My Writing Life #amwriting

Someone recently suggested I write a post on the evolution of me as an author, so here it is.

MyWritingLife2021BFrom my earliest childhood, I always thought of myself as a writer. I just didn’t know how to write anything longer than a poem or a song in such a way that it was readable.

Most evenings, I listened to music on the stereo, writing my thoughts and ideas in a notebook while my kids did their homework.

My pen and ink ramblings weren’t “writing” as I see it now. They were more like frameworks to hold ideas that later became full-fledged stories.

Then, in 1987, my father bought me a secondhand IBM Selectric Typewriter, and my writing addiction took off.

For most of my writing life, I was like a five-year-old with a new set of paints. My enthusiasm for my stories was far greater than my ability to tell them.

I didn’t have the information I needed to make my work readable and didn’t know how to get it.

I felt embarrassed for even thinking that I could be an author.

orson_scott_card_write_scifi_fantasyOne day in 1990, I stumbled upon a book offered in the Science Fiction Book Club catalog: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. The day that book arrived in my mailbox changed my life.

I could become an author, and one of my favorite writers was going to tell me how to do it.

In the years since that book, I have amassed a library of books on the craft. Some are brilliant, some not so much, but I always learn something from them.

However, personal experience is a great teacher, and I’ve learned many things by trial and error.

So here in no particular order are six things I would like to pass on to you:

One: Make a style sheet as you go.

Build a glossary of words and spellings unique to your story and especially be sure to list names. I use an Excel spreadsheet, but you can use anything you like to help you stay consistent in your spelling.

And even though I think I am developing a thorough glossary, my editor will find many words to add to it.

Two: Develop a logical, consistent system for naming your files and save regularly.

Save each version of your manuscript with a different name so you can go back and retrieve bits you may need later. I use a system like this:


That stands for Heaven’s Altar version five, and I work out of Word, so the extension is automatically a docx.

chicago guide to grammarThree: Find a local group of writers to meet with and talk about the craft.

Critique groups are great, but they are only one small part of the picture. Authors need to network with other authors because we need to discuss the craft with someone who doesn’t look at you with glazed eyes.

I gained a wonderful local group through attending write-ins for NaNoWriMo before the pandemic. While we haven’t been able to have in person meetings for a while, we meet weekly via zoom. They are a never-ending source of support and information about both the craft and the industry. We are a group of authors writing in a wide diversity of genres. We gladly help each other bring new books into the world, but more than that, we are good, close friends.

Four: Never stop educating yourself.

Learn how to say what you mean with your unique voice and your personal style. A college education is an expense we might not be able to wrangle. But you can buy books on grammar, books on style and substance, and books on writing craft.

Learn about structure and pacing from successful authors. Every coin you invest in your education will be returned to you with interest when your story makes a reader say they wished it hadn’t ended.

Self-education requires perseverance and a small investment of money, but you can do it.

storybyrobertmckeeSpend the money to go to conventions and attend seminars. You will learn so much about the craft of writing, the genre you write in, and the publishing industry as a whole—things you can only learn from other authors. I gained an extended professional network by joining The Pacific Northwest Writers Association and going to their conferences.

Five: Don’t even consider signing with the slick-talking publisher that contacts you out of the blue.

How can a publisher possibly want work they haven’t seen?

Make use of SFWA’s Writer Beware site. These predators want your work all right—and want to sell you publishing services you can do for yourself. You won’t benefit from the predator publisher’s “services,” but they will profit from your desperation to be published. They will publish your work in its raw unedited form, and you will never see a dime.

300px-Astound5006Six: My final suggestion is this: even though you are writing that novel, keep writing short stories too.

Short stories are a training ground, a way to hone your developing skills. They’re also the best way to get your name out there. My advice is to build a backlog of work from 2000 to 5000 words in length and keep them ready to submit to magazines, anthologies, and contests.

All those fabulous scenes and vignettes that roll through your head can be made into short pieces.

Get the Submittable App and see who is asking for the kind of stories you write. Start submitting your work, and don’t let rejections stop you. Just keep sending that work out to new places because someone will want it.

These are a few things that I wish I had known when I first started writing professionally but didn’t.


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The garden-path sentence #amwriting

As NaNoWriMo winds down, I am preparing to face a manuscript full of wandering, garbled sentences. These are the products of my fingers not being able to keep up with my brain. I might know what that sentence means, but my editor won’t. My job in December is to be alert and watch for ambiguous phrasings.

MyWritingLife2021About garden-path sentences, via Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge:

(The term) garden path refers to the saying “to be led down the garden path,” meaning to be deceived, tricked, or seduced.

After reading, the sentence seems ungrammatical and makes almost no sense, requiring rereading to fully understand its meaning after careful parsing.” [1]

In this case, confusion arises because we attempt to understand sentences as we are reading them. The “garden-path sentence” begins by taking you toward a particular destination. Midway through, it takes a turn for the bizarre.

There are two types of garden-path sentences.  The first is a “local ambiguity,” meaning it can be cleared up easily with the addition of a word or punctuation, such as:

“The raft floated down the river sank.” Add one word to make it clear: “The raft that floated down the river sank.”

“We told the man the dog bit a medic could help him.” Add two words for clarity: “We told the man whom the dog bit that a medic could help him.”

Wikipedia offers this example: “The old train the young fight.” Adding a comma reads: “The old train, the young fight.” The addition of the comma makes sense of the words. One could also argue that the sentence means “The old train the young to fight.”

The other type of garden-path sentence is “globally ambiguous” because the meaning stays unclear no matter how many times you reread it when it is taken out of context.

A sentence should be understandable even when removed from its context. Wikipedia offers the sentence: “The cat was found by the shed by the gardener.”

Hydrangea_cropped_July_11_2017_copyright_cjjasperson_2017 copyWhen I have asked a beta reader to read a section of my work, they sometimes flag a paragraph as unclear. It might make perfect sense to me, but if I am the only one who understands it, it’s time to tear that paragraph down to see if each sentence can stand on its own.

Sara’s missing cat was found by the shed by the gardener. Mittens was frightened and hungry but safe.

Let’s break that paragraph down sentence by sentence:

  • Sara’s missing cat was found by the shed by the gardener.
  • Mittens was frightened and hungry but safe.

The first sentence is passive and ambiguous, open to interpretation. Was the cat by the shed? Or was the shed by the gardener? Or were the cat and the gardener both next to the shed?

Once I’ve taken it out of context, it’s easy to see why the reader didn’t understand it.

Usually, a simple rewording to make my phrasing more active is all that is required.

The gardener found Sara’s cat near the shed. Mittens was frightened and hungry but safe.

Often, a new author has been criticized for using the relative pronoun ‘that’ too freely. Thin-skinned and bleeding profusely, they will go to any length to avoid using the word that, which can lead to awkwardly phrased sentences.

Relative pronouns have a fundamental place in English. While it’s easy to turn them into crutch words, they are essential words that make nouns specific.

  • That dog bites, so watch out.
  • Harry Potter was the boy who lived.

The way to resolve the garden-path sentence is to:

  • Insert a relative pronoun (such as “that” or “who”) for clarity.
  • Insert proper punctuation for clarity.
  • Reword the sentence to make the prose active.

Readers want to read without bumps and hiccups. Anytime they have to stop and reread something, you risk losing them. Sentences that are ambiguous stop the eye, which throws the reader out of the story.

Clementines_Astoria_White_Hydrangea2019I don’t want to introduce vagueness into my work. Just because I like what I wrote doesn’t mean it has to stay in the finished product. Maybe I don’t see that it’s confusing, but my friends who read my raw manuscripts will.

Every time I participate in NaNoWriMo and then take that manuscript through revisions, my first draft skills become a little stronger. I write stronger sentences in my first drafts and have to make fewer changes, which feels like a victory.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Garden-path sentence,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 28

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#FineArtFriday: Saint Cecilia, by Edward Burne-Jones (revisited)

Saint Cecilia is the patroness of musicians, and her feast day is traditionally celebrated on November 22. The above image is my favorite rendering of her, as it is so vividly colored.

One of the most beautiful forms of art is stained glass, and the many works of Sir Edward Burne-Jones has inspired and influenced my own art.

While I have no patience with some of the more hyper-romanticized, physically impossible art produced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the  concept and execution of Burne-Jones’s artistic visions in glass is without peer. Vivid, intense colors, romantic subjects – each of his windows tells a story. They are glorious, and seem illuminated even when not back-lit by the sun.

About Saint Cecilia, From Wikimedia Commons:

One of nearly thirty versions of a window designed by Burne-Jones and executed by the company founded by William Morris (1834–1896), Saint Cecilia is a product of the Arts and Crafts movement they initiated. Friends at Oxford, Morris and Burne-Jones became disciples of John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelite movement and put into practice his vision for the renewal of art. They sought to counter the effects of the machine age by reviving medieval crafts, abolishing distinctions between fine and decorative arts, and beautifying objects of everyday life. Morris wrote on the philosophy of art and founded a company to execute textiles, wallpaper, and other objects, while Burne-Jones, in addition to painting and sculpting, studied with the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and designed murals, tapestries, and stained glass for Morris’s company.

The Gothic Revival style in architecture created a market for stained glass, especially in the 1870s, when Burne-Jones was a particularly prolific designer of windows. The first Saint Cecilia window, at Christ Church, Oxford (1875), shows the influence of the early Renaissance art he had seen in central Italy, most recently in 1871. The flat, abstracted, linear style and the wilting pose of the impossibly tall, graceful woman make reference to the work of Botticelli (Florentine, ca. 1445–1510), while the tapestry-like screen of pomegranate trees and fruits and the richly patterned brocade fabric recall the latest Gothic phase of Italian art, about 1400.

Saint Cecilia, an early Christian Roman virgin martyr, became the patron saint of music and was portrayed with an organ — here, a portable organ of the fifteenth century. Although water organs existed in the ancient world, pipe organs date from the fourteenth century, so we must assume Cecilia is singing the praises of God in heaven, not during her earthly life. In the window at Christ Church, she is flanked by lancet windows with music-making angels; scenes from the life of a fellow martyr saint, Valerian, and her own martyrdom are shown below. In Chicago, a Saint Cecilia window was included in the stained glass of the Second Presbyterian Church (1904); there, the fabric behind the saint is blue, and the tree bears lemons, demonstrating the permutations that could occur among these windows.

About the artist, from Wikipedia:

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet ARA (28 August 1833 – 17 June 1898) was an English artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris on a wide range of decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Burne-Jones was closely involved in the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass art in Britain.

Credits and Attributions:

Saint Cecilia, Edward Burne-Jones [Public domain], Stained and painted glasss, ca. 1900

Wikipedia contributors, “Edward Burne-Jones,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 16, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Burne-Jones, Sir Edward, Saint Cecilia, ca. 1900.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,,_Sir_Edward,_Saint_Cecilia,_ca._1900.jpg&oldid=303427881 (accessed November 16, 2018).


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The Surface of the Story #amwriting

One of my favorite places to walk is McLane Creek Nature Trail. Within that nature reserve is a large beaver pond, with several accessible, easy-to-walk trails that wind around the pond and through the woods.

McLaine_Pond_In_July_©_2018_ConnieJJapsersonStrolling along, watching the birds and animals that make their homes there grounds me. When we leave, I feel spiritually rested, more rooted in the earth, stronger and at peace with myself. It is a serene place, a place of stillness and calm.

The pond is always fascinating. When you watch the water, you can see the effects of the world around it reflected on its surface. On a windless day, the pool will be calm, still. The sky and any overhanging trees will be reflected in it.

When a storm blows in, things change. The waters move, and ripples and small waves stir things up. The waters turn dark, reflecting the stormy sky.

Just like the surface of a pond, the surface of a story is the what-you-see-is-what-you-get layer. It conceals what lurks in the depths but offers a few small clues as to what lies below.

This layer is comprised of

  • Genre
  • Setting
  • Action and interaction
  • All visual/physical experiences of the characters as they go about their lives.

Genre determines the shelf in the bookstore: General Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Children’s books—those labels tell the reader what sort of story to expect.

I see the surface of a story as if it were a picture. At first glance, we see something recognizable. The all-encompassing shell of a story is the setting. The setting is comprised of things such as:

  1. Objects the characters see in their immediate environment
  2. Ambient sounds.
  3. Odors and scents.
  4. Objects the characters interact with.
  5. Weapons (swords, guns, phasers)

The still, reflective surface of a pond is affected by the breeze that stirs it. In the case of our novel, the breeze that stirs things up is made of action and emotion. These are the structural events that form the arc of the story:

  1. The opening.
  2. The inciting incident.
  3. Rising action and events that evolve from the inciting incident.
  4. The introduction of new characters.
  5. The action that occurs between the protagonist and antagonist as they jockey for position.
  6. The final showdown

Depth_word_cloud (50 words)-page-001The components that form the visual layer appear to be the story. However, once a reader wades in, they discover unsuspected depths.

We shape this layer through world-building. We can add fantasy elements, or we can stick to as real an environment as is possible.

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll showed us how an author might play with the setting by incorporating an unusual juxtaposition of objects and animals. The characters behave and interact with their environment as if the bizarre things are normal. The setting has a slightly hallucinogenic feel, making the reader wonder if the characters are dreaming.

Yet, in the Alice stories, the placement of the unusual objects is deliberate, meant to convey a message or to poke fun at a social norm.

Most Sci-fi and some fantasy novels are set in recognizable worlds, very similar to where we live. The settings are familiar, so close to what we know, we could be in that world. That is where good world-building creates a literal layer that is immediately accepted by the reader.

Setting, action, interaction—these most obvious superficial components are the framework that supports the deeper aspects of the story.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543The real story is how our characters interact and react to stresses within the overall framework of the environment and plot. Depth is found in the lessons the characters learn as they live through the events. Depth manifests in the changes of viewpoint and evolving differences in how they see themselves and the world.

Creating depth in our story requires thought and rewriting, but in the last week of NaNoWriMo, we are just trying to get the world built and the events in order. The first draft gives us the surface. We have an idea of what lies below, but at this point, all we are concerned with is getting the structure of the story down, and the characters in place with their personalities.

The true depths and emotions are yet to be discovered but will begin to reveal themselves in the second draft, sometime in December or January. That is when the real writing begins.

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The Credible Antagonist #amwriting

We are 21 days into November and NaNoWriMo. To this point, we have been writing a story around our hero. We have an idea of what they must overcome, but it may not be fully formed just yet.

depth-of-characterWho is the enemy, the true architect of that conflict? At this point, we may have a name, but who are they really?

It’s time to consider the opposition. Every hero needs an adversary, the evil that can take many forms. The evil that must be surmounted will be different in every story because it is up to you.

In some stories, an enemy is someone who stands in the protagonist’s way, blocking them from achieving their goal.

Other times, self-deceptions and inner conflicts frustrate the protagonist. After all, we’re usually our own worst enemy.

In this scene from my 2020 novel, Julian Lackland, Huw and Jack have cornered Beau, voicing their concerns about Lackland’s ability to continue as King Henri’s Lord Commander:

Huw refused to let go of his animosity. “It has to be Lackland then, but he’d better have all his wits about him. If anything happens to Culyn because Lackland has lost his mind, I’ll never forgive you.”

Julian_Lackland Cover 2019 for Bowkers“God! You honestly believe I’m stupid.” Despite his anger, Beau kept his voice low. “There’s no reasoning with you. You’re convinced I’m besotted and Julian is barking mad. Get out of my way! I feel like hurting you.” He pushed past Huw, saying, “Go home, since you have so little faith in me.” He opened the door, intending to leave.

“Beau,” Jack’s quiet voice called after him. “Come back. Let’s bury this now. I wanted to hear what you had to say because I’m a father. I worry about my boys.” [1]

The great enemy that Julian Lackland faces is his internal conflict and how his subsequent breakdown affects the people who love him.

If the enemy is a person, they always believe they are the heroes. In your story, what are their justifications for that belief?

When we create an antagonist, we take what is negative about a character and take it one step further, hiding it behind a lie.

This is where I like to get wordy: first, we assign the enemy a noun that tells us who they think they are: Good.

Once we know why they think they are the heroes, we assign them the noun that says who the protagonist believes they are: Evil.

The antagonist in a current work in progress is Coran. He is a complicated character. His story begins in abject poverty. Through his desire to climb out of that abyss at any cost, it will end tragically.

To further complicate life for our hero, we can go two routes when creating the antagonist. One way is to allow one of the characters to make choices that ultimately harm them, which is how I am going with Coran, allowing him to gradually become the visible antagonist.

Another way is to take the negative that is directed outward and turn it into an inner demon, which I did in the previous book of this series with my protagonist, Ivan. He had two enemies to fight, one was someone he loved but was forced to reject, and the other was himself.

This time, Ivan and Kai share an inner enemy—the deep desire to return home to their children and the growing fear that it won’t happen.

The MArtian Andy WeirIn other stories, there is the nebulous antagonist. This could be the faceless behemoth of corporate greed, characterized by one or two representatives who may be portrayed as caricatures. In some cyberpunk tales, the antagonists tend to be goons-in-suits. In hard sci-fi, they might be members of the military or scientists. Andy Weir in The Martian made the planet of Mars the antagonist.

In fantasy, the nebulous antagonist might be a powerful queen/king or sorcerer whose forces/minions the protagonist must defeat. The mind behind the conflict is a person they might not actually meet. How the protagonist reacts internally to the threat posed by the machinations of those distant antagonists is the story.

Emotion makes the risk feel genuine to the reader, gives it life. To show great evil in genre fiction, we take that which is negative to an extreme and show the emotion of that experience.

I should say that while I do write some dark scenes, I don’t write horror, so I can’t speak to that, exactly. However, I can speak to the perception of corruption, and the evil humans are capable of that sometimes horrifies us.

For a reader, perception and imagination are everything. As children, what we infer from the visible evidence in a dark room after the lights have been turned out can be terrifying.

The formless monster that lurks in the corner terrifies us until we discover the truth—it is only several toys piled there and never put away.

As adults, what we infer from the visible evidence in a dark story can be equally terrifying. Thus, you can write dark scenes but don’t have to be utterly graphic.

No matter how right the cause, war is an evil that is difficult to make sympathetic and shouldn’t be. But sometimes, war, a faceless blob of evil, is the right villain for the narrative.

What single word (and its synonyms) can characterize our antagonist? An example is the word perversion. We tend to think of it as referring only to sexual deviancy, but it has many meanings and uses. Its synonyms are corruption, corruptness, debasement, debauchery, decadence, decadency, degeneracy, distortion.

We view the antagonist through the protagonist’s eyes, so coloring the enemy with a perception of perversion (distortion, corruption) drives home the evil they represent.

Someone—and I wish I could remember who—said a few years ago in a seminar that the author is the character’s attorney, not their judge.

This is an important distinction. Credible villains become evil for sympathetic reasons. They care intensely, obsessively about something or someone. It is our job to make those deeply held justifications the driving force behind their story.

scienceA true villain is motivated, logical in their reasoning, and is utterly convinced of their moral high ground. They are creatures of emotion and have a backstory. As the author and their lawyer, you must know what their narrative is if you want to increase the risk for the protagonist.

As always, the reader doesn’t need to wade through an info dump, but you, the author, need to know those details. Having this backstory to draw on will make your characters easier to flesh out.

But more importantly, you will know what is at stake for your antagonist and how much they are willing to sacrifice for it.

And every word you write detailing the enemy’s background and view of themselves counts toward your goal of 50,000 words by November 30th.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from Julian Lackland, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2020 Myrddin Publishing Group. Used by permission.

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#FineArtFriday: Romantic Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by a Castle, by Albert Bredow (reprise)

I love the dreamscape quality of this painting – it’s practically a Christmas card. Peasants, ordinary people living in the shadow of the ruined castle, freely enjoying the day. To look at this picture is to see a fairy tale that wants to be told. Who are these people and why do they live there? What is their connection to the ruined castle? And what is their connection to each other?

The trees, the ice, the snow–the detail is all there, even the warmth of the peasant’s hut. It’s a comforting picture, a moment of contentment.

About the Artist:

Little is known of Albert Bredow’s life. Born Apr 23, 1828 in Germany, and died May 5, 1899 in Moscow, he was well known as a landscape painter, lithographer and stage designer.

From this painting, which is dated near the end of his life, we know he was a romantic, fond of fantasy and fairy tales.

His birthplace in Germany and where he first studied art and set design are unknown. Records do show that he lived and worked in Riga as a stage designer from around 1852 and then in Tallinn. In 1856 he went to Moscow at the invitation of the Directorate of the Imperial Theater. He worked from 1856 to 1862 as a set designer for the Moscow Theater and from 1862 to 1871 the Petersburg Theater.

He is known for his ethereal landscape paintings, which may have been a hobby he pursued more intently later in life since he was actively employed in the theater during his working years. His style of landscape painting must have produced some amazing backdrops for the sets he designed.

In 1863, illustrations of his stage sets for Glinka’s opera “A Life for the Tsar” were considered worthy enough to be published as an album. In 1868 he began his studies at the Petersburg Imperial Art Academy. At the Academy’s art exhibitions, he exhibited his landscapes from Germany and Russia.

The designs of Albert Bredow’s stage sets are in the collection of the Moscow Bachruschin Theater Museum.

Credits and Attributions

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Albert Bredow – Romantic Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by a Castle.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed December 7, 2018).

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Research and Development #amwriting

I love learning how other authors work. I recently watched a 2015 podcast, Adam Savage Interviews ‘The Martian’ Author Andy Weir – The Talking Room. This is a fabulous interview, where Andy explains his intense research for the bestseller, The Martian, and his writing process.

The MArtian Andy WeirAndy Weir is genuinely a nice person and is the best example of an inadvertent teacher that I’ve ever seen. This interview is a brilliant seminar on how to research and plot a book. He writes hard sci-fi with a heart, but the principles of creation are the same for any genre.

If you haven’t read The Martian, I have to say it is my favorite sci-fi novel of all time. DO PLEASE watch that interview—his method of writing and researching is genius.

Targeted research is crucial if you want your fiction to be plausible. Identify what you want to know, use the internet, ask an expert, and create a searchable file or database of information that backs up your assertions.

Once you establish the technological era you are writing in, you know what you need to research and how theoretical your narrative may need to be.

Here are some of my go-to sources of information. I’ve published this list before, but here it is again:

If you seek information about low-tech societies (the past):

My best source of information on low-tech agricultural (farm) life and culture comes from a book I found at a second-hand book store in Olympia in the mid-to-late-1980s. Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley is still available as a second-hand book and can be found on Amazon. This textbook was meticulously researched and illustrated by a historian who personally knew the people she wrote about.

I also discover a lot of information on how people once lived from the art found at Wikimedia Commons. Under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830), you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters, artists living in what is now The Netherlands.

These painters created accurate records of ordinary people going about everyday life. Their genre art depicts how they dressed and what was important to them in their daily lives.

Looking things up on the internet can suck up an enormous amount of your writing time. Do yourself a favor and bookmark your resources, so all you have to do is click on a link to get the information you want. Then you can quickly get back to writing.

Resources to bookmark in general:

www.Thesaurus.Com (What’s another word that means the same as this but isn’t repetitive?)

Oxford Dictionary (What does this word mean? Am I using it correctly?)

Wikipedia (The font of all knowledge. I did not know that.)

oxford_dictionaryTED Talks are a fantastic resource for information on current and cutting-edge technology.

ZDNet Innovation is an excellent source of existing tech and future tech that may become current in 25 years.

Tech Times is also a great source of ideas.

Nerds on Earth is a source of valuable information about swords and how they were used historically.

If you are writing a contemporary novel, you need to know what interests the people in the many different layers of our society. Go to the magazine rack at your grocery store or the local Big Name Bookstore and peruse the many publications available to the reading public. You can find everything from mushroom hunting, to culinary, to survivalist, to organic gardening. If people are interested in it, there is a magazine for it. An incredible amount of information can be found in these publications.

We all agree that while the early pioneers of science fiction got so much of our modern reality right, they also got it wrong. So, we can only extrapolate how societies will look in the future by taking what we know is possible today and mixing it with a heavy dose of what we wish for.



Digital Trends

If you write sci-fi, you must read sci-fi as that is where the ideas are. Much of what was considered highly futuristic in the era of classic science fiction is today’s current tech.

Ion drives and space stations are our reality but were only a dream when science fiction was in its infancy.

Think about it: your Star Trek communicator is never far from your side, and your teenagers won’t put theirs down long enough to eat dinner.

sample-of-rough-sketched-mapMAPS: If you are writing a story set in our real world, your characters will be traveling in places that exist in reality. You want to write the landmarks of a particular city as they should be, so bookmark google maps for that city. Even if you live there, make sure you write it correctly because readers will let you know where you have gone wrong.

GOOGLE EARTH is your friend, so use it!

If you are writing about a fantasy world, quickly sketch a rough map. Refer to it to ensure the town names and places remain the same from the first page to the last. Update it as new locations are added.

Please, make sure your literary murders are done in a way that doesn’t fly in the face of logic. Do the research on poisons, knife wounds, and consider all the possible reasons why that particular murder wouldn’t work in reality. Then write a murder that does work.

Talk to police, talk to doctors, talk to lawyers–many are willing to help you with your quest for accuracy about their professions. Also, you can Google just about anything. Fads, fashion, phone tech, current robotics tech, automobile tech—it’s all out there.

We may be writers of fiction, but we are also disseminators of information and dreams. It’s a big responsibility!

Do the proper research, target it to your needs, and don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by the many bunny trails that lead you away from actually writing.



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About foreshadowing #amwriting

Today marks the halfway point for NaNoWriMo 2021. Many writers are working on the first draft of a new manuscript. Others are revising last year’s novel and rearranging the story’s events and writing new scenes.

NaNoWriMoMemeForeshadowing is integral to a well-plotted story.

Those of us who have been working from an outline may have included some in the planning stage. For authors who wing it, this happens on a subconscious level, but it does happen.

But what is foreshadowing? It is the subtle warning that all is not what it seems, a few clues embedded in the first quarter of the story to subliminally alert the reader that things may not go well for the protagonist. We include small warning signs of future events, bait, if you will, to lure the reader and keep them reading.

In the first draft, we commit certain sins of craftsmanship, road signs for us to examine in the second draft:

  1. Clumsy foreshadowing, baldly stating what is going to happen later.
  2. Neglecting to foreshadow so that events arrive out of nowhere.

Recognizing those signals can be a challenge, but that is where writing craft comes into play.

When a possibility is briefly, almost offhandedly mentioned, but almost immediately overlooked or ignored by the protagonists, that is a form of foreshadowing.

Some readers will miss the suggested possibility just as the unsuspecting characters do. Other readers will guess what is going on.

If the narrative is well-written, readers will stick with it as they will want to see how it plays out.

We are subtle with foreshadowing because we want readers to feel surprised when all the pieces fall into place. We want to reward the reader with a moment when they can say, “I should have seen that coming.”

Now is an opportune time to hone our foreshadowing skills. This helps avoid using the clumsy Deus Ex Machina (pronounced: Day-us ex Mah-kee-nah) (God from the Machine) as a way to miraculously resolve an issue.

  • A Deus Ex Machina occurs when, toward the end of the narrative, an author inserts a new event, character, ability, or otherwise resolves a seemingly insoluble problem in a sudden, unexpected way.
  • Foreshadowing also helps us avoid the opposite ungainly device, the Diabolus Ex Machina (Demon from the machine). This is the bad guy’s counterpart.

When an author suddenly realizes the evil his character faces isn’t evil enough, we may see the sudden introduction of an unexpected new event, character, ability, or weapon. The intent is to ensure things suddenly get much worse for the protagonists, but it falls flat.

As a reader, I hate it when a character suddenly gets a new skill or knowledge without explanation. When this happens, it’s usually explained away as a Chekhov’s Skill.

A casual mention early on of the characters using or training that skill will resolve the situation. Without briefly foreshadowing that ability, the reader will assume the character doesn’t have it.

This is when the narrative becomes unbelievable.

Literature and the expectations of the reader are like everything else. Tastes evolve and change over the centuries.

In genre fiction today, a prologue may not be a place for foreshadowing. This is because modern readers don’t have the patience to wade through large chunks of exposition dumped in the first pages of a novel.

DickseeRomeoandJulietI often refer to the way that Shakespeare used both exposition and foreshadowing. In his works, more significant events are foreshadowed through the smaller events that precede them.

Let’s look at Romeo and Juliet and the scene where Benvolio tries to talk Romeo out of his infatuation with Rosaline.

“Take thou some new infection to thy eye,

And the rank poison of the old will die.” 

In other words, “Bro, the minute you see a different girl, you’ll forget this one.”

Benvolio’s advice proves correct because as soon as Romeo lays eyes on Juliet, he forgets his obsession with Rosaline and is fixated on his mortal enemy’s daughter.

And again, later, when Benvolio brings the news that Mercutio is dead, Romeo says,

“This day’s black fate on more days doth depend; 

This but begins the woe, others must end.”

Romeo predicts that Mercutio’s death is only the beginning, that disaster looms for everyone. He feels as if he is racing toward an unknown future.

William_Shakespeare_-_First_Folio_1623In that moment, we see that Romeo is deeply aware that he has reached a point of no return.

He will fight Tybalt to avenge Mercutio because his society requires it. Therefore, he must duel but is fully aware that killing Tybalt won’t resolve anything. Instead, the murder will only perpetuate the problem.

Romeo has seen the foreshadowing and knows he is no longer in control of his fate.

Inserting slight hints of what is to come into your narrative gives the protagonists an indication of where to go next.

It tantalizes a reader and keeps them turning the page, and that is our goal.

Credits and Attributions

Romeo and Juliet, by Frank Bernard Dicksee, 1884 Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

First Folio of William Shakespeare’s Plays, 1623 by William Shakespeare, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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#FineArtFriday: The Emerald Pool, Worthington Whittredge, 1868 reprise

About this image:

“The Emerald Pool” is also titled “Woods of Ashokan” and is a gloriously composed representation of an Autumn afternoon in the quiet woods. Sunlight is the core element here, in the way it filters through the leaves and touches branch and trunk, and then reflects from the pool.

The trees look very much like those that would have existed in parts of the woods near the house I grew up in, places where the evergreens had been cut and maples, alder, and ash could grow. Sun filters through the leaves which have turned colors but still remain on the trees. A few small firs struggle to grow in the deciduous forest, but one day those firs will cast a wide, dark shadow and the sunlit glade will be no more.

A pheasant (I think?) poses for his portrait, bringing the center focus of the painting to the calm pool beneath the log he stands on. The pool is masterfully shown, its waters rippling as if touched by a slight breeze, reflecting the scene above.


ABOUT THE ARTIST (From Wikipedia): Thomas Worthington Whittredge (May 22, 1820 – February 25, 1910) was an American artist of the Hudson River School. Whittredge was a highly regarded artist of his time, and was friends with several leading Hudson River School artists including Albert Bierstadt and Sanford Robinson Gifford. He traveled widely and excelled at landscape painting, many examples of which are now in major museums. He served as president of the National Academy of Design from 1874 to 1875 and was a member of the selection committees for the 1876 PhiladelphiaCentennial Exposition and the 1878 Paris Exposition, both important venues for artists of the day.

Artist:  Worthington Whittredge  (1820–1910)

Title:   The Emerald Pool

Date    1868

Medium          oil on canvas

Dimensions     Height: 144.8 cm (57 in); Width: 102.9 cm (40.5 in)

Current location: Chrysler Museum of Art

Credits and Attributions

This is the reprint of a post that first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy September 14, 2018.

Wikipedia contributors, “Worthington Whittredge,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed September 13, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Thomas Worthington Whittredge – Woods of Ashokan.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed September 13, 2018).


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Mood and atmosphere #amwriting

I refuse to self-edit my first drafts, especially during NaNoWriMo, so the prose in my current work is less than stellar. Because I am inventing the story as I write it, the early drafts for all my work are littered with ‘ly’ words and other telling words.

MyWritingLife2021Once the first draft is a complete novel, I will step away from it for a few weeks and work on other projects. Then when I come back to it, I use the global search (find option) to look for each instance of ‘ly’ words and rewrite those sentences to make them active.

Active prose injects impact into the narrative, but the first draft is littered with telling instead of showing, because I am telling myself the story.

I’ve said many times that words are the colors we use to show entire worlds. I am always looking for ways to use words for better impact.

Every idea for a novel comes to me with an idea for the overall mood, and that mood can be described with a word. Sometimes though, that word is difficult to identify.

I make use of the thesaurus. This is where you will find words to describe mood and atmosphere, along with synonyms and antonyms, words with the opposite meaning.

I make a new storyboard for every story I write. Once I know what the story I intend to write is, I go out and look for the words that will help jar my imagination, words that convey the mood and atmosphere that I want to instill in my work.

I include the list of mood words in the storyboard file so that I have them on hand.

It speeds up the writing process if I have a supply of descriptors to draw on to build my world without having to stop and look things up. It also helps me avoid crutch-words.

For the cash strapped author, the Merriam-Webster online thesaurus is your best friend.

You will find many words, some of which are uncommon. Do yourself a favor and choose words that most readers with an average education won’t have to stop and look up.

For example, if you are writing something with a Gothic mood, your inspiration word could be ominous. It is an adjective that conveys the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen. The word ominous brings other dark thoughts to mind.

ozford-american-writers-thesaurusSynonyms for ominous that we could use: baleful, dire, direful, foreboding, ill, ill-boding, inauspicious, menacing, portentous, sinister, threatening.

Related words to subtly reinforce the mood: black, bleak, cheerless, chill, cloudy, cold, comfortless, dark, darkening, depressing, depressive, desolate, dim, disconsolate, dismal, drear, dreary, forlorn, funereal, gloomy, glum, godforsaken, gray/grey, lonely, lonesome, miserable, morbid, morose, murky, plutonian, saturnine, sepulchral, somber/sombre, sullen, sunless, threatening, wretched.

Other related words: discouraging, disheartening, hopeless, unfavorable, unpromising, unpropitious, ill-fated, ill-starred, star-crossed, troubled, unfortunate, unlucky, evil, malign, malignant.

Antonyms for ominous, opposites I can use to provide contrast, so the overall mood and atmosphere is made more explicit: unthreatening.

Near Antonyms for ominous: auspicious, benign, bright, encouraging, favorable, golden, heartening, hopeful, promising, propitious, prosperous.

Toward the end of my work, I want things to feel hopeful. So, we might want to research the word auspicious the same way we did ominous.

Auspicious: having qualities that inspire hope or pointing toward a happy outcome.

Synonyms for auspicious: bright, encouraging, fair, golden, heartening, hopeful, likely, optimistic, promising, propitious, rose-colored, roseate, rosy, upbeat.

Words related to auspicious: cheering, comforting, reassuring, soothing, assured, confident, decisive, doubtless, positive, sure, unhesitating, favorable, good.

Antonyms for auspicious: bleak, dark, depressing, desperate, discouraging, disheartening, dismal, downbeat, dreary, gloomy, hopeless, inauspicious, pessimistic, unencouraging, unlikely, unpromising.

Near Antonyms for auspicious: cheerless, comfortless, doubtful, dubious, uncertain, grim, negative, unfavorable, funereal, glum, gray/grey, miserable, wretched.

But you can do the same for any word that conveys mood:

Humorous, mysterious—you see what I mean. The overall mood-word you choose for your work will have many synonyms and antonyms and you can use them to your advantage.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543If you are writing any kind of genre work, the best way to use your descriptors is to find the word that conveys the atmosphere you want with the most force. That word will help you visualize the scene and enable your ability to spew the story.

I refuse to self-edit my first drafts, so my prose in my first drafts is sometimes a mess. Because I am thinking out loud as I write them, the early drafts for all my work are littered with ‘ly’ words.

In the first draft the most crucial thing is to get the idea down without self-editing. For this reason, we don’t publish our first drafts!

If you are like me in your first drafts, cleaning up the ‘ly’ words could take a while, especially in a large manuscript. However, that won’t be a problem unless you write that novel all the way to an end.

Credits and Attributions:

“Ominous.” Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.

“Auspicious.” Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.


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