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Writing Genre Fiction, Part 7: Romance

See the source imageBoy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again—and they live happily ever after! This is perhaps the oldest plot synopsis in literature, but we keep coming back for more. Just how it works varies from culture to culture, publisher to publisher, writer to writer, but we human beings do like our romances.

According to the Romance Writers of America (RWA), romance fiction is a $1.8 billion industry (2013) and owns 34 percent of the U.S. fiction market (2015). That’s a lot of love—and good reason to write in the genre. There are a number of romance subgenres—from contemporary to historical, paranormal to suspense, erotica to young adult—but the important thing to remember is what makes a story a romance. Again, according to the RWA, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” In other words, the romantic relationship is the core of the story, and happily-ever-after is a must.

Is it a Romance, a romance, or a love story?

There is, of course, a wide range of how a romantic relationship is portrayed in fiction, from “sweet” to “extremely hot.” Here’s my take on it:

In what I call a “capital-R” romance, there will be explicit scenes early and often. Marriage is not out of the question, but if it happens, it will be toward the end of the story—or even after it’s over. When the characters are not actually acting on their physical desires, they’re generally thinking about doing so, and that passion remains central to the relationship, the character development of both parties, and the plot throughout the story.

In what I refer to as “little-r” romance, passion is certainly not off the table, but it is generally not the complete focus of the story, will happen later in the plot, and authors will usually leave the reader at the bedroom door. The relationship between the two characters is built on much more than physical attraction, and while “love at first sight” is not out of the question, the relationship that develops throughout the story will generally prove a lot more complex—and, in my opinion, much more interesting—than that found in the “capital-R” romance.

The love story is all about a growing interpersonal relationship between a man and a woman that leads to a lifetime commitment. I always think of love stories as those in which the focus is less on “falling in love” and more on “being in love.” In other words, the relationship comes first, and the romance comes out of that relationship. That does not mean sparks won’t fly between the two characters from the very beginning—in fact any love story would be pretty boring without them—but friendship comes first, romance follows, that final step will for sure wait until after marriage, and the reader will not be present for it.

Should every work of fiction with a love story in it be considered a romance?

Absolutely not! Remember the RWA talks about “a central love story.” In other words, if you take the love story out of a romance, there’s nothing left. But if you take the love story out of another genre story, the plot can hold.

I love romance, and I generally have at least one in every fictional story I write. Are all my stories romances? Not at all. I actually have only two novels that I consider romances, because if I were to take the love story out of either of them, there wouldn’t be much of a story left. For the others, however, the love stories contained therein, while certainly a big part of the story, are not critical to the main plot. For example, in one of my science fiction novels, Jane and Captain Konner don’t have to fall in love, following the starship captain’s rescue of the kidnapped earth woman—the rest of the story would work without that relationship blooming—but it was really cool that they did when I wrote it, and their love story made the novel more fun for me to write. But The Stars of Dreams (Book 1 of The Commonwealth Chronicles) is not a science fiction romance; it is, rather, science fiction, because the story would work perfectly well, if the two characters hadn’t fallen in love at all.

The same can be true of any hybrid genre story. Whether fantasy, mystery, suspense, science fiction, western, Christian fiction, or historical—whatever the primary genre—a love story can be present without turning it into a romance. It all depends on how critical that love story is to the main plot, and whether or not the plot can stand on its own without it. If it can’t, then you have written a romance!

The next time, we’ll look at historical fiction.


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing fiction · writing tips

Writing Genre Fiction, Part 6: Christian Fiction

Crucifix With A Crown Of ThornsI am certain there are those among you who will be amazed to learn that though I am both Christian and a novelist, I find the Christian fiction genre one of the most difficult to write about. This is probably because there are as many opinions on what constitutes Christian fiction as there are those who write it, making “it depends” a fitting answer to the question, “What is Christian fiction?”

Why I Am Drawn to the Christian Worldview Story

I personally like to write about Christian people, because to me they are just more interesting, well-rounded characters than people who don’t believe in anything beyond themselves. If someone believes in God and a life beyond this world, they are simply living larger than those who can’t think about anything but what they can touch or taste or see or hear in the here and now.

There is also the hope that something I write in a Christian story will help, in some small way, to bring a nonbeliever to at least consider what God can do for them and the world. In writing my novel, A Chance For Life, I had hope that a reader somewhere would come to see adoption as a viable option to abortion but also come to understand that the Church is not just a building with a steeple and a cross on it but a place where someone lost and in crisis can find both physical and spiritual support. When I write a Christian worldview story, I want to tell a story beyond good people living their everyday lives, going to church, and abstaining from drinking, smoking, and other bad behaviors. I want to help my readers to get at least a glimpse of God in a realistic scenario in which none of my characters are perfect, but all are striving to follow their Lord in community with one another.

What Constitutes a “Christian Worldview” Story?

This question is not as simple as it might sound, because there are so many and varied sects within the Christian faith. Even if you’re only writing for the American market, the outward and visible signs of Christianity range from high church Catholic (Roman or Anglican) to low church Nondenominational—and everything in between. All Christians, by definition, can agree that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, but there are many flavors to that basic tenant, which will change a story, because how people worship God will affect their behavior and habits as well as how they think about the world and how they interact with others.

For example, church attendance may be required at both ends of the high church/low church spectrum, but attending Mass weekly—where Holy Communion is the center of worship—is an obligation for both Roman Catholics and Anglicans, but for many Protestant churches, Holy Communion is not a weekly occurrence. And, of course, a Christian’s attitude about the very nature of the Holy Sacraments also varies greatly between denominations, and this, too, can change the story. So beware of writing all Christian characters into the same mold, and be prepared to do your research!

Focus on Your Audience

The key to writing Christian fiction is really no different than writing in any other genre: You must know your audience’s expectations and fulfill them. For example, if you are writing books you hope will sell in the many evangelical book stores, then your characters will absolutely not serve wine with dinner and any romance should remain low-key with marriage as the ultimate goal. On the other hand, I know of a real-life Anglican congregation that actually serves wine at coffee hour, so the use of alcoholic beverages in a story, among other things, will definitely depend on the religious beliefs of your characters—and your intended audience.

Christian fiction is one of those genres where it remains critical to write what you know. If you are going to write of Christians who are not of your own denomination, then you will need to really do your research. For example, I tend to write Roman Catholic or Anglican stories, because I’ve been an Anglican all my life, and that’s the church I know. It is not simply a matter of doctrine or worship style either. For every denomination, you also need to understand how the church works if you are going to set a story within a church family. I can easily write Anglo-Catholic stories, because I understand the relationship between a priest and his congregation, his wardens, his bishop, the diocese, and the national church; I understand where lay people fit into all that—how vestries work, what the altar guild is doing, and what is meant by baptism and confirmation. On the other hand, I have attended Missouri Synod Lutheran churches off and on for a number of years, and I still don’t understand how the church hierarchy works or what it means to be an elder. I would be equally in the dark if I decided to write a story set in a Southern Baptist church.

I have written several Old Order Amish stories, but for those I did literally hours of research to get it right. And you have to get it right, because your credibility as a writer is at stake. I have read several Amish stories for which the authors obviously did not do the necessary research, and I’m unlikely to ever read another of their books, because they showed me they didn’t care enough to do the research.

Christian Storytelling

Whatever you decide about writing your Christian story, the important thing is to tell it in such a way that it can have the greatest impact on your readers. Whenever you have something important to say and want to use storytelling to say it, be sure to let your characters do the talking. Whatever you want to convey about God and faith to your readers, you run the risk of sounding preachy if the narrator is the one to bring it up. Like followers of Christ in real life, fictional characters need to live their faith to be believable, both to the other characters in the story and to your readers. You need well-developed, three-dimensional characters who show Christ to the world through their actions, not just their words. And if you want them to be completely believable, give them the same doubts and uncertainties we all face from time to time. Even fictional Christians can’t be perfect if they’re going to be believable!

Finally, watch the rhythm and timing of your story. For example, don’t be too anxious to have that lost soul convert and be saved. I have a friend who is writing her first novel, and the man in her heroine’s life converts completely only a few chapters into the story. While my friend says all her Evangelical friends don’t have a problem with his quick conversion, it doesn’t work for me for two reasons. First, my reasoning Anglican self can’t help but recall the parable of the sower and wonder just how deep the soil is in which the seed was sown, if the guy converts so early in the story. And second, as a storyteller, I have to wonder, if the romantic lead is converted in chapter four or five, why would anyone continue reading to the end of the story? Shouldn’t such a high point in the plot be the climax? As with any secular plot line, faith-based plots need to rise and fall, with hints of what’s to come and an occasional set-back to keep the story interesting, and the climax should be toward the end.

I do believe in God’s miracles in real life, and if I’m going to write about one, I want to be sure to set it in a really good story so my readers might be drawn to believe in it too. For a writer, the storytelling comes first. Write a good story, and readers will get the message.

The next time, we’ll look at Romance.

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing fiction · writing tips

Writing Genre Fiction, Part 2: Fantasy

Image result for image fantasyI’ll begin this exploration of genre writing with one of my personal favorites, Fantasy. Literary Terms  tells us, “Fantasy, from the Greek ϕαντασία meaning ‘making visible,’ is a genre of fiction that concentrates on imaginary elements (the fantastic).” This may sound overly simplistic, but it does cover the genre. The fact is, fantasy literature runs the gambit from other-world epic heroic fantasy (e.g. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) to magical or paranormal powers connected to our world (e.g. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter) to simple contemporary stories that might have just one little fantastical element, such as the assumption that dragons are real (e.g. Robin McKinley’s Dragonhaven).

What makes it fantasy is the appearance of alternate worlds, mythological heroes, fantastical creatures, magical powers, the supernatural—anything that doesn’t exist in the real world that is made real in a story. Of course, you still have to have a good story—it’s not enough just to create a fantasy world, though there are dozens of contemporary authors who have done so with varying degrees of success. You also have to tell a good story within that fantasy world, because without the story, the fantastic is not enough to keep readers turning the page.

When Albert Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,” he perhaps unknowingly described fantasy fiction as well as anyone ever has, because while a coming-of-age story can be set in a contemporary American community, how much more effective might it be to follow a Hobbit (Tolkien) or a Sheepfarmer’s Daughter (Elizabeth Moon) in a world of fantasy. And, yes, we can talk about elephants and rhinos and whales, but how much more fun might a story about endangered species be if the wildlife refuge is called Dragonhaven (McKinley), and the endangered species in the spotlight is the dwindling dragon population? And there are plenty of news stories today about small businesses in small towns being ousted by wealthy developers who want to burn them out to make way for a new resort, condo, or shopping mall. These stories of courageous contemporary Davids standing up to these modern-day Goliaths threatening their homes and livelihoods are riveting, but how much more fun might it be if the “Davids” are helped out by A Book Dragon (Donn Kushner) who is protecting his treasure in a tiny antique bookstore?

This is the fun of fantasy! It is taking the truth out of the mundane common world and putting it into a fantastical setting. Fantasy is, in some ways, both easier and more challenging to write. It can be easier because a fantasy is set in the author’s original world where the sky’s the limit for the writer’s imagination. But it can be a lot more challenging, especially when writing alternate-world fantasy, because the author has to create everything—from species to geography to cities to political systems to world history to religions. If you read Tolkien or Moon, you will find the most incredible of alternate worlds. Every single detail, from the shoes the characters wear to the animals they ride to the weapons they use to the languages they speak, is otherworldly. Yet there is, underneath the fantastic, an element of “truth” to these fantasy worlds, for even fantasy needs to contain some truth in order to draw readers into that necessary suspension of disbelief.

One of the best examples is found in Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion (a single volume containing the first three books in a so-far eleven-book series, starting with The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter). Paksenarrion runs away from home to join a mercenary company. What makes Moon’s fantasy work particularly well, when many other authors have come up short in similar tales, is Moon was a U.S. Marine, and her military knowledge brings a realism, or “truth,” to the story’s training, marching, and battle sequences unmatched by other fantasy writers who do not have Moon’s first-hand experience. The very human Paks is fighting all sorts of fantasy creatures: orcs and gnomes, black elves and rock creatures—the stories abound in strange and magical creatures. But at the heart of the fantastic is a coming-of-age story of a young woman seeking more to life than to be sold into marriage by her father to a neighboring pig farmer. This is high heroic fantasy at its best as we follow Paks from refugee to fighting mercenary to sword-wielding magical paladin of Gird—all set in an entirely fictional world complete with social, religious, and political complexity.

Of course there’s nothing new about fantasy. Aesop’s fables (6th century BC) and the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm (AD 19th century) are full of fantasy, not to mention folklore from all over the world, in which talking animals, vampires, witches, shapeshifters, fairies, ghosts, and goblins interact with the human race. Many a contemporary writer has cashed in by writing a new version of a traditional fairy tale, and even if you don’t want to rewrite a known tale, you can still write in the fairy tale style, using many of the creatures and themes found therein.

But you should do your homework before you write, because while your elves (for example) don’t have to be exactly like the elves of Middle-earth (Tolkien)—and in fact, they shouldn’t be—elves do have their origins in ancient Northern European mythology, and they have certain characteristics and powers that prove fairly standard across cultural lines. Though like any other mythological creature, elves vary somewhat from culture to culture, your readers will expect elves to look and act a certain way, and in order to keep your readers in your story, you will want to meet their expectations for all your fantastical creatures by thoroughly researching their origins before you write.

 The next time, we’ll look at what readers expect from mystery/detective stories.


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by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com 

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

WRITING THE STORY, PART 8

Sometimes, taking a topic and breaking it down is the way to begin a story, but identifying the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of your story is how you get from the topic to the story. (See Writing the Story, Parts 1–6.) These go back over 2,000 years—Aristotle gave us the 5 Ws in his Elements of Circumstances”—and your story must be about the 5 Ws, not about the research topic, for it to be good storytelling. Let your story illuminate your topic so your readers will be drawn to care about it through your story. This is a time-proven method writers and screenwriters use to change the hearts and minds of readers and audiences.

 Aristotle also gave us what he called the Three Unities, and these, too, can help modern storytellers build a compelling story that will keep readers turning the page.

The Three Unities: Action, Place, and Time

 It was Aristotle who, in Part 5 of his Poetics, defined three unities for writing stories: unity of action (the What), unity of time (the When), and unity of place (the Where). In other words, for Aristotle, the best stories are about a single action that takes place in one location within a 24-hour period. This doesn’t mean you can’t—or shouldn’t—write an epic spanning decades or generations, but Aristotle’s unity theory is something to think about when you sit down to write.

It is particularly helpful for those who write plays for stage or screen, because such unity can, among other things, drastically reduce production costs. But it’s about more than just the cost. It is also about grabbing—and keeping—the audience’s attention for the duration of your story.

Edith Wharton’s short story, “Roman Fever” (first published in 1934), is an outstanding example of a contemporary tale that embodies all three of Aristotle’s unities perfectly. The story is set on the “lofty terrace” of a Roman restaurant, where two ladies—described as “intimate since childhood” yet really knowing little about each other—are  reminiscing about their own first visit to Rome when they’d been the same ages as their two young daughters a quarter of a century before. The entire story is set there, on the terrace, during one hot afternoon. The passage of time is marked by the occasional ringing of bells in the city, a glance at a watch, remarks on the changing of the light, the setting sun, the appearance of waiters with candles for the tables. The action is found entirely within the dialogue between these two middle-aged women, as they talk about their own youthful visit to Rome, their late husbands, their daughters, and the intervening years. Old jealousies and secrets are slowly revealed throughout the story until the final “gotcha” moment surprises the reader almost as much as it does one of the characters in the story, giving “Roman Fever” a most delightful ending. Unity of action, time, and place make this short story both engaging and satisfying for the reader.

As another example, contemporary thrillers often utilize the unity of time as means of bolstering suspense. A good example can be found in Elizabeth Lowell’s St. Kilda novels, beginning with The Wrong Hostage. What makes this first novel so riveting is that Judge Grace Silva has only two days to track down and produce her ex-husband, who cheated a Mexican drug cartel, before those who kidnapped her son kill him. Lowell keeps the clock ticking with chapter headings like

Tijuana, Mexico

Saturday, 12:12 p.m.

La Jolla

Sunday, 11:03 a.m.

Ensenada

Sunday, 4:00 p.m.

Throughout this entire almost 500-page novel, Lowell reminds her readers that the clock is ticking and time is running out. Believe me, these books are very difficult for a reader to put down!

FocusOf course, these unity rules do not have to be followed—successful stories have encompassed generations of families or whole quadrants of space—but they are something to consider when planning your story, whether you are writing a short story, a research paper, a magazine article, or even a 500-page novel. The important thing to me as a writer is to not bite off more than I can chew when I select a topic or write a story—fiction or nonfiction. If I really care enough about something to address it by writing about it, I want to focus my writing to avoid tackling something so big I can’t address it thoroughly enough to make my story complete, realistic, and compelling for my readers.

Next time, I will leave the process of storytelling and in June begin a new thread on story genres, the characteristics of, and reader expectations for, everything from Westerns to Romance to Science Fiction.


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by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

Writing the Story, Part 7

Happy Norwegian Independence Day! I grew up in a little town west of Seattle called Poulsbo, a once tiny Norwegian fishing village on Puget Sound full of Scandinavian immigrants who made their living on the water, where, when I was a kid, May 17 and Viking Fest were bigger than the 4th of July!

And on a more somber note, tomorrow,  May 18, is the 39th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State’s Cascade Range. Though my immediate family and I were not directly affected by the eruption—my uncle 3,000 miles away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, actually had more ash fall on his car than we did living only 250 miles north and west of the mountain—it is, nevertheless, one of those events I will never forget, the memory of which acts as a continual reminder of how little control we human beings really have over this tiny planet we call home.

And now, on to more storytelling . . .

Strategic Thinking: How Thorough Topic Analysis Can Build a Strong Foundation forstrategic-thinking-1-638 Effective Writing

Have you ever picked up a book or a magazine article that looked interesting, then started to read it only to find the author was more interested in preaching than storytelling? This can happen all too easily if we’re not careful. Most writers have something important to say, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, but it is just as important to think strategically about our subject matter lest we become so immersed in whatever issue we’re tackling that our story gets lost in the argument. Writing can change minds and hearts, just as performance drama can, but beware of biting off more than you can comfortably chew and letting the topic eclipse the story rather than letting the story illuminate the topic.

What Is Strategic Thinking?

Let me give you an example that goes back to my librarian days, when one of my biggest tasks was to help undergraduates create research strategies that would allow them to successfully write a paper or complete another project that would fulfill an assignment on their syllabus.

Librarian: What can I help you with today?

Student: I need to write a five-page paper, and my professor wants us to use four scholarly sources.

Librarian: Okay. I can help you with that. What is your topic?

Student: Pollution.

Librarian: That’s a pretty big topic for only a five-page paper, so let’s try to narrow that down a bit. What is it about pollution that interests you?

Student: Nothing. I just need to write about pollution.

Librarian (trying again): The thing is, entire encyclopedia have been written on this huge, umbrella topic, so you will need to identify some part of the topic that you can address in only five pages. For example . . .

This is where the librarian goes on to help the student think strategically about the topic of pollution, which leads to a subtopic narrow enough for a 5-page research paper:

Laura_Narrowing Topics

Such topic analysis can build a strong foundation for effective writing, and without it, writers can flounder in a mass of too much information. Smaller and narrower can prove more effective and manageable than bigger and broader, allowing the writer to write really well on a very specific topic—or on only one aspect of a much larger topic.

If you ever wonder just how narrow you can go, click into an online university library catalog and look up PhD dissertations. For all that they can provide massive studies, at the core you will find a seemingly insignificant subtopic under one of their discipline’s massive umbrella topics. You will find PhDs are rarely generalists, even within their own discipline. Likewise, those who write popular nonfiction of any length can make their work much more effective using the same strategy. 

Strategic Thinking in Fiction

This same kind of strategic thinking can also help when writing fiction. For example, let’s look at the topic of pollution. Perhaps, like me, you’ve seen the commercial on T.V. in which two young men are pitching their plastic bracelets made from recycled plastics and glass recovered from the Pacific Ocean. These two surfers tell a brief story of how they were on a surfing vacation and discovered just how big plastic pollution is in the ocean and what they are trying to do about it. They are telling their personal story—and it is a compelling one. What other personal story might you write about the same topic?

Of course, fictional and factual writing are not the same thing, but you could still deal with pollution in a fictional story. If I were to write one, it might be about what my city’s efforts to eradicate mosquitoes is doing to our local honey bee and firefly populations. It’s sad, but true, that controlling mosquitoes for the sake of combating the West Nile virus has an adverse effect on other insects. Just as DDT all but ended malaria in certain parts of the world but caused such devastation to the bird populations they stopped spraying it, which only led to an increase in malaria, causing more human deaths. This topic has been tackled widely in both the scientific and popular news literature, but it would also make for good fiction.
For these kinds of topics to work in a story, however, a writer needs to strategically analyze the topic and find the human-interest among the facts. For example, you could write about a farming family’s plight,when their fruit crops decline as the result of the death of their honey bee population. Do your research and get the facts right—that’s first—but then find that human-interest nugget that can bring the huge umbrella topic down not only to a digestible bite but to a story that will catch your readers’ interest. Yes, fiction writers can write about pollution—and any other topic under the sun—if they feel called to do so, but how much more effective a short story, a poem, a song, or even a novel would be if it were about a little girl or boy who asks, Where Have All the Fireflies Gone? 

Next time, we’ll look at Aristotle’s Three Unities: Action, Time, and Place.


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by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

Writing the Story, Part 6

The Why? of Your Story

We have reached the 5th of our five Ws of storytelling—the Who? What? When? Where? and Why? of it. I like to call this one the “So what?” To my mind, this is the most important W of all, because without it, there is no reason for anyone to read something. How well crafted a story is matters less, in the end, than why it was written and why it should be read. When I’ve finished reading a story, I want to know why I read it in the first place. There needs to be something that answers the question, “So what?”

Why Writers Write
There are all sorts of reasons behind why writers write. It may well be just for entertainment—and whatever income sales might generate. But even with entertainment, you’ll want to give a reader a reason to pick up your story and not another—and a reason to keep turning the pages. Does it contain a message beyond the obvious? Did you tackle a social issue that means something to you? What readers will benefit from reading your story?

All these questions are addressing the “Why?” of your story. How many times have you finished reading a book, decided you liked it, then a week later couldn’t remember what it was even about? Good storytelling sticks in the mind, even if only long enough for someone to say to a friend, “I loved that book—you should read it, too, because _______ .” You want your readers to be able to fill in the blank.

Why Readers Read
All the reasons for writing mirror why readers read, of course. We read for entertainment, in order to learn something new, in order to increase our knowledge about something in which we already have an interest. Sometimes readers want only to reinforce an opinion they already hold. Sometimes they want someone to change their mind. Sometimes reading another writer’s words can help us to grow personally.

This does not, of course, mean we must always set out to write something “meaningful.” The entertainment factor cannot be underestimated. After fifteen years of higher education that overlapped with thirteen years of working as a college librarian for which I did a lot of research and writing, I rarely pick up a book to read today that is not strictly for entertainment. Escapism is my friend! In my own writing time, I generally write what I like to read, which most often means fictional stories. That being said, I do find my fictional storytelling generally holds some truth, some meaningful nugget, which I hope reaches my audience. That’s the “So what?”

This is, of course the key to writing success: identifying and connecting with our readers’ need to know “Why?”. It helps to keep that in mind when writing, because while we will sometimes simply write stories that we like to read—I certainly do—there is also a better chance of connecting with readers, if we take the time to define our audience for a specific story and tailor our writing to match that audience. Who your intended audience is will dictate what you write and how you write it, the language you use, the vocabulary you utilize, and the detail you invest in your story.

The Final Analysis
However you answer the questions about why and how you write, there are three basic questions to ask yourself about any story you write. You might ask these before you start writing, or you may ask them as you edit, but it is a good idea to address them somewhere in the writing process, whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction.

  • What is the point of this particular story?
  • What do I want to accomplish by writing it?
  • What do I want readers to get out of it?

I will often ask these questions before I even start when I am writing nonfiction, as they provide guidance as I go. My fiction, on the other hand, is rarely planned ahead, so I will wait until I am editing a completed draft of a story and allow these questions to guide my editing.  Whenever you ask them, do ask them, because they can truly help you as a writer—not to mention give you guidance when you seek to explain what you have written to a potential reader, agent, or editor.

Next time, we’ll look beyond the 5 Ws to strategic thinking, or how thorough topic analysis can build a strong foundation for effective writing.

__________________________


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more.

Christian editors · Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

Writing the Story, Part 5

Where: Location, Location, Location—It’s Not Just Important for Real Estate!

Where-are-youLocation is more than just a place on a map. It has a real affect on the behavior and attitude of your characters too. The obvious issue is urban vs. suburban vs. rural, and this factor will definitely predominate whether the story takes place in the United States, Europe, or Africa.  But there are other things too, from food preferences to sports to laws, requiring your attention as you write of people in other places.

Scale, or How We Visualize Distances

Distance and transportation access are real issues affecting characters in any story location, but this also includes a very real change in scale, or how people view distances from place to place. For example, back in 1982, I spent eight weeks in a little place in Scotland called Edrom, which was quite rural and surrounded by sheep farms. One day we had the opportunity to attend a concert in Edinburgh. Coming from the Pacific Northwest in the United States, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It was less than fifty miles—just over an hour away—but they packed the car as though for an entire day’s outing. Back home, my parents commuted an hour and a half each way to Seattle every day, a commute that included over an hour on a Washington State ferry, so it was difficult for me—who’d grown up in a very large scale area—to relate to the much smaller scale mind-set of the Scots.

Forty-eight miles was a long way to drive in Scotland in those days, but because my family had driven the 3,000 miles coast to coast across America three times back in the 1960s, I knew what real long distances looked like. (These family trips occurred in 1965 and 1966 before the U.S. Interstate system was completed, so we took the much slower U.S. highways most of the way.) My new friends in Scotland couldn’t even imagine those kinds of distances living in a country that was only 874 miles from the extreme southwest tip to the extreme northeast tip. When everything in your country is less than a thousand miles away, you simply don’t have the same perspective on distance as we do here in America, just as people who never leave New York or Washington, D.C., can never really understand how challenging it can be to get from city to city in the fly-over zone, and why we must have cars to get anywhere.

How Big or How High?

If you do live in the fly-over zone in America and have never been to a coast, you can’t know what a big body of water feels like. Yes, you can look at pictures, but pictures and even movies cannot replace knowing personally what it is like to stand on a Pacific or Atlantic beach. There is an immenseness to an ocean that you can’t get from any other body of water. At the same time, someone who only knows the crowded beaches of Atlantic City or Malibu can’t really picture what it’s like to walk along an empty, wild stretch of beach on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula on a rainy day.

 Likewise, mountains feel quite different, depending upon what you have experienced. A story set in the Rockies or the Cascades will not read the same as a story set in the Appalachians or the Great Smokey Mountains, where altitude and year-round snow won’t be an issue. I remember when I was a kid, going back east to visit family and driving up into the Appalachians with my aunt and uncle to pick up one of my cousins at summer camp “in the mountains.” We got there, and my sister and I asked, “Where are the mountains?” Believe me, once you’ve crossed the Rockies or stood at the 10,000-foot level of Mount Rainier, every other mountain range, short of the Himalayas, seems small!

Why These Things Matter

The old adage, “Write what you know,” can be good advice when you’re telling a story, because, of course, it cuts out all sorts of necessary research. A simple scene in a restaurant can tell readers a lot about what the author knows about regional preferences. For example, my Southern friends can’t understand why I don’t like seafood, when in fact I do like it very much—when it’s not so spicy it bites back! (I have learned living in southern Mississippi that Cajun cooking is an acquired taste, and I am absolutely certain I will never acquire it!) Our Yankee visitors were sincerely shocked when they came to visit us while we were living in Kentucky and learned they had to drive fifty miles, or at least to the Tennessee state line, before they could buy any alcoholic beverages, since our county was dry. And just try wearing any jersey other than one from the New Orleans Saints’ during the NFL season in my current home town, and see how far you get without odd looks or comments.  These are the details that make a story come alive, but they can also trip up storytellers who decide to stretch the geographic boundaries of their writing without thinking things through.

 Remember, Research Is Your Friend . . .

This does not, of course, mean you need to go live someplace for a time before you can set a story there (though it might be fun), but you do need to be aware of the unique characteristics inherent in any location you select and research accordingly.  Read books—both fiction and nonfiction—set in your location of choice and see how other writers deal with the specifics of a location’s topography and culture. Travel guides, memoirs, autobiographies, or even interviews can help you get a feel for a place through the firsthand experience of others.

 The next time, we’ll look at the “why? or the “so what?” of a story.


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by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 


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