Saturday, June 30, 2012

What's Up the Street Next Week?

Summer Sports.

Do you have a favorite?

My husband has been trying to teach the family tennis. I LOVE tennis - and I'm looking forward to a day when we can practice it more often. It's such a fun sport.

And we're definitely a swimming family. Such a fun summer activity.

So...what about you?

What's happening on The Alley this week?

Monday - Pepper talks about the C.A.R.E factor needed in your first chapter.

Tuesday - Sherrinda's up with another fantastic post about the writing life.

Wednesday - Mary continues her series on Why Writers Should Read: Discussion Questions.

Thursday- Casey has a surprise post ready for us today. I LOVE surprises :-)

Friday - Krista  brings us The Question of Quality Feedback.


Mary's new blog debuts on Monday. Check it out at

Friday, June 29, 2012

Prepare for Conference Early

Yes, I know ACFW's Dallas conference is still three months away, but in the writing world, that's like ten minutes! Which doesn't hurt to start preparing now.

I'm a big fan of lists and preparing so this was a dream post for me. Here's a short list of items you can work on early to be prepared for conference time.

One Sheets

Those one sheets are important. You'll need them for lunches and agent/editor meetings, and random run-ins with those wonderful agents and editors in the bathroom. They're important, so get to work! This also gives you time to have critique partners or writing friends take a look.


Yes, I said shopping. I knew I'd catch your attention. You need business casual attire as well as a super duper glitzy number for the gala (okay, it doesn't have to sparkle but this is like adult Prom :D without songs by Milli Vanilli or Hansen or whoever was popular when you were younger), so now's the time to start looking.

Study Editors and Agents

Whether you've signed up for appointments or not, if you plan on meeting with agents and editors, it's a good idea to know who you're talking to. Study these people like you'd study before sending a query. Know what they're looking for so you can be as prepared as possible.


If you plan on meeting with editors or agents, or even chatting with them at lunches or in the elevator, having a pitch ready is smart. Working on it now gives you time to tweak and practice on unsuspecting victims in the grocery store. One thing I've also done is print my pitch (with the name of the story) on sticky labels and put them on the back of my business cards. That way you have something to refer to if you forget or if someone needs to remember you by your story.

Business Cards

Yes, you're a professional now. If you haven't already, I'd recommend getting some business cards. You can put them with your one sheets, you can hand them out to other professionals or new friends you meet. And you can give the leftovers to your kids to play with. All around good fun!

Those are all the things you can start now and keep working on. And as the conference gets closer, here's what I'd recommend as well. Get a folder. Yep, get a folder for all those things you've already started on, and then add to it. Here's what else you can put inside:

* A checklist of what you need to bring (including all the items above, your camera, extra money, etc.)
* Transportation information, for when you arrive in Dallas and need to get from one place to the next
* Phone numbers of your roommates or anyone else you plan on meeting there
* A few sets of the first scene or chapter of the book you're pitching (sometimes agents or editors will like to see these - yes, it's happened to me before!)
* Flight information

Yeah, there's more, but this is a great place to start. When the conference gets closer, you'll start to find more information on author sites and agent sites. You can also check our archives for old posts if you'd like specifics on one sheets, business cards, pitches, and more.

Are you already getting ready for conference? Can you think of anything else to start working on now?


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 humor.

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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Let's Get Real

Yesterday, Karen wrote an amazing post about deepening the emotional resonance of your prose. If you missed it, scroll down! But today, I'm going to talk about another way to deepen the layers of your story, and that is by writing honestly.

Have you ever read a story and thought to yourself, "Give me a break. That would never happen in real life"? I find this happens a lot with romances because they're so formulaic. And I feel cheated every time I invest in a story, only to realize I've read the exact same thing fifty times. This can happen in any genre. The hero is a little too perfect. The heroine reminds us of a certain curvy plastic doll. And the only thing keeping them from finding what they're looking for is a little self-discovery. A trip to France, and wha-la! Everything is perfect. We're left with that just-ate-too-much-sugar feeling.

I think we have a responsibility as authors to be honest with our audience and honest with ourselves. It's not easy. All too often, when I'm writing, I get this sneaking suspicion that I'm not quite digging deep enough to my heart for the story. Has this ever happened to you? It can be so much easier to write surficial prose and play it safe, writing what we think readers will want to buy.

But is this really being true to our calling?

Writing deep, honest prose is difficult because it requires vulnerability on our part. The critiques, the contest feedback, the rejections all hit us on a more personal level when we've put ourselves, our own struggles, into our writing. But the results are so much more rewarding. These are the stories that inspire, that stick with the reader. These are the stories that change lives.

The following are three ways I think we can be intentional about conveying that vulnerability and crafting better stories.

1) Honest characters. Your characters need struggles as much as they need strengths. I have found that for me, my characters' struggles have to resonate on a personal level with me in order for them to be believable and for me to write these characters honestly. Does that mean every character is an autobiography? Of course not. You would only write one book if that were the case. But we have passions outside of our personal experience. Maybe you never went through something your friends struggled with because someone gave you sound advice, and you feel passionate about giving the same advice to others. Or maybe it's displaying the complexity of a problem or conveying sympathy. But no matter the theme, your characters have to portray that honesty, which takes authorial vulnerability.

2) Honest plot. In real life, people have struggles. Even a lighter story needs to demonstrate this complexity. Oversimplifying things might keep you from squirming too much as a writer, but it will also feel weak to the reader. Your main character doesn't have to be dealing with a terminal illness in order to show a struggle. Maybe she just feels lonely. Or she's got a big crush on some guy who doesn't even know her name. Or her best friend is moving away, and she's trying to put on a strong front even though she's hurting. These things are all ways to show deeper, honest levels of your characters' emotion in a way that comes across as honest to the reader. Try to incorporate these things into your plot instead of going with the first thing that comes to mind. It will endear your readers so much more to your story and leave a more lasting impact.

3) Honest voice. You have a unique writing voice. You may not know what it is yet, but it's there and it's brilliant-- I promise you. Voice comes more easily to some than others, so don't be discouraged if it's not your thing yet. But regardless of how strong you perceive your own voice to be, it's important to realize that for an author's voice to work, it's got to be honest. Otherwise, the line-by-line of your manuscript is going to sound hollow. For example, my writing voice lends itself to comedy. For years, I didn't realize this. As I was working on my M.A., I thought I was a terrible creative writer because I was trying so hard to be literary. But then one day, through the grace of God (literally), it dawned on me that comedy was my thing. Even if you've identified your writing voice, writing in your voice doesn't always come naturally. Things like fear of rejection, too many critiques, and even burnout can get in the way. Sometimes it's really difficult to get in the groove, so to speak. With comedy, I have found that I often get nervous that other people are not going to think I am funny. But when these doubts come, you have to push through. Don't try to hide behind someone else's writing style. Be who you are, because that is who God has called you to be.

Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Make the first move, and readers will feel comfortable allowing themselves to be vulnerable too. And really, isn't that what good writing's all about?

How have you found honesty to be important in your own writing? What about in the books you read?

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, June 27, 2012

Before you type THE END: Creating emotional resonance in your final scenes

I'm freshly back from my globe-trotting adventures, happy to be with my kids again, and extremely jet-lagged. Enjoy this post from the treasure-chest of the Alley archives.

You enjoyed the book. You really did. The author’s voice was strong; the opening scene hooked you; the characters beckoned you in; the plot kept you turning pages.

Then you reached the ending.

Anti-climactic would sum it up. There was simply nothing… memorable about it. The author tied up the plot threads neatly, sure, but it was done with a businesslike air that left you cold. Story’s over; thanks for your company; now back to real life with you, and better be quick about it – the kids are whining and you haven’t started dinner yet.

Yeah, you might think about those characters once or twice over the days ahead, but is this a story you’re going to rave about to your friends?

Probably not.

The brutal truth is that a story is only as good as its ending. Endings matter. They’re the final impression you leave with your reader. The part of the story that lingers – or fails to do so – in a reader’s mind. Dash off a forgettable ending, and chances are the reader will soon forget the rest of the book as well.

In this post I talked about creating twist endings – those unexpected reveals that change the way we perceive a story as a whole. This week I’d like to approach the topic from a different angle entirely.

Many great novels don’t end with a twist – and yet they still give us pause, striking some note deep within that feels like truth, taking us to a place where rows of type transmute into something bigger than the fictional world; something that imprints itself on our spirit.

These are the stories that make us want to cling a few minutes longer to the world of the author’s creation instead of leaving it behind. The stories we can’t stop thinking about. The ones we can’t stop talking about.

I believe these endings all have one thing in common.

Emotional resonance.

Stories offer something that life cannot always give. Closure. A sense of completion, of finality. A sense that we’ve been on a journey, and that the journey has had a purpose. The best endings contain a largeness that expands beyond the lives of the characters we’ve walked beside. Such endings illuminate not just the themes of the book, but something about our own lives, our own experience.

According to, resonance can be defined as:

Richness or significance, especially in evoking an association or strong emotion
Or, acoustically speaking:

Intensification and prolongation of sound, especially of a musical tone, produced by sympathetic vibration.

To me, the idea of “sympathetic vibration” is key. When a musician draws a bow across a cello, the strings vibrate, creating sound. But energy also passes into the body of the instrument, causing the air and wood to vibrate at the same frequency. The richness of tone that results is known as resonance.

Us authors have the chance to play words like musicians. For an ending to resonate emotionally, it needs to work in frequency with notes played much earlier in the story.

The best endings contain something of the beginning. They give us a sense of completion – of coming full circle.

Let’s look at four ways to do this.

  1. A resonant phrase
At the beginning of The Kite Runner, the protagonist, Amir, enters a kite-fighting tournament with his servant Hassan. They win – a victory that symbolizes to Amir the chance to finally win his father’s approval. But the victory will not be complete until they run down the felled kite of their final opponent. Knowing how much it means to Amir, Hassan offers to run the kite for him.

“Hassan!” I called. “Come back with it!”

He was already turning the street corner, his rubber boots kicking up snow. He stopped, turned. He cupped his hands around his mouth. “For you a thousand times over!” he said. Then he smiled his Hassan smile and disappeared around the corner. The next time I saw him smile unabashedly like that was twenty-six years later, in a faded Polaroid photograph.

Amir follows his servant and witnesses something so shocking it will forever after define him as a person. He has the chance to step in and protect Hassan, but in cowardice he chooses instead to run away.

Many years later, grown and living in America, Amir begins the walk toward redemption through his efforts to help Sohrab, Hassan’s war-scarred son. In the book’s final scene, Amir and Sohrab are at a kite-fighting tournament. Amir turns to the troubled boy.

“Do you want me to run that kite for you?”

His Adam’s apple rose and fell as he swallowed. The wind lifted his hair. I thought I saw him nod.

“For you, a thousand times over,” I heard myself say.

Then I turned and ran.

A simple phrase that resonates with meaning, because we know all it signifies to the protagonist. Regret and redemption, past and present: all brought full circle in those few significant words.

  1. A resonant action

Early in Dale Cramer’s novel Bad Ground, the character of Snake shares a childhood memory of sitting at his mother’s feet while she plays with a hank of his hair, circling her fingertip round and round a single spot on his scalp. It’s a caress that holds significance because she uses it only with him.

At the end of the novel, the same character is so badly burned he has no hair. His mother has been paralyzed for years, incapable of communication or movement beyond the occasional raised finger. Snake, fully grown now, sits on the floor at his mother’s feet and places her hand on his bald head. Slowly, very slowly, the paralysed woman begins to trace circles on her son’s bald head with her finger, just as she used to do to when he was young.

I’ll admit it – the scene brought tears to my eyes. Without the earlier emotional set-up, a simple action like this would not have resonated so deeply with me as a reader.

  1. A resonant image
At the beginning of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, a snowstorm forces Dr David Henry to deliver his own twins. The little boy is born normal; the girl has Down Syndrome. In a split second decision that will change all of their lives forever, the father asks the nurse to take away the disabled child and put her in an institution, telling his wife that the baby died in childbirth.

At the end of the book, the existence of the lost sister, Phoebe – now a young woman – is finally uncovered. Paul, the twin who remained, takes Phoebe to visit their father’s grave.

Everything slowed, until the whole world was caught in this single hovering moment. Paul stood very still, waiting to see what would happen next.

For a few seconds, nothing at all.

Then Phoebe turned, slowly, and smoothed her wrinkled skirt.

A simple gesture, yet it set the world back in motion.

Paul noted how short and clipped her fingernails were, how delicate her wrist looked against the granite headstone. His sister’s hands were small, just like their mother’s. He walked across the grass and touched her shoulder, to take her home.

It’s a simple image that brings closure. More than two decades after the baby girl was sent away from home and family, in secret, we are left with the image of the young man finally taking his twin sister home. The symbolism resonates with us because we’ve walked the journey of what came before.

  1. A resonant emotional arc

In The Secret Life of Bees, fourteen-year-old Lily craves one thing: the love of her dead mother. Her journey takes her to the home of three beekeeping sisters, where she finds acceptance. In the final scene of the novel, after a confrontation with her abusive father, Lily says:

I watched till he was gone from sight, then turned and looked at August and Rosaleen and the Daughters on the porch. This is the moment I remember clearest of all – how I stood in the driveway looking back at them. I remember the sight of them standing there waiting. All these women, all this love, waiting.

Then, in the last lines of the novel, the author draws the connection with Lily’s emotional journey to create a final note of resonance.

This is the autumn of wonders, yet every day, every single day, I go back to that burned afternoon in August when T. Ray left. I go back to that one moment when I stood in the driveway with small rocks and clumps of dirt around my feet and looked back at the porch. And there they were. All these mothers. I have more mothers than any eight girls off the street. They are the moons shining over me.

In those last lines, we see the significance of the story. It’s always been about Lily’s search for a mother. And there they are. They’ve been there all along. It’s a profound realisation.


In each of these examples, the author has taken the time to lay the emotional groundwork early on. Then, when these motifs are revisited at the end, they hold an instant and powerful significance to the reader. This brings a fullness and richness to the final scenes – a resonance – that cannot be achieved any other way.

Let’s talk. Which endings have resonated with you emotionally? Can you tell us why? Do share! 

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia. When she's not chasing after three small children, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website and Twitter.


A story is only as good as its ending. 4 keys to achieving emotional resonance in your final scenes: Click to Tweet

The best endings contain something of the beginning. They give us a sense of completion – of coming full circle. Click to Tweet 

For an ending to resonate emotionally, it needs to work in frequency with notes played much earlier in the story. Click to Tweet 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Deadly G-Word: Some Grammar Helps
Ever notice that "comma" and "coma" are remarkably similar in spelling?

Seems appropriate when I remember those sleepy junior high lectures on how to diagram a sentence.

Commas have long been my nemesis.

Apparently I'm not alone. I asked some of my Alleymates if they have a grammar foibles.

"Commas. Yep. Bleh." Three of us mentioned this as a struggling point.

"For me its italics."

"It's or its. Grammar check STILL corrects me on this one."

"Loose versus lose. I mess this one up all the time!"

"I always mess up lie and lay, commas, and whether to  put periods or commas inside or outside of quotation marks. Man, editors are going to hate me! :)"

Whatever your grammar struggle, you are not alone.

Grammar is so crucial though. Simple errors make us look unprofessional. Leading to rejections. Frustration.

How can we brush up on our grammar? I would like to present some websites and resources that have helped me along the way in hopes they might help someone else.

Richard Lederer's Verbivore site. I suggest clicking on the language links tab for loads of great websites to check out on just about every topic imaginable.

I bought The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation at the recommendation of someone on the ACFW loop. Its a very helpful reference, but I wish I had known you can click here and look at it online for free instead. There are tons of quizzes on this site which will help you better understand what you most need to know.

Here's a fun game for us commaphobes: test your comma IQ. Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss is a helpful book for those who struggle with punctuation problems. Truss also has a picture book version for kids that is a fun read.

Guide to Grammar & Writing is filled with specific helps for a variety of issues. From run-ons to subject agreement, this directory is concise.

Strunk & White Come on, you didn't think I would write a grammar linky guide without including an online version of this all-time classic. Short and sweet, you probably still have a copy of this at home from your freshman year of college.

Consider taking a community college course. Many times you can audit these courses for a very low price, even free. It may be the answer to solving some of your grammar woes.

Find a grammar pal. It helps to surround yourself with those who are better than you at any skill and writing is no different.

How about you? Do you have a "grammar nemesis"? Have you found any resources that have helped you?

 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 currently reviews for The Title Trakk.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rehearsal notes for Your Rough Draft

Have you ever been in, or watched a play rehearsal? The actors have their scripts and pencils in hand, and as the director calls out his suggestions, the actors take notes. Perhaps, an actor delivers his line in a bold voice and the director decides the line should be spoken soft and sharp. The actor scribbles his suggestion in his script. Sometimes the director will have the actors repeat the scene with the new notes, or sometimes, the director's comments and suggestions will be taken and performed at the next rehearsal.
 If every comment from the director is expected to be hashed out by the actor at that very moment, then opening night would be pushed back further and further. Actors take notes so they can apply them to their next take on that scene.
And this is how we as writers should consider our rough drafts. When we write our stories for the first time we should focus on developing our character arc and plot. Any reworked scenes or added ones, holes in research, loss of words, should be noted for later.
It's easy to get caught up in perfection and continually go back and edit and fill in and rewrite, but that opening night (the final "the end" or the agent appointment) will fade in the distance.

Here are a few ways I prevent my momentum from stalling as I truck along on my rough draft:

Holes in Research: Whether you need to research an Old West saloon or a pyschotherapist's office in upstate New York, most novels need research of some sort to maintain their believability. Unless your research is key to moving character and plot forward, I suggest listing out your research needs as you go. In my rough draft, I put them at the top of Chapter One, so the first thing I will do in my edits is fill in the research gaps. (Blogger cuts off some of my files, but you'll get the gist)

 Loss of Words: It's hard to believe a writer would have a loss for words, but please tell me I am not the only one! I could pour out wonderful sentences and type deep pov, but without fail, I'll have a word here or there that just doesn't feel right, or is not coming to me at that moment. Also, I might need a proper name (like in my example) and I don't want to stop my pace to search for it. This is where the highlight tool in Word-like programs comes into use. It's a great way to point out repetative words or cliches to be touched up in the next draft round.
 Scene Ideas: When you are trying to hash out characters, you might realize that you need another scene to give the reader insight into something specific...Or, if your plot jumps in an unnatural way, say, your heroine falls in love with the hero just after she learns something awful about him, you'll realize a scene might need to squeeze in to enhance your story. My problem is, if I have gotten to one part in the story that I am pumped about where it's going, I may not be in the mood to go back and write THAT new scene at that moment. So, I make a note (like below) and save that scene for later, but giving myself enough of a note so I remember what I wanted to write.
 Future Chapters: Some of you plotters might think this next one is ridiculous. But trust me, for this wanna-be plotter who just gets carried away with writing ahead of myself, this has helped me immensely. At the end of my rough draft, I always list out my future chapters with a snippet of what is going to happen. When I go on to the next chapter, I have a reminder of what's to come (I include the page numbers to help with my pacing).

 For example,  

105-115- Chapter 13- Leanna confronts Stavi about his's not the same. Stavi says you were angry with him for all this time...anger... 

Yeah, I usually change it around, or come up with something different, but it's nice to have the future laid out so I can purposefully move my novel forward. I usually tweak these as I think and type, and as my characters inevitably take me in new directions.

Your turn. What do you do to keep your momentum in your rough draft without getting caught up in editing? Do you think this is different for plotters vs. pantsters?

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, June 23, 2012

What's Up the Street Next Week?

Okay - Vacation anyone?
What are your plans.
Stop by today and give us the 'scoop'. Either share your favorite vacation EVER or tell us your plans for this summer.

Now what's going on this week?

Monday - Ang puts on her fantastic teacher-hat and takes us on a look inside her WIP. Come learn from her helpful tips.

Tuesday - Tuck and run if you need to ;-) Julia brings a post on the G-word...GRAMMAR!

Wednesday - Join Karen as she writes about creating emotional resonance in the final scenes.

Thursday -Ashley 'gets real' with a post about The Importance of Honesty and Vulnerability in Writing 

Friday - It's never too early to get ready for conference, and Cindy provides some great tips today.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Power of a Deadline...The Importance of a Goal

Photo Courtesy of Free Digital Photos
I just came through a very long, very short deadline.

Within less than one week, I completely read through my 93k novel, editing as I went. Because of certain circumstances I had to knuckle down and get this done ASAP.

Because of how I'm wired, having a deadline energizes me. Knowing when I HAVE to have something done makes me work all the harder to get it finished.

So for me, knowing my novel had to be finished within that one week, I had to get a schedule and stick. to. it.

In the case of short deadlines like these, it's a good idea to not let yourself deviate from your planned goals. On the flip side: set realistic goals. You don't want to so overextend yourself that after one to two days you're just ready to be done.

Make a schedule.

For me that meant editing 50 pages every day. Taking into consideration I wouldn't get to edit like that for two days because of work and having less time over the weekend. But there were days I edited more than 50 pages, making up for the ones I missed.

Take short, short breaks.

It's imperative that when keeping a deadline of this magnitude you take short breaks throughout the day as you are working. For me that meant one or two computer games or one chapter for pleasure. But keep a firm hand on this, and don't let yourself get out of control. ;-) The key to a deadline is focus and personal accountability. I knew if I didn't get those pages done, I'd be sitting in my seat until I did get it done (aka: as long as it takes)...which meant I didn't get as much night-time reading in or actually emerging to see my family.

The same holds true...

...for longer deadlines. Be willing (and even) plan for short breaks, but with the suggestion that you don't do this any longer than a day or two. Whether you are taking a month, two months or even longer to finish a project, give yourself something to reach for and attain along the way. If you're a big picture kind of person, give yourself an end date that you HAVE to meet (again, be realistic, but also challenging, it's how you'll grow.)

For a short-term planner, give yourself a goal you need to meet that week, day or even hour. Mold the deadline to fit who you are.

The difference between goals and deadlines.

If you're a stay at home mom, work outside the home or just frankly a human being who has a bazillion things pulling at your time, consider the difference between a goal and a deadline. Both are extremely helpful, but play two very different roles.

A goal...

Gives you something to attain and work towards, but you might not have an end date. You know on lunch breaks and between soccer practice and dinner, you've got a few minutes to squeeze in a few edits or a hundred words. You have a GOAL to finish XYZ before, say, the end of summer, but you also understand that ABC often gets in the way. However, you are not going to let it stop you from reaching this goal.

Keep your goal always in the front of your mind. Give yourself permission to "fail", but keep pushing forward.

A deadline...

 Is much more strict. You have a start date. You have an end date. And you're going to try your hardest to meet that deadline. You could have something extreme like me with editing my novel in a week. Or you could have something small that you've been wanting to finish and need some motivation.

The key to a deadline is motivation. It's what gets you up in the morning, it's what keeps you up at night. It's the yearning for a sense of accomplishment and one you should never underestimate.

A goal and deadline will often work together in the way a goal gets you started, a deadline makes you finish.

Utilize these tools. Learn to master them and not let them master you. But don't treat them flippantly or with disrespect. Both are powerful motivators and can cause super-human results. ;-)

What about you? Do you like to use a deadline to keep you motivated?


Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Characters: The Love/Hate Relationship Readers Have With Them

I have a secret favorite past time I'm not sure I've ever shared with anyone.


Okay, here it is:

I have an insane curiosity for reading readers reviews of books, both on Amazon and on Goodreads.

They are intriguing, especially the "bad" reviews. BOY can those things be brutal.

Now, I'm not obsessed with this, but as I ready myself for the onslaught of "reviews" both good (hopefully!) and bad (I'm a big girl!) it helps me brace for the experience.

Many times, the "complaints" are in direct opposition to the "good" reviews, which makes it even more interesting.

There are so many other fun notes about reviews to post, but today, I want to focus on a fun difference of opinion I see quite a bit.

It's the fun Love/Hate relationship readers have with our characters.

An example in a debut novel by one of my SUPER awesome author friends.

Katie Ganshert's new release Wildflower from Winter got a review with this note, "While the characters were described well, I didn't relate to them..."

Yet, she also go another one with this statement, "Bethany is a wonderful multifaceted character that I easily identified with..."

And even in my very small handful of reviews I've already received on my to-be-published novel, Sandwich, with a Side of Romance, I've seen differences in opinions.

"Maddie was more annoying than adorable"


"I loved the conversations Maddie had with God. (I’ve had many similar ones with Him myself.) These conversations are where most of the inspiration comes from in this story; Maddie’s ‘requests’ and God’s answers. Her requests were a bit cheeky yet realistic, His answers were as you’d expect. This was definitely a light and refreshing way to give the reader some food for thought."

But these difference in "relating" or "liking" our characters isn't relegated to debut novelists like Katie and I.

Even the amazing Francine Rivers has reviews that talk about how her characters are "flat", yet has hundreds to thousands of reviews gushing over her phenomenal writing and telling how her characters have impacted the reader's lives.

HERE is the thing about characters in relation to our readers-- Get ready for this, it's a really deep revelation!

Some readers will love them.
And some readers will hate them.

I know. Profound, huh.

So what do we do as writers? We can't please everyone, so how do we know WHO to please, and how do we make sure we please as many as possible.

1.) GOD TRUMPS ALL. At least for me, God is my 1st and most important audience. This doesn't mean my character has to be perfect or overly religious or anything like that. But God can use our flawed characters for his glory, and my prayer is always that God is pleased with my writing.

2.) DO YOU LIKE YOUR CHARACTER? This almost goes without saying, but sometimes it's easy to get wrapped up in your character that you need to take a step back and make sure you, the writer, would love/relate to the character if you were the reader. 

3.) KNOW YOUR GENRE. Different genres have different "requirements" so to speak about characters. Someone who writes Amish romance will have a slightly different set of readers to please than someone who writes romantic comedy.

4.) DON'T FORGET YOUR MOTIVATION. You can still have flawed, realistic characters in your novels... as long as they have appropriate motivation for their flaws and actions. We need to understand why they are how they are, and be able to root for them to conquer their flaws.

5.) REDEEM YOUR CHARACTER. For every annoying/unlikable trait your character has, add one or two endearing ones. The more unlikable the trait, the more endearing ones they need. It is easy to get so caught up in making a realistic character with flaws that people can relate to that we forget that our readers need to be able to root for our main characters.

Not everyone is going to like all of your characters. That's a fact we need to accept right now. But that doesn't mean we don't try to make our characters capture as many readers' hearts as possible.

And for the record... the readers who didn't like them? They aren't wrong. It is their opinion... they have their own personality that draws them toward certain types of characters. Have you ever read a book that had rave reviews and you were like, "Eh, yeah, not my cup of tea"? I think we all have.

The customer is always right... and so is the reader!

Discussion: What are some flawed characters you've read that you have still loved? What are some FAVORITE characters in books you've read? How do YOU try to write dynamic characters who will click with the most readers possible?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why Writers Should Read-Taking Risks

I went on a hike to Sioux Charley Lake located in the Rocky Mountains this last week. What a blast. What a challenge. 

Sometimes...somethings are worth the risk.

Back at home, with a tall glass of ice tea, I read House of Secrets by Tracie Peterson. The lesson I learned from her well crafted book: don't be afraid to take risks.

There are few fiction authors who have successfully tackled deep topics like mental health, child abuse, and etc. House of Secret by Tracie Peterson, Daisy Chain by Mary DeMuth, and Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers are excellent examples.

Tips for Taking Risks

1. Always have a plan: In House of Secrets, three sisters lives have been affected by a schizophrenic mother. Peterson throws the reader into the sister's shaken twenty-year-old world to experience affect and healing.

The book could have focused on the sisters as children, as Mary DeMuth did in Daisy Chain. This presentation had an equally powerful impact.

Or the book could have touched the young life, expanded the in-between-years then settled in the life of a twenty-year-old as Francine Rivers did in Redeeming Love for a riviting presentation.

Tender topics need a plan of action. I am a Pantster not a Plotter. However, my current work is about the homeless. Tough stuff. I am definitely plotting my way through this book.

2. Present information about the issue in subtle ways. This is not nonfiction! Grocery lists and pages of information are not allowed. Readers want to walk with someone on their journey not sit in a classroom.

In House of Secrets, Peterson used conversation between the sisters to help the reader understand basics of schizophrenia. Action throughout the story helps readers feel the emotions with the sisters as the present is explained with unveiled past.

In Daisy Chain, DeMuth weaves the destruction of alcoholism, and child abuse with fine, gentle threads heralding a truth.

In Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers, also weaves her topic throughout the story but with a thick, strong thread...mighty like Samson.

Key: progressive unraveling of the issue and its impact

3. Don't shy from a risky topic.  Your work may help someone suffering or watching a person suffering from the issue. Research the topic. Make sure you're an expert. Tracie Peterson's dedication reads: With thanks to Angie B for her willingness to share. Tracie not only researched the topic but spoke with those who had experiences to share. DeMuth pulled from her own life experiences, and Rivers pulled from the Bible. All three also insured vocabulary, expressions, and medical terms aligned with the topic presented.

4. Provide resources for the readers. Include discussion questions for groups, places to find more information, organizations that can help those in need.  Information and organizations need to be easily accessible for anyone in the US or readership domain.

Can I say again, don't shy from these topics? There are a lot of non fiction books covering these issues, but a fiction book gently says, Yes, there are others who have walked in your shoes. You are not alone. Here is what we did. Here is where you can go for help. Someone cares about you.

Has a book you've read dealt with a risky topic? Which topic did it address? 
Do you have a difficult topic to present in the fiction format? 

Once again I am looking for reading partners for another two week challenge. Will you commit with me to read one book in two weeks?


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 new blog launches 7/1/12
Or her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids:
Or email her at

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blogging and Copyright Issues

Photo by
If you are a blogger who uses photographs in your posts, you need to be aware that the photos you use may be copyrighted. Let me tell you...if you aren't careful, you can face legal action.

I was one of those stupid ones who would google my blog topic, then choose a photo from Google Images. Yeah, that's not a good idea. I had used a photo that belonged to an artist who did not appreciate me using it. I was told to remove it or face legal action in three days. I removed it from the blog post, but it kept showing up in Google Image searches. I was told it was my responsibility to have it removed...or else. It took hours of research to figure out how to remove an image from searches, but I did it, and haven't heard any more from the artist. 

I promptly deleted ALL photos from my posts that were not my own; so if you are going back through my backlist of posts to learn from all my "wisdom", you will find lots of those white squares with the little red X's in them. I want to be legal. I want to respect the artist. I want to do what's right. 

During my scary "experience", I emailed back and forth with my Alley Cats, and Mary sent us her list of  links to sites that have copyright-free photos to use. So with her permission, I am sharing her list, along with some other sites that readers from my personal blog sent me. 

Free Stock Photos: 
Stock Xchng:
Wikimedia Commons:
Flikr Pingnews Commons:
Morgue File:
Free Digital Photos:
Visual Bible Alive:
Christian Image Source:

Here are a couple of sites that have a great list of photo sites:

Please note that even though these sites have photographs that you can use, some may require an attribution. That means you may have to either link back to the site, or put the name of the author/artist with the photo.

So you bloggers out there, go out and be not afraid. Just be careful.

Do you have a favorite site for gathering photos for your blog posts? Please share!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dark Moments - Inspired by Susie May Warren and Rachel Hauck

Gee, that title isn't very flattering to Susie and Rachel, is it? LOL
No, they are not the ones inspiring Dark Moments (unless it's in their characters :-) - but they are the ones teaching about Dark Moments.

In fact - it's the DARK MOMENT of your character's life.

Today, I've tried my hand at a 'vlog' to talk to you about Dark Moments.  Bear with me, I'm still trying to figure out how it works and seeing my face that big on a screen is frightening :-) GREAT face shot there, isn't it? AHHHHH! Just wait until you hear the accent :-)

Sherrinda's post entitled Creating the Lie is right here.

Here's another vlog with 2 examples of Dark Moments.

So, what do you think? Leave a comment about the Dark Moment for your character in your WIP.
Also - tell me what you think of vlogging! Besides the initial shock of it, what did you think?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What's Up The Street For Next Week

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Sunny skies.
Cool breezes.
Baseball games, tennis matches, and soccer fields.

And among it all - there are reviews.
Yes, that's right!

And we happen to have a review RIGHT here to spice up the Weekend Notes! Krista Phillips' debut novel doesn't come out until next month, but there are already whispers among the libraries that it's a book worth reading.
What do I mean?
Library Journal Review had this to say about Krista's novel, Sandwich With a Side of Romance.

“Former bad girl Maddie Buckner is a recent convert to Christianity. She moves to Sandwich, IL, with her 11-year-old brother in the hopes of a fresh start. Maddie gets work as a hairdresser but loses that position when she accidentally cuts off a huge chunk of a customer's hair. She gets a job at a restaurant, The Sandwich Shop, and starts to develop feelings for her engaged boss, Reuben. When someone sets out to sabotage the expansion of the restaurant, Maddie investigates. VERDICT Full of romance, humor, and mystery, this debut novel will put Phillips on the CF map and win her followers of Philip Gulley and Phil Callaway.

WAY TO GO, Krista!!!

So- what's going on this week?

Monday - Pepper brings you more tips from Susan May Warren's class on Becoming Your Own Book Therapist

Tuesday - Sherrinda brings some important tips about Blogging and Copyright Issues

Wednesday - Mary continues her wonderful series about Why Writers Should Read - Taking Risks

Thursday - Krista talks about characters and the love/hate relationship readers have with them

Friday - Join Casey for a discussion on the importance of Goals and Deadlines

Stop by and learn more...and have a GREAT weekend!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Are You a Writer? Then You Have to Be a Superhero!

I know most of you who visit this blog are writers. So of course YOU know what I'm talking about when I say people are always telling us writers what to do. Not in a mean way, of course, but they're saying being an author has changed. They're saying it's not just about writing anymore, it's about marketing and social networking, and pretty much being awesome! And YOU have to do it!

What do they tell us we need to do?
(oh, and keep in mind, this is all before even being published - more responsibilities are added after you get to that point)

Have a blog or a website or both

Join Twitter and use it!

Make a million friends on Facebook (okay, slight exaggeration on this one)

Follow agent/editor blogs

Follow trends in publishing

Read books on craft, books in your genre, books in other genres. Read, read, read!

Attend conferences

photo by HystericalMark
Enter contests

Try out other forms of social media or ways to connect with people in a professional way. Pinterest, Goodreads, Linkedin, and more!

Am I forgetting something? Oh, right. You actually have to write a book, too, in your spare time. Does this sound like a full-time job? It kind of is--and for most of us, this isn't even our full time job.

Basically, it boils down to the fact that you have to be a superhero. Or you have to have a superhero power, like not needing any sleep so you can have time for all of this.

But guess what? I'm here to encourage you! For real! If you're reading this, you're already doing something. If you write every once in awhile, you're doing something. Heading to Dallas for conference? Yay! Another check!

The reality is, we can't do everything! Or at least not for long. No matter how much time we think we have. When people tell us that writers are supposed to be doing it all, they're not trying to be mean. They're trying to prepare us. And that's a great thing. But I also think it's a great thing to encourage ourselves every once in awhile. To reward ourselves for what we're already doing, and remind ourselves we don't have to be doing everything on that list every minute of every day.

Pick of a few things each year or each month, and make them your goal. Focus on one or two forms of social media instead of seventeen. Reassess every few months to be sure you're making the best use of your time. Ultimately, though, make sure it's mostly about the writing. Don't stop writing!

And pray!

Truly, we can wear ourselves out doing everything WE think we should do. So if we're not certain, pray about it, and listen, and be prepared to hear that maybe we need to be doing more, or maybe, just maybe, doing less will result in more in the long run.

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by having to do it all? What's your least favorite thing about being a writer? Oh, and to stay encouraging, what's your favorite thing?


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,

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hello Characters, Please Be Charming

Have you ever looked at your main characters and thought, "If only I could make you more interesting"? I know I have, especially when I'm writing the first draft and still trying to figure out all the quirks of my main characters.

Pepper wrote an amazing post last week on a similar topic after attending Susan May Warren's course at the Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference. I loved her idea of interviewing your characters to get to know their deepest thoughts. What a great method to use to discover the lie your characters believe about themselves and how you can use that lie to shape the plot.

So let's say you've taken Pepper and Susie's advice, and you've peeled back those layers your main characters have. What is the next step? How do you convey those deeper levels in the story itself?

This is something I've struggled with in my own writing. My voice tends to be more humorous and lighthearted, so at times I have to really make a conscious effort to step back and add in those deeper elements to really hook the reader's emotions. So, I thought I'd make a list of strategies we can all take to really pull out those layers and convey them in our writing.

1) External structure should mirror your internal character arc. A great DVD set I recently ordered on this topic is The Hero's 2 Journeys by Chris Vogler and Michael Hauge. Try to make sure all your turning points allow us to see a change in your character's internal arc. Really use those turning points to ramp up the characters' emotion as well as the reader's empathy. On the same token, strategically choose turning points that will allow you to do this well. If your character is afraid of heights, put her engagement ring on the top of the Empire State Building. If she wants to be on Dancing with the Stars... well, you get the idea.

2) Be sure your characters' reactions are appropriate. Give your characters something to react to. Think of it this way: would you find a ten foot hole in the middle of the street? Probably not, unless the Creature from the Black Lagoon showed up. You might, however, find a small pothole. Your narrative is the same way. You can give readers little glimpses of that lie your characters believe, but be sure you give them a major moment in the plot before letting them fall into a giant emotional hole.

3) Use secondary characters (in addition to plot points) to generate emotion. Secondary characters are great because they give us a lot more leeway in what we can get away with, both with their personalities and subplots. They can make terrible choices or be hilarious, and these characteristics give us a lot to go off when adding dynamics to our main characters' story lines. So when it comes to secondary characters, be creative in how you develop their interactions with the leading ones. And also be creative in how you allow your main characters to react. Think of the friend who's in a bad relationship, the one who's too obsessed with her job, the one who's flying to Africa to chase a guy.

4) Above all use, follow your heart. Allen Arnold, previous VP of Thomas Nelson and now with Ransomed Heart, always emphasizes this point, and I love the blog he wrote on this topic recently. Though he, of course, uses much less frilly language than "following your heart" because, let's face it, that's kind of a southern belle thing to say. The point is, God has written certain ideas and themes on your heart and into your story. You might not even realize that yet, but they are there-- I promise-- just waiting to get out. These inspirational messages are unique to you, to your calling, and it's very important that you trust God to let that out. Your story matters. Your. Story. Matters. So let your characters show that truth.

On that same note, sometimes it's really easy to hide the deeper layers of our story because we are afraid of rejection. Rejection stings, doesn't it? And after a while, it can be really easy to hide behind all the critiques we've gotten over time. (Side note: surround yourself with people who encourage rather than discourage you when they challenge your writing.) But if we aren't willing to be vulnerable first to our characters and then to our audience, what kind of story do we really have? So be brave and believe in your calling. Some people might not like it or get it. That's okay. It's not their calling. And the only life you're accountable for living, the only story you're responsible for telling, is your own.

I want to hear from you! What are your thoughts? How do you deepen the characters in your writing? Do you have any questions or advice to share?

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.