Friday, November 30, 2012

Writing a Strong Opening Chapter

We've all heard how important opening lines, opening pages, and opening scenes/chapters are. I think somewhere back in the beginning of my writing journey, I didn't believe it. I thought...nah, if I write a good book, it shouldn't matter if my first seven paragraphs are about the weather or have a little - okay, more than a little - back story.

But after writing several books, critiquing several books, reading tons of craft books and articles, entering contests, judging contests, querying and all that, I've realized that when "they" say those openings are important, "they" aren't kidding.

So what helps make strong opening pages?

A Hook

Yep, this one is first because it's probably one of the most important. An opening hook makes a reader/agent read on. That very first sentence or paragraph can say a lot. It sets the tone for the story. So be sure to write one that makes the reader sit up and take notice - and then read on. That's your big goal - to make the reader read on.

Sympathetic Characters

Readers, just like us, want to relate to our characters. So how do you do that?

Give your characters a goal, present an obstacle to that goal, give them a strong belief in that goal. With that foundation in mind, trying also giving them a fun or unique quirk, something that shows their vulnerability, and make sure you really get into their heads.

Various Writing Styles

Withing your first several pages, you're going to want to show you have a good grasp of various writing styles. Good dialogue, smooth description, varied sentence structure, and deep POV. If you can, try to include as much variety as possible so the reader doesn't get bored.

Be Succinct! Make Sense!

Don't take a lot of time to say what you can say in a short amount of time. In other words, brevity is good! You don't need an entire paragraph of description (yes, this will vary depending on genre) or a page of back story. Also, don't put in so much that the reader is confused. Stick to one conflict and make the reader want to know more.

Show Your Voice

This is going to give you that extra edge. This is what will differentiate a good manuscript from a great one. Giving the reader a sense of your voice will show them that you're confident about your story, and engage them to keep reading.

That's a lot to do in just a few pages, right? But sometimes that's all you have to show an agent, editor, or reader what you've got.

And don't forget, these are just guidelines to get you started. Whether you include a few or all of them, your number one goal is to get the reader to continue reading.

For me, writing that catchy hook is one of the hardest things to do in an opening. What's something that challenges you when writing opening pages?


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, November 29, 2012

Writing A Synopsis

If there's one thing authors hate writing, it's synopses. What is it about these things that is so difficult?

Just before the ACFW conference, my agent encouraged me to develop my book into a series concept, which is an idea I was (and am) very excited about. Problem? I haven't written the other two books. Sure, I had some ideas floating around in my head that I was excited about, but ideas and outlines are two very different things.

So I started researching online for synopsis tips and tricks. And I kept coming across these things: 1) The synopsis is dreaded.  2) All writers hate synopses. 3) Your synopsis will probably be awful writing. Just expect it.

Uh, anyone else not okay with that idea? Let's just throw in the towel before we even give it a try, shall we?

You wouldn't think it would be that hard. I mean, it's only a couple pages. I can see all sorts of areas for improvement in other authors' synopses, so I should also be able to see the same weaknesses in my own, right? Wrong.

In the past few months, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that synopses really are challenging. But they don't have to be dreaded. See, the thing about synopses that's so cool is that they offer you something very powerful, and that is a big picture approach for your book before you even write it. If you can write a well-organized, thoughtful synopsis of your story, writing your book is going to be that much easier because you'll be able to stay focused.

Today I'm compiling the information I've learned through the process of writing, rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting my synopses again. (By the way, a major shout out to Angie, who read every version of my synopsis and never threatened to ban me from her inbox, but instead offered helpful suggestions each time around!) I hope you find this to be a helpful resource for you as you work on your own synopses, and I hope it helps take a little bit of the terror out of the processes. I've adapted many of these concepts from Cami Tang's synopsis worksheet, from MBT resources, and just from my own general reactions of disgust when I realized something was really, really not working for my plot.

  • The Plot Level
    • External goal. Your protagonist's external goal needs to be very clear, very early on. Preferably even the first paragraph. Editors like to see that this girl knows where she's going and what she wants. This is so important because it helps pave the way for the obstacles she is going to encounter along the way.
    • The inciting incident. Usually this is going to come in you first or second paragraph. What incident throws your protagonist into the story? Loss of her job? A sudden move across the country? A scratch-off lotto win? The realization she's a princess? (Sorry, couldn't resist. Who doesn't love Princess Mia?)
    • Obstacles. Include two or three external obstacles that keep your heroine from reaching her goal. These need to be believable, legitimate, and clear. "She ran out of Godiva truffles and missed an important meeting because she had to go to the grocery store for more" is probably not a very good obstacle, although we can all sympathize.
    • Black Moment. How does it all come crashing down? This could be one of your obstacles.
    • Resolution. Be sure you show us how the plot threads connect to bring us to the ending.
  • Emotional Level
    • Dark moment. What moment from your character's past is holding them back? This moment should shape some kind of fear or apprehension that fights against (or perhaps further compels) their push toward their external plot goal.
    • Desire. Your character needs an emotional desire that will give her motivation to climb her way past the obstacles you put in her way. In a romance, your character likely is going to desire love, yet hold herself back from a relationship with the hero because ________. This reason will relate to the dark moment, so that the desire and the resistance create a push/pull effect that draws in your reader. Also, you can relate your character's emotional desire to their desire to accomplish an external goal, thus tying together the plot and emotional threads.
    • Black moment. In the same way that the black moment causes the external goal to fall apart, the black moment should also (seem to) confirm your heroine's greatest fear, thus positioning her to find the strength to conquer that fear and attain the goal (or not, but at least find closure in the process).
    • Resolution. The emotional level must be resolved. Even if you don't allow the character to reach their external goal, unless you're writing literary fiction, your character should attain her emotional goal. Otherwise, readers are going to be very mad.
  • Spiritual Level
    • Lie. Your character needs to believe a lie throughout the book, not only about herself (i.e. she's safer not risking her heart in a relationship), but also about her faith/God. The emotional level and spiritual level can relate to each other, but they both must be clear. If you're going to sell to a CBA publisher, they are going to want to see some sort of faith journey depicted in the book. And really, isn't that why we as CBA writers have chosen to write for CBA? We should take advantage of this privilege and include the spiritual arc in our characters' journeys.
    • Obstacles. Just like the plot obstacles should show setbacks and growth within the character's emotional arc, these obstacles should impact her spiritual arc as well. You want to confirm her worst fear, then force her to face it and help her get beyond it. You can utilize your external goal and obstacles to really play around with the emotional and spiritual stakes and journey. If you get stuck, think about your own life. You might think you would never face ___________, but what if you could find love, youth, or a free trip to Hawaii on the other side of that obstacle? Brainstorm some motivations that would be strong enough (on the plot level) to force your characters out of their comfort zones. 
    • Healing. This is where the bring-you-to-tears moment comes in if you play your cards right. After your character goes through those obstacles--and once again, they need to be challenging, difficult obstacles--we will respect her for her strength, dignity, and courage for how she faced these challenges head on (even if not perfectly) on her quest toward her external goal. Throughout this process, God is working on her heart more and more, until finally she finds a breakthrough. The light through the clouds. Spiritual epiphany. It's really important that you include this moment of hope and spiritual healing in your synopsis so that whoever is reading your synopsis is clear about the spiritual takeaway readers will get from your story.
A few notes...

You'll want to include these elements for each of your primary characters. So if it's a romance, we'll need to see a basic plot, emotional, and spiritual arc for your hero as well as your heroine, although you'll probably want to spend more time with the heroine.

Remember to include your voice in your synopsis. You may want to write a draft where you just focus on getting all the elements in, then revise it with your own dazzle. But however you go about it, make sure the writing really shines, because this is the first taste an editor or agent has of your writing style. If you can hook them with your voice in the synopsis, then you've really accomplished something.

Try, as best you can, to play these elements off each other, so that your main characters' lies, for instance, cause problems with each other. In my most recent book, my heroine is afraid of abandonment, and my hero is afraid of being a failure/letting down the woman he loves. I'll leave you to guess what he does, and how that affects her. Try to find a way that the characters' black moments play into each other, and your story will be stronger from that irony.

Have fun! Yes, I know what you're thinking. No way is that going to happen. But all too often, we listen to all the negative buzz about synopses... they're dreaded, they're hard, and they are going to be awful. Don't adopt that defeatist perspective. Sure, brainstorming can be frustrating, but it's so rewarding to have a big picture version of your story before you've even started writing it.

Take these sections a little at a time. This is advice I am giving you from experience. It is all too easy to take on too much at once, but you'll end up frustrated. Let the ideas come to you naturally. Go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop. Imagine possibilities. Talk to your characters out loud. Pray about your characters' struggles and stories. Seek the help of those with fresh perspectives, like critique partners, mentors, and friends. When you open your mind to creative possibilities, you'll find that the ideas flow much more easily.

Have you ever written a synopsis? What did you learn through the process? What do you think is the hardest thing about writing synopses?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Character in the chrysalis: preparing yourself for your destiny

Recently I watched a message by Joyce Meyer on TV. She talked about the many people who are waiting for God to “promote” them – to open the door to their destiny. This grabbed my attention immediately. Like so many of us, I’m waiting on a dream: the dream of one day being a published author. Perhaps Joyce had some key to share about how to reach our dreams more quickly and effectively?

I turned up the volume on the TV and leaned forward slightly. Joyce pointed her finger directly at the camera, and with great intensity in her voice, she said something to this effect: “You’d better pray that God doesn’t open that door for you until you have the character to walk through it.”

That line stuck with me. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. The truth of it, however, resonated with my spirit.

Image by Nattavut, courtesy of
The blessing of the closed door

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past decade of my life banging on the closed door of publication and praying fervently for God to open it.

But am I truly ready for him to do that?

Could it be that during this waiting time, God has been protecting me from… myself? He intimately knows my weaknesses. He knows the strength of character I’ll need in order to walk through that door without self-destructing. And so, with infinite tenderness and mercy, he forces me to wait.

I’m reminded of Saul, a man promoted to kingship who lacked the character to fulfil the call on his life. His reign was characterized by jealousy, insecurity, fits of rage, and rash decisions. Reading his story is like watching a car careening out of control in slow motion. The wreck is inevitable. It’s easy for us to judge Saul – but let’s not forget: this man was called by God. Chosen. Gifted. Annointed to be king.

How many of us are called, gifted and anointed to write… and yet sabotage ourselves in the same way Saul did because we never develop the strength of character to match our gifting?

The boy who dreamed

The story of Joseph gives me hope. Like many of us, he too was a dreamer, called by God to a destiny beyond his ability to imagine. And yet, at the beginning of Joseph’s tale, we find a prideful young man who thought his dreams were all about him.
Image by sakhorn38

Remember the way he boasted to his family about the dreams God had given him? Joseph thought he was pretty hot stuff. Through this attitude he demonstrated his unreadiness to step into the very destiny he was bragging about.

First, he had to be humbled and tested. Joseph needed to learn how to serve God with excellence and humility in the lowliest of positions: as a slave in a foreign land, and then a prisoner. He needed to do this even when no-one was watching and the world had seemingly forgotten his existence. He developed his character through suffering, obscurity, and endless years of waiting. And through this painful process, Joseph realised his dreams weren’t all about him. They were about what he could do to help and serve others.

When Joseph had learned this lesson – when his character finally measured up to his calling – it was then that God promoted him.

A call to character

Let’s be Josephs, not Sauls. In this in-between time of waiting on our dreams, let’s make a conscious choice to grow in character so we’re ready to step through the door of our destiny.

Here are some things to work on as we wait:

1. Pride
The world esteems people with gifts and talents, and it’s easy to get sucked into this mindset and let ourselves get a big head from our achievements or the flattery of others. But actually, we can’t take credit for our abilities. They’re a gift from God. We didn’t do anything to earn them. What we should esteem is character, because that’s something we have to work at to develop.

How we handle praise is a test. If we let it puff up our egos now in obscurity, how will we handle the praise of many? The pressure of notoriety? The Bible teaches that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Like Joseph, we won’t be promoted until we’ve learned the lesson of humility.

2. Insecurity
Paradoxically, this often goes hand-in-hand with pride. God doesn’t want us to be insecure any more than he wants us to be proud – one day up, the next day down, blown about by the winds of others’ opinions or the conflicting voices inside our own heads. He wants us to be humble and confident. Humble, because his gifts are undeserved. And confident, because He is a good God and has given us everything we need to succeed.

Saul suffered constantly from feelings of not being “good enough” to be king. He hid amongst the baggage at his own coronation ceremony. Because he was so insecure in himself, he felt threatened by anyone else who came along displaying any sort of ability or gifting. If only he had realised that his worth didn’t come from his title or his abilities as king. Our worth never comes from what we do. Our worth is inherent, because we’re children of God.

3. Jealousy
You can see already how this flows out of insecurity. It’s all too easy to compare ourselves to others on the publication journey – “She found an agent before me” or “He’s finalled in more contests.” Stop the comparison game. If we don’t nip this in the bud, later on we’ll be comparing publishing houses, advance sizes, marketing budgets, copies sold, and number of contracts. The jealousy battle won’t stop once you’re published – the stakes will just get higher, the comparisons more marked.

4. Discouragement
Likewise, this won’t stop once you’re published. I’ve heard a successful author published in the CBA say, “This industry will chew you up and spit you out.” Another one says, “Rejection doesn’t stop once you’re published. It just hurts worse.”

Our joy and contentment can’t come from our circumstances, or life will be a roller-coaster ride of disappointments. We need to learn to be content where we are before God will promote us.

In the face of rejections, can you encourage yourself in the Lord? David did this in his darkest moments before he became king. And once he learned how to do that, everything turned around for him (1 Samuel 30:6). God responds to faith and thankfulness, not fear and ingratitude.

5. Abide
Lastly, develop the ability to abide in him. Make God the center and the compass of your life. If he’s not, you’ll be thrown off course the minute the first storm hits. Do you have what it takes to ride out the rough waters of the publishing industry? With God as your center, then yes, you do. Practice this when it’s easy, so you have the steady strength to stand firm when it’s hard.

Image by Christian Meyn,
courtesy of
The chrysalis

The chrysalis is a chamber of waiting. A place of transformation.

In the chrysalis of a Monarch butterfly, the caterpillar literally dissolves into slime. It has to die to itself in order to enter the next phase of its destiny.

What are you doing in the chrysalis to prepare your character so you’re ready to step into your destiny?

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, November 27, 2012

Guest Post: Kristy Wedge Cambron on Post Your Passion

So when I asked for some tips on social media from a few fellow authors, Kristy Wedge Cambron gave me so many good tips on her facebook posting guidelines I decided this was due its own post. Enjoy, I think these are truly gems!-Julia

 I do have some FB posting guidelines that if I were writing a blog post on the subject, I would be sure to share:

1) POST YOUR PASSION - Find that one thing that drives your FB page, your posts, your pictures - find what it is and do not hesitate to post about it. I adore Jane Austen. I love all things Paris. I have a soft spot for classic movies. All of these things make their way on to my blog and my FB Author Page. But the one thing that I have true passion for - the post that I will never be ashamed to share - is one that glorifies Jesus Christ. Post your passion.

2) STAY CONSISTENT - This isn't referring to frequency of posts, though I do believe it's important. But the real focus of consistency is to stay true to your brand. I write "Vintage Romance with a Heart for Christ". That tells the story of my author brand and I try to stick to it. That means that I post pictures of romantic Paris, classic literature quotes, scripture verses, pictures of vintage weddings, links to wedding blogs in the UK... anything that ties in with my brand will help readers to know what to expect when they come to my FB page/blog, and they'll come back because of it.

3) DO NOT ALIENATE YOUR READERS - To use a recent example in our country - I do not write for Republicans or Democrats. I write for Jesus. That means that despite my own personal views, I have readers that may have an opposite opinion. I try to remember that when I post. I won't reach anyone for Christ if I am driving away readers with non-writing, non-author, non-Christian posts. (But remember my POST FOR PASSION example - I will post Biblical, Jesus-focused posts, without shame.)

4) IT'S ALL ABOUT STRATEGY - What's hot right now and fits in with my personal brand? Downton Abbey is an excellent example. When I post a link for something specific that has a lot of attention on it - such as Downton Abbey - I follow that up with a post that links to my recent blog post, for example, so it sits right next to it on my FB Author Page. Readers will see that. Take the posts you know will draw traffic and use it to your advantage.

5) REMEMBER YOUR ALTER-EGO - Even Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent had to remember the fact that they had dual personalities. I am constantly reminded that while I am a Christian author, I also have an alter-ego as a Learning Consultant in Corporate America. My employer is also active on Facebook and I keep the two personas in very separate camps because of it. My author page does not mention my employer. My leader and peers at the office do follow my FB Author page, but I keep in mind the fact that I always represent my employer (even when I do not profess to).

6) POSITIVITY REIGNS - I don't care how terrible my day was at the office or how frustrated I am when my cable provider has me on hold for an hour - I don't post about it. Readers come to FB for an escape, for entertainment, for connectivity... they don't jump onto social media excited to read a rant of negativity. As with our personal brand and as a professed follower of Jesus, I do not see a benefit in passing on more negativity. Now, posting prayer requests is completely different - that builds connectivity with others/readers. But blasting another religion, political party, even another football team (and I am a HUGE football fan) - I won't do it. If I represent Jesus (POST YOUR PASSION

To add a couple of extra things... I always make sure I support my peers. If another author is having a giveaway, I will post a link to it. If a publisher is asking for shares of a particular post, I will share it. Giving your readers links to free Kindle books, giveaways, even links to Downton Abbey Season 3 - these draw readers to your page. But supporting another author just because you want to get more attention on Christian Fiction as a whole? That builds genuine relationships in our author community. I support other authors because I want them to succeed too. Any book that glorifies Christ deserves a mention on my page. ; )ain), I won't represent negativity at the same time.

One more thing... When readers comment on your posts, DON'T LEAVE THEM HANGING! Ask questions, engage, be authentic with your readers and they will with you in return.

Kristy Wedge Cambron has a gorgeous blog here:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Writing to Wait

Wait. Wait. Wait.

We wait on that perfect idea. Once we are inspired, we wait to find the time to write the story. And then, we wait for feedback from our crit group. Sometimes you have to put it aside a bit and wait until you've had some breathing room before you jump back in. Once it's polished, you send out queries to a gazillion agents, and then comes the rejection. And you continue writing and sending, and then the real WAITING begins.

Wait. Wait. Wait.

I've never considered myself a patient person. Hey, I grew up in the age of instant gratification. Over the years though, I have had no choice but to develop patience. Through college, applications, job applications, expectant motherhood, impending is filled with waiting.
Unfortunately, my patience kind of ebbs and flows. Some days I set aside my anticipation, and other days, I strive, second guess myself, wonder if I have what it takes.

With much encouragement from my writer friends (ahem, Alley Cats), and a lot of prayer, I am trying to learn to LIVE while I wait. To not just sit here and let a million thoughts, a dozen “To do” items to increase my chances, overwhelm me and keep me from just plain old enjoying life in this process.

Okay, I'll surrender my words on this, and point you to a song that has given me hope in the waiting. What I like most about this song, is he doesn't talk about just sitting there and wait, but moving forward, serve, worship, LIVE in the waiting! Click on the link below if you would like to listen to it.

Endure the wait. Good things will follow!

While I'm Waiting by John Waller

I'm waiting

I'm waiting on You, Lord

And I am hopeful

I'm waiting on You, Lord

Though it is painful

But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident

Takeing every step in obedience

While I'm waiting

I will serve You

While I'm waiting

I will worship

While I'm waiting

I will not faint

I'll be running the race

Even while I wait

I'm waiting

I'm waiting on You, Lord

And I am peaceful

I'm waiting on You, Lord

Though it's not easy

But faithfully, I will wait

Yes, I will wait

I will serve You while I'm waiting

I will worship while I'm waiting

I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve you while I'm waiting
Do you struggle with patience? Has there been a time when you've been blessed in the waiting?


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, November 24, 2012

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

Photo Credit
What are you thankful for today?

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday and I love how the center of my chest fills with gratitude of all God has blessed me with this year. Today I'm celebrating with close friends the joy of gratitude and all we have to be thankful for.

We certainly don't live in a perfect world with perfect people, but we DO serve a perfect God and for that I'm beyond thankful.

And I'm also thankful for another week to spend with you as we chat about our writing. :-)

Coming next week...

Angie shares on waiting on our writing...something we all need a reminder for on Monday.

Julia continues her series on Social Media on Tuesday.

Karen is posting about Character in the Chrysalis, preparing our hearts for publication and growing character as we wait on Friday.

Yes...we're (or rather Ashley) is going to make you tackle the dreaded synopsis on Thursday.

Want to make your opening chapters strong and catchy for agents and editors? Then come back on Friday for Cindy's post and tips.

Word on the street...

Krista was hosted on Novel Rocket this week. Check out how mail fraud was the key to her publication.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Three Big Takeaways from the My Book Therapy Storycrafters Retreat: Guest Post by Lindsay Harrel

I love Lindsay Harrel! So when I had the brainstorm to ask her to guest post, I knew exactly what to have her chat to us about...what else, but the My Book Therapy retreat she just attended! Now, before you join me and turn bright green with envy, this post is LIKE attending one of Susie's retreats it is so thorough. So kick back, avoid those black Friday shoppers and get to know Lindsay bit better... :-))
A few months ago, I received my first agent rejection letter. The agent said that while she liked my writing, my story and plot were not unique enough.

After a trip to Dairy Queen and about two days spent doing anything but writing (ha!), I sat down to examine what the agent had said. And you know what? She was right.

So I set out to correct my deficiency in plot and structure. I’ve been a member of My Book Therapy—an organization founded by award-winning author Susan May Warren that focuses on teaching the craft of writing—for nearly a year, but had yet to attend any of the group’s writing retreats.

I decided to change that. Last month, I attended the MBT Storycrafters Retreat in Minnesota.

Changed. My. Life. (And writing!)

The retreat was small, only about 10–15 people, and that meant I received individual attention from Susie. That woman is amazing and just so called to be a teacher. She truly cares about each person there and brainstorms like you wouldn’t believe.

At the retreat, Susie goes through the very basics of building a plot from the ground up. There is so much information crammed into your head over 48 hours, but it is all so valuable. You actually come away with a fleshed out story idea and your first scene written.

I thought I’d share with you some key points I took away from the weekend:

Character sheets aren’t enough.
Before I joined MBT, I used character sheets to get to know my characters. You know, the ones with details about what kind of car your character (we’ll call her Tina) drives, her dog’s name, and her favorite color. While those details can be important and very telling of Tina’s character and who she is, they by no means are enough.

Instead, think about what event in your character’s past (called the Dark Moment) shaped her. Make it one specific event. That event then leads to the Lie She Believes. For example, in my current work in progress, my main character Stacy’s mom broke a promise, one that leads to the death of Stacy’s dream. The lie she believes is that no one can be trusted—that you have to do everything yourself.

The lie leads to the Greatest Fear, which comes true in the Black Moment, or the big event toward the end of the novel when all heck breaks loose and the lie seems true.

See how all of these things tell us much more about a character than the car she drives? In order to figure some of these out, Susie suggested delving deeper by interviewing your character.

Storyworld can make or break a scene.

Storyworld is that all-encompassing something about a scene that puts us there and practically makes the setting like another character. I have always included little details into my scene to accomplish this, but I don’t think I was doing enough of it. Susie suggested brainstorming the following basics just before writing a scene. Spend about 10–20 minutes doing this and it will make you much more in tune with your setting and what’s going on in your scene (even pantsers can do this!):

Ask the five W's.
·         Who: What's the POV character's emotional state in 1-2 words?
·         What: What is going on around the character? What is the character actually doing in the scene? (This last question really helped me because my scenes were previously filled with lots of smiling, nodding, fists clenching, etc. Susie said to give your characters something to actually do, like peel potatoes, get ready for a party, etc.)
·         Where: Physical location, but also what is significant about this place to the character?
·         When: Time of day, time of year, etc.
·         Why: Why is the character here?

Add in the five senses.
·         Close your eyes and pretend like you're there. What do you hear?
·         What do you smell? Be as specific as you can, even giving analogies here.
·         What do you see? Pull out little significant details.
·         Taste can be a feeling (like tasting guilt or regret) or an actual taste.
·         You should only use significant touches.

I wrote a new scene at Storycrafters and sent it to my critique partner. She told me it was the best scene of mine she’s ever read because the storyworld was so vibrant and alive.

So yeah, guess it makes a difference.

First lines should put us in the character’s head.
The first line—and I’m talking about the first line of each scene, not just of the entire book—is responsible for drawing our readers in. Because of that, we want them to be powerful. Strong.

We also want them to get us in the POV character’s head.

A great trick Susie taught at the retreat was this: When you’re brainstorming your scene, close your eyes and embody your character. You’ve already thought about where she is, what she’s doing, and what else is going on around her. Now, what is she thinking? What thought is running through her mind?

That is your first line.

An example from the scene I developed at Storycrafters (technically two lines, but you get the picture):

“How had it come to this, singing in a backwoods joint that felt more like a prison courtyard than the concert hall of Kacie’s dreams? Yeah, the Lizard Lounge was definitely a far cry from the Grand Ol’ Opry.”

Your Turn: Have you ever been to a writing retreat? What takeaways did you bring home? If not, what writing tidbits have you been learning lately? Please share!

Since the age of six, when she wrote the riveting tale “How to Eat Mud Pie,” Lindsay Harrel has passionately engaged the written word as a reader, writer, and editor. She holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication and an M.A. in English. In her current day job as a curriculum editor for a local university, Lindsay helps others improve their work and hones her skills for her night job—writing inspirational contemporary fiction. Lindsay lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband of six years and two golden retriever puppies in serious need of training.

Twitter: @Lindsay Harrel:

Thursday, November 22, 2012


If we listed everything we Alleycats are thankful for this year, this would be a very long post.

And we figure that you all should be spending your time with family and Turkey, so we'll keep it short.

Today we're thankful for God.

And, we're thankful for you, our dear readers!

We pray God's blessings on you this Thanksgiving.

Enjoy your day, and we'll be back tomorrow with more fun!

- krista and the rest of the alleycats

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Unusual Things to be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving Holidays to you!

We here at the Alley are so blessed by your readership. Although many of you are shy to comment or maybe you've enjoyed a post but didn't have time to share or have a specific thought to comment with, we see you here. God's richest blessings on you.

Today, I thought we could talk about the unusual things to be thankful for. 

Sure it's easy to thank God for our children, the weather, our food, etc. But what about the unusual things. 

Let's see, what can we put on this list.

Crits with lots of red writing. Sigh. I get those more than the raving positive comments at the end of the doc. I am, however, thankful for the color on my paper because I learn, I see the issue in my work, I change, I write better . . . until the critters find a new issue GACK! Breathe. I can be thankful again, learn yet another concept, see my error, change, and write better again.

Contest responses in the first round. No. no. Please. I really didn't want an email from the contest category administrator yet, at least wait another two months. Actually, I was hoping for the golden call about that time. 

The email was sweetly written, sorry....blah blah blah. I usually open the email later that evening, with a cup of hot chocolate, hoping my entry was really good but my score just missed the cut. Two days later, when I have matured, I read the judges comments.

Now comes the thankful part. I really am glad to have the score sheets. Specific areas of writing earn their own points. I can find out if I scored high on the hook, but bombed style or setting. Sometimes a judge will include a critted version. Sure, because of the subjectivity of the business three judges can score completely different. I can compare the three and learn what needs to be perfected. And if I keep learning and trying and submitting, someday, I might get the call like I did this year for the Phoenix Rattler Writing Contest :)

NaNoWriMo in November. In the season of crazy, NaNo gives you the opportunity to go insane. I am thankful because I had this fabulous idea for a story swirling in my head, consuming my thought time, but I had editing, requests, and obligations which required my full attention. The new idea had to wait until January, maybe February before I would have time to devote to it. Seriously, this is was not the time. 

But . . . this year, I signed up. NaNo has become my vent. An opportunity to get that first draft out of my head with no obligations to edit at this time. It moved those ideas that pop into my head when I was in the middle of something onto a page and cleared my mind to focus on the other tasks I needed to do. Insane ended up working for me.

Frantically busy days. No way will you get any writing done on a day where the to do list outweighs the available time. This is a day to keep one of those mini spiral writing pads and a pen with you. This is the time when new, fresh ideas will form, soaked with sight, sounds, feelings, tastes, and new learning. Don't waste these added blessings, whip that spiral out of your back pocket, take notes, and later add them to the perfect character/setting in your book. It will make you feel better, I promise:)

Suggested frantic day observations worth taking notes:

*the cheerleader or grannie type cashier leaving the register to run after the customer who forgot a bag, 

*the fresh scent of a traffic jam, and musical blarings of horns, engines, and screeching fan belts bleeding over your favorite song on the radio. 

*the missing ingredient in dinner flavor 

*the unexpected guest's lovely appearance, and yours when you answered the door with curlers, no make-up, and fuzzy slippers

*the voice of the marketer who called-yet again, this time when the oatmeal boiled over 

*the vibrant colors of your child's drawing on the surface of the living room wall which you noticed right before your mother-in-law arrived. 

*the new things you found while searching for your missing keys during the last twenty minutes 

*the force needed to scrape frost off the car when you're ten minutes late for the special appointment. 

This list could go on for pages!

Oh the blessings we have in disguised packages. 

Have some fun. Giggle. 
Add an unusual thing to be thankful for.
(Including prepositions at the end of a sentence:) )

This short post has been brought to you by the sponsors of 
You Better Hurry 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