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).

It’s All About Character

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

Our ability to engage our readers, surprise, delight, antagonize, or even offend them when we want, all comes down to our characters. Compelling characters make a compelling story — and keep readers wanting more. Even if you write fast-paced, plot-driven fiction, no one wants to head down that road unless the character is worthy of the chase.

So what do we do to create such characters? Ones who “jump off the page” and keep the reader glued to their ups and downs late into the night?

I offer these suggestions:

  1. We feel multiple emotions simultaneously – so they must too! When writing Lizzy & Jane, I realized you could look at your sister and feel (off the top of my head) five emotions instantly: fierce love, equally fierce dislike, jealousy, loyalty and adoration – especially if you’re the younger sister. Use that! Layer the emotions for your character just as you feel them layered within yourself. And the more those emotions conflict, the better! They’ll bring depth to the reader’s experience and the character’s substance.
  2. Look at all those emotions (even list them) then choose any but the most obvious. The reader will feel that one instinctively. Again, in Lizzy & Jane, Lizzy was angry with her sister. She felt betrayed. And, while those two emotions came through often, it was more interesting and in many ways more realistic when I explored Lizzy’s adoration, hero-worship, and yearning for Jane’s acceptance and love. Anger was the lens through which the reader found those softer and more vulnerable feelings. By bringing those emotions out, through and beneath the anger, I also increased the micro-tension between the sisters – that’s the push and pull beneath what’s written on the page.
  3. Make sure what your characters do is an extension of who they are. I use profession, dress, reading preferences, food tastes, decorating, season, quirks, hobbies, and more… Everything is planned to express an aspect of character, either to the positive, the negative or the unexpected. When writing, you have tons of descriptive detail to lay out, don’t let a single size, color, shape or nuance go to waste.
  4. Take a blank page occasionally and “talk” to your character. You don’t need to make it formal, but do write it down. As a writer, that’s how you think and how you communicate – so make sure you don’t just chat, make sure you write down that chat. By doing this, you’ll learn more about your character’s cadence of speech, inner thoughts, and expressions. It’s an interesting exercise and can reveal things that surprise you… Only by doing this, late in the manuscript process, did I learn how truly angry Sam Moore (Dear Mr. Knightly) was by all that happened in her childhood. This changed later scenes and made the story more authentic to her voice.
  5. Have fun! I end every post with this because it’s so important. Enjoy your characters – even the “bad” ones. The more you enjoy them and explore them, the more real and expressive – and unexpected – they become. And that’s more fun for you and for the reader.

Thanks for spending time here with me today. Please find me and connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or my website at www.katherinereay.com. I’m always out and about…

Katherine


The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Sheholds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and isa wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.