Writing Tip — Start With Action

Like a lot of new writers, I began my stories with two misconceptions: (1) That my characters were fascinating to everybody, and (2) I should start my story by showing my characters following their normal routines. Once readers got to know my characters, I’d bring in the problem or event that changed their ordinary lives and kick off the plot. I didn’t think I needed to start with action

Now I know better. My characters will never fascinate readers in the same way they do me, just like my kids will never fascinate the other people the way they do my husband and me. Also most daily routines are boring. Boring readers for a couple of chapters, if they last that long, should not be the goal of any writer.

Looking back, I see why I started like that. It was easier to introduce characters and backstory without having a pesky plot to deal with. Dribble in characters and description and backstory while the plot is under way? That’s hard!

At first, I didn’t think I could do it. But as I pushed through revisions of my first novel, it became a game. What nuggets of information could I drop into this scene that would flesh out characters or settings without slowing the plot? Rather like a snowboarder surfing the half-pipe and judging how many moves she can work in without losing momentum.

When I came to write “A Rose from the Ashes”,my YA mystery, I had several false starts. I need to start with action but which one? A mystery should be mysterious, but if I wasn’t careful, I easily could go from mysterious to confusing. I’ve set aside many novels in which the characters in the first chapter know a lot more than I do. Instead of these hints of a bigger story being intriguing, they are just frustrating. I give up.

I decided to keep the opening scene simple. I stopped trying to be clever. I described the scene as my main character experienced it. Here’s the first paragraph:

Glancing left and right, I crunched across the frozen weeds to the abandoned children’s home. I could not afford to be spotted now. If only I could take a few seconds and snap some pictures. The light from the early December sunset was perfect. Gashes of blood-red light seeped through the clotted clouds, creating an ominous background for the gray stone building that was rumored to be the scene of a murder.

So I start with my main character approaching a derelict building and not wanting to get caught doing so. Why doesn’t she want to get caught? There are many reason readers can imagine, and I hope that was enough of a hook to keep them reading. Readers don’t know who the narrator is yet and don’t have to at this point. The character’s fear of being spotted and the creepiness of the scene puts the reader in the character’s shoes and keeps them reading.

If you have an opening paragraph with action, please put it in the comments below. Or if you’ve read a particularly effective opening with action, please share it!

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, M. Liz Boyle

Today my new author is M. Liz Boyle, whom I also met online. Last year, Liz published her first novel, a YA adventure. Welcome, Liz!

What do you consider your first story?

When I was about 7 or 8, I made up a cartoon about a ladybug and a worm named Sarah and Crawler, but the plot was pretty bland! Growing up, I worked on several stories after my Sarah and Crawler days, usually about horse-crazy teenage girls. The bonafide, full-fledged story that I consider my first is a Christian YA novel entitled Avalanche. The plot is much more developed than my earlier stories!

What do you think is the main difference between a writer and an author?

A writer’s work is more for personal use than for sharing, and an author intends to share his/her work with the public. When I hear the word writer, I picture someone lounging in the grass using a pen and paper. I think authors start that way. When they become published authors who write to share ideas with others, hopefully they can keep writing for the love of it, while managing to get their work into readers’ hands. 

It would be miserable to become an author and lose the love of writing.

Why did you decide to become an author?

When I first had the idea to write Avalanche, I saw a great opportunity to share an adventure and an example of strong morals with a teenage audience. I love how stories leave us with memorable lessons that we can apply in our own lives, and I’d love to have a positive impact on readers looking for clean adventures. 

What was the most difficult thing to learn about being a new author? 

I’ve had a hard time with patience, whether it’s trying to be patient while waiting to hear back from editors, reviewers, etc., or waiting for a chance to write down my ideas in the midst of my busy schedule. Sometimes I have a brilliant brainstorm and want to develop it right away, so I get really frustrated if it’s a busy day or week and I need to wait to work on it. 

What was the biggest surprise?

I have been pleasantly surprised by the kindness and generosity of so many authors. Before becoming an author, I had the misconception that in general, authors would have an ‘every man for himself’ mindset. I’ve found quite the opposite to be true! Fellow authors are happy and quick to offer advice and support. It’s a great group of people. 

That’s been my experience too. What advice would you give to writers who are considering becoming author?

I would advise aspiring authors to read books and articles about publishing and find some credible AuthorTubers on YouTube to learn as much as possible, to network with other authors in a similar genre, and to brace yourself for rejection. It can be discouraging, but keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep your eyes on the prize. Listen to constructive criticism, and ignore outright negativity. Also, and I know this sounds cliche, but identify your audience so you can best share your work with them. 

*****

AVALANCHE COVER 3When fifteen-year-old Marlee Stanley joins her two sisters and the sons of their family friends on a secretive hike in the middle of the night, she is thrilled and nervous. Battling her conscience, she prays that the hike will go flawlessly and that they will return to the safety of their campsite before their parents wake. The start of the hike is beautiful and wonderfully memorable.

In a white flash so fast that Marlee can barely comprehend what has happened, an avalanche crashes into their path. Buried in packed snow, Marlee is forced to remember survival tips learned from her dad and her own research.

This group of friends, ages eleven through seventeen, is about to endure bigger challenges than many adults have experienced. Digging out of the packed snow is only the first of many challenges. Injuries, cold, hunger, fatigue, aggressive wildlife and tensions in the group make this a much bigger adventure than they ever imagined. As the kids strive to exhibit Christian values throughout the trials, they learn numerous life lessons. But they are nearly out of food, and their energy is waning quickly. How will they ever reach help?

BUY LINKS: Amazon

*****

Liz is an author, the wife of a professional tree climber and the mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. She received her Associate’s of Arts at the University of Sioux Falls, where she received the LAR Writing Award for her essay entitled, “My Real Life Mufasa.” Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She likes making adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone). She has thoroughly enjoyed working on her first novel, Avalanche.

Follow her on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Jenny Knipfer

Author Jenny Knipfer is visiting for the first time. I met her through Instagram and did a guest blog for her in November. I’m happy to return the favor. Welcome, Jenny!

What do you think is the main difference between a writer and an author?

When you do the work of writing, you’re a writer. When you write for others to read, you’re an author.

Why did you decide to become an author?

Years ago I started blogging when blogging wasn’t the huge world it is today. I kept up a blog entitled “Crochet Life” about my craft inspiration, projects, and the day-to-day joys of life. I had another blog called “Scrapbook of a Closet Poet.” There I shared my poems and original songs. On those platforms I was an author but not the author of a novel, which I had always dreamt of being.

My life got busy during those ten years, and I decided to delete my blogs to focus on spending quality time with my sons before they graduated from high school. I kept writing daily in my journals.

Fast forward a few years–My health took a dive, and I had to retire from work in 2018 due to continued disability from MS. The day after my last day at work I sat at home wondering what would fill my time up. A light bulb went off in my head, and I thought of the novel I had started eighteen years prior. I decided to finish it, and well, here I am with two published novels and two more in the works to be released this year.

What was the most difficult thing to learn about being a new author?

Criticism is always hard to handle. I had to objectively examine my work and be willing to rethink and rewrite until I had a solid story.

It’s so hard to be objective with stories we care so much about. What was the biggest surprise?

On the down-side: marketing an independently published novel challenges me. On the up-side: meeting wonderful writer and readers with whom I have shared great conversations and been blessed with opportunities to learn from their experience.

I agree with both of those. What advice would you give to writers who are considering becoming authors?

Define your point of view. I had trouble with it in the beginning. It is the bone structure on which your story is built.

Find some beta readers and honestly consider their comments.

Do the hard work to make your manuscript or article the best it can be.

Be ready to work hard to promote and market your work.

Listen to your writing voice and believe in your craft.

Thank you so much for taking the time for an interview. And best wished on your 2020 release!

*****

A tale of greif, guilt, and redemtion (1)Ruby Moon embodies a tale of grief, guilt, and romance set on the shores of Lake Superior in Ontario during the mid 1890’s. Jenay, a young woman of mixed French and Ojibwe descent, must survive the trauma of causing a horrific accident. Her maturity accelerates as the challenges of grief, and romance enter the scene.Amidst this drama, Jenay is caught in a web spun by Renault, a rich, charming man who once threatened ruination of her father’s shipping company but now seeks something even more valuable–Jenay. Renault, her past enemy, suddenly becomes her friend then something more . . . Will she leave the man she loves for this new found affection?Jenay must find where her strength lies in order to face the challenges life brings her or be washed away like driftwood on the tumultuous shores of Lake Superior. Life’s richest dramas are played out under the banner of two ruby colored moons and become the hidden gems which forge her into a mature strong woman. Jenay realizes God is by her side, using even the harsh events of life to create something precious in her.

BUY LINKS: Amazon, Goodreads, and Bookbub

*****

Jenny lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ken and their pet Yorkie, Ruby. She is also a mom and loves being a grandma. She enjoys many creative pursuits, but she finds writing the most fulfilling.

Jenny’s education background stems from psychology, music, and cultural missions. She spent many years as a librarian in a local public library but recently switched to using her skills as a floral designer in a retail flower shop. She is now retired from work due to disability.

She authored and performed a self-published musical CD entitled, Scrapbook of a Closet Poet. Jenny finds joy in the journey as an author and holds membership in the: Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Historical Novel Society, Christian Indie Publishing Association, and Wisconsin Writers Association. Her favorite place to relax is by the shores of Lake Superior, where her novel series, By the Light of the Moon, is set.

Ruby Moon and Blue Moon, Jenny’s first two books in the series, earned five star reviews from Readers’ Favorite– “Ruby Moon is entertaining, fast-paced, and features characters that are real. Over all Blue Moon continues a well-written and highly engaging saga of family ties, betrayals, and heartaches.”

Follow Jenny on her website, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. Or listen to her podcast.

 

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Anne Clare

Following my theme of beginnings, I’ve asked a few new authors I’ve met online to relate their experiences. First up is Anne Clare. She recently published as an independent author a WWII novel that is both equal parts romance and suspense. So glad you could stop by, Anne!

What do you consider your first story?

My first “real” stories that I recall were written scrap paper from Dad’s office, sometimes with thin sheets of cardboard for covers. I didn’t write them myself, being small and not having mastered the art of spelling (still working on that, actually.) My cousin was a few years older, and she and I hid out in her room to create! I dictated stories that she recorded in her nice, big-kid handwriting—wild adventures of magical horses, talking dogs, and princesses. I did the illustrations, and then we’d share them with our parents. I still get a chuckle out of reading through the few that my mom saved.

What do you think is the main difference between a writer and an author?

This is an interesting question, and one I hadn’t really thought about before. I’ll confess, in trying to come up with an answer I popped onto the internet to see if there was a set differentiation that others used. I found about half a dozen!

The first word that came to my mind when considering the difference between “writer” and “author” was intent. In other words, what’s the end goal of the writing?

I wrote for years—just for myself—in journals, in notebooks, on sticky notes and scraps of paper. I wrote to release feelings, to recall events, to record amusing ideas that might turn into something later. However, I had no real intent for these bits and pieces of writing. They had no focus, and no reason for one as I didn’t intend to share them with anyone in any formal way.

That changed when I got about half-way through my novel, on the day I thought, “This…this might be something I’d want to publish.” When my writing became something intended for other eyes—whether as a blog post, short fiction, or novel—I shifted from calling myself a writer to calling myself an author.

Why did you decide to become an author?

It wasn’t so much a choice as something I fell into. While I’d authored some pieces to share in the classroom or for church functions, I had no plans to pursue authorship. I certainly hadn’t considered becoming a blogger or historical fiction author.

Then, I had a vivid dream, set in London at the end of the Second World War.

As our house was going through major repairs and the kids and I were more or less trapped at home for several months, I started writing a story that incorporated the scene from the dream. As I said above, about halfway through the first draft I began to think that maybe this story wouldn’t just be for me. I dove into research on history and writing craft, and after lots of drafting, editing, and starting a blog, I moved on to eventual publication!

What was the most difficult thing to learn about being a new author?

There’s so much more to taking on the mantle of “author” than coming up with stories. There’s the actual writing process, then the editing process, then deciding whether to publish independently or through a traditional publisher. Once I decided to go indie, there was formatting, cover design and source citing to figure out, not to mention figuring out just how I was going to deal with the book’s income (if any) on my tax forms…

Still, the greatest struggle for me wasn’t dealing with all of the details—I’m an elementary school teaching mom. Juggling lots of complicated details is part of life. No, the real struggle was embracing the fact that I was embarking on a completely new journey, one that was going to have unexpected twists and turns. I had to learn to slow down, to get organized, and (hardest of all) to ask for help when I didn’t know what to do next.

What was the biggest surprise?

I was shocked to find out that using the “tab” key to indent paragraphs would mess up all of my book’s formatting. Learning how to format paragraphs properly and getting all those tabs out of my manuscript took a surprisingly long time!

What advice would you give to writers who are considering becoming authors?

Don’t go it alone. Whether you’re still in your writing process, getting ready to publish, or trying to figure out the mysteries of marketing, there are authors out there with treasure troves of information and experience, and many of them are willing to share! I could not have published my novel last year without the help and support of other authors who aided me with beta readings, edits, formatting and cover design, marketing help… so many things!

Of course, we don’t all have a ready supply of author friends on hand—that’s where the internet can become an invaluable resource. There are strong writing communities online—it’s just a matter of finding one that fits your needs and tapping in to it!

If you’ll allow me one more piece of advice, it’s to be kind to yourself. Writing and publishing are challenging, involved processes, and we’re all at different stages of life. You can read advice on what the process “should” look like all day, but in the end, whether it’s fast or slow, easy or rocky, it’s your journey.

I wish you all the best on it!

Being kind to yourself. That’s something we all need to remember. Thanks so much for your great advice.

*****

Whom Shall I fear mini ad 41943

All that Sergeant James Milburn wants is to heal. Sent to finish his convalescence in a lonely village in the north of England, the friends he’s lost haunt his dreams. If he can only be declared fit for active service again, perhaps he can rejoin his surviving mates in the fight across Sicily and either protect them or die alongside them.

All that Evie Worther wants is purpose. War has reduced her family to an elderly matriarch and Charles, her controlling cousin, both determined to keep her safely tucked away in their family home. If she can somehow balance her sense of obligation to family with her desperate need to be of use, perhaps she can discover how she fits into her tumultuous world.

All that Charles Heatherington wants is his due. Since his brother’s death, he is positioned to be the family’s heir with only one step left to make his future secure. If only he can keep the family matriarch happy, he can finally start living the easy life he is certain he deserves.

However, when James’s, Evie’s and Charles’s paths collide, a dark secret of the past is forced into the light, and everything that they have hoped and striven for is thrown into doubt. Weaving in historical detail from World War II in Britain, Italy and Egypt, WHOM SHALL I FEAR? follows their individual struggles with guilt and faith, love and family, and forces them to ask if the greatest threat they face is really from the enemy abroad.

BUY AT AMAZON.

*****

Anne Clare is a native of Minnesota’s cornfields and dairy country. She graduated with a BS in Education in 2005 and set out to teach in the gorgeous green Pacific Northwest, where she and her husband still live. She also serves as a church musician, singing in and occasionally directing choirs, playing piano, organ, and coronet (the last only occasionally, when she forgets how bad she is at it.) After the birth of her second child, she became a stay-at-home mom, and after the birth of the third she became reconciled to the fact that her house would never be clean again, which allowed her to find time to pursue her passion for history and writing while the little people napped. Although she’s back to teaching part-time, she continues to write historical fiction and to blog about WWII history, writing, and other odds and ends at thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com.

You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @anneclarewriter.

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Books: Journals

If you are a beginning writer, or a seasoned one having trouble finding inspiration, keeping a journal may be the style of writing that will help.

I first started journaling the spring I was seventeen in this book, which just has lined paper.IMG_2840 I journaled about what happened each day and really didn’t like keeping it. I might have liked it better if I had narrowed my focus. Back then, I was an avid fan of old movies (still am). My journal could have been about the movies I’d watched and my opinion of them

Now my daily journal is about what happens to my kids. I hope the journal will remind them of the events of their childhood.

At some point in my life, I began carrying a three-ring binder every where I went. IMG_2838I only use it for my journal and fiction. I like this kind of binder because I can add and remove pages. Since I began publishing, I have graduated to a second binder. That holds my WIP (work in progress) novel, and the ancient red one holds the journal and blog posts. I’m almost sure it’s older than my oldest child.

Another kind of journal offers prompts. I won 300 Writing Prompts at a book festival. IMG_2837Many of the prompts ask you to examine something in your own life and seem most appropriate for personal essays with questions like “What is your favorite way to spend a lazy day?” and “What do you look forward to every week?”

Some prompts seemed aimed squarely at fiction, like “You are the wind’s interpreter. What is it saying?” and “Write a diary entry, dated 10 years in the future.”

One thing that I’ve learned about inspiration is that I never know what will ignite a spark and set a story on fire.

If you struggle to write regularly, the demands of a journal may be what you need. And it is private, unlike blogging, allowing you the freedom to explore topics and your own internal landscape.

Like any other skill, writing improves the more often you do it. And with a journal, you can keep your earliest, most inept attempts to yourself, then bask in the the joy of your progress when you look back and see how much you’ve improved.

Do you keep a journal? What do you journal about?

 

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