Write2Ignite’s Writing Fiction Master Class is coming up Sept. 19! In just two weeks, author Joyce Moyer Hostetter will be presenting three sessions to help attendees learn more about fiction writing. Plus, the Write2Ignite team will be leading three workshops to help you apply the skills you learn during Hostetter’s sessions.
Last year, I had the joy of attending the Write2Ignite Conference at North Greenville University with my mom. We loved meeting other writers and hearing from the lineup of speakers! While I’m sad that we aren’t able to meet in person this year, there are some benefits to this Master Class being on Zoom.
Comfort, the third book in Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s Bakers Mountain series, picks up almost exactly where the previous novel, Blue, left off. Ann Fay Honeycutt narrates this novel as well. The polio epidemic and World War II have left her family shattered, and Ann Fay must pick up the pieces.
The beginning is intriguing, but the plot pace is slower than that of the previous two novels. Even so, the story’s many conflicts kept me interested. One conflict involves Ann Fay’s colored friend, Imogene. The author vividly portrays the racial tensions of the time period. Ann Fay states, “Colored and whites being separated was as normal to me as walking. But . . . hearing how things looked from [Imogene’s] side of town made me see things in a new light” (121). During hard times, the people of Hickory bonded together and overcame prejudice. Ann Fay’s experiences give her a fresh, more biblical perspective. However, the central conflict of the novel is Ann Fay’s father’s changed personality due to his war experiences. His war wounds run deeper than his injured arm, and Ann Fay struggles to hold the family together.
While the novel is mostly about Ann Fay, I enjoyed reading how her friend and neighbor, the protagonist of the first novel, Aim, Junior Bledsoe, matures. He continues to look after Ann Fay and her family. Junior also gives Ann Fay sage advice. For instance, he tells Ann Fay: “If you want something bad enough, you can get it” (19). Junior has developed greatly from Aim; several events show his maturity. In Aim, Junior is jealous of Ann Fay and her father’s close relationship, yet in Comfort he watches that relationship fall apart and tries to pull it back together. Additionally, in Comfort, readers learn that Junior’s feeling for Ann Fay go beyond friendship. Ann Fay does not realize Junior’s feelings, and I enjoyed their interactions.
The Honeycutts are in desperate need of comfort: the desire for comfort is so strong it is mentioned several times throughout the novel, making the title very fitting. The family is still healing from the wounds they received in Blue, and the end of these trials does not seem to be in sight. As Ann Fay struggles to find comfort, her father whittles her a tiny doll in the likeness of herself. She names the doll Comfort, and it comforts her by reminding her of her father. Ann Fay also receives encouraging advice from a friend, Mr. Botts. He tells her, “Everyone in life has a handicap, Ann Fay. But the struggle to overcome it is worthwhile” (169).
Altogether, I enjoyed seeing how all the characters developed, especially Ann Fay, her father, and Junior. The ending is happy and would probably be satisfying to most, but it left me wanting to know what happens with Junior and Ann Fay’s relationship. Comfort is almost as emotion-provoking as Blue, and anyone who enjoyed Blue will not want to miss this thrilling sequel. I recommend Comfort to teens and young adults, and I look forward to reading Drive, the next novel in the series, soon.
Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including three cats (and counting!), a dog, two fish, and many house plants. She will be attending Presbyterian College in the fall and wants to study Math and Creative Writing. She enjoys playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.
We have a copy of Comfort to give away to one of our readers! Please leave a comment by August 20 and we’ll enter your name.
MASTER FICTION WRITING CLASS
Joyce is leading our first Master Class on September 19. For more information, please click here. One attendee will receive all four books that have been published in the Bakers Mountain series. The fifth book, Equal, comes out in April 2021.
One of the most boring books I ever read was about Jesus. Okay – to be honest, I mostly said that to get your attention – please don’t get mad and click over to Facebook!
But, the truth is, I never actually finished reading Joshua by Joseph Girzone because this modern-day portrayal of Jesus did not contain a page-turning plot. Joshua, who represents Jesus, was just a little too perfect for my reading tastes. As I remember it, (And it has been a long time!) problems arose, Joshua responded, and the problems fell by the wayside. But of course! Jesus was perfect. He could defeat his antagonists with a searching gaze or a searing question. Anyone rewriting His story has the daunting challenge of presenting Him with all His deity and His humanity at the same time.
I suspect that the Bible is the only book capable of doing this. And the Bible? Well, it’s filled with conflict. Do I need to mention the sexual immorality of King David, the rebellion of the Prodigal Son, and the betrayal by Judas Iscariot? Then there’s the ultimate conflict – government-sanctioned murder by crucifixion!
I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I want his character to be perfected in me. But I am a long way from arriving at that goal. So, along the way, I manage to create a ton of conflict. When I write, I have to sometimes let my characters behave as badly as I do. Or worse. Or maybe they struggle in different areas than I do or make adolescent mistakes that I have hopefully outgrown. I have to put obstacles in their paths, give them problematic relationships, and allow them to make some wrong choices.
The thing is – without conflict we don’t have a plot. Or, at least, not an interesting one. So how does one write an interesting plot? I confess, this is an ongoing challenge for me. But I’ve learned some things about plotting while writing BAKERS MOUNTAIN STORIES—my series of historical novels. This summer I’ve moved away from those stories. I’m all set to revise a novel set in western North Carolina during World War I. But first, I’m reading up on some popular plot structures in hopes of applying their methods to my story.
On September 19, I’ll share what I’m learning at Write 2 Ignite’s Fiction Writing Master Class. We’ll explore some of the challenges and pitfalls of plotting, discover tips for finding plot ideas, and discuss using the power of three. Of course, we’ll take a look at some of those popular plot structures! I hope to see you there!
Our teen reviewer, Kathryn Dover, has been reviewing the Bakers Mountain series, written by Joyce. If you missed the reviews, here they are Aim and Blue. Watch for Kathryn’s review and our giveaway of Comfort next week!
Because of Covid, Joyce’s Master Fiction Writing Class will be virtual. But one fortunate attendee will still receive ALL FOUR books! Click HERE to register.
Joyce Moyer Hostetter lives in Hickory, North Carolina, where she enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren. Before she wrote historical novels, Joyce taught special education, worked in a camp for at-risk children and directed a preschool program. She also wrote Christian curricula, magazine articles, and a newspaper column & feature stories. Her novels have won an International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, Parents’ Choice Honor Awards, and a North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award. Her books include Healing Water: An Hawaiian Story about a teen boy’s survival in Hawaii’s leprosy settlement and the Bakers Mountain Stories series: Aim, Blue, Comfort, and Drive. Equal, the fifth book in the series will be released in Spring, 2021.
“The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.”–Zadie Smith
Write2Ignite’s 2020 Master class with Joyce Moyer Hostetter is only a month away. The Write2Ignite team has suggested checking out several chapters of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King as a way to prepare for the workshop. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some of the great insights this book has to offer.
So Here are 3 Helpful Tips from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:
1: Characterization and Exposition
As writers, we can be tempted to tell our readers everything we want them to know upfront. We want to make sure they have the information they need to enjoy our stories. However, if we try to stuff all those details into long paragraphs of narration, our readers disconnect. It’s better to let them learn about our characters and settings bit by bit. Giving information gradually draws readers in and allows them to make their own conclusions.
Browne and King suggest ways to reveal our characters naturally through dialogue and actions. When they come to discussing settings and world-building, they write:
“Bear in mind that this kind of background is really characterization, only what’s being characterized is a culture rather than a person. And as was the case with characterization, readers can best learn about your locations and backgrounds not through lengthy exposition but by seeing them in real life,” (pp. 35).
Just as we want our readers to meet our characters, we want our audience to experience our worlds. Rather than simply explaining, we can reveal the setting and culture naturally through the eyes of our characters.
Sometimes it’s hard to decide how much time we should spend on certain events, descriptions, and characters in our writing. Spending too much time on unimportant details can mislead, bore, or even annoy our audience. Spending too little time can confuse or disappoint readers. The space spent on scenes needs to be balanced.
Letting our characters guide our decisions on what to focus on helps tremendously. Browne and King suggest, “You can avoid smaller-scale proportion problems . . . by paying attention to your characters. When you’re writing from an intimate point of view, your character’s interest at the moment should control the degree of detail you put into your description,” (pp.77).
3: See How It Sounds
One of the best reminders Browne and King offer is the value of reading your work aloud. Hearing a scene rather than just seeing the words makes problem areas infinitely more clear. Our eyes auto-correct in a way our ears simply refuse to. As Browne and King write, “The eyes can be fooled, but the ear knows,” (pp. 107). This is especially true for dialogue, considering that we’re used to hearing people speak. We know what people sound like, and so we can pick up unnatural rhythms when we hear them.
Browne and King go on to add that, “Reading dialogue aloud can help you develop your characters’ unique voices,” (pp. 107). They suggest reading all of the dialogue from one particular character and taking note of the patterns. Reading their words aloud can help us consider how they would say something; to get into that characters’ mindset. Much like an actor trying to determine how to play a role, we need to shape our dialogue to match the characters speaking.
Whether you’re planning to attend the Write2Ignite workshop or not, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is an excellent resource to have on your shelf. Browne and King balance their practical advice with engaging examples from books that handle writing techniques well (and some that handle them poorly). Each chapter includes a checklist of what to watch out for in your own writing, as well as exercises to help practice what you learn. The book is clear and easy to read, making it a perfect guide for new writers as well as a great refresher for experienced authors.
Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time writer, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.
According to Elaine Marie Alphin (Creating Characters Kids Will Love p. 2)
“Kids read because a magical closeness springs up between them and the characters in books and stories—the same magical closeness I felt as a child. They read because a writer has brought a character to life on the page for them.”
Every great children’s story pivots around a character who has a problem, a desire or a need. Through the events and conflicts of the story this character, by personal investment and volition, solves that problem, gains that desire (or loses it) or meets that need. In doing so, that character changes, grows or learns something.
So, how DO we create memorable characters?
For me, every story begins with the main character. I’ll be thinking “what ifs” and a character will parachute into my head. This usually gets me pretty excited! I get a rough idea of what’s going to happen to this character and how they are going to react.
Next, I get to know that character really well. Some writers do this on paper or screen. I do it mentally for picture books. I can actually “see” the character. That picture is sometimes sketchy. I learn more and more about that character as I write the story.
I try to keep the following in mind with my characters.
1. Is this person acting and reacting in realistic ways?
Is this really how a kid this age would think? Talk? Act? React to this situation? If not, ask kids that age how they would act or react. Or watch popular kid’s shows on TV. Or observe kids at a park, library, mall. (Careful! No stalking!)
2. Does this character have flaws?
If so, GOOD! Nobody is perfect. Do these flaws affect how they will react further down the story line? Readers can’t relate to a character who never gets in trouble, never has a mean thought, never acts sneaky, never laughs at someone else’s mistakes. If a character or their life is all good, there’s no story for me to write. My character must have room to grow in the story. Also, does my bad guy have at least one redeeming trait? One tiny grain of goodness in their soul?
3. Have I created enough CONFLICT in this kid’s life or situation?
Here is my personal nemesis. I hate conflict! But NO CONFLICT means NO STORY. Remember the elements of story? Conflicts, problems, issues, sticky situations are the blood and bone of story. No problems to face, to overcome??? YAWN!
4. Is this character someone my readers will love, or maybe hate? Can they feel for them?
If readers don’t identify with or connect with a character either positively or negatively they won’t keep reading the story.
5. Is this character bigger-than-life? Sometimes my characters start with someone I know personally, or someone I see out in public. Are they cute? Make them cuter. Funny? Make them funnier. Sneaky? Make them sneakier. EXAGGERATION, ABSURDITY, PREPOSTEROUSNESS (Yes, that is a real word.) make readers laugh and cry, tremble and shriek with your characters. And it makes them identify with your characters because they know that they themselves are not perfect either.
6. Is this character well-rounded in the story, or one dimensional? Do I SHOW (not tell) how they think? How they act? How they feel? How they speak? Do they always say the same thing? Act exactly the same way? A character who doesn’t fluctuate or change isn’t acting human, and adds nothing to the story.
7. Are each of my characters distinctive? Does the way each of them speaks and acts instantly show my reader which character is in the scene? Can I write dialogue without tags so that readers can identify who is saying each line?
8. Does my main character have one primary trait that the story focuses on? Is their story about their courage? Their fear? Their loneliness? Their optimism? Deciding this gives me a good clue as to the theme of my story. Isolating the way my main character changes identifies the theme of the story.
9. Have I built motivation into this character? Is their need, desire or problem big enough to motivate them to do the things they must do to make the story great? If not, I need to change their personality or situation enough to drive them to go after their goal.
A great story filled with action is fun to read. But if we want readers to ask for more, to keep reading the things we write, we must tell that story through amazing and unforgettable characters.
Now plop down in that desk chair and create someone who is unforgettable!
NEED MORE HELP?
Joyce Hostetter will be presenting on Creating Memorable Characters at our Master Class on September 19. You can find more information here. We hope to see you there!