Settings Are Not Just A Place

4f7a9b905a1bc2d6c97e5c8f0157ee9d_fullWhen you hear the word setting, you think of a time period and place, but settings do so much more than that.

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 to see during the time period.

Writing Sci-Fi, you’re  creating a world. Your setting needs to be detailed. Help your reader to visualize it. Draw them in.

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.

Settings 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 characters. How does their home look? Is it messy, neat, compulsively organized? Do they surround themselves with darkness or light?

Settings can also be used to evoke the passage of time and movement. The saplings we had planted in our youth towered above the two story house. This was home, at least the house that I remembered.

Who knew there was so much to writing. I hope this evoked thought and helped you better understand the use of settings in your novel.


I posted this blog several months ago and for some reason it didn’t get many hits, so I’m republishing it under a different title. Titles are important. It’s the first thing the reader sees when they are determining what to read. If you aren’t getting hits, it could be something as simple as the title. You have to grab your readers attention and pique their curiosity.

-Jan R


Settings Are Not Just A Place

Avoid Fancy Words

6207da0c9e08fd20a96cc7bf70033c98I personally like to read communications where I don’t notice the writing at all. You can achieve that by investing in great content and then stripping away anything that detracts from it.

Avoid fancy words. Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Never call a stomach a tummy without good reason.

You should write in a way that comes easy and natural. I don’t know anybody that says the sky is beauteous, or she was ostentatious. I certainly don’t use those words in my everyday conversations, as a matter of fact, I don’t use them in my writing either.

I could just imagine my reader stumbling over these words.  They are long and require effort to read. They slow down the pace and pull readers out of their suspension of disbelief, by reminding them they are reading.

I saw this example in a blog and thought it did a great job of getting my point across.

Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly.

I bet that sentence drove you nuts. I know the example is a bit extreme, but what do you think? Should I go with simple or fancy?

My thought is, you should write problems instead of consequences, using instead of utilized, long words instead of erudite vernacular, and needlessly instead of irrespective of necessity. Keep it simple.

Use longer words only if your meaning is so specific no other words will do.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Avoid Fancy Words

Christmas Break?

217826-May-Your-Christmas-And-Every-Day-Ahead-Sparkle-With-Happiness-And-New-Surprises-Am I the only person that has a hard time writing this time of the year? I’m not talking about my blog. I’m talking about my work in progress and new ideas that are sitting on my desk.

What do you do to get yourself motivated? I’m not sure if it’s just the season, but I’ve noticed the same thing happens every year. Maybe I’ve given myself permission to take December off.

I do love to read, and I take the opportunity to read, read, and read some more. From my perspective, I’m at least getting something accomplished that is important to furthering my writing career, and totally enjoying myself.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas filled with love, joy, and peace!

-Jan R

Christmas Break?

Grammar-Get It Right!

4QYYI7VIf you think grammar is just a small child’s mispronunciation of “grandmother,” and if you think syntax is a tax that the church levies on sin, maybe you should consider becoming a nuclear physicist or a neurosurgeon or just about anything at all except a novelist. Dean Koontz

Maybe you’re inexperienced, or perhaps you have been writing for a while, but still haven’t produced a publishable piece of work. You probably have a few things to learn about writing a novel, but grammar should not be one of them. Writing grammatically sound prose has nothing to do with creativity. It is a mechanical process.

You don’t need extensive experience to produce prose that meets minimum standards of correct English usage. You don’t even need a formal education. Grammar is something that can be self-taught. While a publisher may understand your deficiencies in characterization, shaky plotting, and an overblown style, he will not excuse poor grammar.

I remember my first few rejections. One of the reasons cited had nothing to do with the story  and everything to do with the grammar. One of the literary agents stated, “It’s not ready. Your work is full of grammatical and structural errors.”

You should not expect a copyeditor to strip away your poor grammar and replace it with grammatically sound prose. This is one of the myths that I believed. I had a great story, and while it was a little rough around the edges, I thought the idea was enough to carry my work.

Remember, no one cares about your work and your future as much as you do. If you don’t care enough to write well, you are destined to fail.

A hard truth and something to think about.

-Jan R


Grammar-Get It Right!

You Can’t Believe Everything You Read

tumblr_ls7n23WrgF1r1ejbco1_500While I’ve been around for a little while now, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert. I consult the experts, and research everything I write to ensure I don’t spread inaccurate information.

As a new writer, we don’t always know if what we are reading is fact, fiction, or opinion. We are hungry for information that is going to help us become better writers, and more importantly, that is going to help us become successful and published.

When I began this journey, I was literally starting from scratch. I assumed like many of you, that anybody could write a novel. I had a great idea and put pen to paper, or I guess I should say fingers to keys.

It wasn’t until I submitted it to agents, that I discovered there were rules on POV, writing dialogue, plotting, use of description, setting scenes… I needed information. I needed accurate, easy to understand information from someone who knew what they were talking about.

I opened my computer and began typing. If it’s on the internet, it has to be correct, right? That’s what most of us think, at least that’s what I thought. If I was having problems with dialogue, one of my weaknesses,  I would type in dialogue and go for it. There were so many articles and blog posts to read. While most offered invaluable information, I would occasionally run into one that lead me astray, or left me more confused than I was before I started my research.

I feel like I’m rambling today, but my aim for this particular blog is to caution new writers. Just because something is written on-line, doesn’t mean it’s correct. Choose your sources wisely. Do your research. There is a lot of useful information out there, but you will occasionally run into something that is inaccurate, or so ambiguous you are left more confused than you were when you started your research.

My husband is always saying technology is wonderful. You have the world at your fingertips, but you can’t check your brain in at the door.

Something to think about.

-Jan R



You Can’t Believe Everything You Read

Dangling Modifiers :-)

4803157_700bHave you ever read a sentence and stopped? You go back and read it again and again. Sometimes you probably laugh out loud, because it’s funny and definitely not what the author had in mind.

You want see those sentences in published work. By the time your manuscript hits the publishers desk, the sentences have been cleaned up.

So if you haven’t figured it out, I’m talking about sentences with dangling modifiers. A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about a concept.

A dangling modifier is misplaced because it doesn’t have anything to modify. The word or words a dangling modifier should modify have been omitted from the sentence. I know you hear professionals say cut, cut, cut, but some words should not be cut.

“Always suspect an -ing word of dangling if it’s near the front of a sentence; consider it guilty until proven innocent.” –Patricia O’Connor.

Incorrect: Reading the regulations, the dog did not enter the park.

  • “Reading the regulations” is a dangling modifier.
  • The dog cannot read the regulations; the word(s) that “reading the regulations” modifies have been omitted.

Correct: After reading the regulations, I did not enter the park with my dog.

And then there’s…

The kind mother, handed out bologna sandwiches to all the children in Ziploc bags. (What were they doing in Ziploc bags?)

The robber was in his late thirties and about 6’2″, with long curly hair weighing about 160 lbs. (I think I would cut a little bit of that hair.)

The homeowner chased the intruder wearing nothing but his underwear. (Who was wearing nothing but underwear?)

Just for laughs…..

  1. Coming out of the market, the bananas fell on the pavement.
  2. With his tail held high, my father led his prize poodle around the arena.
  3. I saw an accident walking down the street.
  4. Freshly painted, Jim left the room to dry.
  5. He held the umbrella over Janet’s head that he got from Delta Airlines.
  6. Lost: Antique walking stick by an old man with a carved ivory head.
  7. The company’s refrigerator held microwavable lunches for 18 employees frozen in the top compartment.

I know most of you have dangling modifiers down, but they are so much fun.

-Jan R





Dangling Modifiers :-)

Are Your Sentences Running Loose?

compound-sentences-7-728You’re probably sitting there wondering what in the world I am talking about. I know when I first read about loose sentences, I wondered what in the world the author was talking about. Well let me enlighten you. Loose sentences are sentences with the main concept at the beginning, followed by a string of related details.

For this blog, I am focusing on loose sentences that are composed of two clauses connected by a conjunctive or relative  (better known as the compound sentence). I use them all the time, and you probably do too. ( Yes, this is one.) There’s nothing wrong with a single sentence of this type every now and then. The problem is when you string a whole bunch of them together. A mistake many new writers make.

 ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ was performed at the downtown theater last evening, and a large audience was in attendance. The actors were right on cue, and the orchestra was spectacular. The props seemed to float through the air, as the scenes were set flawlessly. The play was a tremendous success, and I’m sure it will continue it’s run. The tickets are pretty expensive, but you won’t be disappointed.

There are probably a lot of things wrong with this example, but what I hope you focused on, was the string of loose sentences. They are trite, monotonous and annoying. I know this is an extreme example, but I wanted to make sure you understood what I was getting at.

Loose sentences are easy to correct. All you have to do is rearrange some of the sentences in the paragraph to take away the monotony.  Make them simple, short, single phrases, or drop the conjunction and add a semicolon.

It’s okay to have loose sentences, but be mindful of the frequency and placement of them.

Most of the information for this blog came from ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White. If you don’t have a copy of the book, I would highly recommend it. It is short and concise. They don’t waste a single word.

Something else to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Are Your Sentences Running Loose?

What’s Your Character’s Motivation?

Thomas-Mann-quote-on-character-motivesIf your villain shoots down sixty people, blows up an airport terminal, hijacks a jet and then crashes it into the White House–all because his Social Security check arrived one day late, you’re going to have trouble selling your novel. Dean R. Koontz

When an editor rejects a book for implausibility, he is looking at the motivation of the character, not the plot. In other words, when a novel fails because of implausibility,  the reader had a hard time believing the character would do, in real life, the things the author has him doing.

What’s his motivation? If you have your character doing something bizarre, you had better convince your reader that he in fact would blow up an airport terminal because his Social Security check arrived a day late.

Most Common Character Motivators

Love- is a strong motivator for your lead character. This universal and adaptable motivator can be found across genres. Remember almost all of your readers want to love someone, be loved, or fall in love. They are predisposed to accept love as a plausible motivation for a hero’s or a heroine’s actions. This motivator  works best when paired with another motivating force.

Curiosity-  is responsible for every important discovery since man tamed fire. Like love, it works better paired with another motivator. Throw in some self-preservation, greed, love, or duty. Your reader will not believe that a rational character would willingly die merely to satisfy his curiosity, and yes, your main character must be rational.

Self-preservation- is the most common character motivation in both popular mainstream and genre fiction. If your hero’s life is at stake, anything he does to preserve it will seem plausible to the reader, which makes this the easiest of the motivators for new writers to handle. Also it should be noted, that self-preservation can be construed to mean preservation of one’s self-image and self-respect.

Greed- as you probably guessed, this is not a good motivator for your hero or heroine unless they are a bandit. It works as an excellent motivator for your antagonist. If your antagonist is trying to destroy your hero financially and get control of his business at a bargain price, greed might very will be his primary motivation, but by throwing in another motivation, the story would have much more depth. Suppose we find out the antagonist also hates the hero, because the hero won the hand of the woman they both loved. The antagonist instantly becomes a more believable and interesting character.

Revenge- is an excellent motivator for a villain, but should not be used to motivate the protagonist, unless you can show the hero is justified in his actions.  Maybe the police and courts have utterly failed in their duties to society and to victims of violent crime, and then the hero steps in.

These are not the only character motivators, but they are the most common. Remember, your character should never be motivated by something that is inconsistent with their personality. Much more on this subject but hope this got you thinking.

-Jan R

What’s Your Character’s Motivation?