30 October 2009

It's Feature Friday!

This week's feature is a little different because it's not a novel. It's actually a book on writing. Jessica Page Morrell's book Between the Lines is a true treasure. I haven't seen it mentioned in many blogs so I don't know if y'all have read it before. Just in case you haven't, I had to tell you about it!

To be honest, I've only read four chapters so far. That's because I'm savoring every sentence! Not only does she have great wisdom about writing, but the way she talks about writing makes me want to write. I feel so literary and creative with every sentence. I don't want to read too fast and miss anything! What I can say is that what I've read so far has been extremely helpful as I go back and edit my novel. In fact, I think it's the most valuable tool on craft I own.

For those of you who love to read books on craft, I highly recommend this one. Don't be fooled by this short post. I'm pretty tired. But I can't say enough wonderful things about this book. :0)

Have a great weekend!

29 October 2009

How We Can Show Backstory

Our stories have two basic parts: backstory and front story. Front story deals with the main events of the novel. Backstory is just that--what came before the present era of the plot.

The problem with backstory is that it's a lot of telling. Done well, it can be captivating. But if it isn't done well or if there's simply too much, we run the risk of losing our reader--whether that be the person who purchased it from a book store or our dream agent.

I'm always going to argue that backstory is necessary, because it gives depth and strengthens a plot in a way that front story can't. Backstory can continue themes, it can spark revelatory light as to the significance of certain events, and it can give a solid foundation for the character. The question really isn't if it's important, it's how to write it, where it should be placed in a novel, and how much should be given at one time.

Contemporary thought and form says that backstory shouldn't be included in the first few chapters of a novel. In her novel Between the Lines, Jessica Page Morrell says that "backstory, if used incorrectly, can stall a story" (Morrell 18). The opening chapter is where a reader gets a sense of voice, plot, setting, the protagonist, and point of view. Primary scenes need action. Launching into backstory before the front story is established is a mistake--and a sure way to lose the reader (page 32). Morrell states, backstory "should only be included if the events that follow cannot be understood without it" (Morrell 32).

So how do we do it? We have all this crucial information that we know is important to our stories. How do we write it well?

Sometimes a little backstory is needed up front. That's for us as writers to step back and evaluate for ourselves. But if it isn't, Morrell advises "strategically witholding information until the last minute, even as you tease readers with bits of information and minor skirmishes" (page 33). James Scott Bell uses Hemingway's "iceberg metaphor" in Plot and Structure, advising to leave 90% of the information hidden--until it is needed. By only revealing a portion of the backstory at the time, we create questions. With clever references, we can increase tension and spark curiousity, keeping the reader hooked. It can even become a foreshadowing device depending on the nature of the story.

So, I tried this out. I looked at my giant chunks of backstory, mentally removed them, and went to a new opening scene of the novel. Then I started weaving in little lines, inflections even. You know what? It created more conflict (which is a great thing for a plot!) and it created more questions. In fact, the result encouraged me so much that I'm excited to go back and weave in more intrigue. And that's a good thing because there's a lot of work ahead of me. I'm still feeling my way through, but I think I have a better idea of what the finished product will be.

What are some of your favorite "tricks" in revealing backstory?

So, wanna know something cool? Rachelle Gardner, agent extraordinaire, posted on backstory yesterday (cba-ramblings.blogspot.com). I thought this was super cool because a) I definitely needed to hear what she had to say and b)it means that I'm on the right track with my changes. Woohoo! What cool confirmation! The post above written last weekend so all my information came from the sources listed above.

27 October 2009

Backstory: A Kiss of Death?

Believe it or not, today's post has nothing to do with back injuries. The timing is nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence. :0)

As I mentioned last week, I'm currently in a re-editing/re-writing process on an old manuscript. It started with just line edits and has grown into something more. I'm definitely overwhelmed. You see, the nature of my novel lends itself to a lot of backstory for a number of reasons. And recently I've read that backstory at the beginning of a novel is a "no no". It's taken a while for me to even consider changing it, from the moment I first felt that sinking feeling in my gut until yesterday when I finally took a deep breath and plunged in. Right now there's so much work to do I can't see straight. It's more of a "feel it out" method than an actual plan of attack.

I'm all for having a unique book or breaking a rule so well that it doesn't matter. Some of my favorite authors use large amounts of backstory in their work. Just the other day I picked up a novel by a very prolific Christian author (this just happened to be that person's 100th book) to find a very lengthy prologue full of backstory. So I know it can be done. The question is whether I as an unknown can get away with it so well that an agent will jump to sign me--and if my story itself can hold the amount of backstory it has in the form that I've written it. I suspect I have too much in one place. I decided last night to give re-writing a try, to see what happens when I step outside of that box and try something different just in case the spark of genius lies in that edition. Personally, I like backstory. And I like it in the beginning of a book. But I don't like it so much that I'm not willing to try what the experts say.

So this week is a time of exploration for me. I've committed to trying it out and seeing what happens.

My question to you is this: what do you think about backstory? Do you like to read it? Write it? Do you think it's a kiss of death to have it in the first few chapters of a novel?

Thursday we'll see what some of the experts have to say about it.

***Image found on Google Images***

22 October 2009

Things We Don't Want to Remember

The thing about memories is that they aren't all warm and fuzzy. Some of them we'd rather forget. Some of them we can't forget. Maybe it something that was done to us, something that wasn't our fault. Or maybe it's something we did. Often we try to hide those memories from others. We feel ashamed, scared. Or maybe these memories just speak too directly about our hearts, leaving us vulnerable. Maybe they make us hurt.

Do your characters have any secrets?

I set my WIP aside recently in order to edit (again) the novel I completed last Christmas. At first I wasn't too excited about this prospect because I didn't want to discover just how much work my story needed--or worse, that now with more space between me and the novel, I'd find that it wasn't any good. But my time with this story has been so sweet, even when mentally tiring. It's like re-uniting with an old friend. I loved this novel. I still do. So being able to re-enter that world, to rewrite things and to meet the characters again has filled me with unexpected joy.

One of my characters knows all too well the devastating power of a long kept secret. And like many who've chosen to remain silent, she's found that the consequences have only increased as the years have gone by. The price of her silence is great; she fears that it is more than she can pay. Yet if she doesn't speak, healing is impossible. If her secret stays hidden, those most important to her will suffer. There will be tremendous grief and--just to make it seem very epic--all will be lost.

It's not fun to think about painful things. I made light of it on Tuesday, laughing about injuries. Sometimes laughter does help. Talking about it does too. Telling those we love the truth can help make us feel safe again. It's then we realize that all is not lost.

It's like Jesus says in John 8: "And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free". Freedom cannot exist in lies. And even if it isn't a lie--if it's just something so painful we can't bare to speak of it and would give anything just to make it disappear--we still need to break the silence. Healing cannot come from keeping things bottled up, even if it's something we don't want others to know.

But it can be so scary to tell the truth, to reveal that vulnerable part of ourselves.

Sometimes remembering isn't fun. But we need to do it. And the great thing is that once light has come, there is no place for darkness. Speaking the truth about what happened can diminish its power.

Do your characters need to remember? Do you? May we all--real life writers and the characters in our heads--find the courage to do so.

Thanks for the well wishes for my back! It's still a little twingy as I write this (Wednesday night), but not near as bad as it was!

20 October 2009

Things that Make Us Remember

I got a tiny surprise visit this weekend. Nothing too extraordinary or bothersome, just a twinge of a surprise. It started with me bending over and ended with firing up the old heating pad.

Maybe it's because the schziphrenic Ga weather turned winter-like last week (completely skipping autumn and therefore making many residents of our State angry because it's too cold to go outside and see the trees just starting to turn colors) or maybe it's my body seeking its revenge over the fact that I haven't exercised since March. That's right, People, an entire summer passed and I didn't run once. But in my defense, I hate it. I wasn't able to run for most of the summer because I was gone and when I came home, I just too tired. Perhaps I just twisted wrong. Whatever the reason, I'm contemplating using the heating pad at ten in the morning.

I thought that if I stretched some, I wouldn't pull my back every time I bent over. So I asked my poodle if she'd like to do pilates with me. Though I said it brightly, as I say everything to her, said poodle's expression read something like this: "Does it have vegetables?" Sigh.

Don't feel too sorry for me. The appropriate amount will suffice. :0) The only reason why I'm speaking of said twingy pain is because I thought it could be used for the greater good (i.e., a blog post). It's not bad enough to warrant a doctor's visit, which I'm very grateful for since I don't have health insurance. Anywho...

This got me thinking about the last time my back hurt. And how I originally injured it two years ago this October. Are you ready for this story? Because it's a doosy. I was in Africa...

::Ooh, it's getting good! A story about Africa! Maybe there will be a lion in it! Or maybe she fell off an elephant!::

and I was getting out of the koombie....

::Here comes the zebra attack!::

and that's how I hurt my back.

Seriously. Nothing dramatic. I remember the day so clearly. I was stressed out and drove to the other side of the universe (I was convinced I was in Angola or something). I was lost and late for a meeting because I was lost. But finally, I found the school where I was to meet the teacher I'd spoken with over the phone. This koombie was an eight passenger van I named "Norbert" after the dragon in Harry Potter. It was just high enough off the ground that I needed to grab the handle on the ceiling to lift and twist myself in order to get in and out of the vehicle. I over rotated, didn't bend my knees as much as I needed to, and the jarring result left me lying in doorways, feet up on the wall (we didn't have a heating pad so this was all I could do to help my back) for the next few weeks.

Ever since, my back has given me trouble. Definitely during stressful times. When I detailed cars, I had to use the heating pad every night. But you know what did it? It wasn't cleaning the rims or stretching to wash the roof. It was vaccuuming the interior. Seriously. Which is proof that housework can kill you.

I have other scars and some of those come with great stories. And I do know someone who did fall off an elephant in India. Her story is much better--and more painful--than mine. Beautiful and talented Katie Ganshert posted about scars back in August. She has a great story, definitely more dramatic than "I got out of a van". Sorry for that disappointment, Friends. My MC is scarred as well. She's got a great story too. I just couldn't do to her what life did to me. It didn't seem fair. So she got a whole back story and symbolic elements to justify her injury.

The thing about injuries is they make us remember. Sometimes that isn't pleasant at all. Sometimes it's not too bad.

Autumn makes me remember too. Combined with this twingy surprise, the urge is especially potent. So today I'm remembering Africa. Eish, I miss it.

What makes you remember? What makes your characters remember? What do they (or you) need to remember today?

16 October 2009

It's Feature Friday!

It's time for another book feature. Since we're talking about subjectivity this week, I thought I'd feature one of the most controversial books of the past few years: William P. Young's The Shack.

Have you read this book? Chances are you have. Or at least heard about it. It seems like no matter where I go, everyone has an opinion about it--whether they've read it or not. I've heard people say they refused to read it based on personal belief that it's heretical in nature, and others say that it showed them a completely new way of viewing God. I've heard some say that the book helped them heal from deep wounds and others who feel they have a better handle on the Trinity. And yet I've heard others feel like it's a direct attack on Christianity.

Who's right?

When I read this book, I had no clue about the buzz behind it. I'd just returned from Africa and was completely unaware of all the hoopla. My aunt gave me a stack of books which included this one. I put it aside because it was so short, saving it for when I had nothing else to read (I like long books). Anywho...

I was so taken with the book that I went online afterwords just to see if it was a real story or not. My thoughts went something like, "This can't be real. It couldn't have been.... Could it? What if? I have to know..." Honestly, whether it was real or not, I was so jealous of Mac--that he actually got to see/feel/hear (etc.) God when I would give anything to do that--that I kept reading just for that reason. I'm not going to comment on the theological aspects of the book because that's not for me to do. Whenever I had a response to anything that was said, whether negative or positive, I wrote down the quote, the page #, and decided to search the Bible to see what it said. It deserves the final word on everything.

If nothing else, this book got me to think. It was never meant to replace the Bible, or even to be a supplement to Scriptures. It was a story a daddy wrote for his children in order for them to better understand the Trinity. Young wasn't looking to start a movement or to do anything other than teach his children in story form. He just happened to do it in a way that rocked the world.

And then of course, there's the mesmerizing fact that he literally struck gold and his self published book became a bestseller. He's the exception to that rule we know all too well. And in light of Thomas Nelson's big move, it just adds more intrigue!

If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend that you do. Take any questions you have and see what Scripture has to say. It's the ultimate authority. If nothing else, maybe this book will help you think about what you believe--whether it's for or against the story between the covers.

Happy reading!

See y'all Tuesday!!!

15 October 2009

So Many People to Please

The people who will come in contact with our novels are incredibly diverse. Everyone has specific tastes, past experiences, and present desires that influence each reaction to our books. But they really all can be summed up in four different types of people, which is exemplified in the judges panel of American Idol.

So shall we create the analogy? We'll call it American Writer, just to keep with the theme.

First, there's Randy. His role on American Writer is the publisher. He's worked with all the literary greats. He knows what he's doing. He knows how to read the market, he consistently takes the pulse of the literary world, and makes pretty accurate predictions. Sometimes he uses language we might not understand, because unless we work for a publisher ourselves we won't necessarily be able to fully comprehend the process and the industry behind putting our books on the shelves. But he does. He knows exactly what to do and how to fine tune our work so that it will fly off the shelves. He worked his way up over a long career and he too loves to write. He knows exactly what he's doing.

Then, there's Kara. In the American Writer world, she's... well, us. She speaks as a writer. She understands Art and craft like only we can. She's experienced the angst and the thrill of the creative pursuit. She loves what she does and she does it well. Her comments are vital because she can speak life as only a fellow writer can. Her passion for her work always comes through in her comments; however she is highly protective of the written word. She doesn't accept just "okay". She gives constructive criticism. Kara can be that writing mentor, the close author friend, or those of us in the blogging community. She believes in us, offers hope, and encourages us when we need it. Most of all, she's honest.

Third, there's Ellen, who represents the reader on American Writer. And it so interesting that she was just now added as a judge on Idol. It's symbolic of the reader becoming more active in the writing industry and in voicing what she likes. Ellen wants a good read. She believes in you so much that she spent money (hopefully) to read your book. And if you delight her, she'll come back for life. While she might not speak the lingo like Randy, she has a very important place on the panel. She represents the majority--not the business or those with a financial interest in the state of your book. She is the one eager to read, eager to buy, and lives everywhere you can imagine. She's your family and friends, the strangers on the bus and the lady behind you in the check out stand at walmart. She is the public voice, the voice that hopefully the entire industry listens to. Because while she might not be able to use all the correct terminology to say why she liked something, that she liked it is vital. Of all of them, she might be the most important voice of all.

And then, finally, there's Simon. He represents (ha!) the literary agent. Sometimes this agent might come off as a bit brusque with his form rejection letter, but he's good at what he does. He know what he wants, what will sell and what won't. He knows what personalities he will click with the best and which person has "it", the mysterious "x" factor that launches a person from the slushpile to a partial request--and finally, an offer of representation. He's not your mama. He's not going to baby you. But he believes in you so much that he will make you as ready for publishing as you can be. After all, his livelihood depends on it as well. Above all, he will be honest with you. And the truth is, he's a pretty decent guy. He has a passion for writing just like you do. His job is just on a different part of the entire process. We need him, his experience, and his wisdom. We need his name behind us, to get Randy to even give us the time of day--so Kara can one day endorse the novel that Ellen will one day read.

Inevitably, all of these people will speak about our work. They will tell us what they think, what they like, and what they want. Some of these comments can vary greatly, because even in these four people there very vibrant--and different--personalities. Maybe one person will hate the book and the other will love it. Hopefully not. Hopefully we will get all of them--including Simon--on their feet applauding.

But in order to get their input, we need to keep writing. We need to put ourselves out there and give ourselves the chance to fail--or succeed beyond our wildest dreams. Even then, while we stand before the panel and hear that critique, in that terrfying moment right before Randy opens his mouth, we need to remember one thing: that this moment doesn't have to define our careers for the rest of our lives. We can adapt and improve if needed. We can keep trying, keep learning the business and honing our skills. We can start building our platforms, using social networks, and building a reputation in the literary world.

But most of all, we have to keep writing.

Torres-Toro, out!!! See y'all tomorrow!!!

***Image found on Google Images. This post is only intended to be used as an analogy in correlation of the music industry with the writing world and is not in any way meant to comment on the literal public figures used as examples above. ***

13 October 2009

Subjectivity: Isn't it Grand?

Last week, while on my trip, I watched part of Mona Lisa Smile, a movie that I really enjoy simply because it's different. There's a scene in the middle where the teacher shows her students different slides of various works of Art--something grotesque, something childish, and finally an advertisement. "Is this Art?" she asks her class.

One of the students answers, "It's only Art when someone says it is."

"It's Art!" the teacher declares.

To which the student replies with a scathing look over her shoulder, "The right someone."

Perhaps you've had this discussion before. When is something we write considered Art? Is it because it was written down on actual paper? Is it when someone reads it? Or is it only when it elicits a response, whether one of disgust, one of wonder, or the myriad of emotions in between?

And of course, if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one to hear it, does it make a sound?

The beauty of Art is that it is subjective, something that affects each of us differently. Things that move you might not move me--and vice versa. It's the beauty of humanity, how we are each unique, each masterpieces, and can differ so greatly from each other.

And then there's the question: who are the "right" people? Agents? Editors? Publishing staff?

Or the readers?

If my novels never get published, are they still Art? Or is that elusive label only for books on the shelves?

I believe that Art elicits a response, and that the right people are simply the audience that lends their attention. For that to happen, the creator needs to create in whatever form he/she needs to so an audience can view it. Then again, the artist can be the audience as well. After all, we have definitely have our own opinions and responses to what we create. Why can't we be that "someone" for ourselves?

That being said, I still want that publishing contract. :0)

See y'all Thursday!

**Image found on Google Images***

09 October 2009

Do I Have to Return to Reality? Really?

Hey, Friends!

I'm home again and a little sad to be back in reality. Vacation was great. There's nothing like relaxation, adventure, beautiful scenery, and great friendship to make time fly! I seemed to have returned more tired than when I left, something I hope to remedy soon! It was great to get away and we had so much fun. I'm just so thankful we were able to make this trip. It came at a crucial time for me.

Which leads to my big news--

My life is changing, BIG TIME! Many of y'all know that I'm a missionary. For the past 2.5 years, I've basically been going nonstop. I've loved every second of it and would do it again in a heartbeat, but I am really tired. I've been living out of a suitcase for a long time and it's beginning to take its toll.

This past summer, I found myself at a crossroads. Ironically, I knew it was coming. However, it's timing was quite a surprise. Our conversation went something like this: "Really? You're here now? Because it's a little early." The only response I got was: "Yup. It's now. Deal with it." Eish, that's never fun.

Anywho, after a lot of prayer and baby steps in decision making, things began to fall into place. Every major hurdle I lifted to the Lord was cleared, and now there are only two still to come: raising the support and actually moving. Which brings me to what's going on....

I am coming on staff with Adventures in Missions (www.adventures.org), an interdenominational missions organization located in Northeast Georgia. This is a huge step for me, because up until now I haven't officially been with an organization. It also involves moving closer to the main office, since I will be working with the Ambassador (high school) program. AIM has several different programs, some geared towards college students/graduates, and others for youth groups. Participants can go for as long as a year or as little as a week, depending on the program and trip they are on. The Ambassador program sends high school students on 2 week, 3 week, and 4 week trips. My job is going to be working details behind the scenes (admin stuff), training the students, sending them out, and going myself (of course!).

I'm really excited about this, but it's a big change. Now that it's official, I can actually start getting the word out. Soon I will start working part time for the program, even though I'm not supposed to move until the first of the year. But there's a lot to do in the meantime to get ready! The biggest of which is raising support and getting what I need for my apartment. I gave away/sold everything from my apartment in college after graduation. Now I'm kicking myself for doing that!

This change will also affect how I blog. I'll still post 2-3 days a week and will come by to read your blogs. But I probably won't be able to do it in the same time frame that I usually do. Hats off to all of you moms, wives, and/or multiple career women--I don't know how you do all of that and still write and blog! This last month I especially noticed a tiredness in me. The first thing I did every morning was get on blogland. It's something that's really encouraged me, something that I've really loved to do, but I forgot just how much sitting at a computer drains me. This past week, I decided to change the format of how I blog/converse. Instead of a long session every morning, I'm going to spend just a little bit at a time throughout the day, probably to catch up in the evenings. As I start working part time from home and then move into working full time in January, this might change again. This is just something I'm going to try for now, to see how it fits with my crazy life.

Anywho, that's what's going on with me! I hope y'all had a great couple of weeks! It's good to be back; I've missed you! See y'all Tuesday!

P.S. Those of you who responded saying that you wanted me to give you five words, look for a comment from me this weekend. That's my goal for the immediate future. :0)

Also, if anyone would like information about AIM, if you have a teen who would like to go on a missions trip next summer, or if you'd like information about my position with AIM, feel free to contact me!