The Art and Craft of Christian Fiction (Week 4)

It was tough to wake up today. My bed was warm and my house was cold.

It was one of those days when the moment I sat up I started planning when I was going to catch a nap. This isn’t my typical Saturday morning. Usually I wake up excited about my writing routine and about making some progress toward my goals. I normally wake and make a pot of Highlander Grogg and get right to work. Monday through Friday I’m on someone else’s schedule, but Saturday mornings are mine.

Today was not that day.

I stayed in bed a little longer than usual. I had just enough time to jump in the shower before my daughter’s basketball game. As I teetered on the edge of an illness I found myself losing interest in writing today. I made a promise to myself that I would take some meds, eat some food, and then write. So here I am.

Armed with my drink, a long to-do list, and some home remedies I am reading through two new chapters in The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke.

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Change the Metaphor You Use For Yourself As a Novelist

As a novelist I tell stories. I write and I edit and I put in long hours to create a story that will hopefully resonate with readers. It’s easy to call myself a storyteller, but the issue with comparing myself to someone sitting around a campfire entertaining friends with tall tales is that I don’t tell my stories with the spoken word.

Stories that are told are different. There’s a lot of summarizing and telling vs. showing. You can dwell on certain details that don’t fit well into fiction writing. Telling a ten minute story should look vastly different than a novel. Novelists need to arrange scenes, build suspense, and forge connections between readers and characters. In that sense we are more like movie directors. We set the stage, cast the characters, and decide where the camera is focused. A true novelist creates a movie in the mind of their reader. Writers are not storytellers. We are movie directors.

Should You Write What You Want or What the Market Wants?

This week I attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting. The question which headlines this chapter of Gerke’s book came up in my small critique group.

If your ultimate goal is to get published shouldn’t you look for what is selling in the market?

The answer is simple, yes; however, yes is only the answer if your ultimate goal is to get published.

That means that the question you should really be asking is: Why do I write novels?

For me, I write because it is a gift that God has given me. I write because there are stories in my heart that God wants me to share. I write because it’s who I am. To be a published author of multiple books is a goal of mine, but I would never want to achieve that at the cost of my why.

I have to believe that the stories God has given me are from Him. I have to believe that if it is His will that I pen these stories that someone will want to publish them. I have to view my writing as a ministry before a business. If it takes years to find someone who publishes my stories so be it. If there is one thing I’ve learned from the writing market it is that the author has very little control over who buys or represents their work. I would drive myself mad writing only to get published. If I’m going to be a writer for the long run I have to do it for me and my ministry. I can’t let my eyes get so focused on publication that the heart behind my work is lost.

This may not fit everyone’s writing journey, but for me this is why I write and why I will not let the writing market dictate my stories.

The Ameri Brit Mom

The Moral Point of View and Broccoli

This week has been a rewarding one in my writing career. I’ve recently joined an online critique group and have been overwhelmed with the positive and constructive feedback from authors and others aspiring to that title. I’ve met a few writing coaches who have helped me with my letters to agents and I’ve also developed friendships with other writers whose work I admire. Each morning this week I’ve awoken to feedback from people within the group from all over the world. This is something I have needed for a long time. I’ve been longing for a writing community and am so happy to have found a place that feels like home already.

As I open Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott I am happy to say that the wisdom I took from this week’s reading was received right on time. I had been struggling with a story I’m working on and trying to defeat writer’s block. I needed the reminders from both chapters today which encouraged me to look within myself for the moral point of view of my story as well as to my intuition in order to hear the voice of the character I’m currently wrestling with in my mind. I hope you will find my summaries of these chapters insightful!

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The Moral Point of View

“There is no point gathering an audience and demanding its attention unless you have something to say that is important and constructive.” (Lamott 108)

Within each person lies a moral compass. An internal directive which distinguishes between good, bad, and evil. Within each reader is the desire to interact with characters and conflicts that test that moral compass and strengthen its tendency toward True North.

Writing is an expression of our moral points of view as authors. We write about problems of our world and mask those things behind fictitious characters and settings. Our stories are born of human experience and blanched in lessons of life.

Although setting out to teach a lesson is seldom our goal as writers we become teachers in our craft as we highlight what is important to us in our novels. I love the quote above by Anne Lamott which speaks to the fact that our stories should all in some way reflect this life and apply to the grander scheme of humanity. There should be something to learn or glean from your work. So what are you trying to tell the world with your story?

Broccoli

One of the most important resources in a writer’s arsenal is their intuition. Many of us had our intuition suppressed long ago as children. Things that we were certain of despite their insanity were scoffed at by adults or peers in our lives. As a writer, you really have to reclaim that intuition. To write from a rational mind only is to create dull stories full of true conflicts and characters based on all of your friends (or enemies.)

When you are able to think outside of the rational, your characters begin to take on a life of their own. Your intuition surrenders to their lives and the world in which they live instead of controlling those aspects of the story.

Anne Lamott uses broccoli as a metaphor for her intuition because of an old skit with Mel Gibson when he is told to, “Listen to your broccoli, it will tell you how to eat it.” It’s the same principal with writing. If you try to dictate your characters and plot then you will end up with a drab reflection of reality. Listen to the characters in your mind. Let them have the freedom to write their own stories. Be the vessel that communicates on their behalf. Do not stifle the irrational mind.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Ringing in NaNoWriMo

In the writing world the month of November is known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) All over the world writers commit to spending time each day in the month of November working towards the completion of the first draft of a novel. I am planning to participate in NaNoWriMo in a small way this year by beginning the writing of my second novel, The Walk from Winleigh. I’m not entirely sure that by the end of the month I will have finished the entire first draft, but I am committing to making serious progress and focusing on fiction writing this month.

In honor of NaNoWriMo I have decided to post a little glimpse into this tale. The main character is Ainsley Saintclaire. She is from inner city America, but travels to England with her parents in the year 2035 after the death of her grandmother. What she encounters is beyond anything she expects. Here’s my teaser:

I tugged on my tattered shoe laces with considerable force. The journey ahead of me would require much from my combat boots. It was a two day walk to London from Winleigh, but if I had any hope of finding Mom and Dad it was absolutely necessary.

I closed the door of Grandma’s flat unsure if I would ever return. I took an extra long moment to leave her front porch. I took in the smell of the flowers in the pot under the window. They were the only signs of life around me. Above, the sky was grey and the street was littered with broken glass and neglect. If I ever made it back to Winleigh chances are this road would be only a memory. Things were getting worse by the minute. I had to leave now.

The light of the moon peaked through the clouds. I had approximately six hours before the rising of the sun and by then I would be halfway to Saliston, and could rest under the cover of some brush. I tapped my pocket. I could feel the folds of the map I had ripped out of an old atlas in Grandma’s library. My route had been drawn out as I planned to stay parallel to the M5, but out of sight in case a vehicle would brave the motorway. 

My feet finally descended the porch in front of 4 Wilson Road and dodging the light from the solar street lamps I set off toward London. 

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent. Always give credit where credit is due.

 

Dialogue and Set Designs

It’s been a long week and I’ve accomplished little in regards to writing.

I was looking forward to cracking open Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott all week. Her writing is so relatable. As I am working my way through her book I feel like she gets me. As a writer sometimes I see the world a little differently and Lamott does a fantastic job defining the role of a writer and making me feel like I’m not the only person who memorizes conversations I overhear or constantly writes prose in my mind as I observe the world around me.

Today as I read about dialogue and set designs I got excited about revisiting my novel Encounters on Park Bench and refining both of those aspects. Things are moving forward with my book and I’m currently in the process of getting manuscripts out to agents. I covet advice and well-wishes to help me get through this daunting process. It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of publishing, though, that I lose sight of the value of writing every day. I’m so thankful I have decided to read Bird by Bird, because it is igniting my passion for writing that has been snuffed out a bit by sending out query letters, receiving news of rejection, and waiting.

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Dialogue

Nothing is more telling about the characters in your story than their dialogue. You can describe them and their feelings until your hands fall off from overuse, but dialogue will be just as effective and use much less energy to produce. A character’s voice can reveal so much: how they feel, what they think, where they come from, what they enjoy, what they hate, how they dress, the people they spend time with, etc. The list of things that dialogue can tell us about a character can go on and on.

Something within a reader exhales when after pages of description they find themselves privy to actual conversations between characters. One paragraph of dialogue can reveal more than five pages of description. The beauty behind dialogue is that it can be so succinct, yet so informative.

The hardest part of dialogue is getting it right. Finding a character’s voice is no easy task. A reader will pick up on the inaccuracy of dialogue if it is there so you want to be sure that the voice you give your character is authentic. Nothing is more distracting than poorly written dialogue. Dialogue in a story should be a tool to propel the reader into the body of the character it should not be a distraction to the plot or sequence of events.

In my book Encounters on a Park Bench, finding the voice of my main character, Kurt, was the hardest part of the whole book. In my first few drafts I struggled to nail his voice. What background do I have with homeless men in Chicago? None. But it is through research and combing through my subconscious that I was able to finally hear the voice of my uneducated, broken, recovering alcoholic protagonist. His son on the other hand-an educated journalist-came much quicker to me.

Set Designs

As a writer it is unfair to think that you have to possess extensive knowledge on every type of scene you craft in your books. To expect that you could dream up a perfect paradise in Bermuda without ever having stepped foot on a beach is absurd. To detail the ancient ruins of China without the experience of wandering one Asian street is naive. The good news is that just because you haven’t been to these exotic or notorious places doesn’t mean that you are confined to only write from your personal experience. The Good Lord gave us friends, phones, and the internet as resources. Writers should write as much as possible on their own experiences, but then they may turn to resources when it comes to things beyond their knowledge. That’s what friends are for.

In this chapter, Lamott discusses a novel that she wrote about a woman who loved to garden. Like me, Lamott characterizes herself as a plant killer. Her knowledge of gardening is small and her experience minimal. In her strife to write about gardening she turned to a local nursery and partnered with a gardener to write and describe a lovely garden in her novel. Together they designed a set that was so accurate that Lamott’s readers were astonished to discover that she does not possess a green thumb of any kind.

Designing sets for our characters can be a daunting task especially if we limit ourselves to our own travels. I could never write a story on my own about a wealthy person living in California or a tale of a homeless man in Chicago.

As a writer, lean into your resources. Develop relationships and work with others to refine your work.  Dream up settings that you could never craft and work cooperatively with another to design that set. Writing is not a solo project.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

24 Book Challenge: A Mystery

The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This is book #12 from The Ameri Brit Mom 24 Book Challenge in 2016. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, or outside influences.

Title: Murder on the Orient Express

Author: Agatha Christie

Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright Date: 1934

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A true mystery fan would quickly recognize this title from Agatha Chrisite, one of the first original murder-mystery authors. Born in England, Christie began to use her resources to create some of the most compelling stories of crime and deception. I have read several books by Christie and must claim that among my favorites from her novels are those centered around Detective Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective. Murder on the Orient Express is one such novel.

En route from Syria to London, Poirot finds himself on the famous Orient Express. On his journey he is met with the most diverse of travel companions, but he fancies the conversations and life experiences he encounters aboard the train. One night, as the train was traveling just outside of Yugoslavia, one of the passengers is found dead in his compartment. Mr. Ratchett is an American millionaire and the circumstances surrounding his murder are puzzling from the first minutes of its discovery.

Poirot is summoned by the conductor of the train to establish a thorough investigation. Near his time of death, the train is halted by snow drifts and is hours from continuing its journey toward western Europe. During the train’s delay Poirot, Dr. Constatine, and M. Bouc, of the Wagon Lit. Company conduct interviews and examine evidence to piece together one of the most troubling cases of Poirot’s career.

As a seasoned Christie reader I found myself trying to think like Poirot throughout the entirety of the novel. My goal is always to come to the conclusion before Poirot does, and as always the clues to the solution were under my nose but undetected the entire time. Christie is the queen of red herrings and subtlety. Her work is genius and thrusts me into the murder mystery scene at full throttle. This is another great classic of Christie’s that in my opinion is only topped by And Then There Were None. 

The Ameri Brit Mom

Character and Plot

I love my Saturday mornings soaking up the advice and wisdom of Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. Her wisdom challenges me as a writer and gives me things to think about to refine my own pieces. As many of you know, I’ve written a book, Encounters On a Park Bench,  which is currently being marketed to agents and publishers. I will continue to edit and process this work until the day press meets paper. I’m also working on a second book, A Walk from Winleigh, which will be a young adult story. As I read through Bird by Bird I am compelled to strengthen my own writing and to heed the valuable advice from such a celebrated author. Today, I spent time thinking about the importance of character development and a character-driven plot.

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Character

The lifeblood of any work of fiction rests on the characters of that tale.

Characters are not developed over night. As a writer, it takes weeks, months, or even years to fully grasp the ins and outs of a character. To truly know the characters in your story you have to get down to the minute details and learn what makes them unique, why they act the way they do, and many other assorted details.

In my book, this was one of the most time consuming parts of writing. I started with an idea. I knew I wanted my protagonist to be a homeless man, but it took two years to really understand the many facets of his personality. His dialogue has been the most challenging bit of the whole book. As an English teacher, I’m a devout grammarian, but the thing with dialogue is that  it is an opportunity to further develop the personality of a character. Which means my homeless protagonist better sound like a homeless man not an educated instructor of secondary English. Refining dialogue is really all there is left to do in my story. I dread it the most because I know that much work still lies ahead.

A book will only be as strong as its narrator so be careful to develop a narrator that piques the interest of your reader.

Plot

Nothing makes a more compelling story than a plot driven by the actions of your characters. Sitting down to write shouldn’t be a task in which you know what will happen every step of the way. It does help to plan ahead a bit, but if you allow your characters to drive your plot it is impossible to know the climax from the start of the project. If you let your characters interact naturally the conflicts of the story will arise and the climax will form all on its own. It is glaringly obvious when an author pushes too hard his or her own agenda in a story. Focus on developing your characters and allow them the courtesy of moving the plot along.

“Your plot will fall into place as, one day at  a time, you listen to your characters carefully, and watch them move around doing and saying things and bumping into each other.”-Anne Lamott

As a final note on plot, Lamott gives the formula ABDCE (which comes from Alice Adams).

A-Action

B-Background

D-Development

C-Climax

E-Ending

This formula is meant more for short stories but can be tailored to fit the format of a novel as well. It’s a good starting point if you are a beginner, but it is also important to note that tethering yourself to a formula for writing will almost ensure that your story is plot driven as opposed to character driven. The latter is the goal.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Aristotle’s Rhetoric: The Irresistible Novel

I’m officially closing the book The Irresistible Novel after this post. It’s been a great journey over the past twenty-seven weeks. This study has no doubt helped to shape me as a writer and helped me to evaluate and form my own writing voice. The last idea discussed in this fantastic writing book by Jeff Gerke is Aristotle’s Rhetoric.

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Aristotle’s Rhetoric

According to Aristotle, there are three methods to move your reader along the path of persuasion and ultimately land them where you hope they will end up: at the end of your story.

In his first method of seeming credible, Aristotle states that a reader is more inclined to read your work if you at least seem credible in your subject matter. Your work should be perceived as accurate and trustworthy.

The second method of persuasion is all about putting your reader in the right mood and its importance can be summed up with, “the orator has to arouse emotions…because emotions have the power to modify our judgments.”(Gerke 218)

The third method involves creating a great case. Rousing emotion and curiosity will culminate in the creation of a great case balanced with evidence and testimony to the great story of the orator’s.

To Sum it all up…

As I close this book for the last time and finalize this in-depth writing study I want to remind you of all of the lessons I’ve examined from Gerke’s book.

Here’s a look at all previous chapters:

Chapter 1: Prologues

Chapter 2: Description

Chapter 3: -Ly Adverbs

Chapter 4: Purple Prose and Painted Paragraphs

Chapter 5: The Immediate Inciting Incident

Chapter 6: “To Be” Verbs

Chapter 7: Show Versus Tell

Chapter 8: Begin with Action

Chapter 9: Point of View

Chapter 10: Speech Attributions

Chapter 11: Outlining

Chapter 12: That

Chapter 13: Switching Between Story Lines

Chapter 14: Floating Body Parts

Chapter 15: Gerunds and Beyond

Chapter 16: Breaking the Fourth Wall

Chapter 17: Weasel Words

Chapter 18: Read Everything

Chapter 19: Elmore Leonard’s Rules

Chapter 20: The Big Enchilada

Chapter 21: Hacking Your Reader’s Brain

Chapter 22: Character Brain-Plot Brain

Chapter 23: A Brain Chemistry Story Map

Chapter 24: What’s It All About, Alfie

Chapter 25: The Monomyth

Chapter 26: Archetypes

In other news, next week I will be beginning an in-depth study of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve heard so much about this book and I look forward to expanding my writing skills and passion as a result of this book.

The Ameri Brit Mom

One Last Shot!

This is the final call for entries into my first giveaway!

I will be giving away a free copy of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke to one lucky subscriber who fills out the following form. Be sure to read all of the details before signing up!

Give Away Details

This give away is in response to a blog series that has received phenomenal feedback and readership throughout its course. If you are interested in writing, have written a novel in the past, or are simply curious about some of the finer points of writing please take the time to answer one simple question for a chance to win your very own FREE copy of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke

1. Complete this short survey. Be sure to answer all fields in order to qualify for the random drawing: https://goo.gl/forms/s9cvqiiuElCPdIq43

2. The survey will be open from Saturday 9/3 until Saturday 9/24 at 11:59pm.

3. The winner will be contacted and announced on Sunday 9/25.

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Archetypes: The Irresistible Novel

There is one more week left in The Irresistible Novel Giveaway and one more chapter after today to examine before the blog closes its 6 month journey through creating an irresistible novel.

What are some things you’ve learned from walking through the pages of this book with me? I’ll be summarizing some of my favorite lessons next week and would love to include some reader response. So comment and let me know your favorite chapter or an idea that has transformed your writing. Take a look at the details and enter the giveaway below if you are interested in a FREE copy of Gerke’s book for yourself.

Give Away Details

This give away is in response to a blog series that has received phenomenal feedback and readership throughout its course. If you are interested in writing, have written a novel in the past, or are simply curious about some of the finer points of writing please take the time to answer one simple question for a chance to win your very own FREE copy of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke

1. Complete this short survey. Be sure to answer all fields in order to qualify for the random drawing: https://goo.gl/forms/s9cvqiiuElCPdIq43

2. The survey will be open from Saturday 9/3 until Saturday 9/24 at 11:59pm.

3. The winner will be contacted and announced on Sunday 9/25.

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Archetypes

In the early 20th century, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung developed the idea of archetypes. An archetype is a type of person or character with which nearly every reader can identify. It doesn’t take much energy to produce and understand an archetype because these are all types of people that are familiar to us. In his theory about archetypes Jung came up with twelve titles with which a reader will easily identify. Some writers say there are more, but this is the original list:

  1. The Innocent-The person who is a child at heart. This person is oftentimes friendly, naive, simple, and honest. Their downfall is that they may be too trusting, childish, or dependent.
  2. The Orphan (or Every Man)-This character is the typical man or woman. Usually an archetype for a main character who comes from a life they believe to be mundane and unoriginal. They can play the “victim-of-circumstances” card, but also can become the hero of their story when they learn to live outside of the constraints of Every Man or Orphan.
  3. The Hero-This is the strong and heroic figure who slays the dragon and defeats the enemy.
  4. The Caregiver-The person who will sacrifice themselves for the good of the main character. These are people who put others first (usually for a living) through acts of service.
  5. The Explorer-Motivated by the unknown this person sets out on challenges and conquers new lands or feats.
  6. The Rebel-This is a revolutionary figure who stands in contrast to the society of your story. Their morals are often their driving force.
  7. The Lover-This is the person driven by emotions and passion. The pitfall here could be jealousy and the tunnel vision created by romance.
  8. The Creator-These are the innovative thinkers who spend their lives creating as a way of self expression. They search for the meaning of life and relationships through architecture, art, theater, and writing.
  9. The Jester-These are the comical characters that your brain craves in the thick of the conflict of the story. Their purpose is to bring some relief to an otherwise tense situation. They live in the moment and oftentimes make witty remarks and poor decision all for the good of the plot.
  10. The Sage-These are the scholarly characters who offer wisdom and advice to the main character in their quest to become a hero.
  11. The Magician-They may seem mysterious, but these characters harness the visions of the author and use their abilities and secret knowledge for good or bad.
  12. The Ruler-This person aspires to power through title, war, or many other means.

Your readers mind will readily identify with these twelve archetypes and many more. This is a good look at basic types, however, a simple Google search will bring up many many more.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

What’s It All About, Alfie? And a Give Away

As promised, this week is your first chance to enter to win your very own FREE copy of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke. Over the course of the past twenty-four weekends I have reviewed and summarized chapters from this book about writing your own novel. I have received permission from the author to offer my blog’s very first give away: a copy of his book.

Give Away Details

This give away is in response to a blog series that has received phenomenal feedback and readership throughout its course. If you are interested in writing, have written a novel in the past, or are simply curious about some of the finer points of writing please take the time to answer one simple question for a chance to win your very own FREE copy of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke

1. Complete this short survey. Be sure to answer all fields in order to qualify for the random drawing: https://goo.gl/forms/s9cvqiiuElCPdIq43

2. The survey will be open from Saturday 9/3 until Saturday 9/24 and 11:59pm.

3. The winner will be contacted and announced on Sunday 9/25.

*I will be posting this survey link on my blog periodically during the time that the survey is live.

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What’s It All About, Alfie?

“If a novel captivates a reader and keeps him enthralled until the final page, that is a novel with a chance…” (Gerke 178)

The Ameri Brit Mom