Wednesday, October 11, 2017

We Writers Are Never, Ever Too Old To Learn by Margo Hoornstra

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been writing stories. That’s what all of us who are authors say, right? When I was in grade school, one of my teachers told my mother I had a flair for writing. Some similar comment from someone is what most of us reveal from our pasts, too. In my case, writing was, you could say the family business. It’s how my father paid the bills when I was growing up. Authors, albeit not of the worldly famous variety, but those who made their living writing books, would come to my house for dinner.

When I finished college, I used my writing skills in a career as a public relations specialist, magazine editor and script writer. All of which doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch. I’m constantly seeking, looking, trying, and sampling everything I can get my hands on about writing. Even at my ripe old age, I never tire of learning.

Something I did this Summer at RWA2017, The Annual Romance Writers of America® Conference in Orlando.

One session titled KEEPING YOUR READERS UP ALL NIGHT, was presented by multi-published New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Joan Johnston.

Besides being a very entertaining speaker, she provided some very usable information on how to hook readers in each and every chapter.

 Ask a question that must be answered
Create conflict 
Anticipate a confrontation
Start with riveting action or compelling behavior
Predict what will happen when a secret is revealed
Set up a competition or bargain
Suggest disaster, unless…
Set a deadline or ultimatum

To craft that very first paragraph, and she suggests you.

Present a physical and/or physiological response
Utilize all five senses
Set the time, place and conditions
Use precise word choice
Have metaphors appropriate to the story
Keep sentences simple
Show don’t tell
Employ fitting dialogue tags

In my special 99 cent release, FOR MONEY OR LOVE, I can only hope I achieved and implemented some of what she suggested.



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28 comments:

Jannine Gallant said...

I agree we can always learn. But the one I found most interesting (and controversial) was appropriate dialogue tags. Most of us who became published authors in the last 10 years have heard over and over to use action tags rather than dialogue tags. My current editor told me a lot of my short action tags were repetitive. He replaced them with a few said tags. Seriously! I'm sensing a new/old trend of dialogue tags on the upswing, especially since it made her list. I'm not sure I can get behind it since every one I read jumps off the page and smacks me in the face. My opinion: the industry made a change for the better so why backtrack now?

Rolynn Anderson said...

I agree, Jannine. I cringe when I read Tom Swifties, I call them...you know the word play (verb and adverb repeating the action..."I raced home," Tom said swiftly. Dialogue tags seem redundant to me, yet many classic writers use them. Does the art of writing ebb and flow with technique like fashion (the bell bottoms return!)?

Diane Burton said...

"said" is supposedly an invisible word. Our eyes skip over it. So I can see what that's preferred over a lot of action tags.

As far as old dogs/new tricks. Is anyone as tired as I am of having to learn something new? Especially when the original was just fine? I'm thinking Windows and Office. When I finally learn where everything is, they change it. Probably an old rant. On the other hand, when we learn something new, we're exercising our mind, keeping it active. Once in a while, it's fine to coast. That's how I'm feeling now. I'll probably change my mind when I HAVE to learnn something new.

Andrea Downing said...

What a super list Margo. Thsnks for sharing these reminders

Katie O'Sullivan said...

Thanks for the post and the writing tips. It's always good to be reminded that writing is a craft and an art that we need to practice and refine, no matter how long we've been working at it. Anything that makes you think about what you're doing is a good thing.

Maureen said...

Great post! I'm jealous of your youth- growing up amongst authors! I put off my dream of writing for so long because it seemed like an impossible dream while you got to experience it in reality- wow!

Margo Hoornstra said...

You're absolutely right, Jannine. (Did I really just say that? LOL) Why fix something that isn't broken. Just points to the fact that writing, as we always knew, is so very subjective. Guess, as authors, we need to bow, somewhat to the 'advice' of editors.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Love that example, Rolynn. It's like telling the reader 'Get this? See what I mean? Let me explain.' Talk about a reading stopper. Oh, I sooooo loved bell bottoms. Especially with embroidery down the leg. May they return some day and STAY in style.

Margo Hoornstra said...

You're making me cringe, Diane. If you're having trouble with technical things, and you are sooo very much more advanced than I am, where does that leave me? LOL. Some things I'm eager to learn and other things, well, I'm just not. Coasting now and then isn't a bad thing. Especially with twins on your horizon. Take care.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Not my list, Andi, but I'm glad to share.

Margo Hoornstra said...

It's always good to stay aware, Katie. My dad always like to say he 'Didn't write for practice.' Although he was constantly thinking, considering and changing where needed in his work.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Oh Maureen, I had no real grasp at the time of who these people were in their chosen profession. Although, I will say, I did get a first hand look at what that inevitable rejection would be like.

Vonnie Davis, Author said...

Nice list, but if I have to remember all that it interrupts my flow of writing. Ah...which might not be a bad thing, but I don't want to go there. I enjoy going into my own little world and allowing strange things to happen. I do pay closer attention during my editing phrase. We have to remember the learning curve of a writer is continual. Not because we're stupid, but because styles change in our business. And drats to all that.

Alina K. Field said...

I really like the specificity of these opening paragraph suggestions. It's very hard to teach writing that opening hook. Not to mention that what hooks one reader may not work for someone else.

Alicia Dean said...

I am constantly learning, Margo. I also need critique partners to point out my less than stellar writing. :) Some of these tips are great. Thanks for sharing! As far as tags, I think the key is to not overdo anything. Whether it's short action tags, or 'said' (even though it's supposed to be invisible, it's not always. I'm editing a book right now that has about 15 'said so and so's' on each page, trust me, those are not invisible. :)) My thought is, regardless of rules, or tips or editing suggestions or trends, it's best to write the first draft without thinking of any of those things, then when you go back through to revise/edit, read aloud and see what kind of rhythm/flow/engagement the words have. If anything makes you pause, then consider revising. I don't mind a few 'saids' and 'whispered' and 'growled' scattered throughout but too many of the 'exclaimed' and 'groused' and 'screeched' and 'bellowed' can be a bit off-putting.

Jennifer Wilck said...

I find I'm always learning from other writers--whether it's those I read or those who are my critique partners or those who offer workshops. And while the smaller rules do change over time, I think the big ones stay pretty constant.

Alison Henderson said...

That's a handy list, Margo. Joan knows what she's talking about. I already use several of those techniques, probably absorbed subconsciously from reading the work of better writers for years. Now, after many years and many books, my personal style and voice are pretty well set. My problem is reminding myself that everyone else doesn't have to conform to it. LOL

Margo Hoornstra said...

The stranger those things that happen are the better, Vonnie. Writing can get stale so easily. I remember a long, long time ago I went to a similar session by another author and the message was the same to use all five senses. Something you really have to think about to apply.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Writing is definitely subjective, Alina. But, I will say the examples used in that particular session certainly grabbed and kept my attention.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Some editing jobs can be painful, Ally. How well I know. For me, the first draft just needs to kind of flow uncensored. It's when I'm editing my own work for the, say, sixth or seventh or eighth time, that I try to concentrate on the finer points of our craft.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Jennifer, so true. I hope I never quit learning. You're right, the major tenants of writing stay pretty constant, it's the finer points we need to pay attention to.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Free spiriting is the way to go, Alison. It's true we all do improve with time, and books, but as for me, I could edit today, books of mine that have been out for years.

Lucy Naylor Kubash said...

How interesting that your dad was a writer. Nice to have that in common with another family member. In my family, I'm the only one with the affliction! I will have to copy down this list. Thanks for sharing Joan's wisdom.

Leah St. James said...

Geez, this writing thing sounds like A LOT of work! :-) Great list, Margo. Thanks for sharing. My dad was a writer too, a technical writer. Although I've always been a voracious reader, I never thought much about writing -- it was just part of everyday school life -- until college when I took a required class in process writing and loved it! (Who knew?) My older son is a fantastic writer, so maybe there is something in the genes. I do believe certain abilities (gardening maybe???) :-) are passed down. Thanks again for reminding us of all those elements that keep readers turning the pages.

Margo Hoornstra said...

And what a nice affliction to have, Lucy. I did get an idea about rejection, but went for it anyway. ;-)

Margo Hoornstra said...

Writing is a lot of work, Leah, but we still do it, don't we. Nice for you to have a son who's following the family footsteps maybe. Always good to take advantage of the wisdom of others when they are willing to share.

Patricia Kiyono said...

Joan Johnston is one of my favorite authors! How exciting to hear how she writes all those books - and yes, they kept me up all night! Thanks so much for sharing some of her wisdom.

Margo Hoornstra said...

She sure has me hooked, Patty. She sure has me hooked. I can understand why she's a favorite.