5 Ways to Spark Connections with Your Story

by Michèle Phoenix

1. Find a significant point of connection
As an English teacher, I was constantly telling my students to “write what you know.” By that, I didn’t mean that each one of their short stories, poems and screenplays needed to be autobiographical. What I was suggesting is something I’ve found to be true: if there’s a place, a character or an element of the plot line that links me to the story—so much so that I can write it out of intimate knowledge and personal identification—it will infuse the rest of the book with a sense of authority.
That’s exactly what I did in Of Stillness and Storm. My parents were missionaries to France for forty years, and I lived surrounded by devoted Christians whose hearts were in the right place, but whose priorities were sometimes obscured by their zeal to reach the unbelieving. Lauren and Sam—with their laudable strengths and deplorable flaws—are composites of the family friends who populated my childhood.
Did I have to do research into locations, lifestyles and medical details? Of course, I did. But ministry flows through my veins, and anchoring the book to that real-life knowledge helped me to write confidently and ultimately galvanized the creative process.
2. Look for “the spark” in unexpected places
To be honest, I’d wanted to write a story set on the mission field for some time, but lacked that illusive but crucial spark that becomes the impetus to sit down and start typing. I had bits and pieces floating around my mind—hints of personalities and shades of conflict—but it wasn’t until 2012, when I traveled to Kathmandu for the first time, the novel began to crystallize. I was struck by the beauty and brokenness of Nepal, and I saw in its desolate landscape and difficult living conditions a metaphor for the toll an honorable but reckless ministry can take on good people.
A story centered on a missionary couple’s personal journey from their first encounter to their moment of reckoning emerged from the geographical symbol I’d found while traveling for other reasons.
3. Let your characters teach you who they are
I’ve never been someone who carefully crafts characters before the writing begins, so for me much of the initial process is just waiting for them to reveal themselves. When Lauren first spirited her way into my mind, she carried with her the weight of a past I couldn’t wait to explore. Learning who she was and why she was became a powerful incentive to keep digging deeper.
Loving one’s characters, flawed and fallible as they may be, is also imperative. It empowers the writer to be courageous in exposing their struggles. Because I felt so devoted to Lauren, the evolution of her marriage to Sam was a story I strove to treat with unflinching honesty. The degradation of her bonds with a son she loved so fiercely was an aching exercise in resisting the urge to settle for happy endings. Aidan’s reappearance in her life was a complete surprise, even to me. But once he emerged with those four simple words—is it really you—he became someone I wanted to write boldly, a galvanizing presence in Lauren’s grappling with purpose and identity.
4. Step away, but don’t give up
Of the books I’ve had published so far (there’s one more coming in September 2017!), this is the one that was the hardest to write. Though the first drafts of other novels took me just three or four weeks to pour out, this one took me months. And here I’d thought familiarity with the context would simplify the process! There were times when I wanted to scratch it all and find another story to tell, but there was an intensity to Lauren’s “occupation” of my creative spaces that I couldn’t quell. So I powered through.
Once I found the courage to share what I’d written with select friends and critics, early feedback wasn’t all encouraging—though it was exactly right. When my college writing professor, who had volunteered to read an early draft, sent a rather bluntly-worded email to me, I realized my best intentions and efforts were not paying off. “I’m past chapter eight,” she wrote. “What will keep me reading? Is it coming soon?”
Oh, the temptation to throw in the towel—or throw out the Macbook! I set the manuscript aside for several weeks, perhaps hoping that leaving it unattended would cause a sort of literary fermentation to happen that would miraculously elevate the novel from boring to readable. Still, it tugged at my consciousness, the unfinished story crescendoing from a dull hum to an attention-grabbing screech. So when my period of pouting was over, I set to work deconstructing and reconstructing what I already had, shifting some scenes and deleting others, and generally distilling the book to its most basic, focused form.
Of Stillness and Storm was born.
5. Live around your writing
Writing is something I do. It is not the measure of my worth. Over the years, I’ve taught a handful of students who boldly declared, as Aidan does in the novel, that they—are—their—art. They were willing to rest their self-assessment and sense of value on an occupation that offers absolutely no guaranteed outcomes. How dangerous to base one’s identity on something as subjective and unpredictable as writing.
Though I’ve always loved the written word and fancied myself an author, I was fortunate enough to discover in my early adulthood that I have other strengths too—skills that have brought me a sense of purpose and productivity beyond the Russian Roulette of traditional publishing. Would my life still have meaning if Tyndale and Thomas Nelson had passed on my books? Absolutely—because there are other areas in it that motivate and fulfill me too.
Writing is important. It can be life-shaping and world-altering. So can kindness, investment in others and finding novel ways of using all one’s strengths for the betterment of self and others.

5 Ways to Spark Connections with Your Story by Michèle Phoenix (Click to Tweet)

Step away, but don’t give up~ Michèle Phoenix (Click to Tweet)

Born in France to a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle Phoenix is a consultant, writer and speaker with a heart for Third Culture Kids. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own advocacy venture under Global Outreach Mission. Michèle travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, mischievous students, Marvel movies and paths to healing. Learn more at michelephoenix.com Twitter: @frenchphoenix
Book Blurb:
“I felt torn between two worlds. Each with its own mystery. One more captivating than the other, but the other more real and breathing.”
It took Lauren and her husband ten years to achieve their dream—reaching primitive tribes in remote regions of Nepal. But while Sam treks into the Himalayas for weeks at a time, finding passion and purpose in his work among the needy, Lauren and Ryan stay behind, their daily reality more taxing than inspiring. For them, what started as a calling begins to feel like the family’s undoing. 
At the peak of her isolation and disillusion, a friend from Lauren’s past enters her life again. But as her communication with Aidan intensifies, so does the tension of coping with the present while reengaging with the past. It’s thirteen-year-old Ryan who most keenly bears the brunt of her distraction.
Intimate and bold, Of Stillness and Storm weaves profound dilemmas into a tale of troubled love and honorable intentions gone awry.

Going Deeper

by Carol J. Post

Before I was published, I used to enter a lot of contests. One of the first contests I entered, a judge said I needed to learn to write in deep point of view. I had never heard of it and had to look it up. I have to say, that is some of the best writing advice I have ever gotten.

Writing in deep point of view is not for the lazy. Not only is the concept difficult to master, scenes written in deep point of view also take longer to write, often requiring more words. But the result is well worth the extra effort. Deep point of view lets the reader experience the story through the eyes of the POV character. It adds sparkle to that character’s voice and gives the writing emotional punch.

The first step in deepening point of view is to fully know your characters. What do they want more than anything? What do they feel strongly about? What are their goals, motivations and conflicts? What about quirks, things that make them unique and memorable? Don’t just write about the character; become the character. (Click to Tweet)

Here are some tips for deepening point of view:

  1. Eliminate “telling” words and phrases. These are words like thought, felt, saw, heard, wondered, decided, realized, and phrases like was sure and was determined. All of these words and phrases distance the reader from the POV character, because the author is intruding on the story, telling what the character is experiencing. Instead of “He heard a gunshot,” try “A shot rang through the air.” Instead of “She felt sick,” try “Nausea churned in her gut.” Instead of “She was determined not to fall for him again,” try “No way was she going to fall for that dark charm again.”

  1. Try to describe emotions rather than naming them. This isn’t to say that you will never name an emotion, but showing the character feeling and acting is much more powerful. Abstract words don’t evoke emotion. When describing an emotion, consider its physical effects on the body, the actions and behaviors of someone experiencing it, and thoughts in keeping with that particular emotion.

In Out for Justice, the heroine, a homicide detective discovers that the latest victim of a serial killer is her cousin. Telling her reaction using a shallow point of view, we would say, “Lexi was shocked and horrified.” In deep point of view, the reader instead experiences those emotions with Lexi:

Lexi shook her head. The ground seemed to tilt beneath her and she took a stumbling step backward to steady herself. A scream of protest clawed its way up her throat, followed by a wave of nausea that almost brought her to her knees.
Alan’s words finally penetrated her befuddled brain, several seconds too late.
“Lexi, it’s Kayla.”

  1. Try to eliminate dialogue tags as much as possible. By their very nature, dialogue tags (he said, she whispered, etc.) are “telling.” Action and emotion beats show the reader not only who is speaking but also what that character is thinking, feeling and doing. Instead of “talking heads,” we have real flesh-and-blood characters. In the following snippet of conversation from Trust My Heart, the action and emotion beats give the reader insight into the characters that simple tags wouldn’t.

She picked up her coffee cup and washed the Danish down with a loud slurp. “So you’re single? No wife? No girlfriend?”
He cocked a brow at the intrusion into his privacy. But something told him this fiery-haired Bernie wasn’t much for convention.
“I’m not married.” He’d made that mistake once. Two years and a quarter of a million dollars later, he was once again single.
“Don’t worry, you’re still young.” She gave his hand a couple of pats. “You’ve got plenty of time.”
He stifled a snort. Thirty wasn’t exactly young. And if single was an ailment, he wasn’t looking for a cure.

  1. Incorporate sensory details. Showing what a character is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling is one of the most effective ways to immerse a reader into a scene. Choose two or three vivid details, but make sure they are things the character would reasonably notice at that time. Here is the beginning of a scene from Hidden Identity that incorporates the senses of sight and hearing.

Time moved at a snail’s pace.
Meagan sighed and dropped her gaze from the clock on the wall to the book of poetry lying open in her lap. Voices buzzed around her, and across the room, a mother tried to quiet a crying baby.

A half page later, the hero appears, and we have the senses of smell, sound and touch.

A familiar scent wafted toward her, the faintest hint of evergreen, tipped with spice. Her thoughts tumbled over one another.
“Mind if I interrupt your reading?” The voice close to her ear was liquid smooth, sending goose bumps cascading over her.

For more information on this topic, Kathrese McKee, author and editor, offers a great resource. She has written an amazing booklet titled Mastering Deep POV, which takes a passage, sentence by sentence, and transforms it from shallow to deep point of view. She offers the booklet free to all her newsletter subscribers. You can find her at http://www.wordmarkeredits.com/.

Now go back through your current work in progress and see how deep you can go. Reach into the heart of your character and tap into all that emotion. And step out of the way. Your reader will remember your story and characters long after THE END.


Going Deep: Elicit Greater Emotion Through DEEP POV by Carol J. Post (Click to Tweet)

Don’t just write about the character; become the character.~ Carol J. Post (Click to Tweet)

From medical secretary to court reporter to property manager to owner of a special events decorating company, Carol J. Post’s resume reads as if she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. But one thing that has remained constant through the years is her love for writing. She currently pens fun and fast-paced inspirational romance and romantic suspense stories. Her books have been nominated for a RITA® award and an RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Book Award.

Carol lives in sunshiny Central Florida with her husband, who is her own real-life hero, and writes her stories under the shade of the huge oaks in her yard. Besides writing, she works alongside her music minister husband singing and playing the piano. She enjoys sailing, hiking, camping—almost anything outdoors. Her two grown daughters and grandkids live too far away for her liking, so she now pours all that nurturing into taking care of a fat and sassy black cat and a highly spoiled dachshund.

Connect with Carol at her website, www.caroljpost.com, Facebook (www.facebook.com/caroljpost.author), or Twitter (www.twitter.com/caroljpost). For regular updates, sign up for Carol’s newsletter (http://bit.ly/2dKK9CE)

Book Blurb:
Grant McAllister arrives in Murphy, North Carolina, with one aim: to sell his inherited property and leave as quickly as possible. The big-city lawyer has no interest in his late, estranged grandparents or the dilapidated mansion he just acquired. After his high-profile divorce, he should be avoiding perky reporters, too. But Jami Carlisle is honest, funny, and undeniably appealing.
After breaking up with her safe-but-smothering boyfriend, Jami is determined to ace her first big assignment. A story about the McAllister estate is too intriguing to ignore—much like its handsome, commitment-phobic heir. Thanks to her digging, the pieces of Grant’s fraught family history are gradually fitting into place, but also upending all his old beliefs.
The two draw closer as they share their dreams, until misread signals and misunderstandings begin to test their trust. But in the unspoiled beauty of the Smoky Mountains, there’s healing and forgiveness to be found. And for Grant, this unplanned detour may be just what’s needed to finally guide him home…

Accountability? I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Accountability!

By Michael Ehret @writingfineline

“Accountability breeds response-ability.”—Stephen R. Covey

I fear accountability.

There, I’ve said it. I need it; but I avoid it. But it hasn’t always been so.
Early in my time at Bethel College (Indiana), I was invited to join a group called the Writers’ Accountability Network (WAN). Members of WAN began each month by sharing their goals for the next four weeks. At the end of that time, we all reported on our success—and where we didn’t quite measure up. In between, we encouraged each other.

I’ve never completed so much writing! In fact, while a member of that group I wrote the first draft of my novel.

What happened?

As I took on more responsibilities professionally—a good thing—I soon found myself over-committed—a bad thing—and left the group.

I’ve worked on the novel sporadically since then, never with the intensity and commitment of those days.

So I’ve learned something: I need accountability to be productive. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us: “In the same way that iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend.” (The Voice). That was the benefit WAN provided.

I need to make changes. I need to embrace, again, the power of being a good sheep. Here’s how I do it. Maybe it will help you.

Setting boundaries

The biblical idea of Jesus as our shepherd and us as His sheep has always resonated with me. I have sheepy tendencies. In WAN, we were all sheep within the same pen. The fences (goal-setting, accountability, encouragement, and reporting) helped us be good sheep together.

These are the fences I need to build now to get back some of that accountability.

  • Fence 1—Television: I can’t give up it up entirely, but I can cut back by at least an hour or two a week. (Can’t give up Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy—that’s good writer TV!)
  • Fence 2—Social media: It’s time to wrestle my e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter addictions to the ground. There’s an important place for social media, but too much of any good thing can be a problem.
  • Fence 3—Mornings: While in WAN I got up early to write for an hour before reporting to my job—and it worked. I completed the first draft. I’m not sure that will work with the job I have now, but how can I repair this hole in my fence?
  • Fence 4—Accountability: This is the gate to my sheep pen. I need writing partners, other sheep, who will make sure I do what I say I’m going to do—and who’ll cut me no slack when I don’t.

Speaking of accountability: Who are you accountable to? What is your favorite accountability tool?

Michael Ehret has accepted God’s invitation and is a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. In addition, he’s worked as editor-in-chief of the ACFW Journal at American Christian
Fiction Writers. He pays the bills as a
marketing communications writer and sharpened his writing and editing skills as a reporter for
The Indianapolis
News and The Indianapolis Star.

Sharing the Wisdom ~ Six Tips I Learned From Frank Peretti ~ Carrie Stuart Parks

Six Writing Tips I Learned from Frank Peretti.

by Carrie Stuart Parks

Between 2004 to 2015, I was blessed abundantly by having the New York Times bestselling author, Frank Peretti, as my mentor. He’d never mentored a writer before, and I’d never written fiction before, so it was a learning experience for both of us. Frank, in his forward to my first book, A Cry From the Dust, wrote this:

“From then on, every few weeks, she hollered at the back door, “Knock knock?” then brought in a case full of pens, highlighters, post-it notes, her computer, and pages of manuscript – her homework, a copy for her, a copy for me.  She read aloud, I followed.   I commented, she listened and scribbled notes all over her work.  She dubbed me “Master” and herself “Grasshopper” after that old Kung Fu TV show, but we were both new at it: she’d never written fiction and I’d never taught it.  The learning was mutual.  

And I guess it worked out.

Her perseverance alone was deserving of success, but she became a writer because she knew – and I knew – she could do it.  She had the flair, the imagination, the whimsical, inventive, sometimes zany ability to go to other places in her mind and come back with the unexpected.  She was a creative explosion sure to go off somewhere; all I had to do was aim her.”

Wow, heady words of encouragement to a newby writer! So let me share some of the great writing tips from the mouth of the master himself: Frank Peretti.

  1. Slaying Dragons. Your protagonist must face the bad guy. I recently read a suspense/thriller where the protagonist was rescued from the villain. That’s a weak resolution, and I threw the book across the room. The protagonist must defeat his/her own dragons.
  2. Hero. Your protagonist must be a hero, not just someone that gets beat up. Add the first two ideas together and you’ll find the bones of a great story. The reverse: defeated protagonist who has to be rescued is an unsatisfying novel.
  3. Action. If something doesn’t move the story forward, delete it or rewrite it so it does. You can’t stop and smell the roses in a novel—you’ll lose your readers. Descriptions, backstory, setting and so on must always be propelling the novel forward.
  4. Proactive. You really want the protagonist to figure out who the villain is, not wait for the villain to reveal himself. Your protagonist needs to be proactive.
  5. Elastic mind. The first book I labored over for six plus years had originally had a murder in the third chapter. Frank said to have the murder in the first chapter. What? I had no idea how to do this. I worked and worked, finally moving the body to chapter two. Nope. Frank wanted it in chapter one, preferably on page one. Be elastic in your thinking about your story.
  6. Nothing in stone. Frank didn’t teach me this by telling, but by showing (a little writer’s humor…okay, so very little humor.) Print out your working novel on recycled paper. I remember he gave me something in writing that was printed out on the back of one of his stories. OOOoooooohhh! Aren’t his words written in stone and sacred? Nope. Anything you write can be re-written. There are other, and probably better ways to say something. This is an application of tip five-elastic thinking.


Carrie Stuart Parks is a multiple Christy finalist as well as a Carol and Inspy award-winning author. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic, award-winning watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Mentored by New York Times best-selling author, Frank Peretti, Carrie began writing fiction while battling stage II breast cancer. Now in remission, she continues to encourage other women struggling through the effects of cancer.

Animals have always been a large part of her life. Her parents started Skeel Kennel Great Pyrenees in 1960. Carrie inherited the kennel and continues with her beloved dogs both showing and as an AKC judge.

Book’s blurb.

Gwen Marcey takes death in stride. Until she’s faced with her own mortality.

Forensic artist Gwen Marcey is between jobs when she accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky—a small town facing big-city crime. But before Gwen can finish her first drawing of the serial rapist who is on the loose, the latest witness vanishes. Just like all the others.

Gwen suspects a connection between the rapist and the “accidental” deaths that are happening around town, but the local sheriff has little interest in her theories. When her digitally-obsessed teenage daughter joins her, Gwen turns her attention to a second assignment: going undercover in a serpent-handling church. She could get a handsome reward for uncovering illegal activity—a reward she desperately needs, as it seems her breast cancer has returned. But snakes aren’t the only ones ready to kill. Can Gwen uncover the truth—and convince anyone to believe her—before she becomes a victim herself?

In a thrilling race against time, When Death Draws Near plunges us into cold-case murders, shady politics, and a den of venomous suspects.