Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Warrior Priests and Luckless Suitors

Chaikin doesn't leave her heroes and heroines alone on their journeys - she provides a spiritual mentor for one or both. Many of them have trained as priests, and are nearly as adventureous as the hero himself. These men become sounding boards for the younger main characters and spiritual reflections are more plausible coming from their older mouths.

The heroine also usually has another love interest, a more passive man she assumes she'll be marrying. Another reason for her to hate the hero, as he usually fouls things up.

Looking ahead to next week - are there any authors you'd like to see discussed?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Gallant Rogues

Chaikin's heroes are larger than life - skillful, mysterious, powerful, courteous, and arrogant. These attributes both attract and repel women, so it's no wonder love/hate relationships exist throughout her novels.

The most attractive thing about her male characters is their sense of adventure. They embody perfectly the ideology expressed in Wild at Heart by John Eldridge. They grab life by the horns and don't let go. While living life to the fullest they do step on a few toes, namely those of the independent young women they come across.

These women are the typical counterpart to the heroes - stubborn enough to clash with the arrogant rogues, sweet enough to bring out their gallantry. Evy in the East of the Sun series is an exception - she has a quiet steadfastness, but she's less headstrong than Chaikin's previous heroines.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Christy and Chaikin

The Christy Award winners just came out - some books I liked, some I didn't. As a Cavanaugh fan, I wish he would have won, though Fire by Night was great, too. I hope he wins next year - having an entire trilogy with Christy Awards would be nice. I did think Flabbergasted was a better first novel than Welcome to Fred, but I enjoyed both. Three deserved to win.

Linda Chaikin is this week's author, and character roles is the writing topic (I'll do Dekker after I read his trilogy). Linda is prolific author with the knack of stretching one couple's love story into three novels. How does she do that? By making them hate each other at the beginning. You get a lot more writing material if your couple hates each other, form a tentative truce, become friends, then fall in love, rather than making them fall in love at the beginning and having to contrive ways to make their relationship last a book or two.

Having them hate each other isn't a cure-all, though. If your readers become used to your hero and heroine hating each other at first, any guy your heroine hates immediately becomes a romantic possibility. As with any trick of writing, use what works for you and your story.

Why do Chaikin's heroes and heroines hate each other? More tomorrow . . .

Friday, June 25, 2004

Weekly Topics?

I'm hoping to organize this blog a little better, and wondered if anyone had ideas for topics lengthy enough to discuss over a week's time. I thought of choosing one author a week for reading discussion and picking one of his/her strengths as the writing part.

Let me know what you think of the idea.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Writing Order

One of last things I do to complete my rough draft is divide it into chapters. In my mind they're almost meaningless - the most use I have for them is splitting a scene to create a cliffhanger.

I usually develop my title as I enter the climax, though I play around with it throughout my editing. I call the book by the main character's name during the bulk of the writing.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Time Travel

I've always been interested in time travel stories. I recently watched Kate and Leopold, which has the premise of "meant to be" time travel - it doesn't affect history because the person already entered the past, even though they haven't left the future yet. The "portal" time travel device employed is one of my favorites so far.

After that I read a Christian time-travel novel I've had sitting around for a while, Twice upon a Time. A man travels to past for about a minute and his friend stays. When the man goes home, he finds out his son drowned four years ago, though the man saw him alive just yesterday. No one else in the world knows anything happened, and the man has to go back and figure out what his friend did that changed history. He's the only one who knows that his son's alive since he went back for that one minute. It's quite complicated.

But in the young adult time travel novels I've read, there's very little about changing history. The most mentioned is an object brought from the future and accidentally shown to someone. Is this because young adults can't grasp the concepts? Or aren't the books long enough to go into this?

Perhaps time travel changing history is only a plot device used when need, ignored when not.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Small Gains and Great Rewards

I'm trying to make this a daily blog, but my modem/phone line is not cooperating. Despite this, my writing today has been full of unexpected rewards.

I finally decided that I wanted Winter to tell Rob about the job on Friday, not Saturday (see book tenatively titled Evergreen published a year or two - hopefully - in the future), so now I know exactly what I'll be writing about up till Saturday night. Gives me time to plan the argument.

My sister, Anna, read what I've just written, and is begging me to write more of Winter's story. Rebekah, another sister, reread the ending of my first novel, and wants me to write the sequel ASAP. The cure for writer's block? Nagging sisters.

And I was assigned two articles that pay fairly well, and also include free books! (I write, not to keep bread on the table, but books on the bookshelf.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Character Sheets

Every novel contain dozens of characters, from the main character without whom there would be no story to the checkout clerk who might not even be mentioned in the story. Then there are the faceless crowds - everyone attending the same school or church, living in the same town or city.

The best method for distinguishing between major or minor characters and background characters is whether they're named or not. One exception to this is when you write from the mystery villain's POV - he (or she) never names himself.

You should know a great deal about any character appearing frequently in your writing. I make character sheets to keep all this info straight. I start with the basics - age, hair color and style, eye color - and move on to more complex stats. Are they lanky, petite, or stocky? Do they talk a lot or not at all? Are they impulsive? What is their educational and religious background? Who are their friends/enemies and why? I leave a blank area at the bottom for misc. info - the why behind the person they are, what's happened in their lives so far.

I made up a sheet on the computer with the most pertinent questions, then I copy it for each character I want to profile. If the families of the main characters don't come into the picture much, I make one sheet for each family in addition to profiles for select members. This helps me make sure the families are genetically correct as well - no brown-eyed children of two blue-eyed parents, unless they're adopted.

Monday, June 14, 2004

1st vs. 3rd vs. Multiple 3rd

Point of view. It's many a writer's sticky wicket, and sometimes even published authors don't follow the rules. I personally like multiple third-person POV, which offers the freedom to get inside many characters' POVs at separate times. I try to keep mainly to two POVs, as many POVs prevent readers from connecting with the characters.

The two POVs are the standard characters when you have a romance plotline, the hero and the heroine. I'm only using the two for my romance novel, but I added several other POVs to my lengthy historical novel - a few scenes of the villains, one of the hero's father, and many near the end for the hero's sister (to add another side to a pivotal historical event and to whet reader interest for her story, which is the sequel.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Plotting Myers-Briggs Style

I'm curious to know whether personality type has anything to do with how writers plot. I'm a Perceiver, and I plot using a very loose outline. Do Judgers use strict outlines?

What about the other aspects of personality? Perhaps Sensors have little trouble creating lush settings (unlike me). And could Feelers be better at writing tear-jerkers?

I'd welcome any comments on this topic.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Music and Writing

I love listening to music when I write. It helps defuse lingering bits of writer's block and sets the mood for the scene I'm working on. I'm careful with what I listen to at different time, though. Unfamiliar music is too distracting. I play high-energy pop for action scenes and love songs for romantic ones. Fights get Michael W. Smith's Freedom Battle on repeat.

I stick mostly to Christian rock and pop, though I use classical when I need to concentrate on a difficult scene.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Rich Text

No, I'm not talking about rich text format, though I do use that to email some of my reviews. I mean text that lives and breathes its setting, with details enriching the plot. I just read two books that exemplify this perfectly - Tomorrow's Treasure and Yesterday's Promise by Linda Chaikin.

I've read most of her earlier books, and noticed her characters seem to have identical roles in each book - a gallant rogue, a headstrong lady, a wimpy suitor, a wise mentor, a cruel dynasty-builder, and a backstabbing villain. But the East of the Sun series surprised me with its character depth and development.

The setting detail in the second book centered on South Africa, though part of the book took place in England. It made the book not merely a story, but an experience, though it made me chomp at the bit to find out what happened.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Reader Bond

Your readers must care about the people in your book, or else there's no point in writing. You can have a thrilling plot full of surprises and packed with interesting info, but readers will drop it in a flash if they don't care about the characters. Your hero's in danger, sick, or dying, but the reader doesn't give a hoot. It's just words on paper.

Creating reader bond is an elusive art. Numerous techniques aid it - such as showing, not telling - but it's often a writer's blind spot. One way to help is to follow strict POV - keeping inside only one character's head each section of writing. Hit "enter" twice before changing point of view.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Middle Earth and more

Back again after our phone line quit working.

I've been working on The Hobbit lately - it took a while to get into but I'm moving along at a fairly fast clip now. I've been a Narnia fan for many years, but this is my first stab at Tolkien. I'd heard that Tolkien didn't like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which did not make me inclined to read his books, but the two friends' styles of writing are very similar. I still prefer Narnia at this point, and believe I always will.

As one of the oldest forms of Christian fiction (i.e. Pilgrim's Progress, though it also can be classified as allegory), fantasy is finally making a comeback in the CBA market, most likely helped by the success of the Lord of the Rings movies. And with the upcoming Narnia movie, it's not likely to die down soon. Not all CBA publishers are interested in fantasy, check each individually.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Distracting Fiction

Penelope J. Stokes quotes the author of a well-known book on writing when he says fiction should be a "vivid and continuous dream." I agree with that statement. The worst books are those that constantly jog your attention from the story. As a book reviewer, I have to analyze all types of fiction from bestsellers to self-published. One fault self-published books nearly always have is lack of this vivid, continuous dream.

Another book I've read recently, Perpetua, had great potential to cause distraction. It's set about 200 A.D. in Carthage, and dozens of terms, familiar to the 2nd century narrator, would confuse most modern-day readers. Writing definitions within the text would turn fiction in a Roman Empire vocabulary lesson, and a full glossary at the end would be a pain to wade through. The author's solution? She mentioned most of the items by a "neutral" contemporary term (such as dining room, house) within a paragraph or two, then included a footnote definition at the end of the chapter. The method, while a bit cumbersome, added a sense of exploration, like learning the code of a secret club.

Saturday, June 05, 2004


I hate middles. Writing them is like a murky bog the sun only shines on occasionally. Of course, if I planned out my novels scene by scene ahead of time, I wouldn't have that problem. But that method would ring every last bit of imagination from me and by the time I started writing I would have lost all enthusiasm for the project.

It's funny, though. Every writer I've heard who uses detailed outlines thinks they are the only way to go, while those who don't believe it's a matter of preference. Maybe the latter group is used to thinking outside of the box.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Sparse and Pan

My prose tends to be tight. I write dialog and action, keeping my description to a bare minumum. Later I have to go back and fill in colors and smells. It's like a movie script - only brief mentions of props have to change into an intricately detailed visual experience.

Speaking of movies, I just watched the new Peter Pan. The complex sets perfectly matched the stunning acting, though a few lines spoken didn't seem to fit the rest of the movie. The featurettes on the making of the movie only added to the experience. You could see how it came alive. I wish the best novelists would do that with their writing - allow others to see how they create the magic.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


Starting a blog and a novel is a very similar process for me. I have an idea of where I'm going but nothing is definite yet. There's past experience I can draw on - for novels about a dozen short stories, for a blog years of daily journal writing. Both take preplanning, though with both I tend to jump right in too soon - but the writing enhances the planning process.

Today for example. I'm a third of the way done with my shorter contemporary novel, and just finished plugging in a few more of the details on a subplot I came up with about 12,000 words in. I've been trying to think of a latent long-term goal for my main character for months now, and finally one popped into my head. Not sure if I'll use it yet, but if I'd waited to finish my planning before I began, I wouldn't have written 18,000 words in the past months and probably the idea would never have come to me.