Everyday, I wear at least two hats. The ones that matter here today are that of teacher and author. I’ve been an educator for over 23 years and a writer since 2009, with my first novel published in 2011. This year, for the first time ever, I have been given the opportunity to combine these two lives out loud. At the middle school where I teach, we are piloting a new kind of schedule that allows teachers an additional period to concentrate our focus on a specific topic. I am teaching Creative Writing. I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven!
I’ve never had to keep my writing a secret from my administration, parents, or students, but I’ve never been able to stray from teaching the required essay writing curriculum for any period of time to teach creatively, with the exception of poetry. I lived for those points during the year where I could help students lay bare their souls in poetic form! I have had winners of national, city, and district-wide contests for almost all of the past ten years. But this year, I must admit to loftier goals. I want to see a student of mine submit a short story for publication. I want to create true, blue authors!I feel a bit like Dr. Frankenstein when they come into my classroom each day. Each student comes to me with varying levels of understanding and ability regarding writing in general. I get to shape and mold their minds with writing knowledge, feed them all sorts of strategies and tips, nurture their imaginations, and create writing monsters!Feeling exuberant, I decided to share with you a particular lesson I just taught the other day. We were at the beginning stages of the writing process. Students were told they’d be writing fictional short stories, and everyone picked a genre once we learned all about them. They were ready to start writing, so we cracked open our notebooks. Most thought we would just start writing. But no! That kind of freedom can come once we know about the necessary elements. I am not a hardcore plotter, but I do believe in writing well-constructed notes to frame my writing. This is what I share with you today.I shall begin by assuming you have a genre or a mix of genres in mind. Regardless what length you plan to write, this pre-planning will always work for you. We are now going to focus our attention on developing the setting, characterization, and plot. Sounds pretty elementary, I know, but when I explain you will see why I get reviews that state the readers felt as though they were “right there,” they felt as though they were watching a movie, the characters felt so real, and the situation and conflicts were so plausible, with twists and turns and satisfying endings.I always begin my story by deciding on THE SETTING. I feel lost if I don’t know where I am. So as I settle into my writing, I pause and think about where I’d like the story to happen. Just the right setting can add a depth to the plot you may not have realized. I will use my short story Burning Sage as an example. My editor asked me to write her a story. She gave no other parameters other than length. I thought, okay, I’m going to pick a setting that I’ve never been to before but would love to visit. Instantly, Santorini came to mind. It’s an island off the coast of Greece. It’s exotic, and the cliffs are dotted with white-washed homes that sit in contrast to the bright blues of the sky and Aegean Sea. That’s all I knew about the place since seeing a fictional representation in Mama Mia.Tip #1:Research, research research! Our prior knowledge only goes so far, so in order to create a setting that readers will feel as though they’ve been there themselves, we must research our setting from the most general to the most specific. I find the internet a wonderful tool for this. For Burning Sage, and all my stories, I first look at a map of the place. I look at where it is globally, then focus in locally to seek out the exact locations I want to use. I use the satellite imaging to get a feel for the terrain. Then I start searching sites as though I was going on a vacation there, seeking out things to do, places to stay, and so on. Travel sites are rich with information and images that will help your character describe where they are. You can even contact the writer of the site with questions. I contacted one and asked what it felt like to have the sun shining brightly and the constant breeze blowing, and I got an answer! Finally, I search as though I was moving there. How close are the stores, gas station, banks, or whatever my characters may need? I zoom in on neighborhoods and streets and take note of the building structures or, if I’m in a rural area, the landscape. When researching Santorini, I found out it rests on top of a dormant volcano. Can you say INSTANT PLOT?Next, I need to develop my CHARACTERS. I create biographical sketches that include physical characteristics, personality traits, and background information. The more specific I get, the more three-dimensional the characters become. Physical attributes is self-explanatory. Creating their personality traits takes a bit more time. I use a list to help me figure out what type of personalities I want my characters to have. One site that can help you create personalities for your characters is http://www.gurusoftware.com/GuruNet/Personal/Factors.htm, but there are many!I think it’s important to create a background for my main characters and my villain. They all have full names, families, and histories that include important incidents that helped shape them as individuals and speaks to their motivation in the current story. I also like to include a fatal flaw, or something in their past that comes to light and leads to the Black Moment around the climax. The fatal flaw is a weakness in the character that comes to bite him/her in the butt, so to speak. Finally, I focus on the PLOT. I like to write a blurb for my own purposes of knowing where the story begins, where it’s going, and where I’d like it to finish up. Let me be clear. This is not a synopsis or a plot outline. It’s much looser. My blurb may be one to three paragraphs at most, and I always reserve the right to change course when it makes sense. This actually helps me when I need to write a blurb for the published book. Once all of these elements are typed up in a document I name “TITLE” OUTLINE, then I can go and write my story. I look back at this outline occasionally, but I enjoy writing organically, letting relationships and events develop as I naturally see them occurring. I hope my post has helped those of you who are new to the whole writing process and those who are looking for other ways of approaching your writing. In the end, you need to find a method that works for you. This method has worked for me and has produced books that became best-sellers. Wishing you many best-sellers! Deena Remiel It was the mystique of Arizona’s history and landscape that called to Deena and catapulted her career as an author. When she’s not writing urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels in the wee, small hours of the morning or in the deep, dark of night, Deena teaches language arts to middle school students. She currently lives in Gilbert with her husband and two children, but New Jersey will always tug at her heartstrings. She loves connecting with her fans, so find her at www.deenaremiel.com Camille Dutton, The Book Waitress, learned early in life Satan was not to be trifled with. Escaping his evil clutches as a child, she’s worried he’s come back with a vengeance for her now. She has luck on her side, though. Good and bad. On the upside, she narrowly escaped death and the devil claiming her soul. On the downside, a portal has been opened, and she can feel every time a beast from Hell crosses over to our world. One creature in particular, a rogue ice demon named Synn, has made it his personal mission to protect her as part of his reformation. Her boyfriend, Derek, and his friends don’t trust him for a minute. Tempers flare, and passions ignite unexpectedly while new problems emerge. Can this fledgling team of Evil- slayers rise above adversity, or will Evil tear them apart bit by bit and have its day? First in the Book Waitress Series, the portal between Hell and Earth is torn asunder, and it will take everything Camille Dutton has and then some to close it. Satan won’t go down easy, but nothing worth everything comes without a price. Buy ‘The Book Waitress Series’ at Amazon.