Monday, September 26, 2011

That Time of Year...

Well, it’s that time of year again! Very soon, we will be heading off to New Hampshire for our twice-yearly pilgrimage. We are trying out something new with internet out there, but it may be a wash and so you may not see me around for a little while…then again…*
So, here is a happy picture to place me in till I get back…

 *I actually signed up for a blog-fest of sorts. Yes, I know it’s highly irregular of me to participate in a group activity. Why, you ask, would I do that? The answer's in the name— The Insecure Writer’s Group…and it’s only the first Wednesday of every month, so I think I can handle iteven if it takes an hour to upload the post through dial-up internet (okay, I may be exaggerating a little...)!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Character Intrusion!

One of the ‘benefits’ of being a pantser—as opposed to an outliner who knows most of the story up front—is that I never know when a character will alter my novel. This happened in Portrait of a Girl Running. I needed a marginal character as a catalyst for added tension; just a supporting player, mind you. His name is Mr. Myles. An unexpected thing happened though. When I set him in a scene with my protagonist, they had this amazing chemistry I hadn’t counted on. They could not be in the same scene together without them carving out an emotional wake. In fact, Myles became not only a major character in the novel (and the sequel) but he also refined the overall theme.

It happened again in Portrait of a Protégé. On a whim, a character named Marvelle* enters the story—and bam! she takes over!

I’ve been evaluating what these two intruding characters have in common.

Each one:
  • has a dynamic personality
  • engages with the protagonist in a battle of wills
  • ultimately has the protagonist’s best interest at heart
  • is considerably older than the protagonist
  • is based—at least partially—on a real person I have known.
I wonder how much this last factor contributes to their strength—that is, to my ability to truly bring them to life in such a profound way.

I’m curious—whether you’re a pantser or an outliner—Do you have characters that enter your story in an unexpected way? Do they refine, or even redefine your theme? Are any of your characters based on someone you have personally known?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Monarch—For Those of You Who Don't Already Know...

There are probably very few of you who follow this blog who don’t know about Monarch, Michelle Davidson Argyle’s debut novel, with Rhemalda Publishing, but I’m so excited for her that I want to post it here. I read it in almost one sitting—very intense. It gave me scary dreams! 

Today is Monarch's official release date! Congratulations, Michelle! 

Michelle is also doing a giveawayyou can subscribe to her newsletter and enter for a chance at a free copy!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Time Setting

How much thought do you put into choosing the year your novel is set in? If you write contemporary fiction, perhaps that is a foregone conclusionyour storyline begins now, or in the recent past! And if you write historical fiction, you likely have a specific time in history in which to frame your plot. Sci-Fi is often set in some distant time in the future. Sometimes, though, time setting is far more subjective.

For instance, I would have set Story for a Shipwright in the year I began writing it2008. However, because of an important plot point, I had to take into consideration the significantly more stringent security measures of international travelwith emphasis on provable ID since 9/11. I could not pull off a major plot point unless it was set prior to that event, thus, I chose to open the story in the spring of 2001.

As for Portrait of a Girl Running, I picked the year 1978 because it was the year I graduated high school; I could write about it with authenticity. Also, with the increasing awareness of privacy issues and boundaries in ‘fiduciary’ relationships over the past 30 years, it would have been trickier to establish credibility in my plot and character development, had I set it in present day. Sometimes, even in few decades make a big difference in the attitudes of society in general.

With my WIP, Whispering Narrows, I chose the pivotal year 1969 for two reasons: 1) I remember 1969 as a child, and so does my husband who is a couple years older and whose experience I draw from. 2) The Woodstock Festival of 1969 is a plot feature (at least I think it might be at this pointI want to leave my options open).

What factors do you take into consideration when you choose the specific year or time frame of your stories?  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Formatting Scene Headers

As promised—as if anyone’s as insane as I am about formatting—I shall show you how to make the nice little scenes show up in your Document Map! (if you haven’t read my last post on Chapter Headers, you need to do that first!) Again, this is for MS Word, 03 edition. (I just found out that Scrivener is soon coming out with an edition for PCs—how exciting is that! Thanks Nate!)

Now, go ahead and open your Document Map along with your Styles and Formatting pane. At the bottom of the Formatting pane, from the drop-down menu, click Available formatting. A list of different heading styles should show up.

Place your cursor in the paragraph that starts a new scene and then click Heading 2 (it is likely bold and italicized). This changes that entire paragraph to a heading, but also changes the formatting, which we can easily adjust. At this point, the first words of your new scene will show up in the Document Map under a collapsible Chapter header! Now, highlight the new scene paragraph. You can either adjust the font at the toolbar to Times New Roman, size 12, and unclick bold and italic, or go to Format>Font>and do the same from that dialogue box.

Next, with the paragraph still highlighted: Format>Paragraph>Line spacing>Double, and spacing before and after at 0 pt >OK 

If you like, you can also make the opening paragraph in each chapter a heading—I like to just because I can see it at a glance for navigation. To do this, place your cursor on the first paragraph. In the Formatting pane, click Heading 2 (the one in Times New Roman…). Now it shows up in your Document Map, right under the Chapter. If you had an indentation in the paragraph, it’s gone now, so we have to restore it. Go to Format>Paragraph>Indentation>Special>First Line>.05”>OK. *

When you hit Enter (Return) to begin a new paragraph, you need to format that back to indented, or all subsequent paragraphs will be headers. Simply place your cursor on the next paragraph, In the Formatting pane, click Clear Formatting. Now, go back to Format>Paragraph>Indentation>Special>First Line>.05”>OK. Now, each subsequent paragraph will have a .5” indentation and you won’t have to mess with Tabs. This will also provide you with First line: 0.5” in your Formatting pane, which you can use to adjust any future paragraphs—such as those following a scene, where you’ll want to restore an indent.

If anyone knows a simpler way to do all that, please share!
*If you want to know how to get rid of the bold headings from the Formatting in use, you’ll have to e-mail me. Either way, it won’t interfere with anything)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Formatting Obsessed!

Okay, I love formatting! I admit it! Whenever I receive a manuscript or piece of text from another writer, divided into chapters and scenes, I get an urge to format it! I wasn’t always a formatting geek—it came about quite by accident. When I write, I do it in clumps of text, without regard for chapters or scenes. Later on, I go back and add my page breaks and scene changes. Problem was, I constantly adjusted them, splitting and combining chapters and scenes, and then had to go back and renumber everything. What a pain.

Then I discovered how to make my chapters number themselves, and even improved the way I could navigate through my own manuscript. Humor me here...if you’ll notice in the snapshot of my screen, the Document Map panel on the left shows all my chapters and scenes for easy reference. And the Formatting Pane on the right shows only the formatting I have in use. From there, I can adjust everything in my manuscript. If you want to play around, do so on a duplicate or new document. (Be aware, though, that this is for MS Windows, 03 edition. I don’t know anything about the 07 version or Macs—sorry.) And you may want to be sure you have the Formatting toolbar displayed: View>Toolbars>Formatting. I will explain using the menu bar across the top.

From the menu bar click View>Document Map. A pane opens on the left side.
Now, Format>Styles and Formatting—which opens a pane on the right. At the bottom, choose Formatting in use. Keep that open.

Place cursor where you want your chapter heading. Format>Bullets and Numbering>Outlined Numbered tab>Chapter 1>Okay.

Chapter 1 will show up on your document, likely at your left margin (it will also appear in the Document Map)—probably Arial font, or whatever your default font is. If this is for a manuscript, highlight the words Chapter 1. If a font button is not on your toolbar, Go to Format>Font>Times New Roman. Font size: Regular. Size:12. Now, Center it, either from the toolbar, or Format>Paragraph>Alignment: Center.

Now, highlight Chapter 1 on your document. In the Formatting pane, Chapter 1 Heading 1 + Centered will be ‘highlighted’. Each time you start a new chapter after a page break, click on that and the next chapter in sequence will appear. If you combine chapters or split them, the sequence will be synchronized automatically.

If anyone knows a simpler way to do all that, please share!

Tomorrow, I will show you how to make each scene a heading under the chapter.

Any questions so far? Anything you want me to mess around with?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Real and Imaginary Settings

Setting development is nearly as important to me as character development. I love adding the nuances of a place—the smells and sights, the overall feel. Even if my reader has never been to the specific place or one like it, I want to evoke a familiar feeling or memory they can draw on. It doesn’t matter to me if they see it exactly the way I do, but I want their own interpretation to be vivid.

My stories are set in the ‘real’ world and I make use of actual places, but also the stereotypical—based on real places. Sometimes I use a combination. I usually draw from places I have personally been. For instance, I set Portrait of a Girl RUNNING in an actual place on Long Island—I used my hometown because I could write about it believably. Problem is, my hometown happens to be Amityville. Will anyone be able to use that village in a work of fiction after the debacle Amityville Horror? Alas, I renamed it, Millville. Probably just as well. Yet in the sequel, Portrait of a Protégé, I use real places in New Hampshire’s Sunapee Lakes Region. However, in Story for a Shipwright, I use a composite of stereotypical coastal villages that easily conjure a sense of place in the mind of anyone even remotely acquainted with Maine—I call the fictitious place Wesleyville, named for the protagonist's family.

I think probably the important thing in choosing a name for a fictitious town in an otherwise real setting is to be sure no actual town by that name exists. What other considerations do you give to naming a place?

I wonder how many of you set your stories in places where you grew up—and even for those who write fantasy, do the places you fabricate originate in some place you’ve been in real life? When you’re reading, how much detail is necessary for you to visualize the setting?