Sunday, February 23, 2014

Direct Copy and Paste From Writer's

I loved this post so much, I wanted to put it in a permanent place--
My thoughts: Funny thing: my sister had to write a business proposal today. I regularly edit for her. So I helped her write a first draft, but it was in my voice and she knew it had to have her emotional appeal.  In fact that's what she called it. My version was business like but she had the heart. I had just read this piece and her second draft sort of confirmed this. 
Thanks to the authors of this piece.
Do you know how to spot the difference between a good query letter and a fantastic query letter? This is going to sound trite, but the answer is: Ask your heart.
That’s right—the single most important thing that your query letter can do if you want to get a literary agent’s attention is create an emotional experience for the reader. You’ve got to make your reader feel. You’ve got to give him/her a reason to become emotionally invested in your tale.
For that reason, telling the bare facts of “what happens in the story” is not going to get your book a lot of attention. The book publishing industry is competitive. And when a literary agent is faced with two similar stories—one that is presented as a series of facts and one that offers an emotional experience—you can bet the literary agent is going to ask to see the book that gives him or her goose bumps.

So How Is A Writer Supposed To Create An Emotional Experience In A Query Letter Book Blurb?

Step One: Win us with your character. Unless we really care about your main character, it’s hard to become invested in the story. You don’t need an excessive amount of detail to demonstrate who your character is: A fewprecise descriptions that embody personality, strengths, and weaknesses should do the job. Bonus points if those descriptions hint at your character’s fatal flaw.
Step Two: Now that we care about the character, show us what that person has to lose. It’s human nature to have a big emotional response when a loved one faces a tough challenge. The same goes for great characters: We care about them because of their vulnerability. So show us just how much is at risk. Learn more about maximizing your main conflict.
Step Three: Choose the right words. As a writer, words are your medium. By choosing evocative words over dull words—and by choosing exciting phrases over flat ones—you can create a deeper sense of emotionality.
EXAMPLE 1: Our Hero hides in an underground bunker to escape terrorists. Townspeople begin flocking to the hideout, and this attracts attention and makes Our Hero the target of the terrorists who have found out where he is. He retreats into an underground tunnel system to get away.
This whole scene should feel like an intense action sequence. And yet all of the emotion of the moment is buried under dull word choices and muddled sentences. So let’s try again, except with a more emotional approach.
EXAMPLE 2: To escape the terrorists, Our Hero hides out in an earthen bunker—but his location is compromised when the people of Smithtown come banging on the hideout door, seeking safety for themselves and their loved ones. Now, Our Hero’s cover is blown—the terrorists know where he is.There’s no choice but to brave the dangerous underground tunnel system that extends out of the bunker. But with the enemy on to him, will he get out alive?
The first example is a rote description of the action: The second pulls us into the action, to experience it with him. We feel his fear.

The Bottom Line: You’ve Got To Make Readers Care

great query letter is not just a summary; it is an emotional experience that makes the reader want to know more. Literary agents may read dozens of query letters a day that don’t make their hearts race—but if your query letter makes them care about your sympathetic characters by exposing vulnerabilities, emphasizing risk, and choosing evocating words, then you might just have a winner.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"In the Classroom Column"

It was one o’clock in the morning when I was awakened by the sound of a howling dog—and again at three-thirty.
The next morning, in a different state of consciousness, I wondered if I really was awakened by a howling dog or if it was only a bad dream.
 I called my neighbor to confirm.
 “Were you awakened in the night by a howling dog?”
“Yes,” my neighbor answered in an irritated tone.
Just to be sure, I called another neighbor who also heard the howling dog. Yet, none of us were sure where the howling came from; we only knew it came from below. We live on the rim of a hillside overlooking a cul-de-sac of houses referred to as the bowl.
The bowl is known for its amazing acoustics and long before our homes were built, the bowl was used as a stadium for the rodeo and other events. When I stand in my backyard, I can hear clearly the conversations of my neighbors and they can hear mine. We’ve had some fun with this over the years. On the fourth of July, a visiting tenor and member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir stood on the deck and sang the Star Spangled Banner. My daughter played her violin on spring days when windows were open. Above the bowl, I have been entertained by heated baseball games among brothers and a drum concert from a talented percussionist.
Wonderful acoustics aside, it is a pernicious environment for a howling dog in the middle of the night.
The next evening, the howling started at eight o’clock and continued in fifteen-minute intervals. I started to not only worry about my impending sleep deprivation, but I also feared for a dog that might be in distress. I decided to get in my car and drive around the neighborhood.
On my way to the garage, I decided to first check my own backyard.
My step into the chilly night air coincided perfectly with the dog’s howl. I was startled by how close it sounded. I walked down a flight of stairs and opened the gate. There it was! The howling, frightened dog was in my own backyard. Fortunately, it was beagle I recognized.
A few phone calls later and the story emerged. Charlie, the offending beagle was missing for two days. Its owner had been searching the dog pounds, shelters, and the surrounding hills. The owner’s four children had been praying every night for Charlie’s return.
I think of my irritation because someone let his dog howl through the night. Then I think of the neighbor’s below my house, who knew where the all-night howling was coming from-my house! I think of their irritation, complaints and patience. Two days worry about someone else’s problem when it was really my own.
I have a good laugh because there is little else to do. But I keep hearing my sister repeat an old adage she is quite fond of, “Clean your own backyard before you clean mine, or in Biblical prose: And why beholdest thou the mote that is in they brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Quote of the Day

"I want to be around people like myself." My sister

There's a reason why my big sister Loraine made that statement and why I too want to be around her.

After two devastating deaths, a betrayal and the normal vicissitudes of life, Loraine has become a different and better person. And hopefully by hanging out with her and accompanying her on this ride, I too have become better. 

It's also why both of us understood so well the meaning of words I spoke to my class. A teacher stopped by my classroom and asked to see a certain student. He joined her in the hall but the door was left open. When the conversation started with the teacher saying, "I'm on the verge of a meltdown," every ear in the room perked up. Including mine. But I didn't want any of us to be the audience to this private exchange and I hurried over to shut the door. On my way back to my desk a student made a derogatory comment about the teacher, to which I answered without thought: "Remember, a person's suffering is sacred."

It is sacred because it is what changes us and in the in-between, our behavior may not always be pretty, but it may be the very path we must take to be a better self.

And that is why my sister  wants to surround herself with people just like her--because she's learned that judgment or criticism is a burden and an evil taskmaster. And really, who wants to be a slave?