HERE THERE BE DRAGONS….. by Rosemary Lord

Here there be dragons“Here there be dragons…”

In the 1700s, this phrase was used by cartographers when drawing maps. They knew so little of the world in those days – a mere 100 miles or so beyond their own spheres. So, when they did not know what lay in those outer regions, they would mark it with drawings of sea monsters and the warning, “Here there be dragons.”

But it is still used today to warn people away from unchartered or unexplored places and areas. Untried actions. Hmm.

There are a lot of dragons about today, it seems. I don’t know about you, but I keep wandering off into uncharted waters. Unintentionally.

I’ve recently faced all sorts of dragons where the Woman’s Club of Hollywood is concerned. We are finally steering our way out of the choppy waters of bankruptcy. We’re removing the tentacles of uninvited outside parties, desperate to make a quick buck on another land grab of a historical Hollywood property.

ATT00019“It’s just a bunch of middle-aged women who don’t know what they’re doing. They can’t stop us,” one was overheard saying. Oh, that set my blood boiling.

I found strength I didn’t know I had and learned to dance very fast, maneuvering through loan papers, legal documents, escrow. I – who know nothing about real estate! But I’m learning.

I’m a writer, following my own instinct as to what would work best. I asked for the impossible – and got it. Borrow $4 million? Sure. If that’s what it takes to stop evil and greed.

As certain parties saw the promise of all that real estate money being moved out of their reach, desperate last-minute threats (some ugly and personal) came my way. But I was on a mission. Them there dragons can be quite scary.

But then the magic started. The wonderful, angel-people began to step forward to help, guide and encourage me. So many ‘coincidences’ happened. People turned up just when I needed them. Old friends and acquaintances stepped up.

The Woman’s Club in bankruptcy was as if it had leprosy. People shied away. But now, as I faced the dragons and survived, wonderful opportunities have opened up and I have a fabulous, strong team now working on the future of this historic institution. I don’t have to shoulder it alone. And as I can step back a bit, I get to return to what I really need to do: my writing.

This whole saga has taught me so much – and of course I will write about it, too.

Here there be dragons 2It can be scary stepping off into the unknown. It took me a long time to find the courage to sit down to write a mystery novel, for instance. I had no idea where to start or how to go about it. Those were baby dragons and easily overcome.

As well as my Old Hollywood adventures of Lottie Topaz, I now have several other, totally different books swimming around my head, waiting to be written. Those are not in dragon-occupied lands. Just perhaps amongst porpoises – and the occasional mermaid.

It’s the realization that tomorrow is promised to no-one, so you’d better get on with it. Dragons or not. Carpe Diem and all that.

Life has thrown many of us some challenges this past year. But we have dealt with them. So maybe it’s time to make a fresh start – take a few risks. Try writing something totally different. Start painting, sketching, pottery – do something else creative to get those juices flowing again.

One idea I heard is to write your own obituary. No – it’s not as grim as it sounds. Honest. Write out how you would want to be remembered. Was it for having the cleanest home in the world – or was it for writing that brilliant, life-changing book? Did you write an amazing character that brought pleasure to millions of readers?

And what happened before all that acclaim? How did you actually write that book, or paint that picture? Work your way back in your life. Before you hit the Best Seller list – or won the Housekeeper-of-the-year award – what led up to that? Keep going back until you are where you are today, when you made a decision to change your path. To really follow your hidden dreams. To step out of your comfort zone and risk rejection. Start with the day you decided to step off in to that unknown world, despite all the warnings of “Here there be dragons…”

I am amazed at what has happened in the recent months. It’s not been easy. And I often thought that I could just not go on. But I did. And it has been exhilarating, when I look back and see where I came from, the new path I’ve taken – and how brilliant the future looks. Those dragons turned out to be quite magical….

Who knew?

Dragon with book (2)

 

 

 

September Memory

by Miko Johnston

When you read this my husband and I will in France for an annual international conference that we’ve attended most years since 1993. All have been wonderful and enriching experiences, but one will always stick out in my memory until my dying day.

We arrived in Grenoble on a warm Saturday and after checking into our hotel, wandered to the main street for dinner. We’d been attending these conferences for enough years to have met and befriended many of the attendees, so when we passed a few of them sitting outside a restaurant they invited us to join them. The organization chairman ordered mussels and white wine for the table.

zan-ilic-WrueFKpTlQs-unsplashSoon waitstaff brought out steaming five-gallon pots filled with briny shellfish, loaves of French bread and bottles of chilled wine – a white Beaujolais, which I’d never heard of before. I took one sip and delighted in its light freshness, its unpretentiousness, like young girls in summer dresses.

More attendees showed up and joined our group, and soon extra tables were added as our numbers grew. We ate and drank, laughed and caught up with each other’s lives as more orange-enameled cast iron pots of mussels emerged from the kitchen, more bread, and more of that innocent young wine.

This was September 8, 2001.

Three days later, as I returned from a morning of hiking up La Bastille hill and riding down the spherical cable cars known as “Les Bulles” (bubbles), I returned to my hotel room shortly after three and turned on the television to CNN. I saw coverage of a plane that had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. My first instinct was to blurt, “What the ___?” but before I could get the words out I watched as a second plane hit the other tower.

world-trade-center-67695_960_720Not wanting to be alone, I found my husband and we gathered with other Americans in the lobby, where we watched the horror continue to unfold on a big screen. We gathered in small groups to commiserate. One friend had a brother who worked in the first tower (miraculously, he wasn’t there that day). Another recognized a name from the passenger list of one of the planes that hit the tower – his former boss. All of us were too shocked to respond until he said, “If anyone deserved to go like that, it was that SOB.”

Then the first tower collapsed.

That evening the conference attendees and their guests had been invited to the Hotel de Ville  – the administrative building of the city – for the annual reception hosted by the mayor. It usually involves a brief greeting and welcome, followed by drinks and refreshment. Instead, we gathered with the mayor and city officials in a moment of silence followed by the usual greetings to the attendees, albeit in a more subdued manner.

Then we left, passing the restaurant we’d dined in Saturday night. Someone inquired if they could accommodate our group for dinner. They could, but for our numbers, not outside. They took us to a separate room upstairs.

Once again we gathered, not outside but in a converted attic to eat and talk. You can imagine the conversation. The pots of mussels soon appeared, along with the bread, but not that delicate wine. Every bottle of white Beaujolais was gone, along with our innocence.

new-york-4321235_960_720

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mikoj-photo1

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin

 

 

 

 

Web Site Ads, Anyone?

by Jill Amadio

How many of us buy site ads to promote our books?

Grinding my teeth at low sales in August I was able to ask a couple of successful authors how they manage to keep their titles before the public. Brenda Novak, who writes the Dr. Evelyn Talbot thrillers, said that one of the publicity tools she uses are book marketing sites.  Although her wallet is somewhat fatter than those of many of us with four million copies of her books sold, Brenda still sends some of her personal advertising dollars to these sites.

business close up commerce computer

Among her tactics: Organize your own book group on Facebook. It’s free. Offer inexpensive swag such as commemorative pins in exchange for downloading only your book titles from her web site – not the books themselves.

Add a shopping page to your own website to sell T-shirts, mini-totes, Christmas ornaments, etc. Brenda said that it cost her $2,000 initially to set up her online shop and now it is hugely successful. 

Another tactic she uses is to create a Foodie Friday recipe which she cooks and posts on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, including a video.

Book trailers are one of her favorite ways to attract attention although she cautions that changing it regularly is key. To keep costs low (still expensive!!), the video company she contracts with uses stock video for much of the content.

Another tip: offer giveaways – one of her most popular was on Facebook Live in which she read from her books.  

Find a company that sells “scrap” advertising which are spots in major magazines discounted at the last minute. But don’t let the “scrap” description fool you. Brenda says that even discounted, it can cost a bundle. Nevertheless, one she found available was in People magazine, and she is always on the lookout for deadline deals with women’s magazines. 

“Not all marketing endeavors achieve the same goal. Some are more about brand building,” she told me. “I look at marketing my books like a farmer might his fields – it’s what I put into the soil before planting that makes the biggest difference in the end.”

*

Away from Brenda’s heady, enterprising and pricey ads are the less expensive and free methods used by some of us Writers in Residence and by our colleague, psychological thriller writer Sheila Lowe. Like Brenda, Sheila subscribes to www.BookBub.com, a web site that sends out daily emails advertising books to millions of readers, although costs can be high.

Here’s how it works: you set a maximum price you’ll pay for the exposure, say $100. When someone clicks on your book cover you get charged a certain amount of money for the impression. After your stated maximum budget, the $100, is reached, BookBub takes down your ad. You can choose which readers and audiences you want to target by genre, interests, retailers, and location, and you can monitor your campaign on the site’s dashboard.  Extremely popular, the site has a waiting list of authors eager to sign up. 

While Sheila takes advantage of the benefits Facebook offers including its Authors Page, she likes affordable subscription sites such as www.BargainBooksy.com and www.RobinReads.com. The latter is a free author promotion service affiliated with Amazon and you don’t have to be part of Amazon’s Prime/Kindle Unlimited yourself to use it.  The site focuses on promoting eBooks which are now enjoying a massive surge. RobinReads buyers pay for discounted books if they choose to buy them only on Amazon. However, the deals are swift, lasting only 24 hours before they are retired for fresh offers.

man wearing pink polo shirt with text overlay

At BargainBooksy with around 3,000 subscribers, advertising for eBooks is also king along with print books. After a buyer clicks on a link to a specific book they are taken to Amazon’s web site, where the book can cost 0.99 cents or less, while pricing is based on your genre. This, of course, affects your royalties, so unless you are only targeting publicity you might want to reconsider. However, the site also links to your books at Kobo, Apple, and Nook, and to your own web site.

To splurge, you can buy a $50 BargainBooksy Deal of the Day promotion on FreeBooksy, a specialized-genre readers’ site designed to boost your click-through rates and purchases with free books that are not available on the main site.  

So, there you have it. A few costly as well as reasonably-priced ideas. Raid your piggy bank!

money pink coins pig

 

JillAmadioHeadJill Amadio is from Cornwall, UK, but unlike her amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, she is far less grumpy. Jill began her career as a reporter in London (UK), then Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and New York. She is the ghostwriter of 14 memoirs, and wrote the Rudy Valle biography, “My Vagabond Lover,” with his wife, Ellie. Jill writes a column for a British mystery magazine, and is an audio book narrator. She is the author of the award-winning mystery, “Digging Too Deep.” The second book in the series, “Digging Up the Dead,” was released this year. The books are based in Newport http://www.jillamadio.com

Books: Digging Too Deep, Digging Up the Dead

Non-Fiction: My Vagabond Lover: An Intimate Biography of Rudy Vallee; Gunther Rall: A Memoire, Luftwaffe Ace and NATO General

 

***

 

 

This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin

 

The Last Goodbye…

This is a short post “looking inside” one author’s writing process/journey…

ThinkingHeadtoBook2Several weeks ago, Gayle Bartos-Pool posted an excellent writing on polishing your latest[i] before sending your wonderful novel out into “the world.” My “polishing activity” follow-on thoughts this week, are on my developing questions to use when looking back on my novels once they are actually gone and fending for themselves in the world.

One of my writing goals has always been to continually improve my writing — classes, books, editors, advice from writers I know, reviews, blogs like Writers in Residence (smile)—you get the picture.  Mainly, trying to do better than my last book.

This last item for me, has always been haphazard and unstructured. Especially since I have never reread any of my books after publication, except when I’ve read snatches at several events. Even that was hard—once published, the work is mentally and emotionally gone. If I didn’t have “important details” files, I probably couldn’t recall many characters names. Though sort of having a series now, my Shiné world and inhabitants have remained with me from book to book much better, stronger, and more fondly. Still, I haven’t reread any of them.

So, my point in this post is to share an actual list I’m working on to counteract my unfortunate tendency not to re-live what I’ve written, AND also enable thinking about what I want to do better in the next one. Improve my writing. Here’s the beginnings of what I’m working on so far from my looking back perspective..:

RTCTQuestionMark.jpg

  • More dialogue, and more action involving characters physically doing things (this is just a nugget of a goal—and I’m not sure exactly what I mean yet. Especially since I just reread a short story by P.D. James called the Mistletoe Murders where there’s mostly narrative—and I loved it.)[ii]
  • More action with real personal danger involved.
  • More real romance other than intellectual “love of the Mojave.”
  • Characters “actually” having changed, versus in the “process” of change.
  • More skillfully handle “musicality.” (do so much rewriting in that area — especially balancing long passages with short)
  • Better develop traditional “mystery” conundrums. (An outstanding example of what I’m talking about here is Agatha Christie. What a mind!)
  • Better balance against each other – (1) stopping a reader in reading-stride, versus (2) using the absolutely perfect word–noun, adjective, adverb, verb–for description emotional impact. Love finding the perfect word!

I plan to think about all these items, and more, as I start writing my latest Shiné adventure, Deceiving Eyes. But these items are peculiar to me and my writing goalsand the point of my sharing all this “what’s in my mixing bowl stuff” is to offer the thought of doing this type of farewell with your own ideas, writing, and goals?

Which leads to my second point, actually using Last Goodbye thoughts in the future. Not just thinking about them…smile. Another bullet for my list.

Happy writing trails…


[i]  https://thewritersinresidence.com/2019/08/14/polishing-the-gem-3/  Polishing the Gem

[ii] See Jackie Houchin’s post last week about our favorite authors.  https://thewritersinresidence.com/2019/08/21/these-are-a-few-of-my-favorite-reads/

 

 

These Are a Few of My Favorite … Reads

by Jackie Houchin

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages (from Amazon) tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things (reads)

When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things (reads)
And then I don’t feel so bad” *

 

Who doesn’t know the catchy lyrics to that song? I bet you can even picture Julie Andrews singing them while twirling around. And who of us bibliophiles can’t say we have been transported and uplifted during and after reading those few special books that we cherish in our libraries.

The majority of my all-time fave books are mysteries, the old fashioned, clean, puzzling and often romantic reads that still make me smile just thinking of them.

My very favorite book was written by Mary Stewart** in 1964. But it was a few years earlier that I began my journey into this marvelous writer’s world.

Madam Talk audio 51B6UTiH4GL._SX342_I’d asked a wise librarian in Burbank if there was something beyond Nancy Drew, but kind of like her, that I could read. She looked at this budding, though still gangling young teen, and recommended Mary Stewart’s first book, Madam, Will You Talk? (1955)

I was hooked immediately!

The setting is Southern France and involves a young widow, a lovable mutt, a child in peril, high-speed car chases, and a dark and handsome man who is either villain or saint, and suspense.  Delish!

In less than a week I rushed back to the library to check out more of Mary Stewart’s books, reading down the list as fast as I could. Until I came to THE ONE. My favorite book of all time, re-read at least a half dozen times cover to cover, and often, as the song says, “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad…”

Rough Magic Audio; 61gkNEBPKYL._SX342_This Rough Magic (1964), my opiate. ***

I’m not sure what makes my breathing slow when I open the book and settle into a soft chair, but in only a few pages I am deep into the atmosphere I love that is written so well by Mary Stewart in all of her books.

A writer’s hidden retreat on the isle of Corfu in Greece… An old house with secret passages… Wisps of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, quoted by the old recluse playwright living there, that seems to foreshadow the events in the book.

A young woman recovering from a career failure, arrives at the retreat with her sister seeking rest and solace but finding danger and death. Fog along the beach at dawn so thick you can only hear the waves slapping the shore… and the wooden oars of a boat bumping in their cradles, soft murmurs and oaths from its occupants, and grunts as they drag something heavy across the sand and into the trees.

A dolphin’s seeming magical appearances play an important role. And an arrogant and handsome figure, rough in clothes and manner slips in and out of the house at all hours. Is he a killer and smuggler, or a hero?

This is no silly Gothic, but is (to me) outstanding storytelling by a “wordsmith extraordinaire” whose sense of descriptive place is beyond amazing. My favorite read!

 

Next on my list is a puzzle mystery, that just so happens to also have a murder.

marinersCompass2Mariner’s Compass (1999) is Earlene Fowler‘s sixth Benny Harper mystery, set along California’s central coast. Each of her books is named for a quilting pattern although Benny is not a quilter herself. She is a rancher and married to a cop, but she helps maintain a historical museum in town that features old quilts.

What entrances me in this book, unlike any of her other mysteries, is the puzzle. In this story Benny receives a mysterious bequest from a dead stranger. She will inherit his entire estate if she will stay in his home in Morrow Bay for two weeks. Alone. Being alone, abandoned, is something that terrifies Benny.

She agrees, although her protective hubby-cop is not fond of the idea. Soon Benny is on a strange and dangerous scavenger hunt to find the man’s true identity. The clues he leaves hidden, if carefully followed, lead to more clues in a widening spiral of strange places. The deep mystery they reveal piecemeal is totally captivating. It’s a real stunner when she finally discovers who this Jacob Chandler was, and why he was stalking her.

More than the location in Mariner’s Compass, it’s the entwined maze of clues which makes this one of my favorite books. (BTW, if you look on Fowler’s fan page, this book is the favorite of many of her fans.)

 

Old Bones, maginfierOld Bones (1987) *** by Aaron Elkins is another favorite on my list. His protagonist Gideon Oliver is a forensic anthropologist, but his moniker in the series is “bone doctor.” It is absolutely amazing what you (he) can discover from a set of fresh or ancient bones. Who they were, yes, but more importantly in the book, how, where, when, and why a person becomes bones.

Oliver himself is a big, kind of cute, socially inept “nerd” of a guy, who is brilliant with bones. I like all of his cases, but in this one, it’s the location that grabbed me, chilled me, and after many nightmares, made me book a tour to the real place in France.

Mont St Michel,  the small island off the Western coast of France topped by a towering monastery, is tour-worthy for sure. (The original cover pictures the island.) But it is the incoming tides, racing without warning at a speed faster than a man can run, over quicksand riddled mud, that terrifies me.

Yes, I went there, rode in a bus across the long, straight road from the mainland at low tide, trudged up the steep, winding road to the top, and toured the ancient building with a set of huge bells. Very Nice. Reminded me of Notre Dame.

But I could see those swirly patches of mud and sand from atop the “Mont” and in the distance a dark blue-green smudge. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get into the bus and race back to mainland safety.

You are not so lucky in Old Bones. You will suffer fear, panic and worse, when you read the final chapters. I dare you! But, it’s the reason this is one of my faves.

 

Christining Day MurderA freaky location again is the reason for my listing The Christening Day Murder (1993) by Lee Harris as a memorable favorite. (All Lee Harris’ Christine Bennett – a former nun – mysteries have a special “day” as their title.) I can’t even remember the mystery, but I remember where a good portion of it takes place.

Thirty years before, the small town of Studsburg was evacuated by the government and flooded to create a reservoir. (Feeling creepy yet?) In this story, a drought has uncovered the town’s forgotten church, along with a gruesome discovery in the dank basement. It is the skeletal remains of a 30-year-old murder.

As Christine tries to piece together the sordid puzzle from the past, the water begins rising again and she is trapped in the basement…..(Gasping scream from me!)

 

Shell SeekersAnd lastly, the wonderfully warm and well-written family saga by the gifted Rosamunde PilcherThe Shell Seekers (1987) **** (all 582 pages ) This is not a mystery, but a lovely women’s novel featuring Penelope Keeling, a 64 year old woman whose days are limited, and whose family does not understand her. A woman whose past is calling her, but whose present threatens to fence her in.

A painting which her children vie for, lusting for the wealth it will bring at her passing, but which is too sweetly precious for Penelope part with, is in the center. Instead of giving it to her children, she uses it – to their chagrin and horror – to fund one last trip into her romantic past.

In the book, sixteen characters have their own section and say. Shell Seekers is not a linear book, so the characters each tell their story, almost as if they are all in a room together, and one steps forward to knit their story into the entire piece. They form a complete picture of “Miss Penelope Keeling,” who speaks last in the book.

These multiple POVs – besides Pilcher’s amazing, evocative, sweeping, tender, gorgeous writing – makes this a favorite. It is the voices of 16 people, separate and yet forever intertwined in the story of one wonderful woman. A tear-jerker. You won’t want it to end. When it does, you’ll fly to the first page and begin again. (PS: Rosamunde Pilcher was 60 when she wrote this book.)

 

Suspense and romance, locations and mystery

Old Bones and bodies, shrouded in history

Villains and heroes revealing their deeds

These are A FEW of my favorite reads.

 

Have you got any favorite reads? What is it that makes them memorable to you? Characters, setting, style, genre, author, the writing…?

 

 

* Richard Rodgers, The Sound of Music, with my words in italics

** Mary Stewart is credited with developing the genre of romantic suspense featuring intelligent, independent, and capable women who don’t fall apart in a crisis. A reviewer wrote, “There is an old-fashioned elegance about Mary Stewart‘s writing. A stately polish with more than a hint of an old 1950’s Hollywood movie.”

*** Mary Stewart‘s mysteries are now all available in audio through Amazon/Audible. Here’s the link to This Rough Magic

**** 1988 Edgar Award Winner – Best Mystery of the year. (“Look out Sherlock Holmes!”)

***** In her introduction, Pilcher writes that she intended The Shell Seekers to be “A big fat novel for women. Something above all, that tapped into my life and the experiences of my generation.”

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 5by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part FourContinuity

 

This is a very tough area to polish. Think of a road map to a destination. You know where you want your characters to go. You pick several roads. Some are clear-sailing, some bumpy, some are really rough going, but you think they will eventually get your characters to their goal. But what if one of those streets is a dead end? Or what if you end up on a street that circles back in another direction, but it doesn’t and won’t get your characters to where they were supposed to be going?

This is what a continuity editor does. He looks to see if there are holes in the plot, missing descriptions that might clarify a point you are trying to make, or if you just can’t get there from here.

This is what your beta readers just might point out, if you have a few, or what a continuity editor will discover, if you have the means to hire one. But if either of those possibilities is not available, you will have to do the work yourself. Is it hard? You bet. Is it impossible? Heck no.

There are actually a few ways to look at your work through different eyes… at least sort of different eyes or maybe ears. What do I mean? If your computer has a WORD program that has a Text to Speech feature, use it. Have the little voice read your manuscript back to you. The voice feature isn’t bad at all and it can even give inflection if you have a question mark or exclamation point. Have it read slow enough so that you can follow along like the member of an audience. It’s the actor reciting lines. You just listen. If that mechanical voice says something that you don’t understand, stop the program and go back over what you had written. Remember: that little voice reads only what’s on the page. It adds or takes away nothing. If the voice says something you don’t understand, and you wrote it, you better go back and rewrite it until you understand what the voice is saying to you.

It’s best to do this read-through a few days or even weeks after you finish your last draft. You want to distance yourself from the project and come at it as if it were all new to you. You might know the plot, but having the mechanical voice read it out loud after some days away from the project does make it seem fresher.

As the voice is reading you will be listening to the plot and character development from a different perspective. It’s really like fresh eyes, or in this case, ears, reviewing your work. Try to “stay in the moment” as the story is unfolding and listen for incongruities. Again, if it doesn’t make sense to you, the writer, it won’t make sense to the reader either.

If you don’t have a Text to Speech feature on your computer, ask a friend to read the book out loud to you. They can enjoy your book while you listen for things that don’t work. Your friend might even point out a few things that don’t quite hold together, too.

If you don’t have Text to Speech or a willing reader or a continuity editor, run off a copy of your book and sit down in another room and go through the book yourself. You can check for spelling and punctuation errors, change one word for another word, discover holes in the plot, and even rewrite portions because you thought of a better plot twist while re-reading your story. I usually go through my novels four separate times finding errors as well as picking a better word here and there. I have discovered goofy mistakes and few big errors that I fixed before the book saw the light of day.

No matter who you hire or the people you know who are willing to help you out with your editing, the ultimate responsibility is yours. Your name is on the book, not the copy editor or line editor, or college professor who said he would read your book or Aunt Mabel who loves to read and who said she would go over your manuscript for you. It’s your baby. Do the very best editing you can do. Go over it one more time after you think you’re finished, and then send it out to the world.

And even if an error slips past you, remember this: Only God is perfect. Do your best.

 

Parts Five & Six – Finding the Right Word & Picky Picky will be coming up in a few weeks.

Improve Your Introductions and Conclusions in Non-fiction Writing

by Jeanette F. Chaplin

I recently discovered I’m a cruciverbalist. It’s chronic, incurable, and inoperable. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious. But it’s probably terminal. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this blog post, which is the whole point.

The purpose of this somewhat puzzling introduction was to get your attention. Using a word that is probably unfamiliar is one way of doing that. I “hooked” you in one of two ways: either you didn’t know the word and read on to learn the meaning, or you know the term because you are one. In that case, you decided to keep reading to see what I have to say about a topic that already interests you. Or, I may have lost you while you left to look up the word.

For your enlightenment:

cruciverbalist [ kroo-suh-vur-buh-list ] noun.  a person skillful in creating or solving crossword puzzles

Two of the most challenging aspects of writing non-fiction are effectively introducing the topic and wrapping it up satisfactorily when you’re done. The trick is to find a natural and interesting way to lead into the topic in the beginning and close it off at the end.

Movies do this quite well. A classic example is The Princess Bride. The opening and closing scenes have nothing to do with the actual story (although some might challenge that statement). The well-meaning grandfather comes to read to his ailing grandson. After watching the story that’s enacted, the viewer is returned to the modern-day scene and Peter Falk excuses himself with, “As you wish.”

Using a narrator to tell the story can be useful, but it has been overdone and doesn’t lend itself too well to non-fiction. One way to make this “bookending” happen is to connect a seemingly unrelated idea with the theme of your essay, article, or blog post. Then weave it in seamlessly from beginning to end.

To accomplish this, come up with an idea, a concept, or premise that seems far removed from your topic, as I did with crossword puzzles and introductions and conclusions. Nothing is off limits: waterfalls, RV life, grandkids, politics. Well, maybe not politics.

Make a list or a cluster chart of your ideas and think of any connections between those random concepts and the topic of your essay or article. Let’s try waterfalls as an example. Waterfalls flow, they are refreshing, it may be difficult to reach them, they could present a danger, are challenging to cross, and they can be inspiring—or frightening. Those descriptions could apply to any number of topics. Do any of them spark a connection? If not, keep playing with ideas until you find a comparison that works. Brainstorming with a friend or family member may help.

So, back to my off-the-wall, totally irrelevant introduction. What connection could crossword puzzles possibly have to with writing non-fiction?

crossword-146860_960_720For one thing, both follow a very specific set of rules. Crosswords must be square, they contain a specific number of squares and answers, they must be symmetrical, and they can’t duplicate clues in the grid. Clues and answers must match grammatically. Puzzles must have a theme. Now we’re getting closer to something writers can relate to: themes and grammar. For crossword creators, that means their answers must support the theme. Writers, on the other hand, must develop a theme that carries readers logically from beginning to end. Do I even need to mention that writing should be grammatically correct?

Non-fiction also needs an attention-getting beginning and an introduction to the topic, which may include why it is important to the reader. The author has to explain the concept in a way that is understandable to the reader, preferably in an interesting way, and conclude with a reminder of what was discussed.

In the crossword puzzle, the creator may attempt to misdirect the solver to make it more challenging. In the really difficult puzzles, generally scheduled for Saturday, creators often turn to wordplay, slang, unusual punctuation, or the ultimate twist of the knife: heteronyms (words that are spelled the same but have different pronunciations and meaning, Polish and polish, for example). 1

But ultimately, the creator wants the solver to succeed. According to crossword expert David Kwong, a New York Times puzzle constructor, “A good enigmatist makes the solver feel smart.” 2

newspaper-news-media-spectacles-53209But solving a crossword puzzle is far removed from the experience of reading an article. The solver of the former is looking for entertainment and a challenge. The reader of the latter wants to be informed, inspired, or educated. Or, at times, to be entertained.

The crossword challenge ends when the cruciverbalist either a.) solves the complete puzzle unaided, b.)  resorts to subterfuge to find answers, or c.) tears it up and tosses it into the trash.

In written work, the writers’ goals are accomplished when they convey the ideas to the reader as clearly and convincingly as possible and possibly even stir them to action. A good ending helps to achieve the desired result.

A satisfying conclusion should in some way reflect the introduction. It can be a restatement, an echo, a contrasting statement, or an illustration of the point. Or as in our example in this blog post—a bookend. Which means, at this point, I’m expected to return to the original crossword puzzle illustration.

Just as puzzle solvers come to a crossword with certain expectations, so do readers. Construct your non-fiction writing to smoothly lead them into your topic, cover the main point clearly, and tie it up neatly at the end. Make your reader feel smart.

Unlike the crossword creator, your goal is not to bewilder or stump your reader. You want to skillfully lead them from the hook to the denouement. Directly from 1. Across to 31. Down.

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JFC_RomyBestSemi-retired college English and Spanish instructor. Self-publisher, editor, and entrepreneur. Jeanette has been writing, teaching, editing, mentoring, and publishing for the past four decades. Now she is available online to help writers around the world with their writing ventures.  When she’s not writing, she enjoys enjoys traveling to visit family and friends, especially her two grown daughters and her two young grandchildren.

Jeanette F. Chaplin, Ed.D.


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1 Amlen, Deb. “How to Solve The New York Times Crossword.” n.d. https://www.nytimes.com/guides/crosswords/how-to-solve-a-crossword-puzzle?module=inline

2 Kwong, David. “How to Create a Crossword Puzzle.” WIRED MASTERMINDS  S1  E3. n.d. https://youtu.be/aAqQnXHd7qk

 

This article was posted for Jeanette Chaplain by Jackie Houchin