The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 180
Can you hear it? Listen closely!
It’s the sound of your next article or book whispering to you.
If you are truly a writer then you hear it . . . “Muted cries and echoed laughter
Banished dreams that never sank in sleep” . . .
Listen closely . . . and . . . then . . . write!
And thank you Dan Fogelberg! May your words live on for all time and inspire many.
From Lawrence: “I can identify with a lot of the stuff here, especially with the 'self doubt' thinking, and the thought of just 'walking away' from the writing. That's what I almost did a few weeks ago. But the stories just wouldn't let me go! It was as if things were 'burning their way out', so I had to find a way of letting the pressure off, and that meant starting another story! Here's my question Bill, does it ever feel that way for you? Or am I really strange?”
Well, Lawrence, you may indeed be strange, but that’s just the burden writers carry around with them daily.
My wife Bev says I speak like I’m writing a story. I’ll see something as we drive to the store, and I’ll give a description of that something like I’m speaking as one of my characters. That happens all the time with me, so if you are strange then I am stranger.
I can’t turn it off, Lawrence, and I suspect all writers say the same thing. A story is percolating in my brain as I type this response to your question. It’s been inside there for a couple weeks now and I’m just waiting for my muse to sort it all out and give me the “go ahead” signal, at which time I’ll write the damned thing.
Strange, yes, but what a great rush!
More on Historical Fiction
From Emese: “I actually have a question about historical fiction, since it came up. Would a novel that is totally fictional, but uses some historical facts, only as background, qualify as historical fiction? The way I see it, the lines are so blurred, it is hard to qualify most works of fiction. Thanks so much, and have a great week.”
Emese, it’s a great question. Literary genres get blurred easily. I’m reminded of that fact every single time I publish a book on Amazon and I’m forced to choose a genre. I always have three or four which I believe apply, but I’m supposed to narrow it down to one.
Regarding your question, in historical fiction, the historical setting must be of primary importance to the story and not just background. In the example you gave, a book of that sort would be fiction, or period fiction, but not historical fiction.
And I fully expect that explanation to be as clear as mud.
Quotations and Italics
From Tim: “Another great Mailbag Bill. In the long distant past I showed a difference in characters speaking using quotations, yet used italics to show difference. Is that a no-no too?”
Tim, there are two answers to this one. You choose which one you like.
If you are just writing for yourself, or for HP, or even to just self-publish on Amazon, it really makes very little difference if you did it that way. As long as it is obvious to the reader who is speaking at any given time, then my opinion is go for it.
The second answer, of course, refers to any attempts to get a publisher to look at that story, in which case you better go with traditional grammar rules regarding quotation marks. I have found that traditional publishers are not too fond of “breaking the grammar rules.”
If you are lucky enough to get a professional, traditional publisher to look at your work, it seems to me it would be worth it to shelve the unconventional and play the grammar game the way traditionalists prefer. By the way, the use of italics in fiction is usually reserved for a thought or reflection, as in I really shouldn’t go into that room, he thought with his hand on the doorknob.
From William: “Glad to see another Monday and the mailbag. Not that I'd ever want to do it, I don't think it would make a good story at all, but if I wrote a story about Lincoln surviving the gunshot - is that just unacceptable, or is something like that considered something other than historical fiction. Just a thought question. Thanks for another great mailbag!”
William, because, in your example, you are altering history, it would not be historical fiction but yes, it is definitely acceptable. It would just be considered fiction, or possibly fantasy, but not historical fiction. It would also be a very cool premise to play with. Perhaps someday you’ll pick up that particular ball and run with it.
From MIzB: “About quotation marks, since I was born, went to school in, and learned about punctuation in the Dark Ages, I would like to point out that I never see split quotations anymore. Sometimes I like to use them and will continue to do so myself, but am I alone? Do you ever see anyone use split quotations in their writing anymore? For example: It's a lovely day," Jim said, "but I would like for it to rain on my garden." (See, I watched the video, and I did punctuate the sentence as I was taught.) This isn't a good example, but as I say, I sometimes find a need for them.”
MizB, it’s a great example and I, for one, use them all the time, in my novels and even in my content writing for customers. When I write press releases for companies I often make up quotes from the company’s owner, and I use split-quotations often while doing that. It’s a bit odd, in my humble opinion, that writers have gotten away from split quotations. Perhaps they don’t know how to properly punctuate them and so avoid them. Whatever the case may be, I think they are highly effective and I would love to see them make a comeback.
From Adam: “Do you think it’s possible to overdo the use of similes? I was reading a story the other day and the author had seven similes in a story of 2,000 words. I thought that was a bit much.”
You and me both, Adam! That’s like an old hound with too many fleas to scratch. Get it? I used a simile to answer your question. LOL I amuse myself quite often.
The answer is yes, Adam. Overusing anything like that is a waste of effort and space. In fact, I think things like similes, metaphors, or analogies are most effective when used sparingly. Unless you are the author of “Animal Farm,” and then all bets are off.
From Joy: “I'm formatting my first book for CreateSpace and having a difficult time with it. I'm told that 6X9 is the best size for a novel, but none of the word processing programs I've tried have that size, nor do any of them have a custom size that works. I have finally resorted to Word Online. It has the custom size, but appears to lack the full editing functions of Word or Open Office. BTW all my sources are free versions. Maybe that's the problem. I'm hoping to make enough money from this book and a couple of others to upgrade my software. I'm considering paying to have it formatted just to get it done. The final option is to go with CreateSpace's template, but I am not sure what form the original must be in to use that. Any suggestions from you or your readers would be welcome. Happy Holidays.”
Joy, I’m happy to report there is no problem; if your manuscript is on a Word Doc then you can easily format that doc to a 6x9 format. On the Word Doc, go to Page Layout on the overhead menu….then go to page setup….then paper tab….on that tab, set the “width” to 6 and the “height” to 9 and save.
Now, if you used anything other than Word I’m stumped, but I’ve done this countless times with Word and it works perfectly for the Createspace download.
Seat of the Pants
From Lawrence: “Maybe that's a question for the mailbag, "What are the advantages of writing a first draft over 'writing by the seat of the pants?"
Lawrence, thanks for the question but it has me a little confused. Are you using “first draft” to mean an edited draft? That’s the only way I can spin this question. I think the advantage is this: if it works for you, that’s an advantage. I’m not a guy who advocates only one way to write a novel. I don’t do any editing or correcting on my first drafts, and in fact I have no outline when I write nor do I have any clue where the novel is going when I start. That system and approach works for me but for others it would drive them nuts.
So do what works for you and be happy that some approach, orthodox or unorthodox, works for you.
Back to the Voices
They are calling to me and since I have no more questions to answer, it is time to go listen attentively.
Can you hear them? Listen closely! Give your muse the freedom she needs.
And then write!
Have a great week!
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”