The Role of Accents

The Role of AccentsIn my book, The Heir to the Unexpected, I needed to keep the story easy to follow while staying true to the southern accent. As my wife still needs translation of Southern to Northern American English when we visit my real family down there, this isn’t always such an easy balance! One of the challenges to complicate this is how to capture a Southern accent at different educational levels- this goes well beyond the use of “ya’ll” and “ain’t”. Check out the IDEA (International Dialects of English Archive) : it’s was started by Professor Paul Meier as a resource for actors to hear real-life examples of specific English accents and dialects.

For example, I have a supporting character who didn’t finish high school and I therefore wanted her to speak in broken Southern American-English. As I began exploring character interactions, it became apparent that not only did I need to think about her accent, but I also had to rethink how I crafted those conversations based on her educational level. For example, if I wanted a character to make a statement like:
“Your mother’s turnip greens don’t taste as good as my mother’s because she doesn’t use enough ham bone fat to cook them.”

I need to adjust both the sentence structure as well as the specific language and pronunciation to read appropriately. This translates into something like:
“Ya mama’s greens ain’t as good as minz ‘cause they don’t glow enough.”

Imagine an entire chapter written with this type of accent/grammar style. I would be pushing the patience of you, the reader, to a point that you would likely quickly quit. So, to better align the accent, education level and conversation to one that the reader could more easily follow and enjoy, I decided to tackle it from this angle:
“You mama’s turnip greens don’t taste as good mine. They too healthy and fatless…”

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Music to write to:
soundtracks that chill out

“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.”
-Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

09_28_2013As a part of my creative process, I find an organized iTunes playlist as valuable as a comfortable chair. To give you a peek, I’ve listed my “music to write to”– Enjoy!

# Song Artist Album
1) Time Hans Zimmer Inception (Music from the Motion Picture)
2) Astor’s Birthday Party Daniel Licht Dexter (Soundtrack from the TV Series)
3) My Number is 47 Geoff Zanelli Hitman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
4) That New Car Smell Michael Giacchino Star Trek (Music from the Motion Picture)
5) Earth Jesper Kyd Assassin’s Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack)
6) Su-Chou Prison – Original Motion Picture Harry Gregson-Williams Spy Game (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
7) Prologue Alexandre Desplat Birth (Original Score)
8) Capa’s Last Transmission Home Underworld Sunshine (Music from the Motion Picture)
9) Vide Cor Meum –
Patrick Cassidy
Hans Zimmer Hannibal
10) The Prestige David Julyan The Prestige (Original Score)
11) Chevaliers de Sangreal Hans Zimmer The Da Vinci Code (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
12) Adaptation (Fat Boy Slim Remix) Carter Burwell Adaption (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
13) Birth Watlz Alexandre Desplat Birth (Original Score)
14) May It Be and Themes from Lord of the Rings Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
15) Music for a Found Harmonium Penguin Café Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
16) The Son of Flynn Daft Punk TRON: Legacy
17) 503 Joshua Bell Angels & Demons (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
18) Vespertilio Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture)
19) The Madam Jesper Kyd Assassin’s Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack)
20) Music from the Right Stuff Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
21) The Kiss Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman Last of the Mohicans
22) Recognizer Daft Punk TRON: Legacy
23) On the Similarity of Human and Orchid Forms (Instrumental) Carter Burwell Adaption (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
24) Epilogue / Bloodroom Daniel Licht Dexter (Soundtrack from the TV Series)
25) The Chase Philip Glass The Illusionist (Music from film)
26) Main Titles (From “Blade Runner”) Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture)
27) Long, Long Time Ago Javier Navarrete Pan’s Labyrinth (Original Soundtrack)
28) Perpetuum Mobile Penguin Café Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
29) Veridis Quo Daft Punk Discovery
30) A Kaleidoscope Of Mathematics James Horner Beautiful Mind Soundtrack, A
31) Scrooged – Main Titles / Show Time At Ibc / Elliot Gives Blood / Danny Elfman Music for a Darkened Theatre – Film and Television Music, Vol. 1
32) Main Title from Shakespeare In Love Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
33) The Illusionist Philip Glass The Illusionist (Music from the Film)
34) Lasiurus Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture)
35) Love Theme (From “Blade Runner”) Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
36) Discombobulate Hans Zimmer Sherlock Holmes (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
37) The Orgy Basil Poledouris Conan the Barbarian (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
38) A Small Measure of Peace Hans Zimmer The Last Samurai
39) Batman Theme from Batman Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
40) End Titles- Tron London Philharmonic Orchestra & Wendy Carlos Tron (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
41) Classical Gas Mason Williams Rhino Hi-Five: Mason Williams – EP
42) Adaptation Versus Immutability Carter Burwell Adaptation (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
43) Adagio for Strings Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic Barber’s Adagio and Romantic Favorites for Strings
44) Modigliani Guy Farley Modigliani: Music from the Original Picture
45) Spotkanie Z Matka Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
46) Operation Dinner Out-  Original Motion Picture Harry Gregson-Williams Spy Game (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
47) Rosasolis Penguin Cafe Orchestra Preludes Airs & Yodels
48) The Last Man Clint Mansell The Fountain (Music from the Motion Picture)
49) No Expectation Boulevard Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
50) Elysium Klaus Badelt & Lisa Gerrard Gladiator
51) The Floating Bed Elliot Goldenthal Frida
52) Ave Maria Geoff Zanelli Hitman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
53) Main Title from the Last of the Mohicans Cincinnati Pops Orchestra & Erich Kunzel The Ultimate Movie Music Collection
54) Blade Runner Blues Vangelis Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition]
55) Rescue Mission Tyler Bates Watchmen (Original Motion Picture Score)
56) Burning Bed Elliot Goldenthal Frida
57) LV-426 James Horner Aliens (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [The Deluxe Edition]
58) Beetlejuice: Main Titles / End Titles Danny Elfman Music for a Darkened Theatre – Film and Television Music, Vol. 1
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Using Pinterest for Personas

Using Pinterest for PersonasFrom an author’s perspective, I need to get to know my characters before I start writing about them. To do this, I start by identifying the small things that make up their personalities and backgrounds. Having spent time in the creative industry, I like to do this visually. By using personas, I can shape their image and individualism more realistically with Pinterest boards.

Personas on Pinterest– Jon

For my main character, Jon, I needed to know things like what kind of sound do his shoes make? How would he react to specific types of smells? How does he take his coffee? You get the idea. Here is a Pinterest board for Jon that helped me think about these things:

Jon on Pinterest

Personas on Pinterest– Liz

For Liz, what kind of music does she play when she runs? What does the scarf around her neck feel like? What would she wear on the weekends?Liz on Pinterest

In persona development, I’ve found Pinterest valuable in the creation of moodboards. Simple objects become reference points in the story and make the characters more real to me. I like calling these little details the ‘subtleties of life’; I think they make my characters more grounded and relatable to the reader.



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Starting a Plot Outline

Starting a Plot OutlineTo write about the plot outline process,  I had to carefully balance not giving away every plot-line element in my current book while explaining how I landed on it’s structure. So, in order to shape a dialogue around this topic, I decided to dissect an existing story and re-tell it from a different character’s perspective. This technique has been used on many well known books and movies– it’s called the Rashomon Effect.

For my example, I’m going to take the story The Elephant’s Child from Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling and create an outline of the existing story with the Freytag pyramid. After which, I’ll use the Rashomon Effect to create an alternate storyline in a parallel Freytag Pyramid.

The Elephant’s Child–Original Plot

The Elephant’s Child, a child with ” ‘satiable” curiosity who lives in Africa is constantly getting in trouble with his family for asking too many questions.

Rising Action:
The Elephant’s Child keeps getting spanked by his relatives for his curiosity over what crocodiles eat. Out of desperation to know the answer, he leaves the safety of his family to pursue the truth.

Naively, the Elephant’s Child asks the Crocodile what crocodiles eat, not realizing he is talking to a crocodile. The Crocodile answers by chomping down on and tugging the Elephant’s Child’s nose.

Falling Action:
The Elephant’s Child’s nose begins to stretch and stretch as the Crocodile pulls. With the help of a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake though, the Elephant’s Child is able resist the crocodile until he gives up and lets go.

After waiting 3 days for his nose to shrink back, the Elephant’s Child unconsciously swats at a fly on his back that would have been previously out of reach. Then, he reaches down with his new elongated nose, pulls a large bundle of grass from the earth, and stuffs it in his mouth. Not even thinking, he then scoops up some mud and slaps it on his head to cool himself off. With these new found nose-abilities, the Elephant’s Child goes home to spank his family with his new trunk.

The Elephant’s Child–Alternate Plot

The Wise Crocodile who lives in Africa is frustrated over the younger generation of animals scaring food away.

Rising Action:
At the river bank one day, the Wise Crocodile gets inpatient when a group of young crocodiles refuse to hunt in the traditional ways. Out of frustration, he decides to go hunting upstream away from them all.

After a few hours of seeing nothing, the Wise Crocodile decides to take a nap on the river bank. To his surprise, he is awakened by a young elephant asking him what crocodiles eat. Rather grumpy and hungry, the Wise Crocodile decides to take this opportunity by the nose, and tugs…

Falling Action:
The Wise Crocodile has never seen a nose stretch so long before. Just when he thinks he has the young elephant in his grasp, a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake decides to help his naive prey. Afterwards, sitting high above the stream and out of the crocodile’s grasp, the young elephant proceeds to scare all other animals away by his very loud complaints about his new nose.

Annoyed by the commotion, the Wise Crocodile decides to go back to his original feeding ground. He swims back down to the main river bank and discovers that all the young crocodiles have finally moved on. With the water’s edge calm and quiet, and a little bit of patience, he is able to wait and eat a hearty fish dinner.

You can see that different perspectives of the same story create an opportunity to explore character development and plot possibilities. The Freytag Pyramid is one construct to guide your basic plot structure and fully explore what your story can be.


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Collecting everyday life

I once had a college art professor tell me that my ability to conceptually build stories through imagery and words would become easier through more life experience. Now, reflecting Collecting everyday lifeon that moment, I understand why Professor Fred Burton was right. Big ideas are enriched by the small, day-to-day, simple details of life.

Choosing the tools for writingFor The Heir to the Unexpected, I invested time collecting a repository of momentary ‘subtleties of life’ and then infused them into my larger cohesive story. By using a cloud-based sync tool on my iPhone (I use Evernote), I have the ability to capture ideas quickly and assign multiple topical tag categories (i.e. characters, conflict, dialogue, eating, environment, travel, location, year/date/time,) to organize my thoughts. Then, when I get back to my desk, iPad, and MacBook, I have my thoughts of the day documented and waiting at my fingertips.

One such moment was a walk in New York City… and it happened to become the first sentence in my first chapter:

When it was early morning, you were confronted with a thousand smells and the common glare of solitude.

Now, this sentence is not only about sidewalk aromas and that introspective pre-caffeinated time of the morning, but it’s the start of the mood and the moment that my character is experiencing. More specifically, it’s hinting at the day-to-day routine work commute behavior we all fall into. In that brief moment, I collected a feeling that could connect the reader to a relateable instance.

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Plot Development

Plot DevelopmentDid my book idea come from a long lost relative dying and leaving me a fortune? Unfortunately no… But the idea of how a person may struggle with that journey shaped a lot of the story. With a few modern twists and a little imagination, I took a historically worn topic (inheritance) and shaped my book The Heir to the Unexpected into a relatable experience for the reader.

I’m constantly reminding myself that my readers are making a commitment to invest time and energy to read my stories. If I write a book that’s a waste of their time and attention, I know they will not be opening another story by D.C. Sumrall again in the near future. So, I need to factor in my readers’ enjoyment with the story I want to tell, my own emotional investment, the actual entertainment-value, and how all of those things will co-exist as I start building a plot structure from there.

From a plot development standpoint, I’ve found the Freytag Pyramid to be a decent guiding principal to start with. Developed in 1863 by Gustav Freytag, his Pyramid is a 5-act dramatic structure that, with a little creative freedom, can easily anchor a conceptual story flow into a solid plot-line.


 Freytag Pyramid Freytag Pyramid

  1. Exposition- The opening… Who are players? What is setting?
  2. Rising action- The conflict or the build up… What is threat? What is the desire?
  3. Climax- the final conflict…  What is action? What is the result of the build up?
  4. Falling action- post climax… What are the immediate consequences? Where are we going?
  5. Denouement- resolution… How do the character move on? How does the day end?

While I would never recommend that anyone compromise their characters’ motives or personalities to a formulated story-telling methodology, I do think the Freytag Pyramid can help a writer better ground their characters’ humanistic needs, wants, desires (and the consequences thereof!) in the overarching story.

Not everyone though has their entire plot outlined when they begin to write though, myself included. While I know the general tale I want to tell,  I’m constantly scribbling ideas down as I go to better align my stories to my audience. Over a period of time, I start looking at how these ideas can be grown or expanded upon to inform a more defined plot. It’s a priceless collection of reference points on the days that I’m experiencing writer’s/creative block. More on that to come in future posts!

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Choosing the tools for writing

Choosing the tools for writingGot a pen that I can borrow?

We all have different ways of composing our thoughts. Some people prefer the tactile pressure they apply to handwritten words on paper, some enjoy the abrupt snap of a typewriter, or others appreciate the rhythmic-soft clicking that computer keyboards deliver to the fingertips.

Today, my methodology is rooted in Apple-based products. I bounce between my Macbook, iPad and iPhone to put my thoughts into words. Those three devices work for me uniquely in different scenarios.

My MacBook with an external monitor is for my scheduled writing sessions that are planned to be quietly desk-bound and focused on the words in front of me. If I’m on a plane or train and I can’t negotiate my laptop, my iPad (with Bluetooth keyboard) can offer a quick and easy way to capture a few in-depth thoughts. With my iPhone, I have an immediate way to capture any ideas or observations on-the-go. How I integrate these tools for writing is key. Here are a few software packages that I appreciate; I use all of these tools for slightly different purposes, described below.

For my MacBook:

Scivener LogoScrivener

by Literature & Latte

This is my primary tool for writing. It has a lot of valuable features focused on manuscript development. My favorite features are:

Corkboard– a card index sorting feature that breaks your story into larger flexible card set that you can organize.

Outlining– an outline organizer that helps you plan and write your story structure.

Collections– an internal folder organizer for multiple file types that we need during our research and refinement process. For example, a folder for your main character and various elements relating to him: a photo of his home, a map of the neighborhood where he lives, a moodboard with a collection of clothes he might wear, a PDF file for a user manual for a specific type of car he drives, etc.).

Full Screen editing– a great feature to hide all of those distractions that may be saved on your desktop, or any bouncing application icons that indicate you have mail or IM.

Scriptwriting– I currently don’t use this feature, but it can help you break your story out into Screen or Stage ready script formats.

Snapshot– If you have moment where you want to try something different and mix a few things up, you can save a snapshot before you do it. You have the ability to save and modify various scenarios and go back and reference sections as you go.

QuickReference Panes– If you have content that you need to constantly refer to, you can load it into a side-panel for easy/quick access.

Synchronise– you can set Scrivener up to back up to an external server, such as Dropbox.

Compile for Export and Print– this is a great feature to compile your submission ready manuscript with supporting footnotes and comments. This not only supports submission, but eBook ready book publishing formats.


MS Word LogoWord 2011

by Microsoft

This is my utilitarian writing tool because it has a lot of valuable features for basic writing, and because it has a vast reach in the current world. If I receive a pre-formatted Word document from someone else, I will open it in Word to preserve all original formatting. A few specific features that I appreciate are:

Basic formatting- it serves the purpose that I need it for (fonts, bold/italics, bullets, etc).

Track changes– by being widely adopted, I can utilize the track changes functionality that’s built into Word.

Office integration– when I need to communicate something in Excel or Powerpoint, the programs inter-connect fairly well.


Pages LogoPages

by Apple Inc.

Pages is Apple’s Word processing tool that is empowered by it’s cloud support across Apple devices (MacBook, iPad, iPhone). My favorite features are:

Price– For $9.99, you get a word processor with a lot of online and offline flexibility.

Capabilities– A robust word processor that supports basic formatting and track changes, similar to (and compatible with) Word.

Device Accessibility– With Pages available on iPhone, iPad and Macintosh computers, you have a word processor that can sync with iCloud and feed your spontaneous need to write. Just beware of font limitations and proper sync backups.

File export- you can export to .doc format or PDF.

Suite of integration tools– Just like Microsoft Office, you can expand your word processor’s capabilities by inter-connecting between Numbers (counterpart to Excel) and Keynote (counterpart to Powerpoint), but for a far cheaper price of $9.99 per tool.


For my iPad and iPhone:

Evernote LogoEvernote

by Evernote Corporation

A great tool built to be utilized on all OS platforms that works well for accumulating notes, pictures, and sounds. You can then organize them with multiple tags for access later. My favorite features are:

Free… (sort of)– it’s free for the basic account. I use it so much though, that I upgraded to the premium account which doesn’t require internet connection and has added security.

-Accessibility– it runs on my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone, and synchronizes all content onto a remote cloud server.

Tagging– When I document and create multiple types of files, I can assign my own form of topical organization to each—Recipes, Songs, Cities, People, Stories, Life moments, etc…

File support– It can retain and organize photos, sounds, single web pages, web links and of course, basic notes…


Dropbox LogoDropbox

by DropboxA free, remote cloud-based file server that’s available on most devices. What I find most attractive:

-Free… (sort of)- it’s free for the first 2 Gigabytes. If you are managing a lot of files, you’ll have to upgrade or refer several friends to reap the benefits of their memberships by expanding your disk size.

Accessibility– you can share and backup files from your MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. It’s an easy way to store and share files across multiple devices and their applications.

-Secure Backup- It’s another safe place to keep backup copies of your work.


Google Drive LogoGoogle Drive

by Google

Originally there was just Google Docs. Now, Google has expanded this service into a cloud-based collaborative service called Google Drive. Google Drive is a great alternative to Microsoft Office and it’s almost free. As an online and offline based tool, you and anyone you want to invite can have access to files that you want to share. What I like:

Free… (sort of)– it’s free for the first 15 GB. Higher storage spaces are available for a price.

Suite of integrated Tools– Just like Microsoft Office, you have the ability to freely access and inter-connect between their counterpart tools: Sheets (Excel) and Slides (Powerpoint).

Secure/sharable/collaborative documents- if you have a friend with a Google account, you can share access to a file immediately for editing and review and if needed, conduct Instant Message sessions over the doc.

Revision History– A backup system to help control versioning.

Cloud service- Similar to Dropbox, Google Drive provides a remote space to save and access your files remotely from multiple devices.

Online and offline access– By using Google Chrome, you can set-up an offline Google Drive.

Graphical Optical Character Recognition Search– Google has taken it’s search from pure text recognition to graphic text recognition.

File access– you can view over 30 file types (DOC, PDF, PSD, AI, etc.)


Stay tuned for more specifics about how several of these tools for writing have helped me during the creation of my book.



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