#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

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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.

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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

#FixYourNovel #2: Scene Outline

From the beginning in June of 2010, this blog has generally been about my journey as a writer. It hasn’t been a smooth ride so far, and some days the destination doesn’t appear any closer than when I began.

This reminds me of an experience my sister and I had on a trip to the western part of the United States a few years ago. We saw our first butte. It didn’t look more than a mile or two away, so we turned off onto a dirt road that looked like it would take us to the butte. We don’t have buttes in North Carolina, so we wanted to see one up close.

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After driving on this straight, flat road for a half hour or so, the butte didn’t look any closer than it had when we turned off the main highway. We gave up on reaching the butte and turned around.

As for the manuscript for my Doubloon novel, I haven’t given up and I haven’t turned around. I don’t think I could, even if I wanted to. I’m still learning about the work that has to be done after the rough draft is finished.

Scene Outlines

In my mind I thought I could evaluate every scene in my novel manuscript of more than 90,000 words by mid-July and be ready to send a detailed scene outline to a professional editor for a critique. In the meantime, I discovered a scene outline template on C.S. Lakin’s website.

(Ms. Lakin’s February 1, 2016 blog post, “Using a Scene Template to Craft Perfect Scenes” can be found at https://www.livewritethrive.com/2016/02/01/using-a-scene-template-to-craft-perfect-scenes/#more-7387, in case you’re interested in looking at her template. Click on “Resources” and scroll down to the clickable list of free writing resources she offers.)

I wrote an outline before writing the rough draft of the The Doubloon. After finishing the rough draft, I modified my outline into a scene outline for reference purposes. Then, I found Ms. Lakin’s template. It includes details and questions I hadn’t thought about being part of a scene outline.

Expanding my outline based on Ms. Lakin’s template has been a beneficial process because it makes me state how each scene drives the plot forward, what background details are revealed, and how the point-of-view character grows or changes. It might even tell me that one or more scenes aren’t necessary.

Novel readers won’t stand for boredom.

With today’s blog post topic in mind, I wanted to see what other writing experts had to say. My basic takeaway from K.M. Weiland’s June 17, 2019 blog post, https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-write-interesting-scenes/ was that every scene needs to hold the reader’s attention.

Ms. Weiland goes on to list five things every scene should contain. She wrote, “Basically, the art of writing interesting scenes is the art of preventing reader boredom.”

Douglas W. T. Smith is an Australian fantasy author. In his blog post on May 29, 2019, “How To Bring Life And Fluency to Each Scene In Your Novel” (https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/how-to-bring-life-and-fluency-to-each-scene-in-your-novel/)  he gave four important tips for writing scenes.

My favorite takeaway from Mr. Smith’s blog post was “Each scene should stand alone, make it dazzling enough to inform your reader of the necessary plot information, exciting enough to create interest and interesting enough to cause the reader to keep going.”

I will continue to work on my scene outline. As a hope-to-be debut novelist with my The Doubloon manuscript, I think it’s a good idea for me to hire a professional editor to evaluate my scene outline. I’ll let you know when that happens.

In case you missed #FixYourNovel #1:  Read it Aloud

Here’s the link to my May 24, 2019 blog post:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/27/fixyournovel-1-read-it-aloud/.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m still pulled between several books and not able to finish any of them.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive 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.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are the “buttes” in your life – those things you want to accomplish that seem to always be out of reach?

Janet

Delving Deeper into Dialects and Accents in Fiction

My blog post last week, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/10/a-wake-up-call-from-dr-henry-louis-gates-jr/, was about how reading Stony the Road:  Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. tipped the scales for me in writing dialect and accents in fiction. One thing led to another, and that post became too long. Today’s blog post includes what I deleted from last Monday’s post.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

If this is a topic you’re struggling with, I hope these two blog posts will trigger some questions in your mind and lead you to try to come to terms with this aspect of fiction writing.

If you are a reader but don’t aspire to write fiction, I hope my thoughts on the subject will spark a new awareness in you. It’s not just about literature, it’s about how we view our fellow citizens.

My wake-up call

The awakening Dr. Gates’ book prompted in me helped me realize that, except for using an occasional “ye” or “’Tis” for an Irish character’s speech, I wasn’t using any sort of dialect in the white characters’ dialogue. So why in the world was I using dialect in the dialogue of the slaves in the novel I’m writing, The Doubloon?

A device in writing is the use of attributing certain words or phrases to a particular character. This is done to help the reader distinguish one character from another. There is a way to do this without using “Plantation Dialect.”

Thank you, Dr. Gates, for turning that light bulb on in my head.

Another resource for writing vs. not writing accents in dialogue

Images from Louise Harnby’s “Writing Natural Dialogue & Thoughts” blog post from May 20, 2019.

I looked for additional professional advice on the topic of writing accents in dialogue and found the following blog post by fiction editor and proofreader Louise Harnby:  https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them.

She stated, “Bear in mind that dialogue tells us what words have been spoken, not how they’re spelled. Phonetic spelling can turn dialogue into pastiche, and offensive pastiche at that. It’s also difficult to absorb and distracts readers from your story.”

That led me to edit the dialogue I had written for a Frenchman in my novel manuscript. There is so much to learn. Times are changing. What was acceptable in fiction years ago or even last year, might not be acceptable now. Some people call this political correctness. That term has taken on negative backlash connotations, so I prefer to say, “When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

A piece of advice I took from Ms. Harnby’s blog post is this: “Use location rather than pronunciation to enrich characterization – how where they’re from affects the story, their perception of the conflict or their approach to solving it.” I think this is harder than writing phonetically, but nobody said writing a novel set in the 18th century American South would be easy.

Reinforced by listening to Iron House, by John Hart

My awareness of this matter was reinforced a couple of weeks ago as I listened to Iron House, by John Hart. Listening to the novel drove home the question about the use of accent in fiction. I did not finish listening to Iron House because I became completely distracted by the over-the-top Southern accent used by the professional reader.

Iron House, by John Hart

The way in which the professional reader exaggerated the speech of at least two characters in Iron House reminded me of the extreme Southern accents used by the actors in the old television series “In the Heat of the Night.” Since the series was set in Mississippi, the actors used such slow and pronounced “Southern” accents that it was irritating to my North Carolina ears. It came across as Hollywood making fun of the way I talk.

Iron House is set in North Carolina. I’ve lived my entire life in that state, and I’ve never heard anyone talk with the extreme drawl of Caravel and Abigail in the audio edition of that novel. It piqued my curiosity, so I checked out the printed version from the public library just to see how Mr. Hart wrote the words. Sure enough, he did not write the book phonetically to convey over-the-top pronunciation in any words of dialogue Caravel or Abigail had. So why did the publisher think it was acceptable for the reader of the audio edition of the novel to use a fake accent?

In all fairness, Iron House was published eight years ago. Perhaps an audio edition recorded in 2019 would be done differently.

This has all been quite an eye-opener for me on my journey as a writer. Sometimes I’ve wished I’d started my writing career as a young adult, but now I realize I would have been a very different writer at 26 than I am at 66. I think the 66-year-old me would be embarrassed by the fiction written by the 26-year-old me.

Thinking about my reading experience

If I’m reading the dialogue of a character from Boston, my brain knows what a Boston accent sounds like. I’ve known people from Boston, so I know they pronounce some things differently than I do but not like the over-the-top Boston accents we sometimes encounter on TV or in movies. The writer doesn’t have to spell a Bostonian’s dialogue phonetically for me to catch on.

Outsiders tend to paint everyone from New Jersey with the same phonetic brush, too. I know people from New Jersey, and they don’t sound anything like Vinny in the 1992 comedy movie “My Cousin, Vinny.”

But somehow, there is a difference between an actor conveying a regional accent and an actor portraying what Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. refers to as “Plantation Dialect.” Although, I don’t appreciate an actor giving exaggerated pronunciations to a Southern character, it’s not the same as an actor giving exaggerated pronunciations to a black character. I think regional accents should be celebrated, but there is no place for “Plantation Dialect” in fiction in 2019.

I don’t have a problem with a Southern character saying “y’all” in the printed dialogue in a novel. I say it naturally. It rolls right off my tongue like butter. But I do have a problem with printed dialogue in a present-day novel having a black character saying “Nome” instead of “No, ma’am.” “Gwine” used to appear in the dialogue of black slaves in literature. I never did understand how “I’m going to” or even “I’m gonna” got translated into “gwine.”

Literature evolves as society evolves. When you know better, you should do better. I still have a lot to learn.

It will interesting to see how the dialogue in my novel is accepted or rejected by literary agents, editors, and publishers. When that time comes, I’ll let you know.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Prayer Box, by Lisa Wingate and Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal.

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.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you like reading fiction in which dialect is expressed through the spelling of words in dialect, or are you turned off by this practice? Do you think it’s time for us in 2019 to reassess how dialect is used in fiction? Should writers give readers enough credit to assume they can imagine how a character from a certain region would pronounce certain words?

Those of you who live in countries other than the United States are urged to chime in on this topic. Is this something authors in other countries are faced with as they write about regionalisms or even a past history in which certain groups of people were enslaved?

If today’s blog didn’t interest you, please come back next Monday for a different topic.

Janet