Friday, January 29, 2016

Sunflowers and Mockingbirds

What kinds of things add richness to your life? Think details...the warmth and crackle of a fire in your fireplace that make you think of your favorite period movie or cozy read. The monthly board game nights that cause your family’s cheeks and sides to ache with laughter. The smell of baking bread that makes the day feel like a holiday even if it isn’t. The sunrise you can see from your window, unique every morning, when you have your quiet time with God, reminding you of His infinite creativity.

Little things like this make life enjoyable. And little things like this can also make people love your story.

Sometimes, when we write, we’re so fixated on the galloping plot or the characters and their interesting conversations that we don’t remember to include the details that immerse readers into our ficion. But we relate to fictional worlds very similarly to how we relate to the real world. We experience real life with our senses, and that makes memories, memories that capture specific feelings we had at the time. They are so powerful that they can make us revisit how we felt then. The same goes for fiction—fictional details make us feel like we’re really there, and guide us into appropriate emotions that deepen our reading immersion.

You don’t have to stop at just describing a sound or a smell; use them to remind your character of something, or to mirror his or her emotional state. The aroma of sizzling pizza at her friend’s house could remind a shy little girl, spending the night away from home for the first time, of fun parties at the pizza restaurant with her family, and she immediately feels happier. Or, to use an example from real fiction, Willa Cather’s character Jim in My Antonia thinks of freedom when he sees sunflower-bordered roads. It’s because he’s heard a story that the Mormons planted sunflower seeds on their way across the Western plains to Utah where they could have religious freedom. We make associations with unrelated objects all the time in real life.

Unsplash

But what is really rich, adding a stirring depth to your story that readers delight in finding, is when you go even farther and develop symbolism, like the scandalous scarlet A in The Scarlet Letter that burns shame into the adulterous couple’s lives, or the senseless atrocity of killing an innocent mockingbird in To Kill a Mockingbird. Some of my favorite symbolic objects in literature are the fairy-sized miniatures in Elizabeth Goudge’s The Scent of Water. This collection of delicate little objects was important to only a few characters in the book. They had a unique perspective on life that other people overlooked, and their delight in “the little things” drew them together across the generations. In one of my stories, I used the romantic blue willow pattern on china to depict Jesus’ love for us as His bride, which one of the characters needed to internalize. Each time the blue willow appeared in the story was a reminder of this truth.

Just like we use physical objects to help us remember truths in everyday life, we can use symbolic objects in fiction to help readers remember the message of our books. Of course we don’t want to go overboard, but if done with a light touch, symbolism adds a richness that will give your readers something to think about long after they’ve closed the book on The End.

Can you think of a book that used symbolism powerfully? Have you ever used it in your own fiction, or even in writing a devotional or something similar?

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, January 20, 2016

Turn Your Book into an Audiobook at ACX.com

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

I'm considering turning my novels into audiobooks.

Audiobooks provide a way to make more money from work I've already done, and engage readers in a new, exciting way.

I don't want to narrate my own books. Actually, I do, because I know what my characters sound like, but I know that my voice is not up to the task. I also know from a teaching project I'm working on right now that recording high-quality audio is HARD work.

That's why I'm considering ACX.com. It's an Amazon-run platform that connects authors with narrators. I have a friend who is narrating on ACX, and from what she has described of the process, it sounds like a really good fit for both authors and narrators.

Here's a video summary:

 

I'm curious to know if anyone else has experience turning their books into audiobooks, or with ACX specifically. If you do, I'd love to hear your perspective in the comments.

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 johnjhornbooks.com.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Back of Your Book

I hope God has blessed you with a great start to 2016! Something about a new year gives people a fresh wind in pursuing goals. For writers, that usually includes goals for improving our abilities.

Reading Jordan Smith’s Finding the Core of Your Story last month was part of my personal study on novel summarizing. I’m still working on the skills necessary for crafting compelling “back cover copy” (the paragraphs on the back of a book that tell what it’s about), but in this post I’m hoping to potentially help you out as I learn.

Here is a real-life example from my second book, England Adventure. This is the first synopsis I wrote for it after I finished:

Marielle’s fondest dream is coming true…by landing her and her cousins Emma, Caroline, Abby, Kailey, and Reanna in England. Gregory and Yvonne Endicott, old friends of their grandparents, and their sociable granddaughter Paris act as tour guides while they meet castles, villages, history, and the British. They wend their way from the homey village of Madgwick, to the global metropolis of London, to the rural sweeps of the Lake District, to many other intriguing towns and sights. Marielle has never had such an adventure.
But it’s not exactly a dreamland. It’s a place for Marielle to be challenged and to learn about real life, love, and God’s purpose. She soon discovers Paris is in troublecan she help her? Will England be a place where other lives besides Marielle’s are changed?

I showed it to friends who read the story, and they gave me some valuable suggestions. One of them, however, told me it was far too slow-moving and just not intriguing enough to get people to open the pages. When she sent me a reworked synopsis, I heartily agreed with her. Here is the final synopsis:

For as long as she can remember, Marielle has dreamed of seeing England in person. When kind grandparents send her and her cousins there to visit old friends, she can hardly wait to see the places she’s known in fiction and film. The Endicotts are perfect hostsand their worldly American granddaughter Paris, perfectly beautiful.
But it soon turns out that nothing is as it seems. Her cousins Abby and Reanna, once the best of friends, appear deeply at odds, and the picture-perfect Endicott family is hiding secrets of its own. Distanced by an ocean from home and her family’s protection, Marielle finds herself challenged by a troubling new world. She befriends Paris, but Paris seems opposed to what Marielle stands for. Can Marielle be the witness who helps Paris overcome the lifestyle that’s harming her? Or will Marielle and her cousins be overwhelmed by the conflict this supposed dream trip has brought them?

I and my friends were much more pleased with this one. Even though both explain what the story is about, the second does so more enticingly. It doesn’t get bogged down in naming every character, but focuses only on the most important. It dwells on character and action rather than setting. It uses hardly any passive voice. It expands on the conflict, which is what draws most readers to a story—so they can discover what happens. It drives forward instead of sitting in place. My friend said to think of a movie trailer and the types of scenes it shows.

Now of course, your back cover copy is subject to your story. You can’t write something untrue to make your story sound more exciting. But, as my friend proved, there are ways of drawing out its most exciting and intriguing aspects. Instead of lollygagging, you can use high-stake words that drive forward and push questions that demand an answer. These should be what your story is about anyway. But always stay true to the character of your book! Otherwise it won’t attract the right readers.

Also, reading the back cover copy on other books and evaluating what draws you in should really help. Study them enough, and you’ll get a feel for what works.

Do you have any experiences writing enticing synopses for your stories?

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

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Helpful Book...

Happy 2016, everyone! Today I’m reviewing a book I read in December.



You may have already read Jordan Smith’s popular Finding the Core of Your Story; if so, you can probably agree with me that it bears recommending to those who haven’t!


I read this short, addicting book in one morning. With wit and wisdom, Jordan Smith keeps close to his subject, loglines, and explores every facet so his readers can grasp the necessity and more importantly, the how-to, of loglines. A logline is a one-sentence summary of your story. It’s extremely useful—as Smith explains, it’s the perfect answer to the often casual and somehow intimidating question, “What’s your book [or film or play, etc.] about?” You can also use it to gauge whether you’ve stuck to the crux of your story.

Smith gives some formulas and uses plenty of movie logline examples so you can easily turn out your own for any story you’ve written. I was able to come up with one for my WIP while I was reading Smith’s book. It’s fun, even thrilling! If done right, the logline makes your story sound compelling and professional. Smith also explains how you can extend your logline into various types of synopses.

A logline helps both you, the nearsighted narrator, and everyone else, the busy potential readers, to grasp the essence of your story. When you know its essence, you can tell the story in the most effective way possible. And when you have a handy sentence to deliver on cue, whether in person or online, you’ll attract readers.

Check out Finding the Core of Your Story on Amazon.com and Goodreads!
May God bless you in the new year!

Have you ever written a logline for your story?


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