Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Eyes of A Character's Soul

The eyes are a portal for humankind. They let others into our soul and provide an avenue for us to take in observations.

God prefers to look at us through our heart. He knows our thoughts, motivations, inspirations, conspiracies, analysis, synthesis, evaluations and everything that stimulates our brain.

We, however, cannot see another person's heart. The only way we can test another person's spirit is by looking at their eyes. 

By developing the eyes of our character, the reader will better understand the intention of a given action. Statements like "He looked to the left" really tell us nothing. 

As writers we often fall back on vague words: look, smile, smell, heard. I know I do it, too. One of the reasons I'm writing this post is for my own benefit. 

All right, let's get to it. How can we best write scenes using the eyes?  

Try not to use the words: look or see.

Photo Courtesy
What can you tell me about this child's eyes?

The emotion appears to be sadness.
How do the eyes show this emotion?
Dark shadows around the eyes. 
No tears
Focused, looking at a person/event/etc
The thoughts, though, may not be focused on what is being said.

If we wrote one or two sentences infusing this image of a child in our story--or change it to a teen, or adult --what could you write? Are your sentences as crystal clear in communicating what is going on as this photo is?

Try not to use the words: look or see.

What can you tell me about these eyes?

The emotion appears to be happy.
A person who is laughing/happy
has raised cheeks with a bit of color. 
Their eyes are slightly narrowed due to the raised cheeks. 
The eyebrows are raised slightly. 
The head might be tipped back a tad. 
The eyes contain more color.

Try not to use the words: look or see.

Photo Courtesy
What can you tell me about these eyes?

The emotion appears to be angry. A person who is angry:
has cheekbones in resting position. 
The eyebrows will draw close to the nose.
The eyes will narrow - squint
The eye color will become brilliant
Redness will appear either in the skin around the eye or in the white of the eye
The individual will only turn away to emphasize their anger. If the person turns away, they are not likely to return their gaze. 

Every emotion has a corresponding response in the eyes. Can you tell if someone is not telling the truth by looking at their eyes? How? 

*First, they can't keep their eyes on you. Their eyes will drift to the left or right or even down. *Their eyebrows may raise as they try to convince you they are really telling the truth. *Sometimes the color is enhanced. 
*The cheekbones remain relaxed. 
*And unfortunately, the person's nose does not grow to confirm our suspicions
What else can you add?

If you take a moment to write in your journal some descriptions of the typical emotions faced by your characters and how their eyes would appear at that moment, you will find an arsenal of words to use in lieu of "look" and "see". 

Recently a judge on a TV show asked the performer what they were looking at. The performer had turned his head to the right of the judge instead of facing her directly. The judge said, "Are you scared of me?" 

Have you ever said to a family member, "Look at me."?  

What is the individual doing when they don't face the person speaking to them? Well, the judge thought the performer was scared. The parent may think the child is not listening. It can also show lack of care, avoidance, etc. 

If your character is afraid, doesn't care, is disconnected in anyway, have them tip their head away or down. 

Eye to eye forces confrontation.

A character who doesn't make eye contact loses control. So, 
*If your character is happy and no one looks, they will feel like no one cares. 
*If your character is sad and no one looks, they will feel like no one loves them.
*If you character is angry and no one looks, they will feel like no one is listening.
*If your character is the villain and no one looks, they will feel like no one will obey them and will work quickly to resolve the issue.

On the other hand, if your character is the one who chooses not to make eye contact:
*They want to get away
*They don't believe the other person
*They have been rejected
*They have been emotionally hurt
...and want the moment to end.
*In the case of a villain, he/she is done with the situation. They don't want to hear any more, see any more, deal with it any more. Usually underlings are ordered to finish up the process (killing, etc)

Photo Courtesy

For our discussion: 
What can you say about these eyes?

I'm looking forward to chatting with you in the comment section.

Photo Courtesy for top photo: by Demen-photo modified for this use.


If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cold Queries and Contests DO Pay Off {with Special Guest Jill Kemerer}

It's Laurie! While I'm busy welcoming a new baby, I've invited some lovelies to keep you company. Please give warm Alley hugs to my beautiful friend, agent-mate, and brand new DEBUT AUTHOR Jill Kemerer as she shares her journey to publication and gives us a peek at her new book!

Sometimes it seems as if the publishing industry is all about who you know. But what if you’re on a tight budget and can’t make it to a big conference this year? Or you went to the conference, and instead of editors and agents begging for your work, you didn’t get any interest at all?

I’ve been there. There have been many years I’ve tearfully offered cyber waves to my friends attending conferences I couldn’t afford. And when I finally did get to a few conferences, I had so-so pitch sessions that left me in tears.

So what’s a writer to do?

We need an agent to get our books in editors’ hands. And we need editors to buy our work. Hang around any group of writers for a while, and you’ll hear how hard it is to get that coveted agent.

I submitted my early books directly to editors since the publishing house I was targeting didn’t require an agent. I feel really bad for the poor editors who had to read those books! By the time I was ready to query agents, my writing had improved to a point I was humbly confident I’d produced a good book.

Research is vital when you’re querying agents. I scoured websites and agent profiles to verify if they represented the books I wrote. I also followed blogs and talked to friends with agents to get a feel for what I wanted in the relationship. I narrowed my list down to my top five agents, and one stuck out in my mind. I just had a gut feeling we’d be a good fit.

After weeks of praying and researching, I sent queries to three agents. I had never met any of them. I didn’t have a recommendation. But I had faith, prayer, and experience.

My top agent? Requested the full. About a month later, I got the call!

I’m still with Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary Agency, and I couldn’t be happier. She’s worked hard for me for years, and she’s encouraged me through rough times. I’m blessed!

One misconception about getting an agent is that they’ll automatically sell your book. Yes, some writers will sell right away, but like the rest of my writing journey, it wasn’t that easy for me. It took over three years after signing with Rachel to sell one of my books. During that time, I continued to write, submit books, and enter contests.

In May 2013, I noticed a pitch contest through Harlequin Love Inspired called Happily Editor After. I thought Shana Asaro would be a good fit for my voice, so with my agent’s approval, I signed up. In May 2014, I got the call! I had SOLD my first book. Small-Town Bachelor officially releases tomorrow, and it’s on store shelves now.

If you’re an aspiring writer, don’t be afraid to cold query agents. And keep your eyes open for ways to get your work in front of editors. Inspirational writers, enter ACFW’s Genesis contest and My Book Therapy’s Frasier contest. Romance writers, enter RWA’s Golden Heart contest. If you see pitch contests for publishers you’re interested in, sign up! You never know, maybe you’ll get the call too!


About Jill

Jill Kemerer writes inspirational romance novels with love, humor, and faith. A full time writer and homemaker, she relies on coffee and chocolate to keep up with her kids’ busy schedules.

Besides spoiling her mini-dachshund, Jill adores magazines, M&Ms, fluffy animals, and long nature walks. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children.  Jill loves connecting with readers, so please visit her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Small-Town Bachelor

A Place to Call Home
When Reed Hamilton arrives in Lake Endwell for a family wedding, he expects to do his part as best man then head back to the big city. But when a tornado postpones the wedding, the town is in shambles and Reed is injured. Thankfully maid of honor Claire Sheffield offers him one of her cottages to recuperate in.

Dedicated to her family and her dream job at the zoo, Claire is all about roots. She's this city slicker's opposite, yet as they help the town rebuild, Reed is captivated by her stunning looks and caring ways. He can't ask Claire to leave the life she loves for him, but he also can't imagine ever leaving her behind…

To find out where Small-Town Bachelor is available for purchase, click here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Imperfect Hero by Varina Denman

Good morning! I'm pleased to welcome Varina Denman to The Writers Alley today. Varina's novel, Jaded, released last month and focuses on a under-touched topic in Christian circles - being wounded by the Church...and what to do about it? Though set in a fictional world, it portrays the very real hurts Christians can inflict on one another - but also the very real healing God brings from the brokenness.
Welcome, Varina!!

As a child, my favorite stories were Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. Each was a magical fairy tale of a beautiful princess saved by a handsome (and seemingly perfect) Prince Charming. I would read and watch these stories repeatedly, never tiring of the predictable plot because—every time, without fail—the prince saved the damsel, and true love reigned eternal.


When I hit my teen years, I embraced the quest to find my own prince, and soon I married, planning to live happily ever after. Except I didn’t. Sure, my husband was a prince and we were happily married, but my life was no fairy tale. Marriage is difficult, and real men are not storybook characters.


It took me a while to realize I had placed my prince on a pedestal, setting him up for a fall. And it took me even longer to realize I should have placed God on that place of honor long before I went looking for a husband. I had things twisted up a bit, but God and my husband were patient while I figured it out.
Now I’m writing contemporary romance, and every time I start a new book, I tend to draft my hero as a tall, dark, handsome (and seemingly perfect) prince. After all, that’s the character I fell in love with as a girl, the one I dreamed of as a young woman ... but also the one I discovered didn’t exist in real life. Anywhere.


So as I work my revisions and edits, I whittle and polish my hero. If he’s incredibly handsome, then I won’t allow him to be hugely successful. If he’s the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, then he may end up with a receding hair line. If he always says the right thing to make the girl feel better, then he probably has trouble holding down a job. In short, I make the guy REAL.


This is no fun. It reminds me too much of real life when I’d rather disappear into blissful storyland. However, I resist the urge to write perfect stories with perfect characters because of my tendency to get my priorities out of alignment. If I spend eight hours a day creating a flawless man, it makes my real-life husband pale in comparison. (Even though he’s remarkable)


So instead, I write real men—like my real husband—and at the end of the day when I shut down the laptop, my imperfect hero reminds me that even though life is difficult and real men are flawed, it’s all right. This damsel will still be saved. Because my first love, my true Prince Charming, my savior ... is the Lord Jesus Christ.

You can learn more about Varina at her website -

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring into Reading with These April Releases

April doesn't only bring showers, but also some great story-adventures! Great stories and great storytellers are blooming, so check out our list of a few April releases!


Kathryn Cushman

The amazing Kristy Cambron

Another beautiful story by Katie Ganshert

Deeanne Gist

Dee Henderson

a debut novel by A.J. Cattapan

And there are SO MANY MORE!! To discover which new releases are com

Friday, March 27, 2015

Juicy Words and Tasty Pages

Ever gobbled up a book? Obviously I don’t mean actually chewing up the paper and swallowing it down. Not the right kind of roughage. Trust me on this. What I mean is, do you remember a particular reading experience where you were almost literally voracious for the next line, and when you had devoured the whole story you were left sated and blissfully full?

Whether reading or writing, a storyline that satisfies is the ultimate goal of the journey. Some stories are snack sized and fluffy, others are a Thanksgiving feast you will feel long after the last bite. Some are simply a sweet treat and others are for sustenance. But I think we can all agree that a great story told poorly is like consuming empty, unsatisfying calories. What’s the point?

The words are not only the skeleton of your body of work but they are also the lifeblood, the muscle, the nerve endings, the skin, AND the cosmetics. Each one nourishes the body of the story while feeding the readers appetite. Word choice is so very crucial simply because your words not only ARE your story, they also give it its flavor. You might be thinking, right. Words+Plot+Paper=Story…. What is she getting at?

What I want you to ask yourself is….

How well seasoned is your story? How flavorful are your words?

Using lots of big, high-falutin, twenty dollar words can quickly get tiresome. You may have an exceptionally large vocabulary and like showing it off but more often than not this will slow and frustrate the reader. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your reader doesn’t have to stop and seek out a dictionary to figure out what you are trying to say. If they can’t draw meaning from the context you are using words that sour rather than stimulate your reader’s taste buds.

On the contrary, using only bland, basic language and descriptions can make a reading experience rather stale and uninvolved. And a bland meal might fill your stomach, but very few will be anxious to go back for seconds.

Whether I’m reading or writing, running errands or having a conversation with a friend I am always on the lookout for what I like to call “JUICY WORDS” to store up in my arsenal. These are not just terms that describe foods or reference our sense of taste. They are sensory words that are so flavorful, whether in tone or feel, meaning or cadence that they activate my senses and awaken my palate so I can almost taste them! Jeans might look buttery soft molded to lean hips. A cutting remark might swallow down like a breath of broken glass. A laugh could be effervescent. The wind melodic. There are so many liberties you can take to make ordinary words vivid and succulent and ultimately extraordinary.

And how do we do this? Simple. Befriend a Thesaurus! (The resource--My sons think this is a dinosaur!) Also keep a notebook handy to jot down a word or phrase that grabs your attention. Inspiration is everywhere!

Wanna play writers workshop? Do you dare put your words to the test? This could be lots of fun! Let’s see how tasty our pages are….

1. Post a line from page 7 of your WIP that you feel is the juiciest morsel you can find.


2. Then find another one that could use some extra spice and we’ll shake some seasoning on them. Let’s do this workshop style. Any and all suggestions welcome.

And don’t forget to check up on your stuff from time to time. Flip to some random pages and have a taste. Are you salivating?

Happy reading, writing, and editing!
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Amy Leigh Simpson is the completely exhausted stay-at-home mama to the two wild-child, tow-headed toddler boys, one pretty little princess baby, and the incredibly blessed wife of her hunky hubby.
She writes Romantic Suspense chalked full of grace that is equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And a little saucy! Okay fine, a lot saucy. :) She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and now uses her Sports Medicine degree to patch up daily boo-boos. Her greatest ambitions are to create stories that inspire hope, raise up her children to be mighty warriors for Christ, invent an all-dessert diet that works, and make up for years of sleep deprivation. 

She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, Inc.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What's the Purpose of Your Story?

Let's face it. There are a lot of stories in the world that are cute, or entertaining, or suspenseful, or even well-written. Yet when we come away from them, we find no "take away" value. Same thing with movies and tv shows. How many times have we consumed stories that are just a standard sweet romance or edge-of-your-seat adventure?

Now, there's nothing wrong with these stories. We can definitely all use some just-plain-old-entertainment movies or books from time to time. Think of how heartwarming Hallmark movies are during the stress of Christmas preparations, for instance. They serve a particular function that I, for one, think can be very valuable.

But many of us-- here on the Alley and our dear Alley friends-- are called to something different. We are called to stories with a purpose. We are called to stories as a ministry.

Photo by nuchylee at
And with that calling comes a great responsibility.

A couple years ago at the ACFW conference, Robin Jones Gunn shared during one of her keynotes that she always prays before she starts a story-- not only that she will catch God's vision for the book(s), but also that her readers would be receptive to what God wants to say to them. Such a simple concept, and yet I found it profoundly challenging.

To pray for readers, in particular, is challenging to me because it presumes there may be readers, and that takes a heart-level investment to do. But let me ask you this. What would happen if we became so intentional about our books that we asked God not only for the right publishing house, or the right agent, or even the right concept/foundation/theme? What if, instead, we prayed for our readership? That God would make their hearts sensitive to His message, and guide our own fingers over the keyboard? That each book would challenge and leave a lasting effect not only on ourselves, but on others? And not for our own interests, either, but for God's?

In that paradigm, something shifts. Stories are no longer bound up in our own interests; they become intertwined with ministry. Readership. Encouragement. God's purpose. And that greater purpose helps carry us through the ups and downs the writing life brings along.

Let me ask you this. When was the last time you ardently sought God for clarity and direction of His calling in your writing life? Are you going about aimlessly, hoping He blesses your efforts? Or are you creating with Him, enjoying the process? Are you praying for your future readers and vision-casting for your stories, or have you lost hope anyone will ever really read them, let alone be challenged by them? It's so easy to become disheartened, especially the longer we write, as a coping mechanism to all the inevitable rejection and criticism we come across. Ask God to renew your vision today, and watch where He leads-- in your stories and in your life.


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

For Fun...The Letter Game

Today I thought I'd try something fun and a bit different. You may have seen this on Facebook...even if you did, it will be fun to play here.

Here's what we'll do. I'll post my answers. If you want to play, copy the questions into a comment, and your letter will be the first initial of your last name. Use that as the first letter in your answers to the questions. Clear as mud?


Here are mine:

I was given the letter -C
1. Something I hate: cold weather
2. Something I love: chocolate
3. Somewhere I have been: California
4. Somewhere I would like to go: Curaçao 
5. Someone I know: Cathy Daniel
6. Favorite movie: Casablanca
Like this and I will send you a letter ( it is harder than you think).


Cara Putman is the award-winning author of 20 books. You can connect with her online at her websitefacebooktwitter, and more.