Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Staycation: To Do or Not To Do

This week, I'm taking a staycation. It's going to be a glorious week of doing nothing, I hope. Scratch that. It's a week of doing almost nothing. Okay, okay. Scratch that. If anyone knows me, they know I can't sit around and do nothing even for vacation.

My best hope is to avoid my office. If I can. No peaking in at my computer, wondering what awaits my inbox. No stalking my husband's computer to get one quick glimpse of Facebook.

I need a big break. A vacation of sorts. My world has whirled around with endless writing, blogging, checking emails, Facebook, and Twitter. You know that 360 shingle you hang when you're really serious about writing.

So here goes my best effort. I pledge (hand on heart) to sit down and relax to the best of my ability. As long as I possibly can this week. I will not tiptoe to my laptop and work on my latest manuscript. I will not worry over the fact that it was supposed to be completed weeks ago. I will adhere to my oath to relax.

This is how I feel about relaxing!

Pray for me. It's going to be a grueling week of sitting back and kicking up my feet.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Emotional Side of Writing

There's nothing like reading a book and laughing with the characters, crying when they have a tragedy, getting chills when suspense rocks them. It's what makes us read late into the night when we should be sleeping. Gripping stories are why we can't put a book down to start dinner when we should.

What sets those kind of books apart from the rest? What makes us forget our world for just a bit as we venture into another?

The answer is emotion. We need to feel like we can relate to the protagonist in the story on a personal level. Without it, we can't connect. A storyline falls flat.

Here's some tips to help inject more emotion into your writing:

  1. Show the character's feelings.
    1. They put their hands on their hips.
    2. She slammed her fist on the table.
    3. He rubbed his neck and looked away.
  2. Dig deeper into why your character responds the way they do.
  3. Make sure your protagonist is flawed.
  4. Keep some of their past hidden until necessary. It'll keep the reader guessing as to why they act, react, or overreact.
  5. Show that your character doesn't have all the answers through their frustrations, wants, and needs.
  6. Keep their personality consistent. Avoid sudden shifts or you'll lose the reader.
  7. Allow them to have some type of emotional victory even if the story doesn't have a happy ending.

A great story has many elements, but one of the most important ones is using emotion to hurtle your story above the rest. Make us want to turn the pages. Give us something to connect with. Show us how your characters feel. If you use emotion to help tell your story, your writing won't be just words, it'll be a victory of connecting with your readers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Books Are Like Gum

I'm a gum chewer. I can exhaust a piece of the best gum in no time flat. That also makes me a connoisseur of sorts. I could tell you which gum has the best flavor, which one lasts the longest, which one is most likely to trigger those happy childhood memories for most of us even if it only has five minutes of enjoyment in it.



 
 A book can be like gum. There are many types:

  • The ones that have the perfect flavor and texture all the way to the end.
  • Sometimes we pick up one with a great cover and we can't wait to taste the delights inside to find a surprise: we think it's one genre and it turns out to be different. 
  • Sometimes we fall back on our old favorites for the sake of familiarity.
  • Or what about the one that someone recommends to you and it has just the right taste for that day.
  • There are ones like the best bubble makers. They build and build with excitement, and you can't wait to see how they'll turn out.
  • And there are the ones that you know you're going to love from beginning to end just because you've enjoyed their brand in the past.
 
There are so many flavors, colors, and consistencies in this giant world of writing. Take a little time to enjoy something out of your comfort zone, something new. You may find it was exactly what you needed today.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Prayer...He's Waiting

There are days when you're down in the dumps, hanging on with your fingernails ready to split from the effort of holding on. You just want to let go. You just want to give up. You want to say you did everything you could.

But have you?

One of the most significant shortcomings we Christians fall prey to is lack of prayer. We remember God when things are crashing around us, but do we remember Him when things are going according to our plans? What about when we've had a major victory? Where is our thanksgiving prayer then?

It's an easy slide from depending on God in a time of need to forgetting to pray in our daily activity.

As a writer, the need is so very great for us to stay hooked up to God. Our mission to write comes from above. God has a specific message he intends us to share, and a target audience He wants to influence through us, even if it's only one person. How can we do that if we aren't talking to Him and listening for His sweet voice?

Busyness is one of my best excuses for not praying enough. I hit the ground running as soon as I'm out of bed. I whiz a quick noncommittal prayer upwards as I careen through my morning regime, and then I'm off to my life. I forget that it's not my life. It's His. And, I need Him all the time. Not at my convenience: at His.

Sometimes I sit down to write and before I know it two hours have passed. I didn't invite God into the room to show me what I was to work on for the day. So how can I trust my work is what He wants me to do? I may have wasted all the time I was trying to save.

If you're rushing around today, and so many writers are on their way to the ACFW conference as we speak, stop and take time to come before the Savior. Talk to Him. Pray before you get too busy to remember. He's waiting...




Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why You Should Create an Outline When You Write

There are two kinds of writers. The planners and the fly by the seat of their pants writers. The one can't quite understand the other. One must plot and plan. One can't take time to scheme. They let the creativity flow and don't worry about the behind the scenes work.

Well, I'm a planner. I spend countless hours fleshing out the characters. What is their story before the story? I have an outline for everything. One for places they live in or travel to. One for minute plot description. One for character sketches.

Being a plotter makes my life so much easier. Did I forget where my character stores her keys? Go to the 'Places' outline. Was one of my minor characters raised in a rural or urban environment? Go to the 'Character' outline. Did I forget to mention an important detail about the character's past? Go to the 'Plot' outline.

For the 'seat of your pants' writers, your reading this with scorn. You're wondering where my creativity even had a chance to breath with all these plans. Couldn't I worry about all that later? And, some of you planners may be new at outlining and don't quite know what the best set up is to make it an efficient tool for your work.

 
An outline benefits both kind of writers. With just a tiny bit of planning, you too can set up the dreaded outline to strengthen your writing. Here's some quick and easy steps to help you do minimal organizing to keep the details in order:

  1. Set up a separate folder for each outline you're making.
  2. If it's beyond you to plot first, put it in the outline as you go.
  3. Make each chapter a new bullet and give it a page number to make for easy searching in the future.
  4. Put a timeline with each chapter and page number. This helps you map out time spans.
  5. Only type the most important details or things you know you'll need to look back at later.
  6. Highlight sections in the outline where you know you need to go back and fill in blanks or give info that you haven't had a chance to finish researching.
  7. Mark the day you started the manuscript and what the theme is. You'll be wondering about it years later.
As much work as it seems to be, in the end you'll be so glad you did it. It'll minimize mistakes and help you find information faster when you're editing or trying to remember exactly how a specific scene happened. And, once you get used to doing it, you'll find you can't live without it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Great Places to Get Inspired to Write

There are so many places that can inspire and evoke a story if we're willing to step out of our comfort zones and do a little exploration. It's amazing where ideas can spring up. Have you ever been at the grocery store and saw an old lady pushing her cart with slow deliberation, or at the park when a young couple were walking together, arms entwined? These little moments in life are the stuff novels spring from.

So you're asking yourself where you should be looking. It seems obvious to check out the activity around you in public, but where else could you look? Here's a great list to consider:

  • Historical Locations- Could an old plantation have a secret passage or hiding place in the paneling? Ask the tour guide if you can get a sneak peak into off-limits areas.
  • The Mall- Could your main character be shopping for an engagement ring? What does a person look like when they're about to make such a big move?
  • Parks- Are you writing a thriller about someone running from an enemy? Check out the walking trails to see how someone reacts when they're exerting themselves. 
  • An Alley- Just standing in one even in the best part of town can get your pulse racing.
  • The Local Pound- What does it feel and smell like to be surrounded by the chaos of thirty barking dogs? Could you imagine your character surrounded by a wild pack?
  • An Old Crime Scene- Can you imagine how the assailant gained access into the location? Can you imagine the fear and adrenaline of the victim?
  • An Open Field- Sit down and take in the feel of the air, the rough grass, the remoteness.
  • A Rundown Barn- The smell of old hay and the dark recesses can stir unease or boost happy memories.

The list could go on forever if you had the time to read, but I think you get the gist. If you start asking friends and family, you'll be amazed at the response you get, and the opportunities that'll open up. A friend may know someone with a dilapidated barn or a farm with acres of fields. It's amazing how people jump in to help if you're willing to ask.

Think of it as an opportunity to use your five senses to improve your writing, not as a boundary issue. In the end, you gain more than two dimensional knowledge, you'll get to live the scenes before you write them.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

How Long Do Your Avoidance Tactics Work?

As I stood in my bathroom I had no choice but to admit the truth. I covered my eyes in shame. Nobody could know what I hadn't done. The shower glared in my face. It seemed to say, "you let me down." Brown grime covered the bottom of my shower. It hadn't been cleaned for too long.

Can you relate? Is there some work waiting for your attention that you haven't managed to get around to accidentally on purpose?

I pulled the cleaner out and sprayed the walls and basin in repentance. It would take a good half hour for the cleaner to do it's job. Meanwhile, I'd avoid its accusations. I'd come back and start scrubbing in a bit.

 Why not forestall as long as I could? And I knew just the way to do it: get onto Facebook, check emails, start a new post. The choices were endless. They had the capabilities of keeping me away for a long time. So I sat in my office and pretended to look busy.

It was so easy. Facebook had 29 new notifications. The emails were a mile long. I buried my head into my computer. My critique partners had sent new work to be edited too.

That was when it hit me. Critiquing and editing wasn't so different from cleaning a shower. I avoided using critiques to edit my work as long as I could. I hid them in a folder that I didn't have to see until I had no choice.

The problem with that is if I don't face the work as soon as possible I won't know to correct the same mistakes in the current chapter I'm working on. That means the problems continue to compile. We all do this in some area of our lives. It seems to be the easy way out.

It only took me a second to get up and return to the bathroom. I scrubbed. I rinsed. I scrubbed some more.

I'd learned a very important lesson. Stop avoiding the hard things. Take a deep breath and face the work now. It'll make the work in the end easier because there won't be any time for build up to cripple our forward motion.

So now I'm going to scrub that shower right away, and I'm going to do my best to keep up with my book editing. Will you make the same commitment with whatever work you've been called to do?