Motivation is Key

by Kim Vogel Sawyer, @KimVogelSawyer

Before I started writing full-time, I was an elementary school teacher. Although I love what I’m doing now, I think I will always miss the classroom—witnessing the kids’ excitement at learning something new, watching them grow over the course of the year, and sharing my passion of history and writing with them. Even though I’m no longer in the classroom, I still have the opportunity now and then to teach at writing conferences, and my favorite topic is characterization.

For a reader to want to spend time in story world, he needs to connect with the characters. In other words, he needs to care about and root for the character. This connection comes about thanks to a wonderful little noun: motivation.

Motivation is defined as the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way; or the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.A writer can put together a fairly strong story by giving the character a goal and then throwing lots of roadblocks in the way of achieving it, but to have a strong character—meaning a relatable, root-for, want-to-claim-as-my-new-friend character—there must be a viable reason WHY the character wants what he or she is after and WHY he acts the way he does.

I am a completely seat-of-the-pants writer. I do not plot (*shudder*). But before I start any story, I spend time with the characters who will people the story. I find out what they want physically (hold it in your hands), emotionally (under the skin), and spiritually (at their moral center). Then I explore why gaining those things are so important to the characters. For instance, below is the chart I crafted for Hazel DeFord, the main character from my most recent release, Bringing Maggie Home:

 

Because Hazel’s little sister disappeared when Hazel was supposed to be taking care of her, Hazel became an overprotective mother, never wanting to let her daughter out of her sight. This kind of almost paranoid behavior would be annoying If the reader didn’t understand the reason behind it. But when the reader realizes Hazel’s motivation for keeping her daughter safe stems from the trauma of losing her sister, the reader is able to sympathize with her. Most of us can relate to living with regret, which allows the reader to connect to Hazel.

I think most writers want readers to become so attached to the characters that they have a hard time putting the book aside and even think about the characters after they’ve reached the end of the story. To bond the reader with character, they must understand WHY the character is so determined to achieve his goal. Thus, motivation is key.


Bringing Maggie Home

Decades of loss, an unsolved mystery, and a rift spanning three generations

Hazel DeFord is a woman haunted by her past. While berry picking in a blackberry thicket in 1943, ten-year old Hazel momentarily turns her back on her three-year old sister Maggie and the young girl disappears.

Almost seventy years later, the mystery remains unsolved and the secret guilt Hazel carries has alienated her from her daughter Diane, who can’t understand her mother’s overprotectiveness and near paranoia. While Diane resents her mother’s inexplicable eccentricities, her daughter Meghan—a cold case agent—cherishes her grandmother’s lavish attention and affection.

When a traffic accident forces Meghan to take a six-week leave-of-absence to recover, all three generations of DeFord women find themselves unexpectedly under the same roof. Meghan knows she will have to act as a mediator between the two headstrong and contentious women. But when they uncover Hazel’s painful secret, will Meghan also be able to use her investigative prowess to solve the family mystery and help both women recover all that’s been lost?

Kim Vogel Sawyer is a highly acclaimed, best-selling author with more than one million books in print, in several different languages. Her titles have earned numerous accolades including the ACFW Carol Award, the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Kim lives in central Kansas with her retired military husband Don, where she continues to write gentle stories of hope and redemption. She enjoys spending time with her three daughters and grandchildren.

Find out more about Kim at http://www.kimvogelsawyer.com/.

Adding Moments in Time Take a Story from Good to Great

by Ann H. Gabhart, @AnnHGabhart

Have you ever thought about the moments in time that can rise from the shadowy depths of memory, nudged up to the surface of our thoughts by a chance word, an image or even a certain scent?

Of course, we know about those tragic and world changing events so intense we remember exactly where we were or what we were doing when we got the terrible news. The bombing of Pearl Harbor was such an event. While that was before my time, the characters in my Rosey Corner book, Small Town Girl, were stunned by that news and their lives going forward were never the same as the country geared up for war. I could imagine how those characters might have felt by thinking of how the news of other tragic moments in history is seared in my own memory. President Kennedy’s assassination. The space shuttle explosion. 9/11.

But less dramatic snippets of ordinary moments in my life also linger in my mind. For example, years ago, a mockingbird would perch in the topmost branch of a tree at my old house and sing to me while I hung diapers out to dry. That bird not only sang but would flutter up in the air in a dance of joy. Then the echo of my baby daughter’s precious giggles while I rocked her to sleep is forever in my ears. I know how warm my furry little cocker spaniel pup felt as he lay on my foot while I was working at my kitchen sink. I remember staring into the wavy mirror on my aunt’s wall and trying to believe her when she said I was pretty. I can still hear the slap of the screen door slamming behind me when I came in from school. And how could I ever forget the deliciously cool feel of the linoleum floor after I peeled off my bobby socks. Those socks left a pattern of little indentations on the top of my feet that felt funny as I tried to rub them away. Such small moments in time and yet they and many others stick in my memory simply because they happened.

As a writer, I have to invent all those moments in time for my characters. A story needs big moments when a character faces challenges and life changing events, but to make my characters spring to life for me as well as for readers, I also have to imagine plenty of ordinary moments in time for them. That’s why in my recent release, These Healing Hills, Fran, my midwife nurse heroine, not only has her dramatic moments of bringing babies into the world but she is also out in the garden picking beans. She’s watching the sun sink down behind the mountains as night comes sneaking in. She’s fetching water from the spring and milking the cow.

Moments in time. That’s what makes a story. Those moments in time can be strung together in a forward march to find out what happens next or in flashback moments to see what happened before. A writer’s challenge is picking the right moments in time to bring his or her characters vividly to life and share their story.

What moments in time find a spot on the top shelf of your memory? If you are a writer, do you draw from them to add richness to your stories?


These Healing Hills

Francine Howard has her life all mapped out—until the man she loves announces his plans to bring home an English bride from war-torn Europe in 1945. Devastated, Francine seeks a fresh start in the Appalachian Mountains, training to be a nurse midwife for the Frontier Nursing Service.
Deeply affected by the horrors he witnessed at war, Ben Locke has never thought further ahead than making it home to Kentucky. His future shrouded in as much mist as his beloved mountains, he’s at a loss when it comes to envisioning what’s next for his life.

When Francine’s and Ben’s paths intersect, it’s immediately clear that they are from different worlds and value different things. But love has a way of healing old wounds . . . and revealing tantalizing new possibilities.

Ann H. Gabhart, the bestselling author of over thirty novels, has been called a storyteller. That’s not a bad thing for somebody who grew up dreaming of being a writer. Ann’s historical novels have Kentucky backgrounds like her popular Shaker series and her new release, These Healing Hills set in the Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. She also writes about family life, love and sometimes mystery (as A.H. Gabhart) in small towns like her Kentucky hometown. She and her husband have three children and nine grandchildren and enjoy life out on the farm. To find out more about Ann’s books and to check out her blog, One Writer’s Journal, visit www.annhgabhart.com. You can also join in the conversation on her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/anngabhart or Twitter @AnnHGabhart.

Tracking Story Characters

by DiAnn Mills, @diannmills

Have you ever been working on a novel and realized your method of tracking character relationships looked like a toddler’s art work? My character’s connections to each other and my plot bewildered me. Unless I solved the problem, my readers wouldn’t be able to follow the story.

I needed a character GPS or a book character relationship chart.

The many book character charts offered to writers were . . . massive, confusing, and overwhelming. Arrows, circles, diagrams, boxes, and icons were supposed to solve my crisis. While these methods obviously contained value for some writers, nothing fit the way my brain operated.

In the past when I needed a solution to organize an aspect of my writing, marketing, or promotion, I developed a chart or spreadsheet. My first attempt was hopeless. My techy husband looked at it and offered a better idea: a type of relationship matrix. He researched a simple way for me (and my hero and heroine) to connect my characters by their relationships to each other.

Plotting and initiating twists and turns in my story are now so much easier. I have a visual of my characters’ names, listed both horizontally and vertically, to determine who has a relationship with another. By using a color-coded text, I know who is family, business, personal, stranger, or unknown.

The system has worked so well for me that I wanted to share it with you: https://diannmills.com/temp/RelationshipMatrixTemplate-DiAnnMills.xlsx

Take a look. Let me encourage you to make the chart your own by personalizing it to your mode of working. This is the beauty of creating what we writers need to ensure our books are exciting and professionally written.

What have you designed to make your writing process easier?


High Treason

When Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal visits Houston to seek cancer treatment for his mother, an attempt on his life puts all agencies on high alert. FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is the lead on the prince’s protective detail because of their long-standing friendship, but he’s surprised – and none too happy – when the CIA brings one of their operatives, Monica Alden, in on the task force after the assassination attempt. Kord and Monica must quickly put aside inter-agency squabbles, however, when they learn the prince has additional motives for his visit – plans to promote stronger ties with the US and encourage economic growth and westernization in his own country. Plans that could easily incite a number of suspects both in the US and in countries hostile to Saudi Arabia. Worse yet, the would-be assassin always seems to be one step ahead of them, implicating someone close to the prince – or the investigation. But who would be willing to commit high treason, and can Kord and Monica stop them in time?

DiAnn Mills is an award winning writer who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She currently has more than fifty-five books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Find her on the web at www.diannmills.com.

 

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).