Show, not Tell

There are 3 rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Archive for September 2010

The Very First Page

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A Car Crash

A Car Crash: Prime Example of Starting with Action

The first page of your manuscript is often the hardest to pin down. Actually, even writing the first page of your story is hard to do. Where do you start? Sometimes the best way to start writing is just to do it but often times that means we’re not staring where we should be staring the story.

So, even though the first pages are dumb, even though they’re so hard to do, they’re still super important. It needs to be perfect, even if a perfect first page isn’t going to save you from massive fail on the 150th page (just saying).

Theresa from edittorent posted up some great tips from her secret agent friend about opening scenes about first pages. I’m going to tell you a secret about them. But first, let’s list them! Fun time.

Eleven things your MC should not do in the first page (or ever, really):

  1. Travel.
  2. Look in a mirror.
  3. Trip.
  4. Fall.
  5. Reminisce.
  6. Bathe.
  7. Get dressed.
  8. Eat.
  9. Clean.
  10. Wake up.
  11. Not even be in the scene.

Now, why?

Because none of this is starting with the action. Here’s what I mean:

  • Your MC is driving to her lover’s house to see if he is cheating on her or not. She gets there and finds out yes, he is. Think about starting: when she finds out he’s cheating.
  • Your MC is staring at a mirror in a bathroom in the middle of a fancy dinner with a man who’s about to propose to her. Think about starting: when he proposes.
  • Your MC trips or falls on her way to class where she’ll meet Edward Cullen Mr. Right. Think of starting: when she meets Mr. Cullen.
  • Your MC thinks about the past. Think of starting: after that. We don’t care about the past, that’s back story, that’s information overload. Skip it.
  • Your MC is bathing, dressing, cleaning, or otherwise doing a meneal and boring thing. Think of starting: after she’s done doing it, when she’s finally gotten to where the conflict will start.
  • Your MC is just waking up and will go about her day. The conflict will start that night. Think of starting: that night when the conflict starts.
  • Your first page is a prologue that features the MC’s parents or anyone who isn’t your MC. Think of starting: with your MC, with the conflict.

I think this should work for your first page. I think it should work for your second page. I think it should work for your twentieth chapter, even. Just remember: always start with conflict! That’s why your MC should never do those things… often that’s not where the conflict is!

Written by Jessica Lei

September 30, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Writing

Lesson 13

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The other brain of this operation, though definitely the less dominant, gets a turn. Let’s hope this makes more sense than the way my body acting.

You'll be jealous of my awesome

This is what your imagination should look like. If not, please give up and try again. Please make sure to dial a 1 or 0 before trying--your creativity is long distance.

Sadly, I have been going through writers block these past weeks–a travesty, I know–and I am just now getting back into the groove. The groove is important. Without the groove, you’re stuck with shoving semi-poetic words onto paper that you’ll end up hating anyway. Yes, it’s better than just lazing about and waiting for inspiration. Most of the time an inspiration that won’t even lead you in the direction you’re hoping for. At least, that’s what happens to me. And did happen.

Luckily, pushing through ends up getting you  back into the groove. The groove may not be the usual samba or meringue, but a nice simple waltz that you can jazz up at a later time. This, I have learned. I can’t always be perfect, especially when my imagination isn’t seeping out ideas the way I’d like it to. But I can wring out the last drops I’ve got and go back and add more when my brain is feeling nice and juicy.

So, keep up the writing and don’t forget you can always spice up that soup after the first round.

Written by Devin Bond

September 29, 2010 at 5:30 am

Posted in Lessons

The Perfect Query

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As promised, here is the Perfect Query (PQ) for Query Tuesdays. If you don’t remember the formula, check back to last week’s post!

Without further ado:

Melinda Melin

Melinda Melin, The Five-Year-Old Vampire

Dear Mister Miss Agent,

Melinda Melin was five years old when a vampire saw her playing in the park on the swingset. The vampire was very thirsty and desperate, and Melinda’s blood was too sweet to pass up for the starving monster. Not only did the vampire take Melinda’s life and soul, it kidnapped her.

Sir Douglas Froyd is an ancient vampire, one of the very first vampires to ever exist. No, it wasn’t Dracula; the very first vampire was his older brother, Herald Froyd, who shared his discovery to his unknowing little brother. They were both turned and with their new abilities, started molding a dark and deadly world.

Five thousand years later, Douglas and Herald had a fight tried to kill each other. It could’ve been merely sibbling rivalry, but Douglas and Herald had both ruled the vampire world together–and not here wasn’t room enough for them both anymore. Douglas was thrown out of the vampire world and Herald ruled alone.

Over the next thousand years, Douglas hid from the vampires. He struggled day to day to simply survive in the shadows and on the blood of animals. Then he spotted her. A little girl with blood sweater than sugar. He had to take her, and he did.

He raised her to succeed him, because he could tell the vampire community was stirring. There was rebellion in the air and he wanted nothing to do with it–but the vampires wouldn’t care what he wanted. He shared all of his memories, and therefore himself, with the young girl. This way, he would continue to live within her and his brother, dead or alive, would never know the difference.

Five hundred years later, Melinda is still the vampire’s assistant. She goes out nightly and procures a new speciman for her vampire master. They drink together and then her master relives his days to her verbally. Then the unthinkable happens and he dies.

For a hundred years, Melinda doesn’t know what to do with her new freedom. She still looks five, but she’s over six hundred years old. She had thought her master was kind of like her father and now he’s dead. She continues her life as if he was still there, until a group of vampires come knocking at her door.

She answers sweetly but she knows that she can’t hide her master’s rotting body. The smell is too strong. Not only the decay, but his pure blood. They tell her that she became the successor to his legacy because he shared all of his memories with her; now his memories are hers, and he is living inside her.

MELINDA MELIN THE FIVE YEAR OLD VAMPIRE is a 160,000-word YA paranormal action adventure novel about a young girl who has to cope with growing up and maturing despite her young appearance. It also follows her as she takes on her late vampire master’s will and takes up a position in the vampire council. The book is mysterious and dangerous and shows a secret and hidden world where vampires are majestic and ruthless. It’s like The Da Vinci Code, The Golden Compass, and Twilight wrapped all into one. I could add wizards and it’d have a touch of Harry Potter in it too.

Melinda must be strong when she realizes the vampires aren’t really welcoming her into the council to play nice and fair. They’re actually waiting for her to make a mistake and kill her. They hated her master, and now they hate her.

What is she going to do?

I look forward to hearing your answer. This is my first novel. I’ve been writing stories since I learned how to type and I haven’t stopped since. I recently went on a road trip and found inspiration in Forks, WA and decided that I could try to get published. I hope you love this book as much as everyone else loved it!

Melinda Melin

P.S. My cat died yesterday and I don’t think I can take a mean rejection, so I’m begging you to just give me good news. My father also owns a gun and we have your agency’s address. He doesn’t like seeing his princess cry!

Written by Jessica Lei

September 28, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Humor, Queries

Sage Advice from Last Week

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Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, Perfect Lovers

Last week editor Theresa Stevens posted twice on the meet between the hero and the heroine. First, about the first meeting between your two lovers, and when this meeting should happen. I actually don’t have much to add because I thought Theresa was pretty perfect. I do want to open it up to anyone reading:


When do your heroine and hero meet and how?

For me, my heroine meets the hero the same day the story starts, but it’s about fifteen pages in. They don’t really get to talk until the next day, and they only have about a week together. While they meet early, the romantic interest is kind of there (he was her childhood crush and he’s definitely good looking), it was memorable, and everything else… I’m not sure if they’re romantically believable within that first week! I don’t want her to fall for him too fast, but there has to be definite understanding that she likes him quite a bit before she meets another guy.

The other guy always complicates things!

Written by Jessica Lei

September 27, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Advice, Writing

This Week’s Research

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Louis C.K. is hilarious and he’s totally right. Dan Krokos legitimately found this first–I should give credit where credit is due because it is so hard to find good entertainment on the Internets these days if you’re lazy like I am–but it’s too true. People these days are so unappreciative.

Remember when people had to mail in their queries and their sample pages? Now they complain when an agent hasn’t gotten back to them in a week. Well, just be happy they received your query almost instantly. AND YOU DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO PAY FOR IT. Egads, what is this chaos! Free and fast?! The horror!

For the record, my mother thinks high speed internet is slow. It’s high speedHigh speed.

Written by Jessica Lei

September 24, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Humor, Research

The DOs and DON’Ts of Word Economy

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Money Tree

The Holy Money Tree

It is Thursday and that means a topic on writing! I’ve never never ever been so routinely in my entire life. Let’s see how it works (and pray that it does).

I picked up this term from literary agent Noah Lukeman while I read his free e-book on writing queries. It’s from 2005 but some of it still applies. Funny how things don’t change! (Yes. It’s sad.)

America’s economy may be going south, but your word economy can be going up!


Use three–or four–or five six seven EIGHT NINE TEN words, even if you only need one. Words are like money and the more you spend, the better things you will have!


Pare down. EVER! Never settle for less.


Write as much as you can in one day. Writing is a job and you’ll make more money if you write more in one day. If you can’t write over 5,000 words in a single sitting because other things get in the way: QUIT EVERYTHING ELSE. Your coffee, your work, your husband, and your kids. QUIT THEM.


Limit your writing time! Writers who only write for 30 minutes a day are weak. No one who succeeds only puts in 30 minutes a day!


Have a high word count. Bill Gates has how much money? You need that many words.


Go below 100,000 words. Words work like money! It’s a shame when you make less than $100,000 a year and it is therefore a travesty if your novel is less than that. For shame, for shame.

Now that you have these handy tips, start investing in your money economy! Make bank! Hurry!

Written by Jessica Lei

September 23, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Humor, Writing

Lesson 12

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Wednesday is a big deal. I am starting my last fall quarter of my undergraduate education. Exciting! Wednesday is also lesson day! CONFETTI! Now let’s talk about friends.


Friends, AKA Critters

I’m currently getting e-friendly with two lovely ladies who I’m hoping will become fantastic crit partners in the future. But I’ve learned a few lessons about critiquing: you need to be careful. You need to know who you’re critiquing. There needs to be a basis of friendship so you know that if you’re being too mean or if you’re missing the point, something will be said–and not before it’s too late.

Four Things to Think About When Looking for a Critique Partner

1. What

You need to know what you’re critiquing. Is this the first draft? The second draft? Is it in a stage that needs to be line-edited or picked apart for characterization and plot? These are things to think about before tackling your next critique project.

A lot of people like to revise the first few drafts themselves and then send it off to a few people for specific things. They may have a harem of people, where one person is particularly good with plot and another is fantastic with grammar.

So what are you good at? What can you bring to your partner to help them the most?

2. How

Once you’ve decided what your critique partner needs, you need to find out how to deliver it. Does your partner have thick skin? Are they going to be torn to pieces if you mention something about their style? You need to figure out what kind of feedback they need in order to give it to them in a way that will help them the most.

The rule is always to follow up with a positive. Point out the good things and the things that need improvement. Always be a critique partner. Always give constructive criticism. Never, ever be mean or rude or condescending. But honestly, this can be easier said than done. Sometimes tone doesn’t transfer over track changes!

This is why it’s important to have a relationship with your critique partner. If they know you, then they’ll know you’re not trying to be mean and that it may come across that way simply by accident.

3. Who

It is vastly important to know who your critique partner is–not just their age, sex, and location. Some authors have thick skin (not the gross kind, hopefully) and others don’t. If you have a bond and a relationship with your critique partner, your words will resonate with them a lot better than some stranger. They’ll know you have a proximity to their piece because you have a proximity to them. They’ll know you aren’t trying to rip their story to shreds by pointing out every time they use the phrase ‘in fact.’

They need to know who you are as a person so they can understand your critique and what matters to you. Understanding is a big thing. It’s a huge! thing because you need to assess what they can handle and when they can handle it.

4. When

Some authors start the critique process early (me) and others don’t. Just realize that the when comes after the whathow, and who. Once you’ve established everything else, then the critiquing will follow.

Now, when you’re going to start looking for a critique partner is up to you. It’s not easy and you’re going to come up short because the sad truth is that looking for a critique partner is almost as hard as looking for an agent. The only difference is that an agent doesn’t mind telling you no because it isn’t for them or it didn’t attract them. Authors are way nicer than that and they’ll say yes just because they want to help.

Just wanting to help isn’t enough.

So, here’s the big take away:

You have to want representation and publication for your critique partners just as much as you want it for yourself. Their story, in some way, needs to inevitably become yours. It’s like nurturing your sister’s daughter. Their story is your niece! (Or nephew!) You need to love it to pieces and want it to grow up well–and pretty–and get married and have children and have an amazing life.

So, how do you find someone that’ll be your story’s auntie or uncle?

Look around you! There are so many writers out there who’re looking for a good critique partner, and that person could be you. This isn’t the time to be shy. You need to be you and you need to put yourself out there.

Good luck!

Written by Jessica Lei

September 22, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Critiques, Lessons, Revising

The Query Formula

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Tuesdays are for queries! Yes! A whole day for querying! Wait. NO! Just a post. Just one post is all I can handle. Queries scare me, just like cute five-year-old vampire girls. But that’s for next week.

Queries need to tell the story. It is supposed to, as the lovely says, outline the proposed piece in letter format.

The Query Formula

  1. Back story. You have to reveal what went on before the story starts or people will be confused. If you skip out on back story, then the query will start at the beginning of your novel. No one does that in a query. That’s what you do in a synopsis.
  2. Summarize everything that happens before the conflict. That way, when the last line comes, they want to know what the conflict is so they’ll read your story. But do not reveal the actual conflict. Don’t reveal the stakes, either. The agent will want to read your story based on what they think the conflict will be–you see, they want to know if they’re right or not!
  3. Give the work’s title and word count. You might want to fib a bit on the word count because the more words you’ve written, the more impressive your work is. I suggest starting your query with this information or putting it right smack in the middle of the query so it stands out and creates flow.
  4. Describe the work’s genre with as many words as you can. Agents like cross-genre works and the more genres you tag onto your novel the more likely they’ll take it on.
  5. Close with a line about your credentials, as a person. This business is very personal, so you better be personal. Tell them about your family and friends and the hardships you went through as you wrote it. This agent needs to like you in order to represent you!
  6. Great formatting. Show some pizazz. Bolding, italicizing, and underlining are the best way to stand out. Strikethrough is rising in popularity, too!

Stay tuned next week for the Perfect Query (PQ).

Written by Jessica Lei

September 21, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Humor, Queries

Sage Advice from Last Week

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The Golden Throne

Malleable Gold is Like Your Manuscript

It is Monday! This means I’m going to share something with you that I learned last week that blew my mind. Secrets shall be here. Good ones.

I read a lot of blogs. Agent blots, author blogs, and blogs on writing and other similar subject matter. Why? Because these people are genius. Every other word sparks some sort of creative interest or epiphany that I just have to share with someone.

Last week, it was this: Malleability.

Natalie Whipple explains that changing your story (your characters, your plot, your themes) isn’t necessarily as much of a change as it is reshaping your ideas. She uses gold and rock as an analogy, saying that manuscripts are not rocks that will shatter when hammered upon. Rather, they are malleable like gold, able to be shaped and molded at will.

Pretty awesome.

To be truthful, I like jewelry, so visualizing my manuscript as gold is not only pleasing, but it is motivational. I want to revise my manuscript right away because I’d rather have a new fancy ring or bracelet, rather than the big chunk of deformity it is right now.

So, this week’s sage advise is to rethink and revisualize how changes actually affect your manuscript. How is your manuscript turning out after you change a weak part or reverse the order of a few scenes? Are you making all the changes that you could or are you holding back in fear that making this one big change may take your manuscript from first prize to shortlisted?

Don’t worry, young cadets: your story will always be your story, no matter how many drastic changes it undergoes. Underneath the plastic surgery, Paris Hilton is still Paris Hilton and underneath the wig, Donald Trump is still Donald Trump.

On the flip side, does anyone have any horror stories to finally committing to that one big change that left you dazed about what you’re going to do next? Share!

Written by Jessica Lei

September 20, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Advice, Revising


with 6 comments

I have a few small points to make this fine Sunday afternoon. I woke up to a strangely high amount of blog updates on Google Reader and found myself worked up by what I was reading. Typically, I’d leave these issues alone and rant about it to my mom, but this time I wanted to add one more voice to this conversation.

1. I will never attend Missouri State University if Mr. Wesley Scroggins is representative of the university as a whole, and the university’s ideals.

In this same way, I would never attend Marquette University for offering Seattle University professor Jodi O’Brien a dean’s position, only to revoke it because her academic work contains “strongly negative statements about marriage and family.” These comments of hers support same-sex marriage. If Rev. Robert A. Wild wants to allow O’Brien’s sexuality to impact the decision to take back the job offer, then I believe that can represent the university’s vision for the future.

I want a future where there is truth and justice for all. This includes allowing books like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak into libraries, schools, curriculum, and the hands of children and young adults around the world.

2. Go Ask Alice is a book I will never forget.

Not because of the because of the content, but because of the reality. It was true and it was tangible. It was cautionary and it was powerful. It dealt with content I believe many parents don’t want their children to be exposed to–but we are exposed to it.


SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

Don’t understimate your children, or any child. We know about drugs. We know about sex. We know about rape. Sometimes we know way before we are graced with the knowledge from our parents. This information is completely free and it comes from friends, it comes from movies, it comes from television, it comes from experience, and, well, it comes from the Internet.

Books like Go Ask Alice and Anderson’s Speak are books that aren’t exposing the content, they are dealing with it in a way parents would never, ever will. These books are raw and real and they teach children the how rather than the what. How to deal with drugs and rape, rather than what drugs and rape are.

There is so much horrible in this world. The only way to get rid of it is to acknowledge it. Listen to people when they say something is wrong and maybe people won’t be so afraid to speak up. We need to learn how to deal with these things–not throw them into the trash because we don’t know how to yet.

3. When people are speaking, you have to listen.

We are not listening if we’re not even allowing people to speak.


You can read other posts about this issue from Laurie Halse Anderson herself, and from amazing other writers like Myra McEntire, Veronica Roth, C.J. Redwine, and T.H. Mafi. A YA book reviewer, Tahleen, speaks about it here, and Casey McCormick addresses it here. Literary Agents Cheryl Klein, Janet Reid, and Suzie Townsend urge others to speak out, as well as agent assistant The Rejectionist. Editor Eric talks about “Sticking it to the Ban.” Now, it’s your turn to speak.

Written by Jessica Lei

September 19, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Opinions


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