Setting: Anchoring the Reader

Sleeping_Beauty_by_Harbour.jpgWe all like to think whoever picks up our book isn’t going to put it down. Our hope is they sit there in a vegetative state absorbing the words, until like a kiss from a prince/princess, the words, The End, release them from the spell.

Unfortunately, readers need food, water, bathroom breaks, and sleep. Sleep is the tricky one. If they grab a snack, take a tinkle, or get some water, then they come right back to the book. But sleep, well, sleep ruins everything.

I know if I’m reading before bed, I try my best to make it to the end of the chapter. Even if it’s not bedtime, I try to make it to the end of the chapter before I put the book down. The reason is somewhat obvious; I don’t want to start reading in the middle of scene. If that happens, then we may have to slip back a page or two to catch myself back up.

This is an important concept to grasp when you are writing your book.

anchorUsing setting cues at the beginning of a chapter quickly reorients the wayward reader who has ventured back into your world. It doesn’t take paragraphs to accomplish, but some brief setting details (time of day, location, characters present, visceral elements) will cement the reader back into the story.

Anchoring your reader will also increase the pacing of your book.

When I am writing my first draft, I tend to pace quickly.  When I can, I end the chapter with action and start the next one continuing it. One mistake I’ve made is not orienting the reader when I dive into the next chapter. Ending with action is fine. Starting with action is also fine. But if you don’t clue the sleepy-eyed reader into what the action was at the beginning of the chapter, suddenly it’s very confusing.

The Lost Woman.jpgI liken this issue to the writing process. As writers, we have to get our bearings when we sit back down to conjure up our stories. You open up your manuscript, and heck, you may have left off in the middle of a piece of dialogue. So you do what we all do, you scroll up a bit and read to get back into the scene.

Our reader shouldn’t have to do that. If your reader has to flip back a page every time they reopen the book, this is going to be a problem for them (assuming they are stopping at chapter markers or at the conclusion of scenes). Some readers may not realize exactly what the problem is, but in reviews you will see words like pacing, flow, and disorienting.

There are some tools out there you can use to keep your readers engaged. I wrote a post a while back about stitching transitions into setting here. That post focused more on showing passages of time and changing locations within chapters. Some of those concepts spill over.

writers guide to active setting.jpgHowever, in regards to adding setting information into chapter openings, I have found a decent resource. Mary Buckham’s book, A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting, is one of the best books I have found talking about setting. An entire chapter is dedicated to anchoring the reader in scenes and chapters.

Buckham reinforces the idea I am talking about by saying a, “…common mistake is forgetting that the reader may have set the book down at the end of the last chapter, or scene, or you have ended a scene in one location and opened the next chapter, or scene, in a new location” (p. 151).

Two of the best solutions I have seen are the macro (far away) and micro (up close) approach. There are a bunch of fancy ways of saying this, but breaking it down into mirco and macro seems to be the easiest way to condense the concepts.

fantasy landscape (macro).jpgThe macro approach is to pull back and anchor the reader with a couple pieces of description. Using an omniscient point of view, you approach the beginning of the chapter like a panorama.  n as little as a sentence or two, you can quickly use this method to orient the reader as to who is present, what is around them, what they are doing, and what the time of day is.

fantasy landscape (micro).jpgThe micro approach pulls the reader in closer and offers the above perspective from the POV of the character(s) present in the chapter. For you folks who are writing in 1st person, this is pretty much your only solution. If you have a host of characters you are juggling, it is essential to orient the reader as to who is present; the micro approach solves this problem as well.

It should be noted that it’s not a set-in-stone rule that you should anchor the reader at the beginning of each and every chapter. Some writing styles and genres need to keep the reader guessing and on their toes. However, this decision to not anchor is typically a conscious decision by the writer, not just happenstance.

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The Hero’s Journey: For Writing & Life

fantasy castle.jpg

You are probably on a journey; I know I am. For me, it’s a writer’s journey, but it’s a hero’s journey, too. Writers have our own battles, allies, and enemies to navigate. Whether we realize it or not, the characters we write about, and ourselves, have embarked upon The Hero’s Journey. Cinch down your cloak, replenish the ink in your sharpest quill, and let’s talk about it.

hero with a thousand faces 1.jpgThe Hero’s Journey is a concept I first read about in Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell explains that there are reoccurring themes that run through almost all stories, myths, and even religious texts. The theme is The Hero’s Journey. Once it’s broken down into pieces, you can’t help but noticing it in most of the books, movies, and mediums you see everyday. Even aspects of our own lives conform to the structure.

While Campbell introduced the idea of The Hero’s Journey, Christopher Vogler does an amazing job of breaking it down into component pieces in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters. Campbell basically said, “There be dragons ahead,” and Vogler took that statement and wrote a book on how to slay those winged beasts.

Vogler’s step-by-step model of writing stories has been adopted by many writers working in different mediums. You’ll have a hard time finding a Pixar or Disney movie that doesn’t adopt this structure outright. The reason? Well, for one, it works. Two, this plotting method is relatable to most people, because our life experience seems to tie into the myth of the story.

Vogler explains, “The Hero’s Journey, I discovered, is more than just a description of the hidden patterns of mythology. It is a useful guide to life, especially the writer’s life. In the perilous adventure of my own writing, I found the stages of the Hero’s Journey showing up just as reliably and usefully as they did in books, myths, and movies” (p. 5).

With Vogler and Campbell’s twin stars on the horizon as our guide, lets learn about the journey. Also, let’s uncover how it applies to our writing and our lives.

hobbit holeThe Ordinary World. This is where the writer introduces the hero/heroine in their normal environment. Of course, they aren’t a hero yet. They are a street rat (Aladdin), hairy-footed Hobbit in a hole (LOTR), or girl living in the coal district (Hunger Games).

For the writer, this may be the time before you started writing. Maybe you thought about writing. There was a nagging feeling, but you ignored it. You stayed in the comfort of your Ordinary World.

The Call to Adventure.  This is when an external influence causes the hero/heroine to consider abandoning the Ordinary World.  This call to action is often times them learning of a threat to the safety of their Ordinary World.

For writers, this is the moment of inspiration.  Maybe a book, friend, teacher, movie, flash of clarity, or all of these combined, turns the nagging feeling into something more.  The words are calling to you.

refusing the call.jpgRefusal of the Call. This is the moment of doubt. The budding hero doesn’t want to leave the comfort of the Ordinary World. Family, doubt in ability, lack of incentive, and fear are often played upon refusals.

These are those first doubts you feel as a writer. “I can’t do this.  I don’t have a story to tell. I don’t even know how to write well.  Is writing worth it?”

Mentor Pops Up. Aladdin had a genie, the hobbits had Gandalf, and Katniss had Haymitch. These are their guides to push them along.  Some act as a moral compass, some simply push the hero, and some are there to meddle.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a person when it comes to writers. It can be, sure, but it can also be a book/idea/dream that inspires you. Something to guide you along your path and help you step outside of your comfort zone.

door to a new world.jpgCrossing the First Threshold. This is when the story starts getting interesting. The hero puts his/her head down and embarks on the quest.  They accept the adventure, leaving the Ordinary World and entering a special one.

For you wordsmiths, this is when you say, “Screw it – lets do this thing.” You sit down and begin the process. You exit the real world and enter the creative whirlpool. I see many authors quitting their jobs and taking up writing full-time. No doubt, they are crossing toward the First Threshold.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies.  Here we start getting elements sprinkled in. The hero/heroine meets friends, learn of and encounter enemies, and begin facing minor trials. They battle threshold guardians and sometimes, almost always, they come up short. The hero/heroine haven’t yet honed their skills. Or perhaps they haven’t built a strong enough connection with their allies to be effective.

hercules.jpgFor us scribblers, this is the beginning of the process. We seek out others like us. We deal with writers block and creativity issues. We learn that the initial fire, that spark, won’t sustain us. We need something more: dedication and habit. We often fail, but in the process, we begin to get better at the craft.

Approach to the Inmost  Cave. At this point, the hero/heroine (and allies if applicable) have honed their skills, and are preparing to face the enemy.  They stand at the gates, swords/wands/pens in hand with a determined look on their faces. Their scars, whether metaphorical or very real, are a testament to the journey they have taken to this point.

For writers, this when you start getting deeper into the work. You’ve knocked out a couple hundred pages, maybe told a few people what you are up to, and now the pressure is mounting. The end is in very near, but you still have work to do. You hope your resolve and skill will carry you to the end.

The Supreme Ordeal. This is the, “oh crap,” moment when the hero stares death in the face. For the reader/audience, you wonder if they will survive. The hero/heroine does survive the conflict, often barely, and realize they are more powerful/resourceful than they thought.

For the writer, this is the moment when you almost lose the writing battle. You step away for a few days, weeks, or months — sometimes longer.  You reappraise what you are doing. If you are the writing hero I know you are, you’ll return to the desk and finish.

flying carpet.jpgReward. For the hero, they seize the reward after beating the boss; the battle is won. Many times, they gain a boon, trophy, or magic item. The reward may simply be the realization of power they didn’t know existed within themselves.

My friend M.L.S. Weech always says, the more times you type, “The End,” the more confident you will be in your skill. He also says the more of them you type, the easier and quicker the next one is to get to.  This is sentiment I’ve heard echoed by many of the writers I work with, or consider to be mentors in my own journey. Needles to say, for a writer, typing The End is a major reward.  It is also the realization of hidden potential.

The Road Back. The hero begins the return journey back to the Ordinary World with the reward in hand, or inside them.

For the writer, I equate this to the real world versus fantasy world we live in while we write. You improved your skills while you wrote, you finished the work, now you must come back to the Ordinary World and edit/promote/sell it.

TheKnightAtTheCrossroads.jpgResurrection. The hero may have slain the dragon and seized the magic sword that heals the land, but now the dragon’s mother is in pursuit. Often times, the hero must deal with the consequences of their Supreme Ordeal. When power is found, unlocked, or a magic item is gained, there is often the issue of wielding this power responsibly. Sometimes, those around you become wary of what you have become, or what you are capable of.

For the writer, this is the realization that writing The End is just another beginning. There are edits, rewrites, book covers, email lists, agents, publishers, and critics to contend with now.  More ordeals spring up like weeds.

potion.jpgReturn with the Elixir. It’s all meaningless for the hero if they don’t return to the Ordinary World clutching their spoils. These spoils can by physical: an item to cleanse the blighted land, or powerful weapon to protect it. The spoils can be mental: they now have a story to share, become a mentor themselves, or offer insights to protect and enhance their Ordinary World.

For us writers, these are the moments of impact after the book, or work, is out there. The email from an appreciative reader, the five star review, the kind words from friends and family. Maybe your elixir is to compile a book to illuminate the way, much like Campbell and Vogler did for me.

That’s The Hero’s Journey.  This was a longer post, if you made it this far you’ve completed a reader’s journey.  In the future, I want to elaborate on each step, but we needed a point to jump off from – hence the length.

I hope you found this helpful. Do aspects of your life (writing life/life in general) fit The Hero’s Journey? Do you feel like steps are missing or are incorrect? I’d love to talk about it.


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The Art of Character: Book, Blurb & Collage

The Art of Character

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, The Art of Character, written by David Corbett. Image created by me and free to share.

 

During my transition to the new state over the last month or so, I’ve continued hitting the books and eating my greens. The Art of Character, by David Corbett was a delight to read. Honestly, I’ve burned through so many bloody books about writing characters and examining archetypes that it was starting to get repetitive — this book caught me by surprise.

art-of-character-200.jpg

Image linked to Goodreads.

Corbett offers some fresh perspective about understanding how to craft and build believable characters. Unlike many of books I’ve read, he emphasizes the importance of shaping the character before your build the book. In my experience working with other authors, many go the opposite direction: starting with the story or general plot, then populating it with characters.

The issue, and I’ve seen it happen, is the characters are custom fitted to the story and one dimensional when you plot the story then begin to craft the characters afterwards. They say, “I want a scene where he/she commandeers a pirate vessel then builds a robot out of Pixy Stix, duct tape, and bubble gum…oh, they must be able to knit kitten sweaters too! I better make sure the character has X, Y, and Z traits.”

The book is separated into four main parts: Conceiving the Character, Developing the Character, Roles, and Technique. Each section builds on the previous and provides instruction on how to weave characters into the tapestry of your story. This is bolstered by countless examples from a smattering of different genres.

Speaking of examples, one thing I like to do when I read books on the craft of writing is glance at the bibliography at the back of the book. Corbett’s bibliography is three pages long with about fifty cited sources. That’s a goldmine!

When it comes to character studies, this book has quickly jumped to the top of my go-to pile. I can see it being one I refer to clients and friends alike. If your Amazon trigger finger is itchy, give it a go!

question markThat’s it for today. If you are curious about some of the other writing books I’ve read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here (going to have to update this beast soon), or jump to my Reads section. I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same. What writing books are you reading? I’d love to hear about it. I’m always looking for more books to devour. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Rolling the Dice and Creating Chaos

predictable plot.jpgHow many books have you read where you can guess exactly what is going to happen to the characters?  I know as a reader and editor I’ve been through a few.  It’s not that the characters are bad; they just don’t follow Murphy’s Law.  I get it.  Your character is the fastest gun in the land.  He/she can outdraw and outshoot anyone.  That can get pretty boring.  Or, you have to create insanely elaborate situations for them to navigate to challenge their prowess and entertain the mob (your readers).  Here’s an idea, instead of writing what should happen, leave it to fate.

This concept is pulled from the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) realm.  For those of you who aren’t giant nerds like me, D&D is basically a game where one person creates a story and friends come and navigate it.  Each role-player has a character they created and they use dice to determine the effectiveness of their characters actions throughout the story.

The transition into using this in your own writing is simple.  Roll a die and let that determine how effective your character is at dealing with a situation. After all, even the fastest shooter in the world is still impacted by luck.

dice.jpgTake a die.  It can be a six-sided die like you find in a board game, or go to a hobby shop and grab a 20-sided one.  If you roll a one, that’s the worst possible thing that could happen.  If you roll a six (or twenty if you are using the 20-sided beauty) that’s the best outcome that could happen.

Here’s the application.  Let’s use my own character, Drake Nelson, from my upcoming book Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.  Drake is chilling out in a settlement and needs to go to the bar to quench his thirst.  He walks in.  Sitting at a table is notorious bad guy #3.  Notorious bad guy #3 smacks women around, steals milk from babies, and once killed a man for his horse only to let it run off into the sunset for dramatic effect.  Drake looks up at me and I know—notorious bad guy #3 must die.

Now Drake has ninja speed with his pistol.  If I stuck with his character blueprint, this would be an easy confrontation for him.  Especially because bad guy #3 is just a lousy thief, not an experienced gunfighter/renegade maverick like Drake.  So instead of sticking with the boring, I let the dice decide.

Critical Hit.JPGIf I roll a high number, the normal thing would happen.  Drake doesn’t say anything, he simply shoots the man in the face and notorious bad guy #3 falls backwards out of his chair.  Everyone in the bar cheers.  Women throw panties at him.  The bartender pours him a drink.  It’s kind of funny, but it’s also kind of boring.

If I roll a middle number, it can go either way.  Drake pulls the pistol from his hip.  The iron sights flash into focus for a millisecond and he begins applying tension to the trigger.  The town drunk, Steve (it always has to be Steve doesn’t it), stumbles into the bar and bumps Drake in the back as the gun recoils.  The bullet punches a hole in the ceiling and chunks of plaster land on notorious bad guy #3’s head.

Critical Fail.JPGIf I roll a low number, (say a one) that would be a critical fail. Drake doesn’t just fail, he fails miserably.  Drake grips his pistol and pulls it from the holster.  His hand moves so fast it’s a blur of black and silver.  Unfortunately, a bird had shit on his pistol handle earlier.  The feathered feces is still glistening and fresh. The slickness causes the pistol to fly from his hand.  It sails across the bar and smacks the unaware bartender in the forehead. Worse, the bartender is the mayor’s brother.  Now Drake has revealed his intention to notorious bad guy #3, disarmed himself, and assaulted the mayors brother.

Try it out for yourself.  Mix a little luck and chaos into your writing.  While I obviously don’t recommend you use this to drive all action (or even major plot points), it is a fun way to create an unexpected turn.  It’s especially useful if you aren’t entirely sure how your character is going to deal with a situation and your writing is stalling because of it.  This tool allows you to write some potential outcomes and if you feel they are lackluster, blame the dice and bad luck.

question-markIf you give it a try, let me know how it goes.  It usually is amusing to say the least.  That’s it for today.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Feature Friday #6 (Bloggers & Books)

feature-friday

Where the heck did the week go?  I feel like I was writing a Feature Friday post yesterday.  Regardless, it’s always a good day when I’m writing about other bloggers and writers. For all of you NaNoWriMo heroes and heroines—I hope you are beating your keyboards into submission.

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, this is quickly shaping up into my favorite month to read blog posts.  There is a tantalizing mix of hope, despair, fear, and excitement bouncing about the blogosphere. As I treat this website as a time capsule of sorts, let’s snag some of my favorite posts from the day and wish these writers well on their journey.

spotlight-facing-rightThe first blogger and blog post I wanted to talk about encapsulates the many emotions these intrepid writers experience.  Linda Smith wrote the post, The Month of Living Dangerously.  It’s an honest look at the topsy-turvy world many of these writers are living in right now.

Linda does a few things that really caught my eye in this post.  She writes honestly, talks about setting realistic goals, and is including her family in the process. The last part of the post where she talks about her granddaughter being hit by a lightning bolt of inspiration still has me smiling.  Great stuff!

spotlight-facing-rightThe next blogger I wanted to spotlight is Patricia M. Robertson.  Patricia’s post, Ready, Set, Stop! NaNoWriMo is What You Make It, is a great breakdown of what the month is all about.  It’s about more than just pushing out words, it’s about growing as a writer.  For those of you who are unsure about all this NaNoWriMo hullabaloo, give her post a read.

What I really enjoy about Patricia’s post is her ability to address the “big picture” in her writing career.  Much like her, I enjoy the excitement radiating off of other writers.  It’s a contagious thing.  Though she may not be able to partake in the insanity of NaNoWriMo, she is still using it to charge her writing.  In my opinion, that’s a win!

spotlight-facing-rightThe last spotlight is for Austin Ezell.  If you needed a no-nonsense description of the what NaNoWriMo is about, he’s got you covered with his aptly titled post, National Novel Writing Month.  There are a couple reasons I linked Austin’s page.  First, I wanted a solid post detailing what the month is about.  Secondly, checking out his “About” page I realized we are conjoined spirit writing animals.

If his schedule is any indication of what we can come to expect from his blog page, we are in for series of fun posts.  Fatherhood, check.  Dungeons and Dragons, check.  Gaming, check.  Sharing tips from his own experience as a writer, check.  Sneak peaks into his future books, check.  It’s many of the elements I look for when I search out a blogger.  If you’re a regular reader here at QE (thanks), I imagine you are going to want to follow Austin as well.

thanksI wanted to take a moment to thank all three of these folks for (1) being a source of inspiration, (2) taking life by the horns, and (3) making me smile.  It’s people like you who make me happy to spend a chunk of my time here in the blogoverse.  Best of luck to you all!

hourglassThat’s it for today!  I’ll be happy if I never type “NaNoWriMo” again (all that shift+letter nonsense is making crazy!). If you would like to be featured next Friday, contact me.  It always helps if you let me know what specific post you would like to be featured.  My goal with Feature Friday is to connect like-minded individuals with one another.  The blogoverse is a giant place, and it’s nice to be able to provide some navigation. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Checking Your Book Into the Library

LandscapeOne of my clients suggested a blog post about getting your self-published book onto the shelves of a library.  After a brief flashback to tiny drawers packed with musty index cards and the confusing Dewey Decimal System, I decided to look into it.  There is something magical about libraries for me. Thinking of someone walking out the door of their local library clutching a book with my name on it is pretty exciting.

Outside of being fun idea, it’s a smart move.  According to the American Library Association (ALA), more than 60 percent of American’s have a library card. (I’m not sure of the stats for my non-American friends). Contrary to popular opinion, people still frequent libraries for their book needs.  While there seems to be reduction in people using libraries for reference materials (thanks to the interwebs), many people still turn to those dusty shelves for their fiction needs.

library.jpgI think of libraries as a passive method to generate potential book reviews, as well as readership.  Now that most libraries have transitioned their paper records to digital, a person wouldn’t have to search a genre long to stumble across your book (at least I feel this method is simpler than using a gazillion index cards).  Sure, you won’t be making money for every read, but in my opinion, having people simply read your story is rewarding.

Additionally, depending on your genre, you might even be able to host book readings at the library at little to no cost.  I mention genre because the libraries are going to be more accommodating to certain ones.

library win.jpgThe first place I went to look for information was the ALA. I found a resource called, Marketing to Libraries. This is a long article embedded with a metric clickload of links to check out. They also offer some resources for donating books to needy libraries—what a great way to outsource some of those extra books you aren’t selling!

I was interested to see the criteria for submitting to libraries.  I was also surprised to learn not all libraries are the same.  Much like bookstores, each library’s needs will vary. Some will have more of one genre than another, and thus, only accept certain types.  There are also submission guidelines to consider, and these are not always standard.  The ALA link I offered above spells out some of this information.

Another resource I found comes from The Book Designer website.  If you’ve never cast your peepers on this page, I recommend it.  It’s listed as a Writer’s Digest Top 101 websites for writers.  The specific article I read is called, 9 Steps to Getting Your Self-Published Books into Libraries. It’s written by Amy Collins, and it’s very intuitive.

library poster.JPGAgain, I found many gems of information I was completely clueless about here. I didn’t know many libraries work with specific wholesalers and by getting your book listed by these wholesalers (both digital and physical versions) you can increase the odds of your book being accepted by a library.  This apparently is a way to streamline the process.

I also didn’t know the library would look at multiple reviews to determine whether your book can grace its shelves or not. According to Collins, priority is placed on certain review authorities (I won’t list them because the original link I provided has it all hyperlinked). It might be wise to send your books to some of these reviwers if you plan to approach libraries.

question-markThat’s it for today. This is a brand new concept for me, and one I’m very interested to learn more about.  I wanted to drop a line into the water and fish.  If you’ve had success conspiring with librarians and navigating this topic—please share your story or even whatever links you know of that are useful. I’ll copy your comment straight into this blog post and link people to your page if the information is solid.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Wasteland Wednesday #6

*Language and Content Warning*

skull and crossbones.jpgskull and crossbonesUnlike QE’s normal informational blog, Wasteland Wednesday is potentially full of foul language and post-apocalyptic nonsense.

Wasteland Wednesday

 

It’s time for another update from the Wasteland.  As the author, I’m pounding away on rewrites. If I can hold my pace, I should have it out to my alphas by the end of the month. When it goes out to my alphas, I’ll do the rewrites of the novella.

I‘m planning on finishing one of my more time consuming client projects here in mid-December (not a bad thing, just a bit of work), and when that happens I’ll pound out the discovery draft of the next book in the series. This next book will have whoever survives book one, moving north to face a bigger threat—and maybe even escaping Middle America. The Lost Word, mentioned last week, will play a larger role in the next book as well.

Today, meet Jim.

Name:  Jim

Age: 14

BackgroundFrom birth, Jim lived in a bunker. His father told him the outside world was a barren radioactive wasteland, and if they would leave the bunker they would die. Despite his isolation, Jim’s father provided him a superb education (even by pre-fall standards). This education was heavy in classic works of literature, language, and some technical skills like medicine and electronics.

When Drake meets Jim, his familial background is ambiguous. They meet “accidentally” outside of Stanley Station, which is a coal plant that was converted into a settlement.  Jim admits little about his father and family.  Outside accounts indicate Jim is an orphan that wandered into the station.

vegetables-italian-pizza-restaurant.jpgBasic Physical Description: The wasteland doesn’t provide salad bars, or all you can eat pizza, so Jim is a skinny boy. Acne has began to spring up among his freckles.  His eyes are described as bright blue, and his hair is shaggy and brown.  He is very pale—apparently the bunker didn’t have a tanning bed.

Personality: Jim is very clever and optimistic. This is likely a result of his education and lack of exposure to the wastes. With no “real” experiences to rely on, Jim often attempts to apply classic works of literature to things he experiences.  The boy is particularly fond of Treasure Island and sees Drake as swashbuckling pirate of sorts.

treasure island.jpgAs classic works of fiction are basically extinct, Jim references people, places, and things that most people have never heard of.  On the other hand, the most common of wasteland information is often a foreign concept to the boy.

Drake considers himself to be a master of manipulation and understanding what makes people tick, and Jim has managed to pull a few fast ones on him. In this way, Jim quickly endeared himself to Drake (thought Drake would never admit that).  Both Drake and Lex are very protective of children, and this cements him into the party—that, in addition to some wasteland happenstance.

When Drake looks at Jim, he imagines what his dead son Jonathon might have become.  When Lex looks at him, she sees the innocence she lost. When Preacher looks at Jim, he sees the future of the wasteland. Due to all of these points of view, Jim because a central character to the groups unity.

Abilities: Jim is clueless and vastly intelligence at the same time.  Especially in a time when most children, and even adults, are knuckle draggers in terms of brainpower.  This cuts both ways for the boy.  He is also a sponge, quickly picking up on information and training.  Drake notes that the boy learned the steps to effectively fire a pistol faster than some of the people he trained while he was in the military.

suture.jpgJim is also a whiz when it comes to first aid.  Drake owes his life to Jim’s fast action with a needle and thread.  Drake has noted Jim knows aspects about medicine that could have only been taught formally, not just picked up at random.

Motivation:  Jim’s motivations shift throughout the book. At first, he hears a story about Drake Nelson, who had rolled into Stanley Station.  Jim puts a lot of stock in stories and maneuvered himself in a way to be close to him.  Being naive, one motivation is to share in Drake’s adventure. This perhaps, as the story unfolds, wasn’t the best course of action.

Jim is also motivated by something higher, something even Drake can’t put his finger on. To Drake, Jim seems to be running away from something and toward something else at the same time.  Preacher seems to believe Jim is the future of the wasteland…which to Drake is the kind of idiotic rantings he would expect from someone like Preacher.

Jim is driven to prove he isn’t just some dumb kid.  While he knows he is probably the most intelligence kid out there, he understands there is a lot of things he is ignorant of.  Any opportunity he gets, he attempts to prove himself and his worth.

 

Sig-mosquito.jpgEquipment:  Jim, much to his horror, is largely Drake’s pack mule.  The boy bears a heavy burden, literally. He is a novice with the pistol Drake acquired for him, a Sig Sauer Mosquito, but becomes more and more proficient with each passing firefight.

Author’s Note: I say this for all of my characters, but Jim is one of my favorites. He is comic relief, a source of bonding, and has a natural way of cutting through characters and revealing their motivations.  For Drake, Jim’s character reveals his humanity to the reader.  It also acts to tie Drake back to the person he was before the fall, when he had a little boy named Jonathon. I also like how dynamic Jim’s character is.  His arc is very rewarding and there are a lot of important plot points tied to his evolution and growth.

question-markThat’s it for today’s wasteland news!  I hope you all enjoyed this sneak-peak into Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.  I’d love to know what you think about Jim.  Until we cross quills again, keep hiding, keep hoarding, and as always—stay alive.

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Writing a Monster into Existence

dragon.jpg

[Editor’s Note]

The QE household has prepared itself for the onslaught of sugar-craving children.  I figured today (Halloween) would be a great day to repost an older blog about monsters to free me up for pumpkin carving and other fun things.  Since writing this post, I purchased Cryptozoology A to Z, by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark (thanks to a suggestion offered by Dillon, over at From Rad to Dad). It’s a very organized glimpse into the monsters of all shapes and sizes.

While I love reading most genres, few things give me more pleasure than reading about monsters chowing down on unfortunate locals.  It can be zombies, aliens, rodents of unusual size,  or anything else you can think of.  I enjoy it even more when the writer creates a new beast for me to add to my bestiary archives.

I‘m currently working with a couple writers who both have monsters in their books.  The human chomping freaks are terrifying and enjoyable to learn about.  One issue we have been sorting out together is how they can describe the monsters clearly.

This lack of description becomes a larger issue when you have spawned a new breed of monster.  When you say dragon, I know what you are talking about.  At the very least, I have an idea of what you are talking about.  But if you go springing an ancient force hell bent on sucking out my eyes and using my spine as a fiddle bow, then I need to some details.

writing monsters.jpgI recently snagged Philip Athans’ book, Writing Monsters, to help me find some creative solutions to provide.  By recently, I mean it came in the mail yesterday.  I sat down to read with a highlighter in hand and a notepad ready to jot down ideas.  My plan was to pull all the pertinent information from the book and compile a list the writers could use to beef up their monster description.  I hit page eight, and bang, there was a goldmine.

Athan had created a template called, “The Monster Creation Form.”  I’m not going to reproduce that simple, but genius, form here.  I think that level of borrowing would border on copyright infringement.  It did get me thinking about a similar form I used to play with a lot – a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) character sheet.  I’ve done a blog post on character sheets before, which has examples.  You can check that out here.  If your monster is quasi-human, you might be able to use one of the templates I provided there.

monster manual.jpgI also ordered the D&D Monster Manual (the version I linked).  I could remember a younger version of me flipping through one of these and marveling at both the written descriptions, variety, and artwork.  I figured the older version of me could use another point of reference.

After the euphoria of my Amazon impulse buy wore off, I began searching for D&D type templates to build monsters.  After some internet scouring I ended up right back here on WordPress.  I found a blogger, OldDungeonMaster, who has a literary ton of great D&D related materials.  One such item was a monster sheet for a Cranium Rat.  You can look at the image below.  I also linked this image to his/her page so you check out the rest their content (for you aspiring D&D players and Dungeon Masters).

cranium_ratI combined some elements from the monster sheet above, and some elements from Writing Monsters, and created my own Bestiary of Destiny.  You can use this template to sketch out your monster and assign elements.  While I’m no artist, I sometimes find even a crude drawing helps me better understand how something looks.  It helps pull the description out of the creative whirlpool in my head and give it shape.

Bestiary of Destiny

If you click the image it will send you to my Flickr page where I uploaded this image in higher resolution.  Print it in landscape and have some fun.  As with anything I create for the blog, it’s free to share and use for whatever nefarious purpose you have in mind.

 

Many times when I talk to writers about description, they know all the answers.  I’ll say something like, “It was great when Zolgorg the Mighty ate that guy.  What does Zolgorg look like when he eats someone?  Does he tear them in two and go into a blood frenzy, or does he carefully quarter them?”  Usually the writer will launch into a five minute description-fest explaining the ordeal in fine detail.

griffin.jpgWhen they wrote the scene, the information was clear in their head, it just didn’t make it onto the page.  In my own writing, having visual references (like character sheets and templates) reminds me to include those descriptions.  I make sure to stick the papers up on the wall in front of me, or somewhere I can see them.  This way when the time comes for juicy description, a glance at those papers zeroes me in on important descriptive elements.

If you are having issues being consistent with description, or generating a clear picture of what your monster should look like, I encourage you to try this tool.  Worst case scenario is you have a crudely drawn picture, but a clearer mental one.

 

Oftheunicorn.jpgThat’s it for today.  I hope you found some useful tools to create your own monsters here.  I’m sure as I continue reading through Writing Monsters some more nuggets of information will accumulate.  You can look forward to some posts about flesh chewing chinchillas and what not.

Do any of you have effective ways to create new and terrifying monsters?  Or know of good books on crafting monsters?  If you are willing to share I would love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Self-Editing: Fighting Emotion with Logic

locked.jpgYou’ve written your book.  The masterpiece has been marinating in a drawer (or buried on a hard drive) for weeks.  Somehow, you managed to not tear into it early, despite it whispering into your ear at night.  Let’s face it, you both needed some time and space from one another.

The time has come.  You unlock the drawer, or click the icon, and staring you in the face is months worth (maybe more) of semicoherent words. The manuscript gazes back at you with worried eyes.  It knows.  You are about to tear it to pieces.  Now the question becomes—will you tear yourself to pieces in the process?

Many people think writing a book is the hardest thing you can do.  Then an editor comes along and breaks your heart.  As an editor, telling a writer to cut something from the work is akin to telling them to sacrifice a cute little fuzzy kitten to the writing gods.  Much of this heartbreak would be avoided if writers would practice more thorough self-editing prior to submission to an editing service.

The goal of this post is to give you some basic guidelines to sharpen your self-editing chops.  Go grab the garden sheers and put on a rubber apron…this might get messy.

chainsaw

Print first—word process later. I believe in this concept so much I wrote an entire blog post about it (located here). Because it’s linked, I won’t go into this.  I do encourage you to give the post a glance if you haven’t seen it before.

Work big first, then get small.  We typically write our first draft in a hurry, tired, and running on three gallons of caffeine.  There are going to be large chunks of exposition and rambling.  They served their purpose.  The purpose was to help you continue writing and bridge gaps in the story.  Additionally, when we are writing the first draft we make assumptions about what is going to be important later on.  We tend to over describe certain items, places, and people.  Now that you know all the punchlines, it’s time to gauge their worth.

editing.JPGRoy Peter Clark in his book, Writing Tools, recommends that you, “Cut any passage that does not support your focus.  Cut the weakest quotations, anecdotes, and scenes to give greater power to the strongest.  Cut any passage you have written to satisfy a tough teacher or editor rather than the common reader” (p. 51).

It’s good advice, but it’s hard to follow.  The reason is emotion versus logic.

Here’s a real world example.  One of the people I edit for wrote a beautiful, page long description about a set of revolvers one his minor characters carries.  After reading it, I could picture every line and blemish on the them.  He told me he did extensive research to make them feel real, and it was truly great writing.  I bit my lip and recommended he cut it.

Why?  Well, it was placed in the middle of a heated interaction.  Everything was building, the action was coming, and boom—we interrupt this gunfight to bring you a dissertation on handguns in antiquity.  Worse even, the character wielding the pistols is only in the book for a handful of pages.

The takeaway here is this: no matter how slick the dialogue or description is, if it isn’t pushing the story forward, it’s got to go.  Your readers want to read your story, don’throw down roadblocks.

Redundant Meme

Get rid of all those redundancies.  I already wrote a post on redundant prose, so I won’t go into this too much.  The only additional piece of information I’ve found since then is an interesting rule.

This comes from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, written by Renni Browne and Dave King.  The rule is  1+1=1/2.  They explain that, “When you try to accomplish the same effect twice, the weaker attempt is likely to undermine the power of the stronger one” (p. 178). It’s a great tip and something to look for when you are going through with the hatchet.

Syllables—check those big words.  If you really want to wear your reader down, use words with a ton of syllables.  Conspiratorially.  Automatically.  Conversationally.  Many of these big beasts tend to be adverbs, but not always.  Look for those five-dollar words and ask yourself, Will the average reader know what it means?  Will something shorter work in it’s place?  Am I using this for effect?

Regarding effect.  I’ve heard this rationale used before,  “My character is a smarty pants so he/she uses big words in a condescending sort of way.”  Cool!  I’m all for it.  Just know there is only so much the reader can take.  Also, if this is the only tool you use to enforce this character trait, the character can feel one-dimensional.

measure twice cut once.jpgMeasure twice, cut once. Anyone who has done construction, or is a DIY weekend warrior, has likely heard this advice.  The concept is simple.  Ensure you know where to cut before you drop the blade.  I encourage you to do the same when you are self-editing.

William Zinsser, in his book On Writing Well, offers a brilliant bit of advice he developed while teaching his students at Yale.  “I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn’t doing useful work” (p. 15).

Writers who edit onscreen (using a word processor) have a tendency to prolong editing time because they are constantly doing the, backspace, rewrite, backspace, rewrite, tap dance.  A way to defeat this is to utilize the tool Zinsser is describing.

Print out the pages then read through them silently, and then aloud.  Go slowly through the words and decide what is doing work and what isn’t.  Be realistic.  Throw those words, phrases, and pieces of dialogue into brackets.  Once you are done, read the copy and omit the bracketed words.  Did it flow faster?  Was it smoother?

copy editing_2

[Editor’s Note]

This is a timely re-post for me as I recently reopened the first draft of my book up and started rewrites.  I can tell stepping away for more than a month (as painful as it was) has really opened my eyes to some major issues.  It’s a good feeling catching those mistakes now and knowing readers will never see them. I’m also glad to be back with Drake and playing in the wasteland.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for stopping by and reading.  As usual, I only scratched the surface.  Do you have advice or ideas you use during self-editing?  Please share them.  I’m always looking to toss more pencils into my writing toolbox.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Writing Tools: Book, Blurb & Collage

Writing Tools Collage.jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark. A great tool for any writer looking to hone their craft.  High-res version of the image is right here.

 

Another book read, another set of shiny pencils to toss into the toolbox.   Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark, is a book I would highly recommend.  The book provides you with, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (which is emblazoned on the cover).

writing tool book.jpgEach strategy is a chapter/section of its own, and I found them to be very easy to read and understand.  Clark uses examples from published works to emphasize points and support his writing.  The quotes I placed in the photo are some of the one-liners he provides at the opening of his chapters.

Additionally, this book offers some really interesting tools and tips to work through common issues writers face.  I have referenced his work in past blog posts—most notably his strategy for busting up clichés (located here).

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book is the sheer amount of well-written content.  Many of the non-fiction writing books I own have twenty chapters or so.  Some of those books stretch out concepts to fill space (at least that’s how it feels to me sometimes).  This book is very concise with information because it tackles fifty topics.

Topics range wildly but are organized into four main parts.  Starting with the basics of grammar, punctuation, syntax, style, and usage, the author then begins to build on those basics.  Showing you how to achieve effects with these rules and make them work with you.  The idea is you need know the rules so you can manipulate them.  I love this kind of thinking.

[Editor’s Note]

This book continues to be a staple for me both as a writer and an editor.  When I work with clients, especially when they are working with a new manuscript, I like to address issues with potential solutions.  This book is handy because the material is condensed and easy to share.  I’ve used the contents within this book more than once during video and phone conversations with clients to help them understand why certain things they are doing go against the grain.  I’ve also used it to illustrate stylistic opportunities they could take advantage of to enhance their story.  It seems easier for folks to accept advice when the viewpoint is reinforced by other professionals.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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