What’s your delivery?: Poet, novelist or somewhere in between

So as threatened, if you’ve been following my guest post this month – part of identifying yourself as a writer is knowing exactly what is it that you write. Perhaps you’re prone to poetry. Maybe you’re more of a storyteller. Or you could be one of those who likes to share the truth or pop culture or the ingredients of a soup can. Even if you’re just logging your own life in a pretty binder, how you tell your story is your word nerd fingerprint.

So here’s my suggestion.

Don’t impede your own creativity or your opportunities for publication if you desire it, by locking in on a specific genre or type of writing too soon. Oh, and before I forget, if you’re leaning toward fan fiction – lean the other way. Your own story is better than hijacking someone else’s creation and attempting to wrangle scenarios and characters not born from your pen. And it’s hellishly difficult to publish the stuff anyway. Get your own story.

Before you dig in and spend months penning a novel, more months editing it, and even more months building your collection of form reject letters, consider this: Write a poem. Write several. Send them off to magazines. Get a few wins under your belt. If you’re an expert in a field, write an article. Write several. Send them off. Nonfiction is even easier to publish and the market ranges from articles for kid’s mags to LinkedIn. Join a blog site and blog. You’ll get free feedback and you may even gain a following, which will help you later if you decide you really want to write a novel. Short stories are an option too. And you can take collections of short works on a similar theme and publish a short run chapbook.

I’m not discounting novels, as I myself write them. But I started with lyric poetry. I published poems. Then a nonfiction article. Then a few short stories. And then a novel. I continue to write poems and short fiction because I enjoy it, and not every idea lends itself to 150 thousand words. Granted I am a bit of an anomaly, but I’m never bored and I don’t suffer from writer’s block because I don’t wait for the perfect topic or character or even two words that rhyme – I just pick up a pen, or open up my laptop and go.

Of course, I do have my preferences, the top three of which I will share with you:

Formed poetry. Don’t roll your eyes. Formed poetry is a writer’s ninja warrior workout and some forms like sestinas will pretty much prepare you for your next Mount Midoriama. I believe this so strongly I am actually going to challenge you to google the form and write one, then come back and post it in the comments. I double dog dare you even. Unlike free verse, which lets you write anything you please, formed poetry will discipline you, sharpen your vocabulary, and stretch your brain cells.

Character sketches. If you plan to write short stories and novels, character sketches are your best friend. Not just for your protag and antag but for even minor characters as well, detailed character descriptions will help you stay on track through your work. Go beyond the usual skin tone, eye color and build. Does your main character sneeze in the sunlight? Does your villain have a nervous tic? Is one of your supporting cast deathly allergic to strawberries? What are your character’s dreams, goals, phobias? Flesh them out as much as possible, and you will have believable beings even if they are in unbelievable situations. I also recommend this technique for world building.

If you are writing a longer novel, spend some serious time creating the world. If it’s a real place, make sure you know it well so your reader doesn’t punch a hole in it. If it’s fabricated, continuity is key. I even suggest that you allow yourself the luxury of backstory. While you don’t want a glut of “information” in your novel – backstories create behaviors and intent. And should your novel be successful, or even really fun to write, you can go back to your sketches to spin off other stories.

Blogging. It’s not dead. Your blog is your tool for feedback, for networking, and for getting your own thoughts and opinions out of your head and onto the screen where you can deal with them. It is a multipurpose item that will add flavor to your website and allow your fan base to see you as a human. And you control what you share, as much or as little as you desire about whatever you desire. If you do blog, be sure to post regularly – at least once a week—and answer comments if they merit a response. I’ll concede a Facebook page if you are active on it, but twitter does not a writer make. For that matter, neither does Instagram. Save those for your personal social time.

The rain has stopped, and since there is still light in the sky and a roll of fluff around my middle, a walk is in order. I’d take you with me, but typing and walking don’t mix.

Until next week,

Peace
Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor

No pain, no gain: A writer’s street cred

Now that we’ve determined you are a writer – beyond the “we’re all writers” scope, unless you’ve already done your homework and are reading to check ME, or you’re a savant your natural inclination to write isn’t going to garner your acceptance as writer. That tasty bovine doesn’t get from farm to table without a lot of work, and so my friend, if you want fajitas you must roll up your sleeves. Your dreams and aspirations really don’t matter at this point, because without foundation you can’t support your craft. And even if you are at a point beyond beginning – you still probably don’t know everything. So pay attention.

Grammar and language matter. Even if you freestyle, you must have some material from which to draw and the verbal skylz (yeah I did that on purpose) to present them in a format acceptable to your audience. Even if your audience is just you.

Let me scare you just a little: your words may outlast you. Even the ones you thought were just your own may be the only thing passed down to a descendant who only gets a shot at knowing you by what you’ve scribbled in the margins of your favorite book or a journal. So put thought into your words. Steward them. And always be adding to your arsenal. Take a class. You can always benefit from taking a class. It can be as simple as a free online webinar addressing placement of commas, or a two-year novel writing course, or a degree in creative writing. While this step alone won’t guarantee financial success should you attempt to transition from hobby to career with your word nerding, it will give you an edge that others competing against you may not have. The most amazing story on the planet probably will never get past the sludge pile if the spelling and grammar must be overhauled before the story can go to print.

The more polishing you do, the less you pay for later. And if you don’t want to do the formalized education bit, get friendly with google and check your work. Often. Network. You are not an island. You are a human. You must associate with others of your own species in order to get your words in front of others of your own species. If you are going for a larger audience, you simply must start with a small group who will read you, support you, and give you honest feedback. Caveat: don’t enlist your family. If you suck – and it’s okay that you suck at the beginning of your project – it puts them in a stressful position to have to read your offal. And it may create embarrassment for you when you go off, ego fed by those who love you only to have your tome gutted by an editor with deadlines and a bad disposition. (like me)

Practice practice practice.

Read read read.

And then go practice some more.

Just like anything else you do, the more you do it, the more proficient you should become. And your benchmark will be whatever form of literature is out there being read by the audience you’d love to have. So once you’ve done all these things, my next instruction, dear one, is: Grab a genre or two or five, build up a collection, and prepare to persist, persist. Persist. We’ll cover some different types of writing next week.

Peace.

Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor

Cows that need to die: Why do you think you’re a writer?

It’s getting late here on the third coast, although it’s summer and the sun doesn’t release her hold on the steamy sky until I’m ready to slobber and snore on my pillow. My eyes tell me I have hours to burn, therefore, but the brain knows better. While I don’t believe in writer’s block, my life is not conducive to an allotment of time to pen something amazing, so I’ll just have to throw myself on the mercy of my dear editor and you my readers, and hope you learn something positive over the next few weeks.

I’ll be discussing the following:
- Why do you think you’re a writer?
- No pain no gain – earning that writer street cred
- What’s your delivery? Poet, novelist or somewhere in between
- Who cares? Audience of a million or note to self

I don’t know why you think you’re a writer. Maybe you got a politically correct, gender-neutral participation pin for your last essay. Maybe your mom still has that poem you wrote tacked on her fridge. Maybe you read Stephanie Meyer and thought, “I can do better.” But you got the idea in your noggin somehow, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this bit. Here’s hoping you learn something and that I’ve reached you before you’ve spent half your life pursuing the wrong thing the wrong way for the wrong reasons. If you’re in your twenties – a lost decade isn’t that bad but for the lot of you, this post may generate some stomach acid. I’ll be grilling your sacred bovines now with a side of angst.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

If you’re committed at any level to calling yourself with any degree of frequency “writer,” a couple of cows need to die in order for you to speak truth about yourself.

First: Everybody is a writer. Yup. Okay, almost everybody. But for the majority of us word nerds, writing is a form of communication. Humans use words to convey information. We speak them. We write them down. So as much as it twists my knickers when some village idiot pokes my tome with a tine and says, I’ got a book idea,” truth is, he or she is probably a writer, just like you. If you want to stand out, odds are you’ll have to weaponize yourself with stuff that’s sharper than the local’s pitchforks. (That’s a teaser. We’ll come back to it in the weeks to follow)

Second: You don’t have to love writing to be a successful writer. In fact, you don’t even have to like it. Sorry, there are real writer jobs out there, just like accounting (which I do and I loathe), where I am successful and financially able to be fiscally responsible whilst marinating in my loathing. (translation: I pay my bills, bruh) So, if you are a good writer, success isn’t impossible and certainly not contingent on your personal fulfillment. Success may lie more in your provable skills, than your desire or lack thereof. Depends on your goals and your willingness to invest. Another teaser for you.

Third: You probably will never achieve success as you define it, and if you do, your definition of success may be myopic. The other ugly side of this beast of a coin called success goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway because I’m feeling feisty.

Love won’t put food on the table.

Writer is right up there with rock star and circus clown on the career path. Settle it in your heart now, dear one. Set a goal you can’t reach and find your peace in trying anyway. It will ease the burn, and there’s no harm if you are that one in a bajillion success story, right? We’ll talk about that later too. To wrap up the leftovers, because I’m out of steak sauce and it’s not really my intent to do you harm but rather help you be the best you that you can be, if you don’t already know, I am both writer and editor.

I love writing, but I love writers even more. So if you really think you’re a writer, come back next week. I’ll have fajitas for you and some tips on getting that writer street cred.

Peace
Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor

How to Make a Realistic Fantasy World (finale)

Have you ever wondered what all goes into the creation of a fantasy world? Have you ever sat there stupefied while you’re reading The Lord of the Rings, wondering how on earth Tolkien came up with this whole world and made everything fit together so flawlessly? Well this month in the RADblog, I’ve been answering some of your questions about creating a beautiful world of fantasy, a world where everything fits together and everything feels real, a world where your readers will feel like they can step right off the pages of your book and into the world you’ve created.

Now, for the sake of ease and because I’m sure every single one of you is familiar with the series, I’ve used The Lord of the Rings as my example series, with Middle Earth as my example fantasy world. Tolkien, however, was a master at this kind of thing. He literally created languages to fit into his world. He made those languages. They can be spoken. They have correct syntax. And I’m in no way suggesting that you go that far. No, in fact, I think most of the time you won’t need to.

And today, as you well know, we’ve reached our finale! We’ve made our map, we’ve named our regions, countries, cities, rivers, mountain ranges, and everything in between, we’ve determined what races exist in our world and decided what regions they live in (or come from), and we’ve gone through and determined even the tiniest of details for every city or country in our world… now, at last, it’s time we get to the people themselves.

 

Step 4: Using It All To Make Your Characters Come Alive

 

I’m sure you’re wondering how everything we’ve done so far will really affect the characters in your story. I’m sure you’ve wondered why all of this matters, if characters are what you like to focus on in your story (I should know; I’m the same way). I’m sure some of you have even tuned me out and are waiting for next month, when Tammy returns. But you know what? I’m here to tell you that without putting all that work into your setting, your characters will never be as real as they should be.

Let’s start with places.

Depending on what country your character is from, they’ll behave differently. Think of it like the difference between Boromir and Eomer. Boromir came from Gonder, and was greedy in his want of the ring. Eomer, though never directly capable of attaining the ring, wasn’t the sort of character who would want to take it. The lands they were from helped to define this.

One could even think of it in terms of Denethor and Theoden. Denethor would never have come to the aid of Rohan in Helm’s Deep. It wasn’t in his character. But Theoden, even when given the option not to go to the aid of Gondor, couldn’t deny the need within him to go to their aid, to honor their treaty. That speaks not only of their characters, but of the lands which they come from. If their roles had been reversed, if it was Rohan who’d come to the aid of Gondor at Helm’s Deep, and Gonder who’d denied aid to Rohan in the final battle, how differently the story would’ve ended!

 

But what about simply cities, versus townships?

This also plays a large role, in defining your character. A man from a big city has different morals than one from a country town, does he not? Just like a queen thinks differently from a single mother who works in the fields all day.

You must know where your characters come from, in order to determine how they think, how they perceive, how they feel. Without knowing this, you risk your character coming upon something you won’t know their response to—which usually means you’ll end up inserting yourself, in their place.

 

The role of race, in character development:

Think of it as the difference between Elrond, who would’ve thrown the ring into the fires of Mount Doom without a second thought, and Isildur, who was overcome and took the ring for himself, even after holding it only a short time.

The race of your character will decide a great deal of their personality. If they’re a dwarf, they likely laugh heartily and loudly, but if they’re an elf, they might contain themselves and hold themselves with higher regard. Hobbits have a love of growing things and eating good food, which decides a great deal of their personality. Gnomes are similar, in many ways. Humans are the catch-all here, honestly. We do all the things. We like to have our fingers in all the pies, as it were. But in any case, without knowing the race of your character, it’s hard to know how they innately react to many everyday situations—not to mention the strains your story will put them through.

 

But what about religion, you ask?

I’ll use the real world, for this one. In the real world, religions are everywhere—and do determine a great deal about a person’s innate nature. If you hadn’t already realized that, then I suggest you do some more people watching.

There’s a reason why Jews are well-known for being amazing with money. A reason why Islam is seen by many as going hand in hand with terrorism. A reason why many people turn to Buddhism to find a type of calmness in their lives. The same should be true of your world. There should be religions most people deem as violent. Others that most consider calm and rational. Still others that nobody seems to be able to put their finger on or really understand. Why? Because that’s a part of life, and can often become a large part of your character’s nature, from the very start.

 

But all of this information, every tiny little scrap of it, was information that we came upon by world building. It’s information that we wouldn’t have gathered any other way (or if we did, we’re probably going to have to work backwards now and fill in some holes). It’s information that we need, in order to even get a few chapters into our story—and I hope that I’ve helped you along the way, as you’ve started your own fantasy worlds.

Me? I’m still in the throes of making my latest world, but I’m having far too much fun along the way.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

How to Make a Realistic Fantasy World (part 3)

Have you ever wondered what all goes into the creation of a fantasy world? Have you ever sat there stupefied while you’re reading The Lord of the Rings, wondering how on earth Tolkien came up with this whole world and made everything fit together so flawlessly? Well this month in the RADblog, I’m going to be answering some of your questions about creating a beautiful world of fantasy, a world where everything fits together and everything feels real, a world where your readers will feel like they can step right off the pages of your book and into the world you’ve created.

Now, for the sake of ease and because I’m sure every single one of you is familiar with the series, I’ll be using The Lord of the Rings as my example series, and Middle Earth as my example fantasy world. Tolkien, however, was a master at this kind of thing. He literally created languages to fit into his world. He made those languages. They can be spoken. They have correct syntax. And I’m in no way suggesting that you go that far. No, in fact, I think most of the time you won’t need to.

 

Step 3: The Little Things

 

So far, we’ve set up our map, named places and countries, determined what races exist in our world, and placed them within the map. Whew! That was a lot to do as it was. Now, we’re going to zoom it in a bit.

Remember, this series is all about making a realistic fantasy world. A fantasy world that anyone might think they could simply step into without skipping a beat. If it wasn’t for that… I might not even suggest doing much of this.

 

Now, these are the teeniest and tiniest of details, to the point that you probably didn’t even know your favorite authors went so far as to figure out these details in their worlds, their books. Why? Because if you’ve done all of this stuff, no reader will ever even think to ask this sort of question about your world. And yes, that makes this part both extremely technical and mildly tedious, but you know what? It’s worth it, if you want a fully immersive and completely believable world in the end.

To that end, I have a few questions I want you to ask yourself. I want you to ask yourself these questions about every region in your world, just like Tolkien did for Rohan, for Gondor, even for Mordor. How do I know he did so? Because, like I said, I’ve never thought to ask any of these questions, of any of his works.

 

  • What does the architecture look like?

  • How big are the cities?

  • How long does a person have to live in a country to be considered a citizen? Can humans be citizens of non-human regions (and vice-versa)?

  • What do people eat? Where do they get their food?

  • What do people drink? Where does their water come from?

  • What happens to waste?

  • Where do crops grow?

  • What are the primary modes of travel, and how fast are they?

  • What are the primary jobs people have?

  • In what kind of buildings do people live? 

  • What's the population of your main city(s)? 

  • What happens to the poor? Where do they live? How do they survive?

  • Where do people buy goods? 

  • What do people do for fun? 

  • What is the monetary system like? Is it consistent, throughout the world, or are there different monetary systems between countries (like there are in the real world)?

  • What are the primary religions? (and, if religion will be an important factor in your story, how did those religions begin?)

 

I know, I know, it’s a lot to do. It’s a lot of thinking, a lot of detail you probably didn’t think you would have to do. But like I keep saying: it’s worth it.

Adding all this detail now means not having to think about these things later on down the line. It means knowing your world inside and out. It means never having to question something small in your story, ever, because you’ve already thought through the answer. Doing all this work now, means you won’t ever get stuck in a scene and wonder what the answer to one of these questions is—because you already figured that out, from the beginning.

 

Next week, the finale in our series! We’ll be talking about finally adding some characters into our world, and using all the information we’ve amassed so far to really make those characters shine.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.