Settings Are More Than Just A Place

Besides believable characters, a sound plotline and a compelling tale, all stories – whether they are non-fiction or fiction – must have settings that paint an image in the reader’s mind. Characters don’t exist or relate to each other in a vacuum, they are surrounded by buildings, nature, technology and the environment. They hear noises, smell odours, and they feel. Use settings to paint a picture, to inspire, or to unnerve the reader.

Be specific
If your character is in a cafe, bring that cafe to life. There will be the murmur of other people’s conversations, mobile phones ringing, background music, the clang of dishes in the kitchen or perhaps the crash of a glass hitting the floor and breaking, and staff moving around or interrupting diners. Depending on the type of cafe and where it’s situated, there may be a baby crying or children squealing, parents scolding their children or the footsteps of people walking past – especially if it’s in a busy shopping centre. What about the mixture of odours from cooked food and coffee? Don’t overlook anything.

Use all your character’s senses
There’s a whole world going on in that cafe and your character should be a part of it. Your character can hear all those noises competing with each other and the aroma of blended smells. Your character can see the staff rushing around, the other patrons enjoying their drinks and food. Is there a couple at a nearby table arguing? Is there a couple that are on their first date? What about an older couple that are so used to each other’s habits that they pass the salt or pepper without being asked?

Let’s not forget to include what your character feels. This could be handling the hot cup of coffee, or the gritty salt from chips. Does the chip burn the mouth and tongue or does your character savour the taste? Or perhaps your character ordered a hamburger and a slice of beetroot has slipped from its confines to land on the character’s white shirt leaving a wet purplish-pink stain. Perhaps your character ordered a salad and with that first bite wished it were marbled chocolate cheesecake instead.

Settings influence mood
A setting can be used as a contrast or a similarity to how your character is feeling. A troubled character may be drawn to the shoreline to watch the rough seas, whereas a complacent or pensive character may prefer calm seas. Or a particular setting might be used for actions, such as: overgrown bush land with a murky swamp, mosquitoes, and a foul odour may be the perfect place for your character to dispose of that corpse. A gloomy and ramshackle two-story house may be the perfect abode for ghosts to rise at the strike of midnight.

Triggers to write settings
There are many sources for writers to be inspired and write appropriate settings. Here are a few ideas to help create your settings:

  • postcards, photographs, cards, travel brochures and magazines
  • your memory of places you’ve visited
  • your imagination – create unique locations
  • visit places – take photos and make notes of everything you see, hear and smell.

A setting is not just a place where your character goes; it has a life of its own.

 

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

E-books and P-books

Writing for the Internet

Because of today’s technological advances and concern for our natural resources, people are adapting to a paperless lifestyle and are turning to a different forum for their content. Unlike papered media, content is now instant and interchangeable. And the demographic of those turning to the internet for their information will continue to grow. If you have made the decision to write an e-book or a paper book (dubbed p-book), consider the points covered in this article and weigh up carefully the direction in which you wish it to take.

Remember the frenzy that surrounded the release of a Harry Potter book? Bookstores opened at midnight, thousands of fans waited in line to become the first on their block with the new adventure, online booksellers were swamped with orders. Millions of people eager to have that treasured printed book. But if the Harry Potter book had been released as an e-book then that craze may never have happened, at least not in the same way. The book would have been available instantly – obtainable in the time it takes to download – and in the comfort of the reader’s own home. No midnight openings for stores, no queues, and no next-day shipping for online booksellers. And possibly the media would’ve had to find something else to talk about for five or ten minutes.

Although some people still resist the change, it appears that e-books are here to stay. What writer wouldn’t have enjoyed the success of Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet with over 500,000 downloads. Of course the eagerness to obtain this e-publication in the first 24 hours (approximately 400,000 downloads) caused the server to overload and there were additional issues relating to the encryption. It was a significant leap for e-publishing, propelled because a famous author published it in this format. Now many publishers have established e-book divisions and online bookstores have made space on their sites to handle e-books.

E-books have a number of advantages over its paper relation. The posing question is whether e-books outweigh the intimacy shared between reader and its tree-born companion. The ultimate challenge, as is usually the case with the transition from old to new, has to do with getting used to the change. In relative terms, typewriters replaced longhand as the preferred way of writing. Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi was the first typewritten manuscript. By the late 1980s, a number of writers had abandoned their typewriters for word processors.

There are people who still write longhand, they feel more connected to their writing, but many are now comfortable with the flashing cursor and cut-and-paste convenience options of their computers. And e-publishing has established itself as the preferred method of publishing.

Electronic or Paper

From a practical viewpoint, the storage capacity of e-books makes it easy on both business and leisure travellers. No more carrying around volumes of company reports, public manuals, or the five novels you’ve packed and planned to read on your next holiday.

The most attractive quality of e-books is their versatility. E-books have searchable highlights, making it easier for you to relocate important sections you’ve marked. You can take notes without running out of margin space. An electronic dictionary allows you to click on a word and get its definition. E-books can also be read in the dark. Finally, as mentioned earlier, you can download an e-book in seconds – and there are no shipping fees.

Many avid readers still say they prefer the feel of a book in their hands while they are reading. They get lost in another world between the pages. And while they may have tried reading an e-book, it simply doesn’t have the same emotional impact for them.

It’s a special time when parents read stories to their children, turning each page, allowing the children to explore the pictures and absorb the story. It turns into a learning tool as parents ask their children to find things within the illustrations or question what they think will happen next.

The Future Of E-Books

Opinions on the future of e-books vary. Some authors and publishers are anti-e-books, but there are those that welcome the technological advances. Some concern is over devices with small screens, which requires lots of squinting and scrolling. E-book readers are much more like paper books in terms of font size, but reading them can be like looking at a computer monitor for great lengths of time. Nevertheless, the technology continues to improve.

Predictions are never easy, but there is a likelihood e-books will become the dominant way to read, and the paper version will become a rarity. Many newspapers and magazines already have e-versions of their information that appears in the printed issues, and they are aware of the binding cost to produce the same information in a physical form and the distribution costs and difficulties. It’s unlikely paper publishing will disappear entirely, despite some people’s opinions. Children’s books have made a comeback in the printed version and there will be other readers who enjoy the feel of a book while they read instead of the glare of a computer screen. Of course, a hundred years from now, things will be different and the printed book may be bought as an antique. Readers’ desire to experience a good story will remain despite the format it’s presented in.

To E-Publish …

Below are some points in favour of online publishing:

  • E-books can be published without the costs associated with traditional publishers.
  • It can be almost instantaneous to publish, and without the need to print copies, bind them and distribute them, meaning quicker recognition.
  • Technology is forever moving forward so, at the very least, e-publishing needs to be accepted as an alternate forum.
  • Writers have more freedom and are not bound to the whims of traditional publishers.

Or Not To E-Publish

Below are some points in favour of traditional publishing:

  • Like music, e-books can be easily downloaded or copied repeatedly. There is no profit for the writer if one person buys it and then allows, for instance, 10 friends to copy or download it for free. Those piracy laws are there for a reason.
  • Not all readers think to search the internet for a good book.
  • Many booklovers prefer to wander the aisles of stores who sell books soaking up the unique aroma of the printed form rather than purchasing a story online.
  • The possibility of plagiarism is compounded with the ability to ‘cut and paste’, which is readily available on any computer.
  • There would be no traditional advances from royalties normally associated with a published book through a publishing house.
  • Parents will often purchase a book for their children while browsing in a shop or supermarket. When passing books lined up on a shelf, a child will visually acknowledge a book of interest, which can encourage reading.

Audience

Generally speaking, when writing for the internet, there are three crucial differences: Audience, Format, and Lifespan. It’s important to consider each of these key differences.

A writer must consider the audience. When it comes to the paper version or electronic, the basics won’t change in regards to identifying who the primary targeted audience is, but there are some huge differences in other areas.

Most people, once they have bought a magazine or newspaper, are likely to give each page a cursory read before setting the item aside. Not so with online. When writing for the internet you must always keep in mind your reader can leave with a click of a button. People don’t have a lot of time to waste, so you must remain on target and focused at all times. If the writer doesn’t deliver good content then the reader will simply go elsewhere – and fast.

Format

Another important point when writing for the internet is that many online readers are skimmers. They scan your copy quickly before committing themselves to reading the entire thing. It’s important to write clearly and concisely. Use punchy headlines and subheadings, as well as solid introductions and conclusions, as these are key points for skimmers.

Don’t try to mimic traditional print documents. Writing for the internet requires different strategies. One of the most important is the entry point. A search engine may deliver readers to any point of your information. If you have written coherent and cohesive content, then those readers might consider a more thorough read. It’s best to break longer pieces into several stand-alone sections that can work together as a whole or as separate documents.

Lifespan

While the apparent lifespan of many electronic documents appears to be short-lived, it’s not necessarily the case. Printed newspaper and magazine articles are current for a day, week or the month of their publication, so while it’s important as a writer to be fresh and current, keep in mind that your reader may access your words from the internet at some undetermined point in the future. Therefore, try not to be too topical (unless there is a specific reason for this), as you may severely date your article in the process.

Luckily, we are in a period where the decision to publish online or use traditional publishing tactics is up to the individual. So why not use both mediums for different work depending on the purpose and desired outcome.

Writing Memoirs or Family Histories

The urge to write

More and more people follow an urge to record their lives on paper. Perhaps this stems from wanting to leave a footprint behind long after we have left this earth. Perhaps it’s to understand who we are and the turmoils we’ve undergone, and it takes on a form of therapy. Or perhaps we are inspired by the extraordinary feats of an ancestor and want to share the tale with others.

Family trees are researched and genealogies documented increasingly these days, and if it weren’t for this, how many of us would know the names of our great grandparents? These important people were the foundation of our immediate family today and yet they are lost in the passing of each generation. They’re more than a vague recollection; they too experienced love and laughter, tears and sadness. Their lives were full of drama and excitement. They deserve to be remembered.

Autobiography or biography?

If your goal is to write your own memoir or autobiography, you could start and finish at any point; it could focus on a difficult time in your life or be a more thorough account of your life from birth until present day including friends and family. Similarly, if you choose to write a biography on a specific ancestor, then it could be the full story from birth to death or limited to a particular point in that person’s life.

Autobiographies are easier because the writer knows all the details having lived it, but it can be emotionally draining and difficult to reveal personal details. It may cause you to question your decisions or motives. Biographies require far more research and hours spent trying to discover every hidden detail.

Do something about it before it’s lost!

It’s the colour and fabric of our lives that create the people we are, not the sequential order to which we are born. Without our stories, our relatives, names, and identities are forgotten.

Writing your memoir or family history can be a rewarding and meaningful experience. You never know what family secrets you may unearth with all your digging. But most importantly, it’s fun.

There are essentially two purposes for writing your memoir or family history: publishing it to a public forum or as a keepsake for the family. This is your choice. It’s possible that other people may not share the excitement and wonder that you feel about your own life story or a story on the lives of your family; however, what may have started out with the intention of being a bound book on the family’s bookshelf may actually hold powerful historic value with larger-than-life characters. Avid readers from all over may welcome it, but a second opinion is vital before you make plans to self-publish with a large print-run.

Just write it

Don’t worry excessively about the end product and what you’re going to do with it. Write to capture the story and relate it to those that might read it. Allow your memories, facts and thoughts to flow first then turn your thoughts to editing later. It’s recommended that you seek a professional editor to assist you in producing your work. You’ve put so much effort and time into it; don’t ruin it in the final stages.

Research, research, research

Research is crucial for family histories and you will need to wear your investigative hat. Interview family members, especially older ones. Look up genealogy trees, birth certificates, death certificates, school records, journals, yearbooks, military records, passports, and the list goes on. There are surprises in every family.

Quite often names were changed, middle names used instead or the spelling of surnames altered. There are family tales due to war, depression, sickness, etc. Memories can become slanted over time, so keep this in mind when interviewing people. Always ensure your facts are correct.

Important Points

Here are some additional important points to help guide you:

  • Don’t be afraid to write in the first person. The story is about your life and you are telling it. However, nothing is stopping you from writing in the third person if that’s your choice. Remember, it’s your book.
  • Use plain, simple language so everyone can understand. It’s about getting your story across to your readers.
  • Type names into search engines, such as Google, and see what you find.
  • Take notes. Lives are chronologically set. That doesn’t mean you have to begin at the beginning. Dive into the middle and work your way out. However, it helps to have index cards with the correct order of events on them for easy referencing. Alternatively, you can use software that can structure your thoughts and events, such as Writer’s Helper.
  • Add extras to make it unique. A book of memoirs filled with photos of schools, towns, people and places adds interest. Life is different now and people are interested in what life used to be like, especially if they are related to them.
  • Inject humour, anecdotes, quotes and sayings. Include family recipes and handy hints known to your family. These are the threads that sew your family’s patchwork quilt together.
  • Don’t use your story memoirs or family history as a means for retribution. Show meaning and depth. There should be a purpose that helps others achieve similar goals, such as making money, surviving against the odds or how to be a better person/parent/sibling.
  • Use websites with researchable databases, such as www.ancestry.com.au. These offer valuable information. You may even find a distant relative in another country where you can share information.
  • Allow other family members to know about it or give them the opportunity to get a copy for themselves. Email a copy to family members, so they can add to it, before finalising it. Valuable information can be gathered this way and help to complete your work before publishing.

Writing a memoir or family history is an heirloom for future generations – they contain captured moments in time, punctuated with facts and anecdotes that tell a story.

So, what does your story say?

 

Image by CharuTyagi from Pixabay

Writing A Novel

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a niggling idea for ages or tripped over inspiration on the way to work; if you have made the decision to write a novel then congratulations. Making the decision to write a novel is the first step. There are of course many others, but having reached this decision is an excellent start.

Some writers like to brainstorm, make copious notes, and generally organise themselves into a story. Other writers jump straight into the deep end regardless of where the story’s start, middle or end is. Writing isn’t always a perfect process. It proceeds backwards, inside out, or upside down more often than simply forward. You are the writer; it’s your decision. Do what feels right for you, but make sure the finished product is worthy of a publisher’s time.

What Is Your Story About? 

Deciding the course of your story is actually working out the plot. It could be about a ravaged refugee fleeing his war torn country, or a little boy that is bullied for being disabled, or a sweeping romance set by a lighthouse on a remote island. Once you have the main storyline, subplots will emerge until you have a full-bodied plot. A plot needs a beginning, middle, and an end. It also must have conflict and a resolution.

Who Are Your Characters?

Usually there’s a main character (a protagonist) and readers want to see this hero win or overcome whatever happens. To help conflict along, there is usually another character that is evil, mean, cruel, or whatever negative points you wish to add. This villain is the story’s antagonist. You need to know all your characters, even the ones playing minor roles. You have to know their faults, their weaknesses, and their strengths. They have to have likes, dislikes, and habits.

To help you visualise these, you could draw rough sketches of them or use models from magazines. Be careful not to have all your characters looking beautiful with perfect bodies unless there is a specific reason to do this. Write a list of characteristics, such as age, facial hair, tattoos, hair colour, eye colour, and so on. You need to know them well, so you know how they would react in any given situation. Remember that not all people will react in the same way. Make sure your characters are believable and natural.

Don’t make your protagonist perfect. If your protagonist is flawless, your readers will have trouble connecting to him or her. After all, nobody’s perfect. For the protagonist, character development is very important. Scenes must tell the reader something more about the character. This will help the readers feel more strongly about him or her.

The same applies to the antagonist; he or she shouldn’t be completely bad. If they have no good or human qualities then they will seem wooden and the story will fail. There must be something about the character that readers can relate to or understand.

Serial killers are a different type of character and, even if the readers don’t know who the killer is, they will hate the person. Even if the readers understand the motivation behind the killings, they will celebrate at the killer’s arrest or death.

Start Writing

There are several common approaches to writing:

  • Begin with the ending in mind. If you know the ending of the story, it can help you form the theme, the plot, the settings, the characters, and it can help you progress more easily towards that ending.
  • The big picture approach. Try to create the world (the overall setting and environment), treat it like a canvas, and then paint your characters and situations to create your novel. Your canvas could include geography, races, towns, cities, capitals, cults, factions, governments, etc.
  • Dive in approach. You have an idea and you start writing while it’s still fresh in your mind.
  • Start with characters. Create three or four characters and let the plot build around them. This way will allow the characters to be more embedded in the plot.

Make The Commitment

Understand what you’re undertaking. Many wonderful writers go unnoticed and unread because their drawers are filled with unfinished novels. If your novel isn’t written, or if you don’t attempt to get it published, then the blame is yours. Set small goals so it will inspire you to continue when you achieve each goal.

Create a Writing Habit

It’s no big surprise that humans are creatures of habit, so make it work for you. Train yourself to write every day – whether it’s a few paragraphs, a chapter, or a nominated number of pages – and dedicate the time to work on your novel.

Set aside an hour where everyone understands it’s your time to be alone and write. If children are likely to interrupt during this period, then create a reward system where they are treated if and only if they leave you alone while you’re at your computer or desk.

Use whatever time is available to you – morning or night. The ideal time to write is when you are the most creative, which will vary for each individual; however, this may not be possible so don’t give up. The important thing is to write even if it isn’t at a time when you’re creatively tuned in. Train yourself to be able to write when you have the time and you’ll adapt. Bottom line: just make sure you write daily.

Create a workstation or area for your writing. Find a cosy place where you can relax and there are no distractions. Select a good chair to sit in, which won’t give you back pains, and position your equipment accordingly for optimum work without causing any injuries or stress to your body. You don’t write a book in an hour, it takes months, so protect your body.

If you are a procrastinator, try setting an unbreakable deadline. Writers tend to work better when there’s a deadline to face.

Seek Constructive Feedback

Never show your precious writing to someone you don’t completely trust. Your writing is in its ‘baby stage’ and it needs to be nurtured and loved. You need someone who is encouraging yet honest. If a part of the story or character isn’t working then you need to know that.

A manuscript assessments from a professional is a good way to obtain unbiased feedback that is constructive. Knowing what works and what needs work allows you to move forward with your novel.

Drafts

Rewriting is what makes the story better, but be careful not to over edit because this can knock the life out of your story. Always save and keep every draft. You never know if your computer will suddenly develops a flutter – you don’t want to lose your hard work. Or if you get a little carried away with editing, then you still have a previous copy elsewhere. Label each draft clearly so you know the order of the drafts. Add a date and time to your labelling if it helps.

Example:
Novel Title Draft 1 or Novel Title Draft 1 4.15pm 12032019
Novel Title Draft 2 or Novel Title Draft 2 6.30pm 14032019

Spelling

If you’re using a spell check program to help pick up typos, ensure the default language has been changed from American to Australian spelling. Auto-dictionaries will undo the correct spelling in favour of its default, so either turn the spell check off or ensure it’s set to Australian English.

Publish Your Work

Make sure your manuscript is polished and is fit to be seen by a publisher. Consider hiring a professional editor or have it professionally assessed.
Don’t forget to ensure your manuscript fits the intended publisher’s format requirements and guidelines.

Other Important Tips

A good way to start writing a novel is to think about what interests you. If you don’t write for yourself, your novel will seem superficial and plastic. It’s better to share your plans with someone else that you feel comfortable with and discuss plotlines. Write what you know and enjoy the process.

Keep a record of any ideas you may have. You might want them later.

An amazing process can happen when developing characters, it’s as if they come alive when a writer’s fingers move frantically across the keyboard trying to keep up with the characters’ dialogue. It feels as though the characters have taken control and want to have their say in their own words. The writer is merely a puppet trying to take down the quotes as if it were being dictated. Something wonderful is happening. It’s magical! If this happens to you then don’t fight it; go with it. You have accomplished something that authors yearn to do and not everyone has achieved.

Try not to lose heart in your book. When you get to a boring bit and stop for the night, you might not want to go back to that part. If you feel that way, try writing an exciting bit to get yourself motivated again.

Don’t be disappointed if you lose heart. Many writers pen hundreds of stories a year, some which never get past the first page let alone the first chapter! You’ll know after a while if a story you’re working on has captivated your attention and imagination. If you don’t feel this right away, then keep developing ideas and persevering. Sometimes it helps to listen to music or go for a walk. Think of different scenarios and adventures. Think about how the characters might feel about these adventures, or themselves, or even other characters around them.

Never give up! Some people will discourage you, but many more will love what you write if you love it as well. Write with passion.

Jot down your ideas. Its good to see at a later date what you were previously thinking about a subject matter, character or situation in case you view things differently.

 

The Pros and Cons of Going On and On and On …

laptop's keys

When a Pencil is Just a Pencil
It’s easy to fall into the rambling trap. Taking up an entire paragraph where a simple sentence will do the same job. There is little point, for example, describing all the uses of a pencil (its colour, its size, the smoothness or scratchiness of the lead, and so on). Even with technology taking over nearly every aspect of our lives, I think it’s safe to say we have all used a pen or pencil, so we already know these aspects without reading about it.

Re-Discovering a Pencil
Is it ever useful to describe the details of a commonplace item? Sticking with the pencil idea, we would describe it if it were new to the character. Perhaps technology has completely taken over and manual writing instruments no longer exist and haven’t done so for centuries. If a character unearthed one and the character has never seen it before, then a description would be appropriate, but the challenge would be to make it come alive for the reader, after all let’s not forget that the reader still knows what a pencil is. The writer may try to make it a bit comical until the character finally works out the pencil’s purpose and how to use it correctly. Then there’s another opportunity when the lead becomes blunt and the character has to work out how to sharpen it.

When a Pencil Reveals More
There is a reason to draw attention to the pencil without describing its purpose. How a character treats and uses a pencil can benefit a writer in developing that character. A pencil with a chewed end shows the user’s habit of gnawing on a pencil. Perhaps the user does this subconsciously while thinking about what to write, or it may be a nervous habit that surfaces during exams. It shows the reader more about that character.

Let’s call our character Jim. So what happens if Jim’s pencil is broken and he borrows a pen – is the urge to chew on the pen overwhelming even though Jim doesn’t own it? And how would the other person (we’ll call Melanie) feel when receiving the pen back with the end crushed and evidence of saliva still clinging to it? Melanie might get some satisfaction if the pen’s ink is now spread all over Jim’s lips, mouth and teeth, but what will Melanie do? Would she yell, cry or become violent because it was a gift or an expensive pen? Would she bin it in disgust or tell Jim that he can keep it vowing never to loan him anything ever again?

A chewed up pencil shows the reader more about a character, but a row of perfectly maintained pencils on a neat and organised desk will also reveal a character’s habits, nature and mindset. What if the owner of these pencils and tidy desk was Melanie? Imagine the conflict between Jim and Melanie then. It poses the question – what is their relationship? Are they merely students in the same class? Co-workers in a training session or general meeting? Are they related or have they recently started dating? Their relationship could impact Melanie’s reaction to her chewed pen.

Unleashing the Pencil
Developing characters, creating conflicts or even writing about a pencil’s description are good ways to ignite the creative flow and unlock writer’s block. It doesn’t matter what is written as long as you write. It might trigger an idea, inspire a story or help with solving a writing issue. Even if it ends in the bin, at least you’re moving forward with your writing. So, pick an object and write about it.

Put in every detail you can think of. Ask questions – who would use this object and why? You may find that you move onto other things as ideas start to form. Don’t fight it; go with it. This isn’t the time to worry about where a comma should go.

Exercising the Pencil
As a writing exercise, create a character and give that character good and bad aspects, habits, a job, family, and then put an odd object into the character’s possession. This creates more questions. Why would this character have such a thing? Does the character treasure the object, or is the person ashamed of it? Has it ever been lost before? Did the character try to get rid of it, but couldn’t for some reason.

Questions move writers forward. Never stop questioning, never stop moving forward and never stop writing.

Sharpening the Pencil
Once you have finished your draft, go back and tighten your writing. If one word can do the work of multiple drawn out words or one sentence gets to the point better then a paragraph then replace it. With the exception of the writer’s style, each word has to earn its place on the page.