Posts Tagged ‘indie writers’

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!

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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.

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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.

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

Writing Your Own Life Story

April 14, 2019

Photo Courtesy of Pexels

I believe the wisdom and power to create real change lives not only in the experiences of leaders and community builders … but in the things that happen to everyday people all over the world. Each one of us has a story born from our life experience.

We often forget, by offering up our stories we can help others understand their own. We build a structure with our truth so other people can shelter there. In this way, a memoir is not self-indulgent but a road map for the human experience.

Your story also deserves to be told but, unless you’re someone really famous, it’s probably your own responsibility to tell it. Are you ready to share your life story with the world?

Develop a Concept
A memoir captures a period of time or a set of events in your life, rather than cataloging your experience from cradle to grave (that’s an autobiography or biography).

In order to appeal to an audience beyond your friends and family, you must bridge the gap between your life and that of your reader.

Most aspiring authors feel overwhelmed before they even begin. Below are some tips to help you on your way to sharing your story.

You need a solid concept that invites the reader’s concerns into the experience. To get them reading, it has to be more than something saying, “Let me tell you all about wonderful me.”

Consider the elements of your story that are universal and find ways to write them so your reader can imagine their own life through the lens of your circumstances.

Make It Memorable
You can make your nonfiction book as memorable as its fictional counterparts by using sensory language. By that, I mean language that conveys how you felt, what you saw, heard, smelled, and tasted during the scenes you present.

Before you write a pivotal scene, take yourself back to the place, time, and emotion of the moment. Once you’ve transported yourself back to that moment, write your scene.

When you’ve gotten it down on the page, go back and look for ways to vary your language to make it richer and more interesting.

Break out your thesaurus if that helps!

Include Details
Writing in detail takes time to develop, but not as much as you might think. It has helped me in my own writing. View the world in small sections. That limited focus can help you really hone-in on detail.

Construct your book scene-by-scene, moment-by-moment. See the minutiae … the crack etched in the sidewalk cement, the one green pea that rolled under the table, the rim of grease under the thumbnail of your father as he cuts the Thanksgiving turkey. When you add detail to your writing, you are painting with words, and you can use all the colors!

Details like that make the difference, so show them to your readers!

Your Story is Exceptional
You’ve lived through, learned, discovered, or developed something, and you’re still busy living your life. You’re out accomplishing things. What better time is there to write a book about your own life story than now? Don’t keep it to yourself!

Believe it or not, someone out there may need your message. When you share what you know and what you’ve learned, you may become part of the solution for someone.

You may not think of yourself as a writer, but you can do anything you want to do. What do you have to lose? When will there ever be a better moment than now? You don’t need to learn the publishing industry or take writing classes to write your book. You simply need to get your message out into the world.

Writing a book about yourself is definitely a big hurdle, perhaps comparable to running a marathon. But, just like that epic race, once you do it, you may look back and want to do it again.

What are you waiting for?

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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.


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