When Our Story Worlds Come Alive

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For writers, there’s nothing quite as thrilling as breathing life and love into our characters and stories.

Our hearts beat for those creative moments when fact meets fiction in bold new worlds. We’re eager to get words on the page and begin our journey.

From the moment I envisioned the sleepy little town of Ruby, Missouri, ideas flowed. The Ozarks and her people are my heritage. The way of life here, unique. Modeling my fictional town after the place I grew up and loved seemed only natural.

I know these hills and hollows. Where better to glean story fodder, witticisms, and character sketches?

Where better to unearth challenges met and hope restored?

My story worlds come alive when I consider not only the story, but also how the setting makes me feel. Fictional Ruby, Missouri, my down-to-earth little niche, embodies warmth, humor, and nostalgia.

My imaginary world also strikes a poignant chord regarding faults, foibles and second chances. Toss in a little grace and mercy extended, and my stories are the ideal heartfelt, homespun fiction blend.

While writers’ story worlds aren’t without blemish, that’s what endears them to us. Perfect is boring.

Readers want to immerse themselves in worlds that take them away.

We want to believe, too, there are fallible people just like us who strive toward a higher purpose—something beyond our present, imperfect state.

Two decades ago when Jan Karon burst on the scene with her beloved Mitford stories, the world was smitten. Everyone, everywhere, talked about Mitford. The tight-knit, small-town community appealed to those who longed for a simpler way of life, devoid of the worldly chaos so easily accessible elsewhere.

We immersed ourselves in the region, the people and their tales.

From the tiniest details to the more complex matters, Mitford entranced and beckoned. We wanted to visit the fictional village whose heartwarming charm tweaked our emotions and primed our thinking.

This was a world where we could lose ourselves. The world many of us wanted to believe truly existed beyond the spine of a book.

As a reader, Karon’s novels appealed for all these reasons. As a writer, I admired her sharp wit, her down-to-earth style and her clever turn of a phrase. The fact that her work continues to draw fans, both in the general and inspirational markets, communicates a strong message.

When story worlds come alive, all bets are off.

Readers are willing to cross preconceived barriers when stories and story worlds resonate. We’re also willing to search for those stories beyond the typical go-to confines. This is one reason Christian/inspirational fiction is evolving. Readers’ desires may wax and wane, but one thing’s clear.

Bookstores’ designated sections might influence where we initially peruse, but at the end of the day, we go to those books (wherever the physical location) that spark interest and meet a need.

Yes, concerning books, categories are needed and necessary.

And yet, some genres should consider casting a wider net to reach more readers, thereby meeting twenty-first century needs.

Does that mean compromising our brand’s integrity?

Does it mean devaluing all we hold dear?

Absolutely not.

I think, though, in today’s fiction we’re remiss if we don’t incorporate threads that reflect today’s issues, concerns, and dilemmas.

Don’t misunderstand.

That doesn’t mean we use language or situations that would deflect from our message.

It means we weave realistic choices and outcomes into our storylines that make our story worlds believable, endearing, and hopefully, enduring.

In my own heartfelt, homespun story worlds, I want folks to know everyone—with baggage or not—is welcome.

I want readers to have a seat, nibble some pie, and feel a little love as we fellowship together, despite being different.

Because the thing is…

Great stories unite humanity…

Regardless of the real world or the story worlds we create.

***

Original Image Credit: CCO Creative Commons/Pixabay

Tell us about your story world. What do you find most challenging? Most rewarding?

What makes a story come alive for you?

Do you think a great story has to have a happy/hopeful ending?

 

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Cynthia writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the beautiful Ozark Mountains. A hopeless romantic at heart, she enjoys penning stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. Her debut novel, the first in a three-book series, releases with Mountain Brook Ink July 2019.

“Cindy” has a degree in psychology and a background in social work. She is a member of ACFW, ACFW MozArks, and RWA.

Besides writing, Cindy enjoys spending time with family and friends. She has a fondness for gingerbread men, miniature teapots, and all things apple. She also adores a great cup of coffee and she never met a sticky note she didn’t like.

Cindy loves to connect with friends at: http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/

She also hangs out here:

http://www.twitter.com/C_Herronauthor

http://www.facebook.com/authorcynthiaherron

http://www.pinterest.com/cynthia_herron/

For love, fun, and encouragement ~

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Sometimes Writing is Like Washing Eggs

I pulled the photo album from the shelf, the binder bulging from photos and story. I flipped through the black and white pages of faces unknown and known.

  • Of Mom and her siblings on the front steps of a South Dakota farmhouse.
  • Of elementary-age Mom with dark hair between her blonde-haired sisters, Sylvia and Joyce.
  • Of mom as a teenager dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, next to her brother, Glenn, helping their dad with the haying on their 480 acres.

I turned pages until I came to a section of memories my mom had written before her death four years ago.

Her history. Her story.

A tale about eggs.

Yes. Eggs.

“Eggs were a year-round cash crop for the family,” Mom had written. “Many chickens were raised and eggs needed to be picked daily. Evening after evening Lillian (my grandmother) would sit in the kitchen and wash more than 200 eggs. If she missed a few days, she could have 1000 eggs to deal with.”

Every night my grandmother washed eggs. After the laundry with a wringer washer. After feeding grandpa and eight of the twelve children that were still at home. After the dishes in the small, white ceramic sink. After mopping the floor from the muddy footprints of twenty feet. After prayers and tucking into two bedrooms.

After it all, Grandma washed eggs. With circular movements, Grandma washed off the dirt, blood, and chicken poop. Sometimes she would be so exhausted, she would fall asleep while still sitting in the chair. Jerking awake, she would pick up one egg, and then another, going late into the wee hours while the cuckoo clock on the wall ticked off the minutes.

Daily. Monotonous. Un-glorious. Necessary.

Life.

I was contemplating my grandmother’s endless eggs last week while I was doing the unexciting task of editing a manuscript, taking apart sentences egg by egg. I wanted to wait until I felt inspired. I wanted to work on a creative, fun, and new project. I wanted to go clean the kitchen. I wanted to read a book. I wanted to go sort out a closet.

I wanted…(you get the idea!)

Instead, I looked at verb choice. Commas. Sentence fragments. I read my editor’s notes and made changes. I checked a reference for accuracy.

So much of writing is about washing eggs.

What eggs do you have to wash this week?

 

Against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert, Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging–belonging to family, to community and to a loving God. Her book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May 2017 with Revell/Baker Publishing. She blogs at www.lynnehartke.com. You can find Lynne on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Claiming Your Promised Land

Phil 4 7As I compiled RESTNotes, the devotional guide to my book, Words That Change Everything, other commitments and obligations kept getting in the way.

Plus, I was exhausted because I had just completed my book. And that process birthed more challenges than I’d like to admit.

Also, my husband, Dan, had just retired. And I was ready for some REST and time off, too.

Lord, I’ll never keep up with all my commitments!

I thought of the story in Matthew where the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. After that trial, “the devil left him, and angels came and attended him” (Matt. 4:11 NIV).

Even Jesus grew weary in his battles. And he called on his heavenly Father to give him the words to defeat his accuser. But he also experienced the spiritual comfort provided by his Father.

I’m thankful that I can trust the Lord to provide that same kind of comfort for me.

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. (2 Cor. 1:3–5 The Message)

Red Flags

Where do you go for REST when you’re tired or worried? What do you tend to turn to for comfort?

GraceTalk

What promises from God’s Word have helped you as you have stepped out in faith to trust the Lord?

Reflection

Consider some of the times you trusted God with an impossible situation. Describe the dates and details?

This excerpt taken from my eBook, RESTNotes. Be sure to get your FREE copy today!

How to kill off your characters without even trying

One of the things I enjoyed most about writing my cozy Birder Murder mysteries was coming up with inventive scenarios in which my protagonist found dead bodies. Since this happened in the first chapter, the rest of the novel was a twisting path to solve the ‘why?’ and the ‘who done it?’ behind the dead body. I found that rather than making a book easy to write, starting with a victim really puts a writer under the gun…so to speak.

When it comes to developing your non-dead characters, however, there are plenty of easy ways to kill them off, even if you don’t mean to. Let’s take a look at the quickest ways to inadvertently make your characters lifeless, dull, unrealistic, and totally unengaging:

  1. Don’t let them speak. Dialogue is one of the best ways to develop your character’s character. Without dialogue, your reader gets descriptions upon descriptions of what a character thinks and does, but never an insight into actual verbal interaction with another character. Spoken language reveals nuances that make a character come alive. Does a character speak a regional dialect, peppering the conversation with unique turns of speech, or does he stutter in frustration? If your reader doesn’t ‘hear’ your character, you’re not making use of one of the five senses. Shortchange your reader of ‘listening’ and that character loses a dimension of personality, along with sympathy.
  2. Let them talk too much. We all know people who don’t let you get a word into the conversation; those are the people we try to avoid! A fictional character who does this is beyond insufferable, becoming a ‘talking head’ who drives the pace of the story to a dead stop. It’s also a classic case of telling, instead of showing. Balance action with dialogue to create a rounded character.
  3. Make them perfect! This may be the fastest route to killing a character before the story even gets started. Who cares about someone who has no faults, no misgivings, no dark sides, no shortcomings? Readers aren’t reading to learn about someone’s perfect life. Readers want to see their own failings, confusions, regrets, and wounds in a character, so they can relate and find the possibility of healing and hope in their own lives. A perfect character is flat. No one needs them…especially an author.
  4. Make them predictable. If your heroine always falls for the wrong guy, your reader will give up on her. If your hero always wins, how boring is that? If your reader knows how the book will end after reading Chapter One, why bother reading the rest? The best characters make mistakes, eventually learn from them, and become better people. (Not perfect people, per #3 above.) Great characters are works in progress, even after the last page. If your reader doesn’t imagine what happens to a character after the end of the story, that’s a sure sign the character never really ‘lived’ for the reader.

Are you creating characters that live? What are your best tips?

WordServe News January 2018

Happy 2018! Exciting things have been happening this month at WordServe Literary.

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of WordServe authors’ recently released books along with a recap of agency news.

New Releases

Mary Davis’s novella, Holly and Ivy, was released as part of A Bouquet of Brides Collection from Barbour. In this delightful collection, readers meet seven American women who were named for various flowers but struggle to bloom where God planted them. Can love help them grow to their full potential?

Phillip Robinson and Rondol Hammer released Forgiveness in the First Degree with FaithHappenings Publishers. The gun was never supposed to go off. When a drug dealer assured twenty-nine-year-old Ron Hammer and his brother-in-law that they could make some quick easy money, they were intrigued. He promised them that when a local grocer delivered a bag of money to his store to cash Friday paychecks, they only needed to show him a gun and he’d hand over the bag.
But high on meth and dulled by liquor, they ended up in a scuffle with their target, and the gun accidentally fired.

 

Sarah Varland released Mountain Refuge with Love Inspired Suspense. When someone tries to grab Summer Dawson on a secluded mountain path, she escapes—but soon discovers she’s a serial killer’s latest target. Ex-cop Clay Hitchcock, promises she won’t become the next victim, but can Clay and Summer work together to bring down the crazed killer lurking in the wilderness?

New Contracts 

 

New Clients

 

What We’re Celebrating

 

Before You Release Your Words Into the World…

If you’re writing a book you hope to see published, your words must serve the reader.

  • Maybe it’s a memoir.
  • Maybe it’s self-help book.
  • Maybe it’s the story of a remarkable relationship.
  • Maybe it’s tips about gardening.

No matter what you are writing, it has to have value for the reader.

So before you send your proposal or manuscript to an agent or editor (or before you send it to me to review!) imagine that the agent/editor/publisher will be reading your words with one question in her heart: What’s in it for the reader?

Questions I want you to ask, of your proposal/manuscript, before you release your words into the wild…

  • What is the value, for the reader, in this book?
  • When she finishes the first chapter, does she want to keep reading?
  • When she’s really tired, is there a reason for her to keep turning pages?
  • Does every sentence, every page, every chapter serve the reader?
  • When she finishes, can she articulate the single important takeaway of the book?
  • When the reader sets this book down, has she gained something from it that she wants to share with a friend over coffee?
  • Does she want to buy a copy for her sister because the book had so much value?
  • ls she able to apply what she’s learned to her own life?

If the answer to some of these questions is either “no” or “I don’t know,” I want you to return to your word-baby and review it one more time through the spectacles of an agent or editor. Name the value–write it out–that the reader gleans from each chapter.

If you can’t identify the takeaway value for the reader–the “payoff” for purchasing your book–then work at it until you can.

Ultimately, “your” book is not about you. It’s about the reader.

Serve the reader.

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

Defining Real Writing Success

The new year has come and gone, and we’re in the full throes of fresh starts, new goals, and updated resolutions. This has me thinking about the definition of success — and more specifically, defining real writing success.

Most authors would say success is selling thousands of books, which means reaching thousands of people. It’s a worthy goal and necessary if you want to write professionally, long-term. But lately, as I’ve considered the time and energy required from an author, I realize the importance of balance. I’ll explain.

The more contracts I sign, as speaking engagements multiply, and because I’m selling more books, I’ve gotten a glimpse of the future. And it can go in one of two ways.

I don’t struggle with self-discipline as some do; instead, lately I’ve noticed my struggle to relax. When I can’t unwind, it’s time to make a change.

I have a choice. I can pour even more of my time and energy into my writing and speaking career, and to a degree, I need to, but I must exercise caution. As a natural workaholic, I could slip into a regular routine of fourteen to seventeen-hour work days. Because of deadlines, commitments, and special opportunities, there are times when I need to pull a writing day like that, but if it becomes the norm, I’m in danger. There’s a fine line between protecting your writing/speaking time and neglecting your family and close friends.

Life is Better with Friends

Recently, I imagined what it might look like to work myself into a frenzy, reaching success as many would define it, only to realize I might stand alone at the top. If we don’t have friends and family to share and celebrate with, what are we working so hard for?

This epiphany has put me on a mission to usher some balance back into my life. I adore the days I get to sequester and write, but I equally love spending down time with my family and friends. Both are valued activities to me, and they deserve equal time.

My work ethics and integrity are intact, but I am choosing to slow down enough to breathe  deeply, while on this crazy, thrilling, and daunting writing ride. To me, defining real writing success is simple.

I have goals to write and sell many more books, but part of my planning strategies now include more time set aside to enjoy walks with friends, cups of coffee with people I respect, and to laugh often with my family. I want to catch up on life, and I believe by doing so, I’ll have even more to write about. I don’t want to “make it” as a writer, only to look around and discover I’m perched in a precarious position — standing all alone.

How do you maintain balance between your writing and real life?