Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: Writing Tips | (page 4 of 6)


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

Falling For You

by Guest Lindi Peterson

Hello Seekerville! It’s great to be back. Thank you for having me guest host today. It’s always a special time in Seekerville, for sure.
Today we are talking about love.
Yes, love.
It’s what romance writing is all about and it’s what makes the world go ‘round. Right?
Love is an action, not an emotion. I once heard in a church I was attending that people don’t “fall in love.” Drat! That shook my romance writer’s mind. But as I kept listening the pastor’s words made sense. Love is an action.
You do it. 
Which is why you can’t have a romance where the only goal is to fall in love and get married. 
So what is it that makes our characters fall? If they don’t fall in love what do they fall into?
Let’s explore some ways our characters fall for each other.
Falling For You

Excerpt from One Winter Kiss-Lindi Peterson
He kissed the top of her hand. “Thank you. Thank you for trusting me with who you are.”
She kissed the top of his hand. “Thank you for being someone I can trust. I’ve never met anyone like you.”
“We need each other, don’t we?”
“I think so,” Deena whispered.
He leaned over, his kiss gentle, caring.
Loving, kind.
Everything Andrew was touched her lips.

Falling For You

In looking for passages to use, I found this one. And wow, God directed me to the right passage. We have a plethora of reasons Deena “fell” for Andrew.
First he was TRUSTWORTHY. That is a quality to fall for. If you can’t trust someone, you certainly can’t give your love to them. Without trust there would be suspicion and doubt. There would be questions that might be unnecessary. 
2 Corinthians 3:4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God. NKJV
We place our ultimate trust in Christ.
Deena also fell for his GENTLENESS. The passage starts out describing his kiss, but ends with all those adjectives describing Andrew himself. And Andrew is a gentleman. He proved that to her many ways, starting at the beginning of the book.
He held out a Devon Park Raiders hoodie. A lined, thick hoodie. Black and silver, The Devon Park High School colors.
“Thank you. I think I will. Especially since I don’t know how long Grandpa will be.” She took the hoodie from him and quickly put it on.
This excerpt is from Chapter One, right at the beginning when Deena was stranded outside her grandpa’s house. Right away Andrew displayed what a gentleman he was. And yes, I still like a man to open the door for me, to pull out a chair before I sit down. 
Psalm 18:35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation: Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great.NKJV
CARING is another quality one can “fall” for.
“You’ll need these gloves. Evan doesn’t tire easily. And he’s ready for a fight.” Andrew handed Deena a pair of gloves perfect for snowball making. Well, that might be taking things a bit far, but they were designed to keep the wet out and the hands warm.
Here Andrew shows how caring he is offering Deena the proper gloves to wear in a snowball fight. If you are wondering why Deena is so ill-equipped for cold weather, she has just arrived in Ohio from Florida. She wasn’t prepared to be hanging out outside so much, as she was there to help her grandfather pack his house to move. Oh, and she was trying to stop the moving process as well. Andrew is his next door neighbor who has a son named Evan. Deena also saw throughout the story how Andrew cared for his son. That showed a huge part of who Andrew was and something Deena couldn’t help but be drawn to.
1 Peter 5:6-7 Thereforehumble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. NKJV
When we know God cares about us, we can see how caring for others is important.
And how about KINDNESS? Don’t we love meeting people who are kind? 
“I insist on taking you. Besides, I’ll help Harold get his truck out of the ditch.”
That sentence is kindness and helpfulness all in one. (Andrew is quite a guy, isn’t he?) But again, these are the types of things people do that attract other people to them. Harold is Deena’s grandpa, so Andrew, offering to help pull the truck out of a ditch after a snowstorm displays his kindness front and center.
Psalm 119:76 Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to Your word to Your servant.NKJV
Kindness is a great attribute. When someone is truly kind, you know their heart is in the right place. Someone’s day can be made just by having someone be kind to them. And kindness is an act we can show to those we don’t even know. We don’t have to be best friends to show someone kindness. 

Falling For You

We can see by the above excerpts that love comes from knowing who someone is. It’s the attributes they have that bind our soul to theirs. It’s how their heart works and how they show that heart to the world that attracts us to someone.
This is how we show growth in our romance novels. You can be attracted to someone for just the way they look, that is true. But that doesn’t carry a relationship. That person’s way of living, and treating others soon comes to light. I do believe that the books we like the best show this growth and growing attraction to our hero’s and heroine’s character.
I do love the saying “falling in love.” It sounds so much better than “falling in trust,” “falling in kindness.” There’s something universal about the word love. Whether it’s in a good or bad way, love is something everyone can relate to. It’s why we write about it, it’s why we read about it. It’s why God sent his son.
He loves us.
I’d love to talk about other attributes people “fall” for. I’ve only named a few, but I know you have some you’d like to mention. I’ve got 2 giveaways today to 2 separate commenters. First I’m giving away an e-copy of my novella, Sweet Love of Mine. It’s the story of Eden and Grant. I’m also giving away a copy of a brand new release, A Christmas to Remember.

Falling For You

This is a boxed set of 8 never before released Christmas novellas. I was thrilled to do this set with the ladies on the Inspy Romance Blog. This is the 2ndnovella in my Sweetly Southern Series. Sweet Love of Mine is the 1stnovella in that series.
Thank you for having me here in Seekerville. It’s always a pleasure and an honor to be a guest! Let’s talk “falling!”

Visit Lindi at

Is This Idea Book Worthy?

by guest blogger @jillkemerer
Is This Idea Book Worthy?
You have a great idea—it probably came to you last night as you were falling asleep or yesterday afternoon while driving home from soccer practice. The hyped-up feeling running through your veins proves the concept is awesome, and you’re itching to start writing the story.

This is it! My best idea yet! No editor will be able to turn it down. Readers will rave. It will hit bestseller lists. I have to write it immediately.

Who cares that you’re halfway through a slower-than-molasses draft you actually dread opening every time you sit down to write? Or that you have seven or eight other stories clamoring for attention in your head? This idea must be put front and center. Now!

Whoa-ho-ho there. Hold up, Lassie. I’ve been there. Really, I have. And before you open your laptop and start pouring the story onto the page, take a big step back. It’s time to be really honest with yourself and ask yourself a key question.

Is this idea book worthy?

Duh! Of course it is. Didn’t you just hear me say bestseller lists??

I heard you. Loud and clear. I’m guessing at one time you were equally as enthusiastic about the idea for the story you’re currently working on. So why abandon it?

I’m not abandoning it. I’m setting it aside for now and will finish it after this one.

Bad move. It’s all too easy to end up with a dozen unfinished manuscripts because we’ve chased a new idea.

In order to be a successful author, you need to finish books. This means you have to write the entire manuscript, look at the plot with a critical eye, make necessary story changes, revise it, and edit it. If you get in the habit of quitting a work-in-progress (WIP) whenever a “better” idea comes along, you’re not developing the skills you need.

There’s a rhythm to a book. The more complete manuscripts you draft, the more natural it becomes to tell a compelling story. And you’ll gain skills to help you develop future ideas, because you’ll remember the spots where you floundered in the past. You’ll be on the lookout to avoid those flimsy areas in the future.

Finish the current book before you dive into the new one. Let this new idea breathe and grow legs. If it’s book worthy, it will.

At Helping Writers Become Authors, K.M. Weiland wrote an excellent article, “4 Steps for How to Turn an Idea Into a Story that Rocks.” She talks about giving the idea a safe place to incubate.

“If you want to see an idea develop, make space for it within your life. If you stuff it way back in some dusty corner of your brain, your subconscious might occasionally bat it back at you. But if you want it to grow, hold it in your mind’s eye. Don’t force it. Don’t dictate what it must or must not do. But watch it.
Deep-dive into the dream zone and just let the idea roll around. See what it has to offer. Sometimes you’ll come to what seems the end of its potential, only to have a new fragment of a new idea glom onto the first one and evolve into something new. If that happens often enough, presto-chango, you’ve got yourself a butterfly.” ~K.M. Weiland
While you’re working on your current project, allow time for the new idea’s story elements to come to you. If you’re taking a walk or in line for coffee, let your mind wander. Jot down any details that come to you.

When you have enough details, you’ll be ready to explore the following questions.

What genre do you think the idea will fit into?

If it’s a romance, do you know who the hero and heroine will be? If it’s not a romance, who is the main character?

Genre is important because readers have expectations when they purchase your book. If you’re writing a romantic suspense, you need to make sure you have plenty of danger. If you’re writing women’s fiction, you need secondary characters to challenge the heroine’s beliefs. It’s easier to brainstorm possible ways to ramp these up before your start writing.

What’s the story about?

Can you wrap it up with a one-sentence summary? Example: When an unemployed actress gets custody of her niece, she takes a job preparing taxes and must choose between the accountant she’s falling for and her dreams of Broadway.

If you can’t summarize it, that’s okay. You might not know enough about the story yet, but at some point, you’ll need to be able to clarify it.

Are the stakes high enough?

Why can’t she have both the Broadway career AND the accountant? Is raising the niece only possible in the current setting? What’s really keeping her and the accountant apart? What does he want? How can these things directly oppose her dreams? And most importantly, what do these characters have to lose?

These types of questions deepen the conflicts and produce more nuanced, page-turning books for readers.

Will readers care about this story?

This is a tough question to be objective about. We automatically assume readers will care because we’re excited, but it’s not always the case. The story must have tension for the reader to keep turning the page. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, continuously find ways to raise the stakes!

When a new idea seems to be growing in my mind over the course of time, I know it’s book worthy. My initial concept always changes as I answer the above questions, and it should. My imagination finds ways to expand the initial idea into a higher stakes novel that will have a better chance at grabbing a reader’s attention and holding it until the end.

How do you determine if an idea is book worthy? I’d love to hear your tips!

I’m giving away one copy (paperback for US residents, ebook for international) of Wyoming Christmas Quadruplets. Leave a comment!

Next week I’m taking over the Love Inspired Readers and Authors Facebook group. I’d love to have you join us! I’m giving away books, and we’re talking about our favorite things from Monday through Friday. Click on Love Inspired Readers and Authors (linked) and “Join Group.”

Is This Idea Book Worthy?
A nanny at Christmastime…

Will she find love in this Wyoming Cowboys novel?

Six weeks on a ranch caring for quadruplets—aspiring nurse Ainsley Draper’s prepared for a busy Christmas. When the children’s handsome uncle opens the door, her task gets extra complicated. Marshall Graham is upholding his promise to look after his twin sister, the babies’ mom. But as family loyalty clashes with new love, will the perfect present include a future with Ainsley?

***Mindy butting in here with news that Jill's latest release, Wyoming Christmas Quadruplets, has hit Publisher's Weekly Best Seller list! Congratulations, Jill!***

Is This Idea Book Worthy?
Jill Kemerer is a multi-published author of Christian romance novels. Her essentials include coffee, fluffy animals, a stack of books and taking long nature walks. Jill resides in Ohio with her husband and two almost-grown children. She loves connecting with readers, so please visit her website,, and sign up for her newsletter.

Plotting is a Strange Animal

Melanie Dickerson here.
One of the things I get asked about most often from young writers is plotting. Even though they may not know they’re asking me about plotting. For example, they may tell me that they have started a novel but they’re stuck and don’t know what to write next. Or they may ask me, “How do you finish a book? I always get about 50 pages into it and then I never seem to be able to finish.” And even more common is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

In these cases, the problem is usually that they don’t have enough plot. So if you know you need a plot, where can you get one? Or if you have a partial plot, where do you get the rest?

Plotting is a strange animal. Some of us outline meticulously, and others get a few vague ideas for a story and just start writing. But either way, you have to have a plot. So it’s important to know the basics of what makes up a good story. It’s important to know the essential elements. It’s important to read about how other writers come up with their plots. And it’s important to figure out what methods work best for you.

When a young writer asks me for advice, I will usually send them my list of writerly websites, with Seekerville and the Seekerville archives at the very top. I also give them a list of several books on writing for them to read, such as Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. This is what I did, I read how other writers do it. I tried to learn as much as I could about story and characterization and plot. And I went to workshops at conferences and took notes.

I have 15 published novels but I still like to get tips on plotting, even though I’m a pantser who hates outlining. I sometimes say I don’t do a whole lot of plotting, but that’s not really true. I have to plot. I just don’t like to plot in too much detail too far in advance. I’d rather plot as I go along and keep the ideas percolating in my head. But however you plot, it’s good to figure out what works best for you.
And it’s also good to acquire some plotting tools.

One tool I’ve used with several of my books is Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. It’s a fill-in-the-blank workbook that is a companion to the book by the same name. It can help you come up with ways to make your plot more interesting.

These days I have a Plotting Worksheet that I made for myself. I fill it out before I start writing. The first part is basically the GMC chart from Debra Dixon’s book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, or GMC, which is a classic and should be read by every fiction writer. I focus on one of the main characters and I write down an external goal, a motivation for that goal, and the conflict for that goal. Then I do the same thing for the other main character. You might also find it helpful to write down the GMC for the villain as well, but you definitely should have one for the villain.

The rest of the worksheet are a series of blanks that I do for each of the main characters. These are mostly questions about the characters’ past, and I got these from a workshop taught by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. (So I did actually go to at least one workshop while I was at a writers conference, instead of only socializing my friends!)

I would love to tell you all the questions I ask myself about my characters, but that would seem like I was giving away Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck’s information, almost like plagiarism. So I suggest you check out their materials. Susan May Warren’swebsite  has a section of her website Writing/Teaching, and you can explore there, but she also has a separate website here with her My Book Therapy information called Learn How to Write a Novel.  She and her team have workshops that they teach, writerly services where they teach you one-on-one, and they have books. Some of their services are expensive, of course, since they’re teaching one-on-one and you’re getting their focused attention. So if you can’t afford that, don’t despair. I didn’t shell out a lot of money in the beginning, either. I read books from my library. I bought books on writing. And I read the great blogs out there that are chock full of free articles.

I will tell you some of the questions I ask about my characters. I try to come up with their greatest fear, the lie the heroine believes about herself, her biggest strength and her biggest flaw. Her deep wound she acquired from her childhood. If you can come up with this stuff about your characters, it will help you with plot, because plot and characterization go hand in hand. Think about it. If you know your character’s worst moment from their past, or their biggest fear, you can use that to create tension and conflict and create something for your character to overcome, something the villain can use against them. Before you know it, you’re coming up with scenes in your head.

Something else your plot needs is a Beginning, Middle, and End. It needs a trajectory. What is the big “inciting incident” that starts your story, that thrusts your character into conflict or on a journey? For the middle, you have to ask yourself, What is going to keep the tension and conflict going? How can I make things worse for them in the middle? What is a good plot twist that ramps up the conflict? Where are my characters going, and what do they have to go through and learn before they can get there? And of course, you need to figure out the ending, preferably before you get too far into the story. What does Happily Ever After look like for my characters? And if you don’t write HEA endings, then how are you going to tie up all the loose ends and bring closure for your characters?

Another plotting guru who has tons of resources and books on writing is James Scott Bell. You can check out his website where he has a section For Writers.

Okay, let me know if that’s helpful. You at least have a TON of possible resources now. And if you’re willing to share, tell me how you plot, what resources have helped you, and how you get ideas for your plot, or what your plotting process is. One commenter will win an e-copy of my new book Magnolia Summer.

From New York Times Bestselling author Melanie Dickerson comes a story of romance, heroism, and secret identity. Will this Deep South Zorro succeed in saving his sleepy Southern town? 

Truett Beverly returned to Bethel Springs, Alabama, after finishing medical school. Fighting a secret war with a corrupt lawman wasn’t in his plans, but when Sheriff Suggs threatens his childhood friend, Truett dons a cape and hood and becomes the Hooded Horseman, placing him squarely in the sheriff’s crosshairs. 

Celia Wilcox arrives in Bethel Springs in June of 1880. She’s come from Nashville to help her sister care for their younger siblings. She hopes only to be on the small farm for the summer, just until her mother recovers from the shock of Celia’s father’s death. She must return to Nashville in order to fulfill her dream of opening her own dress shop. 

Celia catches Truett’s eye from the moment she steps off the train. He finds himself wanting to impress her, but she flatly refuses to flirt with him or to fall for his—if he does say so himself—considerable charm. Truth is, Celia’s attraction to Dr. Truett Beverly terrifies her. What will happen when Sheriff Suggs discovers Truett is the Hooded Horseman? Will Celia's greatest fears come true? Or will she be able to prevent the sheriff from carrying out one last lynching?

When the Words Get Stuck

By Mindy Obenhaus

Tell me if this has ever happened to you. You’re working on a manuscript, making all kinds of great progress, and then you get to the next scene and everything stalls. You know what’s going to happen, but the words just won’t come. It’s as though you’ve hit a brick wall and are helpless to move forward.
When the Words Get Stuck
You step away from the computer. You pace, pondering the scene, the opening line, yet your mind is blank. Or whatever does pop in there sounds absolutely horrible.

You get frustrated. Everything was flowing so smoothly. Now, it’s as though the words got jumbled together, creating a clog somewhere along the way and not a darn thing is coming out.

What’s a writer to do? I mean, you have a deadline. Even if you don’t, you want to keep pushing forward.

Take a break – Do some chores. Something as mundane as sorting laundry or doing dishes is often all it takes to get your brain moving in the right direction. Or take a walk. Enjoy nature and allow the fresh air to clear your mind.
When the Words Get Stuck
Do something creative – Creativity often spurs creativity. Do you like to craft? Paint? Decorate? Cook? Or simply turn on the TV (I can’t believe I just said that) and watch someone else be creative. Food Network, HGTV, DIY Network, The Cooking Channel, YouTube. It’s all about stirring your imagination and allowing that clog to start breaking apart.
When the Words Get Stuck
Read– Again, it’s all about getting your brain to focus on something else. There may be one word in there that sparks your imagination and gets your juices flowing again.
When the Words Get Stuck
Talk it out – This is one of my favorites, yet often the one I resort to last. Why? Because I’m an idiot who likes doing things the hard way. Whenever I mention to my husband that I’m stuck, the first thing he says is, “Wanna talk about it?” To which I usually respond, “I’m not sure I can because everything is so jumbled.” That never stops him, though. He’ll ask a question about the scene and before I know it, I’m telling him the whole thing. The simple act of verbalizing what’s happening almost always starts breaking down that blockage. And by the time I’m done rambling, I’m ready to get back to the computer.
When the Words Get Stuck
Write anyway – Grab a pen and paper and see what happens. Either the scene you’re stuck on or something else. If it’s that scene, turn it every which way and that, examining every angle, contemplating the approach that you think will work best. Then pick one and just run write with it. Get the scene out of your head and on the page. If it’s not right, you can always fix it. But at least you’ve made it over the hump.

Getting things unstuck isn’t always easy. It can take minutes, hours or days. And as frustrating as it may be, just remember that, sometimes, it may just be God’s way of telling (okay, forcing) us to take a break.

Have you ever found yourself stuck, in writing or in life? Did you get frustrated or did you step back and do something else? What helped you get those creative juices flowing again?

When the Words Get Stuck
Three-time Carol Award nominee, Mindy Obenhaus, writes contemporary romance for Love Inspired Books. She’s passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren at her Texas ranch. Learn more at

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship!

By Guest Authors from Mountain Brook Ink

Mountain Brook Ink publishing focuses on reader relationships and stories of restoration and renewal. We asked some of our authors to share how they connect relationships: relationships between plot and setting, message and story, and author and reader. Here’s what they had to say: 

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship!

Setting is as important to a story as the characters and the plot. I often choose small towns in which to set my stories, but sometimes the plot requires a city. For example, my book The Reluctant Groom is a modern day marriage of convenience story set in the more believable environment of big city Seattle.

But there is no way The Sleuth’s Miscalculation would work in a big city. The plot revolves around a small town librarian who enjoys solving mysteries and consults for the Sheriff’s Department for non-violent crimes. This story begged to be set in a small town with all the familiar quirks that go with small town life. 

Let’s look at settings on television shows. Can you think of an example of where setting was critical to the story? Can you imagine Magnum P.I. being set anyplace but Hawaii, or Castle anyplace but New York City? Those settings enhanced their stories; our settings enhance our books.

In my process, setting is one of the first factors I determine. The very first series I sold was actually based on the setting, and I wrote the story around it. I hope this has encouraged you to have fun with setting and use it to enhance your next project.

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship!

The novel that kickstarted my career was released as part of the Love Finds You line. I held Costco book-signings, received a hardback edition, and had the novel optioned for film. But the most important thing I learned? The power of setting.

In researching for Finding Love in Sun Valley, Idaho, my best friend and I visited a famous lodge and I took my kids white water rafting. Later, my husband and I decided to ride the motorcycle to Montana and also volunteer at the Sun Dance Film Festival in Utah. I learned things that I wouldn’t have known to add to my stories had I not experienced the location for myself.

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship!
I didn’t want to stop there though. I wanted to set authentic stories all over the world. So I got a job for an airline two years ago. Since then, I’ve hiked the mountains of Colorado, driven a convertible to Key West, attended my first MLB game in Arizona, watched the sun set in San Diego, etc.. My life has become as exciting as that of my characters.

I may not dream fantasy worlds, but I’m so enamored with our world that I want to experience as much as possible. Either way, I find inspiration everywhere, and I believe my Resort to Love series is better for it.

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship!
Book cover coming soon!
Linda Thompson (The Plum Blooms in Winter): Melding Message with Story:

I plot my books “inside out.” And I suspect I’m not alone.

A true story inspired my debut novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter. The aspect of the story that gripped me—its real power—was in the characters’ final epiphanies, their realization of a theme or revelation. But what kind of epiphanies will I portray in my stories?

For my first book, I naively intended the epiphanies to unfold as they happened in real life—while reading the Bible; while hearing a sermon. But that approach isn’t compelling enough for fiction. For a reader to “feel” the character’s epiphany—and have it rock their own world—it must be triggered by “an action and sensory details the reader can share.” (Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft) Burroway supplies an example where an epiphany is sparked by the sight (and smell!) of a trout struggling in a net. Rich sensory details take the POV character back to a memory that triggers his realization and carries the reader in the current of that turning point.

How can you magnify an epiphany?

Engineer your character arc: Start your character with a flaw that places her far away from the point where she’ll end up. 

Engineer your supporting cast: An array of characters with diverse perspectives can help you thoroughly examine the topic of your character’s epiphany, plus create tension and dimension. Consider Tolkien’s casts, and his theme: can everyday people accomplish enormous things?

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship!
 Taylor Bennett (Porch Swing Girl): Connecting with #Bookstagram

It can seem like being an author is all about platform—that word is everywhere, from an agent’s submission guidelines to the ads popping up on your browser, shouting things like “Build a Bigger Platform Now!” 

With all of this pressure to cultivate a group of rabid fans, it’s easy to make platform sound like a regulation, a requirement—something along the lines of “each submission must be double-spaced with 12 pt. Times New Roman font…”


Creating a platform can be an incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling experience for both the author and their group of readers. Take it from me—before I dreamt of being published, I had nothing more than a languishing Facebook account. Skeptical of social media in general, I was hesitant to start promoting myself (and my writing) on platforms such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

But that changed.

I discovered the #bookstagram community, a vibrant group of readers and writers on Instagram. And no matter their diverse passions, they all share a common love: books. Their posts typically highlight a book they’ve read, a book they’re excited to read, or a book that touched their life while growing up.

In other words, this sweet, supportive community is an amazing place to market without actually marketing. By joining in the chatter about some of your favorite books, you can connect with fellow readers who might be interested in checking out your book, too.

It’s a win-win for everyone…and it’s tons of fun, too!

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship!
 Janalyn Voigt (MONTANA GOLD series): Description and Connection

Readers often mention that they felt like they actually visited my story worlds. While I love hearing that, it wasn’t always the case. I blush to recall receiving critiques scrawled with messages of a less heart-lifting nature. “Help! I’m drowning in detail.” “Nice description in the opening scene, but when does the story start?” “You don’t need to grandstand.” 


I had a lot to learn. Grinding through edits has a way of polishing a writer.  Working with editors is an apprenticeship that has taught me to write with more finesse. 

Now, here’s what I don’t do when writing descriptions:

l  Don’t start a story with scenery. Readers might admire the view, but they are more interested in connecting with your characters and engaging with the plot. 
l  Build descriptions around your characters. Rather than going on about the waves at the beach, let your protagonist stand in the surf and watch them roll in. This provides immediacy and avoids stalling the story on descriptions. 
l  Employ the senses but not as a litany. It’s not necessary to use all five, only the ones your viewpoint character would notice.
l  Use detail to sharpen the imagery. Use ‘oaks’ instead of ‘trees.’ Move closer. Show branches etched against the sky and shadows weaving on a mossy bank. 
l  Don’t overwhelm with extraneous details, however. Give enough to paint the scene with light strokes and allow readers to imagine the rest. Let them make the story their own, and they will praise you for it.   

What relationships are important to you as an author and/or as a reader? 

Missy here. Let's chat about relationships! And let us know if you'd like to be entered in the giveaway. Mountain Brook Ink would like to give away a print copy to one winner (U.S. only please) from one of these featured titles: Winner's choice between Finding Love in Sun Valley Idaho, The Sleuth's Miscalculation, Porch Swing Girl, or Hills of Nevermore.


Award winning author, Kimberly Rose Johnson, married her college sweetheart and lives in the Pacific Northwest. From a young child Kimberly has been an avid reader. That love of reading fostered a creative mind and led to her passion for writing. She especially loves romance and writes contemporary romance that warms the heart and feeds the soul. You can learn more about Kimberly at

Angela Ruth Strong was first published by a national magazine while still in high school. She has won both Idaho Top Author and the Cascade Award for her novels, and she is the founder of IDAhope Writers. Besides writing, she teaches group fitness classes, travels with her kids on youth group mission trips, and often gets herself into silly situations like hamster ball races or riding on the shoulders of a unicyclist. You can learn more about Angela at

Linda Thompson stepped away from a marketing career that spanned continents to write what she loves—stories of unstoppable faith. Her debut novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter, launches December 1. She lives in the sun-drenched Arizona desert with her husband, a third-generation airline pilot who doubles as her Chief Military Research Officer, two mostly-grown-up kids, and a small platoon of housecats. You can learn more about Linda at

Taylor Bennett is an assistant editor for Magnum Opus Magazine. She has published several pieces of fiction and nonfiction in Magnum Opus Magazine and her novel, Porch Swing Girl, was a semi-finalist in the Go Teen Writers “We Write Books” contest. Taylor is a member of ACFW and OCW and she is active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. You can learn more about Taylor at

Janalyn Voigt is a multi-genre novelist who has books available in the western historical romance and epic fantasy genres. Her unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates worlds of beauty and danger for readers. Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary and holds memberships in ACFW and Northwest Christian Writers Association. You can learn more about Janalyn at

Write Your Feelings

Melanie Dickerson here.
Ten plus years ago when I was trying to get my first Medieval fairy tale retelling published, I was having no luck at all. It couldn’t have been any worse if I’d been selling ice makers to penguins in the North Pole. And penguins only live in the Southern Hemisphere. You get my point. Nobody wanted it because it was Medieval. Nobody wanted it because it was a YA romance. And nobody wanted it because I was nobody. You know?

Since Medievals and YA romances weren’t selling, I decided I’d better write something closer to what was selling, which was romances set in the 1800s in the U.S. I also got the idea that I was going to follow the advice I’d often heard, which was to “Write What You Know.” And since what I know is the South, having grown up and lived nearly my whole life in the Deep South, mostly Alabama, then I’d set a romance in 1800s Alabama.

Write Your FeelingsBut looking back, I don’t think the advice to “write what you know” means to write books set in the places you are most familiar with. I think it has more to do with the writer’s own experiences and emotions. You can research a setting. After all, I’ve been writing books set in Medieval Europe and I’ve certainly never been there. I’ve been to Germany, but just being there for a few weeks doesn’t make me an expert. I’ve mostly learned about Medieval Germany from the internet, from pictures and books and videos.

But in those books, I’ve written what I know. I’ve drawn on my experiences and given them to my characters. I’ve drawn on the emotions I’ve experienced going through certain situations and trials and I’ve transferred those to my heroes and heroines. And even my villains.

When I started writing Magnolia Summer, I’d just experienced, for the second time in my life, fainting in front of strangers, so I put it in that book. Yes, it is a cliché for a romance heroine to faint. And some people hate that. I got a wee bit of smack from readers over having my heroine from A Dangerous Engagement faint a few times. But fainting is something that’s happened to me. It’s something I know.

I know the emotions of it, how embarrassing it is, firsthand. So I used it in Magnolia Summer. And then, years later, I wrote it into Felicity’s story in A Dangerous Engagement, because hey, a little angst and drama are good for a story, and fainting is angsty and dramatic. And the truth is, there are people who are physically prone to fainting. My daughter also has this, and it’s frustrating. It doesn’t happen because you’re weak or wimpy or pathetic. It’s a physiological hiccup, and let me tell you, if your body decides to faint, there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Write Your Feelings

There are tons of other things that occur in Magnolia Summer that I know firsthand. In fact, the books in which I put my most personal experiences are the books that have a special place in my heart. Now, I’m not saying the exact things that happen in my books actually happened to me. But similar things, or things that produce the same type of emotions, happened to me. They’re what I know. I know what it feels like to be sexually harassed by an older man. That happened to me in my teens, and the same thing happened to Annabel in The Merchant’s Daughter. I used that experience and those feelings. I gave them to Annabel because they worked for the plot, and maybe also because I never intended to share that with anyone and I felt safe dealing with it in my book. (Sorry, Past Melanie. Present Melanie sometimes overshares.)

In Magnolia Summer, a rattlesnake is threatening a little girl. My heroine beats the snake to death with a stick. When I was teen, I came upon a rattlesnake next to our front steps that was only inches away from my puppy, who was completely oblivious to it. I shoved my puppy back, grabbed my long stick that I took with me on walks, and I bludgeoned that snake to death. So that scene in the book is pretty much identical to what happened to me, once my heroine grabs that stick.

Write Your Feelings

Let it never be said of me that I wasted a dramatic experience from real life.

I also know what sweet, chivalrous, Southern men are like, and I tried really hard to duplicate that “Southern gentleman” experience in Magnolia Summer. Some of the Southern gentlemen in the book are only gentlemanly when it suits their purpose, as in the case of the villains in the book, Sheriff Suggs and his son, Curtis. But others, like my hero Truett Beverly, are the real deal—strong and soft-spoken and unfailingly heroic and chivalrous to women and children. I hope I captured what it feels like to have a man treat you that way. Because that’s what fiction is all about, making the reader FEEL. If I can make you feel something, I’ve done my job well.

I know the terror of the thought that I might have to give up my dream—in my case, writing, and in my heroine’s case, owning her own dress shop.

I know the pain of losing my father, which I had recently gone through when I wrote Magnolia Summer, and I gave that pain to my heroine.

I know what it’s like to want something so badly and yet, at the same time, to fear that it will ruin your life, so I gave that desire/terror to my heroine.

I know what it’s like to live in Alabama with no air conditioning. I know how Southerners speak and how it feels to have someone think you’re stupid just because you have a Southern accent. And I know how it feels to be nearly destitute and worry you won’t be able to buy food. I know how it feels to stand up for someone that others are mistreating. And I used all those feelings in this book.

Write what you know. Write your life experiences. Don’t let anything go to waste, hold nothing back. Don’t eat your feelings; write them.

So now it’s your turn. If you’re a writer, tell us in what ways you “write what you know” or “write your feelings” and life experiences. You don’t have to get too personal if you don’t want to, but it’s more interesting if you do. LOL!

And if you’re a reader, how do you think it increases your reading enjoyment if the emotion in a book feels real and authentic? Do you feel like you can detect whether a writer is writing their own feelings authentically, or just phoning it in?

One commenter will win either a paperback copy or an ebook copy of Magnolia Summer, which just released in paperback and will release on Kindle Sept. 5th.

Write Your Feelings

Truett Beverly returned to Bethel Springs, Alabama, after finishing medical school. Fighting a secret war with a corrupt lawman wasn’t in his plans, but when Sheriff Suggs threatens his childhood friend, Truett dons a cape and hood and becomes the Hooded Horseman, placing him squarely in the sheriff’s crosshairs. 

Celia Wilcox arrives in Bethel Springs in June of 1880. She’s come from Nashville to help her sister care for their younger siblings. She hopes only to be on the small farm for the summer, just until her mother recovers from the shock of Celia’s father’s death. She must return to Nashville in order to fulfill her dream of opening her own dress shop. 

Celia catches Truett’s eye from the moment she steps off the train. He finds himself wanting to impress her, but she flatly refuses to flirt with him or to fall for his—if he does say so himself—considerable charm. Truth is, Celia’s attraction to Dr. Truett Beverly terrifies her. What will happen when Sheriff Suggs discovers Truett is the Hooded Horseman? Will Celia's greatest fears come true? Or will she be able to prevent the sheriff from carrying out one last lynching?

Pre-order the ebook, which releases Sept. 5th, or order the paperback, available NOW.

Christmas in July – What Makes a Good Christmas Story?

by Mindy Obenhaus

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s August 1st, but as I’m typing this it’s still July, so humor me. Besides, I’m fresh off the heels of the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas in July, so I thought this would be the perfect time to discuss Christmas stories.

We all love a good romance, but build it around the holiday season and it’s like adding whipped cream to a hot fudge sundae. It’s sweeter and more indulgent.

So what makes a good Christmas story?

Just like any other story, the hero and heroine still need a goal, motivation and conflict. Yet now Christmas can be part of that conflict.

In my book The Deputy’s Holiday Family, the heroine is raising her 5 yo niece whose mother passed away earlier in the year and she wants nothing more than to give the little girl the best Christmas ever. Except our heroine recently lost her job and is forced to return to her hometown to stay with her mother for the holidays. Her Christmas-averse mother who forbids anything Christmas in her house. No tree, no lights, no music, nothing.
Christmas in July – What Makes a Good Christmas Story?
While many of the ingredients that go into a good Christmas story are the same as any other story, they’re elevated. Like the difference between custard and crème brulee (I’m obviously hooked on desserts today and crème brulee is one of my faves). 

Let’s take a look at some of those necessary components.


What is the story about? Good vs. evil, forgiveness, letting go of the past… 

Since I’ve only written one Christmas story, I thought I’d ask someone with more experience about some of her favorite holiday themes.

Ruth Logan Herne, known to most of us as Ruthy, says she likes to use, “Overcoming. Finding truth and faith. Trust. Forgiveness.... and all around the faith of that young couple, and that baby in the manger. Everything you do in that story should stem from those emotions.”
Christmas in July – What Makes a Good Christmas Story?
Even if you’re not writing for the Christian market, you can still incorporate the true meaning of Christmas. Why do we celebrate and what makes it so special?


There’s something about the holidays that we all react to, good or bad. The sights, sounds and smells trigger memories that can make us smile or want to withdraw from the world. 

Ruthy says, “A Christmas story should be rife with emotion. Loss or poverty or longing or guilt or sorrow.... these are the things that come to light in the Christmas season."
Christmas in July – What Makes a Good Christmas Story?
"When we anticipate Christmas it's with either joy or trepidation.... and people of faith have either a deeper reason to welcome the joy of the holidays or a deeper anger that life and/or love hasn't gone their way even if they're people of faith. It's not that a holiday story needs a faith conversion, it's more that a holiday story helps inspire a return to the faithful, loving person we were before either life or loss messed us over. So those emotions are always a part of my Christmas stories, including the sweet historical novella collection I've got coming out this fall... and a beautiful novel for Shepherd's Crossing that comes out in mid-November from Love Inspired.”

Visuals and other heart-tugging stuff

When I asked my friend and fellow Love Inspired author, Jill Kemerer, what makes a good Christmas book, she said, “Think Hallmark Channel. They’re fun with all the feels. Plenty of heartwarming moments and visual happy places.”
Christmas in July – What Makes a Good Christmas Story?
All the feels. I love that. And she’s right. Ever notice how many Hallmark Christmas movies center around towns with extravagant Christmas celebrations.

Ruthy had this to say about the other elements of a good holiday story. “Joy, peace, twinkle lights, carols (they either love 'em or hate 'em!!!) faith either shared or born again, realization of the true Christmas story, the real nativity... sacrifice works beautifully in Christmas stories, think "Gift of the Magi", "Little Women" and Jo sacrificing her hair, the things we do from heart... that have little to do with pocketbook. And I love to show "simple Christmas" when folks are low on money. Money doesn't make Christmas. Love does. So paper angels, glittered snowflakes, a single strand of lights, bush trimmings to decorate the manger scene, cutting up old Christmas cards to make new ones... Sugar cookies. Pumpkin bread or cake. When we make the simple seem sacrificial it absolutely paints the best picture for the reader.”
Christmas in July – What Makes a Good Christmas Story?
How do you feel about Christmas stories? Do you love them or feel like they’re over done? Have you ever written or wanted to write one? What elements do you feel are crucial? What can you do without?

Oh, and since we’re talking Christmas, let’s giveaway some presents. I’m going to give one copy of my book, The Deputy’s Holiday Family, to THREE lucky commenters. Good luck!

Christmas in July – What Makes a Good Christmas Story?
Three-time Carol Award nominee, Mindy Obenhaus, writes contemporary romance for Love Inspired Books. She’s passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren at her Texas ranch. Learn more at

My 6 Must-Do Editing Tips

by Guest Jill Lynn

For me, there is nothing quite as daunting as a looming deadline. That moment I have to hand my book baby over to my publisher even though I’m not ready to give it up. That moment I know it’s the last time I’ll see it before it goes to print.

My 6 Must-Do Editing Tips
Image credit: Crestock 4790187-by donskarpo

My first book was the hardest to release. I prayed over it, hoping with everything in me that it was right and good and entertaining and un-put-down-able. That it would survive out in a world where people toss around one star reviews like confetti, often forgetting there’s a person behind the title and cover.

Since then I’ve learned that many of my fears were unfounded. I often get emails and messages from people who tell me how much they enjoyed a book. There are a lot of precious and supportive reader friends out there. And yes, I’ve had one star reviews, but I’ve also come to the conclusion that I can’t please everyone—a good life lesson.

The One I serve is the One who matters. And so once I’ve written a book and sent it out into the world, I try not to read reviews. I know at that point I have given my all to a book, and it’s time to let it go.

My 6 Must-Do Editing Tips

But before I send in a book, there are a few things I do (besides hope and pray :)) to ensure that I’m releasing my best possible work.

Here are my favorite editing tips:

1.    Print the manuscript out.
This might cost you some paper, but it’s worth it. There’s something about seeing the words in print that allows the eye to catch phrases or words that are repetitive or not working well together. It can also be easier to flip back through the pages and check on a question or phrase than it is to scoot back through an electronic copy. I can leave myself notes and questions in the margins or highlight what might be a concern so I can come back to it later.

2.    Take a break from the book.
If you can find any time before the book is due to set it aside—even for a week or two—and then come back to it before your final editing, take advantage of this. By the end, before I hand a book in, I’m over it.I’m so done with the book I don’t ever want to see it again. But by the time it releases, I’m happy to see those characters living in print. Edits are the same way—we get bogged down in minor details, and we’ve read the same thing over and over so many times it’s like white noise. If you can step away from the book and come back to it later, you’ll see things with renewed eyes.

3.    Listen to the book.
This is the most important one in my opinion! If you’re only going to do one of these things, make sure listening to the book is it. The mind often corrects words when reading, but that doesn’t happen when you listen to the book. I have caught SO MANY things in my books this way. I can’t stress this enough. I do it through Microsoft Word. (Here’s the site I followed for adding the button to my Word docs: Click here.)

I usually just highlight one page at a time and listen. It’s a monotone voice, which I don’t mind because it eliminates the emotion and helps me to simply hear the words. Listening helps me catch words that are spelled wrong or missing a letter. Sometimes I’ll even hear that I’ve used a similar word to the one I was thinking of, but it is in fact the wrong word. You might want to quit halfway through listening to the book because it’s a time commitment. (I read so much faster than the computer reads to me.) But I have never regretted taking the time to listen to my book. I’m always amazed by what I catch.

4.    Search for double spaces after a period.
This one is easy-peasy and quick. Just open the find box in Microsoft Word and type in a period with two spaces after it. It will pull up any spots that you accidentally have two spaces after a period and you can correct them.

5.    Keep a list of your overused words so you can search and destroy.

This part can be draining because it’s tedious, but it is so worth it. Your overused words might be different for every book, but if you give yourself some space and then read through it, (or listen to it) you will find them. (You can search to see how many times you’ve used a word in the “find” box in Microsoft Word.) I’m not talking about “and” or “you” here. I’m talking about words that are unique to your writing that are being overused. Or motions that you have a habit of using. Like raised eyebrows or sighs. I keep a list of my most overused on my computer and they usually pop up in each book when I look for them.

6.    Know when to quit editing.
I confess—I never feel truly ready to hand in a book. I wish I did. But I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and a book will never be perfect. Sigh. So it’s hard for me to hand a book over to my editor. I look for two signs to help me know when I need to stop editing or messing with a book. When I’ve worked it over so many times that I’m beginning to change things (again) that I’ve just recently changed. And when I’m making things worse instead of better. That’s when I say a prayer, hit send and release my book baby.

I’d love to hear your editing tips—do you have any favorite things you do before sending off a book or manuscript?

My 6 Must-Do Editing Tips

Jill Lynn writes small-town happily ever afters filled with humor, grace and faith. She lives near the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her husband and two children and can be found online at or on Facebook and Instagram @JillLynnAuthor. Her latest release, The Rancher’s Surprise Daughteris available now.

The Rancher's Surprise Daughter
Luc Wilder’s surprised when his ex-girlfriend Cate Malory arrives at his Colorado guest ranch. And he’s downright stunned when she introduces him to his three-year-old daughter, Ruby. Bonding with the bubbly little girl is easy—Ruby loves ranch life, just like her daddy. But after all the secrets, can Luc and Cate find a way to trust in each other again?

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

by Pam Hillman

Have you heard the joke… What are the three most important considerations in real estate?

Location, Location, Location

Except it’s no joke.

For anyone buying, selling, or homesteading land, it’s a very serious consideration. But one person’s great location might be another’s worst nightmare.

And a few months ago, at a family get-together I was able to record my mother’s cousins talking about their parents traveling from Arkansas to Mississippi and back again in the 1930-1940s in search of job opportunities, land, and places to settle down.

My niece is documenting our family history, and she’s already found ancestors from England, Scotland, and Ireland who migrated to America for one reason or another. 

Location, Location, Location

Just this week a friend of mine asked about the cost of building a house in our area. My son and daughter-in-law are looking around for a location to build a house in the rural area where we live. A retired couple I know recently sold their house and rented a much smaller home on a lake. Another recently widowed friend is looking to downsize.

Location, Location, Location

Each are looking for something different. A growing community with job opportunities, good schools, nice restaurants for a young family. Boating and fishing played a huge part in my friends who chose the lake house. Manageable living expenses drove my widowed friend’s decision.

So, it got me to thinking about my own dreams. My husband is a cattle rancher. We’re attached to the land. We run cattle, and I expect we’ll still be chasing cows wielding our walking sticks instead of cattle prods when we’re in our dotage. Hmmm, I wonder if I can get a 4x4 scooter for My Cowboy? Sorry, cow … uh … rabbit trail.

Location, Location, Location

As I thought about location down through the ages, what’s changed? Location is still important, but not always for the same reasons.

And what about my characters’ dreams and reasons for relocating?

They say write what you know, and so many of my books have to do with owning property, fighting over property, cattle, traveling toward property, abandoning property, saving the farm, etc. Buying land, saving land, or finding land just seems to be in my blood.

Location, Location, Location

In This Land is Our Land (The Homestead Brides Collection), my characters were desperate to get to land homesteaded by their father before he passed away. My characters in Shanghaied by the Bride (Oregon Trail Romance Collection) traipsed across America on the Oregon Trail in search of land and a new life. Slade and Mariah fought tooth and nail over the Lazy M in Claiming Mariah. Stealing Jake wasn’t about the land specifically, but part of the hero’s struggle was holding on to his father’s land and coal mine. Meeting in the Middle (With this Kiss Collection)…yep, cotton farming in Mississippi.

I’m all about that land.

I wrote a cool story set on a deserted island in the Caribbean. Castaway with the Cowboy. Even though it’s not available to readers right now, I love that story and plan to make it available again soon. Again, location. The location made the story. Without the location, it wouldn’t be that story. It would be something else.
Location, Location, Location

Historically, people moved for much the same reasons as they do now, but religious persecution was much higher on the list way back when than it seems to be today, at least for those moving within the borders of the USA. Religious persecution and a chance at a better life, which overwhelmingly translated to dreams of owning land, were two of the top reasons people have been on the move for centuries. 

None of my immediate family, friends, or acquaintances are relocating for something as life-threatening as religious persecution, but more for practical reasons that have to do with lifestyle choices and careful management. 

In The Evergreen Bride (12 Brides of Christmas), a secondary character’s father moves his family every few months. He’s a sharecropper, and he’s got the wanderlust bug bad. It wasn’t uncommon in the late 1800s, early 1900s for people to just pick up and go. I’ve heard stories of people (who may or may not have been kin to me, ahem) who’d just pick up and move their whole family in the middle of the night back in the 1930-40s. Weeks later, the family would find they’d settled in some old shack and were sharecropping somewhere else.

Location, Location, Location

The Natchez Trace Novel series deals with… you guessed it. Land. A brand new land for a displaced band of Irish brothers. Each of the brothers land in the Natchez District where they come alongside the women they love to save a plantation, a way of life. And they end up putting down permanent roots in the loamy soil along the banks of the Mississippi River.

So let’s discuss your thoughts regarding moving on….

Location, Location, LocationWhat is your (or your characters) ideal dream spot? A cabin in the woods? An artist’s flat above a bakery? A large sprawling estate? How would that dream translate to life in the 1800s? A townhouse in London? A clapboard home in a Shaker village, or a tepee on the plains with the Lakota or the Sioux? Or even a dugout in Kansas? Which of the photos above catch your fancy?

I’m content where I am. I expect to live and die on this hill. lol

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location
Pam again... still celebrating the release of The Road to Magnolia Glen. :)
I'm a sponsor at the Christian Fiction Summer Reading Safari.
Read! Review! Win books! (It really is that easy!)
The Safari Comes to an end July 31st! Have you logged everything in?

Click here!

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

by Jan Drexler

In my June post, I talked about giving your readers a complete story experience by immersing them in your fictional world. We discussed how to make that world come alive for you, the writer. You can read that post here.

Today we’re going to take your story world a step further: how to convey what you see in your mind onto the page and into your reader’s imagination.

Because, really, isn’t that the where the magic of story-telling happens?

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

We use the setting of each scene to convey emotion and increase our reader’s perception of our themes. Every word reveals details about the scene that provides an undercurrent to strengthen the action and dialogue. Many writers talk about using your setting as another character in the scene, but I think it goes further than that.

Yes, your characters interact with the setting, but the setting also creates a framework that helps to communicate your theme and subtexts more effectively than any other aspect of your story.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination
To help illustrate what I’m talking about, I’m going to use some scenes from one of my early books, A Home for His Family, published by Love Inspired in September 2015.

The opening scene of the book takes place in a gulch outside of Deadwood, Dakota Territory, in 1877. Yup, that’s right. Just like in a Hopalong Cassidy story. It’s May, there’s a snowstorm coming, and it’s one of only three roads into town. The spring influx of miners is arriving, and the place is a chaotic mess.

The heroine, Sarah, and her Aunt Margaret have been traveling to Deadwood in a stagecoach and are anxious to get to the end of their journey. But there is a delay ahead of them on the trail and the stagecoach is stuck until traffic starts moving again.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination
Deadwood, South Dakota

Here is Sarah’s first glimpse of the setting:

Sarah climbed out of the stagecoach, aching for a deep breath. With a cough, she changed her mind. The air reeked of dung and smoke in this narrow valley. She held her handkerchief to her nose and coughed again. Thick with fog, the canyon rang with the crack of whips from the bull train strung out on the half-frozen trail ahead. She pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders and shook one boot, but the mud clung like gumbo.

In describing this scene, I wanted to show the unexpected hardships Sarah was facing in her new adventure, but also her determination to follow through with her plans. So I let her leave the stagecoach to get some fresh air, but then she comes nose-to-nose with reality. The weather creates an oppressive layer of fog that obscures her vision and concentrates the odors of hundreds of animals and men confined in a narrow space.

There’s a subtext going on in this description, too. Sarah has come to Deadwood to bring the light of education to the children in the town and to the prostitutes who make up a significant number of the female population in 1877. A recurring theme in the story is that the prostitutes are trapped and confined in their lives with little hope for escape. The narrow gulch in this first scene is the reader’s – and Sarah’s – first hint of that unsavory reality.

This isn’t the only place I use the setting to convey that subtext. I scatter it throughout the story:

This cabin and a few others were perched on the rimrock above the mining camp, as if at the edge of a cesspool. Up here the sun was just lifting over the tops of the eastern mountains, while the mining camp below was still shrouded in pre-dawn darkness. 

* * * * *

The businesses crowded together between the hills rising behind them and the narrow mud hole that passed for a street. Nate slowed his pace as the storefronts turned from the saloons to a printing office. Next came a general store and a clothing store, with a tobacconist wedged in between. Across the street was Star and Bullock, a large hardware store that filled almost an entire block.

And in the middle of it all, just where the street took a steep slope up to a higher level on the hill, men worked a mining claim. Nate shook his head. In all his travels through the West, he had never seen anything quite like Deadwood.

But even amid the chaos of the mining town, Sarah’s spirit is focused on her goals. I use descriptions like this one to show Sarah’s hopeful courage:

Sarah took the bucket to the door and tossed the dirty water into the gutter. As she did every day, she looked past the crowded streets and crooked roofs of the neighboring buildings to the towering hills beyond. She let the bucket dangle and leaned against the door frame as she gazed at the white rocks at the top of Boot Hill. What would it be like to climb that mountain someday? 

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination
Deadwood from White Rocks

Another aspect of any story is contrast. In this story it is between chaos and order; sin and forgiveness; the wandering life and home.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

How can you convey the contrasts in your story? Choose your words carefully.

Yesterday's rain had made a miry mess of the streets. Horses walked in mud nearly up to their knees, while the drivers of the wagons shouted curses to keep their teams from stopping before they got to firmer ground.

Sarah crossed Lee Street on the wooden crosswalk and paused on the corner, looking up and down Main. Aunt Margaret had been right. The saloon girls crowded the board walks in front of the stores, their bright silk dresses and fancy plumed hats lining the street like a show of exotic tropical flowers. Not one “respectable” woman was in sight.

Finally, she caught sight of Maude’s red dress and purple shawl in a cluster of girls outside a peanut vendor next to The Big Horn Grocery on Upper Main. She hurried across the street on the wooden walk, soaking her kid shoes in the slime as the boards sank into the mud beneath the weight of the crowd doing the same. Thankfully, she climbed the stairs between Lower and Upper Main, out of the mud for a change.

Compare that to Nate observing Sarah’s first view of the land where he intends to establish his home:

He drove the team along a natural shelf on the side of the slope and then turned up. As they crested the rise, the sight that greeted him still took his breath away.

Green meadows stretched away in a wide swath at least a half mile across and twice that long, curving around the wooded slopes that crowded close to the open space. An eagle drifted above them against the clear blue sky.

Sarah whispered, “It’s perfect.”

Nate chirruped to the horses, driving them slowly through the knee-deep grass, heading for the grove of trees at the far edge. In his mind the mountain valley was dotted with horses—brown, black, white, gray—all grazing on the rich green grass that grew in a thick carpet everywhere he looked. Across the meadow, a meandering line of cottonwood trees followed a fold in the grass. That stream cutting through the land was the crowning touch.

He glanced at Sarah, still standing in the wagon bed, holding on to the seat between him and James. Her face was bright in the clear sunshine, the wind pulling loose hair from her bun. Her gaze went up to the tops of the hills surrounding them.

When she looked at him she smiled, and his heart swelled. Everywhere he looked he saw his future, waiting for him to reach out and grasp it. It was as if the past twelve years had never happened and he was just starting out, full of promise. 

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

What is the biggest difference between these two scenes? It isn’t only the contrast between the crowded streets of Deadwood and the open spaciousness of Nate’s land.

In the description of the town, I used a lot of words with hard consonants: curses, crosswalk, corner, crowded, walk, silk, exotic, respectable, kid…along with some “dirty” words for good measure: mud, mess, soaking, slime, sank.

But in the description of Nate’s land? The opposite. I used soft consonants and “clean” words: green meadows, meandering, wide swath, curving around, wooded slopes, drifted, clear blue sky, swelled, full of promise.

Words are important – not only their meanings, but their sounds. The soft consonants convey the underlying theme present in all my books: home.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

Do my readers notice these details? Not consciously. But they play a role in the total reading experience.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

Now I’d love to hear your ideas. How do you use your settings to add depth to your stories? Or for readers, how do carefully written settings add to your reading experience?

"A Home for His Family" is now out of print, but the e-book is still available! One commenter will win a Kindle copy of their very own!

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination
The Rancher's Ready-Made Family 

Nate Colby came to the Dakota Territory to start over, not to look for a wife. He'll raise his orphaned nieces and nephew on his own, even if pretty schoolteacher Sarah MacFarland's help is a blessing. But Nate resists getting too close—Sarah deserves better than a man who only brings trouble to those around him. 

Sarah can't deny she cares for the children, but she can't let herself fall for Nate. Her childhood as an orphan taught her that opening her heart to love only ends in hurt. Yet helping this ready-made family set up their ranch only makes her long to be a part of it—whatever the risk.

Order your copy here!

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's ImaginationJan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of (almost) thirty-six years and expanding family. While she writes Historical Romance with Amish characters, the romance of cowboys surrounds her, tugging more story ideas from her imagination than she can hope to write in one lifetime.

Falling For YouIs This Idea Book Worthy?Plotting is a Strange AnimalWhen the Words Get StuckRelationship, Relationship, Relationship!Write Your FeelingsChristmas in July – What Makes a Good Christmas Story?My 6 Must-Do Editing TipsLocation, Location, LocationUsing Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

Report "Seekerville: The Journey Continues"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?