Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Evaluate, Update and Recommit to Your Blog by Edie Melson

Staying up to date with trends and advancements in the publishing industry is critical to any writer’s success. But many of us miss a regular evaluation of our blog or website. Technology is changing so quickly, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and forget about this basic—especially if it’s working okay. But a good site can often be updated to a GREAT site with just a little bit of thought and tweaking.

Today I’d like to invite you to take a look at your own blogging aspirations. Click on your own site and look at it with new eyes, keeping these thoughts in mind. Here’s the checklist I use to evaluate my sites. Don’t hesitate to tweak it to fit your needs.

  • Make sure your site hasn’t become too cluttered in the sidebar area. Clean out any old links and add any you’ve been considering.
  • Recheck your default font. Sometimes you’ll find you’ve drifted into a different one. Whatever font you use, make certain it’s easily readable…on all screens.
  • Update your about me section on your site. Include the things that have happened over the past year in regard to publication, job changes, awards, and anything else applicable.
  • If you have a calendar with your speaking engagements, update it as well.
  • Also be sure to update any lists you have of other sites, like those for writers, photographers or others.
  • Now take out your mobile device (cell phone, tablet, eReader, whatever) and make certain your site is optimized for mobile viewing. This is vital because at least a quarter of all visitors to your site will be looking at it from a mobile device and that number will continue to increase!
  • Reassess what action you want your reader to take after viewing your blog. Maybe you want them to share your site with their friends/readers. Perhaps you’re selling a book. Even if it’s only to follow you on Twitter, make sure it’s easy for them to see what you want and then execute it!
This is also a good time to look at your blog posting schedule and evaluate the popularity and efficiency of your different topics. You can do this by utilizing the stats section of your blogger dashboard or of your specific blogging platform.
  • First, look at the most popular posts of the past year. Do they fall into a specific category or theme? If this isn’t the main focus of your blog consider making it a bigger part of your posting schedule.
  • Next look at the day of the week when you get your most hits. Does it correspond to your posting date or is it the following day? You may need to tweak when your email notification is sent out.
  • Finally, Google the subject of those popular posts. Don’t plug in the exact title of those blogs, instead try a more generic subject search. The purpose of this is to see where within that search your blog entry is falling. Not certain what I’m referring to? Read my posts about SEO and Tagging.
We all benefit from a yearly checkup and our blog is no different. I’d love to hear how you keep your site fresh and up-to-date.


Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for life’s stories. She loves to share her 16+ years experience in the field of writing through mentoring and teaching others. Her first foray into professional writing was as a technical writer in the 80’s. From there she quickly moved into freelance writing and editing, a perfect fit for someone who loves new challenges. Hundreds of articles and devotions, including those for Focus on the Family, CBN.com, Crosswalk.com and Christiandevotions.us, have flowed from her pen to her audience. 

A savvy business owner, Edie has numerous copywriting clients who rely on her expertise in SEO and keyword formatting. She also consults on web content and social networking. And, she's the c
o-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.

Fighting Fear, Winning the War at Home, is Edie’s latest project. This devotional book for those with family members in the military has just been contracted with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Connect with Edie
Twitter - @ediemelson

Monday, January 30, 2012

Randy Ingermanson's Take on the Moral Premise: Part Three

Hasn't this series been helpful? Randy's explanation helped solidify some things for me where the topic of including the moral premise in my writing was concerned. And now I can be more intentional about it. How about you? Read on for the final installment. ~ Annette

Creating: The Moral Premise--Part Three
by Randy Ingermanson

Let's be clear on one thing. We don't actually live in a fair universe. In the world we live in, murderers, rapists, and con men all too often go free. Decent people all too often get whacked.

The Moral Premise of a story is not about what is. It's about what "ought" to be. Your reader knows perfectly well what "ought" to be, and so do you.

If your fiction violates what both you and your reader know "ought" to be, then your Moral Premise is bogus and you're going to make your reader intensely unhappy.

The surprising thing I learned from talking to Stan is that in a well-crafted story, the Moral Premise applies to EVERY character. One way or another, the good guy, the bad guy, the love interest, the sidekick, the class joker—everybody—is playing out the same Moral Premise.

This really puzzled me. Could it possibly be true? I decided to analyze my award-winning novel OXYGEN, (which I just republished as an e-book last month).

My co-author and I never really much thought about the Moral Premise for OXYGEN. We just wrote a story we liked. Was it possible that, even without thinking about it, we had crafted a Moral Premise into our story that applied to all our characters at once?

The answer turned out to be yes.

The Moral Premise of OXYGEN is very simple: “Honesty leads to mutual trust, but dishonesty leads to mutual distrust and suspicion.”

I quickly verified that every single major character in OXYGEN is wrestling with exactly this Moral Premise. We didn't design this into the story. It just happened. We built it in by intuition. But as I recall, it took about fifteen drafts to get the story right.

And that's why it's important to study this stuff.

Stan makes a great point in his book: If you ask yourself what the Moral Premise of your story is as you develop it, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort, and you won't have to depend on your intuition, which is often unreliable.

There is much more to say about a Moral Premise and how it works. Stan talks about something he calls the "moment of grace" which makes a lot of sense to me. I'm not going to discuss that here.

If you want to know the mechanics of the "moment of grace" and how to integrate it into your story structure, then get Stan's book. He worked hard on it, and he deserves to get paid for his ideas.

I highly recommend THE MORAL PREMISE, by Stan Williams. It's a brilliant idea. I'm going to use Stan's methods in the future on every novel I write, because I think it'll save me a lot of time.

And it'll probably save me someday from writing a story that just won't fly with my readers. Great power, great responsibility, and all that.

This E-zine is copyright Randall Ingermanson, 2011.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 28,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fortifying Friday: Can I Do This?

Can I Do This?

When we begin a new manuscript, receive a rejection, or struggle with mastering our craft, we may wonder if we really have it in us to be writers. After all, the journey to publication is not an easy road to travel. There are many who give up and fall by the wayside.

If we truly believe we’re called to write, and we desire to serve God through our words, I believe we won’t settle for mediocrity. Creating and sharing our projects can bring joy and fulfillment in a variety of ways. But writing to our potential means hard work, tenacity, and sometimes sacrifice. It may also require patience and waiting for years to get published.

Can I do this?

Have you ever asked yourself that question?

One of my friends (multi-published) and I recently talked about the projects we’re working on. I’m tackling a genre that I’ve never written before. I explained that it's a little scary for me. I experience fearful moments when I wonder if I'm just kidding myself. Can I really do this? Can I pull it off?

She admitted—and I’ve heard other authors say the same thing—it never changes. As a matter of fact, some multi-published authors express that with each new book, because of expectations, their fear increases. They worry they won’t be able to write the story, and then when it’s published, they fear bad reviews and poor sales. As the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last book….

But God doesn’t want us to be afraid! He put the desire in our hearts to write because he has a plan and a purpose for it.

We can find encouraging words in the Bible when we experience doubt. (I've included one list below.) You may want to keep them in sight in your writing space. When you question your abilities … when you feel stuck … and when you feel discouraged, look to those words to help keep you moving forward with renewed energy and faith in God and yourself.

Have you ever struggled with doubt or felt discouraged? What helped you?

We can do this!

~ Dawn

YOU SAY: “It’s impossible.” 
GOD SAYS: “All things are possible.” (Luke 18:27)

YOU SAY: “I’m too tired.”
GOD SAYS: “I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

YOU SAY: “I can’t figure things out.”
GOD SAYS: “I will direct your steps.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

YOU SAY: I’m not able.”
GOD SAYS: “I am able.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

YOU SAY: “It’s not worth it.”
GOD SAYS: “It will be worth it.” (Romans 8:28)

YOU SAY: “I’m afraid.”
GOD SAYS: “I have not given you a spirit of fear.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

YOU SAY: “I’m always worried and frustrated.”
GOD SAYS: “Cast all your cares on ME.” (1 Peter 5:7)

YOU SAY: “I’m not smart enough.”
GOD SAYS: “I give you wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

YOU SAY:  “I feel all alone.”
GOD SAYS:  “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

YOU SAY: “I can’t manage.”
GOD SAYS: “I will supply all your needs.” (Philippians 4:19)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

This and That Thursday: A Cardiac Arrest Victim's Twist on New Year's Resolutions

Ocieanna here. I know it’s toward the end of January, and your goals, resolutions, and plans have already been made and embarked on, but will you indulge me one more article about goal setting?

It may be different than you expect.

I tend to be a goal setter. I love my lists with little boxes to check off (just ask my kids). In the past, each year I carefully thought out my short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. Personal, professional, spiritual, you know the drill. SMART goals…

Early on (probably way back in my twenties) I learned how discouraging these dang lists can be. No matter what my intentions, my success rate hovered around ten percent. Not stellar.

Regardless, year after year, I’d get into the spirit and plan out (either mentally or physically) my list of goals and dreams.

I did that last year too.

Well, if you don’t know what happened to me last January, let me share. I was lying in my bed watching TV when my heart stopped. Paramedics came and revived me, but in that minute, my life changed. (You can read more about my story on my website.)

So much for my goals and plans.

Everything I expected for the year—my planned novel, teaching Bible, homeschooling, even trivial tasks like doing laundry or making dinners—all fell away. I was left with me and God. And just as He promised, He directed my path, step by step, through that time.

You know what? Even though it was difficult, I liked His plan better than mine. Not only because, well, He's God and His plans are just plain better, but because His plan revealed His tender care and protection of me in a way my pre-set goals, as grand as I thought they were, couldn't. Through His way--so different than my own--I felt His love like I never had before. I'd call that a better way.

I’m not telling you this to discourage you from filling out charts, making goals, and especially not from dreaming, but maybe my experience will temper your planning a little.

You may plan to finish three articles and a proposal. He may plan for you to love your kids through a life-changing event. You may plan to send out five queries to agents. He may plan to send you to a new and unknown ministry. You may have great successes planned. He may want to show you His love through failure.

Or like me, He might just want you to rest a spell.

So make your goals, but remember to walk in step with the One who holds your writing career—your whole life—in his hands. His love will guide you, even down uncharted paths.

Happy 2012, my writing friends,


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ask O: How Do I Find Story Question? Part Three

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends!

Today we’re going to conclude our Story Question series with five quick questions to ask your characters.

1. "What do you want more than anything?" This is one of the first questions I ask my heroine. Then I stare into space (do you do that?) and let her tell me. Usually, she begins with a superficial answer. In my latest book, Love Finds You in Glacier Bay, Alaska, (coming out later this year, yay!), Ellie wants to provide enough money to pay for her grandfather’s medical bills. She also wants to marry her sweetheart.

2. “C’mon, Ellie, can you go deeper?” As I coax her to delve beyond the surface, I discover at the heart of her longing is a desire to please. She feels unworthy of love, so thinks she must perform to gain approval from everyone around her.

3. “Now, Ellie, why do you want to please everyone?” This forces me to plunge the depths of Ellie’s heart. Well, she wants to please because her parents died when she was young. Even though she relishes her grandfather’s unconditional love, the high-society world she lives in pressures her to be perfect. The only mother-figure she has expects just-right clothes, manners, and appearances, so she never feels like she quite gets it right. Because of this she forces herself to try harder, only to keep failing.

4. “Okay, Ellie, what’s your preliminary story question?” Here it is: Will Ellie be perfect enough to please those around her?

Ah ha! Now we’re getting somewhere. And this is a secret weapon. The answer to the preliminary story question can be no. In fact, it’s often more dramatic if the reader feels she’s going down a wrong path. Of course Ellie can’t be perfect enough to please those around her. We don’t want her to be. We want her to do something else. And this becomes the real Story Question.

5. “Now, Ellie, is that really what you want?” Ellie shakes her head. What she really longs for is to be accepted and loved for who she is—by those around her and especially by Christ. So the final Story Question is this: Will Ellie get past her desire to be perfect and embrace Christ’s unconditional love?

From there I built a novel!

I'd love to hear your story questions. Feel free to share yours and any tips you may have on how you came up with them.

Happy writing! And don't forget to leave your writing questions in the comments or on my website at ocieanna.com.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Do You Want a Drill Bit or a Hole? by Alton Gansky

A lot of times, we, as writers, pigeonhole ourselves into one type of writing, i.e., we're novelists, or we only write one type of fiction. Alton Gansky shows us how to define ourselves in terms of the goal, not necessarily the form of writing. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. ~ Angie
Years ago Discover magazine ran an article about Amory Lovins (as told to Cal Fussman). Haven’t heard of him? Neither had I, but he’s made a name for himself by having innovative ideas about energy, oil, and the like. He’s a physicist, economist, inventor, automobile designer, and several other things to make mortals like me feel like gross underachievers. In the article he discusses ways to deal with the world’s energy problems, but that’s not why I mention him. Although I found his thoughts interesting, I found his way of thinking even more so.
He made a point by describing a man who walks into a hardware store to buy a drill bit. Lovins asks, “What does the man really want?” My knee-jerk response: Um, a drill bit? But no. The man wants a hole. Okay, that seems pretty basic but how many of us think that way? Much of creativity, innovation, and artistic endeavor comes from asking the right question.

Maybe another example.

At the turn of the last century one of the first (maybe the very first) woman business consultants, Mary Parker Follet, was working with a company that made lamp shades. She asked a question that at first stumped them. “What business are you in?” Like me they went for the obvious, “Um, lamp shades?”

“No, you’re in the light control business.” Seems too subtle to make a difference, but then the, well, light went on. “You mean we can make window shades, too?” The ideas began to flow. The failure to ask and properly answer this question almost doomed the railroads that had difficulty seeing that they were in the transportation business, not the railroad business (which meant they missed out on many opportunities).

Now, what business are writers in? Are novelists in the fiction business? Are periodical writers just in the magazine biz? Are editors in the word refining business? What about publishers? Are they just in the book business?

And what about our man in the hardware store? He’s there to buy a bit, not because he likes the design and feel of it, but because he needs a hole bored into something. What’s your real need; your real desire; your real goal? If everything worked perfectly, what would your writing business look like and how would you measure its success? The man with the drill bit measures his success by the holes that he drills. Those holes are evidence of achievement. What is the writer’s proof of accomplishment?

What business are you in? What is your real goal?

These are questions I ask myself. Life changes us, the industry changes, readers change; therefore we must be flexible. The answer to the question should never be chiseled in stone but allowed to adapt to our ever altering interests, skills, and world.
“What business are you in?” I am in the communication business. I peddle ideas, sell concepts, and market thoughts. Of course, as a Christian, most of what I communicate touches on faith and the way it is lived out.

Am I a novelist? Yes, but I write nonfiction as well. Am I then a writer of books? Sure, but I also write short pieces, blogs, articles, consult, and edit. Okay, then, that makes me a wordsmith. That’s true it does, but I also lecture, give interviews, teach classes. You get the idea.

We need to think wider and deeper. What do we really want to achieve? I asked, “What is your real goal?” Mine is this: I want to make people think. That’s it. Do I want to entertain? Of course, but entertainment isn’t the goal, it’s the means. I want people to say, “Wow,” “Great,” “Gripping,” but most of all I want them to go, “Hmmm.”

I feel most successful when I, through written or spoken words, reach into someone’s mind and tickle it with a new thought.

That’s how I measure success.

Alton L. Gansky is the author of 23 novels and 7 nonfiction works, as well as principle writer of 7 novels and 2 nonfiction books. He has been a Christie Award finalist (A Ship Possessed) and an Angel Award winner (Terminal Justice). He holds a BA and MA in biblical studies. He lives in central California with his wife.
In addition to his own writing, Alton Gansky has consulted and provided editing/ writing services to several CBA publishers and written copy, video scripts, and other works for the general business market. Through Gansky.Communications he has consulted with publishers and agents, as well as provided editing services. He is “the go to guy” for co-writing having been selected by Penguin, Waterbrook, Broadman Holman, and other publishers to work with their top tier authors.
Gansky is in frequent demand at writer’s conferences having taught and keynoted in California, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Delaware.
He is the director of the premier writers conference: Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers.
Connect with Al

Monday, January 23, 2012

Randy Ingermanson's Take on the Moral Premise: Part Two

This Mixing-it-Up Monday, Randy Ingermanson is back for his second installment of this great series on the moral premise. Read on! ~ Annette

Creating: The Moral Premise--Part Two
by Randy Ingermanson

Please understand that Stan (the author of The Moral Premise) doesn't recommend that your book should be only about nice people. Plenty of great fiction is about people who aren't nice.

THE GODFATHER is a great novel about a mafia family that isn't a bit nice. THE DAY OF THE JACKAL is a great novel about a psychopathic assassin. GONE WITH THE WIND is a great novel about some loveable rogues whom you'd kick to the curb if you met them in real life.

The key thing to understand when talking about a Moral Premise is that the story needs to end "right" even if the beginning and middle are "all wrong."

In the second DIE HARD movie, we see an airliner full of people get blown up right near the end. And the audience cheers. Why?

Because the airliner is full of bad guys who are escaping the long arm of the law. They've spent the whole movie doing Bad Stuff, but in the end, they get
the only possible justice.

No, that doesn't always happen in real life. In real life, sometimes the bad guys get away. In real life, sometimes the good guys get reamed.

People don't read fiction to get another dose of real life. They already know real life sucks, mostly.

People read fiction to see things work out the way they "ought" to work out.

In fiction, the bad guys should get whacked in the end. The good guy should get justice. Or the promotion. Or the girl. Or whatever else he was trying to get.

In fiction, characters should get what they deserve, in a way the reader doesn't expect.

Let's remember that you don't have to write your fiction in black and white. In fact, you generally shouldn't. You've got a lot of shades of gray to work
with and you're allowed to use them all.

Very often, the protagonist is both good and bad and has to make a decision about which way to go. Every reader knows that the "right" decision "needs" to be rewarded and the "wrong" decision "needs" to be punished.

You can write this as a simple design pattern: [Virtue] leads to [Good Result], but [Vice] leads to [Bad Result].

Here, you need to fill in [Virtue] with any particular virtue you want—honesty, sincerity, justice, love, humility, whatever. Then you need to fill in [Vice] with some particular vice opposed to your chosen virtue. Likewise, you need to fill in [Good Result] and [Bad Result] with the good or bad things that "ought" to be the results in a fair universe.


This E-zine is copyright Randall Ingermanson, 2011.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 28,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Step Away from Your Desk! by Delia Latham

Sometimes, we writers can get consumed with the characters in the fantasy worlds we create. Other activities can begin to feel like distractions and deterrents to getting our “work” done. But author Delia Latham encourages us to step away from our desks, explains why it may just be the best thing for us, and provides tips on how to accomplish it! ~ Dawn

Step Away from Your Desk!
by Delia Latham

Hebrews 10:25 (KJV):  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Writing is a solitary occupation. It makes hermits of us, unless we take deliberate steps to prevent that outcome.

Of course, if hermitry is the life one prefers, then so be it.

Most of us, however, need interaction with other human beings—something beyond social networking sites and e-mail activity. That blending of minds and personalities breathes life into us, provides fodder for our imaginations (always a good thing for a writer!), and keeps us from becoming stale, uninteresting, unhealthy…and unproductive.

We cloister ourselves inside our offices, fingers to keyboard, rear to chair—exactly as we've been taught. We insist that it's necessary to shut out the real world in order to create fictitious ones. But in reality, a lack of contact with people and real-life situations shows up in our writing as dull, cardboard characters and lifeless storylines that will never see print.

It is possible to find that human connection without allowing our writing time to suffer. And even if it does—if we're writing three hours each day instead of four—isn't it worth it if the words we write sparkle with life and energy?

Step away from your desk and breathe new life into your writing! Here's how:

One day a week, write somewhere besides your office.

Coffee shops (or even a local McDonald's) provide a great opportunity to observe others, hear real conversation, and absorb the energy of human contact. Take your laptop along. You can write…or just make character notes. Listen in on a conversation or two. Observe the various expressions and body language of the customers. (Note: DO buy a cup of coffee, maybe even a pastry. You'll find yourself far more welcome next time you go.)

Go to the park and get some fresh air. No Wi-Fi, but admit it…you'll do more writing when you don't have access to the internet.

Writing in your local library provides a chance to get acquainted with the librarians, which might lead to a reading and/or book signing. Donate a book—they'll love you for it. 

Join a local writers group.

Check the internet or your local phone directory. Inquire at ACFW or RWA. Most of the time, you'll find a group within easy driving distance.

Can't find a group? Start one! A little ad in the newspaper or your church bulletin is sure to render some response. Even 3-5 writers who want to get together and brainstorm is a start. The more diverse your members as far as writing experience, the better. New writers are excited and eager, and that enthusiasm will make itself felt in the group. Experienced authors can be of benefit to each other and help the newbies develop their craft. 

Attend church functions.

Not just services, although those are important. Go to potlucks—they don't happen often, and they provide much-needed fellowship and activity. Join the ladies' group or the praise team. Do something that forces you away from your desk and into life.

Find a place to volunteer. 

Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help someone else. Be a blessing…and it will come back to you, "pressed down, shaken together, and running over." (Luke 6:38)

I'm sure there are plenty of other routes to take. Let's talk about them. What keeps you from becoming a "hermit writer"?

Born and raised in Weedpatch, California, Delia Latham moved to Oklahoma in '08, making her a self-proclaimed California Okie. She loves to read and write in her country home, and gets a kick out of watching her husband play Farmer John. She's a Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend, but especially loves being a princess daughter to the King of Kings. She loves Dr. Pepper and hearing from her readers. Contact her through her website or e-mail.

Delia writes inspirational romance and women's fiction, and is currently contracted through White Rose Publishing and Vinspire Publishing.

Other places to find Delia Latham:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Being Perfect by Rachel Olsen

Since we're halfway through January, I figured most of us have broken one or two of our resolutions - I know I have. I got great comfort from this devotional from Rachel Olsen. It was originally posted on the Proverbs 31 Ministries site and reposted here with permission, of course. Click here to receive daily devotions from Rachel and the other talented ladies at Proverbs 31 Ministries. ~ Angie

“Don’t live under the control of your sinful nature. If you do, you will think about what your sinful nature wants. Live under the control of the Holy Spirit. If you do, you will think about what the Spirit wants. The way a sinful person thinks leads to death. But the mind controlled by the Spirit brings life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6 (NIRV)

There’s a moment I dread at the doctor’s office. It’s not putting on that tissue paper mistakenly called a “gown.” It’s not having my finger pricked – though I’m squeamish about blood. It’s the moment right after the nurse finishes her questions, grabs her clip board, and announces the doctor will be in to see me shortly.

Pulling the door closed, she leaves me alone with it. I already know what it’s going to say about me; I’ve read it before. It’s going to tell me I don’t measure up. I’m not reaching my potential. I don’t equal my ideal. It’s the chart that declares the perfect weight for my height – and I’m several pounds away.

It extends no mercy, offers no grace. It makes no allowances for how old I am, how many babies I’ve birthed, or that my husband can eat three plates of food every night without gaining an ounce. It demands perfection.

A few years ago I heard a verse that seemed to be the scriptural equivalent of the height/weight chart. A single verse to measure my worth against, and feed my expectations for perfection: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, NIV 1984)

I figured this verse justified dressing my family in matching sweaters, in the middle of July, to take our Christmas card photo because I’d just gotten the perfect haircut. I figured it warranted pricey toothpaste because I drink coffee and tea, and it shows. And I figured it was my defense when I drove my family nuts about deep-cleaning the house because my new friend might stop by.

This verse helped me justify my quest for perfect photos, perfect teeth and a perfectly clean house. But it added to my disappointment, guilt and occasional loathing when my life, body or family didn’t match my ideal notions. Rather than fostering contentment and satisfaction, it fueled self-criticism. Surely this is not what Jesus intended!

In the years since hearing that verse, I’ve embraced a core conviction that goes like this: If God created life, He alone gets to define it. This conviction drove me to find out what exactly Jesus meant by “be perfect.”

‘Perfect’ used in the ancient Greek language in this verse means something a little different than Mr. Webster’s definition. The Greek word here is teleos: “complete, full grown, developing.”

The first two pieces of that definition indicate something already accomplished, while the third indicates an ongoing process.

So this perfection Jesus prescribes for us is already complete and yet still developing. Complete in Him; still at work in us. We’re allowed to be a work-in-progress!

All parts of this definition, however, refer to maturity of character, rather than a flawless figure, immaculate home, or the faultless execution of a task. Jesus doesn’t care so much if there’s dust on our mantle, stains on our teeth or a scratch on our car. He isn’t interested in how well our bedspread matches our curtains. He’s interested in our spiritual maturity.

Jesus teaches that our worth is only found in reflecting His character. To graciously give and receive love. As John writes in 1 John 3:18-20, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (NIV).

Now that’s good news for a recovering perfectionist.
Dear Lord, thank You for grace! Thank You for mercy! Thank You for empowering me to be like You as I submit to Your Word. And thank You for not caring about dust bunnies or stained shirts. Help me to care less about those things as well and focus my heart on You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Related Resources:

Come to Rachel’s blog and leave a prayer request for victory over perfectionism.

If you enjoyed this devotion, you’ll want to get a copy of Rachel’s book It’s No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know.

Rachel Olsen's passion is helping women see and savor God afresh. This engaging communicator, and author of It's No Secret, leads women to cultivate an invigorating spiritual walk - one that sustains through life's ups and downs. One that delights both God and self.

She has a well-earned reputation for providing quality women's devotional material. She serves as Editor in Chief of Proverbs 31 Ministries' online devotions Encouragement for Today. She also served as General Editor, along with Lysa TerKeurst, of the devotional book, God's Purpose for Every Woman.

Her devotions and articles have been published across the web on Crosswalk.com, Christianity.com, CBN.com, Oneplace.com, and Growthtrac.com.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ask O: Story Question Part Two: Why the first chapter?

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends!

Back to Story Question. Last week we talked about how Story Question has to do with the “problem.’ What problem does my character need to solve? What issue will she wrestle with until finally discovering the answer in a satisfying ending?

Today, let’s expound on why defining this problem early on is important. In my years of freelance editing, I’ve found that a poorly defined story question leads to meandering tales. The author seems to not know where she’s going, and worse, the character doesn’t know what she wants. What does this do to readers (and editors like me)?

Well, it makes me want to give up. If the story is a romance, for example, I have an expectation that the character longs for intimacy, or perhaps she's burried in a false sense of independence that will be overturned. “The last thing I need,” Madelyn gripes. “Is a man!” But of course we know a loving relationship with a good, strong man is exactly what Madelyn needs.

If I can’t cozy into this need in the first scene (preferably the first page), I feel lost and a little cheated. Is this a romance or not? It’s like taking a bus from Washington State to Florida, but heading north instead of south. Why are we going this way? I chose this trip to get me some Florida sunshine!

But, if I do really grasp the hole in the heroine’s life that love must fill, ahh, I’m hooked. If I empathize with her need (which means it must be shown not told), I can’t help but keep reading. I must find out how the problem of her lonely heart will be solved! We’re on the way to the Sunshine State and I wouldn’t get off this bus if you paid me.

Same holds true for other genres. One very important key to nabbing reader interest in those first pages is showing what the character longs for in the first scene, whether romance, suspense, women’s fiction, fantasy, or anything.

Finally, notice how Story Question deals almost exclusively with the internal. Yes, we must know the external goals—Leslie wants to become a helicopter pilot, Sir Philip yearns to build a castle. These are important foundations for your plot points, but physical objectives aren’t enough.

From the first scene, we must know what internal motivation moves the heroine to take on her quest. Readers must understand why the external goals are important to the protagonist. And that’s internal--the motives of the heart (to add a touch of schmaltzy).

How are you doing with your character’s Story Question? Keep working on it, narrowing it down, thinking of ways to show it early on. Soon you’ll realize you’ve nailed it. And you won’t be able to stop your fingers from clicking on the keyboard.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Creating the Essential Backstory by DiAnn Mills

The other day I was having lunch with girlfriends and the topic of diet came up. Not exactly what I wanted to hear with the holiday eating taking revenge in my rearview mirror. The diet discussion continued, but instead of plans to move forward, we confessed to what we’d eaten to get ourselves into an expanded condition. In short, we bemoaned our backstories that placed us in the present.

What is Backstory?
Backstory consists of the events and circumstances that motivate a character into fresh and compelling action. What happened to the character before page one propels the story. We are four-part creatures who deal with the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental realms of our world. Our characters have the same challenges.

Robert McKee says it best: “Backstory—previous significant events in the lives of the characters that the writer can reveal at critical moments to create turning points.”

When we studied fiction writing, our instructors told us to avoid backstory that doesn’t relate to the present character’s goal or problem. How does a writer make that determination? Backstory is critical in the world of story, but a master writer discerns what part of backstory is vital and what is superfluous.

To avoid confusion, let’s define what backstory is not:
  1. Backstory is not the action that fills scene after scene of a powerful novel. 
  2. Backstory is not the camouflaged aspects of the story that are happening in the present. The point-of-view character might be unaware of happenings around her, but the events are still unfolding.
  3. Backstory is not a flashback. A flashback is a scene interruption and slows the story by forcing the reader to make an adjustment by sending them to the past. Sol Stein defines flashback as, “A scene that precedes the time of the present story.” Readers want to experience the adventure with crisp writing that is happening now. If a flashback is necessary, transcend in and out—quickly.

Donald Maass recommends restraining backstory for the first fifty pages or so of the novel.

When is Backstory Essential? 
Long before the initial writing process begins. The history of each character is intimate, personal, and exciting. Do you remember the last time you invested hours in getting to know someone new? The person most likely did not reveal flaws and weaknesses during the beginning stages of the relationship; instead, she convinced you by words and actions that she was a great person. The flaws in her character came much later as you spent time traveling down the road of life. By then we were invested in the new friend and chose to overlook character flaws. How did that person reveal her past? What emotions did she display? Was she complex or predictable?

By learning the backstory of a character, actions in the present are easier for the writer to predict according to experiences and lessons learned.

Relationships often seem contrived unless the writer has established backstory to weave how and why characters behave the way they do. The inspiration behind these relationships is revealed in snippets throughout the story. The writer holds on to the reins of backstory as though she were driving a team of runaway horses.

Discover Your Character's Backstory
How can the writer weave a tale unless she knows what the character wants and needs? Many writers use a character sketch to analyze the past. By discovering information from every angle of character development, a writer is able to create a picture of the character’s life before the first sentence.

Take inventory of the character’s childhood. Write about the experiences that formed his/her personality for the present story. Use all seven universal emotions to learn about the character: surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, happiness, and contempt. Ask the hard questions that the character might not want to discuss. Force the character to expose inner hurts and pain. In the depths of the forbidden, the writer finds the nuggets of personality, persuasion, and power.

Once the writer has searched the childhood years, move on to the teens, young adulthood, and then to the current age of the character. The more you discover about the character, the richer the backstory. Understand that not everything the character states about the past is useful, only the parts that pertain to the story. Continue the exercise in time increments until one hour before the story opens.

Perhaps the plotting and opening lines of the story will now take a different twist.

Backstory, where will it take you?

Award-winning author DiAnn Mills is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. DiAnn’s first book was published in 1998. She currently has more than fifty books in print, which have sold more than a million and a half copies.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011.

DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive; Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also the Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.

She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

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