Tag Archives: #amwriting

World building Part 2 – the Commonalities of Need #amwriting

Need shapes the environment and forms an obvious but unobtrusive layer of the world our characters inhabit.

What our characters do for a living, the tools they use, what they must acquire – these things form a layer that grows out of need. This layer shows the reader the level of technology, the society they inhabit, and their standing within that culture. This layer is easy to construct in many ways but can be a stumbling block to the logic of your plot.

First, no matter what genre you are writing in, you must establish the level of technology and stick to it. Do the research and then create your technology.

The Romans had running water, central heating, and toilets in their homes. So did the Minoans. However, all their great architectural creations required human hands to do the physical work. They walked, rode horses, donkeys, or oxen, and were limited to wagons drawn by those same domestic beasts.

In the ordinary environment, cups will be cups, bowls will be bowls. The materials they are made of might be different, but those items will always be the same. Furniture will be similar—people need somewhere to sit or sleep. They need a place to cook and somewhere to store preserved food.

Clothing styles are up to you, but I suggest you keep it simple and don’t wax poetic about it.

Some aspects of a story require planning if you are to keep to the logic of your established world setting.

Characters remain the same, no matter what genre you are writing. Beneath the obvious tropes of a particular genre is a human being. Consider the soldier:

I write fantasy, so the following is an excerpt from a short story written this last year, The Way of the Seventh Door.

Worlds are like clothes. I could drop Jared into any world, and he would still be who he is—a young, hapless schmuck with potential. Genre defines the visuals, but the characters are paper dolls we dress to fit the society we have placed them in. The clothes and world of Soldier Barbie fits Corporate Barbie… and Malibu Barbie… and Star Wars Barbie.

We will take one protagonist and place them in one of three kinds of settings: fantasy, sci fi, or contemporary. As we go, write your own version of this scene.

  • A soldier, your choice of gender, gears up for an impending battle. It will take place on foreign soil and could involve personal, face-to-face combat.
  1. First, we must consider what garments they might wear.
  2. Next, we armor them.
  3. Then we give them weaponry.
  4. Finally, we equip them with some sort of rations and water, as sustenance becomes an issue if a battle stretches for several days.
  5. We do it in one paragraph.

Now let’s put Jared, my luckless protagonist from the previous example into this scenario. Fortunately for the safety of everyone in Neveyah, he isn’t preparing for war, but he does have a mission, and it requires dressing appropriately, and ensuring he has what he might need to complete it:

In any setting, there are certain commonalities with only minor literary differences for soldiers: they all need garments, weapons, armor, and sustenance, and you can use those things to

  1. offer more clues about your character’s personality and
  2. set your protagonist up for a meeting with destiny by inserting clues: white armor, new boots – what could go wrong?

Whether the weapon is a rifle, a sword, or a phaser is dependent on the level of technology you have established.

Logic determines how each need is met. In the case of weapons, within each category there are many varieties of each. Which kind of hand-held weapon your protagonist will use is dependent on their skill level and physical strength as well as what is stocked in the armory.

When it comes to weaponry, if you are writing about them, you need to research them to know what is logically possible. Within each of the three world settings, strength and skill are determining factors—a cutlass is an efficient blade and is much lighter than a claymore. A one-handed blade allows the wielder to carry a shield. A shotgun is much lighter than a machine-gun but is less effective, so be true to the logic and research what might be most useful to your characters and don’t introduce an element that doesn’t fit.

Sci-fi writers—I suggest that for advanced weaponry, you should do the research into theoretical applications of lasers, sonic, and other theoretically possible weapons. Sci fi readers know their science, so if you don’t consider the realities of physics, your work won’t appeal to the people who read in that genre.

For soldiers of any technology level, from Roman to medieval, to contemporary, to futuristic—armor will always consist of the same elements: breast and back plate, shin-guards, vambraces, a helmet of some sort, and maybe a shield. These elements won’t vary much, although the materials they’re made of will differ widely from technology to technology. For the sake of expediency and logic, garments must be close-fitting as they will go under the armor.

Expediency affects logic which affects need. The same is true for any occupation–bookkeeper, lawyer, home-maker–the setting changes from genre to genre, but the fundamental needs for each occupation remain the same.

In every aspect of a world, expediency decides what must be mentioned and how important it is. At times, you must go back to an earlier place and make changes that allow for a certain necessary turn of events.

For instance, in a battle situation, food must be extremely compact, lightweight, and must provide nutrients the soldier needs. Nutrition bars, jerky—battle rations and how the soldier carries them must be considered. How do you fit that into the world building? Casually, with one sentence, a few words.

What basic things do you need in your real-world? You need food, water, clothing, and shelter, and a means of providing those things. Place the character in a room and call it a kitchen, and the reader will immediately imagine a kitchen. Mention the coffeemaker, and the reader’s mind will furnish the cups.

Need manifests in other, more subtle ways.

Do you require a way to communicate with others quickly? Messengers, letters, telephones, social media, or telepathy? Choose a method for long distance communication that fits your technology and stick to it.

If you are writing a sci fi tale, what sort of personal power does that technology confer on the characters? What powers it? What are the limits of that technology, and how do those limits hamper the protagonist? What do they need to acquire to overcome those limitations?

If magic is a part of your world, you must design the way it is used, what powers it, and set rigid limits. Limits create opportunities for both failure and creative thinking.

In all levels of technology, some of what the characters need should be denied to them.

Obstruction offers the opportunity for heroism.

No matter the genre, need and human failure makes the story more real.

Next week, we will explore the commonalities of science and magic and how they are applied to world building.


Credits and Attributions:

Excepts from The Way of the Seventh Door, © Connie J. Jasperson 2019, All Rights Reserved.

Gladys Parker [Public domain] “Mopsy Modes” paper doll published in TV Teens, Vol. 2, No. 9 Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Mopsy Modes – TV Teens, Vol. 2, No. 9.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Mopsy_Modes_-_TV_Teens,_Vol._2,_No._9.jpg&oldid=344503399 (accessed May 21, 2019).

Metropolitan Museum of Art [CC0] Japanese Paper Doll, ca. 1897-1898 Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:MET DP147723.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:MET_DP147723.jpg&oldid=305535412 (accessed May 21, 2019).

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Fantasy Food #amwriting

As many of you know, I have been vegan since 2012. However, I write books set in fantasy environments. An important part of world building is including the appropriate food for your level of technology.

I recently read a fantasy book where the author went to a great deal of trouble to give each kind of fruit, bird, or herd beast a different (and in some cases, an unpronounceable) name in “their” language.  This ruined what could have been a great book for me. Every time the protagonists halted on their journey, they pulled some random fruit with a gobbledygook name out of the bag and waxed poetic about it.

For me, Tolkien had it right. When I am reading, I don’t want to have to learn a new language. Fantasy food should be kept to the familiar. Bacon should be bacon, apples should be apples. Food is part of the world building, so it needs to something a reader is familiar with.

During the 1980s, much of the meat I served my family, we raised ourselves. Our chickens were cage free and had good lives, and our sheep were raised using simple, old-style farming methods. I grew up fishing with my father, and I have a first-person understanding of what it takes to put meat, fish, or fowl on the table when a supermarket is not an option. Take my word for this: getting a chicken from the coop to the table is time-consuming, messy, and smelly.

SO – in a medieval setting meat won’t be served every day, and not just because it is a real job to slaughter it. Other, more subtle factors come into play, things that affect the logic of your plot.

In the middle ages, the wool a sheep could produce in its lifetime was of far more value than the meat you might get by slaughtering it. For that reason, lamb was rarely served. The only sheep that made it to the table were usually rams that were being culled from the herd. And chickens were no different because once a chicken is dead, you lose the many meals her eggs would have provided. Cattle were also more valuable alive: cows as milk producers and bulls as oxen, draft animals.

In medieval times, on many estates, it was a felony for commoners in Britain to hunt for game. However, most people were allowed to fish as long as they didn’t take salmon, so fish was on the menu more often than fowl, sheep, or cattle.

Therefore, eels, eggs, grains, and vegetables were easy and figured most prominently on the menu. Pies of all sorts were the fast food of the era.

Wheat was rare and expensive. For that reason, the grains most often found in a peasant’s home were barley, oats, and rye.

Common vegetables in medieval European gardens were leeks, garlic, onions, turnips, rutabagas, cabbages, carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower, squashes, gourds, melons, parsnips, aubergines (eggplants)—the list goes on and on. And fruits? Wikipedia says:

Fruit was popular and could be served fresh, dried, or preserved, and was a common ingredient in many cooked dishes. Since sugar and honey were both expensive, it was common to include many types of fruit in dishes that called for sweeteners of some sort. The fruits of choice in the south were lemons, citrons, bitter oranges (the sweet type was not introduced until several hundred years later), pomegranates, quinces, and grapes. Farther north, apples, pears, plums, and wild strawberries were more common. Figs and dates were eaten all over Europe but remained rather expensive imports in the north.

Even a century ago, the average person didn’t eat meat every day because it was difficult to acquire. To buy it from the butcher, you paid them for their time and labor as well as for the cut of meat. It was not cheap.

For the most part, my characters eat a medieval/agrarian diet. In medieval times, peasants ate more vegetables, grains, fruits, and nuts than the nobility did. The main source of protein would be eggs and cheese. Herbal teas, ale, ciders, and mead were also staples of the commoner’s diet because drinking fresh, unboiled water was unhealthy. Medieval brews were more of a meal than today’s beers.

So, in Huw the Bard and Billy Ninefingers, when food is mentioned, it’s likely to be oat porridge, soup or stew, ale or cider, or bread and cheese.

Billy is captain of a mercenary company and an innkeeper, and for most of his story he does the cooking. I keep the food simple and don’t make too big a deal out of it. The conversations that happen while he is trying to feed the Rowdies are more important than the food. The food is the backdrop.

For Huw (pronounced Hugh), starvation is his most urgent problem, so food and the difficulties of obtaining it are an integral part of his story at the outset.

Knowing what to feed your people keeps you from introducing jarring components into your narrative. In the world of Neveyah (Tower of Bones), my people have a New World diet. It isn’t really mentioned, but maize and potatoes are important staples as are beans and wild greens.

When it comes to writing about meals, I feel it’s best to concentrate on the conversations. The food should be part of the scenery, a subtle part of world building. The conversations that occur around food are the places where new information can be exchanged, things we need to know to move the story forward,


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Medieval cuisine,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Medieval_cuisine&oldid=896980025 (accessed May 14, 2019).

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Peasant Wedding (1526/1530–1569) PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Village Scene with Well,  Josse de Momper and Jan Brueghel II PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

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The eight forms of “be” #amwriting

It can take me several years to get a novel out of my head and into print. I write, rewrite, consider it done, and rewrite it again. Why does it take so long to write even a short story? How is it that I can write a short story in a day or two but work on it for years, trying to get it just right?

Prose.

I always begin with an excess of prose—don’t ask me why. It just is.

When I begin a project the words fall out of me in the form of “writers’ shorthand.”

I “tell” myself the story.  Then, after it has sat for a while, I have to take each instance of hokey clichés, lurid description, and nonessential background information and rewrite. All of that bad writing is, for me, a framework to hang the real story on.

I make radical, surgical changes. Sometimes it takes three or four completely new versions of a story before the one that really works emerges.

A few substantive things that might change in the revision process:

  • Character names.
  • Place names.
  • Which character the protagonist actually is.

These changes happen because of logic—if the plot isn’t logical, the story fails.

But also, the prose will undergo major surgery.

I mentioned that a first draft is a “telling” draft. The prose in that draft has to be reshaped so it is a “showing” draft. The big bugaboo my writing group helps me most with is my tendency to not see the passive phrasing in my own work. The area I am working on improving right now is my reliance on the forms of “be.”

Did you know there are eight forms of the word be? I use all of them too regularly, which creates passive phrasing that is seriously difficult for me to detect. Finding and rewriting passive prose is why all my work takes so long to get into its final form. Fortunately, I have a writing group to help me down that path.

These verb forms are insidious because they are necessary. We can’t write without them. However, they are easy to rely on. We can overuse them to tell ourselves the story. In doing so, we  create prose that holds the reader slightly away from the story, making them an observer rather than a participant.

Some literary fiction is written to intentionally make the reader an observer of the human condition. This is work that requires the reader to think about the ideas and events, perhaps even to learn something. Readers deliberately seek out this kind of literature because it is challenging to read.

However, genre work is intended to be an immersive adventure, with active prose that draws the reader into that world. The reader must see the world and the events as if they are the protagonist. Through active prose, the reader becomes a participant. They may learn some things about the human condition, but they won’t consciously realize it and didn’t seek it out.

So, now you know what I am working on improving in my writing journey. The ability to write active prose in a first draft is one some of my favorite authors were born with. Others, like me, must develop it and sometimes it takes me four or five drafts before it’s done right.

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Formatting and Submission Guidelines #amwriting

Writing can be a solitary occupation, but as we gain confidence, we join writing groups and larger professional organizations. We become involved in the writing community because writers need to be able to talk about writing with people who understand. Through that network of professional acquaintances, we make connections with more experienced authors, people who are happy to mentor us. The knowledge I have gained about the craft of writing from those generous mentors has been invaluable.

Mentors have much to offer us about the mechanics of writing, such as grammar and industry practices. Also, they will often know of open opportunities our work might be suitable for, publications and anthologies with open calls. It takes courage to submit our work to any kind of contest or publication the first few times, but that is part of the process. We learn by doing.

New and beginning authors sometimes do the craziest things with their manuscripts. If you are serious about writing and submitting short stories, you must follow publisher and contest guidelines in formatting your manuscript before you submit it. No matter how pretty you make that manuscript for your own pleasure, if it doesn’t follow the submission guidelines for the place you are submitting it, you have wasted your time.

Perhaps you feel that the rules shouldn’t apply to you –  it’s your manuscript and by golly, you like the way it looks. It took you forever to make it look that good. Why should you have to take the time to completely reformat your perfectly fine manuscript to fit some stupid set of arbitrary rules no one cares about?

Maybe you don’t care about those rules, but editors and publishers do, and they are the people you want to please. They don’t have time to deal with a manuscript that is justified, single spaced, has block paragraphs, has an extra space between each paragraph, and is in Papyrus font .10.

When the editor of a contest, publication, or anthology opens the call for submissions, they will get hundreds of entries, perhaps thousands. When a call for submissions goes out, their editors will have no time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts.

Publication dates are set well in advance and must be adhered to. Time is always of the essence in the publishing world.

Editors are only one person, and they want to read each and every submission. Unfortunately, out of all those entries some will be great stories that won’t even be read because the author couldn’t be bothered to format the manuscript in the way that the submission rules stated.

Publishers have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are clearly posted on their websites. If the first page shows the manuscript is not formatted to industry standards, expediency kicks in. The editor must reject it and move on to the next submission.

Word processing programs are inherently hinky because they are built out of new versions layered over the old versions, and the bugs in the old versions are often still there. This is why some really large formatting issues are nearly impossible to iron out.

And then there is the issue of reasonable effort. It’s time-consuming and difficult enough for a publisher to make a final manuscript of thirty short stories by thirty different authors look good when each submission was formatted correctly. If you have thirty short stories, each formatted differently with random fonts, different paragraph spacing, and different font sizes – you have a nightmare to edit. Even after editing it can take days to make a final compilation manuscript fit for publication.

For the most part, the requirements are basically the same from company to company with minor differences. To make sure your work conforms to the intended recipient’s requirements go to the publication’s website and read the standards they have laid out.

Publications will want your contact information on the upper left of the first page, and your approximate word count on the right. The title should be centered, and the first paragraphs should begin at the halfway point down the first page.

To get your paragraphs and line spacing right, you need to know a few simple tricks for using your word processing program. These tools come with the software and are there to make your documents look as professional as is possible. I have covered how to do that in my post of January 15, 2018, Formatting Short Stories for Submission.

These rules are not only for short stories. Every contest and publication wants the submissions in the same professional format whether it is a printout or an electronic submission.

Too many extra spaces in an electronic document cause the formatting to fail when converted to electronic publishing formats (mobi, epub, etc.) so keep extra spaces to a minimum. Most publishers require manuscripts to be submitted electronically so you will have to go in and remove these tabs. You can do it by following the instructions in my post of March 27, 2019, Formatting Your Paragraphs. If you are not using MS Word or you don’t have a ten key on your keyboard, you may have to do it by hand. It’s a tedious job but do it now, if you have been using the tab key.

You should make sure the font is Times New Roman or Courier .12 font and the body of the manuscript is aligned left.

  1. 1 in. margins
  2. Double-spaced
  3. 1 space after each sentence (NOT 2 as we dinosaurs were taught in typing class)
  4. Each page is numbered in the upper right hand corner
  5. Has formatted indented paragraphs
  6. The header contains the title and author name
  7. The first page contains the author’s mailing address and contact information in the upper left hand corner

Please, if you consider yourself a professional, format your submissions properly. You want to stand out but getting fancy with your final manuscript is not the way to do that—you will be rejected out of hand if you don’t make this effort.

Again, the posts (with screenshots) detailing how to make your manuscript submission ready can be found at these links:

Formatting Your Paragraphs

Formatting Short Stories for Submission

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The transition scene #amwriting

A well-paced narrative has a kind of rhythm. Instructors commonly refer to this as “push, glide, push, glide,” as if skating. What that means is that while the characters might be in the midst of chaos, there is order in the layout and pacing of the narrative.

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

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

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

We justify what just happened, making it believable. It is also where you ratchet up the tension.

When it comes to writing transitions between scenes, we have several paths to choose from.

Introspection:

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

Keep the scenes of introspection brief, and go easy on them if you are given to using italics to set them off. A wall of italics is hard to read, so don’t “think” too much if you are using those.

  • Characters’ thoughts must serve to illuminate their motives at a particular moment in time.
  • In a conversation between two characters, introspection must offer information not previously discussed.
  • Internal monologues should not make our characters too wise. Humanize them, show them as a bit clueless about their flaws, strengths, or even their deepest fears and goals.

Conversations:

  • Conversations should not become clumsy info-dumps. “As you know….”
  • Each character must speak uniquely, sounding like themselves. Don’t dump conversations into a blender and pour out a string of commentary that makes them all sound alike.

Don’t get fancy with speech tags/attributions. It’s best for me as a reader when the author avoids words that take me out of the narrative. Some words are eye-stoppers. I recommend you stick with said, replied, answered—common and ordinary  tags that don’t leap out at the reader like ejaculated, disgorged, spewed, and so on. Occasionally, you can get away with more forceful tags, but keep them to a minimum. Make the characters’ actions and words show the force of their words. In my opinion, you can do away with speech tags for some brief exchanges if the scene contains only two characters.

Fade-to-black and hard scene breaks:

I’m in two minds about using fade-to-black scene breaks as transitions. Why not just start a new chapter?

One of my favorite authors, L.E. Modesitt Jr. sometimes has chapters of only five or six-hundred words, which keeps each character thread truly separate and flows well.

In a short story, a hard scene break is sometimes required, as you don’t have the option to do chapters. Use an asterisk or hashtag between scenes. * #

New chapter:

Each of the major players has a point of view. Some authors use the aftermath of an action scene as an opportunity to advance the antagonist’s story line. That is a good strategy, as we do need to show why the enemy is the enemy.

The key is to avoid “head-hopping,” and I feel like the best way to do that is to give a new chapter to the point-of-view character. Head-hopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene. It happens most frequently when using a third-person omniscient narrative because the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.

My favorite authors will employ all the above listed transitions as they move their characters through the story arc. Each transition will lead us into a new scene, and when they are done right, we the readers won’t even notice that they are transitional.

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

Sometimes, a transition just will not work no matter what. This happens when a flaw in the logic exists in the scene preceding it. Usually, I can’t see it at that point, but my writing group will show me what the problem is.

This struggle to connect my action scenes into a seamless arc is why writing isn’t the easiest occupation I could have chosen. But when everything comes together, it is the most satisfying job.


Credits and Attributions:

Detail from: Journey of the Magi (East Wall) by Benozzo Gozzoli 1459Magi Chapel of Palazzo Medici-RiccardiFlorence, 1459–1461. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Benozzo gozzoli, corteo dei magi, 1 inizio, 1459, 51.JPG,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Benozzo_gozzoli,_corteo_dei_magi,_1_inizio,_1459,_51.JPG&oldid=179731811 (accessed April 24, 2019).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Sir Galahad (Watts).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sir_Galahad_(Watts).jpg&oldid=277887181 (accessed April 24, 2019).

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Update on Works in Progress #amwriting

I hope you had a happy Easter weekend, celebrating the advent of spring your way. We share five children, and they all have children, so warm weather and the addition of extended family made for a great family party on Saturday. Unfortunately, our poor abused vacuum cleaner died the final death before we were finished preparing for the party and there was no time to get a new one.

Near the front door, beneath the growing pile of cast off shoes, bags, and backpacks, lay an expanse of unvacuumed carpet. Strangely, no one seemed to notice.

By three in the afternoon, my kitchen was loaded with every kind of food imaginable, and the party was in full swing. While the younger children involuntarily were held captive indoors behind closed drapes, the teenagers hid well over a hundred plastic eggs. Each was filled with cash, toys, and candy.

Somehow, in the process, the rod holding up my front drapes was pulled loose from the wall. It still hangs there, like everyone’s drunken uncle…precariously positioned and slightly askew.

Thunder shook my suburban neighborhood when we released the captives and the front door burst open. Tender shoots of green lawn met a grisly fate as the mob of crazed grandchildren descended on our yard.

High drama unfolded as toddlers fell and scraped their knees and older children took advantage of their distraction. Oh, the carnage!

At around seven PM, the last car left the driveway. We geared up in hazmat suits and began the cleanup—sans vacuum cleaner.

However, I’m a pro. My husband and I are both suffering from back injuries, so in the aftermath, we were forced to be creative. Who needs a stinkin’ vacuum cleaner? My broom works on the carpet, and I have developed mad skills with my new tool of choice—the reach extender.

It’s amazing the things you can do with long-handled grabbers. They make excellent tools to extricate candy wrappers from the shrubbery and retrieve the few eggs that were overlooked in the stampede. Being able to grab the toy cars and plastic farm animals out from under the porch is a real plus.

Inside the house, wide-spread devastation made negotiating the hallway to the bathroom difficult for travelers in a hurry. Muffled cursing was heard as sock-footed old people stepped on abandoned Legos.

I’m talented—I can pick up the merest fragment of potato chip from under a bed with my long handled grabber, without crushing it. This tool, properly wielded, works on every kind of debris—lint, broken crayons, Legos, Polly Pocket purses, Barbie shoes, and half-eaten Cadbury eggs.

You can lean on it when you need propping up.

We dug a path and cleaned the kitchen before going to bed. But by noon on Sunday, the cleanup had been completed, and the toy room was once again a place of moderate order.

Speaking of order, I have ordered a new, sturdier vacuum cleaner, and peace reigns once again here at Casa del Jasperson.

Now that the madness of the family Easter rumble is over, I will continue working on my three projects. I have just finished a large editing job for a client but now will get back to work on several smaller editing jobs.

I am still working on the final revisions for Julian Lackland and intend to have him ready for publication by mid-July. This book is both the final installment in the Billy’s Revenge series and was the original book that the series grew out of. It has been unpublished for seven years and during that time, it has been re-written, expanded, and edited properly. It is about to go to the beta readers.

I am also nearing completion of the first draft of a new book set in Neveyah, the Tower of Bones world. For me, in the first draft of any work, long or short, writing the transition scenes between events are difficult to imagine.

I think of them as “just” moments: adjust and justify. That sort of thinking takes a bit of mind-wandering, so while I ponder ways to move my characters gracefully from disaster to disaster, I work on other projects.

Writing keeps me busy, but the grandchildren are a never-ending source of entertainment for me.


Credits and Attributions:

Shmuser at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:36 inch reach extender.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:36_inch_reach_extender.jpg&oldid=307417600  (accessed April 21, 2019).

 

 

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The author’s blog #amwriting

Today I want to encourage authors to make use of their websites, by blogging occasionally.

For an author, the goal of a website is not to gain “fans” – it is to gain readers. Your website is a resource that offers readers a place to meet you and see what you are interested in. It is also your storefront, a place where readers can find and buy your books.

Writing three times a week for this blog has helped me grow more confident as a writer. I can write using the “stream of consciousness” method, or I can write it several days in advance. Usually, I put together a quick outline and do the research on whatever aspect of writing has been on my mind, and soon I have written 700 or more words.

I have made many friends through blogging, people all over the world whom I may never meet in person, but who I am fond of, nevertheless. Readers love to talk about what they are reading, and authors want to talk about what they’re writing. Both subjects are obsessions for me.

And I can’t tell you how much I enjoy discussing my little passion for 16th and 17th century Netherlandish art. When I write about a particular artist or picture, I find some new bit of creativity to admire, things that make me almost feel the artist is someone I might know.

I think the best bloggers are those who are passionate about something and who have the courage to write about it. Here are only some blogs I follow:

Lee French – Finding Family in Strange Places

Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo

Aaron Volner

Stephen Swartz’s Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire

Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Blog

These are the just the blogs I can think of off the top of my head – in reality I follow many, many more. In fact, if you are already a regular blogger, I am probably following you and reading your posts!

Real life can be a rolling disaster, as everyone knows. This is why I occasionally write about the difficulties of traveling and how hard it is for a vegan to find food on a long road trip. At times, I write about the challenges of having two adult children with epilepsy.

I’ve sometimes written about the dysfunctionality of growing up with a father suffering from battle-related PTSD.

I have also talked about growing up in a family of word-nerds, and the shock of discovering we weren’t “normal.”

Whatever I am thinking about, I post a short piece on it.

If I can do it, so can you.

If you are an author, having a blog on your website and updating it at least twice a month is a good way to connect with your readers on a human level. Readers will enjoy hearing what your writing goals are.  They want to know where you will be signing books, or if you will be at a convention near them. Also, they love to know what you are reading.

I do recommend publishing short pieces occasionally. Bits of flash fiction are fun to write and readers enjoy them. These pieces can find their way into your larger work, as they are a great way to brainstorm ideas.

At the bottom of each flash-fiction piece, I post a disclaimer that it is copyrighted:

  • Bleakbourne on Heath, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2016 All Rights Reserved

I suppose I am a compulsive blogger. I sometimes think about slowing down, but then I suddenly have an idea that I need to write about. In no time flat, I will have written 500 words. In fact, this post is around 600- 700 words long.

Not a bad length and not too long to write.


Image Credits:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt – Rembrandt and Saskia in the Scene of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt_-_Rembrandt_and_Saskia_in_the_Scene_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=340120613 (accessed April 17, 2019).

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Plagiarism, Citations and Footnotes #amwriting

I write posts for several other blogs besides Life in the Realm of Fantasy. During the week, I make a note of any interesting topic that might make a good blogpost. Today, the subject of citing sources came up again in conversation, so I am going back to an article I first published here on September 4, 2017.

This post pertains only to blogging. To use copyrighted material in your book, you need to contact the publisher. Follow their guidelines to obtain the right to quote from a published book. This is NOT a simple process, but you must do it if you plan to quote anyone whose work is NOT in the Public Domain.

Plagiarism and quoting are two different things. Plagiarism is lifting entire sections and publishing it as yours. For more on the current scandal emerging in the world of “fast-track” publishing, read this article at the Fussy Librarian. Romance authors discover they’ve been plagiarized.

I always write my posts in a Word document because it is easier for me to edit. Sometimes, there is research involved. When that is the case, I make footnotes at the bottom of my composition document as I go.

So why did I mention making footnotes? Many people think that is just for academic stuff.

It is important to give credit to people whom you quote, whether it is verbatim or paraphrased. When I first began blogging, I didn’t understand the nuts and bolts of citing sources, as I hadn’t really had to do much of that in college. I learned about this by looking things up on the internet.

It’s your legal obligation to cite your sources, but there is a moral one here too. Perhaps you wrote something that other people found useful. Wouldn’t you want to be credited? It’s a rough business, and as we have recently discovered, plagiarism is rife. As ethical people, we must make it our business to not be a part of the problem.

First, let’s talk images:

When we first begin blogging, sourcing images seems easy. You Google your subject and a lot of images pop up. You see one you like, right click on it, copy it, and paste it. The images are on the internet, so it’s free to use them, right?

Not true.

I’ve mentioned this article before, and it bears being referenced here again: The $7,500 Blogging Mistake That Every Blogger Needs to Avoid!

I either make my own images or get them from Creative Commons. An excellent article on using Creative Commons Images can be found here:

I often go to Wikimedia Commons to find Public Domain images. I really like Wikimedia and Wikipedia because they make it easy for you to get the attributions and licensing for each image. Another good source 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 paying for. 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 to your footnotes.

I love being able to copy and paste citations, as it saves a little time.

I keep a log of where my images are sourced, who created them, and what I used them in. I also insert the attribution into the image details on my website so that when a mouse hovers over the image, curious readers can go to the source. (In WordPress, you must be on the WP Admin dashboard. Click on the image and go to edit details.) If you can do this, you won’t have to credit them in your footnotes.

We may want to quote another blogger or use the information we have learned from them. Good citations are absolutely critical and can help you build friendships within the writing community.

I recommend you don’t quote too long a passage, or your “quote” could be interpreted as reprinting their entire work. Quote only the pertinent information and cite your source in proper footnotes. The instructions for citing sources follows:

First, I open a document in my word-processing program (I use Word), save it as whatever the title of the post is in that blog’s file folder. I compose my post the way I would write a story.

  • Composing the body of my post in a document rather than the content area of the blog-template here at WordPress allows me to spell check and edit my work first, and I feel more comfortable writing in a document rather than the content-window.

As I work and do research, I keep a log at the bottom of my page, listing what website I found information at, who the author was, the date of publication, and the date I accessed it. I have found the simplest method is the Chicago Manual of Style method:

Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab,  General Model for Citing Books in the Chicago Notes and Bibliography System, Copyright ©1995-2019 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. Website: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/717/03 Accessed Jan 10, 2017

When you quote from Wikipedia, you can click on the ‘cite this page’ link. This can be found in the left-hand column of the page. In fact, the left-hand column of a Wikipedia page is a menu of items about Wikipedia in general, and of that article specifically. ‘Cite this page’ is listed 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. All you need to do is copy and paste the one you prefer into your footnotes, and your due diligence has been done.

All this information for your footnotes should be inserted at the BOTTOM of your current document, 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.

When I have sources to cite, readers will see this at the bottom of the post:

Authors should blog about who they are and what they do because they can connect with potential readers that way. Using pictures and quoting good sources makes your blog more interesting and encourages regular readers to follow your blog.

I always think that anytime you can direct curious readers to other websites that might be new to them, we all win.

Photographers and artists are as proud of their work as we are of ours and want to be credited for it. Protect your reputation by giving credit to the authors and artists whose work you use.


Credits and Attributions

Portions of this article and the screenshots first appeared on the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association  Blog in January of 2017, written by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

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When creativity fails #amwriting

Every writer has moments when creativity fails them. We sit before our computer and the words refuse to come, or when they do, they seem awkward. At times like this, we feel alone and isolated. After all, an idea is jammed in our head and words should fall from our fingers like water from the tap.

I have suffered this, the same as every author does. However, it never gets too firm a grip on me because I have several exercises that help me write my way through the block. Something we sometimes forget is that the act of writing every day builds mental muscle tone and keeps you fit and in the habit of writing.

Every author suffers a dry spell now and then. Even so, this job requires us to practice, just like music or dancing. Doing well at anything artistic or sports related requires discipline. Just like a retired football player, when we stop writing for any reason, we lose our momentum and our purpose.

We lose our passion.

If you are in the middle of a manuscript and you lose your ability to go forward, save the file and close it. Walk away from that manuscript for a while.

Before we go any further, you must delete nothing. You will come back to your manuscript later with a fresh viewpoint and will be able to use some or all of it, so file it properly.

Occasionally, we get distracted by a different project that wants to be written. When that is the case, I always suggest you go ahead and work on the project that is on your mind. Let that creative energy flow, and you will eventually be able to become reconnected with the first project.

But what about those times when you need to write, you have to write, but the words won’t come? Trust me, it isn’t the end of your career. This is true writers’ block.

First, we have the element of fear to overcome. You are suddenly afraid that you have written everything good that you will ever write, and anything you write now is garbage.

It isn’t the end of everything. You will prove to yourself that you can write. This is a small exercise, very short. It should take you perhaps ten or fifteen minutes each day. My solution for this problem is a combination of mind-wandering and a a few simple writing exercises.

I got the idea for this while in a seminar on the craft of writing essays offered by the bestselling author of Blackbird, Jennifer Lauck.

In that class, Jennifer gave us prompts and asked us to write to them. I have never been good at writing to someone else’s prompts. My ideas don’t flow that way. To make it worse, we were going to have to share them with someone else in the class.

I felt panicky, terrified I wouldn’t be able to write, and would embarrass myself. My mind was blank.

When I saw what Jennifer’s prompt was, it occurred to me that I could do that. I had one of those bolt-of-lightning moments, a tangent to nowhere that didn’t pertain to her class. But it seemed important so I wrote it down. When I got home, I pondered a little more about it and put my thoughts into a short essay.

In that class, I realized that most of the time, writer’s block is a result of not being able to visualize what you want to write about. If you can’t visualize it, you can’t articulate it.

It hits us in two stages, two emotions that are so closely related, it feels like one horrible emotion.

  1. If you can’t visualize it, you can’t describe it. This can create a brief flash of panic.
  2. Once you have experienced that moment of complete inability, fear that it will happen again magnifies the problem until it paralyzes us.

This is the writing prompt Jennifer Lauck used as the first exercise in her class:

  1. Open a new document. At the top of this document type: Where I Am Today:

This is going to be a literal interpretation and description of your surroundings:

  • Look around you and see the place where you are.
  • Briefly describe the environment you are sitting in, what you see.
  • Describe how you feel sitting in that place.

Just give it two or three paragraphs. For me, sitting here at this moment and writing this post, it runs like this:

I sit in the small third bedroom of my home. It’s my office, a cluttered storeroom, known here as the Room of Shame. A cup of cooling coffee sits beside my elbow, as does my cell phone. My desk holds many books on the craft of writing and also my computer.  

Stacks of cardboard boxes filled with things that were, at one time, deemed important to keep, surround me. Filing cabinets full of legal papers, tax forms, and research take up space, all stuffed with the debris of our business life.

I could easily clean this space. It would take no time at all, perhaps a day at most. It’s a mountain I put off climbing.

See? At the end of this exercise, you have written a small short story.

But, more importantly, you have written the setting for a scene. Those paragraphs are around 120 words and are nothing special. But they were words and I wrote them, which keeps my mind functioning in a writing mode.

  1. For your next exercise, go somewhere else and take your notebook. Write three more paragraphs detailing what you are looking at, and how you fit into it, and how it makes you feel.

You could do that on your porch, in a coffee shop, or the parking lot at the supermarket, but go away from your normal writing space. Just write a few paragraphs about the space you have come to, what you see, and what you sense.

The third exercise is more abstract:

  1. Where do you want to be? Visualize and describe it the same way as you described the places you could see, a few short paragraphs. For me, I want to be flying my kite on Cannon Beach.

Your practice work is for your eyes alone. No one has to see it if you don’t want to share it.

If you do these three exercises at the same time every day, describing the environments and your perceptions in a different space each time, even when you have nothing to say that is worth reading, you are writing.

It’s a weird thing but writing about nothing in particular is like doodling. It is a form of mind-wandering. It can jar your creative mind loose. With perseverance, you will be writing your other work again.

The important thing is to write every day, even if it is only a few paragraphs. These are the exercises that work for me and which I recommend for working through writer’s block.

Remember, if you are suffering from a temporary dry spell, you are not alone. We all go through those times. When you want to talk about it, you will find friends here.

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Plotting and Agency #amwriting

Sometimes when I am writing the first draft of a novel, the characters take over, and the plot veers far away from what I had intended when I first began writing it. Even though I am a plotter, this happens because my work is character driven and sometimes, they’re erratic drivers.

When that happens, I have to sit down and look at my outline, then make adjustments. Usually, the ultimate ending never changes, but the path to that place can go quite far afield from what was originally intended. My task at that point is to keep the plot moving in such a way that it flows naturally. The characters must still act and speak as individually as I envision them.

This is called giving your characters “agency” and is an integral aspect of the craft of writing. Allowing your characters to make decisions that don’t necessarily follow the original plot outline gives them a chance to become “real.”

Many times, the way to avoid predictability in a plot is to introduce a sense of danger early, a response to an unavoidable, looming threat. How our characters react to that threat should feel unpredictable. When you let them act naturally, they will emerge as real, solid characters.

In literary terms, “agency” is the ability of a character to surprise the author, and therefore, the reader. If, when you are writing them you know their every response, it can feel canned, boring. Their reactions must surprise you occasionally.

For me, there are times when my characters drive the keyboard, making their own choices. Other times, they go along as I, their creator, has planned for them. Ultimately, they do what I intend for them, but always they do it their own way and with their own style.

Plotting, for me, means setting out an arc of events that I will then create connections to. Because my characters act independently, the order of events changes. New events are added. My plot outline must continually evolve with them so that I don’t lose control of the arc, and go off on a bunny trail to nowhere. This evolution of the outline happens because as I get to really know my characters, they make choices that surprise me.

They have agency.

When I begin planning a new novel, plotting is important because introducing an unavoidable threat early limits the habit I have of writing too much backstory. Plot outlines don’t allow much time for the characters to go about “life as normal” rather than going on an adventure. “Normal” is boring.

As they move through the events leading toward the final showdown each character will be left with several consequential choices to make in each situation. Allowing the characters to react to each incident that takes them out of their comfort zone is good.

The final event will happen in a situation where they have no choice but to go forward. By that point, their personalities are fully formed. How they react feels natural, because they have been growing as human beings over the course of the story.

Consequences are the most important aspect of any story when it comes to the choices my characters must make. I say this because if there are no consequences for bad decisions a character might make, everyone goes home unscathed and I won’t have much of a story.

So, while I am an outliner and plotter, I do fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants to a certain extent. Those moments are beautiful, flashes of creativity that make this job the best job I ever had.

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