Polishing the All-Important First Fives :: via litreactor.com

First impressions are important when meeting people, and it’s no different when “meeting” a book.  Here are some pointers from Lit Reactor’s Riki Cleveland on how to strengthen your introductions.

– sld


Polishing the All-Important First Fives

by Riki Cleveland


It’s no surprise that beginnings are hard. When you finally find your manuscript in the hands of an editor or agent, you want to make the best first impression you possibly can—and fast. A lot of times that means within the first five pages, but focusing on the first five sentences, or even words, of your manuscript can help you get over that hump and make the reader want to move further.

Today we are going to talk about those all-important first fives. What makes a compelling beginning? What grabs a reader and makes them want to read on? What should you avoid? There’s been much said on this topic, and today I’ll be sharing the tips and tricks that I found to be most helpful.

First Five Words:

Now, we’re going to say the first five words, but in reality we’re talking about your opening sentence. Your first sentence may or may not be exactly five words long, but the point is that those opening sentences need to grab your reader right away. Your opening line is your opportunity to make a riveting first impression.

Let’s think for a moment about some well-known dynamic first lines in literature.

Continue reading


5 Storytelling Lessons from the Original Star Wars Trilogy :: via litreactor.com

Oh, how I love Star Wars.  The original episodes, not the new junk… I’m not a weirdo.  And I’m so happy to find that someone else uses these Sci-Fi gems as creative fodder.  (Don’t tell anyone, but I base a bunch of my characters on Han Solo.  I just can’t help myself.  I adore him.)  So, here are some takeaways according to one of my favorite writing websites, Lit Reactor.

– sld


5 Storytelling Lessons from the Original Star Wars Trilogy

by Rajan Khanna


Star Wars: The Force Awakens is upon us, and if you’re like me, everywhere you look you see Star Wars—merchandise, promotions, screenings. It’s reminiscent of my childhood. It remains to be seen if the new movie will live up to expectations, but one thing it’s done is bring attention back to the original trilogy which is beloved for many, many reasons. In looking back on those films, there’s a lot to love there, particularly in the storytelling. And no, I’m not talking about the oft-mentioned Joseph Campbell mythological cycle structure. I’m talking about specific storytelling choices that helped make those films memorable. Here are a handful of them.*

1. A Lived-in World

Worldbuilding is important to secondary world stories (which Star Wars is) but it has to be handled deftly. One way to communicate worldbuilding is through exposition. Science fiction and fantasy are rife with bad examples of this, where long sections of text are used to explain elements of the world, or characters pause in the middle of action to deliver long-winded speeches explaining the particulars of a custom or culture or science.

George Lucas, on the other hand, drops us into a fully formed world at the beginning of A New Hope. There’s a history to this world, and the costumes and the environments and the equipment show that. Things look appropriately lived in. Dirty. Aged. It’s clear from the beginning of A New Hope that the gloss of the Old Republic has faded, and that life on the Rim, under the Empire, is hard.

The world is given a sense of depth, but the plot is allowed to move on at a brisk pace and only the elements that truly matter to the story are kept in focus.

What’s more, the movies don’t explain every little thing that is mentioned. The Clone Wars, for example, are mentioned without explanation. We’re introduced to creatures like the Sand People without an in-depth examination of who they are or where they came from. We don’t need to know how Han and Chewie met. So Lucas doesn’t show us. The end result is that the world is given a sense of depth, but the plot is allowed to move on at a brisk pace and only the elements that truly matter to the story are kept in focus. It’s a good lesson to remember that when it comes to worldbuilding, less is often more.

2. Relationships

When talking about writing we talk a lot about plot and character and dialogue and pacing, but one way a lot of those things come together is through character relationships. Relationships can illustrate character, help advance the plot and illustrate themes in fiction. Star Wars uses relationships between characters to great effect. Take, for example, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Chewbacca doesn’t speak (at least not in a way that we understand), but his relationship with Han helps to humanize the smuggler. Even in A New Hope, when Han is his most prickly self, his affection for, and devotion to Chewie, shows that there’s another side to him.

Take any of the relationships in the films — C-3P0’s false outrage with R2, Han’s condescending older brother to Luke, Leia’s response to Han’s advances, the old buddies without trust bond between Lando and Han — all of these help add dimensions to our main characters while also maintaining tension. Few people just love each other in these movies; no one’s about to sing Kumbayah. Even Yoda and Luke, master and apprentice, don’t get along all that well. That helps to keep things realistic while also keeping us guessing.

And of course these relationships change over time. Han and Luke become fast friends by Jedi. Leia and Han admit their true feelings for one another. Han learns to trust Lando again. It’s something the films do really well. And it helps to stress that characters can always redeem themselves. From Han, to Lando, to Vader**, there’s always a chance to change for the better. … Continue reading

The Selfish One

He took the personality and left me with the good sense.  Mother often said we were like two sides of the same person, and it was true. We were similar, but my brother and I presented a host of paradoxical traits, none of which Mother was seemingly equipped to handle.  He was full of mischievousness; I was not.  His bad behavior only seemed to make her tighten my noose, while his “last night” stories were merely the spoils of boyhood.


My brother could make strangers laugh and fall in love with him, but he couldn’t be trusted.  He loved lying almost as much as he loved talking.  I hid anything of value, locking it away in my room, and I held the only key.  That was the only way to make sure things didn’t end up at the corner pawn shop.  Mother hid money from him, only to hand it over at the last second.

“You’re enabling him!” I screamed.  “He’ll never get a job if you keep giving him money!”

“But he’ll go to jail!” she’d cry.

“Let him go!”

I was the baby, so everyone loved me, but no one really liked me.  My appetite for nuance and imagination couldn’t be satisfied with their small talk and gossip.  I learned to turn people off, endure the chatter, but never participate.  Solace became my best friend.

I remember the day I told Mother that I wasn’t sure I wanted children of my own.

“You’ll never have much of a life, then,” she said, “but I think that’s a good idea for you.  You’ve always only cared for yourself.”

Selfish.  That’s what she thought of me, what everyone thought.

I didn’t dare give it voice, but I’m sure my eyes asked the question:  Has your life been so grand because of us?

Was I to assume that by “a life” she meant sobbing while I’m in the bathroom?  Whimpering as I do the dishes?  Streaking my pillow every night with mascara?   Was that the real test of selflessness?

After Father died and Mother remarried, my then middle-aged brother moved in with her and her new husband.  She banished him to the couch for a few years, and then, finally, gave up her TV room to make a bedroom for him.  Nothing ever changed.  Pawn shop, job loss, whiskey, jail, Hep-C, free clinic, more whiskey… this was Mother’s retirement, a shouting match between she and her son, refereed by a (no doubt) hoodwinked man who had no mentality to deal with a troubled adult stepchild.

I always assumed she was miserable, and I’m sure that in some conversation or another, she admitted to it.  I used to ask her, “What I am supposed to do with him when you’re gone?  What will become of him?” She used to say she wished my brother would just move away, across the country, and stay there.  That way, she didn’t have to deal with him, even if he did go to jail or lose a job.

Those conversations were held in vain.  My brother died first.  Several months ago, he simply fell over dead.  Medics restarted his heart after 20 minutes or so and placed him on ventilation, but the doctors offered absolutely no hope, saying he shouldn’t have even been revived.  Mother’d talk to him as if he were 40 years younger, leaning over his bloated face, strapped down in case his brain stem, the only part of his 300-pound body that worked on its own, decided to trigger the seizures again.

Mother had to agree to end the life support, but I’m the one who talked her into shutting it off.  My brother would’ve cursed her for leaving him on it so long, for letting his friends come and see him like that.  She didn’t seem to care, content to let a machine force air into his lifeless body for as long as the law allowed, even inquiring about admission into hospice care, until I told her I wouldn’t come back the next day if she wasn’t going to let him go.

So, she did.

I miss his laugh and his spot-on impressions. When things were good, they were extremely so, and I miss those good times.

When someone dies so young, you can’t help wondering what might have been.  His death was tragic, but it could have been so much worse.  He could’ve overdosed, or caused a highway pile-up, or shot himself.  These were all ways in which I expected him to die.  Instead, he died watching football with an old friend.  One second, alive; the next, gone.

Because of this, I am able to move forward knowing that God called him for a reason, and He called him while he was happy, doing something he enjoyed.  I can be happy, and there’s no shame in that.  I’ve a good life with my husband and my two dogs, and we have a lot of living to do.

In spite of this, Mother is horribly depressed.  She’s still sobbing, only now she cries at any given moment. I’m not sure what she misses, other than her favorite problem, but she’s clinging onto whatever she can.  She totes around the nearly seven-pound box of his cremains when she visits me, and she even decorates it for the occasion.  For Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mother ties on a small ornament of appropriate theme. For beach trips and visits to my house, a seashell.  I’m not sure what she does on the other special events, and I really don’t want to know.

There’s no sense of closure.  My brother wouldn’t care less about what she does with the ashes, but I don’t think he’d like knowing that she’s punishing the rest of us with her grief.  And guilt.  And fear.

Even now, she worries about my brother.  I know Mother hangs on the belief that he drank himself to death, even though the doctors said the amount of alcohol in his system was negligible.

She found a way to blame him for his own death.

I wonder if she blames me for his ashes.


The Sleep Habits of Famous Writers :: via brainpickings.com

Sleep habits are certainly one element of a creative life.  Maria Popova of brainpickings.com commissioned this charming infographic to illustrate any links between famous early risers, night owls and their writing careers.  I’d be down there with Bukowski, for sure.  For the full article, go here:  Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized.

– sld

This visualization is available as a giclée print on brainpickings.com, with proceeds donated to literacy nonprofit Room to Read, visualization masters at Accurat, and designer Wendy MacNaughton.

This visualization is available as a giclée print on brainpickings.com, with proceeds donated to literacy nonprofit Room to Read, visualization masters at Accurat, and designer Wendy MacNaughton.

Guilty Pleasures

Just what is it about the old nine-to-five that makes my brain all mushy? It’s like my imagination is suffering from depression. Seriously, this post is the first thing I’ve written in two months.

Take a guess at how long I’ve been gainfully employed.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty of creative fodder here (that’s right; I’m writing this at work). My Boss is a used car salesman who bullied himself into a comfy position in life years ago, and my Office Partner is your run-of-the-mill, disgruntled, divorced, former millionaire car dealer.

They are exactly what you’re thinking right now. Don’t feel bad.


The Boss never, ever graces us with his presence after 12 pm (and rarely before, either). My OP? He’s always at the office. ALWAYS. If he’s out, I’m probably with him, having been guilted into accompanying him on some personal errand.

Our office has two rooms, no hot water and the tackiest blue floor tiles in existence.  Our battered, laminate desks peek at each other from around a cornflower blue half-wall.  This wall would provide a modicum of privacy, except OP shifted his desk so that he could see me from his chair. He is a witness to every move I make. No private phone calls. No snacks consumed without prying eyes.  No smiles directed toward social media posts without a questioning glance.


As much as I adore being on display, that joy cannot compare to my elation when OP starts one of his “fishing” stories. “Fish” is code for the women he meets online. At the tale’s end, I’m cornered into providing feedback on the conquest. Disgust and distaste, I say! (Oh, who am I kidding…? I enjoy his wildly inappropriate stories. They’ve given me an endless bank of “skanky bitch” traits. Yep, next to these broads, my shit is alphabetized and color-coded.)

Then, as though Fate read my mind and said, “Wound, allow me introduce you to my friend Salt,” I have read three -THREE! -articles that popped onto my Facebook feed about boredom and sleepiness and mind-numbing-ness, and how those things actually engage creativity. The words stung and left me confused. Doubtful. Overly analytical. Y’know, beyond my normal amount… like, way, WAY too much analysis.

Something must be wrong with me, I thought.

But another thought occurred in spite of my self-loathing. If those articles are true, I am going to break open the entertainment industry and become the best-selling author ever, from now until the laboratory – bred dinosaurs reclaim the home we destroyed. I have the recipe, and all the ingredients are right here in my Blue Ghetto Hell, where I spend 40 hours a week. Wait, how much time could I devote to this process of inevitable superstardom? I only do, maybe, five solid hours of work per week, so that leaves 35 paid hours to write! This is unbelievable!

In all seriousness, I couldn’t have asked for a weirder group of associates, and I have so much free time. Really, how can I fail? I’ve got to figure out a way to channel some energy into writing while I’m here, but I think I refrain from writing because I feel like a terrible employee. In my mind, company time equals company work. And while that’s not wrong, I can’t be expected to sit drooling, wishing for death when I have nothing to do. I mean, I don’t feel bad for browsing the Internet. I guess it’s all about the degree of engagement, and working on my novel takes a big chunk of that.

Be honest: should I feel guilty for writing at work when I have nothing work-related to do?

– sld