Sunday, December 10, 2017

Being Alaskan Means...

A bench overlooking Resurrection Bay in my hometown of
Seward, Alaska. Rugged peaks and rugged ocean define
life on the North Gulf Coast of the Last Frontier
Alaska is America's biggest state. Sorry Texas, we gotcha more than doubled. But Alaska is more than sweeping landscapes, fanged grizzlies and icy glaciers.

Alaska is its people.

What makes Alaskans different? Or are they different? After stomping through Alaskan rivers, fishing for Alaskan salmon, and writing about Alaskan life for a local newspaper for the last seven months, can I even call myself "Alaskan"? Currently, though subject to change, my answers to those three questions would be: nothing and everything. Yes but no. And probably not.

My hometown of Seward is a highly touristed node on the Alaska highway system, a network which, despite the immensity, includes only five state-funded roadways. During June, July and August, parka-swaddled gawkers from all over the world pile in to our narrow hamlet by the sea. For those three months we are a regular bustling metropolis, resplendent with live music, festivals, crowded walkways, and hopping taverns whose jukeboxes spill pulsing bass lines into the main thoroughfare. When fall and winter comes, however, those flocks of sunbirds loose their stomach for five-hour days, gnawing ocean winds, and chilly temps. Half of the town boards up their shops, latches their doors and drapes "closed for season" signs from their front windows. 

Witnessing this annual migration, I have come to realize a few things about Alaskans, and the world's impression of Alaskans.

To start, in several crucial ways Alaskans are no different than anyone else. They watch the same television, read many of the same books, stress over jobs and interpersonal relationships. They worry about their future and the future of their children.

In short, Alaskans are people. 

There is a particular demographic of tourist, most of which have spent too much of their life gridlocked in the tangles of some urban concrete jungle, that seems to view Alaskan people much the same as Alaska's wildlife.

For these confused folks, Alaskans are an exhibit, a blend between mammals confined to a zoo paddock and animatronic Disneyland caricatures. They gawk, faces pressed to plexiglass, at Alaskan strangeness. They question their tour guides and cruise ship captains about the habits and rituals of Alaskans: what do they eat? Are they intelligent? Do they migrate for the winter? Can my child ride on one's back? They would try to poke us to confirm the texture of our hides were it not for the "Do Not Pet the Locals!" signs hanging in every window. When they steer their RV's down Alaskan streets they are prone to screeching to a halt without warning, hopping out and snapping blurry, badly framed photographs of Alaskan habitat. An instant later they have tagged themselves on half a dozen social media platforms, captioning "Blending in with the landscape" under a photo of themselves wearing a brand new Alaska flag hoody with a tag still protruding from the hem. 

In the past ten years, there has been an explosion of Alaska-themed reality television, prompted partially by the runaway popularity of Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. Nowadays you can find Bering Sea Gold, Alaska: The Last Frontier, Alaskan Bush People, Coast Guard Alaska, and countless others populating any television programming lineup.

So why this fascination with Alaska and Alaskans?

Fall low-angle light on the mountains outside Seward
Alaska's state motto is "The Last Frontier." Perhaps this strikes at the heart of this burgeoning obsession with this state. Alaska represents what has, just about everywhere else, been lost. It is a place with a visceral grasp on our romanticized notions of the Wild West. 

It could be said that the death throes of Manifest Destiny will be coughed out in this final frontier. The rest of America, clinging desperately to a vision that is otherwise extinct, lives vicariously through the 700,000 inhabitants of Alaska. Perhaps that relatively infinitesimal grouping of hardy souls are the last true Americans. The fading spirits maintaining a toe in a world that vanished for everyone else a hundred years ago.

My own fascination with Alaska differs, however, though is related in some interesting ways. It is not some romanticized notion of the Old West that clutched my mind and drew me to the Great North but rather the last vestige of the once-worldwide wilderness. Yes, it was an echo of the old world, but not the world of people. The world before people. And here that memory is more alive than practically anywhere else.

But on both accounts, the remnants of old civilization and old wilderness are fading. Globalization has swallowed many things about Alaskan culture that once made it unique. Today, you can find some Alaskans just as obsessed with the doings of the Kardashians, or of all the national and global political discussions, as anywhere else. Sure, there remains a tendency for Alaskans to be self-sufficient in ways other places just can't emulate. They can fix a car, build an extension on their house, wire electricity, dig a well, butcher chickens, and gas up their skiff to captain out for a bout at the ole fishing hole all in the same day. Sure the land is rugged, the light strange and the air cold. The glaciers, though melting rapidly in many cases, continue their slow, scouring trjectory.

Alaska is not for everyone.

But ultimately, despite their distinct foibles, unique talents and alluring mysteries, Alaskans are just shades of the same bipedal creature as you and me.

The Harding Icefield. At 300 square miles, the Icefield is more a mother of glaciers than a glacier itself. At least 40 major glaciers spur off the Harding Icefield. I have never visited a place where I could see anything like it
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If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. When not busy trying to decipher the meaning of life in Alaska, I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 


Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Necessity of Critical Feedback

Every writer and every project inevitably finds that cursed plateau. The writer's tunnel-minded approach ceases to enhance the words, the sentences. The story. Hammering through this invisible barrier requires a different perspective.

Critical feedback is a necessary evil in the editing process
What non-writers may not know is that a novel isn't written in one pass, printed, and vaulted onto bookshelves. No, it passes through layer after layer of drafts, re-writes, and edits. The actual writing is a miniature component of a huge process that takes months and months, probably years. It can be quite hard for a writer to maintain the spark of creativity for such a long haul.

For me, the trick to each new draft is to fool myself into looking at the same piece of writing differently. Simple tricks, like writing in a different room, changing the MS Word format to make it look like a book, printing a literal book, or putting the manuscript aside for an extended period of time, can help shift perspective just enough to wring fresh insight from my creative consciousness. This new perspective helps me recognize a story's flaws and concoct a plan to fix them. 

Eventually, however, the only way to understand fully how a multitude of personalities and opinions is going to react to your work is to thrust it into the universe.

Enter the Beta Reader

Beta readers are an invaluable tool. Beta readers are not average readers, picking up a book for leisure or pleasure, but readers whose main function is to provide the writer with critical feedback that can help the story improve.

Many writers fear beta readers, even shun them. They are afraid of the potential of negative feedback on a piece of work they have poured so much time, heart and soul into, or reject what they see as "writing by committee." Negative criticism, however, is inevitable. Better to face it when the book is at draft stages and still fixable than when it's already published and frozen in final form.

Wattpad: One Medium for Critical Feedback

Recently, I found myself at the crossroad of critical feedback. Needing it, not sure the best way to get it. Family and friends can be useful, but only to a point. Simply put, they are too nice, bias, and afraid to hurt your feelings to provide the type of feedback a writer really needs.

In my search to find beta readers, I stumbled over Wattpad.

Wattpad is a social media platform whose sole function is link together readers and writers, or writers with other writers. 

No doubt many, perhaps most, of the stories found on Wattpad are in such rough shape they are virtually un-readable. But the beauty of the platform is that writing can be syndicated to the world, eliciting feedback from readers and other writers all over the globe.

The current cover for my novel-in-progress
The Razed Ruins, a North American epic
fantasy with a Middle Ages feel
The format of Wattpad allows readers to comment on each paragraph as they read, noting the good and bad bits of writing. Occasionally the feedback is worthless. Like any internet forum there are trolls, negative Nancys, or people that just don't know what they are talking about but talk a lot anyway. But Wattpad also has the other type, skilled writers who provide just what I need to hear to push my piece to the next echelon.

The Necessity of Critical Feedback, Revisited

A favorite adage says that writers are "too close to their work." There is a lot truth in this. Being the omniscient author means you know the full backstory. Bits that are obvious to you might not be to a reader. Sentences that seemed creative and cutting edge might come across as unclear. Gaps in logic, even typos, are filled in by your mind, knowing what you think it says. We writers spend so many countless hours oscillating between love and hate for our work we can no longer tell the difference. 

We need you, helpful beta readers....

I have two novels-in-progress that I've begun to serialize on Wattpad in the double hope that I might elicit some such useful feedback and possibly earn some interested readers. If the story is good enough, perhaps they will take interest in my blog, my website and follow through enough to buy my books when they are (hopefully) published.

Wattpad is perhaps best used as a mobile app. Loaded onto your phone you can take my stories with you everywhere: on the bus, on the couch, to work, to the bathtub.... I believe the mobile app requires you to sign up. Everyone hates that. But if you do, you can read, vote on, and provide feedback for my work and the work of others. And if you have a bit of a writer itch yourself, you too can post your work and participate. 

Wattpad can also be used on a laptop or desktop. From there you can read without signing up but you will not be able to comment or provide those much-needed votes.

Wattpad is not the only way I am currently seeking critical readers. Should you be interested in checking out a few chapters you can email/respond here and we can connect! You can also read the prologue and first section of The Razed Ruins here on this blog.

My Wattpad works:

Bio. Credentials. A list of influences. Hub for all my Wattpad works-in-progress

A North American, post apocalyptic epic fantasy... 

It is 1,692 years after the "Great Death" nearly wiped humanity from the face of the Earth and a new civilization has risen from the ashes. A tenuous union of four semi-autonomous kingdoms has reached its Tercentennial, and the realm's nobles are gathering to elect a new Supreme Chancellor. When a surprise victor emerges, the immediate consensus is of a choreographed scandal. The Union threatens to rupture into civil war...

"Find the kidnapped Prince or you'll never see your wife again..."

Molan Apraxas was once considered the greatest pupil of sorcery in the Mayan empire. Now he is but a farmer, living in contented exile. But when one of the most powerful kings kidnaps his wife he is drawn unwillingly back into his former world. 

Pursued by demigods, monsters, vengeful road agents, and a mysterious sorceress of infamous power, Molan and his 13-year-old daughter are set onto a quest to solve the mystery of the missing prince. Their failure could mean more than just the death of Molan's wife.
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If you are interested in reading more of my work, consider signing up for my mailing list. I blog about all sorts of bizarre, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Work in Progress Live on Wattpad

You can now read a serialized portion of one of my novels-in-progress on Wattpad. Wattpad users can also vote and comment. The more views and votes I receive, the more exposure and the more I'm able to build a reader base.

Synopsis:

1,692 years after "The Great Death" nearly forced humanity into extinction, culture and society has returned to North America. A tenuous union of four semi-autonomous kingdoms is celebrating its 300th anniversary but a surprise victory by the least likely (and least desired) candidate for supreme chancellor threatens to break the realm apart into war.

Fans of Game of Thrones or The First Law series will enjoy many familiar elements in this broad, multiple point-of-view epic, but don't expect a copy cat. The distinctly North American setting coupled with several other unique features makes The Razed Ruins a fresh and original twist on a familiar genre.

Click here or on the image below to start reading!



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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions


Sunday, November 19, 2017

The 50th Blog Post

Me with two of my favorite things: a book and
a latte
Blog. No blog. Almost any how-to for author platform-building touts the necessity of the almighty blog. It's a chance to build an audience and prove to the world your voice is worth hearing. Some agents and publishers won't even consider you without one.

Thus, it was with some reluctance that I toed my way into the blogosphere last January. I needed to knock a few boards into the foundation of my virtually non-existent author platform. At the same time, however, I was daunted by the commitment blogging entailed. Time is a commodity and blogging siphons away precious hours that might be spent polishing drafts or hammering out queries. 

Ten months and 50 blog posts later, I still have mixed feelings about the whole endeavor. Nevertheless, my blog and I have come along way since the inceptive post all those months ago. Productive or not for marketability, blogging has without question steered my brain down all sorts of interesting pathways, forgotten thoroughfares and, yes, even a few rancid quagmires. 

If nothing else, this creative space has proved a useful tool. A variation of Tyrion Lannister's famous quote, "A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone," could say something similar about writers and writing projects. One cannot hope to improve without practice. The more words I stitch together the more vibrant the cloth. And shoving my writing in front of crowd has proven invaluable for the insight gained on creating engaging, solid work that can capture an audience and draw them through to the final words.

I look back on the many words I've hammered onto these virtual pages and feel a sense of modest pride. While not always 100% polished, if nothing else this blog has been an interesting journey. So in honor of this post and its forty-nine predecessors, I've decided to look back at some of the highlights from this long, strange trip. 

Popularity Contest

A blog post's popularity sometimes baffles me. Posts I thought were sure to be a hit fell on their faces while others that felt rather hurried or half-cocked have gone viral (viral is, of course, relative). Regardless of what it means, here are my five most popular blog posts:

This post has stolen the show for most pageviews by a good margin. An examination of the components of the age-old narrative structure known as the Hero's Journey and an interrogation of its relevance to storytelling today.

In 2016 I visited a sacrificial cave of the ancient Maya near the Belize/Guatemala border. Seeing the busted bones of infants, children and adults that'd been lying in place for a thousand years was a powerful and moving experience. Apparently a few of my readers found it interesting as well.

A photographic look at ten of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. A post more visual than wordy, it is the most recent post on this list and I suspect a day might come when it scales its way to the top.

No matter how aged or weighed down you are by your ailments, you will always feel young if you visit this Fountain of Youth....

A writer is shaped by his influences. Not that I want to emulate any of them exactly, but standing on the shoulders of the titans of sci-fi and fantasy is what allows me to see, well, anything at all.

Laugh Award

Every now and then, I take it upon myself to brave the dangerous waters of comedy. It's for you, dear reader, to determine if I'm worthy of even a modest chuckle. Of these occasional posts that represent my attempts at humor, here are two I personally enjoyed writing.

In the last two years my wife, dog and I have made a science of moving. Uprooting your world just to plant it somewhere else is mostly just a royal stitch in the back, but occasional sources of humor (like fifteen-year-old heartbreak letters, my first novel and a moldy whatever that is) can be found at the bottom of those mess-heaped closets.

My dog, Otis, is happier than any human I've ever met. Perhaps we all need to wiggle on our backs in the grass, plunge into icy glacial rivers, and tear into our food with sloppy abandon.

Pedantry

Every writer is full of advice, especially about writing. So if you want a bit of possibly pedantic and certainly dubious writing advice, I have been known to dish a few sentences on the subject. A couple favorite "how to" posts:

My first blog post, so of course it had to land on this "highlight reel" somewhere. A few scribbles on one of my favorite components of the novel writing process: forging the idea.

A motivational piece, and a bit of self-justification, but captures an important notion every writer has to believe, true or not: we are important!

Honorable Mention

I'm trying to keep my blog posts shorter these days. Not only is it less work, but in these days of massive entertainment saturation, readers are more likely to pull through to the end if I practice brevity. So instead of listing all 50 of my blog posts and yacking on and on about each of them, here is one final mention, a random post that didn't seem to fit in any of the above categories:

This fun piece was an early post and popular at the time. I liked it, so here it is.

Well, there it is, a trip down blogger memory lane. Represented here are ten of the 50 posts I have scribbled out since the inception of my blog. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you readers, especially the ones that for some odd reason let me borrow your ear on a regular basis. Your time is important and I hope you never feel you've wasted it with me. 
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For those still interested in seeing more of work, I have an archive page that lists almost all of my blog posts by category. This journey isn't over. I'm sure more book reviews, awkward attempts at humor, bits of pedantic writing advice, and other nonsense is bound to spill from my brain. I encourage any who want to hop on this ship for its bumpy, sometimes terrifying journey through the strange land that is my mind to sign up for my mailing list. You will get once-a-week email updates on new posts as well as announcements such as release dates for upcoming books (eventually) and nothing else. Until then....

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Tempting Fate in Rocky Mountain National Park

Five-hundred feet up a slick rock face with a storm moving in and I was about to die….

McGregor Mountain looms of the Fall River entrance
of Rocky Mountain National Park
At least that’s how it seemed as I clung desperately to the blank slab of granite, legs gyrating in fear, with crackles of thunder drawing closer. I’d forgotten how fast blue skies could turn to slate-gray in Rocky Mountain National Park in July above treeline. But frightening as it was being exposed to lightning, the impending storm was the last thing on my mind. I needed focus. Somewhere on the supposedly easy three-pitch 5.5 rock climb on McGregor Mountain, my wife, Ella, and I had gotten lost. Off-route and fifty feet above the last marginal piece of protection that might arrest a potential fall, I was stuck.

Best case scenario a drop now would entail one-hundred feet of sliding, scraping and tumbling down the mountain. With plenty of ledges and sporadic trees to smash into, the consequences of such a fall were too terrible to imagination. The less I tried to think about them, however, the more readily the images come to mind: broken limbs, snapped vertebrae. I doubt even my helmet would do much good.

Above, the rock steepened. The terrain was closer to 5.9 than 5.5 and slippery with the loam of disuse. Great cracks where I could install gear to catch a fall were tantalizingly close on both sides, but getting to them looked nearly impossible. How could this have happened? The whole situation, the very real possibility of disaster on what should have been a fun, mild afternoon outing, was starting to seem surreal, like one of those bad dreams from which you shake yourself awake and laugh. 

Panic nearly choked me. With Ella somewhere out of sight far below me and well beyond earshot, I was quite alone. How much longer could my quaking legs hold on before they shook me off the rock and sent me caroming down to face my doom? Climbing any direction was dangerous, but I could only hold on for so long. That one-hundred-foot tumbling whipper was drawing closer. 

An ill-timed crack of thunder, the closest yet, echoed off the tall, rugged peaks. The storm would soon be upon us.

*
In 2012 the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, an organization of all-volunteer responders who specialize in rescues on mountainous terrain in Boulder County, published a report with analysis of all incidents in Boulder County involving rock climbing and hiking over a 14-year period. Although RMRG does not cover Rocky Mountain National Park, the group services nearby Boulder Canon, Eldorado Canyon and the Flatirons, some of the most popular climbing areas in the state. This large sample size provides a unique cross section of climbing-related injuries and fatalities.

Although the potential of falling while lead climbing is a predominant fear in the mind of most rock climbers, as it turns out it is not nearly the most common cause of injury or death. While RMRG was called to assist 428 rock climbing accidents in this period, only 5 were fatal incidents involving roped lead climbing. A much higher ratio (12%) were involved in belayer-error incidents and an even higher number (as much as 45%) involved rappelling and/or getting lost on the descent. 

Although the inglorious “whipper,” as a roped lead fall is often called, tends to dominate the Youtube videos and rock climbing tales of woe, it seems the things often taken for granted (i.e. your belay partner or your ability to get safely off the mountain) more often than not prove to be more treacherous. Knowing the relative safety of lead climbing, however, does little to calm quaking nerves when faced with the possibility of a dangerous fall on a difficult rock climb.

*
Time was up. I could delay no longer. Action had to be taken before I simply peeled off the mountain in exhaustion. 

Belaying Ella up the first ptich
I was tempted again by the safe crack system some twenty feet to my left. Getting there, however, involved crossing a strip of impossibly blank rock, no hand or foot holds in sight. A ridiculous part of my mind considered just lunging for it. Going right looked steeper and even more dangerous. Downclimbing was an option, but leading with your feet was always considerably more difficult than with your hands, so I quickly ruled it out.

The only real choice that remained was to go up. Although every bit I climbed would increase the length and danger of a fall, it seemed that in order to find safety I would have to swim through the belly of the beast.

The smooth shield of granite above was broken only by a thin seam. Though it was not deep enough to sink in spring-loaded cams capable of catching a fall, it provided just enough texture for my fingers and toes to scale upward. I pulled higher and higher, increasing the fall potential with every move. I climbed ten feet. Twenty feet. I was so far above my protection now it was almost comical. My life depended on the grip of my fingers, and the friction between my rubber shoes on the slick granite. The slightest slip or broken rock and my worst nightmare would rush upward to meet me. Would it hurt to take a fall like that? Or would it happen so fast the lights would simply go out in a blink?

I was eighty feet above my last cam. Then one-hundred. It had to end eventually. This rock couldn’t go on forever.

Then abruptly, almost magically, a crack appeared in front of my eyes. I was so focused I nearly climbed past it. Shocked I had made it, I plugged in a cam and clipped in my rope with disbelief. I was safe. I installed a second cam just to be sure. The earthquake in my legs slowed. I wasn’t going to die today.

Not long after, the angle of the wall flattened and I found myself standing on the top. The storm I had thought was building had swung far to the north. I constructed an anchor and began to belay Ella up to join me. 

Already my fear from just a few minutes before was beginning to fade. Surely, I had not been in nearly as much danger as I’d thought. Here I was, not injured or lost or stranded. In every sense of the word the climb was a complete success. I stood atop a mountain with a sea of beautiful ridges and notched spines all around. Blue sky broke through the clouds.

It was a perfect day.

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Our Backyard, a regional publication focused on outdoor stories of intrigue and woe
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If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. When not recollecting near-death mountaineering experiences, I blog about all sorts of bizarre, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Me in Twelve Pictures

Can a series of images provide a working avatar for a human life? Could I distill myself like an herb into some piquant essence? 

This might seem a little vain. I don't mean it to be. Rather it is an experiment in photo storytelling. The first iteration of this post included blurbs explaining each photo but I quickly realized that was counter to the premise. Instead I decided to allow imagery alone to weave my story. 

You could also view this as an invitation to get to know me. I want to know you too.

A tired adage posits that a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps my life warrants more than 12,000 of them. Or maybe most people would lose interest after a few hundred.

Here is a chapter book of images to articulate my life story and life philosophy.

Chapter 1: Pick a Dance Partner More Graceful Than You


Chapter 2: Surrender to Silly Faces



Chapter 3: Grow Competing Beards (and Happily Lose)



Chapter 4: Cool Off with Panache



Chapter 5: Let Some Air Under Your Hems



Chapter 6: Best Every Summit



Chapter 7: Whet Your Mind (And Never Pass Up a Good Cup of Coffee)



Chapter 8: Harmonize the Room



Chapter 9: Reap What You Sow



Chapter 10: Nap Appropriately



Chapter 11: Quench Parched Spirits



Chapter 12: Embrace the Storms


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This is a cop-out blog post. What writer abandons words for a few measly pictures? Not all of my posts are like this, I promise. Usually, I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Seducing Your Readers With a Perfect Page One

The perfect first page. Everything hinges on it.

Agents and publishers, readers and critics will snap-judge your piece, perhaps not even consciously, by those opening words. Call it unfair. Call it superficial. But as writers we work in the attention industry, and now more than ever there are a innumerable suitors for a person's attention. You have one page to convince them that your voice is worth listening to. One chance to seduce them into the intimate relationship that is the writer/reader.

What makes a seductive first page? There is no fine-cut answer. If there was, everybody would know it and everybody would do it. But like courtship there are a few things people who are good at it instinctively know that the rest of us blunder to emulate.

The Tease
In some allegorical way, seducing readers
is not much different than courtship
The subtle art of the tease. The careful transmission of hints and signals that promise something more. A taste of pretty prose. A gentle brush of the fingertips abruptly retracted. Tease the reader and they will come crawling to you for more.

Draw from the Carnal
The human body is a slave to its desires and emotions. Often it will abandon reason in pursuit of them. Touch on basal human motivations: love, fear, adventure. A writer who taps in to carnal desire draws in the reader implacably.

Make Promises but Give No Satisfaction
You are about to lie to the reader. Fiction, after all, is a synonym for lies. Force them to suspend their disbelief with promises of your talent: gorgeous writing, world-building so visceral it breathes, story twisted with mystique. Raise questions the reader must have answered. Hold those answers close until that perfect moment of revelation.

Avoid Too Much Makeup
Dressing prose too extravagantly renders it superficial. Understatement and word economy give the reader the pleasure of thinking they unwound the clues for themselves even if you guided them every step of the way. Great writers say more with less. Avoid the accouterments of desperation. Highlight strengths but keep it classy.

Leave Out Discussions of Marriage
Pushing a reader too far too fast is a quick way to frighten them back into the shadows. Prime them for a thrilling ride; don't heave your story and your prose at them with groping abandon. The most important stuff, the grand finale, should come with flawless timing.

MODEL

Enough of the allegory and the double entendre. Let's move to something concrete.

Here is the first paragraph (the maximum amount I'm comfortable posting here without risking copyright violation) of The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. This novel and its sequel The Obelisk Gate were both winners of the Hugo Award, one of the most prestigious prizes in speculative fiction. I am using this example because it worked seamlessly on me. It exemplifies many of the qualities I've tried to articulate in this post. 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin provides
a well-crafted example of an excellent
first page
Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.

First, a personal ending. There is a thing she will think over and over in the days to come, as she imagines how her son died and tries to make sense of something so innately senseless. She will cover Uche’s broken little body with a blanket—except his face, because he is afraid of the dark—and she will sit beside it numb, and she will pay no attention to the world that is ending outside. The world has already ended within her, and neither ending is for the first time. She’s old hat at this by now.

This powerful beginning strikes at profound basal emotions and simultaneously raises questions the reader needs answered.

"Let's start with the end of the world...Get it over with and move on to more interesting things."

We have something provocative, an apocalypse, but also the promise of "things" even more interesting. This sentence oozes with tension, intrigue and the possibility of adventure.

Next comes a strikingly powerful yet understated scene: a mother laying a blanket over the broken body of her deceased son. The little touch that she doesn't cover his face because he is "afraid of the dark" speaks volumes in just a few words. No need for over-explanation, so much is learned about the setting, the character and the plot one simple stroke of the author's pen. The reader gets an immediate sense of the child's age, his vulnerability, and, thereby, the weight of this tragedy. There is no need to explicitly state the main character's heartbreak or her driving motivations.

This short excerpt is a tease that begs for more. How did the child die? How did the world end? And wait, the world has ended before and the main character has experienced the end of both worlds, within and without, previously?

So many questions. Such tantalizing courtship. This is the type of finely crafted first page I strive for. One that strikes powerful emotional chords and seduces the reader with promises of tension, excitement and adventure. The stage for what promises to be a powerful, exciting and emotional novel is set in just seven sentences.

I am compelled to read on.
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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions