Setting, Character, or Action?

When I am writing, these are what I use to drive the story. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Now, as I have stated before, I am not a professional. Whether or not I know what I am talking about will remain to be seen until my first book is published and we can see if anyone likes it. Until that time, I will just talk about what works for me personally. So… why am I stating the obvious? I have read way too many books that use only one of these things at a time. It always makes the story fall flat for me. The best books are the ones that use a combination of at least two of these, but all three is even better. Generally, when you read a review that complains about the writer boring you to death with the details, it is due to the focus being strictly on just one of these aspects at a time. The author fills the pages with back-story; overburdening you with the life history of their protagonist all at once. While I want a character to have character, too much at once can drown out the story that is being told.

All action is the same thing, but can be more easily altered to include one of the others, if not both. Someone has to be doing the action, and/or it has to take place somewhere. Mixing in a little setting is the simplest way to give the writing a bit of life. Make the environment around the character(s) work as a prop, whether it’s useable objects in the area, time of day, weather, or obstacles inherent to the place chosen.

Setting can be the most obvious, but also more difficult tool to work with. In the fantasy genre, setting is usually the one thing the story has to have a lot of. Especially if you are building your world from scratch. You will have to describe the world to the reader, but do it in a way that does not overwhelm them. I do not know anyone that loves the ‘info dump’ when they begin a new book. However, sometimes you need to get the info out there to help give life to your world. On the other hand, confusing the reader is worse (as far as I am concerned) than information overload. At least that way they can skim through (yes, I know… don’t look at me like that) the detail heavy parts. I hate nothing more than going back through something I have read, thinking that I missed something, only to find out it just was not there. What works best for me is to intersperse the details throughout the book. It is much harder, but if you can do it right… having the characters experience the world instead of just walk through it always makes for a better read to me.

When you can weave these things together, mixing them as you go, it makes the story flow more smoothly. Driving the plot along with not only who and why, but also when, where, and how in mostly equal parts, you give the reader a more vibrant story. They get to experience the world you have created, not just read about it. That, to me, is what it’s all about.

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A Soldier's Honor 1

Editing

I read a lot of indie/self-published books. Many of them are great stories that I am glad I took a chance on, whether for the very interesting plot, some cool characters, finding an original idea or even a great take on a classic idea. One thing that has never been a real deal breaker for me is grammar. I always hope that the author took the time to proofread, had someone proof/edit it for them or even had the book professionally edited. It is something I hope for, but I can work around it. I go through the reviews before buying a book, just to see what others are saying about the story. Sometimes I find some info in there that turns me away from the book, even if it has had mostly favorable marks. For me, this is usually when a reviewer reveals a bit about the book that just does not agree with me.  I will not go into specifics, because there is not a set of rules that I go by. It’s just more of a feeling I get when I am going through what others thought of the book. I never know what will turn me away.

One thing that I have never let discourage me is the reviews mentioning grammar or editing. There are plenty of readers out there that this is a real showstopper. They are completely turned off by a book that has not been edited, especially when it seems that the writer did not even proofread their own work. It pulls them out of the story, ruins the flow or just plain disgusts them. I can understand this. I don’t let it bother me that badly, but even I have read books that I remember getting frustrated about. There is no way that the author proofread what they had written. Very simple mistakes: where instead of were, their for there, words missing. Homonym, Homophone, Homograph. I did not really remember these or the other common errors from my high school English, but it was something I have always been able to pick out when I am reading. These are things that seemed to jump out at me as I read, so there is no possible way the person writing could have missed them if they had just went back over what they had written. They must have been in such a hurry to publish that they did not bother. Very amateurish. Yes, I know I am an amateur at writing, but still…

Then I turned my finished book over to someone else to edit. I knew that they would be busy with corrections, because I was struggling a little with certain things. Mainly dialogue, comma placement and when to capitalize a particular word; simple fixes. I got the story back and started on revisions. Talk about an eye opener. The book was littered with these same amateurish mistakes. Six in the first chapter alone, and I had reread the first half of the book fifty times (no exaggeration). Silly mistakes that should have jumped right off of the page, but I had passed over them multiple times. It was a very humbling experience, to say the least. So now I have even more tolerance for those people that have these types of errors in their writing. Not everyone is as fortunate as me to have someone that can act as an editor, and it is likely that the majority of us self-published (or soon to be) writers can not afford the professional services available. I am trying to be more vigilant in my second book, but I know there will still be some of these errors present (there are probably plenty in this post). I can only do my best, and use this as a teaching moment to help me improve my writing.

I would love to hear your thoughts, or about similar experiences. Just reply below or click on the ‘contact‘ page.

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A Soldier's Honor 1