Tuesday, July 30, 2013

From Good to Stellar: Characters That Won't Leave You Alone

"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
-Stephen King, On Writing

Over the next few posts we will be discussing exceptional books and what makes them different. 

Jay Gatsby. 

Tom Joad.

Mr. Darcy.

Scout Finch.

What do all of these characters have in common? An alcoholic spoiled playboy, a Depression-era migrant worker, a stubborn but loveable beau, and a plucky girl coming-of-age in the first part of the century.

If your answer is not much, think again.

1) Memorable: I still remember peering in at Gatsby's society party through the eyes of Nick, wondering how the other half lives, all while being watched by the giant eye on a billboard.

Its been twenty years since I read The Grapes of Wrath yet I will never forget gruff but loveable Ma Joad who spouts wisdom as the matriarch of this family of travelling vagrants. Or Tom Joad who determines to carry out his friend Casey's social reforms fighting for the average man.

I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there, too.- Tom Joad, from Grapes of Wrath

2) Just like us: These are the characters we love. Like Tom they're all around. We can relate to them. They are everyday people like us.

True characters follow us as we live our lives.

They change things in the stories and they change us as we read. 

Like Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, we have all learned hard lessons growing up, lessons about the real world and the way it works, about what's good and true and what's worth fighting for. We know what its like to find out someone isn't who they seem to be. 

We may not have yacht parties and loads of servants like Jay Gatsby in The Grapes of Wrath, but we all have struggled with what it means to be liked. What lengths will we go to in order to be loved and accepted by others?

3) Quirky: Funny, unique, these characters dare to be different.

The main character in The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler is a travel guide writer with a twist, he despises leaving home. His books are devoted to those "homesick" tourists who are looking for a good armchair and an order of fish and chips while on their business trips. 

Nick is a recent Yale graduate, a bond salesman, living next-door to a millionaire. He and Gatsby are opposing characters in many ways. The surprising pairing of the two characters as neighbors and coincidental friends adds a depth to the novel.

4) A great backstory: These characters have a vivid past illustrated through small nuggets deposited here and there for the reader.

When you first meet Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre it is difficult to conceive of his past. As Jane uncovers terrifying details the reader is introduced to Mr. Rochester's past firsthand. 

Or what about Miss Havisham from Great Expectations who wears her wedding dress and mopes around her house for years for her long lost beau?

Next time around we'll discuss making your characters memorable in further detail.

What characters have you read about that "won't leave you alone"? Why are they so memorable? What can you learn from them to apply to your own characters? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Writer's Ride Across the Pages

This past week, I went on a two day bike ride of 100 miles...Yeah, not usually my thing, but I had some friends that wanted to join in the tradition of RAGBRAI (an annual ride across Iowa). So I took the plunge.
As I forced myself to continue strong up hills, down hills, around curves and potholes, I couldn't help but relate my 100 mile bike ride to writing a 100k novel.

The Beginning:

For four months, my small group women and I planned to ride our bikes and prove to ourselves (and maybe our husbands) that we could do it! We had a vision and we were determined to see it through. It's that excitment you get when you are ready to venture into a new journey of story. You know it's a winner, and you're ready to prove to yourself (and maybe your husband) that you have what it takes to get all the way to "The End". As the week crept closer, I began to envision falling flat on my face on the roadway. What was I trying to do? Who was I trying to kid? I am certainly not qualified to ride a bike, let alone a trek like this one!

This kind of doubt also creeps in at this point in the writing process. Is my story going to be a marketable idea? Does it have the hook it needs to succeed? Can I even write such a story?

And like we all find a way to push away those doubts and delve into the love of our story, I pushed doubts of the ride aside, began to pedal, and joy met me on the ride. I grew excited when I began to meet others on the ride, just as I enjoy discovering new characters and learning from them in my writing. The landscape took my breath away as I pushed up hills and coasted down them, just as exploring the setting of my story fills my spirit with worship of the Creator.

Every once in a while on my bike, I'd glance ahead and see the hills and potholes waiting to throw me off, and I would find myself pushing down the fear, ignoring the challenge ahead and focusing on the moment. As a writer, I also do this when I try to keep my momentum...my inner editor clicks on and tries to drag me to the mire of the tangled web that I am creating in my plot or character development. I must turn it off to press on, knowing that the journey has just begun.

The Middle:

Round and round I pedaled, and at one point, I thought, what am I doing??? How in the world did I get myself into this? I am tired, and annoyed, and ready to quit. I could only dwell on the negative of the ride behind me, those bikers passing me...even if it was more "their" sport than mine, (yeah, I am competitive!) and I focused on all the hills, hills, and more hills ahead.
If you've ever felt like this once your energy for starting a new novel fizzles, and your adrenaline sputters to a low, then you have reached the middle of your novel where it threatens to sag like a big ol' flat tire. This is the part where you try to switch gears, try to pedal harder, try to reach for that water bottle and find refreshment somewhere, anywhere, for your characters and your story.
I just had to push through on my ride. Lean on the God who gives the ultimate refresher, and find a new hope in the journey.
When you get to this part in the writing process, PRAY. God's given you the story, He'll help you find resilience to master that middle.

The Strong Finish:

My body was sore and tired, I had many miles behind me, many people along the path, many, many, many hills conquered. But the ride wasn't over. I had another day ahead. And after a good night's rest, I set out to finish up this goal of mine.
Sometimes we are worn out after the struggle of that "middle ground" in our novel. Sometimes we've put the brakes on, and begun to brainstorm all over again, drawing new flow charts in the roadside gravel. But when you allow yourself time and rest, the finish sometimes comes faster than you expect.
I knew that it would be a shorter day on that second day. And with the way my body felt, I hoped the finish line would come quickly. There were still hills, potholes, rude bikers, slow bikers, FAST bikers, that tried to knock me down, but the finish line was creeping closer and closer. The last town met me before I knew I was there. And before I could really understand it...I was done.
As writers, when we begin to complete the words needed to tell the story, the plotline, the character arc, all the elements that draw out one long stretched out finish line, we pick up momentum and energy to make that final push. Don't quit now! You've worked too much to leave the road and get lost in the cornfields of defeat.:)
Have you had a life journey that is similar to your writing journey? Would love to hear about it!

Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous, mothering 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 historical cultures and social boundaries. Angie is an ACFW member and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What's Up the Street Next Week?


Anyone else love to watch them?

There's something awesome and powerful about the crash of thunder and blast of lightning.

Or what about a gentle rain. Have you ever danced in the rain? Splashed in mud puddles?
Have you done it as an adult?

What about the lullaby of rainfall? The strumming of the keystrokes tapping against your roof in a sleepy pattern?

Even now, I'm starting to feel the curb of sleep as the pitter patter of the lazy rhythm relaxes me.

What about you?

Okay, okay...enough about rain.

What's up the Street Next Week on the Alley?

Monday - Angie just finished an AMAZING RACE, so she's bringing a lesson from the trail to the Alley today.

Tuesday - Don't settle for mediocre writing. Julia talks today about how to take your writing to the next level.

Wednesday - With her usual loveliness, Ashley flutters in with her post - Advice From a Butterfly, how to give your writing dreams wings.

Thursday - When the going gets tough, what do you do? Karen talks about writing through resistance.

Friday - Amy's going to celebrate finishing and submitting her most recent manuscript with a post about How To Know When You're Ready to Press Send (actually I was hoping she'd write about How to Keep From Driving Your Crit Partners Crazy Before you Press Send, but she didn't quite go for that one ;-) LOL

Come join us for a fantastic week. Bring your ideas.

And don't forget that there is a special story in every day.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What Are You Doing to Sustain Your Writing Drive?

Oftentimes we just have to write through the pain of not wanting too. Those moments of blockage that completely turns us away from our stories. Those brief moments of uncertainty should be pushed through, you'll come through it stronger, with a better appreciation for the moments of inspiration and ideas.

 But what about that desert without a drop of water in sight? What about the days that turn into weeks and the weeks that turn into months when you could care less about anything writing related or even novel related? 

What are you doing to sustain the good and keep the devil of the desert at bay? 

Are you praying about your writing? Are you praying about where God wants for you? Restore your confidence in your writing by trusting that God is teaching you even through this point of no water, even when it feels as though you aren't being led or taught.

Are you talking with writer friends? This is so very important to your writing health. Spend time every couple of weeks skyping or chatting over the phone or through email with friends. Knowing you aren't the only one "out there" will give you a boost of confidence and ambition to do your very best.

Invest in writing conferences, especially the face to face kind. Even if it's just a small one near you, find a way and attend it. Make the effort to connect with other writers and don't be afraid to share your struggles. Life isn't always "fine" and you might encourage or be encouraged by someone in a similar situation. There are no new writing problems under the sun. We've all been at one time or another.

Don't be afraid to talk about what is wrong. This doesn't mean on Facebook or other social media. But find a confidant who is willing to listen and pray with you. Pray for this confidant and be willing to return the favor. 

During the desert, take a break from your writing for at least two weeks. But during that time, be willing to pray even when it's hard about your writing. During the last week, slowly start bringing the story back to your attention. Reading the parts of the book you love, just for the sake of reading. Leave the editing side of your brain far, far away. Fall in love with the story. 

Learn to enjoy your stories again. Not just writing for the sake of writing. Or editing for the sake of making the story better. But reading because you love these characters. Remind yourself why you wrote the story in the first place and you'll find yourself wanting to make it better.

Spend a portion of every writing day reminding yourself why you love writing and/or the writing community. This looks different for every individual writer, but I encourage you take the time to make a list. Rediscover why you love this craft and then post this list right where you can see it every time you write.

Be encouraged. Be inspired. Remember why you love to write. And that is the most important thing of all.

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

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Blurb

You've come to that point.

You've written your book, and now you need a catchy blurb to reel people in.

And that's exactly the purpose of the blurb. To catch an agent... or editor... and eventually, most importantly, a reader's eye.

There is a GOB of information out there about writing the blurb. Some say only one sentence. Some limit it to a certain number of words or characters. Some say it can be a whole paragraph. Some say not to include a question, others not so much. Some say to use names... others say to leave names for the book.

Oye. Can get SUPER confusing.

I've read all of those same sets of advice. I've struggled myself with writing the "perfect" blurb. And in the end, I took all into consideration and decided that I need to keep the MOST important key in mind:


Just like a first chapter... your blurb must hook the reader, leave them wanting to know more. It must create a question, and not just any question. But an INTRIGUING one.

That said, intriguing is in the eye of the beholder. What intrigues ME might not intrigue YOU, and visa versa.

Our family has Netflix at our house, and I've always gotten a kick out of reading the little blurbs for the movies. Some of them are right on, but occasionally I'll find an yawn-inducing one that reminds me of the super importance of quality blurbs.

Thought it'd be fun to post some examples... as well as my commentary on what makes them good or, well, not so good.

I have no watched all of these movies. Some of them are rated R or are NOT movies I'd recommend. I'm judging the quality of the blurb only, not the movie itself. 
13 going on 30

When a geeky teen's birthday party goes awry and she makes a wish that she could be 30, she wakes up to discover she's flash-forwarded 17 years.

Krista's Thoughts: I actually really like this one. Highlights a fun, intriguing twist that you can tell would be full of funny twists and turns.

The Switch

Still single and worried about her biological clock, Kassie decides to pursue motherhood with the help of an anonymous sperm donor.

Krista's Thoughts: Okay, I know the whole "sperm donor" thing is controversial, so apologize for the subject matter. But honestly, I'm not loving this blurb, and I thought this was a good example. So she gets a sperm donor. Not my preferred way, but "normal" these days. Doesn't highlight any conflict and no real twisting plot that would hook anyone. Without knowing anything else about the movie, I'd assume it was a not-in-my-taste documentary (or non-fiction book) and move on

Maid in Manhattan

Sparks fly when a chambermaid and a rising politician literally collide at a posh New York City hotel. The only problem? He assumes she's a guest.

Krista's Thoughts: First, loved this movie. Second, not too bad of a blurb! Ends with the plot hook, which is what the one before was missing. Just the first sentence described the movie... but the rest is what made the blurb a good one! (and note... It's 3 sentences. Totally broke a rule, but worked!)

The River Why

Gus Orviston, a discontented city-dweller, moves to the wilderness to devote his time to fly-fishing and to pull a prize rainbow trout from the river.

Krista's Thoughts: *stretches* *yawns* Oh, sorry, I think I just fell asleep while reading that blurb...

Anger Management

After a gentle businessman is forced to get anger management counseling, his therapist moves in -- but turns out to have anger issues of his own. 

Krista's Thoughts: Never watched the movie... but another thumbs up on the blurb. An anger counselor who has his own anger issues? And why in the world is his therapist moving in anyway? I'm curious...

North and South

When her father moves his family to an industrial mill town, the parson's daughter, Margaret Hale, struggles to adapt to her harsh new surroundings.

Krista's Thoughts: Eh. Okay, so she struggles. A little bit of conflict anyway. And the "harsh" surroundings hints to something. But... okay, honestly, I couldn't make it through watching the whole movie without falling asleep. So maybe the blurb is as good as it could get? I dunno. Don't know how it ended! And don't really care to... *confession over*


When Albert Einstein's cerebral niece piques the interest of an auto mechanic, Einstein devises a plan to bring the two divergent minds together.

Krista's Thoughts: Brilliant! Just plain brilliant!

A Royal Affair

In 18th-century Denmark, the unstable King Christian VII neglects his young queen, Mathilde, who falls in love with his German physician, Struensee, an intellectual whose advocation of reform transforms the country but brings about his own downfall.

Krista's Thoughts: Oh. My. Honestly? I've read this blurb about 4 or 5 times and I still have no clue at all what it is talking about. Blurbs should not be confusing. I don't even know how to critique this blurb because I have no clue what it is saying.


Fired from his job as a shoe designer, Drew tries to kill himself. But he gets a new lease on life when he returns to his hometown for a funeral.

Krista's Thoughts: I almost didn't use this one. But... there is this fabulous twist in this blurb that makes it actually decent. Okay, so he tried to kill himself... but finds new LIFE at a FUNERAL. Really??? It wasn't my favorite favorite movie, but I was intrigued enough to watch!

America's Sweethearts

In this slick satire, a separated, bickering movie-star couple make nice for the cameras during a press junket promoting their final film together.

Krista's Thoughts: Disappointing blurb!!!!!! I've watched the movie, and while this is true... there is much more to the movie than this, parts that actually might, say, HOOK a reader/watcher. This just sounds annoying. If you want to watching bickering... come and get some popcorn and pull up a chair in my living room. My kids provide plenty of it!

Moral of the Blurb:

Don't bore your reader.
Don't confuse your reader.
Don't worry TOO much about all the blurb rules. (But still worry a little...)

So... what are YOUR thoughts on some of the blurbs above? Any you disagree with my thoughts? (feel free... as I said, this is TOTALLY subjective!)

Do you have an fabulous example of a really GOOD blurb or a really HORRIBLE one you want to share?

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of Sandwich, With a Side of Romance. She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at http://www.kristaphillips.com. She is represented by the fab agent, Rachelle Gardner.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Successful Writers Can Focus No Matter What

A Christian speaker walked up the steps to the platform and across the carpeted flooring to a lectern. He bowed his head and prayed.

1. He prayed. 

The speaker then looked up at the audience, scanning the entire room to acknowledge everyone present.

2. He took notice of and demonstrated his consideration of each person in the audience.

A few men and women in the audience sipped from coffee cups, others fumbled for paper or pen, a few more checked their cell phones. Of course some pulled out their candy and unwrapped the cellophane while others whispered continuing the conversation with their neighbor which started before the speaker stepped to the platform. 

All the while, the speaker smiled and shared one of those: "There once was a..." stories. Instantly, chatting stopped, rustling for pens, papers, and candy ceased, and whispered conversations ended mid sentence. The speaker had hooked their interest with his anecdote. What a sharp contrast.

3. To lasso the attention of potential listeners/readers, he started with a stimulating hook.

The speaker moved on from his opening to the presentation. Most of the people sat on the edge of their seats fully engaged. But there was a baby in the back of the room. She obviously didn't care about the words and expressed her opinion openly. The caregiver must have done something for the baby to bring comfort because the crying stopped--for a short time 

Some of the listeners in the audience looked back at the baby. It couldn't be helped, they were curious. Others held a staunch stance, keeping their heads forward. Chances were good their attention had slipped to the baby, too. The little one expressed her discomfort several times during the presentation, and even though a nursery lay a few feet from the room, the mother continued to try different ways to comfort the child. 

The one person who did not waver, who kept steadfast and focused on the presentation--was the speaker. 

He didn't pause or stutter, fumble or loose concentration. He used arm motions to produce emphasis and threaded appropriate jokes as he had in previous presentations. If someone asked him after the presentation if he'd heard the baby, he'd probably look surprised and say, "What baby?"


Let's place the writer in the role of this speaker and consider a few things.

1. A successful writer is focused on their story and ignores exterior sounds. This does not mean ignore your family or other important tasks. Remember we are in the shoes of this speaker; the baby was not his child. The presentation was his and he had a job to give the ideas to the audience.

What distractions do we have that are likened to this scenario?

*Easy ones you already know are social media, and any other "something shiny" things that pull us away from a deep relationship with our story's presentation. 

*Doubt - my story can't possibly work this way, I need to change it. Be careful, changing a story is not like cleaning a house. It may not improve the work. It may take away your voice. On the other hand, if you do make a major change, doubt could creep in and cause you to return to the lesser product. Stand confident in your decision and move forward.

*Comments - crit partners, friends, and judges have the best intent. At times their recommendations will altar a portion of the story so much the foundation crumbles. The only one who can really know if a major change should be made is you, the writer. What is the premise of your story? Write that short sentence on a sticky note and affix it to your computer. Stay true to the premise.

2. A successful writer's focus is proven with a passion communicated with all senses. The speaker used his arms, moved about the platform, and changed the inflection of his voice to match the points, never wavering even during all the distractors.

How can we communicate a passion for the premise and story?

*Edit!:   A well-crafted story is like a finely tuned orchestra. No one hears (read) problems that aren't there. The writer's words melt like cotton candy and leave a savory taste in the readers mind and heart. 

*Complete:  A fantastic book is like a Rembrandt painting where every centimeter of paint is specifically designated to portray a vivid portion of the overall canvass, using color to stimulate the mind. A fantastic book is like a masterpiece symphony containing contrasting movements, featured instrumental sections, rises and falls, cymbal crashes and serene flute solos, using sound to create an experience to change a soul. A well-crafted story weaves subplots and layers, knitting words into a fabric so strong the emotional impact can not be forgotten.

*Emotion:  A well crafted story will contain words, phrases, scenes that elicit a response from the reader. I've laughed out loud, grabbed a tissue, and shouted at characters in books I've read. You too? What component in that book caused you to respond that way? If a reader will outwardly respond to a book, they are more likely to remember and recommend the book. Be sure to include sparks of humor, tear jerking scenes, victorious moments, and etc. Get the reader off the couch and inside the pages. 

3. A successful writer's focus is proven by casting aside fears.  The speaker freely presented complicated information to deepen the listener's understanding. Despite the distractions in the audience, he forged ahead and gave the information then explained the concept with such clarity that everyone in the room could understand. 

How can writers set aside their fears?

*Tackle the difficult.  If your story requires addressing a difficult topic: 

  First, research authors who have successfully done so to be sure you want to include the scene you are considering. (Francine Rivers, Terry Blackstock, Mary DeMuth are a few Christian authors who have successfully addressed difficult topics)

  Second, pray, 

  Third, research current information on the topic, 

  Fourth, write the section, 

  Fifth, have an expert in the field check your portrayal for accuracy.

*Tackle the complicated. Go ahead and use appropriate foreign language phrases you know. Be sure to include context clues or dialogue with characters explaining the meaning. Go ahead and include a complicated concept. We all like to learn. Teach us through the story. Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley in their book, The Dance, masterfully wove counseling steps into a dance lesson. As fiction writers we need to teach in creative ways. 

*Tackle the unusual. Go ahead and use the setting you have in mind. Take the reader to a new place or refurbish an old place. Let your characters walk into places that challenge them. Jim Rubart successfully did this in his book Rooms. As long as the story flows, and the reader is convinced there is a plausibility, move forward.

At the end of the speaker's presentation I felt awestruck. Unknowingly I wrote pages of notes during the talk about the topic  and about the speaker's ability to remain focus on the presentation from the first word to the last.

What else can we do to help ourselves remain focused on our WIP?
What author/book is a good example of staying true to their premise?


How do successful writers focus on their work? Join us at the the Writer's Alley for tips! Click to tweet

Distractions keeping you from your work? Sharing tips on the Writer's Alley. Click  to tweet.

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A New Genre Emerging: New Adult

Photo by imagerymajestic
You may have heard this news, but I was shocked - and intrigued -  by the news of a new genre emerging:

New Adult

What is the difference between New Adult (NA) and Young Adult (YA)? I wondered that too. So I did a little research and discovered some interesting things.

NA books features protagonists age 18-25, the age in-between adolescence and adulthood. It is the time time when a person leaves the security of home and deals with making decisions and "growing up". The themes and issues of NA books are more mature, such as identity, abuse, bullying, sexuality, etc. These kinds of themes, when coupled with new life experiences such as starting college, first jobs, new friendships after college, engagement, wedding planning, etc, make life an difficult path to traverse.

YA books features adolescents...teenagers. It is the crazy teens years, with all it's drama and angst and adventure. It is a time of firsts...first boyfriend, first kiss, driving, getting on the cheerleading squad, first job, etc. It is the coming of age.

Where YA appeals to younger readers, NA is marketed to the 18-30 crowd. It is more PG-13 than PG...and depending on the sub-genre, it could lean toward an R rating.

Did I say sub-genre? Yes, indeed! NA books can be found in romance, fantasy, paranormal, dystopia, science fiction, even horror.

In my research, I didn't really find this particular genre in the Christian market. I am sure there are books out there that fit into this genre, but it is just not labeled as such. It's still pretty new and not all publishers even consider NA a valid genre.

It really came into play when some independent writers made it big selling their NA books as ebooks. Big name publishers then picked them up and offered them HUGE contracts. These books struck chord with readers and publishers are beginnining to take notice.

Now whether the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) will follow suit, I don't know.  Maybe they already have and I just cannot find the information. But it seems that there would be a place for the NA genre within the smaller confines for the CBA world. The landscape of publishing is ever changing, ever growing. It's an exciting time, for sure!

What do you think? Have you heard of this genre? Does it sound appealing to you?


Heard about the emerging new genre? New Adult is here at The Writer's Alley! Click to Tweet

New Adult or Young Adult books? What's the difference? The Writer's Alley Click to Tweet

This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is a minister's wife and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeou

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Variety of In-Not-Of the World Writing - Part 1

God likes variety.
If you’re not sure about it, look out the window. This world is full of color from sea to ever-changing sea.

God's imagination, in amazing color, is everywhere.
So why are we surprised when God takes the same variety and imagination into fiction?
Why do we get stuck in a 'category' of what Christian fiction is 'supposed' to look like?
Isn't there variety within this category too?
Time for me to get a little technical here and pose a few interesting questions.

Does God only create one type of story to get His Gospel out to the world?
Did He in the Bible?
He used the perfect story for a particular audience at a certain time in history.
Same truth. Different 'way' in which the story was conveyed.
To farmers, he talked about seeds. To workers, he talked about 'talents'. Paul even talked about an 'unknown god' when speaking in the courts of the Gentiles.

The Bible itself is filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly in stories - and God doesn't hold back on some real-life, tough issues.

He uses different stories to convey one truth in different ways.
Just like he calls us to do.
So here’s my ‘table’ to talk about God’s story variety:

In the Christian community we sometimes forget God’s great imagination and how he uniquely fits the perfect story to the right audience.

Most stories are a mixture of 3 of the six above options. Any combination can work and NONE of them are the wrong combination for God to use His story to reach the people He wants to reach.

Let’s go over each of the categories in this post and in Part 2 we’ll talk about different novels which are examples.

1.       Simpler Story-Line – fewer subplots and less complex story line.

2.       Complex Story-Line – more deeply and complex story line

3.       Subtle Christian Themes – A read-through of this novel will not show obvious Christian themes, but because the novel is written from a Christian world-view, the natural story of God’s grace comes through in the way the characters interact with others and their world.

4.       Overt Christian Themes – This novel has obvious Christian themes, possibly with Scriptures, prayers, and conversion scenes. There is a clear Christian worldview, and though the characters show their faith, they also talk openly about it within the story.

5.       PG – themes and language – This is a gentler story. The problems for the characters may be true-to-life, but are described in a gentler more PG related way. The language is usually gentler too as well as the romantic elements. Maybe a kiss or two, but not enough to heat up the collar. The suspense is more “Nancy Drew” than Ted Dekker - and usually this novel is less likely to cause any controversy by topics discussed or situations presented within the story.

6.       PG-13 – themes and language – This story is considered more ‘edgy’ in themes, perhaps in language also. The romance usually sticks to closed-bedroom doors, but the sexual tension has a tendency to be portrayed in a more intense and possibly physical way. There’s usually more than 1 or 2 chaste kisses (think Julie Lessman here) and possibly a struggle with sexual purity. The suspense thread may have more vivid or even harsher crimes with some real-to-life language exchanges. It also may possess a more intense spiritual struggle from “old-self” to ‘new-self” in Christ.

In our attempts to write the perfect novel, why are we writing it? Who is our audience? What do we hope God will do with our story?

Why do you read different books? What do you hope to find within the pages?
If I’m a woman whose past has been built on harsh choices, deep wounds, and rough words, what book might God have written for me?

If I’m a man who has chosen to leave my wife for another woman, only to realize the horrible mistake I’ve made – what book has God written for me?

If I’m a happy homemaker looking for an opportunity to escape the demands of the day or the seemingly mundane scenarios of my life- which book has God written for me?

Does a Christian author only write for CBA? Can he/she also write for ABA?

What’s your opinion? Just like the Apostle Paul modified his story to meet his audience, should we? Can God use our variety for His glory?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What's Up the Street Next Week?

Whether you're a fan or not, Hallmark sales stories.

Lots of stories.
From historical to contemporary - most with gobs of sappy romance (for those of us who get all gooey inside from it)

Most people can think of at least ONE Hallmark they like.
Some of us can think of a whole lot more.

What about you?

The Magic of Ordinary Days is one of my favorites. So is Sarah, Plain and Tall.

or maybe your a contemporary fan like fantastic sweeties such as Accidentally in Love, Smooch, or The Lost Valentine?

What about the Love Comes Softly series...

Are you fan?

There are so many I like to watch as a commercial break in life I can't even list them all.

But Hallmark definitely has a product, a viewer-ship, and a story-mold that works for them.

Okay, so what 'stories' does The Alley have for you this week?

It's a week of surprises!

Stop by and find out what we have for you!


Friday, July 19, 2013

A day in the life of Revell's Debut Author: Sandra Orchard

Today we welcome to the Alley a dear friend of mine--and the very first writer to reach out to yours truly--the amazingly talented, multi-published suspense author Sandra Orchard!

So since each of us is likely aspiring to make writing a full-time gig, I thought I'd pick Sandra's brain and see what we can look forward to when our dreams sprout wings and our careers take off!

A day in the life of a 
published author. 

ALS: What's yours like?

SO: My Mondays to Friday are pretty routine. I try not to do anything writing-related on Sundays, except read stuff from my critique partners. Saturdays I usually write my blog post for Mondays and might spend a couple of hours writing, more if I’m behind. The rest of my week typically looks like this (with an occasional wild swing in times):

6:30 am rise and stretch and tidy, maybe put in load of laundry

7:00 am walk my dog with my neighbor

7:45 am eat, have quiet time, check/respond to emails, shower etc.

9:00 am write, plot, revise, brainstorm, rewrite, reread, work on edits etc. etc.

Noon  eat lunch with hubby who cooks it! Check and respond to emails, post a FB update at some point in the day, pick vegetables, whatever needs doing

Afternoons vary – I’ll often spend a few hours with my grandchildren, but many days I’ll write, or at least try to write, all afternoon. Oftentimes I’m doing writing-related work, such as updating my website, responding to reader letters, answering blog interviews, preparing speeches or classes for special events, working on Art Fact Sheets for upcoming books or the extras that I include on my website for each book. I’m not able to write nearly as many words a day as it seems like I should be able to given the time I’m at it. 

5:00 pm Make supper, spend time with family

7:30 pm If my family is happily all doing their own thing, I’ll often write in the evening and again respond to any emails, work on critiques for my critique partners that can sometimes take several hours. Some nights, I’m on the computer until midnight, other nights not at all! I’ve tried going to bed thinking about my book, hoping my subconscious will work out what’s not working, but…most of the time, it just keeps me from falling asleep. 

Though, I'll admit, I get my best ideas in the shower. J

ALS: There sure is a lot more to writing these days that just pounding out a story, isn't there! Okay, next question...

What is the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

My husband would say that asking the off-duty pilot sitting next to us on a flight to Alaska how I could take down a plane was the craziest. Guess, I should’ve mentioned that I was an author first. 


 The pilot laughed at my husband’s concern that they’d kick us off the plane, put us on a no-fly list and we’d never make it home, except by Greyhound! In fact, the pilot had tons of great ideas, even pulled out his iPhone and showed me pics of the DC-10 he flies and where it could be sabotaged.

ALS: Ha! Lucky you were sitting next to such a great source of information.

What is your greatest pearl of wisdom for aspiring novelists? In other words, your number one writing tip?

Don’t be in a hurry to get published. Take time to learn the craft and enjoy the journey.

ALS: And what story do you have brewing next?

The finale of Port Aster Secrets. Since the characters developed minds of their own in book 2, and the villain changed, and the story veered in an unexpected direction, let’s just say I may be as surprised as readers at how the series ends!

Thank you so much for being out guest Sandra! Looking forward to the next two books in the Port Aster Series!

Don't forget to check out Sandra's amazing new book, available now!


Sandra Orchard delivers a witty whodunit that will not only keep you guessing but will cast every last character with credible suspicion. Set in a charming town with the beautiful Niagara backdrop, the story follows the feisty and impetuous redheaded researcher with a heart of gold, Kate Adams, out to prove her friend and mentor didn’t take her own life.

But when Kate drags Detective Tom Parker, a somewhat stoic cop looking for a fresh start, into the web of suspicions, delightful chaos ensues. With a finely woven thread of danger, and a sprinkle of romance, you will sip down this story and become infected with Orchard’s addicting fictional “poison.”

A must-read for mystery junkies!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Preparing for Conference Season

While most of the country is reaching for lemonade and ice cream in these super hot temperatures (welcome to summer in Florida, by the way-bleh!) fall is around the corner. I promise. And that not only means cute sweaters and pumpkins, but also conference season! Huzzah!

If you're planning to attend the ACFW conference this year, did you realize it is almost exactly two months away? Is it just me, or is that really hard to believe?

So today I wanted to put together a list of some things you can do now to start preparing for the conference, and to keep you the dreaded panic that comes from waiting until the last minute.

  • Research, research, research. Sometimes people spend a lot of money to attend conferences but not much time preparing. If you are going to meet with an editor or an agent, please take the time to find out what that person represents. If you write historical, you don't want to wind up pitching to someone who's only looking for YA, or vice versa. Many publishing houses have a very specific vibe that they specialize in. Take time to read books by prospective publishing houses, and see who's publishing work like yours. Then target those people. Impress editors and agents by being able to converse about their current authors. You'd be surprised by how few people do this, and it will give you the edge up.
  • Start working on that one sheet. Don't wait until the last minute to get your materials ready. The sooner you get started, the more time you'll have to tweak. Your one sheet should give your title, your hook, a blurb about your story that leaves the editor/agent wanting to see more, and a bio about yourself. Our own Alley Cat Angie Dicken is offering an amazing deal on one sheet designs (only $40 per one sheet!) if you haven't already heard. You can see some examples of her work at this link: http://supamomthoughts.blogspot.com/p/cba-one-sheet-design-service.html
  • Get that book ready! To pitch a project, it needs to be at least mostly done. With two months to go, you still have plenty of time to get it ready, but time's a 'ticken, so be sure you get serious about putting in that consistent word count so your project is pitch-worthy.
  • Pray, pray, pray. Pray for God's favor, His appointments, His vision, and for Him to use you to minister to others. Pray for the editors and the agents and the publishing houses and the future of CBA. We 
We so desperately need to stand up as the body of Christ--and especially as Christian writers--to pray for the future of Christian fiction. If we, who are already so passionate about this field, fail to seek God's council and favor, who will? God wants to do incredible things through all of us, and I have personally seen and experienced His presence in a deep way at the ACFW conference. 

Think of it this way. Imagine if you had a relative or friend who wanted to give you something valuable, but they were waiting until you were ready, and until they could give it to you in person. They needed to know you were engaged, and that the moment was right. What if you never spoke to that person? What if you knew that gift was yours, and yet you never claimed it?

I wonder how often God is holding the gift-wrapped box out to us, hands outstretched, and waiting. How often His heart must be grieved when we close our fists and turn away.

Don't turn away. Believe He has great things for you, and seek His face until you find them.
  • Leave your nerves behind. When we begin to prepare for something big in our lives, it's natural to start getting more and more nervous as the excitement builds. Everyone feels a little scared to get on that plane and take the next step. Don't let anxiety keep you from your dreams. Keep in nerves your check by reminding yourself of the vision God has cast in your life and your writing. And at the ACFW Conference in particular, people are so friendly. You'll feel like you belong there the moment you put on that ACFW lanyard and the front desk workers ask if you're a writer.
  • Get those first three chapters polished! You may have a few people ask to see a writing sample if they like your story, so be sure your first three chapters are sparkling and ready to go. No time like the present to start passing those around to critique partners, moms, and best friends. Make them as good as they can be! You want to put forward the best possible reflection of yourself.

Hope this list gives you a good idea of ways you can start preparing for conference season. Are you attending any conferences this year? Do you have any tips to add to the list?


Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

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

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

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

Then you reached the ending.

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

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

Probably not.

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

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

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

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

I believe these endings all have one thing in common.

Emotional resonance.

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

According to http://www.thefreedictionary.com, resonance can be defined as:

Richness or significance, especially in evoking an association or strong emotion

Or, acoustically speaking:

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at four ways to do this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I turned and ran.

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

  1. A resonant action

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a few seconds, nothing at all.

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

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

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

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

  1. A resonant emotional arc

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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