Saturday, December 8, 2018

Plan to Profit

Right after Thanksgiving, my church writers’ group met for the last time in 2018. Our topic was “Writing Goals for 2019.”  With the busyness of the holiday season and family obligations already upon us, only a few members came. But between the smaller group and a topic that naturally led to sharing, we enjoyed a little more in-depth discussion than we normally have. 

The goals shared included starting a second novel and getting back to a writing project that had been set aside. Some “confessed” a lack of personal writing goals for 2019, at least so far. I loved how honest we all were. We shared doubts, fears, questions, and confusion, but most of all, we shared support without judgment.

Most interesting about the discussion to me, besides sharing ideas for setting goals and making plans, was sorting out why each of us writes (or sometimes don't write). We mentioned published authors we thought knew their why, even some with whys expressed in a single published book with evidently no more books to come. We talked about how Christian values and faith can be shown in writing without overt expression, and how God calls writers to all kinds of context to speak through the written word, in both fiction and nonfiction. We discussed people we know who are currently writing with what seems like a clear sense of why.

By the end of our meeting, I think some of us were ready to further consider our 2019 writing goals, yet perhaps in a new light because of writer friends who’d been willing to share openly and honestly about both their challenges and dreams. That was a good thing.

Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit” (NIV). Perhaps even in this busy month we writers can spend some time considering what plans can help ensure we’ll profit in 2019 with our best writing yet. To do that, we might need to clarify—or at least confirm once more—our why and what profit we believe God intends for us and our readers to gain.  

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Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries (Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with more than thirty years of experience in the book publishing world. She is a regular contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. An aspiring novelist, her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, live in central Indiana. They have three children (plus two who married in) and five grandchildren.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Twofers, Novellas, and Novelettes

My wife Maribeth was disappointed to reach the halfway point of her favorite novelist’s newest book and discover she had reached the end of the story. She had purchased two stories in one volume—a twofer. She felt  as if she had ordered a steak dinner but received two McDonald’s Happy Meals instead.

­­You may have noticed this trend in all fiction genres, even historical fiction, which usually favors the tour de force. We’re not talking about repackaged reprints of existing novels but first-release combos of two or more original stories.

What are these? Novellas or novelettes? It’s more than a question of semantics because the two types of stories are written differently. In the barest technical terms, a novella or novelette is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel—generally between 7,500 and 40,000 words long. Encyclopedia Britannica defines a novella as “a psychologically subtle and highly structured short tale,” in contrast to a novelette, whose “insubstantiality of content matches its brevity.”

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, is a classic example of the novella. It powerfully depicts the struggle between humanity and the forces of nature, including the decline of advancing age. Set this alongside James Patterson’s “BookShots,” a series of quick-take mysteries co-authored with aspiring new novelists. These are about the same length as Hemingway’s sea-survival saga, but not the same calibre.

I suspect this is why Maribeth felt her favorite author had let her down. If that storyteller had given her two highly focused stories with well-developed character arcs and a sophisticated plot (i.e., novellas), Maribeth probably would have been satisfied. Instead she got tales that sketched out two fascinating ideas, but didn’t develop them with subtlety and pinache.

Several start-up Internet publishers are soliciting “novellas” of 10, 20, or 40,000 words. They typically pay a small fraction of what a print publisher would—not because of the shorter length, but because they really want novelettes: quick, easy reads that would entertain someone on a transcontinental flight. Nothing wrong with that. There will always be a demand for Happy Meals. But I doubt this is a good way to acquire the skills we need for commercial publication.

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth and daughter Heather.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Creating Hope through Writing

Photo by Lina Kivaka from Pexels

 Creating Hope through Writing

     Sarah felt defeated.  Her new life had barely started and now it was over. This will never work. Looking at the stranger standing in front of her, she knew her relationship with Michael had reached its end. How could she sit across from this man at every family dinner, feeling… feeling what?

     She searched her mind for the right word to describe what was stirring inside of her. Anger, bitterness, loneliness.  None of these feelings seemed to name the way she felt.  How could the hurricane raging inside of her be summed up in one word? 

    Glancing towards Michael, her heart broke.  How would he react when he learned what his father had done? He was so close to his family; she couldn’t ask him to choose. Grabbing her purse, she fled through the front door. It was best to put some distance between them. Why plan a future when you’re stuck in the past?

     Sarah, like many of our readers, was in a tough spot.  Upon meeting her future father-in-law, she discovered a truth that changed her life.   She felt hopeless and without seeing a positive ending, she did what she always did when things got tough. She fled.

     Ever felt hopeless? Defeated? Scared? Alone?

     We have all experienced these emotions in our lives.  As writers, God can use these experiences to make our writing stronger. By using our emotions, our characters leap from the page and become real.  Readers are concerned about them. I remember a time I was so deeply affected by a story that I found myself thinking of the heroine as I cleaned the house.  I wondered what would happen and how the problem would end.  I felt her struggle. The author had created depth to this woman making me a part of her journey. I was invested to see it through, to cheer her on, and to see how it all turned out.

     Creating characters, like Sarah, lead our readers through her story. They can relate to the people we write about in our books. Understanding what it is like to wrestle with these same questions, readers go through the messy middle.  They watch as characters change their beliefs about themselves, perceptions of others, and of God. Readers experience encouragement, love, grace, and strength just as our characters do.  

     But the story is safe.   

     Our readers aren’t personally suffering.  They aren’t living the story. They merely are observing it. Without personal attachment, readers see clarity, solutions, and God’s handiwork. Inspired by the characters, people who read our books can find courage to change and hope to endure through their own trials.

Here are just a few ways our characters experience pain: 

Character against Character
  • ·         Lies
  • ·         betrayal
  • ·         pain of the past
  • ·         unable to forgive
  •           sexual abuse
  • ·         disagreements with a co-worker or neighbor

Character against society
  • ·         euthanasia
  • ·         racism
  • ·         moral dilemmas
  • ·         judgement

Character against nature
  • ·         loss of a loved one
  • ·         infertility
  • ·         natural disasters
  • ·         lost in the woods
  • ·         wild animals
  • ·         illness

Character against technology
  •  identity theft
  •  cyberbullying

Character against supernatural
  • ·         anger at God
  • ·         to question if God really loves him/her when he/she is suffering

Character against self
  • ·         doubt
  • ·         fear
  • ·         lack of confidence
  • ·         addiction

     As writers, our mission is to encourage our readers through the impossible by making it feel possible. Helping them to see unbearable obstacles as ones they will survive.  Some readers might even dare to become a better version of themselves.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Obedience IS Sacrifice

The rich young man who refused to give away his wealth in exchange for eternal life in Matthew 19 seemed to be a nice guy. He followed the Law and was an all-around good person. We might have faulted him for being a little conceited since he started the conversation with misplaced confidence in himself, but nobody’s perfect, right?

What if the rich young man had followed Abraham’s example? God asked Abraham to give up his most precious possession. “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love… and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.” (Genesis 22:2)

By the end of the episode, we see the good accomplished. Abraham packed up what he needed except for the usual sacrificial animal. He traveled to the designated spot, built the altar, and laid Isaac on it. We don’t know what either person was thinking, but we can be sure of one thing. Both trusted God for the outcome. Either God would raise Isaac back to life, or God would give Abraham another son to fulfill the promise of a zillion descendants. Above all, Abraham knew if God asked something of him, it was worth doing.

God waited for Abraham to raise the knife, ready to slice into Isaac’s throat, before He called a halt to the sacrifice. He repeated His promises and added a few details. Abraham could rest in the knowledge that God would keep His word (Hebrews 11).

Back to the rich young man, one of those promised descendants. What if he had listed his assets, had advertised sales on every item he possessed, and had begun to unload his wealth? Maybe God would’ve halted the proceedings after a while. Or maybe He would’ve helped the man build another fortune once he had learned how to give. Would the rich young man have grown into a rich old man who enjoyed the challenge of making money followed by the delight in giving it away?

Hebrews 11 lists others who gave up everything to follow God. God challenges every generation of believers, asking every follower to hand over something or someone precious, if for no other reason than to see where our trust really lies.  A twentieth century missionary who inspired me was Lydia Prince. Her biography, Appointment in Jerusalem, leads up to her own “sacrificing Isaac” moment.

Sacrifices can be connected to our writing as well. We often speak of the daily sacrifices required in committing to writing toward publication. Those sacrifices are necessary, and we’re happy to do it. But has Jesus ever asked you to sacrifice the writing—or a particular story—and move on to something different? Perhaps a different project you weren’t thrilled about. Perhaps, setting down your pen and closing your laptop with no guarantees He’ll allow you to return to the passion of your life.

All you know is that He promises blessings for your obedience. His promised blessings are rarely instantaneous. Abraham never saw the promise of his descendants prospering as a nation while he lived on this earth. Yet he trusted God. His name is revered in the history of three major religions.
Lydia Prince did gain her heart’s desire once she gave away her greatest love. Like Abraham, she emerged from the test with more faith in her God than ever.

But the rich young man went away sad, no longer confident in his own “goodness.” I hope he changed his mind at some point, trusted Jesus’s words, and gave it all away.

As a writer, has God asked you to sacrifice a work so close to your heart that He’s testing to see if it’s an idol? If He has, would you be willing to respond here with a comment? Have you seen the blessings that came from such an obedient sacrifice?

Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.
Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft. She still visits the school and teaches creative writing workshops.

Where Linda can be found on the web: