Description: How Much Is Too Much?

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By Bonita Y. McCoy

Description in a story has two jobs. It helps the reader to understand the scene and allows them to use their imagination to picture the action in their minds.

But have you ever picked up a book and found that it went on and on and on about how a character looked or how the room was decorated?

Reading a novel that contains too much description is like listening to a monotone teacher on a warm afternoon, guaranteed to bore. The reader will flip pages trying to locate the action.

However, a novel that doesn’t contain enough description can leave the reader wandering around the story, lost and confused. It also leaves the reader feeling cheated, thinking he only got half of the novel and that the other half is still stuck somewhere in the writer’s brain.

So, how do we measure how much is enough?

Since there are no hard and fast rules, I put together a few questions that can be used to determine if your description is hitting the mark or if it needs some TLC.

Does the description slow down the pace of the story?

If the description acts like a speed bump in a scene, it is either too long or put in the wrong place. There is a reason why most of the description of a setting is done at the beginning of the scene. One, it puts your reader right in the heart of what’s going on, and two, its out of the way once the dialogue and action starts.

You never want your description to slow down the car chase or interrupt an argument between characters. Action beats are one thing; a long drawn out description of the forest is another.

Does the description add to the plot?

If you tend to tell every movement of a character in minute detail, you are doing what I call housekeeping. You are giving your reader a laundry list of everyday activities that they can fill in for themselves. These don’t add to the plot. They instead lessen the readers involvement in the story.

However, description can be used to add flavor to the plot. In Call of the Wild, one of the characters has no name; he is only known by the description, the man in the red sweater. The description shows the reader that the man is a stranger to the point of view character, and being a scoundrel, he isn’t worth getting to know.

Good choices in what to describe and how to describe it, not only draw your reader into the story but can add spice to your plot.

 Are you over using adjectives and adverbs?

The first lesson I learned in novel writing was to use adverbs and adjectives sparingly. The irony that they use an adverb to explain to us about not using adverbs is not lost on me. However, the advice still applies.

If you use adverbs and adjectives to prop up your word choices, you are cluttering your story. It shows that your nouns and verbs do not convey your meaning, and you are feeling unsure that the reader will understand.

Most of the time, your word choice works fine without the adverb or adjective, but if you aren’t sure, try using a thesaurus to find a word that better shows your meaning. An example of that would be Carol was very angry compared to Carol seethed. One word was able to take the place of three, and the reader got a clearer understanding of Carol’s emotions.

When in doubt about a word choice, check your thesaurus.

Are you trying to use the research you love?

As writers, we all do research, and sometimes, we fall in love with it. We become enamored and want to share all that we have learned with our readers, even at the expense of too much description.

Be honest, does your reader need to know all there is to know about llama care? Even if it’s interesting and you adopted a llama, if it’s not moving the plot forward, it needs to be cut.

Click to tweet: Use only the research that adds depth to your characters or enhances the plot. Everything else is llama liability. #llama #amwriting

These questions are only a start, but they should give you a clearer picture of how you are doing with your use of description. Knowing how much is too much is tricky, even those who have been writing for years find it hard to tell, but with practice, it will get easier to spot its over use. At least, that’s what I hear.

 

Prompt: The editor wanted half the description gone. Martha wanted to throw the piece of work out the window, but she knew that wouldn’t do any good. She had spent months researching the Appalachian Mountains and hated to leave out any of the imagery and colors she had seen on her trips. Frustration filled her. How was she supposed to decide what to keep and what to cut?

Myths and Merits of the Romance Genre

by Bonita Y. McCoy

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So, you think you want to write romance. I don’t blame you. The romance genre holds many wonderful opportunities for writers. Within romance, you can do serious, funny, suspenseful, or quirky stories, and the real plus, the readers always want a happily-ever-after ending. My favorite.

However, there are some myths about the genre that are floating around like bubbles on a sunny day, and they need to be popped before you settle on this genre as the one for you.

Myths

  • The Romance Genre is the easiest genre in which to write.

Wrong. All the same grammar rules and industry standards apply to the romance genre. It is no easier or harder than any other genre being written in the market today.

What should determine your genre of choice is what type of stories you love to read? If you love romance and stories that have a romantic subplot then you are a great candidate for becoming a romance writer, but if you lean more to adventure or science fiction and skip over the romantic sections, you won’t enjoy writing it any more than you do reading it.

  • With Romance, you only need to develop two characters.

Again, wrong. You may only write from the two main characters points of view, but just like any other genre, all the major characters need to be fully developed and well thought out.

Another aspect of romance writing that we forget is world building. If you write small town romances, you as the writer will have to build the small town. If you write about a character’s apartment or place of work, you will need to map out these places, so you can easily describe them in your novel.

  • The plot is not as important in a romance as the characters.

Do I need to say it? This too is a myth. No matter what type of story you write both the characters and the plot need to be believable. Though some genres are more character driven while others are more plot driven, both must run like a well-oiled machine. No holes, no clogged parts, no missing pieces.

  • The love will carry the story.

Emotional tension is the essence of good story telling, but the love in a romance can not be the only conflict or tension in the story. Your characters need baggage. Emotional, physical, mental, and any other type in order to make them real to the reader.

The love story should be powerful, but there must be more depth to the characters for the reader to be willing to go on the journey with the hero and heroine. Be creative in this area. Bring in something new and different for your characters to deal with in their daily lives. A handicapped relative, a retired parent, a critical diagnosis from the doctor, a crisis of faith, something that your reader may be dealing with in their own lives.

Now, that we have looked at the myths in the genre, let’s look at the merits. There are several advantages to writing romance.

Merits

  • It is the largest genre in the industry.

According to a Bookstr article in January 2017, romance was the number one best-selling genre clearing somewhere around 1.44 billion dollars. It is a large pond and plenty of room for newcomers to join in the fun.

  • Sub genres and tropes make the difference.

Another positive about writing in the best-selling genre is that there is a small sub genre for almost any trope you would like to write. If you want to write matchmaker romances, there is a sub genre for that. If you want to write billionaire romances, there is a place for that one too.  How about cowboy, boy next door, or fake relationships? They all fit as well.

  • Hope can be found in romance novels.

One of the best aspects of writing romance revolves around the encouragement romance writers give to their readers. Romance novels give hope. They uplift, encourage, rally, and entertain the reader through hard places in real life. They transport the reader to a place where even when its tough love conquers all. And for some, that is a place they need to visit to find a seed of hope for their own lives.

  • A Bond develops between the reader and the writer.

The romance genre weaves the threads of lives together to create a lasting bond, not between hero and heroine, but rather between reader and writer. Romance writers have a sacred trust with their readers. We will write a story that meets readers expectations of hope, love, and a happily-ever-after, and our readers will be loyal to return again and again to go on the journey with us. Romance readers are a loyal band.

Writing romances can be demanding just like any other genre of fiction, but the rewards far outweigh the frustrations. Once you’ve identified the myths that surround this genre and embraced the truth that any writing is work, you can better decide which genre is the right fit for you and your goals as a writer.

Remember, there are myths and merits in any genre. However, if you adore a sweet romance and you can’t wait to see how the hero and heroine end up together, then you might just be a romance writer who has found her home in the fiction world.

Click to tweet: The romance genre weaves the threads of lives together to create a lasting bond, not between hero and heroine, but rather between reader and writer.  #romance #amwriting

 

Writing Prompt: Maggie felt a little blue. She knew the next two weeks during Christmas would be hectic, but she consoled herself with the thought of the books she would take with her. Her own private world tucked in her suitcase.

Heart of Christmas bookAnnouncing five new stories filled with faith, hope, forgiveness, and of course happily-ever-afters. Each story focuses on an element of the Nativity, from the angels to the wise men. Be swept up in the love of the season and the promise of forever that the Christ child, the true Heart of Christmas, brings.  Available on Kindle and in Kindle Unlimited.

 

8 Steps to Writing a “Shout from the Housetops” Devotion

by Bonita Y. McCoy

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Do you love writing? Do you endeavor to encourage others, to lift them up in their daily walk with Christ? If so, then you may be a perfect candidate for writing devotions for such publications as Guideposts, Upper Room, Light from the Word, and Devo’Zine.

However, if you’ve never written a devotion before you might be wondering how to get started, so today, we are going to cover eight steps that will take the mystery out of devotional writing.

  • Everything starts with God. Before you pick up that pen or put that first letter on the screen, seek the Lord. It’s the only way to be an effective instrument in his hand. A daily time of prayer and reading will give you resources from which to pull and allow you to see the circumstance in your own life as potential avenues to help others.
  • Keep a journal. Using a journal to jot down experiences and events that happen in your day will give you ample material for anecdotes and stories for devotionals. Seeing how God’s word applies to your own life will help you to share how it can be applied in the lives of others. A journal is also a good place to keep scriptures that resonate with your own heart until there is a time that you can use them for the inspiration of others.
  • Keep them short. A devotional should be somewhere between 100 and 225 words in length (check individual guidelines – some require higher word count). Since these are short, every word has to count. So, use strong verbs, descriptive nouns, and leave out the unnecessary adverbs.
  • Focus on one point. A devotion should make one point and no more. If you find yourself trying to handle more than one point, break them up and write several different devotions with only one focal point each.
  • Write a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like in a good essay, you want the first paragraph to go from broad to narrow. You want the middle to show the story or add meat to your point, and then you want the ending to restate the main point or wrap up the story with a clincher.
  • Provide a buzz phrase or word. A buzzword or phrase is something catchy for the reader to remember. It can be a verse of scripture, a repeated word throughout the story, or a phrase that stands out and contains the point of the message. Something like: Saved by grace, loved by God. It’s catchy and easy for your reader to carry with him into his day.
  • Choose key verses. Most publications ask for several verses to be listed for that days reading. You will need to provide those verses as well as the key verse for the devotion. When choosing these verses, you may want to read them in several translations to see how they differ and which ones best go with the focus of your lesson. Sometimes doing this will give you wonderful insights you otherwise might have missed and added depth to your writing.
  • End with a call to action. A call to action is just what it sounds like. It is you, the writer, asking your reader to engage with you by following through with an action like prayer, journaling, answering a question, or simply reflecting on the thought of the day.
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Shout from the housetops the good news

As with any good writing, you always check your facts, be diligent with your grammar, and give credit where credit is due.

The eight steps presented here will help you get started with your devotional writing; however, always be sure to check the submission guidelines for the individual publications. Each one is a little different in word count and how they want submissions sent.

“What I tell you now in darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear.” Matthew 10:27 (NLT).

May God whisper in your ear, and may He give you devotions to shout from the housetops!

Writing Prompt: The smell of the roses reminded Susanne of the verse about prayers being a sweet savor to the Lord. Perhaps this could be used as a devotion. Then she pricked her finger on a thorn, and the idea began to form.

Click to Tweet: 8 Steps to Writing a “Shout from the Housetops” Devotion by Bonita Y. McCoy via @InspiredPrompt #devotional #WritingTips #HowTo

Research: The Inspired Prompt Way

Research. We’ve spent the month of March dissecting this topic from all angles. From how to start, to research on the road, and current events research, a way to gather information should be coming clear.

I’ve asked the Crew to share their go-to source when it comes to research. Here’s what they said:

Harriet Michael: As a Christian nonfiction writer who writes a lot of Biblical pieces—devotions and essays to a Biblical theme, my go-to resource is Bible Gateway where I can look up passages, do word searches, find commentaries, and find passages in all translations. Here is their link: https://www.biblegateway.com/

Jennifer Hallmark: Sometimes when I write, I just can’t think of the right word so I use an online thesaurus. Even if I don’t find what I need, it often gets my creativity flowing so I can move forward in my writing. Their link is http://www.thesaurus.com/

Kristy Horine: I find the Blue Letter Bible www.blueletterbible.org to be a great resource due to its interlinear concordance, cross references, language explanations, and access to commentaries. It has an app that is free that can be downloaded to your phone.  In addition, www.biblestudytools.com is helpful in the commentary area.

Another source is www.thoughtco.com. This is not a Christian-based resource, but it sure is fun for those strange and unusual questions like if brain cells regenerate, or the difference between racism and prejudice. It is based on the idea that we should be lifelong learners and seeks to teach just that. Plus, it has a really neat daily email you can sign up for. And, for numbers: www.barna.com and www.pewresearch.org

Betty Thomason Owens: I attended a class on researching at the Mid South Conference. The instructor gave us the Library of Congress website. It’s huge. You can find articles, photos, and lots of other interesting studies and stories and books. https://www.loc.gov/  I also love History.com  https://www.history.com/ and the Smithsonian.com https://www.smithsonianmag.com/.

Gail Johnson: I use the Bible, Webster’s dictionary, and the Strong’s Concordance. Also Bible Gateway and the online versions of the dictionary and thesaurus.

Bonita McCoy: I love  Biblehub.com because it gives you the verse in several translations. I use it for my Beautiful Pieces of Grace blog. Also the good old library for articles for the Inspired Prompt site and my Courageous Writers blog.

Fay Lamb: My research varies on what the subject happens to be. If it is medical, I will look up medical research on various sites, but I also look for journals of people who have undergone medical procedures. I also use slang dictionaries for slang for certain times. I even have a surfers’ slang dictionary.

Tammy Trail:  I tend to look for historical societies. There is a blog I like to catch up with too, Colonial Quills. Lots of historical information there for me. I use the Colonial Williamsburg website also. For writing related information, I love Seekerville.

Carlton Hughes:  Like others, my research varies depending on the subject. I’m mostly writing devotionals now, so usually I’m searching for a specific scripture on Bible Gateway. Blogs like Novel Rocket are good for general advice on fiction writing.

Shirley Crowder:  I use Blue Letter Bible — lots of commentaries, words studies, etc. https://www.blueletterbible.org/

Karen Jurgens: I use Google for whatever I need to know when I’m writing about Paris and other parts of the world. I study maps of the city, and I use reference books I’ve purchased while visiting. For example, I bought lots of historical books and maps of Cayman Island when I vacationed there a couple years ago. I always write about settings I know personally or have visited.

Cammi Woodall: Started in September of 1998, Google is the world’s largest search engine. You know how I know that? I googled it! When you can use your search engine name as a verb, you know you are doing something right. I love other sites like AskJeeves.com or Yahoo.com, but I always come back to Google. In one research session, l learned that the world’s oldest church is the Dura-Europos house church in Syria, arsenic poison will still show up in your fingernails 6 to 12 months after ingestion, and a ten-gallon hat really only holds three-quarters of a gallon. Who knew? Google did! And now I do, too.

Thank you, Inspired Prompt Crew! As you can see, there are research sites galore for the fiction and non-fiction writer. Do you have a go-to site that’s not listed above? In lieu of a writing prompt, we’re asking you to share that in the comments below…

Click to tweet: The Inspired Prompt Crew shares their go-to source when it comes to research for writers. #research #Google

Coupons: A Family Tradition

By Bonita Y. McCoy

Coupons saved my way of life.

When my oldest son was a baby, we lived in a neighborhood that had sidewalks. This was the first house we had owned, and money was tight. Because we were a one-car family, I would take the baby out for a stroll in the afternoons just to get a break.

I began to notice on recycling day that many of my neighbors didn’t keep their coupon booklets but rather tossed them in with the other recycling. It took a bit of nerve, but if I spotted the booklets on top of the bins, I stopped and pulled them out. We needed all our pennies, and coupons were one way I could help cut the cost of our groceries.  After all, I was a stay at home mom, and I wanted to do my part.

Over the next several months, I began to find more and more of the booklets at the top of the bins. My neighbors were becoming aware of my weekly walks on recycling day and made the effort to make the coupons accessible for me.

Their ministry to my little family lasted for nearly two years until we moved.

During this time, my aunt in Mississippi also began sending me an encouraging note along with coupons for diapers and other items that she knew I used. Through the generosity of my aunt and neighbors, I was able to keep our grocery bill within our budget.

Today, coupons play an important role as a ministry tool for me and my family. We have given coupons for diapers and formula to new mothers and young families, and we have sent specific coupons to friends when it was a product that we knew they used often.

Within my family, I exchange them with my mother-in-law, and on the flip side, I pass them along to my own daughter-in-law.  They have become a family tradition, of sorts. Even my youngest son knows to ask for a coupon before going to get a haircut. For us, couponing works.

Five Coupon Tips:

  • Don’t buy items just because you have a coupon. The idea is to save money. If the store brand is cheaper or the coupon is for something you don’t normally use, it won’t save you money.
  • Team up with a buddy. Nobody can keep up with all the sales. Find someone who is interested and swap coupon booklets every week or two.
  • Don’t be an extreme coupon-er if it isn’t you. Do what fits your life style. Some people have notebook binders; others like me have the wallet-sized coupon holder that fits in your purse.
  • Put your coupons somewhere, like in your purse or your car, so you’ll have them with you when you’re out. The number #1 problem with using coupons – leaving them at home.
  • Remember coupons can be used as a ministry tool. You can use them to purchase needed items for food banks or homeless shelters, or you can find a neighbor who could benefit from your unused coupons and share with them, like my neighbors did for me.

Coupons have played a vital role in the life of my family. They are a McCoy tradition. We use them to save money for sure, but more than that, we use them to bless others.

Click to tweet: Coupons saved my way of life.

Writing Prompt:  The coupon made me think of my neighbor Lenita…


Hello! I’m Bonita Y. McCoy. I hail from the Great State of Alabama where I live on a five-acre farm with three horses, two dogs, two cats, and one husband who I’ve had for over twenty-five years. I am a mother to three mostly grown sons and one beautiful daughter-in-law who joined us from Japan. I love God, and I love to write. My blog is an expression of both these passions. Drop by and visit.

www.beautifulpiecesofgrace.blogspot.com