Bob Hostetler here, offering another prayer for writers:
Lord, I lay myself down,
on this page,
in these words,
Read More →
Bob Hostetler here, offering another prayer for writers:
I am a weak writer:
in over my head.
But you chose Ehud because of his weakness.
You used him,
not to mention Moses, David, Jeremiah, Paul, and others
(though I did just mention them; see what I mean?).
So grant me the faith
to believe that you can choose me and use me too.
Read More →
Historical Post by Gail Gaymer Martin
Cut, Snip, Tighten
I have been blessed to have been given an amazing career as a writer of Christian fiction, and in my days of creating stories that I hope will touch your hearts, I have learned so much about writing stories readers can enjoy. Most people do not understand the amount of detail and craft that goes into being a writer, and most people do not sell their first novel. I did, but not before it went through “refining fire.”
I knew nothing about writing fiction when I began to write. My first romance novel began with the death of the heroine’s husband, traveled through months of her grief, and on page 102 she met the hero. The book was rejected numerous times until I realized that a romance begins with the meeting of the hero and heroine within the first couple of pages. I also learned a story starts at the point of change—not the husband’s death, but the heroine’s new beginning. With the advice of a few kind writers who knew about writing fiction, I had to cut one-hundred glorious pages from my novel. That made all the difference, but by then the book had been rejected a number of times.
I courageously continued to submit books, and most of those were sitting on editors’ desks, waiting for rejection. In 1998, I submitted a new book to Barbour Publishing. Within a few months, I heard from them. Though the editors felt that particular book would not work for their readership, they liked my voice and writing style. They asked if I had anything else. I thought of my first novel…just sitting there. I said, “Sure I do and I’ll get it in the mail right away.”
But “right away” meant doing some serious edits. At that time the completed book was seventy-five thousand words. Barbour accepts only forty-five to fifty-five thousand words, so I had some serious cutting to do. I had learned so much more about writing by then, and I went through the manuscript tightening the story by removing useless dialogue and scenes that did not move the story forward. I cut a sub-plot and tightened my language. When I’d reached the right page count, I mailed the book in. Within eleven days, SEASONS sold to Barbour Publishing and I became a published author.
I have learned to cut, snip and tighten. I continue to improve my writing skills by honing the craft, listen to those who know the business, and understand that tightening a novel can only make it better. Those lessons have reaped great rewards and blessings for me. Now with 76 published novels and over 4 million books sold, I conclude that I finally know how to write a good book. It takes time, patience and tons of perseverance. Improving the craft never ends! I continue to read and study writing techniques and find new ideas for ways to improve my work.
In my next post, I will cover what I have done when I’ve received the reversion of rights and can now republish my older books for readers who hadn’t read them years ago when they were published. My goal is to use what I have learned to this day and to make my old novels new and improved. I hope you look for this blog on Reversion of Rights.
Greetings from charming Mount Dora, Florida, where we haven’t quite decided if we’re ready for warm weather or not. I do, however, have a warm conversation to offer you today with delightful novelist Liz Tolsma. Welcome back, Liz, to our CAN blog. Let’s get started with the official interview.
How many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?
I have six. My most recent are “World’s Greatest Love” in the Rails to Love novella collection, and “A Match Made in Heaven” in the Matchmaker Brides novella collection.
Congratulations! You were last featured on the CAN blog in 2013. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then?
Writing has its ups and downs, its busy seasons and its lean times. You don’t know when you’ll get your next contract, and sometimes, even having a contract is no guarantee your book will get published. But God is faithful, and He provides
That’s a great reminder for every writer—and every Christ-follower. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about promotion since then?
That I know very little about promotion. The landscape is always changing. There’s always something new out there, and it’s next to impossible to keep up with all the trends. I’m working on focusing on a couple of things and doing them well, and trying not to stress about all I don’t know. Read More →
Good morning and welcome to the CAN Blog from Gail Gaymer Martin. As a novelist, I work hard to improve my writing no matter how many novels that are published. With over 70 published novels, I am excited to find a new idea or a new approach or technique that will make my stories better. I always enjoy sharing these ideas with other writers and even readers who then learn what writers go through to make a book enjoyable.
Today’s topic deals with developing a theme in the novel that is natural and pertinent in the story and that fits a character, plot, setting or life lesson.
An Emerging Theme In Fiction
Many novelists want to leave the reader with a final thought or message as well as to entertain them with the story. Yet a theme cannot be forced into a novel. Instead it is moral, belief or value that seeps into the story on its own and emerges from the story to the reader.
Element of Theme
A good theme happens because it is intrinsic to the story. It’s a natural element that grows within it and often has to do with the convictions of one of the story’s main characters. It influences and/or creates conflicts within the novel so that it produces growth or failure of the character.
Themes are not always present at first, and they are not always what the character embraces. Look for things he avoids or ways in which he restrains himself. These are as important. As you develop your character’s needs, wants, goals, and struggles, keep track of what influences the character and how it affects him. As you review these factors, take note of the bigger picture. What do these influences affect in terms of life values, beliefs or morals. Does it make comments about forgiveness, acceptance, longing, compassion, wealth, honesty, awareness, hope, or love.
A Theme’s Purpose
Various story elements remain in a reader’s mind. It can be a character, a setting, a plot, or a life lesson or message that lingers. Everyone has values, morals and beliefs that they struggle with or deal with in their lives. These can cause them joy or grief depending on how their life grows or sinks. When a person fails something they value or believe in, they suffer. If they overstep their moral bounds, they can falter and doubt, fear retribution and sink into an abyss. Reading a story where a character overcomes, rebounds, and moves forward gives readers hope. If they fail, it can lift a reader who has survived a lapse in a belief or moral situation. They can feel forgiven or uplifted that they made it through the dark water. Themes teach, stimulate and connect with readers. This is their purpose.
Give Characters Strong Values and Beliefs
Looking at your own life, note what is important to you. Family? Job? Health? Generousness? Communication? Faith? What is it that molds your life and your actions? Give your characters these kids of strong, unshakeable truths. Use the plot to force these characters to protect these values, show these beliefs and morals in the life of your characters, demonstrate their problems when these truths are attacked or are weakened and the character fails. Through these convictions, the characters provide a focus, a message, a lesson that becomes a theme in the story.
Human kind is imperfect. Everyone has flaws and weaknesses that they succumb to or learn to overcome and grow. Readers want to see these flaws and weaknesses in characters, and they learn from the ups and downs of men and woman in the novel. When a novelist steps into the story and breaks the natural flow of the story’s reality to make a point, to teach, to show the problem in a way that doesn’t fit the story line, then readers withdraw. A theme cannot be blatant or forced. As I said earlier, it must come from a naturalness within the character and the situations in the story. Help the reader see that all mankind is flawed and yet can still succeed and win over their failures. Show it through character action, dialogue and introspection and not through a harangue from the author to jam the theme down the reader’s throat.
Use setting to enhance theme
Sometimes a setting can bring the theme to life. Certainly the absurd opulence of the home in The Great Gatsby emphasizes waste and corruption of values. A barren plain can be a symbol of a life that is empty and unproductive. An island setting can emphasis the aloneness of life and the dependence people have on each other or the lack of it. A cozy village can stress the value of family or the simple life that connects people to others. A stormy sea or a winter setting can remind us of the power of nature and the finiteness of human life.
Use analogies or symbols
If you saw the movie The Great Gatsby, you cannot forget the billboard sign of the eyes looking down on the world of corruption and loss of morals. It’s almost as if God is sitting in judgment over the mass of humanity. Novels can also have motifs and symbols such as this to be a subtle emphasis of a novel’s theme. Certainly the ring in the Lord of the Rings provides an ever present symbol of evil in the world and the need to win over it, to let good remain and evil fail.
But the sign or symbol must be subtle and a meaningful part of the story. It must make sense. It might be a child’s rocking horse in a home where there are no children, reminding the reader that we were all children, or that somewhere in all of us a child still lives, or the loss of a child never leaves us. It depends on other elements of the novel to make the sign have meaning. Once the reader latches on to it—and on his own cognition and not being told—it serves the purpose of keeping the theme ever present in the story. The important thing to remember is that the sign must be a natural part of the story.
Whether you use symbols or setting, whether you allow the characters or plot to bring the theme to life, keep it real and natural, avoid author intrusion and let the theme grow on the reader without being forced. The lesson, message or thought can make an impact that will linger in readers’ minds longer than many other elements of your novel.
(c) Gail Gaymer Martin 2017