Friday, January 12, 2018

5 Ways Settings Affect Character Arcs -- by Rachel

Yes, I know we've been offline for a long time. More than a year. But Pinterest has given me a longing to put some of our earlier posts into visual charts that are easy to digest and put to use in your writing. So we may be showing up from time to time with something like the graphic below. 

If you'd like more detail about the ways setting affects character arcs, take a look at our earlier post here: Settings that Change Characters & Characters Who Change Settings

Friday, December 2, 2016

Here's to the Gift of Writing -- by Rachel

There are days you totally get the prophet Jeremiah. He decides he’s not going to speak anymore, but the words burn like a fire shut up in his bones.
How often have you wished you were normal with no need to write? On those days where you’re trying to fit it all in: a full day of work, a kid’s basketball game, dinner and laundry, and somehow you’re supposed to find writing time too? There’s the agony of staring at a blank page and watching your book drop in Amazon rankings.
You’ve even decided to quit. Often. Finally, a friend tells you to get over it. “You’re a writer,” they say. “You know you’re not really going to quit writing. You always come back to it.” Of course you do, because you find the story is a hot coal in your hand until you begin writing it down.
So, if you can’t walk away from writing, isn’t it time to look at it from another perspective? “I suggest you learn to write not with blood and fear,” Jane Yolen says, “but with joy. It’s a personal choice.”
And there is joy, lots of it.
There is what drew you to writing in the first place: the thrill of a coherent story coming together scene by scene, characters who walk off the page, that zone, where reality falls away and you’re virtually swimming in your story world, and words become so sharp and real you’d swear you could taste them.
You were the one gifted with heightened senses and the words to go with them. So while your walking partner says, “Oh, isn’t this a pretty trail?” you see the arching trees washing the sunlight green with a cathedral’s light. You have words to describe the autumn breeze, clean and as crisp as chilled cider, and you can describe the sense that this place, this moment calls out to you like a forgotten dream.
You have the privilege of exploring and fleshing out new ideas until you get them exactly right (ideas, by the way, you almost certainly would never have come to unless you’d spent day in and day out with your fingers on the keyboard). 

And when you’re done, and the book is published, you receive emails saying things like, “I read your book and was so moved by it, I turned back to page one and read it again.” Wow, you think, did I actually create something that could do that?
You did, because you have the privilege of being a writer. Yes, the writing life presents some difficult challenges, but nature and hard work have developed a skill in you that is both beautiful and multilayered. A skill that makes you feel alive when you use it and when you share it with others. If you need to put publication aside for a time and write at your own leisure, by all means do. But don't sacrifice your craft.

Instead, when you’re having a thorny writing day or month, remind yourself how much better your life is because of writing. In fact, jot down a list of all the ways writing brings you joy or makes life better, and when you want to quit, take another look at it. Because writing is a gift. And to remember that is the way forward.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Spiritual Undercurrents, Unspoken Truths – by Christine

Some of my favorite artists, such as Vincent Van Gogh (Post Impressionist), captured their images without detail but with bold colors. I liken this to the subtle ways authors need to convey the spiritual undertones of a novel without overtly stating those truths.

The following are some of my favorite tools (with examples below).
  • Symbols
  • Metaphors
  • Subtext
  • Simile
  • Setting
SYMBOL: A thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract.
The sari used in the front cover of
Shadowed in Silk

In Shadowed in Silk, a silk sari covering a woman's face is the symbol. Firstly, the sari represents the way the Indian people despair in British rule; they feel invisible like second-class citizens (even in their own country).
In addition, my main character Abby must hide herself in the guise of an Indian women and dons a sari, covering her face with its veil. The covering of Abby’s face represents the subliminal direction that Abby feels invisible to those who should love her, including God. Towards the end of the book, when Abby unveils her face she shows without words that she now understands the biblical foundation of the entire book.
Abby’s story is reminiscent of Hagar in the Old Testament when Hagar cried out in the desert, “You are the God who sees me…I have now seen the One who sees me.”

METAPHOR: A figure of speech that refers, for rhetorical effect, to one thing by mentioning another thing. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities. Where a simile compares two items, a metaphor directly equates them, and does not use “like” or “as” as does a simile. One of the most commonly cited examples of a metaphor is the “All the world’s a stage.” From Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Captured by MoonlightIn my favorite scene, Eshana uses the following metaphor; I will sing your praises, Lord. Though You have dressed me in funeral clothes, I will sing your praises with joy.  
In this book, Eshana shows that dying to our own agenda is necessary to obey God and accomplish His bidding. I used this metaphor in one of my favorite scenes when Eshana is imprisoned by her fanatical Hindu uncle for living joyfully as a Christian instead of wearing the coarse white funereal sari of a Hindu widow.

In Hindu custom (not their Veda scriptures) there is a tradition where widows are to be treated as something dead, ugly, something to be ostracized. Eshana’s uncle has her pretty, joyful clothes torn from her body when he imprisons her behind bars in an unused part of his palace.   
Eshana prays above—without me preaching it—that most of the time the Lord will have us go through a little funeral of our own, dying to our dreams so that He can lead us into something greater of His choice for our lives.

SUBTEXT: The meaning beneath the dialogue; what the speaker really means, though not saying it directly. This kind of miscommunication can reveal deeper truths.

The spiritual theme of Sofi’sBridge is that we must shine through the work He puts in our hands. And it’s not always easy. Obstacles hit us at every side. Here is one of my favorite uses of subtexts.

In this scene Sofi has just had a confrontation with Charles, her deceased father’s business partner, who has been fraudulently stealing from the family business and worse. Sofi’s fragile, younger sister Trina encourages Sofi to keep on fighting for the work God created her for by saying the following:

Trina stood and slipped her arm through Sofi’s, watching Charles’s car drive out of sight. Her chin lifted, but her voice matched Sofi’s weariness. “Don’t let him scare you, Sofi. The enemy’s all talk. Just talk.”

Did you catch the subtext?

They are both staring out at Charles driving off. He is their enemy, but he is not their only enemy or their greatest. It’s subtle, but I hope the reader sees that in this scene the real and greatest enemy for everyone is Satan, who tries to convince us we are incapable of doing the work God gave us to do, as in I Peter when Satan is described as a roaring lion.

SIMILE : figure of speech that makes a direct comparison, showing similarities between two different things. Unlike a metaphor, a simile draws resemblance with the help of the words “like” or “as”.
In Veiled at Midnight I used this simile to show how Cam recognizes his spiritual condition. There is also a little bit of subtext in this simile.
"The truth hit him like an artillery barrage. His beloved ayah saw clear through to his soul. He was just like his wretch of a father."
And the subtext in the above quote: Cam is not just like his immediate father, but that his condition is that of all mankind.
SETTING: The description of the setting around a spiritual conversation can present an image full of suggestion.

Veiled atMidnight – Romans 8:38-39 is the foundation of this book. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing that happens in this world, even as our country is torn in two, even if we have an addiction that imprisons us—nothing can separate us from the love of God.

The following setting conveys this truth.

Deep in the glass the swirling amber turned to flames, and Cam felt himself falling…falling into the fire of his cremation, as if he saw his future. This was the way he would die in India, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Cam lifted the glass up to rest its rim against his lips, and let the sensation of falling take him to his grave if need be. A bird sang. A moth fluttered against the lampshade, and Cam cursed the distraction. Outside the open window in the darkened garden, a bird trilled again.

The setting helps us to see that no matter how much Cam feels he is losing his battle with alcoholism and his feat that it separates him from God, that God comes to him as gently as a moth fluttering against the window. God is calling him as sweetly as a bird outside. The fact that God is speaking to him is not overtly spoken but conveyed through the setting.

In each book that I have written so far, the spiritual themes create the foundation of the story. All else comes afterward as I plot, develop characters, etcetera. In every single scene I try to show the spiritual themes , the undercurrents, every chance I get in even my choice of colors in the sunset, or the touch of a hand.

My advice is to try to convey something delicate, something small in every chapter to keep this undercurrent streaming.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Six Keys to Writing Spritual Content -- by Christine

1. The Hook: Even a spiritual story needs a good hook to get things started. Your spiritual story needs an intriguing question and a clear goal before you even start to plot.

One of Rachel’s favorite is The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. The author introduces the reader Father Emilio, a man who narrowly misses sainthood. Lying in a hospital bed, this Christian man is sullen, uncommunicative and a suspect in a horrendous crime.

Starting off this fictional novel, the reader wonders how could this be happening to such a devout Christian? This is the hook for readers who are looking for a good spiritual read. We must know how this man came to this place, and will his faith eventually save him.

2. Set the Foundation for Spiritual Resolution:  It’s true, real life is stranger than fiction. Though miracles and sudden moments of salvation happen in real life, in fiction they feel somewhat contrived. These “miraculous moments” may actually hurt the people we hope to encourage. God doesn’t answer every prayer the way we want it. Many of us find our healing only after many, many years. Sometimes not until we step into heaven.

While developing your novel, build solid, believable steps toward a spiritual conclusion that will satisfy those of weaker faith. Build that strong structure in your novel in every chapter. Your story must earn its ending. When the ending comes, then the reader will feel as if it couldn’t possible have worked out any other way.
I found this to be true in my own life, which is shown in my non-fiction memoir Finding Sarah Finding Me. I wrote with brutal honesty about my failure as a Christian after the reunion with my birth-daughter. By the end of the book, readers will see that I had to walk that dark road of despair so that God could actually work in my life and bring me the healing I needed.

3. Deeper themes: We read so much of the same themes over and over in Christian literature, the characters accepting the gospel or asking, “Where is God when it hurts?” Good themes. But there are so many more spiritual themes to dig for.
Remember that your novel will most likely be read by Christians. So, you’ll be preaching largely to the choir. Dig for those themes that speak to the struggles and goals the average Christian is working through Here’s a few questions by Rachel:
  • What does it mean to live in the light of eternity?
  • How does prayer shape us?
  • How do you love your enemy?
  • What does a character look like who has lived out the gospel daily?
And so on. When that rare moment occurs and a Non-Christian reads your book, those themes might just speak more deeply to them. That true-life struggle of what a Christian deals with may help the gospel message to make sense to them.

One of my favorite spiritual themes was in my novel Capturedby Moonlight, where one of the main characters struggled with the fact that God seemed to be removing her from the position she thought was the very work He had called her to. It was a theme that I had worked through, when I had to ask myself if my calling to be a Christian Writer was really God’s will? Or was it simply my agenda?

4. Fairness and Truth: As a Christian, I’m committed to loving others as God loves them. This includes people from other religions. A theologian once said that we need to compare the best of Christianity with the best of other religions.

As an author I have taken great delight in this, especially in my trilogy Twilight of the British Raj. Let’s be fair. If we writers are going to look at the worst of--for eg--Islam, Buddhism, or atheism, we must also look at the worst of Christianity. We also need to look at the good in these other religions. In our novels, I think the worst thing we can do is take a soapbox attitude, shaking our fist in the air and shouting “Our Way is the Only Way, and Everybody Else is Wrong.”
The very people who hope to reach with the truth about Jesus Christ will never hear that message because our “rhetoric” drowns it out. 

Let’s face it: Many atheists have arrived at their worldview based on careful thought, however misguided we may believe them to be. Most Muslims make wonderful citizens and neighbors. And so on. We Christians must admit that many gossips and control freaks fill our churches. Not all, thank the Lord, but we do have them.
I did this in my trilogy. I loved showing the good and the bad in all faiths. I did this because I want my readers, Christian and Non-Christian to simply look at the truth and beauty of Jesus Christ, as the Savior they need.

5. Show the Sacrifice: Both Rachel and I love the example of A Tale of Two Cities. Or think of the heartfelt sacrifices in the story of the Titanic. Sacrifice is the core of Christian life, so it must be in our Christian fiction. An act of utter courage such as Hadassah going willingly to the Roman arena in Voice in the Wind, or something more ordinary like Will laying down his pride to admit the ways he wronged his Amish relatives in Levi’s Will is the kind of sacrifice our stories need.

My favorite sacrifice in my novels is in Shadowed in Silk, where Indian Christian Miriam lays down her life to save others during the historical massacre of Indian people by a British officer. Or Geoff admitting he was a somewhat pious Christian with a slightly judgmental attitude toward Abby.

6. Beauty: We writers can take for granted that the resolution is all our readers want. I love a good plot, but don’t forget to show beauty. Why does the reader want resolution in a novel? Because they have a deep-seated need to feel the beauty of God’s truth. An inner desire to see Him.
Author Davis Bunn shows how a prayer that has been prayed for over two thousand years comes alive when his modern character prays it in Book of Dreams, as if the leaves overhead were chanting the prayer with the character. Stephen Lawhead describes an old saint lit from the inside out with God’s love in Merlin. Little moments like these show the beauty of God’s ways. These moments clarify the spiritual goal throughout your book.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Dos and Don'ts of Writing Internal Dialogue -- by Rachel

Internal dialogue is cousin to the soliloquy, or in other words it is the point of view character speaking to himself or herself. Getting into the head of a character gives the reader a richer view of the character and of his story world, and gives the reader a chance to live vicariously through the character. With that said, internal dialogue should be used with caution.

A little bit of internal dialogue goes a long way.
As the writer, you may need to write a lot of internal dialogue to work out who your character is and what they’re experiencing, but the reader doesn’t need to read long rambling paragraphs of your character’s thoughts. They’ll find it wordy and get bored. So take out your red pencil and start deleting anything that isn’t critical to moving the story forward.

The strongest portrayal of character and story are through action and speech.
Readers want to see characters doing things and getting into conversations with other characters. Real soliloquies must be absolutely fascinating to hold your reader’s attention. In general, trust you reader to pick up on most of what is going on from what happens outside of the character’s head.

Use internal dialogue to build tension, not to kill it.
Too much internal dialogue gives away what the character is about to do, which steals the thunder from their actions. If a character is about to do something surprising or a pivotal moment is coming up, lose the preamble and let the character’s action take the reader’s breath away.

Now that we’ve discussed the ways internal dialogue can go wrong, let’s talk about what makes internal dialogue work.

Internal dialogue is the place to make a character’s voice shine.
A character’s voice can make the story and have the reader come back for a second read. Whether the voice is punchy, lyrical or mysterious, writing internal dialogue with a strong voice can seduce a reader into a story and keep them enchanted all the way through.

 Internal dialogue is a gold mine of reactions.
What are the non POV characters doing? How does this make your POV character feel? Rather than giving long expositions, intersperse bursts of how your character is responding to what is directly in front of her. See the following scene from Still Missing:

I wanted to get up and walk out the door, but the firmness in his voice had me nailed to my chair.
“So why couldn’t you leave?” “I was looking for something.” Bile rose in my throat.
My body grew even colder, and Gary’s edges blurred in front of my eyes.

Notice how Annie punctuates the dialogue with her reactions to the conversation and to Gary. This adds emotion, but the core of the scene is what is being said.

Internal dialogue lets the reader in on the sensory world of the story.
This is more than narration. It is the poetry of the story that brings the reader out of their world into the book. Even if you’re writing a fast paced suspense with little room for poetry, the character’s voice can bring alive their jangling nerves and the gritty murder scene by the firsthand sensory experience of the character.

Internal dialogue brings out the themes of the story.
As the character reflects on their story and the world around them, the reader delves deeper into the themes and nuances that make the story what it is. While best used sparingly, it’s likely that these reflections are what the reader will remember most about your novel.

See the internal dialogue from Hannah Coulter:

It is hard to say what it means to be at work and thinking of a person who you loved and love still who did that same work before you and who taught you to do it. It is a comfort ever and always, like hearing the rhyme come when you are singing a song.

Hannah's internal dialogue brings the experience alive of growing up in a community where each generation expected to follow in the past generation's footsteps. Notice it also carries a strong voice and includes sensory information. It is this voice and the themes it carried that I remember a few years after having read the book.

Ultimately, the test for internal dialogue is this: Does it add something essential to the story that can't be found in dialogue or action? Then your story needs it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Writing Between the Lines: Sub-Text -- by Rachel

This is one of my favorite writing subjects. Sub-texting is about all the ways we speak without directly saying what we mean. It is what gives dialogue its zing. Because, let’s face it, dialogue that is straightforward and says exactly what it means is not only unnatural, it’s boring.

Sub-texting is the way a man and a woman court each other by looks, by hints, by posture, but never speaking their attraction out loud. It’s the way an argument takes place seething under the surface, implied, but never actually confronted head on. It’s the way someone lets you in on the fact they’ve got a secret without actually saying so. In short, it’s what makes both real life and fiction tantalizing.

Ways to Include Sub-Text in Fiction

Have a character speak without words.
About two-thirds of communication is non-verbal, so you can rarely communicate what is being said using only dialogue. However, just throwing in a shrug or a wince isn’t enough to make for interesting sub-text. What is the character unable to say? How do they use their physical selves to hint at it? Or, even better, perhaps they have something they’re desperately holding back. How can you use their own bodies and faces to betray them? Its’ important to remember that dialogue is a form of conflict, and sometimes this may even be internal conflict within a single character.

To make for compelling sub-text, find interesting ways of describing non-verbal communication. For example, in The Blue Sword, McKinley doesn't write that Corlath is angry and refuses to answer. Instead, she has Harry think about “a silence so rigid that speaking into it was like chopping holes in a frozen lake.”

Have a character intentionally misdirect the conversation or say something different than they mean.
Did I mention that dialogue is conflict? One way a character pulls off conflict is to avoid giving another character the answer they’re looking for, whether because of an inner or outer struggle. The reader will be left with the sense that the character has information they can’t share. For example, in Paradise Valley, Domingo in response to Miriam’s kiss looks at the horse “with something akin to love” and tells Miriam to thank her father for the gift of a saddle. Miriam is hurt. But the reader knows the look of love is for Miriam and that he can’t respond to her because it would offend her father.

Have a character answer a question that hasn’t been asked.
Good dialogue in real life involves a fair amount of mind reading. In other words, someone asks a question, but the respondent has to work out what kind of information the questioner is really seeking. This can make for snappy dialogue in fiction. A character may ask a question, but under the surface is the real question they’re too afraid to ask, don’t know how to ask or don’t even realize they want to ask. When the listener picks up the question that’s hanging in the air instead of answering the spoken question, it creates an element of surprise as the conversation zigzags around the reader’s expectations.

Have a character pick up on an answer that hasn’t been given.
The questioner can hint at the answer the respondent is unable to supply herself. In Still Missing, when the police question Annie as to why she stayed on at her abductor’s cabin for two days after she was free to go, Annie won’t give a straight answer. Finally the police inspector says, “We found a basket and some baby clothes, Annie.” In this way, he tells her that he already suspects the answer. Annie stayed on because she was looking for her missing baby. This keeps readers on the edge of their seats. They know about the baby, but waiting for the police to draw out the confession from Annie, first in hints and then in bits and pieces creates tension. 

Ultimately, you want to achieve two things with subtext. You want there to be an element of mystery, which you achieve by letting the reader know that some things are hidden just under the surface. And you want to create the kind of complexity that mimics real life. Giving the reader something to read between the lines is a way of doing this.  

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