How to find a writing group that fits your needs #amwriting

I’m in the middle of preparing a submission to a literary contest, and as part of this, I must turn my 95,000-word manuscript into 600-word synopsis that tells the whole story.

Which is a lot harder than it sounds.

MyWritingLife2021The rules of the category I am entering (Genre Fantasy/Sci-Fi) are clear: submissions must be of new, never-before-published novels. You can include only the first 25 pages of the manuscript, which will follow the synopsis.

In other words, the synopsis first, sample of the novel second.

The rules are:

  • Must be no more than 27 pages, including the synopsis. If the entry is longer than 27 pages, it will be disqualified from the contest and only receive one critique.
  • Must be single-sided.
  • Page one must begin with a synopsis (no cover page, please.)
  • The synopsis must be 1 to 2 pages.
  • It must be in 12-point font.
  • The entire document must be double-spaced.
  • Separate scenes with marks, ie. * * * or # # #.
  • Must be in Times New Roman or Times font.
  • Have one-inch margins.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph.
  • No illustrations or images of any kind can be on the entry.
  • The title, category, and page number must be on every page on the top right-hand side of the header. (Does not need to fit in the 1-inch margins.)

So, what is a synopsis? It is an entire novel boiled down to its barebones and laid out in two pages, double-spaced. That totals about 630 words.

With the help of my writing group, I have managed to write the first two drafts of my synopsis. I will have the whole thing ready for submission by Wednesday.

One of my fellow writers had a bullet list for writing a synopsis, and she was kind enough to share it with me. Having an organized list to follow was invaluable when I crammed the entire novel, including the ending, into 600 words.

  1. An opening image/setting/concept that sets the stage (a tag line of sorts.)
  2. Protagonist intro
  3. Inciting incident
  4. Plot point 1
  5. Conflicts, Character encounters
  6. Go easy on names. Use job titles instead of multiple character names (“the daughter,” etc.).
  7. No going back point.
  8. Winning seems possible but . . .
  9. Black moment
  10. Climax – the fight is on
  11. Resolution
  12. Final Image

When I started, I knew that I wasn’t writing a blurb and that I had to include all the spoilers. So, I wracked my brain and managed a 2-page breakdown of the book that read like a laundry list.

Several writers in my group pointed out that I had named too many characters in the first draft of the synopsis. That was easily fixed. Another mentioned that I had three characters that begin with K—something I hadn’t noticed, nor had my beta readers or my editor. That was also easily fixed: Kai became Cai. Same name and pronunciation, just with the Saxon spelling instead of Norse.

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013This is a task I would have found far more daunting without the support of my Tuesday morning writing group.

As a group, we have brainstormed every aspect of writing with the aim of helping each other along the publishing path. From plots to covers, to maps, to making your advertising work for you—we help each other find the way through the challenging world of indie publishing. Adversities and successes have forged strong bonds among us, and we’ve become close friends over the years.

So how do you find your group, the safe place where you can grow as a writer and develop confidence in yourself?

My group formed about ten years ago as a regular NaNoWriMo write-in that somehow morphed into a weekly “writers’ therapy” group. With the pandemic, we continue to work and meet on Tuesdays via Zoom.

We have all maintained connections with other writing groups too. I am familiar with and have participated in a formal critique group, which I needed at that point in my development. In this sort of group, one has rules to follow. It’s a large group, and each member submits a sample of their work-in-progress. Two are selected to be read aloud. A roundtable discussion follows, dismantling the work and pointing out each area of concern.

In any writing group, rules are necessary. Authors should be aware that their manuscript’s flaws will be pointed out, which can be painful but essential to a publishable novel. An excellent article on forming a critique group can be found here: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Your area may have established writers’ groups, and some may be able to accept new members. In a meeting, more than twenty-five people can be tricky to manage. Most groups will close to new members if the number of members reaches a certain amount. The best way to find out is to google writer’s groups in your town and make inquiries.

ICountMyself-FriendsAttend a few meetings as an observer to see if this group is a good fit for you.

If you don’t find any group meeting in person or via Zoom, see what online writers’ forums might fit your needs. For several years, I participated in an excellent online group, Critters Workshop.

So now a new year has begun, and possibly this will be the year we get back some sense of normalcy. I wish you a productive pen, witty words, and may all your words find readers who appreciate your style.

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#FineArtFriday: Han van Meegeren: The Men at Emmaus

The Men at EmausVanMeegeren1937

Han van Meegeren: The Men at Emmaus

Genre: religious art

Date: 1937

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 118 cm (46.4 in) Width: 130.5 cm (51.3 in)

Collection: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Normally, I begin the Fine Art Friday articles by discussing what I love about a particular painting. Today, I want to begin with the artist, Han van Meegeren  (1889–1947), also known as Henricus Antonius van Meegeren. He was a 20th-century Dutch painter, drawer, aquarellist, and (most importantly) a forger. Van Meegeren’s story is complex and dramatic.

Wikipedia tells us:

In this Dutch name, the surname is van Meegeren, not Meegeren.

Henricus Antonius “Han” van Meegeren (Dutch pronunciation: [ɦɛnˈrikʏs ɑnˈtoːnijəs ˈɦɑɱ vɑˈmeːɣərə(n)]; 10 October 1889 – 30 December 1947) was a Dutch painter and portraitist, considered one of the most ingenious art forgers of the 20th century. Van Meegeren became a national hero after World War II when it was revealed that he had sold a forged painting to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.[3]

As a child, Van Meegeren developed an enthusiasm for the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, and he set out to become an artist. Art critics, however, decried his work as tired and derivative, and Van Meegeren felt that they had destroyed his career. He decided to prove his talent by forging paintings by 17th-century artists including Frans HalsPieter de HoochGerard ter Borch and Johannes Vermeer. The best art critics and experts of the time accepted the paintings as genuine and sometimes exquisite. His most successful forgery was Supper at Emmaus, created in 1937 while he was living in the south of France; the painting was hailed as a real Vermeer by leading experts of the day such as Dr. Abraham Bredius.

During World War II, Göring traded 137 paintings for one of Van Meegeren’s false Vermeers, and it became one of his most prized possessions. Following the war, Van Meegeren was arrested, as officials believed that he had sold Dutch cultural property to the Nazis. Facing a possible death penalty, Van Meegeren confessed to the less serious charge of forgery. He was convicted on falsification and fraud charges on 12 November 1947, after a brief but highly publicised trial, and was sentenced to one year in prison. He did not serve out his sentence, however; he died 30 December 1947 in the Valerius Clinic in Amsterdam, after two heart attacks. It is estimated that Van Meegeren duped buyers out of the equivalent of more than US$30 million in 1967’s money, including the government of the Netherlands. [1]

What I love about today’s painting: This image has the feel and flair of a masterpiece created during the height of the Dutch Golden Age. It is easy to see why the experts were duped. Despite van Meegeren’s duplicity, he was a master.

Van Meegeren educated himself before he began working on a painting. This diligence shows in the finished product. The picture’s subject is precisely the kind that renaissance artists of all levels of skill painted. The genre of religious paintings earned them the most coins.

We know that Vermeer was influenced by Caravaggio’s treatment of light in his paintings, so it seems logical that, as a young artist just learning the craft, he would attempt a fanfiction to learn and practice the master’s techniques.

The painting depicts the moment when the resurrected but incognito Jesus reveals himself to two of his disciples (presumed to be Luke and Cleopas) in the town of Emmaus. He will soon vanish from their sight, according to the Gospel of Luke 24: 30–31.

Both men are dressed as pilgrims, and the rough seams of their garments are a well-researched detail. Van Meegeren was meticulous in his research of an entire painting, from authentic pigments to handmade brushes, to historical consistency in depicting garments. The woman in the background is not mentioned in the Gospel, but in Caravaggio’s second composition of the Supper at Emmaus, she is assumed to be the innkeeper’s wife.

The muted colors, the way the hands and garments are portrayed, and the soft light entering from the window—van Meegeren knew his craft.

It’s too bad that he could only see his way to fame by cheating us. A true Vermeer is priceless as much because of the man who painted it as it is for its craftsmanship. Learning a piece is a forgery stabs the art lover in the heart.

Van Meegeren was exceptionally talented. It’s too bad that he stooped to forgery, believing it was the only way his skills could be recognized. The quest for validation took him down some dark paths.


Credits and Attributions:

Today’s image: The Men at Emmaus, by Han van Meegeren. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:EmmausgangersVanMeegeren1937.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:EmmausgangersVanMeegeren1937.jpg&oldid=605192378 (accessed December 29, 2021).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Han van Meegeren,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Han_van_Meegeren&oldid=1061907711 (accessed December 29, 2021).

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Writing Drabbles and Exploring Theme #amwriting

I think of writing as a muscle of sorts, working the way all other muscles do. Our bodies are healthiest when we exercise regularly, and with respect to our creativity, writing works the same way.

WritingCraft_short-story-drabbleDaily writing becomes easier once you make it a behavioral habit. The more frequently you write, the more confident you become. Spend a small amount of time writing every day and you will develop discipline.

If you hope to finish writing a book, personal discipline is essential.

Every morning, I take the time to write a random short scene or vignette. Some become drabbles, others short stories, but most are just for exercise. Writing 100-word stories is a good way to create characters you can use in other works.

Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of extremely short stories. Authors grow in their craft and gain different perspectives with each short story and essay they write. Each short piece increases your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition.

This is especially true if you write the occasional drabble—a whole story in 100 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes, but most importantly, they grow your habit of writing new words every day.

Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop an economy of words. You have a finite number of words to tell what happened, so only the most crucial information will fit within that space.

Writing drabbles means your narrative will be limited to one or two characters. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or affect the story’s outcome.

The internet is rife with contests for drabbles, some offering cash prizes. A side-effect of building a backlog of short stories is the supply of ready-made characters and premade settings you have to draw on when you need a longer story to submit to a contest.

Below is a graphic for breaking down the story arc of a 2,000-word story. Writing a 100-word story takes less time than writing a 2,000-word story, but all writing is a time commitment.

short-story-arc

When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100-word constraint.

To write a drabble, we need the same fundamental components as we do for a longer story:

  1. A setting
  2. One or more characters
  3. A conflict
  4. A resolution.

First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in a character’s life.

Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and others may offer no prompt at all.

Orange_Door_with_Hydrangeas_©_Connie_Jasperson_2019A prompt is a word or visual image that kick starts the story in your head. If you need an idea, go to 700+ Weekly Writing Prompts.

If a contest has a rigid word count requirement, it’s best to divide the count into manageable sections. I use a loose outline to break short stories into acts with a certain number of words for each increment. I’ve included that graphic at the bottom of this post.

A drabble works the same way.

We break down the word count to make the story arc work for us instead of against us. We have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene, about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story, and 10 – 25 words to conclude it.

If you are too focused on your novel to think about other works, spend fifteen minutes writing info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere. That is an excellent way to build background files for your world-building and character development and keeps the info dumps separate and out of the narrative.

Also, you have the chance to identify the themes and subthemes you can expand on to add depth to your narrative.

Theme is vastly different from the subject of a work. Theme is an underlying idea, a thread that is woven through the story from the beginning to the end.

An example I’ve mentioned before is the movie franchise Star Wars. The subject of those movies is the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Two of the themes explored in those films are the bonds of friendship and the gray area between good and evil—moral ambiguity.

The best way to begin building your brand as an author is to submit your work to magazines and anthologies. But writing for magazines and anthologies is different than writing novels. Some aspects of short story construction are critical and must be planned for in advance, important elements of craft that show professionalism.

When you choose to submit to an open call for themed work, your work must demonstrate your understanding of what is meant by the word “theme” as well as your ability to write clean and compelling prose.

For practice, try picking a theme and thinking creatively. Think a little wide of the obvious tropes (genre-specific, commonly used plot devices and archetypes). Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme, and then go for it.

Most of my own novels fit in epic or medieval fantasy genres. They are based on the hero’s journey, detailing how events and experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood and love of family.

These concepts are heavily featured in the books that inspired me, and so they find their way into my writing.

To support the theme, you must add these layers:

  • character studies
  • allegory
  • imagery

These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc.

Drabble_LIRF_1_jan_2018_cjjapWhen you write to a strict word count limit, every word is precious and must be used to the greatest effect. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the story’s theme and how it supports the plot.

Save your drabbles and short scenes in a clearly labeled file for later use. Each one has the potential to be a springboard for writing a longer work or for submission to a drabble contest in its proto form.

Good drabbles are the distilled souls of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that moment and makes them wonder what happened next.

Write at least 100 new words every day. Write even if you have nothing to say. Write a wish list, a grocery list, or a sonnet—but no matter what form the words take, write. The act of writing new words on a completely different project can break you out of writer’s block—it nudges your creative mind.

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Identifying the Tropes of Genre and Subgenre #amwriting

I always suggest that authors build a backlog of short stories for submission to contests and various publications. But how do you know where to sell your work?

Tropes-writing-craft-seriesTo know that, you must know the genre of the work you are trying to sell. So, what exactly are genres? Publisher and author Lee French puts it this way, “Literary genres are each a collection of tropes that create expectations about the media you consume.”

So, genres are categories the publishing industry developed to enable shoppers in bookstores to quickly find what they are looking for. They’re like a display of apples at the grocery store – many baskets of apples are situated there, but each variety is a little different from its neighbor.

The difference in taste (tart or sweet) and texture (firm or soft) are what we gravitate to when we shop for apples.

In novels, the different flavors within a genre are created by the tropes the author has chosen to include in the narrative.

When you open the Submittable App and begin shopping for places to submit your work, you may find the list of open calls confusing. Many times, contests, publications, and anthologies are genre-specific. However, sometimes they don’t clarify which subgenres within that overarching category they are looking for.

Writers of nonfiction and poetry have no problem because their work is targeted to a magazine with a specific readership.

How do you decide who will be most receptive to your story? You must look at the tropes you have included in the narrative.

This list of genres and what they represent has appeared on this blog before. Genre is determined by the author’s intention, approach, how resolutions happen, and the ideas explored. The various tropes the authors employ form these industry-wide distinctions.

Nine_Perfect_Strangers_Liane_MoriartyMainstream (general) fiction—Mainstream fiction is a general term that publishers and booksellers use to describe works that may appeal to the broadest range of readers and have some 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 novel’s prose will at times delve into a more literary vein than genre fiction. The story will be driven by the events and actions that force the characters to grow.

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. BE WARNED: if you use magic for any reason, you are NOT writing any form of sci-fi. The tropes that define subgenres are:

  • Hard Sci-fi is characterized by rigorous attention to accurate detail in physics, chemistry, and astrophysics. Emphasis is placed on accurately depicting worlds that more advanced technology may make possible.
  • 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. Go to the internet and look up the typical tropes of these subgenres. Then write me an awesome Space Opera – my favorite subgenre of sci-fi.

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.

Green_Angel_Tower_P1Fantasy is a fiction genre 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 when it comes to defining the sub-genres. The tropes are:

  • High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, fictional world, rather than the real, or “primary” world, with elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume Often the prose is more literary, and the primary plot is slowed by many side quests. Think William Morrisand J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • Epic Fantasy is often serious in tone and epic in scope. It usually explores the struggle against supernatural, evil forces.Epic fantasy shares some typical characteristics of high fantasy and includes fantastical elements such as elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume narratives. Tad Williams’s Memory Sorrow and Thorn is classic Epic Fantasy.
  • Paranormal Fantasy–Paranormal fantasy often focuses on romantic love. It includes elements beyond scientific explanation, blending themes from all speculative fiction genres. Think ghosts, vampires, and supernatural.
  • Urban fantasy can occur in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

Horror—Every genre has a subgenre of horror: Wikipedia says, “Horror fiction, horror literature and also horror fantasy are genres of literature, which are intended to, or have the capacity to frighten, scare, or startle their readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon has defined the horror story as “a piece of fiction in prose of variable length… which shocks or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing.” In Romance, the horror subgenre might be Gothic or Paranormal, but the focus must be on a developing romance. The roadblocks will not feature blood or gore, but terror and a perception of danger will be a feature the pair must overcome.

Romance—Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people and must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. The story will be character-driven, and the roadblocks must be believable but surmountable.

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

Ulysses_(1967_film_dvd_cover)Literary fiction can be adventurous with the narrative. The style of the prose has prominence and may be experimental, requiring the reader to go over certain passages more than once. Stylistic writing, heavy use of allegory, the deep exploration of themes and ideas form the core of the piece.

Be careful when presenting yourself and your work to the prospective publisher. Never submit anything that is not your best work, and do not assume they will edit it because they won’t. No publisher will accept poorly written work or sloppily formatted manuscripts.

Read a sample of the work they publish and only submit the work that best fits their publication.

And most of all, good luck! May your work land on an editor’s desk the day they are looking for a story just like that!

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#FineArtFriday: Christmas Eve, Chromolithograph by Joseph C. Hoover & Sons

No_Known_Restrictions_Christmas_Eve_by_J._Hoover,_no_date_LOC_2122063062

Description: Christmas Eve, chromolithograph by J. C. Hoover and Sons

Date: 1880

About the publisher, via Art and Antiques Gallery’s website:

Hoover & Sons issued popular prints for the masses in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century. This was a business much like Currier & Ives, though Hoover & Sons issued chromolithographs. Joseph Hoover was one of the few native-born Americans who achieved success with chromolithography. Hoover started by making elaborate wood frames in Philadelphia in 1856, but within a decade or so he began to produce popular prints. Initially he mostly worked for other publishers, including Duval & Hunter, and he worked with noted Philadelphia artist James F. Queen. He also issued a few hand-colored, popular prints of considerable charm. During the Centennial, Hoover won a medal for excellence for his chromolithographs after Queens renderings.

In the 1880s, Hoover began to print chromolithographs, installing a complete printing plant by 1885. By the end of the century, his firm was one of the largest print publishers in the county, with an average annual production of between 600,000 to 700,000 pictures. Using chromolithography, Hoover was able to produce attractive, colorful prints that were still affordable for anyone to use as decoration for home and office. The audience for Hoover’s prints was quite wide, extending throughout the United States, and overseas to Canada, Mexico, England and Germany. The subjects issued by the firm are extensive, including genre scenes, still life images, views of American locations, and generic landscapes, including a series of charming winter scenes. [1]

About Chromolithography, via Wikipedia:

Chromolithography is a chemical process. The process is based on the rejection of water by grease. The image is applied to stone, grained zinc or aluminium surfaces, with a grease-based crayon or ink. Limestone and zinc are two commonly used materials in the production of chromolithographs, as aluminium corrodes easily. After the image is drawn onto one of these surfaces, the image is gummed-up with a gum arabic solution and weak nitric acid to desensitize the surface. Before printing, the image is proofed before finally inking up the image with oil-based transfer or printing ink. In the direct form of printing, the inked image is transferred under pressure onto a sheet of paper using a flat-bed press. The offset indirect method uses a rubber-covered cylinder that transfers the image from the printing surface to the paper.

Alois Senefelder, the inventor of lithography, introduced the subject of colored lithography in his 1818 Vollstaendiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey (A Complete Course of Lithography), where he told of his plans to print using colour and explained the colours he wished to be able to print someday. Although Senefelder recorded plans for chromolithography, printers in other countries, such as France and England, were also trying to find a new way to print in colour. Godefroy Engelmann of Mulhouse in France was awarded a patent on chromolithography in July 1837, but there are disputes over whether chromolithography was already in use before this date, as some sources say, pointing to areas of printing such as the production of playing cards. [2]


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from Art and Antiques Gallery https://www.pbase.com/artandantiquesgallery/joseph_hoover_and_sons_prints (accessed December 24, 2021).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Chromolithography,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chromolithography&oldid=1058870233 (accessed December 24, 2021).

Image Credit: Public Domain. Library of Congress via pingnews. Additional information from source: TITLE: Christmas Eve CALL NUMBER: PGA – Hoover, J.–Christmas Eve (D size) [P&P] REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-DIG-01601 (digital file from original print) LC-USZ62-49683 (b&w film copy neg.) RIGHTS INFORMATION: No known restrictions on publication. MEDIUM: 1 print. CREATED/PUBLISHED: [no date recorded on shelflist card]

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The Author’s Toolbox #amwriting

Passive writing occurs when, as storytellers, we are separated from the moment by words that block our intimacy with the action. Beginning writers often choose stative verbs, the passive voice, and heavily depend on weak verb forms in their writing.

toolsOne step on the slippery slope of passive prose is the overuse of stative verbs. Stative verbs express a state rather than an action. 

They are “telling” words.

A few Stative Verbs as listed by Ginger Software:

adore

agree

appear (seem)

appreciate

be (exist)

believe

belong to

For a more comprehensive list of stative verbs, go to this article: Stative Verbs – List of Stative Verbs & Exercises | Ginger (gingersoftware.com). [1]

Let’s get real—at times, stative verbs are necessary to a balanced prose. We want a narrative that expresses the human condition, and how we feel at a given moment is often part of that story. But we must balance a little telling with far more showing.

When we are first starting in the craft, we lean heavily on subjunctives and the irrealis forms of mood words. Subjunctive verbs and all forms of the verb be are hard to spot in our own work.

Be_Eight_Forms_LIRF05122019I think the habit of using one of the eight forms of the word be is more one of nurture, not nature. When we first start out in this craft, we tend to write weak sentences. This is because we are trained as children to tell what happened.

Writers often find the words and rules we use to describe existence convoluted and hard to understand.

The subjunctive (in the English language) is used to form sentences that do not describe known objective facts. These are words noting or pertaining to a mood or mode of a verb.

In grammar, mood and mode refer to verb forms. That mood or mode depends on how the clause the verbs are contained in relates to the speaker’s or writer’s wishes, intention, or claims about reality.

These verbs may be used for subjective, doubtful, hypothetical, or grammatically subordinate statements or questions. An example is the mood of the verb ‘be’ in ‘if this be treason.’

In other words, subjunctives describe unknown intangible possibilities.

chicago guide to grammarThe whole thing looks quite complicated on the surface, but it doesn’t have to be. We must begin assembling our writers’ toolbox. One important tool is Bryan Garner’s The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing).

This is the book that will show you how to write a properly punctuated and formed sentence. It explains what a paragraph is and shows how to connect those sentences into understandable chunks of prose. The book also shows how to write and punctuate dialogue so that our work looks professional.

Soon, we have written a story and other people enjoy reading it.

In our first draft, we tell the story as if it were an event that we witnessed only a few moments before. Everything in our mind occurs in real-time, but once visualized, it becomes a memory. We tend to express our scenes and events as having a state of being, but we are looking back at them from a few moments in the future. So, the narrative is rife with they were, or it was.

We all start out writing that way, but with practice and self-education, we learn to write active prose. We begin by paying attention to our verb forms in the revision process.

I don’t have an education in journalism, yet I choose to write. Most of my friends who are authors don’t have degrees in either journalism or literature. So, if we wish to gain strength as authors, we must educate ourselves.

Learning the craft of writing is like learning the craft of carpentry. If you want to craft beautiful work, you must own the proper tools for the job and learn how to use them. My toolbox contains:

  • MS Word as my word-processing program. You may prefer a different program.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (for editing work in American English).
  • The Oxford A-Z of Grammar & Punctuation (for editing work in UK English).
  • Trusted, knowledgeable beta-readers for my own work.
  • Books on how to craft a story/novel.
  • Having my work edited by good, well-recommended editors.
  • Taking free online writing classes.
  • Regularly attending seminars (not free, but worth the money).
  • Meeting with my weekly writing group (virtual meetings).
  • Daily reading in ALL genres.
  • Attending NaNoWriMo Write-Ins (virtual meetings).

What is in your toolbox? It takes a little effort, but you can educate yourself for free if you have the internet. You can learn how to express your ideas so that other people will enjoy them.

One step is to identify the habitual overuse of the Subjunctive Mood in your writing. Cut back on subjunctives and see how your prose improves.

blphoto-Orange-ScissorsI say cut back, not eliminate. Despite the misguided efforts of many gurus and Microsoft Word to erase all forms of ‘to be’ from the English language and replace it with ‘is,’ there are times when only a subjunctive will do the job.

One of the best ways to grow in the craft is to write short stories and send them off. Sometimes they are rejected, and sometimes not. Some stories aren’t really novel material, but maybe they are novellas. Send them to publications and expect rejection because that is how it often is. I can’t tell you how many rejections I have received over the years.

The truth is, we learn more from the rejections than we do the acceptances.

Rejection happens because at first, we write with WAY too many words. But a good writing group will both teach and support you through kind but honest critiques. I find it comforting to know my fellow authors will not tell me my work is awesome if it stinks like Bubba’s socks.

WritersjourneysmallA critique group may tear your work apart, which stings a wounded ego. But we grow from this experience. We learn that opinions are subjective, and writers are thin-skinned creatures. We develop a thicker skin and muck on.

In the revision process, we write mindfully, intentionally crafting lean, powerful prose.

It takes a lot of work to rise from apprentice to journeyman to master in any craft. I don’t know if I will ever achieve that status as an author, but I will keep working and learning. And above all, I will keep reading and will never stop writing.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from Stative Verbs – List of Stative Verbs & Exercises | Ginger (gingersoftware.com) Copyright 2021 Ginger Software.

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We’re With the Band, a novel by Johanna Flynn #amreading

Today I’m reviewing We’re With the Band, a new novel by the award-winning author Johanna Flynn. This book is a departure from the serious tone of her debut novel, Hidden Pictures, taking a hilarious look at renaissance fairs, bands and groupies, and the cultural importance of Ireland’s historical treasures.


But first, the blurb:

were_with_the_band_johanna_flynnWe’re With the Band, a novel by Johanna Flynn

Publisher: ‎ Palatine Press (November 29, 2021)

Language: ‎ English

Paperback: ‎ 322 pages

Lark’s life at fifty is a tour bus with failing brakes.

Failed marriage, failed social work career, failed romance with a renaissance faire knight.

If fifty is the new forty, her future doesn’t bode well.

A job comes along for a three-week band tour as a backup singer and bus driver in her native Ireland. But the country has changed since she moved to the US.

A lot.

Someone steals priceless artifacts from Dublin’s National Museum, and Lark suspects one of her bandmates is the thief. Can she manage the wild ride through the countryside, survive her quirky bandmates, reconnect with her crazy mom, and find the rare antiquities before they disappear forever on the black market?

We’re With the Band is a comedic romp across Ireland through the eyes of Lark Devlin and her best friend, Bev De Trow.

My review:

Lark Devlin is a hilarious modern gal with a healthy appetite for all that life offers. Bev is the voice of reason, not always heeded. The other characters are unique; some are hilarious, and others are a bit scary.

Rhett, the band leader, is a southerner obsessed with all things Irish. He hires Lark based on her Irish birth and accent.

When Lark and Bev meet the band members, they find a mix of people. Some are not as shallow as they appear at first.

Rhett has a secret agenda, and so do the other band members. Fortunately, no matter how cute the accent is, Lark is too smart to fall for a smooth operator.

However, in any group of healthy people, sparks will occasionally fly, and the members of the Band of Pirates are definitely healthy.

I absolutely love Lark’s mother. That woman is a firecracker.

The theft of national treasures upsets Lark on many levels, and she suspects someone in the band might be involved. These fears grow as they travel through Ireland, and evidence against one band member mounts.

The tour of Ireland is fraught with disasters, but the show goes on. I enjoyed seeing a side of the real country, the ordinary people and places we don’t see in movies. This world feels real, and that is because the author has lived in Ireland and knows the country and the people well.

Lark is sometimes impetuous when patience might be a better choice, but that is part of the fun. I laughed so much in places; the humor makes this book wonderful.

Deceit, treachery, a little of this and that—the journey turns perilous for Lark and Bev but always remains fun.

If you love high drama, dark intrigue, raunchy hilarity, and all things Irish, this book is for you.


About the author:

Johanna FlynnJohanna grew up in Spokane, Washington.

Her curiosity ranges from the arts to science to accounting. All sorts of topics catch her interest. But her biggest thrill is connecting with others and sharing views.

She believes that’s why she wanted to become a writer from a young age and why she likes many different authors and genres.

She wrote her first book at age ten. Sadly, she could not find an agent for it. In reality, she had no idea what an agent was or that she needed one. What counted was she wanted to write a story, to get something on paper, and to share it.

At about the same time her dad gave her a small camera, so the pictures you see on this website are hers.

Like many, the dream of becoming a writer had to wait. But during those years, she spent time learning the craft, taking classes, and joining writers’ groups. She learned that writing is hard, often lonely work. The biggest lesson she learned is to persist.

Johanna feels lucky to belong to a group of talented writers and to have friends and relatives, who are her biggest fans, who give useful feedback, and who support her on this journey.

You can find Johanna and her books at www.johannaflynn.com

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#FineArtFriday: Tavern of the Crescent Moon by Jan Miense Molenaer (revisited)

Artist: Jan Miense Molenaer (1609/1610–1668)

Title: Tavern of the Crescent Moon

Genre: genre art

Date: mid-17th century

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: 87.8 × 102 cm (34.5 × 40.1 in)

Collection: Budapest Museum of Fine Arts

The sign hanging in front of the Tavern of the Crescent Moon shows it was a wayside inn catering to the traveling public and some locals.  Molenaer’s inn seems to have been a friendly place where the food was most important. A piper is playing, and people are singing. Others are hanging out the windows and watching from a balcony, enjoying the music.

The patrons are a mixed group but look like happy middle-class people, who seem fairly prosperous. What I love about this painting is the fact that the patrons are sitting outdoors. The inside of most taverns and wayside inns were dark, smoky places. Patrons must have moved outdoors as soon as the weather allowed. The day this painting was composed, weather was fine, although one well-dressed man (perhaps a merchant?) has his foot resting on a foot-warmer, which was a luxury item in that time period.

Whole families are there, out for an evening of music and enjoyment. They are breaking and sharing fresh-baked bread. Other than the man whose best friend is the dog, no one has overindulged in drink—over all, the happy group looks as if they came to the tavern solely for the company and the music.

About the Artist: From the National Gallery Website:

Jan Miense Molenaer was born in Haarlem and lived there or in nearby Heemstede. In 1634 he was listed as member of the Guild of St. Luke in Haarlem. In 1636 he married the painter Judith Leyster. Both Molenaer and Leyster may have been pupils of Frans Hals and were certainly influenced by both his style and subject matter. Dirck Hals’ influence was also very important for him, for it inspired Molenaer to paint merry company scenes.

Jan Miense Molenaer was a more prolific artist than his wife, Judith Leyster, who worked on similar subjects. Motherhood and running a household most likely cut into Judith’s time for artistic endeavors.  Molenaer  and Leyster had five children, only two of whom survived to adulthood.


Sources and Attributions:

Quote from biography of Jan Miense Molenaer, The National Gallery Website, https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/jan-miense-molenaer The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN (accessed November 9, 2018)

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Miense Molenaer 003.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Miense_Molenaer_003.jpg&oldid=302686494 (accessed November 9, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Judith Leyster,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Judith_Leyster&oldid=820769951 (accessed November 9, 2018).

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Transitioning from scene to scene #amwriting

In my previous post, I showed how each scene is a small area of focus within a larger story and has an arc of its own. Small arcs hold up a larger arc. These arcs are created by events, and all the arcs form a cathedral-like structure that we call the story arc, which is the outer shell or the novel’s framework.

transitionsBy creating small arcs in the form of scenes, we offer the reader the chance to experience the rise and fall of tension, the life-breath of the novel.

Pacing is created by the way an author links actions and events, stitching them together with quieter scenes: transitions.

Transitions can be fraught with danger for me as a writer because this is where the necessary information, the exposition, is offered to the reader. This is the “how much is too much” moment.

In my first draft, the narrative is sometimes almost entirely exposition. This happens because I am telling myself the story, trying to get the events down before I forget them.

Every narrative has a kind of rhythm. While the characters might be in the midst of chaos, we must ensure there is order in the layout of the narrative.

  • action,
  • processing the action,
  • action again,
  • another connecting/regrouping scene

These “processing” scenes are transitions, moving the plot forward while allowing the reader to make sense of what just happened.

One word that slips into my first draft prose is the word “got.” It is a mental code word that I subconsciously used when laying down the story. This word signifies a small incident to revise in the second draft.

“Got” is on my global search list of “telling words.” The words in the list are signals to me, indications that a scene needs to be reworded to make it a “showing” scene.

Got:” He got the message = he understood.

Code_word_FeltCode words are the author’s first draft multi-tool—a compact tool that combines several individual functions in a single unit. One word, one packet of letters serves many purposes and conveys multiple mental images to the author.

In fact, all passive phrasing is a code. The author’s “subconscious writer” embeds signals in the first draft. It tells the author that the characters are transitioning from one scene to the next. They, or their circumstances, are undergoing a change. Is this change something the reader must know?

Each lull in the action should lead us into a new scene. When transitions are done right, readers won’t notice the narrative moving from one event to the next, as the progression feels natural.

Let’s look at two more code words for transitions:

  • Went
  • Thought

When I see the word “went,” I immediately know someone is going somewhere. It is a transition scene taking the characters to the next event.

I ask myself, “How did they go?” Went can be changed to any number of verbs:

  • walked
  • drove
  • rode
  • took
  • teleported
  • And so on and so on

You get the idea.

We can’t have non-stop action, as that is exhausting to write and more exhausting to read. The characters and the reader both need to process information, so the character arc should be at the forefront during these transitional scenes. That period of relative calm is when you allow your characters’ internal growth to emerge.

We allow the characters to justify the decisions that led to that point and plan their next move, making it believable.

The transition is also where you ratchet up the emotional tension.

We have more options than simply moving the characters from point A to point B, several paths to choose from.

strange thoughtsThought (Introspection):

  • Introspection offers an opportunity for new information to emerge.
  • It opens a window for the reader to see who the characters are and how they react and illuminate their fears and strengths. It shows that they are sentient beings, self-aware.

Keep the moments of mind wandering brief. Go easy if you use italics to set thoughts off. A wall of italics is hard to read, so don’t have your characters “think” too much if you use those.

  • Characters’ thoughts must serve to illuminate their motives at a particular moment in time.
  • In a conversation between two characters, introspection must offer information not previously discussed.
  • Internal monologues should not make our characters all-knowing. It should humanize them and show them as clueless about their flaws and strengths. It should even show they are ignorant of their deepest fears and don’t know how to achieve their goals.

Sometimes we have more than one character with information the reader needs to make sense of the next event.

The key is to avoid “head-hopping.” The best way to avoid confusion is to give a new chapter to each point-of-view character. Head-hopping occurs when an author describes the thoughts of two point-of-view characters within a single scene.

Visual Cues: In my own work, when I come across the word “smile” or other words conveying a facial expression or character’s mood, it sometimes requires a complete re-visualization of the scene. I look for a different way to express my intention, which is a necessary but frustrating aspect of the craft.

Fade-to-black is a time-honored way of moving from one event to the next. However, I don’t like using fade-to-black scene breaks as transitions within a chapter. Why not just start a new chapter once the scene has faded to black?

One of my favorite authors sometimes has chapters of only five or six hundred words, which keeps each character thread truly separate and flowing well. A hard scene break with a new chapter is my preferred way to end a fade-to-black.

Chapter breaks are transitions. As we write, chapter breaks fall naturally at certain places.

Conversations can serve as good transitions that propel the story forward to the next scene. However, they can easily become info dumps. In literary terms, a good conversation is about something we didn’t know and builds toward something we are only beginning to understand.

DangerThat is true of every aspect of a scene—it must reveal something we didn’t know and push the story forward toward something we can’t quite see.

The transition is the most challenging part of the narrative for me to formulate in the first draft. I get stuck, trying to decide what information needs to come out and what should be held back.

The struggle to connect my action scenes into a seamless arc is why writing isn’t the easiest occupation I could have chosen.

But when everything comes together, writing is the most satisfying job I have ever had.

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The Functions of the Scene #amwriting

Now that we are in the midst of December, many people are reviewing what they wrote during NaNoWriMo and trying to put it in order. This is a good time to look at the function of the scene.

ScenesNovels consist of a string of moments united by a common theme. These scenes combine to form a story when you put them together in the right order and link them with a plot featuring a compelling protagonist who must overcome adversity.

I see the scene as a story within a larger story, a moment with an arc of its own.

Scenes are the building blocks of the story. Small arcs of action form chapters, which form the larger arc of plot. They combine to form a cathedral-like structure: the novel.

If you ask a reader what makes a memorable story, they will tell you that the emotions it evoked are what they remember, and why they loved that novel.

Therefore, no scene can be wasted. Each moment of the story must have a function, or the story fails to hold the reader’s interest. I work to make each scene as emotionally powerful as I can without going overboard.

A few things a scene can show:

  • Capitulation
  • Catalyst
  • Confrontation
  • Contemplation/Reflection
  • Decision
  • Emotions
  • Information
  • Negotiation
  • Resolution
  • Revelation
  • Turning Point

Make one or more of these functions the core of the scene, and you will have a compelling story.

Let’s return to a watershed chapter I’ve discussed before. In the Fellowship of the Ring, book one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series, the longest chapter in the book details the Council of Elrond. The scene is set in Rivendell, Elrond’s remote mountain citadel.

The characters attending the Council have arrived there on separate errands. Each has different hopes for what would ultimately come from the meeting.

Despite their various agendas, each is ultimately concerned with the One Ring. Each has their own idea of how to use it to protect the people of Middle-earth from the depredations of Sauron, who is desperate to regain possession of it. This chapter is comprised of several scenes and serves more than one function.

GANDALF

Gandalf the Grey, by Nidoart, CC BY-SA 3.0

Information/Revelation: The Council of Elrond conveys information to both the protagonists and the reader. It is a conversation scene, driven by the fact that each person in the meeting has knowledge the others need. Conversations are an excellent way to deploy required information.

Remember, plot points are driven by the characters who have vital knowledge.

The fact that some characters are working with limited information creates high emotional tension.

At the Council of Elrond, many things are discussed, and the history of the One Ring is explained. This is not done in an info dump; instead, each character offers a new piece of the puzzle at the moment the reader needs to know it.

The reader and the characters receive the information simultaneously at this point in the novel.

Confrontation: A scene comprised only of action can be confusing if it has no context. A properly placed confrontational conversation (an argument/dispute) gives the reader the context needed to understand the reason for the action.

At the Council of Elrond, long-simmering racial tensions between Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf surface. Each is possessed of a confrontational nature, and it isn’t clear whether they will be able to set aside their prejudice and work together or not.

Other conflicts are explored, and heated exchanges occur between Aragorn and Boromir.

Negotiation: What concessions will have to be made to achieve the final goal? These concessions must be negotiated. Tom Bombadil is mentioned as one who could safely take the ring to Mordor as it has no power over him. Gandalf feels he would simply lose the ring or give it away. He explains that Tom lives in his own reality and doesn’t see the conflict with Sauron as a problem.

Bilbo volunteers, but he is too old and frail. Others offer, but none are accepted as good candidates for the job of ring-bearer for one reason or another. Each reason that is provided for why these characters are deemed less than satisfactory by Gandalf and Elrond deploys information the reader needs.

Turning Point: After much discussion, many revelations, and bitter arguments, Frodo declares that he will go to Mordor and dispose of the ring, giving up his chance to live his remaining life in the comfort and safety of Rivendell. Sam emerges from his hiding place and demands to be allowed to accompany Frodo. This is the turning point of the story.

(The movie portrays this scene differently, with Pip and Merry hiding in the shadows. Also, in the book, the decision regarding who will accompany Frodo, other than Sam, is not made for several days, while the movie shortens it to one day.)

Within the story’s arc are smaller arcs of conflict and reflection, each created by scenes. The arc of the scene is like any other: it begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, ending on a slightly higher point of the overall story arc than when it started.

The scene must reveal something new and push the story toward something unknown.

959px-One_Ring_Blender_Render

The One Ring, Peter J. Yost, CC BY-SA 4.0

We are also pushing the character arc with each scene, raising the stakes a little. Our protagonist grows and is shaped by receiving needed information through action and conversation, followed by reaction and regrouping. This allows the reader to experience the story as the protagonist does.

The reader can then reflect and absorb the information gained before moving on to the next scene.

I will continue this discussion in my next post, which will focus on transitioning from scene to scene. Transitions are vital as they affect pacing and keep the story moving forward.


Credits and Attributions:

Gandalf the Grey, by Nidoart, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons (artwork by Nidoart nidoart.blogspot.fr)

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:GANDALF.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:GANDALF.jpg&oldid=608049709 (accessed December 12, 2021).

The One Ring, Peter J. Yost, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:One Ring Blender Render.png,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:One_Ring_Blender_Render.png&oldid=575573354 (accessed December 12, 2021).

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