Thursday, October 23, 2008

Writing Fiction: Session 7 - Setting

When preparing to write a novel, it's a toss-up whether to develop your setting or develop your plot first. I think you'll find yourself working on both at once. However, it's helpful to sketch out your setting and your plot in separate piles so you can keep track of the details.

First, let's talk about setting. Before you write your novel, you must choose and define your setting or settings. If this is your first book, I recommend that you keep your settings as simple as possible.

How many?

Some books take place in one room. Others use multiple locations. Because you have so much detail to keep straight just with telling your story, don't complicate your life by having your story jump from one location to the next every few pages. Remember, the more settings you have, the more details you'll have to manage. So, when plotting your novel, determine how many settings you'll use.

Details, details...

Next, you need to determine the amount of detail to include about each setting. This depends on the tone and pace of your novel, and it may vary within the novel. Is the detail needed? Is the detail part of the tone and the rhythm of your novel? We've all read those sweeping historical novels where part of the pleasure of reading them is luxuriating in the description of the rolling hills and the deep forests leading up to the grand plantation house.

In fast-paced novels, where the emphasis is on the action, you wouldn't want to slow down the action by describing the details of the surroundings. The villain, while he is fleeing the scene of the crime, won't have time to stop to contemplate the flowers in bloom along the side of the road. Your reader won't want that interruption either.

So, keep the pace of your book in mind. Only you, the author, can determine for your reader how much detail you want and how much detail will best serve the pace of your book.

Gathering and storing important setting information.

There are unlimited ways to gather and record the information about your settings that you'll need later while you're writing your novel. Here are a few:
  • Make a list of your settings as you develop your plot. Put the name of each setting on a piece of paper or note card (one card per setting). Jot down notes about the settings as they occur to you.
  • If a particular setting is indoors, draw a diagram of it similar to a blueprint of the room. Within the room, mark the doors and windows. And, draw rectangles, circles, squares, etc. to represent furniture.
  • Make a list of the items within the room and their significance to your story. Be as detailed as your novel requires.
  • Draw diagrams of other locations when necessary. For example, a diagram might serve you well if your characters go on an outdoor picnic in a secluded picnic area. John leads Brenda along a winding path. Draw a diagram of where John is leading Brenda and note that he turned right at the tree stump, so your readers will gasp when Brenda is running for her life and turns toward the cliff rather than toward safety. Details are important.

Maps and pictures.

If you're writing about a real city, obtain current maps of the area. This will ensure you'll accurately name the streets and describe the city locations. If your city is fictional, draw a map of it and name the streets, parks, downtown area, etc, so you'll be consistent as you describe the setting.

Another way to gather information is by taking pictures of pertinent landmarks, houses, furnishings, etc. With a digital camera, this is easy to do and inexpensive. You'll be able to ensure accuracy in your descriptions when you have pictures to refer to while you're writing.


Yes, we did talk about backstory in Session 6, but it's important to mention it again. Make notes, as detailed as you need, about the backstory for each setting before you start writing. If you're writing about a real location, get the pertinent history straight in your mind before writing. And, remember, you may be using an actual location, but not all your readers will be privy to the details. So make notes to work in salient details to bring your settings to life.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Writing Fiction: Session 6 - Backstory

Before writing your novel, write or develop a detailed backstory. It's one of the keys to making fiction believable.

What is a backstory? Simply, it's the story of what has happened to your characters before they reach the first page of your novel and how all those past events of their lives have affected them. Without a backstory, you plop your characters into the current moment of your story as if that's the first day of their lives.

In the previous session, you wrote resumes for your characters. These list the schooling, work history, and achievements of each one. This information is vital, but it only gives you the framework.

The backstory for each character will fill in the details. A good way to write the backstory is to write a tell-all biography about each of your characters. Concentrate not only on what has happened to them but how they reacted and handled or mishandled the events of their lives. For example, does the character always withdraw from confrontation or does he/she charge through life with an attitude? Why?

You want readers to discover the depth of your characters from events in the book. By knowing the backstory, you'll be able to weave just enough of their history into the story, so your readers will come to understand their motives and anticipate their actions and reactions.

Don't look on devising the backstory for your characters as a chore. You needn't waste your best writing on this task. In fact, it's okay to devise your backstory in list form.

For example:

Let's say Don is one of your main characters. His backstory might contain some of these items:

  • He was born in Samson, Michigan.

  • His mother died when he was 7. His father was devastated and ignored Don's needs.

  • Don felt he never measured up to his father's expectations; consequently, he learned to tiptoe around his father, so he wouldn't hear how worthless he was.

  • Don took out his aggression on others by playing tricks on weaker kids throughout grade school.

  • He received average grades in school.

  • He didn't make the sports teams in high school.

  • He rarely dated; he was rejected by Sally Simpson in high school in front of others on the bus and didn't recover quickly from that.

  • He had a natural talent for piano... liked blues the best and would lose himself in music, playing for hours when his father wasn't home.

  • He began to date in college and that opened a whole new world to him ... etc.

I imagine you can see where I'm going here. Basically, you make a list of significant past events and the character's reaction to those events. Having a detailed backstory solidly in mind will allow you to get to know your characters as if you grew up with them. When you know the details of each character's backstory, they will begin to take on a life of their own as you write.

In our lives, we all act or react in any given situation based on our history and how our past reactions worked for us. Your characters will do the same. They'll react based on the backstory (or in spite of the backstory if the character is trying to overcome the way he/she has operated in the past). Based on this, I imagine you can see how valuable a backsotry will be to your novel.

It may sound like a lot of work to develop a backstory for each character. However, you won't need the same amount of detail for all of your characters. Obviously, you need the most detail for significant characters. Minor characters may need only a paragraph or two.

A backstory is not only about your characters. In some stories you'll need a backstory about your setting, too. This will especially be the case when you set your novel in a fictional town. In order to maintina consistency, you need to develop the past events of your fictional town and how the people of the town reacted to them.

If your setting is a real town, your backstory is the history of the town. You'll want to have a working knowledge of that town. Your readers will be able to tell when you haven't done your homework. And... they will let you know when you get something wrong.

So, get started on developing backstories for your characters and setting. You'll be thankful you did.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Writing Fiction: Session 5 - Developing Characters (1)

When writing a novel, full-bodied characters will do more to add believability to your story than anything. They will bring your story to life. Your characters will jump off the pages if you know them inside and out. So, put some time and effort into getting to know the characters for your novel before you begin to write about them.

To get started, think back to when you were assigned to write a biography for English or history class. In order to do a good job and to tell that person's story, you needed to learn something about him or her. And, to really WOW your reader, it helped if you took some time to discover the good and the bad of your subject's life. Then you knew you could write from knowledge and write with authenticity and authority.
Writing fiction is different...and more fun. There's little to no research required. You have the privilege of inventing your characters and all their idiosyncrasies. In order to do so, develop a blueprint of what you want to know in order to build your fictional characters from the ground up.
I have a questionnaire I developed and use when I build a character. The questionnaire is too big to publish here, but it'll be in my upcoming book, Before You Write. When developing characters, I look into the following areas:

1. Resume. Write a resume about each character. In it include all the information you would put in a resume you might write when applying for a job. It should be a detailed sketch of the person's educational and work history and accomplishments. It provides the structure for your character sketch.

2. Physical Description. You may or may not ever describe your character to your readers, but it's important for you to be able to visualize each character in vivid detail. Some of the things to cover are height, weight, body type, hair versus no hair, hair color, eye color, etc. Those are the basics. It's important to write them down and keep them straight. You don't want to call your character a blond if she's a brunette.

Beyond this basic physical description, you'll want to get a clear picture of physical characteristics that set your character apart, such as walking with a limp, stubby fingernails from chronic nail-biting, the fact your character always wears a baseball cap because he is self-conscious about his bald head, the pendant your character wears always, etc.

3. Quirks. We started addressing quirks a bit in the previous section. The more detail you have in mind about quirks of your characters, the more real they will become. But don't go overboard -- too many quirks and your characters will turn into caricatures. A great example of a character with just the right amount of quirks is the way Jack Nicholson played his character in As Good as it Gets." He became Melvin Udall, that obsessive-compulsive character, and played his quirks with the exact amount of consistency needed. Not all characters need to be that quirky... subtle is often better.

4. Likes/Dislikes. Make a list of your character's likes and dislikes. What makes your character happy and what makes him sad or angry or embarrassed, etc. This list will help you know instinctively how your character will react to circumstances that arise in your novel. Also, list any allergies, chronic conditions, etc., your character might have.

5. Hobbies/Talents. Make a list of the talents your characters bring to the table. If your reader knows that your character works out or was a runner in high school, the reader will expect him/her to do well in a chase on foot. If your character is a good cook, it may add to your story that people drop in on her just to get a taste of her latest cookies. This may not add an integral point to your story, but it'll help to round out your character.
6. Shortcomings. What are your characters weaknesses? Often the weaknesses will make the story more interesting. You don't want characters who don't have any faults. That's too boring. Maybe your character never manifests the weakness during the story, but if your reader knows about it, you've added a potential problem to add a bit of tension to your story. It's always good to give the audience a reason to bite their nails during the book.
That's part one of character development. Get busy on your characters and in the next session we'll begin to weave your character sketches into a backstory.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Writing Fiction: Session 4 - Determining Themes


We often think of the theme of a piece of fiction as a statement of the story idea. That's not necessarily what we're looking at here. Developing a theme or themes when writing fiction is not the same as developing an elevator speech to succinctly tell someone about your novel. Rather, a theme is what underlies your story idea. For example, your idea may be to tell the story of the relationship of a father and his son. The theme that runs through the story is not that the father and son have a relationship. It's the guilt or forgiveness or whatever emotion or underlying human quality drives that relationship. These aspects of the relationship -- these themes -- illuminate the meaning of it and add depth.

Some authors use opposing themes to enhance their writing. We'll see a good example of this if we examine the themes running through the movie It Could Happen to You with Nicholas Cage, Bridget Fonda, and Rosie Perez. The story is about a husband and wife who win the lottery. His (Nicholas Cage's) theme is generosity. He gives a waitress (Bridget Fonda) a 2 million dollar tip. His wife's (Rosie Perez's) theme is greed. She sues to get all of the money for herself. These themes, together, drive the story. Individually, each theme dictates the actions of the characters.

As a writer, the themes you develop will act much the same as your car's GPS system. They'll keep you on track and show you just where to go with your story. In addition to keeping you on track, the themes will help you determine what is important to your story and what can be left out.

So, before you write your novel, think about what themes you want to express through your story idea. For example, don't write a story about insecurity. Instead, write a story about a character who is insecure. If you create characters who care and who express aspects of the human condition, themes will evolve naturally. Watch for them and capitalize on them.

Once you develop a theme or themes, every aspect of your story will be formed by them. You characters, their actions and reactions, and your plot will be moved forward by your themes. Consequently, your readers will be moved by your story because it will show the depth of the human condition.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Writing Fiction: Session 3 - Choosing a Genre

Choosing a Genre

Before you begin writing fiction, you should determine which genre best fits your story idea. The quickest way to determine this is to check the upper, left-hand corner of the back cover of one of your favorite books. The genre is usually listed there.

In your study of your favorite books, you may have determined the parameters for writing a book of that specific genre. If not, you can obtain submission guidelines and genre specifics by contacting the publishers of your favorite books. Also, many writers for particular genres have formed organizations or associations to help them beat the publishing odds. Choose a local writing group or a national one as a source of valuable writing infomation.

There are sub-genres within many of the fiction genres. It's a good idea before you begin to write your novel, to determine the genre (and subgenre, if appropriate) because many of the publishers of genre fiction have specific guidelines for the books they will publish. For example, many have a limitation on the number of pages or number of words that make up the book. Others have specifications about what the plot can contain. For example, some will not consider a book with too much violence or too much sex; whereas others require a certain amount of violence or sex. It's best to do your homework on these issues to save you time and heartache later.

Here is a list of many of the popular genres and some of the writers' organizations you might find helpful. Where no link is listed, it'd be a good idea to contact the publisher for writers' guidelines before you begin writing.

Possible Genres:

Romance: This is one of the most popular genres. It may or may not surprise you that books in the romance genre make up most of the fiction market. When you think about it, this is not surprising since there is so much diversity within the genre and the writers in this genre are very well organized.

For example, the following are a few of the sub-genres of romance fiction:
  • historical romance
  • contemporary romance
  • Regency romance
  • Christian romance
  • inspriational romance
  • young adult romantic fiction
  • contemporary series or single
  • paranormal romantic fiction
  • romantic suspense

For more information about romance writing, send for the guidelines put out by your favorite publisher or check out information provided by the Romance Writers of America -- the organization of romance writers.

Horror fiction: When you write horror, you conjure up fear in your reader. For that reason, horror can occur in any genre or it can be a genre of its own. The Horror Writers Association will give you a start in understanding this genre.

Science fiction and fantasy: These two genres of fiction are closely related and their organization is combined. It is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

Mystery fiction: This could include cozies, police procedurals, who-done-its, etc. There are two major organizations for this genre. One is Mystery Writers of America and the other is Sisters in Crime.

Children's fiction and young adult fiction: This category includes everything from picture books to fiction for young adults. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is a large national organization for writers in this area. There are many local and regional chapters of this as well.

Christian fiction: The American Christian Fiction Writers is an organization that can provide you with information about writing in this genre.

Westerns: Western Writers of America is an organization of writers of Western fiction.

Historical fiction

Mainstream fiction: This is fiction that doesn't fit into any particular category.

Adventure fiction:




New Age fiction

There may be many more genres. If I've missed one, please let me know. The important point here is to realize that before you start writing your novel it's important to first study the books like the one you want to write and then study the genre. With careful attention to these two things, you'll make the best use of your writing time by being on target from the beginning.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Writing Fiction: Session 2 - Novel Ideas

Before you begin to write your novel, you must dream up a winning story idea. Once in a while, writers pull ideas for their novels out of thin air. Rather than waiting for the fiction-writing muse to strike, give her a nudge.

To start the brainstorming process, think about the types of novels you enjoy the most. When you go to the bookstore, do you gravitate to the mystery section, the sci-fi section, adventure, romance, historical saga, horror, westerns, fantasy, or general fiction? Most often fiction writers have the easiest time writing in the genre they read and enjoy.

Once you narrow down a category or two, pick three or four novels by your favorite fiction authors of that genre. Take the time to read them slowly -- cover-to-cover. As you read, dissect them ... feel the rhythm of the story, note the balance of narration and dialogue, internalize the pacing. Can you find some commonalities among the novels in your genre? If so, make note of them for future use.

Reading several novels in this analytical way should clear a path for your book idea. Keep a notepad handy and jot down all the ideas (no mater how foolish) that come to mind. Put the list aside and keep reading. If you let those ideas for ferment for a while, one or more will eventually rise up to claim your interest to an extent that you won't be able to leave it alone.

That's your start. Fiction writers tell me, and I know from personal experience, that once an idea takes hold, it'll start to grow on its own. Don't rush this process in preparing to write your novel. Waiting for the right idea will make the writing process so much easier.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Writing Fiction: Session 1 - Introduction to Writing Fiction

Writing fiction is a little harder to define than non-fiction writing, but many of the steps to preparing to write overlap. For example, at some point:
  • you'll want to develop an outline;
  • you'll have to do some research;
  • you'll want to keep track of people for an acknowledgements section; and
  • you'll need to develop a note-taking system to keep your information in an orderly manner.

Before you do any of that and before you start writing fiction, you'll need to learn a bit about fiction and some of the ins and outs of writing it. Writing fiction, whether a short story, a novella, or a full length novel, is the art of telling lies. The longer the piece, the more lies you tell.

In order to gain and keep the attention of an audience, you'll need to put enough detail into your fiction writing to make your story believable without slowing it down. Plus when writing fiction, you need characters that ring true, pacing that keeps the story moving, and dialogue that brings your reader right into the conversation and into the story.

We'll work on each of these areas and more in the sessions to come on writing fiction. For now, start dreaming up your story.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Writing Non-fiction: Session 7 - Final Points

You are almost ready to start writing your non-fiction book. Once you have finished your outline by dividing each topic into sub-topics and sub, subs... and sub, sub subs...etc., you'll need to complete the research for each of them. Don't forget to keep track of three things as you proceed with the remainder of your research. They are:

1. Keep track of the people who help you research the topic for your non-fiction book. You'll want to mention them in the Acknowledgements section of your book.

2. Write down pertinent information about the references you use, including the pages numbers for specific quotes.

3. Keep track of topics to be included in the index.

You'll be glad you paid some attention to these things. It's so much harder at the end of writing your book if you have to go back and try to determine where you found your information. And, don't ever underetimate the importance of keeping a good record of the people you'll mention in the Acknowledgements list. Woe be it if you forget someone.

Okay, so your research is completed or nearly completed - there's always a bit more to do once you start writing. Now, it's time for me to say, "Ready, set, go....."

The way you write your book is up to you. You can either write it from start to finish or you can write a topic at a time. Within your outline, you can skip around from topic to topic as the mood strikes you. Just remember to go back through it carefully to smooth out and blend together the topics and chapters.

Writing Non-fiction: Session 6 - Making the Most of Your Outline

In session 5, we developed the major sections of the non-fiction book and the chapter topics within the sections in preparation for writing a non-fiction book. Now it’s time to start working on sub-topics and content.

Outline #4: Break down the outline for your book to the next level. The previous outline is your list of sections and chapters. This next level then will list the main topics for each chapter. So, for each chapter title, make a list of topics that will be covered in that chapter. Here’s how I broke down my outline:

Outline #4

Book Title: A Manual for Adult Children of Aging Parents

Part I: How to get started

Chapter 1: Care-giving then and now
1. Overview of care-giving
2. Care-giving years ago
3. Care-giving now
4. Care-giving long distance

Chapter 2: Transition to dependence
1. Sudden onset of dependence
2. Gradual onset of dependence
3. How to assess your parent’s independence

Part II: Assessing what’s needed

Chapter 3: Can your parent live alone again?
1. Identifying potential problems
2. Determining how much to intervene

Chapter 4: Assessing your parent’s skills
1. Household skills
2. Community skills
3. Communication skills
4. Financial skills
5. Leisure skills
6. Emotions

Chapter 5: Assessing living environments
1. In-home options
2. Modifying the home

Part III: Setting the stage for care-giving

Chapter 6: Health care professionals and what they do
1. Neurologist
2. Ophthalmologist
3. Occupational therapist
4. Speech/language pathologist
5. Audiologist
6. Physical therapist
7. Nutritionist
8. CNA
9. Nurse
10. Geriatric manager

Chapter 7: Finding help
1. Finding help (full-time, in home)
2. Finding respite help

Chapter 8: Out-of-home options
1. Retirement home
2. Group home
3. Assisted living
4. Nursing care

Part IV: Day-to-day care-giving

Chapter 9: Establishing a daily routine
1. Bathroom/dressing routines
2. Mealtime routines
3. Leisure routines
4. Medication routines

Chapter 10: Scheduling appointments and assistance
1. Medical/rehab appointments
2. Beauty/Barber appointments
3. Adult daycare
4. Leisure/social appointments

Chapter 11: Resources
1. Out-patient services through a rehab center
2. Transportation assistance
3. Financial assistance

Chapter 12: Socialization *
1. Importance of social contacts
2. Assessing interests
3. Developing/implementing a plan to keep up interests

Chapter 13: Taking care of the caregiver
1. Importance of health, nutrition and rest
2. Time to recharge.
3. Emotional well-being.

Turning the outline for your non-fiction book into text: Continue to break down the most recent level of topics into sub-topics then into sub-sub-topics and on and on until it is broken down into as minute and detailed an outline as you need. When you reach a level where you feel you are ready to write, start writing the text under each topic and sub-topic in your outline.

Example outline

The outline above is very simple and very symmetrical. Yours may be messier. That’s okay. You don’t have to feel compelled to break all the topics into an equal number of smaller parts. For some of them, the topics will have no sub-topics. For others, you may go to sub-headings then sub-sub-headings under those. For example, in “Chapter 12: Socialization” we have three topics. Not all of them need to be broken down in the book I’m writing.

*Chapter 12: Socialization
1. Importance of social contacts: This topic is divided about as far as I need it to be. I’ll just start off this chapter with how important socialization is to combating depression and to rehabilitation, etc.

2. Assessing interests: This is a bigger topic, and before I write it, I’ll need to break it into smaller topics, such as,

a. Active interests
b. Cognitive interests
c. Solo v. group interests
d. Entertaining routines
e. Feelings of worth

3. Developing/implementing a plan to keep up interests: This one is also a bigger topic and needs to be divided into smaller topics, such as,

a. Setting aside time for leisure activities (reading, TV, sewing, cards, etc.)
b. Acquiring assistive devices needed to implement leisure activities (e.g., magnification: large print books, large print cards, adaptive sewing supplies, etc.)
c. Providing instruction
d. Providing encouragement by working together
e. Celebrating accomplishments.

Writing Non-fiction: Session 5 - Outline Development

A good outline can help you “grow” your non-fiction book. When writing non-fiction, you can write your whole book without ever leaving the comfort of your outline document. Once developed, you can jump around in the outline and write a topic or sub-topic or sub-sub-topic one at a time; later you’ll work through the book from front to back to smooth out the transitions between outline sections.

Here’s a way to conceptualize your book outline. As an example, I’ll share an outline for a book I'm writing about eldercare.

1. Start with the broadest thought that specifically describes your book. Let’s call that Outline #1. My broad thought about my book is…

A manual for adult children of aging parents

That’s it. That’s the whole outline for my non-fiction book for now. Put it aside. Let the idea ferment then come back and work on it as described in #2.

Outline #2

2. The one topic (A manual for adult children of aging parents) from Outline #1 becomes the working title for your book when you move on to Outline #2. Your next task is to begin to break that topic down.

Many authors divide non-fiction books into parts. Others start out with chapters. In this example we’ll divide the topic in Outline #1 into four parts. (There’s an example of this outline without “parts” later in the sessions.) So, Outline #2 would look something like this:

Book Working Title: A Manual for Adult Children of Aging Parents
1. How to get started
2. Assessing what’s needed
3. Setting the stage for care-giving
4. Day-to-day care-giving

3. Break down each topic from Outline #2 to the next level. For example, I've selected How to get started as the title for one of the four parts of my book. Next, I break it down into logical topics. These would be the chapter topics. For this, don’t be concerned about coming up with snappy wording for your topics. You can develop the real “chapter titles” later. Right now, these are working titles. Keep them simple and descriptive.

Book Title: A Manual for Adult Children of Aging Parents

Part I: How to get started
1. Care-giving then and now
2. Transition to dependence

Part II: Assessing what’s needed
1. Can your parent live alone again?
2. Assessing your parent’s skills

3. Assessing living environments

Part III: Setting the stage for care-giving
1. Health care professionals and what they do
2. Finding help
3. Out-of-home options

Part IV: Day-to-day care-giving
1. Establishing a daily routine
2. Scheduling appointments and assistance
3. Resources
4. Socialization
5. Taking care of the caregiver

Once you've reached this stage in writing the outline for your non-fiction book, you not only have the broad outline for your book, but the outline at this point can be used as the table of contents for your book. Next, we will talk about how to take the outline into topics, subtopics, and beyond until you get to the point of writing the book within the outline.

Writing Non-fiction: Session 4: Organizing your book

Writing Non-fiction:
Session 4 - Organizing your book
Now that you’ve chosen the topic for your non-fiction book and an approach for writing about your topic, it’s time to organize your book by writing a working outline. It’s possible and advantageous to write your entire book from within an outline. It keeps you on track and gives you a starting point. So don’t skip this step. We will cover how to use the outline for your non-fiction book in the next couple of sessions. Before that, it’s time to decide what parts you will put in the outline and eventually into your book. This session is about making a list of them in the order in which they will appear in the book.
Parts of the book:

I. Book half title: This is the page at the front of the book that contains only the title

II. Title page: This page contains the title, subtitle; author or editor; and the name and location of the publisher

III. Copyright page: The information and the format for this page are too detailed for this publication, but they will be included in my upcoming book Before You Write. If you don’t want to wait, check in the Chicago Manual of Style or some similar book on publishing.

IV. Dedication: (optional) If you desire to put a dedication in the book, give it the respect it deserves by putting it on a page of its own.

V. Table of contents: Most word processing programs have an automatic feature for creating the table of contents. Familiarize yourself with this feature.

VI. Illustration list (optional)

VII. List of tables (optional)

VIII. Foreword: (optional) This is a statement by someone else, telling potential readers how good your book is. The foreword is usually what buyers look at first and may sell the book for you. Find someone who has impressive credentials or star-power, who by saying something nice about your book in the foreword will carry some weight with your readers. It may take you a while to find someone to write the foreword, so start early to send out query letters about this.

IX. Preface: (optional) Include the reasons for writing the book and methods of research (if any) in this section. Also, if you have been granted permission to use any published work within your book, it would good to mention it here.

X. Acknowledgements: (optional) Thanking those who have helped you with the book is important. To ensure you don’t miss anyone, begin keeping a list of those who helped you and what they did for you in this section from day one. That way, when you finish the book, you’ll merely have to re-write this section rather than having to scrounge for all those misplaced names and titles.

XI. Introduction: This is the beginning of the text section of your book. In the introduction, it’s good to give the reader a brief overview of the topics that will be covered.

XII. Chapters: In the next sessions, we will discuss outlining the chapters. Just put the word “chapters” in as a marker for now.

XIII. Appendices: (optional) An appendix can include any information that may be helpful to the reader but is too cumbersome to put within chapters. It can be a chart, a list, or a table.

XIV. Glossary: (optional) If your book will have a glossary, it will save you work if you will add the words to the glossary as you go along. Generally, a glossary will include the word and a working definition of the word.

XV. Bibliography or references: (optional, although I advise against leaving it out) In most non-fiction books, you will find a list of references. This not only legitimatizes the book, but it gives the reader other sources of information about the topic.

XVI. Index: (optional, although I advise against leaving it out) Most readers use the index throughout a book. Don’t skimp and leave this out. Most word processing programs have an index feature within them. It’d be good to familiarize yourself with this feature, so you can keep up with the index as you go along.

XVII. About the author: this should be a short bio about you and perhaps a picture.
You don't have to use all of these parts. Choose the ones that are the most appropriate for your book and set them up in a word processing file so you can insert the information that will go into each one as you go along.

Writing Non-fiction: Session 3 - Research

Writing Non-fiction:
Session 3 - Setting up a system for stashing the research notes for your non-fiction book
Now that you’ve chosen a topic for your non-fiction book and the approach you’re going to take in writing about your topic, you are probably itching to start writing. Not so fast. Before you write your book, it’s important to thoroughly research your topic. For your non-fiction book to be credible, it needs to be well-researched and well-documented.

Depending on the topic you've chosen for your non-fiction book, you may have more or less research to do. Whether you only have to straighten out a few dates and names for your memoir or if you have weeks or months of in-depth research ahead of you for a less familiar topic, organization is the key to keeping your book on track.

To start, set up a good recordkeeping system. Here are some suggestions.

Note cards. One way to organize the information for your non-fiction book is to write your notes on note cards and file them alphabetically by topic in a card file. On each card be sure to put the topic, the information, any quotes you may find useful in the future, and the bibliographic information you’ll need for footnotes or the reference section of your book.

Notebook. Take a three-ring binder and put your notes in it. You can organize them in alphabetical order as you did with the note cards or by topics and subtopics in each section. Be sure to keep careful records on the books, magazine articles, journal articles, web articles, etc., you use when researching your non-fiction book, so you will have all the information you need when the time comes to write the bibliography and reference section.

Computer notes. If you want to keep your research notes for your non-fiction book on the computer, set up a file folder for your notes and file folders within that file folder for large topics within the book. In each folder, you can file the notes you take. After you take your notesfor your topic, be sure to give the document an appropriate file name so you can find it easily within the folder. As with the other two recordkeeping systems, it’s important to write down the sources of the information.

All of these record systems are about equal. It’s your choice which one you use, or you may want to invent another that will better meet your needs. Personally, I prefer to keep notes on the computer. That way, when I’m ready to write, I can just lift quotes from my notes and paste them into the book document without having to retype. And, if you write out your reference documentation in the proper format from the start, it’s easy to copy that into your book as well. There’s nothing more tedious than writing out a bibliography. It’s your choice, however.
If you do choose to invent your own system for keeping track of the notes for your non-fiction book.

Be sure to establish a procedure within your system for keeping track of illustrations, pictures, and tables that you’ll use to illustrate your book. Document the sources for these as well and obtain the appropriate permissions to use them in your book.

Once you have a good system set up for organizing and keeping the information for your non-fiction book, get busy. It’s time to dig into your topic and find all the information libraries, the internet, book stores, people you interview, and journals have to offer.

Writing Non-fiction: Session 2 - Approach to Writing Non-fiction

Writing Non-fiction:
Session 2 - Choosing an approach to writing your non-fiction book

Now that you’ve chosen the topic for your non-fiction book, the next step is to choose how you will approach writing about your topic. I’m not talking about determining the category your book will fall into in the book store. I’m talking about choosing a way to write about your topic that will fit what you want to communicate to your readers. You see, the whole point of writing a non-fiction book is to communicate to others. You choose a topic you are passionate about, and then you choose the approach you will take to writing about it.

Possible approaches to writing your non-fiction book

Procedural or instructional approach to non-fiction writing: Falling within this category are instruction manuals, self-help books, cookbooks, how-to manuals, etc. The approach is to instruct your readers by giving them the procedures or steps to follow to do something.

Descriptive approach to non-fiction writing: The word “descriptive” gives you a clue here. In this instance, your approach to writing your non-fiction book is to describe your topic for the audience. A travelogue would fall into this category. Or, your topic might be Queen Anne architecture. In the book you describe with words and perhaps pictures the architecture of that era.

Narrative approach to non-fiction writing: In narrative non-fiction writing, you are telling a story. It’s similar to writing a novel only in a non-fiction narrative, you tell the truth. An autobiography, a memoir, and a biography are good examples of this. History of your home town is another, etc.

Report approach to non-fiction writing: This includes reporting how things are at present or how they were. This is generally a straight-forward approach without trying to persuade the reader to agree with your point of view.

Discussion approach to non-fiction writing: You would choose this approach to non-fiction writing if you want to show different viewpoints in one book. Also, with this approach, you would not try to persuade the reader to agree with your point of view or with one of the points of view. Instead, you are merely informing them that there are several viewpoints (including the pros and cons of each if you want), so the reader can make an informed decision.

Persuasive approach to non-fiction writing: You would choose this approach if you want to convince your readers of something. Many of the political books definitely take this approach.
There are probably more approaches, but these are the major ones. The point is to choose the approach that works for what you want to do with your topic.

Different non-fiction writers will take different approaches to writing about the same topic. For example, the topic might be tabby cats. Your approach depends on what you intend your reader to know about tabby cats. Here are some examples how different approaches to the topic can result in very different books.

Instructional approach: How to Take Care of a Tabby Cat
Descriptive approach: Habits of North American Tabby Cats
Narrative approach: My Life with a Tabby Cat, etc.

The approach to writing about your non-fiction topic is up to you. Determining your approach to writing your book will determine how you research your topic and what you ultimately say about it.

Writing Non-fiction: Session 1 - Choosing a Non-fiction Topic

Writing Non-fiction:

Session 1 - Choosing a non-fiction topic
The first step in writing a non-fiction book is choosing the right topic. You may already have a topic for your book. If so, take the day off and we’ll join you back here next Monday. If you haven’t chosen your topic, read on. There's more to it than just deciding that you want to write about this or that. Asking yourself some questions might help you nail down the perfect topic for you.

Useful questions when choosing a non-fiction topic might be:

.... Are you writing the book for money?
.... Are you writing the book to get the word out?
.... Are you writing to satisfy others?
.... Are you writing to help others?
.... Are you writing just for fun? If so, have at it.
The answer to each of these questions will help you choose a topic for your non-fiction book. For example, if you are writing the book for money, you will want to carefully research the book market and see what non-fiction books are selling and what aren't. If you're writing it to satisfy others, such as a memoir to record the history of your life for your family, answering that question will help you choose your angle on the topic.

When choosing a topic, don't choose one that is too small or too large. For a non-fiction book to be effective, you'll want to cover the topic in enough detail to satisfy your audience and not put them to sleep. If your topic is too large (for example, The History of the World), you’ll be either writing forever, or you'll have to skim over the topic in generalities. If your topic is too small (for example, My Life on February 18, 2008), your book will be either too short to be considered a book or it'll be full of snoozer repetitions. Like Goldilocks, you want your porridge to be “just right.”

Once you choose a possible topic for your non-fiction book, test it out. Surf the net or visit the library. How easy or hard is it to find information about your topic? Also, it might be beneficial to visit book stores or libraries to see how many books are already out there on your topic. Then you’ll be ready to choose wisely.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge -- The Invisible Brown Bear

Can you see the invisible brown bear off in the distance?

I spent a pleasant afternoon driving through the Black Point Loop of the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge the other day. It’s one of my favorite places… lots of wildlife and always a few surprises. With my camera at the ready, I meandered along the one-lane dirt road, stopping when I came to something interesting or when I would come upon a slow-moving car.

The road is lined with wetlands on each side, and within the rivers and ponds are islands loaded with birds and all manner of wildlife. On my first visit to the refuge, I saw a huge alligator and I was hoping to repeat that sighting.

It was a big wildlife day for me. Not only did I see one alligator, but I saw three: a large one – about ten feet; a medium-size one – about 6 feet; and a small one. Plenty of wading birds were on hand. In addition, there was a pair of juvenile Eagles in a nest. I couldn’t get close enough to take pictures of them, but a man with a scope offered to let me take a look.

I had one non-sighting on this trip. I’m still a little peeved about it. An SUV was stopped ahead of me. The passengers, a man and a woman, were looking at something in the brush off to the left. There was just enough room for me to carefully pull up beside them without sliding into the wetland. So, I inched up to their window and asked them what they were watching. They said they had spotted a brown bear in the brush. Quickly, I pulled ahead of them and stopped. I looked where they seemed to be looking – nothing.

A couple minutes later, another SUV pulled up beside me. I told them that the SUV behind me had spotted a bear. They started to pull ahead of me and I heard the driver say, “There he goes,” as he pointed ahead but still to the left. I looked where he seemed to have pointed – nothing.

I watched for a while but finally gave up and resumed my slow drive around the loop. When I came to SUV again, I pulled up beside it and the man said, “Did you see the bear?”

“No,” I said.

“I’m surprised you missed him,” he said. “He crossed the road right in front of us.”

I tried to smile. I knew it was forced. For the rest of the loop, I was on the lookout for that pesky bear – nothing. I could only conclude that it was an invisible bear…

Sunday, February 24, 2008

PIcture of a piece of DX's art.

Merry-Lee Rae sent this picture.
I thought you'd like to see it.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

To DX Ross

The art world lost a beautiful soul and gifted artist yesterday. DX Ross has passed. It was my great pleasure to know her. Talking with her always brought light into my life and her artwork brought a smile to my face. I know that many of you feel the same.

In December, 2006, I wrote an article about DX for Brevard Live Magazine. I offer here an update and revision of that article as a tribute to a master artist and wonderful friend.

Start of article:

Art in Brevard (Brevard Live Magazine, December 2006 revised 2/9/08)

D.X. Ross
by Lou Belcher

Except for short jobs when she was young, D.X. Ross was never employed. Early on, she thought of herself as unemployable – she just knew she would have chafed at the restrictions traditional employment would have placed on her. That doesn’t mean she didn't work. An artist with boundless energy, Ross sailed her ship through diverse artistic waters, mastering several media, and creating beautiful pieces of art along the way.

It started in upstate New York where Ross grew up. As a young child, she drew trees – not with leaves as others did, but she drew them after the leaves had fallen. She enjoyed the blending of the grays and whites and showing all the detail of the branches leading to offshoots and then to progressively smaller branches. The monochromatic detail fascinated her then, and you can see the carry-over of that fascination in the intricate enameling on the pieces of jewelry she created.

Ross started in pen and ink and studied printmaking at the University of Buffalo. While working on her bachelor’s of fine arts degree, she was influenced by Bill Helwig, one of the country’s foremost enamelists. He directed the craft center at the university. He is especially known for Grisaille, a style of finely detailed monochromatic painting where shades of gray are achieved when successive layers of white are applied over a black background. The technique dates back to the 13th Century.

Because Ross was a fan of monochromatic art, she took a class from one of Helwig’s students. She loved it. As a result, she began applying the Grisaille technique to her enamel work.

After she finished school, Ross moved to San Francisco and started making jewelry in the studio in her apartment. She participated in the street artist program there and made a good living. She spoke fondly of her apartment where she could rest her eyes on the Twin Peaks when they grew tired from the fine Grisaille work.

Ross returned to New York City for an art show at Lincoln Center. As a result of selling everything on her first trip, she decided to become bi-coastal and to frequent the New York shows yearly. Later, Ross expanded her itinerary of art shows to include Florida after her mother moved here in 1978. Soon, she started spending more and more time on the East coast. Finally, she decided to move to Philadelphia to attend the Tyler School of Art in pursuit of a master’s of fine arts in metalsmithing. Ross was self-taught in metalsmithing and went to Tyler to learn how to do things faster and to refine her skills. She wanted to make her metalwork look more distinctive and dimensional. She certainly accomplished her goal.

In the mid-80s, Ross gave up living in California and bought her home in Melbourne Beach where plants dominated her yard, making a serene environment of vegetation that blends with the artistic cottage décor of her home.

Ross’s artistic emphasis was mainly on jewelry. It is the staple by which she earned a living. She said that because she could do so much with jewelry, she always liked it best. Over time, her work became more abstracted. That pleased her because it caused viewers to use their imaginations.

Ross shared her art with the world in many different ways. She taught classes to pass her art on to others. In January 2007, she taught metalsmithing in Southern California for the MASSC Metal Arts Guild. In March 2007, she taught a class at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, called “Grisaille Enamel – Shades of Detail.”

Ross also shared her art and creativity through writing. She wrote a chapter highlighting the Grisaille techniques for the book The Art of Fine Enameling by Karen L. Cohen. And, her work has been exhibited in many venues throughout the country, such as the Susan Cummins Gallery in California, the Mobilia Gallery in Massachusetts, and the Oakland Museum. In 2003, her jewelry was part of the “Jewels and Gems” exhibit presented by the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her piece in the show, entitled “Tides of the Centuries” was described as telling a personal narrative.

The terror that struck us all on September 11, 2001, changed many of our lives. Ross admitted that it had a profound effect on her and on her art. It shook our world, reminding us that all is not permanent. As a result, Ross turned to more immediate forms of art, made of less permanent materials. She turned to pottery, china painting, and she began to make what she called “wish sticks.” The latter are branches, perhaps framing the head of a whimsical character made of pottery. The owner can hang the wish sticks on the wall or use the single-stick variety, decorated with mosaics, to divine a wish.

Ross joined the Horse Creek Pottery where she worked on her china painting pieces and where she created her pottery characters. She spoke fondly of that creative environment and the other artists who work there.

Ross's creativity touched many throughout the Brevard art world. She participated in the ArtWorks in Eau Gallie each year. She was generous with her time and participated as an artist and worked throughout the year on the committee. She volunteered her time to be on the panel for the State Interdisciplinary Grants for Artists. Also, she belonged to the Strawbridge Art League and often entered her works into the juried exhibits presented by that organization as well as serving as a juror for the Youth Art Exhibit in 2007.
DX, we will miss you as an artist, but most of all as a friend.

For those reading this, feel free to comment with your favorite DX story or just your thoughts.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Give Them the Farm"

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I grabbed my camera gear and headed for the country roads. My intent? To find a barn -- preferably a dilapidated one.

I'd been invited to participate in an exhibit at the Fifth Avenue Art Gallery in Melbourne, Florida. The theme of the exhibit is "Give Them the Farm." The intention of the exhibit is to raise funds for World Vision. In other words, we are hoping to literally buy a farm-load of animals with the proceeds from the exhibit sales.

Is it a sign of the times that all the farms have locked gates on their long driveways? Not only could I not get close enough to any of the farmhouses to see if they had barns, but I couldn't get through the locked gates to ask permission to photograph any other "farmy" type scenes.

Just when I was about to despair, I rode past a beautiful stand of trees with a herd of happy, healthy, multi-colored cows standing under it. Ta-da, I'd found my shot.

Energized by my discovery, I drove past them and turned around at the first crossroad I came to. Slowly, I drove back to the cows. What a scene. They were right by the fence. The proximity couldn't be better. So, I pulled off the road and quickly bent over the passenger seat to retrieve my camera.

Alas and the time I looked up, the cows were fleeing. To my horror, they were a good 100 yards away and moving fast. Not to be defeated, I jumped from the car and raised my camera. I started shooting as I called out for them to stop.

The result: The Fleeing Cows of 441 (my photograph for the exhibit).
In addition, I took the two photos pictured here. They are: at the top of the page is The Leader of the Fleeing Cows of 441, and below is A Field Made for Fleeing.

To see The Fleeing Cows of 441, stop by the exhibit during February. The exhibit opening is February 1st and the public is welcome.

In summary, here's to the cows of 441. May they rest easy knowing the crazy lady with the camera has moved on to other photography subjects.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year -- New Beginnings

Happy New Year

I sat down to write something ever-so-meaningful on the start of this new year and realized that a sunrise expresses thoughts of new beginnings much better than words.

Enjoy 2008.