Friday, July 3, 2015

Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough

 
This right here was one of my very first blog posts when I started writing over four years ago! Put a big smile on my face! I've come a long way, but I can still relate.

What about you?
November 2011

Oh, the bane, the bear, the brutality of the relentless self-editing.

Perfectly adequate sleeping hours are waving as they pass me by. The threat of yet another late night feeding from my little Rafey forebodes with each fleeting hour. And yet I convince myself that this is THE FINAL READ THROUGH. “You are almost there,” I chant in my head, providing my own personal pep squad—and no, I was not a cheerleader. Speaking aloud while my hubby sleeps nearby is a sure fire way to get booted from the comforts of my bed. I get enough grief from the supposed “jack hammering” of my fingers on the keys and the soft glow of the screen as it is. But honestly, the man can fall asleep sitting up on the couch with every light in the house on, and the TV roaring at absurd decibels. Men are peculiar creatures.

So here goes the final edit, the final read through, until page 3. How on earth have I read that sentence fifty-five times and still never noticed that for is supposed to be from? And why is she smiling so much, there is a dead body in this scene?

For those of you with irritating perfectionistic tendencies like me, the vastness of 90K+ words proves to be a daunting task to comb through. And as my self-prescribed deadlines come and go, I wonder if I will ever bite the bullet, pry the electronic, and thus metaphorical, pages from my white knuckled grip and lay it all on the line.

Okay, so maybe I am a baby writer. And some glorious day, I will know exactly what my editor will look for, my observations and insights into my own work will become super-keen and second-nature, but what about now? How much editing is enough?

And if I keep going, past the point of sanity, will I edit the life out of the pages? Is there such a thing as too much?

Now, obviously, editing is a good thing. My first novel, Beauty for Ashes, barely resembles the original text I pounded out in six short weeks. Thank goodness! We have all seen the amazing fruits of our labors when it comes to editing, shaping the story, adding the detail that really puts the reader in the moment. As if the words on the page were a holographic image instead of lines and curves of black and white.

But how do you know when it’s done? Ready? As good as you can possibly get it?

What is your litmus test for a truly completed manuscript?

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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, July 2, 2015

Character Motivation: Creating a Push and Pull


Hi, all! I'm working on a new book proposal right now, and one of the things I've been working on lately is the concept of push and pull. I can remember first hearing this concept from Rachel Hauck at an ACFW conference and reading about it in some craft books. At first, it seemed complicated--at least to me!-- but I've realized if you take the time to sort through this element of your story, it can make the characters so much stronger and the plot more gripping.

So what do I mean when I say "push and pull"? When you think of character motivation, particularly for your main characters (like the hero and heroine in a romance, for instance), you want to have both a push and a pull motivating them. They should be pushed toward a goal and also pulled away from something they're trying to avoid. And if the other characters can provide both (especially in a romance), then you've really struck gold.
Photo by Stuart Miles from freedigitalphotos.net

Ultimately, this push and pull is what defines your character. What are they so afraid of that they'll avoid at all costs? Are they more afraid than they are excited? Are they so afraid of airplanes they'll forgo their chance to travel to Europe, for instance? Or does this excitement lead them to face their fears? Because that is where you see character growth.

Think of it like a rope tugging your character along. One force shows the struggle, and the other shows how badly your character wants a goal. If your character wants something badly enough, he or she will face whatever forces are against him/her.

Let's look at some examples:


  • You've Got Mail. Meg Ryan's character wants to fall in love with Tom Hanks' character, but she doesn't want to compromise her store, and he represents the enemy. Though she loses the store in the end, their love helps her find an even bigger dream of being an author (which she never would've had the courage to become if things had stayed status quo). The hero causes both push and the pull here, which makes for a great story.
  • Finding Nemo. Nemo's father is terrified of the ocean because of what happened to his mother. But when Nemo goes missing, he has to face that fear because something stronger pulls him (his love for Nemo). Ultimately, he not only finds Nemo but also overcomes his fear and grows stronger for it.
  • Indiana Jones. We all know what Indiana Jones is afraid of. But what does he routinely have to face to get the treasure? Snakes. This example is a much more obvious one because it shows a physical obstacle he has to overcome in order to reach a physical goal.

I would even venture to say that the space between this push and pull is the very space where the story actually occurs. So make it good! The stronger that conflict, the stronger your character will become because s/he has that much more to overcome.

Can you think of any examples of how push and pull works well for your favorite story?




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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, July 1, 2015

Writing = Bleeding on the Page

Writing can be a lonely journey. So many days it is me and my computer. It can be tough for this extrovert to invest the time day after day alone. Yet I love story.

I really believe I was created to tell stories.

I've felt God smile when I do write. I've felt like beating my head against a wall or kicking cabinets when I'm in the discovery phase.

Writing is intense. It's like opening your veins and bleeding on your keyboard. Then you clean up the mess in edits. Then you send your baby to an editor and pray that he or she will see the essence of the story and help you make it sing. Then you edit and send it back. Then you labor over back cover copy. Gasp at the beautiful covers. And then it goes out into the world.

And you wait. And wonder. What will people think of your baby? Will they like it? Will they mock it? Will God speak to them through the wonder of story?

Yesterday my novel Shadowed by Grace received Christian Retailing's Best Award for Historical Fiction (you can see the full list of winners here). It was an amazing honor because Francine Rivers and Karen Barnett had written beautiful books that could have easily receive the award. If you haven't read Shadowed by Grace, it is currently on ebook sale for $2.99 on Amazon and iBooks.

Awards aren't the reason I write. If so, I should have packed up my typewriter...errr...laptop long ago. But they are encouraging. They are a signal to writers that their books have impacted readers somewhere. This award is voted on by retailers and those in the industry. So it has different meaning than an equally awesome reader award.

So why do we do this?

You have to know why or you'll give up because for most of us accolades are few and far between.
  1. I write because I feel called to do it. Truly. I was born loving story. And the desire to write my own stories has never gone away. The season wasn't always write, but the desire never died.
  2. I write because I feel an unique partnership with God when I'm in the midst of creating. It's hard work. Very hard work. Yet there's nothing like knowing I'm working on something with HIM.
  3. I write because I love a good challenge. Coming up with the next great idea. Developing characters -- those pesky heroines give me fits. There's something to the battle through to a story.
  4. I write because when a story reaches a reader, and the reader connects with the characters, the story, the spiritual thread, it all becomes worth it.
If you are a writer, why do you write? If you're a reader, what do you love to see in a story?
____________________

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Train Your Mind for Writing with Great Books

Pride & Prejudice

When's the last time you read a classic?

Summer is beach, pool, park and bleacher time. The perfect time for sunning yourself, enjoying a glass of iced tea and a good book.

Instead of a beach read why not refuel your mind with a time-tested read?

I hear you. Some of those novels break the writing rules we are often taught. They contain long paragraphs, more than the occasional run-on sentence. The plot twists and turns aren't always enough to keep you turning the pages. In fact, some of the conflict seems downright boring.

In our fast-paced society, do classics have a place and do they have anything to teach the modern writer?

1) Classics teach you to read S-L-O-W to absorb the layers.

As a fast food society, we want to be spoonfed. Studies have shown that on a screen our reading can be haphazard, missing key details. Our words per minute rate on our devices is higher, and that's not always a good thing. If you have a minute, here is a fascinating NY Times article on your brain's reaction to ebooks. According to one professor at the University of California, digital media doesn't balance attention well.

I have been swinging back from my kindle to paper books as over time I noticed my enjoyment of reading was less. I read through books quicker and I found with my favorite authors, I wanted to savor their words and it was easier to do with a library copy. However, when I"m reading a mystery, I actually prefer the ereader format. Just my personal opinion though.

Don't we want to write novels that readers can read over and over?  Books with depth that yield something new with each reading. C.S. Lewis believed the best books grow with us. Who better to learn from than celebrated greats of the writing world.

2) Reading great old books increases your vocabulary, which spills over into your writing.

Its no secret that the average reading level of an adult book is fifth grade. Borrow your grandparents McGuffey readers and you'll see that wasn't always the case. A few words may be obsolete, but it's still fun finding their origins. The average read doesn't send me to a dictionary, but Charles Dickens almost always does. The more words we know, the more shades of dimension we can offer to our descriptions and settings.

3) Your voice will grow and deepen as you observe other writers.


One of the most helpful exercises we were given in college was to try to imitate various authors. It was challenging. We were taught we needed to learn the fundamentals of style while developing our own.

So try it. What was your favorite book from your college years? Give it a slow reread and try to write in the author's style. Not only is imitation a form of flattery, it also leads to growth.

4) The best books challenge us to think and that reflects in our written work.

Classics include strong themes and such elements as foreshadowing. How can you strengthen the theme of your own story?

My husband and I had a recent discussion on Ayn Rand and the relevance of her novels for today. I've struggled to make it through Atlas Shrugged several times and lamented to him about the snail-like pace of the plot, sharing that I prefer modern authors. He argued that it was a hard book but I ought to stick it out because it has a lot to teach about the human condition. I have a feeling Rand belongs back on my summer reading list.

Les Miserables
So, how about it? I challenge you to read ONE classic this summer. 

---But where do I start?

Modern Library has a list of 100 best novels that might provide a good starting place. 

The Great Books List is divided by eras and provides plenty of choices.

The American Library Association's publication Booklist provides a database of award-winners.


What's your favorite classic and why? What did it teach you about writing craft?


 Julia Reffner is a writer and reviewer for Library Journal and a blogger for Wonderfully Woven. She lives in central Virginia with her husband, two children, and three ragdolls cats.




 




Monday, June 29, 2015

The Writer's Game Plan


We just came home from one of our last tournaments of my son's baseball season. Over these months, I don't know how many times I have leaned forward with elbows on my knees, my fingers entwined tightly, and my teeth gritted as he threw his next pitch. I must admit, pride swells a bit when I see him up there. He zones in on the strike zone, keeps an eye on the runner at first base, adjusts the ball in his hand according to the catcher's call, and makes sure his foot is properly positioned on the mound.

Pressure comes at him from home plate, from the bases, from both dugouts, and his fans (um...team parents). All angles at the very same moment. And yet, somehow, in that pivotal second, he throws a pitch straight down the middle and strikes a kid out.

There something similar that happens in our busy lives these days—especially as writers or dream-followers.:) We have pressure and responsibilities coming at us from all directions, blocking us to write, or to even care to write at times.

We focus in on our book—the strike zone—but then someone steals second (or your spouse gets laid off...or your kids require extra loving care) and you must pay attention to a different part of your life. Then, right when you settle back in position on the mound—er, the keyboard—the obnoxious dugout filled with hootin' and hollarin' ball players (aka crazy children, pets, nephews, social media), pull your eyes away from writing...and sometimes...you just have to take a walk around the mound. Yep, leave the keyboard again, deal with the chaos, and hope for another chance to write soon.

Other times, you might just be too darn tired from the game to throw one more pitch, and you call “time”, heading to the bench.
It's no use pitching when the game has heated up and worn you out. There's no use writing when life brings heartache and you just need to regroup and rest.

The thing I found is, while baseball is the game, writing is not. Writing is just another part of the game called life. It's such an important part to me...probably as big in my mind as a major league player's career is to him (although, I know I'll never make his paycheck).;) But, really, there are many more things that take precedence over my current story—and I have to tend to those first, no matter if the “at bat” is incomplete.
That absence from the dream-tending, is just fine, really. I have gotten more at peace with the short spurts instead of the lovely, long writing sessions. Life's base-running forces me to have quality writing sessions when I do sit down at the keyboard. And just like a ball player practices during the week, building up ability for that next baseball game, the going-ons of life around me is a great workout for those few, or many, moments I actually focus on writing. My heart is on a journey, and when I am called to the mound, I have plenty of experience to get some fastballs, curveballs, and sinkers smack dab in my story's “strike zone.”


Batter up! Your turn—what's your game plan when life starts stealing your attention from your writing?

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Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written five Historical Romance novels, has a Historical underway, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check out her author page at www.facebook.com/dicken.angie, her personal blog at angiedicken.blogspot.com and connect at:
Twitter: @angiedicken
Pinterest: pinterest.com/agdicken

Friday, June 26, 2015

On Writing and Inspiration. A Guest Post with Rachelle Rea

Recently someone asked me a two-fold question: am I a morning or a late-night person, and how do I stay inspired? Well, then, that's a loaded one. :)

To the first half, neither! On the one hand, I enjoy writing in the mornings because I feel productive; there's nothing quite like living the rest of my day with the knowledge that I wrote a chapter that morning. But I also enjoy writing late at night because I'm trying to keep my eyes open at the same time as my heart is pumping with the excitement of whatever scene I'm in. It's exhilarating.

But I'm neither an early bird or a night owl right now. At this stage in life, I write during my lunch hour at work.

The latter half of the question, though, is even more complicated. Right this very second, I'm inspired. I'm excited to be guest posting on the Writer's Alley, a writing blog I've loved for years. Outside my office window, a thunderstorm is shaking the forest. But, to be honest I'm not always inspired. I know, I know, surprised, right? :)

In answer to that question, I said, I write. Or I don't. Sometimes when a scene idea pops into my head, I write it down right then. In chapter form, on the back of a napkin, or in a note on my new Iphone. I sometimes let it simmer for a while.

Or I don't. Sometimes when I'm not feeling particularly like writing but it's my designated writing time, I tell myself to take a break.

That's right. I tell myself to take a break. To not use that writing time for writing, after all. I don't write.

That's not to say I don't make myself write every time I don't feel inclined to do so. Skipped writing sessions pile up on one another like the raindrops plopping onto the sidewalk outside my office window right now, until suddenly I could be staring at a puddle of a month gone by with no words written. That's not good.

But neither is always forcing myself to produce words, I've found. That may work beautifully for some (I commend you), but I've discovered I'm a healthier person when I realize the artist, the wordsmith, in me needs room to breathe.

Sometimes I don't make myself write on my lunch break. Other times I let myself stay up until 2am to finish writing a chapter just to see how the scene will end. It's like the rain: sometimes the clouds roll in when I least expect them; other times there appears to be a slight drought.

But eventually it rains again, all is drenched, and I'm writing The End again.

When I was in college, I had more of a structured schedule because I knew when classes began and ended. Perhaps one day I will return to that same sort of predictability. For now I'm settling into a world where my novel is on shelves--it's new and exciting. So I write. Or I don't. I'm learning to give myself grace and take a break...

How about you? When during the day do you write? How do you stay inspired? Do you ever give yourself permission to take a break?

Rachelle Rea plots her novels while driving around the little town she's lived in all her life in her dream car, a pick-up truck. An Oreo addict, she is also a homeschool graduate and retired gymnast. She wrote the Sound of Diamonds the summer after her sophomore year of college.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Writing Selfishly

I'm a huge believer in teaching my kids not to be selfish.

All the tshirts you see in stores these days make me want to vomit. "Do what makes YOU happy!" Yada yada yada.

While I agree on the surface you need to be true to yourself, living a life where YOU are #1 and everyone else takes backseat, where you're looking after your own comfort and happiness with no regard to anyone elses, sounds pretty horrific to me and is very sad when you look at the generations we are raising up with a selfish, ME ME ME mindset.

Can you tell I'm passionate about the subject?

Yet...

Even while I think it is VERY important in life AND in writing to consider the needs of others, there does need to be an element of ME in there.

People who don't take time to care for themselves get burnt out on loving others and become ineffective.

And when we write books purely just to make others happy and fit into a rigid box that a market might be currently wanting, we run the risk of growing to despise the very stories we've worked so hard to craft.

A few weeks ago, I was attempting to get "serious" about my writing schedule again. Life has been crazy lately and writing needed to go on the back burner.

On this particular story, I was stuck big time too. I would write a little but something was missing. I had no LOVE of the story, no excitement for it. It was frustrating because I really wanted to tell this character's story but she was being super quiet about what it was.

So on a Monday, I scheduled a babysitter (yeah for teenager daughters!) to watch my kids ALL DAY, went to my favorite writing spot (a 20 minute drive that I rarely indulge in) and just wrote.

The first few hours were horrible. I'd write a little and delete. Write a little  more and delete. I was only on chapter two and I just wanted to delete the whole project and give up. I was about ready to cry... but decided to finish the chapter then give up. Didn't matter if it was crappy or not, it was gonna get done.

But a funny thing happen as my fingers typed.

My heart thudded in my chest as an idea sparked. I probably looked maniacal as I sat there frowning one moment then grinning like someone had just handed me a lifetime supply of Dr. Pepper the next.

I'd found a missing link.

I still have no idea if anyone else is going to like it.

But at this point, *I* like the turn of the story.

It made MY heart flutter while writing it.
It made ME write for another three hours, causing me to call my husband and beg for him to handle dinner because I just couldn't WAIT to finish a few more scenes and figure out whats happening.
It made ME bite my lip in anticipation for the next chapter.

Will it do that for a reader?

I have no clue. Even when I'm done writing the story, there will need to be a LOT of editing, as is normal for seat-of-the-pants writers like me.

But I've got my excitement back for my book. I'm writing a bit selfishly, thinking more about what about the story makes ME giddy with excitement.

I figure though, if I like it... chances are someone else will too, right?!?

So when you're editing, start thinking about that reader again. The one who needs to be hooked and pulled in just write, to have good pacing and great hooks. To show them characters on paper that you see so well in your head. To make sure your theme has been intricately weaved throughout the story so it makes the reader live the journey, not get a concussion from you knocking them in the head with it.

In summary... my tip is this:

WRITE what makes YOU happy, then EDIT to make THEM happy.

Discussion: Are you writing what you like to read? Do you read more in other genres outside of what you write?

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Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of Sandwich, With a Side of Romance, A Side of Faith and A Side of Hope. She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at http://www.kristaphillips.com. She is represented by Sarah Freese of Wordserve Literary.