First chapters make or break a book so start with an opening that grabs the reader.
Luckily, first lines do not have to be written first. Discern where the story’s going and how you want it to unfold. Launch the characters on their journey then go back and rework the opening.
Still stuck on the first line? Shorten, chop, cut. Pare down to a word or phrase. Turn the opening into a question or place it in quotes. Have the lead character whisper a warning, tell a secret, make a promise. Add action or introspection or a universal truth the protagonist will grapple with and eventually come to accept.
Too wordy? Kill prose that keeps the focus on the writing instead of the story. The opening should be straightforward, not a series of convoluted twists that confuse the reader or make her dizzy. Cut weak modifiers. Choose verbs that pack a punch.
Still not satisfied? Work on something else. Give your internal muse time to sift through your mental database. Often when you return to the opening, the perfect line will bubble up from the depths of your subconscious.
Start the story as the action begins…or even a tad bit later. Christopher Vogler, in THE HERO’S JOURNEY, writes about beginning in the protagonist’s ordinary world where he receives the call to adventure. Once committed, he crosses the first threshold and can’t turn back. The shorter the book, the faster the hero accepts the call and is propelled into the story.
Set the tone and pace and don’t detour off track. Keep descriptions true to the genre. A dark Victorian cottage bathed in shadow is quite different from a warm and inviting bungalow where children romp on the front porch.
Anchor the story in time and place as soon as possible. Again, don’t go overboard. A line or phrase will usually suffice.
Write the initial scene in the lead character’s point of view. Provide clues as to what drives the hero, why he must move forward or what’s at stake if he doesn’t succeed. Hint at his fatal flaw or greatest fear, his Achilles heel or the one facet of his personality he needs to keep hidden. Again less is more. Wet the reader’s appetite; don’t shove the information down her throat. Remember flawed characters are sympathetic characters. Everyone cheers for the underdog.
Introduce the various story arcs within the beginning pages. (What’s a story arc? Inspirational romantic suspense has three arcs or story threads: the romance, suspense and faith.) Where does the protagonist stand initially as far as his relationship with others? What obstacles or threats place him in danger? Does he believe in a higher power or has he turned his back on God?
In a romance, get the hero and heroine together as close to the beginning as possible. Capture their initial reactions and never make falling in love easy. The more unlikely the relationship, the more satisfying the happily ever after.
(Tip: If a female secondary character enters the story before the heroine, make the other woman unsympathetic so the reader knows she’s not the love interest. The converse holds true if a male is introduced before the hero.)
Tease the reader with a hint as to where the story’s going so she can accept or reject the invitation to tag along. Her decision depends on the clues provided in the first chapter. End with a hook that forces her to turn the next page and then another and another. Snag the reader at the beginning, and she’ll stay with you until the end.
What would you add to my checklist? Leave a comment to be included in a drawing for a copy of my Publishers Weekly Bestseller, AMISH SAFE HOUSE!
The second thrilling Amish Witness Protection novel
After Julia Bradford’s son witnesses a gang shooting, hiding in witness protection on Abraham King’s Amish farm is the only hope the Englischer and her children have. Even as danger closes in, Julia is drawn to the community’s peaceful ways—and the ex-cop turned Amish protector. But when their location is discovered, can Abraham protect her family…and possibly have a future by her side?
Erica Vetsch here...I am so thrilled to host my friend Stephanie Morrill here at Seekerville today. Stephanie was one of my very first writing friends. We met...fourteen or fifteen years ago (How can that be when she still looks 22?) at the Florida Christian Writer's Conference. We made some great memories and have been friends ever since. Stephanie is the co-creator of the wildly successful website/blog Go Teen Writer and while she made her mark in Christian Fiction with contemporary YA fiction, she's recently made the leap to historical fiction (Welcome to the dark side, Stephanie!)
She's a terrific writer and excellent communicator. Please help me welcome Stephanie Morrill to Seekerville today!
2 Questions To Ask To Be Sure Your Scene Matters
I’m the type of writer who typically loves the editing process, even though it’s also the part that I find most challenging. No longer can I say, “I don’t know what’s supposed to happen here, so I’ll just do my best and fix it later.” Nor can I put off finding the answer to my most elusive research questions. Basically, no more slacking off!
This is also when I have to be brutally honest about individual scenes in the book and ask the probing questions: Is it working? Is it not working? Does it move the story forward? Am I starting in the right place? Did I end in a way that will make readers turn the page?
A few times when editing Within These Lines, my recent WWII young adult release, I came across a scene that just wasn’t working like it should. The book is a love story between an Italian American teenage girl and a Japanese American teenage boy who are torn apart when the U.S. government sends the Japanese to concentration camps. So I had no shortage of good character and plot stuff to fill my scenes with, but even still sometimes a scene would just feel . . . off.
Finally, I had a breakthrough when I noticed a pattern about my character’s expectations and decisions. (Or, rather, their lack thereof.)
I learned to ask myself two simple questions to transform my Not Quite Right scenes into scenes that really mattered:
1. What does my character expect?
2. What decisions does my character make?
“What does my character expect to happen?”
This is the first question that I realized I wasn’t asking, thanks to a post from K.M. Weiland about … something. I scrolled back through her archives trying to figure out what lesson of hers prompted this discovery, and I can’t find it. So the credit goes to K.M. Weiland of Helping Writers Become Authors, but I can’t link to it. (Sorry, Katie!)
Her point was that there should be a gap in what the character expects to happen and what actuallyhappens. Most of the time I do this instinctively, and you probably do too. Your point of view character will think a conversation is going to go one way, and it won’t. Or she will think it’s an ordinary day, and the unexpected happens.
I realized on my scenes in Within These Lines that weren’t landing like I wanted them to, often my character’s expectations were met. Evalina expected to have a tense conversation with her mother, and that’s what happened. Taichi expected to be treated poorly, and he was.
As I thought about this, I realized that this can work, and it certainly should sometimes. If your characters’ expectations are always wrong, we’ll stop trusting them and their judgment pretty quickly.
So it isn’t that your character needs to be wrong all the time. Instead, you can try applying the, “Yes, but” technique for creating an element of surprise.
Yes, her mom is upset, but it isn’t for the reason she thought it would be.
Yes, her friend has been lying to her, butthe betrayal is even worse than she initially expected.
That can work if we want our character to be right about something. Frequently, however, our characters should be surprised. Here are a few examples from stories you are likely familiar with:
Lightning McQueen expects to win the race, but instead it’s a three-way tie. (Cars)
Elizabeth Bennett expects to have an enjoyable evening at the ball with Mr. Wickham, but Wickham doesn’t show up. (Pride and Prejudice)
Katniss expects Peeta to be on her side, but he’s teamed up with the Careers. (The Hunger Games)
In my scenes that didn’t work as well as they ought, it happened for one of these three reasons:
1. I hadn’t given myself time to show my character’s expectations, so when they shattered, the impact wasn’t as strong.
2. My character had no expectations.
3. Things happened exactly as my character anticipated, so there was no element of surprise.
So that’s the first question you can start with. The next one I identified is this:
“What decision does my character make in this scene?”
Andy Stanley says, “Decision by decision, you are writing the story of your life.” Initially, I latched onto this as a tool for making better decisions in my personal life, but as I worked on a problematic scene, I realized, “In this scene, Evalina isn’t deciding anything that affects her life story.”
Sometimes we choose to zoom in on little decisions our character’s make. Like in the 2003 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice when Jane is delighted over her engagement to Mr. Bingley, and she expresses a longing for her sister to find true love too. Lizzy makes a small, beautiful decision to keep the focus on Jane and her happiness. Instead of spilling about Mr. Darcy, she teases, “Maybe Mr. Collins has a cousin.”
Purposefully making a small moment into something big can be very effective, but unless we’re very intentionally choosing that, then our character needs to make a noteworthy decision within each scene. Even if it’s just a renewed commitment to “stay the course.”
And a lot of times—I’m going to be so bold as to say almostall the time—this noteworthy decision should be based on whatever shift happened in their expectations.
Using the same examples from before, let’s take a look at the decisions that resulted:
In Cars, Lightning McQueen expected to win the race, but instead it’s a three-way tie. And so he decides to get to California as fast as he can for the tie-breaking race so he can rub shoulders with VIPs.
In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy expected to have a nice evening at the ball with Mr. Wickham, but he doesn’t show up. And so when Mr. Darcy asks her to dance, she says yes.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss expects Peeta to be an ally, but instead he teams up with the Careers. And so Katniss gives up on loyalty to him, too.
That phrase, ”And so,” is the key to creating compelling character motivation.It’s also the way you make sure each scene matters.
If you’re writing a first draft, take a look at your next scene. What does your POV character expect to happen, and what will actually happen? What decision will your character make as a result?
If you’re currently editing a manuscript, try pulling out a random scene later in the novel (those early chapters tend to get the bulk of our attention!) and ask the same questions.
Stephanie Morrill writes books about girls who are on an adventure to discover their unique place in the world. She is the author of several contemporary young adult series, as well as the 1920s mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, and the WWII era romance, Within These Lines. Since 2010, Stephanie has been encouraging the next generation of writers at her website, GoTeenWriters.com. She lives in the Kansas City area, where she loves plotting big and small adventures to enjoy with her husband and three children. You can connect with Stephanie and learn more about her books at StephanieMorrill.com, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
About Within These Lines: Evalina Cassano’s life in an Italian-American family living in San Francisco in 1941 is quiet and ordinary until she falls in love with Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Despite the scandal it would cause and that inter-racial marriage is illegal in California, Evalina and Taichi vow they will find a way to be together. But anti-Japanese feelings erupt across the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Taichi and his family are forced to give up their farm and move to an internment camp.
Degrading treatment makes life at Manzanar Relocation Center difficult. Taichi’s only connection to the outside world is treasured letters from Evalina. Feeling that the only action she can take to help Taichi is to speak out against injustice, Evalina becomes increasingly vocal at school and at home. Meanwhile, inside Manzanar, fighting between different Japanese-American factions arises. Taichi begins to doubt he will ever leave the camp alive.
With tensions running high and their freedom on the line, Evalina and Taichi must hold true to their ideals and believe in their love to make a way back to each other against unbelievable odds.
You can get your copy of Within These Lines on amazon.com, Christianbook.com, and wherever EXCELLENT fiction is sold!
One of the most often heard criticisms of stories is that the characters lack depth. I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “cardboard characters.” On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve also found yourself in tears while reading a book whose characters tugged at your emotions.
But how do you make sure your characters are filled with enough emotional depth to touch your readers’ hearts?
You have to tap into your own emotions. That heart-tugging connection with your readers comes from the depths of your own soul.
We have all had experiences in our lives. You know the kind. Sad ones. Tragic ones. Or the longing to experience something that never happens.
The experiences and longings we really don’t want to talk about.
We bury them deep within our souls and keep them between us and God. We might not even share them with our spouse or other loved ones. Not even our most trusted friend.
Those are the experiences we need to tap into.
Here’s an excerpt from my book, “The Amish Nanny’s Sweetheart” where I dig deep into my character’s soul. Guy is an orphan, working on an Amish farm, and Judith is the neighbor girl he's falling in love with.
Guy took three steps into the barn before he remembered the work he needed to do was inside the house instead of out here. But his only thought had been to get away from Judith. He heard Eli’s crying end and turned to watch Judith comforting the boy. Her head bent over his brown curls as she talked to him, then she wrapped him in her arms as he clung to her, safe and secure.
Judith rose and went into the house, but the scene clouded over as tears filled Guy’s eyes. He let them fall, leaning his head against the solid wood of the door frame. He had shut her out and pushed her away just as much as he had shoved Eli off his lap and onto hers. But why?
Because the feelings she brought out stopped his very breath. He dug his fingernails into the oak beam as the pain of those feelings overwhelmed him. If he could be little again…if he could see Mama again…if he could feel safe again…
He tore his thoughts away. He was a grown man, not a child. His life was laid out in front of him. A stark and lonely track with no end.
What was it about Judith that upset his well-ordered life? Before she’d come along, he had been happy.
Well, maybe not happy. But he could work, laugh and enjoy David’s company and Verna’s cooking. But now that he knew her, it was as if her steady blue eyes looked right into him and saw the scared little boy who needed a friend.
She made him long for things that would never happen. Things like a home. His own family. A…a wife. A partner in life. Someone to love and to love him. Someone who wouldn’t leave him behind.
How could something he wanted so badly hurt so much?
So he had pushed her away when she awakened those longings in him again. But the hurt only grew worse until it felt like someone had sucker-punched him and left him gasping for breath.
“Please, God.” The words came out as a whisper, barely passing over his lips as he breathed out.
I never had the same experiences Guy had lived through – no family, no place to call his home – but I have experienced unfulfilled dreams. I knew the pain Guy was feeling, and the confused emotions. The lashing out when I should have been holding close. Despair rather than trust. I tried to give Guy those thoughts and feelings – even though bringing them into play was more painful than I ever thought it would be.
How can you bring your emotions into your characters’ lives? Let’s do a little exercise.
Take a moment right now and dig deep into your soul. Deeper. Open those closed doors. Do you remember that heartache? That unfulfilled dream? That painful loss? That thing that hurts so much that it takes your breath away? You can feel the ache…physical…emotional…
Don’t hide from it. Don’t push it away. Feel it. Let the tears fall.
Now, capture that feeling. Write down that feeling. Write from your pain. Bleed onto the page.
And don’t worry…you’re not going to share this with anyone.
Do you have it? Did you capture that feeling?
Now, give that feeling to your character. If you haven’t already, dig into your character’s past. Find out what wound she holds close that has never healed. Find out what her deepest secret desire is. Tap into that. Give your character the words she or he needs to express that deep want. The unfulfilled dream.
Take your time to do this exercise. We’ll wait.
* * * * * * * * *
All right! Is everyone back with us?
Let's go on - -
You might never put the words of this exercise into your story, but you will use the emotions you uncovered.
And if you did this exercise with us today, I can hear you asking:
“Why? Why put myself through this pain? I’ve been there before,
and I don’t want to go back there.”
I can only say this: It would be tragic for you to have traveled that path and suffered what you have suffered if you never handed it over to God to redeem it. He knows your pain and sorrow, and maybe…just maybe…He will use what you have written to comfort someone going through the same kind of sorrow. Maybe…just maybe…He will use that to bring someone to Himself.
Isn’t that reason enough?
Let’s talk about story characters! Tell us about a story character that has touched you deeply. What do you like most about that character and why?
One commenter today will win one copy of their choice of my Love Inspired Historical books!
If you are not familiar with our giveaway rules, take a minute to read them here. It keeps us all happy! All winners should send their name, address, and phone number to claim prizes. Note our new email address and please send your emails to Seekerville2@gmail.com
Monday: Missy Tippens brought us tips for nurturing creativity using improv. Tuesday: Carolyn Miller stopped by and shared with us about what Piques her interest and where her ideas come from. The winner of A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh is: VINCE!
Wednesday: Ruthy Logan Herne brought us a fun post where we all wrote a mystery together... Writing exercises are a fun way of getting the brain's wheels turning. Remember Missy's post about creativity and the brain on Monday? Brains get habitual like the rest of our body, so it's not only good to shake it up a bit and go outside your comfort zone, but it broadens the scope of our creativity. Tell us if you had fun with that because we can schedule more hands-on posts, but we want to know that you like it! Leave a comment below OR e-mail us at Seekerville2[AT]gmail[DOT]com
Friday: Winnie Griggs brought us great post about article writing. The winner of her choice of one of Winnie's books is Sandy Smith!
Monday: Jan Drexler will be digging into what it takes to give your characters emotional depth in her post, Bleeding onto the Page: a writing exercise. Plus, she's opening up her own private prize vault for one commenter!
Tuesday: Stephanie Morrill will be at Seekerville teaching us the "2 Questions to Ask To Be Sure Your Scene Matters."
Wednesday: Debby Giusti will be talking about writing the beginning of a story and all the details that need to be included in those important first pages. Be sure to stop by and leave a comment to be included in the drawing!
Friday: Pam Hillman will be in the house today. She's brewing up something spectacular. :)
Pam Hillman (along with 25 other Christian authors) invites you to the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt! Start HERE AT STOP #1 to collect the clues through all 27 stops, in order, so you can enter to win one of our top 3 grand prizes! Also, many of the authors are hosting giveaways at each stop, so take your time along the way. Pam is giving away 2 sets of her NATCHEZ TRACE NOVEL series at PamHillman.com, Stop #21
STARTING MONDAY MORNING AT 10:00 AM!!!!!
A new BookSweeps promo for all lovers of small town romance and small town fiction! CONTEST GOES LIVE AT 10:00 AM.... and it's to help build author's BookBub lists. Nothing to buy, darlings.... But we authors and our editors and marketing departments love that list. It helps get the word out to readers for new releases and great deals... My featured book is my first Amazon bestseller "Welcome to Wishing Bridge".... Winners get a bundle of books and an e-reader!
How about a "Colorado Cowboy" for y'all?! Join JustRead Publicity Tour in celebrating the book birthday of Mindy Obenhaus' upcoming release, Her Colorado Cowboy on March 19, 2019! There will be a fabulous prize too!
Then, starting on March 20th, Mary Connealy's The Unexpected Champion completes the High Sierra Sweethearts series and we're celebrating too! The publisher, Bethany House is giving away the series plus MORE! Be sure to stop by JustRead Publicity Tours to enter!
Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Today I'd like to talk to you about writing articles (and I include blog posts under that umbrella).
First, let’s talk about WHY a fiction writer should pen articles. After all, writing articles takes time and creative energy away from your ‘real writing’ and who has time or energy to spare?
Well, there are several reasons..
We’ll start with an altruistic one: - Sharing what you’ve learned is a good way to ‘give back’ to the writing and reading community. Think of all the people who have helped you along your own writer’s journey - don’t you want to do your part as well?
Then there’s the opportunity to learn something new. It never fails that when I write an article, I end up coming away with some new bit of knowledge.
Another reason is that it’s a good vehicle for growing Name recognition. We all know that, as authors, the more you get your name ‘out there’ the better it is for your career. Publishing articles provides an excellent means to get your name in front of a large number of people in a positive light. And, just by the fact that you’ve written and published this article, you acquire a certain air of authority over this particular subject matter.
It’s also a good way to cure writer’s block. If you find yourself blocked on your current WIP, one good way to address it is to go off and do something else while your subconscious works to untangle your story issue. And if that something else is writing an article you are still exercising that writing muscle.
They can drive traffic to your website, always a good thing.
Then there is the serendipity aspect. You never know who will see your article and what it will lead to. Here are two examples from my personal experience: Fack in February of 2016 I wrote a blog post titled Presidential Love Stories for another group blog I belong to, Petticoats and Pistols. That post was read by the host of a Little Rock radio station who contacted me after reading it and invited me to take part in a live radio interview as part of her Valentine’s Day broadcast. On another more recent occasion, the 10 Writer Takeaways From My Disney Trip post that I did here at Seekerville in January was picked up by blogger Elizabeth Craig in her TwitterificWriting Links post. Not only was that link tweeted and retweeted numerous times, but all the links included in her article were added into the Writers Knowledge Base search engine. And those are just two examples of how far reaching the exposure can be.
And of course, there are certain markets that will pay you to write articles for them.
So now that I’ve convinced you that it is indeed a good idea to write articles, the next decision is WHAT should you write about. Here are some options, assuming your target audience is writers or those interested in authors and writing.
You can play to your strengths. Do you have non-writing experience that would interest your audience? For instance:
Are you a psychologist - how about something on getting inside the head of our alpha hero or serial-killer villain
Are you in the military, or the spouse or child of someone who is - then you can provide some unique insights into that world for a writer
Maybe you’re in the medical profession - how about something on the inner workings of a hospital
You get the idea. Everyone has something to offer along those lines.
Another approach I like to use is what I call trivia and fun facts. Have you had to research a particular topic for your current WIP? If you’re like me, you’ve probably gathered much more info than you can (or should!) fit into your WIP. So why not let that information you’ve gathered do double duty by putting it into an article or blog.
Or maybe you’d rather focus on craft offerings (my personal favorite). There are a number of approaches you can take to brainstorming possible topics in this category. Some of them are:
Take stock of your strengths and experience as a writer, then analyze how you do what it is you do, including any missteps you made along the way, and share that knowledge with the rest of us in your article. But what if you have no idea what your personal strengths are as a writer? Then talk to one or more candid friends or critique partners who have read your writing and ask them to help you figure this out. Another source is reviewer or contest feedback - look through them and see if there are any common themes about what they like in your work.
Base it on a personal ah-ha moment. Did you recently have an epiphany as you were writing your latest work, one that led to strengthening some aspect of your writing? These can become seeds to very powerful articles. Use the experience to tell us of both your writing struggles and how you overcame them. Chances are if something worked for you it will work for other writers as well.
A method I personally use a lot, is to take the opposite approach. Here you actually take stock of your weaknesses and/or areas you want to learn more about. This allows you to kill two birds with one stone. You’ll dig deeper than you might have otherwise to focus on that aspect of craft, so that both you and your audience will come out ahead. And you’ll also be able to discuss with your audience all your struggles to nail down this particular skill
Then there’s the interview. You can either find one author and get her perspective on the writing process or find a number of authors to provide various viewpoints and tips on just one aspect of writing. A variation of this is the Poll Report. Conduct a poll on social media or in some forums you belong to on a topic of interest to writers and/or readers – for example favorite story tropes, favorite time periods for historicals, least favorite hero types, marketing tips, etc. Then fashion an article reporting the results. Just make sure to add disclaimers about survey pool and make-up, without disclosing respondents personal info without permission.
You can also use a method I call the compare method. You do this by taking something unrelated to writing and either show in what ways it is actually similar or show how it can actually teach us something about your topic. I did this with my10 Writer Takeaways From My Trip to Disney post.
Just remember, your topic should be something that is of interest to both you and your audience. If you have no interest in the topic, or you feel it’s not something you’re ready to tackle at this point in your career, then your lack of interest or confidence will come through in your article and you will be doing both your audience and yourself a disservice.
So we’ve covered the WHY and WHAT, let’s talk a little bit about the HOW.
There are a number of ways to research your topic, and I normally use some mix of all of them. I've already mentioned some of these above but it doesn't hurt to repeat them here
Personal interviews - if you can obtain access to an expert in this field, getting their take on the subject can add additional credibility to your article, as well as provide insights that might have you looking at your topic in a new light.
Internet - surf the web for information about your particular topic. Or use social media – post a question on facebook to get other perspectives on your topic.
Your local library - dig through the card catalog and talk to your reference librarian to locate books and periodicals that discuss your topic
Your own bookshelves - In addition to craft and specialty books, look to your keeper shelf when you want to pull out examples that illustrate a particular point you want to make
Your own experience. What mistakes have you made in this area and how did you go about correcting them. What has worked for you may work for others
The experience of other writers - Writers love to share their knowledge and I have found this to be an excellent source of information, adding depth and spins to my articles that would not have been there otherwise. Always make certain you give full credit to the contributing authors unless they ask for anonymity.
Again, think outside the box. Look for tidbits, details, and possible spins in unexpected places. For instance, when I was gathering info for this article I found some notes on how to structure a workshop that sparked new ideas for message points in this article.
That’s it from my end. What about you, have you written articles/blog posts before? Do you have any other benefits or tips to add to the list?
Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for winner’s choice of any book from my backlist.
Award winning author Winnie Griggs has written both single title and category romances. She has published with three different houses since her debut in 2001 and has 25 books (and counting) in print. Her work has won a number of regional and national awards, including an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award.
Winnie is the wife of a rancher and the mother of four exceptional children. She has a BS in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science, as well as an advanced degree in the art of procrastination. Winnie is also a list maker, a tea drinker and lover of dragonflies.
A Writing Exercise with the amazingly fun Ruth Logan Herne... :)
Today we're doing something different. We're doing a writing exercise. I love these things. I absolutely love them. I did well with these as a kid because my brain was full of the strangest things.... And I love working with people and writing exercises as an adult because we bring a whole lot more to the table:
Kids generally bring fantasy to the table. That's how their minds go. But as an adult, when presented with a mystery set up, what would you do? How would you handle it? How would you write it?
Here's the format we're using today: I'm going to give you a quick set-up... you then are going to write a paragraph either opening the story... or as part of the story anywhere in the book... or you're going to briefly say how you think the story should go, so basically adding to the plot line.
Here's the set-up:
Mike climbed into the car, frustrated, but it was his own fault. Again. He was late. He was always late these days, driven to be the best cop, the best investigator, the best man on the job. And now he was holding Kate up and he was 100% certain she was not going to be happy about it for good reason. A man who treasures a woman wouldn't take her time for granted. He wouldn't assume she'd wait-- except Kate always waited. Was that why he was an insensitive jerk? Because she never held his feet to the fire?
He pulled into the small parking area of the coffee shop, the one she loved because the barista topped her macchiato with milk foam hearts. As if that was a thing.
He got out of the car, crossed the lot and swung open the door. Instantly his eyes went to Kate's table.
Their table. When he finally showed up.
The table was empty.
All the tables were empty.
There was no barista. No weird music. No noise at all. Not even the hum of the espresso machine broke the silence.
The place was empty. Absolutely empty, with not a hint of movement except a thin trail of steam rising from a coffee cup on the counter. A to-go cup.
"Kate?" He stepped inside hesitantly, like he was entering a crime scene. Or one of those b-grade horror films. More likely. "Kate, where are you?"
No sound answered. No creaking door from the gender-neutral bathroom down the hall. No one emerged from the on-site cooler behind the coffee counter.
Except that steamy cup of coffee on the counter. A grande Americano, no sugar, a splash of cream, with a customer's name on the side.
Sitting waiting, like Kate must have done.
Was she teaching him a lesson?
He pulled out his phone and texted quickly. "Kate, I'm here. At the cafe. Where are you?"
No reply. No noise. Not a sound or breath of air except from that silently sitting cup of coffee, labeled just for him.
He stared at the phone.
No one there during working hours.
He swallowed hard and hit 911 even as a cold snake of fear put every part of him on high alert.
"911 Center. State your emergency."
He was a moron. What could he say? Was he about to report an empty building? The guys would have a field day with that one, wouldn't they?
He knew it. The minute he walked in the place, the different air overtook him and he knew it. Kate wasn't there. And she should have been. Which meant--
She was gone. And despite the fact that he was the biggest jerk on the planet, Kate wouldn't have just gotten up and left. Not because he deserved her faithfulness.
But because she was Kate.
He studied the walls around him as the operator made the request a second time. "911 Center. State your emergency."
The walls seemed to close in. Shortening the distance between him and whatever. He held the phone tight, dared the walls to come closer and kept his voice tight. "I'd like to report a missing person. And an empty building."
He didn't care that dispatch would call him crazy.
Maybe he was.
But Kate should be here. Right here. Right now. And the fact that she wasn't...
And his coffee was...
Meant something horrible had happened.
But what in the name of all that's good and holy could it be?
OKAY, FOLKS, YOUR TURN!
Have some fun, come up with plot ideas or thoughts or write a quick paragraph and if you want to tag onto someone else's paragraph, then go for it!
Sometimes the best way to kick writer's block to the curb is to write.
Come on in, my friends.
We've got this!
Multi-published, award-winning author Ruth Logan Herne is living her dream of writing sweet books and unforgettable characters that wind themselves around readers' hearts and make them long for one more chapter... one more book... With her 50th novel or novella about to release, Ruthy is having the time of her life and loves to chat with writers and readers and pretty much anyone who'll talk to her. Find her at her website ruthloganherne.com, on facebook where she loves to talk about all kinds of things, and follow her on Twitter.... or just email her at email@example.com. And as for today... Come on. Be brave. I know you can do this!
Erica Vetsch here: It is my absolute pleasure to host Carolyn Miller here at Seekerville today. We met in person at the 2018 ACFW Conference, and I can tell you, she is a delight. (With an awesome accent!) Thanks so much, Carolyn, for stopping by Seekerville!
Pique Practice by Carolyn Miller
‘She sells seashells by the seashore.’
You’re familiar with this tongue-twister, right? It’s said the “She” who sells seashells was Mary Anning, a poor, marginalized Englishwoman who despite her meagre education went on to discover some of England’s most spectacular fossils of the early 1800s, and eventually to be regarded as one of Britain’s most influential women of science.
My interest was piqued by this woman’s remarkable story, and by the fact that some of her most important discoveries happened during the Regency period – something which excited this historical author’s heart, and led me to write a novel based around the fossil-hunting mania of the Regency period (A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh, releasing March 19).
It’s funny how such a random thing as Googling the background of a tongue-twister can provide inspiration for a novel. When I look back on the novels I’ve written so far, it’s been a wide variety of things that have piqued enough interest to inspire a novel. For my first published novel, The Elusive Miss Ellison, I was inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Georgette Heyer, which helped inform the plot and wit and characters.
I’ve been inspired by locations (Bath! Brighton! Derbyshire! Scotland!), castle images, the challenge of presenting an unsympathetic character sympathetically, historic events, Bible verses, sermons, maps, garage sale finds, among a million other things that have piqued my interest.
The very first novel-length story I wrote was a contemporary story based around the Winter Olympics, because my interest was piqued by the sight of a US male athlete holding hands with an Aussie girl. What was their story? I had to know. (And when I couldn’t find out, I made it up!)
I love how the very randomness of such things can get the creative juices flowing. And in today’s world, it seems we’re surrounded by such opportunities:
· News items
· TV shows, films, books
· Photographs, pictures and paintings
· The Internet (oh my, it’s a land of a million rabbit trails, isn’t it?)
· And so much more…
Even our mundane chores down the street can provide inspiration as we overhear a snippet of conversation, or witness an awkward scene between friends or family members at a café, school or supermarket.
But being surrounded as we are by so many sources of potential inspiration can present an author with some questions:
· How do you decide what is story-worthy?
· How do you record your story ideas? In a notebook, on your phone, scribbled notes on the back of receipts? Or are you more organized and use particular apps and programs like Evernote to record your ‘piqued interest’?
· What do you do to store these random story ideas?
I’m still trying to figure a lot of this out. I’m a historical author, but I have plenty of half-finished contemporary stories floating around my computer. Some of the scenarios I’ve been able to translate into Regency settings, but I figure some will never be unleashed on the world (and that might be a good thing!). For me a creative idea has to have enough substance, be plottable, hold enough magic so I remain excited enough to write 90,000 words – or at least until I get to 45K, when I might need to practise ‘butt in seat’ technique to reach ‘The End.’
Some items of ‘piqued interest’ will be relegated to secondary storylines, subplots, etc. That’s okay. I think the best stories are those with multiple story strands that pique the reader’s interest until the end.
As for my recording of such moments, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a mess. Yes, I have Evernote, but I don’t use it as I could. Last month I was doing a spring clean of my office and desk and discovered a huge array of tattered notebooks and scraps of paper, all containing plenty of – you guessed it – story ideas and clippings of things that had once piqued my interest. What to do with them? Good question.
I know I’m not offering many answers, and that’s because I’d love to hear your thoughts about what your ‘pique practices’ may be. Sharing is caring, so please let me know what you do when your creativity is piqued by answering these questions.
What’s a random thing that has sparked your creativity and turned an ‘I wonder…’ into a published novel?
Do you read author’s notes in a novel where they give an explanation for why they wrote the story? Have you come across anything that particularly piqued your interest and you think could be story worthy?
Giveaway: Carolyn is offering an ebook
or paperback of her upcoming release A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh to one commentator…
Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. Together with her husband she has pastored a church for ten years, and worked as a public high school English and Learning and Support teacher. A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English Literature, and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her Regency novels include The Elusive Miss Ellison, The Captivating Lady Charlotte, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, Winning Miss Winthrop, Miss Serena's Secret, The Making of Mrs. Hale, and A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh, all available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Christianbook, etc.
I'm re-sharing a post today from our Archives. (If you're not familiar with our blog, our archives are still available with 10 years of posts at www.seekervillearchives.blogspot.com.) This was a really fun post to research, and I've been thinking a lot about brain science lately so thought I would post it again...
I’m fascinated by the brain and creativity. I read the most amazing article recently in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Magazine. It was titled “What Makes a Genius?” by Claudia Kalb with photography by Paolo Woods. (Links to all articles will be included at the end). This article blew me away.
What sucked me in was how researchers have looked at slides of Albert Einstein’s brain tissue trying to figure out if it’s different from other brains. This led me to some really interesting ideas about creativity and writing.
A few things from Kalb’s article that stood out to me about genius:
--Geniuses are nurtured.
--Lone geniuses are rare (they’re usually seen in a network).
--Even with natural gifts and a nurturing environment, genius still requires motivation and tenacity (so personality plays a role).
--Angela Duckworth believes that a combination of passion and perseverance—what she calls “grit”—drives people to achieve.
--Dean Keith Simonton says, “The number one predictor of impact is productivity.” (He uses the example of Thomas Edison having 2000+ patents.)
--Scott Barry Kaufman says, “Great ideas don’t tend to come when you’re narrowly focusing on them.” He talks about information coming in consciously but being processed unconsciously so that we sometimes get unexpected “aha” moments. (Yes! I love those!)
--Rex Jung says research shows that thought processes like daydreaming and imagining take place in the middle part of our prefrontal cortex across both hemispheres.
--Andrew Newberg’s research shows that the genius brain has an area that is twice the size of control brains (the corpus callosum, a centrally located bundle of more than 200 million nerve fibers that joins the two hemispheres of the brain and facilitates connectivity between them).
So, you and I may not be geniuses, but we can learn to nurture creativity, we can stimulate our brains, and we can hang around other people who are creative—those who challenge us, support us and inspire us. We can learn to increase productivity and to persevere.
The “What Makes a Genius?” article also sent me searching for more from Charles Limb. I watched a TED Talk called “Your Brain on Improv.” It’s based on Creativity and the Brain by Dr. Charles Limb and his collaborator Allen R. Braun.
Basically, they used a functional MRI (fMRI) to look at the brain activity of a jazz musician and a freestyle rapper in action (they developed a keyboard that they could put inside the machine). The experiment asked: What happens in the brain when doing something that is memorized and over-learned vs what happens in the brain when doing something that is spontaneously generated or improvised?
They found in the brain during improvisation:
--Lateral prefrontal deactivation (a decrease in self-monitoring)
--Medial prefrontal activation (an increase in self-expression)
With the jazz pianist, they also found that during improv, his language areas lit up, an area associated with expressive communication.
With the freestyle rapper, major visual areas lit up—even with his eyes closed. He also had major cerebellar activity (associated with motor activities). So, he had heightened activity in multiple areas of the brain.
In another article about Limb's research found in Peabody Magazine by Nick Zagorski and Keith Weller titled “The Science of Improv," they pointed out that during improvisation, the brain regions involved with all the senses lit up, showing a heightened state of awareness. The researchers said the people being tested “literally taste, smell, and feel the air around them.” They described a strange similarity to brain wave patterns that can be seen during REM sleep. So maybe there’s a connection between improv and dreaming.
What does this mean for us as writers?
The first thing that struck me (a plotter/planner), is that I’d like to try doing more “improv.” I’m sure I’ll still want to do my pre-planning. But I’d like to jump in on the first draft and write so that my brain’s self-monitoring turns off and self-expression turns on.
I’d like to try writing with my eyes closed (I do this sometimes already).
I’d like to let go of some of my writing methods that have become learned and practiced and let my brain go wild while creating.
I’d like to continue interacting with all of you who participate in the blog to inspire me and support me. To push me when I need it. You’re my genius network! :)
What about you? Who wants to try doing a little improv the next time you’re working on a new story? Have you had success trying this method already? I'd love to hear what you think!
Here are the links I promised. Enjoy the articles and video, but please come back to chat with us!
Missy Tippens, a pastor’s wife and mom of three from near Atlanta, Georgia, has always been a bit of a science geek. Before staying home with her kids, she worked as a clinical microbiologist. Then the writing bug bit. After over ten years of pursuing her dream, she finally made her first sale to Harlequin Love Inspired in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Booksellers Best, Holt Medallion, ACFW Carol Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award and Romance Writers of America RITA®. Visit Missy at www.missytippens.com, https://twitter.com/MissyTippens and http://www.facebook.com/missy.tippens.readers.
If you are not familiar with our giveaway rules, take a minute to read them here. It keeps us all happy! All winners should send their name, address, and phone number to claim prizes. Note our new email address and please send your emails to Seekerville2@gmail.com
Thursday: The winner ofcopy of Jolina Petersheir's latest release, How the Light Gets In, courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers, is Dianna from Tennessee!
Friday: Beth Erin shared a wonderful post about the many types of book covers and how we do judge a book by its cover.
Monday: Missy Tippenswill be opening up the Archives today and sharing a post about creativity and brain science. Want to find out ways to spark creativity? Don't miss it!
Tuesday: Carolyn Miller Australian author and writer of acclaimed Regency Romances, will be popping in to share about what piques her interest when writing a novel. She's giving away a copy of her upcoming release, hot off the presses!
Wednesday: Join Ruthy Logan Herne on Wednesday as she takes you on a Magical Mystery Tour with her post: "In Search of Katie Culhane: A "You Write It" Mystery" where the Ruthinator challenges you to add on to a piece of work... and you guys can piggyback one another... or decide how YOU would write the story! It's the best kind of idea-sharing known to womankind because it's you... and me.... together! If you love to write and you're game to play, come on over on Wednesday!
Friday: Winnie Griggs will be talking about the good, the bad and the ugly of writing articles - why you should consider doing it and some tips for how to do it.
It's finally here! Missy Tippens has over a dozen devotionals in this new wonderful collection for animal lovers from Guideposts. One year of daily devotionals to touch your heart and inspire. Click here for more info.
Coming March 19th!
Book 3 in Mindy Obenhaus's Rocky Mountain Heroes series.
Lassoing the single mom’s heart… Socialite Lily Davis agrees to take her children riding…despite her fear of horses. But now widowed cowboy Noah Stephens is determined to help her get comfortable in the saddle. And, at her children’s insistence, Lily finds herself promoting his rodeo school. As Noah and Lily work together, will Noah continue to shield his heart…or can they discover a love that conquers both their fears?
Well, we all do it, I'm judging, they're judging, and even if you think you aren't, you're judging too! Thank you to Heidi for suggesting today's topic by the way, it is much appreciated. Covers are so important (even if you're in judging denial, you must admit this)!
Some of the many possible objectives for a cover are to capture the reader's attention, reveal the setting, character(s), mood or genre, and basically nudge them to at least learn more about the story. Let's take a look at a few observations and chat about why and to whom they appeal.
Since one of the tasks covers can have is revealing the setting, taking advantage of a beautiful landscape or intriguing angle of man's ingenuity is a great way to draw readers in. Many of these covers are pretty enough to hang on your wall (even if you aren't the author).
I love seeing bright or contrasting colors and elements that pop right off the cover, not only does this catch the eye but bright and cheerful colors make me smile too (okay, most books make me smile anyway but don't try to distract me with trivial facts)!
Here's a reader confession for y'all (I know y'all love it when I hop on here and spill my guts, we're all friends here), I'm a big ol' reader scaredy cat. Thrillers, gothic novels, murder mysteries... not my idea of fun. Covers that hint to whether I'm going to laugh, cry, or sleep with the lights on are appreciated!
"A picture is worth a thousand words," or so the saying goes but books I read are much more than one thousand words... I believe this warrants tasteful split scenes! Character and landscape seems to be the most popular combination but as you'll see below, two characters or even two settings can share cover real estate.
The illustrated cover trend seems to have exploded recently and since y'all know how much I enjoy bright, happy colors, I don't have to tell you how happy this makes me (but I will anyway because it's late and I spent a way too long assembling all the covers and they make me very happy, I love all the colors).
Ah, here are the brave, bold covers. The ones who we think of as the first to take the leap into something new, breaking the mold, combining cover trends (for example, Karen Barnett's Vintage National Park series recreates natural wonders with illustrations), or highlighting a unique story element.
As in nearly all things readerly, cover appeal is subjective. I want bearded men, maybe you want a barefoot Amish widow, it all boils down to knowing your readers and connecting them to your story from the first moment.
If you’re fishing for new readers, the cover is the hook but not if they don’t take the bait. In my humble reader opinion, a professionally designed cover is a second priority only to an experienced editor. Readers will not only be more likely to pick up a book with a beautiful cover, but they'll also be willing to spend more on it.
Make sure to hop back over to yesterday's post by Jolina Petersheim if you missed it! Let's chat! Share some of the elements you most love seeing on book covers. Let me know if you find yourself leaning towards any of the categories above. What else do you expect a cover to tell you about a story? Join me tomorrow as I spotlight 10+ of my favorite covers on Faithfully Bookish! Susan May Warren will be sponsoring a two winner giveaway of her new release, Knox, to celebrate.
I feel obligated to leave this here, just in case...