Saturday, July 30, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

The Writer's Alley is taking you to the movies!

So many great plots, characters and dialogue can be found in a movie. So often in writer's classes you will hear movies referenced as a good example. So settle in with your popcorn and keep the remote (er mouse) close at hand, because we are going to be covering some of our favorite of all time films!

For your viewing pleasure...

Pepper takes us through the twists and turns of Indiana Jones on Monday.

Sherrinda on Tuesday will go through the moving film Return to Me. Such a great movie, sure to be a great post!

We watched it when we were young and now we watch it for character structure. Mary brings Beauty and the Beast to the blog on Wednesday

Casey takes a family favorite down from the shelves on Thursday: Loving Leah

Friday Krista swings by the Alley to talk about how writing movies are not like writing books. ;-)


How to write a killer book proposal

Stop by Casey's blog to read DiAnn Mills "Cold Call" interview and enter to win her Christy award winning novel.

Sarah is giving away her monthly $10 Amazon gift card on Monday on her blog!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Following the Leader

Part of what helped make most of us into the passionate writers we are today are all the stories that have come before ours. All the romances, adventures, mysteries, and so on. And for me, not only have they spurned a passion for writing, but they've also inspired specific stories.

Yes, I have gotten ideas for my own novels from books or even movies that I've read and seen before. We're all aware that certain storylines are done and redone and done again. Cinderella, for example, and all the others that were based off the story. A woman living with step-sisters, working as the maid of the house, transforms for a time to meet the prince and fall in love. Or even a storyline not so specific. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl cannot be together, but alas, they find a way and there's a happily ever after.

There are times when I'll see a movie or read a book and think, "Hey, that was my idea!" Of course, someone else just got to it first. If you're in the same boat as me, there are ways to take a familiar idea and transform it into something different, because no matter how original we are, there are always going to be stories that sound like ours in some way or another and it's up to us to stand out.

There are three key elements that make up a story, giving you three categories in which to change certain details to make the story more your own and more unique.


Occupations - Giving your character a unique job that helps define their personality and who they are is a great way to get a new twist on a familiar story.

Characteristics/Personalities - Examine characteristics and personalities in a familiar story or the story you've already established. What characteristics or personality traits can you give your character to make them stand out?

Backstory and Current Surroundings - This is your opportunity to develop a unique past that shapes who your character is, and their current situation could have them living in an unusual place next to an unusual neighbor that adds more character to the story.

Secondary Characters - Intriguing characters make readers want to continue reading. Make a twist on familiar characters to freshen them up and add more substance.


This is where the "what if" question comes into play. If you have a similar storyline, stop it at each plot point and ask "what if". If you're going with the same scenario mentioned above and this is the moment when boy meets girl, ask questions that differ from that storyline. If boy and girl are supposed to fall in love, ask "what if" they severely dislike each other at first. Ask "what if" the thing keeping them apart is something the reader hasn't seen before.


Give your story new life by dropping it in a unique place. Changing or creating a setting is a fun way to give your story a new twist. Let your characters interact with that setting. Let that setting act as another character for the story and give it its own unique characteristics that will charm readers.

Give a familiar storyline a chance for a unique appearance by offering up these twists. Or even take a storyline you have that doesn't feel full enough and write out each plot point, each character, and the setting, and examine them. Find a twist to help make each category unique and then apply it to your story.

Have you ever had a story idea you've found is familiar or resembles another story you've heard or read? Do you continue with that story, and if so, what do you do to make it unique?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Museum Perspective on Waiting

Recently I’ve come to the conclusion 94.3277 percent of life is spent waiting. Of the 525,600 minutes in a year (thanks, Rent), we spend a good chunk of that time…on hold.

As writers we know the holding cell well. So well it’s often one of the most omnipresent truths a writer must deal with.

waiting for an idea to sprout
waiting to finish our book
waiting for editing to get easier (pshsheesh, like that will happen)
waiting for a solid critique group
waiting for an agent
waiting for a house to sign us
waiting for the first peek at our new cover
waiting for the release date
waiting to see if people like our book
waiting for another idea to sprout

Any of the above sound familiar? So what’s a writer to do? Worrywart our way through the wait? Lately I’ve grown convicted of just the opposite.

Life is one big fat wait. We are wise to soak up every minute. And of course as I was thinking this a museum appeared in my brain (but of course). I’m thinking, what does a museum have to do with waiting? But then it hit me. We pay attention at museums; we study artifacts and admire art. We reflect on history and revel in wonder. We purposefully slow down, sometimes stopping at a portrait, allowing ourselves more time to let it sink into our brains.

I want to learn to wait as though I’m walking through a museum. Instead of blowing up with curiosity about things I can’t control (things outside the museum, let’s say), I want to be impassioned about all I see inside.

More and more I’m convinced one of the greatest tools we as writers have is the ability to pay attention—to really notice life around us. This sharpens our writing, making it more relatable, and certainly more real.

And get this, what if we experience so much joy while on the inside that we actually become so distracted we momentarily forget there’s even an outside we’re waiting on?

Now, that’s living and learning wrapped in one gigantic museum-inspired perspective.

How do you handle the oh so many waits as a writer?

*photo from Flickr

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Self-Editing Checklist: Internals

Gut-wrenching, heart-stopping, pulse-pounding fiction. We writers like to make our readers squirm, don't we?

Two weeks ago, I talked about externals...the choreography, body language, and senses of our characters. This week we're taking a look inside. Specifically, we'll cover two areas: Visceral responses and interior monologue.

Let's start with visceral responses by giving a quick explanation. Visceral responses are those initial gut reactions we feel inside when something happens to us. A twist in the stomach, sweaty hands, rapid pulse...Those are all viscerals.

So what are some areas to check in our scenes when it comes to visceral responses?

1) Do I have too few or too many? Are you using viscerals for key moments that warrant them in the scene? If you don't use enough, the reader will feel detached from your character. If you have too many, the reader will start to get motion sick. A good rule of thumb for me is to keep it to an average of one visceral per page AT MOST. For less intense scenes, it might be one visceral in the entire scene. For a major scene, I might have a couple pages that have two or three viscerals.

2) Do I use a variety of responses that make sense with the scene and the characters? This is similar to my post about externals two weeks ago. If your characters are having heart attacks (i.e., their "hearts stop beating") on every page, you have a problem. Really get yourself in their skin and make the reactions authentic.

Resources: As usual, I have to point to Margie Lawson on this one. Her classes really dive deep into visceral responses. She uses her experience as a psychologist and provides in-depth insights into visceral responses and how to use them for powerful writing.

Now let's move on to interior monologue, or in simple terms, the internal thoughts of your characters. Here are some questions to ask as you analyze your scenes.

1) Do I have too much interior monologue? Can you show the same emotions and responses through action and dialogue instead? Or maybe even a whole new scene?

2) Have I handled backstory well? Do you like to have your characters think in one big "backstory dump"? Is there a way to trickle in backstory only when it's necessary to the story? I think most of us have read plenty on the topic of avoiding backstory in the beginning of the manuscript, but we really should be careful in each scene to keep it to only the minimum and the necessary.

Resources: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has an entire chapter devoted solely to interior monologue. And again, Margie Lawson covers this topic fully in her classes.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it: Sign up for or purchase one of Margie Lawson's classes or lecture packets. Or pull out your copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (or your library's copy). Highlight your internals in each scene and analyze them to make sure you have the right balance.

Do you have any pet visceral responses in your writing? How do you typically handle backstory? Any extra resources to share with our readers?

*This post is part of the Self-Editing Checklist series. For the rest of the series, click here.

**Body photo by smokedsalmon /
***Thoughts photo by suphakit73 /

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Getting Published: An Interview with Mary DeMuth with Book Review

I have listened to audio recordings of Mary DeMuth speaking at Mount Hermon and I have noticed she stuffs a plethora of information in a single session. After reading 11 Secrets to Getting Published, I can tell you every paragraph is worthy of notetaking. DeMuth's ebook will join my "resource" file so I can reread and continue to glean from it. For instance, here's some advice from Mary I intend to follow:

Be nekkid.

OK, pick your jaw off the floor.  This is still a family friendly blog.

This is some of the most authentic advice DeMuth has to offer and she strives to live it out through her fiction. The philosophy of writing true, reflecting our own journey in our fiction has transformed my writing life. DeMuth shows the reader how she develops a mission statement for her own writing. 

The wealth of practical tips DeMuth provides are invaluable. I am still fighting the old single space after a period rule after learning to type on an electric typewriter. It was worth the price of the book alone to know there is an easy way to fix this error in Microsoft Word.

Here are a few of the questions Mary DeMuth answers:

*How do you use independent clauses?

*Are you guilty of cliche abuse?

*How do you reduce your interruptions? (Mary DeMuth's words on self-discipline need to be posted on THIS homeschooling mama's refrigerator to keep them in memory).

*What do I need to massacre in order to make my fiction better (Or perhaps who in the case of mysteries)....

*What can I learn about writing from U2?

*Why is finding an agent like dating? (OK, this brings back nightmares about high school prom, bad hairdos, and dates who wouldn't pay their own way)...

In the appendixes, DeMuth provides feedback on reader questions, tackling some of the biggest fears head-on.  Eleven Secrets to Getting Published is a great resource I can highly recommend for writers from beginner to novice.

I enjoyed interviewing Mary to share some of her insights about the publishing world.  Leave a comment including your email address if you are interested in Mary DeMuth's latest fiction release, The Muir House.  Casey would like to offer a copy to an interested reader.

What are your thoughts on epublishing in general?  Do you think this is the way the market is moving?

I used to think of it negatively until my hubby bought me a Kindle. Now I love ebooks. I do think that ebooks and epublishing are becoming very common. I’ve even heard that folks with reading devices read more, so this is good news for the writer.

How did you make the decision to epublish your writing books?

I knew the niche was very small, so a publisher wouldn’t be likely to pick up the book.

Would you recommend epublishing for those who aren't yet published?

Yes, but with a caveat. Don’t just put any old words out there. Be sure it’s your very best. Have the book edited by a professional. I know it’s clichĂ©, but you only have one chance to make a first impression. You don’t want to live with regret or be embarrassed about what you’ve written.

Did you hire a publicist for marketing?

It depends on the book I’m promoting. I am mostly traditionally published, so the publishing houses often assign my book to an in-house publicist. Sometimes they hire out. With The Muir House (novel, Zondervan), I hired a publicist to help me advertise the book in my hometown, since it is set there.

What is your marketing plan for selling your ebooks?  Does it differ greatly from your marketing plan for your print books?

I have given away several hundred, which is also the same for print books. Books sell by buzz, so it’s good to have people read them, and let them decide how they’ll buzz about your book.

How do you balance marketing time with writing time?

Not an easy thing at all. I had no idea marketing would take so much time.

Many writers here have recently dealt with rejection.  Do you have any words of encouragement?

Rejoice! Rejection means you’re brave and gutsy, that you’re trying. If you don’t risk, you don’t get rejected. I’ve been rejected a lot. So much. A ton. And here’s the sad truth: rejection gets HARDER the longer you’re in this writing career, so you need to settle the issue of your identity now. You are not worthy because you write. You are worthy because you are loved.

How did you choose your tagline?  Do you have any tips for writers on choosing a tagline?

I asked my email distribution list, my facebook page, and my twitter friends what they thought of when they thought of me. After gathering that feedback, Live Uncaged just happened. It’s perfect, but it took about a month of processing to get there.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your recent release, The 11 Secrets of Getting Published?

It’s everything I know about writing and publishing downloaded into a 60,000+ word book. Over 300 pages. I’m raising the cost to $4.99 on August 15th so if you’d like it for $2.99, order now. Here’s a link that tells you more:

We would love to hear your thoughts.  And don't forget to add your email address if you are interested in entering for a copy of The Muir House.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Talking the Talk

So my last couple of posts have been from the Shelly Beach Writer's Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I came away with a wealth of knowledge, and will give my last set of notes from the workshop.  

Holly Miller, editor of The Saturday Evening Post Magazine for 25 + years, and a published author, gave a great overview of what you should consider as you write dialogue into your novel.

She warns that bad dialogue will make an editor, “groan, laugh, scratch their head, and then reject” your ms. Dialogue is important because it shows that you can write...

Here are the 5 big problems Holly has outlined that should be considered as you write the words of your characters:

1.Dialogue that is too correct. High impact moments that have unnatural dialogue will take away from the believability. Here is my example: “Oh no. My car has caught on fire. I must quickly make a phone call and inform the police.”

2.Put too much back story in dialogue. Here is my example: “My grandmother, who struggled financially during the recession, but made some very wise investments and now is comfortably retired, is coming in town for lunch.”

3.Too much dialogue. A good exercise to see if you have too much is to highlight all narration in one color and dialogue in the other. Imagine manuscripts that have intriguing dialogue, but no internal thoughts, descriptions of setting...picture talking heads in the reader's mind.

4.Too little dialogue. Some of my earlier manuscripts have pages and pages of narration and description, and only a paragraph of dialogue. Sounds like fun reading?

5.Inappropriate word choices for Christian fiction. And I will add my own to this, inappropriate words for the time period if you are writing historical fiction. I received a few criticisms on my contest entries because of this. Webster online shows when words came into the language, so check it out if you have questions on your historical writing.

Do you have examples of any of these in your own writing?

Some Tips from Holly:

1.Jerry Jenkins once said that his first draft always sounds like him, but his second draft takes on characters' own personalities. Be sure to take the time to read through and polish, polish, polish!!
2.Always read dialogue out loud. If you need to, get someone to read with you so you can see how the dialogue sounds.
3.Start a new paragraph every time you switch speakers! :)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

Photo courtesy of
The Writer's Alley is taking you to the movies!

Starting in August, we will be doing a series on our favorite movies and what makes them work.

From character to plot to dialogue to motivation, be "watching" for more details on what movies we will be discussing!

Popcorn is oppotional. :-))

Up next week...

Angie will be posting with us on Monday on another segment from the Shelly Beach's workshop

Julia hosts guest Mary DeMuth here on Tuesday! Stop by to read Mary's thoughts on the industry and enter to win her latest book, Muir House.

Sarah continues her Self-Editing Check List on Wednesday

Image courtesy of
Stop by on Thursday for Wendy's post on waiting in our writing.

Cindy is blogging on Friday about what it takes to be original in our stories and Following the Leader

News Stand:

The winner of Surrender the Dawn is... Lgm52!!

Read Casey's interview with Keli Gwyn and don't forget to leave a comment to win a book and bracelet! You have until Monday, July 25th to stop by.

Need some One Sheet help for the coming conference season?? Check out some of these examples Here, Here and Here

Rachelle Gardner has also been busy all week talking about pitches. Including the elevator pitch. Fabulous information!

Friday, July 22, 2011

How to write a novel: Characters

I recently started writing a new book.

It's been a while since I started writing something new that wasn't a "sequel" to another book, so I was really excited!!!

Everyone writes books differently. Some plot first, some start with a seed of an idea and just start writing (previously this was ME!) and some do a little of both (THIS is now me.)

So, as I write my new book, I'd thought I'd take you through a little of my process.

The first thing I need are: CHARACTERS.

Questions to answer about our characters:

Who are they?
What do they do for a living?
How old are they?
What do they look like?
Where are their parents, do they have siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles... what does their family life look like?
Why are they in this story?
What is their background?
Do they have weird quirks?

Some of this I don't know yet about my new characters. But I start by asking the question and writing down what I DO know.

Then you work on the GMC (Goal Motivation Conflict) for each main character (and maybe even minor ones too!)

Goal: What do they want in this story?
Motivation: Why do they want it?
Conflict: What is going on that prevents them from getting what they want?

A great resource for finding out more about GMC is Debra Dixon's book, Goal, Motivation, Conflict.

Personally, if I get too detailed at the beginning, I'd get overwhelmed. I start out with a general idea of what my characters what, a reason for them wanting it, and usually there is one big thing that prevents them from having it. However, this needs to get deeper as the story goes, and for me, it usually changes and develops as I write. So start off with something basic.

Picture worth a billion words

When building characters, I also find a picture of them. Usually this is with Google images. Sometimes it's a celebrity, other times it's someones random picture I find that fits my character PERFECTLY. It is SO SO SO nice to have a visual for when I write. No accidentally changing hair color (without a trip to the hairstylist anyway!) The one to the left is the celebrity whose "look" is inspiring the heroine of my newest book!

Discussion: How do YOU start forming new characters? What is your FAVORITE character in a book you recently read, and why? Do you use pictures of real people to help you visualize your characters?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What Keeps You Reading?? (and a giveaway!)

Legs up and reading a bookIt's a conversation kind of post day!

What keeps you reading a book?? We all have excuses for what DOESN'T keep us reading. Blah characters, no interest, no hook, poor writing, shoddy novel construction, etc. etc.

But what KEEPS us reading??

→Strong characters

→Riveting plot

→Captivating dialogue



→Investment in the story and the characters

→The writing. The story can be great, but if we don't "get" the writing...

→Drama-- all books have drama!

→Strong showing (but also an ability to tell too)

→A sense of setting

→Strong follow-through. Both in plot and character motivation

And this would just be the TIP of the iceberg. I personally want to keep reading a book if I am INVESTED. I want to like the characters, I want to love the story they are living. I want to fall in love over and over again every time I open the book. I want to avoid my family, chores and responsibilities to submerge myself in the dance and vibrancy of the words across the page.

We can pick a book apart for why we DON'T like it, have you ever tried to pick one apart for why you DID??

Join the conversation today for what keeps you reading!

And all comments will be entered to win MaryLu Tyndall's latest novel, Surrender the Dawn (I must restrict this giveaway to U.S. addresses only please. :-))

Winner announced in the Weekend Edition

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Being Mentored-Point of View

The point of view (POV) we chose for our WIP/manuscript can make or break our story's success.

Master writers select a character to tell a compelling story. The chosen one has the most obstacles, the most to lose, the greatest need, and the reason to move forward.

Consider The Three Little Pigs. This short story, told from the pigs' POV, compels readers to side with the pigs and disapprove/fear the wolf. Many children and adults have enjoyed re-readings of this story.

But on March 1, 1996, Lane Smith authored The True Story of the Three Little Pigs from the Wolf's point of view.  This book has earned high reviews and possibly is as well known to children today as The Three Little Pigs. I must admit--I liked this book more.

As I sat down to write this post, I realized The True Story of the Three Little Pigs would not have grabbed my vote had The Three Little Pigs not been written first. So I asked myself, would I have enjoyed the Wolf's POV had I not known the Little Pig's POV?  Probably not.

Let's look at a few works by master writers to examine why he/she chose their character's POV:

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - POV chosen:  Scarlett O'Hara - Civil War romance novel

Does Scarlet really prove to be the best choice for POV? 
Here is the test, (feel free to add your comments at the end of the post)

Reason to Move Forward: Survive affects of the war, find true love
Needs: Romance, wealth, attention, status, security
Losses: home, husbands, child, stability, wealth, 
Obstacles:  ego, Ashley married Melanie, Brett's true love, Civil War

Contenders for POV:
1. Ashley:  NO! His story would be boring, whimpy, whiney
2. Rhett:     No. Life came to easy for him. He had everything he wanted and few if any obstacles
3. Melanie: NO! Melanie's story would be too sweet, gushy, positive
4. Mammy: Perhaps, but her POV would write a different story. I think I'd like to read it.
5. Scarlett: Yes. Only Scarlett could tell this story.

The Husband Tree by Mary Connealy - POV: Belle Tanner
Western historical romance

Here is Belle's test:
Reason to move forward: Move surplus cattle to auction before winter, protect ranch, no more lazy-money grabbing husbands
Needs: true companion, honesty, trust, ranch hand
Losses: ranch, cattle, home, access to way home, daughter, ranch help
Obstacles: handsome lazy-money grabbing men, winter, too many cattle, needed major repairs for home

Contenders for POV:
1. Lindsey (Belle's daughter): No. She did not return home which would have changed the ending. While she had some of the needs, losses, reasons to move forward, she did not have the greatest.
2. Silas: Possible. Most humor material would be lost, his character would tell a gruffer story, may not lasso readers into the story.
3. Belle: Yes. Humor, rugged spirit, gooey heart, independent, in need of help more than she realized.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers - POV:  Angel (aka Sarah) A retelling of the Bible book, Hosea

Here is Angel's test:
Reason to Move forward: survival 
Needs:  escape from evil, a reason for hope, commitment, saving, home, security, true love, dependability
Losses: home, parents, respect, freedom, love, choice
Obstacles: money, captors, imprisonment, lack of life skills, anger

Contenders for POV:
1. Duke or Duchess: NO. Both caused serious problems and neither wanted to move away from their negative setting.
2. Michael: possible, but essential beginning story line would be lost, did not have greatest needs/obstacles, would be told from hero's POV
3. Angel: YES. Her story yanks every emotion into play.

Let's also consider a true reporting of this event: 
Consider your answers for David, or for your own POV

David and Goliath by God - POV: David
Historical battle

Here is David's test
Reason to move forward:

Contenders for POV:

What if you chose a different character for your WIP? 
Could this change bring spice, sassy, salt, suspense, page turning interest?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Hot Hot Days of Romance

I don't know about you, but this summer has been hot. Really...scorching hot. Like sixteen straight days of 100+ degrees. I really don't care for that kind of heat. Let me be honest. I hate hot days. Hot is draining. Hot is tiring. Hot is sapping.

But in a romance novel...well, hot is a MUST! Now, I am not talking about hot and heavy S*X. (gasp) I am talking about the hot, heart-thumping, blood-pounding romantic tension. You betcha!

Romance is all about the relationship between a man and a woman. The dance of awareness, like, questioning, doubt, attraction, and love. It is a give and take, where attraction is a forceful wave crashing against the shore, only to be pulled back by the grasp of a strong tide.

Here's an example of romantic tension from my WIP, a medieval romance.

“Will you be at supper, my lord?” Jocelyn bit her lip, hating to sound as if she begged for his attention. He had not taken supper in the hall the past few days, and she wanted him to know she had noticed the slight.
Lifting her down from the horse, he paused, holding her close, not releasing his grip on her waist. “Do you want me there?”
She glanced away from his questioning gaze, distracted by the warmth of his hands. “You need not come if you find it tedious.”
Malcolm caught her face with his hand and turned it toward his own. Her breath caught as he leaned down, his lips hovering over hers. Heart hammering in her chest, Jocelyn struggled for breath, waiting for the warmth of his lips upon hers. His roughened cheek brushed hers as those lips, which should have claimed her own, whispered in her ear instead. “You, my lady, are anything but tedious.”
Jocelyn swallowed hard, disappointment filling her when he dropped his hands, stepped back, and gave her a small bow.
“I thank you for a most enjoyable ride,” he said, leaving her in the hands of his capable guardsman.
Jocelyn took a deep breath and watched Malcolm’s tall, broad form walk purposefully down the bailey. My, but he muddled her head into confusion. Just days ago she had fought against his kiss and yet today, well, today she was of a mind to be kissed senseless.

You were wanting them to kiss, weren't you? Now you are wanting to read on, to see if they get close to capturing a kiss in the next scene, aren't you? That is the purpose of romantic tension. To keep the reader investing in the characters, watching their relationship grow, and cheering them on to a happy ending.

What favorite author of yours utilizes romantic tension? What favorite book or movie is loaded with romantic tension? Or what is a good way of sneaking in romantic tension?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Make 'Em Laugh - Writing Humor in Fiction

Anyone here love to laugh?
Just stick me in the Mary Poppins’ scene where they have tea on the ceiling with Dick Van Dyke.
I love to laugh.
But laughing, and writing humor are two very different things.

Using a fantastic article from the latest edition of Writer’s Digest and combining it with some things I’ve learned along the way, I want us to look at the fine art of writing humor.
Now, I am no Mary Connealy, Deeanne Gist, or Janice Thompson – nor do I have the wit of fellow Alley Cats, Krista Phillips or Sarah Forgrave, but I know a funny scene when I read one.

Humor is about distorting reality or turning it on its head in some way. Kind of like those carnival fun-mirrors. The image might still be you, but it’s funny looking because your lips look like they’re up by your forehead or it appears that you’re eating your feet. Distorted. Funny.
Let’s look at some important tips to writing humor based on Leigh Anne Jasheway’s list from Ways to Improve your Writing By Thinking Like A Comedy Writer (Writer’s Digest, July/August 2011)

 Incongruity – “Incongruity is the main reason we laugh.” Its’ the whole idea of expecting one thing and the unexpected happens. What’s so funny about the Cliffs of Insanity swordplay scene in the move The Princess Bride? It’s unexpected. Two guys are trying to kill each other, all the while being so very polite, and complimenting each others’ skill in fighting.

It causes your brain to hiccup. Wait, that’s not what I expected.
That’s why I think that God has a sense of humor. The Bible is FILLED with incongruity.

A shepherd boy becomes a king.

A hot-headed fisherman becomes a mighty servant of God.

A donkey talks?
A man is swallowed by a great fish to get him back on God’s path

A man in a landlocked country is told to build an Ark

The CREATOR of the world is born as a baby

 Keep Them on Their Toes – basically it’s when the writer changes directions from the expected course. “Misdirection” – as Leigh Anne Jasheway refers to it.
This is particularly true when phrases we know are changed.  That’s why we get such a kick out of kids’ sayings. My daughter once looked out the window and said, “It’s raining hats and frogs.”

 Use Familiarity to your Advantage – the ‘running gag’, a situation, character, or phrase that the reader can always expect to bring the comic relief. We all can think of that particular character. The one who enters the scene and we grin, knowing they’ll provide a silly phrase, foible, or witty comment to make things a little funnier. Even in the epic movie, Lord of the Rings, we knew that Gimli (the dwarf for those of you who are not Tolkien-ites or elves) is going to provide us with some humor any time he is on the page or screen. In Pride and Prejudice, it’s Mrs. Bennet (among others).

 Employ the Power of Play – if you’re a little silly, have fun pets, or young kids, use them to provide the necessarily inspiration. To write funny, you need to have the internal tools to do it. Which means…. A playful spirit yourself. Leigh Anne says “Make sure your inner 5-year-old has a chance to play at least once a day, and even more often when you’re facing a deadline.”

Use the Power of 10 – Before deciding on a perfect title, character name, or plot point, make a list of 10 possibilities and pick the best one. Don’t stop with just one or two – go all the way to 10.  “It takes more writers approximately 10 attempts at a joke to create the funniest punch line.”

Expose Yourself – learn from other funny authors. Expose yourself to their work and discover the way they make you laugh.

How do we add humor?

Well, here are a few ways:

Through witty dialogue – male-female banter, sarcasm, overexaggerations, complete honesty (usually internal monologues J.
Using interesting or funny similies & metaphors. Shannon LAusch refers to this as Wordplay.

Situational Humor – where the situation is just plain funny.

Parody – a ‘spoof’ off of something else

Slapstick or physical humor – think Lucille Ball or Sandra Bullock-type comedy here (Three Stooges too, if any of you writers even know who those are ;-)

Here are a few examples:
Here are the first lines from Laura Jensen Walker’s book, Miss Invisible.

One size does not fit all

“Not women like me,” I muttered as I tried to wriggle the cotton peasant skirt over my double-wide-trailer hips in the cramped dressing room.

Or what about this wonderful clip from Liz Curtis Higgs latest masterpiece, Mine is the Night. (gentle humor)

Jack looked at her beneath the velvety blue sky, riding as close as he dared.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your employment, Mrs. Kerr. I’m afraid I must dismiss you as my dressmaker.”

She pretended to be greatly offended. “Lord Buchanan! Is this how you repay my many hours of service?”
“Even worse, madam, I insist you marry me within the month.”

Elizabeth laughed softly. “I believe I was the one who proposed marriage.”
“So you did, my dear.”

Lorna Seilstad really shows some nice physical humor in her newest release, A Great Catch. Her heroine is a Lucille Ball act-alike.

In this scene, Emily Graham is trying to cut and eat a waffle, while her soon-to-be love interest, Carter, is at the table talking to her grandmother. Btw, Emily has a sprained wrist – so she only has good use of one hand.

Emily bit her lip and used the side of her fork to try to cut off  the corner (of her waffle). Ah. Success.

She glanced up and caught Carter grinning at her. Heat flooded her cheeks and she dropped her gaze back to her breakfast. Even without looking, she knew he was still watching. She’d show him she was a woman who could tackle anything – big or small.

Her grandmother thumbed through the ledger. “And Carter studied finance, Emily. Since your brother is busy running your father’s business, I’ve asked Carter to help me manage my assets.”

“But I thought – “ Emily jerked. The bite of waffle on the tip of her fork, drenched in strawberry syrup, went flying across the table.

Instinct alone propelled Carter to catch the chunk of waffle midair. The contents squished in his palm, and he grabbed his napkin from the table.

Fun, eh?

Okay – last example. How could I pass this up without putting in some of Mary Connealy humor?!?

From her book, Sharpshooter in Petticoats:
Mandy is trying to get her telescope from Tom Linscott, who just kidnapped her kids (so to speak) and has told Mandy that she’s marrying him (which in Mandy’s mind is still a matter of question).

Mandy said, “I’d like it now, please, Mr. Linscott.”
A far more earthly phrase full of dire threats and insults was pressing to escape from her lips. But the children were close at hand.

“Call me Tom.” Then Tom tilted his head and in the dark seemed to look down at Angela. “And you can call me Pa, little girl.”
“Pa!” Angela kicked her feet, which stuck out almost straight on both sides of the broad backed black Tom rode. Mandy could just barely see her little moccasins.

“Do not call him Pa!” Mandy could not sit idly by while that travesty occurred.
“Pa!” Catherine, on Mandy’s lap, twisted around and grinned up as if the order were a joke.

Jarrod’s legs were encased in that papoose-like pack on Tom’s back, but the little boy’s arms were free, and he waved them wildly and yelled, “Papa!”

“That’s right. I’m your pa. You might as well call me that right from the start.”
If one of our goals as writers is to grab the readers’ attention and hold on – then learning to write humor is a fantastic way to do that. Not all of us are humor writers, though, but even sprinkling it into more dramatic pieces can make your work stronger.

Your homework? Go play with some kids or pets. Look for the fun, imagination, and humor in the moments – and incorporate the joy into your writing.

Do you have any examples you want to post of your own writing humor?

photos courtesy of

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

The 2011 Christy Awards were announced earlier this week on Monday! Some great books won from this year's lineup and I've included a few here in the weekend edition. Check out our NewsStand for a link to the full lineup.

Congratulations to the winners!

Coming next week...

Writing comedy? Pepper has tips on Monday for the funny writer in you!

Turn up the heat! Sherrinda is in the house on Tuesday with The Hot, Hot Days of Romance!

Mary continues her mentoring series with Point of View: Looking at the Master's Works on Wednesday.

Casey is your hostess this coming Thursday.

Friday brings Krista to the Alley to share on what it takes to make a great cast of characters

News Stand:

The winner of Cowgirl at Heart from last weekend's edition is Faith, Hope, CherryTea!

And the winner of yesterday's giveaway for Love Finds You in Groom, Texas is Faye!

Casey has been interview by Keli Gwyn on Romance Writers on the Journey. You can find the interview here on Tuesday July 19th

Check out the nominee's in the ACFW Carol Awards!

Click here for the complete list of Christy Award Winners

Couldn't attend the award ceremony? There is an archive of the Christy Award live blog and it has pictures!!

Baby Annabelle is turning 1 year old!! Check out Krista's site to wish this miracle baby a happy birthday!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Welcome Janice Hanna Thompson (plus a giveaway)

It's pretty obvious we're big fans of books around here, and what better way to end the week than getting an inside peek at a new release? Today, Janice Hanna Thompson, novelist and non-fiction author, is here to tell us about her new historical romance Love Finds You in Groom, Texas, and share a little about her life as a writer.

Please tell us a bit more about the plot of Love Finds You in Groom, Texas.
Always the groomsman, never the groom...It's 1914 and Jake O'Farrell has gained an unusual reputation among the locals: He's played the roles of groomsman and best man in all four of his older brothers' weddings, but he's never been able to find the woman to capture his heart. And now with the upcoming wedding of his best friend, Jake will become the last single man in the town of Groom.

Anne Denning has made the difficult decision to move with her sisters to Texas, but a train derailment forces them to seek shelter in Groom, near Amarillo. Mrs. O'Farrell, hopeful that Anne will catch her youngest son's eye, invites the girls to stay at her home until the train is repaired and ready to pull out. Anne has no idea of the blissful chaos that lies ahead!

Groom is a wedding-themed book. Why do you write so many stories with a strong wedding theme?
I have four grown daughters - Randi, Megan, Courtney Rae and Courtney Elizabeth. Yes, I really have two daughters named Courtney. (Long story!) All four of my girls got married within four years of each other. We're told to write what we know. I know weddings, trust me! I helped coordinate all four weddings and even worked as a wedding coordinator at my church for a season. I was also tickled to be the "Wedding Planner Examiner" for the city of Houston for a spell. What fun! You'll see me writing about weddings for years to come, so hang on for the ride!

Why will readers enjoy your novel?

In spite of the lead character's tough situation, the story is filled with comedic elements. Anne's two younger sisters are a hoot. So is Maggie (the hero's mother). She's an Irish spitfire! I think readers will appreciate the romance between Anne and Jake. It's filled with all sorts of sweet and comic moments.

Why do you like writing comedies with strong take-aways?
Comedy is a great outlet. We comedians can get away with a lot more than authors who play it straight. Want the reader to walk away with a little nugget of truth? Couch it in something humorous. I've found that light-hearted writing not only suits my personality, it's the perfect vehicle for sharing the gospel.

If you were the casting director for the film version of your novel, who would play your heroine?

Because Anne (a one-time socialite from Denver) has dark hair and pale skin, I envision her looking a little bit like the character of Diana Barry in Anne of Green Gables. Diana was played by Schuyler Grant.

Tell us a little about your hero? Is he true hero material?
Jake is a hunka-hunka Texas man! He's a railroad man who loves job, loves his family and loves the heroine. He's got a great sense of humor, which is perfect for this story, because the heroine's little sisters are loaded with antics! Jake has a lot to deal with: he's the town's last single man, which has made him the brunt of many a joke. His older brothers (all married with children) taunt and tease. Jake can never catch a break. Unless he's with Anne, of course. Then he catches far more than a break...he catches the woman of his dreams!

What are you working on now?

I just turned in Love Finds You in Daisy, Oklahoma, a fun historical about a single woman in her late 30's who moves from the Gulf Coast to the landlocked state of Oklahoma to become the director at an orphanage. It's a love story, of course! She falls in love with the town sheriff, who has adopted two of the unruliest boys from the orphanage. I'm currently writing Wedding Belles, the first book in the Belles and Whistles series for Summerside/Guideposts.

What are your favorite things to do (besides writing)?

Honestly? I love hanging out with my grandbabies. They grow up so quickly and I don't want to miss a thing! Maddy is four now. She's the oldest. Avery is three. Peyton is three. Ethan is two. Boston is one and a half and baby Brooke turned one this week. I love them so very much. They keep me young (and give me plenty of fodder for books).

Anything else you want our readers to know?
Yes, I'm very passionate about my faith, which is why I write Christian books. I could no more leave out the faith elements than I could stop eating chocolate. They are my stories and my life. I'm a huge believer in stirring up the gifts that God has placed in side of us, which is what I hope to do through my teaching.

Any suggestions for writers who are trying to get published?

Learn the craft. Take courses. Go to conferences. Do the work. But don't ever let what you've learned rob you of your natural, God-given voice. There's only one you, after all.

Where else can readers find you online?

I love to connect with readers at the following places:

Where can I get the book?
Love Finds You in Groom, Texas can be purchased at any number of online stores, as well as my website: (front page). Readers can always join my VIP bookclub and get the locked in price of $11 (no shipping) by contacting me directly at

Thanks for spending time with me! I had a blast!

Janice Hanna (also published as Janice Thompson) has published more than seventy novels and non-fiction books. She has also published more than fifty magazine articles and several musical comedies for the stage. Janice makes her home in the Houston area near her children and grandchildren.

Also, if you'd like the chance to win Janice's new book, Love Finds You in Groom, Texas, please leave a comment below. Thanks again for joining us today, Janice!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Taking a Vacation from your Characters

Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? It depends. There are times when a healthy break from the characters in your WIP is bound to do a world of good. When are those times? How can you know when the time is right to zip to the airport with all your bags packed, ready to go, preparing to leave on that jet plane for a little R&R and due time away from your four calling characters?

Here are surefire ways to ascertain if you need a break from your characters:

All About You

You are bleeding too much into your story. Your characters are starting to talk like you and walk like you. In fact, most of them have become you. This is sign number one you've become entirely too enmeshed in your work.

Story on Mute

Your characters have stopped talking. The mute button is on whenever you try to capture a scene in your brain. It's like watching a silent film where everyone is sitting around watching a silent film. Nothing is happening, clicking, or moving. Marcel Mareau on steroids.


Whenever you sit to write you bore yourself silly. I once read if you're bored while you write or edit, than guess what? Your reader is bound to be equally, if not more bored.

Ideas Exploding like Fireworks

You have a plethora of plotlines shooting off in your brain. Fighting to take the story in a dozen different directions is as complicated as catching and keeping dozens of bullfrogs in a basin. New story ideas come a'knockin. And they knock hard. They've gotten all tangled in your synapses. You're excited to keep writing, but it's all starting to jumble. Might be time to step away and unravel the kinetic wires. Time to straighten it all out. Chiropractic work for your characters.

Personal Life on Overdrive

You are fully aware that you aren't doing justice to your story. Instead of the two to three hours a day spent writing, you're down to ten minutes, and what you squeeze out of those ten minutes is beyond ugly. Sometimes it's best to get some affairs in order so you can appropriately pour yourself back into your story when it's time. Realign. Reboot. Recharge so your characters can rally.

Have you ever needed a vacation from your characters? If so, why?

*photos from Flickr

**written on vacation ;0

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Self-Editing Checklist: Externals

In my limited experience as a contest judge, I'd say there's one common mistake among all beginner writers:

Too much internalization.

Thinking and walking. Thinking and driving. Thinking and eating. And somewhere along the way, *bam* there's another character who talks! Then it's back to thinking and walking. Thinking and driving, etc., etc., etc.

In order to create a compelling story, we can't ignore the externals. What do I mean by externals? I'm glad you asked. :-)

By externals, I'm talking about physical actions, body language, and the five senses. Internalization and dialogue aren't enough. Establishing the setting isn't enough (more on how to do that in a future post). A perfect blend of these elements along with externals creates a can't-put-it-down kind of book.

So let's get to the meat, shall we? Here are some things to check for:

1) Do you have a good balance of physical movement in your scenes? Is your character sitting in one paragraph, then all the sudden she's standing next to the window in the next? How did she get there? Act it out if you have to.

I'm not saying you should outline every single physical action. Too much non-crucial stuff keeps the story from moving forward. But the goal is to combine action with emotion. For example, instead of just having your character walk, you could say, "She paced from the couch to the fireplace and back again, her feet gaining bounce with each step." Now we can see firsthand she's excited about something.

2) Do you show a character's reactions and emotions through appropriate body language? Casey did a fabulous post about body language a couple months ago. It's a must-read. The key is making sure you vary the physical reactions, making them unique to each character and to the situation.

3) Do you use all five senses effectively? Are they appropriate to the scene and the character? Do you fuse them with emotion to enhance the story? Here's an example:

"The dingy walls crept closer, and the basement's musty smell pressed deep into the crevices of her being. How could she follow through on his offer when she wanted nothing to do with him?"

This character is struggling with a choice, and the setting and smells of the basement mirror her feelings of being trapped. So using the five senses is more than just having smell, taste, sound. It's about using them to enhance the scene and make the reader feel as if they're living the scene with the character.

Resources: In my mind, there's one primary resource when it comes to writing externals. I'm a huge fan of Margie Lawson's classes. If you haven't checked out her lecture packets, what are you waiting for? :-)

Your homework, should you choose to accept it: Analyze your scenes and act out the physical action if you need to. Study the body language and senses, making sure you have a variety that is unique to the scene and the characters.

So tell me, have I missed any "externals"? Are there any tricks you use to make sure your manuscript has the right blend of movement?

*This post is part of the Self-Editing Checklist series. For the rest of the series, click here.

**Edit photo by ningmilo /
***Jumping photo by photostock /