What Makes a Story Become Visible

A story is and must be situated within culture. As simplistic and obvious as this statement is, its importance is by far the most significant aspect of comprising a story, and it often is overlooked in modern storytelling. A plot is merely a timeline – a sequence of events that are linked together. Any child who rambles out a story before bedtime can create a plot, some of them fairly detailed and complex. They will ramble on about a fanciful adventure they had, and though some of the plot points might be incongruent, fixing that is simply a matter of learning how to order a timeline. However, what changes a child’s imagined story into a detailed novel is summed up by one word: Culture.

True of any genre, but perhaps most obvious for historical fiction, characters and their happenings (plot) do not exist in a vacuum. They live within time (which denotes a certain level of development and past history), within a society (which stipulates customs, convention, and continuity), within a geographical habitat (which stipulates what resources/activities/adventures the characters have available to them), and more specifically within a place/abode (which exhibits what sorts of habits and tastes the characters have). Take out any one of these elements, and the story becomes incomplete. It is not enough that a reader knows what is happening in a story (most stories that children invent are, after all, easy to follow), but a reader must also know why they are happening – or better put, how they could happen. They should not know the end of the plot from the beginning, but they should know why the plot is happening in the first place. Why should the characters in the story care about the plot (because if that question can’t be answered, the reader won’t know why he should care)? Exploring a story’s culture is the only way to answer the question. The characters care about the plot because of the lives they have lived up to that point, because of the people/society around them, because of their mannerisms and lifestyles, and even because of the architectural styles that comprise the places they visit and see. Duly exploring the culture of ones characters will bring those characters to reality. Plots bring characters to life, but without culture, they will be too fanciful to be relatable. Culture makes them real, that – knowing what they eat, wear, do, say, how they live, what occupations they do, what art and decor adorns their abodes, how they fellowship – the reader can take on the mantle of the plot at the same time that the characters do.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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An Author’s Task

If you truly love words, you are going to write. Oh, there might be those days when you can’t seem to find the right words for your manuscript. They will seem to elude your grasp – floating around the edges of your mind without becoming clear. Those days are what people refer to when they say “writer’s block”. The next day, though – and many times the same day – if you apply your mind to your work as you should, those words will come. You have only to search for them. It is your love of literature that drives you onward. You cannot help but to be creating a story onto paper.

The job of the author is to open up the mind of the reader – to have them see what you see – to have them captivated as your audience by conveying the very love of words you have to them. An experienced author knows that this doesn’t come without practice. It also doesn’t come alone. The editor stands outside of the author’s world of words and observes it objectively. He is someone who sees things about your words and writing that you, as an author, can’t see – and yet he has the same vision of words that you have. However, authors know that, applying themselves to the work, their words come alive. The outcome is inevitable. An author who reads, and reads well, will bring his own words to join the great literary discussion. Perhaps he might find them to be not as good as those authors that have inspired him. Perhaps, even, he is correct – somewhat – in his supposition. But, his words have joined literature all the same. And, in time, there will be some who find his words to inspire their love for literature. Those who partake in the great literary discussion add their piece to the great masterpiece being carved by virtuous authors. They have successfully conveyed to their audience the meaning of their own interest in the words of literature that they love. And, the reader has responded by their captivated attention. The words on the page then become an inspired imagination that cultivates creativity in life.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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Ancient and Distant Lands

One of the great appeals to writing historical fiction is in making ancient and distant lands come alive. There is mystery in that which is ancient and adventure in that which is distant. A sense of wistfulness also envelops distant lands. As the proverbial saying goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill”. We seek that which is far away for our adventures, exploring new places and learning about them. Historical Fiction brings the “greener grass” into our imaginations. It allows us to envision places away from our homeland that still exist today but brings them to life inside of different cultures. We wish to know how our ancestors lived and spoke – how they viewed society within their lifespan. To bring to life that which is ancient kindles the imagination. The more we learn about the past, the greater our imagination grows. Mystery turns into fascination and appreciation of a culture and society as we explore more about a certain time-period. We travel these stories across seas and continents, finding adventure in the unknown or that which is less frequently traveled in our normal life’s routine.

However, the best historical fiction stories are those which mix the mystery and adventure of ancient and distant lands with the daily and normal routine of the characters. Stories must be relatable at some fundamental level. Characters who never eat or sleep are too bland and nonhuman to follow. We wish to know what sort of refreshment our characters take along their journey so that we can find that same refreshment. We need to know what sorts of houses they live in so that when the adventure comes, we know why it is an adventure for them. Ultimately, we need to see how they live their lives within the historical and cultural context of their time so that we can be drawn into an understandable story. The more we understand about the culture of the story’s characters, the more appreciation we have of the story itself.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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The Secret Way to Never Have Writer’s Block

TitlePic2You may be wondering how I concocted a formula for never having this author-wide phenomenon of getting stuck in one’s writing. I wish I could say it was as simple as telling you “y=mx+b”. Or wait . . . maybe it really is that simple.

First, I want to break the problem of writer’s block down. We cannot find a solution to it until the problem is clearly defined. I have determined two reasons why writer’s block exists for a storyteller (someone who writes fiction or even non-fiction stories). If these two reasons would never occur, then writer’s block would never occur, and the life of a writer would be a whole lot easier.

You have writer’s block because. . .

1: You do not know your story well enough.

2. You are not inspired/motivated to write on a certain given day.

Many people want to throw in a third reason by saying they do not have the time to write. This reason can easily be dispelled because writing does not have to take up much time from day to day. There is always some entertainment time that can be given up for the sake of writing, and every true author who truly writes books has come to terms with setting aside time to write. For us authors, if we have time to brush our teeth, then we have time to write.

The problem remains that there are still two reasons why writer’s block occurs. Let’s take a look at the first reason. If you do not know clearly what you want from a certain scene you are composing, then the chances are you will not be able to find the right words to put down on paper. There is a simple reason why this first problem keeps occurring. When you do not know your story well enough, you cannot truly envision it inside your head.

The entire purpose of an author in writing a story is to attempt to implant inside the reader’s mind the same images that the author has inside his own. If you as an author cannot see the images of your story, then it is unlikely for your reader to, either.

There is a simple fix to clearly defining the images that make up the scenes for your story. All you have to do is remember the first spark of motivation that inspired you to write your story. Whatever that spark was can be told in an image. Clearly understand that image. From there, all that needs to be done is to define the images that branch out of the first image. These images become all the scenes of your story. Doing this creates a mind-map of your story. A mind-map can easily be converted into an outline for your story.

Now that you know your story well from the images that compose your story, we still have to solve the second problem of not having inspiration/motivation to write on a given day. There are many cures for this, but I have found one cure to be particularly helpful. It’s called, “Making Writing a Habit”. As said earlier in this post, all of us professional writers have to come to terms with the fact that we write a lot. Writing a lot means writing every single day, six days a week. I confess that I do not follow this strictly in my life. However, under times when I set my teeth to complete a project, I have found this to be the only way to succeed at writing. Writing every day takes the heat off of any particular day you don’t have motivation or inspiration. On that day, you only have to write for ten minutes. More concentration can always be given on another writing day, since you’re writing six days a week.

One thing to add: If you find that you NEVER have motivation/inspiration to write, or if you USUALLY don’t have motivation/inspiration to write, this means one of two things: 1) You need to choose a different story/book topic, 2) you hate writing and therefore should not be an author.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds

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How to Edit Your Story Using Fillers

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When I write a book, there are chapters that end up being shorter than what I need them to be. Usually, I write my first draft on pen and paper and transcribe it into a word processor. Pen and paper eliminates spending a whole day editing a few paragraphs around and not making more progress on your story (that’s something I call Editing Syndrome). It also eliminates the millions (okay, maybe just thousands) of distractions that come with a computer.

When I revise my story, I use a word processor – usually. There are times it is good to use real ink even when revising a story. If you realize that a chapter is too short or that you need to add a scene somewhere, going back to ink and paper is generally the best way to construct your scene.

I did this just today, and it worked!

The only steps you have to do is 1) plan where you are going to insert the new scene and edit the text accordingly for it. 2) Write the scene using pen and paper. 3) Transcribe it into the word processor where you are supposed to insert the text. 4) Read the new version and revise to make everything flow.

It’s really that simple. Try it for yourself.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds

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The Top 10 Reasons Why Every Storyteller Should Write About Nature

  1. Nature is aesthetically pleasing.

It makes your story that much more alive. Rich descriptions of nature as the characters interact with it throughout the plot (whatever plot that is) are always a thrill to read and refreshes the reader.

  1. Nature is imaginable.

We are always interacting with and around nature, even when we do not realize it. When we read nature in a story, we can easily envision what is being described. This paints wonderful pictures in our heads and makes it easy for the author to convey into our minds the same images he/her envisioned.

  1. Nature draws a reader into a story.

Unless we can (as the main character of the story does) feel the texture of the tree, smell the pine needles, feel the rich soft grass and dirt, hear the babbling brook, listen to the birds and insects chirp, watch the setting sun shaft through the limbs of the trees, then we won’t be attracted to the story. When these descriptions are included, we will be drawn in to experience the story ourselves.

  1. Nature defines the scene.

How can you describe what a scene looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like, and tastes like without any nature at all? The only way to describe an environment of a story is by using nature.

  1. Nature is very interactive.

It is easy for us to picture a main character walking his horse down a cobblestone path through the woods in the late afternoon because even though we might not have done so ourselves, we have felt stone before. We have walked through woods before. And, we have seen the late afternoon sun shaft through the limbs of a small forest.

  1. Nature is all around us.

Have you ever tried reading a story in an airport and then out in a park near a garden? Why is it you could visualize the story so much better in the park? Well, there could be thousands of reasons, everything from being nervous about your flight to the shouts and conversations of others in the airport. Yet, as nature draws us into the story, we generally find that we can understand it much better if we are around nature ourselves.

  1. Without nature, stories don’t make sense.

A story without nature is a story of confusion.

  1. Without nature, stories are dull.

If the characters never interact with nature, the story will not be imaginative.

  1. Without nature, stories cannot be visualized.

It’s impossible to truly be able see the paintings of the story without descriptions of nature.

  1. Without nature, your book will have all the negative reviews.

No one likes a story that doesn’t have nature described throughout it.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds

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How to Set Writing Priorities

Making certain to write every day can be a big challenge, yet if you’re not writing every day, then you are not a writer. You are a dabbler – writing on this day, writing on that, but not being consistent. In order to be a writer, you have to write every day. You have to make writing a habit.

As soon as I make writing a habit, I realize that inevitably there are other priorities that begin to raise their heads. How do I make sure I get my blog posts published? What about my YouTube writing videos or my podcasts or emails? Is there any way I can spend x hours doing the lawn work I have to do this week? Etc. Etc. Etc.

I’ve realized the following: There are certain weeks when marketing has a higher priority, and there are certain weeks when writing has a priority. Yet, I still have to be writing every day. There are just some times when the writing will not be as much as usual. Don’t do this randomly. Figure out when you have to make writing a priority. Below are some guidelines.

Make writing a priority when. . .

  1. You are writing a first draft to a story.

Never, never, never drag the first draft of a story out too long. If you have to, table everything else. Make certain you complete the first draft. Then, you’ll be done with the most discouraging part of the writing process.

  1. You are nearing the half-way point with a story revision.

After the first draft of a story is completed, it’s easy to spend some time focusing on other priorities. Then, you begin to revise your story, yet it still doesn’t have first dibs. Make certain that as you progress through the revision process, you are raising the writing priority until it is first on your list. Keep this up until it is complete and ready for publication.

  1. You are behind with the macro-goals of how much writing you wanted done by the end of the year/bi-yearly.

If you realize your long-term goals aren’t being met, then do the following: 1) Make writing more of a habit, 2) Make writing more of a priority, and 3) (if you are already doing the prior steps as much as humanly possibly) Make your goals more realistic.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds

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The Amazing Secrets of Storytelling

Now that I have your attention by my motivating headline, you probably think that I’m either a genius or a quack. The truth is neither. The amazing secrets of storytelling are something that’s common sense; the trouble is that so few people are taught common sense these days. I can give you the secrets in three simple words.

Imagination. Inspiration. Wholesomeness.

Imagination refers to your ability to give your reader through words the same visions and images you have inside your head. Drawing a reader into your story takes imagination – the right descriptions, composition of scenes, environments, and proper portrayals of characters.

Inspiration refers to everything you need to gather in order to have imagination. I call this “reference material”. The truth is that no writer is 100% original, or even 50% original. We acquire our ideas from our interactions with the real world: Places we go to, people we visit, paintings/pictures we observe, other stories we read, stories we are told verbally, smells and tastes, etc.

Wholesomeness refers to the level of simple virtues placed within a story. If your story never talks about food or nature or sleep/rest or water or trees or rocks or characters who appreciate such things, then your story will not be a good one.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds

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Building Morale for Writing

Yes, it’s true. I will finally admit the one secret that no author wants to admit. Is everyone ready? Here we go.

There are some days when even the best of us don’t feel like writing. Perhaps this is because we are working through a difficult point in our book. Perhaps this is because we are intensely working on some other project in our lives. For whatever the reason, a day comes when we sit down to write, and the words don’t come onto the paper.

How do we build morale? How do we regain interest in the point we are at in our writing?

The answer is that we have other gathered material that can help us to springboard our creativity. We know ahead of time that we will get stuck at some points in the tunnel. Therefore, we prepare for it. Writing preparation is essential to writing. Before you write a story, you must gain reference material: Photos, paintings, real places you visit, stories you read, people you talk to. . .You must gain research: Fact checking for whatever subject matter you are writing about (whether fiction or non-fiction). . .You must write an outline that becomes the schematic and road map of your story. You must compile other lists of the elements of your story.

All this is essential to your writing capability. When your morale is down for the story you are writing, all you have to do is turn to the inspired images and imagined scenes you have created for your story. Remember the vision. Remember why you wanted to write the story in the first place. Lastly, remember that that vision will not be entirely clear until your final edit. Be encouraged with where you’re at in the process of creating the story.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds

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Gain Insight in Writing

As in everything, a good writer must learn insight in writing. An author must be able to look at his/her writing and pretty much instinctively be able to know what is wrong with it and how to change it.

Yet, how do authors learn this skill? Are we superhuman? Is there a learning curve?

If you are a new author, then understand this: We have all been where you are at right now. No one can write a perfect first book. What’s more: Not even a professional can write a perfect first draft. However, over time, we learn how to identify our mistakes. We approach writing as a process. Just as an athlete doesn’t do a high dive or a marathon without first warming up his muscles, so also an author doesn’t plunge through a book without warming up his “pen”. We gain inspiration and research. We compile reference material. And, we work through an outline. We recognize that each stage in the writing process is building our final work, yet none of it will be our final vision until the final draft is edited. And even then, we learn to release our work to the public even though we know there is more that could be done with it. Any project can always have more done to it.

Gaining insight is more than just practicing writing. It’s doing something over and over again that we have a love for. Every writer loves to write. Every storyteller (like myself) loves to create a new story and work through all the stages to complete it as we originally envisioned it to be.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds

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