Category Archives: writing

Creating Depth: Subtext #amwriting

NaNoWriMo is in full swing and sliding toward the finish. We have slightly less than two weeks left. My manuscript is inching toward completion. I have crossed the 50,000 word line, but the book is less than half finished. Many scenes that currently exist will likely be cut, and new scenes written that better show the story.

A lot of new authors are discovering words like “subtext” and wondering what that means. Subtext is a complicated aspect of the story, existing in the depths of the inferential layer of the Word-Pond that is Story.

Since nothing has changed since I last wrote on this subject, here is the reprise of the post Subtext, first posted here in March of 2018.


A good story is far more than a recounting of he said, and she said. It’s more than the action and events that form the arc of the story. A good story is all that, but without good subtext, the story never achieves its true potential.

Within our characters, underneath their dialogue, lurks conflict, anger, rivalry, desire, or pride. Joy, pleasure, fear—as the author, we know those emotions are there, but conveying them without beating the reader over the head is where artistry comes into play.

The subtext is the hidden story, the hints and allegations, the secret reasoning. It is the content that supports the dialogue and gives private purpose to the personal events experienced by the characters.

These are implicit ideas and emotions. These thoughts and feelings may or may not be verbalized, as subtext is most often shown as the unspoken thoughts and motives of characters — what they really think and believe. It also shows the larger picture. It can imply controversial subjects, or it can be a simple, direct depiction of motives. Metaphors and allegories are excellent tools for conveying provocative ideas.

Subtext can be a conscious thought or a gut reaction on the part of the characters. It imagery as conveyed by the author.

When it’s done right, the subtext conveys backstory with a deft hand. When layered with symbolism and atmosphere, the reader absorbs the subtext on a subliminal level because it is unobtrusive.

An excellent book on this subject is Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath by Dr. Linda Seger. On the back of this book, subtext is described as “a silent force bubbling up from below the surface of any screenplay or novel.” This book is an important source of information on how to discover and convey the deeper story that underpins the action.

Because subtext is so often shown as internal dialogue, some writers assume that heavy-handed info dumping is subtext.

It’s not. It’s description, opinions, gestures, imagery, and yes—subtext can be conveyed in dialogue, but dialogue itself is just people talking.

When characters are constantly verbalizing their every thought you run into several problems:

  1. In genre fiction, the accepted method of conveying internal dialogue (thought) is with italics. A wall of italics is a daunting prospect to a reader, who may just put the book down.
  2. Verbalizing thoughts can become an opportunity for an info dump.

Nevertheless, thoughts (internal dialogue) have their place in the narrative and can be part of the subtext. The main problem I have with them is that when a writer is expressing some character’s most intimate thoughts, the current accepted practice for writing interior monologue in genre fiction is to use italics… lots and lots of italics… copious quantities of leaning letters that are small and difficult to decipher. I recommend going lightly with them.

A character’s backstory is subtext, their memories and the events that led them to where they are now. We use interior monologues to represent a character’s thoughts in real time, as they actually think them in their head, using the precise words they use. For that reason, italicized thoughts are always written in:

  • First Person: I’m the queen! After all, we don’t think about ourselves in the third person, even if we really are the queen. We are not amused.
  • Present Tense: Where are we going with this?

We think in the first person present tense because we are in the middle of events as they happen. Immediate actions and mental commentaries unfold in the present, so they are written as the character experiences them.

But memories are different. Memories are subtext and reflect a moment in the past. If brief, they should be written in the past tense to reflect that. If it was a watershed moment, one that changed their life, consider writing it as a scene and have the character relive it.

This will avoid presenting the reader with a wall of italics and gives the event a sense of immediacy. Having the characters relive that experience brings home the emotion and power of the event. It shows the reader why the event was so important to the character that they would remember it so clearly.

Subtext expressed as thoughts must fit as smoothly into the narrative as conversations. My recommendation is to only voice the most important thoughts via an internal monologue, and in this way, you will retain the readers’ interest. The rest can be presented in images that build the world around the characters, as in this example:

Benny watched Charlotte as she left the office. Everyone knew she was rich. The clothes, the sleek sports car she drove—these were things that could have been owned by any well-employed girl, but something about her screamed confidence and money.

These are Benny’s impressions of Charlotte, and we could put all of that into Benny’s interior monologue, but why? This way, the reader is told all that they need to know about Charlotte, without resorting to an info dump, and we aren’t faced with a wall of italics.

Some things must be expressed as an interior monologue.

Benny looked down at his mop. I’m such an idiot.

The reader has  gained a whole lot of information in only two sentences.  They think they know who Benny is, and they have a clue about his aspirations. What they don’t know yet, but will discover as the plot unfolds, is who Benny really is and why he is posing as a janitor. That, too, will emerge via subtext and through descriptions of the environment, conversations Benny has with his employer, his interior monologues, and his general impressions of the world around him.

Don’t forget the senses. Odors and ambient sounds, objects placed in a scene, sensations of wind, or the feeling of heat when the sun shines through a window—these bits of background are subtext. Scenes require a certain amount of description.

Let’s say we’re writing a short story about a grandfather fixing dinner for his grandson. He’s had to go out shopping, and now he carries his groceries home in a snowstorm, fearing he will slip and fall. How do you convey that in the least obtrusive fashion? I would write it this way:

Willard gazed at the icy stairs leading from the unshoveled walk to the front door, his bag of groceries growing heavier.

Sometimes we see the world and the larger issues through the protagonist’s eyes, and other times we see the protagonist through the setting—what is shown in the scene.

The subtext must be organic, purposeful, and not just there to dump info or fluff the word count. I like books where the scenery is shown in brief impressions, and the reader sees exactly what needs to be there. We aren’t distracted by unimportant things. When you mention a detail it becomes important, so only add elements the reader needs to know about.

Subtext, metaphor, and allegory: impressions and images that build the world around and within the characters are as fundamental to the story as the plot and the arc of the story. Getting it right takes a little work, but please, do make an effort to be subtle and deft in conveying it. As a reader, I’m always thrilled to read a novel where the subtext makes the narrative a voyage of discovery.


Credits and Attributions:

Subtext by Connie J. Jasperson was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on 05 Mar 2018.

Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath by Dr. Linda Seger © published by Michael Wiese Productions; 2 edition (March 1, 2017)

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Art, Hemingway, and World Building #amwriting

It’s our job as writers to show the world in three dimensions. Some of us become masters at this, others get very good, and still others never quite achieve it.

It takes thought and the ability to recognize and cast aside prose that doesn’t say what we want it to.

“I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides it was a secret.”

~~Ernest Hemmingway, A Movable Feast

You’ve heard the saying that one picture is worth a thousand words.

As authors, our craft is that of shaping words to form a picture of the world.

In other words, when we write, we are painting a picture using words.

Let’s assume it does take 1000 words to show that picture to the reader. Can you look at a single brushstroke and see the happy little tree? No, but when combined with 999 other brushstrokes, the tree is made clear to us.

  • Each word is a packet of information, but it is a single brushstroke.
  • The intention of each word only becomes clear when combined with the other 999 packets of information.
  • Each individual word in the 1000 has a specific task; if that word doesn’t do the job, cut it and find one that does.

The fact is, unless we are there physically, other places don’t really exist for us. I see world building as not a hurdle, but a natural outgrowth of living.

It goes back to physics and how the universe works on a fundamental level. The only world that really exists in this incarnation is the space we physically occupy as individuals. The only true reality is the space we can see, hear, smell, and touch.

Authors and artists make the imaginary world real.

People who are not authors and artists build worlds every day just by thinking about their next move.

They do it by planning where they are going next, and recounting to others where they’ve just come from.

If you can visualize stopping at the mini-mart on your way home after work, you can visualize the convenience store on a space station.

You must practice world-building. A good exercise is to write a word picture of your immediate environment.

Detail the furniture, the smells, the sounds, the way certain doors creak.

  • Use as many descriptors as you can think of.
  • Use all the strong, power words you can think of to build that world.

It’s only a practice piece, and no one will see it but you.

Let that piece sit for a day or two, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Pare away every unnecessary word until you have the simplest picture of that space, the equivalent of a line-drawing.

That is the world that your readers can hang their imagination on.

Cézanne’s visual perceptions in art, via Wikipedia:

Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials: he wanted to “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone” (a tree trunk may be conceived of as a cylinder, an apple or orange a sphere, for example).

Additionally, Cézanne’s desire to capture the truth of perception led him to explore binocular vision graphically, rendering slightly different, yet simultaneous visual perceptions of the same phenomena to provide the viewer with an aesthetic experience of depth different from those of earlier ideals of perspective, in particular single-point perspective.

His interest in new ways of modelling space and volume derived from the stereoscopy obsession of his era and from reading Hippolyte Taine’s Berkelean theory of spatial perception.[21][22]


Credits and Attributions:

Quote from A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, Scribners 1964

Wikipedia contributors, “Paul Cézanne,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Paul_C%C3%A9zanne&oldid=925729485 (accessed November 17, 2019).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Les Joueurs de cartes, par , collection Al-Thani, Yorck.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Les_Joueurs_de_cartes,_par_Paul_C%C3%A9zanne,_collection_Al-Thani,_Yorck.jpg&oldid=355049009 (accessed November 17, 2019).

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Choosing a Writing Group #amwriting

Last week at a write in, a new writer asked me about writing groups and how a person goes about finding one. It seemed as if it was time to revisit this subject here. Nothing has changed since I originally wrote this post, and it’s NaNoWriMo—I can plow the extra time into my NaNo novel. (Insert happy face here!)


Every writer needs honest, constructive feedback to grow in their craft. Many will join critique or beta reading groups. These groups come in all sorts and sizes, some specializing in general fiction and some in genres like mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or romance.

Most communities have clusters of authors. You will find groups for beginning writers and some that cater to more advanced crowds. I guarantee there will be one to fit your needs.

You may stumble upon a group who seems cliquish, unwelcoming, and daunting to new arrivals.

You are not required to return to a group if you were given the cold-shoulder the first time.

The seas are rough out there, but most writing groups are really good, supportive gatherings of authors who stay for years and welcome new authors into their group with open arms.

There is a difference in types of writing groups. Some are traditional critique groups, people who usually read a few pages aloud at their sessions and the others discuss it in detail in a round-table fashion, while the author listens.

Often, these groups are large and because they are pressed for time, they don’t allow the author to ask questions or clarify points of confusion. Despite that flaw, this sort of focus on your work can be just right for some authors.

A group like that can tell you if you have made editing errors. They will point out errors within the few pages they have sampled, which gives you a jumping off point for the rest of your novel.

For authors strapped for cash and unable to afford to hire an editor, this sort of group is an invaluable resource. What you learn about your writing habits in those pages will carry over into the larger manuscript.

However, because traditional critique groups focus only on 3 or 4 pages at a time, they lack the context to be able to discern inconsistencies and flaws in the overall story arc. They don’t see enough of the work to tell if your protagonist is developed sufficiently by the first 1/4 of the tale, or if you have flattened your arc by placing your inciting incident too far from the beginning.

Unless you have submitted your entire novel over a period of time, formal critique groups usually can’t see subtle problems with

  • pacing
  • the overall story arc
  • worldbuilding
  • character development

They can’t see these things because these larger elements can only be judged by sampling more than three or four pages of a novel.

One way around that is to seek input privately from one of the members if you have found someone who reads the genre in which you write. It must be someone you feel comfortable enough to share that much with.

If you are looking for input on large structural issues, my advice is to find a beta reading group.

But how do you select a group? Before you join a critique or beta reading group, you have the right to know what that group focuses on. Attend one of their meetings as an observer and take notes.

When you get home, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did they address places where the submitted chapter bogged down?
  • What did the group think about the characters?
  • Did they address places where they became confused?
  • Did the group point out spots they had to read twice?
  • How did the group address areas where the story became unbelievable or too convenient?
  • Did the readers care enough to wonder what would happen to the characters next?
  • How did the group phrase their comments? Was it supportive as well as instructional?
  • Did they encourage conversation about the chosen work?
  • Is discussion discouraged? If the author was not allowed to discuss their work or ask questions because of time constraints, it may be the wrong group for you.

Ask yourself, “What vibes did I get from this group of people? Will I benefit from sharing my work with this group? Did the comments they made to each other sound helpful?” Hopefully, the answer to those questions will be a resounding “yes.”

If not, run now. Run far, far away.

If you are considering joining the group, ask the leader/chairperson these questions:

  • If the group is a beta reading group focused on first drafts, what do they consider a first draft? Do you have to hire an editor and have it thoroughly edited before you submit it to this group? Because that is not a first draft, and that group would be a waste of your time.
  • Will you receive insights into your manuscript on points you hadn’t considered, or will the focus of the discussion center on minor editing issues that you are already aware of?
  • Ask the leader to define for you the specific areas that readers will be looking at: Character development, the arc of the scene, conversation arcs, pacing, and worldbuilding.

When you have found a group that you feel comfortable sharing your work with, and you trust them enough to submit your first piece to them, take notes on the experience. When you are home, ask yourself:

  • Do I still feel positive about my work or do I feel like my work was treated as being less than important?
  • Did I gain anything from the experience that would advance the plot, or did I just hear a rehash of armchair editing from a wannabe guru?
  • When I was discussing the direction I wanted to take the tale in, did I sense that they were interested in my story?

If the answers are anything other than a resounding “yes” you have the right to leave the group.

The answers to these questions have to be that you feel good about your work, that you saw through their eyes the weaknesses, and you now know what you need to do to make your story great. You must be filled with the conviction that you know what needs to be done, and you must still have passion for the story.

Authors attend their first meeting with hope and trepidation. We are filled with uncertainty and fear the first time we meet these people.

At the end of the day, you have to feel as if you have gained something from the experience.

Hopefully, you will be as fortunate as I have been, and find a group of authors who will support and nurture you in the craft of writing. The way to repay them for their help is to support them and their efforts wholeheartedly.


Credits and Attributions:

Choosing a Writing Group by Connie J. Jasperson first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on 28 June 2017. It has been dusted off and refurbished for your reading pleasure.

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Interrobangs and other Mutant Morsels of Madness #amwriting

Writers at the beginning of their career often get into the habit of using punctuation as a kind of shorthand. They tell us “This is dangerous!” “She was mad!” or “This is funny!”

When we are in the midst of writing the first draft of a story, we don’t notice how frequently we use the exclamation point to convey excitement and urgency.

But that habit must be addressed in the revision process. Making too free with the power punctuation makes the narrative too breathless, or in the case of ellipses, too slow and halting.

When prose is well-written, it conveys the excitement of the moment without force. A good author doesn’t resort to creating excitement with the overuse of exclamation points as this makes the narrative feel frantic.

It tells the reader what to think, rather than showing them a scene that is exciting.

When I am laying down the first draft, I am just as guilty of filling the manuscript with exclamations, em dashes, and ellipses as anyone. I am in a rush to get the ideas down on paper.

In reality, we only need one or two morsels of power punctuation per page. The way you have set the scene combined with the dialogue itself should convey the tension without your having to sprinkle the narrative with loud, proud punctuation.

The common, garden-variety period or comma will usually serve the situation well and won’t throw the reader out of the book. When we think about how to shape a scene with words, the punctuation we use won’t be a needle in the eye of the reader.

But what about !?  These mutant morsels of madness are called “interrobangs.”

Editors working in the publishing industry will tell you that the interrobang is not an accepted form of punctuation for anything but comic books, manga, and possibly, text messages to your BFF.

Think about it: comic books show events and emotions by combining pictures with as few words as possible to tell the story.

Writers of comics frequently employ interrobangs because they are limited on space. They use creative punctuation as a shorthand for the reader.

It’s your narrative, so of course, you will do as you see fit. However, more than one punctuation mark at the end of a sentence is not accepted in literature of any genre but comic books. Thus, interrobangs are a writing habit the professional writer will avoid if they want to be taken seriously.

If you choose to include the interrobang in your work, don’t be surprised if you receive negative feedback from your beta readers or writing group. To be seen as a professional, you must write as professionally as you are able.

As writers, our intention is to immerse the reader in the story, not blow them out of the manuscript. Unfortunately, power punctuation used too freely becomes a bludgeon, beating the reader with how exciting it all is.

We subconsciously use the exclamation point as a shorthand. They are signals for us to expand on in the second draft. When we make revisions, we remove the loud punctuation and reshape these telling scenes so that they become showing scenes. We search for the right words to show the emotion of the moment and use unobtrusive punctuation.

But how do we convey excitement if we’re not allowed to use enough exclamation points?

A great resource for ideas on how to convey strong emotions without telling the reader what the character is feeling is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

When you submit a manuscript to a contest or publisher, they will look at your knowledge of mechanics and grammatical style first. If you look like an amateur, your work goes straight into the rejection pile.

In writing, “mechanics” is the term used for how the rules of grammar and style are applied to the kind of work you are writing.

The rule is that all sentences should have only one punctuation mark to signify the end.

“Ahah!” you say. “What about the ellipsis?”

The ellipsis is not punctuation. It is the accepted symbol signifying words that have been omitted.

When the ellipsis falls at the end of the sentence, it should be three dots followed by the required punctuation.

  • If the ellipsis falls at the end of a sentence in dialogue, use a comma at the end of it followed by a speech tag. “But, my dog…,” Annie said.
  • If no speech tag is used, employ a period, question mark, etc. “But, my dog….” Annie’s brow furrowed.

This is because the ellipsis at the end of a sentence symbolizes unspoken words, trailing off.

The Chicago Manual of Style says:

Use an ellipsis for any omitted word, phrase, line, or paragraph from within a quoted passage. There are two commonly used methods of using ellipsis: one uses three dots for any omission, while the second makes a distinction between omissions within a sentence (using three dots: . . .) and omissions between sentences (using a period and a space followed by three dots: . …). An ellipsis at the end of a sentence with no sentence following should be followed by a period (for a total of four dots).

Once again, I emphasize that we use the Chicago Manual of Style  as our grammar reference guide if we are writing fiction and intend to publish it. The Chicago Manual of Style is written specifically for writers, editors, and publishers and is the publishing industry standard. All the editors at the major publishing houses own and refer to this book when they have questions.

If you develop a passion for words and the ways in which we bend them, as I have done, you could soon find your bookshelf bowing under the weight of your reference books. Writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of occupation. No style guide will fit every purpose, but the Chicago Manual of Style comes closest.

If you want to symbolize cut off words, the em dash at the end of a sentence does the job, and in that case, no punctuation is needed.

Consider the following quote from A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain. In this case, you do not add punctuation:

It did seem to me that life was just too lovely to—

In writing fiction, when it comes to punctuation, these rules have no exceptions:

  • Exclamation points must be used sparingly, or they lose their effectiveness.
  • Ellipses symbolize omitted words and are not punctuation, so when the conversation trails off, you must add ending punctuation. My God, I thought. What…?
  • Em dashes can either set off phrases—like this—or if used at the end of a sentence an em dash can indicate cut off words, like—

Exclamation points, em dashes, and ellipses are like speech tags. They are necessary, but simplicity is the key to making them unobtrusive. Generally, dialogue worded powerfully, along with the way you visualize and then show the attitude of the characters and their situation will serve to convey the emotions.

When it comes to punctuation, you can choose to tell or show. How you choose to blend showing and telling is what makes your voice unique.


Sources and Attributions:

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 639 sections 13.51 – 13.55 The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago.

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 334 Section 6.84 Em dashes to Indicate Sudden Breaks, The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago. Fair Use.

A Dog’s Tale,  by Mark Twain. © 1904 Harper & Brothers, via Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Dog%27s_Tale&oldid=769178379 (accessed May 16, 2017).

Power Punctuation by Connie J. Jasperson was first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on May 17, 2017 and has been revised and re-edited.

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NaNoWriMo 2019 Week 1 – six days in #amwriting

Today we are 6 days into National Novel Writing Month. Every November, we begin to lose some of our writing companions at this point. They may drop out without explanation. Some will admit they can’t write 1,667 words a day, let alone at all.

For everyone, the first days of euphoria are fading. That rush, that incredible feeling of “We can do this if we all pull together,” has worn off.

Now, when faced with the reality of what this challenge really means, the first round of writers who fail, quit the game.

All that means is they aren’t ready to write their novel. These people can sit at the keyboard and go gung-ho for a few paragraphs or even a few pages.

But then they hit a wall. They have nothing; their story is written. In their minds, they hear crickets.

It’s not a crime. It just means they aren’t ready to write a novel in thirty days. If they keep writing at whatever pace they are comfortable, they will get a novel written.

It helps to know that not every story is a novel. I have several short stories that I thought were novels when I had the idea to write them.

But at 6000 words, they were finished, and there was nothing more to say.

Some of us have the tools to soldier on through the doldrums and to write a novel in 30 days.

This is the point where discipline and a little planning really help. For me, knowing what I need to include helps me get the book written.

But even though I write to an outline, things come along that must be included or removed. My novel is a contemporary Gothic drama about a group of writers and artists. Symbols are really important in this because they create an atmosphere of darkness and gloom. I was writing along, when suddenly dragons cropped up, filling a void, and deepening my storyline.

As a child, my protagonist’s favorite book, the Hobbit, portrayed dragons as symbols of deceit, of impending doom, and harbingers of death. Thus, dragons are subliminal warnings to her. She subconsciously notices when they appear as

  • A dragon pendant.
  • Dragon shaped clouds.
  • A rock shaped like a dragon.
  • Shrubs trimmed to look like dragons.
  • Toy dragons in every giftshop window.
  • Dragon t-shirts.
  • Dragon tattoos.
  • Dragon earrings.

So, even though this novel is not fantasy, dragons play a large part in offering my protagonist subliminal clues about the unstated threat the antagonist poses, and in creating the Gothic atmosphere of the story.

Did I hear someone ask what makes a story Gothic?

  • You need an oppressive atmosphere, populated with characters who each conceal dark secrets.
  • Strong undercurrents of emotion, positive and negative, shade each conversation, giving clues to who the characters really are and what their role is in the drama.
  • Some obvious clues as to who has good intentions and who plots evil are false, but the real clues are hidden in plain sight.
  • At times, the protagonist feels hints of evil lurking just out of sight but can’t identify them.
  • Subliminal symbols ratchet up the sense of dread, fear that something terrible will happen.

So far, this has been a fun novel to write. And, so far, it looks like it will make it to novel length—60,000 words or so is my goal.

When I laid down the outline, I didn’t have that subliminal signal down, other than cracked and broken objects in the scenery. Mirrors reflecting images reflected in other mirrors also figure prominently, but I knew those signs alone weren’t enough to create the sense of foreboding this tale deserves.

I knew something truly symbolic of deceit would make itself known to me, and it did in the form of a silver dragon pendant habitually worn by the antagonist. That led to me thinking about the many ways in which dragons could become allegories in this novel.

What will emerge next? I don’t know. I’m 18,000 words into it, and it has already undergone a radical evolution. Still, the inciting incident and all the plot points as originally outlined remain the same, as does the ending.

I love it when I can put symbolism and allegory to work. The first draft of my dark, Gothic drama is on track.


Credits and Attributions:

Smaug, illustration by David Demaret, 2012. David Demaret [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Smaug par David Demaret.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Smaug_par_David_Demaret.jpg&oldid=346075444 (accessed November 5, 2019).

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I #amwriting despite the distractions

November is here, and NaNoWriMo has begun. Despite the twists and turns of fickle fate my project is on track.  I am getting my word count in my writing session every morning.

One of the twists my life has taken in the last few days is the addition of my younger brother to our household. He had been working and supporting himself but fell ill with a bone infection. He was hospitalized for three months, during which time he lost his job and his home.

Like the majority of homeless people here in the US, he suffers from chronic health problems. This has kept him in poverty and on the thin margins of society for several years. So, I now have a third person in the home again, which means I must set boundaries that protect my writing time.

I am good at that.

Another diversionary twist is happening on the National level. This is one that is not under my control: I’m talking about the ongoing “fiesta of squirrels” that is the semi-functional website at www.NaNoWriMo.org.

The new website has been rebuilt from the ground up. They have been gradually rolling it out over the last few months. But heavy user traffic makes it a difficult process.

At this point, the website is operational but not user friendly.

The good people in the Office of Letters and Light (NaNoWriMo headquarters) know this better than anyone. Very likely, they are buried under the mountain of complaints from thousands of users.

I assure you, these wonderful people are doing their absolute best to resolve all the issues, but it will be at least a year before this site functions as well as the old website did.

So, I will ask you to be patient if the site is showing you the wrong stats or your halo for donating hasn’t appeared.

We are all seeing wrong stats on our pages. Several functions we were used to being able to access are not yet available, such as regional statistics for Municipal Liaisons.

We are all finding it difficult to update our word count. Discovering where your regional forums are can be a challenge. Once you do find them, bookmark them.

As I said, I set firm boundaries to ensure that despite the distractions, I can get my hoped-for word count every day. I’ve worked through worse Novembers and gotten my word count every time.

I may bounce around between manuscripts as the day progresses, but I do get the words written on my new project. Then I update my word count every day at the national site.

In case you are curious, this is the screen shot for where you update on your dashboard:

This year I am laying down the first draft of a new novel. I write between the hours of 06:00 and 10:00 a.m.

Then, I take a break, and do some housework. After lunch I work on the other manuscripts I have in various stages of completion. I  sometimes write new material on these when the inspiration hits. Those projects are going well also.

I average 2500 words each morning on the new manuscript, so I don’t bother to count the bits I add to the others later in the afternoon.

I hope your writing is going well, and that the words are flowing. Keep making time to write every day.

It takes discipline and determined effort to end up with a finished book.

And that is what NaNoWriMo is really all about.

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Navigating the #nanowrimo website & back up your work #amwriting

Navigating the new website at www.nanowrimo.org can be confusing, especially to those of us who are used to the old site.

Many features we have used and loved are not available, but the good developers have included many new features that really are nice. The following screenshots will help you find your way around in the website:

First, go to www.nanowrimo.org and either sign in or sign up.

This is the landing page:

This is  what  my  profile  looks  like:

You can play around with your personal page a little to get used to it. Give a short bio, pick a genre, and give a rundown of your intended project. With that done you’re good to go.If you’re feeling really creative, add a header and make a placeholder book cover—have fun and go wild.

Next, check out the community tabs:

Your regional page will look different from ours, but it will be there in the Community tab:And don’t forget to check out the national forums, also on the Community tab:

You may find the information you need in one of the many forums listed here.

Now, let’s talk about eliminating heartache and attempted suicides among authors.

Losing your files is a traumatic experience. Some authors lose several years of work in a surprise computer crash – an unimaginable tragedy. Entire manuscripts can go missing when a thumb-drive or hard drive is corrupted.

First of all, you need to save regularly. I use a file hosting service called Dropbox. I have a lot of images on file, so I pay for an expanded version, but they do have a free version that offers you as much storage as a thumb drive. I like using a file hosting service because it can’t be lost or misplaced, and is always accessible from my desktop, laptop, or Android. I work out of those files, so they are automatically saved and are where I want them when I close out.

You can use any storage system that is free to you–Google Drive, OneDrive, or a standard portable USB flash drive

Save regularly. Save consistently. DON’T put off saving to a backup of some sort- do it every day before you close your files.

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What’s my Genre? #NaNoWriMo2019 #amwriting

When you sign up and declare your novel at www.nanowrimo.org, you will be asked what genre you think it is. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t really know.

If you don’t really know exactly what genre your work falls into, here is a list of genres and what they represent. This list has appeared on this blog before, so if you’ve seen it before, thank you for stopping by!

First of all, the term “genre” is all about sales, and how readers choose a book to buy.

“Genre” is the label that tells the bookstore what group of books to place your book with. This will be the group where it has the best opportunity to find a reader.

Bookstores and their owners are in the business of selling books.

They understand that most customers will walk past uncounted numbers of wonderful books on their way to the shelves that contain their favorite kind of novel. On that stroll through the bookstore, they won’t even glance at anything that doesn’t shout “SEE ME? I’m Your Genre! Read ME!”

But what about all those things you’ve heard about “literary” or sci-fi” or “chick lit?”

Forget all that noise.

I left a literary fiction readers group because the moderator was an arrogant snob who violently disliked any mention of enjoyment for reading genre fiction.

And there is the opposite end of the spectrum; the friend who consistently mocks literary fiction, which she doesn’t read, as “Hokey Prose and Plotless Ugliness.”

That is not just untrue, it’s an arrogant, divisive thing to say. No genre is immune to authors who get too artsy and go off the rails with their work. And, every genre has authors who are adept at degrading the work of authors who write in other genres as if that work threatens them.

I urge you to ignore the noise generated by the people who want you to conform to their likes and dislikes. Choose what you want to write, based on what you want to read.

How to determine your genre:

First, the genre of a book is defined by setting and content. It is determined by what the author intends the reader to get out of it, their approach to telling the tale, and the way resolutions occur. Walk through the bookstore and examine how the shelves are stocked and what their literary content is. You will see the fiction books grouped like this:

Mainstream (general) fiction—Mainstream fiction is the general term that publishers and booksellers use to describe works that may appeal to the broadest range of readers and have the most likelihood of commercial success.

Mainstream authors often blend genre fiction practices with techniques considered unique to literary fiction. It will be both plot- and character-driven and may have a style of narrative that is not as lean as modern genre fiction but is not too stylistic either.

The prose of the novel will at times delve into a more literary vein than genre fiction, but the story will be driven by the events and actions that force the characters to grow.

Speculative fiction is work that offers ideas of what may be. It encompasses two genres, Science Fiction and Fantasy:

Science fiction—Futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life are the core of science fiction. You should be aware that the internet is rife with purists and impurists ranting on what does or does not constitute  sci-fi.

One truth exists: If you use magic for any reason you are NOT writing any form of sci-fi.

  • Hard Sci-fi is characterized by rigorous attention to correct detail in physics, chemistry, and astrophysics. Emphasis is placed on accurately depicting worlds that more advanced technology may make possible, based on theoretical physics as we know them.
  • Soft Sci-fi is characterized by works based on social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science, sociology, and anthropology.
  • Other main sub-genres of Sci-fi include Space-operasCyberpunk, Time Travel, Steampunk, Alternate history, Military, Superhuman, Apocalyptic, and Post-Apocalyptic.

The main thing to remember is this—Science and Magic cannot coexist in the Genre of Science Fiction. The minute you add magic to the story, you have Fantasy.

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting.  Like sci-fi and literary fiction, fantasy has its share of snobs and damn fools when it comes to defining the sub-genres:

  • High fantasy—This genre is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, fictional world, rather than the real, or “primary” world. It features elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, and coming-of-age themes. The primary story arc often encompasses a multi-book series, from three to as many as twenty volumes. Sometimes the prose is literary in its style. The primary plot is resolved only slowly, as many important side quests will sidetrack the protagonists. Think William Morris and J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • Epic Fantasy—These stories are often serious in tone and epic in scope, dealing with themes of grand struggle against supernatural, evil forces. Epic fantasy shares some typical characteristics of high fantasy. It can include fantastical elements such as elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, many side quests, and multi-volume narratives. Tad Williams’s Memory Sorrow and Thorn is classic Epic Fantasy.
  • Paranormal Fantasy—This genre often focuses on romantic love and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from all the speculative fiction genres. Think ghosts, vampires, and all that is supernatural.
  • Urban Fantasy—These stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include some fantasy elements mixed with science. The prerequisite is that the novel must be primarily set in a city.

Horror—This genre  shocks or frightens the reader. Some horror induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing. People who read horror want to be challenged by facing their fears within the pages of a book.

Romance—Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people. There will be hardships, but Romance must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

Mystery and Mystery/Adventure—Mystery is a genre with several subgenres.

  • “Who Dunnit” mysteries, cozy (think Agatha Christie)
  • Mystery, true crime
  • Mystery, hardboiled detective
  • Political thrillers
  • Legal thrillers
  • Medical Thrillers
  • Supernatural Mysteries
  • Romantic Mysteries

All mysteries involve a puzzle that the protagonist must solve, usually placing themselves in great danger in the process. Good mysteries have small clues embedded along the way for the reader, and also many false clues that keep the reader on the wrong track. Mystery readers want to solve the puzzle—that’s why they buy these books.

I mention Literary Fiction last because it is the most complicated and least understood genre of all.

Literary fiction can be quite adventurous with the narrative. Yes, the style of the prose has prominence and may be experimental, requiring the reader to go over certain passages more than once. Literary fiction is a work of many layers, and the people who seek out this work are not just reading the prose—they are looking for the deeper meaning of the book as a whole.

Authors who write true literary fiction deliberately craft each sentence so that each word has impact and meaning. They might employ a stylistic, almost poetic, writing style. This is because it is a love of words and how they are used that characterizes true literary fiction.

Authors in this genre will make heavy use of allegory,  and the deep exploration of themes and ideas to form the core of the piece. It may take years for an author to finish the book to their satisfaction.

I have discussed the following  three books before, but they illustrate the problem of perception—the question of what constitutes Literary Fiction.

Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night is a historical fantasy. However, the style and voice in which it is written make it a powerful literary work.

The same goes for George Saunders’ work. Tenth of December is technically sci-fi, and Lincoln in the Bardo is historical fantasy, but it is his style and voice that makes George Sanders literary.

Neil Gaiman’s book, Stardust, is a poster child for the “that’s not literary/yes it is” debate. The prose is literary and poetic; the narrative has a relaxed, meandering yet thought provoking style to it. Yet, it is an out and out fantasy.

I consider it literary.

If you want to know what genre you should write, my advice is to choose to write in the genre that you gravitate to when you enter a bookstore.

Thus, I write fantasy.

And science fiction.

And mainstream.

And poetry.

The genre in which I habitually write depends on the whim of the moment.

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Update on Work in Progress #amwriting

My works in progress are coming along as I hoped they would. The outline and character studies are finished for my November novel, so I should have no trouble getting that off the ground on November 1st.

I am doing a major structural rewrite on Heaven’s Altar, a new novel set in Neveyah, and that is going well.

Julian Lackland is in the formatting stage at last. His story completes the 3-book Billy’s Revenge collection of stand-alone medieval fantasy novels.

I am looking forward to the great month of November, as I can hardly wait to get started on my project.

The short story mill in my head still seems to produce something every month or so. I like to think of them as “palate cleansers” since they are completely different from the main area of focus and sort of clear the cobwebs from my head.

I have a list of resources for beginners to bookmark that will make writing their NaNoWriMo novels easier. In my mind, any resource that is free is good.

  • Fantasy/Real Name Generator (some are unpronounceable, but all are fun)
  • Thesaurus.Com (quickly find words that mean the same as “sword” etc., so you don’t have too many “crutch” words.
  • Oxford Dictionary (Spell it right and use in the proper context!)
  • Wikipedia (research is a time sink to beat all time sinks, but if you’re in a hurry for quick info, you might find it here.)

Three websites a beginner should go to if they want instant answers about grammar in plain English:

Instant gratification is good when you are in the zone and short on time.

The rules I follow to both get my wordcount and enjoy NaNoWriMo:

    1. Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
    2. Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Just write, and think about where you want to take your real story. Write about what you would like to see happen in that story.
    3. Check in at www.nanowrimo.org to see what’s happening in your region. Someone there will be able to answer any questions you may have, and the local threads will keep you in contact with other writers.
    4. Attend a write-in if your region is having any, or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
    5. Delete nothing. Passages you want to delete later can be highlighted, and the font turned to red or blue, so you can easily separate them out later.
    6. Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end, draw a line at the bottom of the page and start a new story, in the same manuscript. You can always separate the stories later, and that way you won’t lose your word count.
    7. Validate your word count at www.nanowrimo.org every day. Your word processing program will sometimes count the words differently than the official validator. Validating daily will let you know if you are officially on track.

Why should you write in November?

Write because you have an idea that could make a good story. Write the book you want to read but no one else is writing.

Write fan-fiction.

Above all, have fun writing.

If you can’t write 1,667 words a day, write as much as you can and don’t feel guilty. The novel is the important thing and if you can’t get 50,000 words in 30 days, all is not lost. There are 320 more days in the year to come, so keep the habit of writing daily.

Stay in love with your characters and have fun writing your story.

In the end, the story is what counts.

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Time Management #NaNoWriMo2019 #amwriting

If you are planning to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, you will need to develop some time management skills.

Writing daily is easier once it becomes a behavioral habit. Making the best use of your time requires a little self-discipline.

Most of us have jobs and a family, so our time for personal projects can be limited.

First, you must give yourself permission to write.

Your perception that it is selfish will be your biggest hurdle. Trust me, it is not asking too much of your family for you to have some time every day that is sacred and dedicated to writing.

When I first began writing, I was in high school. I wrote some short stories, but mostly I wrote poetry and lyrics for songs. Later I married the bass player in a heavy metal band and began writing songs with him.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as the single mother of three children, I held down three part-time jobs. I couldn’t afford cable, so with only four channels via the antenna, TV was pretty minimal at our house. Card games, dominoes, books, and the library were our usual evening entertainment.

It was during this time that I began to write fiction seriously. We read books so quickly that the library couldn’t stock new ones in our areas of interest fast enough for us. So, when my children were doing their homework, I sat in front of my second-hand IBM Selectric typewriter and pecked out fairy tales to read to them.

In the summer, I did that while they watched videos or played Super Mario et al., on the old Super Nintendo.

That gave me at least one hour every night in which I could write, sometimes more. Yes, I did have to help with some of their homework but having me there, typing away next to the gerbil cage seemed to keep them on track, and I did get several pages written every night.

It was all crap, but I made it sound better when I read it aloud to them.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was developing discipline and a work ethic in myself as well as in my children.

Two of my daughters write fiction as well as holding down jobs and raising families. All five of our kids are hardworking adults who are raising families and who also have an artistic life in music or writing or both.

Having an artistic life means you allow yourself time to create something that is meaningful to you.

The following is a list of ideas to help you carve the time to write  and still be a full participant in your family’s life.

  1. You must decide what is more important, your dream of writing or watching a television show that is someone else’s dream. Do you want to create, or do you want to be entertained?

Personally, I would say that if you didn’t like the way Game of Thrones turned out, too bad.

It was George R.R. Martins creation, and he did it his way. He has written more than thirteen novels, numerous short stories, novellas, and too many screenplays for me to count.

GRRM did all that by sitting down and writing every day. He is an award-winning author because he makes the time to write despite his heavy schedule as a speaker, screenwriter, and editor.

So, don’t waste your time complaining about how George did it and don’t bother searching for a replacement show. Write your own Game of Thrones and do the way you think it should have been done. Writing fan fiction is a great, time-honored way to start your writing career.

  1. You have the right to take an hour in the morning and the evening to use for your own creative outlet. Get up an hour early and write until the time you would normally get up. That will be the quietest time you will have all day. Give up that 9:00 p.m. TV show and write for one more hour. There are your 2 precious hours.

If you use those two separate hours for your stream-of-consciousness writing, you could easily get your 1,667 words written every day, possibly more. I am a slow keyboard jockey, and I can do about 1,100 wonky, misspelled words an hour during NaNoWriMo.

But they ALL count, misspelled or not.

  1. Write for five minutes here and ten minutes there all day long if that is all you can do. Every word counts toward your finished manuscript.
  2. I took my lunch to work and wrote during my lunch half-hour whenever possible.
  3. I also wrote on the bus when I didn’t own a car.

You don’t have to announce you are writing a book if you don’t wish to—I certainly didn’t feel comfortable doing so. If you want to spend your lunch time writing, politely let people know you’re handling personal business and won’t have time to chat.

Some offices will allow you to use your workstation computer for personal business, but most of my places of employment frowned on that. I brought a notebook and pen as I didn’t own a good laptop. By writing down all the thoughts and ideas I had during the day, I had a great start when I finally did get a chance to write. If your work allows, bring your laptop or your iPad/Android. So you don’t get into trouble with the boss, sit in the lunchroom (if you have one).

You can also set aside a block of time on the weekend to write, though that can be difficult, as setting aside an uninfringeable time on a weekend can become a hardship, especially if you have a young family. This is where getting up early for that one quiet hour can really keep your story flowing out of your head and into the keyboard/notebook.

Writers and other artists do have to make sacrifices for their craft.

It’s just how things are. But you don’t have to sacrifice family for it. Sacrifice one hour of sleeping in, and sacrifice something ephemeral and unimportant like one hour of TV.

By  writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you might get your first draft finished, and get that certificate that says you completed 50,000 words in 30 days.

But more importantly than any winners certificate, you will have created something special, something unique that is a piece of your soul, your intellectual child, as it were.

A novel is nothing but an idea and the discipline to sit down and write it from start to finish.

Inspiration and self-discipline—that ability to start and finish a project that began as an idea, a “what if,” is what creative writing is all about.

You can achieve your goal of 50,000 words in 30 days if you give yourself permission to create and make the time to do so.

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