Tag Archives: Writers Write

Limiting the Number of Characters

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig 

This is the second post in a short series about making our lives easier as writers. One thing that I’ve tried to be more conscious of as the years have gone by is limiting the number of characters I introduce in a story or series.

With a cozy mystery series, for example, the field of characters is already going to be pretty crowded. You have a sleuth and a sidekick and around five suspects. And then you have recurring characters: friends and family of the sleuth and  some sort of police presence.

The more characters we add, the harder it is for readers to keep up.  And we run the risk of not having the space to make the characters more than one-dimensional.

One bit of advice is not to name every single character in your book.  The waitress at the diner can just be the waitress.  If we name her, we may be making her role in the story seem more important than it is…and leave readers trying to remember another name.

Another tip is to evaluate the number of characters you’re introducing. For my new series, I took a look to see if it was possible to combine roles.  In one instance I could, which just meant that a character needed to help out with a cat rescue at the beginning of the book.

More reading about combining character roles can be found here:

Clare Langley-Hawthorne’s “A Cast of Thousands

If you do have a large cast of characters even after combining roles, there are ways to help readers keep track of them. It’s a good idea to make characters distinguishable from each other by using quirks, diction, and recurring details about their physical appearance as reminders.

You can also tag supporting characters who haven’t been on stage for a while (Jane’s hairdresser, Sheri, opened the door). Or: Sheri walked in. “Long day at the beauty parlor, y’all. Three customers didn’t show up!”

More information on working with large casts of characters can be found here:

September C. Fawkes’ “Working With a Large Cast of Characters

As a reader, do you ever have trouble keeping up with a lot of characters?  As a writer, how do you try to help readers keep up (I’ve seen some books with a ‘cast of characters’ list at the front)?

Source: elizabethspanncraig.com

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Storytelling Exercise: Tone and Mood

Today I’d like to share an excerpt from Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises, which helps beginning to intermediate storytellers develop fiction writing skills. This exercise is from chapter sixty, and it’s called “Tone and Mood.” Enjoy!

Tone and Mood

Tone and mood give a story a sense of atmosphere—how a story feels—its emotional sensibility.

Atmosphere is often established through a story’s setting: An old abandoned Victorian mansion beneath a full moon on a windy night can elicit a dark and creepy atmosphere. However, tone and mood can also come from the characters. A clumsy, awkward character can evoke a humorous tone for a story. And events can shape a story’s tone and mood; consider the difference in tone between a story about a star athlete making it to the big leagues versus a story about the effects of war on a combat veteran.

Tone and mood may also be driven by a story’s genre. For example, the identifying feature of horror is that it’s scary. Romance is romantic. Any genre can be infused with comedy, although there is little humor in a tragedy. An adventure story can be lighthearted or terrifying; a science-fiction story can be thrilling or cerebral; a mystery can be grim or gritty, or both.

One author might use a consistent tone throughout all of their works. Another might use different tones for different projects. And some authors use multiple tones in a single story: A suspenseful scene can follow a funny scene, or a tense scene can follow a sad scene. The tone can even change within a scene: A light or casual moment can turn grave in an instant. A changing tone affects the rhythm of a story, giving it emotional and atmospheric cadence.

Sometimes tone and mood develop naturally from the story’s characters, plot, and setting. Other times, tone and mood might be unclear, and it’s up to us, as authors, to establish a story’s emotional atmosphere.

Study:

Create a simple outline of about five chapters from a novel you’ve read, and then write a couple of sentences describing the tone throughout these chapters. Then scan through the text, and mark any changes in tone. When you’re done, review the story’s structure through the lens of tone. What is the overall tone? Can you detect a pattern? How do the tone and mood change as the story builds up to its climax, or do they remain static?

Practice:

Choose two descriptive words for how your story will feel—its tone and mood. Here are a few examples: lighthearted and adventurous, dark and humorous, or mysterious and contemplative. Create a quick sketch for a story, including at least three characters, a setting, and a one-paragraph summary of the plot. Be sure to include details about how the tone and mood will be established. For example, a dark and humorous story might be set in a mortuary with a fumbling, silly protagonist.

Questions:

What effect does tone have on readers? Can tone and mood be used to strengthen a story’s characters, plot, or theme? What are some ways authors can communicate a story’s tone and mood throughout the narrative? How is tone related to genre, or are they related? What happens when the tone and genre are contrasted (humor within a horror story)? Do you prefer stories with a consistent tone and mood throughout, or do you prefer a story that takes you on an emotional ride, moving through a range of tones and moods?

 

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

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From Ready, Set, Write: Getting Ready to Write

Today, I’m excited to share an excerpt from my recently published book, Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing. This is from the book’s introduction. Enjoy!

A Writer’s Journey Begins

When I was a little girl, my mom used to sit, curled up on the couch, with a thick paperback novel in her hands and a big bag of M&Ms in her lap. I’m still trying to quit my candy habit! But books are forever.

My mom taught me to read by the time I turned four. The rhyming stories of Dr. Seuss were among my early favorites. Soon I was devouring Charlotte’s Web and Little House in the Big Woods. Later it was the Narnia books and A Wrinkle in Time. I constantly checked out Where the Sidewalk Ends from my school library. Whenever I asked for new books, my mom would take me to the used paperback store and let me pick out a few. Whenever the Scholastic newsletter came, she let me order a few books from the catalog. And whenever I asked to go to the big public library, she drove me there.

When I was about thirteen years old, something changed. After years of reading other people’s words, I started putting my own words on the page.

They were poems or songs, inspired by the music that I loved and informed by the books I had read. I composed these pieces in my spiral-bound notebook, which was intended for schoolwork. I remember marveling at the words I’d written. I had created something—and I had done it with nothing more than a pen and paper and some words. I was elated. I wanted to write more.

Around the same time, one of my teachers required our class to keep journals. We wrote in our journals for a few minutes every day, and when the semester ended, I continued writing in mine throughout the summer and for years afterward.

I filled many notebooks throughout my teens and early twenties. I wrote about my thoughts and feelings. I explored ideas. I wrote poems and personal essays. I composed song lyrics. Later, I started to tinker with storytelling.

I sometimes hear people talk about what it means to be a “real writer.” Occasionally, someone will say that a “real writer” loves to write, needs to write, or gets paid to write.

I disagree.

I’m a real writer because I write. Sure, sometimes I love it, but not always. Other times, I need to do it, but not always. Sometimes I get paid to write, but that didn’t happen until many years after I’d started writing. There are times when writing is frustrating, exhausting, or just plain difficult. I’ve experienced writer’s block. I’ve struggled with doubt and dismay about my work. I’ve taken long, unplanned breaks from writing.

But I always come back.

Writing is part of who I am. It’s what I do.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer, too. At the very least, you’re an aspiring writer. That doesn’t mean you intend to get your name on a best-seller list (although you might). It doesn’t mean you plan to get paid for your writing (although you might). It doesn’t mean you will submit your work and get it published (although you might).

It just means you want to write.

And so you should.

About Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing

As the title implies, this book is a guide to creative writing. It isn’t a book that delves into grammar, spelling, or punctuation. It doesn’t tell you how to become a professional, published author. It does one thing and one thing only: shows you what you can write and how you can write it.

You’ll start by creating a space in which to write. Then you’ll explore various forms of writing that you can experiment with in your new writing space. You’ll answer some questions about writing. You’ll try some writing activities. You’ll learn techniques to help you stay motivated and inspired. Finally, you’ll put together your own writer’s tool kit.

You’ll find questions and activities to prompt a writing session at the end of each chapter. So get your notebook ready.

Get Ready to Write

The more you explore and experiment, the more fun you’ll have and the better your writing will become. Try different forms and genres. Use a variety of tools and techniques. Take risks, and don’t expect everything to come easily, but know that your efforts will be rewarded.

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

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10 Reasons Why You Should be Proud to be a Writer

Sometimes I compare my job as a writer to his and I wonder if I’m bringing enough value to the world and helping enough people.

Genevieve Parker-Hill

The above quote comes from a wonderful post called Write the Book, Save the World.

In the post Genevieve wonders why she should be proud to be a writer when her husband who works with a large nonprofit organization seems to be bringing so much more value to the world?

Here at WritetoDone we believe every single writer matters. As Genevieve says:

what if your work helped just one person? What if your work connected with one person and colored their life with joy for one moment? What if it gave just one person a powerful connective experience, a sense that they aren’t alone?

Below are 10 reasons why you should be proud to be a writer in the real world, because in the real world, writing, and writers, really matter.

proud-to-be-a-writer

Let me know in the comments below why YOU are proud to be a writer.

Source: writetodone.com

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‘How I fell in love with writing’ part 1

Let’s face it – our relationship with writing can be just like one with another human being. Most of the time you’re madly in love with each other, but there are also other occasions where you and writing go weeks without saying a word. Ultimately, it’s worth it – but like all relationships, you need to make time for each other.

Recently we were having so much fun with the idea of writing being the love of your life, that we thought we’d ask what everyone likes to ask happy couples: “How did you first meet?”

And so we put the call out to our wonderful community to let us know (in 100 words or fewer) the story of how your love affair with writing first began. We received hundreds of replies, and in the spirit of creative curiosity, over the coming weeks we’re going to publish a new heart-warming selection of them every Thursday.

So, on that note, here is the first collection of love stories – we hope it inspires and reminds you of why YOU love writing… Enjoy!


At a tender age I was told I wasn’t good enough for You. I was directed to another and handfasted to them for fifty years. I served them faithfully all that time but they discarded me for someone younger. But oh joy! I’ve found You again. Is it too late now that I’m in my twilight years? Can we find the love and fulfilment again?

“Yes,” You say, “it’s our time now and no one can take it away.”
– Anne Tavares


I was five years old. I grabbed a piece of paper and my mother’s red lipstick instead of a pen. I started writing a story about two friends. I remember seeing the imaginary world slowly building up in front of my eyes as I wrote. I didn’t feel butterflies in my stomach, nor did my palms get sweaty. In fact, it was the exact opposite. It felt like a soft hug, like seeing an old friend after very long time, like finally coming home. And from that time, I knew we were meant for each other.
– Tereza Kolková


As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been told I write too much. Teachers pointed out my assignments were too long; they warned me I would struggle with the mountains of homework in high school. They were right, but I keep writing too much anyway. Because there’s something intrinsic about putting pen to paper. Placing your fingers at the keyboard. It’s about making sense of the chaos of your own thoughts, or the world. Understanding the way you feel or what you want. Best of all there’s nobody else there. Just you and the page and the quietness. For me, that kind of escape hatch is priceless.
– Esme Wilmot


I found you in the lonely times. In the birds, the moon and the wind. We told each other stories, just to pass the time. When I was looking for a friend you came to me in rhyme. You were always ahead of me, knowing what comes next. You whispered great adventures to me, ones I rarely told. Slowly we opened up together, daring to be shared. You reveal the deepest parts of me, the sad and the bright. With you I become much more, it is you that holds my light.
– Bree Murphy


Dear Writing,

I don’t know the exact moment I noticed you, but I remember the tingle in my body that wouldn’t stop. I kept coming back to you if only to be near you – to feel the rollercoaster-like anticipation bubble in my stomach. I am drawn to do things for you like bring you coffee. I obsess to touch you and spend time with you. You are my focus, my obsession, the fuel of all my thoughts at the expense of keeping the secret of our affair. Do you love me? Yes or no?

Love,
You Know Who
– Tammy Breitweiser


A day like all the ones before. The heavy eyes. The churning gut. The lump in throat.

Knees under chin on the big rock behind music hall.

Dodging words hurtled by impulsive tongues.

The three o’clock relief.

Then safety. Hand poised over recycled paper. A present. The pencil a masticated mess from nervous teeth.

The pages fresh and clear; but for one, two, three droplets.

Each brush of lead a lightening of bones. A trembling of lips. A bitter comfort.

The paper; a friend. It hears the words and lets them be.

A becoming way for unburdening truths.
– Nicole Jacobsen


I must confess, I’ve always loved you, although you never knew. I felt unworthy of your affection, so I hid in the shadows.

It was tragedy that finally brought us together, me grief stricken, the weight of my cancer diagnosis weighing heavily around my soul. You allowed me to express my feelings without judgement, and later you were my oasis, the place I could escape to. I could enter a different world, away from my pain and fear. I still feel unworthy, but I no longer hide in the shadows. I embrace you my love, my writing.
– Josephine Ripepi


Kindergarten was tough. I couldn’t run fast like the other kids or jump the silver benches. However, one September morning while inspecting our rose bushes I found something special. I put it in an old jar Baba gave me and took it to school.

Mrs Linard made me put it on her desk while we learned to make sentences. Staring at it from across the room, inspiration hit. From a book’s back cover I found the correct spelling and competed my first story: ‘I got my ladybird.’ Putting those words together gave me a thrill I still get today.
– Greg Tantala


My love for writing was prescribed to me by a doctor.

Dr. Seuss.

Growing up hearing stories of the Lorax, Horton and the Cat.

All I wanted to do was grab a pen and do just that.

I haven’t stopped writing, I love it more as I grow.

Dr. Seuss showed me, through writing, the places I can go.
– Markos Hasiotis


It all started about ten years ago when I was nine years old, at school.

During my first creative writing class, our teacher was telling us about how we should use our imagination to write a story about a day at the beach, it intrigued me and as I started writing, it all came flowing in my head like I was living in my own private little world.

It gave me a sense of power as I felt like I could create my own world. That became my escape from reality…
– Hirsha Rewa


We met in darkness. Where there was no hope.
Where fear and regret laid waste to my heart.
You held me close as I slept. Even closer when I was awake.
You squeezed tears from my eyes. Forced the screams from my throat.

Stripped me of light.

And yet, it was you, Death, who showed me the way.
A new purpose amidst despair. One that would not break.
Words to tell your story. My story. Our story.

The day I lost my sweet love was the day I began to fall in love… with writing.
– Karen Liversz


A spell over me it did cast,
A love affair, forever to last.

Magical lands, just above the trees.
Oh please, let it be the Land of Do-As-You-Please.

Climbing higher, we went to the top.
Water! Watch out! It’s Dame Washalot.

His smiling face as round as the moon,
and Ol’ Saucepan Man with his metal spoon.

Down the slide we would go, me,
Fanny, Bess, Dick and of course Jo.

To my folks, forever grateful I will be, for reading me,
The Magic Faraway Tree.
– Robyn Noble


Forsaken first love. My infatuation with writing was buried since high school. I pursued her but she did not reciprocate. We eventually drifted apart.

When mid-life crisis hit, my old flame beckoned mysteriously through the form of a competition in my child’s school. Thought I would flirt with her, with no intention of winning her heart.

While having fun dating nightly with “writing” three weeks consecutively, our passion was revived and love blossomed. My late nights and persistence paid off as I arose triumphant, having stolen her heart and crowned the winner in the school’s short story writing competition!
– Yee Min Koo


Words lifted me out of the open boot of the family station wagon parked on the grass next to the airstrip. Hunched over the handmade book, jagged edged with a red cardboard cover, I wrote the title in lead pencil. ‘The Spring Fairy’ was eight pages of Twinke’s adventures before she and the forest went to sleep at the end of the summer.

My very first manuscript was finished whilst my family looked up at the aviation displays and ate the picnic lunch.

My seven-year-old mind happily glided through another world.

I’ve never landed.
– Melanie Ross


My lover is a mystery to me, still, after all these years. I first met her when I was 12 and she whispered a gentle song into my heart. I’ll never forget the lyrics she implanted into my young, restless mind. So soothing. So encouraging. I beseeched her for more, then she gave me a book. I recall every beautiful passage explaining the true meaning of love,- kind, forgiving, enduring. Although she has no face or name, my lover taunts and excites me with her mystery, which she has taught me is so very, very important, in eternal love.
– Claire Penhallurick


High School for me, as it was for many, a very awkward and confronting time. I struggled making friends and even when I thought I had I felt this unwavering feeling that I was an imposter and that I would be discovered for the fake that I was.

When things felt like they were becoming too much, and the walls felt like they were closing in I found solace in a piece of paper and a pen. I didn’t have to prove myself or be the best or try to fit in. It felt comfortable and real, and me.
– Dominique Bebbington


A friend bought me a journal and suggested I get to know Writing. Initially I started to see Writing briefly and sporadically. Yet as the years went by it grew deeper and longer. I felt I could open up and explore my feelings with Writing. My love of reading encouraged me further, to take the next step with Writing. I signed up for classes to teach me how to be better with Writing. It’s been a long road but we’re still together every day, either exploring our emotions or crafting beautiful new stories.
– Sumi Mahendran


It’s been three years. I know our break was my choosing, but I want you to know that I’ve changed.

Bumping into you again in the home office, I knew I’d let go of something real. How could I throw away all those nights of obsession we spent together through university? My fixation on you gave me a strange confidence fuelled by disinterest in the real world. I miss that. I miss you.

I know it may take a bit of work to get back to how we were before, but if you’re willing, I want to try again.
– Hannah Beazley


Writing and I were introduced to each other by three frenemies, Sleepless Nights, Silent Screams and Torrential Tears. Writing let me know early that he didn’t mind using the medium of letters to God in red pen and tear-crinkled paper. He was a good listener, he never got embarrassed by the frenemies being around, and he helped me find Emotions and locate Reason. I spoke to him of my fears and hopes and he helped me find the words to share them with others too. Then one day, I realised that I couldn’t live without him.
– Naomi Currie


I became entranced by the magic of the written word as a very young child as marvellous stories were read to me. I couldn’t wait to start school as I was told that it was there that I would learn how to write my very own stories. That first day when I walked into the classroom I was horrified to find a bunch of desks each with a ball of playdough on top! Thankfully my first school teacher was quick to recognise my desire and supplied me with “special” paper to practise my stories on. That’s where our affair began.
– Suzie Pybus


I opened an old basket trunk where my journals were stored. I had started at age 13 and dwindled off after I married at 24. I spent weeks reading journal after journal, watching my handwriting change and myself grow. Simple records of daily events gradually changed into descriptions of my thoughts and dreams. When I finished reading them, I realised how good writing had been in keeping my teenage self genuine and how reading the words penned from my own younger hand made me feel so good in the now! Writing is a kind and faithful lover.
– Bec Fletcher


We met as many writers do, enraptured by stories: the words, the sounds and the places they took me. Up the Faraway Tree, hunting tigers burning bright, to Prince Edward Island, and solving mysteries with Trixie Belden. Spelling, play-acting, reading; that’s how we became firm friends. At ten, I learnt to type on a clackety old Remington I found in the garage. My tiny fingers ached from making words appear on the crisp A4. I wrote a weekly family newsletter that even my teasing brothers liked. Glowing with happiness, writing felt like a beautiful hug from my mum.
– Janet Russell


Do voices keep you awake at night?

All shouting louder than the other in a crescendo to be heard.

You toss and turn, pull the blanket up and down, kick it off the bed with hands clasped into fists telling those voices that you’re tired and need rest.

But they want to argue,

“Her eyes are green not blue”

“He has a hook for a hand”.

I was six years old.

Putting pen to pad was to put a silencer on the voices.

These days they speak one at a time, because they know I’m listening.

Love? No, it’s possession.
– Cam Johnson

 

Source: writerscentre.com.au

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3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask

I’m starting to find that the same dilemmas come up again and again when I talk with a group about online media and marketing.

These are dilemmas that I can’t solve. They boil down to three questions you have to ask yourself—and be able to answer honestly—to find a path that’s your own, not mine.

1. Are you creating primarily for yourself or primarily for an audience?

Almost all of my advice is based on the assumption that you want to entertain, inform, or increase your audience. Not everyone is concerned with this, nor should they be.

If you’re producing work for an audience, it means:

  • playing by at least some rules of the industry
  • caring what others think of your work
  • interacting with your audience and being available to them
  • doing things not for your art, but out of service to your audience
  • putting on a performance, or adopting some kind of persona
  • marketing and being visible

If you’re creating for yourself, it means:

  • the act is worthwhile regardless of who sees your work
  • fulfillment comes from your struggle with the practice, not from distribution or feedback

Of course, you may be creating for both yourself AND an audience. But some artists who believe they are producing work for an audience aren’t willing to make the sacrifices required to do so. Which means there’s another level to this.

Are you:

  • creating for an audience
  • creating for an audience that earns you money

Once money enters the equation, you have to start sacrificing more of what you want, and bend to the demands of the market. (Or find a generous patron or foundation!)

What is it that you truly want out of your creative endeavors? Do you really know?

2. How much of yourself are you going to share? And which part?

Let’s assume you do want an audience (of any size). It necessitates some kind of persona. Deciding not to have a persona (removing yourself from visibility, Pynchon style) is a persona.

You can’t imitate someone else’s persona. You can only be yourself. Some of us think famous people are (or ought to be) aloof and distant, so we imitate aloofness, even when it has nothing to do with our personality.

After I give talks about digital marketing, relationship building, and social media, inevitably one person will come up and say, “I don’t want to be visible online. I just want people to read my stories.”

That’s a rather boring proposition in this day and age.

So you have to ask yourself—even if you’re shy or think you’re boring—what part of yourself are you going to share and put on display? It’s got to be something, so let’s make it interesting. Let’s really dive into the fiction of who you are OR aren’t. Make up something you can believe in, so others can believe in it, too. (That’s what we all want, most desperately. Meaning.)

3. What is your killer medium?

For me (personally), it’s not the book form. It’s the workshop or the conference keynote. It’s the ability to answer any question thrown at me. It’s my desire to be of service in a personalized way.

Speaking about writers specifically, the book is often assumed to be the most authoritative and important medium, but that’s only because we’ve all been led to believe that (through a culture that has created The Myth about the author as authority).

It’s a Myth, neither good nor bad. Just a belief system that, increasingly, we’re all moving away from.

Creative people too often pursue mediums that have been pushed on them by other people, and because it’s the well-worn path. Instead, follow the Apple motto: “Think different.”

By

Source: janefriedman.com

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Sunday Writing Tip: Make Sure Your Scene Endings Hook Your Readers

Each week, I’ll offer a tip you can take and apply to your WIP to help improve it. They’ll be easy to do and shouldn’t take long, so they’ll be tips you can do without taking up your Sunday. Though I do reserve the right to offer a good tip now and then that will take longer—but only because it would apply to the entire manuscript.

This week, check how you end each scene and/or chapter and make sure you’re giving readers a reason to turn the page.

A scene break or chapter ending is a natural place for readers to put down a book, and sometimes we write it that way without considering the downsides. Characters go to sleep, they leave for a journey, they settle in to wait—they at in ways that say “pause the story here” in some way.

But when we end a scene with something that must be known—readers keep on reading. Readers who can’t put a book down even when the scene is over or the chapter has ended are ones who are going to rave about your book the next day (while yawning from lack of sleep).

Look at the ending of your scenes and chapters. Do they end with something to keep readers reading? Not just the last line, but the situation or need int he novel itself? Is there something going on readers want to see? Need to know? Must read the outcome for?

If not, tweak, trim, or shift so the break happens in a spot readers won’t be able to stop on.

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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Writing a Mystery: Do Your Research Right

When writing procedural fiction, research is the hot, molten core that determines how good your story is going to be. This is especially true when it comes to writing a mystery, where your story depends on thrilling twists, on-point procedure, and accurate finer points, ranging from how a firearm should act to what happens to a human body after death.

It takes a lot of research to get procedural fiction right, but it doesn’t have to be a complete mystery. Here’s how to approach intensive research for your mystery fiction novel or short story by jumping right into the deep end.

Learning Procedure

Successful mystery fiction relies on understanding proper and legal police procedure. If a real detective can read your novel and not find a single error in procedure, you’ve done your job well – and you’d be surprised at just how many detectives and police officers read detective, mystery, and police fiction during their break.

Procedure means things like how suspects will be arrested, how they will be charged, how evidence is collected and processed – and this is all vital information to get right from the beginning.

Let’s not forget about consistency with internal procedure. For example, a wayward cop wouldn’t be able to shoot their way through a chapter like in a Bruce Willis flick and face no consequences from victims or their superiors.

Procedure is different in every country, and sometimes even in every state. If you’re writing about a specific area, it’ll have a specific police station connected to it – and it’s especially important to get your facts straight.

Get in touch with the police station you’re writing about and find out if they would be happy to accompany you through a walk-around of the station: Most are happy to do this, and it gives you a basic framework to go with.

Know where to draw the line when making fiction reflect real life. Your fictional officers can’t correspond to anyone actually working at the station.

If you don’t know something about procedure, there are 3 ways to get the information:

  • Search it online first.
    Search engines are a huge pit of information – though, keep in mind that not all of it is correct. Still, you can find a lot of information just by searching the right keywords. Use authoritative and official sources at all times.
  • Look it up in a book.
    You’ll build up a good collection of textbooks as a crime writer – and you’ll have a great excuse for the weird library you keep at the same time. For facts you don’t know, sometimes it’s a big help to consult a textbook – though make sure the one you’re consulting is the one currently being used by professionals working the beat.
  • Ask a professional.
    The best way to confirm a fact is to ask someone in the career or industry you’re writing in – and this applies as much to fiction writers as it does to journalists. Have a list of resources you can call up in the event of questions like this. Eventually you’ll build up a good relationship with your sources.

Technically, the fourth way is knowing procedure from the inside – but most writers haven’t worked in a legal or law enforcement career, nor have they ever been arrested.

Researching and Shadowing Real-Life Professionals

When writing a mystery, the value of shadowing a real-life professional is absolute gold.

Here, you’ll see and experience things that you wouldn’t come across anywhere else – and you surely won’t find this kind of information online. It’s living, breathing experience – and you’d be surprised at how many professionals are happy with a visit to their work environment from a writer taking notes.

Send an e-mail with some background on your story, and you might be surprised when you’re able to see the inside of it all. Listen to the person in charge, keep your eyes open, and stay out of the line of fire. Oh, and wear a ballistic jacket. (Before you laugh, I wasn’t kidding about that one – and that’s from experience.)

If and when this is not possible, the internet remains a wonderful resource: There are many case files, as well as case information and weird documented crimes that you can read through to form a background and find out facts.

Getting Rank Right

Every country lists ranks and positions differently – and every rank has a different role when a crime or investigation is involved. Don’t guess, and hold off on any rank puns like “Sergeant Pepper” or “General Knowledge.”

Here are some suggestions for where to look up the world’s common police ranks:

Write Laws Right

Procedure and rank aren’t the only things you have to think about when writing a mystery. Criminal law (and sometimes other laws) will also be a huge part of your writing – so make a list of resources and legal experts who don’t mind answering random questions from writers. There are many out there.

Keep in mind that federal and state laws might differ in certain countries. Again, ask a legal expert such as a lawyer or law professor when you aren’t sure how something would be handled in real-life.

It’s advised that you familiarize yourself with any relevant laws as a crime writer, too – so stock up on law books and resources and keep them nearby, especially the country’s relevant criminal act.

Here are a few as a starting guideline:

Gruesome Facts

Life’s gruesome facts matter when you’re writing mystery fiction. For example, the way things would decompose under certain circumstances – or just what kind of sound a knife makes going into a human body. (Clue: “Thud” or “Thwack,” depending on the knife.)

For these, don’t guess, and don’t rely on what you’ve seen in other fiction. That’s the easy way out. Swallow your pride and go ask an expert (which will usually fall in the realm of a doctor, nurse or forensic pathologist in this case) to make sure you get it right.

They can give you the answer to a lot of theoretical situations for your character, too – but make sure you clarify why you’re asking this, and give your sources some background on your writing career: Otherwise, they might think you’re nuts and put in a call to the police themselves.

More practical research can also be called for: Sometimes you’ll have to get your hands dirty and take a raw Sunday roast to a shooting range, but that’s half the fun – as long as you aren’t breaking any laws.

Writing a Mystery: Further Reading

Remember those textbooks we mentioned earlier? Sure, it looks the same as a serial killer’s Kindle, but you get to say that it’s for research. Here are six excellent ones to get your collection started:

Thorough outlining and research is all that it takes to remove the mystery out of writing mystery fiction. Crime can pay when you’re a crime writer – now go out there and create your fictional sleuth!

Source: refiction.com

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How do you describe a place? 6 setting tips

The setting of your story is key to readers being able to imagine ‘being there’. How do you describe a place so it is characterful and contributes effectively to your story? Try these 6 tips:

1. Describe place through characters’ senses

We feel connected to place in a story when we see it through characters’ senses. Bring senses such as sight, hearing, touch, smell and even taste (there’s edible wallpaper in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) into your setting. Using every sense might not make sense for your book, yet it’s possible. In Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, set in a sweet factory full of wonder, it somehow makes sense even the wallpaper is delicious.

When describing places in your story, think about tone and mood. Should this setting be intimidating or welcoming? Ancient, dusty and arcane or ultra-modern and spotless? What does an ancient, dusty mood smell like (old books? Damp carpets?).

Use the ‘Core Setting’ section of your story dashboard on Now Novel to brainstorm descriptive elements and create more detailed settings.

Example of effective sensory place description

In Margaret Atwood’s novel Cat’s Eye (1989), the protagonist Cordelia recalls her childhood in flashbacks. Here, Cordelia describes her childhood home, when her parents would throw bridge (the card game) parties:

Then the doorbell begins to ring and the people come in. The house fills with the alien scent of cigarettes, which will still be there in the morning along with a few uneaten candies and salted nuts, and with bursts of laughter that get louder as time passes. I lie in my bed listening to the bursts of laughter. I feel isolated, left out. Also I don’t understand why this activity, these noises and smells, is called “bridge.” It is not like a bridge. (pp. 168-169)

Atwood uses sound and smell to paint an idea of the strangeness of being a child in an adult’s world. She uses the young Cordelia’s senses to create place and this puts us in the scene, as we experience young Cordelia’s surrounds through her perspective.

2. Include time period in description

‘Time’ is an important aspect of setting. This is particularly so in historical fiction. Details from the types of buildings and shops that line the main road of a city to individual details of people’s clothing and speech contribute to a sense of when the story happens. A story set in 1950s Chicago will naturally have very different buildings, cars, and people, than one set in the late 2000s.

How do you describe a place so the reader can sense the time period?

  • Show technology: What are the ordinary tools people have at their disposal? See, for example, the period-specific radio in the image below
  • Show culture: How do people live? Are there rigid gender roles between the sexes? What do the majority believe? Convey these social patterns and habits in the way people speak and things they say
  • Include current interests, challenges or obstacles: In the time period of your story, what are the hot topics of the day? Are people worried about a war, a new law, a change in government?

Period setting - 1950s Chicago scene with old radio | Now Novel

Example of time period in setting description

In Alice Munro’s semi-autobiographical collection of stories, The View from Castle Rock (2006), the Canadian author traces the history of her Scottish ancestors. Here, she recalls the simple ways of village life in the 1700s, describing the life of her ancestor William Laidlaw:

The first story told of Will is about his prowess as a runner. His earliest job in the Ettrick Valley was as a shepherd to a Mr. Anderson, and this Mr. Anderson had noted how Will ran straight down on a sheep and not roundabout when he wanted to catch it. So he knew that Will was a fast runner, and when a champion English runner came into the valley Mr. Anderson wagered Will against him for a large sum of money. (p. 9)

The details here convey a sense of rural life in 18th Century Scotland. Descriptions of herding sheep and rival runners create a sense of an agrarian, outdoor way of life conjuring earlier, less modern times.

Munro goes further creating period in her setting by describing the clothing Will receives in reward for winning the race against the English runner:

Mr. Anderson collected a fine heap of coins and Will for his part got a gray cloth coat and a pair of hose.

The reference to hose, which men don’t typically wear in modern times, further places the story in earlier times.

3. Include small-scale changes in time

In addition to creating the broader sense of time or period, you can use small-scale time (such as time of day or the way place changes week to week or month to month).

Think of how time of day and physical changes to a place in time can both contribute tone and mood.

For example, if a city is bombed over a week’s period in a story, what does it look like at the start versus at the end? As an exercise, describe a sleek, modern city in a few sentences. Then describe the same elements of the city after a week of civil warfare. What has changed and what mood do these changes create?

Including time of day can create moods such as:

  • Fear: Nighttime may bring vulnerabilities such as reduced visibility and general fear
  • Langour and laziness: The golden light of a late afternoon outdoor social gathering, for example</li.
  • Excitement: For example, the breaking light of an important and exciting day such as a wedding or holiday

Weaving in details of time of day as well as the way places change over a day, week, month or year will create a sense of your setting being a dynamic, active and real place.

Example of effective use of small-scale time in writing setting

In his historical novel Oscar and Lucinda (1988), the Australian author Peter Carey describes a stormy nighttime scene where the lights in Oscar’s family’s home go out:

There was no torch available for my father because I had dropped it down the dunny [toilet] the night before. I had seen it sink, its beam still shining through the murky fascinating sea of urine and faeces… So when the lights went off in the storm the following night, he had no torch to examine the fuse-box. (p. 3)

Carey weaves a succession of nightly events together to show the frustrations of Oscar’s father. This use of time, coupled with the stormy setting, creates tension. When the father asks Oscar’s mother where the fuse-wire is, she says ‘I used it…to make the Advent wreath’ [for the church].

Oscar’s father’s response is to blaspheme. The mother, being devout, makes them all kneel to ask God’s forgiveness.

Carey ends the scene showing a change in the setting and how the mother interprets it:

We stayed there kneeling on the hard lino floor. My brother was crying softly.
Then the lights came on.
I looked up and saw the hard bright triumph in my mother’s eyes. She would die believing God had fixed the fuse. (p. 5)

Carey masterfully uses a tense nighttime setting and situation (lights going out in a storm) to show different family members’ personalities. The mother’s response is to turn to her faith, the father’s to think of practical matters like finding fuse-wires to fix the lights.

The stormy nighttime setting provides a dramatic backdrop to the action, giving both the cause for the situation and the mood of the scene.

How do you describe place? Infographic | Now Novel

4. Show how characters feel about your setting

Story settings affect and alter characters’ moods and states of mind, just as places affect our own. Learning how to describe a place thus means, in part, learning how to describe places so that they reveal characters’ desires, interests, fears and more.

Bring your character’s personalities, passions and histories to bear on the setting details they notice and describe.

We often return to this example because it’s an effective description of setting and the feelings it evokes:

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. (p. 3)

This is the opening to Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), describing the haunted quality of her protagonist Sethe’s family home. Morrison immediately creates a sense of feeling in her setting description. Describing her characters as ‘victims’ of the house makes it clear it is a place of trauma and suffering.

Morrison continues to convey the character of place brilliantly:

The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old – as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). (p. 3)

Morrison lists interesting, mysterious details about the haunted air of 124, and the different details of place that are the final straws for individual members of Sethe’s family.

Overall, the effect of her place description is to create a sense of hostility and ‘unhomeliness’. We have a clear sense of the emotions place produces or reawakens.

5. Keep setting description relevant to the story

Often writers starting out try to describe every little detail in painstaking detail. Others describe everything in broad generalizations. Each have pros and drawbacks. The advantages of detailed place description are:

  • Vivid visuals: We see more of the setting in our mind’s eye
  • Authenticity: Details often create a sense of reality. For example, if the rooms of a house have different light, objects, curiosities

The cons of detailed description are that it can slow narrative pace and clutter your prose.

Being too broad and abstract has its own cons, however. If you describe a high street, for example, and say ‘The shops all have lavish window displays’, we don’t see any difference between them.

It’s often best to balance a little relevant detail here and there with broad description elsewhere to give both the specific qualities and the general feeling of a place.

What is relevant setting description?

It’s description that is:

  • Relevant to impending events: E.g. Including an object that will be used in a scene, such as a murder weapon
  • Revealing about place or character: For example, if a character’s bedroom is messy it tells us something about their personality (that they’re lazy, perhaps, or merely busy or chaotic)
  • Worth mentioning: Beginning writers often include unnecessary descriptions such as ‘she walked across the lounge and headed to her bedroom’. It’s more concise to simply say, ‘She went to her bedroom’

Example of relevant setting description

In his novel Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes Dr. Juvenal Urbino as one of the most respected men in the Carribean town where the story takes place.

Here is description of the doctor’s arrival at a party in the middle of a storm:

In the chaos of the storm Dr. Juvenal Urbino, along with the other late guests whom he had met on the road, had great difficulty reaching the house, and like them he wanted to move from the carriage to the house by jumping from stone to stone across the muddy patio, but at last he had to accept the humiliation of being carried by Don Sancho’s men under a yellow canvas canopy. (p. 34)

This is a simple, effective example of relevant setting description because:

  • Marquez uses how a character interacts with his challenge-ridden setting (the mud and the wet) to reveal character. Because the doctor is so respected he is carried, but he is also ‘humiliated’ by this, showing his proud nature
  • The setting description focuses on the key transition that sets up the next scenes – people’s arrival for a luncheon to commemorate the silver anniversary of Urbino’s colleague’s graduation

6. Make a list of adjectives to describe your story locations

Learning how to describe a place means also broadening your vocabulary with words that capture setting. There are so many adjectives to describe an ‘old’ building, for example. Each of the following terms describe age, yet with different shades of meaning:

  • Ancient: Belonging to the very distant past (OED)
  • Anachronistic: Belonging or appropriate to an earlier period, especially so as to seem conspicuously old-fashioned (OED)
  • Prehistoric: (Informal) Very old or out of date (OED)
  • Archaic: Very old or old-fashioned (OED)
  • Venerable: Accorded a great deal of respect, especially because of age, wisdom, or character (OED)

Even if you don’t use every word you find, this exercise will help you pinpoint the mood of a place. Think about elements such as a place’s:

  • Age
  • Mood
  • Atmosphere
  • Size
  • Appeal

Find adjectives that convey these qualities in a way that make place more specific. ‘Venerable’, for example, suggests respect that comes with age as described above. ‘Decrepit’, by contrast, suggests falling apart and ugly with age.

Source: nownovel.com

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My Map to Immersion

I’ve always loved maps. My earliest memories of map-reading are from family car-trips. My dad would reach into the (gigantic!) glove compartment of our ’68 Chevy Bel Air, and hand back the newest neatly folded roadmap of Michigan from his (gigantic!) pile of maps to my sister and me (hey, anything that quiets backseat rowdiness). He religiously picked up the AAA’s latest version from his insurance agent, whose office was a stone’s throw from his barbershop. (In his defense, those were days of growth for American infrastructure.)

My sister and I would pore over the map, pointing out the odd town names of the Mighty Mitten, and giggling over the absurd trips one could make between them: from Bellevue to Belleville (in our Bel Air!); Pontiac to Cadillac; Bad Axe to Hell; Podunk to Jugville; and even Colon to Climax (a very pleasant 30 minute ride, I swear).

Beyond the giggles, I found it all enthralling. I mean, let’s face it, Michigan has an alluring shape. Not to mention her 3,288 miles of shoreline (second only to Alaska). I remember studying the coasts, the islands, and the towns at the extreme tips of peninsulas—places like Northport, Mackinac, Copper Harbor, and Whitefish Point, and wondering how it would feel there—to be surrounded by nothing but water and forest. I’ve since been to most of the places I wondered about. And though a rare few failed to live up to the expectations of youth, most have exceeded them, and several have become favorite getaways.

My love of maps has undoubtedly contributed to my enduring love of my home state. But I can see that my love of maps also provided a natural lead-in to my love of reading.

And I’ve also become convinced that a line can be drawn from my love of maps to my current life as a writer. Allow me to diagram my case.

A Tolkien of My Affection

As some of you may know, I write epic fantasy, and cite Tolkien as a guiding star among the constellation of my inspirations. Before reading Tolkien, I’d been captivated by a middle-grade book by Dirk Gringhuis called The Young Voyageur. My parents bought it for me in the gift shop of the restored Fort Mackinac, on Mackinac Island (one of those intriguing map dots I mention above). The entire inside cover of the book is a map of the Great Lakes, marked with all of the French and British forts along the shores, and charting the protagonist Danny’s travels, covering hundreds of miles of shoreline and rivers… in a canoe!

Many of the places Danny found himself were places I had visited (thank you, history-buff parents). As I read I found myself referring to the map often. I also remember going to our family encyclopedias to look up French Voyageurs (thank you, “go-look-it-up-yourself, kid” parents). And I clearly recall finding an image of an early French map of the Great Lakes much like the one at the top of this post. I was predictably fascinated, trying to reconcile rivers and landmarks, marveling over how it might have been drawn at the time that it was. All of which put me right into Danny’s shoes.

I’m not sure how long it was after reading The Young Voyageur that I discovered Tolkien (thanks, Mr. Raymond!), but not more than a couple of years. I remember stumbling upon the map at the front of The Hobbit before I started it, and loving the tiny trees of Mirkwood and the drawings of the Misty Mountains. Closer study revealed the tiny dragon drawn above the Lonely Mountain and the spiders embedded in the forest. Then there was that heavy line from top to bottom demarking, “The Edge of the Wild.” Whoa.

There was so much to be gleaned. Which only served to fuel my fervor for the story.

The whole process started over again with The Lord of the Rings boxed set, except this time I didn’t need to stumble upon the map. I immediately sought it out, and was delighted to find the map expanded to reveal Middle Earth in its glorious entirety. It was an enticing indication of how far the story would expand, and I endlessly dissected it, referring to it almost comically often as I read.

Undeniably Tolkien’s maps played a role in pointing me down the storytelling path.

Connecting the Dots

Though I’ve always loved them, lately maps have been even more on my mind than usual. It started with WU’s own Tom Bentley, who’d come across an excellent essay on books with maps by Sarah Laskow. Tom rightly surmised that I’d be of the map-geek persuasion, and kindly passed it along. A few days later a dear friend reached out to me with a question about my latest manuscript, which she is kindly beta-reading. The question was about the locations of two port cities. Her confusion was understandable, but it made me realize that a glance at a map would’ve easily answered it. But I hadn’t provided one.

Over a decade ago I read a piece by fantasist Joe Abercrombie about why he hadn’t included a map for his debut, in which he says, “I want a reader to be nailed to the text… not constantly flipping back to the fly-leaf to check just how far Carleon is from Uffrith, or whatever. The characters often don’t know what’s going on. If they don’t have a conveniently accurate map to hand, why should the reader?”

Abercrombie’s piece contends that our stories should be compelling and self-explanatory without visual aids. Plus, not being trained cartographers (Joe and I and most other writers), our efforts can potentially open us to a level of scrutiny that’s often irrelevant to the story. At the time of reading it, I’d already tried my hand at mapmaking. Extensively. And in my less than stellar results I immediately saw his point. Besides, agents and editors to whom we submit will consider no such supplement.

I determined then that, in spite of my love of maps, the story would have to stand on its own. And I simply stopped drawing them.

Finding the Way Back to Maps 

“One of life’s great treats, for a lover of books (especially fantasy books), is to open a cover to find a map secreted inside and filled with the details of a land about to be discovered. A writer’s map hints at a fully imagined world, and at the beginning of a book, it’s a promise. In the middle of a book, it’s a touchstone and a guide. And at the end, it’s a reminder of all the places the story has taken you.”—Sarah Laskow, from her essay, How Writers Map Their Imaginary Worlds

In the interest of full disclosure, there have been occasions when a reader has requested one, and I’ve sent along my old original map (redrawn by my talented brother-in-law from one of my crappy attempts). Also, full disclosure: Abercrombie’s recent books have maps, though I’m not sure if he changed his mind or was pressed to it by his readers or his publisher.

But generally speaking, I’ve chugged along through six manuscripts without the inclusion of maps. The world of my story has since expanded well beyond my old maps’ borders. Though my story-world is roughly based on the Black Sea and Aegean regions and the Danube River Valley, a real map would never suffice as a stand-in.

My story-world is fairly vast, with a wide variety of topography. There are smoky villages and teeming cities; rocky peaks and round, green mountains; thundering seas and calm blue lakes; vibrant young pine forests and aging oak woods. And yet most every square mile of this fictional realm has remained crystal clear to me. I often struggle to recall the names of minor characters and other details, but I have almost perfect recall of the place names, along with a mental image of each.

It was Laskow’s quote above that spurred me. I finally attempted a map of the entire area of my current story-world. The endeavor has awoken something deep and old inside of me. Something enduring. I am relearning something about myself. True, as a storyteller, maps can show you how to put things in context. They can help you keep your storyline straight and true, even if they’re never meant to be shown to readers.

But more than any of that, maps are an invitation to wonder, and an incitement to imagine.

[As an aside: these days, with so many tools available online, there’s no excuse to avoid making maps, if only for your own use. I used a fantasy mapmaking website called Inkarnate. My attempt is far from complete, and the scale still feels off (reminding me of Abercrombie’s warning). But making it was easy and fun. I’ve put it on my website, if you’re curious.]

Whether you’re a map lover like me, or are just looking to be reawakened to wonder, I encourage you to give story mapmaking a try.

Charting a Course to Fiction

I’m certain that my work will have to continue to stand on its own without any visual aids. But I’m glad I found my way back to my love of maps.

I can more clearly see the path that brought me here. It was about more than a boy learning to read a map. It was about finding where I was and imagining where else I could go. Which is only a short trip to wondering what it might be like there. Then just a step to imagining what might happen next.

Isn’t that what fiction is—mentally conceptualizing the world through an invented scale, then conveying that concept via the written word? Placing yourself on the page, then visualizing the ability to move within it, and then finding your way to a new and unknown experience?

It certainly has been for me. I believe that my love of maps provided a model for what followed in the pages of my story beyond. And in the pages I continue to produce. Maps have provided the very genesis of my ability to immerse myself in story. I consider it a wonderful gift.

Which direction do you fall when it comes to book maps? Do you love maps? If so, can you draw a connection from that to your love of fiction?

Wishing a happy Thanksgiving to the Americans among you. I hope everyone safely finds their way to a blessed holiday among family and friends.

By Vaughn Roycroft
Source: writerunboxed.com

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