About diannechristner

Dianne Christner writes Christian fiction - both Amish and historical books. She also keeps a lighthearted reality blog.

Seek Hope While Waiting

4864922_s“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.

Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”

(Harold Glen Borland – a nature journalist who wrote poetry, fiction for adults and children, and other nonfiction. 1900-1978)

As a writer, I need patience and persistence. But I am more than tree and grass. I’m a creative emotional being with spirit, mind, and soul, who struggles with waiting. Right now I’m in squirm mode—between book contracts. I’m lowly bait, a worm on a hook writhing with concern over my writing career. Pathetic, fickle creature.

I recently read patience is the level of endurance one can take before falling into negativity.

Thoughts such as:

-I won’t get another contract because I’m a lousy writer.

-Writing is too much effort for the reward. I’m dangling on the end of a hook, remember. And it’s not the first time either.

The psalmist understood fickle creatures and negative thoughts. And of all things, he preaches back at them with a pep talk regarding God’s love.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God.” Psalms 42

In squirm mode, I’m itching for action.

Anything to hope again.

Even preaching to myself.

Preaching to myself . . . I guess I could clean my desk so I can read my inspirational plaque: Live creatively.

I could tape my theme scripture on my bathroom mirror. “Explore who you are and the work you’ve been given. Sink yourself into it. Don’t be impressed with yourself or compare yourself to others. Be your creative best for you.” Gal 6:1-5

The psalmist reminded himself of wonderful experiences of past worship. I could search my prayer journal and see what God’s accomplished in my life. Perhaps it’s time to browse my writing scrapbook, or make one.

I suddenly see it. My writing lull is a comma, not a period. It’s a gift of time from a loving God. I can use it to rethink priorities, set writing and marketing goals, hone new skills. Persistence urges me into action and hope marches up my spine. I shiver with delight. Yes, there is hope in the waiting.

Even so, a negative thought returns. Working without a deadline? Impossible.

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No!

 I preach to myself. Soul, you’re strong in Christ.

Waiting is extra time. A gift from God. Praise Him. 

I don’t want to squander my time wallowing in negativity when I have a gazillion better choices. I will catch up on life. Ideas pop into my mind of ways to bless my family and friends. Or I could use my time to practice self-discipline. I’m not pathetic or fickle. I’m normal. I’m also chosen, forgiven and loved. I find another blessing. Waiting makes me thirsty for living water.

Psalm 42:1 “As the deer pants for the water brooks,

so my soul pants for Thee, O God.”

Beyond the tree and grass and worm is a larger stream. I can wait in confidence that He’ll nudge me along in His time.

What uplifting sayings or verses do you cherish?

What blessings do you experience in wait mode?

Plain, Ordinary, or Beautiful?

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Once I made the mistake of creating a heroine who wasn’t loveable because she didn’t forgive until the end of the story. Although her black and white thinking was true to character in her particular setting, it made her unappealing to the modern, more open-minded reader. Some who couldn’t relate blasted her in reviews.

Observation: Characters can be too realistic.

While she needs to stay true to her personality type, a good heroine breaks out of the norm for her particular setting from the get-go.

Because writing is a creative process, the rules are loose to allow us to create a unique voice. It’s a painful process to learn what works through our failures. After a dozen novels, workshops, and self-help studying, I still blunder my way along. At the end of each novel, I find myself vowing, Wow, I’ll never do that again. No more prologues for me—but that’s a topic for another day.

Under deadline, I write and juggle life. But between contracts, I study, plot, fret, and find more time to doubt myself. As you might have guessed, I’m currently developing characters. While fretting over my next heroine, I asked myself, what would help her connect with readers on page one and throughout my manuscript? This thinking led to another observation. Let me explain.

Growing up as a Mennonite, I call myself a plain-vain gal.

I was raised on humble pie and continue to strive for humility. But you know how it goes when somebody says you can’t have something. So if I’m honest, I have a craving for beauty and admiration. When I read, I enjoy living-escaping through beautiful, gutsy heroines. Most of my heroines have been lovely on the outside.

But since I’m wallowing in character fret-mode, I polled my Facebook followers with the following question:

Do you prefer a beautiful heroine or a plain one?

Every single response was plain, except for a few who didn’t care. Really? I expected the comments about inner beauty, but I was shocked they demanded plain on the outside. I expected mixed preferences.

For sure, they want a heroine who overcomes the ordinary. I’m still processing this information so I ask you…

…Is inner beauty or character strength more visible on a plain heroine?

As an example, Katharine Hepburn comes to mind, and I did a follow up blog post about using her as a character on plain girl romanticizing.

I’m conforming to my followers’ preference. Like most authors, I cut photos for each character and study them as I write. Here’s the plain-Jane photo I’ve chose for my WIP.

heroine 2

She’s really growing on me. I’m convinced I’ll make her shine. And hopefully make her smile too.

All of my responses were from women. I wonder: men, would you respond differently? But as a romance author, I’m writing for women. Or was this a genre thing (Amish readers ages 34-55)? Would it have been different for younger readers?

And what about our heroes? In secular romance novels, heroes are often dark and brooding with wicked pasts. It’s up to the heroine to bring out the good and change him. In Christian novels, the growth is often attributed to God. But what kind of heroes are Christian women seeking? Have you done any polls?

From my own experience, my favorite hero was my last one. He was ordinary looking. On a scale of one to ten, he started below zero with the heroine who remembered him as gawky and pesky from college. I developed his inner strength and found myself drawn to him more than my good looking heroes.

On book covers, publishers often hide the heroine’s face. But writers must describe character attributes.

So what do you think? Does it really matter how they look?

Or is it all about the writing?

Are Fiction Writers Schizophrenics?

Writing takes discipline, focus, energy, and empathy for our characters. That’s why I write in the morning before my mind sidetracks to real problems and outside distractions. A rested mind opens the doorway to my fictional world. We must create doorways in and out of our fictional minds.

But here’s the catch, the doorways must revolve.

Yesterday, I wrote a scene containing a climactic, heated argument between two characters. I pounded the keyboard with vigor! But today I need to patch things up between them—as humbling and draining for me as if it’s happening in real life. Not so fun. If the argument was real, a family member could have listened, supported, or at least consoled me. Or I could have had a good bawl—something to release those pent-up emotions.

Who understands what it’s like to simultaneously juggle the real and alternate worlds? And I’m not even talking to-do lists, just mindset. We enter an imaginary world and leave it carrying baggage—real emotions. This is why writers need interaction with other writers.

We are the only ones who GET IT.

In my last novel, my preacher hero got the hives twice because I used allergies to create a bond with his heroine. While I enjoyed writing these humorous scenes, I got the hives for an entire week, even longer than it took to write the scenes. It was awful. Every time I quit taking Benadryl, I broke out in welts. Besides scratching, I started to fret about mind-power and what might happen next. Hubby thought it was hilarious.

Poor guy. He doesn’t think it’s so funny when he has to bear the brunt of my emotional writing baggage. Depending upon a day’s creation, I can do the garbanzo dance or crawl into a hole. Sometimes I’m so drained, I even feel antisocial on Bunco night. Hubby dreads my deadlines as much as I do.

Worst is when I stand in the doorway of both worlds. When things are flowing, it’s hard to quit. Right when I’m in the middle of an adrenalin high, real life beckons. I have to zap out of it, leave things hanging. When that happens, I become a zombie. I go through the motions of cooking dinner and even dinner conversation, but my soul is missing.  I haven’t found the doorway back to reality or else I’m just not ready to move through it. One arm’s lagging, grasping at other world insanities. Am I the only one who experiences this?

Do we feel guilty or secretive about spending the day in an imaginary place, especially after being the villain who plots disaster for our unsuspecting characters, or after writing a love scene? How do we stuff emotional baggage and greet family with a smile?

What doors transport us from one world to the other?

Gulp.

Are we on the brink of schizophrenia?

Or am I just imagining this?

Making Eye Contact

I survived the hottest recorded day in Phoenix—122 degrees, June of 1990.

Slogan tee-shirts celebrated our feat of endurance and brought camaraderie to Phoenicians. Strangers on the street—If we were crazy enough to be outside that particular June—shook heads and bonded without muttering a word. Normally in metropolitan Phoenix, people don’t make eye contact with strangers. But survivors bond.

 On writing island, the heat’s rising and the competition’s growing.

Passivity kills. We must seize all survival tools to inhabit, flourish, and keep our cool. There’s a handy item in the writer’s backpack that can catch the eye of tribal leaders.

A Killer Book Proposal!

I hear your groans. I groaned when the mercury hit 122.

But book proposals create eye contact with your agent or editor.

If you need a format, here’s a simplified version of the one from my backpack.

Title Page  - Title, author’s name, and literary agent’s contact information.

Proposal Overview  - This vital area creates initial eye contact. It’s the premise for a book or series. Be precise. 1-2 sentences for each book.

Synopsis – Deepen interest. About three pages of story summary (My most recent included a twist and a takeaway) After that, do a ¾ page synopsis for each sequel. Note how the books tie together. (For nonfiction proposals, this area contains chapter outline and short summaries)

Manuscript Details – Word count and date when the finished manuscripts can be available (First time authors need to have the manuscript completed)

Author’s Uniqueness – One page. Includes education, credentials, awards, and personal experiences which relate to your book, your writing style as compared to others, and genre. If you’re published, bring in quotes and snippets of reviews to describe your writing.

Marketing – Bullet style, brainstorm what will sell the book. If you write romance, are there some romantic elements that will appeal to readers? Mention them. Tell what you’re already doing to promote your platform or books. Explain what you’re willing to do. List your website and blog links. Talk about your social media outreach. List memberships and organizations.

Affinity Groups – Research what specific groups of people will read your book. If you have previous works, this is easier. You can even use Facebook or website tracking to pinpoint the age of followers. Being specific helps editors promote your idea to an acquisitions committee.

Books Under Contract (or) Previous Works– Before I had books published, I listed magazine articles and plays. In my last proposal, I only listed a series under contract because it gave a fresh representation of my readership. Include sales in units and earnings. You can get this from your agent or royalty statements.

Author Bio – Mine is about 1/2 page, with professional credentials and some personal information.

First Three ChaptersThese significant chapters allow your person of interest to look deep into your writing soul. Shine and represent your style.

On each page, a header contains the book’s title and author’s name. Single space the proposal and use 1½ spacing for sample chapters and between headings. My numbered pages usually run about 35 pages total, including sample chapters. Also, write a short summary, about 1-3 paragraphs, to accompany the cover letter or your agent’s email to publishers.

To survive writers’ island, proposals can’t be rushed. Make the most of the opportunity to create eye-contact. My format contains years of personal tweaking, but you’ll want to embellish whatever format you use with your own creativity and style.

Unlike television’s Survivor cast, the Watercooler’s a safe place for interaction.

What’s your spin on book proposals?

And just for fun . . . what’s the temp at your place?

Small Pond, Big Splash

Make a Splash!

On my recent mini book tour, I discovered how easy it is to create major buzz in a small geographical pocket.  Since Phoenix has 1 ½ million residents, I haven’t made much of a local splash for all my marketing efforts. Call me a city girl, but you can imagine how thrilled I was to create major splash in several small communities?

I chose a small Ohio town (the setting of my novel) and an Indiana Mennonite community because my characters are, yes, Mennonite. In twelve short days, I connected with hundreds of people who started a local buzz about my books. I did my part, and the rest just happened.

Imagine hundreds of rocks simultaneously tossed into water. The ripples intersect and make a major splash. The same disturbance would go unnoticed in the ocean, but is visible in a pond.

Helpful Tips for a Mini Book Tour

Establish a relationship with local influencers. They work hard on your behalf. Influencers booked my speaking engagement, organized book signings, and blogged and promoted my events. They placed newspaper notifications for me. See what I mean about easy?

Keep costs down. If you need to buy books, don’t over purchase (like I did) unless you wish to haul them around. I left unsold books with influencers. I did cover half of my expenses, and I’m sure I can do better next time.

Book at least one paid speaking event. My event had 200 + guests. I sold 40 books and gave free handouts with my contact information. It was a bonus when a newspaper reporter covered the event.

Take a guestbook to your events. I didn’t, but I will next time! A guestbook would provide a relaxing way to get name spellings, information, and jot notes for later—all while making pleasant conversation with readers. I frantically jotted notes that got shoved into my purse. Not very professional.

Attend local events, even if it’s not your event. When a book tour is the reason for your visit to a community, the topic naturally accompanies personal introductions.

Giveaways. Offering free bookmarks opens conversations with people who wouldn’t otherwise make eye contact. Book giveaways are both promo and ministry. Trust God with your offerings.

Get prayer support. I would have remained fearful and frazzled without my prayer support team. Thanks guys!

Take your vitamins. Even good stress is hard on the immune system, and I ended up going to Urgent Care two days upon my return. (Probably because I was an introvert on overload)

Benefits and Blessings

-          Meeting local authors

-          Opportunity to sign shelved books in local bookstores and gift shops.

-          Networking – (Got featured in summer reading group. They approached me!)

         Media/newspaper coverage

-          Unexpected opportunities – Books placed in church and school libraries

-          Purchasing items for future promo.  Of course I bought a handcrafted Amish doll.

-          Photographing opportunities for website, blog, and promo use

         Research for blogging topics

-          Gleaning new information about the book industry

         Ministry – planting spiritual seeds and encouraging readers

-          Personal growth

 

Who are your influencers? Are you building relationships with them? Do you implement the small pond, big splash method for marketing your books?

Creating Characters with Personality

My characters didn’t always have personality.

In blind date jokes, the matchmaker skirts around the topic of a candidate’s looks and plays up their wonderful personality.  It was the reverse situation for my characters.  According to an editor, they had the looks, even the quirks, but no personality.  I was mortified to discover I had cardboard characters. I didn’t understand how it could be possible when I had developed a character notebook filled with descriptions, pictures, and imaginary back story.

I might have stayed in denial if my editor hadn’t challenged me to study personality typologies.

I quickly discovered by using type theories that someone else had already done all the work. I didn’t have to dream up any more character bios or answer a hundred silly questions about what my characters would do in various situations. I dreaded those kinds of exercises.  But I loved research. In a sense, this was researching my characters. All I had to do was find a key piece, and all the other pieces fell into place. I didn’t have to force myself to do something I didn’t enjoy. I found the process fascinating.

Now all my major characters have designated personalities which drive their actions and dialogue, and create tension and plot. I use a popular personality typology called the Enneagram. If you’re interested, personality TYPE helps are as easy as Googling personality typology.

First I look at my story premise to see what will be expected of my heroine. Then I examine the Enneagram chart’s short summaries to see which type will allow her to perform what’s required for the story. After reading more about her type, it’s easy to match her personality or purposely clash her personality with other characters by setting all their personality types. Some typologies even recommend matches, especially in the love and occupation departments. Back story practically writes itself because there’s also a section devoted to childhood.

Once you set a character’s personality TYPE, the story unfolds in a more believable way. That doesn’t make it predictable. It deepens it.

During writing when things aren’t clicking like they should, we often tear into our plots. But uncooperative characters may actually be the culprits. Before they can enhance the story, they must be equipped with personalities that will move the plot forward.

A roller coaster slowly climbs to its peak. In the same way, a story builds toward its climax. Imagine what would happen if the occupants of the roller coaster jumped out, swung from the scaffolding or pushed the coaster off its track.  It might be perversely entertaining at first, but the ride would be ruined. Readers expect characters to stay on track, so the story’s climax is thrilling and fulfilling.

I use the Enneagram at the beginning, when the story gets in trouble, and before I start edits.

While personality typology works for me, it’s not the only way to get the job done. What method do you use?  Just for fun, do you know your personality type?

The Standalone and the Series

Which is better, a standalone novel or a series?

This is a complex question, given each writing career is unique; but here’s what I’ve learned:

Sequel plots evolve naturally.

Most often while writing a novel, an author gets ideas that can spin into sequels. Sometimes minor characters beg for their own stories. Such inspiration is useful in layering the plot of a standalone or planting leads into the first novel of a series.

Most publishers want sequels written six months apart.

This means a solid eighteen months or more of the author’s time is contracted. With so many unknowns for a writer, this brings a sense of security. Since the advance represents the entire series, the extra money is valuable upfront for marketing purposes.

Usually less research is needed for a series than subsequent standalone novels, which gives the author extra writing time. With successive deadlines, he is forced to write consistently which also hones his skills and productivity.

Series are popular with publishers unless

the first book doesn’t sell.

If the first book doesn’t sell, it makes the sequels harder to sell. By the time the author discovers what went wrong, he’s probably already into the third book of the series and finds the publisher less willing to spend marketing dollars on the sequels.

For newbies, a series leaves little time for conditioning;

you hit the ground running.

The character roster quickly snowballs, yet needs to be worked into the ongoing series. Since each book also stands alone, there is back-story to incorporate. It takes skill to tie it all together. Maintaining consistency makes record keeping imperative from character charts to research files. There’s a struggle against boredom, and if the author gets bored the reader will too.

Deadlines threaten quality and marketing time.

It’s difficult to write quality work with tighter deadlines and also find time to market the first story which is the most important story for the success of the series. Usually the first story is quite detailed in the original book proposal. But one of the sequels may need major time-consuming revisions once the editor sees that story evolving.

Why not write a standalone with a series option?

While it sounds like the perfect solution, it’s always harder to go down a path when you don’t know where it’s leading.  It’s not impossible, but it makes writing the book proposal and novel trickier.

My personal experience – writing a series is like running.

At the beginning, I was excited and fresh. The middle book was written under the most duress. I was struggling uphill because of the increasing time crunch, revisions, and unexpected personal obligations. But the final book was like getting my second wind. It was exhilarating. With writing muscles in peak condition, it was the easiest and most enjoyable to produce. And just beyond beckoned refreshment and reward.

What about you? Are you a sprinter or a marathon runner?

After the Glitter, Get Inspired

When the glitter settles, I often discover that my creativity has gravitated from the work place to family, friends, and holiday festivities. In other words, it goes into play mode. Christmas can leave me feeling unmotivated to return to the hard task of writing. When this happens, a pep talk is in order to remind the creative side of my brain that it loves writing.  I find it helpful to think about a time when I was able to produce and convince myself that I’m capable of doing so again. I try to focus on the positive and not entertain negative thoughts or lingering distractions so that I can prepare the way for my inner writer to quicken.

I know that I must allow the left side of my brain (the logical or analytical side) to provide a safe uncluttered place for my creative right side to emerge.

In other words, I clean up the glitter. For me, it’s getting my hair done, putting away the Christmas decorations, and cleaning off my desk and workspace. I organize my desk and schedule and make necessary adjustments to reincorporate my writing time. I order a calendar for the upcoming year. I often need to re-prioritize my writing goals and ask, “What is my next step? What day and time will I begin?” I allow my left side to formulate a plan for my inner writer, rather like one friend spurring another to do something great.

With the glitter removed, I coax my right side to get back to my fiction writing.

 I stoke the dim flickering desire by intentionally doing things that heat up the inspiration. I may read a book on writing, go to a writing blog, or connect with another writer. I dig out the inspirational quotes. If I’m lazy, I may read a novel or two. I think about my readers.

When my motivation intensifies, I know it’s time to get started.

Even if it doesn’t, when the designated appointment time arrives, I sit at my desk. It feels familiar like I’m coming home again. I begin by reading what I last wrote or looking over my plot outline.  When my creative mind knows I mean business, it will emerge–sometimes slow and sulky and other times eager and crashing through the gates. My lips quirk into a smile and my fingers glide over the keyboard. It may feel rusty, but I know this isn’t the time for me to worry about perfection, but just be thankful that I’m writing again.

How do you go from glitter to inspired?

 

Four Ways to Engage Fiction Readers

 

From listening to my readers and following book reviews, four key topics repeatedly surface. While they’re not new ideas, they contain basic value in creating fictional worlds.

Readers wish to be swept away from their normal reality.

If readers wish to be swept away from their normal reality, our fiction has to contain something compelling or unique. This element must be intentional, not just something we hope for in our writing. And it should be identifiable. It can be an unusual setting or a fresh plot idea. Or how about an uplifting theme or a unique friendship? In order to offer something fresh yet appealing, I find it helpful to identify my readers and understand my genre.

Not only that, once we’ve swept readers off their feet, we must protect their experience by keeping them airborne—in their fictional world. They trust us not to let them come crashing back to earth without warning. Good writing remains invisible while creating a safety-net of lasting and vivid impressions. In other words, we must be careful not to do anything to draw them out of the story and ruin their fictional experience.

Readers need their emotions engaged and gratified.

 In order to engage and gratify readers’ emotions, we must create fascinating characters with whom they can identify—because they are looking for an emotional connection with the story. Our stories, and especially our endings, must not leave them up in the air, but provide emotional satisfaction and resolution. Again, we target the emotions associated with our genre. Suspense readers are looking for the adrenalin rush. They enjoy a short fall as long as they land safely in the end. Romance readers need to set their feet back on earth with a contented sigh.

Readers expect a takeaway.

 Readers also expect a story takeaway. When they have to come back to reality, they want something to take with them to enrich their everyday lives. It can be a spiritual theme that gives them hope in the real world. For a mystery, it might be an unexpected and intriguing twist. In women’s fiction, it might be a distinct image that provokes further thought or action—such as a family that solves their problems around the dinner table. While we foremost entertain, it’s this lingering takeaway that lives on inside our readers’ minds and excites them to spread the word about our stories. It compels them to follow our works.

Readers want to know more about authors.

Readers want to connect with us. It’s humbly amazing, and it’s the source of our greatest blessings. There’s something very intimate in the breath of story, the giving and taking that goes into the entire fictional experience. As authors, we’re sensitive beings who delight in the wonder and fear of it. And so we gladly leave our signature—a link for readers to interact with us or find out more about our writing.

What else? What do readers want from fiction?