Tag Archives: writing

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.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under writing

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.

8 Comments

Filed under writing

How to use the Track Changes Function #amwriting

Part of being a writer is going through the experience of having your work edited by a professional editor. Submissions that have been accepted by anthologies and publications may require a little editing prior to publication. We do our best to submit a clean manuscript, but none of us are perfect.

Editors often use a function of Word that is called “Track Changes” along with inserting comments in the right-hand column. When you are new to this process, it can be confusing. It may make you think he has “mucked up your manuscript” because he may have made changes that are marked in red and which surprised you.

Trust me, you have the final say on all changes that have been made, and you can “accept” or “reject” each suggested change. If you reject a suggestion, the text reverts back to your original prose.

Just a note: before you submit your work to an editor, you must do what I think of as “Due Diligence.” If you have hired an editor for a novel-length manuscript that was poorly proofed, tracked changes can be distracting, looking like a wall of red. If that is the case, the manuscript probably wasn’t ready for editing. Editors can only do so much – you must submit work that is as clean as you can make it, and they will help you clean up the rest.

A good way to catch the majority of typos and dropped or missing words is to use the “Read Aloud” function (on the review tab) or read it aloud yourself.

When a manuscript is too rough, some editors will choose to edit only the first few chapters and put most of their suggestions into the comment column rather than using tracking. Editing via keying suggestions in the comment column can be quite time-consuming. They will ask you to consider the suggestions they have made and make revisions in the whole manuscript accordingly, and then resend the ms once those changes have been made.

MS Word has four ways to show tracked changes:

  • Simple Markup: This shows the final version without inline markups. Red or black markers will appear in the left margin to indicate where a change has been made.
  • All Markup: This shows the final version with inline markups.
  • No Markup: This shows the final version and hides all markups.
  • Original: This shows the original version and hides all markups.

When I am editing for a client, I use “All Markup” and add comments as needed.

Places where I insert a suggested change will be in red and have a line beneath them. Deleted items will be in red and have a line through them, or in the case of commas, above them.

To accept or reject changes:

  1. Select the change you want to accept or reject.
  2. From the Review tab, click the Accept or Reject
  3. The markup will disappear, and Word will automatically jump to the next change. You can continue accepting or rejecting each change until you have reviewed all of them.
  4. When you’re finished, click the Track Changes command to turn off Track Changes. Just click on it, and the dark gray will return to the same shade of gray as the rest of the ribbon.

The automatic comments generated by “track changes” will disappear when you resolve the suggested changes. Those will say “Inserted” or “Deleted” followed by the word or punctuation that was changed.

If your editor has made separate comments regarding larger issues, such as suggestions to move a section to a different place for continuity, they won’t disappear from the comment column when you accept or reject tracked changes. You’ll have to delete them separately.

  1. On the Review tab, in the Comments section, click Next to select a comment.
  2. On the Review tab, click Delete.

To delete all comments at once, click the arrow next to Delete, and then click Delete All Comments in Document.

This is how a document might look when it comes back from the editor. The left column shows a line indicating a change was made, the change itself is in red, and a comment was automatically generated explaining what that change was.
Some authors get exceedingly angry when the editor of an anthology requests some changes in the story they have submitted. Editors have a vision of how the whole book will flow when it is complete, and they may ask for some small changes so that the stories transition well.

If the changes are reasonable (and most are), do make them. If you strongly disagree, wait until you cool down before responding.

Once you have a handle on your irritation, write a note explaining why you don’t feel those changes are right for that piece. It could be that the editor just didn’t understand where you were going with it, and a few minor tweaks along with a calm discussion will resolve the problem.

Google Docs has a track changes function, and I am sure all other word processing programs do too. Their processes will likely be similar to what I have described, and you can go online to find out what the differences are. But Word is the program I use, so I am most familiar with that.

2 Comments

Filed under writing

Fonts and Headers #amwriting

Today we are going to discuss fonts and why we use “industry standard” fonts for all our submissions. Publishers have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are posted on their websites. When a call for submissions goes out, their editors will have no time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts. If you don’t follow their guidelines, they will assume you aren’t a professional and won’t read your work.

If you have a specific contest or publication in mind that you plan to submit your manuscript to, go to the publication’s website and read the standards and requirements they have laid out.

A good guide for making a manuscript conform to industry standards can be found at William Shunn’s website: Proper Manuscript Format: Short Story Format.

That looks complicated, you say. It isn’t, but you do need to learn how to use your word processing program, and I am here to help you.

I use Word as my word processing program, but most word processing programs (Open Office, Google Docs) follow a similar process as my program does.

Running across the top of the page is something called the ribbon, and this is your toolbox. Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. On the right-hand side, by the question mark is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon – and we are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need.

Now we must select the font. As I said before, I use Microsoft WORD, and like every other word-processing program, it has many fancy fonts you can choose from and a variety of sizes.

You don’t want fancy. Stick with the industry standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts and have little extensions that make them easier to read.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions for changing your fonts.

Open your manuscript document, and Click on the tab marked ‘Home.’  In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the editing group, click:

select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

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

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

Now, with the ms still highlighted, we are going to format our paragraphs. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments and is easier for an editor to read. The specific details for formatting paragraphs can be found in last week’s post, Formatting Your Paragraphs. It is a process that is absolutely critical.

Most publishers and editors want the header formatted. Each page should be clearly marked with your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number. Many publishers will still accept print copies of manuscripts, but want them UNBOUND. No staples, not in a ring binder. You may use one large binder clip if you just can’t resist, but otherwise, they want the manuscript stacked and inserted in a manila envelope.

Accidents happen: if the printout of the manuscript accidentally falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled, and the editor will always know that you wrote that story.

To make your header:

  • Open the “insert” tab.
  • Click on “page number.”  This opens a new menu.
  • Add the page numbers using the small dropdown menu.
  • Insert the title and your author name just before the page number.

That will be your header.

This is how the ribbon and menus look:Sometimes, a publisher will specify that the first (title) page have no header or page number, but they want the header and page numbers to begin on page two.

To make the page numbers begin on page two:

  1. Click anywhere in the document.
  2. On the Page Layout tab, click the Page Setup Dialog Box Launcher, and
  3. then click the Layout
  4. Under Headers and footers, select the Different first page check box, and then click OK.

What goes on the first page? Your first page should include:

  • The name of the work.
  • The approximate word count, some will want it only to the nearest hundred.
  • In the upper left, your contact details formatted in the same font and size as the manuscript font.

Now your manuscript:

  1. is aligned left.
  2. has 1 in. margins.
  3. is double-spaced.
  4. has formatted indented paragraphs.
  5. The header contains the title, author name, and page numbers, and is aligned right.
  6. The first page contains your mailing address and contact information in the upper left hand corner.

Good luck with your submissions. Selling work to anthologies and magazines is the best way for an indie to build a reputation as an author. You will be competing with many other authors, all of them as creative and talented as you are, so making your work look as professional as is possible will give you an edge.

8 Comments

Filed under writing

Formatting your paragraphs #amwriting

When we finish writing a short story, we feel the urge to immediately submit it to an anthology, a magazine, or contest. This urge can be overwhelming, but don’t do that just yet.

Set your manuscript aside for a week or so then come back to it and revise it.

Have the “Read Aloud” function of your word processing program read it to you as you go over it and look for editable flaws.

Check for words that spell check won’t find because they are spelled correctly but are wrong, little things such as “They went their for breakfast.”

Next, we want to format it for submission, which is a process with several steps, all of which are important. It is a bit too long for one post, so I am dividing it into digestible chunks and will finish this series next week.

First, you must look for extra spaces in odd places. They are most frequently found at the end of sentences. Nowadays, publishers and editors want one (1) space after each sentence. When I was learning to type in school, they taught us to hit the space bar twice (two spaces) after each sentence, but this is no longer acceptable as the extra spaces interfere with formatting for eBooks and other electronically uploaded applications. Other than at a few specialty printers, ALL books and magazines are uploaded electronically nowadays, even print books.

Tabs – I feel it’s important to revisit this subject, as I have seen many manuscripts where authors used the tab key to indent their paragraphs.

Using tabs to indent paragraphs screams “amateur.” The indents fail when the ms is uploaded to a mobi or ePub file, so publishers really hate it when this happens. Ninety percent of publications and publishing houses want electronic submissions. For this reason, make sure you have removed the tabs before you go any further with your manuscript. The following instructions only work if you have a ten-key pad on your keyboard.

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

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

That will leave you with no indents whatsoever.

If you don’t have a ten-key pad on your keyboard, you will have to remove each one by hand which is a daunting task no publisher or editor has time for.

Once the tabs are all removed, the following instructions will help you format paragraphs.

You want your work to look professional, even if you are only submitting it to your writing group for a critique. You can format the paragraphs two ways.

The easiest way is to open the “home” tab, click on “select all,”  and choose “normal” from the “styles” tab on the ribbon.

 If your word processing program doesn’t have that option, you can format the paragraphs by using the simple formatting tool:

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

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

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

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

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

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

To summarize, standard paragraph format has:

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

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

On Monday, we will look at the next step of formatting our manuscript—that of making it “submission ready.”

11 Comments

Filed under writing

Gaining strength through rejection #amwriting

We who are authors and artists are notoriously thin-skinned. When we are young in the profession and still consider our works to be the equivalent of our perfect children, we bleed profusely when you admit you didn’t really enjoy what we wrote (or sang, or painted). Some of us handle this kind of conversation with grace and dignity, and others not so well.

But what if the unloved thing was the best thing we ever wrote?

It does happen.

I get ten rejections at least for every one acceptance, but usually many more. I get so many that I hardly even notice them nowadays. I just keep the revolving door revolving. After all, if you don’t submit your work, you won’t get any acceptances.

When I first began shopping my work out, I would feel crushed upon receiving a rejection. However, when I look back at those efforts, I can clearly see why those particular pieces weren’t accepted.

First, I had no idea what a finished manuscript should look like. The internet wasn’t a thing yet, and I hadn’t heard of William Shunn or his instructions for how to properly format a manuscript. I knew my finished story had some problems, but I didn’t understand what those problems were or how to resolve them. I naively assumed an editor would fix them, because that’s what editors do, right?

Wrong.

I wasn’t as well educated as I thought I was. Typos, dropped and missing words, long, convoluted sentences, and hokey dialogue—all found their way into my first efforts.

I began to get past that stage when I found Orson Scott Card’s book, “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.”

I still didn’t understand everything, or even most of anything. But I was on the road to learning more about what I didn’t know. Books on the craft of writing began to fill my shelves, and I took classes and went to seminars.

Nowadays my work is submission ready and as clean as I can make it. Sometimes my work is accepted, and believe me, I celebrate. Most of the time it is rejected, and not because it is bad. Most of the time, rejection means that I submitted something that wasn’t what the editor was looking for.

Editors usually have a certain kind of story in mind when they put out an open call, and only a few of the landslide of submissions will be accepted. Those that are accepted are the few that perfectly fit the editor’s original concept.

What I’m going to say next has been said before, many times. Sometimes we receive a form letter rejection that boils down to “Sorry, but no.” It isn’t personal, so don’t brood over it. Those kinds of rejections are bad only because they don’t tell us why the piece wasn’t acceptable.

Sometimes we receive a little encouragement: “Try us again.” That means exactly what it says, so the next time you have something you think will fit in that anthology or magazine, send them a submission.

I know this makes no sense, but when an editor explains their reasoning in a letter, it is very likely that some phrase will be like a knife to the chest for the author. This is because it’s a rejection and may contain detailed criticism.

I once got a rejection from an anthology along with a note that said the subject of my quest had been done before. I was a little surprised and hurt because I felt that comment was vague and meant they didn’t even bother to read the story.

I could have responded childishly, but that would have been foolish and self-defeating. The truth was the type of quest it involves has been done before. I felt that my story was original in its presentation, but it didn’t ring that editor’s bells.

I hauled myself off to a corner and licked my wounds. Then, I sent that editor a response thanking them for their time. An editor’s bluntness is valuable, so I will someday rework that tale with a different twist.

We live in a world that is always observing us. We are judged by the way we act and react in every professional interaction. If you’re in a writing group and your work isn’t as well received as you thought it would be, don’t respond to a peer’s criticism without thinking it through.

Even worse, if you fly off and send a flame mail to an editor, you risk doing irreparable damage to your career—you will be put on that editor’s “no way in hell” list.

Also, please don’t go bad-mouthing that editor on Twitter or Facebook. All that drama is just plain embarrassing, and unprofessional.

It’s easy to forget that editors are also authors. They are involved with the same forums in all the many social platforms you are, so be careful of what you say online. Editors are just like the rest of us, and they’ve experienced their share of rejection.

When an author has a public tantrum, the innocent bystanders remember it. Snide tweets about other authors, awkward Instagram photos, or Facebook rants don’t show a person in a good light.

I shouldn’t have to remind anyone of this, considering all the noise about Facebook and our personal information, but how we interact online with others is public information and is visible to the world.

We must always consider what an interested reader will find when they  Google our author name. Our online interactions at Goodreads, Twitter, and in every other public forum will be available for eternity.

What should you do if your work is accepted, but the editor would like a few revisions?

If the editor wants changes, they will make clear what they want you to do. This happens most often for submissions to an anthology. Editors know what their intended audience wants.  Trust that the editor knows their business.

Make whatever changes they request.

Never be less than gracious to any of the people at a publication when you communicate with them, whether they are the senior editor or the newest intern. Be a team player and work with them.

Negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. I keep a file of my rejection letters/emails. Most are simple: “We are not interested in this piece at this time.” Some have short notes attached with the words, “Try us again in the future.” Some contain the details of why a piece was rejected, and while those comments are sometimes painful, they are the ones I learn from.

Rejection is the most common kind of response an author will receive, sometimes for years. How we react to it is where each of us has the opportunity to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. My next post will be on making your short-story manuscript “submission ready.”

5 Comments

Filed under writing

The Short Story: Need, Limits, and Theme #amwritng

When writing a short story, it helps to know how it will end. I suggest you put together a broad outline of your intended story arc. I’m a retired bookkeeper, so I have a mathematical approach to this. Divide your story arc into quarters, so you have the important events in place at the right time.

Assume you have a 4000 word limit for your short story.

You have less than three paragraphs before a prospective editor sets your work aside. If those paragraphs don’t grab her, she won’t buy your story. Pay attention: you absolutely must have a good opening paragraph.

The first 250 words are the setup and hook. The next 750 words takes your character out of their comfortable existence and launches them into “the situation” –will they succeed or not?

The next 2,500 words detail how the protagonist arrives at a resolution.

The final 500 words of your story are the wind-up. You might end on a happy note or not—it’s your story, but no matter what else you do, in a short story, nothing should be left unresolved. For this reason, I feel subplots should not be introduced into the short story unless they directly advance the larger story. You need to use every word you are allowed to make that story the one the publication’s editor can’t put down.

I am a plotter, so I write my short works to an outline. However, I will deviate from my original plot if I have an idea that works. I need that structure when I begin writing, or my plot will stall, and the story will never be completed. When I don’t know how the story will end, the plot wanders all over the place, and I have a story that will garner a pile of rejections.

Theme is an essential tool for writing a coherent short story, and many anthologies are themed. When you assemble your outline, ask yourself these questions:

  • What will be your inciting incident? How does it relate to the theme?
  • What is the goal/objective? How does it relate to the theme?
  • At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want to cause him to risk everything to acquire it?
  • How badly does he want it and why?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What moral (or immoral) choice is the protagonist going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?
  • What happens at the first pinch point?
  • In what condition do we find the group at the midpoint?
  • Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the turning point to change everything for the worse?
  • At the ¾ point, your protagonist should have gathered his resources and companions and should be ready to face the antagonist. How will you choreograph that meeting?
  • How does the underlying theme affect every aspect of the protagonists’ evolution in this story?

What narrative mode will you use? Who is the best person to tell the story? One of my favorite short stories to write, Thorn Girl, is in the forthcoming anthology, Swords, Sorcery, and Self-rescuing Damsels. I could easily have told her story in third omniscient POV, but I had a compelling main character with a real, gut-wrenching story.

Originally, I tried to write her tale in my usual narrative mode of Third Person. As I worked, that mode didn’t feel as close, as intimate as I wanted.

My MC had to tell her own story.

The theme was a good theme, but it was a challenge to write something original and not overdone. It was an excellent opportunity to think wide.

In the first draft, there were several places that I thought were the beginning. As always, I had difficulty deciding where the story actually began. After reading that first draft, my writing group pointed out that the narrative had to begin at the point of no return, as there is no room for backstory.

I tossed out the first half of the original story and begin at what I had originally thought was the middle. That was when things began to fall together.

What did my character actually know? Realistically, she could only know what she witnessed.

I spent some time figuring out what she really could have witnessed or overheard, and then worked only with that information.

What did my protagonist want? At first glance, it seemed obvious, but the purported quest was only an impetus, a prod to move her down the path she needed to travel. Her true quest was to find herself as a human being, as much as it was to honor a promise made and quickly regretted.

What was she willing to do to achieve it? I didn’t know. She didn’t know either, and until I wrote the last line, I didn’t know what she was capable of or if she had the backbone to accomplish it.

Short stories are a real training ground for authors because words must be rationed. Writing short stories forces me to consider how my limited number of words can be used to their best advantage. It requires me to tell a large story using a limited number of words carefully chosen for their impact. Word choice and sentence structure must convey a massive amount of information: mood, atmosphere, setting, hints of backstory – all packed into a finite space that is already occupied by knowable characters, a coherent plot, and an ingenious resolution.

I try to keep conciseness and creative word choice in mind when writing longer works.

To wind this rant up, need drives the short story, theme stitches it together, and word-count limits force concise storytelling.

10 Comments

Filed under writing

The Author’s Superpower #amwriting

The world around you is filled with ordinary people, each going about their ordinary business, working ordinary jobs. When you meet these accountants, homemakers, engineers, programmers, and baristas, you would never know that among them are a few with a dark secret—they are possessed of dual superpowers.

What incredible feats are they capable of? Unfortunately, unless they are Doctors,  First Responders, Firefighters, or Astronauts, their dual powers are not likely to visibly shake the world.

But their powers do bring change, working subtly, opening minds to possibilities hitherto unconsidered.

They are authors. When no one is looking, they create entire worlds, fill them with people, cultures, political systems, religions, and with each paragraph they write, they start these worlds spinning.

The first superpower is the gift of “what if.” What if” is an ability latent in all sentient creatures, but only storytellers seem able to tap into it at will. This is the author’s first superpower, but it is useless without the second gift.

A moment of “what if” was the spark that started the fire in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

What if” started Bilbo Baggins down the road to the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit.

Many people have that nagging idea, that moment of “what if,” but few also have the other gift, the “power of perseverance.” While many will imagine, and many will begin to write, few will go to the trouble of finishing their book.

Imagination and perseverance are the author’s superpowers.

They are the gifts of the few who have the determination, the will to learn the craft of writing so that their moment of “what if” can become a reader’s moment of “You have to read this book!”

So, you have the imagination, and you believe you might also have the perseverance. You have a book about to burst from you, and you want to get it right. What do you do? Every superpower must be trained, or who knows what havoc you could wreak?

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR SUPERPOWERS:

  1. Write new words every day. Revise old words as needed.
  2. Read books that inspire you.
  3. Read books you hate.
  4. Dissect books to discover what makes them great or awful.
  5. Write new words every day. Revise old words as needed.
  6. Go to writers’ conferences if you can.
  7. Attend writers’ seminars if you can.
  8. Join a local writers’ group.
  9. Buy and read books on the craft of writing.
  10. Write new words every day. Revise old words as needed.

Superheroes must work at training their powers, or they become flabby and useless.

Suggestion 9 is the most affordable of the suggestions.

Writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of occupation. No one style guide will fit every purpose. I use Bryan A. Garner’s The Chicago Guide to Grammar and Punctuation to answer my questions about grammar and punctuation.

The following is the list of books that are the pillars of my reference library:

My reference library grows daily. I talk to writers every day about the craft, about their lives, about their approaches to what they do. I want to know what inspires them, what books they got advice from, what books they read as children that lit the fire that burns inside them.

Writing is my superpower, and I am constantly in training.

8 Comments

Filed under writing

Thoughts on Character and Place Names #amwriting

I have addressed the subject of names for both places and people before, in my post of January 14, 2019, Naming Characters. A conversation in an online writers’ group has prompted me to revisit it, but there’s no reason for me to repeat the bulk of that post. However, there are some points that could use a little more expansion.

To begin with, names are more than just handles to carry your characters. How we name our characters, and the names we give places in our worlds offers the reader cultural information that you don’t have to resort to giving through an info dump.

A Viking named “Wayne” wouldn’t be believable. But for most Americans and many Europeans, Viking names are difficult to pronounce when written in Old Frisian, which is the root language that English shares with Danish. A good way to keep a cultural feel but make the tale easier to read is to write the names the way they are pronounced or use simple ones.

Many modern Nordic names are easy for English speakers to read and pronounce and will give your story that Saxon flair. So, consider looking names up on baby naming websites rather than the hokey “Discover-Your-Viking-Name” type websites. While “Wayne” doesn’t really work in an Old Saxon-style society, “Fritjof the Flatulent” doesn’t either, unless you are writing comedy.

I stressed this in my previous post, but I feel it needs to be said again. Do keep the simplicity of spelling and ease of pronunciation in mind when sourcing names for your work.  I didn’t understand that concept when I first began writing seriously. When I named my characters, I did it for how the words looked on the page, never considering that they might be read aloud.

When I wrote Huw the Bard, it never occurred to me that most people wouldn’t know that Huw is Welsh for Hugh and is pronounced the same. I was raised around people of both Welsh and Irish origin, and I wanted Huw to have that cultural flavor.

That spelling choice has been a problem since publication because most people are unaware that a “W” is actually a “Double U” – UU -2 U(s). It is pronounced “Yoo” or “oo” (like goo) in Welsh and in old English words.

I have another character in my Tower of Bones series named Friedr – pronounced Free-der. This name is also a problem for readers.

Audio books are the new “must do” way to get your work into the hands of “readers.” How will that name be pronounced when it is read out loud? Take my advice and write your names so a narrator can easily read it aloud without stumbling. If you are just beginning your career as an author, you probably don’t realize how  important this is.

I learned several things about names the hard way. I only have one book that is an Audio book, but the experience of making that book taught me to spell names simply. I resolved my stupidity by telling the narrator he should pronounce the problem names the way that worked best for him, and that made him happy.

There are many good sites for names on the internet. You can find Norse, French, Hawaiian—they are all out there and they have some wonderful, simple names for you to use. You can get a little fancy—that is good and adds a cultural flavor to your characters. But when readers aren’t sure how to pronounce your main character’s name, they might focus on that rather than on your novel.

Speaking as one author to another, you never want to write something into your narrative that will throw the reader out of the book.

7 Comments

Filed under writing

Mind Wandering #amwriting

I write my blog posts a day or two ahead, usually trying to get them written and scheduled on Sundays. That way, I can concentrate on pretending to be an author.

It’s a pretense today because I just want to slounge around out on my back porch and enjoy that rarest of winter glories—the sunny day.

Some days are perfect for sitting on the porch and just letting my mind wander and this day is too cold, but I don’t care. I’ve had enough of winter and just want to sit in the sunshine, cold though it may be.

I take my blanket out and uncover a chair. I do check for spiders before I sit—they like the porch as much as I do, sadly. Every sunny morning from here on through September will find me out with a broom, chasing spiders off MY territory. My relocation program is inefficient and by August they will far outnumber me, but I don’t kill them. They have a place in this yard, just not on my porch or in my chair.

Fluffy white clouds drift overhead, hummingbirds dart here and there, my eyes close, and I absorb the sounds of my small town all around me.

The trees and shrubs of this small neighborhood harbor mourning doves and they seem to be speed-dating—eager to get on with nest building and rearing chicks.

The drone of large helicopters flying low over my home as they leave the base nearby shakes the house and rattles the dishes. I don’t like helicopters, and really don’t like them so low over my home, but it’s a disturbance I must put up with, as all who live in my area must do.

They pass over the hills and fade into the distance, diminishing altogether. A passing train resounds from the other end of town, sounding its horn to alert vehicles at the crossings. I like hearing the train in the distance.

But back to the finches, hummingbirds, and mourning doves. They share this neighborhood with chickadees, nuthatches, and brown tree-creepers. Crows and stellar-jays, starlings, and wrens also live here.

I need to just let my mind wander. I have a short story jammed in my head, and it will have to find its own way out. I know from experience that forcing them never works for me. Mind wandering is the only way to pry it loose.

Winter has been a long, drawn-out affair this year. We’ve had snow on and off for weeks, and while the piles of dirty snow in the local parking lots are mostly gone, it’s cold, only a few degrees above freezing. I should pull myself together and go inside. I have an editing job I need to finish, but the sun is shining, and the birds are out, and I’m warm enough under this blanket.

The finches and doves go quiet—a lady jay has landed in my still-barren maple tree. She flies down, picking something from the ground, then flies away.

Soon the sounds of the local mourning doves advertising their availability for mating resume, a gentle background to my thoughts.


Credits and Attributions:

Mourning Dove on Easter Day, by Kazvorpal [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Mourning Dove on Easter day.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,

4 Comments

Filed under writing