sallyhanan’s blog

A writer’s blog

How to Write Opening Lines April 30, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 5:36 pm
Tags: , , ,

As a fiction writer, the opening lines are the all important hook that should keep a reader searching for more. If I think of casting a feast-laden hook into a river and dangling it there, my eventual hope is that a fish will wriggle by and stop for a moment to chew on the prospects before him. In the same way, when I cast my opening lines onto a sterile page, I want them to be feast-laden enough to catch wriggly readers.

How can that happen? Usually, when I am trying to think of what to write, I will imagine myself in certain situations and ask: What would make me stop and want to find out more? Keeping in mind that I want the opening scene to be somewhere readers can picture themselves, I choose some of the more obvious/familiar places people frequent:

Grocery store
Bookstore
Home
Back yard

I start on the first one. OK, I’m pushing my shopping cart down the aisle. I’m tired and I hate shopping and I just want to go home, back to my computer. What would spark my curiosity? I hear a child scream and the mom’s voice snapping back. I hear a slapping noise. I want to go and investigate. Is the mom a horrible woman; is someone kidnapping a child?

Now I have to take all of those thoughts and decide which of them to put into two sentences. Those first two count more than any others, except, maybe, the last few. Before I write, though, I also have to put myself into the location in such a way as to imagine myself seeing, hearing, touching, etc. I can feel the plastic coolness of the cart handle. I can hear the scream. I can feel the sudden “mom alert” jolt in my brain. I close my eyes in my virtual reality world. Here goes . . .

Her fingers had almost reached the last box of Snappy Yellow Crunchies when she heard it—the instant, shocked, hurt cry of a child. Susan froze.

It’s okay, but not great; it sounds too much like something anyone would write. As a writer, I want to be original. This is where the Thesaurus is such a help. Reach is such a boring word; that’s why I am going to change that one first. Reach leads me to touch, which leads me to tip. I keep going with the other words.

With her feet on the bottom shelf of the cereal aisle, her longest finger had almost tipped the edge of the box of Snappy Yellow Crunchies when she heard it—the urgent, shocked, offended wail of a child. Susan’s arm dropped onto the top shelf, which, in turn, threw the rest of her torso into disarray until her knees were pressed under the third shelf and her back and arms flailed into the arms of the passing stranger.

Now I have the reader about to chomp in on the feast. They want to know more about Susan—the woman who doesn’t mind standing on shelves to get to the top one; the woman who is affected by the cry of a child; the woman who has suddenly fallen into a stranger’s arms. Who is this stranger? What is going to happen next?

Perhaps you can help me write the rest of the story. 😉

 

Sending the First E-mail to Your iContact contacts April 28, 2009

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For those of you who expected to read a blog on writing, I am currently reviewing a service that helps one to keep track of all clients, send out newsletters, and update people on one’s writing life/new novels, etc. With that in mind . . .
——————————————————————–
Finally!! My first message has been sent. Here’s how I got from an F to an A in my efforts to master the iContact world.

I needed to talk to someone in support. iContact has three ways to get one-on-one help:
-e-mail
-chat window
-phone

I opted for the chat window, because it was easier to ask someone to hold on (while I tried what they recommended) than if they were on the phone. I got a guy called Michael, who wrote to me in good old English rather than with copied and pasted blocks of text. It made me feel like a human. 🙂

Basically, Michael told me that if I wanted people to sign something to say that they knew me, I should have done that when I added their names to my list. I did NOT want to go through that again, depsite the ease of the process.

He directed me back to my welcome message that I had already made (via the create tab), and I was able to add in a paragraph that asked readers to e-mail me back letting me know how I knew them. There are two sections on the create page—the first one for HTML and the second one for text. I hit copy on the first one, and it automatically copied the message into the text box.

I was then able to send myself a test message to make sure that I had not embarrassed myself and the Republic of Ireland (or Texas;)), before I hit the send button. All was well.

Within about two minutes, I got an e-mail from iContact to let me know that the e-mail had been sent, along with a link to information about the results. As I am, primarily, a visual reader and learner, the info. delighted me. For those who prefer text alone, it also had a text list of message statistics.

Results so far

Results so far

To top off the excellent service, iContact also e-mailed me my message again, along with a copy of my online help conversation.

I am bowled over—I never expected to feel this good about getting more organized, and I believe that the service I got from iContact has helped a lot with my attitude.

Aside from all of this, iContact is not paying me for the tryout of their service, so this is a guaranteed Irish/Texan unbiased review. I hope it helped.

Here’s the ad for iContact:

Easily Create, Send, and Track Email Newsletters, RSS Feeds, Autoresponders, and Surveys!

iContact: Do More With Your Online and Email Marketing Campaigns


With iContact’s extensive features, you can easily create
Email Messages, send them to your subscribers, and track their performance. When you apply
Autoresponders to your email marketing campaign, you can stay in the forefront of your customer’s
mind with automatic messages based on timed sequences or customer actions.
Surveying provides you, the marketer a platform to collect data from your customers and
iContact provides you with the real-time results of your data.


RSS Feeds are the latest direct online communication tool. Your customers will immediately receive your most recent messages when they sign up for you RSS feed. iContact is a leading on-demand email marketing service. iContact allows organizations of all sizes to easily create, send, and track email newsletters, RSS feeds, blogs, surveys, and autoresponders.


Learn More about Marketing Online with iContact with a 15-Day Trial

Standard Features
(Included free with your account!)


Mail-merge Personalization
Forward-to-a-Friend
SpamCheck™
Bounce-Back Handling
WYSIWYG Newsletter Editor

Message Scheduling
Assured CAN-SPAM Compliance
Open and Click-Through Tracking
Subscription Management
Over 300 Templates Included

Advanced Features
(Also included free with your account!)


List Segmentation
Multiple Message Autoresponder
Integrated Surveying
RSS Feeds

Advanced Analytics
Event Management
Industry Leading Deliverability
Public Newsletter Archive

Example Templates

Here are some example templates.

iContact Screenshots

Here are some example screenshots.

Learn More about Marketing Online with iContact with a 15-Day Trial

 

Writechat on Twitter April 26, 2009

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I was delighted to be part of a writers’ chat room this afternoon—Julie Isaac, of WritingSpiritResources.com, has begun a great way of using Twitter to benefit writers. From 1PM-3PM CST every Sunday, authors, literary agents and publishers join together (OK, so they’re mostly writers :)) to share information, answer each other’s questions, and encourage/spur one another on.

Sometimes, writers can feel alone, and they even wonder if their writing is any good (especially when their family is not interested in even reading a few lines). Being a part of something bigger than oneself has rewards all of its own—kind critiques, encouragement, a good kick now and then, and, best of all, friendships.

While writechat does not provide, in itself, that kind of community, most of the participants will then follow each Twitterer they parlayed with during the event, thus building Twitter’s writing community in a different way.

If you would like to be a part of the future writechat get togethers, follow WritingSpirit on Twitter. Also, to get the full benefit of Julie’s help, follow her blog: http://WritingSpirit.com, where she offers exclusive creativity/productivity writing tips, tools, and tutorials.

 

Confirming contacts on iContact April 25, 2009

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Call me confused, but I am completely at a loss as to what to do next, on my own. I have written a subscribe message about 5 times now, and every time I tried to send it, iContact brought me back to some other page that I did not want to visit. When I hit the back button the first few times, my message wasn’t saved.

I don’t know how to send out the confirmation e-mail.
I don’t know how to save the style and colors I picked.
I don’t know how to embed the code onto my site in a way that won’t send people back to the home page of iContact.

I’ve watched the tutorials—still no help. Veracity.com have told me that I don’t need to confirm the contacts if I have, at some point in time, done business with them. (Thanks, Veracity!) I’m going to try that route next—I just have to link to the sign-up form in my mailout before sending.

iContact support is not available over the weekend, which leaves me approx. 3 days to figure this out once they get back. . . .

 

The Rules of Grammar

Filed under: Editing,Writing — sallyhanan @ 8:23 pm
Tags: , , ,

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For a refresher course or lessons on the rules of English writing and grammar, this site can help:  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/GRAMMAR/index.htm
It is probably the most comprehensive site on grammar and composition I have seen to date. Covering words, sentences, paragraphs, essays, and research papers; the site also has many interactive quizzes, teaches on peripherals, and hosts a forum called Ask Grammar.

 

iContact contact list April 22, 2009

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I am on day 6 of my effort to get the hang of a messenger management service called iContact. I could call this iContact for Those Who, Like Me, Feel Like Dummies.

So far: I’ve downloaded the free trial for iContact; I’ve added my contact list from Hotmail; I’ve checked out the different designs for the e-mails or newsletters I can eventually send. Now I had to solve the dilemma of having almost 800 contacts on my list when I was only allowed to have 250 with my free trial.

I called customer service and only had to wait for 4 minutes. Basically, the contact limit is set in stone. There is no way to assign different folders for the other names and set them aside for later use. The rep. was very helpful and didn’t get irritated, even though I asked the same question in 3 different ways. 🙂

With that in mind, and also remembering that many of those on my list will not want to sign up for a newsletter (iContact will not allow me to send anyone anything unless they have agreed to my request), I exported all of the overflow of names into an HTML folder on my hard drive and then deleted them from iContact. If I upgrade, then it will be easy for me to import them back in.

 

Twitter April 19, 2009

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I joined Twitter a while ago, but was too overwhelmed with it all to pay much attention to the learning curve, so I quit and then came back to it after the menstrual cycle was over with. 😉

Once I uploaded tweeterdeck, all was well again in my world; um . . . that’s tweetdeck. See? Still a newbie.

I won’t give a boring synopsis of all the ins and outs of my, so far, brief journey, but I will say this: there is a lot of good information on Twitter that I never would have seen had my eyes not been glued to the monitor for the last 3 days. (Addictive??? No . . . )

I’d like to share all of the links I’ve enjoyed. Some/most of them have nothing to do with writing. 🙂

The reality of fast food

Newer 3D curb art from Julian Beever

Very entertaining website; I think it’s in Dutch.

A trend in the romance fiction genre: Amish love stories

Nooo! Please don’t give Susan Boyle a makeover

Author JA Konrath–great resource for writers “The Newbies Guide to Publishing”

Totally fascinating. Beautiful graphs. Debunking Third World myths

And a hilarious writer’s description of agents’ day on Twitter “MEEN & EVAL AGENTZ… CRUSHERZ OV DREEEMS!!”

Enjoy! 😀

 

Sending out newsletters April 17, 2009

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While I haven’t yet put all of my contacts together, I thought I’d play around a bit with the newsletter options. There’s a little box on my home page that gives tutorials on the basics, so I chose that option.

iContact gave me 3 choices. (They seem to like doing things in threes!) I could use:

Message Builder
Create one from scratch using WYSIWYG editor (haven’t a clue what that could stand for)
Copy and paste

Seeing as I can’t code, I chose the message builder option, which then made me choose from a number of different designs. I can get overwhelmed with too many choices—perfectionism I guess—but at least it was broken down for me into sections: Industry/Product/Regular/Theme/Holiday/Postcards/Custom.
I was hard pressed to figure out what writing and editing would fall into, so I chose the regular theme.

Then I had to choose which background color I wanted (which sometimes makes the e-mail message take longer to download), and which color border I wanted. Did I then want a shadow around it or a solid color or a picture at the top (called Bubbly for some reason, even though it doesn’t have any bubbles)?

After that, I had to do even more choosing. Did I want a side column or side bar, a one or two column press release style, a fancy header, a menu on the right or the left?

The whole time I was doing this, I could see a preview picture on the page based on each choice I was adding—a great tool for the visual learner.

Then I got to fill my template. To be honest, it couldn’t have been much easier. Every tiny section was labeled for me with a text box to write in.

For the template I chose, I could have added 6 URLS, each one giving me two text boxes to write in—the name in one box and the URL in the second one. The date, newsletter title, headlines and sub-headlines, footer headline and text—all of these were offered in the same format.

I continued on to be asked which e-mail type I wanted—HTML or text based. Would I have pity on all those readers who couldn’t see my pretty colors and fancy fonts, or not? I didn’t think so. 🙂

Then I got to edit what I had created. I was able to delete the columns the extra URL options were in, but when I went to add my photo, it only gave me the option of linking to a linked photo. I thought that was strange, considering I had uploaded a perfectly good one to the images section. I temporarily allowed the pop-up window, and it reversed the work I ‘d done on deleting the URL boxes. I tried “merge with the cell to the right” option, and it only got wider and weirder, so I was able to undo it, but the undo button only works once and no more—note to self—only mess up once. When I right-clicked, there was another option to “unmerge with cell to the right.” Too late.

I clicked on the image button again, and when it opened to the “link your photo” page, I clicked on the bottom text which asked me if I wanted to find an alternate image. It led me to the photo I’d saved.

All that was left was to copy in the text for those who had no HTML reading capabilities in their e-mail programs and e-mail myself a copy of the finished letter.

It ended up looking quite impressive, almost perfect, even. The only thing that didn’t clean up during the editing phase was the boxes for the URLs—I could still see the lines for them—but I don’t think anyone but a programer would notice.

 

Adding contacts to iContact April 16, 2009

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So far, so good. First impressions are:
iContact is easy to use. I don’t know any HTML, and its language is techie-free—clear and simple to follow.
I love the white background, the layout, and font size.

Last night, I began to add e-mail addresses to my contact list. There are three options for doing this:
Download them from a file
Add names one by one
Copy a bunch of text with e-mails in it and iContact takes out the e-mail addresses.

Unfortunately for me, I have been using Outlook since 2004, and that does not give me the automatic pop-up that asks me to add the address of a new sender or recipient to my list of contacts. Because of that, I am slowly going through each letter of the alphabet, adding each name that comes up in the list into the address bar of a blank e-mail. Once it’s full of all the addresses that begin with that letter, I copy and paste the list into iContact. I’m about to start on the letter d. . . . I realize that some of these addreses are dead and buried; some are for support sections of companies; some are for people I sold books to; but that’s ok. I can sift through them more closely once they are all together in iContact. During my trial period, I’m allowed 250 contacts, so I’m going to have to sort through them anyway.

The thing is, though, despite this being tedious and time-consuming, it’s about time I collected all of my contact info. and sorted it and kept it in one place. Regardless of all the future possiblities iContact can give me for my writing business, there have been so many times that I’ve wanted to, say, send out a holiday greeting to all my closer friends, or send out news of a special offer on letter magnets (Eager Mind letter magnets) to previous customers. Soon, I will be able to do that.

 

Contact help April 15, 2009

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I’ve been told that iContact is the best way to stay in touch with all of my past clients. If I want to keep my name at the top of people’s memories, I need to keep letting them know I exist. I’m going to try it out for the free 15 days trial to see if someone with my simple computer knowledge can get the hang of it AND not annoy anyone with my e-mails. Here’s the blurb:

iContact Promotional Email

Easily Create, Send, and Track Email Newsletters, RSS Feeds, Autoresponders, and Surveys!

iContact: Do More With Your Online and Email Marketing Campaigns


With iContact’s extensive features, you can easily create
Email Messages, send them to your subscribers, and track their performance. When you apply
Autoresponders to your email marketing campaign, you can stay in the forefront of your customer’s
mind with automatic messages based on timed sequences or customer actions.
Surveying provides you, the marketer a platform to collect data from your customers and
iContact provides you with the real-time results of your data.


RSS Feeds are the latest direct online communication tool. Your customers will immediately receive your most recent messages when they sign up for you RSS feed. iContact is a leading on-demand email marketing service. iContact allows organizations of all sizes to easily create, send, and track email newsletters, RSS feeds, blogs, surveys, and autoresponders.


Learn More about Marketing Online with iContact with a 15-Day Trial

Standard Features
(Included free with your account!)


Mail-merge Personalization
Forward-to-a-Friend
SpamCheck™
Bounce-Back Handling
WYSIWYG Newsletter Editor

Message Scheduling
Assured CAN-SPAM Compliance
Open and Click-Through Tracking
Subscription Management
Over 300 Templates Included

Advanced Features
(Also included free with your account!)


List Segmentation
Multiple Message Autoresponder
Integrated Surveying
RSS Feeds

Advanced Analytics
Event Management
Industry Leading Deliverability
Public Newsletter Archive

Example Templates

Here are some example templates.

iContact Screenshots

Here are some example screenshots.

Learn More about Marketing Online with iContact with a 15-Day Trial

Let me know if you’d like to join me in this endeavor. I’ll add you to my contact list and we can give feedback here.

 

 
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