Friday Speak Out!: A Novel and a Skirt

Friday, May 29, 2020
by June Trop

What’s the difference between a novel and a skirt? Not as much as you might think. Both are subject to the fads and fancies of the marketplace. If you’ve recently picked up a classic novel—I picked up Middlemarch by George Eliot—you might find that although it’s been touted as a masterpiece of English literature, its underlying themes, pace, and tone are dated.

In today’s market, the author competes with various entertainment options for readers who typically have little time. Did you know the average person today decides whether to read a book within just a few minutes of opening it? To hook your reader, some event has to topple your protagonist’s stable world quickly, within the first scene. Likewise, the first sentence has to plunge your protagonist into the story, arouse curiosity, and promise trouble. For example, I started my first novel, The Deadliest Lie (Bell Bridge Books, 2013), with this sentence: “I wondered what lie I’d tell as I approached the great mahogany doors of my father, Isaac ben Asher’s study.”

The story has to move quickly. Today’s successful authors trust their readers to be able to jump from one scene to the next without a lengthy transition. They use dialog and short paragraphs (lots of white spaces) to make their readers’ eyes fly down the page. Remember dialog is also action.

And rather than long expository passages, which tend to bore readers, authors keep their descriptions brief, with just a few telling words incorporated into an action. Yes, I’m talking about that old saying again: Show don’t tell. Instead of telling how fastidious a character is about his appearance, show his manicured hand brushing an imaginary speck of lint off his shoulder.

So, launch your story with both a provocative first sentence and an action-filled scene and fold your descriptions into your action statements. Then, unlike this poodle skirt, you'll be current with today's fads and fancies.

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June Trop is the author of the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series set in first-century CE Roman-occupied Alexandria. Her books have been cited for excellence at the New York Book Festival, by Wiki Ezvid, the Historical Novel Society, and as a 5-star Readers’ Favorite. Kirkus praised The Deadliest Thief for its “vibrant imagery and an entertaining plot ending with a most unexpected twist.”

As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students’ imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling.

June, an active member of the Mystery Writers of America, lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, NY where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine's next life-or-death exploit.

Connect with June on her website or her Facebook page: June Trop Author.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

June--You are right. The reader has to be hooked in the first page or so. Otherwise, no sale.

Good luck with your future writing.

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