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Posted in Writing, Writing Tips | 7 Comments

Back to the Drawing Board

Lost CreativityRiding Herd‘s first chapter is killin’ me. I’ve never done a series before, so I’m having trouble knowing how much info from Give the Lady a Ride needs to go in to Riding Herd to orient my readers to the setting and backstory. I know that I don’t have to totally rehash Ride, and there isn’t that much that needs to come in to the new manuscript. But what I do need from the first novel is giving me problems.

First bit of really good advice I got from my one of critique partners is to treat the first novel as backstory. Give the Lady a Ride is backstory and should be dribbled in like that of any other novel. I don’t know why this didn’t dawn on me to begin with.

Second tidbit of advice was the reminder that backstory is best delivered in dialogue, especially if you need large chunks of it. I don’t really need a large chunk, but even the little bit I need is best presented in dialogue. And, I’m pretty good at writing dialogue (huff on nails, polish on shoulder), so I think I nailed that part after it was pointed out to me.

Now, we come to the third word of advice: even though the first chapter primarily orients the reader to the setting, reintroduces some characters, and introduces another, I still have to give the POV character a goal and present the basic conflict of the story. Or at least present the conflict better than I did.

And therein lies the rub. My best presentation of the conflict was in the first version of Chapter One, and that scene got scrapped along with the rest of the first version of Chapter One. So, my question to myself is: Do I salvage the scene from the scrapped version–and if so, how?–or do I figure out something entirely different?

Since I still have roughly 30K words left to write to finish the manuscript, I shouldn’t be concerned with this right now. But what I shouldn’t do and what I do are frequently two different things. It’s on my mind. What I hope is that while it simmers in the background, I can both finish the manuscript and discover a killer way to open the novel.

I have till the end of May. No sweat.

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Cabin Update

April 2015

Had to show you what the farm looked like in the spring. When you drive through the gate, you’re on a hill covered with rye grass and summer hay, so everything from the hill is down and away. With the trees in full green, you can see only two of the four ponds visible in winter, but hey–I’m not complaining.

hill looking back toward the gateThis is on the hill looking back toward the gate (which you can’t see). The trees in the distance are also ours, but they’re down the hill and across a meadow from us. Which reminds me. I should get a picture of the meadow for you. It’s lovely.

Billy and John 1Here’s MSB and his brother being silly together. BIL is doing the carpentry inside, and his grandson did the wiring for the cabin. Isn’t it great to have such a talented family?

bathroom skeleton This is the framework for the bathroom/closet space.  Not sure you really needed to see it, but, well . . . there ya go. Moving on.Billy and John 3In this pic of the man being silly, you can see pretty much the entire cabin. I’m in what will be the bedroom, with the bath to my right. MSB is in what we will laughingly call “the great room,” and beyond him will be the kitchen/dining room. The entire cabin is 476 SF, so you can whisper “coffee’s ready” from the kitchen and wake the dead in the bedroom.

We haven’t quite figured out what to do with the loft space yet. It’s too low for much of anything except storage. We played with the idea of throwing mattresses up in them and putting railings around them and letting the grandkids sleep up there. Haven’t decided yet.

Anyway, next comes the insulation, walls, and ceiling, and after that, the floor. We have the place wired to run off a generator once everything is set up. Eventually, we’ll have electricity on the place, but meanwhile the entire cabin can run off the generator. Having an actual functioning kitchen and bathroom are still down the road a ways, but I can cook with crockpots and electric woks during the weekends we’ll be there, and the hubs is king of the bbq grill, so it’s not like we’ll starve. Besides, some of the best in country and Polish cooking is just down the road.

If the weather will cooperate, we should be able to have it done enough to move in some furniture before long. Then we’ll see how good my measurements were–will everything I want to set up and store in the little shed actually fit? Inquiring minds want to know.

We’ll see.

 

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Especially for Writers

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Tense Out

Risk PlanningDo you have enough tension in your scenes? They’re all supposed to snap and crackle like a live wire in the rain, ya know. How’s your electricity flowing?

Yesterday, mine fizzled. Had to rip out the entire scene and rewrite it. Why? Because I wrote it in the wrong POV.

I’m working on Riding Herd, the sequel to Give the Lady a RideContemporary Western Romance–so the idea that I’m in the wrong head when there are only two to choose from is ironic in itself, but let’s skip over that.

Generally in Romance writing, you can present your story exclusively in the heroine’s POV, or you can balance the hero’s and heroine’s POVs. Notice, I said balance. Unlike Women’s Fiction, where the hero’s POV is allowed, but secondary and delayed in its presentation, they’re both given equal time and weight in Romance. I’d written quite a bit in Patricia’s POV, so now it was time to hear Talon’s voice.

I’m setting up a blow-out between them, so what would happen in the scene would affect both of them equally, and the results would be equally devastating. So how does one choose?

Well, I tried to be a good girl and give Talon equal time. I gave him the role of presenting the issue to Patricia. Didn’t work. Flat, boring. Sizzle-free.

Then I went back and tried to infuse some life into it by amping his emotions as he presented his case. It helped, but the tension felt artificial, contrived.

I couldn’t get around the fact that he had to be the one to present the problem, and though he was tense about it, even without having to contrive stronger emotions, he had the advantage over Patricia. He knew what he was going to say and what he wasn’t going to say.

This sounds funny, doesn’t it? Talking about my hero as if he lives and breathes in some dimension just a hand’s reach away. But that’s the way it is, isn’t it? After you’ve spent time developing these characters, they aren’t just characters anymore. They’re people who live in your head with distinct personalities, mental and emotional patterns, likes and dislikes. And this is what you want your readers to experience–characters so real, they’d like to sit down and have coffee with them.

So, back to the scene:

Talon has some information to share, but he doesn’t want to share all of it. Not yet, anyway. Problem is, Patricia knows what he’s leaving out–and their entire relationship is hanging on it.

Funny how posting this here makes the POV choice seem so obvious.

Keep the tension up in your scenes by presenting them through the POV of the character who will likely have the strongest reaction. Emotions drive tension. Honest, raw emotion catapults tension to a higher level.

Posted in Writing, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The God Hater, by Bill Myers

god hater What a stunning book! Bill Myers wrote the quintessential novel involving Christian apologetics, wrapped in a compelling plot and peopled with lively characters.

Travis Mackenzie has developed an amazing computer program that tests the different socio-economic philosophies on a tribe of realistic on-screen personalities. The primary of these “people,” Alpha, was developed by replicating the personality and the emotional and mental patterns of Travis’s dead nephew. Travis brings each system to its ultimate, logical conclusion, which always results in the society’s self-destruction. Finally giving up on socio-economic models, he introduces religion in the form of pantheism–for the characters to survive, they must believe in something, right?

But as that model begins leading the society again to destruction, Travis calls upon his nephew’s father–his brother, Nicholas, a renowned philosopher and staunch atheist. Nicholas must develop a system that will ensure the survival of the tribe–because if they can design a successful system that will save the computerized community, they can use that system to save the world. Governments and private enterprises are using extraordinary means to steal Travis’s work, which puts Nicholas, his only friend, Annie, and her son, Rusty, in constant, nail-biting danger.

When it comes to the reading experience, this riveting book hits on all levels. Heart, mind, and adrenal glands get a workout in this soul-satisfying novel.

The God Hater is Christian Fiction at its finest and it’s definitive of its genre. If you pull the Christian thread from this well-woven story, the entire thing would unravel. This novel would’ve been great for Writing in Obedience as an example of writing for seekers, those who realize there’s more to life than the superficial and are seeking answers, but aren’t convinced God is that answer. Anyone who isn’t hard-core atheist will find something worth pondering in The God Hater.

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The Cliché’s Day in Court

Andrea Merrell is my guest today. You’re going to enjoy her post! 

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ClichePoor little cliché—old as dirt and worth his weight in gold, yet he gets no respect and we avoid him like the plague.

Without him, we can’t keep up with the Joneses, shop till we drop, or bring home the bacon. That’s how the cookie crumbles if you put two and two together.

No need to fly off the handle. Go the whole nine yards and see if the grass is really greener on the other side. Don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire; just wake up and smell the coffee.

I know what you’re thinking—I’m barking up the wrong tree with a bee in my bonnet and ants in my pants. You might want me to bite my tongue and stop rocking the boat. No way, José! You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him stop using clichés.

The critics say it’s easy as pie—don’t touch a cliché with a ten-foot pole. I say, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sometimes there’s just no better way to say it, so why reinvent the wheel? Clichés are comfortable old shoes and if the shoe fits, wear it. After all, there are thousands of these little guys. They don’t grow on trees, but they’re more fun than a barrel of monkeys. They’ve mastered the school of hard knocks and have come out smelling like a rose, yet in the publishing world they fall flatter than a pancake.

Certainly, the cliché is overused. Agents, editors, publishers—they all say the same thing, but here’s the rub. Some of these proponents of “ban the cliché” cannot finish a complete thought without throwing in at least one or two, especially at writers’ conferences where clichés tumble hand over fist. Go figure.

So where does the buck stop? The powers that be tell us if we don’t play by the rules, we’ll pay through the nose. After all, the pen is mightier than the cliché. We must think outside the box and put our best foot forward. Otherwise, we’ll be up the creek without a paddle—or a publisher.

This could be a piece of cake and one for the books, but I won’t hold my breath until pigs fly. Maybe clichés are not your cup of tea, but they stand out like a sore thumb. After all, nice clichés always finish last. Can I get an amen?

If we stick to our guns, we can kill two clichés with one stone. I won’t count my chickens before they hatch or judge a book by its cover. It’s like pulling teeth to have a meeting of the minds, but better late than never. Is that clear as mud? If not, I’ll eat my hat.

Maybe you think I can’t see the forest for the trees. No sweat. It might cost me an arm and a leg, but it’s no skin off my nose. The bottom line seems to be: it’s okay to talk in clichés, but not write with them. Have I hit the nail on the head?

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Andrea Photo 8Andrea Merrell is an author, editor, workshop leader, and mentor. She has a passion to encourage other writers, helping them sharpen their skills.

Andrea has written material for ladies’ groups, marriage retreats, skits, websites and brochures. She has been published online and in numerous anthologies. Her first book, Murder of a Manuscript: Writing and Editing Tips to Keep Your Book Out of the Editorial Graveyard, is now available on Amazon.

Her love of words keeps her eyes fastened on Webster’s and fingers glued to the keyboard, combining creative writing with editing.

Her newest release, Praying for the Prodigal, is available on Amazon.

Praying for the Prodigal

Posted in Authors, Guest Posts, Writing, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , | 29 Comments

Making the Shift, Grand Finale

Last week, in parts one and two of this series, we talked about the difference between telling ourselves the story and telling the reader our story. Once we’ve finished our outlines or first drafts, we usually discover that we’ve only succeeded to tell ourselves a series of answers to the question: “What happens next?” Showing what we have in our heads, what picture our imaginations is showing us, is where the challenge and fun of writing begins. I took a bare-bones paragraph to use as an example–something similar to what I’d have in my own first draft–

Branson parked down the street from the crack house. Mary was in there somewhere, and he was going to get her out no matter what it took. He put the keys in his pocket and got out of the car. The house looked quiet, but he couldn’t be sure. He went to the side where the car was parked, put a hand on the engine. It was still warm, and hope rose in his heart. He pressed against a wall and listened at the window. He heard her pleading voice. The hair rose on his arm. He had to do something.

–and carried it through using the elements I discussed in the previous two posts. Here’s what I came up with:

On the littered and pot-holed street, Branson parked a few dilapidated buildings away from the crackhouse. The once proud single-family residence now listed to the left under its burden of neglect and decay. Puke-green paint peeled from the wood-slat walls. The second porch step had already rotted away. The pillar nearest him no longer stretched from porch to ceiling, but hung precariously under a crumbling roof. A crumbling roof over a crumbling house sheltering crumbling lives.

He ground his teeth. Mary was in there somewhere surrounded by filth and filthy people. Just the thought of it made his skin crawl and his stomach curdle. He had to get her out of there.

He sucked in a deep breath and released it between his lips to a slow count to ten. No movement near the boarded-up building visible in his side mirror. In front of him and all to his left, the shadowed places seemed as dead as those illuminated by the weak glow of the street lamp ahead. To his right, a paper cup caught a ride on the wind, but faltered against a rotten tree stump. All else seemed still and quiet, except for the dim glow flickering in the target house. Candles, maybe. Kerosine lamps. In a structure that old, that decayed, either could be dangerous.

One more breath. One more slow release. His heart rate dropped, his nerves steeled. He stepped from his car and closed the door with a quiet click. He stayed low, studied the shadows again, then darted across the street. Another quick surveillance at the side of the house, then he slipped down the driveway. Low, quiet, deadly. His hands flexed, ready to be fists, ready to connect. Ready to draw blood.

The hood on the rusted sedan still felt hot. They hadn’t been there long. Maybe he wasn’t too late.

He crouched and crab-walked to the nearest window and glued himself to the wall.

Inside, voices, angry and threatening. She whined, pleading.

His heart crumbled. His hands fisted.

Did you play with it? Last Wednesday, I mentioned that I would change the circumstances in the same sample paragraph, and we’d play again. Anyone interested?

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Happy Resurrection Day!

Holy Spirit 2

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