Contrast In Writing by Prudence Hayes

Being that I am a newbie in the writing world, I am still in the process of finding my own style; the way that I write to differ myself from everyone else and solidify myself as an individual. I have not perfected this yet, but I am slowly finding my way.

But along the way of finding who I am as a writer, I am finding out more and more about myself personally. A major aspect about me that I have found out is that I like contrast. It rings true in a lot of things in my life, but it is very apparent in my writing.

In my writings, I tend to jump from something that is emotionally traumatic making the reader sad or miserable and then jump to something funny in the next page or so making the reader laugh or crack a smile. Or, at least that is what I hope I do…

I don’t believe I do it on purpose, though; it is just how it forms in my head and leaks out onto paper, probably because the saying, “write what you know” is true. I write a lot about emotions and mental issues. I am an internally emotional person and have dealt with a lot of things with the help of humor. So, it is only natural for me to form stories in my head that way.

I hope I keep this aspect with me along the way of finding my true style because I think it keeps it interesting and natural.
From tears to giggles, anger to happiness, grief to euphoria; it’s the contrast that I find appealing.

Writing Comedy vs. Heavy Subjects by Karen Vaughan

I find it easier to write funny over something serious. I have always been a smart-ass and it comes across in my LAURA AND GERRY series as well as my stand alone DEAD COMIC STANDING. Both my protagonists and my villains have wicked senses of what’s funny so it is interesting to see them face off.
Take the Kangaroo court scene between Leena and Laura:
“If I may address the court, your Honor;  My co defendant and I choose to plead not guilty. However, as we know you to be my co defendant’s sister we request that you excuse yourself from the trial.
“And why would that be?”  Julie was looking every bit the diva in her designer duds and four-inch heels.
“Fair trial in front of a jury of our peers, but what we are lacking is an unbiased judge; not exactly what you would call an even playing field is it?”

“I never said it was going to be fair. You’re guilty of sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Your co-defendant is charged with being a traitor, turning against her own sister and daddy like that, all out of jealousy of course.  Delroy found out the hard way that you don’t mess with family like that. Jackie is taking a lot longer to get the point. She will, as will you and dear Sandy.”
“Yes dear Sandy,” I interrupted. “His only crime was falling for someone of his own age group.  You’re just pissed that you’re out of the loop.”
“His crime is alienation of affection and adultery.  He was schlepping the old bag while married to me!”
“You had an open marriage! He gave you money to spend as you please, free reign to do whatever and whomever you pleased, which in the real world gave him free reign to follow his own interests. If he happened to find a kindred spirit as he put it, it’s not your place to say who he spent time with. That old bag as you so ineloquently put it was a sweet eighty-four year old who loved the shopping channel, playing canasta and lawn bowling. She cross-stitched samplers for her friends.  She and Sandy were involved with several philanthropic projects to help the poor and infirm in the city.  They didn’t have the time to fool around as you so gracelessly implied.  You wouldn’t know this because you were too busy spending your husband’s money on expensive bling, when there are so many people in Toronto don’t have food on the table or a roof over their heads.  What you did was totally reprehensible!”
Judge Julie laughed at me here. “Since when is shopping a crime?”
“No, not shopping per se; your crime was hiring a man to do the job for you. You didn’t have the proverbial stones to kill Mrs. Peterson, woman to woman. No, you got a man to go beat a defenseless woman while she ate her cereal.  Yes, members of the jury, the deceased was found face down in a bowl of wheat squares!” A collective gasp was uttered from the gallery.  I had the jury eating out of my hands.
“Someone want to bring the court back to order and kindly shut the defendant up?”

Jackie was right beside me. “You go girl.”
My abductor stood up, ready to put me in my place. I turned on him. “Want another can of whoop ass friend?” I raised my knee to show him I was ready for round two. He backed off somewhat quickly.
I have so much fun writing funny stuff that I sometimes get carried away. I have to ask myself. How much is too much humor? Is there a balance between comic relief in a tense situation or can writers get away with non-stop humor if the story calls for it?
People always say write what you know. I should write my account of my mental health situation but there would still be a lot of humor. If it weren’t for sarcasm and attitude I would need therapy and bail money.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 5, Dialogue Mechanics by B.Y. Rogers

I am positively giddy about this post. The next chapter in Self Editing for Fiction Writers is precisely what Matt Stover preached to me over two years ago and since then, I have had more than a few conversations about these principles, most result with negative results.  But I have held my ground on and will continue to do so. What follows is so important so if you want to learn to write, again, I beg you, get this book.

Again, my comments will be in parenthesis (and there will probably be many of them).

Chapter 5  Dialogue Mechanics

What is the first thing acquisition editors look for when they begin reading fiction submission? (Not going to tell you!)

Because it is such hard work, generations of writers have developed mechanical tricks to save them the trouble of writing dialogue that effectively conveys character and emotion…Not surprisingly, these are tricks to avoid if you want to you want your dialogue to read like the work of a professional instead of an amateur or a hack.  (My graphic artist suggested I take a look at writing.com, which I mentioned in my previous post. I looked at two short stories that were submitted for comments on that site. One was so terrible when it came to dialogue that I could not finish reading it. It was too painful. I suggested to both authors to get this book. They need it desperately!)

Imagine you are at a play. It’s the middle of the first act. You are really involved in the drama. Suddenly the playwright runs out on the stage and yells, “Do you see what is happening here? Do you see how her coldness is behind his infidelity?” (Great metaphor)

If your dialogue isn’t written well, if it needs the explanation to convey the emotion-then the explanation really won’t help. (AMEN!)

It’s showing and telling applied to dialogue.

Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence on the writer’s part, perhaps it’s simple laziness, or perhaps it’s a misguided attempt to break up the monotony of using the unadorned said all the time, but all too many fiction writers tend to pepper their dialogue with -ly’s. Which is a good reason to cut virtually one you write. Ly adverbs almost always catch the writer in the act of attributions that belong in the dialogue itself.

(Rennie Browne and Dave King make a reference to “Tom Swifties” , which made me laugh. What got me seriously interested in reading when I was in the 6th grade was the Tom Swift series, by Victor Appleton II. Ah, the memories!)

Don’t make speaker attributions as a way to slip in explanations to your dialogue (“he growled,” “she snapped”)

To use verbs like these last three for speaker attributions is to brand yourself as an amateur.

Verbs other than said tend to draw attention away from the dialogue.

Said, on the other hand, isn’t even read the way other verbs are read. It is, and should be, an almost purely mechanical device, more like a punctuation mark than a verb.  (BINGO! Think about this. When you read dialogue, do you really pay attention to the word said? We don’t, at least I do not, unless the author adds an attribution, which then makes me pause. Should not the speaker’s words in the dialogue tell me if the character is angry, sad, happy, clueless? If the writer builds the character correctly and develops the scene correctly, I will already know if the speaker is angry or not.)

(Here is something I did not know.) Decide how you are going to refer to a character and stick with it for at least the length of the scene. Don’t use “Hubert said,” on one page, “Mr. Winchester said,” on the next and “the old man said,” on the third. If you do, your reader will have to stop reading long enough to figure out that the old man is Hubert Winchester.

(Purchase the book and learn what “beats” are.)

If it’s clear from the dialogue who is speaking-you can dispense with speaker attributions altogether. (Again, build your characters correctly!)

(Learn the difference between dashes and ellipses.)

The truth is, only editors and reviewers really notice these things. (You may not think these principles are important but they will make the difference not only with getting your tome published but how many sales you make.)

“Mr (Robert) Ludlum has other peculiarities. For example, he hates the “he said” locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in The Bourne Ultimatum seldom say anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper, (Mr. Ludlum is great on whispers), intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: “‘I repeat,’ repeated Alex.” The book may sell in the billions, but it is still junk. -Newgate Callendar, The New York Times Book Review

Life – Grist for the Writer’s Mill by Dellani Oakes

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find myself watching others and listening to conversations, filing them away for later use. Little bits of life enter into my stories in one way or another. I don’t always do it on purpose, sometimes it just happens. Other times, it is deliberate. My eldest son and his friends have entered into my novels in more than one guise. They have such a colorful turn of phrase, creative insults and snappy repartee, I can’t avoid it. More than once their conversations have stumbled across my pages. Many of the young, twenty something men in my novels are based on combinations of their personalities.

Personalities, conversations, character types, all of these are grist for the writer’s mill. Let’s face it, when something is good, we’re not above snatching it. I don’t mean plagiarism of another author’s work. I’m talking about our own experiences. Sometimes that boring conversation overheard in the electronics department at Wal-Mart can be used all or in part for something else. I file these away in my mind. Sometimes, so I won’t forget details, I write them down to remind myself, but more often I rely on my memory to implant them where they need to go. Not my most reliable method, considering my memory these days, but I prefer to do it that way. Then my presentation isn’t colored by something I’ve already written out.

Often, my own experiences are parts of the characters’ backgrounds and upbringing. My own likes and dislikes color their choices. I try not to do it, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. They are a part of me, therefore they have certain of my personality quirks. I don’t think they ring as true as people if I don’t make them realistic. For example, the music my characters like. I have a broad reach of musical tastes, but you won’t catch me listening to much rap. Not my thing. My characters reflect that dislike.

I love music, art and theatre. Many of my characters are creative in more of these areas. I have several musicians – mostly guitarists, since my boys all love to play the guitar. I have lots of characters who love to sing, because that’s something I love to do. One is plagued by perfect pitch – another is tone deaf. Fortunately, as they live in totally different eras, they will never meet.

People whom I’ve met in passing, have entered my stories. The grouchy old lady who hit me with a shopping cart in K-Mart – she’s in a book. The stone deaf old man I encountered in the produce department of Winn-Dixie who wouldn’t move when I tried to get by – he’s in there. Grocery clerks, orderlies at the hospital, traffic cops, doctors, teachers, hair dressers – all of them have entered my stories in some form or fashion.

Some are done in the form of a tribute. The orderly, who cared for my daughter when she broke her arm, has been in more than one book. Not only was he genuinely kind to her, he was stunningly handsome. Tall, broad shouldered, muscular, with gorgeous eyes, straight teeth and big, gold hoops in his ears. She and I still remember him well. Whenever I need an orderly, I trot him out.

Another is a dear friend who was like a second mother to me. She was a wonderful lady from Manchester, England. She was warm, kind, loving and took everyone to her heart. She was also feisty and didn’t take crap from anyone. I needed just such a character for my romantic suspense novel, Undercover Lover. Thus, Julia Cross was born. She is my tribute to my dear friend.

Not only people are grist for the writer’s mill. Weird things that happen also enter in. Something that happened to my husband, will one day make it into a book. He was sitting on the balcony of a friend’s condo having a cigarette, when a man came out of the room in the condo across from him. He checked to see if his neighbor was looking, but didn’t check across the way to the other building. He whipped off his wet bathing suit and hung it over the railing. Suddenly, my poor husband was flashed by a pale, fat man! Fortunately, he’d seen worse, so he wasn’t seriously traumatized, but it very nearly put him off his dinner.

Something I’ve already used was something that happened when I was driving. An odd encounter with motorcycles on Riverside Drive eventually became the beginning of my novel, The Ninja Tattoo.

Author advice through the ages has been Write What You Know. I’d like to change that up a bit and say instead – Write What You Observe. Everything you see, think or hear can become grist for the writer’s mill.

What’s In A Name by Prudence Hayes

Some people use a pen name and some people don’t. I do. Prudence Hayes is not my true name that my mom gave me. It is merely my pen name. A name I use to give myself the confidence I need to put my books out there. To be honest, if I didn’t have a pen name my words wouldn’t form into books. My stories would still be hidden away in my spiral notebooks under my bed. I can shyly hide behind it and become Prudence for the world to see.
The process of picking it was all quite simple. ‘Prudence’ came from one of my favorite songs, “Dear Prudence” by The Beatles and ‘Hayes’ is my Me-mom’s maiden name. I put them together and it just clicked.
I began using it when I was writing my first book “Back into the Sunshine”. That book was my ‘coming out party’ in a way. You see, my family had no clue that I loved to write. I have always hidden that fact along with my feelings and built up emotions. I wrote that book as a venting mechanism and when I was done I was frightened at the thought of them reading it. So, my plan was to pick a pen name, write it and never speak about the book. No one was going to know about it. And, no one did until I finally worked up the nerve to bite the bullet and tell them.
The name has stuck with me. In the writing world, I will forever be known as Prudence. Every book and story will be branded with my alter ego and I am fine with that because I feel more like Prudence Hayes than the other me most of the time.

And ACTION! by Karina Gioertz

Thinking about making a book trailer but don’t know where to start? Worry it will be too complicated or cost too much? Guess again! There are wonderfully simple and free programs out there just waiting for you to create your marketing masterpiece!

Personally, I like the site http://animoto.com/ . Not only do they offer several nice templates for free 30 second videos, they also make it super easy for you to get started and begin creating. After choosing the perfect backdrop for your video, you can select music from their extensive musical library. Next, upload your images. Using your own pictures and images is certainly easiest in terms of dealing with copyright issues, however, if you don’t have what you need there are plenty of Websites available offering free open source/public domain images. Remember to include your cover – I like to show it twice, in the opening as well as the end.

The next step is entering in any captions you would like. Generally, I try to choose two or three phrases that sum up my book blurb. Once you have it all just the way you want it, preview the video to make sure everything flows just the way you want it and that the text is on the screen long enough for viewers to read it. Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time around, you can edit it as often as you like!

Finally, upload the video to YouTube. From there you will able to share it just about anywhere and with anyone. Now hurry up and post it on your Goodreads profile, Facebook, Twitter and website/blog 🙂

Other great sites to submit it to are-

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/submissions/
http://booktrailers.ning.com
http://www.dailymotion.com/ca-en/channels/1
http://www.previewthebook.com/index.php

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 4, Proportion by B.Y. Rogers

(If you are wondering what ‘proportion’ has to do with writing, think of it this way. How much do I give to my readers in any scene? Do I give them too much or too little? Then ask yourself this: too much or too little of what? Information related to the plot? Did I take 5 pages to write something that should have been written in 3?  At least that is how I am defining proportion. Your mileage may vary.)

Proportion problems…arise from the same lack of confidence  that leads beginning writers to describe emotions they have already shown.

When you fill in all the details and leave nothing to your reader’s imagination, you’re patronizing them. (AMEN!)

Sometimes proportion problems arise when a writer is writing about his or her pet interests or hobbies. (This is why I mention taking too long to say what needs to be said. Taking 5 pages to show what you want to convey, instead of 3 pages, will bore your readers. There is a great example of this on page 68 of the book, oh, wait… sorry, you haven’t purchased your own copy yet have you?  Tsk, tsk.)

You didn’t read the whole paragraph did you?  (this is from the book. No I didn’t. I was bored by word 11. Again, get the book!)

Proportion problems can arise inadvertently, sometimes through cutting.

So how do you avoid proportion problems? In most cases it’s quite simple: PAY ATTENTION.

A warning: paying attention to your story does not mean ruthlessly cutting everything that doesn’t immediately advance your plot.

Is it really needed? Does it add? Should it be shorter/longer?

Bear in mind that most readers may not find such topics as interesting as you do.

Once you have trained yourself to see how changes in proportion affect your story, you can begin to use proportion to shape your readers’ response to your plot. (Read this post and pay attention to what you want from your readers)

The safest approach is to make sure the material you’re writing about helps advance either your plot or your narrator’s character.

‘Eternal Voice’ Whispers To Author Who Listened by Grant Overstake

Recently, I was asked how I, being a 55 year-old male, managed to create the heroic female character, Maggie Steele, in my inspirational new teen sports novel, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon.

My answer was that I listened, and Maggie told me what to write, whispering every word, line by line, page by page.

Before embarking on a quest to write my first novel, I read several books and sought the advice of a successful author friend. She told me to ignore the clamoring experts, and just start writing. She advised me to expect characters to appear, and that when they appeared, to allow them to tell me their story without restricting them. So, in the silence and solitude of a predawn morning in August, 2011, I opened a blank composition notebook with pen in hand, and began to listen. In my left-handed scrawl, one word followed another, as the resilient, heroic character of Maggie Steele relayed an amazing story for to me to tell the world.

Maggie met me every morning in the silent place we shared, describing the most painful year of her life. As a former newspaper reporter, I found it easier to quote her verbatim, in first-person. She recounted the scenes as they’d unfolded, as vividly and personally as anyone I’d ever interviewed in my journalism career.

I’d experienced what you might call glimmerings of creativity while writing feature stories, but this experience was more than a brief blast of creative energy; it was an extended epiphany. Truthfully, Maggie and I were so in tune with each other, I felt more like a scribe, as she used me to tell her story.

A wise person once wrote, “Creation begins in mind as a divine idea…. With a flash of insight and inspiration, dreams and desires manifest into thoughts and words…” I can attest that, for me and Maggie, this was true.

Our collaboration continued every day without fail for three months. I recorded what Maggie told me as accurately as I could, in her own words, just as if I were gathering quotes for a newspaper article. By the time she’d told me the entire story, I’d filled five notebooks, front and back pages, with more than 97,000 words.

Journalists are supposed to be dispassionate, detached, and not too emotionally involved with the sources they cover. But as an author, this was different. As the hours, days and weeks went by, hearing Maggie tell her story became so painful, and ultimately, so wonderful, that there are pages in those notebooks stained with tears of sorrow and joy.

When I was a reporter working on a deadline, my habit was to type a story into a word-processor and then to self-edit as long as time allowed before surrendering it for final editing. But if I was going to record Maggie’s story just as she told it, I would have no time to go back and edit what she was sharing with me. My wife, Claire, suggested that I write the whole story out in longhand, instead of trying to type into the computer, without editing anything.

I have my wife, Claire, to thank for allowing Maggie’s story to become so fully formed. Qualifying for sainthood, she transcribed my daily scrawls into the computer at night after long days of teaching sixth grade. She typed in every one of those 97,000 words, just as I’d written them. In the process, she also fell in love with Maggie Steele.

When that first long draft was printed, it totaled more than 400 pages. With Maggie watching over my shoulder, I (we) edited it down to just over 63,000 words, just the right length for young adult readers. (The book was published in October, 2012, through Create Space and Amazon.com.) The final version is a quicker read, capturing Maggie’s story without losing its essence or emotion; allowing the readers to fill in the details with their own imaginations.

To me, the mechanical details are secondary to the deeper mystery of how and why Maggie picked me to tell her story.

When I’m asked what my book is all about, I often say, “It’s a book about girl’s pole-vaulting.”

But that’s not all it is. Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is also a story of overcoming life’s obstacles, expressed through the metaphor of pole-vaulting . Maggie told me to call it, “A Triumph Over Gravity.” And so it is.

Inscribed at the beginning of the novel are these words from spiritual teacher Ernest Holmes:

“But always there is that Eternal Voice, forever whispering in our ear, that thing which causes the eternal quest, that thing which forever sings and sings.”

How was I able to capture the character of Maggie Steele?

I listened to her Voice, whispering in my ear.

That listening has changed both of our lives, forever.

The Day I Fell Down The Rabbit Hole And Landed In Tweetland by J.P. Lane

The day I fell down the rabbit hole and landed in Tweetland

We all hate the marketing part, right? But we all know it’s a necessary evil. I don’t know what your journey through the labyrinths of social media marketing has been like, or where it has taken you, but mine began with baby steps along the pathways of Facebook. Back then, I didn’t have a clue where to begin. I had very few Facebook friends and had yet to discover the groups I’m in today. While I was stumbling through this yet to be explored territory, I fell down the rabbit hole and landed in Tweetland, a place that can suck you in as sure as Alice got sucked in by Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the woods of Wonderland.

Much has been written about social media marketing and I’ve read a lot of it, including skepticism over its effectiveness. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I will say this: in the past seven months, I’ve downloaded 74 Kindle books by fellow Indie authors. All were promoted on Twitter or Facebook; proof that Twitter and Facebook are good for something.

But let’s forget about Facebook, because Twitter is enough of a discussion for one post. Let’s begin with the fact that, thus far, there’s no measure of return for Twitter. It’s guesswork at best. But based on the 1% – 2% return on direct mail marketing, I’ll hazard a guess that 1% of readers of your genre will buy your book in response to your tweet.

So, one hundred potential readers saw your tweet today and of those, one bought your book. What about tomorrow? And the next day, and the day after that? Faced with the size of the audience needed to sell a lot of books, it seems like becoming a consistent bestseller is completely beyond reach. I hear you arguing that Twitter isn’t the only way. You’re right. It’s not. But Twitter is the great global exchange where all the lines come and go. To quote from the article in Digital Book Today, “With a few exceptions, things that happen on Facebook tend to stay on Facebook. Things that happen on Twitter make things happen everywhere else.”

This means as a marketing tool, Twitter should be taken seriously. I take it seriously and I’m sharing what I’ve learned while hanging out with Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Tweets, Tweeting and Twitterquette:

We’re all guilty of banging out tweets and slapping them on Twitter, but until somebody clicks on the link to your book blurb that you may have spent days writing, your tweet remains the first impression. So it’s worth investing in time to write compelling tweets, bearing in mind a tweet is like a billboard. You have four or five seconds to get your message across – and make it stick. Avoid hashtags if you can. They just get in the way of valuable words. Because they’re links, the eye gravitates towards them first. Look at a tweet with a lot of hashtags and you’ll see what I mean.

Strategize your tweeting. Keep time zones in mind. For example, you don’t want to be tweeting your UK link at an hour when all the UK has gone to bed. If you’re on a tweet team, don’t tweet or schedule other members’ tweets all at the same time. Alternate your tweets and theirs. This will allow people who want to retweet you to find your tweets easily. The same applies to retweeting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to reciprocate a retweet and given up because the person’s last tweet is buried under dozens of retweets.

Sign up with a tweet scheduling service. Many are free and they make life a lot easier by allowing you to repeat your tweets, which Twitter doesn’t. A scheduler also frees up your Twitter time, so the time you would have spent tweeting can be spent interacting with your followers – the key to building relationships that will prove valuable to you.

You can’t build relationships unless you interact with your followers. Thank them for favoriting your tweets, mentioning you or retweeting you. Even chat with them if you’re so inclined. Above all, reciprocate if you’ve been retweeted! To quote a tweet I saw tonight, “If someone has bothered to tweet my book, the least I can do is return the favour. It’s just good manners.” Remember, every time someone retweets you they’ve expanded your audience. If ten people with 2,000 followers each retweet you, they will have expanded your audience by 20,000 and increased your visibility significantly. They’re doing you a big favor.

For those who are wondering how you can possibly keep up with all this without being on Twitter morning, noon and night, there’s a magic button on the top left of your Twitter page. It’s the @Connect button. Click on it and it will show you who’s retweeted you, who’s mentioned you, who’s favorite you – everything concerning your followers’ interactions with you. E-mail notifications don’t tell the whole story, so you can miss a lot if you depend solely on those.

Pay it back and pay it forward. You’ll get a lot more followers, and a lot more support. But selling books isn’t the only reward for living harmoniously with the inhabitants of Tweetland. I’ve connected with some awesome people. What were once just mug shots with names attached to them are now Twitter friends.

“Six Ways in Which Twitter Eclipses Facebook” http://digitalbooktoday.com/2013/01/05/six-ways-in-which-twitter-eclipses-facebook/

Midnight in Paris, A Morning in Rome? by Eileen Register

I’d love to write a romantic story that features the exotic ambiance of Paris or Rome.  It would be fun to write about traveling across the savannahs and through the jungles of Africa.  Rio would be so exciting!

So why do I use my home state of Florida as the backdrop for my novels? Is it because I’m lazy and don’t want to do research? Eh, maybe a tiny bit. For the most part, though, I want to concentrate on my characters and storyline. By writing about a setting with which I am very familiar, I am able to put most of my effort into creating realistic characters and dialogue with which to develop a story that is colorful and interesting.

One prime example of this is the setting for Book II of my Grisholm County Series, Sylvan Creek. My hometown of Sebring, Florida was originally designed with a circular park at its core and streets branching out in all directions from that circle. Sylvan Creek follows the same pattern except that the park is much bigger and there’s a creek running through it.  I enhanced the fond memories I have of my hometown and made the setting for the story even more interesting and much better as a backdrop for the murder that takes place.

I’m very visual and find that writing about things I’ve seen and persons I’ve met is a more comfortable way for me to develop stories. I’m sure I could read a few National Geographic magazines and learn what I need to know to write a story set in some exotic place. There are plenty of pictures available online and in books that would give me the visual boost I need in order to be able to write about such places. However, nothing would be as real to me through research as it is through my own experiences.

As an English teacher, I always encouraged my students to “write what you know” when they were doing creative writing assignments. Instead of reaching to write about something they had little knowledge about, they would start out by thinking about a place, person, thing, or event in their own lives. From that origin, they could spring forth into a fantasy, a true story, a poem, or even a play. The result might end up having a setting nothing like their own lives, but it would be grounded in what they knew.

I’m not saying everyone should write only about places they’ve been, people they’ve met, or things they’ve experienced – far from it! What I am saying is that it works for me. If a writer is having trouble getting the story rolling, perhaps simplifying its development will help. Choose two most important aspects of the story – which, for me are plot and characterization – and concentrate on them. Selecting a setting that takes less time to develop because it resembles a real place the writer has experienced will free his/her mind to concentrate on other things.