Monday, April 30, 2012

How Setting Can Unlock Deep POV

One of my favorite things about writing is creating word pictures. Actually, the only way I can really delve into a new story, is finding physical objects or environmental anchors to assist in developing my characters on the page. Sometimes it's easy to load too much fluff in description, and now-a-days, the fluff is less and less accepted.
HOWEVER, if you write with a purpose, then description can be key in not only anchoring your character to the setting, but also unlocking deep pov, or the character's internal struggles and thought.

Example from my wip. The setting of this novel is a coal town:
Leanna stared hard at the black dust caked in Jack's nails and shadowed upon his lips while he mumbled a prayer of gibberish. 
Tongue of a fool. Surely God can't hear his tongue.
She sighed and considered a prayer of forgiveness. Whatever effort she had promised herself to muster up and ignore the bitterness only failed by nightfall. 
How appropriate, blackness of night pried open her well of hate, springing forth its miserable leak. Blackness revealed the honest truth. The blackness of the dust in this God-forsaken place; darkness of the shadow that hid whatever love Leanna first felt for the man who hovered over his meager meal, ready to devour the work of her hands after a long day in the blackness of the earth.

When I began this story, the coal town setting brought to mind the black dust. After developing my character's arc, I knew what the setting meant to the heroine. She hated it, it's a place she did not want to be. So blackness in this instance, symbolized void, hate, discontent, suppressed love. The blackness of the dust, the blackness of the night, the blackness of the earth, darkness of the shadow, all these things pull out Leanna's pov for the reader.
Now, blackness could very well mean richness of the earth, wealth of the mining company. If I chose to use the blackness to just explain the setting, the infrastructure of the coal town, then it would not be as strong of a word picture...because it only indirectly anchors the character to setting, and it doesn't have the deeper intention to pull out her inner thoughts.

Have you taken a journey through your setting, grabbing items or characteristics along the way?

Mold them, weave them, discover their unique ability to bear your character's soul to your reader.

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, April 28, 2012

What's Up the Street Next Week?

Spring days!
Aren't they wonderful?
Blossoms, breezes, long walks and refreshing bicycle rides.
Planting flowers and having picnics.
Love it!
Apart from Autumn, it's my favorite time of year.

What about you? Do you have a favorite season? Are you inspired to write during a certain season? or about a certain season? :-) Most of my novels take place in the Fall. I didn't realize this until I was working on the weekend blog post. What about you?
Leave your answer for a chance to win Karen Witemeyer's wonderful novel, A Tailor Made Bride.

Okay - we do have a winner for Rachel Hauck's fabulous book, Dining With Joy.

Haven't you won enough in the past few weeks ;-) LOL
Congrats, Susan. Please send me your snail mail at pepperbasham (at) yahoo (dot) com.

This week some special posts are coming up.
Check them out!

Wednesday help us welcome our fabulous new Alley Cat, Karen Schravemade as we post a very fun interview so you can get to know her better. We are so glad to have her as part of the Alley.

Thursday, Ashley has a brow raising for us. How to craft the Hero and Heroine of your audience's dreams. Woohooo! Bring. IT. ON! I'm all for hero-talk :-) Go, Ashley!

Friday, Cindy starts a series about Knowing your Reader. This week she'll be chatting about Know Your Reader, Know Your Character.

Looks like there's a lot of character development going on this week, so don't miss it.

And - don't forget to stop and smell the roses.
pictures are available courtesy of Pepper's trip to England which happened 4 years ago in May.
Lovely trip it was too!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Guest Julie Cantrell-- How to Connect with Bookclubs

My debut novel, Into the Free, was released in February. Since then, I have met with school groups, libraries, writers’ groups, and church groups. I enjoy all of these events, as well as traditional book signings, readings, and interviews, but I admit I have a favorite – bookclubs!

Maybe it’s because I have always looked forward to my own bookclub. We’re a group of busy moms who rarely (actually NEVER) take time for ourselves, so that once a month Girls Night Out is a treat. Add to it the fact that I’m sharing it with brilliant, funny, fabulous friends who share a love of literature, and I become quite upset when I miss.

Naturally, when I wrote Into the Free, I imagined my own bookclub discussing the book. I thought other readers might enjoy discussing this novel, so before Into the Free ever hit shelves, three bookclubs previewed the book. We called it a Book Premiere and captured two of the three gatherings on video. Since then, I’ve called or SKYPED with many bookclubs, and I’ve met with local clubs personally.

If you haven’t ever been a part of a bookclub, I encourage you to do so. It is always FUN! The groups range from genius academics to hip, young moms, and rambunctious retirees, to conservative church groups. Each group has its own vibe. Some are large, with more than 20 members. Others are small, with only a few friends.  Some are talkers, fighting to get a word in. Others are more reserved, choosing to let me do most of the talking. Either way, I enjoy all of these meetings and always walk away with a better appreciation for the reader. 

It’s been absolutely joyful for me to hear people discuss my characters as if they really exist. To see people laugh at scenes, cry at others, and worry about these characters (who lived solely in my head for years) has power beyond description. 

Connect with bookclubs and celebrate reader reactions to your stories:

  • Encourage bookstores and libraries to suggest the book as a bookclub read.
  • Invite church groups, civic groups, school groups, and online bookclubs to consider your book.
  • Make yourself available to call, visit, or SKYPE into bookclub meetings.
  • Provide discussion questions in the back of your book or on your website.
  • Consider filming a Book Premiere or posting bookclub comments on your website.
  • For larger groups, prepare a trivia game with questions from your book and offer themed prizes.
  • If visiting the group in person, let them know ahead of time that you’ll be happy to sign books at the meeting.
  • Be sure to thank them and consider donating a free copy of your book to the library, school, church, or other organization if appropriate. 

New York Times and USA TODAY Bestselling author Julie Cantrell has contributed to more than a dozen books. Her first novel, Into the Free, hit shelves February 1, 2012 (David C Cook). The sequel is scheduled to release Spring 2013. To invite Julie to speak to your group, email:

Learn more:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Are You an Avid Reader? Then You're a Critiquer.

It seems we have a theme on the Alley around here...taking in Mary's post from yesterday and Pepper's post from Monday and you've got a tutorial on writing those all-important first lines and finding the right help to make them stronger.

Recently I attended a chat at the My Book Therapy ning center (fabulous place if you haven't looked it up) about critiquing and critique partners. One of the gals attending the chat asked: when do I know I'm ready to critique someone else's work? 

My fingers were just itching to post a response to her question, but I held back in respect for the speaker. ;-)

My response (had I given it?): "Are you a reader?"

Seriously. Are you a reader?

If you're a reader, thus you can critique.

Let me explain, because I have an addendum to that statement: are you an avid reader? If you pretty much dream, eat and sleep and forget-to-make-dinner reading, then most likely you'll make a pretty good critique partner.

That is point #1. If you can do this top one, you can critique.  Yes, it's really as simple as that.

My awesome CP Andrea Nell, 2011 Frasier winner
& 2012 Genesis Semi-Finalist
Point #2. Can you articulate your thoughts? Can you spot a mistake in a manuscript and give the author a bit of advice on how to fix it? The comment "I don't like this..." or "this doesn't work for me..." gives your CP (critique partner) nothing to go on. When something doesn't work for you, take a moment and think about why it doesn't work. Compare it to another book that you possibly didn't like and then give your CP a constructive comment on what does/doesn't work. You don't always have to understand, or completely pinpoint WHY something doesn't work for you...don't worry, this will come with time and experience.

Want to be an even better critique partner?

Read on the industry. You should be doing this for your own personal benefit as well, but it will spill over into your CP's needs. Study craft books, read professional websites and learn.

Point #3. Okay, be a reader, be a study-er. If you are both of these, you're getting better and better all the time!

So you read. You're writing a novel (doesn't always need to be a prerequisite. My grandmother is an awesome critter and she doesn't write. ;-). You're able to share your thoughts coherently. And you are reading up on the industry.

Point #4....are you currently editing your own work? Most likely if you're searching for a CP, you're already writing. If you are editing your own work, this gives you an editor's eye. You're already in the mindset of making things better.

We've got a road map, we know where to go from here and you just might very well be great CP material.

Roadmap overview:
Read and read lots. Be critical of your read and why you like it. Or don't.
Keep writing and editing.
Study the industry.
Don't let fear of not being "good enough" stop you.

One word of advice to new CP's: Don't be intimidated. You have something to offer. Follow the roadmap and you'll help someone.

Be humble.

Don't critique as though you know it all. (no one really does)

Be kind.

Be courteous and realize you are learning on another author. They get it. They understand and guess might have advice they need to hear.

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Don't let your "lack of experience" stop you from critiquing. It's not a matter of who is better than so-and-so. Or whether your skill set matches the other. You might have an eye that picks up on something your CP had never thought of. And if you continue to stand on the sidelines "until your ready", you'll never get up and dance.

Joining a critique relationship should not be as complicated as we make it. It seems that way, it takes time to build trust, but it's not a if-I-don't-breathe-right-my-CP-will-dump-me formula.

Remember: we can all learn from each other. No matter what level we are at.

What's your best CP advice?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why Writers Should Read, II

I finished the challenge!

I read a book in two weeks. Couldn't have done it without my fabulous accountability partner during the challenge: Beth Vogt. A small caveat--she finished her book first.

If you finished your book from the two week challenge, you might need a reminder what to do next. In a nutshell: consider manipulating the plot, twisting, turning, tugging, and smoothing to form a new plot story idea for your writing reservoir. For more details, here is the link to part one of my Why Writers Should Read Series.

Today, whether you finished the book for the first challenge or not, start fresh.

Writers who read meet many new characters who are vibrant, sinister, sweet, passive, aggressive, dorky, mysterious, graceful, snobby, contagious, cruel, empathetic, and etc.

Some characters are round, no reference to physical, these are the main characters. Some characters are flat, these are the secondary characters. Both are essential to stories.

We've had a lot of training with main characters, (round characters) here on the Alley. Check the label list on the side to read past Alley Cat posts for helpful tips.

Being the rebel that I am, I chose to focus on the flat character today. These poor, essential, rarely in the limelight characters provide key components without which entire books would flop. Over the top? Perhaps. Then again, maybe not.

Flat characters fill in holes, explain the whys, serve a small but essential purpose. We don't need to know everything about this character, but we do need him/her to complete a section of the plot puzzle.

At one of the Montana ACFW meetings, one member shared an aha moment. A scene from her story didn't work. She changed pieces, added dialogue and spruced description.  Nothing helped until she realized she needed to add a character. The new character served one purpose, to move the pickle scene forward. Suddenly her words flowed, action revived, pacing soared, the scene felt complete.

Flat characters add a great deal of importance. Often a well placed flat character can earn a starring role as a main character in a future book. Readers become intrigued with the seemingly small character who piqued their interest.

One of the many flat characters in Gone with the Wind was Prissy. SparkNotes describes her as "A squeaky-voiced house slave. Silly, squeamish, and inclined to exaggeration, Prissy is the film’s comic relief."

In this case, Prissy's character eased tension in the plot, without slowing the pace. She provided a pendulum swing for reader's emotions by pulling them from a tense, sad moment into vibrant humorous scenes.

Deeanne Gist, author of' Love on the Line inserted Duane as an essential flat character. Duane is a gun slingin' gang member who won my heart with his humor and spunk. He became essential by filling a hole in one scene the MCs could not. Sure would be nice if Deanne spun a book around Duane. hint hint Deanne

Dos and Don'ts for Flat Characters

Do use flat characters sparingly in your story. (re presence)
Do use flat characters to meet/accomplish a temporary need. (re task)
Do give a missing component of the story to the flat character (comic relief, spunk, etc)
Do give only one trait to the flat character. (timid strong sense of responsibility)

Don't develop the flat character (wastes story space needed for MC)
Don't assign heroic tasks to flat character
Don't assign antagonist task to the flat character
Don't let the flat character steal the scene from the MC
Don't let the MC watch the flat character. (The doer is always the MC)
Don't let the flat character improve-resolve-change

Is there a hole, a jagged scene, an uneasy sense to a scene in your WIP. Would adding a flat character sprinkle spice into your story?

Your challenge: read a book in the next two weeks. Should you chose to play with me--volunteer to be my accountability partner. You can leave your email address in the comment section or email me: That means we have two weeks. In this newly read book, search for flat characters and determine their contribution to the book.

sample: Cinderella. What essential role did Cinderella's father play? (Comment your answer)

The purpose of this challenge is to discover essential flat characters, how they impact a book, fill in gaps, provide essential components, and etc. Are you willing to rise to the challenge? Ready? Go.

Come back in two weeks with a book read, or in the process of being read for our discussion of the third benefit Why Writers Should Read

P.S. I am borrowing this quote posted by Fay Lamb on the ACFW General Crit Loop Most beginning writers (and I was the same) are like chefs trying to cook great dishes that they've never tasted themselves. How can you make a great (or even an adequate) bouillabaisse if you've never had any? If you don't really understand why people read mysteries (or romances or literary novels or thrillers or whatever), then there's no way in the world you're going to write one that anyone wants to publish. (This is the meaning of the well-known expression "Write what you know.")  ~Daniel Quinn

Please consider this opportunity to nominate The Writer's Alley 

for the 101 Best Websites for writers.
Just send an email to 
during the month of April

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).

Come Step into Someone Else's World with Mary's writing

To learn more about Mary, visit her blog

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What's Your WPH (words per hour)?

I remember when I took typing in high school. We worked on typing fast and increasing our wpm (words per minute). While I can now type 70 wpm, I sometimes struggle with my WPH...words per hour.

I know many of you have heard about #1K1HR on Twitter. You type in the # hashtag, then 1K1HR and write as fast as you can, trying to get 1000 words on the page in one hour. There is even a 1K1HR Facebook page where you can participate if you aren't on Twitter.

While I was re-reading From the Inside...Out: discover, create, and publish the novel in you! by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck, I read something that helped me break down writing a novel and the WPH I need. Here is what I found:

Let's assume you have 12 weeks to write a 30-chapter book, with approximately 3000 words per chapter. That's 1500 words per scene. That's six pages per writing session, 180 minutes per scene. That's thirty minutes a page. ( p. 74)

Just think...if you were able to do 1000 words in one hour, you could do this:

Time Writing Per Day
Words Written Per Day
Days to Write a Novel
1 hour a day
90 days
2 hours a day
45 days
3 hours a day
30 days

You may not write fast and that's okay. Some days I can spit out those 1000 WPH, and some days it just doesn't happen. But having a goal and having a plan of action is important as we set out to write our stories. You know the old saying - "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail." You gotta have a plan!

What is your plan? Or what is your average WPH?

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, April 23, 2012

Setting the Mood with your First Lines

Your eyes meet across a crowded room of wedding guests, the culmination of a glorious affair decorated with elegance and extravagance. Candlelight and string quartet. And now, the interested gaze of Mr. Tall, Dark, and Dreamy sends your heart into a pitterpatter to put the first strums of Beethoven's 9th Symphony to shame. The mysterious stranger steps toward you, black suit jacket bringing out the depths of his eyes. Could he be British? Italian? Rich? A James Bond wanna-be?

From the trim line of his jaw to the determination in his step, he boasts of confidence and sophistication. His grin sends shivers of anticipation tickling up your spine.
And then, he opens his mouth with the thickest country accent you've ever heard.
"Hey there little darlin'"
The symphony in your head switches to a minor key.
"You're 'bout as purdy as a Thanksgivin' turkey."
The orchestra screeches to a halt.
"You wanna go git some viddles with me and smooch a while?"

What happened? Everything was going so well? The look, the feel, the obvious attraction and then...The mood and expectations did not match reality. AHHHH!

We all know first lines are important for hooking the reader. You can read about those in some previous Alley posts. But first lines also set the mood for things to come.

I've asked the other Alley Cats to share some of their first lines so we can look at how the beginning 'puts you in the mood' for the rest of the story. They help setup your expectations.

Let's start with WOMEN'S FICTION.
Known as the genre which focuses on deep issues related to women, WF is known for its more descriptive and serious tones. Some popular examples are Gina Holmes and Patti Lacy. Here are a few AlleyCat examples:

Casey Herringshaw:
A girl can only take so much truth.
Which is probably why Jenna Hutch crouched in a two-bit cow-town restroom, 200 miles from home—waiting for the pregnancy test to confirm what she already knew.
Her fingertips bleached white and the stick branded her palm in a jagged zig-zag. She held her breath for one beat, then two, lungs clenching like fists. This was taking way longer than it should.
(whew, GREAT hook)

Karen Schravemade:
Maya walked hand in hand with her dead father beneath a sky so blue she surely could not have dreamed it. With every step her sandals scuffed up red dirt. The dust settled between her toes and beneath the cracked vinyl straps of her shoes. She couldn’t remember what had come before this moment, just that she was here, with her Papa once again, her mind empty of questions and heat shuddering from the ground in waves.

Julia Reffner:
"The prophet and the elders have decided it's time you get married." Click, my spine cracked as I pulled my shoulders back.

"Signed by the Prophet himself. Delivered by Elder Tom just this afternoon." Father moved in toward me until his shins brushed the edge of my bed and handed me a manila envelope with my name in black Sharpie letters. He smelled of Vaseline which held his hair in a tight pompadour. After weeding and backhoeing all day, the coiling wave attached itself to his forehead, hiding an angry row of whiteheads.

Mary Vee:
If time really healed all wounds, Liz could have endured the remaining chapters of her life. She longed for pages penned with stories about a large family chattering at an extended dining room table while passing baskets of freshly baked dinner rolls from one relative to the next.
Her stomach growled.

If you'll notice, these novels denote a more serious tone - which sets up the reader for a more serious book. You are more likely to find more descriptives and internal conflict, than in some other genres.

HISTORICAL ROMANCE is next. Within HR, we find the tenents of any romance novel, but set within a historical period of time. HRs can have 'voices' that hint in two general directions. 1. a more serious novel (Laura Frantz would be an example) or 2. a more comedic HR (Mary Connealy writes these). Regardless of the tone taken, the hallmark of historical romances is that they involve ROMANCE that takes place in HISTORY :-)  -so the stage must be set.
Angie Dickens:
My baby sister fit on my hip just above the waistband of my covering. Our skin blended together, a brown shade of the red earth which carpeted our land. When I stepped out into the new day, my feet began to dress themselves in the dust. The sun always surprised my eyes with her bright shine first thing in the morning. I squinted and all the dried mud huts clustered before me, glistening white as if chiseled from the great clouds above.

Though HRs are typically written in 3rd person, Angie has done a great job with 1rst person here. We can tell from her setup that her novel will have more of a serious tone, and descriptive.

Sherrinda Ketchersid:
The lock would not budge.
Jocelyn blew a strand of unruly hair from her eyes and paused to still her racing heart. Nothing prepared her for the trembling of her fingers and the time wasted looking over her shoulder, no matter how many times she practiced in the privacy of her room. Taking a deep breath, she slowly pried the tip of her knife into the lock, listening for the quiet catch of the spring.

Pepper Basham:
There is a distinct difference between marrying a man you do not love and knowing you cannot marry the one you do. As Ashleigh Dougall locked eyes with Sam Turner, the full sting of that truth stripped all doubt. Her dear friend, practically a brother, suddenly evoked a reaction far beyond mere friendliness. Heaven help her. She loved him.

Even through the space of noisy travelers and hurried porters, Sam’s grin tripped her heartbeat and snatched at her breath. She stood transfixed, disbelief vying with denial, but the pull of truth slit between them. How? When? She couldn’t love Sam like this. How long had she ignored the swell of admiration? The grip of heightened awareness of him? His manliness?

She was keenly aware now.

I love how books within the same genre can set such different tones. Angie's book sets a 'portrait' feel, words painting a picture of life. My HR and Sherrinda's begin in the clutches of a person's emotional reaction. Sherrinda's even holds an air of peril. But all take place in a historical era.
CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE is a romance novel set during the 'modern' world - which is usually any time past 1950. Like HRs, CRs can have a more serious tone or comedic tone. Like all romances, the meeting of guy/girl is of upmost importance in the heart of the story. Some popular authors are Rachel Hauck, Denise Hunter, and Susan May Warren.
what kind of mood does Krista Phillips set for you?
God, is it against the rules to want to strangle ones boss?
Even though she was still very new to the whole Christian thing, six months yesterday to be exact, Maddie Buckner was fairly sure that thoughts of murder, even it jest, wouldnt be condoned by the Almighty.

or how about this one by Krista?
Jenny Garrett sank to her knees as someone pounded on her door for a second time.
She sucked in a shaky breath and blew it out. No need to panic. It was probably just a neighbor coming to introduce themselves to the new girl on the block. Or a vacuum salesman. Or a church group handing out tracks, trying to tell her about Jesus even though she’d known him since she was three.
The door knob jiggled.
Or a burglar planning to jump her when she opened the door, tie her up, ransack the place and take everything of worth, then shoot her to eliminate a witness.
Comedy, right?
How about another one.
Pepper Basham:
One step into the massive, glass-walled waiting area was all it took.
In a cataclysmic chain of events, someone bumped into Eisley Barrett from behind sending her purse and all its contents skittering across Heathrow International Airport’s glossy floor. Just as she regained her balance, her heel caught on her purse strap, forcing her off kilter. She liked comedy, but this was ridiculous.
In horrific slow motion, forward momentum merged with gravity, the crowd parted like the Red Sea, and she landed face-first on the floor.
Well, not exactly on the floor. Somebody broke her fall.

Sherrinda Ketchersid:
Emilie Burke hated blind dates, and happy-in-love, matchmaking friends.
She paused at the artsy mosaic door of the trendy downtown restaurant. The smell of heated spices and a smoky grill that filled the air almost made this possible fiasco worthwhile. Why had she said yes?
The same reason she always said yes. She was an impulsive people-pleaser.

Can't you just feel the difference between the WF and HR and the Romantic Comedy examples? In Contemporary Romance the sentences are usually a bit shorter, there are fewer descriptives, and dialogue plays a big part in the novel.
But not all CRs have to be humorous.

Here is an example from Cindy Wilson's novel:

I was twenty-seven when I met my fairy godmother.
He stood 6 feet tall, with an eagle tattoo eclipsing the upper half of his right arm, and bold red and blue decorating alternating spikes of his Mohawk.
Oh, and he was a librarian.

Doesn't that just get your attention and make you want to keep reading?
How about a few first lines from very different genres?
Speculative Fiction:
Sophia Quinn hated starting new assignments with insufficient information. Especially if lack of knowledge led to her death, or worse, someone else’s immortality.
We know it's contemporary because of the wording. We know it's speculative because of the phrase "or worse, someone else's immortality". The setup is there, and it's the author's job to stick with the 'mood'.

Young Adult:

“There’s not enough frappachinos in the world to make me go out on another triple date with you two.” Emilie Burke stuffed her art pencils into her tattooed backpack and slung it over her shoulder, resisting the urge to run out of the classroom, away from her well-meaning but deluded friends.
Fantasy (YA)
Magic breathed beneath the castle’s library stairs. Karth was sure of it – though he’d never admit it out loud. Eighteen year old princes did not believe in magic, no matter how otherworldly the situation, but as the black abyss under the stairs mesmerized his thoughts those childish haunts tickled at the edge of his logic.
Can you feel the difference? What do you write and how do set the mood?

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 at The Writers Alley, her personal blog-, or in her imaginary world. Company always welcome.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What's Up the Street Next Week?

Thanks to the fabulous Lisa Jordan we have a PARTY going on this weekend.
499 followers!! (with the BIG hope that after today, we'll be up to 500)

In celebration, on lucky commenter will receive Rachel Hauck's wonderful contemporary romance, Dining With Joy.  So make sure you leave a comment today or tomorrow for your chance to be in the drawing!

But not ONLY are we celebrating 500 (I walk by faith) - we are celebrating EVEN MORE!

We are thrilled to welcome Women's Fiction author, 2011 Genesis Finalist, and beautiful Aussie, Karen Schravemade to our crew at The Writers Alley. (Isn't she beautiful?) You'll get a chance to get to know her a little better on April 25th with an interview post. Until then, go check out her fabulous website at

Now...what ELSE can we possibly celebrate?

By the end of February, many aspiring authors sent their precious manuscripts on the unpredictable journey of ACFW's Genesis contest. The competition was fierce - and the biggest number of entries ACFW had ever seen. Regardless of semi-finaling or not, winners are people who press the 'send' button...and that means all those who entered.

Genesis semi-finalists were announced on Wednesday and we are so happy to announce Alley Cats and Alley Pals who are part of the list.

Alley Pals:
Susan Anne Mason
Melissa Tagg
Melissa Jagears
Michelle Massarro
Carol Moncado
Heidi Chiavaroli
Karen Barnett
Christina Rich
Lyndee Henderson
(and many others from our 500 list of readers)

Alley Cats:
Casey Herringshaw (Contemporary Fiction)
Cindy Wilson  (Contemporary Romance)
Pepper Basham  (Contemporary Romance)

So....get out the chocolate, balloons, and dancin' shoes.
IT'S. TIME. TO. PARTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Know Your Reader, Know Your Setting

In the first post of this series, Know Your Reader, Know Your Genre, we discussed the specifics of who our reader is. Age, occupation, interests, etc-and how knowing these details will help us nail down our genre.

For example, my reader is in her late twenties to early forties, SAHM, loves an escape, loves romance, wants a happy ending, enjoys humor. She's a romantic comedy reader.

If you visited the post, there were other questions you could ask yourself about your reader, all of which are going to help you with today's post.

Knowing who my reader is gives me a great formula for where I should set my novel, and even set specific scenes. Romance novels are very commonly set in small towns, and for very good reason. Readers want a cozy, romantic setting. Readers of this genre love community and family and places that are conducive to falling love. If you don't believe me, ask a romance writer (or reader). Ask an agent. Check out Love Inspired stories and single-title romances. You've got seaside communities, small mountain towns, inns, heroines returning to their childhood homes, and the list goes on and on.

So if you're a romance writer, you don't HAVE to write about a small Colorado town that borders the mountains and has a county fair every year, but know that many readers expect and enjoy something similar. And if her job is veterinarian to horses at the heroes barn, or she's redecorating a small B&B, or she serves coffee at the cute bookstore and coffee shop on the corner, it's probably because readers respond to these small-town, community atmospheres and occupations.

Let's look at another genre. How about YA? Your reader is young, your reader wants to read about people his or her age, your readers wants to see a setting, or an environment they're either familiar with (a school for example) or they can picture clearly and relate to. Take the Twilight books. Whether you've read them or not, most of you know they were set in a small, beautiful town where it rains or is cloudy most of the year. It appeals to the reader (specifically a YA audience) because A) it's necessary to the plot, so the setting almost becomes another character in itself and B) it's sort of magical and eerie and unique. Young adults, particularly those into the supernatural, are going to love magical and eerie and unique.

Crime/Drama/Suspense thrillers? Bigger cities, places where there is statistically more crime. Not always, but this is often the case. Instead of a cozy B&B, the heroine visits, lives in, or discovers the crime in a big city loft, a bigger business, maybe even a city alleyway.

There are exceptions to all these rules of course, but really study up on your genre and who your reader is. Our job is to appeal to and reach the reader and sometimes the best way to do that is giving them EXACTLY what they want and expect.

So, do you know what kind of setting your reader wants? Do you typically write about these Linktypes of settings or do you go outside of the box and wow readers with new, unique settings?

***photos by DMF Photography
and Don Briggs
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, April 18, 2012

The Call

First of all, I want to send out a big congratulations all the 2012 ACFW Genesis Contest semifinalists, especially my fellow Alley Cats who made the cut: Cindy, Pepper, and Casey! I am so proud of you and am cheering you on!

But some of you did not make that cut. And this blog is for you. This is not the blog I’d planned to write today. But throughout the afternoon, my perspective changed, and I want to be sensitive to that because I suspect many of you are feeling the same way.

As I’m sure many of you already know, the results of the ACFW Genesis contest have been released. As the day rolled by yesterday, I found myself checking my phone more and more often. What began as a casual, “Oh, are the results being released this week?” turned into me jumping every time my phone made the slightest noise, or even lit up in my purse. Could that be it? I kept thinking. Could that be . . . the call?

Moment of transparency: I really thought I was going to semifinal. Last year I semifinaled, and have since signed with an amazing agent, so it only seemed logical I would semifinal again. And I’ll be honest, I had hopes of making it further than that. Don’t we all? So when the only phone calls I got were from a bogus home security company, let’s just say I was a bit rocked.

As in, I drove through McDonalds for French fries and changed into my fuzzy pajamas as soon as possible.

I don't handle failure well. I was always the kid who studied the spelling words she already knew, whose good grades contributed to her confidence. Yes, I realize the contest is subjective and it doesn’t mean I’m not a good writer. I’m sure the rest of you who didn’t semifinal know the same thing. But that knowledge doesn’t chase away the feelings of insecurity and doubt that come knocking on our heart’s door, does it?

But as I sat back and thought about it, and as I considered what I would write for this blog, a thought hit me.

Who’s call am I most worried about? A judge’s, or God’s?

The space you enter when you approach failure, disappointment, and discouragement is the space that defines who you will become as a writer. Are you concerned with the praise of others, or with the praise of God? Who are you writing for? Whose story are you telling?

If you are here, reading this, it’s probably because God has called you to write. So look at the feedback you receive with an open heart, continue improving in the craft, and seek critiques whenever you can. It’s okay to need encouragement from other writers and to seek a mentor. But at the end of the day, know where the treasure of your calling lies. With God. And with God, all things are possible, through Him who loves us and has called us according to His purpose.

Philippians 1:16: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

How do you handle the inevitable disappointments of the writing life? How can we use these things to strengthen our approach to writing and stories, and to glorify God?


Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. 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. You can find Ashley on her personal blog and her Tumblr. She's also on Facebook and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Knowing When to Step Away (Plus a Farewell)

If you saw the Weekend Edition, then you already know about my decision to step away from my regular role here at The Writers Alley.

Good-byes are never easy, especially when it involves the wonderful women who are part of this group. But the reality is that life sometimes dictates difficult, but necessary, decisions.

Our lives are often like an ocean. We may go through times of low tide, when our schedules have breathing room and we can rest on the beach--maybe even build a sandcastle--without the waves crashing over us.

Then we may be offered an opportunity here, sign up for a commitment there. And with each thing we add, the tide starts to slowly rise. As long as we're comfortable on the beach and our sandcastle is protected, we don't worry too much about the rising waves.

...Until that final commitment pushes the tide past us, sending a mini-tsunami that crushes our castle and sweeps us away. That's what happened to me recently and what prompted the hard decision to leave this blog. 

Since many of us have lots of commitments on our plates (and since I can't do a blog post without giving practical advice :)), I'm going to share four steps for evaluating your own schedule.

1) Determine what your top two or three priorities are. (Picture these as the sandcastles you're trying to protect from the giant wave.) For me, this came down to family time, church, and focused time to work on my fiction writing.

2) List out everything that's on your plate. And I do mean everything. (These are the waves that creep toward your sandcastles.)

3) Mark each item on the list with one of the following categories: (a) Non-negotiable -- Definitely needs to stay on my list; (b) Iffy -- It could go either way; (c) Can be sacrificed -- This may be something that's easily discarded, or, like my role here at The Writers Alley, it may be a bigger commitment that someone else can come in to fill. (Picture this evaluation process as determining how big your waves are.)

4) Begin the process of elimination. (This is the removal of those waves that threaten your sandcastles.) For me, this process is accompanied by a lot of prayer. Start with the items marked as "can be sacrificed" and envision your life with those things removed from your schedule. Are you better able to focus on your top priorities, or does the elimination of those items hinder you from your priorities in some way? As you pray, envision, and continue to work up the ladder of the categories, it will become clear to you which things need to be surrendered.

This process isn't easy. And it often means surrendering something we enjoy very much, like my role here on this blog. But throughout this evaluation, we must always keep our sandcastles protected. No matter how much we may love one of the "waves" on our schedule, if it comes to the detriment or destruction of our castles, we need to let them go.

So to the readers here at The Writers Alley and to my fellow Alley Cats, I want to thank you for making this such a fun place to visit and learn together. I'll greatly miss being a part of the camaraderie and support. But have no fear...I won't be a complete stranger. And I look forward to seeing what God does through this incredible group of women as we all move forward, protecting our precious sandcastles for His glory.

Let's talk...Have you ever had to do an evaluation of your schedule like I described here? What would you say are your top two or three priorities? How do you know when it's time to step away from a commitment?

*Tide photo by Rawich /
**Sand photo by Lisa McDonald /

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, April 17, 2012

Weeding Our Manuscripts Part II: Word Whacking to Increase Pace

"Man, your story has so much conflict, but you keep slowing it down with the words you're using." 

One of the best things about critique groups when you hear something from more than one person over time...its major confirmation.

Last time I talked about fear: Weeding Out I: Fear

Today let's get out our weedwhacker and find out how making some crucial cuts can up the pace of your story?

1) Weed #1: Long paragraphs

Dickens may have been able to get away with paragraphs that last for pages, but we can't and shouldn't. 

I have to admit, it comes naturally to me to write longer paragraphs. Even for this post, I'm trying to consciously focus on increasing the white space so the eye passes over it more quickly.

I notice shorter paragraphs are utilized in many of the most highly followed blogs. One of my personal favorites, Ann Voskamp has mastered the art of helping the readers eyes glide over the page with her short paragraphs punctuated with breathtaking photographs. 

2) Weed #2: Lack of dialogue or too many dialogue tags.

My name is Julia and I'm a dialogue tag addict. 

It all started with trying to avoid he said/she said. 

The next thing I know my characters are Pilates queens making odd body contortions and facial twitches.

"Your characters don't have to do something every time they talk."

Guilty as charged. Too many dialogue tags can slow your reader down. 

Also increasing the amount of dialogue is a great way to up the tension. 

One writer to watch in this area is Ronie Kendig. The novels in her Discarded Heroes series don't slow down for a single paragraph and she often uses dialogue to ratchet the conflict up a notch.

Here's a short example from Firethorn:

“You move one wrong muscle,” the one in front of Cowboy growled, “and so help me God, I’ll kill you.”      “No you won’t.” Cowboy lowered his hands. “If you wanted me dead, I wouldn’t be out here.”

A few short lines of dialogue, but powerful.

3) Weed #3: Unecessary Descriptions

I recently read an article in Writer's Digest by Stephen King. In it he includes a powerful excerpt from one of his early novels, The Shining. I have clipped this article because I thought it was an excellent example of giving "just enough" description.

The main character describes his father in a simple paragraph, yet the reader comes away knowing so much about the main character and his origins.

Jack's father used to play a game, maybe one your father played with you. Lying down on the floor. My dad called this game "Superman." 

Jack's father's game was a bit different than what some preschoolers played with Dad because occasionally his dad didn't catch him. Instead he went crashing into the wall.

King uses simple details such as the beer mustache, his father's odd jerky movements and his slightly rancid smell to show the reader Jack's father was an alcoholic. A few key details show the reader much about who Jack is today. Yet he doesn't include every detail (what Dad was wearing, what the walls looked like, etc).

(OK, I always feel like I have to give a caveat here, as its important to me to not have to worry about stumbling anyone. This is not meant as a recommendation for this particular book. But I did find this as a good enough example that I wanted to include it).

4) Weed #4: Too wordy

I recently received manuscript help in the form of simple slashes. 

Some words deserve to die. Here's a list from Tameri.

Do you have any to add? My common offenders are then and often, but I'm sure my online and face-to-face critique partners could find some I've missed.

Tightening up your prose is often as simple as reducing words.

Reading your work aloud is a simple way to solve many of these issues in pacing. Try having a friend read your work to you, utilize Word's vocal features, or read it to yourself with a tape recorder in hand.

You'll be amazed at what you notice about your writing.

Do you have a favorite book or author that keeps you turning the pages? What ideas have you used to increase the pace in your own novel? Or what do you think would help increase the pace in your own novel?

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site.