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Worldbuilding part 4: Designing the Parameters of Science and Magic #amwriting

Personal power and how we confer it is the layer of worldbuilding where writers of science and writers of magic come together.

  • WritingCraftWorldbuildingScienceVSMagicMagic and the ability to wield it confers power. Magical creatures, elves, mythical races, mythological gods and demigods – these are some of the many natural and supernatural components of fantasy.
  • Science and superior technology also confer power. Science fiction embraces current physics and theoretically possible technology, taking them into the near or distant future.

Speculative fiction is comprised of two overarching genres: science fiction and fantasy. The choice to make the technology of science or the technology of magic the primary source of power in your story determines which side of the coin lands up. The way you choose to go determines the sub-genre.

A novel set firmly in the technology of the past with no magic is not mainstream sci-fi. If it falls in late Victorian or early Edwardian times and uses the technology available in that era in advanced ways, it could be a branch of sci-fi called Steampunk.

If it takes place in an earlier era and contains magic, magical creatures, or advanced technology, it is an Alternate World fantasy (magic) or sci-fi (tech). If it has no magic or advanced technology, it could be a different genre altogether: historical fiction.

Science fiction has strict parameters established by its readers. The wise author will pay attention to those limits if they want their work to resonate with that audience.

I have said this before, but I feel the need to repeat it. Science is not magic, and it should not feel to a reader as if it were. It is logical, rooted in the realm of both factual and theoretical physics.

David_Teniers_the_Younger_-_The_AlchemistAuthors of sci-fi must do the research and understand the scientific method. This path of testing and evaluation objectively explains nature and the world around us in a reproducible way. The physics of our current technology, everything from toasters and cellphones to microwave ovens and spaceships has been created using scientific discoveries by people who understand the scientific method.  

Skepticism and peer review are fundamental parts of the process.

An important thing for authors to understand is who their readers are. Those who read and write hard science fiction are often employed in various fields of science, technology, or education in some capacity.

They know the difference between physics and fantasy.

The same goes for those who read fantasy: they are often employed in fields that require critical thinking.

Often, readers of both genres are avid gamers. Gamers learn to develop skillsets within strict parameters to advance in the game. Thus, logic and limitations define how much enjoyment they get from a gaming or reading experience.

I read a great many books in all genres. If I have one complaint, it is that many authors indulge in mushy science or magic. They make it up as they go, which is what we all do, but they don’t bother to cover their tracks.

When they get to the editing stage, they don’t go back and look for the contradictions in their magic or science, the places where a reader can no longer suspend their disbelief.

Magic is also a science and should be held to the same standard as physics. Having magic conveys power in the same way that having superior technology does.

If magic is a tool that your characters rely on, it must be believable. I write fantasy, so the science of magic is an underlying, invisible layer that is part of my worldbuilding process.

915px-An_alchemist_in_his_laboratory._Oil_painting_by_a_follower_o_Wellcome_V0017631The following is my list of places where the rules of believable magic and technology converge in genre fiction:

  1. The number of people who can use either magic or technology should be limited.
  2. The ways that characters can use magic or technology should be limited.
  3. Characters with those abilities or equipment should be limited to one or two kinds of magic/technology. Only specific mages/technicians can make use of all forms of magic/technology.
  4. There must be strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind of magic/technology can do.
  5. The author must clearly define the conditions under which this magic/technology will work.
  6. There must be some conditions under which the magic/technology will not work.
  7. There must be limits to the damage magic/technology can do as a weapon or the healing it can perform.
  8. The wielder of this magic/technology might pay a physical/emotional price for using it.
  9. The wielder of this magic/technology should pay a physical/emotional price for abusing it.
  10. The learning curve for magic should be steep and sometimes lethal.

For the narrative to have a realistic conflict, the enemy must have access to equal or better science/magic.

Often in the case of magic, the protagonist and their enemy are not from the same “school.” When this is the case, the author has two systems and sets of rules to design for that story.

The same goes for technology. One group may have found a way to exploit physics that places the other group at a disadvantage. This disparity is where the tension comes into the story.

We authors must create the rules of magic or the limits of science for both the protagonist and antagonist. We must do it in the first stages of the writing process. If you have been creating your stylesheet, take the time to include a page defining the laws of physics/magic that pertain to your universe.

It will only require fifteen minutes to half an hour to brainstorm and create a system that satisfies the above ten requirements. This way, you will be sure the logic of your magic/technology has no hidden flaws.

When you take the time to research science technologies or create magic systems, you create a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Limits force us to be creative, to find alternative ways to resolve problems.

There can be an occasional exception to a rule within either science or magic, but it must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.

There must be an obvious, rational explanation for that exception.

An_Alchemist_attributed_to_Joost_van_Atteveld_Centraal_Museum_20801Science or magic is only an underpinning of the plot. They are foundational components of the backstory. 

The only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is at the moment it affects the characters and their actions. When Gandalf casts a spell, or Sulu fires his phaser, the reader knows the characters have these abilities/technologies.

The best background information comes out only when that knowledge affects the story. It emerges naturally in actions, conversations, or as visual components of the setting.

By not baldly dropping the history or science/magic on the reader in paragraph form, the knowledge becomes a normal part of the environment rather than an info dump.


The previous posts in this series can be found here:

Designing the Story (includes creating a stylesheet)

Worldbuilding Part1: Climate

Worldbuilding Part 2: Maps, Place-names, and Consistency

Worldbuilding Part 3: Designing the Parameters of Science and Magic

This Post: Worldbuilding Part 4: Creating the Visual World


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:David Teniers the Younger – The Alchemist.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:David_Teniers_the_Younger_-_The_Alchemist.jpg&oldid=528972179 (accessed July 18, 2021).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:An Alchemist attributed to Joost van Atteveld Centraal Museum 20801.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:An_Alchemist_attributed_to_Joost_van_Atteveld_Centraal_Museum_20801.jpg&oldid=531124885 (accessed July 18, 2021).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:An alchemist in his laboratory. Oil painting by a follower o Wellcome V0017631.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:An_alchemist_in_his_laboratory._Oil_painting_by_a_follower_o_Wellcome_V0017631.jpg&oldid=303482875 (accessed July 18, 2021).

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Worldbuilding Part 3: Creating the Visual World #amwriting

One of the most valuable tools an author can have to aid them in worldbuilding is the stylesheet. It costs nothing to create but is a warehouse of information about your work-in-progress. If you’re smart, it contains a glossary of created words, names, a list of sites where you got your research, and myriad notes that relate to that novel.

The post on creating this essential tool is here: Designing the Story (includes developing a stylesheet).

WritingCraftWorldbuildingIf you are writing a contemporary novel or historical work set in our real world, this is where you keep maps and maybe a link to Google Earth.

The original plot and characters of Mountains of the Moon began life as a storyline for an anime-based RPG that never went into production.

I had created the maps for the game, so I knew the topography was as much an antagonist as was the ultimate threat posed by the minions of the Bull God. I had to first build and then destroy the ecology for the game because the dangerous environment and creatures capable of elemental magic are a core plot point in the story, a threat with which the protagonist must learn to coexist.

The world of Neveyah, where Mountains of the Moon is set, is an alien environment. Yet it’s familiar, based on the world I live in, the Pacific Northwest. The plants and geography are directly pulled from the forested hills of Southern Puget Sound and Western Washington State.

The foods they have available to them are primarily those available in the pre-Columbian Americas, although chickens and sheep aren’t native to this continent. I also invented plants that served as medicines and were helpful as tools or dyes.

In 2010, I wrote the proto novel of what later became Julian Lackland as my first NaNoWriMo project. I drew on the landscape around me to create the world of Waldeyn, where the Billy’s Revenge series is set. I used familiar landscape and flora, but in this case, I invented creatures born of magic. These are beasts whose predations limit travel and the ability of technology to advance beyond the waterwheel. The quest for indoor plumbing is a thorn in the side of my favorite innkeeper, Billy Ninefingers.

How do you fit the visual world into a narrative without dumping it on the reader? I try to use the scenery to show the mood and atmosphere.

Ivan drew his cloak around himself, listening to the soft rattling of branches moving with the breeze. The occasional calls of night birds went on around him, as if he weren’t full of doubt and indistinct fears, as if he didn’t exist to them. Leaves fell, brown and harvest-dry, drifting, spiraling down to the forest floor.

For a moment, he caught the faint, disgusting scent of a water-wraith and drew his blade in case he had to rouse the others.

3-Ss-of-worldbuilding-LIRF07182021The “three S’s” of worldbuilding are critical: sights, sounds, and smells. Those sensory elements create what we know of the world. Taste rarely comes into it, except when showing an odor.

Inside the lair, the caustic atmosphere burned her eyes and throat. “Shallow breaths,” she reminded herself. The nest was huge, but Sofia climbed in and quickly grabbed the egg, slipping it inside her shirt, next to her skin. She switched the round rock into its place, positioning it as the egg had been.

 Silently, she ran back to the entrance, slipping from boulder to boulder until she disappeared into the shrubbery. Once hidden in the thick undergrowth, she breathed deeply, but the metallic aftertaste of the bitter air lingered.

In my part of the world, Douglas fir and western red cedar are the most common tree species. They both can reach up to 80 – 100 meters with a trunk up to 3 meters across. Western hemlock is shorter, only 60 meters, but has a larger trunk, up to 4 meters wide. Once a familiar tree, it became less common as old-growth forests were cut down and replaced with plantations of fast-growing Douglas fir.

Modern forest management has developed an understanding of the interdependence of diverse forest species, so a more natural approach to managed forestry has evolved.

These are the native forest trees I see in the world around me, along with big-leaf maples, alders, cottonwood, and ash. This is the world I visualize when I set a story in a forest.

What makes up your written world? How does your environment affect the way your characters live?

Darkness had fallen, but the alley’s gritty pavement still radiated a low heat. Wanda raised her eyes to see the new moon high in the black velvet sky, the distant stars obscured by the glow of neon signs and halogen streetlamps.

The odors behind the Flamingo Bar and Grill offered a pungent counterpoint to the aromas of burgers and barbecue emanating from inside. Above the back door, the weak bulb flickered but remained on, illuminating the litter.

Just a few more minutes and Bill would emerge. She knelt beside the dumpster, the gun pointed, cocked, and ready.

You might believe you can’t picture a place you haven’t been. Why?

Open your eyes and look around.

Sunset_Cannon_Beach_05_August_2019At this moment, inside your room and outside your door, you have all the elements you need to create an alien or alternate world.

These elements might exist before your eyes, or they live in your memory. Use what you know.

Reshape your environment, reuse it, and make it your fictional world.

 


The previous posts in this series can be found here:

Designing the Story (includes creating a stylesheet)

Worldbuilding Part1: Climate

Worldbuilding Part 2: Maps, Place-names, and Consistency

This Post: Worldbuilding Part 3: Creating the Visual World

Up Next: Worldbuilding Part 4: Designing the Parameters of Science and Magic


Credits and Attributions:

Sunset by Connie J. Jasperson © 2019, All Rights Reserved.

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World-building part one: climate #amwriting

Hello from a small town near beautiful Olympia, Washington. June was a strange month, climate-wise. We usually have the same climate as those of you in Wales or England.

MyWritingLife2021BOn June 27th, within the space of days, we went from temperatures well below average, low to mid-60s, and pouring rain to suffering from temperatures well above 100 degrees—108 at my house, 111 at my sister’s house 10 miles away. We use Fahrenheit in the US, but for you in the UK and Europe, we topped out at around 44 degrees Celsius. For more on the week from H**l, see this article in the Seattle Times.

Now we’re back to temperatures that are slightly above normal, getting up to the mid to upper 80s, and we feel like that’s a cool breeze.

Air conditioning isn’t as commonly built into homes here as in other parts of the US. Those of us who have the occasional A/C window unit are the lucky ones. This is because, until recent years, summers here never really began until July 5th or so, with low clouds and drizzle for much of June, and they never became unbearably warm.

When the sun did arrive, temperatures, for most of the time we have kept records, ran into the high 70s or rarely, low to mid-80s. We are said to have a generally mild climate, and while that is changing, we hope it will remain mostly temperate.

When the heatwave hit, our free-standing A/C unit saved us, but when the outside temperature reached 108, the temperature in our back hallway was still 89 degrees.

Until this year, that seemed uncomfortably warm.

Now we’re grateful for a day that doesn’t end with us prostrate.

So, let’s look at the weather as a factor in world-building.

What follows is a plan to help you lay the groundwork for the world in which your novel is set. First, what sort of world is your life set in? When you look out the window, what do you see?

I always think that if an author can inject enough reality into a fantasy or sci-fi setting, the world will feel solid when I read it.

The weather can be shown in small, subtle ways. Usually, authors use the weather as background to give a sense of place to our characters’ interactions and the events they precipitate.

The path was slippery and required scaling the cliff in some places. By the time they arrived at the clifftop, the sky had begun to clear, and the low fog was dissipating. Patches of blue peeked from behind the gray clouds, and the wind had picked up.

Haystack_Rock_in_the_fog_©2016_Connie_J_Jasperson_LIRF07112021

Haystack Rock in the Fog

Other times, weather becomes the star of the story. Tornados, hurricanes, bizarre heatwaves—these weather events can be the villain our heroes must overcome.

Once you have decided your overall climate, do some research on how the weather affects agriculture and animal husbandry.

The best way to make the fantasy world real is to visualize the scene clearly and place yourself there. Blend what you know about the natural world into it. Write out all the details that will never make it into your story, things you as the author must have set in your mind.

Now we get to the tactile parts of the setting:

How does the weather make the characters feel? Is it too warm, too wet, or is it pleasant? If your novel’s setting is a low-tech civilization, the weather will have a different kind of effect on your characters than one set in a modern society.

Parker observed the beach from his balcony. Far down at the north end of the cove, Leo and Claire walked beside the surf, with Leo’s gestures emphasizing his words. Claire was hunched against the sharp breeze in her hooded sweatshirt and agitated. It was clear her agent had told her something she didn’t want to hear.

In any era, the weather affects the speed with which your characters can travel great distances and how they dress. Bad weather always has a detrimental effect on transportation, a serious point to consider.

For example, when the heatwave was just beginning, when it was still only building, we made a trip 80 miles north to visit two of our daughters. We stayed the night in Snohomish, then stopped in Bothell to have lunch with our second oldest son. We left our last stop in Bellevue at 3 pm to head home.

sample-of-rough-sketched-mapThe journey from our youngest daughter’s house to our home 60 miles south of there took 3 ½ hours, a trip that should take an hour. Unfortunately, traffic had ground to a halt in many places. At times, we would speed along at 5 miles an hour, sometimes as fast as ten. Many drivers couldn’t handle the 94-degree heat of that day, and their short tempers combined with several stalled vehicles made for a miserable journey down I5.

But enough about the wretched climate and the effects of global warming on my life. Our next post will talk about location, and why I make simple maps for every fantasy world in which my work is set.


Credits and Attributions:

Haystack Rock in the Fog, © 2016-2021 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

Map of Mearth, © 2015-2021 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

 

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Fundamentals of Writing: Depth part 1 – identifying the weaknesses #amwriting

You have finished your first draft, successfully taken your characters from the opening pages through several disasters, and given them a smashing conclusion. You wrote “the end,” so now you’re finished! Time to upload it to Amazon and wait for the accolades to roll in.

depthPart1revisionsLIRF05252021STOP! If you value your reputation, you won’t rush to publish that mess just yet.

In my previous post, I outlined the stages of book construction using a traditional phased method of project management.

  1. The Concept. Make a note of that brilliant idea. Write it down, so you don’t forget it.
  2. The Planning Phase is where I create an outline. Some people don’t need this step, but I do.
  3. The Construction Phasewrite the first draft from beginning to the end.
  4. Monitoring and Controlling—For writers, this is actually a continuation of step three, a part of the construction phase. This is where you build quality into your product. If you are an outliner, this phase might go smoothly.
    • Create a style sheet as you go. See my post on style sheets here: Self-editing: Ensuring Consistency.
    • Find beta readers among your writing group and heed their concerns in the rewrites.
    • Take the manuscript through as many drafts as you must to have the novel you envisioned.
    • Employ a good line editor to ensure consistency in the quality of your product.
    • Find reliable proofreaders. (Your writing group is an invaluable resource.)
  5. Completion or Closing.

As you can see, when you write “the end” at the bottom of the last page, you have only completed the development and initial construction phase of this project.

800px-Singapore_Road_Signs_-_Temporary_Sign_-_Detour.svgNow you must set it aside, as you must gain a little distance from it to see it with a clear eye. This is where I seek an outside opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of my proto-novel. I am fortunate to have a local writing group of highly talented published authors. I also trade services with several editors. When the first draft of my manuscript is finished, I send it to a reader. While they are reading it, I work on something completely different.

You must ask your reader to look for and point out weaknesses. You need to know where you’ve over-explained, what needs to be expanded upon, and if the story has a satisfying conclusion. At this point, your manuscript needs line editing, but the first reader must understand that you aren’t at that stage yet. Beta readers must be able to look beyond those flaws and see the story as a whole.

Authors are thin-skinned. We are full of expectations that all readers will enjoy it and tell us how stellar it is. You must be prepared for your manuscript to come back with some critical observations. I have felt the sting and burn of honest criticism and was utterly crushed.

I had to put on my big-girl undies and grow up.

The real work begins when we get the first reader’s assessment back, and it isn’t what we thought we would hear.

If you had a conscientious reader, they noticed those massive info dumps. You know the ones, the long paragraphs of backstory we write to explain things.

Hopefully, your reader is familiar with your genre and knows about features such as horses, medicine, or police procedures. If so, they may tell you that more research is required.

Sometimes, the feedback we get means that we now have to completely rethink what we thought was the perfect novel.

Book- onstruction-sign copyAt this point, an amateur decides the beta reader missed the point and chooses to ignore their comments. Our unrealistic belief that our work is perfect as it falls from our minds is a failing that we must overcome if we want to engage readers.

When you have received your manuscript back with the reader’s comments, it’s time to begin the second draft. This is the area of construction where we straighten out confusing passages and make positive changes by adding or cutting scenes. We begin to add depth to our novel.

In my current manuscript, several areas were identified that needed attention.

First, my reader liked the overall story and found the characters engaging. However, she felt I hadn’t explored their relationships well enough to show their growing attraction. The eventual pairing seems to come out of nowhere. That relationship lacked depth.

Also, she pointed out where I had missed an excellent opportunity to inject real tension into the midpoint crisis. She also felt a lack of tension in the final pages.

In other words, the story lacks depth and tension at this point in its development. The work isn’t done; it’s only just begun.

This is where the intelligent author puts her reader’s observations to work. I took Alison’s comments to heart and considered the midpoint crisis. A solution presented itself, turning the story on its head. By doing that, an opportunity to make the final confrontation more perilous presented itself.

I added two chapters and trimmed back three. I slightly changed how the characters interact initially, making their mutual attraction a sub-thread that gradually grows from the moment when Character Two enters the story.

This novel tells the origin of an artifact that will be a strong thread in this series, but it is more focused on the internal battles we fight as part of the human condition. Each of us experiences emotional highs and lows in our daily lives. I must bring forward a specific layer of depth, the deep-rooted, personal reason for the emotions I want to portray.

Reactions must have a cause, something to react to. Depth can be instilled by adding a few well-chosen words, a sentence or two to show a flash of memory, a sensory prompt that a reader can empathize with.

But I'm not superstitious, LIRFIn my current work, the thoughts and motives of the characters are critical to the midpoint event and subsequent crisis of faith. Yes, who these people are, and their place in the story at the point where we meet them is crucial to the plot.

But the plot is only the surface. Below the surface, lending substance to the narrative, lies the layer of inference and implication. This layer conveys a sense of solidness, of complexity.

This layer must be handled deftly because you want the reader to feel like they have earned the information they are gaining. Yet, you must leave enough clues lying around that they can understand what you are implying. Readers can only extrapolate knowledge from information the author has offered them.

Depth is a vast word, considering that it consists of only five letters. Depth is complexity, intensity, and profoundness. These qualities are shown when each character’s sub-story is built upon who these characters think they are.

On Monday, we will take a closer look at some ways to build depth into the interactions of our characters.

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Cyberpunk and Sturm und Drang #amwriting

We all want to create intense moods and evoke a strong atmosphere in our work. This can range from subtle hints to full-on Sturm und Drang, but the intention is to captivate the reader either way.

What is Sturm und Drang? The English translation is literally Storm and Stress.

sturmUndDrang05152021LIRFSturm und Drang, as a literary form, evolved during the time of the American Revolutionary War. This was an era of global unrest and great hardship, especially in Europe. The main feature of Sturm und Drang is the expression of high emotions, strong reactions to events, and rebellion against rationalism. It is characterized by intense individualism and complex reactions.

Classical literature in this style began in 1772 with “Prometheus,” a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The character of the mythic Prometheus addresses God (as Zeus) in hatred and defiance. Misotheism is the hatred of God or the Gods, stemming from a moment in a person’s life where one feels the gods have abused and abandoned him.

One can’t hate what one doesn’t believe in, so misotheism requires a firm belief in a God or Gods.

Wikipedia tells usPrometheus is the creative and rebellious spirit which, rejected by God, angrily defies him and asserts itself; Ganymede is the boyish self which is adored and seduced by God. One is the lone defiant, the other the yielding acolyte. As the humanist poet, Goethe presents both identities as aspects or forms of the human condition. [1]

Literature and music written in the style of Sturm und Drang were meant to shock the audience, inundating them with extremes of emotion.

A parallel movement occurred in the visual arts. Artists began producing paintings of storms and shipwrecks, showing the terror and irrational destruction wrought by nature. These pre-romantic works were fashionable in Germany from the 1760s on through the 1780s.

Alongside these frightening landscapes, disturbing depictions of nightmarish visions were gaining an audience in Europe. Goethe and many of his contemporaries admired and purchased paintings by artists like Henry Fuseli, horror-scapes intended to frighten the viewer.

the machine stops em forsterSo, this brings me to the subgenre of cyberpunk. One of the earliest science fiction short stories to feature a dystopian society was The Machine Stops, written by E. M. Forster. It was published in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909).

In cyberpunk, we see many of the features of classic Sturm und Drang but set in a dystopian society. The deities are technology and industry. Corporate uber-giants are the gods whose knowledge mere mortals desire and whom they seek to replace.

And, just like all demi-gods, when an exceptionally strong and clever protagonist does manage that feat, it’s business as usual. They are no better than the gods whose thrones they have usurped.

Wikipedia defines cyberpunk as a subgenre of science fiction in a future setting that tends to focus on the society of the proverbial “high tech low life  featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as information technology and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order. [2]

Cyberpunk began as a niche rebellion by authors like Phillip K. Dick. It is now considered mainstream speculative fiction and has a large audience.

Works in this genre are always set in a post-industrial dystopian world with deep divisions in the strata of society. Some have a specified caste system of sorts, but most people live in extreme poverty in all cyberpunk tales. There will be a small middle class, and at the top, a few of the strongest, most powerful people hold incredible wealth. These societies have fallen into extreme chaos, which is the driver of the story.

The MacGyver Effect is utilized to the fullest in these stories: protagonists acquire and use technology in ways never anticipated by the original inventors. A central trope of this genre is “the street finds its own uses for things.”  

In cyberpunk, the atmosphere is dark, heavily film noir. It is fast-paced, atmospheric, and alcohol is heavily abused. It is often sexist, although strong feminine cyberpunk is emerging. The prose usually has a pared-down style reminiscent of 1950s detective fiction. Street drugs are cheap and are the relaxation of choice in many cyberpunk novels.

Macbeth_consulting_the_Vision_of_the_Armed_HeadMany authors whose works appeared in the early days of cyberpunk were indies hoping to go mainstream. Their short stories appeared in popular sci-fi magazines because visionary editors risked their jobs and reputations by accepting and publishing work that their readers could have rejected.

The success of those short works piqued the interest of agents and larger publishers, enabling them to sell their longer work.

We indie authors are fortunate. We have a lot of latitude in what we choose to write. We can write and publish edgy work that would be turned away by traditional publishers, who would pass on it because it might not be a commercial success.

Authors who engage in artistic rebellion will often find great success — but usually, this comes after they are dead.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Prometheus (Goethe),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Prometheus_(Goethe)&oldid=994790116 (accessed May 15, 2021).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Cyberpunk,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cyberpunk&oldid=1020463998 (accessed May 15, 2021).

Images:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Macbeth consulting the Vision of the Armed Head.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Macbeth_consulting_the_Vision_of_the_Armed_Head.jpg&oldid=526733277 (accessed May 15, 2021).

The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster, published in the Oxford and Cambridge Review by Archibald Constable, 1909. Amazon LLC cover, published 05-15-2021, fair use.

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To schedule writing time or not? #amwriting

In a writers’ forum, I was recently asked how a person can go full-time as a writer. I don’t have a good answer for that as you must be able to pay your bills, or no books will ever be written.

MyWritingLife2021Most writers are hobbyists. This is because if one intends to be a full-time writer, one must have an income.

I am a full-time writer. I have regular office hours for writing, and I’m retired from my career in Corporate America.

For many years I was a hobbyist, writing when I had a chance and devoting my life to my job and raising a family.

Some people manage to fit short bursts of writing into their daily schedule, writing at work while on break or at lunch. Others must schedule a dedicated block of time for writing by either rising two hours before they must depart for work or by skipping TV in the evening.

When I was working, I fell into both categories. A happy life is all about balance. My family always came first, so I arranged my writing time around their schedules.

When I am in the planning stage of a novel or story, I find myself stopping whatever I’m doing and making notes, quickly getting down any thoughts that occur. This is a habit I developed when I was employed outside my home.

Until 2012, I was like everyone else, with a job and commitments that took precedence over any writing I might have wanted to do.

I saw very little television in those days. Evenings and weekends were my only time for writing, making art, or reading.

Now that I’m retired from working outside my home, six in the morning until noon is my best time to write. However, being retired means you are always available when a crisis occurs.

blogging memeEvents occur, disturbing my writing schedule, but I usually forgive the perpetrators and allow them to live. At that point, I revert to writing whenever I have a free moment.

I’m a less than enthusiastic housekeeper even when not writing, but I keep things sort of under control. These are the tasks everyone does, chores that keep our homes livable.

I squeeze housekeeping chores into my writing time the way I used to fit writing into my working life.

Dinner at the table was the one meeting place for my family during the blender years of child-rearing.

I tend to do the cooking, and dinner hits the table at 5:00 pm. If you aren’t there on time, I will give you the evil eye for the rest of your life or the evening, whichever ends first.

Balance is the key to a happy life. We want to feel productive and creative, and we want to share our lives and interests with others.

Creativity applies to everything from making a meal, to painting, to generating a business plan—your spouse or child’s creative bent may be wildly different from yours, but you must be supportive.

Therefore, we who write must make time to write. This allows us to be creative and still support our families, who all have activities and interests of their own.

ICountMyself-FriendsAs I have said many times before, being a writer is to be supremely selfish about every aspect of life, including family time.

It also requires discipline and the ability to set aside an hour or so just for that pursuit, a little time where no one is allowed to disturb you.

A good way to make sure you have that time is to encourage your family members to use that time to indulge in their interests and artistic endeavors.

That way, everyone has the chance to be creative in their own way, and they will understand why you value your writing time so much.

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Character Creation: The Ally #amwriting

An archetype is an ancient pattern describing a type of character that exists across different cultures and eras of human history. In ancient times, we had no communication with other cultures. Yet, our myths and legends share these familiar, recognizable characters we call archetypes.

WritersjourneysmallThe Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler, details the various traditional archetypes that form the basis of most characters in our modern mythology (or literary canon). I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about archetypes and how they fit into the story.

The following is the list of character archetypes as described by Vogler:

  1. Hero: someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others
  2. Mentor: all the characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts.
  3. Threshold Guardian: a menacing face to the hero, but if understood, they can be overcome.
  4. Herald: a force that brings a new challenge to the hero.
  5. Shapeshifter: characters who constantly change from the hero’s point of view.
  6. Shadow: a character who represents the energy of the dark side
  7. Ally: someone who travels with the hero through the journey, serving a variety of functions.
  8. Trickster: embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change.

Last week we discussed the Mentor. We also looked at one of the many aspects of a hero-character, the Sacrificial Lamb.

Now let’s look at Allies, friends and supporters, side characters who enable the protagonist to achieve their goal. Side characters are essential, especially characters with secrets, because they are a mystery. Readers love to work out puzzles.

f scott fitzgerald quoteOne thing I do recommend is that you keep the number of allies limited. Too many named characters can lead to confusion in the reader.

It’s sometimes challenging to decide who should go and who should stay. What is the optimal number of primary characters for a book? Be kind to the reader. Introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but use common sense.

When you give a character a name, you imply they are a memorable part of the story instead of a walk-on. Even if a walk-on character offers information the protagonist and reader must know, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be named.

Does the character return later in the story? When you introduce a named character, ask yourself if it is someone the reader should remember. Also, never name two characters in the same narrative so that the first and last letters of their names are the same.

For instance, having a Darnell and a Darrell with prominent roles in the same book could be confusing.

Make their names unique and give them a name only if they have a memorable role later. Also, as audiobooks come more and more into the publishing rainbow, spelling and ease of pronounceability are critical.

callMeGeorgeLIRF04252021How easy is it to read, and how will that name be pronounced when it is read aloud?

Certain tricks of plotting function well across all genres, from sci-fi to romance, no matter the setting. In most novels, one or more characters is a “fish out of water,” in that they are immediately thrust into an unknown and possibly dangerous environment.

Every core character that the protagonists are surrounded by should project an unmistakable surface persona, characteristics that are identifiably “them” from the outset.

From the moment they enter the story, we should see glimpses of weaknesses and fears. We should see hints of the sorrows and guilts that lie beneath their exterior personas. Remember, they aren’t the protagonist, so their story must emerge as a side note, a justification for their inclusion in the core group.

Old friends have long histories, and the protagonist knows most of their secrets at the outset. We don’t engage in info-dumping. Their backstory should emerge only at critical points, if and when it provides the reader with information they must know.

If these friends are new to the protagonist, their stories should emerge in the form of information the protagonist must have to complete their quest. However, it should come out only when the reader must know it too.

Twilight_Confidences_by_Cecilia_BeauxIn real life, everyone has emotions and thoughts they conceal from others. Perhaps they are angry and afraid, or jealous, or any number of emotions we are embarrassed to acknowledge. Maybe they hope to gain something on a personal level—if so, what? Small hints revealing those unspoken motives are crucial to raising the tension in the narrative.

As writers, our task is to ensure that each character’s individual story intersects smoothly and doesn’t jar the reader out of the story.

To do that, the motivations of the side characters must be clearly defined. You must know how the person thinks and reacts as an individual.

Ask yourself what desires push this character? What lengths will they go to in the effort to achieve their goal? Conversely, what will they NOT do?

Just as you have done with the hero of your story, ask yourself what the side characters’ moral boundaries are and what actions would be out of character for them?

Mood is a large word serving several purposes. It is created by the setting (atmosphere), by the exchanges of dialogue (conversation), and the tone of the narrative (word choices, descriptions). It is also affected by (and refers to) the emotional state of all the characters—their personal mood.

ICountMyself-FriendsDialogue gives shape to the story, turning what could be a wall of words into something personal. We meet and get to know our protagonists and the people they will travel with through the conversations they engage in.

Write nothing that seems out of character unless there is a good, justified reason for that behavior or comment.

We want to create empathy in the reader for the group as a whole, but the pacing of the story remains central.

For all characters, whether they are the protagonist or their allies, personal revelations should only come out when they are necessary to propel the plot to its conclusion.


CREDITS AND ATTRIBUTIONS:

Twilight Confidences, Cecilia Beaux, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Writing the Short Story part 5: The Narrative Essay #amwriting

We’re working our way through a series on writing short fiction. However, we’re not done—yet another short form of writing to explore is the essay. For Indy authors who wish to earn actual money from their writing, the narrative essay is often easier to sell to reputable magazines. This is because they appeal to a broader audience than genre fiction does.

narrative essayNarrative essays are drawn directly from real life, but they aren’t necessarily factual or accurate representations of events. They often detail a fictionalized experience or event that affected the author on a personal level.

One of my favorite narrative essays is 1994’s Ticket to the Fair (now titled “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All“) by David Foster Wallace and published in Harpers. Told in the first person, it is a humorous, eye-opening story of a “foreign” (east coast) journalist’s assignment to cover the 1993 Iowa State Fair.

At the outset, Wallace states he was born several hours drive from the fair but had never attended it. A city boy, he has no knowledge of farms, farm culture, or animals. After high school and college, he had left the Midwest for the East Coast and never looked back. When the essay opens, Wallace hasn’t really thought about the fair beyond the fact that he is getting his first official press pass for covering the fair for Harpers.

Wikipedia summarizes Ticket to the Fair this way: Wallace’s experiences and opinions on the 1993 Illinois State Fair, ranging from a report on competitive baton twirling to speculation on how the Illinois State Fair is representative of Midwestern culture and its subsets. Rather than take the easy, dismissive route, Wallace focuses on the joy this seminal midwestern experience brings those involved.

The primary purpose of an essay is thought-provoking content. The narrative essay conveys our ideas in a palatable form, so writing this sort of piece requires authors to think. You must consider both content and structure.

Just like any other form of short fiction, a narrative essay has

  • an introduction,
  • a plot,
  • characters,
  • a setting,
  • a climax,
  • an ending

oxford_synonym_antonymChoose your words for impact! Writing with intentional prose is critical. A good essay has been put into an entertaining form that expresses far more than mere opinion. Narrative essays sometimes present deep, uncomfortable concepts but offer them in a way that the reader feels connected to the story.

Good essays offer a personal view of the world, the places we go, and the people we meet along the way. Names should be changed, of course.

Literary magazines want well-written essays with fresh ideas about wide-ranging topics. Some will pay well for first publication rights.

If you want to be published by a reputable magazine, you must pay strict attention to grammar and editing. Never send out anything that is not your best work. After you have finished the piece, set it aside for a week or two. Then come back to it with a fresh eye and check the manuscript for:

  • Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These words are insidious because they are actual words and don’t immediately stand out as being out of place.
  • Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them. To you, the author, they make sense because you see what you intended to see. For the reader, they appear as unusually garbled sentences.
  • Missing punctuation and closed quotes. These things happen to the best of us.
  • Digits/Numbers: Mis-keyed numbers are difficult to spot when they are wrong unless they are spelled out.
  • Dropped and missing words.

Don’t be afraid to write with a wide vocabulary. With that said, never use jargon or technical terms only people in certain professions would know unless it is a piece geared for that segment of readers.

Above all, be intentional and active with your prose, and be a little bold. I enjoy reading David Foster Wallace and George Saunders because they are adventurous in their work. Saunders’ style is always approachable, but others may find Wallace wordy and difficult to wade through. He was often accused of being too “literary” in the arrogant sense of the word.

real-writers-writeAnd on that note, we must be realistic. Not everything you write will resonate with everyone you submit it to.  Put two people in a room, hand them the most exciting thing you’ve ever read, and you’ll get two different opinions. They probably won’t agree with you.

Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Rejection happens far more frequently than acceptance, so don’t let fear of rejection keep you from writing pieces you’re emotionally invested in.

This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground—if an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, respond with a simple “thank you for your time.” If it’s a form letter rejection, don’t reply.

And when you receive that email of acceptance—crack open the fancy cider and celebrate! There is no better feeling than knowing someone you respect liked your work enough to publish it.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Supposedly_Fun_Thing_I%27ll_Never_Do_Again&oldid=815132504 (accessed January 9, 2018).

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Writing the short story part 4: making it submission-ready #amwriting

You have written a short story and edited it. You have decided what publication you want to submit it to. Now you must format the manuscript to make it submission-ready. Your next steps will show the prospective publisher your level of professionalism.

WritingCraft_short-story-formattingEditors at magazines, contests, and publishing houses have no time to deal with poorly formatted manuscripts. Their inboxes are full of properly formatted work, so they will reject the amateurs without further consideration.

You must learn to use your word-processing program. I use Microsoft Word, but Google Docs and Open Office are very similar.

FIRST: Read the submission guidelines your prospective publisher has posted on their website and follow them.

Publishers who accept electronic submissions will most likely want them formatted similarly. For the most part, this formatting is basically the same from company to company, so once you know what the industry standard is, it’s easy to make your manuscript submission-ready, at least in the area of formatting.

Running across the top of the page in your word-processing program is the ribbon (toolbar). Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. Sometimes you can’t see it, and this is because it is hidden.

On the far right-hand side in Word is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon. We are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need. If you are using a different program than mine, don’t be afraid to google how to unhide the toolbar/ribbon for your program.

Formatting_final_Fonts_2_LIRF03292020First, we must select the font. Every word-processing program has many fancy fonts you can choose from and a variety of sizes.

Use the industry-standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts and have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions: to change your fonts, open your manuscript document, and click on the tab marked ‘Home.’ In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the Editing group, click: select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

With the manuscript still highlighted, go to the font group on the ribbon’s left-hand end. The default font, or predesigned value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body),’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this by clicking on the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman or Courier (depending on the publisher’s guidelines). Click on that, and the font for the entire ms will be that font. If you have clicked on the wrong font, it can be undone by clicking the back-arrow. Once you are satisfied with your changes, click Save.

Now we are going to format our paragraphs and line spacing. Editors and publishers want their copies double-spaced so they can insert comments as needed in the reviewing pane, which will be on the right side of the page when you receive your work back for revisions. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments and is easier for an editor to read.

Do NOT ever use the tab key or the space bar to indent your paragraphs. If you used the tab key to indent your paragraphs, the indents might fail when the manuscript is electronically uploaded. This creates a wall of words with no way to tell where one paragraph ends and another begins.

If you have done that, you can fix it by using one of the two following ways.

To remove tabs from a manuscript in Word or most other word-processing programs, open the “Find” box (right side of the ribbon on the home tab). In the “Find” field, type in ^t. (Caret + lowercase t) (press the alt key 94 to make ^ and key the t). This only works if you have a ten-key (number pad) at the right side of your keyboard: ^t.

Then click “Replace.” In this field, type nothing. One click on “Replace all” will remove every tab.

That will leave you with no indents whatsoever. This will temporarily make your manuscript look like a wall of words, but you will resolve that the proper way.

If you don’t have a ten-key pad on your keyboard, you will have to remove each one by hand. Beginning with the first paragraph on the first page, scroll down and use the backspace key to remove the tab indenting every paragraph.

Once the tabs are all removed, use the following instructions to format paragraphs.

FIRST: SELECT ALL. This will highlight your entire manuscript.

select-all-printscreenStep 1: On the Home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph.’ On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it. A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

Step 2: On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced, and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

Step 3: Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.

Step 4: Where it says ‘Special’: on the dropdown menu, select ‘first line.’ On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5.’ (Some publishers will specify a different number, 0.3 or 0.2, but 0.5 is standard.)

Step 5: ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0.’

Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double.’

To summarize, standard paragraph format has:

  • margins of 1 inch all the way around
  • indented paragraphs with no extra space between
  • double-spaced text
  • Align Left. This is critical.

formatting_paragraphs_in_MSWord_Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words and letters (known as “tracking”) are stretched or compressed. Justified text gives you straight margins on both sides. However, this type of alignment only comes into play when a manuscript is published. At that point, the publisher will handle the formatting.

Now we need to make the “Header.” This is the heading at the top of each page of a word-processed or faxed document, consisting of page numbers, title, and author name. If an editor likes your work, they might print it out to look at it more closely. If the printout of the manuscript falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled because the pages are numbered.

We insert the header by opening the “insert” tab and clicking on “page number.” This opens a new menu. We add the page numbers using the small dropdown menu.

This is how the ribbon and menus look:

Headers and Page numbers prnt sc 2Now your manuscript is submission-ready. It is in Times New Roman or Courier .12 font, is aligned left, has1 in. margins, is double-spaced, has formatted indented paragraphs.

The header contains the title and your pen name. The first page contains your legal name, mailing address, contact information in the upper left-hand corner, and the word count on the right.

First_page_topThis may seem like overkill to you. If you are serious about submitting your work to agents, editors, or publishers, it must be as professionally formatted as is possible.

I hope these general instructions will help you find success, but be sure to check the publisher’s website as each publisher may have different requirements. If you don’t follow your prospective publisher’s submission guidelines, you have wasted your time submitting it.

 

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WordPress Block Editor work-around part 2: Using Images the Easy Way with the Classic Editor Toolbar #amblogging #wordpressfail

‘Life in the Realm of Fantasy’ is a WordPress blog. I originally went with WordPress for this website because it is a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system.  I also have several other blogs on Blogger (Blogspot/Google), also a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system.

Free-Range Pansies photo credit cjjap copyI prefer Blogger for ease of use, but I love the way WordPress looks when you get to the finished product stage. I do pay an annual fee to both WordPress and Blogger so that my readers aren’t subjected to random and sometimes obscene-looking advertisements.

We discussed how to find and use the classic editor tool bar in the Block Editor menu in my last post: WordPress Block Editor work-around part 1: how to find and use the classic editor toolbar. Today we’re going to source and use images to make our posts more eye-catching.

Open the Classic Editor Toolbar. Once you have your text the way you want it, it’s time to add images.

Place your cursor in the body of the blog post and click once at the spot where you will want the image. Then go to the right side of the ribbon/toolbar and click on the little camera/music notes.(When you hover your mouse over it, it will say ‘add media shift/alt/M).

When the image loads, click on it and a small toolbar will appear.

insert images classic editor toolbar

  1. Position your photo via the small toolbar. Do this first!
  2. To change the size of the image, click on the little white square in the upper right of the image. Hold it and drag the image to the size you want.

freerange daisies and image toolbar

If this is your first blog post, you won’t have anything in your media library yet, so click on “Upload Files.” Practice uploading images and inserting them, playing with it until you feel comfortable and know how to ensure the image will appear where you want it, and will be the size you want it to be. Then, once the image is in the body of the post, you click on the picture, and a new toolbox opens up. That is where you make your adjustments for positioning and size. You can even add captions.

But how do we find our images?

When we first begin blogging, sourcing images seems like no big deal. You google what you want, see what images pop up, right click, copy, and use them, right?

Wrong! Photographers and artists are just like writers—they are proud of their work and want to be credited for it. Protect yourself and your work by responsibly sourcing your images, giving credit to the authors and artists whose work you use.

You can get into terrible financial trouble and lose your credibility if you use images you don’t have the right to use.

A very good friend recently pointed out that even if you reblog a post where the images weren’t sourced properly, you might get into trouble, even though you reposted it in good faith.

I’ve mentioned this post before: The $7,500 Blogging Mistake That Every Blogger Needs to Avoid!

blogging memeSo, now that we are clear as to our legal responsibility, what does the cash-strapped author do? I go to Wikimedia and use images that are in the public domain, and I also create my own graphics.

An excellent article on using Creative Commons Images can be found here:

Wikimedia makes it easy for you to get the attributions and licensing for each image.

Another good source I have used is Allthefreestock.com, where you can find hundreds of free stock photos, music, and many other things for your blog and other projects.

Sometimes I need images I can only get by purchasing the rights to them. I’m not rich, so for those, I go to Dreamstime or Canstock, and several other reputable sources. For a few dollars, usually only two or three, I then have the right to use the image of my choice, and it’s properly licensed.

The proper legal attribution is also there on the seller’s website, clearly written out with the copyright and artist name, so all you need to do is copy and paste it into your footnotes.

credits and attributionsI keep a log of where my images are sourced, who created them, and what I used them in. One thing WordPress has either removed or hidden is the ability to insert the attribution into the image details so that when a mouse hovered over the image, curious readers could go to the source. But that doesn’t seem to be an option any more.

Since we’re talking about citing our sources, what about quoting an article or other literary work? Sometimes we want to quote another blogger or use the information we have learned from them.

Plagiarism is a bad word, and you never want to be accused of it. To that end, we cite our sources—but there is a caveat here:

  1. If we are quoting from a book and we intend to publish that passage in our book, we go to the publisher and get legal written permission to do so.
  2. If we can’t get legal written permission to quote them in our book, we do not use that quote.

Composing the body of my post in a document rather than WordPress’s content window allows me to spell check and edit my work first, and I feel more comfortable writing in a document.

I keep a log at the bottom of my page of what website, who the author was, the date of publication, and the date I accessed it. I have found the simplest method is to list them in this order:

  1. Author/contributors (for Wikipedia quotes, use “Wikipedia Contributors” rather than author names)
  2. Title of article/book
  3. Publication or website title
  4. Link to the article
  5. Date you accessed it.

Simple attributions/citations will look like this in the footnotes:

Wikipedia contributors, “Gallows humor,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gallows_humor&oldid=759474185 (accessed  January 30, 2017).

When you quote from Wikipedia, citation is simple. ‘Cite this page’ is listed in the left-hand menu under ‘tools.’

Clicking on this link takes you to a page offering citations for that page in CMoS, APA, or MLA style, whichever suits your need. Just copy and paste the one you prefer into your footnotes, and your due diligence has been done.

Clementines_Astoria_Dahlia_Garden2019All this information for your images and any quotes from other sources should be listed at the BOTTOM of your current document as you find it, so everything you need for your blog post is all in one place.

When my blog article is complete and ready to post, I will insert a line to separate the body of the post from the credits and attribution notes.

Authors should talk to the reading world about who they are and what they do. There is no better way to connect with potential readers than by talking to them. Using pictures and quoting good sources makes your website more interesting and informative.

Hopefully, this has helped you be more comfortable in finding and using the classic editor to position your images within the body of your posts.


Credits and Attributions:

All images, screenshots, and graphics in this post are the author’s own work.

Free-range Pansies, © 2021 by Connie J, Jasperson

Sentinel, © 2019 by Connie J. Jasperson

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