Making Connections

Publishing is a funny beast. The author wears many hats – writer, editor, marketer, publicist, sometimes frazzled human being (all right, maybe it’s most of the time). There are moments when the load seems overwhelming and I feel incapable of wearing every hat with excellence.

Kariss' teamMarketing tends to be my weakest link. I’m passionate about my books, love to talk about them, enjoy sharing the story of God’s faithfulness. But when it comes to selling the idea of why others should read them, I prefer to let people determine the quality on their own.

I know. I know. I’m still learning how to do this well. But the key is that I’m learning. Guest posts, social media, contests, etc. are all great tools that I am adding to my belt, but the most powerful tool in my arsenal is my network. These people fall into multiple categories, and every group is important

  1. Close friends and family.
    You’ve got to love this group. They are your biggest fans and cheerleaders. Occasionally they may be more biased than constructive with their feedback, but enjoy the affirmation. They’ve watched the journey, battled the insecurities and joy with you, and want to celebrate the finished product.
  2. Fringe friends and acquaintances.
    These are the people familiar enough with you to ask about the book every time they see you. They are also the ones who bought the book out of curiosity and support and are excited to watch the journey from a distance. If they love the story, you better believe they will share with their friends and family.
  3. Unknown readers.
    These are the people whose constructive opinion you can count on most. If they love the book, then job well done. They hail from all over the country, sometimes out of the country, and their word of mouth is powerful. They don’t know you, but love the heart in your books and will shout it from the mountaintops and anxiously wait for the next book. I love networking with this group. Their excitement fuels my own.
  4. Critics and commentators.
    These are your influencers, bloggers, Amazon comment critics, etc. I don’t necessarily advocate taking their opinions as gospel. But often, they have a powerful voice in their particular online spheres. Learn what they love and what they don’t, filter it to see if there is truth, and build on these admonitions in your next book.
  5. The unreached.
    The good news is that with all these other groups on board, the unreached are now reachable. Diligently work to add this group to the fold. Build relationships with your readers. Write stories that people can’t ignore. And don’t grow discouraged. This is a journey, not a short-distance sprint. Growth happens over time, and it’s exciting to see.

Shadowed_AUG 1 (1)But there is one connection that is the most important. Talking to the Master Storyteller. He knows your story intimately, and He alone can weave your network into something beautiful.

Prayer is powerful. In moments of frustrated marketing, I’ve prayed that the Lord will get Shaken and Shadowed into the hands of people who need to read them, despite my best efforts.

And He has.

Some of my favorite interactions from readers come from those who never heard about the book but wandered into a bookstore, loved the story, laughed, cried, and found hope in Christ. Every time I read one of these messages, I praise the Master Marketer. In spite of my best efforts, He is still placing these books in strategic places.

More than spinning a great story and growing my craft, I want to make an impact. And that only comes through surrendering my ideas in marketing to the One who knows best. I figure with Him at the wheel, I’ll do what I can and let Him do the rest.

How to Create Walk-On Characters Who Are Memorable (But Not Too Memorable)

The Water Cooler is pleased to host guest blogger K.M. Weiland.

Every character is the hero of his own story.

V8374c_JaneEyre.inddThat bit of popular advice is a marvelously evocative reminder to breathe life into even minor characters. However, chances are you’ve also had the sometimes-charming, sometimes-frustrating experience of a minor character who decides he’s not just the hero of his own story, but the hero of the story. He tries to take over, usually with mixed results.

So how can you go about hero-izing your minor characters into memorable and realistic personalities without letting them derail your story? Charlotte Brontë’s masterful novel Jane Eyre (which I analyze in-depth in my book Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic) offers some excellent examples on how to deftly bring to life any type of character—without letting them run away with you.

The Four Types of Characters
First, take a moment to consider the various types of characters you might find in your story. Which category your character falls into will determine how he should be introduced.

1. Main Characters
Main characters are protagonists. They will be on stage in all or most of your scenes and will probably be given the primary point-of-view narration. Their goals and character arcs power the plot. Without them, there is no conflict and no story. To find Jane Eyre’s main character, we need look no further than the title.

2. Major Characters
Major characters are those who figure in the story almost as prominently as the protagonist. However, they act in roles that support the protagonist. They drive the story only in ancillary ways. Antagonists, sidekicks, love interests, and mentors are all examples of common major characters. In Jane Eyre, St. John Rivers acts as one of the antagonists, Helen Burns appears briefly as a sidekick, Edward Rochester is the love interest, and the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax sometimes functions as a mentor.

3. Minor Characters
Minor characters fill out the rest of the cast. They are characters who recur throughout the story—sometimes only once or twice, sometimes frequently. They fill in the gaps in the story world, allowing readers to believe the setting is populated with the multitudinous faces we find in our own world. Minor characters may dramatically affect the plot, but only in comparatively small ways. They are not as integral as major characters. In Jane Eyre, her cousins the Reeds, the nasty Blanche Ingram, and St. John’s would-be wife Miss Oliver are all important, but decidedly minor characters.

4. Walk-On Characters
Walk-on characters are those who appear only once, fulfill a necessary role, and exit the story, probably never to be mentioned again. They are rarely named and exist only for background color or plot functionality. The many servants at Thornfield Hall and Jane’s fellow students at Lowood School are all walk-on characters.

Use Your Character’s Introduction to Signal His Importance (or Lack Thereof)

Identifying which group a character belongs in will help you understand how to introduce him. No matter his role, you want to bring him to life in your readers’ minds. You want them to clearly visualize him—and not just visualize him, but see him as a unique and vibrant human being.

This is where we sometimes get tripped up. We don’t want readers to dismiss our walk-on taxi driver as a cardboard cutout, or, worse, a cliché. So we spend several paragraphs describing his appearance, his accent, his personal tics, maybe even a little of his backstory. There! Now, he’s three-dimensional!

Problem is he’s also now giving readers the wrong signal. The more time you spend introducing a character, the more you foreshadow his importance within the story. A walk-on character who gets three paragraphs of intro, only to never show up again, will be at best a niggling loose end in readers’ minds. At worst, he’s a gaping plot hole.

Save your paragraphs of description for main and major characters. Weigh carefully how much attention you give to minor characters. The time you spend on them should never outweigh their roles in the story. As for walks-on, you’ve already guessed it: they deserve only a sentence or two of your attention.

How to Bring Characters to Life With No More Than Three Details

So riddle me this: If you’re not allowed to give walk-on characters (and some minor characters) more than a sentence or two, how in heaven’s name can you be expected to bring them to life?

Details are the key. Choose the right details, and you won’t need more than a few. Choose the perfect detail, and you might not even need more than one. Charlotte Brontë offers a fabulous example of this in her introduction of a walk-on postal lady early in the book.

The character appears only in this scene and affects the plot only because Jane needs to get her hands on that fateful letter from Thornfield Hall. Brontë expends just three sentences on the old lady, which introduce a sum total of three important characterizing details (see bold phrases below). But that’s more than enough to bring her to life without implying she plays a larger role in the story than she does.

“[The post office] was kept by an old dame, who wore horn spectacles on her nose, and black mittens on her hands…. She peered at me over her spectacles, and then she opened a drawer and fumbled among its contents for a long time, so long that my hopes began to falter. At last, having held a document before her glasses for nearly five minutes, she presented it across the counter, accompanying the act by another inquisitive and mistrustful glance….”

The next time you write a walk-on character, challenge yourself to come up with three—no more, no less—precise, pertinent, and enlivening details with which to describe him. Then evaluate the effect and see if your brief description hasn’t provided your story with an unobtrusively vivid new character.

************************************************************************************************K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

The Only Story That Matters

july 013I was beginning to panic about my book sales. Despite my hard work and ceaseless efforts to promote my new book, I just wasn’t making a dent in the supply of books I’d bought from my publisher. Since I’d borrowed the money from our family savings, I felt guilty that I wasn’t refilling the coffer as quickly as I’d so optimistically assumed I would.

What more could I do? Post even more frequently on social networks? Write more guest blogs? Camp out on the doorsteps of radio and television stations to get their attention? Go into even more debt by hiring a publicist, in hopes he could convince people to buy my book? Beg the few bookstores still in existence to push my book at customers?

I didn’t do any of those things.

Instead, I asked God for help. I prayed for more book sales.

And He delivered.

Within days, I heard from two stores who had taken some of my copies that they needed more. Some event bookings I’d been pursuing for months finally came through, and I added them to my calendar. One night as I lay awake in bed, thinking about my book, I realized there was another market I could tap into, and the next day, I discovered solid leads for doing exactly that.

And then my daily Scripture devotional chimed in with Jeremiah 32:17.

universe“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

Yes, I was reassured and completely grateful for God’s generosity to me in the form of helping me sell more books as I had requested in prayer. I’d asked, and I’d received.

Praise God!

To be honest, though, I felt something even more compellingly: I felt chastised. I’d asked the omnipotent Lord, who created the universe itself, to help me sell books! Who did I think I was to even imagine He would care about a few hundred dollars in my life? It’s not like I needed a PLANET or anything. I wanted material success. I wanted to put some money back in the bank. I wanted God to make me feel better about a story I wrote. A story!!

Talk about putting myself at the center of the universe. I was humbled. Embarrassed. Aghast at my own egocentricity.

And, most of all, stunned by God’s patience with me, because this isn’t the first time I’ve let my selfish priorities slide in over what I know to be the single most important relationship of my life: my relationship with God.

It’s true – nothing is too hard for God, and that includes loving me…and you.

And really, that’s the only story that matters, isn’t it?

 

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.

The 7 Fear-Nots of Every Writing Project

Woman afraid (funny)

Whenever an emissary from another world showed up in all its effulgence, men and women fell down terrified, overcome, filled with God-brilliance and self-loathing. Our own writing projects, delivered by the other-worldly muse, can inflict and inspire a similar terror at times (Woe is me! Why did I think I could write this novel?). When you’re visited by these angels of brilliance-and-woe, (and you will be!), remember what usually came next, after the Visited fell facedown in the dirt: “Fear Not!” And then words of hope and direction were given to the stricken to lift them to their feet and their new purpose.

Here are 7 tested “Fear Nots” to get you back to your screen and your project:

Woman smiling with hands folded

1. Fear Not!—-That you’re not qualified to write this material. You’ve chosen this material, or it has chosen you, for reasons deeper than anyone knows, including you (unless you’re purely market-driven). Your desire, your interest, your life experience, your questions, maybe even your prayer life may have something to do with this insistent need to address this subject. Trust your choosing and chosenness.

2. Fear Not! —–That you have nothing new to contribute to the world. Listen to Madeleine L’Engle:
“My husband is my most ruthless critic. . . Sometimes he will say, ‘It’s been said better before.’ Of course it has. It’s all been said better before. If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes out through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try; to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notes, or we die.”

3. Fear Not!—–That the article, short story, memoir, sonnet, sci-fi trilogy, whatever form you’re writing in, feels too difficult. Fear is the perfect response before something this grand and complex. This is partly why you’ve chosen it. If it were easy, you wouldn’t grow as a writer.

4. Fear Not!—–That you don’t have enough time to write. Of course you don’t. No one does. But if you are serious about this project, you will find a way to re-order your life: stop watching TV, write while the kids are napping, get up 2 hours earlier than everyone else, take your manuscript with you on vacation. Yes, it costs you ( and it costs others too, you must realize). Did you think otherwise? Count the cost to everyone. Then, if still so moved, cut and carry on.

5. Fear Not!—-That you don’t know where your novel, trilogy, even your memoir is headed. No one you know informs you of the outcome of their lives, do they? How many of your friends know where their lives are headed and how they will get there and who they will be once they’re there? You will not know this for your characters or story until they do. Keep writing day by day, keep listening to them, and you’ll find out what you need at the right time. The writing itself will get you there.

6. Fear Not!—–That you’re not a good enough writer to accomplish your goal. None of us is good enough to finish a project when we start. Some of us aren’t even good enough to start! By the time we finish, though, we have become more than good enough. The struggle, the long hours and the word-wrangling and prayer-wrestling will all get you there.

7. Fear Not! —-That no one will read your work. Someone WILL read your work. Maybe a few friends, the ones you really care about, maybe thousands of strangers. No one knows this when they are writing, and it has nothing to do with the writing. Just get on with the world you are making, and trust that your creation will find the people who need and cherish it the most.

BONUS: Because fears often multiply, one more to put to rest: Fear Not!—-That when this project is done, you will exhaust all your words and ideas. Not so. You may be temporarily exhausted, but never fear! Your best writing keeps the muse coming back. And when she does, return to this list, pick yourself up—-and turn a new page.

The Seven -Fear Nots- of Every Writing Project (1)

It’s Never Too Late to Write

I started my writing career later than most. At least compared to many of my twenty-first century peers.

And I worried I’d waited too long.

Broodmoor Hotel, Colorado

It’s Never Too Late to Make a New Bed

Actually, I had a lot of strikes against me. I was sure I’d made my bed, and had no opportunity to make another. But I was wrong.

If it hadn’t been for a persistent push from God, I doubt I’d be writing to you now. But He continually convicted me through the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30. You see, I was the wicked and lazy servant who’d buried her gift.

However, God truly is merciful — and encouraging. Over a period of a few years, He used five real-life examples to show me it’s never too late to write.

The first lived in Missouri, like I do. Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, two of the most inspirational writers I’ve ever studied, called Mansfield, Missouri home. Rose schooled her mother on how to formally pen those wonderful classic books, the Little House on the Prairie series.

But the most amazing part was learning Laura was sixty-five years old when the first best-selling manuscript went to her publisher.

Strolling through her grounds recently, I imagined her gnarled hands scratching out stories from memory onto pages of paper. She finished her final book at age seventy-six.

Another author who started late was Frank McCourt, also publishing in his mid-sixties. The wisdom of time and experience propelled Angela’s Ashes to the top of global readers’ favorite lists.

At forty-five, Raymond Chandler, (who I share a birth date and month with), finally broke into publishing success, after struggling from the time of his youth to make his professional mark.

In her fifties, Mary Wesley published a few children’s books without notice. However, in her seventies, she took the world by storm with her first novel, Jumping the Queue.

James Michener is a well-known name for those who know writing. But some don’t realize his fifty year Pulitzer-prize-winning career didn’t start until he was fifty, continuing until his death at age ninety. His last book published posthumously.

What's on Your Bucket List

What Does Your Bucket List Say?

No matter what encourages you, whether it’s real-life examples, spiritual promptings, or the example of a writer who did, though I feared I wouldn’t, let something spur you on. Age, location, past failures, naysayers, none of those things matter.

If you are willing to learn, to listen, to do the work, to learn some more, to listen some more, then work some more, you will see results. Maybe not at the caliber of some of the names listed here, but at the level you are supposed to achieve. This leads me to one more thought — actually it’s a question.

Many people tell me they believe in God. But I respond by asking this, “Do you believe God?” A simple change in sentence structure changes the meaning. In Proverbs 14:23 (NIV), it says, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”

Maybe your sentence structure will help someone see a familiar statement in a new way. Maybe your profit will result in financial windfalls. But more likely, it will come through a life changed. A life you touch because you never gave up. Because like me, you chose to believe God and say, “It’s never too late to make a fresh start with fresh faith — while I write.”

What encourages you to write on?

 

Holding onto God’s Hands

jesus hands

Psalm 73: 23-24 I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

Have you ever had one of those days, weeks, or years when everything goes wrong? Health issues, financial problems, family struggles, or the death of a loved one—these are all things that can rip the joy from you, zap you of your strength, or leave you wondering if God is even out there.

How often, during these times, do we think our prayers have gone unanswered? Or that God has turned his back on us? Or that he doesn’t care?

Even if our faith runs deep, it is easy to get into that rut of believing the worst. It’s human nature. But I assure you, God will be with you every step of the way. He won’t stop at just walking beside you. He will, as the scripture says, hold you by his right hand. He will be your teacher, counselor, and mentor. He will guide you through the rough times, if you listen for his voice and search his word.

I knew a woman who had lost her first and only child to crib death, or SIDS – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The impact of that child’s death rippled through our small church with the force of a tsunami. A short time afterwards, I found her in one of the Sunday school rooms cleaning the toys, wiping off the shelves, and singing. When she sang, when she prayed, or even when she shed her tears across the altar, she believed God was her strength. He held her hand, and guided her through the valley of the shadow of death.

But most of all, she knew God had led her baby into glory. And that one day, he would lead her through, too. She’d be able to hold her child in her arms once again.

This is his promise to us. A promise we can count on.