Saturday, February 11, 2017

Once Upon a Time There Was Expletive Construction

By Jean Kavich Bloom 
"Once upon a time there was an average-looking prince who was imprisoned in a castle (no doubt hoping for an average-looking princess to save him)."   
I'm messing with storybook tradition in more ways than one, but my point is about expletive constructions. Expletive constructions are phrases such as “There is / There was,” “There are / There were,” and “It is / It was.” As the Writing Center of the University of Wisconsin says, “Try to avoid using them, since these constructions merely obscure the main subject and action of a sentence.” I'll add that expletive constructions also tend to invite wordiness. In the example above, not only is "there was" in use, but "who was" then seems to be required.   
Perhaps that prince's dilemma could be better described like this: "Once upon a time a handsome prince was imprisoned in a castle . . ." (I'll leave determining the probability of his hoping for that princess to you.)  
Avoiding expletive constructions is difficult because they're so common in everyday speech. That’s okay; people talk the way they talk, and employing these constructions in dialogue is appropriate because characters must sound like real people. They should sound like us!  
Not only that, but we've all heard that famous first line in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ." Sometimes narrative expletive constructions work quite well!   
Authors can, however, train themselves to avoid expletive constructions when writing narrative, at least most of the time, and for the reason given above: so as not to "obscure the main subject and action of a sentence." Readers will appreciate such an accomplishment even if they don’t know they are!    
Here are some simple sentences with expletive constructions that can be easily "flipped," in most cases with fewer words:  

There are several drama series on Netflix I especially like.

I especially like several drama series on Netflix.

There was so much on Megan's plate she hardly had time to think.
Megan's plate was so full she hardly had time to think. 

It’s the way Martin speaks to Ellen that frustrates Cynthia the most.

What frustrates Cynthia the most is the way Martin speaks to Ellen.

Try this exercise: For the next few days, note how many expletive constructions you see (1) in the book you’re currently reading, (2) on a blog you regularly follow, or (3) in memes on a social media site. Making yourself more aware of expletive constructions is an easy first step toward addressing them in your own writing.

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer (see
Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

Monday, February 6, 2017

An open letter to friends and family from a writer

Dear Friends and Family:

(Note: This letter is not in any way a reference to my darling Mr. Himself!)

There have been some rumbles lately about the time I spend writing. To help us all get on the same page about this wordsmith-ing gig I'm into, I thought I'd write this letter to set a few things straight.

Few people understand the sacrifices a writer makes other than other writers. Especially writers with full-time jobs outside of writing. The perception most of the public has of people who write books, is that their work is easy and effortless. Authors sit down and *POOF* out pops a book.

When you're a writer, people assume you don't have a "real" job with "real" hours. Deadlines, to them, are just excuses to say no to things you don't want to do, when the opposite is true. People also assume writers who are published get big royalty checks each month. Um, no. Not unless you're a national/international best-seller. So far, no one is banging down my door offering me movie contracts or begging me to publish with them. And if a big royalty check arrived in the mail, someone stole it.

Some of you wonder how I juggle so many things and wear so many hats. It boils down to three basic things:
  1. I don't watch TV. Think of how many hours you watch TV each week and add it up. That's probably several whole days of writing for me. I get several whole extra days a week others don't because I spend my spare time writing and researching instead of passively frying my brain on drivel. (As you can see, I have a high opinion of television these days.)
  2. Writing for me is as much a part of me as breathing. I must write. It's been such a part of me, from such a young age, I simply can't imagine not doing it. Ducks swim. I write. You hunt. I write. You are a car enthusiast, I'm a writer. I'm different from you. Different isn't wrong, it's just different.
  3. I've learned to say no. It upsets people. They call me names. They hurt my feelings by saying things like, "I'll be sure they put 'I have a deadline' on your tombstone.'" (More about that in a minute.) But I've learned that no one will respect and protect my writing time but me. No one understands it, or wants it, as badly as I do.

I've learned that there's no way to please everyone, so I've stopped trying. My aim is to please God and God alone. This has taken me far too long to learn. I wish I'd have done so many years ago. I'm thankful I've finally arrived at a place of self-respect and self-care.

You see, I really don't mind having the epitaph of "I have a deadline" on my tombstone, because that's exactly what I'm working for: that final deadline.

We will all stand before God one day. Alone. No one will stand there with us. The enemy will accuse us and Jesus will defend us. But we stand that day without any of our earthly friends and family with us.
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" 2 Corinthians 5:10, KJV.
"...And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" 1 John 2:1, KJV.
Heaven is the deadline I'm working toward. And that is why I must write. Far too many people don't understand the outrageous love God has for them. Far too many live in deception and recklessly dance on the precipice of hell. I'm called to share the Good News with them. I'm called to rescue the perishing with my words.

I might not have the glamorous social life some of my friends have, or I might not be up on the latest pop culture, but I'm okay with that because I'm doing what I was born to do. Friends and family may reject me because of this writing passion. That's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. I don't live to please them.

I live to please my God. The One True God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I look to the heavens every single day wondering if this is the day my Jesus returns for me. I look to those heavens with a mix of anticipation and excitement for myself, but sorrow for those I've not yet reached with His Words.

(Let me be clear. This does not make me more righteous or better than anyone else. My righteousness comes from my Messiah, Jesus, alone. In myself, I am nothing.)

My sacrifice is nothing compared to His. My sorrows nothing compared to what He endured on the cross. I don't care if you call me addled or crazy. I know that I know Who He is, and Whom I serve. I serve a living God. I serve the God who created all those who call themselves gods. I serve the most powerful, most glorious, most merciful YHWH. I can no more stop writing to spread His message, than I can stop breathing.

So the next time you try to shame me into stopping this writing thing? I'll hand you a copy of this post. Maybe you'll understand. Maybe you won't. But at least it is written. And like my father always said, "People believe if it is written, it is so."

In this case, yes, it is indeed so. I will say no sometimes to fun, to something someone else wants me to do at the spur of the moment, when I've already carved out that time in my week to work (i.e., write). I won't always be able to drop what I'm doing and get someone out of a bind because of something they failed to plan for. I am called to write, not fix someone else's poor time management foibles.

That may sound harsh. But it's what we writers must do in this day of rapid-fire-time-guzzlers. Someone is always going to misunderstand a writer's need for space and time to create. Contrary to what people think, great words don't simply magically appear at the end of our finger tips or pens and morph themselves into books, articles or blog posts.

If this writing thing was easy, everyone would publish a book. Newsflash to friends and family: this writing thing can be grueling. Yes, I love it. Yes, it's what I'm made to do. That doesn't mean that it's not just plain hard work sometimes. There are times when people are asleep all snuggled up in their warm, comfy beds that I wish I was, too. Instead, I'm up earlier than the birds or later than the stars. I sacrifice sleep, family meals and going to the movies, just as you do at your own jobs. Writing is what I love, but writing is also time-consuming work.

If you love me, you'll try to respect and understand this singular, unconventional path I walk. You won't hold it against me when I can't come running because I'm at work, just as you can't rescue me when you're at work. Instead of knocking me down, you'll build me up and give me wings. It's amazing what a little encouragement will do. I can go for hours, nay, weeks, on just one "atta girl!"

Finally, I love you. I love you with all your quirks, bad habits, and bad choices. I love you with all I have in me. Just because I'm writing doesn't mean I stopped loving you. It just means I'm busy answering the call. And I promise. I promise. In between projects, I'll emerge from my writing cave, and we'll party and dance and eat and celebrate with outrageous abandon like a fat, sassy robin in springtime.

But there will come a day, when the cave will beckon me in again, and I will hibernate. Some hibernation times last longer than others. But never fear. They don't last forever. When I emerge, like a moth from a chrysalis, I will fly back into the real world and do all I can to make it up to you.

Just please try to understand. This writing thing can be hard. The path is often lonely. And it's made all the worse when I don't have the sustenance of your blessing. I may not live to please you, but that doesn't mean I don't want your support.

And maybe, just maybe, a movie-maker will knock down my door. And when that happens? You'll be right there with me on that red carpet.

I guarantee it.

Karla Akins is a best-selling author of five books including The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots. Her latest book, A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith, and Determined Parenting will be released in the fall of 2017 by Kregel Publishing. She resides in North Manchester, Indiana and is currently serving as President of ACFW-Indiana. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Description Challenge

By Jean Kavich Bloom

As an editor, I often encourage authors to describe their characters as creatively as possible. When a book I'm reading for pleasure interrupts the action to tell me Jane is five foot two with eyes of blue and hair so blond, while the poor heroine is tumbling into quicksand with assassins closing in…well, I’m thinking there has to be a better way. 

And when Jane’s description is factually reported in the very first paragraph as though immediate description is a rule (it’s not), we get something like this: Jane strolled along the beach, shielding her light-blue eyes against the sun with one hand, her slim five-foot-five frame bending every few feet to lift another seashell for her collection. She paused and tucked a strand of long, ash-blonde hair behind one ear.  The task of describing Jane is now checked off the author’s list, but I'd rather see a little more creativity.

Here are a few possibilities for a more creative approach, using only height and coloring. 

·         Show relative height when specific height isn’t important. The couple of inches she had on the shorter man in front of her didn’t matter. What mattered was how she felt when his gray eyes suddenly tilted up to look into hers, making her want to kick off her heels and dive in.

·         Make one character note another character’s description in his or her thoughts or in dialogue. “Date her? Her profile says she’s six feet tall and I’m barely five ten. Those green eyes would always be looking down on me. No way!”  

·         Compare one character’s description to another character's in a way that’s relevant to the set up or scene.  Meredith turned her full attention to the man beside her. When Jason was alone, women seemed attracted to his enviable blond hair, blue eyes, and six-foot-one height. But when Paul was there, despite his more common dark coloring and slightly shorter stature, Jason lost them. Paul was the brother who intrigued women apart from his good looks—and they both knew it.

These are just three ideas for more creatively conveying a character’s description. Share some more methods that work for you!

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer (Bloom in Words Editorial Services). Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

photo credit:

Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Ways to Write More than 1 Book at a Time

I have often written multiple books at the same time. It's a part of life when one of your hats is professional writer. But it can also be a real part of the writing journey when you're getting started writing. The challenge is learning how to juggle the multiple characters, plots, and timelines.  Here are a few tips I've developed over the years to let me do exactly that:
[Tweet "Need to write more than 1 book at a time? Overwhelmed? @cara_putman offers 5 #strategies. #amwriting"]
  • Use different music to signal to my brain that I’ve switched times/genres/etc.

Right now I’m writing suspense to an Avengers/movie soundtrack channel I’ve built on Pandora. As soon as it comes on my brain settles down. I use different music for cozy mysteries or WWII historicals. This has worked really well for me over time which is why I listed it first. There's something about the music that lets my mind know immediately which book to focus on in that moment. 
  • Always stop mid scene so I can easily get back into what I was thinking when I stopped writing.

One way to smooth out this process of transitioning from book to book is to make a few bullet point notes of where I saw the scene heading before I end for the day. That alone saves a lot of time and helps me get started quickly when I start the next day or week or whenever I can come back to the story. It also allows me to end knowing that I know where to begin, alleviating the blank page syndrome.
  • Edit what I wrote the day before to get back into the story flow.

This is a great way to get right back into the story. It also helps me to let go of the editing details while I'm writing. If I know I'm going to come back the next day and clean up the spelling and grammar issues, it lets me focus on words on the page. It also helps me get immediately back into the story.  
  • Occasionally I will alternate days, but I don’t always have the luxury.

My friend Lenora Worth does something like this consistently. I loved how she put it:
When I'm working on more than one project, I compartmentalize them. I might work on a suspense in the morning and a romance in the afternoon. Or I pick days and stick to that--suspense on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, other things on Tuesday and Thursday. For a while, I wrote novel length books on weekdays and turned to Indie novellas on the weekend.  Or I'd work on longer books all day and save one precious hour for other projects at the end of the day.
  • Research one while writing the other. 

This last one works well. I like to let my brain think about one book by writing another. It may be researching an idea, reading background books, locating sources, but it's a different kind of creative work that writing. It also allows me the break from an intense focus on one book and allows my subconscious to work on the second book. This process works really well for me. 
If you're feeling the pull to work on two books or have multiple deadlines, I hope these tips help you make that process work. Do you have a different way for writing multiple books? I'd love to read about your tips and strategies. Be sure to leave them in the comments below! Thanks for joining the conversation.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

When Characters Come to Life

While spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at the Abe Martin Lodge in Brown County, I was surprised to learn that the renowned tourist attraction is named for a character of fiction—a cartoon character to be precise. Hoosier artist Kin Hubbard conceived Abe Martin as a backwoods philosopher who commented on the political scene, family life, and a wide range of other topics with more candor than a proper editorial writer could have. You’ll find sketches of Abe and his cohorts all over the inn, as well as the nearby tourist haven of Nashville.
I wonder how many other states have named public works after characters of fiction. Indiana may be unique in that respect. Hubbard drew the character so clearly and expressed his opinions so winsomely that Hoosiers now give old “Abe” as much deference as a real person.
While there, I read the autobiography of Anthony Trollope, a 19th century British satirist who is best known for the Barsetshire Chronicles, a series about the foibles of clergy in an imaginary Anglican parish. Trollope says that the series “failed altogether in the purport for which it was intended” (i.e., to end a system that allowed clerics to use endowments for the poor to feather their own nests). “But it has a merit of its own… The characters of the bishop, of the archdeacon, of the archdeacon’s wife, and especially of the warden, are all well and clearly drawn. I had realized to myself a series of portraits, and had been able so to put them on canvas that my readers should see that which I meant them to see. There is no gift which an author can have more useful to him than this.”
Most of Trollope’s work is now forgotten, but the Barsetshire Chronicles remain in print and became the basis of a “Masterpiece Theater” series by PBS some years ago. These characters still live in the imagination of millions of readers and TV viewers.
How do such characters “come alive”? In these blog posts, we talk a good deal about the techniques for evoking them, but notice Trollope’s comment about how his characters began to take shape: “I had realized to myself a series of portraits,” he says. He visualized each of them as vividly as if he were standing before their portraits, studying every eyelash and wrinkle with appreciation. Only when he saw them in his imagination did he “put them on canvas” so that readers could see them as well.
Do you see your characters that clearly? In Trollope’s opinion, it's the most useful gift an author can have.

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.