Friday, July 29, 2005

Overall Desire and for Scenes

Greetings now from Kentucky. I'm at a family reunion. Because I'm on eastern time, I'm posting earlier than usual. This blog will also be shorter than usual.

RQ commented this yesterday: We've talked about the overall, book-level, desire. I think it would be beneficial to start EVERY scene by scribbling down a note that lists the character's sub-desire for that scene. The sub-desire should be two-pronged, and should be related to the overall "super" desire.

RQ is right. The chapter in Getting Into Character that talks about Desire is mostly about Action Objectives--that is, the objective the character wants to accomplish when approaching a scene. When you assure that your character has a strong action objective going into a scene, you'll be less likely to write a scene that superfluous to the story. Using the concept of action objectives really helps in building your scenes in a logical way.

The concept of Desire, however, is foundational to the concept of Action Objectives. How do you know what your character wants to accomplish scene by scene? First, you need to know what your character wants to accomplish overall.

We've spent this week on Desire, so next week we'll move on. To what, I'm not sure yet. If you have ideas, you can let me know. I've asked for ideas before, and y'all have given them to me, and then we've moved on to some of them, but I can't remember if all your ideas have been covered or not. One topic tends to beget another topic, and some ideas may have been left far behind.

As a quick personal update, after this reunion I will be working like mad in August to finish Violet Dawn, otherwise known here as the "Paige book." And just before I came to KY, I heard from Zondervan that the copyedits for Web of Lies were ready, so I asked that they mail them to my mom's house. Now they'll have to be done first, so I can concentrate without interruption on Violet Dawn. Copyedits done and Violet Dawn done, I'm going to have to work hard on the morning track I'm teaching at the ACFW conference. That class is going to take a lot of work. Two weeks after that conference is the Zondervan novelist's retreat in Grand Rapids. Two weeks after that is Glorieta Writers Conference, where I'm also teaching. And by the time that's over, it's November. Somewhere in there I'm supposed to be starting on book two of my Kanner Lake Series. So if it seems to y'all my brain is a bit of a sieve sometimes--well, now you know why.

Great weekend to ya, BGs. See you Monday.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

More on Desires

When I started this week’s topic (at my Coeur d’Alene home), I discovered I didn’t have any copies of Getting Into Character on hand, so I had to write some of the stuff from memory. Thanks to my trusty assistant, I now have GIC before me. I’m going to run information on character Desire from Getting into Character over the next few days. Those of you who’ve read GIC—hang with me. I’ve noticed something about folks who read this book. I receive wonderful feedback about it. But it seems the readers often just sit down and read it—easy to do, since it’s written in conversational style. And then after a number of months, they clearly have forgotten many of the concepts. Thing is, the concepts in GIC are tricky. They might read easily on the surface, but they go quite deep. It takes a thorough studying of each one to really get it. So I’m hoping that this subject, for those of you who’ve already read GIC, will still make you think in new ways and be helpful in your writing.

Oh, by the way. This stuff’s all copyrighted in my name.

For those unfamiliar with Getting Into Character, the book takes seven concepts from method acting and adapts them for the novelist.

Constantin Stanislavski, the “father” of method acting, talks about the character’s “super-objective” in his book An Actor Prepares. The super-objective is the specific goal for which the character strives throughout the play as a whole. It’s what the character Wants, with a capital W. Stanislavsky noted that the better written the play, the stronger the pull of this super-objective upon the character. His challenge to the actor, then, was to discover the super-objective of the character in order to best portray that character’s emotions.

My concept of Desire for a character in the novel is akin to Stanislavski’s concept of super-objective. (This term—Desire—is my term. You might hear it called other names by other teachers. One of these days we teachers shall all get together and decide on universal terms.) Of course, our job as novelists is to create the character from scratch, not interpret someone else’s writing for portrayal on stage. So this concept of determining a character’s Desire becomes very important to use as a tool in building our story.

Many times, authors build their stories based solely on conflict. “These are the problems my main character will face, and this is the outcome.” But conflict implies opposition—obstacles that stands in the way of something desired. In order for conflict to build scene by scene with the best logical and coherent progression, it must follow the course of a character’s Desire, erecting larger and larger barriers for the character as the Desire is pursued. So before you begin the plotting or writing of every conflict in your novel, you should first ask your character: What is your innermost Desire that will propel you through this story?

All of your main characters and important secondary characters should have a Desire. Conflicts between characters come into play when they are pursuing Desires that oppose one another.

Think of your character’s Desire in terms of your real-life friends. You know a friend by her appearance, her traits and mannerisms; you also know her by her desires. One of the most important aspects of who she is lies in her deepest motivations. What does she want at this point in life? What does she strive for? This underlying motivation, or Desire, or super-objective, will drive her choices and actions.

In a novel, a character without a clear Desire can get lost in all the conflict, particularly if your story is action-filled. The result will be shallow characters, forced into your ready-made plot. Regardless of how suspenseful the action, your readers simply won’t connect with the characters well enough to care how they’re affected by it.

Discovering your character’s Desire is not always as simple as it appears. Two categories of knowledge will help guide you: (1) the inner values (core truths) that you discover about your character, and (2) the major problems in the story that the character will face.

Inner values is another concept I teach in Getting into Character, through a series of steps in building your character that I call Personalizing. In short, inner values are the deepest truths about your character—not just personality traits on the surface, such as he’s shy, or she’s selfish, but the core truths that make him shy or that make her selfish. This is a whole ’nother topic, and for now I must let this definition suffice.

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem with using steps one and two above. The Desire helps lead you to the building of conflict within your story, yet you must know some of the major conflicts in order to determine Desire. The key word here is “major.” You probably have in mind some of your story’s main events, or at least the inciting incident (first big conflict that kicks off the story).

Many times the character’s Desire rises directly from the inciting incident, or at least partly so. For example, in a mystery the inciting incident may often be the murder. I say “partly” arise because the mere solving of the problem presented by the inciting incident isn’t specific enough to be the Desire in its entirety. Otherwise every detective novel would contain the very same Desire for the main character: to solve the crime. In that scenario, you could cut one detective out of one book and place him in another just as well. Not exactly terrific character development. So this is where the inner values of your character come into play. Using what you know of this detective—who he is before the crime takes place, personal issues in his life, etc.—will lead you to a Desire specific to him. The Desire could be something like: to solve this difficult case so that I can earn a promotion; or, if for some reason he feels he could have prevented the crime: to bring the perpetrator of the crime to justice so that I can ease my conscience.

Okay, I’ll stop there for today. I just want to add that, when you start writing a novel, the quicker you can figure out this Desire thing, the better. I know seat-of-the-pantsers like to discover as they go along, and we all do discover more about our characters as we write. But if you don’t have the Desires for your main characters pretty well nailed down when you begin, you’re far more likely to wander in your story, creating the need for extra rewriting later on. I think I may have mentioned that in my own writing, I never write a scene only to realize it’s not needed in the rewrite. Every scene I write from the beginning is necessary to the unfolding of the story. Believe me, it’s a waste of time to write scenes, then throw them out. But I manage not to do this because I start my stories with a good handle on what the main characters’ Desires are. These Desires drive the story.

Comments? Questions? Bored yet?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sagging Middles & Desire--Day 3

And we’re back with more Desires. Better be careful how you spread the word about our topic. If I have a real spike in BGs, I’ll know why.

I want to re-emphasize a couple of points. First, this exercise in discovering character Desire is not merely for the sake of the Desire itself. It’s to help you build the entire rest of your story. When you fully, thoroughly understand what your character wants, you can better know the actions he’ll take to achieve that Desire, and from those actions will spring conflict to work against said achievement. If you build your story in this way, you’ll also have a more cohesive novel, and one in which the character is believable, because that character is driving the story. Remember, even in the most plot-heavy genres such as suspense, ultimately the character must drive the story, or you’ll end up with cardboard characters forced into a plot.

Second, in suggesting re-writes for the following Desires, I really am shooting in the dark, because these stories tend to be already written to a great extent, and all I know is what I’ve been told. So don’t focus too much on the details of my suggestions. Focus instead of the concepts of action verbs, specifics, and exactness.

Okay, continuing from yesterday.

I'm wondering if my protagonist's desire for a sense of belonging is conscious or unconscious - and is it enough? But then she (a paramedic) also has a desire to make some sense out of life.

Let’s assume it’s all conscious for now. “Make sense out of life” is far too general. What does “sense” mean to her? What specific actions would she take to make that sense? A “sense of belonging” is also too general. What does “belong” mean to her? Have one friend? Two? Twenty? Be married? Find a supportive church? If you remain this general in your understanding of the character’s Desire, your story is likely to falter halfway through, because you don’t have specific actions for your character to pursue, and therefore you’ll lack ideas for conflict to oppose those actions.

I have two main characters in my second novel. The first and primary is a teenage girl. Her conscious desire is to survive. Her unconscious desire is for a family that loves her for her. My second character (a cop) desires to find out who killed her brother - and make them pay.

Here, too, I’d advise to dig deeper, heading toward specifics. What does “survive” mean? Merely to be breathing? To be totally healthy, unharmed? To be extremely fit? To get away from some abusive person who wants to kill her? The cop’s Desire is better: to find out who killed her brother in order to bring him to justice. Now you’ve got a possible low point for your character—what if, after three-fourths of the book, he finally finds out who killed the brother, then still can’t bring the person to justice because there’s not enough evidence?

However, if you stick with just that Desire for the cop, his Desire will be no different than every other character in a mystery or suspense who is looking for the killer. In other words his Desire has sprung only from the crime. But who was he before this crime took place? Is there something happening within his personal life that could affect his approach to solving the crime? Examples: to bring the brother’s killer to justice in order to achieve a department promotion. Or . . . in order to assuage my guilt over allowing the death to happen. Or . . . in order to bring the sister peace of mind so that she can be free to fall in love with me.

My protagonist, a romance-deprived photographer's assistant, longs to experience a sizzling, bodice-ripping affair – with her nerdy, practical husband of twenty-four years.

The affair sounds like the “so that” part—e.g., second prong of the Desire. What specific things does she want to accomplish to make this “affair” with her husband happen? Is she trying to look sexier? Lose weight, fix herself up? Is she scheming to kidnap her husband to a romantic getaway? Etc.

The hero desires to keep his vows of holiness to God, but also desires the love offered by a woman who struggles with basic morality and is pursued by the consequences that endanger all around her. She is not a heroine. She is fire, desiring anything she wants; the hero, peace for her soul, to survive the deadly mistakes she made.

The hero’s desire for the woman is not a part of his character Desire. It’s part of the conflict (internal conflict) that opposes that Desire. I’d like to see another prong here, too. I’m just not sure if it should be the first or second prong, without knowing more about the story. It could be: to do specific action (fill in the blank) so that he can keep his vows of holiness to God. Or it could be: to maintain his vows of holiness so that _____ (fill in the blank). Depends upon which is really the ultimate Desire. For example, in the latter, he might want to keep those vows in order to assuage his guilt over past sins. In that scenario, assuaging the guilt is the bigger issue, with the vows the path toward that assuaging. What if he keeps all vows but still can’t get rid of the guilt?

Margaret's desire is to take control of her life and conquer her fears. Addison's desire is to find the hit man hired to kill her and keep her safe.

Specifics needed again. What does “control of her life” mean to Margaret? What does conquer her fears mean? The more specifics you discover, the better you can build your story as the character pursues those specifics. As for Addision, it sounds like his Desire springs solely from the inciting incident of someone trying to kill Margaret. Who was Addison before that happened? What does he want in his personal life? Why does he want to save Margaret?

A follow-up question from yesterday:

If I were to state a two-pronged desire for my character, I think it might be "to get financial help from the child's grandfather while still being able to raise the child as her own." Could that work?

Yes, but can you get even more specific? What does financial help mean? A certain amount of money per month? A check in emergencies? Just enough to get by?

Tomorrow I’ll talk more about this Desire concept and how it can drive a story. If you have questions/comments, you know where to leave 'em.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sagging Middles & Desire--Day 2

Thanks to all who posted yesterday about their characters’ Desires. Here’s some feedback/prodding for each one who responded. (I’ll take today and tomorrow to get to them all.) These BGs’ books may already be written, so my feedback may not help them much, but the concepts may help others of you who are struggling with some aspect of your story.

My protagonist's desire is to keep and raise her dead best friend's baby as her own, despite the child's having a living grandfather. The actual one liner I have to describe the story's premise is: In 1944 Virginia, a woman assumes her best friend's identity to keep the child she loves.

The one-liner carries more information than we see in the Desire. Perhaps the Desire would be better stated as: to pass herself off as her deceased best friend so that she can raise the friend’s child as her own.

Now you have a two-pronged Desire. Each prong can give rise to possible actions she must take, and conflict to oppose those actions. Even if the character fulfilled the first prong, and no one doubted her assumed identity, something else could happen that might threaten her raising of the child. This could be a crisis point in the book.

My main character is a young TV reporter who has moved to a new city too late to help her great-aunt, the main reason for her move. Her desire is to build her skills quickly so she can move up to a better station while maintaining her independence.

I’m guessing here somewhat, without knowing more about the story. I’m assuming independence means financial. ?? From the above paragraph, I’d say the Desire is: to build her skills and gain employment by a better TV station so she can maintain financial independence. The second prong of the Desire is her ultimate goal. In the first prong, each skill she tries to build can be thwarted by conflict. Then perhaps she gains all the skills, but is looked over for hiring by her targeted station. After she overcomes that and is finally hired by a better station, she could discover that she still lacks the means for financial independence.

My protagonist's desire is to prove himself a worthy warrior of the Empire. To show that his value is not determined by his hatch-status as the last to hatch in his Sire's final clutch. He is also driven to prove valuable enough so that if the truth about the event that gave him the opportunity to break out of societies place for him, that he will be valuable enough that he will not be cast back to his original standing.

The “prove himself a worthy warrior” part is getting somewhere, but it’s too general to stand alone. What does “worthy warrior” mean to this character? This could be the second part of the Desire, with specifics coming first: to do x, y, z in order to prove that he is a worthy warrior.

My protag's conscious desire is to find the way home. His unconscious desire is to discover what "home" actually means.

I haven’t discussed unconscious Desire yet, so I’m going to leave that part alone for now. The conscious part “to find the way home” is too general. (I’m assuming that in this conscious part, “home” literally means where he used to reside.) I’d make it the first of a two-parter: to find his way home so that ____ (fill in the blank). What does he want to see when he gets home? What does he want to accomplish there? If you get that part clear in your mind, you can think of new ideas for conflict to oppose his ultimate Desire even if he does reach home.

Diana's desire is to carry her child to term and find an adoptive family for him, so she can prove to her father that she is old enough to make her own decisions.

Quesion--How would it impact my story if I transposed Diana's desire? Diana's desire is to prove to her father that she is old enough to make her own decisions by carrying her child to term and finding an adoptive family for him. I feel like the story could come out completely different because the foundational desire (the first prong that motivates everything else) would be completely different. Am I correct in thinking that?

Do you identify the desire of other characters as well (such as the antagonist)?

Yes, you need to identify the Desire of all your main characters, certainly the antagonist. This Desire needs to be in opposition to your protagonist’s Desire.

As for the wording of the Desire, I don’t think the second wording says anything different than the first. In both cases, carrying the baby and finding an adoptive home is Diana’s path toward her ultimate goal of proving to her father that she can make decisions. I tend to put the specific actions of the Desire first, with the “so that” following, so I’d say stick with your first wording. Your character’s darkest moment could come when she manages to carry the baby, find an adoptive home, then realizes she still hasn’t proven anything to her father.

Through these suggestions, I want to illustrate how hard it is, and how important it is, to state a very specific, action-oriented Desire. The more specific you get, the more ideas you'll have for actions for your character to take to achieve that Desire, and the conflicts that can occur to oppose each part of the Desire.

I’ll get to the rest of Monday's responders tomorrow.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Sagging Middles & Desire

No, I’m not talking about middle age and waistlines, and the wish to be thinner.

I skimmed through the discussion board this weekend for the first time in a couple weeks and noticed a couple BGs talking about the problem of sagging middles in their wips. This post is not a direct answer to those BGs’s particular issues, but their dialogue did trigger today’s topic.

Most of the time, if your wip suffers from the middle saggies, the problem lies in the beginning of your book.

It’s a common error for writers to assume that wherever some symptom crops up, therein lies the problem. Not necessarily so, when we’re talking about story structure. Consider your storyline as a rope that you want to pull taut. You find that the rope is sagging in the middle. Is that where the problem will be fixed—by shoring up the middle? No. You have to go to one end of the rope (in this case, the beginning of your story), and pull it tighter. Then, voila, up comes the middle.

In Getting Into Character I talk about the basic story structure I call the Four Ds (Secret #2—Action Objectives). Those Ds stand for Desire, Distancing, Denial and Devastation. The foundation of your novel is the first D—the character’s Desire. This Desire—what the character Wants, with a capital W—is what pulls your character through the story. It is the path upon which the character has set himself and wants to keep on as conflicts come along that want to push him off that path.

We all know that our stories must have conflict, or they’ll be really boring. When it comes to story, the word conflict means obstacles in a character’s path as he/she tries to pursue something. Well, if you’re throwing out obstacles that stand in the way of some pursued thing, it might help to know exactly what that thing is. The more you know about that thing, and why the character wants it, the more possibilities for conflict in your story.

What’s typically happening in a saggy middle? The story runs out of gas (to bring in another metaphor). In other words, you run out of conflicts to throw at the character. When folks come to me with their saggy middle tales of woe, I always take them back to the Desire concept. Nine times out of ten, I find that this is where the problem lies—the author does not fully understand the character’s Desire.

The Desire makes that “rope” of your storyline taut. It pulls the character through the story. No matter what happens, the character doggedly pursues this Desire (whether he realizes that’s what he’s doing or not). You’ve got to fully understand what your character’s Desire is if you’re going to have a taut storyline with no sagging middle.

A couple guidelines about discovering your protagonist’s Desire:

1. It needs to be stated in the form of an action verb. What does your character want to do? State of being verbs are too general to give rise to specific action. For example, Jill’s Desire: to be successful as a realtor. Be successful—what does that mean? Success means different things to different people. Does it mean make a certain amount of money each year? Does it mean sell more houses than her competitive cousin? Does it mean make just enough so she doesn’t have to worry about putting food on the table? You’d need to define success for this character, then state that in the Desire. Perhaps after success is defined for Jill, her Desire would be: to sell enough houses to make $1 million a year. Okay, now you’re getting somewhere. Ideas for conflict start to pop. Maybe Jill sells lots of houses, but the commissions are too small to equal $1 million. Maybe she finally hits that amount of money, but some huge bill, like medical costs for an injury, sets her back financially, or she gets swindled out of some money. Etc.

2. The Desire needs to be very specific. You might think that the more general your character’s Desire, the more possibilities you’ll have for introducing conflict into the character’s path as he pursues that Desire. The exact opposite is true. The more specific the Desire, the more you’ll understand about the exact actions the character must take to obtain that Desire. And the more you know about exact actions the character needs to take, the more ideas you’ll have for possible conflict against each of those actions.

Sometimes a character’s Desire will be two-pronged, with one prong leading to the next. Example: to sell enough houses to make $1 million a year so that I can send my three teenagers to the colleges of their choice. Two prongs give you more possibilities for conflict. In this example, the protagonist, against many odds, could make $1 million a year, only to have one teenager decide not to go to college, and one not get accepted into his choice of university.

3. The Desire needs to be absolutely correct. One small tweak in the Desire will make for a very different story, just like two lines that begin together but proceed just a tiny bit away from each other will grow farther and farther apart as they go on. In Getting Into Character, I use the analogy of a flawed female protagonist whose Desire is: to build a trusting marriage by never again lying to her husband. Now look at this small tweak: to build a trusting marriage by never again being caught in a lie by her husband. The outcome she wants is the same, but the possibilities of actions and choices that may arise from the two Desires are very different indeed. The result would be two very different stories.

BTW, we are talking here about your protagonist’s conscious Desire. Sometimes characters have an unconscious Desire also, but that’s another subject.

So—what is your protagonist’s conscious Desire? State it in active verbs, make it very specific (two-pronged if possible), and make it absolutely correct for the story. When you figure out this Desire, you’ll have more ideas for what your character must do to pursue it (action), which will lead to more ideas for obstacles that can stand in the way (conflict). And with more ideas for possible action and conflict, the less likely you’ll be to deal with a saggy middle.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to discover your protagonist’s Desire and post a comment to tell us what it is. Tomorrow we’ll discuss some of these Desires to see if they’re on target. Warning: this assignment may not be as easy as you think.

Friday, July 22, 2005

I Got Questions, Day 3

It’s Friday!

I’m continuing with some questions from Wednesday. Don’t want to forget them amidst the new ones from yesterday.

I've been thinking about beginnings again, but with a twist. I'm writing a trilogy--the 3 books, 1 story kind. In many respects, the inciting incident of book two occurred in chapter 1 of book 1. In your opinion, should there be a secondary inciting incident? Also, the characters are the same. How much reintroduction should there be? (Something I'm sure you face in a series).

In a series, typically each book needs to stand as its own entity. I know there are exceptions to this, where book one ends and there’s really no resolution; you have to go on to book two. But it’s not something I would suggest for a first-time author. So yes, your second book needs its own inciting incident. As for reintroducing characters, you do need to do some of that. You can’t assume your reader has read book one. If he/she is picking up book 2 first, they need to understand who's who. Also, even when a reader has read book 1, it may be a year before book 2 hits the shelves, and a reader won’t remember everything about the characters.

Oh, yeah, one more question. How come Blogger doesn't remember me any more?

I have no idea. Are others having problems with this?

My question is, (and this may turn into NES part 2!) how do you plot out your story? After you finish kicking the cabinets, etc. Could you take us step by step through the "BC (that's you) plotting a book strategy"?

Oh, haha, no second NES here. Truth is, I don’t have much of a strategy. I come up with the premise, I decide what the final twist will be, then I figure out how to make that twist believable, and what twists need to add up to it. And, of course, I discover who my characters are. I do tend to write some things on note cards, but once I’ve written it, the stuff is in my head, and I probably will never even look at those cards again.

I have tried to follow others’ formulas. I just can’t do it. Maybe it’s because I have developed an innate sense of what it takes to build a story, so trying to build something point by point isn’t really necessary. But I so wish it worked for me. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method sounds wonderful. I’ve tried it for two books. I can’t make it work, even though it’s great for many people. So I just flounder around until I finally get what I know I can use. And still, the finer nuances of the story don’t happen until I’m writing.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it. Evidently I have no idea how to plot. Am I fired from being your blogger?

Here's a short paragraph from my wip. POV character is the pastor...
Sandra drew near, every motion fluid, gaze fixed on the blonde imp wriggling under Pastor Gillespie’s grasp. The gentle scent of wildflowers wafted through the air as he rose. Was that the sweet fragrance of heaven he detected?
Is this telling or showing?

It’s showing. You’ve used some interesting verbs and described well enough to set the scene. You’ve used more than one of the senses. No telling problems here.

Here's another "rule" question. Active and passive verbs. There are times when I think a passive verb is more appropriate. For example, when a character starts something that won't be finished before another character begins a new action. For example, from my current wip (going from memory here):

My hero is getting an "offer he can't refuse" over his cell phone. My heroine is standing next to him, listening in:

"I'd like to make a proposal that we can both profit from, Mr. Keane." Megan produced a notepad and began scribbling furiously.

Ryan scowled. "I'm not much of a businessman, pal.

"The notepad appeared in front of his eyes. "Accept his offer" was written across it.

So, my point here is where Megan "began scribbling." Is that appropriate because she doesn't complete the action until after the next paragraph? Or, as my crit partners tell me, it should be "Megan scribbled..."?

I’m a little confused here, because you started out talking about active vs. passive verbs, but your question ended up being about the “began” verb. A “began” verb isn’t passive. Active verb means the subject is doing the action. Passive verb means the subject is being done unto by someone else. Your last sentence ("Accept his offer" was written across it) is a passive verb.

As for began scribbling rather than scribbling—“began” is a weak verb. That’s why we’re told to avoid it. And you should, in most cases. Rarely is it needed. In this case it would be better without it. Scribbled is a verb that implies a continuance of motion, if only for a few seconds. So “began” doesn’t really add anything.

I went back and looked at the one time I used “began” in our AS edit, and now looking at it with fresh eyes, I’d delete the word there, too, even though there are plenty of strong verbs around it. The word just isn’t needed.

This isn't to say never use began. There are always exceptions to the guidelines you'll hear. That's why they're guidelines, not rules. I'm far too independent and stubborn to like rules anyway. (Just ask my mother.)

And now I’m up to date on all BG questions. And guess what, the weekend cometh. Methinks I shall have to come up with a topic for Monday. Hm . . .

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I Got Questions, Day 2

Howdy on Thursday. I’m still catching up from questions left on Tuesday. (Lots of good stuff, by the way.) Here goes:

So what do you do when you get writer's block? Keep pushing through gritting your teeth and bearing it? Or hop off someplace to try and let it simmer and wait for it to click?

Keep pushing through. When you have a deadline, you don’t have much choice. Oh, and I do get up to kick a cabinet now and then.

Oh and it is over the top to have one character run up another character's back and crush his spinal column with his jaws?

Okay, I take back my “lots of good stuff” statement.

I keep reading on websites and mags for writers that you should know your genre so you can target agents/publishers who specialize in that field. But I have yet to find an explanation or definition of what each genre is. Like...what exactly is the difference between mainstream, women's lit, inspirational romance, literary, blah, blah, blah?

The problem here is the difference between actual genres and general terms that tend to be catch-all phrases, and aren’t really genres.

Mainstream: this is more of a general catch-all term than a real genre. Mainstream refers to novels that could be read by men or women, and that don’t fall into the known genres of suspense, romance, etc. I think mainstream is less and less useful as a term these days, because now there are so many subgenres. For instance, you might say that John Grisham novels are mainstream, or Nicholas Sparks novels. But now there’s a subgenre of suspense called legal thriller that Grisham falls into. And Nicholas Sparks’ novels could also be called by that other general term, women’s fiction. Which is . . .

Women’s fiction: a novel about relationships. May or may not have a romance element. Read mostly by women. My Bradleyville series could be called women’s fiction. However, its actual genre in CBA is contemporary.

Inspirational romance: A real genre. The traditional conventions of a romance call for the hero and heroine to meet early in the book, and despite all kinds of obstacles, end up happily ever after. An inspirational romance weaves in the faith elements of Christianity.

Literary: again, not a real genre. This term could apply to a book in any genre, depending upon how it’s written. Generally, literary books are character-driven rather than plot-driven. They take more time with in depth character development, description, and beauty of prose. Their plots may move quite slowly, as much of the “action” takes place inside the character.

So, know your genre, yes. But genre doesn’t include any of the above titles except inspirational romance. The recognized genres in CBA are historical, romance, contemporary, suspense, western, and futuristic.

As far as show and tell, it's about grasping the difference as I write and knowing when it's okay to tell. I understand telling is static, whereas showing is active, but sometimes it's hard to identify. I don't want to go to extremes either, which is what I see happening with some rules.

I agree, following “rules” to the nth degree can get ridiculous. All rules are guidelines, really. This show vs. tell thing can be hard to distinguish. And sometimes telling is just fine. Sometimes we have to tell. The trick is to give the longer telling passages some beauty of language, some unique voice—something that makes it so interesting, the reader doesn’t care if it’s telling.

My editor points out sentences like this to me as telling: She wondered why it had to be that way. Better to change it to a thought, which is more of a showing: Why did it have to be that way?

I suppose if I had to rewrite the rule, or explain it a little better, I might say something like: Show when you can. And when you have to tell, wow ’em with it.

The main problem with telling when you can show is that telling ends up skimming the surface of emotion, which is never satisfying for the reader:

Telling: The further she read, the more confused she felt.

Showing: The words made no sense. She hunched over the paper, fingers digging into her cheeks, and read the passage a second time. A third. What did this mean?

The first way above doesn’t dig deep into the character’s head. It paints no vivid picture for the reader. It merely tells what the character felt. But we don’t want our readers to merely know what a character feels. We want them to feel it themselves. The only way they’re going to do that is to get deep into the character’s head.

So if you’re approaching a passage in your scene, ask yourself, “Is this something I want the reader to feel along with my character?” If so, best to stick with showing the scene, fully depicting the emotions. If it’s a descriptive passage, or a passage that transitions from one scene to another, it’s okay to tell—just do it with some flair.

If y’all have follow-up questions to this issue, please let me know. If you want to show a three-to-four sentence passage from your wip to see if it’s telling when it should be showing, or whatever, please feel free to do so. This issue is much easier understood with the use of examples.

Closing out for today. See ya on happy Friday.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Questions, I Got Questions

Ask and ye shall receive. Thanks, BGs, for responding. You posed some very good queries. I can’t possibly answer all the questions from yesterday, so I’ll start at the top and work down over the next two days.

First--no one said peep about my answers yesterday. Is no one out there going to take me to task for my choice in music? My refusal to answer the favorite novel query? The question's I'd add Jesus? My choice of my bed on a desert island? You all are just so amazingly agreeable. Now if it was my daughter responding, you'd bet she'd latch on to the music thing. Which leads me to a quick story. A true one. Honest.

Setting--a year ago. I'm listening to the car radio with Amberly, then 14. For some amazing reason I have my own station on, instead of hers. (No doubt for 5 minutes only.) An old song by Bruce Springsteen comes on. I say, "Whoa, Bruce Springsteen," and turn it up.

Amberly gives me that teenage screwed-up-face look. "Who's Bruce Springsteen?"

I look at her like she's from Mars. "Who's Bruce Springsteen? How can you ask such a question. He's The Boss! You know, 'Born in the USA!'"

A bored shrug. "Mom, like I care where he was born."

Oookay. Little detour there. Back to the questions:

What should happen in the first three chapters of any story--not just thriller/suspense--that makes an editor say "I've got to buy this?"

1. The story needs to get off the ground quickly. Yes, particularly fast in a suspense, but in all books, it’s best if the inciting incident (major event that kicks off conflict for entire story) happens in the first chapter. An inciting incident can be delayed, but it takes a lot of skill to pull that off, because this incident is where the story really starts, and it’s what the reader’s waiting for when he/she begins the book. So best get to it right away. Place it in the first chapter, then end with a hook.

2. Introduction of main character, with as little backstory as possible (which will be half or even less than what you think you need). Weave backstory into the present story.

3. Depth of character must be shown. And depth of conflict. Is the conflict strong enough to pull a reader through the story? Is the character interesting enough to make the reader care what happens to him/her?

4. Tight writing. Strong use of verbs (remember compression from our AS edit). Good sentence rhythm. All those techniques we covered in our AS edit need to be established right up front.

How much do you know about a character before you start writing? Are you the type to have an extensive character dossier before starting, or do you discover the character along with the reader?

Character is primo, even in suspense, because character must drive the story. I know enough for my main character to be personalized, which is quite a bit. (Personalizing is a way to build your character from the inside out, discovering his/her “inner values” that drive the character’s choices. This is “Secret #1” in my book, Getting Into Character.) Still, I will learn more about my protagonist along the way. Secondary characters also grow during the writing process. If something new comes up with a character, I’ll go back and make sure everything beforehand flows with this new bit of characterization.

Do you always write the same way? For example: Do you first plot out your book before you start writing the actual story one time, then the next time you just start writing, then the next time, you do a character sketch first...etc.

I always write the same way. Kicking cabinets, casting about for a decent plot and a cool enough protagonist to carry the story. This will go on for a week, and two, maybe three or four. Somewhere along the way I find my story, plot out the twists, and begin.

Do you spend more time on any one part of your book? Or do you write it straight through and send it in?

I write it straight through, trying to get it pretty much the way I want it as I write each day. Some folks like to write a quick first draft just to get something down to work with. I’ve tried to do that (you know, that grass is always greener thing), but I just can’t. My story grows from the beauty of the words and the depth of character, and the only way I know to do that is write it the way I want it day by day. Then when I’m done I will go back and edit the whole thing a couple of times. But I’m changing minor things by then. One thing I never do is throw out scenes. I have enough handle on my story to know if a scene is needed or not, and if it ain’t, I’m sure not gonna waste time writing it.

Tomorrow I will be leaving for Eastern Europe which means a LOT of plane time. My laptop only give 2hr battery time (there's a sacrafice for less weight). I'm looking at about 13 hrs on planes, and four or five or more in airports. What would be the best way to work on my lately neglected novel? I want to take advantage of this travel time . .

Oh, sheesh, I’d have a second battery. But it’s probably too late for that. So take a pad of paper and write longhand. That’s way too much time to waste on the plane. Also take your cord and look for a plug-in at the airport, so you don’t waste battery time there, and you have some time to recharge.

All right, BGs, I'll get to the other questions tomorrow. If you have additional ones, you know where to leave 'em.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I'm Baaaack

Happy Tuesday, from my favorite place in the world—Coeur d’Alene. Yes, I made it here yesterday on a very empty stomach, but gaining some of my strength back. Monday—oh, man. The stomach bug hit me Saturday at midnight. I had to get up at 6 a.m. Sunday to start on the trip—driving this time, so we can have a second car in Idaho for the duration of the summer. A two-day road trip, and I’m shaking and feeling like a truck hit me. By the time we (daughter and I) hit the hotel late afternoon, all I could think about was going to bed. Many thanks to Gayle, my assistant, who played pinch hitter for the blog.

How did I get my assistant, you ask? Well, I hired her. About a year and a half ago, when I saw that the marketing stuff was just getting too much for me. Gayle helps get out my newsletter, maintains data bases, sends out mailings, all that sort of thing. I couldn’t do without her. More and more of my colleagues are hiring her now, because they all need help. It’s an interesting phenomenon for authors—the more successful you become, the less time you have to write, because more of your time is demanded for marketing issues. You’d think marketing/publicity would go down as you sell more books, but nope. The more books you sell, the more people want your time—for interviews, for this or that. And the more readers you need to connect with. So—enter Gayle and her business, Word Count. If you’re an author out there who’s reached the place where you need office assistance, e-mail Gayle at: Tell her I sent you. (And hope she doesn’t hold that against you.)

Another question I had from yesterday—what agent did I end up with after Jane Jordan Browne passed away? Jane had an assistant in her office, Danielle Egan-Miller, who took over her agency upon Jane’s passing. So I didn’t need to move anywhere—I just stayed put.

Let’s see. Someone else asked what’s one thing I’d like to improve in my writing.


Well, that’s one word, isn’t it?

Besides just getting better at the output, I wish I could write faster. And come up with ideas easier. That planning a new book thing just gets me every time.

Okay. Other than that, I got a buncha weird questions. Sent in by C.J. I figure she’s just trying to get me back for editing her action scene—and taking 17 days to do it. She’ll probably edit my answers—online, through the comments, of course. Okay, C.J., they’re all yours:

What are your all-time top 3 favorite novels? There is no way I can answer this question. I’m not even sure I could name my top 20 or 30. The problem is, I could name some great novels, but I know I’ll leave out others that should have been named. So I'm gonna dodge the question.

What book(s) are you reading now? Just returned from the ChiLibris retreat, where one of the big bonuses is that you get free books from all other members attending. So I came home with 50-60 books. Yowsa! (The publishers supply these books so we can give them out to each other.) I just read The Victory Club, Robin Lee Hatcher’s latest, and Shattered Justice, Karen Ball’s latest. Just started the ARC (advanced reader copy) for Fallen From Babel, by T.L. Higley. This is one of the first novels in the new Realms line (that features futuristic and supernatural kinds of Christian fiction) from Strang. It will be on shelves in another month or two.

What's in your CD player? I was born in 1956. Which means I was a teenager through the great era of rock bands. And I still listen to ’em. Journey, Kansas, Boston, Chicago, Foreigner, Bon Jovi (although they didn’t come until the 80’s), Derek & the Dominoes, CCR, Styx, Little River Band, etc. I also loved the boy band era—Nsync, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees. I can’t stand rap, although I’ve listened to plenty, thanks to my daughter (now 15). My favorite rock song ever—The Wall, by Kansas. Not a main release; an album cut. Wonderful, amazing words. The guy who wrote it is now a Christian.

If you could have dinner with one person living or dead, who would it be? Definitely Jesus. I’d ask him all kinds of questions. Like—“That ‘angel of the Lord’ thing in the Old Testament—was that really You?” “Why were you so unkind to the Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed?” (At least, it sounds unkind to me.) “Tell me about Your childhood.” “How on earth do You put up with me?” Etc.

By the way, there's a brand new book out called Dinner With a Perfect Stranger, co-published by Waterbrook and Random House (which owns Waterbrook). It's a novella about a guy who's invited to have dinner with Jesus. He thinks it's a joke, so attends. But there's this guy in a business suit who insists he's Jesus. The man starts asking him all kinds of questions--hard ones, like "How can you say you're the only way heaven?" It's a wonderful little book of the conversation between these two as Jesus answers some of the hard questions of our times. This is a great book to give to a nonbeliever.

Favorite vacation spot? Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. And, thankfully, it’s not just a vacation anymore—I live here. (Part time for now, full time in the future.)

What items can always be found in your refrigerator? (Oh, please, I just had stomach flu.)

Your parents always told you ... ? “You can do anything you set your mind to. We believe in you.”

What gadget couldn't you live without? Just one? Okay—a computer, ’cause I couldn’t talk to my BGs. But I’d be pretty unhappy without a blow dryer, too.

If you were stuck on an island, what three things couldn't you live without? My Bible, sunscreen, my Select Comfort bed.

How do you relax? Read. Jog. Try to forget about deadlines.

Okay, BGs. That's enough answers for today. Dineen, I'll get to your question tomorrow. But please clarify--you said something about "show versus tell." Are you asking me what that means, or what? The rest of you--if you leave questions for tomorrow, I’ll answer as many as possible. About writing, technical problems in your wip, whatever. If you don’t leave questions, then I’ll have to come up with a topic. And that could be dangerous . . .

Monday, July 18, 2005

Bait and Switch

Well, this is a first. Brandilyn’s not here to greet you this fine Monday morning. It’s me, Gayle DeSalles, her marketing assistant.

Brandilyn is traveling today from California to her Coeur d’Alene home. But y’all know her well enough to know that this in itself wouldn’t stop her from posting. After all, she’s written to you from hotels and Starbucks before. She wouldn’t abandon you for any old reason. Nope, it’s not just that she’s on the road. Rather, she came down with a nasty bout of the stomach flu this weekend and is still not up to par.

So, she asked that I would post for her. I know she’d appreciate your prayers. She has a full week ahead of her. Being in Cd’A, though—a slice of heaven this side of earth—will definitely aid in her healing, no doubt.

Meanwhile, she’s declared this week a free for all. Well, she didn’t exactly say that; those are my words. She does ask that you would post questions for her about the writing life, perhaps some minute detail she may have left out of her NES. Something that will be easy for her to answer to conserve her enegry.

Thanks a lot. You’ll be hearing from her soon.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Inner Rhythm/Sentence Rhythm, Day 2

Wow, thanks to those of you who took such time to write edits of yesterday’s scene. This blog has quite a number of readers (says my trusty counter), and even though most are silent, they all tend to read the comments page (says trusty counter, again). When you comment and take part in editing, you’re helping a lot of people better understand the techniques we’re talking about. It’s very helpful to see the concepts employed in different writer voices.

I’m going to give my own version of a quick edit of the two paragraphs from yesterday. As a reminder, here is the original version:

Ralph stood at the edge of the pond, watching them with a grim smile. Taking his eyes from their struggles for a moment, he looked east, towards town. But for the skeletal forms of the cottonwoods by the main road against the grey, February sky, the horizon was empty. Not unusual; since his wife’s death the farm rarely saw visitors. He had counted on today being no different when he lured them out on the ice.

He fished his cigarettes out of his coat pocket. Tapping the pack against his left palm, he pulled out a smoke, put it between his lips, and returned the pack to his pocket. His hand returned with a book of matches. He tore one free and struck a flame, but before he could get it to his cigarette, the match was extinguished by a gust of wind. The breeze carried on it the terrified screams of the two figures in the frigid, black water of the pond.

Note: One thing I noticed, and clarified with this scene’s author through e-mail—the two victims are purposely not named, nor are their genders or ages given.

My approach to this scene would be to put the action right up front, using the short sentence rhythm we’ve discussed for action scenes, then move into the longer sentence rhythm to show the POV character’s uncaring, unaffected inner rhythm. Something like this:

Screams of the dying slashed his ears.

Their voices sputtered from the frigid water, pleading for his help. Desperate hands flailed, clutched air, slid off ice.

Already they weakened. Soon their limbs would freeze into uselessness.

Both heads slipped under.

Momentary silence.

He smiled.

Shivering, he glanced east, toward town. But for the skeletal forms of cottonwoods against grey February sky, the horizon stretched empty. Not unusual; since his wife’s death the farm rarely saw visitors. He had counted on that today when he lured his victims out onto the pond’s thin ice.

The heads bobbed up. Gasps, chokes, a shriek of hopelessness. Water splashed and churned.

From the pocket of his coat, he fished his cigarettes. Tapping the pack against his left palm, he pulled out a smoke, eased it between his lips, and returned the pack to his pocket. His hand reappeared with a book of matches. He tore one free and struck a flame, but a sudden gust of wind snatched it away. He cursed and lit another match, cupping it with both hands, protecting its frail life against the cruel forces of nature.

A half cry from the black water, ragged and worn, tumbled through the air.

He nursed the flame toward his cigarette, watched his smoke glow into life. Shook the match, extinguishing its fire, and tossed it away. He took a long, satisfying drag on the cigarette, its biting heat coiling through his lungs. Ah. One of life’s best simple pleasures.

A faint gurgle. One head went under a second time.

And on from there.

Besides using the different forms of sentence rhythm, I thought it would be an interesting dichotomy to see this guy nurse a flame in the wind while he coldheartedly watches two people die. Also I think the sentence rhythm of the victims’ actions should draw out as they try to fight with fading energy. Hence the sentence starting with “A half cry” is longer.

I think you all get the idea of this addendum to our sentence rhythm concept. Just remember that your sentence rhythm should match the “beat” that carries the scene—and this beat might be the outer action, or it may be the inner rhythm of your POV character. Or, in this instance, it’s a little of both.

If you have further questions about this concept, please don’t hesitate to ask them.

Happy weekend, BGs. Next week we shall tackle . . .

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Inner Rhythm Effecting Sentence Rhythm

And we're back, BGs. Thanks for all your comments yesterday. Jason--I'm thinkin' you shouldn't laugh when you're giving a patient a painful shot. I don't know, something about bedside manner . . . Trish, welcome to our BG world! The rest of you--thanks for your suggestions to rest. But I didn't want to leave y'all hangin' for a day.

Check out the title of today's blog. And you thought we’d said everything that needed to be said about rhythm during our action scene edit.


After spending days on sentence rhythm, I received an e-mail from a BG who asked a very astute question, based on his wip. Here’s what he had to say:

In the prologue of my supernatural suspense novel, the villain is watching two people drown that he lured onto thin ice. I wanted my villain to seem detached from the deaths taking place in front him, so I had him light a cigarette and savor the taste.

Having now been through the learnings of the last few weeks on your blog, I went back and read the prologue. My sentences aren't short to speed the action. There is no sense of urgency in them. They are the exact opposite of everything you've been teaching us in the high action of Christy's struggle for survival. The reader can see the figures struggling in vain to get out of the water from the POV of the villain; filtered through his uncaring, detached view of the action, I think this works well in concert with his detached actions. Am I making a fundamental mistake here?

Short answer: no.

This BG ferreted out the one aspect of sentence rhythm that I didn’t cover during our AS edit. I was concerned that folks were getting a little tired of SR, and we needed to move on. The letter showed me I’d left a gaping hole.

Trouble is, nothing is ever easy in teaching fiction. (Or writing it for that matter, huh.) You try to address one concept, and you really can’t without addressing some other concept that lies underneath it. In this case, that concept is inner rhythm (which, naturally, I’ll call IR).

IR is given a full chapter in my book Getting Into Character. I’m not going to repeat everything that’s said in that chapter, but for those of you who haven’t read GIC, here is an overview from the intro to that chapter:

Beneath a character’s external movements lies the internal “movement” of emotion. Without a sense of a character’s unique inner rhythm, the novelist relies on external action to depict feelings in a general way. Gestures and conversation can seem stereotyped, one-dimensional, even false. When an author begins with inner rhythm and works toward the external, each action, facial expression, and spoken word then illuminates the struggle within. Readers feel the emotion . . .

“Rhythm” may seem an unlikely word to apply to emotions. When we hear the word we usually think of music—a song is fast or slow, syncopated or steady. But rhythm doesn’t just apply to music; it’s all around us. There’s the lazy, contented rhythm of lingering in bed on a Saturday morning; the frantic rhythm of dashing for a train; the lulling, hypnotic rhythm of ocean waves. Our bodes respond to certain emotions with rhythm. In tense situations our hearts beat faster, our breaths grow short and ragged. When we stop to think about rhythm in this way, we realize it’s not that we are unfamiliar with inner rhythm, but rather we are so familiar with it that we rarely consider its existence. It is an innate and instinctive as breathing. But as novelists, who constantly study human nature in order to re-create it on paper, we must bring inner rhythm to a conscious level, scrutinize its subtleties, and learn how to employ it for our characters.

Okay, BGs. So we have Wayne’s prologue, in which the external action is high—two people are drowning. Usually a character watching such a scene would become involved in the action himself—that is, the action would affect his inner rhythm. And therefore, if you’re writing in that character’s POV, you would follow the sentence rhythm concepts for action scenes that we discussed earlier. But if that character is unaffected by the outer action, as in Wayne’s character’s case, how do you effectively use sentence rhythm in the scene?

Here is the guideline for just such a scenario as stated in GIC:

Sentence rhythm should match your character’s inner rhythm when this inner rhythm—rather than external action—is the beat that carries the scene.

And so the sentences in the POV of Wayne’s villain can follow the rhythm of languidness—long, even compound or complex sentences instead of the short, ragged rhythm for action. The result, when this is done correctly, is a chilling effect of the character being completely unconcerned about what is happening around him.

But to pump up this effect, we have to accurately depict what is happening externally. If we use only the sentence rhythm for quieter scenes, the reader won't feel the external action enough. So the best thing to do is use both kinds of sentence rhythm, switching back and forth. For example, when Wayne is explaining through the villain’s eyes the struggles of the two people who are drowning, he could use the shorter sentence rhythm of action. Then when he tells us of the villain’s own actions or thoughts, he could switch to a more languid sentence rhythm.

I’m going to run the first two paragraphs of Wayne’s prologue (again, with his permission):

Ralph stood at the edge of the pond, watching them with a grim smile. Taking his eyes from their struggles for a moment, he looked east, towards town. But for the skeletal forms of the cottonwoods by the main road against the grey, February sky, the horizon was empty. Not unusual; since his wife’s death the farm rarely saw visitors. He had counted on today being no different when he lured them out on the ice.

He fished his cigarettes out of his coat pocket. Tapping the pack against his left palm, he pulled out a smoke, put it between his lips, and returned the pack to his pocket. His hand returned with a book of matches. He tore one free and struck a flame, but before he could get it to his cigarette, the match was extinguished by a gust of wind. The breeze carried on it the terrified screams of the two figures in the frigid, black water of the pond.

Note the languid sentence rhythm all the way through. This works for depicting Ralph's detachment, but it doesn't help us feel the external action of two people drowning. In addition, it's not until the last sentence of the second paragraph that we even know what Ralph is watching. I think these paragraphs could use some sentence rhythm editing--adding some shorter SR for the external action, and thereby depicting the dichotomy between that action and Ralph's detached and uncaring inner rhythm. And the action being watched--the drowning--should be made apparent right up front.

Any takers on rewriting part or all of these two paragraphs?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

CBA, Day 3

Here I am, back home again, tired but happy from CBA.

Had a good signing yesterday at the Zondervan booth on the convention floor. Good thing they brought 250 copies of Dead of Night. As y’all know, I signed with Jim Bell, and we had a looong line. I went through all 250 books in an hour and a half. He was signing his latest book with Zondervan, Sins of the Fathers. Great book, by the way, as all of his are. If you haven’t read it—do.

This morning before the signing while still at the hotel, I thought, “Hm, whatdya do when you’re signing with Master Bell?” Then I had meself an idea. So I made meself a little sign and printed it out on the hotel’s color printer. Yellow background. Bold capitalized red letters:


Begged some tape from the bell captain, and I was ready to head for the convention center and the signing.

At the Z booth, I surreptitiously showed my sign around to the Z folks, and we all had a good laugh at Jim’s expense. Of course, he still didn’t know what was going on. When it came our turn to sign—two of us at this tiny table—I whipped out my sign and taped it to the wall just beside his head. Poor guy had to sign beside that thing for the entire time. Meanwhile a long line was already forming. I called down the line for folks to pay attention to the sign and put any peanuts away, etc. Somebody—I forget who, but I think someone from Z—got a pic of Jim making a very scary face next to the sign. (Not that he had to work too hard, but don’t tell him I said so.)

Then, alas, we had to get down to biz and sign books. And sign more books. And some more. I made the mistake of glancing up a few times to check the line. Thing had to be snaking halfway to China. Amazing the people who show up to get a free book. Well, free anything usually works. At any rate, later I heard that our line was so long that it took half the convention floor, and Tyndale had to postpone a Jerry Jenkins signing 'cause there was no room for people, and Westbow had to postpone one for Ted Dekker. I also learned that it wasn’t really the books folks were standing in line for; it was the chance to see the great Master Bell next to his “don’t feed the lawyer” sign.

Okay, so I totally lied on that previous paragraph. Cut me a break; I’m a novelist. I give the truth scope.

Actually, we did have a very long line, and I signed for an hour and half straight—smiled that long, too—without a break, and when I was done, and all the books were gone, my hand was tired. This is exactly why I’ve developed this large, loose scrawl of a signature—less cramping of the fingers that way.

After the signing I hoofed it out of the convention center and four blocks over to a restaurant where the ACFW members at the conference were having lunch together. My entrance was perfectly timed—not. A good hour and a half late. About the time I got there, people started leaving.

Hm. I’m not going to think too long about that one.

I did sit around for a while a chat with a few folks who stayed. Then it was time to hoof it back the four blocks to the conference center (did I mention Denver heat has been at 97 degrees?) to catch the town car to the airport. Two hour wait at airport. (Security lines were nonexistent, for some reason.) Two hour flight back to San Francisco area. Our United pilot got this hot idea to let his domestic passengers check out the spiffy new international terminal, so he let us out at a gate there. Which meant a major hoof (carrying my heavy briefcase and a carry-on full of books, also heavy) waaaay over to the domestic terminal for baggage. Sheesh, I thought I was back at the convention.

I was picked up by a friend and driven home. By the time I got here, I decided I don’t want to see people for oh, about a week. I’m totally peopled out. This introvert author has done all the extroverting she can possibly do for a long while. Now it’s time to plug myself in to some nice, quiet aloneness and regenerate. Oh, but I'm not kicking husband and daughter out of the house, in case you wondered.

Dear BGs, I have no idea what we shall discuss tomorrow. Not that I don’t have many suggestions from y’all. Tell you what, though, I promise to show up if you will. Tune in and see what surfaces.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

CBA, Part 2

Howdy after a long and tiring Monday. Thanks to those of you who left comments yesterday, particularly LaShaunda and Karen, who rose to the surface from lurkdom. Welcome to the above waters side.

Question about ChiLibris. Sorry, that was a slip of mine. I know not everyone knows what that is. ChiLibris is an organization and e-mail loop of Christian novelists. Members must have at least 2 novels on the shelf. We have about 120 members, maybe more. These very talented people represent the vast majority of all the novels you read in CBA, and somehow they allow me to tag along. Every year before the CBA convention, we have a retreat for about 3 days. It’s a wonderful time of fellowship, discussing our craft and the business, and worshipping. And, oh yeah, eating. I am always amazed and humbled to sit in the retreat room each year. I look around and see all the faces and names of those who write the Christian novels you see on the shelves, and I think, “Sheesh, what a mass of talent in this room.”

So. Here was my day at CBA.

8 a.m.—meeting with agent and her assistant for breakfast in another hotel. Which meant leaving my hotel at 7:30 and hoofing it the few blocks. Good thing I left a little early, seeing as how I hoofed it in the wrong direction for two blocks before I realized what I’d done. Fortunately I wasn’t stupid enough to wear heels that were too high, so the shoes were feeling fairly comfortable at that point.

9:30—meeting over. Caught shuttle to Convention Center.

9:45—entered Convention Center. Whoa, lawsy, what was that MUSIC? Rock and jazz and way cool stuff! Some Christian jazz band was playing—all men, maybe 10 of ’em—in the lobby outside the convention floor. They rocked, they did a little rap, they jazzed. I mean, did they jazz. At one time they had 3 guys each playing TWO wind instruments. Like one guy playing two trumpets at once, another playing two saxes. I tell you, I headed straight for the music and rocked out. I could have stayed there all day. Who needed the convention anyway? The band was called Denver and the Mile High Orchestra. I got a free CD. You can check them out at

10:00—or shortly thereafter. Drat. The band quit playing. I headed into the convention center to walk the floor and gawk at all the booths. Row after row. Gift booths to the left, book publisher booths to the right. Spotted the Zondervan booth right away even though it was down at the end of an aisle because of its huge banner up high with the Z logo. Did a quick pass through to check it out. Then hoofed it waaay back out into the lobby, down a major escalator, waaay down a long hall, took a right, waaay down another long hall—to the Z hospitality suite, where I could leave some things I didn’t want to tote around all day. Yes, the publishers’ hospitality suites couldn’t have been further than the convention floor, but such is the way it always seems to be. Went waaay back up to walk the floor and schmooze.

11:45—quick media interview. Of course it was waay back downstairs. No, make that down, downstairs. These conventions centers are chock full of levels and halls.

12:15—interview over. Time for free food in the Z suite. Yay! An author never passes up free food. Sat at a table in the suite with the Z marketing person, my editor, Terri Blackstock and her husband, and James Scott Bell. Randy Ingermanson came along, but we quickly kicked him out. No vegetarian physicists allowed. (Okay, in reality he came, got food and split with it, but I like my version of the story better.) We were the rowdiest bunch in the suite. But then, we were the novelists. What can you expect? The rest of the wonderful Z team has learned to put up with us.

12:45—media interview with Focus on Fiction. Kelly audiotaped it to run on her blog. And she took a couple of pictures. In one we look normal, and in one . . . we don’t. You might check it out at

1:15—schmoozed with some friends until my next meeting.

2:00—meeting with marketing person at Z to discuss promotions for current and upcoming novels. Of course it couldn’t be so simple to have this meeting at the Z suite, where I was. I had to go waaayy back upstairs to the Z booth on the convention floor. Before the meeting I passed by Terri Blackstock signing her books at the Z suite. I gathered together Robin Lee Hatcher, Deb Raney and friend Tammy Alexander, and we edged near Terri and her long line of fans and all screamed, “Oooh, look! It’s Terri Blackstock! Aaaah!” The booksellers peered at us and rolled their eyes. Novelists.

Meeting ended up being not in Z booth, because there was no room there either, so marketing person and I hoofed it waay to the other end of the convention floor to find a place to sit.

On the way back to the Z booth after our meeting, we passed by Jim Bell signing at the Bethany booth, with his long line of fans waiting. I scream, “Ooooh, look! It’s Jim Bell!!” and pretended to swoon. Jim vowed to get me back. Which he probably will, since we’re signing together tomorrow. Z marketing person turned her badge over so no one would know she was from Zondervan while with this crazy novelist.

3:00—met quickly with an author friend, Randy Singer (writes great legal suspense) to catch up with each others’ doin’s. Of course, this meeting was waaay back down outside the Z hospitality suite, That’s because the 2:00 meeting was supposed to be there before it got kicked upstairs.

3:30—went waaay back up to convention floor to walk and schmooze a little. Feet were feeling it by then. I found a table to sit and write out notes while everything was fresh in my mind from my 2:00 meeting.

5:15—met with folks from The Writers View e-mail loop to go to dinner. Of course, we had to hoof it out of the convention center, up the street, catch the shuttle, get off shuttle, walk a little further to restaurant. Where I slipped off my shoes underneath the table.

7:30—I’d had it. I left restaurant for hotel. Walked a block to catch shuttle, rode bus, walked two blocks to hotel. Got to my room waaaay tired. First thing I did was kick off my shoes. Time to chill, finally.

Oops, wait a minute. Have to write blog . . .

Today—signing at the Z booth with Jim Bell. Perhaps catch tail end of luncheon with ACFW folk. Catch town car to airport. Fly home. Write 4-5 pages of Paige novel on airplane (when I’d rather rest).

Oh, yeah. And write blog.

Check back tomorrow to see if I’m still alive.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Hi From Denver & CBA

Howdy, BGs, from Denver. I’ve spent the weekend at the ChiLibris retreat, and tomorrow the convention starts in earnest.

Last night the Christy Awards banquet was held. Always a fun time. But I had a special treat. I got to meet a BG. And lemme tell ya, did I make an impression. Twice.

First, at the beginning of the evening, I saw the guy’s name. Stuart Stockton. My little pea brain (which was already on overload after being in meetings for two days) says, “Hm, I know that name.” He’s looking at me, so I introduce myself with the normal niceties, while my brain has now fallen into one of those panicked chants. Agent? Editor? Media guy? Of course I can’t remember the answer (that brain overload thingy again), so finally I spit out, “Now remind me who you are? An editor?” Before he can answer, my brain does this boingy bingo! He’s a BG! And not just any BG. I happen to be using Stuart’s science fiction book in my new series (yes, the Paige novel). One of the colorful characters in Kanner Lake is writing a science fiction novel, and it’s actually Stuart’s story. Stuart has given me interesting tidbits about his sci-fi world, and how a person would say this or that in his sci-fi language. Made this minor character quite interesting.

Anyway, so now I’m feeling like a total idiot. “Hey, Stuart Stockton, my Saurian world guy!” I’m still pumping his hand. He was quite gracious about the whole thing. Truth was, I had no idea he would be there, didn’t even know he lived in the area. Just didn't know to be looking for the guy.

I’m not sure this qualifies as an excuse, but it’s the best I can do.

So then—fast forward to end of evening. I’m standing again with Stuart and some other folks, and I meet Terry Burns (from ACFW) and his wife. Now Terry’s not a very tall guy, with white hair. So then I get pulled away from this group to somewhere else, then realize I need to be getting to a meeting. (Yes, a meeting after the Christy’s. What a wacky time, but so goes the weekend.) So I breeze by Stuart, who’s still standing with a kinda short man with white hair. I see this group out of my peripheral vision. So I say goodbye again to Stuart and tell Terry again it was great to meet him. The white-haired man turns and gives me a very blank stare, like you talkin’ to me? Then I realize it’s not Terry. It’s someone I haven’t met. So of course I then must introduce myself and explain my (second) social gaffe. By now I just know that Stuart’s thinking I’m really quite insane. Which I am. But, dressed as I was in a full length black evening gown, it would have been nice to come off at least as possessing half a brain.

Ah, well, there’s always next year.

In her comment from Friday, Becky asked what an author does at CBA. Well, today and tomorrow I will be on the CBA floor. My signing at the Zondervan booth is on Tuesday. Today I have meetings/interviews most of the day.

The convention is convenient because it brings together everyone in the industry. So it’s an optimum time to meet with your agent, your editor, your marketing folks, do media interviews, and generally schmooze with all the bookstore folks who are there. I started the schmoozing part yesterday at the hotel. I had an extra box of Dead of Night copies to give away, so I gave ’em to folks in the restaurant or lobby who said they liked reading suspense. Met some interesting people.

Tomorrow I sign for an hour at the Zondervan booth. Z brings about 100 books, and bookstore folks line up for their free copies. It’s always a very quick hour, with me signing like mad. Fun time. This year I get to sign at the same time as Jim Bell (James Scott Bell). Jim and I are good pals, and I fully intend to razz him the entire hour. The bookstore folks will look at us strangely, but they actually enjoy the show. CBA retailers have long since learned that the novelists are the unpredictable, crazy ones, and their signing lines are far more fun than those stodgy and normal nonfiction authors.

Referring back to comments from Friday—I noted the suggestions for future topics. I’m not forgetting y’all. Lurkers Marian and Emily, thanks for coming up for air and commenting on our AS edit. And Becky asked about Paige. Paige is doing well, thank you. Well, actually, she’s not doing well, but her novel is coming along just fine and is now over 2/3 done. My problem is I have little time to write in July because of all my traveling. But somehow I must.

Tomorrow I’ll write you more about CBA. Thanks, BGs, for hanging in here with me between fiction craft topics. Our AS edit was a fun exercise, but I must admit it took quite a bit of my time. So I’m glad to know it helped people.

Lotsa love and see y’all Tuesday.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Editing, Final Day

Thanks to those of you who have left comments about this editing. Glad to hear that it has helped you. Lynette, you mentioned you have a prologue you’d like some critiques on. You might try going over to our discussion board and seeing if you have any takers. Or if you’re a member of ACFW, you can look into joining one of the organization’s critique groups.

As promised yesterday, I’m going to run our AS in its original form and in its most recent edited form. In comparing the two versions, you might want to remind yourself of changes we made according to each of these techniques:

1. Speaker attributes (“he said,” etc.)
2. Sentence rhythm
3. Verb choice
4. Action/reaction sequence
5. Tightness of writing
6. Character Motivation (depth of character response/emotion)


Original version:

In an instant, he spun her whole body around, and her shoulder pummeled into Spirit. The horse panicked and jumped away, ripping the reins out of her hand. Vince’s fist landed on her cheekbone, and she was vaguely aware of the horse bolting out the door before she felt the pain and stumbled.

“Spirit!”Vince was upon her. He grabbed a fistful of her jacket and yanked her to her feet. “It’s time you learned something, Darling.” He stuck his face in hers, his stale cigar breath assaulting her. “I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

She closed her eyes, gasping. If she resisted, he’d make it worse. She managed a feeble, “Vince, please, don’t.”

“You pitiful excuse for a woman.” He hit her again, a swift bash on her left temple. The blow made the room turn black around the edges. But she didn’t lose consciousness.

Vince let her crumple to the floor. “Worthless piece of trash,” he said.

She tried to look up at him. “If you just leave me alone . . . I . . . I promise I’ll never tell a soul what you did. Just let me go. Why won’t you let me go?”

He picked her up by the jacket again and shoved her against a stall door. She groaned as pain shot through her back. He’d pushed her against the metal latch.

“Oh, it’s too late, Christy. I’ve given you more than enough chances.”

“Please. . .”

He backhanded her across the face. She fell to her knees, clutching her nose as warm blood dripped into her fingers.

“I don’t know what I ever saw in you. You’re certainly nothing to look at.”

She glanced up at the caricature of his once handsome face. How could she ever have loved this man?

Vince pulled a wad of rope out of his jacket pocket. “Not even worth the air you breathe.”

That’s when she realized the awful truth. He wasn’t just doing this to frighten her. He intended to kill her, and every ounce of survival instinct she had kicked in. She searched for a weapon. Bale of straw. Horse comb. Bottle of saddle soap. Shovel. She locked onto that. It leaned against the wall by the door. Could she crawl fast enough?

“Get up,” Vince ordered.

Christy started to rise in a slow, defeated way, but the second she got her feet underneath herself, she lunged for the door, and the shovel. Grasping it with both hands, she willed her eyes to focus on Vince, and hurled it at his head.

The shovel met its mark with a revolting thud. Vince’s hands flew to his face, and he moaned as he sagged to the floor. She froze, shocked she’d actually wounded him. What was she doing? She had to get of here! Move!

Christy ran. Into the yard, past the pickups. The house! Get to the house! Lock the door. Maybe she could figure out how to use one of those guns before Vince could break in.

And then she saw the most beautiful creature in the entire world, Spirit, a snowy apparition standing in the middle of the yard, waiting for her. For a split second she hesitated. Should she race for the house or try to mount the gelding when she could barely see straight?

Vince decided for her. He appeared in the barn doorway still holding his head, his eyes ablaze. She wouldn’t make the house.

Adrenaline propelled her to Spirit, and she frantically gathered the reins, struggling to get her foot in the stirrup.

Glance behind. Vince was running toward her.

Clutching Spirit’s mane, she summoned all her strength, pulled herself up, and made it!


Edited Version:

He grabbed Christy’s arm, whipped her around. Her shoulder rammed into Spirit. The horse jerked up his head and jumped away. Reins ripped from her hand.

Vince’s fist crunched into Christy’s cheekbone. Her head bounced sideways, pain exploding through her face. Christy stumbled.

Oh, God, please.

Spirit bolted out the door.

Vince grabbed Christy’s jacket and yanked her close. Rancid cigar breath poured over her. She trembled.

“Guess what. I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” He punched her in the temple.

The blow blackened the room, fuzzed its edges. Dizziness coiled through Christy.

Vince threw her to the floor. "Piece of trash."

The words knifed. How many times had she heard them, had they caused her to grovel at his feet? Much as she was now.

She drew a shaky breath, struggled to raise her head. “Vince, stop. Please.”

“Too late, Christy.” He dragged her to her feet, shoved her against the stall door. The metal latch bit into her back. “No more chances for you.”

He backhanded her face. Pain shot through her nose. Christy cried out. She crumpled to her knees, hands flying to the wound. Blood dripped on her fingers.

“Look at you.” His tone sneered. “So ugly. What did I ever see in you?”

She cradled her nose, straining for air. Hating herself. Hating him. How could she ever have loved this man?

Vince eased a wad of rope out of his jacket pocket. Let it dangle between his fingers, his eyes turning to slits. With an almost bored sniff, he planted his feet wide apart and began pulling the rope, inch by roughened inch, through his fist. Chin raised, he looked down upon Christy, smug, satisfied, distaste at her weakness curling one corner of his mouth.

“I have some special plans for you, girl.”

Christy’s blurry eyes took in the taunt of his movements, the calculation upon his face, and she knew. From that first slap six months ago, her destiny had been set, hardened in the concrete of Vince’s twisted “love.” Her black eyes, the bruised arms hidden in long sleeves, the sore ribs. His spewed and vile words, aimed like poisonous arrows at her soul. Flames licking at her apartment, scattering her life treasures and her spirit to bitter ash. The stalking, the anger and jealousy. Now he’d followed her here.

Acid trickled through Christy’s veins.

She could imagine his focused planning, devoid of all conscience, wrapped in the rationalization of his warped justice. His search for the right length of rope, the stealth of his approach, his steely-eyed lurk as he awaited the perfect moment. Deserving as she was of his punishment, he would deny her a swift death. He’d want her to linger, suffer, to sputter her last breath in a plea for mercy.

Vince snapped the rope taut between his fists and leered.

Blades of pain knifed at Christy’s nose. Blood pooled in her cupped fingers, ran down the back of her throat. She lowered her hand and blinked watery eyes at the violent red in her palm. Shuddering, she wiped the mess on her jeans, smearing scarlet. She stared at the streaks. They screamed to her of all that he’d done—and what was yet to come.

Vince kicked her in the thigh. “Get up.”

Christy drew in a breath, and her gaze began roaming. Around herself, on the ground, near the barn door, looking for something, some makeshift weapon, anything to save herself. She saw a bale of straw. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle. Boots.


Christy summoned every ounce of strength and resolve left in her. She would have one chance. Only one. Her muscles gathered, tightened, ready to spring. “Okay, Vince.” Whispered words of feigned defeat.

She rose slowly, head down, eyes on her target. Halfway to her feet, she lunged for the shovel. Grabbed its handle with both hands—and swung with all her might.

Thud. The back side smacked Vince in the head. He gasped, staggered sideways, momentarily stunned. The rope slipped from his hands. Christy threw the shovel aside. Move!

She scuttled from the barn, blood dripping and head spinning. Into the yard, past the pickups. Get to the house, lock the door! She’d find a gun, be ready for Vince—


Christy drew up short, heart hammering. The horse stood in the yard, pawing the ground. Almost as if he waited for her. She wavered. Her nose throbbed and dizziness whirled in her brain. Could she mount him in such a state?

Sound from behind. Christy’s gaze jerked back toward the barn.

Vince burst from the doorway, his eyes ablaze. Coming for her.

Christy threw a desperate glance toward the house. She would never make it.

Adrenaline propelled her toward her only chance—Spirit. She stumbled to his side, frantically gathered the reins. Raised a foot of lead, nearly losing her balance. Christy struggled to find the stirrup. Missed it, staggered back. Tried again.

She threw a look over her shoulder. Vince streaked toward her fifteen feet away, his face contorted in rage.

Ten more seconds, and she was as good as dead.

God help me!

With a cry, Christy sought the stirrup. Found it. Her shaking foot slid into it—hard. She clutched the reins and Spirit’s mane like a lifeline. Summoned her strength—and launched herself upon his back.


Final comments as we end our edit? Remember the whole point of this exercise was to show you examples of how I would use the above techniques in writing a scene. Now the hardest work lies with you in figuring out how to make these techniques work in your own voice.

We all owe a very big round of applause and thanks to the author of our AS, who has so graciously allowed us to pick apart her scene day after day. Special, special thanks to you, C.J. You are one special BG.

My, my, our editing is done. Whatever shall we talk about on Monday? Something tells me we won’t run out of ideas. I’m at the ChiLibris retreat now in Denver, and Monday and Tuesday will be on the convention floor for CBA. See y’all Monday, BGs!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Editing, Day 17--Character Motivation

Today we finish our AS edit. I’m going to continue on with the rest of the scene after the moment of decision. I’ll include the last paragraph from the previous edit and then go on.

She rose slowly, head down, eyes on her target. Halfway to her feet, she lunged for the shovel. Grabbed its handle with both hands—and swung with all her might.

Thud. The back side smacked Vince in the head. He gasped, staggered sideways, momentarily stunned. The rope slipped from his hands. Christy threw the shovel aside. Move!

She scuttled from the barn, blood dripping and head spinning. Into the yard, past the pickups. Get to the house, lock the door! She’d find a gun, be ready for Vince—


The horse stood in the yard. Waiting for her. Christy wavered. Could she mount him in her dizziness?

Vince burst from the barn doorway, his eyes ablaze. Coming for her.

She would never make the house.


Those last three paragraphs feel a little abrupt for me. I think we need to see more of Christy’s thought processes. How about:


Christy drew up short, heart hammering. The horse stood in the yard, pawing the ground. Almost as if he waited for her. She wavered. Her nose throbbed and dizziness whirled in her brain. Could she mount him in such a state?

Sound from behind. Christy’s gaze jerked back toward the barn.

Vince burst from the doorway, his eyes ablaze. Coming for her.

Christy threw a desperate glance toward the house. She would never make it.


Going on:

Adrenaline propelled her to Spirit. Frantically, she gathered the reins. Struggled for footing in the stirrup. She missed it, stumbled back. Tried again.

She threw a look over her shoulder. Vince streaked toward her, fifteen feet away. Ten.

With a cry, Christy sought the stirrup. Found it. She clutched Spirit’s mane like a lifeline. Summoned her strength—and launched herself upon his back.


Here, I’d like to fill out the action a little more in order to increase tension:

Adrenaline propelled her toward her only chance—Spirit. She stumbled to his side, frantically gathered the reins. Raised a foot of lead, nearly losing her balance. Christy struggled to find the stirrup. Missed it, staggered back. Tried again.

She threw a look over her shoulder. Vince streaked toward her fifteen feet away, his face contorted in rage.

Ten more seconds, and she was as good as dead.God help me!With a cry, Christy sought the stirrup. Found it. Her shaking foot slid into it—hard. She clutched the reins and Spirit’s mane like a lifeline. Summoned her strength—and launched herself upon his back.

And there we have it. We’re at the end of our edit. Hey, it only took us a mere 17 days. And you thought your wip was going slowly.

Tomorrow we’re going to look at the original AS and our final version, with a quick recap of all the techniques we’ve covered.

Remember—I hope you take away from this protracted, long edit some new ideas for techniques in your wip—and in your own voice. I’ve merely shown you my version of a rewrite as an example of how I would use these techniques we’ve discussed. What counts for you is how you'll put these concepts to use in your own writer’s voice.

Read Part 19