"God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform..." William Cowper

Friday, December 7, 2012

Homemade Storybooks

Today I'm guest blogging over at my dear friend, Melanie Brasher's blog, talking about homemade storybooks for my children. Come stop by!

Monday, December 3, 2012

NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) Musings

Wow, what a month. With November now history, I can sit back and evaluate how NaNo went.

~The first two weeks of November were full steam ahead. I received a job offer that included full time training for half the month of November. Add to that all the responsibilities of a family, and serious doubts about writing 50,000 words in a month clouded my inspired brain.

…I realized the only way I would finish the story is if I took myself, and my WIP, super seriously. I decided to wake up by 4:30 every day—even most Sundays—in order to have the quiet I needed to write. Except for being tired at night, this worked out fairly well. I wrote almost the entire book without taking time away from my family.

…That said, NaNo really did feel like a marathon. And I know a thing or two about marathons from experience. The middle is tough, and I thought about giving up several times.

…but perseverance is key and I rounded the homestretch, victory tingling in my limbs. I finished the story on November 28, at about 51,000 words.

…which left me a bit stumped. I’ve always written books that were too lengthy, not too short! This one will require some beefing up and major edits. I’ve always been a take-your-time type of writer, choose-the-right-word-and-sentence-structure type of writer. Not during NaNo. I just wrote. It was refreshing, freeing.

…I’m definitely going to do it again. But for December, I think I’m going to take a big, well-deserved writing break. J

If you participated in NaNo, what are your final thoughts? Did you like the race? Will you participate next year? 

Monday, October 29, 2012

50,000 Words (and other Random Things)

I’ve never done writing quite like this, but I’ve decided to give it a go. 

The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November and I’m up for the challenge! I’ve been busy planning out my story and I’m excited to dive into writing.

Follow the links below to find out more!

In order to focus my attention on this challenge, I’ll be taking a blogging break (except for an occasional progress check) for the month of November.

Other random and crazy things happening in my house:

Bracing for Hurricane Sandy (no school today for the kiddos), Cub Scouts, basketball, make-your-own football uniforms, search for the perfect Poodle Pup for a surprise Christmas present for the boys, search for a part-time job, parties, praying, and hikes in the leaves.

What’s some random and crazy things going on in your house lately?

Have you ever tried a writing challenge? Do you have any helpful hints?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gospel Math

I’ve never been much of a math fan, but this kind of math…well this I can get excited about. Gospel math. Basic addition and subtraction. And it goes something like this.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Or why not switch it around?

Everything – Jesus = Nothing

I read Tullian Tchividijian’s book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, this past summer and although I was already familiar with some of his teachings thanks to my amazing Bible Study teacher, reading the book gave me even more to think about.

In this study of Colossians, Tullian dives into grace. He points out that sometimes we try to temper grace, put a harness on it, dish it out in little convenient spoonfuls…just enough to goad us to improve a little more. Just enough so we feel guilty about not doing the right thing. Sometimes we might even view grace as something that happened long ago at that single moment of salvation.

But grace is a living, breathing, alive phenomenon that God has for each of us every day. We will never move beyond the gospel. We need it every day. God’s goal for us is to move us deeper into the gospel, not beyond it.

In his book, Tullians says, “Preach the gospel to ourselves every day—here it is, If God has saved you—if he’s given you the faith to believe, and you’re now a Christian, if you’ve transferred trust from your own accomplishments and abilities to Christ’s accomplishment on behalf of sinners—then here’s the good news. In the phraseology of Colossians 1, it’s simply this: you’ve already been qualified, you’ve already been delivered, you’ve already been transferred, you’ve already been redeemed, and you’ve already been forgiven. Day by day, what God wants us to experience practically only happens as we come to a deeper understanding of what’s already ours in Christ.”

The gospel truly is freedom. Freedom to not only allow Jesus to remove our chains of bondage, but to keep them broken at our feet. Freedom to not add anything—even those good things we cling to (church, behavior, etc.)—to Jesus. And freedom to stop obsessing over conquering our sin but instead, soak in the conquest of our Savior.

If our focus is Christ, our behavior will follow. Our life will be filled with good fruit.

I’m just beginning to learn that salvation isn’t a one-time thing, it’s an ongoing process, one I need to seek God for every minute of every day. My dependence can’t be on anything else. I can’t add anything to my Savior. He’s paid it all.

I love this song by Kristian Stanfill called “One Thing Remains.” I think it says it all. Enjoy! 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Right To Write

As writers, we can be confident of our protection under the First Amendment, a wonderful thing. But are there times when the right to our words blurs, are there times when the line isn’t clear, when our words could do more harm than good? What do we do in these situations?

I was recently talking to a close writing friend who struggled with such issues. She’d been writing a fictitious story surrounding a real-life event from her past, involving one of her parents. The event was painful, but my friend had forgiven her parent and was twisting it into something good. Her story of redemption was born of a desire to help young girls who had gone through similar circumstances.

Nearing the end of the writing process, my friend was assailed by doubts. Of course she wanted to help others, but would she be hurting her parent in the process? No matter that the parent had been completely at fault, that the sin was theirs to own, my friend wanted to forge a relationship, not break it apart.

After a talk with her parent, she became even more discouraged. Said parent was against her writing such a story.

What to do?

When my friend came to me with her problem, I could see the passion she held for her story, the desire to make beauty out of the bleak ashes of her past. But could such beauty come to light beneath the disapproving heavy hand of her history?

When I’d last left my friend, I felt some of the old anger at her parent churning. She would write the story, and that was that.

Part of me cheers her on. Her past is her story, and she could do what she pleases with it—particularly in the fictional world.

Another part of me doesn’t want to see her relationship with her parent further bruised.

So sure, we do have a right to use our words however we want, but my question to you, my blog-readers, is this: are there times we should opt not to use such rights? How do we decide between the costs? Should we dare stop the opportunity of good overcoming evil?

Monday, October 8, 2012

What's The Deal With Church?

I think every believer comes to this point after a time of journey with Christ. Someone in the church disappoints us, we’ve left our hearts open and vulnerable, and we get burned.

Then, we wonder.

What is the deal with church? Do I really need to be there, to leave my heart unguarded? What does Jesus care? I can read my Bible at home, worship Him by myself in the safety and convenience of my own time.

At the ACFW Conference last month, I had the privilege of sitting with a new author at lunch. Caleb Jennings Breakey, whose book Following Jesus Without Leaving The Church, is releasing soon by Harvest House Publishers. Caleb inspired me with what he had to say on this topic, and with his realness (there’s no word that fits better).

He also got me thinking and doing some studying of my own. One verse I came across was in Acts 20 when Paul is talking to some leaders of the Ephesian church for the last time. He says, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” 

Jesus loved the church—He died for the church. If I’m going to take that Him seriously, and take the things He loved seriously, then that includes the church.  

Let’s face it. Many times it is the same handful of people carrying out the church’s mission. No matter whether it is a big church or small church, the fact is the same. And sure, there are many times of joy and satisfaction, but when those times wear thin, when we come face to face with the inevitable imperfectness of the church, I encourage you to remember how dear the body of Christ was to our Savior. Let’s get real about Jesus and the legacy he left us—His church.
For that is certainly one legacy I don’t want to miss out on.

Click here for more information on Caleb’s book and DVD series.

Have you ever been discouraged with other Christians or with the church? How did you deal with it? Why do you think many young Christians leave the church? How can we change this?

photo credit: stock.xchng

Friday, October 5, 2012

Short and Sweet Friday: Names That Stick

We have a small table in our living room dubbed "the farm table." There is no farm in sight. No picture of a farm, or even toy cows around. But three years ago that was not the case. The kids had a Playmobile farm on this table, and now--and forever--it will be the farm table.

I was called Hogshead in middle school. More accurately, hos-sheed. Flattering isn't it? I had thought this was how to pronounce the word in seventh grade, and my friends didn't every let me forget it. (It was all in fun--that'll teach me to pronounce words correctly...)

My sister works as a nurse in an elderly care facility. She told me of a woman whose nickname is Twink. She didn't ask the story behind that, but my writer's mind is going to town on some ideas.

What are some things in your life that have names that stick? Do you have one of those names? Isn't it funny how each name, or nickname, has a story behind it?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Where's The Line?

Last week at the ACFW Conference, I had the honor of attending the awards gala and witnessing Allen Arnold, former senior vice president and fiction publisher at Thomas Nelson, receive ACFW’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Last night, as I read my ACFW Journal, I had the pleasure of reading an interview with Allen Arnold by Christa Allen.

I was particularly intrigued by Mr. Arnold’s response to Christa’s question, “What do you know now that you wish you’d known then (in relation to starting the fiction line)?”

The second part of his answer reads, “I learned quickly that if a story isn’t God honoring, then it isn’t worth telling or reading. Sure, there are great stories out there that have no Christian worldview. But they ultimately don’t leave the reader with truth or lasting hope. Life is too short to chase after novels that simply entertain. Entertainment is okay, but a story with eternal impact is far better.”

Wow. I totally applaud this answer. After all, our purpose in life is to glorify God. That should follow through in all we do, including what we spend our time on.

As a reader of mostly CBA (Christian Bookseller’s Association) books, I often feel a certain guilt over not reading more broadly, of not reading more general market books. In fact, just last week in a workshop at the ACFW Conference, a well-respected person in the publishing industry urged her workshop attendees to read widely, in both the Christian and general market. As writers, it is our job to know what’s out there, to know good stories. Period.

And yet part of me doesn’t want to waste my time on stories that don’t offer that ultimate hope of which Mr. Arnold speaks. What good is a story without God’s redemption at the center? And another part—the writer part—wants to read anything that garners attention (Hunger Games, anyone?), anything that is a good story.

So I’m not choosing sides here--I couldn't if I tried! More than anything, I want to start a conversation. What do you read? Do you tend to veer to a specific genre? CBA or ABA? Is there a balance, a line? Does that change if you’re a writer?

If you haven’t gotten a copy of the ACFW Journal or would like to read Allen Arnold’s full interview, click here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Disney and Dallas

Right now I’m at gate E15 at DFW Airport and my mind is fried. Between going on a wonderful trip with my family and in-laws to Disney and the annual ACFW Conference, I’m beat. Twelve days and six plane trips later, instead of any deep, thought-provoking posts (do I even do those?) I’m going to simply share some of the highlights of my last two weeks with y’all. J


Seeing my boys’ faces as they took off on their first airplane trip!

Waiting in line for an hour with my family in anticipation of the ride, SOARING, at Epcot. My little Noah was so scared, but it ended up being his favorite ride. What kid wouldn’t want to feel like they’re flying? I think it was my favorite ride too.

Seeing some of my wonderful extended family in Florida.


Seeing ACFWers I’ve only met online—and meeting brand new friends!

Worship. AMAZING

Having an editor tell me I had skill and could write (always encouraging to hear!).

Going to the My Book Therapy Wild West Pizza Party! Congrats on the Frasier, Ginger!

Allowing my roommate to perform a complimentary haircut on said hair after it was sucked into scary, hair-eating hairdryer.

Listening to the stories Brandilyn Collins tells on behalf of the attendees. That lady is just a great storyteller.

Learning how to talk southern. A new friend told me the technicalities of Georgia language. Y’all is actually singular—what do y’all know? All y’all is plural. (As I write this portion of my post I’m in Atlanta airport, and this is true! One woman just asked me—I was alone—“Where y’all goin’?”


There you have it. There were ups, there were downs, but in the end, I’m choosing to be inspired.

What were some highlights from your week? Did anything inspire you?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Nine More Days...

…until the 2012 Annual ACFW Conference! Since I’ll be spending some special time with family next week, this is my last post before conference, so I want to know one thing:

Are you going?

If so, expect a big hug from me. One of my favorite parts of conference is getting to meet the very people I’ve come to know so well through the wonderful world of cyberspace (and of course, reconnecting with those I’ve already met!).

This will be my second ACFW Conference and I can’t help but compare my preparation. Two years ago, I was blessed to be able to attend a conference in Indianapolis through a scholarship (aren’t those ACFWers generous?). As I prepared, my one thought was


With one completed manuscript under my belt, I felt certain God had given me this scholarship so I could find the agent and editor of my dreams and of course, get published, earn major advances, and garner a huge fan base. ;)

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure, I met many amazing people. I enjoyed myself and even received a couple of requests, but three months later I had to face facts. My dreams weren’t about to come true.

I felt like I ruined my one chance at becoming a writer.

Fast forward two years later as I prepare for the upcoming conference in Dallas. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned. The most important being this:

I am a writer.

One conference is not going to change that. I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not going with the single-minded goal that these four days will make me a published author. I’m going to meet dear friends. To pursue my dreams with perseverance. To make a stand that yes, I’m not giving up or going away easily. I’m here to learn. I’m here to connect. I’m here to help others and above all, follow God's leading.

When I’m grounded in these truths, my fears melt away. My writing career does not hinge on one agent or editor appointment. It hinges on my determination to persevere. It hinges on God’s will.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3) 

Tell me, what are you grounding yourself in today?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Private Spaces in Crowded Places

“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” 
Jordan, The Great Gatsby

I was at the beach a lot this summer. It was definitely my peace. My solitude. But how can a crowded beach give me that quiet, intimate peace I often desire? My mom and I talked about this while taking some of our weekly trips with the boys. She referred to the above quote from The Great Gatsby. We decided that Jordan’s truth above applies to beaches as well.

~Even though there are hundreds of people on the beach, I have my own space. My umbrella, my beach blanket, cooler. For five or six hours, these possessions claim this spot of sand as mine. The constant white noise of the waves crashing and falling against the sand drowns out all those distant conversations. I love it. I can really hear myself think, pray, create new ideas.

~Forty minutes away from my own home is Rhode Island’s shoreline. Sitting on one of Newport’s beaches is wonderful inspiration for me, particularly as I write a scene set in this very town more than two hundred years ago. An old church towers on the horizon. The place is full of history, and I can’t help but drink it in.

~The beach is a great place to people watch. To observe people reacting to each other, and to nature. I love eating a thick slab of cream cheese- drenched zucchini bread under my shady umbrella, all while observing the human race before me. No one knows (or seems to know!) I’m watching. Taking notes. Filing them away for a story.

~The beach is so vast, a place of such beauty, that I can’t help but feel God’s larger presence. Every day the constant, uncontrollable ocean wipes away the mess we've left behind, leaving a smooth, placid, shoreline in its wake. It reminds me of what God has done for us. Wiped away our messes and given us something beautiful--His grace, His love. He is so much bigger than me, bigger than all the people occupying the stretch of shoreline. I sense His greatness, I feel His love. I bask in the intimacy He shares with me.

~What are some of your favorite private spaces in crowded places?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Veil of Pearls


It is 1811, and the prosperous port city of Charleston is bustling with plantation owners, slaves, and immigrants. Immigrants such as the raven-haired Adalia Winston. But Adalia has a secret: her light skin belies that she is part black and a runaway slave from Barbados. Skilled in herbal remedies, Adalia finds employment with a local doctor and settles into a quiet life, thankful for her freedom but still fearful that her owner will find her.

Born into one of Charleston's prominent families, Morgan Rutledge is handsome, bored--and enamored of the beautiful Adalia, who spurns his advances. Morgan's persistence, however, finally wins, and Adalia is swept into the glamorous world of Charleston high society.

But Adalia's new life comes at a high price--that of denying her heritage and her zeal for God. How far is she willing to go to win the heart of the man she loves? And when her secret is revealed, will that love be enough, or will the truth ruin Morgan and send Adalia back into slavery?

My Review:

I first picked up this book because it seemed to share similarities with my current work-in-progress. I'd never read one of MaryLu Tyndall's novels, but after this novel, I can say I'm an avid fan of her writing.

Tyndall's knowledge of the culture and time of Charleston in the early nineteenth century was evident throughout the pages, and yet I never felt bogged down by the rich details. Her skill in balancing the story and the setting drew me in right away.

I also appreciated the fact that this is no sweet, light love story. It felt real and complicated, just as our own relationships often do. I admired Adalia and her determination to live a life of freedom despite her fears. The reader truly understands the depth of Adalia's problem with her Negro culture, and the fact that she can't run from it. Although at the beginning of the story I felt her actions sometimes did not ring true to a person who had been enslaved for most of her teenage years, I was able to quickly overlook this because of the strong pull of the story.

Tyndall is a master at sending Adalia and Morgan into deeper and deeper trouble. There are no quick fixes for them. They battle through their fears and oppositions in a completely believable manner and I was totally cheering them along (and glued to the page) as they grew and wrestled with God, and themselves.

I will be searching out more of Tyndall's books in the future, and looking forward to her new releases. I highly recommend Veil of Pearls!

To view the book trailer for this book, visit www.marylutyndall.com

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Session #8: Revision

Dear Mom and Dad and Tootles,

Last week of camp! Wow, I feel like I’ve learned so much this summer, and yet I know there is still tons more ahead of me.

Coach Sol spoke to us about editing this week. He said there are many ways to revise, but what he likes to do is take one step at a time. Read the manuscript through. Ask yourself these questions:

~Do my characters come alive? Are they likeable? Can I sympathize with them? How well do I understand my main characters?

~What is my weakest scene? Cut it. My next weakest scene? Consider cutting it too.

~What are the three most important actions in my novel? Is each action motivated in a believable way?

~Read your first page. Is there a compelling reason to go to page two?

~Coach Sol said to then go through the manuscript, weeding out useless paragraphs and cutting words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, pages, or whole scenes that seem unnecessary. He said to make sure my characters are under stress that increases and make sure there’s something visual on every page.

Wow. Coach said that’s enough to get me started, but above all, to KEEP WRITING! It’s the best and only way to learn the craft.

Something else Coach told us? We are writers. That means me. Even if I don’t have books on the bookshelves yet, even if I’m still young (or even if I were very old), I am one who writes. That makes me a writer. Very neat.

Thanks for sending me to camp this summer. I can hardly wait to finish up my manuscript and start editing. Can't wait to be home with you all! See you Friday!

Love, Your Writer

Do you have a particular method of editing that works for you? Was it ever a struggle to think of yourself as a writer?

photo credit: wikipedia

Friday, August 10, 2012

Short and Sweet Friday: Olympic Stories

So I think I've mentioned how much I'm enjoying the Olympics. But there's something NBC does that makes me enjoy them all the more. And it involves one of my favorite things: a story.

A runner may be loosening up at the starting block, or a diver mentally preparing atop the ten meter board, and then it comes. A mini-profile of the Olympian's life, or their fight to get to London. And all of a sudden, I really want the athlete to succeed. The stakes have been raised. They are fighting for a better life for their family in Kenya. They are overcoming a severe diving accident. I see the story, and I am invested in them. I care.

Yes, NBC knows what they're doing. Maybe it's a button on the remote instead of the turn of a page, but either way, I'm there. I'm captured. And all because of the power of a story.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Summer Session #7: Just Show It!

Dear Mom and Dad and Tootles,

Thanks for such a great time last week—now I’m back at camp, refreshed and ready to write!

This week Coach Sol taught us about showing, as opposed to telling. I’d heard this advice before but never really understood it…until now.

I can’t help but think of the Olympics. I especially love watching the gymnasts. I’m in awe of their flips and twirls, but I also love to study their faces before they begin a performance. Some look nervous, some confident. And how do I know all this? I see it on the television. It is shown to me. Furrowed brow, that’s concentration. The way one girl wipes her calloused fingers with chalk a little longer than necessary, that’s nerves. Straight posture, set mouth, focused eyes, that’s confidence and determination.

As readers we want to see things in our mind the way we see them on a television. As writers we want to paint words that show.

Coach Sol said there are three areas in which the writer is especially vulnerable to telling rather than showing: when he tells backstory, when he tells of a character’s physical appearance, and when he tells what a character senses or feels, better shown by action (i.e. the gymnast wiping their hands with chalk longer than necessary shows nervousness).

Here’s an example Coach gave us:
She boiled water tells.
She put the kettle on the stove begins to show.
She filled the kettle from the faucet and hummed till the kettle’s whistle cut her humming short shows.
She boiled water in a lidless pot so she could watch the bubbles perk and dance shows even better.

As writers, it’s our job to allow the reader to see what’s happening on our pages. A big responsibility, but an important one.

Now, off to watch more of the Olympics!

Love Your Little Show-Off

I remember when I first started writing, I heard the advice to show all the time but was so frustrated because I didn’t understand it. It took some time, but now showing comes more naturally in my storytelling. Did you have a similar experience? How do you remind yourself to show instead of tell?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Session #6: A Little More Conversation

To The Ones I Love,

It was so nice talking with you on the phone the other night. Wow, I really miss you, Mom and Dad and Tootles. I’ll be happy to get a mid-summer’s break from camp next week and see you all!

Still learning a lot here, though. And not that I’m one to argue with The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but I’m learning that a little bit more of good conversation—or at least dialogue—is just as good as fast-paced action.

Coach Sol taught us that what counts in dialogue is not what is said but the meaning behind what is said…or not said. I never realized how funny our words to one another can be. How often do we really mean what we say? Or rather, how often are we trying to convey something along with our words that we don’t (or wouldn’t dare!) come right out and say? This is another way to fill our stories with tension.

Coach said to avoid common dialogue. No one wants to read pleasant, boring conversation. My job as a writer is to make things happen.

I’m also learning what my character’s speech says about him or her. Some speech markers are vocabulary, throwaway words and phrases, tight or loose wording, run-on sentences, sarcasm, poor grammar, and inappropriate modifiers. I’m not just trying to stir up a little trouble (conflict) with my dialogue, I’m trying to get my reader to know my characters better.

Another thing writers need? Rest! That’s why I’ll be glad to take next week off and spend some time with you guys. Looking forward to it!

Your Little Yapper

I know many writers who insist that writing dialogue is some of the most enjoyable writing they ever do. How much fun do you have writing dialogue? How do you put a little snap in your character’s conversations?

photo credit: wikipedia

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Session #5: Suspense, Tension, and All-Around Trouble

Hi Mom and Dad and Tootles,

I can hardly wait to share what I learned this week at camp from Coach Sol! It’s the key to writing a book that a reader can’t put down. It’s what makes a story great. It’s…are you ready? Are you really really ready?

Maybe I’ll tell you in my next letter…

Just kidding—it’s suspense!

Coach Sol said that suspense is achieved by arousing the reader’s curiosity and keeping it aroused for as long as possible. He told us NOT to rescue our hero/heroine. Instead, make their problem bigger. Don’t eliminate danger, and don’t let our characters overcome immediate danger without going through a greater danger. Is there an unwanted confrontation my character is dreading? I should put it off as long as I can. Other suspense tactics include bringing an old fear into the present. Or making my character’s actions backfire.

Coach also told us to avoid taking the reader where he/she wants to go. Use those cliffhangers at the end of scenes and chapters. Talk about fun!

Writers are troublemakers. That’s our job! (I knew I was gifted in that area for a reason….) Coach told us to increase the tension in our stories by stretching out intense scenes by adding characters or difficulty. Don’t be afraid to stretch!

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m off to make a little trouble with what’s left of summer!

Love You Guys!
          Your Very Own Rabble-Rouser

Is there a deliciously naughty part of you that loves making trouble in YOUR stories? How do you make the most out of tension when you write? 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Session #4: Let's Get Planning!

Dear Mom and Dad and Tootles,

I hope you’re all doing well. As for me, my brain is spinning with all the plot planning we’ve been doing here at camp.

This week we learned that characters must be motivated by their wants. The best wants are ones most readers can relate to: gaining or losing a love, obtaining a certain ambition, seeking out justice, saving a life, seeking revenge, or accomplishing a task that at first seemed impossible.

My job as a writer? To keep my characters from getting what they want by creating conflict. Hmmm....creating conflict. Shouldn't be a problem for me! 

Coach Sol gave us other hints of things that readers like (and remember, I’m trying to consider my reader, here!). Things like enemies being trapped together, or a scene in which we experience a character’s embarrassment or fear. Surprises are always great reader experiences, as are new obstacles or unforeseen confrontations.

Wooh! To keep my plot moving forward I need conflict. Coach said that the secret to creating conflict in scenes is to give your characters different scripts. Like actors in a movie, their agendas need to be different. They need to want something badly enough that they don’t—or can’t—run away from their situation or their opposing character.

Well I’m taking plenty of notes because my brain is just about fried. I know I won’t have all this right on my first draft, or even my first book, but I’m looking forward to persevering…and planning!

          Your Conflict-Lover

How do you create a great plot? What inspires you? How do you look for conflict? Are you an outliner or a pantser (write by the seat-of-your-pants)?  

Another great book on plotting is Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer Session #3: Character Development Camp

Dear Mom, Dad, and Tootles,

Wow, what a week. I feel like I’m learning so much, and what’s more, I’m excited to use what I’m learning. This week, Coach Sol taught us about creating characters. No small job. I never realized how important characters were to a story. I mean, I knew, but I suppose they were always more of a means to moving my plot forward. Now I’m learning that my plot can grow organically out of my characters—if my characters come alive well enough.
I had a lot of fun conducting character interviews and writing character journals for my main characters. I haven’t even started my story and already I feel like my characters are living people.

Coach Sol says there are five different ways to characterize:

~Through physical attributes
~With clothing or the manner of wearing clothing
~Through psychological attributes and mannerisms
~Through actions
~In dialogue

He said that instead of saying that “George was a big fellow” to try something like “When George came your way, you thought you were being run down by a truck.” Doesn’t that give you a different feel? Very neat.

Coach Sol told us to use different markers to characterize. He said to pay attention to simple things that can tell your reader a lot about your character. Things like fingernails. Public conduct with children. Accessories, gum-chewing what kind of car they drive, their mannerisms, what they eat and drink, their vocabulary. Their attitudes.

Coach said that characters of different cultural classes caught in a crucible (the environment, emotional or physical, that holds your characters together) are ideal for fiction, and for creating a great plot—which is next week’s lesson!
Thanks for making me stay at camp, Mom and Dad. I never would have gotten to know my new friends—my characters—so well if I’d left!

Love you,
          Your Creative Camper

What methods do you use to make your characters come alive? My favorite character is Hadassah in Francine River’s Mark of the Lion series. What’s yours?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Session #2: Being Considerate

Dear Tootles (I’m not writing to you, Mom and Dad, because I’m mad you didn’t come pick me up),

I’ve made a couple of friends this week and it turns out we’re all in the same place: we have a lot to learn about writing. Knowing that made me feel a little better.

I hope you are still enjoying your bone, Tootles. That reminds me of our lesson this week about being considerate. Who would have thought that was a requirement of being a writer? Well, I guess I have it in me because I considered you before I left for camp by giving you a bone. I wanted you to have fun even though I was gone. Coach Sol says writers need to think about our reader if we want them to enjoy our story. Just like you’re enjoying your bone, I guess.

I suppose I do want my reader to enjoy what I write. I mean, even if it is MY story, I don’t want to write it for just me. I want others to like it long after it’s out of my hands.

Coach Sol says it’s a writer’s job to give the reader an emotional experience. He said it’s not my fault I don’t already know how to do that (phew!) but that we are all raised with a traditional nonfiction mind-set. That means that when I have to write essays for school, or even letters like this one, I am writing to convey information, not to give the reader an emotional experience. I need to train my brain otherwise.

Coach Sol quoted E. L. Doctorow, who said that “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

I like that idea of feeling rained upon just by reading words on a page. Maybe I’ll stay at camp a couple more weeks and see what else Coach Sol has to say….

Love You Tootles (and you, Mom and Dad),

Your Trying-To-Be-Considerate-Camper   


Do you ever have trouble considering your reader? How do you remind yourself to do this? One great way to “make your reader feel rained upon” is to use the five senses. Do you have a favorite sense to use?

photo credit: stock.xchng

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Session #1: Welcome To Writing Camp!

I saw this book on a recent morning talk show and it made me think a bit on kids and summer camp. As I begin creating my third manuscript, I thought it might be fun to do a little "writing camp" this summer to freshen up. The following letters are from a young writer getting a dose of summer writing camp for the first time. For the sake of simplicity, I’m using one book, Stein on Writing, for the advice of “Coach Sol.”

Dear Mom and Dad and Tootles,

I know I said I wanted to go to writing camp this summer, but that was when I thought I was a pretty good writer. Turns out I was wrong. Our assignment this week was to write a short story. We received comments back today. Coach Sol said he was EXTREMELY glad I was here. Apparently I need major help. Coach said he liked my punctuation skills (big whoop) but that I needed help in other areas. Things like point-of-view, creating likeable characters, and showing instead of telling. What in the world does show instead of tell mean anyway? Then Coach said I needed to think of my reader. Do I really need to do that? I’m the one writing the story after all. It’s MY story, not theirs. I can write it how I want to.

Anyway, I am NOT having fun. I miss you and I miss Tootles. Please come pick me up soon. This camp was a bad idea. I don’t think Coach knows what he’s talking about.

          Your Unhappy Camper

P.S. I hope Tootles likes the bone I gave him before I left.

Bad contest scores. An agent or editor rejection. All writers know these disappointments, but I don’t think any sting as much as that first time. My first was six years ago after receiving some not-so-flattering contest scores. My defenses immediately went up. Do you remember your first writing disappointment?