Immersion: Closing the Gap between Reader and Character

I saw a Facebook post recently that asked the question, “What mistakes did you make in your early writings?” Naturally, I offered an honest answer. In past scribbling, I was guilty of “distancing” my readers from my characters. However, I have since learned how to close the gap between reader and character.

What Are Distancing Phrases?

You create distance by telling what the character saw, as opposed to letting the reader see through the character’s eyes. Instead of listing every possible manner of distancing and its fix, I’ve decided to write a small paragraph which displays distancing. Yes, I know there’s an element of the old Show vs. Tell going on here, but I’m concentrating on the relationship between reader and character.

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This Is True for Filmmaking as Well

Remember the last time you watched a well-made film? You were completely immersed into the world and characters presented to you. So much so, that you forgot about the real world. Notice what happens if the film breaks or if there’s a commercial interruption. You become jolted out of the immersion.

A Sample

Let’s say your main character is John. Here’s some text loaded with distancing.

John offered the diary to Mary. He could see her hand trembling with nervous trepidation as she grabbed the little green journal. “The page is marked,” John said. He watched as she took hold of the white ribbon and turned to the infamous page. As her eyes scanned the entry, John noticed her curled lip.

She closed her eyes and dropped the book. “I can’t believe my sister did something like that.”

He felt terrible about revealing the truth to Mary and decided to hug her.

Therefore…

If the main character is John, then everything written is from his point of view. Everything seen, felt, smelled, or heard happens through him. Therefore there is no need for “He could see…”, “He watched…”, or “He felt terrible…” Also, once these distancing expressions are removed, you get locked into heightening the points for added drama while editing.

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A Rewrite

John offered the diary to Mary. Her trembling hand reached out and then recoiled away. He stretched out his arm, forcing the book closer to her. “The page is marked.”

After a deep breath, she held out her hand. John planted the little green journal into her palm.

She opened it to the infamous page marked with a piece of white ribbon. Her lip curled as her eyes scanned the entry. “I can’t believe my sister did something like that.”

With an aching in his chest, he lurched forward, wrapped his arms around her and drew her close.

Guilty

There is a vast difference between my first short story, “Stasis,” and my latest one, “Night Flights.” Although improved, I was still not completely satisfied with my writing. However, I’ve learned so much about editing over the past year, and have applied that knowledge to my forthcoming fantasy novel.

How About You?

Did your early writing distance the reader? Did you do a bit too much “telling” and block your readers from getting immersed in your characters and world?

Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

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Beware: Head Hopping or P.O.V Shifting

Head Hopping is also known in certain circles as P.O.V (Point of view) shifting. These jumps can be overt or even jarring to a reader. Sometimes head hopping can be subtle and therefore difficult to spot in an editing pass. Can you spot the head hopping / P.O.V shifting instances in the following passage?

Of course I tossed in some changes in narration as well, just for “poops” and giggles.

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If done correctly, head hopping is perfectly fine. In the Game of Thrones series, George R.R. Martin titles his chapters after different characters. And that named character commands the P.O.V for that particular chapter. Also, you can use a page break, which is probably the technique most often used. Page breaks lend themselves well in third person narration. They are like flags which will prevent confusion between text and reader.

Which head hopping occurrence was the most difficult to spot? How about the shifts in narration?

Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

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Review: Emotional Beats by Nicholas C. Rossis

I am not one of those authors with a veritable library of craft books, because I tend to be quite selective in my choices. However, Emotional Beats: How to Convert Your Writing into Palpable Feelings by Nicholas C. Rossis is a writing resource that I can heartily recommend.

First, there is the opening five-page essay on beats, how to use them, why they are necessary, etc.. I especially enjoyed Nick’s analogy of comparing writing to painting. Although short, the introduction should leave no doubt as to the importance of giving your characters a proper beating. 🙂

EBEatsThe rest of the book is divided into four parts, Feelings and Emotions, Body Parts, Other Beats, and Extras.

Part I: Feelings and Emotions

For me, this section comprises the genius of this book. The different beats used to convey emotions are fleshed out. However, unlike the famous emotion thesaurus, each emotion is sub-divided into the separate body parts.

For example, the first emotion is Anger. The many ways to describe Anger are broken down by eyes, face and head, hands, and voice. To make things even better, all emotions are presented as different from each other. The different ways to express Joy are feet, hands, laughter, and smile.  Joy is explored through a completely different subset of body language from Anger.

Part II: Body Parts

In this section you’ll find clever ways to describe the motion of body parts and facial expressions. There’s even a section on breath and the different ways to express hearing. The largest sub-section is dedicated to eyes, because so many different emotions can be conveyed. For me, the most interesting list concerns head motions for a nod. Whether the nod is emphatic or subtle, they also can be used to prevent repetitive wording.

Part III: Other Beats

Here is where one gains an appreciation for Nick Rossis’ attention to painstaking details. Besides using a beat to portray emotion, Mr. Rossis has delved through many other aspects of physical movement that occur while a character is interacting with the world around them.

Think about how many times a character walks, sits, stands, or fights. Even the act of opening doors, eating, drinking, and driving are explored. For fantasy or western authors, there’s a section for the movements of horses as well.

Part IV: Extras

As the name of the section implies, the final part is a hodgepodge of techniques to fine tune your writing. The main body of “Extras” contains a list of strong verbs options, aiding and advising humble authors. Picking through this list should add some extra polish to your manuscript. There’s also a section for Describing Death, Synonyms, Sensory Words (remember to let your character experience their five senses), Crying, Snoring, and Writing. Nick Rossis doesn’t take credit for everything. He acknowledges other authors who have contributed.

So far, I’ve referred to Emotional Beats several times in the course of editing my novels and short stories. However, at times, I’ve made changes to an existing manuscript simply because this book has sharpened my eyes. I was able to spot something dull and augment the quality without referring back to any lists.

Emotional Beats: How to Convert Your Writing into Palpable Feelings is a must have craft book for indie authors who have to do a lot of self-editing. I have to congratulate Nick Rossis. He has thrown down the gauntlet in the war against indie-author stigma by giving us this valuable tool.

Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry 🙂francesco25

A Growing Manuscript

The editing and building of the beta manuscript for my fantasy novel “An Easterly Sojourn” (working title) is going well so far. I believe we (the Queen and I) have gotten through the most difficult chapter yet. The challenge stemmed from morphing two separate chapters into one. Apparently, chapter 17 (On the Edge of Jalken) had nothing happening, but it contained some wonderful scenes and clever dialog. We realized those snippets would serve to enhance chapter 15 (The Changing of the Guard).

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Inserting things here and there meant correcting the time and position of the characters. Of course the task turned out to be more complicated than I had imagined. For example, the character Cyril exits in order to speak with a Lieutenant. However, in some of the added scenes, he had returned.  Also, some characters start in the rear of a wagon, and then are suddenly either on the side of the road or in the driver’s seat. These continuity quirks had to be handled along with the regular editing process.

The original draft had 28 chapters. But now that we’ve blended two of them, that number is down to 27. Therefore, I can happily report that the beta manuscript has 15 of 27 chapters completed…almost home.

Tell me about your Works In Progress (WIP). Have you ever had to make continuity corrections from putting together pieces from different chapters?

Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry 🙂francesco25

Call Me Crazy Because…

I started writing a Sci-Fi novel, the first of a series for Camp NaNo 2017. Why is that crazy? Because I have two #fantasy novels, one novelette, and eight short stories sitting on the editing pile.

Blame #CampNaNo 2017

During the last week of June, I decided to not participate in Camp NaNo 2017. The sight of my editing list (I’m staring at it right now. It looks like a hideous monster waiting to consume me) was beginning to get on my nerves. As I sat in front of my computer in my writing space ready to work on the dreaded editing backlist, a flash went through my mind like a lightning bolt, a special delivery from the writing muse herself.

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Suddenly I saw a series of Sci-Fi novels based upon a single main character. This is quite a different approach from my current novels. For my fantasy series, The Tales of Tyrennia, I can go anywhere within that world and write about something within a particular Kingdom.

I could’ve made some notes and put the Sci-Fi series on a back-burner for a rainy day, but no-ooooo. People, or should I say other authors made a few Facebook posts about Camp NaNo 2017. Then other authors chimed in about their projects and preparations; the temptations overwhelmed me.

Let The Insanity Begin

I can’t dedicate my usual time during this NaNo session on account of Little Frankie, but so far I’ve completed the first chapter. Also, I must say, the words are coming easier and my first draft quality is a giant stride away from the drafts of my first scribblings. Hopefully, as I hammer this one out, I won’t have to spend as much time on numerous editing passes.

Perhaps, the change has occurred because I haven’t written new material in a long time. I have kept my nose to the grindstone with minute editing details for an extended period of time; those long hours have honed my wordsmithing skills.

In The End

I’ll try to write a follow up post on August 1st and let you know how things turned out for the month. Of course, I’m going to ask the same of you.

What are you doing for Camp NaNo 2017? How many WIPs have you abandoned this month?

An Easterly Sojourn: Chapter 7 Added

Every time The Queen and I are done #editing a chapter, I copy and paste it into a large manuscript document. That is the one which will get printed and sent off to Beta Readers. The file now contains the first seven chapters of my fantasy novel, An Easterly Sojourn.

What’s the big deal about chapter 7? Why didn’t I write a post after chapter six or five?

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Public Domain Image Courtesy of Pixabay

 

The current draft of An Easterly Sojourn has 28 chapters. Therefore, adding chapter 7 to the manuscript file means that we’re 25% complete. That is to say, if one goes by chapter count rather than words or pages. For me, the sweat beads are lessening. I bragged in a post a couple of weeks ago that this #fantasy novel will be published rather than should be published.

Doesn’t Endless Editing Get Tiresome?

Yes it does. However, there are some short stories to edit as well. The tedium level reduces when you jump between different types of work and I don’t feel stagnated or repetitive. I even switch between projects while #writing as well. Perhaps I’ll put the brakes on after chapter 10 and switch to one of the short singles waiting on the proverbial “back-burner.”

Do you switch between projects? Does working on a single project, whether writing or editing become tiresome after a while?

DON’T GO – COMMENT BELOW

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2017: A Prolific Writing Year

Hopefully, 2017 will be my most active year as an indie author.

The first novel in my fantasy series, “The Tales of Tyrennia Book One: An Easterly Sojourn” will be (not should be) released this year. The editing is cruising along. The problem was continuous editing. We would get about seven chapters done, and then either the Queen or I would learn something new and start over again.

2017

 

The reason we would jump into repetitive editing was simple. We were not satisfied with the end product. Therefore, after learning something new about editing, it seemed obvious to go back to square one.

I’m happy to report that I am satisfied with the quality. As we complete each chapter, I create a manuscript file. I can’t wait to print out copies and send them off to beta readers.

Draft version 0.5 of “The Tales of Tyrennia Book Two: The Frozen War” is done and waiting in the wings. I call it version 0.5 because of my scant writing style. A strange habit, but rather than cutting the first draft down, mine tend to swell.

What About Short Stories?

I’m so glad you asked. Two short singles will be released as well in 2017, “Little Red Revolution,” and “Psychic Confidence.”

“Little Red Revolution” is a best described as a satirical-vampyrical-romp. I had some compañeros from my former critique group who enjoyed #writing vampire fiction. So, I put this piece together mostly as gag and to poke some fun at the genre. In the end, they loved it.

“Psychic Confidence” should finish up at around five-thousand words. It’s a thriller with a complicated plot, coupled with characters that have aliases. I had worries that I could lose a reader too easily, but my first reader breezed through it without any problems.

There will also be a new collection of #shortstories called “Wondrous Stories: Seven Vile Uplifting Tales.” The stories are quite an assortment. However, there are some binding themes running throughout. Like, what happens when the iron fist of government points a finger at you? Or what happens when individualism clashes with a mob mentality?

Although I’m talking about a lot of work, I have a feeling that 2017 is going to be a very good year.

What are your goals, writing or otherwise for 2017? Are you #PoweredByIndie?

DON’T GO – COMMENT BELOW!

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When Authors Break the “Rules”

I think I’ve actually got a handle on most of the rules of writing. I’m not talking about punctuation, grammar, plot, character building, or anything in that venue.  What I am talking about are the finer polishing points that turn my pages from talking to singing.

My latest editing discovery concerned “echoing headwords” for lack of a better term coined by the writing website Immerse or Die. In other words, repeating consecutive sentences with the same first word or more than one paragraph per page doing the same.

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Spring has been a busy time for me and I have not done as much reading, writing, and editing as I should have. Therefore, now that I feel like I’ve got this whole “rule” thing clear in my head, I’ve decided to sit down re-read one of my favorite books. After all, isn’t that a piece of advice you see all over author blogs? Good writers read a lot. This re-reading would of course be a different experience, because I have new eyes.

Good Writers Read

I am not going to name the book or the author, and I am not offering this as a form of criticism. It is simply a moment when you throw your hands up and roll your eyes and say, “Just when I thought it was safe to read again.”

I lounged back in my favorite recliner and opened the book. Alas, everything that I have learned about “echoing headwords,” overuse of “to be,” and naming too many people and places in the first chapter, was completely ignored by the author.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Probably something like, “Well you know, once an author is an established thoroughbred, s/he can break all the rules they want to break.” Cough…gag

Did I happen to mention that this great book (and a major seller) was the author’s first book?

I put the book down and went for another one from my trusted overcrowded shelves. Another first book from another famous author that flaunted all of the rules again!

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What’s a little-ole-self-pubbing-indie to do?

Well…perhaps I should offer those rule breakers some admiration.

Thus far, applying some of these tried and true methods has improved the quality of my writing, and I am quite happy and contented with the results. If someone else wants to throw some rules out the window…let them. I have no problems with another author nestled in their “comfy zone,” as long as their formula is working well for them and their readers.

Despite my confusion, I’ll maintain a “live and let live” attitude.

How do you feel about those who not only break a few rules, but do it well?

***Visit Ernesto San Giacomo’s Amazon Author Page and check out a short story for your e-reader today! Choose one or all – Night Flights – Stasis – Ragged Souls – Gematria²***

 

Camp NaNoWriMo 2016

I know that some don’t give the April #CampNaNoWriMo the same attention as the main NaNoWriMo event in November. However, I am going to approach 2016’s Camp NaNo with all of the same seriousness as the November event for the first time.

Editing can be a more grueling process than writing a first draft. To be honest, I’ve had it up to here (my hand is under my chin) with editing. I’ll gladly switch hats for the next thirty days.

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To Display My Sincerity

My writer’s group has decided to change our April meetings from critique sessions to write-ins. We are also going to make the pilgrimage to Boise in order to write with our comrades in the Treasure Valley Group. They tend to sponsor a lot of write-ins in the local Barnes & Noble. A perfect situation, I get to write, and my wife gets to browse. Rather, she’ll say she’s going to browse, but will wind up with a stack of books at the cash register.

What Will I Write?

Well, I did not finish the draft of my second fantasy novel, “The Frozen War.” Although the first one, “An Easterly Sojourn” is not yet edited, I decided to start the second. Remember, you can’t edit a blank page. Of course how much better will it be that after publishing the first novel, I can jump right in and start editing the second one.

***Put Ragged Souls on your Kindle at Amazon U.S.***

The Best Part

I don’t mercilessly push myself during a NaNo event. There’s no sweating of blood or feelings inadequacy due to not meeting a goal. I simply look at the files at the end of the month and get a sense of satisfaction from a stack of pages that wouldn’t exist were it not for NaNo. That doesn’t mean that I approach it half-heartedly either. I simply allot more time for writing and attend write-ins.

What about you?

What writing project will you work on?

To be or not to be: Avoid overusing this verb

Many blog posts implore authors to avoid using the most common verb in any language, ‘to be.’ In any of its conjugated forms, it slows your writing down to a crawl and readers find it boring to say the least.

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Lego Shakespeare by Ryan Ruppe. Used under CC License

 

1. Using ‘to be’ in an initial draft is not the end of the world. I use it too. After all, you shouldn’t sit at your desk with your arms folded trying to rephrase a sentence when you’re hammering out a first draft. It’s better to get your ideas down on paper and revise them later.

2. ‘Was’ can push your #writing into a passive voice. I consciously avoid the passive voice, even in a first draft. However, you’ll see in the sample paragraph below, I used it without realizing.

3. Of course this “rule” does not apply to dialog. Remember, dialog should never appear as grammatically perfect and edited sentences. That will make your characters seem wooden and artificial. For more on dialog, follow the link to an older blog post. Writing Better Dialog

Here’s a sample from a short story called “Hope and Prey,” which will appear in my next collection, “Stasis & Other Dystopian Tales.” You will notice other revisions besides different forms of the verb in question. The ‘find’ function in Microsoft Word can help you to isolate the words you’re trying to avoid. Then as you edit, you’ll notice many other places where revision is needed.

There’s no context concerning the following paragraphs (we’re jumping in on page 3), but I think you’ll understand.

A First Draft…

From this point on, any exposure can be deadly. Crossing an open field means leaving the cover of trees, shrubs, and shadows behind. Jennifer cupped her daughter’s chin and nudged it to get the child’s undivided attention. She held up her index finger and placed it on her lips.

Baby Sarah nodded that the message was received. Remain quiet, remain still.

There were many stories of this area. But the lack of people made her wonder if any of the stories were true. Then she wondered if their numbers were down from eating each other. It seemed plausible to her, but it wasn’t enough to take any unnecessary risks.

“Why don’t we walk around the edge?” Baby Sarah whispered.

Jennifer nodded. Out of the mouths of babes, she thought. It would take a lot longer, but the safety of cover was too important. After all, they were about to enter cannibal country.

And a revision…

From this point on, any exposure could be deadly. Crossing this open field meant leaving the cover of trees, shrubs, and shadows behind. Jennifer cupped her daughter’s chin, gained the child’s undivided attention, and held an index finger against her lips.

Baby Sarah nodded. She understood the message. Remain quiet, remain still.

Many stories about this area circulated around the trading camps. But the lack of people and activity in these woods made Jennifer wonder if those tales possessed any truth. Perhaps their population decreased from eating each other? That idea seemed plausible, but not definite enough for her to take an unnecessary risk.

“Why don’t we go around the edge?” Baby Sarah whispered.

Jennifer agreed. Out of the mouths of babes, she thought. Crawling around the perimeter would take a lot more time, but the importance of cover forced her decision. After all, they stood on the border leading into cannibal country.

 

Was this helpful to you? Now go edit that stack of paper from NaNoWriMo 2015 🙂