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The Worderella Writes Collected Works Belinda Kroll
Worderella on Writing www.worderella.com Copyright © 2008 by Belinda Kroll Cover design by Belinda Kroll Book design by Belinda Kroll All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews. For more information, contact Belinda Kroll at www.worderella.com. First Printing: August 2008 Printed in the United States of America
Table of Contents
WRITING FOR THE LOVE OF IT ................................................................... 5 SELF-PUBLISHING EXPERIENCES .............................................................. 7 THE IMPORTANCE OF THEME FOR ORGANIZATION ................................. 10
Step One: Write a shitty first draft ........................................................ 10 Step Two: Use extra prose as back story............................................... 11 Step Three: Read the NYT bestseller list ............................................. 11
REFRESH YOUR WRITING ........................................................................ 13
What is a writer to do?? .......................................................................... 13 Meet some friends for lunch................................................................... 14 Is your plot lagging? ................................................................................ 14 What about your setting?........................................................................ 14 …Still distracted? Unable to focus? ....................................................... 15
FIVE TIPS ON CHARACTER BUILDING THROUGH ADVERSITY .................. 16
So how do you make your own Scarlett? .............................................. 16 Physical adversity .................................................................................... 16 Unfulfilled desire ..................................................................................... 17 Haunting past........................................................................................... 17 Use the time period against your character’s advantage .................... 17 Go with it .................................................................................................. 18
DEVELOPING VILLAINOUS CHARACTERS PART 1 .................................... 19
Research villain archetypes .................................................................... 19 Give the villain a motive ......................................................................... 20 Devote as much time defining the villain as you do the hero............. 20
DEVELOPING VILLAINOUS CHARACTERS PART 2.................................... 22
The villain in your story is the hero of his own story .......................... 22 Go beyond evil for the villain’s actions ................................................. 22 That being said, don’t overdo it, either ................................................. 23
DEVELOPING VILLAINOUS CHARACTERS PART 3.................................... 24
Give your villain/character a fatal flaw................................................. 24 Give the villain a good side ..................................................................... 24 Finally, maintain control over your villain ........................................... 24
PUT THAT SHITTY FIRST DRAFT AWAY .................................................... 25
Put that shitty first draft away, you’re gonna hurt somebody............ 25 Don’t edit at the computer...................................................................... 26
BE BRUTALLY HONEST ............................................................................ 27
First: Be honest with yourself ................................................................ 27 Second: Be honest with your writing .................................................... 27 Third: Be honest with your audience .................................................... 29
SHOW ME, DON’T TELL ME ..................................................................... 30
Small details reveal the bigger picture .................................................. 31 Showing through Body Language.......................................................... 31 Showing through the Environment ....................................................... 31 Showing through Architecture............................................................... 32
TELL ME, DON’T SHOW ME ..................................................................... 33
As important as showing is, telling is equally important.................... 33 Set the scene ............................................................................................. 34 Summarize boring conversation ............................................................ 34 Switch locations, moods, characters ..................................................... 35 Give the reader information your characters don’t have .................... 35 The Point................................................................................................... 36
FOCUS ON NITTY GRITTY DETAILS .......................................................... 37
Timeline .................................................................................................... 37 Editing the Beginning ............................................................................. 37 What’s wrong with it? ............................................................................. 39
HOW TO BE A COMPUTER-BASED BETA READER ..................................... 42
First: What is a beta reader? .................................................................. 42 Now, onto the editing .............................................................................. 42 Track Changes: Deletion......................................................................... 42 Track Changes: Rewording, Reorganizing, Adding text ..................... 44 Commenting on the Work ...................................................................... 44
DISCUSSING FICTION ............................................................................... 46 RESEARCH YOUR SETTING USING GOOGLE EARTH ................................. 50
Writing for the Love of it
The real secret is to do it because you love writing rather than because you love the idea of being a Writer. - Iain Banks I once got into an odd conversation with someone about writing… let’s call this person Frank the Writer. So Frank saw my pile of writing magazines, and I could tell by his expression upon opening one of the issues that he was surprised I highlighted certain sentences which I found insightful or helpful to me as a writer. Watching him read my notes in my old Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, and The Writer issues was like watching a child realize there is no Santa. Frank asked why I think I’m a writer, and I responded, “Because I have to write, or face the possibility of insanity.” I added something about how I’m drawn to writing, that I get personal satisfaction from it. I asked him if he didn’t feel the same. “No,” he said. I’ve never heard anyone sound so mournful. “I don’t. These books tell me I should feel something that tells me I’m a writer, just like how you just told me, but I don’t. I never feel anything when I write.” This puzzled me. How can you write something and not feel anything while writing it? I asked Frank a series of questions which led me nowhere until, frustrated, I asked, “Do you want to write, or be considered a writer?” “I want to be a writer.” No wonder he never felt anything when writing. His motivation was all wrong. He wanted the fame without the work. He wasn’t writing because he felt any special need to, or because he wanted to send a message of sorts out into the world, or even because he thought he had a story to tell. He wanted the recognition for being brilliant. No wonder his writing felt cold, empty. Writing takes guts, patience, and stamina to do what it takes to be “considered a writer.” It takes years to be “discovered,” and by that point you will have numerous drafts
hidden beneath your bed, stuffed in a back cupboard, shoved between the cracks in the wall. Even if you go the self-publishing route, you have to be a savvy business-minded writer to make the publishing process worth it.
When people ask me about my book, I tell them I selfpublished it. This is true and untrue. I paid to have the book printed; I sold it to my family and friends, and was interviewed by my local television station about it. Mainly because I was a senior in high school and it was my senior thesis. But if I had gone the actual self-publication route, I would have found a printer, custom designed my cover and interior, and kept all the profits for myself. What I did in reality was go through a print-on-demand company, Aventine Press. This route means I used an interior template, a cover template; in other words, the company limited my choices to what they had available. For my first time in the publishing realm, I really have to say that Aventine Press kept my concerns in mind. Because of production delays due to the cover designer needing a root canal, they custom designed my cover. My book was placed online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many more. My dad helped me with local marketing by sending the press release to the news stations. I can’t even tell you what it felt like to hold my book that first time after opening the package. But looking back, I should have waited. They require that you pay extra for editing services, and let’s face it, my first book could have used some last-minute editing. Other things to keep in mind: yes, if you put forth a good quality product and perfect your marketing plan, there is a larger change of a traditional (aka commercial) publisher of picking up your writing, as long as you follow the rules (querying, sending partials when asked, etc). But out of the thousands of people who went the selfpublishing route in 2006 (we’re talking POD, Vanity, and Self Publishing), only 20 were picked by
commercial/traditional publishers. So, I guess my point is that if you have the money and patience, research the “actual” self-publishing route. It’s more impressive, and you complete control. But most of all, be careful with the Vanity, Subsidy and POD publishers. Seeing the market now, I realize I was lucky. The following definitions were found at www.sfwa.org/beware/vanitypublishers.html.
A commercial publisher purchases the right to publish a manuscript (often along with other rights, known as subsidiary rights), and pays the author a royalty on sales (some also pay an advance). Commercial publishers are highly selective, publishing only a tiny percentage of manuscripts submitted, and handle every aspect of editing, publication, distribution, and marketing. There are no costs to the author.
A vanity publisher prints and binds a book at the author’s sole expense. Costs include the publisher’s profit and overhead, so vanity publishing is usually a good deal more expensive than self-publishing. The completed books are the property of the author, and the author retains all proceeds from sales. Vanity publishers do not screen for quality–they publish anyone who can afford their services. For an extra fee, some may provide editing, marketing, warehousing, and/or promotional services (often of dubious quality), or they may provide variously-priced service packages that include differing menus of extras.
A subsidy publisher also takes payment from the author to print and bind a book, but contributes a portion of the cost and/or adjunct services such as editing, distribution, warehousing, and marketing.
Theoretically, subsidy publishers are selective. The completed books are the property of the publisher, and remain in the publisher’s possession until sold. Income to the writer comes in the form of a royalty.
Self-publishing requires the author to bear the entire cost of publication, and also to handle all marketing, distribution, storage, etc. However, rather than paying for a pre-set package of services, the author puts those services together himself. Because he can put every aspect of the process out to bid, he may pay a good deal less than what’s charged by vanity publishers; self-publishing can also result in a higher-quality product. Completed books are owned by the writer, and the writer keeps all proceeds from sales.
The Importance of Theme for Organization
I often read that the biggest things a writer should worry about are theme and organization. Theme, because that is the heart of your work; organization because that’s the skeleton to help you write about the theme. For the longest time I wondered, How does one find a theme in the first place? Maybe something happened in your life that you want to write about. Let’s face it, wanting to write about that topic isn’t enough. You need a focus, something that connects you to the topic and distances you from it at the same time, so that you can communicate clearly with your reader. I began with “I want to write a romance, but I don’t want the heroine to be the typical spunky girl. I want her flawed, and with heavy concerns.” So, I worked from there, writing character descriptions and first drafts; I wrote an entire 94k first draft just throwing whatever came to me onto the page. I celebrated, because we all should celebrate the completion of a draft, especially when it takes three years to do it (full-time student, remember). Then, I stuffed it under my bed (or maybe in the back of my closet, I’m always re-organizing so I never completely know where some things are) and started over.
Step One: Write a shitty first draft
After that, I walked away from the work for a month. Namely, NaNoWriMo month. The crazy speed of that writing month invigorated me, and in December I said hello to the original work with a new focus. I started over with this new focus, with a new understanding of the characters, and with a pretty solid understanding of their initial back stories.
Side Note: a back story, if you don’t recognize the term, is a short story and/or history about a character, location, or object that happened before your current time line.
Step Two: Use extra prose as back story
Now I’m halfway through First Draft B, as I like to call it (props to Redshoeson for the naming idea). I know where I would like the story to go. But my initial back stories aren’t full enough. I have to go back and give each main, secondary, and even tertiary character back stories about their history with the other characters. These back stories lead to motivation, motivation to decision, and decision to action. But my back stories all need a theme. There must be something connecting these characters. But… how to write the theme? The theme is a single sentence that succinctly describes what your work is about. Also known as a thesis, blurb or hook: the main idea that keeps you writing, and grabs the reader’s interest. Still, it’s hard to know how to write this magical sentence. So, look at examples. The first sentence on the back cover of a paperback is usually the hook, which the copywriter expands into paragraphs about the main characters and why we should read about them. I found reading the New York Times (NYT) bestseller list really helpful, because the top ten have onesentence summaries.
Step Three: Read the NYT bestseller list
Try to keep your theme/hook/blurb/thesis at fifteen words or less. You want this to be focused but universal, so don’t use the main character’s name unless it is a sequel or part of a series.
Don’t use passive voice! Choose your words carefully; every word in your theme should be there because there is no better word for it. Here are some examples from the July 2007 bestseller list: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: A young man — and an elephant — save a Depression-era circus. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards: A doctor’s decision to secretly send his newborn daughter to an institution haunts everyone involved. Peony in Love by Lisa See: Love, death and ghosts in 17th-century China. The Quickie by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge: A police officer’s attempt to get back at her husband, whom she suspects of cheating on her, goes dangerously awry. After you have the main theme, everything will fall into place, if a bit slowly at first. Your theme is your thesis, so tie everything back to it and you’ll have a tight, organized work.
Refresh Your Writing
“I think that writers need to be out there, be in contact with people, struggle with other things and then come back and bring it to her writing.” - Chitra Divakaruni Whenever I feel like my writing is losing focus, or that I’m losing the edge or spark, I begin to panic. Mainly because these symptoms preclude a wicked case of Writer’s Block. If you’re lucky enough to have never suffered from this horrible disease, let me be the first to congratulate you and explain what I mean. Writer’s Block is a common disease and it is sometimes hard to recover from. Even if you do recover, there are always those pesky flare ups. Its symptoms include staring at a wall or out the window, willing something creative to flow from your mind to the paper, with nothing doing. You will be given to bouts of depression as you walk past your neglected computer/journal/legal pad on your way to your day job. Your characters shun you. Your plot turns trite and your dialogue cliché.
What is a writer to do??
I like to follow Chitra Divakaruni’s advice, as in the quote posted above. If you have Writer’s Block, you have sapped all of your creative juices. We writers tend to think we should write all the time without replenishing our imagination, which is as unhealthy as exercising all the time without stopping to replenish fluids. How do you replenish your imagination? Get in contact with people! We attempt the impossible by trying to transcribe the unorganized chaos of life into an organized plot that (dare I say it?) makes sense, is engaging, and means something.
Meet some friends for lunch
While you’re with your friends, watch how they speak. What are they doing with their hands? Do they maintain eye contact, or look away while speaking? Or better yet, go to your local park, sit on a bench, and pretend like you’re reading. Or have headphones on, without the music playing, and eavesdrop. You’d be amazed how detailed and intimate conversations get when people think no one is listening.
Is your plot lagging?
Read the newspaper, or tune into your evening news station. Truth is stranger than fiction, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of that strange truth to inspire you. I once read about a woman who dug up her boyfriend because his family didn’t invite her to the funeral or visit him at the hospital while he was sick. Now that’s a short story in the making. Edgar Allan Poe would have loved that, I’m sure. Or better yet, use your own life as inspiration, with some tact and restructuring, of course, so no one gets insulted.
What about your setting?
Have you even thought about it? Go out and enjoy a bit of nature. Pretend you’re new in town, or you’re doing a study on local names/descriptions for the flora and fauna of the area, and ask people what they think that flower is named, or how they would describe that park. Don’t take their idea as your own, of course, we don’t want a plagiarism case on our hands, but allow their ideas, if imaginative enough, to spark a few of your own.
…Still distracted? Unable to focus?
Clear your desk so you’re not fiddling with the items there. Move your pens out of the way, file your bills, hide your mail. More importantly, if you do your writing on the computer and you use a program like MS Word, use the “full screen” option under the View menu. This will make your writing the only thing visible on your monitor/screen, thus preventing you from wanting to check your e-mail again, or answer that quick IM, or (if you’re like me) re-organize your files. Simple as that sounds, I get so much more writing done with Word in full screen mode. It prevents my usual multitasking, which is refreshing and a little nerve-wracking at the same time.
Five Tips on Character Building through Adversity
We don’t remember Scarlett O’Hara for her beauty. We remember her because she survived countless marriages, a war, childbirth, poverty, sickness, the end of the world as she knew it, and heartbreak on a monumental scale. And she’s flawed, boy, is she flawed. And a brilliant character. You either love her, or hate her. So how do you make your own Scarlett? It should be cliché at this point: Know your character. Sometimes you will only know your character after you’ve thrown a couple of bad situations at them. I suggest sitting somewhere with a journal, and ask yourself, “What if…?” What would she do? Who does she turn to? Inward for selfreflection, or outward for comfort? Don’t know what to throw at her? That’s okay, I’ve also provided you with a list of bad things that you can use as a starting point…
Death, dismemberment, sickness. Everyone will go through at least two of these in their life, so your character better have some experience with at least one of them. Sometimes this is the worst thing that can happen to your character. But what if it isn’t? Don’t be afraid to pile on the adversity.
The worse the situation is, and the more empathetic your character is, the more you hook your reader.
No one ever gets things the way they want all the time, every time. What if your character is used to getting her way, and one day doesn’t? What if this moment completely alters her understanding of herself and the world around her? What does she do? Does her desire destroy her, does she rise above it? Does she ruin the lives of those around her in her quest to satisfy her desire? Note this desire doesn’t have to be romantic in nature. In fact, if it isn’t, and you’re writing a romance, what a great twist to your story! Suddenly you’ve added a new dimension to your romance. No one in the real world has time to only worry about their romantic life, so why should your characters?
Regrets about things you didn’t do. Regrets about things you did. Each of us is interesting because we have personal histories. For instance, many think I savor my food, or that I just eat slowly. It started because my baby brother choked many times as a child, and one time I panicked instead of remaining calm. My father had to perform the Heimlich even though I’d been trained by the Red Cross. From that moment, I realized how easily it is to be careless and put your life in danger. See how much you learned about me just by hearing how I eat? The moral of the story is: Don’t discount the little things. They are the collection of moments that create our personalities and fill the prologues of our lives.
Use the time period against your character’s advantage
The women of today are strong-willed and ready to shout it from the rooftops. The women of yesterday were just as strongwilled, but required the mastery of subtlety or they might suffer the rule of thumb. If your character wants to do something that she just wouldn’t have done in your chosen time period, don’t give it up for the sake of the time period. Use the frustration to build your character, showing the reader just what sort of a person she is.
Go with it
Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself with the scenarios you create. Actually, I hope you surprise yourself. In fact, you better surprise yourself. If your scenarios don’t surprise you, you won’t surprise your reader, and that’s bad. What’s really great is when a character surprises herself. But again, you need to know your character well enough to know when she can surprise herself. As a hint, use your research to spark your imagination. Read old newspapers and be amused and shocked by what happened back then. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
Developing Villainous Characters
Villains and villainous characters are as important to a good story as the Hero and heroic characters. However, many writers find writing villainous characters hard because their role in the novel is to make life for the hero difficult. How do we do this?
Research villain archetypes
Read Stella Cameron’s wonderful villain archetype summary (www.stellacameron.com/contrib/villains.html) or Tami Cowden’s sixteen villains (www.tamicowden.com/villains.htm), and pick your villain’s basis to your heart’s delight. Every character, and therefore villain, most likely fits some sort of generic archetype, at least to help you begin molding. Now, the nice thing about Stella Cameron’s villain archetype summary is that it suggests generic back-stories that help explain why the villain is the way he is. Use this to your advantage by using this as a template and adding your own details to the mix. Tami Cowden’s sixteen villains list has brief descriptions of the villains based on their generic motive and how they might pursue their villainy. Keep in mind that the best characters have the most detail. For example, we’re fascinated by Hannibal Lector because he is so precise, and unbelievably detailed about his heinous crimes… it is art to him, the ultimate luxury. The luxurious and sensual nature of his descriptions about murder and cannibalism are what fascinate us, despite ourselves. Such a little detail, but a defining one. So once you’ve determined your archetype, the next step is to add details that make the villain believable, rather than shallow and silly. To do that, you need to…
Give the villain a motive
This is very similar to #1, but now you actually have to provide the details behind the archetype. Are they a spurned lover? Were they thrown out of their family/job? Do they just not take insults very well? Or all three? Personally, I think the more motive you give the character, the better. It’s not enough to say he is the ignored second son, for instance, if you’re writing about a bitter villain out for revenge. Sure, maybe the family didn’t treat him the way they treated the firstborn. That happens. But what if the firstborn stole the villain’s girlfriend? Or actively turned his parents against his younger brother, depriving the brother of nurturing, thus turning the younger brother into a villain? Then again, sometimes it is nature rather than nurture which turns our character’s villainous. Maybe your villain, for some reason, feels entitled to everything, and when she doesn’t get his way, it’s a personal insult. Or, perhaps she is just the jealous type, and never learned how to control it. Of course, now that we have a skeleton, of sorts, that gives us an initial definition of your villain, here comes what I think might be the most important step when working on your villain. You need to make sure to…
Devote as much time defining the villain as you do the hero
The hero and villain are supposed to be antagonists of one another, right? (You should be shaking your head yes.) A synonym of antagonize is “oppose,” meaning they must be opposite and balance one another. But if one character is weaker, then the duo is weak altogether. If you spend three months developing the hero, I hope you’re doing the same for the villain, for the following reasons:
1. One strong character cannot carry an entire plot. 2. If you over-develop your hero and under-develop your villain, your characters will fall flat because of the lack of balance. 3. One weak main character can ruin your plot. 4. When your readers ask why your character did/did not do something, it’s better to pull out a journal full of details about the character, rather than to sit there blinking. 5. It’s fun to develop the villain! Next, we will go into more detail about why this is, even for those of us who don’t like to hurt our characters (therefore making our villain weak and laughable).
Developing Villainous Characters
For part two, we’re going deeper into the mind and actions of the villain. We’re going to try to see the entire plot from the villain’s perspective, push ourselves to the limits, yet attempt to moderate how far we push our villain’s actions. So let’s get going! First and foremost, here is something that really helped me get into the mind of my villain: I suddenly realized that…
The villain in your story is the hero of his own story
We always hear how we should write each scene from a single point-of-view. That is, no head-hopping to get multiple perspectives within a single scene. This fact helped me realize that if I were to switch around each chapter so that I told the story from the villain’s perspective, I would have a greater, more realized understanding behind the villain’s actions. By doing this, I grew to love my villain almost as greatly as I love my hero (that is, heroine), and sympathize with him as things didn’t go his way. As I wrote one of the villain’s climaxes, which happens to be different from the heroine’s, I wrote it with tears in my eyes because of the unfairness of it all. Yet, when I wrote the same scene from the heroine’s perspective, I felt sad, but justified. Which leads me to my next point…
Go beyond evil for the villain’s actions
It seems to me that, as writers, we tend to write what we want to read. At least, that seems to be what I do. And for some reason, readers like to read about particularly bad people and see what happens to them.
I used to be the sort of writer who didn’t make my villain to mean, or his actions too hurtful. I thought there was enough evil in the world, why should I write about it? And then it occurred to me that it is how we face evil that defines the good in us. That led me to writing villains who really do hurt others. But I still held back. I could write the scenes no problem, even chuckling along with the villain as his plans unfurled. Which meant I wasn’t making him villainous enough. Rather than chuckling, I should have been shaking my head in dismay, because that is the sort of villain I like to read about. I want to see a villain that is cruel, and suffers the consequences for it… but it needs to be bad enough to warrant said consequences. So if you’re cringing while writing a scene, or reacting in some other way, you’re probably doing something right.
That being said, don’t overdo it, either
Only make your villain as evil as he needs to be for your plot, and no one else’s. A sweet romance like Bright Arrows doesn’t deserve a Hannibal Lector, the same way Barnaby Barnacle from Babes in Toyland wouldn’t do Silence of the Lambs any justice. Determine the theme and purpose of your work to define the level of evil and goodness which should occur. Certain actions and motives won’t work for young adult, others won’t work for inspirational fiction, etc. Read other books in your genre to get a feeling for what is appropriate in your own work.
Developing Villainous Characters
Give your villain/character a fatal flaw
There are multiple movies that showcase this trick (Pulp Fiction, Scarface, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone), and often it is the fatal flaw that brings the villain to their downfall, rather than the hero being the ultra-smart, ultrahandsome hero that we know he is. It adds complexity if the villain is the reason why he doesn’t win. Search “phobia” on your favorite search engine and you’ll find an array of great weaknesses to plague your villains, and heroes as well.
Give the villain a good side
Surprise your reader by showing the softer side to your villain so that they’re not so sure he’s such a bad guy after all. If he can show he has a good side, then he gains the reader’s sympathy and suddenly makes things more complicated. Now that’s putting some twists into the mix.
Finally, maintain control over your villain
Don’t just let him disappear at the end of the book! Give your reader a sense of closure, even if you’re writing a series. Your villain must suffer some sort of punishment/consequence for their actions, fitting to their crimes. Or, better yet, let them get away with a couple of things so the reader gets blindsided.
Put that Shitty First Draft Away
I read somewhere that there are three drafts a writer must go through before a work is ready for consumption: 1. You write the first draft for yourself. 2. You write the second draft for your audience. 3. You write the third and last draft for publication. So take heart, dear one, though you’ve only finished draft numero uno. It may seem like a gargantuan task now, but you’ll be at the third draft in no time at all.
Put that shitty first draft away, you’re gonna hurt somebody
No, I don’t care if you suddenly figured out what you need to do in order to fix that one chapter/scene/sentence. Print out the shitty first draft (SFD) in a font that’s different from the one you typed it in (I’ll explain tomorrow), put it in a special binder, kiss it, hug it, do whatever you need to do in order to say goodbye. Then hide it from view for a week at the very least. A month is better. This time away from the SFD is imperative because it brings objectivity. The less you remember about writing it, the more you will read it like someone who has no idea what to expect from you and won’t have any reason to say “Oh, it’ll get better by chapter four.” If you must write, start the next book. I bet you have a sequel all planned out, so this is the perfect time to start.
Don’t edit at the computer
Why? Because we read superficially at the computer. It comes with surfing the internet. Superficial editing, I like to say, is the same thing as revising. You’re moving main points around, and that’s not what we want. Why? Because editing is not revising. To revise is to alter what is there, to shuffle things around and perhaps make a bigger mess than you already have. To edit is to have the guts to slash or add a sentence/page/subplot if it will enhance the whole. So find your printed copy and your favorite pen (I know you have one, we all do), crawl into your favorite chair, and get ready for the long haul. Because this is going to get messy.
Books to Buy: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Renni Browne
Be Brutally Honest
I always like to think of editing as having three major factors: being honest with yourself, with your writing, and with your audience.
First: Be honest with yourself
There are times when all you want to do it edit, and other times when you dread the idea. Whatever the case, ask yourself these questions before you begin.
Are you tired? Take a nap before you edit so you are alert enough to notice mistakes. Have you had a bad day? Just come out of an argument? I suggest not editing then, because you’re upset. Everything is going to look bad to you, and that’s not constructive. Have you had the most wonderful day of your life? Don’t look at your WIP with rose-colored glasses. Realize that your good mood might make your writing seem better than it is.
In other words, realize that your mood will change how good you think your writing is. Train yourself to be objective no matter your mood. And if you become frustrated, or if your eyes start to burn from reading too much, stop. Take a break and come back to it tomorrow. There’s nothing worse than getting burnt out, because then you get lazy with your editing.
Second: Be honest with your writing
It helps to know what sort of writer you are, i.e. characterdriven, plot-driven, etc, and then look for your weaknesses. I
had you print your work in a different font so when you read it, the words themselves will look unfamiliar, thus helping you recognize flaws.
Are your paragraphs more than five lines long? That’s a lot of exposition. We’ll discuss this in part Show Me, Don’t Tell Me. Are you relying on dialogue to explain details? Better summarize it in a paragraph and move on. We’ll discuss this on Tell Me, Don’t Show Me. Does everyone sound the same? You’ll only know this by reading aloud. When you’re at a restaurant, try eavesdropping on conversations just to get a feel for how people really sound. Are you lacking setting? Keep the five senses in mind (don’t info-dump), and you won’t go wrong. If you have to read a sentence twice, it doesn’t matter if it’s clever. Look at it this way… you had to read it twice to know what you are talking about, which means everyone else will have no idea. Rewrite it or get rid of it. If you find a page that has beautiful writing but has nothing to do with that chapter, move it somewhere else. If it doesn’t belong in the book, it doesn’t belong in the book. Save it later for another project.
This is what I mean by being honest is hard. You have to be strong enough to let go of that perfect sentence… because it turns out it isn’t so perfect after all. But whatever you do, don’t erase any of your edits, and don’t cross lines through your printed text so you can’t see what you wrote. You need to see where you came from to know where you’re going.
Third: Be honest with your audience
Sometimes when we get into the thick of writing, we forget we are writing for an audience. This is the time to look at your work from their point of view by keeping these things in mind while editing:
Do you like your protagonist? Have you fully realized your antagonist? Make your reader care about your characters, even the bad guy, and you’re on your way to a solid manuscript. Do you know where everyone is in the room? What room are we in, anyway? Did you even tell the reader? Shame on you. Was someone out in the rain in the last chapter, and miraculously don’t have a cold or any sniffles in this chapter, only an hour or so later? Continuity is a big thing for readers, oddly enough. It helps to keep a timeline so you don’t run into this problem. Does anyone even talk like that? This is why you should read your dialogue aloud. If you’re stumbling while reading, change it. Reading aloud will also help with purple prose; if it sounds cheesy, it probably is.
Your reader wants to love you and your book, so please, help them. Your reader will notice if something seems contrived. Strive for a simple, honest story at its heart, throw some twists into the mix, and everyone will be happy. Frustrated? Stay with me. Next we’ll discuss how that vague mantra, show, don’t tell.
Books to Buy: Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell and Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon 29
Show Me, Don’t Tell Me
“Don’t talk of stars, burning above! If you’re in love, show me! Tell me no dreams filled with desire, if you’re on fire, show me! Here we are together in the middle of the night. Don’t talk of spring, just hold me tight!” Show Me from My Fair Lady Think of your book as a court case. Would you, as the jury, believe the prosecutor if he screamed, “The defendant is guilty!!! …And I rest my case.” No. You want proof so you believe beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. Apply the same idea to your writing. What proof do you have to convince your reader that your character is bored, that her hero is unhappy, that his antagonist is delighted? Let’s look at an example. Belinda was bored. She had a lot to do and her friends, while hilarious, had no idea what sort of deadlines she faced. Three C++ programs and an analysis of Moby Dick to write? She had to figure out how to make her excuses and get out of there, quick. What’s the problem? I’m telling you she’s bored and has a lot to do, but I don’t tell you how she’s reacting to these facts. Let’s try again. Belinda twisted her ring around her finger. A paper and three programming assignments. She crossed her legs. Maybe she could write the Moby Dick analysis first? She uncrossed her legs. No, Moby Dick would take much longer, better do the programs first. Belinda glanced once at her cell phone, pressing the side button to illuminate the little screen and see the time. Class in twenty minutes.
She stood to stretch, and no one said anything, knowing her history with back pain. She pushed her chair back to its desk and straightened the other empty chairs around her, inching for the door. What is different? I rely on shorter sentences to portray an anxious mood. There are descriptive verbs: twisting, crossing, uncrossing, glancing, stretching, pushing, inching. Can you see someone doing this? Too polite to say they want to leave, but showing you they want to, anyway?
Small details reveal the bigger picture
Movies and songs do this because they don’t have the luxury of 80,000 words to explain everything. Love songs describe missed phone calls, the smell of an old shirt, the empty half of a bed. These small details show us the singer is alone and heartbroken, which is more powerful than the singer repeating, “Oh, I’m heartbroken, can’t you see I’m heartbroken?” Treat each scene in your book as if it were a scene in a movie. What details would the camera show the audience?
Showing through Body Language
Watch your co-workers, family, friends and enemies, the strangers on the street. Can you tell what is going on without hearing the conversation? Are they standing upright? Are their shoulders hunched? Are they looking away as they speak? Are they sweating?
Showing through the Environment
Sure, maybe it was a “dark and stormy night,” but we’ve all heard that before. What about your five senses help you realize that it is storming, and that you wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle
of it? Are the gnats gathering into furious swarms? Is the heat pressing against your skin, making you feel like you can’t breathe? Are the trees swaying? Can you smell the heavy dampness?
Showing through Architecture
What about the buildings that your characters live in? Are they worn down, a sad testament to what once was? By the way, don’t ever say “the house was worn down, a sad testament to what once was.” That’s telling. Show me the house is worn down by describing spider webs in the windows, so thick they prevent the full sunlight from shining into the room. Show me how the roof is badly patched with pieces of rotting bark collected from the nearby forest. Details, details, details.
Books to Buy: Eight Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman and How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
Tell Me, Don’t Show Me
I hope I never see this conversation in your work, ever. “Hi Belinda.” “Hey Marcie. What’s up?” “Nothing much.” Marcie sighs into the phone. “Making dinner. Hubby’s coming home soon and he gets grumpy if I don’t have it ready.” “Oh man,” Belinda murmurs. ”What’re you making? Spaghetti? Gotta love spaghetti.” Snore, snore, snore, right? How many of you have heard a conversation like this while walking around a store? A conversation about nothing that annoys everyone else who has to hear it? Don’t force it on your readers or they’ll throw your book against the wall.
As important as showing is, telling is equally important
Let’s define some terms, first. Exposition is when the author stops to describe something to us, say, a house. We need to know what this house looks like because the main character is about to sneak inside, but it doesn’t forward the plot at all. Narration is when the description forwards the plot along, often by describing emotions or thoughts, or when transitioning from one scene/location to another. As you can see, there isn’t a big difference here, so I’m going to collapse both terms into simple ‘narrative.’
Now, narrative is imperative for prose fiction: it’s what defines prose from poetry (among other things, of course). But how do we know when to show and when to tell?
Set the scene
This is the most traditional way to use narration, because it works. A simple paragraph describing the scene does more than a page of dialogue talking about the trees, the sky, the buildings, and the characters’ moods. Make sure to do this quickly. You don’t want to disrupt your reader too long, which is what you’re doing whenever you rely on narration. Let’s see an example: It was night, not that Belinda could tell the difference with the blindfold on. Her hands pulsed with a dull ache thanks to the rough rope knotted around her wrists. She had lost feeling in her legs hours ago. Her cheeks were sticky with tears, and the old sock in her mouth choked her. There it was again. Heavy footfalls shuffling up the wooden staircase toward her. This narration tells us everything we need to know. What time of day it is, that Belinda is panicked, tied up, has no idea where she is, and dreads the sound of heavy footsteps coming toward her.
Summarize boring conversation
We don’t need to know every detail, just tell us the information we need to know to keep up. This includes generic introductions between characters, or when a couple of days go by in your plot timeline that don’t have any real action or events to maintain interest. Never do extended flashback scenes if you can help it. Going back to my opening example:
A week went by before Belinda called Marcie. The phone rang four times before Marcie picked up, and there was a definite hesitation in her voice. Belinda ground her teeth as they wasted time talking about how Marcie was making dinner for her husband. Forget your husband, Belinda wanted to scream, and get out while you still can. I could have written this narration two ways: Marcie upset about her husband’s demands, or the way I wrote it with Belinda not understanding how her friend can stand her husband’s demands. Or a third way, with the husband coming home and wanting to know why Marcie’s gabbing on the phone instead of making dinner.
Switch locations, moods, characters
This is the smoothest way of letting your reader know that something is shifting. For example, you can end a chapter with your character saying, “I bet Frank’s sneaking his way into the girl’s locker room again.” And then start the next chapter with a teacher dragging Frank by his ear out of the girl’s locker room. You gave a hint about where Frank will be the next time we read about him, and not only is he there, he’s making us laugh that he got caught. Silly Frank.
Give the reader information your characters don’t have
This is used all the time in romance, as well as political thrillers, mysteries, suspense…
We as readers know that when the bad guy promises not to do it again that he’s lying, but the hero believes him for some reason. We know that when the romantic hero says he doesn’t care about the heroine that he does, it’s just that he probably doesn’t realize it yet. Foreshadowing is a great example of this as well.
The only time you shouldn’t use narration is when it is better to use action and dialogue. The only time you shouldn’t use action and dialogue is when it is better to use narration. Sounds like a vicious cycle, doesn’t it? Here are things to keep in mind when deciding to show or tell: 1. Always and only tell your reader what they need to know for the plot and characters to make sense. 2. Don’t distract the reader with your writing mechanics. Too much narration, description, or dialogue will throw your reader off, so try to maintain a healthy balance. 3. Don’t summarize important conversations, only the ones that don’t cover anything new. 4. Always reveal something new. Never rehash what you told your reader earlier, they’ve seen it already. 5. Don’t let the narrative run away from you. If it goes longer than a paragraph or two, take a step back. Does your reader really need all that information? Or can you see them thinking, “Come on, already!”
Books to Buy: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style
Focus on Nitty Gritty Details
Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Finding Nemo I hope you’re following Dory’s advice and staying persistent… just keep swimming (writing)! I’m not sure if you’ve noticed yet, but editing really is my favorite part of the creative writing process. I know I might be alone in this, and that’s ok. My goal is to help you see that editing is not as hard as it seems… it just takes patience, persistence, and motivation. Now I want to leave you with some ideas to help you edit on a very detailed level.
Set up a timeline for editing your book. Do you want to finish editing a chapter a day? Whatever it is, make a pact with yourself to go through your draft once only. Be determined to catch every mistake the first time through. This will keep you focused and efficient. Give yourself a break if life gets in the way of your editing timeline, too. There is nothing worse than feeling guilty about not working, and worse yet, the more upset you are with yourself about not working, the more your guilt will build. To the point that you won’t want to edit. Always, always, always avoid feeling like you don’t want to touch your work.
Editing the Beginning
This is by far the hardest and most frustrating part of the book to edit, it seems. Therefore, I’m going to apply this week’s editing tips to the introduction of my first book. That way you can see an example of how I’m thinking, and hopefully find similarities in your own work to know how to edit.
I started my first book, Catching the Rose, with narrative description because I read classics when younger and that’s what I was used to. It never occurred to me that reader preferences would change in 100+ years. Silly me. Today’s readers expect to begin with action, whether by/to the main character or by/to a character who will affect the main character later. So let’s see an example of what my first paragraphs were, and what they would be if I were writing the book now. As the morning sun ascended slumbering Richmond, a small bird crooned. Its song echoed in the winding, empty streets and alleys to land in the ears of a dog who sleepily snarled. Waiting for employment, the hose whickered at the dog who yipped in reply. The horse shook his head from a persisting fly, which sailed from the threat and chanced upon an appealing rose. It was on this solitary morning that a rose petal fell. It is not known whether the petal happened to be dropped by a hand, or whether it fell by the properties of gravity. But it is safe to say it began this story. As the town began the morning regimen, windows awoke to the new day. The sun glided across a brown brick house, highlighting wear and tear. “Mrs. Beaumont’s,” the gold-plated plaque beside the large door read. The house was tall and wide, a mixture of town house and country mansion. The bay window, situated in what one might assume belonged to the parlor, energetically flung open its curtains. Pure description, right? It’s not bad, but it’s not actionfilled. I’d love to know how many of you are wondering, “When do we meet actual people? Where’s the main character?” It’s ok. You can tell me. I wrote this as a teenager and I’ve learned to accept criticism after five years and an English minor, I hope.
What’s wrong with it?
There are three paragraphs and not one of them told you to keep reading. How do we make sure the reader wants and needs to keep reading? We throw something at them. Something unexpected, which makes them laugh, or gasp, or feel curious. Let’s jump five pages into the book. This is a more appropriate beginning, but it still isn’t good enough. Sighing, a young woman in a blue bonnet was yet again distracted from her book. The train was full of rowdy, chattering young men and women, all orbiting around the same tired subject: war. It was all anyone spoke of: war between the states, war between households, war between brothers. This war had chased her south. Squinting against the dimmed glare of the morning sun, the blue bonnet wished the train would move more quickly–she tired of this talk. She slid the novel into her traveling valise. The air was hot and sticky, for windows did not open thanks to the soot spewed from the smokestack. Wondering what she could do to occupy her mind, the blue bonnet fingered the pressed petal her cousin had dropped into her hand the day of her departure. As the noise rose and abruptly dropped, the blue bonnet, hoping the returning trip would not be as worrisome, rolled her eyes and stared out the soot-stained window. Still a very heavy two paragraphs, bogged down with narration and exposition. Let’s free Miss Blue Bonnet, shall we? First of all, beginning a sentence with a verb ending in “ing” (a.k.a. a gerund verb) is one of the weakest ways to begin a sentence. Why? Because we have the action without the noun associated with it yet. Who is sighing? But there is something good about starting with Miss Blue Bonnet sighing… we want to know why she sighs. And while I’m talking about it, why haven’t I given Miss Blue Bonnet a real name yet? Give your characters a name, unless they’re part of a murder mystery where they die in the first couple of pages.
Scratch that. You might as well give the character a name so your reader doesn’t get confused. Or something distinctive about the character and refer to them according to that distinctive trait. I also rely on adverbs to describe my verbs, rather than choosing a stronger, self-descriptive verb. Bad, Belinda, bad. Each paragraph is four and five sentences long. Too much for an introduction, which should be punchy, if not with action, at least with writing style. Let’s move on. The most important sentence in this entire introduction is buried in the first paragraph. Can you find it? This war had chased her south. Why is this sentence the most important? Because it gives us a reason to keep reading. Why did the war chase her south? Wouldn’t it, if anything, have chased her north? Is she a southerner running south? What is she running from? Most importantly, what is she running to? The second paragraph, except for the second sentence, is all telling. We don’t need to tell the reader Miss Blue Bonnet wishes the train would move more quickly; this is the perfect opportunity to show her reactions to the shouting voices around her. So how would I change it? Let’s see what my re-write does. The young woman in the blue poke bonnet rolled her neck, popping free of an hours-long kink. She sat alone at the back of the packed, rocking train carriage. She gripped the edge of her seat with her gloved hand to stay upright. The other hand held a slim novel, whose pages she turned with a practiced flick of her thumb. “You going south, too, brother?” One of the men at the front of the carriage shouted. His accent was thick and slow and lyrical, proud of its southern roots. The young woman, named Amy Williams, flinched. “Course!” Another man said. “Gotta join up, show those Yanks what’s what!”
The carriage roared with the shouts of forty men and women competing with the train’s piercing whistle. Amy pressed her lips together into a grim line, snapping her book shut. War. What a tired subject. It was all anyone spoke of: war between the states, war between households, war between brothers. This war had chased her south. This re-write has dialogue which tells us our character sits amidst a crowd of rowdy people. The way she sits shows us she is irritated, or on edge. We know that she doesn’t agree with her fellow train passengers. We get a lot of information in a short amount of time, and the majority of the information is shown to us.
How to be a Computer-based Beta Reader
It occurred to me that many of us are computer-based beta readers, which can be a monumental task. So today’s tidbit will provide useful tricks in Microsoft Word 2003 to help you become a more efficient and productive beta reader.
First: What is a beta reader?
Wikipedia states that a beta reader is someone who critiques a completed written work with a “the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public.” Some beta readers do more than others. Some refuse to edit your grammar, because that’s basic level and you should be past that point. Others are so nitpicky you’ll want to tear your hair out. So make sure to discuss your writing and editing styles with whomever you pair up with (and this can be a one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many relationship). In comparison, the alpha reader is the writer or author of the written work.
Now, onto the editing
Microsoft Word 2003 is the software I’ll talk about today because it’s the one I have the most expertise in. For the record, Word 2007 has the same features, but the buttons to use them are in different locations (the ribbon).
Track Changes: Deletion
Sometimes when you’re reading through the work, you have to delete a sentence or paragraph. But how do you do this so the alpha reader knows the change you made? There’s this
awesome module called Track Changes that will note every change you’ve made to the document by adding a side note that you can hide or show at will. See an example screenshot below. To use Track Changes, do the following: 1. Click View » Toolbars » Reviewing in the menu bar. This will give you a new toolbar that gives you the option to make comments, track changes, and highlight. 2. Click the little icon that looks like a piece of lined paper with a tiny sun in the top left corner and a pencil in the bottom right on top of it. If you hover your mouse a little tooltip should appear saying “Track changes.” This is what you want. 3. Now, any change you make to the document will be recorded. 4. If you don’t want to see the tracked changes, you can click the Show button which allows you to select what is visible and what is hidden. 5. If you hit Track Changes again, it will stop recording all your actions after you hit the icon. It does not get rid of the changes you made previous to hitting the icon, however, so don’t freak out.
Track Changes: Rewording, Reorganizing, Adding text
Follow the same steps as the Track Changes: Deletion section. Tracking the changes will also note any additions you make, and I think will also note if you move something. Maybe. If it doesn’t, then you always have the option to comment.
Commenting on the Work
This is my new favorite toy in Word 2003/2007. Using the same Reviewing toolbar, you can comment whatever text you’ve selected with your mouse. It adds a rounded rectangular bubble to the right of the page with a line to the text that you selected for the comment. See an example screenshot on the next page. To comment, do the following: 1. Click View » Toolbars » Reviewing in the menu bar. This shows a toolbar that gives you the option to make comments, track changes, and highlight.
2. Click the icon that looks like a yellow/tan-colored Post-it note with a tiny sun in the top left corner. If you hover your mouse over the icon, a little tooltip should appear saying “Insert Comment.” This is what you want. 3. Now, a bubble should appear to the right of your text, with a blinking cursor. 4. Type your thought. 5. When you’re done, click outside of the bubble. Now, if you hover over the text you selected to comment, you should see the bubble highlight. You might also see the text from your comment hovering above the text.
The really neat thing about this is that if someone else opens the same document with your comments on their computer, and they start to add comments, Word will tell there is a difference. To account for this difference, the colors of the comment bubbles will change depending on the computer/owner of the Word program. You can also navigate through the document based on previous/next comment. Pretty cool, huh?
I found this list of fiction terms online, and edited it a little, adding some of my own examples and removing some terms that I thought were redundant:
Allegory: A complete narrative that may also be applied to a parallel set of external situations that may be political, moral, religious, or philosophical; a complete and self-contained narrative signifying another set of conditions. Atmosphere: The emotional aura that a work evokes; the permeating emotional texture within a work. Character: The verbal representation of a human being, with all the good and bad traits of being human. Character is revealed through authorial comments, interactions with other characters, dramatic statements and thoughts, and statements by other characters. Conflict: The essence of plot; the opposition between two forces. Man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself Contextual or authorial symbol: A symbol specific to a particular work that gathers its meaning from the context of the work. Cosmic irony: Situational irony connected to a pessimistic or fatalistic view of life. Cultural or universal symbol: A symbol recognized and shared as a result of common social and cultural heritage. Dramatic irony: Situational irony in which a character perceives his or her plight in a limited way while the
audience and one or more other characters understand it entirely.
Dramatic/objective POV: Third person point of view in which no authorial commentary reveals characters’ thoughts. Epiphany: Literally, a “manifestation”; in literature, epiphany “has become the standard term for the description . . . of the sudden flare into revelation of an ordinary object or scene.” Fable: A story that features animals with human traits and “morals” or explanations. First person POV: Narration from the perspective of “I” or “We.” The importance of this point of view is that the narrator can be reliable or unreliable. Flat character: A character that is static and does not grow. One purpose of flat characters is to highlight the development of round characters. Initiation: Type of story or theme in which a character moves from innocence to experience. Irony: The discrepancy between what is perceived and what is revealed; language and situations that seem to reverse normal expectations. Metaphor: Comparison of two unlike things; describing some unlike thing in terms of something understandable to the reader. Myth: A narrative story associated with the religion, philosophy, or collective psychology of various societies and cultures. Example: Superman in America today is very much what Hercules was to the Ancient Greeks.
• • •
Omniscient point of view: Point of view in which an authorial voice reveals all the characters’ thoughts; may include commentary by the author. Hyperbole: Exaggeration for effect. Personification: Attributing human attributes or actions to nonhuman things or abstractions. Plot: The development and resolution of a conflict; includes the element of causation. Point of view (POV): The voice of the story; the story from the perspective of the person doing the speaking. Examples: first person, second person, third person omniscient, third person limited omniscient, third person dramatic or objective. Protagonist: The main character of a story; the character around whom the conflict is centered. Round characters: Characters that recognize, change with, and adjust to circumstances. Second person POV: Story told from the perspective of “you.” Uncommon. Setting: A work’s natural, manufactured, political, cultural, and temporal environment, including everything that the characters know and own. Simile: Comparison of two unlike things using “like” or “as.” Situational irony: A type of irony emphasizing that human beings are enmeshed in forces beyond their comprehension and control. Stereotype: Flat characters that exhibit no attributes except those of their class.
Stock character: Flat characters who represent a class or group. Story or narration: The reporting of actions in chronological sequence. Structure: The way in which a plot is assembled: chronologically, through dreams, speeches, fragments, etc. Style: The manipulation of language to create certain effects. Symbolism: Objects, incidents, speeches, and characters that have meanings beyond themselves. Theme: The major or central idea of a work. Third person limited omniscient POV: one thirdperson character’s thoughts are revealed but the other characters’ thoughts are not. Tone: The ways in which the author conveys attitudes about the story material and toward the reader. Litotes: Deliberate underplaying or undervaluing of a thing to create emphasis or irony
• • •
Definitions and examples are modified from Dr. Donna Campbell at Washington State University, and Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, 7th ed., ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs (Upper Saddle River, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 2004).
Research Your Setting using Google Earth
If anything deserves more attention in my research, it’s the setting. Not for lack of trying, though; it’s something I tend to obsess about, but the resources about my little village are sparse at best. This concerns me because character histories often depend on the character’s environment, so it’s risky not to know the nooks and crannies hidden in your location. Enter Google Earth. I finally caved in and installed the free application on my computer. This, despite my misgivings that I would waste hours studying the landscape rather than studying how the structure of a material changes depending on the number of vacancies at the atomic level. Heaven help me, I was at the computer for two hours squealing about all the little physical details that, without technology, I would have had to journey to the UK to see. Thanks to the internet, I did manage to find 1885 maps of the area. But seeing actual color photos of the landscape around the manor house, and the relative locations of local ruins Mary walks to when she needs to let off some steam… and then to see photos taken by other Google Earth users living in the area! Oh, when I found Wayland’s Smithy, I knew, I just knew, that Mary spent hours there as a child, and returned there when bereft as an adult. And if this isn’t enough, I also installed Google Sketch Up, a 3D modeling application. People use it to make 3D renderings of buildings on Google Earth… you know what I’ll be doing in my free time pretty soon.
Yes, that’s right, making mock-ups of my characters’ notso-humble abodes. 50
For those of you struggling with details, try Google Earth.
It’s free and works on all major platforms, it seems. If you’re writing historical fiction, you might have to imagine what the city looked like during your era, but many places (especially in Europe) still have the old streets and some of the old buildings to give you a better understanding of what is within walking distance, etc. If you’re writing a contemporary piece, you can watch traffic patterns, the weather, and more. A great resource for anyone curious about the world, Google Earth is also an excellent research tool for writers of all genres.
If you liked Worderella on Writing, make sure to keep up with Belinda’s blog, Worderella Writes (http://blog.worderella.com). To contact the author, visit www.worderella.com.