With one year coming to a close and another on the horizon, I prepare for reflections and resolutions.
This is a time when blogs, websites, newspapers, and radio and television news programs are inundated with recaps of the year. As well as predictions for the year ahead. Who did what, who didn't do whatever, who will do something...who divorced, who cheated, who died, who had babies. Which tragic event was worse than the others. The entertainment industry -- including movies, music, theater, and television -- gear up for an endless parade of tiresome award shows.
The news conglomerates talk of nothing else except what has happened over the last twelve months (unless, of course, another tragic, traumatic event happens during this time)
It's a constant barrage of information about people and our surrounding world that is so often too much to assimilate.
Meanwhile, my goals and resolutions for 2013 are many. Some the same as in years past, some new and different. I have moved to a new town -- actually it's the town I lived in as a child -- and I'm finally ready to embrace the next stage of my life. I feel like a cat with many lives, and hope my new challenges will be exciting and fulfilling.
Not often do I climb onto my soapbox and speak of world events. Today I'm compelled. Now is a time where all people need to ask why.
Why does this happen and how can we stop it from happening again?
In the aftermath of of an unspeakable act of violence in Newtown, CT, which happened only a couple of days after a tragic mall shooting in Oregon, and eleven days before the Christmas holiday, I can only feel horrific shock and incredible sadness for all the precious children and adults killed.
Murdered in a senseless act that we in our world can not and should not have to comprehend.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all the innocent, young lives lost for no reason other than a troubled man made a conscious choice to force his sick rage on so many blameless people. I feel immense sadness for all the parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives, and multitude of friends of all the victims.
And for all the people of Newtown affected by this tragic, senseless act.
As so many have asked, so many times before...why?
Why does one human inflict pain on another? Why are we not safe in an elementary school? Or any school? Or anywhere?
In the past few years, there have been random acts of violence far too often. Shootings have occurred in every level of school -- universities, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. Innocent people have been attacked with guns in restaurants, malls, movie theaters, churches, summer camps, political rallies, state and national parks, beauty salons, street corners, while driving in cars, and in our own homes.
We live in a free country and with that freedom comes enormous risk. There is no way to keep everyone safe all the time. We worry and we hope our family and friends will be safe from all danger, so we work hard to make it happen.
There are so many factors why these violent acts keep happening, however for now, I simply say stay safe and hug your loved ones.
This past week the Romance Writers of America celebrated their own with the 2012 RWA national conference. The four day conference was held in Anaheim, CA at the Anaheim Marriott, a stone's throw away from Disneyland. I wasn't able to attend, but hope to make it next year when it's held in Atlanta. :)
One of the highlights of the conference is the "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing. Hundreds of published authors gather to donate their time and books. The books are signed and sold and the proceeds go to various literacy organizations. Over $50,000 was raised this year!
This is the one conference event open to the public.
Last night RWA hosted the awards ceremony for the RITA and Golden Heart contests. The RITA is for published books, the Golden Heart for unpublished manuscripts. The winner of the prestigious RITA is awarded a beautiful golden statuette along with their editor receiving a lovely plaque.
The Golden Heart winners receive some pretty bling, a necklace with a golden heart surrounding the RITA design. :)
This year, my friend and fellow writer, Karen Fleming (writing as KD Flemming) won the Golden Heart award for the Inspirational Category. Major congrats, Karen. And good luck with your winning manuscript, Love's Advocate!
Writing the beginning of a story is always a challenge. The opening of any book is vital and needs to encompass a variety of elements to capture the reader's attention. Character and conflict are essential, and equally important, and often times overlooked, is the setting. Where does the story begin, where does it take place? And at what point do we include the setting in the description? And how do we write the locale to blend naturally with the ebb and flow of the story?
How do you make your setting come to life?
It was the 4th of July in Rockport, Maine.
There is nothing wrong with this sentence; it tells us where the story takes place and the time of year. But intermingling the setting information with the action of the story would make the intro stronger and more interesting.
The annual 4th of July parade in Rockport, Maine was about to begin just as Jessica Smith arrived. Again, not bad, but still not really part of the action of the story.
Jessica Smith elbowed through the surging crowd gathered on the sunny sidewalks of Rockport, Maine. Although she was alone, Jessica searched for the perfect spot in the shade to view the annual 4th of July parade.
With these two sentences, we are introduced to the character of Jessica Smith. We know she's in Rockport Maine in July, that it's a hot sunny day, and we learn she's alone. Already we are more intrigued with the story. Who is Jessica and why is she alone at the Rockport 4th of July parade?
FYI: I don't know if Rockport, Maine has a 4th of July parade, this was written as an example.
Also, keep in mind, often times authors use fictional names for small towns to allow for more creative freedom. ;)
During the course of the year, I help judge and critique several contests for various RWA chapters. I almost always judge contests where the participants are unpublished writers. Some are brand new writers looking for feedback. The setting, or lack there of, is one of the elements I always watch for and include in my comments and suggestions as needed. Statistically speaking, I would say about 50% of the submissions I read and judge, lack any significant setting.
A particular unpublished piece comes to mind when thinking about setting. The first chapter included a scene between a man and woman who meet on a dune overlooking the ocean. The story held great promise with intriguing characters and snappy dialogue. However, which ocean they stood above was never mentioned. The whole first chapter unfolded without any indication where the story took place (other than the ocean nearby) and there was no mention of the time of year or what type of weather was involved. I was never certain if the characters were looking at the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, or some other ocean in our wide vast world. For some readers, it may never have mattered. For me, what I recall the most of the story was not knowing the location.
Writers choose a variety of ways to introduce setting. Depending on the tone and scope of the story, the setting is handled in a myriad of ways. The location certainly doesn't have to be mentioned within the first few paragraphs, but at some point during the first few pages, it helps the reader to visualize the scene and believe more fully in the story and characters.
In my work in progress, I begin my book with telling the reader where and when the story takes place.
Although I tell the general location of chapter one, I still need to reveal where in the city of Lowell the scene unfolds. What time of day? Are the characters inside or out? Is it raining? Snowing? What is the lighting? The temperature? The characters and their conflict can be greatly enhanced through the use of a vivid description of setting.
Some may disagree, but I say don't rush your story. Embrace description.
Let the reader savor the flavors of a character's sense time and of place.
Build the plot and conflict by allowing the weather to play an integral part in your storytelling.
Remember, bring the setting to life in the same way your characters need to be real, believable people.
I'm a bit late posting for Independence Day this year. Hope everyone had a fun, safe holiday!
Today, July 6th, would be my 21st wedding anniversary. Even though my husband and I divorced after being together for fifteen years (married for twelve) we still celebrated our anniversary every year. We loved each other and enjoyed each other's company even after our separation and divorce.
John Henderson Mitchell loved American History. Especially all history related to Boston, the Revolutionary War, and everything associated to America becoming a country. I never saw him more excited than when he meandered the streets of Boston pointing out historical monuments, old buildings, and ancient cemeteries where our forefathers are buried. I was impressed with all he knew about the people involved, historical dates, and the complex issues leading up to the Revolutionary War. He loved our history and our country.
So, years ago, when we were choosing a date for our wedding, we both decided on July 4th. In 1991, July 4th was on a Thursday so we settled for Saturday July 6th. :)
John passed away on March 29, 2011. He is greatly missed by his family and friends.
I imagine him somewhere engaged in an animated conversation with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. ;)
When you choose to read a book, how much of the novel's setting do you you take into consideration? When you read the book blurb, is it the connection you feel with the characters? The conflict and plot? The length of the story? The author? What determines your choice to buy the book?
Do you look to see where the story takes place?
Perhaps you love fantasy/paranormal and the story is set in a world far different from the one we know, or it's an historical novel set two hundred years ago. Is it in the American West? The beaches of the Caribbean? Alaska in the winter? Countless stories are set in many locations throughout one book, but there is usually one place the protagonist calls home. Or desires to call home. As writers, it's imperative we understand our character's reasons for living in Tampa, FL or Chicago, IL or New York City.
There are certain locations I love to read about. New England, Florida, New Orleans, Seattle... Parts of Europe, and many more. These are some of the places I feel a strong visceral connection and love it when featured in a novel.
If I pick up a book and it takes place somewhere I haven't been or don't care to read about, I may not be so inclined to buy the book. This doesn't mean the book isn't wonderful, and to read stories about places and people much different than us can be exhilarating.
As a writer of fiction, I love the process of choosing a setting for my story. Where does my main character live and why? Often times I think of the location before the characters come to me.
It's important for an author to take the time to understand why a story works better in one location than another. To introduce strong, fascinating characters is essential, and to understand why they live where they do, or why they have chosen to move to a new town or city, is important to the character development.
In my latest story -- the beginning of my fourth book -- I created the story and the location during a recent road trip. I drove from west central Florida to Massachusetts. Along the way, I made notations of towns, cities, forests, rivers, bridges, etc., places I felt might make intriguing settings for my novels.
A small town in northern Florida captured my interest as I drove through on Route 301, north of Ocala and south of Jacksonville. The town of Lawtey. It seemed big enough to offer a variety of characters and activities, and small enough to create the atmosphere of country life. What really made me interested in Lawtey for a location was the nearby Lawtey Correctional Institution.
A very juicy seed of an idea took shape, and as I drove the hundreds of miles toward New England, I had a pretty good story beginning by the time I arrived at my destination. :)
It's up to a writer to develop the skill to offer an intriguing, exciting novel for readers to experience, and equally essential to understand and describe a believable setting -- no matter where or when the story takes place.
Is there a particular town, city, or country you love to read about in a novel?
What will the future archeologists of 3012 discover as they dig through the debris of the 20th and 21st centuries? What kind of historical artifacts will they find? Will there be books kept safe and savored by people in the far distant future? What style of architecture will be prevalent? Which structures from our diverse world today will still be standing in 3012?
Will there be vibrant forests? And pristine clean lakes and deep blue oceans?
Or will our legacy to future generations be piles of discarded plastic and twisted metal? Remnants of a technology boon gone terribly wrong?
Is it raining, snowing, blowing in your hometown?? Winter can be a long, tough road to travel. No matter where you reside in the world, buy a book and snuggle up by the fire.
I haven't embraced the world of e-book buying or reading yet, so for me purchasing a freshly printed book is still an excited thrill. Perusing the numerous aisles of a bookstore, large or small, is always cathartic for the soul. :) Whatever your preference in reading material, there is always something for everyone.
Support your favorite authors! Buy a new book today. :)
When searching for that perfect place to live -- whether a house, condo, apartment, perhaps a house boat, log cabin, tree house -- what do you look for? A certain style? A specific number of bedrooms, bathrooms, does it have an attic, basement?? What is the most important factor for choosing an abode other than the price? $$
Location, location, location!
Is it the property, the schools nearby, the dog park down the street? Is it your hometown? Or someplace other than where you grew up?
Is it the magnificent view?
As a writer, don't forget to include the all important setting in your story.
In creating fiction -- characterization, plot, conflict, theme, style and pacing, the beginning, middle and end -- are all extremely vital to any story. However, if the reader doesn't know the setting of the novel, we can't visualize the story.
There is no sense of place.
In the past couple of years, I have been helping to judge and critique several writing contests for unpublished writers. Some are experienced writers with wonderful skill, some have amazing potential, some are just beginning their long and challenging journey of learning the craft of writing.
What surprises me most in these works is the lack of setting. I estimate 80% of all manuscripts I judge, no matter the experience of the writer, overlooks this fundamental element. Location. Where does the story take place? And why? I feel they don't grasp the fact that setting is an integral part of character development. It is an essential aspect of their background. Why is the main protagonist living where they live? Or why have they moved to a new town? City? State? Country?
Be specific when introducing the setting. Many writers simply make it easy on themselves and the reader by telling up front where the story takes place.
Chapter One Boston May 1990
Prologue Wilmington, Delaware 1863
This is perfectly fine if it fits the tone and style of the book. If an author can't weave the actual date and location into their story, it's okay to let the reader know where the novel begins. However, the setting still needs to be introduced and described in some way. Where and why in Boston? What is the weather? Is it morning with bright sunlight? Or early evening with a luminous full moon rising?
Most authors write what they know. I grew up in Massachusetts so many of my stories feature a location somewhere in New England. I have also lived and traveled around the U.S. and other countries and feel I can confidently portray these other locals in some way as well. It isn't necessary to have traveled to whatever location you set your story, but you best have a strong sense of place when you set your characters down in the middle of that preference. With today's technology advancements, and with just a click of a button, we can research geography from around the globe.
Still, if your characters are hiking through the Amazon jungle, you better know how to convey what it really feels like to do this. What kind of trail are they on? What are they wearing? What does the air smell like? What do the trees and foliage look like, feel like?
Perhaps you have created your own mystical world, a place unique and different from all of our everyday lives. It is essential for the reader to visualize and to feel the same human emotions attached to these unusual settings. Think Hogwarts from Harry Potter. Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings.
And the setting is as equally important to convey if you set your book in your own hometown. You know what it's like to walk or drive through the town, but how does it look and feel to your protagonist? Your antagonist? What are they thinking as they step into the local coffee shop? How does it look to them?
We need to feel the emotions of the characters as the tale unfolds. Create your story, and the locations you choose, to feel as real as possible to you, your characters, and your readers.
As hectic and chaotic as the holiday season can be, I love when the new year arrives. It signifies a new beginning, new goals, new ideas -- a do over. Out with the old, in with the new. :)
I had a rather difficult 2011 -- one reason for my lack of posts on this blog -- and I am anticipating a better 2012.
With several resolutions in my mind, I'm ready for the tasks ahead....
Already 2012 is offering up some overwhelming challenges I don't wish to face, but I must stay strong and attack them head on. I will be moving -- again. However, with the help of some wonderful friends and family, I should make it through okay. I also lost my job a couple of months ago so time to reevaluate my future prospects.
I have a book to complete, another one already swirling through my mind, and a third that needs some major revisions. I plan to concentrate on acquiring a literary agent for my first completed novel -- something I didn't do at all in 2011 -- with the hopes of being published.
Another goal is to continue to embrace and comprehend the ever-changing, fast-paced world of technology. Unlike so many others, this is not easy for me.
There is also the eternal lose weight resolution. This year I anticipate to actually accomplish my goal of losing the extra 40 pounds I've been dragging around with me the past few years.
And I'll be writing here more often. (I posted only 9 times all last year) Won't be difficult to beat those numbers! Keep checking back. :)