Tag Archives: writing tips

Writing Believable Historical Fiction

Putting together a believable historical story, long or short, requires more than a plausible plot. You must pay extra attention to the little things, the details. While preparing to write my novel Jazz Baby, I consulted many sources for those authentic details. A high-school history book proved immensely helpful in creating the right mood for a story set in 1920s Southern USA.

Knowing the era is as important as knowing your characters. You can’t have a young girl in 1925 rural Mississippi (or any other place in 1925) making calls on a private-line rotary phone, much less a mobile phone she carries in her pocket. In fact, my character was poor, and thus would not even have access to any kind of phone even though they existed in her day. Besides, she wouldn’t have anybody to call. Thus:

 

  • KEEP DETAILS CHARACTER-SPECIFIC: Don’t just verify what exists in a period of time. Determine how widespread it is, and consider the likelihood your characters would have access in their particular places and circumstances.

Fashion is important, as well. Knowing what people wore in any particular era is key to verisimilitude. Emily Ann, the POV character in Jazz Baby, had no concept of tennis shoes or fashionable jeans, let alone modern name brands and today’s common designer styles. She did live in the era of flappers, but she would not be exposed to those outfits until she traveled to the big city. Still, would she dress that way—and why? Where would she get the clothes? Would she even know how to wear them properly? We have to consider these issues before deciding how to dress our characters from one scene to the next.

 

  • DETAILS SUCH AS FASHION ARE REGIONAL AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL: Lots of guides, many specifically for writers and media producers, show fashion of different eras, but you must pay close attention to where, when, why, and by whom clothing would be worn.

 

Sure, it’s obvious that Emily Ann wouldn’t see Gulfstream Jets flying overhead or hitch a ride in a Corvette, but you’re not always safe simply putting her in a Model T Ford. I wanted her to hear something important on the car radio while parked, but I dared not assume a radio could be found in the Model T. A bit of research, and I learned radio did not come into any automobiles until 1932. Most readers won’t know such a detail, but some sure will know, so for them the facade collapses beneath such inaccuracy. Keep it as airtight as possible.

 

  • DON’T ASSUME DETAILS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY: Don’t just research the technical detail. Verify all the details that flow from it. If a radio had been available in the 1925 Model T, verify how many and in which areas radios were sold. Don’t have her flipping through various stations late at night when maybe only one station operated in that region—and only during the daytime. If you want her to hear a news announcement, confirm that would happen on local radio back then.

Patient research shines a light on more facts than you might be looking for. Just as whether a car radio would have turning dials or push buttons, verifying might lead you to realize you can’t refer to an FM station back them. Would a character drop a letter in a street-corner mailbox, or did they not exist in small southern towns because people simply left mail in their roadside mailboxes for pickup?

 

  • RESEARCH ALL THE DETAILS: Don’t stop once you have your first question answered. Look closer, read more, find the photos—whatever it takes to get a strong sense of life in that time and place. You will very likely discover even more details you could get wrong without the extra effort.

Pay attention to language, as well. Slang changes from era to era, and from region to region. A young white girl in 1925 Mississippi will not greet her pals with a “Yo, dawg! ’Sup?”

 

  • WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE: As much as possible, read from the era and place, talk to people who lived through it, watch media showing the lifestyle, and consult as many sources as you can find. Not only are you verifying the authenticity of what you want characters to say, but you will likely discover very interesting and flavor-adding ways of talking that you had not considered.

Cultural norms are critical elements of authentic time and place. My story is set during Prohibition, which to many evokes images of either abstainers or scofflaws. However, “bonded liquor,” prescribed by doctors for “medicinal purposes” and sold by pharmacists, was quite popular in many areas, albeit under watchful government eyes. Cultural changes that older readers recognize might not be so familiar to younger readers. In Emily Ann’s world, African Americans were prohibited from patronizing restaurants, and segregated in places like theaters, restrooms, and even from whites-only drinking fountains. Emily’s fraternization with blacks could have cost her her life.

 

  • STUDY THE CULTURAL NORMS: Learn about how people felt, thought, and acted, and consider the true consequences of your characters’ actions in those contexts.

Behavior often is not best described by laws. Though women received the vote in 1920, many were still viewed as the property of fathers and husbands. For a girl who found herself orphaned at 13, the official social-services response rarely happened if kinfolk might be able to “handle the situation.” Thus, Aunt Frannie arranging a marriage that we might find outrageous today would have been applauded as admirably expedient back then. Likewise, looking up the official 1969 USA drug laws would not offer much help in deciding how your young-adult characters actually acted during a campus party.

 

  • OFFICIAL POLICY OFTEN DOES NOT INDICATE HOW PEOPLE REALLY ACT: Look beyond laws, policies, procedures, and other official records of how things were supposed to be in another time and place. Ferret out real accounts and weigh your characters’ actions against what really tended to happen.

 

The point of all this is simply to remind you to check your facts while looking beyond the facts, stay loyal to the era you choose, and wow us all with your brilliant stories.

 

Grab a copy of Jazz Baby in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, Nook, or iBook.

More writers’ resources: GeezWriter.com

 

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The Taxing Process of Writing!

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Today I am sharing space here with indie author and publisher Traci Sanders. Traci has written a fantastic new series that will help even the seasoned pro write it better. Here, in her own words, is Ms. Sanders…

MY 3 BOOKS

Tip 358: What you can “write off” as an author

(tax deductions)

*This tip can be found in Living The Write Life: Tips on making the most of your writing skills, now available in digital and paperback format.
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Are you an Indie author? If so, you are a contractor, whether you like it or not. Regardless which company you publish with, you will be required to answer a few basic questions to set up your tax account with them. When you sell any books, they need to know how and where to send your money.
Therefore, no matter how much (or how little) money you make on your books, you must claim it, because the publishing companies do.
 
The good news is, you also have tax deductions available.
 
Here is a list of deductions you can claim as an author:
         Office supplies
         Telephone/internet fees
         Cabs, subways, bus fares
         Book, magazines, reference material
         Agents’ commissions (if included in income)
         Film and processing – book trailer fees
         Copying – brochures, flyers for events
         Editorial fees – costs to hire professional editors
         Promotional fees – advertising materials
         Office rent – If you use a dedicated space for your writing – cannot claim for two businesses at once
         Utilities – a percentage for your writing (dedicated) space
         Memberships (professional organizations) – book club fees, writing organizations
         Messengers, private mail carriers, postage – shipping costs for giveaways, etc.
         Business insurance
         Tax preparation fees
         Travel costs – for out of town events – conferences, signings, etc.
         Business meals and entertainment
         Equipment – rentals of video/audio equipment for events
         Software – writing/editing/illustration software
         Legal and professional fees – patent lawyer, copyright lawyer
         I actually claim the books I buy and read because I consider them “study material” for my craft, especially those in my genre.
         As a public figure, for instance, when you do book signings and other events, you must have a professional appearance; therefore, you can write off your salon costs, new clothes, and even the food you serve at the event. Just be sure to keep the receipts and make notes on them.
         If you are at lunch and you pass out a business card or book to someone, write off that lunch by writing the person’s name and the book you talked about at what became your “business luncheon.”
         Treating your writing business like a professional entity will help you save money and avoid tax audits in the process, especially if you are like me and operate a separate business at the same time. The deductions must be kept separate.
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Here are a couple add-ons to this tip, shared by Stephen Geez:
 
Research can be an important expense to track. That 250-word essay I’ll be writing about what it’s like to spend a month scuba diving in the Caymen Islands is definitely going to require some hands-on research…
 
Just thought of another point that used to be very useful: If you’re writing for a client, an assignment, an intended buy, or even if you eventually sell to a client, you might be surprised by how much the end-user will be willing to reimburse expenses that s/he can write off. Don’t leave that money unclaimed if a bit of assertiveness might compensate you. You could find that the combo of reimbursement and your own write-offs can cover 100% of the income.
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Traci Sanders is a multi-genre, multi-award-winning author of ten published titles, with contributions to three anthologies. 

An avid blogger and supporter of Indie authors, she writes parenting, children’s, romance, and nonfiction guides.

Her ultimate goal is to provide great stories and quality content for dedicated readers, whether through her own writing or editing works by other authors.

Giveaway!

I’ve decided to give away two prizes during this tour:
*ONE unsigned paperback copy of Before You Publish – Volume I 
*ONE unsigned paperback copy of Beyond The Book – Volume II 
To enter, all you have to do is email me a proof of purchase of a digital copy of either of these two books during the tour.
I will draw TWO winners total, at the end of the tour.
Please email your proof of purchase (can be a screenshot) to tsanderspublishing@yahoo.com.
GOOD LUCK!

Bonus: Video Tip!

When Does It End? (And Other Writing Matters!)

Writing entertaining stories and articles takes skill and know-how. But there’s more to writing than simply constructing sentences, scenes, and characters—though these are worthy and necessary talents to possess.

Outlining helps keep the plot in place. An outline is merely a road map meant to guide the author from the beginning of the journey to its ultimate climax many chapters later. An outline allows for travelers (both writer and reader) to exit the highway and visit attractions found in that area between start and finish.

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Creating characters that are compelling and alive will ensure the reader retains interest throughout the story. This is perhaps the most important aspect of telling a great story: If your characters are dull and lifeless, than so too will be your story. The only good dead characters are zombies and vampires.

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Okay, so you’ve outlined your story. You’ve developed believable characters that you can actually hear inside your head. They have personality and charm; they can even make your readers laugh or cry or feel anger. You sit at your desk (or wherever it is you feel most comfortable) and you begin your story. This is actually the easy part. The scenes unfold with ease as your fertile imagination gives birth to word combinations that nobody else has considered. Time ceases its existence. Days blur into weeks, weeks run together forming months. Before you know it, the journey is almost over.

Next on the itinerary is the ending. That perfect place to bring the characters, the plot, and the months of your hard work to its ultimate close.

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But how and when and under what circumstances will this story end? The ending can make or break a story. A misplaced ending will sink even the best stories. So how do we decide on the finish line? That is something the author should always have figured out before putting the very first sentence onto the page. You should know exactly where you are going before you load the kids, the dog, and suitcases in the car and jump onto the highway. The getting there, those spaces in between start and finish, are open to changes and tinkering along the way. The ending is something that must stand out. It is the very last moments of your creation. It’s what remains with readers in their immediate memories. An ending that lingers and comes back to a reader without invitation is usually the best sort of finish.

Road ends

There really is no stock answer for a proper ending. Some authors prefer to tie up all loose ends, leaving little to ponder—Jimmy and Thelma eloped and ran off to Fiji, where they grew old together and lived happily ever after. However, some authors choose to leave endings loose and open to interpretation—Jimmy and Thelma ran away together, but did they marry? Did they ever get to Fiji? Or did they decide on Hawaii, because Jimmy had gone there as a child and had always dreamed of returning?

By tying up loose ends, the author signals closure to this particular journey. By leaving ends dangling in the breeze, this invites readers to become part of the journey. We get to decide what has happened to these characters that we’ve invested time into getting acquainted. Neither way is wrong.

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When do we end our story and prep it for that first rewrite? Only the author will truly know that answer. Have your characters and plot line arrived at that point you imagined before beginning? Is Disney World in sight? Check the map; make sure your destination isn’t supposed to be the Eiffel Tower. If everything feels right, go back to the beginning and start that rewrite! Most importantly, have fun.

 

He Said, She Said: The Art of Dialogue

Here are a few thoughts on writing dialogue. This is NOT meant as a teaching lesson. These are simply my opinions.

Dialogue. It can make or break a story. Dialogue is the lines your characters speak aloud in a written story. They differ from the narrative voice in that even the peripheral characters are given a voice through dialogue.

Writing lines for your characters is not always an easy task–though it doesn’t have to be difficult, either. In real life, people speak in ways that may seem impossible to capture on paper. Consider the varying dialects within the same languages. British English has its own patterns and words that differ from American English or the Aussie brand of the language. (And that’s not even counting the varying dialects within the same country.) A skillful writer should be able to illustrate that, of the three characters conversing in the opening scene of chapter seven, two are from England while the third is from Australia–without mentioning this every time they speak.
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If the writer can hear those voices in his/her head, they should be able to drop in little vocal hints within the written dialogue that give life to the characters and to the stories they tell. But it’s not always easy.

When writing my novel Jazz Baby, I had to research the era (1920s) and the region (Deep South, USA) in order to capture the voice of not just my narrator but of each and every character that utters a line in the story. Some were Louisiana Cajun. They spoke with a twang, had a particular way of saying things, which is not always easy to put onto paper.
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What about Neesie, the young laundry girl, who befriends the main character? These two girls are the same age, but they come from vastly different backgrounds. Though both were poor, one came from Mississippi and the other from Alabama; Emily is white and Neesie black. They would have had differing speech patterns–as would the better-educated adults who crossed paths with my young narrator. These differences have to come through in the dialogue. There’s a rich stew of slang going on in these characters’ words. Slang is part of language–no matter where you come from. This is where good research pays off. It takes time, searching for words and idioms used in certain regions and eras, but that extra effort is worth it in the end.
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Dialogue is probably my favorite part of writing fiction. These are words and accents that give personality to characters that did not exist until I put pen to paper (or tapped those computer keys) and gave them meaning, reason, and life.

So here’s my advice to any writer who might be struggling with dialogue issues: Just write what you hear. Listen to voices on the street or those being spoken inside your head; read works by other authors; study classic films. That little extra effort will usually show up in the finished product. The great thing about language is: it’s all around us in so many differing forms.