Archive for November, 2016

Do Your Research

Saturday, November 26th, 2016
Image Credit: https://uwioss.com/2016/01/22/efc-tip-8-do-your-research/

Image Credit: https://uwioss.com/2016/01/22/efc-tip-8-do-your-research/

Whether you’re writing a historical or modern or fantastical or futuristic scifi novel, do your research. If your character listens to the radio in World War II, what exact kind of reports are they listening to? Is there music? Which songs, what genre, what is the character’s opinion of it and does it contrast with the historically recorded attitude? (You don’t necessarily have to pump all this information at once. Or at all. But if you choose to include that detail about the radio, then it’s significant in some way and it does contribute to the character’s definition.) If you’re writing a CIA spy novel, what screening process do people actually have to go through now to enter the CIA? Would your character have to worry about it or not?

Even in completely invented settings, the details matter. You won’t have to do much concrete research, but do consider that while you don’t care about the economical structure of the futuristic dystopia that you’ve invented, or maybe the specifics of swordsmanship are irrelevant to your medieval-esque fantasy, someone will question it. The issue of how your characters make money or whether money is even extant matters. A saber is not an epee is not a foil is not a broadsword, and certain actions simply can’t be done with a broadsword. If you just wing it, your novel will lose credibility.

A common Terry Pratchett Discworld theme to keep in mind: people can accept a large, improbable event in your characters’ lives, but they more readily notice and reject wrong (or missing) details.

On researching while you write: inevitably, you will come up with extra scenes or maybe change a character’s profession to better suit your novel. It’s easy to Wikipedia whatever details you want to add, but of course that usually devolves into lost hours clicking around on Wikipedia. Sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow uses this tip: when you come to a point that needs research, just type “TK” where your facts should be. The combination of the letters “TK” is rare in the English language, so you can do a quick document search at the end of a writing session to find where you need to fact-check.

Sidebar: Excellent places in the city to research:

The National Archives (201 Varick Street)

Houses or has access to all government-related archives in American history. Excellent collection of primary sources, from genealogy to previously passed economic policies. Good for historical American novels or more general research on political intrigues. Call ahead if you want to use an archived material in person.

The New York Public Library (Main Branch on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue)

Holds archives on several different topics in its various branches; art and architecture at the Main Branch; Performing Arts in the Lincoln Center Branch; science and business at 188 Madison Avenue branch. Great for reading in general, but especially good for nailing down the details in your settings. Protip: The Main Branch also has a huge collection of original manuscripts from interviews with common New Yorkers to the papers of writers such as Truman Capote and James Joyce. It’s worth checking out, but if you want to take notes, use the paper and pencil provided. The librarians will not hesitate to throw you out if you write in pen. Or use your own notebook.

Central Park (Central Park)

Work on your tan and eavesdrop on passing conversations. There’s no limit to the topics that people willingly discuss in public, and it’s a great way to pick up and squirrel away some idiosyncrasies of humanity.

American Museum of Natural History (200 Central Park West)

Scads of scientific information, as well as physical reproductions of animals existing and extinct, an exhibit about space, and everything in between. Iron out the scientific justifications for your aliens’ appearances (as H.G. Wells does in War of the Worlds), or visualize your nomadic protagonist trekking across the sweeping savannahs of Africa.

International Travels (Various)

Not writing your novel on Americans? Have a love affair with Western Europe (like T. S. Eliot) or perhaps East Asia (like Pearl S. Buck)? Well, sometimes, it’s nearly impossible to get a feel for your (Earth-bound) setting unless you actually physically visit. The importance of small details in daily life, like tipping in restaurants or physical proximity to country borders or a country’s layout around bodies of water, aren’t prominent until you have to deal with a different system. (Did you know that microwavable burritos are not common in England? If your British character gets the munchies, kebabs or fried chicken are more likely.)

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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4 Things to Consider Before Writing a Novel

Saturday, November 19th, 2016
Image Credit: https://thetermaganttarleisio.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/hand_writing.jpg

Image Credit: https://thetermaganttarleisio.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/hand_writing.jpg

1) Characters

Establish your characters. It can be a quick profile to a two-page-long character history. Understand their backgrounds, how their histories shaped them and put them into your narrative, what their purposes serve. Don’t hesitate to cut one if you find that two characters are serving the same purpose (all the friends in a social circle, for example, can usually be condensed into one or two people, unless they’re specifically set as foils to each other).

2) Setting

Know exactly when and where your story takes place. You might just want to write a generic 19th century Gothic novel, but time and place matter. The dark forests of Italy give a different connotation than the swarthy heaths of England, and neither are quite as exotic (or potentially cliché-ridden) as a crumbling castle in Romania. Grounding your novel in a time and place gives it specificity, which gives the readers a concrete understanding of the world that your characters are in. It may be that the characters are used to dreary heavy clothing or terrifyingly sublime views from cliffs, but the readers are not. Familiarize them.

 3) Plot

You don’t have to know exactly how a conflict will resolve, or how it will arise, when you start writing. Often, the plot changes as you write. But you should have an idea of where the character will be at the end of the novel, so that there is some loose structure and an endgame in sight. Some people story board their entire novels; some people just start with a character in a setting and a first line.

4) Writing What You Know

It’s a general truism that writers only really succeed when they write what they know. Drawing on your life experiences in the plot and characters is inevitable. Actively pay attention to the miniscule details in your life, too. Those will help ground your settings and characters; small disappointments in everyday lives, the way some people pick up pennies on the street but not others, the fresh smell of a farmer’s market or the look and feel of a snow-heavy sky—details like these make the background feel real.

Also be careful of drawing too much from “what you know.” Pulling circumstances from your latest breakup or family tragedy is great for details. Being too emotionally invested in your personal reaction rather than the characters’ can easily devolve into rants and references that only really make sense to you. Leave some time when it comes to something that hurts.

Sidebar: For example, a character profile I wrote while I was feeling uninspired: Evelyn Mercer, the unintentional protagonist. A minor character in the fashionable set of Bright Young People in London, Evelyn works for the Special Operations Executive in Baker Street, passing and copying messages in the main office of the branch. The least political of her friends, she would prefer to pretend that there is actually no war; this is just how life is always. She lives in a flat with two roommates near Baker Street.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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In the Beginning Was An Idea

Saturday, November 12th, 2016
Image Credit: https://www.edx.org/course/how-write-novel-writing-draft-ubcx-cw1-2x-0

Image Credit: https://www.edx.org/course/how-write-novel-writing-draft-ubcx-cw1-2×-0

So you want to write a novel. Awesome. I’m writing a novel, too. Novels are hard to write in college; being in college tends to get in the way. But if you’re determined to finish your masterpiece, this is a general guide to help you along.

So you have a starting point for your novel, whether it’s a character you wish was real, or a conflict you want to explore on paper, or even just a fun bit of dialogue that’s stuck in your head. Excellent. Your novel will grow and sprawl from that seedling idea into a minimum 50,000 word work (about 175 pages, according to the official definition of a novel by the people at National Novel Writing Month).

Well. Wait. Maybe not 50,000 words. That’s an entire year’s worth of papers. That’s two senior theses. The question I’m asking is, are you sure your idea isn’t better off in a short story?

The difference between a short story and a novel isn’t in word count. A novel isn’t just a super-long short story, nor is it just a series of short stories with connected beginnings and endings. There’s an entire shift in mood and mindset. Short story conflicts are immediate; they’re not necessarily enormous, life-altering moments. They close and resolve their themes within a momentary peek into a character’s life. Novel conflicts are built up. There is just enough necessary room for a long exposition and rising action to create central conflict that logically arises from the characters you’ve established. Novel conflicts send ripples through almost all the aspects of a character’s life. Every line leads logically from not just previous lines, but previous chapters, and each line draws comparison between the individual character and our general expectations of average people. You can’t define a person in the moment of a short story. You can define a person in the chronicle of a novel.

Maybe your idea is large enough to sustain a novel. It could be political, or romantic, or fantastic. But in case you’re having trouble fleshing out your idea, it might help to think of your skeleton novel in terms of its larger themes (yes, I am suggesting that you close-read your own novel before you’ve written it). From there, you can imagine specific scenes or monologues that will further shape your novel. A theme is not a moral. You don’t have to have a moral. You do need to have a purpose.

A note about style: It’s your novel. Write it however you want. Read. Read a lot, and steal any stylistic devices you like.

Sidebar: For example, the seedling to my novel actually started as a short story; in short, it was about a woman who falls in love during World War II and the bittersweet knowledge that when the war ends, her relationship must end. It was a single (somewhat substantial but still rather isolated) period of her life. Now that I’m fleshing it out, I want to raise it from a static personal investment to something broader: a young person’s confrontation with life’s disappointment and mortality on the largest human scale, and, politically, whether her love for her country is worth her own selfish emotions.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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How Not to Do Anything: An Expert Guide – How Not to Be Relied On

Saturday, November 5th, 2016
Image Credit: http://www.moores.com.au/news/unreliable-employee

Image Credit: http://www.moores.com.au/news/unreliable-employee

Despite all of your finest efforts to shirk responsibility and lead a duty-free life, if you have any friends or family, you are constantly at risk of having someone try to foist some of their own well-earned obligations on you. Even if you diligently avoid the serious commitment of having a pet or a child, an aunt, neighbor, or friend can swoop in at any moment and ask you to be a good nephew/neighbor/friend and take care of their poodle or their daughter for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. Such a request might appear perfectly reasonable to a “busy” person, since you seem to have so much time on your hands, but who are they to presume that you can act as their butler on a moment’s notice? You had some big, um, plans for this week.

Like most of the advice in this tome, the solution to this problem is rather obvious: if you don’t want to be relied on, simply be as unreliable as possible. Assure (“yeah, sure”) your neighbor that you’ll feed his fish each day that he’s away, but don’t worry too much about the details; fish don’t need to eat every day, and a week’s worth of food can be supplied at one time. If, God forbid, your neighbor’s fish tank were to turn into a noxious wastebowl, or an unlucky fish were to die, then you could rest easy knowing that you’d never again be asked to take care of anything for your neighbor.

At times when you can’t exactly blow off an inherited task, for instance, when you’re expected to watch a child, tardiness can be an excellent way of saying “don’t count on me” without doing anything really heinous or taking out your frustration on the child, who is of course not responsible for his or her own existence. Most parents will go so far as to give up on free babysitting if they can’t be sure that the babysitter (you) will show up even remotely on time. The really essential thing is not (necessarily) to do a terrible job whenever asked to do something for someone else, but to plant a sweet little seed of doubt in the minds of those who may try to foist a task on you. It shouldn’t be too hard to find someone who’s more reliable than you are.

By Aaron Brown


Aaron Brown was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book “How Not To Do Anything: An Expert Guide.” If you like Aaron’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from his e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

 

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