Writing

Stories Within Stories: When They Work, and When They Don’t

Image from Pixabay

Have you ever read a book with a story within it? I have. 

A notable example includes “The Tale of Three Brothers” in “Harry Potter.” In cartoons, there is “The Crimson Chin” in “The Fairly OddParents,” and “The Justice Friends” in “Dexter’s Laboratory.”

In a book I read, it started out with a background description as well as a bunch of characters. One was an old lady reading to a group of children. I would have continued that story, but it bored me since after several pages, I couldn’t get to the action. The woman just kept reading.

I agree with many experts that stories should start as close to the inciting incidents as possible. Prologues are also not recommended these days unless done exceptionally well.

Anyway, back to the topic. I don’t think the story in a story idea should be reserved for top authors. However, it should be relevant to the main plot, engaging, and not too long. Otherwise, the reader might give up.

You could do a spinoff as long as it will work and keeps your audience engaged. I have a spinoff of my current book series in mind. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that it’s not a story within my books. It might be years until I write it, though.

Do you like stories in stories?

Writing

Writers, Should You Hire a Beta Reader?

Image from Pixabay

What is a beta reader? It’s someone who gives you feedback on your story and its literary elements, such as plot, characterization, conflict, etc. They don’t edit your work or rewrite weak sentences.

So, if you are considering hiring a beta reader, here are some aspects you should be aware of.

Pros

Cheaper than traditional editors

Many book editors, especially those who have worked with big-name best-selling authors (like Stephen King), can charge lots of money for their services. They can range from hundreds to even thousands of dollars.

There are people with that kind of money. But unless you are one of them, start off with a beta reader.

Can return work more quickly 

Depending on the editor and the work, it can take at least a week or month to have the project returned to the client. From my experience, though, beta readers may take less time before they give the customers feedback. This can vary, however, depending on the reader and other factors.

Cons

Might not necessarily answer the writer’s specific questions 

With my last beta reader experience, I sent a bunch of questions to the person that concerned specific issues in my manuscript. The beta reader clarified that she was not an editor, so I said that she could answer the questions she felt were relevant. Sadly, she didn’t answer any.

Can be tough

Despite working on my manuscript for nearly 5 years, the beta reader said it needed a ton of work. Other beta readers bashed my projects, too. However, when I showed them to editors, the stories pleased them. For my current WIP, an editor said that it was strong and only needed minor editing.

I don’t know how typical it is for beta readers to be super-tough, but I am giving my manuscript to other beta readers as well as a developmental editor.

Remember to do what you think will work for you.

art

Mini Art Show: A Sketch of a Bird

It’s been a while since I’ve shown a piece of art I did recently. That is because I haven’t been doing much of it these days. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy art. I just have other priorities.

Anyway, I sketched this image based off a tourism pamphlet from my house. My parents went to upstate New York (I’m from Long Island) and brought back a wildlife guidebook.

Since I wanted to vary my drawing subjects, I decided to draw the bird on the front cover. Of course, there are differences, besides the lack of color and the pencil marks. I simplified the plants in the background and even changed some. As for the bird, I started off with simple shapes, a technique I learned in college.

The paper was also not a cream tone. It just came out that way when I photographed it with my phone and adjusted some aspects in order to bring out the image more. Despite that, I decided to keep the background that beige. I feel it adds some sophistication and aesthetic.

Will I color this in? Maybe. After my other priorities are out of the way, I could color or paint it, either with traditional or digital media. But I am not sure, as of now. What do you think of this?

Writing

Want to be a Serious Writer? Be prepared… it’s Expensive, But There are Some Tricks to Save Money

I have been honing and practicing my writing skills for nearly a decade. Along the way, I’ve had to spend money on editing, cover design, and marketing services. It cost a lot. I am not kidding.

I also fell into the trap of using “self-publishing” services, which were actually vanity presses. They offer publishing packages from hundreds to even thousands of dollars. And those books sell few to no copies. I would avoid those at all costs. And not just because of the pricing, but because of how they treat authors, take their money, and result in poor sales of their books. Try to use legitimate services where you just upload your materials, such as Amazon KDP or Draft2Digital. Both are free to publish on.

But it’s more than just that. I will return to the publishing and marketing topics after I discuss editing and cover design.

Editing can be pretty expensive. Some editors will even charge thousands of dollars for their services, especially if they’ve worked with big-name, bestselling authors. So, unless you already have the money, I would suggest avoiding those. There are editing services that charge moderate amounts. There are also beta readers, who are usually quite affordable. Many don’t price their services over $100. It may be worth using them for content editing.

Also, a lot of editors will be willing to split the payment plans. That might be useful if you don’t want to spend too much money at once. Another approach is not to get every single draft of your manuscript edited. I don’t just mean the sloppy first draft, but any draft you may feel needs more work… from you.

Everyone’s writing process differs, so the editing necessities will vary, too. If you’re new to writing, it may be challenging to improve your writing abilities without customized feedback. You can read books on the writing craft and more, but they could only take you very far. My suggestion would be to spend less on any unnecessary items outside of your writing time. Or take a side job and save your earnings for book production service.

Which brings me to the next part: cover design. Unless you have a great reputation in graphic design or illustration, it’s best to hire someone. But like editing, some may split the payment segments. Keep in mind your book’s genre and what cover design would be appropriate and attract more people. Regardless of that saying, everybody judges books by their covers.

Now back to marketing. If you self-publish on Amazon, you can price your book as low as 99 cents. If you do the select program, you can run a free promotion for up to 5 days. However, if you do KDP select, your eBook can’t be available anywhere else digitally, like your website or blog. You can also ask Amazon to make your eBooks perma-free by publishing them on sites like Barnes & Noble or Kobo, and making them free. This is an option if you publish through Draft2digital. Amazon may or may not price-match your book to other retailers. If you write a series, Amazon might be more likely to allow you to make the first installment free.

There are a lot of eBook promotion sites that will share free and 99-cent eBooks. And they usually cost less than $100. Maybe even $50.

So, there you have it. While being a writer won’t prevent you from spending a lot of money, you can still use these techniques to pay less.

fiction

Interview with Author, Tara Gilboy

As someone who enjoyed her book, “Unwritten,” I am interviewing the author, Tara Gilboy. See the questions and answers below and enjoy!

What do you find the most enjoyable about writing?

I think for me, brainstorming and coming up with new story ideas is always the best part of writing. I love looking at the world as a potential source of story ideas, and I love doing research on them. Of course, after that, the hard work sets in, as I then have to develop the plot and characters in those ideas. But I am always happiest when I am imagining new worlds and possibilities.

What genres do you like to read in now?

I am a very wide reader: I read in pretty much every genre! Right now, since it’s fall and getting to be Halloween time, I have been reading a lot of scary stories, but I also am a huge fan of historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, nonfiction, you name it. I do tend to read a lot of middle grade and young adult books more so than adult novels, partly because that is what I like to write, and partly because I love the way they focus on good, old-fashioned storytelling.

Who is your favorite character in your book?

It is so hard to pick just one! Gracie, my protagonist, is of course my special favorite, but I loved writing Cassandra because she is just so complicated and evil! And Gertrude Winters and I have a lot in common, so I have a special place for her too. And then Walter, of course…. I love them all!

Who is your favorite fictional character in general?

I think if I had to pick just one, I would say Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. When I was a kid, I was always happiest reading, so I think I am drawn to her because she reminds me of myself when I was younger.

Where do you get your ideas?

I wish I knew the answer to this! Ideas come to me all the time. Sometimes I’ll get an idea from something I read or from people I know. If I am searching for ideas, I will often visit a place like a museum or art gallery, because I always leave feeling inspired. The trouble for me is not finding ideas; it is selecting the right idea, the one I am excited enough about that I am willing to commit to it long-term. I often start stories and then put them aside halfway through because I lose interest in them. But I would say that my number one source for ideas is reading. Reading other books by writers I love always inspires me and makes me want to write. 

What other genres would you ever want to write in?

I have always wanted to write historical fiction, and in fact, I have probably started and stopped nearly a dozen historical fiction projects in the last few years alone. I love to read historical fiction and so have always wanted to write it, but somehow I always find myself either stalling or getting bogged down in the research. I feel confident, though, that I will finish one of these historical projects eventually! I also have an idea for a true crime story that I would like to work on, so I have been doing research on writing true crime narratives lately as well.

What was your favorite book as a child?

It is tough to pick just one! I was obsessed with both Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess

What types of scenes do you enjoy writing most?

My favorite kinds of scenes are ones that make me laugh. Sometimes the scene itself isn’t even funny, but I find myself laughing because I am so taken aback by what a character just said or did. I like writing scenes where the characters surprise me and go in a direction I hadn’t expected when I first sat down to write. Those are usually scenes with a lot of emotional intensity.

What did you struggle most with when writing your book?

I think in my first book, Unwritten, I struggled most with making the “rules” of my magical world clear. The concept I had undertaken, writing of a girl who is a character in a story, ended up being a lot more complex (and potentially confusing to readers) than I had anticipated when I started. I was really lucky to have a great workshop group and critique partners who helped me along the way. I also always really struggle with plot and structure. I find that plotting gets easier, though, once I have my character’s main goal or drive figured out. Until I know what my main character wants, I don’t really have a story.

What character can you relate to most?

I think I relate to Gertrude Winters the most, perhaps because we both share a love of writing. And in Rewritten, Gertrude is struggling with a nasty case of writer’s block, something I can definitely relate to!

Are there unique details you pick up on in fiction, either visual or written?

It depends on what and why I am reading. Reading is my absolute favorite thing in the world, and so I try to just let myself sink into the story. I don’t want to always be looking “behind the scenes” at the way a story is constructed. That said, after I’ve read a book I love once or twice, I will often go back to it and look at what specifically makes it work so well. And when I am struggling with something in my own writing, I often look at books or scenes that are similar to mine to see what strategies the author used to handle various issues that came up. For example, when I needed to write a scene about a fire, I read a lot of different books with fire scenes (for example, the fire scene in Jane Eyre, where Jane puts out a fire in Mr. Rochester’s bedroom) to see how other authors had handled it.

Do you ever notice elements in fiction that others don’t?

I think so, but then again, many of my students and friends notice things in fiction that I don’t too. I tend to look a lot at plot and structure when I am reading, and I have some wonderful friends who are always reminding me of the beauty of language and lyrical prose. I think we all look at slightly different things as readers and writers, and so we always learn from each other.

What is your writing pet peeve?

My biggest writing pet peeve is writers who show off at the expense of the story. It is something I used to struggle with when I first started writing, and I had to train myself not to do it. The plot and characters come first and foremost: writers can’t be afraid to cut paragraphs and scenes, even if they love the language, if they don’t contribute to the overall story. Also for some odd reason I dislike the word “myriad.” I’m not sure why, but it’s always been a pet peeve of mine.

Thank you so much for having me!

cooking

Making the Frosting was a Tough, But Happy Journey

That you see there is a frosting I made from scratch. It looks liked whipped cream, and yes, it does contain heavy cream. However, it is whipped buttercream icing.

The process of this was no easy task. In fact, it took time to get right. I don’t just mean that for the specific one pictured. I also am talking about other moments I made icing, whether it was buttercream, cream cheese, or just whipped cream frosting.

You could tell me to just buy a premade frosting from the grocery store. However, my family doesn’t really like that. Not only do those kinds contain ingredients that don’t exactly please my parents or brothers, but they think I can do a better job. After all, I know what goes in the icings and any food I make from scratch.

In fact, this is one of the cases where less is more. Homemade frosting consists of softened butter, powdered or confectionery sugar, vanilla extract, and milk or cream. Of course, you can also use food coloring to dye the icing or cocoa powder to give it a chocolate flavor. You may use shortening or almost extract, as well. That is, if you are not allergic to nuts, nor is anyone you serve the dessert with the frosting.

But one thing that you should take seriously is the amount of liquid you put in your homemade icing. Otherwise, it won’t mix well and the thickness might not please you. What happened to me when I added lots of heavy cream to my buttercream frosting was that there were chunks in it, even though I used an electric mixer. It also tasted sour. My goal was to make a whipped buttercream icing. And what I discovered is that in order to get the right consistency, adding a little at a time is absolutely necessary. I start off with the butter, sugar, and vanilla, followed by two tablespoons of heavy cream. Then I mix them for a few minutes. If I want more, then I add a little extra. The process repeats until the thickness is where I want it to be.

The message you want to take home is that you should take little steps at a time when making icing, even when following a specific recipe. I wouldn’t recommend pouring a lot of liquid with mixed butter. In fact, the only time you should really pour a large amount of fluid is if you are cooking whipped cream icing, and without butter. You would stabilize the whipped cream with unflavored gelatin. But that’s another topic.

Anyway, I hope this post helps. Also, take your time when making frosting. It could take several minutes for your icing to satisfy your desires.

art

Food is Hard to Draw Formally

That you’re looking at is a steak I drew from observation. But it was not from a real one… a photo of one. I know it doesn’t really resemble a steak. That is when I discovered a surprise: food is hard to draw.

It is so weird, because I can usually draw pretty much anything. And no, not because I’ve been doing art since I was very little. In recent years, I took a lot of still-life drawing and painting, figure drawing (which I received an A in in college, not to brag), and much more.

Up until maybe a few weeks ago, I hardly ever did any art. Not because of the stress I’m experiencing during this stupid pandemic, but because I am discovering that I am more of a writer than an artist. That being said, I do enjoy art. I would just rather keep it as a hobby rather than a career focus.

I don’t know if that’s the reason why food is hard to draw accurately, or at least not in an ameteurish manner. I looked up tutorials on how to sketch food. However, the results I received from Google were not exactly the right kids for people like me. They targeted more beginner or naive “artists.”

I guess my approach will be to draw actual foods in person from observation. But not just any kinds… the simple fruits and vegetables, like apples, oranges, and eggplants. I will save drawing things, like steak, pasta, and other complex dishes, for when I feel ready and I have improved the traditional still-life food items.

Writing

Why I Don’t Title Chapters in My Novels

Contrary to what others have said, novels don’t need chapter titles. Okay, that may sound amateurish and you may be looking at me like I have five heads. But I did a Google search and the answer was that novels do not have have titles for their chapters.

That being said, it’s still a good idea, especially if you’re writing chapter books for younger kids. I write middle grade books, which is for mostly 8 – 11-year-olds. And now here is the answer to why I don’t title my chapters: too much effort.

Coming up with titles for anything, whether it’s a book, chapter, blog post, and so on, can be difficult. I struggled with brainstorming strong titles for my two published novels. Book 1 of my series has had two different titles while book 2 has had 4. Book 1’s original title was “From Frights to Flaws”, and many said it was weak or made no sense. So, after republishing the story as a new edition, I considered changing the title as the sales were still not satisfying. I came up with “The Frights of Fiji”, which received more popularity in a poll than “From Frights to Flaws.” 


Book 2’s original title was “Wizardry Goes Wild.” Like book 1, I republished it, but three times since when I published a second edition of it as “The Uncontrollable Curse”, despite the changes I had made, the reviews were unsatisfying. So, I made major edits to it and then republished it as a third edition titled, “The Unruly Curse.” Once again, sales weren’t good, in spite of the better reviews. That was when I finalized on the current title, “A Curse of Mayhem.”

Basically, I feel it’s too much work to give my book chapters titles. If you’re writing fiction, chapter titles are optional, unless you work with a commercial publisher and they make you title your chapters. However, I think chapter titles are necessary if you are writing non-fiction, whether you submit to a traditional publisher or you choose to self-publish. If you title your chapters, remember to be creative and don’t be afraid to ask for help, even privately.

art

Drawing a Whole Room is Difficult and What You Can Do Instead

Have you ever tried to draw a room? How about a whole one? Did you struggle?

If the answer is yes to the last question or all of them, then fret not. I, too, have had trouble drawing an entire room from all angles, corners, and points-of-view. I’m sure it is possible, but probably very difficult. The Internet doesn’t offer much information about creating an entire room on paper or digitally. And if you’re not an architect, it may even be harder to execute the sketch or image you want.

However, there are other ways to make a room without having to study architectural drawings, unless, of course, you want to be an architect or already are one. Otherwise, check out the ideas below:

1: Model a room with sculpting materials

This can depend on your artistic or 3D modeling skills, both traditionally (without technology) and/or digitally. You can use inexpensive clay to build your room dimensions and designs. If you have the time, talent, and money, you can also try 3D-modeling programs.

2: Draw different angles or points-of-view as separate sketches for the room

This is what I usually do. The drawing above is not what the intention was, though. I had to observe and sketch an image for a college assignment. However, I did try this technique for other drawings that I did in my spare time for fun. I even show a couple of illustrations of a room I did on another post.

With this technique, more thinking and planning may be required. But it should be okay as well as less hectic than the 3D-modeling option.

The two techniques have their own pros and cons. Of course, it’s up to you in the end what you think will work, depending on your situations. It also wouldn’t hurt to try an approach you’ve never done before. Hope this helps.

art

At Last, I Am Back and Even Good at Art Again

After doing hardly any drawing and other forms of art, I have returned to it. While I was worried that my skills have decayed or were going away, it turned out that they remained. That’s right—I drew a picture of a boy from a photo and it came out like this:

This is just a rough, observational sketch I did of the kid. I am working on finishing it at the moment with outlining and coloring it in Photo-shop. I wanted to do it traditionally, though. By that, I mean with pen and markers. But not the generic kinds—the sophisticated types. However, I couldn’t find my fancier markers. It was probably because I am donating a portion of my art supplies.

I’m not giving up on art, though. They just took up too much space in my room. Plus, I kind of like Photo-shop better, even if it can spoil me and cause laziness.

That being said, I still enjoy non-technological media, like pens, markers, paints, and pencils, which is what I used in the drawing above. I still have the fancy pens, but I didn’t think of looking for them.

Anyway, let me get back on topic. My drawing skills remained the way they were last. So did the techniques I used in college courses, such as figure drawing. I started with the interior lines and simple shapes before refining the details. And the image still came out well.

The message I want to send to you is that not every talent you possess will deteriorate if you don’t keep up with it for a while, especially if you’ve been working on it since a young age. I’ve been doing art since my early childhood and have been using it regularly as I grew up.

Now here is the finished image of the drawing: