Every story needs a world

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Most people think of fantasy and science fiction when they hear writers talk about world building. Writing good fantasy or science fiction requires a lot of thought to construct an original world with non-contradictory rules and limitations, but the truth is that every thing you write requires some world building.

If I were to write a story happening right now, right here as I sit at my computer, you would still need to “see” the world around me. Depending on the story, you might need a general idea of my surroundings. Is it rural or urban? Posh or run down? Winter or summer? The story determines which details the readers need to know, but no matter how familiar it may seem to the writer, the reader still needs information.

The first step in building a world is deciding what sets your world apart from other worlds. My story world is rural, and in August the white-tail deer regularly wander through the backyard searching the ground for apples. In someone else’s story, the people might go out on the porch, or sit on the stoop to escape the heat. In yet another story, everyone might be forced to live within a domed environment, breathing recycled air and rubbing up against their neighbors all too often in the cramped living space.

Once you have a clear and complete idea of the world, the next step is to determine how much of it needs to be shown to the reader. In a story set in my home, there are many details that the reader will fill in for himself without any prompting. All I have to do is mention a sweltering summer day, and the reader sets the stage with a yellow sun, blue sky and perhaps scattered fluffy white clouds. Green trees and grass would fill in the landscape automatically. I would only need to point out the specifics that pertain to the story—the half-dead spruce by the front door, or the stand of pine trees that shield the house from passers by. If the people from the domed environment stepped outside, the reader would need a lot more details to make a mental image. Color, wind, flat or hilly, rocky or sandy…maybe a huge red giant of a sun hangs in the sky.

You as an author need to know all the details, but only include the ones that pertain to your particular story.

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Short & Helpful Online Writer Workshops

Summer Collection: Story Schema

 

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Memoir Needs Many Skills

Puzzle Solved And 3d Characters Displays Team And TeamworkWhen we sit down to write memoir, we mine our memories for material. The goal is to pass our experiences and some knowledge gained along to others, whether we are seeking commercial publication or just want our grandchildren to know we had interesting, productive lives. To accomplish this, we must have a manuscript that holds the attention of the reader from beginning to end.

Writing Memoir that holds the reader must use the techniques of novel writing to hook the reader and maintain his or her interest. You have to draw the characters and make the reader care about them. If you are writing in the first person (narrating as “I”), it is very important for the reader to learn who you are as early as possible. This does not mean reading your resume. The reader must bond with the main character and feel a vested interest in the outcome. This is as true with memoir as it is in fiction. Good books don’t just happen, they are carefully crafted with the reader in mind.

World Building is important. Young people today cannot understand things that happened in the past if they can’t imagine the past. As an example, my children, who are grown with children of their own, have trouble wrapping their minds around the idea of a bus station in a small town having two water fountains and four bathrooms. Although it makes me happy to know it is difficult for them to imagine the segregated South as reality, but it means I must remember it is an alien world to them, and before I tell a story set in that world, I have to make the setting clear.

Research Your Novel: There have been many studies of people witnessing the same event and reporting different facts. Even though one of the reasons to write memoir is to tell events as you remember them—complete with feelings, emotions, and personal responses, there must be some adherence to the actual events, especially those with which the reader may be familiar. If you write of an event such as the assassination of John F Kennedy as happening on a Sunday as you were coming out of church, yet anyone who remembers or looks it up finds that it took place on a Friday, your credibility is damaged. The rest of your work becomes less interesting in the eyes of the reader. If you discuss the huge snowfall that fell on Thanksgiving Day, make sure it was the right year and the right place.

Gather your skills and solve the puzzle of a great memoir. Jigsaw Solution And 3d Character Shows Solution Or Wholeness

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Short & Helpful Online Writer Workshops

Summer Collection: Story Schema

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Don’t Beat Up Your Editor

3D-female-characters--TLC_3DGal_37“I’m so mad at my editor I could…” The sentence ended in a growl. “All the advice says to hire the best editor you can afford, so I spent my budget on an editor who came highly recommended.”

“So what happened?” I could see tears gathering in her eyes as she moved from anger to helpless frustration.

“All he did for me was fix typos and grammar mistakes. The author who recommended him said he did wonders for her novel.”

This was time for sympathy and comfort. Over a cup of coffee and big slice of strawberry cheesecake, the author poured out her story:

She had just finished her first novel and was super excited. Her mother and sister agreed it was really good. She couldn’t believe her luck when the editor replied to her email saying he had a cancellation and could take her manuscript immediately.

My heart sank. It was a common beginner mistake. I’d made it myself. Getting a novel from a story idea to a finished product is a process. Just like building a house, things need to be done in the right order. You can’t move in before the roof is done. Typing THE END is only the beginning. It was great that she had her mother and sister in her corner giving support through the long writing process. But this type of support team already loves you and will admire anything you write.

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First: Let the manuscript sit for at least a week or two. This is hard when you are so anxious to get your book out into the world, but you need to distance yourself from it to see it as a reader.

Second: Read it through as though you had never seen it. Try to see it as a new reader. Play the internal video and see how it flows. Watch for jumps, disconnects, or inconsistencies.

Third: Find some resources that can guide you through the self-edit process. This will be a little different for each writer, but having a guide is a great help. The Short & Helpful Online Writer Workshop for June is a great resource, but there are many others.

Fourth: Find beta readers that you trust to give you an unbiased opinion. Your mother and your sister are being truthful, but they don’t always see your flaws. Has a mother ever criticized a handmade Mother’s Day card from her youngster? It is beautiful, and every scrawl is precious. The novel may be more mature, but the sentiment is similar.

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After you have polished your manuscript to be as near perfect as you can make it, you are ready to send it to a professional editor. If an editor receives a manuscript with typos, grammar mistakes, poor punctuation, and inconsistencies, he or she has to smooth those out before getting a feel for the story. Equally important, the editor’s opinion is that the writer needs a lesson in the basics before advanced plot structure, scene setting, character building, etc.

3D construction worker with hammerIt does no good to furnish the house if the roof isn’t finished. Unless you have more dollars than time, don’t use your editing dollars on things you already know how to correct. Take advantage of the editor’s expertise by hammering down those shingles yourself.

 

 

 

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Self-Edit Your Work
June Workshop with
Maryann Miller

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Flashbacks: better in fiction than in life

3d construction cropped

Let’s get the jackhammers working, boys!

Have you ever ducked for cover when you heard a jackhammer? If you’re like me, one of the lucky ones, you haven’t. Combat veterans may not be so lucky. Traumatic situations such as those faced by soldiers in battle leave indelible memories.

In extreme cases, certain sounds or sights can trigger a flashback. The memories of the trauma surface with such strength that the victim literally relives the experience. Ready for fight or flight, the victim becomes disoriented and cannot tell memory from reality. and can inflict harm on others who are perceived as aggressors,

No one wants to live through traumatic situations, and those who have experienced trauma didn’t like it the first time (or it wouldn’t have been traumatic), and the last thing they want to do is live the experience again. Flashbacks are not good things in real life. Fiction is a totally different animal.

A flashback is a part of a story that moves the reader out of the main timeline of the story to experience something in “real time” that happened previous to the “now” of the story. Sound confusing? Yes, if the author does not handle the transitions well, the reader can be left behind, disoriented and disappointed. The flashback must be separated from the preceeding narrative by a scene break or chapter break. The new setting must be established immediately so the reader knows the where and when of the new timeline. Lost readers do not leave good reviews, nor do they come back to read your next book.

3d person running with USB flash drive

We all carry memories around with us, and our actions are influenced by the past experiences that formed those memories. Well-written fictional characters have a past, even if it is known only to the author. The character is often shaped by things that happened in their past. For example, an abusive father can color a girl’s view of men in general. Childhood poverty can lead to unusual attitudes about money in later life regardless of the wealth the character may have gained later. A bitter divorce can leave a person reluctant to form another relationship.

The ways past experiences influence present attitudes and actions are limited only by the imagination of the author. However, even if a past experience is relevant to the current story, it does not have to be included as a flashback. For a flashback to be effective, three things are necessary: 1) the scene from the story past must be traumatic enough to influence the way the character is acting in the story present, 2) the results of that influence must be vital to the plot of the current story, and 3) the event itself must be dramatic enough to grip the reader and make up for the effort involved in switching timelines.

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It’s not too late to register for the May workshop, Backstory & Flashbacks with Maureen Milliken

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You Can’t Run All The Way

 

Winner Of Race 3d Character Showing VictoryMy grandson recently called to tell me he completed a ten kilometer race. Suitably impressed, I asked how he managed to run that far. I knew long distance runners trained for months to get in shape for a race. He had a very full schedule, and his running was confined to an occasional outing on the weekends.

“Oh, you can’t run all the way. You have to walk when you get tired, then you can run some more.” He went on to explain that he managed the run-walk-run sequence so he would be running when he hit the finish line. He knew his parents would be waiting at the finish line with a camera. “You have to make the finish line memorable.”

I am always and forever a writer, and my first thought was: of course, that’s exactly how all the best stories are written. I once picked up an action-adventure book that was recommended to me. “Every page is exciting!” was the recommendation. I abandoned the book somewhere in the second chapter and made a cup of tea. I was mentally exhausted. She was right. Every page was packed with action. It suited her style of reading because she read in small moments throughout the day. I like to sit down and devour a book in a few large gulps. I need the quiet, slower passages to get me ready for the next crisis.

Exclamation

Stop to take a breath after a crisis

However, the slower passages must be well written and keep the story moving steadily toward the finish line. This doesn’t mean the hero must be brandishing his sword on every page. The slower passages can deepen the characters, give snippets of backstory, show the unique settings, give a sense of the larger stakes involved, or any of the many facets of a story. Pause to smell the roses, but don’t give a lecture on the care and feeding of rose bushes. Pluck a rose for m’lady and it’s off for the next battle of good against evil. Vary the pace throughout, but remember to make the finish line picture perfect because that is the image that will remain with the reader.

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It’s not too late to register for the April workshop, Conflict & Pacing by Anna Castle.

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