Maureen pic from booksigningGreetings and Happy New Year! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog on the craft of writing. Today, I'm going to offer one technique to help you find the right angle and tone for your story. Sometimes, fine-tuning these so that your intent is clear and your storytelling is compelling isn't a matter of vocabulary or sentence structure, or even pacing or flow.

Sometimes, it's how you frame your story that gives it its best final form.

Recently, I took two lovely watercolors to a frame shop. I'd purchased them awhile ago, and never liked the plain frames they'd come in. Each picture was of a stylized bird, wings outstretched, positioned amid some leaves and branches. Some of the colors were vivid – electric blues and bright pinks – and others were more muted – faint corals and fern greens, along with a more muted blue. 

As I tried one color of matting after another, and one frame after another along with the matting, I began to realize that, although the pictures remained the same, the overall effect and, even, the sense of beauty conveyed by the images, changed with each different color and combination. For example, if I were to use the same paler shade of blue as on the birds' undersides, the effect was not as eye-catching as when I tried to use a mat that was more vividly blue. 

The texture of the mats made a difference, too, as did the different shapes and widths of the frame pieces I tried. 

In the end, I settled on contrasting colors and a natural maple frame to set off the birds and draw the eye into the images.

As I left the shop, I realized that we do the same thing with writing. We begin with a story and characters that will populate it. Our stories have bveginnings, middles, and ends, subplots, and through-lines. Themes, too, and a writer's voice to tell the tale.

But even if we have unique characters and a never-before-heard plot, or, in non-fiction, even if we are writing about something no one has ever read about before, how we frame the work will make a difference as to whether we hold the reader's attention, draw him or her deeper into our story, and want to come back for more work by the same author.

The frame is made up of the world of the piece – what is around the characters (a town, a profession, a time period) and how vividly or faintly this world is portrayed.

The frame also has textures – within the time period, for example, how "gritty" will your scene-setting be? (distinct smells in the streets of London in the 17th century, for example, or a passing mention of the aroma of life there?) How much will you play with language to convey sounds, sights, and other "set pieces," such as weather? (for example: "Crack!"  or "Thunder exploded above her.")

The frame has size – How much space will you devote to setting your scene, and will you fashion subplots within it or graze only the surface on your way to your main characters and plot?

While trying to decide how I wanted to frame my pictures, I played with various combinations and also thought about where I would hang them. In our writing work, we can think about whether the book fits in with our current contract, for example, or whether it is the start of a whole new series or direction.

So, play with your frames and matting. Try an approach you've never explored before, even something you don't think will work. 

You might be surprised at what you discover as you experiment with different frames. Why, you might just find a completely new and exciting direction, a new creative canvass within which to paint your story.

Blessings in the New Year,

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

P.S. My publishing and production experience includes plays, a novella, several non-fiction books, devotionals, a regular blog and a syndicated monthly column. Playing with framing works in each of these categories and, I'm sure, many more.

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Hello! Maureen Pratt here for my monthly CAN blog contribution. I’ve just returned from the dentist, so am even-more-than-usually delighted to be here (she writes, grinning with those newly repaired pearly whites)!

To be completely honest, although not exactly fun, my unexpected detour to drill-land has inspired my topic this month: Drastic measures for drastic situations. That is, what do you do when every trick, technique, and type font has been exhausted and you’re still not happy with what you see pouring forth on the page? Do you abandon the project (not easy, if you’re on contract and deadline)? Do you put the project aside and work on something else, praying that the subconscious will percolate behind the scenes? Or, do you do something else?

How does this relate to a trip to the dentist? Well, today, I went in to see what could be done about small chips in my front teeth, the result of years of major medications to treat all of my many chronic illnesses, as well as Sjogren’s Syndrome, which causes extreme dry mouth, among other things. Instead of getting right to work, my wonderful dentist enumerated the possible fixes. One was benign (“let it be”), one was a moderate repair that could last for quite awhile. The third option was the most extreme.

“It’s really very extreme,” she said. “And I don’t think this situation is that extreme.”

Praise God! And, bring on option # 2!

As she worked away on my tooth, I began to work away on my (this) blog. I’ve written before about things that might be helpful when characters run amok. But this time, I thought about the times when I’ve seemingly “hit the wall” on my work-in-progress. Setting, characters, underlying tone – sometimes these have gone awry to the point where the road ahead seems blocked with a huge “do not pass” sign. (Not to be confused with ‘writer’s block,’ this is a time when words are pouring forth, but just not for the same story as the one you’re supposed to be writing.)

At such times, I’ve turned to prayer, specific prayer for the specific writing situation: “Lord, is this project right for me, at least for now?” or “Lord, please show me the way, or at least please update my GPS!”

Next, I’ve gone back to my original premise, characters, outline, or inspiration and held these up to where I am with the project. It can be painstaking, but very useful to force yourself to look at everything you’ve written from those early kernels through the prism of the start. Is everything tying back to the beginning? If not, what needs to change, go, or remain?

Another thing to do is exercise. No, not writing exercises. I mean walking, running, playing tennis, golfing, aerobics – something physical that forces the brain to use different “muscles.” Instead of hand on keyboard or pen, put hand on basketball, or, if you’re not athletically inclined, vacuum cleaner or mixing bowl, which can be athletic endeavors, too. Exercise always helps clear my head, give me a fresh outlook and my subconscious time to regroup.

Talk to people you’ve already interviewed (if this is a non-fiction work) or to people who know nothing about your subject. Try to explain what you’re trying to do. See what questions they have and gauge what you have or have not put into your work thus far (this is always helpful). If you’re writing fiction, talk to your characters. Okay, this is a tick farther up on the drastic scale, but I actually find it very illuminating. Take your characters to the store, to a historic site, or just sit at your kitchen table and chat. Don’t mind if others look at you and shake their heads; it is a blessing and an honor to be gifted with storytelling, and sometimes the creative process just seems odd to others, but not to us!

The most drastic thing that I have done, only reserved for absolutely drastic situations, is to completely and utterly erase everything I’ve already written. Yup, the proverbial “computer crash.” I discovered this tool when my computer really did crash once years ago. Could not find the backup, let alone past versions of my work-in-progress, which was, at the time, under contract. After my initial shock, I had no alternative but to rewrite everything. It was a drastic situation, alright, and a drastic measure to have to rewrite the piece. But it actually turned out much better than it had been going along initially. And so, on those rare occasions when I need to do something drastic with my current writing project, I recall and sometimes employ this “measure of last resort,” as hard as it is to press delete and empty the recycle bin!

“Back in the day,” trips to the dentist were much more onerous than they are now (usually). Today’s visit turned out to be minor on the scale of discomfort, and all’s well, thanks to dentistry’s new tools of the trade. “Back in the day” of typewriters or writing longhand, it wasn’t possible to “lose it all,” unless you had a voracious dog or dared take your pages through the shredder (but even then, it probably wasn’t a cross-cut, and you could tape it all back together). Today, however, sometimes the dreaded “crash” is actually a blessing in disguise – a way to start completely afresh while retaining what’s most important from the good work you’ve done already.

Blessings for the day!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

 

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Hi! Sherry Kyle here, writing from my laptop in central California.

Sherry Kyle headshotBy definition, setting is the period and place of a story. It gives a story authenticity and gives the characters and plot believability. In other words, your setting is the large frame, which defines the surrounding for your characters.

When I wrote my first published novel, it didn’t take long to decide where I wanted my story to take place. I lived near a charming coastal town that would, in my opinion, be a wonderful backdrop for the contemporary fiction world I wanted to create.

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Gail Gaymer Martin Gail Gaymer Martin at www.gailmartin.com here to share some writing tips with you.

Fiction is mixture of plot, characters, theme, and setting and so much more, While setting is one way the reader receives a sense of place, it can do so much more for the reader. This series of posts will give you ideas on how to enhance your descriptions and make the work for you.

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Another Monday, and hello from Gail Gaymer Martin at www.gailmartin.com  I'm to share another topic on techniques in writing.  

Gail Gaymer Martin

I’ve been cover information I learned about screenwriting techniques from the Gideon Media and Film Festival. The third technique to enhance your novel is using setting to make a difference in characterization and mood.

3. Setting should be specific and used to deepen characterization and conflict, not just a place to plop characters. Setting influences the storyline because it influences the lifestyle of the characters, and it affects their needs and wants or their ability to reach these goals.

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