Posts Tagged ‘Writing Fiction’
Posted on March 19, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
Just hearing the words “writer’s block” is enough to strike fear into a writer’s heart. It’s a big, ugly, dirty, hairy beast that thrusts itself into our lives and takes up residence in our computer. The brute steals into our mind, numbs our fingers, and fills our heart with dread. We KNOW, at that moment, we’ll never write another decent word in our life.
Cue the music. Any music. Whatever music calms your spirit and speaks to your heart. Then sit back and let it wash over you, soak into you, speak to you.
I’ve been wrestling for months with the beast of writer’s block. You’d think, being unemployed, I’d be writing my brains out. Instead, my brain has turned to mush, my fingers wobble over the keyboard in search of words. The beast has had me by the throat.
So I’ve called out to…Josh Groban. Seriously. One of my stories is about an up-and-coming singer and the now-spotlight-phobic model he falls for. Listening to the powerful music of Josh Groban helps me visualize what life might be like for a struggling performer. It loosens the beast’s grasp on my throat.
In another story, an ex-con builds a ministry for kids on the street. Listening to contemporary Christian music from Sanctus Real, the Robbie Seay Band, and Big Daddy Weave drowns out the beast’s whispers that have kept me paralyzed. It allows me to enter my story world and be the characters.
I love to sing. I’m not good at it. People will move away if I sing too loudly in church (just kidding). But I still love to sing. Sometimes I go far from my computer (where the beast lies in wait) to play worship music and just sing. It reminds me to take the focus off of me and put it where it belongs – on the One who called me to write in the first place.
And when the beast finally slinks away (I know he doesn’t go far, but at least he goes), I play music to thank God for bringing me through.
Do you have any particular music that soothes your beast?
Posted on March 12, 2013 - by Shannon Vannatter
I once thought writer’s block was a myth. Until it held me in it’s cold grip. Desperate, I asked for advice from other writers. And got lots of advice. Eventually, I came up with my own cures.
- Go for a walk by myself.
Most of the time, I walk with my son or my mom. But walking by myself clears my brain. Alone with my thoughts, the ideas start to flow.
- Take a shower.
Just me and the warm water and my undistracted brain. Bubble baths are good too, but the shower blots out the noise of my family, the TV, the neighbors.
- Work on a different book.
This is my surefire cure. As soon as I try to concentrate on another book and other characters, I get all kinds of creativity going for the book that was blocked until I can’t wait to get back to it.
- Go on a research trip.
I love research trips. There’s nothing like walking in your characters’ shoes. Trips are expensive, but they are tax deductible.
- Playing Angry Birds.
I saved the best for last. I’ve never been much of a gamer. Electronic games usually frustrate me. But when my son introduced me to Angry Birds, I fell in love. For some reason, knocking all those boxes, piles of snow, glass, and wood piles down–freeing those caged birds, popping those oinking piggies, and knocking those laughing monkeys off their tail ends relieves my stress. And stress can be the biggest block a writer must hurdle.
So my new way of relaxing at the end of the day is Angry Birds. The black bomb birds are my favorite. They cause so much destruction and get all my inner aggression out. My husband and son even got me an Angry Bird necklace for Christmas. I wear it proudly.
Posted on February 6, 2013 - by Brenda Anderson
Scenes are one of the basic building blocks of a novel. Each scene is a micro-story with a beginning, middle, and end that has its own goals, story arc, and purpose. It should advance the story and change the characters, propelling the reader toward the novel’s resolution and conclusion.
One way to clean up your novel is by taking it apart scene by scene. Analyze them by asking yourself the following questions. In the end you should have a deeper, more purposeful scene. Or perhaps you’ll decide it can be deleted–that can be painful, but eliminating unnecessary scenes does create a tighter story.
- Is this scene necessary for the story? Before you dive into perfecting the scene, perhaps this is the most important question to ask. Does the novel as a whole survive without that scene? If the action doesn’t move the story forward to its resolution, if the reader doesn’t learn something new and pertinent, consider eliminating the scene. I know, ouch. As writers, most of us have written that scene we absolutely love. The narrative flows, the dialogue is witty, and the descriptions draw us right into the setting, but … It’s not necessary. Some of my favorite scenes have ended up in the *deleted* file.
- Have I grounded the setting? Does the reader know where and when this scene is taking place? The setting needs to be grounded in the first paragraph or your reader will be adrift.
- Have I made use of SHIFTS, aka the six senses? (yes, six–I talked about them <here>). While it’s not necessary to employ all the senses in every scene, the more you use, the deeper you involve the reader. A good rule of thumb is to appeal to at least three senses per scene. A writer typically uses hearing and seeing; see how many additional sensory images you can add. Often it just takes a single word to deepen the story.
- Have I stayed in one person’s POV? Sorry, no head-hopping allowed!
- Is the POV character the one most impacted by the scene? If not, consider changing the POV. Then the reader will intimately feel the tension.
- Does the POV character have an established goal? What does your character want to accomplish or prevent happening? Do they have a strategy to achieve that goal? By establishing a specific goal, you’ve created a question in the reader’s mind of “Will So-and-so achieve their goal?” and they’ll keep reading to find the answer.
- Does this scene have conflict? Is there something standing in the way of your POV character from reaching their scene goal? If not, add a few stumbling blocks.
- Do my characters experience tension? Is there any inner turmoil going on, pulling your character in two or more directions?
- Is there a climax? A high point where emotions are escalated?
- Are my characters changed by what’s occurred in the scene?
- Does the resolution hook the reader and make them want to turn the page? If you’ve ended with a *happily-ever-after* resolution, it’s easy for the reader to put the book down. Make certain you’ve planted some question in your reader’s mind that will force them to read on.
Admittedly, I’m guilty of not asking all these questions when I edit or critique, but I plan to keep these questions beside the computer from now on.
Posted on January 15, 2013 - by Shannon Vannatter
Every writer has the story of their heart. The one that pulls and tugs at them until they write it, even if it’s something unsellable or hopelessly out of vogue. From the time I was fifteen, I had this story in my head. It played over and over. I’d change it as I went along, add new complications, try different endings. Sometimes late at night, I’d even act it out in my bedroom. I didn’t tell anyone about it. They’d think I was weird.
I watched a lot of detective shows then, mostly Baretta, Starsky & Hutch, and Vegas. My story was a girl in jeopardy and the detective who moved mountains to keep her safe. Of course, along the way, they fell in love. I thought it was a movie, but I wasn’t going to Hollywood. So what to do with it, other than play it over and over in my head, act it out, and tweak scenes?
After I met the guy of my dreams and had my own romance going on, I left the story in my head deep in the recesses of my brain. Until my new husband worked nights and I worked days which left me a lot of thinking and TV time. A short-lived detective series, Wolf, starring the yummy Jack Scalia got me thinking about that story again. But I still had no idea what to do with it.
About ten years later, when searching the library for a clean romance and not finding any, I finally realized–Hey, that story in my head could be a book. But I didn’t have a computer. And I wasn’t a very fast or accurate typist. I set the story aside again, but promised myself if I ever got a computer, I’d write it.
Three years later, my father-in-law got a new computer and gave me his old one. As soon as it was hooked up, I started the book. The words flowed from my fingers. A funny thing happened as I wrote. My characters started talking to God. I’d set out for clean romance and ended up with Christian romantic suspense.
Three months later, I had it completed. Now, what? I headed to the library and learned about the Writer’s Market Guide. I had no clue my book was badly written, that writing is a craft you learn and hone, that you have to show the reader your story instead of simply telling it. And I thought I was starting a new trend. I had no idea there were Christian romance novels since I always hung out in the music section of the Christian book store. Imagine my amazement, when I found fifty-two Christian publishers looking for books just like I’d written. Not necessarily the suspense part, but maybe I could still start a new trend.
I really thought that all I had to do was write a book, send it to publishers, and the right one would publish my baby. Everything was by mail then. I sent out ten proposals. With each rejection I received, I sent out another submission. Imagine my amazement, when all fifty-two rejected me.
But my story ends well. Eight badly written books later, I finally attended enough writers conferences, took enough workshops, and joined ACFW to learn to hone my craft, show the reader my story, and draw them in. I managed to polish one of those badly written books and interest a publisher. Three years later, six published books later, and a contract for three more books later, the Christian romantic suspense genre is thriving and I’m polishing the book of my heart. With some tweaks, that is.
My original story was set in a fictional small Arkansas town. The heroine was an interior decorator, the hero was a detective. But once my three book rodeo series turned into six books, I dusted off old ideas and manuscripts. The story of my heart is now book 5 in my rodeo series titled Rodeo Queen, the heroine owns western clothing stores at the Fort Worth Stockyards and the Galleria Dallas and serves as the rodeo queen at the Stockyards Championship Rodeo. The hero is a Texas Ranger.
I learned two things a long time ago: 1. I stink at fight and shoot em up scenes. 2. I don’t want to learn ballistics and deal with dead bodies. This version of the story of my heart is less suspense, heavy on the romance. The suspense basically just brings them together. I started from scratch on the manuscript. That’s another thing I’ve learned: It’s easier to rewrite than to polish a very badly written book.
Brenda recently critiqued the first sixty pages for me. She commented that she loved my voice and characters. This book has been a breeze to write. I know exactly what happens and I’ve known these people since I was fifteen. God is good!
Question: Based on what you know about me, who was I in love with–Starsky? Or Hutch?
Posted on December 4, 2012 - by Shannon Vannatter
Shannon here: I’ve never met Shawna, but she’s Arkansas gal like me. And since she has a Christmas book out, I snagged her for my inksper interview. Shawna is giving away an e-book copy of A Hand to Hold and a cute pair of snowman earrings (pictured). Comment on any post dated Dec 3 – 7 to get your name in the drawing. Deadline: Dec 8th, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Shawna:
1.) What is the biggest writing challenge you’ve encountered this past year – craft, career, writing life, etc? How did you solve it?
This biggest challenge for me this past year has been balancing life with my writing career. This past year has been a tough one with the sudden loss of a close friend, spiritual attacks within our circle of friends, and the failing health of both mine and my husband’s parents. With the holidays, conference, and my dad’s numerous surgeries I found myself traveling every couple of weeks from about late November through May. Apart from writing, I also work as an editor for two small presses, home school three teens, and manage the social media for The Wordsmith Journal Magazine and work as their submissions editor for short stories, poetry, and nonfiction. I had a book due at the first of August. I managed to get it written, and I absolutely love the story, but my constant state of stress this past year was hard on me and consequently also hard on my family.
My solution for now is a promise I made to my family to not sign another book contract based on a proposal without the book being at least half written. The second half usually goes fast because at that point the story is firm in my mind. If it’s not firm, that means I probably need to scrap the first half because clearly there’s no direction.
My hope is this will encourage me to make time for writing in shorter increments, but more frequently, like daily, or every other day.
Last year I kept putting it off, trying to create space in my mind by tending to everything else first. While I’m very proud of the story that finally came together, the path I took to complete it was littered with more than a few “freak out” episodes. I tend to be one who holds everything in, so these weren’t pretty. Lol! My youngest daughter told me, “Mom, for fourteen years I’ve never seen you cry, and now you can’t stop.”
I’m happy to say the leak now seems to be plugged.
2.) What is the one thing you’d like to share with other writers?
Remember that you love to tell stories. No matter how frustrated you may feel. Never forget that’s why you chose this path. It’s not about notoriety, money, or whether or not everybody just loves your work. You write because you have to; you love it, and you will explode if you aren’t able to get these stories out of your heart and head and into the written word. In a sense, you’re making your characters real because they no longer just live in your head.
Also, be true to yourself and write what you feel passionate about — what excites you. That emotional involvement carries through in your choice of words. Readers can tell.
3.) Where is the coziest spot in your home?
The coziest room in the house is the reading room. Our house was built in 1941 and renovated in 1980, and currently under never-ending slow renovation again. I’m fairly certain that the reading room was formerly a porch and enclosed at some point in the past. Now it’s the cozy little room with the book shelves and Victorian sofa off at one end of the house. Very quiet and isolated for settling in for some alone time.
4.) What is your most laughable dating story?
I once almost shot my date’s dad. This was before I met hubby.
My date had asked me over to his uncle’s ranch. Huge house, lots of land, four wheelers, swimming pool, equipment for every sort of outdoor recreation in existence. It was late fall, so it was too cold to swim. But after having a great time on the four wheelers, my date wanted to teach me how to shoot skeet.
His dad had come up for the weekend, so we went into the house and he asked his dad about the guns and clay disks. All three of us went outside and my date demonstrated how to shoot as his dad threw a disk. Then it was my turn, and he helped me position the rifle, explained the site and all that. When I said I was ready, he threw a disk. I watched it as it fell into the line of site and followed to make sure I had it. With very intent focus, I followed it down… and down… and just as I pulled the trigger my date hit the end of the rifle to knock my aim upward.
My response: “Why’d you do that?” Then I noticed his dad was lying on the ground on his belly looking at me with very large eyes. Apparently he’d been walking in front of me as I followed the clay disk as it fell. According to my date, my aim was about to line up with his dad’s head. Key words being “about to.” The date could’ve been much worse.
We went inside to watch a movie after that. Slim risk of injury while sitting idle.
5.) Which amusement park ride is your favorite and why?
Roller coasters. They scare me to death and I love it.
6.) Would you rather live a week in the past or a week in the future?
This is a hard question for me. I’m completely intrigued by the past. I love history and spend a fair amount of time researching and broadening my knowledge on it. But what you don’t know about me is that I grew up with a Trekkie mom. We were raised watching Star Trek, Star Wars… First in line at the movies to see Close Encounters or any other Sci Fi flick that came out. Some of them were real stinkers too.
Now that I have my own family, we have Star Wars marathons, Firefly marathons, Stargate marathons, Battlestar Galatica marathons, Lord of the Rings marathons… Oh wait, that’s fantasy, not future. Well, you get my point. I enjoy the escapism that comes with imagining futuristic possibilities and adventures. Except Stargate is actually current day science fiction, and hmm… Star Wars was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Okay, I digress.
As fun as the futuristic fantasies may be, I’d have to go with the past — ancient history. There are so many mysteries to speculate about and I’d like to know how it really was. Might need more than a week. The Egyptian, Greek, and Roman empires didn’t exactly coincide. If I had to choose one, I want to see what Pharaoh Akhenaten, Queen Nefertiti, and their new capital city el-Armarna (abandoned and dismantled after his death) was all about.
7.) How do you balance writing, exercise, home, etc.?
Not very well. My house is never as clean as I’d like these days, and as far as exercise goes, I have very fit fingers.
8.) Who is your biggest cheerleader?
That would be dear hubby. He’s not really a fiction reader, and for awhile after I started writing he didn’t want to read my stories. He was afraid they’d be sappy and he’d be bored. He’s blunt, so he’d tell me, which is actually why I wanted him to read them. I didn’t want to write sappy or boring and I needed to know. If I could hold his attention, then maybe I had some skill.
The biggest boost I ever got was one Saturday morning when I was sleeping in, and hubby woke me up by shaking my shoulder while holding my Kindle in his other hand. He’d woken up early and decided to read my latest WIP (work in progress). I’d loaded several chapters onto my Kindle to review. Well, he got to the end of those and couldn’t stand not knowing what happened next, so he woke me up to get me to hurry and load the next chapters so he could continue.
He’s always encouraged me, even before he read anything I wrote, but now he also believes in me, and he lets everyone know it. That feels really great.
9.) What is the best book you’ve read recently, and why did you like it?
I’m a huge Francine Rivers fan. The Mark of the Lion series is my favorite. I really can’t decide between the three books because they’re all just wonderful. I think God has really blessed her with the ability to portray human nature: our fears, longings, frailties. She also writes with great compassion, and the theme of Grace is continual throughout her stories. She never compromises on principal though, even the characters’ failings add to the underlying theme through both consequence and redemption. Her stories just fill me with hope. Who doesn’t need that?
10.) What is your favorite season and why?
I adore late fall and early winter. I just love crunchy leaves under my feet, the smell of burning wood in the fireplace, and the stillness that settles in after a good snow. When it snows, I bundle up, go outside and walk until my limbs are numb, come inside and thaw, and then do it again. Just love it! It’s so cozy and peaceful and something about it makes me feel appreciative of everything around me.
11.) The biggest challenge in writing this book?
The biggest challenge in writing A Hand to Hold was time and space. Head and heart space. I can’t write a story with an uninvolved heart, and for my heart to be involved, I need to immerse myself in the setting and with the characters and their journeys. That’s hard to do when your world is in turmoil and head cluttered.
My dad has Parkinson’s disease, and he also has a degenerative spine. He’d had surgery last Nov to fuse discs, but he fell and the screws all pulled out of the bone. The other issue with my dad was that something about the anesthesia and his meds caused him to hallucinate and not be rational at all. His advanced Parkinson’s contributes to this but after his surgery it was far worse, and for a while we didn’t know if we were going to get him back. This pattern continued following his next three surgeries, and well into his recovery. My sister and I both live eight hours from my parents, so we were trying to balance life with our own families and see that our parents’ needs were met.
This plus other struggles here in our community and financially kind of cluttered my mind, kept me busy, and then other duties I’d put on the back burner while looking after my dad took priority. I kept thinking, “Just let me get this out of the way, then I can focus.” Next thing I knew, I had two months to my deadline and nothing written but a synopsis and the first two chapters of the book — lousy chapters I might add.
This is where God stepped in because I swear, writing this was such a blur. He brought me to that place where I could immerse myself and somehow a story was formed. Rewrote the two lousy chapters and the rest just followed. I really love how it turned out. I think readers will too.
12.) What do the Post-Its around your computer/screen/ bulletin board say?
I don’t do Post-Its. I’m a random file maker. Every time I think of something I make a file. Sometimes I send myself emails. My documents section is loaded with files titled, “To-do list number 35″,”Confused character ramblings” (I use these a lot to work out my character’s mindset) “Story title outline # 10″, “To-do list number 36″, “Christmas list”, “Stuff to remember”, “CLEAN YOUR HOUSE schedule”, etc.
13.) If you could have free unlimited service for one year from a cook, chauffer, personal secretary, housekeeper, or masseuse, which would you choose and why?
Housekeeper, hands down! I hate having a messy house and I can’t seem to get on top of it.
14.) Which character in your books is the most like you? How?
Hmm… This is a hard question. I know that there’s some of me in each character. I probably identify most with Pennye and Jakob. Pennye is the heroine from my book The Good Fight, and Jakob is the hero in No Other and In All Things. He also has a fairly large role in The Good Fight as Roger’s once rival now determined to be his friend.
With Pennye, I think I can relate to the underlying insecurities she struggles with. Despite how confident I may try and convince you I am, I struggle. She’s the same. I think we all have those little areas of sensitivity we try and conceal because it really hurts when they get poked! At the same time, these very things make us who we are, and give us the ability to empathize and show compassion. I wouldn’t want to lose that ability, and if having a few sensitive spots helps me to be more caring and understanding of others, I’ll take it.
Jakob is actually similar. His character feels very deeply, not just for himself but for others, and he wants to fix everything for everybody because of this. When he can’t, he views it as an inadequacy on his part. Of course, that’s twisted and wrong, and learning to rely on God for this role is the major part of his journey in the books No Other and In all Things. I guess that might have been a journey for me too.
About Shawna: Having never considered becoming a writer, Shawna K. Williams’ path changed in a single night all because of a dream. Her early writings were a mere attempt to fill in gaps within the dream and satisfy her curiosity, but later became the inspiration for her first two novels. She is a content editor for Desert Breeze Publishing and Solstice Publishing, acquisitions editor/social media specialist for The Wordsmith Journal Magazine, speaker, homeschooling mom and multi-published author of twentieth century historical fiction. Shawna enjoys books in almost any genre as long as they contain strong characters tackling real-life grit. She also has a thing for dogs and pygmy goats, and believes the world would be a better place if people aspired to be the person their pet believes them to be.
Shawna’s books: No Other, In All Things, The Good Fight, Orphaned Hearts, and coming in Dec. 2012: A Hand to Hold. All books are available as ebooks. No Other is also in print, In All Things releases in print in November 2012, and all other books will be available in print in 2013. Learn more: http://shawnakwilliams.com/, http://shawnawilliams-oldsmobile.blogspot.com/, https://twitter.com/shawnakwilliams, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Shawna-K-Williams/236629884245
About the book – A Hand to Hold by Shawna K. Williams:Having come to Brady Hill as an orphan, Caleb Langley cherishes his memories of growing up in a place where he was embraced, nurtured and loved. With the zinc mine closed and the town in near ruin, he agonizes over what can be done to save his home.
Sarah Sheldon, the little girl Caleb adopted in his heart as a sister, has lived life in the shadows of a once glorious town. She’s resentful those around her are held captive by old memories, and refuse to let go and move on. To Sarah, the demise of Brady Hill may be the best thing that ever happened.
Caleb is dismayed that Sarah’s view of growing up in Brady Hill differs so much from his own. In his determination to save the town, he also sets out to alter her perception. In doing so, might he learn to see Sarah in a new light as well?
Posted on November 13, 2012 - by Stacy Monson
Anyone who knows me knows I love Francine Rivers. Okay, so we’ve never actually met. I’ve heard she’s a lovely woman. What I really love is her writing. Her characters are multi-dimensional, full of passion, “real.” But while I have been deeply touched by many of her stories (especially Mark of the Lion), the one that continues to stay with me is her first inspirational book, “Redeeming Love.
As an ABA author, she was multi-published, award-winning with a solid career. But then God got hold of her and, well…we know what happens when God moves in our lives. “Redeeming Love” tells the story of Michael Hosea, a pioneer farmer in 1850 and Sarah, the woman God calls him to marry. One minor detail – she’s a prostitute going by the name “Angel.”
This epic story draws you in to not just the battle between them, but the battle they each have with God. Michael strives to serve God faithfully and obediently, even if the calling to love and accept “Angel” kills him. Angel believes God is an angry, vindictive, hateful creature that stole all that mattered to her. Both have much to learn on their journey together.
Based on the Old Testament story of the prophet Hosea and his wayward wife, Gomer, it’s a story of sin, obedience, deliverance and redemption. It’s my story and all of humanity’s, as well. And I believe that’s why this book continues to resonate within me.
The first time I read “Redeeming Love” I was convinced Michael and Sarah were real people. Their stories were that vivid. I’ve read it about 800 million more times and still find something new every time – a new way to create a deeper character, a better method for creating tension, the importance of secondary characters.
I have much to learn about the craft of writing. I have even more to learn about the God who loves me, calls me to obedience, delivers me from my daily (minute by minute?) bad decisions and choices, and redeems me with an everlasting love.
I’m thankful for the amazing writers who have gone before me, sharing their knowledge, experience and expertise to help me to the next level, and who write amazing characters and storylines that never grow old. I’m thankful for a God who puts these people in my path.
Did I mention I love Francine Rivers?
Posted on October 23, 2012 - by Shannon Vannatter
Naming characters is one of my favorite things about writing a book. I’ve used several names I circled in the baby book when I was pregnant, before I knew my son’s gender.
Laken, Shell, Kendra, Lacie became heroines in published books. Paige and Lexie lurk in unpublished works. Jenna and Caitlyn will soon see the light of day. All these are circled in my baby name book. Rayna—another published heroine—I invented. Hers is the only heroine name I’ve ever come up with on my own.
From real life, I used to work with a woman named Adrea (AdrEEuh) and loved her name. I used it in my first published book. Another coworker had a daughter named Devrie (DevrEE). Her story hasn’t been published yet, but she’s waiting in the wings.
My next heroine is Natalie. I’m not happy with her name. She was a side character in all three rodeo books. And I don’t take as much care with my side characters. In my books, heroines and heroes get unique names, side characters more common. When I got the chance to continue the series, I knew Natalie’s story needed to be told. I wish I’d named her something more unique now. But since she’s been in three books already, it’s too late to change her name. It’s not that I don’t like the name, it’s just not unique enough.
I did change a child’s name. In book 1 and 2 of my rodeo series, there was a child whose father died before he was born. The child became Little Mel after his father. In book 3, the story of Little Mel’s mother, the child was a little older and it was getting old calling him Little Mel. In the very first chapter, I showed his mother thinking about how she used to call him Little Mel. Readers learn the child’s name is really Maxwell, his mother’s maiden name, but she called him Little Mel after his father. After her friend told her the boy needed his own name, he became Max.
Grayson, Hayden, Clay, Quinn became heroes in published books. Braden and Reece lurk in unpubbed land. All came from potential names for our son that my husband didn’t like as much as I did. Okay, a few, he really hated.
Stetson was the only hero name I came up with on my own. It hailed back to the TV show, Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Remember that one? Bruce Boxleitner and Kate Jackson. He was a spy and his name was Lee Stetson. I decided Stetson would be a great first name and thought it would be a great name for a son if you married a cowboy. I didn’t, so I christened my rodeo clown with the name. For my rodeo series, I looked up a lot of bull rider names too. Guess what, there’s a bullrider named Stetson. Guess I wasn’t as creative as I thought.
From real life, we know a young gospel singer named Ryler. I thought it was such a cool name and asked if I could use it. Ryler was sixteen when the book came out. It’s a running joke in his family the way I described my hero–Ryler as a big brick of a man.
I also have fun with last names sometimes. Ryler Grant because my husband’s name is Grant. Besides being a rodeo clown, Stetson Wright is a virgin/youth director committed to true love waits. I had fun with the formerly promiscuous heroine
thinking of him as Dudley Do Wright. Grayson Sterling is the preacher with sterling character and the heroine’s Prince Sterling.
Garrett Steele—a hardened country singer, Lane Grey—a rodeo pickup man (the kind who pick up the cowboys out of the bronc’s way, not the kind who pickup women). I named Lane after Lane Frost, but I thought it was fun for his name to rhyme with western author Zane Grey. Mitch Warren—a Texas ranger rounds out my next three heroes.
I’ve also gotten names out of the phone book. I love using last names for first names—like Miller for a first name. I got the name Holland Fleming for a powerful businessman in an unpublished work from a writer’s conference brochure—the last names of two speakers for the event.
I just finished up Denise Hunter’s Big Sky Romance series. I love her cowboy names: Wade Ryan, Travis McCoy, and Dylan Taylor. I wonder if Denise looked up bullrider names for the series. From her Nantucket series, I loved hero–Lucas Wright. I fell flat for Lucas. He was such a great guy. He’d loved the heroine from afar for several years and was there when she needed him most. In my defense, I wrote Stetson Wright’s story before I read Denise’s book.
Writers—where do you get your character names? Readers—what are your favorite character names that have stuck with you over the years?
Posted on October 9, 2012 - by Shannon Vannatter
Page one. The most important page of your book. If you don’t grab an agent or an editor with page one, readers will never see it. Each paragraph has a job to do on the first page. The writer doesn’t simply let the story unfold. We have to orient our reader to our story world. Taking the time to answer five important questions can draw the reader into the story.
1. Who is your character?
2. What are they doing?
3. Where are they?
4. When is it?
5. Why are they there?
It doesn’t necessarily have to be in that order, it’s just easy to remember–who, what, where, when, why. But I do like to introduce the character up front. First paragraph. Who will my reader live vicariously through during this story?
Because I learn best by example, below is the first page of my newest release, Rodeo Ashes. Read through it and then we’ll discuss the mechanics:
“How did I fall for this?” Lacie Gentry squeezed the steering wheel of her parked SUV until her fingers went numb. ”Because I’m the biggest idiot in Texas. And to top things off—I’m talking to myself.”
Movement at the curb in front of her car, and strains of a cry-in-your-beer country song twanged out the open bar door. Please let it be her friends, ready to head home. She looked up into the leer of a man.
Oh goodness, what if he comes over here? Without taking her eyes off him, she found the lock button. The loud click broke the spell, and he turned away.
Her breath released in a huff.
She couldn’t stay here like a sitting duck, waiting for some carjacker. Or worse. She’d never heard of anything good happening inside or outside a bar. Maybe she could go somewhere else and wait. But if she did, how would her friends find her when they got done with whatever they were doing in there?
She waited until the man drove away, scanned the Fort Worth parking lot three times, unlocked the door, and bolted to the bar. The August night air hadn’t cooled one iota, but a chill moved through her.
Safer inside or out? At least there were witnesses inside. She scurried into the bar as if wolves waited in the shadows.
But the wolves were inside.
Now let’s break it down:
“How did I fall for this?” This lets you know why my character is where she is. She’s been duped.
Lacie Gentry squeezed the steering wheel of her parked SUV until her fingers went numb. Now you know who,
Lacie Gentry and that she’s nervous. You get a hint of where she is too—in her parked SUV. You also get a glimpse of when—she’s in a SUV, so it’s a safe bet to say the story is contemporary.
“Because I’m the biggest idiot in Texas. And to top things off—I’m talking to myself.” Here you get a bigger scope of where she is—Texas and her mindset, which gives you a little more of who she is. She’s been duped and she feels stupid for letting herself get duped.
Movement at the curb in front of her car, and strains of a cry-in-your-beer country song twanged out the open bar door. A tighter shot of where she is—sitting outside a bar.
Please let it be her friends, ready to head home. This tells why she’s there—waiting on her friends, the dupers.
She looked up into the leer of a man. Oh goodness, what if he comes over here? Without taking her eyes off him, she found the lock button. The loud click broke the spell, and he turned away. Her breath released in a huff. This gives more of who Lacie is. Definitely not someone who hangs out at bars. But proactive. She doesn’t just sit there waiting to be rescued.
She couldn’t stay here like a sitting duck, waiting for some carjacker. Or worse. She’d never heard of anything good happening inside or outside a bar. Maybe she could go somewhere else and wait. But if she did, how would her friends find her when they got done with whatever they were doing in there? More of who Lacie is. And hopefully the reader gets the concept that she won’t be duped again by her friends. She’s trusting, but not stupid.
She waited until the man drove away, scanned the Fort Worth parking lot three times, unlocked the door, and bolted to the bar. A tighter shot of where she is—Fort Worth. And now she’s out of the semblance of safety her car gave her.
The August night air hadn’t cooled one iota, but a chill moved through her. Now the reader knows when—a hot August night. And another glimpse of who Lacie is. She’s chilled by her predicament despite the weather. But she’s taking matters into her own hands.
Safer inside or out? At least there were witnesses inside. She scurried into the bar as if wolves waited in the shadows. More on where. Now she’s entering the bar.
But the wolves were inside. This is simply a hook to hopefully convince the reader to turn the page and see what wolves Lacie encounters. It was pure luck that this landed as the final line on page one.
Footnote for writers: answer each of the five questions at the beginning of each new scene.
Readers, I bet you had no idea how vindictive we writers are? That we make each sentence, each paragraph work overtime as we reveal our stories and hopefully draw you into them.
For me, it doesn’t turn out this way in the first draft. I write the page, then go back in the editing stage and answer questions. If the answers aren’t there, I make sure they are. And as I edit, hopefully my characters and their predicaments grab the reader and don’t let go all the way to the last page.
Shameless self-promotion now: Rodeo Ashes is available in Walmart, Kmart, and Meijers departments stores. On sale this week! I’m way too excited!
Posted on April 10, 2012 - by Shannon Vannatter
I’m celebrating Drop Everything and Read day by sharing some favorite lines from recent reads:
From Buffalo Gal by Mary Connealy:
Posted on March 8, 2012 - by Regina
Many of you know that I spent the month of February rehearsing for and performing in the pit orchestra for a community production of “Oklahoma!” One song that was the BANE of the orchestra’s existence was the “Dream Ballet,” where there is no singing AT ALL, and you go from one theme to another with action and dance between. I hear the actors and dancers did a great job – the musicians could only imagine!
On top of that, I’ve been recovering from a minor illness – but one that had insomnia as a side-effect! Not fun for a girl who is fond of her sleep!
That made me think – what if there was a holiday in which you remembered all those cool dreams you had, and you woke up with the words simply pouring out your fingers! You have to realize, I have really cool dreams – at least to me. They’re usually stories. Sometimes I’m an observer, sometimes I’m a character in the story. In fact, my first completed novel started out as a dream. I’ve dreamed television episodes, movies, and about the school where I went as a child.
So that’s my writer’s holiday. We’ll call it “In Your Dreams.”
Mom, when are you going to write about your “kidnapping” dream? Talk about a story . . . .