The High Stakes of First Sentences

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You probably already know that a story’s first line is of upmost importance. Not only does it set the tone and expectations for the rest of the novel, but the first line also introduces tension and hints at bigger things to come. Your story’s first line introduces readers to your world, and if readers don’t like what they read, they may not go to the next sentence.

That’s a lot of pressure for one line!

The best way to learn how to write phenomenal first sentences is to read a lot of first lines.

Here are some great examples:

“I tell Mama I waitress in the Village so she don’t have to cut me out of her heart.”

–Kiran Kaur Saini, “A Girl Like Elsie”

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”

–Norman Maclean, “A River Runs Through It”

“In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits.”

–John Updike, “A & P”

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

–Hunter Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”

“There are cavemen in the hedges again.”

–Stacey Richter, “The Cavemen in the Hedges”

The trick with first sentences is to start with the stakes high and then keep moving up. Grab readers from the get go and then don’t let them go!

What are some great first sentences you know of?

(Photo courtesy of Keith Williams.)

“The Serpent King” Book Review

The Serpent KingEvery high school has those kids that don’t fit in. In The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, three teens from Forrestville, a small Tennessee town named after the founder of the Klu Klux Klan, are bound together as misfits and as best friends. Lydia comes from loving and prosperous parents; she’s got a popular fashion blog and is on her way to college in New York City. Travis escapes his father’s drunken beatings in the fantasy world of knights and noble quests. Dillard Early Jr. can’t escape his name: his snake-handling, poison-drinking preacher father was incarcerated for child porn and his grandfather went around wearing snakeskins and killing every snake he could.

Written in third person, this novel alternates among the three characters. The story covers the characters senior year of high school and is filled with poverty in the rural South, enduring friendship, heartbreak, clinging to faith at all costs, fear of the unknown, and learning the courage it takes to survive and to thrive.

While it took me several chapters to get sucked into the story, I ended staying up way too late to finish the novel. The book covers the harsh reality so many outsiders have to live in. And while parts of the novel did showcase that this was a debut, it’s a phenomenal coming-of-age story about hope and courage, of salvation and betterment, of surviving and flourishing when life seems too bleak to continue.

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

“Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” Book Review

Health at Every Size“Health at Every Size” (HAES) by Linda Bacon, PhD is not a diet book. It’s the philosophy that showcases how well-being and healthy habits are more vital than any number on a scale. HAES’ basic tenets are to:

  • Accept your size. Grow to love and appreciate your body. It’s the only one you’ve got. Self-acceptance empowers you to make positive life changes.
  • Trust yourself. Your body intuitively knows how to keep itself healthy. The problem is that society has taught you to ignore your body’s natural internal regulation systems. Relearn to trust your body’s natural signals of hunger, fullness, and appetite.
  • Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Find purpose and meaning in your life. Often you’re eating to fulfill some social, emotional, or spiritual needs, instead of for hunger.
  • Embrace size diversity. Humans didn’t evolve to be one size fits all. We come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Recognize your unique attractiveness.

This book is a must read for anyone who’s ever wished to be thinner. One of this novel’s strengths is how it’s split into two parts. The first half of the book deals with research showing why the traditional diet fails and how society has warped body image and ideals, and research on how the HAES method has been more successful than traditional dieting. The second half of the novel deals with the specifics of the HAES method, and gives you resources to change your life.

Many aspects of this novel are empowering. The research provided a solid argument against dieting, especially focusing on calorie restriction, by showing that dieting doesn’t produce lasting results, the false notion that if you’re overweight you lack control, and demonstrated how the food, pharmaceutical, and dieting industry have manipulated peoples’ senses of hunger and satiety for profit.

Despite all that, I had trouble believing Bacon’s argument that “fat does not cause any of our leading chronic diseases, except for some cancers, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis.” While there are overweight and obese people who are healthy, many are not. Bacon doesn’t discuss the ways that obesity can lead to disability. She spends all her time focusing on body acceptance—which is a concept I completely support—and seemingly being a fat activist. I don’t understand why encouraging people to fight obesity, in order to prevent disability, and fighting discrimination about overweight people has to be mutually exclusive.

It’s important to love yourself and your body, to listen to your signals of hunger, to eat fulfilling and healthy foods—limiting processed foods, to have meaning in your life, to realize that much of society’s war on obesity is sponsored by companies that profit from peoples’ fear of fat, to take measurements like the BMI scale with a grain of salt, and to not discriminate against overweight people. I’m just struggling to convince myself that there should be utter fat acceptance. (If you’re not familiar with the FA movement, check out the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance’s website.)

This book’s notion that your weight shouldn’t keep you from enjoying your life is why I recommend you give it a try.

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

Memory: A Trip From the Depths of the Closet

Happy Memorial Day, everyone!!! Hope you’re enjoying the three-day weekend.

I spent most of my weekend cleaning out my closet. I knew I had a lot crammed in there, but I didn’t realize how much stuff. There were things I’d completely forgotten about, like yearbooks…from elementary school. (Yikes! Time to get rid of those.)

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Wasn’t I adorable?

Two of the things I unburied reminded me how long I’ve been writing. They’re two books: one poetry and one essays from high school. These books were the published works of all the finalists and winners for the Northeastern United States high school poetry and essay contests.

I was a finalist in both, and I thought it’d be fun to share a sonnet written during my years of teenage angst.

Wondering

What lies beyond the stars high above us?

The glowing fire that consumes my soul lost,

bright burning fires expand my want and lust.

New life born from the bitter black is just?

Long lost places shrouded in mysteries deep,

long lost souls that I must keep hidden clear,

great nightmares of destruction in my sleep,

I see all this and wait to shed a tear.

Up floating high, no I’m afraid to fly,

wait, do we fly or remain down inside?

Inside is cold and dark and black, oh my!

Loved ones, are you happy or sad, I’ve cried.

I sit wondering for what holds the key;

one day long into the future I’ll see.

That poem was courtesy of ninth grade. Funny thing is that as I re-read that poem, I clearly pictured what I’d intended it to be about. Memory is fascinating: how you can remember so vividly something you’d forgotten about when a touchstone presents itself. My touchstone was the poetry book.

Do you have any long lost writing?

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

Easy and Simple Aren’t the Same for Motivation

Recently someone asked me how she could motivate herself more. That’s not a rare question. Many people ask themselves how they can be more motivated to lose weight, run faster, eat better, get that job promotion, finish a novel… I’ve asked myself countless times how I can be better motivated.8078194256_db53b66f8d_k

Lately, something I’ve struggled with is going through beta reader feedback and editing. I keep finding other things to do. I realize that I’m making excuses, but even though I acknowledge this, I can’t bring myself to focus on editing.

That’s unusual for me, so when someone asked me how to improve motivation, I thought about what I’d want to hear. Better yet, what words would work to motivate me?

I’ve never been the type to seek out motivational quotes. More often than not, I roll my eyes at inspirational sayings. They seem cheesy and hollow. They don’t resonate, and when something doesn’t resonate, how can it inspire?

I started searching for the right way to answer the question of motivation. How could I inspire this person?

There wasn’t a correct answer. Each solution was personal. I couldn’t give that individual what she wanted. Because I could talk and talk and talk to her about inspiration and do anything and everything I could to motivate her, but the bottom was that she had to find what worked for her.

All I could tell her was the words that inspired me:

“When you get into a tight space and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

— Harriet Beecher Stowe

Life isn’t usually easy, but think of the things you’re proudest of. Were they easy accomplishments? Or did you struggle and persevere?

Was the effort worth it?

(Photo courtesy of Luke Kondor.)

Should Authors Rate Their Own Books?

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Being a reader and a writer my opinion started off mixed. Even my gut reaction couldn’t make up its mind! First, no. Then, yes. And then back to no and so on.

However, after some thought, and some searching through book reviews on Goodreads, I noticed more and more how authors rate their own books. Probably unsurprisingly, they rate their writing five stars.

It seemed weird and a bit tacky. It started to bug me. Why would an author give his novel anything less than five stars? Now, with books that contain thousands of reviews, one rating may be mitigated. But what about novels with less ratings? How can readers take reviews and ratings seriously, if authors are able to review their own work?

Authors can’t be impartial when it comes to their work. They’ve slaved over their novel. Worked their butts off to make their book happen. Whenever I see that an author has rated his own work, I feel turned off. The writer loses credibility to me, regardless of how interested I’d initially been in the book’s premise. I ask myself, “Did the author rate his own novel because he thinks his writing is the best out there, or because he’s desperate to make his book look good?”

Most writers don’t have the luxury of writing full time and living solely off their writing. Most have to work very hard to get their books noticed, and that’s after they’ve written, revised, been beta read, rewritten, and edited some more. Writers deserve breaks, especially when they’ve got a fantastic book on their hands. But nearly every writer will tell readers their book is the next big thing—it’s all about self-promotion and many authors—most people—aren’t good judges of themselves.

For myself, my work has had plot holes and unrealistic character reactions that would have gone unnoticed if my writing hadn’t been workshopped. I edit novels, and most times, there are significant flaws with those books. This all occurs before being published, but the principle remains the same. Authors are too close to their own work. They see their work through rose-colored glasses, and while those glasses may be flattering, they’re not always honest.

What do you think? Should authors rate their own books?

(Photo courtesy of Zach Dischner.)

Hand Cramp! Turning Writing Pain into Gain

Hey everyone!! This is a short post because I’m visiting an absolutely phenomenal friend for the week. Here it goes:

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Remember that moment when you wrote so fast that your hand cramped? I do, and when your groove is flowing and the story is whipping out of you, your hands hurting are the last things you want.

So what do you do?

The biggest, and probably best, option is to stop writing. But that risks losing your flow. Taking a few minutes to stretch out your wrists and fingers is another idea. It might give your brain some time to digest what you’ve written and get your creative juices more organized. Then again, pausing for a minute or two could also hinder your creativity.

This circles back to the question: what do you do?

An old coach had a saying, “Susie Suffering and Donna Discomfort are your friends.” While my coach was talking about cross-country running, I’ve applied this philosophy to many situations. After all, everyone has moments where there’s pain. Maybe it’s running. Maybe cancer. Maybe writing. The worst thing we can do is give up.

It might be that your hands are so bad that you can’t type one more word. Look for an alternative solution. How about an oral recording? You can write out what you said later, when your hands are in better shape.

If we make Susie Suffering and Donna Discomfort our friends, we can accomplish anything.

(Photo courtesy of Pedro Mendes.)