Thursday, July 28, 2016

Creating Your Character: Astrological Signs

Sandy Tritt

Sometimes, especially when initially creating a character, it’s difficult to get a good feel for the person this character represents. Sometimes, if you just toss the character into the plot and start writing, the character will begin asserting himself. Other times, not so much. If a character remains flat, it may be time to cheat. One of my favorite ways to add layers of dimension to a character (and to help me understand my character better) is to use a book of the Zodiac that includes both sun and moon signs. I decide which astrological sign best fits my character, then I research that sign to add some dimension.

The sidebar contains the supposed characteristics of people born between certain dates. Notice that only the three or four adjectives that are strongest for the sign are listed. Within a book of the Zodiac, you will find many more characteristics, including a breakdown of how this sign behaves in romance, in the office, and at play.

Using the range of dates listed for the selected sign, I then use a “birthday” book that lists characteristics and traits by birthday, and page through the selected astrological dates until I find the personality that truly fits this character. This often creates an “aha!” moment and is quite fun to do. The birthday books give enough of a character profile that we can feel like we truly know this character. It’s amazing how quickly a flat character can come to life.

Zodiac and birthday characteristic books can often be found in the bargain bin of your favorite book retailer. The “accuracy” of such books is not important—they are simply a tool that can be used to add depth to a character.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Scenes: What They Are and What They Need

Sandy Tritt

I'm not sure about the rest of you, but ever since I started writing, I threw around words like "scene" and "scene break" with the understanding that these terms identified essential elements of story writing. But for years I lacked the fundamental understanding of what a scene actually was. So for everyone out there who was like me, here's a breakdown of what a scene is and what it needs.

(The following is adapted from the newest IFW tips and techniques workbook, The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer's Workbook, available soon.)

                                                                                           ~Jessica Nelson

Plot is accomplished through a series of scenes. A scene is the dramatization of one snapshot in time—what happens at one specific place and time. Of course, the action may unwind over a period of several minutes or longer, but once the action is transferred to a different setting or to a different character, that scene ends and another scene begins. However, we do not require a scene break if the viewpoint character himself is moving, say walking down the street from one house to another, or if the omniscient point of view is used.

Every scene in a novel must further the plot or develop a character (preferably both at the same time); otherwise, it’s an extraneous scene and should be cut. Every scene should also have a feeling of completeness about it. This is accomplished by ending the scene with an action, thought, or dialogue by the viewpoint character, hopefully resolving or reviewing whatever “mini-crisis” the scene presented.

(Tip: Make a scene feel complete by ending it with the focus on the viewpoint character.)

When a new scene begins, you, the writer, have a huge new responsibility. Have you ever thought about what happens to an unsuspecting reader when a scene changes? He’s been comfortable, hanging around and experiencing your story, aware of where he is, when he is, and through whose eyes he’s seeing/hearing/feeling things, when all of a sudden one scene ends and another begins. Your poor reader is snatched out of his comfort zone, zoomed through time and space, and is plunged into a new scene. God—er, um, you—only knows where he is now. He may crash into the same physical space he’s just vacated—or he may end up across the globe or even in a new galaxy. Five seconds may have passed—or ten days or a dozen centuries. Even more jolting, he could now be seeing and hearing and smelling through a different character.

It’s an extremely unsettling experience. That is, unless you, the creator of this world the reader is visiting, are experienced enough and thoughtful enough to guide him through the trauma. Oh, my! Did you even know you had this humongous responsibility? Well, you do.
Within the first few sentences of a new scene, your reader needs to know several things, including: 
  • Whose eyes he’s now seeing things through. (If you employ a single viewpoint character throughout the manuscript, this is not necessary.)
  • Which characters are present in the scene.
  • How much time has passed since the last scene ended.
  • Where he is in general—such as the city, state, country. If this general location has not been visited previously, we may need more information, such as if it’s rural, big city, etc. 
  • Location, specific: if inside, where we are, such as in a living room or inside a diner. If outside, if we’re in a vehicle, hiking, etc.
  • Time period: the decade we’re in. (If this does not change throughout the manuscript, you do not need to re-establish this.) 
  • Time of year: spring, summer, fall, winter—or actual month.
  • General time of day: morning, afternoon, evening, night.
  • Weather, if it affects the story in any way (and it usually does).
Additionally, the reader may need to know the date or the day of week, as well as any historically relevant happenings on that day. For example, if this scene occurs on September 11, 2001, and no mention is made of the collapse of the twin towers, your reader is going to question your integrity. We call providing this information grounding your reader, as it allows your reader to simply relax and become a part of the story instead of floating around in space, desperately trying to figure out where and when he is and through whose eyes he’s seeing.
(Tip: Research does more than add authenticity—it often opens the door to subplots and additional scenes.)
If it were not for the First Commandment of Writing—Thou Must Show, Not Tell—we’d just open each scene with a recitation of all the necessary facts. But, instead, we must be artistic about it. We must not just give all the information, but we must sprinkle it around and create amazing prose with conflict and suspense while doing so. The goal is to create a picture the reader can imagine in his mind. He must be able to envision where the action is happening, who is present, and what is going on. This balancing act of feeding information to your reader while maintaining interest is not easy. But it must be done.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Copyright--or Wrong?

Sandy Tritt

A copyright gives a writer “ownership” of a literary work. This means the copyright owner has the right to make copies, sell copies, and distribute copies of the work, as well as the right to license others to do these things. It also gives the copyright owner legal recourse should someone else make copies, sell copies, or distribute copies—in all or in part—of the copyrighted material. Once granted, a copyright protects the work for 50 years after the death of the copyright holder.

Now, for the good news: regardless of whether the work has been registered with the US Copyright Office, the writer of a work automatically owns the copyright. The only exception to this is if the work is completed under “works for hire” provisions, which means someone else commissioned the writer to do the work. An example of this exception would be work created under a ghostwriting contract (unless the contract states otherwise, of course).

However, should your copyright ever come into question, either because an unauthorized person has copied your work or because someone claims to have created the work first, it will be up to you to prove you are the author of this work. There are various ways you can offer this proof, such as by keeping various work-in-process versions of the work, by sending your work to a trusted friend via email, or by mailing a copy of the work to yourself (have the postal clerk hand-stamp the postmark, make sure the date appears clearly, and have the clerk seal the package—and then don’t open the package). Even though you may be able to prove your ownership, you still won’t have the public record of a copyright claim, nor can you file an infringement lawsuit until your work is officially registered. 

So, if you plan to publish your work and offer it publicly, you should register your work with the US Copyright Office.

When should you file for a copyright? You should not file for a copyright until your work is fully complete, edited, proofed, and ready to be published. Second, you should not file for a copyright if you plan to publish traditionally or, in some cases, with a full-service self-publisher. In these cases, your publisher will very likely make changes to your work to follow in-house style guides, and once your work is ready to go to print, your publisher will file your copyright for you. There is no need to copyright your work before it is published—and doing so may create a great deal of added work and expense.

Even if you have not yet filed for your copyright—or, if you have filed and have not yet received confirmation (it takes 8 to 13 months for the US Copyright Office to process your request for copyright), you may still use the copyright symbol and a copyright notice on your work. This notice is not required for your work to be covered by copyright, but including a notice of copyright could be beneficial, since it gives a reminder that your work is under copyright protection, it identifies to whom the copyright belongs to, and it gives the year the work was first published.

The copyright notice should be placed on the back of your title page. (You should not add a watermark to every page screaming “COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL.” This serves only to identify you as an amateur.)  The copyright symbol ( © ) can be created in Microsoft Word by typing a left parenthesis, the letter “C,” and a right parenthesis, with no spaces. MS Word will convert this automatically to the copyright symbol. Alternately, you can spell out the word “copyright.” The copyright symbol or word should be followed by the year the manuscript was first published (or requested to be published) and the owner of the copyright (your name or company). It should also include the statement “All rights reserved.” Here’s an example of how this should look: “© 2002 Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved.”

Other statements may follow the copyright notice. There are several formats that can be used, so you may want to examine the title page of several books and novels to see the type of material that may be included here. Here is a simple example:

                  Copyright © 2016 by Your Name. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

                  This Is My Book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


You may register your copyright either online or by snail mail. The application to register a copyright includes three requirements: completing the application form, paying a filing fee (currently $35), and submitting a non-returnable copy (or two, if you submit by snail mail) of your work. As of this printing, the wait time for an online application is 8 months, and the wait time for a snail-mailed application is 13 months, so it is more expedient to apply online.

To file online, go to the Copyright Office website at Be sure to read the tutorial on how to apply, and be aware that you’ll need to file Form TX. When you apply online, you can upload the final, proofed copy of your manuscript as it will appear when published. Also, be aware that a $35 fee (as of this printing) is required when you submit the request.

If you prefer to register by snail mail, you must first get an application from the Copyright Office website ( or by calling the Forms and Publications Hotline at 202-707-9100 (You will want Form TX). Once you’ve completely filled out the application, you can send it with a $35 filing fee and two copies of your book to:

                Library of Congress
                Copyright Office
                101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
                Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

You will not receive your material back from the Copyright Office.

One final word of warning: there are many scams associated with filing a copyright, so, as in all things, tread carefully. There are many companies who are willing to file your copyright for you—for a small fee. There is no reason to do this, as you will still need to fill out the forms, pay the copyright fee, and submit a copy of your book. It saves you no time and only costs you more money. There are also companies who claim they can “bypass” the wait or have special ways to deal with the bureaucracy. RUN! There is no way to speed up the process. Some scams claim they have an “alternate” copyright that is easier and faster. THERE IS NO SUCH THING. And, finally, some companies will access the Library of Congress listings and send you an email or letter stating that they have seen your work and want to publish your work. This is another scam by so-called “subsidy” publishers to separate you from your money.

So be careful out there. Learn to copyright—not wrong.