Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beating the First Draft Blues

Every story has a first draft. Most of them stink.

Encouraging, right?

I've been talking about first drafts a lot lately on my personal blog, and after reading comments, I've discovered how universal that "my story is awful, what was I thinking?" feeling seems to be among writers.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Someone asks you what you do. "I'm a writer," you tell them, although you likely have other jobs as well, whether it's being a mom, a teacher, a scientist, or a barista. Let's face it. Being a writer is way cooler, so that's what we always say. And then they respond, with an enchanted sort of look in their eyes, "I've always wanted to write a book." And you say, "You should. It's really not so hard. Just a matter of sitting down and doing it, one chapter at a time." But meanwhile, you're internally chastising yourself, thinking, "If it's really not that hard, why have I rewritten Chapter 5 six times?"

The first draft of a book can be a terrible experience. We're embarrassed by our own story. It's betrayed our original idea for the book and turned it into our worst nightmare--something boring. The characters have taken on a life of their own and are doing irrational things. The plot we so neatly laid out in our minds has changed so many times we don't even know the ending. And the black moment? Forget about the characters--we as writers are having the black moment now as we think to ourselves (and let's face it--we've all had the thought!), "I'm a sham of a writer. Everyone is about to find out I'm a sham."

But we trudge through, then go through several editing rounds, and poof! Our confidence is back as our story once again turns into the fabulous idea we once imagined, only better. Everything is happy and cheery again. Until the next book rolls around...

So what can we do to keep this cycle from occurring? To beat these first draft blues?

1) Have realistic expectations. I had such a hard time beginning my WIP. I literally rewrote the first chapters three times. I decided I needed to start sooner and sooner. I kept thinking, "I thought I had grown so much as a writer through my last book. My last book was so good. It shines. This book could never compete with that." Um, hello self! My last book turned out well because I edited it somewhere around four or five times. It's important that we look at the first draft for what it is: a chance to tell the story. It's not a polished manuscript, and it's not a finished book. That is okay. Give yourself permission for that to be okay. Stop playing the comparison game.

2) Enjoy the storytelling process. If you are a creative writer, you enjoy storytelling. So give yourself permission to really indulge in the fun behind your story. Imagine what your characters might do in everyday scenarios. What would they might say if they were behind you in the Starbucks line? You might be surprised how much easier this makes the process of writing your first draft... and how much fun you have in the process. Just don't talk out loud to your characters... at least when anyone's watching.

3) Don't edit until you're done with the first draft. Okay, I admit it. The phrase "epic fail" comes to mind when I think of my own track record with carrying out this rule. But editing too early can be detrimental to the creative process. You're trying to figure out if your character's purse should be red or green while she's still trying to figure out her innermost fears. Give your characters and your plot room to breathe. Editing too early can be very limiting because you don't yet know the patterns that will develop as your larger book takes shape. I've heard of people editing the last chapter they've written before beginning the next one, but for most people, I don't think this is a good practice. If memory serves me correctly, I believe James Scott Bell recommends in his fabulous book Plot and Structure that you shouldn't edit at all (or at least very minimally) until your first draft is totally complete, and I think that's great advice.

4) If all else fails, organize. I took a poll on my blog asking authors how they make it through the first draft. I was surprised how many of them said they use variations of an outline technique. Some make an actual outline, others make a detailed synopsis, and others just figure out the bones of the story before they begin writing. Regardless of whether you're a seat-of-the-pants writer, sometimes it's very helpful to know your basic character arcs and turning points so that you know what direction everything in the story should be heading.

5) Do. Not. Quit. This is my biggest piece of advice. When you feel like you're writing the most boring story known to mankind, keep on keeping on. Remember that the editing stage is there for a reason, and you can rewrite that little thorn in your side as many times as it takes to make it shine. As I said on my personal blog last week, a poorly written story can be edited. An untold story is of no benefit to the reader at all.

I want to close with a verse that I hope will bring you encouragement as you work on your drafts. Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." It's like a piece of pottery. Your story might feel like a big, cold lump of clay right now. And maybe it is. But God has gifted your hands to be a potter, to craft a vessel He fill with His grace and show off to the world.

If God has called you to write, you can be sure He has not forgotten about that calling. It might take seventeen books or six rewritten drafts, but there is a purpose for every season we are in. If we give up when we feel discouraged, if we stop before we ever make it to that stage of refinement, we will never know the glory of our true calling in Christ.

You can find the extended list of responses to my How Do You Beat the First Draft Blues poll at . Feel free to add your own response to the list.

I want to hear from you! Have you ever felt like giving up in the middle (or maybe even the beginning!) of your first draft? What keeps you going? What do you do to keep your goal in sight?

Photos from,,

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 blogFacebook and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Four Types of Dramatic Tension – Part Two

In my last post I discussed the necessity of creating tension on every page of your manuscript. We learned that in the world of drama, there are four types of tension used to engage the audience:

  1. The tension of relationships
  2. The tension of the task
  3. The tension of surprise
  4. The tension of mystery

We then explored the first type of tension in-depth, using the bestselling novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett as our example. If you missed it, click here to catch up.

Today we’ll move on to the remaining three types of tension. Once again we’ll use Stockett’s novel for illustrative purposes. This is for two reasons. Firstly, because I want to demonstrate how even a “quiet” genre like women’s fiction can be made to crackle with tension on every page. And secondly, because it’s easy enough to pull examples of the different types of tension from any novel you could name – but it’s far more helpful to see how one author has incorporated the various tools into one book.

Because that’s the whole idea, isn’t it? – to vary the techniques we use to create tension, and then layer them one on top of the other in order to produce the most wildly compelling read possible.

1.             The tension of the task
Give your hero or heroine something to accomplish, then set obstacles in their way. A ticking clock adds urgency – so create a deadline for the protagonist to accomplish their goal.

In The Help, Skeeter’s central task is to compile a book of stories about the lives of black maids in the South. The author skilfully ratchets up the tension surrounding this task in incremental steps:

   -  An editor tells Skeeter she needs at least a dozen more women to participate in the project or she won’t be interested, but Skeeter has trouble persuading more than two maids to help.
   -  The editor wants the book finished as soon as possible in order to coincide with external political events. This puts Skeeter on a tight deadline.
   -  The women who eventually agree to share their stories are putting their lives at risk, a fact illustrated by a series of explosive racial events.
   -  Just as it’s looking possible for Skeeter to complete the task in time, the editor informs her that she will need the book a whole month ahead of schedule.

           2.             The tension of surprise
This tool is an invaluable fix for those sagging moments in your manuscript. A manuscript sags when it becomes predictable – when the reader feels they already know what’s coming, only it’s taking far too long to get there.

These are the moments you want to shake things up a bit and turn the reader’s expectations on their head. Often a surprise is used as a cliff-hanger at the end of a chapter.

Examples are:
- A plot twist we didn’t see coming.
- A new reveal of information.
- A shot of humor in the middle of a bleak situation.
- The appearance of an unexpected character.
- A crisis or major event that catches us by surprise.
- A character who does something unpredictable, even shocking.

Kathryn Stockett keeps us guessing throughout the The Help by springing several unexpected surprises. Here’s one example:

All the way through the book, Skeeter’s friend Hilly is on her case to include a racist “Home Sanitation initiative” in the newsletter Skeeter edits. Skeeter won’t do it. Then at the end of Chapter 21, after an explosive confrontation with Hilly, we see Skeeter finally typing the initiative:

“I place it on the second page, opposite the photo ops. This is where everyone will be sure to see it… All I can think while I’m typing is, What would Constantine think of me?”

End of chapter.

The reader is taken by surprise. This is the last thing we would expect Skeeter to do. It goes against everything we’ve come to know about her character. What is going on? Has she finally caved to the pressure? Will the antagonist, Hilly Holbrook, win out after all? This can’t be happening!

You can bet most readers will be flipping forward to find out what on earth has come over our beloved Skeeter. Of course, in the next chapter, the author has another surprise waiting for us as we learn what Skeeter is really up to.

4. The tension of mystery
A mystery is any unanswered question you place in your reader’s mind. These questions are what keep your readers turning pages. Often there is a central question or mystery that runs throughout a whole book, with the final reveal left for the climax.

The underlying mystery in The Help is the single question – what happened to Skeeter’s beloved maid Constantine? At the beginning of the story, Constantine disappears and Skeeter is told she quit. But Skeeter can’t believe that the woman who raised her from childhood would vanish without a word of farewell or a letter of explanation. It’s not until the end of the novel that we find out what really happened to Constantine.

Other, more secondary mysteries, are used to tease and draw us further into the story. What was the “Terrible Awful” that Minny did to her ex-employer? What is in the bottles Celia Foote hides in her closet? And why is there a bloodstain on the carpet of her bedroom, concealed beneath a rug?

The trick here is to tantalise the reader by raising questions and then not answering them straight away. It’s a delicate line to walk – you want to keep the thread alive by referring to it here and there so the reader doesn’t forget about it and lose interest; but you also don’t want to hold all your cards too tightly until the end, or the device can become irritating and you’ll frustrate the reader.

Some mysteries should be revealed along the way. With the central mystery, it’s enough to drop hints or clues so the reader feels some sense of progression and an increasing hunger to learn the truth.

So there you have it – the four types of dramatic tension.

Most of you will find you already use these four types of tension instinctively. But being aware of what you’re doing – and why – is the first step toward strengthening your writing. Perhaps you favor one type of tension at the expense of the others. Perhaps there are one or two tension-producing tools listed here that you know are lacking in your novel. Why not try to weave them in and create some extra layers of conflict in your story?

Let’s talk: What types of tension do you naturally favor, and which do you think you could use more effectively?

Image courtesy of

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia. When she's not chasing after two small boys, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website, on Twitter or getting creative over at her mummy blog.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Strengthening the Spiritual Thread of Your Novel

Have you ever read a book with a piece of a sermon right in the middle of it? I love reading books with strong Christian content, but when I come across such a scene I skim it.

I have been working on strengthening my spiritual thread in my novel during my editing time lately.

One of my sideline characters, Lillian, shares her salvation and transformation experience in the form of a story. I ditched this scene, by the way. Though we may occasionally share our salvation stories with others at this how we usually share our faith?

In our town there was a church that used to witness on the streets, shouting and holding signs about hellfire. I'm not against street evangelism, but I noted the reactions from people around them. I don't think they were pulling much interest. Did people want what they had?

More likely its a verse shared here and there, trying to match our actions up to what we believe, extending grace. People need to see our lives match up.

That's also what they need to see in our characters.

Here's a scene from my WIP. The main character, Rachel has escaped from a dangerous cult. Rachel is not a Christian, but is living with Lillian, an older lady who is a believer. Rachel's stepdaughter, who escaped with her becomes injured in this scene.

I pulled out Lillian's round metal trash can  and Ruthie and I picked the transparent shards from the carpet.

Out of the corner of my eye I watched a crimson-streaked piece of glass sail past me into the basket. “Ruthie.” I grabbed her hand tenderly. She winced slightly. The long streaks of red reminded me of Christ’s hands bleeding out in the picture of the Cross in my Grandmother’s living room. That Jesus stared at me from across the room, eyes glistening with tears.

 “Do you have any bandages?” I shouted several times at increasing decibels to drown out the dust-generating Hoover.

 Lillian turned off the vacuum and disappeared into the bathroom, returning with antiseptic, cotton balls, and a stiptic pencil. "Come in the kitchen, Ruthie.”

She held Ruthie’s hand in the kitchen sink. The blood spouted out in all directions, like a fountain. I thought of my Grandmother rocking me in the big chair, chocolate chips melting into my hands as I listened to her clear voice.

“There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;

And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains."

As Grandmother’s voice rang in my ears I rubbed my fingertips back and forth over my eyes to stem the tide of tears. I counted the spices in Naomi’s spice rack and listed their names in my head: cardamom, cilantro, coriander seed, cumin.

Memories. We all have things from our past that God used to bring us closer to the point of salvation and we all have things that we struggled with guilt and shame over. Without using major flashbacks we can share a hint of these and help the reader see a glimpse into our character's spiritual landscape.

I wanted a spiritual thread throughout my novel. My character is not a Christian believer through the majority of the novel. Also, she is living in a culture that is toxic and isolated. She wouldn't even hear the Gospel message in a way we might expect.

She remembers a Christian grandmother rocking her in a big red rocker, singing hymns, and giving her chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. In a tragic childhood and early adulthood, these memories bring her hope. While I don't want to overdo flashbacks, tiny snippets of these songs are often a part of the novel.

ACTIONS. This is the most important way to get across spiritual truth of course. Brainstorm the ways people in your life showed their faith to you before you became a Christian. Did their actions draw you closer? Were there occasions where they turned you away?

Lillian gently cleans Ruthie's wounds with soap and water, showing Christ's love in a very gentle way.

Visuals. When Rachel sees the streaks of red on Ruthie's hand, it reminds her of a painting. The washing of the wounds is like a fountain, bringing to mind Grandmother's song lyrics. Can we use our description to create a spiritual picture?

What is your character's spiritual love language? What speaks love to your character? What sins do they struggle with that have caused them to believe they can never be forgiven? What lies keep them from believing the truth of Christ's love? What would it take for your charac to believe in a loving God who died for their sins?

Sanctification of your character and others. As your character becomes a believer show the tension between her old life and her new life? What does it take to help her believe she's a new creation? How does her lifestyle begin to change when she realizes this? Think of the changes in your own life. The reader doesn't need to be told, they can see the difference in a chnaged life.

Tell me about the spiritual thread of your novel, or about that of a favorite novel? What sins does your character struggle with and increasingly overcome as s/he grows in faith? What can you add to your novel to strengthen this spiritual thread?

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.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

I'd love a show of hands. How many of you belong to a book club?

Today marks the day of my very first Book Club meeting. It's the ignargual meeting and we've got a great book: The Ride of Her Life by Lorna Seilstad.

I've got the location.

The book.

The discussion questions.

And the people invited.

What else do I need? I've got the stash of books to see which one people would like to talk about next month. But it's my first face-to-face book club meeting....ever. 

Any suggestions for me? I'd LOVE to hear them.

And while we're chatting, how about we learn about Next Week where we figure out a few more steps towards making our WIPS worthy of a book club discussion. :-)


Angie tackles POV first thing Monday morning.

I hope you plan to attend ACFW and meet our lovely Julia! She'll be blogging here on Tuesday.

Aussie Karen will be our hostess on Wednesday continuing her series on dramatic tension.

It's the first draft. What are you most focused on? Ashley has spot-on suggestions for you on Thursday.

Cindy has 5 fool proof tips for endearing your reader to the story on Friday. We're holding her to that. ;-)

Side walk Talk...

The winner of the surprise book pack from last weekend's edition is...Heather!

The winner of Katie Ganshert's Wildflowers from Winter is...Joanne Sher!

Have a great weekend everyone and see you all back here on Monday!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Importance of a "Ping-Moment" with Katie Ganshert

Casey here: I'm so thrilled to host Katie today on our blog! A fantastic writer, avid blogger and all-around super woman to many who know her, Katie has completely impressed me with her amazing and stunning debut novel and her ability to connect with people through her blog on a heart level. Be sure and leave a comment at the end of the  post, answering Katie's question and you'll be entered to win a copy of Wildflowers from Winter in celebration of this, it's debut release month! Here is Katie...

The other day, I was reading this devotional my church published. It was about generosity. Super good stuff. And I came across something simple, yet profound.

It was a story of a girl who used to play Monopoly with her grandma. They’d have fun trying to get the best properties and lots of money so they could buy hotels and houses to put on those properties.

Every time when the game ended, this girl’s grandmother would look at her and say, “Remember, honey. At the end of the game, it all goes back in the box.”

Such a valuable life lesson, isn’t it?

Of course, my writer brain kicked in. It’s impossible for me to let a lesson just be a lesson. I’m constantly applying my lessons to my writing life.

And this particular got me wondering….

Am I putting those golden nuggets of wisdom in my novels?

Am I giving at least one person something profound to say? Something that won’t just be revolutionary to my main character, but to my readers too.

You know, that little ping that makes a person stop and think.

Am I giving my readers that ping?

Here’s the thing about the ping (oh boy, that rhymes)

Keep it Simple
Oftentimes, the more understated something is, the more powerful it can be. So when we’re giving a character something profound to say, I think it’s wise to ask if we can have them say it simply.

Not a lecture. Not a grandiose speech. Nothing eloquent or flowery. Keep it short and sweet and impactful.

Make it Interesting
I’m not talking about the words, here. I’m talking about the who.

Sure, I could give Grandma the wise words. Or the pastor. Or the mentor. But how original is that?

How much more fun is it if we give those golden nuggets to somebody altogether unexpected? Like a little kid or the quirky neighbor or here’s a stretch: the bad guy.

Let’s Talk: Are you putting ping-moments in your novels?

Katie Ganshert was born and raised in the Midwest, where she writes stories about finding faith and falling in love. When she’s not busy plotting her next novel, she enjoys watching movies with her husband, playing make-believe with her wild-child of a son, and chatting with her girlfriends over bagels. She and her husband are in the process of adopting from the Congo. You can find her online at her blog and on Facebook.  

About the novel...

Bethany Quinn was happy to leave her small town ten years ago to create a new, successful life. But when tragedies strike at home, she is forced to return and face the pain of her childhood. Out of options, Bethany tries to find a place where love and faith make sense again.

Don't forget! Leave a comment to be entered to win this stunning debut by Katie! Not to be missed!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Proofreading 101

Confession Time:

I type fast.

And when I type fast, I make a LOT, and I mean a LOT, of mistakes in my writing.

My first drafts are horrendous.

The thing is, when we type, sometimes, at least for me, the story is going along in my head and sometimes my fingers just don't obey, and other times my head and my fingers get "off" on timing, so one of them ends up suffering.

Usually it's the typing.

But the same goes for reading too. When we are reading, most of us naturally skim the page. It's why we can read those crazy should-be unreadable Facebook status's that say something in seeming jiberish but most people can actually understand what it's saying.

If we skip a word in typing, or even type the wrong word, when we read to edit, it is easy for our mind to compensate for it.

Especially when they are words we are familiar with because we wrote them!

I recently turned in my proofing edits to my publisher for Sandwich, with a Side of Romance. The amount of errors in typing was, to be quite honest, embarrassing. I have to remind myself that it's the very reason we HAVE proofing edits.

But when we are unpublished, we also want to set our best foot forward and send in as polished a manuscript as we can.

So what steps can we take to accomplish that?

A few tips I used during my recent edits:

Tighter is Better

I'm the queen of adding fun extra words and prepositional phrases. In these proofing edits, I can't tell you how many words I put the little "delete" curly cue over that in previous versions sounded absolutely perfect.

When in doubt, read the paragraph without the questionable word/phrase. Does it still work and not take away from anything? Then delete that puppy!

Search for "bad" words

No, I don't mean cuss words. I write Christian fiction anyway... :-)

When you are doing edits electronically (which, personally, I always do BEFORE I print out my manuscript) I do a search for common words that are sometimes no-no's. Like the word JUST, or WAS, or a variety of -ly words. I don't delete them all, but making myself justify each of them and cut as many as I could was a super good exercise.

BEWARE of the dreaded compound

Another common error I found involved---

- hyphenating two words together in error
- separating two words together when really, they love each other, and want to get married and become one...
- putting two words together when really, they despise each other and just need their space.

Usually, #3 gets underlined as a wrong spelling. Yeah spell check. But I found that when in doubt on #2, put it together, and ask the divine spell check whether or not it would be a good pair. Think of this as an engagement. Same with #1... like a promise ring, "If we're meant to be together... we won't need this stupid hyphen!"

Then you have words like, ironically, spell check, where it seems that no one knows whether or not it needs a hyphen or two separate words... not even spell check can give me a firm answer! (It gives me the hyphenated version and the separated versions as options only... I foresee no wedding bells in its future!)

Other fun ones

We all have issues.

And we all have grammar issues that we just can't shake.


using the word "that" instead of "who" after a person...
Or using "towards" instead of "toward"
Or typing where instead of were (or a billion other same name, different spelling/meaning words)
Or using "you're" instead of "your"

Keep a list of your common mistakes that you find. Then in your proofing stage, use your lovely "find" feature to double check that you didn't goof up. Or at least keep your list handy as a reminder as you edit!


Editing in print IS better

I've tried to print out then edit before, and it just never worked for me well. This edit was different though. This was a "small" stuff edit. Changing wording in a sentence, noting typos, not big story changes like all my previous editing attempts.

You know how when you read a book you can spot ALL the itty bitty typos? I'm not sure I've read a book yet that I haven't spotted at least one. Seeing a book in print really can help you catch those little mistakes.

Make this your last step (although some print out earlier for the big edit too, which is fine, too) but make sure you print out AGAIN after you've made all your big edits to be able to get rid off all those!!

Discussion: What things do YOU look at while you are editing?

Bonus: How many errors can you find in this blog post????

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why Writers Should Read Part 4-Pacing

This morning while driving to work, I watched a high school girl run down the street toward the city bus, (the mode of bussing in our area). Her mouth was open, bookback sliding off her shoulders, her face reddened and strained, her eyes determined, and her pace, like the wind. She raised her eyes toward the bus sitting at the intersection and pumped her arms faster. The bus driver turned his head toward her and nodded. At that instant they communicated. She collapsed her pace to a stagger and walked the remaining steps to the bus. 

What changed her pace from a desperate push to a relieved  walk, (as much as one can when out of breath)? Did her forward movement change direction when she slowed her pace?

Today we'll look at pacing.

First, kudos to all who finished reading a book in the last two weeks. I had the privilege to read Just Between You and Me by Jenny B Jones for this challenge. And, as my reward, I will use a sample of Jenny's excellent writing skills. But first, a high five to my reading partner this time, Jeanne Takenaka who read the awesome book Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck. She loved it!

Now back to pacing.

Consider the high school girl mentioned above who pushed a quick pace but then needed a break, so also will your readers.

Getting to the bus piqued interest and drew us in. However, wouldn't you like to know the rest of the story spilled to her classmates on the bus? What made her late? Did she oversleep? Did the car breakdown? What if a car driver made a mistake, ran a stop sign and plowed right into her family's living room window (not so far fetched, it actually happened to a home a few weeks before)?

What ingredients go into a well crafted pace

The key: First stir the pot then tell what's in it.

Let's take a look at an excellent example from Just Between You and Me.  I randomly opened to a chapter and found this fitting segment for pacing:

"Do you have an appointment?" the school secretary asks me...

"No." It takes everything I've got to pull my cheek muscles into some semblance of a smile. I feel like I just got off an all-night flight to Europe, missed my eight hours of sleep, and landed in a time zone where daylight shines and I must participate.

"No appointment," she repeats, like my appearance is the equivalent of standing on a tabletop and yodeling in the library.

"Danielle and I are old friends. She'll be totally okay with it. In fact." 

Jenny's opening statement plays several roles. Today let's look only at the pacing

1. Stir the pot- Right away the reader wants to know why the character wants to speak with the principal,who else would the secretary guard with a statement like that? Is the character angry? Maybe something urgent like the death of a family member, or a non custodial parent en route to kidnap her child prevents her from making an appointment? The opening line had me curious, ready to run the race/compelled to read more. 

2. Give the pace a jolt forward with tension- The main character says one answer to the secretary while thinking another. Notice Jenny B. Jones' skill in communicating inward voice after the one word answer. This technique keeps the reader in the know, but not the secretary which is essential for well crafted pace. Readers like to have the inside scoop and use it to scream orders at unknowing characters. Like a ping pong ball slapped to the other side of the table, this statement does not leave the ball in the main character's court.

3. Give the reader a break- A break does not mean stop/bore/drill/fill with mountains of backstory! This is the opportunity to answer questions sprouting from the fast pace. In Jenny B. Jones' example above the reader is given a break with the secretary's repeated line, "No appointment." Oh my. I can see a plump older lady with her glasses creeping down her nose and furrowing her brows. Then to amuse the reader more, the main character exaggerates, and thus adds rich color to the setting. Now the reader is primed to discover answers. They can see, hear, feel touch, breathe and understand.  

The answer to the questions are in the final comment.  The principal is "her" friend--whether the secretary thinks so or not. Friends get to come into a principal's office unannounced, voice their opinion, and ask for help in ways no other can.

Don't let the rest last too long, though. The reader likes this break, appreciates understanding what is happening and is now ready to move on.

4. What's next? More action. Crank up the pace again by stirring the pot.

There is much more that could be learned from pacing in our books. What have you learned in your writing journey about pacing? If you can, share a book that wowed you with its pacing.

This last week several people told me they looked deeper than entertainment in the book they read and found many great writing examples to study. Each said they had started marking passages with colored highlighters to refer back to. None will be giving their books away :) And neither will I.

If you've want to go back to read Parts 1-3 of this series: plotflat charactersdialogue fluidity 

Soooooooooo who's willing to be my accountability partner for these next two weeks? I already picked my book: Love Starts with Elle by Rachel Hauck.

Photos courtesy of

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 contemporary Christian fiction and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories.

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

To learn more about Mary, visit her blog
Or email her at

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fun & Inexpensive Ideas For Writing Retreats!

Need to get away from your hectic life to write? Well, I've got the perfect solution for you. A writing retreat! What is a writing retreat, you ask? It is a weekend (or more) where you go away from the house and write. You can go alone, with a friend, or with a group of friends. You can spend that time brainstorming, or you can add words to your WIP. You can even spend your time editing if you so desire.

I just got back from a writing retreat I took last Monday through Wednesday with a writer friend from church. You can read about my experience here. What I will say is....IT WAS TOTALLY AWESOME, DUDE! Every writer needs a writing retreat - to collect your thoughts, to have focused time with the keyboard, to let your creativity fly uninterrupted.

So here's the thing, when Casey asked me what I was writing about for this post, I had no idea. So, I told her just pick something for me to write about and post it in the Weekend Edition. Surprise! I was assigned the topic of fun and inexpensive writing retreats. Yay, Casey! That's a fun topic!

And challenging.

So I divided up writing retreats into three categories, according to the size of your pocketbook.


  • A day at Panera Bread or Starbucks. For the cost of a meal or drink, you can hang out and write to your hearts content. 
  • A day at the library. Tuck yourself away at your library for some quiet time!
  • A morning/afternoon at your local park. Grab your lounge chair and sit in the shade with your laptop. Take a cooler with drinks and snacks!
  • Museum
  • A friend's house who is on vacation :)
  • Hotel or hospital lobby?
  • A room or rooms at your church. For an overnight retreat you could take air mattresses, order pizza, and have some fun! 
Local Park

  • A hotel room over the weekend.
  • Rent (or borrow) an RV and head out to a state park. Depending on the size, you can fit up to 6 people in one of those!
  • Rent a cabin at a state park. For about $60-$100 a night, you can sleep around 4 people and be surrounded by God's creation and inspiration.
  • Again, a friend who has a lake house or a time-share they aren't going to use.
  • There are church-run retreat places that will allow you to rent rooms. Often, these places include meals.
    State Park
    A nice RV
  • Stay in a treehouse! Sleep two per treehouse and gather together for brainstorming and eating. 
  • Try a Bed & Breakfast! Erica Vetsch just went on a writing retreat with Mary Connealy and stayed in an awesome B&B. Check it out here.
  • Some retreat places are especially designed for writers, such as The Porches on the James River in Virginia.
  • How about a Georgian house overlooking Schull Harbour in West Cork, Ireland? Uh, yes! Check it out here.
The Blue Belle Inn
The Porches
So I've given you a few ideas on how you can fit a writing retreat into your budget. Do a babysitting swap with a friend if you have young children. Fix your husband some fantastic meals as a bride. Get creative and find a way to sneak out of the house for your own personal writing retreat! You can do it!

Anyone have some great ideas for writing retreats? What was the best retreat you have been on? What made it awesome?

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, May 21, 2012

Live from BRMCWC 2012

Hey everyone! Pepper here, and I'm writing this post from the Blue Ridge Mountains Christians Writers Conference in Black Mountain, NC. It's a fantastic writer's conference that takes place near my 'neck of the woods' and I've had the opportunity to attend it (in bits and pieces) over the past 5 years.

I want to start off by reminding everyone about Divine Appointments. It seems to be the theme of this conference and it's something that I don't think we focus on enough when we are so anxious about pitching our stories to 'so and so' or getting our novels in front of 'what's his name'. Divine Appointments are just that - meetings, usually unexpected, that God strategically places in our paths in which we look back on and think...WOW! Only God could have done worked things out this way!

That's my focus while I'm here at wait, I guess I should always have that mentality :-) God's Divine Appointments and Holy Introductions (as keynote speaker Torry Martin said tonight) But in writing it's really easy to lose sight of God-centered work and focus just on the writing-work. God's right in the middle of our calling - weaving through the pages of our lives to add the perfect blend of intrigue, excitement, and wonder.

Have you ever had a moment like that? Or moments like that? I anticipating them! :-)

I just had a GREAT one with author Susan May Warren. It was a fabulous opportunity for us to share information about something that was NON-writing... Loved it!

Another wonderful opportunity was to give a big ol' hug to Alley Pal, Beth Vogt. Isn't she beautiful. I'll get a better picture tomorrow. My phone doesn't take such great shots. And you'll have the chance to see her "Princess Bride" dress. No worries. I'll have a recap of BRMCWC in two weeks ;-)

Here's one of me with Erynn Newman at the My Book Therapy party tonight.

If tonight has been this exciting, I cannot wait to share about the rest of the time I'm here. From an editing workshop with Susan May Warren to "Hollywood Writer" and so many more - I hope to share a lot of info in my next blog posts.

Now for the BEST news!! All because of Divine Appointment several years ago, my friend Lisa Carter met Abingdon Press editor Ramona Richards (Krista Phillips editor)....and TONIGHT she was awarded a 3 book contracts!! WOW!!!

Come on now - share your divine appointment stories? When was the last time God 'wowed' you :-)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

GREAT editing handbook!
Our weekend theme is all about EDITS!

The red pen. And finishing goals. And meeting deadlines!

This week I finished my first-round edits for my latest story and boy does it feel good to make that goal!

So, I want to know...what goal have you set for yourself and this week met it? OR if you haven't met it yet, are you pleased with the progress you've made to reach it?

Let me know in the comments and I'll enter your name for a surprise prize pack. :-)

Coming next week...

Pepper is blogging from the Blue Ridge Christian Writer's Conference in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains on Monday!

Sherrinda just got back from a writing retreat (and we are all insanely jealous), but she has ideas (and cheap ones!) for those of us who need to escape with just our laptops. Check in on Tuesday!

Learning about pacing from the books we read, continues in Mary's why readers should read series on Wednesday.

Krista speaks from experience on Thursday! She will be talking Proofreading 101 and how she used it in her coming release Sandwich with a Side of Romance.

Casey is your blog hostess with guest Katie Ganshert on Friday! And we'll have a giveaway, so be sure and stop by.

Sidewalk talk...

The winner of our Monday guest, Naomi Rawlings' debut novel is...Nancy Sullivan! Nancy, Angie has emailed you, so go check your inbox. And thanks to Naomi for her guest post and giveaway!

Hope you have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Know Your Reader, Know Your Market

The final post in this series is all about how knowing your reader will help you sell, relate to, and reach other readers out there. If you'd like to check out the first three posts in this series, you can find one on genre, one on setting, and one on characters.

Knowing specifically who your reader is, as we discovered in the first post, gives us great insight into what our readers want to see in our novels.

And now that we know what they want to see, we have to know how to reach them. This is where knowing specifics - like age group, hobbies, etc. - about your reader will help.

So how do you reach your readers?

Know where they hang out on the Internet.
Where are your readers? On Twitter, on Facebook, blogging? Find a few places they frequent and frequent those, too. Make relationships.

Know where they hang out in real life.
Nearby bookstores are great places for signings or to leave bookmarks once your published. Do your readers spend time at church or other activities? See how you might be able to reach readers where they are.

What are their hobbies?
Try to think outside the box and come up with a variety of places. If it's book clubs, then offer to visit, chat via Skype, or even provide a free copy to the host of the book club and ask additional questions or be willing to answer additional questions via e-mail.

As far as thinking outside of the box...
If you blog, don't only blog about writing, blog about what your readers would be interested in. If your book is about a chef, then blog about recipes your chef might make or recipes that would appeal to people who would read what you write. If your readers are also writers, offer a giveaway with journals and pens and other writing stuff they'd enjoy.

Know what your readers are reading.
If your book is similar to someone else's out there, see readers of those books are into. If they like Denise Hunter or Jenny B. Jones, see what websites or author sites they're frequenting and try to make relationships. Or blog about those same authors and let readers know your writing is similar.

So much about this is building relationships. If you know who your reader is specifically, it will go a long way in helping you reach them and hopefully, in the long run, sell your books to them. And if you aren't published yet, it's never too early to appeal to those who might read your books by blogging about or seeking out the same interests they have.

How does knowing your reader help you reach them and make them interested in your writing? If you aren't published yet, are there any steps your taking or any ideas you have to garner readers for the future?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Just Tell Me, Already!

I'm about to break a rule. I'm about to give you advice that goes against everything you've ever heard. And no, it has nothing to do with cute shoes.

Here it is: sometimes it's better to "tell" than "show."

This past week, I've been reading the newest Karen Kingsbury book. If you haven't heard of Karen Kingsbury, then you probably aren't living in North America. She writes romantic suspense and romance, and let's just say she's a very successful Christian writer. And do you know what word I found in this book?


No. Joke. I can almost hear you gasp as you read this. How many times have you been told to never directly tell your readers about your character's feelings? To instead show the character gasping for air, leaping with joy, or choking back a sob? But you know what? This line really worked for me. And it's not just because it was written by Karen Kingsbury (although I will admit, that did make me feel more confident about writing this blog!). I've found the same thing to be true with other authors, like one of my all-time favorites, Robin Jones Gunn.

Let me tell you a little personal story. A while back, I got it in my head that I had to completely rid my writing of telling. I'd heard showing presented the strongest story, and that was that. So do you know what I did? I showed everything. And do you know what I was told by some of the people who read that manuscript? That my characters were difficult to connect with on an emotional level. I'm convinced the problem was, I was so focused on showing every little detail that those readers never knew what my characters were really feeling. And let's face it: a story where readers don't yearn for the characters is not a very good story.

Lest you think I'm suggesting you do a 180 and suddenly start telling your reader everything, don't worry--I'm not suggesting that either. I'm simply saying that sometimes telling does work best, so long as it's used sparingly and properly.

You still don't believe me. I can tell. It's going to take a while to let go of all that hatred you've built up toward "telling." I might as well be suggesting you start writing in dialect or passive voice, right? Well, let me give you a few examples of where it might work best to use telling:

1) To skip through time or distance. Your heroine is taking a trip to Europe. If you show us all the steps she takes from the time she steps into airport security until the time she greets Rome, that is going to be borrrring. We have a hard enough time staying awake through airport security in real life. Sometimes it's better to give us a sentence or two of summary or telling, sparing us the details.

2) To help pacing. This point goes hand-in-hand with the last one, but too much showing can drastically affect your pacing. Speed through the scenes (or scene changes) that don't need that much emphasis by telling us what happens instead of showing every little thing. That way, when you get back to showing, we'll know we're supposed to pay attention.

3) To build emotion or have a "wowsers" moment. Ever read a book with chapter breaks that hooked you so well you just had to keep reading? Many times, books will achieve this effect by combining a description of emotion (often in a telling way) with a "showing" list of things. So imagine a chapter that ended this way:

Strands of hair stuck to her too-sticky lip gloss. She turned away from him, overwhelmed by the smell of her own perfume. The boning of her bridesmaid's dress jabbed her ribs, and in that moment, she knew.

She would never be the same.

Notice the way that last part is technically telling, but it ramps up the showing, taking it to the next level rather than diminishing it. You never want to use telling to cover up poor writing. You only want to use it when you already have the structural elements of the "showing" in place, to add another layer to those showing elements. When used well, brief snipbits of telling can give us a beautiful window into the character's world.

Telling is definitely a practiced art. You have to do a lot of showing before you earn the right to tell for a little while. But remember that the "show, don't tell" rule is really more of a guideline.

Have you been taught to "show, don't tell," and have you ever wanted to break that rule? Can you think of any examples from books that break this rule well? What are some other roles of "telling" we can add to the list?

Photos from,


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 herTumblrShe's also on Facebook and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.