Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Don't Judge Me by My Synopsis

By Andrea Merrell

As writers, most of us shudder at words like proposal, query letter, and synopsis. We just want to write our stories and not be bothered with all the other stuff. Unfortunately, if we desire to be published, all these other elements are an important part of the process.

I can tell you from experience that writing a synopsis is not an easy task. Writing a back-cover blurb comes much easier for me. I can put a book in a nutshell without too much trouble. But my first attempt at a full-blown synopsis was a disaster. Some of it was all over the place, while other parts read like Cliffs Notes. Reading that first draft would not give anyone the desire to read my story. Back to the drawing board.

When you’re writing nonfiction, it’s much easier to do a chapter-by-chapter outline of your book. Each chapter has a title and a theme. You take that theme and break it down into bite-size portions that will whet the reader’s appetite. One short paragraph per chapter, and you have it.

With fiction, it’s much more difficult to break your story down without giving too much detail or leaving so much out the reader can’t follow you. I’ve read dozens of proposals by gifted writers who were unable to master the synopsis process. In other words, a poorly written synopsis is not necessarily a true reflection of your ability as a writer. Generally, when I receive a proposal, I skim through everything else until I get to the first chapter. It’s more important to me to see the quality of the writing—the storytelling and grasp of the craft—than all the preliminaries. If those first few paragraphs hook me, I am excited to read on. Then I'll go back and pay more attention to everything included in the proposal.

Does this mean we should not spend time making our synopsis the best it can be? Absolutely not. As with everything we do, we should always strive to give it our all. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17 NKJV).

So, what did I do with my first synopsis? I sent it to a friend asking for an honest rip-it-to-shreds opinion. Then I took it to my writers’ group and asked them to do the same. This is how I ended up with a decent synopsis to add to my proposal for my first novel.

As we hear over and over, writing is not a solitary venture. We need a network of people who can help us get over the inevitable hurdles we face along our journey. As I’ve said many times before, the best advice I ever received early on in my writing career was, “Join a critique group, attend writing conferences, and network, network, network” (thank you, Vonda Skelton).

What struggles have you faced with writing a synopsis? How did you overcome them? We would love to hear from you.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and David Castillo Dominici.)


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Computer Tips and Tricks for the Tech-Challenged Writer

Our guest this week is computer-savvy author Linda Widrick.  We have asked her to share some of her computer tips with our readers. Be sure to check out her debut novel, Through a Shattered Image.

By Linda Widrick

You’re writing a best seller.  Your characters are driven, your adrenaline is flowing, and your plot twists and turns in ways you hadn’t expected. Yet you struggle when your lack of computer savvy hinders the speed with which you can brain dump into your masterpiece.
Here’s a brief look at a couple of computer tips I think you’ll find helpful.

Your New BFF – the CRTL Key
The CTRL (control) key typically sits on the far left of a PC keyboard. It changes the function of another key when both keys are pressed simultaneously. The shortcut list provided isn’t exhaustive, but let’s take a look at a couple of CTRL pairings to get you off to a good start. 

When your cursor is inside a Word document, pressing CTRL+N at the same time generates a NEW, blank document.  This is helpful when you want to move from your current document to a new one, such as when copying discard clips to a new outtake document.  The alternative (selecting the Start Menu>Microsoft Office>Microsoft Word) takes longer, while the simple CTRL+N saves time.  This applies to other Microsoft applications as well.

Pressing CTRL+N when your cursor rests inside your folder tree generates a NEW, identical window. This is helpful when switching between multiple folders.  

Most people are familiar with the copy/paste duo, CTRL+C and CTRL+V.  This pair is critical when creating subfolders in your folder tree. My current novel project, Cup Half Full, is a subfolder within my Writing folder. To create a subfolder inside my titled folder, I right-click the white space, then select New>Folder.   Then, I single left-click on the New Folder that I just created and press CTRL+C.  Back inside the white space, I press CTRL+V multiple times to create multiple empty folders that can then be renamed to better organize my project.  In seconds, I can rename these new folders with titles such as Research, Characters, Images, and Manuscript.  Organizing folder trees are an essential part of the writer’s life. 
Take Advantage of Auto Correct Keys
My current work in progress is set in Nicaragua. Unfortunately, I spell Nicaragua differently every time I type it. Rather than simply using Auto Correct, have you tried Auto Correct Options?  Right-click the misspelled, underlined word. Choose>Auto Correct>Auto Correct Options in the drop-down menu. In the center of the popup window, type Nic in the “Replace” box and Nicaragua in the “With” box.  Click “Add”, then “OK”.  Voila!  Each time you now type Nic, the word Nicaragua automatically appears. I use this feature for common words that I misspell frequently. 
Use Dual Monitors
You are using dual monitors, right?  If not, stop for a moment and research what you’ll need to purchase in order to set yourself up with two monitors.  You can see what graphics card is installed on your PC by going to the Device Manager, then clicking Display Adapters.  Take note of the information and provide it to your tech person (or your 2nd Grader).  Snap a photo of the back of your computer tower if you have to. Places like Best Buy or Staples can lead you to the right adapter if you need one.  I purchased an adapter for less than thirty dollars.

When working on dual monitors, I’m a stickler for continuity.  My manuscript doc is always on my right, and my discard doc, research materials, etc., remain on my left monitor.  I’m currently using a wallpaper image on my monitors that’s consistent with the setting of my novel. It keeps my head in that fictional place while the words continue to flow.
While this is only a taste of computer tips that are available, one thing is certain - there’s no need to fear technology. Understanding how to use computer shortcuts and tricks can streamline your writing process so you can more efficiently do what you love to do—write. 

Do you have any additional tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)


Fiction writer, Linda Widrick, desires to be a beacon of light in a dark world, sharing God’s love and grace through her writing. A dreamer at heart, she pulls her inspiration for stories from snippets of everyday life. She and her husband, Keith, live on Florida’s west coast, but enjoy spending time on their farmland in upstate New York, the setting for much of her debut novel, Through a Shattered Image, (Prism Book Group, 2017).  Linda’s novella, To Complicate Matters, is tentatively scheduled for publication in 2019.  Linda is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers International. You might see her at a writer’s conference with a latté in one hand, and a bullet journal in another.  Please stop and say hello, or visit Linda at www.LindaWidrick.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Are You a Waffle or Spaghetti Writer?

By Andrea Merrell

There have been many books written about the difference in men and women and the way they think and approach life, but my favorite is Men Are Like Waffles—Women Are Like Spaghetti by Bill and Pam Farrel.

The concept is simple. The Farrels explain how a man’s mind is divided into boxes or squares, just like a waffle.

The typical man lives in one box at a time and one box only. When a man is at work, he is at work. When he is in the garage tinkering around, he is in the garage tinkering. When he is watching TV, he is simply watching TV. That is why he looks as though he is in a trance and can ignore everything else going on around him.

Not so with a woman’s mind, which resembles a plate of spaghetti. Just as each piece of pasta touches or intertwines with the others, so does a woman’s thoughts. Because of this, she can jump from one subject to an entirely unrelated one and back, with five rabbit trails in between, and never miss a beat. Men have a hard time keeping up. To women, it’s normal. It’s the way we’re wired. This is why women are such good multitaskers. As the Farrels put it:

If you attempted to follow one noodle around the plate, you would intersect a lot of other noodles, and you might even switch to another noodle seamlessly. That is how women face life. Every thought and issue is connected to every other thought and issue in some way. Life is much more of a process for women than it is for men.

By now you’re probably thinking, what does this have to do with reading and writing? The answer is simple.

The male is a logical thinker. Everything must fit into a category (or one of his boxes) and follow a pattern. For example, let’s take a look at the book he’s reading. Most men feel they are being completely objective when they analyze every part of the book, dissecting it into neat little packages. This is how it makes sense to them. Knowing that most stories follow a certain path, they can tell you what’s going to happen almost as soon as they begin. For example, my husband can usually tell me within the first scene of a Hallmark movie, exactly what’s going to happen. Is he right? Most of the time, yes. But that’s not the point.

For me, and for most women, structure is not the most important element. We get lost in the story. We fall in love with the characters, relate to their weaknesses and problems, and become their personal cheerleader as we wait for the proverbial happy ending.

Here comes the disclaimer. We all know there are always exceptions to every rule. This is especially true when it comes to the plotter and the panster (seat-of-the-pants writer). While it’s true that most guys fall into the plotter category, there are some who sit down to write and let the story take them where it will.

While the majority of female writers (at least the ones I know) are pansters, there are some who take the more painstaking road of charts, graphs, plot points, and story boards. This is what works for them. This is how they process their thoughts and creativity.

So, who’s right? Both. The secret lies in discovering the way God has gifted you, then running with it. Whether you read and write waffle style or spaghetti style, just do it.

What about you? Are you a waffle or spaghetti writer? We would love to hear your comments.

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, photostock, Suat Eman, and Aduldej.)


Monday, March 12, 2018

How Investigative Reporting Can Enhance Your Conference Experience

By Lori Hatcher

I was trained in journalism at the illustrious Airport High School in West Columbia, South Carolina. In 10th grade Newspaper 101 class, I learned the key to investigative reporting: Ask questions. Specifically, Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? 

Although my journalism knowledge has grown since those early days, these questions continue to serve me well. They can serve you well too, if you use them at the next writers’ conference you attend.

For several days, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with fellow Christian writers. What a joy! And if you’re introverted, like most of us, what a fright! With rare exception, we’d much rather “speak” through our fingers in the solitude of our offices than through our mouths in a crowded classroom or dining room. Yet by meeting and getting to know your fellow writers and instructors, you can tap into a force more powerful than the cappuccino machine outside the Cove dining room.

Christian writing friends can give you a dynamic support network. They cheer you on when you’re discouraged, hold you accountable when you’re slack, and help you promote when the day comes to launch your project. They can connect you with resources and people you’d never meet otherwise and help you brainstorm when you get stuck. A knowledgeable sounding board when you’re struggling with POV, storyboarding, or endnotes, fellow writers can offer information to unknot the tightest writing snarl.
So, how do you break the ice and step into the sometimes-chilly waters of conversation? You engage in a bit of covert investigative journalism and start asking questions.

“Hi, my name is Lori Hatcher.”
  •       What genre do you write?
  •       Who have you met already?
  •       When did you begin writing?
  •       Where are you from?
  •       Why did you choose this conference?
  •       How did you hear about the conference?

These simple questions are guaranteed to launch a lively enough conversation that you might not have to speak again until you think of something stunningly brilliant. If the conversation stalls, turn to the person on the other side of you at the dinner table or in class and start over.

As I’ve networked with fellow instructors and conferees over the years, I’ve found kindred writing spirits who have become some of my dearest friends. I’ve met men and women who have graciously helped me fulfill my writing goals, and I’ve connected with up-and-coming writers whom I’ve been able to help reach the next level in their writing journey.

All because of six simple questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

In the weeks leading up to the next conference, I encourage you to practice them on your family and friends. Then, at your next conference, sidle up to a friendly face, ask a few questions, and go where the conversation leads.

What tips can you add? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of Lori Hatcher, FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Stuart Miles, and kraifreedom.) 


Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of the 2016 Christian Small Publisher Book of the year, Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women. A blogger, writing instructor, and inspirational speaker, her goal is to help women connect with God in the craziness of life You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time . Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

5 Mistakes New Writers Make & How To Fix Them

by Alycia W. Morales      @AlyciaMorales

Editors are like treasure hunters. We work to find the gems in our clients' novels so we can polish around those bits of quality writing and make the entire manuscript shine. When working with first-time writers, I find many issues in craft or grammar and punctuation that are common pretty much across the board.

If you're a new writer who is ready to hand your baby over to an editor for polishing, consider going through your manuscript to find the following ten issues before you do so.

New writer? Here are 5 things to look for & how to fix them before turning your manuscript over to an editor. {Click to Tweet}

1. POV (Point of View)
Writers need to stay in one character's point of view at a time. Many new writers will start in one character's POV and then switch to another's in the same scene, paragraph, or even the same line. It's standard practice to be in one character's point of view for an entire scene. If you need to switch point of view, it's important to use a hard break on the page (designated by a # or * centered on the page).

How can you tell if you've stepped out of point of view? Look for areas where your character is suddenly hearing someone else's thoughts. Or seeing something outside of their immediate surroundings (like on the other side of a wall, in the next room, or outside when they're inside). Another way to tell is to look for paragraphs or scenes where you've switched to someone else without providing a break, as mentioned above.

To fix it, get back into your character's head. Remember, they can't see, smell, taste, touch, or hear something that isn't in their immediate surrounding unless it could happen in the natural (for example, hearing a helicopter approaching) or they have some kind of superpower that allows for it. Again, if you need to change who is seeing or hearing something, use a break and change point of view.

Note: this should NOT be done just to write in one or two sentences and switch back to the original character. Ask yourself if it's imperative to the plot to show that switch in POV or if you could have the main character of the scene observe the same thing.

2. Repetition
Repetition comes in many forms. I'm going to focus on three of them here, as these are common in new writers' manuscripts.

The first is repetition of words. Reading your manuscript out loud will help you identify these. Watch for the same word within a sentence or paragraph on the same page. To fix these, simply delete the repeated word and replace it with a better one. You can also rearrange the sentence structure to avoid having to use the word twice.

Pet words are very similar to the repetition of words. Only you will find them throughout your entire manuscript, and they will show up more than a handful of times. Some examples are: starting sentences with conjunctions (and, but, yet, although, etc.); adjectives (we don't need the person's eye color every time we see them); adverbs (used to describe verbs), and verbs (used over and over again because we can't think of some other thing for our character to do, such as sigh, smile, laugh, etc.). If you think you've discovered a pet word, do a search of the document for it.

The second is repetition of sentences. Now, you won't find the same exact sentence written in a row (hopefully), but you may find you've written three sentences to say the exact same thing. I see this a lot. Pick your favorite of the three and use that one. Delete the other two. Fixed!

The third is repetition of emotions or actions. Your character should not be feeling the same thing in chapter one as she is in chapter ten. If her emotions haven't changed, you haven't given her a character arc. She needs to be growing past the sadness or shock or depression or anxiety, not remaining in it throughout the manuscript. This require a bit of character development in order to fix it. Try going back through and giving her some hope she'll overcome that conflict she's facing. Write it in. Change her mood, and you'll change the reader's mood. Hopefully they'll keep going now instead of throwing your book in the trash. Do the same for actions. Go back and think of ways the character could move or respond that aren't the same every time.

3. Starting with Backstory (or using too much throughout the manuscript)
If you have to tell your character's backstory, maybe you're focusing on the wrong plot line. It's okay to include a little bit of backstory in your novel, but it should come out naturally via a conversation or in a sentence of a character's deep POV. But it shouldn't take up an entire chapter or paragraph. If your character's backstory is that interesting to you, consider writing more than one book. Or use it as a blog post to introduce your reader to a character. But don't start a novel with a chapter of backstory (or flashbacks). Start with the current action happening and move forward from there.

4. Information Dumps
An info dump happens when a writer believes they must explain something (usually in detail) in order for a reader to understand why their character is doing something, what is included in a setting, or some other facet of the story.

To locate info dumps, read through and ask yourself if you've included an explanation of a procedure, the artifacts in a room, why the character is doing a particular thing (like picking a lock), or anything. Info dumps are telling, rather than showing. I've seen these a lot in historical novels. These particular info dumps read like a history text book. Instead of showing the reader by putting the character in the scene and having him or her react to it, the writer will take an almost omniscient point of view and describe the history lesson as the character waits to continue their dialogue or move through the scene. Anywhere you feel the story slow or break as you step out of the character's point of view to provide a lesson, you've discovered an information dump.

To fix these, put the character back into the scene and remove the dump. Show what you're trying to say via the character's dialogue with another, their observations of the room they're in, or something they remember from that era via deep POV moments.

5. Over-description
Many newbie writers use multiple adjectives to describe one thing, whether it's the character's eyes, the object the character is holding or observing, or the room the character is standing in. The sentences look a lot like this: Mary gazed into Tad's deep-blue, sapphire, cold-as-ice eyes.

How to fix this? Pick the adjective that says the most and delete the others. You could even go a step further and show the reader how the eyes affect Mary, like this: When Mary gazed into Tad's sapphire eyes, a chill ran up her spine.

This is only a handful of the things I see first-time writers do in their novels. But these are extremely common. So, if you've been writing and are considering hiring an editor to help polish your manuscript, go through it first and look for these five mistakes and fix them. Your editor will love you for it.

What are some errors you've noticed in your own writing? (We all have them.) We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!