Saturday, October 28, 2017

(Don't) Preach It

Dear General Market Author:

You've complained about us Christian fiction writers for years, and honestly, you were right. Our pet talking points were elevated above story, which lead to some pretty bad books. Sometimes hilariously bad, with two-dimensional villains, Mary-Sue protagonists, and plots so predictable finishing the book was pretty much optional.

Our bad. We've been trying to do better, adding nuance and realism,and most of all, letting any moral come out naturally through a great story, instead of hoping (praying?) it would work the other way around.

Here's the thing, though. This whole not-preaching goes both ways. Sacrificing story at the alter of any belief system, no matter how fantastic or fervently held, still ends up just being a bad story.

So stop. Please.

You're hurting all of us.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Showing Versus Telling - Three Steps to Getting it Right

Instead of Telling
One thing almost every new writer hears is to "show not tell." Okay, great. but what does that mean? I thought I was showing.

Apparently not.

I didn't understand showing versus telling until I attended a writer's conference with my son. At 17, he was hesitant to wander a strange campus on his own, so instead of attending my "real writer" sessions, I went to his screen writing sessions. It was one of the best inconveniences of my life, because I finally realized what had been missing in my writing.

Movies show. They have to. When a character is sad, a voice doesn't boom, "The news saddened John." No, John hears the news, and his behavior changes. His shoulders slump. His gait shuffles. Tears well in his eyes.

So, in three easy steps, here is how to show, not tell:

1. Pretend you are a movie director and your characters are actors. How would you get an audience to know what your character is thinking or feeling? What would you tell and actor to do? Write your character doing those things.

2. Tell to speed up the story, when showing isn't necessary, or to let your readers know something isn't very important.

3. Show and tell when you want to emphasize a point.

My favorite reference book for showing emotion is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression Of course we want to show more than emotion, but it's a good start.

How do you show and not tell?

Monday, September 04, 2017

Characterization - Three Steps to Getting it Right

Know your characters, inside and out! Okay, maybe not this well. :)

As writers, we all want characters that jump off the page and into our reader's hearts, but making our characters come to life isn't easy. All too often, characters come across as paper-thin and two dimensional. When a character doesn't have depth, it's difficult to relate to them, or to care about what happens to them.

The answer to creating well-rounded characters is to know them, inside and out, but how do we do this? Here's three ways:

1.  Complete a character chart for each character. If you're having a difficult time figuring out your character, filling out a character chart is a good way to get to know them and their background. This knowledge will not only influence how your write your character in each scene, it will keep their behavior consistent, so they don't act "out of character" and throw your reader off.

2.  Imagine the story being told from each character's point of view. What are their motivations? Why are they doing what they are? If you take a minute to imagine each character the hero of their own story, you will bring meaning to their actions.

3. Write difficult scenes from various characters points of view. If a scene doesn't feel right, or if you just want to understand each character's behavior in each scene, writing the scene from their perspective will help you refine their dialogue and actions, making them more realistic.

Flat characters can ruin the best of stories. Developing characters takes time, but well-rounded characters keep readers invested more than any other part of writing.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Tackling That To-Be-Read Pile

Three weeks ago, my debut novel, ALL THINGS NOW LIVING, released. It's been an exciting time, and I've been satisfied with the attention and sales my book has been receiving. One thing that hasn't been easy, however, is getting reviews, and because they are so vital to sales, it is a must-do.

Which leads to me my to-read pile. I have dozens of books piled around my house and loaded on my Kindle that I want to read, but haven't gotten around to yet. As a recently published author I am looking at those piles with fresh eyes. Somewhere out there a new author is anxiously waiting for me to finish her book so I'll post a review. Or she used to wait. I'm sure by this time she's given up. Some of the books I bought new are now completed series, and though I own all the books that followed the first, I've yet to dive into any of them.

I decided last week to be kind to myself and other authors. I love reading, and authors love reviews. Win-win, right? So I made a plan to read more:

1. Read more than one book at a time. I know, a lot of other people do this all the time, but it has always driven me crazy. I wouldn't watch 45 minutes of a movie then stop, watch something else, and finish the movie later. But if I was going to read more, I was going to have to read more than one book at once. For me this meant one audio book, one digital book, and one paper book going at the same time. So far, it's actually worked out really well.

2. Read what you can, when you can. I typically don't read books, I devour them. I've never been a one-chapter-a-night person. It's all or nothing, but I've decided on no more nothing. This is still quite frustrating. I don't enjoy pesky interruptions like having to go to work, but I have read more.

3. Read with my husband. My husband isn't a big reader, so usually for relaxation we watch a movie in the evening. It's our social time together, and I enjoy watching movies, but every night is a little much. It's valuable time I could spend reading!I've talked my husband into giving a few books a try, and while our social time is quieter on those nights, it's been really fun.

How big is your to-read pile? How do you get around to reading

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What Exactly is Christian Fiction?

My book, coming out May 15, 2017 is being published by Written World Communications, a Christian publisher. This has lead to a number of people asking me if ALL THINGS NOW LIVING is a Christian book.To be honest, I don't have a simple yes or no answer. What is considered Christian varies from person to person, but I'd say in recent years two types of Christian literature have emerged:

Overtly Christian

In these books, the main character is usually a Christian. If not, they will undoubtedly become one before the story is finished. Bible verses are liberally sprinkled throughout the text, and prayer is an essential element. Often there is what I like to call a "Come to Jesus" moment. 

Written from a Christian World View

These books may have no mention of God or Jesus at all. Words like "clean", "sweet", and "cozy" are often used as descriptors. They typically offer a positive message while avoiding graphic depictions of ideas, concepts, or behaviors Christians may find offensive.

So, which is ALL THINGS NOW LIVING? I would have to say it falls into the second category, as there is no mention of Jesus, no conversion, no bible verses, and limited prayer, but ALL THINGS NOW LIVING is a spiritual coming-of-age story. This make it heavier on religious content than many of the "Written from a Christian World View" books I've read.

What do you consider a Christian book?  Do you regularly read Christian literature, or is it something you avoid? How do you feel about "Christian" books that lack overtly Christian content?

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

So, Are You Writing a Trilogy?

Book One
Probably the most frequent question I get asked when people hear I have a YA book coming out is if I am writing a trilogy. I understand why, my first book clearly indicates it is Book One, and there have been a lot of trilogies released in the last few years. But no, I am not writing a trilogy. Here's why:

Story should determine itself, not how many books you want in your series. My series will actually have four books, because that is how many are needed to serve the story. Not the other way around.

Each book should be able to stand on it's own. I've read a number of very frustrating "trilogies" that were, in fact, only one story broken up into three parts, beginning, middle, and end. In other words, there was no conclusion at the end of the first book, or the second. Too bad for you if you didn't want to read all of them, or if you had to wait years between the release of each volume. While there is an overarching plot that is threaded through all four of my manuscripts, I have worked very hard to have distinct plots for each, and I hope readers will find them satisfying in themselves.

If you are writing a book, don't feel pressured to come up with a certain number of books. Sometimes the story is best told in one. Other times many more are needed. Do what works best for you and the story you are telling.

Monday, January 09, 2017

That Time of Year - Picking Writer's Conferences

Time to plan the year!
Every January I look over my calendar to decide which writer's conferences to attend. I wish I could go to a lot more than I do, but, like most of us, I don't have unlimited funds or time.

The first conference that gets circled on my calendar is my local writer's group annual conference. Not only is it the least expensive, it is close by and only lasts one day. While it's focus is on self-published authors, I have learned more about marketing from this group than any other. Definitely worth it!

The next conference I chose is regional.  Not as expensive as national conferences, these conferences still often attract top speakers, editors, and agents. Because they are smaller than national conferences, there is often a better chance to meet the speakers as well as to get to know other authors.

National conferences are the most expensive, not only in fees but travel and accommodation costs. I don't go to a national conference every year. Although they are a lot of fun, they really don't offer more opportunities than the regional conferences, and sometimes less. This is why, many years, I will attend two regional conferences instead of  going to a national conference.

Not only has attending writer's conferences improved my writing, I would say having the chance to interact with other writers and learn from the best authors, editors, and agents has kept me writing.

Will you be attending a writer's conference this year? Which ones would you recommend?