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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cut It Out

Seems I always write my stories too long. No matter what genre, my editors tell me to trim. With my first few books it was a mere 5,000 words—about a tenth of the story for the publisher I was dealing with. Sounds awful, but wasn’t really that hard. I managed to find bits here and there all through the manuscript, and even whole scenes, that weren’t needed. I always wound up with a tighter, leaner, faster-paced book.
Now I’m writing longer books. Frasier Island was fine at 93,000+ words. I was delighted! I’d found a publisher who let me elaborate. Then came my work in progress, Just Cause. When I wrote it, I wasn’t sure what publisher would buy the book, so I aimed for 75,000 words. Not bad.
Not good. My agent sold the book to Love Inspired Suspense, and the first thing I was told (I was expecting it) was that the word limit was 65,000. Okay. I could handle this, especially with the editor giving me a few tips on sections of the book she wasn’t keen on. She suggested I axe one complete subplot that she really hated. I gritted my teeth, scrubbed in, and reached for the scalpel.
Uh-oh. I was congratulating myself on having made about half the requisite cuts when I got another notice from the editor. The board at LIS had dropped the word count to 60,000. Ouch. I was now cutting one fifth of my story.
What’s an author to do? After a few moments of panic, I assured my agent I could do it and come out with a book better than the one I’d started with. And LI-Suspense-sized.
Deep breaths. Machete, please.
I went back and carefully reread my editor’s initial letter, which designated areas to hit hard.
Lose the one questionable subplot. Check.
Tighten back-and-forth dialogue. (I love dialogue. It’s my favorite part of most books.) Painful check.
Cut much of the legal stuff. Okay, I’m not a legal person and needed someone to coach me on that, anyway. You always do more research than you wind up using, right? Check.
Develop the hero’s inner conflict more strongly.
Wait a minute, that’s ... not cutting. That’s adding. This was a real challenge. I had to find ways to make Dan Ryan deeper without using more space. Wow. Suture kit, please.
Call for second and third opinions (otherwise known as critique partners) for a consultation. And when the surgeon is still shaky on the procedure, resort to calling in the famous specialist. In other words, I emailed the editor to make sure I was heading in the right direction. I outlined to her what I planned to do to satisfy this requirement. She gently steered me to a slightly different treatment. Whew! Where’s that nurse who wipes your brow while you’re operating?
Suddenly it was all clear. I knew where I was going, and that I would end up where the editor wanted me for post-op. (Or publication, if you prefer.) And my manuscript would be a trim, mean 60,000 words. Yay!!
I’m not done yet, but I’m down to 66,000, and I know what needs to be amputated. When the cuts are done, we’ll need a little Rehab, I’m sure. And I want some time in Recovery before I face my next deadline.
Happy cutting!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Interview with author Sharon Dunn

Today were welcoming author Sharon Dunn. When you’ve finished reading this interview, be sure to check out her website at: www.sharondunnbooks.com.

Hello, Sharon. Were glad to have you with us as a guest author at Keep Me In Suspense.

Please tell us a little about your new book, Death of a Garage Sale Newbie.

I am really excited about my new series, the Bargain Hunters mysteries, coming out at the end of March. Death of a Garage Sale Newbie is the first book in this series. It is similar in tone to my first series, the Ruby Taylor mysteries, humorous whodunits. The Bargain Hunters series features four women who are bonded together by the need to clip coupons and be first in line at doorbuster sales. When one of the bargain hunters is found dead, it is up to the other three to figure out what happened to her and why. The main character is Ginger who is a recent empty nester and bargain hunting expert and then there is Suzanne, mother of three with one on the way, and Kindra, the college student with a taste for designer clothes without the budget.

Now, give us the truth. Are you a garage sale addict? How did you come up with this great idea?

I have always been a bargain hunter in one form or another. I used to garage sale all the time but had to cut back because I was coming home with junk that I didn’t use. It doesn’t matter if you only spent a nickel on something. It was still money poorly spent if it was something you weren’t actually going to use. I would buy stuff at garage sales and then end up putting it in my own garage sale. Now I am into off season clothing sales and punch cards. I have punch cards for the coffee place, for the Christian bookstore, for the burrito place and the bakery (buy twelve and get your 13th free). Those are the ones that come to mind. I probably have more if I go through my purse. I get really jazzed when I finally fill up my punch card. I’m like my main character Ginger in that clearance racks make my heart beat faster. So I guess the answer to your question is I got the idea from my own life.

Are you working on a sequel?

Book two is called Death of a Cute Teddy Bear. The ladies go down to a town in Nevada that is the outlet capitol of the west. The worlds largest garage sale is also happening there. Book Three will take place on the set of the shopping channel. All the books have the usual dead body and search for clues.

Your Ruby Taylor Mystery books are great fun, too. Your books give a sense of companionship and networking among women that lends almost a chick-lit feel. Does this reflect the tone of your life? Do you have your own private sisterhood that supports you?

Good observation. Both my books do have that women supporting each other thing going on. The older I get, the more I value my friendships with other women. I go to a long term women’s Bible study that is way more than just a Bible study. The support and encouragement I get from those women gets me through my week.

Some of sassy edge in your Ruby Taylor books comes from the first person point of view. Tell us about the challenges of writing mysteries in first person.

Believe it or not, first person is easier for me than multiple POV. I heard Ruby Taylors voice really clearly right from the beginning. The Bargain Hunters is multiple POV and part way through my first draft of Garage Sale Newbie, I was going into everybody’s head. I cut back in future drafts and was more aware of getting out of control with POV when I did Death of a Cute Teddy Bear. I think the reason why first person feels more comfortable to me is that it limits my choices. I can only go where my character can go. Even in life, I get overwhelmed by too many choices. If I go to Wal-Mart to choose one lipstick of the gazillion they have there, I get dizzy from the choices. So now when I do multiple POV, I place limits on whose head I can go into and try to stay with the main character for the bulk of the book.

Are your characters like real people? How much of what we read in these books is taken from life?

I haven’t solved any crimes or encountered any dead bodies lately, but the relationship issues and the spiritual growth of my characters often reflects lessons learned in my own life. For example, in Garage Sale Newbie, Ginger and her husband Earl rediscover each other and have an even more intimate marriage as a result of becoming empty nesters and working through a crisis. My husband and I are not empty nesters, but we weathered some health and financial trouble, and it was like I fell in love with him all over again. I was so impressed with my hubby and the way he handled things. Even though Ginger’s circumstances are a little different from mine, I wanted to chronicle that discovery process in a marriage.

Can you give some advice for writers wanting to break into this genre?

That cliché about writing what you love to read is true. I read all kinds of mysteries, but the ones I love the most are the amateur detective, so that’s what I write. Whatever you are writing, whether it is police procedural or cozy, you need to understand the conventions of each genre and the expectations of the readers who pick up those books. Even though forensics is interesting to me, my readers know that I wont have gory CSI type details in my books.

Also, write to please yourself, not others. I have two manuscripts that will never see the light of day (one mystery historical and one romance) because I was writing very imitatively and I was writing what I thought I could sell. Don’t write toward a trend.

What resources do you use most when researching and writing your novels?

One of my staples is James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. Even though I am not one of those writers who plots stuff ahead of time, the book helps me when I am stuck or my story is just not working. I have some standard books that are specific to mystery writing, the NRA Guide to Firearms and the Writers Digest’s Howdunit books. I have also found that criminal justice textbooks are really helpful. I got the idea for the third Ruby Taylor Cow Crimes and the Mustang Menace from a chapter in the textbook Criminal Investigation which talked about agricultural crimes. I use that textbook all the time.

What system do you use to organize your story during the writing process?

Organize? I’m sorry that word does not compute with me. I know writers who have character profile sheets and elaborate outlines. I don’t work that way. For me, it feels like a time waster to do that stuff. I need to get started writing the rough draft as quickly as possible. I do use sticky notes plastered all over my desk and wall to remind of things I need to fix in the book or questions I am asking myself as I write or character description and qualities that I want to remember. As I deal with those things, I toss the sticky note. When all the sticky notes are gone, the book must be done. In an effort to be a little more organized I keep any article I pull off the net for research in a folder instead of scattered all around my desk. I was spending way too much time looking though stacks of paper when I wanted to refer back to a piece of research.

Is there something you fantasize about writing someday that you haven’t tried to write yet?

Les Miserables is my all time favorite story in book form and as a musical and even the non-musical movie version. I think that it is the ultimate Christian story that reaches all audiences without being preachy and without compromising any Christian truth. If I could do something that was the caliber and beauty of Les Miz, I would be one happy writer.

We all love mysteries! How does that fit into our spirituality?

Mysteries are the exploration of good and evil disguised as whodunit puzzles. Our Christian journey is one of examining our own good and evil and that of the larger culture.

Thanks, Sharon! We wish you success, and hope you’ll come visit us again.
Readers, leave a comment to enter the drawing for Sharon’s book, Death of a Garage Sale Newbie.
Happy reading and writing! Susan

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Invisible Novelist

In my opinion, the author should seek to disappear from his or her fiction.

What in the world does this mean? How can the novelist disappear and the novel still get written?

I don't mean the world should have fewer novelists (may it never be!), but that the author should seek to immerse readers so deeply in the story that they forget they're reading a book with words and paragraphs, and instead feel that the story is happening to them.

In other words, the storyteller should step out of the way of the story.

You want your reader to suspend her disbelief, don't you? Especially in the speculative genres we want to be given license to tell however wild or wacky a tale we want, and we want the reader to stay with us. Then one of your imperatives is to stop reminding her that she's reading a book.

What we're talking about here is author intrusion. The reader was happily enjoying the story when all of a sudden the author drew attention to himself and broke the reader out of the illusion that the story was really happening around her.

Imagine you're trying to watch a DVD at home. You're curled on the couch with popcorn and dimmed lights. You slide the DVD in and the movie begins. Then suddenly someone jumps between you and the TV and begins to talk.

"Okay, you're going to love this movie. My original inspiration for it was something that happened in real life. Oh, my, but mine is an interesting life story. It all began with my mother. But to understand me you need to know my mother's life story..."

All the while you're craning your neck trying to see past this pest and see what's going on in the movie.

Finally you get him to sit down. You're really getting into the movie. In fact, you feel tears welling up in your eyes. Up jumps the guy again in front of the TV.

"That's going to make you cry, isn't it? I knew it! I have found in my vast experience as a well-read and well-traveled adult that people can be made to feel emotion if I manipulate the..."

Where did those tears go? Dried up fast. Mr. Explainer had to go and break the mood.

Later you're into the movie again and you're carried away by the special effects in the film. You're feeling like you're actually soaring through Earth's atmosphere on the way to Mars. You're getting a feeling for what it must be like to be an astron—

"That's all done in the computer; did you know that?" It's Mr. Explainer again, up in front of the TV. "I interviewed like ten special effects houses before I finally decided on this one. I didn't like the takeoff here as much as later when they're approaching..."

Okay, you get the point. When the author jumps up and draws attention to himself he both breaks the illusion that the reader is truly experiencing the story and he frustrates and even irritates the reader.

There are many ways authors can intrude on their story, and just as many motives.

They may simply not know they're doing it. A dump truck full of backstory and explanation and exposition stops the story cold and draws attention to the fact that I'm reading a book. Why did the author do this? Probably through inexperience. He needs to go to my Web page and read Tip #10.

Other times the author can do it because he subconsciously wants to draw attention to himself. Ornate language, "impressive" vocabulary, and the strikingly beautiful turn of phrase are sometimes the results.

Don't try to impress the reader. Don't try to make her think you're an amazing writer unlike any the world has ever seen. The reader didn't come to this book to be impressed. The reader came to be entertained by a story. You want her to love the story, not the storyteller. Be like John the Baptist: let the story increase while you decrease. Go back and read Tip #1.

I don't mean to imply that these are the only two explanations for why novelists write this way. There are many others.

Some authors write prose that is truly remarkable to read. It's beautiful. People do come to those authors' books to revel in the prose. But most of us would do better to let it be the story and characters, not our stellar sentences, that we try to cause people to come to love.

How do you step into the background and let your story take center stage?

First, keep your vocabulary "normal." You don't want to dumb down your writing, nor should you atttempt to raise it artificially. Try to keep it within the bounds of what a typical member of your target audience would understand.

Second, avoid the bizarre turn of phrase. Sure, you want to avoid cliché and pursue originality, but not to the extent that it draws attention to itself. Any time you make the reader focus on the words you're using (as opposed to the story you're telling), you snap her out of the illusion that she's in the story.

Third, stick to said. Don't say, "'That's fine,' she breathed." Or "'That stinks,' she pondered." Or "'Okay by me,' she laughed." Ew. Say it with me: Ew.

Don't let characters sigh out words, or chortle them, or postulate, surmise, heave, opine, verbalize, snipe, deride, or question them out. All that does is draw attention to your words.

Said is invisible. Invisible is good. Invisible is what you're striving for. Asked is okay, too (as in "'Is that yours?' she asked"), but almost everything else is blatantly visible and knocks the reader right out of the beautiful construct that is your story.

You can write, "He said, laughing" or "She said with a sigh." Just don't have them sigh or laugh out the words.

What you want is a reader who is so into your story that she forgets she's reading words and turning pages. You want her breathlessly moving beyond the sentences and directly onto the front row of the story. Your words cease to be ends in and of themselves and instead become the vehicle that ushers her into this reality you've created.

When that happens, she'll get to the end of your book and look at the clock, only to realize with surprise that it's three in the morning.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Interview with Terri Reed

Today, I’ll be chatting with Terri Reed who has two new books from Steeple Hill. Double Deception and Beloved Enemy: Book 3 of the Secrets of Stoneley.

LISA: Terri, tell us your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

TERRI: I was driving my son to lunch before taking him to kindergarten when my cell phone rang. I saw it was a long distance number and thought it had something to do with my dad’s passing (he’d passed away the prior week) so it didn’t occur to me that it might be a publisher. I answered, wary that it was a creditor or something and the editor had to repeat who she was before it sunk in. Then I was like, I’m driving! Can you call me back? When I hung up I called several people to share my news with and no one was home! Even my husband wasn’t answering his phone. So, I just giggled with my son.

LISA: Tell us some of the background behind the idea for your latest releases and blurb about the stories themselves.

TERRI: My March book is part of a continuity series. Each book is about one of the six Blanchard sisters who are knee deep in mystery and intrigue regarding the death of their mother. The books are loosely based on Shakespeare plays. My book, Beloved Enemy, is a take off of Romeo and Juliet. I had a great deal of fun incorporating the old bards theme with the suspense plot and the romance.

LISA: What a fun idea, Terri! I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?

TERRI: I think each character has a trace of me in them. In my 2006 RITA finalist book, A Sheltering Love, I really identified with my heroine and her need to take care of others. She had to learn to let go and let God. A concept I sometimes struggle with.

LISA: What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

TERRI: I’ve learned to be patience, to persevere, to prioritize and to protect the work. I’ve also learned to trust my writing and not give in to the self-doubt.

LISA: Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

TERRI: I’m hoping to write a historical for Steeple Hill.

LISA: Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?

TERRI: Never stop learning and honing your craft, treat your writing like a business and consider each step a mile stone whether a rejection, a contest final or a book sold.

LISA: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

TERRI: Dwight Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer is invaluable.
Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey is a great way of understanding story.

LISA: What is the process you use when writing a mystery/suspense?

TERRI: So far my process has changed with each book because each book has presented a different challenge.

LISA: What is your system to keep the story/clues organized?

TERRI: I wish I could say I have everything typed out on index cards and color flagged. But I’m not that organized. I have little notes to myself all over the place, some on sticky notes, and others on used envelopes or the back of manuscript pages. When I’m writing, I’m very messy. Thankfully, my office has doors

LISA: You sound as if you’re describing me.  Thanks so much for stopping by and chatting with us today, Terri! And for the rest of you, don’t forget about our contest page. I’ve just posted the contest for the chance to win not one, but TWO of Terri’s latest books! Thank you, Terri! We will hold the drawing for Terri’s books next Monday.

To learn more about Terri and her books, be sure to check out her website

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Stick to One Name Per Character Per Scene

The tall man sat at the conference table. The doctor took a sip of coffee and looked at his presentation notes. The Lithuanian orphan scratched his head. The left-handed man jotted down a note. The Harvard grad readjusted his chair. Karl checked his watch. The old man wiped his glasses. The widower looked around the room...

...and saw that he was still alone at the conference table.


Are you thinking, "Wait, how could he be alone? What about all those other people in the room? The doctor, the orphan, the tall guy, the lefty, etc.?"

Many aspiring novelists make the mistake of referring to an individual character by more than one name or descriptor in the same scene. In the scene above, all those descriptors (from Lithuania to Harvard) refer to the same person. Karl was a tall, old, left-handed, widower who began life as a Lithuanian orphan and then went to Harvard and became a doctor.

But my guess is that you thought there were eight people at the table. That's the problem with referring to the same character by different names or monikers in the same scene: it's confusing and misleading.

The rule is this: stick to one name per character per scene.

Maybe I should add "per viewpoint character" to the rule.

If your viewpoint character calls him "Karl," then he must be called "Karl" throughout the scene in which you're in this viewpoint character's head. If the next scene is from a new viewpoint character's head, and that person refers to the same character as "Pops," then this new viewpoint character should refer to him as "Pops" throughout the scene and probably never as "Karl," "the old man," or "the Beatles fan."

I think writers do this as a form of telling. They think they can use these different names and descriptors as subtle ways of sneaking in bits of information or backstory about the character. I mean, by the end of the scene (if you'd been able to understand it correctly) you would've learned a lot about our man Karl. But it would've been cheating. Because telling is (usually) cheating.

If you need us to know that Karl was a Lithuanian orphan, figure out a way to bring that out organically, through scene and dialogue (or perhaps even through the Dumb Puppet Trick, Tip #21), not through sticking it in here and thus confusing us, your readers.

Stick to one name per character per scene (per viewpoint character) and you'll do fine.

Jeff Gerke
a.k.a. Jefferson Scott

Friday, March 16, 2007

Author Interview: DiAnn Mills

Here's an interview with a fabulous author, DiAnn Mills. I first met DiAnn in 2000, at the first American Christian Romance Writers (now ACFW) meeting in Houston, Texas. Since then, I've enjoyed seeing DiAnn's career develop. She's a great teacher who loves the craft of writing and enjoys passing on what she's learned.

How old were you when you began writing?
Actually I was in the second grade. I wrote poetry and stories. Then I remember filling up a Big Chief pad with my first book - a western. I don’t remember what happened in the story except the hero always rode off into the west at the end of each chapter. I imagine it resembled Wagon Train, since that was my favorite TV show at the time. My goodness, I hope some of your readers know that classic!

What is your most important aspect of writing?
Without a doubt, it is characterization. I’m a character-driven writer, and that means my goal is to write real “people” who react and respond to the events and happenings in their lives according to their traits. When you consider how long we have lived to develop our character, then you have an idea the formidable job a writer has in developing credible, colorful, and compelling characters. Characterization drives plot. Stop for a moment to consider your favorite books or movies. The plot may have intricate twists and turns, but it’s the characters who become unforgettable.

Do you have a favorite genre?
That’s like asking a mother which child is her favorite!
I enjoy writing historicals because of the romance of an older era. The obstacles that stood in the way of these people bred courage and strength into their lives. Their problems weren’t any different than the ones we face today, but how they solved them (character) presents an intriguing writing project for me.

I enjoy writing a contemporary because it is who we are today. Our lives are fast-paced and stressful. We are courted by TV, movies, magazines, and newspapers. Every headline, every magazine article, every viewed program spark ideas of how a character could handle a problem. I thrive on suspense and the challenges of a protagonist who lives his/her life from a Christian point of view.

I’ve never tackled sci-fi, fantasy, children, or speculative. But who knows?

What part of the writing process is your favorite?
I don’t think I have a favorite because the process all builds to a finished project: a novel that inspires and entertains.
I’ve already stated how I feel about characterization.
Plotting is an extension of characterization.
The actual breakout of words on paper and seeing the story come to life thrills me.
Editing to make my novel the best.
Marketing and networking is an opportunity to promote the story God has given me and to make new friends.

What part of the writing process is your least favorite?
The scary part. When the book is released. I think of it like a mom who sends her precious child to the first day of school. She wants the child to behave and have everyone love him/her, but what if the child comes home with a note that says the child was naughty?

What do you feel is the key or keys to continuous publication?
I’d say it is a mixture of things. Striving to always make the next project better than the previous. Bathing the project with prayer. Listening for the voice of God. And, for me, mentoring new writers. I love to help someone achieve their writing goals.

I hear you and other writers use the word “passion” when you speak about writing. What does that mean to you?
Passion in writing involves a number of aspects. At least it does for me. Passion for writing is like telling a pastor to preach his best sermon, a singer to sing his favorite song, a dancer to reenact the finest performance, or an artist to transfer a dream onto canvas. Many times a writer has this type of feeling or a passion for a topic or story idea. The writer can not, not write it.

How do you feel about critique partners?
Mine are fantastic. I like another set of eyes to read my work critically. I want to know if it works and what doesn’t. Are the characters real? Is the plot believable? Does the dialogue seem to lift off the page? And have I added the right amount of sensory perception?

Where did you get your inspiration for The Texas Legacy Series?
For years I had this idea about a lady outlaw who decides that she’s had enough and leaves the gang. Along the way, she finds the Lord, but the guilt and shame of her past plague her journey. That was Leather and Lace. In the writing of the first book, I realized the hero had a brother and sister. Each one had a story that begged to be told. Lanterns and Lace is about the younger brother, a doctor who adopts an infant from a dying prostitute. Lightning and Lace is about the sister who is forced to face life as a widow and runs head-on into a man who is attempting to live down a troubled past.

What tips can you give for new writers?
1. Write everyday.
2. Establish a time and stick to it.
3. Read your genre and out of your genre.
4. Attend writing conferences
5. Be diligent to the craft.
6. What you learn, pass on to someone else
7. Be teachable – both mentally and spiritually
Thanks, DiAnn for taking the time to stop by and share about your writing with us!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Character's Bag Of Tricks

We know that our main characters must have special skills that help them in their quest, and they also acquire new skills along the way. Skills make our characters pop off the page. If we’re writing about a sleuth, skills can help him solve a crime that might otherwise go unsolved. But don’t hide information unnecessarily. Don’t whisk a sudden skill out of a hidden bag of tricks just in the time to save the day.

Take the movie Terminator 3 for example. I believed the connection between Kate, her father, and John Connor. I bought it right up until the last few minutes of the movie, and then the story screeched to a halt over one thing.

If you’re familiar with the movie, you’ll know that the machines become self-aware and at last revolt against the humans. Nukes are set off. Our hero and heroine, John and Kate, must flee the military base for their lives. Along the way we’ve seen Kate’s resourcefulness and skills. When we met her, she was planning her wedding, picking out china, and reassuring herself she was marrying the right guy. Now the end of the world is upon her, and what’s she going to do to get her and John to the nuke-proof compound hidden sixty miles away in a mountain?

They run out a side door, and voila—they find a small civilian plane, all gassed up and ready to go. I can stomach a certain amount of convenience in a movie. It’s not always about reality, but it is about suspending disbelief. The plane didn’t bother me. Yet.

Then Kate runs to the plane, and flings these words to John:

"There’s my father’s plane. I trained on it…"

Really. Why didn’t we know this ahead of time? No, I don’t mean slamming the point home that Kate’s a pilot, etc. But maybe a picture in her apartment, of her by a plane would have told us: Kate flies. Kate has an important skill. At this moment in the story, I found it a really bad time for such a revelation that sounded more like an, "Oh, by the way…"

So after a few moments of peril, Kate and John fly to the compound where the shutdown controls await them (supposedly). But the last few minutes of explosions and peril were covered up by the flying remark.

Yes, give your characters them skills, make them interesting. Just remember to suspend disbelief, and leave bread crumbs for your readers to find. Let your plot twists and revealed secrets be the surprises.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Faith in our Writing: How Much it Too Much?

When I first stepped into this industry back in 1999, one of the mantras I heard over and over and over again was “don’t preach” in your stories. We can start out so “zealous” for the Lord that it’s hard NOT to preach. So where is the line between just enough and too much?

I just finished reading Ted Dekker’s “Saint.” If you haven’t read it yet, I won’t give anything away, but I do want to point out that the entire book centers around a specific faith issue and yet, not once does he mention the words Jesus, Christ, Lord, Church, Salvation, Born Again, etc. This book is an excellent study on how to tell a story within a story, get your point across and never be accused of “preaching” to the reader.

Now, I’m going to compare this example to Randy Singer’s “The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney” which is all about Jesus, Christ, Lord, Church, Salvation, Born Again, etc and yet… YET…he does it in such a way that you are so caught up in the story that you don’t feel preached at. There’s a reason for that. You aren’t being preached at. Exactly. J It’s an excellent book and I highly recommend you read it, but the point I’m trying to make is that you can go to either extreme in your writing. A lot of Church talk or none at all and still make your point.

So it isn’t the amount of “Church talk” you put in your story that makes it preachy. It’s how you use it.

How do you come up with the right balance for YOUR story? The best way I’ve learned is just tell your story and don’t worry about the “sermon” that you have in mind. In fact, forget the sermon, forget the faith issues, forget the preaching. You are there to tell a story. Tell it. And you know what will happen? Your faith will become a part of the story. It has to. It’s part of who you are.

Wanda Dyson

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Pausing for a Rant...

Have you ever been reading a book or watching a movie or television show, and a character says or does something that makes you go, “Huh? Where’d that come from?” That’s the bane of being a writer. There’s an internal editor in your head that often threatens to ruin any book, TV, or movie experience. That editor's often hard to turn off.

One day I was minding my own business, watching a bit of daytime television and eating my lunch. I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what happened to a couple in distress. (cue organ music…)

“Oh, Sean, I used my last hairpin trying to pick the lock on the door.” Belle frowns. “What are we going to do?”

Her line made me pause, and then my internal editor muttered, “Oh, puh-leese!” Why?

To paint their scenario a little more clearly, a young couple is locked in their stateroom on a cruise ship. The villains are loose. The cruise ship authorities feel they’re justified in locking Sean and his blonde in the room. Sean and Belle are desperate. They need to protect their daughter from Belle's psycho ex who’s after all of them. (more organ music)

Makes for good daytime TV. How are they going to get out of the locked room? Back to Belle's line about the hairpin.

Hairpin? Who uses hairpins now, the metal ones with plastic-tipped ends? This doesn't fit Belle's character. Belle's in her early 20's, has straight hair that skims her shoulders. How many young women in their early 20’s use hairpins or know what they are? Okay, maybe they know what hairpins are. I’m sure if I ask my 23-year-old niece, she’d probably wrinkle her nose and say, “Oh, they’re those metal thingies old ladies use to keep their hair in place or curlers on.” And if you’re a mom, they come in handy when turning bedsheets into a kid’s costume. But I digress. I’m thirty-hummmm, and I don’t use hairpins.

Belle’s attempt to free them did not fit her character. Hairpin? Maybe if she was older, or had a different hair type, she’d have a hairpin, but this one line baffled me and totally yanked me out of the scene. I can hear it now. "But Lynette, you're talking about a soap here." Yes, and I'm talking about our books here. We can do better than this!

A character’s actions should make sense and fit them, considering their age, level of education, personal quirks. Unless you have a good reason for slinging a curveball, which could happen, don’t make them pull out a hairpin to pick a lock. I personally have used a metal skewer when my daughter locked herself in the bathroom, but then I’m a mom. I’d grab a kitchen tool.

End of rant. Now, off to apply this in my own writing…

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hey, What's in that Car, Anyway?

Like duty belts, uniforms, and weapons, what an officer has in his or her car depends on the agency. The following list contains both, but I’ve starred the things that you will most likely always find.


Interior of the car

* Two mikes, not in any specific place, although I’ve mostly seen the radio mike attached to the dash.
One for radio (that enables the officer to communicate with dispatch)
One for P.A. system (this enables the officer to communicate with occupants of a vehicle from the inside of his or her car)

* Flashlight—sometimes rechargeable

* Forms (I’ve seen different officers carry these in different places. Sometime they will build or buy a little wooden box-like thing that fits behind the control boxes in between the two front seats.
*Missing persons form
*Towed vehicle form
*Ticket book
*Warning book
*Safety & Equipment Repair book
*Parking tickets
*Incident reports
*Civil citations
*Criminal citations

* Map book
Criminal law guide
Traffic law guide
Hazardous materials guide

* Control boxes are in between the two front seats and are usually made up of three components:
*A Communications box
*A Siren box
*A Flashing lights box

Each of these has buttons and switches to turns things on and off.
These components are like a face plate. The radio unit that controls them is in the trunk.

Not all agencies have computers in their cars. The ones I’ve seen are really cool. The officers can send instant message to each other (like, wanna meet at Burger King in thirty?). The really great thing about the computer is the ability to access the driving records and license information of the people stopped for traffic offenses. This saves the officer and the dispatcher time—the officer can look the information up instead of radioing into the dispatcher for the information.

Locking shotgun rack/shotgun.
I haven’t seen most of the officers around here carrying their shotguns inside their cars. Often, they are in the trunk.

In the trunk

First Aid Kit
Fire Extinguisher
Evidence collection kit (finger print kit)
Evidence tape (Yellow marking off tape)
Tape measure for accident scene
First aid kit
Coveralls (sometimes)
WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) gear (Gas mask, chemical suit, rubber gloves, boots, and duck tape)
Riot gear (helmet and riot baton)

Trunk Vault/Locking safe with shotgun and/or other weapons, depending on what other specialize weapons the officer is qualified to use. (For instance, a SWAT team member would carry a semi-automatic rifle.


These cars do not have lights on top of the roof. The lights will usually be in the windshield, grill, or parking lamps.

They also have all of the other stuff the marked car has according to agency.


These cars have nothing in them to identify them as police cars. They are usually used by narcs and registered to fictitious names/addresses.