Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Moral Premise – Part 1

In his groundbreaking work, The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, Dr Stan Williams makes a bold claim that we storytellers would do well to heed.

The claim is this: that EVERY commercially successful story (be it a movie or novel) has at its heart a true and consistent Moral Premise.

Without this crucial element, Williams argues, your story is destined to fail.

Dunno about you, but this tickles my curiosity. I don’t want my story to fail. We pour so much time and energy into our books. We want them to do well.

Furthermore, Williams says, knowing the Moral Premise of your story will give you focus and energy as you write, and significantly decrease the amount of time you need to spend rewriting.   

Let’s take a poll. Hands up who dreams of being told you have to scratch 60% of your work and start again, because you really only “found” the heart of the story in the last third of your book? Not me. The thought makes me shudder. You got a theory that helps me avoid massive, soul-destroying rewrites? I’m sold.

With all this in mind, I’ve recently begun to read through The Moral Premise. My novel is in need of structural help. I couldn’t go past the bold claims made by Dr Williams’ book. So far, I’ve found myself nodding and taking notes at ferocious speed.

So… what IS the “Moral Premise”?

Most of us would be familiar with the concept of a “theme” – the underlying truth of our story. The thing that sums up what our story is REALLY about.

But according to Williams, the theme is only half of a true Moral Premise. A theme such as “Love conquers all” tells us where our characters will end up (love will conquer), but not where they’ve come from or what obstacles they’ve had to overcome to get there. As such, a traditional understanding of theme fails to describe the CONFLICT of the story.

And what is a story without conflict?

Williams structures his Moral Premise this way:

(Vice) leads to (defeat), but
(Virtue) leads to (success).

Let’s look at an example together. To make things easy, I’ll choose a movie most of us have probably seen – Finding Nemo. In this animated film, Marlin is a clownfish living in the Great Barrier Reef. When tragedy leaves him a widower, with only one remaining son – Nemo – his protective instincts kick into overdrive. He’d do anything to keep Nemo from harm, but in the process he’s smothering his son. Then Nemo is taken by divers, and Marlin has to navigate an entire ocean to find his son and bring him home.

Throughout the movie, the quest to find Nemo is the external story, but the “real” story is about Marlin overcoming his fears for his son. This is seen clearly at the climax, when Nemo and Marlin are finally reunited against all odds. Within moments, however, a school of nearby fish are caught in a net, and Nemo insists he knows how to save them. Marlin has to face his worst fear – the possibility of losing his son yet again – and choose to release Nemo to swim back into danger.

The Moral Premise of the story could be expressed like this:

Overprotective anxiety leads to losing those we love, but
Releasing those we love leads to finding them again.

Do you think, just maybe, some parents might be able to identify with this?

In this way, a simple cartoon about fish transcends its genre with a universal message. And in the process – no coincidences here – becomes a runaway blockbuster success.

Unity of Purpose
Once you understand the Moral Premise of your story, you can write with “unity of purpose”. In other words, the book should clearly be about ONE thing. Note how even the title of Finding Nemo serves to reinforce its Moral Premise.

Here’s where things get really interesting for me. Williams argues that every main character, not just the protagonist, should struggle with the same Moral Premise in different ways – even, if need be, from opposing ends of the scale. Contrast Marlin’s obsessive anxiety with the character of Dory – a fish so laid-back she can’t remember anything for more than five seconds.

Not only that, but every scene should serve to reinforce the Moral Premise. Page by page, each scene gives psychological “evidence” that points toward the author’s final verdict, proving the Moral Premise to be true. Failure to CONSISTENTLY apply the Moral Premise across all characters and scenes, Williams contends, is a set-up for commercial failure as well. And he has the research to prove it.

The Moment of Grace
Williams describes this point – halfway through the story – as the fulcrum on which the tale turns. Before this midpoint, the protagonist lives out the negative side of the Moral Premise. At the Moment of Grace, the Moral Premise is made very clear, and perhaps for the first time, we see what the movie is “really” about. The character is given a choice to continue on the path they’ve begun – the path of vice, leading to defeat – or to begin pursuing virtue.

Unless you’re writing a tragedy, the protagonist should choose the latter path. This doesn’t mean things are all smooth sailing from then on. Oh, no. The obstacles continue to mount, leading to the climax, but ultimately (if the character has learned his/ her lesson) the final pay-off is success.

In Finding Nemo, the Moment of Grace is when Marlin and Dory are swallowed by a whale. Marlin hangs on desperately to avoid being washed deeper into the whale’s stomach. Meanwhile, Dory is “communicating” with their host, and informs Marlin of the whale’s message – “You just have to let go!” This, of course, confounds Marlin.

“How do you know something bad’s not going to happen?” he shouts at Dory.

Her breezy and honest answer? “I don’t!”

Marlin finally lets go, and the whale shoots the two out of his blowhole and into the air. The whale has transported them safely into Sydney Harbour. Marlin’s moment of literally “letting go” is a metaphor for the deeper meaning of the story – the moment he realizes his need to let go of his fears for his son.

What’s next?
Well, that’s where I’m up to so far in the book. I’ve finished Part I. In Part II, Dr Williams promises to explain step-by-step how to apply the Moral Premise to our own story structure. That’s what I plan to unpack here at the Alley in my next blog post. Stay tuned! And meanwhile, why not pick up your own copy from Amazon? Find it here.

Are you familiar with the Moral Premise? Who’s read the book? Let’s make this hands-on – it’s always the best way to learn. I’d like us to have a go at developing a Moral Premise together for a book most of us will have read – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Have at it! I don’t have a “right” answer, so don’t be afraid to weigh in with your ideas! I’m with you – learning as I go. J

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, October 30, 2012

What I Learned from Reading Your Facebook Updates...

After ACFW, I joined Facebook after multiple recommendations to do so. Thanks to Karen's wonderful post I have great ideas for how to use my time on media wisely. I've downloaded HootSuite and love it, although I haven't completely figured it out. 

Next I began following Edie Melson's fantastic blog, The Write Conversation. Every Monday, Edie has special features on Social Media and let me tell you she is a master on this subject. 

I will admit I am so media savvy (er, not so much) that I asked her how to use hashtags. 

In order to learn more, I have been observing others Facebook updates. I get anxious to read updates from certain authors, other times I find myself bored with reading the same old.

1) "Its all about me, baby. Me and my book. Which by the way, is only $5.00 on Amazon for the next 24 hours." 

Don't get me wrong. I have had occasion in the last several days to rejoice over a writer's first publication in an anthology, another who has their first agent, and an author who just signed a new three book contract. I'm  THRILLED to see these updates!!! 

And I get EVEN MORE EXCITED if I knew more about the author than just about their book. You don't have to share everything in your personal life, but I think forming some sort of connection makes me feel like I'm more than a vehicle to sell your book.

2) Talk about your writing, but not always. 

Tie it back to your writing, we want to know how you're doing. We get excited about other writer's ideas and we love to know that your heroine looks like the gal you just ran into at Wal-Mart. Others might not care about it, but as writers we get a strange excitement about others ideas.

Just don't make every post about your ideas.

3) Promote other authors writing more than you promote your own writing.

Edie Melson recently gave some great advice. She only allows one out of every 5 of her posts to be about her. Promote other's good news. Advertise your favorite blogs, just because. Renee Ann Smith, Jessica R. Patch and Cheryl Wyatt do a fantastic job of promoting others above themselves. 

4) Make us laugh.

I'll be honest, my favorite by far are posts that make me laugh. I always delight to see updates from Roseanna White because I love the wonderful and witty tone she adds to everything she writes. Pepper Basham and Janice Thompson also have fantastic updates that often make me smile. Like Pepper's recent update about writing Bible verses in Elvish.

5) Let us respond. Ask questions.

What are you cooking in your crockpot? Ask us what we're cooking. It might seem mundane, but it is refreshing to see posts that ask a question to the readers instead of just sharing about the author. 

And anything about your book is automatically more interesting if I can give feedback on it. Such as Pepper's recent question about her kiss scene.

6) What makes you tick? What is your heart cry? 

What are the reasons behind why you write what you write? Do you have a heart for women in crisis situations? Want to minister to cancer survivors? When something is your passion, your heartbeat comes out on the page and I feel that passion for your subject of interest, too.

For instance, Kathi Macias has been posting about a homeless man who is tied in to her recent release. My heart cries for him as he looks for his family.

7) Put up great photographs

A friend of mine puts up great pictures of God's creation. My brother regularly posts pictures of his dinner. This might not be very interesting, except he is a chef and so his plates are very artistically arranged. Laura Frantz posts great pictures of historical costumes. This is a great way to promote your book if you think carefully about your pictures.

Laura has found a great historical niche. I love historicals and love glimpsing at pictures of beautiful dresses, imagining what your heroine might wear. We WANT to see the first glimpse of your cover. Especially if you are holding it and eating a sandwich like a certain Writer's Alley debut author. 

8) You don't have to be our best friend, but let us into your world for a minute. 

Whatever is unique to you, whatever only you can share...that's what we want to hear about. 

Do you sculpt bonsai? Are you a Disney vacation planner? Have you planned weddings in real life as well as in your books? Do your heroines ride horses and you own some? We WANT to know more...

I love those that can teach me something new about something I'm interested in...

How about you? What types of updates do you love reading? Any tips you use in composing your updates?

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 is a reviewer for Library Journal, Title Trakk and Christian Library Journal.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What's Up the Street Next Week

Temps are dropping.
Leaves are Falling
Autumn's here

What is your favorite thing about Autumn?
I've posted some pics of Autumn here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. These were taken last weekend as the changing of the leaves reached their peak. It's one of my favorite parts of Autumn.

Let's see what's going on at The Alley this week.

Monday - Angie talks about When to Use Metaphors and Similies

Tuesday - Get Connected? Julia talks about Social Media and our Writing Ministry

Wednesday- Karen discusses The Moral Premise of your story.

Thursday- Join Ashley for her post entitled Let's Get Real--The Importance of Knowing Your Audience."

Friday - Get your learning hat on. Cindy discusses query writing.


Casey is guest posting on the ACFW blog on November 1. CHECK out what she has to say!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Who? What? Where? When?....WHY?

Photo Credit: Free Digital
A story has to make sense. Has to be grounded. The reader has to know what's going on.

Imagine being invited to a grand party. It's promised to be in a ballroom with a twenty piece ensemble orchestra. Hundreds of the most important people are supposed to be there and you've been invited too!

Then you show up. A tumble weed is blowing across the dusty dance floor. The stands are empty, there are no guests and the tables that should be loaded with food and punch are curiously absent. Then you look down. Yep. You forgot your pants.

So okay, this is more nightmare than novel. But be forewarned, you might send your character onto the stage with no clothes if you aren't careful in setting up and maintaining your scenes!

When you sit down to write, many of us just write, am I correct? If you're any kind of self-respecting panster you feel your way through the scene and discover the story as you go. If you're a die-hard plotter then you know exactly where your character is going to put his or her foot in an exact moment. No matter how you write, asking yourself these couple key questions will help steep you in the scene and prepare the way.

Who: This might seem simple, but know who you are writing the scene about. Your characters. Their motivation, goals, conflict. What do THEY want out of the scene. What do YOU as the author want to accomplish in the scene? Pit these goals against each other and see which one wins. ;-) The lie the character believes should drive them through every scene and what decisions they make within them. Write these things for both of your characters and put them where they are plainly visible. Taking a quick glance at these goals will put the story back into respective for you as the author.

What: What is going on? Are they at a gala? A park? A ball game? The kitchen? Work? Now: WHAT are they doing? Cooking? Sitting on those awful park benches? How is that affecting your character? Is she enjoying that cool breeze and the smell of popcorn from the neighboring vendor? Or is she craving the ice cream from the truck pedaling through town? What is your character's attitude in this scene and how does her surroundings impact or change her point of view?

Where: Where are they? This ties in closely with What. But is very important that you don't shirk the duty of this task. Dressing the scene is as important as dressing your character. We don't want the characters to simply be talking heads in the scene. Have them interacting with their surroundings. How they close the door, slam the coffee pot, clench the dish rag, all speaks for body language and puts your reader in the middle of the scene. (can you tell that many of my scenes in my latest WIP took place in the kitchen?) To get in this head of crafting your setting, think of your most comfortable spot in your home. The place you feel the most competent. For me, it's the kitchen. I know every utensil in that room and how to use them. I can come up with all kinds of tension in that room and how it plays with the character's body language. Incidently, it plays a pretty big role in my latest story. What's the room you're the most comfortable in? Maybe it's your sewing room, so go in there, close the door and imagine a confrontation taking place. How would the setting work with the mood of the character?

When: Don't write a modern day story that could be misconstrued to be set in the 50's. That's what was told of me when I had a friend read my first three chapters. Um...oops! No, my story is very much a modern tale. So I had to think in terms of including the occasional modern slang. The mention of electronics that ground the moment in today's era. Don't be afraid to use these tools to subtly clue your reader into the time and moment.

Why: WHY are you writing this story? What about is making these characters push their way through the story to get to their happily ever after? An HEA is often not good enough for your characters, not when they can give up half way through and deal with an average existence  So ask yourself: What is your characters dark moment? Wound from their past? The lie they believe? And their noble quest? Keep these key points directly in view of where you write and when you lose contact with your direction and wonder if emotions are staying true to their motivation and lie, then look at the answers to these questions and you'll be back to the WHY of your story.

Jotting just a couple ideas down when it comes to these concepts listed above will give you a jump start into the scene and will only take 15 minutes to complete.

Let's talk: What are you doing already to set up your scene?

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

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Follow the Yellow Brick Rules

***This is a repost from a loonnnnggggg time ago... I'm on a self-imposed deadline to get my next book to my agent by THIS WEEKEND so I'm cheating a bit!***

We've all heard of them. They are the "writing" rules that we, as newbie writers, need to pay attention to and follow. They are taught at writing conferences, preached in craft of writing books, scribbled in the margins of a critique, and typed in the notes of a contest judge.

But, we've also heard all the moaning about the rules. They stifle our creativity. They inhibit our voice. They are ignored by famous published authors, so why do we have to follow them? And who in the world makes these "rules" anyway?

All of these are valid questions. And *ahem* I'll attempt to answer them today. Beware though: You may not like the answers!

Myth #1: They stifle our creativity.
The rules shouldn't stifle you. If they do, something is wrong. In your creative mode, the rules should be in the back of your mind. Your first draft is totally allowed to break them. Get the story down. The editing stage is when you should REALLY start looking to see what works and what doesn't. Did telling make a scene boring? Can your writing be tighter if you resist the urge to explain? Do you have five was's in a row that make you writing sound weak? Find those things in the EDIT stage, not the WRITING stage.

Myth #2: They inhibit our voice.
This is a half-truth. If you let the rules direct you during the writing stage, your voice may be tampered. If you care more about pleasing a contest judge and less about writing a riveting, compelling story, then your voice might croak a little. Again, the answer is this: Write using your voice, edit using rules.

Myth #3: They are ignored by famous writers.

Why can established and famous writers break the "rules" and we can't? Well, there are a few reason for that.
  • These writers already have a proven audience who are used to the "old" way.
  • Writing "rules" change and develop. Many of these writers started writing BEFORE we knew what head-hopping was.
  • Readers don't know what rules are. They just know if they like the story.
  • I'm convinced this is the biggest reason: Many famous/experienced writers know how to break the guidelines in style. It's like that famous actress who wears something we could NEVER pull off, but they look phenomenal in it. Conversely, sometimes they wear something that looks stupid, but because they are famous, we forgive them:-)
Myth #4: No one knows who makes the rules.

Easy answer: Readers and Editors. Readers know what they like to read. Editors make it their job to know what pleases readers and what will sell. Eventually, the trends trickle down to us writers in the form of what we call rules.
So, here's the other thing.

There is NO SUCH THING as a writing rule. There is no big writing rule book that must be followed. In fact, I've heard several people say, "The only rule is that there are no rules" and I totally agree!

They are, in fact, guidelines. Things to keep in mind while writing. Take every rule you hear and do this.

When you see the word "Always" replace it with "Usually."
When you see the word "Never" replace it with "Sparingly."
When you see a command, add "Most of the time, you need to ____" at the beginning.


There is always a but, isn't there? I've seen many writers (including myself) use the fact that these are "guidelines" as an excuse for bad writing, which is a big no-no!

The way to combat this is with a GOOD editor and/or with GOOD critique partners, ones who understand that the rules are guidelines and won't ding you for each and every was, won't ask you to "show and not tell" in every single spot even when it would be *yawn* worthy to "show", but will honestly tell you when things just aren't working or when you've colored too far out of the lines. These partners won't tickle your ear with unnecessary praises, but will give you honest, balanced feedback, both the good and the bad.

I'm curious. What is the one rule you have the HARDEST time following? Conversely, what is the one rule that is easy for you?

For me, the hardest is a toss up. I suppose repetitive words and the use of "was" rates up there, as well as RUE (Resist the Urge to Explain.)

The easiest for me is no head-hopping. I'm very linear and analytical, so staying in one POV is very comfortable to me, and I can usual spot a POV slip a mile away when critiquing a novel.

What about you?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Unexpected Character

Unexpected characters have taken important roles in stories. Characters like Winnie the Pooh, Aslan, Wilbur, Charlotte, elves, trees, clouds, wind, the list could go on for pages. These of course use personification.

The unexpected character I want to refer to today is the treasured individual who has a mental handicap. This person is a challenge to portray accurately in a starring role of any sort, especially when given the pov of a chapter.

The writer must encapsulate him or herself into the character with an intensity that demonstrates the best understanding possible. A tremendous amount of experiential research would be necessary to adequately and genuinely give this person a voice truly believable.

I have a dear sister-in-law who is the favorite aunt to many children in my in-law's family. I have know her for over thirty years and love her. I am so close I could easily tell you how she would respond in a situation because of my experience. This sweetheart is a twelve-year-old living in a fifty-one-year old body. 

For my reading challenge book last week I happened to choose an Amish book,The Captive Heart by Dale Cramer. Sorry gang. I really don't get into Amish stories...BUT...this book yanked my heart and soul when the author let the older sister, Ada, who was much like my sister-in-law, have a few chapters. It so surprised me. 

I stepped into the chapters with my guard in place. Would this author portray Ada correctly? Would she do things not true to real life? I will let you have a sample to see what you think.

Ada is in Mexico with her Amish family. She is on an errand in the mountains with her sister, brother, and baby nephew. Bandits come, stab her older brother and threaten her sister. She is scared. She impulsively scoops up the baby and runs into the wilderness. That is the set up. The next chapters address Ada's side of her escape. She survives the day and night and then wakes...

Quote used with permission from the author.

"Ada awoke with a chill. Pitch-black. Clouds covered the moon and she couldn't see her own hands. Something had awakened her, but she didn't know what it was. At night the fog came in a dark red tide, creeping in from the edges of her eyes and bringing the hum with it. She wrapped her arms around herself and started to rock. Something was not right. Her memory worked well enough, or so it seemed. Spurred by throbbing knees and a hundred dire pains from torn feet to skinned elbows, her plight showed itself to her right away. She knew she was lost, and she remembered why. But something else was wrong, and it refused to be coaxed to the front of her mind.

"...The unknown surrounded her. She began to rock harder until a little squeak of a sound came to her, faint and distant.

"She stopped rocking and listened. There it was again, like a baby crying, far away. It was then that she realized her arms were wrapped tight about her and there was no child in them..."

Thrilling. Realistic. I wish I could share the whole fabulous chapter. Nothing other than what this character would actually see, hear, feel, smell, think, and remember. So fine tuned is this writing, no reader would doubt the validity of Ada's choices.

In my previous writing classes, instructors taught: go to the place where real people like your characters hang out. If we have a child character, go to schools, Sunday Schools, clubs, etc. If older, go where they are. Saturate ourselves in their world. Listen to their words, watch their responses, etc.  

The teaching is the same here for the unexpected character. Could you write a chapter given from an alcoholic's pov? What about an amputee? Taking the risk, delving into the feelings of the unexpected character is a big step. One that will draw many new readers to your work. It probably wouldn't work for your current WIP, but maybe you could consider it for your next book.

What do you think? Have you read a book that so accurately depicted an unusual character you found yourself captivated? Have you written a story with an unexpected character like we are talking about today?


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 http://www.mim

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Inside or Outside the Box?

Photo by jscreationzs
We have all heard the phrase: think outside of the box. To jump start creativity, or to achieve our goals, we should think big. Dream big. Imagine big. And that is true, but then again, it is not quite the whole truth.

I'm reading Greater, by Steven Furtick, and it is fabulous! In one of his chapters, Furtick talks about the whole thinking outside the box idea. It's what got me thinking about writing and dreaming big outside the box.

The thing about thinking outside the box is that when you have dreamed big and brainstormed great solutions, you are still in the box with the same problems you had before. You remain frustrated that you can't really attain those outside-the-box-solutions.

  • If only you had a critique partner, you could really shape up your writing.
  • If only you could go to a writing conference, you could learn all you need to know about writing.
  • If only you could get an agent, you could get your book sold to your favorite publishing house.

If only...

Friends, you can still dream. You can still think outside the box, but you must realize that God can't bless you with his greater blessing outside the box until you trust him while you are inside the box with the tools that you already have. How are you being faithful with what you have in front of you?

  • For $45 a year (that's less than 2 pennies a day), you could join ACFW and have access to dozens of critiquers.
  • Go to the library and check out books on writing. Peruse writing blogs for articles on writing. There is a wealth of material out there to teach you what you need to know!
  • Start submitting to agents after you have done what you can to make your story the best it can be.
When you are faithful with little, you will be granted more. (Matthew 25:23) God will provide you a critique partner when you are ready for one. He will supply the money for a conference when you are ready to go. And He will give you an agent when the time is right. 

How are you needing to trust God in your writing life? In your personal life? 

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, October 22, 2012

To Romance or Not to Romance with Dina Sleiman

So glad to welcome my friend and author, Dina Sleiman with us today. Dina and I have a tendency to cause attention to ourselves when we're together at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. It's my pleasure to have her here today.

Last year there was quite a kerfuffle in the Christian writing industry over romance. It started with a well-known minister writing a lengthy blog post about how romance harmed Christian women, going so far as to relate Christian romance to emotional porn. Of course that was followed by tons of response in the writing community, some in support of his article, much opposing it.

The truth is, I’ve had my questions about Christian romance as well. Especially about the popularity of it to the exclusion of other genres and the overriding demand for escapism in fiction. While I enjoy romance, I also have great respect for novels with depth, realism, and literary value. But all that aside, there are a few things I know for sure.

-Many sincere Christian women feel called to write Christian romance.
      - Lives are touched through Christian romance.

Anyone who tries to deny those facts, simply has not done their research. God gives each of us different callings and gifts, and none of us needs to judge callings that we don’t understand. Do short category romances sometimes seem a bit skewed and unrealistic? Maybe. But that has more to do with genre constraints than any intent on the part of the author. I personally know a woman who renewed her relationship with Christ because she got tired of secular romance and started reading sweet, little Christian romances instead. So, don’t try to tell me that God can’t use romance if He so chooses.

But…when my agent asked me to write romance, that presented a different issue. Did I fell called to write romance? Could I write romance with a good conscious? On one hand, all my novels contain romance. I love romance and happily-ever-afters. But on the other hand, I do feel like reading too many romance novels in my youth had negative effects on my life. I always secretly thought of my novels as “anti-romance” that would still please the romantic soul. They were really coming of age stories about falling in love with Jesus. Through Christ’s healing and intervention the couple found one another and their reasonably happy (although the reader will hopefully understand that life and marriage will not be perfect) ending.

In fact, in a blog article I wrote a few years back called “The Trouble with Romance”, I actually gave a list of elements I personally thought a Godly romance novel should contain:

1) Making the relationship more about why God would want the couple together, especially if it doesn’t fit their plans.
2) Hearing God's voice about getting together.
3) Having to overcome old hurts, prejudices, and weaknesses in order to fulfill God's plan for hero and heroine to be together.
4) Heroes with plenty of real life variety flaws, but heroines that love them anyway.
5) Show physical attraction and feelings coming and going, but ultimately it is a choice to love and fulfill God's plan.
6) Make sure that the hero and heroine really know and love each other, flaws and all.

The question remaining was, could I write my style of novel in the romance format? And, thankfully, the answer was yes! In my new historical romance novel, Love in Three-Quarter Time, releasing tomorrow with Zondervan First, I was able to write a romance that still met my personal standards while fitting the genre and winning the heart of my editor.  I took a few detours from strict category romance by including five points of view, a love triangle, and some fun subplots. I call this my Scarlet O’Hara meets Jane Austen novel, so I figured a big cast with some unexpected Austen worthy twists and turns would be appropriate. And if you read closely, I think you’ll realize that it is at least as much about falling in love with Jesus as it is about earthly romance.

Now I know. I can write romance that I feel good about and that still works for the market. And while I think it’s important that every writer seeks God for their own direction in their career, I think it’s also good to know that we can write the same message in a variety of genres and formats. I hope you’ll check out my new novel and see what you think about my brand of romance.


In the style of Deeanne Gist, Dina Sleiman explores the world of 1817 Virginia in her novel Love in Three-Quarter Time. When the belle of the ball falls into genteel poverty, the fiery Constance Cavendish must teach the dances she once loved in order to help her family survive. The opportunity of a lifetime might await her in the frontier town of Charlottesville, but the position will require her to instruct the sisters of the plantation owner who jilted her when she needed him most. As Robert Montgomery and Constance make discoveries about one another, will their renewed faith in God help them to face their past and the guilt that threatens to destroy them in time to waltz to a fresh start?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What's up the Street For Next Week- Post Conference Peek

Well, we heard from Edie Melson last weekend and her many conference experiences, so today we're going to listen to FIRST-time ACFW conferencee, Lindsay Harrel. Let me just say, Lindsay is a DOLL! It was such a treat to meet her and her buddy Gabrielle Meyer. They were FANTASTIC!

Here ya go:

What's happening this week?

Monday - Pepper hosts author Dina Sleiman who will talk about To Romance or Not To Romance. Stop by and see what that's all about because I think it's a pretty clear answer ;-)

Tuesday- Sherrinda is posting on Tuesday, if she survives her daughters birthday weekend

Wednesday - Oooh, this one sound quirky! Stop by and join Mary today for POV of the Unusual Character

Thursday - Krista's hosting author, Jen Stephens today.

Friday - Casey brings her many questions to The Writers Alley. The "Who, What, When, Where, and Why" of writing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Writing Road Trip - Destination Publication

All of us are on a journey of some sort. To glorify God, to have children, to get a job. For most here, it's a writing journey and our destination is publication. Whether we're looking to publish our first or fifteenth book, making our way there is like a road trip, with twists and turns and roadblocks and sights to see the whole way there.

Photo by Moyan_Brenn_BE_BACK_on_10th_OCT
My message today is that the journey is just as important as the destination. Want to see how? Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Ready, Set, Drive!

You're packed up and excited to get behind the wheel. This is when you tell yourself you have a story to write and you're going to write it!

Why is this important?
This is the foundation of your trip. The excitement to go. The passion for your journey. And even God's whisper to you that you have a mission.

First stop, Grand Canyon!

This is the first planned stop of your trip, after following the directions and exiting in the right spot. You've made it, and it's beautiful. This is where you've finished your first draft, and it's beautiful! Kind of a momentous occasion.

Why is this important?
Well, you HAVE to finish a novel as a writer, of course. But this is still huge. You've committed to something and you did it!

Bathroom Break!

Okay, maybe you didn't plan this stop. But you had too much bottled iced tea and you have to stop. No big deal, you're still on track to the next location. This is where you have to edit your first draft, or get feedback from someone who's read it. It's okay, you knew you were going to have to revise a little! No big deal, even if you had to take out a part that was kind of awesome.

Why is this important?
Because you're not going to know every moment of your journey and it's smart to know ahead of time that sometimes you're just going to have to go with the flow.

Next Stop, Las Vegas!

Look at all the lights! It's kind of exciting, and you made it here just in time to find a Starbucks and giant club sandwich (or whatever you like to eat). This is where you are ready to break into the publishing world. You've entered a contest, you're querying agents, hey--you're even going to conference. You're the king of the world!

Why is this important?
Because putting yourself out there is the first "real" step of the publishing journey. No matter what the result, this is a step you have to take.

Oh no! Flat tire!

No, you weren't planning on stopping here. You weren't planning on standing out in the rain. You weren't planning on having to spend a couple hundred dollars to get towed and buy a new tire. Ugh. Yeah, this is where your contest entry was met with less than stellar feedback. Or maybe you got your first - or 10th - rejection.

Why is this important?
You can learn from it. Learn how to become a better writer. Learn how to have a thick skin in this industry. Learn or remember that God is still on your side, and He wants the best for you - aka, no flat tires! (Or at least, as smooth a resolution to those flat tires as possible.)

You're in California!

Yippee! There's an ocean on the other side of this state - your GPS is sure of it! This is where you see your destination in sight. You got encouraging feedback from an editor or you won an important contest. You got an agent! You actually might. get. published.

Why is this important?
Because there are always encouraging moments in your journey. You have to go through the downs to get to the ups. Speaking of downs...


Oh yeah, you thought you were almost there! Sorry, road's closed. Take another route. This is where an editor says your book isn't the right fit for us. But, but, but!

Why is this important?
Because it's going to happen. More than once. There are going to be detours in your writing journey. And you know what? God knows about them. Even better, He's on this journey with you. Taking a detour might seem off the path to you, but it's directly on His path. Let HIM be your GPS.   

Hey, I like that. Let God Be Your GPS! 

You've arrived at your destination! The ocean? Publication?

Whatever it is, you've made it. It might have taken longer than you thought, but the whole trip was important. Those fun things you saw along the way, the encouragements, the disappointments. Every moment of the journey is important because every moment and how you deal with it, the way it affects you and other people, the way you push forward - all of that makes you who you are as a writer.

Writing is a journey, not a destination. You're always going to be working for something and there are always going to be good times and bad times. So if you can, enjoy each moment and learn something from it. Appreciate where it takes you and who you become because of it. It will show in your writing, and that's a great thing!

Have any of you ever wanted to skip the journey and head straight to publishing? Even if it's been hard, what has helped you grow the most s a writer?


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, October 18, 2012

Assumptions in the Writing Life

We bring our own baggage to the table with everything we approach in life.

This week, I told my literature students that we all walk around with assumptions, many times without even realizing it, and these things influence the way we look at stories. These assumptions come from many places: past experiences, beliefs, values, and preferences, to name a few. I told them to visualize a dog when I said the word, "dog," and then we compared the kinds of dogs they thought of. As you may have guessed, there was quite a difference, depending on their own experiences.

Maybe your "baggage" isn't heavy--maybe it's sparkly pink or has a Hawaiian print. On the other hand, maybe your baggage looks like it should've been retired fifty years ago and is threadbare, barely able to keep everything in.

But wherever you're going, you bring these things with you to the next stop. That's why it's so important we examine the assumptions we are making about our writing lives. These assumptions, in a way, are our baggage. If they're possible assumptions, we may be well-prepared with what we'll need to face the challenges of our writing lives. But if they're the wrong kind of assumptions . . . well, that can do a lot of harm.

Jim Rubart and Allen Arnold led a workshop at the ACFW called "Live Free, Write Free," on a similar topic. Personally I wasn't able to attend this session, but from what I've read about it online, their main point was that the heart of an author is going to affect the heart of her story. You can't help it. Engaging stories--even fiction--have to be honest. That's why, they say, examining your own heart can help you find a way past writer's block. If you want to read the full Afictionado article about this session, it comes highly recommended by me. You can find it at

Today I want to break down three main areas wherein our assumptions affect our lives: assumptions about God, assumptions about ourselves, and assumptions about writing.

Assumptions about God

I accepted Christ when I was five years old. And yet, it never ceases to amaze me how easily and quickly my focus wanders away from the character of God. I don't care if you've been a Christian since you were a child, or if you just accepted faith five minutes ago. We all struggle with having, and maintaining, a proper view of God. But a proper view of God is this:

  • God loves you. (John 3:16)
  • God has put these dreams on your heart. (Eph. 3:20)
  • God has gifted you with a gift that is unique to YOU and a calling only you can fill. (Rom. 12:6-8)
  • God desires for you to use those gifts for His kingdom. (Rom. 12)
  • God is not waiting to condemn you, but wants for you to live in freedom. (John 3:17)
  • God desires for your life to be full and abundant. (John 10:10)
  • God waits for you and never gives up. (Isaiah 30:18)
  • God desires for you to be confident in His purpose for your life and in His love. (Hebrews 10:35-36)

Thoughts of failure, insufficiency, confusion, and fear, are simply not God-given (2 Timothy 1:7). We have to take back our minds from the control these things have over us. Am I afraid of being rejected by my dream publishing houses? Well, yeah. We all are. But that fear can't keep us from going after our dreams. We need to hold our fear back, rather than the other way around. That takes a lot of will power, and requires us to be conscious of our assumptions in the first place. If you believe somewhere deep down that God doesn't really love you, nor does He care about your story or your dreams, lie can hold you back from your potential and purpose as an author.

Ask God to show you His thoughts toward you and your writing. If you're anything like me, you have a head-knowledge of that, but having it translated to your heart makes for one of those "wow" moments. At the conference this year, I caught a glimmer of what God wants to do in my life and realized it is so, so much more than anything I could plan or dream up. Don't limit God. 

Assumptions about Ourselves

Part of you assumes you can make it as a writer. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this blog. But how strong is that part of you? How strong is the inner voice pushing you on?

When you're around writing circles long enough and put yourself out there enough times, you have a choice what you're going to believe. Some feedback will make you think you're about to rocket to the NYT list, and other feedback will make you want to go crawl inside a hole.

Now, I'm not suggesting you only take the positive feedback and ignore anything negative. Definitely not a good idea. What I am suggesting is that you make a very critical break between yourself as a write-r and your story as writ-ing. I had do to this very early on in my English program, or I never would've made it out of there. The fact is, to be a writer, you must be very brave.

People are going to shoot you down. At the end of the day, you have to be able to realize that negative feedback has no bearing on your calling. Of course it's okay to get bummed out and eat one too many brownies afterwards. But don't quit over it. Don't let it go from your heat to that critical place... your heart.

We have to believe we can do it. We have to believe we have a call upon our lives, and that ministry is important. Not to sound overly spiritual, but I really believe the enemy wants us to think we don't have what it takes and we might as well give up trying. That nothing we do will ever make a difference in anyone else's lives, so we shouldn't waste time developing plots and character arcs. But don't we most often find success when we least expect it? You never know what might be just behind that hill you're facing. Don't turn back now.

Assumptions about Our Writing

What do you really believe about your ability to write? About your story?

Dream with me for a second. Can you see yourself on a bestseller's list someday? Signing books at a bookstore? Writing a story that someone will read on an airplane and find a greater since of purpose from?

Why do we sell ourselves short of these things? I'm not just talking about commercial success. I'm talking about effective writing. Somewhere along the line, after getting a certain number of rejections and/or harsh criticism, we learn to be cautious. But the writing life is so not a safe career. Don't let these kinds of commends leak over into your perspective about your ability to write. Protect your writing voice.

If you knew that one year from now, your book would be a bestseller, what would you be doing differently today to prepare for that? Start doing it. Whether it's reading more books on the craft, learning the mechanics of grammar, networking with industry professionals, or spending more time in prayer--take your writing seriously. Serious goals take serious output on our part to achieve, but they can be done.

How might assumptions affect the way we write? What sorts of assumptions do you have about your own writing life?

*Photos from,


Ashley Clark writes romance 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, October 17, 2012

Free Self-Control: Download Here!

Top Apps to block internet distractions for writers

How many times do your mornings go like this?

You sit down to write just KNOWING it’s going to be a productive session. You crack your knuckles, stare at the screen, and think to yourself, I’ll just check my email first. After all, everyone needs a bit of a mental warm-up before diving in to the real work, and it’ll only take a minute.

So you check your email, tap out some overdue replies, watch the YouTube clip someone forwarded you, read the cool article on writing that’s landed in your RSS feed, follow the link at the bottom that leads you to another pertinent article, browse the comments section, and compose a quick tweet to share your findings. While you’re there you notice you have some new Twitter followers you need to follow-back. You work your way through the list, reading profiles and retweeting the best quotes you come across. Some of them are really good. Might as well update your Facebook status while you’re at it. The next thing you know you look up from browsing photos of your second-cousin’s friend’s daughter’s wedding on Facebook and realize three hours have passed.

Haven’t you ever wished you could download some self-control at the click of a button? The good news is… you can. In this age of technology and distraction, many of us struggle with limiting the hold of the internet over our time. But technology itself might just be our saving grace.

Here’s a roundup of the best free apps I’ve found to help writers manage their time online. Click on the links to explore further.

1. Self Control (Mac only)

This is one I’ve been using for a while. Its genius is in its simplicity. If you’re sitting down to write for a 2-hour block and wish to remain focussed and productive that entire time, simply set your self-control timer for 2 hours. For that length of time, you will not be able to access any sites you’ve blacklisted – Facebook, email, Twitter, or any other time-suckers individual to you. I also blacklist some of my favorite writing blogs. Meanwhile, you can still access the rest of the web for research purposes – brilliant! Once started, the block cannot be undone until the timer runs out, even if you restart your computer.

This app is based on the popular “Pomodoro” technique which argues that the greatest productivity occurs by tackling tasks in 25-minute intervals, followed by a 5-minute break.

Focus booster will run a timer at intervals set by you, with a buzzer sounding at the end of a completed session. The color of the bar changes as your time lapses, giving you a constant unobtrusive nudge to stay productive.

Many of us spend the majority of our time on the things that are least important to us. You may think you don’t have time to write, but have you ever wondered how much time you waste on the internet? This free app will track and analyse how you spend your time on the web, including on mobile apps, and rank your productivity accordingly. Knowledge is power! Find out how much spare time you REALLY have.

4. Stay Focused (Requires Google Chrome)

The next step, once you’ve discovered how much time you really are wasting online, is to restrict the time you spend on non-productive tasks. Let’s say you want to spend no more than 15 minutes on Facebook each day. With this app you can set a time limit, and once you’ve used up your allotted time, the sites you’ve selected will be blocked for the rest of the day.

You can also set this app to block time-waster sites at a specific time each day. Say you decide you want to write from 9-11am each morning, or 8-10pm each night. You can preset this app to block sites at those exact times. Genius!

5. Concentrate (Mac only)

Okay, so this one’s not free. I think it’s worth a mention anyway.

Concentrate costs $29, but is more customizable than any other app I’ve encountered in my research, and comes highly recommended. This app allows you to tailor a series of actions to run every time you wish to concentrate on a task. You can set your writing document to open, distracting sites to be blocked, your Skype and iChat status to be set as away, even your desktop picture to change – and much more – all at the click of a button.

So that’s it from me. Have you tried any of these apps? Any others you’d add to the list? If you decide to try one of these for the first time, let us know how you go. Wishing you productive and distraction-free writing!

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.