Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Continuing Education: Location, Location, Location

Sense of Direction: Not just for your characters

Kari Donald, A4A Member

Time for more Continuing Education (our series on Continuity editing...get it?) As authors, whether writing speculative fiction, historical fiction, or something in between, you select locations to provide the best settings for your story. Today, we’re looking at why scrutinizing location as part of a continuity check is so important. 

What does location have to do with Continuity?

So why is location so important? It influences the setting and scene descriptions in your story, plus it impacts the plausibility of events. Remember, during our Continuity edit, we look for things that are out of place or could be distracting to the reader. There are many ways your location can cause a Continuity issue, either by itself or when it integrates into one of the other elements of Continuity. Today, we’ll dive deep into the ways that settings and descriptions (that innate sense of direction all writers have...or not) can make or break your story.

How can using an actual place cause a continuity problem?

Using an actual place puts an additional burden on your narrative since accuracy is a must. Some of your readers may be familiar with your chosen locale. For example, an account of someone that drives their car all the way to the Statue of Liberty will immediately surprise any reader who’s actually visited the landmark and knows the only way to get there is by taking a boat.

Not only can mistakes ruin your credibility, but there isn’t much that will distract a reader faster than the wrong name or detail of a known area. It can be as simple as using “Avenue” instead of “Street,” going the wrong way down a one way street, or having the sidewalk on the wrong side of the road. Add in things like transportation with stops, descriptions of buildings with their surroundings, and events with time of day or seasonal references, and the possibility for errors or misrepresentations becomes endless. Taking these details into account can be a daunting task and probably contributes to the misplaced advice “write what you know.”     

In the words of Roger from Rent, “Zoom in on my empty wallet.”

No problem! Can’t stop by the Live Cafe in person? Writers today have the advantage of a number of tools at their disposal. Google Maps is an invaluable resource for researching locations since you can quite literally immerse yourself in your desired setting. Photo spheres  and street view allow you to take a tour at ground level and see buildings, roads, landmarks, and shops, among many other things. Just be sure to check the date for when the picture was taken. If the photo is dated, some things may have changed, like businesses or the surrounding area. You’ll want to make sure Stuart’s Comic Shop is still open before using it into your story. 

Not only that, but the time of day or year may not match the timeline in your story, so elements like lighting, traffic, and foliage may not be the same. The bottom line here (which is a common theme throughout the Continuity edit) is don’t make assumptions about elements or topics outside your area of expertise. A few minutes of research is worth the investment and often saves lots of editing time later.   

I am using my own world, so I don’t have to worry about location.

If only it were that easy. 

One of the advantages of speculative fiction is that you can create your own world. One of the disadvantages of speculative fiction is that you can create your own world. 

If your location is loosely based on our world, then modeling it after a real place is helpful as all of the details have been worked out naturally. You won’t have to worry about accidentally setting up contradictory situations like a polar ice cap next to an arid desert or a citrus tree growing on top of an alpine mountain. It might work in your favorite video game, but those environments are created to keep a gamer engaged rather than a reader. For example, the fifteen square miles that Skyrim would occupy on our planet makes it easy for a gamer to be a world traveler but is hardly representative of a realistic location. 

It is just as important for world builders to take advantage of the internet to research elements that work for your chosen location. UCB has a pretty good introduction on biomes to get you started.

But my world is totally made up!

Awesome! Some of the most popular series are from made up worlds. You don’t have to be a flat earther to appreciate or accept the plausibility that a story can happen on a flat disc carried about the universe on the back of a turtle (thanks Terry Pratchet). 

The authenticity of characters or situations may be more important, as the focus on them allows readers to lose themselves in your story despite any unrealistic worldbuilding. You just need to put some thought into your location and work out a few details for viability and sustainability. You don’t even need to reveal these details in your narrative, just make sure there is nothing about your location that has contradicting elements or prevents readers from using their imaginations to fill in the blanks. You might have a hard sell that your barren wasteland location can support an abundance of livestock or lush vegetation. 

I am trying to avoid a cliché from a superhero movie about power and responsibility, but you get the idea. Just take into account how the location of the story will fit into your world while you are busy creating. 

Check back next time for some more Continuity tips. Up next: Stellar Cartography.  


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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Author Interview: Karen Heenan

Thanks for sitting down with me today! We’re excited for your latest book coming out this weekend.  What inspired you to write A Wider World?

I call A Wider World a not-sequel to Songbird. Despite having apparently begun writing one, I’m not always a fan of series books, because I like to wrap up my main character’s story at the end. My workaround for this is to pick a side character (usually the one who talks loudest to me when I’m trying to go to sleep) and give them their own story.

I was doing just that—drifting off to sleep—when I heard Robin’s voice said, “They said I would not end well,” and I sat right up and thought, “Who said? Did you?” And that was it. 

There was also the minor matter of someone from A4A (Rebecca) saying that she thought Robin would have an interesting story. I didn’t think so at the time, but it came to me later.

Thankfully, I left myself enough crumbs about Robin in Songbird that I had a jumping off point: choirboy for Cardinal Wolsey, Oxford, travels in Italy, returning to work again for Wolsey, looking toward a future with Cromwell.

It’s always interesting the way characters will speak to us when we think we’re done with them. After writing Songbird, was the process any different for A Wider World

I joke that if Songbird was a child, it would be accruing college debt by now, because I worked on it off and on for years. I started writing it just for my own amusement, but somewhere in those years, I decided I wanted to try for publication, and that required a whole different level of dedication, much less editing.

A Wider World was easier in the sense that I knew from the start it would be read by others. I also had some of my characters already developed, since they were holdovers from the first book. I did need to read a fair amount of history, because I knew about the dissolution of the monasteries only in a general sense, and it’s something that Robin is very much involved in, both administratively and emotionally.

The main difference in the writing of these two books was speed. Even with the extra research involved, A Wider World happened pretty quickly. I knew from the first idea that I wanted to tell it in two timelines, Robin’s “present day” arrest and journey toward the Tower, and the tale he tells his captor to distract him and hopefully slow their journey. It was handy because when I hit a wall in one timeline, I worked on the other for a while, and that usually led me right back to where I needed to be. 

That’s really interesting, and a great way to tell a story. Now that you’ve got an (almost) entirely new cast, who is your favorite character?

Other than Robin, who will probably be my favorite character forever, it would be Ned Pickering. Ned’s a well-born second son who works with Cardinal Wolsey, and then with Cromwell. He forcibly befriends Robin and won’t leave him in the peace that he thinks he wants. I think of Ned as a large energetic golden retriever, putting his paws on your shoulders and licking your face. You’re trying to make him stop, but you’re also laughing because his affection and energy are so contagious. 

Ned is a pretty sweet character. Was it more or less difficult researching for this book? 

The research was pretty straightforward; it was mainly getting a handle on a particular occurrence (the dissolution) that I didn’t know as much about. I’m also not religious, so the extremes people went to for one religion over another—when they seemed more or less identical to me, other than the pope—was interesting. Robin takes my point of view, with the addition of a belief in God. He’s got a foot in both camps and mainly sees extremes of belief as the enemy. 

Let’s switch gears a little: What about this time period drew you in?

The Tudor period has fascinated me since I was six, and I kept my mother company while she watched The Six Wives of Henry VIII on Masterpiece Theater. The more I’ve learned about Henry over the years, the less I like him, but the politics and people of the period are so intriguing. 

I can’t say that I blame you—I find that Henry VIII is really just the Real Housewives of the sixteenth century. Finally, what can we expect next from you?

A third not-sequel, apparently. I’ve just finished and submitted Lady, in Waiting, which centers on Margaery Preston, a character introduced toward the end of A Wider World. Her story will take us through the early years of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart’s return to Scotland, in addition to being a story all about marriage (which was the part of the book I hadn’t really expected).

Thanks again for sitting down to talk with me today. Readers, join us this Saturday, April 24th, for the launch party and a chance to win several prizes! 

A Wider World

by Karen Heenan

Memories are all he has…

Now they could save his life.

Returning to England after almost five years in exile, Robin Lewis is arrested and charged with heresy by the dying Queen Mary. As he is escorted to the Tower of London, Robin spins a tale for his captor, revisiting his life under three Tudor monarchs and wondering how he will be judged—not just by the queen, but by the God he stopped serving long ago.

When every moment counts, will his stories last long enough for him to be saved by Mary's heir, the young Queen Elizabeth?

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Continuing Education: A look at Continuity Editing

Not just another blog about editing!

Kari Donald, A4A Member

There’s a reason “edit” is a four-letter word. For some authors, it’s the least exciting part of the writing process, but one of the most important steps for improving your manuscript. Editing is so essential there are numerous blogs providing helpful hints about the different types, such as structural, developmental, line, copy, and of course, proofreading. For this, however, let’s look at one very specific part of editing: the continuity edit. 

What is continuity editing?

Continuity is often grouped in with copy-editing. However, I personally think every work can benefit from an editing pass dedicated to looking only for continuity issues. This edit is one where you’re looking at the details in your story and making sure they make sense in the real world. Filmmakers do something similar where they pay people to sit on set and do nothing but observe scene set-ups, watching for things like putting a glass of wine in a different place during a retake, seating characters in the same chairs after a break, and other similar details. Continuity edits on your manuscript are very similar: you’re checking for misplaced, out of order, or other anachronisms and inconsistencies. 

Why is continuity editing so important?

As with any edit, a continuity edit helps to remove potential sources of distraction and make the story the best it can be. It goes beyond basic writing mechanics and structure. We want the reader to stay immersed in your narrative and not wonder why someone that sat down next to the fireplace is suddenly giving an answer from their position standing next to the window. A continuity check also helps maintain the credibility of your story. Try to tell me your character recently visited Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell in Independence Hall and I will cry “Shenanigans!” The Liberty Bell hasn’t been in Independence Hall since 2003. (Or 1976 if you count the time spent in a pavilion next to Independence Hall; I’m all about accuracy; just ask any author whose book I have edited.) The last thing we want to have happen is your book ending up on the literary equivalent of Cinema Sins.

But I carefully planned my book; there shouldn’t be continuity issues

It doesn’t matter if you are a plotter or a pantser. I have done continuity reads on manuscripts from both styles of writing (and those in between), and there is no difference when it comes to the number or types of errors that I find. In my experience, the biggest influencer on continuity issues is previous edits. The developmental edit can be brutal to even the best-laid plans. Adding, deleting, or changing scenes and events in your story can cause problems like eating supper before breakfast, having Monday follow Wednesday, or watching the sun set twice at the end of the day (and no, your world is not Tatooine). You might think it was just a small change, but it can cause a ripple effect throughout the rest of your book. The bottom line: you need to check your book for continuity issues at least once after you’re done with major edits.

I’ve gone through my book several times and I don’t see any continuity problems.

That’s great! But as the author, you’re very close to your story and you know it inside and out. I’m certain that if you were to rewrite one of Gordon Ramsay’s recipes so that it was missing some ingredients or steps, give it to Gordon, and then tell him to execute the recipe you gave him, he would still make the dish the same way he always has (and not just because he would “bloody well do it the right way”). He’s so familiar with the recipe that his brain just doesn’t notice the missing or different parts of the written recipe. When checking your book for continuity, your brain will do the same thing. Since you know what’s supposed to happen, you can miss holes, incorrect details or conflicting events. Because of this, try to find fresh eyes, someone that hasn’t read your manuscript yet, to do your continuity edit. Your person of choice should be someone that is very logical and detail-oriented. However, that doesn’t mean that you are off the hook for trying to look for them yourself, especially during revisions and edits.

Okay, so what should I look for during a continuity edit?

Glad you asked! There are a plethora of factors to look for when checking a manuscript for continuity. Since it would be impossible to cover them all in a single blog (I tried), we’re going to present a series of blogs dedicated to continuity. Each one will do a deep dive on a particular topic as well as provide hints, tips, and resources to help find and resolve continuity issues. So check back for these in-depth continuity topics, and happy writing!

Join us next week for an interview with A4A author Karen Heenan, and in two weeks for our next continuity blog on location.


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