Creating your Author Blog part 1 #amwriting

Much of this is taken from earlier posts on this subject, so if you have seen it before, thank you for stopping by, and the next post will be on creating blog posts.


‘Life in the Realm of Fantasy’ is a WordPress blog. I use WordPress because it is a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system.  I also have several other blogs on Blogger (Blogspot), which is also a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system. I prefer Blogger for ease of use, but it is limited. I love the way WordPress looks when you get to the finished product stage.

There is a small learning curve for each. But with very few skills, I have a decent-looking blog at no cost to me, using the fine tools and templates provided by the wonderful people at WordPress or Blogspot–and you can too.

The thing that is so awesome about both these products is you have the option to use them in what my husband-the-programmer calls ‘wysiwyg’ (pronounced wizzy-wig) or ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get.’ The user does not have to know any programming or coding–all that is done for you already, and you just organize it the way you want it, within certain limitations.

If you want to use WordPress visit the WordPress home pageand select the ‘Sign Up’ button to register for a WordPress account. You’ll need a valid email address (that has not been used to create another WordPress account) to sign up for a new WordPress account. Follow the steps and bam! You have a blog.

But you can also do this via Blogger (blogspot), Google’s free blogging tool and content management system, also an extremely simple process.

Whichever platform you choose, I suggest you use your author name. I used Connie J. Jasperson. This links your author name to your blog, which is why you are doing this in the first place. Pick a title for your blog–this one is Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

I now pay something like $25.00 a year for the domain name, so https://conniejjasperson.com is mine. But for five years I used the free domain, which gives you a .wordpress.com ending after your blog name, such as http://myblogname1.wordpress.com.

In WordPress, begin with finding a template. Open the left-hand menu and go to Customize and click on Themes. Select one of the many free templates. Once you find a theme that you like, you are ready to go. I use Pilcrow theme for this site because I like the versatility.

In Blogger, you will also come to a screen with many options. I suggest you just start at the top of the menu where it says template and begin playing around with it until you find the look and style you like best. You will be able to see most of your changes in the area below the Template Designer.

In both WordPress and Blogger, I keep the template simple because it is easier for people to read.

Once you have decided on that catchy title for your blog and have figured out the color of your fonts and background are all organized, decide the layout. You can make it one column with no sidebar, or with one or two sidebars. Sidebars are good places for advertising your books and book trailers, along with many other things you want to share with the world, such as blogs that you follow, and offers those who wish to follow your blog a place to sign up. The trick with sidebars is to keep them from junking up the blog, which I have a tendency to do.

In WordPress, you will click “Upload.” This will take you to the part where you REALLY customize the look of your blog. Open the menu on the left and begin customizing from there. Click on Customize and go to Widgets. You can add your book images there, and links to amazon or other sellers, along with all sorts of other wonderful things that will make your site uniquely yours.

In Blogger, click “Apply to Blog” in the upper right-hand corner. This should take you back to the Blogger page, where you will look in the menu on the left and click on the “Layout” button, just above the orange Template button. On the right hand side (yours may be different, depending on how you chose to display sidebars) click on add a gadget.

In both WordPress and Blogger, you will find many options to make your site look great, from inserting images to ways to add html code for embedding videos. You can get fancy with the header or use the header they offer you. The appearance of your site will evolve over time, as mine certainly has.

Both sites have awesome and informative help in their FAQs and I suggest you make good use of them. Everything I know was learned by my asking questions.

Do take some time to play around with arrangements. You can preview it, but if you accidentally hit publish, don’t freak because until you add content and tell folks it’s out there, no one will see your mistakes. Take as much time as you need to get comfortable with the system and remember that anything you don’t like can be undone.

On Monday, we will begin with the actual blogging part of your author website. This is as crucial as anything else because it is where you will connect with your readers.

Advertisements

13 Comments

Filed under blogging, writing

The author’s platform #blogging #amwriting

Today’s image is a picture of my husband’s amazing hydrangea from last year. It’s covered with green buds right now, and I can’t wait to see it bloom again. It’s my favorite plant in his lovely garden.

So what does a hydrangea have to do with blogging? Nothing, although a photo from a garden would be a good image for an author’s blog post. Blogging is a good way to connect with readers. It’s a platform where you can advertise your books and discuss your interests, and most importantly, talk about what you are writing.

I have made a personal commitment to post three times a week on this blog, plus I contribute posts to three other blogs. I do this because each time I write an essay on the craft of writing, I clarify my own thoughts on those points. Also, posting the occasional flash fiction on Friday keeps me sharp and keeps me writing little bits of prose I might otherwise not have the chance to write.

Many of you know that I first began blogging because my former publisher insisted I do so. This, he said, would help get my name out there, and give me a regular platform for my opinions. That original blog is long gone, and those posts were pathetic attempts to write about current affairs as a journalist. That blog failed because writing about current affairs is something that has never interested me.

What I learned from that otherwise-negative blogging experience is important: it wasn’t until I stopped trying to fit into a mold someone else had designed for me and began writing about my interests that I learned to love the craft of blogging. When I made that connection and commitment to writing about what I enjoy, I began to grow as a writer.

When I’ve had a small success and am in danger of becoming too full of myself, blogging never fails to provide me with a sharp dose of reality. I must work hard to proofread my own work and then publish it. Nothing bursts your bubble of self-importance like discovering gross errors and bloopers several days after you published the post.

Oops.

Regularly writing blogposts has made me a “thinking” author, as well as a “pantser.” I can write using the “stream-of-consciousness” method or write from an outline of whatever interests me at the time. I do the research, and the post begins to write itself.

I have found that a good length for a blogpost ranges from about 500 words to not more than 1,000. Having that limit means I must keep my area of discussion narrow, and not get sidetracked.

This helps me when writing flash fiction, as most flash fiction can only be up to 1000 words. When I first began writing flash fiction, telling the entire story in so few words was often an issue. Writing blog posts really helped me learn that skill.

I have found that writing blogposts isn’t that difficult per se. I can knock one out in less than an hour if I’m fired up about the subject.

What I find most challenging now is sourcing ideas for new and interesting content. I have written posts on nearly every aspect of the craft, and don’t want to bore people. I also write on the craft for two other professional organizations and don’t like to repeat myself there either. These commitments have me scrambling though my notes to see what questions people might want to have answered, and then doing the research—my favorite thing.

During the week I make a note of any interesting topic that might make a good blog post. The only day I write blog posts is Sunday, but I write the entire week’s posts that day. If there is a lot of research involved, I make footnotes with citations and sources as I come across the information. When that is the case, getting the week’s articles ready could take the whole day. Usually writing the posts for the week only involves the morning.

If you are a blogger who only posts once a week, writing your blog post should take less than an hour.

I spell-check and self-edit my posts as well as possible. Then I go to each website where they will be posted and pre-schedule them. By using the tools each platform offers (be it WordPress or Blogger) to schedule in advance, they will post without my having to babysit them. Having that ability allows me the rest of the week to work on my true job, which is writing novels.

If you are an author, you really should be blogging too—but you don’t have to blog as frequently as I do. Think about this: your website is your store, your voice, and your public presence. Readers will find you and your books there. So, offer them a reason to come and look at your books.

Many of you are saying that it’s hard to gain readers when your website is new, and you first begin to blog. This is true, but that will change if you just keep at it. The reason we write is for people to be able to read our work. When we have a limited audience, we feel a little defeated in our efforts to gain readers. In the world of blogging, as in everything else, we start out small and gain readers as we go along—but we gain them more quickly if we keep the content updated at least bi-monthly.

Because authors want to gain readers, it’s necessary for them to use every platform available to get the word out. Updating our website blogs twice a month offers us many opportunities to do just that and keeps us in touch with the people who count—our readers.

My next few posts will discuss the little things I’ve learned about blogging, beginning with how to get your own author blog up and running at little or no cost to you. I am fluent with WordPress and Blogger, two free-to-the-author platforms, and I will explain how to get started with both platforms. After that, we will talk about finding new content.


Credits and Attributions

Hydrangea, image by Connie J. Jasperson ©2017, All Rights Reserved

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, writing

#poppies #poetry In Flanders’ Fields, by John McCrae

The beautiful image of poppies that graces this post is by Tijl Vercaemer from Gent, Flanders and was found on Wikimedia commons. The beauty and serenity of the poppies, rising from the fields where such terrible conflict once happened, is a fitting accompaniment for the poem, In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae, the text of which follows the picture.

From Wikipedia:  “In Flanders Fields” is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it. In Flanders Fields was first published on December 8 of that year in the London-based magazine Punch.

In Flanders Fields and Other Poems, a 1919 collection of McCrae’s works, contains two versions of the poem: a printed text as below and a handwritten copy where the first line ends with “grow” instead of “blow.” (…)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

While bed-ridden and recovering in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Vancouver, Washington, after World War II, my father had little to do but read or crochet afghans. To keep busy, he and the other recovering soldiers in his ward made endless numbers of Remembrance Poppies to commemorate fallen American soldiers. Dad always wore his poppy on his left lapel, as it was close to his heart.

Memorial Day is more than just the official launch of Summer here in the US, more than just an Indy car race. Families have always cared for their family graves, but it became a designated day after the American Civil War in 1868, established  as “Decoration Day.” It was a specific time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Every family had soldiers who served and gave their lives in the never-ending wars, as we do today.

Officially, Memorial Day is the last Monday in May. In the US, it is a 3-day holiday weekend. Banks are closed on Monday, and the US Postal Service is also closed. The American flag is traditionally set at half-staff until noon to honor all those whose lives have been given in the service of our country. At noon, it is raised to the top of the staff, signifying that we, as a nation, will rise again.

My paternal grandmother never failed to keep our family’s graves neat and tidy, bringing flowers every week for my uncle, who had died while serving in the Korean War. As she got older, this tradition aggravated my father, who just wanted to listen to the Indianapolis 500 car race on the radio. He couldn’t bear dwelling on the loss of his brother, or the friends he had lost in France in WWII.

But he took her to the cemetery, anyway.

After each great and terrible war of the last two centuries, the hope was always that we had fought a “war to end all wars.” World War I, also known as The Great War, was spoken of in literature as just that: a war to end all wars.

With each conflict we still hope, but we are less able to believe it, today less than ever.


Sources and Attributions

In Flanders Fields, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, PD|75 years

John McCrae died of pneumonia January 28, 1918, near the end of the Great War. In Flanders’ Fields is a staple poem for Memorial Day services.

Wikipedia contributors. “In Flanders Fields.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 May. 2018. Web. 24 May. 2018

Poppies Field in Flanders, image By Tijl Vercaemer from Gent, Flanders #Belgium. File:Poppies Field in Flanders.jpg. (2018, January 13). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 15:55, May 24, 2018.

2 Comments

Filed under #FineArtFriday, #FlashFictionFriday, Poetry

Works In Progress update #amwriting

This week has been busy. I have finished my work as a reader for a short-story contest, which was an awesome gig, I am nearing the end of an editing project, and I am continuing to discover who my characters are in my current first draft. I am 70,000 words into this project, which is slated to be a duology. This means I am about a third of the way through it.

When I published the Tower of Bones series, I learned a difficult lesson. As slowly as I write, I need to have the entire series fleshed out and in the form of the final draft before I begin editing the first novel or it will take three years for the next novel to be published. That isn’t acceptable—people want the follow-up books in a timely fashion.

The entire two-book story arc is now laid out, and some sections are complete, but some of the characters are still raw and unfinished. I don’t really know them the way I need to for this story to come to life. After all, I can say they are charismatic all I want, but if the readers don’t find them that compelling, the story will fall flat.

At this point, I am still fleshing out my main character as a human being. He and I have come far, but I still don’t know him as well as I know his father and his brother. I am beginning to get a grip on him but some aspects of his character still elude me—he is still at what I think of as the “he-went-he-saw” stage of development.

When writing the other characters, I asked them to “talk” to me, asked them to tell me who they are and what is most important to them. So that is what my protagonist is doing this week. I have him as an old man, sitting on his porch and telling me what really happened. This is a short story, but it will never see the light of day.

This 2,000 – 5,000-word exercise is all backstory and will go into a file labeled as such. When I go back to writing the actual novel, this information won’t even be a part of the story. But because I have talked to my protagonist, Alf, and gotten to know why he thinks the way he does, his actions and reactions will be organic and natural. His motivations will become clear, and the reader will feel that Alf wouldn’t think any other way.

My antagonist, Daryk, will also have the chance to talk to me this week in the form of a letter written to me. He will tell me who he is and why he should really be the protagonist rather than the bad guy, as he is really the good guy and I have it all wrong.

I discovered this method during the rewrite of the Tower of Bones series. I knew who my main character and his companions were, as I had designed the original game story line around them. But I couldn’t get a grip on why my evil guy was so wicked and why he was convinced he was the good guy when his actions were so reprehensible.

What I finally did for Stefyn in Tower of Bones, was this—I had him write a long letter to me, explaining his reasons and trying to convince me that he was the real protagonist. Having read his reasons, Stefyn’s motivations were easy for me to understand. His commitment to his god’s path was fundamental to who he was.

My new antagonist must also be that committed, but he comes from a completely different culture than Stefyn, who was raised to be who he is. Daryk was once my protagonist, Alf’s, dearest friend and companion. Caught in a mage-trap during a battle, he has been turned against his will to the path of the dark god. Now he has abandoned the path of Aeos and has become Tauron’s highest priest.

In my current work,  Neveyah has recovered from a global disaster. The war of the gods brought three civilizations to their knees five hundred years prior. Additions have been made to the maps, and some places that are there in Edwin’s time are not there in Alf’s.

Humanity has emerged from the ruins, but the world is a different place. The tribes were sundered from each other, and the southern tribes no longer remember their roots—a source of tension between the two different cultures.

Now Neveyah is poised on the edge of another cultural change no matter which deity wins this skirmish in their ongoing battle. To survive, the disparate societies will have to work together under a strong leader. Who will that leader be, Alf or Daryk?

I have written the overarching story and the plot. The side characters are clear in my mind and on paper. The two most important characters, Alf and Daryk, are equally matched in abilities, but only one can succeed. The path before each character is difficult and the differences between them is clear. Alf’s companions are his greatest strength, and they serve Aeos beside him as equals and follow him out of respect. Daryk has only one close companion, his wife, and she is under a magic geas (spell) to serve him and his god.

Alf leads by reason and example—many times he has difficulty swaying people to what he believes is their only salvation. Daryk leads by force of will, and when that fails, he compels his wife to use her mind-magic to “make them understand.”

Historical figures of the stature of Alf and Daryk must embody personal charisma and great leadership ability. People must wholeheartedly believe in them and desire to dedicate their lives to following them. My current mission is to understand what makes these two people charismatic enough to be great leaders and figure out why each one could win. That final battle will decide the future of a world, and if I don’t make it epic, there is no point in writing the tale.

Epic battles require epic characters. Hopefully, over the next few weeks of getting to know these characters, I will know why each one deserves to succeed. My hope is that finishing the first draft of these two books will only take half a year—although it could take longer.

As I mentioned above, I do write slowly. This is because much of what I write ends up being rewritten based on beta readers’ comments–and new ideas that pop into my head at 03:00 in the morning.

4 Comments

Filed under Publishing, writing

Parallelism – what it means #amwriting

Allergy season is in full swing in my little corner of the world, and I have been hit hard this year. Nevertheless, writing and editing continues and so today we’re going to revisit the topic of parallelism and using repetition as a literary device.

Some aspects of writing craft were never taught in school. Either that or I was mentally absent the day they were discussed. But as a voracious reader, I often think about books long after I’ve finished them, analyzing everything I like or dislike, and I have found certain patterns in the work I love. One thing my favorite authors have in common is they sometimes use the intentional repetition of certain key words and phrases to highlight an idea or show a scene.

This technique is an accepted rhetorical device and is commonly found in mainstream and literary fiction. The great fantasy authors will also occasionally employ repetition in a particularly intense scene, often in conversations where great drama is unfolding.

In literary terms, intentional repetition of key words is used to evoke an emotional response in the reader and can be exceedingly effective when done right.

Literarydevices.net says, “The beauty of using figurative language is that the pattern it arranges the words into is nothing like our ordinary speech. It is not only stylistically appealing, but it also helps convey the message in much more engaging and notable way. The aura that is created by the usage of repetition cannot be achieved through any other device.”  (End quoted text)

Repetition as a literary device can take these forms:

  • Repetition of the last word in a line or clause.
  • Repetition of words at the start of clauses or verses.
  • Repetition of words or phrases in opposite sense.
  • Repetition of words broken by some other words.
  • Repetition of same words at the end and start of a sentence.
  • Repetition of a phrase or question to stress a point.
  • Repetition of the same word at the end of each clause.
  • Repetition of an idea, first in negative terms and then in positive terms.
  • Repetition of words of the same root with different endings.
  • Repetition both at the end and at the beginning of a sentence, paragraph, or scene.
  • Repetition is also construction in poetry where the last word of one clause becomes the first word of the next clause.

One thing that has always been difficult for me is the way my narrative will feel awkward to me, and I can’t figure out why. My eye always wants to skip these sections, but when I take a closer look, I realize the awkwardness is caused by poor sentence construction—something even editors deal with in their first drafts.

When an author presents two or more ideas in a sentence or paragraph, they must be equal in importance, or parallel. So, when an author uses repetition of key words to present two or more ideas in a sentence for literary effect, parallelism is crucial.

This is what I mean when I say we intentionally craft our prose—we arrange our words for the greatest effect. Repetition has its place, but it must be intentional.

What parallelism means can be shown by a quote attributed to Julius Caesar, who used the phrase in a letter to the Roman Senate after he had achieved a quick victory in the Battle of Zela.

I came;

I saw;

I conquered.

Caesar gives equal importance to the different ideas of coming, seeing, and conquering. In literary terms this is elegant on two levels:

  1. It employs repetition of the word ‘I’ to good effect
  2. Three ideas are presented in one sentence: He arrived in Zela, saw something he liked, and took it.

Consider the sentence: They fought in the streets, in the fields, and in the woods.

If you leave out the second instance of the word ‘in’ the sentence is no longer parallel. They fought in the streets, the fields, and in the woods.

In a series of phrases beginning with a word such as to or in, repeat the word before each phrase or don’t repeat it at all after the first one: They fought in the streets, the fields, and the woods.

However, in literary prose, there is magic in the number three: the emotional impact of three repetitions of such a small word as ‘in’ elevates the prose from merely reporting a fact to something poetic.

‘In’ is a correlative word, a word or concept that has a mutual relationship with another word or concept. It is rarely a standalone word, so when used in repetition the words it modifies must be given equal importance.

Intentional repetition of key words can create impact:

Pulling loose from his grip, Ellen wept. “I hate you, I hate your mother, and I hate our life!”

What we want to remember is that when we intentionally repeat a word or a phrase, each repetition must be given equal importance, or the phrase will become awkward in a subtle way. Our eyes will want to skip it, and we may not notice it but another reader will.


Sources and Attributions:

Repetition Copyright © 2017 Literary Devices. All Rights Reserved

Quote from the PDF Parallelism: They fought in the streets, the fields, and in the woods.  http://faculty.washington.edu/davidgs/ParallelConstruc.pdf

 

17 Comments

Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: The Merry Family, by Jan Steen

Jan Steen was fond of painting peasants and ordinary people, and this picture is a good example of that.

What I love about this image is the chaos. The clutter of pans and dishes heedlessly fallen to the floor, the boisterous enjoyment of wine and song, and the obvious lack of parental restraint is wonderfully depicted. The numerous children are smoking and drinking to excess, vices that weren’t acceptable diversions for youngsters then any more than they are now. The baby is exceedingly chubby, which was uncommon and represents the vice of gluttony–in one hand it holds bread and in the other it waves a spoon.

I suspect the children grew up with a similar love of wine and song as their parents.

The note on the wall contains the moral of the story. According to the Rijksmuseum website, “The note hanging from the mantelpiece gives away the moral of the story: ‘As the old sing, so shall the young twitter.’ What will become of the children if their parents set the wrong example?”

The Age of the Puritan had swept across Europe and while it was waning in the mid-seventeenth century, puritanism had influenced life in Holland as much as elsewhere. This painting is a wonderful visual exhortation reminding the good people to live a sober life. Steen himself was not a puritan, as he was born into a family of brewers and ran taverns and breweries off and on throughout his life. But he did need to sell his paintings as he was never a successful businessman, and his allegorical paintings were quite popular.

Quote from Wikipedia: Daily life was Jan Steen’s main pictorial theme. Many of the genre scenes he portrayed, as in The Feast of Saint Nicholas, are lively to the point of chaos and lustfulness, even so much that “a Jan Steen household,” meaning a messy scene, became a Dutch proverb (een huishouden van Jan Steen). Subtle hints in his paintings seem to suggest that Steen meant to warn the viewer rather than invite him to copy this behaviour. Many of Steen’s paintings bear references to old Dutch proverbs or literature. He often used members of his family as models, and painted quite a few self-portraits in which he showed no tendency of vanity.


Credits and Attributions:

The Merry Family, Jan Steen, 1668 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Moral (English translation) quoted from Rijksmuseum website,  https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-C-229, accessed 17 May 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. “Jan Steen.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Jan. 2018. Web. 17 May. 2018.

2 Comments

Filed under #FineArtFriday

Thoughts on the craft #amwriting

We who write all begin this journey with a story we think would make a great book, and a certain amount of natural talent for storytelling. However, unless we have an exceptional memory for the obscure and boring lectures we endured in grade-school grammar, authors who are serious about the craft must learn how to write.

This means they must learn how to construct a sentence using accepted rules of grammar. They must also learn how to construct a story, so it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The core features of a great story are:

  • Originality
  • Plausibility
  • Plot arc
  • Character arc
  • A satisfying end

Within those pages, we want to see:

  • Unique characters
  • Well visualized settings
  • Compelling dialogue
  • Tension and pacing
  • Hooks and transitions that make a reader want to turn the page

Knowledge of grammar and writing craft is crucial if you want a reader to stay with your story. As I’ve mentioned before, commas are to clauses what traffic signals are to streets—they govern the flow of traffic, although, in the case of sentences, the traffic is comprised of words, not cars.

The opportunity to learn writing craft is out there on the internet, and it costs nothing.

Education in America is under fire at all levels. The determined learner can still get that education simply by going to the library and asking questions. Start there and use the information you glean there to lead you to other places to learn writing craft via the internet.

This is why it is crucial for us to support the libraries in our towns, both financially if possible, and with our patronage. In places where the education system is broken, libraries are the last bastion of opportunity for both children and adults with limited funds and unlimited curiosity.

If you are fortunate enough to have a secondhand bookstore in your town, purchase secondhand books on writing craft, and invest in technical manuals detailing different aspects of writing.

For the financially strapped author wanting to increase their knowledge, an amazing resource is the website Writers’ Digest. They are also for profit, but they offer an incredible amount of information and assistance for free.

So here are several sources of online information about the craft of writing (and I’ve listed them before):

I’ve also mentioned before that Harlequin has one of the best websites for teaching authors how to develop professional work habits, which is critical to being productive. I highly recommend you go to websites that specialize in writing romance novels regardless of what genre you write in.

I say this because the romance publishers have it right: they want to sell books, and they want you to succeed:

  • They get down to the technical aspects of novel construction and offer many excellent tools for getting your work out the door in a timely fashion–something I need to work on.
  • They also offer tips on marketing your work.

Many authors are able to get a degree in creative writing. But many talented authors don’t have the money or education to get into a program like that. They are working day jobs to support their families and money is tight.

However, an education can be obtained at little or no cost–but it takes effort and determination. Though we may not have the money or time to get an official degree, many of us will become knowledgeable the craft of writing by obtaining information in bits and pieces over time. This is the method I have used–a combination of some college classes, writers’ workshops, and many hours of reading books on the craft of writing.

If you only have two books on your desk, one should be the Chicago Manual of Style, and the other should be the Oxford American Writers’ Thesaurus. Besides those two books, these are a few of the books I keep in hard-copy and refer to regularly:

Story, by Robert McKee

Dialogue, by Robert McKee

The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler

The Sound on the Page, by Ben Yagoda

Rhetorical Grammar, by Martha Kolin and Loretta Gray

You may not be able to afford to take writing classes or have the time to go to college and get that degree. But you may be able to afford to buy a few books on the craft, and it’s to your advantage to try to build your reference library with books that speak to you and your style. You will gravitate to books that may be different than mine, and that is good. But some aspects of our craft are absolute, nearly engraved in stone, and these are the basic concepts you will find explained in these manuals.

Reading is the key. Read widely, and you will begin to understand many different forms of literature. We all know that reading widens your horizons and opens your mind to possibilities in your own work that you otherwise wouldn’t consider.

Most importantly, you must lose the fear of being stuck reading works you don’t enjoy.

An essential skill for you to gain as a writer is the ability to clearly identify what you don’t like about a given work.

By reading widely, you will become less inclined to make broad statements, such as “I don’t like sci-fi.” You will be able to identify what it is that you don’t like about a given novel rather than dismissing an entire genre.

So much can be done at no cost financially, but it does require a desire to learn and the willingness to try.

If you have some funds to dedicate to learning the craft of writing, you can take online classes or attend seminars in your local area.

Look at the calendar of your local library and see if they are offering any FREE seminars on writing craft. If you check in your local area, you will be surprised just how many opportunities there are to learn about the craft of creative writing.


Credits/Attributions

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons, accessed Feb 26, 2017

The Chicago Manual of Style, University of Chicago Press; Seventeenth edition (September 5, 2017) Fair Use

12 Comments

Filed under writing

Language, words, and relevance #amwriting

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, English is like water–it shifts, it flows, and it takes what it wants from every other language it comes across. That naughty  penchant for word-thievery is what makes English so much fun to play with.

This continual evolution is also what makes it so difficult to work with. The very roots of English encourage the continual changing soundscape, because it is a living language.

Think about it–a bunch of smart guys in Victorian England applied the rules of a dead language, Latin, to an evolving language with completely different roots, Frisian glued to Old French, added a bunch of made-up words and usages invented by William Shakespeare, and called it “Grammar.”

Consider these words that either signify lazy speech habits or a shift in the language:

  • Supposably… oh wait, did you mean supposedly?
  • Liberry… no sir you must go to the library for those books–the liberry is not a truthful fruit and may give you hives.
  • Feberry... I hope you mean it will happen in February because Feberry will never come.
  • Honestness... In all honesty, I am not sure what to make of that one.

My favorite new word is Prolly, which my granddaughters seem to think means Probably, but in all honestness, doesn’t.

It’s not a new problem.

Jonathan Swiftwriter and dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, complained to Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, in 1712: “Our Language is extremely imperfect. Its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions; and the Pretenders to polish and refine it, have chiefly multiplied Abuses and Absurdities.” He went so far as to say, “In many Instances, it offends against every Part of Grammar.”

I feel that may prolly be a little harsh.

But this all boils down to what our current language really sounds like, and what it may become in fifty years. If a true classic like The Hobbit is written in too old-fashioned a style for young people to read now, that doesn’t bode well for the longevity of the books we authors are so carefully crafting now.

But these shifts in sound and accent and the influx of new words into the language have a side effect I find disturbing. As frequently happens, this problem is caused by people with good intentions.

A great commentary was posted in the Guardian a while back, called The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape, written by Robert McFarlane and posted February 27, 2015. He states that many common words are being omitted from school dictionaries now in an effort to modernize them. (Acorn, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, and willow.)

How will a modern reader understand a book like Watership Down if the meanings of those words  which describe common plants and animals are no longer relevant? And that beautiful, highly controversial book was only first published in 1972.

If I could say one thing to those who compile dictionaries, it is that all the many words that make up our English language have relevance and should be included in what is being marketed as a truly comprehensive dictionary.

At some point, a curious reader is going to want to know the meaning of a word. If that word appeared in the dictionary at one time, why must it be removed just because a committee of scholars with narrow life experiences don’t use it in conversation? This is especially important in a school dictionary.

At least the publishers of most dictionaries seem to be aware of this modern fact: In an on-line dictionary they have unlimited space and the per-page cost is not an issue as it is in a printed book. So, as the language shifts, I hope they continue to ensure the comprehensiveness of their online dictionaries by adding the new words and meanings and continuing to explain the old.

Conversation and literature both occur in Modern English, but conversation and literature are completely different mediums. For us to omit words from the dictionary because they have fallen out of common use in some people’s conversational milieu is shortsighted. At that point, the dictionary is not as comprehensive as we are pretending it is.

How will the landscape of our language look in fifty years? I sometimes doubt I will be understood, speaking in my ancient Northwest American dialect, using words that have no relevance. Without a comprehensive dictionary, how will the words I write today be understood by my great-grandchildren?

Prolly they won’t be.


Credits and Attributions:

Watership Down, by Richard Adams, first edition cover, Rex Collings, Publisher, 1972, Fair Use via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, May 8). Watership Down. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:37, May 13, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Watership_Down&oldid=840171659

14 Comments

Filed under writing

The problem with hitchhikers…

A good poem for a Saturday, written by Sue Vincent!

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

They’re lurking in there,
This I know,
I put them there
Some time ago;
The are the fish
The eye forgot…
And have I seen them?
I have not.

*

A barbelled snout
I just might see
If I am looking
Carefully,
But over head
And wormlike tail
Their reticence
Has drawn a veil.

*

I’m told they do
Come out to play,
Though not, apparently,
By day.
They do their foraging
At night
And keep their colours
Out of sight.

*

Now given choice,
I might have bought
Some fishes
Of a different sort;
The type that might,
Occasionally,
Come out
That I might
Watch and see.

*

My loach had hitched
A ride with me,
Within a plant
He came for free.
But lonely loaches
Can’t be done,
It isn’t fair
To have just one,

*
And that is why
Within the water,
I have fish
I didn’t…

View original post 15 more words

3 Comments

Filed under Poetry, writing

#FineArtFriday The Painter in his Studio by Adriaen Van Ostade

In “The Painter in his Studio” by Adriaen Van Ostade (1663), we see a self-portrait of the artist, sitting with his back to us. He is at his easel, and his brush hand rests on a ‘maulstick,’ a stick with a padded head used by painters to support the hand holding the paintbrush.  In the shadowed background, a pupil is at work, possibly preparing a palette, or maybe preparing colors.

The window, the floor with all its debris, the walls, and the ceiling are depicted with great detail. The artist and his pupil are less detailed.

The studio is untidy, with brushes fallen on the littered floor. The room is cluttered with numerous odd objects and tools of the trade, including the head of a broken bust beneath a table. On the ceiling above the artist, a canvas canopy is tacked up, possibly to protect the artist’s work area from leaks, or perhaps falling dust.

A skull of some sort hangs near the window, and antlers also decorate the ceiling. The painter’s mannequin poses near the stairs, and an indistinct trunk stands open in the background.

The room is in desperate need of a good sweeping. The large leaded-glass window, however, is clean and lets in good light. It shows us how the artist saw himself and his work space.

A Netherlandish contemporary of the Flemish painters David Teniers the Younger and Adriaen Brouwer, Van Ostade was inspired by the work of Rembrandt.

As Rembrandt did, Van Ostade painted people who had seen hard times. They were often old, sometimes ill-favored, and not always beautiful. He painted dark interior scenes, where shadows are often the dominant features. He also painted the interiors of taverns and the homes of ordinary people, so through his work we who write can see how people really lived.

Van Ostade lived and painted in Haarlem. His subjects and the mood of his work is darker than that of his Flemish contemporaries, as hard times had fallen on the people of Holland, and  Haarlem in particular.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Adriaen van Ostade – The Painter in His Studio – WGA16748.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Adriaen_van_Ostade_-_The_Painter_in_His_Studio_-_WGA16748.jpg&oldid=270705051 (accessed May 10, 2018).

3 Comments

Filed under #FineArtFriday