5 Ways Bad Reviews Can Help You to Become a Better Writer

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by Lisa Jordan  @lisajordan 

One star.

Wow.

My breath caught in my throat and heat crawled across my cheeks as I read the reviewer’s words that expressed her displeasure after reading one of my novels. How could she write such things? Didn’t she realize the struggle and tears that went into meeting that deadline? Of course not. Readers aren’t aware of life’s challenges we’re juggling while writing novels.  

With her words echoing inside my head, I emailed my writing support team—agent, editor, and two mentors—asking if her words were true. After being assured I hadn’t failed as a writer—and advised again not to read reviews—I reread her review again. This time, though, I gleaned some wisdom from her words. 

She’d written a well thought out review citing examples from the novel to prove her points. Despite the one star, I appreciated her feedback once I had some time to process what she had to say. Then, I considered how I could learn from it to become a better writer. 

One of the reviewer’s complaints pertained to one of my character’s personality. So now when I create new characters and write their story arcs, I strive to ensure they are likable even if they are facing challenging situations. 

When we do get those tough reviews, we can ask ourselves several questions to help process difficult words:

  • Consider the source. Reviews are subjective—one person’s opinion. However, is the reviewer someone who reads a lot of books, reads a variety of genres and expresses her opinion clearly? 
  • Consider the genre. Readers who like a book, but give it a lesser star based on genre frustrate me, particularly if they claim they didn’t realize it was Christian fiction. Reading the back cover copy should give the reader a general idea if the novel is Christian or secular.  
  • Consider teachable moments. After reading the reviews, ask yourself if there’s some teachable moment threaded in the reviewer’s words. Is more than one reader saying something similar? Talk these concerns over with your agent and editor. Is this a weak area in your writing? Should you strive to change that particular component?
  • Consider the process. The publishing process requires many eyes to read our work. Manuscripts are seen by craft partners, beta readers, agents, editors, line editors, content editors, and back to authors to review final revisions before the stories hit the presses. Of course, mistakes still happen. After all, no one is perfect. However, agents and editors have a feel for what works and what doesn’t work in a particular publishing house. If your story doesn’t resonate with a reader, that’s not to say it’s a terrible story—it’s been vetted through the whole publishing process. It just means that reader doesn’t have a connection with your novel. 
  • Consider your abilities. As writers, we need to believe in ourselves and the talents we’ve been given. We can’t allow every review to shake our confidence. Otherwise, we will be too paralyzed to write something new. When our novels are released, we need to remember we did our very best. Our editors loved the story and offered a contract. 

Authors risk feedback the moment their books are made available to the public. Of course, they want their readers to love their stories and their characters. But you know what? They can’t please everyone. They simply need to write to the best of their abilities and submit their finest work. After all, as authors learn more about the craft, they will write stronger books…and read fewer reviews.

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5 Ways Bad Reviews Can Help You to Become a Better Writer by Lisa Jordan (Click to Tweet)

One star. Wow. My breath caught~ Lisa Jordan (Click to Tweet)

They can’t please everyone.~ Lisa Jordan (Click to Tweet)

Heart, home, and faith have always been important to Lisa Jordan, so writing stories with those elements come naturally. She is an award-winning author for Love Inspired, writing contemporary Christian romances that promise hope and happily ever after. Represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Management, Lisa also serves on the My Book Therapy leadership team. Happily married to her own real-life hero for almost thirty years, Lisa and her husband have two grown sons. When she isn’t writing, Lisa enjoys family time, kayaking, good books, crafting with friends and binging on Netflix with her dog Penny. Learn more about her at lisajordanbooks.com.

Freeze Frame: Creating a Stronger Scene

by Beth Vogt @bethvogt

We all know the advantage of prep work when we paint a room or cook a Thanksgiving turkey.

In the same way, it helps to do some prep work before writing a scene. I’ve used several techniques from author Susan May Warren – FOCUS and the 5 Ws are two favorites. And when I attended a writers conference last year, I learned the Freeze Frame technique by agent and author Donald Maass, and found a fresh new way to prep a scene.
DISCLOSURE: Maass shares this method in his book The Fire in the Fiction, recommending it for writing scenes of violence and sex. I don’t write those kinds of scenes. However, I still recommend using this tool to create stronger scenes for your novel.

When doing the Freeze Frame process, think of the scene you want to write like a movie scene. You’re going to divide your scene into five segments: Freeze Frame #1, Freeze Frame #2, Freeze Frame #3, Freeze Frame #4, and Freeze Frame #5.

For Freeze Frame #1:

  1. Think of an interesting moment and then write down what is happening. Sometimes I write down snippets of dialogue, as well as action. 
  2. Add what it is like – Comparable to what? It is like (_______.) This is a great chance to discover a metaphor or a simile to use throughout your scene. Ex: It is like my character is standing before a judge, defending himself. 
  3. Add one detail only the POV character will notice – something not obvious. It doesn’t have to be visual. This is a great reminder to engage all five senses. 
  4. If we could get into the POV character’s head at this exact moment, what are they feeling? Cross out what you wrote down. Answer the question again: What is your POV character feeling? This is an opportunity to move past the surface and dig into the deeper emotions. 
  5. Repeat this step four more times (#2, #3, #4, #5), always advancing your scene, staying in your POV character’s head. 

As I’ve utilized this tool, I’ve realized that I won’t necessarily use all five “what is it like?” elements that I develop. Five similes or metaphors can end up cluttering a scene. Rather, what I’ve discovered is that one comparison – metaphor or simile – is often stronger than all the others and can be woven through the entire scene.

I’m using the Freeze Frame process as I fast draft my current novel. But you could also write your rough draft and then use the Freeze Frame tool to rewrite your manuscript – improving and strengthening your scenes. It’s all about considering your POV character and:

  • slowing scenes down 
  • looking for interesting aspects/actions 
  • finding potential metaphors or similes
  • digging deeper than your POV character’s surface emotion 

Why not go ahead and try the Freeze Frame technique on a scene you’re working on? Or share how you improve your scenes in the comment section.

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Beth K. Vogt
is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Now Beth believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” As a contemporary romance novelist, Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner and 2016 Carol Award winner for her novel Crazy Little Thing Called Love. She was also a 2015 RITA® Finalist for her novel Somebody Like You, which was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. In 2015, Beth introduced her destination wedding series with both an e-novella, Can’t Buy Me Love, and a novel, Crazy Little Thing Called Love. She continued the series in 2016 with the e-novella You Can’t Hurry Love (May) and the novel Almost Like Being in Love (June). Her novella A November Bride was part of the Year of Wedding Series by Zondervan. Beth enjoys writing contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily-ever-after than the fairy tales tell us. Find out more about her books at bethvogt.com. An established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth is also part of the leadership team for My Book Therapy, the writing community founded by best-selling author Susan May Warren. She lives in Colorado with her husband Rob, who has adjusted to discussing the lives of imaginary people, and their youngest daughter, Christa, who loves to play volleyball and enjoys writing her own stories.

A Storycrafting Checklist

by Susan May Warren

Do you have all the pieces of a brilliant novel? Before we dive into our storycrafting checklist, let’s talk about the debate between character driven and plot driven novels.

Character Driven versus Plot Driven Novel

Think of the last story you read, the last great movie you watched. Even your favorite television series. Were you more interested in the plot or the person? I would bet that the element that drew you into the story were the characters.

Let’s think about this. Plot is interesting, but not unless it is about someone we care about.

A fantastic example is the Hunger Games. The plot construction and premise is fantastic–a dystopian world where one District makes the other Districts pay for their rebellion (and earn their food allotment) but making two champions from each district fight for their survival. Interesting and tragic, but not compelling until a champion rises. And not just one champion, but two–one who loves the other, and both who choose to defy the system and inadvertently start a revolution toward freedom.

The Hunger Games are interesting, but it’s the compelling fight for survival of our champions that makes this book (and series) riveting.

Another great example of this is the Firefly series, a sci-fi series about a renegade smuggler who is just trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. As the series progresses, we care about Mal and his crew as they struggle to stay alive and save the life of a girl who is on the run. When they encounter peril, we dive in and care because we want Mal and his crew to live.

The key to this series, however, is that we understand Mal, the captain’s past, and what drives him, the wounds he carries, his greatest fears and his great loyalty to his crew. We also know that this group of people has survived a war together. Without this insight, we’d simply think, “Here’s another space adventure.” This is the point of a great television series–the people we care about.

So, there is really no such thing as a plot-only driven book. All books are about characters. Your plot just serves to push your character forward. You can have some powerful, intriguing external stakes, but a brilliant story is always about the people that are involved in those things.

Overview of Story

A great story, summed us, is about a character that we care about who wants something for good reason. This character is driven by some sort of dark event in their past that has molded them into the person they are when they walk onto the page.

This character also has a fear about something which they’re trying to stay away from while they’re going about their normal life.

Then, something happens. This something (called the Trigger, or the Inciting Incident) creates a compelling dilemma that they must solve. Either to put right what went wrong, or to pursue something positive that is now necessary. This is called the Noble Quest–a worthy, justifiable goal. Restated, they either have something negative that happens and they need to pursue a positive outcome or they have something positive that happens and they want to keep that positive outcome.

The Noble Quest also gives rise to a secret desire. It’s that deep want, sparked by their greatest dream that starts to fuel the Noble Quest. The Noble Quest is always shown through an external goal. However, it’s driven by that internal desire.

Thus, they launch on their “journey,” either physical or metaphorical. While the journey has an external, physical goal, the journey itself–the entire story, is about character growth. The story is not about how they achieve their Noble Quest, but rather how the Noble Quest sets the character free of their fears, heals their flaws and gives the character their secret desire.

The Noble Quest reaches its apex toward the end in Black Moment Event–or the realization of their Greatest Fears. As a result of this event, the character experiences a Black Moment Effect–or the realization of their need to change. This effect drives them to their metaphorical knees where they experience an Epiphany, or realization of the point of their journey, some universal TRUTH that sets them free, changes them and gives them the tools to do something at the end they couldn’t at the beginning, sometimes called the Grand Gesture or Sacrifice.

If your character hasn’t had a black moment, an epiphany and a character change, then they haven’t completed their journey.

Figuring out how to construct this internal character change against the backdrop of external goals can, admittedly be overwhelming.

Or not, if you take it apart, piece by piece.

Or, you start at the beginning, the Character Bio, or Dark Moment Story.

This is the center of your story equation.

So, as you look at this journey, ask yourself: Does your character have a true journey?

Here’s a checklist:

  • Does your character have a powerful motivation for their Noble Quest? 
  • Does he/she have an external goal, something tangible that he/she is “questing” after? 
  • Is it propelled by a Secret Desire or Greatest Dream? 
  • Does your character have a greatest fear? 
  • Does your story have a Black Moment Event, or the realization of that greatest fear (often the antithesis of the Noble Quest). 
  • What does your character realize about himself/herself after that Black Moment Event, or a lie they believe? 
  • What Truth (Epiphany) sets them free? 
  • Can your character do something at the end that he can’t in the beginning? (A Grand Gesture or Sacrifice?) 

If you can say yes to all of these elements, then you have the bones of a brilliant story.

If you see this list and are unsure if your story has all the elements or just feel overwhelmed, don’t worry. I’ll admit it is a lot to cover in one blog but I have all this and more broken down in easy lessons at novel.academy stop by and check them out.

Now Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels withTyndale, BarbourSteeple HillSummerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-timeChristy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method,The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com. Contact her at: susan@mybooktherapy.com.

5 Tips to Brand Your Writing Style

By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Developing a writer’s brand can sound like scaling a cliff unless the writer has sound footing. Unfortunately, if a writer fails to take distinct steps to establish a brand, the publishing industry will do the job themselves, and you might not like their choice.

A professional writer seizes control of her career and develops a brand that is an asset, not a liability. This begins by assessing what a writer knows about herself and her readers.
Our readers have definite requirements:

The reader must know the writer’s specialty.
The reader must be able to access the writer’s works.
The reader must recognize a writer’s unique voice.
The reader must fulfill his/her needs through our writing.

The following 5 tips will help the writer brand her writing style.

  1. Define what you want to write. Writing contemporary one day, fantasy the next, and horror after that confuses the reader. When a writer establishes a writing niche, she can build on readership.
  2. Know your audience. A writer understands her readers. She takes the time to explore their lifestyles, problems, dreams, and problems. Writers who fail to address the needs of readers soon don’t have any readers.
  3. Develop a distinct writer’s voice. A writer’s voice is perfected by studying the craft and writing. The more we create, the more our voice is deepened.
  4. Encourage others through your area of expertise. Our niche in the publishing world means we can help others.
  5. Spread the word through social media.

How can you brand your writing style in the world of publishing?

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5 Tips to Brand Your Writing Style by DiAnn Mills (Click to Tweet)

Develop a brand that is an asset, not a liability.~ DiAnn Mills (Click to Tweet)

The more we create, the more our voice is deepened.~ DiAnn Mills (Click to Tweet)

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers

should expect an adventure. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Suspense Sister, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson. She teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.