Category Archives: Writing

Review: Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. WeilandCreating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland (PenForASword Publishing, 2016)

Often writing-craft books focus on one element in isolation. Not this time. Creating Character Arcs intertwines character change with story structure and theme.

The author asserts that “the Change Arc is all about the Lie Your Character Believes.” Through the plot, and interactions with other characters, the character will discover and ultimately accept or reject the truth that counters the particular lie. (Except in the flat arc, where he/she has a good grip on the truth in question and instead effects change in those around him or her.)

The book delves into different types of arcs: positive change, flat, and negative change. I appreciate the point-by-point way the author walks through the stages of each arc, with illustrations from well-known books and movies, and then asks specific questions to help writers discern what those points can look like in their current projects.

Later chapters address deciding which type of arc is right for your story, the importance of “impact characters,” how many characters should actually have arcs, and character arcs over the course of a series.

My copy of the book is heavily highlighted. The questions and illustrations helped deepen my understanding of my current work in progress, and I plan to work through the relevant sections for future projects.

K.M. Weiland’s popular website, Helping Writers Become Authors, is a rich resource for writers. She’s also the author of historical and speculative fiction, including the dieselpunk adventure, Storming.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

My Theme for 2017: Less (Guest Post)

My Theme for 2017: Less

by Steph Beth Nickel

Having read Kevin DeYoung’s newest book, Crazy Busy, I came face to face with what I already knew: I spend far too much time doing things that don’t actually propel me toward my goals.

Clock with words "we must refuse to fritter away our discretionary time"

My word of the year for 2016 was more, as in more time spent writing and editing, more time spent in prayer and Bible study, more time seeking the Lord with my hubby and our daughter. My lack of success in these areas could be because I wasn’t focussed on the flipside of the coin.

If we’re going to achieve more, something has to give. We have to do less of something else.

So how does this apply to writing?

We must refuse to fritter away our discretionary time.

“Discretionary time? What discretionary time?” you may ask.

But let’s be honest. Do we watch even half an hour of TV most days? Do we spend far too much time on Facebook and the other social networks? Do we spend hours each week waiting on our children—at sports practice, music lessons, and other extracurricular activities?

You don’t need hours and hours of uninterrupted time to write a book—and certainly not a blog post or an article. There was one author I heard about who wrote an entire book in 20-minute increments during his lunch break. Amazing!

DO THIS: Take a look at your schedule and see where you can “steal” 20 minutes here, an hour there.

We must learn to say no.

Many—if not most—of us are not only busy, but we keep taking on more and more responsibilities. If you’re like me, you don’t want to miss any opportunity that comes along. Thankfully, I’m learning to say no; I’m learning to focus on what’s already on my plate; I’m learning to take on less.

Lysa TerKeurst wrote a book called The Best Yes. It’s about analyzing why we say yes when we are already overtaxed and really shouldn’t be taking on anything more. The book also addresses the importance of saying no or not now so we will be free to say yes when God brings a specific opportunity across our path.

If we feel God has called us to write, we must free up dozens—if not hundreds—of hours. We may find some time by restructuring our discretionary time, but very likely we’ll have to make even more significant changes.

DO THIS: Prayerfully examine your To Do list and choose one or more time-consuming items you are willing to eliminate in order to have more time to write.

We must spend less time making excuses.

There are legitimate reasons we don’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, but excuses often outnumber these reasons.

That voice in our head that says …

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said—far better than you could ever express it.”

“Writing is a selfish endeavour. Think of your family and friends.”

“You may squeak out the time to write, but you don’t have the time to hone your skills.”

“And you certainly don’t have the funds needed to get your work published.”

“God didn’t really call you to write. You’re delusional.”

DO THIS: Identify the #1 obstacle that keeps you from writing and create a game plan to crush it. The first step is often to simply pick up that pen or open that Word doc and get writing.

And what will I be doing over the next weeks and months? Hopefully, taking my own advice.

What are your writing plans for 2017? (Scroll down to share your comment.)

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Review: Scrivener for Dummies, by Gwen Hernandez

Scrivener for Dummies, by Gwen HernandezScrivener for Dummies, by Gwen Hernandez (John Wiley and Sons, 2012)

This is probably the only reference book I have ever read cover-to-cover. It’s definitely the only one that’s ever caused me to cheer.

I’m posting a photo of my own copy, complete with page markers, instead of the standard cover shot, to show how many important things I want to be able to easily find. (The index will take me to the proper page, but will I find the specific line that I need?)

Most users would follow the expected method of looking up their immediate question in the index and reading only the relevant sections. I did that a bit when I first bought the book, but didn’t find it as helpful as I’d hoped even though that’s what it’s designed for. I think I wasn’t very good at defining my need well enough to search for the solution.

Scrivener is considered by many writers to be the best thing since the word processor. Now, after using the program for a few years, having worked through the tutorial, learned from some excellent free webinars and one of Gwen Hernandez’ paid courses, I decided to read Scrivener for Dummies to pick up some advanced knowledge – and to refresh myself on some of the basics I’d missed along the way.

Honestly, the cheering? That was for the discoveries about some of the program’s features. But I found the author’s explanations very easy to understand. She’s funny, too, which definitely helps anyone reading very far.

This is an approachable resource, intelligently laid out and with clear examples and screen-shots. Each section is self-contained, pointing to other sections where needed, for the person who dips in for a specific answer instead of reading straight through.

The book covers both the Mac and Windows versions, and while Scrivener has made some changes since 2012, enough of the material is the same. If you find something in the book that you want to do but your version of Scrivener handles it differently, if you can’t figure it out by poking around in the program, either the Literature and Latte forum or a Google search will find you the answer.

Gwen Hernandez is a romantic suspense novelist and Scrivener teacher, offering interactive online courses. I found her Compile course very helpful, and she was patient to answer our many questions. For more about the author, visit gwenhernandez.com. For more about her Scrivener classes, visit scrivenerclasses.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Small Steps Add Up

I had the chance to guest-post at InScribe Writers Online this week, on small steps and perseverance in the writing journey.

I think it was Phyllis A. Whitney, in her Guide to Fiction Writing, who compared getting published to a train arriving at a station. If that train is a breakthrough of some sort, for you or I to benefit, we have to be diligent in the small steps of showing up at the station, bags packed and ready to go… [Pop on over to read the rest, and check out the other writers’ posts as well. Link: Small Steps Add Up.]

The Write Thing to Do

The Write Thing to Do

by Steph Beth Nickel

Tomorrow I will have the privilege of attending Write Canada. Although I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference this year, there are still many benefits of attending Saturday only. It was the write thing to do.

"Do the Write Thing"

Photo credit: Pixabay

Why?

Learn New Things

Just in case you ever wondered if I’m truly eclectically interested … this year I’m taking a couple of fiction classes, “Structuring Your Fiction” with Davis Bunn and “Deep Point-of-View” with Marcy Kennedy; “Do Good Not Harm: Writing to Empower,” a class whose description begins like this: Christians are uniquely positioned to bring a message of hope and redemption to a world broken by poverty, oppression and injustice (sounds great, doesn’t it?); and finally, a panel discussion on vlogs and blogs.

Refresh and Re-ignite

It may seem strange to say that after a jam-packed day, including approximately five hours of traveling, I anticipate returning home refreshed and re-ignited to devote several hours every week to writing. There’s something about hanging out with dozens of other writers that does that to me.

Discover What’s New in the Industry

In many ways, the journey to becoming a writer isn’t what it used to be. And it certainly doesn’t look the same for every writer. Finding out what’s new in the industry is invaluable. While it may seem overwhelming, it also helps the writer plot the course that best suits him or her.

Make Professional Connections

We hear a lot about networking these days. And of course there’s the old saying, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” While that is only true to a certain extent (after all, it’s each writer’s responsibility to become the best he or she can be), those connections can help you get from where you are to where you want to be on the journey to publication.

Be Challenged to Write Something New

This is probably a good reason for me to stay home, but it’s still a great reason to attend a writers’ conference. I never imagined writing a memoir. Yet, I had the privilege of co-authoring Paralympian Deb Willows’ Living Beyond My Circumstances. Deb and I are now working on a follow-up book. (I attended my first conference with the lady who introduced Deb and me. I also met our publisher there.) Because of this project, I had the joy of co-teaching a class with Carolyn Wilker on memoir writing at the 2015 Write Canada. You just never know what doors are going to open for you.

And probably the number one reason for me …

Reconnect with Friends

Write Canada is the only opportunity I have to reconnect in person with some dear friends. It also provides the opportunity to make new friends. And when those friends are fellow writers (and other industry pros), it is truly amazing. I will be flying for days—and hopefully, energized to go home and get writing.

Attending a writers’ conference or workshop just may be the write thing for you as well.

Tweetables:

[Scroll down to join the conversation.]

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel (Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Writers, Reading, and Comparisons

The books I most love to read are dangerous. Something, in the crafting or in the content, stirs a restlessness, an “I wish I could write like that.”

It’s important for writers to read words that leave us hungry to grow. We can study them for clues about how their author achieves whatever aspect of prose or poetry that we find so effective, to sharpen our own techniques.

That kind of comparison is healthy. It’s not the dangerous part. What trouble me are the whispers of doubt that make me want to hide the evidence that I’ve ever tried to write anything, and just kind of blend into the cushions of my couch.

As a beginning writer, I confronted the fear head-on: “Okay, what if I can’t write well? First, is there anything wrong with simply writing for fun? Second, if God gave me this gift, however rough its present packaging, isn’t it both wise and good manners to accept and use it? How else will I improve?”

Now, the comparisons keep me from being complacent about my words. They remind me that there’s always more to learn, and that there are better ways to apply what we know.

Whichever writer we’re currently admiring hasn’t always written at this level. Talents are developed and honed. We need to read carefully, learn from what we see, and apply it to our own skills.

Comparisons also remind me that we don’t all write for the same audience. One person’s delivery and style won’t work for another. We need to be true to our individual voices and not try to copy anyone else.

A symphony or a kazoo, crystal vase or clay jug, are equally useful in God’s hand to serve the people He designed them to serve. Mark Twain once said, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine — everybody drinks water.”

My writing friends, when we encounter excellent reads, let’s choose to learn and grow, instead of giving in to comparison’s dark side. Perseverance, it seems, is won in the mind.

Writers: Perseverance is won in the mind.

[A previous version of this post appeared under the title of “Comparison” in the September 2015 edition of FineTuned, the newsletter of author/editor Carolyn Wilker]

Guest Post: 12 Ways to Make the Write Resolution

12 Ways to Make the Write Resolution

by Steph Beth Nickel

The New Year is rapidly approaching and many of us will soon be setting our goals (aka resolutions) for 2016. Where is writing on your list?

If it’s close to the top, here are a dozen writing and writing-related goals you may want to include and tips on how to do so:

  1. Be on the lookout for inspiration.

Some people record ideas, snippets of conversation, random words and phrases, etc. in a notebook or on their electronic device. Make it a habit to do so. Don’t simply trust your memory; it’s amazing how quickly “that perfect idea” can vanish.

  1. Set up your writer’s nook.

What do you need around you when you write? Pictures of your family? A shelf of skills development books? A cozy corner with a comfortable chair, your journal, and a stash of gel pens? A clutter-free desk with only your laptop and a cup of your favorite beverage? The busyness of a crowded coffee shop? Create your perfect space and if at all possible, don’t do anything besides writing and writing-related tasks there.

  1. Enlist your support system.

If others take your writing seriously, you are more likely to as well. Explain to your family that you are going to set aside time every day (at least Monday through Friday) to write. Ask them to give you your space, only interrupting if it’s something that legitimately can’t wait. And from your end of things, don’t answer emails, the telephone, or the door during your writing time.

  1. Write every day.

Set aside a specific time every day to write and record the time in your planner and / or set an alarm on your cell phone to remind you—at least until it’s a habit.

  1. Set a specific writing goal.

Do you want to write a new blog post each week? A short ebook or novella for publication online every two to six months? A full-length novel or nonfiction book for print within the year? Break each task into bite-sized pieces and set deadlines for each piece.

  1. Read skills development books.

Read up-to-date books on general writing topics and on specifics that are of interest to you. You may want to read a new book every month or two. For most of us, that would be an achievable goal. Don’t forget to incorporate the skills you are reading about into your work.

  1. Read other books as well.

It’s amazing what you can learn about good writing just by reading a variety of books in a variety of genres. Read with a notebook on hand so you can record words / phrases / sentences that appeal to you. Jot down thoughts about what makes the writing amazing—or terrible. Learning opportunities are all around us.

  1. Enter writing contests regularly.

Entering contests is a great skills development exercise—even if you never win. You learn about writing with specific guidelines in mind. You learn about submitting on a deadline. There are countless contests you can research online. Just a word of caution . . . be sure that the contest sponsor is reputable.

  1. Join an online writing challenge.

I participate in OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month) and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) each year. In October I write 31 poems and in November I come up with 30 ideas for picture books. I often attend Camp NaNoWriMo once or twice a year but have never participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), though I would like to do so one of these years. You can learn about these and other challenges online. Just type “writing challenge” into your search engine and see what catches your attention.

  1. Attend a writers’ conference or one-day workshop.

From skills development to networking . . . from inspiration to feeling understood . . . there’s nothing quite like hanging out with other writers and industry pros. Don’t feel intimidated. No matter how far along the path, every writer has more to learn. And every writer was a newbie at some point.

  1. Join or start a writers’ group.

I had the privilege of being one of the original four members of Women Writing for Christ. Over a decade later, we still meet monthly (except in the winter) and share the adventure of writing. We each write in different genres and for different audiences, but it is a wonderful opportunity to encourage one another. It’s a highlight of my month.

  1. Be patient with yourself.

Remember it takes time to develop new habits. Add one or two new goals each month. It’s much easier than trying to incorporate everything all at once.

I hope you had a Most Blessed Christmas, and wish you a New Year overflowing with rich and abundant blessings!

What are some of your writing goals for 2016?  [Scroll down to join the conversation.]

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Writing and Reading: Settings

Writers, do you prefer to “write what you know” geographically, or to discover new settings, real or imagined? Readers, what do you look for (or avoid) in a setting? Or does it matter?

Pop over to my guest post at International Christian Fiction Writers and join the conversation.

Idea to Book

Ever wondered how a few scattered ideas turn into a novel? It’s a question I hear every so often, and I suspect the answer is different for every writer. Perhaps even for each book.

Without Proof is my third novel, and I’m still learning what works best for me, in terms of discovering the story. Seeds of this one showed up a long time ago, in a little coil-bound red notepad that I can’t find today. They percolated while I worked on other things, and when it was time to start writing, it looked like this:

Apparently graph paper is the best for my creative process.

Apparently graph paper is the best for my creative process.

For keeping the plot events in order, I played a bit with a great program called Aeon Timeline, but it turns out I need to see a calendar grid. That looked like this:

Sticky notes were so easy to move around!

Sticky notes were so easy to move around!

The writing happened in Scrivener, which is one of my best writing friends. [If you’re doing NaNoWriMo in November and you meet your goal, I think you’ll get discount codes for Scrivener, Aeon Timeline and others. If not, Scrivener gives you a month’s free trial, which should be long enough to convince you.]

I don’t work well with a word count deadline, so I committed to a few hours a day, Monday to Friday, seat in chair, fingers on keyboard, writing. I learned to stop in mid-scene for easier re-start the next day. I’d skim the previous day’s work and make minor tweaks, but instead of editing, I kept following the story.

Until I found my rhythm, the first 100 words were the hardest. Every day. For weeks. There had been such a long period of editing and marketing after writing the early drafts of Secrets and Lies that I was way out of practice. I suspect this will simply be part of the cycle.

The calendar chart helped. One character wanted to do something early, and the chart reinforced my argument that he had to wait. When another character wanted to speed things up, I saw that it could work, so he went ahead.

After finishing the draft, there were revisions, more revisions, and yet more revisions. Professional editing. More editing. More revisions. Early reader comments. More revisions.

Cover and layout design, and the publishing process. [I’m an indie author, so I did this part with the help of Scrivener (ebooks) and CreateSpace (print).]

At the end of the process:

Box of books.

So pleased with the finished product!

The official print launch will be Saturday, Nov. 7, 2pm at Regal Road Baptist Church in Dartmouth, NS. If you’re near enough to know where that is, you’re invited! Otherwise, check out the Without Proof page if you’re looking for preorder links. (Psst… the paperback is already available online through Amazon.)

Do you write short stories or novels? Scroll down to leave a comment telling us about your creative process.

Four Tips to Writing a Death Scene That Won’t Kill Your Readership, by Sara Goff

Giveaway: Sara is offering a printed copy of I Always Cry at Weddings to one randomly chosen commenter, worldwide. The winner will be announced October 9. To be entered in the giveaway, please leave a comment.

Four Tips to Writing a Death Scene That
Won’t Kill Your Readership

by Sara Goff

Readers aren’t likely to get excited about a death scene. You’re asking them to experience the protagonist’s despair, guilt-ridden relief, or callous pleasure, if that’s your story. The scene is intrinsically heavy. The action likely slows down, and perhaps worst of all, we’re reminded of our own mortality. Basically, you’re entering dangerous storytelling territory, where your readers might skim, skip, or ‘kill’ the book right there, setting it down. Losing a reader is a death no writer wants. You want to give your readers an emotional experience, and in order to get them laughing, bawling, or afraid to turn the next page they need to be engaged.

Here are four tips to writing a death scene that will lead your readers further (deeper) into the story:

Purpose. Think of the sequential scenes or chapters in your story as drivers on a long and winding journey. Each driver, or scene, takes the wheel of your story for a leg of the trip. If one scene gets lost, moves too slowly, or (yikes!) pulls into a rest stop, the action brakes, along with your readers’ attention.

How to avoid this? Make sure each scene has its driver’s license. That is, each scene or chapter needs to have a specific purpose that moves the action forward. So, in writing a death scene, for example, ask yourself: Is the death necessary in order to reach your destination? Here’s another way to phrase the question: Will arriving at “The End” feel incomplete or less satisfying without the scene?

If you answer “yes” to these questions, then hand over the keys and let that scene drive the action. My next three tips will test its driving skills.

Conflict. You’ve written a death scene and it’s licensed with big-picture purpose, advancing the plot. But does it have conflict? That’s like saying, is it fueled up for the drive? Readers are greedy; they expect the thrill of finding out what happens in every chapter, not just at the end of the book. A mistake I made when first writing about death was thinking, with unquestioning certainty, that the death of a supporting character was plenty of action to sustain a chapter. After all, death is a major life event. Actually, death is not a major life event in storytelling unless it’s about to happen to your protagonist and she narrowly escapes. My focus was on the dying character, not on my protagonist, so the chapter stalled.

Your protagonist needs to take action, and the fact that she’s in dire despair over the death of her husband is a reaction, not an action. Where is the Conflict? How will it resolve? Perhaps there’s a disagreement between your protagonist and her husband’s family, a disagreement that could make her lose custody of their daughter. Or the funeral home catches on fire and your protagonist risks her life to save her husband’s body. Well, you get the idea.

The conflict can be internal, as well. Your protagonist might be so terrified of losing her husband that she can’t find the words to say good-bye. Or she might be too proud to say she’s sorry for past mistakes and will have to live with the guilt. Now you have a purposeful chapter to the story as a whole that is also interesting on its own. A cliffhanger at the end of the chapter will keep your readers wanting more while you switch drivers, moving on to the next scene.

Originality. My third tip is how to avoid writing a death scene that reads like every other death scene. Since most people have lost a loved one or attended a funeral, it’s important to personalize your scene. Use props that mean something to your characters; for example, an old fiddle or a photograph. Color the room with flowers, curtains, a favorite pillow. A startling lack of color would also create a memorable scene, but be aware that you’re making a dark scene even darker. Unusual clothing and unexpected gifts would help to develop your characters. If a particular item, a keepsake, for example, is mentioned earlier in the story, now would be a good time to bring it back. In life we hang on to sentimental possessions when we’re feeling emotionally challenged; keep your story true to life.

Your chapter has Purpose, the right to belong in the story. It has Conflict, the gas to keep it going. You’ve even seasoned it with a unique blend of sensory objects that bring the action to life. However, you’re not done yet. There’s one more tip I can give you to deliver a death scene your readers will love.

Do not let a single cliché slip into the scene. “Tears streamed down her cheeks.” “It was his time to go.” “This too shall pass.” “The tragedy was too much to bear.” I could go on and on. Think of clichés as road bumps. If your readers come across one, they’ll be reminded of the thousand times they’ve heard the phrase before. What happens then? They stumble over the sentence and lose the flow of the story. Be on high alert and take the time to give your characters their own thoughts.

Showing the death of a character or the subsequent funeral will challenge you as a writer and enhance your story on many levels. Losing a friend or family member can be a life-altering event, which might take your story in a new direction. Everyone handles death differently, which means you have an opportunity to show more about your characters’ personalities. Most importantly, death gives you the chance to prove love’s everlasting power. With careful thought and attention to details, your scene will give the story emotional depth and resonate with readers.

Sara Goff

Sara Goff is the author of I Always Cry at Weddings and the founder of the global educational charity Lift the Lid, Inc., a non-profit supporting underprivileged schools and encouraging young people to exercise their creative expression through writing.  Formerly a New York City fashion buyer/merchandiser, Sara left her career to write and make a difference in the world.

In New York, Sara volunteered as a writing instructor for the homeless with Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Writers Workshop, founded by author Ian Frazier.  She has been an active member of The National Arts Club’s creative writing program and received two fellowships to Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia and Nairobi, Kenya.

Beyond her leadership with Lift the Lid, Inc., Sara has found a way to share her passion for the written word through speaking engagements with inner-city high schools and colleges in the New York area. Sara has lived in Europe for the past seven years and has recently moved to Connecticut with her Swedish husband of 14 years and their two sons, ages one and six.  I Always Cry at Weddings was released this September by WhiteFire Publishing. Proceeds from the book will go towards her charity Lift the Lid, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Visit www.lift-the-lid.org for more information on the charity.

~ Places to Connect with Sara ~

I Always Cry at Weddings, by Sara Goff

I Always Cry at Weddings

“Ava Larson is going to bring all the other brides to tears.”

Engaged to a wealthy NYC socialite’s son, Ava is ready to set the city abuzz with her glamorous wedding.  At least until she realizes her relationship isn’t what it should be.  Then, in a move as daring as a red satin dress, she does the unthinkable–she calls it all off and makes a promise to God that from now on, she’ll save sex for marriage.

She’s convinced the future is hers for the taking, especially when an undercover cop promises a new romance…and an unexpected friendship with the homeless guy under her stoop brightens her days.  But when her carefully balanced life teeters out of control, weddings aren’t the only thing to make her cry.  Ava has to figure out what life she really wants to live…and what in the world love really means.