Tell Your Story!

by Harriet E. Michael

“We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right, a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light, a story of peace and light.”

These words from a hymn written in 1896 by H. Ernest Nichol always strike a chord in my heart. I sang this song every year as a little girl in Africa at the annual Girls’ Axillary coronation. GA was a girls’ missions club in my denomination. It consisted of steps to pass by studying various Bible or mission’s stories or doing related activities. And each step led to a higher and more royal recognition from Lady-in-waiting, Princess, all the way up to Queen Regent. sketch - chapelThe boarding school chapel, sketched by me.

Every year the mission boarding school, about an hour’s drive from my home, held a coronation in the chapel where MK (missionary kid) girls received recognition for the steps they had passed signified by a badge, crown, cape, scepter, or white Bible. We girls dressed in formal dresses and the Queens and above had young attendants carrying their crown, scepter, etc. The memory is precious to me.

GA coronation

I am the young girl in the center wearing a white dress, black shoes, with short bangs (my sister got happy with her scissors). I was an attendant that year to the older girl behind me.

And the words to the song still pierce my heart today.

But today when I reflect on these words, I do not think of passing GA steps, I think of writing instead. In particular, I think of a certain type of writing—nonfiction Christian writing. Though I enjoy different types of writing and am currently working on some of my first fiction pieces—a short story and a novel—more than anything I am a nonfiction writer at heart. Even my short story and novel are fiction based on fact.

God writes such wonderful stories! All a nonfiction Christian writer really does is writing-923882_1280transcribe these amazing stories God has already written. I have seen God’s hand so many times in my life and in so many scenarios. Not all have been pleasant. He has led me through some scary times and dark days. But even those make wonderful stories. Stories of God’s grace, His faithfulness, His comfort and peace, and most of all His goodness.

One type of nonfiction writing I love to do is devotional writing. And for any of  you who may be interested, I will be leading a workshop on devotional writing next month at the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference in Memphis, TN. I would love to  have you join me. Mid-South Christian Writers home page

Certainly, you have a story to tell to the nations too. God works in different ways in different writers’ lives. The nations are eager to hear your story. Don’t you think it’s time to sit down to your computer and get to work?

computer

Writing Prompt: Write about a time you have seen God working in your life or in the life of someone close to you. Did He answer your prayer? Did He bring you comfort? Share your story.

 

 

How to Write Heart-stopping Romantic Suspense

by Fay Lamb

When asked about writing romantic suspense, the word “formula” often arises. Many EMC2publishers insist on “formula.” Here is what formula means to romantic suspense: hero and heroine meet before the first chapter, opposition enters the story to keep them apart, until their happy-ever-after ending.

I’m not a formula person, but there are components that are a must-have for romantic suspense to work well:

A Likeable Hero and Heroine

Oh, you can try making one or both of your main characters unlikeable at first, but selling it to an editor or agent might take a little more effort, especially if this is your first foray into this or any genre. I recommend starting with a likeable guy and gal. Give them some scars or some problems to overcome. In my novel Stalking Willow, I had a very unlikeable heroine. She was an angry mess of bitterness, and every word she spoke brought that truth out about her. My critique partners didn’t like her. I’d say they hated her, but that would be too strong of a word, even if it’s true. My excuse was “no one likes a bitter person.”

portrait-1134598_1920It didn’t take too long to realize that my critique partners were right. I had to tone the heroine down. Enter the hero. A likeable sort. A pretty nice guy. Great with kids. He’s a high school coach. He’s known the heroine all of his life, and he harbors a bit of bitterness toward her. After all, she left town and didn’t come back for ten years, and she only returned because she had a stalker on her tennis-shoe heels.

The heroine’s bitterness is rewritten with a sarcastic wit which becomes a plot device for the story. The hero is then able to turn the tables on her. With the help of some secondary characters, the heroine begins to see her bitterness through their eyes, and the eyes of her hero. While she’s attempting to change, her sarcasm comes back to haunt her because everyone takes the things she says in the wrong way, and she often wonders why they’ve taken exception to something she’s said.

The hero? He had a slight problem with anger when it comes to another character. He gets into a few fights in the story. He’s far from perfect, but a wise editor told me to never—ever—ever—let the hero throw the first punch.

With a heroine and hero in place, the key is to make sure that the reader will want the couple together. In Stalking Willow, I used a few plot devices that folded nicely into some subplots: a picture the heroine had drawn of the hero and a baseball cap. I also allowed the arguments between the couple to show that, despite their anger toward each other, they were still in love.

IMG_7637A Conflict Fueled Plot Driven by a Troublesome Villain (or Two)

I’m sure that somewhere in the writing journey, every writer has heard or will hear this mantra: Conflict. Conflict. Conflict.

Conflict is the fuel that drives a story forward. Without fuel, the story won’t even sputter and die. The story will never start. The plot will go nowhere.

The conflict in the main plot of a suspense novel must be the villain (person or thing) that will bring danger (conflict) to one or both of the main characters (the hero and heroine). The villain’s actions may be toward only one member of the dynamic duo, but at some point in the plot, the villain must run across both the hero and heroine. The conflict he or she brings to the story must build as the story moves forward.

In Stalking Willow, one villain is closer than the heroine thinks from the very beginning of the story. He scares her back to her hometown intending to wreak more havoc upon her, toying with her until the right moment. With each scene, the conflict of the main plot escalates with the villain getting bolder and bolder and introducing trouble for the heroine—trouble the hero wants to save her from—trouble the villain eventually turns on the second scoundrel, whom the heroine has never met in her life, despite the closeness of their relationship. That’s called a plot twist. Those are nice additions in any genre.

Pacing: the Right Speed in the Right Scene

I’m often asked the difference between a thriller and suspense. The difference is the pacing. Generally, a thriller moves quickly. The author uses short, clipped sentences or jogger_silhouetteother techniques to develop a sense of urgency to the scenes, which amp up to a fast pace with a lot of action. The action might build to a point where the reader is clinging to the seat waiting to see what’s going to happen next. The key to this type of writing is to keep the characters in motion, fighting against conflict.

A writer of suspense, though, must develop the skill that allows them to recognize when to slow the pace of the story to draw out the tension of a scene or speed it up to give it the feel of a thriller.

In Stalking Willow both techniques are used. In a scene in which the heroine must escape from a predicament quickly, the sentences are short, and the actions keep coming. Not only actions. There is conflict with every move the heroine makes to get out of the predicament. I wanted the reader biting her manicured nails.

foggy-545838_1920Another scene in the novel was written slowly, to draw out the tension for the reader. This is often done in horror films. You know the ones: the teenager who’s been left at home to babysit her baby brother is in her kitchen consoling herself by making an ice cream float. Ding She receives a text message. What? Does her friend seriously think she’ll believe that someone else is using her phone—someone who says he’s killed her friend and he’s coming after her? She starts to text back. Bam! A loud thud hits the floor above her. She drops the tub of ice cream and searches frantically through the kitchen drawer for her mother’s knife, the one with the big blade. If her friend is joking, this isn’t funny. Her little brother’s asleep. She finds her weapon and walks to the foot of the stairs, listening. The knife trembles with her white-knuckled grasp. She forgets to breathe. The noise upstairs has stopped. Had she only imagined it? She lowers the knife. A loud bang from her brother’s room sends her body into convulsions. A door creaks open. She drops the knife and bends over to get it, holding to the banister, looking upstairs while feeling around on the tile floor for her only weapon. She calls for her brother. He’s only a baby. He couldn’t be making the noise, but someone is up there with him. All goes still. She calls out his name again. Silence. She starts up the stairs, one slow step at a time, knife raised …

You get the picture. That’s the Alfred Hitchcock style of suspense. That style worked for him, and it works for suspense writers as well. A student of romantic suspense will study these scenes to make sure that the pacing is just right.

Oh, and no writer ever wants to hurry the romantic kiss. The key is to turn the slow pace of the suspenseful moment into one the reader wants to see occur rather than one the reader wants the character to avoid.

And last, we have our …

Happy-Ever After Ending

couple-915984_1920Spoiler alert: in Stalking Willow the hero and heroine have a happy-ever-after ending. I don’t mind telling you that because while the sweet kiss, lover’s embrace, or a poignant moment is nice, it usually comes at the end of the story. The heart of a romantic suspense—the part that an author wants the reader to remember—is the journey that got them to that moment.

So, find that lovable hero and heroine, put them into conflict with a villain, and amp up or string out the suspense to take the reader on an adventure they will never forget to a happy ending. Give the hero and heroine a happy ending, and let the villain get what he or she deserves.


 

Fay LambFay Lamb is an editor, writing coach, and author, whose emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted two series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, and A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

FayLambBooksFuture releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads.

Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching should contact her at fay@faylamb.com.

 

 

The Mystery of it All

By Betty Boyd

Slide9The genre of mystery has always been my favorite since I first learned to read. I always wanted to figure out whodunit. Reading mysteries gave me my first glimpse into the how and why a murderer would commit their crime.

The genre of mystery is a fairly young form of literature that has been around for the last 200 years. Authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, who introduced Sherlock Holmes, started the huge popularity of this genre. Other types of mysteries included dime novels and pulp magazines. One of the best-selling authors is Agatha Christie, who–to her credit–wrote over 80 mystery novels from which many movies have been made.

file8081258144701Today, mysteries have gone beyond the writing of books. They are seen in plays, movies, and television series. The hint of mystery can also be lurking in a newspaper or even magazine articles.

Since all of my writing is non-fiction, reading a mystery is helpful for me to understand the intricacies of why criminals act the way they do. I admire the structure and the way a murder mystery is created. It is a lot of fun to try to guess who did the dastardly deed.

I gravitate toward this genre, because life itself is a mystery. It would be pretty boring to know everything that is going on. For me, mysteries are here to stay, and I cannot wait for the next great author to come along and wow me with their novel.

Happy reading!

Complete the prompt below for an extra entry in our blogaversary drawing! Submit your completed writing prompt via Comments.

Can you write a story with these four words?

  • Mayhem
  • Criminal
  • Whodunit
  • Novel

Genre: Is Fantasy Just an Escape?

By Jill Richardson
Jill1I admit it—I saw the Lord of the Rings movies before I read the books (now multiple times). In that theater, shortly after 9/11, when the pain was still raw, the fear still thick, the sense of shock that our familiar world was obliterated still overwhelming, I fell in love with the characters, the story, and the words such as Gandalf’s timely reminder:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Many people wonder, why read fantasy? Isn’t it just escapism? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with this world, rather than events that aren’t even real? Especially in times that seem to require a focus on grim reality.

Yet something deep stirs in you when you read about dragons and fairies and other worlds where battles are fought and wrongs are righted. Perhaps that “something deep” is a response to fantasy’s ability to tell a story that can be our own—a story that reflects serious beliefs and values in its pages of “escape.”

What is the purpose of reading (and writing) fantasy? Here are at least four.

To combat unbelief and cynicism

One hallmark of the Millennial generation is cynicism. Constantly courted by ads and pollsters, this generation is wary of being marketed to, and distrust is their default. This has its good and bad points.

Fantasy, with its emphasis on heroes and battles for good, enters that cynical atmosphere with a new conversation. Maybe, there is such a thing as a hero who isn’t self-serving. Maybe there is, as Sam argues, good in this world worth fighting for.

Even a lowly Hobbit can change the course of the world by destroying the Ring. That is the appeal of fantasy. In our modern world where politicians prove corrupt, large corporations rip off consumers, and terrorists kill ordinary people going about their daily lives, the traditional quest fantasy provides an antidote to cynicism.” (Rowena Cory Daniells)

To bring hope

Fantasy is hardly escapist, when you think about it. Awful stuff happens. Hundreds die on Pelennor Fields. Hermione must choose to lose her parents forever. Thorin and both his heirs die.

But in the end, life goes on. The hero wins. Though what has happened won’t be forgotten, there is a sense that it was not for nothing—good did triumph. Life will be better.

Fantasy does not deny or diminish the existence of sorrow and pain. The possibility of failure is absolutely necessary for the “piercing sense of joy” one feels when victory is finally won. Fairy tales all offer the hope that a happy ending is possible—and we need to believe this. Fantasy denies ultimate despair. It holds out the hope for a better world and signposts the way.” (Kate Forsyth)

To give us weapons for our own battles

Life is tough—but then we see the intelligence of Bilbo, the quickness of Pippin, the courage of tiny Merry, the loyalty of Sam, the calm wisdom of Hermione, the persistence of Harry. With that sight? We realize that those are tools accessible to us.

When a writer creates a hero who is afraid or feels unequipped, that hero looks a lot like me. To witness that hero’s struggle and the ultimate victory over not simply a tangible enemy but over oneself is to believe we can stoop down and pick up our own sword or bow and take on our own fears.

To show the world as it was/is meant to be

Tolkien famously defended fantasy by saying that there is nothing wrong with a prisoner who wishes to escape his prison. By that argument, this broken world is our prison, and looking elsewhere for a portrait of what our world was meant to be is the most normal, sane thing one can do.

“I coined the the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears. It is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole chained nature feels a sudden relief as if a limb out of joint has suddenly snapped back. It perceives that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature was made.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Against all odds, good, love, and peace win. The underdog triumphs. Is this escape? Or is it the world as it was intended? Good fantasy brings us back to the beginning and invites us to participate in the renewal of what was always meant to be.

Writing prompt: Dorothy knew she had been told to follow the yellow brick road. But the girl who had run away from her overprotective old aunt had no intention of listening to a woman who rode in a bubble. She looked at the red bricks intertwined with the yellow ones. They looked interesting . . .

Jill Richardson is a writer, speaker, pastor, mom of three, and author of five books. She likes to travel, grow flowers, cause trouble, and research her next project. Her somewhat unnatural love for hobbits and elves comes from her time as a literature teacher and as a lifelong reader of great stories. Her passion is partnering with the next generation of faith. She blogs at http://jillmrichardson.com/.

Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World9781938499913.jpg

Hobbits, elves, dwarves, dragons, and wizards? Are epic-sized adventures just for fantasy? Or can they happen to you, too? Tolkien’s famous and immortal characters of Middle Earth are great for film, but the surprising thing is, they’re more real than you think. Within every “average” teen there’s an epic adventure waiting to be discovered—and this book just might help you discover yours. Look at the lives of your favorite characters, compare them to how God sees their journey, and see how you, like Bilbo, might  find out, “There is a lot more in (you) than you guess.”

3 Questions Wednesday with Jodie Bailey

jodie baileyToday we welcome award-winning author, Jodie Bailey, to 3 Questions Wednesday!

Welcome back to our blog, Jodie! First question…

What books have fortified you as a writer? How?

Jodie: That is a tough question, because there are so many ways to answer it, depending on where I “am” at the time.  Craft books?  The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell is my very favorite.  It covers everything in small chunks, and every time I get to the end, I start right back over.  It’s smart, encouraging, and realistic, all at the same time.  The Emotion Thesaurus helps me craft my characters.  And there are some fiction books/writers that I read over and over, because they inspire me like mad:  Rachel Hauck’s characters, Siri Mitchell’s settings, Jessica Patch’s “kissing scenes…”  But when I really want to remember why I’m a writer, I read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It’s my favorite book of all time because I so “get” Francie in all of her emotions and her heart.  She’s a writer, and it infuses her entire view of the world.

Great choices! I read The Art of War for Writers at least once a year.  Now about you…

What secret talents do you have?

Jodie: I can ride a Harley.  I am not afraid to ask anybody anything when it involves research, which has taken me some crazy places.  I have the uncanny ability to remember the world’s most useless facts, but I can’t remember names to save my life sometimes.  Not sure those are talents though.

To me, riding a motorcycle takes lots of talent. 🙂 Last question:

If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?

Jodie: I am a HUGE fan of our charcoal grill.  So… I’m thinking steak, loaded baked potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and salad, with homemade banana pudding for dessert.  Or, if we’re not grilling, I have a recipe for chicken and cheese enchiladas with green onions and sour cream sauce that will bring you back for seconds!

Wow. Where do you live again? Thanks, Jodie, for stopping by!

Jodie has graciously offered to give away a print copy of Compromised Identity to one blessed reader. So leave a comment below for your chance to win!

Compromised Identity

Staff sergeant Jessica Dylan confronts a female soldier in the 9780373447169act of stealing her laptop—and almost pays with her life. But a blue-eyed mystery man rushes to her aid just in time, and Jessica learns the handsome army staff sergeant has been investigating her. Sean Turner believes a ring of cyber terrorists who’ve been attacking military bases are now specifically targeting Jessica. And he’s determined to figure out why they are tracking her every move. As the threats against Jessica escalate and attempts are made on her life, Sean vows to stop the hackers. Yet the heart-scarred soldier is set on keeping an emotional distance…especially when they discover what the terrorists are really after.

Jodie Bailey writes novels about freedom and the heroes who fight for it.  Her military romantic suspense, Crossfire, won a 2014 RT Reviewers Choice Award. Quilted by Christmas, a contemporary romance from Abindgon, spent two months on the CBA bestseller list and won a 2015 Selah Award. She is convinced a camping trip to the beach with her family, a good cup of coffee, and a great book can cure all ills. Jodie lives in North Carolina with her husband, her daughter, and two dogs.