Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Where to Find a Good Story Message

(Hello! It’s been a good long while since I last dropped in; life has been crazy busy. [News update: Editing Baker Family Adventure #6!] ~ C.R.)

One of the many invaluable lessons taught by Mr. Douglas Bond on the Oxford Creative Writing Masterclass was that the moral lessons we incorporate into our writing should be things that we need, not what we think our audience needs. If we write what we need, the lesson will come over as sincere, not bombastic or contrived.

Weaving a moral into a story should be a subtle thing, and its development will be organic if it’s a situation you’re thinking through at the time of writing. This helps ensure it arises naturally from the story.

So … how do you figure out what truth you personally need to internalize? You could spend a lot of time pondering, reflecting, and of course praying about it (which I’m not at all suggesting is unnecessary!), but today I’d like to suggest a little shortcut that has served me very well over the stories I’ve worked on and just recurred to me yesterday (such that I can’t wait to get back to my project and incorporate it).

Where can you turn for dozens of ideas for a ‘moral’ for your story?


I’ve got to tell you, some of the sermons I’ve heard have blown my mind, got me in the gut, or focused me on a Scripture or area of personal weakness I'd never seen in quite the same way before. Because my writing projects take at least several months to complete, I hear dozens of Sunday sermons or midweek Bible studies in the course of one project, and there’s usually at least one concept that really stands out as one I need to grapple with personally … and sometimes it’s a neat fit into whatever I’m writing.

That prompts me to search out the Scriptures, do research into that topic, and explore its ramifications by projecting it into the story world. It takes time and serious thought, but then … presto! My story has more substance, I’ve learned and grown in the process, and perhaps readers will learn from the moral message without feeling Bible-bashed. Win-win-win.

What about you? Where do you turn for ideas on a message to incorporate into your story? Or do you prefer to write the story and see what message materializes as you go?

Caitlin R. Hedgcock is a Christian author who aspires to use storytelling for God’s glory. She lives with her family in England's picturesque county of Hertfordshire. Visit her website or Facebook page to find out more.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Historical Hints

Hey ya'll! It's Amanda again!

Historical fiction. It has to be my favorite genre! Not only do I enjoy reading it, I also enjoy writing it. And as I have read and written it, there have been a lot of things that I've noticed. Sometimes it is simple things that will make or break your story.

1800 - You have this kid who says cool.
Actually, it wouldn't be a kid at all -- it would be a child. And "cool" is totally out of his century.

1750 - All of the families have 2-3 children.
Depending on the culture, some of the families would have had 2-3 children, but that was probably due to deaths of children (during childbirth, as infants). Otherwise, if you're speaking English culture, families would have had larger families.

1550 - "I'm just kidding."
What? Your character is having a baby goat? Nay. He would be in jest.

980 - "This is my dad."
The first known use of "dad" is 15th century (how do I know that? Simple online search). He would most likely be "Father."

How does your character dress? How do they speak? How do they interact with others? What do they call their grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles? How do they spend their days? What is their occupation? The answers to all of these questions help set the tone of your historical fiction novel.

What is the terrain? What do the houses look like? Are the streets crowded and dirty or clean and free of clutter? The more you describe, the more the reader "feels at home" in your story.

What did they eat? Did they have crackers then? Soup? Bread bowls? Salads? Dressing? You could omit these details, or you could do a little research and make your story authentic.

She looked around the parlor.
What did she see? Were there couches (or were they called sofas or settees)? Did the windows have curtains or drapes? What were the colors? The ambience?  Going from the parlor, what is in the kitchen? A butter churn? What about the barn? Are the walls lined with tack?

Things to Remember
Don't assume. Do not assume that a published fictional book is accurate. It might be a good place to start with research, but don't use it as the encyclopedia.

Research pays off. But be sure that you're researching in the right places. The internet has great sources and the library has great books, but anyone today can have a website or publish a book. Check your information -- if you find 2-3 places that say the same thing, chances are you're pretty accurate. And remember: the best place to find solid information is in original documents, newspapers, etc.

Read books that were published in your era. If you're writing in the 19th century, you have a world of books you can obtain that were written in the 19th century! And who would better know their century than those authors?

Writing historical fiction is the best tool to learning history -- and you will unearth some pretty amazing treasures as you research! Don't let the magnitude of work discourage you from writing. Learn as you go, and be willing to test your historical authenticity.

What makes a historical fiction novel authentic to you? What hints do you have for writing historical fiction?


Amanda Tero is a homeschool graduate who desires to provide God-honoring, family-friendly reading material. She has enjoyed writing since before ten years old, but it has only been since 2013 that she began seriously pursuing writing again – starting with some short stories that she wrote for her sisters as a gift. Her mom encouraged her to try selling the stories she published, and since then, she has begun actively writing short stories, novellas, and novels. If something she has written draws an individual into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, it is worth it!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Building a Story

Do you ever hold a glimmering story idea in your hand, but are clueless about where to take it next? You feel like you’re on the verge of an exciting journey, but without a map all you have is that idea and a lot of anxious questions.

I found myself in that position just a couple of weeks ago, completely at a standstill as I wracked my brain for how this seed of inspiration could blossom into a worthwhile novella. Now I have a cast of major characters, a rough plot outline, a meaningful theme, and a few beginning pages of actual, live written words. And I’m very, very excited about writing it to the end.

Nevertheless, I know that when the time comes for another story, I’ll be anxiously wondering if I can actually take that new idea somewhere or not. So, to help, I came up with a list of ways that may help me and you develop as great a story as we’re capable of.

What you can do to grow a story from seedling to tree:
  • Add an interesting character or two. Since people come with their own stories, you might develop a character who will add the missing piece to the story as a whole.
  • Ask yourself: What if? Come up with an impossible situation and find a believable way your characters can get out of it. Readers will be hooked.
  • Research your setting. A fact you didn’t know before may provide just the incident you need to develop a fuller plot.
  • Explore a theme. Ponder what your story will mean to readers. If you want to gently teach about evangelism or forgiveness, for example, think of situations that would best portray them.
  • Include a physical object that can have meaning or symbolism. This one was an important choice for me in my most recent story. A significant object can give characters something to pursue or provide a connection to other characters.
  • Think of the plots of stories you love. What stories inspire you? Is there a way you can borrow some elements and change them so your story is still unique?
  • Pay attention to real life. Is there a compelling situation in real life that goes with your story idea?
  • Do the unexpected. Let your brain meander freely and see if you can create something that has hardly ever been done before. Or, ask yourself what readers would expect to be the outcome of your story idea so far and look for unpredictable ways to add twists.
  • Figure out what would challenge your protagonist the most. A story isn’t a story without conflict, so inject a character or situation that bothers or endangers your protagonist to the utmost.

What suggestions do you have for building a story and developing a plot?

Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copyeditor who loves the Lord. She revels in many things: the beauty of God's Word, the music of English, the wonder of nature, the joy of creativity, the freedom of motion, the richness of literature, the intrigue of history ... and much more. To learn more about her, visit her website or blog

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

3 Things Authors Can Learn from Brands

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

I work in digital advertising, so I spend a significant percentage of my brainpower each day thinking about how I can help businesses make more money.

Like it or not, every author is a business. You may not be profitable, but you're a business. You have a brand. You might even have multiple brands (e.g. fiction and nonfiction).

Here are three things authors can learn from brands about building their own brands.

1. Be consistent

Smart brands are consistent.

They use defined color schemes in their ads, on their websites, and in their product packaging.

They use taglines, like Nike's "Just Do It" and Geico's "Save 15% or more . . ."

They consistently present themselves as a solution to a specific problem, a way to achieve a specific feeling, or the purveyor of a specific experience.

Not every author needs a tagline and a logo, but you should apply the concept of consistency to your brand or conglomerate of brands.

Are you known for writing historical epics and now want to dabble in young adult romance? That's fine, but make sure your readers understand the difference. You may write a fantastic drama about the high stakes of high school, but that's probably not going to excite somebody who expected blood and guts in Ancient Rome.

Many authors tackle this by using pen names. Others use their real names (or single pen names) across all genres but they make sure their covers, marketing materials, and so on clearly communicate the differences between their books.

2. Know your market

One of the first questions I ask a new client is: Who is your target audience?

Do you know yours? Are you writing for young adults? Middle-aged women? Ten-year-old boys?

Because every person is unique you may very well write a book which interests young adults, middle-aged women, and ten-year-old boys all at the same time. However, you almost certainly have a target audience which makes up the vast majority of your readers.

Know your audience. Understand them. Know what they want, what they hate, and the kinds of books they've probably read.

This is where the "Amazon review" effect comes into play. Reviewer A says the book was "the best thing that ever happened to me" while Reviewer B says "I should have burned the money I paid for this garbage — at least that would have given me some enjoyment."

It's the same book. The difference is the reader, and you should focus on the people most likely to read your book — not on pleasing every single human.

3. Build loyalty

There's a reason that brands often spend more money in advertising to acquire a new customer than the customer pays them for their initial purchase.

The reason is called Lifetime Value. The initial purchase is just the beginning of a relationship. Hopefully that customer will come back for years, will refer their friends, and their friends' friends, and become a mini brand ambassador.

Sound familiar? That's exactly how successful authors grow their empires and break through the ozone layer into the elite ranks of authors who make decent money.

The hard work you put into your book brings you more than the $10 or $2 a reader pays you to read it. Your book becomes a 200-page commercial for your next book. And your next.

Make every book the best possible product you can (within reason). Not just because that's the right thing to do, but because you need loyal customers who are going to snap up every book you write.

Be consistent. Know your market. Build loyalty. Write amazing books!

John J. Horn is a Christian author from Texas. Purchase his Men of Grit series from Amazon here and sign up for his newsletter at

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Pantster's Lifesaver

Hi all! My name is Amanda Tero, and I'm new here at Word Painters. I'm super excited to be a part of a blog that edifies and encourages writers. Thanks, Alicia, for bringing me on board!! Now that I'm no longer a stranger, we'll continue to the article, shall we?

I write what's considered a "pantster" writing style. You know, "fly by the seat of your pants." Writing before you have it all outlined. Thinking up plotlines as you go. It's great fun to do so, but there can very easily be major pitfalls in writing this style. One of the most common pitfalls is inconsistency. You've probably seen them in amateur writing before -- the one comment that suddenly makes you stop with, "Wait! I thought this character had blue eyes three chapters ago..." And of course, as a writer, this is the type of mistake I'd like to avoid. However, if I'm creating characters, scenes, and situations as I go, it means that I most likely haven't sat down to think them through carefully.

I have honestly tried to print out character sheets and outline my characters before I write them, but that just doesn't work for me (you know, the ones where you have to decide their whole back story, eye color, favorites, and everything else). My characters tend to form as I write them -- and sometimes, I don't have the same "list of knowledge" for each character (e.g. I don't know each of my character's family trees). That being the case, I just create Word documents which save my pantster-loving life (er, my story).

As soon as I introduce a character in my story, I create a document for him. 

Yep, just a name. Then, as I write a little more, I might add something like this:

His character develops more -- an interesting trait or something -- and with every addition I put in my manuscript, I put in my character page. I also jot down anything I think is important for me to remember. Sometimes, I'll add a quote from this character or special phraseology, if applicable.

Here, we must leave my Zeke Thomas example, because this is as far as I've currently developed him. As I continue to write Journey of Choice, and if Zeke continues to show up in the scenes, then his document will grow. And as I continue to write, I have something to go back to, to glance at, to keep me consistent.

One more example before I leave, because this method helps me for more than just characters. Here's my castle plans for my WIP, "Befriending the Beast." I have more rooms floating around in my mind, but Belle hasn't yet entered these rooms, so I haven't quite decided which floor they're on, or what they looks like. When I do decide, you can be sure that it will find its place in this document.

I know there are magnitudes of methods for preserving your ideas as you write. This is just the method that works best for me, but I'd love to hear your side. 
How do you develop your characters, scenes, and plots? 
Do you use premade outlines and character sheets? Do you plan your characters before you write them out, or do they develop "on their own?" Do you keep a notebook by your laptop? Do you sketch house plans? What is your secret?


Amanda Tero is a homeschool graduate who desires to provide God-honoring, family-friendly reading material. She has enjoyed writing since before ten years old, but it has only been since 2013 that she began seriously pursuing writing again – starting with some short stories that she wrote for her sisters as a gift. Her mom encouraged her to try selling the stories she published, and since then, she has begun actively writing short stories, novellas, and novels. If something she has written draws an individual into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, it is worth it!