Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The What-Ifs

Have you ever sat down to consider the what-ifs of your book? 

Trust me, you can make a story a lot more interesting if you simply think about and apply all the what-ifs. What if your barrister forgot the cream and grabbed the detergent instead? What if Jill didn't go out with Jack? Maybe everything doesn't end hunky-dory for your protagonist and the antagonist walks away with everything he wants. 

For example... Have you ever thought about what The Sound of Music would have been like had they chose a German actress instead of Julie Andrews?


Okay, maybe that was a lousy example. But you get the point. Everything - absolutely everything - has what-ifs. The way it could have been or (for you as the writer) how it could be. 

Think about the what-ifs. Sometimes they make your story more interesting. Sometimes they don't. Think outside of the box and imagine the possible as well as the probable. 
________________________




Alicia A. Willis 
is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Three Little Pigs . . . in Shakespeare

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

I love the English language. If you do too, you'll enjoy this little diversion.




John

John J. Horn is a Christian author from San Antonio, Texas. Learn more about John and his Men of Grit series and sign up for his newsletter at johnjhornbooks.com.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Jesus, the Author



Just a little encouragement for your day. God is the author of your life, He has written His truths on your heart. You are His. He loves you if you sell 1000 copies of your story or 1.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB (emphasis mine)


This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. Hebrews 10:16 NIV (emphasis mine)

Friday, February 20, 2015

And So It Begins

I hope you’ve had a blessed couple of weeks since I wrote last! Where I live in the south, we are sniffing the winds of spring; the first wildflowers, henbit, are spreading in little purple carpets on the grass, and a few dogwoods and redbuds are nudging out blossoms. If I listen, hardly a minute goes by where I don’t hear a bird call. Spring is my favorite season!

Speaking of beginnings, how do you like to begin your stories? Beginnings are one of the most significant aspects of a book, so it’s helpful if you know how to get them right. But it varies from story to story, that’s for sure, so there’s no single, fits-all formula, unless it’s to give it your best efforts.

Photo By Arvee Marie

Some general rules are out there, however, so let’s take a look! First of all, what do I mean by a beginning? A beginning sentence, paragraph, page, chapter? All of them, because they’re all vital to a first impression. Let’s think about the beginning sentence and paragraph first. You’ll want to open with something attention-grabbing, something that lures the reader to read further until he or she can have some idea of what’s going on. If an opening sentence is clogged with boring language, or a lead paragraph bogged down in pointless or hard-to-understand detail, the reader will have a harder time getting into the book.

As for the content of the beginning, and where it comes in the story’s timeline, that is up to the story. I like to think the beginning paragraph should hint at the overall “feel” of the book and its theme. The beginning is often one of the most powerful and memorable scenes, and if you create a certain impression and expectation with it, it should be consistent with what the readers will find in the rest of the book. My theory comes from openings like Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a great fortune, must be in want of a wife,” where the tongue-in-cheek style and reference to marriage foreshadow the tone and plotline.

The beginning could come in the very commencement of the action of the story, i.e., when the hero first learns he must go on a journey, or it could come after the journey’s begun and use flashbacks later on to debrief the readers. The latter method, starting your story “in the middle of things,” could make it more intriguing. However you decide to begin, don’t forget that you can change the lead sentences as often as you wish before you call the manuscript done. That’s what editing is for! So don’t stress over the perfect beginning right when you are just putting out to sail.

When we think about the first pages and chapter one, something to keep in mind is to avoid “information dump,” where you tell the reader everything there is to know about the situation or characters’ backgrounds. That slows things down when what the reader really wants is advancing the story you started with. “Information dump” can be edited in a second draft, if you find it helpful to include more information for your own sake at first.

We could say a lot more about writing a beginning, but perhaps looking at examples is the best thing to do! Here is a brief list of potentially engaging ways to begin a story. Maybe they’ll spark some ideas!
1) A description of an interesting or beautiful landscape or setting (actually one of my favorite ways that books can begin! Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery, is an example)
2) A quirky or memorable statement of fact (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen; A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)
3) An intense action scene (From the Dark to the Dawn, Alicia A. Willis)
4) A description of an interesting character, especially the main character (Emma, Jane Austen)
5) Dialogue (The Scent of Water, Elizabeth Goudge)
6) The feelings or thoughts of a major character (The Sign of the Beaver, Elizabeth George Speare)
7) An intriguing action that makes you curious to know more (The Golden Goblet, Eloise Jarvis McGraw)

What is one of your favorite-ever beginning sentences, either from a book you love or a story you’ve written?

Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor 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, February 11, 2015

What Kind of a Writer are You?

So...writer is a fairly vague term. It can mean one of several things:

  • A journalist who chases ambulances and *in today's society* risks his or her life to get the scoop on events.
  • A casual hobbyist who writes for fun.
  • A hermit in some abandoned mine shaft who scrawls out his or her thoughts in true introvert fashion.
  • An author - casual or professional.
So what are you?

At this point, I am a professional author. I don't write just for fun, and I am dedicated to turning out a certain number of novels per year, marketing, public speaking, etc. While most professional authors have many books, there are a few who only have a title or two. Yet, they have the support of a big publishing house and are doing their part to market their work. These two scenarios are what is termed professional author.

Other writers I know are hobbyists. They write for fun or for an outlet. (Oh, to go back to those days!) They write because it's like breathing. The world may or may not ever get to read their work. It's their's and, for now, they are happy to keep it that way. 

Still others are casual authors. They may self-publish one or two books and don't do much in the way of marketing. If the books sells, it sells. If not...well, that's how it is. They are similar to the casual hobbyist in that it is still more of a hobby than an actual business. 

There are ups and downs to all three categories. And it is important to know which you are. You'll save yourself a lot of time and energy by knowing what kind of writer you are and devoting yourself accordingly.

So what are you?
______________________________________


Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!







Friday, February 6, 2015

Writers' Clubs and Literary Friendships

Writers have been friends with each other throughout history, corresponding, supporting, admiring, encouraging. They’ve enjoyed one another’s company at parties and have exchanged their manuscripts for critiques. Isn’t it fascinating to think of how great writers, like Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, and Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Gaskell, moved in the same circles and talked about literature and other stimulating subjects?

Friendships like that inspired me to start a writers’ club several years ago. I’d decided to seriously pursue writing for publication, and a necessary stepping stone is to cast the net wider for opinions other than your family members’. I wasn’t involved much online then, so I invited friends who were also interested in writing to my house once every two weeks (on a Wednesday). We’ve been meeting regularly for three or four years—they have been different friends, but the meetings are always structured the same, and we haven’t tired of them. (How can you get tired of reading new installments of exciting stories?)

Photo By Breather

We use our meetings as a time to read our works-in-progress, thus offering 1) accountability and commitment, 2) instant feedback, 3) an opportunity to hear your writing read aloud (which is excellent for editing), 4) inspiration, 5) community, 6) an antidote against discouragement, and 7) a fun time with like minds! Something about tangibly scheduling writing and writing-related activities into your days makes your goals all the more real and attainable. And let’s face it … writers are known for easily succumbing to discouragement, distraction, and procrastination (or is it just me?).

You may not live near other writers where a writers’ club is feasible, but if you do, I really encourage you to think about forming one! You can have one friend or five (be careful about getting too big, because then not everyone gets a chance to share their writing). The agenda can be anything you like, so long as reading your scribblings are the focus. Refreshments are fun if you like doing that (not me!); you could open in prayer, or play a little game. You could meet in a living room, a library, or a garden. For me, I need the meetings to be as simple as possible if they’re going to fit into my life, so all we do is read in my living room, but for you, the sky’s the limit! Schedule a special outing or bring in a published author as a guest every so often to keep monotony at bay. Just don’t forget that reading or discussing your stories are top priority.

As I’m sure most of you know, online is the place for writers to congregate. So if online is the only writing community you have, don’t be afraid to make friends! You can ask if anyone is up for starting a writers’ group. You can find beta-readers. If you’re a serious writer, community can definitely help you with your weak spots. For example, I’m a consistent, careful writer and would write even if I couldn’t publish, but marketing and promotion is hard for me. If it weren’t for the writing community I know online, my marketing would be nil because I wouldn’t be motivated to even learn how to do it. But seeing others do it is a vital hand-up.

Writing is solitary, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it with other writers, take their advice, and use it to connect with others and expand your life. God made us to help and live in fellowship with each other, and writing is no exception!

Are you part of a writers’ club, or have someone you can talk about writing with? What is your idea of a good writers' meeting?

Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor 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, February 4, 2015

Why Characters Should Not Be Created

Captain Russell Lawrence of Grace Triumphant
I was recently asked how I create my characters. Well, I don't. They create themselves.

Really.

I am always just as surprised as you by the time the words The End roll around. I don't fully understand my characters until the book is finished. And that's because good characters aren't created.

They're born.


Even now, as I am deep in work with Grace Triumphant: A Tale of the Slave Trade, I am constantly being surprised by the brand-new characters emerging. Russell, with his atheistic tendencies. Elizabeth, with her strong feelings and inability to stand up to her headstrong fiancee. Jack, with his scarred past.

It's one thing to plot out a character's hair and eye color, height, and roles. It's quite another to detail his or her entire disposition before you're finished with chapter one. Don't detail their lives away. Be surprised. Let the character live and breathe and be who they were meant to be without hovering over them like a helicopter parent.

Let them be born.
_________________________________


Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!




Monday, February 2, 2015

The Effect of our Words



We as Christian words talk often of using our writing to glorify God, but when was the last time we truly contemplated the effect our stories have on people. When was the last time you read the words you wrote and wondered how it will impact the reader who reads it? I am not just talking about how it impacts the review they give the book, but how it impacts their heart.

I have been thinking a lot about this as I have been working on Brothers and Betrayal. One of the main characters in the book is a young woman who is trying to help some people her father is opposed to. What will young people hear when they read about Brianna? Will they hear the message that I was trying to make that you should always honor and respect our parents, even if you have to follow God, instead of obey them? Or will children see this as an excuse to disobey their parents when they don’t like what they have said?

I do not pretend to have all the answers. I figure I will be struggling with how I word things up until the point I push the publish button. Struggling is good though, because it means that I am taking my job seriously. I wonder how many of the books that are out there would have remained unpublished if the author had taken a few minutes and thought about what effect their books could have on others’ lives.


To be sure, there will always be people who misunderstand your message or assume that you meant something by your words that you did not. However, that should not keep any of us from looking deeply into the words we right and thinking how it will affect our readers.

Sarah Holman is a not so typical mid-twenties girl: A homeschool graduate, sister to six awesome siblings, and author of five published books and counting. If there is anything adventuresome about her life, it is because she serves a God with a destiny bigger than anything she could have imagined.