Focus on the First Five —a tale of seduction

From 3-30 July 2017, I’ll be co-teaching this course with book editor extraordinaire, Robb Grindstaff through Romance Writers of Australia. Our Focus on the First Five pages course is useful for any genre, but do read on to find out more about our “seductive” writing course…

Book here: Focus on the First Five

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If you’re like me, before committing to a book, you’ll open it and read the first page in a store, or download the free excerpt of an ebook, before buying it. That’s also what an agent or publisher does with your manuscript. There’s massive pressure on your first few pages because their job is to hook your readers (be that agents, publishers or eventual everyday readers) and convince them to commit to the rest of your story. A reader will not wait for it to get good. You must wow them now, immediately and right away.

In romance terms, those first five pages must seduce the reader into a relationship.

On that topic, I thought I’d ask Robb what usually captures his attention as a reader and makes him want to keep reading. Robb?

Every reader is different, every writer is different, and different genres have different expectations for an opening. But there are a few key points you want your opening to accomplish to grab attention from the first sentence.

For some readers, it’s the story hook that grabs their attention. Between the front cover, the blurb on the back, and the first sentence, first paragraph, opening pages, does the writer catch your attention with, “What is going to happen with this set of circumstances?” Does the writer know exactly where and how to start the story?

For others, it’s the character that grabs the attention right off the mark. Is this an interesting, compelling character? What’s going to happen to her?

Then there’s that almost indefinable, and perhaps unteachable, quality: voice. Does the voice of the opening pages pull the reader in? This may be the most difficult but most important aspect of the opening. This is what I need in a book before I buy. I can’t even say I look for it. It’s either there or it’s not.

Writers who can make all that happen right from the start show the reader they are in command of their art and craft, and have created something worth continuing the journey.

A brilliant first sentence will lead to the second sentence and the third, so a writer can craft an excellent first sentence and still lose the reader in the first few pages. But if you grab and hold their attention for the first five pages, and you’ve hooked them into the character and story question, you’re off to a great start.

Thanks, Robb. I agree with all of that. It’s prompted me to share a story of how the first page of a book once seduce me. I’m a busy woman (two kids, two jobs, one husband, writing, the occasional yoga class to mitigate all the writing-related sitting) and I have limited reading time. So when I invest my time in a book, I want to know I’m settling in for the kind of read I like—crime, chic-lit or romance (in that order!). I do not do genres like fantasy, horror or sci-fi. I just don’t like them and I’m not prepared to waste my precious reading time on them.

Or so I thought.

Several years ago, I was at a writing workshop where the presenter used the first page of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes as an example (of what I don’t recall). This book, as some of you may know, is a time-travelling, fantasy, and horror genre mash-up. Not my thing at all. Yet that first page grabbed me. The voice, the atmosphere, the character and the hook all seduced me in one tiny page and I had to go and buy the damned thing. It is now one of my all-time favourite novels and I’ve read everything that the brilliant, freaky Lauren Beukes has written. I also pester her regularly on Facebook for more. That’s the power of a fantastic first page, people!

So when Robb and I sat down to write this course, we asked ourselves what do our favourite books accomplish in those first few pages, and how can we teach other writers to replicate that? We think we’ve answered this question because it really all comes down to a few fundamental craft basics, followed up by —you guessed it— editing.

We can’t wait to share our lesson and critiquing with you so that one day, your manuscript may also seduce that elusive reader.

 

 

Romance Writers of Australia online course – The Synopsis

You’ve written a stand-out story and now it’s time for (gasp) submission. Eek! You know if you don’t get this part right, the agent or publisher won’t even get to that manuscript you’ve just spent the last year (or ten) slaving over. Oh, the pressure!

Relax. Breathe. It’s OK.

Most writers know they need to provide a “book package” that varies slightly from publisher to publisher, but will inevitably contain a synopsis, cover letter, author bio and perhaps blurb. The good news is you can prepare a kick-arse package that’s ready to go, and tweak it to suit the individual specifications of your intended submittee.

When I was starting out some years ago, I thought whoever devised the concept of the synopsis must be a complete sadist. I mean, what kind of cruel and unusual torture involves reducing 400 pages of novel to two 1.5 spaced standard A4s?! This task necessarily means you have to leave stuff out. Lots of stuff. So what parts do you leave out, what bits do you leave in, and how should you write the darned thing? Just what makes a good synopsis that will hook your ideal agent or publisher and MAKE them pick up your amazing manuscript?

I asked all these questions and more of the many mentors I’ve had and I can thankfully report that, with some examples, an explanation of the theory behind the synopsis and other tools, it’s not the hand-wringing task it at first appears. Which brings me to the OWL I’m teaching in September called “Synopsis, blurb, cover letter, bio — your book selling tools”.

I work best when I understand the purpose of a thing, and have good examples to work from, so that’s the approach I’ve taken with this OWL. I’ve included lots of theory and I’ve called upon my network of writer pals to provide me with examples of their materials. You’ll get to see what different types of synopsises, cover letters, author bio’s and blurbs have worked for a variety of published authors. I’ve also strong-armed my longstanding mentor and editor, Robb Grindstaff (http://robbgrindstaff.com/writing/) into providing a bit of assistance, and he’s going to be available on our forum to answer your questions — many of Robb’s clients have landed agent and publishing deals, so make good use of him!

Also, because I teach in the Professional Writing stream at TAFE, I’ve seen first-hand that one-on-one feedback is often the most useful part of a course. So I’m also offering all participants the opportunity to submit their synopsis to me in week four (after we’ve covered the theory, done some exercises, and seen examples, of course) for individual feedback about your strengths and weaknesses. Feedback can pickpocket Dear Writer of their blind spots which is always helpful, not necessarily painless, but I do promise to be gentle! For this reason, I’ve capped the number of participants or I may drown under a sea of synopsises — yet another reason they are instruments of torture — so book in quick!

If you want to book, you can do so here: http://www.romanceaustralia.com/owl/24

Hope to see you in September!

How to write a synopsis, cover letter & author bio

Winter HeatHi there!

Are you a writer ready to submit your work to a publisher? Perhaps you’re just interested in what you’ll need to do when you are ready. If that’s you, I’m teaching an online course through Romance Writers Australia this September. It’s just $35 for non-members, and $40 for members. For details and bookings, click below.

https://romanceaustralia.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/september-owl-selling-your-book/

And here’s what you get:

Most writers know they need to provide a synopsis of their novel, short story, or screenplay to prospective publishers before they’ll request your manuscript. But what should a good synopsis look like? Is there an industry standard for what should be covered? Do you give the end away or tell them just enough to pique their interest? And what about all the other stuff publisher’s websites commonly ask for – a cover letter, your elevator pitch, your author bio.

This course will look at each of these essential ‘book-selling tools’, what you should and shouldn’t include, and how to get that submissions editor to request your work. Advice will come from both the presenter and professionals in the field, including an internationally successful writer and book editor. You’ll get working examples from published authors and if you want to have a go at writing your 1-2 page synopsis, the presenter will also give you individual written feedback.

Week 1:

What is a synopsis and why is it so important? This lesson will look at the role of a good synopsis and canvas the divergent advice on what you should include. Examples from both the presenter and published authors will be included. Robb Grindstaff, international writer and book editor, will be available to answer questions from participants on the FB forum.

Week 2:

How to write a blurb and an elevator pitch. These short, sweet tools can be the key to a publisher requesting more from you. This lesson will provide examples on how to summarise something big (like a novel) to something small (like a sentence or two).

Week 3:

Your cover letter and author bio. There’s an art to these too. This lesson will teach you what to include, what to leave out, and how to standout.

Week 4:

No lesson this week. Instead, email me your 1-2 page synopsis, and I’ll provide you with written feedback.

Students will be provided with a weekly PDF lesson via email each Monday (except in week 4 when written feedback will be provided in lieu of a PDF). Questions will be answered on a closed

Moodle group during the week. Depending on availability, Samantha is hoping to have at least two prominent writing professionals join these discussions, and once they have been finalised, students will be emailed to let them know who the ‘special guest’ will be, and to email their questions before posting them to the group.

Winter Heat chic lit anthology

It’s wild weather up here in the Adelaide Hills at the moment. We’ve even seen snow at Mt Lofty, and plenty of hail and frost everywhere! So what better excuse than to curl up with some hot romance? Seasoned with Romance, my virtual writer’s group has just released its latest anthology of bite-sized, chic lit treats – perfect for heating you up in this cold, cold weather.

Winter Heat

Download your free copy here: Winter Heat

Here’s what you can expect:

Wish Upon a Star by Sarah Belle
Abby can’t wait to marry her gorgeous fiancé, Xander – until she realises they’ve never had an argument. How can she expect their marriage to weather life’s storms when their relationship has never truly been tested?

A Friend in Need by Laura Greaves
When her best friend announces that it’s not possible for people in committed relationships to have single friends of the opposite sex, Megan is determined to prove her wrong. But are her feelings for her boyfriend’s best mate, Rye, purely friendly – or is Megan playing with fire?

The Reject Club by Carla Caruso
Tired of being rejected in both her personal and professional lives, Maya has retreated to her grandmother’s seaside cottage to clear her head. The last thing she needs is a man to complicate matters – especially one as alluring as Garrett…

The Getaway by Vanessa Stubbs
When Dominique heads to the Tasmanian wilderness with husband Ricky, it’s a make-or-break weekend for their struggling marriage. Is Ricky the same man she fell in love with – or is rugged Cal what she really needs?

Bad Things Come in Threes by Belinda Williams
First her marriage collapsed. Then she lost her job. Wynter isn’t sure whether she can cope with another disaster. And when Marty enters her life, she doesn’t know whether he’s the best thing to happen to her – or the very worst.

by Samantha Bond
Washed-up pop star George would do anything for another crack at the big time, and when he discovers talented young singer Annabella he sees his chance. There’s just one problem: Annabella’s feisty mother, Catherine.

Make me write!!

Hi there all you writerly types!

As both a writer, and a writing teacher, I encounter cases of ‘bum glue-itis’ regularly. That, dear people, is the inability to stick one’s bottom to the chair and just write. There’s always other distractions and demands, tasks that seem more achievable and ‘important’ than sitting down to do what we love – writing.

In my teaching gig, students tell me one of the most helpful things about our mentoring relationship is that they’re accountable to deliver material to me and meet their deadlines. So I thought, ‘Why not set up an accountability system that all writers can access?’ My question to you, then, is would you be interested in belonging to a closed Facebook group which exists to make you write? You’ll pay a nominal monthly fee to be a member, and the amount of work you email to me is up to you  – it could be a chapter a month, it could be ten. Your call. Meet your deadline, you get half your money back. Don’t meet it, slap on the wrist for you! (Yes, carrots and sticks do work and have their place).

I’ll also provide you with individual feedback on your submitted work and the FB group would meet live once per month for a general chat with all members about what’s working for them, and how I can assist you to be more productive. Fellow writer, Carla Caruso, will be involved as an experienced published author to provide her expertise also.

This is a thought bubble at the moment, so I’d love to hear from anyone who likes the idea. The purpose is motivation to write, assisting you to be accountable, achieve your goals and to just write!

Over to you…:)

 

 

Romance writing for men

 

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This post could also be titled “Romance writing for beginners,” or even “Romance according to Disney”. But I’ve targeted you blokes (sorry if I’m being sexist) because I’m tutoring several men in the professional writing stream this year and some have asked me for advice on including a romance plot in their novels. It seems to me, in general, that men don’t read romance as much as women, so this is a fairly basic overview of the ingredients you need. Its applicable to anyone writing romance or including a romantic subplot in your work. Also, because I have a toddler and our house is an Elsa, Anna, Olaf shrine, I’ve used Frozen as an example (a good thing for those of you who have small children cos you can do your homework and look after them at the same time!) Frozen and Shrek the Third are both awesome examples of a romance subplot in action (warning: this post contains spoilers!)

For a romance, you need:

  1. A reason for the characters to be in each-other’s company
  2. Internal and external conflicts
  3. Chemistry between your characters
  • A reason to be together
  • Let’s look at number one – your characters could work in the same office or, say, on a military mission together. Anything that keeps them together for a good deal of the action of your story. In Frozen, Kristoff and Anna are in each other’s company because Anna needs help getting to the North Mountain to find her sister and Kristoff can help her. What reason do your characters have to remain in each other’s company?
  • External Conflict
  • Internal and external conflicts – yep, you need both. An external conflict preventing two characters from being together might be that they’re married to other people. In Frozen, the external conflict to Hans and Anna getting married is that Elsa won’t give their marriage her blessing. She then “goes all ice crazy” and freezes the kingdom. Anna has to find her to bring her back and unfreeze the kingdom. These are the forces outside of Anna and Hans that prevent them from being together. You’ll need at least one external force that keeps your characters apart for a good deal of the story. If Elsa had given Anna and Hans her blessing, they’d have gotten married and that would be the end of the story. We don’t want that!
  • Internal conflict
  • There can be a myriad of these and it’s best not to fall into cliché and say “they’re afraid of their feelings”. The internal conflict for Anna and Hans once they’re reunited is that Hans doesn’t really love Anna. (And Anna has fallen for another guy, anyway.) Hans has faked it because he wanted to marry into the royal family, and he’s actually a rotter who’d been planning Elsa’s death so he could rule the kingdom. Frozen then has the other romantic subplot— Kristoff and Anna, and this is the real romance of the story. They don’t like each other much as first, but Anna needs Kristoff to help her find her sister. Kristoff doesn’t want to help, but he has no money and Anna has bought him the supplies he needs. Then his sleigh is destroyed and if he doesn’t continue to help her, he won’t get his sleigh replaced. This covers both their “reason to be in each other’s company” and a relationship that goes from “don’t like you much” to “in love”. The internal conflict is the personality clash, and Kristoff’s loner outlook versus Anna’s extreme desire to be loved. The external conflict is that Anna is engaged to Hans and the whole kingdom is frozen.

 

  • Chemistry
  •  As Anna and Kristoff work together to find Elsa, they become closer and it’s apparent through their behaviour towards one another that they’re falling in love. This is the “chemistry” ingredient and is a “show don’t tell” thing. It can be the trickiest part to pull off and takes practice. Look at chemistry between your characters the same way you do all relationships — what makes this particular relationship work? In Frozen, it’s easy to see why everyone loves Anna. She’s cute, but not intimidating beautiful (like Elsa!), she’s a goof, she’s funny, she’s kind and strong. We like Anna. Kristoff, although a bit prickly to start with, is also likeable. He’s down to earth, has a quirky relationship with his reindeer, is the ‘voice of reason’, and does the right thing by Anna when Hans doesn’t. Their banter, their action scenes together, their support of one another all adds up to “chemistry”. As I said, it’s the trickiest bit, but if you focus on creating great characters, the chemistry will flow.
  • Resolution
  • Once all their obstacles are removed (found and saved Elsa, defrosted Anna’s frozen heart, and gotten rid of stinker Hans), Kristoff and Anna can be together. It’s no accident this romance is tied up in the last scene. Try watching Frozen with all this in mind you should be able to:
    • Identify the external and internal conflicts in the romance between Anna & Hans, and in the romance between Anna & Kristoff
    • See why Anna and Kristoff (and even Hans to start with) are such likeable characters. Think of how you can do this with your characters.

Another great one for this exercise is Shrek Forever After. It’s less “romancey” as it’s intended for both boys and girls, and the main plot involves Shrek being dissatisfied with his life and wishing for a simpler time before he was a married father of three (I can relate!) He gets his wish, but at a cost. He does a dodgy deal with Rumplestiltskin and alters reality. If he doesn’t get “love’s true kiss” before the end of the day, he’ll cease to exist. Problem is, in this reality Fiona, his wife, doesn’t know or love him. He has to make her fall in love with him all over again. A good one to watch to see how this is handled in a more “masculine” way.

Let me know if you have any questions and, as I said, this is a basic overview but hope it helps!

Happy writing. 🙂

Grant news- new anthology

If you write, you’ll know it’s not glamorous (many hours alone at a keyboard in isolation while your friends and family are having fun or, better yet, sleeping!) and it’s the little wins that keep you going. You need to be your own biggest cheerleader because, let’s face it, no-one cares more about your work than you do.

So, it’s great to celebrate the “little wins”. Those bits of validation that tell you you’re doing a good job, and to just keep going. This is one of those happy dance,” woot-woot”, moments, so apologies for being self-indulgent, but who else is going to indulge me? I mean, you can if you like…

My virtual writers group, Seasoned with Romance, has been awarded grant funding for our next anthology. We’ve put out two free anthologies of our short stories so far, and now one of Australia’s biggest and best writers’ organisations, Romance Writers of Australia, has recognised the quality of our work with a grant. The money will pay for those professionals who, to date, have donated their services, to get paid. That includes our extremely talented book cover designer, Daniella Caruso (http://carusodaniella.wix.com/illustration), and payment for editing and promo services.

The new anthology, Winter Heat, will still be free for readers and I hope you’ll take this stamp of approval as a sign that it’s worth reading and get yourself a copy when it comes out in June.

Contributors to Summer Daze which is free to download here (http://bit.ly/1pxm5HH) are all wonderful Australian writers and you can learn more about them through their websites:

http://www.carlacaruso.com.au

http://www.lauragreaves.com/

http://georginapenney.com/

https://sarahbell4.wordpress.com/

https://vanessastubbswriter.wordpress.com/about/

 

I’ll keep you updated as the release of Winter Heat nears!