Tag Archives: writing

Character creation: attraction and repulsion #amwriting

This week we’re continuing our dive into character building. I’m putting my beta reader’s comments to work, trying to iron out some of the rough patches, and one that I must work on is attraction.

WritingCraftSeries_romanceWriting emotions with depth is a balancing act. This is where I write from real life. I think about the physical cues I see when my friends and family feel emotion. When someone is happy, what do you see? Bright eyes, laughter, and smiles.

And when we’re happy, how do we feel? Energized, confident. We’re always slightly giddy when we have a little crush coming on and even happier when it blossoms into a romance.

The trick is to combine the surface of the emotion (physical) with the deeper aspect of the feeling (internal). Not only that, but we want to write it so that we aren’t telling the reader what to experience. We allow the reader to experience the emotion as if it is their idea.

Fantasy is a popular genre because it involves people. People are creatures of biology and emotion. When you throw them together in close quarters, romances can happen within the narrative.

I’m not a Romance writer. I write about relationships, but Romance readers will be disappointed in my work. My tales don’t always have a happily ever after, although most do. Also, while I can be graphic, I’m usually a fade-to-black kind of writer, allowing my characters a little privacy.

I flounder when writing without an outline, and even though I’m in the second draft, I’m floundering now.

Writing intense, heartfelt emotions is easy for me. I begin to have trouble when I attempt to write the subtler nuances of attraction and its opposite, repulsion. I find myself at a loss for words.

The problem is, if you write intense emotions with no buildup, they come out of nowhere and seem gratuitous.

So, how do I foreshadow these relationships and show the buildup? I go to Romance writers and ask questions. I’ve attended workshops given by romance writers and learned a great deal from them. However, being autistic, I understand more from pursuing independent study.

Verbalize_Damon_SuedeAlso, I’m a book junkie—I can’t pass up buying any book on the craft of writing. I bought two books on writing craft by Damon Suede, who writes Romance. These two books show how word choices can make or break the narrative.

In his book Verbalize, he explains how actions make other events possible. Even gentler, softer emotions must have verbs to set them in motion.

Emotions are nouns, and so I need to find and use the right verbs to activate them.

Therefore, matching nouns with verbs is key to bringing that romance to life. I must get out the dictionary of synonyms and antonyms and delve into the many words that relate to and describe attraction. ATTRACTION Synonyms: 33 Synonyms & Antonyms for ATTRACTION | Thesaurus.com

So, now that I have all these lovely words, the next step is to choose the words that say what I mean and fit them into the narrative.

This novel was accidental, so I didn’t plan the relationships out the way I usually do. I have five people in this convoluted tale. I’m a bookkeeper, so doing the math, if we end up with two couples, one character will be left out.

Now my beta readers tell me that while the final matches work, I need to hint at sexual tension from the opening pages on to better show the attraction.

Also, they pointed out that the odd-one-out creates endless opportunities for a real roadblock to the final event. This is something I hadn’t seen, but wow–what a great way to inject some power into the finale.

poetry-in-prose-word-cloud-4209005Each of us experiences emotional highs and lows in our daily lives. We have deep-rooted, personal reasons for our emotions, for whether we are attracted to or repulsed by another person. Sometimes those interactions can be highly charged.

Both the protagonist and the antagonist must have legitimate reasons for their actions and reactions. There must be a history of some sort. Failing that, there must be an instinctive attraction/rejection.

Our characters must have credible responses that a reader can empathize with, and there must be consequences.

For me, this is where writing becomes work.

4 Comments

Filed under writing

Character Creation: The Character Arc #amwriting

We’ve discussed the many different aspects of our characters and the roles they have within the story. Some will be the hero, others a sidekick, and still others will be the villain. 

WritingCraftSeries_character-arcEach character should have an arc of growth and change as the story progresses. Heroes that arrive fully formed on page one are boring. For me, the characters are the story, and the events of the piece exist only to force growth upon them.

How people are changed by their experiences is what makes the story compelling.

Many times, the protagonist begins in a place of comfort. They’re a little naïve about the rougher aspects of life. Consider Bilbo Baggins, Tolkien’s protagonist in The Hobbit.

Bilbo begins in a middle-class place of comfort. He lives in his family’s home, a comfortable, well-kept place. Bilbo has inherited a private income and has no need to work, so he devotes his time to writing and entertaining his close friends. He’s a little bored with his existence, but he’s a sensible hobbit and refuses to admit to it.

This is our hero in his comfort zone. He’s not unhappy and could have lived to the end of his days going along as he was. But he would never have developed any further as a person. He was stagnating and didn’t know it.

One sunny day, he’s just enjoying himself when along comes “the inciting incident”—Gandalf, a character who plays multiple roles within the Lord of the Rings story arc. In his first guise, Gandalf has the archetypal role of Herald. He is the bringer of change and unwanted dinner guests.

(The list of archetypes is shown in a picture at the bottom of this page—feel free to right-click and save it for your own files.)

the hobbitBilbo resents both the intrusion and being made aware of how bored he is. Secretly, he fears going into the unknown and resists Gandalf’s insistence that he must go with the dwarves. However, at the last minute, Bilbo realizes that if he doesn’t go now, he will always wonder what would have happened if he had.

Bilbo’s sudden irrational decision to accept the task of Burglar sets him on a path that becomes a personal pilgrimage, a search for the courage he always possessed but had never needed.

Fear of stagnation has overcome Bilbo’s fear of the unknown.

This begins the journey and events that shape Bilbo’s character arc. By the end of the novel, he has recognized and embraced the romantic, fanciful, and adventurous aspects of his nature. In the process, he discovers that he is competent and capable of bravery, winning respect by applying his wits and common sense to every problem.

People undertake pilgrimages for many reasons, often in search of moral or spiritual wisdom. Sometimes they will go to a location that has significance to their beliefs and faith. Other times, it will be an inner, symbolic journey, a delving into their own principles and values. One is always changed by the journey.

Events in themselves don’t change us. We are changed by what we learn as human beings, by experiencing how incidents and occurrences affect our emotions and challenge our values. Everyone perceives things in a unique way and is affected differently from their companions.

Each person grows and develops in a way that is distinctively them. Some people become hardened, world-weary. Others become more compassionate, forgiving.

the hobbit movie posterOver the next year, Bilbo experiences many things. Where once he was a little xenophobic and slightly disdainful of anything not of The Shire, he discovers that other cultures are as valuable as his, meeting people of different races whom he comes to love and trust. He experiences the loss of friends and gains compassion. By the time Bilbo returns to the Shire, he is a different person than he was when he ran out his front door without even a handkerchief.

A character arc should encompass several stages of personal growth. What those stages are is up to you and depend on the story you are telling.

In one of my current works in progress, my protagonist is a soldier of the Bull God’s world of Serende, an enemy sworn to conquer the goddess’s world of Neveyah. He has a religious conversion, and his story takes him on a journey that is both physical and spiritual.

Whether we write fantasy, literary fiction, comedy, sci-fi, or romance—our characters must be changed by their experiences. How they are changed is up to you, but stories and series where the protagonists are unaffected by what they have experienced fail to excite me.

The works that endure are those in which the events are the catalysts of personal growth for the reader as well as the protagonist.

Personal growth creates unforgettable characters. Great characters are why certain novels are considered classics despite having been written more than one or two centuries ago.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Wikipedia

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Wikipedia

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – Wikipedia

ListOf ArchetypesVoglerLIRF04272021


Credits and Attributions:

Dustcover of the first edition of The Hobbit, taken from a design by the author, J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey, Theatrical release poster © 2012 New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, Fair Use.

5 Comments

Filed under writing

Character Creation: The Ally #amwriting

An archetype is an ancient pattern describing a type of character that exists across different cultures and eras of human history. In ancient times, we had no communication with other cultures. Yet, our myths and legends share these familiar, recognizable characters we call archetypes.

WritersjourneysmallThe Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler, details the various traditional archetypes that form the basis of most characters in our modern mythology (or literary canon). I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about archetypes and how they fit into the story.

The following is the list of character archetypes as described by Vogler:

  1. Hero: someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others
  2. Mentor: all the characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts.
  3. Threshold Guardian: a menacing face to the hero, but if understood, they can be overcome.
  4. Herald: a force that brings a new challenge to the hero.
  5. Shapeshifter: characters who constantly change from the hero’s point of view.
  6. Shadow: a character who represents the energy of the dark side
  7. Ally: someone who travels with the hero through the journey, serving a variety of functions.
  8. Trickster: embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change.

Last week we discussed the Mentor. We also looked at one of the many aspects of a hero-character, the Sacrificial Lamb.

Now let’s look at Allies, friends and supporters, side characters who enable the protagonist to achieve their goal. Side characters are essential, especially characters with secrets, because they are a mystery. Readers love to work out puzzles.

f scott fitzgerald quoteOne thing I do recommend is that you keep the number of allies limited. Too many named characters can lead to confusion in the reader.

It’s sometimes challenging to decide who should go and who should stay. What is the optimal number of primary characters for a book? Be kind to the reader. Introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but use common sense.

When you give a character a name, you imply they are a memorable part of the story instead of a walk-on. Even if a walk-on character offers information the protagonist and reader must know, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be named.

Does the character return later in the story? When you introduce a named character, ask yourself if it is someone the reader should remember. Also, never name two characters in the same narrative so that the first and last letters of their names are the same.

For instance, having a Darnell and a Darrell with prominent roles in the same book could be confusing.

Make their names unique and give them a name only if they have a memorable role later. Also, as audiobooks come more and more into the publishing rainbow, spelling and ease of pronounceability are critical.

callMeGeorgeLIRF04252021How easy is it to read, and how will that name be pronounced when it is read aloud?

Certain tricks of plotting function well across all genres, from sci-fi to romance, no matter the setting. In most novels, one or more characters is a “fish out of water,” in that they are immediately thrust into an unknown and possibly dangerous environment.

Every core character that the protagonists are surrounded by should project an unmistakable surface persona, characteristics that are identifiably “them” from the outset.

From the moment they enter the story, we should see glimpses of weaknesses and fears. We should see hints of the sorrows and guilts that lie beneath their exterior personas. Remember, they aren’t the protagonist, so their story must emerge as a side note, a justification for their inclusion in the core group.

Old friends have long histories, and the protagonist knows most of their secrets at the outset. We don’t engage in info-dumping. Their backstory should emerge only at critical points, if and when it provides the reader with information they must know.

If these friends are new to the protagonist, their stories should emerge in the form of information the protagonist must have to complete their quest. However, it should come out only when the reader must know it too.

Twilight_Confidences_by_Cecilia_BeauxIn real life, everyone has emotions and thoughts they conceal from others. Perhaps they are angry and afraid, or jealous, or any number of emotions we are embarrassed to acknowledge. Maybe they hope to gain something on a personal level—if so, what? Small hints revealing those unspoken motives are crucial to raising the tension in the narrative.

As writers, our task is to ensure that each character’s individual story intersects smoothly and doesn’t jar the reader out of the story.

To do that, the motivations of the side characters must be clearly defined. You must know how the person thinks and reacts as an individual.

Ask yourself what desires push this character? What lengths will they go to in the effort to achieve their goal? Conversely, what will they NOT do?

Just as you have done with the hero of your story, ask yourself what the side characters’ moral boundaries are and what actions would be out of character for them?

Mood is a large word serving several purposes. It is created by the setting (atmosphere), by 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 all the characters—their personal mood.

ICountMyself-FriendsDialogue gives shape to the story, turning what could be a wall of words into something personal. We meet and get to know our protagonists and the people they will travel with through the conversations they engage in.

Write nothing that seems out of character unless there is a good, justified reason for that behavior or comment.

We want to create empathy in the reader for the group as a whole, but the pacing of the story remains central.

For all characters, whether they are the protagonist or their allies, personal revelations should only come out when they are necessary to propel the plot to its conclusion.


CREDITS AND ATTRIBUTIONS:

Twilight Confidences, Cecilia Beaux, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

3 Comments

Filed under writing

Character Creation: the sacrificial lamb #amwriting

I rarely kill off my characters, but sometimes the only way to achieve a goal is for someone to die.

In the very first Star Wars movie, Obi-Wan deliberately allowed Darth Vader to kill him. He had several reasons for doing this, one of which was to spur Luke and Princess Leia’s Rebel forces to defeat the Dark Side.

WritingCraftSeries_sacrifical lambObi-Wan is a complex mentor, arriving on the screen with a past. He has lived and lost and made choices he wished he hadn’t. When he faces Darth Vader in his final showdown, you get the feeling that the old man planned his exit perfectly.

His death was a catalyst, lighting a fire in Luke precisely as he intended.

But there are stupid, gratuitous sacrifices that don’t advance the plot.

David Harth of cbr.com gives us this example of a meaningless sacrifice:

Batman was captured by Darkseid’s forces in Final Crisis and played a pivotal role in the final battle against the God of Evil. For his troubles, he was hit with the Omega Sanction and sent back in time. This was all part of Darkseid’s plan, as Batman would move forward through time, chased by the demon Barbatos, building up Omega radiation. If everything had gone as planned, his arrival in the present would have destroyed everything.

Batman put himself in this position, making a “heroic” sacrifice but he didn’t have to do this at all. He could have given the Radion bullet to one of the Flashes who were also fighting Darkseid at the time and gone and done anything else. [1]

I suggest you don’t resort to killing off characters because you can’t think of what to do next. In any story, the death of a character must have meaning.

The character arc of the sacrificial lamb has to be thought out in advance, or there is no real reason for their sacrifice other than the need to wring tears from the reader/viewer.

If shock value is what your stories are about, then that may be your purpose.

However, we spend a lot of time and energy creating characters. Why throw them away for nothing?

We form our characters out of Action and Reaction. This chemistry happens on multiple levels.

First, it occurs within the story as the characters interact with each other. At the same time, the chemistry happens within the reader who is immersed and living the story. The reader begins to consider the characters as friends.

Lord_of_the_Rings_-_The_Two_Towers_(2002)For this reason, every sacrifice our characters make must have meaning and must advance the plot, or you have wasted the reader’s precious time.

Good characterization offers me hints of an individual’s speech habits, history, and personal style. It will show me a person with values or sometimes without boundaries. There are things they will or will not do. They have secrets they believe no one knows, secrets they will deny to the grave.

In the books I love and refer back to, great characters dominate. They behave and respond to the inciting incident naturally, in a way that makes me say, “Yes, this is exactly how they would react.” As each subsequent event unfolds, they continue to behave as individuals. No one acts out of character.

Our task is to ensure that each of our characters’ individual stories intersects seamlessly. To do that, motivations must be clearly defined.

  • You must know how the character thinks and reacts as an individual.
  • What need drives them?
  • What lengths will they go to in the effort to achieve their goal?
  • Conversely, what will they NOT do? What are their moral boundaries, and what is out of character for them?

Now that you know these things about your character, ask yourself what would inspire this person to sacrifice themselves for others? We know the obstacles our characters face. The choices they make in those situations are the story. Write nothing that seems out of character!

In literary terms, agency is the power of an individual character to act independently, to choose their own path.

When we give the protagonist/antagonist agency, we allow them to make their own free choices. They will sometimes take the narrative in new directions, surprising even you, the author.

The character of Spock in the Star Trek franchise is a classic example of a person who would and did sacrifice themselves. In The Wrath of Khan (via Wikipedia):

Star_Trek_II_The_Wrath_of_KhanMortally wounded, the antagonist, Khan, activates a “rebirth” weapon called Genesis, which will reorganize all matter in the nebula, including Enterprise. Though Kirk’s crew detects the activation and attempts to move out of range, they will not be able to escape the nebula in time without the ship’s inoperable warp drive. Spock goes to restore warp power in the engine room, which is flooded with radiation. When McCoy tries to prevent Spock’s entry, Spock incapacitates him with a Vulcan nerve pinch and performs a mind meld, telling him to “remember.” Spock repairs the warp drive, and Enterprise escapes the explosion, which forms a new planet. Before dying of radiation poisoning, Spock urges Kirk not to grieve, as his decision to sacrifice himself to save the ship’s crew was a logical one. An epilogue shows Spock’s space burial and reveals that his coffin is on the surface of the Genesis planet, foreshadowing the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. [2]

Spock explains his decision by saying, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.”

When they have unique personalities, it becomes easy to give our characters an active role in choosing their fate. When I am first writing any story, allowing my characters agency is difficult to do. At this point in the first draft of my manuscripts, the motives of my protagonist haven’t quite come into focus for me.

I tend to allow a character’s choices to push their personal growth, so I create a personnel file that is updated as they evolve. I make each character known to me as an individual, down to their taste in clothing.

And yet, they harbor secrets to the end, things that surprise and shock me.

Within the plot outline, the individuality of the characters drives the story. I try to portray them as truthfully as possible because, to me, they are real.

You, as the author, must understand what drives and motivates even the walk-on, disposable characters. Are they “a red-shirt,” that iconic Star Trek symbol of the throw-away character? Why should we care if they die? Your job is to make us care.

When a character has history, has agency, and chooses to sacrifice themselves as Obi-Wan did for Luke or Spock did for the crew of the Enterprise, you see their decision is not out of character.

Their death raises the emotional stakes for both the protagonist and the reader, making a complex, memorable novel.


Credits and Attributions:

[1]10 DC Characters Who Sacrificed Themselves For Nothing, by David Harth  10 DC Characters Who Sacrificed Themselves For Nothing | CBR published February 18, 2021 Copyright © 2021 www.cbr.com (Accessed April 18, 2021).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Star_Trek_II:_The_Wrath_of_Khan&oldid=1015970109 (accessed April 18, 2021).

Images:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Paramount Pictures: 1982); art by illustrator Bob Peak. © 1982 Paramount Pictures; Fair use under United States copyright law.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (Lucasfilm Ltd. Distributed by 20th Century Fox: 1977), art by illustrator Tom Jung. © 1977 Lucasfilm Ltd; Fair use under United States copyright law.

 

7 Comments

Filed under writing

Writing the Short Story part 5: The Narrative Essay #amwriting

We’re working our way through a series on writing short fiction. However, we’re not done—yet another short form of writing to explore is the essay. For Indy authors who wish to earn actual money from their writing, the narrative essay is often easier to sell to reputable magazines. This is because they appeal to a broader audience than genre fiction does.

narrative essayNarrative essays are drawn directly from real life, but they aren’t necessarily factual or accurate representations of events. They often detail a fictionalized experience or event that affected the author on a personal level.

One of my favorite narrative essays is 1994’s Ticket to the Fair (now titled “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All“) by David Foster Wallace and published in Harpers. Told in the first person, it is a humorous, eye-opening story of a “foreign” (east coast) journalist’s assignment to cover the 1993 Iowa State Fair.

At the outset, Wallace states he was born several hours drive from the fair but had never attended it. A city boy, he has no knowledge of farms, farm culture, or animals. After high school and college, he had left the Midwest for the East Coast and never looked back. When the essay opens, Wallace hasn’t really thought about the fair beyond the fact that he is getting his first official press pass for covering the fair for Harpers.

Wikipedia summarizes Ticket to the Fair this way: Wallace’s experiences and opinions on the 1993 Illinois State Fair, ranging from a report on competitive baton twirling to speculation on how the Illinois State Fair is representative of Midwestern culture and its subsets. Rather than take the easy, dismissive route, Wallace focuses on the joy this seminal midwestern experience brings those involved.

The primary purpose of an essay is thought-provoking content. The narrative essay conveys our ideas in a palatable form, so writing this sort of piece requires authors to think. You must consider both content and structure.

Just like any other form of short fiction, a narrative essay has

  • an introduction,
  • a plot,
  • characters,
  • a setting,
  • a climax,
  • an ending

oxford_synonym_antonymChoose your words for impact! Writing with intentional prose is critical. A good essay has been put into an entertaining form that expresses far more than mere opinion. Narrative essays sometimes present deep, uncomfortable concepts but offer them in a way that the reader feels connected to the story.

Good essays offer a personal view of the world, the places we go, and the people we meet along the way. Names should be changed, of course.

Literary magazines want well-written essays with fresh ideas about wide-ranging topics. Some will pay well for first publication rights.

If you want to be published by a reputable magazine, you must pay strict attention to grammar and editing. Never send out anything that is not your best work. After you have finished the piece, set it aside for a week or two. Then come back to it with a fresh eye and check the manuscript for:

  • Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These words are insidious because they are actual words and don’t immediately stand out as being out of place.
  • Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them. To you, the author, they make sense because you see what you intended to see. For the reader, they appear as unusually garbled sentences.
  • Missing punctuation and closed quotes. These things happen to the best of us.
  • Digits/Numbers: Mis-keyed numbers are difficult to spot when they are wrong unless they are spelled out.
  • Dropped and missing words.

Don’t be afraid to write with a wide vocabulary. With that said, never use jargon or technical terms only people in certain professions would know unless it is a piece geared for that segment of readers.

Above all, be intentional and active with your prose, and be a little bold. I enjoy reading David Foster Wallace and George Saunders because they are adventurous in their work. Saunders’ style is always approachable, but others may find Wallace wordy and difficult to wade through. He was often accused of being too “literary” in the arrogant sense of the word.

real-writers-writeAnd on that note, we must be realistic. Not everything you write will resonate with everyone you submit it to.  Put two people in a room, hand them the most exciting thing you’ve ever read, and you’ll get two different opinions. They probably won’t agree with you.

Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Rejection happens far more frequently than acceptance, so don’t let fear of rejection keep you from writing pieces you’re emotionally invested in.

This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground—if an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, respond with a simple “thank you for your time.” If it’s a form letter rejection, don’t reply.

And when you receive that email of acceptance—crack open the fancy cider and celebrate! There is no better feeling than knowing someone you respect liked your work enough to publish it.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Supposedly_Fun_Thing_I%27ll_Never_Do_Again&oldid=815132504 (accessed January 9, 2018).

3 Comments

Filed under writing

Writing the short story part 4: making it submission-ready #amwriting

You have written a short story and edited it. You have decided what publication you want to submit it to. Now you must format the manuscript to make it submission-ready. Your next steps will show the prospective publisher your level of professionalism.

WritingCraft_short-story-formattingEditors at magazines, contests, and publishing houses have no time to deal with poorly formatted manuscripts. Their inboxes are full of properly formatted work, so they will reject the amateurs without further consideration.

You must learn to use your word-processing program. I use Microsoft Word, but Google Docs and Open Office are very similar.

FIRST: Read the submission guidelines your prospective publisher has posted on their website and follow them.

Publishers who accept electronic submissions will most likely want them formatted similarly. For the most part, this formatting is basically the same from company to company, so once you know what the industry standard is, it’s easy to make your manuscript submission-ready, at least in the area of formatting.

Running across the top of the page in your word-processing program is the ribbon (toolbar). Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. Sometimes you can’t see it, and this is because it is hidden.

On the far right-hand side in Word is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon. We are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need. If you are using a different program than mine, don’t be afraid to google how to unhide the toolbar/ribbon for your program.

Formatting_final_Fonts_2_LIRF03292020First, we must select the font. Every word-processing program has many fancy fonts you can choose from and a variety of sizes.

Use the industry-standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts and have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions: to change your fonts, open your manuscript document, and click on the tab marked ‘Home.’ In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the Editing group, click: select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

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

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

Now we are going to format our paragraphs and line spacing. Editors and publishers want their copies double-spaced so they can insert comments as needed in the reviewing pane, which will be on the right side of the page when you receive your work back for revisions. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments and is easier for an editor to read.

Do NOT ever use the tab key or the space bar to indent your paragraphs. If you used the tab key to indent your paragraphs, the indents might fail when the manuscript is electronically uploaded. This creates a wall of words with no way to tell where one paragraph ends and another begins.

If you have done that, you can fix it by using one of the two following ways.

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

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

That will leave you with no indents whatsoever. This will temporarily make your manuscript look like a wall of words, but you will resolve that the proper way.

If you don’t have a ten-key pad on your keyboard, you will have to remove each one by hand. Beginning with the first paragraph on the first page, scroll down and use the backspace key to remove the tab indenting every paragraph.

Once the tabs are all removed, use the following instructions to format paragraphs.

FIRST: SELECT ALL. This will highlight your entire manuscript.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To summarize, standard paragraph format has:

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

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

Now we need to make the “Header.” This is the heading at the top of each page of a word-processed or faxed document, consisting of page numbers, title, and author name. If an editor likes your work, they might print it out to look at it more closely. If the printout of the manuscript falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled because the pages are numbered.

We insert the header by opening the “insert” tab and clicking on “page number.” This opens a new menu. We add the page numbers using the small dropdown menu.

This is how the ribbon and menus look:

Headers and Page numbers prnt sc 2Now your manuscript is submission-ready. It is in Times New Roman or Courier .12 font, is aligned left, has1 in. margins, is double-spaced, has formatted indented paragraphs.

The header contains the title and your pen name. The first page contains your legal name, mailing address, contact information in the upper left-hand corner, and the word count on the right.

First_page_topThis may seem like overkill to you. If you are serious about submitting your work to agents, editors, or publishers, it must be as professionally formatted as is possible.

I hope these general instructions will help you find success, but be sure to check the publisher’s website as each publisher may have different requirements. If you don’t follow your prospective publisher’s submission guidelines, you have wasted your time submitting it.

 

3 Comments

Filed under writing

Writing the short story part 3: extremely short fiction #amwriting

If not having the time to sit down and write a novel is holding you back from writing, you have another option: extremely short fiction.

WritingCraft_short-story-drabbleYou are more likely to sell a drabble than a short story in today’s speculative fiction market. You are also more likely to sell a short story than a novel.

Many online publications are looking for drabbles (100-word stories) and flash fiction under 500 words. These editors are looking for new, unpublished work, so this is an opportunity to use the limited time you have for writing and still get published.

Perhaps you’ve heard other writers use the term drabbles, but you don’t know what one is.

Drabbles are extremely short fiction. In 100 words or less, they offer everything the reader needs to know, so drabbles are the distilled essences of novels. A good drabble tells the story of one scene and makes the reader ponder what might have happened next.

Writing drabbles teaches us how to write a good hook in only one sentence.

In literary terms, what is a “hook“? Wikipedia says: A narrative hook (or just hook) is a literary technique in the opening of a story that “hooks” the reader’s attention so that they will keep on reading. The “opening” may consist of several paragraphs for a short story or several pages for a novel, but ideally it is the opening sentence in the book. [1]

Writing a 100-word story takes far less time than writing a 2,000-word short fiction or a 70,000-word novel. However, itOregon Sunset Taken August 12, 2016 CJJasperson does require plotting and rewriting the prose until the entire story is told in exactly 100 words. You should expect to spend an hour or so writing and then editing it to fit within the 100-word constraint.

A 100-word story has the same essential components as a longer story:

  1. A setting.
  2. 1 or 2 characters.
  3. A conflict.
  4. A resolution.
  5. No subplots are introduced.
  6. Minimal background is introduced.

Every sentence propels the story to the conclusion. Trying to tell a complete story in 100 words or less teaches you several skills.

  • You are forced to develop an economy of words.
  • You begin to see what the core plot elements of a story might be.

When you have a backlog of drabbles and extremely short pieces, you also have a vault full of ready-made characters and premade settings to draw on.

First, you need a prompt, a jumping-off point.

prompt is a word or visual image that kickstarts the story in your head. The prompt for the following drabble was sunset. Some contests and publications give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and some will post an image. The difficult ones are those with no prompt at all.

I break short stories into acts by taking the number of words I plan to fit the story into and dividing it into 3 sections.

A drabble works the same way. We break it down to make the story arc work for us.

For a drabble, we have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene, about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story, and 10 – 25 words to conclude it.

For this drabble, I used:

24 Words (opening): We sat on the beach near the fire, two old people bundled against the cold Oregon sunset. Friends we’d never met fished the surf.

51 words (middle and crisis): Wind whipped my hair, gray and uncut, tore it from its inept braid. The August wind was chill inside my hood, but I remained, pleased to be with you, and pleased to be on that beach.

Mist rose with the tide, closed in and enfolded us, blotting out the falling stars.

25 Words (conclusion): Laughing at our folly, we dragged our weary selves back to our digs, rented, but with everything this old girl needed—love, laughter, and you. [2]

Sunset_Cannon_Beach_05_August_2019The above drabble is a 100-word romance and is an example I have used here before. It has a beginning (hook), a middle (the conflict), and a resolution. The opening shows our protagonist on the beach with someone for whom she cares deeply.

The conflict in this tale is the weather. Wind and blowing mist make it too cold for our protagonist to stay on the beach and forces her indoors.

The resolution is a romantic evening spent indoors.

Drabbles contain the ideas and thoughts that can easily become longer works, such as this drabble did in my poem, Oregon Sunset.

If you are thinking about participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), write your story ideas in the form of drabbles and flash fiction. That way, you won’t forget them, and you can save them for later use as the seeds of a longer work.

Submitting the drabble/flash fiction to a publication or contest won’t ruin whatever novel you think it might later become. Whatever it grows into will be vastly different than the 100-word premise.

Sometimes, you reach a point where you can’t write any further on the novel you’ve given your soul to. That is when it’s time to take a break from that project and do something completely different.

Drabble_LIRF_1_jan_2018_cjjapThe act of writing random ideas and emotions down in drabble form rejuvenates your creativity, a mini-vacation from your other work. It rests your mind and clears things so you can return to your main project with all your attention.

Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest/small press or not is your choice. The important thing is this: that idea is written down and accessible when you need a new project.

I have always considered drabbles as the literary equivalent of dried beans and rice. They are the staples we can set aside for later when we need inspiration.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Narrative hook,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Narrative_hook&oldid=1010359448 (accessed April 10, 2021).

[2] Oregon Sunset Drabble, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2016, All Right Reserved.

Images:

Oregon Sunset, © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, author’s own work.

Sunset on Cannon Beach, © 2019 Connie J. Jasperson, author’s own work.

5 Comments

Filed under writing

Writing the Short Story part 2: indirect speech #amwriting

In a short story, our words are limited, so we must craft our prose to convey a sense of naturalness. Scenes have an arc of rising and ebbing action, so let’s consider how conversation fits into the arc of the scene.

J.R.R. Tolkien said that dialogue must have a premise or premises and move toward a conclusion of some sort. If nothing comes of it, the conversation is a waste of the reader’s time.

What do we want to accomplish in this scene? Ask yourself three questions.

  1. Who needs to know what?
  2. Why must they know it?
  3. How many words do you intend to devote to it?

My rule of thumb is, keep the conversations short and intersperse them with scenes of actions that advance the plot.

Author James Scott Bell says dialogue has five functions:

  1. To reveal story information
  2. To reveal character
  3. To set the tone
  4. To set the scene
  5. To reveal theme

So now that we know what must be conveyed and why, we find ourselves in the minefield of the short story: 

  • Delivering the backstory.

Don’t give your characters long paragraphs with lines and lines and lines of uninterrupted dialogue. A short story has no room for bloated exposition.

Let’s look at a scene that opens upon a place where the reader and the protagonists must receive information. The way the characters speak to us can take several forms:

  1. Direct discourse. Nattan said, “I was going to give it to Benn in Fell Creek, but he wasn’t home, and I had to get on the road.”
  2. Italicized thoughts: Nattan stood looking out the window. Benn’s not home. What now?
  3. Free indirect speech: Nattan stood looking out the window. Benn wasn’t home, so who should he give it to?

Examples two and three are versions of indirect speech, which is a valuable tool in your writer’s toolbox

Wikipedia describes free indirect speech this way:

Free indirect speech is a style of third-person narration which uses some of the characteristics of third-person along with the essence of first-person direct speech; it is also referred to as free indirect discoursefree indirect style, or, in Frenchdiscours indirect libre.

Free indirect discourse can be described as a “technique of presenting a character’s voice partly mediated by the voice of the author” (or, reversing the emphasis, “that the character speaks through the voice of the narrator”) with the voices effectively merged. This effect is partially accomplished by eliding direct speech attributions, such as “he said” or “she said”.

The following is an example of sentences using direct, indirect and free indirect speech:

  • Quoted or direct speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. “And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?” he asked.
  • Reported or normal indirect speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
  • Free indirect speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

According to British philologist Roy Pascal, Goethe and Jane Austen were the first novelists to use this style consistently and nineteenth century French novelist  Flaubert was the first to be consciously aware of it as a style. [1]

When I began writing seriously, I was in the habit of using italicized thoughts and characters talking to themselves as a way to express what was going on inside of them.

That isn’t necessarily wrong. When used sparingly, thoughts and internal dialogue have their place. When they are used as a means for dumping information, they can become a wall of italicized words.

The_Pyramid_Conflict_Tension_Pacing

In the last few years, as I’ve evolved in my writing habits, I am drawn more and more to the various forms of free indirect speech as a way of showing who my characters think they are and how they see their world.

The main thing to watch for when employing indirect speech in a short story is to stay only in one person’s head. Remember, short stories are limited for space, so it’s essential to only tell the protagonist’s story.

In  longer pieces, such as novels, you could show different characters’ internal workings provided you have clear scene or chapter breaks between each character’s dialogue.

If you aren’t careful, you can slip into “head-hopping,” which is incredibly confusing for the reader. First, you’re in one person’s thoughts, and then another—it’s like watching a tennis match.

When you are limited in word count, you must find the most powerful ways to get the story across with a minimum of words. Showing important ruminations as an organic part of the unfolding plot is one way to give information and reveal a character while keeping to lean, powerful prose.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Free indirect speech,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Free_indirect_speech&oldid=817276599 (accessed March 30, 2021).

7 Comments

Filed under writing

Writing the Short Story part 1: experimenting #amwriting

Before we begin, I hope you’ll bear with me as I learn to use the unnecessarily complicated dashboard WordPress calls “Gutenberg.” For a person who relies on images as much as I do, this isn’t a good fit, but I will make it work. They have removed the Admin Dashboard, which was perfect for uploading and positioning images and text. Please bear with me as I find ways to write my posts despite being forced to use the least intuitive dashboard the geniuses at WordPress could have come up with.


When it comes to learning how to write, experimentation is good. The best form for learning learning to write in different styles and genres is the short story.

Last week, we discussed why authors should write short stories and looked at one way to lay out the story arc. There are other ways, but that is my most commonly used method. If you are curious, this is the post: Gaining Readers Through Writing Short Stories.

This week we are going deeper into the many elements of writing a good, gripping story. Most of these features will be found in any length of story, from drabbles to novels. Today we are still focusing on getting all the elements into a piece that is less than 2,000 words long.

Before we go on, we need to remember that setting, atmosphere, and mood are intertwined.

Today’s example is from The Iron Dragon, a 1,025-word story I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2015. That was the year I focused on experimental writing, putting out at least one short story every day, and sometimes two.

The first paragraph of the Iron Dragon begins in the middle of a story:

Earl Aeddan ap Rhydderch turned his gaze from the mist to the strange iron road that emerged from it and then to where the road entered the cave. “Tell me again what happened.”

The opening sentences establish the story, set the scene, and introduce the first protagonist. The following three paragraphs show the world and establish the mood:

The peasant who had guided the earl and his men said, “The mist, the iron road, and the cave appeared yesterday, sir. We saw the beast entering its lair, and a fearful thing it is, too. No one dares to approach it, but the monster can be heard in there. It’s a most dreadful dragon — we found the carcass of a large wolf that had been torn to shreds, trampled until it was nigh unrecognizable.”

The man’s companion said, “Everyone knows wolves are Satan’s hounds. It must have angered its hellish master. We found it lying cast to one side of the Devil’s Road.”

Aeddan looked back to the iron road, seeing where it emerged from the mist. He walked to the low-hanging fog bank, seeing that the road vanished just after it entered the mist, leaving no marks upon the soil. He turned and strode back to the peasants. “I agree it’s the work of the Devil, but why does the Lord of Hell require an iron road that leads nowhere?”

The paragraphs that follow present the danger, the problem Aeddan must overcome:

A faint grumbling sounded beneath Aeddan’s feet. “A light! Look to the mist!” shouted one of his men.

Turning, Aeddan saw a white glow forming in the fog as if a large lamp approached from a great distance. “That’s no ordinary lantern. Mount up!” Moving quickly, he leaped into his saddle and turned his steed to face the demon.

A few sentences further on, I showed more of the world at the same time as I introduced the antagonist:

The light deep within the fog grew and strengthened, as did the rumbling noise.  It waxed brilliant, and the earth shuddered as if beneath the pounding of a thousand hooves. Smoke filled the night air, reeking of the sulfurous Abyss, combined with a howling as cacophonous as the shrieks of all the damned in Hell.

What emerged from the mist was impossible — an Iron Dragon of immense height and girth.

At this point, Aeddan knows that he must resolve the problem and protect his people:

The fiery light emanating from the burning maw lit the night, and the ground shook as the beast roared and raced ever closer. As the beast sped toward him, a burning wind blowing straight out of Hell knocked Aeddan and his horse to the side of the Devil’s Road, and using that opportunity, the Iron Dragon thundered past him, heading into its lair.

Stunned, Aeddan scrambled to his feet, staring as the beast passed him by, the body taller than a house and long, like an unimaginably giant, demonic centipede. The length of the beast was incomprehensible, lit by the fire within and glowing with row upon row of openings. The faces of the damned, souls who’d been consumed by the ravening beast peered out as they flashed by. Sparks flew from its many hooves.

Terrified his men would be crushed by the immense creature, he shouted for them to back off, his voice drowned by the din.

There is more to Aeddan’s side of the story, of course. But in what you have read already, you have made some guesses and are already aware that this is a story with two sides. Aeddan’s point of view is not the entire story.

Again, we must set the scene and establish the mood and characters. Here we meet the second protagonist, an engine driver named Owen:

Mist shrouded the small valley just outside of the village of Pencader. Engine Driver Owen Pendergrass looked at his pocket watch and opened the logbook, noting the time and that they had just departed Pencader Station. He said to the fireman, Colin Jones, “We should be approaching the tunnel, though it’s hard to tell in this mist. We’re making good time despite the fog. We’ll be in Carmarthen on schedule.”

“Sir! Look just ahead! What…?” Colin pointed ahead.

A group of mounted men dressed as medieval knights, complete with lances lowered as if prepared to joust, appeared out of the mist, attempting to block their path. “God in heaven — what next!” Blowing the whistle to scare them off the tracks, Owen pulled the brake cord, but there was no way the train could stop soon enough. In no time at all, the train was upon the knights, scattering them and blowing past. Owen looked out the window to see if they’d survived, but they were gone as if they’d never been.

The final paragraphs wind it up. They also contribute to the overall atmosphere and setting of the second part of the story. The story in its entirety can be read here: The Iron Dragon. It is an imperfect story, but as a practice piece, it has good bones. I didn’t feel that particular piece was suitable for submission to a magazine or contest.

Word choices are essential in showing a world and creating an atmosphere that feels believable. I had challenged myself to write a story that told both sides of a frightening encounter in 1000 words, give or take a few. I also wanted to show two aspects of a place in Wales but tell one story as lived by two protagonists separated by twelve centuries and a multitude of legends.

This brings me back to the layout aspect of a short piece. Some speculative fiction stories work well when the flow of the story arc is shaped like an infinity sign, a figure-eight laying on its side:

Instead of the usual bridge shape, the story arc begins in the middle, circles around, comes back to the middle, and circles around a different way. It ends where it began.

Writing short fiction offers me the chance to experiment with both style and genre. It challenges me to build a world in only a few words and still tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Sometimes what I turn out is worth sharing, and other times, not so much. The act of writing something different, a little outside my comfort zone, stretches my ability to “think widely.” It makes me a better reader as well as a better writer.

>>><<<                                   >>><<<                                   >>><<<

Credits and Attributions:

Excerpts from The Iron Dragon, by Connie J. Jasperson, ©2015-2021 All Rights Reserved.

Comments Off on Writing the Short Story part 1: experimenting #amwriting

Filed under writing

Gaining readers through writing short stories #amwriting

We all want to gain readers. How do you, as an indie, get your name out there and gain awareness of your work? You earn your “street creds” by writing short stories and submitting them to magazines, anthologies, and contests.

Every time your short work is published or wins an award, you gain a little respect. You stand the chance of gaining fans, and it’s nice to have a little extra cash in your pocket.

Despite the changes in the publishing industry as a whole, writing short stories is still the way to increase your visibility. Reputable magazines that are SFWA approved are seeking submissions.

Submitting to contests is good too. If you have a story that was a contest winner, you may be able to sell it to the right publication. By doing this, you learn how to write to a specific length and theme.

I have a system for this. The following story has been used as an example here before. I wrote the original story for a 2015 contest with the theme of Truth and Consequences. The genre was epic fantasy, and the word limit was 2,000 words.

This meant my story had to adhere to that theme and word count, or it would not make the cut, no matter how well it was written.

My story was titled A Song Gone Wrong.

The Premise: Because he was a bit too specific when putting a local warlord’s fling with another man’s wife into song, our protagonist is now a wanted man. I had 2,000 words to show what happened.

I divided the story into four acts:

Act 1: the opening. I had 500 words to show these plot points:

  • Setting: the weather was unseasonably cold.
  • In an alley, a bard, Sebastian, hid from the soldiers of the lord he had humiliated.

My task in the first ¼ of the story was to introduce the protagonist so that his personality was clearly defined at the outset. I had to place him in the setting by showing the scents and sounds of his environment.

The theme, Truth and Consequences, had to be strongly shown throughout the story. Sebastian had told the truth and now faced consequences he was unprepared for.

My bard’s thoughts and observations were critical in this tale, but I had to be reasonable. At 2,000 words, I didn’t have a lot of room for mind wandering, especially in italics.

Another thing to consider was point of view—I went with first-person as I felt the protagonist could best show and interpret events and relate emotions while keeping to the number of words allotted.

Act 2: First plot point: I had 500 more words to show how:

  • The soldiers surrounded and captured Sebastian.
  • The irate lord threw him into prison and sentenced him to hang at dawn.

What Sebastian saw, smelled, and heard were the crucial means of showing the environment with a minimum of description from the first paragraph to the last.

Those noises and odors helped drive home the consequences part of the theme. Sebastian’s reactions told us a lot about who he was as a person.

So, where was this story going to go? I asked myself, “Does Sebastian regret being imprudent in mocking the nobleman, or does his punishment fire rebellion in him?” This was an opportunity for the circumstances to reveal his courage and still keep the plot moving forward.

I went with rebellion.

Act 3: Mid-point: I had 500 words to explain how:

  • Sebastian met a dwarf, Noli, also sentenced to die.
  • Noli was a member of an underground society trying to overthrow the current lord. He was on the verge of managing an escape, but time was short. He needed help with one last thing.
  • Noli and Sebastian managed to complete the escape route. Unfortunately, the guard seemed suspicious, hanging around their cell door, hampering their escape.

The whispered conversations between Noli and Sebastian gave us the background information. Noli had information Sebastian didn’t know.

This was the point when the reader also needed to know that information. Everything the reader already knew didn’t need repeating. Conversations were critical as they conveyed the personalities and the minimal backstory of the piece.

At this point, I set the final obstacle in their path.

This is where I have to emphasize one of my mantras: when writing to a strict word count limit, you must choose your words carefully. Find and use words that are strong and evocative, words that convey the most information concisely in one or two sentences.

Act 4: Resolution–I had 500 words to show how:

  • The smart guard was finally relieved by a less wary guard, which allowed Sebastian and Noli to squeeze through the escape route.
  • They were spotted at the last minute, but Noli’s friends were waiting, and they made their escape.

The fourth act is where you wind up the story and end it so that the reader feels satisfied. You hope they are left thinking about it, wondering what might have happened next.

Once you know how many words you are writing to and what must be done at what point within your story’s arc, you divide it into 3 or four acts. That is the way I structure most of my work.

This is true for any story, from 2000 to 20,000 to 200,000 words. Once you know the length a given tale must be, you can mentally divide it into acts and just write for fun.

I always outline short pieces that are intended for submission to contests, magazines, and anthologies. Magazines especially have strict parameters for what they accept, so you will have better success if you tailor that work to that particular publisher.

The contests and anthologies that are challenging to figure out are those whose guidelines tell you the theme but give you no indication of what genre they are looking for. You have no idea if the person reading your work prefers hard sci-fi or romance, so their personal preference can go against you.

That is a risk we all take. Remember, you have no control over what a prospective editor likes or dislikes. Rejections are more common than acceptance and shouldn’t be taken to heart. What one editor rejects, another will buy, so save it and submit it elsewhere.

Write short stories and only submit your best work. Expect to have them rejected and don’t take it personally. Turn them around and submit them elsewhere, because someone will accept it.

And always, always—celebrate the stories that you do sell.

11 Comments

Filed under writing