Write the Vision ~ Wednesday

It’s that time of year for Standardized Tests...Administered to students year after year, checking progress, numerically assigning how well or poorly a student is progressing.

I’m so glad God doesn’t require them.

Can you imagine?

Below is a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Choose the response that BEST answers the questions.

Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

1. Which of the following BEST describes this passage?

a. You reap what you sow.

b. Plow and prepare a garden before planting.

c. It is good to feed birds.

d. You are the sower and the seed is the Gospel.

I thank God this isn’t the case. No matter what the questions, how hard or easy, when the standard is Jesus and the life He lived, we’d never measure up.

But we can be sowers and all of you who write about God changing lives are sowers. And I thank God for each person who puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Everyone who writes about God’s love.

And remember as in the parable of the sower, while not all the seeds grew—those that did find good ground brought forth a great deal of fruit.

May God Bless Each of You,

Happy Writing!

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

Writing Fiction 101 says that nothing goes into the story without a reason, including description.

Many new authors get lost in the details. The story stops for what I like to call tiptoeing through the tulips. If a reader gets bogged down in heavy desciption, she will skip right out of the garden.

Careful editing demands that the author pay attention to the details. Some questions to ask when reviewing your manuscript are:

1. Does the description belong in the scene?

Whether it is a person, a place, or a thing being described, there must be a reason. The more detailed the description, the more important that person, place, or thing must be.

Whenever description is utilized, the author must decide how much detail is necessary. If the location is important to the dark mood of the tale, the mood is set by describing not only the surroundings but the conditions. A woman walking through Central Park on a dark night who feels a stalker on her heels is not going to see the beauty of the moon. She will see the dark clouds from under which the moon's glow is diminished. The colorful flowers she hurries past will not catch her attention as much as the spindly branches on the leaf-barren trees.

However, if the mood isn't as important as character, that is where the description belongs: Mary hurried through Central Park avoiding the gaze of the passersby. She wrapped her tattered brown coat around her and stared down at her faded purple tennis shoes. The worn soles caused her feet to blister against the rough sidewalk. With a hand that hadn't seen water or soap in over a week, she ran her fingers through her greasy hair. So life had come to this. Six months ago, she'd been a high-ranking executive in the country's largest mortgage firm. Now, she lived in a cardboard box in an alley, and she had no idea what to do next.

If the surroundings are merely a place for a scene or the characters to have conflict, the description should be kept to a very minimum. Include only those areas of description that are necessary.

2. Is the description told through the correct point-of-view (POV) character?

This is especially important in describing a character. For John to describe himself in detail seldom works. Why? Well, because people do not normally stand around thinking about their description. If John, in his POV, thinks how ruggedly handsome he is with the strong tilt of his chin and his wavy dark hair, he better be a very arrogant, self-centered character because that's how he will be perceived. A device used by some authors is to have the POV character see himself in the mirror and describe himself. This is overdone. However, it can still work if the author has a good reason, like say, John has been beaten to a pulp by the town's bully. John might peer through a slit in his swollen eyes and describe what he finds horrifying about the new arrangement of his face by the bully's knuckles.

3. Does the description stop the reader in his tracks much the way a back story dump of information will do?

Always, always, always move the story forward. In the example of Mary walking through the park, did you notice that the description moved with the scene. Don't let description stand still unless there is a purpose for it.

If the heroine simply wants to find an island of peace, and she has found her port in the storm, the description can be the movement: Mary took a deep breath and inhaled the island air. The palm trees swayed in the coconut-scented air. Seagulls squawked, circling overhead. The sun beat down upon her shoulders. She raised her hands upward. She'd come through the storm. She'd traded the cardboard box in the alley for a small beach house in the open spaces of paradise, and she'd helped others like her do the same.

As you edit, check your description. An honest author will realize when they are prone to skip out of the garden of their own prose.

Happy editing.

Make-A-Story™ Monday - This Week'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.

An old book
An letter that solves a family mystery from the past
A little red wagon

Thursdays Tips: Harvesting Your Hard Times

Authentic emotions. These are some of the toughest elements to include in a manuscript. Why? Because writers, like most of society, do not like to be transparent. (I can relate to this too, since I write as well as edit.) Makes us too vulnerable.

But if we don’t, we’ll probably hear something like this from our critique partners, or editors: I’m not feeling the emotion in this scene.

So, it’s back to the writing cave to scratch out a new version. Only problem is, if we restrain our own emotions again, we’ll have the same problem over and over, manuscript after manuscript. Have you heard the saying, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”? There’s a reason for that.

Let me share a surefire way to overcome, once you’ve decided to dive in, no matter what it may cost you (which choice is in itself one of the most heroic elements of being a writer!): Ask yourself the following question:

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do? Before we continue, do I have your permission to dig deep…? Thank you.

Maybe it was read the eulogy at your own child’s funeral.

Or put your aging dog down.

Or face the doctors for some life-changing news.

Or carry on after a car accident that claimed your family.

Or face your birth mother who tried to abort you.

As you read that list, what happened? Suddenly the brevity of the earlier paragraphs of this article faded and a heaviness settled, I’m guessing. It did for me.

That heaviness is the first step to accessing hidden, buried emotions. Once you do, you can infuse those painful, tragic scenes in your writing with the same gut-wrenching emotion you felt going through a painful time in your own life. And if you can pair up similar situations, all the better. (Ex. Your eight-year-old character’s cat was just hit by a car and when you were a child, you lost your pet tragically as well.)

Same is true for more minor emotional elements in stories. Like the first day of kindergarten for your youngest child. Nobody died, but I imagine you still cried. Or that first week of the empty nest.

So, the key is to put yourself in the shoes of the character who is suffering and somehow get in touch with your own life experiences and the emotions those situations brought out. This will take courage, but your writing will be stronger for it. Ready? Roll up your sleeves, grab a box of tissues, access that painful stuff and… write!

Write the Vision ~ Wednesday

For a few weeks my computer has been freezing. Late last Thursday I found out why. A young man showed me the video card. The fan was askew. It had melted. But...he had good news-"No damage done and there's another video card in there anyway."

It occurred to me this was yet another example of Matthew 6:24
"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other..."

My computer could have been destroyed. Trying to resolve which card to use was too much. It overheated, could have caught fire, and was slowly destroying itself. Now that conflict, that other master is gone, it's once again zipping along, and it no longer has to make that logic test-which commands to obey. And that felt really familiar.

If conflict would do that to my computer--what does it do to me? I don't want to "freeze" or "overheat" or "meltdown" like my old buddy here. So through my computer, God provided an object lesson...in an amazing way and one I wanted to share today,

Happy Writing

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

Often the question is asked, "What books on writing would you recommend?" I tend to think books on writing are similar to exercise equipment. You can spend a lot of money buying the product, but you'll never get anything out of it unless you use the thing. A writer can buy all the books in the world written to help him learn the craft, but unless those titles are opened and studied, the money spent is wasted.

With that in mind, here are a few recommended titles to help self editors get the most out of their prose:

For Grammar and Punctuation:

Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliott, Ph.D.: This book was written to garner the attention of middle school students, but writers of any age will find the examples hard to resist and easy to learn.

Punctuation Plain and Simple by Edgar C. Alward and Jean A. Alward: This book is a practical, no-nonsense guide for all marks of punctuation.

Lapsing Into a Comma--A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things that Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them by Bill Walsh: Reading this book will make you feel like a junior reporter learning the ropes from a seasoned journalist--a grumpy seasoned journalist--but you will enjoy it.

The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier--How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing by Bonnie Tregna: This book will clear the confusion about passive versus active sentences and why every form of "to be" in your prose isn't as bad as most think. If you've ever scratched your head, wondering why a sentence shouldn't start with an "ing" form of a word, you'll find that you had a reason to be puzzled.

A Dash of Style--The Art and Mastery of Punctuation: Actually, I recommend every book by this author, Literary Agent Noah Lukeman. Did you know that a paragraph is a mark of punctuation? Well, it is, and you'll find out how important that mark of punctuation can be in your writing style by reading this book.

For Technique and Style:

No list for self editors is complete without The Elements of Style by Willian Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. As the front cover of most editions tell you, the book is small enough to carry everywhere, and writers should carry it wherever they go.

Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins: Learn how to make characters vivid in the imagination of readers by creating a movie in their minds.

The Plot Thickens, 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman: Learn about the importance of character, conflict, context, and other important elements that will make your stories zing.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell: Buy this book, read it, and use it. There are books I could and would recommend by authors such as Donald Maass and David Swain, but master this book first before you tackle the others. Mr. Bell puts it all into simple, easy-to-understand language with examples you won't forget.

Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder: Even if you have no desire to write a screenplay, Mr. Snyder's wisdom about back story is worth the money you spend, and you'll enjoy the book. Learn about the Dead Pope in the Swimming Pool technique, and your back story will never be the same.


Another book by James Scott Bell that I highly recommend is The Art of War for Writers. If this doesn't get you enthusiastic about your writing, nothing will.

Self-Editing Helps:

A must-have is Self Editing for Fiction Writers--How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and David King: If you haven't heard about this book, you've been hanging out with the wrong group of writers.

Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell is another easy to follow, example-filled book. This book delivers what the title promises in an easy, understandable format.

Another highly recommended book by Noah Lukeman is The First Five Pages, A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile: An industry insider's look at the elements and mistakes that agents and authors look for in the first five pages of a manuscript.

My last recommendation is one book every writer either needs on their shelf or in their Internet subscriptions: The Chicago Manual of Style, published by the University of Chicago Press. This heavy volume is the go-to for most publishers. If it isn't covered in a publisher's guidelines, a writer can be sure that publishers of fiction will use The Chicago Manual of Style in their edits. It is worth the expense. I own the current 16th edition and I've subscribed to the online version as well.

Now, because I feel I must, I want to clarify that I receive nothing in exchange for my recomendations of these books. These are just a few in my private library that I often share with authors.

I'd love to hear from you. What books on writing do you recommend, and why do you recommend them?

Happy editing.

Make-A-Story™ Monday - This Week'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 young war veteran
A playful dog
A mountain

Write the Vision ~ Wednesday

But now we see not yet all things put under Him. But we see Jesus—

Heb 2: 8,9

Years ago I heard a message entitled, “But We See Jesus.” It was taken from this passage in Hebrews.

Often over the years I’ve reflected on that message, that servant of God sent to point out that truth, that while things may not be perfect around us, that while now we see through a glass darkly, there is hope by looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

God Bless you all

Happy Writing

Make-A-Story™ Monday - This Week'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 cat
An umbrella
Running in the woods