Monday, January 30, 2012

Character Counts

When you or I write or read our stories and books, we usually find ourselves responding first to the character who is supposed to give that story its life.

One of our Author Contributors here at A Pen for Your Thoughts, Anne Greene, has a great writing tip  that involves the character you decide to write about, and why this is so important to the making of a good story.

Join me, and let's see what Anne has to say.

By Anne Greene

                An actor climbs inside the character he portrays to make that character real. In the same way a writer must get inside the character’s head and become that character in order to make him real. A writer must see the created world through the character’s eyes. Some people call this deep point of view. I prefer to call this becoming the character.
                To become a written character is more difficult than it sounds. We’re a generation of movie goers. We watch characters doing things on the big screen. We are outside their bodies. Yet we don’t have to be told what their actions mean, the characters show us. But, we are not inside their heads. And that is exactly how many writers portray their characters. From the outside.
                But to make a written character real, the writer must show his motivations, emotions, thoughts, decisions, and how he experiences the created world around him. So, how does a good writer accomplish this? Here are a few suggestions.
                Basic one: never use the words saw, felt, smelled, heard, thought, said, etc. For instance, rather than saying she smelled smoke, write the smell. Acrid wood smoke coming from the direction of the house, raised the hair on the nape of her neck. Rather than she felt, write what she felt. Chills spidered down her spin. Rather than saying she heard, write the sound coming to her ears. Over the muted roar of traffic, the clear, sweet tone of bells ringing brought a smile to her face. And so on—you get the idea. And, it’s redundant to write the emotion after you have gotten inside the character’s head to experience it.
                I personally find getting inside the character rewarding. But I’m still not proficient. Becoming a character isn’t easy. But, once your inside your character you won’t make the mistake of author intrusion (dumping information the author wants the reader to know) because you’re character would never do that. Nor will you be adding unnecessary tags that jerk the reader out of the character’s head. Tags like she said, she thought, etc. that remind the reader they are not actually experiencing the story.
                Basic two: Becoming the character adds emotion at the same time the action occurs. Weave in the sights, sounds, scents, fears, thoughts from inside the character and the reader experiences the same reactions as the character. And, of course, when the writer is the character, she will seldom describe her physical looks or mention her own name. A character named Amy would never say-Amy twirled a strand of her honey-blonde hair around her pink-tipped nail. She would more likely say-tapping one finger in a staccato rhythm against the battered desk, she pulled at a strand of her hair.
                Basic three:  Being inside the character cuts down on unnecessary adverbs. Instead of saying, she shouted angrily, get inside the character. She slapped his lean cheek. “I meant what I said.” Let the character’s body language take the place of adverbs.
                So my advice to writers is: BECOME THE CHARACTER.     
Copyright 2012 Anne Green
Masquerade Marriage
A Texas Christmas Mystery

Friday, January 20, 2012

What do you think of Quiet Deception?

Ann Gaylia Obar, an author you want to meet and read about if you haven't had a chance before.

OakTara has published three of Ann's novels: Singing in Babylon (romance, November, 2010); Quiet Deception (mystery/romance) and Searching for Home (romance, international intrigue), the last two in August, 2011. Distant Thunder (romance) is under contract with OakTara ( ).

Ann also writes two blogs per month for OakTara’s Bindings column in ( bindings)

Ann and her husband enjoy the laid back life on Whidbey Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound. (Watch out for snow and black ice right now, Ann). It’s the background for her current work in progress.

Anxious as I am to learn a little about her newest book?

Quiet Deception is a mystery/romance.

Todd Edwards, much loved son of a widowed pastor, grew up with his friend, Byron White, victim of an abusive father, in the changing culture following World War II.  As adults, both settle in as professors at a Christian college and fight demons from the past, Todd from the Viet Nam conflict, Byron from past sins. Then Byron vanishes from his office one snowy evening, and Todd is left with guilt from a last meeting.

Several years later, Kim Frazier, one of Todd’s students, stumbles on the mystery and determines to solve it. She endures an adversarial relationship with Todd, the controlling Dr. Edwards to her, and she notices that he hovers over ancient pieces of paper. Where did they come from? Perhaps he stole them from Dr. Byron White, whose picture in an earlier school annual attracts her with its vulnerability. But ghosts from the past haunt several of her professors, and more than one of her teachers harbored dislike for Byron.

Kim’s discovery of the startling truth leads her to resolve her own doubt-wracked journey into adulthood.

Ann says: I’ve returned to my Tennessee roots for this one. I include an old Tennessee legend that fascinated me. The book is character-driven. Each suspect and protagonist has a dilemma to resolve, most tied in some way with the vanished professor.


            [Todd] thrust aside the class lists and decided to search for an article he needed, one he’d written himself on the Soviet Union’s involvement in the Middle East.

            Todd remembered putting it in a box in the lower cabinet. The box should be labeled, because he always labeled boxes. Stooping, he opened the doors and grabbed a box. He turned it on the floor, trying to figure out why it had no label.

            A chill gripped him as he sat back on his heels and stared. He recognized it now, a carton of books he hadn’t bothered to go through because it didn’t seem as important as Byron’s papers and clothes.

            He opened the box and pulled out heavy books. They looked to be a set of encyclopedias. He started to put the books back when he noticed the corner of a paper sticking out from one of them. No, not a paper, but a thin plastic covering, the kind you put over documents for protection.

            He flattened the book on the floor and opened it. It was the V book of the encyclopedias. His gaze fell on the topic at the top of the left page. Viet Nam.

A shiver chased down his spine. Byron might as well have been in the room with him. Todd knew, as one senses things beyond reason, that Byron had put these documents in this book for him.

            He stopped breathing, then exploded in an exhalation when he saw the note. It was scrawled—not in Byron’s usual neat script; rather written as though in haste—but he knew it for By’s handwriting.

Great excerpt which really gives us a grasp of what to look for. Ann is graciously offering to do a giveaway too.


Monday, January 16, 2012

We all love a DELIGHTFUL TOUCH OF HUMOR, don't we?

Another one of the author contributors here at A Pen for Your Thoughts is Anne K. Albert, whose award winning stories chill the spine, warm the heart and soothe the soul…all with a delightful touch of humor. A member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and married to her high school sweetheart for more than a quarter of a century, it's a given Anne would write mystery (Muriel Reeves Mysteries) and romantic suspense (Piedmont Island Trilogy). When not at the keyboard our friend Anne loves to travel, visit friends and family, and of course, read using ‘Threegio’ her cherished and much beloved Kindle 3G! You can also visit Anne’s website over at

Anne is sharing with us a great tip on SETTING as she also spends a few minutes telling us about what she writes. Read on.

Setting: More than Scenery
Anne K. Albert

Beginning writers spend considerable time and energy creating believable characters, writing snappy dialogue and developing action packed plots. It’s understandable, therefore, their tendency to ignore setting.  

By definition, setting is the locale or period in which the action of a novel takes place. It can be urban, rural, tropical, wintry, foreign, indigenous, and/or everything in between. A sleepy English village on a clear, crisp winter’s day for example, is a profoundly different setting from a bustling Asian city of fifteen million battered by a category five typhoon.

Setting, however, is more than just scenery. It establishes mood. It creates conflict and causes turmoil. It impacts and changes the characters. It can (and should) move the story forward.

Surrounded by majestic Lake Superior, fictional Piedmont Island is in northeastern Minnesota near the Canadian border. It’s tall pines, rugged rock cliffs and panoramic vistas are the perfect backdrop for my Piedmont Island Trilogy series. It’s a small island community where troubles outnumber residents.

DEFENDING GLORY, first in the series, tells the story of a woman who believes unconditionally in the Lord and a man who is convinced there is no master plan, no purpose in life, and most certainly, no merciful God in Heaven.

Suffering from survivor’s guilt and unable to resume his career with the FBI, Mac McKeown moves to northern Minnesota to start over as a general contractor and forget that fateful day that changed everything. When he discovers the body of his nemesis on Glory Palmer’s property, along with a warning for her to leave while she still can and abandon her dream of building a Christian retreat, Mac realizes his past has come back to haunt him and an innocent woman’s life is in grave danger. He vows to keep her safe during construction of the retreat, but can he protect his heart as well?

The tagline for PROTECTING HOPE, book two of the series, also makes good use of its setting: Serene Piedmont Island seems the perfect place for a workaholic accountant to kill five weeks…until she realizes someone’s trying to kill her.

PROTECTING HOPE will be released this spring by Vanilla Heart Publishing. Visit the Piedmont Island Trilogy blog for details.

If you are interested in getting your hands on one of Anne's good book, take a few minutes to respond to her great question: Your answers help all of us as writers, know which direction to go next.

Are there settings that appeal to you as a reader? Are there certain locations that you dislike? As a writer, do you have a favorite setting?

Leave that comment to any of the above questions and your name will be entered in our drawing later this week to win an e-copy of Defending Glory.

We look forward to picking one name at random at the end of the contest. Good luck, and as always, happy reading!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Feeling Stimulated Yet?

It's been a while since we've shared one of our writing tips with you. I know you will enjoy what Sandra Byrd has to say about how a writer uses stimulus and response in her or his writing. Read on and see if it applies to you.

Chekhov's Gun
By Sandra Byrd

For every stimulus, you must have a response.
For every response, you must have a stimulus.

 When we write novels, we don't include every word spoken, every action taken, every plan proposed. We include only those elements that either characterize or move the plot forward, or  hopefully, both.  Therefore, by introducing an element, especially one which is unusual and flags the reader's attention, we are indicating that it is significant. By that, you assure the reader that this element is worthy of their mental tracking. You're promising that there will be a response to that event or item, and that both stimulus and response will be critical to the story.

This is the classic writing rule known as Chekhov’s gun, after Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. He stated, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” Hanging the rifle is the stimulus. Firing it is the response. Implied, then, is that when it goes off, that will be the stimulus to a following action in the plot. As a corollary, you can’t simply have something happen “out of the blue.” You must have a stimulus before a response or your readers will feel set up, asking themselves, “Where did that come from?”

In my current work in progress, Queen Kateryn Parr responds with anxiety and dread when one of Henry the Eighth’s councilors states publicly that the queen’s religious opinions differ from the king’s approved Six Acts. Because another woman, Anne Askew, was burned at the stake for that very same cause some chapters earlier, we understand, without a word, why Parr is filled with dread. The stimulus - Askew's "illegal" teaching.  The response - her public martyrdom. Because the charges brought about a death, the next stimulus is an accusation of the same against the queen. The response - Parr's anxiety.  This anxiety becomes the next in the chain, a stimulus, and will demand a response from her.

Think of this like a person on overhead monkey bars. Both hands start out at the same place, but then hand over hand, one after another, pass down the overhead bars, with both hands meeting on each bar before reaching for the next. Stimulus leads to a response, that response leads to the next stimulus, leads to response, till the end of the row. Because the events are all connected, your readers will never ask, "Where did that come from?"

Do you make good use of stimulus and response?
Posted earlier at Christian Writers Guild

 Please sign up for my contests at .  I like to keep in touch!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Angels Watching Over You and Me, My Lord? See what Lisa says

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear about angels?  This week I am sharing with you, Lisa Grace, an author who chooses to write about angels in her stories, but in a different and unique way,  and with subject matter, I've never before shared about here at my blog.

Let's begin by learning a little about this author.

Lisa Grace lives with her family along the Gulf Coast of Florida. She loves to think she may have entertained angels, and is busy creating windows that open to the supernatural world that surrounds us. During her off time, Lisa enjoys hiking, fishing, boating, and watching nature. That's when she is not volunteering at her church where she works with the teens. Lisa says she uses what she calls the BIC (butt in chair) method to write two thousand words a day.  Her mission? To reach unsaved teens with all her young adult novels. To reach adult readers with her other work.

Angel in the Shadows, Book 1 and  Angel in the Storm, Book 2 have both  been optioned for a major movie by a production company that has worked on five Academy award winners including Fargo, Shakespeare in Love, and It's a Beautiful Life. Elaine P. English, Lisa's entertainment lawyer is at work, writing up the final negotiated changes to the contract. Lisa's most recent book, Angel in the Ice will be released as an eBook late this month. I know you must be as interested as I am to read this upcoming book.
Angel in the Shadows

Fifteen-year-old Megan Laughlin has a gift; or what seems like a curse at times. Megan sees angels and demons. Megan knows her destiny is to protect her friends against dark angels who try to sawy them into situations that can destroy their souls, their lives, and their eternity.
At school she recognizes an uber popular boy, as a demon hell-bent on detroying her and everyone she loves. As Judas spreads horrible rumors and overdoses two of her classmates at a rave, Megan realizes the enormity of his power. While classmates die, Megan, with the help of an angel, Johnny, and a team of friends will face the fight of their lives as they battle Judas. 

Megan thinks God
hasn't given her any "special" powers, but discovers she has what she needs as she confronts Judas and his seemingly unconquerable power.

Angel in the Storm
Max, Megan’s younger brother, is missing. He’s been sold to human traffickers in New Orleans by the evil angel Judas. Megan is soon arrested and charged with her missing brother’s murder. The only way to clear her name is to find Max. With the help of Johnny, who is a good angel, and her friends, Megan is soon on the run in a desperate attempt to find and rescue Max.

When Judas offers her an impossible choice, how can Megan choose?
The battle continues as lives are threatened and lost, not only by the rising waters of a hurricane, but in a climatic confrontation with Judas, and some will not make it out alive...


"Lisa Grace is a talented and exciting author. Suspense drips off each page. I look forward to her next work." Gretchen Helgeson
Phoenix, AZ, - Book Reviewer

Lisa Grace creates a supernatural world, where the heroine is 100 percent human - a brilliant alternative to the vampire novels. If this is her first novel - I can’t wait to see what else she has in store for readers. A page turner from start to finish.”Alexis Del Cid, CBS NEWS, KOIN-TV Portland, Oregon

"Ms Grace rocks the originality."

Is this the kind of book that interests you?  What do you think about when you read about angels? Do you have a favorite scripture that deals with angels and how God spoke about them in the Old or New Testament?

We want to hear from you. Please leave your email address when you write in. Perhaps I will draw your name and you, too, can be a winner of one of Lisa's books.