Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: Does it tickle their fancy?

We’ve been looking at: 
  • the importance of writing a captivating opening for your memoir, and
  • writing chapter endings that grab readers’ attention and inspire them to keep reading.

Next, examine each chapter opening. Ask yourself: Does it intrigue readers? Charm them? Tickle their fancy?  Does it hold their interest so they’ll keep reading?  

Each chapter beginning must be as attractive as your book’s beginning.

You’ll find helpful tips in Matilda Butler’s post, Memoir Writing Prompt: A Running Start with Each Chapter. Besides helping you polish each chapter opening, she also offers help with choosing chapter titles. Don’t miss her post!

Related posts:

That's it: Your Tuesday Tidbit

Thursday, January 25, 2018

“Give your chapter endings extra love”

“. . . Have you ever noticed that [the] desire to keep reading is amplified by how the chapter ends?” asks Ashley Martin.

We all know this: Readers have a choice at the end of each chapter. They can turn the page and begin the next chapter—or not.

As writers, we want to prevent that “or not.”

Ashley continues, “. . . it’s our job to craft chapter endings that pull our stories—and our readers—forward. But sometimes, finding the perfect end to a chapter can be tough….”

That’s why we must learn to write effective chapter endings.

Book chapter endings aren’t supposed to resemble composition endings we penned in college freshman English. Back then we concluded with a summary that tied everything together and provided a satisfying end. Our endings brought a sense of closure. Resolution.

We might think that’s how to end a memoir’s chapters, too, but that’s not the case.

Rebecca Belliston writes, “if we end every chapter with a resolved scene, readers might leave for those Oreos and find something else to do. When it comes to holding reader interest, knowing when to end a chapter matters almost as much as knowing what content to include within the chapter.”

So, let’s get to work. Examine the endings of your memoir’s chapters.  Ask yourself if each one compels readers to turn the page and keep reading.

Here are a few techniques for grabbing and holding readers’ attention:

  • Drop a new twist into your story—maybe a surprise, or a new conflict, or a secret, or something terrifying.
  • Ask a captivating question.
  • Reveal a tidbit that hints at the future and creates curiosity.
  • Humor is good. Make ’em laugh.
  • Or make ’em cry.

Mystery, tension, emotion, and suspense motivate readers to keep reading. End a chapter in the middle of a conflict (real or emotional).

Ashley Martin recommends, “Look for places in your story where something BIG happens. Once you’ve found that big event—rewind. When you’ve found the apex—the point where your chapter is teetering on the edge of that pivotal moment—FREEZE. Stop your chapter there, and don’t reveal what happens until the start of the next.”

We call that a cliffhanger.

Aaron Elkins offers this advice: “. . . A cliffhanger ending to a chapter doesn’t have to be an action scene. As long as it leaves the reader ‘hanging,’ you’re in business. For example:

“END OF ONE CHAPTER: Nan’s normally rosy face was the color of putty. ‘There’s something I need to tell you.’ Her eyes were fixed on the floor. ‘Something you don’t know about me.’

“BEGINNING OF NEXT CHAPTER: It had all started, she said, tight-lipped, when her mother’s brother moved in. She was 12….”

And here’s an important takeaway: End your chapters in a variety of ways—mix them up. Be unpredictable.

“One of the best things an author can hear
from a reader is,
‘I’m so exhausted.
I stayed up until four in the morning
to finish your book.’
. . . If they were willing to give up sleep,
they must have really liked the book.”

Whatever you do and however you do it, hook your readers—make them curious to know what will happen next. Compel them to turn the page.

If you don’t want your memoir to sit on a shelf and collect dust, craft intriguing chapter endings. In the words of K.M. Weiland, “give your chapter endings extra love.”

The following offer additional inspiration on crafting chapter endings with pizzazz:

Rebecca Belliston’s “Mastering the Art of the Cliffhanger Ending
Aaron Elkins' "3 Ways to Know When to End Your Chapters" (He refers to novels but his info pertains to memoirs, too.)

Friday, January 19, 2018

After you remove your memoir's scaffolding, craft a concise, intriguing opening

Now that you’ve removed your scaffolding,* it’s time to polish your memoir’s opening because without a top-notch lead-in, few people will be motivated to read your book. 

You have only seconds to hook a person and persuade her to continue reading.

So how do you write a high-quality beginning? Start with an attention-getting scene—a defining moment, a critical juncture, an inciting incident.

In your opening, include the following but be brief (you’ll fill in more details later in your story):
  • Introduce your character,
  • briefly let readers know where that person is (describe what’s unique about the setting) so they can picture themselves in the scene,
  • and maybe include the date or era (or at least hint at it).
  • Introduce a conflict, complication, vulnerability, or a need the main character has. What does he want? What’s keeping him from having it? What’s at stake?
  • Engage readers’ emotions. Make them care what happens to the main character.
  • Hook your readers—make them curious.

After you’ve pinned down those key components, continue to hone your opening:
  • Be concise (write tight). Remove every unnecessary word, every unnecessary sentence, every unnecessary paragraph.  
  • Cut boring stuff.
  • Cut flowery language.
  • Cut most adverbs and adjectives.
  • Cut clichés.

And strive for clarity—leave no confusion in your readers’ minds.

Crafting a successful beginning takes a lot of workI can tell you from experience that a person can revise an opening for years!

You can do this
You can pen a powerful beginning 
that grabs readers’ attention 
and gives them reasons to keep reading.

*If you read Thursday’s and Tuesday’s posts, you’ve identified the scaffolding in your manuscript’s opening and you’ve dismantled it. (If you missed those posts, click on Readers don’t want us to dillydally around and Have you dismantled your scaffolding?)

By now you understand that while scaffolding is a good thing, it’s for your eyes only.

For more instruction and inspiration, read Chip Scanlan’s Dismantling Your Story’s Scaffolding in which he teaches and gives examples. He writes from a journalist’s perspective, but his concepts are relevant for those who write memoirs, too.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Readers don’t want us to dillydally around

We mustn't waste our readers' time. We need to grab their attention from the outset, from the first sentence and the first paragraphs of our memoirs.

How do we do that? By deliberately crafting an opening to draw them in.

We need to make our readers curious. To hook them. To keep them reading.

But most writers don't know how to craft an effective opening. In fact, many of us don't even know what, specifically, we want to communicate.

So we scatter a few words and sentences across our computer screen and then we add or delete or move a few words—until we realize we're just flailing around. And we thank God nobody is reading over our shoulder because first attempts can be really embarrassing.

But don't worry. Believe it or not, we are making progress. We are experimenting and, in the process, we're constructing scaffolding which will help us build a sturdy opening. Really.

Our scaffolding gets us going, provides momentum, and helps us zero in on the story we want to write.

"As the tennis player rallies before the game begins,
so must the writer.
And as the tennis player
is not concerned with where those first balls are going,
neither must the writer be concerned
with the first paragraph or two.
All you're doing is warming up."
Leonard S. Bernstein

Decades ago, I learned about scaffolding from Donald Murray, and later from Roy Peter Clark and Don Fry, authors of Coaching Writers: Editors and Writers Working Together. They say, 

". . . Sometimes the writer must write her way into the story, creating sentences that can't appear in the final version but do get the writer to where she wants to go. So the writer erects a scaffold to build the story, but dismantles it to let the story show through."

So then, scaffolding is temporary, a structure that supports the construction of what will eventually stand alone.

"Good stories . . . leap right to their subjects, perhaps not in draft one, or draft six, but at some point, the introductory apparatus is cut, seen for what it is: scaffolding. You put up the elaborate and complicated and even beautiful scaffolding and build the cathedral. When the cathedral is complete, well, you take the scaffolding down." (Writing Life Stories)

So begin writing, knowing that later you might delete some or all of those initial attempts. (And nowadays, deleting and rearranging and rewriting are so much easier than they used to be—back when we used typewriters, sometimes manual typewriters, and later electric. If you've never typed compositions or articles or books on a typewriter, you have no idea how computers have revolutionized writers' lives!)

Readers will like us and our memoirs better 
if we remove the scaffolding.


Because they don't want us to dillydally around. They want us to get right to the point.

When we do, our stories have punch, focus, and power.

Look over your memoir's opening. Read it aloud.

And answer these questions:

What is my memoir's main point—the story's purpose? Its signficance?

Do my first few paragraphs focus on or aim toward that main point?

Do my readers need to know this information? Or is it scaffolding—did I write it only to find my way into my story?

Dismantle your scaffolding. Let your story stand strong.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: Does your memoir’s opening grab readers?

You want readers to keep reading, to keep turning the pages of your memoir, right?

That means you need to rewrite and edit to make it the very best it can be!

Start by examining your memoir’s beginning. Ask yourself, Will this catch the attention of my readers and make them want to keep reading?

Experiment with several versions of your opening paragraph. Work on making it strong and vivid and inviting. And have fun doing it!

Come back Thursday and we’ll look at specific ways to craft powerful openings and pull readers in.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Will you publish your memoir in 2018?

You might have set aside your writing over the holidays—I did. And I didn’t feel guilty about it.

Why? Because sometimes taking a break is exactly what we need to refresh, revitalize, and invigorate ourselves for the writing tasks ahead.

We just can’t let our breaks linger too long.

Determine in 2018 to make significant progress on your writing project. I’m guessing quite a few of you will publish your memoir in 2018!

Your story is not your own.
It has been entrusted to you by God
for something bigger than you might realize right now.

In his devotional, Quiet Moments with God, Lloyd Ogilvie prays for God to help him be a communicator of His grace to others. He continues praying:

“All You have taught me on the mountaintops of victory or the valleys of trials has been to help me say to others, ‘I know what you’re going through—I’ve been there!’ Help me see life as a school of grace equipping me for a ministry of sharing. Thank you, Lord, for what I will learn . . . that will enable me to help someone who will need just what I’ve discovered.”

Those words are true for you and for me, too. So are these next ones:

“The life I touch for good or ill
will touch another life,
and in turn another,
until who knows where the trembling stops
or in what place my touch will be felt.”
Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark

Your memoir can communicate God’s grace, hope, peace, and encouragement to others.

So as you step into 2018, renew your sense of ministry. Recognize you’ve received a sacred calling.

If you took a break from writing over the holidays, don't feel guilty! The breather probably was good for you. But now is the time to get back to work!

If you plan to publish your memoir in 2018, 
leave a comment below 

Happy writing!