Category Archives: Chistian writers

Feeling Discouraged?

seal on coverFeeling discouraged? Maybe these stories will give you the courage to keep going one more day.

You probably remember the movie The King’s Speech? What you might not know is the 73-year-old screenwriter, David Seidler, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, had only one other script produced–twenty years earlier.  

Kathryn Stockett’s first novel took her five years to write and was rejected by 60 agents. It went on to sell more than five million copies and became the award-winning motion picture The Help.

Bob Nelson wrote a screenplay while working on a odd late-night comedy show in Seattle called Almost Live. He was delighted when he sold his ms to a Hollywood producer, but then it sat for ten years. Occasionally he’d call and this semi-famous person would promise him he had forgotten him. Ten years is a long time to wait and I’m sure there were times when he felt discouraged. But finally that Hollywood genius put his words into film. And now Nebraska has been nominated for an Oscar as best movies of the year.  

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13 NLT).

What You Can Learn from a Rejection Letter

Sept 2013 003Rejection letters hurt. But before you hit the delete button, take another look. Perhaps you can learn something from the editor’s (or agent’s) comments.

First, check to make sure it’s a rejection letter. Maybe the editor is asking for a rewrite. If an editor takes time to say the ending isn’t strong enough or story was too long, maybe if you fixed the problem, she’d take another look. This happened to me. But I didn’t take it for granted. Instead, I wrote and asked. Sure enough, the editor answered back and said, yes, he’d be willing to look at my article a second time. I did a rewrite and resubmitted and this time the magazine took my piece.

Of course, this doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes there is a clear statement: “While I wouldn’t be interested in taking a second look, ….”

Next, read the letter carefully and treasure any specific feedback. Editors are busy people and they don’t take time to help writers unless they see promise. They are trying to help you. It means you’re really, really close.

Learn from their comments. If you don’t know what some of the words mean, here is a tutorial:

Slight: Message isn’t deep enough for readers to care about. You didn’t touch the editor emotionally.

Predictable: The reader knew from the opening what would happen next. Nothing surprised editor.

Clichéd: unoriginal story, characters, or setting.

Too wordy/too long: Check your descriptions. Are they getting in the way of the story? Some readers enjoy details, others don’t. Maybe you need to do some cutting.

Slow-paced: Oh, no. Does this mean your story is boring? Look for ways to add tension.

Sentimental: Are you overemphasizing things that mean a lot to you but might not mean much to the reader?

Quiet: Not much happens in the plot. Doesn’t mean your novel needs to be action packed, but it might mean you didn’t engage the editor in your character’s problem.

Abstract: You might receive this comment if you’re writing a novel with a quirky plot or with odd characters. Fantasy, speculative, and science fiction writers probably see this word from editors who don’t “get” their genre.

Formulaic: a pat story, stereotypical characters, an overused setting.

Familiar: Too many books in this genre.

Not compelling enough: Your novel failed to grab the editor emotionally.

Ending is a letdown: might be predictable, unsatisfying, or rushed.







Shrugs, Smiles, and Glances: Make Your Character’s Movements Meaningful

Pumpkins on Bale of Hay I’ve written a tense scene between two characters. The dialogue is strong. Emotion high. Yet, my critique group asks for more action to break it up. I’m frustrated. Silly words like he shrugged, or sipped his tea, or stroked the cat seem okay, but they break the focus and add nothing to the moment.

Finally I figured out what they wanted—meaningful action. Character movement should be combined with attitude and emotion. Here are some examples:

Before: (Lily is desperate to hire a detective. Johnny, an Iraq vet, was referred by her cousin, Cooper Davis.)

“Before we go further, there’s something I need to tell you.” Johnny placed his hands on the arms of his wheelchair. “I’m not actually a detective.”

Lily stared at him. “You’re not? Then why did Cooper send me here?”

“Full disclosure.” He raised his hand. “I’ve done a few side jobs for Coop, helped him out on a couple of cases. My expertise is computers. I’m a freelancer for Uncle Sam. I don’t want you to think I’m going to chase down bad guys for you.”

She sipped her tea. “Ah, no. I didn’t think that.”

After: “Before we go further, there’s something you need to know.” Johnny placed his hands on the arms of his wheelchair. “I’m not actually a detective.”

Lily’s hand jerked and she sloshed her tea on her pant leg. “You’re not? Then why did Cooper send me here?” She grabbed a napkin wiping at the drops of water. What a colossal waste of her time. What had she been thinking?

He put up his hand. “Full disclosure. I’ve done a few side jobs for Coop, helped him out on a couple of cases. My expertise is computers. I’m a freelancer for Uncle Sam. I don’t want you to think I’m going to chase down bad guys for you.”

She glanced at his absent legs. “Ah, no. I didn’t think that.” Her gaze met his. Her face flamed. A smile played at his lips. Maybe he wasn’t as sensitive about being handicapped as she thought.

The dialogue is the same. Only the action has changed. It was the improved movement that made the reader feel more involved in the moment—more engaged in the emotional meaning of the moment.

Here’s another example:

Before: Larry entered the conference room and took a seat next to Amar. “I hear they’re going to announce layoffs today.”

“And I heard that’s a nasty rumor. Our profits are up. No way would they do that to us.”

“I hope you’re right. I just bought a house. My son loves his new school. I don’t want to relocate again.”

“Relax, man. Your job is safe. Everyone knows you’re the boss’s main guy.”

“Me? Who told you that?”

Amar rolled his eyes.

After: Larry entered the conference room, seeking a friendly face. Ah, Amar. He had stopped by his cubicle a couple of times. Maybe he knew what was going on. He settled in next to him and when Amar looked up, Larry said in a low voice, “I hear they’re going to announce layoffs today.”

Amar’s eyed widened and he leaned away from Larry. “And I heard that’s a nasty rumor. Our profits are up. No way would they do that to us.”

Larry laid his leather bound notepad on the oak table and straightened his tie. “I hope you’re right. I just bought a house. My son loves his new school. I don’t want to relocate again.”

“Relax, man.” Amar drew a circle on his yellow pad. “Your job is safe. Everyone knows you’re the boss’s main guy.”

“Me? Who told you that?”

Amar rolled his eyes.




7 Ways to Increase Tension in Your Writing (Goal Setting)

Pumpkins on Bale of HayGive you main character a goal and raise the tension. This will keep your reader engaged in your story. The harder the goal is to achieve, the higher the suspense. The more personal the goal, the more the reader cares. For instance, if your detective is solving a murder of an unknown person in a large city who he doesn’t know, then we care less than if he’s solving the murder of his son. We care more if the hero is saving someone he loves, than if he is saving an unknown “them.” Continuously raise the stakes. If the character fails to reach the goal, what will happen? Will they go back to life as normal, or will they face death? The closer to death and ruin you can make their failure, the better.

Outer story goal: Every novel has a goal. Maria finds her true love. Our hero reaches the Fifth Dimension and saves the Kingdom from destruction. The detective figures out who killed the old lady who lived in the shoe. A daughter reconciles with her family after years of infighting.

Inner story goal: Our characters also need a personal goal whether it’s stated clearly or not. Maria overcomes her fear of becoming involved in another relationship and falls in love again. Our hero learns brave means facing his fears and acting in spite of them. The detective must restore his faith in himself. The daughter who never felt loved discovers Christ’s unconditional love and healing.

Scene goal: Every scene must also have a goal. If you can’t write it out in a simple sentence then you either don’t have one, or are trying to do too much.


Goal: All the character wants to do is mail a letter without running into anyone she knows.

Complication: As soon as this goal is stated, the reader fears/suspects what is going to happen.  String this out as long as you can. Let her even mail the letter, think she’s home safe, and then have a nosey neighbor pop up.

Goal: Detective goes to a home to face the antagonist.

Complication: Suspect is at home and he has a big gun. Suspect is at home, but detective learns he couldn’t possibly have done the dirty deed. Suspect isn’t at home, thus leaving the detective to make another stop.

Goal: MC needs a raise so he can ask his girl (the boss’s daughter) to marry him. He goes into office and asks the boss for a raise.

Complication: Boss can say yes, but this would take away the tension. The boss could say no, thus throwing MC into tailspin—this is good. But what is even better is if the boss says, “Yes, but . . .” Yes, but he’ll have to take the dirtiest job in the company. Yes, but he’ll have to transfer to a small town in Idaho. Yes, but he can’t have anything to do with his daughter.

Caution: If you set a goal, you need to have the character reach it at some point during the novel. You can put it off for a few chapters—searching for a new pet, a new place to live, the perfect cup of coffee, a lost dog, but readers will notice (and complain) if you don’t bring this goal to a close.

7 Ways to Increase Tension in Your Writings (Foreshadowing)

Another way to increase tension is to foreshadow coming events. This is more subtle but when used effectively can raise the hairs on the back of the reader’s neck.

Early in your book, foreshadow a scene that might not take place until the end. For instance:

Warnings: In first chapter, a child is playing near a dangerous well and is warned to stay away. Later, he falls in and must be rescued.

May and June 2013 077The sheriff tells protagonist to stay away from a certain character.

A father says, “That John Doe. He’s no good.”

Dangerous weapons: The antagonist in an early chapter is described playing with a knife. He uses it later to kill his victim.

An arms collectors shows off his antique collection. Later, one is missing.

Weather: A storm threatens in the early scenes and then hits the characters in the latter chapters.

Drought worsens as book moves into final scenes.

Subtle dialogue: Today was going to be the best day of her life.

Mysterious events: A chair out of place, the smell of smoke in an abandoned house

7 Ways to Increase Tension in Your Writing (Man vs. Himself)

Aidan's First B'day 012Increase tension by pitting your character against himself. Give her an inner struggle like depression, fears of all kinds, alcoholism, self-esteem issues, forgetfulness, or some other quirky trait. These can add depth to personality but also tension as we watch the character struggle to overcome her flaws in order to solve the mystery, get her man, or reach her goal.

Consider giving your MC a physical limitation. Our world is populated with handicapped people, yet, we often have novels that never touch that topic. In my current novel, one of my characters is a double amputee. Yes, it takes research, but it has added a dimension to my writing and tension to the final scene. Check out Dick Francis, who wrote about the world of horse racing. He was a master at this.

Have a dull scene and want to spice it up? Have your character make a simple decision. Tuna salad or clam chowder for lunch? Slacks or a skirt to work? Or have her hunting for the keys, or a file, or cell phone.

Stretch a decision out. Will she quit her job? Will she buy that expensive purse she saw on the Internet? Why have it happen quickly. Let the answer linger for a couple of chapters.

If this has triggered idea, share them here.

Too Much Christian Talk?

My husband took me out to breakfast. I ordered something I don’t have every day, eggs and home fried potatoes. Unfortunately, the potatoes were too salty, which ruined them for me. This made me think about how Jesus called us to be salt in the world.
Salt is a seasoning. If sprinkled on our favorite dish, it can bring out the flavor of food. In fact, some foods, like eggs, are tasteless without salt. However, too much and we spoil the dish.
Can we do the same thing with our witness? Can we spoil our desire to share Jesus when we are overbearing and a know-it-all? Did I overdo it the time I was at my sister’s and a man came on the TV spouting new age junk, and I stated in no uncertain terms, “What a lot of bunk”?  Or how about the day I argued with my other sister about baby baptism vs. adult baptism and we ended up hurting one another’s feelings? What kind of “salt” was I that day? These are just two examples of times I should have used less salt–and more love and tastefulness.
What about in your writing? Are you over salting your novel or your nonfiction book? Signs you might have overused the saltshaker are excessive use of the word you, telling the reader how they must live, Christianese, phrases and words that have lost their meaning, and preaching, long stretches when you tell the reader about what the Bible says instead of showing them through interesting anecdotes and stories.

Why Use Symbols in Your Writing

Have you considered adding a symbol in your novel? Some of the best novelists (and nonfiction book authors) use them to add depth to their stories and to their characters. What exactly am I talking about? A symbol can be a living thing like a butterfly, eagle, or an old oak tree. Or it can be an inanimate object like a family home, a seashell, or a precious stone. Throughout the story the object takes on a meaning larger than itself. It adds layers of emotional meaning that otherwise you’d have to explain. And it can be useful in showing depths of a character’s personality.



A butterfly can represent beauty and strength. The fact that a butterfly must struggle to get out of its cocoon or it’s forever damaged is often used to show that people sometimes must struggle in order to grow. Recently I read a book where the butterfly was used to demonstrate captivity through the eyes of a wife whose husband was a collector. Her abusive relationship was slowly revealed and likened to how he pinned his butterflies to a mat.


In the book Beloved, Toni Morrison used a ghostly baby to represent a woman’s guilt over the killing of her own child. Throughout the novel the apparition grew larger and more horrific and damaging. When the main character received forgiveness, the ghost totally disappeared.  


In the story Piano Lessons, the author uses an old piano, beautifully carved with scenes from black history. One member of the family wants to sell it and another wants to keep it. To each it represents something different. The clash of values speaks volumes about each character and what matters most to them


Another author used her husband’s overstuffed chair in a true story of a widow’s journey. She began by showing how much the chair meant and ended by showing the day she sold it as a symbol of her healing.

What not to do:


Avoid clichés like red roses meaning love, seasons denoting the aging process, and a broken mirror for bad luck. Make sure whatever you devise that it arises naturally from your story.

Some critics scorn the use of symbols as artificial and pretentious, but others agree they make for a satisfying ending if used well.                                                                                   

Marketing Advice for Authors

Excitement builds. Launch date for your book is two or three months away. Now it’s time to begin marketing. But what can you do to get your book noticed by readers? Here are tips from successful authors and marketers.  

Prepare a 15 second pitch. Professional marketer MicheleTennesen says, when someone asks about your book, you want an answer that makes them go, “OH! I want to read that.” Practice until you have a couple of lines that sizzle.

Find a story behind your story. Internationally recognized historical novelist Jane Kirkpatrick discovered people are interested in the story behind her fact-based tales. That’s what she communicates to her diverse audiences. She finds this makes for multiple speaking engagements, which sells her books in the back of the room.

Develop a list of influencers. Think of 20 to 30 people who are both influential and what Tennesen calls blabbermouths. “You don’t want to send a copy of your book to someone who reads it and then does nothing. You want to send it to a reader who will review it on,,,, AND tell their friends what a fabulous book they just read on Facebook, Twitter, and over coffee.”

Do giveaways on Facebook. Everyone does book giveaways, but think about doing one of an item related to your book is the advice of author Kate Lloyd. She offered an authentic Amish quilt that attracted attention to her Amish novel.

Partner with your marketing team at your publishing company. If you have resources, tell them you’ll spend $2,000 on your publicity campaign, suggests Tennesen. Then they can hire a marketing company to partner with their marketing department. Author Kate Lloyd says if you have the funds hire a marketing company yourself. They are well worth the money. You can pay by the hour, month, or a flat rate. Here are a couple of professionals: Wynn Wynn Media, Michele Howe Tennesen. They can do a myriad of things to fill in the holes of your marketing plan.

Market your book every day. If marketing feels frightening or uncomfortable, Kate Lloyd suggest treating the task like a new adventure. She’s currently developing a blog, something she thought she’d never do.  

Do a blog tour. Lynette Bonner one of the most successful authors I know at using social media says she elicits 15-25 bloggers to guest her for one day. They post her picture and one of her book cover, give a description of the book, and if they’ve read the book, do a book review.

Do interviews on the Internet. Award-winning young adult author Janet Carey does blogger interviews. She says they take time but are well worth it. She also says to get lots of ARCS (advanced reader copies) and do book giveaways.  

Don’t put off your marketing. Tennesen gave this last bit of chilling advice with the reminder that a book is considered old after it’s been out three months.

Help Your Friend Become a Best Selling Author

My friend Kate Lloyd has a book coming out soon, Pennsylvania Patchwork. She’s an amazing writer and I want to help promote her novel. I’m a busy writer, editor, volunteer, and grandmother. I can’t do everything I want to do, but here are 7 things I can do in the limited time I have:

1. Buy her book. I can pre-order her book through or, or both. Publishers notice how many people are preordering a book and this helps the author. And by buying her book new, she gets a royalty.

2. Buy her book as a gift. I already know of friends and relatives who will enjoy Kate’s novel. I plan to buy it for them as either a birthday or Christmas gift. I’ll have Kate sign her book, which makes my gift even more special.

3. Face her book out at bookstores. Whenever I stop in at my local Christian book store or Barnes & Noble, I check to see if her book (and other friends’ books) is on the shelf. Then I face her cover out, helping the next shopper notice her novel.

4. Order her book. If I can’t find her book, I ask the employees where it is. This draws their attention to her name, and title. If they don’t have it on the shelf, I will ask them to order it. I’ll also inform them she’s a local author. I’ll tell them how much I loved her last book, Leaving Lancaster, and tell them how much I’m looking forward to reading her new book. Bookstore employees can’t know all the books they carry, and this will help them find a new author they will appreciate recommending to other readers.

5. Review it. After I’ve read the book, I will leave a review on,,, and I will be fair and honest. Five star reviews sell books. Someone said I should also “Like” her books on This will help with linking her book to others similar to it. This helps other readers find her Amish fiction.

6. Reserve a copy at the library. As a former employee at the public library, I know that if someone requests a book, the library buyer pays attention. The more a book is checked out, the more likely they are to purchase more of that book. One of the best things I can do for my friend is to request her book from my local library and tell the staff that works there that she’s a local author.

7. Talk about her book on Facebook. When Kate’s book comes out, I’ll mention it on my Facebook page. I’ll link to her Website and also to places where people can buy it. Pictures help sell, and so I’ll make sure I have the cover in my picture file. If she does giveaways, I’ll pass the word along to my friends.

None of these things take a lot of time, but they will help my friend sell her book. You can do the same for your friends and in return when your book is published they might do the same for you. Maybe you have ideas of your own. What would you add to my list? Please comment below.