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

Writing For Children

If you have chosen children’s writing because you think it’s the easiest then think again. It can be one of the most challenging, but well worth the effort when you see the smile on a child’s face and the hint of wonder in that child’s eyes. And when the youngster has heard the story a thousand times, but whose eyes still twinkle with enthusiasm to hear it yet again, then you have succeeded as a children’s writer.

Poetic license, a gift to any author, is one that children will freely give for those wishing to use it. Dr Seuss introduced us to sentences of nonsensical structure strung together while discarding convention and sometimes thought. Yet they delight both adults and children alike. Unlike most genres, writing for children is a vortex to the fantastic. However, today’s society differs greatly from past eras.

While Beatrix Potter once danced in the minds of exuberant expectation, the youth of today are far savvier to life’s mechanisations. Write with ardour, write with zest, but remember – without following some basic guidelines your wonderfully created work may well slip through the fingers of both parents and publishers alike.

As each age group has its own guidelines, the following points should be considered when deciding to delve deeper into the complex world of writing for children.

Keep It Simple

Your ideas can be big while striving to find a unique way in telling a story, but the language must be simple. Don’t use multiple words where one will do the job nicely. Pictures tell part of the story for early children’s stories, so the words shouldn’t duplicate what is already shown. For example, if you’re talking about a red ball, the colour of the ball can be shown in the picture.

Keep With The Times

Children of today are computer literate, they know how to use mobiles, and are far more technology savvy than their parents were when they were that age. Don’t underestimate the maturity of a child, but keep it age appropriate. If you are unsure of the correct terminology to use or doubt the content, then get advice first.

Keep Abreast Of Current Issues

Children suffer more health issues than ever before. They battle stress, anxiety, and depression to name a few. Some other important topics are bullying, struggling to fit in at school, and loneliness. Don’t be afraid to write about it. Children will relate and feel empathy and understanding. Parents may even thank you for the support it lends them in assuring their child.

The every-day topics could be about the first day at school, or wanting a pet, or longing for a new bike. Think back to when you were a child and what you can remember – there’s bound to be a story idea hidden in your memory.

Age Appropriateness

The most important rule is that in most cases the story needs to pass parental approval first. This can be achieved if rules are followed, and as an author you shouldn’t cross the boundaries. Never forget who your audience is.

Banned Topics

Obviously heavy romance is out. This is simply not appropriate in a children’s book.

Sex, religion, and politics are usually best left for a parent to wade through with their child when the time is right. While these are hot topics for an adult, they are inappropriate on most levels for a child.

Characters

Young children need only to be introduced to characters, while older children will enjoy a slightly more in-depth version.

Rhyming Words

Many children love rhyming words. A rhyming story has its own rhythm that children readily respond to. However, you have to be exceptionally skilled if your story is told in a poem-style, as publishers usually avoid this.

Write for Fun!
What better excuse to fling off the shackles of adulthood? Touch base with your inner youth and explore once again the sheer freedom of being a child? Let your imagination soar and, in doing so, a child’s imagination will soar also.

Suitable Language

Obviously children are not going to grasp cumbersome, difficult words. Keep language simple and pronounceable. For very young children, one and two syllable words are far more appealing. If the child isn’t at reading level and the story is being read to the child, then an occasional bigger word can be used. The reader can explain the more difficult words to the child.

Under no circumstances should swearing be permitted in children’s literature. While parents may not always know what their child is reading, if parents discover swearing in their child’s book, they might re-act in a way where the author is undermining what they are trying to teach. Do you want a mob of angry parents trying to break down your door? Best to stay on the side of caution here.

Honesty

While fiction is the creation of a writer, a story that is honest in its telling will go down far better than one filled with lies. A child will spot an untruth and will be quite unforgiving for it!

Publishers And Parameters

There are stringent guidelines when writing for children. The targeted age group needs to be stated clearly. Make sure you research the intended publisher before you submit your manuscript.

The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (US annual publication) and The Australian Writer’s Marketplace (available online only now) are good resources to find markets for your book. They offer detailed submission guidelines for hundreds of markets. The guidelines may include information, such as pay rates, where and how to submit your manuscript, as well as other relevant and important information. Alternatively, you can search the internet for online and print children’s publishers.

Choose a few markets that seem like a good fit for your work, follow the guidelines set out by those chosen publishers and submit a neat, professional manuscript. It’s recommended that you have your manuscript professionally edited before you submit anything. Publishers will toss a manuscript into the slush pile without a second consideration if it’s not presented correctly.

Children’s Writing Genres and Ages

Ages may differ between publishers, so check before submitting your story.

  • Picture Books (up to 7) – Designed with the aim for an adult to read to a child.
  • Baby Books (1 to 3) – Designed with the aim for an adult to read to a child, but may contain pop-ups or novelty books, such as lifting flaps or pressing a concealed pad to make a sound, etc.
  • Beginner Readers (5 to 8) – Used to teach a child how to read.
  • Middle Grade Books (8 to 12) – Teaching children to love reading through a large range of topics and interests.
  • Young Adult Novels (12 and up) – Based around teenagers, these are a stepping stone to novels loved by adults.

The ability to capture and conquer the enthusiasm of a child is a gift not to be wasted. The experience is an enriching one from which both children and authors can benefit. Remember, some of our most renowned children’s authors, such as JK Rowlings (author of the Harry Potter books), began with humble yet tantalising beginnings by writing and reading to their own children. Nicky Johnston started to write as a means to help her own child with his anxiety disorder. Her book Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts! has reached huge audiences.

Children’s writing is a large field broken into age groups, which all have their own rules. This article is general, and writers are encouraged to focus on the rules of the age group for the intended story.

 

Image by Atlanta_Mom_of_Five from Pixabay

Rules About Non-Fiction Writing

There are rules that apply to writing non-fiction aimed for scholastic or technical publications, newspapers, magazines, e-publication, or books.

Get Your Facts Right

Don’t presume, guess or surmise. A factual article should be conclusive of its information. There will always be someone out there that will know about the topic you’re writing and will recognise presumptions dressed as facts. If you’re writing for a publisher, then you will not only bring yourself into disrepute but also your publisher as well. That means you may not be published next time you submit your work, or at least with that same publisher.

All information needs to be researched thoroughly whether it ends up being part of the publication or not. In fictional writing, the author has to know the backstories of each character that plays a significant part in the story, whether all that information is revealed is up to the author. In non-fiction, it’s the writer’s duty to ensure the information presented is accurate and can stand up to an expert’s scrutiny.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Scholarly, science or medical articles or books require in-text citations and references. It’s wise to have professionals in the same field approve your piece and possibly get that approval in writing so you can include it in your book. Unfortunately, a newspaper article has neither the room nor the interest level to include an expert’s accolade of your work. Although, if the article is published on the internet then that may be possible if an expert posts a favourable comment at the end of the article.

Quotes

Including quotations serves to break up lengthy paragraphs, thereby encouraging the reader to continue, while substantiating your article. A quote from a professional strengthens a non-fictional piece of work. Factual articles without direct quotes or reinforcement of factual information may be viewed disparagingly. When you do quote someone, ensure you state clearly their full title and their representation.

Examples:

Dr Michael Greene of XYZ University stated that …

Dr Michael Greene, a biologist who has been studying this field for 20 years, has documented similar experiences …

Dr Michael Greene of XYZ University said, ‘…’

Note: In Australia, we do not put a full stop when shortening a word like ‘Doctor’ (Dr) if the last letter in the word matches the last letter in the shorten form.

Direct quotes must contain quotation marks. While double quotes (“ ”) are still acceptable, the single quotes (‘ ’) are the Australian preferred quotation mark.

Personal Opinions

One of the biggest mistakes authors can make is including personal opinion as the right one. Your opinion may be clouded by experience, which can sometimes be unique and not shared by others. Stick to the facts and what esteemed professionals have proved rather than your take on a subject. However, if you are a professional in the field that you’re writing about, then sharing your opinion may be valid but avoid using it as an opportunity to force your views as right and another expert’s opinion as wrong.

 

Image by Steve Buissinne 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?

 

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