Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guest Post: Genesis winner and debut novelist Jennifer Fromke

Karen here, and I'm so thrilled to introduce you today to my dear friend and critique partner Jennifer Fromke. 

Jennifer won the ACFW Genesis award for women's fiction in 2010, and her debut novel "A Familiar Shore" recently released from Write Integrity Press. She's one talented lady. I hope you'll make her feel welcome!

Handing over to Jenn, who will be sharing her tips on how to sweep the reader into a different world.
Take Me Away . . . 

I read because I want to spend time in a place that is not my real life. So when I write, I aim to catapult my readers into my story-world. I’ve come up with a few keys to accomplish this:
1. Bring something from home
2. Sense it
3. Paint it
4. POV Perspective
5. Be Consistent

Bring something from home
My debut novel is about a woman who must visit Charlevoix, MI for the first time in her life. Whether you are describing a magical world that doesn’t exist or a real place people could actually visit, it’s important to include items from the world your reader knows in your description of that place. I once read a fantasy story about a world with billowing orange clouds and blue trees. I know the colors well, and I know what billowy clouds look like, so I could easily translate what I knew into a mental picture of her story world. Had she named the clouds something different and instead of trees, suggested the vegetation was blue, I wouldn’t know what to picture in my mind. But because she brought some “items from home” along, I could make the leap to her crazy new story world.
Sense it
Help the reader experience the same senses your POV character experiences. Don’t tell me the air smelled odd. Tell me “She inhaled the scent of fried seafood mixed with boat fuel.” This makes sense in the first scene of my novel, because my character is walking toward a seafood dive situated on the water, where fishing boats are just pulling in with the day’s fresh catch of fish. Help us feel the trickle of sweat as it drips down her back beneath a silk blouse. Telling the reader it’s hot does very little in bringing the reader into your world. Showing a trickle of sweat will communicate much more - and it will make the reader remember when he’s felt a trickle of sweat on his back.

Paint it
Consider each sentence a brush stroke. A painter usually starts with the background, using broad strokes. This will include the landscape, the weather, general descriptions. This is a great place to add landmarks - a water tower, a lake, the courthouse, a town square, Main Street, etc . . . Next, a painter will paint a specific object in the foreground. A writer will pick out something specific the reader can picture in his mind’s eye. Then the painter will shade and add details. In the same way, a writer needs to zero in on a few significant details.

SHOW the reader what the POV character thinks about the scene. Is he worried? Content? Angry? Confused? SHOW us his unique angle on the scene and the reader will see things much better!

Let’s evaluate a short passage from A Familiar Shore:
As soon as they entered the city proper, pink, purple and white flowers lined the curb on both sides of the street for several miles. Old homes with deep porches and brightly brimming flower boxes gave way to antique shops, real estate offices and an ancient Whippy Dip. The entire town screamed, “Visit me!”

The flowers lining the street will ring true for anyone who has ever visited this town - they are always there. And they are also a sensory image - most people can imagine a road and flowers. The deep porches describe the architecture type to a small degree and the ancient Whippy Dip will evoke memories from many people who have either lived near one of these places or else stopped by one on a road trip. These items are designed to evoke a memory in as many minds as possible, broad brushstrokes. They bring something (from home) to this scene from a vast array of personal experiences. The flower boxes provide detail, which adds to the overall feel of the place, while giving the reader a specific image to focus on. The town screaming “Visit me!” gives us the opinion of the POV character. This line tells us it’s a touristy place and overall, it’s positive.

Final Key: Be Consistent
If an author describes where certain buildings are located within a town, the reader can make a sort of map in his mind and use it throughout the story as characters travel between these various places. Jan Karon does a fabulous job of this in her Mitford series. When details in the story continuously line up, the reader is rewarded for remembering these details when they are mentioned again later in the book. But if the details shift or are not specific enough, the reader will be lost.

How do YOU draw your readers into your story world?


Jenn, thanks so much for these great tips and for taking the time to hang out with us today!

Here's the blurb for Jennifer's stunning debut novel:

Meg Marks is a young lawyer raised off the coast of the Carolinas. An anonymous client hires her to arrange his will, and sends her to meet his estranged family at their lake home in northern Michigan. After a shocking discovery, she finds herself caught between his suspicious family and a deathbed promise her conscience demands that she keep. Will she sacrifice her own dreams for revenge? Or will she seek something more?

You can purchase "A Familiar Shore" here or here. It's a fabulous read!

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia. When she's not chasing after two small boys or gazing at her brand-new baby girl, 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.


Heidi Chiavaroli said...

I love the idea of considering each sentence a brushstroke. Very neat! Thanks Jennifer!

Side-note: I read A Familiar Shore and found it an extremely delightful read!

Lindsay Harrel said...

I love your examples for "show not tell". Thanks for sharing!

Julia M. Reffner said...

I love your example of "painting". What a great post and certainly makes me want to check out your book, Jennifer

Beth K. Vogt said...

First, I must confess just a wee bit of jealousy that Jennifer is your crit partner.
I met Jennifer at ACFW last year and she is just so charming!
And her debut novel is delightful. She knows how to paint a beautiful picture of the world her characters live in -- and she drew me right into that world.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I've been having such a difficult time with setting in my WIP, since it involves homeless characters traveling from place to place. There is never any specific setting--the only real setting would be different trains or homeless camps. Any suggestions?

Gabrielle Meyer said...

I've read many "how-to" books on writing, but this post was one of the best examples of giving some specific ways to make a book sing! Thank you.

Jennifer Fromke said...

Ya'll are so great!
Anon: take each individual scene and paint that. I have many different settings in my book and each one must be palpable to the reader.
Beth - you're quite the charmer yourself. ;-)
Gabrielle - yes, you want it to sing! exactly!
Heidi - you are so kind!
Julia & Lindsey - thanks so much!

Kristi Butler said...

Wonderful post, Jennifer! I loved the book and it's always fun to hear the story behind the story. ;) You are a brilliant writer.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Beth - Yep, I'm so blessed to have Jenn as my crit partner. She's completely lovely.

I'm excited that so many of you have already read her book!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Enjoyed this post. I tend to limit juicy details on settings, but I have to remind myself they're integral to the readers' mental picture. Pinterest has helped so much, giving me the ability to have quickly-accessible pics of my locales (for me, it's Iceland/Greenland and Newfoundland).

Jennifer Fromke said...

Thanks, Kristi!
Heather, your locations sound fascinating! I'd love to hear more!
Pinterest is a great tool. I'm afraid I get sucked in, though. :-) I'm highly distractible!

Angie Dicken said...

I am joining the conversation late. Jennifer, I have a feeling you and I are very similar in our writing process. I always feel like I should paint the picture, give specific details in the setting, and even give the reader an idea of the "map" of the town. Sometimes I get frustrated since I write historical, I can't always be sure if I am accurate on these things!
I can't wait to read your novel. Congrats and thanks for stopping by the Alley!

Unknown said...

Painting!! as I draw this is a perfect way of describing a scene I get so frustrated when I start picturing things in my friend's houses, I blame myself but the little description doesn't help.