Thursday, November 26, 2015

Don't be a Turkey

Today is Thanksgiving, and most of us will sit around a table with family and friends eating turkey. These dinner companions are the people we know best, and some of them may have led fascinating lives. So it’s only natural to want to write about them.

But that could make you the turkey at the feast. So how do you get away with it without wrecking your relationships or getting sued for defamation?

As mentioned last month, nothing you do will guarantee that you don’t get sued. Still, there are actions you can take to make a lawsuit less likely or to make winning the probable outcome if you do get sued. They also may save your relationships with family and friends.

This month’s post gives suggestions specifically related to fiction. Don’t assume that you are safe just because of the label. While fiction gives you a little extra leeway, “little” is the operative word. And the main function of a disclaimer is to give you a false sense of security. Disclaimers may discourage some lawsuits, but they don’t usually work as a defense.

The basic test is whether people who know the person claiming to be defamed could reasonably believe that the fictional character portrays the real person. If they could believe it, the jury gets to decide whether they would believe it. So what can you do to keep people from believing it?

The best approach is to disguise, disguise, disguise. Change as many facts about the person as you can. Does it really matter that the character is tall and blond like your friend, or could she be short and dark? What about changing his age and profession? Depending on the story, maybe you can even change the character’s gender.

I call this the amalgam approach to creating characters. Let’s say you are fascinated by Aunt Becky’s profession as a stunt double and you want to turn her into a fictional thief who uses her skills to get into places most burglars can’t go. Give her a different name and physical description and mix in several noticeable characteristics she doesn’t have, such as your friend Mary’s shrill laugh and your boss David’s habit of rubbing his left leg when he’s nervous. Now Aunt Becky is no longer recognizable. Or at least you have changed her enough so that the reader who knows her will realize the character is mostly fictional.

For some types of fiction, you can also make the character or the character’s behavior so outlandish that nobody in their right minds will believe it. This isn’t a “nobody who knows her would believe she would do something like that” defense. It’s closer to “even if they don’t know her they’d be fools to believe it.” That’s how most people get away with parodies about famous people.

If you want to write about real people and situations in your fiction, change enough facts to disguise the characters. That takes more work, but it is also more creative. And isn’t that the goal?

Next month I’ll turn to non-fiction.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why Julie Lessman Inspires Me

By Kelly Bridgewater

Here I am with my eleventh month of authors who inspire my writing. If you have missed any of them, go ahead and look back at my previous posts. I have written about C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. R. Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Steven James, Robin Jones Gunn, Dee Henderson, and Susan May Warren.

Today, I’m going to talk about Julie Lessman.
From Amazon

Lessman writes romance, which is not what I typically read, but I read her book A Passion Most Pure because I downloaded it for Free for my Kindle. But I was surprised how much I loved Lessman’s writing.

She does not write a simple romance story with obstacles in their way. Lessman really understands the internal, physical, and emotion behind the love. The hero and the heroine have to fight against the demands of love.

The characters are written so well with great obstacles to overcome. Plus, the stories are historical romances, so the reader can learn something about the 1930 in Boston and San Francisco.

I’m glad that Lessman has written ten books to date. I have read almost all of them and loved reading about the O’Connors, which were featured in seven books. As a reader who enjoys returning to familiar characters as they are the heroine or hero in the book, then returning to them as they grow and make an appearance in a future book, I was glad to see Lessman created seven book, which start with the story of how the parents fell in love, then moves on to tell the trials and tribulations of their six children as they handle the waves of romance in their personal lives.

Lessman has taught me how to construct a romance that is realistic and grabs the reader’s attention. I have spend time reading her book that she wrote on writing romance titled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Inspirational and Sweet Markets. I have spent time studying and losing myself in the romance she sparks between her hero and heroines.  The Love is realistic and grips my heart with every story. Lessman has also shown me the love between a man and woman should also parallel the love that we have for God. It is passionate and demanding of our time, but the more time we invest in our significant other and God, the better return on our investment. What a great lesson from a great writer!

How many of Julie Lessman’s books have you read? What is your favorite aspect about her writing?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The same yesterday, today and forever

I hadn’t intended to write about things for which I am thankful, it seems a bit cliché since its November but that’s exactly what I am about to do.

I wasn’t able to attend the ACFW conference a couple of months ago. I had a choice: go to the conference or invest in my fellow Thistles’ first writer’s retreat. I chose the Thistles this year.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, along with belonging to ACFW, I also belong to a local writer’s group. It’s called The Thistle Club. We chose thistles as our emblem because, among other things, they are tenacious.

Anyway, I felt a little denied this year not being able to attend ACFW’s conference but I believed that the retreat would be God’s vehicle to speak to us Thistles as His children and as writers. And you know what? It was and He did.

So, firstly, I want to thank God for showing up and spending the weekend with us. I stand amazed at how He knows exactly what we need, when we need it.

Which leads me to the next thing for which I am thankful… the blessing that is the ACFW newsletter, specifically the current edition. If you haven’t had a chance yet to read the November newsletter, I highly recommend you do.

I appreciate Michael Ehret’s notes on Bill Myers’ Second Keynote Address, because they laid the foundation for Allen Arnold’s presentation – “The Wildness of Writing with God: ‘Have fun, God.’” Arnold’s presentation was apparently a well-articulated version of what God also spoke to the Thistles during our retreat.

God is so cool.

Arnold’s definitions of the "Realms of Creativity" really hit home with me personally, and at their heart confirmed what God has been speaking to me for a while now.

So, secondly, I’m thankful to God for His timeless, and timely, Word, and to Michael Ehret for sharing his notes. If I have learned nothing else lately, it is that the writer’s life is not accomplished alone. We need God and each other if we are to finish the race God has set before us.

The greatest part about all this is that God already knew what we would need from the beginning of time and has already prepared it, we only have to ask.

Thank you, God, for being You - yesterday, today and forever.

Humbly submitted by H.T. Lord

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Word Counts Gone Wild

by Jean Kavich Bloom

Especially if you publish or hope to publish traditionally, you probably already know word counts should be kept in check. Oh, I have edited some novels that were well over the typical length, but I also know those authors’ appeal and sales had to be “worth” the extra paper in print and the higher price point for the consumer. 

So how do you pare down your word count without losing what’s essential to your style, your voice, and your story? We know about ridding manuscripts of unnecessary words, like very, just, really, so, and that. And we know about killing your darlings, purple prose, tight writing, and so on. But here are a few other ideas:

·         Look for characters who repeat themselves. Sure, we repeat ourselves in real life, especially when we are upset or excited. And we want dialogue to be realistic. But our characters don’t have to follow suit. If a character says “I can’t stop thinking about what happened” over and over in one conversation, well, does she need to?

·         Look for repeated description. Really, after the first couple of times you tell your readers the hero’s eyes are blue, they probably already have him firmly formed in their minds, baby blues and all. It’s okay to say, “She looked into his eyes” sometimes, sans color. One author and I just had a laugh over her tendency to describe the use of napkins at almost every meal her characters enjoy. Sometimes we can let readers assume common action rather than repeatedly describing it.

·         Look for unnecessary phrases, not just words. Did you know you can almost always replace “in order to” with “to”? Try it! Google “unnecessary phrases” and you’ll find lists of what you can safely delete or replace.

·         Look for pet phrases, not just words. I don’t want to be unkind, but I once heard someone say “as far as that goes” so often I thought I might scream. Sometimes I feel that way when I read a book where the author uses the same phrase over and over--and that goes for a character who uses the same phrase over and over too! I recommend keeping a list of pet phrases as well as words to address. If you decide to replace any, try to ensure your new phrase has fewer words.

·         Look for redundant words. Added bonus? Final outcome? We don't need two words. Check this and this. (Notice I did not say check this out, but I wanted to!)  
    What other ideas do you have?

     After twenty-four years with publishing house Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Michigan, most recently as an executive managing editor, Jean Bloom returned to Central Indiana to be near family and take her freelance editorial business full-time (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she often posts articles about the writing life. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

    Photo credit:

Monday, November 9, 2015

Okay, So Now What?

By Darren Kehrer

Okay, so now what? I really don't have time to write a story (even a SHORT one at that). I'm sure you are thinking, "I've heard that before" or "Make the time to write." Sometimes, when looking for treasure, X really does mark the spot...and sometimes, your life circumstances really does prevent you from being able to write constructively.

We all know of different tactics to combat those scenarios when we do not have enough time to write a story. What happens when that season of non-writing is prolonged and situational?

For example, a major job change can really throw a wrench into the gearbox of writing. For some of us, that sound can actually be the entire toolbox being thrown into the gearbox of creative writing.
I've recently found myself in that situation: no matter what I've tried, the responsibility of my "real" job continues to soak up any extra time I have in order to be effective at it.

Given this scenario, I've developed a few best practices.
  • First, accept the fact that you really are in that scenario. Sometimes, you just are. Don't feel bad about it. It happens.
  • Second, re-evaluate your thoughts on the matter and start working towards the time when you WILL have more time to write (even if that seems down the road a ways).
    • Just because you do not have time to write a FULL story (or even a short one) doesn't mean you can't start jotting down ideas for one.
      • Keep a notepad with you at all times.
      • Take pics of locations that could be used in your stories.
    • Use apps intended for writing. Here are a few iPhone apps that I've been using lately that do a great job of that (and more, when you are ready for the next step).
      • StoryPlanner
      • A Novel Idea
      • Storyist
  • Third, listen to podcast while driving. There are many, many podcast out there on writing. I'm sure many of you purchase the yearly ACFW conference audio drives. I use these constantly while driving around for my job.
The point of all these strategies is to work towards a time when you will be writing; however, when you get there, you will have a virtual library of plots, places, and characters to fuel your creative adventures.

Someday, when your life situation changes, you will look back at this time and thank yourself for keeping the torch lite, the creative energies flowing, and finding a way to record them for future reference.