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Today I’m excited to have Darcy Pattison here to share about her new book, START YOUR NOVEL-SIX WINNING STEPS TOWARD A COMPELLING OPENING LINE, SCENE, AND CHAPTER, that was released in early June 2013. Darcy’s is the author of many picture books, nonfiction books, and THE WAYFINDER, a YA fantasy. She’s also the author of books on the craft of writing, including NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE NOVELS WITH CRATIVE WRITING TIPS, TOOLS, AND STRATEGIES. I have NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS and found it really helpful as I revised my manuscript. Plus Darcy holds novel revision weekend workshops, which some of my writer friends have attended and raved about. I was lucky to meet Darcy at a Michigan SCBWI conference where she gave a great session on novel revision and a talk on social media.

Here’s a blurb about START YOUR NOVEL:

You want to write a novel, but you don’t know where to start. You have a great idea and—well, that’s all. This book explains the writing process of starting a novel in six winning steps.

• Starting the Journey
• Why Editors Focus on Page 1
• STEP ONE: Clarify Your Idea
• STEP TWO: Review Your Skills
• STEP THREE: Plan the Opening Chapter
• STEP FOUR: Plan the Opening Line
• STEP FIVE: Now, Write!
• STEP SIX: Revise
Writing teacher and author, Darcy Pattison, is the author of NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: Uncommon Ways to Revise,How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, and The Book Trailer Manual. She brings extensive experience in teaching writing to this exciting new book and helps you get started with the creative writing process. The book is available on Kobo, Kindle, and in print.

Hi Darcy. Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I am the fifth of seven children, daughter of a real cowboy and a teacher from the Show-Me-State of Missouri. With seven young children and living in a rural area 100-miles from the nearest library, my mother wrote to the state library to ask for books to be sent. We grew up with family story times each night. I distinctly remember the first time I got to read the story for that special time. Later, my mother arranged for the book mobile to stop at MY house. Folks from 30 miles around came by our house to check out books. I grew up with a rich and varied experience with literature and stories. At some point, I wanted to be on the opposite side of stories, to become the person who writes them.

2. That must have been hard being so far from a library. That’s awesome that your mom arranged for a bookmobile to stop at your house. In START YOUR NOVEL, you talk about using plot templates to help clarify our story ideas and you show how that can change the Cinderella story. Share about how plot templates can be helpful.

One of the difficult tasks of a writer it to focus a story so that it doesn’t ramble off into nothingness. Plot templates are a shortcut way to focus a story. For example, if you want to tell a Cinderella story, you could use a revenge plot template. In that Cinderella story, the abused girl has had enough and plans to humiliate her step-family. It’s one valid retelling of the Cinderella story and a fresh one. Plot templates let you figure out what focus will help you tell your story in the best way possible.

3. And your examples using the plot templates with the Cinderella story in your book really show how you can tell the story in many different fashions. You also talk about scene basics. What are some of the key points we need to focus on in creating our scenes?

In this continuum of things we call scenes, there are very loosely constructed scenes and very tightly
constructed scenes. For beginning and intermediate writers, though, I recommend tight construction. This means that scenes—however long the scene is—need a beginning, middle and end. The beginning sets up the conflict of the scene, while the middle complicates it. Somewhere in the scene, there is pivot point where something changes drastically and often it is what leads to the disaster at the end of the scene.

I often use this Harvard Bar Scene from the movie, “Good Will Hunting” to demonstrate the pivot point: http://youtu.be/ymsHLkB8u3s. The scene opens with Will and his friends entering a Harvard bar, just to check it out. The pivot point comes when Will steps into his friend’s discussion with a Harvard student. Up to this point, Will and his friends are just doing a friendly once-over of the bar scene; after this, Will goes head-to-head with a Harvard grad student and wins.

Also, notice what Will is fighting for, what is worth him fighting for: his friend. Sometimes, character motivations can be convoluted. I like to ask the question: what is the character fighting for? That should be evident in the scene, even if it is unstated and subtext.

4. Those are great tips about what our scenes need to do for the story. One of the things I thought was really helpful in START YOUR NOVEL was the discussion on first lines and how you show 12 ways to do it. Tell us about some of the ways that we can craft our first lines.

Steven King recently had a great article about opening lines and mentioned several of his favorite lines from his novels HERE. I’ll use his opening lines as examples.

"I've never been what you'd call a crying man." 11/22/63

This is a variation of the I AM opening, where a first-person narrator is giving a summary or judgment about themselves.

"Everybody thought the man and the boy were father and son." Salem's Lot

This type of LET’S MEET JACK OR JILL opening focuses on character and promises a character story instead of just an action/adventure story.

“On the second day of December, in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado's great resort hotels burned to the ground.” The Shining

SETUP openings take the time to locate the time and place, even if it is in a small way. Here we know the specific date (December 2), general time period (during President Carter’s term of office), the state (Colorado), and what is at stake (resort hotel burns). We don’t know why it burns or why we should care yet, but the reader is firmly oriented in time and space.

5. Those are all great examples. Thanks. What are some of the common mistakes you see in author’s first chapters?

Backstory. Never put backstory on the first page. I often see a great opening that grounds the reader in an immediate scene, but then the writer inserts backstory with a couple pages of explanation that bogs down the story and slows the pace. Put the backstory in chapter two, if you must; but it’s better to delay it until the backstory directly affects the ongoing story.

Telling, instead of Showing. The story is told in a lackluster way with no sensory details and few vivid verbs.

Nothing happens. Sometimes writers need to do prewriting to figure out their characters, the setting, and the plot. The problem comes when they leave that prewriting in the novel. Each scene or chapter should have a purpose in the story and something must happen in that scene. Something changes. Too often, first chapters are a mash-up of events with no real purpose. In this case, read along until you find the real beginning point of the story, often 30 or 50 or more pages in.

6. I’ve heard others say that the story is often started too soon and the first few chapters can be cut. I’d like to move on to social networking because you also do workshops on this. I’ve noticed that a lot of authors are not as active in blogging, perhaps because of how much time it takes to maintain a following by following others. What’s your thoughts on this and blogging as part of a writer’s platform? There are so many ways for authors to engage in social networking. Are there any you see as essential and why?

I consider a website the basic necessity of every author. It’s publicity space that you own and control. It should be up-to-date and creatively interesting. A blog, on the other hand, is optional. If you are the sort of person who likes writing about a topic over and over, then start a blog. It’s probably better if the blog is about something besides writing. I was recently talking with a mystery writer and I asked what sort of things interested her. She said she loves to read stories about near-death experiences, because the phenomenon is a mystery that fascinates her. Her blog could be about mysterious events that we encounter in life. Interviews with those having near-death experiences might figure prominently on her blog. It’s not directly tied to her mystery books, but that doesn’t matter. Her readers find her mysteries interesting; they will also find interesting the mysteries that mystify her. Blogs work well when they work because the author has a passion for something. If you can’t find a passion to write about, don’t start a blog.

7. Yeah. Blogs are a lot of work, so you do need to be passionate about them. What are you working on now?

My picture book, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS received a starred review in February and I am excited that I’ll be collaborating with wildlife artist Kitty Harvill again. When WISDOM came out and we started talking with people about it, we realized that people didn’t realize an important strength of the book. It is a biography of a wild animal in art and text. It is the story of the oldest known wild bird in the world and how she survived the Japanese tsunami. I researched the story heavily, including talking with biologists on Midway Island. But Harvill also did extensive photo research. As a studio artist, she has done many portraits of people and pets. When she moved to wildlife art, she took that aesthetic with her. The illustrations in WISDOM are studio-quality portraits of a specific bird. It’s not just some generic bird, it is Wisdom herself.

Our next book, ABAYOMI, THE BRAZILIAN PUMA, follows the story of a puma cub that was orphaned when her mother was caught in a trap and died. The scientists who rescued him shared original documents with me as source material to write the story. Harvill saw the cub in person and photographed it for references for her art. This will be another biography in text and art.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Darcy. You can find Darcy at http://darcypattison.com, @FictionNotes, Youtube.com/DarcyPattison, and Pinterest.com/DarcyPattison.

Darcy has generously offered an e-book of START YOUR NOVEL for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on September 1st. I’ll announce the winner on September 4th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

Darcy also has a Goodreads giveaway HERE.

Here’s what’s coming up next:

Next Monday I’m thrilled to have C.J. Redwine back to talk about her new book, DECEPTION, the sequel to DEFIANCE. I really loved how C.J. took the story in a totally different direction I didn’t anticipate. And of course, I’ll be giving away an ARC of this.

Next Wednesday, I’m giving away a copy of ITCH, THE EXPLOSIVE ADVENTURES OF AN ELEMENT HUNTER by Simon Mayo. He’s a very popular DJ in England. It’s a middle grade story about a boy who needs his science know how to keep him ahead of a malevolent corporation and a top-secret government agency. It’s gotten great reviews and I’m hoping you and your middle grade kids might enjoy it.

The following Monday is Labor Day and I’m participating in a Sequels Blog Hop Giveaway. I’ll have lots of great sequels for you to choose from. Don’t worry if you’re busy on Monday having fun. The contest will run through September 9th.

Wednesday that week I’m thrilled to share an interview with Mari Mancusi and a giveaway of SCORCHED, a dystopian/fantasy/time travel story. I’ve been excited about this book since I read the book sale blurb in PW Children’s Bookshelf. And I was not disappointed. It’s fantastic and I can’t wait to share it with you. I’m sure Mari with have lots of advice for us because she’s also the author of another 8 book series.

The following Monday I’m interviewing debut author Caroline Carlson and giving away a copy of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. It’s a fantastic pirate adventure story with a bit of fantasy as well. It’s my first pirate story and I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday next week I’ll have a special Tuesday tip interview with Daniel Alexander who is the 20-year old author of two books and a new picture book, A SWIM THROUGH SPACE, which he’s offering for a giveaway. He has 28,000 Twitter followers and he’s going to share some advice on Twitter. I’m really excited for the tips because I’m not sure exactly what to do on Twitter and I’ve heard this from a number of writers.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you next Monday!


S.P. Bowers said...

I find openings the hardest. There is so much pressure to get them right. In my last book I reworked the beginning so many times it was like wrapping paper used to much, crumpled, boring, and full of holes.

ELAdams said...

The opening chapter is the hardest to write, in my opinion, because it has to do so much- engage the reader, introduce the main character(s), establish setting and context, whilst keeping telling and backstory to a minimum. It's tough finding the balance!

Rachna Chhabria said...

I too find openings the hardest, especially as all the pressure, advice, do's ad donts clutter my brain about writing a great opening paragraph, sentence and scene.

Margay Leah Justice said...

These are the type of tips I could really use!

Emily R. King said...

I agree that stories can start too soon, but even though I end up cutting out a lot out of my first chapters, they helped me get a grasp on my story so I don't regret the time it took to write them.

Sounds like a great book!

Crystal Collier said...

Darcy, I completely agree that the first chapter is the most important. I spend ridiculous amounts of time getting it just right, but if you want anything, you want the best first impression.

(Pst, Natalie, you've been nominated for a blog award.)

Nicole said...

Oh my gosh, that experience growing up and the love for reading it instilled sounds just amazing. What a cool memory!

Cherie Reich said...

Congrats, Darcy! Great interview! Opening chapters are the hardest and the most important.

Anonymous said...

Good interview. Great beginnings are very important!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Don't leave the prewriting in the novel - check!
Thanks for the tips, Darcy!

Leigh Covington said...

Lovely interview! It's my new year goal to read more books about writing to help improve my craft! I'll have to check this out! Glad you shared it today!

Jocelyn Rish said...

I really took it for granted that while growing up my library was just a five-minute car ride away. That's fantastic that Darcy's mom was so passionate about making sure her kids had lots of books to read.

And these are some great tips!

Reader said...

Fantastic interview and would love, love, love to win this. The templates intrigue me! Also fantastic that Darcy is a PB author!

I wonder about the website-blogging thing. I always assumed the website should be for a published author only...? Not sure, considering myself starting a blog but not sure. Social media overwhelms me (says the girl NOT on FB, twitter, etc :)


Unknown said...

I enjoyed the interview with Darcy - what an unusual upbringing. No wonder she really appreciated the books she got. Those of us with big libraries in our towns probably didn't appreciate books nearly as much. I've read the King article. It's great! Thanks for all the tips on what to do and what not to do. :-)

Danielle H. said...

I'm a fan of Darcy's! I get her blog emailed to me and enjoy reading it each time. Great advice from a passionate lady. I hope to win a copy of her book and will post on Facebook. The book mobile story is a treasure. Thank you, Darcy, for sharing your experiences and knowledge with us.

Beth Dotson Brown said...

The more I write, the more confused I am by openings. Thanks for the helpful post.

Jean Ann Williams said...

Great post, and I'm going to buy Darcy's two how-to books. Thanks so much! I always buy new books like this every late summer to read and Darcy's sound like just what I need.

jpetroroy said...

Opening chapters ARE the hardest. Great interview!

Heather Villa said...

Thank you, Natalie and Darcy!
I've followed Darcy's blog for several months. It's my "go to" site for helpful writing advice.
I'll tweet this!
Heather Villa

Rosi said...

Wonderful interview. I am putting Darcy's books on my to-buy list. Great stuff. Thanks.

Carol Riggs said...

Thanks for the informative interview, Darcy and Natalie! START YOUR NOVEL sounds like a very helpful book for writers. And spot-on about the mistakes in beginning a novel. Something really does have to change, and the first pages shouldn't include backstory! (better go re-read mine and make sure it doesn't LOL)

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a great resource book to have around. I'm glad I stopped by.

Myrna Foster said...

I'm a follower. :o) Great interview!

Lauri Meyers said...

I'm looking forward to the chapter about why first pages so much. Sounds like a great book Darcy!

Krysten Lindsay Hager said...

I enjoy your blog, Darcy. Like the example of Good Will Hunting to explain how to set the scene.

Creel Family said...

Thanks for the tips and I can't wait to read the book!

DMS said...

This is a fascinating interview full of great advice. I am stunned that the author lived so far from a library. The family story time does sound fun and how wonderful that her mother had the bookmobile come to their house! AWESOME! :)

Carla Luna Cullen said...

Opening lines are so tough! Thanks for providing some examples of the different types of opening lines - I've never seen them classified that way before.