Friday, December 30, 2005
While I was researching elevators, I ran across this account from a guy who was trapped in an elevator. If this is one of your fears (Joyce, I'm talking to you), maybe this guy's hilarious account will help you rethink your dread--if dread is a thing that can be reasoned through. In any case, the guy is a good writer and his story is entertaining.
Yesterday I updated my Excel chart for THE ELEVATOR, the WIP. The Excel chart functions as a timeline for my editor when the work is finished, but it also helps me see the entire novel at a glance as I'm writing it. I color code the rows according to POV, and the columns (chapter, POV, date/time, place, action, weather, etc) help me keep track of details at a glance.
In any case, now that I am nearing the end, I have reached the ENDING, which I usually don't really know until I get there. I mean, I have an idea of the final scene and I know who survives and who doesn't, but how to get there is the big question.
So--today I am pressing on toward the end, aided by my handy dandy Excel chart.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
I've been thinking a lot about elevators--about how far you could fall and survive a tumble down an elevator shaft (pretty far, apparently--google "elevator shaft" and "survive" and you'll find some pretty amazing stories) and especially how you would, um, relieve yourself if you had to be trapped in an elevator for hours--
Anyway, I thought this might be an interesting question to pose. If you had the foresight to prepare for being trapped in an elevator, what three things would you take into the elevator with you? (The problem, of course, is that no one ever knows when they're going to be stuck, so I doubt anyone is ever adequately prepared.)
Still . . . inquiring minds want to know. What three things would you take with you into an elevator that's less-than-reliable? (P.S. Cell phones are less-than-reliable in elevators).
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Hanging on . . . only a few more days until we get a brand new year!
Dave Lambert (one of my editors, and for whom I would lay my cloak across ANY puddle) has a great piece on Charis today, so be sure to check it out.
C.J. asked what type of dog makes a cameo in THE ELEVATOR. At the moment, Sadie (to honor my late mastiff) is a golden retriever (to honor BJ Hoff's dearly departed doggie companion). I think she'll stay a golden, because a mastiff, my favorite breed, couldn't really accomplish some of the things Sadie does.
The story is coming together slowly--I'm trying to master the art of inserting backstory at the perfect place, in perfectly-sized pieces. Since all of Act II and most of Act III take place in an elevator car, I have to resort to technique to keep the action flowing smoothly . . .
Well, that's it. One observation--before Christmas, I sent a postcard to everyone on my mailing list about the 2006 releases. It's a little disconcerting to see how many have been returned to me--oh, I expect the usual from folks who have moved, but a large number of these are Christian bookstores that have simply gone out of business. That's sobering.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Thank the good Lord, it's time to get back to work. Christmas was a lovely break, but I love ordinary life, too.
In fact . . . I was writing a friend about some, um, challenges that arose this Christmas, and she said, "Some people hope for a Norman Rockwell Christmas and end up with Salvador Dali." Ha! Steph Whitson Higgins, you couldn't have been more right. So if you have come through the holidays and found them less than picture-perfect, don't feel that you were alone. I couldn't help but think of some of my friends who were alone, away from home, dealing with family stresses, etc. When the rest of the world is celebrating and are positively enebriated with nostalgia and tradition, know that it's okay to be . . . where you are. God is faithful even in our less-than-perfectness. He is with us even when the Christmas bulbs are shattered and the house is far too quiet.
And He is with us in the ordinary routine. Back to those women in the elevator . . . happy to report that they are officially IN the elevator and we have passed the inciting incident and moved into Act II. On schedule.
Monday, December 26, 2005
My pal Robin Lee Hatcher (that's her pic) is procrastinating today. And though I'm not procrastinating (I'm clearing out all the Christmas decorations from inside the house--no, it's not too soon when you're on a deadline), I'll play along so SHE can procrastinate a little longer.
Robin Lee took a tip from those print Am Ex ads that are everywhere. So here's my bio, a la American Express:
My name ... Angela Elise Elwell Hunt
My childhood ambition ... to be a famous singer
My fondest memory ... the arrivals of my children via jet from South Korea
My soundtrack ... anything by Secret Garden
My retreat ... my office
My wildest dream ... (had to invent one) being on the NYT bestseller list
My proudest moment ... the first thing that pops into mind is hearing my friend Keri Christie Igney talk about what I was like in high school. I didn't remember being so . . . independent.
My biggest challenge ... parenting two twenty-somethings. The hardest stage yet.
My alarm clock ... like Robin, my body wakes me up. My internal alarm wakes me up with the sunrise.
My perfect day ... would be one with no appointments, no quota, no necessary chores--just lots of books to read.
My first job ... scooping ice cream for $1.00 an hour.
My indulgence ... fine perfumes. (Michael Kors. Ahhh!)
My last purchase ... a new grandfather clock. Ordered this morning. (Don't ask what happened to the old one.)
My favorite movie ... Ice Castles. (Favorite TV show: Alias.)
My inspiration ... nature
My life ... boot camp.
My favorite Christmas gift this year (I added this one): high top converse sneaks.
My card ... is Visa. Sorry, Am Ex.
If you want to play, leave a comment so I'll know where to read your bio.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
The Singing Shepherd
Whenever he was afraid, Jareb sang. Singing made him feel better.
But his singing made everyone else feel worse. Jareb’s singing was dreadful.
Jareb was a shepherd. He helped his older brothers Ariel, Samuel, and Simon tend their father’s sheep on the hillsides of Bethlehem. Jareb loved the calm, quiet sheep.
But a shepherd’s life can be frightening. Nights were filled with dark shadows and eerie noises. The rumble of thunder, the howls of jackals, and the hooting of owls caused Jareb to sing a lot.
Ariel and Samuel hated Jareb’s squeaky songs. “But the sheep like them,” Simon pointed out. “They know no wild animal would come near us while Jareb is yowling. Let him sing.”
So Jareb sang day and night. He even hummed in his sleep. His brothers stuffed wool in their ears.
One cool night the shepherds settled their flock and lay down to rest by the campfire. Ariel, Samuel, and Simon fell asleep. Jareb hummed off-key as his eyes grew heavy. The velvet darkness of night wrapped around him, and Jareb yawned.
Before he could close his mouth, the sky flashed brighter than a thousand campfires, and an angel stood right in front of Jareb. His clothes glowed with a blinding blue flame.
Terrified, Jareb tried to sing, but his mouth wouldn’t move. He heard his brothers gasp.
“Do not be afraid,” the visitor said. “I bring you good news of great joy for all people. This night a Savior has been born in Bethlehem. He is Christ the Lord.”
“Wh-wh-what?” Ariel asked. “A Savior?”
The shining man smiled at Ariel. “Here is a sign to help you find him. The baby will be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Immediately the whole sky blazed with light, and hundreds dazzling visitors filled the pasture and the hills. “Glory to God in the highest!” their voices rang through the night, “and on earth, peace to all people everywhere.”
The angels shone brighter and brighter until they seemed to melt into a burning sky. Jareb and his brothers shielded their eyes. Then, in an instant, all was as dark as before.
“This is wonderful!” Ariel jumped to his feet. “The Savior has come. Let’s go and find him!”
Samuel brushed grass from his clothes. “How many babies in a manger can there be?”
“The prophets said he’d come to Bethlehem,” Simon added, reaching for his sandals. “Can you believe an angel came to us?”
Jareb didn’t move. He began to sing.
“Come on, Jareb,” Samuel urged. “Are you afraid? Too afraid to find this Savior?”
Jareb hung his head. “I’d rather stay here with the sheep, that’s all.”
Ariel, Samuel, and Simon hurried to Bethlehem. Jareb stayed with the sheep and sang in the dark.
When they returned, Jareb’s brothers couldn’t stop talking. “You should have seen him,” Ariel said.
“You should not be such a coward, Jareb,” Simon added. “You were invited to see the Savior, too. If God can send angels to invite you, can’t He also give you a little courage?”
Jareb thought about the baby for many months. The more he thought, the more ashamed he felt. Why was he always afraid? Why did he spend all his time singing to silly sheep?
One evening after the sheep were settled, Jareb put on his cloak.
“Where are you going?” Samuel asked. “It will soon be dark.”
“I am going to find that baby,” Jareb answered. And off he went to Bethlehem, singing on the way.
Jareb had no idea how to find a child who had been born so many months before. He didn’t even know if the family still lived in the city. He asked God to guide his footsteps.
A rich caravan of men and camels crowded the road, and Jareb had to stop and wait for it to pass. Suddenly a young camel slipped away from the others and bolted straight toward Jareb.
“Quick! Stop that camel!”
Without thinking, Jareb caught the rope dangling from the animal’s neck.
“Thank you, young man,” the servant said, taking the camel from Jareb. “My masters would be angry if I lost their prized camel. Although--” the servant scratched his head-- “since we left the child’s house, my masters have not stopped smiling.”
“Oh?” Jareb asked, hardly daring to hope. “What child is that?”
The servant smiled at Jareb. “A child who will be a great king some day, my masters say. We have come a great distance to find him.”
Jareb’s heart beat faster. Could that child be the Savior?
It was very dark when Jareb found the house the servant had described. No lamplight flickered from the window, and Jareb thought everyone must be asleep. Suddenly the door opened and a bearded man looked up and down the street.
Jareb stepped forward. “Please, sir,” he said, “may I see the child?”
The man frowned. “Who sent you?”
Jareb felt his cheeks burn. “An angel . . . many months ago. But I was afraid to come.”
The man pulled Jareb inside. “I am Joseph,” he said. “This is my wife, Mary. And this is Jesus.”
In the starlight streaming through the window, Jareb saw a young woman holding a sleeping child. The woman smiled at Jareb.
Joseph spoke again. “An angel has warned me that Herod will send soldiers to kill all baby boys in Bethlehem. Mary and I must take Jesus away, but there may be soldiers at the city gate. You must help us.”
“Soldiers?” Jareb felt his knees begin to quiver. “Killing? Herod?”
Joseph put his hand on Jareb’s shoulder. “We must leave tonight. Will you help?”
Jareb thought a moment, then he pulled a rough shawl from his shoulder. “This is a sling for newborn lambs,” he explained. “With it I could carry Jesus. No one would expect me to be carrying a baby.”
Joseph smiled. “Your plan is good, my friend.” he said.
Joseph and Mary carefully placed Jesus in the sling.
“There is a well outside the city gate,” Jareb whispered. “I will meet you there.”
Mary and Joseph slipped out into the darkness. Jareb shifted the sling onto his shoulder and peered down the street. He could hear noise in the distance—screaming and the clash of swords.
Jareb prayed the baby wouldn’t begin to cry, then he set out for the city gate, humming as he walked.
At the gate, a rough guard stepped in front of Jareb and squinted down at him. “We are looking for babies,” he growled, “baby boys. What’s that you’re carrying?”
“Please, sir,” Jareb stammered. “I’m . . . I’m only a shepherd. This is a sling for carrying lambs.”
Jareb fingers began to tremble. He squeezed the strap of the sling. “I’m famous for my sheep songs. Just listen.”
He burst into song. Fear made his voice louder and scratchier and even more out of tune than usual. The guard shuddered and covered his ears. “Arrgh!” he shouted. “Away with you, shepherd. Stop that awful racket!”
Outside the city, Joseph and Mary were waiting by the well. Jareb lifted Jesus from the sling and placed the child in Mary’s arms.
“Here’s your little lamb.” He laughed. “Look at how he smiles at the world’s worst singer!”
“You are a brave young man.” Mary smiled with tears in her eyes. “And your voice is a blessing from God.”
Jareb watched until the small family disappeared on the road, then he turned to the fields where his sheep waited.
The night had filled with dark shadows. Calls of owls and jackals echoed through the hills, but
Jareb didn’t notice. He began to sing—not because he was afraid, but because he had been brave. He had helped the Savior.
As he walked, his singing grew louder and stronger. The fearsome noises of the night vanished as owls and jackals fled to distant hills.
The only sound the waiting sheep heard that night was Jareb’s happy song.
(c) 1990, by Angela Hunt.
May the Lord use all our frailties to honor Him. A blessed Christmas to you and yours!
Friday, December 23, 2005
#1: Check your dialog for explanations. Look for times when you've TOLD us your character is experiencing an emotion. In my writing yesterday, I found a place where I had written:
"What's wrong?" she asked, confused.
Oops. We don't need the writer (me) to tell the reader that the character's confused. It's much better just to ask, "What's wrong?" And if it's clear who's speaking, we don't even need the "she asked."
#2: Eliminate every -ly adverb in your speaker attributions.
One day I also found where I"d written:
"No slaver holder is ever going to sit at my table," said Mrs. Haynes emphatically.
Groan. Two big no-nos. First, the "said Mrs. Haynes" is old-fashioned, it should be turned around. "Mrs. Haynes said" is much better. And since this conversation is taking place at a dining room table where more than two people are present, we do need the speaker attribution. But the adverb "emphatically" has to go. I need to SHOW the reader that she was being emphatic, not just TELL them. So--I looked at the dialogue. It SOUNDS pretty emphatic by itself, and that's good. But if I want to further visualize the scene, I can do it. My finished sentence?
"No slaver is ever going to sit at my table." Mrs. Haynes unfolded her napkin with an emphatic snap. "You can be assured of that, Son."
# 3: Don't make your speaker attributions be physical impossibilities.
Never have be guilty of the following: "Yada, yada, yada," she smiled.
Characters can't speak and snarl, grimace, shrug, etc. A simple "said" is usually just fine. Editors have told me this is the FIRST mark of an amateur.
# 4: Get rid of speaker attributions entirely as long as it's clear who's speaking.
# 5: Don't begin a paragraph with the speaker attribution: Henry said, "It's time to get started." Much better to begin the paragraph:
"It's time to get started," Henry said, leaning toward me with a leer.
BETTER YET: Henry leaned toward me with a leer. "It's time to get started."
#6: Don't refer to a character more than one way in the same scene. If it's Mr. Jumbles at the beginning of the scene, don't call him "Howie" (in your speaker attributions) at the end of the scene. Another character can call him Howie, though.
# 7: Punctuation: Use ellipses to indicate gaps in conversation, or a character trailing off into thought. Use em dashes (dash dash or the looooong dash) to indicate that a character has been interrupted.
Ellipsis: "Oh, I don't know. I was a pretty thing, once . . . " Harriet's eyes closed with the memory.
Em Dash: "We'll just see about that! If you think I'm gonna--"
"Just shut up, will you, Hank? I'm sick of your bellyachin'."
# 8: Don't forget to paragraph your dialogue--a new paragraph for each speaker.
KEY THOUGHT: If your dialogue doesn't work once you've cut adverbs and emotional explanations (remember--emotions are okay as long as you're showing and not telling in your speaker attributions), you need to strengthen your dialogue. Let the characters' WORDS show the emotion. You, the writer, shouldn't have to explain everything.
Had enough? Hold on, there's more:
# 9: Read your dialogue out loud. Most dialogue is too formal (Unless you're writing about formal people in a bygone era.) If you're tempted to "loosen up" your dialogue after you read it aloud, give into the temptation.
# 10: Real people use contractions, they contradict each other, they use run on sentences. Go to it, with discretion.
# 11 (And this is a pet peeve of mine): Don't use exposition in your dialogue if the characters have no real reason to share it. I read a thriller the other day, and a guy was saying, "Yes, Tom, I know we're marooned on this island that's about 24 square miles with only two access roads." Enough already! Didn't Tom know where they were?
# 12: Don't write "on the nose." Don't let every conversational ping be answered by a corresponding pong. Example: (forgive my lack of paragraphing, but I'm trying to conserve space.) This isn't brilliant prose, but I trust you get the idea.
"Susie's having a baby." "Boy or girl?" "She doesn't know. Doesn't want to know." "I'd want to know, wouldn't you?"
That's blah. Try it like this: "Susie's having a baby." "Boy or girl?" "She doesn't know. Doesn't want to know." "I'm over her, really. "
Ah . . . now that's an interesting wrinkle. :-)
Thursday, December 22, 2005
"Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff." --Mariah Carey
"Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life,"--Brooke Shields, during an interview to become Spokesperson for federal anti-smoking campaign.
"I've never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body," --Winston Bennett, University of Kentucky basketball forward.
"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country."--Mayor Marion Barry, Washington, DC
"That lowdown scoundrel deserves to be kicked to death by a jackass, and I'm just the one to do it."--A congressional candidate in Texas
"Half this game is ninety percent mental."--Philadelphia Phillies manager, Danny Ozark
"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."--Al Gore, Vice President and "We are ready for an unforeseen event that may or may not occur."--Al Gore
"I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix."--Dan Quayle
"We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?"--Lee Iacocca
"The word "genius" isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein." --Joe Theisman, NFL football quarterback & sports analyst
"We don't necessarily discriminate. We simply exclude certain types of people." --Colonel Gerald Wellman, ROTC Instructor
"Traditionally, most of Australia's imports come from overseas."--Keppel Enderbery
"If somebody has a bad heart, they can plug this jack in at night as they go to bed and it will monitor their heart throughout the night. And the next morning, when they wake up dead, there'll be a record."--Mark S. Fowler, FCC Chairman
Nicole Ritchie on her book THE TRUTH ABOUT DIAMONDS: "I'm hoping that - that people will just act like adults and take it for what it is. And it's a story. It's a fiction novel."
And finally . . .
"Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances."--Department of Social Services, Greenville South Carolina
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Yesterday was my birthday, so I am happy to report that I am officially halfway to 96! I remember three years ago announcing that I was halfway to ninety, so it hardly seems fair that I'm progressing twice as fast as I should be. (And if that sentence makes sense to you, then you, like me, do not speak Numbers as a first language.)
To prevent this blog from being totally inane on (most) days when I don't have anything profound to say, I've been digging through some old emails. I found one from five years ago that is incredibly personal--I sent it to a close circle of female writer friends--but upon reading it again, I think maybe it will speak to someone else. I wrote this in 1997, when one of my books was nominated for the RITA (romance writers) award. The rest is self-explanatory:
I'm going to be very honest now, okay? The Lord's been working on my heart, and I just feel led to share this with you all.
This year I went into the RITA gig with high hopes. I had been told by many people that my book was sort of the odds-on favorite (not to disparage the other two books, which are wonderful, but simply because mine had more "romance" in it.) I'm sure folks were telling the other two finalists that theirs were the favorites, too.
Anyway, I made a crucial error--I listened.
If you had asked me before Saturday night if I had expected to win, I'd have said no, but in truth, when the hour was done and I didn't win, I realized that I had really hoped to win. And that fact caught me by surprise, as did the disappointment I felt.
Now, disappointment and I aren't really on a first name basis. One of my guiding philosophies in life has always been, "if you don't expect much, you won't be disappointed," so I've always looked at good things as blessings and ordinary things as sort of my lot in life. (Being a youth pastor's wife keeps Ordinary real close.)
But later that night, when several of you comforted me, I was flabbergasted by the tide of hot emotion that swept through me--and kept on sweeping through. I was as surprised by my reaction as by anything else. My brain kept saying, "This is no big deal, Angie, not winning doesn't mean you can't write, it doesn't invalidate your work, and you are secure in Jesus," but my heart was broken. For a while there, I'll be honest, my spirit was broken, too. Wanted to hang it all up and go make pottery somewhere. (Isn't that crazy? I KNOW it's irrational.) But we women are about emotion, aren't we? And now I know how to write disappointment!
But today the Lord gave me a lesson through Oswald Chambers, and I think that this entire experience has been a blessing in disguise. God is teaching me.
Here's the lesson. My buddy Oswald writes: "The essential thing is my personal relationship to Jesus Christ--'That I may know him.' To fulfill God's design means entire abandonment to Him. Whenever I want things for myself, the relationship is distorted. It will be a big humiliation to realize that I have not been concerned about realizing Jesus Christ but only about realizing what He has done for me."
Don't we sing about "what he's done for me?" And though he has done marvelous things in saving, keeping, and sanctifying us, I have to wonder if I'm still looking for him to do for me, when I ought to be checking to see if I am content to be sold out to him.
My goal is God Himself, not joy nor peace, Nor even blessing, but Himself, my God.
Oswald hit me with this one final phrase: "Am I building up the body of Christ, or am I looking for my own personal development only?"
Convicting . . . and comforting.
Thanks, ladies, for listening.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
On my little soapbox again . . .
Someone asked me, "What Is Good Writing?"
So I'll offer my opinion. First, I have to refer to my high school English teacher, who insisted upon giving us TWO grades for every writing assignment: one for technique, one for content. (I did the same thing when I taught English.)
Content translates into the story, which includes the element of emotional contact. Technique, on the other hand, pertains to how well the writer exercises his craft. Too many technique errors draw the reader's attention away from the content and diminish the enjoyment of the story. Too little story . . . well, I won't read the book long enough to notice good technique.
The value of content, or the story's quality, is almost entirely subjective.
Most "academic" or "literary" novels don't excite my enthusiasm. I prefer stories that follow the mythical pattern--an interesting, active protagonist strives to reach a goal, overcomes complications, learns a lesson, sacrifices something in the effort, and comes out either a winner or a loser, but always wiser for the effort and changed by the struggle. If I can identify with the protagonist, so much the better. If his world is fascinating, even better.
If I, the reader, learn something, better yet. If the novel makes me think and question my previously held suppositions, wonderful. And if a writer can do all of the above in his/her story, that's EXCELLENT storytelling.
What's good technique? Crisp, clear, precise writing. Using the exactly right word, and not a word more or less. Oblique dialogue. Clear interior dialogue uncluttered by "she thought" and "he wondered." Strong verbs and nouns that obviate the need for redundant adjectives and adverbs.
Exposition that flows naturally when I need it, not a moment before or after, and definitely not in dialogue between people who would already know the information. I am peeved by the following words IF they catch my attention: that, was, were, it, suddenly. I also like clear point of view, limited to one person per scene, because I'm a child of the video age and accustomed to thinking like a camera.
But when all is said and done, the most beautiful prose in the world won't matter one whit if I don't care A LOT about the characters by the second chapter . . . some would say the second page. And a gripping story will make me forgive--even not notice--all kinds of technique problems. But I'll confess--when I pick up a book and flip through the pages, it's the technique problems that catch my eye.
Rule number one: good writing captivates the reader with story and sympathetic characters.
Rule number two: good writing is technique that functions like a smooth highway. It paves the way so the story can flow without distracting the reader.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
That's where you send an email if you want to receive a weekly chapter of the best Christian fiction around. It's a free service that's guaranteed to keep you doin' the Snoopy dance.
Just wanted to be sure you knew about this service. Enjoy!
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Speaking of ALIAS reminds me that THE TRUTH TELLER is now shipping to bookstores across the fruited plain. This book originally came out years ago, and it's special to me because it's the first time I ever wrote what I wanted to write, as opposed to what I thought the market wanted.
I got the idea, as usual, from a number of sources. The first was the OJ Simson trial. I got so sick of seeing it on TV and reading about it everywhere that I found myself wishing for some kind of human truth detector--someone who could walk into that courtroom, point at people and tell us once and for all who was lying and who wasn't.
Then I began to wonder--well, where would such a person come from? Why would he have this ability which the average person lacked?
And then I read about the Iceman, the 5300-year-old fellow they found frozen in the Italian Alps. The man was remarkably well-preserved.
And then I thought, Well . . . since the law of entrophy declares that all things break down, this man is not as "broken down" as everyone else. Which means his DNA is in far better shape. Which means that if someone had a child with his DNA, that kid might have some unique abilities . . .
And so the kernel that became THE TRUTH TELLER was formed. The story is about a young woman, Lara Godfrey, who, after losing her husband to cancer, decides to have her husband's child (he's made a sperm donation that's being held at a cyrogenic storage facility). So she has the in vitro fertilization, though she doesn't know that an evil scientist/philosopher has tinkered with the sperm's DNA and plans to take the resulting child . . .
Sounds like an Alias plot, doesn't it? The villain's name is even Devin Sloane! (Alias's principal bad guy is Arvin Sloane. I tell you, ideas are in the ether . . .)
In any case, the book has been reissued and will be appearing in bookstores any day now. Enjoy!
Friday, December 16, 2005
The other day Louise asked a question . . . and since it's almost lunchtime and too soon to jump into the WIP only to stop for pizza, I thought I'd take a moment to answer it.
Louise was in my fiction track at Glorieta. There I demonstrated how I use a standard EXCEL worksheet to keep track of details in my work-in-progress.
The rows, of course, are assigned to scenes. The columns are these (though you can pick and choose and do what you like):
Chapter number (last thing assigned)
POV character (I like to color code these with "fill color" so I can see how many POVs per character at a glance)
Dramatic ? raised
Dramatic ? answered
The dramatic question asked and answered is something I've begun to worker harder on . . . the object, of course, is to delay the answer for as long as possible, thus keeping your reader in suspense. Simple.
Enjoy this great tool, and my hat's off to Al Gansky, who convinced me to dump my Writer's Blocks in favor of this method.
(Wish I'd had this picture when I was blogging about bodily functions in fiction.)
Your regularly-scheduled blog for this space is appearing at "Charis Connection" today (Friday). See you there!
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Last night I dreamed that Sydney and Nadia were fraternal twins separated at birth. (And this will only make sense if you watch ALIAS.) Oh, I know there are problems with that scenario, but someone in my dream fugue it made perfect sense. Because I so want Nadia to be Jack's daughter, not the evil Sloane's. (Though it is possible to have twins fathered by two different men, that seems far-fetched even for Irinia.)
This is what comes of watching ALIAS right before bed. And now the show takes a hiatus for Jennifer G. Affleck to enjoy her new baby.
If only I dreamed of my characters as easily as I dream of Jack and Syd, Vaughn, and Irina. But I will. There are times, when I'm deep into a project, that I dream-edit pages--I read text and strike words out and start over again. I only wish I could wake up with finished pages on the nightstand.
But I'm here to report that the six-page-per day routine is working very well, and for the first time I feel like I'm getting my footing in this project. Deadline is April first and I have many travel days between now and then, so I have to keep pushing on.
No hiatus for me. And I don't suppose Nadia and Sydney could be twins . . . Jack would have noticed. (VBG)
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Some writing pals and I are going to participate in the "The Bible in 90 Days" challenge beginning January 1. Would you like to join us? You can simply by saying so in a comment, and you can make it official by signing up at the official web site: http://www.biblein90days.com/challenge. (HT to Robin Lee for the link!)
Every other year I read the Bible through in a year, but I think there's something to be gained by reading it in a more concentrated fashion. After all, can you imagine reading Gone with the Wind at a pace of only a page or two per day? The experience would be . . . diluted, and by the time you reached the point where Melanie dies, you'd have forgotten all those nice details Scarlett fantasized about her "adversary" back when she was dressing for the barbeque. (Okay, well, maybe you wouldn't have forgotten completely, but you see my point.)
I think God will be honored if we treat his Word as something more to be dribbled out at a rate of a tablespoon a day. The 90 day challenge is twelve pages per day (if you use the special 90 day Bible available from Zondervan), so that's about the same pace I use when I'm reading through a writing craft book. It's enough to sink my teeth into, but not so much that it all goes over my head.
I believe God honors us when we honor his Word, and I believe His Word is filled with power. I'm anxious to apply that power to my life, so I hope you'll join us. Let me know if you will!
You can use your own Bible (I suspect you can simply take the number of text pages and divide by 90 to determine your pace), or order the special 90 day Bible (the individual daily readings are marked). If you're using the special Bible, you'll literally be on the "same page" if you pop into a discussion group . . . or this blog. :-)
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
My WIP is a mess. I'm not really panicked, though, I've been in worse shape.
It's like this--when you've written over seventy novels, you simply have to try new things to keep from boring yourself silly. And so I have this grand plan in mind, something I've never tried, and the first draft is 100 pages of mish mash.
So yesterday I printed out those sorry 100 pages and created a new work calendar--at a pace of six pages per day, I'm going to work this thing out. That's a VERY slow pace, but I need a slow pace because I have thousands of words to put to paper.
So--yesterday's assignment was pages 1-6 and, thankfully, the first five pages are the title page, copyright page, epigraph, a page that says "September 5th, 7 a.m.", and the first page of the story. But I did have to do a bit of research to come up with a good epigraph, and I had to work especially hard on the "book description," which is a one paragraph blurb I've begun to put on the title page. It's just for my edification, really, and maybe for the editor's and marketing department. It's the sort of thing I'd put on my web page (and probably will, when the book comes out.)
Here's what that paragraph should get across: the category, title, protagonist, main problem, and something intriguing. Hint at the character's inner conflict. Make her stand out. Indicate how the story is going to be really different from all the other books on the shelf. And use one of these six words: love, heart, dream, journey, fortune, or destiny. Finally, in the last line, suggest the possibilities and/or the ending (and I like to hint at the theme, as well).
So--at this point, here's what I came up with:
With two other women, Michelle Brantley finds herself trapped in the elevator of a skyscraper as a threatening hurricane churns toward Tampa Bay. While prevented from sharing the secret she was on her way to reveal, she discovers that her companions have secrets of their own . . . secrets that will forever change her destiny. The harrowing experience forces all three women to confront the truth about their lives, loves, and lies before they can hope to escape.
That is subject to change, of course, but there it is. Something to keep me on track as I muddle through, six pages at a time.
Whaddya think? Intriguing or yawn-inducing?
Sunday, December 11, 2005
A couple of weeks ago I was reading a NYT article about why today's children are so rude--an entire generation, in fact. The gist of the article is that while our parents were taught to make decisions based on how that decision would affect the community--what will the neighbors think?--we have left that standard behind and today's kids make decisions based on "what will help you get ahead?" It would seem that America has become a land where looking out for number one has become quite important.
Not everywhere and not with every one, of course. But in Sunday's NYT, I read an article about "Neanderthal Men"--about how prime time has become saturated with heroes that look out for number one: Sawyer on Lost, Jack on 24, etc. Sydney Bristow on Alias never kills innocent people--in fact, characters have an almost hilarious tendency to fall on their own knives. But these modern men never hesitate to blow their opposition away.
Where am I going with this? I'm not sure; I'm musing aloud. But I'm reminded of a movie review I read in the Wall Street Journal last summer:
“Who knows what Mr. and Mrs. Smith are feeling, if anything, when he shoots at her car, she throws a meat cleaver at him, he kicks her . . ., she beats up on him, they pursue one another in a grotesquely overextended freeway chase, or reduce their pretentious home to a fire-ball-belching ruin? . . . More to the point, though, what are we supposed to feel, if anything, about these barely sub-nuclear Bickersons when, for example, she says, “I’m sorry” after flinging a knife into his thigh and he says “We’ll talk about this later?”
“Maybe the answer on both counts is nothing. The script . . . was the final thesis project for Mr. Kinberg’s Master of Fine Arts degree at Columbia University’s film school; maybe “Mr and Mrs. Smith” is on the cutting edge of a new genre, the feelnothing movie that sidesteps all concerns about scale or tone in its pursuit of spectacular action. But the movie reminded me of a relatively new product, the little translucent wafer that you put on your tongue to freshen your breath. One hit of intense flavor and the thing dissolves without a trace.”
My point—and yes, I have one—is that I’ve noticed this in new books, too—rush, rush, high concept, boom, bang, that’s it. Pages turned, book done, nothing remains. No message to ponder, no sacrifice to haunt you, no characters to miss. No one questioning decisions or values.
Have you noticed the same thing?
I think that's why I love novels by Jodi Picoult--her characters are involved in moral quandries where all the questions are raised. (I don't always agree with their answers, but at least she's raising questions.)
And perhaps this is where Christian fiction excels--characters who follow Christ operate by a higher standard than situational ethics.
Something to think about, in any case.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
A friend and I were having an email discussion about Myers-Briggs and how some of us are wired or bent to feel more comfortable writing in certain genres and touching certain topics . . .
And I read a piece about Brett Lott, and I finished his book that’s a retelling of Ruth/Naomi last – (it was lovely).
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the insistent trend to tell stories that simply have a Christian worldview . . .
And all of the above reminds me of a story I once heard Karen Kingsbury tell about her children. Seems Kelsey and Tyler were in the car as the family was coming home from church after just hearing a rip-snorting fire and brimstone sermon. Kelsey was giving it to young Tyler in the back seat. “Where do you want to do?” she asked him. “Heaven or hell, Tyler, where do you want to go?”
At which point Tyler pulled out his pacifier and said, “Disneyland.”
I can’t dispute that we are all wired differently . . . and I’m grateful for those differences. But rather than wed ourselves to a genre or to a certain kind of book, I think the story dictates whether we take the reader to heaven, hell, or Disneyland. (VBG)
Last year I wrote a story that’s as hellfire-and-brimstone as anything I’ve ever written. I am contracted to do a series that definitely focuses on heaven. And who knows but that I’ll want to write a Disneyland book in the coming year or two.
But earthly time is too short to squander on stories that do not illuminate or edify or instruct in some way. I know that the Spirit of God can use anything, but I also know that he chooses to use us and we are responsible to be witnesses to the truth.
How do you interpret that responsibility? If you knew you could only read or write ONE more book, what would you like it to say?
Friday, December 09, 2005
I just love that picture!
First, let me say how much I appreciate those of you who comment. I don't always know the best way to respond, so I'll just do it here--you make me smile and laugh and cheer, so please feel free to comment any time.
I'm working on THE ELEVATOR and boy, is this labor painful. I'm not sure whether it's the season or the first-draft, but I feel a little like the man in this excerpt, from George Gissing's NEW GRUB STREET:
The last volume was written in fourteen days. In this achievement Reardon rose almost to heroic pitch, for he had much to contend with beyond the mere labor of composition. Scarcely had he begun when a sharp attack of lumbago fell upon him; for two or three days it was torture to support himself at the desk, and he moved about like a cripple. Upon this ensued headaches, sore throat, general enfeeblement . . .
All this notwithstanding, here was the novel at length finished. When he had written "The End" he lay back, closed his eyes, and let time pass in blankness for a quarter of an hour.
It remained to determine the title. But his brain refused another effort; after a few minutes' feeble search he simply took the name of the chief female character, Margaret Home. That must do for the book. Already, with the penning of the last word, all its scenes, personages, dialogues had slipped away into oblivion; he knew and cared nothing more about them.
LOL! I can relate to the writing with a headache and sore throat and feeling like you could barely sit up at the desk, but I have to say that I DO care about my characters even when I'm done. I may not always remember much about them, but I always care how they are received. :-)
Have a great Friday and a blessed weekend!
Angie, who's not even sure what lumbago is . . .
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
I love Dean Koontz. Some of his early stuff featured a few too many eyeballs in jars to suit my psyche, but lately I've been lapping up his books like water. My neighborhood book club--a group of mostly middle-aged ladies--read his LIFE EXPECTANCY, and many of them were reading Koontz for the first time. They loved him.
I read ODD THOMAS right after it came out and fell in love with Odd. And tonight I've begun reading FOREVER ODD, and it didn't take two pages for me to fall back into the story. It's not like I remember much about the previous book, but I so liked Odd that I've signed on for this new adventure with my whole heart.
That's what Koontz does right. This character (the first, I think, that Koontz has ever written in first person) is unabashedly led by his heart, but while he deals with sorrow and grief and suffering, he does it with a delightful sense of humor and endearing vulnerability. Koontz is a master at creating a character with only a few verbal "strokes," and I can't wait to set aside an hour or two so I can delve into this story.
BJ Hoff and I have often engaged in a bit of Cinderella talk--we're always saying that one day we're going to California to ask Mr. Koontz (and his wife and dog, if they want to come) to lunch. We just want to sit and grin at the man . . . and chat with him, if he'll let us. (VBG).
I mean, how can you not love a man who dedicates his book to his DOG? Here's the dedication: "This book is for Trixie, though she will never read it. On the most difficult days at the keyboard, when I despaired, she could always make me laugh. The words good dog are inadequate in her case. She is a good heart and a kind soul, and an angel on four feet."
Not only do I find the above dedication heartwarming because of my love for my own Charlie Gansky, but I find it incredibly reassuring to know that Dean Koontz has difficult and despairing days at the keyboard. Ahhhh. Thank heaven for our dogs.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
LOL! This is the picture I took to my hairdresser--my face on Lisa Rinna's head. :-) Why doesn't my hair ever look like my model pictures?
Yesterday's blog was soooo positive, I feel I have to balance it --just so you'll know I don't take my own press too seriously. So the following are real reviews posted by readers on Amazon.com.
About The Canopy:
When I started this book I was thrilled and excited in learning more of the Amazon forest and the indigenous occupants. The material was interesting and I read into the morning hours. I was not aware this was a "Christian" piece of literature. About 3/4 of the way through the book I became extremely disappointed. The "answer" to the disease of the main character was a religious lesson elaborately woven into the plot.. . . I open my heart to many religions that offer love and morality and respect the differences of others. If I had an interest in a lecture I could have attended any Christian church. Much of the book is captivating, but I was disappointed in the last 50 or 60 pages of the book. Marilyn Walters
About The Immortal:
I'm really surprised by the positive reviews other Amazon readers have written for this book. I can only think that the subject matter intrigued them enough for them to overlook the sloppy writing. Most of the time, Hunt describes characters and events through exposition, rather than through action. The result reads like a brochure. She also explains too much: After the narrator says her mouth fell open, she goes on to say she was surprised... and just how surprised she was... and why (as if we haven't been reading along and wouldn't know why). The dialog is stilted, often too formal. Hunt's way of keeping her characters from being flat is to keep them in a perpetual state of surprise or shock or amazement. I don't know, I just would have liked sharper writing to go along with what is admittedly a sharp idea.
And finally, about The Pearl:
This book started out good, but later on it becomes boring and unrealistic in everything except the emotions. I bought this book thinking it would be an interesting read but I was severly disapointed.The plot skips around a lot and the main character goes through some "interesting" fazes. (Kicking her husband out for not agreeing about cloneing, etc.)I would never recomend this book to ANYONE (strangers and enemies included).
Angie here again: See what I mean? Any time I start to think I'm all that and a bag of chips, the Lord sends someone along to remind me that I've still got a loooong way to go!
Monday, December 05, 2005
The first thing that strikes you when you read an Angela Hunt book might be the incredible research necessary to write with such depth on any given topic. Sure, if you read a John Grisham novel you’ll encounter legal nuances because he is a lawyer, or if you read any of James Harriot’s works you won’t be surprised to find out he was a veterinarian. But Angie pours out seamless prose in an incredibly varied spectrum of plots.
You undoubtedly will be captivated by her interest in cutting edge story lines. Indeed, the genesis for a current hit television show with a woman assuming the presidency could very well have been taken from one of her books.
You will be entranced with her vocabulary, exacting choice of words and her deft handling of turning a phrase. None of the subtleties and shadings of syntax are left to chance. It might not be the Queen’s English, but it will be precisely what the moment dictates.
What you want from a good read, is a great story teller. And that is what Angie is. She draws us into her world (and that could anywhere in the world) and we are swept along a tightly woven, straight forward plot. She parcels out enough information to hold our interest and feed our inquiring minds, but doesn’t tip her hand until events warrant.
Her research is extensive and exacting. In her books we are drawn into the complexities of operating the White House, the U. S. Supreme Court, as well as surviving life in the South American Amazon jungle. She has extensively studied subjects as varied as history, politics, medical research, jurisprudence, and televangelism.
Ultimately what holds our attention are the characters. People with whom, maybe we can’t necessarily identify, but people we come to care about. Angie crafts her characters in a way that even when they seem their most inhospitable, we genuinely want the best for them.
This is not always the case in allegory. Allegories often get caught up in their symbolism. Indeed, that is what allegory is. People are symbols who reveal hidden meanings to us. The characters are archetypes, prototypes, or perfect models who reveal a strength of character most of us can only hope to espouse.
Not so with Angie’s characters. We care for them, and want the best for them. Well, most of them. Angie can show her humorous side too. In her book, The Debt, we meet a televangelist by the name of Abel Howard. Abel is the husband of the main character, Emma Rose Howard. Part of the fun of the book is the inner workings of a mega-church and television ministry. The head of this spiritual empire is Abel Howard. However, you would swear Abel was switched at birth with an unmentioned, but certainly existent brother named, Cain.
Angie’s characters are real people with foibles, hidden pasts, and current anxieties. Much like most of us. But Angie brings us along the path to ultimate redemption. The world is a difficult place, but there is hope, there is a Savior who loves us they way we are, where we are. No matter how difficult the road, there is hope. Life can have real meaning and purpose. That is not Angie’s story. That is the hope Christ came to bring. And Angie shares that timeless story in fresh and imaginative ways.
December 03, 2005
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Photo: Cover of Kathryn Mackel's THE SURROGATE.
Last week I had a rather disconcerting experience with the WIP (work in progress): I reached the beginning of the ending and suddenly realized I was almost done with the first draft and with a grand total of only 15,000 words. That has happened once before, but the other time I had written 50,000 words.
I wasn't too alarmed, because I knew what the problem was--what I'd done was sketch out the plot events of the story. This is a a character novel, so all that comes next is character material, which requires a totally different approach.
Most of my novels are plot-driven, so the toss-words-on-the-screen-and-add-details-later method works well. But this novel's plot is simple: Three women get stuck in an elevator and have a hard time getting out. :-) That's it.
So . . . last week I dug out all the notes I took at the Maass intensive seminar and started working through the book again. I dug into my characters. And dug some more. And discovered some delightful and unexpected things--for instance, there's a dog in the story! I didn't know that until last week.
Now that I have pages and pages of notes to explore, on Monday I'm starting the book again, still pressing for a decent word count by the end of next week. My first drafts are always on the slight side--usually about 70 percent of what becomes the finished book.
So I printed out a new blank calendar and penciled in new daily goals. I love a fresh start! (And I especially love knowing a little about the folks of the story.)
Yesterday I flew up to Pensacola to be with my high school friend, Keri Christie Igney, and to speak at a ladies' tea. On the way up and back I read Kathryn Mackel's manuscript for THE HIDDEN. Oh my goodness! This book is so good that I remained SEATED when everyone else got up and started moving off the plane (and it takes a VERY good book to keep me in my seat when it's time to deplane.) A wonderful book that releases in May. Kathy is a master with language and a superb storyteller--and excellent with character, I might add. She inspires me.
If you haven't read Kathryn Mackel, you need to pick up one of her books today.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
I've been feeling a little nostalgic--maybe it's the time of year. Anyway, I thought it might be nice to revisit some old titles. I'm always amazed when I meet readers who are familiar with one genre--for instance, people who know THE TALE OF THREE TREES don't know I write adult novels; folks familiar with my adult novels don't know I write picture books.
I got a letter today from a young lady who had read my Nicki Holland books and found herself halfway through my beauty book before she realized I also wrote about makeup! (VBG!)
In any case, I thought I might revisit some older titles in case anyone is interested. Some of them are OP, but with the wonder of the internet you can find almost anything these days.
My first published book was IF I HAD LONG, LONG HAIR. I'd been writing magazine articles, catalog copy, you name it, for five years, and I entered this contest for unpublished picture book writers on a lark. I did my homework, though--learned the rules for picture books and followed them--and found a talented artist, Diane Johnson, to do three sketches (what the contest required). We sent off our submission package and a couple of months later, we learned that out of 455 entries, we had won first place--and publication! Suddenly I was on the verge of being a "published author," and the thought filled me with awe at the responsibility. Everything I'd written thus far was the sort of thing people read and throw away, but books stay around forever.
But after that came TREES, and after that came some nonfiction books, and then came some novels for middle graders . . . and after about twenty of those, my editor said, "Why don't you try some adult novels?" and I shrugged and said, "Okay."
So there was no grand plan, you see--no overweening ambition. Just a simple matter of working along, learning the rules, and sticking my neck out every once in a while. But mostly relying on God.
I'm off to Pensacola today, where I'll speak at a tea hosted by one of my dear friends from high school. Should be fun!
Flying off again,
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Seven Things to Do Before I Die (Lord willing):
1. See my children married to people who love God and love them.
2. Go on a cruise (it's booked!)
3. Get back into my size six dresses (hey, I can dream, can't I?)
4. Retire to a house in North Carolina or Tennessee or Virginia--some place with SEASONS!
5. Hold a grandbaby of my own.
6. Go to Italy, esp. Rome and Tuscany
7. Act in musical theater
Seven Things I Cannot Do:
1. Play ball. Any kind.
2. Read a certain best-selling male novelist who makes me cry--because I hate myself for it!
4. Whistle with my fingers in my mouth.
5. Wiggle my ears.
6. Read a certain chapter of "Unspoken" without crying
7. Tolerate the hunting of endangered species
Seven Things that Attract Me to My Spouse [romantic interest, best friend, whomever](not necessarily in this order!):
1. His height.
2. His heart for God.
3. His heart for young people.
4. His sense of humor.
5. His willingness to eat anything I put on the table.
6. His (sometimes blind) loyalty to me and our kids.
7. His habit of praying with me every morning before he leaves the house.
Seven Things I Say (or write!) Most Often:
2. :-) (a smiley face)
3. "Uff da."
5. "I don't care. Where do you want to eat?"
6. "Sorry, I'm dieting today."
7. "Well, okay, I'll diet tomorrow."
Seven Books (or series) I Love:
1. The Word.
2. Gone with the Wind
3. Jane Eyre
4. The Nun's Story
5. Those tomes by Diana Gabaldon
6. Anything by Dean Koontz in his later years
7. The Spiegel Catalog
Seven Movies I Would Watch Over and Over Again:
1. Ice Castles
2. The Wizard of Oz
3. The Nun's Story
4. For the Boys
5. Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
6. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
7. All About Eve
Seven People I Want to Join in:
Colleen, Denise, Diann, and Kristin
Anybody else want to just take one category and play? Feel free!