Christian editors · Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

Writing the Story, Part 5

Where: Location, Location, Location—It’s Not Just Important for Real Estate!

Where-are-youLocation is more than just a place on a map. It has a real affect on the behavior and attitude of your characters too. The obvious issue is urban vs. suburban vs. rural, and this factor will definitely predominate whether the story takes place in the United States, Europe, or Africa.  But there are other things too, from food preferences to sports to laws, requiring your attention as you write of people in other places.

Scale, or How We Visualize Distances

Distance and transportation access are real issues affecting characters in any story location, but this also includes a very real change in scale, or how people view distances from place to place. For example, back in 1982, I spent eight weeks in a little place in Scotland called Edrom, which was quite rural and surrounded by sheep farms. One day we had the opportunity to attend a concert in Edinburgh. Coming from the Pacific Northwest in the United States, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It was less than fifty miles—just over an hour away—but they packed the car as though for an entire day’s outing. Back home, my parents commuted an hour and a half each way to Seattle every day, a commute that included over an hour on a Washington State ferry, so it was difficult for me—who’d grown up in a very large scale area—to relate to the much smaller scale mind-set of the Scots.

Forty-eight miles was a long way to drive in Scotland in those days, but because my family had driven the 3,000 miles coast to coast across America three times back in the 1960s, I knew what real long distances looked like. (These family trips occurred in 1965 and 1966 before the U.S. Interstate system was completed, so we took the much slower U.S. highways most of the way.) My new friends in Scotland couldn’t even imagine those kinds of distances living in a country that was only 874 miles from the extreme southwest tip to the extreme northeast tip. When everything in your country is less than a thousand miles away, you simply don’t have the same perspective on distance as we do here in America, just as people who never leave New York or Washington, D.C., can never really understand how challenging it can be to get from city to city in the fly-over zone, and why we must have cars to get anywhere.

How Big or How High?

If you do live in the fly-over zone in America and have never been to a coast, you can’t know what a big body of water feels like. Yes, you can look at pictures, but pictures and even movies cannot replace knowing personally what it is like to stand on a Pacific or Atlantic beach. There is an immenseness to an ocean that you can’t get from any other body of water. At the same time, someone who only knows the crowded beaches of Atlantic City or Malibu can’t really picture what it’s like to walk along an empty, wild stretch of beach on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula on a rainy day.

 Likewise, mountains feel quite different, depending upon what you have experienced. A story set in the Rockies or the Cascades will not read the same as a story set in the Appalachians or the Great Smokey Mountains, where altitude and year-round snow won’t be an issue. I remember when I was a kid, going back east to visit family and driving up into the Appalachians with my aunt and uncle to pick up one of my cousins at summer camp “in the mountains.” We got there, and my sister and I asked, “Where are the mountains?” Believe me, once you’ve crossed the Rockies or stood at the 10,000-foot level of Mount Rainier, every other mountain range, short of the Himalayas, seems small!

Why These Things Matter

The old adage, “Write what you know,” can be good advice when you’re telling a story, because, of course, it cuts out all sorts of necessary research. A simple scene in a restaurant can tell readers a lot about what the author knows about regional preferences. For example, my Southern friends can’t understand why I don’t like seafood, when in fact I do like it very much—when it’s not so spicy it bites back! (I have learned living in southern Mississippi that Cajun cooking is an acquired taste, and I am absolutely certain I will never acquire it!) Our Yankee visitors were sincerely shocked when they came to visit us while we were living in Kentucky and learned they had to drive fifty miles, or at least to the Tennessee state line, before they could buy any alcoholic beverages, since our county was dry. And just try wearing any jersey other than one from the New Orleans Saints’ during the NFL season in my current home town, and see how far you get without odd looks or comments.  These are the details that make a story come alive, but they can also trip up storytellers who decide to stretch the geographic boundaries of their writing without thinking things through.

 Remember, Research Is Your Friend . . .

This does not, of course, mean you need to go live someplace for a time before you can set a story there (though it might be fun), but you do need to be aware of the unique characteristics inherent in any location you select and research accordingly.  Read books—both fiction and nonfiction—set in your location of choice and see how other writers deal with the specifics of a location’s topography and culture. Travel guides, memoirs, autobiographies, or even interviews can help you get a feel for a place through the firsthand experience of others.

 The next time, we’ll look at the “why? or the “so what?” of a story.


team.Laura.120x140

 

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 


Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

Advertisements
Christian editors · Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

Writing the Story, Part 4

When: Timing Is Everything

timing-is-everything (1)They say timing is everything, and it certainly is when you’re writing a story. I’m reading a novel right now set in 1982, and oh what technology these characters do not have at their disposal! I’ve mentioned before the Larry D. Sweazy series set in rural North Dakota in the 1960s (see Also Murder: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery, Seventh Street Books, 2015), when most home phones—if they even had one—were party lines. And remember Sleeepless in Seattle (1993), in which Tom Hanks and his son escort a lady all the way to her gate at SeaTac airport?

I have written about doing research on “ Historical Stuff” (see October 12, 2018) in order give your writing credibility with your readers, but it is more than just whether or not a character needs to find a payphone and a nickel (or a dime or a quarter?) in order to make a phone call. There are also the intangibles, those worldview changes that affect an entire society when something extraordinary happens, whether it’s the invention of the automobile, the Emancipation Proclamation, or 9/11.

Three Examples of Major Worldview Changes

Travel

The ability of the average Joe to move from one place to another has changed so drastically over the years I think we forget the dramatic impact this has had on human society. I’m told by those who visit there that one of biggest surprises in the Holy Land is how close everything is. We read Scripture and imagine hundreds of miles between events, when in reality there are actually only a handful of miles between the locals. But we assume—at least in the U.S.—that everything is farther apart, because when we travel for three days, we might put 1,500 miles on our car!

Even our own view of distance here in the United States changed dramatically as transportation improved. How different it must have been for someone in 1850 contemplating traveling to California by covered wagon than for someone living in the 1870s planning to travel by rail (following the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869). Even the changes in motor transportation between the mid-1960s (when my own family traveled by station wagon along U.S. Highways from Philadelphia, PA, to the Pacific Ocean) and today (when we have the vast Interstate network) alters how we think about distance.

 Ask yourself, “Where and when do my characters live, and how big or small is their worldview in light of how easy or how difficult it is to get from place to place?”

Credit

Try to imagine life without a credit card. I know there are a lot of Americans today who still don’t use credit cards for various reasons, but according to Gallup, that’s only 29 percent of us. The rest average 3.7 cards each. How will life be different for your characters if none of them have credit? If you are writing a story that takes place at a time when credit might be limited to the local general store, then your characters’ spending habits are going to be a whole lot different from today. And faced with an emergency, without credit, what can they do? What will their attitude be?

The Sanctity of Life

This is a significant issue, depending upon a story’s location and time, and a character’s view of this issue can prove a major part of your story. Does your story take place in ancient Rome, when people died by the hundreds of thousands in the various games? Does it take place in China, where until the 2015 abolishment of their one-child per family policy, untold numbers of girl babies were exposed? Are you writing about gunfighters and bank robbers in America’s wild, wild west?

This issue is a particularly timely one here in the United States, as attitudes ebb and flow concerning abortion and euthanasia. If you touch on either of these subjects, you have to be really aware of the prevailing attitude within the decade in which your story takes place. In the 1982 story I mentioned above, An Accidental Life (Pamela Binnings Ewen, B&H Publishing Group, 2015), a district attorney is prosecuting an abortionist, who is charged with second degree murder in the death of an infant who survived an abortion, only to be put aside to die. This act would have been outrageous at the time of the story, only nine years after Roe v. Wade made abortions legal in the United States, and even when Ewen published this book in 2015, readers might have still been shocked by the plot. But today, a number of states are passing laws legalizing infanticide.  How things have changed since the decade following Roe v. Wade—and how quickly they have escalated in just the past five years.

 And it’s not just about Roman, Chinese, or American law—the details of which you do need to get right for your story to be believable. It is also about social norms and attitudes. Times do change—sometimes radically—for example when even a handful of years ago a group of American lawmakers cheering infanticide would have been inconceivable.

Know the Time of Your Story

 This is why it is critical to know the time of your story well—and how it affects the cultural and social attitudes of your characters. As I’ve said before: read, read, READ! You may be writing fiction, but if you are dealing with a specific period in history—even recent history—you need to read primary documents published during the period in which your story is set. Head to the library or the Internet to find newspapers, popular magazines, and books published in the time frame that interests you. Ask yourself, “What are the critical issues of the period?” and “What were the prevailing attitudes of the people living in the kind of community about which I am writing?”

 When the average life-expectancy is nearing 80, people behave quite differently than they do when it is only 40. When most people never leave their hometown, their attitudes will generally be provincial rather than global. If your characters live in a time where most people never go beyond the eighth grade, they will not see the same world as those living at a time in which college is the norm. If you want your characters to be “real” to your readers, you owe it to them to put your characters in the right mind-set for the time period in which they live.

Next time we’ll look at location, and how it can affect your story.

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

Developing the What? of Your Story

What is your story? - Comic book style phrase on abstract background.The “What?” of your story is the plot.  What happens to your characters? What do they do? What adventures do they have?  What is the action of the story? The Three Little Pigs provides some pretty funny characters, but there is no plot until the Big Bad Wolf comes calling. A hike through the woods can be beautiful, but it’s not much of a story unless . . . one of the teens in the party steps off the trail and gets lost . . . a late/early winter storm strands your characters in the wilderness . . . a mamma bear takes exception to your characters getting between her and her cubs . . . a dead body riddled with bullets is found at the base of a cliff. Setting and characters are important, of course, but they are not the thing that prompts your readers to keep turning the page.

 It is the plot—the action—that drives the story. Whether it’s a romance, a mystery, an adventure, a comedy of errors, a space epic, or a western—whatever the genre—the plot is the story.

To Outline or Not to Outline, That Is the Question.

Using an outline to write a story is an age-old trick to help writers get started and stay on track, but an outline it not an absolute necessity. Some writers can’t write without an outline, and some never use one. This is another one of those “it depends” topics. For me, an outline is a useful tool when (1) I have an assignment to write about a certain topic, and I don’t want to miss something I was supposed to include; or (2) I have a specific and firm number of words and/or pages to write.

(1) When you don’t want to leave anything out:

When I was in school, I almost always used an outline to make sure I covered the material I was researching thoroughly. From my first college paper back in the dark ages, when I was pounding out papers on a typewriter, to my twenty-first century master’s thesis composed on a computer—and all those essay exams I wrote long-hand in between—I used this writing technique. I still will use an outline when I’m writing nonfiction for the same reason. I generally don’t actually use a formal outline, but I do make a list of points I wanted to cover, move them around until I feel they are in a logical, linear order, and then sort my research into the appropriate sections. It is a way for me to check off each subtopic and make certain I use all the resources I want to use in the proper place.

(2) When you have a firm page/word count:

Today, I’ll use outlines when I ghost write short stories, because if I am assigned to write a complete story in 4,000 or 6,000, or 10,000 words, I need to figure out ahead of time what scenes I’ll need in order to tell the entire story. Again, I don’t do a formal outline, but I will do a list of needed scenes, note what has to happen in each, who needs to appear when, and through whose point of view the scene should be told. Then once I have the number of scenes, I can get a general idea of how long each scene needs to be to reach the final word count.

I don’t, however, use any kind of outline for a novel. For me, that’s the joy of writing book-length fiction. I start with a general idea of a plot, create the characters, set them up, and then just let them go. For me, part of the adventure of writing book-length fiction is that I can create the scene, place the characters, then sit back and watch what happens as I write. Sometimes, I end up with a 60-page novella and sometimes a 400-page epic. It just depends on how the story unfolds—and how long my characters want to play in my story.

Plays and screenplays—the ultimate outline:

 Drama—whether a full-length stage play, a one-act, a television script, or a screenplay—is particularly wedded to a certain number of pages, making a loose outline imperative for me as a writer.  The general rule for script writing is, on average, one page of a script equals one minute on stage. This is, of course, a very general rule, because how long a page takes depends entirely upon how much action is required. A page of straight dialogue will generally take about a minute to run, but other issues, such as conflict, choreography, laughter, romance, etc., can change everything.

 Again, when I’m writing plays or screenplays, I don’t do a formal outline but rather think in terms of the acts and scenes needed to tell the story in an effective way. Come to think of it, what I’m really doing is what in the movie business is called creating a storyboard. I am certain my background in theater—my first fiction writing was a full-length play script—is what has me always thinking about story in terms of scenes and dialogue. This has always made it pretty easy for me to write effective dialogue in my fiction, but it did make moving from brief “stage directions” to narrative prose a challenge when I first started writing novels.

Focusing on the Plot

 I am currently in the middle of turning one of my novels into a screenplay, and boy has this exercise given me a new appreciation for those screenwriters who take on book adaptations! The decisions about which scenes must be included and which can be cut are sometimes agonizing—after all, they were all necessary to the original story when I wrote it!—but this exercise has also given me incredible insight into what makes a scene truly essential to the plot of a story, and how clearly narration should be kept to a minimum. “Show, don’t tell” is a lot easier in a play, because unless you create a narrator as a character (think of musicals like Once Upon a Mattress or Into the Woods), the plot is completely defined by dialogue and action, leaving all descriptive narration up to the scenic designer and costumer.

 This move from prose to play script is an exercise you might want to explore, if you have, for example, a long story you need to cut for a contest or magazine submission. Try rewriting it as a play script, cutting your page count in half as you do so. The scene analysis required by this exercise will help you to really focus on the plot—the core of your story—allowing you to see which scenes really are essential in order to tell the story, and which might actually prove superfluous.

Next time, we’ll look at the “When” of a story and the details that put it in its place.

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

storytelling · writing tips

WRITING THE STORY, PART 2 (continued)

More “Who”: Secondary Characters

"WHO?" Vector Overlapping Letters IconWhile you have to pay special attention to your primary characters, secondary characters are equally important to a story. If you’re not certain of what I mean, pull out a DVD of a movie you think is particularly good, watch the movie, then study the credits at the end of the film. (For this exercise, you will probably need to watch something produced since the mid-1970s, because earlier films did not include every Tom, Dick, and Sally in the credits.) As you watch the credits run, note the characters identified only by the role they played: “Boy on the Bus,” “Checkout Girl,” “Dog Groomer,” “Man on the Corner.” Think about these characters for a moment and try to picture what they contributed to the story. Did an interaction with this “extra” character tell you anything about the main characters? Did their actions contribute to the plot? Was it important that your high-paid lawyer put some money into that scruffy guy’s cup, or did he just brush the beggar off? How did this interaction contribute to your understanding of this major character and the story?

I once edited a story about a princess, and one of the things that struck me while reading it was how empty the castle was. The princess had only one lady-in-waiting; no one brought her bath water, no one laid her fire, the halls were empty as she moved from her rooms to the front door and stepped into a waiting carriage. No one accompanied her into the city on her errand—not a lady-in-waiting or a groom. The story felt empty because while the writer had done well in developing her main characters, she’d skipped the “extras”—those characters that add reality to a story, not necessarily by something they say or do but rather by just being there, helping to define the time, the place, the action, and the behavior of your main characters.

 How Many, and How to Keep Track of All of Them?

There is no set number of characters or “extras” required for a story, of course. The entire story might contain only one little boy in a sand box. It might be a cast of thousands in a space opera. The number that is “right” is the number it takes to tell your story—not one more or one less. And every one of them, like every object or action, must contribute to the story, even if only to point out a main character’s personality or set the mood for a scene.

The trick, if you’re like me, is keeping track of all those characters you write about, what they look like, and how they are related to one another. For this, I always create a “cast list” for my stories. I probably started doing this because my writing began in theater, but for me, keeping a separate file open as I write that contains a cast list is critical to keeping the characters in my stories straight in my head. It also works as a time-saving reference as I write.

Here’s an excerpt from my Cat & Mac Mysteries cast of characters:

Catherine (“Cat”) O’Sullivan (28): (pure and clean; descendant of the black/hawk-eyed one); a shapeshifter (black cat); an artist/gallery manager; born on the Queen Charlotte Islands to a Haida mother and white father; her aunt, cousin, grandmother, and great-grandmother are all shapeshifters. [green eyes; black hair]

Cahal (Mac) MacAlastair (33): (from “Cathal,” meaning “a great warrior”; son of Alastair, meaning “defender of the people”) homicide detective who’s burning out fast [hazel/brown eyes; dark brown hair]

Charlie Chang’s China Buffet

Aunt Charlotte (Trimble) Owens (shapeshifter – owl), Uncle Jack Owens (non-shifter, white): Owners of Dreamscape Gallery; Cat moved in with them as a child so Charlotte could help her to live with her shape-shifting nature; lived with them throughout her university years before going to work for them at Dreamscape.

Lucy: Cat’s cousin (also a shapeshifter – black bird); lives with husband in Nanaimo

Tommy: Lucy’s brother (not a shapeshifter); brilliant computer geek who created Dreamscape Gallery’s extensive security system

Náan: Cat’s grandmother; shapeshifter (cougar or lynx)

Tina (Trimble) O’Sullivan: Cat’s mom; Haida; an art teacher (doesn’t shift)

Mike O’Sullivan: Cat’s dad; a white teacher who, like Cat’s Uncle Jack, paid back his student loans by teaching in a Haida village school in the Queen Charlotte Islands, fell in love, and stayed

Mike, Jr., Carl, Matt: Cat’s older brothers; none are shapeshifters

Notice that I give more information for my main characters, including eye and hair color, so when I get to Episode 6 or 7, my green-eyed heroine won’t suddenly have brown eyes. I also threw in Charlie Chang’s China Buffet, a fictional restaurant I put in Seattle’s International District because I knew my characters would eat from there often, and I didn’t want the restaurant changing names along the way.

So try creating a cast list—and don’t forget to add every new character as they first appear in your story. You may be surprised by a seemingly incidental character from Chapter 1 who suddenly pops up again in Chapter 12—and how much time you’ll save when you can simply go to your cast list to find out what his name is.

Next time, we’ll look at developing plots and ask the age-old writer’s question, “To outline or not to outline?”


team.Laura.120x140

 

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 


Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · Uncategorized · writing tips

Writing the Story, Part 2 continued

More on the “Who?”: Developing Characters

"WHO?" Vector Overlapping Letters IconCharacters are the heart of every story, and writing characters can be one of the joys—and headaches—of storytelling. For me, once the characters come to me, they stay in my head until their story is finished. They don’t always agree with me, either! Sometimes they will stop right in the middle of a scene I’m wrestling with, turn to me, and say, “I wouldn’t do that.” (And yes, thanks to my theater background, my characters do often stop to talk to me.)

The important thing for a writer to remember is that characters must evolve throughout a story. They can’t be wholly good or wholly bad all the time. Even really good people have flaws—doubts, uncertainties, petty complaints, anxiety, irritability—and even characters who are truly evil weren’t born that way and will have something from their past worth exploring. If we want our characters to be realistic for our readers, they must be fully-developed, three-dimensional personalities. Otherwise, they won’t be believable. And they must change from the first page to the last, or there won’t be any story.

Naming of Characters: Does It Matter?

I have been known to spend a lot of time looking for just the right name for a character, but sometimes it’s just a matter of what sounds right at the moment of creation. To me, the only really important things to think about are that each name should “fit” the character (is he an “Ed” or an “Edward”?), and each should be unique enough for the reader to easily keep the characters straight. For example, I personally don’t like reading a story in which Pam and Cam are best friends (unless, of course, mistaking them for one another is part of the story). It would be much easier to keep the characters straight if it were Pam and Cindy.

Sometimes a name’s meaning can also weigh in on my decision. I actually like to search the Internet for baby names, their meanings and origins. I’ll do the same for surnames, if I want a character to be of a specific nationality. For example, in my Cat & Mac Mysteries, I did both. Cat is Catherine O’Sullivan. She was born to a Haida mother and a white father in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. She also happens to be a shapeshifter who becomes a cat. The name Catherine means “pure and clean,” while O’Sullivan means “descendent of the black/hawk-eyed one.” These definitions helped me define her personality and character. I named Mac in the same way. He is a man who spends his life finding and protecting the innocent. His full name is Cahal (from Cathal, meaning “a great warrior”) MacAlastair (meaning “defender of the people”). Again, his name helps to define his character.

Do I go through this in-depth naming exercise with all my characters? No, because sometimes it doesn’t matter so much. For example, I used Samantha for my heroine in A Chance for Life, simply because she was supposed to have grown up a tomboy, and I thought “Sam” or “Sammie” would be a good nickname for her. Names, like story ideas, can literally come from anywhere.

When Describing Characters, Show . . . Don’t Tell!

Readers want to know what your characters look like, and we have all read books in which the narrator simply provides a physical description of the characters. But describing a character can be more than just giving their basic “five-two, brown, and black.” If that’s all you give your readers, then you are missing a great opportunity to flex your “show, don’t tell” muscles and really tell your readers about your character while describing his or her appearance. A character description can do more for the readers than simply tell them what a character looks like. For example . . .

You could simply tell your reader what your character looks like:

 Jane was short, with brown eyes and curly black hair.

Or you can show your reader what your character looks like—and a lot more…

 Jane gave up on getting the brush through her wildly curly black tangles and settled for pulling her hair back in a scrunchie. She had to stand on her toes so she could see her entire face in the bathroom mirror she shared with her older sisters, who had both been blessed with their Scandinavian mother’s tall, willowy build, striking blue eyes and silky, easily-tamed blond locks. Only Jane had inherited their father’s Mediterranean olive complexion, boring brown eyes, wild black hair, and short, skinny build. On a good day, she was thankful that, unlike the other women in her family, she didn’t have to trowel sunscreen on whenever she took a walk on the beach. On a bad day, she avoided going to the beach at all, since she didn’t have anything to fill out a bathing suit with, something her sisters wouldn’t hesitate to point out to their friends.

Short, brown, and black, sure, but now we also know (1) she has a dark complexion; (2) she’s envious of her sisters’ contrasting appearance; (3) she resents her sisters’ teasing her about her own appearance; (4) she has a boyish figure (doesn’t like to wear a bathing suit in public); and (5) she thinks her life would be better—or least less stressful—if she looked more like her mother and sisters.

So be creative! What can you character’s appearance tell the audience about his or her personality and lifestyle? Character descriptions can really add a lot to the story, if you’re willing to take the time to go beyond just the facts.

Next time, we’ll look at secondary, or supporting, characters and what they can add to a story.


team.Laura.120x140

 

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

 


 

 

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

WRITING THE STORY, PART 2

 Finding the Who? . . . What? . . . When? . . . Where? . . . and Why? of your story.

Whether you write fact or fiction, the traditional “five Ws” of writing must be given to your readers so they can know what the story is all about. Some writers will also add the “How?”—some stories demand it—but the key is getting all that information to your readers in a timely fashion and without boring them, so they keep turning the pages.

questions_framedI used to think short story writers had the real challenge. After all, if I’m writing an 85,000- or 100,000-word novel, I have plenty of time to get everything into the story. I was wrong, of course, because the truth is, if you want your readers to keep turning the pages, you have to give them a reason to continue reading. So the who, what, when, where, and why need to appear somewhere in the first few pages, perhaps even on the first page, in order to let readers know what the story is about and give them a reason to keep turning the page. This doesn’t mean you have to give all the characters’ secrets away right at the beginning, but it does mean you have to at least introduce everyone and let your readers know your characters do, indeed, have secrets.

There is a good reason prospective agents and publishers want only the first five pages or the first +/-5,000 words—no matter how long your story is: They don’t have time to read more if the story isn’t worth their time. So if you want your stories to be read, you have to treat every potential reader as a potential buyer and ask yourself, “What can I give them up front to make them want to read beyond page one?”

Starting with the Who: Major, or Primary, Characters

You may or may not start writing your story with a character—you might think of a place or an event first—but as your story develops, you will eventually—and probably fairly early on—need to examine and evaluate the characters as they come along and ask that defining question: “Who is this story really about?”

This may seem a ridiculous question, but I learned early in my writing career that it is an important one. My first sci fi novel (not published) was about two women, both outcasts for different reasons, who meet at a space academy, become friends, and do well enough to both be assigned to the fleet’s flagship. One of the women disappears while on shore leave, and the other spends the rest of the book convincing her captain that her friend’s disappearance was due to foul play—not a dereliction of duty—and she needs rescuing.

One critique I had from an early reader was, “Whose story is this?” The thing is I had intended it to be a story about both women, but this reader didn’t see that. So if I ever do rewrite the book—and I do plan to rewrite it as one of my Commonwealth Chronicles—I will need to work on that one important point. If I want the story to belong to both characters, I can still write it that way to some extent, but I’m also going to have to decide, which is the primary character? Which character’s story is the one that will keep readers’ interest peaked to the end of the story?

The Challenge of Multiple Major Characters: Beware of “Head-Hopping”

One of the challenges of writing two or more major characters into a story is the danger of “head-hopping,” or switching point of view (POV) within scenes. I don’t know of a major best-selling author today who doesn’t do this—with varying degrees of success—but the writing instructors seem to be adamant: Do not change POV within scenes!  There are popular titles out there whose books I have difficulty reading because of this habit. There are times when I will need to reread a page or two to figure out who’s saying or thinking what. So keep that in mind as you write a multi-character scene. If the story requires a change in POV, give the reader some notice—for example, a double space between paragraphs—so they know you’re doing it intentionally. I mean, if the gal jumps overboard, then you might need to switch to the guy left standing on the deck, but put that extra space in, so your reader understands you’re now in his head. I do recommend against having multiple characters reacting to an action or dialogue within the same scene all the time. It can be very confusing to the reader.

One exercise you can use to break yourself of the habit, if it’s something you do regularly, is to step back for a time and try rewriting the same scene multiple times, each from the POV of a different character. It might surprise you to learn just how different each version reads. You can then go back to the original question, “Whose story is this?” You might be surprised by the answer, but it should help you to rewrite the scene where it belongs.

I personally try to stay in one character’s head throughout an entire chapter. This is particularly true for any romantic or heavy-action scenes, because when emotions run high, it can be difficult to distinguish who’s thinking what in the heat of the moment. In my Cat & Mac Mysteries, I try to give Cat and Mac alternate scenes, so the reader keeps seeing them both fully engaged in the story. Occasionally, I will switch heads within a scene, but I do it only rarely and only when a scene, because of the action, specifically calls for it. And when I do, I always use a space between paragraphs to signal the reader the POV switch is coming.

 The next time we’ll look at more on the Who?: Developing characters.


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more.

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

 

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

WRITING THE STORY, PART 1

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at the process of writing a story, from conception to submission. Today, we’ll ask the question, “How does a writer begin a story?” This is, of course, much like asking an artist how he paints what he paints or how she sculpts what she sculpts. Where do songwriters begin—with the music or the lyric? Creativity comes from many sources, and for most writers I know, a story can come from any number of places, with most writers citing more than one, depending upon the story.

 Planning vs. Inspiration 

Birth of IDEA. Concept background.These two concepts are not necessarily mutually exclusive when it comes to storytelling, and for many writers, they often overlap. Writers who write for publications, such as newspapers and magazines, will often be assigned stories, whether nonfiction or fiction. Some writers are particularly good at taking an assigned topic or theme and running with it. Even assigned academic writing can be inspired by personal interest in a related topic. Don’t let the “assignment” get in the way of your creativity!

For me, an assignment is a mixed blessing in both nonfiction and fiction writing. While it can be stifling if the topic really holds no interest for me, it can also open a window to a whole world of interesting research and writing. As a ghostwriter, I’ve often been assigned a topic or scenario. I have ghostwritten a romance series set in a contemporary Old Order Amish community, on the nineteenth century Oregon Trail, and in a fantastical world of shapeshifters—all assigned scenarios for short stories, yes, but I was able to create original characters and plots, letting my imagination free within each assignment.

5183gwhjx6l._sy346_If you are having trouble getting started writing a story, sometimes the best thing to do is to go ahead and assign yourself a general topic or scenario and see where it takes you. My Cat & Mac Mysteries came from a practical desire to write an e-book series I could quickly put up and sell in Kindle Direct Publishing. I’d never written mysteries before, but my research found the best-selling Kindle e-books were short mysteries written in a series, so that’s what I set out to do. From there I picked a city I knew fairly well and let my imagination run free, writing a single murder mystery which has led to four more episodes and counting. Each new story in the series has required an inspirational spark to get it going, but I’m happily continuing to play in my Cat & Mac universe.

 Places to Start

If you are having difficulty getting started writing stories, search the Internet on “writing prompts.” There are hundreds of them available at any number of Web sites for writers. Do some searching, and “assign” yourself a prompt, then let your imagination carry you to wherever it wants to go. Browse through a magazine and study the images. Ignore any captions, and see if you can find a story in any of the pictures you find. I, personally, have written the first 58,000+ words of a novel inspired by a single image I saw on television one evening almost two years ago. The story has a long way to go, but that image remains clear in my mind and continues to inspire the story whenever I sit down to work on it.

 Inspiration Is Everywhere

Pure inspiration can come from anything, so go for it! Either think of what you want to write, and keep your eyes open for inspiration, or start exploring the world around you with an eye for story ideas. You can literally start anywhere: a photo, a real-life news story, something you overhear on the bus, a personal experience, a movie, an odd dream . . . the possibilities are endless. The key is to think like a writer, that is to continuously consider the story potential of everyone and everything you encounter.

The next time we’ll look at the importance of identifying the Who? What? When? Where? and Why? of your story.



by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com