Do they come while you’re daydreaming, or standing in the shower? Do you have a pad / pen nearby to remind you of those ideas when you need them? Some people are visual, and take their cues from images on billboards, memes, or old photos or advertisements.
According to Inc. Magazine, approximately 65 percent of the population are visual learners, around 30 percent of the population is made up of auditory learners, who learn best through hearing, and Kinesthetic learners (those who learn best through lectures and conferences) make up just 5 percent of the population.
Check out Steven Johnson’s TED Talk “Where Good Ideas Come From”:
Some books just stay with you. They haunt you. You dream of the characters, and of what would be if it just ended differently. Sometimes the closing lines just make sense, and sometimes they hint of a path not taken. Some give us closure, some are cliffhangers, yet they make me want to read the book again, and again. How about you?
Here are a few of mine.
by Mary Shelley “He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”
Lord of the Flies
by William Golding “He turned away to give them time to pull themselves together; and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance.”
A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
To Kill A Mockingbird
by Harper Lee “He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”
by George Orwell “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Memoirs of a Geisha
by Arthur Golden “Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.”
Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak “Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot.”
Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky “But that is the beginning of a new story – the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.”
In Cold Blood
by Truman Capote “Then starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”
Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad “The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Hippos Go Berserk
by Sandra Boynton One hippo, alone once more, misses the other 44.
I just finished editing the second novel in the Bayou Talents series for Edward Branley, Trusted Talents. As I am wont to do after finishing edits, I take stock on how I can help my clients streamline the process and make it smoother.
Trusted Talents has so *many* characters, I decided to try to create a spreadsheet to keep track of who they are, how they fit in the story, their quirks, their nicknames, and any other details that I think would be important, especially NAME CHANGES in the middle of the story.
Well, that got me down a rabbit hole pulling my hair out and drinking lots of coffee late at night (does no good for me when my HS Sophomore needs to be at zero period at 6:45 am and I get up at 5:15 am). I am not an Excel expert by any means, I can do basic sum functions and that’s about it. So, cut to the next morning when I was more awake and able to focus. I used my Google-fu powers and found a few different Excel spreadsheets that did what I was looking for already and all I had to do was test them out and see if it worked well for me.
I started with the tab labeled ‘Character List’ and page one of the Trusted Talents novel from Edward. I input all the characters and the formulas that are built into the pages (Remember that I am NO Excel expert) was a lovely touch to make the spreadsheet fill out faster.
A couple things that I really liked was when I sorted by first name, you could see that there are way too many names starting with a certain letter, and how many characters have names that are similar (Davey, David).
I sent what I had worked on to Edward, to see what he thought, and he realized that Brooks Stirling Sumner (Silver)’s grandfather had two names in the novel. Remember up there when I said NAME CHANGES in the middle of the book? He was listed as both Robert Duncan Sumner and Grantland Sumner.
Now, I think of myself as being very attuned to that, but I admit even I missed that name change. This set-up made it easier to fix and find the mistake with a global search and replace function in the master document.
I have started on Edward’s newest novel, Dragon’s Defiance (Book 3 in the Blood-Bound Series) and from first read, had a new spreadsheet set up to start on page 1. What a difference this will make in my editing, and my clients writings. I highly recommend this.
I’ve only used the Character Listtab at this time, but I can see how much more you could do with this spreadsheet – from the Character Genealogy Tab (one of my other passions on the side), to the Word Count Tracker (great for authors trying to hit a certain word count per day or per week to finish their novel), and the Scene List.
In the updated Version 2.0, which I just downloaded, there is the Cards Tab (sort of my old way of writing papers in high school and college with index cards delineating all the scenes/main ideas.) This one is automated, so if you use the Scene List, it pulls the information from that.
The Chapters Tab in Version 2.0 will give you a visual graph of how word count length and number of scenes per chapter.
I’m a firm believer if you have various tools and processes in place, it helps you focus on what you need to do, which is write! (Or in my case, EDIT!) Don’t be afraid to use tools that are already out there to make your process easier. One does not have to reinvent the wheel. You can tweak something that is created to match what you need.
The Narrator’s personality and perspective helps shape the reader’s perspective, and how the story unfolds. The reader sees what the character experiences from their point of view (POV).
Why Point of View?
POV helps us understand motives, desires, and empathize with characters and what they are going through. Ursula Le Guin, in Steering the Craft says, “The technical term for describing who is telling the story and what their relation to the story is” (page 83).
First Person POV
Use of “I”, or, in plural first person, “we”. This is used in both autobiographical writing and narration
Examples: Charles Dickens’ character introduction in the opening of the chapter “I Am Born” in David Copperfield (1850).
‘Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night’ (page 1).
Second Person POV
Use of word “you”. Sort of a ‘choose your own adventure’. When I think of this, which is a very uncommon type of POV that we see, since it’s hard to write and keep consistent. Why do I say it’s a ‘choose your own adventure’ type? Because the reader imagines themselves performing each action. One of my favorite books that showcases second person POV is Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.
‘Now you are on the bus, standing in the crowd, hanging from a strap by your arm, and you begin undoing the package with your free hand, making movements something like a monkey, a monkey who wants to peel a banana and at the same time cling to the bough.’ (page 7).
Editor’s Note:For an interesting Study in Second Person and Calvino, check out DarWrites.
Third Person POV
Use of words he, she, it, they. In today’s world, don’t forget about gender-neutral pronouns as well. Third person POV can stay in one character’s head, or move freely between characters.
Only see what’s happening through the character that is narrating, very narrow, and only colored through what our character thinks/ feels / believes about the characters and events around him/her.
“Non-involved narrator”. Narrator sees all and knows all, including the character’s private thoughts and feelings. Ursula Le Guin, in Steering the Craft’s chapter “Point of View and Voice” says, “the narrator knows the whole story, tells it because it is important, and is profoundly involved with all the characters.”
Editor’s Note: This is cross-posted at Arcadia Coach, the new venture I am working on with Edward Branley. Hope to see you there!
Writing research for your manuscript is nothing like you remember having to do in school, when the teacher or professor assigned you a topic you weren’t interested in, or you just picked it to be near the girl or boy you had a crush on. For your manuscript, you get to control all the aspects of the story from scratch, but be sure that your research is spot on.
Readers are smart, they know when you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes, and send them down the misdirection path. Become an expert. Tell all your friends, family, and even strangers in the grocery store line all your useless knowledge you are picking up in the process. You want to be able to discuss with your readers that you meet all the little details, and enthrall them with the stories of how you went in that direction.
Today with the advent of the Internet and social media, it is easier to get information that is further away from your location, in the far nether-regions of the world. [If you can find it, so can your reader base!] From the comfort of your couch, your local watering hole, coffee shop, or public library, you can find anything you are wondering about. No more waiting weeks for the InterLibrary Loan to arrive to find out it wasn’t the right one; sifting through card catalogs (what’s that?- see below), and microfiche and microfilm for hours, days, or weeks. Carrying a hundred books home to find the one line you think you need, only to return 99 of them the next day. If you were lucky, the librarian took a liking to you, and put stuff on the side if you told her what you were looking for.
Devil is in the Details
Be careful in how and where you sprinkle the details throughout your manuscript since you don’t want it to read like a textbook; more like “the reader can visualize what is in your head”. Keep them remembering where things were in the story, don’t overload them with every tidbit you know on the subject on one page. Call back to the earlier times in the timeline and in the story in various parts of the book. A little detail can go a long way in completing your manuscript.
Think about all the little details, yes.. sweat the small stuff. Food blogs, architectural drawings, what clothes people were wearing, even what was happening in the news at the time, can affect your ability to make sure your reader is totally enmeshed in your novel / manuscript. You want it to be seamless.
Make sure your research is in the right time period, including cars, ships, horse & buggies, trolleys … you don’t want to say the first car started driving down the street in 1850, when the first car, the Benz Patent Motor Car, didn’t hit the street until New Year’s Eve 1879.
No question is too silly or wrong. If you have an interest in it, it is a spark that you can use to bring knowledge to someone else who has the same question.
Oh, and most important: Have fun!If you are not enjoying the process, then it will show in your writing. Let the writing research take you down various rabbit holes… be sure you have a ladder to get out though!
A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.
― Ursula K. Le Guin
Photo of Ursula K. Le Guin via the New York Public Library
“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
Outside of professional writing, which included articles and columns, he is the author of eight nonfiction books and a number of literary works. His bestselling title was The Elements of Editing, a guide that grew out of his training of new staff. Published by Macmillan and packaged by the Book of the Month Club with the iconic The Elements of Style, it sold more than 200,000 copies before going out of print. Parts of it are still used in journalism programs. Learn more at: http://www.arthurplotnik.com/biography.html
TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.
“It is not the task of a writer to ‘tell all,’ or even to decide what to leave in, but to decide what to leave out. Whatever remains, that meager sum of this profane division, that’s the bastard chimera we call a ‘story.’ I am not building, but cutting away. And all stories, whether advertised as truth or admitted falsehoods, are fictions, cleft from the objective facts by the aforementioned action of cutting away. A pound of flesh. A pile of sawdust. Discarded chips of Carrara marble. And what’s left over.
“Houses Under The Sea”
― Caitlín R. Kiernan
Houses Under the Sea: Mythos Tales. This one is Richard Kirk’s illustration for the collection’s title story, “Houses Under the Sea,” the altar to Mother Hydra.
Beta readersare people who are most likely to buy and read your book. They play an important role in your publishing journey, as they see your book raw, naked, and parts you wouldn’t even show your mother. Make sure they are on your plan, as they will look at it with fresh eyes and tell you things you don’t necessarily want to hear.
My daughter is a beta reader for a series of books by my client, edward branley, since his “dragons” series (Dragon’s Danger, Dragon’s Discovery) is exactly in her age range. [Edward will tell you one of the characters is based on her. ] She tells him if it works, if it doesn’t and why it’s right or wrong. She makes suggestions to make it better.
Don’t Give Them a Draft Your beta reader is still a reader — a reader who might tell other readers about your book. It’s important to treat your beta readers right, and that begins with what you ask them to read. Don’t give them your first draft. In fact, be sure that what you give them is the very best writing you can produce on your own. Write your draft and set it aside for at least a week. Go back to it and rewrite it if you need to. Then set it aside for another week — again. Revise, revise, revise, until it isn’t remotely possible for you to do any better.
Your Manuscript, Their Way Before you send your manuscript to your beta readers, ask them what format they’d like it in. Beta readers might want to print your manuscript or read it on a Kindle. If they prefer the latter option, send them instructions for how to get your manuscript on an e-reader. Do whatever you can to remove any obstacles that will prevent your beta reader from carving out time to read your book.
Give Them Guidance Let your beta reader know what kind of feedback you’d like from them. Develop a checklist with questions you’d like answers to. Do you want readers to comment on the strength of a character, or the organization of a concept? If you create a specific list of questions around content, beta readers won’t spend their time punctuating sentences. Adapt your revision checklist to meet the needs of each book your write.
Don’t Take it Personally Remember, it takes a great deal of time to read and respond to a book. And your beta readers will have opinions that might sting a little. Be gracious for any feedback a beta reader gives you, even if you don’t agree with it. Ask yourself, “Will addressing this comment make for a better book?” If so, take their advice and apply it to your next revision. If not, whatever you do, don’t defend yourself. Your beta reader already knows your position (you’ve done as you’ve seen fit, as evidenced by your manuscript) but they don’t agree. Thank them for their comments and move on.
Return the Favour Remember, you’re not paying your beta readers to read your book. They’re offering feedback because they want to help or they’re interested in your book’s premise or topic. If your beta reader asks you to be a beta reader in future, seriously consider returning the favour. And when it comes time to publish your book, give them a mention in your acknowledgements. Everyone likes to see their name in “print.”
Still confused as to why you need one, or what they are? Read on…
Honestly, I’d tell you that you need a beta reader to help you revise your manuscript before you go looking for an editor. If you need one, I think I can point you in the right direction for that editor.
“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an anti-library.”
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility
My anti-library Kindle list
Taleb’s book is part of my anti-library, ironically enough.
Taleb’s quote above fascinated me, and I bought the book to read, but with the editing business going strong and the fact-checking side of the house prepping for the next issue of Genome Magazine, it’s on my TBR pile. The good news is, now that school has resumed, perhaps the TBR pile can be dug into, perhaps at the beach?
I have done some research on color theory and psychology, and my colors around the world blog post utilizing this as a reference. One of Goethe’s most radical points was a refutation of Newton’s ideas about the color spectrum, suggesting instead that darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light.
Light and darkness, brightness and obscurity, or if a more general expression is preferred, light and its absence, are necessary to the production of color… Color itself is a degree of darkness.
The Boy on the Wooden Box is on my Kindle since my son Jason went to hear Leon Leyson’s widow, Lis, speak on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Fullerton Public Library. Leon Leyson was the youngest person ever saved by Oskar Schindler. He was #289 on Schindler’s List. Be sure to read Jason’s take on Lis Leyson’s speech.
As a history major in my undergrad days, this time period has always had a deep impact on me. I am sure it will be eye-opening and emotional.
I’m reminded of Marlon Brando’s famous Playboy interview with Lawrence Grobel, in which he says that he used to read all the time, but finally stopped because information was of no use to him. Grobel interviewed him on his island in Tahiti; Brando told him that he no longer read anything except Shakespeare. Everything that was worth knowing was contained in Shakespeare. Brando said:
I used to read an awful lot. Then I found that I had a lot of information and very little knowledge. I couldn’t learn from reading. I was doing something else by reading, just filling up this hopper full of information, but it was undigested information. I used to think the more intelligence you had, the more knowledge you had, but it’s not true. Look at Bill Buckley; he uses his intelligence to further his own prejudices. Why one reads is important. If it’s just for escape, that’s all right, it’s like taking junk, it’s meaningless. It’s kind of an insult to yourself. Like modern conversation–it’s used to keep people away from one another, because people don’t feel assaulted by conversation so much as silence. People have to make conversation in order to fill up this void. Void is terrifying to most people. We can’t have a direct confrontation with somebody in silence–because what you’re really having is a full and more meaningful confrontation.
Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle:
Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.
Epictetus‘ (c. AD 55 – 135) influential school of Stoic philosophy, stresses that human beings cannot control life, only their responses to it, keeping the focus on progress over perfection, on accomplishing what can be accomplished and abandoning unproductive worry over what cannot.
Mark Twain, who read widely, was passionately interested in the problems of style; the mark of the strictest literary sensibility is everywhere to be found in the prose of Huckleberry Finn . . . He is the master of the style that escapes the fixity of the printed page, that sounds in our ears with the immediacy of the heard voice, the very voice of unpretentious truth.
Twain was often asked for advice on the art and craft of writing. Sometimes he responded seriously, sometimes not. Here’s a piece of writing advice on from a letter he wrote on 20 March 1880 to a student named D.W. Bowser:
“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”
I often tell my editing clients one of my favorite pieces of advice he gave. Twain famously said:
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Bonus: “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps” information for you philatelists!
Mark Twain 44¢ (1835-1910)
Issue Date: June 25, 2011 City: Hannibal, MO Quantity: 50,000,000
Mark Twain is the 27th honoree in the Literary Arts series. “Our literary tribute this year rightfully honors Mark Twain, author of one of the greatest novels in American literature and the man whom William Faulkner called ‘the first truly American writer,’ said Postal Service Board of Governors member James H. Bilbray. “Mark Twain was a rarity, as he was one of the first writers to exploit the vernacular voice in his books, using the speech of common Americans,” Bilbray said.
Samuel Clemens’ family moved to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River when he was just a child. Clemens developed a love for the river that would stay with him his entire life.
As a young man, Clemens met a steamboat pilot named Horace Bixby. That’s when he decided to learn the craft, becoming one of the best pilots on the river.
As an author, Clemens took his pen name from his experiences on the water. The Mississippi River is difficult to navigate. To “mark twain” meant the water had been measured and was a safe depth. In 1863, Clemens began writing as Mark Twain.
If it had not been for the Civil War, Twain may have remained a pilot who occasionally wrote newspaper articles. But most business travel stopped along the Mississippi during these years, so Twain went back to writing. His humorous stories of life on the river were a hit with readers then and remain popular today.
In 2010, the first volume of Twain’s autobiography was published. It was his wish that it not be released until 100 years after his death so that he might speak his “whole frank mind.” The volume offers a glimpse into the real Samuel Clemens – a man with strong political and social views who nevertheless entertained millions with riveting tales of life on the Mississippi.
More on the “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamp” Series