Tips & Tales for Literary Creatures

In the beginning was me. Just me. Me alone, writing my novels and being…me.

I couldn’t imagine co-writing a book. How is it even possible? Do the authors take turns, chapter by chapter? Do they argue over events in the story? How do they agree on all the little details involved in making a book work?

Lea and CowboyThen I became a part of Heart’s Haven. Mary Manners, Marianne Evans, Tanya Stowe and I write our own, individual stories in each 4-book collection, but they’re all set at the same time period, in the same location, and often with shared characters. These projects gave me a taste of the coordination necessary between writers to make an entire collection of books flow together, with all the details coinciding smoothly. I liked it. I liked it a lot.

Somehow, from the relationships formed writing those collections, Tanya and I discovered that our strengths and weaknesses played well off each other. During a time when I was physically weak and fast approaching a deadline for four contracted books, I enlisted her invaluable assistance to make it happen. She and I co-wrote two of those crunch-time books—both novellas, and both Christmas stories.

Tanya is a top-notch, wonderfully skilled plotter. I’m a pantster, and my stronger skill is in crafting words—making them pretty, seeing that they flow properly, and adhering to writing rules and mechanics. Does that mean Tanya can’t make words pretty? Absolutely not. Does it mean I’m a failure at coming up with a plot? No. But recognizing our strengths and weaknesses helped us form a great team as co-writers.

If you’re interested in giving co-writing a whirl, maybe these tips will get you started on the right foot…er, feet.

  • Choose a writing partner you admire, respect, and trust implicitly. Through Heart’s Haven, Tanya and I came to highly respect each other’s individual writing skills. We also learned enough about each other as people—just one woman to another, writing completely aside—to know that we had quite a bit in common. We found that we could count on each other as strong prayer partners. A series of personal events convinced me that I could trust Tanya with private matters. All of these things combined to create a relationship strong enough to handle the pros and cons of co-writing—because, as in most worthwhile undertakings, there are some of each.
  • Find out if you can accept critiques from your prospective partner.  We critiqued a few things for each other, and found that our critique styles were compatible. That’s incredibly important now, as we write together. A lot of back-and-forth critique-type comments are involved, and if your writing partner’s manner of delivering a criticism offends, hurts, or angers you, it’s never going to work. You both need to be able to point out problem areas without hard feelings or bruised egos.
  • Know and own your strengths and weaknesses.  Are you strong at characterization, but a little shaky with description? Do you love dialogue, but deep POV ties you in knots? There is no shame in admitting your weak points. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing you’re good at the things you’re good at. You must be able to recognize and own your strengths and weaknesses, so you can properly balance them against someone else’s.
  • Recognize and embrace your writing partner’s strengths and weaknesses.  Tanya is well-traveled. I am not. She’s a history buff. I have never been, and can’t imagine myself ever becoming one. So her life experiences lend something to our writing that I could never accomplish on my own. I’m character-driven, and do very well at creating strong, likeable, believable characters. Detail-oriented, I easily pick up on spots in a storyline where bits and pieces don’t agree from chapter-to-chapter, or where they just don’t work, based on other parts of the story. Combined, our strengths and weaknesses “play well” together and create a harmonic writing relationship.
  •  Do a trial run.  If you and a prospective partner think you’re ready to form a team, try writing one book together. Make it a novella—they’re faster and easier for a first effort. Agree ahead of time that you’ll both feel free to cry off if it isn’t working for you, without straining your relationship. Just a simple, “Hey, we gave it our all, but I don’t think this is my cup of tea.” As mature adults, and certainly as Christians, your friendship (or whatever you choose to call your relationship) should be able to survive without a problem. If not…well, thank God you didn’t plow ahead into a bigger project!
  • Have fun!  If co-writing really does feel like you’re hooked to a plow, and it’s all about hard, grueling work…something’s wrong. A little light-hearted fun and laughter goes a long way toward making the effort work and work well. Turn around and look at the crooked row the two of you just plowed, and make a joke about it. Laugh together. It’ll ease the weight of the halter, and you’ll find yourselves pulling with a little more togetherness on the next row.

Happy co-writing!

Delia Latham
(c) January 2014

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by James R. Callan

James R. Callan

My wife and I had visited all fifty of these United States, except North Dakota. So we made a point a few years ago to visit North Dakota. On the way home, we toured South Dakota and stopped at the monument to Crazy Horse.

canstockphoto10287335 Crazy Horse

(c) CanStockPhoto.com / Oralleff

While there, I discovered this quote by that great Indian warrior.

“You are only as strong as your enemy.”

I realized he was speaking not only to his people, but to writers. And what he was saying was this. Your protagonist is only as good as your antagonist. If you have a weak antagonist, you cannot have a strong protagonist. You hero must have a formidable opponent to be a strong character. Create a weak, poorly defined antagonist and your main character has nothing to work against. It would be like a six foot seven inch college basketball star playing one-on-one against a five foot tall twelve year-old. No suspense. No conflict. No fun. No interest.

You cannot develop much suspense, or even much conflict, if there is not a strong force trying to defeat the hero. Even if the reader believes that the protagonist will certainly win, there needs to be some doubt. There needs to be some concern over what this will cost your hero, even if he wins. What collateral damage will be done? How will the protagonist’s friends, or people he is trying to protect, be affected?

To this end, it is often a good ploy to make the antagonist stronger than the protagonist. Perhaps smarter, as well. This may be the time the antagonist wins. It is worthwhile to actually build an antagonist and a plan so that he will win. Think like you are a backer of the antagonist. And let this come across in the book.

Then, you must work to let the good guy win at the last minute. But, he cannot win by luck. You don’t want the gods to save him. So, how do you accomplish his win?

Early in the book, you put in place the flaw in the antagonist and the asset in the protagonist that will provide the means for the good guy to defeat the bad guy. You do this casually, at a time when it makes little difference, in a manner that catches little attention. But, those qualities are there. Then, three hundred pages later, those very things provide a logical and believable way for the protagonist to win.

Does this take a good bit of work and planning? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely. The conclusion is logical. No one can cry foul. The tools were there, just unnoticed until the crucial time.

So, develop a strong, worthy opponent (with just one little flaw). Now, the protagonist has her work cut out for her. But in the end, she will rise to the occasion and save the day. Good hero. Good job. Good book.

Character - CallanAbout James R. Callan:

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published four non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mysteries, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.

Website 

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Amazon Author page

Twitter:   @jamesrcallan

Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel

(Oak Tree Press, 2013)

Find it on Amazon 

canstockphoto15008548 Door to Cross

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / JeKh

Ever wondered what goes on inside a writer’s mind? Surely you have… I’ve often pondered what kind of weird, wonderful, strange, twisted, totally unbelievable place must exist inside Stephen King’s coconut!

I’m certainly not Stephen King, though I must confess to having read many of his books. (Don’t shoot me…the man’s writing technique is amazing, and so are his fictional worlds.) I’m not even close to his level of expertise, but I do sit around and think up people, places, and situations which become actual published books, so I think it’s all right to call myself a writer. Since Stevie’s mind isn’t open for discussion, we’ll have to settle for mine.

It isn’t a scary place…well, not usually, but I do have a vivid imagination, so you never know what you’ll find wandering the halls of my mental castle. Behind each door is something different. From behind one entrance, you might hear the cries of a lost, wounded, lonely child, crying for its mother. The next room could be packed with people—laughing, happy people; sad and bitter ones; men in crises of faith or integrity; women resisting the temptation of infidelity; innocent children and evil predators. Another portal might open onto a stage on which angels and demons battle for the precious soul of a human being.

One bright spot in my inner world is filled with all the love, hopes and dreams for and memories of my loved ones—family and friends. That area is private and heavily guarded against unwanted intrusion. Funny how we’re like that with folks we love, isn’t it?

So here’s the question: How does a Christian writer come to include within the pages of her books situations often non-conducive to a godly lifestyle? Sin in all its ugly forms. Addiction. All manner of temptation and possible pitfalls. In short…things one wouldn’t expect to find in the mind of a Christian.

Here’s why it works. Because the biggest, brightest, most important room in my mind—you’ll recognize it on your tour because it’s the “lived-in” space—belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the Source of all the surrounding activity, for it is He who provides fodder for the mill of my imagination. He shines onto the walls of my mind moving pictures in vivid techno-color, with instructions on how to word-paint them into the pages of my books. He draws the outline and provides the various hues and shades of color with which to fill them. He provides the details that show how my characters got themselves into the spots we find them in—undesirable, questionable, ungodly places.

And then He reveals what they need to do to escape. Funny thing is, the way out always leads to the same destination…the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Yep, right back to the Big Room. The bright room. The lived-in space in my mind where Jesus dwells.

In summation, it seems that within a Christian writer’s mind is an endlessly revolving Circle of Life. It isn’t always perfect and pretty and free of sin. It contains a few things that might make a Child of God shudder, because we know they’re doubtful, deadly or undesirable…and they lead to destruction.

But the hard, unflinching reality is that in the real world—the one where you and I live and breathe and have our being—these situations exist. Temptations abound, and people are caught in them. Addictions take root, and our neighbors and friends are imprisoned by them. These “undesirables” are, and people with souls are trapped there, seeking a means of escape.

Perhaps one of these tortured, seeking souls who would never consider darkening the door of a church house, will pick up a Christian fiction novel. And maybe she will find, within those pages, a Way of escape.

Because within that churning, twirling, twisting circle I mentioned are a generous number of spokes. Life-changing, soul-saving, hope-giving spokes—because each of them is attached to the Big Room where Jesus dwells, and where Philippians 4:8 is in full working mode: …whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I hope you enjoyed your tour, and that it helps you understand a little better what goes on inside the mind of a (Christian) writer.

Delia Latham
(c) 2011

bOne Stary Leanne Dyck

Way back when, in 2006, I self-published an audiobook collection of short stories. It was my first published piece of size and I was a bundle of emotions. One of these emotions was doubt—would anyone really like it? Well, I was relieved to discover that most did.

“Intriguing…delightful…many truths…A lot of great insights…It’s upbeat, enthusiastic.”

—Celia A. Leaman (Writing Creatively)

“Novelty Yarn contains a collection of small, tasty morsels that will continue to surprise you right up until the last bite… Many of the stories made me laugh out loud, while others made me pause…to mediate for a few minutes.”

—Donna Druchunas (Ethnic Knitting Exploration)

‘There is a story…for every taste…[T]here are bits of knitting instruction interspersed in these stories, with plenty of encouragement for new knitters and shared experiences for those who have knit longer.’

—The West Coast Knitters Guild

‘There are few things that are more enjoyable than being read to while you knit. Being read pithy knitterly prose by Leanne’s engaging and deliberate voice, punctuated with soothing guitar music is even harder to beat.’

—Palomara Parra

Yes, most reviews were positive. But one wasn’t.

No. No quote. I didn’t keep that review. But I do remember it. The reviewer wrote that she felt that some of the stories were too short.

Too short? Well, I ranted and raved to myself and to my husband. “It is a short story collection.”

“Don’t worry about it,” my husband said. “You can’t please everyone.”

I knew he was right. But I couldn’t shake the negative review. Too short. Too short.

I’ll show her, I told myself, I’ll write something longer. And I did—novellas and then novels.

Would I have made this leap without her negative review?

Maybe. Probably. But that’s not my point. My point is that sometime if you’re able to endure the sting you can learn something from a negative review.

 

Leanne DyckAbout Leanne:

Leanne Dyck is a women’s fiction author. She writes stories about outsiders facing challenges. Within the last five years, Leanne’s writing has been published in Island Writer, Kaleidoscope, Canadian Stories, Icelandic Connection and Island Gal magazines. To follow Leanne’s author journey, please visit her blog:  http://sweatercursed.blogspot.ca

Author website

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Hook Me

iStock_000019104056XSmall Gotcha HookIf it had eyes, they’d be watching me. Reproachful. Accusing.

It’s a book, for heaven’s sake—a simple, ordinary, inanimate object without sight or voice. And yet it chides me for neglecting a duty

…back pedaling on a promise. I feel its sightless stare each time I’m within five feet of it.

Here’s the weird t
hing: I love to read. If I pick the book up and read it, it will stop taunting me. So why not just do that, and eliminate all the unpleasantness of avoiding a lifeless object?

The problem is, I did pick it up and start reading. This particular novel didn’t grab my attention from the word “go.” As much as I love to read, that much, at least, is necessary. If a writer doesn’t hook me from the beginning and pull me in so deeply that I can’t put the book down, I will put it down, and I won’t ever pick it back up.

Except…I made a promise to read and review this book. So I have to open it again, and I know it won’t be a pleasure read. “Plowing” is hard work. If I must “plow” through a book, I’ve defeated my purpose in reading, which is pleasure, escape, entertainment and relaxation. I want to lose myself in the story, preferably from the very first sentence, and not have to think about the fact that I’m reading. I want to become a part of that fictional world, and forget the real one exists, at least for the duration of that novel. If the author fails to absorb me into his or her tale that thoroughly, then I am constantly reminded of my existence outside the book, and I will return to it, leaving the fictional world on the shelf.

As writers, we have a duty to capture our readers and allow them to submerge themselves completely in our stories. Anything less, and we have failed them on some level. We held out a tempting carrot and jerked it away when they reached for it. That’s not cool.

We cater to readers, not farmers, so don’t expect them to plow through an entire book. Pull them into your story, and do it from the first paragraph—the first word, whenever possible.

This can be done through dialogue or action. It can be done through narrative, but the author must have a specific “knack” for hooking a reader to accomplish it successfully.

So let’s discuss that. What is a hook?

Look it up in a thesaurus, and you’ll find alternate words like “fasten” and “catch.” Which pretty much says it all. We need to capture a reader’s attention (catch) and hold it in place (fasten). That’s what a hook will do.

I could have started this article with something like, “I know books don’t have eyes, but this one sure seems to be watching me.” But the opening sentence I used hopefully left you wondering what would be watching me if it had eyes. And why would the looks be reproachful and accusing? It’s that curiosity that made you read on. And if you’re still reading, apparently I’ve held your attention—at least this far.

An opening word/sentence/paragraph should:

  • Capture attention
  • Arouse curiosity
  • Activate interest

Let’s use the infamous “bad” opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night” for dissection. Exactly why is this considered a horrible opening?

Think about it. What kind of response do those words invoke in you? I can only speak for myself, but for me, they elicit a big yawn and a, “So what?”

The author could have said the same thing without saying it. (Show, don’t tell.)

Ex. 1: 

No moon. No light. Stygian darkness shrouded the night, broken only by jagged streaks of lightning and angry booms of thunder.

Better? Well, somewhat. You know it was a dark and stormy night, and I didn’t just tell you that. But talking about the weather simply isn’t a great hook. It doesn’t leave the reader thinking, “Oooh, what’s going on?” She isn’t hooked into reading further.

First lines need to give at least some indication of what’s going on in the storyline at that moment—some kind of action, not the setting. Surely we could improve on the above example. Let’s try something else.

Ex. 2:

Camy screamed and fell to her knees. Her arms flew up to shield her head as a bolt of lightning crackled past her ear. A fraction of a second later, a tree burst into flame a hundred yards further down the road. Fire lit up the moonless night, and Camy shuddered. “Way too close for comfort,” she muttered, then hunched her shoulders against the driving rain and plodded on down the road.

Now we’re getting somewhere. The reader should be feeling a bit of concern for Camy, and wondering why she’s on foot in the middle of a storm.

Ex. 3:

“Ai-yi-yi! Too close for comfort!” Camy pulled the hood of her soaked jacket up over her head and peered into the momentarily Stygian darkness of a moonless night. It wouldn’t stay that way for long. Angry bolts of electricity zipped across the sky every minute or two, followed by deep, booming rolls of thunder she felt all the way through her shivering frame. Being on foot in the middle of this storm was like asking to be fried alive.

This is a personal preference, but starting with dialogue works best for me almost every time. It brings the reader immediately into some kind of action. It also introduces a human being into the storyline right away, getting an immediate edge on forming a bond between the character and the reader.

I’m sure you can come up with even better substitutes for “It was a dark and stormy night.” Try it, it’s a great writing exercise.

Better yet, let’s do it here, it’ll be fun! Give us a first line (not necessarily the one I used) that doesn’t work for you, then re-write it. (No need to mention the title or author of the work.)

I’ll be back to check on you, but first, I have some plowing to do….

Delia Latham
(c) 2011

Through my experience of writing and having books published as well as editing for my acquired authors, I have developed some basic things to look for in terms of deep point of view. POV essentially refers to the character the reader is experiencing the story through at a given time. This perspective can be deepened or honed to allow the reader to connect even more strongly with the POV character. To have the reader feel as though she/he is experiencing what the character is experiencing is what the writer wants to achieve. This is the goal of DPOV.

Here is a mental checklist I use when revising my work or someone else’s:

1.  Check for head-hopping.

The writer must remain in the same POV until indicating in some way that they will be changing (insert a wingding or start a new chapter). Please don’t make your reader dizzy by hopping from the thoughts of one character to another. When in a certain POV, write only what that character would do, say, think, observe

2.  Only write what the POV character
      can sense.

The POV character shouldn’t give a physical description of herself/himself.

For example: Her cheeks reddened.

The POV character can’t see this.

Better: Heat rushed up her neck and into her cheeks.

3.  Get rid of telling words
and just say it.

Even in a POV character’s internal thoughts, she/he wouldn’t think the words thought, felt.

For example: She thought he might be tired. He supposed she needed time to herself.

Better: He might be tired. She needed time to herself.

4.  Show in order of occurrence.

For example: She shuddered after the knock at the door and wondered at answering.

Better: A knock on the door jolted her. She shuddered. Was it safe to answer?

5.  How would the POV character
really be thinking?

Would the character use internal questions?

For example: He wondered if he should open the door.

Better: Should he open the door?

6.  Show emotion; don’t name it.

For example: She was mad.

Better: She gritted her teeth and clenched her fists.

DPOV is a skill in progress. Keep working to give the reader that close-up experience with your POV character.

Some resources that have helped me personally are The Emotion Thesaurus by Ackerman and Puglisi and Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.

Rivet Your Reader Cover The Emotion Thesaurus Cover

About Paula Mowery:

Paula Mowery photoPAULA MOWERY is a pastor’s wife and a former homeschool Mom. She’s also a Christian writer. Her articles have appeared in Woman’s World and in an ongoing column on Christian Online Magazine. She also writes Christian fiction. Paula’s debut novella, THE BLESSING SEER came out July 6, 2012 from Pelican Book Group. The sequel, BE THE BLESSING, released Sept. 13, 2013. She is an author and acquisitions editor with Prism Book Group. Paula’s story, Forgiven, is in the anthology, BRAVE NEW CENTURY, which released Nov. 13, 2013. This book appeared on Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers in Religious Historical Fiction.

Words on Display

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.

~1 Corinthians 9:25

Merriam-Webster’s definition of “temperate”:  1 : marked by moderation: as keeping or held within limits; not extreme or excessive.

Sometimes less is more.

Unlike many familiar phrases, this one is true almost every time. (I have to admit, I don’t think that way when I’m trying to stretch too few dollars to make ends meet. In that case, more would definitely be more.)

But we’re not talking about money, or beauty, or weight loss. We’re talking about writing, and with that topic in mind, less is more.

Write tight. Be succinct. Make it snappy and make it count.

I could think of a dozen more ways to say the same thing, but it would defeat my purpose.

Want to know why editors slap our wrists for using too many adjectives and adverbs? Because they clutter, without serving any real purpose. They are crutches, and depending on them keeps us from making the effort to write better, tighter, cleaner prose.

Wheat vase art

Know when enough is enough.

We’ve all known people who own a houseful of expensive things. Beautiful china and crystal. Figurines, paintings, the best furniture—costly collectibles everywhere one looks. Curio cabinets and china closets line the walls of their homes, each of them literally packed with beautiful items.

The result?

Visitors see nothing but clutter. The sheer volume of stuff overwhelms them—and destroys the intended effect.  A savvy displayer would clear off an entire shelf for one exquisite piece, knowing that a masterpiece shows best when it stands alone.

The same principle can be applied to writing. While adjectives and adverbs are useful when used sparingly, most of the time they are unnecessary excess. They turn what we intend as literary works of art into meaningless jumbles of words.

  • Example 1:

The beautiful, raven-haired princess strolled happily along the lush, green banks of a dancing, sun-dappled brook, enjoying the peaceful, pastoral view.

Beautiful imagery? Hardly! It’s pure excess. (To say nothing of the repetition of two descriptive adjectives preceding each of the four nouns. Why two every time? If you must use adjectives, vary the number, especially in successive sentences. Otherwise the rhythm becomes sing-songy.)

Better yet, eliminate some of those adjectives. Why force a reader to weed through an over-abundance of description to find the core message?

  • Example 2 (fix):

Princess Rowena strolled beside the brook. Sunlight danced on the water, turning its surface into a thousand jewel-like prisms. A lush blanket of grass hugged her bare feet. For the first time since her escape from the palace, she smiled, soothed by the sound of the water as it bounced off boulders and splashed against smaller rocks. Peace at last.

Example 1 uses nine descriptors in a single sentence. Example 2 uses only four descriptors in five sentences. It doesn’t eliminate descriptive words, but it does make them count. Breaking up that original bulky sentence gives the reader’s eyes a rest, and her mind an opportunity to catch up. Throwing aside the crutch of descriptive words also forces more action. Example 2 conveys the same meaning, but shows the reader what’s happening instead of telling her – adjective by stale adjective.

  • Example 3:

“I don’t like it.” Mikie said, wrinkling her freckled, turned-up nose as she pushed the plate of sticky pasta aside and fixed her big blue eyes across the small table, where flickering candlelight turned Carter’s normally handsome face into a shadowy monster’s mask.

Problems:

  1. Head hopping. Mikie can’t see her freckles, her nose, or her eyes, so their description should be left for another time and place—unless we’re in Carter’s POV. If so, then we have the same problem: Carter can’t see his own distorted face…but we’ll discuss POV another day.
  2. Run-on sentence. (Please. Give your reader a break!)
  3. And, of course, our pet peeve of the day: overuse of descriptors.
  • Example 4 (Fix):

“I can’t eat this.” Mikie wrinkled her nose in disgust. “It’s sticky.”

Carter’s eyebrows rose in surprise—or was it irritation? Mikie ignored the niggling guilt, knowing her plate of pasta cost more than he earned in two hours. Lost in the perfection of his face, she almost forgot to breathe. Somewhere in the room, a door opened and shut. On the table between them, candlelight flickered and waned, then settled into a steady flame. As she watched, mesmerized, the play of light and shadow twisted her husband’s features into a demonic visage.

See the difference? While eliminating the descriptors sometimes lengthens the actual word count, it produces more effective writing.

The above examples are simplistic to an extreme. Still, I hope they demonstrate the benefits of clearing the clutter.

As Christians, we “strive for the mastery.” (Read that, “shoot for perfection.”) We may never attain it, but it should be our goal. Reaching the master level in any area requires a starting point of moderation and temperance.

With the clutter pared away, we might reveal a masterpiece.

 

Delia Latham
© 2010