Friday, January 29, 2010

Sara Speaks

Editor’s Note: Being a little pressed for time and having nothing else for Fiction Friday, I sat down with Sara to see where it would take me.

Don’t stare at me like that.

Timothy Fish:
I didn’t realized I was staring.

You’re just sitting over there running your finger around the top of your coffee cup, like you expect me to say something.

Timothy Fish:
That’s sort of the idea.

Then what do you want me to say?

Timothy Fish:
I don’t know. I think I’m out of words. I was hoping you would say something.

I can’t really say anything if you don’t say it first.

Timothy Fish:

Maybe I should start putting words in your mouth.

Timothy Fish:
That would never work.

I bet it would. Here goes…

Timothy Fish:
Sara is the most wonderful person in the whole world. And she’s really pretty too.

See? I told you it would work.

Timothy Fish:
I think that’s about enough of that. Say goodbye, Sara.

Goodbye, Sara.

Timothy Fish:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Do We Do With the Truth?

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but The Shack is still going strong, though its sales figures are finally beginning to drop. Yesterday, Albert Mohler posted about The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment. His post is long, but the basic points I took from it are:

  • The Shack was written for the purpose of promoting a particular brand of theology.
  • That theology has long been known to be against biblical teaching.
  • These idea have been creeping into evangelical thought for decades.
  • The Shack has triggered the popularization of these liberal concepts even among mainstream evangelicals
  • We need to reacquaint Christians with what the Bible really teaches.

It doesn’t bother me so much that someone would write a book that includes what The Shack supporter Timothy Beal calls a “nonbiblical metaphorical model of God,” a “nonhierarchical” model of the Trinity and a “theology of universal salvation.” We’ve always had people supporting these idea in one form or another. Timothy Beal didn’t have to read The Shack to latch onto these ideas. What bothers me is that I have no reason to disagree with the assertion that these ideas have been filtering into mainstream Christianity for some time, but many Christians are ill equipped to recognize these teachings as heresy, even dismissing those who point out how The Shack attempts to teach doctrine contrary to the Word of God.

If it has crept into mainstream Christianity, then it has crept into the writings of other Christian novelists as well. Now, most Christian novelists know better than to try to write a novel for the sole purpose of promoting their doctrine, so we aren’t likely to see a lot of statements along that line in books, but we often see these little statements that pop up throughout books. A character starts talking about salvation, but what does the character say about it? Does he mention repentance or does he say something along the lines of God not sending anyone to hell, so we just need to stop worrying? It may mean little to the story and many readers may skip over it, but it tells us something about the condition of modern day Christianity. How can Christians know to discern good from evil if they don’t even know how to get saved?

I hesitate to say that Christian novelists need to start writing about doctrine more, but maybe that’s exactly what we need. Most people don’t read doctrinal statements. Many people no longer attend Sunday school. Many preachers avoid talking about what the Bible says about the punishment of sin because they are afraid it will drive their congregations away. If someone doesn’t do something, all we are going to have in our churches are a bunch of lost people who have no idea of what is coming.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Third Party Reader

Unfortunately the answer is not more agents. Having more agents would not increase the number of books being published or purchased by consumers. The unwelcome truth is we need more readers and fewer writers. (Rachelle Gardner, comment to her Jan 13, 2010 blog post)

Fewer writers. Now there’s a thought. I still have this image in my head of Rachelle reading through her slush pile with a sniper riffle in hand. “There’s an author who shouldn’t be writing.” Bang! “That’ll take care of that.” But I know that’s not what she meant.

We obscure authors would love for the publishing industry to function more like the image we have of it in our heads. We finish a manuscript, send it to a few agents and they all are anxious to represent us. One of them sends it off to a few publishers and it starts a bidding war. But that rarely happens. We finish a manuscript and we can hardly get an agent to give us the time of day. And don’t even think about sending it to a publisher. They fact is that everyone and his brother are writing books. But it doesn’t stop there. They all send a copy to every agent they can think of and agents are buried beneath a stack of queries. Fortunately, it is an electronic stack these days, but it doesn’t reduce their work any. Yeah, we need more readers, but what about this thing about fewer writers?

Even if we could, shooting authors indiscriminately would not be the ideal solution. But it wouldn’t be without its merits. Instead of shooting authors, suppose we held a lottery. Every author would be eligible to enter the lottery. If his name were drawn, he would be permitted to submit a completed manuscript to an agent. The number of names drawn would be determined by how many manuscripts the agent wants in her slush pile. Other than that, the process would be the same, though the agent might have more time to respond to each query. The problem with that is that looking through a slush pile is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Randomly limiting ourselves to a smaller section of the haystack reduces the work, but it doesn’t increase the probability of finding the needle.

We could ask authors to voluntarily remove themselves from consideration. You know, take one for the team and all of that, but we aren’t a team. Every author believes himself to be worthy of publication, so he isn’t going to just bow out because he isn’t good enough and we don’t want the better authors bowing out. We need them, if we have any hope of increasing readership.

Suppose there was a panel of readers and all they did was read manuscripts and make an up or down vote concerning whether the author has a chance of being picked up by an agent. Unlike the typical slush pile, manuscripts would have a much higher chance of escaping this panel. Let’s say the top 25% or so leave the panel with a stamp of approval. But that would mean that 75% would be rejected for being incomplete, being poorly edited or being plain ol’ boring. The authors would have to pay for the service, of course, but in return that stamp of approval would push their manuscript into the top 25% of the slush pile when they submit to an agent. Effectively, it would reduce the agent slush pile by 75% or more, without eliminating many of the needles hidden within. Would it work? I don’t know. There are several issues that would have to be worked out, but it might be worth considering.

Question: What do you think? Would you be willing to pay a reader’s fee for a third party to possibly put a stamp of approval on a manuscript before you submit? If it were rejected, would you go back and rework it or would you submit it anyway?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Unusual Guest

Any one who has been reading this blog long knows that I don’t do reviews often. You also know that I don’t like guest bloggers. And you also know that I’m trying to obey my better judgment and not write bad reviews. Today, I think I can manage that last one, but the other two go out the window. I’m going to write a review and of all things, it is going to be about a guest blog post.

I don’t usually read guest posts, even when they appear on blogs that I read daily, such as Rachelle Gardner’s blog. If I do happen to read the post, I certainly don’t comment. That just encourages them. But the other day I saw a guest post on Rachelle’s blog and I read it—at least, enough to get the general idea—then I left a comment. Why? What is so special about this particular post that is different from most guest posts?

The post is titled Would You Pay More For An Agent? and it is written by Chuck Sambuchino. The first thing we notice about this post is that it fits the general theme of Rachelle’s blog. Rachelle writes about the book publishing industry, with emphasis on the author/agent relationship. A post about how much the agent should get is right in the middle of that. This isn’t just another post that says, “I’m a published author, so I’m smarter than you. Here’s my attempt to convince you to buy my book, veiled behind my superior intelligence.”

Second, the post challenges the status quo. In a word, it’s about conflict. A writer doesn’t have to challenge the status quo to make a guest post interesting, but he needs to introduce conflict. There’s plenty of conflict when asking a question of whether the agent fee structure should be changed.

Third, Chuck presents a balance approach to the topic. He introduces the change as possible and mentions some reasons why we might want this change, but he also mentions reason why it may not be such a good thing. At this point, he could have come out much more strongly in support of the change than he did and it still would have been a good post—or the other way around. If I disagreed with him, I would have said as much in the comments.

But he doesn’t do that. He presents the topic as a topic for discussion, recognizing that a blog is better when thing are discussed, rather than the blogger simply saying how things have to be. It appears that he isn’t sure about the right answer. I’m not either, but the post ends with an open-ended question that opens the floor for debate on the topic. There’s no feeling left that we must not disagree with the post because the guest is to be treated in some special way.

Overall, it is about as good of a guest post as we can hope to achieve. And if we’re looking for a good example, this is a good place to look.

Question: What other things can a guest blogger do to write a post that people will actually read?

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Next Book

I’m writing non-fiction again. I estimate that I’m about 15% complete with the project. This project isn’t another computer book. I rather expected that I would write another one and that I would write it sooner than now, since my first book has done better than I ever expected. I haven’t been getting rich, but it has allowed me to claim a profit on my income taxes. The book I am writing is about plot devices. I suppose it is somewhat risking for me to write this book, but where there is no risk there is no reward. It’s a book that I would have liked to have read, if I had found one on the subject, but I haven’t found a book where the author covered the topic the way I have chosen to cover it. So, I’m excited about it.

Much of it, I could have used it as fodder for this blog and some of it I think I have, but it would take at least six months for me to disseminate this information through blog posts and I think I would grow tired of having the blog follow that theme for so long. As the work progresses, I may include a few posts based on what I am writing there, but if you want to read the rest of it, you’ll just have to wait until the book comes out.

I’m also anxious to see how well it sells compared to my first book. There are significant differences between the two books in terms of the target audience. The first book falls within a very tight niche and fulfills a very specific need. This new book is less of a niche book, the potential audience is wider and it fulfills a need, but it may not be as obvious that it fulfils that need. I am in closer contact with the potential audience of the book, but that audience is more educated on the subject to begin with and may be less likely to pick up just any book on the subject. Besides that, with the economy like it is, some people don’t have much extra money to buy books. But it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I’ll keep you informed.

Question: What are you writing?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book Review: Thicker Than Blood

This is a book review and to keep the federal government pencil pushers happy, I am writing this review of my own free will. I purchased the book with my own money and neither Tyndale nor C. J. Darlington paid me any money for my comments concerning this book. She didn't even buy me a cup of coffee. That being said, I'm going to try to keep to my previous commitment concerning book reviews and keep this review positive. Fortunately, that isn’t impossible with this book.

First, let me say that this book is not what I expected. “Christy Williams never imagined that a stolen Hemingway first edition would leader her back to the sister she left fifteen years ago,” the back of the book says. “But when things begin to unravel, she finds herself on May’s doorstep, fearing for her life. After a bittersweet reunion, will the two discover that some hurts can’t be healed or is there a tie that’s thicker than blood?” After reading that, I expected that the story would begin with Christy out of touch with her family (which it does) and then when she is accused of taking the book she must turn to her sister for help, but before they can resolve that problem they must resolve their own unresolved issues. In other words, I really expected that this would be a book about the sisters’ relationship to each other. This is not the case.


Thicker than Blood is about a young woman who has made all the wrong choices, including getting involved with a man named Vince. Christy is has dumped him, but after getting picked up for drunk driving, she calls him to get her out of jail. She insists that this isn’t because she wants to continue the relationship, but Vince isn’t one to let a girl dump him. While in his apartment, Christy discovers that Vince has been stealing books from their mutual employer. Vince persuades her to help him steal even more books, but she backs out. Vince then steals the aforementioned Hemingway and plants a similar copy in Christy’s car. As a result, Christy is terminated from her job. After another fight with Christy, Vince torches her apartment. Having nowhere else to go, Christy goes to stay with her sister on the ranch. But Vince is resourceful and tracks her down, with a gun in his hand.

This book certainly has its moments and I don’t recall finding any section particularly boring. And while there are plenty of examples of things that I would have done differently, I think that fans of this type of fiction will have no trouble enjoying this book.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Writer's Curse

This is supposed to be Fiction Friday, but today we’ll call it Fat Friday instead, and there’s nothing fiction about it. Besides, I can’t afford to head off down to Ellen’s and smell all that good food. Fictional or not, I’m sure those visits are adding inches to my waistline.

Why Fat Friday? You guessed it; I’m fat. Yeah, I know you can’t tell it from the picture, but as Richard Mabry noticed when I went to one of his book signings last year, I’ve put on a few pounds since the picture was taken. I haven’t changed the picture because I keep telling myself that I’ll get back down to that weight again. And I intend to, but the last couple of years haven’t been conducive to that and here I am trying to be a writer. That doesn’t help either. I spend my days sitting in front of a computer screen and I hardly get up. These days, I may be sitting there for twelve hours each day. Then I get up and go home, where I sit in front of another computer, trying to complete a book. The result, I’m overweight, my resting heart rate is about 70 and my blood pressure is slightly higher than it ought to be. This is the curse of being a writer.

I know you’re probably wondering how much overweight I am. The picture at the top of the page was taken when I weighed about 205. It may have weighed less than that, but I’ve determined that 205 is about the right weight for me. I’ve been down as far as 190, but I looked ill at the time. My current weight is about 265, so I need to lose 60 pounds, but that isn’t my peak. My top weight was 280. As bad as that sounds, I really don’t look that fat, but keep in mind that me weighing 265 is about like a woman who ought to weigh 100 tipping the scales at 130. Even so, seeing 280 got my attention and I did pretty well the first couple of weeks. I dropped ten pounds the first week and three the next. Then it stopped. It didn’t go up much and it didn’t go down much. At this rate, I’ll be stuck at 265 for a long time, but I’ve got a plan.

The first time I saw 270, I was in college. I bought a pair of jeans with a 40 inch waist and they fit. I didn’t want to wear them ever again, so I changed my diet. But being in college, I walked across campus frequently. When I moved to Texas, I started riding my bicycle, in part to get me out of the apartment, but it helped keep my weight in check. My weight seems to be closely tied to my bicycle. When I ride it, my weight drops. When I don’t, my weight gets out of control. I’ve seen the numbers. Though I reduce my calorie intake and eat healthier foods, if I don’t find a way to regularly get on the bike, I’m never going to see 250 again, much less 205.

So, I got back on the bike this week. I’ve been leaving for work before sunrise and getting home after dark, so I’ve got it on a stand, but I got back on it. I hate riding a stationary bike, but I’ve found that I can read a book and still pedal enough to get my heart rate up. I’m even able to ride for thirty minutes without looking at the clock too much. I even have an added benefit because the handles don’t cut off the circulation in my hands when I’m reading. We’ll see how it goes and maybe I won’t have to change that picture until I have one that looks better.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Personal Reality

Let consider personal reality, but before we consider that specifically, let me say that I believe in absolute truth. I believe in the God who created the Universe and I believe that he knows exactly how things really are, even though we may not see them the same way. So, please don’t construe what I have to say about personal reality to mean otherwise.

Every character in a story has a unique personal reality. Take the recent earthquake in Haiti, for example. As I write this, I am looking at an Associated Press report online that says there estimates that 200,000 people have died, 1.5 million people are homeless and the U.S. military has begun dropping prepared meals and bottled water, though they were previously reluctant to make airdrops for fear that it would create fighting on the ground. Next to the article is an ad for NFL Total Access and an ad for a personal injury attorney. People are dying by the hundreds of thousands in Haiti, but back in the comfort of our climate controlled buildings, furnished with more than we really need, we’re just as worried about who will go to the Super Bowl. Though I feel for the people hurting in Haiti, the personal reality for a man in Haiti who has lost not only his home but his wife and children is very different from mine as I listen to the news filter in from Haiti and then switch over to another website and learn what is happening in the NFL. The truth is no different, but it just isn’t as real to me.

As we consider a story, we should pay special attention the unique personal reality of the characters. Suppose we were to write about a natural disaster similar to the one in Haiti. We can talk about the thousands dead, but the reader won’t get it until we bring it down to a personal level. We need to focus on the personal reality of one character and not necessarily a character located in the disaster area. As devastating 200,000 people dead may seem, the death of a single person that we know is much more devastating. Suppose instead of focusing on the widespread destruction we focus on a man who has moved to the United States from Haiti, but he still has family in Haiti and he wants to do whatever he can to help them. Even though the story is removed from the event, it is the personal nature that makes it interesting.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Most Important Rule of Writing

What is the most important rule in writing? We hear about the rules all the time—show, don’t just tell; don’t use be verbs; don’t include backstory—but which rule is the most important?

For the most part, the rules are nothing more than general rules of thumb. There are plenty of examples where writers have successfully violated each of the ones I listed above and there are times that we will violate them as well. But there is one rule that is an absolute; we must follow it no matter what. Some writers have attempted to violate it. I suppose all of us have violated it at some point, but none have done so successfully. And yet, if we handle this one rule well, the other rules either fall into place or they don’t matter quite as much.

So, what is this all important rule? Every story must have conflict. It sounds simple enough, but the thing that kills a story more quickly than anything else is lack of conflict. Do you have a sagging middle? That is caused by lack of conflict. Are you reading a book and flipping forward to see when something interesting is going to happen? That is cause by lack of conflict. Without conflict, the plot comes to a standstill or if the conflict is too small, the plot moves very slowly. We must have conflict on every page, or we will lose our reader.

Conflict Defined

Conflict is opposition. Our protagonist wants to go one way, but there are other characters, forces or rules of society that are holding him back. Our story is about how our protagonist overcame or failed to overcome some form of conflict. That conflict must be significant enough to require the length of the story to resolve the conflict. In Cinderella, we see an example of conflict between her and her step-family. Without them, it wouldn’t be much of a story. Cinderella goes to a ball, woos the prince, leaves a glass slipper behind and he finds her. What kind of story is that? It is only when her step-family prevent her from going, she has to go by another means and then her step-family try to prevent the prince from finding her that we become interested in the story.

When Conflict is Missing

Let’s face it, there are times when we will reach a place in our writing that has very little conflict. Our protagonist is looking for something and needs someone to tell him where it is. He asks someone and that person begins a lengthy explanation of what the protagonist must do to locate it. The explanation is relevant to the story and to the central conflict, but things are going much too smoothly in the immediate story. We need to bump up the conflict or the story will die. One way of doing that is to create the other character in such a way that he doesn’t want to give the protagonist the information. This forces the protagonist to drag the information out of him, creating conflict, but we can’t always redefine the character. It may be a friend who has the information.

Another way to force conflict is to place another character or multiple characters into our story for the purpose of adding conflict. Imagine our protagonist is a mother who is at a supermarket talking to the manager about ordering a special item for her. The manager is eager to help, so there is little conflict, but what if the mother has a child pulling on her arm? “Let’s go home, Mommy.” Now we have conflict that adds interest.

Conflict Creates Flow

If you are trying to write and the words just won’t come, you want to show your character doing a particular activity, but it is hard to find the words, you probably need more conflict. You want to show your character at work, so she gets out of the car, walks to the front door, speaks to her boss on the way in, goes to her desk, sits down, and all of that stuff, but it hardly fills a paragraph and you can’t find the words to make it longer. What you need is conflict.

“Good morning,” Pam’s boss said with a smile. “I sent you an e-mail about the James account. Barbara’s out on vacation. I need you to finish it today.”

“But I’ve got all that other stuff you gave me to do,” Pam said. “I’ve got the Martin account and the…”

“I know you’re busy. We all are, but it still needs to be done. I need you to put in the overtime and get it done.”

“I had something I wanted to do tonight.”

“I’m sorry, but this can’t be helped.”

See the difference? We could go on for pages with this conflict over Pam’s boss giving her more work. After talking to her boss, Pam could talk to a co-worker. She could look for a way to get out of doing the work. The story flows from our fingertips. That’s what conflict does for us. It is like the oil of a story. Without it, everything grinds to a halt, but with it, the story flows.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to Begin a Novel

Every novel begins with a section of setup. It is within this section that the author establishes the problem that must be solved. Perhaps the protagonist is down on his luck or he is lonely or whatever. In any case, we establish this in the setup section, which occurs before the inciting incident. Often, the reader knows what is going to happen after this section because we told him on the back cover, but we can’t leave it out or the story will be incomplete.

The setup section is also where we establish who the characters are. Once we move into the later sections, the characters will be in flux and we won’t have the opportunity to show them as they were. But how do we show our characters in such a way that we show them as multi-dimensional people without boring our readers.

Most people have three aspects of their lives that reveal most of what they are like—work, home and play (or free time). People act differently at work than they do at home and differently at home than they do at play. If in the setup section we show the protagonist at work, then we show her at home and then we show her at play, we have shown the reader enough about her to know a great deal about how she will respond to various situations and what she likes to do. We can throw some other things in there, like church and school, which may not clearly fall into work or playtime. Of course, we must see how the problem impacts the different areas of the character’s life. When we do, the character appears much more real as she moves into the other sections of the book.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Those Stubborn Characters

We talk about the inciting incident. That is the moment in a story when an event causes an emotional response within a protagonist whereby he decides to leap into action. He leaves the status quo behind and moves into a new stage of his life. But let’s get real. It doesn’t always happen in real life that a person will leap into action after experiencing a traumatic event. Oh, we see some cases where national campaigns have started because something bad happened to a child and her parents don’t want to see it happen to anyone else’s children, but not all people react the same way and not all events are big enough convince these people to take action. In terms of our writing, we may encounter this with our characters. Something happens, but the character is either too stubborn to leap into action or the event just isn’t big enough to call for action. What we could do is to pick a less stubborn protagonist, or we could make the inciting incident even bigger. Instead of the criminal stealing the protagonist’s mother’s money, he kills the protagonist’s mother. That will certainly force the protagonist into action (or maybe not).

The problem we have is that there are some stories we simply cannot tell if we are forced to use a less stubborn protagonist and a less harsh inciting incident. Rather than argue that they are not worth telling, the solution is to use a dual inciting incident or maybe it would be better called a stepped inciting incident. Essentially, it works like this: something happens but it isn’t enough to trigger the action that the protagonist must take. It may be enough to get him to write his congressman, but it won’t convince him to run for office. That event might be something like a friend telling him about some trouble he had with the government. After that first event, something else happens that combined with the previous event causes the character to take an even bigger action. Suppose the first event moves him from a guy who pays little attention to government to a guy who writes a letter to his congressman. Now, the congressman responds with a letter that the protagonist doesn’t like. The man’s wife says, “well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you run for office?” So, he does.

If we used one event to move a person with little interest in politics to a person who is running for office, it would look like he is running because he is a hothead. By using two events, we cause the inciting incident to be more gradual and we show that he didn’t come to this decision without careful consideration. He first tried the appropriate channels, but that wasn’t enough, he has to take action. Using stepped inciting incidents opens the door for us to tell stories that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to tell.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Silvia Song

No editor’s note today. You have just me and no one else because today I want to talk about my work in progress. In particular, I want to talk about the main character, Silvia Song.

Silvia Song is a television reporter. She wants to be like her older sister, Brianna, who is an investigative reporter and a real go-getter. You’ve met her before. But Silvia isn’t an investigative reporter. Instead, she is an entertainment reporter and she isn’t very good at that. She see’s a criminal mind in every celebrity she interviews and if she isn’t more careful, she is going to get herself and her television station into a lawsuit for some of the things she has accused people of. She has been investigating one celebrity and thinks she has a witness lined up, but the witness turns out to be of no value. What Silvia wants is to get away from entertainment reporting all together.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Our Responsibility

What is our responsibility as writers and to whom are we responsible? The other day, I fellow writer posted a letter she received from a dissatisfied reader. She also posted her response and asked for comments. Within those comments, a question was raised about an author’s responsibility to a reader. If you read the post, you know that the author attempted to be gracious in her reply, even though the reader accused her of “defiling her daughter.” As writers, we’re going to offend some people and some of them are going to write us letters. They make rack us over the coals for something we said that they dislike. What we must be prepared to address answer is what our responsibility is in these situations and why.

The Basis of Responsibility

Before we can determine what the writer’s responsibility is, we must first determine the basis of that responsibility. Perhaps we could say that the writer has a responsibility to the readers because they purchased the book. (At least we hope they have. Most of my readers have borrowed the books from someone else or from the library.) If having paid for the book is the basis for responsibility, then we have as much of a responsibility to the dissatisfied customer as we do to the satisfied customer. Though we prefer to bend over backwards to please our fans, we have just as much responsibility to our critics. But the fact that a reader paid $10 for a book doesn’t seem like a very good basis for responsibility. That $10 buys a good book, not contact with the author.

Suppose there is no basis of responsibility. Then we could say that the writer is free to respond however she pleases. If a fan praises her, she can write a nice thank you. If a critic complains, she is free to write an equally nasty letter back. Right?

No, that doesn’t seem right. The basis of responsibility has nothing to do with the reader/writer relationship, but rather it has to do with how we ought to treat our fellow man. From a Christian world view, we have a responsibility to treat them as the Lord would have us to. In other words, the basis of responsibility is based entirely on the will of God. Our responsibility isn’t to the readers, but to the Lord himself.

What the Lord Would Have Us Do

As much as we would like to respond in kind to our critics, that is not what the Lord would have us do. No matter how harsh the words of our critics may seem, the best thing we can do is assume that they have a right to treat us that way. Suppose someone uses some offensive word to describe you or your children. The natural thing to do is to respond in kind. The right thing to do is to surrender your right to be offended. Tell yourself that the person has the right to call you something nasty. But that doesn’t mean that we must remain silent. Rather than responding in anger, we can inform the person that they have hurt us by saying what they did. But we do not have the right to retaliate in any way.

Seek Reconciliation

Our responsibility to God is to seek reconciliation. That is often very hard to do. It is compounded by the fact that some of our critics are just flat wrong. But our responsibility is to go out of our way to seek reconciliation, without compromising on the important issues.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Divorce by Facebook

A couple of my friends are having marital problems. I’ll call them Dick and Jane, rather than use their real names. There’s nothing unusual about a couple having marital problems. It happens. What’s unusual about this situation is that it has been playing itself out on Facebook. A few weeks ago, Jane wrote “Some people you think you know let you down.” It wasn’t immediately obvious that she was talking about Dick, but after she wrote about a child crying herself to sleep and there were comments from some of her closer friends, it became much more obvious. There were a few similar posts from Jane over the next few weeks and then there was this simply message, “Jane is now single.” In the context of the other posts, those words were so weighted, so heavy it seemed they might drop from the screen. Weeks passed and there was yet another message, “Dick is now friends with Jane.” And you wonder. Is he really? Are they going to get back together? We can only hope.

It’s the kind of story I might write and perhaps I would, but For the Love of a Devil and And Thy House both dealt with marital problems and I’m not sure I can stand for two more of my characters going through that. I’ve already had some people refuse to read some of my books because they were “too close to home.” So, I suppose I’ll let someone else tell this story, but it’s interesting how technology has changed the world. It used to be that you had to hear this kind of gossip when you went to the story, to church or the barber shop. You were never sure how many hands the information had passed through, but now we can get the information straight from Jane, through we may have to read between the lines. And yeah, if it were handled well, it would make a great story.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You’ve Got to be Kidding

Mark this one down in the you’ve got to be kidding me category. Thomas Nelson has announced that they are rebranding Book Review Bloggers as BookSneeze. I know Mike Hyatt is a fan of Seth Godin and all of that, but this takes the cake. The name doesn’t fit the image I have of Thomas Nelson. When I think of Thomas Nelson, I think of a old respectable company. I think of Bibles. I think of quality. What I don’t think of is snot coming out of my nose—until now. I joined Book Review Bloggers and review a few books through that program. I have one book that I haven’t had time to review. I was thinking of rushing through it and writing a review, but with the name change, I might just forget it. (Thomas Nelson, you can have the book back, if you want it. I would just as soon never say that I am reviewing a book through the BookSneeze program.) 

Novels Don't Have Scenes

Novelists aren’t writing a screenplay. Perhaps we have overlooked some of the subtleties of that statement. I’ve read a few books on writing screenplays and the storyboard is king. I’ve tried storyboarding a novel and while it works to some extent, I have found it easier to use mind mapping software to generate an outline. However, if I were to write a screenplay, I could see myself going the other way. I might use the mind mapping software, but I might then want to move it over to a storyboard. While a story is a story is a story, we must conclude that there are some differences in novel writing from writing screenplays.

We talk about scenes in novels, but I think this may be the heart of the differences between a novel and a screenplay. In a screenplay, you have to have a scene. The scene defines who the players will be, the shooting location, the lighting requirements and a number of other things. There are some tricks in filmmaking that may require more than one location for a scene, but as writers, we tend to think of it in terms of one location with a limited cast of characters. If we don’t, the producer is likely to complain and we’ll be rewriting it to reduce cost. What it amounts to, is that that card on the storyboard is the smallest unit we can break our story into.

In novel writing, we don’t really have scenes. Conceptually, we aren’t thinking in terms of where the camera will have to be and the cost of trucking equipment around. We can tell the reader about an object hidden in a character’s pocket and the camera doesn’t have to see it. In like manner, we can jump to a single paragraph flashback that reveals information important to the story and we don’t have to write it as a separate scene.

The true difference is in how we are able to think about the story. In screenplays, something happens in one location, then something happens in another location, then we might go back to the first location in the story. In novel writing, the whole world is open to us. A character can get out of bed, we can follow him as he eats breakfast, he can leave the house and walk down the street, he can arrive at work, spend the whole day going from meeting to meeting, return home and go to bed without us ever needing to insert a firm scene break. So while we may talk in terms of scenes, what we really want to accomplish is to wrap our reader in the world of our novel. The only firm breaks we should ever be concerned with are those when we must change jump to a different storyline or skip over some amount of time. Otherwise, it is fine to do a smooth transition from one location to the next or from one set of characters to the next, if that’s what we want to do.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Agent Popularity

Below are four name. As you read each one, if you recognize the name and know something about them, clap your hands.

  • Chip MacGregor
  • Rachelle Gardner
  • Steve Laube
  • Terry Burns

Okay, so now that you feel silly for clapping while reading a blog, raise your hand if you can answer this question: who are their clients?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. And you back there, get your hand down. It’s no fair looking it up on their websites. But while you’re there, take a look at how many followers the four literary agents I mentioned have and compare that to how many their clients have. Or forget their clients and compare their blog readership to that of the well known authors. Some best selling authors have less than 200 people following their blogs. Some literary agents have over 1,500 people following their blogs.

Perhaps this isn’t the problem that it appears to be, but it doesn’t seem like a good thing when the literary agent is better known than the authors he represents. To be successful writers, we authors have got to build a name for ourselves. Ideally, we would like to have a name built before we query an agent. When the literary agent sees our e-mail in his inbox, we would like for him to skip over everyone else, excited to see something from a name he recognizes. The ideal situation rarely occurs, but it still seems odd to me that even after getting a literary agent, the agent is more popular than the writer. I’m not sure if there’s a way to fix it, but there you have it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sara Picks an Inciting Incident

Editor’s Note: I figure any day I get to spend time with Sara is a good day. This week, I sat down and talked to Sara about a subject that came to light in the recent discussion of New Year’s resolutions.

Timothy Fish:
Sara, I’ve started writing another book, but I’ve still got book five in your series floating around in the back of my mind. We’ll see how everything goes, but I’m thinking that I might write it sometime this year.

That’s great. What’s it going to be about?

Timothy Fish:
You know how in And Thy House Kelly got involved in the movie industry, a little. I’m thinking that I’ll expand on that.

So, I won’t be in this one?

Timothy Fish:
Actually, I was thinking of making you the protagonist. It would sort of bring the series full circle.

That would be okay, as long as you promise a happy ending, but what would you have me doing? I’m not an actor.

Timothy Fish:
That’s part of what I wanted to talk to you about. This concept came up about setting resolutions by putting ourselves into a story. Along with that, we would need to have an inciting incident that would motivate us to take action. So, what would you like your inciting incident to be?

You’re asking me? I’m not even sure I know what you’re asking. I don’t write books.

Timothy Fish:
Let me put it another way. What would you like to be different in your life and what would you like to be your motivation for making that change?

You mean anything or—I mean, if you put it in the story then that means I’m going to get it.

Timothy Fish:
Sure, anything. But keep in mind that you’re going to have to do the work to get it.

So, if I asked for a million dollars, I would get it?

Timothy Fish:
Yeah, but what would be your motivation for getting a million dollars?

I don’t know. Maybe if the restaurant burned and we didn’t have enough insurance.

Timothy Fish:
That could work. We could have someone mad at the movie studio set Ellen’s Café on fire because they were filming in front of it. I think I know which character to use.

Wait! I don’t want the building to burn. I’ve got too many good memories in it. Promise me you won’t do that.

Timothy Fish:
Okay, but it would have worked. You would have needed a million dollars then.

What about a boyfriend? Could you give me a boyfriend?

Timothy Fish:
Ah, a little romance. That could work. But what’s going to motivate you to go get one? We need an inciting incident

Do we have to? Can’t you just wave your magic wand or your magic pencil or whatever and make it happen?

Timothy Fish:
I could, but what kind of story would that be?

Then could we make the story about something else and just throw the boyfriend in there anyway?

Timothy Fish:
Yeah, we could, but what are we going to do for the story?

What about a mystery? Maybe I could investigate something. My motivation could be that I’m curious. Maybe someone died and I wanted to know why.

Timothy Fish:
Yeah, it could work. It could be your boyfriend who dies—

Hey! That’s not fair.

Timothy Fish:
I think I’m beginning to get the picture. You don’t want an inciting incident. You just want things to go smoothly.

You got it, buddy.

Timothy Fish:
Well, we have to have an inciting incident.

Then maybe you had better choose it.

Timothy Fish:
Yeah, I think I’m going to have to.

Just don’t hurt my parents or or Mark Jr. and I want a boyfriend I’ll like, not some jerk.

Timothy Fish:
Maybe I had better come up with something and not tell you until it’s over.

Now, I’m afraid of what you’ll do.

Timothy Fish:
Yeah, you won’t like it, but I’m sure you’ll make it turn out okay.

I hope so.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Where I Write

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but I typically write while sitting at the dining room table. I have an office, which I used to write my first couple of books and I have an old desk that I think I might fix up and place in there. The chair in there is much more comfortable than the chairs in the dining room, but it seems like when I’m back there that I lose a connection with the world. There is a window, but all I can see from there is my neighbor’s house. I can see the television from the dining room and sometimes I turn it on just to break up the quiet.

If I could have my preferred writing environment, I would choose a big room, with a wall of windows, overlooking a valley. The windows would be to the south, so the sun would shine in all day long. There would be voices in the background, but not near enough that I would be drawn into the conversation. In a pinch, I suppose I might go down to Ellen’s café. It faces east instead of south, but with its large windows, high ceilings and spacious eating area, I could be comfortable there. There are customers there most of the time, so I wouldn’t be alone. But I fear I would eat too much. It may be good that I have no means of getting there.

Question: What about you? Where do you prefer to write?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Over the Horizon

Imagine are living in the days of kings and knights. Perhaps you are a wealthy land owner—a king, perhaps. The sun has set and you are in the great room with your family and a few guests. The room is dimly lit and warmed by a fire in the fireplace. Someone is playing a stringed instrument, but there is little else to do. You might play a game of some kind, but you are considering going off to bed. The sun will rise much sooner that way.

Then there is a knock at the door. One of the servants opens the door and appears a few moments later with a man behind him. The servant announces that the man is a traveler who is looking for a place to spend the night.

“By all means,” you say, “and do tell us of your journeys.”

After eating the leftovers from the meal you had earlier, the traveler begins his tale. He tells of journeying through the lands of another king, twenty miles to your east. He tells you of what he saw when he was there. You are glad to hear news of this land, as you do not often travel that far from home. He embellishes his tale with wizards and dragons, making it sound as if he was lucky to have lived at all, but you don’t care, because his tale entertains the children and the servants. He has earned his keep.

Jump forward a few centuries and you’ll find that stories haven’t changed that much. We have more entertainment now, but people still enjoy a good story. What they want to hear in a story hasn’t changed that much either. They still want a glimpse into the world that is over the horizon. The horizon has changed, but they still want the same. Today, though we may know more about what is happening in a town twenty miles away, the stuff that happens behind closed doors or backstage is still of great interest. Just like one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, some of the things that we find the least interesting about our lives may be the very thing that people who aren’t walking in our shoes may find interesting.

Question: What have you seen over the horizon in your life that other people might find interesting?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Getting Started

Writing a book gets easier as you go along. The hard part is getting started. I recently finished a book and as I neared the end, I couldn't keep myself away. I recently started writing another book and I haven't gotten past the first three thousand words. Christmas and work didn't help, but neither did spending last weekend doing all kinds of stuff other than writing. There are plenty of other things on the horizon that will keep me from writing as well.

I think, perhaps, that it is good to take a break from writing, from time to time. I don’t know about for everyone else, but I have to find my focus when I am writing a book. So, maybe the best thing is for a writer to give himself some time to be a normal person for a while—read a book, watch some television, spend some time with another hobby—then at a more appropriate time, take up writing again and go at it full force.

Question: What do you think? Do you take a break between writing projects? What do you do to get started again?

Monday, January 4, 2010 as a Research Tool is a fascinating place to visit. To be quite honest, I spend too much money there—enough that my Prime membership has paid for itself. But its a great place, even if you don’t spend a dime. For the author, it contains a lot of useful information. The first thing we notice is that it gives us a relative index of how popular particular books are. If you are looking for the most accurate and most up to date bestseller list, has it and you can filter it down to pretty much any category you would want.

Another thing is useful for is as a means to look at product descriptions. You can walk through Barnes and Noble, pull some books off the shelf and read the backs, but it is much easier to do it on Besides, has several times the selection of Barnes and Noble.

If you are writing non-fiction, makes it fairly easy to find similar books to the one you are writing. With that information, you can then tell any agent you query about the books that are currently available and why you think your book fills a gap left by them. On the other hand, if you find significant overlap, it may help you to see that you need to change the focus of your book or quit the project.

The ability to look inside of the books on is a great feature that allows us to read small portions of a work without having the book in hand. You may want to see how other authors began their books, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money buying books you don’t intend to read in their entirety. The information we need is just a click away.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Down the Street

Editor’s Note:Today’s post isn’t so much of a story as it is a character sketch. I hope you enjoy it.

It was one of those afternoons when there weren’t enough customers to keep the workers as Ellen’s café busy when Sara walked out the front door, made a left and walked down the street. Most of the shops were as deserted as Ellen’s café. A few customers browsed the wares, but many of the shopkeepers sat inside reading books or stood staring out the windows, hoping for any sign that someone would open the door and step inside.

And it was little wonder that there were so few people shopping. On top of it being in the middle of the week, the mercury hovered just below eighteen degrees, even with the sun shining brightly and trying its hardest to push it a little higher. A gust of wind hit Sara in the face and she pulled her coat a little tighter. She came to a shop, opened the door and stepped inside.

There were three other people inside. One was the owner. The other two were a mother and daughter who were in one corner of the store, looking through scarves. The owner smiled at Sara when she recognized her and went back to rearranging one of the displays, more to give her something to do than out of necessity.

“It’s still here,” the woman said.

Sara looked at the dress, hanging from one of the store mannequins. The fine fabric and the sequins shimmered in the lighting for the display.

“I don’t know where I would wear it if I had it,” Sara said.

“I know what you mean,” the woman said, “but it did turn out rather nice.”

Sara reached up and held the helm of the dress in her hand, not far from telling the woman that she would buy it.