Books Read in August 2021 (a.k.a. What to Do When You Can’t Afford Writing Courses)

I could be the poster child for how hard it is to learn the art and craft of fiction writing. It requires not only reading good fiction to see how certain things are done well but also lots of study and practice.

My first blog every month is traditionally about some of the books I read the month before. Usually, I’ve read five or more novels and I’m eager to write about them; however, in August I concentrated on reading books about the art and craft of writing fiction.

Not being able to afford to take the best writing courses in August, I prioritized the books I needed to read to bone up on such things as characterization and emotion in fiction. Between the books I had purchased through the years (most of them used books or inexpensive e-books) and the books I could borrow from the public library, I identified 18 books and two workbooks I wanted to work through before I attempt to finish polishing the historical novel I’m writing.

In August, I read the following books about the art and craft of writing:

Making It in Historical Fiction, by Libbie Hawker;

Writing Deep Point of View, by Rayne Hall;

Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View, by Jordan Rosenfeld; and

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman (pertinent chapters);

Breathing Life into Your Characters, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

Also, I’m about 50% through Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D. I’m working through a few pages each day and doing the many writing exercises provided. It has helped me immensely in rewriting and expanding my characters’ biographical sketches.

Online Sources

There are also many free resources online. There are bloggers with much more writing experience than I who give wonderful tips and advice. There are free online interviews with authors. Check the websites of independent bookstores for scheduled author events. Some are in person, but most seem to still be virtual.

I hope virtual author events will continue after the pandemic. They’re a wonderful way for readers and aspiring writers to get to hear authors. Many of us wouldn’t get to hear them otherwise. At least one good thing has come out of the pandemic!

Once in a while an excellent opportunity comes along that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Such was the six-hour “Writing from the Heart” free webinar I got to watch several weeks ago. (See my August 9, 2021 blog post, 2 Environment- and History-Related Books to find out some of the topics covered by that webinar.)

Online course: “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel”

In light of the critique the first 50 pages of my novel manuscript received in July (See my July 26, 2021 blog post, How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique), I needed to take C.S. Lakin’s online writing course, “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel.” I must have read the course description a dozen times, but I couldn’t afford to take it.

Then, out of the blue, on August 4, Ms. Lakin offered a $200 discount on the course. That discount made all the difference in the world. I registered for the course, which starts today!

I’m excited about the skills I will learn in the next eight weeks. I’ll keep you posted. Today’s lesson is about high moment and character change.

Since my last blog post

In addition to the writing books I listed above, in August I read Seven Things That Steal Your Joy: Overcoming the Obstacles to Your Happiness, by Joyce Meyer. It not only helped me with my personal life, it gave insight into the inner conflicts some of my characters struggle with.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read. Thanks to my cousin, Jerome Williams, I’m reading Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear.

There are many sources of conflict and concern in our world. Let’s all try to find something to be thankful for and joyful about every day.

Janet

How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique

Those of you who have been reading my blog for years know that (for years) I’ve promised to get my historical novel finished, critiqued by a professional, and published. You also know that I failed to take that second step until this year.

Since this is called “Janet’s Writing Blog” and is supposed to be about my journey as a writer, I promised somewhere in a blog post that I would report in my blog all the good, bad, and ugly of writing a novel. That includes the important part of getting a professional to critique my work. Hence, today’s post is about the ugly.

Photo credit: Pim Chu on unsplash.com

In mid-July I decided to go for it! After reading several of her books about the craft of writing, I hired C.S. Lakin to critique the first 50 pages of my 303-page manuscript. I’m pleased to announce that I’ve received her detailed evaluation of those 50 pages. I hate it for Ms. Lakin but, as they say, “Somebody had to do it.”


The Good News

The good news is that Ms. Lakin liked five things about those 50 pages. To be specific,

she thought I had an intriguing premise and story idea;

she liked my couching this murder mystery/theft in the American colonial era;

she liked how I showed Sarah (my protagonist) shaking her fist in the air in pain as her dream is shattered;

she liked how the walls closed in on Sarah as the first rain drops of a sudden downpour pelted the windows; and

she liked how Sarah felt clammy, her heart raced, and everything started going black.


The Not-as-Glowing, Yet Much-Needed News

I don’t know where to begin. Ms. Lakin made numerous detailed comments and asked many questions throughout my manuscript. Proverbial red ink was all over the 50 pages. So much negative (yet constructive) criticism was difficult to swallow all in one evening. Having found out earlier in the day that I need a root canal and a crown on a back molar, receiving the critique was the ending of a not-so-perfect day.

I’ve heard that every writer goes through the anguish of being told their work is lacking no good. The initial read-through of the critique comments left me wondering if I even knew how to write a coherent sentence.

That was last Monday. After having a brief pity party, though, I got back to work.

On Tuesday, I reread Ms. Lakin’s comments and started forming a plan of what I needed to do in order to improve as a fiction writer. This is what I came up with, in no particular order:

Photo credit: unsplash.com
  1. I need to reread C.S. Lakin’s book, Layer Your Novel: The Innovative Method for Plotting Your Scenes. I’d read the first third of the book some time ago, but rereading it in light of her critique made the book make more sense to me;
  2. I need to study how to demonstrate emotion in my writing. In my manuscript draft I relied too much on the reader “hearing” the tone and emotion in the dialogue and descriptions I wrote. Sometimes I told what emotions a character was feeling instead of describing those emotions and how those emotions were affecting them physically. I need to work on what the characters are thinking;
  3. I need to put more time into making the setting of the story come alive so the reader will visual the time and place to a greater degree;
  4. I need to put more effort into getting into my point-of-view characters’ heads and show their reactions and what they’re feeling;
  5. I need to study story structure and the framework of a successful novel;
  6. I need to move some scenes around because some of them appear to be a bit early in the overall scheme of things;
  7. I need to work on pacing because some scenes seem rushed;
  8. I need to study deep point-of-view;
  9. I haven’t spent enough time in the book showing Sarah striving to overcome the inciting incident – which was the premise of the book that I described to Ms. Lakin in my one-page synopsis. In other words, I’m waiting too long into the story to have Sarah actively put a plan of action in place. Her efforts along those lines should be “well underway” before page 50;
  10. I haven’t adequately explained the purpose of some of the secondary characters;
  11. Ms. Lakin recommends that I take her Emotional Mastery course;
  12. Some of the dialogue sounds too modern; however, I don’t want to fall into the easy trap of using dialect that is expected in novels set in the South – especially the dialect that we’ve all been conditioned to expect slaves to have used. I’m adamant that the Black characters – free or enslaved – in my novel will be portrayed as the human beings they were and not mythical stereotypes;
  13. I need to pay attention to scene breaks and chapter breaks. For instance, Ms. Lakin said when skipping ahead several hours or days, it’s best to start a new chapter;
  14. I need to be sure every scene advances the plot;
  15. I need to remove the predictable, mundane, and boring lines and paragraphs;
  16. I need to explain why William had a will in order for his widow to inherit anything, including her own kitchen utensils. In the colonial era, a wife didn’t automatically inherit anything from her husband or the lives they’d built together. If particulars weren’t spelled out in the husband’s will, the wife was legally left with nothing;
  17. I need to explain why Sarah couldn’t just free a slave on a whim. Manumission papers or a statement of granting freedom in a will were necessary, but that only becomes evident later in the novel;
  18. I have too much dialogue in the manuscript;
  19. Ms. Lakin recommends that I take her course, The Ten Key Scenes That Frame Up Your Novel;
  20. Ms. Lakin recommends that the best course for me to take is her 8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel. Before taking this course, I need to read Layer Your Novel: The Innovative Method for Plotting Your Scenes and The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction, both by C.S. Lakin;
  21. Although I’ve already written 303 pages and almost 90,000 words, Ms. Lakin encouraged me “to put off writing a whole novel until you get these key elements of fiction writing under your belt. It takes time and practice and effort, but it’s really the best advice I can give you at this point.”

What I’ve done since making that list on Tuesday afternoon

It is said that ignorance is bliss. A couple of weeks ago I knew I had much to learn about writing fiction, but I didn’t know how much I didn’t know or have a good grasp on. Bliss is over now. Reality has set in.

I’ve visited Ms. Lakin’s website to read about the courses she offers and how much they cost.

I’ve looked at my bookshelves and my library of e-books. I own many books about the art and craft of writing. Some of them, I’ve not read. Some of them, I need to read again. Those are on my “to-be-read” list now alongside some novels I’ve been on the waitlist for at the public library for a while. I’ve listed those books (along with writing books I can borrow from the library) in the order in which I think I need to read them.

I started rereading Layer Your Novel: The Innovative Method for Plotting Your Scenes, by C.S. Lakin, as a result of number 20 on the above list. The assignment at the end of the first chapter is to write what each scene is about on index cards. The purpose of that exercise is to make it possible for you to lay out all the scenes in order on a table. By doing that, you can see the natural sections of the plot.

Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema on unsplash.com

In light of number 21 on the above list, my doing this exercise now is getting the cart before the horse; however, reading that assignment prompted me to look at all 68 scenes in my current draft. With all of Ms. Lakin’s comments swimming around in my head, I was able to readily pick up on some problem scenes as I reviewed the entire manuscript.

I made notes to remind myself to rewrite some scenes in Sarah’s (my protagonist’s) point-of-view instead of a secondary character’s point-of-view. There were some “aha” moments when I thought of new plot twists or thought some early scenes could better take place later in the story or vice versa. It refreshed the entire story in my mind.

Photo credit: Daniel McCullough on unsplash.com

As Ms. Lakin recommended in number 21 in the above list, I need to learn more about the key elements of fiction writing before tackling the entire novel. Ms. Lakin compares constructing a novel with building a house. In order to hold up, both must have a solid foundation. And solid foundations require careful planning, skill, practice, and an eye for detail.


What’s My Next Step?

In the near future I’ll dedicate more time to my writing. I’ll read everything I can about constructing a novel, constructing a scene, emotion, deep point-of-view, description of time and place, and speech in the backcountry of South Carolina in 1769.

I’m afraid this means I won’t get to read as much fiction and nonfiction about contemporary issues as I’d like. I will need to read certain types of fiction to see how successful authors construct a novel.

This week’s plan: Delve deeper into setting and description of setting. The question before me this week: How can I write about the setting of my novel more vividly and succinctly in order to plunge my reader into the Carolina backcountry in 1769?


Until my next blog post

Next week I plan to blog about two books I read in July that enlightened me about some issues of racial injustice and some of the lessons I’ve been taught that just weren’t true.

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re an aspiring author, I hope you get good advice and roll with the punches like I’m learning to do. It’s definitely a journey.

Janet

Censorship and Reader Sensitivities

I try to plan my blog topics well in advance so I’ll have time to devote to writing each one. The fancy name for it is “editorial calendar.” Today was a day I had trouble settling on a topic. I’d made a list of possibilities, but none of them really grabbed me.

Another blogger came to my rescue on April 12, 2021. John W. Howell, an author of thriller novels, inspirational fiction, and family life fiction, wrote What to Do With Books That Are Insensitive to Social Norms | Story Empire (wordpress.com) and in it he referred to his March 24, 2021 blog post, Avoiding Insensitivity in Characters or Story | Story Empire (wordpress.com). Viola! I was inspired to write today’s post.

(Here’s a link to Mr. Howell’s Story Empire website and blog: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/.)

An Example of Book Censorship

Reading Mr. Howell’s blog posts got me thinking about book censorship and the closely-related topic of cultural appropriation and reader sensitivities.

The very idea of a book being censored or people demanding that certain books be banned from public libraries, school libraries, and bookstores really gets my ire up. Book censorship is a slippery slope. Images of book burnings in Nazi Germany come to mind.

#bookburning #censorship
Photo credit: Jonny Caspari on unsplash.com

The American Library Association’s (ALA) annual list of the top books requested for banning or restricted reading is fresh on my mind. Here’s the link to the ALA’s website where you can see the list: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee is consistently on that list. It’s on the list the ALA published earlier this month. One reason given for its being requested for banning is that the lawyer who represents the black man in court is white. The story is set in Alabama in the 1930s, so it is true to the time and place that the lawyer and all the jurors would be white. Racial injustice is the core theme of the novel. The book was published in 1960, and little had changed by then.

I believe we can learn the lessons of history by reading good historical fiction. It’s one thing to read a list of laws governing people of color in the United States in the 1930s, but how better to illustrate and shine a bright light on the laws – written and unwritten – prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 than to bring them to life on the pages of a novel and the subsequent movie based on that book?

I’d no sooner had that thought than I found Jabari Asim’s article from July 17, 2015 on Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/soapbox/article/67521-rethinking-to-kill-a-mockingbird.html. (Please take time to read his entire piece after reading this blog post.)

Being a black man, Mr. Asim offers a different perspective than the one I can offer. His words made me stop and think. Perhaps I had read To Kill a Mockingbird with naive blue eyes. Mr. Asim is one of the most influential African American literary critics of this generation. If you’re not familiar with his work, please visit his website: https://jabariasim.org/about_jabari_asim/.

Among Mr. Asim’s sentences that made me reconsider my stance are the following: “Mockingbird, like Uncle Tom before it, often strikes me as a form of literary ointment for white guilt, meant to soothe outbreaks of conscience while dispelling perceptions of how pervasive white supremacy is. Its homespun patter and deep-fried homilies enable many readers to overlook its sketchily drawn black characters—little more than archetypes—and bask in the glow of Atticus Finch’s exemplary moral courage.”

Also, this: “Some days I can ignore Mockingbird’s mostly pedestrian prose and regard it as a cleverly subversive send-up of white racism, minus Mark Twain’s stylistic flair but dutifully echoing his irreverent tone.”

And this: “Other days I marvel at Mockingbird’s apparent prescience when, years before Fox News and talk radio, Atticus Finch says to his brother, ‘Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand.'” 

What is To Kill a Mockingbird‘s place, then? It’s likely to be debated for decades to come.

#ToKillaMockingbird #censorship
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Self-censorship, Cultural Appropriation, and Reader Sensitivities

Being a writer can involve self-censorship, and there are degrees of that when it comes to reader sensitivities. I’m not a published novelist, but as I work on my historical novel I’m ever-cognizant of reader sensitivities.

Most of us practice self-censorship in our communications with others. Some people who should self-censor are sadly unaware. As a writer, I feel the need to self-sensor. I don’t use racial slurs in my speaking or thinking, but that doesn’t mean I won’t need to include one in my writing in order to be true to time and place. It doesn’t mean I condone the use of such words. My challenge in writing a novel presented from multiple points-of-view is having the audacity to put myself in the skin of a person of color – especially a person of color who is male and enslaved in the United States in the 18th century.

Doing so is somewhat akin to cultural appropriation, which is a dominant culture adopting a practice that is inherent in or associated with a minority culture. I’m not doing that in my novel, but I am attempting to write thoughts, emotions, and conversations of three people of color. I want to be aware of possible reader sensitivities, but I don’t want that awareness to fundamentally change my writer’s voice.

I’m writing a novel set in the North and South Carolina backcountry in 1769. It includes two black male slaves, one free black woman, a Frenchman, and a number of white Scottish and Irish settlers. I’ve been working on this novel for many years. If I were to look at my first draft, there would be many cringe-worthy words and scenes. I started out really over-doing writing accents phonetically. It was tedious to write, and I’ve since learned that it’s not appropriate. It can be degrading, and it can be exhausting for the reader.

I’ve grown as a person and as a writer since I started the book probably a decade ago. I’m striving to make the final product true to the time and place. I’ve done extensive research – even into the laws on the books in South Carolina in 1769 that governed the fabric of the clothing slaves were permitted to wear.

If and when my novel is published, I hope no one’s sensitivities will be offended, but that’s probably wishful thinking. I’m attempting to write a book that will be entertaining and educational. I hope it will be a book that will cause readers to put themselves in the skin of the various characters and come away with an appreciation of history.

An Earlier Blog Post about Cultural Appropriation in Writing

Author and administrator of the “Writers on the Path to a Page-Turner” Facebook group, Barbara Kyle, wrote the following: “The move to self-censorship for fear of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a sad state of affairs. Author Morgan Jones eloquently champions the opposite position: ‘Fiction remains the best means we have of finding connection where there seems to be none; and the novel, of all forms, encourages a search that’s deep and sustained. By reading (or writing) one, you’ve travelled somewhere else. You’ve moved, if only slightly, towards others. In a world that finds and increasingly exploits division and difference, this in an invaluable, precious exercise.”

I copied the above quote several years ago and taped it to the top of my computer monitor. In trying to find an online link for you, I was reminded that I used it in my August 27, 2018 blog post, Cultural Appropriation in Writing. Ms. Kyle shared (and I included in that 2018 blog post) this link to an October 1, 2016 article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/01/novelists-cultural-appropriation-literature-lionel-shriver.) Please go back and read my earlier blog post and click on the link to Mr. Shriver’s article in The Guardian.

Where do we go from here?

I think writers would do well to keep in mind the following question asked by John. W. Howell in his March 24, 2021 blog post referenced in my opening paragraph today: “Am I knowingly or unknowingly writing characters or a story which casts aspersions on anyone relative to their race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, religion, disabilities, or age?”

Mr. Howell goes on to say, “The key to the question is we may write something that we didn’t think would discriminate but did that exactly.” He also said, “The caution here is that if you are not part of a group you are writing about, be very diligent in your research. Some would say unless you are a part of a group, don’t write about them. I disagree since I do not want to believe that writers can only write what they know.”

#Censorship #readersensitivities
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

In his follow-up blog post on April 12, 2021 (also referenced above in my opening paragraph), Mr. Howell gave Gone with the Wind as an example of a book that could be criticized on several fronts due to its glorification of the Southern plantation. A little later in his blog post he said the following: “Maybe because I’m an author, I hate to see a book be declared undesirable, but it does seem that we should embrace a discussion of any book that is outside our social norms. Include in the discussion why a text no longer reflects current attitudes. If we were to discuss why certain depictions in a book are wrong, we all would better understand each other. Maybe, more importantly, we could learn more about what actions and depictions are especially hurtful.”

I agree with Mr. Howell on that. Let’s not ban books from our library and bookstore shelves. Let’s read and discuss them and, thereby, learn to do better.

Since my last blog post

I enjoyed all the beautiful azaleas in our yard. I don’t think they’ve ever been prettier. All good things must come to an end – or so “they” say. Wednesday afternoon brought snow 100 miles away in the North Carolina mountains, and Thursday and Friday mornings brought record-breaking below freezing low temperatures to my house. I hope this was winter’s last gasp.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read this week. I have more books checked out from the library than I can possibly read. It’s a nice dilemma to have.

Enjoy a relaxing hobby.

Note: Tomorrow is National Tell a Story Day in the USA. Don’t tell a lie. Tell a story. Tell a young person about one of your good memories. It will give them something to remember you by.

Note: Ironically, Wednesday is the anniversary of author Harper Lee’s birth in 1926. Some literary critics say a person who writes just one novel (such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird) is not a great author. (I know, I know. Her unpublished manuscript for Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015, so she actually wrote two books.) My example is still valid. Ms. Lee died in 2016, and until 2015 she was known as an acclaimed author who wrote “only” one book. I’m not saying the historical novel I’m writing is a great novel, but it gives me hope to know that Harper Lee “only” got one novel published during her lifetime. If I only get one novel published, I’ll be more than happy.

Note: Watch out for May! It arrives on Saturday. May is “Get Caught Reading Month”. Start making your plans for getting caught.

Janet

#FixYourNovel #6: Theme and Plot

My “writing blog” has turned into more of a “reading blog.” It’s my intention to strike a pleasant balance between the two. The purpose of my blog from the beginning has been to give you a way to follow my journey as a writer. A writer needs to read books by other people, and I hope you enjoy learning about the books I read.

I’ve made a conscious effort this month to spend more time writing and less time reading. As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, I’m working my way through C.S. Lakin’s The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction Workbook: Your Blueprint for Building a Solid Story. It has been a tremendous help to me in evaluating various aspects of my 85,000-word novel manuscript. I’m not getting paid to sing the praises of this workbook. When I find a book or workbook about the craft of writing fiction that is helpful to me, I’m happy to share that information with my blog readers.

The things I concentrated on since last week’s blog post are theme, plot, and subplot. Hence, the title of today’s post. I have been sporadic in posting my #FixYourNovel blog series. I had planned for the sixth one to be about point-of-view. I don’t feel comfortable writing authoritatively in any way, shape, or form about that subject yet.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

The dreaded question: What’s your book about?

The most dreaded question authors receive is “What’s your book about?” You’ve spent months or years creating a complex story of 85,000 to 120,000 words, and you’re expected to state off the top of your head a one sentence answer to that question. Yikes! I’m still working on my answer to that question, but Ms. Lakin’s workbook questions have helped me sharpen a concise description of my book.

The section of the workbook that addresses theme helped me determine that my book’s main theme is forgiveness. To do that, I had to figure out what the book is about.

My initial answer to that question tends to be something like this:  It’s about a pregnant widow accused of her husband’s murder setting out to prove her innocence. But that’s not what the book is “about.” That’s the main plot, and the plot is a vehicle to convey theme.

Theme gets at the heart of what the main characters wants. My protagonist wants a happy family life. That’s a fairly universal desire. In order to achieve that, she will have to ask someone for forgiveness and she will have to forgive many others for their wrongs committed against her. It’s a southern historical novel set in the Carolina backcountry in 1769-1770.

The workbook has helped me brainstorm some parts of the plot that were lackluster, and I’ve worked to strengthen those weak links. When I get some key edits completed, I’ll adjust my scenic plot or step outline to reflect those changes. The next step then will be to get that outline critiqued by a writing professional.

That’s where things stand now with my manuscript with the working title of either The Doubloon or The Spanish Coin.

Since my last blog post

I’ve walked more, as I continue to get my fractured leg back to normal. I’ve done some “spring cleaning” that I wasn’t physically able to do in the spring. Better late than never. I’ve done some reading. I’ve spent many hours working on my manuscript, and that includes a considerable amount of time spent thinking.

Like you, I continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic on a daily basis. Here in North Carolina, our “Safer at Home” Phase 2 Order was extended five more weeks. This is the second time Phase 2 has been extended. In the absence of a national plan, each US state and territory is making its own rules. No wonder the virus is not under control in the US.

The M5.1 earthquake 100 miles from me on August 9 has me wondering if I need to add earthquake coverage to my homeowner’s insurance. It’s not something North Carolinians have had to seriously consider until now.

After giving Friends and Fiction on Facebook a plug last Monday, the program on Wednesday night was subpar. It was the first time the guest author used profanity or made vulgar hand gestures. I was embarrassed that I had recommended the program. Here’s hoping the one this Wednesday at 7pm EDT will be better.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. As usual, I have several books vying for my attention.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask. It’s not a sacrifice in the big scheme of things.

Janet

My Historical Short Stories

Upon completion of a fiction writing course I took in 2001 through the continuing education department of Queens University of Charlotte, I was afforded the opportunity to join the Queens Writers Group. The group thrived under the guidance of Queens University writing instructor Judith H. Simpson.

Before Judy’s death and the subsequent disbanding of the Queens Writers Group, I got to write historical short stories that were published in two books:  Inheriting Scotland, edited by Theresa Reilly Alsop in 2002 and Tales For a Long Winter’s Night, edited by Judith H. Simpson in 2003. Both books were self-published in paperback and printed on-demand.

Look for "The Tailor's Shears" in this book of short stories
Inheriting Scotland, edited by Theresa Reilly Alsop

Inheriting Scotland

For a story to be considered for inclusion in Inheriting Scotland, I had to choose an item that had been hidden away in Lochar Castle in Scotland centuries ago and write a short story around that item’s history when it is discovered in the 21st century. The item I selected was the tailor’s shears. My story, “The Tailor’s Shears,” is set in 1703 and begins on page 177.  Inheriting Scotland is available in paperback and Kindle edition from Amazon.com.

Tales for a Long Winter’s Night

Imagine my surprise when Judy told me that she had selected my story, “Slip-Sliding Away!” to be the lead story in Tales for a Long Winter’s Night! She praised the strength of my story and gave my writing ego a boost. My story is set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina in the year 1771.

I got the idea for “Slip-Sliding Away” from an oral history story about the funeral of President Andrew Jackson’s father. In my story, why did Daniel die? And why was his funeral so funny? This book is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and my story begins on page 3.

The short story about which I'm proudest.
Tales for a Long Winter’s Night, edited by Judith H. Simpson

It was a thrill to see something I’d written in print for the first time! I had fun writing the two stories and have toyed with the idea of writing several more historical short stories for self-publication in book form. I hold the rights to both stories, so I can publish them as I wish.


What’s next for me?

My semi-confinement due to my fractured leg and subsequent pulmonary embolism seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to pursue the idea of writing a collection of short stories. On February 29 I started working on a couple of short stories. I plan to write several stories set in America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It’s not been easy to get my creative juices running during this new normal in which we find ourselves. Slowly, though, I’ve gotten back into doing the historical research necessary for the writing of historical fiction. Although I take creative license in imagining some relationships and all conversations, I try to make the setting and the people as true to life as I can based on my research.

Most recently, I’ve enjoyed reading and rereading some documents and various books that offer background information for the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Signed by 27 men of some standing in old Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (made up of the present counties of Cabarrus, Union, and Mecklenburg) on May 20, 1775, it predates the national Declaration of Independence by more than a year.

I’ve written a rough draft of a story set in May 1775 in Mecklenburg County from the perspective of a couple who feared that war with Great Britain was inevitable.

You’ll be the first to know when I’m ready to self-publish a collection of my stories! I think it will be a good way to “get my name out there” before I finish editing my historical novel. Self-publication will be a learning experience for me and one that I will gladly share on my blog. Stay tuned!

Since my last blog post

In addition to researching and writing a short story, I’ve been for physical therapy twice. It’s strange to put on a mask and enter a place of business where the receptionist and therapist are wearing masks and to try to make small talk when there’s nothing happening except the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s slowly sinking in that things will never go back to the way they were in 2019.

Restaurants in North Carolina are still open only for take-out or delivery. Banks are open on reduced hours. Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies remain open for pick-up and delivery. As of May 8 at 5:00 pm, a few stores opened in the state, but there are restrictions on how many people can be inside a store at any time. As of Friday, we in North Carolina entered “Phase One” of reopening for business. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited.

Each of the 50 states in the US have their own rules and regulations for reopening businesses and getting people back to work. It is a confusing hodge-podge of conflicting and restrictions. I don’t think anyone knows just how bad this pandemic is and will continue to be for years to come until a vaccine is developed and made available worldwide.

Until my next blog post

Be creative. Be careful. Stay safe. Stay well.

I hope you have a good book to read. Last night I finished listening to Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you like to read short stories? Would you consider purchasing a book of my short stories? (Don’t worry. I won’t hold you to it!)

Janet

#FixYourNovel #5 – Authentic Details Nail Time and Place

I had a bit of fun last week in posting a five-part series about my bizarre accident in January and the equally strange ensuing weeks. I hope you enjoyed my tale of woe.

Today it’s back to work, though, on the craft of writing. This post is geared toward writers, but I think we can all learn how to communicate our thoughts more vividly whether in the written word or in our conversations.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Advice from Barbara Kyle

In her email on March 27, 2020, author and writing coach Barbara Kyle gave some welcomed advice for writers having trouble concentrating on their writing during the coronavirus-19 pandemic. She recommended that writers use this time to do research, if they’re having difficulty producing creative words on the page.

In my recent weeks of confinement due to my fractured leg, I’ve worked on some blog posts in advance. That’s the case with today’s post as I continue my sporadic #FixYourNovel series.

Time and place

The more a writer knows about the geography, demographics, history, culture, and people of her story’s location and time period, the better. You don’t have to tell everything you know. In fact, please don’t! You do need to draw from your first-hand knowledge and research to discern which details to give the reader.

Example:  The historical novel I’m working on

The historical novel I’m still editing is set in the backcountry of the Carolinas at the close of the 1760s. Specifically, the story is set in present-day Lancaster County, South Carolina and present-day Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, and Rowan counties in North Carolina.

Without knowing what I was preparing myself for, I’ve soaked in the history of this region all my life. My study of local history, colonial American history, and my own family’s history have grounded me in the time and place in which my novel manuscript is set.

Have you heard of en.esosounds.net? (Pardon the pun!)

I recently discovered a helpful website (http://en.ecosounds.net/) as I was trying to add local flavor to the sounds my characters were hearing as they rode along a dirt road in July of 1769. It was a cold, dreary, blustery day as I was trying to transplant my mind and ears to a hot and humid piedmont Carolina day in July. Since I grew up in a rural area there, I know in my head the sounds I want to share with my reader. Putting those sounds on the page can be a challenge. I have to assume my reader is not familiar with the mid-summer sounds in rural South Carolina.

Something I found beneficial as I wrote the sounds my characters were hearing in the countryside on that hot July day in 1769 was this website:  en.ecosounds.net. On that site you can listen to recorded sounds form various localities. Listening to a couple of those recordings was the perfect backdrop for me to listen to while I edited that particular scene.

Borrowing the wisdom of Barbara Kyle again

In her book, Page-Turner:  Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy, Ms. Kyle writes about the importance of using “concrete” words and images in one’s writing. Here’s a quote from chapter seven:

“For example, let’s say you’re describing a man in clothes that are damp from rain. If the reader is given just the appearance of those clothes, the man could be across the room, but if they read that the man’s sweater gives off the musty, wet-dog smell of damp wool, they’re right next to him.”

Ms. Kyle goes on to explain that including sensory details in our writing pulls on the reader’s emotions and thereby makes the writing more memorable for the reader.

Barbara Kyle’s website is https://www.barbarakyle.com/, in case you want to know more of what she has to offer writers.

A case of serendipity

I love when serendipity happens. I had been working on this blog post on March 3 when I changed gears and stopped to read some blogs. I follow Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn blog. I read her March 2, 2020 blog post, ”Opportunities in Audiobook Publishing with Michele Cobb.” (Here’s the link to it: thecreativepenn.com/2020/03/02/opportunities-in-audiobook-publishing-with-michele-cobb/.)

Michele Cobb is executive director of the Audio Publishers Association, the publisher of AudioFile magazine, and a consultant for the audiobook business at Forte Business Consulting.

In an interview Joanna Penn did with Ms. Cobb, they discussed the speed at which audiobooks have caught on around the world and the trend that audiobooks are the thing of the future as people like to listen to books while driving, cooking, crafting, or doing any number of other things.

The thing that jumped out at me from the interview was the following quote from Michele Cobb:

“And when you create specifically for the audio format, you might have multiple narrators, you might have music, you might have sound effects, and you may never want to put that experience into a print format because it wouldn’t work with your eyes.”

Joanna Penn added, “Actually, enhanced ebooks are audiobooks with all the sound effects.”

Maybe such ebooks exist. I haven’t listened to one yet.

I couldn’t help but think about my experience of listening to meadow and forest sounds on en.ecosounds.net while editing that scene in my book. How the book listening experience could be enhanced if there were sound effects on an audiobook! The possibilities are limitless.

In the meantime, a writer still needs to hone her skills in writing sensory details. I think we’ll always have printed books, even if eventually the only “printed” format of books is electronic. If the prose is particularly beautiful, I want to read it over and over again. If I were writing this in 2040 or even 2030, perhaps I’d say, “I want to listen to it over and over again.”

My head is swimming as I try to imagine an audio of my novel with the buzzing of flies and bees, and the chirping of native birds playing in the background as my written words are being read.

I guess you could say I’m “old school.” I just started listening to books on CD a year or so ago, and more recently started downloading MP3 books onto my tablet. In the interview with Joanna Penn, Michele Cobb said that of the CD versus digital books being published today, 4% are on CD and 96% are digital!


Since my last blog post

I’ve sat in my chair with my fractured leg elevated on a stool. My chair is by a south-facing window through which I can watch a variety of birds at one of our birdfeeders. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve watched the maple tree go from bare limbs to tiny red buds that blossomed into green leaves.

Dogwood blossoms. Photograph by Janet Morrison

I’ve watched a dogwood tree transition from bare limbs to tiny buds to gorgeous white blooms. I’ve watched as the goldfinches almost overnight went from their drab winter US Army greenish brown to their brilliant yellow and black feathers. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are due back from Central America any day now, so it’s time to put out our hummingbird feeders. Many of our azaleas are in full bloom.

Azalea. Photograph by Janet Morrison.

I am blessed to live where I do. Sunshine streams through my south-facing window every morning. I can see the road on which an occasional car, truck, bicycle, moped, or green John Deere tractor passes. I can see the Carolina blue sky and puffy white clouds. I can see the pollen piling up on my red pick-up truck. I can see my brother’s pine tree farm.

I can see the open meadow across the road that is now harvested for hay to feed local cattle. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the rows of soybeans Uncle Ross used to grow there, but I especially remember the years he planted red clover to replenish the soil – and how the red heads of the clover swayed in a soft summer breeze when I was a child.

What more could a person have than what I have outside my window?


Until my next blog post

I hope you stay safe and well as we all journey through this coronavirus-19 pandemic. We truly are all in this together.

I hope you have a good book to read or listen to while you live under “stay-at-home orders.”

Please tell your friends about my blog.


Let’s continue the conversation

As recently as a couple of years ago I did not like listening to books. Now audiobooks make up probably 75% of my reading.

What about you?

What are the pros and cons of audiobooks?

Have you listened to an ebook that included sound effects?

Janet

#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 2

When I wrote my #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization, Part 1 blog post for February 17, 2020, I planned to post Part 2 the following Monday. Life happened, though, and some medical issues forced me to hold off on Part 2 until today. Here’s the link to Part 1, in case you missed it or wish to refresh your memory: https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/02/17/fixyournovel-4-characterization-part-1/.

If you are bored stiff by the subject, just scroll down to the end of today’s post to find out what I’m currently reading.

As I did in Part 1, today I’ll share what two or three writers, writing coaches, or editors have to say about characterization. I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in my two characterization blog posts.

I’ve read a lot about how to develop memorable characters when writing fiction. As I read what other writers, or book coaches and editors have to say about characterization, I try to determine what the best advice is so I can put it into practice as I work on my historical novel.


Book coach Andrea Lundgren’s take on happiness in novels

In her October 7, 2019 guest post on A Writer’s Path, https://ryanlanz.com/2019/10/07/what-does-it-mean-to-write-about-happiness/, book coach Andrea Lundgren observed that novels rarely show characters in a state of happiness. Maybe there’s a flashback to a time they were happy, but the reader doesn’t see the character having a happy moment.

Ms. Lundgren suggests something that goes against the grain of accepted fiction writing advice. She stated the following in that guest post:

“Do we dare take time out, for them and us, to just enjoy life as it flows by, without making the scene “keep things moving forward”?

Ms. Lundgren continued:

“And does happiness only occur in little moments, in the troughs between peaks of activity when no one is doing or demanding or announcing anything? Maybe we need to start plotting for filler scenes, where nothing happens but that exchange of dialogue and silence that is a normal, happy moment of life.”

That resonated with me. Writing experts put a lot of pressure on authors to evaluate every scene and, if it doesn’t move the story forward, delete it. In connection with Ms. Lundgren’s post, it seems to me that having an occasional scene in which your character is just relaxing with a friend or enjoying an event might help that character seem more human and more likeable. And in that way, does that scene not in some small way move the story forward?


Editor and author David Griffin Brown’s take on character

Writing as a creative guest on The Creative Penn website on August 2, 2019, https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2019/08/02/writing-tips-creating-memorable-characters/, David Griffin Brown gives tips on writing memorable and compelling characters.

Mr. Brown opens his article with this:  “Fiction editors encounter manuscripts at all stages of development. A typical issue we see in early drafts is where one narrative element is given more attention than another.

“For example, with works of historical fiction, it’s common for writers to showcase their research at the expense of plot and character. On the other hand, with a character piece, the plot often drags in the second act. And in high-paced, sharply plotted thrillers, characterization can lag behind plot development.

“That being said, most manuscripts will benefit from close attention to character conflict, motivation, and relationships. But first and foremost, it’s important to let your characters act, react, and interact.”

Mr. Brown goes on to talk about emotions, conflict, and personal relationships between characters. He talks about the king of all fiction-writing rules:  Show, don’t tell.


Chris Andrews’ take on character and structure

In his book, Character and Structure:  An Unholy Alliance, Australian fantasy quthor Chris Andrews writes about the importance of (or possibly, necessity of) getting your reader emotionally invested in your story or novel. He writes that you must make the reader care.

Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, by Chris Andrews

Mr. Andrews’ book says, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.”  He says if a writer gives in to his or her preference – character vs. structure – one will dominate and the other will suffer. A character must have a logical structure to work within.

Mr. Andrews writes, “You have to be able to develop, write and evaluate a story from both sides of your brain:  logic and emotion…. Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers emotionally engage your audience.”

I like the following short paragraph in Mr. Andrews’ book: 

“Characters are about people, not events. Structure is how you tailor events so your audience can engage with your characters.”

Mr. Andrews’ book is one of the best books I’ve read about the craft of writing. He takes you step-by-step through the structure of a novel and how your protagonist should grow and change within that structure in order for your novel to engage your readers and be memorable for them.

I read Chris Andrews’ book last September and I wrote about it in my September 30, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/30/character-and-structure-by-chris-andrews/. His website is https://www.chrisandrews.me/.


Some new thoughts from Janice Hardy

In #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization, Part I, I referenced Janice Hardy. Her blog post on February 26, 2020 was titled, “Oh, Woe Is Me:  Strengthening Character Goals.” Here the link to it, so you can read the entire blog post: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/05/oh-woe-is-me.html.

It’s about how a writer can make a novel’s protagonist’s life as difficult as possible. She gives lots of suggestions.


That was my inner response when I first encountered the term. In Part 1 of #FixYourNovel #4, I referred to character arc but didn’t address it.

A character arc is how a character changes over the course of a story or novel, but there’s so much more to it than that! People have written entire books on the topic of character arc. I read one in October:  Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M. Weiland.

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

I highly recommend her book to others who, like me, are trying to master the art of writing fiction. The book addresses plot points, when your character arcs, minor character arcs, impact characters, and how to write a character arc in a series.


Biographical sketches

Throughout the writing process I’ve tried to keep in mind to make my characters distinguishable, but it’s time to revisit the question, “Are my characters distinguishable?”

By writing a biographical sketch for each character as I developed the basic bones of the plot for my novel in progress, tentatively titled The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon, I had a computer file containing details about each character. This was the place I made note of all distinguishable characteristics – everything from appearance, clothing, mannerisms, smell, occupation, world view, beliefs, background, family, and manner of speaking.

My hunch is that it is easier to write character biographical sketches before and as you write your novel, but it can be done after the fact. However you choose to do it, it’s a good idea to work through this step before hitting the “publish” button or submitting your manuscript to an editor, literary agent, or publisher.

I read that J.K. Rawlings spent five years writing the biographies of each of her characters before she started writing her Harry Potter series. Wow!

As you evaluate your novel’s manuscript, re-read each of your characters’ biographical sketches, every reference to them in your book, and all their dialogue. It’s time to beef-up those character traits and to check for consistency.

  • Have you made your characters’ motives clear so their actions are logical?
  • Did you reveal backstory a little at a time and sufficiently without doing an information dump?
  • You don’t have a character telling another character something they already know, do you?
  • Does your character have an arc and is it in the right place?

In summary

At this point, you might be saying, “It’s not enough for writers to invent characters? They must make each one distinguishable in appearance, actions, and speech; make them likable but not perfect; and make them memorable and compelling. Is that all?

No. A writer must also balance character, and plot, and setting. Characters must interact with one another. Characters must be believable. Characters must react to the circumstances in which they find themselves. They must have emotions. They must be motivated. Relationships and conflict are necessary; otherwise, there’s no story.

You see, there’s more to writing a novel than typing.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. If you like my blog, please tell you real friends and your social media friends about it.


Links to my #FixYourNovel blog posts #1, #2, #3, and #4 Part 1:


Let’s continue the conversation

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Think back over the books you’ve read.

Which characters stand out in your mind and why?

Feel free to share as much or little as you want to in the comments below or on the social media I share this blog post on.

Janet

#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 1

Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to publish today’s blog post for months. Who am I to have the audacity to attack such a topic? I haven’t even published my first novel.

Perhaps I should have left #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization on the back burner until I had more writing experience. However, to be perfectly honest with you, I got tired kicking the can down the road. I got tired revamping my blog’s editorial calendar and shifting this topic further into the future.

I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in today’s post.

In my journey as a fiction writer, I’ve read about all aspects of the craft of writing. New articles and how-to books are published every day. It’s impossible to keep up.

Today’s blog post is a combination of the things I’ve read about characterization by people who know more about that skill than I do. It’s my job as an aspiring fiction author to wade through all the advice, discern what’s worth keeping, and try to put those gems into practice.


Author Kristin Lamb’s take on characters

I read a September 23, 2019 article by author Kristin Lamb several weeks ago and immediately added it to my resources list for today’s blog post. I love the title of Ms. Lamb’s article: “Characters: Audiences Read Stories, but Great Stories Read the Audience.” It pulled me right in. Her article can be found at https://authorkristenlamb.com/2019/09/characters-story-audience/.

Of course, I had to keep reading to find out what she meant. In a nutshell, Ms. Lamb said that every reader reads a book through their unique perspective. The character in a novel has “baggage,” but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her into the story and that completes how an individual reader sees a character.

If there are three main characters in a novel and three people read it, it’s possible that each reader will identify with a different character due to the readers’ backgrounds and life experiences.

Photo by Frank Holleman on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Pablo Rebolledo on Unsplash.com.

Also, I think “Great Stories Read the Audience” is an excellent way of saying a writer must know her target audience. I could try to write a novel that would appeal to everyone, but the finished product would probably appeal to no one.


Proofreader Louise Harnby’s take on characters

In https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/unveiling-your-characters-physical-description-with-style­­­­, Louise Harnby addresses how a writer needs to make her characters distinguishable. Some writers tell the reader what a character looks like or gives hints.

One method is to do what Ms. Harnby suggests:  let the viewpoint character describe another character, but don’t let it sound like a description in a police report. The reader doesn’t need to know every detail of how a character looks. Tell what is different about a character. Give each character a distinguishing physical or personality trait.


Author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland’s take on characters

Something Lori Freeland says in her June 3, 2019 blog post, https://writersinthestormblog.com/2019/06/down-with-the-rules/, also addresses a method a writer can use when describing their characters. It’s a twist on bending or breaking the writing “rule” that says a character shouldn’t describe herself or himself.

Ms. Freeland writes, “Main characters can describe themselves if they do it right…. Go ahead. Put your character in front of a mirror. But make it a funhouse mirror that emphasizes her faults and grows them larger than life.”

In this blog post, Ms. Freeland also comments about motivation. A writer needs to tell the reader what motivates a character. This clarifies the story.

To quote Ms. Freeland, “The internal journey of your character is as crucial as the external journey.”


Australian Fantasy Author Douglas W.T. Smith’s take on characters

Douglas W.T. Smith wrote about characters, voice, and dialogue in his April 9, 2019 blog post, https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/04/09/five-ways-to-improve-your-characters-voice-and-dialogue/.  He states something important about characters and dialogue:  “Remember, if the dialogue doesn’t advance the plot, give insight into characters, or show relationships between characters, it should be deleted.”

Mr. Smith goes on to talk about how a writer can make characters distinguishable by giving each one a unique speech pattern or word choice. From there he reminds the aspiring writer that all dialogue in a novel should be necessary and should move the story forward; otherwise, it is unnecessary.

Some things are better told through narrative. Mr. Smith writes, “Use dialogue when it’s needed – when it will show relationships or reveal character or plot the way no other tool will.”


Back to Louise Harnby

Related to that last quote from Douglas W.T. Smith, is this comment Louise Harnby made in https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them­­­­­:  “Dialogue should be purposeful. If you’re using it to introduce information, have the characters seek answers to questions they don’t know the answers to. Unveil backstory that’s known to the speakers through the narrator, not the speech.”


Author and Writing Instructor Janice Hardy’s take on characters

Janice Hardy’s April 30, 2014 blog post, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/04/five-ways-to-create-likable-characters.html, is titled “Five Ways to Create Likable Characters.”  This brings up a whole other aspect of characterization. As if making each character look and sound different from every other character weren’t enough, a novelist needs to make most of their characters likeable.

Ms. Hardy prefaces her list of five ways to create likable characters by cautioning writers not make the characters perfect. She says, “There’s a fine–and often moving–line between likable and perfect, which can make it difficult to create a well-balanced likable character.”

Ms. Hardy’s blog post goes into detail about how to make a character likable and how to make each character distinguishable, so please click on the link above and read her entire post if you want to learn more.


Until my next blog post

At my own risk, I’m announcing that my blog post next Monday will be a continuation of today’s. If the topic doesn’t interest you, please check in again in two weeks when I’ll write about some of the books I’ve read in February.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende while I’m partially-incapacitated with my fractured leg.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. I hope you’ll visit it every week to see what I’m up to.


Let’s continue the conversation

Do you prefer to read plot-driven novels or character-driven novels? If you’re a writer, which do you prefer to write?

Janet

Character and Structure, by Chris Andrews

Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, by Chris Andrews

I ditched my original plan for today’s blog post yesterday afternoon after reading the first seven chapters of Chris Andrews’ new writing “how-to” book, Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. The book was released on Friday. Since I’d preordered it for my tablet, it downloaded at 12:01 a.m.

Chris Andrews is an Australian fantasy author. He has much more experience than I have in writing fiction. He has helped me a lot on my journey as a writer.

This book is aimed at writers, but I can imagine a fan of fiction also reading it and getting a better understanding of what goes into writing a novel. Clue:  There’s more to it than typing.

In Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance, Mr. Andrews writes about how important it is for a novelist to reach his or her readers by getting them emotionally invested. You can write a book with perfect punctuation about a perfect person with a perfect life but, if you don’t write it in a way that prompts your reader to care what happens to this character, your novel will fail. Your character must face challenges and problems. Otherwise, no one will care.

The following are two quotes from Mr. Andrews’ book:

“Mastering the mechanics of writing doesn’t automatically provide the entertainment factor.”

“You’re the architect, so unless you’re building your story purely for yourself, you need to consider your audience.”

Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance reminds writers that readers come to a novel with certain expectations regarding structure. If a writer is going to deviate from the expected structure of a novel, he or she better be an outstanding writer to pull it off. Different genres adhere to set patterns or sequences of plot. Readers are uncomfortable with any deviation and book sales and reviews will reflect that.

As Mr. Andrews states early in the book, “This book will help you balance your story so the beginning, middle and end work to your advantage [and] create the emotional high and low points your audience expects.”

He addresses how authors approach the writing of a novel in different ways. Some writers are outliners, while others are “pantsters.” (Outliners map out their story before they write it. Pantsters write by the seat of their pants.)

Mr. Andrews writes, “One process favours emotion while the other is all about logic. You need to be a master of both and that means doing the things you don’t want to do.”

I’m an outliner. That doesn’t mean I adhere to the rigid way I was taught in elementary school to outline. When I’m plotting a story or novel, I outline with sentences and paragraphs, scene-by-scene. That’s what works for me, so my bigger challenge is mastering emotion.

Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance is the first writing “how-to)” book I’ve read that focuses on this important aspect of creative writing. I wish Mr. Andrews had written it a few years ago! As I continue to edit and polish the manuscript for what I hope will be my first novel, The Doubloon OR The Spanish Coin, I will keep the lessons learned from this book in mind as I work to put more emotion in my writing. If my readers don’t care about my characters, my book won’t be successful on any level.

Mr. Andrews states, “It depends on your own strengths and weaknesses, but whichever path you take the end game encompass character, conflict and a coherent and emotionally engaging structure that makes your audience feel what you want them to feel.”

Also, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.”

Mr. Andrews’ book has helped me have a greater understanding of and appreciation for the necessity of a marriage between character and plot in a work of fiction.

In his book, Mr. Andrews gives questions that fiction writers should ask about their manuscripts in order to get insight into the stories they’re writing.

Here’s one last quote from Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance“Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers that will help you emotionally engage your audience.”

Can you believe all that came just from reading the first two chapters of the book?

The book goes on to say a writer needs to put himself or herself in the place of a character and in the place of the reader. How will your story come across? What will make your reader care about your character(s)? Will your reader be satisfied with how the core problem your character faces is resolved? What’s at stake for your character?

In addition to giving us questions to ask about our manuscripts, he provides entertaining exercises for writers to do in order to consider how character and structure are presented in a variety of well-known novels. He challenges the writer to back off from their story’s details and to look at the whole story as the Norse God Loki could.

If you look at your story or manuscript as a whole and see a perfect world, you’re looking at a world that will bore your reader. That’s the last thing you want! Mr. Andrews then offers a list of things you need to answer or address regarding your book in order to – as we would say in a baseball analogy in the United States – “cover all the bases.”

That brings us to the end of the sixth of 32 chapters in Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. I can’t wait to see how much I learn from the remaining 26 chapters! But don’t expect me to summarize the rest of the book for you. You need to buy it for yourself. It’s available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon.com.

If you’re a fiction writer, I recommend that you purchase it and slowly and thoughtfully work your way through it. That’s what I’ll be doing in the coming weeks. I trust my novel in progress will benefit greatly from the pointers in this book.

Since my last blog post

I enjoyed some wonderful time with three precious family members who live 300 miles away, so I don’t get to see them often.

Before and after their visit, I did a lot of reading.

Until my next blog post

If you’re interested in learning more about Chris Andrews and his novels, visit his website at https://www.chrisandrews.me/.

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Fifth Column, a historical thrilled by Andrew Gross and have started listening to The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Next Monday’s blog post will be about the other books I read in September.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’re a writer, are you an outliner or a pantster? Do you find it easier to get the mechanics of a story right or do you prefer writing the emotion?

If you’re a fiction reader, does it upset you when an author deviates too much from the expected? For instance, if you like to read romance, does it upset you if a romance novel doesn’t have a happy ending? That’s what is meant by deviating from reader expectations.

Janet

Is it self-discipline or self-love a writer needs?

Is it self-discipline or self-love a writer needs?

Everyone needs self-discipline, and most of us learn it from an early age. Daily schedules must be met even by infants. At my age, one would think self-discipline would no longer be an issue.

I’m in awe of writers who also have full-time jobs. They have to be intentional in finding time to write. When I hear a writer say she gets up two hours earlier than is otherwise necessary every morning in order to write, I’m blown away. I’m not a morning person and the thoughts of getting up two hours earlier than necessary send shivers down my spine. Plus, there’s no way I could write a complete sentence in the early morning hours. My hat’s off to each and every writer who has to do this.

Being retired, I have “all the time in the world.” For that, I am the envy of every working person. If I only had “all the energy in the world” or the energy of an average child or teen, I’d be living in a perfect bubble.

Deadlines

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I’ve always been motivated by deadlines. I finished term papers the night before they were due. I tend to finish (or not finish!) reading library books the night before they’re due. Self-imposed deadlines don’t usually work for me.

Every time I’ve tried to work out a writing schedule on paper, I’ve had limited success. I tend to over-schedule my days. Now that I have the freedom to do as I please, I want to do it all. I can’t do it all, and that’s a lesson I’m trying to learn. Everything takes longer than I think it will take.

Is writing my job?

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Everything I’ve read about writing and self-discipline says a writer must have it. Without self-discipline, the writing won’t get done. I’ve read that I must treat my writing like it’s my job. I’ve taken these adages as truth, but I’m here today to rock the boat.

I never had a job I truly enjoyed, so the word “job” carries negative connotations for me. I love to write and I enjoy doing the research historical fiction calls for. When my writing or research becomes a job, I’ll probably lose interest and move on to something else. The problem with that is:  I can’t imagine not writing.

Self-discipline tips

I’m probably the last person who needs to give others self-discipline tips or advice; however, I can’t be the only person out there with the same or similar roadblocks. Illness happens, and age slows most of us down.

Trouble with self-discipline and things I’m feeling pressured to work on:

1.  Writing Time

2.  Building My Writer’s/Author’s Platform

3.  Sleep  

4.  Reading Time

5.  Weight

All five things I listed above require self-discipline. What I’m seeking is a balance of self-discipline and self-love. I must love myself and like myself before I can find productive self-discipline. What part does motivation play? If I’m happy with myself, I’ll be more productive.

Making time to write

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Instead of scheduling writing time each day, I think I’ll write better quality prose if I give myself the freedom to write when the mental and physical energy come together. That might not happen every day. Criticizing myself on the days those don’t come together is not productive. Most days I’m in a brain fog, and there’s no point forcing creativity.

Making time to build a writer’s platform

I’m taking an online course about building a writer’s platform. I’ve learned that I’m doing some things right, but there are many things I need to start doing. It seems overwhelming, but I’m learning a lot about what an author needs to include in his or her website and blog.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

I have a couple more weeks to complete the course. It will take longer than that to implement all the things I’ve learned. What I’m trying to learn is to not be too hard on myself about the things I don’t get done. Again, that’s not productive. I need to concentrate on what I do accomplish.

If you want to know more about the course I’m taking, here’s a link: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/. Click on “Classes” and then scroll down. The course I’m taking is Karen Cioffi’s “Build Your Author/Writer Platform.” It’s offered again in September and November.

Sleep

I have a medical condition that mess up my circadian rhythm. After 32 years of wrecked sleep, I’m going to a sleep coach. She’s helping me get on a regular sleep schedule.

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

The process involves getting a certain amount of full-spectrum sunlight for at least 30 minutes in the morning and in the evening, eating meals and carbohydrate snacks at prescribed intervals, dimming the lights and not sitting near the TV for three hours before bedtime, not looking at an electronic screen for two hours before going to bed, getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, and turning the lights out at an appointed time to make my bedroom so dark I literally can’t see my hand in front of my face.

Not looking at my computer or my tablet for two hours before bedtime and getting up at the same time every morning have been the most difficult facets for me.

As of last week, I’m supposed to drastically curtail my “to do” list and allow myself more time to accomplish each task. You see, each thing I’m feeling pressured about relates to getting my sleep regulated. Getting my sleep regulated will give me the opportunity to have a better quality of life and will make it easier for me to do the things I want to do.

Making time to read

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In order to be a good writer, I need to be an avid reader. For a couple of months now, I can’t seem to set aside enough time to read what I want to read, or I fall asleep with the book or e-reader in my hands. (Those “dim lighting for three hours before bedtime” and “no electronics for two hours before bedtime” rules aren’t helping!)

Since I report on my blog the books I’ve read, my reading is in some ways becoming a job. I don’t want to feel that way about reading, so I might lighten up on my TBR (To Be Read) list. If the books on my TBR were gathered together instead of just being a list, they would probably look something like the above photo!

Weight

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I need to lose weight. I’m trying to limit myself to 1,200 calories each day. Most days I’ve succeeded, but I’ve only just begun. Counting calories is a time-consuming endeavor, but I need to do this before things get out-of-control.

Until my next blog post

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

I hope you have a good book to read or listen to. I’m listening to The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might recall that I first mentioned Jennifer Ryan and her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, in my March 10, 2017 blog post (https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/03/10/11-things-ive-learned-about-social-media-since-february-21-2017/) and again in my April 1, 2017 blog post (https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/) when I reviewed that book.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have the self-love, self-motivation, and self-discipline to finish your current WIP (Work in Progress.)

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Do you schedule reading and/or writing time? If so, how is that working for you? What works for you?

Janet