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.

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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Be sure to listen to IMPACT RADIO USA for upcoming author interviews and more!

IMPACT RADIO USA provides the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year. Launched in the spring of 2017, our goal is to keep you as the most informed Internet Radio audience.

As we are continuing to add content on a daily basis, please feel free to click on the “LISTEN LIVE” button to hear us 24 hours a day.

Beginning on Monday, July 3, 2017, “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” show will have live broadcasts 3 times per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 a.m.  Episodes will be repeated at 3:00 pm

http://www.impactradiousa.com/

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Author Mark Reynolds: Interview on the “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” radio program.

Chasing the Northern Lights

 

Author Mark Reynolds appeared on the “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” radio program on the new Impact Radio USA internet station to discuss his most recent book, entitled, Chasing the Northern Light.

According to Mark’s Amazon page: “Fearless twenty-something Carter Boyd is in love with life and the extreme thrills that it provides to him. When he thinks he’s tried it all, fate provides him with one more, perhaps final, opportunity that he simply cannot pass up–to actually pursue and catch a little-known virus, dubbed by its underground chasers as the “Northern Light”, that threatens the very life of its host within an indeterminate period of time. And yet, it contains psychic properties that come to bear as the virus manifests–properties that allow the recipient to see their “truth”, and to discover a way in life that leads them down the path toward their own perfectness. For Carter, who is already running from personal demons and desperately looking for an out, the draw to pursue it is too great. In the shadow of Carter’s quest, a military viral specialist and a United States Senator have been working a thirty-year-old secret agenda to keep it from spreading. Carter’s chase follows him through a series of life-changing experiences with help from unexpected sources that lead him to a final confrontation, one that might deliver him from what he fears the most to that which he never knew he could do without.”

In addition to discussing Chasing the Northern Lights, host Paul Reeves asked Mark about his current projects, two novels, a book for children in collaboration with his wife who is a photographer and will be illustrating the children’s story, and a screenplay!

You can reach Mark through his Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Mark-My-Words-Too-The-Mark-Reynolds-Author-Page-143155692767514/

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Be sure to listen to IMPACT RADIO USA for upcoming author interviews and more!

IMPACT RADIO USA provides the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year. Launched in the spring of 2017, our goal is to keep you as the most informed Internet Radio audience.

As we are continuing to add content on a daily basis, please feel free to click on the “LISTEN LIVE” button to hear us 24 hours a day.

Beginning on Monday, July 3, 2017, “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” show will have live broadcasts 3 times per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 a.m. 

http://www.impactradiousa.com/

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Chris Coling: The Fan Relationship

 

Hi again. I’m looking to kick off a discussion on the matter of the important people in our line of work, or calling, or whatever label suits your approach best.

They are the readers and fans.

When I first started writing I was unsure as to whether I should even aspire to having any.

Over the first few months, response to my first book was painfully slow, but I was content enough with simply having written.

Perhaps I should remind you at this point that I self-publish through Amazon Kindle and Createspace. I am no expert, so will solely talk about my feelings and end results.

I read a number of author’s forums, where I found a general wave of opinion that was against replying to reviews or in any way interacting with the readership at large, and one’s own readers in particular. It was almost as if there was some expectation of aloofness, and a general feeling of superiority amongst the authors posting their opinions on the matter.

To me, that was not only wholly strange, but also against the way I would normally approach matters so, typically, I went against the common feeling.

I decided to respond to each and every review, regardless of content or star rating, positive or negative.

Sometimes, increasingly so, my response consisted of a simple ‘Thank you for your comment’, but occasionally I entered into discussion with a reviewer. On a few occasions I rebutted wild and fanciful claims; on others I accepted criticism that was reasonably laid.

I confess, early on, I rose to a pair of trolls who were simply there to damage my ratings as much as possible.

Nowadays, I try to avoid spats.

Perhaps I was extremely fortunate that the vast majority of my reviews were good regarding the content and style, although my editing and grammar was always getting hammered.

I also decided never to get into discussion over another author’s work. Some ‘fans’ will want to compare and will seek to draw you into discussion. My simple view is that it is unhealthy to get into such matters, and I avoid them like the proverbial plague.

As part of the development of my series, I created a website and a number of Facebook groups, and slowly they started to see more and more traffic.

In the groups, more than the website, the exchanges were more conversational and relaxed, possibly because of the nature of FB itself, which encouraged more discussion on the books, as well as on peripheral matters.

It soon became apparent to me that, by engaging people already pre-disposed to enjoying my work, they would talk about their interaction and, to all intents and purposes, were spreading the word about my work.

As I said above, engaging with people is more natural to me than not, so I did not need to try and promote a good relationship between them and myself, or indeed, between each other. It is and was a natural progression.

I ran a few competitions, for books or promotional stuff, and the last an opportunity for the winner to become a character in one of the books.

Shortly afterwards I understood that was a fantastic way to further engage the fan base, and many of my readers are characters in the books, or have family members who appear, often in an historically accurate way.

By way of an example, I wrote a delicate piece on the moral turmoil that would be felt by a USAAF bomber crew on their way to drop an atomic device on an unsuspecting Japanese city.

I sought and received the names of their relatives who had served, and the whole of the fictitious crew comprised men who were once USAAF aircrew and who had served in WW2 or just after.

Whilst I undertook that enterprise for the right reasons, it undoubtedly boosted my popularity and broadened my fan base.

The basic point of this piece is to put over that, for me, interacting with my fans/readers/followers has been a wholly positive and beneficial experience. Indeed, quite a few are now considered friends. They have also occasionally been sounding boards for proposals or resolvers of some deep problems. Specifically, I had issues with a piece of American political writing, which was overcome in a group of my US readers, where we batted out the whys and wherefores. It meant I had to change a few things along the line, but was a wholly positive experience. They also subsequently saw their names in the credits, another way to get people on board.

You will and must do what you feel comfortable with. It’s your choice, and please don’t feel that you have to shy away from such contact, simply because some group or grandee has stated it is not the done thing. Similarly, don’t do it if you feel uncomfortable with the whole thing, simply because it worked for me.

As with all things for us authors, each writer has his or her own standards and needs, and each book has its own style and merits; advice and guidance is not one size fits all.

If you do decide to engage, clearly you will have to decide upon your own limits, and the checks and balances that you will apply, but I can only say that I have found the interaction with those who have read my books and taken the time to become members of my groups and website to be a thoroughly rewarding and positive experience.

I hope this has been of use to you and that it has started a thought process that will ultimately help you.

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Chris Coling is a retired firefighter and currently works at the local hospital. A part-time writer, he is presently working on his eighth and last book in an alternate-history series, with other ideas waiting in the wings. He writes for himself in the first instance but also enjoys the fact that his books are now read widely. He resides in England.

http://www.redgambitseries.com/

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Chris Coling: Designing a Quality Book Cover

Host note: In our continuing series of information on the writing process, we offer this thoughtful and informative article on designing a quality book cover.

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Hi, my name is Chris Coling and I’m one of the moderators for the writing group Writers Unite! I would like to promote a discussion about one of the most important parts of presenting your work to the public, namely the cover.

My writing name is Colin Gee, and I publish through Amazon on Kindle, and in paper through Createspace.

My credentials for this discussion are limited to being a relatively successful self-publisher who has been complimented on his covers; nothing more.

Admittedly, I spent quite some time on getting the concept correct [in my mind at least], involving research online and in bookshops, as well as driving my graphics man mad with tinkering.

The cover of your work is the first point of contact with a potential reader, and I believe an author should think long and hard about making sure that the initial contact draws the readers in, rather than pushes them away.

In my opinion, the cover is there to provide a strong visual clue as to the contents. I’ve seen books where the cover is a meaningless something that defies description. To me, no matter how nice it looks, or how much time it took to make, if it doesn’t offer up something about the contents of your work, it’s a waste of time.

I suspect most of us will start with the picture/graphic, against which we intend to set the other information.

This can be a dangerous area, as many images are legal minefields waiting to catch the unwary author.

My experience was helped by the genre in which I write, as there are many public domain photographs that are suitable. I also took my own photos and adapted them for purpose. Clearly, if you do that, then you know you are safe and sound and will not risk some legal interference later on down the line. Whatever you choose as your base graphic, exercise care and caution. That also applies to any other graphics you lay over the top.

Make sure you make the appropriate acknowledgments if you are using a work that is gratis, as some simply require that the owner/author be cited.

Having selected the right graphic, you can tinker with the presentation. Again, some pictures require that you record your alterations to the original.

You may decide to select a portion of a picture, rather than use the whole. It is important to remember that picture quality is very important and I would advise sticking to the original ratios to get the best display. If you cherry-pick a portion of a picture and then enlarge it, unless it is a super-duper HD image, you will lose definition.

In my case, the initial tinkering simply involved adding some colour to a B&W image. This also fitted in with my plan of using B&W images with coloured flags throughout, from different nations, using each cover to indicate which particular nation was the main protagonist within that book or was most central to the current story.

Perversely, that also backfired on me later in the series and my whole plan nearly fell apart. More of that down the page.

Adding extra images as overlays is no problem, provided you do it right. For my second book, my bro and I worked with some tank images, and trying to get the image quality the same as the picture on which they were mounted was a nightmare. I’m actually never really sure if we truly nailed it. If you’re just putting an object on the original, it’s less of a problem, but if you’re trying to incorporate an overlay into the original image, it certainly is. Be careful here.

My titles to date are all chess terms, and I use chess as a back theme on all the covers, by fading a chessboard down from the top. Chess is an important game to the Russians, which also helps create a certain feeling. I also incorporate a red chess piece. Red has a clear and unavoidable association within my chosen genre. More of the piece later.
Clearly, text style is a major decision for you.

My research in bookshops quickly led me down the road of solid gold text. There was simply too much of it on display to ignore. Plus, I actually liked it. At the time you read this, there may be a different style favoured.

I did decide to have more than one text type on the cover, but again, the research showed that was a reasonable decision, so long as everything was legible and there was no confusion between font styles.

The layout suggested itself and followed reasonably conventional lines.

Title in large text at the top, followed by smaller text with the series info and author name, or vice versa for some of the titles. This may not work for your book, and you can see a number of different presentations on Amazon or in bookstores.

With the text, if you elect for a solid gold as I did, it clearly risks obstructing something in the image you may wish to fall under the reader’s eye, so setting out your letters is important. Remember, with publishers like Createspace, there is a gutter zone into which you may not place any cover text. It’s simple enough to launch their cover creator and experiment with that.

The decision to state that each book was part of a series was one I never foresaw as having any issues. It seemed quite reasonable to me. However, some of my feedback on ‘Opening Moves’ suggested that had a reader known it was a series of books, they would not have bought the first one. Weird of course, as it stated clearly in the synopsis and on the cover that they were a series, but interesting from the point of view that some people don’t want to read a series of books. None the less, to my mind, it’s fair to let a potential reader know.

During all of this layout work, I tended to have a mind towards the rest of the series.
To me, certain uniformity draws the series together. I would keep the same/similar font, text positioning, style, and the chess hints throughout, so whatever I decided for the first cover had to be a style that transferred easily to those that followed.

One thing that bugged me during my research was the extensive use of flowery fonts by some authors, many of whose books were traditionally published. Yes, some look very nice indeed, but I would suggest that, if a potential reader cannot read the cover without deep study at close quarters, then you will already have lost the cover browser type reader who, put simply, will move on as they are unable to understand the basic words of your title.

Back to the chess piece. It’s a red queen. It’s also damaged. It was a major clue to the overall story, hidden in plain sight. I think that it wasn’t until book six came out that someone asked the question.

I incorporated the chess piece in the text [in the main,] occasionally in some other way. A bit-part character in book one is a Soviet intelligence officer who was wounded in the left foot. She, in the guise of the Red Queen, was sat on the front cover for the entire series. Whilst it was a risk, it certainly built up the ‘you’re a sneaky swine, Gee’ kudos with my fan base. Such things may not be for you, indeed you may not have a story that supports similar efforts, but I enjoyed doing it, and the one I got over on thousands of readers. Perhaps that was nothing more than hubris on my part?

One way I was very fortunate was in having a graphics man in the family, namely my brother, Jason. It might have been easy to just accept something, in order not to annoy someone who had already invested hours in doing something for you free of charge, but I always felt it was worth getting right. The forbearance he showed in doing a whole piece of work again, simply to move something a fraction of a millimetre, was astounding.

I hope you are similarly fortunate, but my point is, do not let the cover go forward until it is, in your opinion, the best it can be. I reiterate, your cover is the first point of contact and therefore your best chance of hooking a potential reader in.
Back to the flags. I used a national flag on each cover, placing them on roads or rivers, each conforming to the lines of the original photo. It worked well and without problems, until I place the US flag on a road, over which US soldiers were running and a US tank was advancing.

Fortunately, I tend to post the covers in advance on my sites. There were rumbles about using the US flag in such a way, and having men trample on it. There had been no contrary views when using the Tricoleur, the German flag and others previously. Suddenly I was faced with a possible destruction of my overall flag plan. Fortunately, the books had just moved to the forming of NATO, so I thought on my feet and used the NATO flag instead, which was considered acceptable. I guess the lesson there is that, despite your best laid plans, there is always something that lies in wait to bite you in the backside. I was very lucky to get away with it. I’ve attached the US version of the cover so you can see what the fuss was about.

The spine is important if your book is to be sold through an outlet, less so if sold through Createspace or similar, and completely unnecessary if sold as an e-book. I simply used different colours and text displays on my Createspace offerings, alternating between a dark and light colour spine, and contrasting text. I wanted the name and author to be clear and easily read.

The rear cover has no worth in an e-book, but is clearly important for Createspace and bookshop sales. Remember to leave space in your design for the barcode, and remember the gutter policy of the company you are using!

I have tended to use the synopsis placed online in Amazon as the text for the back cover. Seems reasonable to me. A word of caution on the picture you choose to go underneath that text. The writing is likely to be smaller so the picture cannot be too busy, or words will risk getting lost. The pictures I have employed have supported the general theme of the book in question, but have never been intended to do anything other than form a relevant backdrop to the text that describes the book’s contents. I have only ever used B&W photos on the rear covers, again to conform to the overall theme, and to make sure the text is clear and readable. I’ve included a single example to show you exactly what I mean.

You will now have a cover that you think is wonderful and extremely fantastic. Congratulations….. but….. Hold your horses, kemo sabay!

Show it to people you don’t know, without them knowing it’s yours. Friends and family can be notoriously unreliable when it comes to honestly and sincerity of feedback. I know from personal experience. Get opinions and listen to the criticisms. If you don’t get any of that, I will be very surprised. Someone may see something very basic that you, in your glee, have missed.

Please don’t let pride get in the way here. If someone else spotted it, take it on the chin and be happy that you have a better cover because of it.

Hopefully, by the end of your journey, you will then have a cover that is everything you hoped for, and that will entrap potential readers with its message.

If I have managed to give you some ideas, then that is great. If I’ve bored you to death, I apologise. This would have been 2077 words towards my latest tome… err 2085
Just remember to make good choices, and the best of luck with your covers.

Do feel free to critique my covers and destroy them openly! I’ll cope.

These are the covers of the books that are presently out. I include an example of a rear cover for your information, and the US flag version of ‘Initiative’ that was never used.

 

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Chris Coling is a retired firefighter and currently works at the local hospital. A part-time writer, he is presently working on his eighth and last book in an alternate-history series, with other ideas waiting in the wings. He writes for himself in the first instance but also enjoys the fact that his books are now read widely. He resides in England.

Writing Your First Novel Part Two: The Question of Genre

Writing Your First Novel

Part Two

The Question of Genre

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“Readers will stay with an author, no matter what the variations in style and genre, as long as they get that sense of story, of character, of empathetic involvement.”  — Dean Koontz

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From the first children’s book, comic book, or novel that we choose, we begin to develop our sense of what type of story we are drawn to read. For me, I was intrigued by mystery and science fiction at a very early age. In my teenage years, romance entered the mix, and I soon found that my favorite stories to read were combinations of these separate genres.

In Part One of the Writing Your First Novel, we discussed the importance of reading and how it impacts your writing skills. One of the strongest influences of reading is an enhancement of vocabulary. Many of us tend to use the same words in our everyday speech. Reading will expand your selection of words and enrich your writing. Reading also provides an awareness of sentence and story structure and correct grammar. Reading current work allows you to discover the latest trends in the genre can assist in helping you decide the focus of your novel.  Choosing popular works within a specific genre allows you to explore the latest trends and can help you decide the focus of your novel.

Merriam-Webster defines genre as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” Fictional genre is further categorized into specific topics such as romance, mystery, science fiction, historical, contemporary or young adult among others.

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“I had always wanted to be a writer who confused genre boundaries and who was read in multiple contexts.” — Jonathan Lethem

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The traditional brick and mortar publishing houses have long categorized novels into specific genre descriptions. Even though there are numerous sub-genres under those headings, a cozy mystery or detective novel will still be displayed under the ‘Mystery’ banner in a bookstore or library. Based on statistics and marketing plans, it proved easier to control the advertising dollar and consumer focus if novels fit a certain niche. Shelving of books in a retail store is coveted and easier to acquire shelf space for a book in the single mystery genre rather than one in the mystery/science fiction/romance genre. What area of the store do you place a book of mixed genre? It’s a publisher’s marketing nightmare.

That issue has changed considerably with the advent of on-line publishing and search hashtags which have allowed authors to market their works in multiple genres. When genre lines are blurred, the only limitation a writer has is their imagination. Shelf space is no longer a consideration when as Lethem says, “boundaries are confused.”

The question you should ask yourself is what genre do you feel comfortable writing. I have seen numerous writing ‘experts’ say you should write what you know. The problem for me is that I love science fiction and murder mysteries. But, I have never been in space, and I haven’t committed murder, so I don’t have those experiences to draw from when writing. Author John Grisham is a lawyer and his stories center on his experiences practicing law. Not all of us are afforded the luxury of writing with such skill sets. What do we do?

We read, read, and read more novels in the genres of our choice and we do the necessary research to provide plausible details to your writing.  There are certain patterns and expectations that exist within genres, and your reader will feel cheated if those characteristics of the genre are not present. A noir murder mystery novel needs to have a dark, sparse, gritty quality that you will not find in a cozy murder mystery.

The key, I believe, in successfully writing a multi-genre novel is balance. One of the genres chosen must be the primary focus of the story, while the other one, two, or more genres should support. For instance, I wrote a science-fiction/murder mystery/romance novel where the overall science fiction theme is the focus, the murder mystery is the vessel to deliver the story, and the romance builds tension as the two main protagonists, who are emotionally connected, face danger. Throughout the novel, any of these components may take the lead in scenes, but the story balance remains the same.

I do hold to the theory that any genre can mesh with any other, and the combinations may open new vistas for your readers. The fact is these genres are a measure of what can and des occur in our lives. While there may not be dragons in our real world, we have fears that manifest themselves as such and can be symbols within a story.

One thing to remember, throughout this process of learning to write you should also be writing. Details can be added or corrected in the editing process. The important task is to write and to write until the story is complete.

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Writing Your First Novel

Part Three:  To Outline or Not to Outline…. (Pants or No Pants)

Coming soon…

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Resources:

https:qute//www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/genre.html

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

 

Writing Your First Novel

One of the common questions asked by novice writers on our sister Facebook site Writers Unite! is “How do I start?” To help new writers with the daunting but fun task of writing, I have begun a series of articles on how to prepare writing your first novel.

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Writing Your First Novel

Part One

Read

 “Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”
― Neil GaimanThe Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You

All those words Gaiman speaks of rattle around inside of us. Eventually, the urge to allow them to escape becomes overwhelming. Time to write a story.

Fledgling writers come from all walks of life with a wide-ranging knowledge of the writing process. I remember my own experience when I decided to begin writing. Writing was not new to me, throughout my career I had written research papers, manuals, newsletters, speeches, and advertising copy.  However, crafting a fiction story was something I had not done since college. I recognized there was a lot to learn.

The question is where to start?  We can jump right in and begin to put words to paper or screen but are we providing ourselves and our future readers with the best effort we can make? Before we write, let’s explore the steps we should do to prepare ourselves to be good writers. Let’s begin with reading.

Read

What better than a book to fuel the imagination. One of my favorite quotes is from George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons:

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

Reading the works of others is fundamental to the writing process. Any genre and any author (even a not so skilled author) can provide you with useful information. I do recommend selecting best-selling books in the genre/genres that you wish to write in, as well. Successful works related to the story you want to write can provide you with trends and what the readers of the genre prefer.

What you do you as a new author gain by reading? There are several reasons:

Vocabulary:

Reading increases vocabulary by presenting words we may not hear or see on a normal day. A diverse vocabulary is a great asset for any writer by providing an enhanced collection of words that convey the meanings and emotions of your story. A large vocabulary also provides alternate word choices which improve your writing style.

Grammar:

Grammar rules are analogous to rules of the road. Authorities expect us to obey the speed limit, stop at red lights, and follow the other traffic laws. Otherwise, chaos ensues on the roads. The same is true for writing. Grammar rules provide a framework for writing a clear and concise story that a reader expects. When reading, pay attention to sentence structure, verb choice and agreement, how complex or simple the sentence are. You will begin to acquire a feel for the author’s style which can help you find your own.

Plot Structure:

Read to understand how the author constructed their story. How do they open their novel, what hook did they use to draw you into the story? Notice the author introduces their main and secondary characters, build tension toward the climax, or employ foreshadowing, plot twists? Learn what techniques work to provide the reader with an exciting and emotional experience.

Trends:

While you should read all genres for a better overview of style, you should also select numerous books within the genre that you wish to write in. Trends are not only for clothing, but genres are also subject to the latest fad or the focus of a best-selling author. Knowing what your potential reader might prefer when choosing a new novel. A word of caution, trends fade, and by the time your novel is ready for publication, some other trend may have taken your place. Write your story the way you want.

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In subsequent articles, we will look at these topics in more depth as well as other tools for the novice writer.

(Quotes: https://www.brainyquote.com/)

Writers Unite! Short Story Contest Winners!

Our FaceBook sister page Writers Unite! Short Stories hosted a contest in January 2017! We would like to present our winners.

The contest criteria:

Theme:  Love Conquer All

Genre: Open

Word Count: 3,000 words or less.

 

First Place:

The Girl With the Razzle-Dazzle Eyes by Milton Trachtenburg

https://docs.google.com/…/1NlKgkyQrq4_tBteGNQFx6xEKbT…/edit…

Second Place:

Paradise Beach by David Weeks

https://docs.google.com/…/1SHSTxf4bCz74_q1TlGPVdUzsmz…/edit…

Third Place:

Even From Behind These Walls by A.M. Ameenah M Hassan.

https://docs.google.com/…/14EKxFsSirU0k4TNDCE-n-4xrHM…/edit…

Honorable Mention:

A Mother’s Reflection by Leonie Hearn

https://docs.google.com/…/1_C5HyHW0rxl3M6btLBY-y4iDex…/edit…

Please join me in thanking our judges, Mandy Melanson, Dennis Takesako, and Dusty Grein. All excellent writers and all devoted to sharing their expertise with aspiring writers. I encourage you to visit their FB pages and author pages.

Also, special thanks to all who submitted entries. The judges were faced with a very difficult decision.

 

Deborah Ratliff: Radio Interview “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk”

Host Dr. Paul Reeves asked me back on the “Dr. Paul Family Talk” radio show this morning to discuss the phenomenal growth of the Facebook writing group, Writers Unite! and discuss our new blog, “Writers Unite!”  We also discussed the upcoming Writers Unite! Short Story Contest which will launch in January 2017.

When I first appeared on Paul’s show in July 2016, our Facebook page membership was just over 6,000. Today, November 28, 2016, we reached over 20,000 members.  An amazing accomplishment for a writing group barely a year old.

Here is a link to my interview. Hope you enjoy!

(https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/pwr/episodes/2016-11-28T13_43_14-08_00)

“Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” airs live each week on WNZK, 690AM, in the Detroit area from 11:00 a.m. – Noon Eastern Time. The show is also live streamed on Tunein.

 http://tunein.com/radio/WNZK-690-s21615/

Karl Taylor: Writer’s Block

It was fourth and goal at the opponent’s three-yard line. They trailed by four points. The game was on the line. The season was on the line. How this young man would be remembered in this small west Texas town would be determined on this play.

He called the play and they broke the huddle. The crowd on both sides of the field was losing their minds. The noise was deafening and he could actually feel the ground shake beneath his feet. He approached the line and had a look around. The game clock was running, 23, 22, 21. He looked over  the defensive formation. He liked the play they had called. He checked behind him to see that the tailback was in the right place. He looked to either side at the receivers. Everything looked good.  He checked the play clock, 12, 11, 10. The defense was yelling, barking and growling. They were doing anything they could to distract him. It was now or never. He barked out the signals and the ball was snapped. And? And? And?

Oh my! My brain froze up. Do I have him toss the ball to the tailback and watch helplessly as he runs for the corner of the end zone? Do I have the quarterback roll out and look for an opening to the end zone? Do I have him drop back and throw it to the frightened little freshman who was a water boy just two weeks ago? Does he fall back to pass and trip over his untied shoelace and fall flat on his face? Do I have him unleash a missile that sails high and hits the team mascot right between the eyes? Does he succeed? Does he fail?

So many choices and I can’t make up my mind. It’s a turning point in the book and my mind has gone blank. Do I make him a hero? Do I make him the butt of everyone’s jokes? Do I make him just a spectator? I’m stuck. I have no idea what to do next. Oh no! I have writer’s block and I have no idea how to break through. Three hours later, I’m still staring at the screen. My eyes can’t focus. I can’t read anything on my keyboard. My heart is racing and I want to scream at the top of my lungs. Writer’s block? Really? I thought it was just a myth.

Everyone on this planet has their own ways of doing things and if it works for them, then that is the right way, for them. I’m not Stephen King or Tom Clancy or even Dr. Seuss,  but I know what works for me and I wanted to share that with you, because for me, it’s my right way and might help you in some small way.

My first go to is to head straight for my bookshelf. I grab my favorite book by my favorite author.  I need him/her to take me away from this frustrating world I live and write in and make me forget it all for a while.

A lot of times, while I am reading, a little bell will go ding, ding, ding. My subconscious had been working on my problems while I was distracting myself and has come up with the answer. I just keep reading until that little bell goes off letting me know the answer has been found. If reading doesn’t inspire me then it’s on to stage two.

The second phase of my writer’s block strategy is pretty simple… writing prompts. If it is a picture prompt, I stare at it imagining I am in the photo. I can feel the breeze or the cold or the heat beating down, whatever is going on in the picture. I can hear the sounds surrounding me. I can smell the scents that surround me and I ask myself… what happens next? Then I will write a story from 100-1000 words.

If it is a written prompt, I’ll read it several times and close my eyes. I use my imagination to project myself into the setting that the written prompt describes. I take a look around and examine my surrounding and ask the same question… what happens next? Then I will write a story from 100-100o words.

It works best for me if the prompts are for genres that I don’t normally write. Horror and romance are two of my favorites. The idea is to kick start my imagination and creativity and a prompt that is out of my usual comfort zone is usually the best way to do that.

These two simple steps have never failed me. I hope they can work for you. If they don’t, the key is to find what does work for you. I wish you well and keep on writing.