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An Encounter

I ran into Jill at a going away party for a mutual friend. I hadn’t seen her for years and when I saw her over across the hors d’oeuvre table I remembered that a few years ago an e-mail had circulated asking for prayer for Jill’s son. He had cancer and was going to have a bone marrow transplant. Funny, but I couldn’t recall the outcome of that procedure. She smiled and we hugged and exchanged pleasantries. She seemed fine, but fragile, like those fancy tea cups and saucers my mother collects. A small bump and she’d break. So I asked.

“He died,” she said. “Three years ago. He was seventeen.” Her eyes became rimmed in red and the tears made them seem larger than before. “But I’m doing better now. The first year I couldn’t talk about it or leave my house, but now I’m able to get out. And I want to tell people.”

My heart swelled and felt as if it would burst through my ribs. A mother’s worst fear is to lose one of her children. How could she stand it? I asked questions, letting her talk about his illness, his last days, his death. Funny, you’d think this would make both of us feel worse, but by the end, I was filled with hope. This fine young man was a Christian and his last days were filled with his love for God and his family. He knew where he was going. Do you?

Through My Bifocals

I picked out new glasses this week. The gal who helped me laid 20 pairs on the table. I tried each one on, eliminating those I didn’t like and putting the maybes in another pile. Finally, we whittled my choices down to three. I carefully tried these on again and tried to imagine wearing them for the next two years. What I wanted was a pair that would make me look 10 years younger, 20 pounds thinner, would show off my blue eyes, and match everything in my closet. No wonder the choice was difficult.

What I really wish my glasses would do is help me see more of the good qualities in my husband and fewer of the things I wish he’d change about himself. I want lenses that will make me more observant of the beauty around me instead of the worries in my heart. Lastly, I want them to help me alert to the pain in my friend’s face. When she says she’s okay, I want to see the truth, that she needs to talk about her son and she’s too embarrassed to bring him up yet again because we’ve been praying for him for two years and it seems the situation is getting worse instead of better. Do you suppose my optometrist sells a pair like that?

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cr 13:12 KJV)

Become more aware of the world around you by mentally describing what you see as you travel in your car. Include the five senses touch, taste, smells, sounds, and sight. Practice writing these scenes in a journal. Have fun coming up with the names for colors and the sounds a motor or a bird makes as he calls for his mate. Just as a pianist practices at the piano, writers need to practice writing.

To Market, To Market

Probably the last thing we think about when noodling over the details of our novels is the market. Yet, that’s probably the most important element if you want to get published. You can have beautiful prose, words that sing, metaphors that send shivers down an editors spine, but if your book doesn’t have an audience, it will die in the marketing meeting and never see the light of day.

Who will buy this book? the money crunchers want to know. If the editor can say 10 million women who are interested in red widgets–you have a winner.

So why not plan a plot that takes into consideration red widgets? Your main character can manufacture them, sell them in a fancy shop on Pike Street in Seattle, or be out to destroy the inventor. It’s impossible to wedge that sort of plot material after the fact, but it can liven up a novel during the planning stage.

If you do, you might have a winner.

Share with us how you’ve worked a market into your novel.

Do I Need an Agent?

I’ve begun the arduous process of looking for an agent after mine left the business. (Sad truth; he didn’t get rich off my book sales.) It can be as hard to find an agent as it is to find a publisher, why would I even waste my time?

1. A good agent knows the market. He or she can take my novel directly to the editors who are interested in a suspense novel. I, on the other hand, can read the writer’s markets, Publisher’s Weekly, attend writer’s conferences and still only know one or two that might be right for my project.

2. An agent already has a rapport with the editors. It will take me time to develop that relationship.

3. If there is high interest in my novel, an agent can organize a bidding war between publishers. This has happened to people I know.

4. An agent will negotiate a higher advance. Mine got an unbelievable amount for my first book; something I could never have done on my own. Why is this important? If your book doesn’t do well, it may be all the money you get out of your work. I know that your book is going to be the exception and sell 100,000 copies its first four months on the market. This advise is for the rest of us.

5. An agent knows all of the ins and outs of contracts. Something small like foreign rights or film rights may seem meaningless when you’re blinded by that first book offer, but the amount of money you receive from these sales can amount to a lot of money if your book does well, or even moderately well.

6. An agent can look at your book and suggest changes that will help make your proposal stronger, thus making it more marketable.

An agent takes 15 percent of your earnings. If the above is something you feel you can take care of yourself, then my all means, do it.

WARNING: Avoid agents who want you to pay money up front.

If you have had experiences with agents, this may be a good place to share what those were. We can learn from each other.

Last Scene, to write or not to write

Okay, I’ve finished the rough draft, all but the final scene. Should I write it? I’m tempted to leave it until after I’ve gone through the book one more time. This will leave a carrot dangling out in front of me, something left to do that keeps me working. If I write the last scene now, it will be like letting all the air out of my balloon. Or at least that’s my fear. I’m going to leave it. I’ll let you know if it works.

Getting Back on Track

Okay, Christmas is over, the stockings are put away, the tree is out on the curb, and the parties are all behind me. It’s time to get back to my book. I tried to keep up by writing when I could. I wrote about 5,000 words in December. That kept my head in the book, but alas I’m way behind my writing goal. It felt like the project I was so passionate about just a few weeks ago is now a job, or something my teacher assigned and I have to do.

The hardest part about putting a book aside is picking it back up. What was the Main character’s father’s name? Where exactly did she go to school? Who was her coach in high school. What was that old boy friend’s name and why was it so important for her to reach that goal? The passion has waned and now I have to pick it all back up again. It’s like spilling your jewelry box across the floor and trying to pick everything up and match it again.

One way to do it, is to go back and reread the whole thing. Another is to reread your plot line (this is recommended by me. But you have to have one in order to do this). If you find the plot line feels a little old, add some new twists, heighten the tension by giving the character a stronger reason to reach her/his goal.

Set a new writing goal. Mine is 1,000 words/five days a week.

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, keep writing.

Save yourself a lot of heartache AND work

Write a treatment.

Okay, so now I’ve plotted my book out. What next? I rethink the whole thing. I ask myself the hard questions about whether or not my plot is believable. I make sure that the whole idea is compelling and worry constantly about what my character wants–is it strong enough to carry a reader to the end. I change this and add that, move this scene to here and discover a neat ending that I hadn’t even thought about at the beginning of this process. I made the father a nice guy, instead of a bad guy. When I am satisfied with my plot, I let it rest for a day or two.

Next I wrie a treatment. I take all of those scenes and write at least a paragraph about each one as I see them played out in the novel. They aren’t perfect (I’m sure my opening scene will change after I’m finished with the book.) I do this for chapters one through six, which is what will be equivalent to Act One–it takes us up to the point of no return in the first section. Something happens here that changes evrything for my heroine. It’s something so awful and so horrible, I don’t know if she can survive.

Having written this out, I read it over and think I’m ready to start writing my novel. The morning I’m ready to begin, I’m soaking in my bathtub when it comes to me–I have a major flas in my book.

Now if I had started to write and was now two thirds of the way through and came upon this flaw, I would be in crisis. Because I only have short scenes and a treatment written–I can change the problem easily.

I don’t have to commit literary suicide and throw the whole thing in the trash. I’m so grateful that I’m taking the time to work this process.

Next, I’ll talk about the actual writing of the novel and what happens during this process.

Don’t settle for an old hat

We have watched movies and TV show and read books since we were small. Our heads are full of plot ideas. When we go to write our own stories, it’s natural to pick the plot line that we’ve seen before. They can even be our favorite ideas. But don’t go there. Take a moment to think about your characters next move. Is that truly fesh? I just went back over my plot line for my newest book and realized that my opening scene has been done about a kazillion times. Yes, it’s exciting, yes, it would draw the read in–just like it has in all those other novels that started the same way. But is that what I want? No. I want something fresh and as nearly new as I can make it. The scene had to go. I hit the delelte key.

Painful? Not nearly as much as it would have been if I’d written the whole scene out in great detai, taken it to my writing group for their approval, rewritten it a couple of times, fallen in love with all the nuances of my clever sentences. What I cut was two sentences. Just the outline that I was making of what I forsaw my book to be.

That’s why I’m arguing for writing out an outline of your book before you start. I’ve written books the other way–a vague idea of where I wanted to go, a character who I loved, and then I turned my pen loose. Trouble was, I kept getting lost in my novel. I’d come to deadends or plot ideas would rise up in the middle that needed to be planted in the front of the book. The rewrite was painful and complicated.

This time I’m doing a detailed plot line. Some of you might want to use 3 x 5 notecards. I did it on a table in my computer. Each column was give then title: POV (point of view), Setting, Goal, Disaster, and Growth.

You may chose to tell you story from one point of view. That’s fine. Then you can eliminate the first column. Setting column is a way to make sure you’re not putting all of your action in one place–the kitchen, or the barn, or a car. You can study these and see if there is some place more interesting to place the action that you want to take place.

Goal is what the character hopes will happen in this scene. This is a way to make the scene character driven and not just character reacting.

Disaster is how you want the plot to thicken. The character goal may be to get a raise from her boss. The disaster would be he says yes, but only if she’ll work the late shift.

Character growth, makes sure that your characters are growing throughout the action of the story. From selfish to giving, from bitter to hopeful, from depressed to happy.

Now that I have these colums filled out, I think about them and work them over and change them. It’s so much easier than working with a 90,000 word novel.

I highly recommend this. Next, I’ll tell you about writing a treatment.

Turning an idea into a plot

Now that you have an idea for your novel, think about these three things. Who will bring this idea to fruition–charater? How will they do it–plot line? And where will they do it–setting.

Every novel that has made a mark in the publishing world has had one character that has stood out from the rest. This is the main character. Before you chose who this person is spend a lot of time thinking about them. They may come to you quickly, or they may come to you slowly. However they are created by you (I don’t advise basing characters on real people) they should be bigger than life. Think about the characters that stand out in your mind, either from movies or books. For me they are Scarlett O’Hara, Luke Skywalker, James Bond, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, David from the Bible, Nancy Drew from my childhood, etc. What makes them memorable? They are bigger than life.

This doesn’t mean they aren’t real people, athough James Bond comes closer than the others to being unrealistic. They had faults and strengths; they grew throughout their stories; some of them were even unlikeable. They achieved impossible goals. They lived life wholly. They were strong. They were not victims–and if they were, they faced their tragedy with courage and vowed to change things. They were courageous. Develop your character along the lines of the ones you remember. Spend time brainstorming about their background, their parents, their childhood. Write out defining moments in their lives. Develop a need in them, something that throbs within their very being. Define their core beliefs about life.

If you do, I promise the next step–putting them in the plot line, will be much easier.

Beginning a new book

For those of you who want to write a book, you might be interested in the process. It begins with the idea. Something triggers your imagination. Write it down. In my case it was something I saw on Oprah a couple of years ago. A story about a man who was shot in the face. He’s a police officer who was on a domestic abuse call. The abuser, instead of shooting his wife, shot the officer. Since that day, this young man has been unable to work. His story was compelling. I thought about writing something similar and I mulled it over in my mind for a few days. Then I forgot it. Recently I saw another story about someone else shot in the face and that triggered all of those thoughts again.

But an idea for a novel isn’t necessarily that idea. It’s a jumping off place. After mulling it over for several days, I went deeper than this. If I’m going to write a novel, the idea has to be way more than this.

If you want to write a novel too, then I urge you to avoid writing the first thing that comes into your mind. Those stories have already been written. Go deeper. For every plot line you choose, make a list of at least ten ways to go and pick the one that intrigues you the most.

If you follow this advice, you’ll be more likely to write something new and fresh and something an editor will want to look at. In my next installment, we’ll look at what to do with the idea to develop it into a novel.