Friday, August 31, 2012

Hitting that Word Count...No. Matter. What.

**reposting of an earlier post**

Word count

Possibly the most two hated words in all of the writing profession for those days when the words... Just. Are. Not. Flowing!

Every word feels like having a finger nail pulled, a stitch tightened in your skin without pain killer, wisdom teeth being extracted while being WIDE AWAKE. Ahhhh!

Save me from word count!

90,000 words, that was the goal for the recent WIP that I finished just last month. There were times when I would look at my counter and go, "3,200 MORE?? It was 3,2001 just a few minutes ago!"

Word Processor can be your greatest asset or your worst enemy and I think we all have those days.

Below are 10 tips to help you conquer that writer's block of word count. These are proven (for me), they work (for me) and I wouldn't have gotten my novel done without them

10: Pray over your words. Most won't be kept, you might delete them moments after writing them, but they are words. God will give you the inspiration, you just have to believe and trust that He will.

9: I want you to not for one second think that this novel will never make it. Tell yourself it will be the next #1 New York Times Bestseller. I did. And who knows, it just might be. The point it, don't dwell on what needs to be changed, just enjoy the flow of words. It will help immensely.

8: I know many of  you are working writers or stay at home with your kids. But have you ever noticed how quickly 100 words can be written? If you single space your pages, it is only about one paragraph. Do you know how fast 100 words adds up? You would only have to carve 10 spaces out of your day to write 1,000 words.  While the kids nap, during your lunch break. While supper is cooking, while your mother in law rants on the other end of the line about her next door neighbor's howling cat. It is faster than you think and I bet in the few minutes you find, you will get more than a 100 words written.

7: Carrots, lots and lots of carrots! I am serious, it is my think food. For those days that the words are locked up tighter than a drum, rejoice over every 100 word count. Reward yourself, read a chapter in that book you can't stop thinking about. Stand up, stretch, grab a carrot stick, spend just a minute or two away from the screen. Then go back and write another 100.

6: Format your page. When I wrote my last novel, I did everything in single spaces. For some reason it just helped me feel like I was writing more. I wasn't concerned about page count, just words. I loved seeing those single spaces of nothing but words filling those pages.

5: If at all possible try to find a quiet place to write. With summer upon us, that might be easier than during the school year. And just enjoy the words. If you aren't what is the point of writing, I mean really?

4: I would suggest not reading any writing books during this time. It will just make you think of everything you need to change, instead focus on the words. Who cares if you have to go back and delete? Who cares if those words never see the light of publication? If God gave you this story idea, than write it! Anything else is a disservice.

3: Unplug the Internet and move far, far, far away from that deadly temptation. It will steal your writing time and suck away all enthusiasm and desire to write. When I get ready to write, I bundle my laptop and move to my bunkhouse outside, away from all electronics. It does wonders for my word count.

2: If music helps you enter your story world, than by all means plug some in and let it sooth your writer's mind. The inspiration to write my novel was a few select songs by Sara Evans. I listened to those six songs over and over again. And it put me in the mindset to think about my heroine and her situation.

1: Set a deadline for yourself. My deadline was to be done my birthday which is the middle of July. As that deadline loomed closer and closer, all I could think about is, what if I didn't make it? It pushed me to write more, to have creativity flow and (that along with prayer) worked wonders for hitting that deadline. In fact I got it down by the middle of June. : ) But I also say that don't stress if you don't hit that deadline. Summer is still a time to enjoy, so enjoy it and don't worry if that word count isn't hit. You want your family to love your writing, not resent the angst it throttles around your loved ones.

That is my strategy for hitting your word count. It works for me and hopefully something will give you insight to help you as well. I would love to hear what you do to help hit that word count.

**I'll see ya'll when I get home from work tonight!!**

Thursday, August 30, 2012


My book officially "releases" in two days.

I won't lie. I'm completely, totally, on-top-of-the-world excited!


It isn't the coolest thing ever. There are MUCH cooler things in this world.

Like seeing a newborn baby born into this world.

Or witnessing a person come to know Jesus for the first time, especially your own child.

Or getting a phone call letting you know that your dying child is going to have a second chance at life.

Yup. There are a lot more amazing things in this world than being published.

A few years ago, I might have argued that being published was one of the biggest things that could happen to me. Now I'll be happy to argue the opposite to anyone who cares to listen.

It all has to do with perspective.

God taught me perspective through my publishing journey.

In 2010, the day I found out that my manuscript did NOT final in a contest, I also found out that my unborn daughter had a malformed heart and only had a 70% chance to live past the age of 5... and only an 80% chance to live past the first week of life.

Perspective: Bad contest news... who really cares?

In January 2011, I spoke with my now editor on the phone when she requested me to send her a proposal for a book. My FIRST editor request! An hour later, doctors told me my 6-month-old daughter was dying and would only have a chance to live if we put her on the heart transplant list.

Perspective: Sending the proposal was now just busy work to get my mind off the scary stuff. Nothing more.

In April 2011, I found out my manuscript semi-finaled in that same contest it hadn't the year before. The next day, I got a phone call from my daughter's cardiologist. There was a life-saving heart available. About 15 hours later, my daughter's heart was being cut out of her chest and a heart from a deceased 2 year old was being put in it's place.

Perspective: Semi-final? What Semi-final? My baby is going to LIVE!!!

In June 2011, just days after going home for the first time, my daughter was admitted back into the hospital with a failing heart. She failed fast, and emergency, exploratory surgery was performed to try and fix it. It worked, and she came home! The next week, my editor called, offering me a book contract. Two days later, I signed with amazing agent, Rachelle Gardner.

Perspective Contract was AMAZING. An Agent was AMAZING. I won't lie. Both dreams come true. But it was just the final, decorative touches on the beautiful present God had given me, my daughter home, and well.

In July 2011, we finalized the contract and I officially signed it on Annabelle's birthday, 7/20/11. Two days later, she almost died at home. Unresponsive, barely breathing, she was given CPR, intubated in the ambulance and life-lighted to the hospital.

Perspective: What contract? I just want my baby better.

September 2012. Annabelle is doing great at 2 years of age. She's newly walking, trying to start to talk, still working on learning to eat. We are so very thankful for all God has brought us through and for EVERY SINGLE DAY we have with our sweet baby girl.

And my book releases.

Perspective:  Both are very, very, very cool.

But I think you can guess which one is the coolest.

Discussion: What is cooler than YOUR writing journey?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Willing to Change

Have you hit a road block in your story? Not the kind where you don't know what to write next. The kind where the pieces to the puzzle are there in your mind, you just can't sort things out? 

You had a plan. You thought about the scene the night before. It seemed to play out right in your mind but when your fingers hit the keys the action didn't make sense anymore?

What happened?

You did the research. Have oddles of information available on your desk and the Internet. You get up from the chair and pace the room. Go downstairs for a cup of tea or coffee and rumble your fingertips on the counter. Why isn't it working? What's wrong?

You knew everything went well until this scene. Crit partners gave reasonable kudos with basic grammar tips to previous chapters. 

Now that the cup of coffee/tea is half gone you start to wonder if something is missing. Maybe an ingredient had been missing all along. Something no one caught until you hit this scene. 

Writers sitting around Tracie Peterson's dining room table mulled over this question at a Rocky Mountain ACFW meeting. As we chewed on the question, each person at the table thought of something they could have added, taken away or simply changed to ignite their story to a higher level. 

One person said, "All I had to do was add a character at this point. It solved everything."
Another said, "I had to delete a character that started hogging the story. Didn't realize it until this point."
Another said, "I had to go back to the beginning and reconfigure all my work. This story, I realized, needed to be written in first person. It took a lot of time, but when I made the change, the story became magical."

What are other sneaky, low down rascals that have rooted into your story and need to be weeded out. Or maybe you have a shy component, hiding in the background, waiting for you to give permission to step into your story.

Rattle the cages. Bring fire to the firecracker. Throw off the protection and let your work blast into readership. Add, take away, change the setting, change which person you write, change your hair color (whoops that isn't part of writing). 

If you have been following my Why Writers Should Read series you may ask, "Good grief, what book stirred Mary's soul this week?"

Okay, I'll tell you.  I read Covenant Child by Terri Blackstock. FYI, You'll need a box of tissues for the ending.

You probably know Terri is an accomplished authoress, having mastered the wordsmith craft.  

Terri wrote Kara's story first person in such a compelling way this book would have been only half as good had she chosen third person. 

Terri, a New York Times Best Selling author, wove a Biblical story so completely into a today setting it flowed like a droplet in a stream. No one could accuse this work of being preachy.

Terri didn't hold back in the negative scenes. She painted them real. Sometimes I had to put the book down because my heart cried for the character. She did not sugarcoat anything, yet she carefully said only what needed to be. She did not overplay anything for effect.

Why should writers read? Well, because we can learn from great writers like Terri and then return to our work, not broken, not discouraged, not down trodden, but revitalized to emulate their example and to provide the good work for newer writers.

What component have you found that needs to changed or what could you add to put the spark in a chapter or what could you take out to smooth the rough plot terrain?

I'd like to invite you to join me in this next two week book reading challenge. Choose a book and let me know.

Also, I am hosting a book give away on my website this Friday. I will be giving away a copy of Covenant Child. Hope to see you there.

photo courtesy of and

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 with a focus on the homeless population and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website
 Step into Someone Else's World 
Ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids

Winner of Exemplary Program for American Christian Schools International: Grocery Store Ministry for the Hungry

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What Makes A Good Almost Kiss?

The Almost Kiss. It's the moment when your breath mingles with another's, your heart pounds, and your toes tingle. It is the anticipation. It is the expectation. And then....

Nope. It ain't happening.

Can I just say that I love almost kisses ALMOST better than I do a full blown kiss? Seriously, it takes some good writing to bring us to our knees when a kiss is thwarted. And let me just say, there are many ways to make an awesome almost kiss.

It's all in either the interruption or in a person's will power to pull away at the last second.

Let's look at some examples, shall we?

Okay, I tried to imbed this clip, but YouTube wouldn't allow it, so here is a link to a short scene where Lois Lane and Clark Kent almost kiss. Seriously, this has got to be one of the best!

Did you notice that there is hardly any talking whatsoever? I mean, Kent does not say one word! But the looks, the way he grabs her, the way he looks at her. It says a whole lot, doesn't it? And what about the interruption? His first love shows up after a long absence!!! Talk about conflict!

And now...the Jacob and Bella Almost Kiss.

Annnnd, we are saved by the bell...the phone rings to interrupt the kiss. It's a bit cliche, but you can get creative and think of a way to stop a kiss from happening.

Sometimes humor is a great way of messing up a good kiss. Check out this clip when the girl gets the giggles.

Yeah, dye your hair. That always works for me!

Okay, so let's take look at a different Superman and Lois Lane.

In this clip, we see Lois pull away because of a couple of reasons. One, she is engaged to a good man, who she does not want to hurt - integrity. Two, she is hurt because he has been gone a long time. Sometimes the pain of being hurt is enough to make you stand firm against a kiss. It's a way of guarding your heart against rejection. This can be an effective way to stage an almost kiss.

Here is an unusual clip that I have included to show that the Almost Kiss doesn't necessarily have to be a "lip-action" thing. Let's watch Mr. Knightley almost kiss Emma's hand. Watch Emma's expressive. (Again, you will have to click on the link to watch.)

Wasn't that AWESOME? The pause was used to great effect here. His hovering over her hand, her watching...waiting. Brilliant!

Of course, I couldn't conclude today's post without my favorite almost kiss...Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in the rain. I couldn't embed the clip, but if you would like to view this masterful scene, just click on the link.

Sigh, wasn't that lovely? Did you notice his gaze falling on her lips from time to time? Even though they are in the midst of an argument, the attraction is strong - so strong he leans in, but then, being the gentleman he is, he begs her pardon. Oh yes, this was lovely, indeed.

So tell me, have you been writing an almost kisses? If not, why don't you try one out? Or tell me, what is your favorite almost kiss in a book or movie or TV show? 

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, August 27, 2012

Flawed or Not Flawed? That is the Hero Question

Not all heroes are created equal, though there is a brand of hero-stereotype out there.

You know the ones-

The Superman hero: Kind, generous, honest, gentle, strong, handsome, smart, noble…. The list goes on.

Who can argue with the dashing, determined, and darling hero whose kind heart propels him forward into good works to save the damsel, kill the dragon, defeat the bad-guy. It’s the noble guy. The Captain America or Luke Skywalker. Yes…that’s ONE type of hero – but I want to start a discussion today about the OTHER kind of hero. The one who USUALLY takes the lead role in a movie and sets our Mr. Good-Guy to a complimentary supporting character place.

In a massive cast like Lord of the Rings, there are bound to be a whole group of heroes.

Wholesome, good, and FANTASTIC archer, Legolas, stands out in this group – or Gandalf the white.

Let’s look at a few of the BEST movie heroes of all time and see how they rank with the above definition.

Here’s what I found:

  • James Bond
  • Indiana Jones 
  • Captain Jack Sparrow 
  • Rhett Butler
  • Han Solo
Hmmm….as Jack would say, “Interesting”

Can this motley crew be a group of heroes too? Of course they can. Some of the BEST heroes are the most flawed ones – and I think that’s what makes them the most interesting. I guess that's why Wolverine is gettig his own movie and Cyclops isn't.

It’s why James Bond is an icon and Han Solo gets a higher ranking than Luke Skywalker.

Superman vs Batman? The difference is visibly obvious. But they’re BOTH heroes. Flaws. Flaws (and I daresay, humor too :) We want to see a flawed guy reach beyond his flaws and become something greater for the woman he loves.

 Let’s pit Mr. Bingley against Mr. Darcy (no offense Jane Austen) What makes us fall in love with Darcy? (besides wet shirts and ‘almost kisses’….uh hem) Complexity of character. A flawed hero. An opportunity for love to change a man to be better.

 And I’m a BIG Captain American Fan- especially played by Chris Evans – but I like Chris playing the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four better because he was so daggone flawed, it was relatable. He needed rescuing. He needed to push beyond his flaws to become something greater. It’s how Jack Sparrow became the icon of Pirates of the Caribbean. A good-hearted pirate? (mind you, I’ve never gotten past the eyeliner)

And let’s not even mention Edward Rochester. Flawed? Let me count the ways.

My oldest son added the teen criminal mastermind, Artemis Fowl – who becomes the HERO! Some more? Flynn Rider? Sherlock Holmes (the newest BBC edition is FAB)

So – what say you? Flaws or no flaws? What do you write? If you could claim any hero as your creation, who would you have picked and why? Inquiring minds want to know!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

What to Expect Next Week - Celebration Edition

It's time for a PARTY! 

We're Celebrating!

Are you ready to join in?

AlleyCat Krista Phillips' debut novel is OUT! Oh yes! And the AlleyCats are thrilled to share the news. The party is all set.

Wanna learn more? Follow this link to Krista's website to find out how to order (or win) her book.

So - what is happening this week on The Alley?

Monday - Pepper is going to try and write about Flawed Heroes - and Why We Love Them

Tuesday - Bring your fan, icecubes, or whatever you need to handle Sherrinda's post on The Best "Almost Kisses".

Wednesday - Mary is talking about being Willing to Change, featuring Terri Blackstock's novel Covenant Child.

Thursday- Our debut novelist is UP and is chatting about Perspectives on Publication.

Friday - We'll end the week with a fun post with Casey. And make sure to leave your congrats with Krista this weekend! Woohoooo!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Can You Write for God and Still Write for the Market?

I don't know about you, but I've pondered this question before. I've wondered if my novel, a story and characters close to my heart is suitable for what's selling now. Or if choosing to write a story based solely on whether or not it's sellable is still glorifying God.

In my over 15 years of writing experience, I've learned a lot. (By the way, feel free to leave a comment on how YOUNG I look for having written this many years :D) Every story I've written has helped to find an answer to this question.

Can you write for God and still write for the market? Here are some angles I've had to consider along the way:

Not All Stories are Meant to Sell

I wrote a story several years back that was...special. It was close to my heart because of trials I was going through in my personal life. It was therapeutic for me to write it. Anyway, I took the next steps of going about getting it published. Queries and all. I also pitched it at conference. To an editor. Eek! She paged through the first scene, said it was off to a great start, gave me some pointers, and chatted with me. Then she said something like, "This story is really close to your heart, isn't it?" She could see it on my face, hear it in the way I spoke about this project. It was a passion.

But you know what? She didn't request the story. And I pitched it to other agents. They didn't request the story. And I queried it with no bites. NO ONE wanted this story. Maybe because it wasn't ready, maybe because of the content, I don't know. And that's okay. I don't really believe this story, as it was, was meant to sell. It was a story God used to help me get through a tough time and because of that, it was completely worth writing.

Sometimes You Have to Go With Your Heart (no matter WHAT happens)

Ready for another story? Okay, so when I FIRST started writing Christian fiction (super quick after I became a Christian), I got a story idea. It was a God thing for sure. He gave me this idea and it made me completely uncomfortable. I can't write a story like this! It was about a woman coming back to Christ after several terrible tragedies in her life. How in the world would I even know about that when I'd just become a Christian myself and had no experience? Besides, no one would want to read a story like this anyway.

So I decided not to write the story.

I went along, wrote another story I wanted to write. And another story. Something that made me comfortable. But God wouldn't leave me alone. I gave in and finally wrote the story He'd given me. It made me cry, and moved me. I had great feedback on it.

Sure, it wasn't my niche, but I HAD to write it. I believe it could make a great impact in others lives it ever sells. And I'm fine leaving that up to God, because I (finally) wrote the story I was meant to.

Don't Forget to Consider the Market

You want another story? Okay, twist my arm. After all these other stories I'd written, I wanted to write something fun. Something fresh. Something that current readers would love! Which meant trying to write for the market. That was my main goal with the last story I wrote.

I did get a spiritual thread in there, though that wasn't my first focus. The cool thing is that the story ended up ministering to me. And if it ministered to me, it might minister to others. I wrote it specifically for the market and I must have done something right because it finaled in the Genesis. However, I really feel like God was in it as well, and that a message came through.

What have I learned from all this? God is in everything. He may give you stories just for yourself, a kind of therapy. He may give you stories you never thought you'd want to write. But His hand is in it all.

I believe in writing stories that are on your heart. They're important for a reason, even if we may not know that reason right away.

I believe in following market trends. These are the people you're trying to reach.

Can the two go hand-in-hand? In my opinion yes. Not ALL stories are meant to be published. But the rest? When feeling led to write, you can still follow genre guidelines and tweak the plot to fit with the current market. You can still deliver a message and you can, through your voice, still show your passion and heart for the story while appealing to current readers.

How do you feel? Have you ever written a God-inspired story you weren't sure would fit into the current market? Do you believe you can write what's on you heart and write for the market at the same time?


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, August 23, 2012

Catching A Vision, Part 2: The Big Picture Behind the Book

For part one of this series, I talked about the importance of vision in our lives when it comes to fulfilling our callings. Today I want to take things to a more specific level and apply some of these same concepts to each book we’re writing.

Have you ever been in the middle of writing and realized that you no longer really know what your book is about? Sometimes this realization can be frustrating, as we realize we’ve gone down too many rabbit trails and haven’t stayed focused to our key plot points. Other times it can be exciting because we know we’ve stumbled upon an even greater idea than we had originally.

But either way, there’s something about that first draft that’s so disheartening. It’s flat out hard to write, really. Putting the words on the page for the first time can be exhilarating when we get to an exciting scene, but most of the time, it’s painful! The creative side of our brain is flittering to action with different ideas, while the critical side keeps saying, “Uh, you might want to throw in the towel on this one. Have you actually read anything you’ve written so far on this WIP? Because it stinks.” Have you been there? Raising my hand right now because I know I have!

When we face these moments of what I would call the discipline of writing--where it becomes something we stick with because we are committed, even if our first-draft words are kind of terrible—it’s so important to keep our vision in mind, because that’s what keeps us going.

You can either use these bullets as you plot your book, before you even begin writing; or as you edit, working to pull out the most important aspects of what you’ve created. Ultimately, remind yourself that the story God has put on your heart will not write itself. Unless we all sit down consistently and get the words on the page, the only person that story is impacting is ourselves. And that’s a selfish way to use our gifts, really. So here are several ways to help you stay encouraged and keep a big-picture approach to your book, so that on the days you feel like giving up, you can remind yourself why your story rocks, and why you wanted to write it in the first place.

Vision for Ministry
One of the easiest things for me to lose sight of is the spiritual thread of my books, which is ironic because it’s also the most important element to me. It can be so easy to get caught up in the details that we begin to see our WIP’s  as simply a practice for editing. Spend some time daydreaming about your future readers. Imagine it’s your book people are reading on the beach, or the in airport, or in bed at night before they go to sleep. How would this change the way we are writing? Don’t be afraid to allow your calling to empower your writing. That’s the way it’s meant to be.

Vision for Plot and Characters
Sometimes it’s easy to get so fixated on the knitty-gritty that we neglect our characters’ hearts. I know I talk a lot about Robin Jones Gunn’s writing, but one of the reasons I love her so much is because she does this in her stories. She makes readers really care about the characters, so that when they experience transformation in their lives, we experience the same thing. Checking your dialogue tags for repetition and paying attention to what characters are wearing can only go so far if we don’t have a heart for the characters to begin with, and for us to feel that way, we need to really be aware of their big-picture journeys.

Vision for Tone and Voice
God has gifted you with a voice.  In my own writing, I find it so much more difficult to write in my natural voice when I feel shut down for some reason. This is particularly the case if I’ve received some overly-harsh criticism, or if I’ve allowed doubts to flood my mind. Another thing that can affect tone is the fear of what other people will think. Should I wrote an Amish novel, for instance, because those certainly seem to be selling! If we’re not careful, we become more consumed about market than we do about vision. The ironic thing is, most bestsellers actually do so well because they are unique. So be conscious of genre conventions, sure—but don’t write to the market, or you’ll always feel as if you’re missing the mark. If we aren’t writing in our sweet spot when it comes to the voice and tone of our novel, we’ll never really feel as if our vision for the book has been accurately portrayed.

How do you keep your vision for a large project? Do you ever find your vision for a story waning when you begin to feel discouraged?

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,Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Digging for Jewels: the power of original description

At the risk of sounding like a snob, I have a confession to make. I adore literary writing.

Literary books often get a bad rap, because let’s face it, they can be dense and slow-moving. But if you can get past that, you’ll find the writing often sings with fresh and unexpected imagery and beautiful turns of phrase.

Searching for the right adjective, the right word is like digging in the sand. Easy just to shovel up a spadeful and fling it in the bucket without thinking too hard about it. It takes an artist to dig for the treasure in every turn of phrase, every description, refusing to settle for the stale or mundane.

Nothing turns me off a book quicker than overused turns of phrase. To me it shows a lack of care for craftsmanship. And if you, the author, don’t care about the words you choose, why should I invest in those words as a reader?

Here are some ideas for keeping your descriptions fresh.

1. Eliminate clichés.
Clichés have become cliché for a reason. When first coined, these turns of phrase were considered so dazzlingly original, so apt, that they became wildly popular. Now they’re overused because successive generations of writers have been too lazy to reach for their own original and apt expressions.

Read through your manuscript. Have you used any clichés like these? Thin as a rail. Neat as a pin. Fresh as a daisy. Clear as crystal.

Or these? Her hands were cold as ice. His heart beat like a drum.


Get out your pruning shears. Lop those suckers out of your manuscript. Now it’s time to reinvigorate your descriptions.

2. Brainstorm alternatives.
Okay, so rails are thin. What else is thin? Don’t censor yourself. As fast as you can, write a list of a dozen alternative ideas.

Now have a look back over what you’ve written. Do any of these alternate descriptions have additional shades of meaning that may suggest something else about your character, other than mere physical thinness?

For example – Thin as a dandelion stem. A dandelion is a pretty weed. Could you imagine using this description for an emotionally fragile young girl who, although fresh and lovely, sees herself as worthless?

What about this? Thin as a kite string. A kite string snaps with brisk energy. This description would be fitting for a playful boy.

Or this. Thin as the leather-bound ledger she kept on her desk. I’m picturing a woman who is precise and particular, and somewhat lacking in humor.

See how this sort of imagery enriches your writing? Suddenly your description is doing double-duty. You’ve harnessed an obvious physical characteristic and used it to give subtle insights into character.

3. Make new connections.
When describing an object or setting, ask yourself what the image reminds you of. The obvious parallels are always the first to spring to mind. Shadows reached across the path like fingers. The wind moaned in the eaves. Now think again. What unexpected associations can you conjure?

Shadow and moon-fall braided themselves across the path.

A bossy wind scolded at his window, clucking and fussing amongst the leaves. Can you picture the wind as an outspoken housewife?

In Katy Popa’s beautiful book, The Feast of Saint Bertie, she describes the “marigold flames” consuming her protagonist’s house. Comparing something so ravaging to a flower is out-of-the-ordinary. But suddenly, through those words, we see the fire as a thing of unexpected beauty. Can’t you just picture the vivid orange-yellow of those flames?

One of my favorite examples is from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. He describes a person sitting on the step in a pair of  “decomposing shoes.”

He could have described the shoes as worn-out, moldering, wet, smelly, or falling-apart. Instead he selected one unusual word that sums up all of these things in a powerful word-picture. What’s more, this one detail gives us instant insight into the character, revealing more about them than could have been achieved in a page of more mundane description.

4. Read poetry.
In a poem, every word counts. Therefore, the poet chooses each word with care, often creating word pictures of startling originality and simplicity as a result.

How about these beautiful lines by poet Brook Emery, taken from her poem “Night”?

Expectation stitches me to the dark, makes silence that can be touched.

During the day rain falls as light, at night it falls as sound

Like a fish twisting against the line
I’m drawn into the sharp transactions of the light.

As you read poetry, you’ll train yourself to see the world in new ways, forming new associations that may not previously have occurred to you.

5. Grow your vocabulary.
Be intentional about it. The best way to do this is by reading widely and recording new words in a notebook. If you come across a word you don’t know, look it up. Write it down. The more words you know, the more you shades of nuance you’ll have access to in your writing.

But do all of this with one important caveat. Namely:

6. Don’t fall prey to purple prose.
The true power of literary description lies in its simplicity and restraint. One truly apt word, one lean and carefully crafted sentence is more powerful than a dozen overused phrases.

Aussie writer Tim Winton is a master at this. Here are some of his lines from “Dirt Music” and “The Turning”:

The girl’s “lank blond hair fretted in the wind.”

The man’s “crow’s feet like knife cuts.”

The fire “sucked the air from the room and danced before him like a thought just out of reach.”

The blood “runs thin as copper wire in his veins.”

His breath “aglow like a coal in his chest.”

The night is “hot and salted with stars.”

Your turn. What beautiful turns of phrase have you uncovered recently?

Image courtesy of

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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Something Brilliant This Way Comes...Er, Maybe: The Pursuit of New Ideas

So how do you find your ideas? Or should I ask how do they find you?

There's something strange and unexpected about the discovery of a new idea.

My theory, based on my "vast" experience after completing one whole novel (haha) is that there are two types of idea people: character idea people and plot idea people.

Jeff Gerke details the two types of writers in his book Plot Versus Character. I haven't read this one, but I've heard a few of Jeff's talks on the subject and I think it is well-worth listening to one (or reading this book) if you get the opportunity.

Likewise, I believe that this goes for ideas as well. The type of idea we latch onto and the way we find our ideas says a lot about our personality.

For instance, there is no doubt in my mind that I am a character-driven writer. My characters are stronger than my plots and I know it. And I LOVE exploring a new character. Its like a flashback to my childhood. By the time I finish a novel, the character has become a friend in some strange way.

Most of my ideas start with real people. Either someone I meet, a conversation I have or perhaps someone I've heard on a radio program.

I know some ponder world events. They read newspapers. I have done this but I don't seem to feel the sense of connection for the people I read about, so it rarely leads to story ideas.

My husband writes fantasy and his ideas come straight from his imagination. I'm a bit in awe. My ideas have always been triggered by some outside source.

Women's fiction is a genre that "feels" comfortable to me. It fits the way I put the world together.

Many of my stories start with the emotional jouney: What would it be like to be _______ and go through ____________? How would it affect their relationship with God? Would it cause them to seek Him closer or pull away? How will it affect their relationships with others (spouse, children, parents, friends)?

Oftentimes there is an inciting incident but often I don't realize the direction the story will take until I get to know my character. My Book Therapy workbooks have been great in discovering more about my main character.

My first story sprang from reading a book about a former cult member who left her cult and became a Christian. I wondered what that journey would look like. What would she struggle with in her new life of faith? What would it look like to embrace grace after years of legalism?

My second and third novel ideas (now keep in mind I'm still fleshing these out) came through a door-to-door visitor and through watching a TV show.

What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Does the plot or the main character come first for 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 and Christian Library Journal.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Welcome Author Jocelyn Green

I had the pleasure of meeting Jocelyn Green at a writer's workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She is definitely a writer I look up to, as she has already successfully written non-fiction amidst the duties of motherhood, and now has released her debut fiction novel, Wedded To War. I just received my copy of it a few weeks ago, and just the first few pages will keep you wanting more!

Welcome to the Writer's Alley, Jocelyn! Tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

My husband Rob and I have two active kiddos- Elsa is 6, and just started first grade, and Ethan is 3, and going to preschool. We live in Cedar Falls, Iowa. People sometimes ask me what I do in my free time, and I usually give them a blank stare. I don’t really have free time, between my family, basic homemaking, and writing. But if I did, I would like to scrapbook again and play the piano again and cook more.

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, even as a child, so I majored in English at Taylor University, and minored in mass communications and public relations. My first job out of college was writing public relations materials for my alma mater, then I moved to Washington, D.C., to be the editor and writer for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. After serving in that role for two and a half years, I married my husband, who was a Coast Guard officer at the time, which meant quitting my job and moving six thousand miles to a small town called Homer, Alaska.

This seemed like a good time to give freelance magazine article writing a try. So I pursued that, and was able to freelance full-time for a few years. It was also during this time I was inspired to write my first book: Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives. But it took my agent three years to find a contract, and by that time I had a one-year-old (Elsa) and had assumed my writing days were over. Then I got that first golden book contract, thankfully, and Faith Deployed was published by Moody in 2008. Since then I’ve written/co-authored three more nonfiction books, and written a novel. So if any of you mommies think being published must wait until your kids are grown, think again!

How did you decide to switch from writing non-fiction to writing fiction?

I never thought I would write fiction because I think the competition is so fierce. I wasn’t convinced I had the slightest chance of making it beyond the slush pile. But I think the real hesitation was that I hadn’t yet come up with (or discovered) a fictional story that really cried out to be written.

And then I did. I visited the Adams County Historical Society in Gettysburg, PA, in the fall of 2010 to do some research for a nonfiction book that also just released this summer: Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front. My research there led me to read diaries, letters, and newspaper articles written by women civilians who were thrust into the drama of war, rose to the occasion beyond anyone expectations, and affected the course of history. Reading their words on a rainy day in Gettysburg, the stories really came to life for me. I kept thinking, “This would make a great novel! Somebody really ought to write this story!”

Then, a week later, my editor from Moody called me and said they were looking for more fiction to publish. So I put my doubts aside and worked feverishly on a book proposal for a four-book series on unsung heroines of the Civil War. They liked it, and now we have the Heroines Behind the Lines series! Wedded to War is Book One.

What are the differences in the writing process for each?
They are very different. Before I wrote fiction, I mostly wrote magazine articles and devotions. Those were all short, between 400 words and 2500 words. And usually, I didn’t create the story, I just followed it, and then told it. Now with a novel, I’m writing 100,000 words, and creating not just the story, but the characters too, plus weaving different subplots together.

Setting up the story world was also a new experience for me. For instance, I wrote almost 200 short stories of women and their contributions to various American wars, but they were very focused just on what the women did and said. When I began writing Wedded to War, I couldn’t’ stop there. I had to find out what the women wore, ate, did for fun, what kind of plumbing they had, etc. I had to know how they would have gotten from one part of town to another, and how long a train ride from New York to Washington would have taken (including the stops in Baltimore and Philadelphia). What newspaper did they read? How much did it cost? What colors were most popular for formal ball gowns, and how on earth did they get dressed with all those layers? The story world has to be accurate and vivid if the reader is going to be immersed in the novel, so it’s not something we can skimp on.

What I did find useful from my journalism background, though, was that I knew how to research, and I knew how to interview people. So before I write my novels, I interview the characters pretty thoroughly. And I will admit it’s nice to be able to put words in their mouths. Sometimes I wished I could do that for my magazine articles!
Just from your descriptive detail in the first chapter, I can tell you put in a lot of research hours. How long did you research before you started the first draft?

I spent nine months researching before I started writing (not including the first 50 pages of the book proposal). That left me with about two months to write the book, which was really hard. I told myself I wouldn’t do that ever again, but here I am on the second novel, and it’s déjà vu!

Do you have any advice for writers who have a passion for both non-fiction and fiction writing?

Study the conventions and rules for both genres, because they are quite different, but also look for ways they can complement each other. For instance, there are some fiction techniques that can make nonfiction more gripping emotionally, and there are nonfiction techniques that can strengthen fiction, too.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting out on this journey, what would it be?

Just one piece? Learn the craft. Now to expand on that: There are no shortcuts in becoming a good writer. Read books on how to do it. Subscribe to Writer’s Digest magazine, or something similar. Go to as many writers conferences as you can afford to go to. Join associations like American Christian Fiction Writers to get some great networking and professional development. Also, the most fun piece of advice: read! Read what you want to write. If you want to write inspirational romance, read really good inspirational romance. If you like mystery, read really good mystery. Some things about writing are taught, and some are caught. (For more specific advice, see

Great tips, Jocelyn! Thank you so much for visiting today. I can't wait to read the rest of Wedded to War. We hope you will come visit the Alley again soon!

Thank you! I’d love to come back!
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, August 18, 2012

What's up the Street Next Week?

It's Costume Drama Weekend!
Or some people refer to them as Period Dramas.

Oh yes!
Bring your best British, American, Canadian, or Austrailian Accent (Karen is our model for that last one) and don your corset (or not...)

We're going to feature a few top pics in the Costume Drama realm, but feel free to add your own.

Of COURSE we have any of Jane Austen's lovely pieces, or Charlotte Bronte.
What about L.M. Montgomery? or Elizabeth Gaskell?

How about movies like Horatio Hornblower? or Daniel Doranda or Amazing Grace?

Titanic? The Young Victoria? Tess of the D'Urbervilles or Ever After? Becoming Jane? Miss Potter? The Count of Monte Cristo?

The list goes on and WONDERFULLY on :-)

What are some of your favorites?

Speaking of Drama? :-) What do we have coming up for you this week at The Alley?

Ang welcomes debut novels Jolene Green on Monday.

On Tuesday, Julia talks about Farming Ideas for your Next Novel

Ash is up today with her typical fun post.

Thursday Karen brings us The Power of Fresh and Original Descriptions.

Cindy talk about Writing For God vs. Writing for the Market (ooooh, sounds like a lot of drama in this one :-)

Winner of Mary Vee's book give away Rooms by Jim Rubart is: Lindsay Harrel. Lindsay please leave your email in the comment section and Mary will contact you.

So - a little Period Drama Trivia (and I'll TTRYYYYY to make it easy)

She hates her red hair and freckles - and would prefer a 'roseleaf complexion". Who is she?

She's rather plain, but goes for guys who have their crazy wives hiding in the attic. Who is she?

Getting out of prison after about 10 years, he has a score to settle with his former best friend while trying not to be swayed by his former fiance (who is named after a really expensive car). Who is he?

Which movie ends with the BEST Costume Drama kiss of all time? My pick is the one where he's from up north and she's from down south.

Speaking of about a little matchmaking? She thinks she's pretty great at it, until her matchmaking schemes end up causing her to almost lose the love of her life (who happens to be her best friend). Who is she?

Have a great weekend.