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Genre in Writing

This post from December 2016, has been re-edited and re-published in April, 2019.

Broad and Narrow Genres

Since the proliferation of Creative Writing courses in universities in the Anglo world, much has been written and said about “genre” in writing.

Creative Writing contrasts with Nonfiction Writing in the broader sense. The former is the sort of writing that novelists, short story writers and poets employ. Nonfiction includes traditional biographical works, academic texts, journalism, and books on a diverse range of subjects, such as food (recipes), self-help and memoir.

Within fiction, there is a breakdown into specific genres: science fiction, romance, historical fiction, mystery, horror, detective stories, action, fantasy and adventure.

Literary Fiction and Commercial Fiction

Literary fiction can be distinguished from commercial fiction, the latter referring to popular “genre” writing that publishers hope to sell to a wide readership. Literary fiction is best defined by contrast with commercial fiction. In the book trade, it is seen as having greater literary merit, focusing on depth of character and a concern with style.

Many writers today are writing for commercial reasons, to be published or self-published in books, eBooks, or online, as quickly as possible. Literary fiction attracts writers who are experimenting with form and interested in lyrical expression and often dark and emotive themes.

The term “creative writing” is more appropriate as an umbrella term for writing that employs fictional devices. This distinguishes it from academic writing, which endeavours to present factual or argumentative texts in an objective framework.  Journalistic writing, too, is based on the principal goal of providing factual information to the public, although there will be some overlap with fiction in its use of devices, such as dialogue and narration.

Creative Nonfiction

Non-Fiction includes traditional biographical works, academic texts, journalism, and books on a diverse range of subjects, such as food (recipes), self help and memoir.

Truman Capote’s nonfiction work In Cold Blood (1966 ) is looked on as the forerunner of this genre in modern times. It is also the ultimate true crime novel. Based on painstaking research and interviews, Capote used the story of the cold-blooded killing of a family in rural Kansas, and his investigation of the crime, as the plot for his novel. It is written brilliantly, employing all the techniques of the best fictional writing: strong characterisation, realistic sounding dialogue, vivid imagery, and narrative suspense, without wavering from the facts. Apart, perhaps from the ending, where he improvises a little; endings are often difficult for this type of factually based writing.

One of the first attempts at a creative nonfiction novel in Australia was Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska (Penguin 1990), in which the author recounts her mother’s life. It is well told but lacks the dramatic, page-turning aspect of plot-driven fiction. A past master at this subjective type of writing is Helen Garner, whose The First Stone is now a classic, as well as a cause of ongoing controversy for student discussion in Creative Writing Courses in Australian universities.

Memoir

Modern Memoir has taken on a slightly different aspect within this recent context. It refers to first person narration that focuses on a particular aspect or period of a person’s life.  Memoir “sticks to the facts” but employs creative devices, such as narrative drive, strong characterisation, vivid dialogue, and dramatised events.

The best memoirs focus on a universal issue or concern that the author illustrates via personal experience.

It differs from fiction, wherein connections are concealed behind invented characters, settings and names. Many writers are wary of “treading on the toes” of living relatives and friends when they recount true events. It is easier and less constricting to create, rather than to recount the facts.

Lee Gutkind, an American author, is looked on as the Godfather of Creative Nonfiction today. He is the editor of a Creative Non-fiction journal and the author of Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction.

Specific Genres

Of course, with fiction, there is a breakdown of genres within the broad genre: science fiction, romance, historical fiction, mystery, horror, detective stories, action, fantasy and adventure.

Here is a more exhaustive list of possible genres from Cathy Yardley’s blog: Rock Your Writing.

Action/Adventure — stories including epic journeys, lots of conflict, high stakes, some violence.
Erotica — stories of sexual exploration.
Fantasy — stories usually involving magic, other worlds, mythological/mystical figures.
Horror — stories that invoke fear.
Literary Fiction — stories with a focus on the quality of the prose over the narrative arc.
Mystery — stories that involve solving a crime, usually a murder.
Thriller/Suspense — stories of high tension that can involve either action or mystery.
Romance — stories about love/intimacy.
Sci-fi — stories usually involving technology, aliens, science-related alternative worlds.
Westerns — stories taking place in America’s “Old West,” often with focus on justice.
Women’s fiction — stories about women experiencing emotional growth.  Primary emotion:  hope.

By Anne Skyvington

Source: anneskyvington.com.au

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The Myth of the Natural Writer

There’s a legendary joke about the writing life, often attributed to Margaret Atwood. It goes like this:

A brain surgeon and a writer meet at a party. The brain surgeon says to the writer, “How interesting, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and in fact, when I retire, I’m going to be a writer.”

The writer replies, “Well, isn’t that a coincidence. When I retire, I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”

Countless young people want to pursue writing while still in school, but ultimately choose more stable careers (whether brain surgery or accounting or lawyering). Some think they’ll have time to write on the side, but it rarely turns out that way. So, as they near retirement—or when they have all the money or stability they need—then they write their first book. Often, it is unpublishable by traditional standards. Why? Not because they’re bad writers, but they’re emerging writers, despite their age and experience. For most of us, it takes more than instinct or desire to produce a skillful story.

In this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin, Erika Krouse discusses the myth of the natural writer—or the realization that few people (including herself) will be inspired, as if by magic, to produce a story that effortlessly works. She says:

I continued to write the same-but-different novel for seven more years, in seven completely different directions, with seven different middles-to-endings, all ludicrous. It felt like I was shooting one very slow bullet a year, hoping that if I closed my eyes and aimed at random, I’d hit the distant target I had only vaguely envisioned. How was I going to complete this idiot book?

Read her full essay: Plot Structure and the Myth of the Natural Writer (Also, Ducks)

By

Source: janefriedman.com

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Choosing Just the Right Words — Guest: Kathy Steinemann

While I’m recovering from my latest surgery this week, I’m grateful for another guest blog today. Kathy Steinemann is here to talk about word choice, but not in the way we usually think of the issue.

We often talk about word choice in reference to our voice, but choosing the right word can be complex. We need to consider our characters’ voices, which can conflict with our voice, and sometimes we might want to break grammar rules for the sake of voice. In other words, knowing how to apply “the rules” with voice and word choice can require a tricky balance.

The problem increases if we unintentionally choose the wrong word from our brain, whether due to a lack of knowledge or just simple typos. (And typos can get the best of us no matter our knowledge level, so we can’t give ourselves a pass on the issue Kathy discusses in this post.)

Readers won’t trust that we’re breaking grammar rules on purpose if our whole story is riddled with errors. To make a statement with purposeful errors—such as for the sake of a character’s voice—readers have to recognize that we don’t make those mistakes accidentally.

Choosing just the right words requires us to know English usage and grammar rules, consider author and character voice, avoid typos, and of course, possess a large vocabulary so we can pick the best word from our brain. Kathy’s fun post today challenges us to find all the wrong words in an excerpt and then points out why we might choose them anyway.

Please welcome Kathy Steinemann! *smile*

*****

Reader Gripe:
Can You Guess What It Is?

By Kathy Steinemann

~~~~~

W A R N I N G

The following article contains explicit errors.

Reader discretion is advised.

If you continue past this point, your eyes might recover with rest, application of cold compresses, and avoidance of repeat exposure.

Proceed at your own risk.

~~~~~

You’ll see an excerpt below, an excerpt that would frustrate readers. In fact, they might abandon a book containing similar narrative, and never purchase anything else written by an author who is guilty of this no-no.

Introduction to Excerpt:

The following paragraphs are based on sentences and phrases I’ve bookmarked in various novels over the years. Can you find all the errors?

After reading, consider the following questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • How many occurrences are there?
  • How would you correct the mistakes?

Excerpt:

(Edited to Preserve Anonymity of Writers)

Pauline stared at the note, curiosity peaked. She opened it and read the message: “Just one weak. Remember the place? I’ll meat you their. Don’t forget the money. I may seam nice, but just because I haven’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean you won’t be the first.”

Her stomach serged. Bile rows into her throat. The next thing she new, she was doubled over the toilet and wretching up her breakfast.

After several minutes, she stood and liened against the wall. She was still realing and could feel the vanes in her neck throbbing in thyme with her pulse. The sealing seamed like it was pressing on her head.

Ugh. Her breath wreaked, and all the vomiting had aggravated her rye neck. She needed her left shoulder as she looked into the mirror. Her reflection looked pail—to pail. How am I going to get threw this?

Did You Find All the Incorrect Homophones?

Homophone: a type of homonym; words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings.

Go back and count them.

You should have found twenty-two. If you didn’t, read it again.

Still stymied?

Read this edited version (mistakes underlined).

Pauline stared at the note, curiosity peaked. She opened it and read the message: “Just one weak. Remember the place? I’ll meat you their. Don’t forget the money. I may seam nice, but just because I haven’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean you won’t be the first.”

Her stomach serged. Bile rows into her throat. The next thing she new, she was doubled over the toilet and wretching up her breakfast.

After several minutes, she stood and liened against the wall. She was still realing and could feel the vanes in her neck throbbing in thyme with her pulse. The sealing seamed like it was pressing on her head.

Ugh. Her breath wreaked, and all the vomiting had aggravated her rye neck. She needed her left shoulder as she looked into the mirror. Her reflection looked pailto pail. How am I going to get threw this?

Here’s One Solution

Pauline stared at the note, curiosity piqued. She opened it and read the message: “Just one week. Remember the place? I’ll meet you there. Don’t forget the money. I may seem nice, but just because I haven’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean you won’t be the first.”

Her stomach surged. Bile rose into her throat. The next thing she knew, she was doubled over the toilet and retching up her breakfast.

After several minutes, she stood and leaned against the wall. She was still reeling and could feel the veins in her neck throbbing in time with her pulse. The ceiling seemed like it was pressing on her head.

Ugh. Her breath reeked, and all the vomiting had aggravated her wry neck. She kneaded her left shoulder as she looked into the mirror. Her reflection looked paletoo pale. How am I going to get through this?

But Wait; There’s More!

Dialogue, written notes, texts, and emails should emulate the way real people speak and write. The blackmailer might be uneducated—or an educated person trying to seem uneducated. In either case, the note would contain errors.

In fact, it would likely contain more errors than those in the original excerpt.

Another Rendition of the Note:

“Just one weak, remember the place? I’ll meat you their, don’t forget the money. I may seam nice but just because I ain’t killed no one yet don’t mean you wouldn’t be the first.”

It’s time for detective work.

The blackmailer, although clever enough to:

  • mix up homophones,
  • include a couple of comma splices, and
  • drop in a double negative

couldn’t resist proper usage of apostrophes. A detective might consider this a clue that the writer is well-versed in spelling and grammar.

Takeaway:

Research every word you’re unsure of. Readers and editors will lose patience if they have to repeatedly stop and reread sentences.

P.S.

Here are the contextual definitions of the incorrect homophones and their replacements.

  • Peaked [adj.]: pointed, having a peak
  • Piqued [adj.]: aroused, stimulated [And spell it right: piqued, not picqued, which is obsolete.]
  • Weak [adj.]: frail, feeble
  • Week [noun]: seven days
  • Meat [noun]: the flesh of an animal used as food
  • Meet [verb]: to encounter, make contact with
  • Their [pron.]: possessive case of they
  • There [adv.]: in or at that place
  • Seam (1) [noun]: the stitched area that joins two pieces of fabric or other material
  • Seam (2) [verb]: to join with a seam
  • Seem [verb]: to give the impression of
  • Serge [noun]: a type of fabric
  • Surge [verb]: to move suddenly and forcefully upward or forward
  • Rows [noun]: plural form of row: a line of people or things
  • Rose [verb]: past tense of rise: to come or go up
  • New [adj.]: discovered or created recently or for the first time
  • Knew [verb]: past tense of know: to realize, comprehend
  • Wretch [noun]: a person who is unfortunate, despicable, or unhappy
  • Retch [verb]: to vomit, gag, puke
  • Liened [verb]: past tense of lien: to make a claim against property (until a debt or loan is repaid)
  • Leaned [verb]: past tense of lean: to move into a sloping position
  • Real [adj.]: actual, authentic, genuine
  • Reel [verb]: to lurch, stagger, sway
  • Vanes [noun, plural]: short for weathervanes
  • Veins [noun, plural]: the conduits that transport blood in one’s body
  • Thyme [noun]: an aromatic herb used for seasoning
  • Time [noun]: tempo
  • Sealing [verb]: present continuous tense of seal: to fasten, secure, shut
  • Ceiling [noun]: the top interior surface of a room, compartment, cell, etc.
  • Wreak [verb]: to inflict great harm or damage
  • Reek [verb]: to stink
  • Rye [noun]: a grain used for cereal, flour, or some types of whiskey
  • Wry [adj.]: twisted or distorted
  • Need [verb]: to require something essential or important
  • Knead [verb]: to massage or squeeze with the hands
  • Pail [noun]: bucket
  • Pale [adj.]: lacking color, ashen
  • To [prep.]: toward
  • Too [adv.]: excessively, very
  • Threw [verb]: past tense of throw: to toss, pitch, heave
  • Through [adv.]: from first to last or beginning to end

 

By Kathy Steinemann

Source: jamigold.com

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Fixing Split Ends: How to End a Story Perfectly

Some writers know what their ending will be right from the start. Others discover it in the course of writing the story, because even if you have an outline, things change. You get a better idea, or a character becomes more interesting than you expected. But not knowing how to end a story in a way that satisfies you (or an editor) is why many people abandon stories. What keeps going wrong?

Even well-known writers abandon stories sometimes—the feel for the story disappears, or something else seems more urgent.

Some stories are more like exercises—and don’t aim to be polished, finished works.

But if you have stories that you feel are interesting and well-executed (up until the end) and this keeps happening, let’s look at a few things you can do to break that no-ending barrier.

Identify the Problem, Then Troubleshoot:


You got through all the things you wanted to do in the story or novel, and now there’s nothing left to say.

A fairly common problem in writing stories is that the conflict isn’t visible enough. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to identify a conflict, because the focus has been on character.

Suggestions:

  • Look at what your character had to face in the course of the story and ask why and how and what changed because of it.
  • Heighten the difficulties and their implications.

You got to the big climactic scene and you haven’t a clue what to do now. What should happen?

Sometimes you can’t figure out what to do because nothing was really in jeopardy. You’ve given the main character a problem, and you’ve got to the point where the problem drives the action, but what you don’t have is how this matters to the character.

Suggestion:

  • Stop worrying about action and imagine the emotional components that brought your protagonist here. What does this conflict do to your character’s way of life?

The ending is in line with the conflict, it all makes sense, but it doesn’t have a punch.

You’ve avoided doing anything risky or unpredictable, so it’s no surprise that the ending is soft. I’m afraid you’ve got to shake things up completely in order to make this come alive—and the first thing to do is to… change the main character. You might have been coasting here because you haven’t forced yourself to actually imagine someone with different needs from your own.

Suggestions:

  • Imagine someone totally unlike you, who wouldn’t make the same choices you would make.
  • In the first big branch of the story, force your character to choose a dramatically different path from the one you gave him or her. Surprise yourself by figuring out why someone would do that different thing.

Everyone says: very nicely written, nice story; sorry but we’ll pass.

This is similar to the above, only this time the story is good but forgettable—when they put it down they really don’t have anything to hold on to.

Suggestions:

  • Shake up your story.
  • For example, about one-third of the way in, have a catastrophe happen—it can be personal or atmospheric, small or large, but what it does is create a background problem that your foreground problem has to play itself against. This automatically ramps up your story, and it forces you to reconcile both large and small issues at the end.

No one believes the ending. Which is weird, because it actually happened.

Never think that what actually happened makes for a convincing story. You’ve trapped yourself here by falling prey to determinism. The story doesn’t work because there was no free will.

Suggestions:

  • Go back one or two decisions in the plot, and change it. Whatever actually happened before you get to the end, change it.
  • Make yourself think about what’s going on and why; then write what that character would cause or do.
  • Another way to handle this is to switch the characters—have “what actually happened” happen to someone who wasn’t there. That should force you to rethink the narrative arc.

You can’t get a good last line.

What was your story’s opening line? Go back and look at it for a while. Where does that first line suggest the story is going?

Suggestions:

  • In some cases, the first line or paragraph contains the idea for the last line. (This is especially true for short stories.)
  • In other cases, you should pick up on a metaphor or image that mattered to your protagonist in the course of the book.

How to End a Story: More Tips and Tricks

Most of the time, you’ll figure out how to end a story. But what if you have a solid story but no good ideas on how to wrap it up? Nothing works in your head or on paper; you’re stymied. Are there any tricks that can help?

Return to a Backup Point

If you just can’t get it to work, go back a few paragraphs or even a page, throw that out, and start again.

Try not to re-read the part you’re about to abandon. You may have written yourself into a corner. (This can also work if you’ve stopped in the middle of a story, rather than the end.)

It can help to start in the middle of a paragraph, or in the middle of a piece of dialogue—someplace where you can pick up on the action or dialogue. Then see where it goes. You may find that the new version takes you in a slightly different direction.

Write past the End

If you know what you want to do, but somehow it just doesn’t feel like an ending (too abrupt, too inconclusive, etc.), then just assume that really isn’t the ending.

Keep going. See where it really stops. You can try different directions: what happened next, how a character viewed what happened next; what unexpected consequences resulted, etc. Picture characters or setting a week later, a year later, a decade later—does that suggest anything?

Work on Your Closing Line

If you’re stuck trying to get that last paragraph or that last, brilliant line, maybe you can pick up on a symbol or image you’ve used in the story. It can be a tree, a place, a song, a sound—something you may have used without thinking about it too much.

Or it’s something you can go back and develop (and you may find that it adds resonance, too, to the story you’ve already written). Use a recurring image to develop the character’s epiphany or the resolution of the story.

Create Closure

You can also use circularity to bring your story neatly to a close. If you opened with a character driving, for instance, to his/her plot device, you can close with a car scene and some enlightenment that goes with it.

In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, both the first dramatic scene and the closing scene of the novel involve children flying kites: different children under vastly different circumstances.

Add an Aftermath

You can conclude with general consequences after the conflict is over—the world is better; the world is worse.

You can even demonstrate how easily the world got past the private tragedy in a story. In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” after the grueling experience of Gregor Samsa’s transformation resulted in his death, the family is rejuvenated. The ending contrasts the new sense of life they now have, outside the constricted apartment where Gregor lived his insect life. They begin to see their futures again, symbolized by the health and vitality of their daughter (her actions are in contrast with their son’s rigid insect body): “And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their journey their daughter sprang to her feet first and stretched her young body.”

Change Some Choices

Finally, be aware that stories that refuse to end properly may reflect a problem earlier in the story. Perhaps you went in the wrong direction and now the concept is falling apart. Perhaps your character needs to do something different, or the big conflict is the wrong conflict. You may have chosen the wrong point of view, the wrong voice, the wrong central character. What can you change about the story itself that would make you interested in it? What annoys you about the story? Remove it.

Don’t Know How to End Your Story? Keep Thinking!

Maybe you won’t always know your ending right from the start, but if you approach it thoughtfully, you’ll find it.

By Karen Heuler

Source: refiction.com

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ME, as I work on my middle grade novel.

OHI0017-WRI-4StagesWriting-v7-Handwritten-flat-600

No guarantee that my middle grade novel will ever be published; that’s out of my control.

I’m trying to focus on what I can control:

(1) Writing the best book I possibly can, and

(2) FINISHING the book.

Source: inkygirl.com

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Good Grammar 101: The Essential Guide

Good Grammar might seem old fashioned in a day and age when LOL shows up in newspapers, when best-selling authors regularly splice their commas, and where your Facebook wall is filled with seventy-two misused ellipses.

However, agents and editors still care about grammar, and they will reject you if you show you don’t understand grammar rules.

With this Grammar Guide, you will have the chance to use The Write Practice’s model of deliberate practice to improve your grammar skills in less time.

10 Steps to Keep Your Editor From Killing You

Good grammar is like good hygiene.

Often, the last person to know why people are complaining about the dead dog in the room is the person who stinks.

Fortunately, we’ve created this course of ten lessons to help you impress your readers and editors with how good you smell… oops, I mean spell.

To show you how much we care, we’re throwing in a bonus lesson, The Case Against Twilight (or why Stephenie Meyer needs to hire a copy editor).

Grammar Rules

In this tutorial, we will go over some of the most important (and most often neglected) grammar rules in a way that’s both fun and practical. Remember: good grammar is hot!

Grammar Exercises

In every lesson, you will be challenged with grammar exercises to help you cement what you’ve just learned into your daily practice.

Source: thewritepractice.com

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The Truth About Believing in Yourself

Finding authentic faith in artistic expression

I remember my first “vision board.”

I spent all day feverishly cutting out photos of old bungalow-style houses with porch swings, beach vacations and strong, fit, successful women. I printed out my bank statement and added a few zeros to the balance. I typed and printed the words, “New York Times Best Selling Author, Ivy Shelden” and plastered it among the other photos and clippings.

Here we go, I thought. Now I’m ready to start believing in myself.

I stared at the board until my eyes crossed. Next to the vision board, I’d printed a list of “affirmations” to say aloud each day, until I believed them. They included statements like:

I am worthy of, and open to abundance.

I am thankful for my new job. (I didn’t have one yet)

Every morning I stood in front of that laundry room door — staring, reciting.

Strangely, nothing in my life changed. I remained terrified to sit at my computer and express myself through writing — let alone share my work with anyone.

I felt even more empty, staring into the faces of women who weren’t me, and houses I didn’t own. Uttering words I didn’t believe.

I felt defective for not having stronger faith.

I tried praying and meditating. I read every self-help book in my local library, followed every life coach’s blog. Still, no change.

I thought, Why do I still doubt my potential when I try so hard not to?

As I hovered a trembling finger over the download button to another audio book, I paused. Instead, I tossed my phone to the side and sat quietly, eyes closed.

Although my body was still, I could feel my mind screaming for more action. We need to do something it pleaded, everything we want is slipping through our fingers!

I recognized that voice in my head: Fear.

Fear of missing out.

Fear of not fulfilling my true purpose.

Fear of my talent withering on the vine.

Fear was driving my self-help obsession — my reading and podcast addictions. It pervaded the photos on my vision board — dripped from my affirmations.

My vision board felt like a highlight reel for everything I was lacking — it created distance between myself and my true desires.

There they are, and here I am. Separate. I must wish myself up to their level.

And you know what I wasn’t doing while I was creating that vision board?

Writing.

Go figure that one. I realized that my self-help gimmicks were also a convenient excuse to avoid what scares me most: engaging my gifts, and making myself vulnerable to criticism and failure.

I thought I needed to be in the right frame of mind (i.e. believing wholly in my abilities) to even start working.

No blogger or self-help book can teach you to believe in yourself. You have to pop those earbuds out, drag yourself up off the couch, and work. Day after day, no matter how messy or imperfect the result.

You must see yourself persist through fear and uncertainty, time and time again, to develop self-trust.

You don’t need a list of affirmations. You only need to believe it’s possible to make a difference in the world with your art.

You don’t have to be perfect or know everything, you just have to begin. And keep going.

Do this, and you’ll accomplish far beyond anything you could ever paste on a vision board.

By Bryan Hutchinson

Source: positivewriter.com

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The Bi-Cultural Writer

I’ve spent my life living between India and the U.S.A. One blog post can’t begin to describe the challenges, privileges, lows, and highs of it all. I can, however, talk about being a bi-cultural writer and writing in various global dialects through one language. I am a weird kind of third-culture kid. I was born in the U.S and finished elementary school there. Then I did middle and high school in India and returned to the U.S for another 8 years where I finished college and my Master’s degree. I’ve since been back to Bangalore, India since 2011.

First, let me tell you about my accent. I code shift – my accent and cultural references can change according to country, and who I’m talking with. I still get teased about it.

Because of my experience, I see English as two very different kinds of languages: Indian English and American English. On the macro level you might think it’s just the accent that’s different, but there are more nuanced differences that are a result of specific cultural backgrounds and responses to very different realities and environments. I admit, it’s easier for me to write for a specific cultural audience. That’s why I’ve been involved with the way I think about writing for a global audience. How do I hold a place in a specific narrative and allow for people from all kinds of backgrounds to find a point of similarity to their own reality?  Over the years, I’ve done a lot of relearning and decolonizing. Here are 3 important things I have learnt as a bicultural writer.

Letting Go Of Italicizing Culturally Specific Words

Growing up, I’d read Indian authors italicize or explain very Indian terms in strange ways. I acknowledge that for many non-Indian readers, if I made one reference too many to terms or concepts uniquely Indian, I would risk losing them, and worse, boring them. That said, using western-centric explanations and using italics takes away from the authenticity of the environment. I’d read ‘samosa’ with descriptions like seasoned potato filled pastry, and I’d chuckle. This is not because the description is inaccurate; in fact, it is probably the best way to explain what it is in English to a western audience, but it’s not how people raised in India would think of it.

I found authors who were owning their language with the English they spoke, offering more of a realistic picture of life in such a setting. Many Indians grew up reading British and American books with descriptions of food items we had never tasted in the 80s and 90s, and we had to make do with the names and imagine what they were. In fact, my father had grown up reading Archie Comics in India and assumed pizza to be a sweet dish. When he came to America in the late 70s he was shocked that pizza was savory! We never got explanations and we’re probably all the richer for it. While the world is a lot more globalized now and many readers are more exposed to cross-cultural habits and foods, there are still things that will be very specific to a culture and environment. It’s also the age of the internet where terms and cultural usage are just a Google search away. As long as you are being sensitive to your readers there is no reason to exoticize the culture you are writing from with explanations and italics. This however, is a strong stance to take and I know there are people who disagree, it’s just my evolving opinion of the matter.

Knowing When to Use Culture-specific Idioms and Expressions

 Some idioms and expressions in English have become universal, especially classic ones like ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ or ‘cool’. That said, your character, their environment, and socio-economic background determines a lot of how they process the world around them. It’s good to get some culturally specific expressions in your narrative as long as you are being true to your character map. Sometimes I slip and write a dialogue that would seem more authentic to someone living in the U.S rather than India. For example ‘nah, I am good’ in response to being asked if a character wants a snack would be more authentic to the U.S rather than India. There are exceptions for everything of course, but it’s always good to check your character’s language in context to their lived experience.

Checking Social Privilege

This one can get me very disoriented at times. When I am in the U.S, a lot of people put me in the bracket of POC woman writer and therefore a marginalized voice in the U.S. All things considered, this is accurate and true. However, I don’t at all speak for all Indians, no one can. There are far too many stories, realities, and social cues at play to represent one country. In India, I am very privileged, by class as an example of visible privilege, but also by invisible ones like caste, these elements give me more access and network to the world. This means I’ll have several blind spots to many marginalized communities that live in India. I must acknowledge the responsibility I have to keep educating myself on how my privileges play a role in a grossly unfair world. I have to find a balance between creating, and using my imagination while still not attempting to be the ‘voice’ or ‘savior’ for people that don’t need me to represent them. When you have social privilege, you want to be able to do the best you can with your writing career and remember to make space for others.

How do you look at bicultural realities? Being bicultural is definitely not limited to just living between countries, many experience different forms of culture living in the same country or even city/town. How do you negotiate your curiosity and experience of our world in your writing?

By

Source: writerunboxed.com

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Getting Somebody Else’s Town Right – Researching Settings for Your Writing

The old adage is “write what you know.” Most writers, though, have to step outside that comfort zone sooner or later.

If you are writing something set in the “real world,” you might set it in your hometown, or a town where you have lived for several years. However, you might also want to set your story somewhere else. One way, used by many, is to create a fictional town or city. DC Comics has Metropolis, Lovecraft has the infamous Arkham, and Agatha Christie has created wholly invented towns like Chipping Cleghorn.

Ah, but what if you really do want to use real-world locations? Maybe you want to set your book in San Francisco but have never been further west than Minneapolis. Or, you discover that Copenhagen is the Las Vegas of Europe and need to do a shotgun wedding.

This article has tools and techniques for writing in somebody else’s town without, hopefully, having a bunch of locals inform you that there is no such Metro station as “Cathedral Heights.”

So, how do you start researching settings for your writing?

Internet Research

Like everything else, writing in somebody else’s town takes research. For most of us these days, the first stop is the internet. Here are a few good sources you can start with:

  1. Wikipedia. People knock Wikipedia as a source, but it’s useful for basic facts about a place and as a starting point. You can usually trust it to give you such information as population and a few facts. Remember that Wikipedia is for things “everyone knows,” and may not always be accurate. I’ve found it to be useful, though.
  2. Historical weather sources. If you just want to know what the weather was like on June 21st, 1999 in London, Weather Underground is a good source (If you’re curious, it was in the 50s and not raining). If you’re just trying to find out what would be typical for London in June, though, you can literally just google “weather average for London” and it’ll give you averages by month. Another useful site is Holidayweather.com, although it only covers major tourist destinations. Which brings us to:
  3. TripAdvisor. You may laugh, but I use TripAdvisor all the time and not just to find restaurants while on vacation. Use it to look through restaurants in Helsinki to discover what Finnish people eat, to find historical sites that might end up being plot points. If you use it for travel and have an account, I recommend researching for settings in incognito mode, so it doesn’t spam your email on the assumption you are actually planning on going to Rome…
  4. The town’s own website. Most towns these days have a website, and it’s a good source of information for historical overviews, demographics, etc. Check out the chamber of commerce site too. Often, they have a list of stores and restaurants downtown (remember not to make a real business look bad in your story). These sites will also give information intended for residents. Do you need to know if trash day is Tuesday or Wednesday? Are you looking for a park to set a scene in?
  5. Real estate sites. Realtors often have useful neighborhood guides on their sites, which are aimed at people relocating. House prices can also tell you at a glance where the bad part of town is.

Google Maps and Google Street View

I have no idea how people wrote in other places without Google Maps and Street View. If you’re writing in a city you have never been to, or even one you are only somewhat familiar with, you can literally “travel” around the city virtually and move your characters from place to place. You can go down a specific street in a neighborhood and see what style the houses are. Trace your characters movements during the outline or the first draft. You can also use the directions function to work out travel time if it’s relevant.

On a related note, for big cities, do look at the transit map so you don’t make a Cathedral Heights level mistake. Unless, of course, you intend to. Check opening hours, too…

Libraries

Repeat after me, libraries are good. You might think that somebody else’s public library system is too far away to be any good. You would be surprised. More and more libraries will now give access to their electronic collections and research databases to people from out of town for a fee, which is usually $40-60 a year. This option is seldom available for people in another country. But access to a library’s digital resources can be priceless. (It might even be worth contacting the librarian and telling them you’re writing a book, they might be able to do something for you).

Local People

When the internet and library collections fail you, you may need to actually talk to real people. As a note, if you are setting your story more than five years in the past, you definitely need to find somebody who lived there at that time. Big cities, in particular, can change surprisingly rapidly. Was that park there when your characters were?

For novels, a targeted beta reader is a good idea. You can even find one by using the search phrase“sensitivity reader.” Although most sensitivity readers are concerned with demographics, location is important too. You might have to pay them, or you might be able to find another writer willing to do a trade on beta reading.

If you’re lucky, somebody who lives in the place you’re researching might be in your chain of social media friends. It’s always worth asking. Failing that, there are several sources for local experts:

  1. Librarians. Yes, we’re back to librarians, but helping with research is what they are there for.
  2. The local community college. If there’s a local community college, one of the teachers there might be willing to help you out. Or even one of the students, especially if you can send them a tip.
  3. Local government outreach. A lot of local government sites have an outreach section where you can send them a message with specific questions. You don’t have to be a resident, and the magic words “I’m writing a book” can get you a long way.

Trips: Researching Your Setting Firsthand

Needless to say, research trips can be completely out of reach for many writers. If you do have the cash, though, there is really no substitute for getting the feel of a place. Here are some tips to keep your trip within budget:

  1. Know how much time you need. Going back often costs more than staying an extra day.
  2. Go off-peak or offseason. Avoid school holidays, especially in Europe. British hotels, for example, are quite notorious for trebling rates when the kids are off school.
  3. If the town you’re researching is an expensive tourist trap, see if you can stay somewhere nearby. This may not always work.
  4. Consider using AirBnB or a similar solution rather than a hotel, especially if you’re planning a longer stay. Look for a place with a kitchen. You can learn a lot from local grocery stores.
  5. Get a VPN so you can work over hotel networks with more security.
  6. In Europe, take the train. Trust me, just take the train.
  7. Make it your family vacation anyway. In fact, you could even decide to set your book somewhere you really want to go… and use research as an excuse.

But if you can’t afford to go there, don’t be afraid to set your book (or short story, or few chapters of a book) in a city or town you have never personally visited. If you do your research, you can make it work without annoying the locals.

By Jennifer R. Povey

Source: refiction.com

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Top 9 Influential Female Characters In Science Fiction

Let’s take a look at some influential science fiction female leads and see how we can use them in our writing.  Here’s some strong, complex creations … None of them scream, faint or need rescuing. They’re the ones getting the job done. These 9 are my personal trail-blazers of female science fiction. Let’s go!

1) Princess Leia

We had already seen earlier in Star Wars that Leia could handle herself. The way she dealt with Vader and Tarkin after she was captured showed us that. But it was when Han Solo and Luke came to rescue her that Leia became so much more than a conventional damsel in distress. By taking over what had been seen as the male role, rescuing herself and generally wise-cracking her way out of trouble, she created a whole new type of character.

Write Tip: Change the action around! Get your characters doing what nobody (even the other characters) expects. If you can get the reader wondering ‘Where did that come from?’, you’re halfway there.

2) Ellen Ripley

The ultimate case of the quiet one, a by-the-book member of the crew … Yet she turned out to be the baddest of the bunch. She could fight if she had to, but that wasn’t what she was all about. Ripley had heart, integrity. A woman who could rise to challenges and one-line with the best of them.

Ripley displayed a range of emotion beyond a science fiction action hero. Ripley wasn’t snappily dressed, or the Hollywood idea of a conventional female character when she first appeared but that didn’t matter … In fact, this added to her appeal. She was anyone who saw wrong and wanted to sort it.

Write Tip: A character’s journey can start with the triggering of an emotion. It creates empathy with the reader or viewer; everyone relates to them. Identify a strong one and probe it with a sharp stick.

3) Sarah Connor

Sarah had a journey too, from timid waitress to protector, to fugitive soldier. Events, as they had with Ripley, changed her. While learning you’re the mother to the leader of the resistance in the future would be enough to change anyone, Sarah handles it.

If the movie had been made in earlier days, Sarah would be screaming and fainting and waiting for rescue. Instead, she proved she could do whatever was needed to keep the people she loved safe. And while she was about it, she showed us that just about anyone could do it too, if they ever had to.

Write Tip: What doesn’t kill a character makes them adapt. Give them a logical reason to change, a vision of what could be if they do.

Science Fiction Was Never The Same Again

Thanks to these three, the world of science fiction would never be the same. It was as if the genre had cottoned on to what a lot of people knew to be true. Real women could be the focus of a story! Not just one-dimensional eye candy or a motivator for men.

These women were strong and capable. They were in control, and they did it all with a witty reposte, just to remind you that they had the answer and they weren’t afraid to lead the way. They weren’t just female versions of the male action hero with martial arts and big guns (although they could do that as well). No, they had backstory, baggage. It made them human, believable, even aspirational.

Let’s take a quick look at a few more …

 4) Sarah Jane Smith

Doctor Who companion, nosy journalist and one of the first to use her wits and intuition over muscle and firepower. As well as being totally fearless, she was one of the team, redefining the role from that of helpless decoration to one of strong equal. And doing it with an opinion.

Write Tip: Every partnership has a hero and a trusty sidekick, two parts of a whole character. Why not give the sidekick the real power (the hero need never know)?

5) Dana Scully

She was the rational sceptic to Mulder’s excitable believer, the woman of science, sent to debunk and explain. Probably the greatest reason for the show’s success, her dogged determination to find an explanation left you wondering just where the truth ended. Although not averse to action, she proved that you could be just as effective with a computer or a test tube.

Writers tip: Every story needs a basis infact, once you convince the reader that you know what you’re talking about, they’ll follow your fiction.

6) Olivia Dunham

Another intelligent one, with the baggage that made her the ideal choice to investigate the fringes. Like Scully, the quiet voice of calm when it’s all going crazy.  Reserved but with purpose and empathy, unmoved by the revelations unfolding before her. And she had a double in an alternative universe, which is pretty cool.

Write Tip: Once you’ve got your fact out of the way, always remember; nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true.

 

7) Andorra Pett

Andorra who? I hear you ask. Well, she’s my creation, my contribution to the genre. Andorra’s an amateur detective for the space age. She’s a person more on the thinking side of things, independent and initially unaware of how clever she is. Out of her depth at the start, as Andorra’s story progresses, she learns so much about herself. What’s more, in the process, as have so many before her, she changes. She finds the strength to survive and the courage to grow.

Write Tip: Never be afraid to take your character (and your reader) out of their comfort zone. Their reactions might surprise both of you.

8) Kaylee Frye

An engineer, and why not? Women can do anything. Resourceful and yet naïve; dependable and vulnerable, all at once. As well as keeping Serenity running; she was the glue that held the crew together, loved by everyone. To top it all, she knew what a Crazy Ivan was!

Write Tip: Having engineers or other specialists in your cast gives you the ability to impart backstory in conversation, even in the middle of the action. A few short sentences between characters is so much better than pages of boring facts.

9) Kathryn Janeway

Starship commander and breaker of rules. In the same way that a man had to do what a man had to do, it was her job to keep everyone together and get them home. If the means justified the end, she was willing to try it. Sometimes emotional, sometimes calm, always adaptable, like any good commander.

Write Tip: You need a focal point, a constant. It can be part of your setting, a place or an object. Or it could be a dependable character, a rock in an ocean of uncertainty.

Which are your faves? Let me know!

By Lucy V Hay

Source: bang2write.com

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