Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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How to Painlessly Generate Dozens of Blog Ideas

by Lisa Norman

Steampunk Idea Generator

Writers ask me what to blog about all the time.

Recently, I was brainstorming story background (world-building) ideas with a writer. We were having a lot of fun just playing with the story. She stopped and stared at her screen full of ideas. “These are all great blogging ideas!” Her gasp of surprise was delightful.

“Yep.”

“But ... why didn’t I see this before?”

The answer is in that pesky word — blog — and in our subconscious understanding of what that means.

We imagine the movie Julie and Julia playing in our heads. Or maybe we think about a writer rambling on in a self-indulgent manner, and we self-sabotage our creative process.

Here’s the trick: each author’s blog should be as unique as the writer and their story.

Let’s re-define blog for writers

Merriam-Webster says:

Definition of blog

1 computers: a website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer

also: the contents of such a site

2:a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors

//a technology blog

Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “blog,” accessed August 2, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blog.

Blog is short for weblog.

Let’s focus on the second definition:

a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors

Sounds a little like a magazine or newspaper column, right?

Think “Dear Abby” or any other feature article that you’ve loved to read over your lifetime. Yes, cartoons absolutely count. Why? Because cartoons tell a story. Like a serial radio drama, cartoons unveil a story slowly over time. Blogs can do the same thing.

My favorite how-to article for blogging is “10 Tips on Writing the Living Web” by Mark Bernstein. Any quasi-tech article that is still relevant, even though Mark wrote it in 2002, is worth a read!

The #1 qualification for being a stellar blogger is that you need to have skill as a writer. If you are reading WITS, you qualify!

Let’s break it down

Regular

Some people think this means weekly or even twice a week. I’ve seen elaborate schedules for these. Note: they designed most of those schedules for technology authors. Fiction authors and their fans are a unique bunch. There is an advantage to writing something at least once a month, and the more often the better. BUT — if you write something uninteresting, you will destroy any frequency bonus you get.

I define regular to mean “when you have something worth saying.”

Now, for those of you who have just said, “Ah! I’m off the hook! I have nothing interesting to say” — not so!

If you don’t have anything worth saying, why are you writing a book? Hmmm?

Online

Yep, this is where your website comes in. You can also guest post for other folks or for a site like Wattpad or Medium, but you’ll get the most return when you post on your own website.

Online sites are always looking for contributors!

Relates to a Particular Topic

Your book is your topic, or the ideas and inspiration for your book.

Your topic can also be anything that interests you.

Why? Because these are the same thing, if you go way down deep into your subconscious. What interests you finds its way into your writing, therefore ... they connect!

Articles and Personal Commentary

Share bits of story, bits of backstory, funny things that happened to you today. You can even share fun things that happened to your characters!

You can share pictures of your cats with funny anecdotes. Don’t get hung up on staying on topic. Have fun.

One or more authors

You can have people guest blog for you! Interview your friends. They must be interesting people, right? I mean, you think they are worth spending time with, right? Your readers will, too. You can even interview your characters.

An Exercise

Notes for after the exercise:

  • Set aside your list for 24 hours. Add to it whenever an idea comes to mind.
  • When you are ready to write a blog post, pull out that list and pick one treasure off it. Develop and write that article. Cross it off on the list.
  • Every few months, or whenever the list looks thin, do the exercise again.
  • My list is on my phone. When I have an unexpected downtime, I pull it out and draft something up.
  • You can even schedule your blog posts out in advance, so they auto-post on that regular basis.
  • The idea here is to have fun.

Enough chatter — Let’s do this!

Brainstorming time. Give me 10 minutes and you’ll have a list of blog topics to keep you going for at least 6 months, if not a year.

Get out a piece of paper or a blank document in whatever note-taking software you use. I do it in Evernote.

Set a timer for 10 minutes.

One rule: this is not the time to try out new software. If you are comfortable with mind-mapping software, you can absolutely use it during this exercise. But we don’t want any conscious thoughts to interrupt this process. Pen and paper will work fine.

Ready?

I’m going to ask a bunch of questions. If one sparks an idea, write it down. Completely unrelated idea? Write it down.

If you suddenly remember you need to buy milk, write that down off to the side and keep going.

Don’t judge your ideas. Just write them down as fast as your fingers can go.

Here are some seed questions to get you started:

  • What motivates you to write?
  • What is the most delightful aha moment you’ve had as a writer?
  • Do any of your characters have fun bits of backstory?
  • Got any flash fiction lying around that you can share?
  • Have a topic idea for flash fiction?
  • What freaks out your main character?
  • What is the best part of being a writer?
  • What’s the worst part?
  • What gets you up in the morning?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • Think about the motivations for your characters. Any fun stories there?
  • What about your story world? Is there something fun? Beautiful? Shocking?
  • What is the scariest thing in your story world? The most unique?
  • Which is your favorite minor character?
  • Do you have a character that doesn’t have a story yet?
  • Need to flesh out backstory for your main character?

Keep going from here.

DING!

How many ideas did you get?

About Lisa

head shot of smiling Lisa Norman

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.

Interested in learning more from Lisa? See her teaching schedule below.

Classes:

Top Image by Deleyna using MidJourney.

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Important Font Considerations for Writers

by Ellen Buikema

When I worked with my first cover designer, we spent a lot of time discussing the best font/typeface for my book. He wanted to ensure that my font "would be good for my brand."

I was a newbie Indie and had no idea what he meant by brand.

Note: I’m using the terms typeface and font interchangeably. Although font is the weight, size, and width of the typeface, the term font is often used for typeface.

My first book was my only work of nonfiction, so by the time I started a chapter book series I had a better sense of my identity as a writer.

What does well for one genre will not necessarily work for others.

Choosing a font is one of those things we don’t think about right away as we’re pondering plots, story arcs, characters, and settings. After the story is written and edited, then the flood of questions begin.

  • Is the font type important?
  • Should each genre be written using specific fonts?
  • Is there a psychological influence the font may have on your readers that increases the chance of them liking your book?
  • Does the font include an italic version?
  • Is there a fee for the font?

Which Typeface to Use?

There are two main typefaces: serif and sans serif. Serif has short lines stemming from the upper and lower ends of the letters and sans serif does not.

Use one typeface for your body text, and another for your titles – both on the front cover and your chapter titles (if you decide to use them).

It should be noted that having more than two fonts in the book’s interior can distract your reader from the story.

When I’m reading, I prefer a serif typeface. Those little lines seem to help with the flow of the text.

Considerations for the Book's Interior

#1 Rule: Choose an interior font so it’s as easy to read as possible.

Serif

Each font has its own personality. Baskerville, Garamond, and Palatino work well for literary fiction and thrillers. The more rounded Merriweather and Lora fonts lend themselves to genres like romance and fantasy. For non-fiction and academic books, consider Sabon.

Resource: Go to Google Fonts and run a search to see how each font looks.

These font-genre combinations are possibilities. I spoke to several authors in various genres who prefer Times New Roman, another typeface that is easy on the eye.

Serifs help tie individual letters into groups (words), making them easier for the brain to scan. The important thing is that they are easy to read and look good when used for long-form texts.

While stylized fonts can capture the mood of your story, they’re distracting and hard to read when used as lengthy texts. As much as I love some of the “fanciful” fonts, full of curls and swirls, reading lines upon lines could be challenging.

Specialized Fonts for Dyslexia

When asked their thoughts about typefaces, people with dyslexia had mixed ideas for typefaces but agreed they should be sans serif.

  • Open-Dyslexic is a free, open-source font. It can be used on websites and in Microsoft Office.
  • Christian Boer, who has dyslexia, used his background in Graphic Design to design Dyslexi a typeface that prevents the mirroring, turning, swapping, and overcrowding that make reading and writing a challenge. Dyslexi is free for personal use.
  • Comic Sans, designed for comic strips, is the most popular Microsoft font for children. Adults either love it or hate it. Although it’s not considered professional in the publishing or academic worlds, comic sans typefaces meet all dyslexic preferences with the exception of mirrored b and d.

Note: Sans serif is preferable for young children, or anyone just learning to read.

The best typefaces have similar things in common.

  • Even kerning

The right amount of spacing between letters makes a vast difference in readability. Look for a typeface with even kerning otherwise that tedious task will be yours.

  • Consistency

All the letters, numbers and other characters used maintain the same look.

  • Balance

A blend of thick and thin, heavy and light, is essential in a good font.

  • Legibility

Choose a crisp, legible font. An unreadable font is like studying a work of art so busy you can’t figure out what the piece represents.

Resource: Here are 12 easy to read fonts.

Considerations for Book Covers

The cover font should express your book’s character.

The typeface should entice the reader to pick up the book. Since many readers use online sources to find reading material the cover should be easy to read when it's thumbnail-sized. Decisions for purchase are at least in part due to the look of the cover.

Melinda VanLone has some great tips for best use of book covers to get your work to your readers.

Children’s Fiction

Children's books are often enjoyable stories that spark the imagination. The book cover should be visually welcoming. Designers tend to look for something that's either whimsical or relatable.

The best font for children's book covers will depend on the subject with the typeface complementing the visual.

The typeface I used for the Charlie Chameleon books is djb I Love A Ginger. It’s crisp, fun, easy to read, and matches the personality of the book.

Fonts for the Visually Impaired

There are many typefaces, each with several fonts. Often the more creative typeface choices are hard to read or look odd when in large print. The following are free and are helpful for people who have difficulty reading print.

·       APHont

Created by the American Printing House for the Blind, it's easy to read in any font size or weight, with longer tails on the letters Q, G, J, and Y. To download this font for free, users need to certify that it will be used by someone with vision impairment.

·       Arial

Arial is a great typeface for vision impairment because every letter is simple and looks different from the other letters, and looks great in bold.

·       Helvetica

Similar to Arial in appearance, Helvetica does well with light text on a dark background. The heavier font makes it easier for the eyes to focus on the text.

·       Lavanderia

Lavanderia may be the best serif font for someone with low vision, because of its heavy weight and easy to distinguish letters, which is beneficial for someone learning to write with dysgraphia.

Fonts used for dyslexia, like Comic Sans and Dyslexi also work well for people with low vision.

In all my years teaching Special Education I only had one student who was visually impaired.

When it was time for the Third Grade State Standardized Testing, she tested with me in the Resource room using the largest testing booklet I’d ever seen. In order to use it, she had to stand over the desk and fill in the ovals to answer the questions. When she was finished, I was asked to transfer her answers to a standard-sized answer sheet so the computer could read it.

The typeface was the same as everyone else’s, just a very large font.

Fortunately, other tools, like portable scanners are available now.

Other Great Resources

Where do you go to look at fonts and decide what you want? Check out MyFonts the site that will identify any font from an image.

Need to find compatible fonts? See Google Fonts for lots of possibilities.

Unsure if your choice of typeface is too creative? Look here for rules to follow.

What is your preference, serif or sans serif? Do you have a favorite typeface? When you look at a book cover, does the typeface matter to you?

* * * * * *

About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA paranormal fantasy.

Find her at https://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Top Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

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How Many Scenes Does It Take to Tell Your Story?

by Sarah (Sally) Hamer

Of course, the easy answer is: As many as it takes. (Really helpful, right?)

The problem answer is: It depends on many things.

What Is a Scene?

First, let’s define a scene. In most stories, it’s a small section of the main book, which can be anything from super short (under a page) to super long (the entire book – although I don’t recommend it!).

A scene unit usually consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end, and is only part and parcel of a whole book. So, a scene is basically a stand-alone piece that is a part of a much larger total. 

Example: The Hunger Games

Think about the opening of The Hunger Games when Katniss volunteers to take her sister Prim’s place during the reaping ceremony.

The reaping ceremony starts with all of the eligible girls lined up on one side of the plaza, the boys lined up on the other, and the interested spectators gathered around. Effie Trinket steps forward, gives her speech, and reaches into the jar of names, pulling Prim’s name out.

Katniss takes a breath of horror and immediately steps forward, demanding to be the tribute instead of her little sister. The scene concludes with Katniss and Peeta being marched off to be sacrificed to the Capital’s greater good.

Elements of This Scene

The beginning is, of course, where the tension builds as the setup of the drawing takes place. We (the audience) know that something bad is going to happen and know that Katniss is her sister and mother’s only protector.

The middle begins when Prim’s name is called and the shock and horror of what will have to be done dawns on Katniss. It’s not mentioned in the scene itself, since this is at the action level where thinking is not really allowed, but the understanding that a) District Twelve has only had one winner of the Hunger Games in the seven-four years, so the tribute will almost certainly die and, b) Katniss can’t feed her family if she dies in the Games HAS to be going through her head. The audience has seen enough setup in the beginning of the story to know that something terrible is going on.

The end is where she volunteers and is taken away, essentially, to die.

Scene Goal

This scene has a clear goal – to show us that Katniss has courage and is willing to die for her sister. It’s also full of tension, which sets the tone for the whole book. All together, it’s an excellent scene. I don’t know how long it is in the book without digging my copy out, but it’s no more than ten pages and probably less than that. But it fulfills the requirements.

But it’s only a tiny piece of the whole and, although it’s totally necessary to the story, it only tells a little bit of it.

How many scenes are in The Hunger Games? According to http://storyfix.com/the-hunger-games-beat-sheet, there are eighty-five, at least in the book itself. Is that too many? Too few? Or, since they tell the story perfectly, is it just enough?

So, how many scenes need to go into YOUR book?

First, consider the genre.

Different genres, by definition, need different scenes. In a four-hundred-page paranormal adventure, the scenes are normally a little longer than they might be in a 250-page urban adventure. Romance novels vary from 50,000 to 100,000 words (usually 200 to 400 pages), depending on the line. Children’s books are usually shorter, with YA being up for grabs. Which doesn’t help much with number of scenes, does it?

Then, consider the pacing.

One of the things that does seem to matter in scene length and, therefore, in number of scenes, is in the pacing. A fast-paced book with lots of action will probably require shorter scenes, which can create deeper tension. A book with a lot of introspection allows for longer scenes.

For instance, an action-adventure where there is little thinking going on by the protagonist may have four or five short scenes full of action in a row, with a longer scene where the action slows down enough for the characters to discuss what’s going on.

We see that in The Hunger Games when Katniss and Rue are in adjoining trees watching the Careers beneath them. There isn’t a lot of action but Katniss is getting information from the bad guys and the two girls are communicating with Rue suggesting that the Katniss drop the tracker-jackers on their heads. Then, the action starts all over again, and the scenes are shorter for several pages before everything slows down again.

A story with lots of introspection and little action, such as The Shack, uses longer scenes to allow the characters to have long conversations with lots of deep insights. There is action, of course, but nothing like The Hunger Games and so slower, longer, and deeper scenes are necessary to get the story told.

Bottom line: The story needs as many scenes as it needs.

Final Thoughts

My advice is always to quit worrying and write the darned book. From start to finish. Eventually, we have to stop planning and plotting and worrying about it being perfect. We just have to write it.

Then, in the editing that follows -- and I promise that editing will follow! -- you fix the problems and decide just how many scenes you need. By that time, you'll have a really good idea of what the book is about and you'll know what needs to go in it and how the pacing needs to work.

Really, the number of scenes is so arbitrary, it's hard to say until then. But that’s what keeps it interesting!

What do you think is the correct number of scenes? Do you plot out your scenes before you write the book, or do you “write by the seat of your pants” and let it flow? Please tell us about your process down in the comments!

About Sally

Sarah (Sally) Hamer, B.S., MLA, is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick.' She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for over twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at www.margielawson.com. Sally is a freelance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors.

You can find her at hamerse(at)bellsouth(dot)net or www.sallyhamer.blogspot.com

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