Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Floating Body Parts

By Lucy Nel

Did that cause a shiver to run down your spine? If your imagination is anything like mine, gruesome images of severed hands or feet floating in the air probably exploded in your mind at a title like that.
Take a deep breath.  Have a cup of Joe.

No gore today, folks.
The floating body parts (FBP) I’m talking about are tricky pests that sneak into our creative writing. And recently I’ve been spotting them again in my fellow writers’ works. Don’t despair. Last year, this was one of my major stumbling blocks in my own writing. Just a year ago, I had my manuscripts peppered with FBP’s. One strung after the other.  My beautiful little darlings. I was oblivious to them. I never managed to spot those invaders.  And I didn’t mind them in the least, because I was being creative.
But trust me; some people are not so lenient. I’ve seen editors’ slaughter ’em without remorse. (I’ve had an editor leave a dozen snarky comments on one of my earlier peppered-with-FBP’S-darlings-manuscripts. Ouch.) The hard truth is, we might not mind the little sweethearts, but some people in the publishing world do not find them acceptable.

In the end, we need to be able to spot those pesky FBPs and remove the outrageous ones from our writing. Show no mercy! 
Earlier this month, I had my manuscript edited by Linda(If you need an editor extraordinaire, this is the gal!), and am proud to say, I had one. Only one. And a mild one at that! So I let it slide. (Run along my cute little darlin')

Now, you’re probably anxious to find out what a floating body part is.
To put it plainly, it becomes known as a FBP when you attribute an action to a body part(Hands, feet, eyes are normally the biggest culprits - at least in my own writing.) instead of to the character

Allow me to give you some examples of the ones I had in my previous manuscripts, and how I fixed them.

He leaned a massive shoulder against the door.
He leaned against the door.
His head twisted
He twisted
Her hand flew to her mouth
She covered her mouth
Her eyes searched the room
She searched the room
His fist pounded on the door
He pounded on the door

Of course there are trickier ones that are more acceptable. Sometimes you really can’t word them in a different manner. Like “She rolled her eyes” , “Raised her arms” or “Lifted his foot to inspect the sole”.
Am I saying you need to chop every FBP you have? Of course not, but some are just so outrageous, they might be too distracting to your readers. I hope you found this helpful, in the end, it’s still your decision which FBPs you want to keep, and which you’d rather cut.

Until next time,
Be blessed

For an amazing and hilarious example of FBPs, check out this blog!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Power of a Story

By Robin

Stories have always been important to us. Long before they were on ipads, Kindles, and Nooks; before they were in paperback, hardcover, or leather bound with handstitched spines; before they were transcribed one painstaking word at a time on parchment and vellum, they wielded a sort of power in our lives.

In ancient days the most skillful Story-teller would gather his audience round a communal fire, and regale them with tales of the heroic warrior who left his maiden to fight a battle. And the audience would listen, rapt, shushing fussy babes, pulling loved ones close, wondering if the hero would ever make it back to his love.

That’s the enthralling power of a story.

Legends were born who are still with us today. Beowulf and King Arthur still hold us transfixed in our modern world. We still boo and hiss at their villains: the brutal Grendel, and the wicked sorceress Morgana La Fay. Even though we know how the story ends—we’ve known for twelve hundred years—we hang on till the end, wondering if good will prevail.

That’s the transcendent power of a story.

In the fourth century, the world changed forever. Rome converted, and with it, most of its territories, stretching far west, to include a little island nation full of Britons. “Before Christianity,” according to the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Edition 6, Volume 1, “there had been no books [in English].”

This is my decades old, frayed, taped, beloved Norton, read by every NWMSU student who majored in English during its tenure.

Time passed, invaders became residents, and the language, a jumbled comingling of Saxon (Germanic) and Norman (Italic) evolved into Middle English. That’s when the Story-teller harnessed his power by putting words onto a page. He became the Writer.

By the twelfth century, the Writer began to use the themes of love and war, which were so often connected in the world of the chivalrous knight, as a means of exploring psychological and ethical problems (again, according to the Norton Anthology). That's when men began to see themselves in the character of the knight. They watched as the knight navigated trials contrived by the Writer, and weighed the knight’s emergence as victor or downtrod against what they knew about themselves, their world, and their God, wondering what they would do in the place of the knight.

That’s the self-actualizing power of a story.

This has all been true since the first evidence we have of stories being told orally round the fire. It was true before, in the dark of cave dwellings where no remnant was left for us to study and marvel at. It’s true because our Lord is the ultimate Story-teller. It’s the medium by which he brings us to himself. “In the beginning,” begins the story of a bridegroom who goes after his bride.

We are enthralled by it, wondering if she will take his outstretched hand.

We read the same passages again and again in our study, captivated anew by the transcendent, never-changing truth.

We see ourselves in it. We are the bride, looking down at the bridegroom’s outstretched hand, a hand we don’t deserve. We come to know our own wretchedness by reading of his holiness. We take his hand, accept his mercy, and we are made new.

That’s the transformative power of THE story.

Stories born of human minds cannot hold the same power over us. We need not fear them, ban them, censor them, burn them, or hide them.

Even dangerous stories, terrible stories, and stories written by authors who hate God and his good gifts have the power to make us think.  

That, friends, is when the magic happens! That's when the Story-teller's power becomes the Story-hearer's power. The Hearer, gifted by the Creator already with the ability to reason and reflect, now possesses the power to revere or reject the truth of the Story-teller

It's an amazing power, isn't it? The power to think. Analyze. Critique. Decide. Whether the stories are good or bad, thinking about them makes us smarter, more mature, more aware, more compassionate, better human beings. It opens our eyes to new ideas--right ideas and wrong ideas. That doesn't matter. What matters is we use our power to think about what we're reading, and grow from it.

This is why we crave stories which do more for us than entertain. It's why our love of story has endured many thousands of years, and why it will continue long after our culture changes, our borders shift, and our language evolves all over again. 

We may not read our stories on Kindles and ipads in a hundred years, or a thousand years, or ten thousand years, but we will, in some way, be gathered round the communal fire to hear the skilled Story-teller weave us a compelling tale.

Unlike us, the story will endure. It will never die.

That's the power of a story.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

3 Quick Tips to Make Your Story Amazing

What writer couldn't use some quick tips to make a story pop with amazing details? I know I could!

Have you ever read a story that just felt kinda meh? Perhaps the dialogue was good, and the characters were interesting. The plot might have even been fresh and original. But something was missing. Something was flat. You weren’t drawn in to the setting. You weren’t really immersed in the story.
Transporting an audience to another world takes some skill. It’s not enough to plonk words haphazardly on the page.
A writer has to beguile their readers.
Tease them.
Tempt them along with sensory details that fill their minds with the sights, sounds, smells, and feels of the setting.
There’s nothing better than reading a well-crafted description that makes you forget you're simply reading a book. Instead it seems like you’ve got a seat, front and center in all the action.
Some of my favorite authors are the ones who string words like colorful beads on a necklace, one after the other, until I feel like I’m right there in every part of the scene.
Here are my top 3 tips to help you create a story people will LOVE to read:
Tip #1. A fantastic setting makes a story shine! 
Take the beginning of chapter two from Elizabeth Marie Pope’s YA novel, The Perilous Gard:
The rain threaded and beaded every branch and leaf and twig, dripping mournfully at the jarring thud of the horses’ hoofs. It clung to the shoulders of Kate’s heavy cloak and glistened in the long gray folds of her riding skirt. The instant she raised her head, it began to gather on her lashes like tears.
Can’t you imagine yourself riding through the forest in the rain? Doesn’t your very skin feel cold and wet? You also get a sense of tone from this passage. Kate doesn’t seem very happy, does she? And not just because she’s stuck on a horse with water dripping all around her. No. The repetition in the first sentence of branch and leaf and twig as well as the comparison of the rain to tears on Kate’s face all add to the despondency of the moment.
Before you start to shiver, consider Madeleine L’Engle’s description from Many Waters, a companion to A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle’s heroes, Sandy and Dennys find themselves whisked away from their freezing New England farmhouse only to be dumped in a desert.
They were standing on sand, burning white sand. Above them, the sun was in a sky so hot that it was no longer blue but had a bronze cast. There was nothing but sand and sky from horizon to horizon…The brazen sunlight beat down on them. After the cold of snow and ice, the sudden heat was shocking. Small particles of mica in the sand caught the light and blazed up at them.

Wow. A completely different scene. Now, instead of the rain beating down on me, I’ve got sunlight saturating every pore!
And did you notice how in both of these descriptions, the authors use what the reader can see as well as what the reader can feel?  That's the perfect intro for my next tip:
Tip #2. Make your descriptions do double-duty!
The best writers will make sure their word choices pack a punch in more than one way.
Take, for example, a single sentence from Mary Weber’s Storm Siren:
The yellow flags above me snap sharp and loud in the breeze as if to emphasize my owner’s words that yes, she’s quite aware such a high count is utterly ridiculous.
Weber could’ve used the verb wave or billow to describe the movement of the flags, but snap gives a perfect visual and auditory clue that puts the reader right in the middle of the slave auction with Nym.
Tip #3. Don't overlook the rest of the 5 senses!
It’s not enough to add sight, sound, and feels to your story.
What about taste? That's an important detail that immerses the reader more fully into the scene.
Look at this passage written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and tell me your mouth isn’t watering:
Ten pancakes cooked on the smoking griddle, and as fast as they were done Mother added another cake to each stack and buttered it lavishly and covered it with maple syrup. Butter and sugar melted together and soaked the fluffy pancakes and dripped all down their crisp edges.
Every time I read Farmer Boy, I get hungry. Every. Single. Time.
And finally, there’s smell. Some studies claim that smell serves as a powerful aid to memory, so don’t forget to saturate your reader’s sense of smell with unforgettable details.
I always enjoy Rosemary Sutcliff’s narrative because she includes this important sense like here in The Shining Company:
I mind the scent and colour of raw new wood and green thatch and great tubs of washing water that smelled of herbs. And, fingering its way in from somewhere outside, the fat reek of beef stew.
These scents greet the hero, Prosper, at the end of a long journey, and the familiar smells add to his feeling of homecoming. Perfect!
Each one of these authors are masters at adding sight, sound, feels, tastes AND smells to their story. And these are the details that make a manuscript shine.
So the next time you edit your story, double-check that your setting immerses your reader, your word choices do double-duty, and each of the senses are used to your advantage. Your descriptions will be sure to keep your readers engaged and turning the pages for more.
And have fun!

Any quick tips you'd include in this list to make a ho-hum story fantastic?