Neil Gaiman was once asked what quote would he put on the wall of a public library children’s area. He said, “… and then what happened?” To remind people of the power of stories, and why they exist in the first place. Questions are one of a writers’ greatest tools. Not just to ask what happens next in your story, but also to gain a deeper understanding of your characters, their motivations, their back stories, the setting and the plot. Asking questions can help both fiction and non-fiction.
Every story needs a protagonist, antagonist and conflict. Ideally these are set in a suitable location and the story has something unique or an unexpected twist.
Also known as the hero or main character. It is their needs, desires or problems that usually drive the story.
The hero’s adversary or opposition. Often their needs or desires are the opposite of what the hero wants, adding to the conflict in the story. The antagonist doesn’t have to be another character. It can be a natural disaster, an event the hero doesn’t want to face, illness, war, etc.
Without conflict you start with a happily ever after, continue with one and end with one. Conflict doesn’t have to be explosions, shootouts or arguments. It can be someone struggling to walk again after an accident, the loss of a job and trying to survive when faced with mounting debt and the fear of homelessness, someone undermining the protagonist at work or school, or trying to reach a destination when everything seems to be preventing the protagonist’s arrival.
Setting can add to a story. In some books it is almost another character. It can also add more conflict or put obstacles in the way of the protagonist.
This needs to be a logical conclusion, but if well done, an unexpected one.
Avril Sabine is an Australian author who has been writing since she was a young child and wanted to be an author the moment she realised someone wrote the books she loved to read. Avril is the author of more than seventy titles, including the young adult series, Dragon Blood. www.avrilsabine.com
I am a planner junkie. For years I kept searching for a system that would help me organize all the information I need, track all my submissions, make space for my to-do lists, and keep my calendar. I would hear one of my writer friends rave about a system they were excited to try or see an ad that promised to get me organized and snatch it up. I ended up with a cupboard full of half-used planners.
I am also an inveterate list-maker. Often, when I sit down with my notebook for a day’s writing, I begin with a to-do list to clear my head. I had to-dos in my in-box, my notebook, my diary, on scraps of paper on my desk, in my unanswered emails. I had folders full of notes from conferences, tear sheets from writer’s magazines, articles I’d printed out from the internet. The weight of everything I thought I should do made me freeze.
Last year, when all my anchors were suddenly gone — no more writing in the cafe after dropping my kid off at school, no more writing in the car before I picked her up in the afternoon — I really struggled to focus and get anything done. What saved me was my planner stash. I took the planners apart and pulled out all my favorite charts: what were my goals for the year? What writing projects had I started and drifted away from? What markets did I want to pitch articles to? When were my favorite magazines open for story submissions?
Armed with that information, I made a master to-do list. Everything went on it, no matter how big or small. Which social media did I enjoy using and what was my theory behind my presence there? What were my goals for my newsletter and how could I better connect with my readers there? Since I couldn’t attend the conventions I’d looked forward to, how else could I get my books into the hands of readers?
Once I finally had EVERYTHING noted down, I could see that it was clearly too much for one person to accomplish RIGHT NOW. I used my planner sheets to pull out the little things that I could finish easily. Once I crossed those off my list, I got a jolt of pride that carried me forward to tackle bigger projects.
I made writing dates with friends over Zoom. A writer I knew set up a Tuesday morning chat for her writer friends. I joined Shut Up & Write sessions. I organized Happy Hours and went to writer’s group meetings online. Slowly, my weeks took on some structure. I needed a calendar to keep track of when everything was happening.
I’d published a novel in February (then saw all the conventions I’d planned to attend get postponed or canceled), so with my planner’s help, I managed to put together a blog tour and list of reviewers. After I attended the Bram Stoker Awards online, I was inspired to assemble a collection of my short stories, using what I’d learned from the first blog tour to promote it. Cross that goal off my list!
Inspired by my planner, I also did some major reorganization projects in my office, emptying all my file drawers and consolidating my research. I (finally!) assembled a binder of all the contracts I’d signed over my writing career. I made another binder of unfinished stories, so I could see the work ahead of me.
Having projects waiting for my attention made it much easier to deal with the discovery that the nonfiction book I’d been researching didn’t match the book the publisher wanted, one I was unable to write because of a previous contractual obligation. In another time, I would have been spun by the rejection. I would have been lost for months. Instead, because I’d been doing all this work on goals, I quickly shifted gears and began work on what became the third book I published last year. It’s no exaggeration to say that my cobbled-together planner was a lifesaver.
The upshot of this is: there are many planners for writers out there. Some focus on logging your daily word count. Others track the business aspects of being a writer: your income and expenses. Still others concentrate on calculating your available writing time and how to make best use of it. Some combine inspiration with goal-setting. Finding the right planner for yourself may take a couple of tries, but if you find a planner that supports the kind of writer you are and the work you want to do, it can change your life. It is definitely worth the effort.
Loren Rhoads is the author of a space opera trilogy, a succubus/angel duet, and a collection of stories called Unsafe Words. She’s the co-author of the brand-new Spooky Writer’s Planner, an undated 13-month planner designed to inspire and support writers of dark fantasy, paranormal romance, horror, and morbid nonfiction with weekly calendars, goal tracking, submission logs, and more. It’s available as a digital download on ETSY and as a paperback on AMAZON. The book trailer is available on YOUTUBE.
Researching to know your genre So, everyone tells you to research in order to know your genre. But what does that really mean? Today, I’m going to discuss reading like a writer.
Francine Prose wrote in her book Reading like a Writer:
“If we want to write, it makes sense to read—and to read like a writer. If we wanted to grow roses, we would want to visit rose gardens and try to see them the way that a rose gardener would.”
So, how do we do this?
What is Reading like a Writer I’m going to assume you are experienced readers, and you have been reading books and texts like readers for a while. But for you same readers, the concept of reading like writers–or reading to identify writing techniques–is new. It’s hard to “cook up” techniques when you don’t know what to look for.
To grow, as writers, you must be able to recognize craft in professional writing and bring it back to your own work. But this kind of reading does not come easily.
The first step in reading like a writer is to read to notice the overall ideas of the story. This could be the tropes the author is using, the theme of the story, character types, anything that adds to the overall meaning. This gives you an idea of what the writing is doing in their genre. Making sure you are matching the conventions of the genre and reader expectations should be your first goal.
Second, break down the pieces, into different techniques to focus on. When doing this, ask yourself: Why did the writer write it like that? Think about why the writer used this craft and how it enhances their ideas.The point is to examine the possibilities as to why a writer might craft a piece in a particular way. Noticing writing techniques means noticing things that are close to the words, close to the text. Examples to look for: repetition, word choice, or the structure of the text. This is different than responding to reading ideas such as “It flows” or “It has great description.”
What techniques you might notice as a writer · Repetition: repeating a word or a phrase · The Power of Three: three words used in a row to create emphasis · Onomatopoeia: sound words · Interesting Punctuation: ellipses, dashes, colon, parentheses · Figurative language: simile, metaphor, personification · Stretching out the print · Intentional sentence fragments: used to create rhythm and flow · White space (Dialogue used for pacing.) · Hyphenated adjectives
Once you’ve discovered a craft technique, name it, then try to emulate it in your own writing. I love doing this for particularly striking sentences when reading, but you can do this at the scene level too. Break down a scene and ask what makes this scene so appealing? You can also ask, why is this scene not appealing to me?
Questions to ask when noticing craft · What did you notice as you read? · How is the white space used differently? · What I noticed next was… · Many people who write often…
Form a theory about the craft technique · Why would a writer do this? · How does this help you as a reader? · Are there other places in this text where the author has done this? · When you find other instances of this, how does that affect your theory? Does it make your more certain? Does it nudge you to reconsider? · Does this help your theory grow? If so, how?
Explore other authors · Do we know other writers who do this? · Let’s explore one of these texts and see if we notice any other writers who do this. · What do you notice in these texts? · Consider your theory and check it in this title. Are both authors doing this for the same reason? · Is there more than one reason to use this crafting technique? What other possibilities are you thinking of?
Dora Blume is a middle school English teacher by day, writer by night. She tends to write books with spunky, bad-ass female characters, random movie quotes from the 90’s, and page-turning adventure. She lives just outside of Minneapolis with her two dogs, Jack and Bailey. Check out her paranormal books today!
The Entrepreneur and Artist The Importance of being Well Rounded
Do you choose to be a starving artist? Or is it a condition that befalls those who are inherently driven to create to the point of self detriment? In other words, do you choose to ‘starve’ or does ‘starving’ choose you?
It’s a valid and perplexing query, one worth unpacking with due diligence. Clarity on this issue would perhaps help to cultivate a healthy culture and mindset around creatives and monetising their endeavours.
Most of us would have heard of the denigration, “sell out”, an expression that describes the compromise of one’s integrity or betrayal to an allegiance. No where is this expression more commonly slung than in the realms of artistic endeavour. Why is that? Well, art is seen as a pure expression of self (whatever that means), and therefore, an artist who once immersed himself in the warm waters of artistic moral alignment, now pursuing financial profit ahead of critical acclaim, is seen to be driven by other motivating factors aside from the excellence of his/her art form, and is in effect, deemed a sell-out.
Name calling is unseemly, but there is an element of truth to this assumption which is almost trite. The pursuit of material gain, placed before the value that can derived from an endeavour not only diminishes the overall quality of the work, but does amount to much personal fulfilment.
So that’s the element of truth. Like most human enterprise, physical or otherwise, corruption sips in, insidiously. Being financial successful as an artist of any ilk, seems to almost inevitably come with label of industry sell-out, but not always for the reasons of compromise of artistic integrity, but more for a perceived betrayal to the notion of shunning success for the ‘sake of art’. This is destructive thinking, and while many are wise enough to question the credibility of this thought and it’s motivations, there are many, for reasons varied, who champion this perspective.
The question still remains. Do you choose ‘starvation’, or does ‘starvation’ choose you?
Proclaiming that there those who choose to ‘live for their art alone’, would not add much merit to this writing. That’s obvious, and good luck to them. One can infer some of the reasoning behind their choices, and while not all are invalid, one motive could certainly driven by pious commitment to ‘artistic integrity’. However, if we suggest that there are those who are chosen to ‘starve’, there-in lies a more engaging issue.
What distinguishes a liberal thinker from a conservative thinker ? Liberals are ideas people, high in creativity and openness, low in conscientiousness. Conservatives are not very creative, low on openness, but high in conscientiousness. Therefore, it can be certainly be argued that a highly creative person, is probably more likely to struggle in creating and enforcing a disciplined structure around his/her endeavours compared to a person driven to adhere by rules. But this bellies a critical point.
Great writers, artists, actors, poets reflect as much dedication and discipline to their craft, as do the best regulators, managers, corporate leaders and politicians. And while they may operate in fields that prioritise different traits, (creativity vs organisation ), it would be wrong to suggest that an artist could not develop the skill sets required to at the very least, understand the world of business in which his/her work is being marketed in. In fact, this article determines that an endeavour towards cultivating a well-rounded mindset is the more responsible, and less self indulgent course of action.
As previously stated, great artists like great managers employ discipline. It would seem that while, an artist may be predisposed to a unique mode of being, their ability to learn and master their craft is because of discipline and strength of character in overcoming inevitable adversity along the way. In order to manage your life and creative affairs appropriately, discipline and strength of character are qualities that are equally integral in achieving this aim.
That was a lot of unpack, but here are the essential points. There’s no value in conflating success with corruptible compromise. Of course, compromising on fundamental integrity for material gain will only lead to personal regret. Most importantly, there is a point at which material success and creative success meet. Establishing a place at this point means you are well-rounded, not a sell-out. It equates to being independent, self sustaining (you don’t necessarily need to become wealthy) and fulfilled. No one said it would be easy, but then again, what is?
Tola Makanjuola was born in Lagos, Nigeria. When he was 16, he and his family moved to the UK, where he finished high school and went on to study Media and Communications at Aberystwyth University in Wales. After graduation, he went on to study an Msc. in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management at Imperial College London (2013/14). From then, he went to work in IT Consulting for a period of two years, before branching out to start his company, Circleturn ltd. Under Circleturn, Tola has created the website circleturn.com, which he curates by writing poems, drawing comics, writing book overviews and articles on design thinking. Tola also founded Squishy in 2019, a travel pillow company looking to make the most personable and comfortable travel pillows on the market. He went on to create the Poetry Bores Podcast in April 2020. On Poetry Bores, Tola analyses poetry with his friend Filippo with humour and insight, and also interviews folks who are doing wonderful things such as writing, serving others, building businesses, etc.. Tola has written poetry religiously for the past eleven years, and has published three poetry collections , the latest in March 2020, called ‘Lonely Ways to Change the World’. You can purchase Tola’s first two books on Amazon, and the third in ebook version on his website.
Before we get into the meat of the subject I’m assuming you’ve read Strunk and White and learned grammar and studied Steven King’s On Writing and learned how to craft content. If not those specific tomes then I’ll presuppose you’ve read, and devoured, similar. It all comes down to this, world building isn’t where you start your journey as a writer. You need to have the basics well in place before you throw yourself off this mountain.
When you create the world your characters are going to live in it can be something simple, like Toledo, Ohio, or something amazing like the gas clouds of Orbius Prime. No matter which, you’ll need ground rules to get started.
Let’s say you picked Toledo; you’ll need to mention the Mud Hens, the city’s devotion to sausages, the national museum of the great lakes, lunch at Grumpy’s and so on.
If you picked the gas clouds of Orbius Prime, then you need to let readers know about how light refracts in the gasses, what does , and does not, work as a means of propulsion, whether or not the beings living there are corporeal, and how communication is achieved. I would assume varying shades of illumination would work best, but you have options.
In other words, it’s not just a name you toss out it’s a place you bring to life. When the reader closes the book they should feel like they were there. Maybe even bought some souvenirs.
I have found that detailing the world I’ll be creating first, and then adding characters works best. I didn’t do that for my first novel and ended up having to go back and do so since there were glaring inconsistencies in locations and tone. I, literally, had a desiccated desert near a lake.
Before you ask, yes, that was a huge pain in the ass.
So, to save yourself the irritation, lay things out in a simple graph.
Where: Name your place and then detail, at least, ten things which make this place unique.
When: Based on a current reader’s perspective, is this something that happened before or after their existence. If it’s current, try and avoid pop culture references. Since they won’t be current when your book comes out they immediately place the story in the reader’s past.
Tech: It’s well known that any tech sufficiently advanced enough would appear to be magic to a less developed society. The same holds true in writing. If you introduce the “multi phased Frombulator” you have to be clear as to what it does, why it exists, and be able to give a rudimentary idea of how it works. You need not get into the physics of the thing, unless you feel it’s required, but you do have to be able to make readers believe it could exist. Contrariwise, if you’re setting is medieval Europe, you can’t give the princess a Buick to make her life easier. The tech you add has to fit the rest of your universe.
Consistency: Despite popular tropes, it is not the hobgoblin of little minds. Foolish consistency is. Now, whether you’re creating a magical fairy kingdom, interplanetary battles featuring alien warlords, or a whimsical a rom/com starring Satan, you need to set out the rules that guide your universe. And those rules need to apply to every character, and in every event. Remember, it’s not the suggestion of physics, those are laws for a reason. If your characters can violate them, you need a believable reason. This is less true in comic books where characters can fly unaided. Yet, even then, the rest of the universe follows basic physics leaving the flying people as outliers.
One easy out from all this, that lazy writers like to use, is to create a universe of gods. Since their characters are all gods they can do whatever they want. Unless you have multiple iterations of Yahweh, that won’t fly. And if you do, where’s the conflict? Even Satan doesn’t directly challenge God. In fact, in many interpretations, he’s fulfilling a function required by God. So, you’re back to needing some rules, and characters to live within them.
Another thing to look out for is accidentally creating multiple generations of morons. A wildly popular series of books, and a related TV show, have characters who, according to numerous plot points, have been at war, and fighting dragons, for eight thousand years. In that time the only weapons they have come up with are variants of a pointy stick. Some large, some small, some metal, some wood, but, at the end of the day, they’re all just pointy sticks. You would think that, given the fact there were constant airborne threats, someone might have given artificial flight a try. All of the needed materials are right there. And the inspiration is literally eating their livestock.
However, there was also an abundance of naked boobs, so that made up for a lot.
World building can be, and is to me, fun. There are lots of guides you can use to help they’re just not marketed as such. Books on mythologies will help you create believable powerful beings. Dungeons and Dragons is a great guide for your magical realm. NASA.gov has tons of free research online that will help you build realistic alien homes. And, if you want to bend some brains, don’t neglect the various conspiracy sites.
Once you have your feet firmly on the ground, let your imagination loose and see what it brings home.
BILL McCORMICK is a critically acclaimed author of several novels, graphic novels, comic book series, and has appeared in numerous anthologies. He began writing professionally in 1986 for the Chicago Rocker Magazine in conjunction with his radio show on Z-95 (ABC-FM) and went on to write for several other magazines and blogs. He currently writes a twisted news & science blog at WorldNewsCenter.org. That provides source material for his weekly appearance on The Big Wakeup Call on WBIG 1280 AM (FOX! Sports). You can find out more about him at BillMcSciFi.com.