NANOWRIMO: WEEK 4

Hey! You’re in the homestretch, and whether that is a cause for rejoicing or a cause for panic, it’s still your last week. Below are some thoughts. Remember to send me your email along with comments and stories about how its gone so far, what you’ve learned, what helped, what didn’t, what you’d do differently, or if you’d ever do it again. I’ll put your email into a drawing for a Writer Care Package, stuffed full of lots of useful goodies that every writer needs.

Here’s your final week pep talk.


Good morning!

For those of you who’ve been following me through the month of November, this marks the final installment of surviving NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). I’ve been flowing with a life-stages theme, and had intended to title this week “Retirement” but the thing with NANO is that only some of us will spend the last week resting and reaping the rewards of a month packed with hours of dedication to your project. A lot of us will find this final week to be the last, desperate attempt to finish.

So this brief post is for those who are struggling through the last four to five days to make up those words, or at least push to do what they can.

I hope, more than anything, and even above the lofty goal of 50,000 words, that you are still trying. That you haven’t given up. That you have built a habit of writing so that you don’t feel complete in your day unless you’ve spent at least some time on your work.

Because, that’s the whole point. This month is more about teaching us to prioritize our lives to include our writing first (or at least at the top of the to-do list) and to know that we CAN accomplish great things when we give it the time and love it needs. It’s more about building the habit of writing than it is about reaching the specific goal.

So often in our lives we self-limit. So often we are told it can’t be done, we can’t, the work is too great, the effort pointless. So often we are told that struggle won’t be worth the outcome. But those voices and those opinions fail to factor in that it is not just the outcome that is rewarding. The end result is not all we are working for. Its the journey in getting there.

When we challenge ourselves, the bigger reward lies in the struggle. New ventures, hard and thankless work, and lofty goals teach us how to plan, how to plot, how to push ahead when we simply don’t feel like it or when others around us question or scoff at the ideas before us. Challenges shine a light on how amazing and resilient we are so that, no matter the outcome, we learn what we are capable of. And once we know what we are capable of, the bonds of doubt weaken and we begin to believe that if we can write a novel in a month, we can edit it, publish it, write another, and another, and another. And if we can write a book we can take a class, or teach a class. We can climb a mountain, we can travel across the world. We can do anything we set our minds to.

We can.

You can.

You’ve only got a few days left in this month and I BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN do anything you’ve set out to do. You are amazing. You are imperfectly perfect and there’s no one in the world who can finish this month the way you will.

Deep breath, writer. Don’t let the home stretch scare you. Let the struggle instead be your gift and one which you are grateful to work through. You can. You will.

NANOWRIMO: WEEK 3

Hey! It’s week 3 and if you haven’t sent me a comment or update on how your process is going, please do! I have a drawing going on for a Writer Care Package, with all sorts of fun goodies for you to enjoy as a treat for surviving this month. And speaking of surviving, let’s take a look at the dreaded week 3.


Hey there writer.

I know I don’t have to thank you for being here with me because if you are akin to me, you’re looking for any excuse to change up the monotony of this novel-writing month and escape that mad-dash. Perhaps you’re feeling like this story you’ve been pouring your heart and soul into for what seems like years is starting to stale. Things are getting drab. The plot line is petering out. The characters have run out of things to say.

This is the dreaded, dead-ended doldrum, (say that one a few times fast) of week 3. And it can often feel like middle age in its sunken sails, stagnant air, and the questioning of the choices that brought you here.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

With only days left in this crazy adventure, you may feel like you just don’t want to go on. That perhaps it would be easier to abandon your project all together and take a hot little novella out for a spin. Maybe start seeing some poetry on the side. Perhaps dabble in a little erotica?

While I encourage some dabbling (especially in erotica) I would argue that all of those exploratory practices can be done right in your own work in progress. So you’re bored, so you don’t know what the characters will say to one another…I urge you to start a new chapter, in the same document, where your characters take a jump off of the tracks and do something completely unexpected. Put them in a different time, put them in a different dynamic…hell, switch their genders and see what happens. Write a poem that serves as a synopsis to the story, first from one character’s perspective, and then from another’s. All of this play might help unlock the paths your novel needs to get going again. Think of it as putting some wind in those sails. A little spice in between the pages.

And all of those words you put down, even if they may be edited out later, still count as words towards your 50,000. Let’s be honest, at this point in the process, any word count is better than none.

It’s normal to feel a bit discouraged and bogged down in week 3, but what you’re building is worth hanging on to. It’s worth the investment of time and thought in this, the darkest, dreaded, dead-ended doldrums.

Hang in there kid. Go get freaky with your WIP and spice things up to see you through to the end.

Next week, look for the final, and highly inspirational installment of my NANOWRIMO survival guide.

NANOWRIMO: WEEK 2

Remember, comment below with how it’s going or send me quick email with any frustrations or elations you have and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

And now, this:

Hello! Thanks for taking the time to catch up with the blog in the middle of one of your (hopefully) busiest writing months. At this point your mind set is probably so swayed to creating that reading outside of your work in progress is a lot like talking to another adult after being seeped in toddler-speak non-stop all week.

I know that your time is precious so I’ll keep it short and sweet. (Like me, ya’ll)

The second week of NANOWRIMO is all about elaborating on, fleshing out, and developing your baby. Last week we talked about the excitement of new love, the honeymoon stage of writing, if you will. This week is about the baby you’ve made and what that means for not just your writing, but your life for the next seven to ten days.

I know a lot of you are parents, and though it may have been awhile since you’ve spent the midnight hours rocking teary-eyed cherub back to sleep, chances are you remember the sacrifice of time and autonomy for the good of the future. This week is not much different for the NANOWRIMO process. You are starting to see the commitment involved and how the expectations you may have had in the beginning are often dashed by the realities.

Because children don’t always behave the way you think they will. Characters show unexpected traits and say things that throw your dynamic out of whack like dropping the f-bomb at Christmas dinner with Grandma, or asking you for “boob!” loudly in a store.

Settings and plot lines stall with the same debilitating frustration as trying to get a two-year-old into shoes because you’re late for the doctor appointment and you haven’t showered in three days, and you ate cold, leftover mac n cheese for breakfast and you’re not sure if that’s their diaper that smells or the dog…

Keeping on top of the little fires that come up isn’t easy but I encourage you to set a flexible schedule (it works with kids; it works with writing). Give yourself two hours ideally but really whatever you have is fine. Leave half for just writing. Leave the other half to fix plot holes, develop your character’s personalities and backgrounds, build on your story arc, and brainstorm solutions for things that are cropping up as you pour ever more work into the novel. Look at it like doing the groundwork of, feeding, changing, and burping for half of it, and the other half cuddling, coloring, singing, and playing.

A well rounded “story” is equal parts meeting the basic needs and getting to play in the creation of it.

Good luck out there. Nap when it naps, grab a shower while your computer backs up. Drink some coffee and prep for the long nights. Remember the bigger picture. Novels and babies are investments in the future. The work, and love, and committed care you invest now will lead to rewarding results in both your story, your characters, and your craft.

Oh…and get a decent meal. You can’t run on PB&J crusts and half eaten apples forever.

NANOWRIMO: WEEK 1

Something new for this year, if you comment, share and/or email me with your frustrations, experiences, or adventures during this year’s NANOWRIMO, and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

Let’s talk about Week 1

Ah, yes, the glorious stage of excitement and foreplay. The thrill of fleshing out your characters, and having them say clever things to one another, and building beautiful worlds with soft hues and brilliant sunsets. It’s champagne and butterflies, it’s rainbows and 3 hour love-making sessions with your laptop (please, God, not literally…the keys are hard enough to keep clean with just my coffee and pastry habit).

The words come easy, the beginning is new and exciting, the chemistry is just right. Possibly you’ve been planning this novel for awhile, maybe you even used October to plan it out and things are running smoothly and in great gushes of inspiration and excitement. (I think ‘gushes’ might be just as bad as ‘moist’ for cringe-worthy words).

OR

You’re stuck in front of your blank page and wondering why in God’s name you agreed to this. The stress of completing such a herculean task is causing every neuron to march around your addled brain with tiny little picket signs protesting the ridiculous workload before they even endure it.

You’re thinking of giving up. It feels as though you agreed to do this on a brash weekend in Vegas and you might have done so under the influence of alcohol and you really don’t know this book that well and what will your parents say and… is it too late for an annulment?

In the first case: Congratulations, keep going! If you have the stamina and inspiration to do so, front load these first couple of weeks so you can have a few days to ride if you need to recover. (I can’t help but hear Sheriff Bart’s voice in my head “Man, them schnitzengrubens will wipe you out!” Come on, people…Blazing Saddles)

In the second case: Don’t give up just yet. So she/he’s a gamble and you may have rushed into things. It’s normal to be nervous. It’s normal to feel like there’s nowhere to go. But you’re a writer. And writer’s do best when they stop questioning the end product and just write. See where that impromptu spouse will lead you, let it play out for a few days and enjoy the crazy weird ride that you’re on.

The secret to NANOWRIMO is to not overthink it. Because that’s when you start looking for all the imperfections and plot holes that send you into editing mode and canceling out any forward movement you have.

If you’re having trouble with getting your word count every day here’s some tips that have helped me:

  1. Break it up into smaller sections. A little in the morning, a little at lunch, some at night. Carry the laptop or notebook with you and write a few lines whenever you have a chance
  2. Keep your characters in your head with you at all times. How would they react to what you’re doing? What would they say to each other in the grocery store line? Let them talk to each other while you’re doing the dishes or in that third useless meeting of the day (come on, we all know at least 2/3rds of all meetings are just wastes of time that allow one person to hear themselves talk).
  3. Strike when the fire is hot. If you are on a roll, do everything in your power to keep writing…then in the middle of a paragraph or even a sentence–stop. Yeah, you read that right. Stop. It will frustrate you and keep your mind on what will happen next until you pick it back up. Foreplay people…there’s nothing like a little flirtatious teasing to make the next interlude all the more passionate.
  4. DO NOT be discouraged if you have a short day. Every word counts and a 400 word day is still 400 words. Like running or training, or anything really–great things are accomplished not always in leaps and bounds but by small progressive steps forward.
  5. Rest your fingers and your brain. Take breaks, sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get away from it throughout the day. Burnout probably happens most in the first couple of weeks when our inspiration gets ahead of our ability to keep at it with the same frantic pace.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Remember for everyone who comments on this blog during the month of November, you’ll be enterd to win a goodie basket of Writer Stuff. (its capitalized because it’s official)

Good skill, Writer.

The Giant But

Nope. I didn’t miss a “t”. And this isn’t a self-reflective rant about the aging spread going on behind me. Today’s blog is about excuses, dare I even say… self-imposed limits.

I believe I’ve talked about the dangerous ‘but’ in terms of how we love one another, and how we limit feelings by making excuses from perceived imperfections. However, today’s talk is more about the detrimental “but” that gets between us and our dreams.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances the exact phrase:

“I’d love to write but…”

But…I have no time. But…I just can’t get started. But…I’m not very good. But…It’s hard to publish these days. But…people may not like it.

No.

Nope.

Stop it, no.

Nuh uh.

Not valid (and who cares if they like it?)

Article done! BAM!  Shortest blog ever. Happy writing!

Okay…I’m kidding.

Those big buts up there don’t lie. They are all valid excuses. Excuses that we build like walls in front of our potential. Walls of excuses to keep us from even attempting the loving art of writing because it also keeps us safe. Safe from rejection, safe from the work, safe from the expectation. Safe from failing. Safe from succeeding.

But is a wall builder.

But builds walls based on fear and hatred and not scientific, psychologically proven facts.

But keeps you away from ever having to actually start.

Now I’m sure there are people out there saying they want to write a novel to make me feel like I’m not so strange, all wholed-up in my pajamas, afraid of the general public. Maybe people tell me they’d “love” to write more, to make polite conversation.

This blog isn’t for those small-talkers (but bless your heart for trying to make me feel comfortable about my chosen/driven profession despite its financial drawbacks).

This blog is for those whose eyes shine with longing when they talk about that book they want to, need to, would love to write. This is your permission slip to the great unknown outside your stuffy, self-imposed safety.

No more buts.

Try this:

Say it outloud…softly “I would like to write a book.”

Little bit louder now: “I would love to write a book!”

Say it like you mean it!: “I want to write a book!”

So the people in the back can hear!!: “I WILL WRITE A BOOK!”

Deep breath you crazy loon.

And rejoice in not using the but.

You will write that book.

Stop looking at the world as a place of excuses waiting to trip you up and make you fail and start looking it as the beautiful, messy experiment that has no wrong turns, only lessons.

Need help starting? Great! Let’s strike while your fire is hot!

If you have an idea for your novel, or article, or short story, write it down. Loose outlines are great but if you are a type-A outliner, then give yourself an hour or two to adequately plot it down. There are some great computer programs if you’re that kinda nerd. Or if your MY kind of nerd, post-it notes on a wall or story board are awesome.

Chances are if you’ve been thinking about a book then you already have some characters in mind. Spend twenty minutes (or whatever you can spare at kid’s practices or boring meetings) writing down your main and sub characters’ physical attributes, their strengths, their weaknesses. Write about their childhood, their friends, their parents…none of which needs to go into the book, but it will help you understand their motivation so that when you write the story, they behave in ways coherent with their core.

Join a writing group and take the classes they offer. Todd Mitchell (Todd’s Website) once offered an amazing four week class on writing a novel that covered everything from plotting, to dialogue, to genre, and story arcs. It was maybe the most profound and important class I’ve taken and I highly recommend you start with something like that if you are struggling at the start. Plus going to classes and joining groups helps to build the immensely important network of friends and cohorts who will help you along in your process.

Stock up your library. One of the first things I did after scribbling down a rough outline was lay in the fetal position in tears (well, not quite that dramatic but it makes for a better story) and wonder how someone actually created a functioning plot. Enter the Write Great Fiction Series. They’re some of my favorite resources and they offer everything from plot and structure, dialogue, character and viewpoint etc.

Final bit of advice. Don’t let the but come back into your process. (I’d love to edit my novel but the laundry needs doing– the vacuuming, the scope of work meeting notes, the kids fiftieth soccer game this month.)

Nope. Fuck that noise.

There is time in your life to write a novel. You just have to want it and learn to say no to buts.

giggle
Come on. It’s a but joke…

You have to make your word count your priority. And no cleaning for god’s sakes until your daily goal is met. No video games or puttering around either.

If you want the novel; if you want to unleash the story burning inside of you, then stop giving yourself the excuses to not write it.

Make the time. Make the novel. Banish your but(t)… to the chair.

To write your novel.

Go.

NANOWRIMO Week Two: Here Comes a Writer With a Baby Carriage

Hello! Thanks for taking the time to catch up with the blog in the middle of one of your (hopefully) busiest writing months. At this point your mind set is probably so swayed to creating that reading outside of your work in progress is a lot like talking to another adult after being seeped in toddler-speak non-stop all week.

I know that your time is precious so I’ll keep it short and sweet. (Like me, ya’ll)

The second week of NANOWRIMO is all about elaborating on, fleshing out, and developing your baby. Last week we talked about the excitement of new love, the honeymoon stage of writing, if you will. This week is about the baby you’ve made and what that means for not just your writing, but your life for the next seven to ten days.

I know a lot of you are parents, and though it may have been awhile since you’ve spent the midnight hours rocking teary-eyed cherub back to sleep, chances are you remember the sacrifice of time and autonomy for the good of the future. This week is not much different for the NANOWRIMO process. You are starting to see the commitment involved and how the expectations you may have had in the beginning are often dashed by the realities.

Because children don’t always behave the way you think they will. Characters show unexpected traits and say things that throw your dynamic out of whack like dropping the f-bomb at Christmas dinner with Grandma, or asking you for “boob!” loudly in a store.

Settings and plot lines stall with the same debilitating frustration as trying to get a two-year-old into shoes because you’re late for the doctor appointment and you haven’t showered in three days, and you ate cold, leftover mac n cheese for breakfast and you’re not sure if that’s their diaper that smells or the dog…

Keeping on top of the little fires that come up isn’t easy but I encourage you to set a flexible schedule (it works with kids; it works with writing). Give yourself two hours ideally but really whatever you have is fine. Leave half for just writing. Leave the other half to fix plot holes, develop your character’s personalities and backgrounds, build on your story arc, and brainstorm solutions for things that are cropping up as you pour ever more work into the novel. Look at it like doing the groundwork of, feeding, changing, and burping for half of it, and the other half cuddling, coloring, singing, and playing.

A well rounded “story” is equal parts meeting the basic needs and getting to play in the creation of it.

Good luck out there. Nap when it naps, grab a shower while your computer backs up. Drink some coffee and prep for the long nights. Remember the bigger picture. Novels and babies are investments in the future. The work, and love, and committed care you invest now will lead to rewarding results in both your story, your characters, and your craft.

Oh…and get a decent meal. You can’t run on PB&J crusts and half eaten apples forever.

NANOWRIMO Week One: The Honeymoon

Ah, yes, the glorious stage of excitement and foreplay. The thrill of fleshing out your characters, and having them say clever things to one another, and building beautiful worlds with soft hues and brilliant sunsets. It’s champagne and butterflies, it’s rainbows and 3 hour love-making sessions with your laptop (please, God, not literally…the keys are hard enough to keep clean with just my coffee and pastry habit).

The words come easy, the beginning is new and exciting, the chemistry is just right. Possibly you’ve been planning this novel for awhile, maybe you even used October to plan it out and things are running smoothly and in great gushes of inspiration and excitement. (I think ‘gushes’ might be just as bad as ‘moist’ for cringe-worthy words).

OR

You’re stuck in front of your blank page and wondering why in God’s name you agreed to this. The stress of completing such a herculean task is causing every neuron to march around your addled brain with tiny little picket signs protesting the ridiculous workload before they even endure it.

You’re thinking of giving up. It feels as though you agreed to do this on a brash weekend in Vegas and you might have done so under the influence of alcohol and you really don’t know this book that well and what will your parents say and… is it too late for an annulment?

In the first case: Congratulations, keep going! If you have the stamina and inspiration to do so, front load these first couple of weeks so you can have a few days to ride if you need to recover. (I can’t help but hear Sheriff Bart’s voice in my head “Man, them schnitzengrubens will wipe you out!” Come on, people…Blazing Saddles)

In the second case: Don’t give up just yet. So she/he’s a gamble and you may have rushed into things. It’s normal to be nervous. It’s normal to feel like there’s nowhere to go. But you’re a writer. And writer’s do best when they stop questioning the end product and just write. See where that impromptu spouse will lead you, let it play out for a few days and enjoy the crazy weird ride that you’re on.

The secret to NANOWRIMO is to not overthink it. Because that’s when you start looking for all the imperfections and plot holes that send you into editing mode and canceling out any forward movement you have.

If you’re having trouble with getting your word count every day here’s some tips that have helped me:

  1. Break it up into smaller sections. A little in the morning, a little at lunch, some at night. Carry the laptop or notebook with you and write a few lines whenever you have a chance
  2. Keep your characters in your head with you at all times. How would they react to what you’re doing? What would they say to each other in the grocery store line? Let them talk to each other while you’re doing the dishes or in that third useless meeting of the day (come on, we all know at least 2/3rds of all meetings are just wastes of time that allow one person to hear themselves talk).
  3. Strike when the fire is hot. If you are on a roll, do everything in your power to keep writing…then in the middle of a paragraph or even a sentence–stop. Yeah, you read that right. Stop. It will frustrate you and keep your mind on what will happen next until you pick it back up. Foreplay people…there’s nothing like a little flirtatious teasing to make the next interlude all the more passionate.
  4. DO NOT be discouraged if you have a short day. Every word counts and a 400 word day is still 400 words. Like running or training, or anything really–great things are accomplished not always in leaps and bounds but by small progressive steps forward.
  5. Rest your fingers and your brain. Take breaks, sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get away from it throughout the day. Burnout probably happens most in the first couple of weeks when our inspiration gets ahead of our ability to keep at it with the same frantic pace.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Remember, comment below with how it’s going or send me quick email with any frustrations or elations you have and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

Good skill, Writer.

On Challenging Ourselves: National Novel Writing Month and Why It Matters

Good morning readers and writers. I’ve collaborated with the amazing folks at Masticadores to bring you a short series on what we affectionately call NaNoWriMo here in the States. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a world-wide, month-long challenge to help writers of all ages, genres, and abilities finish the first draft of novel (50,000 words) in one month (30 days).

Looking at those numbers, especially as a beginning writer, feels daunting, I know. But, having participated for 8 years, including 6 novels published (and soon to be published) I can tell you; it is possible.

Now listen, I’m not a full-time writer. I’m a mom and a teacher. I’ve got a household, and pets, a garden, and other writerly obligations to fulfill, so I understand the idea of committing to this kind of word count can feel impossible. In this intro, I’ll break down the basics, and by the end I hope you’ll look at this challenge as something you can’t wait to start.

Breaking it down:

  1. If you want to get all math-y, 50,000 words in 30 days is only 1667 words a day and you don’t have to write them consecutively. 330 in the morning, 560 on a lunch break, 780 in the evening, and you’re there. OR, 5000 over the weekend and smatterings throughout the week as you have time. THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT IS TO KEEP WRITING. One of the purposes of this challenge is to make you realize how much available time you actually do have to write, when you make it a priority.
  • This isn’t about the final product, i.e. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME EDITING! One of the major killers of first drafts and time is self-editing. JUST WRITE. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, don’t worry if it’s down-right shit, just put the words on paper. Editing will come later, but you can’t edit what you haven’t written. So, write first…save the editing for December.
  • Use the resources at the website: National Novel Writing Month. You can set up your own dashboard, upload ideas, picture boards, short excerpts, possible titles and even inspirational playlists for each project. On the website you’ll find links to local events, helpful tips and blogs, ways to connect with other writers (buddies!), all kinds of support and help, and badges to keep you inspired along the way. ALSO: you can log your words per day and check on your progress (honestly one of the best tools for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited to blow the curve, you know what I mean?)
  • If you don’t make the 50,000 words, there isn’t some Squid-Games pit that will open up and swallow you whole, but you will have made progress and learned a bit about your writing habits. If you do succeed in that word-count, you’ll receive free goodies to help in the next steps of editing, cover design, and self-publishing if you choose that route.
  • If you aren’t a novelist, don’t count this challenge out. At your author page/dashboard, you can select if you want to participate in the traditional challenge (50,000 words in 30 days) OR create a challenge of your own. It can be a collection of short stories or poetry. I’ve had friends and collogues use the challenge to get through final edits of their current novels or for drafting a complex series. The point is that you use the 30 days to build a habit of putting your writing first.
  • Lastly, as this blog is coming out in October, you will have plenty of time to prepare, especially if you’re a plotter/mapper. The weeks leading up to November 1st are a great time to outline your novel, create character boards, and get excited about telling your story.

For every week in November, I’ll be running one short blog (Wednesday or Saturday?) on this website to offer you inspiration for the week ahead. If you like the challenge, please support the cause by donating or picking up some sweet swag on their website. NaNoWriMo offers support and programs free for young writers to grow their skills, and for those disadvantaged or formally overlooked writers whose voices deserve to be heard.

I hope you’ll sign up. I hope you’ll find the time to invest in your book and yourself. I’m always open to any questions or thoughts on the matter, so hit me up at my website www.thebeautifulstuf.blog, through the contact page.

Thanks, and Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #7– Setting

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Good morning! So, here we are. Working our way through the bulleted list on Novel Writing. Today is about setting, but before I build up that world, I would like to remind you:

Keep in mind, there are many intricacies to writing a novel. It can’t all be learned in 7 points. Or 25. Or even 100. Most novelists have one or two ‘starter’ novels that never see the light of day. Because the process of writing a complete novel is, in itself, the real lesson of what does and doesn’t work. Until you do it, write it, fight through it, you won’t truly grasp which elements are most important, and how to get through the problems that you will inevitably face.

Now–on to Setting.

Setting is the world where your characters live, where the plot takes place and what influences those major themes. Setting includes physical space (mountains, city, country, house, street, etc), time period (modern day, future, Elizabethan England), multiplied by fiction and non-fiction (3050 space opera set on a distant planet versus 1944 Italy during the Second World War).

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Pexels.com
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am a firm and staunch believer that setting is, itself, integral as a character in your story. Setting will dictate so much of your novel. The physical and temporal surroundings of your characters limit or promote certain behaviors, patterns of speech, choices, and opportunities. The setting, say a creepy old house on the coast of Maine, can even be a character itself, lending an influential factor to the events that play out. (Wouldn’t be the same if Destiny Harrison had moved into a swanky new apartment in L.A.)

My first piece of advice for setting is that if it is someplace or some time you aren’t personally familiar with, do a shit-ton (yes, that’s a real measurement) of research. If you can (time-machines not withstanding) visit the place, the area. Get a feel for it. Even better, do it in the season or hour that takes place in your novel.

If you have a scene on the harbor at dawn, your description will be more apt if you’ve been on a harbor at dawn. If you’ve never seen the bursting yellow of aspens in October, it’s hard to capture the exact shade of gold against the pinion green.

Secondly, when building the world of your novel, utilize all the senses. How does the sunlight break over the mountain? In dusty, slow waves or in a brilliant flash? Does the air feel crisp on the tongue or heavy with heat? What do you hear? This all goes hand in hand with showing the audience, not telling. Jack didn’t feel the heat of the fire. The fire seeped beneath his skin.

Thirdly, when you approach setting it is VITAL to find the balance between description and information dump. A common mistake (in my humble opinion) in even the most prolific writer, is to go on a little too long building the “world moment” to the point the reader is bogged down or the pace slows. Now, I understand, that some novels require a good solid understanding of their worlds (often if it’s unfamiliar to the reader– ie a sci-fi/fantasy or historical fiction). But, if you can manage, feed these tidbits to the reader throughout. Think snacking not gorging. Offer what is relevant, what moves or enhances the scene, or gives hints or important clues for later on in the book, then draw back and let the audience digest it.

Setting is a great place to build imagery, be a little poetic, and really put your reader in the middle of your novel. Similarly, sometimes the most simple of descriptions can be effective so don’t overwhelm with too long or heavy paragraphs.

Make it a living, breathing entity of the book, something that becomes part of the whole in a way that is inseparable from the action, characters, dialogue and voice.

Photo by stein egil liland on Pexels.com

This week, look at your work in progress, pick out a particularly rough scene and ask yourself what’s going on with the setting. How can it influence or help your characters actions? Look at your longer paragraphs, are there moments where your readers might be caught in a deluge of description? Boil it down to the instrumental aspects of setting. What tone does it overlay? Does that enhance the other pieces?

Okay. Good luck out there. Let me know how it goes.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop Novelty #6: “The Kid’s Got Style”

Good evening, my little writing gnomes. This evening I’m writing from the NCW’s writing fall writing retreat in Estes Park, Colorado. Firstly, if you’ve never taken a weekend, or a few days, to do nothing but devote time to your craft, I highly recommend you give it a try. When you aren’t weighed down by laundry, school emails, or cat’s randomly vomiting out food that they didn’t apparently feel like chewing, you can actually get a lot of things done.

We’ll talk more about that in a later blog. Today…it’s all about STYLE.

Style isn’t regaled to only novel writing. Every author has a voice. This is not the Point of View, as we discussed last week. A voice is an author’s particular way of writing. If you want to look at the extremes, you could compare the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald to those of Ernest Hemingway. Contemporaries and acquaintances (it’s argued if they were actually friends) they shared a propensity for two things, drinking and good writing. Beyond that, they had incredibly different voices. Hemingway was a man’s man, bull-fighting, womanizer. Fitzgerald was more introspective, a romantic, one might say. And their voices showed it and affected readers differently.

This quote hangs above my desk:

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

― Francis Scott Fitzgerald

Before you move on…read that again. Can’t you feel him speaking to you? Can’t you feel a hand on your shoulder or even a hand on your back (as one of my favorite inspirational women says: https://www.christinedercole.com/s/) encouraging you to take action, to not be dissuaded?

In contrast:

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”

― Ernest Hemingway

First–did anyone else notice what POV he just used? Come on…it was only a week ago. The dreaded 2nd and he, as always, did an amazing job. Listen, in my humble opinion, Hemingway was kind of a giant misogynistic ass, but he could write a fine damn sentence, and his work cut through your skin like wind on a cold February day. But notice the colder, darker tone. The harshness.

The difference between those two is not in their brilliance. It’s in the feeling they evoke, and to me, that’s what your voice is. A writer cannot help but leave a trace of themself on the page. It’s probably why my heroines curse, or why setting to me feels like it always needs a bit of poetry–utilizing the senses to accentuate.

I’m a bit more Fitzgerald than I am Hemingway…But I’m all Sarah. And you are all you.

STYLE is what makes your story, even if it fits a trope or a formula, unique. Because no one is you. No one has your experiences, your vernacular (why you might say wa-r-sh instead of wash, or creek instead of cr-ic-k), your vocabulary, your turn of phrase, your tone.

I’ve tried to read ‘popular’ authors that I just couldn’t stand because they made a point to turn every sentence into a dictionary-induced game of look-up-the-word or strayed too far from the point. I’ve read simple shorts that didn’t use a word over 15 letters long that left me with chills and turning the page hungrily.

It’s not in the size, its in your style (remember I said that fellas).

So… I don’t have much to elaborate on here. I can’t train you to write in your own voice. You just have to write and see what comes of it. Are you poetic? Are you straightforward? Are you humorous? Do you tend to sink into the gray dark, or do you lift up towards the light? When you write are you telling the story to an audience, or to a friend? Every day may be different for each of us, but in total, your ‘voice’, your STYLE, is the way you tell a story.

So, look over your work in progress, short stories or poems you’ve written, and try to feel out what your voice sounds like. It’s hard to do this, so feel free to enlist the help of outsiders (friends, family, book groups, critique groups).

You will know your voice when you hear it.

Stay true to it, because if you ever try to write in someone else’s, your story–your work, will suffer.

We can’t all be Hemingway. Please, God…don’t let us all be Hemingway. We need Plaths and Fitzgeralds. We need Rowlings and Brookses. We need it all. The whole spectrum of style.

So get out there and write true to yours.