A Time for Every Purpose

MP900289709-300x197Many times, people come up to me and say they want to write a book but can’t find the time. Aspiring writers, people who are making an effort to write, often say the same thing.

Both groups cite full time jobs, church obligations, family responsibilities and activities that prevent or hinder them from pursuing their desire to write. These are all legitimate undertakings that must be accomplished if we’re to support ourselves, raise God-centered children and contribute to our faith communities and neighborhoods.

I want to share one insight I’ve gained over the last ten years of pursuing this writing dream: You’ll never find the time to write. You make the time to write.

When I whined to my mentor, DiAnn Mills, that I couldn’t find the time to write, her simple, straight-forward advice: GET UP EARLIER. Not what I wanted to hear but it took root in my heart and God nurtured it. Okay, he nagged me. I started getting up at 4:00 a.m. to write. This gave me one-and-a-half hours of solid, productive writing time every morning before I went to my day job.

Jerry B. Jenkins wrote between 9:00 p.m. and Midnight so as not to take time away from his family.

One of my close writing buddies negotiated with her children (she has 6) and husband for a certain amount of undisturbed writing time each week.

A soccer-mom friend uses soccer practice to write.

Need to make time to write? Take a couple of weeks and track your time. Make a simple MP900385402-214x300chart that blocks out the hours of the day and then note what you’re doing during those hours. After two weeks, you’ll be able to identify at least five hours in your present schedule for writing without having to get up earlier or stay up later. Start with your television and internet time and go from there. Set a schedule, negotiate with your family, find a writing spot and do it.

And pray. If writing is the desire of your heart, God will give you the insight into how to make the time to live out His call, His plan, for you.

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The World of Our Story

View of Earth From SpaceIn his book, The Writer’s Journey(third edition), Christopher Vogler writes, “The Ordinary World in one sense is the place you came from last. In life we pass through a succession of Special Worlds which slowly become ordinary as we get used to them.”

As writers, we often talk about creating story worlds. In reality, we create two. There is our hero’s ordinary story world, the world she lives in before the inciting incident launches her into her story. Once launched, she enters the Special World of the story we are writing.

Interestingly, in many novels, the worlds may be exactly the same in terms of geography, time, economics, politics, and a myriad of other details. The world moves from Ordinary to England 1Special when our hero decides to embark on the journey to solve the story problem or answer the story question.

Then, even if she continues to live in the same house, work the same job, go to the same church, her world becomes Special. She is now on an adventure to resolve the story problem. And that story problem transforms her world from Ordinary to Special, whether it’s solving a murder, dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, or losing her spouse.

town 4Think of the world of our lives. Everything is going along fine and then something happens. We lose a job or we get a promotion to a more challenging position, a loved one dies or a prodigal returns home, a car accident, a medical problem, a windfall. We win the lottery or we spend all our pay on lottery tickets and miss by one number.

Whatever it is, our Ordinary world becomes Special while we live through the changes until the Special World becomes Ordinary once again.

Can you think of a time when your own Ordinary World became Special? How can you use that experience to write a Special World for your characters?

Having Problems with Your Plot?

question marks man in circlePlot problems?

Here is a tool that may prove helpful. Steven James presented this material at an intensive novel writing retreat I attended.

Whether you’re an outliner or an organic author, these simple yet intriguing questions will get your creative juices flowing.

The questions open doors into areas of our story we may not have explored before and will lead us to more compelling stories.

What would this character naturally do in this situation?

Believability is the first priority. If our character does something he would not naturally do, it will the strain the reader’s investment in him and in our story.

For example, say our character is an inspector with the National Transportation Safety Board. What’s the first thing he would do at the scene of a plane crash? Would he ask where is the nearest Starbucks? Or would he ask if the black box has been found or if there are any survivors?

Or, he’s an ER doctor and the paramedics have brought in a victim of a gunshot wound. Would he ask when the next available tee time is? Or, would he assess the patient’s need for immediate surgery?

If the reader notices our character is acting unbelievably, another character must also notice it and comment on it. Otherwise, our story loses credibility.

How can I make things worse?writer's block 2

Escalate the tension by throwing more obstacles at our character. Increase the tension to keep the reader interested. It has to be believable.

Say my story involves terrorists taking over a nuclear power plant and holding the staff hostage. How can I make things worse? Here are some examples:

They strap bombs to the core.

There is a group of school kids there on a field trip.

They start killing the hostages.

The daughter of the chief government negotiator works at the plant.

She’s aiding the terrorists.

The key is to avoid coincidence because this will destroy believability. Everything must build on something that happened before.

ShockHow can I end this in a way that’s unexpected and inevitable?

Readers don’t want endings to come out of nowhere. The ending needs to be natural and inherent to the story. We want the reader to be surprised and satisfied.

In my novel, Journey to Riverbend, I established throughout the novel that my protagonist believed he killed his father and that he would never kill again. At the end of the story, I put him in the position where, to save someone, he has to kill the villain. The ending was inevitable yet surprising and satisfying to the readers. It was also believable because of the foreshadowing I layered in.

Steven James writes, “The first question will help focus your believability. The second will keep it escalating toward an unforgettable climax. The third will help build your story, scene by twisting, turning scene.”

What are some techniques you use to make sure your reader is engaged in your plot?

WordServe News: October 2012

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

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

New Releases

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A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson)

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Finding God in the Hunger Games, by Ken Gire (eChristian)

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In the Twilight, In the Evening, by Lynn Morris (Hendrickson)

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Still Lolo, by Lauren Scruggs, with Marcus Brotherton (Tyndale)

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A Bride Sews with Love in Needles, California, Erica Vetsch (Barbour)

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Resolve, by Bob Welch (Berkley-Caliber)

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Christmas in My Heart #21, by Joe Wheeler (Pacific Press)

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New WordServe Clients

Christy Johnson: www.christyjohnson.org working on women’s non-fiction, spiritual growth

Angela Strong: http://angelaruthstrong.blogspot.com/ working on romantic suspense fiction

Dr. Wintley Phipps http://www.christianlifemediacenter.com/wintleyphipps.html working on Christian Living non-fiction, Spiritual Growth

Laurie Myers and Betsy Duffey, affectionately known as “The Writing Sisters.” Together they’ve written 30 children’s books in the general market that have sold 1.2 million copies. They’re writing both children’s works for the Christian market and Women’s Fiction. http://www.writingsisters.com/WritingSisters/Welcome.html

Cristobal Krusen, a film maker, screenwriter, novelist and collabortor. Recently had a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly for writing Undaunted, Josh McDowell’s memoirs. http://www.33hope.com/team/crist%C3%B3bal-krusen  and http://www.messengerfilms.com/

New Contracts

Wayne Cordeiro signed with Zondervan Publishing House to write and edit the NASB Leadership Bible. (GJ)

Deb DeArmond signed with Kregel Publishers for a book titled Related by Chance, Family by Choice. A book for moms and the daughters-in-law they love. (BS)

Jo Ann Fore signed with Leafwood Publishing House for her first book of nonfiction called When a Woman Finds Her Voice: God’s Healing for the Women Who Have Been Wounded, Controlled, Abandoned, and Silenced. (GJ)

Denver pastor and missional thought leader Hugh Halter signed for two books with David C. Cook. The first titled Flesh, a book that shows how to allow Jesus to live His life through you in daily living, the second untitled. (GJ)

Henry McLaughlin signed with Gateway Church to write a book on stewardship for one of their pastors. (SF)

Joe Wheeler signed with Howard Books for Great Christmas Love Stories. In every Christmas in My Heart book (21 straight years), Joe writes his own heartwarming Christmas story. This book will have the best of these love stories around Christmas. (GJ)

What We’re Celebrating!!

Excited for Rachel Held Evans, whose book A Year of Biblcal Womanhood has been getting some nice PR. She’s already done “TheToday Show,” “The View,” and will do “Inside Edition.” People magazine confirmed they’ll review it.

What can we help you celebrate?

Making Dialogue Work

Dialogue is one of the hardest working tools we have because we ask it to do so much. It has to convey information, develop and move the plot, increase tension and conflict all while sounding natural.

Perhaps most importantly, dialogue must engage the reader through revealing our characters. It brings them to life and shows their personalities, their quirks, their goals, and their fears.

The most effective and real dialogue comes when we know our characters as intimately as possible. Whether our story is plot-driven or character-driven, we have to invest the time in writing biographies, character analyses, Meyers-Briggs assessment, journals, interviewing them, and experimenting with how they speak, act, think, and feel. And they’ll still surprise us.

In my first novel, Journey to Riverbend, I had a problem with the story arc of my female protagonist, Rachel. She was a former prostitute who received Jesus. She was also striving to open a dress-making business in a town where many were hostile to her because of her past. It wasn’t until I interviewed her that I learned Rachel was a feisty, determined young woman with numerous questions about her new-found faith, anxieties about her future, and wondering if love could ever be part of her life.

And I discovered her voice changed depending on her situation. She had a business voice she used with customers and an almost child-like awe when she talked about her faith. At times her prostitute “don’t mess with me” voice came into play. When the mayor attempted to get too familiar, Rachel stopped him cold with the whispered line, “I’m making dresses for your wife. I can make her look like a laughing stock while convincing her she looks like Queen Victoria.”

With these new insights, Rachel’s dialogue became stronger, more connected to her emotions at the moment, more realistic. It revealed more of her personality, her dreams, her fears.

Rachel came to life through her dialogue.

Make the time to know your characters. They’ll reward you with stronger personalities and become people that readers will keep turning pages for.

How has dialogue allowed you to develop your characters even further? What have you learned about your characters through dialogue that surprised you?

Fit For The Master’s Use

One of my test readers recently sent me an email that both blessed me and reminded me of what we’re all about as writers. At the end of her email, she included a prayer: “God, I pray you give Henry wisdom, knowledge, creativity, patience and energy to finish Your book. Amen and Amen.”

It’s not my book. It’s His. I’m His instrument, His tool to get the message out that He wants shared.

At one level, I knew this. I’d like to think everything I do is for Him. But there are times when the ego gets in the way, and I lose sight of Him. It becomes my book, my project.

But that’s not true. He inspires us to write the words. In obedience to Him, we do and the writing flows. It’s not perfect the first time because I’m not perfect. But the refining, pruning process applies to our writing as much as it does to our spirits. My role is to have my heart in the place where my words can be grafted onto His vine and not lopped off as unfit for the Master’s use.

I’m His vessel, the clay in His hands. But it only works if I’m humble and obedient enough to put me aside and let Him shape and mold. And sometimes it hurts because I love my words, but He has better ones. And sometimes it hurts because the words He wants me to write in fiction reveal an area in me that needs work, work that must be done if I am to go forward with Him.

Has Father asked you to participate with Him in your writing in a way that is uncomfortable? How have His words and His plan for your writing grown and encouraged you? Your readers?