Tag: book review Page 1 of 2

self-editing for fiction writers

3 Tips from “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

“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.

2: Proportion

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.

 

Final Review:

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.

 

 

 

bird by bird

Bird By Bird: A Timeless Writing Resource

“‘So why does our writing matter again?’ they ask. Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.” –Anne Lamott, pp. 237

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott should be on every writer’s shelf. Her advice offers encouragement through an honest discussion of what writing is like. Lamott sits her reader down and shares her experience as though she were chatting over a cup of coffee. As she shares, she addresses the feelings of anxiety, discouragement, and even jealousy that almost all writers face at some point. In doing so, she reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles. We all hit the wall on occasion, and it’s possible to keep going despite those setbacks.

Throughout the book, Lamott gives insight on ways to improve our writing. She offers advice on how to write better dialogue, how to stay motivated, and how to find a writing group. But mostly what she provides is inspiration to persevere. Every piece of insight resounds with encouragement (even while Lamott acknowledges the hardships of being a writer). And that prompting to persist, paired with her pithy advice, makes the book well-worth reading.

So here I want to share three of my favorite tid-bits of advice from the book:

1. “Dialogue is the way to nail character” (pp. 67).

In both her chapter on characters and her chapter on dialogue, Anne Lamott emphasizes the connection between the two. She argues that creating one line of strong dialogue that rings true captures your character better than a whole page of description (47). What a character says, or doesn’t say, or how he says it tells the reader how he thinks and what he cares about. Dialogue gives us insight into the personality of the people we read about and brings them to life. And therefore getting to know our characters is vital to creating good dialogue.

(*If you’d like to learn more about how to create strong characters and great dialogue, you should consider checking out Write2Ignite’s Master Class in September!)

2. “The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty” (pp. 178).

Lamott’s chapter on writer’s block focuses on the truth that all writers experience dry periods. Sometimes we get burnt out and our creativity stops flowing the way it usually does. Lamott says that the best thing to do when we reach these moments is to accept the block, the empty reality, so we can fill up again (pp.178). Her advice is practical: “Do your three hundred words, and then go for a walk” (182). Write a little each day to keep up the habit but then focus on activities that nourish you. Replenish your creativity rather than trying to eke out ink from a dry pen.

3. “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be a writing” (pp. 202-203).

Bird by Bird includes an entire chapter dedicated to writing as giving. Our works-in-progress, she says, “teach you to get out of yourself and become a person for someone else” (203-204). In order to write well, we have to pour everything we have into our writing. And in doing so, we have a chance to act as hosts for our readers, to welcome them in and offer them a feeling of connection (204).

This is especially important for us as Christians. If writing is our calling, then we should be willing to give it all we’ve got. Our words should be for God and for others, not simply for ourselves.

Final Review:

I could go on a while longer, pulling out clever quotes from Lamott’s book. But instead, I’ll simply recommend you pick up a copy for yourself.

Bird by Bird isn’t an earth-shattering text holding the key to the inner sanctum of writing. Instead, this book offers solid advice to steadily improve. It offers relatable accounts of the difficulties of writing and an honest assessment of what it’s like to be published. Lamott encourages us that while writing probably won’t bring us fame or fortune, it does carry with it its own rewards. Her whole book, start to finish, reverberates with the cry, “Just keep going.”

I give her book 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, if you’re looking for a rating.

What books have been encouraging you lately?

 

*******

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.

hope and honesty

Barking with The Big Dogs: Hope and Honesty for Children

“It is necessary to be hopeful to write successfully for children, yes, because children themselves are generically hopeful, but the quality of hopefulness is not an immature quality.” -Natalie Babbitt ( pp 42)

Natalie Babbitt’s book Barking with the Big Dogs is a collection of her essays and speeches written over several years. In all the various topics she focuses on, from types of fantasies to critical thinking to childhood itself, there are two major themes that pop up repeatedly: hope and honesty.

Hope is woven into the very nature of children’s books. Babbitt kicks off with an essay on happy endings and explains that children’s literature contains a quality of joy adult fiction lacks. In fantasy for kids, the belief that the world can and will be better is proven true. What is a happy ending if not a proof of hope? The villain can be defeated, the ordinary child can be a hero, and the world can be saved. Hope and optimism reign in children’s literature.

Does this mean that children’s books must present utopias?

Absolutely not. Natalie Babbitt claims that when authors try to write perfect worlds, they instead create worlds that are, “patently artificial, a placebo, lacking. . . consistency with the author’s philosophy” (37). In order to escape the one-dimensional depictions of life, Babbitt explains that authors need to write with “as much honesty and skill as we can muster,” (40).

She argues that we need to write stories that have flawed characters and flawed worlds, because flaws are part of human nature. But she also writes that we need to write authentically within our worldview. If we try to write what we don’t believe, we rob our stories of depth.

Herein lies the important message for Christian authors. For Christians, a huge part of writing truthfully is writing hopefully. Hope and honesty go hand in hand for us.

Natalie Babbitt misses this connection between the two. She writes, “it seems a peculiarly contradictory thing for the Bible to say in one place that truth is liberating when in another place it puts hope on a level with faith and charity. . . For hope and truth don’t always go together” (108).

However, hope and honesty are inseparable.

As Christians, the truth we cling to is our hope. God overcomes our greatest fears with His power and promises. The hope of eternity stands in defiance to death, the promise of God’s provision quiets our daily worries, and prayer itself brings us to God’s throne when we face trials.

Babbitt views as a contradiction something she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t recognize a solid hope. Her hope seems to be simply defined as the belief in possibility. She writes, “Life is infinitely more interesting when we can believe in the possibility of something wonderful just over the next hill” (110).

For Christians, hope is so much deeper. We know that something wonderful lies over the next hill. We know that the God of the universe is sustaining His creation. The son of God came to bring us life, and He’s coming again soon. His resurrection is the promise that everything broken will be renewed. A new heaven, a new earth, and a life forever with Him. What greater hope could we ask for?

Therefore, since we have such hope, the only honest way we can write is with that same joy. Hope and honesty should define Christian fiction.

Perhaps more than any other authors, we have the ability to write happy endings authentically. We believe in the greatest happy ending the world will ever know. The ultimate defeat of evil, ordinary people chosen by God for great tasks, and the world forever saved.

As we enter Easter week, may we reflect on the incredible hope that Jesus has brought to the world. May our hope and honesty in our writing be a light in the darkness.

Book Review:

What about the book itself? Natalie Babbitt’s essay collection wasn’t what I expected. While the essays usually focus on discussions around children’s literature, they also tap into Babbitt’s philosophy on life. Her words are instructional at times, but are more personal at others. If you choose to read this book, pick it up as an opportunity to hear the perspective of a fellow author. You’ll learn far more from her words if you view it as a conversation rather than as a lesson.

Overall, I give her book 3  1/2 out of  5 stars. She makes some strong points, but there are still lulls in the book, as well as points that seem out of place or repetitive.

This is Your Captain Speaking: Book Review by Teen Reviewer, Kathryn Dover

This Is Your Captain Speaking is not a typical actor’s memoir, so I was pleasantly surprised when I purchased this autobiography for a quarter at a used bookstore. The title is derived from Gavin MacLeod’s popular role as the captain on the 1970s television show The Love Boat. Interestingly, MacLeod dedicates the book “to the Captain of my life, who came that I might have life and have it abundantly.”

I first saw Gavin MacLeod as Big Chicken, a drug pusher, on my favorite television show, Hawaii Five-O. Once I knew who he was, I noticed several guest roles he played in other television shows, the most familiar being The Andy Griffith Show. In all these, he was the same character: always a “bad guy.” Several years later I was stunned to see him in the Christian film, Timechanger, where he played a Bible professor. Having seen him in this role, I naturally assumed he was a Christian, but I had no idea how profound his story is.

REVIEW

MacLeod was raised Catholic but rejected that faith when he was older. His father was an alcoholic, and he, unfortunately, was an alcoholic for a brief period in his life. MacLeod married his first wife at twenty-four years old, and they later divorced because of his drinking. He remarried, and once again, divorced. However, his circumstances were different, for his second wife, Patti, became a Christian. At the same time, MacLeod found out his mother had a brain cyst and could die in surgery. That morning, he prayed that if God would let him see his mother one last time, he would give his life to Him. Then, he contacted Patti, and they soon remarried. (Read the book to find out the rest!)

His entire life changed; MacLeod didn’t want to be the “bad guy” anymore but instead use his fame to be a testimony for Christ. Indeed, because he is famous, Gavin MacLeod exerts a strong influence over his audiences. After being saved, MacLeod had the unique opportunity to witness to a dying friend, Ted Knight, whom he had co-starred with on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Both Knight and his wife were saved as a result of MacLeod’s testimony.

In addition to his captivating story of faith, the principal component of MacLeod’s book is, of course, his life in Hollywood. MacLeod loves trivia on actors and filmmaking, and he relates much in his autobiography. Did you know Raymond Burr raised orchids? Or that Julie Andrews was married to her husband, Blake Edwards, for forty-one years, until his death? I love interesting trivia as well, so this book appealed to me even more. Yet the most unique thing about Gavin MacLeod as an actor is that even when he plays a villain, viewers still like him. He confesses this oddity in his book: “It’s a strange thing, and I say this not to be boastful but because I’ve never understood exactly what it is about me that makes audiences react this way: even when I’m playing a really terrible character, there’s something about me that audiences still like” (51).

The accomplishments of Gavin MacLeod are incredible. He has known two US presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and worked with famous actors such as Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. But what is more incredible is his testimony: “My greatest wish, though, is that whoever reads my story will walk away at the end with a smile. And maybe, just maybe, there’s something to be found in my journey—especially me journey of faith—that will help give someone a little bit of hope. Maybe even change someone’s life for the better.” Many of you have probably never heard of Gavin MacLeod and are wondering, “Why should I read this book?” I admit I’m biased—I am a big fan of Gavin MacLeod as an actor—but as writers I think it is important to see the impact one man can have on the world. I recommend this book to teens and adults alike, and I believe that if you do read it, your life will be changed for the better.

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including her cats, Prince and Harley; dog, Lady; and two fish, Minnie and Gilligan. She is a homeschool student and enjoys math, playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

 

Driven: Book Review by Teen Reviewer, Kathryn Dover

I first noticed the inscription in the front of DRIVEN by Betty Pfeiffer that all profits go to Hmong charities. This is a great tribute to the subjects of this book, Payeng Yaj and Shongfue Khang. I also noticed that on the back cover of the book, the pictures of the real Payeng and Shongfue are blurred and the caption reads that their names have been changed as well. Even today, it is possible the two missionaries are still in danger.

Driven is a true story of two Christians who fled from persecution in Laos and then chose to return as missionaries. They are part of the Hmong clan which was persecuted by the Communist government after the Vietnam War, forcing them to flee to Thailand. The book is separated into three parts: Payeng Yaj’s story, Shongfue Khang’s story, and their story together.

The hardships they endured are inspiring. Payeng relates her journey from Laos to Thailand. Many dangers were present, and Payeng’s family underwent many struggles. Unfortunately, life in Thailand refugee camps was not much better than Laos. Conditions were cramped and unsanitary, and Payeng’s family had arrived too late to receive refugee ID cards, which were required for food. By the end of her section of the book, Payeng has been separated from her family and her husband. Then, Shongfue tells his story of traveling through the jungle to Thailand. God spared Shongfue’s family many times; they were caught, arrested, and sent back to Laos repeatedly but never harmed. They had to cross a lake during a dangerous storm, yet they all survived. Shongfue arrived in Thailand much earlier than Payeng, and their marriage was arranged by their fathers, a Hmong custom.

Once reunited, Payeng and Shongfue prepared for their journey to the United States. Life in America was difficult; they knew no American customs and could not speak English. The author describes their situation best: “Fences of the refugee camps had been replaced by fences of ignorance that seemed almost as insurmountable” (76). Shongfue had longed to be a missionary to the Hmong people in Thailand for most of his life, and the opportunity arose after being in the United States for sixteen years. The couples’ ministry has been blessed by God and is a huge success; they have three congregations with around two hundred members each, Vacation Bible School programs for children, and many other ministries. Even though it is impossible now, Shongfue hopes someday to extend his ministry to Laos.

The story is very well-written and keeps readers interested. I think Driven holds educational value as it reveals little-known aspects of the Vietnam War. I, as probably most readers, did not realize that Laos was involved in the war just as much as Vietnam. The United States government promised to aid the Hmong people in return for their behind-the-scenes work during the war, but this never came into fruition. Instead, the Hmong were persecuted strongly because they aided the United States. Also, the story reminds readers of the struggles of a missionary. Payeng ends the book by reminding readers how God used her and how He can use them as well. I enjoyed this gripping story and recommend it to readers of all ages.

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including her cats, Prince and Harley; dog, Lady; and two fish, Minnie and Gilligan. She is a homeschool student and enjoys math, playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

 

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén