It Only Takes A Spark. . . Or Does It?

by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck 

Ideas come and go. I’ve learned over the years the initial spark is just that, a spark, not a roaring fire that will burn long enough to write an entire book.

Let me give an example. When I  first started writing what turned out to be Lost In NashVegas (now Nashville Dreams), I came up with a story of a country girl who owned a fishing shack in central Florida. There was something about her wanting to buy or maintain an old house she loved. I can’t remember all of the details, but that should give you a clue. No details.

My agent said, “Nope!”

After brainstorming with her for a few minutes, (I’m making this sound way easier than it was. ha!)  we came up with the idea of having the Heroine be a songwriter. Okay, I can do that. I know nothing about songwriting, but I can do this! I’m naive and eternally hopeful that way. Scratching the surface of songwriting research, I put together another synopsis and three chapters.

My agent said, “Nope.”

My heroine wasn’t sympathetic. I wove in several major plot points that were nothing but cliché but never really managed any of them. I had a stolen song, an unwed pregnancy, and something about a rollercoaster that Susie Warren assured me was unoriginal. But the story was a country song itself!

So, I opened with my character waiting to sing at the Bluebird Ca fé ( a setting I had all wrong) and feeling like she was on a roller coaster.

Disappointed, rather CRUSHED,  I wasn’t hitting my agent’s hot button after two tries, I forwarded it to Susie. She called. “The roller coaster is a cliche.”

“Really?”

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“And you need something like . . . the three things she’s thinking of or wants or something.”

“Oh, good idea.” (I dedicated the “three things” in the book to Suz.)

That and more songwriting research got me a proposal my agent loved. And so did Thomas Nelson.

I did more research. Visited Nashville and The Bluebird Café. Research always sparks more ideas and layers.

Don’t let your lack of knowledge intimidate you. Dig in. Research. Make those cold calls to ask a question. I find really good stuff on YouTube. Which didn’t exist when I started that first Nashville book.

Research also helps with your dialog, your plotting, your setting.

Writing about an industry of which I knew nothing —music—I had very surface dialog. Because I didn’t know what I was talking about. I kept researching and finally found a book about Tom Petty. It was written in interview style. I found the information I wanted and also a format to use in the next Nashville book. The interview style.

When writing about infertility in the Songbird Novels, I discovered an article by a woman who didn’t want to use surrogacy to achieve her dream of having a baby because she felt it was inviting another woman into her marriage. I’d never heard that before and it gave me a profound, deeper angle for my character.

In writing The Royal Wedding books, I read blogs, history books, watched videos, studied European royal families. Apparently, calls to Clarence House went unanswered. Ha! No personal prince interviews were forthcoming.

Once you get a spark, take it deeper and find those unique layers. Use those to create dynamic characters and layered plots.

Go write something brilliant!


THE WRITING DESK

Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.

Writing to The End

by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck 

Once I wrote the first draft of a book in six weeks. I was quite satisfied with having written 76k words, but I had a few more to go before writing The End.

Then, I had to start all over. The story needed a lot of  sanding and polishing.

Usually, about 2/3rds through the first draft, I make a major discovery that sort of brings the whole story together for me. I’ll stop writing forward and go back to the beginning and rewrite. The process usually goes quickly because I know what I’m doing.

But that time, I didn’t stop. I made some major character discoveries. I even changed a major character’s setting. But that’s okay. I refused to go back to the beginning to start my rewrites.

I wanted to go all the way to The End to see what was there.

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So much of a story is discovered as you write it, no matter how much you’ve planned and plotted. I dare say, if you’re not discovering character and plot layers as you write, you  might not be thinking deep enough.

It’s easy to stay with the plan. The writing is fast and relatively easy. But is that the best story the plot and characters can tell?

Stick with the story. Write to The End. Then begin rewriting. It’s a valuable lesson I learned while writing that book.

Here’s another big tip. Stay with the same story. Don’t jump to another idea. It’s so easy to get bored with what you’re writing and want to do something else. Stick it out.

Make it your New Year’s resolution to write to The End before starting over or moving to another project.


THE WRITING DESK

Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.

Someone Else’s Success Does Not Ensure Your Failure

by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck 

Someone else’s success does not ensure your failure.

Unless, of course, you’re facing Jason Bourne.

Then you’re a goner.

But most of us feel like

if someone else “wins” they are better than we are.  Or, that they now have the spotlight and everyone will forget about us.
Entering a contest can rock your world or break your hopes. But it’s up to us, as writers, to be steadfast in our calling to write.

Contests do not make OR BREAK an author.

Published or unpublished.
Contests, while helpful and often a stepping stone, are merely a tool to help a writer reach the next level.

They are not intended to be a Seal of Approval or Seal of Disapproval that over inflates or deflates your dreams.

So take a deep breath. Swallow. Get back with your game plan and move forward.

Have a Game Plan

Speaking of a game plan…

1. Most of us enter a contest then sit back and wait… Bad idea. Move on. Start another story. Focus on your next book Contracted or not. Read a writing book. Read a good book, not in your genre. Spend time with the family. Don’t just wait.

2. Set new goals. If you’re not published, start a new story that you plan to finish in time for ________.

3. Follow up with editors or agents.

4. Sign up for a conference.

5. Do something outside of writing. Sign up for the local 5K. Work on a promotion in the day job. Start a review blog. I don’t know but you do. The Lord does. So get to work! 🙂

What To Do With Conflicting Feedback

It’s tough when you get conflicting feedback but DO take a deep breath, step back, get yer dander down and consider the input just might be right.

First of all, no judge that I know sets out to destroy the authors of the manuscripts they’re reading. I know, we all picture them with evil scowls, muttering, “Who writes this drivel!?”

Sometimes newer author judges can make some rookie mistakes. They take off points for creative choices or the word “was.” I think we should forbid anyone from discounting an entry because they used the word was…

But overall, I think judges are looking for voice and story.

And those are two of the hardest things for an author to master.

So, if you have conflicting feedback — one judge loved it and the other hated it — consider two things:

1. Audience. The first judge was your target reader. She/he felt your voice and the story emotion. The second may not have been your target audience. Or the story just didn’t resonate with them. Consider the story is probably somewhere in between. Needs work but doesn’t need to be torched.

2. The negative comments might have validity even if said harshly. Try to read between the lines. Hear what they might be saying if you were sitting across from them in a coffee shop. If a judge says the story was cliche or the characters kind of flat, take that into consideration. But don’t read: I stink as a writer. ReRead your piece to see where the judge might have accessed that? Have someone else you trust read it.

3. Don’t give up!

What If All The Feedback Is Negative

1. Get feedback from someone you trust.

2. Consider that the story just didn’t work for some reason but look for the positive input as a starting point to rework the story.

3. Be willing to rework the story.

4. Kick a few cabinets… er, I mean, spend some time in prayer. Let God share your burden.

5. Make a plan if you don’t have one. Execute your plan if you have one.

Contests Are Just One Brick In The Publishing Road

1. I didn’t win any pre-published contests. But I managed to get published anyway.

2. I haven’t won that many publishing contests but enough to boost my confidence and add a few line items to my resume. But I’m still publishing!

3. Keep your eye on the prize — getting your book in print. On God’s GOOD plans for your life. So keep working. Realize that publishing takes time because you’re not just putting words on a page, you’re learning a craft. You’re telling a story about pretend people that will touch real people’s lives.

So hang in there! You’re well on your way!

Go write something Brilliant!


THE WRITING DESK

Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.

The Physical and Psychological Story Journey

by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck 

One of the ways you an improve the appeal and power of your characters for the reader is to create a realistic psychological journey that is mirrored some how in the physical journey of the protagonist.

Is your heroine learning to trust? Then show how her external world challenges her trust issues. Maybe she has a job where her colleagues constantly let her down. Perhaps her family says one thing but does another.

Every reader will be able to identify with not being able to trust someone.

What if your hero is dealing with identity issues. He’s a failure. He believes he can’t succeed at anything. Develop a world around him that proves, at least for a little while, what he believes is right.

In the movie Die Hard, John McCain is a tough NY cop who wants to do what’s right. He’ll fight for justice. When he decides to fight for his marriage – a bit of justice going on there – he finds himself defending a hostage company against terrorists.

John McCain’s psychological journey is mirrored in his physical journey. At first, it’s easy for him to play the hero, fight for his wife, until the battle intensifies and ultimately he has to make a decision to save himself or save his wife.

We see and feel his psychological, or inner journey, come to life when he’s willing to give everything for love. The external journey pushed him to make that choice. And we cheered him for it.

In The Proposal, Margret Tate’s psychological journey to love and trust is mirrored in the physical, external journey, when she convinces her assistant editor to marry her in order to keep her in the country.

She doesn’t realize it but she’s leaping before she thinks. Her heart is leading her mind and body in to a place she’s not quite prepared to endure.

But as she physically acts out the plan, she psychologically – emotionally – changes. She cannot lie to the people she loves. She cannot trap a good man like Andrew Paxton in to marrying her for her own gain.

We love her for this. She’s chosen the right thing to do.

In my book The Wedding Dress, the 1912 heroine, Emily, is marrying the man she thinks she’s supposed to marry. This external journey reflects her internal belief that she must marry well, take her place in society and honor her family.

But, she knows deep down her fiance is not the right man for her. This psychological element is reflected in the physical element as Emily fights to get the wedding dress of her choice. In doing so, she crosses the very social and cultural boundaries she claims to be abiding by in her marriage choice.

We cheer her for this. We love that she wants to make her own choices no matter what society says.

Take a look at your characters. Are you mirroring their physical and psychological journey? This is one of the major issues I see when working with new writers.

Many times my main input from a therapy session is to work on the “story spine.” In other words, line up the physical and psychological journeys.

How do you do this?

  1. Spend some time thinking about your character. What do you want him or her to accomplish in this story? How is it best reflected externally?
  2. How is your story goal best reflected internally? What internal conflicts will the protagonist bear?
  3. Sit down with your favorite books and movies and write down how the psychological journey was reflected in the physical. Start looking for these things as your read and watch.
  4. If your protagonist is bad at love, create a world that reflects her weakness. Look at Bridgett Jones in Bridgett Jones Diary. She was bad at love, bad at her weight and eating goals, bad at her job, but she stayed with it.
  5. Create a “story spine” where you create a high level outline of what you want to happen in this story. This is the physical journey. Then create a corresponding psychological journey and attach it to your story spine.
  6. Keep it simple. Write a log line. Write the positive and negative virtues of your character. “Leslie was bad at love but she never turned her back on a friend.”
  7. Take your time to develop this. Improve it as you work on other parts of your story. These interlocking elements will make your story shine.

THE WRITING DESK

Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.