Confession. I have not yet read The Fault in Our Stars. I’m sure it’s a lovely book. Everyone I know is talking about it. And I haven’t read it for the same reason that I’ve never made it all the way through A Walk to Remember, and The Notebook. My chest constricts just thinking about it. Tears well up in my eyes and I start wandering the room for chocolate. I’m not a fan of sappy.
I know, I know. So many good books I’ve missed out on because I don’t like to face that raw emotion.
Then there’s my temper. I teach teenagers. I’m paid not to lose my temper. And with that, I’ve learned to let things roll off my shoulders. It takes a lot to make me mad these days, which makes it really hard to write a dramatic scene in a novel.
Yet, I’m working on a scene where I need to vamp it up. And I’m stuck. I guess I’m going to have to grab some tissues and force myself to read a few of those sappy books.
Joe Bunting, founder of The Write Practice, wrote this article on writing about raw emotion. His first thought was to draw inspiration from music. That, I can do. I can actually listen to songs that evoke that sort of emotion as I write. I’ve never been a playlist writer, but I know that writers are. Bunting suggests using repetition and restraint to convey the emotion. I like the thoughts, but I felt like the article could have given a few more examples. So I Googled on.
Nevermind that when I searched (when should a character let emotion go) and found Elsa, or (when should a character break down) and found Twilight.
But finally, I came across this little gem: Character Rants and Breakdowns–Let ’em Rip by Beth Hill. I realized how much of the problem is me–holding back my own emotions, so I hold back the emotions of my characters. Writing and reading is an escape. Catharsis is acceptable on the written page, and it will lead readers to compassion for my characters.
This reminds me of Romans 12:15, one of my favorite verses on compassion.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
It’s exactly what readers want to do. Now, to push my sleeves up and make them feel that scene.
A friend asked a few days ago what drives me to write Christian young adult fiction and not mainstream. Though I’ve touched on this topic in another post, one thing I didn’t mention is my deep concern that many people claiming to be Christians are not reading their Bibles anymore. They’ll say, “Oh, I saw that in a blog post,” or “I read about it in a book.”
For me, there’s only one Book, THE Book, that serves as the source of my faith. Blog posts and commentary are only manmade opinions, just as this one is. And if I’m to have a platform, that’s it. Read your Bible. More than that, write its words on your heart–Memorize Scripture. Anything I write now, or in the future, will have that message somewhere within its pages.
I drew inspiration for my work-in-progress, Cavernous, from several different sources. One was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which to me, is one of the scariest concepts–the banning of books.
In Cavernous, several US states have seceded to form their own country, the Alliance of American States. Adrian Lamb, the leader of this new nation, has printed his own Bibles, keeping only the Scripture that suits him. And sadly, many of the so-called Christians in the Alliance have not read the Bible enough to even detect that parts are missing.
Just like firefighter Montag in Fahrenheit 451, who becomes the “back-up copy” of the book of Ecclesiastes, my protagonist, Callie, carries Scripture in her heart. Thus, she’s able to resist Alliance brainwashing, since she knows what pieces are left out.
This morning, I read from Deuteronomy 11.
13 ‘And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. 15 And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.’ 16 “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, 17 lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.
18 “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.19 You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 20 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.–Quote from NKJV, accessed from BibleGateway.com
Verses 18 and 19 could well be my mission statement. Lay up God’s words in your heart and soul, keep them in front of your eyes, teach them to your children, speaking of them continually, write them where people can see them.
Through the Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes program, my husband, children, and I have participated in an event called “Centurion of Scripture.” The goal is to memorize 100 Bible verses in a year. It seems a daunting task until you push up your sleeves and start learning verses, but after that, it’s actually pretty easy. Think about what a better life we’d all have if everyone wrote the words of God on their heart.
I was critiquing a writing piece a few weeks ago and the person had an action-packed chase sequence. It wasn’t terrible, but the sequence happened over a three day span and the characters didn’t make any stops to eat or sleep.
Which was… UNBELIEVABLE. Let me tell you, if someone was after me and I had to run, my almost forty-year-old body is in trouble. I can make it about a quarter of a mile before I’m panting like a dog on a hot summer day. I’mresourceful–I might be able to trip my stalker and knock them into a mailbox or something, or grab a large brick from someone’s flowerbed and aim where the sun don’t shine. No way a story written about me could justify a character going through a three day chase scene like that.
The point is, it’s important to think about the reality of a character physically being able to handle the challenges we put them in.
I remember reading about the jump Tris made in Veronica Roth’s Divergent (which I loved), and being a little disappointed in the impact description.
I hit something hard. It gives way beneath me and cradles my body. The impact knocks the wind out of me, and I wheeze, struggling to breath again. My arms and legs sting.
The physics teacher in me felt like there might be some rope burn from the net, maybe a few bloody scrapes. Maybe she’d wobble her first few steps or something? I mean, I know that “hottie” Four frees her from the net, but then she goes on the tour, and there’s no physical remnants of her dauntless acts.
So, the other day I had a conversation with my sis-in-law about an upcoming trip we’d like to take with the kids–an eight mile hike. She advised me to prep for the trip, cautioning that it would be difficult for an average person to just jump in on a hike like that without any training.
Makes me think about the characters in my story–a teenage girl, on the run, hiking four or five miles off-trail. I’ve added all these setting details, but I’ve basically just taken them from point A to point B. They rest, they sleep, but I’ve forgotten to add those touches of realism–aching feet, blisters, sheer exhaustion–that would keep my character from seeming larger than life.
So many tiny little details to think about when writing a story.
Going back now to reread the whole thing and look for places to add sore elbows and feet 🙂
So… a few weeks ago, I was named Area Coordinator for the Eastern Kentucky branch of ACFW. Whoo hoo! Other than the only other Christian writer I know of in the area is the girl who teaches across the hall from me. Lots of work to do!
Today was an amazing day. A friend and I joined three writers at a quaint little bookstore/bakery to find out a little more about what needs to happen in an ACFW chapter. I can’t stress enough what a difference this organization has made in my life. The free classes, the contests, the encouragement–like anything else, you get what you give, but I’ve received some fantastic feedback and feel closer than ever to my goal of someday publishing.
One thing that stands out to me from the day–
As we got to know each other, we laughed and told stories. One of the ladies kept exclaiming, “That sounds like a great first line!”
I think about first lines all the time, stress over them, in fact. But this woman, within a span of about 30 minutes, had already turned our simple conversation into several great ideas. So, a new challenge for myself and anyone who reads this. Every day for the next week, just listen to everyone around you. Pay attention to their quips and greetings, and find as many great first lines as you can.
At times, people on forums will make comments that something I’ve written might sell better in a secular setting. In no way do I mean I’ve experienced any persecution from critiquers. On the contrary, most of them have been highly supportive and more than fair. Still, I get the occasional one to ask why I’m so bent on publishing in that market. Other than the obvious, “Well, I am a Christian,” I had to stop and think about what that answer might be.
One reason, I guess, is that I love to read Christian fiction. There’s not a good way to explain this, but writing is sometimes as good as reading. The characters take over my fingers and I get caught up in their journey as if I’m reading someone else’s work. I enjoy being moved by someone having an emotional response to what God has done for them and growing in their faith. If I write it, I get to feel that way with the characters I’ve developed, and it’s more personal.
Second, I want to write things that will make my parents proud and that I don’t have to hide from my children. I watch or read about some of these people on TV (for about 10 seconds before switching) and it makes me wonder how they can do it. Surely their parents cover their eyes or don’t tune in at all. Surely they don’t want their children to see their inappropriate pictures and read their crass talk. I try not to judge, but I don’t understand.
But then I got to thinking about the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, and how God gives us our gifts to use to glorify him. So now, my answer to that question is how can I not write Christian fiction?
When the cast of Duck Dynasty became a household name, and I read some of their comments about why they were willing to put their family on national TV to share their faith, and the message really hit home. A lot of Christians complain that they’re trying to talk to people about God but they aren’t listening. Say what you will about Phil Robertson, in spite of his lack of tact. He’s got people listening who probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
If I publish one book and one person reads it, sees my bio, and decides to figure out where my faith comes from, then it’s worth everything I put into it.
My dream is to write a Young Adult novel with that Hunger Games feel that will speak to young Christian women and encourage them to embrace a steadfast faith.
Many thanks to everyone who is supporting me on this ride!
Over Christmas break, I read the Divergent series. The first two books were fantastic. The third one, Allegiant, just made me mad. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read the book, but even more than the plot twist, I was frustrated by the sudden shift to one-page chapters.
This begs the question–how long does a chapter have to be? Where do you break the story? Obviously, Veronica Roth is successful and a one page chapter was acceptable to her publishers. Still, could someone who is trying to break out with a debut novel get away with it?
I’ve struggled with this question a lot myself, and I’m certainly not the expert, but here’s what I could find.
According to Brian A Klems, with Writer’s Digest, there’s no specific rule. It just needs to deliver the plot and move the story forward, kind of like an act on a TV show. http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/how-long-should-novel-chapters-be
That’s easy enough advice to follow, but leads to a follow-up–how do you know where to start and finish the act?
The best definitive answer I’ve found is from Randy Ingermanson, author of Writing Fiction for Dummies. http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/writing-the-perfect-scene/
He divides a chapter into two levels of structure, the scene and the sequel. The scene, he divides into goal, conflict, and disaster. The sequel is comprised of the reaction to the disaster, some kind of dilemma, and a decision made by the character. Then, the suggestion is to alternate between the two.
What I’m not sure of, and experimenting with in my own story, is whether the chapter should be divided between scene and sequel, or at the end of the whole process. I’d love for anyone who has expertise to comment and advise the rest of us.
You’d think writing about a real-life event would be easy. For some reason, though, every time I try to do this, people say it’s not realistic. This makes me just want to scream and say, “Wait! But it really happened. I’m telling the truth, promise!”
The truth is, it’s not about that. It’s more about how well I’ve anchored the characters to the setting and established their traits enough that it’s believable they’d do something like that. For example, lets say two friends were walking down a crowded street and one man sees a car coming toward the one. Instead of dragging the friend out of the way, the guy shoves him toward the car.
Well, if you’ve painted that character as a villain, great. It would make sense for a bad guy to do something like that. But if it’s a preacher that everyone loves and trusts making the same action, then you’d better put in some internal reflection to back that action up before you have him do it.
So here’s what I’ve learned about credibility.
1. Don’t tell it just like it is. If you’re writing a story, you have to embellish details a little bit. One reason is that real life is sometimes bland. The other reason is because writing a story is like looking at the event through a different lens. In the same way that touching a picture of an apple isn’t the same as holding it in your hands, a few words on a page cannot do justice to the real-life emotions you feel and the body language, gestures, etc. that you experience. So, you have to add those in to paint a better picture.
The funny thing is that a lot of times I do a great job convincing readers that something completely impossible has happened when I can’t make them believe the truth. I think the problem all goes back to lazy writing. If I already know what it feels like, then why do I need to make extra effort to describe it? Well, believe me, that extra effort makes all the difference.
2. Fiction is supposed to be, well, fiction. It’s important to respect the privacy of your friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers. There’s nothing like writing something less than flattering about a friend and having them blatantly deny its truth. (Not that I’ve done that, ha ha. I’ve just seen examples of it). Some of my Kentucky friends, for example, are offended when I put dialect into the story. Sure, we really do talk this way, but it might be uncomfortable to see it in print. A story can be like a mirror, and no one wants to stare at a bad reflection.
Only 3 this time 🙂
3. Details make all the difference. Good writing should make you feel something, like you’re experiencing it right there along with the author. It’s hard to believe something that doesn’t “take you there.” Use all the senses (thanks Kimberly Grenfell! Best advice ever!!!). What do your characters smell, taste, feel, touch, and hear. If you can describe them in a way that the reader seems to experience them, they’ll be drawn in to the story.
Personal side note. This has been a lot of fun. Keep the questions coming. If you want, you can comment directly on the site instead of sending me a Facebook message. The comment box is at the top of the post, a gray speech bubble just to the right of the title. Or, if you want to ask privately in a message, that’s fine, too. 🙂
Have a blessed day! Upcoming: Stalking All Your Friends
Stay tuned for another look into the Mind of Mynk