Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fiction: A Sliver or the Truth

Photo: Claudia Del Balso
Oscar Wilde, who opined in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life". (Original source: Wikipedia)
I decided to write a blog post about this subject because I am working on a short story that takes a sliver of truth from an event that occurred to me. Although writing the story was cathartic, the inspiration was nonetheless painful.

When I asked my mentor if I could write fiction using real events, he said that most fictional stories originate from real life events.
So when you start writing your short story or novel, make sure that you’re objective about what you already know. If you’ve done some research and want to include it in your narrative, use a language your readers will understand. You’re not writing a thesis.
Facts add seasoning to any narrative, but no matter the genre, good fiction transports the reader into another world.
Another point to consider is being efficient on how you use the information from sources, such as magazine articles, newspaper reports, scientific books, etc. Don’t overwhelm your reader with unnecessary information or detour a colorful anecdote and turn it into a medical or police report.
Be true to your story. Facts can be fun if you do it right. If a detail doesn’t move the story forward by establishing the setting, advancing the plot or shedding light on the characters, get rid of it.
 “The reason we use truth in fiction is so we can tell a bigger, better lie,” says David Hewson, bestselling author of the Nic Costa thriller series. “It’s the lie—how big, convincing and ‘real’ it is—that matters.”

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Writing a Short Story

Photo: Claudia Del Balso

Most writers (seasoned or not) know that writing a short story is not easy. It has to appeal to the emotions of the readers. Since it conveys the writer's interpretation of reality, the language used must evoke emotions, bring the characters to life, it should suggest a human experience. Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing a short story.
1. Read
In order to be able to write a good short story, you must read other short stories first. It will help you learn how other authors made an impression on the reader and use their style as basis to create your own style and impression.
2. Brainstorm your story
Think of something you want to talk about with your readers. Focus on this idea and think of other concepts that you want to associate with the main characters or plot. What is it that you want to convey? Is there a message or moral in the story?
3. Plan out the scenes
On a separate sheet of paper, write down the possible characters of your story and list the main events in order. By doing so, you will keep your writing aligned with your pre-conceived story events. 
4. Choose your point of view
Who tells the story? How is it told? This is vital for a short story to be effective. Once you choose your point of view, make sure it stays constant throughout your story to maintain consistency. Remember: the point of view can change the feel and tone of the story radically.
5. Visualize your characters
Unlike a novel, too many main characters in a short story can create confusion. For a short story, create a maximum of only three main characters. Your characters have to be convincing; they cannot be flat; therefore, they must speak naturally in proportion with their traits.
6. Writing a good introduction
Make your introduction interesting to hold the reader’s interest and encourage them to read on to the end. Introduce your main characters and set out the scene. The scene must be some place you know much about so that you'd be able to supply the necessary snapshot for a clearly described setting. Do not reveal the climax in the introduction.
7. Build up a great plot
From your introduction, draw out events that will eventually create a problem or a conflict for the main character/characters. Intensify the conflict as the story moves forward. This will keep your reader engrossed in your story.
8. Show don't tell
The characters should be the ones responsible for expressing the story through their actions and dialogue and not the writer telling the reader what is being expressed.
9. Avoid using passive voice
In order to do this, use verbs in the active voice in your story. Instead of saying, "The children were kidnapped by the man”, say “The man kidnapped the children.”
10. Use some dialogue
Don’t use dialogue as filler. Instead, use it to bring your story to life. Dialogue reveals who the characters are. Engage the reader by using direct quotes, for instance, “Call her at once!” Mom said.
11. Finish off in a few words
Make your ending unique but not hanging in a loose end. Make it satisfying without making it too predictable. Keep it short but leave the reader with a feeling of resonance. Your conclusion should wrap up everything from start to finish.
12. Edit and ask for opinion
Go through your story and fix all your grammar, spelling, and construction mistakes. Delete sentences or paragraphs that don’t move the story forward. Have your friends read the text and ask for their opinion as readers. Moreover, a fresh pair of eyes will point out mistakes you may have missed.
With some knowledge on the basic elements and some creativity, you’ll craft a good story. You’ll never know unless you try it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Good Copy Editing –and Editing in General

Before the Internet and social media took the world by storm, proofreaders, copy editors, and editors were three distinct positions. Nowadays, it’s a blurred line. Some of you may even use them interchangeably –when in reality they’re not.

To better explain what copy editors do, let’s look at the late Bill Walsh’s definition, “Copy editors check written material, usually as the final step before it is set into type, to correct errors in grammar, spelling, usage and style (in this case, style refers to a given publication's guidelines for consistency in how words, phrases, typographical elements, etc., are to be used -- or not used).” Walsh, a copy editor for the Washington Post, was passionate about his craft. His three books are witty, humorous, yet filled with great advice on how to apply the basic rules to unique, modern grammar issues.

When I took an editing class at Concordia University in Montreal, we read the book, “Creative Editing” (I still use this book as a reference), which I consider the bible for copy editors. On page four, the following sentence validates my love for editing: “Copy editors are the very heart of the media organization, supplying the lifeblood for healthy existence and serving as gatekeepers of the news for the public.” This concept refers to both newspaper and magazine copy editing.
No matter what you write or for whom you write, if your text is not edited, you run the risk of confusing your readers.
You may even say that “the editing process begins before a story is ever written” as it’s cleverly put in “Creative Editing”. Unless you’ve been in this business for some time, you won’t appreciate the beauty and intricacies of the craft. In essence, if you write, you edit; if you edit, your write. And you want to produce the cleanest, most concise copy that will keep your audience reading!