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!


Friday, August 5, 2016

Two New Reviews: "A Mother in the Making" and "A Heart Deceived"

Hey, everyone! It's Alicia here. If you follow me on Facebook or Google+, you know that I've been swamped! But I'm here today with two new book reviews! Check 'em out!

And what have you been reading this summer?

A Mother in the MakingA Mother in the Making by Gabrielle Meyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Appropriate for all ages. Best for 13+.

When I found out about the opportunity to jump on-board Gabrielle's street team for this book, I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled when the book arrived at my door. Yes, I did jump up and down. I was made even happier by the story itself.

When an aspiring actress shows up as his new governess, Dr. Orton doesn't know what to think. Miss Marjorie Maren is way too beautiful, fun loving, and, well...impractical. How could she possibly be a good governess to his children? And what is she hiding from her past?

Marjorie wants to make people happy with her life. Before she leaves to fulfill that goal as a movie actress, she is determined to leave the Orton family in good hands. Dr. Orton needs a good wife so his children can have a mother again. But what if she never finds the perfect woman? Time is running out...and her heart is getting way too drawn toward the Orton children...and their father.

With a touch of whimsy, overall sweetness, and the occasional similarity to The Sound of Music, A Mother in the Making is a fun, quick read. I enjoyed the story, loved the ending, and liked the two POVs. While I would have preferred a bit more character growth and historical details, that is not easy to achieve with a limited word count. The book was written in the style I've come to expect with Love Inspired books, and it was the perfect length for a quiet afternoon of reading.

Recommended for sweet romance and light historical-fiction fans.

View all my reviews

A Heart DeceivedA Heart Deceived by Michelle Griep
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

16+ for adult and dark themes.

I received this book from the author a few years back. I've started it several times, but this is the first time I've managed to read it all the way through.

DARK is the word I'd use to describe A Heart Deceived. Think Charles Dickens. Think Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby, and David Copperfield all rolled into one. Think of a time in English history that was very morbid, disease-ridden, superstitious, and godless. Think of all that, then add a touch of grace, John Newton, and a faint glimmer of hope.

The synopsis speaks for itself. There is no need to add to it. Read it, look at the cover, and you'll get the feel for the book.

This book gets four stars because of Michelle Griep's incredible attention to detail, historical accuracy, and tremendous ability to capture all of the senses in her word-weaving. You'll feel the pain, smell the filth, experience the darkness as you read. I was impressed by her knowledge of often little-known historical details.

The story in itself is a generally sad one, full of intrigue, a murder (?), all of the horrors of the time period, and the general ill effects of a godless society. Hope does break forth from time to time, but the light is far and few between the storm clouds. Expect to be intrigued and mystified, but still saddened and left moody or even depressed. 98% of the characters are downright creepy, unlovable, and wicked. The good ones are good, but understandable and very human (which I like).

I personally would have liked to see more focus on Christ and the gospel. Hope in God is there, but from a vague, almost ecumenical standpoint. This, perhaps, is perhaps because the author wishes to appeal to a wide variety of readers.

The bad do get their deserts, hope does shine forth to conquer, and the ending left me satisfied and warmed after the bleakness of the story. Warnings for sexual references (a nightmare, a man's callous remarks), violence, drugs (opium), and all of the godlessness that was known to that period in England's history.

Recommended for historical fiction fans.

View all my reviews

What have you been reading?

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 to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!