Adrian Fogelin Book Coach

Three Statues.

It takes a team to move a book from idea to launch.

R. Juan Harris’s novel, “Three Statues” began with three metal sculptures fabricated by the author. But as he lived with them, they began to suggest a story.

Ron Harris

What if the three statues were three women who, in turn, occupied the central spot in the sculptor’s life?

And so, Max’s story began.

Here we are at the launch in Apalachicola, FL.

Ron (R. Juan) is the handsome guy on the left.

I’m next. I served as content editor.

Debbie Hooper shot the cover. She faced a challenge taking three statues created on very different scales and combining them in a single, balanced image.

Finally, there is Sue Cronkite. a retired newspaper journalist who did the copy edit–there is nothing like a typo to remind the reader that this is just a story.

As you work on your own book remember, seeking help is part of the process.

 

 

The good thing about being God.

mountain vista

The omniscient point of view, which gives the writer license to go into any head and no head at all and to speak as a God-like observer, or even to address the reader directly, had its golden era in the 19th century.

Modern readers and writers prefer the more intimate view of first person or limited third. Both are much more natural. After all, we live confined to one consciousness, one point of view.

Omniscient creates an often chilly distance between the reader and the story; it provides the broader vistas seen from a mountaintop as opposed to what can be observed when studying an object in your hand.

But what did that 19th century novelist, and those who buck the trend and use the omniscient point of view today have that the modern intimate writer lacks?

The ability to get in backstory and exposition in a way that is natural and unobtrusive.

First person narration has to practically stand on its head to do the same. First person often disguises needed information as dialogue, but that only goes so far. A character who says, “You and I grew up in New Jersey.” is stating what the other character clearly knows. It is only in there to inform the reader.

The first-person narrative can divert briefly into a bit of backstory or exposition, but it always takes the reader out of the “now” of the story and weakens the sense that the reader is listening to the voice of the narrator.

If you have any doubt that this is true, notice how hard it is to transition back into the “now” of your story and regain the sense that the story is being told by an individual “I.”

Here is a example of the ease with which a broad description can be written, unencumbered by the need to justify its presence by having someone observe the scene or talk about it. This is the view from the mountaintop that is so easy to achieve when writing in the omniscient point of view.

“Every day at the same time the schoolmaster in a black skull-cap opened the shutters of his house, and the rural policeman, wearing his sabre over his blouse, passed by. Night and morning the post-horses, three by three, crossed the street to water at the pond. From time to time the bell of a public-house door rang, and when it was windy one could hear the little brass basins that served as a sign for the hairdresser’s shop creaking on their two rods.”

From Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” published in 1857.

Morning Pages.

img_0194Writers tackle big, daunting projects, like novels.

The stakes are high and the inner critic–that voice that dogs all writers–provides a nattering litany of discouragement.

You think you can write a book? Really? You think you have 80,000 words in you that someone would want to read? Give me a break!

To dodge that critic while building the muscles needed to write 80,000 words someone would want to read, try writing things that don’t matter, like Morning Pages.

The word “morning” is important. The inner critic armors-up as the day goes on, but as you leave sleep you are less guarded, less self-censoring.

The inner-critic sleeps later than the imagination.

I do this wandering form of writing every morning, spewing anything that comes to mind. Subjects I have covered include pain, a good dog, a brief imaginary scene from the Civil War, the value of habit, the nature of creativity, ripe fruit. My morning pages are a no-fault opportunity to try things out, to be foolish or serious, to stand up on my bicycle seat and show off, if only for myself.

Sometimes in that junk heap of words I find usable passages, but I maintain the habit in the same way an athlete maintains muscle by going to the gym.

Bottom line. Writers write. And if you don’t want to wear yourself flat grinding out a novel that may take years, throw in a few sprints, like morning pages.

Pinning your story to the clothesline of time.

Clothes pins on a line

The real world imposes external timelines that must be observed when writing realistic fiction.

The first is the pattern of the calendar year.

I’ve been working on a novel that opens in the fall just when the year begins its inevitable tilt toward the holidays. I didn’t bother to include the holidays. They were not necessary to tell the story I had in mind, but in revision I realized I had to work them in.

Any American story that passes through November and December traverses a landscape that includes holly berries, overeating, and family gatherings–what you do with these ingredients is up to you. Those holidays served to point out to my characters how alone they really were.

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Tell don’t show.

Telling.I know, show don’t tell is the opening line of the fiction writer’s bible—but now read the fine print.

Show don’t tell–but only if you are building a scene.

“Telling” is a shortcut used to convey information quickly and economically without a lot of fuss.

Okay, some kinds of “telling” deserve their bad reps.

Telling can be a form of laziness, a way to dodge the effort of building a scene with all those pesky details and he-said-she-saids.

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Look left.

Put the narrative passages of your fiction through this simple test.

Run your eye down the left margin of your pages and see if your paragraphs open with the same word.

While those opening words in scenes that include dialogue tend to vary, scans of the opening words of paragraphs of narrative will often look like this:

John

John

John

Or:

He

He

He

Or even:

He

John

He 

John

Which isn’t much better.

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The writer and the critic.


The great and powerful inner critic.
Before your prose is ever judged by an acknowledged critic it will be savaged by the critic within, and that critic will not stop with the observation that you tend to run-on sentences, or wouldn’t know a good metaphor if it bit you.

The inner critic will get personal, demeaning you for entertaining the idea that you–yes, you–could write a book.

For those who are brave enough to start one, it is usually the inner critic who keeps that insecure new writer from finishing, striking when the writer is in the doldrums that lurk in the middle of all novels-in-progress.

“Give up!” says the inner critic, and the writer, like the Cowardly Lion facing the Wizard, turns and runs.

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Want to poke your reader in the eye?

Bogus adverbs.

Use an unnecessary adverb.

“I’m so happy to be here!” Lulu said excitedly.

Wasn’t the exclamation point a big enough tip-off, not to mention the so that precedes happy?

 

The overuse of adverbs usually indicates one of two things.

You don’t trust the reader to “get it” so you are giving them a helpful shove. Or your verb is too generic.

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Past or present tense?

rome paintingPast or present? This question didn’t used to come up. Stories were told in the past tense. Period.

Why? One answer is like that famous parental response, “Because I told you so.”

We write in past tense because it has always been thus.

But more and more stories are now being narrated in present tense, especially in middle grade and YA fiction.

So, what are the qualities of each, and how do you decide which suits your story?

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Adding backstory.

My friend, Vicky told the un-funniest jokes ever. Then, when no one laughed she would supply the missing piece that told you why it was funny: “Did I mention that the monkey was wearing a dress?”

The omitted detail was what made the joke funny.

A story is built like a very long joke, and in order to arrive at the punch line we usually need to know some details that come from a time prior to the chosen starting point.

Those details make up the backstory.

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