Saturday, April 30, 2011

THE WRITER'S ALLEY BLOGOVERSARY!! (Giveaways inside ↓↓↓)

One year ago today five crazy writers got together and decided to start a blog for other writers. We just wanted to have a bit of fun and share the journey with all of you. WOW! One year later we are twice as big, boast over THREE HUNDRED posts with writing related topics and just as many fans (YOU!).

We're keeping it short and sweet today. And below you'll see a survey we would really LOVE for you to fill out on how we can make the Alley better. AND once you do that, please leave a comment for a chance to be a winner of a book! We don't know how many yet we are giving away (more than one, more than two, probably more than three!).

Don't be shy, we are so grateful for YOU ALL!


(regular programing will return on Monday with a full slate of posts from the creative minds behind the Alley. :-)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Expect the .... what?


We all have them. Personally, I "expected" to be home this week with my whole family. Instead Annabelle is still stuck in the hospital, back in the ICU no less.

Our readers will have expectations too. And if you don't meet them or exceed them, you will make them just as grumpy as I have been this week. The only difference is, they can snub your books, talk bad about them, and never buy them again. I, on the other hand, can't snub the hospital or never go there again! I guess I could talk bad about them... but it isn't their fault and they've taken great care of my baby, so I guess that would be mean! *sigh*

Sherrinda did a great post on expectations based on names earlier this week.

But what other kind of expectations might readers have for your books?


Imagine if you are a John Grisham reader, and pick up his next novel, open the book, and out comes a sordid pure romance.

Or if you are a Nora Roberts reader and pick up her next novel, and it is a spy thriller with no romance at all.

Extreme examples, I know, but you get the point. As your name becomes your brand, your readers begin to trust you to give them something.

I'm not saying you can't publish in multiple genres. Many do. Good friend of mine in my local writer's group, Kaye Dacus, publishes both historical and contemporary romances. But she has established that those are what she writes, and we trust her with that.

There are also some authors who "switch" genres, and that's okay too, most of the time. Although I think Nora Roberts should question her sanity if she switched to writing Sci-Fi or something like that:-) I mean... maybe... but...


Imagine you read Mary Connelly's books and you start reading it, only to be crying from the drama in the first chapter, and at "the end" you've cried only sad tears, and none from laughter.

Or you pick up a Francine River's book and get the giggles on the first page. (Okay, this might actually be cool!)

Personally, I write funny. Others write dramatic. Still others lace their novels in page-turning suspense. And others specialize in spicing up their style and giving their readers something unique each time, and the uniqueness becomes their own style. Whatever it is, your style is something your readers come to expect and desire. Change it up with caution and care.


Some authors have little trademarks they leave for their readers. Like dog lovers might make sure they have some type of dog in ever book. Or cat. Or turtle. Or chicken. Or a one-eyed science research rat. While I don't think it is quite as important of an expectation to meet (especially if the rat is your trademark...), if you set it, try to keep it!

What about you?

Are there any expectations that you want your readers to have when they read your books? Or do you think the whole idea of "expectations" is unfair and limits your artistic creativity?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Do You Know What Your Genre Is?

I’ve been thinking about parallels between story-telling and gardening. Both topics are fodder for a multitude of how-to books, workshops and classes. Both writing and gardening can be frustrating sink-holes that eat time and money, or they can reward us with beauty, exhilaration, and maybe even a little monetary gain.

God Himself has dabbled in both endeavors. He’s a God who planted a garden in Eden, and He’s a God who told stories about intriguing characters—the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the widow who wouldn’t stop pounding on the judge’s door in the middle of the night.

If there’s one lesson I wish I’d known when I first started writing, it’s that it pays to do your homework before you dig in. Part of the homework is discovering your natural bent. Each plot of land has a particular type of soil, a certain exposure to sun and wind, and terrain that’s right for some plants and wrong for others. We wouldn’t plant alpine flowers in a cornfield any more than we would plant corn on a rocky alpine peak.

A writer with a lyrical voice should write in a genre that allows room for lyricism. A writer who enjoys crafting intricate plots should find a genre that supports intricate plots. It’s not that there are right or wrong genres; it’s a matter of finding a good fit. And once you know your genre, you’ll still need to find just the right story to write.

A few years ago, I was e-mailing back and forth with fellow author Sherrie Lord when I was trying to figure out what the Lord wanted me to write next. Sherrie said: “I think He wants you to write what you want to write.”

I love that idea, but there’s also the concept I shared with another friend who was contemplating starting a book. I told her about a fig tree that I grew in a pot in our house in Michigan. For several years, the thing hardly grew, but when we moved to Georgia and I planted it outside, it took off. It even developed an offshoot, so I divided it into two fig trees. (That happens with plots sometimes, too.) The trees were in the perfect location, and they flourished in the sun and the abundant rainfall.

I started getting excited. Finally, after five years in Georgia, I saw the first tiny green figs. My long-awaited harvest began to ripen, and I could hardly wait to taste sweet, delicious figs.

But even when they were fully ripe, they weren’t very sweet. They didn’t have much flavor. They were just . . . okay. No matter what we did to those trees, and no matter how strong and healthy they were, they could only produce bland, semi-sweet figs. All that time, I’d been nurturing the wrong variety of fig tree.

If only I had done my research.

It takes a long time to write a novel. I don’t want to nurture those pages for months or maybe years, and then realize the fruit can never be more than just okay.

Especially when a writer is contemplating a new project, it’s time to think, to pray, to be quiet before the Lord. I still think Sherrie’s right; we have freedom to write what we want to write. God doesn’t dictate our choices, but we need His wisdom to guide our freedom so our fruit will be sweet and full of flavor.

Meg Moseley is still a Californian at heart although she’s lived more than half her life in other states. She formerly wrote human-interest columns for a suburban section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and home schooled for over twenty years. Meg enjoys books, travel, gardening, her three grown children, and motorcycle rides with her husband Jon. They make their home in northern Georgia

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Featuring Jerry B. Jenkins

Those who walk the path before us have much to share. I love learning from them, don't you? One day, maybe I'll walk in their shoes. 

Today Jerry B. Jenkins, author of more than 175 books including the Left Behind Series, walks with us on the Writers Alley to share insights of his successful writing career, his recent purchase of the Christian Writers' Market Guide from Sally Stuart, and up-to-date information for writers and authors.

Thank you for joining us today, Jerry.  

Several on the Alley have asked about your recent purchase of Sally Stuart's Christian Writers' Market Guide, can you tell us what will remain the same and what will change? Will you honor previous subscriptions? We'd like to know your future plans for this valuable resource.

We’re slightly changing the title to The Christian Writer’s Market Guide, but our plan is to continue the stellar work Sally did for so many years. We might add a few features that relate to writers at all stages of their careers, and of course we will be adapting to the new face of publishing, which is increasingly going electronic. We also plan to streamline the compiling of information for the guide, moving toward electronic submissions as much as possible.

Having the new Christian Writer's Market Guide will help with ideas and our WIP, but we'd like to have direction to find the next blockbuster idea. What do you think will be the big Christian fiction trend on the horizon?
Chicken Soup for the Left Behind Amish Vampire.
The truth is, no one knows.  We are seeing more publishers willing to take chances on speculative, sci-fi, and fantasy. The big hits are often titles that go against the trends.

Going against the trends, eh? Sounds exciting yet challenging. A calling for great writers. Could you tell us what characteristics separate a good writer from a great writer?
The writing. Regardless the distribution vehicle – whether the printed page or the electronic screen – books and articles still have to be written and edited with excellence. The cream rises. 

Since you've successfully written in many genres, what advice would you give to unpublished writers who struggle to find their focused genre?
Don’t let people force you into a genre. If you’re wedded to one, go for it, immerse yourself in it, read it exhaustively. But if you’re a writer interested in eclectic areas, write what you’re most passionate about at the time – fiction, non-fiction, history, philosophy, current events, whatever.
Thanks for the encouragement. Do you have a favorite genre to write?
I used to say it was whatever I wasn’t working on currently. But I have learned that my sweet spot is adult fiction, though I like to switch historical periods. Biblical, contemporary, futuristic—it’s all fun for me.
Writers naturally enjoy reading, and having books suggested. What is your favorite book?
All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. Many authors make me aspire to write like they do. Rick Bragg makes me just surrender and enjoy.
We have a few questions about the publishing field. What significant changes have you seen in the publishing industry since the Left Behind series and where do you see publishing going from here?
It’s harder to be legitimately published these days (where the publisher pays you and not the other way around). Publishers are demanding that authors come with built-in platforms (spheres of influence). And we have become a screen generation. More books and articles will appear electronically than on paper soon, but as I say, things still have to be written and edited well.
Interesting. What can we as writers do specifically to be prepared for these changes?
Use social networking to help build your platform. Hone your skills. Develop your craft. Read every day. Write every day.
We persistently work on our craft, yet sometimes get the rejection letter or call. How have you handled rejection or disappointment in your career?
I avoid it like the plague. I don’t consider the rejection of a proposal or query as failure. It’s just a business transaction. And I don’t write something until someone has responded positively to the proposal. Then I work my tail off to deliver.
On the flip side, what has contributed to your greatest successes?
I have passionately centered on my one gift. I don’t sing or dance or preach. Writing is what I do.

Jerry B. Jenkins   
719.495.5835 ● 

Thank you for walking beside us on the Writers Alley today, Jerry.
Words from experienced authors like Jerry B. Jenkins inspire me. I appreciate when those who walk ahead choose to guide those in the footsteps. Thanks again, Jerry.

Can you relate to the answers above?

I'll start...

Jerry's answer to number 10 speaks volumes. I tend to divide my interest in many ways. Perhaps if I removed some other interests, I would advance my writing skills at a faster pace.

Your turn...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Name Is Everything

Why do we labor over choosing the right name for characters? Because a name is important...really important. A name embodies the life of the character - who they are, their dreams, their ideals, their essence. And face it, when you hear a name, you picture a certain type of person, right?

So let's experiment. What do you picture when you hear the name Jorge Rodriguez? Is it this?

Hhhmm, you probably thought something more like this:

Okay, let's try another one. What do you picture when you hear the name Billy Bob Clampett? Is it this:

Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm. I bet you were picturing something more like this:

What do you picture when you hear the name Chadwick Ashburne? This?

Surely you were thinking more along the lines of this:

You see, when you name your character, you must choose wisely, picking a name that clues the reader in on what kind of person the character is. If you describe your business man, Chadwick,  as an overall-wearing-hick, your reader will be confused. The name should match the man.

I'm sure there are times when you may want to change things up and add a little humor to your story. But it doesn't seem likely that a senator married to a top model would be named Billy Bob Clampett. It could happen, but it's just not likely.

So tell me, how do you name your characters? Do you like to find unusual names? Do your names fit your characters? Do you think it matters?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring Cleaning From Page #1

Anyone else had time to do spring cleaning?

Okay – maybe time isn’t the issue.

Anyone else motivated to do spring cleaning? ;-)

Around here, it’s quite an undertaking. 5 kids, two full-time working parents, a monster-sized dog. Scary!

-          Take out the old.

-          Toss what I no longer need or what isn’t working.

-          Make room for new things.

-          Get rid of what’s gathering dust…even if it hurts.

Yeah, you know where I’m going don’t you?

Even had manuscript-cleaning moments? It takes the same amount of motivation, time, and energy to purge our beautiful stories. Crit groups, contests, writing buddies – all of these help point out our story-cleaning needs.

So what do we need to do?

-          Take out the old stuff

o   When you go through an edit your first draft, you recognize the things you may not need anymore. Ways to rewrite something using more active words, or ways to ‘show’ more than tell.

-          Toss what is no longer needed or isn’t working

o   Once we delve into our story, we can find ways to tighten the plot and structure. And…and bad as it hurts to write this, even some of the best scenes may not ‘work’ in your story anymore. I just finished cutting a scene I adore because it doesn’t move the story forward – but REALLY slows it down.

-          Make room for new things

o   As we develop these imaginary worlds, we discover new characters, new backstories, new plot twists that we didn’t plan for, so it’s important to take some time away from the story. A break gives us a fresh perspective.

None of this is easy. Sometimes it hurts to toss, change, or rewrite various parts of our stories, but to become better writers with more captivating stories, we must be prepared to do some ‘spring cleaning’ without our stories too.

What have you had to change or toss from your manuscript to give it a fresh look?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

Happy Easter!

He is Risen!

I can’t imagine anything else more amazing to inspire writers!

We’re all in ‘search’ of something. Whether it’s the car keys, the secret to happiness, or some well-placed hidden plastic eggs.

Question for today?

What is your hero or heroine seeking? What’s his/her external goal and internal goal? Gotta have both to make a story complete.

Here are the plans for the Alley this week?

Pepper’s posting about Spring Cleaning on Monday – how to purge the old and unimportant from your manuscripts…even when it hurts.

Tuesday, Sherrinda will have some exciting information about writing to share with us.

Wednesday, Mary has an interview with multipublished and award winning author, Jerry B. Jenkins. He will update us on The Christian Writer's Market Guide, and shares tips about writing and trends. Don’t miss out on the visit!

Casey’s bringing Meg Moseley on as our guess on Thursday.

Krista will bring in her usual humor and insight for a post on Friday.

Casey has Roseanna White’s Jewel of Persia giveaway on her blog this week.

Our ONE YEAR BLOGIVERSARY is coming up on May 1. We will have giveaways and some fun ways our subscribers can get involved. Please plan to stop by the Alley and join in the fun.
Christ is Risen Indeed.
May the truth of his death and the miracle of his life change the way you live your life.

above photos provided by:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Scoring a Well-Rounded Manuscript: Characters and Plot

In the first post of this series, I likened a well-rounded story to the game of bowling. Each pin equals one important aspect of a manuscript and the goal is to knock down all the pins, therefore touching on each element of a story to make it as polished and complete as possible.

We discussed the first pin as voice - you can check out the post here - and today I'm talking about the next row of pins. Just two pins but very important to a story. Characters and Plot.

These two elements of a story are most successful if each is planned and/or written with a purpose.


A well-rounded and effective story cannot be created without characters, and not just any random characters, but characters with depth and intent. One of the simplest ways to approach this is the well-known GMC method.

Goal - What does your character want?

Motivation - Why does your character want this?

Conflict - What's going to stop your character from reaching their goal?

But beyond that, what other tricks can be used to help develop fully rounded characters?

Character sheets - listing anything or everything from appearance and characteristics to likes, dislikes, and background

Character interviews - approach getting to know your character like an interview, asking them questions about their past or their interests right now, even write it down to discover character traits and how they act while answering certain questions.

Invented scenes with your characters - either write your character from a different POV or drop them in a random scene and do something like a free write to learn more about their personality


Plot execution is an important aspect of story-telling and being able to do it well can take a ho-hum plot and bring it alive. So what are some ways this can be done?

Let voice touch your plot - even a used idea can become new and interesting with a fresh voice and unique perspective

Advance the story with intent - know where the story is going and use each scene to get there, trying to avoid loose, unproductive scenes

Use an organized approach - try the Snowflake Method, the three act story structure, a helpful plotting book, or your own method to create a whole and fluid plot outline

Again, plot and characters are right up there with voice. These three carry your novel. Executing plot and creating characters is most effective when each have a purpose at every point in the story.

What do you think are the most important parts of a novel? What tricks do you use to help create fluid plots and well-rounded characters?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Get Control of Your Characters

Ever have a character show up in your WIP and you liken the experience to a neighbor barging through your front door, bee-lining for your fridge in nothing but Fruit of the Looms?

I have.

So what to do when you’re cruising along with your novel and a character shows up out of the blue? Most certainly a good evaluation is in order. Fridge-going skivvy donning character needs to undergo a necessary exam before he off-roads your work and it ends up in a ditch, then ditched by potential readers.

The following are a few questions you may want to have on hand for an interrogation such as this:

  • What is the purpose of this character’s presence in my work? What is his role?
  • Does she help reveal any crucial elements about my MC?
  • Does he serve as a distraction, thus earning the name Peter Cottontail for veering your work off course?
  • Does she move the story along (read Patti Hill’s account of drop dead Fred in this Novel Matters post)?
  • How well do you know him and can you trust him not to sabotage your story?

It’s fun to be a writer. We get to play with pretend friends as adults. But we need to keep our friends corralled and we can’t forget who bosses whom.

We are in charge. We can cut them out at any time. Like a skilled director, we too can yell “Cut” and remove characters when they don’t serve to better our work.

Have you ever killed off a drop dead Fred, a Peter Cottontail or a Wandering Wanda? Or on the flip side, have you ever been introduced to an unexpected character who managed to make your WIP sing?

*photo from Flickr

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Self-Editing Checklist: Voice and Viewpoint

If you've been following along in this series, hopefully your scenes are taking shape with purpose and consistency. This week we'll take a look at voice and viewpoint. So without further ado, here are Points 4 & 5 of my self-editing checklist.

#4 - Is my own voice coming through, or is it contrived? Yes, this is the ever-elusive issue of voice. Everyone says it's the first thing editors or agents notice in a manuscript. I'll admit I was skeptical of this until I became a contest judge this year. The unique voices really did stand out above the floundering ones. But how do we know if our own voice is unique?

While it can often be an intangible thing, a good test is this. Have a friend read your work and tell you if they can hear you saying it. I've noticed this phenomenon with my blogging buddies. Ever since I met them at the ACFW Conference last year, I can hear them speaking the things I read on their blogs. That means it's true to their voice.

For more ideas on developing your voice, check out Cindy's post from a couple weeks ago, as well as these posts on Katie Ganshert's blog. (Awesome stuff there!)

#5 - Analyze the viewpoint. Are the characters too perfect? Are you portraying them as real human beings with real-life struggles? For those who write Christian fiction, is there any Christian lingo or jargon that could be confusing?

This point could spark a whole debate of how much "Christian" a Christian novelist should put in their books, but that's a discussion for another day. The key to this point is knowing where you stand on the spectrum, knowing where your target publisher stands on the spectrum, and then staying within it.

Your homework for the next two weeks, should you choose to accept it: Work through some of the voice exercises in Cindy's post and on Katie's blog, then read your scene and listen for your authentic voice. Analyze the viewpoint in your scene and make sure it falls within your target publisher's viewpoint (and yours too!).

Have you discovered your voice? What are some tricks you've used to discover it? How closely do you pay attention to the viewpoint of your novel?

*Microphone photo by Idea go /
**Glasses photo by dan /

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?"

In honor of Holy Week, picture of Via Dolorosa.

These past few months I have been teaching a Creative Writing course to a small group of nine and ten year olds. 

I spent hours grading the students' portfolios and I felt the Lord leading me to write a note to each student upon the conclusion of the class, sharing their strengths.

I don't think I will approach my writing life in the same way after working with a group of preteens.

What can we learn about writing from critiquing (or in this case correcting) other's work? 

Persistence.  One ten-year-old girl wrote three versions of her fairy tale.  She was encouraged when I shared that award-winning writer Hannah Tinti wrote 15 drafts of her story.  She wasn't pleased with her results, so she started from the top to change the story around.  Then she decided to try writing the story from the antagonist's perspective. I was surprised by her efforts since the students only had to hand in a rough draft and final copy.

Can you look at your story from a different perspective?  Would it benefit you to literally write a scene in first person or from a different character's perspective? Is there something you sense you need to change in your draft to improve?

Galatians 6:9 Let us not grow weary of well doing for in due season, we shall reap if we faint not.

Hard work often takes us much further than talent.  I was surprised to see which student had turned out the most outstanding project.  At the beginning of the class, I was given a heads-up that he might struggle because he has a learning disability.  I had a great big grin on my face when I completed his paper. He had consistently worked hard all semester and it paid off for him.

How often have we heard the story about an author who was persistent through many rejections? If God is taking us on the scenic route to publication (or maybe not that route at all)...let's remember He can use our writing for His glory in whatever way He chooses.  Are we so focused on wanting to be published that we may be ignoring the word of correction he may be giving us along the way to teach us about walking closer with Him?

Proverbs 12:24 He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.

Ask questions to help others with their writing (and to help yourself).  The girl who wrote several drafts was spurred on by circle time where we asked "what if" questions to help her find a new vision for her story.

Likewise, the best critiques I have received ask questions in order to show me areas I can improve. Do we take the time to help others by asking the key questions about their work? When I ask questions about my own work, I have seen the quality of my work improve.

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?" As one student proclaimed with a proud grin as I handed the papers back, do we need the reminder?

We need to build humility, but we can still praise God for our victories and save up those great comments for the days when we have the writing blues.

Job 1:21 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

What have you learned from critiquing others' work? Or what have you learned about craft from reading other writers?

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Anointed Author

“An author can pen a book without the anointing, but only the anointed author can write words that carry the weight of God to accomplish eternal purposes in the lives of readers.” -Priscilla Shirer, Anointed Tranformed, Redeemed Workbook

I recently took a study on David called, Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed by Priscilla Shirer, Beth Moore, and Kay Arthur. Yes, three amazing women teaching about an amazing God! I was excited to hear Priscilla, because she used examples of mothering and writing as she spoke on being anointed. Right up my alley!;)

 I write this post to give Christian writers encouragement to continue on this path, with the awareness that you are chosen to live an anointed life in all you do, even in writing!

Natural vs. Supernatural
As believers in Christ, we are all anointed to live in a “supernatural way” in our daily lives. Priscilla illustrates it in the following example:

The Task: Mother two small children
The Natural Accomplishment: Take care of their daily needs, and    provide a home for them
The Anointed Accomplishment: Instill in them a love for the Lord and a desire to serve Him

As a Christian fiction writer, I follow in her example and write:
The Task: Writing novels
The Natural Accomplishment: Create stories with word pictures, intriguing plots and characters.
The Anointed Accomplishment: Weave Christ through the story to touch the heart of the reader and bring glory to God

Sometimes I sit and struggle with weaving spiritual truths into my writing. I get swept away with the plot, the characters, what I assume the reader wants, and then realize I have turned my back on my anointing.
God is faithful though, and I know I am truly anointed to display God's truth in fiction, because of the unsettled feeling I have when I write away from His will. When I submit to Him again, He blesses me with an A-ha moment that knits His truth so perfectly in my writing.

Opposition to Our Anointing
Just yesterday, I was getting back into my wip, after a month hiatus (yikes!) and started down a path that wasn't necessarily against God's will, but was more of an easy way out for me as the author, and could have stolen away the impact I would have on my reader and ultimately fall short of bringing God His glory. Priscilla talks about opposition to the anointing, using King David's constant opposition as an example. But we all know that we have an enemy, and if we are doing something to bring God glory, that enemy will certainly show up! She says:

“We have an enemy. He seeks to divert us from the course set for us by our Father. Once we are saved, our enemy cannot destroy us, but he will work hard to distract us. It seems he most likes to startle us when we have just closed our eyes and turned our chins upward to enjoy a sunny patch in our existence.” Priscilla Shirer, Annointed, Transformed, Redeemed Workbook

For a writer, that “sunny patch” is when the writing pours out, or your work advances in a writing contest, or you get a new idea for a story you can be passionate is at these moments that you protect your calling, cling to prayer, focus on the God you seek to bring glory...because at these moments, opposition to our anointing will attack at full force.

In the study workbook, Priscilla says:
“We can stand firm against the Enemy's attacks because we stand on a foundation of unwavering faith and trust in the truth of God's word.”

Remember, Friends, you are writing for a divine purpose as an anointed author. And even though we can stumble, even in our fiction, in our salvation we can't fall so far that God steals away His purpose:

“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:57-58, NASB).

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

Conflict happens everywhere - and no week is more apparent of that than this one, when violent storms are crashing throughout the U.S.
My heart goes out to all those affected, or who may be affected by this difficulty.

As writers, we learn that conflict is the heart of a good story.
Uprooting our characters and sending them to a new place.
Real life examples give us fuel for our fictional worlds.

Not that I want to cause any conflict here on the Alley.

But in books?

Ah. Now there’s a different story J

Without conflict there is no story. The gathering storm. The foreboding discovery. The unsolved mystery. The unrequited love.
No conflict - NO STORY
No big bad wolf – no story

No wicked step-mother – no story
No Civil War and selfish, green-eyed beauty – no story
(Aren't my boys to the right so cute ;-) No conflict in my home.)

And the conflict has to last throughout the ENTIRE book – so hit the poor hero/heroine HARD J

So What’s up the Street This Week on The Alley?
On Monday, Angie is talking about the calling to write. Inspired by Priscilla Shirer, Angie posts about Anointed By God to Write.

Can we learn by fixing others’ writing? Well, on Tuesday Julia posts about shaping our own writing by critiquing others.

On Wednesday,  Sarah has another one of her fabulous self-editing posts on the way.

On Thursday, Wendy will share her writing insights with you.

On Friday, Cindy finishes off the week with a focus on plot and characters in Scoring a Well-Rounded Manuscript.

Alright - here are a few helpful links if you want some ways to ramp up the tension in your story.

Conflict Generator -

Nice article on Conflict and types -

Article from Seekerville on Ramping Up the Tension -

What's some of the best conflict you've read recently in books? Or have you written some pretty good conflict? Wanna share?


Friday, April 15, 2011

Short, sweet, and to the point

I've tried off and on for 3 days to try and write this blog post. I'd get something down, and quickly delete it. Nothing seemed right.

It doesn't help the matter that my daughter just got a heart transplant on Saturday evening and I'm going on very, very little sleep this week. She's doing great, but the recovery process is exhausting (more so for her... but Momma's hitting bottom of barrel too!)

So I am going to be short, sweet, and to the point today.

Life goes on.

After contest finals, and contest fails.
After manuscript requests from agent/editors, and after manuscript rejections from agents/editors.
After news of your baby's heart defect, and after heart transplant.

Life is full of ups and downs. The writing life included.

Embrace the highs,
hold tight during the dips,
and rest up during the breaks.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Perfecting Your Prose ~ Tips From A Rita Award Finalist

OK, right off the bat I have to admit that I'm still in a state of semi-shock over the whole RITA® Finalist thing. When Casey asked me to visit The Writers Alley and share what aspects of my writing I thought pushed my manuscript to the top of the RITA pile, my first reaction was – How can I possibly know? Contest judging is so subjective. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that even though I haven't received any feedback from the RITA judges, I have received feedback from other judges—readers. So the tips you'll find here today, are based on what I have gleaned from the comments of readers and reviewers.

Characters impact readers more than plot.

"What amazing characters... I loved Jericho and Hannah. It was as if they were real people."
"Her characters live and breathe, not only within the pages but long after the cover is closed."
"Her characters were flawed in ways that made them endearing and gave you a vested interest in their individual quests for happiness and fulfillment."

My goal in designing main characters is twofold: have every woman who reads my story fall in love with the hero, and have every female reader wish to be the heroine. In order for me to accomplish this, as an author, I need to do exactly the same—fall in love with my hero and live vicariously through my heroine. If the characters aren't real to me, they won't be real to the reader either. So what makes them real?

• Use Deep POV- Spend time in the character's head. Express his thoughts directly using language that matches his personality. Show his reactions and emotions instead of explaining them to the reader. Give him a distinct narrative voice.

• Use Contrast – My hero is a grouchy, set-in-his-ways livery owner, but that crusty exterior hides a soft heart that leads him to perform acts of kindness when no one is looking. His words might sound arrogant, but his actions show his inner goodness.

• Give them flaws to make them real. Give them quirks to make them unique. Give them noble motivations to make them likeable – Hannah was living her dream of opening her own dress shop but she struggled with her lack of business savvy when customers were scarce. Her quirk – she's a 19th century fitness maven with a daily exercise regimen that most folks scoffed at. As for motivation, she wanted to have a successful shop, but not at the cost of being a stumbling block to others. Her ultimate aim was to use the gifts God had given her to serve her community not simply to support herself by making a good living. Giving her a more noble motivation increased her likeability even when her stubbornness and pride led her into trouble.

• Have well-developed secondary characters – Many readers have asked me about turning A Tailor-Made Bride into a series because they found themselves so attached to the town and its characters that they wanted more. What a fabulous compliment! Even though secondary characters don't have their own POV, make them memorable and real to the reader. Make them quirky and fun, or have them tug on the reader's heartstrings. Use them to open the eyes of your main character when he/she is struggling to come to grips with a specific truth. But remember, their purpose is to enhance the story of the hero and heroine, not to steal the show.

• Use dialog as a romance tool – Witty dialog is something I greatly admire in novels and strive to incorporate in my own. My favorite way to use it is between the hero and heroine as they fight against their attraction. Let them tease, flirt, and spar with each other as a way to build romantic tension. Sometimes having a character be audaciously honest can be a delightful surprise. One of my favorite scenes from A Tailor-Made Bride uses this technique. Hannah has learned Jericho's true name and is teasing him with it.

He prowled forward, jaw clenched so hard, his facial muscles ticked. "The name's J.T."
"No," she said, tapping her chin as if pondering some great mystery. "Those are initials. Your name is Jericho."

Wiggling his fingers to keep them from curling into fists, J.T. reminded himself that she was a woman.

"Are you purposely trying to rile me?" His voice rumbled with menace, warning her against such a dangerous path.

An all-too-innocent smile stretched across her face. "Why, yes. Yes, I am. Is it working?"

Deepen Your Spiritual Theme with Layers

"Besides a beautiful romance, this story has take-home value in it that made me stop and reflect…The characters grew not only as individual people, and as a couple, but as children of God as well.""…you will also find the Lord's "thumbprint" on every page. Her words ministered to my spirit in such a deep, penetrating way."
"…while the book is highly readable and enjoyable, it is also thought-provoking. I found myself pausing time and again to reflect on my own life, particularly as it relates to God's purpose for me."

• More than skin deep - On the surface, the key spiritual message of A Tailor-made Bride seems to entail the issue of beauty vs. vanity. However, if you look deeper, you'll see that the true message is about balance, unity, and opening yourself to God's truth even when it goes against long-held beliefs based on personal experience.

• Complicate things - Another aspect that I believe made my theme unique was that I allowed both characters to be right. Both had a biblical foundation to back up their position, and as I wrote their story, I found myself agreeing with both sides. The true issue is not who is right and who is wrong. The true issue is how can we treat each other with love, even when we disagree? And can we set our dogmatism aside long enough to see if there is any truth to be gained by pondering the opposite perspective?

• Sprinkle other spiritual truths throughout the story in addition to the main theme – In real life, we rarely deal with one issue at a time. So in addition to the beauty-vanity theme, I also sprinkled in thoughts about running a business as a person of faith, using gifts to serve others even when the service goes unnoticed, and reaching out to the outcasts among us. Remember, however, that story rules. Never incorporate a spiritual thread simply to teach your readers a truth. Everything has to spring naturally from the characters and the plot, otherwise it will come across as preachy.

Question for you:

So when you think about your favorite books, the ones that linger in your mind long after the last page is turned, what is it about them that impacted you most? If you were a RITA judge, what would you be looking for?

Karen Witemeyer writes historical romance fiction for Bethany House. Her debut novel, A Tailor-Made Bride, is a 2011 RITA® Finalist for Best First Book. Her latest novel, To Win Her Heart, releases in May. Visit her website to learn more: