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Category Archives: Settings in Fiction

Three Author Snafus Editors find

I’m wearing my Editor’s hat today and the hat pin is keeping it firmly in place. There are several “concerns” (to put it gently) I come across when editing an author’s fiction manuscript. Today, I’ll highlight three of them with quick suggestions on how to avoid.

  1. Point of View does the lice movement, i.e., switches heads a lot. Sometimes this switch occurs many times within one scene and it is confusing for the reader. The scary part here is some of the POV switching occurs in published novels. Somebody was dozing at the wheel. Yes, you can have multiple points of view in a novel. Often, depending on the novel’s plot, multiple POV is very necessary. But the rule of thumb is to keep the same POV for the chapter, or a scene in the chapter. Get inside one character at a time. If it helps subhead the POV character’s name for the chapter or scene (you can remove that subhead later). Refer back to that subhead when you finish writing the scene’ or chapter’s draft.
  2. When detail becomes expository. This can happen with describing rooms, towns or history and when it gets out of hand can put the reader to sleep. Why? Because the prose is coming across as a lecture. Even putting it as dialogue doesn’t always help. Yes, put the character in the scene and if describing rooms or towns, beaches, etc. do it as the character goes into the room, etc. and what they see. If the room is untidy, maybe they trip over something. For history, keep it to a minimum – what actually is connected to the story’s plot – not the area’s whole history from BC. Yes, use some dialogue, but keep it short and have the characters do something while talking, have other characters ask the history teller questions or make comments. And have the conversation interrupted with something else happening. For example, if they are in a car, maybe the car blows a tire; maybe they are being followed (but watch the POV here); and maybe there is a sudden storm.
  3. Weird formatting in Word. I’m talking beyond what a copy editor would do – such as changing paragraphing to traditional style for submission to publisher. I have had hard returns in manuscripts, extra space suddenly appearing at the bottom of the pages, backward quotation marks. And my favourite for “the author is in the doghouse” – submitting a manuscript for editing when the manuscript has already been formatted in Word’s book form. Huh? Keep it simple and basic. If you can’t do this, hire a Word professional to type up your manuscript. Oh yeah, handwritten manuscripts are never acceptable.

These are just a few of the “idiosyncrasies” I have received from authors expecting me to edit their manuscript.and I have received worse.

Okay, back to wearing my author’s hat.

And as usual, if you click on the Beyond book at the top, it will link to more information. Teaser: there may be some news of another Beyond book soon.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Creating suspense in fiction

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

How many books have you read where the plot seems to flatline? Maybe the characters get too chatty. Maybe the description of characters or setting reads more like an expository. Maybe the scenes themselves are mundane. Do you then yawn?

Those spell boredom for the readers. And I see it happening in novels that are supposed to be mysteries. A village scene, instead of creating some touch of menace or at least some suspense, reads more like a slice of village life. Not all authors can do the village scene as well as the late Agatha Christie did.

There are ways your novel can get a life readers will want to read about. And just to clarify. Suspense doesn’t only equal mysteries and thrillers. All fiction needs some suspense – and that includes romance novels with their relationships. In fact, the twists and turns of relationships in any novel are fodder for creating suspense. Characters are at the core.

Here a few tips to create suspense in fiction:

  1. Start your story with something to draw in your reader. If you must have your village scene, get inside your main character’s head and show her take on the scene. Perhaps she dreads the town council meeting, the gardening club meeting, the tea, etc. Why? Or something terrible happens at the beginning at that meeting. Here’s a quick example. Marion would never call Fairfax council meetings boring again.
  2. Dialogue is good – reveals and develops characters and their interactions, as well as moves the plot forward. Unless your characters get overly chatty and go on and on for pages about religion, politics and more mundane things. All three might be relevant to your story, but add some spice, some suspense. Maybe one of the characters chatting is not making sense, seems to be high on something. More to the point, have a character reveal something startling to move the plot forward. Or have the dialogue interrupted by something happening. Depending on your story’s genre, could be somebody unexpected bursting into the room and creating chaos.
  3. Character descriptions. Forget the long expository but blend it in with the storyline and reveal something or several somethings about the POV character and other characters in this scene. In Beyond Blood, PI Dana Bowman meets Det. Sgt. Donald Fielding for the first time when her house is broken into. I show it from Dana seeing Fielding from the feet up as he comes down the basement stairs. The two clash. Dialogue and action show this and builds suspense about what could happen later on with two strong personalities trying to solve crimes when they can’t even agree on what crime happened in Dana’s basement. You can also have characters make snide remarks about another character’s hair or clothes. That would tell you something about both characters. Some narrative is necessary, but don’t drone on.
  4. Same can be said for settings. Nothing is more boring than reading paragraph after paragraph describing the main street of a town or the town itself. You aren’t writing a travel piece: you’re writing a novel or short story. In my Beyond mystery novels, I don’t just describe the town of Thurston, Ontario (fictional town), but have Dana  or her twin PI Bast  actually drive down a street, Suspense could be someone following Dana or better still she thinks someone is following her and dodges all over town to ditch the person. Or there is a collision – accident or intentional? Or if one of the twins goes into a shop or restaurant, I work in the location and relevant characters inside. “Relevant” is the key word. .

Visualize what you want and then write it for the reader to get the picture Remember: show, not tell the reader.

These are just a few suggestion. I also suggest you read published books by authors in the genre you are writing – authors who know what they are doing to create suspense within the mundane. Sometimes the latter is the most frightening.

If you click on the Beyond Blood novel above it will take you to more information about my Beyond books.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Writing stories from extreme weather

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Can you take an extreme weather situation you lived through and write a story about it?

Often living through these types of events can cause a lot of trauma, even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And one way to get on the road to healing is to write about it. If it is too painful to write your story, then why not use it as a basis for fiction. Getting your imagination to work with what is now a reality can often produce a powerful short story or novel.

Examples are floods, tornadoes, volcanoes, and ice storms, The one in the news lately is the severe prolonged ice storm in the province of New Brunswick in Canada’s Maritimes. That one caused widespread prolonged power damages.

I wasn’t there for that one, but did go through the one in southern Ontario, particularly Toronto, in December 2013.

So, give your imagination free reign for story ideas. If you’ve lived through an experience, your experience will factor in for what it feels like, what can happen, what it looks like. But you want a different story, different characters – could be mystery, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, romance.

Or you might want to take one or two events that happened during the storm – to you or friends and go from there. For example, in the December 2013 ice storm in Toronto, I had a belligerent boarder and her cat living with me when the power went off. Fortunately the phone (a land line) still worked so my son (who still had power – it wasn’t everywhere in Toronto – in fact there were blocks with no power right beside blocks with power) could phone me. My son arranged and paid for a hotel room for the boarder, her cat and me for two days and took us out to dinner the first evening there.

Outside it was icy – sidewalks, roads, trees and power lines, some still down. Until downtown where the hotel was – the scene was more normal, dry sidewalks, lights and heat.

Oh yeah, the boarder’s cat was black.

So, what can you come up with in a story with just that much information?

If you click on the Beyond Blood novel above it will take you to more information about my Beyond books. No floods or tornadoes, but there is a scary scene in a lake, both above and under water in Beyond Blood, and a hair-raising car drive up a highway in the short story “No Breaks” from Beyond the Tripping Point. The idea for the short story came from something that happened to a friend and me, but the short story is not our story. The scary lake scene in Beyond Blood comes from a few pieces in my life – I can’t swim, being on a sailboat with a friend, her boyfriend and my son, and the swimmer (my friend), not me, falling into the lake. This latter wasn’t a traumatic scene (it was actually funny and yes my friend did get herself safely back onto her sailboat – and she was laughing all the way about it), but it does give you the idea of taking something you lived through and “spinning a yarn” from it.

Creative writing to all.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

 

 

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More on your setting in fiction

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Besides actual location, setting also includes information peculiar to what is happening in the location. For example, in my novel Beyond Blood, the main character PI Dana Bowman goes sailing with Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding. Fielding has been sailing for years but this is Dana’s first time aboard a large sailboat – more like a small yacht. So I combined my limited sailing background with checking in with an expert in this area and also some reading online and in books about sailing..

A few years ago I wrote a newspaper story on a fellow, a seasoned sailor, who was planning to sail at least partway around the world. His “sailboat” (the small yacht type) was anchored in the Harbourfront area of Toronto Harbour. I made an appointment to interview him for the story and met him on his boat. When I arrived he was swabbing the deck.

I told him I was also going to ask a few extra questions for background information for a novel I was writing. He gave me the boat tour – it is amazing what can be packed into the small enclosed area below – everything from a small kitchen to a bathroom to a place to sleep. He was very informative but he did not take me out on Lake Ontario. So, I had to go back a few years when my son, still a child, and I went sailing with my friend and her boyfriend – for the feel of it, to remember you always wear a life jacket when on a sailboat, to how the winds affect the sailing, to falling into the water. No, I (who can’t swim) didn’t fall in, but my friend, a good swimmer did. She was okay with her life jacket on and just laughed about it as she swam the short distance back to the boat and climbed back aboard. But it gave me information for Beyond Blood although no one falls in the water.

So when Dana first goes out on the water with Fielding, I work it in as a friendly lesson while avoiding making it an expository or Sailing 101. Here is a short excerpt:

“Here put on a life jacket.” He handed me one which I donned. Fielding put on the other one and shoved the cooler under the floor. “Please sit down while I hoist the sail.”

” Need any help?”

“No.” He looked into my face. “Fine, but you have to obey orders if you want to crew.”

“Aye, aye sir.” I saluted,

Fielding moved away and moved into what resembled a cockpit, lowered the centreboard and removed the tarp, exposing two sails.”

“Here, store the tier below deck.”

“Huh?”

Fielding pointed to where the cooler rested. Taking hold of the tier, I folded it and placed it below deck.

“Maybe I’ll just watch this time.” I sat down on one of the benches.  (From Beyond  Blood, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2014, Blue Denim Press)

Dana does help more a bit later. The whole chapter is not about learning to sail as Fielding and Dana also use the time to find out more about each other until…

Well, I’m not going to say what happens or how this chapter ends.You’ll have to read Beyond Blood to find out. Click on the book cover at the top to find out one of the places the book is available. For now,  I’ll just say that later in the novel, Dana has to use her sailing knowledge to try to save a family member. So, the first sailing episode was not just a respite from all the murder and mayhem, but also served a purpose – showing how Dana learns something about sailing so that when she has to use it in a life-threatening situation, it is not a skill pulled out of air with a quick explanation such as “I (Dana) learned to swim a few years ago” tacked on to it.

That is something else to remember. You may have more leeway in a novel to go off on so-called tangents, but make sure they have something to do with character development and plot – especially in mystery novels.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Fiction Setting in past times

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Some of us write fiction set in past times. That could be from last year back several decades or centuries. My Beyond stories are set in the late 1990s, so many things were different even back then 17 or 18 years ago.For example, technology could be considered part of setting (think wi-fi availability today in cafes, public transit, and just walking along the street). What we take for granted today, may not have been around back in the days of your novel or short story.

One big setting factor is weather. We can all probably figure out that today’s weather is much more extreme in all ways. There are more floods, tornadoes, heavy snowfalls, etc. And so if you are writing in another time period, you have to be aware what is going on in the weather then. And not in general, but on the days your story takes place and the actual location. That requires some research beyond your memory of back then if you were actually living in that time period. Leave your memory of the weather for your feelings about it when it happened and you might be able to use that in your story. You need to do more concrete research.

If you don’t something like the following could happen.

Supposing you are setting your story in August 2011 in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. You have been there many times in the past, but not since 2010. So, you write your story setting it in August 2011 in Goderich as you remember it with its centre of town set up in a square..

Hold it right here. On August 21, 2011 a big tornado hit Goderich, Ontario causing extensive damage to the downtown square and nearby houses. If you have your characters meeting at one of the shops there or even in a chase through the downtown square on that date or just after, but don’t factor in the tornado, oops.

A tornado can add to the suspense in your story, so consider including it.

But do your research first – online with old news stories.And if you don’t know what the weather was like on certain days of certain years, you can check with weather authorities (such as Environment Canada) for historical weather information about dates in the past. You don’t want to have a blizzard in late November in such-and-such year just north of Toronto when the weather was actually mild for the time and it rained the proverbially buckets.

There are many other time-related issues that factor into setting. I’ll cover a few more of them in a future post, but here’s one to think about and research.

Your characters are eating soup that came out of a can and the year is 1921. Did soup or any other foods come in cans in 1921? You need to do your research. And you can take that food area much further to what people actually ate in the your story’s time period and how they prepared and stored food and where and how they ate.

Setting covers much more than geographic location.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

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Incorporating the weather into your fiction

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

I am intensely interested in the weather – where it comes from, who or what causes it, and how it plays out. So, it isn’t a big leap to figure out that I start chapter one in the Beyond mystery novel I am currently writing with the main character, Dana Bowman, dealing with weather. And that isn’t as simple as it sounds.

First, you need the weather appropriate to the time frame of your story. Although using a present-day setting, if the weather is severe and floods are a big part, you will probably be right on. However, it is always best to check with reliable weather sources online for weather on any day or in any time frame.

If you set your story anywhere in the past, you need to have the weather at least based on the weather situation then. Where you set your story will also factor in. For example, you probably wouldn’t have a tornado in California, but you might have very dry weather causing forest fires. On the flip side of the weather coin, you can use some weather conditions that occurred in the past as part of your story, part of the conflicts that occur in your plot. Think going out in a sailboat and getting caught in a storm. Of course, like all plots you have to build up the suspense and that includes impending storms. You need to connect the weather to your characters. Perhaps your main character is terrified of tornadoes or thunderstorms. Why? That would be part of your story and you can also blend that terror in with what the main character may have to do at the climax. Maybe your protagonist is in that sailboat with a friend who is actually the sailor. The protagonist may have to try to save the day if the sailor is injured, falls overboard, etc.

The weather can also play a creepy role in your novel – especially thrillers and horror. I am reminded of the 1960 movie Midnight Lace starring Doris Day (yes, I know, that dates me) where Rex Harrison as her husband appears to be stalking her as she walks through the London fog.

So sometimes the weather becomes like another character in your fiction. The weather possibilities are endless.

Even if you don’t have weather playing a major part, you don’t want your character going out in a snowstorm in shorts and a T-shirt. Or heading for the beach in a fur coat. Unless that is part of their eccentricity or they are on a modelling or music video assignment.

And don’t forget to give some reference to the weather in your story, but incorporate it into your story so it doesn’t read like an extended weather dissertation.

And what is my main character Dana Bowman facing weather-wise in the Beyond novel currently being written, which begins in late November 1999? She is walking in the rain.

But I have one extenuating circumstance here. My setting is a fictitious small city I call Thurston, Ontario. Thurston is located just north of Toronto where Aurora and Newmarket are. When I checked historical record data (three sources online), neither place had historical weather listings, so I went to the closest – Richmond Hill, Ontario and that’s what I’m using. With fictitious locations, you can be somewhat creative with the weather – within reason (see above about fur coats and shorts). Check out the real location in the general area of your made-up place and see what the weather is/was like there. Again, you don’t want snowstorms in California.

However, if you are writing fantasy or science fiction, the sky is the limit (pun intended).

Do you use weather as an important part of your fiction and how do you do so?

Comments please.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford is the author of the Beyond book series. More info at www.samcraw.com and www.bluedenimpress.com – my publisher – you can also purchase e-books – both Kindle and Kobo from Blue Denim Press. Click on the Beyond Blood Book cover at the top of this post.

 

 

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Story Settings from riding the bus to readings

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?

          Eudora Welty

I don’t have a car and don’t drive so I have to take public transit to get to locations for my book readings (unless out of town). Public transit can include subways and streetcars, but mostly it has been on Toronto buses. Besides opening my eyes to new areas of Toronto and getting around in them, what I experience can conjure up story settings, characters and even plots.

For a couple of library readings I had to change buses at the Warden subway station. The bus bays here are open at both ends and could be very windy. Because the bays resemble a somewhat dark tunnel (lights on at night) it conjures up stories of someone or something menacing suddenly appearing at one end of the tunnel. There are nine bus bays so a chase scene between victim and suspect or cop and suspect can be easily imagined. Throw in a bus or two entering or exiting a bus bay and you have a different take on the chase scenes that occur between and against cars on busy streets..

The bus stop at the other end for both library branches wasn’t right by the library. One was at an intersection of three major roads – very busy and on the dark and not stormy night I returned home – cold. I stayed in the bus shelter, hoping I was at the right stop and my bus would arrive soon before any strange person in this unfamiliar area came by. It all worked out okay and I even made an immediate bus transfer at the Warden station. A subsequent trip to this library branch for another reason was in daylight and although the weather wasn’t warmer, the difference in atmosphere was palpable – from blackness to sunny brightness. This contrast could make for a great setting to perhaps show the main character going through a somewhat familiar area in daylight but how menacing it becomes at night, especially if a weird person shows up at the bus stop. Or maybe someone from a car tries to grab her. You can use your imagination.

The other bus ride from this Warden Station was 40 minutes up to the north end of Toronto. I did this run early afternoon. The scenery was a mixture of bungalows, apartment buildings and plazas. Nothing really interesting on the surface. The interest was inside the bus – it was a good representation of all ages and cultures in Toronto. Throw in large baby strollers and bungle buggies (not the wheelies) taking up space on a crowded bus and you could conjure up a story of conflict between some passengers, especially if the protagonist has no other way to get around with her twins and the antagonist hates strollers on buses. (This is an issue in Toronto).

Another bus route took me through the older well-kept homes in the Leaside area of Toronto – some green grass with spring just awakening – all of it filled me with peace. But what if your main character was riding home on the bus in this quiet area when the doors open at a stop and a passenger steps in, then pulls out a gun, and starts firing.

So, the next time you take public transit (even underground) notice your surroundings. They can provide the setting for your next story and kick-start a plot with original characters. Just don’t get too carried away and miss your stop.

Upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point readings:

This evening, Thursday, May 16, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Crime & Mystery Writing Panel

Moderating a panel of mystery novelists on plot and characters especially when police enter the picture. Presented by the Canadian Authors Association Toronto Branch and featuring Crime Writers of Canada authors, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Panelists:

  • Brent Pilkey http://www.brentpilkey.com/  author of the Rage novels who, as a police constable with Toronto Police Services, has an inside view of police procedure; and
  • Rick Blechta http://www.rickblechta.com/ whose novels aren’t exactly cozies — all have main characters involved in the music industry and when murder enters their lives, come into contact with the police.

More info http://www.canauthorstoronto.org/events.html

Thursday, May 23, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Sharon A. Crawford hosts a Crime Writers of Canada Books ‘n’ Beverages reading at Q Space

Join these CWC authors as they read from their latest crime (fiction and fact) books, Meet and mingle, have a drink, something to eat and buy some books.

Melodie Campbell

Mel Bradshaw

Rosemary McCracken

Meg Howald

Brent Pilkey

Catherine Astolfo

Simone St. James

Nate Hendley

Rick Blechta 

Sharon A. Crawford

Location: 382 College St., Toronto, Ontario

More info about these authors at http://crimewriterscanada.com/

More upcoming gigs listed at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

And for those who can’t make these events check out my videos – one link to all three now.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC505OMPiVNy27zCFfND_8WA

Beyond the Tripping Point now has two reviews on my amazon.com account. Click on the book cover at the top. If you’ve read the book and made any recent purchase from amazon.com you can add your review if you wish.

And I haven’t forgotten about the readings with the Grade 7 classes – all 42 students. Coming up in a future post.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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