Friends Don’t Let Friends Quit!

by Catherine West

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a writer. You may be just starting out or have been writing for many years. You may be published or you may still have that dream in sight. But I bet you know one thing.

This is a hard road.

My favorite book is Gone With The Wind. I first discovered it as a homesick thirteen-year old wandering the musty maze of books in the library at my boarding school in the south of England. It was there I was introduced to Austen and Dickens and Tolkien, and eventually stumbled upon what had to be the biggest book my hands had ever held.Gone With The Wind.
As I approached our librarian, a fussy little man whose name escapes me, I felt as though I’d discovered the Holy Grail. He was not as impressed. “Are you sure?“I remember those words today as though they were just uttered. The insinuation behind them still smarts. I was too young. The book was long. I would never get through it, let alone understand it.

But I did. I read it cover to cover, every spare moment I had, and devoured every word. And Scarlett O’Hara was forever emblazoned in my heart as Margaret Mitchell was in my head, and I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Someone who never gives up.

Say what you will about Scarlett, Melanie fans, but you’ve got to give her this. She’s tenacious to a fault, yet she always gets what she wants. Well, perhaps not always. She didn’t end up with Ashley or Rhett, although I do take some license with the ending and envision her eventually reuniting with Rhett once she has finally grown into the woman he always knew she could be. But through every hardship and set back, she got back up.

And oh, that’s hard. Ask me how I know.

Once you’ve failed, what else is there? Once you’ve lost your dream, had it even and watched it slip away, perhaps through no fault of your own, do you keep trying? Can you?

Some days my answer is no. No, I can’t and I don’t want to. Because it’s too hard. And honestly, sometimes it seems pointless. How many times, Lord? How many times?

As many as it takes.

My friend Sandie Bricker passed away unexpectedly this past year. Many of you knew and loved Sandie. She was a bright light in our writing community. Sandie was not a quitter. She knew all about getting back up and she did it time and time again, and held out a hand to lift others up right along with her. She was full of fun and light and laughter and loved harder than most. She was a true champion and she loved Jesus.

Sometimes life is incredibly hard. Sometimes we don’t know what’s next. But I’ve found comfort in reading Sandie’s words. We would often chat over Facebook, and I still have those messages. And something she said spoke so loud and clear that I want to share it with you –

“It won’t help right now. But later when you look back on this conversation and how you’re feeling, you’ll think I’m a genius. Ready for it? … God has a plan for you. You don’t need to figure it out or know the details. All you need to do is put your gift to work for him, throw it at the wall and let him figure out which one will stick.”

How I need those words today. And everyday. We all struggle. We all fail. And sometimes we don’t want to get back up. Sometimes we don’t have the strength. But God does.

And thank God. Thank God for His strength and His grace and His love. Thank God for friends like Sandie. Friends who don’t let you stay down, friends who insist you get back up even if they have to kick your butt to get you to move. I am so blessed to have friends like that in my life. I was blessed to have her.

Have you had those moments where you’ve had enough? You don’t have the strength to get back up? Whether you’re there right now or standing on the other side, doesn’t it help to know you’re not alone? If you need a hand today, a prayer, a hug, let’s talk!

TWEETABLES

INSPY Award-winning author Catherine West writes stories of hope and healing from her island home in Bermuda. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or reading books by her favorite authors. She and her husband have two grown children. Catherine’s novel, Bridge of Faith, won the 2015 Grace Award. 

Catherine’s latest novels are The Things We Knew (July 2016) and The Memory of You (March 2017), Harper Collins Christian Publishing.

Catherine loves to connect with her readers and can be reached at Catherine@catherinejwest.com

When Writing Description, You Must F.O.C.U.S.

by Susan May Warren

Three weeks ago, I introduced the acronym FOCUS, a tool I use to help me write description. (Click here to read that blog)

First step in writing great description is to put it through the POV of your character. It’s all about how they feel about being there. We layer in their attitude while they describe the scene. Once you add in perspective, then you need to dig deep into the description. I use the word FOCUS to help me break it down.


F= FACTS: You want to take a good look at your noun and ask:

What is it? What is it NOT?

As we start writing description, we need a baseline of what we’re looking at before we can dive into description. One of my favorite ways to do this is to compare what the POV character is seeing against what they expect, or want to see, or what it could be.

This is from Sons of Thunder, one my favorite comparison scenes.

Markos had become a foreigner in his own skin. As if he’d left himself back on the dock or perhaps sitting in his square, white-washed window, the shutters wide, watching the sun’s blush on the waves creeping over the fishing boats and charming him to sea.

But not this sea. This sea he didn’t know, with its endless caldron of jagged valleys, edged with spittle, and at night, so black, the wind over it an endless moan. At night, the sky appeared so immense, yet miraculously intimate, it seemed he could pull the stars from their mooring. And, he’d never been so cold. A kind of chill that he couldn’t flee pressed into his bones, turning him brittle. The wind from this black, sometimes green sea—never his Ionian blue—moaned in his ears, burned his throat.

The key to seeing the object is to tell us the facts of it. We need to know what it is. But we also need to know only the important facts for the scene. We don’t need to know everything, just the essentials of the elements.

But we need more than the Facts. We also need to understand this with our senses. This is where we employ those 5 senses: I call them Observations: O = Observations.

The 5 Senses–Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound—are key to bringing the storyworld to life.

Consider this passage:
(From Baroness) Rosie: Paris 1923

Rosie and Dash walked home along the Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral shining against the night, the stars above the bright lights of a grand performance. 

Accordion and banjo music floated out from the cafés as they walked up the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, the music mixing with the murmuring of voices of those dining on outdoor terraces. (Sound) The moon came out to join them and hung low, peeking between the greening linden trees, the redolence of spring twining toward the blackened river. (Smell) 

They laughed, and Rosie felt Dash slip his hand into hers. Warm and strong, he wove his fingers through hers and tucked her close to him. (Touch)

Here’s another from the same book. The heroine is hoping to hitch a ride with a barnstormer.

Twilight skimmed the shiny wings and their sleek red bodies as she finally broke free of the departing spectators and lost herself among the airplanes, parked in a neat row before a long white tent. Inside the tent, lamplight flickered, (Sight) voices of the pilots tumbling out onto the grassy field. (Sound) Parked alongside the tent was the red roadster she’d seen barrel through town, and a truck with The Flying Stars painted on the side, a trailer attached to the back. A man in a grey jumpsuit, stained with grease sat on a running board smoking a cigarette (Taste & Smell), the ash a red eye in the encroaching darkness. A mongrel with a mangled ear lay at his feet. 

She wandered between two planes, feathering her hand over the painted canvass of the wing (Touch). Bracing herself on a wheel strut, she pulled herself up to look into the cockpit.

Once we build the Facts and the Observations (Senses) we need to cement the sense the description into the reader’s head, as well as show what is important about the description to the POV character. Too many details overwhelm the reader – they don’t know where to look. Think about a camera. When a photographer zeros in on a subject, it finds the most unique element and frames that in the shot. It’s the details that betray us.

So, going back to the acronym, we use the C.U for the Close Up. (F.O.C.U)

From The Help


I watch as she cuts out biscuits with a shot glass that’s never shot a thing but short dough. Behind me, the kitchen windows are propped open with Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogues. Pictures of two dollar hand mixers and mail-order toys flutter in a breeze, swollen and puckered from a decade of rain.

Sons of Thunder
More of a dangerous, even seductive scene.

Marcos just tried not to glance in the mirror, where the bright bulbs illuminated her array of make-up pots, jewelry, and discarded headdresses. Or the hosiery that hung over the top of the dressing screen.

Sons of Thunder

He’d filled out – well, they both had, probably, but with Markos nearly thirty, he reminded him of their father, wide shouldered, seaweed tough hands. A square jaw, his face grizzled with whiskers, which parted at an open wound on his cheekbone.

(we focus on the cut)

Pick a Close Up that epitomizes the feeling you want to leave with the reader. The cut shows the violence of war, and how tough the hero is. He’s a survivor.

In the previous paragraph, we focused on the hosiery, hanging down like legs.

Close Ups bring the scene to life, add a sense of reality as well as texture to the story. We see it, and the close up embeds a feeling into our minds.

In about two Weeks (April 14th) I’ll be back here to to talk about the final and most powerful element of FOCUS: Symbolism, and how to use it to connect your reader emotionally to the description (and thus use description as another tool for emotional layering in your scene!)

BUT, if you’d like an in-depth class on description, check out our Storyworld video series!

Go! Write something Brilliant!

TWEETABLES
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 with Tyndale, BarbourSteeple HillSummerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-time Christy 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.

Making the Most of a Diversion

By Elizabeth Ludwig

I found myself stranded in Bentonville, Arkansas recently, when the plane I was on from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Dallas, Texas, was diverted mid-air, to a tiny regional airport in Northwest Arkansas. Not only was this a little nerve-wracking, it felt a little bit like a “Hotel California” moment, with delay after delay keeping us grounded inside this tiny airport.

You’re singing the song now, aren’t you? Well stop. That’s not the point of this article.

Anyway, I finally decided to go ahead and spend the night in Bentonville and try reaching Dallas the next day. With time—and the keys to a rental car—in my hands, I struck out to see what I could find.


After a bit of driving, I wound up here…at the Bentonville Cemetery. This probably wouldn’t be the destination of choice for most people, but as a writer, for me cemeteries hold an irresistible appeal. There is a great deal of history to be learned by visiting these places, but many other surprising things as well…

I found hope here…

And indescribable sorrow…

I found beauty and incredible artistic talent in skill of the marble crafters:

And I found things that made me speculate—was this woman a war bride? Was her husband a soldier?

There was history to be found of course. Go to any cemetery in the south, and you will more than likely find something like the tombstone below. FYI…look closely at the three linked letters between the dates. Many times the letters FLT will be found on a flag holder or on a tombstone with each letter in a link of a chain. This is actually the logo for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The letters stand for Friendship, Love, and Truth.

Among my favorite tombstones was this one marking the grave of a soldier who, incredibly, served in both WWII and Korea:

The oldest tombstone I found filled me with both excitement and melancholy. I noted the stark difference between this grave and others surrounding it. There were no flowers here, no mementos left to show that someone…anyone…still remembered who this person was or that they were loved. Perhaps it’s because those people are also here, resting in another part of the cemetery. I could not read the date of this person’s death, only his birth—1821.

It was an interesting visit. I’m sure there is much more to see and learn, walking among the rows of the Bentonville Cemetery. I’d like to leave you with this last image—one that made me smile. Whoever she was, she was most definitely a woman after my own heart.

TWEETABLES

Making the Most of a Diversion by Elizabeth Ludwig (Click to Tweet)

 I struck out to see what I could find.~ Elizabeth Ludwig (Click to Tweet

I found a great deal of history, but many other surprising things as well~ Elizabeth Ludwig (Click to Tweet)


Elizabeth Ludwig is an award-winning author and speaker. Book three in her popular EDGE OF FREEDOM series, Tide and Tempest, was recently named a finalist for the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Elizabeth was also named a finalist in the 2015 Selah Awards for her novella “One Holy Night”, part of the bestselling anthology collection, Christmas Comes to Bethlehem, Maine. Her latest releases include Where Hope Dwells and A Stitch in Time, part of the SUGARCREEK AMISH MYSTERIES series from Guideposts. She often attends conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit ElizabethLudwig.com.

5 Tips for Creating First Dates for Your Characters

by Lisa Jordan @lisajordan

Do you remember your first date? Or maybe your first date with the person who ended up becoming your spouse?

My husband and I had a unique courtship—we met in our hometown while he served in the USMC but had come home on leave. For the next 18 months, we communicated via handwritten letters, phone calls, and infrequent weekend visits.
Our friendship had bloomed, but then our romance had blossomed with our first date that had taken place before he’d gone on a week-long fishing trip with his dad and brothers. We’d spent our evening talking and getting to know each other face-to-face after communicating via snail mail for the past two months. Upon his return, he’d given me a handwritten letter on a piece of birch bark he’d peeled from a fallen tree. At the ripe old age of 19, I didn’t know a lot, but I knew I was head over heels in love and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. 28 years later, I still feel the same way. 

But not all of my first dates had gone so well. In fact, I’m sure you could think of a first date you or a friend had experienced that could end up in the Horrible First Dates column.

Romance writers create characters who get to know each other and fall in love by book’s end to embrace their happily ever after…and I can experience my heart sigh as a reader. But it’s also a writer’s job to complicate their characters’ time together in order to build tension, create conflict and making overcoming obstacles difficult. So let’s talk about five tips to help you create first dates for your characters:

  • Are they unique? Sometimes it’s a challenge to come up with unique first dates. Think about your story’s genre and setting. What makes it unique? How can you pair your characters together and pull in different storyworld elements to enhance their first date experience? How about apple picking? Collecting seashells at the beach? Geocaching? Rock climbing or hiking? Cooking a meal together? Think about the mundane and twist it up. 
  • Are they relatable? When writing first dates, you want your readers to relate to them in some way. You don’t want off-the-wall dates that will have your readers rolling their eyes or skimming pages. On the other hand, you don’t want to bore the reader, either. Make the first date believable to the story you’re writing. 
  • Do they move the story forward? Every scene in your novel needs to move the plot forward. Otherwise, your story risks becoming episodic, that is stagnant scenes that do nothing to enhance the story. My editor has said she doesn’t care for dinner dates in our manuscripts because eating dinner does very little to offer conflict or propel the plot. So when you’re writing those scenes with the first date, have the characters doing something integral to the plot to keep the story moving forward and be sure to throw in obstacles to complicate their time together. 
  • Do they show emotion? Let’s face it—we read and write romance because we want that happily ever after, right? Your dates need to enable the reader to feel along with the characters. Think about how your characters are feeling when they’re beginning these dates? Color your scene through that emotional lens. Think about how you can add complications to that growing attraction. Remember your own dating fiascos? Draw on those experiences and reactions to weave them into your stories. 
  • Do they build tension? Adding conflict and tension keeps your reader turning the pages. Last night I watched a movie, and the heroine had a date with the hero, but she was asked to work late. She tried calling the hero, but he didn’t have service where he was. So when she arrived to meet him for their date, they had lost their dinner reservation and the kitchen was closed. They ended up eating pizza on the steps of the building they both lived in. Not high action conflict, but the tension kept me watching to see how the issues would be resolved. So, think about how you can build the tension throughout the scene through external obstacles and emotional complications. In real life, we want our dates to go well, but doing it for characters doesn’t make for engaging reading. 

When creating dates for your characters, take some time to show the right emotions. Add elements of humor and snappy dialogue. Draw in the storyworld and unique setting. That way you’re creating scenes that will keep your reader turning pages until they’re disappointed to see the story coming to an end. 

TWEETABLES

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.