Posts tagged: non-fiction

Aug 14 2012

Writing Tips: Citing Sources

When you are writing anything – non-fiction or fiction – you may end up doing some research. It’s important to cite your sources in the finished product, though how you do so is dependent upon a few different criteria. The reason you need to do this is so that other people can check that what you wrote is true, and so that you don’t have to worry about charges of plagiarism (copying someone else’s work and saying that it’s yours).

Fiction vs Non-Fiction

When you’re writing fiction, the best way to cite your sources is to list the different resources you accessed during your research at the end of your story. If you primarily did your research through interviews or other interpersonal communication, you may wish to acknowledge those people who participated. Lists of references are not often found at the end of short stories, but they can sometimes be found at the end of novels that focus on a particular issue or disability, in which case the resources are often listed under a heading such as “For More Information on [Topic].”

It is far more important to cite your sources when you are writing non-fiction than when you are writing fiction. In addition, you need to make sure you do so in the correct format, or style.

Citation Styles

There are three different types of citations that you may need to use. All of them require the same information (i.e., author, book or article title, publication if an article, date of publication, publisher, page numbers), but the information is presented in different ways.

In-text citations typically consist of the last name of the author, the year of the publication, and the page number on which the information is found, and the article or book concludes with a bibliography that lists all of the resources referenced in the text of the work, as well as any references that were consulted but not directly quoted or referenced in the text.

Footnotes use a superscript (i.e., smaller font and raised above the line of the rest of the text) reference number and give the publication information and page number at the bottom of the page. Again, the article or book concludes with a bibliography that lists all of the resources referenced in the footnotes, as well as any references that were consulted but not directly quoted or referenced in the text.

End notes are similar to footnotes, but the publication information and page numbers are listed at the end of the article or book chapter instead of at the bottom of the page. There may or may not be a bibliography in this case; if there is, it may only include references that were consulted but not directly quoted or referenced in the text.

Which One to Use?

The best way to approach the question of which citation style to use is to find out which style guide is being used by the publication you wish to submit the finished piece to, or which style guide is most commonly used in the industry for which you are writing.

For example, most scientific papers use end notes; news articles follow the Associated Press Style Guide; many branches of the humanities (e.g., English) use the Chicago Style or the Modern Language Association (MLA) Style; and psychology, social work, and related industries typically use American Psychological Association (APA) Style. Each of these style guides is partial to a different type of citation, so it is important to ensure that you find out which one you should follow. There are web sites that explain the basics, and most libraries will have at least one copy of the most current guide in their collections, so you should not have to spend a lot of money to educate yourself on how to follow the correct style.

Remember: Keep track of your sources. When you’re taking notes, be sure to write down what you are reading and which page the information came from. When you write, keep track of where you use what information.

Jul 31 2012

Personal Projects: What’s going on?

I’ve been pleased with my progress on my personal projects. Over the past two months, I have managed to complete drafts and even bring a few pieces to completion! Here’s the breakdown:

First Draft

Since my last post on this topic, I completed five first drafts. There is Regenesis, an essay about the ebb and flow of interests; Beast, a retelling of the story of Beauty & the Beast; Baptism, a picture book about baptism in the Anglican church; Disability or Difference?, an essay about whether we should call disabilities differences; and Möbius: Dora (series) – Book 1, the first book in a series of picture books about a little girl who has autism (this series fits in with my Young Adult novels and takes place in the same universe).

I’m still working on CAVIES: The Musical, but I’ve finished the songs I originally planned, so now I need to go back over the story and probably rearrange some of the songs and write a couple more. Then I can start working on the music itself. I’m also working on a short story about the green man, for this anthology, and trying to finish up the first draft of a short children’s fantasy called Ballk. Also up for August are a picture book about Lent; a book-length fantasy-type story that I have to plan a bit more; and a short piece of creative non-fiction titled Expo that is styled as an online encyclopaedia of terms one may encounter at a fan convention.

I’m also working on collecting character information for my Möbius series. Things were getting very complicated, and I was starting to get confused about some of the characters. Once I’ve collected the information, I’ll get it organized and then I can look up specific characters when I need to put them into a story.

Second Draft

I’ll be editing three pieces in August: Consideration, a short story about a girl dealing with the aftereffects of abuse; We’ll Write You an Opera You Can’t Refuse, a short story about the musicians’ mob in Halifax and a set of contraband timpani; and This Ability vol. 1, a graphic novel about a group of teens who have various disabilities and super-powers.

Third Draft

I won’t be working on the third draft of anything in August, but I did finish the third draft of I Still Think of You yesterday.

Final Draft

I did manage to finish and submit Education & Qualifications to the anthology on time, so it is just a matter of being patient. The reading period is up at the end of August, so I suppose I could hear sometime in September. I also finished the final draft of Crumbs to a Dog in June, so that is ready if I ever find a market for Bible story retellings. 😉

In August, I’ll be working on the final draft of I Still Think of You.

In the Wings

Assuming all goes well with those first drafts I’ve listed above, I have a few other projects to cycle in as needed:

  1. Kyle the Camel – A picture book that is similar in concept to the song Alice the Camel.
  2. Eucharist: An Anglican Picture Book – Another book in the Advent series.
  3. Karl the Dragon – This will be in verse, I think, and tell the story of a dragon who… well, we’ll see where it goes.
  4. Christmas: An Anglican Picture Book – Yet another book in the Advent series.

The nice thing about these plans is that only some of my personal projects have set-in-stone deadlines. I still try to meet all of my self-imposed deadlines, of course, but since only one of my current projects is for an anthology, everything else is flexible, and I can focus on that if I start to run out of time. I’m finding that I really enjoy writing for anthologies, but I don’t think I could handle more than one at a time. But once this one is finished and sent off, I’ll probably start looking for another one. They get me out of my comfort zone and give me a chance to try my hand at telling different stories from what I usually write.

Jul 10 2012

Writing Tips: Research

No matter what you’re writing, you will probably need to do some research. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. You’re writing non-fiction. In non-fiction, the things you’re writing are supposed to be based on facts. This means that you can’t just write down a bunch of ideas about the topic without checking to see if your ideas have been disproven somehow. Even when you’re writing a personal essay, which is a type of creative non-fiction, you need to have some factual background to support the things you’re saying – even if that factual background is simply your own experience.
  2. What you’re writing may have a larger impact than you think. If you’re writing an article or a report, you need to ensure that the information you’re presenting is accurate. People often make life changes based on articles they read, and businesses make decisions based on the information in the reports written by their employees.
  3. You’re writing fiction about something you don’t have any personal experience with. Always check to make sure that what you’re writing about is accurate. If you have never owned a cat, interview a bunch of cat-owners to get an idea of what cats are really like. If your character wears glasses and you have 20/20 vision, talk to people who wear corrective lenses and learn what it’s like to have to wear glasses or contact lenses all the time. If your character is a weapons expert and the closest you’ve come is taking archery lessons at summer camp, you should probably research the weapons he or she is dealing with.
  4. You’re quoting someone in an article. Make sure you get the quote right. Make sure you understand what the person said. If you misrepresent what was said, or if you misquote the person, you could be in a lot of trouble when that person sees what you’ve written.

I edit a lot of non-fiction, and I often have to ask clarifying questions to make sure I understand what was written. Sometimes I have to ask the author if he or she is certain that the information is really true, because it goes against things I have read or experienced. If you’re working with an editor and you are asked things like that, don’t be offended – it’s the editor’s job to make sure your writing is accurate as well as clear and concise!

I also read a lot of fiction and watch a lot of movies. I find it difficult to stay “in” the story when something is glaringly wrong in the story. For example, in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares, one of the characters talks about her guinea pig living in an aquarium. I own three guinea pigs and am currently fostering two others, and I will happily go on at length about the many reasons why an aquarium is not an appropriate home for a guinea pig. This could have been researched quickly and easily using the Internet and/or asking friends for more information. Instead, I (as a reader) was upset about the guinea pig in the book. So do your research, even if you think you know what you’re talking about.

Remember: Research takes time, but it is an important part of the writing process. Well-done research will result in an accurate presentation of the facts, which will inform your readers and keep them involved in the story.

Jun 12 2012

Writing Tips: Audience

Lots of people will tell you not to bother worrying about your audience; write for yourself, and don’t worry about whether or not other people will like it. Other people will tell you to write for your market, and don’t worry about whether or not you like the story; the important part is that the people who read your work will enjoy it.

The truth, I think, is somewhere in the middle, at least for non-formal writing (e.g., fiction, articles for magazines). When it comes to formal writing, the audience is always the most important part of what you’re working on.

Here’s how I view it: If you don’t like writing, or you don’t like what you’re writing, you need to stop and assess your reasons for writing what you’re writing. Be honest with yourself about it, because passion shows in writing: it’s often very obvious when an author doesn’t like the story or the characters and doesn’t care what happens next. And if the author doesn’t care, why should the reader?

My approach is to write the stories that matter to me, the way I want to write them. That’s the first draft, and it goes for both fiction and non-fiction. Second draft is usually a rewrite, where I work to make it better for myself, add details, remove details, and so on. Then it’s time for other people to read what I’ve written and offer their input. And that is when I begin tailoring my work to my audience. I don’t think it is truly possible to edit a piece for the audience it’s meant for without getting input from other people. Without that input, I’m really just editing for myself, and it’s quite possible that the only people who will enjoy reading it will be people like me.

Now, with formal writing, such as business letters and reports, it is vital that you keep in mind the people who will be reading your writing. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be engaging and interesting, but it does mean that you need to maintain a certain level of distance from your audience. Inside jokes and slang don’t belong in formal writing, and you will (or you should) write a report meant for your supervisor in a different way than you will write one for the CEO of your company.

Remember: Audience has a place in your writing, and you will want to make sure you know who your audience is at some point during the writing process. For creative writing (whether fiction or non-fiction), audience doesn’t matter until the third draft, but it matters right from the start when it comes to formal writing. You can get a lot of mileage if you like what you’re writing, just make sure you think about your audience eventually!

May 29 2012

Personal Projects: What’s going on?

As always, I have many balls in the air. It’s perhaps a rather ambitious schedule I set myself with these, but I’d rather be overly ambitious and have to adjust my expectations than become bored working on just one project at a time!

First Draft

Currently in first draft, I have Regenesis, a personal essay about the ebb and flow of interest and focus; and CAVIES: The Musical, a musical about a bunch of guinea pigs in a rescue. If I finish it, I’ll have to turn it into an animated film script rather than a stage script, because I don’t think all of it will be do-able by people in guinea pig costumes.

Second Draft

I just finished the first edit of I Still Think of You, a film short about a man who may not be “all there”; and Education & Qualifications, a story written as an article about whether or not Mad Scientists should need their doctorates in order to be called doctors. This is the story for A Method to The Madness: A Guide To The Super Evil. The submission deadline is Thursday, so I’m hoping to get my third draft done today!

Third Draft

I’ve completed the third draft of Crumbs to a Dog, a fictionalized version of the story told in Matthew 15.21-28. This is told from the point of view of the mother whose child Jesus heals. When I rewrite Bible stories, I try to find an angle that will illuminate something in the original text that maybe isn’t always obvious to everyone who reads it. I’m not sure how well I accomplish my goal every time, but I enjoy writing these stories and have a few more on my list.

Final Draft

My Anglican picture book about Advent is finished! Well, the text of it is, at least. When I wrote the first draft of this one, it was in verse and it really wasn’t very good at all. Each draft changed things a little more, and finally I went with prose, electing to tell the story of a little girl noticing the differences about the church at Advent. The purpose of these picture books is to impart information to both children and their parents. If I were a better artist, I’d illustrate it myself, but that’s not going to happen. Next is finding a publisher and possibly an illustrator, depending on the publisher.

In the Wings

As I finish each of these pieces, I try to cycle in the next piece on my list. When next I sit down to do some editing, I’ll be working on the third draft of Experience & Qualifications, as I said, and then I’ll finish it and send it off on Thursday afternoon.

Once Experience & Qualifications is finished, I’ll turn to the latest draft of my novel The Power, which is about a young woman who can see demons and angels. It has changed a lot since its first incarnation as two mildly related short stories I wrote in high school, and I love coming back to these characters over and over again. Someday it might actually be finished enough to be ready to send to publishers.

Along near the end of June, I’ll pull out Crumbs to a Dog to look over one more time and make my final changes. I like to let stories rest between edits; fresh eyes make for better choices, in my experience. It’s hard to find markets for retellings of Bible stories, but I write these for my own enjoyment more than for the possibility of publication, so that’s okay – just adding another story to my list of finished pieces will be good enough!

June is Camp NaNoWriMo, and of course I intend to participate. This time around I’ll be working on a novel I’m calling Data Stream. For fun, I’ll be writing it in Excel and then pulling it into a Word document as a mail merge to get my word count each day. There’s a point to the exercise besides allowing me to use Excel in strange and wonderful ways, but I’m going to wait to talk more about this project until it’s finished.

Also in June, I have five children’s picture books in mind (one of them is already started), an essay, and a short story to finish. They are, as follows:

  1. Baptism: An Anglican Picture Book – Another book in the series that Advent belongs to.
  2. Karl the Dragon – This will be in verse, I think, and tell the story of a dragon who… well, we’ll see where it goes.
  3. Lent: An Anglican Picture Book – Another book in the Advent series.
  4. Mobius: Dora (series) – Book 1 – This is the first in a series of picture books about a little girl who has autism. It doesn’t actually have a title yet.
  5. Christmas: An Anglican Picture Book – Yet another book in the Advent series.
  6. Disability or Difference? – This essay will look at how people who are less severely affected by their disabilities can do serious damage to the ability of those with more severe impairments to get the accommodations and respect they require and deserve.
  7. Beast – A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, from the Beast’s perspective.

Of course, I can’t start working on the first draft of Baptism until I’m finished either CAVIES or Regenesis, so we’ll see where that gets me.

May 01 2012

Business: May 2012

Work continues to flow in and out. I finished a large project and have another one starting right away, along with the usual report editing that I do. Personal projects are taking a back seat to the paying work for now, given the urgency of deadlines. This makes me sad, of course, because I wouldn’t have personal projects if I didn’t want to work on them, but my clients deserve as much of my attention as I am able to give them!

I am very pleased to be finished with the large project and I will be posting information about it to the main web site soon. It required me to edit and copyedit, like I normally do, but I also learned both the current Chicago Style and the current American Psychological Association (APA) Style.

Even with all of this work coming through my inbox, I am able to take on new clients this month. If you need editing – be it fiction or non-fiction – or some writing, please fill out the contact form and quote code MAY2012 to get a 10% discount on your project.

Apr 10 2012

Writing Tips: Outlining

I’ll admit it right up front: I’m not big on outlining. When I first started writing fiction, I would have an idea, sit down, and start writing. The stories (assuming I ever finished them) tended to be rather rambling, but the characters were engaging and since I was a good writer things remained interesting.

That was fine when I was ten and writing page-long short stories, but as I’ve gotten older and moved into writing other types of fiction as well as various types of non-fiction, I’ve come to realize just how important outlines are.

The biggest thing to remember about an outline is that it doesn’t have to be this extremely detailed map of what your piece will look like. It doesn’t have to be something you’re going to stick to perfectly, but it will absolutely help guide you through the maze of writing a coherent story, article, or report.

I was recently reminded of the importance of having an outline as I was working on a short story I will be submitting to an anthology. (It’s this one. Check it out and see if you’re interested in submitting!)

I started with an idea and jumped in feet first. After the first handwritten page (only half a typed page), I stalled a bit. I somehow managed to eke out a bit more and it’s just over a page long, typed.

But I’m stalled again, and I’ve realized that it’s because I didn’t write any kind of an outline before I started. The piece is fiction, but written in the style of a feature article for a magazine, which means I need at least 2000 words before it’s done. Even though I get to make up my “facts” and the experts I’m quoting, I need to have structure and a plan before I can really put it all together properly.

So, when next I settle in to work on this story, I’ll be writing an outline before I get more words on the page. I’ll probably keep what I already wrote, but I’ll be moving it to different places in the article.

When writing fiction, I like to have a really open outline. It’s more like a road trip with friends than a business trip. I’ll have a starting point and a destination, and a few places to stop along the way (i.e., plot points), but aside from that I’m free to play with the characters and the story as much as I please. Of course, outlines for reports and articles are more like a business trip, with planned stops and no detours allowed.

Remember: Writing by the seat of your pants is great fun, but when you’re trying to get a coherent idea across to an audience, or when you have a specific ending in mind, it’s best to put together an outline – even if it’s really loose and open.

Mar 13 2012

Writing Tips: Appropriate language

Different types of writing require different approaches. This includes using appropriate language for the type of writing we are doing.

I’m going to talk about three different types of language that you need to be careful of.

Colloquialisms do not belong in formal reports unless they are being used as direct quotes from people who were interviewed as part of the research process. In fact, if it’s at all possible to eliminate the direct quotations, do so. What is a colloquialism, you may ask? It’s a casual, often regional, saying, that is shorthand for something else. So, for example, we might say “‘most all” when we mean “almost all,” but the correct choice for a formal report would be “most” – since that’s what “almost all” is!

Person-First Language is not an evil thing, and you should try to use it when you can. However, try to do some research before you use a person-first phrase. For example, did you know that many autistic people dislike being called “people with autism”? If you are a proponent of person-first language and do not want to use a phrase like “autistic people,” remember that the word “autistic” is merely an adjective, like “tall,” “thin,” and “strong.” In addition, it is more respectful to use the preferred term than it is to insist on using a phrase that many people object to. In the specific case mentioned here, of course, a lot of parents prefer the person-first version, and so it is acceptable to alternate between the two terms, as long as the sentence still works grammatically.

Passive Voice is a given in formal reports and most business writing, because we are generally writing in the third person and not always about people. While passive voice is generally best avoided whenever possible, it is a necessary evil in these two forms. However, this doesn’t mean that you can ignore good sentence structure, verb tense, and other grammatical niceties! What is passive voice? It’s a style of writing that turns the object of the sentence into the subject. For example, a good active sentence might be “He drew a circle on the paper.” Written in passive voice, this sentence becomes “The circle on the paper was drawn by him.” I’m sure you can see how passive voice is often awkward and difficult to understand!

Remember: Formal documents require formal language, so writing the way you speak is probably a poor choice. Person-first language is a great idea, as long as you research and make sure that the people you are writing about prefer person-first language. If there is debate within the community on the subject (e.g., between parents and individuals), it is fine to interchange person-first language with more descriptive language. Try to avoid the passive voice whenever possible, but keep in mind the fact that it is often a necessity in formal documents like reports and other business writing. We may not like it, but we have to do it anyway!

Jun 14 2011

Writing Tips: Using a template

Sometimes, when we are asked to write a report, we are given examples to work from or a template to use. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to follow through on using the tools we are given.

In the case of working from examples, it is important to use the examples to get the structure and flow of the report. Try not to copy paragraphs or sentences directly from the examples; you need to use your own words as much as possible. If the examples open with an introduction, are three paragraphs long, include two graphs, and then have a conclusion, then your report needs to have an introduction, three paragraphs, and a conclusion, and include two graphs. It’s not always possible to follow the examples to the letter, but do your best; you were given the examples for a reason, after all!

Templates are a little different. Regardless of whether the template is an actual Word document called a template or just a file with blanks you need to fill in, the purpose is the same: the template provides all of the structure and a lot of the words you need. For the most part, you just have to fill in the blanks and change a few details here and there. Just make sure you don’t change anything that you aren’t supposed to change, and do your best to make sure you use the right version of the template. Often an organization will update forms and report templates, and if you keep copies of these documents on your personal hard drive instead of accessing them from a network drive, you will need to ask about new versions.

Remember: Even if most of the report is pre-written (like with many templates), it’s your responsibility to ensure that what you write follows the writing guidelines (or style guide) laid out by your company. And if there isn’t such a document available, suggest they develop one – it will be useful for all employees who have to write reports, after all!

Apr 03 2010

About reading.

I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader. When I was in grade school, I read constantly. I devoured novels as though my life depended on it. And my writing has been greatly influenced by what I read back then.

When I went to university, I stopped reading fiction as much and started reading non-fiction: text books, to be sure, but also books to research my papers and other books that I discovered through my research. My writing has also been influenced by this reading.

After university, there was the Internet. Reading blogs, reading articles online, doing research online, reading web comics… there is a wealth of words out there, and if you sift through the chaff you can find amazing nourishment for your mind.

It has been difficult to get back into reading fiction. I probably will never again read as voraciously as I once did, but it’s definitely not something I will ever give up completely, just as there have been certain authors who have consistently retained me as a reader through the years.

Four Authors I Read Regularly

Orson Scott Card (Science Fiction, Fantasy)
Lurlene McDaniel (Young Adult Inspirational)
Charles De Lint (Fantasy)
Robin McKinley (Fantasy)

Four Books I Recommend

Concerning the Spiritual in Art, by Wassily Kandinsky (Non-Fiction; an insightful look at the nature of art)
On Writing, by Stephen King (Non-Fiction; a by turns funny and serious book about the craft)
Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, by Matt Ruff (Futuristic Fiction; a very humourous novel that is well-written and has some amazing characters, as well as a great plot)
Lottery, by Patricia Wood (Fiction; a novel from the point-of-view of a man with an intellectual disability that has well-developed characters, an entertaining plot, and is incredibly believable across the board)

I read other authors, of course, but those are the four I look for most often in the bookstore. I own over 20 of Lurlene McDaniels’ books. And I would recommend other books, but these four, I think, offer an excellent assortment of theory, practice, and example.

Oh, by the way, if you go to the Artful Words web site, the April newsletter came out yesterday. Go check it out!

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