Monday, March 31, 2014

Plotting with Disney - The Song of Longing

Did Disney’s news yesterday freeze you with shock? Frozen has become the largest grossing animated film of all time – even more than Toy Story! I was shocked. Sure it’s a cute movie, but THAT cute? Clearly I’m not ‘cool’ enough to get it – though I do recognize great storytellers when I hear/read them.

Disney is known for its GREAT stories, amazing characters, brilliant voices, fantastic secondary characters, marvelous animation, and, of course, stupendous music. In fact, you could plot a book from the pattern of songs through Disney’s movies.


That’s what we’re going to do. Using the basic elements of Disney songs in a 3-part series (particularly from the ‘princess’ movies), I’m going to talk about the ‘melody’ of story structure. (I might have to slide in a fourth to give us that ‘happily-ever-after’ part. It wouldn't be Disney without it J

The basic three ‘songs’ we’re going to discuss in the 3-part series are:
The Song of Longing
The Song of Hope
The Song of Conflict/Antagonist
(and I’ll probably throw in a happily-ever-after part in here too) J

So, today, let’s talk about Disney’s Song of Longing.

It’s a staple for almost every Disney movie out there. If you don’t believe me, here’s a list of a few.

Some Day My Prince Will Come (Snow White)
When Will My Life Begin (Tangled)
A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes (Cinderella)
I Just Can’t Wait to be King (Lion King)
Belle (The song when she’s walking through town and their talking about how weird she is J
Out There (Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Reflection (Mulan)
Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid)
Do You Want To Build a Snowman (Frozen)

What do all these songs have in common? Each and every one of them is strategically placed in the story to express the main character's deepest longing.

Whether it’s a prince, the ‘lights’, an adventure, legs, self-discovery, or a deeper relationship with her sister, all of these songs express the main character's heart’s desire.

And YOUR story needs to express that too.

If your character doesn't have a longing and goal, then it is difficult for the reader to relate to her and stick with her to the end of the book.

What does your hero/heroine want? What does she dream about? What does she ache to obtain?
Usually there are two desires – an external and internal one. Many times one will directly relate to the other.

Let’s use Cinderella, for example.

External desire: Get to the ball
Internal desire: Have someone love her and take her away from her heartache

Clearly, these two are related since she wants to get to the ball to meet someone who might sweep her out of her glass slippers and into a wedding gown. In her song, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, Cinderella sings:

“In dreams you will lose your heartache. Whatever you wish for you keep. Have faith in your dreams and someday – a rainbow will come smiling through. No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.” The song expresses her deepest longing.

What about Mulan?

External desire: Keep her father from fighting/fight in her father’s place
Internal desire: Discover who she really is

Yep – both are intricately related to each other. She discovers who she is, her worth, while taking her father’s place in the battle. In her song, Reflection, Mulan sings “When will my reflection show who I am inside?” CLEAR indication of her heartfelt ache.

One more?

External desire: See the lights
Internal desire: Self-discovery and freedom

Through the monotony of her song, When Will My Life Begin, we hear her desire for something more meaningful than what she’s always known.

Does it make sense? The songs reflect something much deeper. The beginning of the story and the heart of the hero.

So…back to you? What is your hero/heroine’s deepest longing? Can you tell us an internal and external desire they have? 

Let us know….or list one of your favorite Disney “songs of longing”?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What's Up the Street Next Week?

Anyone else ready for a week of Disney?
Well, we're not going to talk about Frozen the whoooole week, but to kick off the chill of winter we are going to cover some Disney basics a couple of times this week. All writing related...of course ;-)
I could leave it up to surprise for this week, but let me give you a few hints.

Plotting according to Disney Songs
Communicating with your audience with Frozen in mind
and Frozen writing tips

Stop by for a little bit of 'magic' and a whole lot of talk about story crafting inspired by the silver screen!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Deeper than Ink - Writing Friends

Our lives are all part of a big story. There are fantastic parts, horrible parts, and everyday humdrum parts – but one thing that makes our stories richer is who we share the scenes with. Now, as romance writers, we all get the warm fuzzies about that romantic hero/heroine in our lives, but there are other important characters that join the tale.


Today, because my crit partner is  adjusting to the lovely demands of a new mom, I just wanted to talk about the fabulous role of friends as encouragers in this writing journey….but also as so much more.

Here at the Alley, we’ve been able to celebrate agent and publishing news, but we’ve also had the beautiful addition of encouraging each other in life. Do you have writing friends who do this with you?

We talk through tough trials together
Pray for each other
Celebrate the joys of life and writing
Help give guidance and perspective

It's so much deeper than ink.

Two weeks ago, I got to drive up to Amy’s to revel in the birth of her baby, Eisley Violet Simpson. Did we talk novels? A little. But mostly we just hung out and chatted about life and babies.
But this friendship developed solely through….writing. I wouldn't have met her otherwise.

He used our mutual gift to bring about an even greater gift - friendship. That's what He's done with my AlleyCats, my friends at Seekerville, and all the other amazing authors, agents, and readers I've met in this writing arena.

It's kind of like that wonderful experience of unexpectedly meeting someone who grew up in the same place as you, or who knew some of the same people you knew, or...even deeper, who shares your faith. There is an automatic connection - and then it moves deeper.

On my trip I got to have lunch with Julie Lessman - and there is an immediate kinship through writing and faith. By the way, Julie prays AWESOME prayers!!

And of COURSE I got to have dinner with another Alley cat and fabulous encourager, Krista Phillips. (If I'd had time and the resources I would have driven to Colorado for Casey, Texas for Sherrinda, Iowa for Ang, New York and Michigan for Julia and Mary, or sunny Florida for sunny Ashley...Oh and definitely all the way to Australia to see Karen - if only!!)

The kinship runs deeper than ink- it fits into our hearts and souls.

What about you? Have you found a friend, or group of friends, that started through your love of writing and became something much more?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Adding Culture to Your Setting

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I drove to Charleston to celebrate our anniversary. We'd never been to Charleston before, and to say I feel head-over-heels for this city would be an understatement. The history, the shopping, the biscuits and sweet tea! Can life get any better? I'd say a Charleston-set story is definitely on the horizon for me.

All this got me thinking. Seems like every time I travel to a cool place, whether it's a new coffee shop in town or a new city, I find a creative spark there. So what if we could learn to capture that creative spark and add it to our stories?

I think the answer lies in thinking of setting not just as a place but as a culture.

So, if you're writing about Charleston, for example, the first things that come to mind are probably saltgrass baskets, church steeples, and sweet tea. All great examples of Charleston culture.

But do these things really capture the heart of Charleston, and for that matter, Charlestonians? No. For the real heartbeat of a setting, we have to go deeper. If we want our readers to connect with our characters on a heart-level, accurately describing the time period of the surroundings isn't enough. We have to be intentional about setting. We have to choose a particular time and place that compliments the story.

So, maybe your character does live in Charleston and love southern biscuits, but what if there's more to it than that? What if she is in the process of renovating her family's hundred-year-old home and she loves biscuits because her grandmother used to make fresh jam every Saturday morning? What if the church steeples aren't just dots in the landscape, but a sound that stirs hope in the heart of a newly-divored woman one block down the street?

It can be so easy to blaze right past setting as something that's in the way when we're trying to hash out the plot details, but setting can be every bit as important as plot in crafting depth within a story. Think of books that have left a lasting impression on you. I bet most of them not only put you in the mind of the character, but also in her situation, which entails her setting.

So how do we craft these three-dimensional settings?

  • Go to your setting. If you have the ability to physically go to your setting, great. If not, try YouTube videos, Google photos, magazine interviews, etc. to immerse yourself in that culture. It's not enough to know how something appears. Readers want the unexpected. What is going on in your setting that isn't as it appears? That is where you'll find your true story.
  • Ask how your setting impacts your characters. Is your character living in a new city that's outside her comfort zone? Or, in contrast, have three generations of her family lived in Victoria, British Columbia? Do the very streets seem to be family to her? Be intentional about your setting. If you aren't using setting to your advantage in your WIP, challenge yourself by asking if you might be able to change your setting to challenge your characters in some way.
  • Don't settle for descriptions. Get specific with your details so you can weave backstory into your setting. Ask yourself, "Why?" For example, "Why does it matter that this character always looks at the street lamps at dusk?" Or, "Why does this character avoid cobblestone streets? Is she always wearing heels? Why does she feel she needs to always wear heels?" Go deeper into the culture of a place (and the heart of your characters) when describing the setting. Setting should have a heartbeat, just like your characters do.
  • Find creative ways to describe setting. Using common descriptions of a particular setting is fine, as most people expect taxis in New York and pecan pie in Georgia, but push past that. Really work to find creative ways to describe your setting. This is also were going to your setting can be very helpful. Try observing people's mannerisms or the sounds in your setting, and then incorporate those unique aspects into your story. Readers want to see a place in a new way when they read your book--that's the whole point of inhabiting a story world.

Your turn! How do you use setting in your stories? How do you incorporate the deeper culture of a place into your setting?


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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How short-story writing can improve your long fiction

I cut my writing teeth on short stories. It's quite possibly the one thing that has most shaped and improved my writing.

Here are some reasons why writing short stories will help your long fiction.

1. It's plotting practice on a miniature scale
Many new writers plunge straight into novel-length fiction. Most of those first novels are fraught with beginner's problems and end up in the desk drawer. Usually, it's the plot structure that is flawed. Let's face it, it takes time to master the intricacies of plot on a grand scale in a full-length work.

Short stories give a writer the benefit of perspective.

It's plotting in miniature. The same backbone exists - ordinary world, inciting incident, conflict, complication, climax, denouement. But where a writer can easily get lost in the complexities of full-length fiction - subplots, character arcs, POVs, backstory, secondary characters - and lose sight of the overarching structure needed to bring strength to the work,  a short story allows the writer to drill those basics over and over on a manageable scale, until the shape of story is so ingrained in their consciousness that they are able to add more flesh onto the bones without compromising that core structural integrity.
Image by Grant Cochrane,
2. Economy of words is key
A short story says a lot in a few words. The ability to do this is an essential discipline for novel-writers, who tend to be... well... verbose. In a short story, every word has to carry its weight. It must drive the story forward. Capture the correct shade of meaning. Sing to the reader.

Some writers take the long word limits in novel-length fiction as license to ramble, meander, and use five words where one would do. This weakens your writing. In novels, as in short stories, every word should count.

Writing short stories will teach you the art of being concise, but more than that, it will teach you to select your words with care, choosing words for their sound and color and association and shades of meaning, instead of merely settling for the first word that springs to mind.

3. You'll learn to convey character more powerfully
In a novel you have chapters and chapters to "get to know" your characters, and in turn, make them known to the reader.

In a short story, you have mere pages to do the same job.

Short story writers become proficient at conveying character quickly, often in just a couple of well-chosen sentences. The ability to do this is a great advantage for a novelist. A writer who can sketch a character in a few vivid strokes and bring her to life on the first page will stand out amid a sea of novelists whose characters don't begin to breathe on their own until well into the story. Let's face it - most readers won't make it that far.

4. You can experiment with lots of ideas and styles
A novel requires an enormous investment of time and effort. In a way, this knowledge can stifle your creativity. You may be less likely to experiment with different genres or ideas that interest you if they don't seem "saleable".

Short story writing gives you the chance to try something different with minimal risk. If it doesn't work out, what have you lost? A few hours of your time, rather than a year or more.

The freedom to play with words and experiment with new ideas is what will keep your writing fresh. In the process, chances are, you'll discover a voice that is authentically yours - one that you can bring in turn to your longer-length fiction.
Image by Just2shutter,
6. It enables you to experience short-term success
Novel-writing is a long term commitment with precious little reward along the way. Writing short stories on the side may just gift you with enough small successes to keep you going for the long haul.

Why not try your hand at it? Enter some short story contests. Submit to journals and magazines and anthologies. Who knows? You may be lucky enough to make a little money to fund your writing habit. Even if there's no monetary compensation, contest wins and short story publications look very good on a novel proposal, which could otherwise (for an unpublished author) look embarrassingly bare.

Don't be discouraged, however, if you don't experience success straight away. As with any type of writing, it's not easy market to break into. Short story writing is an art form in itself. In order to submit short stories, you need to read short stories. Immerse yourself in the genre, learn about it, and practice, practice, practice.

Even if you don't win any contests or get accepted by any magazines, the process of writing short stories, researching markets and submitting is an excellent discipline for any unpublished author. There is no better way to learn than to jump in and give it a go.

Have you ever written a short story? Do you think you would give it a try?


How mastering the art of the short story can breathe life into your novels: Click to Tweet

Short story writing can improve your long fiction. Here's how: Click to Tweet

Bonus News:
My article "Creating Atmospheric Contrast", which first released here on the Alley, has recently been published in Short Story Writer magazine as a cover feature! If you're interested in learning the craft of the short story, this online magazine looks to be a great resource.

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she juggles writing with being a SAHM to three small kids. She's had short stories published in Idiom 23 and Relief: A Christian Literary Expression, and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on her website, Twitterand getting creative on her home-making blog, A house full of sunshine.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Take Your Muse Out of Hibernation

White space is overrated.

Its been a big buzz word on blogs over this past year. We all need more margin in our lives like the white on pieces of paper. We fill our pages with busyness and chaos as if they are a letter written when paper is scarce. Cross-hatched words fill every available space.

Don't they get the fact that this metaphor takes a reverse meaning for us creative types. The dreaded white page. Writer's block. I can’t seem to get past this type of white page. Seeing white is not a positive thing for a writer.

Do you ever have those times where you can’t seem to get past the white page?

Why does our idea well dry up? Here are a few reasons and some applications.

1) I’ll never be a good writer, so why bother.

First of all, we should clarify, often what we might really mean is I’ll never be a published writer. So let’s not disillusion ourselves, maybe we won’t be published. Or it might still take a while. Let’s not get caught in a trap of seeing publishing as the true purpose of our writing.

Truth and application:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:21)

Grow in your writing now. Read, read, read. Fill your mind with the best books, not only in the genre you write but in other genres.

Some favorite books:

Anything by Writer’s Digest
GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephen King (Warning: some language usage in this book)
Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson

2) I just need to do a bit more research, I don’t have all the details down.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to have all the facts down. But not necesarily before you start writing. It is good to do some preliminary research, but don’t get stuck there.

Is my main character going to wear a silk or calico dress to the party in chapter 3? And will she wear the same dress to church in chapter 7? Would my campers eat baked beans in a can, or were those not in existence yet?

Truth & Application:

Most of these questions will be asked when you are actually doing the writing, so you’ll end up doing a fair amount of research as you go along.

As a former librarian, I tend to get a bit obsessed about the details. I LOVE research, probably almost as much as I love writing. I can convince myself I can’t start writing yet because I don’t have every detail down. When in reality, I need to do a bit of research, then sit my rear in the chair to write and use my non-writing time to do the rest of the research.

My suggestion: Separate from your writing time, devote 15 minutes a day to reading a research book devoted to your time period or subject.

Some great resources include:
-Writer’s Digest books again
-Smithsonian has a fabulous batch of children’s history books that are great for book research on the basic level
-Memoirs: this is my favorite. I don’t like reading any fiction from the era I’m writing about but I do love reading memoirs because they give me a closer sense into the emotional world of my characters.

4) I’m having trouble connecting with this story emotionally.

Explore the why.

I’ve been thinking a lot about dealing with Alzheimer’s disease in a novel. On the one hand, I’ve seen the disease devastate a close family member on a very real level for most of my childhood.

Writing about an issue that is close to your heart can be challenging. Even though my character was different from my grandmother in many ways, I found it brought up some memories I had not thought of for years. I keep putting this book away then picking it back up again. And that’s OK, because I’m not totally ready to deal with all of it.

Truth & Application:

Is there something emotional or spiritual you need to deal with that will free you up to write this book or story?

Maybe you need to journal a bit about the events in your own life that are causing your story to hit a bit close to home. Maybe you need to talk to a friend about it.

Or perhaps you need to temporarily switch to a new story for a week or so (if God is nudging you to write this novel, you’ll return to it). Write a poem, a short short, or a devotional in the meantime.

Then you’ll be better ready to tackle your story. Your story is not your therapy, but it can be therapeutic.

5) I’m waiting for the “AHA” moment to come.

Sitting in front of a piece of paper, you might feel stopped up. The reasons can be varied: boredom with the story, environment, too many distractions, or too much noise.

Truth & Application:

Find a new spot for inspiration. This might be kind of sad but sometimes I find taking a hot shower with the door locked is the perfect spot to be inspired. This is because I have two elementary-aged kids around 24/7 and the bathroom can be the only quiet place in the house. If I had alone time I would resort to my favorite inspiration: walking or riding my bicycle around the neighborhood.

There’s something to be said for endorphins and ideas. I have been taking long rides on my stationery bike (would love to go outside and do so, but I live in snowpocalypse country) and find some of my best inspiration while riding.

Do you have a favorite writing spot? Or maybe its time to find a new one? Maybe try that new coffee shop or find a spacious park with a great bench.

And speaking of changes some authors find that changing writing implements can be helpful. Handwriting instead of typing, using colored markers or pencils, maybe even an old fashioned fountain pen can bring refreshment.

6) My creativity has dried up altogether.

Again we need to explore the why. Has a traumatic event or a major change taken place in your life? Have you been taking the time to write on a frequent basis? Has there been a change in your environment (i.e. taking on a new job, buying a new house, changing locations, etc).

Truth & Application:

Have you been reading? I find if I go for a few weeks without reading fiction I tend to have trouble thinking of my own ideas. Its a oft quoted cliche, but so true that to improve at our writing we need to read, read, read. Try reading a new genre. Ask friends for recommendations. Reading just might be the catalyst to pull you out of your slump.

What about other forms of art? Karen finds pleasure in painting and home decorating. Sherrinda creates scrapbooks and creates word art. See on her blog here. I know other writers who take enjoy creating in the kitchen.

Have you spent time with the Author of Creativity? Prayer and time in the Word of God can help bring our focus back and remind us that we write because “when we write we feel his pleasure” (Eric Liddell, Olympic runner on running).

What about you? What helps when your well of creativity dries up? Do you have any favorite methods of bringing inspiration back into your writing?

Julia writes contemporary fiction to mirror truth. A former assistant librarian, she now channels her card cataloguing skills into homeschooling her elementary aged littles and writing for Library Journal. She has reviewed for a variety of websites for several years.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Not-For-Sale Story

Casey's post on Friday (click here to read it) was pretty timely as I have been contemplating a post on working your way out of such burnout.

In the same vein of honesty as our dear Case, I will admit that it wasn't very long ago when the
on by pakorn
rejections and silence overwhelmed me so much that I pulled away from all my "writerly" habits. I didn't want to write, or catch up on social media, or read one more blog, or try and hone my craft. The often spoken advice "to write every day", stabbed a very sharp guilt dagger in my side and had me wonder if I should really identify myself as a writer at all.

After a lot of reflection, I realized that it wasn't writing that had me burned out, but my perspective. With my eyes focused on progressing forward in the industry, my heart was shrinking back as I had walked away from my love---to write.

Let's face it, writing and publishing are connected, BUT... the writing is not dependent on the publishing. Actually, it's the other way around.

Getting these mixed up had me resent my writing when my pursuit became a bit sluggish. It's like turning against my own heart when I let outward circumstance frustrate me. How can I cast off my love because my journey was not loving me back? Would I turn against God's gift because his creation had not provided the satisfaction I desire?
on by jesadaphorn
So what's my resolution? First, I had to ask myself what do I long for when I am burned out.
Hmmm...lately, it's not necessarily publication. It goes deeper.
I want to rekindle that flame.
There are great suggestions out there, but the one I just recently took up, is to write a story without any expectation to sell it. Write a story in my heart and not worry about hook, grammar, industry do's and don'ts. Create without ulterior motives. Create for my heart's sake and nothing else.
 Time is always a constraint, but after writing five novels, having two in the works, and no contracts yet, I'll make the time.
And the great thing is, the time is not a stressor because there is no impending pitch, proposal, or contest deadline for this story ahead.
But the time is essential, because it gives me room to breathe and remember why I began writing in the first place.

Do you write without publishing in mind? Do you have a story you know might never sell? Are you going to write it anyway?

Remember, don't leave behind your love...and if it's way back there, turn around, rekindle the love, and give yourself time to create again!
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, March 22, 2014

What's Up the Street Next Week?

Welcome Spring! Anyone feeling the change? It seems to be getting a rocky start with cool mornings ending in some nicer afternoons, but there's hope warmer temps are on the way.
And blooms!
One of the loveliest parts of spring.
Do you have a blossom you can't wait to see? To smell?
I love to watch the trees blossom. Apple Blossoms, Red Bud.... amazing!

So what's 'blooming' this week on the alley?

Monday - Angie's sharing today.

Tuesday - It's time to get those creative juices flowing with Julia's post: Mining for Ideas When Your Creativity is Dried up-Part 1
Wednesday - Karen's going to go 'short' with us today by chatting about how writing short-stories can tighten your "long writing" :-)

Thursday - Ashley brings her usual charm to Thursday's post.

Friday - Our newest Alley-mom ends our weeks' posts.

Go enjoy some Spring!! And make sure to stop by The Alley on your way.

Friday, March 21, 2014

When It’s Time to Press Wait

Photo Credit
Are you currently in a period of waiting? A time to lay aside the story telling for something else, for a time of rejuvenation and to spend more time with God figuring things out?

That’s where I’m at right now. To be completely and 100% brutally honest I haven’t written—not really written since summer of 2013. I dabbled with it a little bit until October when I decided that I just needed to put it aside.

I really didn’t tell many people about this when I did. How do you explain burnout? The inner fire doused as though buried under a flood of doubt? How do you respond to the questions of “how is your book coming” and “you’re bound to be the next one” (published or agented, etc.)? Most of the time I just keep my mouth shut because to say I’m not writing is to throw cold water on their warm encouragement—encouragement I am usually in very sore need of.

So how does one know it is time to press back space on the publishing chase? And how do you respond to the comments or the silent stares you get in the chattering circles of writer friends?

Burnout is never something we want or seek to acknowledge. It isn’t a badge of honor and is more often than not embarrassing around all our friends that always have something to write and love to work on their stories when all we want to do is burn ours.
Photo Credit

But every writer knows to some level what we’re going through and finding those that will stand beside you in support are the ones that we should turn to first and foremost when we feel the threat of burnout coming on or when we’re already long past the turning point.

I wouldn’t suggest posting it on Facebook or Twitter for the world to see, but I would advise turning to wise counsel you trust to sit down and pray with you and for you.   We all want to return to our novel writing at some point. When that comes around looks different for everyone, but continue to foster those relationships within and amongst your publishing friends. Spend time in good books and write a blog post or two. Don’t become hateful of words for words did not cause your lack luster. It’s merely the lack of excitement we’ve fail to breed within ourselves and surrounding our stories that has done us in.

Spending time in burnout is not ideal, no. It’s far from pleasurable and downright awkward to share with your peers. But good will come of this, of that I have no doubt. Both you and I will have a healthier respect for the writing process or we’ll better learn how to pace ourselves and not push our motivation to the breaking point.

It’s a balance we don’t always realize we need until we’ve lost it.

Are you in the middle of burnout? Feel it coming on or just climbing out of it? How do you plan to avoid it in the future?

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, March 20, 2014


You may be reading this blog because I (Krista) posted this jaw-dropping news somewhere on social media.

And let me tell you. If it were true, I wouldn't be hosting this blog today. No, I'd probably being still sitting in dumb-founded shock. Someone would also have to do CPR on my poor husband.

Or--- you may be reading this blog because someone else posted this jaw-dropping news somewhere on social media, and you're thinking.... WHAT??? Or-- YEAH!!!

Either way...

No one (that I'm aware of) is having a baby.

Unless you count manuscripts, which authors lovingly think of as "our babies."

Here is the REAL subject of this blog.


Titles draw in readers. Titles are the first thing we read, both on books in the bookstore or online book retailer or on blogs.

It's the title's job to capture the reader's attention (for books, in tandem with the cover.) A GOOD title makes readers think, "Wow, I wonder what that's about" or "Ohhhhh, I need to read THAT!"

Confession #1: I've been one of those people who has used the fact that publishers usually change book titles as an excuse to not get very creative with a title.

But we're trying to catch an agent/editor's eye too! An AMAZING title could very well help a submission rise to the top section of a slush pile. (Content will then have to be superior after that... a title can only do so much!)

Confession #2: I've also been one of those bloggers who have just slapped any ol' title on a blog post to describe what I'd written. How stupid is it, though, to spend all that time trying to craft the perfect blog post--- and then leave the title as just bleh? Especially in social media, where your dream would be that your post go viral.

Now, you might say, the title of this post is, well, inaccurate. No one is having a baby. And yes, titles should reflect to the subject matter. I think, though, in this case, it does, in a creative, slightly odd, way. The point of the post title is to underscore the importance of having a title that catches eyes and attracts attention.

Lest you think I've got this whole title thing figured out, please be aware that I DO NOT.

I HATE coming up with titles. It is not my strong suit.

This is why the title of my book proposal to Abingdon was, "A Sandwich Romance" because it was set in Sandwich, IL and was a romance. (see confession #1 above.) They renamed it "Sandwich, with a Side of Romance" which is a heap better. That said... my submission went through different channels than the slush pile, so I'm super lucky my poor title didn't hurt my chances. This, however, is not normal.

I have another full-length novel my agent has requested a GOOD title before we submit it. Right now, the title is "Mission: Jack" (a takeoff of Mission: Impossible). But eh... it's just... not the best. I debated for a while if it was super unique or super stupid. I'm leaning toward the stupid side now that time has passed. So it's on my list to retitle.

So--- I have TWO challenges for you today.

#1: Let's practice thinking of GREAT TITLES. Help me think of a title for (formerly known as) Mission: Jack! Below is a super brief (unofficial for the sake of this blog) synopsis.

While I don't promise to USE your title, (although reserve the right to if I love it and my agent gives her thumbs up!) we Alleycats will vote on which title we think is the most UNIQUE and HOOKING.... and the WINNER will get a signed copy of my first novel, Sandwich, with a Side of Romance. 
Mission Jack Synopsis:

Jenny is queen of safety and predictability. Her life is controlled by fear. But the guy she falls in love with over the Internet represents anything but.

Jack is in over his head trying to take care of his orphaned, preteen niece, and might be more than a little insane to be falling for a woman online, especially when a predictable "perfect" woman from his church is offering to be everything he could ever need.

Jenny and her best friend become convinced that Jack isn't the awesome guy he seems like, and that he's an Internet stalker. On a mission to prove they are right, they go on a road trip to Nashville, TN to call him out.

"Mission: Jack" goes exactly opposite of what they'd planned, especially when the real stalker shows up.

Jack must learn that perfection isn't always so perfect, and Jenny must learn that safety isn't measured by locks on the doors, but that trusting God is the only true way to peace.

#2: SHARE THIS BLOG post on Facebook or Twitter or both, complete with the title. Let's see just how much BUZZ a title with an eye-popping "hook" can get. Bonus points if you're past baby bearing age :-) :-) (and let me know in the comments if you shared it, I'll pick a winner out of those who share this post as well!)

Come on. I dare you.

(comments/shares must be done by end of day, Sunday, March 23rd. Winner to be announced on the following weekend edition!)

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 She is represented by fabulous agent, Rachelle Gardner.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Voice- Clear, Crystal, Distinct in the Din

Photo Courtesy

With so many books on the market, how can you make your story stand out? What makes your story distinct, special, the one readers will want to come back and read again?

What can cause readers to want to read more of your works?

Far above the need for an interesting plot and good characters is: you

Your voice is crucial and among the most important qualities to hone, because once you've perfected your voice, readers who have enjoyed your previous stories will pick up a second book penned by you, disregard the title, and delve into the pages. 

It's true!

For this reason, your story must be the real you in terms of voice. You can not be an imitator of other authors. You can learn from them, take a component and make it your own, but you can not be an imitator.

Allow me to entertain you with this example:

Max Lucado's book, The Song of the King, is a story about three knights who compete to marry the princess. To win, each knight must venture into the dreaded Hemlock Forest, face any foe along the way, and exit the woods using the path leading to the palace. The first knight who reaches the palace wins the right to marry the princess.

To help guide the knights on their journey, the king promises to play a distinct song on a flute. By listening for the king's song, the knights will know the correct path to travel. Each knight is also given one helper of their choice for the journey.

After many days, only one knight emerges from Hemlock Forest and stumbles to the palace grounds. Barely able to speak, he is given food and drink, proclaimed the winner, and granted the right to marry the princess.

When asked about his journey, the wise knight said he and the other two knights entered the forest and immediately heard the king's song. But as quick as his music sounded, other flutes played from behind every tree. The fastest knight didn't know where to run. The smartest knight couldn't understand which sound to follow. Even the knight who came out of the woods first admitted he had been confused as to which sound to follow. 

The wise knight, though, had asked the king's son to be his helper/guide, knowing the son could also play his father's song. The knight listened to the son's tune and quickly learned the difference between the king's music and the imitator's attempts. Thus he followed the correct sound.

While this story clearly teaches a spiritual truth, we can also use the same truth in our writing. 

God has give us our voice. He has given us our story idea. As we learn the writing craft, He provides good examples of writers for us to learn from. 

But there comes a point when we must separate from other authors, listen to what God has put in our heart, and pen those words.

When I taught third grade, my students wrote stories that imitated movies or events from their lives. The boys and girls filled their pages with basic sentences filled the page. They learned to move the story from beginning to middle to end but their words lacked a voice.

However, when I asked the children to tell me a story, their faces brightened, their bodies moved to illustrate their words, their voices rose and fell adding dynamics. Their whole personality was engaged in relating the event. This version of their story had life, it was vibrant, compelling, easy to be engaged in. This was the young author's voice.

Following the rules by writing a good plot, characters, setting, theme, etc in the story is not good enough...the manuscript MUST also have you.  

There once was a group of authors who chose to conduct an experiment. A single plot line was given and each writer had to write a story centered on that idea. When the stories were read at the next meeting, the writers were amazed at not only the broad range of stories, but also the distinct, identifiable voice found in each manuscript.

Let's give it a try. 

Using your life experiences, preferences, tastes, etc., compose a very short story using these ingredients:

Short man
city park
female marathon runner

Don't take long to think about it....don't bother editing. Simply throw the ingredients in your mind's pot, stir then pour it out in the comment section.

Let your voice be heard:)


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, is honing marketing and writing skills, 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