Let the Gorillas Come

by Marcia Lee Laycock

It’s somewhere in Africa. A young woman sits cross-legged on the ground, surrounded by tall grass. She has been told to sit very still. She can hear snuffling noises and now and then a grunt. When the massive head of a gorilla pokes out between the grasses, she is tempted to leap up and run. But she sits quietly. The gorilla approaches, moves around her, touches her hair, sniffs her shoulder. She remembers the instructions she was given: “No sudden movements. Keep your eyes on the ground.” 

She tries not to think of what those massive hands and arms could do to her. She tries to relax her shoulders. Slowly. Another gorilla approaches, then another. They investigate her, sit close by grooming one another before slowly ambling away. The young woman lets out her breath and smiles. She knows she has just won a great victory over fear. The adrenaline coursing through her body makes her laugh out loud.

Writing coach Natalie Goldberg wrote -“A writer must be willing to sit at the bottom of the pit, commit herself to stay there, and let all the wild animals approach, even call them up, then face them, write them down, and not run away.”

There seems to be an underlying belief among many Christians that writing about what is painful and ugly in life is somehow denying the goodness of God. That is not what the Bible teaches. Psalm 12:6 (KJV) says – “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. “Tried in a furnace of earth.” That doesn’t sound pleasant to me. “Purified seven times.” That sounds like struggle and anguish and pain that has been forged into what is pure and wholesome.

Madeleine L’Engle once said – “It is not that what is, is not enough, for it is; it is that what is has been disarranged, and is crying out to be put in place.”

We do not write about the dark, the things born of despair, in order to glorify them, but in order to put them in their place and to recognize that there is something more, something infinitely better – there is redemption of all that is ugly and evil in this world, because of what happened on a cross at the base of a hill in a tiny country then called Palestine.

1Cor. 4:2 says – “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” I believe we have been given a trust as writers and we must be faithful to it. To make our lives of use to others we must be willing to touch those parts of ourselves that are universal, both the evil and the noble. It is when we are able to reach that level that we will produce good work, significant work, perhaps even life-changing work.

Bruce Cockburn, the Canadian song writer and poet said, “you’ve got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”

This is the work we have been given to do. May He find us faithful. 

This is the work we have been given to do. May He find us faithful.~ Marcia Lee Laycock (Click to Tweet)

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor’s wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was also short listed for a Word Award. Marcia has three novels for middle grade readers and four devotional books in print and has contributed to several anthologies. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. 

Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers is available on Amazon. It is also now available in Journal format. 
Her most recent release is Celebrate This Day, a devotional book for special occasions like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving. 

Sign up to receive her devotional column, The Spur

Jiggly Fluffy Japanese Cheesecake and You

by Jennifer AlLee

Like many of my friends, I’m a fan of do-it-yourself videos. You know the ones. They pop up on Facebook, Pinterest, and various other social media sites, and show us how to make something. It might be how to transform an old tire into a patio seat. Or how to make a fairy tale village out of three terra cotta pots, some succulents, and plastic miniatures. My personal favorites, however, are the cooking videos. Beef Wellington for beginners! The only deviled egg recipe you’ll ever need! Super-simple gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan brownies! The options are endless.

Yesterday, I found a video for Jiggly Fluffy Japanese Cheesecake. I watched with glee as a delicious dessert was created in just one minute and twenty-nine seconds. It was so fast, so easy, so…ridiculous. LOL At that moment, I realized that all the DIY videos are lying to me. Not only are they sped up, showing the steps faster than anyone could replicate, they also have everything pre-measured and ready to go. In addition, they have the miracle of editing on their side. If someone makes a mistake, they just go back and do it again.

My perception of how much I can do, how quickly I can do it, and how proficiently I can complete it, has been warped by the very things which are meant to inspire me.

How in the world does this relate to writing? I’ll tell you. In an effort to perfect our craft, we often turn to books, lectures, classes, and videos for knowledge and inspiration. These are all wonderful things that can help us on our writing journey. But sometimes, we focus too much on what other authors are writing and how well they’re writing it, rather than look at what we ourselves are doing.

Here’s an example. Let’s take a look at Fabulous Writer Alpha. She routinely publishes 3-4 books a year. She has a vibrant social media presence. Forget writing a thousand words a day…she writes a thousand words in an hour. Her How-to-Write books are highly recommended by industry professionals. In short, she’s the kind of writer you want to emulate. So, you read her novels. You read her How-to books. You imitate her productivity calendar and her daily schedule. You try to do everything just how she does it. And it’s a miserable failure.

What happened? If a specific approach and work ethic is a success for Fabulous Writer Alpha, why doesn’t it work for you? Most likely because you overlooked one very important fact: You are looking at the final result of everything she does.

When you read her novels, you aren’t seeing the time spent plotting, thinking, writing, deleting, rewriting, editing and generally agonizing over every page. When you read her How-to books, you’re not seeing all the misfires and mistakes she went through until hitting upon the method that works for her. You see where this is going?

It takes more than one minute and twenty-nine seconds to make a Jiggly Fluffy Japanese Cheesecake. And it takes lots of time experimenting, failing, refining, and persevering to become the kind of author you want to be. Gleaning information from other writers who have achieved a level of success is a great thing. But don’t hold them up as the standard you must attain. How you work and how you write needs to be based on the unique individual you are and what works for you.

I can say all this because I’ve done it. I’ve actually been at a conference and gone up to an author I admired and said, “I want to be you when I grow-up.” Because that author is a sweet woman, she smiled gracefully and merely said, “Thank you.” But I discovered on my own that her strengths are not mine, and vice versa. When I focus on my own talents, I’m a much happier, more productive writer.

So, I write my way. It’s not effortless and speedy like those videos. In fact, it can be pretty messy. But it works for me. 

As for the Jiggly Fluffy Japanese Cheesecake, I’ve decided to skip it. But one of these days, I may still give the turn-a-tire-into-a-patio-chair project a try.


Jiggly Fluffy Japanese Cheesecake and You by Jennifer AlLee (Click to Tweet)

We focus too much on other authors~ Jennifer AlLee (Click to Tweet)

How you write needs to be based on what works for you.~ Jennifer AlLee (Click to Tweet).

Jennifer AlLee was born in Hollywood, California, and grew up above a mortuary one block away from the famous intersection of Hollywood & Vine. Now she lives in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, which just goes to prove she’s been blessed with a unique life. When she’s not busy spinning tales, she enjoys playing games with friends, attending live theater and movies, and singing at the top of her lungs to whatever happens to be playing on Pandora. Although she’s thrilled to be living out her lifelong dream of being a novelist, she considers raising her son to be her greatest creative accomplishment. You can visit her on Facebook, Pinterest, or her website.

4 Tips to writing ACTIVE description

by Susan May Warren


In my past couple posts, I have used this acronym to in to enhance our static description (Here for Part 1) and (Here for Part 2)

Today, we’re going to use this acronym, and apply it as we move our character throughout the scene, experiencing the storyworld as we interact with the actions of the scene

What is ACTIVE Description?
Active Description is simply putting the description through the eyes of a character then describing the scene (using the FOCUS elements and 5 senses) as they move through it. While static description can be used powerfully to snapshot a person, place or thing, active description keeps the story moving and is integrated into the scene. (It’s important to use both in a story!) Just like static description, active description can add a powerful emotional undercurrent to the scene.Consider this passage from Sons of Thunder:

Markos speared the water. The cool lick of it scooped his breath, slicked from his body the heat of the day.

He surfaced fast, gulped air, and dove back to the ocean floor, kicking toward the cave. A deep thrumming rumbled his bones even as he scrabbled over the slippery rock outside the entrance. The jaws raked his skin as he levered himself through a crevice just big enough for a boy of seventeen.

Although it’s an active description, it is meant to create a sense of tension as he pushes himself into the cave. I could have written it more simply: Fear coiled inside him as he pushed himself into the cave. But I wanted to description to convey the emotion, and not name it directly.

Here’s another passage from the same book:

She sat at the dressing table. He knew he should turn away, but he couldn’t quite find it in him. Instead, he watched as she curled her hair tight to her face with her fingers, held it there for a moment. She rouged her cheeks, her earlobes. Lined dark kohl on her green eyes. Used her pinky to apply her blood-red lipstick.

Her gaze flickered over to him. “You like watching me get ready?”

He turned away, burying his face in his hands. Her laughter trickled high. “Oh, Markos, you’re such fun!”

His chest burned. “I’ll wait for you out in the hall.”

Finding his feet, he pushed away the chair, reaching for the door. But she had crossed the room and now planted her hand over his. He turned even as she slid close, her hand on his chest. He hadn’t noticed how small she was, really, without her costumes, or wrapped in her vamp persona. Now, she seemed almost petite, even…needy. Especially since the tease had left her eyes. Her fragrance wound around him, tugging at him.

The hero is watching a girl getting dressed, and I use the description to heighten the temptation and lure for him. The subtleties of words like blood-red, his chest burning, her fragrance winding around him, tugging-all words that suggest temptation, or being lured into trouble.

Great wordsmithing is about using every word to its full effect, and creating paragraphs that do double duty—inform as well as add feeling to the scene. In this way, you’re adding and emotional sense to the story without telling the reader how to feel.

How do you word paint for emotional effect?

Tip #1: Create a Metaphorical word pool. 
As you write, your words will tend toward specific verbs and nouns. Taking a step away from these, you’ll find that they might fall in categories of description.

For example, describing the sky, you might say that the clouds swirled against a canvass of blue. Okay, “swirled” and “canvass” both evoke a sense of “painting.” You now have your metaphorical category. Look for other “painting words” as you continue the description – brush, paint, mix, blend, stir. You can also go further, and take from the mind of the painter, or even use well known painters to bring in emotional metaphor.

Eg: lavender splotched the canvass of blue, as if the painter, frustrated, took his brush and swept across with angry, thick strokes.

Tips #2: Pick Verbs that convey the FEELING of what you are describing. 
Marcos feels like he’s being gulped, or eaten, going into the jaws of the cave, and I wanted to convey a sense of panic as he goes inside. So I used words of violence: Speared, rumbled, scrabbled, raked.

If I were describing a giant crater in the earth, one made by a meteor, I might use words like jagged, and ripped, and bruised.

But if I were describing a hole that would become my long desired swimming pool, I’d go with, scooped, or even carved from the earth. By the way, sometimes, if I’m having trouble finding my metaphorical pool, I just write the description, and see what verbs I naturally use. From there, I can find the metaphorical pool. (I.e., in this one, I think if ice cream with the verbs I used for the pool description).

Tip #3: Give your POV character a physical response to the description. 

Ie, Marcos is hot, so the water is cool, yet dangerous. He has mixed emotions about being there – so I show that in the verbs I use.

Note the subtle tension in these sentences: The cool lick (a positive feeling) of it scooped his breath (negative), slicked from his body the heat of the day. (positive) He surfaced fast, gulped air, and dove back to the ocean floor… (negative).

Tip #4: You could also use a metaphor that captures the physical response, something that would give a similar physical response. 

For example, in my pool example, I could say: Staring at the dark expanse, edged with rich, chocolate curls of earth, I tasted the cool water on my lips, sweet and sloppy, drenching me. A shiver of delight shimmed right down to my belly and I could hardly wait to dive in.

Obviously, I’m using the feeling of eating ice cream, and equating it with my dreams of diving into my pool.

Note: Don’t use TOO many metaphors – one strong one will do. But find the right one, and use it well.

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 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.

First Page: Level—Expert

by Peter Leavell @peterleavell

The novel’s first page is a sacred contract with the reader. The fine print is written between the lines. This is my best writingcontinue if you want more.
I’ve read 25 books already this year, and frankly, the self-published novels are getting this wrong.

Take great pains to craft the first words carefully, because the reader will fling the book aside if she can’t figure out what the book’s about.
Surely, by now, you know everything there is to writing a first page, but it’s always good to keep the rules fresh.

Level: Beginner

—Prepare to write and rewrite the beginning at least one dozen times.
—Page one is flashback hell. Make page one heaven by throwing the reader into the scene immediately.
—No writing tricks. The first page must be as basic and clear as possible. Don’t give readers resistance as they read.
—Don’t start with dialogue.
—No tension? No reason to keep reading. Tension MUST be present. (Inciting Incident)
—Don’t make the reader plow through 8 pages until they reach their first antecedent. Use names.
—Don’t start with weather.

Level: Publishable (all of Beginner plus the following—)

—The scene should be set in one or two sentences, with clear language.
—Reader must have a solid idea of the world they’ve entered.
—Show, don’t tell.
—Introduce the main character and their strongest character trait.
—Introduce the main character’s basic need or want.
—Who cares about the past? No one. Start with the main story immediately.
—Be precise, and avoid adverbs and adjectives.
—Give hints at the momentous troubles ahead.

Level: Expert (the previous, and—)

—Is your first sentence sublime and unique? —Book thesis. Ask the moral question that will be answered in the last page.
—Evoke all five or six senses.
—Create an emotional connection with the character by making the reader relate to the character’s problem.
—Can you show how the main character is unique from any other in the world?
—The tone should be clear—Funny? Dark? Romantic?
—Can the first page stand alone as a short story?


First Page: Level—Expert by Peter Leavell (Click to Tweet)

The novel’s first page is a sacred contract with the reader.~ Peter Leavell (Click to Tweet)

It’s always good to keep the rules fresh.~ Peter Leavell (Click to Tweet)

Peter Leavell
, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at www.peterleavell.com.

Title Photo Copyright: palabra / 123RF Stock Photo