The Stories Begun











{November 1, 2011}   Oh. Oh dear.

It really has been that long, hasn’t it?  And now it’s November 1st, the beginning of NaNoWriMo, the most enjoyably hellish month of the year.  I’m already 1700 words into the novel (hooray, I met and passed the daily average I’m supposed to maintain) and feeling good.  My favorite part of this feeling is that I chose a subject I was only so-so excited about and STILL managed to get that far in a couple hours.   And, despite my reservations and my insane lists trying to find something that I could get passionate and crazy about during NaNo, I fell in love with my story as I started it.  Sometimes, you just have to trust that what feels like a mediocre idea (or even a bad one) can still be good.  It’s amazing, when I take the step back that this blog demands of me, to see that growth in such a small endeavor.

So, good luck to all you NaNos!  I’ll be seeing you tonight at the kick off if you’re in my area, and if not: I can’t wait to hear from anyone who wants to share their harrowing stories of writing and failing and cringing (because you can’t edit or you’ll lose too much time).  I hope there are a lot of you out there and I hope you’re wanting to discuss.  I know for a fact that doing NaNo alone is NO FUN.  See you here or on the forums!

~RJLouise



The hook: proof that writers really do write for the audience and not just for the pleasure of writing.  Any writer who tells you otherwise is full of a bunch of hooey.

This particular element of any work should have been covered in your first essay writing class in high school, maybe even middle school.  It probably went something like this:

TEACHER:  After reading your essays, “What I Did This Summer,” we have a few things to work on.  Most of you are familiar with basic paragraph structure with the intro, body paragraphs, and conclusion.  That was well done.  However, you do need to repeat that same structure within the paragraphs as well.  Have a topic sentence for each paragraph, followed by supporting body sentences, followed by a concluding summary sentence.  Everyone understand so far?

STUDENTS: Yes, Miss Hannigan.

TEACHER: Good.  I knew that wouldn’t be too hard.  There are some finer points of structure that we’ll cover later in the week, but something you all struggled with was the attention getter.  Does anyone know what that might be?  Yes, Millie?

MILLE THE KNOW-IT-ALL:  The Hook!

TEACHER:  That is another name for it, Millie, but what is it?

MILLIE THE SLIGHTLY DEFLATED KNOW-IT-ALL:  It’s a sentence or two that draws the reader in and convinces them to continue reading the story or, in this case, essay.

TEACHER:  Very good, Millie.  An attention grabber, or hook, can be a story told at the beginning of an essay, a definition of a word that the essay centers around, or perhaps a shocking assertion.  It can be other things as well, anything to garner interest.  However, a hook is not, “Today I’m going to talk about what I did this summer.”  That was similar to, if not the exact first sentence in more than seventy-five percent of the essays I collected last week.  Today’s in-class assignment is to re-write the first paragraph of your essay on a separate sheet of paper with an appropriate attention grabber.  Millie, please put your hand down.  Even yours can be improved upon.

MILLIE THE ENTIRELY DEFLATED KNOW-IT-ALL: Oh.

I may have enjoyed putting that together a bit too much. 🙂

In blogging, the world of hooks is a bit different than it is in the world of essays or even books.  Titles are ever so much more important in blogs than in essays or books, in my opinion.  The title has to act as the hook, to stand out amongst a mess of titles to the reader, quietly surfing the internet.  The title has to be enough to convince the reader to follow the link.  However, it is never going to hurt your cause as a blogger to have a hook in the body of your text to greet the reader who has already made the decision to follow the link.  They deserve an interesting blog, too.

Now, I know why the amount of importance the title gets is so disparate between blogs and essays: teachers have to read the essays anyway.  I almost never bothered to title my essays in an interesting way until the last three or so semesters of college.  I’m sure my teachers appreciated the extra effort if they noticed, but I’m not convinced any of them did.  Why should a student bother to put in the time and effort to title a piece cleverly (which is surprisingly difficult) when the teacher/professor will–at best–come out of their essay daze long enough to smirk?

On the other hand, I do not understand the difference in importance in book titles and blog titles.  There are blogs I simply will not read because their titles are ridiculous, dull, or badly spelled.  However, there are plenty of books with incredibly boring or overlong titles (the non-fiction industry is full of run-on titles, it’s an epidemic), that I buy at sight.  My fiction book chosing process doesn’t even take the title into account!  I pick a book at random; look at the cover; read the back; if I am not satisfied at this point, I give the book ten pages or the first chapter, whichever comes last; read and then decide.  Any book that manages to capture me so completely that I go beyond the ten page/one chapter limit without noticing is a same-day buy.  Any book that I am enchanted, if not thrilled by goes on my ever-growing buy list.  There is rarely a time when the title comes into play.  I am entirely willing to judge a book by its cover (so long as that cover includes a blurb), but I would never dare to judge a book by its title.  I’m not sure why this is, but I think it has to do with the size of a book: with only half a dozen words representing, it’s harder to tell the content of many thousands of words at least (possibly hundreds of thousands) as compared to the content of a couple thousand at most.  The example that comes most immediately to mind is the book East by Edith Pattou.  I would not read a blog titled “East.”  East of what, where, who, and why the heck?  However, the minute a friend told me there was a book called East, I began to suspect what it was about and went through the process of getting it from the library.  Sure enough, it was an adaptation of my favorite version of ATU 425C (need a refresher on the ATU system–find it here).  Had I been in the position to perform my normal process, I wouldn’t have required reading the first chapter.  There was a polar bear on the front (a dead giveaway) and the blurb made the parallels clear.

So, that being discussed, there is another problem with hooks: one is never enough.  Cliff-hangers (and don’t we just hate them as readers?) serve sort of as reverse hooks.  They’re not meant to draw you in, they’re meant to throw you out of the story saying, “WHAT?  What happens next, you jerk?”  Then, if the author has toed the line of making you angry without infuriating you too entirely, you’ll dive back in.  If you’re lucky, the cliff-hanger just happens at the end of the chapter.  If you’re unlucky (Chris D’Lacey, I’m glaring at you for that business with Dark Fire), the author ends the book that way. 

While cliff-hangers used well are some of the best ways to keep a story going when you, now as the author, feel you might be losing an audience (by the way, if you’re feeling that way, highlight the section for a close look during the first major edit), used badly they can put off the reader, for good.  When FictionCentral.net was still up and accepting submissions (sniffles), that was one of the biggest flaws I saw in the fiction there (as well as at the fan-fiction sister site, though I didn’t frequent it nearly so much).  Authors, in an attempt to keep readers interested until the next chapter would often leave the chapter unfinished.  Unfinished does not mean cliff-hanger!  Even those talented with the cliff-hanger (of which I was not one, my talents lay much more to the flash-back) would abuse the talent and put one in every chapter.  The result was a frenetic piece of work that never did flow quite right.  Maybe that was because of the format of submissions (min and max words per chap), but I think it has to do with the acknowledged fact that readers have a small attention span!

Think about it, readers.  How often have you picked up a book that you know you adore and . . . oh my gosh, it’s been three months and I haven’t gotten past the first fifty pages!  What is the deal?  I don’t think it has anything to do with appeal and it’s a total myth that you can read a book too many times.  It has to do with what is grabbing you attention at the moment?  I’ve been working on a novel that’s barely over 500 pages for over a month.  It’s killing me.  I can do 500 pages in half a day.  Furthermore, it’s by one of my favorite authors!  But, despite how much I enjoy the author,  the snappy dialogue , the awesome one-liners, the great interplay between the characters, or even the fact that the next book comes out in a month and a half and I want time to read this at least once more, I can’t engage.  I’m SLOGGING through this reading of it, while still enjoying it.  For some reason, the subject matter is falling flat.  There’s nothing the author could have done to prevent this.

So, my goal for my writing is this: more hooks, but no more than I need.  I recognize the fact that I’ll never please even one reader all of the time.  There are days when even the best of my writing will not appeal to my dearest and most ardent fans (hi, Mom! 😀 ).  The result of trying to MAKE people read my writing will just be a horrific, jilty work that I’ll hate and won’t ever be proud of.  And, of course, as I’m adding these hooks, making sure they aren’t necessary to make the prose in the middle palatable.  That, too.

Time to go jump off a cliff and see where I land!

~RJLouise



I do so wish this was a job.  I’d charge exorbitant amounts of money to bookstores to be on hand for those customers who wander in with no clue what they want.  Or just a vague idea.  And then, of course, I’d barely charge anything to parents who are trying to find the right book to engage their child in reading.

Right now, I do this for fun/out of a sense of responsibility.  In the last five years, I can remember two times that I have gone into my hometown bookstore without running into a parent/grandparent searching through the sea of books that is the children’s section with wide-eyed looks of confusion on their faces.  Once in a long while, this happens in other sections, but the children’s section is the worst.

I find that most parents/grandparents know their children and the type of books they read, but have long since given up on trying to keep up with them.  I can’t blame them.  Tracking what I read is a talent that still escapes me sometimes.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve picked up a book that has looked interesting to me, taken it home, and realized I’ve read it before.  Not a problem, except that it means I’m losing my mind!

I also find that most bookstore employees take about the same attitude towards reading children’s lit as Amis recently did towards writing it.  It is, in a phrase, beneath them.  Bookstores, unless they specialize in the area, seem woefully unprepared to deal with children (or their ever-loving parents to supply them).  Perhaps this is why that section is always tucked in the back or on the second floor.  The stores are hoping the trip back to the information booth alone is enough of a deterrent to those seeking help.

And yet, here is a literary community that is growing by leaps and bounds.  In recent years there’s been a beautiful renaissance that is, in many ways, still ongoing.  It’s where I want to be, eventually.  The caliber of literature in the children and young adult literatures is, in a word, amazing.  And, if that’s not enough of a reason to begin reading “younger audience” literature, this is where many dreams are born.  I know a great deal of my goals were directly related to the books I read.

So, yes, I feel responsible for those poor, lost people.  I am well-familiar with the genre, I have experience to be shared, and until my local bookstore hires someone who is adept, I will continue finding books for these customers.  They’re trying to spread and encourage love of reading.  It’d be a crime not to help.

And, maybe in a few years, some of these kids–most of whom I’ve never met–will be able to do the same thing.  Maybe some of them will take to writing.  I would hope.  This next generation, raised on books that are so much better than the ones offered to mine, is our literary future.  I cannot wait to see what they do with it.

Anxiously anticipating,

~RJLouise



{January 12, 2011}   Was it Reading or Anaesthetizing?

Recently, I read a blog by a dedicated soul who had decided to read X number of books in a year.  I applauded his effort while, at the same time, scoffing at the number X.  X was small.  Ridiculously so.  At least, it was in my world.

Then I read his book list.  Hush my mouth.  And while I was at it, remove my foot, too.  This list was a list of books.  What, you may ask, is the difference between books and books?  I’m afraid I can’t explain it.  Rather, after finishing the prose, I can ask the question: Was it reading or anaesthetizing?

Even that question isn’t completely adequate, as I know several books more effective than hospital anaesthetics.  But, no matter how often I have fallen asleep to Homer’s Iliad, that book is always a reading experience.  I learn.  I explore.  I find new ways to look at my life, my education, and all sorts of literature.

I read prolifically.  However, I tend to read anaesthetics.  Partially, this is directly related to when I read: at work and/or at night, when my concentration is split or not up to par.  I read these books because my brain can check out.  Often, they are children’s literature, although you will never catch me saying that children’s literature cannot be books.  The other reason I tend to read these books is that, when I was in college, I needed the break.  Pleasure reading was my refuge and refuge could not be too difficult to process or my brain would check out during my studies. 

However, now that I am temporarily out of school, this is not a good habit to make.  One of my professors said that no one can be a good writer without being a good reader.  I am not sure I believe that to be a universal truth, but I do know that I cannot be a writer without being a reader, much less a good one.  So, I have a new goal for my reading (which will hopefully reflect in my writing): to read just as prolifically as before, but to read at least one book a week.  By the end of the year, I still will have read a ridiculous amount, but fifty of them will have been books that have challenged me to think and explore my universe.  At the very least, my brain won’t be checking out so often and I’ll be getting out of my comfort zone.

This is a good place to be as a writer.

Happy reading!

~RJLouise



I have yet to finish up all my dead-in-the-water blogs (it would have happened in a week if one of said blogs wasn’t hiding somewhere in my unpacked boxes from school), but I thought I should probably attempt writing a weekly blog on here anyway.  Especially since I have something so important to talk about: the proscriptive standard, specifically in literature.

Students often come across the proscriptive standard in class–this is how projects are accomplished.  The teacher gives examples of how to do it, the students do their best to imitate with exactness.  Of course, this is a mode found more often in junior highs and high schools than college, which is appropriate.  In college (indeed, in late high school years), students should have progressed far enough in the educational track to see a standard and extrapolate, not imitate.  The standard becomes suggestive, not proscriptive.

This is how standards are meant to be taken in literature (in life!), but I fear that my generation—what I lovingly call “the Harry Potter generation”—has forgotten this.  Increasingly, I find twenty-somethings complaining that books or characters are not “the next Harry Potter” or “enough like Harry Potter.”  These young men and women are frequently disappointed by the efforts of new authors because they have taken J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece to be a proscriptive standard.  Of course they will be disappointed in all authors who follow Rowling because certainly all but a few are going in a different direction, writing for different audiences, and using different devices.

My attitude does not, of course, account for bad, or merely mediocre, writing.  It’s out there.  I acknowledge that.  But we are going through a renaissance for children’s and young adult literature, the likes of which has not been seen since the late nineteenth to early twentieth century!  The writing standard is higher because competition is stiffer.  And yet, authors are getting opportunities to grow as artists never before.  I have never seen such a forgiving industry as the industry I see now.  How else would have Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga been published, much less been allowed to continue (if we’re being honest here)?

I think this is a good thing!  A marvelously wonderful thing!  Does it allow less than stellar writing to become popular?  Yes.  But, was that happening anyway?  Yes.  Was it happening in such a positive way?  No.  However bad her beginnings, Stephenie Meyer was forced to up her game.  She stepped out as an author with The Host and proved it wasn’t a fluke with the final book of her Saga.  Authors who start at a higher level improve in direct response to this higher standard.  The industry is redefining itself and I am anxiously engaged in watching the developments.

I hope my generation, many members of which still bury themselves in young adult and children’s lit, doesn’t kill this movement.  With each outcry, “It’s not Harry Potter,” we pave the way for homogeny.  Reinvention is the soul of literature, of art, of humanity.  I desperately hope that authors are not discouraged by these ridiculous demands and that the up-and-coming generation is wiser than mine.  Certainly there are those, in both age brackets, who do not want another Harry Potter.  As much as I love him, as many countless times (and I mean countless—I lost track at two dozen reads per book) as I have read him, I’m a little sick of Harry.  Not because of those countless times I’ve read him, but because he’s not the perfect fit for me as he is for others.  I’m ready for these fresh authors and ideas.  I’m ready to find my exact fit.

All evidence says the authors are ignoring my contemporaries.  Thank heavens.  But I mourn for my generation.  I mourn for their adherence to the proscriptive standard and the inability to appreciate the beauty that is in the “new” stories around them.  After all, there are only so many plots available to humankind.  Nothing is really new any longer.  They’ll get their “new” Harry Potter sooner or later.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy him immensely, just as I do his predecessor.

Until then, I’ll be at the library, searching for more books: new, old, and in between.

Happy reading!

~RJLouise



{November 14, 2009}   Novella

Told you I’d be back soon!

So, the plan for Strains of a Sonant Storie was to write each adaptation out as a novel and go from there.  That’s still the plan, but a new step has been added, thanks to my experience writing my senior thesis.

When I went into my senior thesis project, I was not going to turn in a complete work.  I was going to turn in the first seventy (or so) pages of the first novel in Strains: Stefan.  (Stefan is an adaptation of ATU 425C, “The Beauty and the Beast.”  (For those of you who do not know what the ATU system is, another blog is coming, I promise–“The Beauty and the Beast” will do you for now.))  However, I was informed that I must turn in a completed work for my thesis, so I either had to change my project or turn in a novella of Stefan.

Well, I had spent the entire summer researching for Stefan.  And, furthermore, changing the project was going to anger quite a few people who had been told to expect Stefan.  Really, though, I just wanted to work on this so badly that I compromised and said I’d write the novella.  I was not a happy camper.

Fast-forward ten weeks.  I’ve completed the novella–OH MY GOSH!!!  Not only is my thesis complete (breathing deeply), but I have finished the first work within Strains and the experience was invigorating.  The feeling of a completed work is heady indeed, but a lot of what was so amazing about finishing Stefan was that I learned a lot about my characters within the process that I value knowing before I go into the novel writing.  In fact, the experience has been so good for Stefan that I intend to write all of the twelve stories within the epic (an epic is traditionally in twelve parts, or books, by the way–I’m not calling it an epic because I plan to turn this into a million word tome) in novella form first.

I love this kind of discovery.  Finishing Stefan felt so good, but I also need to leave it alone for a bit.  Having finished it, I can do that in good conscience.  I can move on to the next novella, and when that one is finished, I can take a break from it: come back to Stefan. This gives me the break that I need as well as the continual fun in writing that I love.  I am a fan of the novella, I highly recommend it.

~RJLouise



et cetera