Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why the Contrary is an Intriguing Read

Photo Courtesy

Foodies know sweet and sour is a mouthwatering, memorable taste.

Over the years, cooks have experimented with contrary flavors combining sweet and salty, adding apples to pork dishes, pineapple to pizza, mayonnaise or bananas to peanut butter, and etc.

Odd flavor combinations create a je ne sais quoi sensation causing the taster to come back for more.

Sometimes we are faced with the same ol' same ol':

It didn't take long for me to become bored with Saturday morning cartoons. Every week the same story filled the time. The only difference was the setting and perhaps a few different characters. Even the opening music drove me crazy because I knew another boring story was about to begin. (Bugs Bunny and Road Runner, excluded)

It took several weeks for me to find an alternative which pleased my children. When I finally succeeded, my ears and mind eased and life was good.

The gift of writing enables us to mix up the flavors of a story in such a way that the reader walks away with a mouthwatering, memorable taste.

Consider the last boring book you read--don't give the title. What made this book boring to you?

Did you fall asleep during the character's conversations?
Did you get lost in detailed descriptions?
Perhaps the story was too simple, lacking in the frenzied or explosive moment. Something to make you gasp and whip the page to read what happened next.
Or maybe you can't put your finger on the problem…the story simply was boring.

As we write our stories, we sometimes fall so in love with our characters, the theme, or the plot that we are blinded to missing ingredients. The story may be fine…but in need of salt to magnify and enhance.

Today we are going to look at ways to incorporate the contrary into our books. 

The contrary is more than the unexpected. After all I did not expect some of the wacko characters introduced in the boring Saturday morning cartoons. 

The contrary ingredient, when used in writing, is a good quality (like in cooking). 
It adds 
* an intriguing clash, 
* a new perspective, 
* a fresh appeal
* a jingle quality (something which stirs readers to repeat over and over)
* a relatable characteristic that takes the reader out of their own situation and transports them far away.
* and much more.

Some examples of contrary stories that have remained fresh in our minds are:

Cinderella - the poor servant girl marries the rich. Rags to riches. Peasant turned Princess.
Pinocchio - the naughty boy is redeemed. Personification becomes reality.
Lion and Mouse fable - The only one who could save the lion was the mouse who ate away the ropes which bound him.

Two aspects we can look at to help create the contrary are:

The Grass is Greener Syndrome. These stories are entertainment based. Usually have humor, and the character's revelation of misconception. A decision is demanded in the end: which side of the fence truly has the greener grass.

The Climb the Ladder Syndrome. These stories fictionalize self improvement. The character learns organization skills, determination, standing up for oneself, etc to pull himself out of the mess he was in. The journey is difficult, but the character arrives in the end.

The Fallen Redemption Syndrome. The hero falls must be redeemed. The hero starts off as the best then, by some action, falls into grave trouble and must either earn their way back up or must receive special help to regain their place.

I am not an expert on Steampunk (maybe Pepper will chime in here to help me), but my understanding is this genre is an example of infusing the contrary. Set in an alternative history, and in a time when steam-powered machines are the norm, characters lives are influenced by futuristic inventions. Think of Sherlock Holmes meets Iron Man.

Susan Messiner stories merge two similar events from two different centuries. Her stories seamlessly infuse the time difference like whipped cream on lemon pie.

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8: 37-39, demonstrates the vibrancy of using contrary to communicate a message:

 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I hope this discussion has stimulated your fantastic writing thoughts.

Your turn: 
Consider places in your story where you have been able to show the contrary. This can be found in the plot as a whole, in chapters, or in scenes. 

How can you add a greater contrary component to your story to deepen the vibrancy, enhance the wow, and plant a hard-to-forget factor?


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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Finding Your Voice The Artisan Way

Photo by imagerymajestic

In my post two weeks ago, I wrote about The Artisan Soul by Erwin McManus. This book is full of meaning and profound truths pertaining to the creative beings we are. In the second chapter, the focus is on finding your voice as an artist.

When you begin a new artistic pursuit, as in writing, sometimes you tend to imitate your favorite authors. You know what kind of books you like, so your words take on the flavor of those books. It's how we learn anything really, but at some point you must find your own voice. You must tell your own story your own way.

It can be difficult in finding our own voice because so many other voices crowd it out. We hear those voices that tell us we aren't good enough, we have no talent, we will never make it, etc. McManus says that, "what others think of us, what others have said about us matters, has power, only when it becomes what we think of ourselves and what we say to ourselves about who we are." Those words only have power if we let them.

McManus goes on to say..."The great battles I fought had little to do with the world of others and everything to do with the universe inside me. It was all about disarming the voices that made me less and taking responsibility for my internal narrative. A critical part of this process is listening to the voice that calls me to more."

Those voices that crowd our minds can keep us in bondage which hinders our creativity. "There is a direct relationship between those who live most free and those who dream most. Captivity not only steals our freedom but cripples our imagination." (Edwin McManus) So what is the guiding voice within us?

As believers the inner voice that shapes us is the voice of God. It is the voice that guides, shapes, and frees us to be who He created us to be. McManus says it beautifully..."We find our voice when we find his voice. It's here that we experience our most authentic selves and find our true voice. In the end every artist creates only art that reflects that inner voice."

The Creator of the universe created us in his creative beings. But without his voice deep within us whispering his essence into our very soul, the words we put on the page are just that...only words. Our true voice shines forth when we listen to God's voice and live the story He guides us through.

"Our story is what we have to offer the world. So much more important than being heard is having something to say. Without a voice our words are just sounds." -Edwin McManus

So what is God's voice doing within you? Are you allowing Him to free you up to live the best story you can? Are you allowing His voice to crowd out the voices that stifle your imagination?

You can purchase The Artisan Soul by Edwin McManus HERE.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Tangled Plot Structure

I am on the road today and have had a slight change in today's post. I will be posting about villains next time.

If you've not seen Disney's newest movie, Tangled, then go out and rent it. In fact, buy it. It's one of my FAVORITE Disney movies! And the hero is one of the top Disney hero's EVER!!!
One thing that makes this movie such a good story, is that the plot structure follows a very nice arc. For your reading pleasure, I've plotted out Tangled - so get ready for another LOOOOONG Pepper-post.

Let's start off with motivations, and then we'll get to the plot.

Rapunzel External Goal: See the Lights

Eugene’s External Goal: Wealth (get the crown)

Rapunzel Internal Goal: Where does she belong?

Eugene’s Internal Goal: Someone who will care about him for who he is; meaning

 Set up the plot – who, what, where

An old woman who desires eternal youth steals an infant princess whose magical hair can provide it.
Over 17 years later, Flynn Rider, a handsome thief, steals a crown belonging to the ‘lost’ princess.

2. Hero’s motivation – what does your protagonist want?
Rapunzel wants to see the ‘lights’ that always come out on her birthday, but she’s never left the tower in which she’d been raised by her ‘mother’.

Eugene (Flynn Rider) wants to be wealthy, so he’s stolen the lost princess’s crown with two other thugs.
3. Begin the hero’s quest – “I’ve Got a Dream”

Rapunzel wants to see the 'floating' lights that come out on her birthday every year so she asks her 'mother' to take her. It's her first step toward reaching beyond her tower into the world. (this could also be #4)

4. Change the hero’s direction

Eugene (Flynn Rider) tries to escape the king’s men and in the processes hides within this mysterious tower, only to find that he’s wrapped from shoulders to knees in a chain of golden hair. To make matters worse, his prized –crown is missing.
Rapuzel makes a deal with Flynn: Escort her to see the lanterns and she’ll give him back the crown.
(this could also be viewed as when Flynn & Rapunzel stop working against each other, and begin to work together to save each others' lives)

5. Challenge the hero with problems

Eugene and Rapunzel are chased by two thugs, the king’s men, a hilarious horse named Max. Gothel and the two thugs who are after Flynn join forces.
6. Change the hero’s status
I LOVE this part – because there is an obvious change to show the status change in this movie. While on the run from the king’s men, Rapunzel saves Flynn’s life – in turn, he rescues her, but then they are both trapped in a cave that is filling with water.  Flynn shares the secret that his name is really Eugene Fitzherbert and Rapunzel shares the secret that she has magical hair. They escape, she heals his wounded hand with her magical hair, and a ‘connection’ is made between the two of them. Status? He starts calling her Rapunzel and she starts calling him Eugene. There’s a new motivation beginning. Romance & connections start to happen...and of course, a Disney duet.

7. Give the hero tougher problems
Eugene/Flynn  realizes he’s got to end the manhunt from his former thugs, so he leaves Rapunzel to return the crown to them. Unfortunately, they’ve learned of Rapunzel’s amazing power – and are working for Gothel- they capture Eugene, tie him to a boat, and make it ‘appear’ that he’s running away from Rapunzel with the crown. Heartbroken, Rapunzel returns to her mother and her life of insecurity and imprisonment, only to realize that SHE is the lost princess and Gothel has been the enemy all along.
Eugene’s boat floats directly into the castle, where he is arrested and set to hang at dawn.

 9. Let the hero suffer maximum angst
With the help of some hilarious ‘thugs’ and a horse-with-an-attitude, Eugene escapes from the noose and sets off to find Rapunzel. When he climbs to the tower, he sees Rapunzel tied up and gagged – and then he is stabbed by Gothel. Gothel plans to leave him there to die, but Rapunzel promises to give up her freedom, if Gothel will let her heal Eugene. Just as Rapunzel gets ready to heal Eugene, he reaches up and cuts her hair – freeing Rapunzel from her promise and eternal servitude, but losing his chance to live. When the magic hair is cut, Gothel’s years catch up with her. She rapidly ages. Mortified she falls from the tower window to her death….and Eugene dies in Rapunzel’s arms.

10. Change the hero’s direction
Just before Eugene dies, he confesses to Rapunzel that “You were my new dream.” And she tells him the same thing. Their motivation had changed.

11. Give the hero new hope

When Rapunzel’s tear drops on Eugene’s cheek, a glowing light swirls around them. Could this be a miracle?

12. Achieve a win/lose conclusion
Her tear heals him. Flynn wakes up, and with his usual swagger, says “You know, I’ve always had a thing for brunettes.”

13. Tie up the loose ends
Rapunzel’s reunited with her real parents – who had been searching for her all 18 years. All the thugs have their stories, Max (the horse) has a happy ending, and, of course, Eugene and Rapunzel live happily ever after too.

Questions for you:
If you’ve seen the movie, what are the characteristics that make the hero and heroine endearing? Eugene is a selfish thief afterall – why is he so darn likeable?

From the first scene with Gothel, what characteristics does Disney portray that ‘hint’ she’s not as good as she seems?

Are there any other movies you’d like to see ‘plotted’? Would you modify my plot structure for Tangled at all – remember, some points can be seen from different perspectives by different people J

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

What's your favorite genre?
Whether it's to write or to read, everyone has a favorite way to spend their time in the written word.

Is it Historical because of a bygone era? Or do you like contemporary rom-com and the hope of happily ever after? 

Share in the comments!

What's coming up next week?

Pepper continues her fun Disney series: Plotting with Melody on Monday.

Are you trying to find your writing voice? Sherrinda has suggestions just for that on Tuesday.

Why do we like to read about the contrary? The tension and struggles? Mary has answers to those questions and more on Wedesday. 

Krista will be your Alley Cat hostess on Thursday!

SHOW me, don't TELL me. We're told that everyone. Casey has concrete suggestion to make this happen on Friday.

Have a fantastic weekend, Alley friends!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Is Writing in Multiple Genres For You?

Today I am so excited to welcome to the Alley one of my favorite debut authors--and quite frankly one of the coolest chicks I know--the incredible, smart, versatile, and sassy C.E. (aka Carla) Laureano!

The single most frequent question I get asked by other writers is: how did you get published in two genres simultaneously? It’s usually followed by the statement, “I’ve always wanted to write multiple genres, but everyone tells me to pick one and stick with it.” I’m proof that it is possible to write in more than one genre at the same time. But the bigger question is, should you?

I didn’t actually intend to start out publishing in two genres, but a series of most likely unrepeatable circumstances ended up bringing me two offers simultaneously—for two different book series in two different genres. Never one to turn down an opportunity or a challenge, I accepted both, with the caveat that we had to arrange my release dates not to conflict with each other. I was already writing three books a year, and the second books in both series were already partially completed. Surely I could manage to write another two and a half books in two years?
Carla's Debut Contemporary Romance

The thing I didn’t realize is that two book contracts don’t mean twice the work. They mean an exponential amount of work. I’m often working on three, four, even five books at the same time in various stages of production. At one point, I was marketing my first romance while editing my first fantasy, rough drafting both the second fantasy and the second romance, and plotting the third fantasy.

Add in a heavy amount of promotion for each series—including multiple guest posts per week, social media chats, and my own blog—and it’s easily two full time jobs on top of my regular schedule. That leaves very little time for little things like eating and sleeping, oh yeah, and breathing.
Does that mean I would have done things different? No, not necessarily. But I also recognize that this pace is not something that everyone can sustain, nor do I recommend that everyone try. I tend to be happiest when I’m busy and multi-tasking, and I spent most of my career in a high-volume, high-stress corporate environment. Even so, the pace takes its toll. I have to be intentional about taking time for myself to recharge and connect with family and friends. However, to be successful at writing in two genres simultaneously (especially if you’re writing under a pen name for one or both), you have to treat each genre like a separate endeavor. You can’t slack off on marketing one genre while you’re busy with another; otherwise you’ll lose the readership you tried so hard to build. In my case, the overlap between my contemporary romance and fantasy readership is not as large as it would be if I wrote contemporary romance and romantic suspense. This is where the one-genre authors have a big advantage: they can devote their full attention to developing and maintaining one readership while writing books only for that readership.

So, some questions to ask yourself before you dive into the madness of multiple-genre publishing:

1) Do I have the time, energy, and emotional wherewithal to devote to what amounts to TWO full time jobs, on top of my regular day job and family responsibilities?

2) Can I shift gears from one project to another without losing focus? Will it be a problem for me to write a contemporary romance while editing a mystery?

3) Do I have the energy to maintain social media and marketing presence for two separate audiences?

4) Am I prepared to drop one genre/series should the other one prove to be much more profitable and demand more of my time?

All this assumes, of course, that you are pursuing traditional publication for both genres and that your publishers don’t require restrictive non-compete or first-rights clauses. Some authors choose to maintain a traditional publishing deal for one, while self-publishing the other. This has the advantage of letting you work your indie deadlines around your traditional publisher’s schedule. But it also means the entire responsibility for editing, cover design, formatting, marketing, and sales will fall on you for one genre.

Bottom line: pursuing publication in two genres can be a great opportunity when undertaken as a part of a thoughtful business plan with a full understanding of the challenges that are entailed. But for many writers, especially those with day jobs or multiple responsibilities, taking it slow with one genre at a time may be the best choice.

Is there anything else you want to know about my experience writing multiple genres? Ask me below!

I’m happy to share my thoughts.

About Me
C. E. Laureano has held many jobs—including professional marketer, small-business consultant, and martial arts instructor—but writer is by far her favorite. She was a finalist in the speculative fiction category of American Christian Fiction Writers’ 2012 Genesis contest, and she is active in ACFW’s South Denver chapter. Author of one previous novel—the 2014 RITA Award double-nominee, Five Days in Skye—Laureano lives in Denver with her husband and two sons.

Connect with her: Web | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest

 Don't miss her Fantasy DEBUT!!! 

Oath of the Brotherhood 

An island at the edge of the world. An ancient prophecy. A reclusive warrior brotherhood. When evil encroaches, who will find the faith to fight it?

To his clan, Conor Mac Nir is a disappointment—gifted with a harp, but hopeless with a sword. To the beautiful young healer Aine, he’s one whose gift calls out to her own . . . and captures her heart. To the reclusive warrior brotherhood called the Fíréin, he may be the answer to an ancient prophecy . . . if he can be trained to fight. Can Conor and Aine find their true path as an ancient evil engulfs the isle of Seare? Must Conor sacrifice everything he loves, even Aine, to follow the path God lays out before him?
Buy now at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble |

LOVED having you as our guest on the Alley! We are so excited about all your success!

-Amy & the Alley Cats

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What's Your Genre?

As I write this, I'm sitting on the couch, preparing to record a huge stack of essays I just graded. I've been grading these essays for my poetry and literature courses for the past few days, and I think it's safe to say I passed the realm of normalcy quite a while ago. I even bought myself this to make the job a little more fun:

Can you say, "hashtag nerdy teacher?" I know. I know. But felt-tipped pens are so glorious!

So, here's the thing. Ten years ago, I thought I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. I had NO concept of what it would look like to teach college courses, and no idea that I even could. I mean, I knew I wanted to teach, and that was about it. I was planning to major in elementary education until, at a college orientation, a very quirky old man with a penchant for Canterbury Tales factoids handed out some pamphlets about all the things you could do with an English major. He would later become one of my favorite professors and my current boss.

See, you can say to someone, "I'm a teacher," and they may think they know what you do. But what they don't see is the difference between a poetry instructor and a kindergarden teacher, a remedial reading instructor and a chemistry adjunct. Those differences may seem subtle, but they're not. They make all the difference in the world.

The same is true with writing.

You may wonder why genre matters. Well, think about the previous example. If you say to someone, "I'm a writer," what comes to their mind? A romance novelist? A literary critic? A poet? A cozy mystery writer? Sure, all of these people share a passion for the written word. But writing means something SO different to each of them.

The reality is, editors, agents, and readers expect certain things from certain genres. In a love story, readers want the characters to end up together. Unless you're Nicholas Sparks, killing one of your main characters right before the grand finale is going to result in a very unhappy reaction from your readers. Same is true with women's fiction or literary fiction and the expectation of carefully-crafted prose and true-to-life characters.

Trying different genres can be very fun. But like changing majors in college, eventually, you really need to pick one (unless your name is Pepper Basham, and you can amazingly write exceedingly well in every single genre known to mankind). 

When you're first starting out and you're beginning to submit to agents and/or editors, it's important that you really know who you are as a writer. Again, don't just think of yourself as a "teacher," or "writer," but as having a particular kind of voice that's invaluable to a publishing house. No one wants to publish just another "writer." What they want is your unique voice as a writer.

So how can you find your genre? 

Try dabbling in different styles and see what feels most natural. When I first started writing, I tried to write literary fiction. While I enjoy the depth and complexity of it, let's just say, I doubt anyone is going to be reading any of my literary fiction anytime soon! I then found the southern romance genre, and writing has been immensely easier and more fun ever since. 

Also, consider what you like to read. Are you drawn to historical fiction? Contemporary romance? Romantic comedy? Take into account your interests as a reader, and you may find out something about yourself as a writer in the process.

What about you?! What genre do you write? Are you still trying to find your genre? What are you favorite genres to read?


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, April 23, 2014

What should a fiction writer blog about?

In my last post, I discussed how blogging can help your writing.

The topic sparked in interesting discussion in the comments thread. The question was posed - what should a novelist blog about?

Ah. Good question.

It's a question that stumped me for a good number of years. In fact, that's why I only started blogging at the end of last year - even though I've been writing fiction much longer. It took me a long time to figure out my blogging niche.

If you're struggling with the same question, I'd like to suggest some approaches you could take... and one that perhaps you shouldn't.

1. Blog about writing
Now, this is a fairly common strategy. After all, they say we should blog our passions, and for a writer - writing is a central passion. It's a subject we "know" and are constantly learning more about.

The problem with this approach is the target audience. Who is attracted to a blog about writing? Other writers. And while it's a brilliant way to connect in with the writing community, network with other writers, and form meaningful friendships with like-minded people, it may not be the best platform for marketing your books. The writing community is, by its very nature, over-saturated with book promotion. It's chock full of authors who all constantly have new releases and soon-to-be-releases and cover reveals and e-book promotions, not to mention the backlists they'd still like to sell. It's enough to make you giddy, trying to keep up with it.

Not convinced? Wendy Lawton of Books&Such literary management wrote an excellent post on this topic: The Trouble with Tribes. I highly recommend you check it out!

2. Blog your subject matter
If you write historical or genre fiction, you've hit the mother lode of blog material.

Historical writers love to research, but many of those details and anecdotes won't find their way into your books. Why not blog your fascinating discoveries? An example is WWII novelist Sarah Sundin's "Today in WWII history" feature, where she shares a brief anecdote for each day of the year.

If you're an author of murder mysteries, you could blog about relevant news headlines; police procedure; a layman's guide to forensics; biographical sketches of serial killers... the list goes on.

Do you write romance? Blog about romance. Tips for a first date. 10 ways to bring the sizzle back to your marriage. Best honeymoon getaways. 5 ways to date your husband for free. Conversation-starters with your spouse. Thoughts and anecdotes and inspiration regarding relationships, love, and commitment.

3. Blog your themes
Perhaps you're not a genre author. That doesn't mean you don't have something to blog about.

Take a look at the themes running through your work. You may have themes of forgiveness, redemption, trust, identity, belonging, surrender... and many others. Your blog is a chance to delve deeper into some of these ideas as you journal your ideas, thoughts and reflections on life.

Friend of the Alley, Jeanne Takenaka, does this beautifully on her blog. I love my friend Megan Sayer's tagline "Deep thoughts from an ordinary life." These women are gathering an audience of people who resonate not only with their writing style, but with the quality of their insights into everyday life - characteristics that will draw this same tribe of followers to their novels.

4. Blog your characters and settings
If you worry that you're not inspiring enough or don't have enough to say of a thematic nature, there's other blogging material to be found in your novel.

You could interview your characters; write journal entries from their POV; share photos of models or actors who look like your character as you imagine them; discuss the settings in which your novel takes place; share short excerpts or deleted scenes; and include recipes inspired by your novel. These can all be effective teasers.

One caution is that it could prove difficult to build an audience using these methods, if you're starting out with no platform and have no publishing contract yet in sight. Readers will probably not be interested in hearing endless details about characters they haven't yet "met" in a book, especially when there's no immediate chance of doing so. This approach would work best once you have an established audience and are building buzz for a newly-released book.

5. Blog short fiction
Why not give your readers a teaser of your writing style by blogging a weekly short story? If the writing you offer for free is consistently good, you'll slowly but surely build a fan base who'll be first in line to get their hands on your full-length work - simply because they like your stuff and want more of it.

Another creative approach: one of my favorite writing blogs, Novel Matters, are currently running a serial story - written collaboratively by their blog readers and posted in short instalments.

Alternately, you could write your own serial story. Bestselling action/ thriller writer Matthew Reilly did this with his story Hover Car Racer, and then released the whole as an e-book.

5. Blog about books
If you love reading and reviewing, this approach makes perfect sense for you as an author. What better way to reach a book-loving tribe than by blogging about books? Regular book reviews and meet-the-author chats are fantastic ways to connect with readers who enjoy the same type of books as you do.

Two great examples of this approach are the She Reads blog and our own Casey Herringshaw's blog, Writing for Christ.

6. Blog to your target demographic's interests
At this point, it's time for me to confess that I don't use any of the above 5 approaches. I've gone a different route altogether.

Why? Because first and foremost, you need to blog on a topic you're passionate about. If your heart's not in it, your blog will feel lacklustre, and you'll struggle to keep up your commitment for the long haul.

For various reasons, none of the above felt like quite the right fit for me. Hence why I wriggled around uncomfortably for years and put off blogging altogether.

Finally, it was Wendy Lawton's excellent post, The Trouble with Tribes (also referenced in Point One above) that gave me my lightbulb moment.

The point of a blog is to gather a tribe of readers. 

I write contemporary, inspirational women's fiction. Therefore, my ideal readership is women: particularly (but not exclusively) Christian women.

Women who enjoy picking up a novel for entertainment, but might not be drawn to a non-fiction style blog.

I started thinking - what does this readership want? What do we enjoy doing in our downtime? What inspires us? What do we watch on TV? In other words, outside of reading, what are the concerns and interests of this particular demographic?

Clearly, there's no one right answer to these questions. We're all unique, with different interests. But stand back far enough to survey the big picture, and you'll notice trends.

Women are - not always, but more often than not - the home-makers. We are the creative CEO's of our family, called upon to organize, feed, decorate, entertain and educate.

The explosion of Pinterest highlights the enormous popularity of lifestyle and DIY among women. Lifestyle TV is huge - cooking shows, decorating shows. It's a thriving niche market, and it falls smack dab in the middle of my target demographic.

As an ex-Creative Arts teacher, mum of small kids, and a part-time interior decorator, I knew I had something to offer in this field. To women, like myself, who want to mother creatively and make their house a home.

Most excitingly for me, it's something I'm actually passionate about. It's a topic thrilling enough to me that I have more blog fodder than I have hours to blog about it. So, I launched a home-making blog: a house full of sunshine.

It's an experiment, of course. Will I gather a tribe of readers who love my lifestyle and DIY posts, but have zero interest in my someday books?

My strategy is to use the posts themselves to constantly refine and focus my audience. I'm launching a monthly book-club. (Hate reading, and annoyed by those posts? You'll probably step off here.) I post openly about my faith in God. (Militant atheist? You'll no doubt unsubscribe at this point.)

I try to see those unsubscribes and un-follows as a positive thing. They're a sign that my audience is becoming more honed, more targeted, more clearly an embodiment of my ideal readership, day by day.

Most importantly, I'm building a tribe of readers who are connected with who I am as a person, and interested in what I have to say.

Do all of them start out as passionate fiction-lovers? Of course not. But it's my belief that every person can be a reader. And by looking outside the traditional avenues - writers who read writing blogs; readers intentional enough to look up book reviews - I'm tapping into a new market of people who are just women... like me.

Women who might just pick up a good book if it comes recommended by a blogger they've connected with.

How about you? What do you blog about? What is your target demographic - and how do you plan to reach them? How would you describe your ideal reader?


Help - I'm a fiction writer and I don't know what to blog about! Find inspiration here: Click to Tweet

Novelists - can you describe your ideal reader? If not, your blog may be missing the mark: Click to Tweet

Why writers shouldn't blog about writing - and a wealth of other ideas to try instead: Click To Tweet

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she mothers by day and transforms into a fearless blogger by night. She's a Genesis finalist for women's fiction and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on TwitterGoogle+, Pinterest, and getting creative on her home-making blog, A house full of sunshine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Creating Memorable Secondary Characters
Who says main characters get all the attention?

Think of Dorie in Finding Nemo. 

As a secondary character, she steals the show with her humor.

Rhino, the loveable hamster in Bolt, adds panache as he cheers for Bolt and becomes endearing to us in his own right.

How about Abu from Aladdin, the kids in Incredibles?

Who can forget the old lady with a shotgun in Ratatouille?

Or housekeeper, Minnie, from The Help?

Now, how can you create a secondary character that's loveable, despicable, memorable, hilarious, endearing, or infuriating?

Give your secondary characters a fascinating backstory.

Alley Cat Pepper suggested journaling from the perspective of my antagonist over a year ago. Since then, I've done so with a variety of other characters. Getting into their heads has definitely helped me write stronger secondary characters.

Make him/her sequel worthy.

You know you've created an in-depth secondary character when readers beg for a sequel from that character's perspective. One example would be Surrender the Dawn by Mary Lu Tyndall. I so desperately wanted to read Luke's story because he was an excellent secondary character with a lot of depth.

Give them a quirky trait, particularly as they are relating to your hero or heroine.

Any character who shows up more than once should have at least a few identifying traits. 

Maybe the car repairman has a nervous tic and always shakes when he's signing the receipts.

Perhaps the doctor who has diagnosed your heroine's cancer always smiles when giving bad news. Its a nervous habit.
If they are a more major secondary character, go even more in-depth with their personality.

Think of your secondary character who has the most major role in the story. Consider taking a few minutes to take an MBTI assessment on your most important secondary character. Interview your secondary character as if your his or her therapist.

The Book Buddy is a resource that has helped me increase the depth of my minor characters.

Think about motivations of this secondary character. Why do they do what they do? What are their needs? Do they have a "lie" they believe that affects the main character? 

For instance, although we are each responsible for our own journeys perhaps mom believed a lie that she then "taught" to the main character during childhood. Main character has to unlearn this lie throughout her journey.

You don't have to include all these details in the story (in fact you probably shouldn't) but it can help you to understand their journey and to write more compelling scenes.

Don't forget the most compelling secondary characters don't need to be human.

Think of Dorie. Abu. The dog in The Accidental Tourist. 

Pets can be believable and loveable companions to your character and have their own quirky traits.

Remember opposites attract isn't just true in romantic scenarios.

Sidekicks are often compelling and interesting because they have opposite personality traits to the main character. Think of movies with a "funny" sidekick. Danny DeVito has often played this role in the movies. These characters make us laugh. Even in the most serious books (I enjoy writing what my hubby likes to call women with issues fiction...though who among us doesn't have issues) we need a break for laughter.

A good secondary character is an emotion trigger.

Our main character typically isn't neutral toward a well-drawn secondary character. She helps draw out emotion from the main character. 

For a great example of this, check out this post by Susan May Warren.

Do you have a favorite secondary character from the movies or books? Why is he or she your favorite? Or who is the most compelling secondary character in your story and why?

 Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk and Christian Library Journal.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Writing Imagery

Now-a-days, readers want excellent writing, but it needs to be straightforward. This makes it all the more important to place your metaphors and similes in appropriate places throughout your novel. If you have one metaphor after a simile after another metaphor...then you will slow down the reader and your story will sag with the weight of a word picture frenzy in the reader's overloaded mind.

Using well-placed metaphors and similes can 1) Anchor the reader to the setting and have them  connect to your character's situation, and 2) Emphasize high emotional intensity, as implied by James Scott Bell in his book, Revision & Self Editing.

Just as a poem begs to be memorized, a metaphor or simile create a memorable experience for the reader, and etches your story into their mind. I can think back on certain books and remember their well-placed metaphors and similes out of the entire 90,000 words. These tools grip a reader's thoughts and leave a “book”print in their mind long after the book is closed and put away.

Here are some examples from books that have printed on my mind:

Anchoring to the setting:

"If Broadway was Manhattan's artery, Five Points was its abscess: swollen with people, infected with pestilence, inflamed with vice and crime. Groggeries, brothels, and dance halls put private sin on public display. Although the neighborhood seemed fairly self-contained, more fortunate New Yorkers were terrified of Five Points erupting, spreading its contagion to the rest of them.” Wedded to War, Jocelyn Green.

Jocelyn uses the metaphor of the condition of the human body to not only emphasize the point of view of her heroine, an aspiring nurse, but she also gives such a vivid understanding of the setting that a reader could hardly dismiss this and move on without allowing the imagery to paint itself in their mind.

“Through the makeshift curtain that gave her some semblance of privacy, she could make out Captain Click's sturdy shadow like a locked gate barring harm's way.” Courting Morrow Little, Laura Frantz

This book is set in a time of unease and discord between the settlers and the Native Americans. This metaphor of Captain Click being a locked gate is appropriate to the point-of-view of the heroine who is a young woman traveling into hostile territory. This anchors the reader to the setting not only through the heroine's perspective, but gives the overall emotional climate of the setting—one of possible danger at every turn.

Emotional Intensity:

“The man who stared back was not a man he knew. The careful control bred into him since birth was gone. In its place he saw a fire-breathing dragon capable of murder.” The Duchess and The Dragon, Jamie Carie

The image of a fire-breathing dragon is placed at a time when the hero's emotions are high and his actions have culminated to a dreaded circumstance. Jamie Carie imbeds this metaphor in such a way that it maintains the momentum of the story but shows intensity of the hero's emotion.

“In the domestic cloud of dust and family, I too can forget the One who sees me, but in eucharisteo, I remember, I cup hands and all the world is water.
The well, it is still there.
There is always a well—All is well.
I choke out my son's name. His skin is And he stares long, brims...quavers...falls. And I cradle him, the Boy-Man, flood over shoulders.” One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp.

Ann's moment with her son is filled with word pictures that emphasize the build to an emotional outpour. This book takes the use of metaphor to such a deep level, my heart stirs at every turn of the page.

Metaphors and similes can also unveil a writer's voice. Ann Voskamp does this amazingly well, not only in the example above, but consistently throughout the book. Depending on a writer's voice, these descriptive tools can be well-placed mirrors to the under-lying tone of the story.

Do you have examples of well-placed metaphors and similes in some of your favorite books? How about in your own? Please share!

Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across cultures. She is an ACFW member and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.