When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.
This tip was brought to mind by one of my readers, Penny. My current WIP is so far from its beginnings that I’d forgotten it started with photos to draw character profiles and Google Earth images to create the setting details. But it did. I remember browsing through internet images of paleoanthropologists, staring in their eyes to see if they were Kali Delamagente or Zeke Rowe (my two main characters). Did they have her fragile spirit or his swash-buckling former SEAL-now-scientist persona? Once I found the right image, I read everything I could find about that sort of person and came up with a character that worked. Then, I pasted the pictures to the walls of my office so every time they were in scene, I’d see them, notice how they moved, remember how their head tilted in thought or their brows furrowed in confusion.
Settings were the same. To make them authentic, I searched out every location on Google Earth, then traveled the streets, the towns, the neighborhoods to get a sense of what my characters would experience. If Kali or Zeke walked from Columbia University to her apartment a couple of blocks away (he lives in an NSA safe house in Englewood), I walked it first to see what bodega they passed, how busy were the streets, what type of people visited local businesses. This way, I could add flavor, emotion to my scenes. A few times, I had to adjust the scene because Google Street View told me it couldn’t have happened the way I’d written. Anyone with a wide audience knows they tell you all your mistakes, so the less that slip through, the better.
So this tip is a big one. Don’t think you can skip visualizing your characters and settings. Take the time to find out about your story’s fundamentals and then let your people and locations drive the story.
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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voicebook reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, an IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.