Experience Life!

We writers can’t be recluses. Oh, but weren’t we supposed to sit in our office, away from the hubbub of civilization, and compose articles, stories, poems, and books? Well, I don’t know about being away from the hubbub of civilization part, because some writers write best in a noisy environment, but yes, we must write every day. I work best in the quiet of my own office, away from “noisy civilization.”

However, if all we do is withdraw from society and write, our oasis of inspiration will eventually evaporate, leaving us with a dry spell and nothing to write about. It’s vital that we get away from our laptops from time to time and experience new things.

For example, I once rode Amtrak from New Orleans to Chicago to attend a writers’ conference. Am I afraid of flying? No, I’m not. I’ve flown numerous times. My father was a private pilot, and I’ve flown overseas and in the continental United States on commercial jets. Flying? No problem. But I’d never traveled anywhere by train, so I decided I’d go Amtrak just for the experience.

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

During this trip, I met many interesting people with whom I engaged in conversation. I also made notes about the train on a spiral notebook for future use in case I ever decided to use a train in a story. I noted the train’s sounds, what its dining car looked like, the food that was served, etc.

So, why not find something different to do every now and then? Experience life. Even make notes if you have to. Who knows? Inspiration for a story may hit all of a sudden. New experiences help make all of us better writers.

Too Many Characters?

books-bookshelf-depth-of-field-1317259Occasionally, I’ve read book reviews where the critic says the author had too many characters. Though in some cases this criticism has validity, in my opinion “too many characters” isn’t always a valid point. A book that has a host of characters is neither good nor bad. The same goes for a book peopled by a mere handful. Everything depends on how well it’s written and its genre.

If a book describes itself as an epic or a saga, then expect lots of characters. One of my favorite writers whose books contain a large cast is James Michener. Numerous bestselling authors other than Michener can be cited as well: Margaret Mitchell, Colleen McCullough, and even Louis L’Amour’s last novel set during the Middle Ages, The Walking Drum, falls into this large cast category.

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Whether readers enjoy a lot of characters or a few, it’s all a matter of style and taste. In short, it’s a reader’s preference.

However, if we write books using lots of characters, we do well to consider the following:

1. Don’t give characters similar sounding names. Similar sounding names may confuse readers, thus making it difficult for them to follow your story.

2. Try to reduce the number of characters in your story. One way to do this is to ask yourself this question: Is the character really important to the story? If not, either get rid of that character or make him/her a nameless walk-on character, or merge him/her into another, more important character.

3. Use a Cast of Characters chart. Write a list of all the novel’s key players and then publish them on the book’s opening pages. That way, if a reader gets lost or confused, he/she can refer to it.

See everyone again next week. Keep those laptop keys hopping!

Quote the Bible, But Don’t Get in Trouble

 

bible-book-business-272337Is it possible for Christian writers to get in legal trouble when they quote the Bible? Yes. This is especially true for indie authors. To quote any modern translation requires written permission from that translation’s publisher. If we don’t get permission, not only is it unethical, it also breaks copyright law.

Of course, the law also has a principle called Fair Use. Under this part of the law, an author may quote a certain amount of material from a copyrighted work without permission. How much may the author quote? Several factors are considered, which we’ll not discuss here. Because claiming Fair Use can be tricky at times, I like to play things safe. This is why I recommend using the Authorized King James Version if we’re citizens of the United States, because in America it’s in the public domain. This means we don’t need permission to quote it.

However, for those authors who live in the United Kingdom, they still need permission before they can use it. Here’s a link for United Kingdom authors:

https://www.cambridge.org/ad/bibles/about/rights-and-permissions

Traditional publishers typically have a contractual agreement with certain Bible publishers. They’ll tell us in their guidelines which translation they use. So, if we go the traditional route, we needn’t worry about obtaining permission since the publisher has already done that.

Of course, indie authors can use modern translations provided they obtain permission first. The best way to do this is to visit the Bible publisher’s website. Once there, go to the bottom of the page and click on “Terms of Use” or a similar link. This page discusses matters of copyright, how to obtain permission, and sometimes it’ll lead us to another page where we can fill out a request form to submit.

As an example, let’s look at B&H Publishing’s website. B & H publishes the Christian Standard Bible. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Visit the website at https://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/.

Step 2: Scroll down to bottom of home page to the “About Us.”

Step 3: Click on the last link, “Privacy Policy & Terms.”

Step 4: Read the “Privacy Policy & Terms” page.

Step 5: Click on “here” under the Licensing and Policy Requests section.

Step 6: Click on “To Use or Publish a B & H product.”

Step 7: Fill out the form and submit.

This is how to get permission from B & H Publishing. Other Bible publishers use a similar procedure.

Till next week, friends. Keep tapping away on those laptop keys!

Books

On My Retirement

 

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As I approach retirement from what I often call my “tentmaking job,” because my real work is actually writing, some folks have asked me what I intend to do. Will I be playing golf every day? Will I go fishing? What about sitting in front of my television set watching old Westerns all day? Nope. None of these. Why? Because I’m going back into writing full-time, something I did for ten years when I was younger. And writing, my friends, though it is my passion…it’s also extremely hard work.

Particularly my genre, historical fiction. It’s easy to slip up on historical details. To my chagrin, I’ve done it. Even the best historical fiction authors have. We must consider so many minute details while weaving our tales! I cannot stress hard enough how important it is for our stories to be accurate. 

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.co

In the interest of accuracy, I like doing on-site research whenever I can. This means such things as visiting old homes, museums, and other historical spots. One of the first things I plan to do upon my retirement is visit the setting of one of my  current Works-in-Progress (WIPs).  Sure, I can find photographs of it online, but there’s nothing like onsite research to get a real feel for my story’s setting.

So if your story’s setting is a real place, if possible, make time to visit it  Not only will it help make your descriptions more accurate and believable, it’ll  also help you write more confidently, knowing  that your setting is accurate.

Till next week, friends. Keep on writing.

Guest Blog: How to Write About Horses in Historical Fiction

I am currently working on a new fiction project centered around horse racing in the Antebellum South. Author, editor, and horse expert Tisha Martin offers excellent advice on portraying horses in fiction. With her permission, this post is shared from her website. For more advice on this and other literary subjects, visit it at http://www.tishamartin.com

How to Write about Horses in Historical Fiction
by Tisha Martin

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Horses have long since been an icon in American history, a loyal friend to the cowboy in the movies or in a novel. Often, too many historical writers don’t capitalize on the benefit of including the intelligence of the horses in their stories, and therefore, miss opportunities to add depth and personality to their stories and to shape the character arc. Horses are smart, despite what people may say. (And mules are even smarter! I’m thinking of Clarice from The Apple Dumpling Gang.)

Here are four ways authors can capitalize on the personality of the horse in their historical novels.

1. Use horses as secondary characters.

Perhaps that the idea of humanizing the horses in a story seems strange, but consider Little Brother, the mustang in Hidalgo, the western movie starring Viggo Mortensen. Little Brother acted as a secondary character in advancing the plot. When Frank T. Hopkins (Mortensen) went into the village to rescue Jazira, the horse worked with his human to make the rescue a success.

Including these types of minor details in a story adds depth to the plot and captures the essence of the character’s and horse’s relationship, further endearing both characters to the readers. That’s a pretty neat win-win, if you ask me.

2. Let horses help the human characters.

If you’re writing a western, consider this: horses will not run away from their owners. Many authors may think that horses are sneaky and always want to run off. In reality, horses are extremely loyal. I like to think they’re big dogs. For instance, if you leave a horse five miles down the trail so your main character has an easy getaway after the ambush, the horse will find its way back home without assistance. That’s called loyalty—and instinct.

3. Give horses an emotional personality.

Horses do show emotion if they are mistreated. If you have a nasty character in your story who mistreats the horse, you can show the horse’s emotional personality by describing the horse’s fear as it bucks, bites, or kicks. This adds suspense and propels the plot. Showing emotion in these scenes will deepen the care factor and enrich the story world.

But what if you want your character to have a positive relationship with the horse? Perhaps the character nurses the horse back to health, like Joe did in Black Beauty. You can use the horse’s gentle personality mixed with those moments of fear and mistrust (if the horse is coming from an abused situation or is now in a new environment) to liven up your scene. A horse that is treated with kindness and respect will respect its owner.

4. Consult the horse experts.

Nothing is more annoying to a horse lover than to read of inaccurate details in a story about horses. Some common inaccuracies include proper terms for horse tack, basic horse behavior, and horse anatomy. Often, these are misused because the writer googled what they did not know, found what appeared to be helpful information, and stuck it in their story.

Authors can avoid these glaring mistakes by bypassing the great internet and seeking out their local horse expert or local library for horse-related information. You can call a horse stable and ask questions, email the horse breed association, ask a friend who owns horses, or visit your local library and pull out a good horse resource book.

Remember, an animal is usually a reflection of its owner, especially if the animal has been loved for a long time. Now, a horse may not bring its owner the newspaper every morning (although stranger things have happened!), but the relationship between your character and their horse can be used to add a deeper layer to the story that feels and reads like a loyal friend.

Happy writing on the trail!

Anton Chekhov on “Show, Don’t Tell”

 

220px-anton_chekhov_with_bow-tie_sepia_imageEver since I took a class in Russian literature in college, I’ve always loved it. Here’s a great quote from one of Russia’s most  famous writers, Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” 

When we’re writing a scene set at nighttime, we can show the moon without mentioning it by following Chekhov’s advice.

 

 

Next week, I’ll be featuring a special a post on writing about horses written by a horse expert and friend, Tisha Martin. Till next week, everyone. Keep on writing.

 

 

 

When to Stop Revising Your Novel

Author’s  Note: This is a revised post.

 

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What is the key to literary excellence? Revision, of course. However, the time comes when we must tell ourselves to stop. We can get so hooked on revision that we never submit our manuscripts to agents and publishers. I know, because I’ve had this problem. Like most writers, I love playing with words.

How do we know when to stop revising ? Here are a few tips.

1. When we’re tired of looking at/reading our manuscript after multiple revisions. This isn’t always a sign that we’re finished, but it might be. Put the work aside for a day or two, then return to it and look for any major problems we may have missed. See any? If so, we’re not done yet.

2. When all the major problems with our work have been corrected, such as openings, endings, scenes, characterization, plot, etc., our revision has reached its end.

3. When we’re just finding minor issues, such as punctuation errors and typos, after the major editing has finished. These minor errors must all be corrected, of course.

4. After we’ve let someone whose judgement we trust read our manuscript, who gives us honest feedback and advice for improving  our work. Be sure whoever gives the advice is qualified to give it, though. Don’t approach just any person for it.

5. When we’re confident that we’ve done our best work.

 

 

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WARNING! WARNING! OVER-REVISION.

When we over-revise, our writing suffers. This is why it’s important to know when to stop. What once was a good story will become a bad one because we’ve either cut it too much, or added too much to it.

Suppose, after we see our work in print, we still find problems with it? One thing I’ve learned from hard experience is this: these things happen. We aren’t perfect, editors aren’t perfect, proofreaders aren’t perfect. Sometimes the simplest things, such as misplaced punctuation or typos, are easy to miss. If we’ve done a good job, though, and have a good editor and/or proofreader, there shouldn’t be too many of these.

Write, revise. Write, revise. Write, revise. Then submit.

 

Port Hudson, Last Rebel Bastion on the Mississippi

The Defence of Port Hudson, Louisiana

Squire, Tales of a Mascot, due out in September by Ashland Park Books, tells the story of a canine mascot during the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, a tiny village on the banks of the Mississippi River. Though Port Hudson no longer exists, it was an important Confederate bastion during America’s Civil War. Cut off by sea and land, the Rebels held out against a vastly superior Union army for 48 days, the longest genuine siege of that war. It was also the last Confederate bastion on that river to fall to Union forces, surrendering just a few days after Vicksburg fell. map_porthudson842x1052

Choose Your Words…Carefully

Books

Words ha800px-1896_Merriam_ad_BradleyHisBook_v2_no1ve meaning. Sounds obvious, right? Right. That’s why it’s important to choose our words carefully. That is, that we use correct diction.

It’s fine to go ahead and whip out our first drafts. They’ll be trite, maybe even cliché-ridden, and certainly amateurish. After this, though, approach our words like a professional. Professionals revise, revise, revise till their diction is as accurate as they can make it.

When we look at our manuscript, is each word precise? Can we find better words to express our thoughts? Spend time pondering our words, searching for ways to say what we mean with greater clarity.

Though we writers should develop a habit of building our vocabulary, we should also consult a thesaurus whenever necessary. Unfortunately, when most folks use a thesaurus, they simply look up any ole synonym to put on paper. This is a mistake.
Since every synonym possesses its own nuance of meaning we can’t use just any word. Research each synonym’s definition. Once we find one that means what we mean, use it in our manuscript.

Diction also affects our writing’s tone. By carefully selecting our words, we can convey whatever atmosphere we want. To illustrate, I’ll write a birthday party scene. Through diction, I’ll first paint it as a happy scene, and then I’ll portray it as an angry event.

Happy Party

Hugging the birthday present she’d purchased close to her chest, Mary practically skipped toward the laughter behind her friend Becky’s house. Soon as she passed through Becky’s patio gate, a dozen smiles greeted her.

“Sorry I’m late.” Mary set the present on a picnic table and flashed a grin. “My car got hungry so I had to stop to feed it. Happy birthday, friend.”

Becky grasped her hand and patted it. “Thank you, dear.”

Mary scanned the balloons attached to Becky’s white picket fence. They danced in the wind like colorful ballerinas, bobbing and swaying and twirling on their long strings. A coconut cake sat on the table. Thirty pink candles circled its perimeter. Hard to believe Becky had turned thirty. Mary chuckled. “Well, Becka, looks like you’ll be drawing social security soon.”

Becky burst into laughter, accompanied by their friends’ giggles.

Mary knew she was no Carol Burnette, but she did know she had some good one-liners every now and then. Making people laugh gave her pleasure.

Angry Party 

Clutching the birthday present she’d wasted her last dime on, Mary stomped   toward the cackling behind her friend Becky’s house. Soon as she shoved her way through the patio’s gate, a dozen smiles irritated her.

“Quit showing me your teeth, y’all. It ain’t funny. I know I’m late again.” Mary slammed her gift on the picnic table. “My stupid ole wreck of a car needed gas.”

Becky grasped her hand and patted it. “That’s all right, dear. We’re all glad you could come.”

Mary scowled at the balloons bound to Becky’s white picket fence, jerking and twisting on their long strings as though trying to escape their shackles. A coconut cake sat on the table. Thirty black candles stood around its perimeter like bars in a jail cell. Becky tuned thirty today. Tomorrow, they’d all be old maids drawing social security. Growing old, and alone was no fun.

Though I didn’t change the details in each scene, I did change the words as well as the dialogue. Each tone was conveyed through diction: word choices in action, dialogue, and how the point-of-view character, Mary, viewed the party’s details such as the balloons and the cake’s candles. 

Till next week, everyone. Keep on writing!