Tips & Tales for Literary Creatures

Posts tagged ‘Delia Latham’

Writing the Line (Christian vs. Secular Romance)

canstockphoto13006701 Kiss Cross
What makes Christian romance “Christian”?

Writers, please understand before you try to write an inspirational romance: Placing characters inside a church building on Sunday mornings, or having them say grace before a meal does not make a novel inspirational.

If I had to sum up the essence of inspirational romance in one word, I’d use “relationship.” The major difference in a secular romance and an inspirational one really is that simple: the emotional connection (relationship) between the hero and heroine, and between the characters and God.

Aside from the stringent expectation of quality writing, certain additional standards exist in the world of Christian fiction. A writer hoping to place a manuscript in this market would do well to become familiar with those finely drawn lines and stay well within their borders.

I can point out the right direction. You’ll have to choose the roads.

1. The sensuality meter

I was once challenged by someone who felt the words “Christian” and “romance” conflicted.

“You cannot write about romance and call it a Christian book,” he stated. “Christians don’t partake in romance, at least not until after they’re married. And no one wants to read about that stuff between a husband and wife. What’s the point?”

How sad, this inability to distinguish between sex and romance!

Let me try to make it easy.

  • ·         Romance is the wooing of another’s heart and the emotions involved in that courtship.
  • ·         Sex is the physical consummation of a physical attraction (no relationship necessary).

In a Christian romance, sex is off limits for the unmarried hero/heroine, and takes place behind closed doors for married ones. What’s left? Relationship.

That said, eliminating blatant sexual activity is not the be-all and end-all of an inspirational novel. What is important is the interweaving of the characters’ spiritual journeys into their lives—and that includes their romantic overtures.

Physical attraction should be a part of the story, but it will be communicated through emotions instead of hormones. He may notice the way the heroine’s dress accentuates her curves, but he won’t focus on those curves. He’ll be drawn to her sense of humor, her generosity, her sweetness of spirit. Neither is she blind to how he looks in those hip-hugging jeans, or the way his muscles bulge when he ropes that heifer. But her emotional reactions will supersede any physical ones. She’ll be moved by his gentleness with an injured animal…touched by the respectful way he handles an annoying elderly neighbor…moved to tears by his love for children.

2. Christian protagonists

A Christian romance will focus on two relationships:

  •       the one developing between the hero and heroine, and
  •       the one between those characters and Christ. (This one must be  clearly defined, either from the start of the story, or by the end of it.)

It is acceptable to start a book with a protagonist who doesn’t know or is estranged from God, but that spiritual rapport will grow and evolve throughout the storyline and must be reconciled by the last page.

3. Dealing with sin

In real life, Christian people live with and among non-Christians. So it is within the pages of a book. Contributing characters may smoke or drink, get pregnant before marriage, have abortions, cheat, steal, lie…even murder. That’s life. These characters’ non-conformity to a godly lifestyle adds color to the storyline.

It is crucial, however, that the main characters either stay on the straight path or find it.

4. Preaching

Ultimate challenge: Do all of the above without turning the story into a sermon. Readers read for entertainment and escape – not a class on Christianity. Any message the author wishes to deliver must be woven seamlessly into the storyline. The reader should not be aware of any spiritual lesson…until it’s already learned.

What makes Christian fiction Christian? The differences aren’t many, but mighty. I like to think of it as giving my readers a touch of Heaven in an earthly tale. Why  wouldn’t I write on this side of the line?

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DDelia3 - web - smallelia Latham is a born-and-bred California gal, currently living in the small mountain town of Tehachapi with her husband Johnny. She’s a Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend—but above all, she treasures her role as princess daughter to the King of Kings.

A former newspaper Staff Writer and frequent contributor to her hometown’s regional publication, Bakersfield Magazine, she has also freelanced projects to a public relations firm and various magazines; has compiled, edited, and designed cover art for various Kindness Incorporated projects; and sold greeting card verse. Find out more about this author on her website, blog, Facebook Author Page, or Twitter. She also shares a blog with the Heart’s Haven writing team. She loves hearing from her readers, so drop in and say hello—you’ll make her day!

Writing the Line (c) 2009

Critting It Right

by Delia Latham

(c) 2012

Delia3 - web - small

Critiques are a literary “bread of life” to some writers. Others shudder at the thought of allowing another author to rip/tear/shred at their carefully chosen words.

To each his own.

Here’s my take on the subject. A solid critique can mean the difference in having a manuscript (which may never be seen by anyone other than the writer and the editors who reject it) or a novel (which makes the journey from writer to critique partner to writer to editor…then into print and available to readers).

I’m not here to laud the value of a critique. If your mind is made up to hate them, I doubt I could change it anyway. So this article is for those of you who, like me, wouldn’t dare send a manuscript out without your critique partner—or better yet, partners—having seen it first.

I’ll talk about giving constructive criticism. Since I’m certainly not the reigning guru, you can take or toss anything I say—just as I hope you would do if I critiqued your manuscript. Because that’s the whole idea, isn’t it? Get someone else’s take on your work. She’ll watch for typos and misspellings, sentences that don’t flow well, and inconsistencies (like your hero having blue eyes in one chapter and brown in another). She’ll also make suggestions she thinks will improve your words. The thing to remember with a critique is that, just because your crit partner makes a suggestion does not mean you must use it. It’s a suggestion. Something to consider. That’s all.

(That’s the extent of what I’ll say about receiving a critique.)

Crit unto othersAll that said, critiques can hurt. I’ve been there. So, while it’s important to be honest (otherwise, what’s the point?), it’s also important to be nice. Making the writer feel unspeakably stupid should not be your goal.

And please, please…when you read something you do like, say so! It’s like salve on an open wound to get that little nugget of praise in the middle of a chapter that’s bleeding red crit marks. It can mean the difference in leaving your critique recipient sobbing in defeat or rejuvenated and raring to do another rewrite.

Seriously…isn’t that what it’s all about?

Let’s look at some examples. For the record, I’ve been given permission to share these tidbits of critiques with you. (I won’t be sharing the writers’ names or the titles of their work.) Blue text indicates my comments and/or changes.

 Not wanting Nate the men to see her amusement, Rose busied herself with Jenny Ann, handing her the baby a piece of meat to chew on. Her hero acted like a she bear protecting her cubs when it came to her and the baby. (This sentence gets a little confusing, with three “hers” referring to two different “hers.”J  See what I mean? With the suggested changes in that first sentence, maybe this will work:

 When it came to her and Jenny, Nate behaved like a protective Mama bear with cubs.

 Love the analogy, especially when referring to a supposedly big, bad he-man! lol)

 Not every criticism can be followed by a compliment, but when possible…by all means, do it! (Ever had your eyebrows or upper lip waxed? The sweet girl who does mine follows each painful rip of skin and hair with the firm pressure of her fingertips. It doesn’t replace the missing skin, but it sure helps relieve the sting. I try to always remember that a critique is much like the removal of unsightly facial hair. Each time I deliver a criticism to some author’s literary darling, I’ve ripped away ‘skin and hair’ and left her hurting. If I can find something to compliment, it eases the pain. Why wouldn’t I want to do that?)

Also, note the yellow highlights above. I use them to indicate repetition of any word (or form of the same word) in close proximity. Without my having to voice a single criticism, my critique partners know what they mean: You should probably rephrase, and avoid overuse of this word.

One more example. This one is taken from a synopsis, thus the “telling, not showing” style of writing.

(When? I’d insert that here. “Two years ago, Scott…”) Scott Lunsford experienced every firefighter’s nightmare when he answered a routine accident call involving a loved one. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get the images of his girlfriend Julie’s shattered body out of his mind. Counselors recommended time off and he decided to go someplace with happier memories. His grandmother’s turn-of-the century-house has set been vacant since she passed away almost two years earlier. (Your call. Nothing wrong with “set,” it just sounds weird to my ears today. lol) Scott thinks it’s the perfect time to start renovations on the old place. But he’s not prepared for the amount of work the house needs and even less prepared for the ghostly images of Julie that show up nightly every night!

Offering an opinion is fine, even if it isn’t necessarily a “rule” of writing. In this case, my suggestion to replace “set” with “been” is nothing more than personal taste. But that’s all right…it’s like a mini-brainstorm session. The author can take it or leave it, but it gives her something to think about.

As the one on the giving end of the critique, it’s important to remember that you’re not there to rewrite the book. Let that author keep her voice and style. Your task is to watch for several things in particular, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Typos
  • Misspellings
  • Inconsistencies
  • Incorrect grammar
  • Kinks in the flow of the storyline
  • Repetitive words
  • Weasel words
  • Timeline issues
  • Anything else that seems “iffy” or makes you backtrack/re-read.

What is most helpful to you in a critique? Or do you simply shy away from them? If so…why?

Let’s talk about it…

Come on in…to a (Christian) Writer’s Mind

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

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