Setting-It’s Not Just A Place

settingWhen you hear the word setting, you probably look around the room. Where are you? What do you see? And while I agree that, that is a part of the picture, there is so much more to setting than your location.

Settings establish context for characters and plot. They don’t come out of nowhere. Well if yours do, you have a problem ūüôā

Settings should be visceral and vivid and allow us to experience the world the author is building as if we are one of the characters within the narrative.

How much detail is necessary? It depends. You should provide lavish detail for  important scenes, settings that you will be going back to time and time again, and settings that are new to the reader requiring more detail to visualize in their minds.

Use only a line or two for less important settings that you will only be visiting once or settings your reader is already familiar with.

With Sci-Fi and Historical novels, setting becomes an important part of the story. The setting doesn’t have to be real but it does have to be believable.

Writing historical novels, do your research and throw in some things that you would expect during the time period. Not just the architecture and furnishings, but what was the culture like? What customs did they follow?

Writing Sci-Fi, keep in mind you’re¬†creating¬†a world. Your setting needs to be very detailed. Help your reader to see what you see!

The novel I am writing is set in¬†the present and uses settings that are familiar to the people who would be reading the story.¬†For instance, my main characters¬†meet at IHOP. When I say IHOP, I don’t have to provide a lot of detail because everybody knows IHOP and immediately conjures it up in their mind.

While I am in no way putting myself on the same level as the writer Jane Austin, I found it amusing that in her book Pride and Prejudice, she didn’t put a lot of detail in her settings. Why you may wonder. She knew her readers at the time the book was written, and knew they would be able to visualize the places she referred to without a lot of detail.

Settings also evoke mood. In horror stories, your description of a haunted house should evoke fear in your readers.  In a mystery your setting should evoke suspense and  curiosity. In a comedy your setting should evoke laughter or an anticipated thrill.

Settings provide information about your character. How does their home look? Is it messy, neat, compulsively organized? Do they surround themselves with darkness or light?

Settings can be used to foreshadow and to provide a metaphor(Animal Farm and The Majestic are  good examples).

Settings evoke the passage of time.

Settings incorporate culture and customs familiar to the place and time period you are working with.

Never underestimate the importance of your setting! There is so much information on the subject. You once again get the cliff notes, but I hope they spark your interest, and get you thinking about your own settings, and how they are used in your work.

-Jan R

Setting-It’s Not Just A Place

I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

aid174983-v4-728px-Stop-Saying-the-Word-_Like_-Step-4-Version-2On more than one occasion I have declared¬†my love affair with the word ‘had’. When you use a word so many times it jumps off the page, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if the word is used correctly or not. You need to find another way to write the sentence without using ‘the word’. In my case that word is ‘had’.

What’s wrong with using the word¬†‘had’ over and over, besides making it an awkward read?

  • If you are using ‘had’ a lot, odds are you have a lot of backstory/info dump, because it specifically details things that happened before the current action. In some circumstances, that can seem dull, or like the focus is in the wrong place. Why spend so much time on something that’s not happening right now?
  • Using ‘had’ too much can also indicate you are telling vs. showing.
  • ‘Had’ is also rather formal. People rarely say ‘he had put on weight’- you say ‘he’d put on a bit of weight’ or ‘he was looking fatter’ something to that effect.
  • If it’s overused to the point that it becomes noticeable to the reader. It is bad.

For this blog, I’m focusing on ‘had’ because¬†it’s a problem word for me.¬†Most of us have them. They could be words like but, although, because, however, that, and if you’re writing dialogue–so(another one of my favorites that I know to look out for ūüôā

To a certain extent, this is a matter of style. Plenty of writers have these little tics. You may find a turn of phrase that you fall in love with, or it may be a word that carries over from the way you speak. As I stated above with ‘had’, only if a word or phrase is overused to the point that it is noticeable to the reader, does it become a bad thing.

Noticing that you use a particular word frequently, is the first step to¬†improving your writing. If you¬†realize you are in the process of abusing a word while you are writing, make some adjustments, but don’t get bogged down for a¬†half an hour trying to decide if ‘your word’ is really necessary.

The best time to work on these tics, is after you’ve written a chunk of prose. Go back through and look for your problem word. You can use the find feature on your computer (Usually ctrl-F or command-F). As you edit, double-check to see if the word is really necessary, or if it can be changed. If you have to, rewrite the entire sentence.

Food for thought. I bet I’m not alone in my love affair with certain¬†words ūüôā

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

Keep It Simple-Use Nouns and Verbs!

untitledLess is more. Five adjectives in one sentence is better than six; four adjectives are better than five; three¬†are better than four; two are better than three…By using fewer words to obtain the effect you desire, you will force yourself to use more accurate and more powerful words-Dean Koontz, ‘How To Write Best Selling Fiction’

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place-Strunk and White, ‘The Elements Of Style’

These are two great sources with amazing advice. They are not alone in their philosophy. I have read this time and time again and I understand completely were they are coming from. I am a self designated skipper. Some of you know exactly what I mean. I couldn’t care less the lady¬†has diamond encrusted buttons running down the back of¬†her evening gown. Unless it winds up in a murder scene, don’t go there.

I love Jerry Jenkins. He has written numerous blogs on the importance of simplicity and avoiding the urge to prettify your prose. He calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginner’s work he was editing.

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Whoa! How many times did you have to read that?

None of these authors disparage adjectives and adverbs. They see them as indispensable parts of speech. The problem is when, why, and how many times we use them. Rich ornate prose is hard to digest.

Anything that interferes with communication-excessive adjectives and adverbs, overly complicated phrasing, too elaborate metaphors and similes presented soley for the fact that the writer wants to show off his/her skills, should be omitted.

The best way to communicate with your reader, is to keep your writing simple and direct.

-Jan R

Keep It Simple-Use Nouns and Verbs!

Is Your Story Believable?-It’s All In The Details

 

untitledWriting fiction can be fun. You get to create your own world with your own characters and you can take your story anywhere you want to go. Right?

Well that statement is true to a certain degree. You do have a lot of leeway, but keep in mind, your story has to make sense. It has to be believable to your readers. That’s were research comes in. Your plot may be fictitious but your details had better be correct.

Anachronisms-details out of place and time-can break a readers suspension of disbelief if they notice the error. If for example, a character in ancient Egypt consults his watch, a reader would instantly be drawn out of the story and roll his eyes. This is an extreme example, but I think it helps you get the point.

There’s no excuse for anachronisms or lack of detail. ¬†Once you know what you are writing about, immerse yourself in the subject. If you want to write about police, you do a ride along or shadow a precinct. If your novel takes place in a school, interview teachers or volunteer.

You can also use social media to learn about people and places, by watching videos or listening to interviews. ¬†My novel is set primarily in the Carolinas but my main character is deployed to¬†Afghanistan for a short period of time. I’ve never been to¬†Afghanistan and have no intention of ever going there. ¬†For that short but important segment of my book, I watched a documentary and actual footage. I also read pages set up on the internet by marines returning from the area¬†that described¬†what it was like for them. I found the information I needed to make that portion of my story believable through research on-line.

It is always best to set your novels in cities¬†that you know. ¬†A good example of this would be Nicholas¬†Sparks.¬†Most of his novels are set in North Carolina. That’s where he lives. He understands the culture and can provide the details his readers expect.

One word of caution is to remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the¬†story, don’t make¬†them center stage. Resist the urge to show off how much research you have done. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with unnecessary information.

-Jan R

Is Your Story Believable?-It’s All In The Details

The Title Of Your Book Is What?!!!

imagesFFT3CQY4I was looking at some of my older blog posts this past week, when something jumped out at me.

Nine months ago I wrote a blog titled, “Is your manuscript ready for submission?” It didn’t get much attention, as a matter of fact only 5 people viewed the blog and 2 of those liked it. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. It was a great blog.

Five months later I was busy and didn’t¬† have time to research and write a quality blog. I decided to repost, “Is your manuscript ready for submission?” I¬†made a few changes to¬†some of the¬†sentences, so they reflected the new¬†time period, but other than that, the blog read word for word.

I also did one other thing;¬†I changed¬†the title. It was the same blog, only it’s new title was, “Edit, Edit or Edit?” The blog did exceptionally well for someone who has been blogging¬† less than a year. It had 99 views, 50 likes and 3 or 4 reblogs.

I shared this story to make¬†a point. Your title really does make a difference. It’s the first thing your reader sees or hears about your book/blog/poem. Your title creates anticipation and expectation, or, perhaps disinterest. Often your title determines whether or not someone reads your work.

A good title should have the following attributes:

  • Attention grabbing
  • Memorable
  • Informative (gives idea of what book is about)
  • Easy to say
  • Not embarrassing or problematic for a person to say aloud to their friends.

Also keep in mind, that the title you start with, may not be the title you end up with. Getting the title right, may be the most important book marketing decision you make. Many well known authors have had their titles changed by publishers and editors before print. Here are a few you may recognize:

F. Scott Fitzgerald/¬† The Great Gatsby — Trimalchio in West Egg, On the Road to West Egg, Among Ash-heaps and Millionaires, Under the Red, White, and Blue, Gold-hatted Gatsby, or The High Bouncing Lover. I think he made the right choice ūüôā

George Orwell/ 1984 —¬†The Last Man in Europe

Ayn Rand/ Atlas Shrugged –The Strike

Harper Lee/ To Kill a Mockingbird — Atticus

Jane Austin/ Pride and Prejudice — First Impressions.

Frances Hodgson Burnett/ The Secret Garden — Mistress Mary

The title matters!!! Get it right!!!

-Jan R

 

 

The Title Of Your Book Is What?!!!

POV-Common Mistakes

0e3e1fc513972cdcccbdac6802ebb6acThink of your POV character as your camera.¬†He/She walks¬†through the story giving you a personal glimpse of what’s happening. If your POV character can’t see it, you can’t describe it for your readers. If he can’t hear it, you can’t let your readers hear it. If your POV character doesn’t know it, you can’t tell it. You are bound to your POV character.

Character can’t see it

Suzy stood staring straight ahead. Her ex stood behind her, his arms crossed over his chest, his blue eyes scowling.

  • Problem¬† Unless she has a mirror in front of her, she can’t see her ex standing behind her. She wouldn’t know his arms were crossed and he was scowling.
  • Fix¬† Use other senses. She can smell him, she can hear him, and she can imagine what he is doing.

Character can’t hear it

Suzy walked down the dark hall. Several floors down, another set of footsteps echoed in the darkness. Suzy had no idea she was being followed.

  • Problem¬† For the purpose of this example, we’re assuming she can’t hear two floors down. If she can’t hear it, she can’t describe it. Moreover, if she didn’t suspect it, who is telling the reader this information? It’s not Suzy.
  • Fix¬† Set the mood that hints at what you want the reader to fear. You can also have your character imagine the worst.

Character doesn’t know that

Suzy’s ex stood behind the door with a gun, waiting for her to enter. As she approached, she had no idea what was waiting¬†on the other side.

  • Problem¬† To be a true third person, you can’t write what your POV doesn’t know. The POV police refer to this as omniscient voice or author voice.
  • Fix¬† Your POV can suspect, sense something isn’t right, have a funny feeling,¬†or if¬†her ex is heavy handed with the Old Spice, she may smell him. I think you get the picture.

Other omniscient or author slips

  • Suzy got out of her car and headed for the gym. She never realized she had left her keys in the ignition.
  • Suzy accepted the date. She wouldn’t find out for several months that it was the worst¬†decision she would ever make.
  • Suzy walked by the window and never noticed that someone had left it opened.

I am guilty of committing all of these POV sins. I hope this post helps you as much as it helped me.

-Jan R

POV-Common Mistakes