually finished. A lot of your outline may have changed, and you will be able to pull your story into line much more effectively if you check your structural elements again and continually be thinking of how you can make those key scenes more significant, more magical.

(For a quick refresher on Story Elements, skip down to #10 at the bottom of this post, and the links at the end for more in-depth discussion.)

Also, be very aware of what your sequences are. If a scene isn’t working, but you know you need to have it, it’s probably in the wrong sequence, and if you look at your story overall and at what each sequence is doing, you’ll probably be able to see immediately where stray scenes need to go. That’s why re-carding and re-sequencing is such a great thing to do when you start a revision.

Now, the next steps can be taken in whatever order is useful to you, but here again are the Top Ten Things I Know About Editing.


1. Cut, cut, cut.

When you first start writing, you are reluctant to cut anything. Believe me, I remember. But the truth is, beginning writers very, very, VERY often duplicate scenes, and characters, too. And dialogue, oh man, do inexperienced writers duplicate dialogue! The same things happen over and over again, are said over and over again. It will be less painful for you to cut if you learn to look for and start to recognize when you’re duplicating scenes, actions, characters and dialogue. Those are the obvious places to cut and combine.

Some very wise writer (unfortunately I have no idea who) said, “If it occurs to you to cut, do so.” This seems harsh and scary, I know. Often I’ll flag something in a manuscript as “Could cut”, and leave it in my draft for several passes until I finally bite the bullet and get rid of it. So, you know, that’s fine. Allow yourself to CONSIDER cutting something, first. No commitment! Then if you do, fine. But once you’ve considered cutting, you almost always will. It's okay if you bitch about it all the way to the trash file, too - I always do.

2. Find a great critique group.

This is easier said than done, but you NEED a group, or a series of readers, who will commit themselves to making your work the best it can be, just as you commit the same to their work. Editors don’t edit the way they used to and publishing houses expect their authors to find friends to do that kind of intensive editing. Really.

3. Do several passes.

Finish your first draft, no matter how rough it is. Then give yourself a break — a week is good, two weeks is better, three weeks is better than that — as time permits. Then read, cut, polish, put in notes. Repeat. And repeat again. Always give yourself time off between reads if you can. The closer your book is to done, the more uncomfortable the unwieldy sections will seem to you, and you will be more and more okay with getting rid of them. Read on for the specific kinds of passes I recommend doing.

4. Whatever your genre is, do a dedicated pass focusing on that crucial genre element.

For a thriller: thrills and suspense. For a mystery: clues and misdirection and suspense. For a comedy: a comedic pass. For a romance: a sex pass. Or “emotional” pass, if you must call it that. For horror… well, you get it.

I write suspense. So after I’ve written that first agonizing bash-through draft of a book or script, and probably a second or third draft just to make it readable, I will at some point do a dedicated pass just to amp up the suspense, and I highly recommend trying it, because it’s amazing how many great ideas you will come up with for suspense scenes (or comic scenes, or romantic scenes) if you are going through your story JUST focused on how to inject and layer in suspense, or horror, or comedy, or romance. It’s your JOB to deliver the genre you’re writing in. It’s worth a dedicated pass to make sure you’re giving your readers what they’re buying the book for.

5. Know your Three Act Structure.

If something in your story is sagging, it is amazing how quickly you can pull your narrative into line by looking at the scene or sequence you have around page 100 (or whatever page is ¼ way through the book), page 200, (or whatever page is ½ way through the book), page 300 (or whatever page is ¾ through the book) and your climax. Each of those scenes should be huge, pivotal, devastating, game-changing scenes or sequences (even if it’s just emotional devastation). Those four points are the tentpoles of your story.

6. Do a dedicated DESIRE LINE pass in which you ask yourself for every scene: “What does this character WANT? Who is opposing her/him in this scene? Who WINS in the scene? What will they do now?”

7. Do a dedicated EMOTIONAL pass, in which you ask yourself in every chapter, every scene, what do I want my readers to FEEL in this moment?

8. Do a dedicated SENSORY pass, in which you make sure you’re covering what you want the reader to see, hear, feel, taste, smell, and sense.

9. Read your book aloud. All of it. Cover to cover.

I wouldn’t recommend doing this with a first draft unless you feel it’s very close to the final product, but when you’re further along, the best thing I know to do to edit a book — or script — is read it aloud. The whole thing. I know, this takes several days, and you will lose your voice. Get some good cough drops. But there is no better way to find errors — spelling, grammar, continuity, and rhythmic errors. Try it, you’ll be amazed.

10. Finally, and this is a big one: steal from film structure to pull your story into dramatic line.

Some of you are already well aware that I’ve compiled a checklist of story elements that I use both when I’m brainstorming a story on index cards, and again when I’m starting to revise. I find it invaluable to go through my first draft and make sure I’m hitting all of these points, so here it is again, for those just finding this post.


STORY ELEMENTS CHECKLIST

ACT ONE

* Opening image
* Meet the hero or heroine
* Hero/ine’s inner and outer desire.
* Hero/ine’s problem
* Hero/ine’s ghost or wound
* Hero/ine’s arc
* Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure
* Meet the antagonist (and/or introduce a mystery, which is what you do when you’re going to keep your antagonist hidden to reveal at the end)
* State the theme/what’s the story about?
* Allies
* Mentor (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story).
* Love interest
* Plant/Reveal (or: Setups and Payoffs)
* Hope/Fear (and Stakes)
* Time Clock (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story)
* Sequence One climax
* Central Question
* Central Story Action
* Plan (Hero/ine's)
* Villain's Plan
* Act One climax

___________________________

ACT TWO


* Crossing the Threshold/ Into the Special World (may occur in Act One)
* Threshold Guardian (maybe)
* Hero/ine’s Plan
* Antagonist’s Plan
* Training Sequence
* Series of Tests
* Picking up new Allies
* Assembling the Team
* Attacks by the Antagonist (whether or not the Hero/ine recognizes these as being from the antagonist)
* In a detective story, questioning witnesses, lining up and eliminating suspects, following clues.


THE MIDPOINT


* Completely changes the game
* Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action
* Can be a huge revelation
* Can be a huge defeat
* Can be a “now it’s personal” loss
* Can be sex at 60 — the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems


______________________________
ACT TWO, PART TWO


* Recalibrating — after the shock or defeat of the game-changer in the Midpoint, the hero/ine must Revamp The Plan and try a New Mode of Attack.
* Escalating Actions/ Obsessive Drive
* Hard Choices and Crossing The Line (immoral actions by the main character to get what s/he wants)
* Loss of Key Allies (possibly because of the hero/ine’s obsessive actions, possibly through death or injury by the antagonist).
* A Ticking Clock (can happen anywhere in the story)
* Reversals and Revelations/Twists. (Hmm, that clearly should have its own post, now, shouldn't it?)
* The Long Dark Night of the Soul and/or Visit to Death (aka All Is Lost)

THE SECOND ACT CLIMAX

* Often can be a final revelation before the end game: the knowledge of who the opponent really is
* Answers the Central Question


_______________________________

ACT THREE

The third act is basically the Final Battle and Resolution. It can often be one continuous sequence — the chase and confrontation, or confrontation and chase. There may be a final preparation for battle, or it might be done on the fly. Either here or in the last part of the second act the hero will make a new, FINAL PLAN, based on the new information and revelations of the second act.

The essence of a third act is the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist. It is often divided into two sequences:


1. Getting there (storming the castle)
2. The final battle itself

* Thematic Location — often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare
* The protagonist’s character change
* The antagonist’s character change (if any)
* Possibly allies’ character changes and/or gaining of desire
* Could be one last huge reveal or twist, or series of reveals and twists, or series of final payoffs you've been saving (as in BACK TO THE FUTURE and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE).

* RESOLUTION: A glimpse into the New Way of Life that the hero/ine will be living after this whole ordeal and all s/he’s learned from it.

If these story elements are new to you, you’ll want to read:


Elements of Act One

Elements of Act Two, Part 1

Elements of Act Two, Part 2

Elements of Act Three

Elements of Act Three: Elevate Your Ending

Elements of Act Three: What Makes a Great Climax?

Act Climaxes and Turning Points

Part 1:

Part 2:

And I'll be posting more about how to do different kinds of passes for particular effect.

- Alex


=====================================================

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)




- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Nanowrimo Now What?

Okay, so you survived! Or maybe I shouldn’t make any assumptions, there.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say you survived and now have a rough draft (maybe very, very, very rough draft) of about 50,000 words.

What next?

Well, first of all, did you write to “The End”? Because if not, then you may have survived, but you’re not done. You must get through to The End, no matter how rough it is (rough meaning the process AND the pages…). If you did not get to The End, I would strongly urge that you NOT take a break, no matter how tired you are (well, maybe a day). You can slow down your schedule, set a lower per-day word or page count, but do not stop. Write every day, or every other day if that’s your schedule, but get the sucker done.

You may end up throwing away most of what you write, but it is a really, really, really bad idea not to get all the way through a story. That is how most books, scripts and probably most all other things in life worth doing are abandoned.

Conversely, if you DID get all the way to “The End”, then definitely, take a break. As long a break as possible. You should keep to a writing schedule, start brainstorming the next project, maybe do some random collaging to see what images come up that might lead to something fantastic - but if you have a completed draft, then what you need right now is SPACE from it. You are going to need fresh eyes to do the read-through that is going to take you to the next level, and the only way for you to get those fresh eyes is to leave the story alone for a while.

I am tempted to jump write in and post the blog I am thinking about on a process for reading and revising, but I will resist, at least for today, so that you really absorb what I’m saying.

1. Keep going if you’re not done –

OR -

2. Take a good long break if you have a whole first draft, and start thinking about another project.


And in the meantime, I’d love to hear how you all who were Nanoing did.

Me? I had my usual Nano, which is to say I was working on multiple projects, one in a later draft so page counts were useless or impossible, and then the order of two of my contracted books got switched in the middle of the month so I ended up starting TWO first drafts of different projects this month (!!!) but I am MUCH happier with the new order one of those. But I did get a ton of editing done on my new crime thriller, and am loving the new paranormal thriller, and I got final edits for three e books done. And I survived that incredible So Cal windstorm, too. A good month, I'd say.

- Alex