Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Writing Sequences of Events

Congratulations to Elizabeth Varadan, the winner of last week's ebook giveaway! Elizabeth has won an ebook of Julie Musil's new release, THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE


Today I'm pondering sequence problems, things I've noticed in others' writing, as well things my eagle-eyed critique partners have caught me doing. (Guilty!)

As I hurried along the sidewalk, I saw Mr. Bagley and stopped to talk to him for a few minutes.

Not possible. Everything in the sentence has to happen in the timeframe of the introductory phrase, "as I hurried along the sidewalk." There is no way the character can hurry along the sidewalk and stop to talk to Mr. Bagley at the same time. You could fix this easily:

As I hurried along the sidewalk, I saw Mr. Bagley. I smiled and stopped to talk to him for a few minutes.

Gina couldn't believe it. Her heart slammed against her ribcage as she strolled into the kitchen and saw Dean clutched in a passionate lip-lock with Rosalinda

Here, the reader is puzzled for an entire sentence and a half before the writer reveals what the main/POV character is reacting to. It's better to let the reader see what the character sees, WHEN the character sees it. Even the verbs don't match: her heart is slamming (already reacting) and she's strolling, which is a casual/carefree walk. You could rewrite the scene like this:

Gina strolled into the kitchen. There stood Dean, clutched in a passionate lip-lock with Rosalinda. Gina couldn't believe it. Her heart slammed against her ribcage and left her struggling for breath.

Especially when using present tense, where things happen in real, immediate time, it's often awkward and inaccurate when you put the "cart before the horse":

Dahlia's voice lowers, sounding husky and vulnerable. "Please. Do this for me."

This structure poses a problem. How would the main character who's listening to Dahlia know if her voice was low, husky, and vulnerable if Dahlia hasn't even spoken her line yet? You'd need the dialogue line first:

"Please. Do this for me." Dahlia's voice is lower now, husky and vulnerable.

Intro phrases are usually set off by commas at the beginning of a sentence, and often present an action in gerund form (running, glancing, frowning, etc.):

Racing down the stairs, Kent's heart pounded into his throat as he whipped around the corner.

Multiple problems, here! First of all, "racing down the stairs" is similar to the example above, with "As I hurried down the sidewalk"—everything after that has to occur in time WHILE Kent is racing down the stairs. Can his heart pound during this time? Sure. Can he whip around the corner? Um…no. He's still on the stairs.

Also, what comes right after "racing down the stairs" needs to be the object doing the racing. Here in this sentence, it's Kent's heart. Kent's heart is NOT racing down the stairs—Kent is. This is a detached or "renegade body part." This sentence needs to be restructured. Maybe something like this:

Racing down the stairs, Kent felt his heart pound into his throat. He whipped around the corner.

Although as a note, it's not good to have too many "feel" or "felt" words diluting the strength of your sentences.

I used "as" in most of my examples, but any kind of time/sequence words may pose these problems in your writing. These simultaneous-action words may include: WHEN, WHILE, DURING, etc.  A common place this might snag you is during action scenes.

Do you have trouble with sequences of events in your sentences, using AS?
Can you think of any other examples, or tweak the ones I have here for better flow?
If you use present tense, have you ever thought about the order of what's happening in your scenes?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

ARSONIST and SCROOGE? Julie Musil Interview

Congrats to Julie Musil, who just released her YA ebook, THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE.

Comment below on this post to be entered in a random drawing for a FREE copy of this book! (if you already have a copy or don't wish one, please specify not to be entered) Deadline: February 16. Winner will be announced on my February 19, 2014, post. 

Genre:  Contemporary with a splash of ghosts. 

Manny O’Donnell revels in his status at the top of his high school food chain. He and his friends party in the mountains on a blustery night, sharing liquor and lame ghost stories around a campfire. The next morning, as a wild fire rages in those same mountains, Manny experiences doubt. He was the last of the drunken crew to leave the cave, and he’s uncertain if he extinguished the flames. Within hours, he becomes the number one arson suspect.

Santa Ana winds + matches = disaster. You’d think he would've learned that the first time he started a fire.

As he evades a determined arson investigator, Manny, a modern-day Scrooge, is visited by ghosts of the past, present, and future. He’s forced to witness the fate of his inadvertent victims, including Abigail, the scarred beauty who softens his heart. Manny must choose between turning around his callous, self-centered attitude, or protecting his own skin at the expense of anyone who gets in his way.

  1. What was the inspiration for this book? Real life. We almost lost our home to a California wildfire a few years ago. I wondered, who started the fire? If it was a child, would they ever know the damage they’d done? Once I had the “spark” for this story, I looked to real life when creating characters. My husband is half Mexican and 1/4 Cuban, so that’s what inspired the latin influences with Manny’s family. One of my sons was a burn victim. I drew on those experiences when it came to Abigail, the burn victim who captures Manny’s heart.
  2. What is your favorite thing about this book? Definitely the love story. Manny and Abigail are both scarred, but in different ways. Abby’s scars are on the outside, visible to everyone. Manny’s scars are buried deep, beneath a confident exterior. Abby should hate Manny; Manny should fear Abby. Together they create something special.
  3. Who is your favorite author? What are your favorite books? So many greats to choose from, but here are some of my absolute faves: “Just Listen” by Sarah Dessen, “19 Minutes” by Jodi Picoult, “Firefly Lane” by Kristin Hannah, and “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. I gravitate toward books about family, friends, and love, with a strong emotional pull.
  4. You decided to self publish your book. What made you come to that decision? How did you know you were ready? Passion. Not only my own passion for this story, but my agent’s passion. She believed strongly in this manuscript. Also, the passion of a certain editor who came “this close” to nabbing the book. That’s when I knew I’d take matters into my own hands and get this story out there. I hired a freelance editor and cover designer, and never looked back.
  5. Any advice you can offer other writers? Take your time. Write from your heart. Believe in your work. Edit like crazy. Choose your own path. Enjoy the ride.

Julie Musil writes Young Adult novels from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her novel THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE is available now. For more information, or to stop by and say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Click to visit Julie's website HERE, her Goodreads book page HERE, her Goodreads author profile HERE, and her Pinterest page HERE.

Amazon ebook ~ Amazon paperback ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Apple ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Thank you, Julie! It's great to get to know you better, here on my blog.

Do you know Julie and follow her blog?
What are YOUR favorite authors and books these days?
Have you considered self-publishing a book, or have you already done it?