Tag Archives: writing

#amwriting: worldbuilding: a framework to hang a story on

I write in many different worlds with widely varying levels of technology and forms of government, some set in fantasy worlds and some set in contemporary real-world environments. When I first began writing I had been reading and studying the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, and the many other pioneering sci-fi and fantasy writers of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

This was long before eBooks, and I had discovered the joys of the secondhand book store. Every payday I had several new books to add to my collection. In fact, it became hard to find people to help me move whenever my work took me to a different place, because of my large collection of secondhand books.

Many times the actual details of the society and the infrastructure didn’t matter and didn’t come into their stories at all. But the authors knew them, and their visualization of each character, each setting, and the other elements of the scene came across clearly in their writing.

These are subjects that arise my mind in the second draft because after the story has been laid down in its raw form, the answers to these questions matter. And in truth, the answers to these questions are only important in a peripheral way, an invisible framework to hang your story on. The answers ensure continuity and prevent inadvertent contradictions from arising within your manuscript.

Social Organization: What place does your character occupy in her society? That will determine how she interacts with others. Society is always composed of many layers and classes. How is your society divided? Who has the wealth? Are there

  • Nobility?
  • A servant class?
  • A merchant class
  • A large middle class?
  • Who makes up the poorest class?
  • Who has the power, men, women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?

Language, the written word, and accounting: Do they have a written language? This is really important if you are setting your people in a medieval world or in a really low-tech society because access to a written language determines how knowledge is passed on.

Is there a system for communicating knowledge across generations? How does historic information get passed along? How do they communicate knowledge over long distances? Books? Songs? Messengers? Subspace Communication?

Some ideas to consider:

  • How are people educated?
  • Who is allowed to learn to read and write?
  • How are bards, storytellers, teachers, and other disseminators of knowledge looked upon?

Ethics and Values: We currently live in a world where ethics and values are hot topics, and morality in government is a mushy concept. This especially true if a politician has enough plausible deniability or enough bravado to tell and maintain a bald-faced lie despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. In your fictional society, what constitutes morality? What constitutes immorality?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated? How are men treated?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?
  • How important is it to only tell the truth?
  • What level of deceitful dealings is acceptable?

Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior and how are criminals treated?

  • How important is human life? How is murder punished?
  • How are thieves viewed? What place in society do professional thieves have?
  • How are treachery, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness/drug abuse?

Level of Technology: What tools and amenities do people have available to them? What about transport? Low technology generally can begin with an oral tradition and have some written languages. But low-tech means it takes time to pass along messages, and information can get lost or skewed over generations. Low technology in my books ends with the invention of the printing press and widespread access to Roman-style plumbing.

In my work, high levels of technology begin with the invention of the telephone, steam engines, blimps, and other motorized transport, and the use of radio communication. It grows from there to include cyborg technology for instantaneous communication, warp engines, and all manner of nanotechnology.

  • Hunter/Gatherers?
  • Agrarian/farming
  • Greco-Roman metallurgy and technology?
  • Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  • Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  • modern day?
  • How do we get around and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, by train, or by space shuttle?

 Do they have the use of magic or a magic-based technology? First you must consider who has magic? What kind of magic–healing or offensive or both? What are the rules for using that magic and why do those rules exist? Magic is an intriguing tool in fantasy, but it should only be used if certain conditions have been met:

  1. if the number of people who can use it is limited
  2. if the ways in which it can be used are limited
  3. if not every mage can use every kind of magic
  4. if there are strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind magic can do and the conditions under which it will work.
  5. if there are some conditions under which the magic will not work
  6. if the learning curve is steep and sometimes lethal

Government: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:

  • Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  • How does the government fund itself?
  • How are taxes levied?
  • Is it a feudal society?
  • Is it a tribal clan-based society?
  • Warlord, President, or King/Queen?
  • How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  • How is the government viewed by the citizens?

Religion and the Gods: How important is religion in this tale? Feel free to skip this section if religion plays no role in your tale. If religion is central, ask yourself: Is there one god/goddess or many? If the worship of a deity is a key part of your tale, you must design the entire theology. You must know the rituals and know how their deity holds their hearts. You must know how that deity considers his/her worshipers.

  • What sort of political power does the priestly class wield?
  • What is the internal hierarchy of the priesthood?
  • Who has the power?
  • Is this religion a benevolent entity or all-powerful, demanding, harsh?
  • How does the priesthood interact with the community?
  • Who can join the priesthood
  • Do people want to join the priesthood or do they fear it? How is the priesthood trained?

Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?

  • If not, why? What causes the tension?
  • Can people freely cross borders?

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is part of a collection at the University of California, Riverside.

Waging War: This is another area where we have to consider the level of technology. It is critical for you as the author to understand what sort of weapons your characters will bring to the front, and also what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

When you have cemented the world in your mind,  you will leave enough clues in your writing that the environments your characters inhabit will flow naturally, and your protagonists will fit into them organically. Your fantasy society will be visually real to the reader, even if the world it evokes in their minds isn’t exactly your vision of it. You will have done your job, by giving them a solid framework to imagine the story around.


Attributions:

First Edition cover of A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin, Illustrator, Ruth Robbins, published 1968 by Parnassus Press.

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, image by vlasta2, bluefootedbooby on flickr.com [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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#amwriting: publishing overview, Indie vs. Traditional

Who are youThe publishing industry is in a state of growth. According to the annual report of the Association of American Publishers, published July 11, 2016, the  U.S. publishing industry’s annual survey revealed earnings of nearly $28 billion in 2015. The market showed an increased return to print purchases, and a significant growth in audiobook sales while the growth of eBooks sales lagged compared to previous years.

“The area of largest growth for the trade category was Adult Books, which grew by 6.0% from $9.87 billion in 2014 to $10.47 billion in revenue in 2015. For the second consecutive year, Adult non-fiction books, which includes adult coloring books, was the category that sold the most units and provided the most revenue in the trade category. Within the Adult Books category, the fastest growing formats in terms of units sold were downloaded audio (up 45.9%), hardback (up 15.1%) and paperback (up 9.1%).” Ebooks still comprised 17.3% of the market.

In this publishing world, what share of the market is claimed by Indie book sales? In October 2016 Author Earnings reported that overall, Indie sales were down. In my view, this is to be expected, because eBook sales were down, and most Indie sales are in eBook format. It is the availability factor—Indies have trouble getting their work into places like Walmart and Target, which are the big booksellers in America, right behind Amazon.

Author Earnings reported:

Amazon’s 2016 online print book sales are nearly 18% higher than they were in 2015.

When we integrate the area under the two curves, we find that:

Amazon sold over 255 million print books in the US in 2015.

Amazon is on track to sell well over 300 million print books in the US in 2016.

The above totals include at least 13 million annual print sales of non-expanded-distribution CreateSpace POD books by self-published authors, which Amazon does not include in the numbers they report to Nielsen Bookscan.

The implications are numerous:

In 2015, more than 40% of Nielsen Bookscan’s 652 million total reported annual US print sales–and the majority of Nielsen’s Retail & Club sector–were online print sales from Amazon.com, rather than brick-and-mortar bookstore sales.

The fact that Nielsen Bookscan reports only 5% growth in the “Retail & Club” sector, when Amazon’s half of those “Retail & Club” numbers is up 18%, can only mean one thing:

The other half of the Bookscan Retail & Club sector, US physical bookstore sales, must be down by at least 8%.

What do these numbers mean when you are trying to decide whether to self-publish or attempt to go the traditional route? In my opinion, they really mean nothing. Authors, either Indie or traditionally published, rarely earn enough in royalties to support their families. Publishers, large and small, don’t waste budgets promoting work by unknown authors the way they do the few who have risen to the ranks of their guaranteed bestseller lists.

This means you will be doing the work of getting your name out there regardless of whether you choose the traditional route or not. What are the perks of going traditional if you’re an unknown? Why go to the trouble of wooing an agent and trying to court a publisher?

  • The traditional publishing industry offers many valid perks to those who get their foot in the door.
  • Once you are in their flock, you have an editor who works with you personally. Most of the time you can forge a good working relationship with this editor. If you go Indie, you must hire a copy editor, which is not cheap. (And should not be.)
  • While they may not treat a new author the way they do Stephen King, traditional publishers will dedicate a small budget to marketing your work for its launch, and it will be more money than you might be able to pony up as an Indie.
  • Traditional publishers can get your work into markets like Target, Walmart, Costco, airports, and grocery stores. That is a huge thing, assuming your publisher considers your work worthy of such a commitment on their part. Their confidence will have to be earned. You must expect to find your work on the slow track for a while as the publisher tests the water and sees how well your work is received at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
  • Once you are an established author, you will have a wider distribution, make far more sales. With those sales, your work will meet the criteria to be considered for industry honors and awards, which will help sell your books.
  • There is an air of ‘respectability’ that still clings to being able to claim you’re traditionally published.

These are all extremely valid reasons for attempting to go the traditional route.

However, there are equally valid reasons for going Indie:

  1. Your book will be published. If you seek a legacy book contract, you must pass a gauntlet of gatekeepers: literary agents, acquisition editors, editorial committees, and publishing-house CEOs. These people must answer to the international conglomerates that actually own the majority of American publishing companies. This is why you are most likely to be stopped by a rejection letter. It’s not the quality of your work, it’s their perception of what the reading market will purchase and what it means to the accountants, who in turn must answer to their share-holders.
  2. You may not become a bestseller, but you’ll make more money on what you do sell. In most standard book contracts, royalty terms for authors are terrible, and this is especially true for eBook sales. Most eBooks are sold through online retailers like Amazon. If you’re a traditionally published author, and your publisher priced your eBook at $9.99, this is how the Amazon numbers break out (and remember, Amazon is still the Big Fish in the Publishing and Bookselling Pond):
  • Amazon takes 30% of the list price, leaving about $7.00 for the publisher, agent, and you to split.
  • The publisher will keep 75% of that $7.00, or $5.25.
  • The publisher will pay you 25% of that $7.00—just $1.75.
  • You then must pay your agent his 15% commission—or 26 cents.
  • You net just $1.49 on each $9.99 eBook sale. This is assuming your publisher honestly reports your sales and royalties and in my personal experience, some do not.

If you self-publish your eBook at that same price, for each sale of your $9.99 eBook, Amazon takes its 30%, leaving you $7.00. I don’t recommend such a high eBook price, but at  $4.99 or even $2.99, you stand to sell books and make a decent profit.

  1. You’ll get paid quickly. When a publisher accepts your book, he offers you an advance against sales. These are often paid in installments stretched out over long periods and are tied directly to how well or how poorly your book is doing in real market time. Publishers report sales and pay royalties slowly, as royalty statements are usually issued semiannually. Your royalty checks arrive later, so you can’t rely on this income until you have become an established author in their world.

Conversely, most eBook distributors like Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes and Noble’s Pubit, and print-on-demand services such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, report your sales virtually in real time. Best of all, they pay your royalties monthly, with just a sixty-day lag from the time sales began.

Finally, and from my point of view, most importantly:

  1. Quill_pen smallYou retain all rights to your work. Legacy book contracts are a terrible danger zone for the author. The sheer complexity of negotiating a contract can be confusing and intimidating. You must hire a lawyer specializing in literary contracts, or risk unwittingly signing away secondary and subsidiary rights to your own work forever.

Quote from the Authors Guild post of July 28, 2015

Diamonds may be forever, but book contracts should not be. There’s no good reason why a book should be held hostage by a publisher for the lifetime of the copyright, the life of the author plus seventy years—essentially forever. Yet that’s precisely what happens today. A publisher may go bankrupt or be bought by a conglomerate, the editors who championed the author may go on to other companies, the sales force may fail to establish the title in the marketplace and ignore it thereafter, but no matter how badly the publisher mishandles the book, the author’s agreement with the original publisher is likely to remain in effect for many decades.

As I said before, you must do the work of getting your name out there regardless of whether you choose the traditional route or not. You must still work your day job to feed your family either way. Both paths are valid, and both have positive reasons for choosing that direction, as well as negatives. This is a critical choice for an author to make and is one that deserves deep consideration of all the many pros and cons.


CREDITS & ATTRIBUTIONS:

Annual Report, Marissa Bluestone © Copyright 2016, The Association of American Publishers http://newsroom.publishers.org/us-publishing-industrys-annual-survey-reveals-nearly-28-billion-in-revenue-in-2015, accessed March 5, 2017

A Publishing Contract Should Not Be Forever, The Authors Guild, © 2015 https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/a-publishing-contract-should-not-be-forever/, accessed March 5, 2017

Do I Really Need A Literary Attorney, Arielle Ford, © 2011 Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arielle-ford/do-i-really-need-a-litera_b_927120.html

Image: Quill Pen, PD|by author, BWCNY at English Wikipedia.

Image: Who Are You © Connie J. Jasperson 2011-2017 Life in the Realm of Fantasy

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#amwriting: Hyphens are the Devil

Book- onstruction-sign copyAs it is March and is that month known as National Novel Editing Month, or NaNoEdMo, I will be be revisiting some of my posts on the craft of writing. Today we are looking at that most abused morsel of punctuation, the Hyphen. In my own work I will be looking at each hyphen and deciding if it stays or if it goes. Much of the time, they must go. 


Most authors know that a compound word is a combination of two or more words that function as a single unit of meaning. Most of us even know that there are two types of compounds: those written as single words, with no hyphenation and which are called “closed compounds”– such as the word “bedspread,”  AND  the “hyphenated compounds,” such as “jack-in-the-box” and “self-worth.”

But there is a third group, and they are the bane of my life–those mysterious, ephemeral denizens of the deepest corner of writer’s hell, called open compounds. These seemingly innocent instruments of torture are written as separate words–the nouns “school bus” and “decision making,” for example.

But how do I tell if  it’s one word, two words or a hyphenated word?  

Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or, as with many psychological terms, its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary. For example:

  • covert learning techniques,
  • health care reform,
  • day treatment program,
  • sex role differences,
  • grade point average

Do use one in a temporary compound that is used as an adjective before a noun, use a hyphen if the term can be misread or if the term expresses a single thought:

For example:

“the children resided in two parent homes” means that two homes served as residences, whereas if the children resided in “two-parent homes,” they each would live in a household headed by two parents.  In that case, a properly placed hyphen helps the reader understand the intended meaning.

We also use hyphens for compound words that fall into these catagories:

  • the base word is capitalized: pro-African
  • numbers: post-1910, twenty-two
  • an abbreviation: pre-ABNA manuscript
  • more than one word: non-achievement-oriented students
  • All “self-” compounds whether they are adjectives or nouns such as self-report, self-esteem,  self-paced.

We hyphenate words that could be misunderstood if they’re unhyphenated:

  • re-pair (to pair again) as opposed to repair (to mend)
  • re-form  (to form again) as opposed to reform (to improve)

We hyphenate words in which the prefix ends and the base word begins with the same vowel:

  • metaanalysis, antiintellectual

But really, unless you are a technical writer, how often are we going to use these terms? Hence, the confusion when we DO use them.

Get It Write online dot com says, “One way to decide if a hyphen is necessary is to see if the phrase might be ambiguous without it. For example, “large-print paper” might be unclear written as “large print paper” because the reader might combine “print” and “paper” as a single idea rather than combining “large” and “print.” Another such example is “English-language learners.” Without the hyphen, a reader might think we are talking about English people who are learning any language rather than people who are learners of the English language.”

Write most words formed with prefixes and suffixes as one word with NO hyphen.

  • Prefixes: Afterglow, extracurricular, multiphase, socioeconomic
  • Suffixes: Arachnophobia, wavelike, angiogram

APPROACHING HELL © cjjasperson 2012 Lif In the Realm of FantasyHooray for Merriam-Webster! One can also look the word up in an online dictionary, to see the various different ways it can be combined. Just go to: http://www.merriam-webster.com

Now the real point of all this is that no matter how much I know when I am editing for another author, I always manage to screw up my own work amazingly well. It’s like my finger has a twitch that absolutely MUST add a hyphen. Thank god for good editors.


Credits:

Get It Write Online, Writing Tip Compound Words: When To Hyphenate © 2003, http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/042703compwdshyph.htm, accessed Feb 28, 2017

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#amwriting: theme

ofmiceandmenTheme is the core of the plot, an idea-thread that runs through your story from the opening pages to the end, binding the elements of characters, conversations, actions, and reactions. Theme is independent of the setting or genre.

Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, describes theme as:

The most common contemporary understanding of theme is an idea or point that is central to a story, which can often be summed in a single word (e.g. love, death, betrayal). Typical examples of themes of this type are conflict between the individual and society; coming of age; humans in conflict with technology; nostalgia; and the dangers of unchecked ambition. A theme may be exemplified by the actions, utterances, or thoughts of a character in a novel. An example of this would be the theme loneliness in John Steinbeck‘s Of Mice and Men, wherein many of the characters seem to be lonely. It may differ from the thesis—the text’s or author’s implied worldview.

Often we can visualize a complex theme but we can’t explain it. If we can’t can’t explain it, how do we show it? Consider the theme of “grief.” It is a common emotion that can play out against any backdrop, sci-fi or reality based, where there are humans interacting on an emotional level.

Perhaps you have a story about a woman who has just lost her husband to a preventable accident. Her grief is the main theme. When you learn the accident that killed him was preventable, you know the subtheme: anger. The protagonist’s goal in this story is to prevent such accidents from happening again–perhaps she must battle a corporation or take on a government agency. Rage is the motivator that forces her to wake up each day and take on the Goliaths, but at the root of the story it is her grief that is the driving force behind her subsequent actions.

But the main theme of grief is an extremely complex experience, as anyone who has ever suffered the loss of a loved one will tell you. It is a fundamental emotion, chaotic and weighing heavy in the heart of one who grieves. It is experienced in many identifiable stages with elements of loneliness, anger, guilt, and deep suffering. It is sometimes accompanied by thoughts of suicide.

Everything your character sees and experiences in the opening pages underscores and represents her sense of loss and inspires the accompanying emotions of anger, futility, and depression. As her story progresses and she begins live despite her loss, she will still be affected on many levels and to a certain extent, driven by those complex emotions. While she is interacting with others who are happy and who believe she has gotten past her pain, you can employ allegories and symbolism to paint the deeper picture of her mental state to show how she is deeply depressed and possibly suicidal.

Once your protagonist has beaten the enemy, what is her reaction? Without the battle to sustain her rage, does she learn to accept her loss begin to find happiness? Or does she allow herself to spiral into ever worsening depression?

Perhaps you are writing a tale where a group of people faces terrible challenges in a war. On the surface, this looks like it is all about the action, but in reality, it is not. It is about relationships, the bonds of friendship, and the way the events of this war bind a group of soldiers together and also the way events test those bonds, perhaps breaking them. The theme of this tale is brotherhood: the way fighting a common enemy binds strangers from all walks of life together, creating brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

How do you identify your theme? Sometimes it’s difficult unless you start out with one in mind. Most of my books are based around the hero’s journey, and how the events my protagonists experience shape them. The hero’s journey allows me to employ the theme of good vs. evil and the sub-themes of brotherhood, and love of family.

These concepts are important to me on a personal level, and so they find their way into my writing.

What themes are important to you? When you look for a book, what catches your interest? I am not talking genre here, I am speaking of the deeper story. When you look at it from a distance, what do all the stories you love best have in common?

Political thrillers: Set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. Political corruption, terrorism, and warfare are common themes.

Romance Novel: Two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel are directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love.

Literary fiction focuses on the protagonist of the narrative, creating introspective. These are in-depth character studies featuring interesting, complex and developed characters. Action and setting are not the primary drivers of the story arc here. Instead, action and setting are carefully developed in such a way they frame the character, and provide a visual perspective. Allegory is a featured motif in many literary fiction novels.

allegoryScience Fiction: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method. Science and technology are a dominant theme but based on current reality. Characters are still subject to sub-themes such as morality and love, but setting and science are the main themes.

Fantasy: Often set in alternate Earths, medieval times, or ancient worlds, the common themes are good vs. evil, hero’s journey, coming of age, morality, romantic love. Can also be set in urban settings with paranormal tropes.

On the surface, these types of books look widely different but all have one thing in common–they have protagonists and side-characters. These imaginary people will all have to deal with and react to the underlying theme of the book.

Morality, love, coming of age–these ideas can be found in nearly every book on my shelves or in my Kindle.


Credits:

Wikipedia contributors, “Theme (narrative),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Theme_(narrative)&oldid=765573400 (accessed February 22, 2017).

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#amwriting: sorting out the sound-alike words

they're their there cupWriting the first draft of your novel can be difficult as word-wrangling is not for the faint of heart. Often I write and rewrite the same paragraph three or even ten times, and still hate it. There are times when getting your phrasing right is confusing.  Many frequently used words are “homonyms” or sound-alike words.

At times, only a homonym, a word that sounds very much like another, can be used in a sentence. That similarity makes it hard to know which word is the correct word in a given circumstance, and when you are spewing the first draft of a manuscript, autocorrect may “help you” by inserting the wrong instance of those words. If their meaning is similar but not exactly the same, negotiating the chicken yard of your manuscript in the second draft becomes quite tricky.

This is where the diligent author does a little research. We go to the internet and Google every possible spelling of the word and decide which of the sound-alike words is the one we want to use.

Consider whether or not you want to use the word “ensure.”

There are three words that could work, and they sound alike. They have similar but different meanings.  So I do my research:

Assure: promise, as in assure you the house is clean.

Ensure: confirm, as in Ensure that you have set the burglar alarm before going on a long trip.

Insure: protect with an insurance policy, as in Insure your home for your peace of mind.

Some other oft confused soundalikes are (these are borrowed directly from the Purdue Online Writing Lab)

  • advise = verb that means to recommend, suggest, or counsel:

advise you to be cautious.

  • advice = noun that means an opinion or recommendation about what could or should be done:

I’d like to ask for your advice on this matter.

Than, Then

Than used in comparison statements: He is richer than I.
used in statements of preference: I would rather dance than eat.
used to suggest quantities beyond a specified amount: Read more than the first paragraph.
Then a time other than now: He was younger then. She will start her new job then.
next in time, space, or order: First we must study; then we can play.
suggesting a logical conclusion: If you’ve studied hard, then the exam should be no problem.

Their, There, They’re

  • Their = possessive pronoun:

They got their books.

My house is over there.

(This is a place word, and so it contains the word here.)

They’re making dinner.

(Pronouns have apostrophes only when two words are being shortened into one.)

To, Too, Two

  • To = preposition, or first part of the infinitive form of a verb:

They went to the lake to swim.

  • Too = very, also:

I was too tired to continue. I was hungry, too.

  • Two = the number 2:

Two students scored below passing on the exam.

Twotwelve, and between are all words related to the number 2, and all contain the letters tw.

Too can also mean or can be an intensifier, and you might say that it contains an extra o (“one too many”)

One of my worst failings is the word “it.” If I am going to muck up my manuscript, this word will be a major culprit. I try to do a global search for every instance, and make sure the word is correctly used:

  • The texture of the wall —it’s rough. (It is rough.)
  • I scratched myself on its surface. (The wall’s surface.)

Its… it’s… which is what and when to use it?

The trouble here can be found in the apostrophe. In probably 99% of English words an apostrophe indicates possession, but once in awhile, it indicates a contraction.

  1. It’s is the contraction of “it is” and sometimes “it has.”
  2. Its denotes possession: It owns it

I highly recommend you go to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for a complete list of often used homonyms. Purdue OWL is an excellent resource for information crucial to the craft of writing. Much of what I know about the craft comes from there.

When you’re in the throes of a writing binge, these little no-no’s will pop up and confuse you the second draft. The problem is, you will see it as you intend it to be, not as it is written, so these are words you must pay attention to. Sometimes, doing a global search will locate these little inconveniences.

Some words stick out like sore thumbs:

they’re,

their,

there.

But some like

accept and

except

are so frequently confused and misused in our modern dialect that it is best to simply look it up to make sure you are using the right word for that context. If you search for these now, you will save your editor having to do this for you, and your edit will be much more productive.

Searching for these bloopers is what I like to think of as sorting the rattlesnakes out of the chicken yard, and is part of making your manuscript submission-ready.


Credits:

Spelling: Common Words that Sound Alike,” Purdue OWL, Contributors: Purdue OWL,  https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/660/01/  (accessed  February 14, 2017).

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#amwriting: Pacing and the Story Arc

Pacing is a fundamental aspect of your story and is directly tied into the Story Arc.

But what, you ask, is “pacing” and how does it apply to the story I am writing?

Gerry Visco, for the Writers’ Store, describes pacing this way: “Pacing, as it applies to fiction, could be described as the manipulation of time. Though pacing is often overlooked and misunderstood by beginning writers, it is one of the key craft elements a writer must master to produce good fiction.”

As our narrative follows the arc of the story our characters experience action and reaction. The story has a certain life, almost as if it is breathing. It moves forward, then allows a brief moment where the reader and the protagonist process what just happened, and then it moves forward again. The speed with which these things occur is called “pacing.”

Depending on the type of story you are writing, this is more difficult to achieve than it sounds. When we’re in the throes of laying down our first draft, we usually manage to stick to the story arc we had envisioned, although sometimes it becomes more of a “story-wave.”  We have places where it moves along well, and then it bogs down.

The Story Arc copy

 

The website, Literary Devices, gives us some examples of pacing:

  • Action – An action scene dramatizes the significant events of the story and shows what happens in a story.
  • Cliffhanger – When the end of a chapter or scene is left hanging, naturally the pace picks up, because readers would turn the pages to see what happens next.
  • Dialogue – A rapid fire dialogue with lesser or irrelevant information is captivating, swift and invigorates scenes.
  • Word Choice – The language itself is a means of pacing, like using concrete words, active voice, and sensory information.

Action is a key element in genre fiction.

Conversation is also key, and in genre fiction it should pertain to and impart information the protagonist and the reader need to know, but only at the appropriate time. Writers Digest says, “The best dialogue for velocity is pared down, an abbreviated copy of real-life conversation that snaps and crackles with tension.”

In my opinion, this is true. In Literary Fiction, conversation and pacing can be more leisurely as the internal journey the protagonist is taking the reader on is the core of the story. For this reason, I disagree with the Literary Devices editors on this one point: even in slower-paced stories, irrelevant information doesn’t advance the story and will lose the reader.

If you are writing a murder mystery or a thriller, or sci fi or most kinds of fantasy, conversations have to show something important about the story or the characters at that moment and must move the story forward.

How fast do you want the events to unfold? Writers Digest points out three critical places in the Story Arc where a faster pace is optimal:

  • the opening,
  • middle,
  • and climax of your story.

They also say:

“Suspense and, by extension, forward movement are created when you prolong outcomes. While it may seem that prolonging an event would slow down a story, this technique actually increases the speed, because the reader wants to know if your character is rescued from the mountainside, if the vaccine will arrive before the outbreak decimates the village, or if the detective will solve the case before the killer strikes again.”

Book- onstruction-sign copyThat quote seems contradictory, but it isn’t. Consider the most popular genre: romance novels. These things fly off the shelves. Why? Because the path to love is never straightforward. Obstacles to the budding romance keep the reader involved and make them determined to see the happy ending even more.

In all stories, complications create tension, which is what keeps the reader reading.

The trick is to dole the action and reactions out in a smooth manner. Many instructors I have had taken seminars from have likened this to the way a skater skates: Push—glide—push—glide—push and so on, though the course of the novel.

Pacing is another area where screenwriters have something to offer us. Story, by Robert McKee, is an excellent reference manual.

Also, consider investing in The Sound on the Page, by Ben Yagoda. While it primarily deals with developing a unique style and voice, it has a lot to offer in terms of incidental information on the nuts and bolts of the craft. How you habitually pace your work is part of your style and voice.


For further reading on this subject, these are my sources for this post:

Gerry Visco, Pacing in Writing Techniques You Need to Know, Copyright © 1982 – 2017 The Writers Store ® Incorporated.

LiteraryDevices Editors. “Pacing” LiteraryDevices.net. 2013. http://literarydevices.net/pacing/      (accessed February 7, 2017)

Writers Digest 7 Tools For Pacing A Novel & Keeping Your Story Moving At The Right Pace By: Courtney Carpenter | April 24, 2012 (Accessed February 7, 2017)

 

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#amwriting: Too many characters?

my-books-cjjasp-own-workYou’re writing the first draft of your novel.  A beta reader has pointed out that you may have too many named characters to keep track of, and now you’re on a mission to whittle down your cast of thousands.

But who should go and who should stay? What is the optimal number of characters for a book? Some say only four, others fifteen, but I say introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but use common sense. Put the reader first–they must be able to keep them straight without any effort.

When you introduce a named character, ask yourself if it is someone the reader should remember. Does he or she offer information the protagonist and reader must know? Some characters will give us clues to help our protagonist complete his/her quest.  Others show us something about the protagonist, give us a clue into their personality or past.

Does the person return later in the story or does he or she act as part of the setting, showing the scenery of, say, a coffee shop, or a store?

Only give names to characters who advance the plot.

In an excellent article on screenwriting, Christina Hamlett of the Writer’s Store writes:

In a screenplay, the rhythm you’re attempting to establish–along with the emotional investment you’re asking a reader to make–is disrupted whenever you devote more than two lines of introduction to a character who is simply there to take up space. In order to justify their existence, each player in your script should perform a unique function or deliver a specific line that:

  1. Advances the plot,
  2. Thwarts the hero’s objectives,
  3. Provides crucial background, and/or
  4. Contributes to the mood of the scene.

If you’ve included characters who don’t fulfill one or more of these jobs, they’re probably not critical to the storyline and can be deleted.

While she is speaking of screenplays, this is true of a novel or short story. A name implies a character is an important part of the story. Ask yourself if the character is an example of “Chekhov’s Gun.” Does this character serve a purpose the reader must know? If not, don’t give them a name.

One of my current works in progress has this passage, which takes place in an inn and involves a conversation overheard from a table adjacent to my protagonists:

The older merchant’s face darkened at the mention of the prince and his henchman. Quickly looking over his shoulder at the other guests in the common room, he hushed his son. “We’ll have no more mention of them at this table. If the wrong person overhears such talk, we’ll all end our days in our own beds with our throats slit!”

Culyn’s eyebrow rose, and he looked at Jack, who nodded.

Despite the fact the merchant and his sons give my protagonists information they needed, they are in this scene for only one purpose: to be overheard and don’t appear again. For this reason, only Jack and Culyn, and the three others of their party are named in the full transcript of this scene.

Novelists can learn a great deal about how to write a good, concise scene from screenwriters. An excellent book I have gained a lot of knowledge from is Story by Robert McKee. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it.

We want the reader to stay focused on the protagonist(s) and their story. The second draft is where we make every effort to find the distractions we may have have inadvertently introduced in our rough draft, and extraneous named characters is an easy one to fix. Simply remove their name, and identify them in general terms. The reader will move on and forget about them.


Credit: Minor Characters Don’t Need Major Introductions, Christina Hamlett, Copyright © 1982 – 2017 The Writers Store ® Incorporated.

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#amwriting: kinship names and terms of endearment

misuse_grammar_consistently_memeI am in the final stages of getting a manuscript ready to send to my editor. As such, I am trying to make it as clean as I can so she won’t tear her hair out in frustration. One thing I am checking for consistency is proper capitalization of terms of endearment, such as “Sir,” or “Dad,” and “Mom.”

I discussed this topic a while back, but having read several books written by authors who clearly had no idea there are rules about terms of endearment and capitalization, it bears repeating.

The rules are basic and simple to remember:

For people who are related, if you are saying it directly to them in place of their name, capitalize it.

  • “I love you, Son.”

If you are mentioning them in conversation, don’t capitalize it.

  • “My son is wonderful.”

Terms of endearment can also

  • Be relatively impersonal.
  • Denote a friendship.
  • Be slightly patronizing in situations where the speakers are not friends.

If the speaker is not related to the person in question, do not capitalize it.

  • “I wouldn’t do that, son.”

Again, as in so many other aspects of the writing craft, context is everything. Consider the word “sir.” It is an honorific. Quoted from the Chicago Manual of Style:

Honorific titles and respectful forms of address are capitalized in any context with several exceptions:

  • sir
  • ma’am
  • my lord
  • my lady

You must also capitalize the words “sir” and/or “madam” when beginning a letter or an email.

  • Dear Sir or Madam

Where king/queen, Lord, or Sir is used as part of someone’s name, it is always capitalized, as are these honorifics:

  • King Karl, and Wanda, the Queen of Meatballs
  • the Empress Sophia
  • Lord Albert Beaucleigh; Lady Mary Cheltenham
  • Sir Julian De Portiers

Where king/queen is employed in the context of a general reference it is lowercased:

  • “Good grief,” said the king.

But should one capitalize the word “sir” when it’s used in dialogue? Which of the following would be correct? “Yes sir.” OR “Yes Sir.”

If the reply is to a respected person in general, it is written with no capital, as it’s not a formal name. But you do need a comma just you would with a formal name:

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes, George.”

The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style_16th_editionAgain, consider the context. When writing dialogue: if your speaking character is in the military and the person he/she is addressing has a military rank above them, and is speaking in their military capacity you must capitalize it.

The exception to this rule is if a younger person of lesser rank is talking to an older person of higher rank in an informal setting. At that point, the younger person is simply speaking respectfully to an older person, and “sir” does not need to be capitalized.

For a more in-depth exploration of that subject see my post of March 14, 2016: son and sir: to capitalize or not?


For further information, see The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition,  issued September 2010,  section 8.32

Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guidehttp://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

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#amwriting: connecting with readers

magicWriters are offered many Facebook groups, some strictly private, professional, and writing-craft oriented. These tend to be good educational groups, and I have enjoyed them.

We can also gain membership in public groups which were created for indies to make their books available to the public. These groups are easily searchable on Facebook.

These public groups, especially those with large numbers of members (over 10,000), are good sites to drop in once every week or so and share a link to whatever book you might have free or on sale for .99 at Amazon or to promote your new release.

These sites cater to readers and posts show up in the general feed, somewhat randomly. I have found that these public groups do actually do help authors gain sales—not a lot, but a few.

Many of these groups cater to readers of romance books, but there are a few that are for any kind of book that is written. One of the best Facebook groups for Indies to post free and .99 cent Kindle books is Amazon Book Clubs. They have over 35,000 followers, and most of those followers are readers looking for a good, affordable Kindle book.

However, one must use common sense, and so I suggest you only post your books once a week at most. People get tired of seeing the same authors spamming these sites over and over.

I am a member of several groups where the same three or four authors invariably post the same books every single day. Not only that, they post all their books one link at a time.  After a month or two of this, they will complain they aren’t getting any sales no matter how hard they try. Then they drop out of sight.

What these well-intentioned authors don’t understand is that making any kind of public Facebook forum work for you is like making Twitter work. You must be patient and careful not to spam your intended market, as that will drive away potential readers. In these book forums, you want to present yourself in a competent, professional manner.

Your icon or avatar is the image of you the world sees, so choose a picture that looks professional. Your book cover will work, but I suggest using a real photo of you if you have one you like.

When it comes to both your professional Facebook page and Twitter, it works best when you share content that is original and pertains to your life as a writer. People aren’t too interested in whether or not you got the dishes done, but they do care about what books you just read, or how your own writing is going. Tweet your blog, and retweet other tweets you enjoyed. If you have a hobby, such as watching IndyCar Races or you play golf, tweet about those things too. I tend to tweet about food because I’m vegan and I love finding new recipes. You want your followers to get to know you, as well as your books.

Follow people you find interesting, follow the real people back (there will be spam-bots following you, so watch out for those and don’t follow them) and don’t spam the universe with constant “Buy my Book” tweets. Be consistent, but creative.Old books Remember, nothing ever happens as fast as you want it to. Building a fan base takes time, years, actually. It doesn’t happen over night, although rewards will occur in small leaps and bounds. Those little surges of sales are what keeps us going, the lure that keeps us plodding forward.

For an excellent blog post with links to a lot more information than I have to offer in regard to places to connect with readers, check out  How to Promote Your Fantasy Novel on Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad, YouTube, and more by Chris Well.

 

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#FlashFictionFriday: #NewYears2016

472px-judith_leyster_merry_trioAt this time of the year, I find myself looking back at my own life, and feeling such gratitude for the blessings and the bounty my husband and I have enjoyed.

All in all, 2016 was a good year on the home front, with the low points being more than balanced by the joys. My suspicion is that people who don’t know what it is like to suffer a little pain don’t appreciate the true beauty of life.

In some ways it has been a hard year, true, but through it all I had the joy of grandchildren, the love of my husband and our children,  great books to read, and music to surround me. I have rediscovered my gratitude — both for the bounty I enjoy, and the people I am privileged to share my life with.

On New Year’s Eve we will enjoy a dinner party at the home of close companions. We’ll party in the company of my sister and her husband, a few comrades from our old school days, and several soul-mates we have only met comparatively recently. We’re a mixed bag of nuts, as close as blood-relatives, a gang of retirees who support each other through the highs and lows of life.

May your new year bring you joy and prosperity and the ability to appreciate them. May you have the good health to enjoy them, and may your imaginary friends never stop talking to you!

In the meantime, I offer you this poem (originally posted on Jan 1 of this year):

>>><<<

New Years Eve at the Drunken Sasquatch

Bloody Bill reigns from behind his bar

Over the rowdy throng.

And I shall nurse my cider mulled

And sometimes sing along.

 

The Leprechaun plays Hendrix, loud,

The vampire sings the blues.

The dragon racks the billiard balls,

The Reaper chalks his cue.

 

We’re having such a lively time

The floorboards sway and heave.

The Drunken Sasquatch is the place

To spend a New Year ’s Eve.


New Years Eve at the Drunken Sasquatch, © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson

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