Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When a Computer Stares at You by June Shaw

Today Author Expressions is pleased to welcome as our guest blogger veteran author June Shaw. Her writing is well-known to fans of both mystery and romance novels. And now here's June!

What do you do if you get to your computer, ready to become “The Next Greatest Author in the World”—and all it will do is stare back at you?
Your fingers want to touch the keyboard and start striking keys that will make the story you’re creating work well in all areas. You must start in the exact place that will draw readers in. Your very first word and first line must be perfect. Make readers care. Doesn’t something have to happen right there, something that’s going to ensure that they won’t put your book down until the last sentence, and they’ll be shouting, “I want more!”
Certainly you need to create characters who fly off the page, who your readers will care about and not want to leave. They have to be perfect. No, actually they shouldn’t. Your main characters must be likeable but with flaws (so you can’t think of any? Look around, or inside yourself.) Your female lead has to be beautiful (if you’re writing romance), and a striking alpha male would go with her. Mysteries will give you much more leeway for creating people. You’re going to want interesting secondary characters, but only in longer works. Short stories won’t allow space for developing them, even if they start to become so interesting that they’re creeping into the most important spot and taking over your work. If that happens, what will you do with those people? Toss them out like candy wrappers? Consider using them as main characters in another story? So then which story will you begin working on now?
Besides these people, your novel will need a well-balanced plot. This story line will have to race and peak at certain parts and in other places let readers catch their breaths, but just for a second, before you race toward the showdown and slam on the brakes at the end.
After you complete this one-of-a-kind yet not too different masterpiece, you’ll have to let it sit. How long? Half an hour? Two days? A week while you take a well-earned cruise, until you remember you can’t afford one?
Whenever you can’t stand the wait any longer, you get back to your work of art. Only this time, something’s happened to that first sentence. Surely someone hacked into your computer and replaced your enticing draw with dull words. You yourself wouldn’t read beyond this, so what can you do? Start all over of course. Decide that your whole work must have poured out of your fingers well before your first cup of java reached your system, and all of the words you jotted must be thrown away and new ones put in? Or possibly you can force yourself to read the entire work again, this time making your soul bleed while you struggle to improve each word before you type it, all the while knowing that after you finish many drafts of this work, you will need other eyes (that don’t belong to your family) to decide whether these readers agree that it’s good.
Or should you plot before you start? When your fingers are striving to hit the first word in your tome, should you draw them back and make them wait? Possibly if you use a pen and legal pad, you could see where to begin your story and where peak and valleys might go. But a pencil and notebook might work better so that you can erase and feel more like you did when you were accomplishing so much back in school.
Maybe you should just wait awhile till an idea strikes. Surely a better idea than the one touching your mind will come up next week. A month from now will give you time to consider what type story or novelette or novel you really should write.
You have one major decision to make. Do you want to be a writer?
If so, then when that blank screen that wants the first page of your book or the first sentence of your next chapter stares at you, instead of just staring back at it, you will do something, something that will further the writing career you chose. Write a word. Make a list. Come up with names if you must. Jot down all the awful things that could possibly happen to make your character’s life miserable, even all those that don’t make sense. See which ideas excite you, and go with them.
Or set your fingers on your computer keys and begin typing. Write a title or a sentence to start or go on from where you stopped. They can be changed later.
Keep typing.
The thing to remember is you wanted to write. You’re stronger than a blank page, no matter how threatening it may look. What comes later might seem overwhelming, but won’t be if you start. Keep going. Strike those keys. Beat that screen. You will thank yourself for being a winner.

Thank you, June! Anyone with questions or comments for our guest author, please feel free.
You can also find out more about June and her novels at:


Susan Oleksiw said...

Facing that computer, or blank page, is always a little frightening.

Patricia Gligor said...

Very nice post, June.
Whenever I find myself "stuck," staring at a blank page or unable to figure out what happens next, I walk away. Sometimes, taking a short break helps. Other times, I need to immerse myself in a mindless task like washing the dishes or scrubbing the bathroom floor. Actually, that seems to be when some of my best ideas have come to me; when I'm not trying to force a solution.

June Shaw said...

Susan, you are so right. Isn't it strange how something as tiny as a pure white page can be so intimidating?

June Shaw said...

Patricia, you scrub your floor? I'm thinking on hands and knees now. Please tell me I'm wrong so I don't feel bad when I use a mop.

And yes, often ideas come when I'm doing other things, especially if I am prepared for those ideas by planting the seed of what I hope to discover.

Sharon Ervin said...

Back in journalism school, Dr. David Bergin pounded one point: The first three words of a news story MUST compel your readers. You must TELL the story in the first seven words. Years later, my harshest critic said reporters at a press club were talking about me, saying I wrote "the best leads" in the business. I credited Dr. Bergin. Also, I tried to focus on that as I began writing books. My best selling novel begins, "A shotgun blast jarred the isolated convenience store...." June obviously subscribes to the same theory.

D'Ann said...

I love an empty computer screen! I've won a couple of pretty big contests with my first lines!

June Shaw said...

Sharon, what a wise instructor you had -- and how fantastic that his words had such a wonderful impact on you.

June Shaw said...

Wow, D'Ann, congratulations! I think you must be in the minority with loving an empty screen. Kudos to you and your talent and great attitude.

Bonnie Tharp said...

Hi June. You're right, just write something and that will lead to something else and so on. It's amazing how the stories really grow. Nice post.

June Shaw said...

Thanks, Bonnie. Yes, I think our brains kick into gear when we get some word flowing.

Carole Price said...

I was recently stuck on my WIP. I tried reading and walking my dog but it just wasn't working. This went on for days. So back to the computer determined to put words on paper. There's a reason for that delete key. I finally worked my way out of my despair and am back on track.
Nice blog.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, June,

Thanks for being our guest blogger. When I face writer's blog, I generally go out for a walk. I also think doing housework helps.

June Shaw said...

Thanks, Carole. I also have found that sometimes the delete key is just what I needed to be able to get past where I'm stuck.

June Shaw said...

Oh, Jacqui, I have housework I could let you do that might help need time you need a push: )

June Shaw said...

Jacqui, I meant next time.