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.

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!

Happy Labor Day – Save Some Labor

First of all, happy Labor Day!

This is a quick post about a new service I’m offering: proofreading writers’ manuscripts. For only $10 per 1,000 words (so, for example, $250 for a 25,000 word short story collection), you can get your self-published (or attempting to be traditionally published, your call) manuscript completely free of errors in spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, formatting, and consistency. If you’re a student or active or retired U.S. military, I’ll offer you a 25% discount on the total price. If you’re interested, just let me know with an email by clicking here. Thanks for spreading the word!

Interview with Brian Anderson

I’m privileged to bring my readers a conversation with one of the finest up-and-coming novelists around, my good friend Brian Anderson.

In our discussion, Brian shares his thoughts on his excellent novel Groundwork, the writing process, and many other topics of interest to aspiring writers.

Brian Anderson, author of Groundwork, on the left, Alfonso Colasuonno, founder of The Literary Game, on the right.

Coming Soon – Interview with KD McGregor, Author of Backs Against The Wall

I had the pleasure to edit Backs Against The Wall, the debut novel of KD McGregor, a talented indie writer. KD has agreed to be interviewed by The Literary Game to discuss his perspective on many issues of importance to aspiring writers. We’ll have the interview up soon.

In the meantime, I highly recommend that anyone interested in a fast-paced, gritty, character and plot-driven work of fiction pick up a copy of KD’s book, now available on Amazon. Click here to purchase a copy (free for users of Kindle Unlimited).

If you too are looking for an affordable novel editor, please click here.

8 Questions To Ask Yourself If You Aren’t Getting Your Writing Published

 

In baseball, some of the best players in the game only get a hit roughly one out of every three times they are at the plate. The same can be said about writers and publishing.

Ty Cobb, one of the legends of the game, had a .366 batting average, the highest of all-time in Major League Baseball history. On average, 634 out of every 1000 times that he was at the plate, he would fail to get a hit.

Writers looking to publish can learn a lot from batting averages. A position player in the major leagues will generally hit between .200 and .360 during a full season. A writer successfully targeting journals relevant to their style, tone, and themes will have a success rate roughly equivalent to the average baseball player. If you get in a particularly hot streak, you may get a few acceptances in a row without a rejection. You may also get into a slump. In time, everything will average out.

If you are submitting your poetry or short fiction to competitive journals, contacting agents, or submitting your manuscript to publishers, and you are getting rejected consistently without any acceptances, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Have I had my writing edited? Does it read well, or is it choppy? Are there major problems?

2. Am I targeting the right literary journals, publishers, and agents? Would they actually be interested in my type of writing, or is this completely off the mark?

3. Do I need to build my platform? From where I am right now as a writer and a person, can I do anything to attract some attention to myself?

4. Do I know where to find agents, publishers, or literary journals? Duotrope.com, PW.org, and the Writer’s Market 2016 are all great places to start.

5. Have I been writing consistently enough to develop my skills to the point where my work is of a publishable standard? Do you treat writing as a part-time hobby or a fatalistic dream, or are you serious about it? Your writing will improve the more you actually write.

6. Did I ever learn the fundamentals of writing, or have I gone into creative writing with a lot of passion, but little education in the workings of craft? If you never learned how to write well, you won’t.

7. How is my mindset? Am I visualizing success or am I anticipating another rejection letter? Your thoughts become reality. Create a reality where you expect to publish your writing.

8. Have I been reading other writers who write like I do? Absorbing ideas and style from other writers is critical, and writers who don’t read are writers who don’t get published.

If your writing is almost never accepted, or is never accepted, with around 95% certainty, I can say that you are probably doing at least one of these things wrong, and most likely many of them.

Now, once you correct your mistakes, you will not get accepted to every literary journal you submit your poems or short fiction to, or every independent publisher that you submit your manuscript to, or every agent that you contact. Far from it. But, you will get some successes.

I hope that this post motivated you to move forward. If you need to learn more about the basics of writing, take a look at my free Writing 101 course. If you have a specific question, use my free Q&A service and I’ll either answer you directly, or turn your question into a post if I feel it would benefit other writers, as well. If you need an editor to shape up your writing, or a publishing consultant whose versed in targeting effectively, I’m also available to help you.

I know that if you work hard and make the appropriate tweaks, you will become a successful writer.

In success,
Alfonso