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writerPlato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

Kimberly Yuhl suggests you have eight words to capture your reader’s attention.

Rob Weatherhead states in the article, Say it Quick, Say it Well (please excuse the grammar), that the attention span of a modern internet consumer is short. “Studies have shown that 32% of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between one and five seconds.”

Marcia Hoeck, in her article How to Capture Your Reader’s Attention, writes: “You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, so don’t take chances with clever, cute, or insider language or visuals, which are often lost on people.”

Whether or not these statistics apply specifically to fiction writing is immaterial. They apply to today’s readers. Knowing these facts should motivate us to put extra effort into creating captivating openings for our stories.

I find that examples aid my understanding, so let’s take a look at some classic examples of beguiling beginnings:

* (my favorite) “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” This from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

* “On November the 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went…” The Private Patient, by P.D. James.

* “When the coppers talk about Marsha Morgan, they start with her death—how she fell off the Chesapeake Belle and drowned in the Miles River.” From Ron and Janet Benrey’s Little White Lies.

* Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner begins this way: “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.”

* Caroline Way’s Confessions from a Farmer’s Wife: “I am the last one. Of those whose lives I will speak of here, I alone remain.”

* Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: “It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door.”

What do these examples have in common?questions

- they are concise

- they raise questions for which we want answers

- they create a mood

- they suggest the kind of story that’s coming (plot driven / character driven)

- they draw us into the story

How can we create a similar effect?

- we must decide what we want to convey; what is the most important aspect of the story?

- we must ask the right questions

- we must decide what the mood of our story will be

- we must know the style of story we are writing

- we must revise and polish until the beginning is irresistible

fascinated reader

Having said all this, remember that you can tweak your beginning many times, especially after the ending has been written. After all, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from” T.S. Eliot.

Wildwood Creek

Wildwood Creek

Wildwood Creek is a cross between a contemporary story—Allie Kirkland finds employment setting up for a historical re-enactment of a mysterious happening, and ends up cast in one of the leading roles—and the actual lives of the people who lived in Wildwood in 1861.

As Allie struggles to adapt to a primitive way of life, she learns more about the character she is portraying. Bonnie Rose and her younger sister traveled to Wildwood to escape their hideous past, only to meet more challenges, suspicion and threats. The more Allie discovers about Bonnie, the more she wants to know. Her information stems from an unexpected source, and a stranger on the set shows more than a passing interest in Allie as she deals with her own past and perceptions of life.

Besides looking inside herself for answers, Allie also tries to understand what happened to the people who disappeared from Wildwood in 1861. Will this remain a mystery or will the rest of Bonnie Rose’s story be unearthed before the summer crew packs up and heads back to civilization?

The switches in time periods are managed well in this novel, not always chapter for chapter, but clearly specified. Readers discover historic details through set design, clothing, traditional vocations, and the struggles of modern day people to adapt to this new way of life. An ingenious method of conveying historical facts.

I liked the wide range of characters in both time periods and how they worked together to create a fascinating story of mystery, desperation, love and determination.

A worthwhile and memorable read by Lisa Wingate.

Author Lisa Wingate

Author Lisa Wingate

THE OFFICIAL BIO: Lisa Wingate is a former journalist, inspirational speaker, and the author of over twenty mainstream fiction novels, including the national bestseller, Tending Roses, now in its nineteenth printing. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, an Oklahoma Book Award finalist, and a two-time Carol Award winner. Her novels are known for taking on gritty subjects while offering redemptive and uplifting themes. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with Bill Ford, Camille Cosby, and six others, as recipients of the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. More information about Lisa’s novels can be found at www.Lisawingate.com or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/LisaWingateAuthorPage?fref=ts.

 

Marsha Hubler

Marsha Hubler

Janice: Welcome to my blog, Marsha. Thanks for agreeing to do this blog-interview with me.

Marsha: It’s my privilege. Thank you for inviting me.

Janice: When I first “met” you via Helping Hands Press and your website, I realized you are a multi-published, multi-genre writer. Tell us what genres you write and how you came to each.

Marsha: I guess you can say I’ve been around the block concerning writing different genres. Over twenty years ago I started writing poems, short stories, and human interest articles for magazines, all of which have been frequently published. Ten years later after working on my craft, I had my first book published, DRAW ME CLOSER, LORD, a Bible study guide about prayer. I’ve also published YOU’VE DECIDED TO HOMESCHOOL, NOW WHAT?, a helps book for parents who are considering homeschooling their children. Next I moved into the fiction arena, publishing my eight-book tween Keystone Stables Series with Zonderkidz, which became a best seller. I also published three stand-alones: THE SECRET OF THE BATTY, RICKIE RIDES TO THE RESCUE, and THE SECRET OF WOLF CANYON. My latest publications include a three-book series, THE LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY and THE SNYDER COUNTY QUILTING BEE SHORT STORIES (SETS ONE AND TWO), fiction works which introduce readers to the Amish and Mennonite culture in Snyder County, PA. Right now I’m back in the tween fiction genre, working on another girl/horse novel, SNOW, PHANTOM STALLION OF THE POCONOS.

The Snyder County Quilting Bee by Marsha Hubler

The Snyder County Quilting Bee by Marsha Hubler

Janice: That’s quite a variety of genres. In reviewing your book list, I noticed a definite interest in horses. What breeds do you have? Why do you base so many of your junior reader fiction on horses?

Marsha: You might say I was born with a silver stirrup in my mouth. I’ve loved horses as long as I can remember. Although I no longer have horses, I owned them for over twenty years (mostly Quarter Horses and Tennessee Walkers), overlapping the time my hubby and I had foster children. Thus, my juvenile fiction books all involve horses and kids. Many of the fiction stories are based on experiences I’ve had in the past. When you put kids and horses together, there’s bound to be a good story!

Janice: I believe it, and your books are proof. What’s your writing schedule / process?

Marsha: If I can write for four hours a day, it’s a good day. I’ve learned to write with noise in the background. My elderly parents lived with me for 15 years. My best hours are from ten a.m. to two or three p.m. I enjoy sitting with my laptop either on my sofa in the living room or on my back porch overlooking our yard that has a small garden pond with a little waterfall.

Janice: Sounds relaxing but I know it’s hard work. What’s your favorite part of writing and what’s the most challenging aspect for you?

Marsha: I love the creative process. I enjoy creating characters and breathing life into them. I always tell my conferees at writers’ conferences that good writing is 90% good thinking. The most challenging aspect is, of course, finding a publishing company that would be interested in my work.

Janice: That’s the truth! Tell us a bit about yourself and your life beyond writing.

Marsha: I enjoy gardening, shooting pool—we have a pool table in our basement—playing the organ in church, and reading the Bible and devotionals. I also exercise my thinking skills by playing Scrabble online. I try to keep in shape physically by exercising my fat four times a week on a treadmill, stationary bike, and playing ping pong. I have fat…but it’s in shape!

Janice: (smile) I’m with you there! I noticed from your booklist that you often write series. How do you go about creating a series?

Marsha: A broad outline with ideas for the beginning and end of each book is essential to writing a successful series. The publisher usually has its own ideas, as well, how to develop the series. I don’t know how anyone could write a series by the seat of his/her pants. Detailed planning of character development, plot structures, and story arcs for each book in the series is a must.

Janice: You write for both junior and adult readers. How does the writing differ for these audiences?

Marsha: Besides the length of the manuscripts, difficulty levels of vocabulary vary. As a Christian, I write with my Christian readers in mind, being careful to develop discreet scenes and use language that is not offensive at any age. My ultimate goal is to honor the Lord with my writing.

Janice: I’m glad to hear it, and I pray that God will continue to bless your writing. How involved are you in social media and what do you see as the assets / liabilities of these media for writers today?

Marsha: For the longest time, I tried to ignore the e-book craze and social media, but authors can no longer ignore the fact that the market has changed dramatically in the last five to ten years. I’m saddened at the closing of so many bookstores, which has made personal appearances for authors more difficult. However, the social media opportunities online have balanced that equation. An author who avoids the Internet has his head in the sand. Hundreds, even thousands of contacts can be made online in an hour whereas it would take months or years to meet that many folks in person.

Janice: So true. What kinds of books do you enjoy reading for pleasure? What are you currently reading?

Marsha: Of course, I like to read the genres for which I write, so over the years, I’ve read my share of tween girl/horse books and Amish fiction. My favorite book is the Bible (herein lie the words to eternal life), and I read missionary letters/periodicals and devotionals. I also read “how to write” books to improve my writing skills. I just finished reading SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Janice: I have that book in my library too, a great resource. In your opinion, how important is research in fiction writing and how do you go about it?

Marsha: Although fiction is mostly “made up,” I believe an author needs to be as factual as possible with scenes, descriptions, and character development to be credible. I’ve done my share of research for all my fiction books. For example, I’ve interviewed firemen for a barn fire scene, I’ve questioned a veterinarian friend numerous times about health issues of horses, and I’ve quizzed some of my Plain Folk friends to the Nth degree to be accurate in my LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY books.

Janice: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Marsha: To improve their craft, beginning writers MUST be members of a critique group, either local or online, and they should attend as many writers’ conferences as possible. All writers at different levels of experience need these two helps to improve their skills and eventually be published. Even after twenty years of publishing my work, I still cannot say, “I’ve arrived.”

Janice: Thanks very much for this interview and for your helpful suggestions. It’s been fun to get to know you better.

Marsha: I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your readers. I trust it’s been an encouragement. Thanks again.

Marsha Hubler, author of the best-selling tween Keystone Stables Series, lives in central PA with her husband and two dogs. Her latest published works, THE LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY SERIES and THE SNYDER COUNTY QUILTING BEE SERIES 2 SHORT STORIES, Amish/Mennonite fiction romance by Helping Hands Press, was created out of Marsha’s friendship with many Plain Folk who live in Snyder County. She has 16 books in print and dozens of articles and short stories.

 A frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, she has a passion to help beginning writers get their work primed for publication. Visit Marsha at her website, http://www.marshahubler.com and her blog that features writers’ tips for all genres and Amish and Mennonite traditions: http://www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Check out Marsha’s social media links below:

WEBSITE: http://www.marshahubler.com

AUTHOR PAGE AT AMAZON:http://www.amazon.com/author/marshahubler  

MY WRITERS’ TIPS & AUTHORS’ BLOG: http://marshahubler.wordpress.com/

MY LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY FAN PAGE ON MY BLOG: http://marshahubler.wordpress.com/the-loves-of-snyder-county/

MY HORSE FACTS’ BLOG FOR MY FANS: http://horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com/

FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/Loves.of.Snyder.County?ref=hl

PINTEREST: http://pinterest.com/marshahubler/

GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/430566.Marsha_Hubler

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/HorseBookWriter

 

All Scripture

open BibleI love reading the Old Testament. Probably because I love history, and the O.T. is the history of Israel with all its glory and disgrace mixed together. But how can I apply these stories to my life? Can they make a difference in me?

I’ve reached the book of Nehemiah. If you’d asked me a few days ago what my takeaway from this little book could be, I might have suggested Nehemiah’s commitment to prayer, his organizational skills, his gift of delegating. All good things.

What I found in this morning’s reading exceeded my expectations. In chapter nine I discovered (not for the first time, since the margins of my Bible are filled with notes) an extensive catalogue of the characteristics of God.

I’ll give you some examples. God is:

- eternal (v. 5)

- glorious (v. 5)

- creator (v. 6)

- faithful (v. 8)

- righteous (v.8)

- merciful (v. 9)

- just (v. 27)

- patient (v. 30)

I’ve only listed a few of the characteristics I found, but even these are enough to remind me of the greatness of the God I follow, and how essential Bible reading and study is to my faith. Nothing is wasted. Every one of the sixty-six books is important and beneficial.

As writers, we read all the time. I suggest that our most important reading each day should be from the Word of the One who has called us to be his pen in this time and place.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”

II Timothy 3:16.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you my latest historical novel, Other Side of the River. It has been releasing in installments for several months, and now that the installments are all out, it has been released as a complete e-book by Helping Hands Press.

The Complete E-book

The Complete E-book

WHEN ALL HER PLANS FOR THE FUTURE FALL APART,

WHERE WILL SHE GO FOR HOPE? FOR PEACE?

Western Siberia, 1926. As the Mennonite people struggle to maintain their faith and values, the Stalinist regime spreads its jaws to consume even its most remote citizens. 

In the midst of threat and uncertainty, Luise Letkemann and Daniel Martens plan their future. When Daniel realizes the consequences of unrestrained temper, Luise is forced to make life-changing decisions. Will they ever see each other again in the land of the living? Is there peace on the other side of the river?

The print copy is currently being compiled—I just okayed the format and full jacket—so it should be available shortly. I will be in touch.

If you prefer the digital format, please click on the title:  Other Side of the River.

  • File Size: 1091 KB
  • Print Length: 371 pages
  • Publisher: Helping Hands Press (June 18, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00L4L9SPM

In my Fiction Writing 101 series, I often refer to James Scott Bell and his writing books and tools, especially Plot & Structure. My copy is well-marked and highlighted. That’s where I first heard the differentiation between an OP and a NOP.Plot & Structure

OPs are Outline People, NOPs are Non-Outline People. The abbreviations are easy to remember but the meanings tend to merge into one another.

Are you an OP or a NOP? Or is this purely a matter of semantics? Do the NOPs just have an uncanny ability to keep their outlines in their heads while the rest of us have to record ours in black and white? I heard a fellow author on a radio interview recently say she writes the entire book in her head, then does a complete draft before committing it to paper. Whether we do so in our heads or on paper, outlining is essential to continuity, consistency, and the evolution of characters and action.

There are many helpful outlining methods available for use, or we can adapt them and create our own. Bell’s basic formula involves a step-by-step analysis of what you want in your story:

— main character

— what he or she wants

— main story conflict

— strong ending

Bell calls this his LOCK system, and I’ll let you follow up with his book.

I have also used a story analysis system called How to Find Your Story by Jeff Gerke, which has subsequently been revised into a book titled Plot versus Character. If the new volume is anything like the download I picked up some years ago, it will be full of charts and questions to help the writer establish the basic elements of the story and how they fit together.

file000474391001Another approach is the Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson. This is also available online (free) and is a valuable tool for plot creation and development. It involves recording the basic elements, then gradually filling them out.

di7eGA5i9A plot method I particularly like is The Plot Skeleton by Angela Hunt. My favorite part of this plan is how the “good” and “bad” plot incidents balance each other like the ribs of the skeleton. In a workshop with Angela, we used The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz as templates for the plot skeleton of a story. Both work very well.

I recently asked Marsha Hubler, author of tween horse books and Amish stories (as well as writing in other genres), how she goes about writing her series. She said, “Detailed planning of character development, plot structures, and story arcs for each book in the series is a must.”

So however you choose to create your stories, whether as an OP or a NOP, find a method that works and follow it to make this the best story ever.

 

 

The Book ThiefTitle: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: 2007

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, historical

Length: 550 pages

I didn’t expect to like this book. The narrator is Death! But once I met Liesel Meminger, her plight so moved me that I had to know her complete story. While the characters are fraught with fears and challenges, there is still an air of expectancy, of joy in the midst of suffering.

Liesel has come to Molching, a village on the outskirts of Munich, to live with the Hubermann family. Mrs. Hubermann—Rosa—is a short, squat, brash woman who shouts and swears at Liesel as often as not; her husband, Hans, a painter and musician of sorts, is a man who cares for the girl gently and tenderly through her recurring nightmares.

Add to this Rudy Steiner, a boy down the street, who becomes Liesel’s best friend; and the Jew hiding in the basement, and we have a fascinating story of life on Himmel Street during World War II.

At the beginning of the tale, Liesel struggles with reading, but over the course of her story, she becomes so enamored with words and their power that she pilfers books when she can’t resist.

In spite of her difficult transition from her own family unit to the Hubermann household during Hitler’s ignominious period of influence, Liesel manages to survive, her journey spanning a vast array of experiences, emotions and perspectives.

Author Markus Zusak, who has also written several other award winning young adult books, says, “I grew up in Sydney, but when my parents told stories about their childhoods in Germany and Austria during World War II, it was like a piece of Europe entered our house.” Zusak has graciously and effectively shared these pieces of history with us through the eyes of a young girl named Liesel Meminger. I recommend it to discerning readers of any age.

This book has also been made into a movie, but although I’ve heard good reviews, I would suggest you first read the book. It’s always better!

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