Tag Archives: books

From One Writer to Another: A Short “How To” on Writing Fiction


I wrote this post for my friend and colleague Rachel Thompson’s BadRedhead Media blog several months ago. And now it comes home. 🙂


Photo Source: Unsplash.com/MindJournal

Photo Source: Unsplash.com/MindJournal

Do you have an idea for a great story? Does something inside push you to string letters together in complete sentences that end up filling multiple pages? Do you feel as if you’ll burst if you don’t stop RIGHT THIS MINUTE and record those scenes and that dialogue swirling round and round in your head?

Welcome to my world, and the world of so many others like me. Welcome to the world of WRITING. What do I do NOW? you may ask. I’m so glad you did. I have answers for you. 🙂 In this post, I’ll address writing historical (specifically, medieval) and fantasy fiction, as they are the setting/time period/theme of my current Work in Progress.

While writing fiction can be as simple as sitting down and setting pen or pencil to paper (or fingers to computer keyboard – whichever your preference), it isn’t always so. It surely wasn’t that simple for me. Oh, the words may flood your imagination and before you know it, you’ve written a complete chapter. Good for you! I sincerely hope it’s that easy for you. Quite often, though, research is necessary, even if it’s just looking up the meaning and best use of a word or phrase.

Research

If like me you write historical fiction, then your setting (geographical) may be a place that exists or did at one time exist in the real world. If so, you’ll need to be sure you know a few things either before you begin writing the story or at some point before you’ve finished your first draft:

  • Where in relation to the rest of the world that place exists (or did exist, if it doesn’t anymore). Part of my book takes place in medieval Silesia, Poland. While it still exists, the borders have changed over the centuries and today it’s divided between Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
  • Topography – mountainous, plains, desert, etc.
  • Climate(s)
  • Culture(s) – how the natives interact with one another and with foreigners/visitors.
  • Cuisine
  • System of exchange – bartering, coin money, etc.
  • Native/national costume/style of clothing (if any). I say “if any,” because in America for example we don’t have any one national style of clothing.
  • Weaponry, soldiers/armies, defense/offense, justice system
  • Sexuality – discrimination between the sexes, expectations and perceptions that separate the genders, local/national traditions/norms for single persons, married persons, etc.
  • Language(s), dialects
  • Medicine/healing
  • Travel between cities, towns, villages, countries

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. The necessity for research is one reason why some books and series take years to write and publish; all of the research that must take place before pen is even set to paper, research that continues while writing, and then the redrafting, polishing, editing and proofreading. If you’re going to spend the time and energy writing a story with the intention of publishing, then you want to be sure it’s your best work. Every time. Your writing skills may improve with each successive book – in fact, they almost certainly will improve. That doesn’t mean your earlier works weren’t your best; they were your best at that time.

all-great-literature

Historical Fiction

So. What will you write about? Will you write a coming-of-age tale? Will you write a swashbuckling adventure full of pirates and damsels in distress? Whatever you choose to write about, you’ll probably discover the truth of one of my favorite quotes of all time about writing. Leo Tolstoy said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” The first time I read this quote, I took it as a challenge – a challenge to find a book that WASN’T about one of those two stories. So far, every story I’ve read (literally thousands) has supported this statement.

All fiction is based on one of these two ideas, and you build upon them. Even if the story doesn’t begin with a journey or an arrival, one of those is still present. While, as Patricia C. Wrede points out, a hero going on a journey or a stranger coming to town aren’t plots per say, they ARE precipitating incidents that introduce the plot; they are where the plot begins. They are the foundation upon which all fiction is built.

Fantasy

And what about fantasy? On one hand, writing fantasy can be easy – it’s often make-believe, after all, and subject only to the limits of each writer’s imagination and motivation. On the other hand, it needs to be believable. And if your fantasy is set in the real world – sort of a small step off the beaten path – then you still need to research the setting, time period, etc. This is what I did in my book, SERPENT ON A CROSS, and its work-in-progress sequel, VEIL OF MENACE. I combined real-world historical events and places with fantasy, mythology and Jewish mysticism/esotericism. Some of the fantasy-related research that’s gone into this series is:

  • Eastern European (mainly Russian and Polish) mythology and folklore
  • Jewish folklore and superstition
  • Jewish proverbs
  • Jewish esotericism (NOT kabbalah – my story predates traditional kabbalah)
  • Other writers’ works on any of these subjects

The Actual Writing

Even though writing fiction may not always be as simple as sitting down and setting pen to paper, it doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect; it shouldn’t be. In my case – because I love research so much – the actual writing was sometimes set aside in favor of the research. I finally had to make myself stop (or at least pause) researching and start (and finish) writing the story. Of course, my impatient characters often made their presence felt, usually in the middle of the night, not letting me sleep until I wrote down the scene(s) beating at my imagination.

As for what to write about, the sky is virtually the limit (actually, I’m pretty sure outer space still has vacancies as well). Write about what you know and want to share with others…write about things that scare you that you wish didn’t scare you…write about something you’re interested in learning more about.

One of the wonderful things about writing a story is that you will always learn something, whether about yourself as a person or as a writer, about the subject, about the location. Perhaps all of the above. Such a wealth of knowledge awaits you as a writer. What are you waiting for?

Recommended Reading

Some general research recommendations (all of which I have read) for writing fiction and fantasy:

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, How To, Reader, Reading, Research, writer, Writing, Writing Tips

Why, Yes, I DO Judge Books by Their Covers


For the past 10 years, I’ve nurtured a running list of soon-to-be-released books. These are books – in various genres – that have captured my attention for one reason or another. Often, the first thing about them that catches my eye is the cover art – that little thumbnail image that pops up right next to the title and author’s name.

At least once a week, I stalk the pages of Goodreads Giveaways, Amazon’s Coming Soon and Barnes and Nobles’ Coming Soon sites. I also follow several publishers and try to discover their publishing schedules. If only I could get a sneak peek at the catalogs they send to bookstores of the books to be published within the next year. That would be perfect!

But I digress. One reason I stalk for books is because I want to know – as early as possible – when my favorite authors (there are a lot of them!) will be releasing their next work(s). I also want to see the cover art. This is the most basic way I choose new authors/books. I judge books by their covers.

book-cover-art

Judging a book by its cover

We’ve all heard and/or read the proverb, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I’m not certain of the origin of that clichĂ©, but I’ve learned to ignore it. (I think it mostly refers to prejudice against fellow human beings, anyway…in which case, DON’T DO THIS.) I DO judge a book by its cover.

If the cover catches my eye, next I’ll read the title, then the author’s name. If I’m still interested, I’ll read the synopsis. When I’m searching for a new author to read, the cover art is most important. It’s the first thing (other than the title) that will either grab my attention, or repel it.

Sometimes, even if I’m not attracted to the cover, I’ll pick up a book to read anyway…but only if it’s an author I’ve already read, or the title appeals to me. If it’s the former, I’ll give it a chance to enchant me. If it’s the latter, I’ll read the summary to see if that, coupled with the title, can help me get past the cover art. If so, then it’s a go. And hopefully, it won’t disappoint.

Sometimes this judgment pays off

To demonstrate the marketability of a book cover, here is a short list of books I’ve purchased in which the initial attraction for me was the cover art.

  • Malice: The Faithful and the Fallen, Book I by John Gwynne (I have since read the entire series. Phenomenal – a worthy successor to Game of Thrones series…without all the sex.)
  • Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan (Seems to be a stand-along novel that deserves at least one sequel.)
  • The Progeny by Tosca Lee (I’ve always been fascinated by the legend of Erzsebet Bathory de Ecsed, so almost anything having to do remotely with the legend appeals to me. This is an excellent contemporary thriller with ties to the infamous Erzsebet Bathory, and I count the days until the sequel is released.)
  • Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (I could not get into Jay’s Stormdancer series, try as I might. But this cover grabbed my attention when I first saw it – it’s mezmerizing. And the dustjacket summary sold me on it. I love pretty much everything about this book. Except that it ended. Another count-down-until-the-sequel-is-released series for me.)
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (The original hardcover cover art is what attracted me. Not very fond of the covers of the sequels, but the original had already done its job, so I just ignored the covers and read the books.)

I would recommend these books – and their sequels – to anyone, especially if you’re a fan of the historical and fantasy genres. Even if you’re NOT a fan of historical and fantasy genres (how are we friends, again?), all of these books have at least one bada** female main or secondary character. I’m a great admirer of authors who can write strong, sympathetic (and sometimes UNsympathetic) bada** female characters.

And sometimes the covers just turn me off

Likewise, a list of books whose covers turned me off so much (and made me question the publishers’ and other readers’ tastes) that I didn’t even bother reading the summary to find out if it appealed to me…

  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (I didn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird. Had no interest in the first book, and the cover of this book has kept me uninterested. In fact, the cover of GSAW is rather irritating to look at, in my opinion.)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Maybe the original cover on a first edition would be attractive to me, but even so, I’m probably a lost cause as a reader. I know what the story is about, and it’s never tempted me. Never been much of a fan of the Jazz Age, either, so there’s that.)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Again, maybe the original cover on a first edition would be attractive to me. I have actually attempted to read this book, based on the recommendation of others, but again, just cannot get into it. I love the title, but the cover art does not appeal to me – and frankly, neither does the story.)

 

Okay, so there’s another common theme with the books whose covers turned me off – most, if not all, of them are considered to be literary classics. As an avid reader, I’ve always been a little confused as to why the term “literary classics” makes me shudder and shy away. It may be due to all the “literary classics” students are assigned to read and report on for school. “Literary classics” seem to be large tomes that are heavy on narration and exposition, and light on action and drama. But then that may just be my ADHD talking.

How about you? Do you ever find yourself choosing a book based on its cover or title? Do you ever browse brick and mortar bookstores or sites like Goodreads.com searching for your next great read? Why or why not?

Leave a comment

Filed under ADHD, Book Covers, books, Fantasy, Life, Literature, Marketing, Reader, Reading, Real Life

Guest Post: Birthing a Book by Beth Schulman


Birthing a Book Image

Writing and publishing my memoir was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. It was heart-wrenching, messy and full of stress. It was also cathartic and rewarding beyond measure. Life-changing.  A lot like becoming a mother. In fact the experience was so similar to getting pregnant and giving birth, I could create a Venn Diagram to illustrate my point (this will only make sense to fellow elementary school teachers). Instead, I’ve crafted a list.

  1. IT’S NOT AS EASY AS IT APPEARS:You spend a decade of your life trying desperately not to get pregnant. When you’re finally ready to become a mother, you think it’ll be a piece of cake. Just stop taking birth control and poof, you’ll become pregnant. Well, anyone who’s struggled with fertility issues knows this isn’t true. I kept a private journal for over 10 years, recording the scenes from my childhood.  When I finally felt ready to weave those scenes into a book, I assumed it wouldn’t take that long. It took three years of committed writing time to produce something of substance.
  2. FALSE LABOR:You go to the doctor when you’re 8 1/2  months pregnant, feeling sure the baby will be delivered within the hour.  After being examined you learn you are only one centimeter dilated and the doctor sends you home.  You feel depressed and defeated. When I submitted my manuscript to my editor for the first time, I felt like I’d nailed it. I anxiously awaited his response. When he came back to me, the news wasn’t good.  I had to do a complete rewrite. 
  3. REGRET: After being told the baby isn’t ready, you go home and cry. Your feet are swollen and your belly resembles a rock hard, oversized watermelon. You are tired and cranky. You begin to question your decision to become a mother. You suddenly feel completely ill-equipped for the job. But it’s too late. When I reread my memoir and started to make the many changes my editor suggested, I felt overwhelmed. The more I looked at the words on the page, the more I questioned why I’d taken this on. Who was I to think I could pull this off? I wasn’t a writer.  I was a kindergarten teacher. But I was too far in to back out.
  4. RELIEF: Your water breaks and now you’re sure this is really going to happen. You drive to the hospital feeling both elated and terrified.  When my editor reread my revised manuscript, he sent me a text saying I’d done the hard work and it was time to send it off to the proofreader. It wouldn’t be long now. My book would indeed be “delivered.” 
  5. LABOR AND DELIVERY: You experience pain at a level you never knew existed. Then you get the epidural and it’s not so bad. The next step was sending it off to the layout and design team. I agonized over letting it go, worried about whether it was “ready” for publication, but with the release, came great relief. 
  6. PURE JOY: You hold that tiny miracle in your arms and you are overcome with joy. You feel a sense of pride and accomplishment you’ve never felt before.  You want everyone to meet your beautiful baby!  This is exactly how I’ll felt when I held my book, The Gold Mailbox, in my hands for the first time. I couldn’t wait for readers to meet “my baby!”

***************************************

Beth Schulman author photoMs. Beth Schulman is a mother, teacher and avid reader and writer.  She graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Individual and Family Studies and from Cabrini College with a Master of Education Degree, with a focus on Early Childhood Education. She has been teaching elementary school students for over 20 years.  Beth has devoted her life’s work to creating supportive, creative and literacy rich learning environments for young children. She has also worked with professional teachers at The University of Pennsylvania through The Penn Literacy Network (PLN) as an instructor and literacy coach since 1997.  Beth lives in the Philadelphia area with her two teenage sons, James and Ian. The Gold Mailbox is her first book.

 

The Gold Mailbox cover2

“This dazzling and moving memoir is a roller coaster of loss and transition, held together by the reminder that love and family run deeper than we ever imagine. Written in gorgeous prose, this ultimately uplifting tale will have you savoring every page.”

Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance

 

Visit Beth’s website: http://bethschulman.com

Facebook: Beth Schulman Author

Twitter: @bschulmanauthor and @authorbethschul.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Blogging, Booktrope, Gravity Imprint, Guest Post, Life, Literature, Survivors, Thankful, Writing