Inspirational Photo of the Week: Put your character on a back porch watching the thunderstorm from the safety of their home, or in a vehicle trying to get somewhere. What is their reaction? Are they afraid? Do they enjoy the sweet smell of rain? Do they have something outside that will be drenched and ruined? Show the emotion of what they’re feeling as they feel the storm around them. Writing from inspiration can sometimes be an easier way to get into the mood of writing. Good luck!
Today we welcome mystery author, C.C. Harrison. I first met C.C. a few years ago when we worked together on her novel, Running From Strangers, a 2009 National Reader’s Choice finalist. She is a kind woman and a wonderful friend. Please help me in welcoming her to The Editing Essentials as our guestblogger today!
C. C. Harrison lives in Anthem, Arizona. When she’s not reading, writing, or working out at the gym, she can be found in the mountains of Colorado or in some far-flung corner of the Southwest.
All authors are advised to write what they know. But how many of us know very much about anything outside of our ordinary lives? How many of us know anything interesting enough to carry a book through 90-100,000 words? Well, I’ve discovered the novelist’s secret—RESEARCH! So I say change that advice to write what you can research.
The benefits of research are many.
– Lends authenticity, realism and flavor to your story
– Adds little known details that can enhance your story
– May discover entirely new plot elements that deepen and solidify your story, or important details and facts that affect the trajectory of your entire book
How much you research depends on how much you already know about your topic, and how complex your plot is. In most cases, your research will happen in stages during the development of your story.
Begin when your story idea hits. Build your foundation with general information. Gather contacts, professionals who can help you later with details. At this stage, information will come to you in surprising ways. Once you have the idea for your book, information and research sources will fall into your lap. Your mind will automatically pick up information, you’ll notice newspaper and magazine articles, TV news items will jump out at you, you’ll meet just the person who has the information you need.
During the outline stage, you’ll have a good idea what you will need to research in more detail later on. Make a list. During the actual writing, you’ll want to seek answers to questions and fill in details as your scenes unfold.
IMPORTANT SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Internet – For a writer, this is the most valuable tool next to the computer itself.
Libraries – Local, big city, university. Many are online and available at no charge. Small town and regional libraries are excellent places to find locally written books, and newspaper clippings with information of local interest.
Used Book Stores – Out of print or small press books, and other treasures can be found here.
Museum Book Stores – Also full of treasures.
Historical Societies – Especially in small towns. Great source for books, photos, diaries, journals, logs, and valuable first person historical accounts. Visit, call, or email through their website.
Footnotes and bibliographies – Check the list of sources at the back of the book you are using for research.
Network With Clubs and Professional Organizations –Join or attend conferences, seminars, meetings. Excellent opportunities to gather information and meet experts in a particular field. Get on their email list. I belong to several email groups – private investigators, law enforcement, self-defense, hand to hand combat and survival instructors to name just a few.
Telephone – Call professionals/experts and ask questions. Most law enforcement departments and big companies have media relations or public affairs departments. Just ask when you call, and have your questions ready. Most will be flattered to be used as a source. Always ask for an email address for follow up questions. That way you will have your answer in writing and not make a mistake or misuse the information.
Law Enforcement – Check Amazon.com for law enforcement books. Also, Paladin Press website. You’ll find books on military and police science, i.e., firearms and weapons, self-defense, SEAL sniper training, KGB Training Manual, and so on.
Also, go on a Ride Along with local law enforcement; take a Citizen’s Police Academy course (I learned that one million dollars of used bills will fit into a pillowcase.) Develop law enforcement contacts such as sheriff’s deputies, detectives, etc. They are usually quite happy to speak with novelists.
Time Line Books and Websites – Outlines sequence of historical events, often with photos.
Children’s Books – Check the children’s section in bookstores and libraries. Some very good basic information on all kinds of topics.
Government Websites – FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Marshal Services, Witness Protection Program, National Security, Homeland Security website, and Department of Defense, etc.
Idiot’s Guides and For Dummies books – On just about every topic imaginable.
Honor the privacy of your sources. If someone gives you his or her private email address or home phone, do not give it out to anyone else without their permission. Give them credit. Ask if you can thank and acknowledge them by name in your article or in the front matter of your book. Above all, show gratitude. Send a thank you note (email is okay), and if their contribution was major, send them a copy of the published piece.
IMPORTANT TOPICS TO RESEARCH
Geographic/Regional – Visitor and Convention Bureaus, travel sites, travel books (Fodor’s, for example) tourist guides and brochures, etc.
Occupations – Vocational Biographies, and other career reference books carried by most libraries and high school/college placement offices. Mostly online now.
Clothing – Period fashions, uniforms (military, medical, job specific.) Find in books and museums.
Food – Regional, traditional, Victorian, Medieval, etc.
Language/slang/occupational or scientific terminology – Make sure your character speaks using appropriate language. Your cop should speak like a cop, your lawyer like a lawyer, your quilter should know specific language of people who make quilts.
Guns/Weapons/Explosives – Gun manufacturer websites, NRA, police and law enforcement blogs, police equipment websites, etc. (I once had to know how much a police officer’s duty belt weighed.) Attend gun shows and ask questions.
Geology – Describe landforms, seascapes for sense of place. Use the right words. I have geology reference books.
Weather – Storms, describe skies, sunsets, sunrises. I have weather and sky books.
Don’t get too attached to your research, or go off on tangents. It’s easy to do if you are a history or research fanatic. And don’t get distracted. Stay focused on information that pertains specifically to your novel.
You might be tempted to put all your research into your story, but don’t. Only use the information for flavor unless you are writing a “historical” novel which will require you to be totally accurate. Unless you are writing for historical correctness, don’t sacrifice your story for the research. For most writers, story wins out over research every time. Keep your research records especially if you are going to write other novels set in the same period or location.
Readers like books with a realistic sense of place, but how do you realistically set a book in a place, especially a well-known location, without actually going there? Here are some tips:
Have Your Story Character Be New to the Area – Set it up so that your main character has recently moved to the city/town, so he or she won’t know much about it.
Read Books Set in the City – You can Google search for lists of books set in a certain locale.
Watch Movies Set in the City – Use Google/Bing searches for this, too. Internet Movie Data Base (IMBD) is a good search site.
Contact Tourist and Convention Bureaus – Call or email with questions, ask them to send you brochures, pamphlets, travel kits, whatever they have.
Local Police and Fire Departments – Call or email the Public Affairs Officer or Department with specific questions.
Get Maps – MapQuest, AAA, or buy from a retail map store.
Look at the City’s Internet Site – This will give you information on places of interest, restaurants, theaters, schools and universities, and give you some idea what it’s like to live there. Also, search for blogs about living in that city or locale.
Ask Friends or Family Members – Call anyone you know who lives there.
Online Webcams – Cities often have live webcams active on intersections, or other places of note in the city.
GOOGLE EARTH – You will be amazed how down to earth you can get in a city using Google Earth.
Good luck, and have fun!
Thank you, C.C., for joining us today. If you have questions or comments for her, she’ll be with us all day. We hope you enjoyed this post and will share it with other writer friends who will find it helpful. Thank you!🙂
E. Tip of the Day: Why do readers enjoy learning about the characters we write about? Simple Answer: because they can relate to them. Each of us has our own individual battles we face every day, and escaping into a different world is far easier than facing our own battles some days.
What type of character do readers want to read about? A strong character. A believable character. A character they’ll want to trust and love. Someone who will inspire them, fight for what they believe in, and make them smile. Readers want a character they can cheer for. Someone they could enjoy a cup of coffee with at their kitchen table if that character was standing right in front of them.
So, what are you waiting for? Go write about a strong character that will sweep your readers off their feet!
E. Tip of the Day: Time Management Skills With a Smile. Start your writing time happy to dig into the character’s lives. Not to get away from your own life, but to create something really beautiful.
In today’s world we have so many things pulling us in different directions. Sometimes time alone can make us feel guilty for not spending time with our families, friends, or doing those things that we keep putting off. To spend any time pampering yourself, or doing something selfish like writing for hours at a time seems selfish.
Well, writing is selfish, isn’t it? But it’s also this wonderful gift so few people have the talent to do. It’s something so many people wish they could do. So, instead of feeling guilty, dear writer, start feeling grateful.
Don’t get upset with yourself for taking this time to write. YOU deserve it. You’ve worked hard to get to where you’re at, and it’s okay to take a few hours for yourself and write. Relax. Smile. Feel excited that YOU are a writer. Don’t beat yourself up when you only have 10 words on the page after an hour. It’s okay. That happens. Instead of beating yourself up, believe in yourself. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you deserve this career. You are determined to finish the writing project you are working on, and IT WILL NOT BEAT YOU. You can do this!
It’s important to me to keep a positive attitude. Every day I wake up with a smile on my face so excited to start the day’s work. I love being an editor. It is a pure joy for me to have this career, and to have the opportunity to work with so many talented writers. To me, every day is a blessing. I admit I’m not happy every minute of every day (I have three teenagers after all!), but I try to be. 🙂
It’s one of the things I see daily in my husband; his positive attitude is simply amazing. No matter how much pain he’s in, or what worries he has on his plate, he always remains positive. Doom and gloom is not part of his vocabulary. Doom and gloom only makes you feel worse anyway. And who wants that? Being happy, grateful to be the writer you are, will make the day go faster. You won’t be dreading having to write the next word on the page. You’ll be looking forward to it! 🙂
Today our guest is author, Nancy Gotter Gates. I first met Nancy a few years ago when I edited her novel Sand Castles. I was touched by Nancy’s characters, and their real-life struggles. I was thrilled when we were able to work together on her next novel, Life Studies! Welcome, Nancy, to The Editing Essentials.
Nancy Gotter Gates is the author of seven mysteries and three women’s fiction novels. Sand Castles, Life Studies and The State of Grace are stand alone novels featuring women in their fifties and sixties. Her mysteries include the Emma Daniels series set in Sarasota Florida, the Tommi Poag series set in Greensboro North Carolina and her newest, The Glendon Hills Retirement Center series, set in “Guilford City” North Carolina. She has also published numerous articles, poems and thirty short stories. Nancy lives in High Point North Carolina with her cat Callie. Visit her website at: http://www.nancygottergates.com/
Many mystery writers look for unusual backgrounds and quirky occupations for their protagonists to set themselves apart from others in the crowded field of cozy mysteries. I understand completely. If you’re not writing police procedurals or thrillers filled with spies, government types, or special agents, it’s hard to make one’s protagonist stand out from the crowd. However, I take a different tack. I prefer to write about everyday women, working in an ordinary job or retired, who happen to stumble upon a dead body and feel compelled to track down the killer. I feel the reader can identify with her because they have everything in common. She is not an expert in ancient languages or a famous chef or a biker. She is the woman next door, or in your book club. All of my protagonists are women of baby boomer age, some retired, some not. All are middle-class average housewives or office workers who stumble onto crimes that shock and appall them and are driven to find the perpetrator. Even though they have little knowledge of police procedure or access to crime labs and specialists, they manage to find the guilty party through passion, hard work, and determination.
I frequently tend to draw from my own experiences in my stories. For example in my Emma Daniels mystery series, she and her husband Paul move to Sarasota when he takes early retirement. My husband had to take disability retirement at a young age and we purchased a winter home in Sarasota. However, Emma loses her husband to a heart attack within months and is left on her own. In the first book, A Stroke of Misfortune, a neighbor helps her deal with her grief and they become fast friends. When this woman is killed and her husband is accused of her murder, Emma, who never imagined herself in such a role, is resolved to exonerate him and find the real perpetrator. I believe that readers will find Emma’s traits of loyalty, courage and determination admirable. And in subsequent books these same qualities come into play when she deals with scams on the elderly, and men who take advantage of lonely widows. I can only hope that if I found myself in similar situations I might find in myself the qualities I’ve given to Emma.
Tommi Poag lives in Greensboro, North Carolina which was my home for forty years. She also works in an insurance office as I did for a time. Tommi is a divorcee whose ex, a lawyer, dumped her for a younger woman in his office forcing her to go to work when she is too proud to accept alimony. My work experience was helpful when I decided to have an insurance policy play a large role in casting suspicion upon Tommi’s friend, Nina who is accused of killing her husband in When Push Comes to Death.
In my second Tommi Poag book, Death on Disaster Day, my role as the Public Relations Director of a Girl Scout Council led me to set the scene for the murder at a Scout camp where the girls are being judged on their first aid skills. Tommi has volunteered to be a “victim” and when her friend is shot to death at the perimeter of the camp, she is driven to find the killer. I was nervous about how the Girl Scouts would feel about having a murder on Scout camp grounds even though it was fictional so I had the local Executive Director read the manuscript before it was published. She loved it and even used the book as a fund raiser.
In the third Tommi Poag book I used our local reenactment of a Revolutionary War battle as the background. This annual event is a thrilling spectacle of uniformed soldiers advancing on each other with swords, muskets and cannons. I chose to have one of the sutlers, or merchants, who pitch tents on the periphery of the battlefield, be the victim.
Since I now live in a retirement center, I thought it would be fun to have my newest protagonist live in a fictional one set in “Guilford City” North Carolina. And so I began the Glendon Hills Retirement Center series featuring Viola Weatherspoon and her best friend Tyrone Landowski. Vi was an Executive Director of a Girl Scout Council in New England and Ty worked for the State Department. Neither has ever been married and their relationship is more like brother and sister, substituting for the siblings they never had.
The characters in my women’s fiction are also ordinary women dealing with the problems that beset their lives. In Sand Castles, Ginny has always been a stay-at-home wife and mother and when her husband decides to move to Florida upon his early retirement, she is loath to leave friends and family behind. But Leland has his way and after their move Ginny feels displaced and depressed. It takes a series of life-altering events for Ginny to find her way to happiness again. I feel that little attention is paid to the psychological and emotional effects of retirement and wanted to address them.
Life Studies features Liz Raynor who decides to pursue her lifelong interest in art when her husband dies at age fifty-five. Eventually she falls in love with her art teacher and together they encounter many roadblocks to their happiness which they overcome. I too lost my husband in his fifties and my art helped to heal me.
In The State of Grace, Grace Cousins, who works for a financial advisor, has never married. When her father dies, she moves in with her mother who suffers from dementia. She rents out her empty townhouse to a hydrologist, in town on a two-year contract, and eventually falls in love with him though many obstacles lie in the way.
I prefer to write about mature women with their rich histories who’ve dealt with all the ups and downs life has thrown at them. To me, they are the most interesting characters of all.
Thank you, Nancy, for joining us today, and sharing your experiences with us! Please feel free to make comments, or ask Nancy questions while she is here with us today. Thank you! 🙂
E. Tip of the Day: It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Vague descriptions? Yet we see them all the time in some of the manuscripts we review here at Written Dreams. What the author is really doing is telling the story to the reader instead of showing what is happening to the characters. What the reader reads is a vague description that doesn’t really say much of anything at all, takes them out of the story, and frustrates the heck out of them.
The reader can’t see what the author is seeing inside their head, so instead the reader finds something else to do with their time. Reading that book is not one of their options.
So, as an author how do you fix this? How do you learn to show the emotion and tension of your story without telling it? How do your recognize when you are telling instead of showing?
One way to see the vague descriptions is by reading the story back to yourself aloud. We’ve talked about this before and doing this yourself as a writer is an invaluable tool. (You’ll have to put the story down for a few days to distance yourself first so you’re reading it with fresh eyes.) When reading aloud, you won’t be able to feel the emotion that the characters should be feeling at that given moment. You know the emotion that you had thought you had written into the story? Instead, the characters may feel hollow or wooden, and not really alive. Just partly alive–like a walking zombie. 🙂 If you’re writing a zombie book, this might be a good outcome. If you’re not writing about zombies, then you may want to go back and revise to show more emotion and tension.
When showing the emotion, put effort into the words and be creative. Really get inside the heads of your characters and become them. Learn their habits, hobbies, and skills. Learn their vocabulary. Do they like to complain about the referees when watching football (my dad is famous for this 🙂 or do they sit back and enjoy the game? Once you get the hang of it, it will actually be easier showing than it is telling. Hard to believe, I know, but true. Don’t give up! You’ll get there. Just keep working on putting down those words with emotion. 🙂
We are so excited to announce, in celebration of our one year anniversary, Lara and I will be holding our first annual short story contest! Stories that are selected from the entries submitted will be published in the Written Dreams annual anthology to be released in February 2013.
We’re looking for romantic fantasy short stories where at least one character fulfills a life-long dream within the context of the story. Examples of possible dreams could be: finally getting their dream job, buying their dream house, going on the vacation of their dreams, etc. Stories can be about humans, elves, pixies, vampires, and everything in between.
Submit your 2,000-8,000 original short story in a word document attachment to us at email@example.com by December 15, 2012. We’d like to see a variety, so use your imagination and be creative!
Who can enter? Anyone. This is an Open Contest.
No reprint stories please. We’d like an all-original anthology.
One submission per person please. First time authors welcome.
Stories should be a PG-13 rating in sexual content, language, and violence.
Payment will be $0.06 a word with a pro-rata share of 50% of the royalties. Writers who have their story selected to be in the anthology will also receive one contributor copy. Non-exclusive rights.
If you have any questions regarding this contest, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
E. Tip of the Day: Vulgar Language—Is it needed or not?
It goes back to growing up as a child, being told you’re acting disrespectful to Gramma by swearing in front of her. Then, being threatened by Gramma that she’ll wash your mouth out with soap if you continue to use those strong–and very wrong–words. Gramma obviously doesn’t like swearing.
But in today’s society where most curse words are accepted as part of the regular vocabulary on TV and radio, it seems okay to use those words as part of the dialogue in a novel. But is it really okay for characters to swear on screen in dialogue? Ask these questions of yourself to help determine the answer for your particular writing style.
1) Do you feel uncomfortable as a writer having your character swear on screen? Does it go against your own personal beliefs? (If the answer to this question is “yes,” don’t do it. It’s that simple. You should feel comfortable with your own writing.)
2) Is cursing something your character–if they were alive and well in real life–would really do? (If the answer to this question is “no,” and you’d still like it in your dialogue, then you need to figure out why it’s really important to you. Also, make sure it is properly set up why your character does let loose and swear so it doesn’t push the suspension of disbelief for that particular character if they normally don’t swear.)
3) Does it fit within the general guidelines of the sub-genre you’re writing in to use curse words in your novel? (If “no,” then why are doing it? For controversial reasons?)
4) Are you using curse words to add tension to the scene sprinkled in here and there? (This is one of the purposes of using curse words in dialogue. If “no,” then why are you doing it?)
5) Do you think your readers will be offended by reading curse words in your story? (If “yes” then don’t take the risk of alienating your readers. After all, having a large readership is what you’re working for.)
It’s important to review whether or not it’s really important for your characters to swear in your story. Excessive overuse of any curse word is unnecessary and poorly translates to the page. If you have further questions about your novel and the use of curse words within it, contact us for a consultation. Our editors would be happy to help you!
Happy Writing! 🙂
Today marks a very special day for me. A year ago today I told my husband I wanted to work for myself and start my own editing business. Amazing how fast the year has flown by! September 12, 2011, we spent the day in our living room, thinking of a catchy business name and developing a business plan. I imagined, and he listened. Michael has always been my biggest supporter and when I chose Written Dreams over having a corporate job, we both knew it wouldn’t be easy.The time has passed so quickly–like that first year of life when you have a child, and they grow in such monumental stages.
I remember when my son was born, how elated and happy I felt–one that labor was over, and two that I was able to hold this beautiful little boy who I helped create. How excited I was that finally, I would have someone to love unconditionally no matter what. I knew there would be ups and downs. That was expected. My son is now 18, on his own in college, and has a lovely girlfriend that fits so well into our family. And my husband is still by my side after 20 years.
It’s been a long year in business, but I’m still as excited as I was a year ago. Let me take you back to May 2011. I was on the phone with Dorothy McFalls, at a mall of all places, going over some ideas for a new novel she and I were working on. At the time, I had a full-time job that I worked 60-80 hours at. And this particular phone call was during my lunch break. Although I loved my job in that industry, it wasn’t publishing. Dorothy, a true friend, maybe heard it my voice that day I wasn’t completely happy. I’m not sure. But I will never forget that conversation for the rest of my life when she asked me, “Brittiany, why don’t you go into business for yourself, as a freelance editor?” Me? Are you kidding? I couldn’t do that.
But the thought continued in the back of my mind over the next few months. A few other writers asked me the same thing. I shook my head. No, that’s something I definitely can not do. But these people believed in me–believed I could do it!
Fast forward a few months to August 2011. My son would be entering his senior year in high school. (Again the tears are coming.) If you know my son well, you know he’s always had a fascination with the ocean. That’s partly my husband’s fault for never missing Shark Week on Discovery, and partly mine for encouraging my son’s love for everything in the marine habitat. Books, movies, going to aquariums. We did anything to help him with his love of the ocean. (So many fun family memories.) I knew my son would be going out of state for college. It’s no secret that we live in Wisconsin, and although there’s plenty of rivers, lakes, and ponds here, it’s no ocean. I knew my son’s dreams would be taking him 1300 miles away from his family–in 9 months time. So, I did what every devoted mother would do. I quit my job. You know the job I was working at for 60-80 hours a week, out of town most nights, and away from my family. That job.The distance is what shook me. I wanted to spend every moment I could with my son before he left for college. I knew it wouldn’t be all happy family moments, but I would be there.
So, here I am–no job, and a family depending on my income. What to do? That conversation with Dorothy was still niggling in the back of my mind. I made a few feeler phone calls to some of my most trusted friends. I was a capable editor. Why not start my own business? Because I was scared. So scared to take that first step.
My husband believed in me wholeheartedly. My kids were excited Mom would be home more often. The writers who had become my friends knew I was an excellent editor and supported me. How could I let all of these people down who thought I would be successful?
So, I plunged in deep into my own personal ocean, and I am so glad I did. This would be my dream job. Helping writers achieve their goals–writers of all walks of life to fulfill their dreams just like some of those same writers that believed in me! 🙂
Thank you so much Dorothy McFalls for your inspiration! I’ll forever be grateful. And thank you to Terry Odell, Helen Osterman, C.C. Harrison, Karen Fenech, Jim C. Hines, Virginia McCullough, Barbara Raffin, Bob Rogers, Donna MacQuigg, Stacey Joy Netzel, Donna Marie Rogers, Lily Silver, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Ed Gorman for spreading the word and helping me become successful. Thank you to the writers who have been my clients, guestbloggers, or told their friends about us. Thank you to my family who never stopped believing, even if it meant another night of pancakes. Thank you all for believing in my Written Dreams!
Being happy, doing what I love–editing–is a dream come true. 🙂