Friday, May 29, 2015

Pure and Virtuous Things

A 2012 article from the New York Times gives us fiction writers a boost of satisfaction for what we do: “Your Brain on Fiction” explains how reading something in a novel causes you to simulate the same action or sensation in your brain, as if you were doing it or feeling it yourself. This concept also explains why you like a book best when it’s about something important to you—you get almost the same fulfillment from reading a story about horses, for example, as you would if you were with the real animal. The video “How Fiction Makes Our Brains Better” adds great insights to this scientific phenomenon as well, mentioning how learning through a story is more effective than learning via facts. Since fiction is by definition about someone other than you, one of the biggest benefits it gives its readers is greater empathy for others. I can’t tell you how many times reading about a character in a novel has helped me understand, or at least judge graciously, someone who puzzles me. 

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We’ve all learned so much from good novels that we probably wouldn’t be the same people we are today without them. And that’s also why it is so vital to read good books—books that build your character or draw you closer to the Lord and not away from Him.

As writers, we have the opportunity to touch other people’s brains—and, even further, the way they live their lives. We can breathe into their souls love and hatred, faith and fear, joy and sorrow. I can track this inspiration in my own self as I read, and so I’m sure that my writing does the same as other books. That’s why my motto for writing is Philippians 4:8—“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

This isn’t to say your story characters have to be perfect or never go through something unpleasant; your story has to be realistic to readers in order to uplift them. But, I encourage you to make it your goal to leave readers with a message, whether subtle or strong, that they can identify and that will either reinforce their good morals or change their lives for the better, however small.

What is a novel or short story that has impacted you recently? This is a powerful short story that I just read: Coffee Cake Days.

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, May 20, 2015

Building a Multi-Book Universe

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

If you have been alive during the last few weeks you've probably heard about Avengers: Age of Ultron. This post does NOT address whether or not that was a good movie, whether you should watch it, etc. The reason I bring it up is because I'm fascinated by the way that Marvel has built a multi-character universe that stretches across storylines and media channels.

Marvel started with comic books, has released animated movies, video games, and film series, started a chain of blockbusters in 2008 with Iron Man, and is churning out traditional TV and Netflix original series.

Marvel's universe is populated with a host of heroes and villains. Characters have individual storylines which intertwine with each other, so there are stories with one headline hero (like Iron Man) and then stories that combine characters and/or villains (the two Avengers films).

I love the idea of a "universe" where characters operate independently and together. By "universe" I don't mean a fantasy world, just a story world which transcends a single plot (and, in Marvel's case, most other forms of media).

This is something I have explored with my own novels.

My first two novels, The Boy Colonel and Brothers at Arms, follow completely different characters and plots. But in Secret of the Lost Settlement my characters join forces, and in my next book they will share another adventure. I also have plans for the individual adventures of other characters I've introduced in those three stories.

One beauty of a shared universe is that each book can be built-in marketing for other books in the series. Sure, that's how normal book series work, but a normal book series sticks with a central cast of characters and/or a fairly linear plot progression.

With Marvel's universe, a person may not be interested in Iron Man, Hulk, or Thor, but may really like Captain America. So when everybody gets together for an adventure, the Captain America fan will invest time in a story that give hours of screen time to other characters, will probably get interested in some or all of the other characters, and bingo, Marvel has built a crossover fan who is now interested in other members of the universe.

I think that's a pretty neat idea.

Once again, this post is NOT about the Marvel universe. Just what we can learn from the overarching concept that has made that franchise billions of dollars.

What do you think about story "universes"?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Relatable Protagonists

Note: I have never before left Blogger to publish a post for me, so when I went away with my family to Barcelona (Catalonia! Almost like a real-life Prisoner of the Pyrenees :) Has anyone else been to Spain? Leave a comment to say where you went!) I was hoping it would all work out as it's meant to. Sadly, the post didn't publish at all. Here it is now.


At root, stories are about people responding to their environments—whether those are situations of physical strain or mental tension, or both. As readers, we want to have a main character (protagonist) we can stick with through thick and thin.

Protagonists that are
  • heroic
  • smart
  • strong (physically, mentally, or spiritually)
are great, and we can enjoy seeing the world from the perspective of someone who has a special skill that we don’t have.

Besides the epic qualities, though, we need to see a few down-to-earth flaws too. We want to pretend that if we were in the protagonist’s shoes, we might also have a shot at scraping through his challenges and coming out victorious. In other words, we love a character who is relatable on some level.

Example

One of the most relatable characters I’ve come across is from a John Buchan yarn, Huntingtower. The chubby, retired greengrocer Dickson McCunn has misplaced romantic notions about what adventure is like, and sets about planning one for himself. His walking-holiday through Scotland becomes a thing of the past as he is drawn into a real-life adventure—and realizes he’d much rather settle into an armchair with a book and a cup of tea than scramble about the glens trying to free a princess.

“Old” McCunn’s character was a pleasure on many counts. Like me, he can’t run for miles, likes mellow poetry, relishes classic tales of bravery, and is lost for words when politeness and honesty are at odds. The thoughts and emotions that assault him were just the ones I would have encountered in his place. Ultimately, the only reason he stays the course of the task, despite being sorely tempted to make a dash for the safety of home, is his sense of duty.

He is so ordinary, in fact, that one wonders how he could be a protagonist at all. His special skill—the mind of a businessman and a heart for taking responsibility seriously— is what makes the other characters come to appreciate him and miss him when he's absent.


It’s your turn! Who's a protagonist you admire and why? Is there some aspect of his/her character that you are able to relate to?


  
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, May 15, 2015

Another Kind of Word Painter

Have you ever thought about the resemblances between writing and acting? I’m going to go off on a fun tangent here. Probably most of you have more experience with the novel than with the stage, but the similarities and contrasts are interesting. I’m no actor (I would crumple in self-consciousness on a stage!), so I wouldn’t have had this on my mind except I’m reading a memoir by an actress for research. (Sidenote: relevant memoirs are the best way for getting into the head of a character who’s unlike you!)

The actors’ goal is to “become” the character they’re playing. They do all kinds of research into the character so that, when it comes time, they can convince the audience they’re not themselves, but this other person from the story on the stage or the screen. They study or imagine this new personality’s motivations, psychology, and background. They seek to know everything about him or her—likes, dislikes, style, hobbies, what he thinks of his family, friends, and enemies, what she’d eat for dinner at the end of a harried day, what he would do if someone picked a fight with him. Eventually the actors develops the part enough that they can transform into that other person at will. 



As I learned this from the actress’s memoir, I realized how we as authors are similar: we seek out everything there is to know about our characters. We especially delve into our protagonists … and just like actors can better play a role if they’re familiar with every aspect of the character’s life, so writers can more convincingly portray a character when they know more about them than what’s seen on the stage of the story’s pages. And writers’ fun is multiplied—because they get to do this with more than one character!

What are other similarities? Actors and writers do their jobs best when they relate what they’re acting or writing to something they’ve experienced. Both learn from life so they can perform their art. Actors must be passionate about their play and character, just like writers must be passionate about what they’re writing. Both have to believe in the value and “reality” of their play or story. And, last but not least (on this list … I’m sure there are more correspondences than what I’ve included here!), both have to pay attention to the needs of their audience. Actors have to stand “just so” and project their voices; writers have to write clearly and entertainingly. 



Or … would it be more accurate to call writers the director of a play or movie? After all, writers can’t “inhabit” every one of their characters … that’d be exhausting! But the director has to know all the characters and what he wants them to do. He makes final decisions about everything that makes the production come alive. And sometimes those fictional characters are like actors or stage crew who have their own ideas of how things should run ….

What are strategies you use to know your characters and story world better? Have you ever acted in a play?

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, May 13, 2015

God: The Master of the Story

Do you ever have that moment when your book no longer becomes your own?

I'll admit, I was beginning to struggle with Grace Triumphant. The questions were becoming overwhelming. Am I adding enough action? Will readers even like this book? Is it too wordy? 

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That is where God got me. He got me in the same place on From the Dark to the Dawn.

This is not my book. It's His. It's not about whether or not readers like the book. It's not about whether I am popular as an author, or if my book fits the neat little box many readers expect, or if the book sells.

So. 

I don't care if there are places I have to tell, not show. In today's world, people aren't getting important messages anymore. They have to be told. Maybe the book will sound a bit preachy. Maybe there will be too much God and religion and faith to suit a lot of people. Maybe there will not be the amount of action readers want. The list of things that could be wrong with this book is long.

But, if it is God's book, then the list of things that are right in His eyes sure outweighs the wrong any reader might find.

That is what matters. It's His book. I dedicated it to Him. Just like From the Dark to the Dawn. God has a plan. This book will reach those who need it and its message - whether or not they like it.

Aren't you glad we have a faithful, loving God? One who reminds us that everything we do is His glory? I am so excited to see what the Lord does with this story!
_______________________________




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, May 11, 2015

Social Media Guide 101: Branding

You have something unique to offer the world with your writing.

If that statement isn’t true, you should consider taking up some other line of work. Identifying what make makes your writing unique can help you find your brand and use that brand to the best advantage. You might write biblical fiction that ties multiple Bible stories together, you might write high sea adventures that teach children moral lessons, or maybe you like to write adventure stories set in imaginary kingdoms.
For creating a brand, you have to start by thinking of what kinds of stories you write. Get a sheet of paper or a Word document and start writing down what your stories are about. So, what is it you write? Got it? Okay, we can move on the next part of branding.

You want to have a slogan or a set of words that you can put into use so that readers can identify you not just by your picture or a book title, but be able to say.

“That is Sarah Holman: Faith, Adventure, Destiny.”

Okay, so maybe they don’t say it out loud, but it is a way for them to pick you and your books out of the published crowd. The next thing you need to do is make a phrase/slogan that describes your work. Like: Bible Stories that Bind; On the Ocean of Faith; Fantasy, Make Believe, Faith.

Once you have a phrase, you need a list of words that might along with that. Why? Because it is time to rewrite your bio to include your brand.

When not reading her Bible, looking for her next story, Polly Prat likes to spend time with her husband (who has very Jewish looking beard) and children, bake flat bread, and reorganize her workspace. She perused her degree in family counseling because she had a desire to bind together what was broken.

See how that captured the words and some of the ideas of her slogan?

Jeremy Smith knows that if can be hard for kids to stay anchored in good values. Even as a home school graduate and an aspiring singer, he has been pulled and tossed by the worlds standards. He wants to share from his experiences to help children navigate through the storms of life.

Key words, again, have been pulled from the ocean theme of his brand.

Katie Johnson grew up reading C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, and then creating her own worlds. It wasn’t much of a surprise when she decided to write some of them down. After receiving her degree in English with a minor in theology, she took up her pen full time, using it to tell stories with a deeper message.

What she read as a child influenced her decision to write fantasy. We showed her faith by pointing out her minor in theology and writing stories with a deeper message.

What are you waiting for? Go start branding!



 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. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Insecurities

We all have insecurities. 


Authors look confident. To readers, authors look like they have such a glamorous lifestyle. After all, what is more amazing than having published a book and shared it with the world?!
In a way, that is true. God richly blesses authors by allowing them to communicate their feelings in such a special way. But it's not glamorous.

We all have insecurities.

Is my book good enough? Will readers like it? Will it sell? Will it be popular? 

Yep. I have 'em too. Those doubts, questions, and worries. But, every time, God reminds me of one thing. It's not my book. Yes, I am called to do my absolute best and make that book as professional and well-done as is within my ability. Yes, I am to spend as much time on it as necessary. But the goal is to do my best for God, not to make the book sell.

'Cause, if our goal is to be popular, sell lots of books, or please the masses, we probably aren't 100% in God's will. He calls us to be humble. To write the message He gives us. To proclaim His word and principles. Pleasing the masses and being popular generally doesn't fit within the latter callings.

So, the next time you are tempted to be insecure, just remember this: If you have done your best and given your book to God, He can take care of it. The book will reach the people who need it. If you've done your part (which does include a lot of work), God will bless. 

And, after all, if we have pleased God, what more can we truly ask?

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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. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Plans interrupted

I love my life, I really do, bust sometime I am frustrated things get in the way of my plans.  Things like colds, unexpected trips to town, and people visiting all have been keeping me from spending time on writing my Social Media series. It is coming, I promise.

The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.
Proverbs 16:9 (NASB)

Friday, May 1, 2015

A NaNoWriMo Challenge

I hope your writing has been going well! Mine has, because this month I did something I’ve never done before: participated in the “Camp NaNoWriMo” challenge during April. National Novel Writing Month takes place in November and involves challenging yourself to write 50,000 words (the accepted minimum number of words to make a full-length novel) on your fiction project. It encourages and empowers beginners to try creative writing. Also, many established writers use it to either get a jump start on a new idea or make huge leaps on a work-in-progress. I’ve never done it, as I am not a fast writer, but my ears perked up when I heard about Camp NaNoWriMo, a smaller-scale event that occurs during the thirty days of April and the thirty-one of July. You set your own word-count goal, a little closer to your comfort zone, and still get to see the neat “novel stats” that show your progress on a bar graph, or tell you your words-a-day average, or let you know how many words you have left, and so on. You can connect with other writers in “cabins” and compete with each other (not against each other), and your cabin has stats to watch as well because everyone’s word-counts are pooled together. You can chat and encourage each other.

A writer's retreat from the comfort of your own home. (Note: photo is not associated with Camp NaNo logo)


Camp NaNoWriMo really helped me focus on my writing this month and taught me how to continue being industrious and prioritizing it, even more than it has been. I made it a point to exceed my daily goal every day, because I was never sure when a day would come that I couldn’t write. So I finished early and had the opportunity to catch up on other things that I’d put aside for the time being. But it was easier than I thought and so motivating! For example, if I would write just 500 words a day, that’s 182,500 words a year … the length of three short and two medium-length novels.

Having a goal like this, where you are beholden to write a certain amount in a certain length of time, does wonders for actually getting your book written. I believe it’s what sets the serious writers apart from the dabblers (and I’m talking to myself here!). You don’t have to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, but establishing some sort of self-discipline is key to successfully finishing a book. If there are seasons you can’t write, take advantage of the ones in which you can. Author Alicia G. Ruggieri says this: “Consistent writing every day, whether I feel like it or not, generally yields the best fruit. Sometimes it’s boring, but it’s always worth doing what God has led you to do—and to do it with all of your might.” I heartily agree! If you are writing for the Lord, being diligent is your service to Him. Obviously there are times when you simply can’t, and He understands that and holds your times in His hand (Psalm 31:15). But when you are capable of it, work hard to eliminate distractions (online distractions are the worst!) and go for that goal!

Have you participated in any NaNoWriMo challenge before? Did it help you establish good writing habits once the month was over?

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