Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's Reflections

It is that time of year when we look back and say, "Wow, last year stunk! Next year will be so much better. Come on the New Year~" We are ever the eternal optimists. Already people are asking: "What are your New Years resolutions or goals?" I haven't made any New Years resolutions in years, not since I figured out that resolutions don't really work for me.
I do like to take the time to reflect on the last twelve months. The first thing I do is find the good things, the sweet things, the fun things that happened, no matter how small. Make a list. 2010 might have been your worst year ever, but there were things that were good about it if you look. The smile of a new baby, the hug from a friend, sunshine on a crystal ice cycle are all good things. Some of the things I cherished about this year: A visit from my parents and son, taking my daughter off to college, discovering a new writing craft book that helped me in a big way, going to a writer's conference and sharing my experience in persevering as a writer, then there were the times I had coffee with friends, the writer's group afternoons, a new book out, celebrating friends with new books out.
Once I make this list, I make a short list of things I've learned, mistakes made that I want to remember not to do again, people I forgot to call, letters I forgot to send, and then I address this list right now, today. I give out a hug. I call a friend. I send a note. So that when I start my New Year, I can start it with my head up and hope in my heart.
Will 2011 be a better year or a stinky year? There is so much about life we can't control such as unemployment, taxes, politics, bad bosses, overdue bills that you simply can't pay, health issues. These are the things that make a year stinky. But they are things we can't really control. What we can control is how we feel about them and how we act. Right now, today, I can decide to find at least one thing that makes me smile. I can decide to try a new thing that can help at work. I can eat one healthy meal. I can walk around my block. I can take five minutes to write a paragraph on the novel of my dreams. I can take one small step that will brighten my future and make 2011 a better year and I'm going to put it on my list so I remember what I did that was good. :D
How about you? Do you make New Years resolutions? Do you set goals? What traditions do you follow this time of year? I'd love to know. Cheers~

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays~

I want to take a moment to wish you all the best and brightest holiday this year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Thank you all for stopping by every week. I hope I have been helpful sharing what I know and what I learn on my writer's journey. My wish for you is that you never deny your creative self. That you keep learning and growing. That this next year be wonderful.
With that I'll leave you with this list of Affirmations (affirmations are positive true statements) from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way:
1. I am a channel for God's creativity, and my work comes to good.
2. My dreams come from God and God has the power to accomplish them.
3. As I create and listen, I will be led.
4. Creativity is the creator's will for me.
5. My creativity heals myself and others.
6. I am allowed to nurture my artist.
7 Through the use of a few simple tools, my creativity will flourish.
8. Through the use of my creativity, I serve God.
9. My creativity always leads me to truth and love.
10. My creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
11. There is a divine plan of goodness for me.
12. There is a divine plan of goodness for my work.
13. As I listen to the creator within, I am led.
14. As I listen to my creativity I am led to my creator.
15. I am willing to create.
16. I am willing to learn to let myself create.
17. I am willing to let God create through me.
18. I am willing to be of service through my creativity.
19. I am willing to experience my creative energy.
20. I am willing to use my creative talents.

Cheers, my friends, may this season remind you that it is okay to take the time to seek, to learn to nurture the person God created you to be.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December's Book Review by Ted

MY First Love!. I'm pretty good at catchy titles, now I have to deliver!
To begin with, what kind of a reader are you??? If you are a writer, what do you expect of your reader??? This is all inter-related. While teaching reading, I have found that many people, maybe most, are word readers. I used to think that I had no imagination...until I began to understand how I read. I am a reader who is part of the scene--I may be the narrator--I may be the hero or heroine ( not a question of sexuality--- I am a male heroine!) We won't pursue that any further. When I read, I am there, the scene is all around me, I am ducking bullets, arrows, plots along with the rest of the characters of the book.
A little background: When I was 13 and in 9th grade, I entered a Catholic seminary to study to be a priest. Didn't make it as Nancy can attest.
I was bored with the classes--we won't go there, but I carried the usual high school load plus 4 years of Latin,3 of Greek, 4 of religion, and 4 of Public Speaking. That was with all the usual expected of all 1950's high school students. So I read books. I think in my 4 years I read about 400 books not required for classes. I used them to escape where I was and what I was doing. I knew I did not belong there, but parents wanted me to finish High school there.
About January of 1954 I discovered " The Miracle of the Bells". I read it at least twice a year for the next 3 years. I fell in love with the female character : Olga......
"The Miracle of the Bells" was written by Russel Janney ( before you ask "WHO?") Let me say it was his first book, his publisher ordered a first run of 125,000 copies ( hardback) and there were 6 more printing in the 40's and 50's then at least 7 paperback printing in the 60"s.) As I investigated I found that Janney was a well know writer of screen-plays and even Musicals that played on Broadway. So while a new book writer, he had a great history. He only wrote 1 more book as far as I can tell.
Maybe it was my nature as an " Softee". or the fact that my grandfather had been a coal miner - though in Illinois not in Pennsylvania. Maybe it was my Softee nature that sympathized with Olga.....But it all came together. I created pictures of the characters in my mind of Olga, "Spats" Dunnigan -a press agent, Father Spinsky and his housekeeper sister who were less than 'holy", the money grabbing funeral director, the weak priest who agreed to anything as long as it brought people to his church so he could try to help them. The Jewish movie mogul who had problems with miracles......
I read it over and over. I loved the dying young girl from the coal town who had Black Lung disease because of where she was raised, the young priest who would knuckle under because he was too unselfish to oppose others..."Spats" who made and lost fortunes for himself and others , and also loved Olga. The Miracle itself, because there was one. But more than one--in fact maybe too many by the end of the book!
I once had a first edition of the book that had notes from press coverage of the book included. It was Number 2 on the New York Times best seller list for 1946 ( Back when that really meant something.) I had a student who did not like to read, I tutored her one summer and loaned her the book---it was never returned!
This is getting too long, but I want to include that it was made into a movie in the 1950's. It is available on DVD...I have one. This was another Hollywood disaster! If you have read books and then seen the movies, you will understand what I mean. The weak priest was played by Frank Sinatra ( A weak performance by a good actor), Lee J. Cobb was the Jewish movie producer- an adequate job, the actress playing Olga is really an unknown- but she looked as I pictured Olga ( my first love), then the crushing blow was Fred McMurray as "Spats" I need to stop there---he was miserable, and I can hardly stand to watch him on reruns of "My Three Sons". There must of been 40 actors that could have been used, but he was picked. The picture was/is less than half good.
I strongly recommend reading the book if you never have. Copies in various condition are available on Amazon or even can be found in old bookstores. The small price is well worth the trip back to coal-mining towns in Pennsylvania and the times when a nobody might have a press agent tell a producer " Give the kid a break!" Olga will always be alive for me. Thanks to Russell Yanney.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The 80/20 rule

Publishing is an impossibly slow business. I think you can safely say that you can take the time it took you to write and polish the book and multiply it by four or more. That is the time it will take to sell the book. Then on average add 18 months for the publisher to do revisions, copy edits, galleys, pre-release publicity and put the book on the shelf. What is a writer to do while they wait? Well, write another book, of course, says the prevailing wisdom. And I agree. Writing another book allows you to keep up the practice and perfect your craft. But here is the thing you have to accept about that truth. For the average writer, only twenty percent of the manuscripts you write will actually become books on the shelf. One of the Professors at my MFA program stated this statistic in a class. I sat down and figured out how many books I've written over the years versus how many are on the shelf and it came to exactly 20 percent. Huh.
Knowing this many writers say, well, I won't write past a partial then because why waste my time on a book that will never sell. This is a self made trap. Why? 1) It used to be you could sell your second book on partial, but the business has changed so that nine times out of ten even midlist authors must write the entire book before a contract is written and the book sold. 2) If all you do is write beginnings, you miss out on the practice and perfecting of the middle and the end of stories. You miss out on knowing where your personal pitfalls are and how to deal with them.
Other writers write entire books, for example: I average three books a year. In today's economy many paying publishers are buying one book a year. Even if you sign a three book contract those books will usually come out one a year. (Unless you are working with a company whose business model goes with three books in one year such as Sourcebooks or Harlequin.) The point being that many prolific writers have mounds of inventory-remember on average 80 percent of their works are not published. This can lead to desperation and attempts to fling that inventory at editors and agents as fast as you can. Okay so you rejected that one, here's another. This desperation leaks into the work and the industry's perception of you. I know, you would think that an agent would want to sell every book their author writes, right? Editors should want to publish every book their author writes. Fact: this is a false assumption. Agents and editors want to sell books they think they can make the most money on and will not even try to sell books they think they can't market. Remember publishing is a business. Publishers, editors, and agents are in it to make money. They are your test market. No matter how clever the idea, if the agent can't get an editor to bite, if the editor can't get their marketing department to take a risk, then they have wasted their time and efforts. Fact: sending an agent four different books in one year is a waste of their time--no matter that the rejection letter said they would be happy to see your next work. Unless the concept is really happening, fresh, and now, you need to wait at least three to six months before you query with your next work.
Some authors think. Fine. I know my inventory is good. Why should I wait? I will publish it as an e-book. There is nothing wrong with this, especially if you have years between paying books. But you have to understand the simple truth about e-books. They are a dime a dozen and, unless you work really, really hard on marketing, your book will be lucky to earn you more than $50. (I made $0.73 last quarter on my two Wild Rose Press romantic suspense books.)
So what is a writer to do? Relax. Keep writing. Look at the 80 percent of books that don't sell as hours of practice. Keep reading craft books. If you find yourself getting frustrated or desperate, stop. Live life. Try something new. Most importantly don't beat yourself up for books written but not sold. Don't curse your agent or editor for rejecting 80 percent of your work. It's how the average writer's journey goes.
For those of you out there who will say these facts aren't true. Who will say that you write and sell every book and sometimes three or four books a year, I say, good for you. You are on the other side of the bell curve. You are not average. It doesn't mean you are better than an author who publishes only 20 percent of their work. It simply means you are either a) working with a publishing model that plans for more than one book a year; or b) you are able to repeat marketable ideas and themes for your publisher; and c) you don't need to read this blog which is meant for the average writer.
As for the rest of us, I'm not writing about the 80/20 rule to discourage you, but to encourage you. To help you relax and not feel so desperate that you send a new book out to agents every six weeks. To help you understand that the 80 percent of your work never read is not wasted effort to grieve over, but fun, joyful practice that allows you to craft great stories for the 20 percent that sell. Remember it really is all about the journey, no matter where it takes you. Cheers~

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Money for nothing and your chicks for free...

I know you've heard this before, but if you want to make writing your career you have to understand that publishing is a business. For the next couple of weeks I want to talk about the business of writing. Let's begin with how businesses work. Businesses work by getting paid for work done. Its a fair exchange of value and services for something of equal value-such as cash.
Yes, dentists, and doctors, and lawyers do pro bono work- they sometimes offer their skills for free. Small businesses will offer samples in hopes of enticing customers into the store to buy. But no one stays in business long if they give away their product for free. So, please, think twice about free reads. Many authors are offering free electronic versions of their books on line. People love this- yay something for free. The problem with this is the reader then devalues your work. Why pay when I can get a different book for free?
Someone said to me, I'm going to self publish my book on-line. I've been reading the free reads and there are some really good books available on line. When I asked, have you bought any books from the authors you've been reading for free the answer was no. Huh. So, how will you get people to buy your book if all they do is read free books? Again, no answer.
There are certain circles of folks who believe that in future all books will be free. As in no one will be paid for services rendered. Great for readers. But not so great for writers. I truly believe if that happens, no one will be able to write for a living... Seriously, will we all write and polish and edit and market-for free? Would you do all this work for no pay? Some of you will say- yes, yes I will. My next question is -how long will you work and perfect your craft if you are not getting paid?
If there is no possibility of payment in future?
Books have value- in entertainment, in education, in magic. Never devalue your muse, your talent or your efforts. If you want to put up examples of your work, put up excerpts, entice readers like setting out small samples. But think twice before setting readers up with the expectation that you will do all the work while they give you nothing in exchange.
The first rule of business is to understand the value of the product and services you provide. (This works both ways- over valuing your work will ruin you as well.)
How do you determine the value of your work?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nov. Book Review by Ted Kozicki

SEX...............There, I've gotten your attention. After last month's title"HELL", I figured I'd need something great or greater to begin this one!
I did not choose the word at random, however. I want to remind or instruct you that there is sex in literature--books, stories, poems....... However, not the way you may be thinking. ( Well, yes, the way you are thinking, but that's not what I am talking about!) Those of you who write have an idea of who your expected audience is, and you write or should accordingly. What I am talking is the old basic: Masculine, feminine, and neuter ( I am torn between saying either or neither, but I won't). So fitting the work to the audience means you will write for a male or female reader, and believe me there is a big difference in the approach.
This ties in with the book I just finished: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. It is the first of a series she is doing called the Cousins' War. That is The War of the Roses for you English history buffs. The two factions of the Plantagenet family, the Lancasters and the York are fighting over control of the English crown. The next book, just out is called: The Scarlet Queen. So guess what color the roses are!
I read this with interest and anticipation since I am a history major and find this very interesting. In addition, Philippa has just earned a PHD in history so my expectations were high. I did not take into account sex. This book is written in the feminine. Since it deals with several major battles between the factions, with one or the other side winning or losing and holding the other's king captive, I was expecting long and bloody battlefield descriptions with the usual drinking and wenching along the way. That is a MASCULINE book.
Imagine my disappointment when I found it was more about seduction ( Elizabeth Woodville was a commoner- in a way) and King Edward was a renowned womanizer. She leads her family from being Lancaster supporters to the Yorkish side as she keeps the "Prize" just out of Edward's reach until he secretly marries her. In addition, there is a fantasy side with Elizabeth and her mother being descendants of a mythological half-woman/half-fish named Melusina. ( Which is a German legend ). As a battle is going to take place, they open a window at the Tower of London and breath out creating a massive fog that covers the battlefield and confuses the Lancaster forces who end up attacking each other and Edward wins a major victory. Merlin must be turning over in his grave!
So if you want to take this book as being a work of fiction which uses characters who really existed and interweaves a story with the audience being primarily female, it is a fun read....Yet I don't think most women would tell their family that they did not mind their husband pursuing most of the women in the country because "after all he is the king, and he always comes home to me."
If you are interested in learning more about the War of the Roses, the missing two princes in the Tower, and the last of the Plantagenets.......remember this is fiction, not a history book.
So I'll go looking for a more Masculine book for a review, so you can help understand the difference--I know you do, but it gives me something to write about.
Next month an older book, but it was made into a movie ( long ago- also ), but it is special to me which I'll explain next time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tips on when to query

Okay so you are zooming along on your NaNoWriMo book. You finish. You revise/polish and are ready to query. Check you calender, if it's December or January-wait. The truth is that there are windows of better opportunity to query. For example: after Nov. 1st, editors and publisher are in hours long meetings looking at the titles they have for the new year. They are talking marketing. They are discussing delivery date. They are figuring budgets. They are taking vacation for the holidays. December everything slows down to a crawl. It's desk clearing time and they look at the work that has been left hanging all year. The books that they wanted to buy but there is no shelf space or budget left. The books that were maybes need to be decided upon. Then there are holiday parties and vacations. The last thing they want is new queries. Okay, so you wait until the first week of January. Everything is fresh and new and you send it in--Along with thousands of others who have made new year resolutions or have been waiting through the holidays. Editors and agents are inundated. Quick decisions are made to reduce the slush pile. Yes, sometimes they throw the baby out with the bathwater.
But there are prime times to query- February and March are good. Skip April again holidays and Spring Break. May and June are good. Skip July and August-there are conferences and vacations. September is good, but beware that October is also prime conference months. The problem with conference months is that editors and agents are again inundated with queries from people they saw at conferences. The key is to guestimate when the agent/editors desk will have the least amount of slush. When they will be looking to fill slots.
Once you send out your query/partial be patient. Trust the editor/agent to do their job. That said, things do get lost in the mail so after 8 to 9 months you can send a quick e-mail-don't call- and see if they got your partial. Then wait some more.
What do you do while you wait? Go and live your life. Write another book. Have fun. Read a new craft book. Try again. Because as Kevin Spacey said in a video interview going around, "There is no prize, only the journey."

As a side note, the kind and lovely Linda Kage gave this blog the Cherry on Top Blog award. Thanks, Linda. :D

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On being an Artist

I spoke to a friend of mine last night. We talked about her niece who has many teachers telling her she should be a writer. "She's really good."
But my practical friend keeps telling her there is no money in it. My question is can you, should you be something other than what you are? Hmmm.
This week I found myself revisiting "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. Part of the title reads- "A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self."
When I thumbed through I discovered some of the things I'd highlighted when reading the book still held true for me today. So, I'm going to post a few here. On the off chance they touch a cord with you as well.

"Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving reception to all the creativity around us."
"Remember art is a process and that process is supposed to be fun..."
"(Sometimes our writing circles)...can produce the "How am I doing?" syndrome. This question is not "Is the work going well?" This question is "How does it look to them?" The point of the work is the work... instead of writing being about writing, it becomes about being recognized..." This is the worst mistake a writer can make in my opinion.

"As artists we can't afford to think about who is getting ahead of us and how they don't deserve it. The desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be."
"As artists, we are asked to repeat ourselves and expand on the market we have built. Sometimes this is possible for us. Other times its not."
"I need to create what wants to be created...I write whether I think it's any good or not."

Finally-please know this quote is the honest truth:
"Good work will sometimes not sell...The market may be rotten even when the work is great. (You) cannot control these factors."

What you can control is how you feel about these things. So, yes, we may all have or be looking for a job that will support us, but we can't deny the talent of creativity inside us.

Food for thought. Cheers~

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

I know that many writers wait all year for National Novel Writing Month- NaNoWrMo. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. One writer friend of mine asked, why November? I mean with the advent of the holiday season, wouldn't it be better to do this in January right after we make our New Year's Resolutions?
So I went to the official NaNo web site and clicked on History. It seems the first event was held in July 1999 and was merely a group of 20-somethings gathered together to see if they could do it. They were surprised by what they learned. Then decided it was actually fun?! So they developed a website and announced a second year. This time they moved it "to November to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather." And were shocked and surprised by the number of writers who signed up. It's sort of taken on a life of it's own since. (If you get a chance, do read the history of this thing. It is quite funny. Especially when it gets to the part about people asking what the rules were. "Rules? Didn't these people know that the 'rules' had just been a loose aggregate of contradictory statements that I'd hurriedly pulled from my butt the previous year?") Doesn't that sound like a writer? The point being they were gathering to write-not to follow rules. So, whether you are nose to the grindstone working on NaNo or simply plodding along on the work you do day in and day out, I say have fun. After all if writing isn't fun, it's not worth much else. So, best of luck and let me know if you are attempting the big 50 or merely playing along with friends. Cheers~

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review Oct. 2010

Book Review by Ted Kozicki

To begin writing reviews of books, one should start somewhere and hope things get better. So I think if I begin with "HELL", things can only go up from there.
"Hell" is written by Robert Olen Butler and published by Grove Press. Copyright 2009.
While it is not necessary to have read Dante's " Inferno", be familiar with "Faust", it may be incumbent for the reader to have a knowledge of recent ( 20th Century ) Americana and satire to enjoy this detailed, funny, yet scary look at what may constitute hell.
Have you seen the movie " Network"? Are you a journalist, novelist, history major, avid reader of novels, husband, wife, lover,
hunter, politician.........then you are a part of this book. I found myself---I am the old person who is forced to learn technology as my never-ending punishment for all eternity while the technology continues to grow faster than I can learn.
The narrative is clear and fluent, descriptions are vivid, believable, and often not just entertaining but outright funny! Reading this right now during this time before the elections, I found it especially interesting.
I will try not to make everything I read a " Highly Recommended" selection......A lot are not, but this is my first in many ways.
Remember: We may very well be creating our own hell every day of our life.....Not reading "HELL" will not add to your hell, but maybe to your heaven-on-earth.

Monday, October 25, 2010

And now for something completely different...

As you all know, I'm in the middle of my Master's program and working on three novels and I've found I've had less, and less time to devote to reading books and watching movies to give you a monthly review. So, my father, Ted Kozicki, has offered to help me out by acting as the book reviewer on this blog once a month for the next couple of months. Without further ado, here's Dad in his own words:

Hello. I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Nancy's father. Being a dutiful person and still interested in what my kids are up to, I read that she does not always have time for her reviews in her Crafts' Blog....So rather than see her drop it, I'm stepping up to help out.
I know what you are thinking.....great, what does he know? What does he read? What makes him a critic? All good questions which I'll try to answer. I am 70....been over the hill for a lot of years! I am a former school teacher.. I've taught English...well, that should have lost half of the readers! I've also taught science, drama, public speaking, history, government, K-12 Special Education, 4th grade math, religion, Latin, Spanish, and a few other things that people have been willing to pay me to teach. That probably lost half of those who were still reading!
So for the 2 or 3 that are still left, I'll continue. I am published.....poems in a local newspaper in Michigan which were later borrowed by several couples to include in their wedding ceremonies----no pay, but at least acknowledged! Wonder if they are still married? Some reports to the Federal Government about the research done with grants while a graduate assistant at Emporia State University....Again no pay, unless you count free tuition, office, and expenses while finishing my MS. A couple of Melodramas-----one performed in several venues around the county and SOLD to a publisher who now continues to offer it for performing. The others have yet to sell. So I am a PAID writer! I'm the one from whom Nancy gets her talent , if you've seen the picture, you can see the looks come from her mother!
What do I read? Just about anything someone is willing to write and someone is willing to print and sell. That being said, I do have things I like more than others. I have favorite authors. I have some that I will not read, or in some cases have not because I have no interest...I even read plays, poetry, history books, Annie Rice, Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), Wilbur Smith ( EVERY book he has written), Ted Kennedy, Nancy J Parra ( had to put that in!)...You'll find out more as I do some of these.
I love theatre ( that high class theater)... I love Andrew Lloyd Weber...seen "Phantom" 7 times-twice in London ( Bragging)...Evita more than that (Nancy's mother refuses to go with me again)...Music... Country/Western .....early Rock/Roll...Jazz ( New Orleans), Blues ( Memphis), Opera ( No, the music not the woman with the talk show-- but she was great in The Color Purple).......
I'm not impressed with critics.....Heard a lot of definitions of what they are...fill in your own! "Whistle down the Wind" is my favorite A.L.Weber musical, critics hated it. I learned to dislike critics in college when I had to read a book ( which I might like ) and have the professor take it apart explaining what was wrong with it or what it was about.
That in a nutshell is who I am and where I am coming from. I will leave you with one thought that I impressed on my High School English students about Poetry:" There is only 1 person who knows what a poet meant by what he/she wrote, and most of them never told us. We are supposed to find what it means to us." Hope that gives you a reason to read what I write for her blog.

Thanks Dad!
Now that you know a bit about my playwright Dad, I will post his first book review tomorrow.

PS - a special thanks to my sister Mary who passed on the photos included in this blog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to craft a solid ending

We spend a lot of time learning how to craft beginnings of novels. Beginnings are hooks that sell the story and draw the reader in. Next we learn about crafting overall plot and character arc-creating goals, motivation and conflict. We learn about the Hero's Journey, The first act, second act third act, the W plot, the 15 beats necessary in a story. We work hard on word count and getting the draft done. Trust me by page 350 I'm all about getting the darn thing done.
So how much time do we spend crafting the ending? What do we know about endings?
When I first started writing in my teens, there were no endings. Only stories that went on and on. I mean life goes on, right? So did my stories. (Yes, yes, I can hear you pointing out the movie, "The Never Ending Story. " Wasn't there a sequel to that? How can you have a sequel if the first one never ends? I digress.)
I got to the point in my writing -because I write by the seat of my pants-that I had to visualize the beginning and then the ending out of necessity. If I wanted to finish, I had to know the end. Still my editorial director said to me on my third book, "You have trouble with endings, don't you?"
Hmmm. No, I didn't think so. I thought I fixed that. But clearly she thought so-therefore problem was not solved. Then how do you create a solid ending?
The answer is simple. Take as much time to think through the ending as you do the beginning. Here's how:
1) Pull five of your favorite books off the shelf and read the endings. What about them is satisfactory? Do they end with a bang? Do they wrap up all the clues? Do they set up the next book? How can you use the tricks of your favorite novels in your work?
2) Go back to what you know about the Hero's Journey- in the end, the hero must return to the ordinary world with his new found gifts (emotional and/or physical changes) and relate to this world as a changed person. Think about Harry Potter. He returns to his dreaded Aunt's and Uncle's ordinary home, but no longer lives in the cupboard under the stairs.
3) Blake Snyder's beat sheet says endings should be the opposite of the beginning to show that change has occurred. Relate 2 and 3 to how your favorite novels end. Can you see how it was done?
What if the above tips still don't help? Brainstorm with your closest friends and most importantly practice, practice practice. Sometimes a lousy first ending is caused by weak plotting. sometimes you have to go back and strengthen things in the book to get the ending you need. Do it. It's worth it. Readers like closure. They like endings that pull on heart strings, or send creepy feelings down their back. They want to know that you made the end as satisfying as the beginning and worth the hours spent reading the book. Some even read endings before they buy the book. Remember-deadline or not- an ending is a terrible thing to waste. Do the work and readers will keep coming back for more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Be Prepared for Randomness

The book publishing business is extremely random. I know many writers who plot and plan and are certain they figured out the key to success. Then a flood hits the publisher's warehouse and half their print run never makes it to store shelves. Their books are delivered to a Walmart or Sam's and the pallet containing them sits on the dock or gets left out in the rain. The guy who stocks the shelves gets sick and this week's books are returned as next week's arrive. Your e-book gets lost in the pile of 1,500 other new e-books that came out that month.
But let's say everything works in your favor. You do several signings with good solid turnouts and your books seem to be selling like hotcakes. Surely you made a local best seller list...only to discover the list decided not to report the two weeks during which your book came out for internal staff reasons. Or your debut-which you sold as a hard cover-yes!- comes out the same day as Nora Robert's, James Patterson, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and four other best sellers. Bookstores stock best sellers. Readers buy best sellers first.
Why am I telling you these depressing things? I want you to write because you want to write. I want you to know that you are writing for you first. Yes, study the market place and polish your work and send it out to good agents and try for the best publishers. Yes, do it! (It shows respect for yourself, your talent and your story.) But don't write genre fiction if you're looking for easy cash, *snort* or bestseller fame. Or even respect from critics and the book world. You won't make it very long if these are the things that motivate you because they are the things you cannot control.
In the beginning and in the end, a successful fiction writing career depends on your love of your story, your happiness with your characters, your joy of bringing to life the stories in your head. When that is enough then, whether you publish well or not, you are successful.
My wish for you this week is that you find the joy in your work. cheers~

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing Fresh

When writing a novel the first question anyone asks is, "So, what is your story about?" Some people answer with an elevator pitch--a sentence that gives the particulars. Such as, "A seemingly random murder leads a blogger into an international race to create a mind control device."
Sounds good-now, what kind of story is it? What is your theme? Who has written something like it before? How does this compare? What type of reader would buy this? How are you going to make it "fresh?"

Those are the questions that always stop me in my tracks. But they are the questions you should answer before you begin to write your story. They are the questions that will ensure the book is marketable. For nearly twenty years I've struggle with the question of theme and fresh. I've experimented with saying things like-"think Cinderella with a twist." But this isn't enough. It's weak. It doesn't really answer the questions. It doesn't really explain the story concept or how it fits in the market. It doesn't tell the editor/agent what makes it fresh.
I've recently discovered three steps that help me answer those important questions.
Step one: write down your concept and then take the time to research. Find two or three books that are similar to your concept. Read them. Dissect them. Find out what worked and what didn't work. Write down how you would do things differently.
Step two: determine what type of book you are writing and make sure you have all the elements for that particular kind of story. A good book to help with this is Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat Goes to the Movies." He lists a variety of story types and their essential three or four elements. For example: A "Monster in the House" story needs a monster with supernatural powers; a house or small enclosed setting and a sin--someone who is guilty of bringing the monster into the house. But another element that must be found in a "Monster in the House" story is a "half man." Someone who has survived a similar situation and warns the hero. In "Harry Potter," the boy, Harry, literally is saved by a "half man" in the form of a centaur in the woods who warns him of dangers to come.
I discovered that two books I'm currently plotting are "Dude with a Problem" stories. The elements are an innocent hero/heroine; a sudden event that comes without warning; and a life or death battle. But also found in this type of story is an "eye of the storm" moment where the hero/heroine "finds a partner who is a friendly ally in a sea of trouble." Now I know the type of story and the readers' expectations.
Step three: determine how your theme fits in your story type.
My theme of survival for one story includes a Law Enforcement Problem. The second is a Domestic Problem. This is how the two stories vary and what makes them fresh.
Taking the time to go through these three steps and answering the questions before you begin your story will help you understand how your story can be "fresh" and still be marketable. Remember we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead we are trying to make the wheel more efficient/funny/fresh.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Perhaps a Writer's Retreat

I am exhausted. Have no idea why, except for the two submissions I got out last week and then the Master's degree deadline on Monday. The two critiques I had to do. I have four or five friends with books that released Tuesday. I've already gotten a rejection for one of last week's submissions and still haven't heard that the other arrived--need to check on that. I realized that my website needs updating. I'm reading three books at once--a nice hat trick--using every spare moment to crack one open and read a few bits. I discovered this morning I missed a promo opportunity. Two others appeared on my doorstep that I need to seriously consider. And that is just my writing life, I won't mention the rest of it. I saw it was time to blog here and I thought. No... I'll just leave last week's up. But that's a bit lazy, isn't it?
So, I thought I'd simply be honest. Let you know that sometimes the "glamorous" life of a writer is exhausting. Trust me when I say nothing good gets written when you are exhausted. So, I decided to take this week off. The last thing I want to do is interrupt your busy writing life with a blog that has nothing useful in it. (I am hoping that at least the photo gives you a laugh.)
Hopefully next week I'll have something useful for you. In the meantime, please make sure you take a moment for yourself. Cheers~

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to Write Right

"You should write, first of all, to please yourself. You shouldn't care a damn about anybody else at all. But writing can't be a way of life; the important part of writing is living. You have to live in such a way that your writing emerges from it." ~ Doris Lessing

I love this quote. As genre writers it is easy to get caught up in page counts, trends, "rules," contests, etc. Especially in the current environment when multi-published authors, what used to be called mid-list authors, are struggling with the newbies to sell work. Publishers are struggling to stay in business. Editors are losing their jobs and turning into agents and advances are so low that agents can't support themselves full time. It feels like desperate times and as writers we can get caught up in it all. I've been in a mood lately to say-"Stop the madness!"
Take a deep breathe and a step back. Ask yourself why you started writing in the first place. Was it love of words? Love of story? To get the characters out of your head? (This doesn't work-when you get done with one another pops up. sigh.)
Were you lured in by people telling you that you are a good writer-gifted even? Did thoughts of success on the scale of Nora Roberts or Stephanie Meyer twinkle before your eyes?
Do you find yourself with a bitter taste in your mouth- wondering what the heck happened. Or are you still desperately chasing trends, beating yourself up every time someone else sells?
Again, I say, Stop the madness! Stay with me here-take a deep breathe and let it out slow.
Now-let's review. 1) You are a gifted writer. You are. Believe that. But there are a lot of gifted writers. Just as their are a lot of gifted singers-some make the top forty, some make it to opera or Broadway, some sing at Disney world or on cruise ships and some sing at church. Each are as valid and gifted as the next.
2) Be yourself. Nora is Nora. That spot is already taken. Your friend who just sold three vampire books-that's her journey not yours. Stop trying to imitate.Yes, imitation is the highest form of flattery and we kid ourselves by saying-well, if it worked for them it will work for me. (This feels true when more than one friend sells in something you don't write. You start to second guess. You start to wonder if perhaps you should change over to YA steampunk. Of course, you'll have to research it and such because you were working on a cozy mystery...)
3) Live your life. Get a job, meet with friends, take a walk-you can't write about life if you are holed up in a closet pounding out four or five books a year in hopes that one of them sticks. Go into the city and watch people. Interview people in small towns. Discover occupations and the sorts of people who work them. If you are stuck at home with small children or job hunting, take walks. Make note of the seasons as they pass-the scents, the sights, the temperature of the air against your skin, the sound of lawnmowers or trains or traffic, the taste of water or seasonal fruit. All these things will make you a better writer.
And finally 4) celebrate your victories great and small and celebrate the victories of others. Life is too short not to have a party now and then. Or at the very least some virtual champagne and chocolate.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Importance of Being, or Passive Voice

Fiction novelists are story tellers. Maybe I should be even clearer than that- genre fiction novelists are story tellers. The work is about the story. It is NOT--I can't repeat this enough--NOT about grammar rules. Have I made you upset yet? Trust me when I say this, a strong story will win every time over excellent writing skills. A professor made this comment in one of my break out sessions, "we graduated this fellow who had a genius for writing, but he could not tell a story to save his soul."
What does this have to do with learning passive voice? A lot. Many writers mistake strong writing skills for strong story telling. They will tell people to be sure that they "never" use passive voice. Every sentence must be active so your story sings or...you will never be published. dum, dum, duuuum. Trust me the last thing a writer wants to hear is that they will "never" be published. And so, they diligently go through and get rid of every 'to be' verb in their 75,000 word manuscript. Why? Because everyone knows that 'to be' verbs are passive. And, passive means...you will "never" be published. Gah!
Relax, my friends. According to an excellent paper from The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, entitled Passive Voice, the above revelation is a myth.
It is myth number 2 "Any use of the verb 'to be' constitutes the passive voice." Wrong. "The passive voice entails more than using a being verb. Using 'to be" can weaken the impact of your writing, but it is occasionally necessary and does not by itself constitute the passive voice."
Myth number 4 will have rule followers shaking in their boots. It is a myth to say, "you should never use the passive voice. While the passive voice can weaken the clarity of your writing, there are times when the passive voice is okay and even preferable."
To which I say, YES! Writers waste too much time worrying about getting rid of the word "was" in their stories and not enough time looking at conflict, character growth, strength of scene and over all plot development. Why? Because it somehow "feels" easier to cling to basic "rules" like search and destroy all 'to be' verbs and repetitive words-when those things are the last things you should work on. Note: I did not say not to work on them. What I'm saying is that they are not as important as the story.
Don't let passive voice "rules" bog you down revising and polishing the first three chapters when what you really need to work on is the more ambiguous scene, sequel, story plot, character arc and sharp dialogue.
It is the story that you need to spend time polishing. It is the story that will ultimately sell a book. When you write a story, write it as if your life depends upon keeping the reader turning pages. If you can do that, then you will sell your book.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Writing and Identifying theme in your work

I don't know if you do, but I struggle understanding and identifying the specific theme of my stories. I went looking for a definition. According to Dictionary.com, theme when used as a noun is defined several ways: 1) a subject of discourse, discussion, meditations or composition..., 2) a unifying or dominating idea or motif..., 3) a short informal essay, a school composition, 4) music..., 5) grammar, the element common to all or most of the forms of an inflection paradigm, often consisting of a root with certain formative elements or modifications... (Huh?)
Truthfully whether you "get" it or not theme is one of the most important things about a story and is integral to plot. Theme is the reason you write the story. It is what you, as the author, are telling the world. Knowing and understanding the theme you are exploring in your work will keep you on track and it will help you explain the work to agents and editors.
According to Suite101.com, there are two kinds of themes in writing, implied truth themes and simple themes. Most of my books have implied truth themes such as "love will prevail but it's not always easy," or "you are more than you think you are," and "no where is safe." Simple themes are one word themes such as "courage," "survival," "friendship," "sacrifice," and "growth."
Once you have identified your working theme be sure to state it early on in the work. Perhaps not literally but strongly.
Ex: one character can say to another, "there is more going on here than meets the eye." And the other can answer with a shake of the head, "you are one of those conspiracy theory crazies, aren't you?"
Or a character can pass a man on the street holding a sign that says, "The end of the world is near." Even if it's only the end of the character's marriage or career. It states the theme of the book. And begs the question, now what?
Putting theme into words is one of the hardest parts of story telling and yet, if you take the time to discover your theme, it will give you a clear path to follow whether you plot or pants your story. It will also help you with your tag line, synopsis and pitch. Don't just ramble, people, know what it is you want to say and then make sure you say it in a clear and concise manner.
Does theme come easy or hard for you? Do you find what you think is your theme but then readers find something else in your work? Does your theme change over the course of your writing? Curious minds want to know. Cheers~

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Writing through stress

Okay, so I cheat a bit. This topic came straight from a chat I attended for the Master's program last night. But so many people showed up to talk about stress that I thought it might be a good topic to address today.
Let's face it there are many things in life you have no control over. As writers, we love to have complete control over the lives and worlds our characters live in and, after a while, we get frustrated when the "real" world does not act the way we think it should. We throw conflicts into our characters lives to drive plot and create character growth but conflict in our own lives drives us mad. We tend to procrastinate. An "I'll deal with it later" attitude would get cut from our character's lives because there is only so much room on a page. Perhaps we should think of that in our own lives. There are truly only so many days in your life-if we turn into Scarlett O'Hara and say "Tomorrow is another day." We slow down the pace of success in our own lives and slow down our character growth, thus creating our own stress.

Sometimes we create our own stress-procrastination, poor eating, lack of vitamins or exercise- because we are bored. Stress gives us something to think about or do, but these kinds of stresses can effect our writing and our own personal character growth.

Sometimes we put stress on ourselves to live the perfect life to be the perfect person. We've all grown up in a world filled with advertising. The successful person washes with X soap. The healthful person has the white smile and the crazy flat abs. Everyone in "Ad land" lives in huge up-to-date houses. They all fill their weekends with less spending and more doing-single handed remodeling bathrooms from gutting to tile and grout to plumbing. Our yards are supposed to be picture perfect. Our cars well maintained and always clean. Our kids should have every toy, eat perfectly nutritious foods, enjoy cookouts and games and cakes the size of New England. How do we reconcile this with the size of our paychecks? With the age of our homes? With the bills that are due? With the slowness of old computers?With kids who get sick or have tantrums or parents who get sick and need care. With family members diagnosed with cancer. With deaths of loved ones due to war or accidents or flesh eating bacteria.

The real world is messy and unpredictable and most of the time our own character growth is hard-unlike those we write about. Fantasy and reality are so wide apart we are stressed by the differences.

For some writers, stress fuels their passion. The more going on the better they write. For others, stress freezes them in place like a deer in the headlights. Goals, dreams, deadlines slip away.

How do we combat this?

First off find out what is your optimal amount of stress. What causes you to work better without over whelming you. Use this as your best indicator. Try not to stray to far one way or the other from this. Next, organize your life and prioritize your actions based on your personal stress baseline. Finally, do your best with your health-I don't mean lose those 40 pounds today. I mean get up and take a ten minute walk around the block. Drink water. Ensure you get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. And, when you have to, feel free to do something silly, like step into your coat closet and scream your head off.

Remember you can't control the stress that comes your way-but you can control how you react to it. Find your base line and live the life that works best around it. Not the false life of advertisements, or the "You have to do x to be happy or published" life of others who want to control you. Think of your life like the pages of your book and edit thoughtfully.

These are some of my tricks for combating stress. What are yours?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Building Characters

Do your characters come to you fully formed? Or do you create them from the ground up? No matter which way they arrive at your door, you can use character building tricks to add quirks, foibles and realistic human traits to create depth to your characters which in turn will take your plots to greater heights.
So where do you start? Start with the very basics--goals, motivation and conflict. Seems simple, right? And yet time after time I have seen writers have to rewrite entire chapters because they are wondering about. Their characters have no purpose-no goal in the scene. If they have a goal such as attending the school of their choice then you need to motivate the reason why. It needs to be a strong motivation to vigorously move the story forward and keep the reader from thinking your characters are too stupid to live. Once you have them with a goal-in each scene-and strongly motivated you need to build internal conflicts that drive them to change. Here's an example of an internal conflict: as a small child the protag watched her mother struggle raising babies. She internalized that babies are bad. Therefore she has made the internal decision to never have children. Now-she finds herself either a) pregnant or b) in love with a man who has or loves children or c) must rescue a baby and bring it on her journey. This means that the character has to change her fear or dislike of babies to move forward. GMC is the basic building blocks of creating a character-even an evil villain.
Now- let's flesh your character out a bit. Some people do a family study. What I mean is that they assign the character a place in a family-oldest, middle, youngest or only child and use psychological profiles of these child placements to add depth to characters.
Another method is to do an astrology chart on your character- are they a Pisces? A Leo or a creative Aquarius? How does this help or hurt them? What descriptors can you take from horoscopes to add to your character. Remember people/characters are a million pieces of the world around them.
I sat through a wonderful workshop on Personality theory. The speaker gave us Freudian Hang ups, Archetypes and Trait Perspectives based on what he knew as a psychologist. People in all fields categorize other people-socially and by personality. Do a little research and you can use these categories and descriptors to flesh out your characters to create 3 dimensional beings in your story.
I have mentioned self help books in past blogs. Some of these can help you to create characters that real life readers can identify with. For instance someone overcoming bad relationships, someone overcoming childhood trauma or even weight issues, health issues, disability issues-all can be heroes or villains. I have this great book called Personology--the precision approach to charting your life, career and relationships. It gives who you are and your traits based on your year of birth, your astrological sign, your Chinese zodiac, etc. No- you don't have to believe in these things to write strong characters, but you can use the information offered to add details to your characters.
Think of the Goal, Motivation and Conflict as the skeleton for your character. The flesh and details come from their experiences, zodiac sign, family traits and personality traits. Finally you add in eye color, skin color and hair. Some people will do a search of photos and print them out or cut them out to pin up so that they always have a visual of their character. Think of a photo in the opening of a police file on someone. It's all there--anything and everything you want to know about your character. Now that you know them inside and out you understand how they will act and react in any situation and you set them free inside the world you built last week and see what happens.
What is your favorite method for character building? Have I left anything out? Is there anything you would like to blog about in detail? Let me know. Cheers~

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Self Care for Writers

It's been a long busy summer filled with the demands of family and friends. Today the local school children go off to school. College starts this week. It is time to take a good hard look at ourselves and our personal goals.
Most writers (men and women) are highly sensitive to their environments. It's how we "come up with those ideas." We see things in different ways and open ourselves to experiences. In other words, many writers have very few personal boundaries. We see it. We absorb it. We let it get in our face. We let it take over our lives. (Whatever it is that currently fascinates us.) We get caught up in story or article or marketing or puzzle or plot and completely forget about the fact that we are in there somewhere.
Writers in sandwich generations find themselves caring for both children and parents. They find themselves writing at 2 am because that's the only free time they have. Sleep is not as important as deadline. Food is not as important as deadline-or worse, we write with a bowl of chips or candies beside us, talking with our hands but chewing with our mouths. We forgo exercise in order to get in one more page or plot point.
If you don't work outside the home office, then you may forgo haircuts, and shopping for anything but necessities-unless you are shopping for kids or parents. Because you are not even aware of yourself as a person. It's a great trick for story telling without author intrusion, but it is not a great way to live.
If you are not healthy, your stories suffer. I'm talking about mental health and physical health. Stop for a moment and step away from the big fat pile of stress in your life. View it as an uninvolved observer. Amazing isn't it?
Fall is a good time to look in the mirror and smile at the person you see there. Think about them as your best friend and the most important person in your life. Because -guess what-they are. All those people who depend on you -children, parents, editors, agents, readers-are shortchanged if you don't find the time to take care of yourself. Trust me, no one else is going to do it for you.
Make a plan to help yourself out. Think of a ten minute walk as important as picking the kids up from school-as important as revising that last page another time. If you get a rejection-stop telling yourself you're a loser who will never make it. Stop being embarrassed that you are somehow inferior. Neither of these things is true and you certainly wouldn't tell a friend that. Instead celebrate the fact that someone read your work. That you did the work and got it out there. Know that you will learn. You can't help but learn. Take breaks from writing if you need to. Take care of your health in small ways- switch from coffee and soda to ice or hot water with lemon. Make a rule that there is no food near your computer. Save that as celebration for finishing a page. Get up, walk away from your desk before you eat. My office is upstairs. All the food is downstairs. So I have to do at least two sets of stairs-down then up to eat anything. It pulls me out of the book, makes me aware of what I'm doing, and I like to think the exercise somehow takes a handful of calories off whatever I eat. Not into eating? (Well, some people aren't. I don't know them, but I hear that writers can forget to eat.) Set a timer in another room for 60 minutes. Yes, it pulls you out of your work, but it also means you have to get up and walk over and turn it off. It sets a limit which allows you to see what you can do in 60 minutes as well as making you move and stretch. A simple stretch can bring a new and brilliant thought into your head.
Now is the time, before Fall deadlines and queries and holidays, to notice the person in the mirror and take small steps to make them the most important person in your life. Your writing will be better for it. Hey, go out and buy yourself flowers-yes, even you guys. They will sit on your desk and remind you that you are more than what you do. Cheers~

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Rule of Threes

Years ago I attended a workshop by author Alfie Thompson on using movies to guide and plot your fiction. It was while sitting in her workshop that I learned about the rule of threes in writing. Alfie contends that no matter how improbable something is, if your reader sees it three times they tend to buy into the idea. Thus the writer's rule of threes. Alfie's example was the movie "While You Were Sleeping." She asked us to note in the opening "ordinary world" how the screenwriter and director showed two random people slipping on sidewalk ice. The one I remember most is the paperboy who was on a bike, threw the paper and slipped in a safe yet comical way. The audience laughed. It seemed to set the tone that this movie was going to be funny and charming. Alfie told us that the reason for showing these two people-who have nothing to do with the story- slipping on ice in the opening was to set up for a later scene. The only other time in the entire movie anyone slips on the ice is when the hero and heroine are crossing the sidewalk and the heroine slips. The hero helps her up establishing a socially forbidden closeness and then slips himself, taking her back down with him and ripping his pants. Then, after much pawing and sliding, when they both safely slide off the ice the hero asks the heroine if he can borrow her pants since his pair is ripped. The heroine disclaims in horror that she would rather kill herself then fit into his pants.
This was a charming way of allowing the characters to touch each other intimately at a time when they would not usually pass that boundary and also brings the focus to both the heroine's slenderness and the hero's manly physic. It is a scene that gets them thinking about each other in a more intimate way- it is also the only time there is a patch if ice on the sidewalk. No one thinks of the ice as a plot device because the opening established in two small isolated incidences that the sidewalks are slippery.
Storytellers use the rule of threes to bring believability to a story. This is why, in my previous blogs on The Hero's Journey and World Building, I mention to have incidents or trials come in threes. Thus allowing the reader to believe that something can happen readily in your story and is never pulled out of the story or surprised when purple bats attack.
Next time you are watching a movie or a television show pay attention to the small details and see if you can spot the rule of three slipped into the story. For more interesting ways to use movies in your fiction, check out Alfie's book, "Lights, Camera, Fiction."
What ways do you use the rule of three in your work?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

World Building for non scifi/fantasy writers

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about the wonderful World Building for YA seminar given by the amazing Shelley Bates that I attended as part of my MFA residency program. Many of you have asked for more information about world building as we all sort of assumed that was a term for science fiction or fantasy writers. Let's face it there are a lot of witches, vampires, werewolves and zombies out there right now, but what if you were writing a contemporary story set in small town Kansas. Do you need world building? The answer to that is yes.
Here's why:
Many readers, lets face it most of your readers including your agent and editor, have never lived in a small town in Kansas. They have no clue what people dress like, talk like (Trust me, I've gotten more question marks from my editor on common Midwest sayings in my writing then I ever imagined.) and how their values and points of view are different than say someone from New York City. I imagine the same thing is true if you are writing a book set in Los Angeles or New York or Seattle. You have to understand that more than half your readers may have never been there and so you need to build a world around your characters that gives the reader a solid sense of time, place and rules of action and behavior.
Where do you start? In the ordinary world-what is their life like? The protag has learned to navigate their world and as a writer you should think about what this reveals about the character-what strengths and what weaknesses. Establish a social order- things are very different on a working ranch versus a highrise office job. A trip to work might entail a beat up Chevy truck or a commuter train; endless expanse of rolling plains or elbowed standing room only space on a bus.
Shelley taught us to create the world by working down, working out and working in. Ask yourself what is the dominate element in the setting? Let's say the windswept prairie to show vast expanse, the smallness of humans, the struggle between nature and man-as you write, you narrow your focus from the prairie to the protag. This is working down. Then you show the story from the character's point of view-let's say your character lives on an old ranch and works in a donut shop in a small town. She drives to work at 4 a.m. in her beat up Chevy. The road is bumpy and rugged and dark. There might be cracks in the dash from years of hot sun coming in the window. The material on the roof might sag. There could be an old empty gun rack in the back. The radio plays the stock report or weather forecast or country songs. It goes in and out as she drives through small valleys. A coyote crosses her path, she swerves and ends up in the ditch. Now she's late, maybe it's her last chance to keep her job. It's a half mile hike to the closest house and a five mile hike into town. She gets out, kicks the car in frustration, and heads out thankful that she's wearing white nurses shoes that are made for standing for long periods and walking for hours. It smells of night and dew and rain coming. Robins sing cheerfully worsening her mood because the next house over belongs to old man Simmons and he has no patience for stupid drivers and more importantly white trash Paisely women. Sue Paisely knows that her family has never been good enough, not since her great great grandpa refused to be run off when the oil and cattle barons were buying up or stealing all the land they could get their hands on.
Finally, Shelley said that your character's knowledge-such as Sue's knowledge about her family and how the town thinks of her is building the world from within. Her actions and reactions help to build and change the world she's in. Will she knock on the old man's door or walk the five miles into town?
World building is done with details great and small, but most importantly not all at once. If you add them all at once you are what we call, data dumping, or showing the reader how much research you did. World building is an art form of its own. I hope these small tips can get you started. Most importantly stick to the rules of your world. If the town sees her one way not much will change that-what will change is how the character feels about it. Remember Harry Potter didn't return to his Aunt's house a hero, but he returned with internal knowledge that there was more to life then his Aunt's small minded views.
Questions? Please let me know and I'll be happy to explain. Cheers~