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.

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.

I’m writing a novel and I’m finding it hard to make my chapters long enough, I’m currently on a 2 page long fight scene to start my book and I want to to at least break 4 pages, any ideas?

Common problem. Trust me on that.

Take a walk. Get away from your computer and stop staring at that dratted screen.

While walking and enjoying the weather and the trees and the beautiful birds overhead, think about your story. Dig deeper. Get inside the head of each and every protagonist in that fight scene.

What are they thinking? Why are they fighting? Do they really care? Let your mind wander and come up with whatever rises to the surface of your thoughts and don’t question your thoughts, just go with them.

Then, when you return to that dratted computer, remember your thoughts and you’ll probably discover that you have a lot more to say because you know your characters in that specific scene much better than you did before.

Maybe you’ll now describe more action because you’ll know what kind of action your protagonists might engage in. Maybe you’ll slip in some mini-flashbacks here and there to tell your reader why and how they are doing what they are doing.

Or something else that I can’t even imagine but that you can.

Is it better to get all of your ideas out and write a novel quickly, or to spend years in the process of curating the story and its elements?

Depends.

Some writers work best slowly and carefully, deciding each and every element and making sure the whole things works together.

Others work best just sitting down and letting it all come out in one huge, whoosh.

It’s a personality thing, not a writer thing. So go with whatever works for you.

In writing fiction, are flashbacks a good or bad way of revealing a main character’s tragic past?

Flashbacks work and are often essential for the reader to understand what’s going on and the actions of the character in question.

I learned what I consider to be a better way when writing short stories. Because short stories are short. Every word is important. Can’t waste words on long, involved flashbacks.

But a writer can do what I call mini-flashbacks. A sentence or two inserted in the middle of an action to give a reason for that character’s actions.

Such as a quick comment by a super-macho hero who’s burping a baby found in the middle of a battlefield while he sings a lullaby as bullets whiz all around that he was the oldest of six kids and knows all about babies and that they need security and burping. Does the job, doesn’t use up too many words, lets the writer get on with the story while keeping the character in character.

Is it possible to write a novel or short story that doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes?

 It’s not a matter of stereotypes.

It’s a matter of whether the characters are described well or not so well. Good writing will turn them into archetypes and become the best and most representative of the group they belong to, whatever that group may be. Poor writing will make them stereotypes worthy of laughter and readers who put the book down without finishing it.

The thing is, if your characters are representatives of a group, they can be recognized easily and quickly by the reader and that’s a great help to the writer. Less work, less stress, fewer words for the reader to wade through to get to the story.

Use that quick recognition. It’s valuable.

Just make sure that you do your job as a writer well so your character is an archetype instead of a stereotype.