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Category Archives: Setting

My Favorite Hugs and Chocolate Posts

Sometimes, a hug is all what we need – Jesslee Cuizon

What a good year it’s been over here! I though that the best way for me to end off things would be to share a few of the post by the wonderful ladies I share this blog with. If any of the links go to places they shouldn’t, please let me know.

It’s been such a pleasure getting to know all of you this year. I’m giving all of you big virtual bear hugs. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring us.

It’s been an honor, ladies and gentlemen.

Jamie Raintree

My Romance With Writing

Who Cares About Writers?

Instruction Manual for a Full-Time Writer

Why Character Archetypes Aren’t Just About Commercialism

Why I Heart Scrivener for Outlining

How to NaNoWriMo During Thanksgiving

Tonia Marie Houston

Bring Your Shovel

St. Patrick and the Writer’s Trinity

Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life

33 And It Feels Divine

Give Your Characters Quirk

Synopsis Fundamentals

Heather L Reid

Learn to Love Writing Queries

Dream Big and Never Give Up: How I Landed a 2 Book Publishing Deal

The Third Perspective: Why I Love Third Person Narrative

The First Editorial Letter: Let the Revisions Begin… Again

Riding the Revision Coaster: Completing My 30 Day Deadline

Rebecca Fields

What If…

Luck of the Irish?

The Magic of Fairy Tales

A World of Ideas

Pardon Me, Social Media

Read A (Banned) Book

Courtney Koschel

Filtering Filter Words in Your Writing

Questions to ask When Hiring an Editor

I Suck Syndrome: Recognize it and Beat it

Giving and Getting the Most Out of Critiques

Common Comma Issues

Manuscript Formatting

Jani Grey

Support from the obvious places

Need a little motivation or inspiration? I have some of that for you

Personal Perspective: Why I write 1st person POV

Let me tell you why you’re a winner

The Small Things

Why the subject of your blog post is so very important

Guest Posts

Visualize Your Way to Success: Guest Post by Vaughn Roycroft

DIY Editing and Proofreading Part 1 with Karen S. Elliot

Editing, Proofreading, and a Contest with Karen S. Elliot

Pants on Fire: Guest Post by Laura Long

Guest Post by Brian Taylor: Take a Walk… On a Tightrope: One Writer’s Journey

I’ll see you next year. Have a happy and safe new year!

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Reading as a Writer

medium_302558059I read a book not too long ago. It wasn’t a good one. I don’t say that often, but I had to make myself finish this one. When I was done, I closed it and sat and thought about the what had made it almost unreadable. The plot was confusing. After the first chapter, I thought it was about a girl who was looking for her dream guy, but then the main character stated how happy she was being by herself. Her relatives thought she needed to meet someone. Okay, that could be fun, except we never met the family. The reader was told about a phone call.

I kept reading, thinking I missed something and the plot would be clear later on. I was wrong. The ideas were there, but it wasn’t pulled together. I tried to relate to the character, hoping that would keep me interested in the story. However, it’s hard to relate to a woman who’s drop dead, supermodel gorgeous and only wears designer clothes. The name dropping through the book got annoying. She was wealthy and drove a luxury SUV that one of her many admirers bought for her. She had several stunningly handsome boyfriends that she rotated between. Yes, the main character and I had a major disconnect.

The ending was anti-climactic. The main character finally succumbed to alleged familial pressure and went out on a date with the man her family had chosen. She fell madly in love and married him that weekend. There was no drama, other than when the main character had to tell her other boyfriends that she’d met someone else. There was no danger, no risk and by the time I got to the end, I wanted to throw the book across the room. So why am I telling you all this? Because the germ of a good idea was there. When I read the synopsis, I was picturing a My Big Fat Greek Wedding type story, but the author didn’t follow through. What could have been done differently?

Plot. I know plotting can be difficult. I don’t read a lot of romances and it’s usually a struggle to get through a story that doesn’t have a chase scene or unsolved murder in it, or, better yet, strange creatures wreaking havoc. Anyway. This story had none of those, but I was looking for something to read that didn’t require any thought and would just let me escape for a few hours. This story required more thought because I was constantly trying to fill in the blanks about what happened. The plot could have been as simple as: girl is looking for Mr. Right and after a series of humorous mishaps, finds him. Instead, it was: girl has perfect life and is perfectly content, but out of implied pressure, finds Mr. Perfect with no problem. Give your reader some drama. Life isn’t this easy. No, we don’t want all the gory details, but let us relate to what the character is going through.

Characters. The main character was so one dimensional it was hard to like her, much less, read an entire story about her. She had everything – unlimited money, successful business, the clothes, the shoes, the designer sunglasses, cars, apartments, vacation house, men begging for her attention, friends who adored her every move. It was unrealistic. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen, but if you want your reader to pull for your character, give her something to lose and something to work toward. Put obstacles in her way and let the reader see who she is by how she deals with these situations. Everyone has a weakness or two, characters should also. Dig deep into your character and find out who they are. All the stuff I described above was just the surface. I still don’t know who the character was and what drove her. Perhaps she wasn’t as happy with her life as she let on, but even though it was first person pov, there was nothing to indicate she wanted anything to change. Imagine going out to lunch with your character. What would you talk about? Would you want to be friends with them? What about them interests you? Show as many layers to your character as you possibly can.

Setting. The setting from this story ranged from an office, to a luxurious apartment, a glamorous party, a vacation home and then a honeymoon suite. I know that because that’s what I was told. I never got lost in the setting or pictured it in my head. Take your reader on a journey and make them feel like they’re watching from the same room or wherever they may be.

Writing sounds like the easiest job in the world. You sit down at your computer or pick up a pen and paper and write. Except it’s not that easy. All things you see and hear in your head have to come out and sometimes that’s harder than you can imagine. A reader can’t get inside your head, you have to show and tell us. Outline a clear plot and then write it. You don’t have to follow the outline exactly, but know where your story is going. Give your characters depth. Even if the reader isn’t supposed to like the character, show us why. If you find yourself with flat characters, reconsider their importance to the story. Take the reader somewhere they’ve never been before, even if it’s just a strange living room. Make them feel like they’re there.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sis/302558059/”>Sister72</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Books, Characters, Plot, Setting, Uncategorized

 

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How Reading is Important to Writing

Before my regular post today, I want to take a minute to thank Karen S. Elliot for visiting our blog last week, as well as everyone who participated in the contest to win a sample of her services. A winner was chosen at random on Random.org. From all of us, we extend our congratulations to Darlene Foster! Karen will contact you to claim your prize!

In On Writing Stephen King said, “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Clearly, Stephen King wasn’t nursing a baby twice a night and taking a toddler to the ER for stitches. These days, our responsibilities are endless. Most days, I don’t have the luxury for both reading and writing, and for a girl who has dreams of publishing one day, the writing has to get done.

Even so, I have been reading a lot more lately and I’m glad for that. I’ve discovered some incredible authors, many of which are in the genre I write, so not only does it help me relax after a long day, I feel like I’m learning a lot from those who have already successfully done what I hope to do one day. So I understand what King is trying to say. Reading is the quickest way to teach us how a story should be told.

A Lesson in Writing

For instance, last week I finished reading the book The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue by Barbara Samuel-O’Neal. (If you like Women’s Fiction, this is a must read.) It was one of those books I never wanted to end because I was so entranced with her writing style and the characters and the story. I felt completely comfortable in her world and I wanted to wrap myself up in it for just a little while longer.

Facing reality, I started working on my novel again. After reading the work of a clearly seasoned author, I was jarred because in my head my story had that same smooth tone, that same mature voice, the same character development, but somewhere on the journey from my mind to my fingers it had gotten lost in translation. Clearly, Barbara has a few more books under her belt than I do so this was a great opportunity to learn something.

Troubleshooting time.

Concerns: I was still getting comments that my main character was immature. She often felt snarky when she was supposed to be kind. I didn’t feel as rooted in the story as I would have liked. The beautiful setting in my head wasn’t landing on the page. In general, something wasn’t quite connecting.

So, what was it about The Goddesses that connected the reader (me) to the character? What could I implement in my own novel to bring it to life the way it is in my head?

Are you seeing the red flashing light I finally did? Point-of-View!

Up until recently, I used to always write in 1st person, but after reading lots of books in my genre, it seemed like everyone else wrote in 3rd person. For a while, I liked it too because it kept me from getting too wordy. But after a while, it kept me from saying much at all so that most of the time, it was impossible to know how my character was reacting and what had happened to her in the past to make her react that way. The Goddesses is written in 1st person and it gave a sense of being the character instead of just watching her. The story is also written in present tense–something I had never tried and I thought might help me sort out the past perfect tense I kept stumbling on.

Over the last week, I picked up chapter one (again!) and started from scratch, taking the same scene, but changing the POV, tense, and adding in thoughts, background, and opinions of my character. Going over this chapter again for about the tenth time in the last few months almost killed me, but I was happy about the new feel and I sent it off to my writing partners tired but satisfied.

And they were floored by the improvement. Mission accomplished.

Lessons You May Not Know You’ve Learned

It isn’t always easy to make time for reading when writing is so time consuming, but books are the blueprints for building a great story–especially a publishable story. And in this case, I think it saved mine.

Here are some other thoughts about how reading helps you become a better writer:

  • Do you ever read a book and about 50 pages in, think, it feels like it’s about time for a plot point? That’s because years of reading has taught our subconscious mind the natural beats of a story.
  • Do you ever use a word while you’re writing that you didn’t know you knew, or if you’re using it correctly, only to look it up and find out you are? That’s because reading expands our vocabulary every time we pick up a book by a new author who writes with words we’ve never heard before. Context clues implants these new words in our minds, almost without our knowledge.
  • Do you ever finish a book and feel that fluttering in your chest, that excitement? That’s because reading is what made all of us want to be storytellers in the first place. Reading books in your genre reminds you of what inspired you to write this story.

What books do you feel you’ve learned from? What are you reading now?

Photo by shutterhacks

 

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Writing in Past Perfect Tense

Naturally occurring iron springs in Telluride, Colorado.

First off, look at the gorgeous picture. I took that a few weeks ago in Telluride, Colorado. It’s naturally occurring iron springs. Stunning.

Okay, now we get into the fun stuff.

Regardless if your book is written in present tense or past tense (also referred to as simple past), there are times in your story when you’ll probably refer to something that has already happened. Sometimes a flashback is necessary to the story. When going into a flashback, or describing something that has already happened in the past, you’ll want to use the past perfect tense.

Well, when/how do you use past perfect?

Believe it or not, there’s a formula for past perfect: (had + past participle = past perfect). I’m not sure about you, but I learn better when I have an example in front of me, so here we go. I’m going to start off in past tense, go into a past perfect to describe something that has already happened, and then transition back to simple past.

Sebastian meowed over and over, trying to get my attention. He either wanted food or love. (Notice this first sentence is in simple past. The reader knows it’s in past tense, all the events that are happening in the story are told in the past.) I’d just graduated from college when I’d made the decision to get my very own cat. I’d always wanted a pound kitty. (Going into a flashback, switch to past perfect. Make sure your reader knows you’re talking about something that has already happened.)

Sebastian picked me as much as I picked him. (Here’s where it gets fun. When you go into past perfect, once you establish that it’s in the past, you switch from past perfect to simple past tense, because the word “had” becomes quite cumbersome, even when used in a contraction. The thing to remember is, when we come out of the flashback, make sure the reader is aware by, and the transition to “now” is clear.) He was such an energetic kitten. He played with my roommate’s cat and loved sitting in my window seat. Now (I’m establishing that the flashback is over, making the transition from past perfect to simple past tense), he’s (notice this is in present tense. That’s because it’s an absolute. Sebastian is still alive and kicking, therefore we use the present tense. I’ll have to do another blog post on absolutes, if you’re interested) fat and lazy, but full of personality. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hopefully that wasn’t too painful, and yes, I do love my animals an absurd amount.

The key to using past perfect is transition. You have to clue your reader in on the timeline. Make sure it’s smooth. This will eliminate confusion, and it allows you to tell more aspects of your story by using things from a character’s past.

If you have any questions, ask away, and I’ll answer in the comments.

Useful links:

This is a great article about writing effective flashbacks.

Visit this page for more past perfect examples.

 

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Training Tools – Websites for Creativity

El grito de la gaviota – Seagull Scream by Dani_vr on Flickr

I’ve wanted to use that image since I first saw it. Not sure how it applies to today’s post, but hopefully it made you smile 🙂

I’m coming off my post-Olympic high. I miss coming home and watching elite athletes fulfill their dreams. I don’t know about you, but I found it inspiring. It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling in my core. Those people worked hard, sacrificed, trained, and look where it got them. Writers aren’t that different. We have to go through a lot of the same things (but with more wine and chocolate and less laps and pushups).

Our minds are constantly being pushed, our imaginations stretched. We’re honing our craft. If you’re like me, you’ve pretty much given up sleep. Learning, we’re always learning. And what is this “free time” you speak of? Yet we do it because we love it. We have goals and dreams, and we won’t stop until we make it.

What does all this have to do with creativity? Well, as writers, creativity is kind of important to the whole process. I have a bookmarks folder titled, “Websites for Creativity,” and I thought I’d pass along some of my favorites. Think of them as training tools. (There, I totally tied this back to the Olympics 😉 Sneaky, right?)

Critters is a part of Critique.org but for horror (here’s looking at you, Brian), fantasy, and sci-fi writers. How awesome is that? It can be hard to find critique partners for genre fiction; thankfully critters helps writers connect.

Creativity Portal – If you want to read articles about creativity, and I do this sometimes to better understand the creativity process, then creativity portal is a good resource.

Easy Street Prompts – Like writing prompts? Check this one out.

Six Sentences – This website invites you to tell a story in six sentences. Kind of interesting.

Plot Scenario Generator – This is one of my new favorites. The whole website is really good.

Five Free College Level Writing & Lit Videos – Who says you have to pay to learn?

InkPageant – A collection of blog posts for writers.

80 Journal Writing Prompts – I’m a sucker for journaling and writing prompts. What more could I want?

That should be enough to keep you busy for a while. What about you? What are some of your go-to sites for creativity?

 

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Is my Novel Adult, Young Adult, New Adult….or?

First, I want to apologize for being somewhat absent. Life has been…interesting lately. I wish it were full of awesome and wonderful things, but unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Just know that I’m here, rooting for everyone, loving you all, and hoping for a better tomorrow.

Second, the picture I used for this post strikes me as funny. I don’t know why, but hopefully you’ll laugh, too.

Now that’s out of the way, I want to touch on genre and target audience. I say “touch” because this is a conversation that could go on and on.

A lot of writers don’t know what type of book they are actually writing. That’s okay! You’ve spent your time writing your book, polishing it (the important parts), and now you’re ready to send your baby out into the world. Well, how do you market it? Which agents/publishers do you target? Would you send an agent who clearly states they do not rep young adult your novel about a sixteen-year-old girl who is trying to swim through the ocean of adolescence? Probably not.

A good rule of thumb is to look at your main character’s age. Are they ten to fourteen? It’s probably middle grade. Are they fourteen to eighteen? Then you’re probably looking at a young adult audience. Let me go ahead and state that “young adult” isn’t actually a genre–it’s a marketing term. The target audience is fourteen to eighteen (although statistically, more women ages twenty to forty buy the majority of young adult books).

Well, you say, my main character is eighteen (or insert any age here), but the issues are clearly meant for an adult. This can all be a bit confusing. Look at George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones or Room by Emma Donoghue. George Martin has several main characters who fall into the young adult category, but the overall theme of the book is definitely meant for a mature audience, and it’s marketed as adult epic/high fantasy. Room is told from the point of view of a five-year-old. But it is marketed as a piece of literary fiction.

The rules aren’t crystal clear. You will have to do some research to figure out where your book best fits in the market and find which readers will best connect to your book. Knowing your genre is important, but it’s also important to write a good book. If you’ve written, workshopped, edited, rewritten, and polished until you think you can’t polish anymore–you’re going to have a good piece of fiction (or non-fiction) on your hands. People of all ages will want to buy your book because it’s a good book.

 

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A Novel Setting

The color of the sky was a stormy gray with hints of green. I could hardly tell where the sky ended and the sea began. The horizon was like one big angry mass rushing toward me. Waves threw themselves against the rocky shoreline mercilessly. I stood on the pier, feeling the icy spray soaking my bare skin and through my clothes. The water seemed determined to reach me in one way or another. I clenched my hands tighter around the wood railing and felt tiny splinters embedding themselves in my skin, but I didn’t mind. It connected me and gave me a tenuous hold on something real, something solid. My hair whipped around my face and I could smell the salty brine that had permeated the strands. I pulled my hair back with one hand and glanced over my shoulder. The trees stood back from the beach, but leaned forward in the wind, their bare gray limbs seeming to stretch toward me. Behind the front line, more trees waited. They swayed like soldiers impatient for their turn when their ranks started to fall. I turned back to face the sea. I was alone and no one could help me.

I wrote this paragraph to show how setting plays a role in stories. A strong setting can become another character in the story. Look at the Harry Potter series. Would it have been half as charming if it hadn’t been set in Hogwarts? What about Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade? The descriptions of these places made them seem real. Who wouldn’t want to visit? Or consider the Twilight series. The description of the woods and coast of Forks was so clear and such a part of the story that it’s hard to imagine this story taking place anywhere else.

The setting is where and/or when a story takes place, however, it also includes the “background noise,” such as the people and things that don’t really play a role except to establish a backdrop. Think of your story as a play. You can have the most fascinating characters and stimulating plot, but if the backdrop behind them is dull or blank the audience loses interest. No matter if you write science fiction, fantasy, contemporary or any other genre – your setting plays an integral part to your story.

A few years ago, I had the wonderful fortune of seeing the traveling Broadway production of Wicked. Before it started you could see the backdrop of the Clock of the Time Dragon. It was exactly as its name suggests – a huge clock with a dragon and its open leathery wings perched on top. To say I was fascinated before the lights dimmed is an understatement. Does this mean you have to have a giant clock and dragon on the first page of your story to snare a reader’s interest? No (though it never hurts, in my book). It just shows the power of setting.  If I’d sat down in the theater and there was nothing but a white screen, I can guarantee I wouldn’t have made it through the almost three hour performance.

You can be descriptive and place your readers into the story without overwhelming them in detail or bogging the flow of your story down. If I’m reading a story that goes into a description which spans several pages, I skip ahead. Learning to balance your setting description while keeping your story moving takes time and lots of practice. There are tons of books, websites, and articles that can give you a thousand different ways to create the perfect setting and I recommend you read as many as you can. However, once you’ve read some craft books, the best way to get better is to keep writing. Ask questions of your own work and when you’re able to answer them, offer your work to others to read and have them ask questions. No one writes perfectly. There is no such thing as a perfect first or even second draft. Okay. The words perfect and draft don’t even belong in the same sentence. My suggestion to help you create a fantastic setting? Keep reading craft books, attend classes if you’re able, but above all – keep writing.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Craft, Setting, Writing

 

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