Tag Archives | novels

I Almost Quit Nanowrimo

Last week was rough for me.

I was distracted by the election news and I didn’t get a lot done.  My daily habit is to rise early, get coffee and spend a few minutes checking on what happened over night before getting to the page. This early morning writing is when I wrack up the words on my novel. And since I’m doing Nanowrimo this month, getting the words in is really important.

But last week distraction got the better of me. I’d click around to see what had happened and get lost for an hour or more reading election coverage and trying to find some hope.

And by this past weekend, I was seriously discouraged.  Up until election day, I’d been cruising along on my Nanowrimo project and enjoying it.  My goal was to hit 2,000 words a day, which gave me wiggle room in case I missed a day or so along the way.  But I hadn’t factored in disaster.

And so by Saturday, I decided it was best just to quietly quit.

But then I realized that if I did that I was letting everything that I stand against win.  I let hatred, and anger, and fear win. Because all of those things are the opposite of creativity.  My creativity is the very core of me, and if I quit that, I’ve quit myself.

And so I sat down on Saturday afternoon and forced myself to write 2,000 words.  A few hundred words in I realized I was enjoying myself.  That, while this fast draft is really awful in places, in others it is not half bad.  And then I did what creatives everywhere do: I got up and did it again on Sunday and then again this morning.

I’m not as far behind as I thought. (When I’m discouraged, I tend not to see things realistically.) As of this morning, I’ve got a little over 22,000 words, which puts me about 1K behind.  And I’ve got a secret weapon up my sleeve–Millie Thornton’s 10K day for writers is coming up this week and I’ve signed up to participate this Wednesday. I hope to make up my word count and put some words in the novel-writing bank–because Thanksgiving is coming up next week and that’s another big distraction. (But at least I don’t have to cook this year.)

I may not be able to control politics, but I can control what I can do.  And what I can do is put words on the page one after another after another.

What about you? Are you doing Nanowrimo? How is it going for you?

 

6

Preparation is Three-Quarters of the Battle

Tour_Eiffel_Wikimedia_Commons_(cropped)I’m leaving for France (Paris and Ceret) soon. I’m not one of those people who pack and repack a week ahead. No, you’ll find me throwing clothes in the suitcase the night before.

But, and this is a big but—when the time comes for me to commence said throwing, I will know exactly what I’m going to take. (Okay, because I’m a terrible packer and a confirmed right-brainer, there will be last minute changes and additions.) Because I’ve been thinking about what I need to take clothes-wise, book-wise, and technology-wise all month.

Chance favors the prepared mind.  And the prepared packer. And the prepared writer.

At least I think so.

I know there’s an endless debate between pantsers and plotters.  (For the record, a pantser is one who flies by the seat of his pants when writing, and a plotter is one who plans everything out.)  And, seeing as how I have a completely somewhat loose approach to organization and house cleaning and the like, you would think I would fall down on the side of pantsing.

But I have learned through many years of experience that when I pants, I get into trouble. Not that I don’t love it, because I do. What could be better than allowing your mind and fingers to ramble down shady lanes and sunny byways in strange worlds? But the key word here is ramble, because that’s exactly what I do. Ramble along with no worry for the strictures of plot or character. Or showing a cohesive setting. Or anything but my rambles.

And one cannot write a novel without worrying about plot or character or setting.  Or one can, but one will need to do a lot of rewriting when one is done.  I do love rewriting—but not when I have to figure out how to make a shapeless lump into a story.

So, I plot. And write up character dossiers. And draw maps of locations and diagrams of houses and offices.  I call all of this prep work and I actually enjoy it. Sometimes I think I enjoy it too much, as I can get so engrossed in it that I never quite get to the writing of the novel.

It occurred to me, as I pondered what clothing I should take to Europe, that it might be helpful to share what I consider to be the bare minimum of novel prep work, because it’s been awhile since we discussed this.  So here you go (and remember this is a minimum. You can do a lot more if you wish):

Character Dossiers.  I fill them out for all of my main characters and do at least the rudiments (appearance, personal traits) for the minor ones.  Because all story starts with character, this is time well spent and often helps me come up with plot ideas as well.  It is also helpful to know who is going to tell the story and if it will be in first person or third.

Setting Sketches. I need to be able to see where my character lives and works.  This goes for big setting, such as the overall city she lives in, and small setting, such as her home and office.

A Loose Outline. And by loose, I mean loose. I’m not one of those people who plans out every single beat and action and character thought. I do like to leave some room for surprises.  A simple list of potential happenings will do.

Really that’s it. I know, you don’t see research on the list. That’s because, like technology, I’m on a need-to-know basis with it.  When I don’t know how to do something on my computer, ask the Google How do I do _______________ ? I always get a quick answer.  Same thing with research.  At least for the first draft you do not want to get mired in a lot of facts you might not really need. (And if you’re writing an historical, my hat’s off to you. And you’ll need to do a lot more research.)

Since I just finished my rewrite, I’ll be prepping a new novel myself soon. Can’t wait.

While I have you, are you a pantser or a plotter? What do you think are the advantages of your approach?

Photo from Wikipedia.

4

Five on Friday: Mind Miasma

My brain is like a boggy swamp.

My brain is like a boggy swamp.

How I’m Feeling: The title of this post. I’m in a mind miasma.  I finished the rough draft of my novel, which was such a non-event it barely even registered. No glowing feeling of satisfaction or bragging to family and friends. I just quietly wrote the last word, fell on my office floor and cried “Thank you, God!” as I genuflected. Not really, but I am glad to be done with it.  I just know the rewrite is a huge job and I’m putting it on the back burner for the moment.

I have projects galore that I’m excited about. The whole time I worked on the novel all I could think about was how I wanted to be done so I could move onto the new things. And then I finished–and suddenly the new things aren’t so shiny any more.  Mind miasma. Does that ever happen to you? It does to me all the time when I finish something.  It means I just need to take some time off and give my brain a rest.

What I’m Excited About:  We’ve had a couple more people sign up for the France retreat and that’s made me think about it anew and get excited. If you are at all interested, now is the time to raise your hand because slots are filling fast.  You can reply to this email if you’ve got a yen to write in the south of France come September.

But maybe you don’t want to go so far? How about three days at the Oregon coast? Registration for my Sitka workshop is open, and several wonderful people have already committed. The workshop is called Mapping the Novel and it is going to be a ton of fun.  Here’s the link.

What I’m Disappointed In: My knitting. I went to Knit Night on Wednesday with only one project which was a big mistake because I ended up ripping it out and then I didn’t have anything to knit so I had to go home early. Ever since then, my knitting has been kind of like my writing: all my fun, shiny projects seem dull and boring.  Maybe I’m in a creative slump. Nah. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the eons and eons I’ve been a writer, its that creativity is a process. And part of that process is ebbs and flows. Right now I just have to be in an ebb.

What I’m Obsessing About: Organization.  Not macro-wise, but mini-wise. As in, should I put those notes I want to take about that book on index cards, the computer, or a min-binder? The issue is ease of retrieval, as in, where will I be able to find them again? (This is my the desktop of my computer is covered with icons–out of sight, out of mind.) Yeah, such are the things I worry about when I’m not writing.  Which is why it is VERY GOOD that most times I am writing. Because I drive myself bat shit crazy when I’m not.

What the Weather is Like: It is full-on spring here, sunny, a light breeze, 70 degrees, everything that blooms or has ever thought of blooming is abloom. There is no place better on the planet than Oregon in the springtime. But whatever you do, don’t move here.  We can’t take many more people! The population is expected to increase by another 50% by 2020 and already our housing prices have increased higher than anywhere else in the country. Trying to buy a house in Portland these days is about as easy as training a cat or selling a book.

What’s up with you?

Photo from freerangestock.

2

Five on Friday: Happy New Year!

Star_Wars_The_Force_AwakensAfter an absence of, oh a couple weeks, here I am, back with another Five on Friday.  That is if I can find the notes I wrote once I got inspired about this post.  Ah, here we are.  I’ve got piles of papers all over my office because I’m organizing things for the new year.  And then my cat comes and sits on things and that doesn’t help much either.  But anyway.  Here goes:

What we did for New Year’s Eve: Went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which I loved), ate take-out Italian and drank red wine, and fell asleep on the couch after having a New York New Year’s (i.e., watching the live version of the ball dropping, which occurs at 9 PM on the west coast).  It was a perfect evening.

What I wanted to finish last year and didn’t: The first draft of my current WIP, a novel.  But seeing as how I started it when we were in France in September and have only about 20K words to go, I’m not too upset.  I may be when I look back over it, though.  It is one helluva messy draft and by messy I mean plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, boring characters, loose ends that don’t tie together.  This, my writing friends, is why God invited rewriting.  Or so I tell myself.  Oh, and I also have a couple knitting projects I dearly wanted to complete but didn’t.  Maybe because I keep falling asleep on the couch at night, my knitting time.

Where I’m headed next week: To Nashville, for Room to Write.  We’ve got a couple spaces left if you live in the area (or even if you don’t) and would like to devote some time solely to your writing.  Great way to start the year!  There’s more information here.  And please join me in beseeching the universe to cure my sinus infection before then otherwise I’m not quite sure how I’ll cope on the plane. laskey_w

What I’m reading: I just finished Shonda Rhimes Year of Yes, which I highly recommend.  (In case you don’t know who she is, she is responsible for the TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, among others, and, as she says in the book, is dedicated to normalizing the characters we see on TV–i.e. including women, minorities, LGBT, etc.)  The book is worth reading to study her style alone.  She is funny and engaging and she uses a lot of repetition for effect.  But it is also very inspiring–after dedicating herself to saying yes to everything, even things that scare her, she loses 100 pounds, gives the commencement speech at Dartmouth, and many more.

I’m also reading The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler, which is cool. There are mermaids who die mysteriously, weird old books, tarot cards, and an ancient house about to fall into the Long Island Sound.  I’m not 100% engaged with it quite yet, but I think I will be.

And finally, I’m reading Home Baked by Yvette Van Boven.  Yes, I’m reading a cookbook.  At least parts of it.  She’s got bits and pieces about flour and other ingredients and I’ve already learned so much.  (Like, the fact that baking powder is basically just baking soda and cream of tartar and you can make your own.)  It is a beautifully designed cookbook (including photos of Ireland and the author’s illustrations) with tons of great recipes in it.

What I wish for you: A very happy and productive 2016, with tons of writing in it, naturally!

What’s going on for you this first day of the new year?

10

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Write

Thoughtful-creative-moved-22614-lSo there you are.  You've cleared your schedule and made time to write.  The kids are farmed out, the dog is asleep, your partner is happily watching something stupid on TV.  You open a file, place your hands on your keyboard, and ….. nothing happens.

You don't know what to write.  And when you don't know what to write, writing doesn't happen.

This can occur whether you are starting something new, or in the middle of a writing project.  And no matter when it happens, it can stop you cold.  Maybe you're trying to parse out the plot of your novel, or maybe you're partway through and you thought you knew where you were going but suddenly you don't.

One of the single best pieces of advice I can give you, writer to writer, is this: always know where you are going next.  (My daughter-in-law drove up to Bainbridge Island last weekend to hear one of her favorite authors, Annie Barrows of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society fame speak, and guess what?  That's the exact same advice she gave.)  I'm experiencing this first hand as I get up and work on my new WIP every morning.  The days I know where I'm going next, my fingers fly.  The days where I'm not sure, I meander.  And on those meandering days I get nothing done.

But what if you find yourself at the page and you don't have a freaking clue what to write?  Here are some suggestions.

1.  Write about your project.  Don't worry about writing within the project, write around it.  I always keep a spiral handy for notes and "writing about" sessions.  These help me clarify where I am and can get me back to the project at hand.  I thought everyone did this, so much so that I'd never bothered to mention it–but then we had a long discussion about it in the writing group I lead and to most, it was a novel idea.  Go figure.  Anyway, for me, inspiration always comes through the writing itself.

2.  Use a prompt.  Yeah, I know.  But they work.  There are tons here and a million other places on the web.  The thing to remember about using prompts successfully is to not make yourself hew to them religiously.  By this I mean, use them as a starting point.  Doesn't matter if the prompt is about a cat and you write about dogs.  The idea is to get you getting words on the page.

3.  Fill out a character dossier.  This is another thing I thought everyone did.  Turns out, not so.  I have standard character forms I've developed from a variety of sources over the years–and I invariably find myself figuring things out as I write fill them in.  (If you need a template for that, just email me and I'll send you mine.)

4.  Remember, nothing is wasted.  Sometimes it is valuable just to plunge in.  Put your character somewhere and start writing.  It may not turn into anything at all, but then again, it might.  And even if you don't use it this time around, maybe it will work itself into your next WIP.  Who knows? The muse works in mysterious ways–but she's happiest when you meet her partway.

5.  Also remember that maybe something is wrong.  If you are in the middle of a project and you don't know what to right, consider that something isn't working.  Maybe you've conceived the scene wrong, or it belongs in a different place.  Maybe it needs to be in a different location or with a different set of characters.  In order not to get stuck here, either move on to a different scene, or write something else–play around with a short story or an essay, for instance.

6.  Make a list of what you know and don't know.  Approach this like free writing and set a timer, then write down every thing you can think of that you don't know.  Ask yourself questions.  Make odd connections.  See what comes out on the page.  You know more than you think, you just need to unlock it from within.

7.  Change up your routine.  I rarely listen to music while writing, but at the moment I'm listening to a soundtrack that purports to zap you into the right brain and allow the words to flow.  It seems to be working! (Though I must admit I found the bird calls on it a bit distracting at first.) I've written recently about how working outside every morning has improved my writing.  So try something different–it may give you inspiration, and that's really what we're talking about here.

8.  Write a description.  Some people love it, some people hate it, but writing it is good practice.  Maybe you'll actually use it somewhere–or maybe it will spark the words you're looking for.

9.  Walk away.  If all else fails, go do something else.  Take a walk, mow the lawn, pull weeds, something.  It amazes me how often I don't know what to write next, get up from my chair, and find myself running back to the computer because everything has clicked into place.

10.  Keep a writer's journal.  Carry a journal around with you and take notes.  I don't do this as often as I should but when I do, it makes me happy.  Write about the woman with magenta hair and tattoos sitting next to you at the coffee shop, make notes on dialogue.  You can do this quickly, in phrases and lists, or elaborately, whatever your pleasure.  Then when you're sitting back at your desk, despairing because you don't know what to write, flip through it for inspiration.

So….what do you do when you don't know what to write?  Please share in the comments.

Photo by corpitho.

10

Books I Read In May

Nightingale_hc_lgI can't figure out what's going on.  I know I read a ton last month, but I can't seem to bring any of the titles into my mind.  (As soon as I press publish on this post they will flood into my brain.)  So here's a quick list of the books I remember:

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.  This is on the best-seller lists and is getting a lot of buzz, and deservedly so.  It's quite good.  I learned history from it, too, such as the fact that gazillions of people evacuated Paris when the Nazis first occupied it.  And I was reminded of the hardships that Europeans faced during World War II.

That's the only novel I can think of that I read recently, and I usually inhale novels like crazy.  But, I have been dipping in and out of a lot of writing books.  I don't so much read them cover to cover, because they have inspiration and exercises in them that lead me to the page.

Wild Women, Wild Voices by Judy Reeves.  I wrote a whole review of this book here.  I'm still working with it for journaling ideas and I like it a lot.  Its not so much a book that's going to help you with plotting or characterization, but more the basic writing stuff, like expressing yourself on the page.

The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson.  This is a book that will help you with your plotting (and there's some info on characterization as well).  I bought it on a trip to Seattle and wrote more about it here.

Naming the World, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  This is most definitely not a book you sit down and read cover to cover, because it is a book of writing exercises.  (Although each exercise is preceded by an essay from the author who submitted it.)  Good stuff in here.

Into the Woods by John Yorke.  This is a book on structure and I am loving it.  I ordered it from a bookseller in England (through Amazon) and it took forever to get here and then my husband set the envelope aside under a pile of mail so it took even longer for me to actually find it, but it was worth the wait.  An amazing, excellent book on structure, and its readable, too.  I embedded a video below of him relating "how all storytelling has worked since the beginning of time" at Google UK.

All this reading on story structure has led me to another activity: going to movies.  More on that in my next post.  In the meantime, what have you been reading?

Previous months posts are (which I offer in case you need recommendations):

Books I Read in April (and Part of May)

Books I've Been Reading

Books I Read in January

4

Books I Read in April (And Part of May)

WhatremainsHerewith, my semi-regular list of books I've been reading.  Why? Because I love and adore reading posts what others have been reading (so write more of them, y'all).  And I figure you might get a few ideas from my list.  

Here goes:

Fiction

Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther. (See bonus author video at the end of this post.) I enjoyed this novel about three women of different classes crossing from Europe to New York on an ocean liner.  Parts of it were a bit contrived, but it kept me turning pages.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson.  This is the story of a single woman who owns a bookstore in Denver.  Nothing so rare about that, right?  Well, this was set in the sixties, so it was unusual.  But every night she goes to bed and dreams that she has a whole other life, complete with adorable husband and children.  I thought this one was really well done.

The Shortest Way Home by Juliette Fay.  She's a wonderful women's fiction writer, and I think I've now read all her books.  This one is about Sean, a male nurse who comes home after spending much of the last 20 years working in war-torn countries.   Right in my wheelhouse. Loved it.

Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore.  Whoops.  Didn't finish this one.  Slow in starting and I lost interest.

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante.  I started this one in April, and finished it in May.  Ha.  I actually read it on the plane to and fro Nashville.  As I've been telling people this one is brilliant.  It is dense and gritty and claustrophobic and sometimes difficult to keep track of all the characters (buy a hardcopy because you'll continually flip back to the cast of characters in the front), but brilliant.  It is the first of four in the series called the Neapolitan Novels.  They are set in the city of Naples and follow the intense friendship of Elena and Lila from childhood on.  Oh, and I love this–the author's name is a pseudonym and nobody knows who she really is.  I've got the second one in the series and have to sit on my hands not to rip through it.

Besides the novels, I read (more like perused) a couple of beautiful books on embroidery. (But have I yet picked up needle and thread? Um, no.) I also leafed through a title on homesteading, hoping to glean inspiration for you own little back forty and read part of a book on how to plot your novel. (I'm still working on that one so don't feel I can list it yet).

I've already finished a couple of really great titles in May, but they will have to wait until next month's post.  And, up next….ta dum….

My friend Helene Dunbar's book, What Remains.  When I was in Nashville last week, I was so honored to receive one of her first two copies of the book.  Years ago, at a now-defunct writing retreat called Room to Write, Helene and I brainstormed ways to end her novel.  Mostly what I did was sit and listen to her talk, but she credits that conversation with saving the book.  I am SO excited to read it!

 Here's that video I promised:

What, pray tell, have you been reading?

10

Books I’ve Been Reading

Books_Olympus_ompc_79830_hI started this series of posts at the end of January with a blog post titled, Books I Read in January. And I fully intended to do one post a month.

But then my life blew up, I got an agent, and I needed to turn my attention to rewriting my book.  So my blog posts suffered.  So did my reading–at least a little bit.  I haven't been reading quite as much as usual, but I've still been reading a lot.  And, let me tell you, reading novels helped me with the rewrite.

I'll explain in a minute, but first, let's discuss: do you read similar books to yours while you are in the process of writing or rewriting?  I do.  Let me explain.  I likely would not read another novel set in a macaron bakery (and I'm hoping to God there isn't another one) but I do read women's fiction, and lots of it.  I know some writers fear that if they read novels that are too similar to their's, they will be unduly influenced.  But I'm the opposite.  I often feel like I need to inhale words in order to spit them back out on the page.  And while I'm inhaling those words, I'm continuing the lifelong process of learning how to put a decent novel together.

While I was rewriting, for instance, I read How to Knit a Heart Back Home.  (See below.)  Rachael Herron, the author, did some things with description that were active and engaging, not just dead on the page.  And since my agent and her reader both felt I needed to work on my descriptions of characters (and ironically, macarons), I studied what Rachael did and copied her a little.  Of course, it came out completely different because I'm writing a completely different book with different characters.  What I copied was her approach to craft. 

And that, my friends, is why we writers read.  Because it teaches us about writing.  So here's what I've been reading since January.

Fiction.

How to Knit a Heart Back Home, by Rachael Herron.  I love this series of books set in Cypress Hollow, a fictional small town in California.  All the characters are knitters in one way or another, and she has a knack for creating characters you love.  She's recently branched out into stand-alone books, and her latest book, just released, is Splinters of Light.  I also recommend Pack Up the Moon.

At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon.  I read the most recent book in the series after I got it for Christmas, and have now gone back and started at the beginning of the series.  The books are gentle, sweet, and yet have a depth to them based on the protagonist, Father Tim, who is and Episcopal priest.  Plus, my Mom loved them.  She'd be thrilled I'm finally reading them.

The Lanvin Murders, by Angela Sanders.  Angie is a local author, and a friend.  She is doing very well with this series set in a vintage clothing shop.  (This novel is the first in the series; there are two more already.) Subscribe to her monthly newsletter for all kinds of cool info!

The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter.  A fun book, but I wasn't as impressed with it as I was with his novel, Beautiful Ruins (which we used as our teaching book the first year in France).  Not sure why this one didn't hit with me.

Non-Fiction

Gotta Read It, by Libbie Hawker.  A quick read (and inexpensive–its a $.99 ebook) on how to write a synopsis.  It's really about how to write a pitch for a completed book, but I found it helpful in thinking through my next novel as well.  (And I just bought her book on how to outline a story, called Take Off Your Pants).

The Bible.  I took a class in February and March called Jesus as a Wisdom Teacher, in which we examined the actual words of the man, as opposed to the religions which grew up around him. Woo-ee, I learned some interesting things.  And a whole new respect for the guy.  There were a couple other books I was supposed to read for this class, but, um, I really didn't, fascinated as I was. I needed to focus on my rewrite, and there was limited bandwidth in the old brain.

In Process

How the Brain Heals Itself, by Norman Doidge.  This is a wonderful book, full of amazing research about what the brain can do.   There's a lot of medical and technical stuff in it, but the author is adept at using stories to carry the serious stuff.  Even so, I'm a bit stalled on it.  Will continue to beat away at the pages.

Start with Why, by Simon Sinek.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was reading this last time around.  It is a great book, I just got stuck in the middle when I suddenly had to put everything aside and focus on the novel rewrite.  I'm determined to finish it.

The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson.  By day, Kitty, our heroine runs a book store in Denver in the 60s. But at night, her dreams lead her to a different life–one with a handsome husband and two adorable kids.  Slowly, the nighttime dreams become more and more real…I'm enjoying this debut novel a lot.

Books on Embroidery and Knitting.  For research.  Really.  I swear I don't just look at them for the pretty pictures.

Up Next

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  I think I have the time to start this one now.  (I've been told not to open it until I have time to sink into it.)

Younger, by Suzanne Munshower, which was free as an Amazon preview for Prime subscribers.  I know her from Twitter and this book was published by and Amazon imprint which shot to the number one spot of all Kindle ebooks.  So, why not?  Plus, it looks entertaining.

So that's it for now.  Do tell: what are you reading?

Photo by Brian B.

8

Building Your Fictional World

Planet_earth_australia_264109_l

Recently, I was the judge in fiction-writing contest.  My job was to review the finalists in the novel first chapter portion of the contest, and select the top four winners.  It was fascinating because every entry had a good concept for a story.

But.

Every entry but one had viewpoint issues (a topic I'll address in a separate post soon), and the other big problem I saw in nearly every chapter was a failure to adequately develop the fictional world.  

While the set-up was interesting and the characters good (though also undeveloped) what I saw over and over again was not enough care taken to fully create the world of the story.  And I don't care if you are writing a contemporary novel, an historical story, or a science-fiction novel set on another planet, every novel has a world of its own that the reader will inhabit for the length of the book.  And it's your job to write that world so that we, the reader, truly feel as if we've stepped into it.

Some thoughts (in no particular order):

1.  Don't rush.  In many of the contest chapters, I felt like I was being escorted through the scene in a whirlwind.  Don't be afraid to slow down, to share description and details (see #4), to evoke the senses (see #7).  I guarantee that your problem is not writing too much, but too little.  Lay it on thick and write more than you think you should and you'll come out about right.

2.  Root the reader in the scene.  A simple technique is to continually hark back to the physical world in a scene to keep the reader reminded of where she is.  Otherwise, your reader will feel like she's floating in the air.   Use simple references to accomplish this–She leaned against the counter, or He set his coffee mug down on the table.  Doesn't have to be anything fancy.

3.  Fast is slow and slow is fast.  I learned this from a friend who learned it from the late Gary Provost. When you're writing a scene that would pass slowly in real life (such as an afternoon lolling on the couch) do it quickly.  We don't need the details.  And when you're writing something that would happen really fast in real life (like a car accident), slow it way down and note every detail.

4.  Telling details are your friend. Details are what bring a scene alive, such as the red rose petal on the wood kitchen table, or the solitary raindrop sliding down a window pane as a storm begins. But, don't include every single detail, the trick is to choose the ones that will illuminate the scene.  And that's something for you to decide.

5.  Setting is more than just location.  Setting is, of course, your friend when you're creating your fictional world, because it is what your characters walk through.  But it is much more than just the lovely ocean they live beside, it is all the furniture and accessories that fill the house they live in.  And guess what else it is?  Time.  Big difference between San Francisco 1906 and San Francisco 2014.

6.  Characters interact with their worlds in unique ways.  A man who grew up in Manhattan is very different than a farmer from Iowa.  The unique worlds of characters influence them in specific ways, and in return, causes them to exist in their worlds in certain ways.  Take advantage of this.

7.  Use your senses.  Obvious, yes, but also easy to forget.  One of the least under-used senses is smell.  Noting the aromas or odors of your world can be very evocative.  And how about touch?  When was the last time your character described the feel of a fabric beneath his fingers?  Or taste?  (Which reminds me, food can be very specific to different worlds also.) We get accustomed to our primary senses of sight and sound.  Adding in the others will bolster your world.

Okay, that's it, that's all I've got for you at the moment.  But do tell in the comments how you like to build your fictional worlds.

Photo by monique72.

 

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Point of View Tips and Tweaks

Look_close_macro_224801_lI spent yesterday afternoon reading a rewrite of a client's novel (at least the first part of it). He has struggled with point of view in the past, and I've nudged him mercilessly on it. So I was thrilled to see that he is mastering it!

Reading his manuscript brought to mind some tips on viewpoint that might be helpful to others. (Note: most people, myself included, use the terms viewpoint and point of view interchangeably.)Please note that this is not in anyway a definitive rundown on viewpoint. Volumes have been written on it.  If you need more info on viewpoint try this or this.  What follows are just some simple ideas that might help you if you get confused about it.

1.  Don't use omniscient.  Just don't, okay?  In my experience, most of the time the use of omniscient viewpoint turns out to be viewpoint violations galore.  Or laziness.  Whatever, omniscient viewpoint is hard to master and do correctly and it confuses the hell out of readers–which is a cardinal sin.  So don't do it.

2. I am a camera.  Or at least your character is one.  All he or she can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel is in her viewpoint.  It's in her head.  Not the other character's head, hers alone.  Sometimes I see subtle viewpoint violations, like, "Sandra noticed that Frank felt scared."  Sandra can't know that Frank feels scared because she's not in his head.  She can notice that he seemingly felt scared, or she can see an expression on his face that tells her he's scared.  If you get confused on this point, think back to the camera analogy.  

3.  Change viewpoints at the start of chapters or scenes.  It's fine to use multiple viewpoints.  All you have to do is be clear to the reader that you are doing so.  Don't switch points of view in the middle of a sentence or even a paragraph.  Do it at the start of a scene or chapter, and please also give us some hint of who we are switching to.

4. To denote a scene shift, use white space.  If you want to switch viewpoint in the middle of a chapter, its easy–just use white space to signal the reader.  White space is four single hard returns or two double hard returns.  If the white space falls at the top or the bottom of the page, show it with stars:  *  *  *  *  *, otherwise it might not be evident.  Note: you don't need to use stars or any other symbol to show white space if it falls anywhere else on the page.  That's why they call it white space.

5. If you struggle with staying clear on viewpoint, try first person.  This is a great trick, because first person is easy to stay true to–all you've got is that "I" viewpoint, after all.  You don't have to write a whole novel in it, but try a short story or a piece of flash fiction.  It will teach you the limits of viewpoint very quickly.

Okay, those are my quick tips.  Do you struggle with viewpoint?  How have you taught yourself to master it?

Photo by xptakis.

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