Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Do Readers Love Reading Your Stories? A Hundred Years from Now?




By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief for Southern Writers Magazine


Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was published back in 1929. The story was written in the World War I era, yet readers still love reading this story. The question we want to ask is why do readers still love reading a story written almost a hundred years ago?

When Hemingway wrote this novel, there were no TV medical shows where the patient falls in love with his nurse. Although it is true, the main character was not the first patient to have a romantic interest in the nurse taking care of him.

Remember, Hemingway also had his own experiences. During WWI, he drove ambulances for the Italian Army and on a literary note, he was in the running for the best 20th Century American author.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know,” says Hemingway. And that he did. His life experiences were portrayed in his writing. They also formed him as a man.

What I like about his writing style is the simplicity. When I was young and began reading his books, I thought he used the same style in his different works. It made for easy reading. And his ability to write fiction while using bits and pieces from his own life and weaving them into his characters and story always touched me. He inspired me to want to write.

When I started reading his books, he was still living. He often showed up in the news reels played at the movies before the main feature. They showed him at the bull fights; dining with friends, who were celebrities, such as Ava Gardner, and others.

Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954. They singled out his writing style as one of his foremost achievements.

As writers, we can look at our own writing styles. Read some things we ‘ve written. What can we do to enhance the possibilities that readers will enjoy reading our work a century from now?






Monday, January 20, 2020

I’ve Gotta Be Me, She Said, Part 2



By Dan Walsh


Last month, I began talking about how vitally important it is when we write to spend as much time, if not more, creating characters readers really care about, than it is spending time on things like crafting the story itself (did you catch the phrase “if not more”? I believe it matters more). If our characters are boring, shallow and/or totally unlikable for the reader, the book will flop (no matter how good the story is).

I ended talking about one of the big problems authors have creating these kinds of solid characters. Many writers THEMSELVES (in real life) are not solid, interesting, compelling and/or fun-to-be-with people. So, if you’re not that kind of person in real life, how can you create characters like that in your books?

As I said, it can be done. I’m living proof.

Today, I want to talk about HOW to do this. I ended the column last month saying the Title above is a clue. And it is. But I’m not saying the biggest thing is the quality of our dialog. Although, it’s certainly a major part. To me, great dialog is simply dialog that sounds real. Part of creating characters people care about is making them feel like real people to the reader. So, they have to SOUND like real people in our dialog, saying things real people would say (the way they would say them).

But underlying that idea is the principal idea. Which is, we need to let the characters be who they are THROUGHOUT THE STORY. The way they talk, the things they think, and the things they do (for example, how they react to the plot things that happen in the story). I think the problem many writers have is…they are MORE TIED to the STORY ITSELF than they are to the characters in the story.

What do I mean? I get that there’s a story. And that the story has to move forward, and it has to move forward in a certain direction. I believe great fiction and great storytelling go hand in hand. But…creating great characters is AN INTEGRAL PART of great storytelling. How do these 2 concepts interact and connect?

Let me illustrate it this way. Every now and then a character comes to me, right off the bat, fully-formed. But not often. Usually when I start writing my books, I have a general idea of who the main characters are, but I’m more aware of the story/plot than I am of them. I don’t let that hold me back. When I start writing, my characters are pretty weak and shallow.

Why? I don’t know them yet. As in any relationship, it takes time to get know someone. So, I keep writing. All the while, I’m getting to know them, trying to understand who they are, how they think and feel about the things going on in the story. At some point (usually by the first 50 pages or so), they become real people to me (when that happens, I go back and fix the first 50 pages).

And when my characters do become real, THAT’S when I let them start to take over the story.

I know, in general, where the plot needs to go, but HOW we get there and many of the things that happen along the way, is TOTALLY UP TO THEM. My job, as I see it, is to let them be who they are as the story unfolds. Let them act and react to the plot points the way real people would.

Sometimes that means a scene will end up differently than the idea I had in mind when I started writing it. But that’s OK. To me, it’s more important that my characters stay true to who they are, than for me to force them to think, say, or do something that works better for me (for the plot idea I had in mind). We’ll still get around to my plot point. Because the plot DOES matter.

Maybe, we’ll get to it in the next chapter.

But honestly, some of the best parts of my books have been the scenes created by my characters themselves (as I sit there watching in this unseen dimension, like a scribe, writing it all down).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book or watched a movie where a main character suddenly says or does something that seems totally “out of character” for them. I may even say aloud: “He would never do that” or, “She would never say that there.”

When that happens, I know exactly what’s going on. The writer took over and forced the characters to do or say something THEY wanted to happen. And because they did this, the story just became a little less real, a little more phony. It happens too many times (and it likely will) the story becomes a total flop.

“I’ve gotta be ME,” she said.
_________________________________________________________________ 
Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 21 novels (all available on Amazon), including The Unfinished Gift, Rescuing Finley, When Night Comes and The Reunion (now being made into a feature film). Over 750,000 of his books are in print or downloaded. He's won both the Carol and Selah Awards multiple times, 4 of his novels have been finalists for RT Reviews Inspirational Novel of the Year. Reviewers often remark about Dan's rich, character-driven storylines and page-turning suspense (even with his more inspirational books). He's been writing full-time since 2010. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years, have 2 grown children and 4 grandchildren. They live in the Daytona Beach area, where Dan grew up. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter, read his blog, or preview all his books by visiting his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com Dan’s books: If These Walls Could Talk - DAN'S NEWEST NOVEL, When Night Comes, Remembering Dresden, Unintended Consequences,  Perilous Treasure,  Rescuing Finley, Finding Riley Saving Parker and  The Deepest Waters (2nd Ed)


Friday, January 17, 2020

I’ve Gotta Be Me, She Said



By Dan Walsh


My 21 novels have thus far garnered over 7,200 Amazon Reviews (Avg 4.6 Stars) and over 18,000 Ratings on GoodReads. The most consistent comment readers make (and my most favorite) goes something like, Once I started reading the book, I couldn’t put it down.” They don’t just say this on my suspense novels but even the more romantic stories. Even with my Christmas novels.

But this month, I want to write about the 2nd most consistent comment I get (and my 2nd most favorite). They go kinda like this:
·         “The characters were so REAL and stirred every emotion possible in me. Will definitely be reading another.” 
·         “Dan Walsh's characters are well-developed, believable and so personal that it is easy to visualize yourself in the midst of the protagonist's search.”
·         “I’ve enjoyed all your books so far. You have such a talent for portraying each character…”

I love reading things like this about my books (what author wouldn’t?).

Not just because it makes me feel good (which it does) but also because of what it means for my future as an author. It means people will keep buying my books, and I will get to keep writing them. How do I know this?

A few years ago, I did a reader survey with my 4,000-plus “Likes” on Facebook (back when FB used to let folks who Liked your page read what you posted). I listed the 7 major components of a fiction novel and asked them to list the Top 3 things that mattered most to them as Readers. The #1 that got the most #1 Votes (and was in everyone’s Top 3) was: “Characters You Really Care About.”

If you can write books that readers can’t stop reading once they start, populated by characters they really care about, they will buy your books (and keep buying new ones). So, this month (and probably next), I thought I’d share some of the things I do to create such characters in my novels.

Let’s begin with this…every novel consists of 2 Main Ingredients: The Story and The Characters. I find that most writers have an easier time working with and writing about the story than they do creating truly solid, interesting, compelling, fun-to-read-about characters. But as you can see from the survey, readers care as much about the characters, if not more, than they do about the quality of the story.

If your characters are perfunctory, boring, superficial, overly flawed and/or not fun-to-be-with kind of people, readers will lose interest in your story before they’re 10 chapters in (no matter how great it is). You have to spend as much time making your characters come alive and seem like real people to the reader, as you do making the story exciting, suspenseful, romantic, etc.

Herein lies the problem for many authors. THEY THEMSELVES (in real life) are not solid, interesting, compelling and/or fun-to-be-with people. And to some extent, they know this about themselves. So, if you’re not that kind of person in real life, how can you create characters who are like that in your books? I mean, aren’t we supposed to, “Write What You Know?” How can we write or create characters who are way more compelling and interesting than we are ourselves?

Trust me. It can be done. I know this firsthand.

See, in real life, although I’m told I’m a fairly likable guy, the truth is I’m NOT EVEN HALF as interesting or fascinating or compelling or as fun-to-be-with as many of the characters in my novels. They often do things and feel things and say things that would never occur to me to do or say in real life. I’m far too timid and reserved (for crying out loud, I was a pastor for 25 years).

In my books I’m an orphaned child in the 1940s. I’m a widowed Italian grandmother, a fascinating but illiterate Negro slave, a young woman craving the love of a truly decent man, a WW2 fighter pilot who gets the girl, a history professor who solves murders and kills bad guys, a Viet Nam vet whose lost everything but hope, a dog who loses the owner he loves and loves a new owner he saves.

Did you get that last one? I’m a dog? Sometimes I have to be a dog?

How can I write about all these fascinating people (and animals) when I’m only just me? When I’m all I have to work with?

Well, the fact is…it can be done. But I can’t tell you how, or any of the specific things I’ve learned because this is a blog, and we’ve run out of time. Come back next Monday for Part 2 of, “I’ve Gotta Be Me, She Said” (the title is a clue).
_________________________________________________________________ 
Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 21 novels (all available on Amazon), including The Unfinished Gift, Rescuing Finley, When Night Comes and The Reunion (now being made into a feature film). Over 750,000 of his books are in print or downloaded. He's won both the Carol and Selah Awards multiple times, 4 of his novels have been finalists for RT Reviews Inspirational Novel of the Year. Reviewers often remark about Dan's rich, character-driven storylines and page-turning suspense (even with his more inspirational books). He's been writing full-time since 2010. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years, have 2 grown children and 4 grandchildren. They live in the Daytona Beach area, where Dan grew up. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter, read his blog, or preview all his books by visiting his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com Dan’s books: If These Walls Could Talk - DAN'S NEWEST NOVEL, When Night Comes, Remembering Dresden, Unintended Consequences,  Perilous Treasure,  Rescuing Finley, Finding Riley Saving Parker and  The Deepest Waters (2nd Ed)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Farewell to a Friend




By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine


Last week, we celebrated the life of a friend of mine. She is guarded in her earthly resting place by two sentinel angels, representative of the angels she is now dancing among.  Since her death, I’ve replayed in my mind the fun times we shared over the years. We met because we shared a dear mutual friend. We were cemented in friendship while watching our children grow up. She had a million-watt smile that would light up a room. She was kind with a giving heart. 

Even in death, in lieu of flowers, which she loved, she thought of others, requesting donations be made to fund research for the deadly disease that took her, triple negative breast cancer. Ongoing research is being done through West Cancer Institute Cancer Research, (honoring Debbie Russell) 7945 Wolf River Blvd, Germantown , TN 38138. 

My friend and I loved Elton John and agreed his best album was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” With my friend’s passing, I hear the funeral dirge music from the first song on this album, “Funeral for a Friend,” but then, the dirge morphs into a high energy rock song that reminds me my friend is now rocking in heaven and pain free. 

As writers, sometimes we find our works in progress have died. We have written all there is to write. We have fought for the story to be told but the characters we created haven’t cooperated. How can this be you ask? Our WIP is our friend, our baby we created, right? Can you identify? 

Is it time to bury it? Have a funeral for your WIP and file it away? Maybe it’s time to read a new genre and break out of the genre you’ve been writing in to expand your skills or find a new niche genre to start a new work in progress. 

At my friend’s celebration of life, her brother, a judge, remarked on how the small fun moments were how he would always remember, his sister. To that, I would add that it is life’s small joyous moments that truly equals a life well lived and well loved. My friend knew and lived that kind of life, even in the four years she fought so hard to beat this deadly form of cancer. Everyone at the service had memories of small moments they had shared with our friend. 

All writers have a love/hate relationship with their WIP at some point in the process. We as writers need to stop trying to force our WIP to be finished. If you’re not feeling it, neither will you readers. Maybe it’s time to instead have a funeral and say farewell for your WIP friend. Celebrate the fun you had writing that WIP because after all, it’s the small joyous precious moments that make a life well lived and loved.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Do you want to Write? Learn from Great Models



By Delores Topliff


You want to write. People say you have a gift, but you’re not sure where to start. You’ve written a few things but haven’t hit your stride or quite found your voice.

Try this strategy. Ask yourself what you like to read the best? When you enter libraries or bookstores, which section do you find first? Which authors say or describe things the way you want to? It’s not cheating to learn from them—in fact, it’s smart.

List the authors, books, and voices you especially like. Identify what you love most about your favorites. Which of their attributes fit your life and voice? Jot them down to observe what works best. Learn from good models but perfect your unique skills. It’s like going into a clothing store and trying on different outfits until you find the style that suits you.

In painting and sculpture, Italy’s Michelangelo is considered the greatest artist of all time. As a boy, he went to Florence to study grammar rules and composition, but his interest and skill for art and drawing was visible by the time he turned ten. At age twelve, he studied with the sculptor, Donatello. By thirteen, he apprenticed to Florence’s most accomplished painter, Ghirlandaio. He learned their principles, acquiring skills and technique from each of them, but then took them further. Michelangelo learned from the greats and then surpassed them.

Fill a notebook with adjectives, terms, and descriptors that you love, that you think cannot be improved on. Try out your version of them in your daily speech and writing. Identify the parts that work well and let them become comfortable to you. You will discover your voice.

How do you move from a starting point to writing stories and full-length books? American author and humorist, Mark Twain, said about writing and life, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

What will you start today? Write down a few words every daily. Even if they need editing, keep them.
When you do, you’ll move miles closer to accomplishing your goals. See how much you can accomplish in the coming week.

And happy writing!
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Visit Delores Topliff and her blog posts and books and CD page at delorestopliff.com. Find and like her Facebook Author page at Delores Topliff Books. Her beautifully illustrated children’s books include Whoosh a true story, Woodsy, the Wonder Bear, and two rhymed children’s adventures, Little Big Chief: The Bear Hunt and Little Chief and Ogopogo (based on an often-observed North American deep-lake creature like the Loch Ness monster). Order now in time for Christmas.Her true stories appear in Revell, Bethany House, and Guideposts compilation books. Her agent, Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency, is marketing two historic novels while Delores completes a true travelogue proving it’s possible to have fun and travel safely even in grandma years. In fact, travel is Delores’s favorite form of learning.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Change the World with Your Writing-Using History to Change the Future Part 1



By p m terrell, Columnist for Southern Writers Magazine


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -- novelist George Santayana (1863-1952)

Those words have been repeated innumerable times in countless variations. Authors are in a unique position of bringing history to the masses, not in the form of unimaginative lists of dates and titles but in stirring emotionally charged scenes. Consider the statement that some people were abducted, taken halfway around the world, and placed into slavery. Now imagine the scene in Alex Haley’s bestselling book, Roots, in which Kunta Kinte arrives in America and is sold to a Virginia plantation owner. They both tell the same story, but one is so emotionally charged as to make it unforgettable.

Authors can bring history to life through the eyes of characters caught up in the maelstrom, imparting knowledge and events to readers that can affect their understanding of the world both past and present. In turn, readers may find themselves in positions to change the future. We need to look no further than world leaders’ reading lists to prove that point.

History can also take a simple story and make it extraordinary, providing unexpected turns and twists that weave a rich tapestry. The backdrop of historical events can become an antagonist so powerful that the reader cannot imagine how the protagonist can triumph over them.

Consider the love story between Yuri and Lara; would Doctor Zhivago have been as memorable without the backdrop of the Russian Revolution? Consider this story at its core: the story of two men that love one woman. Imagine the story without a historical backdrop. Imagine two men going to 9-to-5 jobs five days a week, both of whom manage to meet the same woman and fall in love. It might have been a satisfying story, but would it have been a great one?

Or would Scarlett O’Hara’s transformation from a self-centered southern belle to a driven businesswoman have been as fascinating had it not been against the backdrop of the American Civil War, her antebellum world quite literally Gone With the Wind? Again, we have the story of love. Ashley loves Melanie. Scarlett loves Ashley. Rhett loves Scarlett. Melanie dies. Scarlett realizes she doesn’t want Ashley anymore; she wants Rhett. Rhett decides he has had enough and leaves Scarlett.

Instead, Margaret Mitchell wrote a book that stands the test of time. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the book delves deep into the war and how it changed the lives of every character from major to minor.

The written word has a lifespan that far exceeds an author’s lifetime. Consider the Egyptian Book of the Dead dating to 1550 BC or the Kesh Temple Hymn from 2600 BC. Authors from Dickens to Shakespeare are still widely read, though the authors have long since passed. Knowing that your work can live indefinitely—especially with the invention of ebooks—should be enough for you to consider how your work can impact others through education of the past. 

Part 2 of "Change the World with Your Writing-Using History to Change the Future" will appear on January 28, 2020 here on Southern Writers Magazine’s blog, Suite T.


Monday, January 13, 2020

How Do you Make your Reader Care?



By Susan May Warren, author ofThe Way of the Brave (Released 1/7/20)


There are 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone. Yes, that’s a lot. But you don’t need that number to blow your mind…simply walk into a Barnes and Noble and notice the shelves and shelves of books…

Why should someone pick up your story? Because you have heroic characters? Maybe an edge-of-your-seat plot? Perhaps a heart-wrenching situation?

A great story has all of the above. But really, the reason a reader picks up and stays with a story has to do with something much more…personal.

It’s about the question in your reader’s heart and how your story reaches in and answers it. Or, at least empathizes with it. 

It’s called the Story Question and every book has one. It’s the theme of the story turned into a personal question.
·         Can you overcome heartbreak and love again?
·         Do you have the courage to fight back?
·         Is there hope after grief?

The Story Question is that question your character is asking as the book opens, ignited by the inciting incident and lingering in their mind throughout the story.  All the tidbits of truth your character discovers along the way contribute to the answer they discover at the epiphany moment of the story.
Consider one of the classics – Casablanca.  Rick is a broken-hearted soul who can’t forgive the woman he loves for abandoning him.  He’s become apathetic and refuses to get involved in the lives of those who come to his bar.  Then, one day, his lost love, Elsa walks into his gin joint and suddenly the story question ignites. Can Rick love again? And, if he does, will it change him into a better man? 

This question is at the heart of countless stories through the ages.  One of my favorites is The Count of Monte Cristo.  A man, wrongfully imprisoned, vows revenge on the man who stole his life.  The external journey is his quest to enact revenge.  However, his inner journey is about forgiveness.  The story question asks, can a man so wrongly aggrieved, forgive? And could it finally set him free?  Ironically, this is also the story question in my current release, The Way of the Brave. My hero has been betrayed…and now he’s called to rescue the very person who betrayed him.

The external plot only causes the character to grapple with the big question of the story.  One might say that the entire purpose of the external plot is only to cause the hero to confront the big story question and find an answer, with the hope that because of it, he changes and becomes a better man.
Frankly, isn’t that what life is about? 

If you build your story correctly – creating a character we like, who has a real problem, and wants something for a good reason, someone who has something to lose and who goes on a quest to find that solution, you have a solid plot. But it’s the why of the journey that differentiates your book from others. What is the question the character—and the reader—is asking?

Your story gives them at least a glimpse at an answer. And if it’s one they like, they just might pass the book along.
_____________________________________________________________
Susan May Warren is the USA Today bestselling, Christy, Carol and RITA award–winning author of more than seventy-five novels whose compelling plots and unforgettable characters have won acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. In addition to her writing, Susan is an internationally acclaimed writing teacher and runs an academy for writers, Novel.Academy. She’s taught at conferences around the world and helped many novelists onto the bestseller list.