Movie directors and cinematographers work with Image Systems to deliver a story and character that entertain and offer meaning.
For those of us writing novels, creative nonfiction, memoir, and short stories, working with an “image system” can “deepen” or improve crucial aspects such as Point of View, characterization, momentum, and theme. Some writers also use an image system as a plotting tool.
Image System tip 2: Create better and more accurate distance and visual perspectives, as well as sound and smell perspectives.
Image System tip 3: Contrasting textures signal emotions.
Image System tip 4: Interior versus exterior—create momentum.
Image system tip 5: Objects matter in every story and help you sell.
Christine DeSmet is a writing coach and instructor with University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. She also teaches an online course in novel writing. A past Golden Heart winner and finalist (3 times), her books include three in the Fudge Shop Mystery Series (Penguin Random House) set in Door County, Wis., and the re-issued light romantic mystery novellas When Rudolph Was Kidnapped and Misbehavin’ in Moonstone (Writers Exchange Publishing).
Asking and answering “why?” brings layers to the story. It helps us dig deeper into our characters’ motivations and perspectives. It shows how the past impacts the present. It helps us understand a character’s choices, actions, motivations. It brings meaning to a physical object.
“Why” allows us to cut a beloved sentence or scene. It leads to those “ah-ha!” moments, the surprising moments when you discover something new, unusual, or shocking about your character. In turn, you now have the perfect environment to create a moment that’s completely unexpected.
Recently, a writer friend had me read part of her manuscript. She wrote, “If I leave now, I’ll be home by three o’clock.”
This sentence stood out because I didn’t understand why it was there. What purpose does it serve? Why is getting home by three o’clock important to the story? (She never answered that within her novel.) When I asked her, she said it really didn’t have any importance. She cut it! Do you have sentences like that?
MIT professor and award-winning author, Laura Harrington, said that every word you write in your novel must have muscle. If a scene serves several purposes, even better. Always pay attention to your whys?!
Me Before You author Jojo Moyes once told me that she never regretted anything she cut, only the things she didn’t cut. Think about it: Why is this scene important?
To help you with your writing, I’ve created a WHY list of questions. Good luck!
Liza Wiemer is an award-winning educator with over twenty-five years of teaching experience. Hello?, her debut realistic contemporary YA novel, is set in Door County, Wisconsin and was published by Spencer Hill Press, NY. It was named a Goodreads Best Young Adult Novel and was on Milwaukee County Bestseller’s List for four weeks. Paste Magazine called it “one the most original novels of the year.” In addition, Liza has had two adult non-fiction books published through Random House and Gefen Publishing. Several of her short stories were included in the New York Times bestselling Small Miracles series. A die-hard Packer fan and graduate of UW-Madison, she’s married with two sons. Find her on Twitter: @lizawiemer.
When I saw this quote late last year, I didn’t realize just how much it would affect my writing from that day forward. It has, however, now become the mantra I chant when I barrel through 5,000-10,000 words a day. That simple sentence changed the way I write… and I’d like to think it’s for the better.
The first novel I wrote took a few years of on and off dabbling. When inspiration struck I wrote a paragraph here, a sentence there, until finally I typed those two magical words. The end. The feeling I had when I finished was a sense of accomplishment unlike any I’d experienced before. I wanted to go back and do it again… to feel the rush of knowing I’d done it. I’d written a novel.
So I started a new one. Again, a paragraph here, a sentence there but always waiting… waiting for inspiration to guide my hand and craft the words into something beautiful. Hours could be spent staring at that damn flashing cursor waiting for that poetic sentence to come together. It was then I saw the quote.
That night I started typing. Fast. I had the story in my head and the characters were off running. Rather than trying to find the perfect words to describe their every move and feeling, I just started pouring words onto the page like a court reporter transcribing everything I saw. I was amazed at how fast the story was unfolding, and how many more layers I could see, smell, and hear when I wasn’t distracted searching for the perfect word. Instead, I was standing inside my story in the middle of the action just scribbling as fast as I could to keep up.
When I was done that night I had typed 11,000 words. There were errors galore. The grammar police would have locked me up and thrown away the key. That road to hell paved with adverbs? I was skipping down it with a grin stretched wide across my face. But even with all the ugliness, I had created something quite beautiful. A story… or at least part of it.
The next day I did the same. Then the next, and the next. In under two weeks my entire novel was done. It wasn’t beautiful… but it was done. The skeleton and skin were laid and now it was time to go back and slap some hair and makeup on that motley looking creature. I was Professor Henry Higgins and my novel was Eliza Doolittle. Charming, but in need of a lot of refinement.
With the story sorted and the scenes set, I was shocked how easy it was to rework my sentences and find those perfect words quite effortlessly that I struggled with before. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t trying to create a story and a sentence all at once. The story was done, now I just needed to add some flourish to it.
Since changing my approach to writing, I am now writing faster than my publisher can keep up. I finished a new novel before they even had time to read the previous one. My “get ‘er done” writing style is not only more enjoyable for me since I get to throw myself into the story, but it has made me much more effective. With this new system, writing a novel is no longer a daunting mountain to climb, but more like small hills I need to jog up and down several times. It’s still the same distance in the end, just broken up into much more manageable pieces.
When I am in a scene, I’m trying my best to write sentences that flow and won’t leave me cringing when I come back through sporting my editor hat. However, when I get tripped up over a word or a phrase I ask myself “Do I need to know this right now or can I come back and figure this out later?” If it’s the latter, which it usually is, I slap down an adverb or an ugly sentence and keep on trucking.
After a particularly long stretch of writing my latest novel, I was in a fight scene and didn’t want to lose my rhythm. When I wasn’t sure how to describe my villain, I threw a sentence in that said “He’s ugly as hell. Work in ways to describe him.” That’s a direct quote. From my novel. Well, it was a direct quote before I went back and edited it to work in a very appropriate description. The point being, rather than lose my momentum by stopping to word-craft, I followed the energy of the story and came back later to pretty it up.
If you find yourself struggling to complete your manuscript, I encourage you to try this technique. Focus on writing the best you can without slamming on the brakes to obsess over what words best describe the color of your hero’s eyes. Just call them blue and move on. Later you can send us swimming in cerulean pools frozen beneath winter’s breath. Just write. Let your story unfold and follow it without delay. When you reach the finish line, take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and then sit down in the sand you just shoveled and start building those sandcastles.
Katherine Hastings loves love. It’s why she writes romance novels. Getting lost writing a romantic adventure is one of her favorite past times. When she’s s not on an adventure in her mind with her characters, she can be found at her home in Wisconsin snuggling her husband, two Boston Terriers, and the world’s naughtiest cat. Two things make Katherine want to leave her happy home these days…going for rides on her dressage pony or floating at the beach in her big inflatable raft. Writing her novels while floating in the lake is one of her ultimate pleasures…that and Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds, of course.
Valerie J. Clarizio, Virginia McCullough, Kira Shayde, S.C. Mitchell, Lisa Romdenne and Mary Grace Murphy will be at UntitledTown presenting a panel entitled A Look at the Romance Genre and Women’s Fiction – The Genres that Outpace Themselves Year After Year.
Before sending their manuscript out into the world, some writers choose to have their work reviewed by a freelance editor. There are several advantages to having an editor join you in the revision process.
Whether you plan on self publishing, pursuing a traditional publisher, or seeking to find an agent, hiring an editor to polish your story is a powerful tool to help present yourself in a professional manner.
After authors dedicate large amounts of time and effort to their manuscripts, it can become hard to see much-needed changes.
As an author, if you are gearing toward establishing a writing career, then working with an editor is a great step toward building a solid foundation to grow from. Not only does an editor polish your work, but you learn as well throughout the editing process.
I had the privilege of interviewing Judy Roth from Custom Editing. Judy opened the doors for business in 2012. She has been writing and editing for over 20 years. With a New York publishing house background she currently works with a large and diverse group of authors covering most genres of fiction and nonfiction, publishing both traditionally and independently. She takes very seriously the privilege of working with such talented writers—novice and bestselling alike. She is also a conference and writing group workshop leader and thinks she has the best job in the world!
In this article, I have asked Judy some questions about the editing process.
Why is it important for writers to hire an editor to review their manuscript before showing it to the world?
An editor has a practiced eye. She is unbiased and works for you. She has the time, whole days of it often, to devote solely to your work. She has the experience to tell you if something is or isn’t working in a constructive manner and offer concrete examples of how it can be improved if need be. An editor is on your side. She wants you to succeed, and it is her job to help you do so.
What are the most common mistakes you see in a manuscript?
Aside from basic technical errors, I think it’s less about mistakes and more about honing our craft. It’s an ongoing process—an adventure—and a good freelance editor guides authors in this process while respecting authors’ artistic vision.
At what point in the writing process is it a good idea to hire an editor?
The traditional answer is when the manuscript is as done as possible. (When that is, is an entirely different question.) But the beauty of hiring a freelance editor who works for you is that is not always the only answer. An author might want the editor to look at the first few chapters to see if the manuscript is on the right track plot wise and/or style wise. Or, returning to the question of how the writer knows if the manuscript is finished, an editor can help determine that and if need be give suggestions for how to take the story to the next level.
This is an individual process depending on many factors. In any case, it’s important to remember the editing process is as vital as the writing process. With that in mind, try to budget enough time to ensure larger developmental edits are implemented consistently throughout and sentence and paragraph structures are varied and move the story forward. Try to avoid getting bogged down by holding on to something that isn’t working. It could be a plot point that’s dear to you but just feels off in this story. It could be that one perfect sentence that makes you laugh and cry and think deep thoughts, but you’ve moved it to ten different places, and it just no longer works. Let it go—hit delete. It’s actually quite liberating, like cleaning the basement, very satisfying once it’s done, and nine out of ten times we never miss our favorite coat from high school or our kids’ first bikes. And here is the coolest part, it’s no risk. You can hit Undo. If you take it out, you can put it back. It’s your manuscript. And a tip: Keep a separate folder for those wonderful words you have deleted but don’t want to lose. I call mine Hidden Gems. Who knows, those words may come in handy in the next story, or if not you can still go visit them, laugh and cry and marvel at your genius, whenever you want. They are your words!
What advice would you give authors going through the revision process?
Try to keep an open mind and be true to yourself. It sounds obvious, but it’s dang hard to do both at the same time, especially if you are receiving critiques.
And one very practical piece of advice is whenever you make any revision, even as small as a comma change, be sure to read not only the full sentence the revision is in but at a minimum the sentence before and after it as well.
What services do you offer authors?
I edit most fiction and nonfiction. I work with authors who want to publish independently and those who want to spruce up their manuscripts for submission. I offer several different packages of full developmental edits, line edits, and proofreading. I also offer coaching services. And I love talking with writing groups, big and small—always a blast.
What is your favorite part of being an editor?
Oh gosh, I love my job. I meet such talented writers, learn something new every day. I get to look up the most outrageous things on the Internet. Chat with authors about body fluids, who wore breeches, pantaloons, or trousers when, and the merits of an em dash—love ’em. I’m a mamma bear and being an editor I’m able to nurture without ever having to send anyone to timeout, no one gets hurt, and when all is said and done authors actually say, “Thank you.” What could be better than that?
Lisa Romdenne has been an RWA(PRO) member since November 2014 and a WisRWA member since September 2015. Currently, she serves as President of WisRWA . She writes western romance under the pen name Lianna Hawkins and is presently working on a historical western romance series.
We all know there are many important elements that make up a good story. Characterization, plot, and dialogue come immediately to mind. But in doing some research, I’ve discovered I haven’t done enough thinking about Setting.
And it’s so important.
“Setting is a conscious choice the writer makes during the pre-writing phase,” says John Galligan (author of Tools for Fiction Writers) in an article for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter. “[S]etting feeds and supports your fiction, sometimes in subtle, not evident ways.” He goes on to say that “many of the essentials of setting will show up in your first draft but many more will need to be crafted or refined during revision.”
So, what can we do to improve and use the power of Setting to enhance our work?
Galligan suggests breaking it out into its dimensions:
Place: The most obvious is, of course, where. But there’s more to that; think the whole spectrum of “big” (A city? State? Mythical world?) down to the “microscopic” (a brilliant detail). That’s what we reach for when we revise.
Time: Now we go into the “Scale of When.” Time in history? Time of year? Of life? and of course, Time of story. We need to seek for those details, lines of dialogue, that clarify the scale of when, that ground the reader in our story.
Mood/Theme: This moves us into a more subliminal mindset. Think big picture (a disaster, maybe a tsunami). Then consider the emotions it causes: despair, loss, horror—a whole spectrum of emotions, evidenced by . . .
Character: Setting shapes characters in terms of who they are in the beginning of your story and who (in the storyline) they will become. It determines how they walk, talk, eat, think, react—in short, everything. And let’s not forget . . .
Pace: How your story moves from one setting to another. Perhaps your character finds herself uncomfortable—raising the tension—as you skip from one scene to another? Galligan says, “Think of a story as a finite arrangement of settings” that link dramatic actions. “Spending too much time in one and not enough in another creates imbalance and a pacing problem.”
Galligan again: “It all comes down to details and choices. We can’t describe everything.”
I’m paraphrasing here: He advocates striving for consistency, richness and economy, working across details that cross boundaries within Setting, such as describing late summer with “silver maples humming with cicadas.” This not only gives the reader a mental image but at the same time conveys information about place (where) and Mood/Theme.
Whew! Who’d have thought there was so much to consider within the broad word: Setting. I, for one, will go back into the manuscript I’m working on to see how much better it can be with just a few more (or less! Sometimes I’m wordy) detail. I want my story to give my readers so much more than just a place where something happens. I want to give them the depth and height and width that Setting can provide.
Nancy Sweetland has authored seven picture books and a chapter book mystery for young readers, along with short stories for juveniles and adults. Adult novels include The Spa Murders, The Virgin Murders, The Door to Love, Wannabe, The House on the Dunes, The Countess of Denwick, and The Shopkeeper’s Secret. She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin and loves to hear from readers.
As the author of twenty-three short stories ranging from 3,000 to 40,000 words that have been published over the last seven years, I am often asked “Is there really a market for short stories?” The answer is YES – and that market is growing! (By the way, I’m going to use the term “short story” throughout this piece to describe any story under 50,000 words. There are more technical terms, such as novella and novelette, but we won’t get into that today.) There is a growing market for short stories as more people are looking for a story they can read in an hour or two. They want to read a full story all at once when they have some spare time—not read a chapter today, find themselves too busy to read for a week, and then try to pick up with chapter two. Enter the short story. Not only are there dozens of indie publishers out there publishing short stories of various lengths, but traditional publishing houses are jumping on the bandwagon as well. Hachette, Avon, and Harlequin all have imprints that publish these fun-sized romances.
We’ve established that there is a growing market for short stories. But why should you write one? If you’ve never published before, I think short stories are a great place to start. When I first started writing, I tried and failed to finish numerous full-length romances. However, the first time I tried my hand at writing a short story, not only was I able to complete it, but it was accepted for publication! Short stories are a great way to build your self-confidence while you develop your writing style on a smaller scale. For published authors, there are a number of reasons to write short stories as well.
Writing a short story is different from writing a full-length novel. My best advice is to think FOCUSED when writing a short story. You’re not giving your readers a distant view of a forest; give them a detailed view of one tree. Many authors make the mistake of thinking “short” or “simple” and get unsatisfying results with their short story. Sure, I could retell Titanic in 10,000 words, but it’s going to read like a Wikipedia page, not a love story. You need to FOCUS on one part that still tells a story—such as Jack and Rose having a horrible dinner together with the upper-class folk before escaping to dance the night away.
When writing a short story, you just don’t have the time or space to flesh out complex internal and external conflicts and resolve them in a way that’s satisfying to readers. For Happily Ever After stories, your characters have probably met previously; it’s less believable if your characters meet, fall in love, and get married in 5000 words. If your characters are meeting for the first time, you’re probably writing a Happy For Now story. You are going to have few, if any, secondary characters; these characters do not get their own plots in short stories. FOCUS on the romance, less on the external conflict or other characters. Be selfish and put your couple in the spotlight; let them steal the show! I once heard that if a novel is a journey, a short story is an experience. Go start your experience today!
By: Kayla Bain-Vrba
Kayla Bain-Vrba has been living in daydreams ever since she was a little girl and writing about them for as long as she can remember. It was her discovery of m/m romance that inspired her first published work at age nineteen. When she’s not writing—or is procrastinating writing—Kayla enjoys spending time with her other half, crafting, and planning things to a tee.