Tuesday, August 31, 2010

You Say It's Your Birthday?

Sherrinda here...and it's my birthday. Now I LOVE birthdays. LOVE THEM! I love the cake, the ice cream, the presents, and all the fun. It is a day where it's okay that it's all about ME! But this one is bugging me for some strange reason. Turning 40 was no big deal. I embraced it, and felt free to let loose and be me. This 45th year puts me closer to 50 and people... that is half a century. Maybe I will feel really wise by that time. Maybe...

But what about our characters? How many books have you read where the hero or heroine had a birthday? I can't really think of any, to be honest. Many of us use character charts for character building and we give our character a birth date. But what is the purpose of a birthday? 

For one thing, you know your character's age. Obviously, this is an important fact. I had a story idea once where I wanted my 20-something character have hippie parents. Well, hippies were from the 1960's. If my character's parents got married in the late 60's and had my character as late as 1970, it put my character in her 40's. You gotta know your character's birthday to have her at the right age and coordinate well with minor characters. 

We can use birthdays to show more about our character. Say your heroine got dumped by her fiance on her birthday. Birthdays could always be a reminder of love lost. What if your hero won a million dollars on his 20th birthday. Birthdays could be a time spent in casinos, gambling away that million, trying to win even more. (Of course, in writing for CBA, this would be backstory.) There are  a lot of ways to add depth to your character through birthdays.

What about incorporating birthdays into our own books? You could have a heroine who has always experienced a surprise party on her birthday, yet in your book she does not. She opens doors expecting to find a room full of friends screaming "Surprise", only to be disappointed in the silence that greets her. Think of the fun you could have with the internal journey of your character in learning that life is not "all about her" and people still love her regardless of how many parties she has.

You could have your orphaned heroine, who never celebrated birthdays in a big way, be overwhelmed when the hero throws her a huge party loaded with presents. The hero could go to great lengths with outrageous and extravagant party plans...all to show his love. 

Birthdays can be used in so many ways. For good. For ill. What about the villain? He/she has birthdays. What  kinds of things could you do with a villain's birthday? Give me some creative ideas. Or share about your favorite birthday.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Catch A Reader By The Hook

You’re standing in front of a shelve of deliciously tempting books inside Barnes and Noble or Books a Million…or even the library. The smell of imagination cooking between fresh print pricks your curiosity and you scan the rows looking for a title or cover to push you from temptation to commitment. Finally, something snags your attention and you draw the book from the shelf, the promise of a tantalizing visit to otherworlds tingling through your body. (okay, maybe I’m the only one who gets this feeling, but I also write fantasy so it works for me.

You slide your hand across the silken cover dancing with brilliant colors and a magical picture, finally flipping to the first page.

Once upon a time….

It was a dark and stormy night…

It is a truth universally acknowledged….

Either the book grips you in the first paragraph and delivers on its’ promises from the back cover, or you realize…this book is not for you.

So what makes a gripping first line…a first paragraph even?

Part of it has to do with personal preference, I know, but first lines have a tendency to draw us in, catch us, and then hook us like a fish in the water.
With this thought in mind, I’ve listed a few ‘first lines’ in books (old and new) as an example. See what you think.

“Scarlet O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm, as the Tarleton twins were.” – Gone With the Wind

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” David Copperfield

“I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.” – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

“A gentle breeze from the north-east after a night of rain, and the washed sky over Malta had a particular quality in its light that sharpened the lines of the noble buildings, bringing out all the virtue of the stone; the air too was a delight to breathe, and the city of Valletta was as cheerful as though it were fortunate in love or as though it had suddenly heard good news.” – Treason’s Harbor by Patrick O’Brian

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

“A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. They drove away and left it lonely and empty in the clearing among the big trees, and they never saw that little house again.” Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingals Wilder

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.” Holes by Louis Sachar

Now for some Christian Fiction examples How do they compete?

“Oh, to be a calculating woman!” Julie Lessman’s A Passion Denied

“Nice girl gone bad. That’s me: Claire Le Noyer.” Kissing Adrien by Siri Mitchell

“Nothing like running late to make a wonderful first impression.” Stand-In Groom by Kaye Dacus

“The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic.” The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs

“Breathe not a word of my visit, Jean. not to a soul.” Thorn in my Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs

“Bran!” The shout rattled through the stone-flagged yard. “Bran! Get your sorry tail out here! We’re leaving!” Hood by Stephen Lawhead

“Dragon riding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Ashley grumbled. Enoch’s Ghost by Bryan Davis.

“Belle Tanner pitched dirt right on Anthony’s handsome, worthless face.” The Husband Tree by Mary Connealy

“They were coming. They were coming! Christophe shoves his little sister, twelve-year old Emile, through a hidden door in the wall, quickly following her.” Love’s First Light by Jamie Carie

Now, interestingly enough, these examples have something in common: They are out to get your attention BUT they use different means to get it.

_ Some draw in the reader with ACTION. You enter the story in motion and are swept into the pages.

-  Some use INTRIGUE…something’s ‘not quite right’, so your curiousity is peaked.

- Some use HUMOR and brings you in with a smile.

- Others use the UNEXPECTED – something is stated (kind of like intrigue) which is out of the ordinary so to keep from teetering on the brink of confusion, the reader must read on.

-Finally some capture you with WORDS, magically descriptive, palpable words which ensnare the senses.

Any way you choose to write it, SOMETHING has to happen in that first paragraph which captures the readers attention to keep them reading…wanting more, inescapably attracted…

and then -


You’ve caught yourself a reader.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What's Up The Street for Next Week?

Have you visited Seekerville lately? If not, you should, that blog is so wonderful and such a great learning experience, that this weekend edition is dedicated to them!

On Seekerville you can:

~Learn something new everyday from 15 fun and talented ladies that are always willing to share on their successes and failures in the writing industry.

~Experience and grow, share and critique, all while feeding off the wonderful enthusiasm that writers generate

~Be encouraged and inspired

~Enter some pretty spectacular contests

~You won't be stuck on Unpubbed Island for long with advice from these lovely ladies!

~Something for everyone!

Check out the ladies at Seekerville today! You are sure to feel welcome.

12 of the lovely Seeker ladies!

We have had Seekers visit the Alley too! Check out: Myra's post, Mary's interview and Cara's interview

Visit the Seekerville weekend edition from yesterday to find out what is happening over there this week.

And now what is going on at the Alley this week....
Monday: Pepper grabs hold and hangs on tight as she talks about "Hooking the Reader" from the very start

Tuesday: Sherrinda looooves to keep us in suspense and stitches, so watch for a uniquiely Sherrinda post sure to come your way!
Wednesday: What better way to learn about writing, then the way that Jesus taught? Join Mary as she posts about parables and allegories.

Thursday: Marks the start of Casey's month long series "Myth Busters" with the first installment: "Hitting the Writer's Block Wall"

Friday: Since Krista is on maternity leave with precious Annabelle, this month introduces the "Vacation Fridays- come travel with us!" Pepper jumpstarts the installment with a research/ trip for pleasure post and how to use it to the best of your writing. Don't miss it! (I am sure there will be pictures too :-)

Saturday: Join us and help welcome author of Paper Roses and Scattered Petals, Amanda Cabot as she teaches on her own experience: Keeping Your Series Accurate. There will be a giveaway, so be on the watch! :-)

SideWalk Talk
September is nearly here! Is that even possible? Well, it seems that it were so, check out the next week's guest and the spectular lineup for this coming month.

9/12: Cara Putman
9/19: James Scott Bell
9/26: Joseph Bentz
10/2: Laura Frantz


Mary entertains the young and the young at heart with: After days of trekking across the desert, Moses and his family arrive in Egypt tired and thirsty. No one put out a welcome banner, no one threw a party. God walked beside him. Come read about Moses return to Egypt this week.

Casey is giving away Melanie Dickerson's The Healer's Apprentice, an ACFW bookclub selection, so check it out!

Krista updates us at least once a week on Annabelle's condition so be sure and stop by and add this precious child of God to your prayer list.

We are excited to share this week on the Alley with you and hope you stop by often. We love the visits. :-)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Interview with Author Margaret Browley

Pepper here, and I'm so excited to have Margaret Brownley visiting the Alley today. Her debut INSPIRATIONAL novel, A Lady Like Sarah, came out in April and to learn more about it you can visit Margaret's website at http://www.margaretbrownley.com/

or read my review at http://www.pepperbasham.com/search?updated-max=2010-04-17T15%3A21%3A00-07%3A00&max-results=1

It was a fabulous story.

Okay, okay - enough monologue here. Let's get on with this interview.

Help me welcome, Margaret Brownley.


It is such a pleasure to have you with us today on The Writers Alley – and just in time for your new release, A Suitor For Jenny. It comes out in September and I can’t wait to read it. If it’s anything like your novel, A Lady Like Sarah, it’s bound to be an exciting and heartwarming adventure.

So, we’d love to learn a little more about you. When did you begin writing? A Lady Like Sarah was not your first published work, right?

First of all, I want to thank you for having me.

To answer your question, I’ve actually published more than 20 books and have written for Harlequin, Penguin and St. Martin’s Press. A Lady Like Sarah is my first inspirational novel. It’s a Women of Faith selection, a 2010 RITA finalist and a CBA and ECPA bestseller. Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English and could barely get through history. (To this day I can’t diagram a sentence.)

I’ve always wanted to be a writer and wrote my first “novel” in 5th grade, a mystery with no ending. It wasn’t until my children were out of grade school that I began writing in earnest. I wrote four books, including the world’s worst romance, before selling my first.

What inspired you to begin your novels in the West? Is there something in particular you enjoy about that era or setting? ( or both) :-)

I like writing about change and the West meets that criteria with both barrels blasting. The westward migration freed women in ways never before imagined. Women abandoned Victorian mores and fussy, confining clothes. The gun may have won the west, but it was the women who tamed it. They brought churches, schools, and newspapers to remote and even lawless towns. It must have been a shock to the male ego to have to deal with those strong and unconventional women—and this is at the very heart of my stories.

What’s your writing process like, Margaret? Do you plot out the story first, plan a little then write a little, or scribble by the seat of your pants?

Plan a story? I don’t even plan dinner. All I need is a basic idea and I’m off and running. I never know what’s going to happen from day to day—and that’s the fun of it. Since I don’t even plan meals, even dinner is a surprise.

Of the characters you’ve written, who do you like best and why?

Tough question! It’s kind of like choosing your favorite child. I’m kind of fond of Sarah in A Lady Like Sarah because she’s unique and has to struggle so hard to become a lady. But you have to laugh at the heroine of A Suitor for Jenny, the second book in my Rocky Creek series. She knows how to find husbands for her sisters—or so she thinks. Boy, does she ever have a lot to learn about matters of the heart.

When you write your novels, do you go straight through for a first draft, or do you stop along the way and edit?

A little of both. I generally write the book from beginning to end. This means I have to work every day so I don’t lose the rhythm. If I skip a couple of days I have to read everything I wrote prior to get back into the swing of things. I fiddle around with sentences or add research information as it occurs to me, but I don’t do much editing during the creative process. Once I get my story on paper I take a couple of weeks off to distance myself from the book and reintroduce myself to friends and family. I then sit down and work on the final draft.

Why do you enjoy the writing world? Is there anything in particular that moves you most?

I love the idea of creating something from absolutely nothing. I can’t knit a sweater without yarn. Nor can I cook a meal without ingredients. I can’t even grow a garden without soil and water. But I can create a book from nothing more than a wisp of an idea and a blank page. I love that!

Sarah, in A Lady Like Sarah, is such a spunky and compassionate character. How does Jenny measure up when compared to Sarah?

Jenny is very different than Sarah. She’s terribly motivated and is never caught without her infernal notebook. In seeking husbands for her two sisters she surrounds herself with lists, schedules, and etiquette books. Worse, she puts every perspective suitor through the PHAT (Ptotential Husband Aptitude Test). It takes a very strong and motivated hero to peel away her defenses and find the soft, vulnerable and lonely women inside.

What advice would you give to those of us learning the writing craft? What encouragement?

I would say this: Enjoy the process. You have the luxury of taking as much time as you need to write your book. You can give it all the love and attention it needs without worrying about meeting a deadline and having to deal with the business of writing. Write every day, cherish your writing friends, and hold on to the dream.

Thanks so much for your encouragement, Margaret - and I can't wait to find out how you create another fantastic heroine and loveable hero in A Suitor For Jenny.

Thanks for being with us today.
You guys can find out more about Margaret on her website at http://www.margaretbrownley.com/
or on her group blog at http://www.petticoatsandpistols.com/

Friday, August 27, 2010

Consider your audience?? Don't! - By Michael Snyder

Week Four of:

Tips from those who have gone before us

By: Michael Snyder

I recently stumbled into a conversation between a gaggle of writers who all seemed to agree on the necessity of “considering their audience” as they write. As a lifelong contrarian, I felt obliged to chime in.

My one-word morsel of advice was simply: “Don’t!”

Now let me say right upfront that I have a great love and appreciation for anyone who takes the time, attention, and emotional energy to read one of my books. It’s an honor that I hope I never take for granted. That said, I didn’t write the book for those people. And I won’t write the next one for them either.

My one rule of writing is to amuse myself.

That may sound prideful, myopic, or even narcissistic. Heck, it might even be prideful, myopic, and narcissistic! But I don’t think so.

Here’s my logic. There is an entire industry that’s been around a lot longer than me. It’s filled with people a lot smarter and more savvy than me. If publishing experience were a cornfield, I’d be one little niblet on one little ear struggling to survive until harvest. With all those people possessing all that knowledge and experience and the tools to publish and sell books, you’d think they could predict with pinpoint accuracy what the buying public wants. But they can’t, not really. And neither can I.

When composing a story, my advice would be to forget that "audiences" even exist. Just write your story. Again, write to amuse yourself (or thrill or frighten or romantically tweak or whatever gets your literary motor running). Forget the critics (both inside and outside your head). Our job as storytellers is to tell the truth. If we skirt the truth in any way it will show up in the writing. And the writing WILL suffer. So don't blink. Get it all down on the page in that first draft. Do it exactly the way you want to do it. And don't feel the least bit guilty about it. Writing takes courage. If it's not emotionally draining, it's probably not going to be worth reading anyhow.

When it comes to editing our job is still to tell the truth, but now it's time to turn a more objective eye to the process. We have decisions to make, hundreds of them, maybe thousands. My opinion however is that each of those decisions should serve the work, not the potential whims of potential readers. At this point in the process we're turning raw material into art. So it's still not time to think about the audience. In fact, if you consider your audience during the editing process you will drive yourself mad.

Finally the work is done, the book is “finished,” and it's time to submit. So, now is it time to consider the audience? My answer is a resounding Maybe. I will admit that I am starting to consider an audience at this point. However, it has become the proverbial "audience of one" (which is really a handful or two depending on where you are in the process). I’m talking about agents, acquisitions editors, a pub board, marketing people, or some combination. Realistically though, any “consideration” at this point has less to do with the content of the story and more to do with how best to present it.

And I think that’s really the point.

My primary job is to write a compelling story with all the truth and beauty I can muster. Secondarily, my job is to market the finished product. And all that really means is providing a compelling reason (or two or three or ten) to give the story a try.

The reason I think considering an audience doesn't work is because there is no consensus. Don't believe me? Just click over to amazon and see if I'm right. Find a book you've read, one you have an opinion about, but one that has 20 or more reviews attached. Read each one carefully. Obviously, ALL of these folks found themselves in the "target audience" for this book, because they all read it, right? Are they all pleased? Did they all appreciate the book in the same way? Would any amount of “considering” all those reviewers have helped make the book better? I don’t think so. Not unless you have the time and resources to publish nine or ten versions of your story. Even then, there’s no accounting for the tastes of the masses.

A quick example: my novels have been criticized for being "too Christian" by some, and "not Christian enough" by others. Who's right? Who cares? I can't prove it anyway. And frankly, I have a life to live and more writing to do.

I should point out again that although I don’t routinely consider audiences, it doesn’t mean I don’t care. Of course I do. But if I write true to myself and my convictions (both spiritually and artistically) I'll get more work done. And it will be work I can be proud of instead of obsessing over.

Michael Snyder writes. He is the author of the novels My Name Is Russell Fink and Return Policy; both (at least according to his lovely wife and his regular-looking publisher) are worthy of your time, attention, and hard-earned dollars. Michael’s debut novel was one of three finalists in Christianity Today’s 2009 Book of the Year Award. He is also a regular contributor for the Master’s Artist blog. His third novel, Stand-up Guy, is now in the editing stages and will be available wherever fine books are sold (and sometimes stolen) in 2011.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Colorful Language in Fiction- Showing or Telling?

Imagine this scenario with me for a moment.....

You are reading.

The book is great.

Riveting- you can't put it down!

When all of a sudden...


A burst of completely inappropriate language (swearing) bursts in the scene and you feel as if you have just been slapped across the face with a wet dish rag.  You reel back and squint hard at the page. Surely you just read that wrong. Your glasses were fogged up or your eyes were tired from reading for three hours.

But no.

You did indeed read language and suddenly your high opinion of this book and its author has dropped lower than can possibly ever be recovered.

There is a debate floating around cyber space about swearing in fiction. Some say it doesn't bother them, it gives them a glimpse of the real character. It is reality that people swear, so why not let it be in fiction?

Then there are those that don't cotton to the swearing. It grates upon them like finger nails on a chalk board, they find it offensive and completely uncalled for. I myself am a member of this group. The one thing that will make me put a book down faster than anything else (aside from offensive sex scenes) is swearing. I don't even like the slang that so many authors put in books. I simply view it as a politically correct way of saying the real thing.

So... does our fiction need swearing to be realistic? How do we refute the argument that "swearing is a normal part of everyday life, it is expected"?

First of all- in Christian fiction we are called to be separate from the world. We are in it, we should not be of it, as Jesus instructed us in His Word. We are called to a higher standard and in that standard, we have a responsibility to show our reader the love of Christ. Not preach at them, but show them that we do not answer to the evil the world swims in.

Second- does swearing show or tell? That is an huge argument right now. Our characters are bad, we need to show them through their language.

Um... I beg to differ.

If you have a villain, or a person who is just not a great person all around, you are not going to win any points with your reader by making them swear. Actually, you are cutting corners and telling when you swear in fiction. You are telling  the reader by their use of poor language that they are not a godly person  in your story.

Your villain or unsaved character in your story, will come across stronger in your story if you show there actions. How do they handle a situation? How do they act in their lives, around those that annoy them? And it doesn't take long for a reader to catch onto that person's character and you did it without salting their eyes with bad language.

So what about those occasions when you have to have your character swear. Yes we have all read in fiction, something to the effect of  "an expletive burst from his lips" "a blue word burned the tip of her tongue, begging for release."

Isn't that telling, you ask? Yes it is. And really those statements aren't really necessary a great deal of the time. I mean, really if you are showing  your character's well... character, why tell them anything else? But in those moments of the need for colorful language, a statement such as those above works just fine. Your reader gets the point without being offended.

So, what is your opinion on language in fiction? Do you mind the slang in fiction, or do you even hate that? Do you feel it is necessary to swear in fiction to get your point across?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Add Spice to Your Writing

Adding spices to food transforms the taste and presentation into a mirade of possibilities.  Of course there are the moments when a creative spice destroys a culinary recipe, like the time my son added dill to the meatloaf recipe ...well, let's not go there.

Spice, according to dictionary.com, adds an interesting element or quality; zest.  Zest is a good word.  I wonder, would someone describe my writing as zesty?  What could I do to bring zest into my WIP?

Recently I read an article by Dr. Dennis Hensley in  The Christian Communicator.  He discussed ways to add literary depth to our writing.  Dr. Hensley, author and director of professional writing at Taylor University, pointed out the importance of adding metaphors and similes to our work.  When I finished the aritcle I realized metaphors and similes are a type of spice that could bring zest into writing.

Before purchasing a spice, I smell the aroma. This way I'm reminded of the unique scent and how it might enhance a particular food item. Let's smell the aroma of metaphors and similes.


Details:  A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance without using "like" or "as."

Example: The following very old chorus could almost be titled:   The Jesus Metaphor

Jesus is the Rose of Sharon
He's the Lily of the Valley
He's the Fairest of Ten Thousand
He's the Bright and Morning Star

He's the Rock of my Salvation
He's the Risen Coming Savior
Open up your heart to Jesus
Let Him Come in

See how this chorus gives clues, ideas, paints a picture, and helps us understand even in a small measure something about Jesus? 

 •"A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind." (Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors) 

•"Time is a dressmaker specializing in alterations." (Faith Baldwin, Face Toward the Spring, 1956)
A site that can give you practice: http://www.rhlschool.com/eng3n26.htm

Have you had a critque member say they didn't quite understand what your words meant? Perhaps a metaphor could help clarify.


Details:  A simile is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared.  A figure of speech that expresses the resemblance of one thing to another of a different category, usually introduced by "as" or "like".

Example:   This phrase from Michael W. Smith's song Above All  popped in my head as an example of a simile

Like a rose
Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all

Words like these help readers/listeners to formulate pictures in their mind and understand a piece of what Christ did.

•"She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat." (James Joyce, "The Boarding House")

•"Life is rather like a tin of sardines: we're all of us looking for the key."(Alan Bennett)

A site that can give you practice:  http://www.rhlschool.com/eng3n25.htm

How have you added a bit of piquant, interesting element or zest to spice up your WIP?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seize the Moment

Each step is a promise given.

Each word written is a chance taken.

Each moment lived is another opportunity to dance for the King.

Every day is a moment in time, a drop of ink in the fountain pen of life.

Each experience lived is a gift from God to bloom and grow on the screen of your imagination.

As writers we have a unique mindset. You all know what I am talking about. We see a story opportunity in everything we see. We see every event or mishap or catastrophe or joyous occasion as something that will give fodder. Our ever hungry imaginations, starve to be fed, mulling over and conjuring up a new story idea that will appear in the dark of night-- an idea you are sure to forget by the light of day.

We cannot shy away from this gift. This opportunity from God to grow and grab hold of every opportunity as a chance to add depth to our fiction. Even the most seemly insignificant moment in your life can be ballooned to give that special something to your fiction.

The best fiction has depth. Subtexting those emotions and thoughts lurking just below the surface, but aren't really written. That dialogue that speaks so much while saying so little. We all want to write the fiction that makes the reader think. Even if it is the most comfortable and laugh-out-loud chick lit, we still need to add depth to it. An opportunity for our readers to walk away from that book saying, "I was really entertained, but I feel strengthened in my faith too."

We have a wonderful responsibility in fiction. To entertain, but also to enlighten. To strengthen the walk of our readers in their faith. To let God use our words to speak to their heart.

And we can't do that to our greatest potential unless we learn to seize the moment. To view everything that happens to us and file it away for future use. God gives us these moments in time and as writers we need to take every single one as a golden opportunity.

Monday, August 23, 2010

One Sheets, An Introduction To Your Creation

Lots of talk has been going on about One-Sheets, so I wanted to give you a brief overview about them.

What is a one-sheet?

Well, it’s basically you + your story on one sheet of paper. A 3-4 paragraph summary of your novel, a small blurb about you, and the specs on your novel (wordcount, completed, series or not…etc)

It’s a quick reference.

Why create a one-sheet?

Personally, I like it because it helps me condense my story into a page and is a helpful tool during editor/agent meetings to keep me focused. It’s also a quick way to share your story with an editor without pulling out a first chapter or synopsis.

A few helpful hints.

- The one-sheet should reflect the novel and you.

- Lots of people try to make it color-coded with their website or blog.

- Some people write the ‘pitch’ at the top of the one-sheet to grab attention and then get into the heart of the story after that.

- If you can put wordcount on the one-sheet (or projected completion date), it’s a good idea. This gives the editors/agents a little better idea of how far along you are.

- Remember to put a picture of yourself on the sheet, along with your contact information.

- Get an idea of how to write a half page summary by checking out movie synopsis or read the blurb on the back of a book. It’s a good way to see how writers pick out what’s important to hook the reader’s/viewer’s attention.

- One-sheets are great to use when you need a little 'boost' with your pitch. I use mine as a 'cheat sheet' :-)

Here is an example of one that I'm working on:

You can also check out some basic one-sheet info from these sites:



(I don’t use professional software for my one-sheets – as this website suggested, but I created a Word document and used various heights, widths, and locations for text boxes. You can color the boxes and reshape them, so I used text boxes to insert photos and novel specs)


(Kaye Dacus’ website is FABULOUS for a wealth of information. After you follow this link, browse around her website. You won’t be disappointed.

A one-pager is different. It’s an overview of all your projects on one sheet. It’s also called a projects-sheet. So, on my one-pager, I have a small balloon about my contemp romance, my historical, and my supernatural.

Here's the one I'm working on for ACFW:


Are you working on a one-sheet? What is your greatest challenge? Success?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

In honor of our guest this week, Jen Stephen's post on goals, the weekend edition is all about making a goal and reaching for it.

Do you have any goals?

Have you reached them?

Or do you need to set a new one?

Take a small step in faith. Reach for the stars! You might be surprised at what you find.

So, here are the goals this week for the Alley. The only question is, will we make them? ;-)

Monday- Join Dr. Pepper as she prepares to go to the ACFW conference next month!! (We all are still a bit jealous). Excitement and preparation abound as she gets ready to pack her bags and fly off to Indy, but first she posts about one sheets and the "visual pitch."

Tuesday- Sherrinda is swamped with 12 hour work days and moving, so today is a SURPRISE day! Except something great, but different from the normal schedule. ;-)

Wednesday- Mary gives a glimpse into the art form in writing we all long to understand on a deeper level- metaphor and similies, grace and depth to add to your fiction.

Thursday- Casey tackles the controversial topic of swearing in fiction. Agree? Disagree? Stop by to share your opinion.

Friday- The final installment of "Tips From Those That Have Gone Before Us" with author Michael Snyde on "Considering Your Audience"

Saturday-  Our special guest is an interview with author, Margaret Brownley! Stop by to glean from her words of wisdom.

SideWalk Talk
Mark your calendar and ceck out the amazing lineup of authors we are inviting over for a chat in the month of September!

Amanda Cabot coaches us on keeping our series accurate.

Cara Putman takes a moment to share her wisdom just before the ACFW conference.

James Scott Bell, best selling author and teacher at the ACFW conference, shares an interview he had with our own Pepper!

Joseph Bentz instructs us on the importance of living with our characters.

What a lineup! Takes my breath away, so exciting to have them all visit here very soon!

News Stand

The winner of Cara Lynn James's novel, Love on a Dime is.... A.J. Hawke!!! Congratulations!

Stop by Operation Encourage an Author this coming week to support author Vanessa Johnson and enter to win her novel, Sacrfices in the Name of Love

Casey is currently doing several giveaways on her blog, stop by Writing for Christ to enter to win for your favorite new read.

Sherrinda is busy moving and getting back to work this month, but stop by her blog, to show a bit of support.

Krista is still away on maternity leave with her precious baby, Annabelle, but stop by her blog to hear the latest and pray for this precious new life.

Pepper has a new job! And is moving! And is trying to get a new story written that her agent has requested! (and is feeling a tad overwhelmned) Visit her blog would you and let you know she isn't alone?

Mary always has a new Bible story written in her own fictional account on her personal blog, check it out this week!

It's going to be a great week on the Alley! We look forward to sharing it with you.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Special Guest Saturday: Interview with Angela Hunt

Angela, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today! It is a treat to have you here. I am sure we will able to learn a great deal from your expertise after publishing over 100 books!

You have risen to great success and fame with your books/writing. What do you credit for that?

Have I? I don’t feel very successful. The work doesn’t get any easier; in fact, it gets harder. But as to giving credit, let me illustrate with a story. Just the other day another writer wrote me and said something like, “You’ve written in so many genres, you speak, you teach—how did you decide to succeed in so many areas?” I wrote back and said that I’ve never had a grand plan—as a Christian, I simply try to listen to the Lord and walk through the doors He opens. The woman wrote back and said that she believes God helps those who help themselves, and she’s often had to break doors down and pry open windows.

And in her answer, I saw the difference between us. Being a Christian is about obedience and walking in faith—it is NOT about barging ahead with our own plans, no matter how admirable they may be. I wrote the woman one more time and said, “That seems like an awful lot of work. Obedience is easier.”

Over 100 books! And your tag line is “Expect the Unexpected”. What made you go that route, instead of sticking with one genre?

LOL—see the above answer. Seriously, I’ve simply always written the stories the Lord laid on my heart or sent in my direction.

What do you personally credit as the best book you have written? Why?

Impossible to answer because they are all so different. Each book has its own special challenges and rewards. They are really like children, and I’d hate to play favorites among them.

After writing for so long I am sure you have a system for each book. Would you care to share?

It’s a little complicated, and hard to describe in a brief interview. But for novels, I rely on my plot skeleton (described in detail in A NOVEL IDEA, from Tyndale House), and I use the same structure for the collaborative nonfiction books I do.

Do you start each book with an overall theme, or does it surprise you as it emerges from the story?

Completely depends. There are four chief elements to a novel—plot, character, setting, theme—and sometimes the plot comes to me first, sometimes the setting, sometimes the theme, and sometimes the characters. When I have a good idea of all four pieces to the puzzle, I’m ready to begin writing, though often the theme doesn’t reveal itself until the third or fourth draft.

Are you a seat of the pants (SOTP) writer or do you like to plot things out well in advance?

I’m a hybrid. When I use my plot skeleton, I have the “bones” of the story, so I do know where I’m going, but it’s spare enough that I have lots of room for new revelations and “fleshing out” the story as I go.

You have a doctorate in Biblical Literature, how does that impact your writing?

My further education (I’m working on my ThD now), helps me to be sure that the things I write about God are true. I’m amazed at how much bad theology is out there—some of it in novels—and at how far some modern Christians have strayed from biblical principles. The deeper I go in my novels, the more I want to be sure that the viewpoint I’m presenting is biblical and true.

You are a well-known speaker at writing conferences, what do you like to see attendees go away with?

I love to teach, and I think I have a gift for analyzing things and explaining them simply and in practical terms. My goal is always to demystify this thing called novel writing. It’s not easy, but it’s not rocket science, either.

Where do you come up with your diverse story ideas?

Usually from my reading—I read a lot, especially in newspapers and news magazines, because I want to know what’s going on in the world around me. My ideas spring naturally from what I read.

Angela I have one other question for you. It was a suggestion (okay a dare! Krista!) that was made to me to include in the interview.

Take these three things and a genre (below) and dream up a short section/ plot. Hopefully that makes sense, I have never done this before. : )
Volkswagen Bug, Doberman pincher, cheesecake and the genre: chick lit.

This is easy—using some of my teaching techniques, we can do this in a snap. To illustrate: A good novel idea WAGS—takes the reader to a different World, features an Active character, with Goals, and high Stakes.

Chick lit: pink and green cover, first person, present tense, featuring 20-something protagonist in search of love and designer labels.


Twenty-three year old Marisa loves three things: her pink and green Volkswagen Bug, her Doberman, Maxine, and strawberry cheesecake. One day she’s invited to work for VOGUE magazine in New York, so she packs her Bug with her designer clothes and Maxine, and off they go. Marisa is determined to make her mark not in the fashion world (that idea is overdone), but as a photographer.

But when she arrives in New York, she finds that certain forces are out to stop her: Claudette Wilson, Vogue’s chief photographer, who instinctively dislikes Marisa; Thomas Goody, the editor-in-chief’s current boy toy, who is deathly allergic to cheesecake, and Toby Sherwood, a cute guy who gets bitten by Maxine on their first meeting.

Marisa struggles through encounters with Claudette, Thomas, and Toby, and makes slow but steady progress until the day she’s hired to shoot the cover with Madonna—and Madonna throws a hissy fit and says that Marisa is a no-talent and her dog is flea-bitten!

But Toby comes to offer solace, and he helps Marisa by pointing out the uniquely dressed people in Central Park. So Marisa shoots those people, some of them with Maxine, and her photos are a big hit—not at Vogue, but at the New Barker.

And, of course, she falls in love with Toby, who happens to work at a pastry shop where they sell New York’s finest cheesecake.

How’s that? : )
LOL! Okay, thank you for doing the interview! What a honor to have you!!

There is so much to learn about today’s writing industry. Thank you, Angela, for stopping by to answer these questions. I hope there are many contracts for you and more life inspiring fiction!

Christy-Award winner Angela Hunt writes for readers who have learned to expect the unexpected in novels from this versatile author. With nearly four million copies of her books sold worldwide, she is the best-selling author of more than 100 works ranging from picture books (The Tale of Three Trees) to nonfiction books, to novels.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The meaning of Success - By Jen Stephens

Week Three of:

Tips from those who have gone before us

The Meaning of Success
By: Jen Stephens

I’m so delighted to be on The Writers Alley today! Thank you, Krista, for inviting me! I’m feeling a little intimidated, though. These ladies have a ton of great advice (At this point in my own writing I found the July 1st post quite useful!) and I only hope I can add to it!

I recently had the opportunity to speak on the topic of success and thought I would share a few of my ideas with you. According to dictionary.com (a very useful tool for writers), the first definition of success is “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors”. What does that mean? In my opinion, it basically means when you accomplish any goal no matter how big or how small. If you set a goal to become the next Bill Gates and you achieve it, well, you certainly are successful! On a smaller, more personal level, if you set a goal to lose 5 measly pounds or exercise 5 days a week and you accomplish it, you are still a success.

I sold my Harvest Bay series to Sheaf House, a small (but growing) publisher. The first of which, The Heart’s Journey Home, came out this past February and the second of which, The Heart’s Lullaby, is scheduled to release in March 2011. I didn’t get an advancement for these books and I also had the job of finding endorsers/reviewers which I had to send the galleys to. However, I have an incredible relationship with my publisher who has become more like a mentor and that means more to me than the other perks larger publishing houses offer, especially since I’m a mama to two young girls AND a teacher and between the two something is always bound to come up. Since the book has come out, I’ve received several emails of how they’ve been personally touched by the story. Those letters and the relationships I’ve built in this business are my personal definitions of success.

Can your idea of success change? I believe it can and it can go either way. You may reach your goal and say, “Well, that’s not what I thought it was going to be.” Or you can actively be pursuing your goal and reach a point where you say, “Ya know, this is a pretty cool place right here.” There’s nothing wrong with changing your idea of success as long as it doesn’t change you as a writer, a person, and most importantly a Christian.

I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I hope, though, that I’ve given you something to think about. I want to leave you with the very popular verse from Jeremiah 29:11 NIV. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah wrote this to a group of people who had been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and moved from their native Jerusalem to Babylon. Imagine how lost this group of people must have been, yet the Lord promised them that they will succeed. Be encouraged today. No matter where you are on your road, alley, or sidewalk to publication, trust in the Lord’s promise, believe in the talents He has given you, set your goal . . . and then enjoy your success.

Jen lives in the Nashville, Tennessee, area with her husband and two beautiful daughters. She teaches third grade at a Christian school and is very active with the youth in her church. A member of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Nashville Christian Writers Association, she writes in her “spare” time. Her first novel, The Heart’s Journey Home, released in February 2010. The second book in the Harvest Bay series, The Heart’s Lullaby, is scheduled to release in March 2011.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

When Description Goes Too Far

Casey shot daggers at the blank computer screen, the obnoxious cursor blinking in a blinding flash of black, black, black. Slamming her fist on the desk she jabbed her pointer finger on the mouse and thrust it to her inbox. Grumbling and grousing about her insolent brain refusing to come up with Thursday's post, she jabbed at the new email box. My mind refuses to capitulates! She complained and whined to Sherrinda, Pepper, Mary and Krista, before sending the email hurtling into cyber space. Casey groaned and buried her head in her knees, rocking back and forth. It would never come! She would be a moron on Thursday when the followers opened the window to.... yesterdays post.

Back To Reality
No, I do not act like that... all the time.

Did you get a thoroughly robust laugh out of that ridiculous piece of bad writing? But the truth of the matter is, we have all read fiction that was so completely ridiculous in its descriptions that all we want to do is laugh. It jerks us out of storyworld and if it happens to often and is too ridiculous, all we do is put it down, probably never to pick it back up.

When we put descriptions in our fiction, we have to be careful not to take it too far. Yes, we want to wordsmith our manuscripts, but when does wordsmithing get taken too far? The obtuse answer is in my above example. Our primary focus should always been to be storytellers. We need to tell a good story. Let the strong word pictures and interesting words that paint a vivid image come later when we go through the manuscript to edit. But even in that we have to be careful. We want our stories to make sense, to flow and draw the reader in, not leave them laughing at our stunning prose that we were sure would wow their world.

And prose is just that, prose. And in prose we can make some pretty serious errors.

All books need description. We need to see the characters. We need to see the surroundings. We need to see what is happening, but what the reader does not  need to see is a bunch of ridiculous occurrences that jerk them out of the dream of reading.

One of the words that always jerks me out of the story is, "He loped across the room."

Umm, I don't know about you, but I live in a small western community and I ride horses. And when you lope with a horse, it is smooth run, but at one point three legs are off the ground. And lope in a person I can only imagine as a skip run. Umm, not a good word to use to describe running in my opinion.

Beware of words that seem to take a simple act and blow it out of proportion. We do want to put a new twist on something old and worn out, but in that fixing up, we need to be aware that we can take it too far. Just like I did with my example above, I took all that anger and frustration too far. On top of that I was telling. I basically told you that I was angry. I used strong words, yes, but I gave you no taste of my emotions. All I described is a temper tantrum, not an over worked person who can't think beyond the blinking cursor on her screen. And all you wanted to do when you were done reading (if this were a novel, which thank goodness it isn't) would be to get as far away from that heroine as possible.

Now, I am not saying big words are bad. I like big words. I like to search for the word that will take my sentence and catapult it into space. I like to make my paragraphs stronger and put a new twist on an old description, but in doing that beware of telling your story.

Instead when you write, use words that infuse the strong emotion you want to get across. Take this excerpt from Susan May Warren's Flee the Night (Tyndale Publishers, 2005)

The past couldn't have picked a worse time to find her.

Trapped in seat 15A on an Amtrak Texas Eagle chugging through the Ozarks at 4:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Lacey . . . Galloway . . . Montgomery-what was her current last name?-tightened her leg lock around the computer bag at her feet. She dug her fingers through the cotton knit of her daughter's sweater as she watched the newest passenger to their compartment find his seat. Lanky, with olive skin and dark eyes framed in wire-rimmed glasses, it had to be Syrian assassin Ishmael Shavik, who sat down, fidgeted with his leather jacket, then impaled her with a dark glance.

Nothing about this short passage is filled with million dollar words, instead Susie uses Lacey's emotions and her awareness of the surroundings to bring forth her fear.

And that is the difference between wordsmithing and storytelling. Worry about storytelling first, let the words come second. So, let me have one more crack at that above paragraph and see if I can't make it better. : )


Casey glared at the blinking cursor and heaved a sigh. She blinked, once, twice, in time with the black line and blinding bare white screen.

The desk needed to be dusted. The moth balls under her seat were huge and where were the bag of carrots she had brought with her? Oh yeah, at the bottom of her stomach. Casey shoved herself forward, pursed lips and fingers poised just so over the keyboard. Come on. Come. On. Think of something!

She navigated the mouse to her email and clicked on the new mail box. Again white screen met her, reminding her of her incompetence. She could do this! She. Could. Do. This. The sharp jab of keyboard keys filled the air and the air swirling around her was short and breathy. Without giving another thought she punched the send button, sending her plea heralding to Krista, Sherrinda, Pepper and Mary. Please save me!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing Today for Tomorrow's World

"If you had sent this to me three weeks ago, I could have used it.," one editor said.  Gaack! Why didn't I think of doing this article sooner?

This month, many folk have talked about school starting. Come the second or third week of November, they'll talk about Thanksgiving get togethers.  About the second week of December, families will be inundated with Christmas programs, shopping, decorating, and holiday plans.  Writer's don't have the privilege of planning for an occassion one-to-two weeks in advance.

Creative is Crucial
June and July are prime months to send Christmas material to publishers.   While the sun blazes on the garden, we get to imagine crisp snow crunching under tires, pine scent in our living room, Christmas music and lights, wrapped packages, and a house full of guests wrapped around the dinning room table feasting on ham and watching Uncle Joe toss baby Jane to Uncle David--praying he doesn't drop her.  We must wipe the summer sweat from our brow and tap snowy words into our computer. Now that August is here, we need to think of New Year's and Valentine's Day.

Tyranny of Timeliness
For book writers, we get to anticipate reader's swing in interest two to three years down the road.  I finished my midevil Christian fantasy in time for vampires to shove Harry Potter off center stage.  Needless to say, even Christian publishers aren't interested in midevil Christian fantasy unless the writer has previously established himself in that market. Non fiction writers need to anticipate the needs of audiences in advance as well.  Our manuscripts must be ready to impact the readers of tomorrow not from today.

I don't have a crystal ball.  Nor do I want one.  In my frustration I might ask: how can I get published if I don't know what reader's will want?  Isn't it just luck--being in the right place at the right time--etc? 

Not at all. God will lead you. Chip McGregor, a Christian literary agent, has stated in his conference lectures: "If you writing is well done, it will get published."  Writer's who work to polish their craft will know what to write.  If you have a passion to write, follow through in a way that will get the words published.

Here are some tips: 

1. Plan Ahead:  If you are doing a Christmas piece, make sure it arrives to the publisher in time for him/her to push the manuscript through the ropes and on to publication to reach the readers before Christmas.  Magazine articles should be submitted six months in advance.  I'm not sure how far in advance a book manuscript needs to arrive, maybe someone can comment on that for me.

2. Spit Polished:  Save time by having your manuscript free of grammar errors, content problems, and issues with publisher requirements such as needed word count. Maybe a few steps can be saved and push your manuscript toward timely publication.

3. Respect:  Would you buy a Egg Nog in June?  Probably not.  Items are sold when a customer thinks to buy.  Some manufacturer somewhere thought to produce and market that item at the perfect time you thought to buy it.  Likewise publishers need time to choose manuscript, edit, send contracts, etc. before the published work can be offered to the public.  Check out the websites to determine publisher's needs and requirements.  Editors will respect you for your efforts and remember you.  He or she may not purchase your manuscript this time, but they might in the future.

4. Observe:  Keep an eye on events in the world around you.  Today's events may lead to tomorrow's responses. By staying tuned into what is going on now, you will better know what readers might need in the days to come.

Did your manuscript sell because it arrived on time?  Do you have woes, like me, because it arrived after the cut off time?  Share your experience.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rest For The Writer

Writers write. They put pen to the paper and fingers to the keyboard. We have a burning desire to get the stories  in our heads out for all to see. But what happens when life gets in the way and you have to put your writing on hold?

Augsust has become the month when I do not write. At all. I don't even edit. I work in a school office and registration for students is a huge job and requires alot of overtime hours. I have put in almost 40 hours overtime in the last two weeks and I am tired. The last thing I want to do when I get home is get on a computer and write. Don't get me wrong...the stories float around in my head, simmering away for the time when life slows down and I have the energy to spin a tale.

There may be times in your life when you must put the pen down and let your writing rest. Maybe you have just had a baby. Maybe you have a sick loved one that needs caring for. Maybe you are moving...oh yeah...I moved today as well. All those things force us to back away from our love of writing and focus on important life issues.

The good news is, life has a way of slowing down and getting back in order. Like the waves of the sea, so life ebbs and flows. Writing is never far away. It is always there to embrace you when you are ready.

What times in your life have you had to step away from your writing?

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Elevator Pitch

Okay, okay, I know I said I was going to write about one-sheets...
and I will,

But when I started writing about one-sheets, I had to do a bit of research on pitches and it made sense to start with the pitch THIS week and then move on to the one-sheet for next week.

Have I just confused the audience? Likely.

Elevator pitches and one-sheets have been all the rage on ACFW’s first-timer’s loops, as first time conferencees prepare for the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Indianapolis in September.

What is a pitch? – a brief blurb about your story. It's called an elevator pitch because you need to be able to 'hook' an editor/agent during the time it takes for an elevator ride.

Your pitch is not about the theme of your story, the purpose for writing it, or how you hope God will transform lives through this book.
It's about the actual story. The who, what, when, where, and why of it.

And remember – most of the time you have the opportunity to present your pitch in ‘real life’ conversations, so making it conversational is good. Not like a pre-recorded radio spot :-)

Why write a pitch?

Because writing it out helps you 'figure' it out before you have to say it out loud to someone, preferable a pair of interested ears ;-).

You never know when the perfect moment will arrive and you want to be prepared. The tricky part is skimming it down to the barebones of your story - but that's also a good test to how well you know the 'heart'/core of your story.

A few helpful hints.

Some say refer to genre in your pitch and some don’t.
Your goal is to be able to say it within 60 seconds (and not at NASCAR speeds either) In a conversational way.
At the barebones of the pitch, it seems to be the same as the barebones of the novel:


Who is the story about? You can answer this by name, "Scarlet O'Hara" or by description "A fiesty southern belle" either one works, from what I understand, but MOST of the examples I've seen have been by description instead of name.

What is his/her goal? What does she want to do? Destroy the 'ring of power', find the Holy Grail, save Lois Lane?

Motivation? the WHY - to save Middle EArth from the tyrannical rule of a faceless evil; to save Indiana's father's life; because he loves her.
What is the conflict or challenge for the protagonist? There has to be some sort of obstacle or you don't have a story. Frodo's path is fraught with peril, from outside of himself as well as within.; a selfish treasure hunter wants the immortality that the Grail promises and will stop at nothing to get it; a criminal mastermind will stop at nothing to destroy Superman.
What is something that makes your story unique? This is an important one. What makes your novel stand out from the 3000 other manuscripts or pitches?

So let’s use a few popular movies right now and see if I can write a 25-60 word blurb about them, using the above tips.

A teenage girl falls in love with a vampire, who vies between the urge to protect her or kill her. In the process, the girl is stalked by a trio of renegade vampires and a werewolf who wants to win her heart. Will she survive, or does she even want to?

A feisty southern belle, determined to protect her family’s plantation during the Civil War, must pull upon all her resources to survive a hostile, war-torn world, but will her conniving leave her empty-handed and alone? (35)

An eleven year old orphan discovers he has magical powers and is sent to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to hone his skills. But the wizard who killed his parents tries to use all his power to end the boy’s life and secure his own immortality. With the help of his two best friends, he determines to battle his enemy and protect the school from the evil wizard's dark plans.

Here are two of my own:

An Appalachian single mom of three seeks to solve a family mystery in England. But a reclusive British actor, with his own secrets, provides an unwanted distraction for her wounded heart. What follows is a clash of cultures, battle of wits, and an unexpected romance built on everlasting faith, because nobody does second chances (and surprises) better than God. (59)

Sophia Quinn kills vampires. It's her God-given calling. But when she's sent to annihilate a cult of vampires hidden in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the only person who can help her find and fight against the extra-powerful undead is Ethan Taylor, a hybrid vampire with a thirst for the Truth. Can she trust someone who is heartless with her heart, or is he leading her into a trap from which she'll never return? (67) - I'm still condensing :-)

Helpful resources:
Check out these three sites for some GREAT information on writing elevator pitches.

 A good idea of the process behind the pitch

 FABULOUS tips here.

Everything on this site if great, but Rachelle does a 2-part series on pitches.

What's your pitch? Have any good ones? Bad ones? Pitch 'em too us and see if we can all work together to get them in the right direction. I could use help on mine too.