Eleven Tidbits of Wisdom from Top Christian Writers

by Cindy Sproles, @CindyDevoted

I’ve been blessed to attend and teach at scads of Christian writers conferences. My habit is to always purchase the cds or mp3s of every conference so I’m able to continue to learn from the masters. Gleaning through their wisdom is like a refreshing spring rain.

Here are the top tidbits of wisdom I’ve gleaned from top Christian Writers.

VOICEGayle Roper– “Your voice isn’t something you learn. It’s who you are. It’s how you think, how you speak, how you phrase. It’s when you take a breath in your conversation. Instead of worrying about finding your voice, write with the voice of who you are. Learn to polish that in the finished product, but be true to yourself. It will draw readers in and never turn them loose.”

REALITY& HUMILITY – Alton Gansky – “If you want to write for God, you must understand your words may never be bound in a cover and placed on a bookstore shelf. They may only be meant for the person sitting next to you.” This is the reality of humility.

SUCCESSDiAnn Mills –“Each book is a success for me, whether it’s award winning or not. I place my heart and soul into every word that goes onto the page. When I finish a book, I lean back and feel the great success in the completion of a quality project. My trophy is in knowing I’ve done my best.”

PLOTJames Scott Bell –“Here’s the obvious! You gotta have a beginning. You gotta have a middle. And you gotta have an end.” He concluded, “You laugh, but it’s true. Every beginning has to thrust the reader through a door that closes behind them, leaving them in the middle where they are propelled through its door. That door slams behind them into the ending segment that leaves the reader wanting to step through the final door, but they won’t, because they enjoyed the ride so much, they never want it to end.”

JOYDeborah Raney– When asked what her favorite challenge in writing was, she replied. “It’s in finding the joy in every situation. Life is hard, but there is joy even in the hardships. If a writer can guide a reader through the rough patch and into the joy the future holds, then they’ve accomplished a solid story. I love to find the joy.”

THE MAGIC PARAGRAPHthe late Ron Benrey – Ron’s magic paragraph – a skill of writing that draws the reader deep into the story. Ron’s elements for the magic paragraph: 1) signal the reader whose head you’re in. 2) Twang a sense or start a thought process. 3) Show what the character experienced. 4) Start the character thinking.

CHRISTIAN WORLD VIEW – Ann Tatlock – “When the world says write it this way, your job is to focus your eyes on Him. Write the words that glorify God, not the ones that stoop to the lower standards of the world.  When I write, I am in control of who and what I want to represent, and am I representing it in a way that would please my Father in heaven – despite what the world demands?”

WRITE COLORFULVonda Skelton –On exploring life with “eyes wide open” – looking at every situation in life as a scene in a book. “When you apply the eyes-wide-open concept to your novels, you find a wealth of detail, emotion, and movement that holds a reader’s attention. Write colorful.A measure of detail adds depth and color to a scene that the reader connects with.”

BELIEVE IN THE STORYJeanette Windle –“You have to write what you believe and believe what you write. Stay the course. When you do that, you write from the depths of who you are.”

WRITE YOUR BEST – Yvonne Lehman – “Anybody can write a story. They can throw words on a page and wave them in the air. There is a difference in writing a story and writing your best. If you don’t do your best every time, learn more, and write your best again, then you are doing yourself and your readers a grave injustice.”

WRITE FROM CONSEQUENCE – Steven James –“Write from consequence,rather than standing on your soapbox, wagging your finger in the readers face. Show them the consequence of the action. You’re approaching them from a different side of their brain and hopefully then, they hear what you say.”

JUST WRITE – Bob Hostetler–“Just write, because you are called to write. Just write because it is what is threaded through your soul. Just write because you have to write and because of what is lost if you do not.”

DETERMINATION – Robert Benson – This quote says it all. “Determined is the proper posture for a writer. Hurried is NOT the proper posture for a writer.”

 Take time to sort through your conference notes. Find those gems that have made a significant change in how you write, then read them and re-read them. . .over and over, and over again.


Liar’s Winter

Lochiel Ogle was born with a red-wine birthmark—and it put her life in jeopardy from the moment she entered the world. Mountain folks called it “the mark of the devil,” and for all the evil that has plagued her nineteen-year existence, Lochiel is ready to believe that is true. And the evil surely took control of the mind of the boy who stole her as an infant, bringing her home for his mother to raise.Abused and abandoned by the only people she knows as family, Lochiel is rescued by a peddler and given the first glimpse of love she has ever known. The truth of her past is gradually revealed as is the fact that she is still hunted by a brother driven to see her dead. Unsure if there’s anyone she can truly trust, Lochiel is faced with a series of choices: Will she continue to run for escape or will she face her past and accept the heartbreaking secrets it reveals? Which will truly free her?

Cindy K. Sproles is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries, a best-selling author, and a speaker. She teaches nationally at writers conferences as well as mentoring new writers. Cindy serves as the managing editor of SonRise Devotionals and Straight Street Books, both imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is a contributing writer to The Write Conversation and Novel Rocket.com. You can visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com.

 

3 Steps Toward Writing Fearlessly

By Michelle Griep, @MichelleGriep

It’s okay to mess up. No, really. Not only am I giving you permission to crash and burn in spectacular glory, but you need to give yourself permission as well. Why? Because studies show that when you feel you are allowed to make mistakes, you are less likely to make any.

Sure, that’s easy to say, but how does it play out in the real world of writing? What exactly does it look like to write in a manner that is free from the fear of failure?

3 Steps Toward Writing Fearlessly

1 – Give yourself some time. 

When you start a new writing project, don’t expect to whiz-bang it out in a manner of weeks, especially if you’re taking some new risks in your writing (and you should always be taking some kind of risk). Don’t constrain yourself by expecting to create within a certain timeframe. This gets a bit more tricky if you’ve got an actual deadline, but even so, build some wiggle time into that looming date. That gives you space to correct mistakes that you will undoubtedly make. 

Example: I need to turn my next manuscript in by Feb. 1st. But I made myself a personal deadline of Nov. 30th. That way I can go back in and fix up the bugaboos without shifting into panic gear.

2 – Ask for help.

Nobody likes to admit they need help. It’s humbling . . . especially if you’ve made a mess of something. But don’t hide your mistakes. Share them with others who can help. Sometimes it really does take a village.

Example: The novel I’m working on is set in Upstate New York during the Colonial period. What the heck do I know about Colonial America? Sure, I’ve researched, but I’ve also got a few historical fiction buddies who are experts in this area. I’m not only asking them for help, I’m batting my eyelashes and adding a “pretty please with sugar on top.”

3 – Quit the comparison game. 

There are always going to be faster writers out there than you. But if you compare yourself to them, you’ll get all snarled up in feeling worthless. If comparison is a horrible habit you just can’t break, then compare yourself to yourself. Look at your performance this year and compare it to where you were at five years ago, or even a year ago. You might still be making mistakes, but are you making less? Are you improving?  

Example: I used to beat myself up for not being able to write more than a page a day. That count is in the rear view mirror. Now I can easily do 1500 in a day. That number still doesn’t compare to some of the rockstar authors I know, but I see growth and that frees me up to quit worrying about it.

Don’t stagnate in playing it safe to avoid making mistakes. Successful people take risks, even if it means they fail.


12 Days at Bleakly Manor

Imprisoned unjustly, BENJAMIN LANE wants nothing more than freedom and a second chance to claim the woman he loves—but how can CLARA CHAPMAN possibly believe in the man who stole her family’s fortune and abandoned her at the altar? Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters . . . and what matters most is love.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She is the author of historical romances: The Innkeeper’s Daughter, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, The Captive Heart, Brentwood’s Ward, A Heart Deceived, Undercurrent andGallimore, but also leaped the historical fence into the realm of contemporary with the zany romantic mystery Out of the Frying Pan. If you’d like to keep up with her escapades, find her at www.michellegriep.com or stalk her on FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.the next level.

Limbo: The Mood Killer

by Cindy Woodsmall, @cindywoodsmall

To clarify “limbo” for the purpose of this article, I went to Dictionary.com. What I found there seemed quite befitting.

The first definition is: “a region on the border of hell or heaven.”

The fourth definition is: “a place or state of imprisonment or confinement.”

When reading an opening of a chapter, any chapter, I’m definitely in a vexed state of imprisonment if the author has me in limbo concerning the setting the character is in. Readers need to know what the character can see, hear, touch, smell, or taste. If that’s missing, the reader is in limbo.

Most writers incorporate some of that in their stories, especially in the beginning. But beyond the first few chapters, many new writers tend to drop the visual aspect, not realizing that one element causes the book to go from engaging to frustrating.

Because writers see the character and the setting in their imagination, they can forget to write the details into each new scene. When I point out the missing information, new writers often say, “It’s there.”

My response is, “It’s there for you because you’re seeing it in your mind. It’s not there for the readers.” If they still seem adamant, I’ll ask them to find and highlight the words that give readers a visual picture of where the character is. That task is eye opening to them.

Sometimes writers will wait several paragraphs before sharing the setting of a scene. With rare exceptions, that is too late to give the reader a visual.

Books should play out in a person’s head much like a movie plays out on a screen. Almost every new scene in all movies start by showing things we need to know to fully immerge into that world. Anything less puts readers in state of limbo.

A character may be confused and unsure as to where she is. But she is somewhere, taking in information through at least a few of the five main senses—seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting.

Once past the first few chapters, writers are often tempted to open a scene by rushing into some type of emotional or action payoff. And while immediate intrigue is important, readers still need a visual of where the character is.

Our writing goal shouldn’t be to mimic a movie. However, research has shown that over 90 percent of the USpopulation are movie watchers—whether at home or in a theater. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million people, ranging from young children to seniors. That statistic tells us that a story playing out through visualization is satisfying. As writers, we have the power to give that kind of satisfaction to our readers.

Around 63 percent of all movie watchers also enjoy reading fiction, and avid movie buffs are more likely to be readers than non-moviegoers.

Starting a scene with several lines or paragraphs that leave readers in a state of limbo as to the location is like a movie screen going black for several minutes, and we can only hear voices. We’re in limbo until the visuals return.

Pause for a moment and think about where you are physically right now. What can you see? feel? smell? hear? taste?

What would it do to your mind and emotions if you could not decipher where youare—even if for less than five minutes? That’s what happens to readers when we don’t give them enough information to immediately see the character and his or her surroundings. They become confused and bewildered.

Go to the start of each new scene in your current manuscript and read the first paragraph. Can the reader see where your character is? Do you share two or more details of what the character can see, feel, taste, hear, and smell? Do you give at least a hint of the time of day and the season? Have you given an approximation of how much time has passed since the last scene (e.g., “mere hours ago” or “it’d been three weeks since” or “Thanksgiving was right around the corner”)?

Help your readers visualize the events as if they were playing on the screen of their minds. Then readers won’t enter into the mood killer of limbo.

When I’m mulling overaspects of writing, I always appreciate an example, so I grabbed the opening lines of three random books and chapters.

Morning light filtered through the bedroom windows as Hannah made her and Sarah’s bed. Careful not to wake her two youngest sisters, Hannah slipped into her day clothes. — When the Heart Cries,first lines of chapter ten

The aroma of fresh-baked bread, shepherd’s pie, and steamed vegetables filled Lizzy’s house, mingling with the sweet smell of baked desserts. In the hearth a bank of embers kept a small fire burning, removing the nip that clung to the early-April air. —The Sound of Sleigh Bells,first lines of chapter one

Music vibrated the crisp fall air as Ariana sat on the grassy seats of the amphitheater and watched the stage. Nicholas’s hands moved effortlessly across the piano keys as he accompanied a singer. —Fraying at the Edge, first lines of chapter nineteen


Gathering the Threads

Finally back in the Old Order Amish world she loves, will Ariana’s new perspectives draw her family closer together—or completely rip them apart?
After months away in the Englisch world, Ariana Brenneman is overjoyed to be in the Old Order Amish home where she was raised. Yet her excitement is mixed with an unexpected apprehension as she reconciles all she’s learned from her biological parents with the uncompromising teachings of her Plain community. Although her childhood friend, ex-Amish Quill Schlabach, hopes to help her navigate her new role amongst her people, Ariana’s Daed doesn’t understand why his sweet daughter is suddenly questioning his authority. What will happen if she sows seeds of unrest and rebellion in the entire family?
Meanwhile, Skylar Nash has finally found her place among the large Brenneman family, but Ariana’s arrival threatens to unravel Skylar’s new identity—and her sobriety. Both Ariana and Skylar must discover the true cords that bind a family and community together and grasp tight the One who holds their authentic identities close to His heart.

Cindy Woodsmall is an award-winning New York Times and CBA best-selling author who has written 20 works of fiction, including her most recent series, Amish of Summer Grove. Her connection with the Amish community has been widely featured in national media outlets, including ABC’s Nightline. The Wall Street Journal listed Woodsmall as one of the top three most popular authors of Amish fiction. RT Book Reviews recently presented her with a Career Achievement Award and gave her latest release, Gathering the Threads,a Top Pick review. Woodsmall and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains. Learn more about Woodsmall and her books at www.cindywoodsmall.com. She is also active on Facebook (@authorcindywoodsmall).

5 Steps to Using A Q Factor

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

I learned about the Q Factor from James Scott Bell years ago at the BRMCWC. He’s given me permission to share it here.

So what is the Q Factor?

It’s a great tool that comes from Dr. Q, in the James Bond movies. He’s the one who gives Bond his gadgets, so during the crucial scene where Bond is dangling by his ankles over a school of piranha, he manages to get his thumb on a cuff-link. That cuff-link turns into a small, rotating saw, which he uses to cut through the restraints on his hands and legs.He then reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a fountain pen. The pen holds a compressed nitrogen charge and shoots a small grappling hook and line across the piranha pond, enabling Bond to swing to safety on the other side of the pool.

Now, if we had been reading along in the story and come to this point, and Bond simply produced those items for the first time, we’d all be groaning. How convenient! What a cheat! And we’d never trust the author again.

But Dr. Q did the set-up, and because we saw these items before, we accept them when they’re used.

The Q factor in a novel

In fiction, the Protagonist should reach a point near the end when everything looks lost. In figurative terms, she is dangling over a pool of piranha. She needs courage for the final battle, to face the ultimate test.

This is where the Q Factor can help. It is something set up early in the story that will provide the necessary inspiration or instruction for the character when she needs it most.

In Chapel Springs Revival, my Q Factor is Claire’s late Great-aunt Lola. The first time her husband went to work without kissing her goodbye, she left, went to Hollywood and became a big star in silent films. Claire remembers that when her hubby leaves for work without kissing her goodbye. This sets up the story question: will Claire leave her husband?

In the middle the story, Claire thinks about what Aunt Lola would have done. Now we cut to the black moment, when Claire’s husband walks out of the house in anger, after he learns something she did. At the appropriate time, Claire goes to the attic and reads Aunt Lola’s journals. In them, what she learns helps her make a decision.

Another way to look at it is this: so many stories are about overcoming fear. The fear manifests itself most when all the forces are marshaled against the Protagonist. Fear and common sense tell her to give up, run away.She knows she can’t. So give her a Q Factor, an emotional element that comes in when she needs it.

To do that:

  1. Select the element (item, mentor, moral sentiment, negative character, etc.)
  2. Write a scene early in the story that ties this element emotionally to the Protagonist.
  3. Refer to the Q Factor subtly in the middle section, as a reminder.
  4. Find a trigger point in yourProtagonist’sblack moment where the Q Factor can be reintroduced.
  5. Show your Protagonist taking new action based on the Q Factor. If you’ve embedded the Q well enough up front, the readers will pick up what’s happening without you having to explain it to them. Just let it happen naturally.

The Q Factor is just another tool to add to your technique box. I like collecting these and finding new ways to incorporate them.

Now, it’s your turn. Share a favorite writing tool from your technique box.


Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.