Monday, July 26, 2010

Take Your Writing to the Next Level

Learning to write fiction well is a process. There are so many details of grammar and style that trying to learn them all at once is overwhelming. Instead, consider it an ongoing “continuing education” class. No matter where you are in the process, there’s always something else you can learn or perfect.

LEVEL 1: The first step in taking your writing to the next level is to get your writing out there—let others read it. By that, I mean other writers. Friends and family can give you reader feedback, but they can’t give you the specifics about what you’re doing right and wrong.

The best place to get feedback when you’re beginning to write is a critique group (either local or on-line). I can’t say enough about how much they can offer. My first critique group practically taught me fiction style from the ground up. It was tough getting critiques back with all kinds of color marking errors and denoting long comments. But I took their teaching to heart and began applying it. It took a while—and many more tough critiques—but eventually they went from pointing out basic errors to asking me when I’d be sending the next chapter because they couldn’t wait to read more.

At this level, it’s also a good idea to read as many books on the craft of writing as you can get your hands on. Joining writing groups (both local and on-line) is also beneficial. There is a great wealth of knowledge available through other writers. Soak it up like a sponge!

LEVEL 2: When I reached a level where other writers began to enjoy my writing, that didn’t mean I had “arrived.” I still had much more to learn. I had another major revision to go through, along with some tweaking and a several complete rewrites of the first two chapters before my writing was good enough to catch the eye of an agent. During this time, the feedback from my critique group was still extremely important. Instead of pointing out basic stylistic and grammatical errors, however, they focused on deeper issues: goal/motivation/conflict, deep POV, motivation-reaction units, and character development, among others.

At this intermediate level, it’s also good to enter some contests to get feedback from professionals. It’s also an excellent time to find a mentor or hire a professional to critique your work. Either option connects you to someone who can help you navigate through these deeper issues.

LEVEL 3: Getting an agent is an awesome accomplishment, but isn’t the top level…neither is publishing your first book. There’s still more to learn. We need to work on the issues where we know we’re weak. We can polish our voice and our style. And anyone who has ever worked with an editor knows that they almost always suggest changes that will make your
novel even better. Learn from them and apply these lessons to your future novels.

Even at this level, being a part of a critique group or having several trusted critique partners can be very valuable. There are also a variety of editorial services available to help you polish your manuscript.

LEVEL 4: Even multi-published authors need to be open to learning. It never hurts to review the basics. A good way to do this is to work with newer authors in some way. Mentoring or critiquing or teaching are good options. It helps keeps you sharp. Also, the publishing industry is constantly changing. Styles come and go, and writers need to be aware of what the current trend is. If you’ve always written with omniscient POV, but the industry is moving towards third-person POV, you might find yourself left behind if you’re not willing to continue learning and growing.

AT ALL LEVELS there are good courses available. Most are short-term and focus on only one issue at a time, which makes them easier to digest. Attending writing conferences is also something good to do no matter what level you’re at. There’s something for everyone at these conferences. The key, no matter what level you’re at, is a willingness to keep learning.

Suzanne Hartmann is the author of the pre-published books, THE RACE THAT LIES BEFORE US and DISAPPEARING MOM. She is an editor with Port Yonder Press and offers her own critique service. She also blogs about the craft of writing at:

Thanks, Suzanne, for guest blogging today!

Until next time,

Friday, July 23, 2010

GIVEAWAY: A Tidbit Romance

When Erin Coss contacted me and asked me to be an advance reader for A Tidbit Romance, I was a bit mystified, but thrilled to be asked. I usually don't do reviews for devotionals, and quite honestly, I don't read them very often. However, when the ARC came in the mail, I nearly jumped up and down in anticipation.

While my reading schedule is haphazard at best, what with doing kids' reviews over at CCBR, reading works for other writer's WIPs, and reading for my own enjoyment, I made time to read Romance, sometimes 3, 4, or even 10 devotions at a time.

All of Erin's chapters are between two and three pages, enough that it makes them a quick read--I love this, especially as a busy mother of 1.9 (unless there's been a notice that #2 has made it into this world! I'm writing this at the end of June and still pregnant.)

But, what I really like most of all about this book is the conversational style. I feel like I'm having a conversation with an old friend every time I open the book. Maybe that's why I haven't read too many other devotionals: because they all feel like they're beating me over the head with my inadequacies. Erin's approach to sharing Scripture and the things that have been revealed to her through its study makes me feel like I'm with my small group at church, and she's sharing just a tidbit of her thoughts with the group.

Most of the Scripture passages are familiar (the story of the prodigal son comes to mind), but I was pleasantly surprised to find several passages used that I was unfamiliar with, or had never delved deeper into. And what was said in response to the passages was relevant to my everyday life, and further substantiated with additional Scripture in many cases. Several of the devotions I've earmarked to go back and read with my husband.

If you never read devotionals, A Tidbit Romance would be a good start. If you do read them regularly, it would be a terrific addition to your library.

Thank you, Erin, for giving me the opportunity to read A Tidbit Romance!

Erin Coss – A.K.A. The Chicken Dance Mama, is a published author and speaker.  She has published works in Revival Nation Magazine, and books, including First Conversations (Bethesda), My Surgery Journal and My Hospital Journal (k2e Books). Erin has also worked on the television series
The Directors (Encore) and the television documentary The Genocide Factor (PBS).  Her high-energy, down-to-earth style is what drives the Chicken Dance Mama persona. Erin loves having fun relishing in God’s word and shares her insights in her book, A Tidbit Romance – Falling in Love with God’s Word One Devotion at a Time. She resides outside Columbus, Ohio, with her husband, Eric, and their three children.

If you'd like to win a copy of A Tidbit Romance, please either join my followers (if you're not already) and/or leave a comment below. I have a lovely copy to send to some lucky person. The winner will be announced Wednesday, July 28, 2010. By the way, this book would be a wonderful gift for some lucky person in your life!

Until next time,

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Well, the baby's finally here! And, it's a boy!!!

I'm doing well, though eager to get out of the hospital. Baby's well too--and is such a sweetie!

Oh, you want to know specifics? Here ya are:

He's still got no name at this point (we're working on picking names still). He was born at 12:07 PM after two hours of "official" labor and like 4 minutes of pushing. His length is 19 inches, and weight 8 lbs 1 oz. Big sister is still not sure what to make of him, but I think she'll figure it out!

Thanks for checking in! I'm going to go back to recovering now and plotting my early exit from the wardens--err, nurses. Thanks again to all my guest bloggers who've helped ease my summer stress by stepping up to the plate!

Until next time,

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Discomfort Zone

I just had to accept this challenge. Even being far pregnant, I can't turn down something like this. So, here I am, eight months pregnant, racking my brain to come up with what to say about writing outside of your comfort zone.

First, I do want to acknowledge my friend and critter Nina Rose who organized this blog chain. She's a wonderful writer, as are all of the writers who joined the chain. If you haven't had a chance to check out what they have to say about the Discomfort Zone, I've got links at the bottom of this post.

Getting outside ones comfort zone is something I feel is important if you want to be even remotely successful--whether that's in business, life, or, in our cases, writing. It takes guts to send your hard work out into the world, to be critiqued, criticized, pulled apart, and hopefully published. If you can come through all this and still stand with your head tall and planting one foot in front of the other, moving towards your goals, more power to you. Well done!

With writing, though, it can get pretty easy to get into a funk, especially if you write genre novels like I do. You follow a set pattern that's generally acceptable to the genre (dead body, red herrings, near-death scene when your hero discovers the bad guy) and push repeat, changing scenarios as needed, but basically write the same story five, ten, fifteen or more times.

How do you get out of that funk though, even if you're a multiple-published author?

Switch things up.

Change genres. Do something completely out of the ordinary.

For the better part of 15 years, I've been writing. For most of those years, I've written what most people would consider solid, traditional mysteries.

That is, until about two and a half years ago.

Having grown up on Star Wars movies and Star Trek television shows, my heart has always been in outer-space. I started wanting to write a book with a space setting. But, I had to have characters and plot to do that.

I've also been involved in politics for longer than I've been writing. I follow issues, politicians, and talk radio. For many years, one of my senators has given updates on human trafficking and ways he's been working to stop it. All it took was one of those writerly moments and, Bam! I had a plot, characters, setting.

This is where the discomfort zone kicks in. I write what could be called a cozy mystery--maybe some violence, but not a ton. Not a lot of overt sexuality. Other than my occasional use of swear words, I tend to write a fairly clean book.

I found, at least in my first draft, that in order to tell this story, I had to get out of my comfort zone and write scenes that were very uncomfortable for me. I wanted to show what was happening through my victim's eyes. It was almost impossible to accomplish without being graphic. Very different from what I usually write. There was more than one time that I wrote a scene that nearly turned my stomach.

But I pressed on. It was necessary for the story. While all of these scenes that turned my stomach in the first draft may not last the next round of edits and rewrites (when I can get them done with a toddler and an infant in the house!) I know that by writing these scenes, I've pushed my own bounds and, hopefully, made myself that much of a stronger writer.

So, what do you need to do to push your own boundaries? Do you need to take a certain risk in the story you're writing? I challenge you to take that risk--you never know how it may impact your writing later on.

Until next time,

The following writers either have been or will be participating in the blog chain. Please check out their websites to see their thoughts, join their followers, and generally chime in. Some of the writers you should recognize as part of my ongoing summer substitute teachers. Enjoy!

Ruth Rockafield -- July 1
Nina Rose -- July 4
Edward Lewis -- July 6
Tracy Kraus -- July 7
Kat Connolly -- July 8
Linda Yezak -- July 9
Lynn Mosher -- July 10
Nona King -- July 11
Victor Travison -- July 14
Janalyn Voigt -- July 15
Adam Collings -- July 17
Chris Solaas -- July 27
Suzanne Hartmann -- July 30

Monday, July 12, 2010

Science Fiction from a Christian Worldview

My name is Victor Travison, and I have been a Christian for more than 45 years. During that time, I have learned almost as much about science fiction as I have about the Bible. The first is fiction, while the other is fact, and my final authority. My blog, Lightwalker’s View, is meant to be a lighthearted look at sci-fi and fantasy, mostly on TV and in the movies. These are the media which introduced me to the genre, the ones I can most readily access, but the thoughts I present can also be applied to books and other media.

My interest in science fiction started with Lost in Space, followed by Star Trek—two divergent series, to be sure, but I enjoyed both of them on their own merits. What passed as science fiction before almost always included some sort of monster. For a child and preteen, those images are hard to manage without having frequent nightmares. In trying to apply what I learned about the Bible to this genre, I began to discover marked differences.

As I grew older, especially as an adult, I became disturbed not only by the differences, but by the attitudes of some who shared my interest in sci-fi. I’ve learned non-Christians have an opposite view of the world than we do, and most of the sci-fi I saw reflected it. I looked for and found some Christian messages in the genre, but they tended to be isolated and nebulous. Then I discovered even some Christians who like science fiction have adopted the same opposing worldview.

This is why I wrote Savage Worlds, started my website, and maintain my blog. Through it, I’m not saying, “Because such-and-such is not true, or real, you should not enjoy science fiction stories about it.” I myself enjoy a lot of SF that’s either theologically off or not theological at all. I like Lost in Space, even though it can be scientifically abysmal in places. I like Star Trek, even though the emphasis on evolution means some stories could not be told without it. I like Battlestar Galactica (the classic one), even though the theology behind it doesn’t track. And on and on it goes.

What I am saying is, “Enjoy the stories as fantasies only, as one man’s perception of how things are. Never define your own reality by them.” That’s hard, because often a popular notion is held out as absolute truth, even though it’s entirely fiction. When the same item is handled the same way by various writers, one tends to believe it as truth without thinking twice about it. Some people just are not geared to go research everything they hear. Even Scripture can get a makeover from its true meaning when believers automatically read existential or evolutionary concepts into it, thereby generating belief in a half-truth.

This is the problem I seek to stave off in Lightwalker’s View. This is also why I’ve written science fiction of my own, which places God in a more prominent role than the average secular variety. In the blog, I explain things that trouble me about certain concepts. It’s not so much criticizing as it is explaining how I feel. You may or may not agree; it’s entirely between you and the Lord.

Paul told the Romans, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Romans 14:12-13). I’m trying to remove the stumbling blocks. I’ve made up my mind, you must make up yours, so long as there’s peace between you and our God.

However, there are at least five areas which, based on biblical standards, I find work against a living, dynamic faith. These I generally reject, even in fantasies, namely: 1) blatant sensuality, 2) cursing and vulgar language, 3) excessive violence, 4) clear Occultic themes, and 5) macabre images. If the plot is reasonable and the items seem to fit the action, I can accept these somewhat, but I’m talking about extremes. Sometimes elements in a story can appear to be Occultic when it’s really a fantasy version of it, such as the alien powers of telekinesis or shape-shifting. Sometimes grossness grows naturally out of a situation, such as when Han Solo sliced open a tauntaun and let its guts spill out, or the significant scene of Episode VI in Jabba the Hutt’s lair. But the more of these they put into a story, especially where they’re not needed, the less I will condone it.

I hope this helps explain why I say what I say. I don’t intend to be harsh, nor do I intend to condemn anyone for their viewing or reading choices. I simply want to present a perspective which, perhaps, hasn’t come to mind before. My prayer is that those who agree will find confirmation in my words, and those who don’t would have something new to think about. God bless you all.

Victor Travison is the author of Savage Worlds and The Justice Coalition. He writes from his home in the Denver area. You can visit his website here.

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