Tag Archives: #amwriting

World building, ensuring consistency #amwriting

The key to making both fiction and nonfiction real for the reader is subtle but crucial: world building. Maps, no matter how rudimentary, are the foundation of world building in my writing process.

The first map of what eventually became my world of Neveyah series emerged from a conversation with a game designer and was scribbled on a piece of note paper in a Starbucks. I transferred the scribble to graph paper, and over time, that map grew, evolving into a full color relief map of the world as it exists in my mind.

I love maps. Since that early scribble, my maps all start out in a rudimentary form, just a way to keep my work straight. I use pencil and graph paper at this stage, because as the manuscript evolves, sometimes towns must be renamed. They may have to be moved to more logical places. Whole mountain ranges may have to be moved or reshaped so that forests and savannas will appear where they are supposed to be in the story.

And that tendency for embellishment and evolution in the story teller’s mind is what has led to my most embarrassing moment of the week.

I went back to the original manuscript of Mountains of the Moon, Wynn Farmer’s story, just to check on how I had described the terrain of the high country of the Escarpment, as I am writing a short story set there. While I was searching for the passage I wanted, I noticed that I had described Widge as the northernmost navigable port on the River Fleet.

Which means that Dervy can’t be the northernmost port, and the novel I am not working on for the duration of NaNoWriMo has a large plot-hole that won’t be fixed until December.

Fortunately, it is set five hundred years before Wynn’s time, so I’m not going to scrap that portion.

Instead, I made a series of notes for when I get back to writing that novel after NaNoWriMo is over. I will show how at that time, Dervy had some commerce via flat-bottomed barges owned by daring traders. The courses of rivers are changeable, like the Mississippi or the Nile. Where a harbor was possible three hundred years ago, it may not be possible now. (see How The Nile Has Changed Course Over The Past 5,000 Years.)

So, I just had a sharp reminder to check my work for inconsistencies while I still have the chance to either make them possible or remove them.

Perhaps you think you don’t need a map. You aren’t writing fantasy, so the real world is your setting. If your characters are traveling and you are writing about their travels, you want to be accurate. Google earth and a good map will help, as will timetables for trains and airlines.

In my books, people are going hither and yon with great abandon, and if I am not really on top of it, the names of towns will evolve throughout the novel.

The basic pencil-drawn map, in conjunction with my style-sheet, is my indispensable tool for keeping the story straight. I just have to keep referring back to them, rather than trying to keep it all in my head.

What is a style-sheet? When a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a style-sheet.

The style-sheet can take several forms. It’s a visual guide to print out or keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and paste every new word or name onto my list, doing this the first time they appear in the manuscript. If I am conscientious about this, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. I also do this for my clients when I edit a manuscript.

Some people use Scrivener. I prefer to keep it simple, so I just use Excel for this because I like keeping my maps and the glossary in the same workbook. Google Docs works just as well, and it’s free, or you can just keep a list on a document or notepad.

Regardless of how you create your style-sheet, I suggest you include these elements:

  • The cast of characters and how their names are spelled
  • Their home town
  • The places they go
  • Every made-up word or name
  • The page on which it first appears
  • What it means

What should go on a map? When your characters are traveling great distances, certain differences in the terrain will impede your characters. If they are pertinent to the story, you will want to note:

  • Rivers
  • swamps
  • mountains
  • hills
  • towns
  • forests
  • oceans

What if your setting is indoors, such as an office, a mansion, or a hotel? You want to make sure the rooms and corridors that get mentioned in the narrative aren’t described in a contradictory way. If a room is next to the kitchen in the opening scene, it should still be there at the end of the story, barring a tornado.

Billy Ninefingers is set in a wayside inn. I made a drawing of the floor plan for my purposes because the inn is the world in which the story takes place. If you are writing a space opera, map out your ship or station, just for yourself.

Know your world.

As a side note, if you are writing fantasy, I suggest you keep the actual distances mushy because some readers will nitpick the details, no matter how accurate you are.

From Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge: “A league is a unit of length (or, in various regions, area). It was long common in Europe and Latin America, but it is no longer an official unit in any nation. The word originally meant the distance a person could walk in an hour.[1] Since the Middle Ages, many values have been specified in several countries.”

Therefore, a league is what you say it is, within some loose parameters. I go with the distance you can walk in an hour, which means you must take the terrain into consideration. In my current work, I don’t even mention distance by measure. Instead, I use time—they travel for an hour, or day, or two days.

Not everyone is an artist. Perhaps your work is set in a fantasy world, but you feel your hand-drawn map isn’t good enough to include in the finished product.

One option is to go to a game designer’s map generating site, play around with it until you find a map you like, then write the story to that map. Another option indie authors might consider is hiring an artist to make a map from their notes.

I’m fortunate to have some skill as an artist, so my pencil-drawn map always evolves into artwork for the book.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “League (unit),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=League_(unit)&oldid=865343305(accessed November 4, 2018).

Map of Neveyah ©2015 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

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Ideas to jump-start #NaNoWriMo2018 #amwriting

I have been a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo since 2012. I started participating in this annual writing rumble in 2010. I  found myself taking the lead as the unofficial ML for my region in 2011 when our previous ML didn’t return, and we didn’t have one that year. Organizing write-ins, cheering on my fellow writers–I didn’t really know a lot about how it all worked, but it was a lot of fun and I met so many wonderful people.

Over the years I have learned a lot of little tricks to help people get a jump on their NaNoWriMo project.

Some people continue writing the first draft of an unfinished work-in-progress but on November first, they write all the new work in a separate manuscript that is only for NaNoWriMo validation purposes.

Most will start an entirely new project, which is what I do. Actually,  since 2012, I have started a bunch of new projects, an attempt to amass a collection of short stories to submit to magazines and contests.

Many times, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do until 12:01 a.m. on November 1st.

But that lack of a finite plan doesn’t mean I have no ideas. I am always prepared to write something new.

One of my favorite tools is the prepared list of one-liners that I keep on hand, little ideas to open a story with.

You must write every day, even when you are only writing for yourself. When you write every day, you keep your “writing mind” in top condition–you are training yourself the way an athlete trains for a big event.

For this reason, I have a document saved to my desktop that I use to write down ideas as they hit my brain.

Everyday I pick a prompt out of my list and start writing. I write new words on that idea for fifteen minutes.

Often, I end up with a good drabble to show for my fifteen minutes. Other times, what I produce is not worth much, but the act of writing new words is important.

On November first I will pick one that will be the first short story I write, giving me a jumping off point to riff on.

1 – Leonard always said there was no place for pansies in this war. His preferred weapon was a dahlia.

2 – Dogs and little children hated Eldon. The rest of us merely despised him.

3 – Death is the one thing you can take with you, and Harvey Milton was packed up and ready to go.

4 – No dogs or cats for Mrs. G—she had pygmy goats.

5 – The body in the trunk of Edna’s car had become a real inconvenience.

6  – “Technically, it’s not my cow. It’s my stepdad’s cow. Anyway, we aren’t going to harm her. She’s just going to school for a day.”

And what about essays, those wonderful commentaries and literary pieces for various magazines? I’m stricken every day with ideas that would make such good essays, and November is my month to write them.

  • Impressions of a spring day at the Olympia Farmer’s Market (one of the largest on the west coast).
  • The story of a mentally ill homeless woman whom I met on a rainy day.
  • A road trip down Washington State Route 105 from Westport to Raymond, and the ghostly, nearly abandoned coastal towns of rural Washington State.

So many random ideas and so little time to write those stories! That is why November has become so precious to me—it is my time to make use of my flashes of inspiration.

Another trick to both jump-starting and finishing a NaNo Novel is to write the last chapter first and set it aside in a separate document from the NaNo Manuscript.

Yes–its true. I wrote my first complete novel by writing the last chapter first and then wondering how the characters had gotten to that point, that place.

Once I knew how the book ended, I was easily able to write 60,000 to 70,000 words to connect up to that final denouement.

The original premise: An old man returns to a town that was the scene of his most treasured memories.

The book opens when he is a young man of barely twenty and takes him through grand love affairs and miserable failures, a Don Quixote-like story of madness and bravery. My brain was on fire with that book.

I still love that book and one day I will republish it.

Maybe.

That wasn’t my first novel, but it was the first one I had completed—and if you don’t complete your projects, you can’t really lay claim to being an author.

We all have false starts—it’s part of writing. My first novel was begun in 1994 on an old Macintosh Performa. The original manuscript was lost when I switched to a PC in 1998, but I rewrote it. Over the next ten years, that version evolved to over 250,000 rambling words, ten different story lines, and it was still nowhere near the finish line.

I promise you, that is one book that will never see the light of day.

NaNoWriMo has shown me that writing prompts are a wonderful tool that we can use to jump-start our imaginations. The Writer’s Digest website has an excellent post dedicated to writing prompts:

Creative Writing Prompts

If you want to practice writing something but can’t think of what, take a look and see if something interests you.  No two people are alike, so don’t be afraid to use a prompt from a popular site like Writer’s Digest. The way you go with it will be as unique and individual as you are.

In the meantime, start keeping a list of ideas, prompts that you think would make great stories. Save it to your desktop so it is always available with just a click. Great novels all begin with a random idea, a “what if.” Don’t let your ideas slip into oblivion–write them down and use them.

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World building: what was, what is, and what may be #amwriting

All novels are set in one of three time periods: the past, the present, or the future.

Readers are much smarter than we are, so knowing what you write about is critical no matter what the level of technology. Even when setting a novel in the present day, the actual technology available is an unknown quantity to most of us.

However, targeted research can shed some light on what was once possible, what is possible, and what will one day be possible. Here are some of my go-to sources of information:

The Past:

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

What I find absolutely charming is the way the author used excerpts from medieval rhymes and literature to put their lives into context, forming a picture of how we really lived before the industrial revolution. In fact, many rural communities were still living this kind of life in the early twentieth century. The author knew and interviewed farmers whose lives had been spent working the fields and raising animals the old way.

Best of all, even though the book makes no apologies for being a textbook, Hartley’s prose is so enjoyable I found myself reading it with the sort of enjoyment one gets from a novel.

I also get a lot of information on how people lived from Wikimedia Commons.  There, under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830) you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters, artists living in what is now The Netherlands. In the course of their work these painters created accurate records of the everyday life of the common people, how they dressed, and what was important to them.

The Present:

You can Google just about anything. Fads, fashion, phone tech, current robotics tech, automobile tech—it’s all out there. If you need to know how many bodies you can fit into the trunk of a Mini Cooper, don’t guess. Look it up and write with authority. (The answer is NONE—Mini Coopers have no trunk.)

Available on the internet today:

TED Talks are a wonderful resource for information on current and cutting edge technology.

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

Tech Times is also a great source of ideas.

If you want to know what interests the people in the many different layers of our society, go to the magazine rack at your grocery store or the local Barnes & Noble and look at the many publications that are available to the reading public. You can find everything from culinary to survivalist, to organic gardening—if people are interested in it, there is a magazine for it.

Know what your community is interested in, and your setting will have depth.

The Future:

We can only extrapolate how societies will look in the future by taking what we know is possible today and mixing it with a heavy dose of what we wish were possible.

But many business people and scientists have incredible imaginations, and their life’s work is making the future knowable, and a reality.

SPACEX

NASA

Digital Trends

If you write sci fi, you must read sci fi as that is where the ideas are. Much of what was considered highly futuristic in the classic science fiction is now current tech—ion drive, space stations—these are our reality but were only a dream when science fiction was in its infancy. Think about it: your Star Trek communicator is never far from your side.

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

Above all, enjoy the act of creating a world that a reader will want to live in, whether it is set in the past, the present, or the future.


Credits and Attributions:

Lost Country Life, by Dorothy Hartley, © 1981 by Pantheon, cover illustrated by Beatrice Fassell, fair use.

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Thoughts on the Advent of Autumn #amwriting

I’ve mentioned before that I love the changing of the seasons. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the colors of our native big-leaf maples and alders are beginning to paint the landscape in shades of yellow and gold, dotted with pops of red sumac and scarlet vine-maples.

In the higher hills of the lowlands and up in the Cascades, the gold of our native larches is astonishing to those who’ve never seen a deciduous conifer. It can seem like an entire forest has died. But they’re only getting ready to sleep through the winter, the way bears, maples, and cottonwoods do.

I’ve always been awed by the majesty of the autumn forest here in my part of the world.

The sky is also changing. The days are growing shorter and the rains of the monsoon months approach. The long dry spell has ended, and rain has returned to us.

In November, the gray overcast skies linger unending, eternal. My friends and I wonder if the sun will ever shine again. But just as I am feeling desperately sorry for myself, the clouds will part to reveal a patch of blue so beautiful my eyes hurt. I have to dig out my sunglasses to shield my weak, Northwesterner’s eyes from the radiance of the great yellow orb.

We who have grown up in the long dark winters have little tolerance for such brilliance. But we’re always ready to discuss our never-ending quest for cheap sunglasses. We adore those accessories that are so much more than a fashion statement.

As my previous posts have said, these are the writing weeks, the mad dash to finish the first draft of my work in progress, and my preparations for NaNoWriMo. Stockpiling staple groceries, perusing my recipe file for crock-pot meals—comfort food is on my mind at this time of year.

After all, food was love in the family I grew up in, and our favorite comfort foods make the winter seem warmer. The time we spend at the table sharing the evening meal is inviolable—no TV, just quiet music and conversation. This is our time to reconnect, to rebuild the ties of love and family that bind us.

Autumn’s glory will linger for a brief few weeks. The rainy season will come, turning unraked leaves to sodden, moldy messes waiting for the winds of November to send them flying from yard to yard. I will watch from my front room window and admire the leafy ballet.

Once the leaves are gone, evening and morning will still bring color, but it will be the sky that has the dominant role. At that time of year, the sun, low on the southern horizon, reflects on the clouds, turning them every shade of pink, gold, red, purple, and even a gray so dark it’s black.

Sporadically juxtaposed against that riot of cloud-color will be patches of poignant blue. It’s a color that makes my heart ache for spring, makes me yearn for sunshine and warmth.

I have prepared the back porch for winter, abandoned my favorite thinking place. The cushions are put away and the chairs are pulled to the center where they will stay dry except in the heaviest wind-driven rains.

Since spring is a full six months away, and the weather is fairly nice today, I will uncover a chair and sit on the back porch and write about a world where the sun is shining, and birds are singing.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Thomas Worthington Whittredge – Woods of Ashokan.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Thomas_Worthington_Whittredge_-_Woods_of_Ashokan.jpg&oldid=296638658 (accessed September 13, 2018).

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The derailed plot #amwriting

You’re a pantser, not a plotter–you like to wing it when you write, just let the ideas flow freely. This can be liberating, but sometimes in the course of writing the first draft, we realize our manuscript has gone way off track and is no longer fun to write.

At this point, we must go back and find the point where the story stops working. We cut everything back to there and make an outline to build some structure into the manuscript.

Let’s say we are working on a manuscript titled “Dog Days of Summer.” We wrote most of it during November and are sixty thousand words in, but we aren’t even a third of the way to the finish. When we look back, the first twenty thousand words are exactly what we wanted the story to be. But at that point we became a little desperate to get our daily word count, and now we don’t know what to do or how to bring the story to its intended conclusion.

When this happens to me, I stop floundering and (literally) cut my losses. It needs to be cut back to the place where it dissolved into chaos. This is good – it’s called rewriting. Nearly every published novel has entire sections that had to be rewritten at least once before it got to the editing stage.

Much of what you cut out can be recycled, reshaped, and reused, so never just delete weeks of work.

  1. Save everything you cut to a new document, labeled, and dated: “OutTakes_DDoS_rewrite1_09-19-2018.” (Out Takes, Dog Days of Summer, rewrite 1, 09-19-2018)

Now, you must consider what will be the most logical way to get the plot back on track.

Sit down with a notebook (or in my case a spreadsheet) and make a list of what events must happen between the place where the plot was derailed and the end—a list of chapters with each the keywords for each scene noted:

15 Aeddie sick – Mendric can’t repair his heart-take him to Hemsteck 
16 Three days into the journey Elgar and Raj battle Thunder lizard
17 Star stone falls outside Waterston
18 Aeddie sick, nearly dies, Mendric nearly burns out gift keeping him alive
19 South of Kyran, water wraith
20 North of Kyran, mob attack
21 Nola – inn
22 Maldon, highwaymen, and William

You can go even farther and color code your scenes to show who the POV characters are, as was noted in my previous post, Author Simon Wood on Plotting.

What is the core conflict? Make a large note to remind yourself of what the central conflict is so that you won’t go off track again.

Pay close attention to the story arc. Make a “blueprint” of the intended story arc, an outline.

  1. Where does the inciting incident occur?
  2. Where does the first pinch point occur?
  3. What is happening at the midpoint? Are the events of the middle section fraught with uncertainty but still moving the protagonist toward their goal? If not, cut them and insert events that propel the story forward.
  4. Where does the third plot point occur?

What does each character desire? List each character and make a note of what they want at the beginning, what stands in their way at the middle, and what they get at the end.

  1. At the outset, what do the characters want?
  2. What are they willing to sacrifice to get it?
  3. How are their attempts to achieve it frustrated?
  4. Do they get it in the end, or do their desires evolve away from that goal as the story progresses?

Everything you write from the point of the inciting incident to the last page will detail that quest for the unobtainable something. At the outset, your protagonist must desire nothing more than to achieve that objective. Use whatever you can of the material you cut, and write new prose where you must.

By the end of the book, the internal growth of the characters may have caused them to change their personal goals, but something big and important must be achieved in the final chapters.

Where are they going? If they are traveling in a created world, draw a simple map for your own reference. Otherwise, use an atlas or Google Earth to keep your story on track.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite what isn’t working. Save everything you cut, because I guarantee you will want to reuse some of that prose later, at a place where it makes more sense. Not having to reinvent those useful sections will greatly speed things up, which is why I urge you to save them with a file name that clearly labels them.

Finally, don’t feel that, just because you wrote a wonderful section, it has to stay in the manuscript. If the story is stronger without that great scene, cut it. Use it as fodder for a short story or novella set in that world.

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Titling that book, or wringing blood from a stone #amwriting

A great book title can sell a book or short story to the reader:

We all start out with a working title—after all, we have to label our files somehow. But how do we come up with a catchy title for that finished product? It’s an issue we all face.

First of all, write the book and don’t obsess about the title until you are at the stage where something must be put in place on the cover. During the writing of the book the perfect title might come to you, so don’t sweat it.

What is the book’s genre? Go to the bookstore (or online to Amazon) and look at books in that genre to see how other authors are naming them. This will also give you an idea of how the cover should look if you are an indie. You will know what to ask of your cover designer.

Your friends and your writing group are good resources for brainstorming titles, so get them involved. Your writing group will know what the book is about, so their ideas will be valuable. If they haven’t been able to help and you are in the editing stage, ask your editor for some ideas.

I have two books titled after the main character’s name, Huw the Bard and Billy Ninefingers. This works because their names are unique. Other authors have done this too:

Are there any scenes that depict watershed moments in the protagonist’s life, places that are turning points? Settings that represent the theme can be great titles.

What is the central plot point?

If your story is dark, you might want to emphasize that theme by going the mysterious route.

Giving your work an official title is sometimes difficult, and it’s hard to find good titles that aren’t already famous. In the US, book titles aren’t copyrighted so there may be multiple books out there with the title you want to use—take my advice and research your prospective title thoroughly.

I once was at a book signing event with my epic fantasy book, Mountains of the Moon (World of Neveyah), seated opposite an author selling a travel book, Mountains of the Moon, detailing his journeys in Africa. We laughed and helped sell each other’s books—because he was a good sport, the identical names worked to our advantage at that show, and we sold more books than we would have. But knowing what I do now, I would definitely give my book a different name–I had no idea such a place existed here in this world.

The right title is a subliminal lure enticing the reader into opening the book or clicking on the “look inside” option.

In 1989, I bought a book by Tad Williams: The Dragonbone Chair. That title hooked me, and the book itself lived up to its promise so well that I patiently waited two years between books for Mr. Williams to finish each installment in the series.

In my case, good titles are as much of a hook as an intriguing cover design.

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What is NaNoWriMo and why bother with it? #amwriting

As most of you know by now, I regularly participate in the annual writing rumble known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m a rebel in that I usually scratch out as many short stories as I am able in those thirty days.

I participate every year because for 30 precious days, writing is the only thing I “have” to do.

My friends and family all know that November, in our house, is referred to “National Pot Pie Month,” so if you drop by expecting a hot meal from Grandma, it will probably emerge from the microwave in the form of a formerly frozen hockey puck.

I usually have my “winners’ certificate” by the day they become available, but I continue writing every day through the 30th and update my word count daily.

NaNoWriMo is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have your word count validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in any other way as there are no huge prizes or great amounts of acclaim for those winners, only a PDF winner’s certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.

It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now let’s face it–a novel of only 50,000 words is not a very long novel. It’s a good length for YA or romance, but for epic fantasy or literary fiction it’s only half a novel. But regardless of the proposed length of their finished novel, a dedicated author can get the rough draft–the basic structure and story-line of a novel–down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

With a simple outline to keep you on track, that isn’t too hard. In this age of word processors, most authors can double or triple that. As always, there is a downside to this intense month of stream-of-consciousness writing. Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you can write a novel that others want to read.

Every year many cheap or free eBooks will emerge testifying to that fundamental truth.

The good thing is, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy the act of writing and are fired to learn the craft. They will find that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date, although that goal was important. For them, it is about embarking on a creative journey and learning a craft with a dual reputation that difficult to live up to. Depending on the cocktail party, authors are either disregarded as lazy ne’er-do-wells or given far more respect than we deserve.

As I said in my previous post on NaNoWriMo, more people do this during November than you would think–about half the NaNo Writers in my regional area devote this time journaling or writing college papers.

For a very few people, participating in NaNoWriMo will give them the confidence to admit that an author lives in their soul and is demanding to get out. In their case, NaNoWriMo is about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for all their lives.

These are the people who will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. Whether they pursue formal educations or not, these authors will take the time and make an effort to learn writing conventions (practices). They will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle, and an incredible end.

They will properly polish their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it. They will have it professionally edited. These are books I will want to read.

The life of an artist or author is not one of constant accolades and fetes. After you have downloaded the PDF Winners’ Certificate from www.NaNoWriMo.org, you will rarely receive an award to show for your labors. Yes, some people will love and admire what we have created, but other times what we hear back from our beta readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear.

The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and persevere. They pull up their socks and keep to the path and don’t expect or demand overnight success.

When we write something that a reader loves—that is a feeling that can’t be described. That moment makes the months of intense work and financial sacrifice worth it.

And whether we go indie or the traditional route, writing is a career that will require financial sacrifice.

Most authors must keep their day jobs because success as an author can’t always be measured in cash or visibility in the New York Times bestsellers list. For most authors, success can only be measured in the satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see a smaller percentage of their royalties than the more successful indies, but if they are among the lucky few, they can sell more books and earn more because of that.

The fact your book has been picked up by a traditional publisher does not guarantee they will put a lot of effort into pushing the first novel by an unknown author. You will have to do all the social media footwork yourself, tweeting, getting an Instagram account, getting a website, etc. You may even have to arrange your own book signing events, just as if you were an indie.

This is time-consuming, and you will feel as if you need a personal assistant to handle these things—indeed, some people rely on the services of hourly personal assistants to help navigate the rough waters of being your own publicist.

Every year, participating in NaNoWriMo will inspire many discussions about becoming an author. Going full-time or keeping the day job, going indie or aiming for a traditional contract—these are conundrums many new authors will be considering after they have finished the chaotic month of NaNoWriMo. While few of us have the luxury to go indie and write full-time (my husband has a good job), many authors will struggle to decide their publishing path.

However, if you don’t sit down and write that story, you aren’t an author. You won’t have to worry about it. With that in mind, November and NaNoWriMo would be a great time to put that idea on paper and see if you really do have a novel lurking in your future.

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Works in Progress Update #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

I don’t write quickly, as some of the authors I know do. Some write well in the first draft and can turn out a good book every six months but not me. It takes me several drafts to get a manuscript to a publishable form. I have a mind like a grasshopper in the sun, hopping around in the first draft of a manuscript with each new thought that occurs to me. While the initial outline I made for the novel is linear and details the important points of a complete story arc, the way I put the story on paper is not.

During the initial writing process, I have a friend who is a structural editor who points out plot holes and places where a story arc has flatlined. He sees the larger picture. The final draft goes to my editor, who line-edits and gets into the smaller issues of usage and style.

For me, taking a novel from concept to publication takes about four years. This is because after I finish writing each scene, I have to decide how I want to proceed with what I know must happen the next.

So, I work on something else until I get that flash of inspiration that kickstarts my brain again. The plots and characters of all my works in progress are lurking in the back of my mind at all times, which is why I always have several manuscripts in various stages of the process.

The manuscript that is currently closest to completion is in third draft form and just came back from my beta readers. I have some large changes to make, but thanks to their input this will go much more quickly than the previous drafts. I still expect to publish it next summer.

I am still working on the first draft of a new duology (2 novels) set in the world of Neveyah, a prequel to Tower of Bones. That manuscript is at the ¾ mark for the first novel and the first draft of book 1 will possibly be completed by Christmas.

I also have a contemporary fiction novel in the works that has been pushed back, but whenever I have a flash of inspiration, I do pull it out and get a bit more done on it.

But September, October, and November are what I think of as Short Story Season.

The calendar is full of conventions and NaNoWriMo events. My ability to focus on a long project becomes fractured, so I use this time to write as many short stories as I can so that I have a backlog of work to submit to magazines and anthologies.

And on the short story front, I’ve received minor edit requests on work I submitted to two anthologies, which I will have resolved today.

By using the Submittable App, I have found three more anthologies that have interesting themes that I would like to write stories to. The final dates for submissions are still six months out on these so I may have something worth sending by then.

This will be my eighth year of participating in NaNoWriMo, and my seventh as a municipal liaison. That month of merry madness forces me to become disciplined, to lose the bad habits I slip into during the rest of the year. It forces me to ignore the inner editor, that unpleasant little voice that slows my productivity down and squashes my creativity.

Also, for this one month of the year, nothing comes before writing. Some years flu season has gotten in the way, and I was in bed for part of the time. Nevertheless, I was still writing and getting my wordcount when I was awake. Thank God for NyQuil.

My rules for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
  2. Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. Do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time and don’t let anything derail you.
  3. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Use this time as a brainstorming session and just write about what you would like to see happen in your story. Change the color of the font so you can easily cut your ruminations out later.
  4. Check in on the national threads at http://www.NaNoWriMo.org and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers.
  5. Attend a write-in if your region is having any, or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
  6. Delete nothing. Passages you want to delete later can be highlighted, and the font turned to red or blue, so you can easily separate them out later.
  7. Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end and you are only at 7,000 words, start a new story in the same manuscript. Use a different font or a different color of font, and you can always separate the stories later. That way you won’t lose your word count.
  8. Validate your word count every day.

As writers, we tend to forget that output is important too. NaNoWriMo reminds us that if we don’t write a paragraph or two of new material every day we stagnate.  How unexciting it is to be stuck, going over and over the same stale passages, wondering why the book isn’t finished.

The act of sitting down and just writing whatever comes into your mind is liberating. Even if you don’t want the world to see what you write during the 30 days of NaNoWriMo, you have an outlet for your creative mind, a sounding board for your opinions and ideas.

Watching TV and playing video games all evening long doesn’t allow for creative thinking.  Your mind doesn’t get to rest from the daily grind. Creative thinking—assembling puzzles, quilting, writing, painting, building Lego cities—these activities are far more relaxing than vegetating in front of the TV. Assembling puzzles is a great way to sort out plot points.

If you have an obsession for a TV show that is interfering with your ability to find time to write, maybe this isn’t your time to be a writer.

My thought is that those shows will be available forever on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime and your favorite video games will be available too.

Something I have found  over the years is that by getting away from the TV for a while, your mind becomes sharper. By doing something different, you give your active mind a vacation. You rest better and your whole body benefits from having done something positive and restful with your free time.


Credits and Attributions

Underwood Standard Typewriter, PD|75 yrs image first published in the 1st (1876–1899), 2nd (1904–1926) or 3rd (1923–1937) edition of Nordisk familjebok.

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5), from Wikimedia Commons

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Final Revisions #amwriting

The question came up in a professional Indie writers’ group I frequent on Facebook: Do I need to get an editor for my final manuscript or is a good proofread enough?

The overwhelming answer was a resounding “Yes!”

I am an editor but I always have my final manuscript edited by a professional editor, and I get a final proofread by members of my writing support group before I hit the publish button. As authors, we never see all our own mistakes although we catch many. We see what we intended to write rather than what is written. We misread clumsy sentences and overlook words that are missing or are included twice in a row. Our brain fills in the missing words and doesn’t notice when we use ‘its’ rather than ‘it’s,’ or ‘their’ rather than ‘they’re’ or ‘there.’

Also, we tend to overlook clumsy and inadvertently awkward phrasing.

  • Her eyes rolled over her host’s attire.
  • Delicious sounds assaulted his eardrums.

We overlook little things like those examples in our own work because we are visualizing the scene as we read it, and to us, they convey what we are thinking. We can’t see our own work with an unbiased eye, any more than we can see our children with an unbiased eye.

If you are unable to afford a full edit, and they are not cheap, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript, but it is time consuming. If you aren’t going to hire an editor, you should consider investing in the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers for questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure.

To do a thorough revision of your manuscript:

  1. Print out the first chapter. Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.
  2. Turn to the last page. Cover the page, leaving only the last paragraph visible.
  3. Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.
  4. With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction.
  5. Look for
    • Typos,
    • Missing quotation marks,
    • Punctuation that is outside of the quotations.

Wrong: “dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house”. Said Toto. I went with her”.

Right: “Dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house,” said Toto. “I went with her.”

  • Words that are spelled correctly but are the wrong word – there-their-they’re, etc.
  • Look up “comma splice” and eliminate them from your manuscript.
  • Remove repetitions of entire ideas. If you explained it once, that was probably all you needed.
  • Check for repetitious use of certain key words and phrasing.
  • Eliminate all timid phrasing and remove unnecessary words. That and very are two words that can often be cut and not replaced with anything. Often cutting them makes a sentence stronger.

An editor points out and encourages you to correct all instances of timid phrasing. Timid phrasing leads to wordiness, and we really want to avoid that. Overuse of forms of to be (is, are, was, were) also lead to wordiness. Long, convoluted passages rife with compound sentences turn away most readers.

To avoid wordiness, use action words (verbs) in place of forms of to be. In active prose, our characters don’t begin (start) to move. Instead, they move. They act as opposed to beginning or starting to act.

  1. Open your manuscript on your computer and make your corrections.
  2. Repeat these steps with every chapter.

If you notice a few flaws in your manuscript in your final pass but think no one will be bothered by them, you’re wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.

In my own work, I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed, but I can’t identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there. This is why this editor always has a professional editor go over her manuscripts.

Once you have finished revising your manuscript in this fashion, have it proofread by a member of your writing group. If you are in a critique group, you have a great resource in your fellow authors as proof readers—they will spot things you have overlooked your work just as you do in theirs.

Editors do more than point out comma errors–they will make a note of incongruities, and contradictions.  They will also note inconsistent style and usage. When a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a style sheet.

The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or  keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and past every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn’t have to!

Be aware that it is not an edit if you have done it yourself–it is only a deep revision. The best we can do with our own work is to keep revising it until it is as clean as we can make it. (See my article of June 20, 2018 – Thoughts on Revisions and Self-editing.) Only an external eye can see our work with an unbiased eye and properly edit it. But with diligence and the assistance of your critique group, it is possible to make good revisions yourself and you can turn out an acceptable book that a casual reader will enjoy.

I hope these suggestions help you in your revision process. We want our work to be enjoyable by the casual reader, and if we are conscientious in the final stages, we can turn out a readable manuscript that is not rife with easily fixable errors.

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Identifying Genre #amwriting

If you have taken my advice and written several short stories, you now have something to enter in contests and submit to various publications. However, it can be hard to know what publication to send your work to.

This is where you must learn to identify the genre of what you have written.

When I sit down and begin writing a short story, sometimes I don’t have a particular theme or plot in mind. I key the first lines with an open mind, and random ideas begin to flow. Because I am working within the limits of 3000 to 7000 words, these are the stories that stretch my writing skills.

These “orphan” short stories are widely different from my normal work and aren’t always written in a genre that is easily identified.

Mainstream (general) fiction–Mainstream fiction is a general term that publishers and booksellers use to describe works that will appeal to a broad range of readers and will have some chance of commercial success. Mainstream authors often blend genre fiction practices with techniques considered unique to literary fiction.

It will be both plot- and character-driven and may have a style of narrative that is not as lean as modern genre fiction but is not too stylistic either. The prose of the novel will at times delve into a more literary vein than genre fiction, but the story will be driven by the events and action that force the characters to grow.

Literary Fiction–Literary fiction tends to be more adventurous with the narrative, with the style of the prose taking a prominent place. Stylistic writing and the exploration of themes and ideas form the substance of the piece.

Writer’s Relief Author’s Submission Service defines literary fiction as “…fiction of ideas. While the story must be good, emphasis on action is not often as important as emphasis on the ideas, themes, and concerns of the book. Literary fiction tackles “big” issues that are often controversial, difficult, and complex.”  (end quoted text)

Literary fiction is frequently challenging to read, which is why certain readers search it out. They want to savor every word and turn of phrase. Sometimes literary fiction is experimental, wordy, and goes off topic, but the journey is the important thing to those of us who enjoy the works of David Foster Wallace, John McPhee, and George Saunders.

Science fiction–Science Fiction features futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life.

If you use magic for any reason you are NOT writing any form of sci-fi, so don’t bother submitting it to a publisher who only wants science fiction.

Hard Sci-fi is characterized by rigorous attention to accurate detail in the 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.

The main thing to remember is that Science and Magic cannot coexist in the Genre of Science Fiction.

The minute you add magic to the story, you have Fantasy.

Fantasy: Fantasy commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works are set within imaginary worlds, environments where magic and magical creatures are common. Epic and high fantasy generally avoid scientific and macabre themes, although in some fantasy subgenres there can be a great deal of overlap between fantasy and horror, and fantasy mixed with science.

I’ve said it before, but every genre has its share of snobs and idiot purists, people who will argue your choice of sub-genre no matter what you choose.

High fantasy–High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, fictional world, rather than the real world. It commonly features elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume narrative. Often the prose is more literary, and the primary plot is slowed by many side quests. Think Mervyn Peake, William Morris, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Epic Fantasy–These stories are often serious in tone and epic in scope, dealing with themes of grand struggle against supernatural, evil forces. Epic fantasy shares some typical characteristics of high fantasy and can include elements such as elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes. These also come in multi-volume narratives. Tad Williams’s series, Memory Sorrow and Thorn is classic Epic Fantasy.

Paranormal Fantasy–Paranormal fantasy often focuses on romantic love and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from all the speculative fiction genres. Think ghosts, vampires, and supernatural.

Urban Fantasy– can take place 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–Horror fiction, horror literature, and also horror fantasy are narratives written specifically to frighten, scare, or startle their readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Sometime these stories detail the experience of purely mental terror, other times they are rife with sudden graphic violence.

Romance– Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on developing a relationship despite many roadblocks, and in the end, the characters find true romantic love. These stories must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending, or they are not romance.

Choose carefully what publications, anthologies, and contests you submit your work to. Read and follow their submission guidelines. Read one or two back issues so that you only submit the kind of work they publish.

Never submit anything that is not your best work, and do not assume they will edit it, because they won’t. No publisher will buy work that is poorly written, sloppily formatted, and generally unreadable.


Credits and Attributions:

How Do You Know If Your Novel Is Literary Or Mainstream Fiction? How Long Is A General Fiction Book? By Writer’s Relief Staff, Writer’s Relief Author Submission Services Blog, posted July 22, 2009. (Accessed August 14, 2018.)

Cover of The New Yorker (first issue) in 1925 with illustration depicting iconic character Eustace Tilley,  drawn by Rea Irvin. Fair Use.

First Cover of Astounding Stories of Super Science (Analog Science Fiction and Fact) art by H. W. Wesso,  January 1930, Fair Use. Via Wikipedia.

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