Saturday, July 9, 2016

Words


Some of this blog post is a repeat from a 2015 Blog post, but it is important - too important to read quickly or only partially assimilate. If you read it before -- please read it again.  


Find the right word—Find EXACTLY the right word:
Your job as a writer is to find the exact words needed to tell your story well—to tell your story so your reader can see, hear, feel, even taste and smell your meaning, not only your words.
The strongest words, with the clearest meaning at your disposal are NOUNS and VERBS. Strive to keep them strong. Do not weaken them with modifiers.


FIND THE EXACT NOUN –TO DESCRIBE THE EXACT PERSON, PLACE OR THING YOU MEAN.



USE THE EXACT VERB – TO EXPRESS THE EXACT MOVEMENT OR ACTION YOU WANT YOUR READER TO SEE.

Carefully choosing the exact noun and verb you are thinking of will create a picture in the mind of your reader of a character taking action—the specific action you want to show.


Be careful of misplaced and confusing modifiers—whether adjectives, adverbs, phrases or clauses:
All writers misplace modifiers in a first draft. Do not worry about them at that stage, but watch for and eliminate or relocate them as necessary in every revision. If your words confuse your reader you will lose him.
If you find a modifier located far from the word it modifies, try to move the word or phrase closer in the sentence or create two sentences. If you, the writer, cannot find the word your modifier is supposed to change although you wrote it—STOP—re-write the entire sentence.


Make sure your changes in verb tense are consistent with your point of view and the mood of your story:
Used skillfully, verbs are the heartbeat of your writing. They keep your story moving, enliven it and carry the action.
Verbs are extremely flexible, changing form to indicate tense (walk, walked) voice (gives, is given) and mood (he is satisfied, if he were satisfied)


If you have trouble with verb endings, review the rules in a good grammar textbook:
Watch out for problem verbs such as: lie and lay, sit and set. Be certain the words you use fit your meaning. When in doubt—look it up.


REMEMBER----


Find a way to replace any form of the verb “to be” as often as possible. Try to change the words do, have, or had when used as main verbs. Use concrete—real—action words to replace them—words carefully chosen to create a picture in the reader’s mind.


Watch out for inappropriate pronouns creating an ambiguous antecedent or actual disagreement:


SPECIAL NOTE:
Pronouns as subjects are subjective
Pronouns as objects are objective
Pronouns as possessives are possessive.

Most of us know when to use I or me and when to use my. Almost everyone becomes confused however between and among who and whom, we Texans and us Texans, Molly and I and Molly and me. Keep a good grammar reference handy and use it when in doubt.


Use your dictionary and your brain:
Your computer dictionary does not know the difference in homonyms. Be suspicious if a word does not look right. Most writers are avid readers and develop a good sense of what “reads right.” Keep a good unabridged dictionary handy so you can check a word the old fashioned way.


The most troublesome words are:
There and their
To, too, and two
Weather and whether
Accept and except
Who’s and whose
Its and it’s
Your and you’re
Affect and effect

Take care that inappropriate word choices do not slip into your work. Watch for such words such as capital or capitol, fair for fare. A good grammar handbook will have a longer list.


Do not use cliches—don’t even use them in dialogue:


We call these “sayings” cliches because they have grown stale from overuse. Other names for them are catchwords, hackneyed expressions, and trite words.
In the interest of getting your words on paper forget about clearing out all cliches in the first draft of your work, you will probably use them without thinking.
BE AWARE—the worn-out words and expressions you will invariably use in your first draft probably hide fuzzy or imprecise thinking.


Read your work aloud. Your best ally is your “reader’s ear.” You will hear any problems if you listen carefully:
Read aloud every sentence and every paragraph of your entire piece of writing and then let it rest at least one day and read it again.
Mumbling the words as you read will not work. Close the door and READ ALOUD —read as if you are reading to an audience. If you read silently, mumbling your words, you will get caught up in your story and read over errors. Again, close your door and read aloud—read as if you have a large audience. Let your “readers ear” warn you of problems.


Some writers use a trusted friend or family member to help them do a final revision. But take care in your choice of this reader:
Someone who loves you may say everything you write is perfect because he loves you. Conversely, even though the story is interesting, in an effort to protect you from hurt, he or she might tell you your work will never be publishable and you should stick to knitting or building houses.
With practice you can train yourself to find and remove errors from your work and revise so an editor will recommend publication—so you agent will be determined to find a publisher for your work.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SPECIAL WORDS --- and More Special Words -- 


You can often remove “the” from sentences without losing meaning. This goes back to naming things—using names to create images:
Do a computer search for “the”—when you find “the tree,” “the store,” “the last car from the left,” try to eliminate “the” by naming each object.


There are times when using “that” in a sentence is critical to convey meaning, but it is another word you can often remove without losing meaning:
Do a computer search for “that” and test the sentence for clarity without it—remove it if possible.


Which” is often used when the writer really means “that:”
Do a computer search for “which” (and its accompanying comma,) test the sentence for meaning by replacing “which” with “that.”


In addition to over use of  “the, that, when, and, but, or and because,” writers tend to over use VERY and JUST:
Both of these words are intended to prop-up, strengthen or emphasize a verb. Their use however, often acts to weaken it. When you eliminate very and just, you may instantly see the need for a different, more precise or stronger verb. You may need a verb that will clearly, concisely and more emphatically convey meaning and needs no help.
Many writers use these two words often in their earliest work. It’s an easy mistake to make, because we constantly use “very” and “just” in speech.


FOR EXAMPLE:
“Bill got very scared and just ran away from the fire.” This is often the way we speak and perfectly acceptable, but the sentence reads much better and seems more immediate when written, “Terrified, Bill fled the scene of the fire.” The precise words help the reader see an image of Bill running.
One of the greatest benefits of running computer searches for tricky words is—after a short while you find that questioning the use of problem words in your writing becomes a ingrained habit. You will eventually stop using those words or make automatic corrections in your first draft.


Strive for clarity above all:
Always strive to make your statements and questions direct and plain. Compound sentences are fine and you will certainly use them many times. You must be careful however, and be certain a compound sentence conveys your meaning clearly--that it does not lose your reader. Compound sentences can occasionally be quite confusing and you must not, under any circumstances, confuse your reader.

|
Use simple sentences construction:
Find and use succinct singular adjectives rather than modifying clauses,
NOT: “He rode a mottled, reddish-brown horse.”
BUT: “He rode a roan horse.”
If your reader does not know what a roan horse is and wants to know she/he can and should go look it up.
NOT: “She wore a rosy red, waist-length jacket with epaulettes.”
BUT: She wore a rosy-red military jacket.”
The definition of a military jacket is “waist-length with epaulettes.”
Use modifiers only when you absolutely must to convey your meaning.


Do not become a victim of Thesaurus Syndrome:
The English language offers a writer thousands upon thousands of wonderful, interesting words. Short, long, intriguing, shocking, blunt, soft words—every sort you can imagine. Many of them however, are specific to a certain field or a certain time period.
A thesaurus can be helpful to a writer, but it won’t help your writing to fill your paragraphs with unusual, fancy or obscure words. Avoid using words your reader will have to look up to understand. Use a thesaurus only to remind you of an ordinary word you’ve forgotten.


SPECIAL NOTE:
You are writing for your readers. Even when writing for well-educated adults using esoteric or obscure words will not impress them. Your editor or agent will definitely not be impressed. He or she might even find you pretentious.
If you are writing a short story, article, paper or novel, always keep this in mind—MOST people read between sixth and eighth grade level. American newspapers are written to the sixth and seventh grade level and many college texts are written at the eighth grade level.

THE POWER OF VERBS AND NOUNS


Use simple words—words most people readily understand:
Avoid using an adjective or an adverb unless it is the only way to make your meaning clear.


Picture an adverb as a CRUTCH for a verb:
An adverb will often end in ly and although it is intended to be supportive, to add to the meaning of a verb, it often acts to weaken your sentence. Rather than truly help, it may emphasize the fact that your verb does not convey the exact meaning you hoped it would.


Picture an adjective as a WHEELCHAIR for a noun:
Mark Twain advised killing any adjective found in your work. I think that’s going a little far, but you must at least, always be suspicious of adjectives. They are useful of course—they are critical in some cases, but strive to use strong concrete NOUNS—words that convey your meaning without support.

Remember the magic of naming—using descriptive nouns to guide your reader:
If you mention a tree and your reader has a willow tree near her back door, without guidance from you that is the tree she instantly pictures as she reads. Your tree is going to become a willow tree in her mind.
If you tell this reader your character is climbing this tree, the reader’s logical mind will instantly wonder how small the character might be in order to climb the weak limbs of her willow tree. 



Sunday, August 24, 2014


CLEAN UP YOUR MANUSCRIPT

Run a search for connecting words such as and, but, or and because:
When you find one of these words, stop and re-read the sentence carefully, considering the possibility of changing the two connected clauses into separate sentences. An occasional over-long sentence is inevitable and fine, but variety is critical. You do not want to put your reader to sleep because you over-use the same sentence length and form.


Pay careful attention to the way your words fit on the page:
Extra-long sentences lead to extra-long paragraphs. Extra-long paragraphs slow the story’s action and make your work harder to read.


Keep in mind the effect of form on your reader
Use longer sentences and paragraphs to deliberately slow your reader down when you are setting up for an important scene. After the set-up, use shortened sentences and paragraphs to speed up the action. You can gradually shorten your paragraphs and sentences until the reader feels forced to read faster and faster to find out what is going to happen. It is perfectly all right to shorten down to a one-sentence paragraph for emphasis just before a dramatic scene begins.
Slowing the action by changing the way your words look on the page may also be useful just after the climax of a big exciting scene. Longer sentences and one or two longer paragraphs are calming. They offer you the opportunity to give the reader insights into your character’s reaction to the scene.


Do not repeat key words or names within a paragraph. Find other nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs that mean the same thing:
Stop a little earlier at the end of each stint of writing and go over your finished work for any repetitive use of a word—any word. If you can find a way, replace it with another conveying the same meaning. If it seems imperative to re-identify the subject of your paragraph by name, you need a new paragraph.


FOR EXAMPLE:
When writing about Governor Dan Brown, a reporter or historian will use Governor Brown, the governor, he and Brown. Some will then turn around and use “he” again. (If you have to start that list over in the same paragraph, your paragraph is probably too long.)
There are times when using another way of saying a name is impossible, but the same words used over and over, even if they are a character’s name, can be mind-numbing for your reader.


Watch out for repeated use of a certain phrase as well—also mind numbing—and possibly aggravating for your reader:
Some of the greatest writers have pet words and sayings they repeat more than they should. Almost every writer also has one or even two crutch words or phrases he or she repeats over and over. Find yours and eliminate them before your editor or agent does.

Search for and remove extra--unnecessary words creating convoluted, run-on sentences:
Some of the worst culprits in creating run-on sentences are when, and, but, because and or when they are used to introduce subordinate clauses.


FOR EXAMPLE:
When you remove the “and” “but” “or”  “because” in many long sentences, they will usually yield two complete sentences. Consider removing these words to make the two complete clauses they joined into separate sentences.

Do a word processor search for each word listed above. Stop—read the entire sentence--eliminate the offending word wherever possible without losing meaning. Create complete separate sentences with some of the clauses. You will not have to do this many times until you automatically question every overly long sentence you write.


TEST THIS SENTENCE AS ANOTHER EXAMPLE:

--Historians and other academics write for other academics and give no thought to the reader who may get lost before he gets this far and may throw the book across the room because he is puzzled or completely bored--

The above sentence is not unusual although it contains four “ands” an “or” and even a “because.”

Anne H. Holt
Find Anne's Books at: amazon.com/author/ahholt  


Writers read---a lot.


Monday, December 23, 2013

REMOVE THESE COMMON
LANGUAGE PROBLEMS


Do not let your language flow become stilted, awkward or too formal :
Read your work aloud—mark changes as you go and revise where necessary--then read it aloud again. Be certain your sentences and dialogue sound real—not exactly as we speak—our real conversation is full of oddities—stops and starts—and boring. Write your dialogue as you would like speech to sound. Your reader will decide to like or dislike your characters through reading their words and thoughts. Your character’s words will evoke emotion in your reader and through emotion, hold his/her attention.
Dialogue is the only tool you have to create emotional pull on the reader so he or she will “feel with” your characters and want to keep reading. Dialogue establishes your story’s mood. Properly selected, the words you put in a character’s mouth will intensify the story’s conflict, explain action and create tension and suspense.
Dialogue speeds up your scenes. When carefully constructed and effective, a character’s words move the story forward rapidly. Your main characters’ words to other characters can and will add bits of setting and background—create foreshadowing. They will communicate the theme of your work.


Avoid passive constructions:
Constantly ask yourself if your subject is acted upon rather than acting. Use of the passive tense is a form of telling rather than showing. The hard part is—we often speak in the passive—its use is ingrained in our thoughts—but it is a habit a writer must break. Telling rather than showing your reader what happens deadens your story. Set your word processing program to warn you of passive sentences during spell and grammar check. Note that the use of the passive is often revealed when a writer uses the word “by” in the sentence.


Your words must create a series of pictures for your reader: 

The magic lies in using concrete nouns and action verbs—then presenting them in simple sentences. It’s as straightforward as this—if you refer to a tree always make it an oak tree, a willow tree or a sycamore tree. Your tree could be “the crooked old maple tree that leans out over the James River at Hutchinson’s Point.” 
Do not write “tree” alone without adding a descriptive name until you have rooted in your reader’s thoughts an image of YOUR tree. If you simply write tree or river or road and neglect to add a name or exact descriptor, your reader will see only his or her image of a similar object, not yours, and will be shut out of important parts of your story.


Search for and remove as many instances of the verb form “was going” or “were thinking” as possible:
These are verb forms we regularly use in conversation, but they will dull your writing. Set your word processing program to search and methodically check for them. Try your best to rewrite your sentence to replace each one with an action verb.

“He was seeing, he was doing, they were singing, I have been reading,” and the word “had,” will creep into your writing no matter how hard you try to avoid these words—and to many of these constructions are deadly. They take the punch out of your sentences and make them sound flat.
Search out these verb-forms and find a way to say such things as he spotted, he ran, they sang, I read, in their place. It probably is impossible to remove every instance of these forms, but remove as many as you can.
This change alone will make your words and sentences seem more immediate—more active. Your reader, without even knowing, will read the simple past as happening at that moment. It will “show” the action and make your story or paper come alive.


Replace the verb “to be” with active verbs as often as possible:
The verb “to be” is a workhorse in our speech, but becomes no more than filler in the written word. Its use weakens your sentences and dialogue--it saps meaning and takes color and texture from your sentences.
Am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, had, have—these forms of the verb “to be” occur in every work and cannot be eliminated, but you must deliberately minimize them.
Read the work of one of your favorite modern authors. Take note of how the writer artfully finds ways to avoid using the verb “to be” as often as possible.
When revising, read your sentences carefully and when you find an instance where you used the verb to be, try to insert an active verb, a verb offering the reader a picture of your characters taking some action.


FOR EXAMPLE:
“I was singing alto when I should have been singing mezzo,” reads with more force and movement when written “I mistakenly sang alto rather than mezzo,” and it takes fewer words.


Watch for and change any SINGSONG sentences:
You may find whole paragraphs where your sentences use the same word order—the same subject and so forth. There may be times when you use nearly the same sentence length—over and over—enough of that will put your reader to sleep. Strive for variety in sentence form and length. Singsong constructions and consistently uniform sentence length will soon cause your reader doze—to lose the thread of your story or essay—and eventually stop reading.

Avoid extremes in sentence construction. 
Most modern writers do not use one-word sentences, no matter what form they are writing. Any sentence running over two or three complete lines across the page however is probably too long. Your work will read much more comfortably and your meanings will be clear if you break most extra long sentences into one long and one short.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Develop your characters personalities and values:
Use action and dialogue to help a reader get to know your characters. SHOW your characters taking appropriate action—reveal their thoughts.
If the character is evil, show him or her committing an evil act, do not simply tell your reader about it—make it happen in front of his or her eyes. If you want a character to be admired, let your reader see your character taking an admirable action.
Again, every reader comes to your story with an image or stereotype of the characters you write about. It is up to you to give enough description of each character’s uniqueness to modify your reader’s stereotype or image so your characters can seem new and real and their lives worth reading about.
Keep physical description of your characters sketchy, but make sure to give your reader enough to picture them clearly, even your minor characters.
It is not necessary to fully describe your characters physical attributes. Use oblique references to their height and hair color. Possibly offer a comment about the way the character’s clothing fits or how the color matches her eyes.
Notwithstanding a sketchy description, reviewers and other readers often describe my heroes as “handsome.” One can only assume they fill in my scanty written description with their own preferences.


Include everything you need to make the conclusion of your story work:
If your character is going to need a handgun, a knife, a computer or a newspaper to get out of a pivotal scene in your story—make certain he or she owns the object or acquires it early in your story.
Your reader will laugh at you, or perhaps throw your book away if, in the middle of a big scene, your heroine suddenly finds – leaning handily against a nearby fence post – the bicycle she desperately needs to escape the villain.


Do not make a big deal of an inanimate object or a character trait if that object or character trait is not going to be necessary to your story later: 
This rule is simple—deliver what you promise your reader. If you describe your character’s horse or dog as a killer—the animal must kill or try to kill someone before the end of the story.
If you describe one of your characters, perhaps your villain’s lawyer or girl friend, as having shifty eyes, you have planted the idea of that character’s shiftiness in your reader’s thoughts. You must have this character do something your reader understands as shifty before the end of the story or he or she will feel disappointed, or worse, cheated.


Never promise your reader something is going to happen in the story and then forget it. YOUR READER WILL NOT FORGET:
Whatever you foreshadow must eventually materialize in your story. Readers always notice and always remember. It is necessary to do one complete revision of your completed work to look for proper placement of foreshadowing and motivation for your character’s actions. I recommend you write any passage that contains foreshadowing in a special notebook to guide your last revisions. If you can wait until your second or third revision to add foreshadowing, it is easier to keep track.


Give your characters an obvious reason for everything they do:
Do not have your character’s take an action surprising your reader so much she or he will see that action as unreasonable or unbelievable. Build up to things gradually. Always include adequate motivation for each action. This motivation should almost always come before the action.
If your heroine is going to fight off a big, husky mugger or two in one of your scenes, give your reader some hint of what is in store early in your story. Find a way to show your reader this character is strong and athletic and possibly trained in martial arts long before she is called upon to demonstrate her ability.
Do not wait until the last convenient minute to explain things. Make certain your reader expects or at least suspects a character’s capability long before the scene that includes the incident.


Develop your story as a series of increasingly serious conflicts:
One way to emphasize conflict, the life-blood of any story, is to get your hero down and kick or stomp her or him increasingly harder. This conflict is not literal in every case, of course. If the central conflict of your story is psychological, the smaller conflicts, making up your scenes will be psychological, as will the resolution of the final conflict.
Make sure your hero/heroine and the villain appear at least equally strong to your reader. Notice that in many stories, the villain appears much stronger than the hero/heroine. This device works well as readers love to root for the underdog.
In order to make your reader care enough about what happens to keep reading—to keep turning pages—your hero or heroine must be required to employ extraordinary, almost super human effort to finally prevail.
Carefully craft each step in your story’s conflict so that each small and large scene carries the story forward to its final resolution. Remember—big, critical scenes that push your story forward as if on wings – must always include your important characters.


Always give your hero/heroine the opportunity to confront the villain:
This confrontation is the reader’s “payoff” for staying with you through sixty to one hundred thousand or more words. Do not cheat her out of the true ending of the basic conflict of your story.


Let nothing in your story happen at random:
Carefully think through a conscious reason for everything you include in your story. Think more than once about everything you write—from naming your characters to the way they treat their horses, dogs, house, cars or clothes. Each of these things reveal character.
Consider carefully what sort of law your character might practice—the specific kind exactly fitting your story and your character. Be deliberate about choosing the color of a character’s dresses, suits or shirts. Remember that your characters’ choice of friends and enemies can make or break your story.
Take care that the details you employ fit your characters’ personas. Cars, clothes, and pets chosen—the way a house is decorated—cleaned or not cleaned is important. Consider if your character’s home should be cluttered with family pictures and interesting books or austere and cold with no revealing personal items in view. Every detail of your character’s life reveals something about his or her personality and motivation.


Craft a climax:
Present a carefully crafted final conflict for your story. Always let your hero or heroine and the villain come face to face in the final conflict. Your reader will feel cheated if critical action happens “off-stage.”
Be certain your reader fully understands what is at stake in your story from the beginning scene to the end. Keep reminding the reader through the thoughts of one of the characters if necessary. The reader must understand that if your final conflict is lost, everything gained throughout your story will also be lost.
Whatever resolution you craft for the final conflict in your story, be careful to plan it to use only the abilities of the characters your reader has come to know. A mild-mannered, cooperative gentleman might lose control and beat someone to death or steal the crown jewels in the end, but your story must offer your reader some warning, however subtle, that this about-face could happen. Such an ending cannot be a complete surprise.
Yes, a somewhat surprising ending can be satisfying for the reader—it often is. However, changing your characters’ personalities or endowing them with new abilities to contrive the ending is not the way to make it happen. Your reader will feel cheated and probably not read your next book.


Do not introduce something new just to help with the resolution of the final conflict:
Romance novels published early in the twentieth century often included a surprise climactic event acting to solve all the main characters’ problems. This event usually made it possible for the hero and heroine to “live happily ever after.” Writers and readers now refer to such endings as a “freight train coming through the story” to contrive the wanted ending. Solve your final conflict with the character’s abilities and personalities your reader has come to know and accept.


Friday, November 15, 2013


Foreshadow your ending throughout your story:
Be careful not to completely surprise your reader with drastic, unheralded, unexplained twists and turns in your story. Most readers expect and enjoy plot twists but they must not be overly drastic.

Few serious readers want to know the end of your story too soon, but most like to be able to guess at a possible ending. Readers enjoy trying to figure out your plot as they read. It gives most of them great satisfaction when they can decide your ending is close to the one they expected.


Caution:
If your hero or heroine turns into the villain at the end of your story be sure to give the reader a few subtle hints in the beginning and scatter increasing obvious ones throughout your story. Make the change in the character’s role seem inevitable and therefore acceptable to your reader.


Telling your story in scenes:
Each scene you write must contain a clear PURPOSE, an episode of CONFLICT, and a final RESOLUTION. The resolution must offer a connection to the next scene.

Think of each scene as a step on a staircase—another step advancing your characters and your reader forward to the resolution of the central conflict of your story.

It might also help you to think of each scene as a short play—making certain each play has a beginning, middle and an ending. Take care to construct an ending that includes a clear connection to the next scene.

Re-read your work carefully; assuring yourself as you read that every scene you create is critical to your story in some way. A scene may do no more than move your characters from place to place, but make certain the movement is necessary to the story. If a scene is unnecessary—if your reader ever decides your words are only filler—you may lose your reader.


Develop your characters personalities and values:
Use action and dialogue to help a reader get to know your characters. SHOW your characters taking appropriate action—reveal their thoughts.

If the character is evil, show him or her committing an evil act, do not simply tell your reader about it—make it happen in front of his or her eyes. If you want a character to be admired, let your reader see your character taking an admirable action.

Again, every reader comes to your story with an image or stereotype of the characters you write about. It is up to you to give enough description of each character’s uniqueness to modify your reader’s stereotype or image so your characters can seem new and real and their lives worth reading about.

Keep physical description of your characters sketchy, but make sure to give your reader enough to picture them clearly, even your minor characters.

It is not necessary to fully describe your characters physical attributes. Use oblique references to their height and hair color. Possibly offer a comment about the way the character’s clothing fits or how the color matches her eyes.

Notwithstanding a sketchy description, reviewers and other readers often describe my heroes as “handsome.” One can only assume they fill in my scanty written description with their own preferences.


Include everything you need to make the conclusion of your story work:
If your character is going to need a handgun, a knife, a computer or a newspaper to get out of a pivotal scene in your story—make certain he or she owns the object or acquires it early in your story.

Your reader will laugh at you, or perhaps throw your book away if, in the middle of a big scene, your heroine suddenly finds – leaning handily against a nearby fence post – the bicycle she desperately needs to escape the villain.


Do not make a big deal of an inanimate object or a character trait if that object or character trait is not going to be necessary to your story later: 

This rule is simple—deliver what you promise your reader. If you describe your character’s horse or dog as a killer—the animal must kill or try to kill someone before the end of the story.

If you describe one of your characters, perhaps your villain’s lawyer or girl friend, as having shifty eyes, you have planted the idea of that character’s shiftiness in your reader’s thoughts. You must have this character do something your reader understands as shifty before the end of the story or he or she will feel disappointed, or worse, cheated.

Never promise your reader something is going to happen in the story and then forget it. 
YOUR READER WILL NOT FORGET:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Time Place and protecting the truth in your story


Establish place and time:

Always remember your partnership with your reader—he or she will bring a personal image of people, places and things to your story. It is your job as writer to offer enough specific information about your characters, your houses, rooms, cities or places to make them individual.
You must include enough detail to change or modify your reader’s images to suit the “place and people” you see in your story. Specific details will make it possible for your reader to visualize your images as you do—and give him or her the information necessary to understand and enjoy your story.


Research:
Discover the mundane objects and duties of life as they pertain to your story. Use precise details to reveal your physical setting.

Ranchers live out on the prairie or in a valley near water. Your characters might live in a log cabin, a soddy or a big ranch house. They could raise Texas cattle and Spanish horses, but keep a pack of Irish Wolfhounds where your reader might expect them to keep Beagles.
In a modern story place your characters in a high rise apartment or a suburban ranch house with patio, pool and a large dog.

Keep in mind that certain natural markers clearly reveal a setting. For instance, if you mention an alligator, your reader will immediately see the American south, probably Florida or the bayous of Louisiana.
If you mention a Joshua tree or a sere and forbidding plain or trackless dunes, you will transport your reader to the American southwest, the Gobi or the Saharan desert as needed without writing a lot of detailed description.

Modern lawyers often live in big cities; drive expensive Mercedes and visit upscale bars--some of them fly airplanes. Some are women. These characters are all individuals and small physical details set each of them apart and give them the illusion of reality.

If your story is set in a modern or historical time, do the necessary research to make your setting become real to your reader. A good way to accomplish this is to find out and show your reader through action, what sort of food your characters ate and what sort of clothes they wore. It also helps if you can find and use some of their more interesting turns of speech.

If yours is a historical or modern story, use a detailed map of the locale. You will find it necessary to use a good map of your own hometown, no matter how well you think you know it.
Think hard—you may know the names of all the streets in your downtown, but do you know the order in which they appear on the map going from east to west or north to south? Exactly how many blocks is the park from Main Street?

Your research will tell you if cedars, magnolias, sugar maples or cottonwood trees should surround your characters’ houses. Do the necessary research to find the name and description of the sort of grass that grew there in the years of your story.

Remember that alien trees, grass and flowers thrive all over the world today, particularly in North America. Most of them would not fit in a story set in the nineteenth or early twentieth century when one found mostly native species.

Be careful with the weather in your story as well. Check carefully, you could easily make a mistake. Seasons change differently as you move north and south. It can snow as late as May in the high mountains of the American Northwest. It is often hot in southern Georgia in December.

In a modern story, your characters may live in a high-rise apartment or a sprawling three-story brick house with white columns. In other years they might live in a log cabin or even a teepee. Specific and well-researched details of everyday life make it possible for your reader to accept your story as real.