The Christmas House

When I hear the word ‘parchment’ I think of those very official scrolls containing royal pronouncements. You know, the kind that start with “Hear ye, hear ye” followed by all kinds of important announcements like:  “The prince is throwing a ball!” 

So this seems like the time to announce that soon my next book will be published. September first is the date the manuscript (my baby) goes to the publisher and, if past performance is any indication, it’ll be on Amazon soon afterwards.

So go to Amazon during the first part of September, check out The Christmas House by Florence Witkop and make me the happiest woman in the world by writing a review. Hopefully a good review but any honest review will be welcome.

The Christmas House is the third and last book of the Johns Falls series of clean, small-town romances. It was originally going to be titled The Forest House because it’s about a young woman who goes to live in a house in the forest where her grandmother grew up and where she spent many summers. But since the story ends around Christmas, and since Christmas is a big part of the ending, I changed the title.

The heroine, Abby, must stay in the house for a year and live ‘in the old way’ as much as possible in order to meet the grandmother’s conditions for owning it. Of course, the first day there, she gets between a mother bear and its cubs. And meets a hunky guy. And the rest is history. And another good Johns Falls story.

It probably won’t be the last story set in Johns Falls because I already have another series in mind that will also be set there but will be different because the stories will be mysteries that will be told in the first person. I’m doing it that way because I love writing in the first person and it’s common for mysteries. I’ve never written a full-length mystery novel before. A few short stories, but never a truly long one. Will be interesting. Wish me luck.

What is some advice that you can give regarding plot development in writing?

2. All good stories have beginnings, middles and endings. Write down the beginning and the ending on separate slips of paper. Again, a sentence or two will suffice.

3. Put the ‘story’ slip on your desk where it won’t get lost and where it will constantly remind you what story you’re telling. Because it’s easy to forget that when you get into the details. (The details are the middle that you’re not worrying about yet.)

4. Put the ‘beginning’ slip on the left side of your desk and the ‘ending’ slip on the right side. You’ll have a large space between them that’s waiting for the ‘middle.’

5. Get some more slips of paper. If you are telling a really long novel (like 100,000 words or more) get at least six slips. Maybe eight or ten, depending on how long and complex your novel will be. If it’s a fairly short novel (like 50,000 words or less) then get four slips. If it’s a short story, then just get one slip because short stories are just that — short.

6. Figure out the important places in the story. The places where things change. Where the hero/heroine makes a life-altering decision. Meets someone that changes everything. Hits a road block that seems insurmountable. Anything and everything that can make reaching the end harder and make it take longer getting there. Write each ‘change’ down on a slip of paper and start placing them between the ‘beginning’ and the ‘ending.’ Think about it enough to sequence them in a way that makes sense, from easiest to hardest, or from least to most, or whatever works for you.

7. Then figure out how your hero/heroine will reach each of the ‘changes’ in the story and jot the action down on more slips of paper that you’ll put beneath each of the ‘changes’ because they’ll be the meat of the story, the pages that will lead your hero/heroine to the ‘changes’ that’ll make the story different, and finally lead to the climax and the triumphant ending. Because each slip of paper that you’re slipping beneath each ‘change’ slip is a scene that, when put together with the other slips/scenes under each ‘change’ slip, carries the hero/heroine closer to each ‘change’ and, ultimately, to the ending.

Or use a computer if you don’t want to cut out a lot of little pieces of paper.

It’s a technique. There other techniques for plotting a story, but this particular one is simple and works for both long and short stories.

I think I’ve almost finished writing a good novel, but I’ve lost focus and interest in finishing it — how can I best regain it?

The answer is: Forget about it. Put is aside. Find a nice shelf and put the manuscript on it and cover it with a pile of other, more interesting, things until you can’t see it no matter how hard you look.

In other words, forget it exists. Go on with your life.

Eventually, of course, your subconscious will begin to bother you. You’ll start searching your mental files to figure out what’s wrong. And then — eureka! — you’ll remember that novel you set aside.

More than likely, you’ll find that you have renewed interest in it and are more than happy to pull it out from the bottom of that pile and start working on it again.

Don’t know why this happens, I just know that, more often than not, it does.

The science fiction writer, Issac Azimov, normally had a large number of manuscripts that he worked on at the same time. Each day he’d look them over and decide what he’d work on at the moment. Which appealed to him. And, conversely, which had lost any and all appeal. He’d work on the ones that were interesting at the moment and ignore those that weren’t. And, if he tired of one story while writing, he’d switch to another.

Because that’s the way some minds work. By jumping around. And that’s okay.

Do MFA programs make you a better writer?

Maybe. Maybe not.

And before I go on, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have a love-hate relationship with advanced degrees. I’ve loved some of my advanced classes and hated others. And I remember one time when the instructor went around the first day of class asking us what we wanted out of the class (I can’t even remember what the class was for!) and my answer was that I wanted it to be the absolute last class I’d ever take in my life. Because I was sick and tired of taking classes. And of advanced degrees.

So, with that out of the way, the answer to your question depends….

If you want that MFA only in order to become a better writer, then consider how good you already are before gearing up for that degree.

It can do wonders if your writing skills are less than those of most people because part of the beauty of an MFA is that it (supposedly) lifts the student into the somewhat exclusive domain of the upper middle class and beyond, at least as far as speaking and writing are concerned and that’s what you want. So it could work.

On the other hand, it’s unlikely to help much if you already have writing skills that are equal to or better than those of your average person because you are already where it will get you as far as writing is concerned.

So think hard before you go for that long, intense, expensive degree and make sure that it will really lift you from mediocre to excellent.

And here’s another thought….

If you truly believe you are mediocre but don’t want to go through all that hassle and expense, you might consider other options that can achieve the same result. Such as volunteering in a place where educated people are already volunteering so as to watch and learn from them. Or something else — anything else — that will put you in a milieu in which you will absorb the things in an unstructured way that an MFA teaches through structured lessons.

Is it true that there’s little to no money in writing fiction?

Sadly, that’s true. I read somewhere that the average fiction author earns $5,000 a year from his/her writing.

However, the e-market is changing everything, including the potential for making as much money as you are willing to work for.

And I do mean work. Two kinds of work are involved and each is equally important if you wish to make more than $5,000 a year.

The first kind of work is the actual writing. Write what people want to read that you can write well enough that they will want to part with some of their hard-earned money to read it.

The second kind of work is marketing because the today’s market is so over-full of fiction, both e-published and bricks and mortar, that getting your wonderful work noticed by enough people to actually make money by selling it is very difficult indeed.

The bad news is that both are hard work.

The good news is that both are possible.

The first scene of my novel is a chase scene where two boys are being chased. But I haven’t revealed their names, so there’s a lot of “the first boy”, “the other boy”, “then the other boy” for 4 pages and it’s confusing . How can I fix this?

Reading this question, I had a couple thoughts. Questions. The answers to the questions indicate how to handle the scene.

  1. First, is it necessary to distinguish which boy is doing what? Does it matter or are you mainly trying to get across that two boys are being chased? If it doesn’t matter, then don’t worry about it. Just describe what’s happening and let the reader know that there are two boys. If the reader wants to know which boy is doing what, let them figure it out for themselves.
  2. Second, though, if it is important to differentiate the boys, can you include dialogue? (Depends on whether they are in a situation where talking/whispering/shouting is appropriate.) If dialogue can be included, then use dialogue tags. (You can find out about dialogue tags in previous posts on my web page if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Dialogue tags are wonderful. Fabulous.
  3. Thirdly, if it is important to differentiate the boys and you cannot include dialogue, then choose something about each boy that can quickly and easily be described, like unusually long hair or a torn pant legs or something more creative that you’ll come up with because you know the story. As you describe the chase scene, describe what’s happening to that special thing as the boys are trying to get away. Long, blonde hair got caught and had to be torn free. A torn pant leg ripped more each time something happened until the pant leg had to be be torn off completely. Or something else entirely. The description of what happens to the item will also be a description of the boy so the reader will be able to keep them straight.

How does one express oneself in writing a science fiction novel with an original idea so that it can impact people and never leave their minds? Take the writing style of, The Martian, for example.

You write without considering that you’re writing for people to read what you write. That way you’re more concerned with what you write than you are with how you write and your writing will flow more naturally.

You also write without considering that you’re really writing, not for your reader, but rather for the editor or publisher (bricks and mortar or online) that will look over what you wrote and decide whether it’s worth publishing or not.

In other words, you forget all the rules of writing you learned over your long and arduous writing education and write what you want. How you want. Any way you want.

Then, when you’re finished —- (of course there’s a ‘then’) —- you go back over what you wrote and figure out what changes can be made so the result will be what people want to read and what those oh-so-important gate-keepers to the writing world will publish.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a way to make such changes and then you’ll have the best of both worlds, that of the professional who writes to give other people what they want while also writing for yourself.

If you can achieve those goals, you’ll have reached a plateau of meaning and elegance that few writers ever reach.

Good luck!

Does being social help with writing dialogue for your stories? If not, what do you think helps with writing good dialogue?

I doubt that being social helps because people in books don’t speak the same way that they do in real life. Not even close.

Nor can you just pull sentences out of thin air.

But I suspect that reading books that have the kind of dialogue that you wish you’d written, then taking apart those scenes, is possibly the best way to learn how to write good dialogue.

When starting a novel, is it good to create an outline of ideas or just to write the ideas into the story and hash it out later?

Are you the type who jumps into everything you do feet first? Or the type who researches everything before making a move?

Which type you are tells you which way you should approach the craft of writing a story.

Personally, I started out by jumping in feet first but, over time, decided that I put less time and effort into a story if I research and outline first. So I made myself slow down and learn how to do just that.

I’ve never regretted changing methods, but what worked for me might not work for others. So do what feels right for you.

Can I write a love story if I’ve never been in love?

If science fiction writers can write about worlds and times that don’t exist, then you can write about love.

All it takes is a well-honed —- and well-trained —- imagination.

Because describing something you don’t personally know without thinking through how you want to do it, is an exercise in futility and will result in poor writing.

But describing something you don’t know after thinking it through and deciding what you want to say and why you want to say it is the mark of a professional writer of fiction.