Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story Structure: Crafting the High Moment and Using Conflict

A strong high moment and relevant conflict are important components of effective scene crafting.

Crafting the High Moment

Scenes within a story should mimic the overall story structure, meaning it should have a beginning, middle, climax/high moment, and an ending.

The high moment of a scene uses elevated emotion, action, or revelation to impact the character(s) in some way. This does not have to be a major event or action scene, but it should be noticeable to the reader and stand out in some way.

The high moment typically comes at or near the end of the scene, with the previous parts of the scene building or leading up to the high moment. It should be something that produces a reaction in the character(s) involved in the scene. The more important the scene is, the more important the reaction should be. Reactions might include, fear or happiness, making a decision or increasing uncertainty, hiding or running, pulling away or moving forward, etc.

The high moment reveals the purpose of the scene. The character should learn something, either about his or her self or the other characters, which then affects their perceptions or choices. It should also lead the reader into the next scene by setting up the next step the character(s) will take after the revelation in the current scene.

Emphasizing Conflict

Every scene needs some form of conflict: internal, external, or both.

The conflict in a scene needs to have meaning, not be pointless arguing or endless internal lamenting. Have a clear reason for the conflict and consider how it will eventually be resolved, even if the resolution won’t take place until later in the story. Focus the conflict no the purpose of the scene to keep it from meandering.

Conflict, in general, should get progressively worse throughout the story. This increases the stakes for the character(s). Keep this in mind while planning individual scenes and make sure there is an overall progression throughout the story. When considering the main conflict, break it down into smaller pieces or steps and plan its progression with particular scenes.

It’s also important to vary the type of conflict in subsequent scenes. Too many action scenes or scenes with external conflict in a row can be exhausting for the reader and not provide enough time to take in information or impacts of the action. Internal conflict slows down the action and gives the reader a chance to process the conflict and information along with the reader. Scenes with mostly internal conflict won’t be as explosive, but should increase the overall tension.

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Story Structure: Scene Position, Purpose, and POV

Where a scene is located in the story structure, what role it plays, and whos tells that section of the story are important elements in deciding how to craft a particular scene.

Positioning

Opening scenes should introduce characters, set up the story premise, and give hints at backstory. Don’t go overboard on any of these elements. Orient the reader, and fill in the details later in order to avoid overwhelming the reader with too much information or names to remember.

Middle scenes should continue to introduce and work through complications, provide twists, and increase the stakes. These scenes contain the bulk of the story. They should build on each other and provide story progression. Scenes that lag or lack clear purpose should be eliminated or revised to prevent the reader getting bored.

Climactic scenes will build to a climax, and are typically toward the last third of the book. They are often shorter and use high levels or emotion and action. Be careful not to string too many climactic scenes together. This can overwhelm the reader. Give the reader a break every so often with scenes more focused on recovery, discovery, or introspection.

The tone, feel, and purpose of a scene should correspond to its place in the story.

Purpose

Every scene must have a purpose. That doesn’t mean that every scene needs action. Purposes might include advancing the plot, revealing something about the character or world, or providing information about the overall plot, highlighting change, etc.

For writers who outline, it is usually easier to make sure each scene will have a purpose before it is written. For pansters, this may be more challenging, because you don’t always know where a scene is going when you start writing it. Pansters need to revise critically to make sure there are not superfluous or meandering scenes.

The purpose should be able to be condensed into a one sentence summary. For example, This scene will show David blowing up and scaring Emily away by proving to her that he can’t control himself. If a scene doesn’t have a purpose, it likely doesn’t need to be there or need to be revised with a stronger focus on accomplishing something relevant to the story.

Point of View

It is important that a scene be told from the most impactful point of view.

This is usually the character who is most impacted by the events of the scene. If you find that emotion isn’t coming through in the scene like you wanted it to, reevaluate whose POV it’s being told from. Think about what the stakes are for each character involved and who has the most to gain or lose by the outcome of the scene.

POV is often tied to the purpose of the scene. Make sure you have a firm purpose and then evaluate who will learn the most, change the most, react more strongly, risk the most, etc.

There are exceptions, of course, often stylistic ones. If the emotional elements are so strong they may impact the reader in a negative way or be overwhelming, writing the scene from a peripheral viewpoint might be a better option. This may be the case with traumatic experiences or a particularly gruesome encounter.

Posted in books

Story Structure: Opening a Story

The opening of a story should catch the reader’s interest right away.

The TOP priority of the opening scene is making the reader want to know what will happen next. Many readers have short attention spans and will only give a book a few pages to grab them. Opening scenes must get the reader invested in the characters and the story very quickly.

Tips for Writing a Great Opening Scene

Start with conflict or tension. It’s important to present some sort of problem early on, even if that problem is simply that the character is unhappy or something is off in their world.

Start with the story, NOT the backstory. Wait to give the reader the character’s full story. Focus on where the character’s life is currently at so the reader can see why or how it needs to change or what is disrupting it.

Introduce the characters in a way that focuses on the individual, not the “type” of character they are. Stay away from stereotypes in general, but especially in the opening scene. This can turn readers off very quickly. Highlight unique traits to pique the reader’s interest.

Be specific but brief in setting the scene and with description. Give the reader a sense of when, where, and how the character exists in his or her world, but don’t overdo it. The reader should usually be more focused on the character than the world. Orient the reader, then save all the other exciting or fascinating aspects of the world for later.

Set the tone of the story through description, action, dialogue, etc. Pay attention to how your describe the world and character. Match the tone to your wording choices and what you choose to focus on. A character who thinks their life is amazing will notice pleasant things in his or her surroundings. An unhappy or frightened character will notice things that feed into the perceptions and emotions that are experiencing.

Make promises to the reader that you WILL keep by the end: finding love, solving a mystery, learning something, etc. Even if you are a pantser and don’t know exactly how the story will end when you begin writing, you should have a general idea. the opening should mirror the ending, in most cases, and show how the character changes from their initial state in the opening scene to the final chapter.

Tips to Avoid a Lackluster Opening Scene

Don’t open with heavy description or backstory. Readers will often get bored and lose interest in the character if she or he is not the main focus of the story. Be concise and stay focused on what will engage the reader.

Don’t open in the middle of confusing events. Starting in the middle of action is fine, but it needs to be understandable, unless your goal is to confuse the reader, which I don’t recommend. Be clear about who is involved, when and where it is taking place, and what the main conflict is.

Don’t open with too many characters. Generally, it’s best to stick to three or fewer characters in an opening scene. It’s overwhelming for readers to meet so many characters at once and try to determine their important, how they fit into the story, and whether they are good or bad (to put it very simply).

Don’t open with a dream or flashback. Some writers do manage to do this effectively, but most don’t. There’s always a risk of upsetting the reader, even if it is done well. If you feel that you absolutely must start with a dream or flashback, make it crystal clear that is what the reader is experiencing so they are confused and don’t feel like to when you make the switch.

Don’t open with a cliché. This is basically anything that will make a reader roll their eyes or think, Oh, it’s that kind of story. The girl standing in front of a mirror describing herself to the reader is a personal pet peeve of mine. I will put a book down for that reason alone.

Don’t open with flowery language. Get to the point of the scene without a meandering trip through the garden. Readers get bored quickly.

Don’t open with “telling.” Show the reader what they need to know using dialogue, action, internal thought, or interactions. Heavy exposition makes a scene drag and long internal soliloquies are exhausting. Think of it as a movie scene. If nothing is happening that the reader can “see,” go back through this checklist and start cutting.

Don’t open with a stolen prologue to fix a boring beginning. Pasting a later scene onto the beginning of a story to make it more interesting is lazy. If your opening scene isn’t interesting enough to stand on it’s own, it needs reworked. Rethink the structure and point of the opening. It should introduce the main character, their current situation, their problem, and a hint at what’s to come next.

Use your opening scene to hook the reader by presenting an interesting character, a problem the reader wants to see solved, and a world that ties the two together.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story Structure: Chronological and Non-chronological

How you tell a story in time can make a big difference in its effectiveness. Chronological timelines are the the most common, but non-chronological structures can also work very well when done with careful planning and attention to detail.

Chronological Structure

The story is told largely in chronological order, meaning events are told in the order they occur. Brief flashbacks or flashforwards may be included, but they are not the main storytelling device.

This is the most common story structure used and the easiest for readers to understand. It is important to make sure the order of events and passage of time is clear to the reader. You can achieve this by establish the setting/time in the first few chapters to orient the reader, and then staying consistent throughout the book. This is especially important in anything not set in a current time period. If there is a flash forward or backward, give clear indication of the time change, either through exposition or noting the time change.

During editing, check for inconsistencies, such as injuries, broken items, or people coming or leaving and ensure there are proper healing time, things broken stay broken or get fixed, the people involved doesn’t change without being mentioned to the reader, etc. It’s easy to forget little details and have someone using a whole item that was broken in an earlier chapter, or forgetting an injury should hinder movement or ability, or forgetting about a character who existed in the background of a scene.

Non-Chronological Structures

Past prologue: This type of structure details an important event that happened in the past and has effected the current situation. This is commonly used when there is too much backstory detail to work into a present conversation without info dumping. The reader is given all the pertinent information in a past prologue to orient them in the current time when the story begins.

Future prologue: This type of structure details a tension-filled or dramatic future event meant to capture readers’ attention. It is most commonly used to show an unlikely or startling endpoint of a character or story, then reverts back to the present to show what led to the unexpected event. This should not be used simply for shock value to attract a reader’s attention. It should be important and relevant information the reader needs to know when beginning the story.

Alternating timelines: With this structure, past/present or present/future timelines alternate between different characters or the same character in different time periods. This is often used to show a comparison of experiences or times, or to brings two timelines to an eventual intersection.

Circular timelines: In this type of structure, the story ends where it began. It is used to create a sense of departure from and return to the original structure. Characters still undergo transformation and are affected by events.

Flashbacks: A flashback breaks from the current story to tell of an event that happened in the past, as a complete scene. It can be located anywhere in the story. It is used when more details are needed than what can be conveyed through a recap or explanation, or when the reader needs to “experience” the moment to full understand it. Flashbacks should be used minimally to avoid distraction and breaking the story flow.

Parallel timelines: This is used to tell two stories chronologically in different time periods. Both move forward together and inform the other. This is often used to compare two periods of time and how characters experience those time periods. There should be a link between them that sheds light on one or both storylines.

Time jumping: This is when a character moves through time, either forward or backward, or a combination of both. Scenes are connected in some way and inform the other scenes. Outside of an actual time-traveling storyline, this can be used to show changes in a character, situation, place, etc. in different time periods.

Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story Structure: 3-Act Structure

One of the most commonly taught and used story structures in the 3-Act Structure. In this post I’ll break down each act and what should be in it.

Act 1 – The Beginning

Act one compromises about the first 25% of the story and has three main parts.

  • Introduction: The introduction should establish who the main characters are and what their “normal” life looks like at that point in time.
  • Inciting Incident: The inciting incident presents a situation that will prove to be a catalyst for change and which will set the story in motion. In a romance novel, this is usually the meet-cute.
  • Plot Point 1: This first major plot point will introduce the central conflict and present a call to action for the character. The character(s) then react to the inciting incident and call to action, usually accepting the call and setting themselves on the path of the story and character arcs.

Act 2: The Middle

Act two compromises about the middle 50% of the story and contains the bulk of the plot.

  • Confrontation: During the confrontation, the main character faces the first obstacle to achieving his or her desire or goal. In a romance novel this is often something that will prevent a real relationship or keep the main character’s apart, either physically or emotionally.
  • The midpoint: At the midpoint, the main character faces the central conflict in some way. The realization causes a change in the character. This is often a revelation about the self, information about another character, shocking news, reflection on the main conflict, etc.
  • Rising action: During the rising action, the stakes must rise for the main character, building up to the central conflict he or she must face. This is usually achieved through subplots and new information about the central conflict.
  • The second plot point: This is the highest point of tension. It is a crisis that makes the desired ending seem impossible. This should use high emotion to engage the reader and make them concerned for the character. This MUST be believable enough to make the reader think a happy ending may not be possible. This should be big enough that it can’t be resolved easily.

Act 3: The End

Act three compromises the last 25% of the story and contains the worst moment for the characters as well as the resolution or climax and the final ending.

  • Pre-climax/darkest night: In this blackest moment, the character faces the possibly of not achieving their goal during a final clash with the antagonist and deals with the fallout of the crisis The character may realize a new goal that will help them move past the crisis (often alone).
  • Resolution/Climax: This is the final moments of the main conflict where it is resolved by providing an answer to the main problem/conflict. This is normally a single scene, but may extend to several scenes if the resolution/climax is complicated or involves interactions with multiple characters.The main conflict’s resolution MUST be believable and not a simple misunderstanding. The solution should be real and still have an element of risk. The benefits of taking the risk should outweigh staying safe.
  • Denouement:This final ending fulfills all promises to the reader. Make sure to tie up loose ends, answer questions, underscore the theme, in order to leave the reader satisfied.

There is, of course, room to make changes or try new tactics within a 3-Act story structure, but it is still important to make sure you hit all the main elements in some fashion.

Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story Structure: Overview

This series will talk about how to structure a story that keeps the reader’s attention and tells a story in the best possible way.

The Basics of Story Structure

Exposition/Introduction

This is where you will introduce the characters, establish the setting, and present the primary conflict. All of this generally happens in the first few chapters or the first act. The goal is to orient the reader in the characters’ lives before you begin adding any major conflicts.

This helps the reader connect with the characters so they will be invested in the outcome of their story. If a reader can’t connect with the main character(s), there’s a good chance they will stop reading. The setting should also be relevant and interesting, so they character appears to be existing in a real world (whether realistic or fantastical).

It’s also important to give readers a good idea of what the main problem is that the characters(s) is dealing with so they know what type of story they are reading and what the character(s) must overcome. This sets up the reader’s expectations for the rest of the story.

Rising Action

This section is where you should introduce the primary conflict and set the main storyline in motion. This should follow with the expectations you set up for the reader during the introduction. Succeeding events become more complicated as the story proceeds, creating stumbling blocks, tension, interest, and excitement.

Rising action isn’t a straight line, however, so problems and complications should be interspersed with moments of calm, reflection, or positive movement. The action will continue to rise overall, but with dips along the way. This gives the reader a break and allows time for reflection and thought.

Climax

This is the major turning point of the story. All the problems and complications established during the rising action will come to a head. There is high tension and conflict, and stakes are at their highest. The risk that things might not turn out should feel real to the reader, even if they know deep down that everything will turn out the way they are hoping.

This is often a moment of crisis that leaves the reader wondering what will happen next. If you are writing a romance, the reader expects there will be a happily ever after ending. You likely won’t get the reader to really think a happy ending is out of the question, but the goal is to make them doubt the how of how that happy ending will be reached. This heightens a reader’s investment in the outcome and deepens the connection with the characters.

Falling Action

After the climax, the story begins to calm down and starts working toward a satisfying ending. Characters decide what action to take to resolve conflict. These decisions and actions should be realistic and somewhat surprising. Easy and predictable resolutions tend to fall flat and disappoint readers. Make sure all the loose ends are tied up, explanations are revealed, and the reader learns more about how the conflict is resolved.

Resolution

At this point, the main conflict is resolved and the book ends. The story, however, should have the illusion of continuing on beyond the page. This is true even if the book is a standalone and will not have a continuation. Give the reader a chance to imagine how the characters’ lives play out. This adds to the satisfying quality of the ending.

Posted in books, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

How does narrative voice effect storytelling?

An important part of choosing the right narrative mode involves choosing what narrative voice to use.

Narrative modes are individual elements used to relay a story to the reader, and include:
Dialogue, action, description, exposition, thought and scene.

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Dialogue is the talk that is exchanged between characters. It is spoken communication and is punctuated with quotations. It shows personality, reveals information, and gives the reader insight about the character’s thoughts, worldview, and self-perception.

Action is events portrayed as they happen in a story. Action takes time to develop and happens in a specific place. Action is not a “report” or something that happened. It should be described “blow by blow” and not as a summary.

Description is details about how something, some place, or some person looks behaves or functions. Description should have purpose. It should develop setting, characters, situation, and time period. Description should not be self-serving or irrelevant to the situation or story. It should help orient readers in the scene.

Exposition is the telling of the story through relaying information. It is used for explaining, transitions, and narrative summary to skip details of unimportant but necessary events. Too much exposition is referring to as “telling.” Not every part of the story should be told as exposition.

Thought is character self-talk or inner dialogue. It may be only thoughts, or actual talk (self encouragement or disparagement). In third person, thought is italicized to mark it as different from dialogue. First person wording (“I”) is also used in thoughts.

Scene sets the stage for a particular part of a story. It informs the reader of the situation the story section will take place in. Special attention should be paid to the open and close of each scenes so it does not begin or extend beyond what is relevant.

Narrative Voice

Narrative voice encapsulates the writer’s and narrator’s voice, viewpoint, style, tone, mood, and how a story is presented. Voice shows personality and changes depending on the character or situation. Nearly all elements of a story contribute to the voice of the story and needs to be consciously thought out to make sure it’s present in the best way for a particular story.

 

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Elements of Narrative Voice

Attitude has to do with emotion, values, and beliefs, worldview, and feelings about a particular person or situation. It reveals how the narrator speaks, their body language, reactions, and actions.

Tone isn’t just what is said but how something is said. Speed of speech, loudness/quietness, word choice, emotion behind words, and physical actions accompanying words all affect tone.

Personal style includes vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar/technical aspects, and personal preferences. This can be developed for each character to highlight uniqueness.

Choosing narrative modes to develop a distinct narrative voice

Every story has a unique balance of narrative modes based on which create the most appropriate feel. Modes should be varied. Stories that rely to heavily on one or a select few become monotonous.

  • Vary modes used to open and close scenes
  • Break up big chunks of dialogue with action
  • Avoid long sections of thought
  • Space out action scenes to give readers a chance to reflect and anticipate what comes next
  • Keep description to what is relevant and helps develop the story, setting, or characters

How a story is told is just as important as the story being told.

Posted in books, creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story vs. Plot and how they work together

To fully discuss these two concepts and see how they work together, let’s start with the most basic definitions:

Old Open Bible on old wooden table.Plot: the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.

Story: an account of incidents or events, a timeline of events told in narrative form.

At first, this may sound a little backwards. When you’re writing a story, aren’t you doing more than just recounting a series of events? Isn’t plot the timeline and structure? Isn’t the overall story what ties events together and makes more than just a series of incidences? Story is character and places and motivations and choices, isn’t it?

Yes…and no.

Don’t confuse the technical definition of “story” with a GOOD STORY.

An uneventful walk to the grocery store to buy eggs is a story, just not a very good one. It has no plot. Plotting requires crafting the elements that will turn a “story” into something interesting enough to attract readers’ attention and hold it. Plot is not the story, but it MUST SUPPORT the story.

Man hit by carPlot should guide the reader through a story, providing pertinent information and raising questions that will keep them interested. Plotting gives the writer the chance to recognize important questions and provide the answers in a satisfying and compelling way. This applies to both pantsers and outliners, though it may progress in different ways.

Take the grocery store example: Why is the character walking rather than driving? Why does he/she need eggs, and only eggs. What will the eggs be used for? What happens when the character gets to the store? What will happen if he/she doesn’t get the eggs? What events will follow purchasing the eggs?

Plotting also helps a writer determine how the story should end, because endings should always be related to beginnings. A good story comes full circle in one way or another. The situation and character at the beginning present a problem that must be resolved by the end in order for the story to be satisfying.

Identifying the beginning and ending points makes it easier to craft the steps, events, information, and choices that will get the character from beginning to end. These should be developed in a logical way that will make sense to the reader and answer all (or most) of their questions. The spaces between these events are filled with character development, backstory, worldbuilding, etc. to create a rich and engaging story, but the plot is still the underlying structure that turns a trip to the grocery store into a good story.

question-mark-1872665_1920Consider the questions asked about the egg-buying character. Eggs are most likely not the real conflict. In attempting to answer some of the questions about this character, the possibilities are endless.

  • Perhaps the character is a teen buying eggs to go egg the house of someone who is terrorizing her at school.
  • This may be an ordinary shopping trip for a forgotten ingredient that goes awry when an explosion rocks the store.
  • The character may be walking because he was grounded for sneaking out the night before and now must run all his parents’ errands on foot.
  • The character may never make it to the store, but is instead witness to a strange creature darting between houses, followed the screams of a man.

Adding some actual plot to a story takes it from being a mundane occurrence to something intriguing and engaging. If a story leaves the reader with no questions or motivation to continue reading, it’s still a story…just not one with a good plot.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Understanding and choosing the right point of view

When we talk about point of view, what we’re really discussing is the narrative point of view, or how and by whom the story is being told. Let’s review the basics before diving deeper.

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First Person POV has two variations:

First person protagonist where the character narrates his or her own story.

First person observer where a secondary character tells the main character’s story (i.e. Watson narrating Sherlock’s Holmes cases.)

Third Person POV is not told by a character but by an invisible author and has four variations:

Third person omniscient is where an all-knowing narrator tells the story.

Third person dramatic/objective is where the narrator only tells the reader things which could be recorded by a camera or microphone (i.e. no thoughts).

Third person limited is where a narrator tells the story from the perspective of a single character at a time.

Third person deep is where the story is told in the hero’s voice, rather than the author’s voice.

Second person POV is written in present tense and addresses the reader directly:

Second person POV makes the reader the protagonist. The narrator often uses detailed description, shares psychological insights, and tries to anticipate reader reactions.

This in uncommon in teen or adult fiction and is mainly used for young children’s literature.

It’s important to understand why some POVs work better for certain genres or storylines and make changes when something isn’t working. Let’s review points to consider when choosing POV.

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First Person

There are several advantages of writing in first person. It feels natural to many writers, because it’s how we speak about our world and experiences. Dealing with only one narrator’s mind can be easier than writing multiple narrators. It’s an opportunity to create a unique and distinctive internal voice. Because you’re only in one character’s mind at a time, it’s easier to “stay in character.” Readers also get to experience the story vicariously through the character more easily. There is also an opportunity to create an unreliable narrator. First person is also much more intimate than other POVs and can fully immerse a reader in a story.

There are disadvantages as well. You are limited to writing only about what the character can see, know, or hear. The narrator must be in every scene, observing and participating in the story. Minds of other characters are off limits, as is their knowledge about the story unless directly shared with the narrator in some way.

 Second Person

Advantages of this POV are limited. You can create a different feel to a story, and can speak to the reader directly.

The disadvantages are more prevalent, partly because this “uniqueness” often doesn’t sit well with readers and feels too personal. It often gives a juvenile feel to a story.

 Third Person Omniscient

Advantages of this POV include being able write the story as an onlooker watching the full story unfold. You can also add contrasting viewpoints with other characters (NO head hopping, though!). This can give a reprieve to the reader and allow them to see another side of the story. You can expand the scope of the story by moving between settings and viewpoints. You aren’t limited to characters in the story when choosing a narrator, which can provide a unique perspective. This POV also allows the narrator to share his or her own views, but should NEVER slip into second person to do so.

Disadvantages center around the confusion this POV can create when not done with attention to detail. If narrators don’t have a distinct voice, readers may be confused on who is narrating. Switching to other characters can diffuse the tension or excitement when not planned well. It’s also easy to write as the author instead of the narrator. This POV can be more difficult to forge a connection with readers if it comes off as too distant or impersonal.

Third Person Limited

This POV attempts to combine the best of first and third person omniscient. The limited POV allows you to more deeply explore the narrator and forge a stronger connection with the reader without asking them to live out a story with the narrator.

For disadvantages, this POV does limit you to choosing a character as a narrator and limits you to the narrator’s thoughts and experiences.

The distance third person creates between the story and the reader can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the story. Some stories may be too raw or personal and distance is needed to allow the reader to remain at a certain comfort level. However, if in order to fully understand or experience a story, the reader needs to be enveloped in it, the distance of third person may prevent that.

 Third Person Deep

The biggest advantage of the deep perspective is that is attempts to remove distance between narrator and reader. The reader can experience more fully what the narrator is thinking and feeling. It feels more like third person to a reader, but uses third person pronouns, which can be important in following genre conventions.

The main disadvantage is that this is a challenging POV to write and is still gaining traction in some genres.

Consider the last book you read and how it would have changed if written from a different POV.

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Posted in writing, writing thoughts

My first six months in journalism

Typewriter illustrationThis past February I started a job as an editorial assistant at a local newspaper. I’ve been writing since I was a teen, and got started publishing fiction almost ten years ago, but journalism is a whole new world of writing for me. I’ve learned a lot so far, some writing-related and some just plain interesting.

The AP Stylebook is the end-all be-all for journalists, even though it says not to use the Oxford comma, which drives me batty on a daily basis.

On the rare occasion AP doesn’t have the answer, Miriam-Webster gets the final say. Any questions either of these can’t handle go to David Buck, who knows everything about journalism but is still super nice.

InCopy has this amazing feature that can change capitalization with one click. It’s my favorite thing about it, especially since the program is kind of a pain in the ass in general. I have no idea why Word can’t change capitalization like this. Get on it, developers. Please?

Writing length is measured in inches, not pages or words. I still haven’t figured out the conversion and need to see it visually, but as usual, my articles are often too long!

Storytelling in journalism is a lot different than in fiction. There’s no room for a detailed backstory or well-developed plot. Journalism answers questions and informs more than tells stories most of the time.

Journalists don’t accept change easily. There were audible gasps when AP announced the percent sign could now be used instead of writing it out.

Last but not least, I’ve learned that one of my coworkers carries a cross in her pocket, not because she’s religious, but because you never know when you might run into a vampire.

I still have a ton to learn about journalism, but I’m enjoying the process and the people.

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If you want to see what I’ve been writing, stop by The Durango Herald and The Journal!