Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: Writing Tips


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

A World Within a Book

 (Long post warning...and giveaway) :)

A World Within a Book

A few months ago I just finished reading an Amelia Peabody book (again) and I am (again) completely captivated by the world Elizabeth Peters created. Now, I only picked it up as research for a book I wrote, but from the first chapter, I was drawn into the setting of Cairo and the arid environment in which Egyptologists and archeologists saturated themselves to uncover ancient relics.

Elizabeth Peters’ book was thick with a world I’d never experienced, but through her story, I traveled to Egypt, felt the busy-ness of Cairo’s streets, and even delved into an ancient mystery.

Last night, I finished reading Laura Frantz’s newest book, The Rose and the Thistle, and I got to traverse the beautiful world of lowlands Scotland (not too mention the darker and stinkier 18th century Edinburgh).

How did Laura and Elizabeth help me travel those places?

And how do we make that happen in our stories?

One of my favorite things in writing (besides developing characters! I LOVE creating characters!!) is helping my readers get a sense of place in the storyworld they’ve entered. I adore bringing the readers into Appalachia or Bath, England, or even my endearing made-up island of Skymar.

I could really write three separate posts on this issue, one on each of my points, but I’ll try to sum it up

1.     Know your setting

2.     Take the Organic Approach

3.     Move the senses

First things first, get to know your setting. Of course, this is for obvious reasons – if you don’t know your setting, how on earth are you going to describe it for others?

A World Within a Book

There are different ways to do this:

A.    Traveling to the places

B.    Massive research

C.    The Author’s own imagination

D.    Taking stories from others and fictionalizing them/or incorporating them into yours

E.     All of the above (or a mixture of a few)

E would be the usual answer 😉

It takes a blend of experiences, knowledge, and imagination to bring a setting to life in the best ways. But what do we need to know to impact the setting’s creation?

Oh goodness, I don’t have enough space here to go into all the possible information, but here are a few questions to ask while shaping your story world.

What does the place look like? (duh, right?)

What’s the mood of the place? How does it feel? – for example, in Lord of the Rings, Mordor has a very different “sense” and weather to it than the Shire. Even the weather sets a tone for the setting in those two places.

What sort of people live here? Is it a mix of cultures? Agrarian? A city? The smells, sounds, even the accents are going to be different, depending on what you choose.

What are the jobs in this setting? A fishing village by the sea is going to have a different style, flavor, and feeling than an upscale, city street. A rural area is going to give off a different vibe than a suburb – not only in what we see, but in what people wear, the way they talk to each other, and even the pace of life.

What traditions influence the setting and the people?

What is the history of this place? Has it been there a long time? Were there any significant historical events that took place there? Will these influence the setting of your story or the people within it?

How about the geography? Having an ocean nearby is going to create a different culture than being surrounded by mountains. In my book, The Heart of the Mountains, the culture of the Appalachian people – isolated within their mountains with limited options for making a living – are naturally prone to developing and drinking alcohol because the nature of their environment sets them up for it. So then, how will this ‘culture’ impact my story?

The creation of a world comes from a big pot of possibilities, and each author attempts to evoke a reader’s imagination in different ways.

Second (and as important as the first) take an organic approach to revealing your setting

A World Within a Book
This may seem a no-brainer, but it’s definitely a shift in writing styles from the 1800s to now 😊Charles Dickens could spend an entire page describing a cobblestone sidewalk, but readers nowadays are going to skim over that type of intensive detail.

You do NOT have to tell everything you know about this setting in your book. In fact, please DON’T!! Highlight the best partsof your setting to build a sense of place, but not bog down your readers with details. Make the important stuff count.

The best way to do this is weave the setting into the action of the story, not use it as bookends to a page.

Master storyteller, Jerry Jenkins gives these two examples:

London in the 1860s was a cold, damp, foggy city crisscrossed with cobblestone streets and pedestrians carefully dodging the droppings of steeds that pulled all manner of public conveyance. One such pedestrian was Lucy Knight, a beautiful, young, unattached woman in a hurry to get to Piccadilly Circus. An eligible bachelor had asked her to meet him there.

I get the sense of setting, don you? It works, right?

But…Jenkins gives us an even BETTER way 😊

London’s West End, 1862

Lucy Knight mince-stepped around clumps of horse dung as she hurried toward Regent Street. Must not be late, she told herself. What would he think?

She carefully navigated the cobblestones as she crossed to hail a Hansom Cab – which she preferred for its low center of gravity and smooth turning. Lucy did not want to appear as if she’d been toseed about in a carriage, especially tonight.

“Not wearin’ a ring, I see,” the driver said as she boarded.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Nice lookin’ lady like yourself out alone after dark in the cold fog…”

“You needn’t worry about me, sir. I’m only going to the circus.”

“Picadilly, it is, Ma’am.”

Do we still get the same sense of setting? Yes, but we ALSO experience the story moving forward AND we get a little character introduction along with a tinge of suspense for icing on the cake.

Now there is nothing wrong with beautiful prose and descriptions, but they need to have meaningfor your story, not just be words on a page, so they don’t feel like a list of details. Also, if you’re going to give a longer, meaningful description, try to alternate it with some action or dialogue.

A World Within a Book

Thirdly, don’t forget the five senses.

When describing your setting, find ways to incorporate various types of senses so that the reader can experience the environment too. Of course, there’s an emotional feeling the setting can create, but there’s also sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. We usually don’t use them all at one time in a description, but it’s fun and interesting to try and find different ways to use them throughout the story.

Here’s an example from my novel, Laurel's Dream(a descriptive paragraph set within the center of a chapter).

Laurel hesitated only a second longer before she headed out the door and down the steep mountain path toward the church schoolhouse. The trees were only beginning to shift into autumn colors, with hickory and beech displaying their golden glints first. She breathed in the earth’s fragrance, still fresh from morning rain, a mixture of wild rose and moss. Sunlight created a patchwork against the leafy trail as it slit through the mature forest and led the way down the mountain. Small glimpses of horizon showed between the trees and offered an endless view to uncharted lands of colleges and city streets and millions of other things she’d only seen through the pages of books.

The important things about incorporating the senses is to keep it organic and relevant to the rest of the story.

As we need to do with almost everything else in story 😊

What are some books you’ve read lately that really took you to a different place? Where did you visit? 

Leave your answer in the comments below for a chance to win a paperback copy of my upcoming release, The Cairo Curse (U.S. entrants only).


A World Within a Book

Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance “peppered” with grace and humor. Writing both historical and contemporary novels, she loves to incorporate her native Appalachian culture and/or her unabashed adoration of the UK into her stories. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is a wife, mom to five great kids, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate, jazz, hats, and Jesus. Her novel, Hope Between the Pages, was a finalist for the prestigious Christy award. Pepper loves connecting with readers and other authors through social media outlets like Facebook &

You can learn more about Pepper and her books on her website at

Finessing a Story

Finessing a Story

by Mindy Obenhaus

Today's post come from the vault but has some great tips for polishing that manuscript before we send it off. 

I have a book due in less than three weeks. The story is out of my head and on the page, the metamorphosis from idea to book almost complete. But before I can submit this story, it must be finessed.

Finessing involves skillful maneuvering. As writers, we need to skillfully, purposefully, write our stories in a way that takes readers on a journey and leaves them basking in the glow of a satisfying ending.

When finessing a manuscript, there are certain things I look for.

Have I adequately described each setting? 

Each and every scene needs a sense of place to ground it, otherwise you just have talking heads. However, too much description can bore a reader. Too little leaves them wanting and maybe even feeling a little lost. Determine what aspects of your setting are important, then sprinkle those details throughout the scene. Also, ask yourself if you’re showing the reader the scene, allowing them to see it through the POV character’s eyes, or if you’re telling them. 

Showing is always better because it allows the reader to experience the story.
Finessing a Story

Strong word choices.  

Is your character running, hurrying, scurrying or speeding? Each of these words means, essentially, the same thing, but which is best for the context of your scene? If it’s a lighthearted scene, your heroine might be scurrying to gather things for a party. On the other hand, your police office hero would likely race or speed to the scene of an accident. 

What words best fit the emotion and feel of your scene?

Are my characters actions/reactions believable and appropriate?  

When I receive my line edits, they sometimes contain notes from my editor saying things like, “This seems out of character for her.” Or “His reaction is too strong,” or even, “Not strong enough.”

Whether it’s in word, thought or action, a character’s response to an event or comment, needs to fit not only who the character is becoming, but who they are at their core. Yes, your meek heroine might need to show a little backbone, but does her response show growth and change, that she’s finally standing up for herself, or does she simply come off as rude?

Even as they change, your characters will remain true to their essence.
Finessing a Story

Characters’ journey. 

Reading is about watching someone embark on a journey. Hopefully, your main characters have grown during the course of your story. But will the reader be able to see that growth?

When a baby is born, he or she is completely helpless. Newborns can’t feed themselves. They can’t hold up their little heads. They can't sit up and they’re only mobile when someone carries them from one place to another. Yet week by week, month by month, they change and grow. So by the time baby’s first birthday rolls around, he or she can do all of these things and more. 

No matter how long or short the timeframe of your story, the characters need to grow and change. But don’t just ask yourself what they can do at the end of the story that they couldn’t do at the beginning. Make sure your reader knows how they got there. Show those baby steps of growth along the way. How did the heroine who was deathly afraid of horses end up being comfortable in the saddle? 

And if you’re writing for the Christian market, don’t forget about their spiritual journey.

Writing a book is a process. All of the elements have come together for a story to be successful. Taking the time to finesse will help ensure the finished product is the best it can possibly be.

Now it's your turn. Readers, in your opinion, what makes a good book great? Writers, how do you know when your manuscripts are ready to submit?

Finessing a Story

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

One Thing That Works for Me with guest Kristi Ann Hunter: Rewrite the Book


One Thing That Works for Me with guest Kristi Ann Hunter: Rewrite the Book

Good Monday morning, Seekerville, and Happy Valentine's Day! I (Carrie) am here to introduce today's guest for this month's 'One Thing That Works For Me' series. Please join me in welcoming author, podcaster, and all-around super-cool person Kristi Ann Hunter to share about an editing trick that works for her. By the way, if you haven't yet checked out her books, I can't think of a better day than one dedicated to romance! 

Edit. Technically speaking, it’s a four-letter word, but for some writers it’s an agonizing chamber of never-ending torture as you comb through the sentences looking for the right place to add a word here or change a phrase there or enhance this sensory detail or remove that unnecessary description.

Allow me to make it worse. At least it’s going to sound that way at first. For some of you, though, it will be the best editing advice you’ve ever heard. How do I know? Because it’s the best editing advice I’ve ever heard and the person I learned it from claimed the same thing.

We’re talking about a very particular stage of edits today. Some people call them substantive edits, others call them high-level, and still others refer to them as rewrites. For this article we’re going to use the term rewrites. One, because it’s shorter, and two, because, well, you’ll see in a minute.

One Thing That Works for Me with guest Kristi Ann Hunter: Rewrite the Book
Rewrites come after you’ve written and worked through the first draft. The story is completely written and you’ve passed it through a critique group or a couple of beta readers, maybe an editor. You’ve read through it yourself and now you have a stack full of notes and now it’s time to take your book to the next level.

What works for me at this stage of editing is to rewrite the book.


I open the existing manuscript on one side of the screen and a blank document on the other. Then I start typing.

I retype every single word of that book. Does it take a while? Yes. Do I occasionally copy and paste a couple of sentences or even a paragraph? Yes. Do I think it’s worth it? Thirteen books later, I’m gonna have to say yes.

What is the benefit of rewriting you may ask? Well, when you are already retyping every word of the book, you lose any hesitation to change something. It can be easy to let something okay stay in the book instead of replacing it with something great, just because it’s already there and it works. When you are going to retype it anyway, there’s no reason not to tweak a sentence’s phrasing or switch out one word for a slightly better one.

I find when I rewrite, I make small changes, add tiny details, and find a better rhythm for the story in general because all I’m having to think about is the phrasing on the page. The plot, characters, twists, and turns have already been set. I can bring all my creative energy into the words themselves.

Interested in trying the rewrite everything method for yourself? Here’s a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Large or double screens make this easier. I have a double wide screen on my desk but you can also hook a monitor to a laptop and get the same effect.
  • You will add words. Lots of them. Make sure you leave room in your word count to add the little details and enhancements. I typically add 20,000 words to a full size novel during this pass, so I try to size my first draft accordingly.
  • While you will type this faster than you wrote the first time since most of the creative direction decisions have already been made, it will take time. Build that into your schedule.
  • This is a lot of typing. A lot. I used to have to break out the wrist braces until I got an ergonomic keyboard. Take care of yourself.

If you try this and find it to be the best editing advice you’ve ever heard, I’d love to hear about it. Unfortunately I can’t pass it along to the original advice giver because it was a screen cap of a tumblr post that I came across on Pinterest.

Inspiration is everywhere, people. Don’t be afraid to use it.


One Thing That Works for Me with guest Kristi Ann Hunter: Rewrite the Book
A lover of stories from before she could read, Kristi Ann Hunter is the award winning author of sweet regencies written from a Christian worldview including A Noble Masquerade and her upcoming novel, Enchanting the Heiress. She functions on a steady diet of chocolate, Chick-fil-a diet lemonade, and swoony visits with her book boyfriends. When she isn't writing or hosting her podcast, A Rough Draft Life, she spends time with her family in Georgia playing board games, being a dance mom, and living her own happily ever after.

Connect with Kristi at her website, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.


What questions do you have for Kristi Ann Hunter about her rewriting everything method?

Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1

Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1

Where does your story take place? Is the setting of your story real, imaginary, or somewhere in between?

If you aren't sure, maybe I can help. Here is my take on the different kinds of settings you can use for your novel.  

1. Real Settings 

There is a distinct advantage in using a real setting for your story. You can go there. Walk the streets. Smell the wind. Listen to the traffic – or non-traffic – noises. You can stop by the local diner and try the daily special. Or if traveling there is impossible, you can do a virtual visit using Google Earth or Google maps street view.

But the disadvantage to using a real place as a setting for your fictional story is that your perception of the area might not match up with someone who actually lives there. Every place is someone’s hometown, and you run the risk of getting some little detail wrong.

It’s a little easier if you’re writing an historical story, since you don’t run as big of a risk of a reader having intimate knowledge of the setting you’re using – especially if your story takes place in an earlier century.

I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I got a letter from a reader after I published my first novel, The Prodigal Son Returns. I had set a few of the scenes in the real town of Goshen, Indiana, in the 1930’s, using my memories from the 1960’s and my dad’s descriptions of his memories of the town from his childhood to add details. But there is always the fear that the descriptions don’t ring true – until I received that note saying that the town I described was just the way this reader remembered it, down to the location of the barber shop on Lincoln Avenue.


2. Imaginary Settings 

The advantage to creating an imaginary setting completely out of your head is that it’s yours. You get to decide what the weather is like, who lives in this fictional place, and what happens there.

The disadvantage with a setting like this is that you have to create an entire story-world out of your imagination (which is the main attraction for some authors!) Tolkien did this with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was so successful in bringing the reader into his story-world that millions of people felt like Middle Earth was a real place – even before the movies were made!

I’ve never written a setting like this. These are usually reserved for science fiction or fantasy stories, but it’s intriguing, isn’t it? To create that perfect world where imaginary beings live and breathe? I might have to try it sometime.

3. Somewhere in between 

I have to confess that this is my favorite setting for my stories. This where you take an imaginary setting – a town, ranch, neighborhood – and nestle it into an existing real place.

The advantages of this kind of setting are huge. For instance, in my current Work in Progress, a contemporary cozy mystery, my setting is in the Black Hills. I’ve created my fictional town of Paragon and placed it in a particular spot. Of course, there isn’t a town there. Or even a crossroads. But it is in the middle of the Black Hills National Forest, which satisfies the requirements for the stories in the series.

However, the surrounding area is real. So, my characters can have lunch at Armadillos (my favorite ice cream shop,) or drive into Rapid City to buy groceries at Sam’s Club. And since I live in this real setting, I can be sure that my descriptions of the climate, traffic, the change in the atmosphere when the tourists arrive on Memorial Day weekend, and the EVENT that is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally are all accurate. When Emma walks out of the Sweetbrier Inn on a late April morning and encounters snow – that’s reality. In a fictional setting.

Another way to use this kind of setting is to set an historical story in a real place. My series, The Amish of Weaver’s Creek, takes place in the very real Amish settlement of Holmes County, Ohio. One reader who had grown up there told me that he felt like he was visiting his childhood home because my descriptions were so accurate.

Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1
A creek in Holmes County, Ohio - the inspiration for Weaver's Creek
But Weaver’s Creek and the Amish community surrounding it in a corner of Holmes County is all fictional. I set it a certain distance from Millersburg, Berlin, and Farmerstown – all real towns of the area – and used historical maps to make my descriptions of those towns fit my story setting of the 1860’s. Then I created my own map of the Weaver's Creek area - the farms, the houses, the roads, and where each family lived. The result is a small area my readers can become familiar with inside of a larger area they can visit. 

How does that happen? How do our minds gently erase a portion of a map and overlay an imaginary community where none really exists?

How can we all know the Hundred Acre Woods, Hogwarts Castle, Plum Creek, or Deep Valley like they are in our back yards - when we've never actually been there...

Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1
Betsy's home in Deep Valley

...and if we are able to visit in person, we feel like we've come home.

Deciding What Setting to Use, Part 1
Laura's Plum Creek

That's one of the intriguing things about reading and the imagination, isn't it?

Next month, I'll be talking about the kind of research that a writer can do to make their settings take on that feeling of reality.

Meanwhile, let's talk about settings. What book setting would you love to visit if you could?

Populating Your Story with Background Characters


We all enjoy the secondary characters in stories, right?

The heroine’s best friend, the hero’s fun younger brother, the sidekick, the pal, the mentor.

These characters are necessary to your story. They provide someone for your characters to confide in and someone to push your hero or heroine to make the move toward romance or toward the next plot point in your story.

But what about the background characters?

First, let’s define what a background character is.

These are characters who populate the third circle of your cast. They are more than a part of the community, but they don’t have as much of a relationship with your hero/heroine as your secondary characters.

But what purpose do they serve?

Unlike the secondary characters, background characters aren’t there to influence the story or your main characters. They provide a balance, a mood, or sometimes a way to ease or increase the tension of a scene.

They can also be a vehicle to give your story a reason to progress through the next scene, like an older couple in my Christmas novella, “An Amish Christmas Recipe Box.”

Let’s look at a couple background characters from fiction as examples.

First, there’s Rosie Cotton from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you’ve read the books or seen the movies, you know Rosie. Sam is in love with her – we know that from the beginning – but he doesn’t feel that he can “speak” for her quite yet. Her character is part of the community, and yet a little bit more. She doesn’t influence the story like a secondary character would, but she influences Sam. In a very subtle way, we know that she is his unstated and secret motivation to come home from the quest, and his hope for the future.

Another one is Mrs. McGregor from Peter Rabbit. She doesn’t play an active role in the story, but she is there. She is pictured in the third illustration in the book, along with Mrs. Rabbit’s ominous warning to Peter: “Your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.” That seemingly innocent act of fixing dinner for her family immediately cast Mrs. McGregor as the accomplice to murder! From that point on she isn’t mentioned again, but she is there, symbolizing the fate of careless rabbits who wander into the wrong garden.

Background characters are important to your story, and they should be crafted with care. You don’t need to develop them with the same depth as your main and secondary characters, but they should have their own lives and personalities.

I’d like to introduce you to a background character in my Work-in-Progress, the second installment in my Sweetbrier Inn Mysteries. Her purpose in the story is simple – I have two artists who are at odds with one another as secondary characters, and neither one is very likeable. This character, Debbie, is also an artist, but I made her the kind of person you could sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with. She’s the counterbalance to the other two characters.

Here’s her introduction in the book:

“Good afternoon,” I said to the older couple. “You must be Rick and Debbie Harris.”

“That’s right.” Rick smiled at me, his graying beard unable to hide the friendly gesture. “We’re sorry we’re late, but we hadn’t expected the Dignity statue in Chamberlain to be so captivating.”

“Have you seen it?” Debbie asked. When I shook my head, she went on. “You have to. It is so beautiful and conveys the dignity of the Native Americans perfectly in the graceful lines of the woman. Like a dancer captured in motion.”

Her hands fluttered in the air as she spoke as if she was trying to express the movement that the statue could only represent. Her gently curled silver hair with strands of gold lowlights added to the ethereal quality of her description.

“I’m sorry.” She laughed as her hands dropped to her side like birds coming to roost on a branch. “I get carried away sometimes.” She shook her head as she laughed again.

We will see Debbie often as the story progresses since she and her husband are guests at the bed and breakfast where the book is set. She is part of the background and provides texture to the cast of characters. She might even provide some insight into the motive for the murder.

The inspiration for my fictional Sweetbrier Inn

Have you given a thought to the background characters in your story?

Tell us about your favorite background character, either in your own work or in a favorite book or movie in the comments.

One commenter will win a copy of “An Amish Christmas Kitchen,” the collection of novellas that includes “An Amish Christmas Recipe Box.” That’s the story I mentioned earlier where I use background characters to move the story along. You’ll have to see if you can spot them as you read the story!

As the weather grows cold and the nights grow long, the cheer and warmth of the Christmas season is one thing all readers can find comfort in. This collection from bestselling Amish fiction novelists Leslie Gould, Jan Drexler, and Kate Lloyd finds the beating heart at the center of the holiday and offers three novellas that celebrate family, faith, and especially the sights and smells of a bustling holiday kitchen.

Leslie Gould tells the story of how, in the wake of a heartbreaking loss, a young Amish woman finds unexpected comfort and hope in a yearly baking tradition surrounding the local Lancaster Christmas market. Jan Drexler offers a sweet tale of a shy Amish woman who decides to use her gift for sweets to woo a local Amish boy with her beloved Christmas cookies. And Kate Lloyd offers a heartwarming tale of a woman's unexpected discovery about the truth of her past, and the warm and welcoming Amish family table she finds herself invited to on Christmas.

The giveaway is for a physical copy of the collection (US addresses only) or an e-copy of either the collection, or Jan's story alone (wherever Amazon will send the e-book.)

Increasing My Daily Wordcount


Increasing My Daily Wordcount

You need to understand two things about me:

A. I used to be a slow writer. I liked to take the time to read and re-read what I had written, revising as I went. On a good day, I would write 1000 words. Not bad, but I wasn't reaching that milestone every day.

B. My goal is to be a productive writer. Writing isn’t a hobby for me, it’s my full-time job. So I need to keep producing stories.

Do you see my problem?

A doesn't lead to B.

If I wanted B, then I needed to up my game. I needed to change my writing habits. I needed to not only increase my daily word count, but make it a regular, every day thing.

I’ve been working on that this year. It’s been a slow process, but the change is happening.

It’s a lot like climbing a mountain.

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

When I start on a book project, I have the story in my head. Not complete, but the big picture. The long view. 
This view can be a bit daunting, can't it? So many ideas swirling around, so many characters. Sometimes, even complete scenes are in my head, begging to get out.
But there is no secret. No Fairy Godmother. No "poof!" and the story is written.

There is no elevator to the summit.

The only way to reach the top of the mountain is to do one thing: Walk the trail. Step by step. Word by word.

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

BICHOK! Which goes right along with the three D's (see Ruthy's post about the three D's here.)

Are we sensing a trend here? 

I'm learning how to achieve my goal of several thousand words per week. But to get to that goal, I need to use some tricks and tools.

1. I need a map. 

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

Call it an outline, or a storyline. Sometimes it looks like a stack of index cards. Sometimes it looks like a story board. Whatever method I use, the story goes a lot better when I know the beginning, middle, and end before I begin writing.

2. The first part of the trail is the smoothest, so I use that to my advantage.

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

Not every chapter will flow easily. I know that. I also know I’ll be revising these first few chapters several times before the end of the book. But writing these opening chapters quickly, even before my story plan is complete, gives my characters a chance to stretch a little bit and let me get to know their voices. 
It also gets a lot of words down in a short time.
I will often write 25% of the book before my characters and story line are fleshed out. If I need to, I can revise and tweak. But I almost always keep going in the direction those first few chapters started for me.

3. Characters are tricky.

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

They require me to navigate their Lies, their Greatest Dreams, and their Dark Moment Stories. Sometimes I must investigate every nook and cranny of their lives before they reveal their secrets. Sometimes they don’t reveal their inner selves to me until we’re negotiating a particularly difficult part of the story and they let something slip out.

But do I let that slow me down? No! The story must go on. When this happens, I make notes (I keep a pad of paper by my computer to jot these items down,) but I keep on writing. I know I can come back to incorporate the stunning secret that the heroine just revealed!

4. Sometimes, even with all my story planning and plotting, I come up against a stone wall.

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

I have to try one way, and then another to get back on the trail. But just like this tree sending out roots, I persist until I find that way and continue on. One step at a time.

5. When I hit one of my plot points, I take another look at my map.

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

Am I heading in the direction I thought I would at the beginning? Do I need to make some adjustments? This evaluation is satisfying – even if the only landmark in front of me is the half-way point.

6. As tempting as it is, I’ve learned not to take too long of a break along the trail.

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

Muscles stiffen up and the goal isn’t as clear as it was before my rest stop. A quick break for a drink of water and a breather is enough before getting back to that word count.
At the same time, though, I've learned to give myself mini-rewards for mini-goals. 250 words in 15 minutes earns me three chocolate chips. Yay for mini-rewards!

7. Sometimes it looks like I've lost the trail.

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

What will my character do now? Where is the bad guy? Is the baby awake or asleep (a big problem if one of your characters has a young child!) Did anyone feed the dog? A quick look at the map and a few steps along the trail solves the problem!

By the way, the best way for me to get past a writer’s block like this is to WRITE! I let my characters go, and they usually find their way back to the story.

8. Finally, the end is here!

Increasing My Daily Wordcount

But the end of the trail is only a new start. It’s time to retrace my steps, revising and editing the story. However, going down the mountain is a lot easier than the climb up. There are still some tricky spots to negotiate, but the big job - the first draft - is done.

How do you keep your word count going? Share your tips and tricks in the comments. We can always learn from each other!

Writing Scenes that Match Your Genre

 by Jan Drexler

Writing Scenes that Match Your Genre

One of the first things I learned when I became a Seekervillager ten years ago was that the scene is the building block of the book. A writer uses scenes to progress through the story, building tension and raising the stakes along the way. 

For my first several books, I used a method for writing scenes that worked very well. But then I started writing in a new genre and a new point of view. Those major changes made me realize that the way I had been writing scenes wasn’t a “one size fits all” method!

Let me explain…

Writing Historical Romance

In my historical romances, I change the point of view character with every scene. In my Love Inspired books, I use two POV characters, and in my longer, trade-length stories I use multiple POVs (the hero, heroine, and two or three secondary characters.) 

Writing Scenes that Match Your Genre

I structure my scenes like a mini book, with a beginning, middle, and an end. I plot the scene with a Goal, Motivation, and Conflict for the POV character, and create the scene with rising tension that comes to a resolution (although not a complete resolution) at the end of the scene. (You can click on the graphic to enlarge it.)

Writing Scenes that Match Your Genre

This works well in a romance. The POV characters grow and change in each of their scenes as they interact with the other characters and encounter conflict. 

Writing a Cozy Mystery

When I tried using my scene-building technique in my cozy mystery, I ran up against a brick wall! What was wrong? Why didn’t it work?

I think the main reason was because of the mystery genre. A mystery requires a limited point of view to keep the reader in the sleuth’s mind. For the first time, I decided to write in first person instead of third person.

When we write in first person, the POV character never changes. We are in Emma’s POV all through the book. This limits the amount of information the reader receives, but it also limits the number of characters we can use to tell the story. I was accustomed to letting my POV characters react to each other as I switched scenes, but with a single POV, I only have Emma’s experiences and reactions to work with.

So, I went to my craft books for help.

I decided to try a method that Dwight Swain recommends in his book, “Techniques of the Selling Writer,” the scene/sequence method. According to Swain, the scene contains the conflict, and the sequel is the transition between the scenes.

Writing Scenes that Match Your Genre


But then I saw this in Donald Maass’s “The Breakout Novelist:” 

“There was a time when aftermath passages were considered essential to a novel. Even today, some fiction instructors preach the pattern of scene-sequel-scene. I do not believe in aftermath…I find that most aftermath is the easiest material in any manuscript to skim. It lacks tension.”


Writing Scenes that Match Your Genre


I decided to try it out and see what happens.

The result? I disagree with Maass’s opinion – at least in this case.

The way the scene-sequel-scene pattern works is straight forward.

The Scene is full of action, rising tension, and conflict. It moves the story along with big things happening – things that cause the character to fight for what she believes. 

Writing Scenes that Match Your Genre

The sequel follows with Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision.

Writing Scenes that Match Your Genre

The Reaction is the part that Maass doesn’t like, because he thinks it’s too easy for the tension to sag. Well, I do agree with him on that point, but it doesn’t have to be that way! A clever, talented author (like all of us, right?) can keep the tension high, even in an aftermath.

So, how do we keep the tension high in an aftermath or reaction scene?

Let me show you with this example from my cozy mystery. The setting is a B&B where Emma is working for her Aunt Rose. It is the first day of the season, and the inn is full of guests.

I end one of the early scenes with this disaster:

A man was sleeping on the floor, on his side, facing the wall.


He didn’t move. Was he passed out? Drunk? And why was he in my room?

I circled the sectional thinking I would shake him awake, but when I touched his shoulder he rolled from his side onto his back, his eyes open and staring at the ceiling. I leaned over him.

“Are you all right?” I said it again, louder. “Hey, are you all right? Sir?”

That’s when it struck me. He wasn’t asleep.

The challenge is to keep the tension high in the reaction. The next chapter starts with the sequel and Emma’s reaction to the disaster.

“Rose.” I put my hand on her arm. “I have something to tell you.”

As she turned toward me, Sam and Nora came down the stairs dressed as if they were planning to party the night away. Annie and Roger were behind them, their casual clothes a contrast to the other couple’s. Finally, Montgomery descended the stairs, pulling on leather driving gloves.

“Good night, ladies,” he said.

“That’s all of them,” Rose said as Clara joined us. “It was a successful first afternoon, don’t you think?”

“Except for one thing.”

“What’s that, dear?”

I took a deep breath.

“There’s a man in my room. He might be dead. I think.”

The police come, Emma becomes the prime suspect, and the mystery is on its way.

This scene-sequel-scene method won’t work for every genre. 

Think of a suspense novel, where the stakes and tension need to be raised in every scene.

Or a romance, where the stakes need to continue to rise, but there also needs to be a scene here and there where the tension is released, and your characters have a chance to fall in love with each other.

But for the cozy mystery (and other stories with a single main character,) this scene-sequel-scene is perfect. The stakes and tension are raised in the scene, the tension remains high in the sequel, then raise again in the next scene.

What do you think? Let us know your favorite method for writing scenes in the comments!

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time

This post first appeared in Seekerville on March 14, 2016


Battling Through Your Manuscript...Once Scene at a Time

By Missy Tippens

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time
Photo credit: Bigstock/Yastremska

Have you hit a wall? Do you often get to Chapter 4 or Chapter 5 and say, “What in the world is going to happen now????” Are you at the midpoint of Speedbo (the Seekerville book-in-a-month writing challenge) and having a moment of panic, wondering where your story is supposed to go?

I’ve been there with you, and I’m going to give you two methods that have helped me battle through.

1.   Mine Your GMC Chart

If you’re stuck trying to figure out what’s going to happen in your next scenes and chapters, go back and take a peek at your Goal, Motivation and Conflict Chart (for more information, check out Debra Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction). If you haven’t already considered your characters’ GMC, then take some time to figure this out. I’ve already done a couple of posts on this (Click hereand here.) Also, Tina Radcliffe once shared an example of her chart on her white board, so you can take a peek at that (click here.) [Note: many photos from our Archives blog are no longer available.]

So once you have your chart, look at each block on the chart. Brainstorm scene ideas that have to do with that particular block, scenes that will show that particular aspect of the character.

I thought I’d share an example. Below is my GMC chart and scene ideas cut and pasted directly out of my brainstorming file for the book that became The Doctor’s Second Chancefrom Love Inspired. (note: I = Internal and E=External, G = Goal, M = Motivation and C = Conflict)

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time

Example: GMC Chart for The Doctor’s Second Chance
(This changed a little while writing the full book and after critique.)

EG—Work hard and play hard
EM—he’s enjoying his freedom; he deserves to have some fun after the responsibility that was thrust on him from a young age (parents’ death and aunt and uncle who worked all the time leaving him with brat cousin)
EC—Cousin Remy has dumped a baby on him (and he goes back into responsible mode)
Int need: secure family unit of his own
IM—deep need for security/belonging/connection
IC—He doesn’t believe that it’s possible so tries to act like it’s not important (instead goes for freedom and living in the moment—even dangerously)

EG—build her new practice and take care of children
EM—she didn’t like impersonal large city practice/clinic and felt rootless
EC—it’s a small town where everyone knows everyone, and she’s an outsider so business is not picking up like she’d planned.
Int need: connection
IG: Have kids by doctoring in a small town community
IM: she gave up a child for adoption and thinks she’ll never have her own (thinks she doesn’t deserve it)
IC: She really does want her own but is afraid to risk loving (maybe harbors bitterness toward parents who made her feel worthless for her huge mistake. Needs to forgive and let go to get rid of the bitterness)

Scene ideas:
EG—Work hard and play hard (although this is really a lie—he’s just a hard worker, and has always felt he needed to earn his way)
Scenes that show him working
Gets asked to go camping but can’t. Asked to go skydiving but can’t (first inkling of having someone to care about besides himself)
Show in charge and strong in his job/contrast with lack of confidence with baby
EM—he’s enjoying his freedom; he deserves to have some fun after the responsibility that was thrust on him from a young age
Discussion with Remy so we know he took care of her
Comment from someone at church about him always being responsible
Scene where he realizes the baby is like him—“deserted” by parents
EC—Remy has dumped a baby on him (and he goes back into responsible mode)
Opening scene
Scenes where it’s difficult to get work done
Fish out of water scenes
Int need: secure family unit of his own
Flashbacks/dialogue where we hear of him missing parents and family of his own—especially when Remy resented him.
Showing him realizing he likes time with Violet and baby better than skydiving or time outdoors with friends (it gets easier to turn down offers of fun adventure)
Realizes Violet is filling needs he didn’t know he had
Doesn’t feel like the 5th wheel with her
IC—He doesn’t believe that it’s possible so tries to act like it’s not important (instead goes for freedom and living in the moment—even dangerously)
Scene where he’s scared of how close he feels to Violet; feels vulnerable and doesn’t like it. Says he doesn’t need that closeness or someone to know him and makes plans to go skydiving, which V doesn’t like. (or does something else against her wishes on purpose to push her away)

EG—build her new practice and take care of children
She agrees to help Jake just because she’s helping a baby
She checks up on Abigail, worries for her
Tells him she did not rip off his family—tells him he doesn’t know details
Begins to ask patients to spread the word that she’s good
EM—she didn’t like impersonal large city practice/clinic and felt rootless
Show her enjoying small town life—she sees advantages of being known, appreciates that others know her business
Goes to church and meets people; show first time she goes out and someone recognizes her, making her feel good
EC—it’s a small town where everyone knows everyone, and she’s an outsider so business is not picking up like she’d planned.
Show her going to church and no one really knows her; she’s an outsider
People call her Doc, but she realizes they don’t really know her at all; there’s no one around who knows her likes and dislikes or about her past; they don’t know Violet
Int need: connection
She has struggled and fought her way through medical school and now has trouble opening up and being vulnerable with new friends
Scene where she meets a new friend—in lab, Darcy, gets to know her better, feels she’s actually met a friend (could meet over the winning of the auction)
First time she attends church since the auction—a few people remember her by that. It’s a small sense of connection
She remembers that one time she went and decides to go back because of connection of the auction. It’s her only tie other than work.
IG: Have kids by doctoring in a small town community
Show her bonding with a patient; child reaches for her, which warms her heart. This could actually happen at church or in town so Jake witnesses it.
IM: she gave up a child for adoption and thinks she’ll never have her own (thinks she doesn’t deserve it)
Scene with Remy, can relate to feeling she’s not worthy.
IC: She really does want her own (family/child) but is afraid to risk loving
Scene where fear over loving Jake makes her want to give up
Realizes she needs to call parents and make effort to heal
Goes to see parents, takes Jake/baby for moral support

As you can see, I got a lot of scene ideas just from mining my GMC chart! If you’ve read the book, you may recognize some of these ideas that became scenes. (If you haven’t read The Doctor's Second Chance and want to, here’s a link!)

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time

2.   Know the Middle … And Then Aim for It

I love James Scott Bell’s book Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between. Since I bought the book, I’ve read it each time I’m plotting a new story to help with the scene ideas. (BTW, it’s a short book.) I’ve found that deciding on the mirror moment in the middle gives me something to aim for once I get past the opening chapters. So no more sagging middle! The basic premise of Bell’s how-to book is that once you know your mirror moment in the middle, that moment when the character takes a hard look at himself and wonders what kind of person he is, what he will do to overcome his inner challenges, then you can go forward to figure out the pre-story psychology or go backward to figure out how the character transforms by the end. Knowing this middle scene will help all the scenes have unity. And like I said, for me, it gives me something to aim for.

I thought I’d share another example. Again, this is from my brainstorming notes, directly cut and pasted, for the story that became The Doctor’s Second Chance. (Spoiler alert! I give away a lot here, all stuff I figured out before I finished writing the book.)

Example: Midpoint Brainstorming for The Doctor’s Second Chance
Story Question:
Will Jake be able to take care of this newborn and locate his cousin before Violet gets the court involved? Can Violet fulfill her goal of helping children without falling in love with the baby…and with Jake? Or might the two of them discover that family comes in all shapes and sizes?

Mid-point mirror moment:
Jake: Is there really such thing as a secure family…this ideal little family bubble? For me? And if so, do I dare go for it? What if it got taken away? Show him taking a risky step: asking her out on a date. It’s a concrete move toward making them a unit.

Violet: Do I deserve to be happy? Can I really move forward and let go of the past? Show her admitting some weakness to him. Maybe she shares about rift with her family (but not why), how she’s felt she has to do everything herself. And then she opens up with how she needs him somehow (maybe she needs him to support her in town, by letting people know his opinion of her has changed). [but I’d kind of like him to do this on his own, and she discovers he’s done it because he cares. So maybe she doesn’t ask him to do that. Maybe she just opens up and shares her hurts.]

Pre-story psychology:
Jake: Parents died, “abandoning” him. Aunt and uncle took him in but he always felt he needed to be good for them to keep him. That “being good” alienated his cousin, so he never felt part of the family. His aunt and uncle worked a lot, and he got stuck trying to keep Remy out of trouble since he felt like her destructive behavior was probably his fault. Once she ran off, he felt a sense of relief, of freedom. Has been working hard so he can play and enjoy that freedom. Thinks he has just what he wants. The baby being dropped on him limits that freedom, and he feels that renewed sense of guilt, as if he does owe her. Plus, he’s just naturally responsible.

Violet: Parents were socialites, valued what others thought of them, worried about appearances. Were often gone, lots of baby sitters. She fell for a guy who needed her, and got pregnant. Parents insisted she give up for adoption, would not consider helping her keep baby, claiming she couldn’t give up her lifelong goal to be a doctor. But she felt they were more worried about how it would make them look. She resented them. No relationship since, even though they’ve tried and dad has apologized (mom insists it was best for everyone). She has been independent, putting herself through school and medical school. Feels she was weak and failed her child. Decided she would help other children by becoming pediatrician. Didn’t like large clinic and impersonal medicine. Bought small town clinic to be part of patients’ lives.

How can I show it?
Both have had ideals of the perfect family that they never had. Have to learn to let go of that. Have to accept a new picture of what family means to them now that God has brought them together, and to let go of fear of the rug being yanked out from under them. Must learn to trust God instead of themselves (what I’m learning now).
Jake: In the beginning, he’s still trying to be responsible and take care of others, finding it hard to ask for help. Connection is out of a sense of duty rather than out of love. Needs to extend love. Needs to accept love freely given. He doesn’t have to earn the right to be part of a family.
To show his transformation…He’ll ask her to be his family (scary and risky but worth it). And he’ll ask it even while she’s still acting cool toward him, so it’s even riskier. He’ll do it with God’s strength (when he is weak, God is strong).

Violet: In the beginning, she’s independent and all business, only willing to reach out for the good of the child. She feels driven to work to deserve anything good that comes to her. She’s driving herself, fighting her nature to want closeness and family. She learns she doesn’t have to work hard to earn happiness just because of her past. Needs to accept love freely given. She is worthy of love, because God loves her just as she is.
Or maybe what she thought she needed was control over her life when what she really needed was to give up control, to just accept love.
To show her transformation…she’ll sleep in past sunrise. (maybe in epilogue? On honeymoon?)

So you can see how I started by figuring out the middle. Then I backed up to figure out some backstory and scenes that will show it. Then I figured out how to concretely show the ending of the story with my characters in a new place emotionally.

I hope sharing my methods helps some of you! If you’re stuck, try brainstorming using these two methods. Come up with as many ideas as you can. You most likely won’t use them all, but you may find some nuggets that you end up loving! And at least you can keep moving forward on your first draft, even if you change some of it later.

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time

After more than 10 years of pursuing her dream of publication, Missy Tippens, a pastor’s wife and mom of three from near Atlanta, Georgia, made her first sale to Harlequin Love Inspired in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Booksellers Best, Holt Medallion, American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. Visit Missy at www.missytippens.com

Making the Move From Reader to Aspiring Author, part two

by Jan Drexler

Making the Move From Reader to Aspiring Author, part two

Today's post, along with last month's part one (you can read that post here) are part of Seekerville's new "Let's Get Back to Basics" series. Because we know how overwhelming learning to become a published author can be, we want to give beginners a helping hand and help veterans refresh their knowledge.

If you remember, I am in the process of sharing six steps to make the transition from reader to aspiring author. 

Step 1: Live Your Life

Step 2: Read as if Your Career Depends on It

Step 3: Study the Concept of Story

And now - here are the next three steps:

Step 4: Understand the art of writing vs. the mechanics of writing 

Making the Move From Reader to Aspiring Author, part two

There are two parts of writing – there is the art, and then there are the mechanics.

Learning the art of writing is easy…and the hardest thing we will ever do. The secret to learning how to write is to write! What’s so hard about that? Well, if you’re a writer, you know the self-doubt, that discouraging voice in your ear, and the experience of writing pages and pages of what seems to be nothing.

But every word we put on paper (or in our computer file) is valuable. With every sentence, every paragraph, we’re learning how to write. The act of writing is what develops the writer. 

Making the Move From Reader to Aspiring Author, part two

Here’s your fourth assignment, part A:

Write 100 words. Write like no one will ever read it. Let the words flow. Avoid the urge to self-edit.

Then put that page away until tomorrow. Tomorrow you can read what you’ve written, but until then put it out of your mind. Take heart! You’ve written 100 words!

When you open your document or your notebook tomorrow, tweak those words. Do they say what you meant to say? Change some of the words you used for stronger ones. Switch one sentence for another one. (This is called revising – a particularly useful skill.)

Now that you’re happy with what you wrote yesterday, write another hundred words – or more. Make this practice a daily habit.

But there is another part to writing: mechanics.

If you’re a grammar geek like me, this part is easy. And hard. I cringe when people use the past perfect progressive tense when they mean to use the past perfect. (It’s a blessing. And a curse.)

Don’t worry. I do understand that not everyone is a grammar geek. There are some of you whose eyes glazed over when you read the preceding paragraph!

There is help out there. A simple (and free) one is the Grammarly app for your computer. You can find it here. There are also many books written to help you learn the basics of grammar and punctuation – between homeschooling and adult education, you have plenty to choose from. Go to Amazon and do a search for grammar curriculum. There are many inexpensive workbooks to help. One of my favorites is the one we used for my children when they were in high school: Easy Grammar Plus.

I want to say something especially important here, and then I’ll be quiet about this grammar and punctuation stuff (for now.) Here it is: 

Writing is an art, and every artist needs to be able to use his or her medium. Painters need to understand watercolors, acrylics, and oil. Sculptors need to understand clay. Quilters need to understand fabric. And writers need to understand words. Don’t depend on an app like Grammarly to write for you – use your words like a paintbrush to convey your story to your readers. 

So, here’s your fourth assignment, part B:

Do an internet search for “English verb tense charts.” Find and download a simple chart of English verb tenses. Refer to it as you write. Learn to recognize the different verb tenses and how to use them properly. I found this one on Pinterest: Easy Verb Tense Chart 

Step 5: Learn and Practice the Habits of a Writer

Making the Move From Reader to Aspiring Author, part two

What are a writer’s habits?

If you’ve been around Seekerville long enough, you have probably discovered that every writer works in their own way. Each writer develops their own habits and method of working.

My husband loves to tell me about James Patterson’s writing habits. According to a recent interview, Mr. Patterson writes seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. He gets up around five thirty, does some housework, writes a bit. Takes a walk for an hour or so, then comes back and writes until eleven or twelve. (I think my husband wants me to take afternoons off and sell books like James Patterson!)

But that schedule wouldn’t work for me.

Neither would anyone else’s.

But MY schedule works for me, and YOUR schedule will work for you.

The point behind developing habits is to have the habits – have the routine. Even if you can only eke one hour of writing time out of your weekly schedule, grab it! Own it! Make it your habit!

Other writerly habits can include things like journaling, using writing prompts to get the creative energy flowing, and developing a pre-writing routine. Whatever works for you! 

Your fifth assignment: Find your writing time and make it a habit to always use that time for writing. Even if it’s only fifteen minutes a day…you can write one hundred words in fifteen minutes.

Step 6: Develop a thick skin - - your story is not YOU 

Making the Move From Reader to Aspiring Author, part two

This one came as a surprise to me as I was working on this post. I thought I had this covered…until I received a rejection letter last week. Ouch!

Oh, I know. Our stories are our babies! We’ve poured our heart and soul into that story! It is an extension of ME!

But no, it isn’t.

Once we hit the “send” button on our story, it is no longer part of us. It belongs to the world.

And sometimes the world doesn’t think our story will be a good fit at this time. Sometimes the world is looking for Amish stories instead of covered wagon stories. Or maybe our story wasn’t as ready for the big world as we thought it was.

This is where we need our thick skin. Which is another way of saying that we need to put some emotional distance between ourselves and our work.

When we receive a rejection, or a stinging criticism, or a bad review, this is what we do: Take twenty-four hours to get over it. Eat chocolate. Feel sorry for ourselves.

And this is what we don’t do: Never complain on social media about the situation. Never attack the reviewer/editor/agent/crit partner. Never think that we are any less talented of a writer than we were two days ago.

And then, after you’ve given yourself twenty-four hours (or maybe forty-eight, if it was a particularly bad experience,) pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. And go back to work. 

Making the Move From Reader to Aspiring Author, part two

We go back to work because we are writers.

Sure, we took a blow, but it didn’t really change anything, did it?

And it helped us to develop that thick skin we need.

For your sixth assignment? There isn’t one. There is nothing I can suggest that will help you develop the thick skin you need except to write. Submit. Enter contests. Take the blows when they come (believe me, they will) and learn from them.

That's it! Six steps! I hope you use these six steps in the spirit that I shared them - a way to learn and grow as a writer. We're all in this together!

It's your turn now: Which of these steps has been the most meaningful to you?

One commenter will win a copy of a book out of my secret stash... If you're the winner, I'll give you your choice of several titles to choose from - and the list will include authors other than me! (Don't you love surprises?)

Contest Tips

Contest Tips
Hello, Winnie Griggs here. Today I wanted to do a little "Back To Basics" post and talk about writing contests.

All right, I’ll admit it.  I’m a recovering contest junkie.  In the long years before I made that first sale, I entered dozens and dozens of them.  Now that I’m published, I’ve tried to repay not only the entrants but also all those wonderful,  harried contest coordinators by volunteering to judge when I can.

And as you know, the same things that make a full length novel great, make for a great entry as well. 

First, you want to show a clear understanding of the CRAFT of writing
  • Check, double-check and then triple check your grammar and spelling. Errors in this department may signal to the judge that you just don’t care. And yes I know you can probably point me to dozens of examples in published books that have these kinds of errors, but there are few judges who will give you a pass on this, especially if there are more than one or two errors and/or it’s one of the scoring items.
  • Make it engaging. Your dialog should be conversational and immediate, your narrative on point and pertinent to your scene and your characters recognizable, necessary to the story, and distinct from each other. In addition the story stakes should be clear and something the reader will care about.  The last thing you want is for the reader to shrug and think “so what?”.
Contest Tips

Next, you want to make sure you follow the rules.
All contests have a set of guidelines the entrants are to follow. These are mostly designed to give the entries a uniform feel and to make the job easier for the over-worked, under-appreciate, VOLUNTEER contest coordinators. And it’s also good practice for when you want to submit to a publisher. So make sure you have thoroughly read and understand the contest rules and that you follow them to a T. Don’t expect the harried contest coordinator to make allowances for you.

And as a judge, I find nothing more heartbreaking than discovering a manuscript I absolutely love, yet have to score in the medium to low range because of the framework of the judging criteria.  What makes this especially frustrating for me as a judge is that, in many cases, the entrant could have anticipated this problem and taken steps to mitigate it with just a little extra effort.

How, you ask?  By taking the following two steps:

  • Obtain a copy of the scoresheet the judges will be using.
    Depending on the contest, this task may vary from simple to nearly impossible.  Some contests have the scoresheet included on their website and/or with their printed guidelines.  If not, ask the contest coordinator for a copy.  If all else fails, try to find someone who entered in a prior year to see if they will share a copy with you.  (Though this is a bit iffier, since contests occasionally revise their scoresheets from one year to the next).

    Once you get hold of the scoresheet, then what?
    Pay close attention to the areas in which the manuscript will be judged, and the relative weight given to each.  These will differ greatly from contest to contest.  For example, if the relationship between the h/h is a large part of the score, and your h/h don’t meet within the pages of your entry, this may not be the contest for you.
  • Take full advantage of the page count allotted to you.  
    If a contest has as its guidelines that your entry is to consist of ‘a first chapter, not to exceed 25 pages’, then take a close look at your first chapter.  Again, use this in combination with the scoresheet.  Let’s take our above example, where the h/h relationship is a strong scoring element.  Now, maybe that relationship is not evident in your first chapter.  But your first chapter is only 15 pages long.  Suppose you changed that chapter break to a scene break and included the next 8-10 pages in your first chapter.  Would it now contain the missing element to give the judge something to work with?

    Ah, but suppose you need to pull in the next 12 pages to not only round out your scene but to also give you a really breathtaking ending hook?  What now?  Well, review those 27 pages closely.  Are there scenes or even paragraphs whose purpose is to foreshadow or set up something that will happen later in the story, but can be lifted out and not be missed in the context of this entry?  Then by all means, lift them out. It may surprise you how easy it is to whittle out the extra two pages when you view your opening in this narrower context.

    CAUTION:  Longer is not necessarily better.  If the 15 pages of your first chapter hit all the points it needs to, than stop there.  The contest judge will thank you for not taking up any more of her/his time than necessary.
Contest Tips

And speaking of thanks, there’s one final point I want to make.
No matter if you agree with the feedback you received or not, you should always take a moment to write a gracious thank you note to your judges. No matter what score they awarded you, they took hours out of their own writing schedule to read your entry and give you their feedback. If the feedback was particularly scathing, you may want to take a day or two to deal with it emotionally, mentally thank them for thickening your skin and then write a note thanking them for their time.

There you have it.  A few simple tips, but they can make all the difference in the score your entry receives.

Best of luck and above all, believe in yourself!
Contest Tips

Do you have any other tips or thoughts on this subject?  Leave a comment to be entered for your chance to receive your choice of any book from my backlist. 
You can find a list of those titles HERE.

A World Within a Book Finessing a Story One Thing That Works for Me with guest Kristi Ann Hunter: Rewrite the BookDeciding What Setting to Use, Part 1Populating Your Story with Background CharactersIncreasing My Daily WordcountWriting Scenes that Match Your GenreBack to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a TimeMaking the Move From Reader to Aspiring Author, part twoContest Tips

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