Setting: Anchoring the Reader

Sleeping_Beauty_by_Harbour.jpgWe all like to think whoever picks up our book isn’t going to put it down. Our hope is they sit there in a vegetative state absorbing the words, until like a kiss from a prince/princess, the words, The End, release them from the spell.

Unfortunately, readers need food, water, bathroom breaks, and sleep. Sleep is the tricky one. If they grab a snack, take a tinkle, or get some water, then they come right back to the book. But sleep, well, sleep ruins everything.

I know if I’m reading before bed, I try my best to make it to the end of the chapter. Even if it’s not bedtime, I try to make it to the end of the chapter before I put the book down. The reason is somewhat obvious; I don’t want to start reading in the middle of scene. If that happens, then we may have to slip back a page or two to catch myself back up.

This is an important concept to grasp when you are writing your book.

anchorUsing setting cues at the beginning of a chapter quickly reorients the wayward reader who has ventured back into your world. It doesn’t take paragraphs to accomplish, but some brief setting details (time of day, location, characters present, visceral elements) will cement the reader back into the story.

Anchoring your reader will also increase the pacing of your book.

When I am writing my first draft, I tend to pace quickly.  When I can, I end the chapter with action and start the next one continuing it. One mistake I’ve made is not orienting the reader when I dive into the next chapter. Ending with action is fine. Starting with action is also fine. But if you don’t clue the sleepy-eyed reader into what the action was at the beginning of the chapter, suddenly it’s very confusing.

The Lost Woman.jpgI liken this issue to the writing process. As writers, we have to get our bearings when we sit back down to conjure up our stories. You open up your manuscript, and heck, you may have left off in the middle of a piece of dialogue. So you do what we all do, you scroll up a bit and read to get back into the scene.

Our reader shouldn’t have to do that. If your reader has to flip back a page every time they reopen the book, this is going to be a problem for them (assuming they are stopping at chapter markers or at the conclusion of scenes). Some readers may not realize exactly what the problem is, but in reviews you will see words like pacing, flow, and disorienting.

There are some tools out there you can use to keep your readers engaged. I wrote a post a while back about stitching transitions into setting here. That post focused more on showing passages of time and changing locations within chapters. Some of those concepts spill over.

writers guide to active setting.jpgHowever, in regards to adding setting information into chapter openings, I have found a decent resource. Mary Buckham’s book, A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting, is one of the best books I have found talking about setting. An entire chapter is dedicated to anchoring the reader in scenes and chapters.

Buckham reinforces the idea I am talking about by saying a, “…common mistake is forgetting that the reader may have set the book down at the end of the last chapter, or scene, or you have ended a scene in one location and opened the next chapter, or scene, in a new location” (p. 151).

Two of the best solutions I have seen are the macro (far away) and micro (up close) approach. There are a bunch of fancy ways of saying this, but breaking it down into mirco and macro seems to be the easiest way to condense the concepts.

fantasy landscape (macro).jpgThe macro approach is to pull back and anchor the reader with a couple pieces of description. Using an omniscient point of view, you approach the beginning of the chapter like a panorama.  n as little as a sentence or two, you can quickly use this method to orient the reader as to who is present, what is around them, what they are doing, and what the time of day is.

fantasy landscape (micro).jpgThe micro approach pulls the reader in closer and offers the above perspective from the POV of the character(s) present in the chapter. For you folks who are writing in 1st person, this is pretty much your only solution. If you have a host of characters you are juggling, it is essential to orient the reader as to who is present; the micro approach solves this problem as well.

It should be noted that it’s not a set-in-stone rule that you should anchor the reader at the beginning of each and every chapter. Some writing styles and genres need to keep the reader guessing and on their toes. However, this decision to not anchor is typically a conscious decision by the writer, not just happenstance.

NewsletterSavage_newsletter_test

Site Info

The Hero’s Journey: For Writing & Life

fantasy castle.jpg

You are probably on a journey; I know I am. For me, it’s a writer’s journey, but it’s a hero’s journey, too. Writers have our own battles, allies, and enemies to navigate. Whether we realize it or not, the characters we write about, and ourselves, have embarked upon The Hero’s Journey. Cinch down your cloak, replenish the ink in your sharpest quill, and let’s talk about it.

hero with a thousand faces 1.jpgThe Hero’s Journey is a concept I first read about in Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell explains that there are reoccurring themes that run through almost all stories, myths, and even religious texts. The theme is The Hero’s Journey. Once it’s broken down into pieces, you can’t help but noticing it in most of the books, movies, and mediums you see everyday. Even aspects of our own lives conform to the structure.

While Campbell introduced the idea of The Hero’s Journey, Christopher Vogler does an amazing job of breaking it down into component pieces in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters. Campbell basically said, “There be dragons ahead,” and Vogler took that statement and wrote a book on how to slay those winged beasts.

Vogler’s step-by-step model of writing stories has been adopted by many writers working in different mediums. You’ll have a hard time finding a Pixar or Disney movie that doesn’t adopt this structure outright. The reason? Well, for one, it works. Two, this plotting method is relatable to most people, because our life experience seems to tie into the myth of the story.

Vogler explains, “The Hero’s Journey, I discovered, is more than just a description of the hidden patterns of mythology. It is a useful guide to life, especially the writer’s life. In the perilous adventure of my own writing, I found the stages of the Hero’s Journey showing up just as reliably and usefully as they did in books, myths, and movies” (p. 5).

With Vogler and Campbell’s twin stars on the horizon as our guide, lets learn about the journey. Also, let’s uncover how it applies to our writing and our lives.

hobbit holeThe Ordinary World. This is where the writer introduces the hero/heroine in their normal environment. Of course, they aren’t a hero yet. They are a street rat (Aladdin), hairy-footed Hobbit in a hole (LOTR), or girl living in the coal district (Hunger Games).

For the writer, this may be the time before you started writing. Maybe you thought about writing. There was a nagging feeling, but you ignored it. You stayed in the comfort of your Ordinary World.

The Call to Adventure.  This is when an external influence causes the hero/heroine to consider abandoning the Ordinary World.  This call to action is often times them learning of a threat to the safety of their Ordinary World.

For writers, this is the moment of inspiration.  Maybe a book, friend, teacher, movie, flash of clarity, or all of these combined, turns the nagging feeling into something more.  The words are calling to you.

refusing the call.jpgRefusal of the Call. This is the moment of doubt. The budding hero doesn’t want to leave the comfort of the Ordinary World. Family, doubt in ability, lack of incentive, and fear are often played upon refusals.

These are those first doubts you feel as a writer. “I can’t do this.  I don’t have a story to tell. I don’t even know how to write well.  Is writing worth it?”

Mentor Pops Up. Aladdin had a genie, the hobbits had Gandalf, and Katniss had Haymitch. These are their guides to push them along.  Some act as a moral compass, some simply push the hero, and some are there to meddle.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a person when it comes to writers. It can be, sure, but it can also be a book/idea/dream that inspires you. Something to guide you along your path and help you step outside of your comfort zone.

door to a new world.jpgCrossing the First Threshold. This is when the story starts getting interesting. The hero puts his/her head down and embarks on the quest.  They accept the adventure, leaving the Ordinary World and entering a special one.

For you wordsmiths, this is when you say, “Screw it – lets do this thing.” You sit down and begin the process. You exit the real world and enter the creative whirlpool. I see many authors quitting their jobs and taking up writing full-time. No doubt, they are crossing toward the First Threshold.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies.  Here we start getting elements sprinkled in. The hero/heroine meets friends, learn of and encounter enemies, and begin facing minor trials. They battle threshold guardians and sometimes, almost always, they come up short. The hero/heroine haven’t yet honed their skills. Or perhaps they haven’t built a strong enough connection with their allies to be effective.

hercules.jpgFor us scribblers, this is the beginning of the process. We seek out others like us. We deal with writers block and creativity issues. We learn that the initial fire, that spark, won’t sustain us. We need something more: dedication and habit. We often fail, but in the process, we begin to get better at the craft.

Approach to the Inmost  Cave. At this point, the hero/heroine (and allies if applicable) have honed their skills, and are preparing to face the enemy.  They stand at the gates, swords/wands/pens in hand with a determined look on their faces. Their scars, whether metaphorical or very real, are a testament to the journey they have taken to this point.

For writers, this when you start getting deeper into the work. You’ve knocked out a couple hundred pages, maybe told a few people what you are up to, and now the pressure is mounting. The end is in very near, but you still have work to do. You hope your resolve and skill will carry you to the end.

The Supreme Ordeal. This is the, “oh crap,” moment when the hero stares death in the face. For the reader/audience, you wonder if they will survive. The hero/heroine does survive the conflict, often barely, and realize they are more powerful/resourceful than they thought.

For the writer, this is the moment when you almost lose the writing battle. You step away for a few days, weeks, or months — sometimes longer.  You reappraise what you are doing. If you are the writing hero I know you are, you’ll return to the desk and finish.

flying carpet.jpgReward. For the hero, they seize the reward after beating the boss; the battle is won. Many times, they gain a boon, trophy, or magic item. The reward may simply be the realization of power they didn’t know existed within themselves.

My friend M.L.S. Weech always says, the more times you type, “The End,” the more confident you will be in your skill. He also says the more of them you type, the easier and quicker the next one is to get to.  This is sentiment I’ve heard echoed by many of the writers I work with, or consider to be mentors in my own journey. Needles to say, for a writer, typing The End is a major reward.  It is also the realization of hidden potential.

The Road Back. The hero begins the return journey back to the Ordinary World with the reward in hand, or inside them.

For the writer, I equate this to the real world versus fantasy world we live in while we write. You improved your skills while you wrote, you finished the work, now you must come back to the Ordinary World and edit/promote/sell it.

TheKnightAtTheCrossroads.jpgResurrection. The hero may have slain the dragon and seized the magic sword that heals the land, but now the dragon’s mother is in pursuit. Often times, the hero must deal with the consequences of their Supreme Ordeal. When power is found, unlocked, or a magic item is gained, there is often the issue of wielding this power responsibly. Sometimes, those around you become wary of what you have become, or what you are capable of.

For the writer, this is the realization that writing The End is just another beginning. There are edits, rewrites, book covers, email lists, agents, publishers, and critics to contend with now.  More ordeals spring up like weeds.

potion.jpgReturn with the Elixir. It’s all meaningless for the hero if they don’t return to the Ordinary World clutching their spoils. These spoils can by physical: an item to cleanse the blighted land, or powerful weapon to protect it. The spoils can be mental: they now have a story to share, become a mentor themselves, or offer insights to protect and enhance their Ordinary World.

For us writers, these are the moments of impact after the book, or work, is out there. The email from an appreciative reader, the five star review, the kind words from friends and family. Maybe your elixir is to compile a book to illuminate the way, much like Campbell and Vogler did for me.

That’s The Hero’s Journey.  This was a longer post, if you made it this far you’ve completed a reader’s journey.  In the future, I want to elaborate on each step, but we needed a point to jump off from – hence the length.

I hope you found this helpful. Do aspects of your life (writing life/life in general) fit The Hero’s Journey? Do you feel like steps are missing or are incorrect? I’d love to talk about it.


NewsletterSavage_newsletter_test


Site Info

Free Books on Query Letters & Agents

A while back I wrote a post about looking for agents (Quest for the Holy Sale: Finding Agents). It was a whimsical bit of nonsense with an undertone of importance. I’ve had a lot of conversations, emails, and questions come my way about agents and query letters since then. My response was, “Dudes and dudettes, didn’t my post indicate my level of uselessness?”

Understanding my deficiency, I’ve been gathering all the info I can obtain about the subject. During this period of self-study, I uncovered a couple free gems (these might only be free for Kindle users).

The two books are both by Noah Lukeman:

How to Write a Great Query Letter: Insider Tips and Techniques for Success

How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent

Eating A Dash of StyleI was really excited to see these free books. I had read Lukeman’s book on punctuation (A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation) a few months back and really enjoyed the content. You know, eating my greens and all of that. In case you couldn’t picture what it looks like when I consume books, I added a picture.

Just wanted to take a minute to pass on these two awesome and free sources of information. I found the book on writing a great query letter to be extremely useful. Lukeman talks about what kind of paper to use (yeah, some people apparently write on cardboard to be clever), how to address the letter, how many paragraphs to write, how to structure those paragraphs, and more.

Good stuff!

Author Page Sign Out

 

Copyright Info (final)

 

What are Plots? Understanding Episodic, Dramatic, Parallel, and Flashback

No Plot.jpg“What’s it all about?” “What’s the point?” If you’re a writer or reader, these are usually questions of plot. They could be the things we whisper in the dark before we sleep, too.

Anyways, moving along.

Let’s start this shindig with a basic definition. I pulled this one from The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing, by Alice LaPlante (it’s one gigantic book, but a really great one). “So plot, as we will define it, is that series of events, arranged in a particular order, which brings about the desired final effect of a short story or novel” (p. 377).

Highfalutin folks People who have taken some creative writing courses (or read a few textbooks on the subject) will mutter about The Major Dramatic Question. To put it simply, the major dramatic question is the problem the author presents for their characters to deal with; it’s the same problem the reader is confronted with as they go through the story. After the story is finished, the reader should feel they have an answer, or solution, to this problem (even if the reader’s solution wasn’t the same as what you wrote, at least you got them thinking).

While the journey to answering this question is why readers read, as the writer, it’s often important to take a moment to ask yourself: “Just where the heck am I going with this? What issue am I presenting in this story? Does my ending solve this issue? Should it?”

Ignoring the plot is like foreplay without We don’t want to take our readers on an awesome journey and not give them a payoff of some kind. The plot ensures we stay on track. I’ve read/heard many different techniques for ensuring you achieve this goal. I’m sticking with the shortest and quickest ones I’ve found.

Crying Boy No Plot.jpgDon’t plot. Doesn’t get any quicker than doing nothing. Not what I would recommend, but enough people have read Steven King’s book, On Writing, to cherry-pick passages that indicate plotting goes against creativity (as if every writer is creative in the same way and one person’s recipe for success fits all). According to King, this sort of pre-planning ruins the organic process.

The reason I don’t recommend this is because it’s hard to overhaul a plotless book. These novels/stories stretch on forever, largely because the writer is simply writing without a goal of any kind. They rock back and forth and whisper, “The ending will come, the ending will come…” Bad news, sometimes, it’s not coming. Sometimes, you must have a somewhat realized concept of what the plot was to effectively close it out.

Side note. The lack of any sort of plotting and blind writing is not something I advocate or dissuade people from, generically. Every writer is different. Some can power through to a conclusion that makes perfect sense. Some will get lost in the middle and never find the end. Some advice shouldn’t be stone, it should be sand. So, shift your style to fit your person, even if your person shifts year-by-year.

Plot points. Unlike an in-depth plotting project where you write pages of discovery material, this is a page or two where you numerically number the major plot points in chronological order and cross them off as you move along. This gives you the freedom to connect those dots however you want, and even change them along the way. This provides the writer an endgame, even if the conclusion is in flux and changes as you close on it.

Mission Statement. One of the best and least time-sucky methods I’ve seen comes from the book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark. He states you should take the time to draft a mission statement for your work. The mission statement, according to Clark, is a list of “I want” statements.

Examples. I want the hero to to lose his hero-status and die. I want to show space pirates have a heart of gold. I want to turn (insert trope) on its head. I want to show that kittens are superior to puppies.

These “I want” statements highlight what your goals are for the characters and conflicts in the story. They also can quickly become dramatic questions. Just replace I want with how do I. Suddenly you have a series of questions to answer with your writing. This allows you to be run wild with organic story telling, but also creates a loose set of guidelines to reel you back in.

Moving on.

There are four “main” types of plots out there. Honestly, there are more than four, but these seem to be the most common in current literature: dramatic, parallel, episodic, and flashback.

 

dramatic plot.jpg

An example of a dramatic plot. 

Dramatic Plots. This follows one main rising action to a climax, then tapers down to the end. Most of the book is spent establishing settings, characters, and conflicts. One main conflict reigns supreme, and the characters ride this action to a crescendo. There is a period of lull after this climax (called the denouement) where the reader gets to take a breather, then the writer closes the story.

 

Episodic Plots. These follow many actions or events chapter-by-chapter. The events stack, and are typically related by a character or theme. The goal with this sort of plot is to show a larger event, place, time, or idea from many different angles. Much like the namesake, many television shows are set up with an episodic plot. There are central characters and themes to drive the show, but “filler” episodes could be shuffled around without impacting the series much.

Serving Up Plots.jpgSome military fiction uses this style. Each chapter highlights a different member in the military, tackling a different aspect of the battle or war. Ultimately, these vignettes join to paint a much larger understanding of the conflict.

Parallel Plots. This form allows you to take multiple dramatic plots, usually two or three, and run them at the same time. Remember how the dramatic plot has a rising action that leads to a climax in the story? With parallel plots, the multiple arcs usually all crash together at the climax. Because the reader has followed multiple rising actions, they might be more emotionally involved in the climactic moment.

Flashback, flashback, flashback… This plotting device allows the author to start the story in the middle of a high-action point, and flash backwards to lead back up to it. Giving the reader all the backstory and moving them back to the high-action moment. The clichéd version of this is certainly the, this is how I died, intro. Of course, I should eat my words as one of the most talked about and controversial shows on Netflix right now is 13 Reasons Why. A show about a girl who commits suicide, and each episode it basically a flashback to events leading up to it.

thanksThat’s a wrap for today, thanks for reading! No matter what plot you go with, or if you’re going into the work plotless, you owe your readers that moment at the end of the book where they sigh, look up at the skies, and say, “I feel…something.” Let’s just hope that something is a positive connection, one that will keep them coming back for more. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

What is Deep POV? (Spoiler: It’s “Show Don’t Tell”)

 

Showing Versus Telling

Today I wanted to talk a little about the idea of “deep POV.” I’ve had a couple authors approach/email me asking questions about the concept. While I was familiar with the idea of point of view (POV) and how to sink deeply into it, I wasn’t uniquely familiar with that terminology. So, I did what I always do when seemingly new knowledge presents itself, I tracked it down.

Typing “Deep POV Books” in Amazon yielded many questionable (in regards to author credibility) self-help type books regarding deep POV. About ten books down on the list, I found some pretty interesting erotica. Scrolling farther down yielded even more eyebrow-raising search results. Anyways, that wasn’t the deep POV I was looking for…

I grabbed the two books (writing books mind you) that had the most reviews regarding the subject. The two books are the following:

While both books have some decent information, holy macaroni folks, deep POV is just show, don’t tell dressed up in new words. While the showing/telling song and dance is geared toward many facets of writing, this deep POV concept is geared toward characters.

*Sigh*

Deep POV.jpgThe marketing folks must by doing a river dance right now. There’s nothing like slapping lipstick on a well-used term and screaming, “I’ve uncovered a new gem! Whadayamean it’s the same as…oh…I see. Okay, one-line show don’t tell and write in deep POV!”

Regardless of how used the concept is, if you are unfamiliar with showing versus telling, or deep POV, just know the terms are basically interchangeable in regards to writing characters.

Here are some blog posts I’ve generated regarding showing and telling, if you need a quick fix. The quality of these posts, much like the quality of my brain, is questionable. Though, a few people have found them useful (the posts, not my brain…yet).

Tics and Tells to Show not Tell (talks about using character mannerisms in your writing)

Using Sensory Detail to Enhance Fiction (talks about taking advantage of your senses)

Show vs. Tell & Intensity Scales (talks about the concept and offers a tool to determine when to show or tell)

resourcesTo be honest, if you are looking for resources on deep POV, you would do well to simply search for solid writing books that have a chapter or so on showing/telling. The two books I listed in the beginning are a great start. S.A. Soule’s book is filled with examples, if that floats your literary boat. If I had to pick a couple of books to recommend on the subject, because you all know I eat my greens, I would point toward:

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (This book is simply jammed full of tips and examples of how to write believable, visceral character cues. Tackles 70+ different emotions. Great if you can’t deal with emotions…in your writing.)

Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction, by Marcy Kennedy (Confused about the concept? Can’t find a blogger or source of information to solve the problem? Marcy Kennedy does a good job of clearing the fog. Also, this author states that telling isn’t always wrong, or bad, or bad-wrong. Indeed, telling had its place.)

That’s a wrap for today. Sorry to be away for so long; life has been busy (editing, writing, conventions, stay-at-home dadding, military spousing). As time opens up, I’ll spend a little more of it here. Shooting for a post a week here and on the author page, we’ll see if I can pull that off.

question markQuick question! What books or resources would you all recommend to tackle the idea of deep POV or show don’t tell? I’m always looking for more pieces of information to add to my library. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

10 Bad Reviews Which Will Actually Increase Your Book Sales

10 Bad Reviews Which Will Actually Increase Your Book Sales

This is a fun and brilliant post about what I’ve been saying (not on the blog, but in “real” life) about book reviews. Tara crushes this post, and it’s just the kind of thing I wanted to read at 1 a.m.

Number 2 and 10 on this list is spot on. It also takes a number 2 on some of the “high society” views on swearing, smut, and general tomfoolery. Seriously folks, write the book you want to read and people will give you a shot.

Tara Sparling writes

Look at my face. Seriously. Take a good long look at this face. It’s blue. And why is that? Why is my face the colour of childish summer skies, frozen computer screens, and musical moons?

It’s because I’m BLUE IN THE FACE telling you that 5-star reviews do not sell books. Stand-alone 5* reviews (rather than bunched together in aggregate, which I admit wield pens of power and therefore refuse to deal with here) are as much of an incentive to readers to buy a book as broccoli yoghurt is to naughty children to behave. They are meaningless: often vapid: frequently regarded as fake, and I have blogged about them so many times that my fingers are weary and my face is blue.

You know what can sell your books, though? A bad review, that’s what. And why is that? Because bad reviews contain 97.5% more useful information than good reviews, that’s why.

10 Bad Reviews Which Will Actually Increase Your Book Sales This…

View original post 983 more words

The Art of Character: Book, Blurb & Collage

The Art of Character

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, The Art of Character, written by David Corbett. Image created by me and free to share.

 

During my transition to the new state over the last month or so, I’ve continued hitting the books and eating my greens. The Art of Character, by David Corbett was a delight to read. Honestly, I’ve burned through so many bloody books about writing characters and examining archetypes that it was starting to get repetitive — this book caught me by surprise.

art-of-character-200.jpg

Image linked to Goodreads.

Corbett offers some fresh perspective about understanding how to craft and build believable characters. Unlike many of books I’ve read, he emphasizes the importance of shaping the character before your build the book. In my experience working with other authors, many go the opposite direction: starting with the story or general plot, then populating it with characters.

The issue, and I’ve seen it happen, is the characters are custom fitted to the story and one dimensional when you plot the story then begin to craft the characters afterwards. They say, “I want a scene where he/she commandeers a pirate vessel then builds a robot out of Pixy Stix, duct tape, and bubble gum…oh, they must be able to knit kitten sweaters too! I better make sure the character has X, Y, and Z traits.”

The book is separated into four main parts: Conceiving the Character, Developing the Character, Roles, and Technique. Each section builds on the previous and provides instruction on how to weave characters into the tapestry of your story. This is bolstered by countless examples from a smattering of different genres.

Speaking of examples, one thing I like to do when I read books on the craft of writing is glance at the bibliography at the back of the book. Corbett’s bibliography is three pages long with about fifty cited sources. That’s a goldmine!

When it comes to character studies, this book has quickly jumped to the top of my go-to pile. I can see it being one I refer to clients and friends alike. If your Amazon trigger finger is itchy, give it a go!

question markThat’s it for today. If you are curious about some of the other writing books I’ve read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here (going to have to update this beast soon), or jump to my Reads section. I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same. What writing books are you reading? I’d love to hear about it. I’m always looking for more books to devour. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

%d bloggers like this: