Tag Archives: writing

Details Make the Story-Genre Specific Research

The story’s magic is in the details, and details come from good research.

It may seem like common sense that a writer should and must do research for any story containing experiences or places the author has not experienced. However, it can be a step that is sometimes skipped in favor of just getting the story written. No matter what genre you are writing, this is a mistake.

When I first started writing, I was straight up romance all the time. In that vein, my shelves were lined with romance novels not only because I loved to read them, but also as research for what I was writing. The novels provided me what I needed for research. I learned which tropes I hated and vowed to avoid as well as those I loved and planned to use. I learned the beats of a romance that way.

When I switched genres from romance to horror and paranormal, I had to change my research methods and materials as well. While I still have shelves of romance novels, now I have a bookshelf dedicated to writing research and  lined with books on mythology, witchcraft, the history of murder, Irish folklore and so much more. These books are important to my craft and are lined with sticky notes and tabs, penciled in scribbles and the odd story nugget here and there.

The thing about genre specific research is it varies. And while those variations are sometimes microscopic, they also can be huge. The scope of your research will vary. No matter how much research you do, the important thing is for you to be as accurate and in depth as you can. For me this means not relying solely on one medium.

Yes, the internet is a great thing. Google and Wikipedia are your friends, but not the only ones. Let us not forget the library. A true friend to a writer. And a writer owned library (if possible) is even better.  While many veteran writers may suggest that you start your writing library with craft books, I strongly believe research books are an important buy for a writer as well.

You can’t believe everything you read…

Though the internet is convenient, we all know we can’t believe everything we read on it. Wikipedia is super helpful, but since it is curated by the public, it is not always 100% accurate. So when doing research, whether it’s as wide a topic as clothing worn in the 1800s to something more specific such as the most well recognizable supplier of chloroform in 1875, just be sure to double check. Triple check even.

As writers, we share our work with readers. As a whole, the general public is a smart entity that wants to know that before you wrote those words, you did the leg work. This is when the library or the bookstore can come in handy. Finding multiple books on the subject you are researching will help to ensure that you have the proper information you need to write true to your subject matter.

Now I’m not bashing the internet at all. It is convenient, and I use it often. If a library is not accessible, but the internet is, there are other options aside from Wikipedia.  Here are some of my favorite.

Other Online Resources:

The Library of Congresswebsite

The “ask a librarian” feature is fantastic here and can help if you are stuck on a particular research topic.

Smithsonian Institutionwebsite

They have a lot of information about animals and foliage local to whatever area you are writing about. Also, the Smithsonian Libraries and Galaxy of Knowledge is a fantastic feature on this site.

The British Library website

If you are writing about England at all, this site has a lot of resources. It goes back a fair way and has a wide array of information.

Whichever genre you write in will most likely dictate how you do your genre specific research. If you are writing romance then romance novels are a good way to go. Though there are books on writing romance and the beats you need and the arcs you should follow, these are more craft than story. If you are writing about serial killers in 1800’s London, then researching the time period is the way to go. And this is where the library, the bookstore and the internet are your friend. A mixture of all three will give you your best shot at writing your best, most historically accurate story.

As a writer, it is our job to transport our readers into our stories, proper genre specific research is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. Please take the time and do your research, it really does matter.

Sheri Williams is an author who laughs in the face of genre. She always knew she would be a romance author one day, until she found the macabre that lives in her heart and her brain. Equally as comfortable in her own imagination as she is in the real world, she finds inspiration everywhere. Her stories range from light to dark, then very dark, but always with a touch of romance.

Sheri is a wife and a mom, which bring her great joy. She is also a geek and an avid Netflix binger, which also brings great joy. She always has multiple projects on her plate and if you want to stay up to date, be sure to sign up for the newsletter on her website. You can also follow her author page on fb, on twitter, pinterest and Google+

Six Big Reasons No One Is Laughing At Your Comedy

Is this thing on?

Why aren’t readers laughing? Why isn’t your comedy working?

You get a ton of likes and LOLs on your Facebook posts. Your tweets have been re-tweeted dozens of times. People are always picking themselves up off the floor when they are with you, but when it comes to writing comedy, you may only hear crickets.

Six Big Reasons No One Is Laughing At Your Comedy

Six Big Reasons Why No One Is Laughing At Your Humorous Writing

1. You may not understand the nature of comedy.

This sounds absurd in a way, who studies comedy? We’ve all laughed, we’ve all told jokes, we’ve all repeated anecdotes and received various forms of happy feedback. And even an LOL on Facebook isn’t a true indication that you understand what’s funny. I hate to break this to you, but you just may have gotten lucky a few times. Comedy is harder than you think.

Comedy, according to this theory, comes from benign violations. According to the Humor Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado (this is a very real place with very real studies) humor comes from the Benign Violation Theory.

Benign Violation Theory for Comedy
This is math, a Venn diagram to be exact, and who would have thought math was funny? Certainly not me.

Humor comes from the unusual.  That means that there’s a twist somewhere in the things that you have written. The joke, the visual image, the phrase outside the scope of normal or predicted. A funny punch line is a violation to the normal and the expected. YES, you’re saying to yourself. You’ve violated right and left, you’ve violated so many times that you’ve hurt yourself. But this is the other half of the coin: the violation must be benign. That means that the thing you said that was just a little bit off was not in the position to hurt, offend or cause pain for the listener or the reader. The best comedy is when the listener or the reader doesn’t think that the joke is on them.

Two cannibals were eating a clown. One said, “does this taste funny to you?”

Let’s look at the above joke. Is this a violation? Yes! We all believe that cannibalism is outside the scope of normal. And a clown! Clowns are comedy gold. Haven’t you wondered how they tasted? The punch line “does this taste funny to you” is a pun! And whole package, the set-up and the punchline is right smack in the dab of a benign violation. It’s funny!

It’s also benign. This joke is outside the scope of normal. But the average listener is certainly not hurt nor offended. It’s benign because none of us are cannibals and only a few of us are clowns. We can laugh safely because the oddity of this mental image is odd, but not offensive. Because it meets both of these requirements safely, it can be funny, and it is!

2. You may not know what’s benign.

 In your comedy antics, you may have crossed a line maybe not even knowing it. Your audience won’t laugh because your “violation” may not benign to them. You may have clowns in your audience. Worse, you may have cannibals with a tendency to retaliate. Yikes! This is often why some humor writers or joke tellers fall flat. They don’t have enough of a violation and they aren’t safely in the place of benignity. (That’s really a word. I didn’t just make it up to sound smart!)

The solution to this is to know your audience. If your objective is to get the attention of a particular group of people, then you should look at your words — no matter how funny — as a chance for connection. Funny people are often welcoming and attractive! You want people to want to laugh at you. The least you could do for this relationship — which could be a fickle one — is to look for common ground.

3. You may have the wrong agenda.

A benign violation may not work for you because in your heart of hearts, you don’t want to be benign! You want to get people riled up! You want them to be offended! I would argue that if you call yourself a humorist, a comedy writer, a joke teller, a stand-up comedian, if you  brand yourself as someone that is associated with humor and you deliberately choose not to be benign, then you are setting yourself up for failure. To promise one thing and deliver another is the fastest route disappointing or alienating your audience. This is especially important if you are just starting out in your career. Don’t look for ways to offend, incite or antagonize if you want to be seen as fun.

4. You may play it safe on the wrong things.

A few years ago on The Last Man Standing I saw a stand-up comedian hopeful enter a room to meet a nun. (This sounds like the set-up for a joke, doesn’t it?) His task was to get the nun to laugh so he could move on to the next level. Now, if he were humor savvy, he would have realized that because this woman took her faith very seriously that her definitions of what was funny would be vastly different from what a typical club goer would have. If he had been humor savvy, he would have said something that from her viewpoint, something that would have not just been a violation, but a benign one, then he would have had a loyal fan. He could have made fun of Protestants, priests, or people who had not taken a vow of poverty.

But that’s not what he did. Here he is, with five minutes to make a nun laugh and what does he do? He tells her the dirtiest, most sexually explicit jokes he had in his arsenal. Did she laugh? Nope. The more he talked, the more offended and upset she got. The more he talked, the more she crossed her arms and frowned. Now, he probably thought it was funny — telling dirty jokes to a nun!  He chose to lean heavily on the violation part of humor, which was probably something he was comfortable with,  and ignore the benign part and it cost him dearly.

Because the nun not only refused to laugh, but grew angry at his attempt, he lost the round. If he were a fool, he would have blamed the nun for being humorless. But he should have blamed himself. His nationally televised opportunity was dependent on being savvy responder to his audience. He did everything but that. I wonder if he regrets it. I wonder if he’s learned.

5. You may also lose a lot in translation.

This is a grim reality. Just because you are funny at the water cooler and at the family reunion doesn’t mean that you can capture those same reactions in writing. Comedy is not universally the same across various mediums. This may seem obvious to you, but then it may not. The most successful comedians, comic and humor writers know where they are the strongest. Some write situation comedy, some write stand-up, some write newspaper columns and someone has to put the jokes on the Laffy Taffy wrappers, right? If you are finding the jump from telling funny jokes to writing funny pieces to be too difficult and you’re getting unfavorable results, it may be that you just shouldn’t go there. Play to your strengths. It feels a lot better when people are laughing.

6. You may cut corners, using puns, profanity or catchphrases instead of inventive wit. 

This is my least favorite form of comedy and it’s going to be tough for me to create a clear argument for this one: but the most common types of comedy are take-offs, references, puns or the attachment of a catchphrase to a common thought or meme. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Humor of this nature is a far cry from thoughtful, well-sculpted wit. Those self-appointed “comedians” who shout-out to The Most Interesting Man In The World aren’t looking for substantial material (and may risk copyright issues).

Instead, they are going for the cheap laugh, the predictable laugh with dated and trendy material. Anyone can slap together the latest internet meme or rewrite the words to a popular song. It takes real talent and commitment to the art of comedy to consistently write jokes and sustain a solid reputation. If you are a hit among friends with your “are you telling me?” graphics and your photoshopped dancing Nicolas Cages, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t expect to move into the world of professional comedy writing unless you can up your game.

What does this have to do with writing?

Humor writers are not stand-up comedians. We also don’t have the luxury of being in the same room with our readers, listening for their snickers and guffaws. We often don’t get feedback from what we read. You really can’t know what’s funny unless you understand your audience. Therefore, the bar is raised pretty high in humor writing. As a result, good comedy and humor writers have a lot to think about.

This is where the hard work comes in. You need to figure this out.

To sum up, to really be funny, you need to spend time narrowing down your typical reader — your market — so that you can set yourself up for the best communication and success. You may also need to study your material for its benign violations, understand that humor is tough to write and requires nuance and delicacy. Most importantly, you need to work extraordinarily hard to be seen as original. Originality is gold in the comedy world, not stealing ideas from others.

You can kill. Now work hard for it.

I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Bad Day for Words? Easing the Struggle to Write — a Guest Post by Christine Hennebury

I have over 20,000 people who follow me on Twitter. That means that potentially that many can read about what I ate for lunch (or more important stuff if I choose to tell them!)  I have nearly 400 friends on Facebook from all over the world. That means that potentially every story, heartbreak, and bad day can be told to them pretty quickly. Then I lead a group of writers on Facebook of over 1700 people worldwide and I am not shy about telling them about my struggles and victories. It’s from these groups that I have found some of dearest people in the world. My guest writer is Christine Hennebury, a butt-kickin’, storytellin’ Canadian who is one of my biggest cheerleaders and online friends. I can’t imagine life without her. Go Christine!  And thanks for guest posting! 

Everyone has bad days at work. But we writers are especially skilled at turning a slow day into a big THING about who we are as writers and as people. 

I think it’s because we are so good with stories. So, for us, a bad day is not just about that individual day, it’s about our choice to write. It becomes part of a bigger story of whether we are cut out for this job, whether we have anything important to say at all, whether we *should* be writing.

Easing the Struggle to Write a guest post by Christine Hennebury

And while in some contexts those could be valid questions, most of the time a bad day is just a bad day. Maybe we didn’t sleep well, maybe we are struggling with an aspect of our work and we just haven’t figure out why yet, or maybe we just don’t know what to do next. It doesn’t have to have a deeper meaning.

In many professions, there are specific steps that need to be followed on every job and the practitioners don’t have to think too much about the procedures because they have been tried and tested. If something doesn’t work, they don’t have to assign any meaning to it, they can just try something else. I like to help my clients find similar steps for their creative work so they can ease their way out of difficult days and keep working.

Here are my suggestions to keep a bad day in perspective and get some words on the page:

1) Lose the story: Say aloud to yourself ‘This is just a bad moment, I don’t have to give it any meaning.’ Weaving a story around a hard day gives it a meaning it doesn’t deserve. A bad day doesn’t mean that you are a bad writer. 

2) Give it a little thought (but just a little): Are the thoughts in your head about how you need rest or that you have no ideas? Or are they harsh thoughts about your skills or abilities?

 If it is the first, then consider if you need to take a little break or if you need to do something to get the juices flowing again.  

If it is the second, then ask your mind to work with you instead of against you. Maybe say something to yourself like ‘I hear that you are trying to protect me from getting hurt by keeping my ideas in, but I need to get them on paper. We’ll talk about what I can do with them once they are out of my head.’

3) Do a warm-up: Set a timer for just 5 minutes or so and write about nothing. Write complaints about how you don’t want to write. Write a letter of annoyance to your muse. Make a long list of hamburger toppings. It doesn’t matter what you write, just get your brain in writing mode. 

4) Try a little ‘real’ writing: Now that you’re warmed up, you can set your timer again and start writing. Here’s the catch though – don’t even try to make it good. Just get your ideas sketched out on the paper. This is not the day to shoot for the stars. Aim low. Do your okay-est. 

Just get the ideas down and you can work them into something else later. You know how you are supposed to show and not tell? This is a time when telling is perfectly fine. Just say ‘She was angry’ and save the descriptions of her reddened face and her low growl for the editing phase. When the timer stops, get up and walk away.

5) Reward yourself: If you can, take a longer break that you spent writing. Make it a GOOD break – something really rewarding. Conversations with a friend, taking a short nap, sinking into the tub. Whatever really feels good to you, but indulge yourself in it entirely for however long you have available. 

If your schedule won’t allow it today, then take a short indulgent break now and PLAN your bigger break for later today or on the weekend. 

6) Return to writing: Once you’ve had a break, set the timer again and keep writing. Remember that our goal is to get the ideas out and to keep moving. 

This is NOT about doing anything well or ‘right’ – it’s just about doing your job. 

7) Find the kindness:  It’s time to start being nicer to yourself about your writing process. This is how you’ve chosen to make a contribution to the world and you need to give yourself permission to actually do it. 

The important thing about all of these steps is finding a way to keep your bad day in perspective. If you are a writer, then writing is your job and, like with any job, there are procedures you can follow to bring ease to the process. Why not give the ones listed here a try and see if they can help you get back to your project?

Christine Hennebury
This is Christine Hennebury. You do NOT want to mess with her!

Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her story skills have improved since then. She makes up stories, shares stories, and helps people shape their life stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her storyfying at www.christinehennebury.com Read some of her recent fiction at http://mombie.com/category/writer-dame/story-a-day-may-2015/ Chat with her on twitter @isekhmet


#Top10Tuesday Writing On The Go! A Guest Post by Jessica White

Writing On The Go

As we head into summer, many of us are going to get outdoors more, take vacations, and spend more time away from our desks and thus our computers.

But as writers this often proves problematic since we still have deadlines and our brains rarely shut off just because it isn’t convenient to write.

But have no fear, here are ten ways you can keep writing even when you are away from home.

1. These days, almost everyone has a cellphone.  We keep them within hands reach almost every waking hour. When writing on the go they are a great tool.  Standing in line with three carts in front of you at the grocery store?  Avoid those last minute impulse buys and pull out your cellphone and text yourself a few lines.  If you’re good at texting and have an idea you can write quite a bit in those few minutes.

2. If you have a smartphone then look for a great writing app. Some will turn your handwriting into text and others are actual text programs. Either way, they are good options for those moments when you are taking a 10 minute break or are waiting to pick your kids up and want to write.  Some you can even email back to yourself or will connect with programs like GoogleDocs so you can quickly put them back into your WIP.

3. Not great at texting, but still want to utilize your phone? Leave yourself a voicemail. Do you have a Bluetooth headset? Even better. Now you can think out loud while you take a hike, run errands, or just about any activity that isn’t in a loud atmosphere.  Yes you’ll have to listen to it later, but you’ll never forget the way you eloquently defined the theme or that tone you used in that bit of dialogue that made the character come to life.

4. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to write, but in the age of Instagram, you probably have the time to snap a picture.  Often we see something that inspires us while we are away from home.  Take a picture and if you have an extra moment send it to your email or FB or Instagram with a few words reminding you what you felt or thought when you first saw it. Maybe it is a way a woman sweeps her porch each morning or the way a waiter sets a cafe table you want to remember, if it is an action use the video feature.

5. Another option is to call a friend who can jot down ideas for you. I have a writing partner I call once a week. We bounce ideas off each other for about thirty minutes each.  While one of us talks the other one types the great ideas into an email and then we hit send.  This is a great option if you’re brainstorming as a second brain often helps you problem-solve on the fly.

No matter where you are or what you're doing, with a little creativity there is always a way to write on the go. Jessica White

6. If you are going on a trip or somewhere you can sit a while a tablet may be a better option. The onboard keyboard is bigger so you can have less finger fumbles.  There are also more app options for Ipad and other tablets.  You can even use the Kindle Fire and go back and forth between reading on your vacation and writing.

7. If you want to have a quiet vacation with no technology, or you just don’t want the temptation of being able to do other things, get a digital recorder. They’re cheap, and you can play it back as many times as you want without tying up your phone line.

8. Nothing beats having a pen handy and a good writing notebook.  They’re cheap, you never have to worry about running out of battery and they are unobtrusive to those around you.  A notebook is the best option if you’re going to be out in full sun where a screen is impossible to see or if you are going off-grid hiking, camping, etc.  There are down points too, they can get ruined by water and it is easy to sit them down and forget them, but for $2 you can replace them.

9. You know the best ideas come when absolutely nothing is available. This is why I always keep a pen in my pocket.  You can write those ideas on any scrap of paper or even the palm of your hand (I’ve been that desperate).  Don’t believe me?  Look around you right now.  Can you find something to write on? A napkin? The back of a receipt? A lunch bag?  Make sure to invest in a good pen though.  One that will write even on a vertical surface and also one that doesn’t bleed if it gets wet.  A good pack of 5 pens is still not more than $10 so for under $2 you’ll have the assurance of being able to get any idea down somewhere.

10. Okay so there is one place this idea might not work-the shower. Don’t worry, even there you can jot your ideas down. If you’re a mom, then it might be the best place to have 2-3 minutes to get your great ideas out of your head uninterrupted.  Invest in a shower notepad.  Aquanotes has one that is similar to parchment paper.  You can scribble down your ideas and take them with you.

No matter where you are or what you’re doing, with a little creativity there is always a way to write on the go.

Jessica White
Jessica White

Jessica White is an admin for the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group. Her book Surviving the Stillness came out last year. She blogs at https://authorjessicawhite.wordpress.com She lives with her family in the Dallas, Texas metro area.

The Routines and Research of a 10-Minute Novelist by Guest Blogger Carre Gardner

Today was a writing day. Not every day is, I’ll confess. I know this is bad writerly practice. All the best authors say you ought to, must sit down at the same time every morning, and not get up until you’ve produced 500, 1,000, 1,500 words.

I would so love to have that kind of life.

The Routines and Research
The Routines and Research

But I am a 10-minute Novelist. And between 12-hour shifts at the hospital, a house with 4 stories of living space to keep clean-ish, 3 teenagers, 2 needy dogs, and 1 husband—all of whom expect to eat actual food on a regular basis—I can’t always carve out time to sit down and write 1,000 words a day. I do what I can, when I can, and I try to let go of the rest.

Note to self: This is good advice, not just for writing, but for life.

Still, a couple of times a week, I do get to spend the day just being a writer. Today was one of them. 

I always read that writing routines are important to productivity, and I am not without mine. When I sit down to write, the first major, indispensable step for me is to check Facebook. After that: Twitter. Then Pinterest, and my 2 G-mail accounts. Next, I go back and re-check them all, in case I missed something. And then a third time, on the off chance that something urgent has come up that will require my attention and absolutely prevent me from having to being able to write today. When this—inevitably—doesn’t happen, the it’s time to knuckle down.

I start by pulling up The Twin Oracles (a.k.a.Google, and Thesaurus.com) in two separate tabs. I keep them both handy as I open the files I’m working on—files that will be an actual, written part of a book someday. As both websites begin to glow, and then to burn red-hot, I set to work. (I also, at this point, may begin to drink a bit of gin, depending on how close to 8 a.m. it is.)

The Twin Oracles are necessary, because like it or not, research is an indispensable part of writing even fiction. Most readers probably never think about how much fact-searching has gone into their favorite books. Writers may not realize it either, until they work with an editor like mine, who has an unsettling way of checking up on details I’ve never even considered. She asks about my characters’ birthdays. About weather patterns. Leap years. Divorce laws. The life cycle of tomato hornworms. Her ability to spot holes, and to keep them from ruining my credibility, is amazing. She is involved and invested in my book in a way that no one else will ever be.

My editor is good at her job, and I like her, and want her to think I’m a credible writer, so I try to turn in my homework when it comes to researching the things I write about. Just for fun, today I kept track of all the things I researched as I wrote (mostly compliments of The Twin Oracles.) Here they are:

Synonyms for parsimonious and proclivity.

A road map of the route numbers in downeast Maine.

The definition of inertia.

Thom McAn Women’s Cut-Out Wedge Oxfords, circa 1970 (which, thanks to the omniscience of the Internet, now show up every day in my Facebook sidebar.)

Synonyms for closet, meal, and anger.

A quote by Walt Whitman, which turned out to actually be by Robert Frost.

A tide table for September, 2014.

The life expectancy of cats.

Catholic hospitals in Boston.

The question, “When do pansies bloom?”

Synonyms for urge, feeling, pet.

Current rent rates for 2 bedroom apartments in this part of the state.

The technical definition of a thoracic surgeon.

All that netted me around 3,000 words, which is fewer than 10 pages of a published novel.

The conclusion of the matter is one that I will go to my grave arguing: writing is hard, hard work. It’s brain-draining, creativity-sapping labor that will sometimes leave you, at the end of your 500 or 1,000 or 3,000 words, lying in a limp, be-sogged mess on the sofa, with the remnants of a gin headache whispering at the edges of your ocular field (cf. vision; perspective; eyesight.)

Writing takes smarts. And time, and commitment. How amazing that so many of us do it—not because it’s easy, or pays well, or is even particularly rewarding.

It is truly a craft of love; a labor of the heart and, yes, also of the mind.

Carre Gardner lives in Portland, Maine, where she works as a nurse at a local hospital. She has 3 teenagers, a husband, and 2 dogs. Her first novel, “All Right Here,” was released by Tyndale House in June, 2014. The 2nd, “Better All the Time,” is due for release in April, 2015, and a 3rd will follow the next year.