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If the Shoe Fits

In Cinderella, the glass slipper only fit Cinderella’s foot. As the story goes, of all the girls in all the castles in all the kingdom, the shoe fit her foot and hers alone. No matter how hard they tried, the other girls couldn’t wear the glass slipper.

If the Shoe Fits
Oliver Herford, Public Domain

Your synopsis is the shoe, your story is the foot. Stick with me now…

So, you’re working on your first (or next) Great American Novel. You’ve written the first few chapters, and you’re dipping your toes into contests and even getting brave and submitting to agents and editors. Or, you might even be selling on proposal, a short synopsis and a chapter or two.

If you’re at this stage of the writing game, then you’ve written the dreaded synopsis. There are great articles here in Seekerville and all over the ‘net to help you determine what goes into a synopsis and what doesn’t, so I’m not going to rehash that today.

If the Shoe Fits


But what I am going to address is whether your synopsis reflects the story you’re writing. Sometimes we writers—intentionally or maybe unintentionally— sensationalize our synopsis to the point that it doesn't even resemble the actual chapters, similar to the practice of padding a resume.

How many times have I dumped every conceivable plot device into my synopsis because a critique partner or contest judge suggested it, and I thought it would be cool? I wonder how many times I gave the "snake oil" sales pitch in the synopsis, but the story didn't live up to the synopsis and that's why contest judges and editors said no?

Some examples to make my point…

If I write a synopsis that sounds like a very dark 90K romance that deals with drunk driving, a family feud, long-lost love, and two main characters dealing with all this traumatic back story, but if my opening chapters feel and sound like a 20K novella, there’s a disconnect somewhere.

Or, how about this…

If my synopsis describes the lives of Bonnie and Clyde, but my chapters are the light-hearted, knee-slapping antics of Lucy and Desi, I’ve got a problem.

The best example I can give of my own writing would be my debut novel, Stealing Jake. Stealing Jake started out as a light, sweet novella and went through several rewrites that kept upping the tension.

If I had sent the lighter novella version of the story in with a synopsis detailing shipping street kids across the country in crates, sweat shops, a coal mine explosion, the traumatic incidents from both the hero and the heroine’s pasts, it just wouldn't have really worked together. And I’m afraid it would have tanked in contests, as well as been rejected by industry professionals.

It’s important to make sure a contest judge, critique partner, agent or editor gets the same jolt from the chapters as they do from the synopsis. Either the tension in the chapters need to be ratcheted up, or the tension in the synopsis ratcheted down. And, you, as the author, are the only one who knows which direction you need to turn the ratchet.

If the Shoe Fits


So, how do you do that?

Is your manuscript in the early stages or is it completed? If it’s completed, then you’re ahead of the game. Write your synopsis to fit the story and you're good. If you’ve just started this story, determine the genre and the tone. Do you write light-hearted contemporary romance, or dark historicals, or women’s fiction with snarky leads?

Read books that are similar to what you write, then describe them in your own words, just like giving a book report. See if you can hit the tone of these books. And, as an additional exercise, maybe look at some good professional reviews of those books. Do some of them describe whether the book was light, or dark? Do you agree with the assessment?

If you have a critique partner, let them read both. If they’ve worked with you a long time, they might be able to tell you if the two pieces are simpatico.

And, lastly, trust yourself. If you got it wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Just keep tinkering with it. Eventually, you’ll get it. Over the years, I've submitted multiple proposals for historical romance novellas to Barbour Publishing. The proposals were extremely short, but I’ve been writing historical romance for a long time, and I’ve written a lot of proposals for novellas, and read my fair share. 

I knew enough about the process to keep the synopsis sharp, clean, and free of secondary plots. I sold FOUR proposals to Barbour in one year because I nailed the synopsis. As expected, the novellas have a lighter tone than my full-length novels, and the one (Shanghaied by the Bride) even had a bit more of a humorous tone than is my norm, something that was clearly spelled out in the synopsis and was also clear in the title, which Barbour kept.

Bottom line, know the story you want to tell well enough to make the synopsis fit.

Otherwise, that shoe's really gonna pinch.


If the Shoe Fits



If the Shoe Fits
Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in
Mississippiand spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. www.pamhillman.com

Writing the Book Blurb - Part 2

 

Writing the Book Blurb - Part 2

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Back in January I posted about writing book blurbs (you can read that post HERE) and promised you a Part 2. So today I'm delivering on that promise.

First a caveat - this is just my thoughts on what makes up a good blurb. There are likely other methods that are as effective if not more so.

 

First let’s talk about what goes into a blurb.
I consider that these the four components are the minimum of what you need.to create an effective blurb. 

  • The Tag Line
  • The Characters:
  • The Conflict:
  • The Close:

 

For the purposes of this series of posts, I’m going to use the blurb from the first book I had to craft a blurb for all on my own. We’ll look at what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I might do differently today. It’s for my book The Unexpected Bride, an April 2019 release. It reads as follows: 

 

Writing the Book Blurb - Part 2
Fleeing an arranged marriage, socialite Elthia Sinclare accepts a governess position halfway across the country. But when she arrives in Texas she finds more than she bargained for - more children, more work and more demands. Because Caleb Tanner wants a bride, not a governess. But marrying this unrefined stranger is better than what awaits her back home, so Elthia strikes a deal for a temporary marriage. She says I do and goes to work—botching the housework, butting heads with her new spouse, loving the children.

Caleb isn’t sure what to make of this woman who isn’t at all what he contracted for—she’s spoiled, unskilled and lavishes her affection on a lap dog that seems to be little more than a useless ball of fluff.  But to his surprise she gets along well with the children, works hard to acquire domestic skills and is able to hold her own with the town matriarchs.

Could the mistake that landed him with this unexpected bride be the best thing that ever happened to him?

 

 

So today I want to dig into the first component.

The Tagline.

Technically, the tagline is optional, but I think having one adds a little extra punch to your blurb. The Tagline, also called a log line, is a very short teaser, designed to hook the reader and introduce the tone of the book. There are several different ways to approach this.


  1. You can do the A meets B format. Here’s an example
    Jane Austen meets Sherlock Holmes in this new Regency mystery series
    (from Erica Vetsch’s Jan 2022 release The Debutante’s Code)

    Another version of this format is to simply reference to the genre/tropes you’re mashing together – i.e. A regency era female turns detective in this new mystery series. (My apology to Erica if I didn’t properly capture the tone of her book)

  2. You can pose a question, as in this one
    As her plans unravel, can she give her children what they truly need?
    (from Mindy Obenhaus’s Nov 2021 release Their Yuletide Healing)

  3. Then there’s the contrast method.
  4. She mixed danger, desperation, and deception together. Love was not the expected outcome.
    (from Mary Connealy’s March 2022 release The Element of Love)

  5.  And lastly, you can simply showcase the heart of the story as was done in the blurb for my upcoming May 2022 release Her Amish Springtime Miracle.
    In this delightful and heartwarming novel, an orphaned baby brings together an unlikely couple who learn the true meaning of family.


Unfortunately, I didn’t include a tagline for The Unexpected Bride (shame on me!). So if I were to try to craft one today, how would I go about it? Well, let’s see how it might look using each of the four methods above.

Using method one:  A runaway heiress must serve as housekeeper and nanny in this accidental Mail Order Bride story

Using the second method:   Can a klutzy socialite who ends up far from home provide the care and love six orphaned children and their determined uncle so desperately need?

Using the third method:   She ran away from home to escape an unwanted engagement. So how did she end up agreeing to marry a disagreeable stranger?

And using the last method:   In this heartwarming story, an inept runaway socialite must build a loving home for six orphaned children and their much too serious uncle.

So which one would I actually use? The test would be which one I thought provides the best hook while remaining true to the story.  Right now I'm thinking it would be the third one.

A couple of tips:

  • Just because the tagline appears at the top of your blurb doesn’t mean it needs to be created first. If you’re having problems figuring it out, craft the rest of your blurb first and then come back to it. Hopefully the key tone and story essence you want to convey will pop out to you then
  • To figure out what part of your book would make the best hook, ask yourself what is most unique or interesting about your story. 

 

Writing the Book Blurb - Part 2
 

There you have it, my notes on how to craft your book blurb’s tagline. Next time we'll look at the second component, the characters.

So do you have any questions? Do you agree with this approach? Would you have chosen (or crafted) a different tagline for TUB than the one I chose? 

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for a book from my backlist

And if you're interested in learning more about The Unexpected Bride or ordering a copy, click HERE

 

 

 

 

 


Engaging Openings

Engaging Openings

by Mindy Obenhaus

Recently, a fellow author and I were discussing opening scenes, why some really grabbed hold of the reader’s attention while others lacked punch, despite having key elements such as the h/h meeting quickly, goal, motivation and conflict, etc.

An opening scene needs to be engaging and make the reader care about the character enough to embark on their journey with them and see it through to the end. But that doesn’t mean that all openings are cast from the same mold, does it? Curious, I went back and looked at the opening scenes of some of my books.

Just in my two most recent releases things varied considerably. In A Father’s Promise, book one in my Bliss, Texas series, the hero and heroine don’t even see each other until the end of the first scene. And when they do, it’s barely a glimpse and they don’t speak to each other. While in book two, A Brother’s Promise, the h/h are conversing by the bottom of page one.

I write for Love Inspired Books and one of their must-haves is that the hero and heroine meet in the first scene. However, whether they lay eyes on each other on page one or page fifteen or somewhere in between depends on the story. Wherever it happens, though, readers need to be engaged from the get-go. If they’re not, they’ll put the book down and we don’t want that.

So how does one craft an opening that will make readers want to keep reading?

Goal, motivation and conflict– You’ve heard this over and over again. Every character has to have a GMC not only for the story, but for each and every scene. In chapter one, though, it’s their story goal, motivation and conflict that needs to be established so the reader knows what the character wants, why they want it and what stands in their way. It’s what makes us want to cheer them on. Now, that’s not to say that their GMC might not change at some point during their story, but in the opening scene, it’s what starts them on their journey and invites the reader to join them. And it needs to presented ASAP.

Engaging Openings

Stakes – What’s at stake goes hand-in-hand with GMC. Stakes are what will (or could) happen if they don’t achieve their goal. In A Father’s Promise the heroine wants to name a guardian for her infant daughter so that if the heroine (who has no family) were to die, her daughter would be taken care of by someone who loved her. The stakes are that if she doesn’t name a guardian and something does happen to her, the daughter would become a ward of the state. Stakes are the driving force behind each goal.

Inciting incident – Once we know our character’s goal, motivation and conflict and what’s at stake, it’s time to contemplate the inciting incident. This is when something about the hero and heroine coming together changes the trajectory of their goal and/or life. Needless to say, when my heroine in A Father’s Promise sees her baby’s father, she knows her life is about to change in some way. In A Brother’s Promise, it’s when Christa learns that Mick is now the guardian of his five-year-old niece and she can’t help but reach out to them in hopes of making the transition easier for little Sadie. The inciting incident is what brings the hero and heroine together and often results in a common goal. But we can’t simply bring them together. No, we want to…

Engaging Openings

Rock their world – Example, my very first book was a secret baby story. Of course, the heroine knew her life was about to change as soon as she saw the hero she believed turned his back on her and her son nine years prior. However, the hero didn’t learn about the boy until chapter three. Then an editor asked me to revise it, stating that she wanted him to find out sooner. So I reworked things, bumped it up a little, though not by much and said editor bought the book. Imagine my surprise when I received my edits where she stated she wanted the hero to learn about the boy at the end of the first chapter. At the time, I wasn’t too thrilled about that, but I soon saw how right she was. Instead of simply seeing the girl he loved and whose heart he’d broken, his world was rocked by the knowledge that he had a son!

In my August 2021 release, the hero and heroine both want to purchase an abandoned castle. The owner refuses to sell but issues a counteroffer. The h/h—who can’t get through a church committee meeting without butting heads—must work together in exchange for exclusive rights to use the castle as an event center and a museum.

When trying to come up with a rock-their-world moment, it helps to use an approach you all have heard me mention before. Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen to that character at that moment and then find a way to make it happen. It can be a challenge, but it works.

When crafting the opening of your book, remember you only get one chance to make a first impression. If you don’t grab an editor’s/reader’s attention within the first few pages, they may not keep reading and that’s never good. Instead, we want to capture their attention with an opening that makes them want to journey with the characters all the way through to that satisfying ending.

Writers, what strategies do you employ for an opening with impact? Readers, what sorts of story openings capture your attention?  Leave a comment to be entered to win one of two copies of an anthology due out later this month. My April 2019 release, Her Colorado Cowboy, has been paired with Lois Richer’s, Rocky Mountain Daddy, and will hit store shelves April 16th. (US mailing addresses only, please)

Engaging Openings


Engaging Openings

Award-winning author Mindy Obenhaus is passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. She lives on a ranch in Texas with her husband, two sassy pups, countless cattle, deer and the occasional coyote, mountain lion or snake. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, cooking and watching copious amounts of the Hallmark Channel. Learn more at www.MindyObenhaus.com

 

What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You

by Pam Hillman

There’s an old proverb that goes something like this, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”

Basically, the idea is if you don’t know about a problem or a misdeed, you won’t be able to make yourself unhappy by worrying about it. 

Hmmm, okay. 

But I suppose there is some merit to the saying, because up until three years ago, my husband and I didn’t have a television in our home. We pretty much missed all the insanity going on in the world for the last thirty years. Not that we weren’t aware and plugged in, but we just didn’t hear the news 24/7 like we do now. Now, we get a play-by-play of everything that’s going wrong in our world. I think I liked not knowing so much!

And, in the writing world, how can not knowing really be detrimental to a career? There are so many ways…

1) If you don’t know how to plot a compelling story, or how to build up tension or layer in details, keep writing, and keep learning the craft. But, first, just keep writing. You don’t get to the next step if you don’t write.

2) If you don’t know that Editor Erin loves stories featuring a love triangle, but Agent Angela isn’t fond of them at all, it might be a good idea to study up on their likes and dislikes.

3) If you don’t know the latest way the wind is blowing regarding ebooks vs. print books, why not?

4) If you don’t know if you’re writing Christian fiction or general fiction, keep writing until you do.

5) If you don’t know your story’s genre, then keep writing until you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re planning to self-publish or go the traditional route, your novel will eventually fit into some sub genre, and you’ll need to verbalize that.

6) If you don’t know about contracts/agreements and the traps to look for, it can certainly come back to haunt you. This applies to traditional publishing as well as self-publishing.

7) If you don’t know that a publishing house has closed its doors or discontinued a line, you’re really spinning your wheels by writing to the line. You’d be better off writing to your heart.

8) If you don’t know how to take your novel from your computer file to the reader (if you plan to self-publish), there’s a lot to learn. But you can do it. You have the tools at your disposal. Just keep writing.

9) If you don’t know about Seekerville, then you’re missing out on a ton of great teaching and blog posts that can answer all of the unknowns I’ve covered above and more.

10) If you don’t know about American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), then there’s even more knowledge to be gained within its ranks.

11) If you don’t know that you and only you can write the story that’s burning on your heart, then I’m here to tell you that you can. Start with #1. Write your story. Make it compelling. Write a story that you know backwards and forwards. And along the way, all the other points will come into play.



What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of. www.pamhillman.com


Making A Scene

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. As part of our Back To Basics series, I’m reprising a post I did here on Seekerville over 10 years ago as a guest - the importance and construction of story scenes

.
Making A Scene

The workhorse of a story is not words, or sentences or even paragraphs – rather it’s the scene. It’s in a scene that we see the key element of any good story - namely relevant change.
It is the elements of both relevance and change that makes a scene a scene.

So with that in mind I’d like to discuss eight elements I believe comprise the checklist for an effective scene:



For purposes of this discussion, let’s imagine we’re working on a scene where our heroine, Deanna Deeva, is recently divorced. She’s struggling with what impact the label of divorcée will have on her social standing. She’s been invited to a party hosted by a longtime acquaintance and the scene opens when Deanna arrives and parks her car.

1. In an effective scene - something happens
The ‘something’ doesn’t have to be remarkable - it can be as simple as a single activity or as complex as several dozen story beats rolled together.

For instance, in our scene with Deanna Deeva, if the scene revolves around her fear of going out in public again, the ‘beats’ to this scene might stop with her making the decision to leave her car and walk up to the front door. The party itself may be transitioned over entirely since in this case it was her decision to actually join the party that was important to the story and to showing some aspect of her character.

On the other hand, if the thrust of the scene is to show how she handles being out among her friends, the scene could be composed of a number of beats - arriving at the party, a few awkward conversations, perhaps an overheard catty comment, catching the eye of an intriguing-looking gentleman, and the unexpected arrival of the ‘other woman’.


2. An effective scene should have a focus or goal
In other words, our character(s) will strive to achieve something. Note, the author needs to look at this on two very different levels:
One, is to view it from the character’s perspective - what does the character hope to accomplish during the course of this scene?
The second is the reader perspective. What do you as the author want the reader to come away from this scene with?
In our scene with Deanna Deeva, the character’s goal might be to prove to herself that her social standing was not adversely affected by the divorce. The author’s goal for the reader, however, may be to deepen her understanding of some aspect of Deanna’s character, either a strength or a weakness.


3. An effective scene should elicit a reaction
A well-crafted scene will evoke emotion of some sort, both in the characters on the page and in the reader. Note, these won’t necessarily be the same emotions.
Again, in our previous scene with Deanna Deeva, depending on how the author plays it out, the reaction of our focal character could be one of mortification, determination, depression, irritation, or even victory.
On the other hand, the reaction of the reader might be one of sympathy, amusement or even annoyance. A good writer will choreograph her scene to tease the emotions she wants from both the characters and the readers.


4. An effective scene will have a story purpose
The whole crux of your scene’s reason for being is to move the story forward in some fashion. There are many different kinds of scenes - fight scenes, flashbacks, love scenes, opening scenes, turning points, climactic scenes - but no matter the type, a scene must have some effect on the focal character or overall storyline . Something necessary to the story as a whole must be contained within the scene to warrant its existence, otherwise it should be rewritten or ruthlessly cut. In order to pull its weight effectively your scene should Ideally perform at least two story functions - three or four would be better.


5. An effective scene should have structure
• As in a full-blown story, each scene must have a well-defined beginning, middle and end. It’s a mini-story of sorts - there is an inciting incident, a series of actions or beats, and then a resolution that tells us we’ve extracted everything we can from this particular scene. However, with the exception of the final scenes, the scene resolution does leave some unanswered questions, some loose ends that nudge the reader into the subsequent scenes to try to find the answers.

6. A scene should show logical, believable progression
The scenes should flow one from the other, sculpting and shaping your story in an aesthetically satisfying way that is entertaining and relevant.
Since scenes are the building blocks of your story, they must be carefully placed and arranged with every other scene in order to construct a pleasing, functional whole. Each scene builds on the one that came before and leads to the next - enhancing, changing, or redirecting your through line in some way, either subtly or forcefully - always pushing inexorably forward to the story’s resolution.

CAUTION: Logical doesn’t mean predictable, but given what the reader knows about the characters and the situation, it must be a believable next step.


7. A scene should have a mood or attitude
This is the underlying emotion in your story. Is it comedic, solemn, dark, light? Are there underlying urges or desires that drive your characters? These will play into your scene in subtle or overt ways, coloring the actions and goals, informing the responses of both the characters and the reader. Again, using our scene with Deanna Deeva at the party, even using the same action beats in the scene, they will play out very differently in a romantic comedy than they would in a romantic suspense or women’s fiction work

8. The final element an effective scene must have is the one I’ve mentioned before, the all-important element of change.
The change can be big or small, but you should be able to both identify it and see how it moves your storyline forward. This forward motion can come either through revelation or a relevant honing of character, world or plot. Deanna Deeva, or her situation, must be different at the end of the scene than she/it was at the beginning.

Again, if something doesn’t change, then no matter how lyrical and elegantly crafted, no matter how invested you as a writer are in it, the scene must be ruthlessly deleted.


One final thought - the clearest test of a scene’s effectiveness is to use what Raymond Obstfeld, in his book “Crafting Scenes”, calls the so-what factor. When you finish reading over your scene, ask yourself “so what?” Is this scene necessary? If you remove it will it actually affect the outcome of the story ? Does it fit with the scene before and the one after? Did something change? Was it significant enough for its own scene or could the key points be folded in one of the neighboring scenes? 


If you answer those questions it will become obvious whether or not you've nailed the scene. 


Making A Scene


For a chance to win a copy of any book from my backlist, Including the new 2-in-1 re-release below, please leave a comment.



Making A Scene
Handpicked Husband

Regina Nash must marry one of the men her grandfather has chosen for her or lose custody of her nephew. But Reggie knows marriage is not for her, so she must persuade them—and Adam Barr, her grandfather’s envoy—that she’d make a thoroughly unsuitable wife. Adam is drawn to the free-spirited photographer, but his job was to make sure Regina chose from the men he escorted to Texas—not marry her himself!

The Bride Next Door

Daisy Johnson is ready to settle in Turnabout, Texas, open a restaurant and perhaps find a husband. Of course, she’d envisioned a man who actually likes her, not someone who offers a marriage of convenience to avoid scandal. Newspaper reporter Everett Fulton may find himself suddenly married, but his dreams of leaving haven’t changed. What Daisy wants—home, family, tenderness—he can’t provide…


BOOK LINK

Taboos in Christian Fiction

by Pam Hillman

So I got to thinking. I switched days with another Seeker because of a conflict on my regular day to post. Then I forgot that I’d switched and scheduled an appointment for this morning. All is well as I shouldn’t be out more than a couple of hours. (I’ll be back, so y’all behave!!!)

In addition, today is the 16th, and I blog in Heroes, Heroines, and History on the 16th of every month, rain or shine, much like the postman makes his rounds.

My topic on HHH today is taboo foods. I started mulling over the topic when thinking about why it is that the five whites (sugar, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes) tend to be shunned in American society these days. Is it a fad or truly that these foods can be detrimental to our health and our waistline?

Anyway, today’s post here in Seekerville isn’t about taboo foods, but more about writing-related taboos, and I’m not just talking about taboo topics. There can be all kinds of taboos, and they change as often as the foods that it’s currently hip to avoid.

Taboo Language. It’s no secret that there are certain words that many Christian readers would prefer not to see in their reading material. It’s not that we’re prudes or that we like to pretend we don’t hear or see those words in the world around us. But you can’t unsee a vulgar word. Sure, I can get past one or two here or there, but when my reading material is riddled with them seemingly just for the shock value, then I notice and I remember and I can’t unthink them. Same with the spoken word. I’m visual and soak up the written word more than what I hear, but I’m not a fan of being around people who curse with abandon or anything that comes over the “tube” that’s riddled with obscene language. I’m not even a fan of “potty” humor. It’s just not funny to me.

So it’s a balancing act. And words that were frowned upon ten, fifteen or twenty years ago would probably pass muster in a lot of Christian fiction these days. But in some cases, not, depending on the publishers guidelines, and each reader’s personal preferences.

Taboo Topics and Visuals. When I searched the internet for this, a blog post by Steve Laube from 2017 was one of the first to pop up. In his post, Edgy Christian Fiction, Steve says, “There are three main areas of dispute: Sex, Language, and Violence,” regarding taboo topics in Christian fiction. The post and the (very civil) comments are enlightening as visitors to the blog discuss what is “too much” or when it’s “too sanitized” for real life. I suppose we all have our hot buttons, but depending on the skill of the author, the purpose of including violence, etc. in a novel and the set-up leading up to the questionable scenes, I might accept or reject accordingly. Case in point: There were a lot of scenes in Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers that in many novels would have made me stop and never read that book again. However, the skill of Ms. Rivers to portray the subject matter in a tasteful, believable, and sympathetic manner made the book memorable, not stomach churning.

Taboo Styles. Maybe not taboo, but third person, first person, omniscient pov, and/or a mix of all the above has been in vogue or out of vogue depending on the season and which way the wind is blowing. While omniscient pov is out of style right now, a mix of third and first person within the same novel can be found. It’s not common, but it’s out there. Third person is the most common (at least in the novels that I generally read), and first person is a bit more rare.

Taboo, or rather, out of favor, genres. In 2005 (give or take a few years), publishers didn’t want historical romance. Women’s fiction, Chick Lit, and Lad Lit were all the rage. Three days later, the pendulum swung and historical fiction was on rise again and Chick Lit had sprouted wings and flown away. In the last 19 years, the pendulum has swung back and forth hitting all the genres, mixing them up, combining, and spitting them out again. Time slip is popular now. This is not time travel. It’s two (or more) storylines from different timelines within the same novel with some thread that ties the stories together.

One thing is for sure, change will swing again. Just as tomatoes were frowned upon in 16th century Europe, words, topics, styles, and genres will change, morph and grow.

Taboos in Christian Fiction
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of. www.pamhillman.com


Where's a Whale When You Need One?

Where's a Whale When You Need One?

by Pam Hillman

We’ve all read the story of Jonah, right? God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to the Ninevites. Jonah refused to go and boarded a boat with the intention of getting as far away as he could.

Well, that didn’t work out so well when God caused a great storm and the sailors on the boat cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Knowing he was caught, Jonah told them to throw him overboard, and you know the rest.

God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah and spit him out on land close to… you guessed it, Nineveh.

So, how does this relate to writing?

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but many of my characters and even portions of my plots run parallel to some Biblical story. I don’t start out to write mirror images of Biblical characters, and I don’t plot from that perspective, but eventually, when all the wrinkles are ironed out, I tend to have a lot of parallels. Some are more obvious than others.

When I first started working on my Natchez Trace Novel series, I had no clue that the three brothers would end up symbolizing the three men in The Prodigal Son. When my editor needed to know the spiritual thread that connected the series, I started looking at my notes and discovered this aspect staring me in the face. It was there all the time… I just hadn’t seen it.

In The Road to Magnolia Glen, Quinn sacrifices his own desires for freedom from familial responsibility when he takes on the responsibility of three additional people. This type sacrifice is rampant in fiction and readers are drawn to characters who sacrifice their own goals for others, especially when the hero sacrifices his own goals for the heroine.

The examples above relate to characters, but there’s also a parallel to my actual plots in many cases. Once I realized that Connor, Quinn, and Caleb symbolized the father, the elder brother, and the prodigal son, I was able to dig deeper into how each would act and react to situations regarding each other. I wouldn’t say that this aspect of the stories bled over into the romances or even the current situation each man found himself in, but they brought their past with them, and knowing the family dynamics helped me flesh them out and stay in character.

The hardest character for me to nail down in The Crossing at Cypress Creek was Alanah’s uncle. I was well into the first draft before I figured out what kind of man Uncle Jude was. And when I did, he ended up mirroring a Biblical character. Some readers have picked up on Jude’s alter-ego, while others haven’t. So, I guess it was a little more subtle than I thought. But knowing who he was based on made writing him much easier, but in some ways, much harder. Because the Biblical Jonah has always been a conundrum to me. I never could understand why he did what he did. Maybe I still don’t really understand, but fleshing out Uncle Jude in my own way in the 18th century gave me a bit more insight into the Biblical Jonah.

Where's a Whale When You Need One?
By Pieter Lastman - IAFT8IfCTfplRQ at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24208288
And then there’s the external plot points that need to be implemented when trying to “rewrite” something from the Biblical stories.

In Stealing Jake, Jake has to face his greatest fear when he’s trapped in a mine after an explosion…for the second time in his life. He rises to the occasion and turns into the darkness of the mine to rescue others. The phrase “for such a time as this” rings over and over in his head. I don’t rehash the story of Esther, or even mention her name, but just using the phrase clued many readers in to the similarities of the situation.

And then there was my latest conundrum. What do you do when you need a whale, but your story is landlocked? I struggled with this aspect of The Crossing at Cypress Creek for weeks. Once I knew who Uncle Jude was modeled after, I really, really wanted him to have a “whale” moment. But the how kept eluding me. I brainstormed with writer friends, landing on one idea after another before discarding them all as not feasible. Then, I finally found a solution that worked. It wasn’t a whale, but close enough. I put Uncle Jude in a dark, dank root cellar. Injured, trapped, and going in and out of consciousness, I had him in his “whale” and he came to an understanding with God.

Sometimes the whale eludes us until right at the time we need it most. But if we keep searching, keep writing, and keep plotting, we’ll finally find that whale.

As a writer, where’s your whale? What parallels can you think of in your characters or plots with Biblical stories? As a reader, have you read books where characters or plots made you think of a story from the Bible or even Greek mythology?

Where's a Whale When You Need One?
www.pamhillman.com

Why I Love Fairy Tale Retellings


 

Why I Love Fairy Tale Retellings

by Carrie Schmidt

From the first time I watched Disney's Cinderella as a starry-eyed three-year-old (who watched it in an old theater with sweeping staircases... and became Cinderella as much as any one little girl can), I have loved fairy tales. 

I love the way they champion the power of love & kindness & courage.

I love the way they always end in happily ever after. 

I love the way they reflect the Gospel and my relationship with Jesus. 

But most of all, I just love everything they promise us about life and love. 

Why I Love Fairy Tale Retellings
Fairy Tale retellings continue to be a wildly popular subgenre in, particularly, Young Adult fiction but have a huge adult following as well. (It's been a long time since I've been a 'young' adult and this is still one of my very fave types of fiction to read) They can be historical or contemporary, a more literal retelling or a loose reimagining. Maybe all the details but one are changed to suit the author's purposes, or maybe all the details but one are the same. (Retellings are also crazy popular for classic literature - Austen & Dickens, etc. - and beloved stories from the Bible - Ruth & Esther tend to be the go-to stories to retell here.)

So why do I love them? 

Because they do everything that a fairy tale does (see list above) PLUS they remind me of my childhood, of that princess-wannabe who fell in love with story as Cinderella fell in love with Prince Charming. They remind me what it's like to discover the wonders and intricacies of a beloved plot and characters for the first time. 

Not only that, but retellings of any kind remind us that our stories are never really over. 

I will pretty much gravitate toward any book that claims to be a retelling (for all the reasons I've already mentioned) but allow me to take a moment to share some of my favorites. This can definitely act as a syllabus of sorts for anyone wanting to do more research!

CINDERELLA

The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson (medieval Germany)
Cinder by Marissa Meyer (sci-fi)
Texas Cinderella by Winnie Griggs (historical/western)
Cowboy Charming by Lacy Williams (reverse Cinderella/contemporary/western) 
It Started With Goodbye by Christina June (YA contemporary retelling)

BEAUTY & THE BEAST

The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson (medieval England)
The Lady & The Lionheart by Joanne Bischof (turn of the century Appalachia/circus) 
Whispers In the Reading Room by Shelley Shepard Gray (Gilded Age mystery)
The Beastly Princess by Lacy Williams (reverse roles/contemporary/western)
The Beautiful Pretender by Melanie Dickerson (medieval Germany) 

SNOW WHITE

The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson (medieval Germany)
Winter by Marissa Meyer (sci-fi)
Once Upon a Cowboy by Lacy Williams (contemporary/western)
The Shadow Queen by CJ Redwine (YA fantasy)

Can't imagine a contemporary retelling of Little Red Riding Hood? You need Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June.  

Intrigued by an allegorical retelling of The Wizard of Oz? Make sure you grab a copy of Emerald Illusion by J. Rodes.

And what about....

MULAN 

I'm so glad you asked!

Turns out that Seekerville's own Melanie Dickerson has a Mulan retelling releasing in just two weeks! 


Why I Love Fairy Tale Retellings
She knows women are expected to marry, cook, and have children, not go to war. Can she manage to stay alive, save her mother, and keep the handsome son of a duke from discovering her secret?


When Mulan takes her father’s place in battle against the besieging Teutonic Knights, she realizes she has been preparing for this journey her whole life—and that her life, and her mother’s, depends on her success. As the adopted daughter of poor parents, Mulan has little power in the world. If she can’t prove herself on the battlefield, she could face death—or, perhaps worse, marriage to the village butcher.

Disguised as a young man, Mulan meets the German duke’s son, Wolfgang, who is determined to save his people even if it means fighting against his own brother. Wolfgang is exasperated by the new soldier who seems to be one step away from disaster at all times—or showing him up in embarrassing ways.

From rivals to reluctant friends, Mulan and Wolfgang begin to share secrets. But war is an uncertain time and dreams can die as quickly as they are born. When Mulan receives word of danger back home, she must make the ultimate choice. Can she be the son her bitter father never had? Or will she become the strong young woman she was created to be?

This fresh reimagining of the classic tale takes us to fifteenth-century Lithuania where both love and war challenge the strongest of hearts. 

Preorder your copy HERE

⟸⟹⟸⟹⟸⟹

I'm giving away a copy of The Warrior Maiden (or a Melanie Dickerson retelling of your choice) to anyone who comments below. Open internationally as long as Book Depository ships to your country.  

Do you like retellings? Why do you think they are so popular?

   ⟸⟹⟸⟹⟸⟹

Puzzling Out a Story One Piece at a Time


by Pam Hillman

Each story idea starts with one tiny little puzzle piece. Just one.

A word, a photo of days gone by, a scent, a location, an event. Before my Natchez Trace Novel series became the full-fledged series that it is now, it was just a single thought to write about an indentured servant, which became the premise for the first book in the series, The Promise of Breeze Hill.



One idea. One Nugget. What might that be? It might be a character who can’t walk away, but then later doesn’t want to walk away, which, ironically, seems to fit all my heroic heroes. (Hmm, am I sensing a theme?) And, since I like to put a bit of a twist on my stories, I wanted the hero to be the one who was the indentured servant.

And to make matters worse, I indentured the poor guy to the heroine, but something in his past makes this a really bad thing. I just kept tightening the ropes on him. I also wanted my indentured servant to be an alpha male, with a take-charge attitude. More thinking outside the box turned Connor into a man who has already served a forced seven year indenture, but willingly indentures himself to pay for his four younger brothers' passage from Ireland.




What would make Connor so adverse to be under the thumb of a woman...something more than just be an alpha male in a time period when women had little say in how things were run? What baggage and problems can I throw at Isabella Bartholomew? And what power (big grin) can I give her? What can push them apart, but draw them together? On and on and on, the pieces just keep falling in to place.

And it all started with the germ of an idea to write about an indentured servant.


Oddly enough, or really not so odd, The Road to Magnolia Glen, the second book in the series started the same way. The good news was that I had an overarching series "theme" by this time. All I had to do was make Connor's younger brother a man who'd had to tend to his family back in Ireland for many years and he felt like he'd missed out on life.

Knowing that was not much more than picking out all the edge pieces to a jigsaw puzzle and putting the "frame" together. I mean, it's pretty easy to find the edges, but a lot harder to drill down and match up all the interior pieces. AND... here's the thing... we don't have a picture to go by. We're working blind, piece by piece.

But us authors are brave and determined if nothing else. And sometimes we carve a few pieces and make them fit. Ahem.

I built Quinn and Kiera's story the same way I built Connor and Isabella's, one piece at a time. I have a hero who, while he loves his brothers, (thinks he) wants to shuck his responsibilities and strike out on his own; a heroine who's doing everything in her power to keep her sisters together. One piece leads to another, and, well... their lives change.

Do you enjoy puzzles? Try this one on for size. :)



The groundwork for Caleb O'Shea, the hero in The Crossing at Cypress Creek (Spring/Summer 2019) was laid in the first two books, but it was almost as vague as the gray backgrounds in the puzzles above. Caleb the black sheep prodigal of the family. All I really knew was that he had to show up in Natchez and he had to be really tough. I knew nothing about Alanah Adams (I didn't even know her name) until I turned in book #2 and turned my attention to book #3. But I love Alanah.

And the women they are bound to protect with their lives: Isabella, Kiera, and Alanah? Each had to fit the heroes and they do. I'm not sure if they chose each other or if I did all that matchmaking by myself. I'm just glad all three couples ended up perfectly matched!


Let's talk. Authors, what's the first thing you come up with for a story? Is it the big picture, like the edge piece, a corner, or some obscure little thing that readers might not pick up on until the end of the book/series. Would you say you approach a jigsaw puzzle the same way you approach planning your books.

Readers, what catches your attention in a story first? Also, do you enjoy jigsaw puzzles? Where do you start with those? Do you pick out all the border pieces, or start with a focal point, like bright colors or a red barn or fall trees?

The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories


The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected StoriesHi all, Winnie Griggs here. Today I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects, namely Connected Stories.
Connected stories refers to a multi-book series written by one or more authors where all the stories have one or more connecting thread.

As a reader I’ve always loved them.  After all, what can be better than knowing that the characters and story world you’ve just invested so much time and emotion into are going to show up again in one or more books to come. 

On the other hand, as an author it never occurred to me to try to write a series of connected stories myself, at least not until I wrote my seventh book, The Christmas Journey.  The heroine and hero of that book each had siblings who really tugged at me to tell their stories.  I ended up writing two more novels and one novella in the story world of Knotty Pine, Texas.

Since then I’ve completed a ten-book series called The Texas Grooms and participated in the three book Irish Brides continuity with two other authors. I’ve also got another couple of series in the works that I’ll talk about in another post.

For those of you interested in crafting a series of your own, I thought I’d share a few insights I picked up along the way.


FIRST, HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR IDEA IS RIGHT FOR A SERIES
The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories


Not every story lends itself to being part of a series.  Some are stand alone and rightfully so. On the other hand:
  • Do you have one or more secondary characters who are strong enough to carry their own book? 
  • Do you have a theme or trope you want to explore in several ways with different characters?
  • Do you have one character whose story and/or growth arc you want to tell over multiple books?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you MIGHT have the makings of a series.
Other things you need to consider:
  • Can you make the books in your series different and intriguing enough to hold your readers’ interest, but alike enough to make each feel like part of a cohesive series?
  • Do you have the discipline as a writer to stick with the series to the end?
  • Are you organized enough to keep up with all your character and story world details from book to book?
  • If this is a multi-author series, do you play well with others or are you more of a lone wolf when it comes to writing projects?


SO, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS TO CONNECT STORIES
The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories


There are a number of different ways to tie your series of stories together. 
Some ways you can connect them are:

·       Through a cast of characters connected by family, where a different member of the family is each featured in their own book. Examples of these type series are:
*   Debby Giusti’s Amish Protectors series – the heroines of the three original books are all sisters
*   The Seven Brides for Seven Texans series headed up by Erica Vetsch – the seven Texans referred to in the series title are all brothers
*   The 6 book Texas Twins Love Inspired continuity that Glynna Kaye participated in is built around siblings
*   Jan Drexler’s The Journey to Pleasant Prairieseries also has interwoven sibling connections
*   Mindy Obenhaus’s Rocky Mountain Heroesseries revolves around the stories of 5 brothers.
*   My own Knotty Pines series is connected by a tapestry of siblings.

·         Through a cast of characters connected by occupation or vocation.  Examples include:
*   Debby Giusti’s Magnolia Medical series where the heroes and heroines are scientists at the same laboratory in Atlanta.
*   The Seven Brides for Seven Texas Rangersseries headed up by Erica Vetsch features heroes who are all Texas Rangers from the same squad

·         Through a common location or community.  Some examples are:           
*   Glynna Kaye’s Hearts of Hunter Ridge series all take place in the same small Arizona mountain town.
*   Mary Connealy’s Montana Marriages series feature heroes who all live in proximity to each other
*   My own 10 book Texas Grooms series are all set in the fictional town of Turnabout, Texas and feature a community of recurring characters

·         Through a cast of characters with a shared experience. Examples are:
*   Mary Connealy’s Trouble In Texas series – all three of the heroes were prisoners in Andersonville
*   The first 4 books of my Texas Groomsseries – this was originally conceived as a four book series (later expanded to ten) featuring the 4 men who came to Texas from Pennsylvania to take part in a marriage lottery of sorts

·         Through a theme or trope.  An example of this is:
*   Ruth Logan Herne’s Double S Ranch western series – these stories loosely portray the three men from the Prodigal Son story
*   Melanie Dickerson’s Fairy Tale Romance series – each book in the series is a reimagining of a classic fairytale.
*   Erica Vetsch and I contributed to Journeys of the Heart, a three-author novella collection where the three stories were connected simply by the theme of travel across distances and from an old life to a new one.


If you’re familiar with the books in the examples above, you’ll notice there are several that could have fit under more than one category – this is not unusual. 
There are probably other way to connect stories, but I think this covers the most common ones. 

Now let’s discuss some pros and cons of writing connected series.
The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories


PROS

  • They help to build a reader following – as I said at the opening of this post, readers love connected stories.  If the first book in the series does its job well, you’ll have readers eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series
  •  Writing connected stories can help you write faster. This is because, in most cases, you’ve already done most of the work of building your story world when you wrote the first book of the series. Subsequent books will only require that you build on this rather than forcing you to start over from scratch.
  •  Connected stories allow you to play with a larger story arc. With a series of connected books, you can expand themes and story arcs across multiple books rather than relegating them to the confines of one book.
  •  With connected stories, depending on the type of connection, you can often revisit characters. Those characters you’ve invested so much time and emotion in can now live beyond the pages of their own book and make appearances in future books as secondary characters.

CONS

  •       There’s no getting around it - it’s a challenge to set everything up correctly.  When you’re planning to write a series, it is crucial that you set up your story world and its inhabitants in the very first book in a manner that will support all the subsequent books.  This can be especially tricky if you don’t have a firm idea of where you want the series to go.
  • Then there’s the challenge of including backstory from prior stories into your subsequent books. You want readers who might pick up a book in the middle of the series to be comfortable in the world you’ve created and at the same time you want readers who have been with you from the beginning not to feel like you’re weighing down the current story with too much repetition of ‘what came before’.  It’s a delicate backstory balancing act that you’ll have to learn to master.
  • Writing connected stories forces you to keep up with minor details from prior books.  When you’re working on a series of connected books it’s important to come up with a good system to keep up with all the little details that may appear from book to book - what is the name of the school’s principle, what street is the library on, is the river east or west of town, what’s the name of that dog that showed up in book 1 - those sorts of things.
  • There’s the danger of getting in a rut - writing about the same story world with the same cast of characters can sometimes lead to you as a writer getting tired of the whole thing before you reach the conclusion of your series.  This can be disastrous, not only for your sense of fulfillment as a writer, but also for your readers – a lack of enthusiasm on the writer’s part will often translate into a so-so story for the reader.
  • You can also run into trouble meeting reader expectations for your vision. Readers will form their own expectations of what subsequent books in the series should focus on.  They’ll form attachments to secondary characters that you may or may not plan to feature in the future.  Or they will try to pair up characters that you have other things in mind for.  This is not necessarily a bad thing – it shows the readers are really invested in your series. But, as the author, you need to be prepared to respond to this sort of feedback.


Do the pros to writing a series outweigh the cons?  That’s a personal question that will be answered differently for each author and each series.  But there is no doubt that a series of connected stories, when executed well, are big hits with readers.

The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories

So, how do you feel about connected stories? And what did I miss in my analysis?
Join the discussion - I'll be selecting one person from those who leaves comments to receive all 4 books in my Knotty Pine series, and one person to receive a copy of the Journey's of the Heart novella collection that features stories from me and Erica.



If the Shoe FitsWriting the Book Blurb - Part 2Engaging OpeningsWhat You Don't Know CAN Hurt YouMaking A SceneTaboos in Christian FictionWhere's a Whale When You Need One?Why I Love Fairy Tale RetellingsPuzzling Out a Story One Piece at a TimeThe Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories

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