(insert jaw drop)
This was a nice, small group of local writers who wanted to improve their craft, so it was quite an intimate gathering. (And many, many thanks to Brian Henry, of Quick Brown Fox, for pulling this whole thing together.)
Kelley discussed her process as a writer (she has a writing shed, a dedicated outbuilding on the edges of her property that doesn’t get internet or phone service) and schedules in her writing time in uninterrupted blocks. She’s a pantser, who sometimes doesn’t even know how her stories will end until she gets there. She admitted to cutting 25 000 words (gulp!) from a story because it didn’t fit.
She’s a dedicated Scribner user, and writes first, completing a draft in its entirety, and revisionist second. For me, this supports the organic flow I see in Kelley’s work, where plot and character are developed and layered in.
Quick Points of Advice for Writers from Kelley Armstrong
Kelley talked about absolute importance of writing strong openings, the kind that immediately hook and orient your reader, and launch them into the world that you have created.
A few no’s – no backstory, no description of place, no description of people, unless immediately important to the story itself. Otherwise, move them further into the story. (As she says, you have 80 000 to 100 000 words to work with, so you may as well use them.)
Why hit the reader hard with a strong opening?
It comes from a real need to grab the reader’s attention. Be it a casual reader, editor, or agent – nobody has time to wade through a bunch of waffley-goop. This is a glutted market, and saturated with all kinds of writers of varying abilities churning out all kinds of work. Everyone wants to (a) get published, or (b) sell their book to their next reader.
Nobody has time for your story to ‘get better.’
Kelley said that her agent will personally guarantee they will read the first two pages, tops. Anything after that, the work better be damned good.
It creeps back to good first pages, great opening paragraphs, killer first lines.
What will hook your reader?
Great chops, tight writing, strong sense of story and character. Hit us with the problem up front, make us care about your characters (or the situation they are in).
Otherwise, why bother?
Kelley mentioned the 10-page sample that work on Amazon features, where readers can check out TEN whole pages of your latest work. Which is fine, but the first pages of traditionally published books include dedications, cover pages, copyright pages and maybe a page of work the author has also published. The reader, if they’re still interested, will be lucky to get TWO or THREE pages of your actual story.
You’ve gotta hit your reader hard, up front, with a real reason to not put your book down.
The ‘no prologue’ rule was a point of discussion.
The main point was that a prologue is good for providing information or a context to a reader, as long as it was done well. Not the long, drawn-out, and overly wordy prologues that describe the places and realms and the myriad people existing within them of traditional high fantasy. (Even classic fantasy writers C.S. Lewis and H.G. Wells tend to drop into the story, and The Hobbit opens with a hole in the ground.)
Kelley does use prologues in her work, as long at they fit. She sees a prologue as a promise to the reader, indicating things to come. Bitten has a prologue that introduces the whole werewolf situation, and her YA novel The Masked Truth has a prologue that features an event that happened a few months before the story started, and this would form the basis of the story itself.
For me, the big jaw dropping moment was that Kelley truly embarked on her writing career while she was home with her kids, on maternity leave, and then at home because of high daycare costs. It sounds so pedestrian, but it’s the truth for so many writers, male and female – somebody’s gotta stay with the kids, so you may as well write a novel or two while you’re at it.
(Her first novel, Bitten, took eight years to finish writing. Her second novel then made the New York Times Best Seller’s List. Go figure.)
And, let me tell you, best seller’s lists aside, this is a damned hard thing to do, juggling family and home responsibilities while trying to write well and actually finish the novel you started (and can just see the end in sight) but just need a couple more days or weeks of uninterrupted (ha!) time to finish.
For our reviews of Kelley Armstrong’s work and more of her advice on writing, be sure to check out
REVIEW – Kelley Armstrong’s The Masked Truth
And you MUST go to the official Kelley Armstrong site for FREE excerpts of her work.