Writing 101: How To Write Setting

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A month and a half ago, my fiancee and I moved from Connecticut to Baltimore. The arty, weird, almost anarchic qualities of Baltimore City seemed to be a perfect fit for a quirky couple like us. The fact that Lauren’s a Baltimore native didn’t hurt either. We hired movers (a whole other ordeal) and hit the road, moving in to the Hampden neighborhood immortalized in countless John Waters films.

Through being co-founder and co-publisher of Beautiful Losers Magazine, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with two talented writers, Austin Wiggins and Dario Cannizzaro. Austin and Dario have both recently released new collections of short fiction (check them out in the links at the end of the post). Seeing Austin and Dario put out such quality works inspired me to write my first book. Without getting into too much detail, the novel is about an underground cabal of high-powered individuals clandestinely engaging in child abuse. This story, like any other, needs a setting. While the cabal operates out of New York (my hometown, a city I know like the back of my hand), the protagonist is a Baltimore native. Of course, being new to the city, depicting Baltimore authentically can be a challenge.

So, how did I tackle that challenge of writing Baltimore and not looking like an outsider or someone who had no idea what he was doing? Simple – I followed a few basic principles.

  1. Explore Your Location. If your setting is in a real place, or even if it’s a fictionalized version of a real location, visit the place! Talk to people from there, frequent restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other establishments. Get an idea of the culture. Even just walking around observing people (not in a creepy way!) and the location can do wonders towards understanding a place. If a location is too far away and/or not financially possible to visit, simply go to the Internet. YouTube has videos of virtually every location on the planet. Watch them!
  2. Ask Questions. Find a native from the place you intend to write about and ask them whatever questions you might have. If you don’t have any friends or family from that location, again, take to the Internet.
  3. Treat The Location As A Character. Many novice writers make the mistake of either writing too much or too little description in their novels. Hit the right balance by integrating the location whenever possible into your story, but don’t overdo it. You want your readers to feel as if the story is taking place in a specific location/s, not in some formless world. That said, your novel isn’t a Wikipedia article either.
  4. Modern Day, The Past, or The Future? If you’re writing about a setting from the past, do your research. If it’s the recent past, interview people who lived through the era. If you’re writing about a setting in the future, examine the location in its current state and make predictions about how it will differ in the near or distant future.
  5. Live There. Nothing’s better than total immersion if you want to authentically capture the feel of a place, but if that’s not feasible, the first four options should more than suffice.

Do you have any tips for writing setting that might help our readers? Share them with a comment!

If you’re having difficulty with writing the setting and need a ghostwriter or developmental editor, consider working with me by clicking here.

Read Austin Wiggins’ Bonds That Bind.

Read Dario Cannizzaro’s Of Life, Death, Aliens and Zombies.

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25% Discount on Editing Services for Students, U.S. Active/Retired Military, The Disabled, and Native Americans

Are you serious about moving forward as a writer? If so, you’re going to need to hire an editor. For all my readers who’ve found my posts valuable, I invite you to work with me on your manuscript. Furthermore, I offer a 25% discount to the following groups:

Students

Whether you’re in high school, college, or graduate school, if you’re currently enrolled as a student, yet still pursuing your writing career, I applaud your initiative and recognize that funds can be tight. That’s why I offer a 25% discount to all students.

U.S. Military

Many of my family members and friends are serving or have served in the U.S. military. The courage and sacrifice of these brave men and women should be rewarded. That’s why I offer a 25% discount to members of all branches of the armed forces, both active and retired.

The Disabled

The ability to persevere despite challenges is one of the best character traits a person can have, and instantly worthy of respect. To that end, I offer a 25% discount to all disabled individuals.

Native Americans

My grandmother donated to Native American charities her entire life. It’s a family tradition for us to respect the cultures of the Native American groups of this country. That being so, I offer a 25% discount on all services to any Native American.

To work with me, simply send an email here. To learn more about my copy editing, line editing, developmental editing, and critique services, click here.

Sex, Drugs, and Lit: Ten Authors Who Personify Edge

We all have our biases. When it comes to literature, I have a strong preference for transgressive writing. Transgressive writing has little regard for the niceties of polite society, or what’s respectable to the traditional turtlenecked literary man or woman. Transgressive writers are outlaws, and as such present life on the edge. As someone who writes transgressive literature, these ten authors are huge inspirations.

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  1. Charles Bukowski

A red pill writer on the nature of romantic relationships, the horses, and life in general, Bukowski is still the ace of the field.

Representative Work: Women

2. Hunter S. Thompson

He rode with the Hell’s Angels and took more drugs than thought humanly possible.

Representative Work: The Rum Diary

3. Bret Easton Ellis

An LA bad boy, with work filled with the glitz and sleaze that permeate the world of the rich elite.

Representative Work: American Psycho

4. Junot Diaz

Both socially aware and extremely raw, Junot Diaz might be the best writer alive.

Representative Work: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

5. Irvine Welsh

He wrote the book that inspired Trainspotting. Nuff said.

Representative Work: Skagboys

6. William S. Burroughs

He shot his wife, was a heroin addict, and did some of the most interesting experimental prose ever written.

Representative Work: Junky

7. Terry Southern

He co-wrote a borderline pornographic novel based on Voltaire’s Candide.

Representative Work: Candy

8. Tao Lin

The godfather of hipster lit.

Representative Work: Taipei

9. Chuck Palahniuk

The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club…

Representative Work: Fight Club

10. Daniel Clowes

He introduced Enid and Rebecca, two of the biggest BAMF’s in comic history.

Representative Work: Ghost World

Honorable Mention: David Foster Wallace

Did I miss anyone? Who is your favorite transgressive or alt-lit writer?

Five Easy Ways To Become Inspired To Write

Suffering from a lack of inspiration? Major case of writer’s block? Try these five easy ways to get inspired to write!

  1. Reading. Seeing the characters, concepts, and ideas of other writers can stimulate your own creative juices.
  2. Silence.  Too much stress in your life? Take some time out to relax and watch your creativity shine.
  3. Fun. All work and no play makes for dull writing. See friends, go out, have fun – you might just have a memorable experience worth writing about!
  4. Others’ Stories. Go on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, or through your cell phone address book. Ask yourself what interesting things can be fictionalized from your friends’ experiences? A helpful note: If it’s embarrassing to them, change the details to protect your friendship.
  5. Writing Prompts. Still completely baffled? When all else fails, there’s a wealth of writing prompts online.

What do you do when you’re out of ideas? Please share a comment to help other writers in this predicament!

Should You Hire A Line Editor For Fiction? A Copy Editor? A Developmental Editor? A Quick Guide To Making Sense Of It All!

March 2013 was a breakthrough month for me. It was the first time that I had my poetry accepted by a competitive literary journal. Despite majoring in creative writing at Beloit College, where I graduated in 2007, I didn’t have my first piece published anywhere until six years later. I didn’t think I was that good, and the professor who wrote “Don’t make a career out of this” on one of my short stories did wonders for my confidence. I quit writing for a while, but my friend Russell Jaffe got me engaged in poetry again, helping me with the basics of craft and offering me a spot in a poetry reading he had organized. I took the ball from there, rolled with it, and in short time started getting my poetry published in many interesting literary magazines.

As much as I liked writing poetry and enjoyed the works of Bukowski, Neruda, Ginsberg, and many of the alternative/outlaw poets on the Internet in the journals in which I was getting published, I had always been, first and foremost, interested in reading and writing fiction. After I quit my job as a college instructor/librarian I spent a lot of time working on short fiction. Given my friend Rairigh Drum’s generosity in offering me a rent-free spare room in her and her husband’s home in Clarion, Pennsylvania, I had plenty of time to devote to writing, considering that I didn’t have to work much over the next few months, as I had amassed a decent savings from my job. My stories were good. When I showed them to Rairigh, she was impressed. They were a far cry from the admittedly awful work that she remembered me passing her way when our campus clique would hang out. It was a big compliment to see how much, in her eyes, I’d improved. But improvement or good work isn’t enough. The fiction needed serious work. Rairigh again showed her generosity, working with me to develop the plot and characters, and showing me what to rewrite, helping along at times too. The result? A number of my stories were published. It wouldn’t have happened without Rairigh’s edits. They’d just be stories that were good, but not good enough.

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Rairigh was my developmental editor, but what exactly does that term mean? How is that any different from a copy editor or a line editor, and why do I need an editor in the first place? The answer to that last question? Because every serious writer needs an editor. Sure, you can catch some things here and there, and make your work better with multiple revisions, but every author has many blindsides when it comes to their own work. I would never release a novel or short fiction without going to Rairigh first, and I’d strongly suggest that all writers work with an editor before attempting to publish or self-publish their writing. Below are the types of editors and what they do:

Copy Editor

What they do: A copy editor ensures that your writing is free of any errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

What they don’t do: Improve the actual prose or structure of a work.

Line Editor

What they do: A line editor ensures that your writing is tight, focusing on paragraph structure, sentence flow, word choice, and forward movement. Line editing usually comes with copy editing as part of the process.

What they don’t do: Improve or suggest ways to improve the structure of a manuscript.

Developmental Editor

What they do: Hiring a developmental editor provides the most intensive level of improvement of a manuscript. A developmental editor trims, re-writes, rearranges, and writes new passages/chapters of their clients’ work. Some developmental editors may just critique your work, offering suggestions for a writer to implement on their own.

What they don’t do: For most intensive developmental editors, line and copy editing are standard additions; however, for those offering critiques, line and copy editing are not included.

In full disclosure, I provide copy editing, line editing, and developmental editing for authors of fiction, nonfiction, and short stories. I offer 25% discounts to writers who are either disabled, of Native American origin, are current or retired U.S. military personnel, or are high school or college students. If you would like a free consultation, or if you’d like to work with me, please email me by clicking here. If you’d like more information about my editing services, please click here. Thank you!

How To Balance Writing, Publishing, and Networking?

My cousin Jerry, by most any account, has a pretty good life. He’s successful doing work that he loves, makes a nice amount of money, has a beautiful and charming wife, and three great children. When I talked to him about some of the initial challenges I was facing after I quit my job as an educator and planned to make a go of it as a writer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, Jerry told me a story. As a man in his early twenties, he quickly earned more than double the salary of many of his middle-aged coworkers. How? When others put in 40 hours on the clock, with maybe 10 hours spent actually doing their jobs, he put in 80 hours, working beyond what was expected. Now, he doesn’t have to work so hard, though he still puts in a great deal time in projects he cares about. Those other guys, who knows what they’re doing now?

The point of this story is simple, if you’re serious about not just writing in your spare time, but making a career of being a writer, you’d better work hard. Still, even if you put in 80 hours per week, in such a competitive position as creative writing, if you’re not working smart, you just might end up stuck in as bad a position as Jerry’s former coworkers.

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One of the most difficult concerns for any writer looking to not just break in, but succeed, is the balance of writing, publishing, and networking. Here are a few suggestions that should help you work smarter, not harder:

  • Above all, write. One novel, three short stories, five poems – that’s not enough. Don’t even think about publishing or utilizing contacts and networking until you have a solid body of work. One success wouldn’t make a career, and the amount of time spent doing so is counterproductive. Make writing a consistent habit, have a lot of work to show around, and then start thinking about networking and publishing.
  • Understand that writing probably won’t make you rich. J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are the extremely rare exceptions. That said, many writers can make a living off of writing alone, many times even off of creative writing alone. It helps if your budget isn’t extreme. If you are single and live in an area with a low cost of living in the United States, you could probably get by on around $1000/month. While you wouldn’t be living well on that, you could survive. Then, through perseverance and building your reputation, you could make a good deal more.
  •  The Internet is your friend. Creating a blog centered around your writing, or other topics of interest to writers, could be a great way to attract attention. Taking a participatory role in the culture of the writing community online will open yourself up to many new opportunities. Helping others will lead them to helping you. Websites like Upwork and Craigslist present many opportunities for publishers looking for ghostwriters. The pay may not be great, but with a body of work, a high-character approach, and determination, you can get those jobs and build traction. Do so.
  • Don’t be an outsider. Jumping off the previous point, many communities on the Internet are niche. If you write science-fiction or romance or mysteries, find where those writers and readers gather and become a part of their communities. Above all, help as many people as you can. Being a self-serving renegade can kill your chances of succeeded in today’s literary world.
  • Understand your markets. Don’t submit a 80,000 word science-fiction novel to an avant-garde poetry site. Respect publishers by being familiar with the writing that they publish and reading a significant amount of it. When you read the work that publishers put out, you’ll quickly know if it’s similar to your own. If it’s not, don’t waste your time and the publisher’s time with a submission. There are so many magazines and publishers that there is bound to be one that’s a good match for your style. Use Duotrope, Poets & Writers, or the Writer’s Market and find it!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a favor. In the words of new wave singer Morrissey of The Smiths, “Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to…” If you have a friend or other contact that could potentially lead to a solid break, don’t be afraid to ask them for what you need. The worst they can do is say no. Of course, make sure that you’ve done the basics first. Above all, follow their suggestions afterwards. Nothing burns out a good contact more than asking for a favor and not following through after someone does what you ask.

Taking these suggestions into account, you’ll be in an excellent position to advance your writing career. What do you think? What advice would you give to a new writer seeking to follow their dreams? Let’s start a dialogue.