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Monday

What Makes Inspirational Fiction "Inspirational"?

Have you ever read a book that you really enjoyed but that seemed just "clean" rather than "inspirational," only to find that all the characters come to know the Lord at the very end of the book? If so, you know how frustrating and forced feeling such an ending can be for a reader. It is also my opinion that these types of endings make Christianity feel artificial, like a stamp to place on something (book, person, etc.) in an attempt to label it, perhaps even so it will be more acceptable for a CBA market. This artificiality is disheartening to me because it betrays the actual nature of Christianity as faith that challenges us from our inner being to listen and love Christ every day.

Are you struggling with how explicit you ought to be about Christianity in your WIP? If you are writing inspirational fiction, it is vital that you include faith-based elements. However, you also don't want those elements to feel forced or preachy. How do you strike a balance?

What I am learning to do is to let those faith-based elements rise organically from within the plot. I think about my friends who are not Christians when I write my scenes, and I ask myself if they would say the inspirational elements seem forced. Notice that I didn't say I ask myself if these friends would agree with the inspirational elements, because that is another issue entirely. You don't want to shy away from complicated topics just because someone might disagree; someone will always disagree.

While a few scenes where your characters are either in church, at a Bible study, or having a very clear spiritual conversation with good friends can provide an opportunity to put actual Bible verses in your book (which is always a good idea), you have to build the foundation for these scenes to give them more impact. Otherwise, it's like killing off a character I hardly know versus one that I do: readers just don't care very much. On the other hand, I still remember scenes from Robin Jones Gunn novels that I haven't read in years where the characters had God-encounters, and those scenes still stick out to me because I was so invested in the characters. You have probably have similar memories from books you love.

It's really a similar strategy as we take when trying to live out a Christian lifestyle. Passing out tracks at a gas station is probably not going to be as effective as buying someone else's gas.

What are some ways that you have found to incorporate inspirational elements into your plot without those elements feeling artificial? Do you have any examples of books you have read that have done this effectively?

Friday

Music Sets the Tone

Hope you all are enjoying your Friday and looking forward to the weekend. This blog will be relatively short because I don't want to belabor an otherwise short topic.

Today I want to encourage you to set the scene, not only for your literal writing, but also for your writing environment. In my WIP, the main character and her best friend just arrived in Hawaii for a vacation. It's not terribly difficult to write about the setting in her everyday life since I made her hometown similar to mine. However, Hawaii is a totally different story. My husband and I went there for our honeymoon, but that is the only time I've been.

So, I thought to myself, why not find some Hawaiian music online to set the mood? Let me tell you, it worked. I feel like my MacBook Pro and I travelled through space to Hawaii for a few hours. I used Pandora.com, which I would definitely recommend because it's customizable and free. You can obviously use cd's and other websites as well.

If you're having a hard time finding inspiration or are simply looking for some extra details for the setting, give music a try. On the internet, you can find music that represents most generations and regions. I hope you find it to be a helpful (and fun) tool.

Tuesday

Kill Your Adverbs

So, we all know we're not supposed to make our writing wordy, but what exactly makes writing wordy in the first place? Well, one answer to that question is the overuse of adverbs, especially of adverbs ending in -ly.

For instance:

Slowly, Abigail meticulously moves on her newly-sharpened ice skate, becoming somewhat angelic as she goes into a carefully- executed spin.

As a general rule, it's a safe bet that you can delete just about any word that ends in -ly and replace it with a more appropriate word.

For instance, if I were to rewrite the above sentence, I could say:

An angel on ice, Abigail glides on her new skates, then turns into a blur as ice flies up from her polished spin.

Notice how I got rid of all of the adverbs and replaced them with either stronger verbs or images that do a better job on conveying my meaning?

Generally, too many -ly adverbs mean that your verbs aren't strong enough and are relying too heavily on the support of modifiers. Obviously -ly words are okay sometimes (I just used a couple, in case you didn't notice), but it's their overuse that makes sentences clunky.

Studying poetry can help you learn to chose just the right word. I know it has helped me. Here is one of my favorite poems by E.E. Cummings. I got this particular one off of AmericanPoems.com. Notice how each word he chooses (as well as the grammar and punctuation, which I love about him) is very intentional and brings something specific to the poem.


i carry your heart with me
e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bed
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Monday

Finding Inspiration in Everyday Life


So, my husband and I just adopted a new dog from a local animal shelter. He is so precious! I would definitely recommend getting your pets from shelters and rescues, because you are literally saving their lives. Pet overpopulation is such a tragic problem right now. If you are concerned about getting a particular breed or age, you can almost definitely find that at a rescue or shelter. Our new little friend is a purebred Cocker Spaniel and is very young! Check out Petfinder.com or AdoptAPet.com.

Because I feel so strongly about companion animal adoption (both our dogs are rescues), I am writing a subplot into my WIP about animal rescue.

This process with our new dog (currently named Fleming, but his name could change) has given me so many great ideas for my book. Although he is pure sweetness and so much fun to be around, it is a lot of work getting a new dog. We are having to keep him separated from our other dog because he is still recovering from being neutered last week, and because we want to make sure he doesn't have any doggie colds from the shelter that he could pass along to Maddie. Keeping them separated is not easy, nor is it easy trying to spend time making sure they both have plenty of attention.

As you can probably imagine, the new dog has already cut down my writing time a bit. However, he has also given me amazingly valuable life experiences that I can write into my story. It's one thing to describe a scene you are imagining, but it's another thing to live that scene and know what the emotions, the exhaustion, the happiness, the sounds, the time, etc. are really like.

Sometimes I even write about frustrations I am having... for instance, my main character does not like doing dishes!

Questions for Comment: What things do you feel passionate about? Or perhaps even frustrated by? Have you tried writing those things into your stories? Have you found that doing so makes your stories more realistic and colorful?


Friday

Edit Later, Spell Check Now.

I am a firm believer in waiting to make major edits until I am done writing something. Editing usually takes on a multitude of levels, so trying to critique my work on all of these levels at once while I am writing it leads to one frustrated perfectionist. I can't get anything done. I make myself reread everything I have already written before I start writing something new. I decided to quit that approach around page 36.

Now, I have been enjoying writing my novel with my inner critique light turned off. My creativity has definitely been cultivated by this effort, because every time the practical side of my brain wants to say "that's not feasible," the creative side of my brain says, "I will come up with a way to make it feasible."

That said, I have also found it incredibly helpful to try to make accurate word choices and use proper spelling as I go about writing my manuscript.

For instance, who knew "catapult" was spelled with two a's? Not me. Until about four minutes ago.

While Spellcheck software might catch most of the spelling errors we make, it cannot help us remember the alternative, clearer wording we almost chose.

I have found that it's worth the extra second or two to pick the best wording and Google questionable spelling (as well as grammar) as I go along. Otherwise, the errors could be lost until they find themselves in the hands of an unsuspecting reader.

Do you participate in the editing process during or after writing? Perhaps a little bit of both?What strategies have you found that work well to help you cultivate creativity while also keeping your format, style, and grammar in line?

Monday

Review of Remember to Forget


From time to time, I will write book reviews of pieces I've read that I think you might also enjoy. For my first book review installment, I will look at Remember to Forget by Deborah Raney.

Imagine yourself driving through a bad area of New York City, when suddenly your car gets carjacked. Panic, fear, and shock run through your head. But for Maggie Anderson, another emotion tags along: relief.

Maggie struggles in an abusive relationship. In the past, all her attempts at escaping have proven futile, as Kevin, her frightening boyfriend, always finds her, wherever she tries to hide. The carjacking provides a totally different opportunity, however, and for the first time, Maggie realizes that her dreams of escape might actually be realized.

Trecking across many states in the pursuit of a new life for herself, Maggie eventually ends up at a charming bed and breakfast and makes friends with your typical bed-and-breakfast types, including a handsome bachelor, Trevor, who has his own past to deal with: a wife and child who were suddenly killed.

Will Maggie ever learn to trust again? Will she act on her interest in Trevor, or be forced to return back to Kevin?

Remember to Forget does a brilliant job of weaving together characters with difficult pasts. Raney makes Maggie quite believable, as Maggie continues to question herself and the kindness of others throughout the book, evidence of the trauma she's experienced. Trevor is irresistible, and you'll find yourself screaming, "Open your eyes, Maggie, and tell him how you feel!" half-way through the book. The tucked-away bed and breakfast works as a perfect hiding spot for Maggie, and you will enjoy hiding away alongside her as she learns to heal from her abusive past.

The beginning of this book is so engaging that it had me dreaming I was Jack Bauer after reading it at night! The ending is equally sparkling and will have you skipping pages to find out what happens.

While the plot sags just a bit in the middle of the book, the character development is excellent so it gives you a nice opportunity to focus on the characters themselves.

Remember to Forget is an excellent choice if you like a quaint setting or are looking for a quick-read romance with a hint of adventure.