Saturday, November 28, 2009

Be Still

For the last few months my creativity has been alarmingly low. I haven’t come up with any new book ideas. I haven’t worked on any of the active projects I already have. I’d do just about anything to avoid writing. That’s not me. I felt as if I’d lost a crucial part of myself, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it back.

Finally, in a fit of waving the white flag I started going back through some of my favorite writing books, trying to figure out what I needed to do to get it together. I think I found the answer in one simple phrase I ran across.

Stop reading.

Now, that can’t be right, can it? How could an author advise another author to stop reading? Isn’t that supposed to be “read everything you can get your hands on?”

Well, yes and no. The author’s point was you can’t expect to find your own voice, your own words and magic, when your head is full of everybody elses. When you are actively writing, he suggests putting other books aside so yours has more room to grow.

That got me thinking about my own life. Like most writers, I’m an avid reader. I read constantly, but it’s more than that. I keep a stack of books by my bed, on the kitchen table, by the couch, and one in my purse. I listen to audio books in the car, while I clean house and while I take my morning walk. On any given day I can be “reading” as many as 7 different books. Was it any wonder, then, that I didn’t have room for my own words?

Then, I really started thinking. Was it just the books? No. I couldn’t remember a time in months that I hadn’t been multitasking and filling my time with “stuff” of all sorts. All very important “stuff” to be sure, but I know myself better than that. I need quiet time to myself, yet it’s always the first thing to go and the first thing I’ll feel guilty about when I let myself take it. But, that stillness, that quiet and peace are the very core of my creativity.

We live in such a crazy world. There will always be more to do, more to say, more to think, more to read, more to write than we could possibly squeeze in. Yet we continue to try. We know we want to write. We scramble for those few free moments. We learn to write with the kids coming to blows in the next room. And, we drain our creative wells, then wonder what happened.

Remember, part of nurturing the creative gift that God has given you is not only the act of writing, but respecting where the creativity comes from. Take time to be still. The next time you have a few moments, stop yourself from running directly to the computer. Step back and find some peace first. Get rid of the rest of the worries and concerns and other books you’re reading. Take a moment to read and ponder a scripture. Pray. Meditate. Do yoga. Take a shower. Yes, staring out the window at nothing is a very important part of the writing process.

Bring your mind back to a state of harmony and peace. Be still and let your creativity know it is welcomed and valued. Then go to your computer and do what your heart longs to do with joy rather than dread.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What if I'm not funny?

Many people have the misconception that they can't add humor to their writing because they aren't funny. This is a myth. Humor can be learned. Humor has basic formulas that are fueled by what every writer has an abundance of: creativity. I'm living proof of that fact. Before I studied humor, I had no idea how to be funny. But now that I've studied some of the science behind what makes people laugh, I understand that humor comes from a combination of certain factors laid out in a certain way. I recognize it more in other people's work and I can add it to my own.

I'll give you and example of one basic formula that can be learned. One of the most basic ideas in humor writing is incongruity. When two ideas that don't make sense are put together it makes us laugh, whether it be in a character, a plot, or a dialogue. For instance, much of the dialogue in the movie, "The Emperor's New Groove" is incongruous. The two main characters are about to fall over a steep waterfall and the emperor asks, "Sharp rocks at the bottom?" And his companion very calmly answers, "Yup." Then the emperor replies straight-faced, "Bring it on." This dialogue is all said in the most calm manner, making us laugh because it is the total opposite reaction than they should be having to the scary situation.

An example of an incongruous character is in C.S. Lewis's "Voyage of the Dawn Treader". "Reepicheep" is the tiny mouse who is braver than anyone else and a swordsman that no one can defeat, yet he is the tiniest of all the creatures on Prince Caspian's ship. It makes us laugh when this tiny mouse shouts out huge threats at people in a squeaky little voice. The incongruity of someone who is in reality so tiny, but acts like he is ten feet tall is funny.

So if you want to add humor to your writing, but think you're not funny, don't be discouraged! Just take the time to study one of the many books on Amazon.com that teach the formulas for writing humor. It will be well worth your time, because sometimes humor is the edge that gets your manuscript to stand out above the others that are all alike in the slush pile. Good luck! and let me know how it goes!

Kersten Campbell, author of "Confessions of a Completely Insane Mother"
www.kersten4.blogspot.com
www.kerstencampbell.com

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Anne's Book Review of Alma by Heather B. Moore


Heather B. Moore has done it again! As I finished reading a preview copy of her latest novel, Alma, I groaned. The book was so good I wanted to keep reading for another few hundred pages – and that was after soaking up some three hundred already.

I admire the way Heather brings scripture alive in her books, and adds a third dimension to familiar stories. Alma is no exception. Characters I met and loved in Abinidi grow and mature in Alma as they endure trials and afflictions that test the strongest faith to its limits. It’s heart breaking to witness the burdens these people carry, yet satisfying to see how prayers are answered and right prevails.

Even though I’m familiar with Alma’s story in the Book of Mormon, reading about him in Heather's fiction—which maintains scriptural accuracy, by the way—is like seeing everything open up in real time. Heather’s writing is masterful. Her descriptive passages employ all the senses, taking me into the heart of the story, letting me see, feel, hear, and smell my surroundings as though I was actually there in ancient lands.

The love stories weaving through Alma are so believable and touching, that from now on I know I’ll have a hard time putting them into the “fiction, not fact” compartment of my brain. I certainly have a much greater appreciation for Alma, the great warrior prophet, thanks to Heather’s book.

In my personal Book of Mormon daily read, at the same time as I finished Alma, I reached the Mosiah chapter seventeen account where Alma is writing up Abinadi’s words in secret after being hounded out of the city. What a happy coincidence that was. My scriptural Alma suddenly became so vivid I wanted to tell him not to worry, millions would one day read the things he was writing, and to keep up the great work as it was vital information for future generations.

I give Alma by H. B. Moore ten out of ten, and am already looking forward to her next work, Alma the Younger.

Below are a few of the many glowing endorsements for Alma, which comes out September 2009.

Alma has it all: vibrant characters, danger, spiritual challenges, and bittersweet joy. Moore has created an epic tale that’s simply impossible to put down.”—Jason F. Wright, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Wednesday Letters

“H.B. Moore brings the remarkable characters to life through well-researched detail, a hard-to-put-down storyline, and scripturally accurate counsel that reflects the author’s own deep understanding of the scriptures. I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and the way in which the books cause you to ponder the scriptural accounts.” –Al Rounds, Artist

“In a pattern that has become warmly familiar, H. B. Moore crafts a page-turning yet well-researched story of the challenges that a Book of Mormon personality faces when trying to lead a colony of believers to safety, not once but twice. Alma the Elder, who begins his life in debauchery, becomes the respected adviser to a king and the leader of his church, and more. On a personal level, this man becomes the model for all of us who seek to arrest a wasted life and turn it into something grand and meaningful.” -S. Kent Brown, emeritus professor of ancient scripture, BYU.

Review by Anne Bradshaw
www.annebradshaw.com
Anne's Place

DISCLAIMER:
*I do not receive either monetary or any other form of compensation. I do however receive the review products at no charge to evaluate and express my own opinion.*

Monday, November 16, 2009

Show It Like It Is

"Showing" is how writers help a reader feel as if they're seeing and experiencing the conflicts and resolutions of your story just as the protagonist is. The three best ways I've found to show a scene rather than to tell it are to include dialogue, action, and details.

First, dialogue and action are more than self-explanatory, they are critical to fiction; for if your characters aren't saying or doing anything besides looking at your imaginative setting or thinking about what they want to do, they are stagnant. Boring. Your readers may even, heaven forbid, close your book and never pick it up again. So as you look over your manuscript, make sure your characters are doing and saying something important.

Adding descriptive details is another invaluable tool. And when I talk about details, I'm referring to those that reflect all 6+ senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and intuition.

As I was revising my novel, MISSING, I was happily surprised by how much stronger one of my less action-packed scenes became when I incorporated such details as what one of my villains was listening to on the radio and how she felt when an unexpected stranger passed by.

Now for the big question: how do you know if you're telling more than showing your story? The answer's simple. As you glimpse over each page of your manuscript, watch for these indicators:

1. Your page is filled with long, uninterrupted paragraphs.
2. There is no dialogue on the page.
3. Your characters aren't doing anything but looking or thinking.

If you have any of these factors, take a good look at your manuscript and see if you can add dialogue, action, or details. I bet you'll be able to, and your writing will be stronger because of it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Manual Labor and the Creative Process



I pondered upon this, my maiden posting for this blog, as I was rolling out a pie crust the other day. Though I used to make about 300 pies a week when I had a small wholesale bakery, nowadays I may make ten a year. I haven’t lost my touch though, and muscle memory carried me through the process and allowed my thoughts to wander.

Counting the Cost, my most recently published book, was actually my first novel , written during the very early morning hours as I rolled and fluted crusts and did the other endless, repetitive jobs of the bakery. Later in the day, when I could finally sit at a keyboard, the narrative flowed onto the paper as smoothly as the whipped cream I piped onto the sour cream lemon pies before I sent them off to my customers. (Want the sour cream lemon pie recipe? Click here.)

That was a completely different experience from my other books, which were blocked, outlined, and written at the computer. It’s like the difference between an artesian well and a well where the water has to be pumped to the surface. The water is good in both wells, but artesian water is a gift. The other has to be earned.


To put it another way: Counting the cost came to me unbidden as I worked in dough and as I cleaned up my colossal mess. My other books have been summoned, cajoled, wheedled as I sat on my ample rear in my ergonomic office chair.

From this experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that manual labor-- repetitive, mindless things like scrubbing or sanding or shoveling or weeding—is good for the creative process, though why, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the repetitive rhythm that hypnotizes us and allows our subconscious to take over. Or maybe it’s the endorphins released by the physical activity. Or maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment when we see the concrete proof of our activity--the weeds piled in a wheelbarrow or the pies lined up on a counter—that helps us believe we can accomplish whatever we set out to do.

I’ve had people ask me how I deal with writer’s block. I’ve never had writer’s block, but if I ever do run up against it, I’ll just get my rolling pin and pastry cloth out and start making pies for the neighborhood. That will get the story rolling again, I’m sure.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Review - Illuminations of the Heart by Joyce DiPastena

Siriol de Calendri, recently widowed, has no where to go. Her brother has died, and without the protection of a husband, she fears that she may have to fend for herself. But the world is a frightening place for a beautiful young woman. Although she has the skill of creating beautiful illustrations for books, and feels she can support herself, she will be the target for any man who tries to interfere with her. Loving his sister and wanting what was best for her, her brother makes arrangements for her before his death. He sends her to live with his good friend, Triston de Brielle, of France.

Siriol is astonished when, at her first meeting with Sir Triston, he sweeps her up and gives her a passionate kiss. No, that's not just how the French do things (although they do have a kiss named after them, as I recall). She reminds Triston of his late wife to such an extent, for a moment he thinks she's come back to him. When his senses return and he realizes that he's just smooched a total stranger, he apologizes and then puts up emotional walls against her. However, as they come to know each other, he realizes that while she is not his dead wife, and indeed is different from her in so many ways, he feels attracted to Siriol and finds her refreshing.

Joyce DiPastena has a vast amount of knowledge about all things medieval and she paints pictures in the minds of her readers. You see the clothes, you imagine yourself walking along the stone corridors, and you can smell the feasts that are offered up in the kitchens. You feel as though you have truly stepped into her story. If you're looking for a really romantic, truly authentic medieval tale of love, treachery, and intrigue, well - what are you waiting for? Click here.

Book Review - The Route by Gale Sears

We all know that giving service is a good thing to do. We think about it from time to time, and we generally stop to lend a hand when the need occurs right in front of us, but how many of us actually leave the house with the specific intent of going out to serve? I know I don't do it a whole lot, and I found Gale Sears' new book, "The Route," to be highly inspirational. It's the story of a woman who did this very thing - she left her house every single week to do some good as a volunteer for Meals on Wheels.

Carol is an older woman who is looking for something just a little more in her life. She wants to feel of use even though she no longer has the demands on her time she did as a young woman, but at first, she's intimidated by her assignment. She must pick up the meals by a certain time so they can be delivered when the recipients need them, and one client in particular is very persnickety about her lunch. Carol meets people from all walks of life, from the very active to the homebound, from those who are still brimming with life to those who have practically given up. In each person, she finds something to love, and she learns something from each of them in return.

I have always felt an affinity for my elders, and "The Route" reminded me of just how important it is that we stay connected to members of every generation, even if we sometimes feel a little shy about reaching out to those older than us. Their stories and their strength can give us courage in facing our own trials, and I loved reading about Carol's experiences with the program and how she found those missing pieces of herself in those she served. I give a big round of applause to this touching novel.

(Published in 2009 by Walnut Springs Press.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Welcome!

Welcome to Make Me a Story, the new blog created and maintained by your friends at LDStorymakers. We're a group of authors who love to read, love to write, and love to share what we have learned along our pathways to success. Whether you're a writer or a reader, you'll find something here that speaks to the word lover in you.

We encourage you to visit back often - we have a cadre of bloggers who will fill this page with hints, tricks, reviews, and all kinds of literary delights, daily. Thank you for popping in, and we hope to see you again soon.