Thursday, April 29, 2010

Carole Thayne Warburton's Notes from LDStorymaker Conference

Marion Jensen alias Matthew Buckley needs to write for television--the guy is a comic genius--total deadpan with killer jokes. He did the welcome and introduction.
Next I attended Laura Rennart's--How to Ace the Audition. She said to have an elevator pitch memorized focusing on Who? What? Where? and Why should I care? What is the unusual detail that sets your story apart? Get at the HEART! The elevator pitch is something that you can tell someone about your book in under three minutes. She was great. FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES and do your research. Don't send a thriller to someone who doesn't publish thrillers.

Next I attended Josi Kilpack's session on getting the most from booksignings and launching parties. I've been friends and an admirer of Josi for about six years. I've attended several of her awesome book launch parties and hope to do the same thing when my next book comes out. Which I hope will be before I die. Everyone keeps asking me and well that's all I can tell you for sure. Anyway Josi sends out about 350 postcards even to those who couldn't possibly come to the party, but it's a way of creating an event with your book and letting everyone know where they can get one. In other words don't forget to include online ordering information. Make sure that you know what else is going on in the community and to not schedule the party at the same time. Josi does her launch parties at a local independent bookstore in her community.

Then I attended Jeff Savage's session on villains. Jeff is one of the best presenters that I know. He is professional. He is courteous. He is generous with advice. And most important he is funny. The main thing I learned is that I need a more menacing and clear villain in my work in progress. But that the villain has to be believable and basically like the hero--they should have clear motives.

By this time on Friday 4:00--I was really tired. Still recovering from the lingering effects of pneumonia, I was drifting a bit during Stephanie Black's session on techniques for mystery/suspense writers, but she is really good also. Stephanie's book just took the Whitney for the best suspense of 2009. I haven't read it yet, but it looks really creepy doesn't it? I learned that she loves Jack Bickham, so I've resolved to read what he has to say. One of my favorite quotes from her session is "Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water." Kurt Vonnegut.

The keynote speaker for Friday night was David Wolverton/David Farland highly successful writer and teacher. They honored him with a lifetime achievement award Saturday night at the Whitneys. At our dinner table I sat by some friends, Anne Bradshaw, Jolynne Lyon and Amber Smith. We discussed how much better the food was at this conference than one we'd been to that was not a storymaker conference, but I won't mention any names.

Saturday: One of my wip (works in progess) is to write the story of a friend of mine who has had a very interesting life so I attended a session by Mary Greathouse on writing memoirs. She has a lot of great sites to go to and good information. It was geared more to those who want to write family histories, but I still found it helpful.

Sarah Eden: A storymaker whom I've never met--we're a very large group now--was hilarious. My goodness she has a lot of energy. She is not a fan of the old time greats, like Charles Dickens, at least in how they have pages and pages of description that isn't necessary to the story. She showed us how detail could be used to show character and so forth. How details should be appropriate for the character, to use and example she put up a scene where two guys are working out in the gym and discussing their outfits and the periwinkle walls. She had contests to have the group fix the passage. One changed the gender, one change their sexual orientation, and one changed the wording, but kept the scene. It was fun and telling.

Stacey Anderson: "The Santa Letters" has done a tremendously good job at self-promotion and taught us how to do the same. Lots of what she does, I realized I'm just not cut out for. I have a hard time putting myself out there. But there were things I could do and I tried to focus on those. One good idea was to send out News releases to the media-- not press releases. She worked for a newspaper and knows that most press releases get tossed. Look for ways your story can be made into news. She sent her book to some influential people--like Laura Bush and got a personal letter back from her. She could do that because her book related to drunk driving. Mine--well they are suspense. I'd have to come up with another angle. Many of my friends and I help each other with blog tours and social networking. Those are things I can do.

Ok, by this time I really wanted to go home. I still wanted to visit a bit more with my mother in Orem, but at 2:00 I had an important meeting with the senior editor Kirk Shaw at Covenant--my publisher. I'd never met him before so of course was just a bit nervous since I wanted to pitch my next book to him, well as luck would have it, he sat down in the open chair next to me at lunch. This made the meeting with him easy and worthwhile. He gave me lots of encouragement and some good ideas on how to get this next book published. It's a mystery set in Yellowstone National Park.

By now I was late to the final workshop I would be attending, Dave Wolverton's. He gave great advice on making our books more successful--one was to strike an emotional cord. People love books that will make them laugh and make them cry. Another was to broaden your audience. He told us how he made a character with a German name who had a Japanese heart. The book was very successful in Germany and in Japan. I was so tired though, I ended up leaving early, saying goodbye to a few friends out in the foyer and I was on my way back home--geared and ready to WRITE!

I love to write and am happy to feel like I'm getting back in the game.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


What does branding have to do with writing?

Y’all know what branding cattle means. A rancher marks his livestock with a brand so everyone knows that animal is his.

And so, how do writers brand what they write? Well, it doesn't involve branding irons. Every time a writer writes she/he is branding the book so readers will know who wrote it. Their writing stands for something. Think about it…what do you think when you hear the names J.K. Rowlings, Stephanie Meyer, or Mary Higgins Clark? You think of their stories and the impressions made. You know that if you go into a store and ask for a J.K. Rowlings book, you’re going to receive a magical story where one scrawny kid with limited powers will overcome evil. For Stephanie Meyers you’ll get good vampires helping a mortal girl develop courage. And Mary Higgins Clark will put ordinary people in life-threatening situations, but good will survive.

These authors have branded their names with their writing. But what if they choose to write in another genre? Does the brand still stick? Usually it does because branding has to do with more than wizards and vampires. It has to do with the author’s voice.

To show you what I mean, I’ll pick on myself. I’ve written several books that are inspirational fiction. The Forgotten Warrior was about a young woman with a black belt in karate who was going through a very bad time in her life. Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse she was thrown back in time to Helaman and the stripling warriors. As the story develops the protagonist learns that faith builds courage.

My next book was An Angel on Main Street. No time travel here. The story is about an eleven-year-old boy who gets in "noble" trouble with the law. As the sheriff escorts the boy home, they come upon part of a nativity in the center of town. No one knows whose is building the scene. He tells his sick, little sister about the nativity and that no one knows who is building it. She tells him angels are and when the baby Jesus comes he’ll make her better. The book follows the boy as he tries to find the nativity builder to bring the baby Jesus to his little sister. He learns that miracles do happen.

These are two very different stories, but they are both branding my name. How is that? Both stories are inspirational fiction and there’s my writing voice.

I have another YA time travel coming out in August, but I’ve also submitted a romantic suspense novel to my publisher. AND the thread that keeps them in common is, you’ve got it: writer’s voice, inspirational fiction, and my name. When someone sees my name they will know what will be in the book.

So how do you go about developing your brand? Focus on, what your writing says. What are the common themes in your work? What is it that will make readers ask for your books by using your name? Once you've answered those questions, go for it and write your best book.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The End=The Choice

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the beginning of a book and how to start your story with change that comes into your character’s life. Last week was about the middle of your story and how your character needs to climb the story mountain. So this week we'll focus on the end of your story, the climatic scene and what needs to take place.

Your protagonist has been doing her/his best throughout your story sometimes chasing red-herrings, but always trying to stay on course, and fighting to find the solution to the problem that threatens her happiness. The climatic scene then has to present your protagonist with a choice.
Yes, there have been many choices made all through the story, but this choice is THE CHOICE. This choice tests your character’s soul. This choice is the biggest deal of the entire book, the choice that will make or break your story.

Your character has to make a decision that shows her true SELF not only to the other characters in the book, but to those faithful readers who have followed your protagonist through hundreds of pages, read every chance they had, and lost sleep worried for her. You owe them. So what about this choice? Let’s break it down.

The choice is:
  • Pivotal to the story
  • Demands action
  • Once made cannot be undone
All through your story your protagonist has been waging a war against danger and now the climax needs to deliver. The battle is nearly over and your hero must do the ultimate task to win. Will she be steadfast holding to truths she reveres as sacred or will she fold? It’s up to you.

Don’t be afraid to let your character suffer just before this final decision. Remember the saying--it’s always darkest before the dawn--it applies here. This is also a great place to balance emotion with action. Help your reader feel your character's pain. This moment should also be the big reveal, where all the secret facts are put before your character. So there’s going to be a lot of feeling.

A word of warning: the climatic scene and how your character acts must be believable and logical. Make sure you’ve laid the foundation so that the climax gives the reader fulfillment.

If you’re writing a series you don’t have to fulfill all the expectations of your reader. Think of the Harry Potter series. At the end of book one “he who must not be named” was still at large, but do give your reader a wind down.

The end should also have a quick wrap up. All issues have been resolved and everyone lives “happily-ever after.” This should be short, sweet and fulfilling.

Now, not all stories have a “happy-ever-after”. I remember reading a book where the ending was very sad. Some readers like that. Some authors like that, too. And there’s nothing wrong with it. You have to decide what kind of story you want to be known for and go for it. Just remember that with everything you write you’re branding your name. Branding your name…a good subject to talk about next week.

So I’ve told you what I thought about the climax, what do you think? What else is needed in the climatic scene of a book?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Climbing the Story Mountain

Last week for the writing tip we talked about the beginning of a book and that a story should start with change that will alter the hero’s life. He/she will never be the same. Now we’re going to talk about the middle of your book.

For me, as I’m thinking of a story, I’ve always felt that if I have the beginning and ending in mind I can start writing, and that the middle will take care of itself. But that is not to say that the middle is not important or needs crafting. The middle takes your hero/herione on a hike up a story mountian to the climax. Each scene MUST build tension, develop even more change, infuse complications, and keep the hero/herione focused upon reaching his/her goal, which is the top of the mountain and the climax of your book. So let’s break it down with a do and don’t list.

  • Build tension
  • Add complications
  • Demand action

  • Delay—belay
  • Add unbeatable odds
  • Rehash
Let’s talk about the do list. Your story is building, one scene at a time and a misstep could make your hero fall off his story mountain. Plus, with each step forward your hero comes upon complications. These complications have him make either a good or bad decision, but he’s always moving forward which builds tension. Complications demand action from the hero to overcome. What the hero decides to do with each complication adds another layer to the story and can provide important information that he will use to help win the climax or reach the mountain peak.

Now let’s focus on the don’t side of the middle. You’ll notice that with delay I added belay. If you delay your story with unnecessary information, such as having your hero stray from the path of reaching his goal to solve his problems, you belay progress and your story dies. Belay means to stop or quit, but it also means obtaining a hold during mountain climbing. The hero can't get stuck as he climbs his story mountain. Don’t belay the story with unnecessary holds (information). This happens in many ways for instance, you’ve come across some wonderful research that you want to include in your story, so you add it and then all of a sudden you don’t know what to do next. If you find yourself in this situation it’s because you’ve belayed your hero and taken him in a direction he doesn’t want to go. Some call this writer’s block, which is really a story roadblock because you’ve taken a detour off your story mountain. Always be on the alert for this malady.

Another problem is having unbeatable odds without an equalizer. Always make sure your hero has something that will give him strength as he faces his foe. Think of David and Goliath. Goliath was a mighty foe, but David had an equalizer…his sling.

The next don’t is rehash. I’ve been guilty of this and it’s easy to fall into this habit. Because I read one chapter at a time at my writer’s group I fell into the habit of rehashing the story within each chapter. I did this so my fellow writers would know what was going on. DON’T do this. Your reader is very savvy and has stayed up into the wee hours of the night reading your book. If you rehash the reader will grow weary, think your hero is stupid, and wonder if the writer has Alzheimer’s. Never underestimate your readers. They have memories, they have been keeping score, and they are anxious to see what happens next, not rehash the past.

There you have it. Always remember each scene needs to build toward the climax! Everything the hero thinks, says, and does moves the hero farther up his story mountain.

What are some tips you’ve found that helps in writing the middle of a story?