Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Express Emotions in our Writing

Photo Courtesy

Back in the days when families gathered around the radio, great stories were told without visual assistance. Listeners had to see tears flow, the bellies jiggle with laughter, the blood fill an angry face through voice inflections, organs, and sound effects.

Expressing emotion over the radio teleported the listener into westerns where the Lone Ranger and Tonto saved the world, into mysteries where "Only the Shadow Knows," and into other exciting dramas and adventures. 

Any listener could picture the characters responses in their mind with clarity as a result of quality audio communication (for the day). Oddly enough, most listener's pictures differed.

Radio stories have an advantage over visual media in that it allows the listener to interpret an emotions based on their own prior knowledge. I must confess, I pictured Whit's End and Whit completely different from the Odyssey Videos! I liked my image...then again, my daughter had yet another image. (Odyssey is a Christian children's radio series by Focus on the Family). Who was wrong? No one.

How can we create scenes that project a clarity to each reader,
enabling him/her to paint vivid, independent pictures
yet each fully accurate?

A few weeks ago, I attended a My Book Therapy Monday bleacher chat class taught by Beth Vogt. her topic: Emotional Layers. During the session, Beth recommended we keep an "Emotional Journal" to add color and life to our writing.

The task:        Record a time when we experienced a given emotion.
The purpose: To capture the essence of the emotion for use in our writing.

One week later I attended a funeral for a beloved family member. I wrote in my Emotional Journal:

The experience so tore at my being, I could not speak. Tears poured in a deluge and a torrential storm ripped through my veins. Every hug from a family member or friend only brought more tears. Sorrow added an unbearable weight to my heart already void of consolation. Not one word came forward to form a sentence in my mind. As for comfort? Not a flicker. I couldn't stand. I couldn't sit. I couldn't sleep or eat. I could only cry...because I didn't know whether this beloved person went to Heaven or not. 

When at last I could record sorrow in my Emotional Journal, I realized the task was greater than I first imagined.

I recalled the family member's husband, the children, grandchildren and friends. People of different ages, genders, relationships, each having their own response.

I expanded the assignment filling pages with responses from the myriad of ages, genders, and relations. Here is one I included:

The third grade grandson playfully laughed at Grandma's home before the funeral. He sat with a watchful eye during the service. But when he stood with the older grandsons as a pallbearer he wept...uncontrollably. His light skin faded to a paler hue. With red swollen eyes, he held his grandfather's hand and walked with him to the reception hall and there they sat silently looking down at the table. Not a word, yet so many. A few moments later, he looked up at his grandfather then ran off to play.

The new task I gave myself for my Emotional Journal was not not only to write down my response to an emotion, but also the responses I observe in others; after all, my characters will differ in age, gender, race, creed, relationship, and etc.

I also chose to include my own varied responses from different ages, settings, and relationship for the emotion. My description storehouse for emotions has multiplied exponentially.

Now it's your turn. Briefly relate the experience: "new."  It can be from any time in your life, any place. Let's see how "new" can affect others differently.

If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A New Way to Market Yourself

Let me introduce you to my nephew, David Crandall, one of the most creative and innovative people I know. David is the author behind Heroic Destiny and has a passion for helping people intentionally pursue their best life possible.

David was featured in ProBlogger's list of Top 40 Bloggers to Watch in 2011 and has been making appearances around the internet since starting Heroic Destiny.

What I have been excited about is David's creation of slideshows that have the potential to capture the interest of people all over the internet.

What do slideshows offer that other marketing does not?

  • Slideshows are creative, offering visual stimulation to keep people reading about YOU and what you have to offer.
  • Slideshows use few words on each page, but each word is chosen for the most impact.
  • Slideshows can be uploaded onto, where a broad new audience awaits.
  • Slideshows are easy (though a little time consuming).

How can writers use slideshows to market themselves?

  • If you have a book published, you can easily create a back cover copy slideshow to promote your book.
  • If you are a published author, you can create a slideshow to promote ALL your books. Kind of like a library of your works.
  • If you aren't a published author, you can create a slideshow to tell about yourself and your "writing credentials".
  • If you aren't a published author, you can create a slideshow to tell about the manuscripts you have to offer.
  • If you aren't a published author, you can create a slideshow as a "one sheet" to pitch your manuscript and give your bio.

Here is an example of how my nephew, David, promoted himself:

View more presentations from David Crandall

He has even created a slideshow that has been featured on Michael Hyatt's blog. This Impossible Slideshow has garnered over 102,000 views on Slideshare, where these slideshows are hosted.

View more presentations from David Crandall

Now, to show you that anyone can do this, I created a short slideshow myself. If I can do it, then anyone can do it. Seriously. I didn't do one to promote myself (though I should have), but I made one using some of my favorite writer quotes.

View more PowerPoint from Sherrinda

What do you think about this form of marketing? Is it something you might be interested in? 

This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is wife to "Pastor John" and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What to Expect After You Submit to the Genesis ;-)

Tis the season for the Genesis. In fact, we’re down to the last few days of possible entries.

Have you entered?

Coming from a previous entrant, I thought I might share a little bit of ‘what happens next’.

Are you ready?

1. You try your very best to forget about when the semi-finals will be announced. In fact, you may go to great lengths to erase the finals announcement (May 28th in case you’re trying to forget it ;-) from your memory.

2. While you try very hard to forget May 28th – you wait. Waiting might include many activities. Your regular routine will most likely continue, with only a few hundred reminders per day that May 28th is getting closer. As you wait, some suggestions distractions might be:

         a. Watching movies, especially those similar to your novel

         b. Eat chocolate

          c. Walk, fast and furiously, for…er…28 minutes?

          d. Eat more chocolate

         e. Email other entrants within your close circle and gripe about how hard waiting is.

         f. Find a new hobby - Paper mache, Origami, and plate spinning are a few.

3. Strange side effects may begin to form. Things such as excessive nail biting, a preoccupation with calendars- particularly those months of April & May, a sudden compulsion to reread the book of Genesis....

4. Sometime in April (around April 9th – if you want to make sure not to check your calendars), semi-finalists will be notified. I hadn’t forgotten this date quite well enough and as soon as a phone number popped up on my cell with a weird area code last year I grabbed it.

Remember, being a semi-finalist is a big deal. It means your work landed in the top 20% of entrants. That alone is winning information.

5. Six weeks later, finalists are announced. This actually came as a surprise call to me. My fellow Alley Cats had to remind me of the day. (Life gets busy, okay)

(side note: Entering this contest is an example of a winner too. Just entering - because that means you've made it beyond the writing-infancy stage)

Recommendations to cope with the wait:

1. Find other authors who will commiserate with you :-) Actually, the Alley Cats are the best encouragers EVER! Several of them entered this year, so it will be a DELIGHT to cheer them on.

2. Eat chocolate to dull the despair of waiting.

3. Keep busy. There’s nothing worse than waiting around for something. Time goes by faster when you keep yourself busy :-)

4. Keep writing. Finish the manuscript you entered, or move on to something new. If you final, then you’ll have even more stories to pitch to agents and editors at conference.

5. Pray for patie…er…God’s will. The very thougth of praying for patience means you get suffering. Suffering + Genesis finals does not sound good, does it? :-) In all seriousness, don’t forget God’s loving hands are even in the middle of writing contests. He’s here – and He has a plan. One that includes the stories we write, but (more importantly) the one HE is writing in Us.

What are you doing to pass the time while you wait for…that date that will not be mentioned?

Any tips you can share?


Pepper Basham is a Blue Ridge Mountains’ native, mom of five, pastor’s wife, and university instructor. She writes in various fictional genres but spices them all with grace and humor. She is a 2011 Genesis double-finalist and can be found causing mischeif at The Writers Alley, on her personal blog-, or in her imaginary world. Company always welcome.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

Last week for Genesis entries.
Are you ready?
How's your hook?
Don't let the stress of entering steal your courage! Follow the steps to the left...or you could pray. There's always an option :-)

If you missed Rachel Hauck's fabulous insights on the first words of a manuscript, make sure to check it out here.

So let's see what's coming up this week:

Monday - Pepper chats about What to Expect After you Submit to Genesis....In the Beginning was nervousness....

Tuesday - Tools, tools, tools....Sherrinda introduces us to a new (and secret) marketing tool she's discovered. Stop by to find out what it might be.

Wednesday- Is it time to express yourself? Stop by and read Mary's post about Expressing Emotions in Our Writing.

Thursday - Speaking of Contests..... Casey shares today about the Frasier Contest - why she entered it last year, and why she will enter it again.

Friday - Our up-and-coming published Alley Cat, Krista, talks about What to Do When you See your Book on Amazon (and there might even be a sneak peek at the cover of her debut novel)

Author Cathy Gohlke was a guest on Seekerville yesterday and her post was truly inspirational - even her comments made throughout the day were encouraging and filled with grace. Her newest novel, Promise Me This, is 'making waves' throughout the CBA. Check out the post here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Writing Contest Contradictions - Prepare Yourself Ahead of Time

In lieu of the Genesis contest, I wanted to share a little on the kind of feedback you might get with your returned entries.

I'm currently a BIG advocate of contests so I strongly encourage you to enter them if you have the chance (can't you tell by the graphic to the right?). But I also encourage you to stay true to yourself and I want to let you know that there might be contradictions you will have to weed through.

Just want to say ahead of time, this is only based off my experience and feedback from others. You might not experience this from contests at all, and even if you do, this isn't about telling you to disregard feedback. It's about trying to help prepare yourself for varying feedback so you can use it to your advantage. are some contradictions you might come across.


Let me give you an example. I got feedback from eight judges on the first chapter of a recent story I wrote. The comments about backstory were all helpful but half said, "I don't need to know this yet!" (I'm paraphrasing here) and the other half said something to the effect of "This is great! Give me more!" See? Subjective. So sometimes you've got to go with your gut, and if feedback is pretty equal, stick with what you feel is right.


My first attempt at romantic comedy was...well, fun. But let me tell you, it was judged, and out of four judges, not one thought the same parts were funny. Personally, I thought they were hilarious (okay, at least mildly amusing), but humor is still subjective. If more than one person likes it, it's probably pretty funny. If only one person doesn't like it, it doesn't mean it's not funny, just that maybe that particular judge had a different sense of humor.

Deep POV

Oh, I don't even know where to begin on this. I might get myself in trouble here, but even this topic can be a bit subjective. My advice? Study up on Deep POV, write it to the best of your ability, and try to get your reader in your character's head as much as possible. And as far as taking advice on Deep POV? If you trust that person, or they're a judge you know has particular experience with this, go for it!

Pacing and Hooks

Again, you're probably going to get varying feedback on this topic. Some judges will say, "Great opening! You kept me hooked" and other judges might say, "You didn't hook me right away, maybe start further into the story and keep up the pace!" Yes, your goal is to start the story in the right place. And going with the majority here might be a good idea. But if you're getting varying feedback, again, stick with what you feel is right.

Basically the point of this post is to let you know that not EVERY single thing a judge says is the right way to do it. Rule of thumb, if more than one judge agrees on something that needs improvement, you might want to consider reworking it. If it's half and half, that's more your call and what you feel is right. If only one judge comments on it...decide what you feel is best. Sometimes what they're telling you, you can readily agree with. It makes sense. And sometimes what they're telling you is just opinion and it doesn't mean what you're doing is wrong or needs to be changed immediately.

I know many of you out there have entered contests in the past. Have you encountered specific contradictions in feedback? And for those of you entering for the first time or who haven't entered before, what kind of feedback would you expect might be hard to deal with?


Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Seed and The Harvest

I have a Plumeria cutting sitting in my office windowsill right now. My husband and I got it on our last trip to Hawaii, but the problem is, we went in October, which means I’ve had to do the rooting process indoors. And let’s just say I don’t have a greenhouse.

I want this thing to grow so badly. I bought the special root grower powder stuff, I did research on how to plant in the right way, and I’ve kept it near the sunniest window in the house to try to maximize its exposure to the sun while keeping it protected from the elements.

And then I've stared. Literally stared. I go in there all the time and just look at it, hoping, wishing, praying some leaf bud will form, some flower, something—anything that will show the evidence of life, of roots.

It’s been four months. You’re supposed to see leaves after one to two. In other words, it wasn’t looking good for my Plumeria. Should’ve bought the already-rooted kind, I keep thinking to myself. But the thing is, I didn’t. I wanted this one, with the pretty multicolored flowers on the packaging. From our favorite place on the North Shore. Not some mass-produced Floridian Plumeria from down the street. This is my heart flower, the one I was so careful to keep safe on the flight home.

This week, the Plumeria started changing. No, it hasn’t boomed yet. No, there are no flowers or even leaves. But a couple weeks ago, I adjusted the blinds to allow more sunlight to stream through, and it must’ve done something. Because now, the brown “scars” on the tops of the cutting are breaking up, and the littlest evidence of fresh-looking sprouts is coming through.

Now, I don’t know where you are in your writing journey or what you’re hoping will flower. But I’m writing this because I want you to know—and I believe God wants you to know—there is hope. There is always, always hope.

Maybe you’re looking at the plant that is your writing life, and right now, it looks like nothing more than a dead stick. A very dry, very brown, very brittle stick, breaking from rejection.

It’s very easy to yank up that stick and throw it away. Or to shove a prying finger into the soil to check prematurely for roots. But the thing is—and this is key—doing that will disrupt the natural progression of the beautiful mystery that is life.

God has called you. He has gifted you with purpose, and He desires to see that cultivated and propagated. Sometimes when the seed is still in the soil, the process seems invisible. But don’t mistake visibility for actuality.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Maybe it’s winter in your writing life. Maybe everything seems frozen and cold. Maybe God’s even got you on a windowsill beside the sunniest window in the room. Maybe you’re tempted to rip the whole thing out of the soil and toss it in the trash.


You don’t see what’s happening underneath. It’s exactly what you hoped for and so much more than you dreamed. And you don't want to miss the fragrance of dreams.

Where are you hoping God will sow seed in your writing life, and where has He already? Have you seen the evidence of flowers lately? What actions can you take to protect the “dream seeds” God has planted in your life?

*Pictures used from and

Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. Born and raised in the South, her favorite vegetable is macaroni and cheese, and she loves sweet tea. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. She's thrilled to be represented by the fabulous Karen Solem. You can read more of Ashley's thoughts on writing, crafts, and life on her personal blog: She's also on Facebook and Twitter (writerashley).

Four Simple Ways to Become a Healthier Writer

I don't know about you, but when I'm not taking care of my body through health and fitness, my creativity suffers. And a writer's schedule isn't necessarily full of time to spend three hours at the gym every day.

As I've been studying to become a certified fitness instructor, I've realized there are ways we can achieve our health goals AND our writing goals at the same time.

Here are four simple ways:

1) Use a stability ball as your desk chair. It helps strengthen your core (abs and back) and improves your posture. And if you want to take it up a notch, you can lift off the ball every once in a while to work your legs and glutes while you type.

2) Drink while you write. (Water, that is. ;)) If you write in hour-long chunks, make it your goal to finish off a cup or two of water before the hour is up. I'm a big fan of multitasking. :)

3) Set up a laptop stand on your treadmill, like our very own Pepper. This isn't the most practical for typing. But if you need to read through an excerpt or catch up on blogs or read a craft book, this is the perfect solution.

4) Take a recorder with you on a walk and brainstorm ideas. Or better yet, if you've got a writing buddy close by, take brainstorming walks together. (Or if your brainstorming buddies are far away, call them up and pace around your house while you talk. You can burn around 200 calories if it's an hour-long chat!)

Do you have any ideas to add to my list? How much time do you devote to your health each week? What would you do with the extra time you could save by multitasking on these goals?

*Exercise ball photo by John Kasawa /

Sarah Forgrave is a stay-at-home writer-mom who feels blessed to pursue her calling and passion. She writes contemporary romance for the inspirational market and is a contributor to the webzine Ungrind.

To learn more about Sarah, visit her personal blog at:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Finding the "Keeper"

Idea you ever play this game?

Check out that chicken scribble in your notebook listing ideas? Shoot them around for a while, but you can never seem to get them to the other end of the field not to mention the goal?

Go to square one. Start plotting again. Get stuck midfield, you're about ready to "pass" on this idea.

I am a computer software plotter. I invested in Dramatica Pro and it was invaluable in plotting as a first-time novel writer.

And this time around I used Dramatica Pro to toss around my ideas and was able to "see" as a result that one of my "great" ideas just wasn't plausible from start to finish.

Whatever method you use to plot, I recommend spending the extra time and perhaps plotting all those ideas you have floating around in there. I have one plotted novel for later, one for now, and one completely implausible story.

So what if you're stuck on the first stage?

Try B-R-A-I-N-S-T-O-R-M-I-N-G as per DiAnn Mills great guidelines. I LOVE this idea about studying the parables of Jesus. Do your stories give meaning and purpose for people's lives? Do they show them tackling a challenging situation?

Brainstorm with a friend. How credible are your ideas? An honest friend will tell you where your plot falls flat and may help you to get out of that place. Rachel Hauck has some great tips for how to get the most out of a brainstorming session.

Picture surfing. When I'm stuck it always helps me to look for the "right" photos to evoke my setting. I also love finding pictures of movie characters that "fit" my character physically (so helpful in writing those descriptions). News stories related to the period of history or topic of my story can have pictures that bring me into the atmosphere of my story.

Become a news junkie. Reading news stories and asking "what if" questions make up the majority of the ideas in my notebook.

Research, research, research. As I start researching new ideas crop up, new characters begin populating my novel, and plot points suddenly begin to converge.

How do you find your ideas? And how do you decide which ones are "keepers"?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Meet Debut Author, Regina Jennings

Regina Jennings is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in English and a history minor. She has worked at The Mustang News and First Baptist Church of Mustang, along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She now lives outside Oklahoma City with her husband and homeschools their four children.

I first met Regina in the ACFW Large Crit Group. Not only was I impressed with her magnificent storytelling, I was excited to read a novel set in my ol' stomping grounds...South Texas. It was no surprise to me that two years later, when I met Regina in person at ACFW conference, there were Bethany House posters featuring her debut novel displayed just beside us. Her story, Sixty Acres and A Bride, made its way to retailer bookshelves last month, and once you pick it up, you'll find it difficult to put down! Before we hear from Regina, here's a little blurb for those of you who haven't read it yet:

She's Finally Found a Place to Call Home... How Far Will She Go to Save It?

With nothing to their names, young widow Rosa Garner and her mother-in-law return to their Texas family ranch. Only now the county is demanding back taxes and the women have just three months to pay.

Though facing eviction, Rosa falls in love with the countryside and the wonderful extended family who want only her best. They welcome her vivacious spirit and try to help her navigate puzzling American customs. She can't help but stand out, though, and her beauty captures attention. Where some offer help with dangerous strings attached, only one man seems honorable. But when Weston Garner, still grieving his own lost love, is unprepared to give his heart, Rosa must decide to what lengths she will go to save her future.

Regina, tell us a little bit about the beginning stages of your story. Where did you get your inspiration for Sixty Acres and a Bride?

I was writing a Ruth and Boaz skit for a church production and had big plans for it—secondary characters, subplots, and a love story that didn’t get ironed out until they’d been married for a spell. Right as the dialogue started to jell I learned that the skit could only be fifteen minutes long. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Boaz was being played by a father of three and Ruth by our Youth Minister’s fiancée. No chemistry allowed.

The production was awesome—the first cowboy Ruth and Boaz skit that anyone had ever seen—but I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to the characters. By then Ruth and Boaz had been replaced by Rosa and Weston and they were begging for their story to be told.

That is awesome! I love theatre! Rosa and Wes definitely come to life as if we were watching a play. Besides the stage, what other ways you apply the saying, "Write what you know"?

My favorite historical setting is Early Modern Europe complete with the explorers, the Reformation, and the Tudors. I’d love to spin a tale of courtly intrigue, but just writing a book was going to be hard enough. I didn’t need the added challenge of putting on fancy, aristocratic airs. Instead I chose a setting and a voice that was very familiar to me. Both my family and my husband’s family have strong agricultural roots and the Texas vernacular isn’t too far from Oklahoma-speak. I’m much more at home with 1880 Texas ranchers than I would be with Elizabethan courtiers. Even Rosa wasn’t too much of a stretch thanks to our yearly mission trips to Mexico.

After reading the book, I can definitely say you have grasped the Texas vernacular to a "T"! ;) With the wonderful detailed plot and the purpose-driven writing in Sixty Acres and A Bride, I'd love to know if you are you a panster or plotter.

I’m somewhere in between, possibly a panster in denial. I like to have the major turning points plotted out before I get very far into the story (my editor appreciates that, too), but as I start writing I revise—sometimes turning the plot in a totally new direction. I reckon my final answer is that I always have a map showing me where I’m going, but I might switch maps mid-journey.

Sounds very familiar. My plots always end up in a different direction once I get right down to it. I have found being plugged into the writing community has helped me understand more about my panster tendencies.:)

What has been the most helpful advice or class you've taken as a writer?

Joining a critique group was life-changing. I started with my local ACFW group (OKC Christian Fiction Writers), but needed more than one session a month to be ready for conference, so I got plugged in to the online ACFW critique loop. Not only did I make some fantastic friends (including Angie!) but I learned how to apply the advice I was reading in articles and on blogs.

I agree, ACFW has a wealth of tools for writers, and some pretty fabulous members to connect with! Thank you so much, Regina!

Regina's Contact Info:




Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across cultures. She is an ACFW member and CEO of a family of six.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What's Up the Street For Next Week?

Welcome, everyone.
Only two more weeks until the Genesis closes for entries. Are you polishing up those manuscripts? Ready to take the plunge?

If you want to learn more, check out ACFW's website at

Monday - Angie talks with debut author, Regina Jennings, about her new book Sixty Acres and a Bride

Tuesday - Before the beginning there was "Prewriting" and Julia talks about it today.

Wednesday - Our Alley Cat-Fitness Guru, Sarah, talks about being a Healthy Writer - Wellness Tips that People Can Combine with Their Writing.

Thursday - Are you ready for spring? Ashley talks about the importance of sowing seeds in our writing journey.

Friday - Cindy writes about Facing Contradictions and Truth in Judge's Feedbacks to help us get our minds focused for our next set of critiques.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Writing with Heart

It's heart month!

I LOVE February!

I LOVE love!

I LOVE hearts!

My love of this month quadrupled upon the birth of my daughter, Annabelle, who was born with only half of her heart in 2010. In 2011, we spent heart month in the hospital, praying for a NEW heart. In 2012, she is doing much better, despite being currently in the hospital ER with RSV. Blah on that. (and thus the reason for my late post today...)

But through the last two years, I've learned something pretty big in my writing.

And it's about hearts too.

It's the the value of WRITING FROM THE HEART!

The heart is the seat of our emotions in our culture today. (Wasn't it the bowels in Bible days or something??? SO SO thankful we use the heart...)

So when we say, "write from the heart" it means that we are digging deep in our souls and splattering that on the pages. In order for us to evoke strong emotion in our readers, we need to pull from strong emotions as we write.

A tepid book is just not very fun to read.

That emotion will vary upon the author, upon the genre, and upon the plot.

The emotion can be fear, happiness, sadness, joy, passion, anger, anxiety, uncertainty, the list goes on and on.

A GOOD book will hit several of these emotions. YOU as an author should experience several of these while you write!

Writing, good writing, is a soul-seeking, bloody process. Even though I write funny romance, I still have to dig deep in me, in my experiences, and put my heart on the pages.

Use your life experiences, the emotions and deep feelings you've had, when you write. You don't have to "write" your experiences, but you write to evoke those emotions.

The last two years have been difficult for me, I'll admit. My family has gone through more than I'd ever wish on anyone. Congenital heart defects are awful, and they kill. (Did you know heart defects kill more children a year than all childhood cancers combined??) Seeing your child laying on a table, their heart beating in an open chest, is life-changing.

My hope is that God can use the things I felt, the things I LEARNED, to helps someone else when they read my books.

My books aren't about "heart" defects.

But they are definitely about the heart.

Discussion: What life experiences have you had that shape how you write? How do you show your emotions on the page?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rachel Hauck with Our Pitch Winner's My Book Therapy!

Casey here: Earlier in January the Writer's Alley hosted a very first: the chance to have the first 1,000 words of the winner's story critiqued by Rachel Hauck, awarding winning author and My Book Therapist. Below you will find the winner's pitch and excerpt and Rachel's comments highlighted in the blue. Rachel gives some great comments that apply to all stories, not just this one and is a great learning experience. Thanks to both our winner and Rachel for giving of her time for our learning experience!

Winning pitch!:
When a confirmed bachelor inherits his sister's 

four kids, he knows he can't do it all on his own.

But he can't mail order a bride - can he find one on Craigslist?

They looked like stair-step angels. Towheads. With big blue eyes. Their mother's eyes. Their father's hair.
Sitting there.
Staring at me.
What did I know about being a dad?
I was cool Uncle Andrew. Flew in at Christmas. Sent fun stuff on birthdays. Promised ski trips for the teen years.

I'd sworn off ever having a family of my own. ((RH: GREAT hint at the hero’s issue, story question and what this book is going to be about. Love the quick opening!))

But now I'd inherited one. ((RH: Good. This is the problem. He doesn’t want a family and now he’s inherited one. We’re intrigued because we want to know how it happened and what he’s going to do about it?))

Guests around me murmured words I didn't hear, much less understand. ((RH:ß Seems weird to me he hears murmured words but then you write “I didn’t hear.” He heard something, Reword this??)) I could only stare at the lives that now depended on me.

"Unca An'rew?" ((RH: This is a rule of mine and I think it’s a good one. If you’re writing young kids, use sentence structure to show broken speech, young speech or dialect. Misspelling words is awkward and often jerks the reader a bit.))

My Daisy Girl. A flower in the rain. That's what she reminded me of. "Yes, Emma?"

"Where're we gonna go?" There was a tell-tale quiver of her bottom lip. She was trying to be strong and brave. ((RH: Can you weave in here the children’s ages?)) I wasn't sure who had told them they needed to be, but someone had. All any of them wanted to do was cry. I'd lost my parents at twenty-five and it was all I'd wanted to do. How much more so for a four-year-old? ((RH: ß put in earlier.))

"With me, Daisy Girl."

"But you don't have room." Tyler looked more sullen. At six, he understood better than the others.
"I'll find room. A new place. I have to move for work anyway so we'll get a place big enough for all five of us."

I hadn't thought this through. I was moving from Phoenix to Springfield, Missouri in a matter of weeks. The kids belonged in Charlotte, North Carolina. Where Ally and I had grown up. Their paternal grandparents had volunteered to take them until I could figure things out, but there was no one else and I'd promised Ally. They couldn’t do it full-time. I was the only relative. No other aunts or uncles. No cousins. No best friends willing to step up.

((RH: I like this set up. Can you slow down a bit and give a bit more emotion and detail. Or have someone come up to our hero, Andrew, perhaps the in-laws and have some of this in dialog.
Both the father and mother of the children died? How did Andrew promise Ally he’d take the children? We’re getting great information here but slow down, give a bit more detail about the death. It’s not back story IF it relates to the current scene. And it does.))

Just me.

Perpetually single Uncle Andrew. ((RH: Is this his choice? Hint of a fear or regret here?))

And a judge had even okayed it.((RH: <-- Okay him being perpetually single? :-) ))  Thought it was a good idea even. ((RH: Rearrange the sentence to be in a more logical order.))

"We hafta move?" Tears filled Emma's eyes.

I nodded. ((RH: ß Instead of “I nodded,” show more action. “I scooped her up in my arms. I’ll keep you safe baby Emma. I’ll do what I have to do. I will. No backing out on this one.” Something like that “shows” the scene better. Nodding, smiling, laughing, etc are good and we need those but use them sparingly. In this scene we need more of Andrew’s movements. Also, if you add a few lines like I suggested, the reader will see he’s trying to overcome a fear, a bad habit, an immaturity that we know will cause him troubles later. :-) ))   "I'm sorry, sweetie, but yes. But it'll be okay. We'll get a big house with a yard and friends nearby, okay?" I prayed I could deliver on that promise. I was getting a raise and everything was cheaper in that part of the country. Surely, I could swing a decent house. ((RH: ß This is good. But maybe something you could add to the dialog part with the in-laws over where they were going to live. This is “surface” detail that the story needs. BUT not worth internal thought. That can be said “Out loud.” But internal thought, about his fears, his resolve, his doubts, add a deeper layer of emotion and can be told in internal thought. People are more likely to speak out surface details while holding onto personal thoughts.))

"MeeMee and PaPaw are going to stay here for a few weeks. I can't stay for Thanksgiving, but I'll call you every night and then we'll move together. We'll be together by Christmas. Okay?"

((RH: I’m not sure where we are? Are we in North Carolina? Time of day? Time of year? We need a bit more story world.))

Emma nodded then broke ranks. She ran to me, flung her little arms around my neck and the body-wracking sobs began.  ((RH: ß Good!)) I folded her into my embrace, tears leaking down my own cheeks. Three-year-old Colby scrambled onto the couch next to me. ((RH: ß Are there three children? I was thinking only two?)) I expanded my reach to include my nephew. Through tear-filled eyes, I could see Tyler sitting on the other couch. And Kalie was barely a year. She had no idea what was going on.

"I jus' wan' my mama and daddy back." Emma's whisper broke my heart.

"I know, punkin. I know."

((RH: Love this premise. Love this opening. We have immediate empathy for the hero as well as the children. ))

Work on adding story world and the five senses. What time of day? What does the breeze smell like? What sounds? Where are they? Time of year?

You did a good job with pacing, but I think you could slow down a bit and add some layers, weave in some internal emotion.

We have a good glimpse of his obstacles and insecurities, but can you beef those up? Why hasn’t he settled down? What do the children mean to his life, his job? They provide a huge obstacle to what he wants.
As you develop the opening pages, we need to get a glimpse at what this story is going to be about and what Andrew’s journey will entail. So: What does he want?

I can see his dilemmas. His struggle. But I’m not sure what he wants.

Greatest fear needs to conflict with his secret desire.

For example: If his greatest fear is failure on every level – relationships, work, with God, but his secret desire is to be at peace, to love, to be secure enough to fail, then what problems do inheriting his sister’s children cause? How do they highlight his fear but tap on his desire.

If he’s all about himself and his work, then inheriting children would be a big source of emotional turmoil. Yet, we get a glimpse of his love for them.

Rachel Hauck
You have all the pieces in place. Love it! Nice writing too! Now, rewrite and ramp up the tension, the obstacles and the hint of the journey.

Good job!!! Thank you for letting My Book Therapy have a shot at your piece. J


Thank you, Rachel! It was a privilege to have you here on the Alley and we are so glad we can learn from your expertise!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

YA Fiction Tips for All Genres

There are times when the young adult sections of the bookstore or library are ever so much more enticing.

I wasn't sure what component held me bound to YA fiction until I interviewed a college freshman. 

She showed me a stack of regular fiction books waiting to be devoured then confessed to spending the last of her treasured dollars last week on a YA fiction book. She finished the YA book first

Seizing an interview moment I asked these questions:

Why do you like reading young adult fiction books?

**Quick Reads 
I can pick up a young adult book and read through it in a couple of hours. I probably can finish the book late in the same night. While I enjoy longer regular fiction stories, I don't always have the time to finish the book or read what happens next the next day, or possibly the week.

What makes a young adult book different from a regular fiction book?

**Fast Paced
The action is fast throughout the book. Thrills and spills like a roller coaster from the first page to the last. I can't help but flip the next page until I reach the end of the book. 

Regular fiction books have fast paced portions, which I like, too.

**Less Description
"Young adult fiction spend little time on description. I don't really care what the etchings on a sword looks like, get to the battle. Keep moving. Yes I want to know the setting, but within reason. Don't bore me with details." 

"The authors usually write like we speak, but every once in a while a word is thrown in that I don't know. I like that. I can figure out what the word means by the context. 

"In the regular fiction books these types of higher vocabulary words are a norm. Sometimes I want to be challenged by reading the regular fiction, but other times, I just want to chillax (chill + relax) and move through the story."

"Young adult books are more conducive to humor. Authors will use analogies that make me laugh. 

"Regular fiction tends to have more serious tone- not that serious is bad. It just depends on what mood I'm in at the time. There are funny regular fiction stories, but that's not what I'm talking about. Humor is woven into most YA books, not in regular fiction.

Well then, at what times are you in the mood for a young adult fiction read?

When I'm tired, I want something fast to read. If I am depressed I need humor and less effort to read through a book. If I want something nostalgic I might read something YA. Just because I choose to read a YA fiction over a regular fiction doesn't make me adorakable, it simply means I want a good, humorous, fast paced book that will take no effort to enjoy.

What does adorkable mean?  

"It's like a high school student who walks around wearing a Gryffindor scarf...adorkable."

How many adults will pick up a YA book for the same reasons? Lots.

I know many adults who've read Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, The Hunger Game, Anne of Green Gables, and etc.

As a young adult Christian fiction writer, I've picked up a few tips from today's interview:

  • YA word count is usually between 50,000 and 60,000 words. Now I know why.
  • Pace is quick. Breaths in action are needed but are not to be noticeable.
  • Minimal descriptions. Paint a vivid picture concisely.
  • Season with regular snippets of humor.
  • Seed the story with higher vocabulary
I know not all of you are YA writers. So tell me, how can you incorporate some of these components in your fiction genre?


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This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary lives in Montana with her husband and loves to hear from her three college kids. She writes Christian young adult fiction (pirate tales, missionary and Bible adventure stories).
She thinks of writing as: Stepping into Someone Else's World.
To learn more about Mary, visit her blog