The Sound of Snap Dragons

I’m thrilled to announce my upcoming novel, The Sound of Snap Dragons, will be released on October 6, 2022. I have worked quite hard this past year on this novel, and I think it’s finally ready. To celebrate, I will be posting the first three chapters (including the Prologue) for your enjoyment!

The cover:

Today’s sneak peek:

Prologue

Could math class be any more boring? She didn’t think so. Not to mention it was near the end of her day when she was most looking forward to going home. Home meant she’d most likely get to see her father, assuming he wasn’t working late on a case, and they could plan another outing to Folly Beach, to the Washout, where they liked to surf. But, forcing herself to focus, she sat up straight. The teacher only droned on about whatever.

Her attention turned to the far window, where there was a pleasant view of the trees outside. Their leaves were already turning a crisp, burnt orange. Not fully orange and red, no, but just beginning to turn that beautiful color that she loved so much this time of year. It made her glad to have been born in October, and her sixteenth birthday was just two days ago. She and Cat, her best friend, had a great time celebrating her birthday; they went to Kaminsky’s on Market Street for a cappuccino and a slice of cheesecake each. 

Her book lay open on the edge of her desk, the pages open to a lesson on trigonometry—not that she understood any of it.

A small ball of crumpled paper smacked her cheek, startling her, and landed on her textbook. Cat was throwing her a sly grin from the next row over, and it was a grin Kylie knew well. Picking it up, she smoothed out the torn paper to read a scrawled line in Cat’s scribbled handwriting.

Party tonight at Tommy D’s house—you in? Pretty sure Chris will be there.

A crudely drawn face with its tongue poking out sat below the scribbled words. Looking back at Cat, she gave a shrug. Of course, she knew which Chris Cat meant—the guy she’d had a crush on for the last year. Not that she ever had the courage to approach him, but perhaps the atmosphere (and a little liquid courage) of a party would give her the nerve to speak to him.

“Kylie Lewis.”

Her head snapped up at the man’s voice. It was not Mr. Johnson speaking, their teacher. Instead, the principal of the school stood in the doorway of the classroom. He was a short man, standing at least a foot under the doorframe, and it was clear that his oversized suit hadn’t been tailored to his size.

Kylie’s stomach turned, and she glanced around to see that everyone’s eyes were on her, burning a hole through her shirt. Heat flashed across her cheeks. Cat, whose eyes were wide, nodded towards the front, urging her to get up already. What could she have possibly done to be summoned by the principal—in person? Everything she’d ever done wrong in her life, hell, in the last few months, flew through her brain at rapid-fire speed. Perhaps it was that time she and Cat skipped Spanish two weeks ago?

“For God’s sake, go,” Cat hissed at her.

Stumbling to her feet, she quickly gathered her textbook and things, shoving them into her backpack, and headed down the aisle of desks as hushed murmurs, giggles, and quiet oohs sounded around her. She couldn’t bear to look at anyone else, instead watching the floor with every step until she reached the principal. Mr. Peterson waved his hand, signaling for her to follow. Something somber about his face, a certain sadness and anxiety, made Kylie’s stomach churn. As far as she knew, Mr. Peterson had never been a particularly stern man, so she had that going in her favor, whatever she was in trouble for. Still, she swallowed down her fear, her throat tightening, and her nerves burst into flames as Mr. Peterson allowed her into his office.

There sat her mother in one of the hard, wooden chairs. Dried, smudged mascara left stains on her cheeks, traces of it wiped away amid the wetness shining in the lights.

“What’s going on?” The words came slow, rolling off her dry tongue, like a desert in her mouth.

Peterson gently closed the door and eased himself around the desk. Leaning his fists against the surface, his eyes darted to Kylie’s mother.

“Go ahead, Mrs. Lewis.”

Her mother’s hands trembled as much as her chin and her lips. “Um, sweet pea,” she began, finally meeting Kylie’s questioning gaze. “The reason I … the reason I’m here … is, well …”

Kylie’s heart pounded wildly in her chest, beating madly against her ribs, so hard it almost hurt. A million different reasons for her mother to be here bounced back and forth, and her brain vacillated between all the possibilities. Her parents were getting a divorce … No, she wouldn’t be here for that. The small room seemed utterly silent as she waited for her mother to speak.

Her words quavered as she continued, “Your father … he’s … he’s gone.”

“Gone? He left?” Kylie prompted, her mind dumb and slow.

A heaving sob escaped her mother’s mouth as her entire body crumpled into itself. “No,” she cried, “he’s dead. He was shot early this morning while on a case.”

It felt as though a bucket of ice had dumped itself over her head. Cold trickled down the crown of her head, spreading through her core until all of her was frozen. She couldn’t move. This couldn’t be right; she just saw her father last night. He had returned home late from working on a case with his partner at the station. Two days ago, he had come home early with a bouquet of her favorite flowers to celebrate her birthday. Snap dragons.

When she was little, her mother kept snap dragons in their garden, and her father would squeeze the sides of their petals to make them talk, giving different colored snap dragons different voices. She would laugh and laugh, demanding that her father continue to make them talk.

But her father couldn’t be gone. He just couldn’t. Her expression didn’t betray her, although her eyes widened. The rest of her, however, remained a cold statue.

“No,” she said. “Dad can’t be gone.”

“He’s gone, sweet pea.” Her mother placed a hand on her arm. Cold radiated from her mother’s palm, her fingertips icy and slightly sweaty. “Eli saw him get—”

But something inside her snapped. She snatched up her backpack and stood abruptly, causing the chair legs to scrape against the floor as she shoved it back, and the back smacked against the wall. Her face was now hot, her cheeks flushed, and she slammed open the door.

“He’s not gone! Eli is lying! I just saw Dad last night!” she shouted.

“Kylie, please,” begged her mother. 

Kylie threw her bag onto the vinyl tile, and something inside it made a sad crunching noise. Probably her cell phone. As she stared at her mother, a lump rose in her throat. Tears warmed at the corners of her wet eyes, but she blinked them away, fighting her urge to break down.

He just couldn’t be gone.

Descriptive Writing: Utilizing Your Senses

Before I dive into today’s post, I have a couple announcements. One, I have updated the pricing on my Services page. They are much lower and priced for up to 100,000 words, rather than pricing per word. I will soon be up on fiverr.com as well. Two, I have decided to start writing under my real name: Allison Williford. I hid behind my pseudonym (Skylar Wilson) for some time after receiving threatening messages for sharing my positive experience with ECT. (Seriously, I even had someone tell me to kill myself, saying I was promoting torture.) But I decided I won’t be intimidated by people who have no heart or compassion.

Now that I have made my announcements, let us move on to today’s post about description!

Description is important in a novel. It draws the reader in, and it can help with the suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief happens when we are so drawn into a story, we will believe anything the author tells us. While description alone won’t do this, it certainly adds that wondrous element that enriches your story.

There are many ways to include description in your novel, from your characters, to the setting, to even the food they eat. It can greatly enrich the story itself. There’s nothing quite like those moments, when reading a novel, when you are so engrossed in a story that you can almost experience the story firsthand.

By utilizing the five senses to describe what’s going on in your story, you can really dig into another world. What does your character see? Smell? Hear? Taste? Feel? Think about how you experience the world. What colors do you see? What textures do you feel beneath your fingertips? Do you hear birds, or perhaps a storm brewing outside, with its rolling booms of thunder? Are you drinking tart, tangy lemonade? A cold soda, with its carbonation fizzing on your tongue?

You get the picture.

  1. Writing with Sight
    This is probably the easier of the five senses when it comes to writing. Most of us experience the world through our sight. We see the colors of the rainbow. We see everything that’s in front of us. We see the faces of our loved ones. A great writing exercise is to try picking an ordinary object, anything you see in front of you, and describe it in great detail using only sight.
  2. Writing with Sound
    A common description I see in novels is that of people’s voices. Try describing something that isn’t someone’s voice. Is your character at a concert with screaming guitars and pounding drums? Are they in a forest, where the wind whispers through the trees and rustles the dead leaves on the ground? Are they inside, with the rain pelting the windows with every plink plink plink?
  3. Writing with Taste
    This can be a fun one, but I wouldn’t describe everything that touches your character’s tongue. Like the example above, is your character drinking a cold, fizzy soda? Do they bite their lip until it bleeds, that metallic tinge lingering on their tongue? Is their plate of chicken dry and chewy? Are they eating something hot and spicy?
  4. Writing with Smell
    Most of you probably realize that scent can be a powerful thing. Memories can be tied just to a single smell. Perfume is a common description, but you could describe the smells of other objects: a musty old book, someone’s rank body odor like overpowering wilting onions. Remember that with smell, a little bit goes a long way, so don’t overwhelm your readers with descriptions of scents.
  5. Writing with Touch
    I love writing about touch. What your character feels beneath their fingertips or on their skin can really draw a reader into their world. The scratchy, limp fabric of a hospital blanket. The roughness of an unshaven face, like sandpaper, a stark contrast to the softness of his lips. The way a single touch can raise gooseflesh along your character’s arm.

Like previously mentioned, a great exercise is to pick one thing and describe it in as much detail as possible using your senses.

Again, if you are in need of editing services, I invite you to check out my editing services! For a free, five-page sample edit, you can email your sample (Times New Roman, 12 pt.) to allisonwilliford@cloud.com.

Picking a Title for Your Novel

Titling your novel is probably something you’ve either thought a ton about or hardly given a thought to. The truth is, it may be a bigger deal than you think. I mean, come on! That story you’ve spent months on, maybe years, can’t just have any old title! You worked hard to craft this masterpiece of a tale; it doesn’t deserve to be titled just anything.

So, where exactly do you come up with a good, original title? I’m currently querying The Sound of Snap Dragons, but it wasn’t always called that. The original title I had was Forget Me Not. Why did I change it? I did my research. I googled books with the title Forget Me Not, and I was astounded to see how many books there were already with that title. I mean, there were tens of self-published books with “Forget Me Not” as their titles. Honestly? I was a little disappointed. No, I was more than a little disappointed. I was completely bummed. I had clung to my title like a beacon in the night, like a kid and her favorite stuffed toy.

So, what’s my point here? Learn to let go of your first title if it’s not original or catchy enough. Sure, use it as a placeholder until you think of something that really bites, something that really catches the eyes of your readers. Ask yourself: If you were to come across your own book in a store (without knowing it’s your own!), would the title grab you enough to make you pick it up?

A good book title should be:

  • Unique
  • Memorable
  • Insightful

Now, I don’t claim to be the be all and end all of experts when it comes to titling my work. Not by any means. Before I republished The Days Without You, it was called “Waiting for You”. Waiting for You was generic and just very…blah.

Now, how should you title your novel? Well, there are a lot of different considerations you can take into account:

  • The book’s key theme
  • Major characters (The Giver by Lois Lowry)
  • Flow of the title
  • Major events in the story (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)
  • Major motivations
  • Location or setting

You could also combine them, such as the Harry Potter books. But whatever you decide, have fun with it. Of course, make sure your book’s title doesn’t have any unwanted connotations to it. What I like to do is make a long list of possible titles, and that helps me come up with the right title. I sit down and have a brainstorming session. Whatever you do to come up with your title, make sure it’s intriguing!

How do you come up with the titles to your books?

Narrative Structure: Freytag’s Pyramid

Welcome to post #3 in my Narrative Structure Series! Today, we’ll be discussing Freytag’s Pyramid, which was devised by 19th-century German playwright Gustav Freytag (which, technically, he based on Aristotle’s idea of narrative structure as a triangle with exposition, climax, and resolution, mapped out in Poetics).

Photo by Andre Moura from Pexels

As a reminder, narrative structure is a literary element that functions as structural framework for a story. For a more detailed description of narrative structure, visit my blog post, The 7 Types of Narrative Structure.

As you probably already guessed, the main idea of Freytag’s Pyramid is that the story is a pyramid, with the climax at its highest point. We can break it down into six parts, including the exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

  1. Exposition
    In Freytag’s Pyramid, the story begins with Exposition, in which a reader is introduced to the setting, the characters, etc. Your sole focus during the Exposition is to build the world in which the story will be set — and where most of the major action happens. How long your exposition lasts depends on the complexity of your world building, as well as the complexity of the story’s conflict. For example, The Lord of the Rings is full of exposition. Lois Lowry’s The Giver has some exposition in which we get to know the “utopia” that is Jonas’ world.
  2. Inciting Incident
    The exposition should end with the Inciting Incident (sometimes called the Inciting Event). For a more thorough explanation of what the Inciting Incident/Event is, see my post, The Inciting Event. Basically, it is the moment in your character’s life that sets the story in motion, the moment which he cannot come back from.
  3. Rising Action
    The Rising Action will make up the biggest chunk of your story, and it is rife with conflict that builds up to the climax. You’ll often see things getting worse for our protagonist, and it’s all about moves and countermoves. If we were to compare it to the Three-Act Structure, the Rising Action would be Act II of your story. It should include key information about your character’s motives and history, and any themes that are being explored. Also, you can foreshadow the main event: the Climax.
  4. Climax
    The pièce de résistance of your story. Here is where the conflict can no longer hold onto the tension its been grasping, and everything comes crashing down on your protagonist’s head. It’s the major turning point in which the central conflict is addressed. Now, whether the climax lasts one scene or spans several chapters is up to you. It should culminate from the rising action you’ve created, and it should resonate with the story’s themes.
  5. Falling Action
    Here is where we can explore the aftermath of the Climax. How do your characters react to what happened in the Climax? Here, loose ends should be tied up. Think of it as your protagonist’s “new normal” compared to the exposition. Bear in mind that the Falling Action should still engage the reader in some way.
  6. Resolution
    Here is the end of your story, and figuring out where the narrative ends can be tricky. Falling Action and the Resolution tend to be fairly short. Here is where you’ll also decide what happens to your protagonist. Does he die? Does he learn from his mistakes? Does he accept his pain and loss and move on with his life? Perhaps he begins anew? Either way, everything should be tied up in a neat little package, even if you’re leaving the ending open for a sequel.

That’s it for Freytag’s Pyramid. Curious about other forms of narrative structure? Check out my posts, The 7 Types of Narrative Structure and Narrative Structure: The Three-Act Structure. And if you’re looking for an editor, don’t forget that I’m now offering editing services, including copy editing, proofreading, and manuscript critiques! Check out my Services page for pricing and more information.

The Inciting Event

Every event, every plot point in a story should matter, and that especially goes for the Inciting Event. Sure, maybe it’s not the most significant plot point or even the most noticeable, but it’s still important in your overall story structure, which is why I want to talk about it today.

What exactly is the Inciting Event? Basically, it’s the very first plot point that sets your story in motion. It could even seem incredibly insignificant in the lives of your characters, but it’s what tips over that first domino in a long line of dominoes. Essentially, it should change your character’s life forever, no matter how small or big your Inciting Event is. You’ll hear some writing advice say that the Inciting Event needs to be huge and dramatic to change your character’s life forever; I don’t believe this is true. The Inciting Event can be one small notch in your character’s life, but it should be one that they can’t come back from.

Now, the Inciting Event can even happen before the story begins. In The Days Without You, the story opens with Kylie dreading a concert she agreed to attend with her best friend, and there, she meets Adam by mishap. While this is the beginning of the story, the inciting event would technically be Kylie agreeing to attend the concert with Cat, even though this happens before the start of the story. And, your character/s may not even realize that their lives have been ultimately altered! It’s important to remember that the Inciting Event doesn’t have to be realized by your protagonist.

In many cases, however, the Inciting Event happens within the realm of the story. Bear in mind, too, that it may not be the very first thing to happen in your story. in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we have character building and world building before the Inciting Event happens. Similar goes for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone. Before the Inciting Event happens, we learn all about what horrible people the Dursleys are, not to mention we also see Dumbledore leaving Harry at the Dursley’s doorstep after being rescued from the wreckage of his home.

Some examples of the Inciting Event:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    In the Hunger Games, we learn all about the dark, evil “game” called The Hunger Games, in which one teenage boy and one teenage girl from each District is selected to compete in a battle to the death, and the winner shall be bathed in riches. Katniss, who is our narrator and protagonist, is devastated when her younger sister, Prim, is selected as the next tribute. In desperation to save her sister, Katniss volunteers as tribute to take Prim’s place. This act of volunteering for her sister is the Inciting Event, as it changes Katniss’ life forever. She can no longer go back to her old life; she must now compete in The Hunger Games, fighting for her life.
  2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
    As previously mentioned, there’s a ton of backstory in this novel before we get to the Inciting Event: when Hagrid, a half-giant who barges in upon the Dursleys and Harry in their off-shore hut, tells Harry, “Yer a wizard, Harry.” (Can we all agree that this is a classic line of dialogue?) We identify this as the Inciting Event because it changes Harry’s life forever. Why isn’t the event of the never-ending letters the Inciting Event? Because Harry could have chosen to ignore them, or the Dursleys could have kept them hidden from Harry, thus not setting into effect the dominoes to Harry’s learning that he’s a wizard.
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
    Can I just say this is one of my favorite books, and has been since I was in, like, fourth grade and I’ve read it a bajillion times? Favoritism aside, we open the story upon Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who lives in a futuristic community that seems like a utopia, but really is a dystopia where babies are “Released to Elsewhere” if they don’t weigh enough. He’s nervous about his career assignment, which he is to receive at the Ceremony of Twelves, because he’s worried he doesn’t fit in anywhere. The Ceremony itself is our Inciting Event, because Jonas learns he has been selected as the next Receiver of Memory, in which the Giver passes down memories of the past world so he can advise the community when it needs to make decisions.

So what should your Inciting Event be? Technically, it can be anything! But, it should make sense with your First Plot Point. That is to say, the Inciting Event should be the first domino that knocks over another, then another, and another, leading to the First Plot Point. In my work-in-progress, The Sound of Snap Dragons, the Inciting Event is that Kylie gets hired as an investigative journalist at The New York Star, a major newspaper in her city, leading her to be assigned a story about a serial killer.

I’d love to hear what the Inciting Event is in your manuscript or published books! Tell me, what are your thoughts on this important plot point?

Finding Your Voice as a Writer

Voice. Find your voice as a writer, they say. What exactly does that mean? You may be struggling to find your own unique voice as a writer and author, trying to find what makes your work different, what makes it stand out. Voice, essentially, is the unique mixture of vocabulary, syntax, tone, and point of view that makes you as a writer. The way you write your story, a way only you can tell your story, should make your readers feel something. It’s almost manipulative, in a way, how we control our readers’ emotions, isn’t it?

Photo by gryffyn m from Pexels

I don’t believe that finding your own unique voice as a writer is an easy thing to do. Many times, in the early days of writing, we try to imitate our favorite authors and writers in an attempt to find who we are as writers. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. There is, of course, a difference between an author’s voice and character voice. Character voice is something a skilled author can imbibe upon any given character in a story, utilizing a unique tone and choice of vocabulary for said character. You may see more of a character’s voice in a story that’s written in first person, but this can be character’s voice. For example, The Giver (written by the great Lois Lowry) is written from the Jonas’ point of view, a twelve-year-old boy who’s about to receive his assignment in his community, and he’s anxious because he doesn’t really know where he fits in. In the first few pages of the novel, he’s deciding how he wants to describe how he feels at dinner discussion with his family unit. (He decides on apprehensive.) The narration is voiced through Jonas. Every word is carefully written from the point of view of Jonas.

However, one could say that this narration in The Giver is unique to Lowry, making it her voice as a writer. The vocabulary, tone, and point-of-view are unique to Lowry’s style. One definitely wouldn’t confuse it with, say, Ernest Hemingway or Emily Brontë.

Here are a few tips and exercises you can try for finding your voice as a writer:

  1. Be consistent.
    No matter what sort of style you use, what vocabulary or dialect you choose for your story, or even how flowery your description is, be sure to be consistent. If you like long, lengthy descriptions, try to stick to long, lengthy descriptions in your story. The one facet you may decide to vary on is POV. However, I wouldn’t change POV within the same story — that is, if you use first person, stick to first person in the same novel. What I mean is you may decide to use first person in one novel, and third person in another story. Switching between POV types within the same novel may be confusing for readers.
  2. Formal or colloquial?
    Decide whether you want to be formal or informal in your voice. Do you include swearing/cursing in your stories? Big, complex words? Or do you prefer more informal vocabulary and vernacular?
  3. Do you want your stories driven by description or dialogue?
    Some writers like lengthy passages of flowy description, while others prefer their stories to be driven forward more so by dialogue.
  4. Describe your voice (or what you want it to be) in five words.
    This can be a great exercise in figuring out who you want to be as a writer. Really think about what five words you would use to describe your style and voice.
  5. Ask your friends, family, fellow writers or critique partners to describe your voice in five words.
    Same concept as describing yourself, but you’re asking others to describe your writing. You may be truly surprised at the feedback you get.
  6. Analyze your favorite voices in writing.
    Make a list of a few of your favorite author voices and write down what you love most about them. Is it their description? Their dialogue? Their syntax? Their POV? Take what you discover and try to apply it to your own writing, or simply play around with a few scenes in that particular voice you’re trying to imitate.

No matter how you find your voice as a writer, try to be consistent, as it is a way readers can recognize you. However, bear in mind that it can take a lifetime to develop your true voice, so don’t fret if you don’t feel like you’ve quite gotten the hang of it. We’re all on this writing journey, trying to figure ourselves and our stories out.

How Long Should My Novel Be?

If you’re just starting out, or maybe you need a refresher, you might be wondering about the proper length of a novel. The short answer? Somewhere around 80,000 to 100,000. This is the standard, expected length for a first novel, especially if you’re looking to traditionally publish via an agent. Although anything over 40,000 words is typically considered a novel, the expected minimum length is 50,000.

Stock Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels.com

Again, that’s the short answer. Your word count will vary based on the genre you’re writing. For example, genres that involve a lot of world-building (read: Science Fiction and Fantasy (and we’ll include Historical Fiction in that, too)) will require a higher word count. Why? Because the world the characters live in needs to be believable, or what’s known as suspension of disbelief.

I want to note that these figures are based on standards established by the publishing industry authorities. While it’s true you should, at least, aim for a standard word count for your particular genre, keep in mind that every novel will vary; don’t be discouraged or frustrated or upset if your final product doesn’t meet or exceeds industry expectations. The following numbers are approximations or “comfortable” ranges.

General Fiction: 50,000 to 100,000

Sci-Fi & Fantasy: 90,000 to 120,000

Romance (Mainstream): 50,000 to 90,000

Sub-genre Romance: 40,000 to 100,000

Historical Fiction: 80,000 to 100,000 (but more so on the 100,000 side)

Suspense & Mystery: 70,000 to 90,000

Young Adult: 40,000 to 80,000

Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000

You’ll find varying numbers on different websites, as different publishers and experts (I don’t claim to be a publishing expert, just a thirty-something girl with a degree in English and writing fiction.) have different ideas on the “proper” word count for a novel based on its genre. Your novel may differ from , but if you’re looking to traditionally published, be prepared to explain or justify your reasons for going outside the expected word count. But again, every story has its own word count, so write your story naturally—the way you write.