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/.

5 Tips for Writers Between Deadlines

by Lisa Jordan, @lisajordan

Every published writer experiences it—having no deadlines. Of course, not having a deadline usually means they don’t have contracted novels. I’ve been there. Right now, I’m in a unique place—I’m contracted, but I don’t have a deadline yet because I’m working on a proposal to submit to my editor for the contracted novel.

However, when I turned in my previous manuscript, I was between deadlines, meaning I don’t have any contracted projects at that time to rush into plotting.  While that was good to allow myself time to relax after back-to-back deadlines, it didn’t help the bank account.I needed the downtime. I needed to refresh my spirit and refuel my writing energies.

Here are five suggestions for others who may find themselves between deadlines or without contracts yet:

  1. Breathe. Maybe you’ve put in long hours finishing up your manuscript before your deadline. Or perhaps, you’re still waiting for that offer to come through. Either way, take time to simply breathe…relax. I submitted one of my manuscripts during a family crisis, which tripled the stress level. But, once I turned it in, I was able to exhale and know I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
  2. Give Thanks. Yes, that’s right. Thank God for His provision, wisdom, and help during your deadline. Thank those who helped you to the finish—family, supportive friends, craft partners, prayer partners, and writing team. Many say writing is a solitary occupation. While I agree to a point, I know I’m where I am today because of my writing team—editor, agent, mentors, prayer partners, craft partners, and of course, my supportive family and friends.
  3. Reflect. Take some time to reflect about your previous deadline. Review the highlights and the struggles. What was the biggest challenge for you? What areas went well for you? I struggled with the plot for my latest manuscript, but after a couple of conversations with my editor, we worked out the problems, and I was able to move forward. However, I had less time to write, so I needed to write smarter. Also, I was still dealing with the aftermath of a particular family crisis, so that affected my attention. For future deadlines, I’d planned to ensure my plots are solid from the beginning.
  4. Grow. Take advantage of this time between deadlines to strengthen your craft. No matter where you are in your writing career, you need to keep learning. I’ve been reading James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle and Amanda Luedeke’s The Extroverted Writer. Additionally, I’ve pulled out my My Book Therapy work texts from my past MBT retreats to review material to make brainstorming my next novel less stressful.
  5. Move Forward. Like I said, being between deadlines allows for necessary downtime, but it doesn’t help the bank account. In order to grow your business and readership, continue focusing on new projects. For me, this means reviewing career goals with my agent and determining the next steps to meet those goals. Talk with your writing team—editor, agents, mentors, craft partners and set SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely—goals for new opportunities. Set out in faith and challenge yourself with expanding your career. Consider speaking and teaching if you’re qualified. Learn about hybrid publishing if you’re interested in leaning in that direction. Wise counsel will enable you to determine future projects.

Having deadlines is an incredible blessing, but there are times when they can stress you out, especially if the days are flying off the calendar faster than your fingers can dance across your computer keys. Just know you’re not alone—millions of writers are there with you, and your editor and agent are only a phone call or an email away. Taking time to assess your story and laying that foundation from the very beginning will help you to write smarter, not harder. That way, when you submit your manuscript by the contracted deadline, you can do so with peace in your spirit, knowing you did your best. Remember to breathe, give thanks, reflect, learn, and move forward so you can begin the cycle all over again, but this time, you’ll do it more effectively.


Lakeside Romance

A Recipe for Romance

Sarah Sullivan will do whatever it takes to make her summer youth program permanent. But when she’s tasked to teach the teens basic kitchen skills, her hope goes up in flames. Not knowing the first thing about cooking, Sarah needs help. Smelling the delicious aromas coming from her neighbor’s apartment one night, she thinks she’s found her answer. Alec Seaver might know his way around pots and pans, but the lone-wolf widower doesn’t want anything to do with the free-spirited beauty next door. But after he becomes Sarah’s reluctant partner, Alec realizes that she might just be the key ingredient missing from his life.

Heart, home, and faith have always been important to Lisa Jordan, so writing stories with those elements come naturally. Represented by Rachelle Gardner, Lisa is an award-winning author for Love Inspired, writing contemporary Christian romances that promise hope and happily ever after. She is the Operations Manager for Novel.Academy, powered by My Book Therapy. 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, and playing in her craft room with friends. Visit her at lisajordanbooks.com.

An Open Letter to Writers

by Cindy Sproles, @CindyDevoted

Dear Authors,

Publishing is double-edged sword. It brings us great joy and equal frustration. Daily publishers, post information about the terrible state of the industry, driving us to ask the question, “Why do we bother?”

It’s this question that prompts my letter to authors, both new and seasoned.  Quitting is not an option, but strength, determination, and wherewithal must supersede that which discourages you. Follow this wisdom and know that despite the odds you are called to a task. You are trained to move ahead – groomed to withstand the wait.

*Do not let your heart be troubled . . .(John 14:1 NIV)  for you are called to a mission by a power far greater than that of a publisher. When rejection storms your heart, do not cover your face, but open your arms and embrace it. Rejection spurs us to hone the craft – to strive to be better. A troubled heart cannot speak clearly nor can it work effectively, but when that worry is placed in the hands of the Great Writer, it will flow effortlessly and it will touch deeply.

*Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him . . . (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV). When you take success upon yourself, your eyes become clouded by selfishness and greed.But when you trust your ways to Him, you are – in essence, acknowledging your work was inspired and gifted to you as the tool through which it is to be presented. Write the words. Write them to the best of your ability. Show an attitude of willingness and teachable spirit as you work with editors and publishers. Then trust the work back into the hands of the Great Inspiration and let Him do with it as He sees fit. After all, it was His to begin with. He simply chose you as the best communicator of the story.

*There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV). Keep in mind the publishing industry is a huge wheel. Placed around the wheel are genres, articles, and needs that slowly rotate. Today your work may not be at the top of the wheel, but implore patience and trust, and the wheel will spin, eventually landing on your time . . . your work . . . your season. This is when your work begins to take wing and fly. Your work grows from rejections to rewriting, editing, and honing. With each revisit, more and more improvement is made. And when your time rises to the top, it will be . . . amazing.

*Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!(Philippians 4:4 NIV). When success comes your way, do not forget from whence it came. Rejoice in the success of the completion of your work but do not claim credit when the praise belongs to the Great Chooser – for He chose you, gifted you, and blessed you. Do not allow the praise of good work make you haughty, but remain of humble spirit, filled with kindness and giving the glory to Him who chose you to complete His work. Remember if you cannot manage to become a servant then leadership and success is beyond you

*Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalms 37:4 NIV). Your passion and desire is infectious and when you work with an attitude of happiness and giving, the Lord delights in you and He gifts you according to His will, the desires of your heart. When you put forth your best effort to write compelling pieces, then what you craft can be used to touch hearts. Grasp hold of gentleness for the words you are gifted may be tough words and you must be prepared to extend compassion to those who do not understand. Write truth. Do not preach it. Write it in love and tenderness and the One who touched your senses with this idea will bless the task. Be an imitator of the Father, sculpting words and phrases that touch and inspire others. Do not fall prey to the world’s standards. Instead, lift your standards and beliefs high. Raise the bar so that you do not stoop but so that others must stand on their toes to touch your level.

*May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalms 19:14 NIV). Remember He knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. He knows the plans He has for you. So trust. Practice. Learn. Share. Give of yourself. Be faithful and intentional as you write the words He places on your heart. Remember it is not about you, rather what you can do to expand the Kingdom. Stand firm in the words you write. Not that they cannot be improved upon, but that they maintain an air of praise. Let your writing be like an incense to Him. Allow the Great Gifter to inhale the essence of your glory for Him.

Sometimes words of wisdom are hard to endure but, dear writer, the Great Author will work through you and your skills of writing – be it fiction or truth.Show the world the light of Truth because the Light is where the world needs to look. These are words written in love to guide you through discouragement and temptation and point your heart toward Him. Now use your gift. Write with the pen of the Great I Am and change lives.


Liar’s Winter

Lochiel Ogle was born with a red-wine birthmark—and it put her life in jeopardy from the moment she entered the world. Mountain folks called it “the mark of the devil,” and for all the evil that has plagued her nineteen-year existence, Lochiel is ready to believe that is true. And the evil surely took control of the mind of the boy who stole her as an infant, bringing her home for his mother to raise.Abused and abandoned by the only people she knows as family, Lochiel is rescued by a peddler and given the first glimpse of love she has ever known. The truth of her past is gradually revealed as is the fact that she is still hunted by a brother driven to see her dead. Unsure if there’s anyone she can truly trust, Lochiel is faced with a series of choices: Will she continue to run for escape or will she face her past and accept the heartbreaking secrets it reveals? Which will truly free her?

Cindy K. Sproles is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries, a best-selling author, and a speaker. She teaches nationally at writers conferences as well as mentoring new writers. Cindy serves as the managing editor of SonRise Devotionals and Straight Street Books, both imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is a contributing writer to The Write Conversation and Novel Rocket.com. You can visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com.

Finding the Writer’s Voice

by DiAnn Mills, @diannmills

When I was four, my mother took me to my first dancing class. I wanted to watch before I joined in. I didn’t understand that I had to participate to be a part of the class, even if I made a mistake. A writer who wants to develop a unique voice can’t simply read novels, she must write.

Does the subject of voice make you want to run? You’re not alone. Explanations run the gamut from the way a writer pens her prose to bigger-than-life characters who attract us with their view on life. Voice is everything the characters experience and express according to their traits and the writer’s individual style. A writer chooses unpredictable characters, both in actions and in dialogue, and establishes a voice that draws us into the story.

A writer’s voice is her fingerprint, a way for a reader to identify style. It can’t be developed by studying a textbook or taking a writing course. Each writer has a unique way of stringing together words and sentences, a subconscious activity stamped with personal style, word choice, originality, and passion for the project.

We develop our voice over time—by writing, polishing our craft, and knowing our characters. It’s much like our unique conversational style, but with a strong additive: the character’s voice. That means no two characters ever quite sound alike. A strong writer’s voice doesn’t overpower the character, but hooks the reader’s attention and refuses to let go.

I like how Donald Maass describes voice: “not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre…An original. A standout. A voice.”

Your ability to dive into character and create an adventure strengthens your voice. In establishing that voice, weigh each word choice. Is it succinct and descriptive? Use strong verbs and vivid nouns, the ones your character would use. Have you chosen the best word in the character’s voice, one you’re comfortable with? A writer’s genre also influences word choice. A lot to think about, but when you tune out the critics and write the story of your heart with a character you love (or love to hate), voice will be in your fingertips.

I went through several stages of forming my voice while following rules, not following rules, then allowing my writing to morph into my voice. When I concentrated on good writing and put the guidelines into perspective, aside, my voice came.

As Thomas Merton said, “Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally.”

How have you established a writer’s voice?


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.