Monthly Archives: April 2012

One Hill at a Time

Standard

The steep hill proved too daunting. In a young girl’s six year old world, things appear bigger and more overwhelming than to other older children. As she stared at the sloping hill on her bike donned with pink ribbons and blue training wheels, she kept shaking her heard and telling me she just didn’t think she could do it. “It’s too scary,” she told me. Yet, as I encouraged my daughter to try it, I couldn’t help but think of how I treat the tasks in my life that prove equally as daunting. 

Although I am relatively new to the writing world, I have learned a lot over the first three years. However, when I’m posed with a particularly difficult writing challenge, I immediately want to shake my head and not attempt it. Instead of barreling down the hill with no sense of direction, I told my daughter to just take it a little bit of it at a time. I showed her how to put her feet on the pedals, coasting for a little and then braking. I challenged her to continue until she returned to flat roadway. With much trepidation, she tried it. When she got to the middle, she didn’t give up, but waited for a moment to rest and then continued. When she got to the end, she grinned as I shouted “See, I knew you could do it! You did it!” Proud of her accomplishment, she attempted all of the other hills using the same strategy and conquered them with ease. 

I am currently changing the main premise of my new non-fiction book proposal. The challenge seems daunting  since I am having difficulty stringing all of the elements together. My daughter has taught me an important lesson: if I just take it a little bit at a time, stopping frequently to rest, I can master it. I learned it is more profitable for me to strategize how to get the job done in little chunks rather than giving up altogether. 

Are there writing projects that have proved more daunting than you anticipated? What is your strategy to break it up into small chunks and take it one bit at a time so you can accomplish your task?

Get Comfortable

Standard

I’m old. My husband and I kid about it all the time. A few years ago, my favorite Friday evening activity would have included dinner with friends, then a late movie and staying up late. Now, I’m happy curling up each night with a cup of green  tea,  a tattered pair of slippers and my royal blue electric blanket.  At 7 pm, I pull out the footrest in my oversized maroon recliner with a rip on the left side and turn the tv on to  Judge Judy and smile to myself that I’m not getting sued by one of those ” foolish teens.”

I’ve come to embrace and actually enjoy this stage of my life. I realized the other day that the reason why I gravitate to this so much is because those activities are stable, predictable and most importantly, comfortable.

In writing, there is also a level of comfort in style, content and voice. As much as I may want to emulate the stylings of the best new York Times bestseller, the reality is that God has gifted me with my own way of communicating to a specific audience and a specific time of life. I need to practice my craft so much that the way I write becomes second nature to me. When I open my computer, my fingers should gravitate to those keys in a style that as comfortable to me as that recliner and tattered pair of slippers.

Is your writing as comfortable to you as my recliner with the rip on the left side is to me?

If it isn’t, how does it get there?

1) Write what you know-What are the things you need to write about based on your past experiences, beliefs and preferences? These ideas are your default  when you don’t know what to write about.

2) Write often- Christian author Mary Demuth says in order to write well, you have to write  for 10,000 hours! Maybe the world will never see all of those pages of beautiful prose, but it will help you get in the habit of setting aside time in your day to write.

3) Read books by authors with your similar style- Think about your favorite authors. Why are they your favorites? Is it their style? Their subject matter? Their underlying message? As you figure out your unique message, your heart will grow with passion for that topic. You will want to write and as you do, your writing will settle into a certain way of stringing words together. That’s your writing style.

Get comfortable. It will bode well for your writing.

12 Questions to Ask When Creating Character Profiles

Standard

Have a great character in mind for your next short story or novel, but don’t know how to start creating one? Here’s some questions to get you started:

12 Questions to ask when creating character Profiles:

1)    What is their name-There is much meaning and significance in a name. Choosing it can bring a great dynamic to your character.

2)    How old are they– Old? Young?  This makes a difference in executing a plot around a strapping young man vs. sickly old man

3)    What do they look like- what is their body shape? Fat? Thin? Color of eyes? Paint a word picture so it gives the reader a mental picture of that character.

4)     Do they use any “props”- Anything you need to let the reader know of that will give a hint to a plot line.

5)    How do they speak– British accent? Southern drawl? It is important to match with the setting.

6)    What are they like as a person– what are their spiritual beliefs? Are they cheery? Generous? Evil? Mean spirited or kind hearted?

7)    What do they like and dislike- What makes them cringe or applaud?

8)    Who do they know– who are the most important people in his/her life: grandparents? Parents? Siblings?

9)    Where do they live– there is a big difference between living on the streets of New York vs. a mansion in posh Beverly Hills.

10) What do they do- Is it their dream job? If not, what is?

11) What’s in their past– what skeletons can you tease your reader with? Can you hint at a possible shady past that makes your reader want to read more?

12) What is their role in the story– In what way will they, as we spoke of earlier, bring that plot from point A to point B? In what way will the character change as a result of your story?  As Christians, we can bring God glory by bringing about redemption in our characters. Some of the best stories are redemptive ones.

4 Rules in Good Character Development

Standard

I had the privilege of teaching on this subject a week ago at my writer’s group and I thought others might benefit from this information, so i thought I would share it. Whether you are a fiction writer or non-fiction, we all need to create good characters to draw in the reader and keep them turning the pages.

(Some material taken from http://www.novel-writing-help.com).

4 Rules on Creating Page-Turning Main characters:

First, what makes a good main character?

 

1) A main character in a book is anyone who plays a significant role in the plot line- they bring the plot from point A to point B. A good character must engage with that plot somehow or else it is not a main character.

2) A good character entices the audience to change as a result of resolving the main conflict- Successful stories are ones in which the bad guy has a change of heart, the underdog wins and balance and peace is restored in a world once wrought with chaos and turmoil.

3) Good Characters are relatable- the best characters are those that are just like us. It is as if we, as readers get to live vicariously through them. We get to struggle and sympathize right along with them, but not have to actually experience it.

The most important rule of character development is:

Make the reader care. 

In our on the go world, people are busy. Therefore, they will keep their interest in your book if you captivate them from page one. An editor at one of the conferences said she used to be an editor for screenplays. She said “ if they didn’t have me at page one, they didn’t have me.”  Make them care if the character succeeds or fails, wins or loses, lives or dies.

How do you do that?

1)    Make the character Charismatic- Make that character’s presence “stand out” on the page.  They don’t have to be good-looking or especially witty necessarily, but there must be that “ something special” that makes your reader take notice.

2)    Make your Character Likeable- The ability to relate  probably plays a role here. Even in sci-fi and fantasy, characters display traits that make us want to join their side or root for their demise. Either way, it makes for a good character. Make your audience feel something for that character. Will your character display good traits or bad ones? Even villains have a likeable quality to them.

3)    Make the character both ordinary and extraordinary- Think about the best-selling films/ books – Harry Potter, Twilight, etc. Ordinary people who can do extraordinary things. They do things that   we want to be able to do, which is why we root for them and become involved in their story.

4)     Make the character well motivated- every character must have a purpose/ goal. Writers need to state that clearly and allow the character to resolve that in some way. They don’t always have to meet that goal or even achieve it. But, they must have some reason to engage in the plot, and essentially keep turning those pages.

12 Ways to Find Your Voice

Standard

Mary Demuth spoke at a writer’s conference about 11 ways to find your voice. I thought the information was worthy to share, so here it is. I hope it helps you find the voice God has placed within you. when you find it, I hope you are bold in writing in it so that the lives of those who read it will be changed.

11 Ways to Find your Voice

1) Practice the Outhian Formula- As you write, you will begin to discern which is your best writing and which is not. it is the same with critique and feedback. Practice discernment — know what to take and what to discard.

2)Read widely- both in and out of your genre (mystery, sci-fi, fiction, non-fiction)

3) Write widely- practice writing articles, blogs, fiction, non-fiction, children’s etc. This might pinpoint a hidden flair for a genre you didn’t know existed.

4) Write awfully- Give yourself permission to have crummy first drafts

5) Detach, Listen and Observe- Watch other people, observe other prose, listen to feedback, but don’t take it personally

6) Get angry, but do not seek  revenge- when the negative feedback comes (and it will), vow not to withdraw from it, but use it to reach someone  instead

7) Quit comparing yourself to others- you have your own unique style, message, etc. Embrace it!

8) Hang out with you BFF- talk with them, record the conversation and play it back. This is your voice!

9 Have a  “Discernment Meter”- take in every bit of advice, but know when it is not beneficial to you

10)Ask wiser writers to read your prose- A fresh pair of eyes may help target “flabby” prose, grammatical and syntax errors, etc.

11) Practice master and venture- Write simply and master the language,  and then venture out in a more creative way. The most brilliant writing is that which is written simply. Embrace your voice!

Experiment with Pepper

Standard

I went  on a date might with my husband to a comedy club to see Tom Wilson, the actor who played “Biff” in the “Back to the Future”  trilogy. I looked forward to it; I had a stressful week and was looking to relieve some stress through laughter. When the first opening act came out, however, I was in for a disappointment. As the comedian delivered each punch line, he was met with dead silence.  I’m not sure if it was his poor timing or the content of the jokes that I didn’t find funny, but my expectations for the night plummeted with each act. When Tom came out, however, my expectations rose again. He not only delivered funny material, but he sprinkled in humorous facial gestures and  sweet musical anecdotes. The thing that made the routine so funny was that Tom exuded humor. He didn’t have to try to be funny, he just was.

I am a serious person by nature, but every now and again I’ll crack a joke. Sometimes I’ll deliver it right, and get people to laugh. But, I have to work at it. Funny people don’t have to work at it, it just comes naturally to them.

Inserting humor in writing poses the same amount of risk as in face-to-face communication. Poor word choice, delivery or execution can make or break an author A light-hearted style can cause the reader to keel over from side-splitting laughter or cause them to skip the next page, or worse, put down the book altogether.

As a writer, you need to ask yourself: Am I funny? Is this type of writing that I want to experiment with in my writing, even if I am known for a more serious style? I’m sure the opening act at the comedy club thought he was funny. An audience that stared back with awkward stares begged to differ.

Jenny B. Jones, author of several humorous books says, “Humor is like pepper. A little and a lot can be good.” A little can add flavor to your writing.  A lot can also add flavor,  but you have to be the type that really likes that kind of flavor. Some people will get it and love it. Others may not. If you have never inserted humor in your writing, have someone you trust look at it first. If they don’t get the joke, more than likely neither will your audience.

Humor can be a great way to lighten a more serious subject or allow you to branch out in your craft and experiment with your writing. But, like pepper, experiment with it too much and your whole masterpiece may be ruined.

What’s Your Passion?

Standard

If you could describe your writing  passion in one sentence, what would you say?

What writing topics compel you to arise early in the morning and lie sleepless in bed at night?

Could you summarize it succinctly and clearly?

My writing group leader asked similar questions of our group at our last meeting. After giving it little thought and consideration, I scrawled furiously in my notebook.

This is what I wrote:

“ I want to tell women aged twenty to thirty-nine that struggle to find their place in the world that they fit, they belong, they matter.”

I knew I always had a passion for that age range. It is something the Lord has laid on my heart for quite some time. But, writing that in one sentence so quickly confirmed what my heart had told me all along.

Knowing your passion helps motivate you in those bouts of writer’s block. It can help resurrect some past articles, blog posts or book chapters you’ve mulled around in your head but never took a moment to put down on paper (or computer screen). It can help quell those  doubtful thoughts that you have, the ones that haunt you and tell you will never write anything good enough to be published.  Passion also can mean the difference between someone who doesn’t stop until she is published, and one that does stop and lives life with regret.

Perhaps you have some difficulty identifying that passion.  Try asking yourself these questions:

1)    What is the target audience I try to reach? Do I have a heart for youth? Adult males? Females? Children?

2)    If I had the chance to tell the people in my life in that age range one thing, what would I say?

3)    Do I believe in this topic enough to spend innumerable hours of my time writing about it?

4)    Will I still write about this topic and for that group, even if it is never seen by anyone’s  eyes but yours?