Thursday's Tips: Intentional Writing

One of our jobs as writers is to ensure we’re saying what we mean to say. That we’re intentional about so many things. Here are some elements we want to be intentional about:

Word choice. The longer we write, the more exacting we are with ourselves. We used to overlook simplistic nouns or verbs, figuring we’d “fix” them or enliven them in our second draft. But the longer we write, the more we concern ourselves with the right word for the situation from the outset. This diligence pays off in the later drafts where we can focus on the big-picture elements. As you’re writing, ask yourself: do my words represent what I’m literally trying to say? If not, rethink and rework them. Editors will help with this, but handing in a strong project upfront saves time and gives your writing an advantage.

Theme and message. Please include well-developed themes and messages in your stories. Feel free to communicate them in clever ways. But, ask yourself: am I conveying the theme I intended to convey? Be intentional about this as well. Also, our goal is to be subtle with our message. Let your readers draw the lessons as they can. Jesus used story to help change lives, but he didn’t explain every detail. He let his listeners (or readers of the Bible) deduce their own takeaway value.

Logical flow. Readers want to make sense out of your story world. They want to lose themselves in the “fantasy” of your fiction. If the story doesn’t progress logically, they can’t. Ask yourself: am I presenting the story in a logical way? Show action first, reaction second. Don’t describe how someone sounded before they spoke. Speech tags should follow speech. Keeping secrets is fine, so long as your readers aren’t totally lost. It’s a tough balancing act, but with practice you’ll be able to retain secrets and readers.

Entertaining. Don’t lose sight of this sometimes overlooked item. We’re not writing non-fiction. We are writing fiction. Fiction entertains. Be intentional about that. Anytime the wording goes toward preachiness, catch yourself and revert to writing fiction. Giving our readers an emotional, entertaining read will make them loyal to us, bringing them back to our novels in the future.

Word count. If you have a word limit for your current project, make each word count. Don’t use “fluff” (i.e. redundancy or too much description, etc.) to fill in the spaces. Also, readers prefer not to wait until the very last page for a resolution to the story question. They may think that’s too rushed.

Genre choice. Do you know what genre you’re writing in? Genre informs story content because it’s rooted in reader expectations. Editors, agents, marketing specialists, publication boards all need to know what genre you’re writing in so they know whom they’re targeting with your novel. Confirm your genre and then write to its norms. A key here is to read extensively in your chosen genre. If you write Christian romance novels, read a multitude of them because that will give you intel you won’t gain elsewhere. While you’re reading, study the elements that make the story work, that make the story flow, that satisfy the reader. Study what’s acceptable in the Christian marketplace (which varies greatly, especially in this genre, from the secular marketplace), etc.

Writing time. You’ve heard it before. Writer’s write. So be intentional about when you’re going to write every day. Writing every day helps writers grow in their craft, find their voice, etc.  

Craft study. Give yourself opportunities to study writing craft, through whatever methods: writing conferences, workshops, how-to books, etc. Good writers continue to grow in the craft as long as they’re writing and publishing work.

These are just some areas where intentionality is important. Can you think of others?

What I Learned at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference

Just got back from the Colorado Christian Writers Conference in Estes Park. Marlene Bagnull and her volunteer staff did an excellent job of shepherding the flock of conferees and faculty--hundreds of people and dozens of workshops and continuing sessions. They did have a few hiccoughs along the way, but nothing nothing that ruined the conference. We are triumphant!

My trip to Colorado was fraught with a few hiccoughs of its own. First, at 5AM I lost grip on my curling iron, dropped it on my eyelid and have a nice little burn there as a souvenir. Lovely--head to the conference looking like Quasimodo. (wasn't too bad. Praise God for eye shadow). Then, on the trip up, I got a migraine. Wasn't too bad, though, and since I wasn't driving, it didn't delay the journey. It was gone by the time we arrived, although, for a while I was a little loopy in that "day-after" state. Of course, things didn't end there. The next morning, I dropped the curling iron again. This time onto the back of my neck (did I mention my hair is shorter than it has been in a while?). So, then I had a burn on my neck, also, so I looked like Quasi from the front and the back! Sheesh! (anyone think I should avoid metal rods glowing with heat?) But none of that took away from the conference experience...oh right, this post was supposed to be about things I learned at the conference....

  • There are so many talented up-and-coming authors out there who have a heart for Christ. It's refreshing.
  • Reading instructions is a good thing. (Kind of like reading submission guidelines :) )...Hopefully the recording of my session will turn out OK even though I wasn't wearing the mic for a good five-to-ten minutes. (The sound guy said it was fine and also said I wasn't the first one, which made me feel better. Why is it we're comforted by others making our same mistakes instead of saddened that the mistakes are repeated?) And, thank you to Loree Lough for allowing me to use her synopsis as a sample. It really saved the presentation.
  • Statistically, movies that show Christianity in some type of positive light do better at the box office than those that have no mention of Christianity at all (there is hope, after all.) Many producers are now including Christian references, and, even if it's solely to make money, it doesn't really matter what the motive is as long as the true message is getting out there. Amen? (I think that's also indicative of the continued up-swing in Christian publishing.)
  • I can be a cafeteria with hundreds of 5th graders and not implode. (although, there were a few touchy moments when I thought I might just spontaneously combust--oh wait, that was probably the heat emanating from the burn on the back of my neck.)
  • Did I mention there are many talented authors who have a heart for Christ? It was so great to see the enthusiasm and dedication to writing Christian content that these men and women share. I can't wait to read the submissions that will be coming along shortly. And it was a blessing to get to meet a couple of PBG authors: Davalynn Spencer and Eddie Jones. I hope to meet others of you at some time in the future.
  • And, the number one thing I learned at the conference? God is working through so many people in so many different ways that we have everything to rejoice and nothing to lament. (OK, I already knew that, but the reminder is a total adrenaline rush.)
  Happy writing everyone. Keep the faith. Write for Him. Rejoice in the obstacles that are thrown in your path as you go about your Christian witness. Remember, if the devil ain't messin' with you, you're doing something wrong, so rejoice when those stumbling blocks are tossed at your ankles.  I thank God for each of you PBG authors and staff. You are all awesome!

Write the Vision ~ Wednesday

Part 1
Moses was one of the great writers of the Bible, and we all know the story of the Exodus. Looking back we see the amazing things he did when led by God. Can we find inspiration and tips from the writings of Moses?  
How exactly did he start? Did he just grab a pen and recount his life? How did he know what to write?

  • Moses Saw a Burning Bush...

Sometimes story ideas are like that--a plot that burns like a flame in the mind of the author.  You start to write and like Moses, you've said “Here I am.”
Exodus 3:4 And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
  • But Why Me?

Perhaps as you get into the manuscript you have self doubts. “Lord, who am I to write this story?” That’s what Moses did. He had doubts and a general lack of confidence. Just because we have doubts doesn't mean we're on the wrong path. Moses wasn't.
Ex 3:11 And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?
  • What if others don’t believe I should be doing this? How can I prove I should?

What if people think you shouldn’t do this? Well, if someone else should be writing your story, would you have seen that burning bush? 
Ex 3:13 And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?

  • What if after I've done all this no one listens?

What if my books don’t sell well. What if no one wants to read them. Again self doubt  gets in the way.
Don't let the what if's rule your life. "What if" hasn't happened. Don't let it stop you.
Ex 4:1 And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee
  • Am I really qualified to do this?

Moses had a learning curve, so does any writer. And learning never really stops. This is such an amazing question, because it keeps you sharp as a writer and challenges you to hone your skills. 
Ex 4:10 And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.
  •  God's answer is an encouragement and  a promise...He's there for you.

Ex 4:11 And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?

  • And what happened then?

Moses told his family and they were all happy—actually no. He didn’t get a lot of support. His wife didn't seem happy at all, but he kept going knowing that God had called him. 

Happy Writing

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

Do you know the old adage about lawyers who represent themselves? Well, the same is true of writers who depend upon themselves to find every error in their manuscript. It can't be done. Even two pairs of eyes can overlook blatant errors.

An author can hire a freelance editor to review his work. The cost of editing varies depending upon the type of edits provided. If an author has confidence that plot holes are covered, plot devices are firmly affixed, and the story presents all the elements that make it worthwhile reading, a copyedit may be all that is required. However, if the author knows the story needs structural help, a heavier edit would be required.

Another solution, one that doesn't cost any more than your time and friendshp is found in critique partnerships. Put a manuscript into the hands of five or six competent critique partners who will look at different aspects of the story, and an author has a very good chance of coming out with a novel that demands attention. The key word in the above sentence is competent.

This isn't to say that if critique partner A doesn't catch something that critique partner B has latched upon that A is less competent than B. Critique partners focus on different elements of the story. These elements are usually the ones that are their strengths, or they are weaknesses they are working to strengthen.

Competence comes in knowing the what, why, and how of grammar rules and the art of storytelling. For example, there is no value in a critique in which all forms of "to be" are highlighted and labeled passive. Competence requires an understanding that passive sentences are sometimes needed and that not all forms of "to be" are considered passive. Competence also requires a critique partner to understand the author's voice as well as a desire not to destroy that voice with their own.

Not all critique partnerships are the same. Some writers prefer to work soley on the elements of storytelling and leave the copyedits to others. However, having a critique partner who searches for the missing marks of punctuation as well as the glaring plotholes, is a great asset.

Authors should always edit their work to the best of their ability. Then the work should be turned over to a professional editor or to trusted critique partners who are not afraid to tell an author what is wrong (and right) with their manuscript.

Until next time, happy editing.

Make-A-Story™ - Monday's Writing Prompt

Writing to spec – you’ve heard the term. It means writing what the publisher wants. Can you do it? In our new feature - Make-A-Story™, we ask you to create a story with these elements. The story can be set in any time frame, any length, must adhere to our guidelines and have our standard Christian world view. A little, old-fashioned schoolhouse A stack of firewood A troubled young girl

Thursday's Tips: Pray

Christian writers have an advantage: prayer. 

And yes, we should pray for our own writing, for direction, for open doors. We can pray for the right connections while remembering to serve as we network. 

Here are a few more suggestions for your prayer list this National Day of Prayer (and beyond):

* Pray for Christian publishing. Editors, agents, publishers, publishing boards, reviewers, publicity and marketing specialists could all use prayer to help get the message of hope in God into the hands of readers. 

* Pray for fellow writers. Great thing about the kingdom of God (including His family here on earth) is that we are not in competition. There aren’t a limited number of spaces; there’s room for everyone. Each of us has a specific calling. So, lift up your fellow writers, asking God to give them favor and insights, wisdom and breakthroughs. Their breakthrough is yours too. 

* Pray for readers. Truly, this shouldn’t be last on the list. As you’re writing, pray for your reader. Pray you’d pen the words that will minister to someone else. Isn’t that the ideal use of your calling in the hands of God? Pray readers’ hearts would be open and attentive to the Holy Spirit’s nudging. Pray that God would touch readers while they read Christian fiction. Jesus used story to change lives. And isn’t that what we’re doing? 

Dear wordsmith, this National Day of Prayer, don’t miss the opportunity to join with millions of people who are praying to the God who created the world with words. And know that the Pelican staff prays for you.

Write the Vision ~ Wednesday

What is the best way to go about writing Christian fiction? There are many guides out there and many ways to hone your skills, but a bullet list for the Christian writer is found in I Thessalonians 5:17-22. It’s concise, to the point, and easy to follow.

Pray without ceasing
For any writing endeavor, writing what is God’s will from a Christian perspective is necessary. Have you ever noticed how many little distractions come along? Pray. Pray for inspiration, encouragement, and pray to write what is needed on that page.

In everything give thanks
You may dread critique groups but remember the verse about iron sharpens iron? A true partner may say something that’s hard to hear. But better a critique partner than a reader, right? I always think of The Fellowship of the Ring where Bilbo accuses Gandalf of trying to steal the ring of power. And Gandalf answers, “I’m not trying to rob you. I’m trying to help you.” You friends and partners are the same, they’re not trying to take away part of your creativity, they’re trying to help you write the best you can.

Quench not the Spirit
Plotter or pantser—you have to know to write when the Spirit moves you.

Despise not prophecyings
Often we shy away from writing about Spiritual gifts – don’t

Prove all things
Also know as Suspending Disbelief. A character can do anything a story can go anywhere but you have to build up to that point. You have to prove to the reader, sure there are eight seconds on this bomb and my hero can diffuse it. And you do so by showing early on he’s had weapons training, etc. Don’t use the “Bill and Ted Effect.” You can’t put in a solution magically. (For example “Remember when we get back to the future we need to put mom’s keys in my pocket.”)

Hold fast to that which is good.
Why do we write? To create inspirational fiction that helps others. Granted just because your character is a Christian doesn’t make them perfect, but “Holding fast to good” should be the goal.

Abstain from all appearance of evil.
If your character is a Christian they need to act like Christians and if they’re not, they need to be moving toward that conversion experience. This is also can be a major point of conflict, as in Joseph’s life while he didn’t do anything with Potipher’s wife he couldn’t prove it. But this is often an excellent starting point for a story or a way to further the plot.

May God guide you in each and every word you write and remember “Faithful is He that calleth you.”

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you