Monday, March 30, 2015

To Write, Live

Could these days have been more idyllic? Spent riding, working with animals, between sloping hills and in fellowship with 13 hearty companions...?

Light fades and breezes fan the cheeks, and the horizon is melting into one shade of earth and sky; the only visible stars are the yellow ones from across the valley in the village, and the only sound is the murmur of sheep. These are the moments that bring a tear of gratitude to a pondering soul on the eve of parting.


(I spent time on a farm this month, helping with lambing and farm chores. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and its facets will undoubtedly come out in future writing projects.)


Writing has a lot to do with putting ourselves in another’s shoes—plunging into a situation, location, or era (or all three!) that we may never have experienced first-hand. The more we practice this mental discipline, the better we get at guessing believable human responses to different types of conflict (internal, external, man vs. man, man vs. environment, etc.)

For the peculiar breed of people called writers, sitting at a desk and staring at the wall can be the most enjoyable part of the job. Imagining the perfect plot twist, the dialogue of characters, the blow-by-blow progression of a fight scene, or a crisp new set of “show, don’t tell” tactics can raise the heart rate and make us scramble for a piece of paper.

But there is a limit to the amount we can generate from our heads . . . and there are some things we simply need to experience to grasp.

If you’ve ever read Ballantyne’s Deep Down, A Tale of the Cornish Mines, you might have been impressed at the way little details transported you into the everyday occurrences in 1800s tin mines. Whenever I think of miners, I think of lobsters and of blinding accidents:


Whatever colour the men might be on entering [the changing-house], they invariably came out light red, like lobsters emerging from a boiling pot.
In Botallack mine a large quantity of iron is mingled with the tin ore. This colours everything in and around the mine, including men's clothes, hands, and faces, with a light rusty-red.

*****

With great labour and difficulty the injured man was half hauled, half carried, and pushed up the shaft, and laid on the grass.
"Is the sun shining?" he asked in a low voice.
"Iss, it do shine right in thee face, Jim," said one of the miners, brushing away a tear with the back of his hand.
Again the gravity of Penrose's countenance appeared to deepen, but he uttered no other word; so they brought an old door and laid him on it. Six strong men raised it gently on their shoulders, and, with slow steps and downcast faces, they carried the wounded miner home.

Sure, I don’t see the book being made into the next big blockbuster, but little glimpses of colour, kindness, and sorrow make his largely-factual novel enjoyable. How did Ballantyne research? By spending three months living with miners.

Even if you can’t do that, and don’t have first-hand knowledge of driving an Alaskan dogsled team, or slicing through rainforest thick with bugs, or tasting the roasted dust of the Outback, can you add little elements of human interaction that you’ve witnessed? Can you slip in a reference, pertinent to the matter at hand, to the smell of garlic when Ma was cooking, or the feel of gloves that were a gift, or the ache of muscles that haven’t been used before?

The point is this: unless we write autobiographies, we will always be applying imagination to research in the process of unwrapping stories. But as much as you can, 1) include experiences you’ve had, and 2) go in search of experiences you could put in your “arsenal” of story elements.

Walking down the street can be a goldmine if you have your eyes open.

"To write, live."

  
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.







Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Refresher #2 - Show, Don't Tell

Time for another refresher! Show, don't tell. Yes, we've covered this before, but doing so again won't hurt.
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Please consider the following sentence:

"No, I don't want to go to the grocery store." Devon shook his head determinedly. 

Now consider this way:

Devon bit his lip. A chill rushed down his spine. The grocery store. His milk allergies and foliphobia were a glaring threat. "No. I don't want to go there."


Which sentence caused you to more emotionally involved and connected to what the character was feeling?

 You see, showing feelings has everything to do with causing your readers to feel what the character feels. To cry or laugh when he does. To feel that prickle of nervousness or shiver of cold apprehension. 

#1

Lily was angry through and through. "How can you say that to me?" she demanded.

Or...#2

Lily clenched her jaw. She could feel heat rising in her face. "How can you say that to me, Jake? Does our friendship mean nothing to you?"

One tells. The other shows. 

How does it work in a different time setting? Pretty much the same way, even if you are trying to add historical detail.



#1


William felt fear. "I'm sorry, Sir John. Please, it won't happen again."

#2

A cold chill washed down William's spine. Sir John had never lashed out so wrathfully at him before. Cousin or no cousin, this man was his master. And that strain of legal authority was budding in a way he had never seen before. He found himself bowing low. "Forgive me, my lord. I will never offend in such manner again."


Yes, one is much longer, but you get some historical background as well as William's feelings. Good character driven stories have to show the emotional workings of a character's heart in at least some detail. 

 Now it's your turn! Take the following sentence and practice showing, not telling in the comments. Have fun!

Ricardo bowed before picking up his sword. "Your wish is my command, majesty." 
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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, March 20, 2015

Thwarting Disaster

Fortunately I don’t have any bad news to share with you today on this fine first day of spring (so glad it’s here!), so don’t go screaming and running the other way as you should if confronted by a computer virus threat through an email or internet download. I just wanted to put out a reminder for you that viruses can strike when you least expect.

Save your work.

A little over two weeks ago my parents’ computer was infected and all their emails and documents were corrupted. The computer was saved, but not the files. I shuddered to think of what would have happened if that had been my computer with all my writing and photos on it, and I promptly downloaded my most important work on my laptop to a flashdrive. I hadn’t been keeping up with that very well. I also saved some emails, too. The same night we got my parents’ computer back from the repairman, I got a virus threat, and though it was taken care of, I downloaded the rest of my projects onto the flashdrive, as I considered that losing anything would make me sorry. This threat was a further sign to take saving my writing seriously.

So, I highly encourage you to regularly back up what you write on your computer! You never know when a virus will hit or your machine will conk out and your hours and days of irretrievable hard work will be gone for good.

Has a virus ever eaten up your work-in-progress?

There is a happy ending to this, of sorts, because despite some scares on the cyber-front over the years, my second novel, England Adventure, is now published, praise God! Click here to check it out on Amazon.com. You may also like to read more about it on my blog here and here!


 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, March 18, 2015

Do Your Characters Argue in Your Head?

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

Do your characters argue in your head?

Dialog is my favorite part of fiction. My characters do much besides talk, but when they talk I want it to be memorable.

Get-ready-for-battle speeches are fun. I'm-really-the-bad-guy speeches are fun. I-want-to-marry-you speeches can be fun, if you avoid clich├ęs.

My favorite speechifying is when two (or more) friendlies battle verbally about something — anything. It can be about making a trip halfway around the world or how to make sauce (my characters have done both). I'm always on the lookout for good one-liners.

One of my favorite ways to create fun dialog is to have two characters argue in my head. I get fantastic ideas and learn new things about my characters by listening to what comes out of their mouths. It's like stream of consciousness writing, but easier on the wrists.

That sparks a question: For you, is dialog a driving force or an afterthought?

For me, dialog is very much a driving force. So much so that I purposefully begin each of my novels with a line of dialog. Characters drive my story, and dialog drives my relationship with my characters.

So, what about you? Do you hear voices?

P. S. The author of this post is not responsible for strange looks, inquires, or misconceptions that may occur when you realize your characters have been arguing inside your head — out loud.

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.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Refresher...

I've been over some of this before, but I figured a little refresher wouldn't hurt any. Whether you are a newbie or have been following Word Painters since the beginning...buckle your seat-belts and let's go!


This is going to be a random list, but we all like random. Right?



  • First off, call your book a manuscript before it's published. It's more professional and more accurate.
  • Are you published? If not, don't call yourself an author. Period. You're a writer until the day you sign that contract or push that publish button.
  • Don't ever say "By" when you put your name beneath the title. It's a sign of an amateur. Simply put your name.
  • Writing a book? Remember, it's your WIP - your Work-In-Progress.
  • Know your genre. Be educated when you talk to others about your manuscript. Know your plot, always have a hook/elevator pitch ready. You should be able to tell people what genre you're writing and know how to describe it in two sentences or less.
  • Kill cliches. Unless they're period accurate (for historical-fiction), never use a modern cliche. Your character is never as white as a ghost (or a sheet), his legs never turn to jelly or feel like lead, etc. You can make up your own descriptions anyway - it's much more powerful.
  • Avoid the words "suddenly" and "miraculously". Professionals hate 'em.

That's all for now, but feel free to submit any additional tips and (pardon the cliche) tricks-of-the-trade in the comments!
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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, March 6, 2015

Classic Word Painters

I’m absolutely certain I don’t have to encourage Word Painters readers to make good books a regular, if not daily, habit. We just enjoy it so much; reading comes with living! Of course, a vital part of any writer’s practice is reading, so it’s always fun to excuse our favorite leisure activity by saying “it’s research.”

 
What does reading those good books do for your writing? It varies from writer to writer. Some absorb the “how-to” of writing simply by devouring book after book, arriving naturally at understanding how to craft a story; others learn everything about how to write by poring over such manuals; while others are a mixture.

With that background, I wanted to take time to mention a few older authors whom I admire and seek to emulate in my writing. Each of them have different strengths that inspire me. (I have a long ways to go, though, if I really want to be like any of them!)

The Lord God … The story He’s authored is the greatest story ever told. Conflict happens, but there is a happy ending. And strictly speaking of the Bible, the writing is breathtakingly beautiful, and every word has purpose!

Jane Austen … Her young heroines are relatable yet unique, and all her characters are defined and different from one another. She writes about relationships between all sorts of people, reiterating the importance of our everyday interactions.

Elizabeth Gaskell … This Victorian novelist took a balanced approach to all her characters and their personalities and social beliefs, which succeeds in making them like real-life individuals. It also encourages readers to take the time to understand people who are different from them.

L. M. Montgomery … Her poetic scenery descriptions steal my breath every time I read them.

Mark Twain … His beautiful writing and precise choice of words is spectacular.

Louisa May Alcott … She deftly weaves morality and thought-provoking life lessons into her endearing characters’ stories. Though not action-packed, they focus on the significance of life choices.

Lisa Wingate … I included one modern author in this list, because obviously there are amazing writers nowadays! She writes contemporary stories that prove to be page-turners without being strict romances or suspense. Her incredible details testify to the depth of research she puts into each book.

Catherine Marshall … She’s a Christian writer who doesn’t stop at the surface-level of spirituality; her characters really seek after God.

Elizabeth Goudge … She has a lovely way with language; her descriptions are like word paintings. Also, she weaves in deep spiritual insights that we learn through the lives of her characters.

What authors do you admire and seek to emulate? How do they inspire your writing? Classic or modern, we will find many to glean from. I could think of at least twenty more who inspire me!

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, March 4, 2015

Epic Historical Fail

So you are writing a historical-fiction novel. 

Cute. Maybe even fun. But...

Watch out on your research. History is constantly being updated. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad.

  • Liberals will change it to push their world views. Always bad.
  • Christians will Christianize it. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. God's in control and has a sovereign plan, but not everything that happens in history is good. 
  • The winners will make their fish story bigger. Can anybody say "the Romans"?
  • Losers seldom record what happens. 'Cause they're dead or embarrassed. Obviously.
  •  New artifacts are being found. Things get buried deep sometimes.


So watch out. Read more than one source. Realize that another historian may have a different view than you. Expect controversy. Know where to draw the line between fact and creative liberty.

And, whatever you do, don't change the Louisiana Purchase into a rel-estate deal for your protagonist. I don't care how good she is - that's just not kosher in a historical-fiction novel.



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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!