December 2017 Newsletter

From the HSW President 

Particularly because of looking at entries for the short story contest, I think it would be helpful to contrast two key elements of a story: setting and immediate scene. I’ve talked about immediate scene before; it’s writing that occurs in the moment. It’s a close POV where the reader is experiencing what is happening as it happens. Dialogue is usually immediate scene, unless the dialogue is recounting something that occurred off-stage, out of the sight of the reader. Usually something in the past.

Setting is that element that tells the reader when and where the story is taking place. It creates an atmosphere or context for the story.

Here’s the conflict. Traditionally, stories started out with a description of setting. In both movies and books this was called “exposition.” However, in recent years, exposition has shrunk more and more. We have shorter attention spans. We want things to get moving. We don’t want a long explanation of background.

That’s why “immediate scene” has become more important to readers and moviegoers. Audiences want to get right into the story, be immersed in it. The challenge for writers is to plunge in, yet introduce the details of setting without bogging down the scene.

Think of TV shows such as, Law and Order, CSI, Gray’s Anatomy. The show usually starts with some kind of emergency or a murder or some other crime. The audience doesn’t know the context at the start. The pieces start to get revealed as the show progresses.

How do James Bond movies start? With an action scene. In Casino Royal, the first ten minutes – the teaser – involves Bond chasing some operative in the most spectacular footrace I have ever seen. It looks like they’re in the tropics, but we don’t know where. We don’t know who the guy is who’s running from Bond. We don’t know why Bond is chasing him. This is a far cry from Dickens who would have given the dates of birth of pursued and pursuer, walked us through their grammar school days, and given the shoe size of everyone in the scene.

The teaser that launches immediate scene is now expected by audiences. When we send queries to agents, they expect immediate scene too. The slow burn is something bestselling writers can afford because they’ve already captured an audience who is more willing to give them some leeway. But if you’re starting out, stay in immediate scene as much as possible.

Matt Bayan

December Meeting

Literary Tour Highlights

As some of you know, Donna Stegman spent a month touring literarily significant sites in Europe. She slept in William Shakespeare’s pajamas, drew graffiti on Dante’s birthplace, and knocked over one of the stones at Stonehenge. That was just in the first week. For your edification, she will regale us with a brief presentation of her literary journey.

Contest Results

At our December 9th meeting, we’ll announce the winner of our short story contest. This will lead into a discussion of the consistent issues that we found in just about every entry. Think of it as expanded first pages, but we’ll be taking examples of Dos and Don’ts from beginnings, middles, and ends and reviewing them with the perspective of an editor or agent. Since the contest was anonymous, the items for discussion and feedback will remain anonymous.

First Pages 

Matt will be doing First Pages at this month’s meeting. If you’d like to participate in this month’s first pages critique with Matt Bayan, please bring in your first page. Please print the page in at least 12-point font and double-spaced. If you have more than one manuscript, feel free to bring in more than one sample. It helps if you identify the genre at the top of your page. This is anonymous, so don’t include your name.

Book Blurb Critiques

Our Communications Director, Donna Stegman will be critiquing Book Blurbs at this meeting. She will read aloud back-cover synopses submitted by members. She will give a verbal critique and get feedback from the group. Please bring a printed copy, 12-point minimum font, to hand to Donna at the beginning of the meeting. All blurbs are kept anonymous to keep biases from interfering with the critique.


A back cover synopsis/blurb is a three paragraph summary of the novel that does not tell the end of the story. It’s simple, direct, and needs to have a hook.  Whether you’ve finished your novel or are still plotting, writing an effective synopsis for your story is key to selling your novel.

Membership Renewal is Coming Up!

Your HSW membership runs from January to December of each year, no matter when you joined.  So, come January, it is due for renewal. For $25, you can enjoy all the benefits of HSW membership, including the newsletter in your inbox, critique groups, discounts or free entry to special workshops throughout the year, contest options, and more. You can submit your payment to Jay Leavitt at the December or January meetings or you can mail   check or money order to  High Sierra Writers at PO Box 7825 Reno, NV 89510.

 One benefit to being a member of the High Sierra Writer’s group is your access to join or start a critique group. So far this year 27 people have taken us up on this offer, and six new groups (some temporary) were formed.  So if you’re feeling the itch to jump on the critique bandwagon and help give your project a giant push forward, contact Critique Group Wrangler Nicole and join in on the fun!  And if you’re waiting for a group, go ahead and refresh your intent to join a group (meaning…remind me in case you fell through the proverbial crack!).  cgwrangler@highsierrawriters. org  – Nicole

As some of you already know, I recently returned from Europe…28 days, 14 TSA screenings, 5 trains, 4 tour cars, 4 water taxis, and at least a million cabs, and I watched an episode of Outlander being filmed. It was epic. Now that I’ve been home a few weeks, I’ve had a bit of time to digest what I saw and experienced.

In a freakishly fortunate turn of events, I ran into an old buddy while in Edinburgh, who just happens to own the rights to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dacre Stoker was in the U.K doing a tour on all things Dracula, Bram was born in Ireland where he started his famous novel but honed his craft in Scotland. Lucky for us, the people of Scotland have preserved his house as a museum, so I asked for a guided tour of where he wrote, From a Stoker! Yes, I was a gushing fangirl for 3 hours.

With everything I saw, smelled, and touched, you know what I found most fascinating? Next to his desk was a pile of papers under glass, all covered in doodles, yes doodles. Dogs, birds, trees, and bugs were doodled on scratch paper all over this brilliant writer’s desk. He had lists of items he needed to pick up at the market, lists of bills he needed to pay, and dates for dinner scrawled on the back of a receipt. It made me think, no matter where you are in your writing career, we daydream, we find anything to do that isn’t writing, and we doodle.

It should give us all hope that we’re not alone, even the most successful of writers can’t buckle down and get to work sometimes. Dacre thinks that it’s all part of the process, that our creative minds must wander in order to gather tidbits that make-up our imagination.

Donna Stegman

Congratulations to NaNo Writers

Several of our HSW members participated in NaNoWriMo this year. Whether you wrote 10,000 words or 100,000 words, you are a winner because you have that many more words toward your writing project. NaNo isn’t completely about the winning, but for the participation and effort. If you follow the plan, you’re writing every day and you will form the daily habit. Now continue to do it. Congratulations to each of you. Good job!

Please Update Your Information

When you change email addresses, our newsletter can’t find its way to your inbox if you don’t update your information. We use MailChimp to handle our mailing so it is easy to update from your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Simply click on “update your preferences” at the bottom of the email and edit your email address. If you don’t have access, you can always see Rene Averett at an HSW meeting and give her your updated information. Thank you.

Newsletter layout and editing by Rene Averett. Images used are from Graphics Factory or Stencil and are used with permission.
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