A Six Word Story

This month, I’m doing a series of short exercises, one a week, to help those of you who are stuck with your WIP. Maybe you’re doing NaNoWriMo, maybe not. In any case, it helps to have an exercise to spark your imagination.

This week’s exercise is a challenge in brevity. The goal of NaNoWriMo, for instance, is to write 50k words in a month. A 50k word work is about the length of a short novel, similar to an Avon or Harlequin romance. This can be a challenge in and of itself… how do you write a novel with developed characters and an interesting plot in 50k words? Some writers, who are cheating themselves, will litter their WIP with adverbs, adjectives, and unnecessary description just to make that word count goal.

Here is a popular and well-known writing exercise… Hemingway was once given a challenge to write an entire story in only six words. His answer:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Apparently, he thought it was his greatest literary work ever. It speaks to the audience, and pulls them in. We know the ending to the story, and can surmise how it began. Most importantly, we care.

Here are some of my six word stories:

He smiled, and her world ended.

She always hated writing the beginning.

Her lips were chapped. Damn frogs.

Required: knight in armor (shining optional).

There are many writers who practice this sort of flash fiction through their Twitter accounts, where each update can only be 140 characters long. Can you tell a story in a sentence? What is your six word story? Do you even count these micro-narratives as stories?

WIP: A Writing Update

No April Fool’s today, just a quick shout-out to my mother (it’s her birthday!), an announcement, and a long-overdue post about my WIP.

First, the announcement: I’m switching back to posting once a week. Why the change? This final quarter of classes just might melt my brain. (If you didn’t notice my two-month-long trial of posting twice a week then I haven’t changed a thing, I swear. Pretend this paragraph doesn’t exist.)

If you visited the blog recently, you noticed that the WIP counter on my sidebar has suddenly changed from 82k, a mere 3% away from my 85k goal, to 87k. Admission time: I’ve been past the 85k goal since the beginning of March. I didn’t want to change my progress counter until I actually finished First Draft B, which is silly, but true. I haven’t finished it, but I can see the finish line.

Trentwood’s Orphan cover mock-up by Belinda KrollIn terms of writing, I’m squeaking by. I didn’t write a single word during my spring break, which is depressing. But the other night I stayed up writing an after-death scene which reveals how much Mary, the main character, has grown. As I wrote to Erica , Mary is an odd mixture of subtle sass, pervasive doubt, and sad resignation. With an imaginary friend who looks like her dead father. Oh, how I love the twist.

A departure from my first book, I have multiple people dying or dead in this book. This isn’t meant to be depressing, but more a reflection of the Victorian world. Based on my research, the fact that Mary dwells over her father’s death longer than “socially acceptable” causes all sorts of problems, least of which that people assume she’s spoiled. Shocking, but oh-so-true. Below is a re-working of my hook, which I still don’t like.

A grieving daughter encounters love and ghosts in Victorian England.

1887 English countryside: Mary Winslow is a 26-year-old viscount’s daughter trying to make amends for crippling her father in a London carriage accident years ago. When her father’s ghost appears after his death, Mary returns to London to face her past and convince her ex-fiancé, Mr Spencer, not to sue her for breach-of-promise in order to prove she will not spend the rest of her life as an unhappy countryside recluse.

I don’t like it because I still feel like it doesn’t represent the novel properly. This book is very internal, for all main characters involved. How do you make a book about a woman learning to let go of her father’s death and allowing herself to get hurt/fall in love sound like something worth reading? Or is that enough? I feel like it wouldn’t have enough “hook” to it. Have any suggestions/thoughts? Does this sound like something you would want to read? For a previous version with more details and less focus, see here.

As a side-note, Microsoft Word’s comment feature is my new best friend.* Instead of obsessing over details the way a proper Type A personality should, I make a note to myself. I have little red and blue comment bubbles all over the document, some saying things like, “Incorrect description. Reference green notebook, Victorian courtroom notes.” Or better yet, “Graham says Alex is a man’s man. Would a man’s man do this?”

Which is a perfect transition to recognize my awesome beta-reader, Graham, a Swindonian who found my blog by accident and has since become a fellow writer friend. Being that he is a British male, and half of my characters are British males, and he lives near my deliciously remote location in England (Compton Beauchamp), his insight is irreplaceable. Even the few paragraphs I posted earlier, along with the first chapter I sent him, gave enough details for him to say, “We don’t say it that way,” or “Actually, in the location you’re describing, it would be a hedgerow, not a low stone wall.” Did I mention he actually copied the February and August 1887 archives from the local newspapers to help me with local detailing?? He already has a proper place in my acknowledgment section because of the immense help he’s been.

Tell me, how is your WIP going? Read any good writing books lately? Chat me up!

Next week, a guest post from Blair Hurley on how to write on the go!

*See Refresh Your Writing for another nifty Microsoft Word trick to help you focus on your writing.

The new year cometh

Happy new year, everyone! Here’s hoping your muse is kind. Mine favored me at the end of my break from school, the procrastinating little wretch that she is, and I’m now 76% complete with the WIP manuscript! I’ve done a lot of work-shopping on the tagline and the hook. Here’s what I came up with for my WIP, Trentwood’s Orphan

A grieving daughter encounters love and ghosts in Victorian England.

A proposal on the anniversary of her father’s death is not Mary Winslow’s idea of romance, but as a 26-year-old maid in Victorian England, Mr Spencer is her last chance. When Mary catches Mr Spencer seducing her scullery maid, her regimented world falls apart, and her secret deathbed promise to her father comes back to haunt her…literally.

What do you think? Something worth reading, or do I need more edits?

From an administrative standpoint, there are new fun things here at the blog, mainly that I have a new plug-in that highlights posts related to the topic of the post you’re currently reading. I added blurbs about the books I’ve written, and I updated the About and Reading List pages. Fellow authors, if your website needs a new look, or if you haven’t looked into web marketing, check out the Siriomi Web Designs tab as an affordable solution to your problems.

My next post will be listing my most and least favorite books of 2007, how many pages I read, etc. What would you like to see in 2008? More information on publishing? Let me know.

Miss Snark’s How to Write a Hook

Taken from Miss Snark, here is the general template on how to make your hook act, read, and seem like an actual hook.

X is the main guy; he wants to do:
Y is the bad guy; he wants to do:
they meet at Z and all L breaks loose.
If they don’t resolve Q, then R starts and if they do it’s L squared.

That’s it! If you want your book to have a great hook, have characters who have opposing goals. Throw them together and let the magical sparks fly.