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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?
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.
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.
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
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.”
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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
4. Reading Time
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
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
Making time to build a writer’s
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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
I hope you have a good book to read or listen to. I’m listening to The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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
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.
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
Thank you, Dr. Gates, for turning that light bulb on in my
Another resource for
writing vs. not writing accents in dialogue
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Today let’s grapple with “fixing” the rough draft of
your novel by reading the entire novel aloud to yourself to make sure it flows
naturally, makes sense, has the right amount of backstory, doesn’t have
information dumps, and doesn’t have plot holes.
I know, many of you bailed out on that last sentence.
If you’re still with me, though, I thank you. If you aren’t interested in
today’s topic, just scroll down to see what I’ve been doing, what I’m reading,
and what my blog has in store for you next week.
of reading aloud to yourself
Among other things, the purposes of reading the rough
draft aloud to yourself are to:
if the story flows naturally;
Make sure there’s the right amount of backstory;
if the pacing is good;
Make sure the story makes sense;
Make sure events are in proper order;
Make sure there are no information dumps;
Catch obvious typographical errors; and
Look for plot holes.
things I found on my read-through
I’m writing what I hope will be my first historical novel. The working title is The Doubloon. I recently typed “The End” at the end of the rough draft, let it rest a couple of weeks, and then read through it out loud last week. “Out Loud” is very important.
One thing that came to light in my read-through was that some of the scenes weren’t in the best order.
Once the location of a scene is changed – especially
if you move it to a point later in your book – you must carefully review the
scenes between its original location and its new location to make sure there
are no references to what happens or is said in that moved scene in the
For example, if you reveal a clue in the scene you
moved from the end of the first chapter to the beginning of the third chapter,
you must make sure you don’t refer to anything in that scene in the second
There were places where sentences weren’t in the best
order. You might not catch those instances if you don’t read your rough draft out
There were instances where a word didn’t do the
sentence justice. Sometimes a sentence needed a stronger verb or more accurate
adjective. If you can’t think of a better substitute immediately, just
highlight it in red and keep going.
I discovered cases where I had not told the reader
something they needed to know in order for a scene to make sense. As the
author, I knew the background, but I had failed to give the reader enough
A number of scenes take place in the meeting house. In
my head, I knew exactly what the log meeting house looked like inside, but I
had not described it well. That task was added to that running list I mentioned
I was surprised to find some typos, which means I’m
too confident in my typing skills. There were several cases where I’d typed the
wrong word, for instance, “where” when I meant “when” and “of” when I meant
“in.” (What was that about?) The spell-check function on your computer won’t
catch these errors.
to deal with problems you find
In some of these cases, I edited the rough draft. In
some cases, I highlighted the word, phrase, or sentence so I can go back later
and take time to make corrections or changes. I started a running list of
things I need to research or be sure to check on later. I only made changes
that could easily be done without taking much time. I didn’t want to get
distracted from the read-through to the point I got bogged down in editing.
surprise in the read-through
It was a pleasant surprise to find some humor in the
manuscript. I wrote all 85,000 words, so how could I forget? Maybe you can keep
up with such things, but I obviously did not. I was really pleased with some of
the humor and the liveliness of some of the dialogue.
Based on my meager experience, I would say this
read-through of your novel’s rough draft should be fun. It certainly was for
me. I enjoyed getting reacquainted with some of the characters’ personalities
and events in the book.
In addition to the humor in this novel that deals with
several serious issues, I hope my readers will try throughout the novel to
figure out “who dunnit.”
of the most important things I learned
One of the most important things I learned through
this rough draft rewrite and read-through is how to get words on the page and
move on. For years I was guilty of trying to write perfectly the first time. If
I had something I needed to research or go back to look for in my research
notes, I would stop right then and chase after the answer.
I’ve finally learned to throw in a red question mark
or type my question in read red, and keep writing. This was a hard
lesson for me to learn. I hope you have learned that or will learn it faster
than I did. It makes a huge difference in how quickly your writing can move
Look for the second installment in my #FixYourNovel blog series in mid-July: Scene Outline Critique will probably be the topic.
my last blog post
We had house guests and also tried to get as much
yardwork done as possible before the heatwave started on Saturday with 95
my next blog post
hope you’re reading a good book. I’m reading The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by
Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch. Next Monday’s blog post will be about the books
I’ve read in May.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and your
projects are moving right along.
Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes
doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.