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Guest post: Five Things I Learned While Writing The Adventures of Keltin Moore by Lindsay Schopfer

As my regular readers know, my husband and I are in the process of moving from our home of eighteen years to an apartment, and time is short. So, while I am neck deep in paring down my possessions, sci-fi and fantasy author, Lindsay Schopfer, has kindly agreed to help me out today. I’ve attended several seminars presented by him, and think you’ll enjoy this post. I really like his work and am looking forward to the launch of the third book in his Beast Hunter series, which happens on Friday.

Take it away, Lindsay!

BookCover FinalIt’s been over ten years since I first started writing my series about the adventures of a professional monster hunter. With the release of The Hunter’s Apprentice as the fourth installment in the series, I thought I’d take a little time to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned while writing these stories over the last decade.

An Appreciation for Steampunk

When I first started writing Keltin’s adventures, I struggled to find a suitable name for the genre I was working in. Despite the stories’ fanciful monsters and subtle magic system, there was something in the technology and aesthetic of the world that suggested something a little different from a standard epic fantasy environment. After some searching, I stumbled on steampunk as a genre and a community and quickly embraced them both. That being said, I’ll admit that my stories are more rural than most of the Victorian, urban settings found in typical steampunk fiction, which is why I’ve taken to calling my stories steampunk-flavored fantasy. Regardless, I am still immensely grateful to have discovered the world of steampunk, and I will always be grateful to have been adopted into this creative and friendly community.

How to Pan for Gold

In book two of the series, Keltin and his friends go Into the North to protect prospectors from all sorts of monsters during a Yukon-inspired gold rush. In an effort to add an air of authenticity to the book, I decided to talk with an experienced gold panner and practice the art of prospecting a little bit. While I may not have struck it rich, I was inspired by the experience and the thrill of seeing that flash of gold amongst the silt.

The History and Mechanics of Firearms

the beast hunterOne of my most treasured experiences in writing The Adventures of Keltin Moore has been meeting the fantastic subject experts in the course of my research. I already mentioned panning for gold, but there have been so many more generous, enthusiastic people I’ve spoken to on subjects ranging from big game hunters to horse-pulled wagons. In particular, I feel blessed to have known Gordon and Nancy Frye. The Fryes are a fantastic wealth of historical information, particularly regarding the development and implementation of firearms over the centuries. If you ever read something in my stories and thought that something involving guns was particularly cool, you can probably thank the Fryes for contributing to it!

How to be an Author

The Keltin Moore Online Serial came out before I’d even published my first novel, and I’ve been working on Keltin’s adventures ever since. Over the course of writing this series, I’ve learned how to craft, revise, format, publish, and market my books. I’ve learned how to work with cover artists, how to price my books, and how to pitch them at book dealer events. The Adventures of Keltin Moore have been the vehicle that have carried me through the majority of my career as an independent author thus far, and for that, I am deeply indebted to these stories.

How to Keep Having Fun While Writing

The inspiration for Keltin Moore came as a quirky little idea, and the stories were more for my benefit than anyone else’s, especially at first. Despite a long publication history and a growing community of amazing fans, Keltin’s stories have remained very personal to me. Years ago, I gave myself permission to write stories that I enjoyed, and I’ve held myself to that commitment ever since. I write my stories for myself first, focusing on characters, plots, and settings that inspire, uplift, and entertain me. The Adventures of Keltin Moore do all of that for me and more, and I’m so grateful that so many fans feel the same way.


If you’d like to begin your own adventures with Keltin, be sure to start where it all began with The Beast Hunter: A Keltin Moore Adventure.

Lindsay SchopferLindsay Schopfer is the award-winning author of The Adventures of Keltin Moore, a series of steampunk-flavored  fantasy novels about a professional monster hunter. He also wrote the sci-fi survivalist novel Lost Under Two Moons and the fantasy short story collection Magic, Mystery and Mirth. Lindsay’s workshops and seminars on the craft of writing have been featured in a variety of Cons and writing conferences across the Pacific Northwest  and beyond.

Lindsay’s Social Media Links

Author Website:  www.lindsayschopfer.com

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Lindsay-Schopfer/e/B007EF3MQS

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindsaySchopfer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lindsayschopfer

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7078379.Lindsay_Schopfer

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lindsayschopfer?ty=h

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My Writing Life – packing up and moving on #amwriting

We who write must also live in the real world. Sometimes things go smoothly, other times not. Let me just say that moving to a new place has really shown me what hoarders my hubby and I are. You can acquire a large pile of cheap Chinese junk if you stay in one place for eighteen years.

MyWritingLife2021BThe movers came on Friday to take what furniture we could gracefully fit into the new apartment. They loaded the van far more quickly than I thought they would. The main hiccup in that day came in the form of the elevator in our building. We are in building C but must go in through the main lobby in building B, take the elevator to our floor, and cross to our building via the sky bridge. It’s a long trek.

Worst of all, the elevator for building C is across the hall from our door.

Now the real work begins. We must finish emptying the house, so we will travel back and forth for the next week and a half.

On Saturday, we began the necessary repairs to the house. Our repairman is a lovely man named Brian. He replaced the fanlight on the back porch. He also mended and repainted the front steps.

We sort through the debris of our lives, pick what we know we have room for, and I stuff the car. Greg does as much as he can, and we are exhausted by the day’s end.

Hydrangea_cropped_July_11_2017_copyright_cjjasperson_2017 copyOver the next week, we have to donate as much as possible to be reused, and the rest will be hauled away by the junk removal company. They will not only take the junk but also clean the garage floor. (!!!)

After that, the house cleaners will do their best to make our old place look good.

The sprinkler repair people will also be out that day.

Finally, the carpet cleaners will attempt to make the fitted carpet we never wanted in the first place look passable.

At some point, I will have to shop for food, as we do need to eat. My new kitchen is functional, but I must pare down what was already pared down to keep it that way.

On June 1st, the house will officially be for sale.

Worst of all, we had an unusually early heatwave, with temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties and high humidity. (30 or so, Celsius.) Even with my hot pink beach wagon, making two or three trips to empty the car is exhausting. It began cool down to normal temps on Sunday, and fingers crossed, we hope the weather will stay that way.

Once the elevator in my building is repaired, that will be less of a problem. It will happen as soon as the company can get the parts.

BackYardMay202020On the good side, it is easy to write here. I have been writing bits and bobs here and there on old unfinished manuscripts between bursts of unpacking, writing whenever I sit down to rest my back. It keeps me from fidgeting.

This next week is crammed full of things we must do, but we are getting it done, one piece at a time.

In the meantime, have a great week, and may your words flow freely.


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Layers of Depth: the uneven distribution of information

Plot points and conflicts are driven by the characters who have critical knowledge. The fact that some characters are working with limited information creates tension.

WritingCraftSeries_depth-through-conversationIn literary terms, this uneven distribution of knowledge is called asymmetric information. We see this all the time in the corporate world.

  • One party in a business transaction has more or superior information compared to another.
  • That inequality of information gives them an edge against the competition.

In a story, as in real life, a monopoly of information creates a crisis. An idle conversation will bore your reader to tears, so only discuss things that advance the plot. A conversation scene should be driven by the fact that one person has knowledge the others need.

The reader must get answers simultaneously as the characters, gradually over the length of a novel.

When I am writing a scene, I ask my characters three things:

The first question I ask is: “What is the core of the problem?” In the case of one story that was begun several years ago and never taken beyond the first draft stage, the core of the problem is Jared, my main character. The story is set in the World of Neveyah, and one of the canon tropes of stories set in that world is that all mages are trained by and work for the Temple of Aeos.

The_Pyramid_Conflict_Tension_PacingJared is hilarious, charming, naïve, a bit cocky, and completely unaware that he’s an arrogant jackass. He is a young man who is exceptionally good at everything and is happy to tell you about it. Jared has no clue that his boasting holds him back, as no one wants to work with him.

This boy is both the protagonist and the antagonist of this story.

The second question I ask is: “What do the characters want most?” Jared is a mage, and as such, he is a member of the Clergy of Aeos. He wants to be just like his childhood hero, or better. Jared needs approval and admiration to bolster his sense of self-worth. Everything he does is an effort to be seen as worthy.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the Temple of Aeos have plenty of heroes on hand and just want a mage who can be relied upon to get a job done well and with no fanfare.

The third question I ask my characters is this: “What are they willing to do to get it?” Jared has boasted many times that he will meet and overcome any obstacle, no matter how difficult the path to success is.

His mentors like him, but despair of his ever succeeding as a mage. They devise a simple (and on the surface) heroic seeming quest tailored to improve his attitude. They layer it with dirty and disgusting obstacles that he hasn’t planned for. Jared meets and works his way through these roadblocks one by one. His mentors ensure that when he does “rescue the kid,” he gets their message quite clearly. This is where the asymmetric information comes into play. Jared’s innocent assumptions make for a wonderfully wicked plot arc.

How will Jared’s story end? It ends in a satisfying mess with all the acclaim the young hero could ask for—along with a large serving of humble pie. But nothing can keep Jared down for long—he takes that embarrassment and embraces it with his own personal flair.

Epic Fails meme2When I started writing this story, I had the core conflict: Jared’s misguided desire to be important. I had the surface quest: rescuing the kidnapped kid. I had the true quest: Jared learning to laugh at himself and developing a little humility.

I had all the pieces and the completed first draft, but other projects had more priority. Then the pandemic hit, and this story was shelved.

Now, with all the hustle and bustle of moving to a new home, I need something short and sweet to work on for relaxation, and I came across Jared’s story. It needs serious revisions, but it’s one of my favorite Neveyah stories, as it is not dark as they usually are. Jared’s tale of woe is full of gallows humor, detailing the deeds of a hero who becomes a man.


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Layers of Depth: getting a grip on narrative time

Narrative time and calendar time are separate entities. They are team members working on the same project but with different tasks. Point of view and narrative time work together to create an author’s voice.

calendarCalendar time is a layer of world-building. It sets the story in a particular era and shows the passage of time.

Narrative time is the grammatical placement of the story’s time frame in the past or the present, i.e., present tense (we go) or past tense (we went).

Narrative time works with point of view to shape the reader’s perception of a scene’s atmosphere and ambiance.

Once the reader passes the first page or two of a novel, a reader becomes used to the way the author has chosen to deliver the story. Narrative time and point of view fade into the background, becoming a subtle layer that goes unnoticed on a conscious level.

How does narrative time relate to “past” or “present” tense?

In grammartense is a word referencing time. Tenses are usually shown by how we use the forms of verbs, particularly in their conjugation patterns. The main tenses found in most languages include the pastpresent, and future.

We create depth by combining narrative time with two closely related components of a story:

  • Narrative point of view (or the perspective) is a personal or impersonal “lens” through which a story is communicated.
  • Narrative voice, or how a story is communicated, is an author’s fingerprint. Narrative voice or style arises from the words we choose and how we combine them. It is formed by our deeply held beliefs and attitudes. We may or may not consciously intend to do it, but our convictions emerge in our writing, shaping character and plot arcs.

The way that narrative tense affects a reader’s perception of the characters is subtle, an undercurrent that goes unnoticed after the first few paragraphs. It shapes the reader’s view of events on a subliminal level.

Every story is different and requires us to use a unique narrative time. Tense conveys information about time. It relates the time of an event (when) to another time (now or then). The tense you choose indicates the event’s location in time.

Verb ConjugationConsider the following sentences: “I eat,” “I am eating,” “I have eaten,” and “I have been eating.”

All are in the present tense, indicated by the present-tense verb of each sentence (eatam, and have).

Yet, they are different because each conveys slightly different information (or points of view) about how the action pertains to the present moment.

I regularly “think aloud” in writing the first draft. When writing by the seat of my pants, passive phrasings find their way into the raw narrative. I think of these words as traffic signals for when I begin revisions.  a shorthand that helps me write the story before I lose my train of thought.

  • In the rewrite, we look for the code words (passive phrasing) that tell us what the scene should be rewritten to show.

Many writers avoid the third person omniscient mode because it takes more work to make the prose active. But some stories work best in that mode.

Which sentence feels stronger, more pressing? Each sentence says the same thing, but we get a different story when we change the narrative tense, point of view, and verb choice.

  • He was hot and thirsty. (Third-person omniscient, past tense, passive phrasing.)
  • Henry trudged forward, his lips dry and cracked, yearning for a drop of water. (Third-person omniscient, past tense, active phrasing.)
  • struggle toward the oasis with dry, cracked lips and parched tongue. (First-person present tense, Active phrasing.)
  • You stagger toward the oasis, dizzy with thirst. (Second-person, present tense, active phrasing.)

The way we show this moment in time for these thirsty characters is important. If we write a sentence that says a character is hot and thirsty, we leave nothing to the reader’s imagination. The reader is on the outside, looking in. When we write that experience of thirst using active phrasing, no matter what narrative tense we write in, it changes everything.

Sometimes the only way I can get into a character’s head is to write them in the first-person present tense. This is because the narrative time I am trying to convey is the now of that story. (This happens to me most often when writing short stories.)

In traditional first-person POV, the protagonist is the narrator. We must remember that no one ever has complete knowledge of anything, so the first-person narrator cannot be omnipotent.

transitive verb damon suede quoteEvery story is unique; some work best in the past tense, while others must be set in the present.

WARNING: When we begin writing a story using a narrative time unfamiliar to us, we may have trouble with drifting tense and wandering narrative points of view.

Drifting narrative tense and wandering POV are insidious. Either or both can occur if you habitually write using one mode but switch to another. For this reason, I must be vigilant when I begin in the first-person present tense but then switch to close third person.

For this reason, when you begin revisions, it’s crucial to look at your verb forms to ensure your narrative time doesn’t inadvertently drift between past and present.

So, where does voice come into it?

The way you habitually phrase sentences, how you construct paragraphs, the words you choose, and the narrative time you prefer to write in is your voice.

Summer is nearly upon us here in the Pacific Northwest. Packing and moving is going better than I thought it would. Time for writing is hit and miss this week, but by the second week of June, we will be settled in our new digs, and writing will be back on track. Life is good!


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Layers of Depth – using the world you know #amwriting

If you have been following my blog, you might know my husband and I are selling our home of eighteen years and moving back to the town we both grew up in. Currently, we live in a small quarry town twenty miles south of the state capitol. It is historic and small. But it is a vibrant town, creative and open to entrepreneurs, and has a close-knit community.

MyWritingLife2021If I were writing a story starring me as the main character, I would open it in the year 2005 with a couple of empty-nesters buying a house in a bedroom community twenty miles south of Olympia.

But what sort of town is this?

Tenino (Teh-nine-oh) is situated at the southern edge of Thurston County. Many people working for the State of Washington live here because the commute isn’t too bad and homes here are affordable, whereas homes in Olympia are expensive. This town has a long history of boom and bust; quarrymen, loggers, and farmers settled here, and they are still hanging on. But government employees don’t earn as much as private sector employees, and they can afford to buy homes here. So, the demographic is slowly changing.

Timber is no longer king here. Nowadays, our town is famous for Wolf Haven Internationalsandstone art, crafted whiskey, and award-winning wine. We still have a few large cattle ranches out on the Violet Prairie, between Tenino and Interstate 5. But 5-to-7-acre executive “horse properties,” antique stores, cheese makers offering goat yoga, and soap-making classes have found fertile ground here.

In the early 20th century, bootlegging was an industry here (my maternal grandfather’s line of work during prohibition). The distilleries here are the legal continuation of an old tradition.

Only_in_TeninoThe city center is isolated, twelve miles from the freeway and twenty miles away from every other town in the south county. If a fictional story were set in this town, it would feature the same political and religious schisms that divide the rest of our country. There are other tensions. Some families have been here for generations, and a few don’t appreciate the influx of low-paid state workers buying cookie-cutter tract homes (like mine) here.

Other than those employed by the local businesses, most people commute to work in Olympia or Centralia.

My street is a stretch of rough blacktop with no sidewalks. Most of the driveways, including ours, are paved. Our street runs east and west, with a fabulous view of Mount Rainier rising at the east end.

Homes line our street on both sides, but it’s visually divided. A nicely landscaped manufactured home park is on the north side of the road, across from my front door. On the south side, my side, a long row of forty stick-built homes was tossed up in 2005, just before the housing bubble crashed.

And I do mean tossed up. Some things that went into building these houses were bottom-of-the-barrel bargains, cheap toilets, cheaper water heaters, and improperly installed bathtubs—all things that failed and were replaced over the last eighteen years.

The row of homes on my side is nearly identical to each other, as there are only two types of floor plans, one for three bedrooms (mine) or the four-bedroom version. People have made their homes as unique as possible. For a few years, we had the only house with an orange door, but now our door is white, as we had to replace it and never got around to painting it.

Orange_Door_with_Hydrangeas_©_Connie_Jasperson_2019Two inches of rain fell the day we moved into our brand-new home in 2005, making moving our furniture into this house a misery. Our new house had no landscaping and rose from a sea of mud and rocks. With a lot of effort, we made a pleasant yard. When the housing bubble burst in 2008, many people on my side of the street lost their jobs, and some homes went into foreclosure.

Flippers found a wealth of projects here. For several years, wherever there were two or more empty houses, it looked somewhat like a ghost town.

That has changed. Now we are bustling, people walking up and down the street to and from the store.

Tenino has one grocery store, which also has a hardware store inside. The market carries the basics, but the quality of their fresh produce can be iffy. You really have to check the pull dates on things like eggs, hummus, and cottage cheese. It’s far more affordable to shop in Olympia.

However, the meat department sources beef from a local ranch. Their meat department smokes their own ribs and other cuts. Carnivores love this place because the wind carries the smoky aroma all over the neighborhood.

Even Tenino is changing with the times, with more hybrid cars in the parking lots. A large wind farm graces the top of the hills south of here. The store has always carried tofu but has lately begun carrying some plant-based sources of protein and dairy-free ice cream. That discovery was a Hallelujah moment for those of us with milk sensitivity!

Violet Prairie in MayOur main street, Sussex, passes through a historic district. The buildings are all built from sandstone quarried at the old quarries. Many of the old buildings are home to antique stores. The masonic lodge is made of Tenino sandstone.

It’s a slice of rural America with a Northwest twist, a quiet town that is the perfect setting for a paranormal fantasy or a murder mystery.

What about my immediate environment? In the morning, birdsong fills the air. Robins, wrens, finches, hummingbirds, crows, Stellar’s jays, mourning doves – the neighborhood borders Scatter Creek and is alive with birds.

During the day, I can hear the children playing at the school. In the evening, the neighborhood is filled with the sounds of kids playing in each other’s yards.

Highway 507 passes through the center of town, becoming Sussex Street. The sounds of traffic, from semi-trucks to sirens, occasionally vie with the horns from freight trains passing at the west end of town.

Even so, it’s a quiet place, a good place to live.

We’re sad to leave here, but it’s the right thing to do. We have rented an apartment and will be completely resettled by the middle of June. Our new home is in a terrific neighborhood, with easy access to shops and restaurants. It will be intriguing to rediscover the world we left behind and to see how it has changed since we left there.

The setting of your story is a multipurpose layer embedded in the depths, and is itself comprised of layers: sounds, scents, and visual details. It shows the immediate area and conveys your characters’ society, political climate, and economic class. These aspects are subtle, yet they’re as fundamental to the story as the blood in your veins. And like that blood, we only notice it when something draws our attention to it—which usually happens at inconvenient moments.

As an exercise, visualize your own community and write a word picture of it as if you were telling me about it. Then imagine the community your characters live in and write a word picture of how they would describe their world. Feel free to post your word-pictures in the comments!

Free-Range Pansies photo credit cjjap copy


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Layers of depth: The use and abuse of modifiers #amwriting

Depth in a narrative is created by many layers. One layer we must look at involves prose, words we use, and how we phrase things. The way we use modifiers and descriptors plays a significant role in how our work is received by a reader.

depthPart1revisionsLIRF05252021In writing, we add depth and contour to our prose by how we choose and use our words. We “paint” a scene using words to show what the point-of-view character is seeing or experiencing. Yes, we do need to use some modifiers and descriptors.

Modifiers are like any other medicine: a small dose can cure illnesses. A large dose will kill the patient. The best use of them is to find words that convey the most information with the most force.

When we refer to modifiers, what do we mean?

Any word that modifies (alters, changes, transforms) the meaning and intent of another word is a modifier. Modifiers change, clarify, qualify, or limit a particular word in a sentence to add emphasis, explanation, or detail.

We also use them as conjunctions to connect thoughts: “otherwise,” “then,” and “besides.”

What are descriptors? Adverbs and adjectives, known as descriptors, are helper nouns or verbs—words that help describe other words. They are easily overused, so these words are often reviled by authors armed with a little dangerous knowledge.

What is a quantifier? They are nouns (or noun phrases) meant to convey a vague number or an abstract impression, such as: very, a great deal ofa good deal ofa lot, many, much. The important word there is abstract, which I think of as a thought or idea describing something without physical or concrete existence.

modifying-conjunctions-04262022One of the cautions those of us new to the craft frequently hear are criticisms about the number of modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) we habitually use. This can hurt, especially if we don’t understand what the members of our writing group are trying to tell us.

Perhaps the number of modifiers isn’t the problem, but the forms we use fluff up our narrative.

Perhaps you have been told you use too many “ly” words or descriptors. Examine the context. Have you used the word “actually” in a conversation? You may want to keep it, as dialogue must sound natural, and people use that word when speaking.

However, if you have used “actually” to describe an object, check to see if it is necessary. Is the sentence stronger without it?

  • The tree was actually covered in red leaves.
  • Red leaves covered the tree.

Many descriptors are easy to spot, often ending with “ly.” When I begin revising a first draft, I do a global search for the letters “ly.” A list will pop up in my lefthand margin. My manuscript will become a mass of yellow highlighted words.

  • “ly” words are code words – a kind of mental shorthand in a first draft. In the revision process, they tell us what we need to expand on to fully explore the scene as we originally envisioned.

It’s a daunting task, but I look at each instance and see how they fit into that context. If a word or phrase weakens the narrative, I change it to a simpler form or remove it and rewrite the sentence.

Think about it – bare is an adjective, as is barely.

Context is everything. Take the time to look at each example of the offending words and change them individually. You have already spent months writing that novel. Why not take a few days to do the job well?

Sentence structure matters. Where you place an adjective relative to the noun they are describing affects a reader’s perception. Adjectives work best when showing us what the point-of-view characters see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.

Sunlight glared over the ice, a cold fire in the sky that cast no warmth but burned the eyes.

Timid WordsIn the above sentence, the essential parts are structured this way: noun – verb (sunlight glared), adjective – noun (cold fire), verb – adjective – noun (cast no warmth), and finally, verb-article-noun (burned the eyes). Lead with the action or noun, follow with a strong modifier, and the sentence conveys what is intended but isn’t weakened by the modifiers.

The above scene could be shown in many ways, but a paragraph’s worth of world-building is pared down to 19 words, three of which are action words. This is an area I struggle with, and it occupies most of my attention during revisions.

Shakespeare understood the beauty and the power that contrasting modifiers can add to ordinary prose without making it artificial. Consider this line from his play, As You Like It, written in 1599:

It strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room. As You Like It, Wm. Shakespeare, 1599.

What brilliant imagery Shakespeare handed us—strong words with powerful meaning: dead, great, reckoning, little. His prose moves us as we read or hear it spoken because he uses words with visual impact.

Most writers know that participating in a critique group requires delicacy and dedication. They know it involves restraint and the ability to allow other authors to write their own work. Most groups don’t micromanage a manuscript because they know how too much input and direction can remove the author’s unique voice from a piece.

These are dedicated people who love reading and want your work to succeed.

As writers, we all want to be accepted and have others like our work, but we must write from the heart. That means using modifiers, descriptors, or quantifiers when they are needed. It’s a balancing act. We must be mindful of the form and the context of how a modifier fits into our phrasing.

The following image is a list of code-words I seek out and re-examine when I begin revising a first draft. Each word points me in the right direction. All I have to do is rephrase that sentence with stronger forms of the “ly” word.

List of common adverbs


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Layers of Depth – using atmosphere to emphasize emotion #amwriting

Writing emotions with depth is a balancing act, and simply showing the outward physical indicators of a particular emotion is only half the story. Every idea for a novel comes to me with an idea for the overall mood. That mood will underscore and emphasize the characters’ personal mood and changing emotions.

depth-of-characterIn his book, Story, Robert McKee tells us that emotion is the experience of transition, of the characters moving between a positive and negative. Beneath and behind the emotions that our characters experience is the atmosphere of the story, going unnoticed on the surface.

Atmosphere is the aspect of mood that setting conveys. It is only an ambiance, but it is a powerful tool for helping us show our characters’ emotional state.

When creating our characters, we find it easy to connect with vivid emotions, such as hate, anger, desire, and passion. These are loud emotions.

Volume control is a crucial part of the overall pacing of our story. “Loud” deafens us and loses its power when it’s the only sound. So, like the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, we must contrast loud against quiet to create the texture of our story.

When we first begin as writers, we find it difficult to convey our characters’ emotions without telling the reader what to feel. After receiving our share of abuse from other writers, we swing toward showing their every mood in minuscule detail.

emotionwordslist01LIRF06232020Truthfully, I find detailed descriptions of facial expressions to be boring and sometimes off-putting. Every author armed with a little knowledge writes characters with curving lips, stretching lips, and lips doing many things over, and over, and over … with little variation.

A happy medium between telling and showing can be achieved, but it takes work. We must choose words that show what we mean and use the environment to convey subtle feelings wherever possible. I say wherever possible because it is not practicable to always employ the setting in a narrative. We need to get inside the characters’ heads.

Severe emotional shock strikes us, and we have an immediate physical reaction.

Visceral reactions are involuntary—out of our control. We can’t stop our faces from flushing or our hearts from pounding. Visceral feelings are emotions we feel deeply. We find it difficult to control or ignore them because they are instinctive and not the result of thought.

We can pretend it didn’t happen or hide it, but we can’t stop it. An internal physical gut reaction is difficult to convey without offering the reader some information, a framework to hang the image on.

There will be an instant reaction. How does a “gut reaction” feel? We might experience nausea, gut punch, or a feeling of butterflies in our stomach. Think about how you respond to internal surprises, and write those feelings down.

I experience severe shocks this way:

  • disbelief—the OMG moment
  • a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, freezing in place, or a shout of “No!”
  • Years ago, on witnessing a horrific accident, I experienced disassociation or a feeling of viewing the scene from outside myself. This involuntary coping or defense mechanism is meant to minimize or help a person tolerate stress.

When we write mild reactions, offering a lot of emotional descriptions is unnecessary because mild is boring. A raised eyebrow, a sideways glance—small gestures show the attitude and mood of the character.

But good pacing requires balance. Quiet scenes enable us (and our characters) to process the events detailed in the louder scenes.

However, strong emotions are compelling. Highly charged situations are strengthened by the way we write the emotional experience. The way we show the setting reinforces each physical response.

The following is an excerpt from a work in progress:

Knowledge lay in Ivan’s belly, a cold ball of disaster. He had already failed as a shaman, and he wasn’t even a true seeker. But he couldn’t let Cai down, had to prove he could resolve it. He forced a smile, projecting confidence. “Look at that view. I’d heard the lake is so large one can’t see the southern shore from Neville, but I didn’t realize its truth. It seems as vast as the sky.”

As you can see, I struggle with these concepts as much as any other writer does. This scene is set on an early spring morning with cold winds shuttling heavy clouds across a blue sky. Rain moves in later in the day, underscoring Ivan’s dark mood. Sometimes I do well at conveying atmosphere and emotion; other times, I don’t. But I keep trying because it takes effort to succeed in anything.

When I write a scene, I ask myself why this character is reacting this way. Emotions without cause have no basis for existence, no foundation. They’re a lot of noise about nothing.

The emotion hits, and the character processes it. From a different work in progress:

It would have been the first battle spell John had cast in years, but no. His battle abilities were still gone, as if the inferno he’d unleashed in the culvert had burned them away.

Timing is crucial, and this is the moment to slip in a brief mention of the backstory. That way, we avoid an info dump, but the reader has the information needed to make the emotion tangible.

On the heels of that thought, John was overcome by the remembered sounds, the roar of flames, the shrieks of the enemy …. he sagged to the curb, gagging and gasping, unable to breathe properly, panicking under the weight of it.

emotionwordslist02LIRF06232020Simplicity has an impact, but I struggle to achieve balance. When looking for words with visceral and emotional power, consonants are your friend. Verbs that begin with consonants are powerful.

Use forceful words, and you won’t have to resort to a great deal of description. Weak word choices separate the reader from the experience, dulling the emotional impact of what could be an intense scene.

If you are between projects and don’t know what to write, a good exercise is to create an intense and dramatic scene for characters you currently have no story for. Give them a setting, and use it to emphasize how they feel.

The key to writing a good scene is to practice. You may find a later use for these characters, and that scene could be the seed of a longer story. The more we practice this aspect of the craft, the better we get at it.

And the more we write, the more individual and recognizable our writing voice becomes.


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Layers of Depth: Mood and Emotion #amwriting

Readers and authors often use the word mood interchangeably with atmosphere when describing a scene or passage. Like conjoined twins, mood and atmosphere march along together—separate but intertwined so closely that they seem as one.

mood-emotions-2-LIRF09152020Mood is long-term, a feeling residing in the background, going almost unnoticed. Mood affects (and is affected by) the emotions evoked within the story.

Atmosphere is also long-term but is sometimes more noticeable as it is a worldbuilding component. Atmosphere is the aspect of mood that setting conveys.

Emotion is immediate and short-term. It exists in the foreground but contributes to the overall atmosphere and mood.

In his book, Story, Robert McKee tells us that emotion is the experience of transition, of the characters moving between a positive and negative. “Story” by Robert McKee,

Much of my information comes from seminar videos on the craft of writing found on YouTube and posted by Robert McKee. He is an excellent teacher, and his textbook is a core component of my personal library. A wonderful 6-minute lesson on the difference between mood and emotion can be found at:

Robert McKee, Q&A: What Is the Difference Between Mood and Emotion?

While emotions are immediate, they can be subtle. I look for books where emotions are dynamic, because that is when the character’s internal struggle becomes personal to me.

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

Mood-and-atmosphere-LIRF04302023Undermotivated emotions lack credibility and leave the reader feeling as if the story is flat. In real life, we have deep, personal reasons for our feelings, and so must our characters.

A woman shoots another woman. Why? Add in the factor of her child having been accidentally killed by the woman she murders, and you have high emotion and high drama. Therefore, just as in real life, the root cause for a character’s emotions is a fundamental motivation for their actions.

Which is more important, mood or emotion? Both and neither. Characters’ emotions affect the overall mood of a story. In turn, the atmosphere of a particular environment may affect the characters’ personal mood. Their individual attitudes affect the emotional state of the group.

Because emotion is the experience of transition from the negative to the positive and back again, emotion changes a character’s values, and they either grow or stagnate. This is part of the inferential layer, as the audience must infer (deduce) the experience. You can’t tell a reader how to feel. They must experience and understand (infer) what drives the character on a human level.

What is mood? Wikipedia says:

In literature, mood is the atmosphere of the narrative. Mood is created by means of setting (locale and surroundings in which the narrative takes place), attitude (of the narrator and of the characters in the narrative), and descriptions. Though atmosphere and setting are connected, they may be considered separately to a degree. Atmosphere is the aura of mood that surrounds the story. It is to fiction what the sensory level is to poetry.[1] Mood is established in order to affect the reader emotionally and psychologically and to provide a feeling for the narrative.

What is atmosphere? It is created by our word choices and is intangible, but it affects how the reader perceives the story. The setting contributes to the atmosphere, so it is a component of worldbuilding. But we should note that the setting is only a place; it is not atmosphere. Atmosphere comes into play when we place certain visual elements into the scenery with the intention of creating a mood in the reader.

  • Tumbleweeds rolling across a barren desert.
  • Waves crashing against cliffs.
  • Dirty dishes resting beside the sink.
  • A chill breeze wafting through a broken window.

Atmosphere is created as much by odors, scents, ambient sounds, and visuals as by the characters’ moods and emotions. It is a component of the environment but is also an ambiance because it is intentional.

We build atmosphere into a setting with the aim of creating a specific frame of mind or emotion in the reader.

I love it when an author drops me into an atmosphere that colors their world and shapes the characters’ moods.

So, now we know that atmosphere is environmental, separate but connected to the general emotional mood of a piece. From the story’s first paragraph, we want to establish a feeling of atmosphere, the general mood that will hint at what is to come.

storybyrobertmckeeRobert McKee tells us that the mood/dynamic of any story is there to make the emotional experience of our characters specific. It makes their emotions feel natural. After all, the mood and atmosphere Emily Brontë instilled into the setting of Wuthering Heights make the depictions of mental and physical cruelty seem like they would happen there.

Happy, sad, neutral—atmosphere and mood lend a flavor to the emotions our characters experience, giving them emphasis and making them real to the reader.

For me, as a writer, the inferential layer of a story is complicated. Creating a world-on-paper requires thought even when we live in that world. We know how the atmosphere and mood of our neighborhood feel when we walk to the store. But try conveying that mood and atmosphere in a letter to a friend – it’s harder than it looks.

Next up: a closer examination of emotions and why showing is so much more difficult (and sometimes dangerous) than telling.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Mood (literature),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mood_(literature)&oldid=1147399122 (accessed April 30, 2023).


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Layers of Depth – a pond filled with words #amwriting

We often talk about the story arc and its component parts and features. But I often think that while a story is shaped like an arc, it is also like a pond filled with words. It is something vast and deep, set in an enclosed space.

MyWritingLife2021BWe know our story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We sense something murky and mysterious in the middle. We instinctively know the pond is made up of layers, although we may not consciously be aware of it or be able to explain it.

Depth is a component of our story, and we will look at it over the next few posts. Depth can be a puzzle that eludes many authors, as conveying it by merely using words requires thought and a bit of extra work.

Layer one, the surface layer, is the most obvious when we look at our pond made of words. It’s what we see when we approach the shore. The surface might be calm when you look at a pond filled with water. Or, if a storm is brewing, it will be ruffled and moving.

The surface of the word pond is the literal layer. It is the what-you-see-is-what-you-get layer. This is where we find the setting, the action, and all visual/physical experiences as our characters go about their lives.

Readers choose to buy a book based on what they see when they crack it open for a brief look. They recognize what they think is there because the book is in their favorite genre, and the cover and blurb reflect that. The opening pages let them see how the author writes, and they choose to buy or move on.

Inside the book, the surface reflects the actions and events. A gun is drawn, and the weapon is fired—what happened is obvious.

We play with the surface layer by telling our story using realism, surrealism, or fantasy.

Realism is a depiction of what undisputedly is. Romance, contemporary novels, political thrillers—any narrative set in the real world without introducing fantasy elements—is realism.

desaturated alice Tea setSurrealism seeks to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example, by the irrational juxtaposition of images—think Alice in Wonderland. It takes what is real and warps it to convey a subtler meaning.

Fantasy takes realism and imagines it as a different reality and world. Sometimes surreal elements are added. But a fantasy world is usually portrayed as our reality, and the fantastical elements are depicted as commonplace and ordinary.

This will be a fun layer to explore, with lots of wonderful art to help us along the way.

Back to that pond filled with words. Beneath the surface is the wide layer of an unknown quantity: the inferential layer. This is the layer where inference and implication come into play.

Perhaps at the outset, we saw a character draw a gun. This is where we show why the gun is there. We offer hints that imply reasons for the weapon being included in that scene. We show how the shooter comes to the place in the story where they squeezed the trigger.

Infer_Meme_LIRF06292019All the characters have reasons for their actions. The author offers implications and lets the reader come to their own conclusions. The reader sees the hints, allegations, and inferences, and the underlying story of each character takes shape in their mind.

In a good story, the path to the moment the trigger was pulled is complicated. Perhaps no one knows precisely what led to it, but some characters have bits of information. Your task is to fill the middle of the pond with clues, hints, and allegations. This is where INFER and IMPLY come into play.

An author implies. Readers want to solve puzzles, but they need clues. One meaning is displayed on the surface of the story. But deeper down, we enclose the true meaning, a secret folded within the narrative.

A reader infers. The reader deduces or catches the meaning of something that is not said directly by following the clues (inferences) we leave them. In reading the inferential layer of the story, they deduce the meaning of what is about to happen and receive a surge of endorphins.

They get another surge if they guessed wrong but see how it all makes sense.

No matter what genre we write, we want the reader to feel they have earned the information they are gaining. They must be able to deduce what you imply. As a listener (reader), you can only extrapolate knowledge from information someone or something has offered you.

Serious readers want this layer to mean something on a level that isn’t obvious. They want to experience that feeling of triumph for having caught the meaning. That surge of endorphins keeps them involved and makes them want more of your work.

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021This layer will be shallower in Romance novels because the book’s point isn’t a more profound meaning—it’s interpersonal relationships on a surface level. However, there will still be some areas of mystery that aren’t spelled out entirely because the interpersonal intrigues are the story.

Books for younger readers might also be less deep on this level because they don’t yet have the real-world experience to understand what is implied.

This middle layer is, in my opinion, the toughest layer for an author to get a grip on.

Below the middle Layer is Layer three, the bottom of our pond filled with words. Whatever passes from the surface travels through the middle and rests at the bottom.

plot is the frame upon which the themes of a story are supportedThis is the interpretive level:

  • Themes
  • Commentary
  • Messages
  • Symbolism
  • Archetypes

This layer is sometimes the easiest for me to discuss because it deals with finite concepts. Theme is one of my favorite subjects to write about, as is symbolism. Commentary is something I haven’t gone into in-depth, nor have I really discussed conveying messages. Archetype is another underpinning of a story.

My personal goal is to gain a better understanding of the subtler aspects of writing as I do the research for this series. Whenever I come across a book or website with good information on these subjects, I will share it.


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How Writing Advice can be both Good and Bad #amwriting

Authors who are just starting out need to learn the craft. We humans find it easy to remember simple sayings, little proverbs, if you will.

My Writing LifeThe commonly bandied proverbs of writing are meant to encourage us to write lean, descriptive prose and craft engaging conversations. These sayings exist because the craft of writing involves learning the rules of grammar, developing a broader vocabulary, developing characters, building worlds, etc., etc.

The truth is, we can’t know everything about the craft just by learning a few common proverbs. They help, but we could spend a lifetime studying the craft and never learn all there is to know about the subject.

Taken too seriously, simple mantras of writing advice are dangerous. This is because they can be taken to extremes by novice authors armed with little actual knowledge. An author with too rigid a view of these sayings will not be a good reviewer or beta reader. They won’t be able to see beyond the rules that imprison them and limit their creative existence.

  • Remove all adverbs.

This advice is complete crap. Use common sense, and don’t use unnecessary adverbs.

  • Don’t use speech tags.

What? Who said that, and why are there no speech tags in this drivel?

  • Show, Don’t Tell. Don’t Ever Don’t do it!

Nothing is more ordinary than a story where a person’s facial expressions take center stage, hollow displays of emotion with no substance. Lips stretch into smiles, but the musculature of the face is only a part of the signals that reveal the character’s interior emotions.

Flaubert on writing LORF07252022Then, there are the stories where the author leans too heavily on the internal. Creased foreheads are replaced with stomach-churning, gut-wrenching shock or wide-eyed trembling of hands.

And don’t forget the recurring moments of weak-kneed nausea.

For me, the most challenging part of writing the final draft of any novel is balancing the visual indicators of emotion with the more profound, internal clues.

  • Write what you know.

Please, use your imagination. Did Tolkien actually go to Middle Earth and visit a volcano? No, but he did serve in WWI and lived and worked in Oxford, which is not notable for abounding in elves, hobbits, or orcs.

So yes, Tolkien understood senseless conflicts and total warfare—because he had experienced it. His books detail his view of the utter devastation of war but are set in a fantasy environment. Your life experiences shape your writing, but your imagination is the story’s fuel and source.

  • If you’re bored with your story, your reader will be too.

That’s not true. You have spent months immersed in that story, years even. You know it inside and out, but your reader doesn’t.

Commonly discussed writing proverbs go on and on.

  • Kill your darlings.

Jack Kerouak on writing LIRF07252022Indeed, we shouldn’t be married to our favorite prose or characters. Sometimes we must cut a paragraph, a chapter, or even a character we love because it no longer fits the story. But have a care – people read for pleasure. Perhaps that phrase does belong there. Maybe that arrangement of words really was the best part of that paragraph.

  • Cut all exposition.

A story must be about the characters, the conflict, and the resolution. So, why are we in this handbasket? And where are we going? If we’re plucked from our comfy lives and dropped into the Handbasket to Hell, we want to know why.

The timing of when we insert the exposition into the narrative is crucial. The reader needs to know what the characters know. But they only require that knowledge at the moment it becomes necessary. The reader wants to understand the narrative but doesn’t want information dumped on them.

Bad advice is good advice taken to an extreme. The internet and social media allow us to make connections with other writers from all over the world. We gather in virtual groups and share what we have learned about the craft. Some of us become evangelical, born-again believers that the words of those great writers who have gone before us are the only truths we need to know.

While that isn’t so, we must remember that all writing advice has roots in truth.

  • Overuse of adverbs fluffs up the prose and ruins the taste of an author’s work.
  • Too many speech tags, especially odd and bizarre ones, can stop the eye. When the characters are snorting, hissing, and ejaculating their dialogue, I will put the book down and never pick it up again. My favorite authors seem to stick to common tags like said and replied.
  • Too much telling takes the adventure out of the reading experience. Too much showing is tedious and can be disgusting. It takes effort to find that happy medium, but writing is work.
  • Know what you are writing about. Research your subject and, if necessary, interview people in that profession. Readers often know more than you do about certain things.

proverbs definition wikipediaHandy, commonly debated mantras become engraved in stone because proverbs are how we educate ourselves. Unless an author is fortunate enough to have a formal education in the subject, we must rely on the internet and handy self-help guides to learn the many nuances of the writing craft.

That is what I have done. I buy books about the craft of writing modern, 21st-century genre fiction and rely on the advice offered by the literary giants of the past. I seek a rounded view of crafting prose and look for other tools that I can use to improve my writing. I think this makes me a better, more informed reader. (My ego speaking.)

But sometimes online writer’s forums are a little – shall we say dicey? We come into contact with people armed with a bit of knowledge, a large ego, and a loud voice. Be careful, and don’t share your work with any group until you have seen how they treat each other.

Some writers are fearful of what others might say. They bludgeon their work to death, desperately trying to fit it into narratives defined by absolute limits.

In the process, every bit of creativity is shaved off the corners, and a story with immense potential becomes boring and difficult to read. As an avid reader and reviewer, I see this all too often.

I study the craft of writing because I love it, and I apply the proverbs and rules of advice gently. Whether my work is good or bad—I don’t know. But I write the stories I want to read, so I am writing for a niche audience of one: me.

However, I read two or three books a week. I love books where the authors clearly know the rules but break them when necessary.

So, my friends—go forth, and write. Now, more than ever, the world needs more novels.


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