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 kitchen sink
An apple tree
A bluebird  

Thursday's Tips: Questions for your Opening Scene

Story openings can be very confusing. There are a few unasked questions an author must answer in the opening pages of a story in order to hook readers. 

Have you ever started a book and wondered what was happening? I mean, you could see the story playing out, but the point-of-view character’s mission wasn’t clear. Brings me to my first item. As you’re writing your story’s opening, help the reader connect with the story by giving them an idea of the character’s goal in that scene, of the “mission” they’re on. This applies to genres outside of suspense. Even a trip to the grocery store to pick up milk classifies as a mission. Give us something we can relate with. So, first question: 

What is my point-of-view character’s mission in this scene? 

Second question relates with the entire book, but must be revealed in your story opening: your story question. I’ve covered story question on this blog before. (Tip: Use the Search box at the top of this blog and search for keywords: story question.)

Are you clear on your overall story question? First, verify that you are, and then include this element in the opening pages. Story question helps engage readers, gives them another reason to keep reading. It’s very important to include in your opening pages and will keep you on track as you write the entire story. Remember, as soon as you answer the story question, the story is over. Wind down quickly following that and let your readers go. So, second question:

What is my story question, and how did I represent it in the opening pages of my book?

Next area is characterization. What makes readers care for my character? How have I made my character relatable, noble, respectable, or otherwise likable so that readers will keep reading? Characters must undergo an arc or transition from the opening of the story to the ending. So, they don’t always begin the story in a likable way. But we’re expecting our readers to keep reading. That’s challenging if all they see are the rough edges and annoying quirks. So, give characters a likeable or relatable element, something noble that helps us connect with him/her. This will help keep us reading. Ask yourself:

How have I helped endear my main character(s) to readers?

Part of the reader’s job as a story opens is to get a sense of story world, or setting. Readers want to picture it. Characters might be trapped in a dark cave underground, and readers will still require some type of description, preferably one laced with emotion so we feel what the point-of-view character (POVC) feels  while being trapped there. The descriptors should not be overly long, and don’t even have to be visual (as in the cave example), but they should be included so readers can immerse themselves in the story. This is part of the enjoyment of reading. Give this to your audience, and they’ll come back for more. So, as you are crafting that opening scene where you are setting up the story world for your book, ask yourself:

Where are the characters, and how have I grounded the scene in that location? How have I helped readers experience it? And how have I used setting to aid the telling of my story?

Deep POV will help ground readers in the character’s perspective and should include at least one anchoring emotion so readers can relate immediately. Some definitions: deep POV is point of view (perspective or “camera lens”) that helps us experience the story from deep within the character. There are some tell-tale signs that a story has not been written in deep POV. For example, the narrative should never read: he thought or she imagined. Instead, just give us the line. 

Lack of deep POV: 

If she ran any faster she was likely to trip, he thought. 

Deep POV:

If she ran any faster, she was likely to trip. (Leave off the final phrase. Notice the punctuation changes as well.) 

(Tip: For more on deep POV on this blog, use the Search box above and put in keywords: deep POV.)

The other definition is for anchoring emotion. An anchoring emotion (my term; others may call it something else) is one that is relatable for most readers. It’s universal. Most people have felt it. If you can dig into your character’s heart and find a universal, fitting, believable emotion for the situation they’re in (the situation the inciting incident sets off), you will hook readers. So, let’s say your POVC (point-of-view character) is a mother to a three-year-old daughter who has gone missing. This scenario is a great well for universal emotions. By assigning the strongest, most relatable anchoring emotion to this scene, you will hook the most readers. Then, let us feel it with her. The best anchoring emotion might be fear. What will happen to her daughter? No one loves her like the POVC does. No has the protective instincts the POVC (mother) does. How will the POVC live without knowing her daughter is safe? How will she keep breathing? How will she keep from panicking so she can help the investigators? Dig deep and feel the anxiety so you can translate it in a few lines on the page. (Don’t overdo it.) Anchor the scene, the POVC, and the reader in that emotion, and you’ll have engaging fiction. So, ask yourself:

Have I used deep POV? (For more info on this, just Google “Deep POV & Writing.”)

And have I used an anchoring emotion in this scene to hook readers?

This list of questions should give you a good start. So, take a peek at your opening scene and double-check. How would you answer these questions?

Write the Vision ~ Wednesday

With the fall of the year a familiar passage from Ecclesiastes often comes to mind. But today it struck me how these verses can be applied to writing.

A time to be born, and a time to die;    There is always that "birth" of a story, and there's that time to put one to rest, whether it's that last I dotted, or you dust one off, read it, and decide to move forward without that particular story.

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;   Plots and subplots, they are definitely planted. You have to plant them in the right place and tend them so they'll grow and flourish. I planted peppermint years ago, now the side of my house is a lovely peppermint garden. Its pervasive and difficult to remove. If only there wasn't so much of it. Yearly I have to "pluck up" the mint. Subplots can be like peppermint they can take over, so it's very important to know when to pluck lest a subplot runs wild.

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
It's hard to know which stories you have started to let go and which ones to say "I can fix that." And as we "heal" we have to break down the story, then we can rebuild by reinforcing along the way.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
Doesn't every story, every plot need depth and emotion?

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 
A time to rend, and a time to sew; 

This is where you look at your finished manuscript and edit.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

Happy Writing as you go through your week,
God Bless

Thursdays Tips: Formatting

It was such a pleasure to meet some of you at the recent American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference. Whether we met at the conference or not, perhaps you’re gearing up to submit a query through our on-line system (the only way to do so). Here’s the main link for submissions to Pelican Book Group: Once there, choose the imprint you’d like to submit to:

White Rose Publishing: Christian romance 

Harbourlight Books: Christian non-romance

Watershed Books: Christian young adult (YA) fiction 

When I was first writing full-length manuscripts and getting ready to submit them to houses, I wondered how to format them. Back then, there were few resources for finding out. But here are some tips for you, in case your editor asks to see your manuscript:

~ MARGINS: One-inch margins all around. Also, turn off “widow/orphan control” in Word so we truly get that one-inch bottom margin. 

~ NO TABS: Please do not use tabs (or repeated spaces) anywhere in your manuscript. Instead, for first line indent, highlight the entire manuscript and find the direction for Indentation: Special: First Line. Now, go back through, highlight scene separators (# or ****) and chapter headings and just pull the top margin marker back to be flush left so the element is truly centered. 

~ NO END-OF-LINE HYPHENS: Please allow your word processor to determine line length. Do not right justify and do not hit “enter” or “return” until you’ve reached the end of the paragraph you’re typing (or for chapter headings and scene breaks). Please do not go through and insert end-of-line hyphens on words. With different formatting, they could end up be-ing off.

~ PARAGRAPH SPACING: Normal paragraph spacing involves a block of text and an “enter” or “return” command followed by another block of text. There should not be an extra space (empty line) between paragraphs. 

~ END-OF-CHAPTER HARD PAGE BREAK: Immediately at the end of every chapter, insert a hard page break (CTRL+enter in Word on a PC). This will help ensure the layout stays correct throughout.

~ CHAPTER HEADINGS: Begin the chapter heading halfway down a new page. Use “Chapter One” (and so on) for headings. Titles are fine. Just center the title below the chapter number. Then, drop down two "returns" and begin the text. If we contract the title, we’ll change that a bit, but for ease of reviewing, this is a helpful format.

~ FONT: Use Times New Roman 12-point font. Exception for me is that while I was reading at conference, Courier New 12-point font was the easiest to read in that condensed amount of time with distractions all around. 

~ OVERALL SPACING: Set the entire manuscript (by highlighting all) to double space.

~ AFTER PUNCTUATION SPACING: Use one space after punctuation like periods, colons, question marks, etc. 

~ QUOTATION MARKS: Insert punctuation before quotation marks. Use double quotation marks (“ or ”) for dialogue, or to set information apart that is not in dialogue. If you’re already in dialogue and need to set something apart (an additional quote, for example), use single quotes. Do not use single quotes outside of dialogue. 

~ NO BOLD: There should not be any bolded text anywhere in your fiction manuscript. 

~ NO UNDERLINING: Fiction manuscripts should be void of underlining.

~ ITALICS: Use italics sparingly. Use it for present-tense introspection and the occasional emphasized word. That said, it’s best to write the sentence and surrounding sentences so the reader automatically emphasizes the key word. 

~ NO REPEATED WORDS: One of my personal pet peeves is repeated words within a short span (say, four pages). Use a thesaurus or rework the entire sentence in order to avoid repeated words. Lack of repetition is the sign of a strong writer who has learned to take the time to find those synonyms that keep the writing fresh.

~ AVOID REDUNDANCY: Nearly the same as the previous tip, but this one involves expressing the same thought in another way. If our heroine has already ruminated on something once, don’t reword the worry and include it again and again. Dig deeper and give us something more that relates with the heroine’s angst, or move on with the action.  

All that being said, we know that when you cut and paste your first chapter into our online system, the formatting will not match these requirements. However, if we ask you for the full, it’s important that it does. 

Having these elements in place helps us in the review process by making our time more efficient. We look forward to seeing your submission!

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 beach house
A starfish
A hurricane  

Write the Vision ~ Wednesday

Just some words of comfort today as you write...

Psalms 34:17 ~ The righteous cry , and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.

Romans 8:17 ~ And if children, then heirs; heirs of Godand joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together 

Job 34: 28 ~ So that they caused the cry of the needy to come to Him, and He heard the voice of the poor

Mark 4:39 ~ And rising up, He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Peace, be still. And the wind ceased: and there was made a great calm.

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

I haven't blogged in a bit, and I'm so happy to have this opportunity to return as the blogger for Tactical Tuesday.

In preparing for this blog, I thought long and hard about what advice I could give with regard to self editing. Then it hit me: the best advice I can give to authors tweaking their manuscripts to make the greatest impact upon an editor. Punctuation, grammar, and spelling are important. Having a handle on the elements of story telling such as character, plot, conflict, and point of view are imperative. Still, there is something that must be done before any self editing can occur.

An author must put into concrete form their dreams, their ideas, the stories that burn in his soul, that ache to be born on paper. You can't edit the ideas in your head. You can change your mind. You can play what if and take the story in a different direction, but not until it is down on paper can you make it into the work of art all authors want their stories to become. Let's face it. Authors  write--on paper. Daydreamers dream--keeping the stories inside their heads.

So, today, I'm asking you to self edit yourself. Take time to put your daily routines on paper. Be honest. Do you pick up your phone or your iPad to play Angry Birds or Words with Friends? Are your posts on Facebook and Twitter part of your word count for the day?

Do you volunteer, give of your time to others? Do you critique? Are you a beta reader? How about volunteering for organizations that help mentor to writers? How about working for and having fellowship with members of your church? Helping others is never wrong. Most often when we give from our heart we get back ten-fold, especially when God is in the endeavor. The key to helping others and avoiding the feeling of being put upon, is to realize that to become a writer, to tell the stories that God has placed on your heart, you need to put aside time for the creation of story. Scheduling that time and preventing others from taking it from you (as much as is possible) establishes some boundaries for you as well as well-meaning family and friends who might encroach upon that time.

Really, it's fine to enjoy life outside our strange little writers' worlds, but if you find that five hours of your day are devoted to activities that fail to move your writing career forward, you may want to reconsider your priorities. Five hours of optimized usage of time can equate to quite a large word count.

The key to self-editing our schedules is to prioritize. Add blocks of time to your day to play those games that call to many of us, to visit the social networks, to mentor others, and to fellowship with family and friends. Review your daily routines. Discover when you write best (my best writing time is between 6:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. when I'm least needed by family and friends, but that isn't always practical). Also, remember to schedule time to exercise. Creativity seems to explode when the blood isn't rushing to the rear sitting in the chair and instead courses through our brain cells.

Each of us have demands on our lives. Some lucky folks, write full time. Some hold down a job and a myriad of family and other obligations. The key to self-editing ourselves and revising our schedule is to decide when and how much time can be devoted to writing. Even a hundred words a day can add up. Oh, and no! Posts to Facebook or Twitter don't count. I know. I polled my writing friends. None would allow me to get away with it. However, they did think me clever for coming up with the idea. But honesty won out in the end.

Happy editing.

We're Celebrating

Another year has past...can you believe it? October first marks our 3rd milestone. Come celebrate with us. Shop October 1st, 2nd and 3rd using code Anniversary2012 and receive 50% off every eBook in stock.

What a way to begin a blog post, right? Well, there are exciting things happening at PBG, and I'm, well...excited to share our many blessings. On this third anniversary of Pelican Ventures acquiring White Rose Publishing, we're getting ready to announce the winners of the Fall PreView giveaway, and this week our Fall books hit store shelves everywhere. DEVOTION by Marianne Evans and WISDOM TREE by Mary Manners are two must-reads! You may think I'm being biased in saying that, since I am editor-in-chief, and I do say it about many of our books...OK, all our books (I can't help it. I must be honest, and we publish some awesome authors.); but trust me, these books are keepers. Check them out.

What else is happening? What, two books in stores and 50% off all eBooks isn't enough for one week? :) Well, I'm itching to tell you about our Watershed Books launch titles, but I'm going to hold off on that for now. (Our YA line will debut on our next anniversay: Oct 2013). I don't want to ruin the surprise. For now, let's just celebrate the wonders of God and the beautiful blessings He's bestowed on us. 

Yesterday at church, we listened to a reading from Mark's gospel where Jesus says to the Twelve "There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us." (Mark 9:39-40) The Apostles were a little put out because "someone else" was baptising people in Jesus' name. While the meaning of this event and the surrounding Scripture, in context, have a vast and awesome meaning, something personal struck me with these words of Jesus: Being for Jesus is what PBG is all about. Our publishing deeds may not be mighty--or they might be, who knows?--but while all involved strive to promote the Gospel and to glorify God, we avoid "speaking ill" of Him--even if that "ill" is just a self-centered, depressed grumble. Our authors, from writing that first draft to polishing a final edit or rechecking a galley, are working for Jesus. Our editors, from evaluating a submission to editing a contracted manuscript--to composing a resubmission or rejection letter--are working for Jesus. Our readers, who may pick up one of our titles solely for entertainment purposes, are for a time, emersed in Jesus. And when we are with Him, when we are for Him, we are not against Him. This is what I love about this company. The business of books is, let's face it, in the short run, insignificant. But when we place that insignificant offering in His hands, for His purpose, it becomes infinitely...more.

When we are for Him, His blessings flow with abundance. Will there be hardship, opposition, failure, grief? Absolutely! Life is life. But the beauty of spending hours with Christ while we write, and edit, and read, is a gift beyond price, and yet still only a fraction of the beauty that awaits us.

As we celebrate another year of Christ's blessings on PBG, my hope for you is that you see Him today in all you do, in those with whom you interact, in the mundane and the fantastic. Be for Jesus today, because He is for us...and if God is with us, who can be against us?