Showing posts with label stephenie meyer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stephenie meyer. Show all posts

Saturday, May 8

Lester Dent's Short Story Structure: 3 Elements of a Great Story Opening

Lester Dent's Short Story Structure: 3 Elements of a Great Story Opening

Let’s talk about strong story openings. 

I’ve been writing a series of blog posts on Lester Dent’s Short Story Structure and realized that I had more to say about story openings than would fit in there. So!

Lester Dent on Strong Story Openings

Here’s what Dent wrote about what made a story opening strong:

“1--First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with” [1]

This, then, is Dent's advice for how to hook a reader: 

1. Put the protagonist in trouble,
2. hint at a mystery or some sort of problem that needs to be solved, and
3. make it clear that the protagonist must solve it.

That’s fine, but how does one do this in practise?

An Example

What do you think of this opening?

“I'd never given much thought to how I would die—though I'd had reason enough in the last few months—but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.”

That’s the first line of the prologue from Twilight, Book 1. I know you may dislike Stephenie Meyer’s books, and fair enough. They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But that opening clearly satisfies (1), it puts the protagonist in a LOT of trouble, so much that she feels her death is inevitable.

The prologue is a flash-forward. And, yes, a flash-forward can be tricky, but I think Meyer pulled this one off. Because of it we know what the end stakes are, we know where she is headed. And we care about her more since she would willingly die in the place of someone she cared about.

But what about Dent’s (2) and (3)?

The Opening

Here's a quick summary of the first few paragraphs of Twilight: Bella, a teenager, is going to live with her dad in a town she detests. But, of course, there’s a twist. She is going willingly. 

“My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt — sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.

“In the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington State, a small town named Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds. It rains on this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America. It was from this town and its gloomy, omnipresent shade that my mother escaped with me when I was only a few months old. It was in this town that I'd been compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen. That was the year I finally put my foot down; these past three summers, my dad, Charlie, vacationed with me in California for two weeks instead.

“It was to Forks that I now exiled myself—an action that I took with great horror. I detested Forks.” (Twilight, Stephenie Meyer)

We see the protagonist, Bella, travelling into exile to live with her father who she thinks of not as “dad” but as “Charlie.” 

Rather than her parents dragging her off to live somewhere she detests, she is going voluntarily because she loves her Mom and she realizes that she and her new husband need to be alone for a bit. She sacrifices herself. This is Dent’s (3). Only Bella can make this sacrifice.

Not only is Bella’s sacrifice unusual--one generally doesn’t expect this unselfishness from a teenager--but it is admirable. And we’re curious. Why? Why are you doing this? Sure it is admirable--but why are you doing it? I wanted to know more about this Bella person. That’s Dent’s (2). We are handed a mystery. Perhaps a smallish mystery compared to those that are introduced later, but it is enough to get us reading the next sentence. And the next, and the next (and so on).

A Challenge

I challenge you to read the first few paragraphs of one of your favorite stories. What is it about those paragraphs that made you care about the characters? Are Dent’s criteria met? Is the protagonist put in some kind of trouble? Is a mystery raised? Must the protagonist be the one to solve it?

Sometimes it also helps to note the point of view. Is the story written from the first person perspective? The second? Third? Each of these has its peculiar strengths and weaknesses. 

I will resume my Lester Dent series soon. It has been taking me longer than expected because I am  using it to write an action-adventure (at first I tried writing a cozy mystery, but Dent’s structure just wasn’t made for that). I’ll publish the next installment of the series next week.

In the meantime, have a great week! I’ll see you again next week and, as always, good writing. 😀


1. The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot

Lester Dent's Short Story Fiction Formula: Index

Where you can find me on the web:
Twitter: @WoodwardKaren
Pinterest: @karenjwoodward
Instagram: @KarenWoodwardWriter
YouTube: The Writer's Craft

Blog posts you might like:

Monday, September 24

Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs

Are you sick of hearing about sock puppets? Do you want to shut the world out, march into your writing cave and scribble like a madperson? I do! But when you emerge, pale and blinded by the light, you will have to decide: How are you going to edit all the glorious content you've created?

If you're anything like me, you understand you must edit your manuscript before you publish but you'll look for ways to reduce the cost. Some editors change less if your manuscript is mostly error free, so eliminating as many errors as you can before you send it off makes financial sense.

Apart from the cost, it's always nice to get your manuscript into the best possible shape before you send it out to readers. Which brings to mind something acutely embarrassing that happened to me last week: I emailed a short story to my critique group and only later--much later--noticed I'd sent them a first draft as opposed to the nearly final draft I'd intended to send! Although they were gracious, I still feel like I'd walked to the grocery story naked. Yes, that's a little off-topic, but I guess part of the reason for this post is I've resolved to make everything I send out as good as I can make it.

What's the solution? Editing programs! Preferably free editing programs.

What follows comes from a blog post of Virginia Ripple: Paid and Free Editing Software For Manuscripts. Here are the three programs Virginia uses: EditMinion, Pro Writing Aid, ClicheCleaner. She writes:
I use EditMinion first because it highlights adverbs, weak words, said replacements, sentences ending prepositions and passive voice in different colors. It wasn’t until I ran my first couple scenes through this free editing software that I realized I was in love with adverbs and had a real problem with passive voice.

Next I use Pro Writing Aid. This free editing software catches things like sticky sentences (sentences with too many glue words), vague and abstract words, overused words, repeated words and phrases, complex words and pacing. Like passive voice, I have a real fondness for sticky sentences, and this program finds those with ease.

Last of all, I use ClicheCleaner. It’s great for finding cliches and redundancies. You can download a free demo version that lets you scan up to 20 documents before needing to pay $12.95 to do any more. I downloaded ClicheCleaner because I always thought I had issues with using too many cliches. After using this free editing software, I was surprised to find I don’t have a big problem after all. Of course, even one can be too many.
I put the first three paragraphs of this post through EditMinion and Pro Writing Aid [1] and feel it did help. But, for me, that's not the real test of an editing program. I want to see what the program has to say about the prose of a writer I admire. I want to see what the program says about those paragraphs I read and I think, "I wish I could write like that!" THOSE are the kind of paragraphs I use to test editing programs.

Stephen King, On Writing
From the time I read his first book I've loved Stephen King's writing, so it's natural--or at least predicable--that I came to regard On Writing as something of a bible. How better than to test the editing program with Stephen King's prose? As you can see, I've also included Jim Butcher's work. I did this because if any editing program tells me that man can't tell a good story, then the program has spaghetti for circuits and is getting the old heave ho.

This is from page 153 of Stephen King's, On Writing:
Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind—they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death. Writing is at its best—always, always, always—when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.

I used to tell interviewers that I wrote every day except for Christmas, the Fourth of July, and my birthday. That was a lie. I told them that because if you agree to an interview you have to say something, and it plays better if it’s something at least half-clever. Also, I didn’t want to sound like a workaholic dweeb (just a workaholic, I guess). The truth is that when I’m writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth, and my birthday (at my age you try to ignore your goddam birthday anyway). And when I’m not working, I’m not working at all, although during those periods of full stop I usually feel at loose ends with myself and have trouble sleeping. For me, not working is the real work. When I’m writing, it’s all the playground, and the worst three hours I ever spent there were still pretty damned good.
I'm only going to focus on two reports: The Overused Words Report and the Adverbs/Passive Report. For the following I use Pro Writing Aid. (I'm only using one editing program because, for me, the question isn't whether one program is better than another, it is whether any editing program is very good, and I think Pro Writing Aid is one of the better ones.)

Overused Words, Stephen King, On Writing:
Overused WordsFoundSuggestion
feel/feeling/felt2Remove about 1 occurence
generic descriptions0Well done
had0Nice work
have4Remove about 2 occurences
initial -ing1Very good
it/there7Remove about 3 occurences
just/then1Just right
initial conjunction0Way To go
look0Great work
-ly adverb2Nice job
see/saw0Well done
smell/taste0Nice work
that6Remove about 4 occurences
watch/notice/observe0Very good

 Adverbs/Passive Report, Stephen King, On Writing:
 I can't copy and paste the text, but no passive constructions were found and two adverbs were listed:
- Absolutely
- Usually

Jim Butcher, Small Favor
Pick any of Jim Butcher's Dresden books and, if you like urban fantasy with witty characters, then you'll end up becoming a fan of the series. Really. Try it. (If you want to read the series, start with the first book, Storm Front.)

The following are the first few paragraphs from Small Favor:
Winter came early that year; it should have been a tip-off.

A snowball soared through the evening air and smacked into my apprentice’s mouth. Since she was muttering a mantra-style chant when it hit her, she wound up with a mouthful of frozen cheer—which may or may not have been more startling for her than for most people, given how many metallic piercings were suddenly in direct contact with the snow.

Molly Carpenter sputtered, spitting snow, and a round of hooting laughter went up from the children gathered around her. Tall, blond, and athletic, dressed in jeans and a heavy winter coat, she looked natural in the snowy setting, her cheeks and nose turning red with the cold.

“Concentration, Molly!” I called. I carefully kept any laughter I might have wanted to indulge in from my voice. “You’ve got to concentrate! Again!”

The children, her younger brothers and sisters, immediately began packing fresh ammunition to hurl at her. The backyard of the Carpenter house was already thoroughly chewed up from an evening of winter warfare, and two low “fortress” walls faced each other across ten yards of open lawn. Molly stood between them, shivering, and gave me an impatient look.

“This can’t possibly be real training,” she said, her voice quavering with cold. “You’re just doing this for your own sick amusement, Harry.”

I beamed at her and accepted a freshly made snowball from little Hope, who had apparently appointed herself my squire. I thanked the small girl gravely, and bounced the snowball on my palm a few times. “Nonsense,” I said. “This is wonderful practice. Did you think you were going to start off bouncing bullets?”

Molly gave me an exasperated look. Then she took a deep breath, bowed her head again, and lifted her left hand, her fingers spread wide. She began muttering again, and I felt the subtle shift of energies moving as she began drawing magic up around her in an almost solid barrier, a shield that rose between her and the incipient missile storm.

“Ready!” I called out. “Aim!”
Overused Words, Jim Butcher, Small Favor:
Overused WordsFoundSuggestion
feel/feeling/felt1Well done
generic descriptions0Nice work
have3Remove about 1 occurence
hear/heard0Very good
initial -ing0Just right
just/then1Way To go
knew/know0Great work
initial conjunction0Nice job
look2Remove about 1 occurence
-ly adverb9Remove about 3 occurences
see/saw0Well done
smell/taste0Nice work
was/were3Very good
watch/notice/observe0Just right

Adverbs/Passive Report, Jim Butcher, Small Favor:
I can't copy and paste this, but there are 9 adverbs:
- early
- suddenly
- carefully
- immediately
- thoroughly
- possibly
- freshly
- apparently
- gravely

The program also mistakenly flagged the name "Molly" as an adverb.

Stephenie Meyer, Twilight
I was going to stop there. Both Stephen King and Jim Butcher are marvelous writers and if any editing program says otherwise, it's not an editing program I want to use. So far I like what I've seen.

But I couldn't leave it at that. I wanted to see how Pro Writing Aid did with a piece of writing that Stephen King thinks is horrible. Now, Mr. King isn't the kind of guy to read a piece of prose to the world and mock it, dissect it, criticize it, and I don't want to be that kind of person either. That's just being a jerk.

So, before I continue, I want to say that I read Meyer's Twilight series and liked it. Whatever flaws anyone sees in it, it works beautifully and is another brilliant caution against taking what anyone says about good or bad writing, grammar and all the rest of it, too seriously.

The following is from the beginning of Twilight:
Eventually we made it to Charlie's. He still lived in the small, two-bedroom house that he'd bought with my mother in the early days of their marriage. Those were the only kind of days their marriage had — the early ones. There, parked on the street in front of the house that never changed, was my new — well, new to me — truck. It was a faded red color, with big, rounded fenders and a bulbous cab. To my intense surprise, I loved it. I didn't know if it would run, but I could see myself in it. Plus, it was one of those solid iron affairs that never gets damaged — the kind you see at the scene of an accident, paint unscratched, surrounded by the pieces of the foreign car it had destroyed.

"Wow, Dad, I love it! Thanks!" Now my horrific day tomorrow would be just that much less dreadful. I wouldn't be faced with the choice of either walking two miles in the rain to school or accepting a ride in the Chief's cruiser.

"I'm glad you like it," Charlie said gruffly, embarrassed again.

It took only one trip to get all my stuff upstairs. I got the west bedroom that faced out over the front yard. The room was familiar; it had been belonged to me since I was born. The wooden floor, the light blue walls, the peaked ceiling, the yellowed lace curtains around the window — these were all a part of my childhood. The only changes Charlie had ever made were switching the crib for a bed and adding a desk as I grew. The desk now held a secondhand computer, with the phone line for the modem stapled along the floor to the nearest phone jack. This was a stipulation from my mother, so that we could stay in touch easily. The rocking chair from my baby days was still in the corner. There was only one small bathroom at the top of the stairs, which I would have to share with Charlie. I was trying not to dwell too much on that fact.

One of the best things about Charlie is he doesn't hover. He left me alone to unpack and get settled, a feat that would have been altogether impossible for my mother. It was nice to be alone, not to have to smile and look pleased; a relief to stare dejectedly out the window at the sheeting rain and let just a few tears escape. I wasn't in the mood to go on a real crying jag. I would save that for bedtime, when I would have to think about the coming morning.

Forks High School had a frightening total of only three hundred and fifty-seven — now fifty-eight — students; there were more than seven hundred people in my junior class alone back home. All of the kids here had grown up together — their grandparents had been toddlers together.

I would be the new girl from the big city, a curiosity, a freak.
Overused Words, Stephenie Meyer, Twilight
Overused WordsFoundSuggestion
feel/feeling/felt0Well done
generic descriptions0Nice work
have4Very good
hear/heard0Just right
initial -ing0Excellent
it/there15Remove about 8 occurences
just/then2Way To go
knew/know1Great work
initial conjunction0Nice job
-ly adverb11Remove about 2 occurences
maybe0Well done
see/saw2Nice work
that9Remove about 5 occurences
was/were15Remove about 7 occurences
watch/notice/observe0Very good

Adverbs/Passive Report, Stephenie Meyer, Twilight:
- Eventually
- Gruffly
- Only
- Easily
- Only
- Dejectedly
- Only 

Passive word phrases
- "was born"

I found it helpful comparing Meyer's work with King's and Butcher's. If I had more time, I would also analyze a passage from her newer book, The Host. My guess is that, like all people who write regularly, Meyer's prose has improved.

I haven't compared my own work to King's or Butcher's yet, but I will, and when I do I'm sure I'll cringe and blush. I do hope, though, that what I write today is better than what I wrote a couple of years ago. I think it is, and I believe reading Stephen King's book, On Writing, and taking it to heart, accounts for much of that improvement.

Other articles you might be interested in:
- Jim Butcher, Harry Dresden and the Dresden Files
- Stephen King's Joyland (June 4, 2013): Cover Art Just Released
- Writing Resources

1. ClicheCleaner required me to download software, and cliches were covered by the first two programs, so I didn't use it.

Photo credit: Georges Méliès

Thursday, August 18

Highest Paid Writers of 2011

The earnings below are from sales made between May 2010 and April 2011.

#1 James Patterson: 84 million
- Alex Cross series
- Maximum Ride series
- Many, many, others

#2 Danielle Steel: 35 million
- Jewels, The Ghost, Matters of the Heart

#3 Stephen King: 28 million
- The Shining, Salem's Lot, It

#4 Janet Evanovich: 22 million

- Stephanie Plum

#5 Stephenie Meyer: 21 million
- Twilight Series

#6 Rick Riordan: 21 million
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians series

#7 Dean Koontz: 19 million
- Demon Seed, Strangers

#8 John Grisham: 18 million
- The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Runaway Jury

#9 Jeff Kinney: 17 million
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid

#10 Nicholas Sparks: 16 million
- The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember

This information is based on these articles:
- Highest Paid Authors of 2011
- James Patterson brand makes him worlds best-paid writer
- James Patterson tops Forbes list of top-earning writers