Archive for the ‘Award-Winning Fiction’ Category

Do You Enjoy Settings?

May 10, 2019

Character. Plot. Setting.
Of those three, which do you enjoy writing the most?

For myself (and many writers I know), character usually takes the top spot. Humans connect with other humans, after all, so it’s often easier to invest oneself in characters and their conflicts.

A place, though important, is a bit more difficult and, if you’re one of those writers who struggle with setting (I know I am), I’d like to share an approach that might help.

Treat Your Setting Like a Character
I’ve talked about this before. Memorable fictional characters always have strong characteristics. You need to explore how to assign equally vivid characteristics to your settings, and suggest those characteristics to your readers.

Let’s review some of the questions I’ve suggested you ask yourself when creating characters:

1. What does this character look like?
2. What is this character’s backstory?
3. What does this character want?
4. What secrets does this character hold?
5. What is this character’s conflict?

Now that we’ve reviewed the questions, let’s answer them … only this time not for the characters … for the setting.

1. Appearance
Most writers begin describing setting with question one, using a few sentences to set the scene. It’s the most basic aspect of setting and likely the most obvious. Consider this, from my award-winning novel, Reichold Street:

The day started as a humid, hurt-your-lungs-on-a-deep-breath morning. A blistering sun was rising over the railroad switching yard at the far end of the street. Its red-orange glare filtered through exhausted-looking trees, while sinuous heat ribbons shimmered over motionless freight cars, their rusty shapes defined like so many slumbering beasts.

2. Backstory
Like many great characters, the best settings have detailed histories such as this, again from Reichold Street:

He was looking at the old Cantwell Place. It was funny how no one back then thought of that old house as anything else. Cecil Cantwell, the only son of one of Brickdale’s founders, had built it. He had lived in it with his wife for more than seventy years. The house was there even before the railroad tracks were laid.

“Meet you by Cantwell’s.” Everyone in Brickdale, and in several other communities around it, knew that meant the east end of Reichold Street. People used it as a landmark.

Cecil had died the previous fall, about the time leaves started to turn. The maple in front of Mrs. Murphy’s house was a beautiful golden color the day I heard about his passing. I never knew exactly why he died. He was ninety-seven and I presumed he just wore out. His wife, a frail old stick, followed him a few days before Christmas.

The house had been empty since then. Someone came by and mowed the lawn each week, but no one tended the flowers, pulled weeds, or repainted the shutters from the old can of Leaf Green #502 on the shelf in the garage. Then the Toothpick Man showed up.

3. Motive
How can a setting have a motive? How can it want anything? You might be wondering, why should I care? Well, if you treat the setting as a character and consider what it wants, you add depth.

4. Secrets
This one may or may not apply to your setting but it’s a potent addition when it works. A setting with a secret is just as compelling as any secretive character. For example, take Stephen King’s spooky novel, The Shining. At the beginning of the novel, the Overlook seems to be an ordinary (although creepy) hotel. As the story progresses, we discover that the hotel has its own agenda and its own secrets.

5. Conflict
Great characters have conflicts, and so do great settings. listen to the implications of this excerpt from my novel, Blood Lake:

“Why did Luther call this Blood Lake?” I said. “I always thought this was the Watts Barr.”

“It is Watts Barr Lake,” Harold said. “You’d have known about the family name for it, if your father had done what he was supposed to.”

“Oh…” was all I could think of to say.

Harold pointed out into the lake from where we sat. “The stockade where Tsali was shot used to sit on the banks of the Tennessee River,” he said. “The natural flow of the river was right over there. At least it was until the TVA built the dam.”

“That doesn’t explain…” I started to say, still unable to complete my thought.

“There’s a lot of Burnett blood already in that water,” Harold said. “A lot of Cherokee blood, too.”

He went silent after that.

Suggesting a Setting’s Characteristics
I know you’ve heard me talk about show, don’t tell. It’s a fine rule of thumb. The same goes for describing a setting.

Show your setting’s traits through action. Cormac McCarthy didn’t just tell us the world was dangerous in The Road. He showed it by populating that world with marauders and cannibals. If your setting is trying to kill your protagonists, it’ll feel more like a character.

Developing the Arc of Your Setting
Characters have arcs. So, like characters, great settings often have arcs as well. This might sound like an odd concept at first, but it really can make a difference in your writing.

To build your setting’s arc, consider what your setting is like at the beginning of the story, what it becomes by the end, and what happens in the middle to make it so.

Maybe you start with an idyllic, pastoral country which ends up ravaged by war. Or your post-apocalyptic wasteland might be restored to beauty by the heroics of your protagonist. Or perhaps your setting stays just the way it always was despite what happened in the middle.

Whatever arc you choose, just knowing about it as you write should improve your setting.

Use these tips to make your settings feel like characters. You’ll be amazed by the results!

**********

I’ll be at Lev Raphael’s Master Class at Oakland University tomorrow. Then I’ll be joining other authors signing books at Detroit Festival of Books at Eastern Market on July 21 and at SterlingFest in Sterling Heights, Michigan on July 27.

**********

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

What’s Your Writing Voice?

April 1, 2019


I spent all day last Saturday at Michael Dwyer’s Rochester Writers’ Conference … the best one-day writing conference in the state (at least, to me it is). I’ve been to almost all of them … going back years.

It was another day well spent (and it kept me out of the rain).

Saw some good presentations, listened to some good speakers, made new friends and saw several old ones.

Reflecting on it, I realized one of the telling comments of the day actually came from people not associated with the presentations.

In one of our table discussions, we were all talking about how we came to the avocation of storytelling. One of the speakers said she actually started because her friends told her she wrote well.

The gentleman across the table started to discuss what she wrote about and the content of her sentences, and he eventually asked how well she thought she connected ideas in her sentences to one another.

It made her pause.

Writing Voice
It made me realize that, in the end, the task of writing a story boils down simply to writing sentences within scenes. By themselves, they may not be amazing sentences. They might not be poetic. They might not display dazzling alliteration.

But a good writing voice … at least a consistent, clear one … can produce glowing strings of intricate beauty. Voice is the outcome elicited by the words you choose and the sentences you assemble using them. Voice is the effect on the reader.

Voice is your style.

The highest goal of voice is clarity … not to write sentences that call undue attention to themselves.

Creating (or fixing) a writing voice won’t be found in a manual. It involves an investment of time. In other words: read, read, read.

The best strategy is to begin noticing how your writing voice compares to the voice of successful authors you admire. Try to categorize their voices and observe how they use language. Compare their sentences to yours. If you can see the difference, then three more words apply:

Practice. Practice. Practice.

This is an ear thing, a sensibility thing. It is something that can be learned over time, but be sure to get feedback from someone qualified who cares enough to be honest. It may be the best opportunity you ever have to experience a writing epiphany.

* * * * *

I’ll be joining a host of other authors signing books at SterlingFest in Sterling Heights, Michigan on July 27.

**********

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Can You Make Your Narrative Voice Sing?

January 15, 2019

Telling a story is very much like taking a picture. You choose the elements you want to include and decide on the perspective.

For instance, imagine you’re writing a story where three very different singers – let’s say, Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin – are each singing “Itsy-Bitsy Spider.”

Interesting concept … right?

I’m sure you can hear how each of them would interpret the song, making it his or her own by imprinting it with his or her unique style.

The plot doesn’t change at all from singer-to-singer; we know that persistent little arachnid will get washed out of the spout, yet will eventually triumph over adversity.

But each version’s style is determined by the singer’s tone of voice, which notes are emphasized, the tempo and the background music.

A writer has to do the same thing with words to establish style.

Which is a long way to go merely to point out it isn’t necessarily what you say, it’s the way you say it.

That’s the narrative voice.

First-Person
If your story is written in the first-person, like most of mine are, the relationship you’re developing is between the narrator and the reader. Whether you want the reader to like, dislike, admire or loathe the narrator, the most important thing is to compel the reader, to keep them turning pages.

Take this excerpt from my award-winning novel ONE WAY STREET:

*****

    As soon as the Medivac left and our cover-fire slackened, the NVA began to probe our position again from both sides.
    We had no air support as we made our way back to the top of Hill 882, where we regrouped and formed the most nervous night perimeter I ever hope to be in. We were short of just about everything, from ammunition to grenades, and weren’t supposed to be resupplied until the next morning.
    “Can I ask you something, Blake?” I said to a weary-looking Thompson when he took the position next to me.
    “Sure,” he said, adding, “Wish I could light up a fag. I really do need a cigarette.”
    “You and me both.”
    “Barrett, you don’t smoke,” Blake said.
    “Yeah, I do,” I replied. When he stared at me I added, “But only when I’m scared.”
    He chuckled a little, but still sounded nervous, “I take it your knees haven’t stopped shaking,” he said.
    “I don’t know,” I said, “my ass hasn’t stop leaking long enough to find out.”
    He broke into a loud, whooping chortle, which he tried hard to stifle. The next man in the perimeter shushed him. Blake was silent for several moments, looking from the stars in the dark sky to the safety on his M-16. “Think we’ll be OK?” he said in a whisper.
    “I wish I knew,” I said, as I reloaded my own M-16. “But I wouldn’t be giving us very good odds.”
    “I was afraid of that.” Blake’s eyes looked up at the jungle without raising his head. “Was that what you wanted to talk about?”
     I’d almost forgotten the question I’d asked him.
    “No, I was just thinking about a guy I used to know,” I said, “a friend…but you wouldn’t know him…so never mind.”
    “What was his name?” Blake turned to look at me. He had blacked his face for camouflage and muddy streaks were caked on top of it. He could have been a clown, if he smiled. Or the devil himself, if he was angry.
    “His name was Albert Parker,” I said, “He used to live right across the street from me.”
    “Good guy?”
    I thought about it a moment. “Yeah,” I said, looking over at Blake, “a really good guy.”
   “You said he used to live across the street. Did he move, or something?”
     “No,” I said, “he died.”
    “Aw, that’s too bad, man,” Blake said. He adjusted his bandolier and started to lean back against the mound of dirt behind us. “What’d he die from?”
    “Coming over here.”

*****

Even though it is all coming from the perspective of the character Barrett, hopefully you can hear the dark undertones of the situation. It’s also my hope that you’re just dying to know what happens next!

Third-Person-Omniscient
This often used POV has no restrictions as to whose perspective you use to view the fictional world. Often it seems to be a know-it-all voice outside the specific time of the story. The clearest example I can think of is the opening of Charles Dickens’ A TALE OF TWO CITIES:

*****

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

*****

In this POV, the intimacy is formed with a trusted narrator who isn’t really part of the story. The narrative voice has a wisdom about the world, and the reader must trust that this voice will continue to comment on events and put them in perspective.

Either way, always remember, description is a tool to enhance the story, the same way a frame enhances a painting. If the frame is too ornate or large, it overshadows the artwork.

It’s like stepping on the gas pedal of your car; only do so in relation to how fast you want the car to go … and remember that great Stephen King quote: “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

* * * * *

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.


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