Finding the Fatal Flaw

It is the core of every struggle. The root cause of many reactions. It is a constant enemy lurking below the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head.

It’s the fatal flaw. Everyone has one. Every character has one, too.

I would argue that fatal flaws never completely go away. They just manifest in different ways as we grow and change and conquer certain circumstances. But what does this really look like?

Kariss Lynch Heart of a WarriorTake Superman. I would say his emotional fatal flaw, or one of them, is a deep desire to belong. It shapes his decisions and actions to blend in at the Daily Planet, settle down with Lois Lane, but still seek the true identity of his parents. We all know his physical flaw is kryptonite. Or Lois Lane, depending on how you look at it.

Choosing and shaping a fatal flaw proved an interesting challenge as I finished out my Heart of a Warrior series. I noticed there are multiple factors I need to account for as I select flaws for my characters.

Timeline

All three of my books take place over the course of fifteen months, which made it a challenge to have a fatal flaw that never disappears but consistently morphs. Kaylan, my main character, struggles with fear. Since our fatal flaws never really go away, I had to figure out how to cause this kryptonite to reemerge as she grew. In Shaken, she fears letting people close to her because of the loss of people she loved in the Haiti earthquake. In Shadowed, she has to learn to love a man she could lose at any second, Navy SEAL Nick Carmichael. In Surrendered, she will learn to accept Nick’s career and the constant danger, and not only accept it but thrive in his absences. The root of every one of her struggles is fear of losing a loved one, but as she accepts growth, the flaw manifests differently. Still always fear.

Complementing Characters

If you are writing romance, what fatal flaw will most threaten the relationship and will cause the characters to have to fight together to overcome? In Shadowed, Nick struggles with anger and detachment. This creates a challenge when Kaylan needs reassurance in her fear and Nick needs her to get over it and let him deploy in peace. Both characters grow as they learn what it looks like to merge two lives into one.

Plot and Theme

Shadowed_AUG 1 (1)Each book in this series, had to capture the overall theme: Anyone can develop the heart of a warrior if they are willing to have courage and commitment in the face of insurmountable obstacles. My fatal flaw for each character needed to threaten accomplishing this goal. Kaylan’s fear has the potential to stunt the relationship. Nick’s anger prohibits him from being a strong leader in his home and confident and in control in war. My villain’s flaw causes her to sabotage others in an effort to obtain what she secretly desires most but also never wants to have.

The fatal flaws is one of simplest yet most complex aspects of your character. Which flaws will create complicated conflict? How does that flaw force your character to respond? How will your character grow through the flaw?

One of my favorite ways to identify character growth and a consistent flaw is to follow a specific television series. Over time, you will notice a core struggle emerge. This helps me understand how to develop a character over the course of a book and over the course of a series. I’m still learning, but this is becoming one of my favorite parts of creating characters.

How do you identify your character’s fatal flaw?

Leave the Luggage Behind

luggage“Where are your bags?” is the most frequent question I’ve been getting lately from the friends I stay with when I travel for author events. I show up at their doors with a small tote in my hands, and they look around me for the rest.

“This is it,” I say, and they marvel at how little my bag is.

For some reason, I guess everyone expects me to be loaded down with luggage, dragging along a carry-on case, a tote on my shoulder and more bags to come. While that may have been the norm for me years ago on the rare occasions I flew somewhere with my five kids, it’s no longer my style.

These days, I fly with minimal baggage, and I love it. Instead of packing car seats, food snacks, toys, games, and multiple outfits for all, I get a kick out of taking as little as possible. I actually look forward to living out of one small bag for three or four days, since it requires me to trim my wardrobe to only the essentials I need. Once on the road, I don’t have to make any clothing choices since I already made them when I packed; I save time and effort with less to manage. Limiting myself forces me to evaluate priorities and pack accordingly. There’s no room (literally!) for changing my mind, or my clothing options.

The result is perfect for traveling: I have what I need and no more. It makes me feel mentally and emotionally light and free, and I don’t have to physically exhaust myself lugging extra bags. To fly unfettered by baggage is a wonderful thing in a world of extra luggage fees, delays, and lost bags.

If only I could do the same with my journey through life!

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep,” Jesus tells his disciples when he sends them out to preach and minister in Matthew 10. Clearly, our Lord knew the value of traveling light! Without all that extra baggage to keep track of, his disciples were free to devote themselves to the work to which they had been called. Unencumbered with material concerns, they could focus on the priorities, the essentials of Christian mission.

I’ve found that is also true of traveling through life as a Christian author: when I keep my eyes on the Kingdom, everything else loses its urgency. Sure, I’d like to make more money (who wouldn’t? travel expenses do mount up no matter how many free beds you can find!) and it would be nice to have readers flocking to me in droves. Yet when I’m focused on the essential task of sharing God with others, it only takes one heart-felt ‘thank-you’ from a reader to know that I am ‘worth my keep.’

How do you pack for your journey?

WordServe News: February 2015

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Arnie Cole and Michael Ross released Overcoming the Hurt in partnership with 9781630583712_p0_v1_s260x420goTandem.

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Mary Davis released a new title with Heartsong Presents, Romancing the Schoolteacher. 9780373487721_p0_v2_s260x420

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Cheri Fuller released Replacing Worry for Wonder with goTandem. 9781630583705_p0_v2_s260x420

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Rick Johnson saw the release of Romancing Your Better Halfwith Revell Publishers. 9780800722340_p0_v2_s260x420

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kariss Lynch released her sophomore novel with Realms, Shadowed. 9781629980065_p0_v2_s260x420

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Tara McClary Reeves and Amanda Jenkins released their second children’s book with 9781433681202_p0_v1_s260x420B&H Kids, The Pirate and the Firefly. 

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Michael Ross released his latest book for teens, Dating, Relating, Waiting with 9781630583699_p0_v1_s260x420goTandem.

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Lauren Scruggs with Lisa Velthouse released her second book,Your Beautiful Heart 9781414376714_p0_v2_s260x420with Tyndale Momentum publishers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amy K. Sorrells released her sophomore novel with David C. Cook, Then Sings My Soul. 9781434705457_p0_v2_s260x420

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Jennifer Strickland released her latest book for girls with Harvest House 9780736956345_p0_v2_s260x420Publishers, Pretty from the Inside out

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Mike Yorkey released Everyday Finances for the Everyday Family with goTandem. 9781630583682_p0_v1_s260x420

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New WordServe Clients

Marjorie Eastman signed with Greg Johnson.

New Contracts

Tim Maurer signed a contract with Baker Books for Simple Money. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Joe Wheeler has signed with Pacific Press for a three book deal, in a collection of favorite stories. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Co-authors, Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph received a great stared review in FIRST magazine for their latest book Nourished!

The Secret to Page Turning Non-Fiction Writing

I couldn’t take it anymore. It was driving me mad. Why were kids who chronically complained about their hatred of reading, devouring these books?

Twilight by Stephenie MeyerBeing the mission-minded gal I am, I decided to find out for myself. So I started reading the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. She grabbed me in the first two sentences.

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die — though I’d had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
I stared without breathing across the long room, into the dark eyes of the hunter, and he looked pleasantly back at me.”

Bam! She hooked me — and reeled me right in. A few short pages later, I knew Ms. Meyer’s secret to writing for people who rarely read.

Next, I decided to go back and study another series that played the Pied Piper’s flute to many a reader, young and mature, who previously stated their distaste for the written word. Sure enough, J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, used the same secret strategy as Stephenie Meyer. Both of their method’s are right out in the open, even though they’re hidden in mysterious passages. Rowling begins her first book with this intriguing statement.Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

”Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

Very different style from Meyer’s, but effective all the same. So what is this magical thread both authors weave so carefully into their books? And how can we emulate the process without plagiarizing their work or voices?

It’s easy. I’ve done it all the way through this post. Are you screaming at the screen yet? “Enough all ready, quit messing with my mind and tell me.”

Meyer and Rowling artfully created cliff-hangers in paragraph after paragraph, culminating in page-turning chapters. Some were so tiny they were nearly imperceptible, while others were breathtakingly obvious. There was no doubt, tapping into simple human curiosity accounted for the multitude of readers desperate for each new release these authors offered.

But both authors were also wise enough to provide the answers to the questions they created, while they simultaneously raised new inquisitive scenarios. They didn’t leave the reader hanging too long.

Unbroken by Laura HillenbrandAnd this made me realize, I can follow the same method while writing non-fiction. My style isn’t the same. My genre different. My content, theme, and messages often polar opposite to the fictional creations of Meyer and Rowling, but I can still use human curiosity to my advantage.

Who says you can’t build cliff-hangers into true tales and exposition? Look at Laura Hillenbrand’s masterful biography, Unbroken, now a major motion picture. She hooked me when the first scene opened with blazing bullets and circling sharks.

I realized, the best authors of any genre tap into the powerful force that makes inquiring minds want to know. When a book gets slow, the author has failed to make us wait, or has made us wait so long we give up and move onto something else that satisfies our curiosity.

Getting Through

Releasing, April, 2015 through Barbour Publishing

The answer to creating page turning non-fiction is to use the element of anticipation to your advantage. And like me, consider starting your own clandestine words list. I’ve kept one for over two years now, where every intriguing word I hear, read, or think about is added. I used many in my latest book, and plan to use even more as I continue to hone my craft as an author.

Here’s the thing: whisper, allude, hint, or disguise — the secret hides in the use of secrets. This is an author’s hidden weapon.

Are you curious to know what’s on my top-secret words list

Four Lessons From the Speaking Circuit

Behind the back copy

For 20 years now I’ve dragged a suitcase of books from speaking event to speaking event, telling stories, signing books, listening to people in line innocently yammering on while someone else is waiting impatiently to get an autograph.

I’ve spoken from the Statehouse in Boston to a rain-tattered canopy outside a firehall while firefighters let children blast the siren, from hotel ballrooms with nearly 500 people to three people in an assisted-living home, two of whom seemed comatose by the time I’d finished my intro.

Here, then, are four bits of advice about using your speaking engagements to sell books, 19 of which I’ve written, a few of which have actually sold:

Go where you’re wanted.

I’ve spent far too much of my life trying to convince people that they should believe in me and far too little time appreciating those who do. In the last few years, though, I’ve wised up.

Push on the doors, sure. Push hard. But if they don’t open, stop pushing and go find another door that might. Don’t let your pride get in the way. It’s far more fun doing a small-time gig where people appreciate your being there than beating your head on the door of some larger or more prestigious organization or event that never will.

Partner with one person who believes in you in the community where you’re going to speak.

It was a blustery, rainy Friday night, and I had a speaking gig “up river” in a small community. I honestly wondered if anyone other than the woman who’d organized the talk would come.

After the event, I walked out to my car with more than $500 in book sales, a stomach full of homemade pie and an evening of memories with a bunch of warm, wonderful people.

Why? Because that one woman was an “influencer,” someone people along the river respected. An organizer, someone who can bring an event together. An ally, someone who believed in me.

Someone like that can do more to help your event be a success than hundreds of tweets.

Take time to get to know the place where you’re speaking or the organization you’re speaking to.

Whether you’re selling books afterward or not, this is simply the right thing to do. Why do concert crowds go nuts when some well-known performer mentions something about their town? Because people take pride in where they live and appreciate it when others do, too.

It shows respect. It shows you care. It shows that you’re not just “mailing it in.”

In one of my books, 52 Little Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life, I devote a chapter to a simple remark that one of the heavenly angels says to Clarence Odbody before the “Angel Second Class” is sent to earth to help a desperate George Bailey: “If you’re going to help a man, you want to know something about him, don’t you?”

Take the time to know something about your audience. Don’t just do a couple of Google searches. Talk to your host. Make a few calls. Do some reporting.

Finally, be interesting.

Never have people had so many options with which to spend their time, so many excuses for not leaving their home.

So, if they’re giving up an evening for you, forget the “first, do no harm” edict inaccurately linked to the Hippocratic Oath. (By me in one book!) No, first, do not put people to sleep. Say something that people haven’t heard before. Or say it in a way they haven’t heard before. Tell jokes. Dispense information. Inspire life-changing action.

But, above all, be interesting. I recently went to an author’s event just to see what other writers do. The guy spent the entire evening reading from his book.

Yawn.

That’s the reader’s job. As writers, we should spend our time offering audiences insight that our books do not. Our stories might be the impetus that draws people to our events, but give them something more than a rehash of our book or books.

Besides, if you’re interesting, people are more apt to believe your books will be, too. And there’s no better way to be asked back.

Writing Through the Storm

No author in her right mind sets out to write a novel in the middle of the craziest year of her mid life. But every author knows that life happens regardless of deadlines, contracted or self-imposed. A year ago I hit the keyboard at the end of December with ACFW in September as my self-imposed deadline. Thankfully I didn’t know the hurdles I’d have to leap to arrive the the finish line, or I may not have tried. Thankfully, God knew better.

Little did I know my day job would test my new revelation that I am bi-vocational. Little did I know life would swirl around me like the outer bands of Hurricane Katrina, or I may not have tried. Thankfully, God knew better.

Every writer has a well-rehearsed list of real-life waves that sabotage word count, goals, edits, and plotting. I was well acquainted with the pitfalls of Twitter, Facebook, and my favorite procrastination tool, Pinterest. For others it’s childcare, homework, housework–the list is long. I’d hit mid point of 50K when the waves mounted and crashed. My day job work partner went on vacation in March, leaving the office in my care for two weeks. I was planning my youngest’s graduation. My husband was in the midst of a new job and we spent an April stay-cation wading through twenty years of classroom supplies stored in our garage between his classroom moves. In the midst of wading through college applications, taxes, FAFSA forms, college visits, and open house planning, my nurse and prayer warrior retired two weeks after receiving a bad diagnosis in May (she is currently well).

My critique partners knew I was floundering with my writing by July, when my work partner had major surgery and was out of the office for six weeks, turning my usual full-time weeks into forty-hour-plus work weeks. They prayed and kept to themselves their worry that I’d just quit writing and give up on ACFW. That’s when my mother became seriously ill. On the way from the office to the emergency room, I stopped at a long red light, and I felt the world swirling around me. But God’s whisper came as clear as it had for Elijah–“I’m not in the storm.” And I could breathe again. The light turned green.

Ed5_Fig4_1

My mother made a miraculous full recovery, and the weeks that followed brought four funerals of family members of my coworkers by August. ACFW was breathing down my neck and I questioned if I could do it. But as miraculous as my mother’s recovery, I put my heart on the keyboard and my measly 50K turned into 80K in six weeks.

I was pinching myself. I stood in the elevator shaking on the way to my room at ACFW with my dear friend and critique partner. I felt I’d finally been spit out of the swirling storm and come up for air. I didn’t even have a pitch, but I’d been given four pitch slots, the last with WordServe. I was sure I was an impostor. I wasn’t really a writer. It wasn’t really me who’d just poured those words on the page. Thankfully, God knew better.

Life happens. Life will happen again, with or without self-imposed or contracted deadlines. But what I’ll take with me this time is a toolkit to survive it. I will remember:

1. God knows better than me. He’s not in the storm. He is sovereign and so is His work.

2. Even though I’m a hybrid plotter-pantser, pre-planning saved me in the end.

3. Critique partners are a life-line for friendship, prayer, counsel, hand-holding, dope-slapping, and yes, last minute pitch preps!

4. Being bi-vocational means God will supply enough for each calling. I’m not betraying one calling to fulfill the other. Like a mother with multiple children, her lap is fuller, but she has enough love for all.

5. Knowing my story, believing in it, and loving it, kept me from giving up.

I offer my work back to my Maker. Thinking of the future publishing possibilities, I tremble with excitement and fear. But I know He’s not in the storm. I entrust He knows the future best.

Looking for Direction and Peace?

Photo/KarenJordan

Overwhelmed? Drifting above the landscape of your work like a hot air balloon?

Lost your sense of direction? Fear your approaching deadlines?

Searching for answers. When life seems overwhelming, it forces us to look for answers and direction. And it’s important to know where to seek help.

At times, I’m tempted to rely on guidance and encouragement from the resources the world offers me, like the evening news. Instead, it breeds confusion and discouragement, revealing more signs of the ultimate demise of our culture and way of life.

In Matthew 24, Jesus described signs of the end times. And His disciples asked, “Tell us … when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24: 3 NIV)

Jesus explained that He didn’t know when the end would come—only His Father knew the answer to that question (36). But He encouraged His disciples to always be ready (44).

How can we “be ready”? Most of the time, I can’t keep up with the pace of my life, much less worry about the future—especially the last days.

Jesus offered a story to encourage His disciples to focus on the things that matter most. He described a servant who had neglected his responsibilities during his master’s absence, as if he expected him never to return. But when the master returned, he held the servant responsible for his disobedience and disrespect.

Facing the truth. Once again, the mirror of God’s Word forces us to look at ourselves—not to shame us, but to confront us with the truth.

Am I living as if He’s not coming back? What responsibilities am I neglecting?

When I come to my senses and examine God’s Word, I’m reminded, “Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (Matt. 6:33 GNT).

What does God require of me? Am I taking care of the things that He’s entrusted to me? My home? Spouse? Children? Relationships? Work? Gifts or talents?

As I examine this verse in The Message Bible, I find the specific direction I need.

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Mt. 6:33-34 MSG).

Practicing our faith. How can I focus on God’s presence, guidance, and provision? Once again, I turn to God’s Word for help.

Jesus, help me to discern Your presence, guidance, and provision. What do I need to focus on right now? Give me the courage and strength to trust you with my future and to listen and obey Your Word. Amen.

What do you need to give your attention to right now? Where do you sense God’s presence, guidance, and provision in your life?