About Michelle Griep

I hear voices. Loud. Incessant. And very real. Which basically gives me two options: choke back massive amounts of Prozac or write fiction. I chose the latter. Way cheaper. I've been writing since I discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. I seek to glorify God in all that I write...except for that graffiti phase I went through as a teenager. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

Is Writer’s Block Real?

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Ernest Hemingway fought bulls in Spain, dodged bullets as a war correspondent, and hunted big game in Africa . . . but when he was asked to name his scariest experience, he said, “A blank sheet of paper.”

Recently I received an email from a buddy of mine who’s convinced she’s got writer’s block. Convincing me, though, is a tough sell. You can quote Hemingway all you like, but I think writer’s block is a scam.

Hold on. Before you sharpen your pitchforks and/or chastise me for being a heartless friend, allow me to explain.

Just because you can’t pump out fifty words to save your life doesn’t mean you’ve contracted the dreaded Writer’s Block Virus. It simply means you’re going to have to work. Yes, indeedy, welcome to Realsville. More often than not, writing is work. Grunt work. The kind that makes you sweat.

Oftentimes when one thinks they might have writer’s block, it’s simply a case of having to search deep inside to come up with a sentence or two. Sometimes that’s super hard, but it’s never impossible . . . unless of course you’re in a coma and/or your fingers are broken.

Granted, you might not have a clue what to write on your current work in progress (WIP), but writing isn’t just about a WIP. You could write a letter to a friend, an encouraging note to your pastor, a measly shopping list for crying out loud. Writing is writing. It all counts.

I hear you, though. You want to make progress on your Great American Novel, yet you’ve all of a sudden skidded to a stop. Instead of throwing your hands in the air and crying, “I’ve got writer’s block!” give one of these ideas a whirl:

• Write something completely different. A sonnet. A piece of flash fiction. A rebuttal to a letter to the editor.
• Walk away and refuse to think about your story for a day, a week, or two even.
• Kill off a character (one of my personal favorites).
• Add in a new character.
• Do something creative with your hands. Paint a poster. Bake bread. Color with your kids.
• Begin work on another scene.
• Go to a mall and eavesdrop on conversations.
• Write the last scene.
• Think of an event that would make your protagonist weep. Write it.

What do all of these ideas have in common? They put your mind on something other than the spot you were stuck in so that hopefully when you do eventually come back to it, you’ll have a new perspective.

But what if you’re still stuck?

That’s when you need to pull out the big guns. Call a trusted writer buddy and cry on their shoulder, then brainstorm like nobody’s business.

I refuse to believe that writer’s block is real. Is that naive? Cold-hearted? Ignorant? Perhaps, but those are the least of my sins. I serve a pretty big God. If He wants me to write, I will, block or no block. Therein lies my confidence.

Idiosyncrasies of the English Language

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Don’t panic. I’m not going all-out academic linguistics on you, but we need to take a moment to consider the quirks of the American English language (as opposed to British). More to the point: what is said vs. what is meant.

When I say: “Wow, that garbage can is full.”

It means: “Get off your butt and lug out that Hefty bag, would ya?”

When my husband says: “Can I help with dinner?”

It means: “Have you been on Pinterest all day or what? Why isn’t the food on the table yet?”

When the sales clerk says: “Have a nice day.”

It means: “I don’t care a rat’s behind what kind of day you have as long as you fill out the survey on the bottom of the receipt and make me look good.”

When words are spoken face to face, it’s easier to decipher because of body language. But when the written word is your medium of choice, it’s all the harder to convey what a character actually means. On the up side, this can be used to an author’s advantage by choosing words that convey characterization via dialogue.

Or it can leave your reader scratching their head and relegating your book to the bottom of the stack on their nightstand.

What to do?

The best way to make each of your characters say what they really mean (and not give the reader a different expectation) is to know your character well before they speak. This requires some groundwork before you begin a new manuscript. Yes, this takes time, but in the long run it will pay off.

Know your characters. Know them well. Then use the words that flow out of their mouths to solidify who they are in your reader’s mind. Those are the kind of characters that stick with a reader long after they’ve closed the book.

But Don’t Overdo It

I love sarcasm. Give me a character who’s snappy and snippy with their dialogue and bam—instant like fest as far as I’m concerned. So it surprises me when my snarky personalities aren’t always well loved. What’s the deal?

Apparently I’m in the minority. Surprisingly, sarcasm doesn’t head the list of likeable traits, which can work against an author while crafting characters. It is your job as a writer to make your reader fall in love with your characters . . . or at least want to have coffee with them.

What authors do you know who have mastered the art of dialogue?

The Dreaded Synopsis

Writing a synopsis doesn't have to freak you out.

Writing a synopsis doesn’t have to freak you out.

“A synopsis is a cold thing. You do it with the front of your mind.”

~ J.B. Priestley, English novelist, playwright, broadcaster

Is it only me, or do you break out in a cold sweat just thinking about having to write a synopsis? I can write novels. I can write devotionals. I can even whip out a mean shopping list. But writing the dreaded synopsis brings out the idiot in me. Perhaps, indeed, I have lost the front half of my brain somewhere along the way.

So what’s my problem? Am I giving this too much importance? Am I trying to fit in too much information? Has there not been enough dark chocolate in my diet of late?

Regardless, there’s no getting around the fact that every writer must construct a synopsis in order to sell a manuscript. Think of it as the bones of your story, or if you like, the short story version of your novel.

3 WAYS TO WRANGLE A PLOT INTO A SYNOPSIS FORMAT

1. Introduce your main characters, focusing most on goals, motivations, and conflicts rather than on physical attributes.

Hint: Think back cover copy.

Example: It takes a thief to catch one, and there’s none better than reformed cat burglar (MOTIVATION) Officer Doug Harwell. He’ll stop at nothing to rid the Boston streets of crime (GOAL)—until the beautiful pickpocket Rhianna Davis enters his life (CONFLICT).

2. For the body of the synopsis, set up each paragraph with the actions, reactions, and decisions made by those main characters.

Example: Bob kisses Donna under the apple tree (ACTION).
He makes her forget she’s already engaged to Bubba (REACTION).
Donna decides to break off her engagement and run away to join the circus instead (DECISION).

3. Tie up the loose ends.

Never—ever—leave an editor guessing, no matter how cute you think it is. Cliffhangers are great for chapter endings, but not for a synopsis finale. You must include the resolution to your story.

There you have it. Put together your story idea into a two-page format before you dig into chapter one so that you have a road map to follow as you compose.

DO NOT LIVE AND DIE ON SYNOPSIS HILL

Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse? I’m not. Shoot, I’m not even prepared to make dinner tonight. I’ve got more important things on my mind, like should I stick to my synopsis or deviate in a whole new direction even though I’m two-thirds of the way finished? Don’t smirk. This is a serious crisis.

What do you do when you suspect your storyline might be one of the living dead?

First off, don’t panic. I never do. Oh, I did on the first three or four manuscripts, but now I see a pattern. I get bored with my own story. Yeah, I said that out loud. And newsflash: If the author’s bored, the reader will be bored. It’s a valid reason to stray from your original outline, but there are a few other reasons you might want to consider when deciding if you should revamp your plan or ditch it altogether.

You might want to change your synopsis if:

1. You thought of a better idea for an ending.

2. A new character shows up and takes center stage.

3. You realized an angle to turn the story into a series.

4. You came across information that makes your original idea not only implausible but outright impossible.

Remember, a synopsis written before a story is finished is more of a guideline than a legal contract. It’s okay to change things up, unless you’ve already got a contract on the piece. Then you’ll have to clear it with an editor first.

So Many Books, So Little Time

278153_3301Do you have a TBR pile? Yeah, I hear you. Stupid question. Who doesn’t? In fact, I’ve got an entire TBR bookcase I like to call Storyland. It’s a magical place, filled with books I’ve promised to review, those I want to read because the back cover copy hooked and reeled me in, and a few that I feel obligated to plow through.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not whining. There are many more titles I’d add to Storyland if I had the money, but where would I find the time to read them all? Surely with so many books and so little time, the topic of reading outside your comfort zone is a moot point, isn’t it?

No. It’s not. I’m a big advocate of broadening your reading horizons even when—or especially when—your time is limited. Why? Many reasons…

1. It gets you out of a rut, opening your eyes to other possibilities that just might spur you on to greater creativity.

2. It demolishes prejudice. How do you know you don’t like a western if you’ve never read one? If story is king, the genre doesn’t matter. When choosing to read outside your comfort zone, choose titles that are classics or bestsellers (because there’s usually a reason they’re in that position).

3.  If you want to be a well-rounded writer, you must be a well-rounded reader. Don’t forget short stories, poems, and plays can teach and hone different skills than a novel.

4. You just might discover a new favorite author. It’s happened to me. Because I write reviews, I don’t always get to choose the books I read. I’ve come across some fantastic new authors this way.

5. There’s always something to learn, from a new time period, to a people group you’re not familiar with, or even scientific theories you’ve never heard of. Reading outside your comfort bubble is educational.

1207951_88385713Now that you’re chomping at the bit to try some new genres, here are a few you can check out:

Steampunk

Generally this is an amalgamation of the Victorian era with modern technologies powered by steam. Plus there’s an excess of spin-offs such as dieselpunk, atompunk, decopunk, and loads of others.

Metafiction

Put on your thinking cap because this one is a little tricky to wrap your brain around. Metafiction is a literary term describing writing that purposely poses questions about the relationship between fiction and reality using irony and self-reflection.

Urban Fantasy

Think elves or magical fairies roaming around the alleys of New York City. Better yet, how about dwarves in the sewer system? This genre is usually set in contemporary times and contains elements of fantasy.

Musical Fiction

This is a genre wherein music is supreme, both as subject matter and via the flow and rhythm of the prose. Music is manifested through the language itself.

Robinsonade

Search your memory banks way back to junior high when you read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and you’ve just about hit the bull’s eye. The success of that novel spawned so many imitations that the title was used to define an entire genre, more simply described as a “desert island story.”

So go on…nudge, nudge…step out of your suffocating little box. Fling a completely out-of-your-zone book onto your TBR pile today. You can thank me for it later.

Preferably with chocolate.

5 Ways to Tell if You’re a Writer

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Can you name this author?

Writers are strange animals. They’re solitary mammals, prone to long stretches of hibernation unrelated to weather conditions. Generally, they’re pale, usually require glasses, and for some reason I’ve never been able to figure out, tend to wear flamboyant hats. What’s up with that?

If you suspect there’s a writer gene in your DNA, here’s a surefire test that doesn’t require a blood draw or even a swab of the inside of your mouth. See if you relate to any of the following. . .

1. You kill off your imaginary playmates.

Authors invent people. You craft words to connect readers to your characters, pulling at their heartstrings, making them best buddies. Then all for the sake of story, you take those imaginary friends and ramp up the catastrophes. Bam. Bam. Bam. All leading to a horrific climax…

“Meet Susan. She’s blonde, friendly, the girl next door with good dental hygiene. Her freckles are endearing and she helps little old ladies across the street. Everyone loves Susan. Whoopsidoodle! A Mack truck just hit Susan. Her dog died. And now there’s a one-armed stalker with an eye patch that wants to drink her blood. Poor, poor Susan.”

2. Your skill at lying is only exceeded by those in Washington.

Writers get paid to tell whoppers, kind of like attorneys, only without the debt of law school. It’s an author’s job to convince others of the plausibility of their story, to pull the reader into a whole new world—one they can taste, touch, and smell. Remember Susan? Yeah. Enough said.

3. You’re an uber-frustrated control freak.

You sit around all day, controlling what your characters say and wear, manipulating how they act and feel. You are a god of your fictional realm. Nothing happens unless you make it so. Enjoy the feeling, minion, because when you surface from Storyland, you don’t get to control reviews, contracts, publisher advances, or book placement, and you’re at the complete mercy of the Amazon recommendation algorithm.

4. You long for a raging bout of tinnitus just to shut up the voices in your head for a while.

When you’re asked about where you get your story ideas, you respond with, “What…you mean you don’t have mega-plex screens playing inside your head?” At least that’s how you answer the first time. After you’ve been scarred by the horrified face twisting that answer receives, you learn to reply, “Oh, here and there.” But that does nothing to clamp the lips of the story sirens in your mind, tempting you to listen to quite possibly the best plot idea ever in the history of mankind. And don’t bother buying the sound canceling earbuds. They don’t work.

5. You fly your freak flag high.

Hey, if being nutty-nuts was good enough for Tolstoy, Hemmingway, and Poe, you’re all for it. Besides which, you know you’re not batty, bonkers, or berserk. You identify yourself as simply being eccentric.

Any one of these five gonging a bell in your head and heart? If so, guess what? Yep. You’re a writer. Don’t worry, though. In this day of political correctness, no one will dare label you a nut job for fear of a lawsuit.

But that wasn’t always the case…(cue shameless teaser). In  A HEART DECEIVED, the topic of insanity is explored in historical detail…

A-Heart-Deceived-front-coverMiri Brayden teeters on a razor’s edge between placating and enraging her brother, whom she depends upon for support. Yet if his anger is unleashed, so is his madness. Miri must keep his descent into lunacy a secret, or he’ll be committed to an asylum—and she’ll be sent to the poorhouse.

Ethan Goodwin has been on the run all of his life—from family, from the law … from God. After a heart-changing encounter with the gritty Reverend John Newton, Ethan would like nothing more than to become a man of integrity—an impossible feat for an opium addict charged with murder.

When Ethan shows up on Miri’s doorstep, her balancing act falls to pieces. Both Ethan and Miri are caught in a web of lies and deceit—fallacies that land Ethan in prison and Miri in the asylum with her brother. Only the truth will set them free.

So when you need a break from your story world, pick up A HEART DECEIVED, available by David C. Cook and at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and ChristianBook.

When Your Muse Takes a Vacation

wheeled-bags-143413_640It’s that time of year to start reserving your campsite or cabin or airline seats. Yay for summer vacation! But who’s got time for that?

Your week is slammed—chock full of appointments and meetings and paperwork that you don’t want to fill out in the first place. And, dutiful writer that you are, you realize you must make time amidst the chaos to write or it’s not going to happen. So, you whip out a crowbar and pry open a block of precious hours to work on your bestseller. It’s hopeful. It’s a handhold on your rockslide of a schedule and you’re looking forward to it.

Fast forward. The blessed time has arrived for you to lose yourself in the muse and surge ahead in your WIP. Java in one hand, laptop in the other, you cozy up in your favorite chair, ready to write and—

Apparently your muse didn’t get the memo. Your mind is blank and you are exhausted. Panic sets in. This is your only chance to write for the week and you don’t want to blow it. So you sit there with a crazed look on your face, whimpering.

Yeah. I hear you. I’ve been there. Frequently. Take a deep breath and read on because I’ve got a few tricks in my writerly bag that often are helpful.

470077_13483801Say What?

Close your eyes for a moment and listen to your characters. Just listen. Then open your eyes and write down what they’re saying. That’s right…I’m giving you permission to simply write dialogue. Don’t worry about attributes. You can go back and do that later. Simply start typing in a conversation between two of your characters (any two) and something magical will happen. You’ll get lost in the dialogue and pretty soon your word count will sky rocket.

Show & Tell

Open up to your collection of pictures that inspire your particular story. And if you don’t have any, then use this time to get some. What am I talking about? Well, I now keep pictures of each of my stories on Pinterest (here is an example). You don’t have to use that site, but you can look at my board and it will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Pre-Pinterest days I simply opened a Word file and kept them there. Pre-laptop days I cut out pictures and tossed them into a file folder. Sometimes all it takes to get you writing is to physically look into your hero or heroine’s eyes.

1427476_92609932Slash & Burn

Go back to a previous chapter and edit. Even if your muse doesn’t happen to show up during that entire block of time, at least you’ll be making some kind of headway on your WIP and you’ll feel a lot better about it.

Mind Game

Release the pressure by telling yourself it’s quality not quantity. Focus on writing a single paragraph of description, either describing a character, a setting, an object…whatever. Make it a game by throwing out convention and using prose that’s crazy and you’ll find that one of two things will happen. It will either spur you into a creative new bent for the scene and you’ll move on in your story, or you’ll wonder what kind of drugs you’re on and snap out of it.

1439836_95143378Chocolate

Honestly, is there any situation that chocolate doesn’t make better? Go for the biggest brownie in the batch and see if that doesn’t put you in a better frame of mind

There you have it. Try one. Try all. Or go ahead and share with us other surefire ways you’ve tried to plead with your muse to pack up the suntan lotion and get home.

Five Essentials of Character Building

No matter the genre, every story has characters; otherwise you’d be writing a phone directory. Hold on. Bad analogy. I know plenty of characters in a phone book, and who in the wide, wide world of sports uses a phone book anymore anyway?

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Creating a memorable character doesn’t have to be daunting!

As I was saying, sans phone books, characters are an essential ingredient in a story recipe. There are lots of tricks to jazz up a character to make him memorable, but EVERY character needs some basic elements right from the get-go.

#1. FEAR

What makes your character scream like a little girl? Centipedes? The IRS? The threat of an alien abduction and subsequent probe . . . wait a minute . . . I’m scaring myself. And that, my friends, is the point. Everyone is afraid of something, fictional or not. Identify what terrifies your character so that you can use that fear to ramp up the tension.

#2. STRENGTH

I’m not talking six-pack abs here, though in the case of your hero, that’s never a bad idea. What sweet skills does your character possess? Is he a crazy freak with nunchucks? Can she hit a raccoon in the eyeball from fifty yards away with a slingshot? Maybe this character has x-ray vision and can see into people’s souls. Whatever. Give them something to work with. Even Charlie Brown excelled with his spirit of compassion.

#3. FLAWS

Perfect characters make readers want to punch them in the head. Nobody is flawless, so make sure your character isn’t either, even your super stud that swoops in to save the day and the damsel in distress all with one arm tied behind his back. This can be something as small as an inability to balance a checkbook, or feeding a gambling habit using stolen money copped from nuns. It’s not mean to give your character a flaw. It’s a necessity.

#4. A SECRET

Psst. Hey buddy. Come over here and I’ll whisper you some covert information because have I got something juicy to tell you! Are you leaning toward the screen? That’s because you want to know what I’ve got hidden. Secrets are like big, juicy nightcrawlers wriggling on a hook, irresistible to the reader fish. Characters with secrets reel a reader in.

#5. MOTIVATION

Everybody wants something. A brand-spanking-new Tesla. A mutton lettuce tomato sandwich. The stupid hangnail on your thumb to go away. Your character wants something as well. After you identify what it is, then dig a little deeper and find out why they want it. What drives them to go after their desire? That is motivation. I’m not saying you have to spell this out to a reader with a ton of backstory, but it’s important for you as a writer to know because it will show up in their mannerisms and even in the way they speak to others. Motivation manifests in attitude. What kind of aura do you want your character to portray?

These are the building blocks of creating a memorable character, someone who will stick with a reader long after they’ve read the last page of your story. What character haunts your head from one of your favorite authors? Chances are that the author used each one of these elements in his/her creation.