Dictionaries?

September 8, 2020

Do you still use a printed dictionary? I do. With increasing frequency, however, I look up words online. I rarely use my printed thesaurus. It’s much easier with the computer. That got me thinking. Are reference books becoming obsolete? Although it makes me sad to think so, I think the answer is yes.

When is the last time any of us used a printed encyclopedia? I can’t remember. Although I have the Encyclopedia Britannica from when I was a kid, it’s there for nostalgia. I haven’t opened a volume in years.

On the other hand, when I’m deciding on a name for my characters, I do page through my book of baby names. The same goes for some of my sci-fi or fantasy elements. I frequently refer to my books and notes on witches and spaceships and castles.

Of course, I have many books on writing – how to write dialogue or description or set a scene. These are all highlighted and bookmarked, and I do refer to them.

The same goes for my bible. It has notes and underlines and tabs and turned down pages. It wouldn’t feel the same to me to read a bible online.

I also like to be surrounded by my dictionaries and reference books when I’m writing at my desk. It makes me feel at home and in my element.

What about you? I’d love to hear from you on this topic.

###


The WordPress Block Editor Sucks

August 25, 2020

I have a post and pics ready to go. This stupid site keeps telling me I don’t have permission. So, no post today.


The First Sentence

July 28, 2020

How much time do you spend crafting the first sentence of your novel? I believe it’s the most important line you will write.

The first sentence:

  • draws the reader in
  • sets the scene
  • sets the tone
  • reveals the voice
  • can introduce the main character
  • can introduce the story world
  • can reveal one or more aspects of the character
  • can hint at or directly state the main conflict or a smaller conflict

That’s a lot of material to cover in one sentence. It can sound daunting, yet great writers do it well. Consider the following opening lines:

 

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined this.” – Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

20200727_134856

 

The reader is drawn in, wondering who is dying and why. We also wonder how the person is dying – it must be unusual. Is this a thriller or murder mystery? Is there a way the person can escape and survive? And what has happened in the last few months? It’s probably a young person since they’ve never thought about dying. This is our introduction to the main character, and since it’s written in first person, we know we will hear the person’s story.

 

 

 

“On the day King George V was crowned at Westminster abbey in London, Billy Williams went down the pit in Aberowen, South Wales.” — Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett

20200727_134829

 

We are told the timeframe (early 1900s) and the part of the world in which this story takes place. One of the main characters is introduced, although we may wonder what “the pit” is. This sentence also foreshadows the entire story – it’s about how politics and world events affect the lives of everyday people. The reader is wondering what relationship Billy Williams has to King George.

 

 

 

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.” — Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

20200727_134815

 

This is three sentences, but since they are short and to the point, I am considering them to be the first line of the book. The reader is introduced to the main character, who we infer is a male. Why would a 75-year-old join the army, and where would he be allowed to do so? We know he has a story to tell.

 

 

 

 

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

20200727_134843

 

We infer that this couple is not normal or that their world is not normal or that something abnormal is about to happen. And why are they proud to be normal? As compared to whom? This is our introduction to a “not-normal” world and to a couple who have a large impact on the main character and important roles in the book.

 

 

 

“Two days after the murder, listening to Brett Allen’s tale of innocence and confusion, the lawyer waivered between disbelief and wonder at its richness, so vivid that she could almost picture it as truth.” – The Final Judgment, by Richard North Patterson

20200727_145730

 

 

This is a murder mystery. A legal mystery. We wonder if Brett is innocent or guilty. Is Brett a man or a woman and who has been murdered?

All these opening lines illustrate details of the story to come. They touch on different aspects and draw in the reader.

 

 

 

I can spend hours developing that first line. Or I can spend minutes. Usually, I’ve been thinking about the project for a while, and envisioning the world in which it will take place. When I sit down to write, I have a pretty good idea where I want to start and have a visual of the opening scene in my head.

That first line must be right. It doesn’t matter if my novel starts at the beginning or in the middle of an event/relationship/challenge. The first sentence starts the flow. It’s like the gates to a new world. It’s the beginning of the roadmap.

How do you want your reader to feel? Afraid, concerned, excited, curious? It must be in that first sentence. The first paragraph is also important and expands on that initial feeling.

Some writing advice says to skip writing the first sentence if you’re struggling, and come back to it later. Likewise, for the first paragraph.

I can’t. I won’t. I don’t. I do come back and tweak it, but everything flows from the first sentence.

###

 


A Notepad is Essential

July 14, 2020

My stories carry me away to another place and time. When I write, reality fades and my fictional world takes over. I immerse myself in that world and I know what the characters are thinking and doing.

When I’m not writing, I think about the story. What will the MC (main character) do next? What action is needed? What drama is needed? What else should I have the MC do, think, see? I mull over the story when I’m going to sleep, and I ponder what I’ll write when I wake up.

notepad

While in the midst of creating a story, I carry a notepad with me. Ideas frequently come unbidden. Typing or speaking ideas into a phone or iPad works, too, but I prefer paper. I use abbreviations and my own form of shorthand. When I get back to my writing, it’s easier to look at the notes than listen to something I’ve recorded or pull the file up electronically.

I can doodle additions on the notes, cross things out, or save the paper for a future story. Not only do I get ideas for my WIP, I also find inspiration for new stories.

I’ve mentioned that I write longhand on unlined sketch pads. I use a certain rollerball pen. One additional necessary tool for me is a small notepad like I’ve outlined here. These elements nurture my creativity.

When ideas strike, how do you record them?

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

 


Jigsaw Puzzle

June 30, 2020

Writing a story is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. All the elements fit together to form a picture. With a puzzle, one piece out of place makes it impossible to finish. With a story, one piece out of place hinders cohesiveness and flow.

jigsaw pieces

Multiple components must be included when writing.

  • Each scene must have an objective, obstacles, and outcome.
  • Character traits, features and actions only serve to move the story along.
  • Words and actions express inner conflicts with which the reader can identify.
  • Everything physical is a metaphor for what is going on psychologically.
  • What the characters do is pivotal to their personalities and motivations.
  • Every action has a motivation.
  • Dialogue moves the story, creates tension, interests the reader, and reveals character.

These snippets are from my notes taken at conferences and from books. There are many more components not listed here. When I first heard that every element must move the story along, I thought, “I’m writing. I can’t keep all that stuff in my head while I’m writing.”

jigsawputtogether

You’re determining where your character is going, why she/he is going there, and how he/she will overcome the main obstacle to reach a goal. At the same time, you need to be cognizant of the above bullet points.

I was sure that advice was wrong, wrong, wrong. Then, one day it all clicked into place. Just like the pieces of a jigsaw.

You need all the different elements to make up the whole. Some fit together and some don’t. Those that don’t connect smoothly need to be moved or removed. It’s the writer’s job to put the jigsaw together in a way that creates an entire picture. It’s now become second nature for me to put all the pieces in place and think about all the necessary components while writing.

puzzlepic

Writing a story can be arduous. When it all clicks into place, though, and your puzzle is complete, there’s an indescribable joy a writer won’t find in any other endeavor.

#

Photos by Hans-Peter Gauster, Ross Sneddon and marjanblan on Unsplash.

%d bloggers like this: