Month: December 2013

By the Numbers: You Can Write a Novel in a Month

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During the month just past, while many of us who are gluttons for punishment struggled to get 50,000 words written for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), there was a ton of comments on just how difficult this is. I managed to do it for the second year in a row, and quite frankly, I found it easier the second time around.

One of the comments that commonly comes up is that novels are so long (45,000 words and up except for the November exercise) that it just seems daunting. Actually, it shouldn’t be. If you stop and think about it, writing a novel, if you are really driven to write, shouldn’t be any more difficult than completing your income tax return – I find it, in fact, a whole lot easier.

If you’re still tentative, let’s look at the math of writing a full length work and see if it can change your mind.

We should start with the basic assumption that almost everyone can type at least 25 words per minute. I know two-finger, hunt-and-peck typists who can do 50 wpm or more, and thanks to a typing class in high school many decades ago, I can still manage 60, but for convenience, let’s use 25 wpm as the starting point.

If, like me,  you no longer have a full-time day job to interfere with your creative efforts, that gives you from four to eight  hours per day to devote to writing. Let’s use four under the assumption that you haven’t gone completely around the bend. Here then is how the numbers crunch:

–   25 words per minute = 1,500 words per hour. If you write for only four hours per day, you’ll end the day with 6,000 words.

–   Assuming you write every day, that gives you 60,000 words in 10 days. If you’ve gone around the bend, and glue yourself to your keyboard for a full eight hours, you get 60,000 words in five days.

That, my friends is the equivalent of a full-length novel in five to ten days.

I know, you’re saying: it doesn’t work that way. Keeping plot threads and characters straight takes time. I have that covered as well. Before you start actually writing the darn thing, I recommend a week to ten days of preparation. Outlining if you swing that way, develop character biographies, plot twists, timelines, etc. Now, you’re ready to write. So, that makes 15 to 25 days to completion. Let it cool off for two days, and then spend another 10 days rewriting and polishing your prose.

In the end, you have your novel in 27 to 37 days from start to finish. I kid you not – the numbers don’t lie.

A Little Salt Can Season Your Writing

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Here we go again – another first Wednesday and time for posting for the Insecure Writer’s InsecureWritersSupportGroupSupport Group,, a blog devoted to addressing issues that bedevil all of us as writers.  My offering this month is related to the problem of the use of profanity and other ‘salty’ language in what we write.

A reader, after  reviewing one of my mystery novels, wrote that she liked that I ‘didn’t use a lot of profanity’ in my stories. I was happy to get the review, but felt a bit guilty, because that reader was only partly right.

My stories, even the mystery series, which is set in Washington, DC, and is populated by the people who live in some of the city’s less salubrious neighborhoods, are not laced with curse words. But, because I’m writing about people who in fact frequently use some rather salty language, for the sake of realism and authenticity, there will be some language on the page that’s not fit for polite company. The same is true of my Buffalo Soldier series; historical novels about the famous African-American soldiers of the Ninth U.S. Calvary on the western frontier after the Civil War.

Now, I’d like as many people as possible to read and enjoy my work, so I tend to use profanity only sparingly. Now and then, one of my characters will let fly an f-bomb, or, because of the racial dynamics of the U.S., during the frontier days as well as today, will use or be targeted with the N-word. I do this, though, only when it is part of the action or motivation of a scene, or if it’s how that specific character would likely speak in real life. No one expects a drunken cowboy or a modern-day drug dealer to speak like a choir boy. Actually, some of the choir boys I’ve known in my life occasionally need their mouths washed out with soap. But, I don’t have a character use such profanity for page after page, or every time he or she speaks – yes, folks, the ladies curse too. I do it when a character of situation is introduced, to set the scene; and, maybe once or twice to reinforce it in the reader’s mind – but, in a 40,000 to 60,000 word story, I might only do that five or ten times.

So, it might be missed by someone who dislikes that kind of language. Much as it might be missed, or ignored, in real life by the same person. I’d like to think, though, that the character is painted vividly in the reader’s mind, though, by that judicious sprinkling of salt, and that readers appreciate not having it spray-painted all over the pages – like being slapped constantly while you’re trying to concentrate; not a pleasant feeling.

My method is not for everyone. Some writers are quite comfortable with profanity on almost every page – and, some can pull it off. I’m not, and I think most of the people who read my stuff feel much the same. I don’t talk like a saint. I spent 20 years in the military, and during that time I learned some pretty colorful words and phrases. On occasion, when I’m truly provoked, some of them pop out. But, I don’t do it that often, so that when I do let fly, people take notice. Same thing in my fiction – when a bit of profanity appears on the page, people (I hope) take notice. My objective has been achieved. They know what kind of person that character is, or what the situation is turning into, and don’t have to be reminded again in most cases.

Just a thought in case you have ever wrestled with this problem.

Review of ‘Netherworld’ by Lisa Morton

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This is a pre-publication review of Netherworld (Book One of the Chronicles of Diana Furnaval) by Lisa Morton. I received a pre-publication review copy from JournalStone Press.

Lady Diana Furnaval, though only just turned 30, is both a widow and a demon hunter. When her husband, William Furnaval, who is from a family of gateway keepers – the portals between the mortal world and the Netherworld – is reported murdered in Europe, Diana inherits his estate and becomes the last gatekeeper. Rather than just keeping watch over the gates, though, she vows to close each and every one of them, sealing the demons in there hell.

Her quest, along with her cat Mina, takes her from Europe to China, where she meets Yi-Kin who enlists in her quest, to America, and finally, to Netherworld itself, when she learns of a demonic plan to invade the mortal realm. She must stop the invasion, but the cost could be more than she can afford to pay.

Lisa Morton’s Netherworld: Book One of the Chronicles of Diana Furnaval, is a supernatural thriller with epic scope, crafted as only a British fantasy writer can – in a deceptively understated style that sneaks up on you, and says ‘boo!’ before you know what’s happening. Follow Diana as Morton takes her on an epic journey that spans the globe and reality, and when you’re done, you’ll be panting for Book Two.


6 Critical Elements for Fantasy World Building (Part 2)

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Lita Burke

This is the second of a 3-part blog post about building rich fantasy worlds to immerse your readers. In part 1 we looked at two “big picture” elements in building a fantasy world: maps and politics.

Today we will take a “medium-sized” view and see why meat and grog are wimpy. We’ll also learn how to speak in tongues.

3.  Proper Menus

We are what we eat. This is also true for your fantasy world people. Engage all of your reader’s senses in the story. Don’t limit yourself to feeding your people the typical fantasy grub of turkey legs and ale. Or roast beast and grog.

To put your reader in your fantasy world, tell them how the food smells and tastes.  For example, describe the odors of a restaurant’s cooking food as your hero hurries by on his early morning appointment with the wizard’s school headmistress. Make him hungry…

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6 Critical Elements for Fantasy World Building (Part 1)

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Lita Burke

World-building techniques have always fascinated me.  High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy books were my delight as a young reader.  I poured over the maps on the book’s end papers, studied every entry in the glossary in the back, even marveled over the lengthy character name lists in the front.

When it comes to creating fantasy worlds for my own fiction, I’m a writer who knows the details of the characters’ environment. I must have their vitae close at hand so I know them well enough to write about their struggles.  It also doesn’t hurt to speak their language and follow the latest fads for their clothing styles.

Today I’m sharing 2 of my 6 must-have elements for defining fantasy worlds.  There’s no significance to the order I present them here, other than I’m starting with the largest elements and working down to the most detailed.

1.  Geography and Cartography

I love maps.  I can…

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Pixar’s 22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling

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Pixar’s 22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling from @powerfulpoint  Click on the link to see how Disney Pixar Studios puts together their fantastic films. Advice you can use in crafting your own stories.