All posts by thecoastalquill

There is definitely salt water flowing in my veins. The sound of waves rolling across a sandy, shell-covered shore has echoed in my memories since I was very young. The ocean spurs my imagination and created my yearn to write. I don't always write about the southern US or the ocean but neither are ever far from my heart.

Interview with Romance Author Parris Afton Bonds on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk

Host Paul Reeves and Parris Afton Bonds, award-winning author of more than forty published novels, discuss the impact she has had on the romance genre. As one of three best-selling authors of romantic fiction, she is the co-founder of and first vice president of Romance Writers of America, as well as, co-founder of Southwest Writers Workshop.

The Parris Award was established in her name by the Southwest Writers Workshop to honor a published writer who has given outstandingly of time and talent to other writers.  Prestigious recipients of the Parris Award include Tony Hillerman and the Pulitzer nominee Norman Zollinger.

Click here to listen:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/pwr/episodes/2018-01-16T04_01_23-08_00

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk airs live shows on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 am EST. (Repeated at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm EST)

IMPACT RADIO USA provides the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year. Broadcasts are repeated along with past shows and features twenty-four hours a day.

http://www.impactradiousa.com/listen-live.html
(click on the LISTEN LIVE button)

OR

Head straight to the audio by going to the following:
http://streaming.radio.co/sb17f7f4fa/listen

If you are interested in arranging an interview on the “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” show on IMPACT RADIO USA, please private message Deborah Ratliff on Facebook.

 

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Paul Reeves’s FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/paul.w.reeves.1

Parris Afton Bonds website: http://parrisaftonbonds.com

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Dr. Paul’s Family Talk: Guest Dr. Josh Duchan, author of “Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man”

Host Paul Reeves of Impact Radio USA’s Dr. Paul’s Family Talk program interviews author Josh Duchan about his newest book, Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man.

Click here to listen:  https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/pwr/episodes/2017-06-19T13_52_33-07_00

Dr. Joshua S. Duchan, professor of Music at Wayne State University. Dr. Duchan’s newest book, Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man was released last week and it sold out on the first day! (NOTE: Check for hard copy availability. Kindle downloads are available now).

From the Rowman and Littlefield website:

“Despite his tremendous success, Billy Joel’s gifts as a composer and commentator on American life are long overdue for a thorough investigation. In Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man, music historian Joshua S. Duchan looks at the career and music of this remarkable singer-songwriter, exploring the unique ways Joel channels and transforms the cultural life of a changing America over four decades into bestselling song after song and album after album.

(https://rowman.com/Page/RowmanLittlefield)

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Live shows air Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 a.m. EST  (Repeated at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. EST)

IMPACT RADIO USA provides the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year.

Click here to listen 

http://www.impactradiousa.com/listen-live.html
(click on the LISTEN LIVE button)

OR

Head straight to the audio by going to the following:

http://streaming.radio.co/sb17f7f4fa/listen

 

If you are interested in arranging an interview on the “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” show on IMPACT RADIO USA, please private message Deborah Ratliff on Facebook.

Happy New Year from Writers Unite!

A new year, a new start, always exciting!  All those New Year’s resolutions we make and sometimes keep!

If one of your resolutions was to begin to write or finish that short story or poem or novel, then join us at Writers Unite! on the web or on Facebook. Forty thousand plus members of Writers Unite! interact, discuss, mentor, and hone their writing skills on our Facebook site. We can help you keep at least one of your resolutions!

You can find us on WordPress at https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/.

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WriterUnite16  or Instagram: WritersUniteonInsta

We look forward to spending the next year writing with you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART Eight: Grammar

 

 “People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.” 


― B.R. Myers

 

When I was in elementary school, I cheated. I cheated when I was forced to participate in spelling bees. A pastime it seemed my teachers thought was the most fun a student could have. I didn’t. And no, I did not write words on my palms or sneak a peek at the teacher’s word list. I purposely misspelled words that I knew how to spell so I could stop playing.

Spelling was never fun. Science was fun. Spelling was tedious, science was exciting. The quicker we got through the English lesson, the quicker I could do a science experiment.

I managed to get by with my little scheme for a while but never try to outwit a teacher, it rarely works. She caught on, and I had to play without missing words she knew I could spell.

The truth is I did well in English and literature, but my focus was elsewhere, my loves in school were science and chorus. Consequently, my knowledge and skills in grammar arrived by rote, not by interest. I should have been wiser.

Grammar is the foundation of communication. Without proper grammar, our thoughts cannot be expressed except as incoherent ramblings or incorrect meaning. I learned the hard way that grammar mattered in all aspects of life.

As a college freshman majoring in a science discipline, I took my first exam in Microbiology 101, my major. I was certain I had done well, plus there were ten bonus points. When I arrived at the class lab the day following the test, the lab instructor informed me that my professor wanted to see me.

Entering Dr. Weaver’s cramped, dark office crowded with antique scientific equipment, I was petrified. Maybe I hadn’t done as well as I thought. He motioned for me to sit and then handed me my exam. I had gotten a score of 103. Relief washed over me, then concern. What had I gotten incorrect? I knew the material.

Dr. Weaver noticed my confusion and smiled, a rare thing for him to do. He told me that I had done very well, but he wanted to discuss what I had not done well. Spelling. He had circled a few scientific words but told me he did not count off for spelling those words during the first semester, everyone misspelled names of bacteria. I misspelled seven common words, and he took a point off for each one.

He explained that while I had an excellent grasp of the subject matter, I needed to understand that how I presented my thoughts would influence how people perceived my credibility. Words matter, and the grammar used to structure those words matter too.

Let’s look at one of the classic examples of how grammar affects the meaning of sentences.

“Let’s eat grandpa” vs. “Let’s eat, grandpa.”

I doubt anyone doesn’t see the issues with the lack of a comma in the first sentence. The reasons for proper grammar are obvious.

 

General Reasons to Practice Good Grammar

In general, proper grammar is essential to communication, which, as stated earlier, is vital to all facets of life. The above example concerning grandpa shows how we emphasize ideas conveys meaning. For our thoughts to be understood, they must be conveyed with clarity and precision.

In business or social situations, first impressions are important. We are often warned ‘not to judge a book by its cover,’ an idiom that cautions us not to judge people by their appearance when first meeting them. First impressions no matter how hard we strive to be unbiased do matter. Whether the first time someone meets you is in person or via the written word, how you communicate with them is a sign of your intellect and education.

Proper communication also provides credibility, crucial as you build a career or a personal relationship.

 

Grammar for the Writer

Ask writers for their pet peeves about grammar and the list is endless. Confused words, dangling participles, incorrect verb tenses, their vs. they’re vs. there are among the errors cited. Yet, ask these same writers if grammar is important when writing and the results can be confusing. The answer is often no.

One of the components of writing is referred to as the writer’s voice. According to the website Pub(lishing) Crawl, “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can be thought of in terms of the uniqueness of a vocal voice machine.”

This definition is why there are conflicts over how writers perceive grammar. We develop a unique manner of presenting our work. The voice we present to the world is ours and ours alone and at times, to impart our personalities we may break the rules. We may write a sentence of a single word or offer a fragment of a sentence for emphasis. Poetic license allows us to depart from convention.

A bit of liberty in writing complete sentences for emphasis is one thing, but we have discussed that grammar increases clarity of meaning and raises our credibility. These two concepts, one writing correctly and the other taking poetic license, seem diametrically opposed yet remain an issue of contention among writers.

My opinion is that dialogue can be written as people talk, in slang, in sentence fragments, keeping grammar deviations to a minimum. The narrative of a story, however, should follow proper grammar.

As important as these general reasons for using good grammar are there are specific reasons for writers to understand the value of communication.

  • The ‘experts’ who offer writing advice suggest that we write our first draft without concern about grammar or sentence structure. We should write to get the story out. Errors can be corrected on subsequent edits. I disagree. I think we should make a habit of using correct grammar from the beginning. The editing process is difficult enough without adding to issues that can be dealt with as you write.
  • You will be offering your manuscript for review by beta readers, editors, agents, and publishers. The novice writer with little experience needs to establish credibility. Sending a manuscript for evaluation with punctuation and spelling errors and poorly constructed sentences will not instill the confidence necessary to be taken seriously. That is not to say that any writer, regardless of experience, should submit a badly written manuscript at any time. They should not.
  • Many of us write simply for the pleasure of writing. The art of weaving words into a story brings a great deal of satisfaction. I suspect, however, that we also write for the pleasure of others. If we want our readers to become engrossed in our stories, root for our heroes, then give them a well-written book. If it isn’t well-written, it will be left unread.
  • The last reason to practice good grammar, respect for yourself. Writing a novel is not an easy task, but if you make an effort to create a well-written and well-crafted novel the results will be worth the time.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” 

― Dorothy Parker

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Resources:

http://ask.dailygrammar.com/Why-is-grammar-important.html

www.publishingcrawl.com/2013/06/24/literary-voice-developing-it-and-defining-it/

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/grammar

 

Joshua Mitchell-Taylor: Hiring an Illustrator

 

Our guest columnist today is children’s book illustrator and animator Joshua Mitchell-Taylor who is offering a guide for writers to understand the process of hiring an artist. His suggestions on what you need to know as a writer and how the creative process unfolds are invaluable for writers of any when searching for an illustrator.

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Hiring an Illustrator

By: Joshua Mitchell-Taylor

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(Illustration by Joshua Mitchell-Taylor)

I am a freelance children’s book illustrator and animator. During this past year collaborating with clients in various specialties of illustration, I have noticed that many potential clients struggle with finding the right illustrator for the job. Is it the amount of experience someone has, or their portfolio that speaks for them during the hiring process?

I have promoted my services as a children’s book illustrator for over a year now, and there are many questions that I receive from potential clients. Can you illustrate this style for me? How much do you charge for your services? Do you have a portfolio I can look at? How do I get in touch with you? Any illustrator would be able to answer all these questions. However, all these must be asked before a project can begin. That is where the negotiations take place and laying down the foundation to a successful working relationship.

The fields of specialty I can cover are character designs, graphics design, children’s picture books, comic books and many others.  Every project is unique in content and style. I remember my illustration tutor telling the class about developing your own style, and to an extent, I agree with this. What I also believe is that as an illustrator, you have to be ready to adapt to any style that comes to you. Allow an illustrator the chance to draw a character in the style you aim towards your project, as it will help you know if they are the right fit.

There can be arrangements made for how to tackle each task as the writer and illustrator. Communication is essential to any successful project. I talk with my clients via email about the projects we work on. Social media is another place that has grown more popular over the years to talk through, and I have recently discovered the potential of promoting my services there as well.

My recommendation to writers is thorough research into these aspects for your children’s books. Do you want an existing style of an artist that is already published? Do you prefer the artists’ personal style to tell your story? Is there a deadline needed for the book to be finished by the illustrator?  How is payment going to be sent to the various specialists to bring your book to life?  You won’t just have to think about hiring an illustrator, but also a publisher.

Once you have answered those questions, find out the process that the illustrator creates his/her work. Do they draw on paper and then use watercolours to give a more natural feel to the page? Is there a specific piece of software the illustrator works on? During my years studying Digital Animation with Illustration at Futureworks, Manchester, I began to piece together that the digital world was impacting more every day into the illustration and animation industries. Artists are exploring software such as Adobe Photoshop or Autodesk’s Maya for animation.

I utilise Adobe Photoshop to illustrate my ideas. However, before that I hand- draw my thoughts onto paper and scan the sketches in. It is very important to maintain regular communication between the illustrator/writer, during the developmental process. We collaborate and generate the best possible way to illustrate their idea, with a little constructive feedback. This will ensure achieving a successful outcome within the writer’s deadline.

There is something I read recently about the life of an artist “Who Pays Illustrators (And How Much), by Marianne Litman (25.10.2017)  It opened my eyes to what art should be valued at for producing children’s books. I understand that for a writer, the fees can get expensive. As an illustrator, calculating the man-hours for completing the client’s work, and settling on a final price, is done during the negotiations. The illustrator has to be able to change their prices but values their work to what they feel it is worth as well. On average I can achieve two pages of a children’s book, from sketch to digital, in one week.  The fees will also depend on the style the illustrator needs to work in. I can spend around 15 to 20 hours illustrating, sketching and any changes made on one page. Depending on the number of pages needed, it can take around 1 to 3 months per book to complete. It is always best to be realistic and work with the illustrator, in terms of the amount of work needed, to complete your project.

Personal Note:

I love to illustrate and bring ideas to life. There is a feeling an artist gets when they see their work go from a simple idea on paper to the finished project. Teamwork is important, to make a successful story come to life. Without the writers, children’s books wouldn’t be possible, so the duties are equally as challenging as an illustrator.

Here are a few quick things to consider before you hire the illustrator:

Can they work with the style you want?

  • How long will it take to complete each page?
  • How can I reach you if I need to get in touch?
  • Have a price in mind for your project, but be ready to negotiate a price as well.
  • Let the illustrator know if they will be credited in your book.
  • After looking through their portfolio, give them a chance to illustrate something for you. The artist could adapt to your chosen style.
  • Do you charge per project, or per page?

Here are a few things the illustrator needs to know:

  • How many pages are needed?
  • What style do you want to have the book illustrated in?
  • Are there any deadlines?
  • Do you have any contact details to get in touch?
  • How will payment be sent to the illustrator?

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My contact details

Email: GigglemaniaStudios1@aol.co.uk

My portfolio: https://jmitchelltaylor.wixsite.com/mitchelltaylor

 

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WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART SEVEN: POINT OF VIEW

Understanding POV is essential, or ought to be.

Arthur Herzog

When we pick up a book to read, we expect to become lost in words, feel as if we are part of the unfolding events. How we participate in those events is up to the author and the point of view the author has chosen.

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

— Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

The opening paragraph of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep is considered one of the consummate openings in literature. Immediately, you know a great deal about the main character. A private detective who is “neat, clean, shaved and sober, which indicates he is often not and that he is meeting a wealthy individual, likely a client. This paragraph also indicates that you are going to experience the story through his eyes.

Point of view is defined by “Literary Devices” as “the angle of considering things, which shows us the opinion, or feelings of the individuals involved in a situation. In literature, point of view is the mode of narration that an author employs to let the readers “hear” and “see” what takes place in a story, poem, essay, etc.”

Point of View Syles

First-person:

“First-person narrators is the way I know how to write a book with the greatest power and chance of artistic success.”

― Anne Rice

The paragraph from The Big Sleep is an example of writing in the first-person point of view. We are experiencing the events through the eyes of the main character or at times, a secondary character, who is also the narrator.

We see what the narrator sees, only witnessing the actions of others but never knowing the thoughts of other characters unless they choose to disclose their thoughts through dialogue.

There are advantages to using this form of view. For the reader, it allows an intimate feeling with the character, you see, sense, smell, taste, what the character does. As a writer, the connection is personal, the character becomes an extension of your own persona. You see the events through your own eyes, tell the story in your own words. There are fewer filters as there would be if the writer were observing another character as in Third-person POV. In first-person, the character can express the thoughts they are feeling directly to the reader and provide exposition directly though memories.

While there are advantages to first-person POV, there are also disadvantages. The reader can never be certain of the narrator’s motives. Is this character being truthful, is there bias in how they think, are they providing the entire story.  The “unreliable narrator’ could misdirect the reader from the truth. It is also difficult for the reader to learn about the narrator’s description, not always necessary to the story but there are components of a character’s description that could impact a story.

This POV also presents only one side of the story, preventing both the reader and writer from seeing a broader view of the story and what the other characters are thinking. To capture the essence of the character, the writer must take care and skill to present the voice of the character, their mannerisms and how they speak to convey their personality to the reader. Another interesting aspect is that the reader will assume the narrator will survive the story which reduces the suspense.

One other note about first-person POV is that this style lends itself well to short stories where the impact of a single point of view can be effective. However, it takes a skilled writer to create a character strong enough to carry the entire story.

Some examples of novels in first person POV, in addition to Chandler’s The Big Sleep are Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises, and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Second Person Point of View:

Rarely seen in fiction novels, second-person POV is prevalent in non-fiction writing, especially instructional or how-to manuals, and in advertising. In fiction, the narrator is telling the story to the reader as if the reader is the main character.

Ginny Wiehardt, in her article on website thebalance.com, describes second person as “from the point of view of a narrative onlooker who is writing about you, the reader: ‘You went to school that morning.’”

While it is true that the reader will feel as if they are the subject of the story as it is directed at them, creating a storyline and characters to maintain the focus of the narrator is extremely difficult.

An example of second person in fiction is found in Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Also called metafiction, this type of writing breaks the so-called fourth wall of theater or film by allowing the reader to be aware they are reading fiction. The first paragraph from Calvino’s work:

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, ‘No, I don’t want to watch TV!’ Raise your voice – they won’t hear you otherwise – ‘I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!’ Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: ‘I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!’ Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

Unique to say the least and why second- person POV is used in instructional manuals and advertising where the writer wishes to have the reader be the focus. The phrase “You first measure two cups of flour,” or an advertising slogan such as Hallmark’s “When you care enough to send the very best” or Nike’s “Just do it,” are examples.

Third-Person Point of View:

By far the most popular point of view used by writers and the most familiar to readers is third-person. This point of view detaches the narration from the characters and readers and is the most objective of all the points of view. Characterized by third-person pronouns, he and she, or by use of the characters names, readers are on the sidelines and not participating in the story only watching the events unfold from several perspectives.

There are sub-groups within the third-person point of view, the omniscient and the omniscient limited.

Omniscient is the “all-knowing” narrator who is aware of the thoughts and feeling of all the character. This narrator is the most objective (first-person the least) POV and therefore, trustworthy.

Example of Omniscient POV: (From Literary Devices.com)

Little Women (By Louisa May Alcott)

“Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt … Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression, which was seldom disturbed … “

“Alcott uses an omniscient narrator, as we hear a disembodied voice knowing everyone’s feelings and thoughts, exploring all characters from inside and out. Here, the narrator gives a description of the March sisters.”

Limited Omniscient is the third- person POV that can only share the thoughts and feeling of one character at a time.

Example of Omniscient POV: (From Literary Devices.com)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (By J.K. Rowling)

Harry had taken up his place at wizard school, where he and his scar were famous … but now the school year was over, and he was back with the Dursleys for the summer, back to being treated like a dog that had rolled in something smelly … The Dursleys hadn’t even remembered that today happened to be Harry’s twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn’t been high?”

“Rowling employs omniscient limited narrator voice, in which readers see what Harry observes, and know what he feels and thinks. They are, however, unable to follow what the Dursleys feel or think about Harry.”

Third-person omniscient is a powerful tool for an author and provides the richest experience for the reader. Knowing all of the information available allows the reader to connect with the characters interaction and become more involved in the story’s plot.

This POV does have one drawback, it does not provide the intimacy between the character and the reader that first-person POV does. It falls on the writer to create that relationship.

Deep Point of View

There is a relatively new (if you consider twenty years new) point of view being used increasingly in the self-publishing world.

Deep POV is third-person limited but takes the reader even deeper into the head of the character. It is designed for the reader to feel and see the story directly through the eyes of the character. This POV grew out of the show vs. tell movement where showing what is happening to the character is emphasized rather than simply telling the reader what is happening.

Dialogue tags and phrases like he thought or felt or saw are eliminated from this point of view which increases the intimacy with the reader.

Examples:

Third-person –

“Melissa reluctantly stuck her hand into the pouch. She thought that there was no way she could back gracefully out of the dare. She wiggled her fingers around. She felt slime ooze between them.”

Deep POV –

“Melissa reluctantly stuck her hand into the pouch. There was no way she could back gracefully out of the dare. She wiggled her fingers around, wincing when slime oozed between them.”

There is some debate regarding the use of deep POV and changing POV’s within the same scene. I know of an author who can accomplish that skill masterfully and doesn’t appear to be head-hopping. However, most experts recommend not to change POV in the same scene.

One of the best testimonials about deep POV I have read is from romance writer Michele Sayre:

“For me, Deep POV removes any sense of someone standing around telling the readers what’s going on. Instead, the reader is seeing what’s happening in the scene along with their thoughts and feelings.

I use Deep POV, which is third-person because I like the freedom to switch POV in a scene if I feel the need to. In first-person, I would have to have a scene break to switch POV, and that would throw off the pace of a scene for me. Also, since Deep POV is a limited POV (in that the reader only knows what the character knows in that particular scene), it can prevent info-dumping like you might see in an omniscient-type POV. So for me, third-person limited Deep POV keeps the pace up, info-dumping out of the way, and completely brings the reader into the POV character without any authorial input.”

Regardless of the point of view, you choose to write in, there is one very important consideration. Maintain the point of view that you choose throughout the entire piece. The greatest loss of credibility for a writer is to confuse the reader is to switch points of view within a story. Consistency is the key to a clear point of view and a satisfied reader.

 

“Consider the difference between the first and third person in poetry […] It’s like the difference between looking at a person and looking through their eyes.” 
― Diana Abu-JaberCrescent

 

Resources:

http://josephbentz.com/blog/publishing/creating-a-perfect-opening-for-a-novel-raymond-chandlers-the-big-sleep/

https://literarydevices.net/point-of-view/

https://connectusfund.org/11-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-first-person-narration

https://www.thebalance.com/the-second-person-point-of-view-in-fiction-writing-1277131

http://study.com/academy/lesson/second-person-point-of-view-definition-examples-quiz.html

http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-writing-in-second-person.html

https://www.thebalance.com/third-person-point-of-view-1277092

 

Deborah Ratliff: The Art and Craft of Writing

While reading a book review by Parul Sehgal on the book Draft # 4, On the Process of Writing by John McPhee in the New York Times, I came across a line that gave me pause.

“…perhaps writers wax about craft because it’s the easiest part of writing to talk about. It’s much harder to account for the flashes of inspiration, the slant of seeing, the appetite for the world — to know it down to its core…”

As a member of an admin team for one of the largest writing groups on Facebook, we strive to provide our nearly forty-thousand members with pertinent information on the writing process. We conduct workshops on genre, grammar, character development, point of view, and other skills with the intent of offering our members a foundation to build their stories upon.

There are a plethora of workshops, seminars, web pages, articles, and books dedicated to the craft of writing all designed to make us better writers. These are all mechanical tools. We worry about whether the verb tense agrees, have we used certain words too often, did we slip into the wrong point of view? Necessary concerns for the process of writing for we must know how to construct a novel.

Yet, the technical aspects are not enough. There is one very important component to writing, and without it, the words are meaningless. I was in a writing group once with a woman who fancied herself quite the writer. Reading her work, it was flawless, the perfect sentence structure, not a comma out of place, the proper rise and fall of action, the perfectly written novel. Only one problem, it was emotionless. Flawless technically but emotionally void. It lacked passion and passion comes from inspiration. Inspiration is the art of writing.

Merriam-Webster defines inspiration as “a: divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation, b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions; c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions.”

Often inspiration manifests itself in the word muse. In ancient Greece, the nine Muses were the providers of inspiration for creativity among artists and philosophers of the times. Over the centuries, the word muse has become a symbol of inspiration.

The muse of today can take many forms. Surveying a group of writers from all levels of ability uncovered a variety of sources the writers turned to for ideas. Many writers spoke of music, an image, a broken toy, a wooden box having inspired them. One describes the sights, sounds and smells from a brightly lit carnival framed against a dark sky, all sparking a thought leading to a story idea. A teacher stated that introducing his students to the literary masters inspired him to write.

Inspiration is a process of immersing yourself in your surroundings and opening your mind to new ideas. Simple enough it would appear, yet there are hundreds of tips on how to increase creativity available on the Internet. Everything we can touch, smell, or see can be the inspiration needed to spur our writing.

The fact is these are only stimuli to prompt an idea. I believe there is a deeper concept at work when discussing creativity in writing.

If we return to the quote that inspired this article. Sehgal’s book review of McPhee’s Draft # 4 mentioned the the flashes of inspiration, the slant of seeing, the appetite for the world.”  It is the world we paint with words, the impact that we leave with our readers, in addition to the inspiration we gather along the way.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote an essay in 1850 called, The Philosophy of Composition, in which he discusses how good writers write well. He writes,

“There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis — or one is suggested by an incident of the day — or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative — designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.”

Poe is making the same argument that Elif Batuman made in “The Possessed,” her study of Russian literature regarding the notion that writers focus more on the craft than the art of writing.

“All it had were its negative dictates: ‘Show, don’t tell’; ‘Murder your darlings’; ‘Omit needless words.’ As if writing were a matter of overcoming bad habits — of omitting needless words.”

Poe argues that to be great, literary works should be short in length (thus his penchant for poetry and short story). The writing must be well-crafted as there is no argument that the craft of writing must be precise and correct. However, his third element, a “Unity of effect,” represents the creative spirit of the work and comes before all other components.

In his essay, Poe states an author must know the ending of the story and the emotional impact he or she wishes to convey before beginning to write. Only then can the writer properly decide the “tone, theme, setting, characters, conflict, and plot.” It is this effect that impacts the reader and allows them to feel the emotion the author intended. It is the power of the words to convey a broader meaning.

Writing is more complicated than it initially appears to not only readers but those who choose to write. As Poe stated, most authors would “positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes… at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair… at the cautious selections and rejections.”

To write, we must be open to the inspiration around us, take our cues from whatever source available. We must also know the craft, the show vs. tell, the proper grammar, the art of foreshadowing, all the mechanical parts that create a story.

However, Poe’s “Unity of effect” provides the most valuable component. It is the ability to create a mood, to make a reader laugh, or cry, or flinch in terror. It is the ability to paint the image in a reader’s mind with words as if painting on canvas for the eye to see. It is the lingering thoughts, joys, doubts left when someone reads the last sentence. It is the intangible quality of the author’s intentions and how each reader perceives intent that divides a forgettable story from an unforgettable one.

When you begin the process of writing, and your muse has spoken, and a story idea is swirling in your head, do not forget to consider first what you want your reader to take away from your writing. It will make your story greater.

 

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Resources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/books/review-draft-no-4-john-mcphee.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FWriting%20and%20Writers&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=collection&_r=0

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inspiration

https://www.eapoe.org/works/essays/philcmpb.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Philosophy_of_Composition

 

WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART Six: Building your world

 

“One of my challenges [as a writer] is to make sure that I’m giving the reader details that the character cares about rather than details that I care about. I’d say that’s key to world-building.” 

― Jessica Andersen

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One of the joys of reading, and there are many, is becoming lost in the world the author has created. One moment you can be in your familiar environment and the next, transported to an alien world, a medieval village, or a busy city street in present day. My favorite quote about writing is one by the author of The Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R. R. Martin,  A Dance with Dragons

A thousand lives. Indeed, we can live a thousand lives within wonderful and unique environments created in a writer’s imagination.

One of the most important aspects of writing a novel is presenting the world in which the story takes place. Often the setting a writer creates provides the framework for a story, but at times can be an integral part of the plot. Offering a detailed world that your character will inhabit enhances your reader’s enjoyment.

There are three basic world building categories, the Imaginary World, the Alternate Reality World, and the Real World.

The Imaginary World:

The most common world building takes place in the fantasy and science fiction genres. Two of the most famous worlds created in these genres are Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. Two different worlds, both complex and memorable and totally alien to the world we live in, yet as we will discuss later in this article, elements of the familiar remains.

Your first step in creating your world is envisioning the society you want to portray. Once you establish that concept, it is time to create your world. The number one rule I try to follow when writing is to keep my story plausible. To do that when you are creating a world you need to establish familiar characteristics.

Let us use a science fiction story as a model and consider some questions to identify your world.

  • Where are you in the universe? Are you in a binary sun system or on a moon? Is there a nebula filling your sky?
  • What is the climate? Is your planet arid or covered in vast oceans?
  • What do the inhabitants look like? What do they eat? What are their values, their customs, their clothing styles?
  • Describe their government systems. Are the people agrarians or industrialized?
  • Do they value education? Do they love music and art?
  • Are they peaceful or warlike?

There are many sites online that provide templates with questions like the ones above to help you define your world. Remember, however, that many of the elements that you choose for your world should not appear in your story unless pivotal to the plot. Focus on the aspects that drive your story and add other pertinent descriptions as warranted.

The fantasy and sci-fi genres can also collide with reality, and one of the most popular examples is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Set in England, both the modern-day world and a magical realm exist together. The contrast between reality and fantasy allows the reader to relate to the story.

“Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.”

― M. John Harrison

 

The Alternate Reality World:

Another type of world building is creating alternate realities. Dystopian and Utopian novels, subgenres of science fiction, and alternate history falls into the alternate reality category. These stories occur in recognizable environments where a single event changes the path of history.

The what-if scenario of alternate reality fiction explores the mistakes and the triumphs of mankind’s history, offering insight into what could have happened if reality had taken a different path.

  • What would have happened if the outcomes of the World Wars had been different?
  • What would the consequences have been if certain evolutionary events had not occurred?
  • What if aliens had visited or a climate altering asteroid hit the planet?

What is extremely important in this category of world-building is the establishment of historical references. If you are going write about the outcome of a World War, you must do the research and know the facts about the war to the point where you make that change. Following that event, you should maintain as much reality as you can to add credibility to the story.

Dystopian, utopian, and post- apocalyptic fiction has become very popular with many written in the young-adult genre. These stories take place after a major catastrophe or event has occurred leading to totalitarian or environmentally degraded systems or in the case of a utopian society, idealistic. While most of these stories will reference the catastrophe that befell the society but in the case of some stories, the events are at times never revealed. As the writer, you should decide how much information you give or keep from your reader and how it will affect your story.

 

The Real World:

All other genres fall into this category. This is the world as we know it. You choose a real location for your stories often for a certain ambiance or familiarity that you want to convey. The more familiar you are with a location, the small town you grew up in, where you went to college, or a place where you lived for many years, the easier it will be to transport your reader into the environment.

You have choices, you can set your story in a real locale or a fictitious town using the knowledge of the community. When using real communities, the use of accurate landmarks offers reference points for your reader to gain a sense of place. It is advisable not to use the names of commercial enterprises or professional services to protect privacy.

If you choose a locale you are not familiar with, say you want to set a story in Colorado at a ski resort, but you have never been skiing, then you must research the area. The optimal way to conduct research is to pack your bags and visit the location, but that is not always practical. Fortunately, we now have at our fingertips the magic of search engines on the Internet. Use those search engines, use YouTube, use Google Earth’s street view to explore the setting. It might not be the same as being there, but these invaluable tools allow you to describe the story to your readers and make them feel as if they are there.

A note about historical novels, readers of this genre are often very well versed in the era they enjoy reading about. It is imperative that you research such things as clothing, food, transportation, music, mores, weaponry, vocabulary, any nuance of your story. If you cannot verify an item or word, etc. you wish to write about, do not mention it. It will only discredit your work.

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World building provides the canvas for your story, but you should remember that your setting is as important as the story and characters that you create. In some novels, you may need only the sense of an urban setting or a small-town ambiance, for another, you may need the power and danger of a mountainous terrain or the vastness of a stormy ocean. Regardless, give your reader what you see, hear, taste and smell when you think about the locale you have chosen and how that makes you feel. Do not tell, show, be descriptive, let them smell the fresh bread from the bakery, feel the cold, icy snow, hear the sirens or the dogs barking.

Balance these three components, story, characters, and setting, and you will capture your reader’s imagination.

 

“I’m not going to tell you how to start a bug-powered vehicle, I’m just going to put you inside one with somebody who knows how, and send you off on a ride.” 

― Kameron HurleyLightspeed Magazine, October 2013

 

Resources:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/408441-a-reader-lives-a-thousand-lives-before-he-dies-said

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/

WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART Five: Creating Unforgettable Characters

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing

 

A playwright in a local writing group I attend posed an interesting question. He wanted to know what the group thought attracted readers to read the same authors repeatedly. The consensus reached was that we return to our favorite authors because they give us characters we identify with, cheer for and care about.

Think about a series of books you are fond of and consider what brings you back every time that author publishes a new novel. I’m certain the genre is appealing and likely the author writes well and is entertaining, but many authors are as well. I think one of the main reasons we favor certain authors is the characters they create.

Harry Bosch, Jack Ryan, Kay Scarpetta, Sherlock Holmes, Dirk Pitt, Eve Dallas, Travis McGee.

These characters and countless others are part of our lexicon. They become important to us and remain with us long after we have read the first or the last novel of the series. My father handed me my first John D. McDonald book featuring the character Travis McGee when I was sixteen, telling me I would learn about life from McDonald’s words. I cannot tell you how many times I have read each of the twenty-one novels in the Travis McGee series over the years. A self-identified beach bum and salvage operator, McGee was more than that. He was a believer in justice, respected women, hated drugs and drug dealers, greed, and corruption. A modern-day Robin Hood who helped those who could not fight the system, a characteristic of many of the characters we embrace.

As a mystery writer, many of the names I have listed above are old friends, and while I do realize they are not real, their familiarity from novel to novel allows that suspension of belief we need to immerse ourselves in fiction. These authors make their characters unforgettable and so should we.

First Impressions

The first time we meet anyone we form an immediate impression, despite knowing we should not judge a person until we get to know them better. But we do, and your reader will form an opinion of your characters when they first meet.

As we discussed in Part Four of our series, “Plotting Your Story,” you should introduce your main character, or protagonist, as soon as possible in your first chapter. If you want the reader to become engaged in the story and read until the end, then make your protagonist compelling. Give your readers a reason to like the character, to feel empathy for them, for their plight.

You should introduce your main character quickly and important supporting characters within the first chapter, even if only by name, not appearance. Your protagonist should be alluded to even if not present in the first chapter. Let your readers see who they are rooting for and who they are not.

 

Types of Characters in a Story:

 

The Protagonist

Your story revolves around this character and your readers’ interest will, as well. As we discussed, you must define them clearly and quickly. This character is your story, he/she must define the plot and be the focus of the central action of the story. The conflict that exists in the story is what this character must face and ultimately make a choice on how to deal with. Put you protagonist in peril throughout the story to involve the reader in their plight.

 

The Antagonist

The villain is the foil for your protagonist and the source of their conflict. Introduce the antagonist early as you would your protagonist. However, you may introduce their evil deeds first and, dependent on the genre you are writing in, have them appear in the story or reveal their identity as the antagonist at an appropriate time.

 

Secondary Characters

All character’s other than your protagonist and antagonist fall into this category. These characters can play a pivotal role in the story or serve a role in a transitional scene, a clerk or service technician, a doctor, any role you need. The role of side-kick falls into this category, and these characters need development to convey the level of importance they carry in a story. Keep in mind, even the most mundane of characters is an opportunity to enrich your story. A taxi driver might appear briefly in one scene, but you have the choice to make that character memorable.

 

“There are no hundred percent heroes.” — Travis McGee, Cinnamon Skin, 1982, by John D. MacDonald

Making Your Characters Unforgettable:

  • Appearance: As you write your characters, no doubt you will know exactly what they look like. The question is how much of that description do you impart to your readers. There are two schools of thought, describe your characters the way you want your reader to see them or allow your reader to imagine them as they choose. Whatever you decide, do not throw out an ingredient list identifying characteristics. Incorporate those characteristics into dialogue or the character’s internal dialogue as your story unfolds. If you do intend on revealing hair color or any other feature, do so within the first chapter. If you tell your reader in chapter five, your character is a brunette, and your reader thinks redhead, their connection with the character could be destroyed.
  • Background: Your characters origins, place of birth, ethnic background, ancestry, education, career choices, sports participation, hobbies, etc. can all play a role in their development. What did their parents do for a living, what unusual events occurred to impact their lives, what childhood pets did they have, all impact who they are.
  • Communication: How do they interact with people? Is he friendly, curt, argumentative? Do they have an accent, special words, or phrases that they use that shows their personality and makes them unique? What does their voice sound like? What is their internal thought processes?
  • Relationships: How do they interact with family and friends? Do they make friends easily, are they awkward in social situations? Do they genuinely like people, are they shy?
  • Goals: Decide what do your characters want. What are the goals, desires, need that you should address in your novel to move the story to its conclusion. Stories are based on conflict, and you need to show how that conflict interferes with their goals and how to resolve the issue.
  • Flaws: Do remember that your characters do not need to be perfect. While Hollywood prescribes that all characters must be handsome or beautiful, the fact is real life doesn’t look like that. Give your MC a scar, have them throw a temper tantrum, have them drink too much or hate dogs or apple pie. Let them complain about their weight or their cousins. Make them real people.

 

There are some things to avoid.

  • All those classic boys/girls next door, the dumb sidekick, the brave solitary cowboy, doting mothers, rough Marine drill sergeants, all those stereotypes we have come to expect, don’t use them. Do not write the expected, give your reader a character that is unique.
  • Do not create simple characters. Give them dimension. You have a cast of characters that should be interesting. While you will focus on developing your main characters and those secondary characters that are important to the story arc, don’t forget to humanize your minor characters. Make them stand out, give them a funny line or a unique attribute. If you cannot make them real, don’t use them as placeholders to take you to the next scene, cut them from the story.

 

How do you create these characters?

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

― William Faulkner

Story coaches and experts will tell you that writing a character biography down to shoe size and favorite dessert along with a list of books they’re read is the only way to properly develop your characters. There are numerous character development sheet templates available online if you choose to microscopically dissect their personalities. There are some authors who write a multi-page biography before they commence writing their novel.

Then there are writers like me. I think of my story arc, imagine the character, give them a name and start typing. They will tell me their likes and dislikes as we experience the story together.

Again, as in all things writing related, choose what works for you. The main thing is to remember to create multidimensional main and secondary characters that enrich your stories and propel the plot to its conclusion.

 

“I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.”

― Berkeley Breathed

 

Resources:

https://www.mysteryscenemag.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3055:are-travis-mcgee-and-john-d-macdonald-still-relevent-&catid=54:reviews&Itemid=187

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/characters

AUTHOR DUSTY GREIN: INTERVIEW ON THE “DR. PAUL’S FAMILY TALK” RADIO PROGRAM.

From the Tacoma/Seattle, Washington area, author Dusty Grein recently appeared on the show, “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on the Internet radio station, Impact Radio USA to discuss his book, The Sleeping Giant.

Sleeping Giant Grein

From Dusty Grein’s Amazon page: “10-year-old psychic twins Danny & Becca Brock must somehow save their family from impending doom. Join them and the other residents of their small town in the week leading up to one of the largest natural disasters in history. Mount Rainier, the tallest volcano in the continental U.S., has stood silent watch over Seattle and the Puget Sound area for millennia. On a clear September morning, something deep inside the heart of the sleeping volcano shifts. For the Brock family, and the millions of residents who live in the mountain’s shadow, life is about to change forever, and the unimaginable is about to occur. This book is a work of fiction, but it takes place in very real locations. More than 3.5 million people live in the metropolitan area along the eastern edge of Puget Sound, in Washington state. They live work and play in the shadow of one of the largest and most dangerous volcanoes in the United States. At 14,400 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington State, and is blanketed by no fewer than 26 glaciers, holding more snow and ice on its slopes than all the other volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain range combined. When this volcano erupts, (and scientists tell us that it WILL erupt, eventually) it will be one of the largest natural disasters in recorded U.S. history.” You can also learn about Dusty’s anthologies, his blog, his poetry, and his other works throughout the broadcast.

Dusty Grein can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/DustyGrein/

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