Dove by Robin Lee Graham

It’s taken me a lot of years of denial, but I can now finally admit that I’m a romantic. But not in the contemporary sense of the word. Currently, romantic means anything to do with a couple falling in love. But I’m a romantic in the way it was defined in the nineteenth century. I love stories filled with adventure, introducing me to new lands and new people. I want ships that sail into unknown seas, mysterious maps that hint at lost civilizations, and heroes who believe in gallant action.

Dove by Robin Lee Graham with Derek L.T. Gill is a true story that’s romantic in both senses. It’s a tale of the youngest person to sail solo around the earth, and the story of how he met the young woman who would eventually become his wife. Although it isn’t the main theme of the story, Dove is also about how, bit by bit, Robin and his wife Patti embraced Christianity.

Robin Lee Graham left California in 1965 at sixteen and returned in 1970 at twenty-one, a husband and soon-to-be father. I’ve read two version of this story, The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone is the kids’ version. I enjoy it because the author gives an explanation of sailing terms and it has wonderful photos. Dove is for adults.

I love Dove for so many reasons. First, Robin describes his longing for the sea, something he shared with his father, and for a life different from what he experienced in suburban America. As his father wrote to his mother, explaining why they should allow their son to attempt this, “Lee is more interested in living than longevity.”

Second, the story brims with an exuberant freedom. The reason it took Robin five years to complete his journey was because he took his time, spending months in the countries he reached. He and Patti sailed wherever they wanted while exploring the islands of the South Pacific or the Caribbean, swimming wherever it looked interesting, eating whatever local foods they came across.

Third, he relates how he and his wife changed from pagans from California to Christians. One significant event in that journey was when Robin was caught in a terrible storm off the coast of Madagascar. After being awake for forty-eight hours in a storm that threatened to tear his boat apart, Robin prayed, with his arms clutching the tiller, “God or whoever you are, please help me.” At that moment, the storm began to die.

What true life stories do you recommend?

Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

Since tackling my Work In Progress novel, I wanted to understand the purpose and importance of the middle in storytelling. So I was pleased to find Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell.

At 84 pages, the book certainly wastes no space in explaining how to create the middle point of your novel and then writing backwards and forwards from it. Mr. Bell begins by explaining this approach will work for Pam Pantser, Paul Plotter, and Tammy Tweener. The key is the Mirror Moment, and it really is a moment, which come in the middle of the story. The main character (MC) reflects on what kind of person he or she is.

To make this moment meaningful, the writer must write a backstory for the character in the first half of the story and a transformation in the last half. Mr. Bell states that the moment is key because it’s what the novel is “really all about”.

He gives examples of mirror moments from books, like A Christmas Carol, and movies, like Lethal Weapon, Sunset Boulevard, and Moonstruck. The author also goes into details about story structure, like the three-act structure, and the components that make up that act. He also provides ways to ignite inspiration in your writing.

My trouble with his approach is that while I plot out the action of my chapters, a few chapters at a time, I don’t really know what my story is about until I write a large chunk of it.

In my WIP, I included a mirror moment without giving it too much thought. Now that I’ve read this book, I’ve gone back to examine that scene and see how I can improve it.

One thing I’ve learned about myself as a writer is that it’s sometimes hard for me to incorporate advice until I run into a problem. Such as I couldn/t follow Mr. Bell’s advice until I was knee deep in the middle of my novel.

Do you recommend a book for how to tackle the middle of a story? What is it? I’d love to find more books on this topic.

Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon

My theme for July is naming characters and places in our writing. I think it’s an art unto itself, and one I love to work in. I also think names are a critical component to making fiction seem real. J.R.R. Tolkien worked very hard at creating names for his fantasy characters. Names for elves do not sound like names for hobbits. That attention to detail is one of the reasons his books come alive to readers.

I’ve had The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon for many years. The cover above is to the hardcover book I own, published in 1994. It’s proved an invaluable tool, listing male and female names for different languages, from Anglo-Saxon to Ukranian, along with their meanings. Ms. Kenyon also provides extremely helpful introductory chapters, concerning such subjects as how to choose names to fit particular genres and toponyms and resnyms.

What are toponyms and resnyms? Toponyms are names of places. Since I invented an 89th county in Ohio for my YA mysteries, I also have to invent the names of the towns, villages, roads, and geographical features in it. I live in the state, so doing research is easy. I need to choose names that would fit with real place names within the state. I came up with the name Marlin for the county because it sounds like Morgan, a real county in southeast Ohio. The Buckeye State has many place names that are English, Irish, Scottish, French, and Native American, so researching those trends should help me create believable toponyms

Resnyms are the names given to invented products or companies. For years, I’ve toyed with the idea of including a private detective agency in my mysteries and have always wanted to call it the Sentinel Corporation. I’ve imagined it as a national company, maybe a bit sinister. Sentinel sounds both protective and ominous to me.

The cover above is for the updated Kindle edition I have. This edition offers a greater variety of languages than the earlier edition, which focuses more on Europe. The Kindle version includes names from China, Cambodia, Thailand, and more.

I’m not the only member of my family who has found this books useful. My oldest has been reading it to find inspiration for an animal fantasy he’s writing.

Do you spend a lot of time creating names for characters and places in your stories? Why or why not?

Favorite Books for Show Don’t Tell

If one more person told me that writers needed to “show don’t tell”, I might have run screaming from the writers’ conference. I had heard that advice over and over again. I’d read it online again and again in a quote attributed to Anton Chekhov:

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

But it wasn’t enough for me to be told the advice. I had to be shown it. And more than that, I had to understand the why and how of the technique. I couldn’t pick it up from just reading books. I like a lot of stories that are more than fifty years old. What was considered “showing” then is classified as “telling” now.

Author/agent Tessa Emily Hall came to my rescue when she recommended the book Understanding Show Don’t Tell by Janice Hardy. I love the subtitle, (and Really Getting It).

Because I really did get it after reading this book. As Ms. Hardy explains, showing versus telling in our writing has become more critical because more and more readers are expecting the literary experience to match movies and TV Shows. She covers many topics that come under “telling” prose — point of view (POV), narrative distance, backstory, info dump, and more. What I found most helpful were lists of words that usually indicate a writer is engaging in “telling”. An appendix conveniently gathers all these word together.

Her chapter “Things That Affect Telling” takes the same paragraph and rewrites it in “showing” prose from first-person POV, third-person single POV, and third-person omniscient POV. She dissects the differences in the writing styles, and that kind of examination is what I really needed.

Another technique recommended by my friend Sharyn Kopf, who is also an author and editor, helps keep me in the showing mode.

Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View

I’ve written about deep POV before. The best way I know how to describe it is imagine yourself in Minecraft or another POV video game. You experience that game solely through your avatar. In deep POV, the reader experiences the story solely through the senses and mind of the POV character as that character lives the story.

Imagining how the character takes in information through the senses and what he or she thinks about this information or the train of thoughts it sets off keeps me from dumping too much information. For example, if my POV character is running for her life from a murderer, she isn’t going to think about how her older sister wronged her in high school. It may be important to the plot, but I have to work that in in a more logical place. Such as when she and friend talk about things they got away with in high school.

I found the chapter “Write Lively, Linear Prose” in Rivet Your Reader with Deep Point of View to be the most helpful. Sometimes, because writers know how all the action is going to end, they write it in the wrong order.

An example from Rivet:

“The hot, stuffy air caused my head to spin.”

If I was writing in deep POV, showing, not telling, I would describe first the character noticing something wrong with his head, then have the character pinpoint the cause. I am paying close attention to the order of my action, so I don’t put the cart before the horse.

Through the month of April, I will dissect examples of both “show don’t tell” and deep POV from my short story, “A Rose from the Ashes” to illustrate what I’ve learned so far about these techniques.

What are your favorite books for “show don’t tell”?

Favorite Books — Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This book changed my life. I can’t say that about a lot of books, but Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis did. No book, outside of the Bible, has had more impact on me. Through logic, Mr. Lewis reasons his way into why Christianity is true. He addresses many objections he had when he was an atheist.

My dad gave me a copy of Mere Christianity in college, but I didn’t read it until just after I was married. I’m sorry I didn’t read it earlier, since it was a gift, but I’m not sure if I could have handled the weight of the subject at a younger age.

I had never read such an intellectually challenging book. I loved it. My brain couldn’t get enough of it. Apart from the way it changed my life, this book also influenced how I write my fiction.

Creating Precise Images

Mr. Lewis writes about some extremely difficult theological concepts but makes them accessible through his use of precise analogies.

One of my favorites is comparing human society to a convoy of ships. The convoy is only a success if it reaches its destination. It can’t do that if the ships don’t watch each other to prevent collisions or if the crew of each ship doesn’t maintain its internal mechanisms.

Humans operate the same way. We can collide when we don’t care about other people or when we have so many internal problems that we can’t help but create conflict with others.

Such well-constructed, clear images inspire me to create metaphors and similes like that for my fiction. I want to describe people or settings or even explanations of a mystery so well that readers see it like a sharp-focused photo.

Building Better Villains

Mr. Lewis has many sections on the nature of evil. Although I know when I’ve done sinful things, it was helpful to learn the reasons why. Not only does this give me insight into my spiritual life, it also helped me build better villains.

In a passage, the author explains that one huge difference between good and evil is that people will do good even when they don’t feel like it, or when it won’t benefit them. They do good because they know they ought to.

No one ever did bad because they thought they ought to, when they didn’t feel like it. Every evil action benefits the person somehow. Even cruelty, which seems like evil for evil’s sake, provides satisfaction or pleasure to the person or else he wouldn’t bother.

Those explanations about evil have helped me climb into the skins of my villains and understand their motivations, helping me create believable characters.

What books have changed your life?

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