sallyhanan’s blog

A writer’s blog

How to Write Opening Lines April 30, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 5:36 pm
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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
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:
-chat window

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
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, 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:, 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. 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:
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! 😀


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