BRING YOUR SETTINGS TO LIFE

They say that God is in the details. So, too, is much of the work of a writer.  Too little narrative leaves your character wandering through the equivalent of an empty stage.  Too much, and you risk the tombstone effect – blocks of text that tempt the reader to keep skipping until they come to some action.

To set the stage properly, choose the most vivid details possible.  Reveal the setting through motion.  Let your description unfold as the character moves through the scene.   Ask yourself which details your character should notice immediately and which might register more slowly.  Let’s pretend your heroine, a secretary, has just entered the mansion of a millionaire. How would she react?   She’d observe how soft the rich Persian carpets were underfoot; maybe recognise some of the famous artwork on the walls. Don’t tell the reader the sofa is soft until she sinks into it.  Let her smell the fragrance of hothouse flowers filling a crystal vase on the table.

Use active verbs to set the scene, but use them wisely.   Instead of explaining that light glittered from the crystal chandelier,, let your character blink, dazzled by  the prismatic display.   Break the descriptions into small nuggets and scatter them throughout the scene so the reader is not overwhelmed or bored.  Remember that different characters will react in different ways … the haughty millionaire owner who takes luxury for granted; and the secretary who is overwhelmed by the magnificence.

You can also reveal setting through your character’s mood. This can profoundly influence what the reader “sees”.   Different characters could perceive the same setting in opposite ways.  For example, a motorist has strolled into a stretch of moorland.  Across a stretch of gorse , she sees ruins of some ancient watchtower and sees it as just a jumble of stones.  She hikes up the slope  breathing the scent of grass and clover, and watches clouds drift overhead like fuzzy sheep herded by a gentle wind.     What if your motorist is in a different mood?  What if her car has broken down and she can’t find help.   Though the sun is high,  scudding clouds cast a pall over the landscape.  The eerie cry of some bird reminds her how far she is from civilization.  She wants to get out of this situation, while your reader is on the edge of his seat, expecting something worse than a ruined building on the character’s horizon.

Different sensory details evoke different reactions.   We make decisions and take action  based on what we see. Sounds  can make us shudder or shiver – or relax and smile.  Scenes that include sounds  are effective in evoking an emotional response.

The goal of description is to design a setting that provides the perfect background for your characters; a setting that stays in the background without overwhelming the scene or interrupting the story.   This is the way to have readers keep turning the pages, and not merely waiting for something to happen.

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My latest novella “Searching for Sarah” is now available (my 13th book .  For copies of this, or any of my other books, contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com   If you have any writing queries, I’ll be happy to help you.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS

All writers are given a lot of advice, and some of it is very repetitious.  So you’ve probably heard this before, but it’s still worth thinking about.

 

What are editors’ pet aversions?  Once it was poorly typed, messy manuscripts, but with the blessing of computers, we don’t have to think about that any more.  But the rest of the list still applies … a long, flowery introduction; an overlong article padded with meaningless or hackneyed phrases and cliches;   unrelated material written with no idea of the policy of the journal;  old ideas that are just a rehash of someone else’s work; too much personal touch or the writer’s life history.  If an editor wants to see more of your work, even if he rejects one manuscript, he/she will tell you so and leave the door open for the future.

 

Although publications need big name authors to sell them, they also need first-rate articles from unknown writers.  You may get lower rates of payment at first, but you will be encouraged if you show promise.  Big names are always in print, because they provide what is demanded.

 

Often the best time to sell an article is before it even gets written.  Many articles are written only after preliminary negotiations between editor and writer.  Once you have an idea for an article, it is a good idea to write to several editors sounding them out to see if the idea interests them.  This does not commit them to buy your story, but at least if the idea is acceptable, the length is right, the style is suitable, then you have a 90% chance.  Of course your letter to the editor must be clear, without bragging, concise intelligent, dignified and to the point.  It should crisply outline the feature, and indicate the authoritativeness of the material, and if possible – why you are the best person to write it.

I am still smiling about a letter written to a writers’ journal (obviously with tongue-in-cheek).  “You must publish my article because I am the best writer in the country, possibly in the world.  I have also written a book, which my mother says is the best book she has ever read, so perhaps you will consider that also.”

 

Happy writing! Am always glad to hear your comments, and to help with any writing problems.  My latest novel (no. 14) is “Searching for Sarah”.  If you want to buy it, or any of my previous books, contact me at:  dwaysman@gmail.com

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WRITING THE ROMANCE NOVEL

Once it was a formula:  boy meets girl, then a crisis or argument, but in the end they marry and live happily ever after.  Not any more! Today, a romantic novel is one is which people start off emotionally impoverished in some way and end up emotionally richer.

They don’t have to get married, or even stroll into the sunset hand-in-hand. In the end, one of them might die (think Jo Jo Moyes “You Before Me”). But in the course of the story, they must have been on an emotional journey, and learned something about life, love and themselves.

Most romantic novels do end with the lovers becoming united. Fans of this genre like happy endings. But it’s time now to move past the Mills &U Boon type of romance.  The bad news is that it can sometimes be a challenge to sell anything less than a fairytale ending to publishers, and to your subsequent readers. But you could be brave and  give it a go.  I did in the favorite one of my 14 published books “Esther” – a Jerusalem Love Story.

My two protagonists did not end up together, much as I wanted them to, because the dictates of their life situations did not make it feasible.  It was not exactly a happy ending, but I felt it was the right ending.   Giving some kinds if stories happy – rather than emotionally satisfying – endings, would be as daft as tacking on a song and dance routine to the ending of Hamlet or Romeo & Juliet.

Giving your characters hope is the key to writing a good romantic novel. Traditionally happy endings are no longer essential, but you must give your characters and your readers reasons to keep going.  Some things to keep in mind are:

Is the story line too predictable?   Will you be able to keep the promise you make to your characters and readers?  Will they learn something along the way?  Is the ending appropriate – will it be happy, hopeful or even tragic?

In my latest novella, “Searching for Sarah”, you don’t know until the last page if the couple will face a future a together or apart.  I like to leave something to the reader’s imagination and let them fill in some of the blanks.

If you want any of my books, contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com and I’ll tell you how to get them.  Happy writing!

I’ll also be happy to help with any writing problems.

 

 

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WRITING OPINION PIECES

We call them op-eds, because they usually appear next to the editorial column in the newspaper.  You don’t usually get paid for them, but they are a wonderful way to express intelligent viewpoints, without whining, ranting or preaching, and give you far more scope than just a letter to the Editor.

Timeliness is of the utmost importance. If you think it’s difficult to give an opinion without editorializing or writing emotionally, do your best to avoid using the pronoun “I”.

 

Use humor wherever possible.  When you address serious subjects with humor, you’ll find there’s a rhythm to it.  Write a funny line and then -boom – right to the heart of the matter – suddenly serious to grab the reader’s attention.

Add verifiable statistical information and direct quotes. This will back up your opinion e.g. about the growing crime rate among young people. You can add quotes from politicians, as well as the rate of growth of that particular area of crime.  Make sure your sources are reliable, and your research is truthful.

Write on topics that you really care about – women’s issues, social issues, religion … especially if you have specialised knowledge on a particular subject.  Anticipate anniversaries that are coming up and are of significant importance. Don’t cover “tired” topics unless you have a fresh viewpoint.

Don’t overwrite – 600 – 750 words is the usual length for an op-ed.  You won’t make much, if any, money from opinion pieces, but your name will become well-known and an editor may think of you when he has an assignment for a feature article – this has happened to me on many occasions.

Keep on writing – that is important.  I am having a break from writing novels (I’ve published 14) so I’ve been enjoying writing some short stories for a change, as well as some op-eds.  I am having some lovely feedback from my recently published novel “Searching for Sarah” – copies available if you write to me direct at:  dwaysman@gmail.com  Although it’s short – really a novella, the Jerusalem Post published a full-page color book review that was most heart-warming and unexpected.

I’m happy to help you with any writing queries.

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PREVARICATION

That’s what I’ve been doing.  So this time, I’m going to tell you what NOT to do.  My 14th book “Searching for Sarah” was published a few months ago.  Somehow, everyone thinks an author immediately launches into a new work, so I’ve been battling the questions of “What are you working on now?”  At first, I just looked vague and said “I have a few ideas”.  Later I tried to look mysterious, as much as to say: “It’s a secret that I don’t want to give away.”  Then I lied and said: “I’m working on what will probably be my swan song – after all, I’m 86, I can’t really expect to be around to write many more books.”

The truth is, I know what I want to write.  And I really hope to start it soon – but somehow I can’t get started.  Maybe it’s the weather – I love the Summer, but here in Jerusalem we’ve been having a long heatwave – every day around 37 degrees.  So I write a little bit in my head, but that’s where it is still sitting.  It’s going to be for my family, not the general public, and I know the title:  “Stories I Never Told You.”  We are blessed with a very large family – my 4 wonderful children have given us 18 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren ; but the latter have only known me as an old lady.  I want them to know me as I was – my childhood in Melbourne Australia; my four siblings;  my trip to London where my life really took off, and I stayed for three years; my first experiences as an adult living an independent life there; (I may have to censor it a bit!);    my adventures Youth Hostelling my way around Europe with my schoolfriend Marie, who sadly recently passed away;  my return to Australia and my work in advertising; my early success in writing short stories, poetry etc.  Getting married – becoming a mother.  I really want them to understand I was once as young as they are now and the lessons I learned along the way.

I’ll get started soon.  Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe when the heatwave ends … I tell myself every day – just do it!  I was delighted to receive a parcel this week from Miami, Florida, of 10 copies of my very favourite novel “Esther – a Jerusalem Love Story”  which has a lot of my own story in it, although I wrote it as fiction.  Much of it is my life in London; and my heroine is a war correspondent in Lebanon in 1982, just as I was.   As it’s been out of print a few years,  anyone who wants to buy a copy should contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com  ;  I also have available my new novella “Searching for Sarah”. My publisher here delivered some copies to me today of “The Pomegranate Pendant” – my first novel which was made into the movie “The Golden Pomegranate”, but a bookseller asked for them before I even had the chance to unwrap them, so I’ll have to order more. These little distractions are stopping me from embarking on my new project, so I want to reiterate – don’t prevaricate like I am doing.  The only road to success as a writer is to write – and I’m going to start again very soon!

I love your comments – so be in touch; and let me know if you need help with any writing problems.

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CAN YOUR FICTION CHANGE THE WORLD?

What is the point of fiction?  Should it just be for pleasure or escape?   There are novels that can, and do, change lives.  They use the narrative  power of drama to enlighten, to encourage  to warn and to console.

Our ancestors told stories and fables to make sense of the world. The fable of the tortoise and the hare reminds us that the fastest is not always the greatest.

One of the novelist’s duties is to alert us to injustices in society.  Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby exposed the horrors of the Yorkshire Schools – boarding schools where illegitimate or damaged children were beaten and starved by men posing as teachers.  In The Water Babies, Kingsley described the plight of juvenile chimney sweepers. Bryce Courtney’s “The Power of One” condemns the evils of apartheid, and found the inner strength to change his own life and those of people around him.

We must show, not just tell. Self-help manuals inform and instruct us.  but novelists can show us how to do it, encouraging us to identify with characters who make the emotional journeys that we might wish to make ourself.  Victoria Hislop’s famous book “The Island” was a sympathetic depiction of the life of lepers in the early 20th century until the end of World War II when medication became available. It aroused awareness  to charities seeking to eradicate leprosy in the Third World.

Fiction can also help us understand situations in our own lives. Novelists assure us we are not alone.  Technology moves on but human nature stays the same.

An author sometimes has the power he or she might not have in real life. We can paint pictures of heart-felt despair, and can offer the reader solutions. We can show that it’s possible to move on and make better lives for ourselves.  We can inspire a reader in the same situation.

A writer of fiction has the duty to show how we can move on.  Some governments are afraid of writers because they tell their readers that a situation can be changed for the better. When you write fiction, you can use your story to plumb the hidden depths in human nature. You can make the reader care about your characters.  They can take control and eventually win through.

Stories help us to see what is possible. People with life-changing experiences sometimes choose to write a novel instead of an autobiography, using the novel format to work through traumas they have suffered, or to make sense of their own childhoods. You are not on oath to tell the whole truth – you can rework your real life experience in order to make an interesting story, and this kind of liberty can set you free.

 

There will always be a need for storytellers to explain us to ourselves, and as a novelist, you have the power.

I’ll be glad to hear your comments, and to help you with your own writing problems. My latest novel is “Searching for Susan” – available on Amazon or contact me direct at dwaysman@gmail.com    Happy writing!

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WRITER OR AUTHOR – THE DIFFERENCE

The difference is: When you’re a writer, people ask: “What have you written lately?”  An author has no such time pressure.  Having been published once, even a decade ago, is enough – this is a durable credential.

However, being a published author is not all garden parties and massive doses of self-esteem.   Don’t expect the William Morris Agency to be making frantic calls to woo you.  Maybe you should go to bookstores  and rearrange their stock so that your book faces cover out instead of spine out, which no one looks at.    Forge ahead with your book talks even if the only people who show up are the co-ordinator and your mother.     Joking apart, I sold the largest quantity of my books after giving a talk or a reading at different venues, such as bookstores,  local organizations, charity events, even after fashion parades.  Once people have met you, the author, and heard a snippet of your writing, they almost feel obliged to come away with a copy of your book.

If your first book has been a major success, by which I mean it has garnered good reviews and impressive sales in the thousands, it is a temptation to make your second book a sequel, thinking that if people  really enjoyed the first one, they are going to want to know what happened to these characters later.  One example is Jojo Moyes “Me Before You” and its sequel |”After You.”  I loved both of them.  But my experience was different.

My first book (I’ve written 14) has  been amazing. “The Pomegranate Pendant” had wonderful reviews, is still selling regularly after 20 years, has been made into a movie (“The Golden Pomegranate) and musicals in both USA and Australia, and won a major literary prize and still brings e-mails stating “This is my favourite book of all time”, yet when I wrote a sequel”Seeds of the Pomegranate” it has  languished miserably for many years now.

Your second book will probably be even harder to sell than your first.  Try for a different story, even a different genre.  After that, your name will be recognisable as an author, and your friends’ query will be:  “Are you working on a new novel?  What is it about?”

 

(My latest novella “Searching for Sarah” is available by contacting me at dwaysman@gmail.com.  I am always happy to hear your comments or help you with any writing queries.)

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