Happy friday from Michigan where we're enjoy lovely weather and my flower garden is flourishing. Welcome to the CAN blog from Gail Gaymer Martin at www.gailgaymermartin.com If you enjoy my website and blogs, you can subscribe in the right sidebar and if you'd like my monthly newsletter, you can subscribe in the right sidebar too.
Now down to business.
Authors don’t always realize their plot drags until they step back and take a fresh look. It’s always good to give your story a rest for a week or two, if you have time to spare, and then read with new eyes. The brilliant words can dull with time and that means authors need to dissect the plot, the language and techniques to bring the story to life and make it shine again .
Hello! Maureen Pratt here with another blog post about the writing art and craft. This time, some thoughts about the English language and how we might mix it up a little to yield fresh "color," insight, and depth to our work.
Two real life events have inspired me to blog about this. One was a conversation I overheard in the post office. It went like this:
Postal Clerk (handing Customer a pane of stamps): Here you go.
Customer: Where? Here I go where?
Postal Clerk: Your stamps, sir. Here you go.
Customer: Where do I go?
Postal Clerk (pointing at pane of stamps): I don't know, sir, but here are your stamps.
Customer: Oh. Thank you.
The other event was a conversation I had with an employee at my local grocery store. It went like this:
Employee: Did you find everything you wanted, ma'am?
Me: Yes, except you didn't have blueberries.
Employee: If you're really craving blueberries, we have frozen.
Me: I know, but they don't go well on cereal.
Employee: Got it. How about strawberries?
Me: I like them, but not on cereal.
Employee: Too bad. Because the strawberries are really transcendent today.
If you smiled at both of these illustrations, I'm right there with you. The first exchange involved someone whose native language was not English and who clearly had trouble with the idiom, "here you go." The second one invovled someone whose native language was English, but who clearly went beyond the norm in word association. (What would it have been like, I wonder, if I had purchased and eaten those "transcendent" strawberries?!)
Although different in context and character, both of these are examples of how creative we can get with English, depending not just on who is speaking, but to whom one is speaking. I don't have to go into a detailed description, for example, to convey the quirky character of someone who would describe strawberries as "transcendent." I also don't have to go into much detail at all to demonstrate how the English language, particularly slang and idioms, can be confusing for the non-native speaker - all it takes is those few lines of dialogue.
When I interview people for my non-fiction work, I keep my ears tuned to those sometimes-subtle, but always telling turns of phrase that can give away someone's background, expertise, or spiritual context. Often, my intervewees are unaware of how they sound, how they put words together, and what phrases they use. But if I can pick up on these, my work can be much tighter and telling than any labored description I might come up with.
In fiction, I use much the same technique. A character who is an engineer, for example, might describe something completely differently from someone who is a musician. The engineer might be more apt to talk in terms of form, fit, and building blocks, whereas the musician might use his or her sense of rhythm, tone, and feeling. The engineer might be a very linear communicator (A + B = C), whereas someone who is more artistically inclined might be non-linear (A + (A-B) - E = ?)
Simple words can be powerful descriptors. For example, growing up in Illinois, I always called the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk the "boulevard." In Ohio, it was the "treelawn." In Boston, a drinking fountain was a "bubbler." Add to these little differences the challenge of regional pronunciations, and it's no wonder that many find English to be an extremely difficult language to master!
As children, we read of pink elephants, flying monkeys, talking bears, and mad hatters. As adults, and as writers, we can call upon that play on reality and language to craft English work that has creative depth and, dare I say it, transcendent description - even when writing of the most mundane of subjects.
Blessings of joy and peace,
For all the critter lovers out there, I’m going to share—our beloved Springer Spaniel, Zeke, passed away recently. He was ten years old. Here he is with my daughter, Lana, on her wedding day. Ah...in case you're wonderfing---no Zeke didn't come to the church.
Or maybe you're wondering---how is the news that my dog passed away supposed to encourage? We live in a world that is full of tough things, sadness, illness, bombings in Boston for goodness sake! Shootings in schools. Scary stuff.
The devotional is intensely personal, but can also provide tremendous support for many. I've experienced this first-hand. When I was first diagnosed with lupus, I suffered from a number of life-threatening symptoms. None, however, was as confounding as the non-life-threatening phenomenon of lupus brain fog, which is much like looking at the world through a pea-soup fog on a chilly day. It isn't permanent, much like those clouds of fog, and it doesn't cause changes in the brain, per se. But it does make memories slippery at times, and frustration quick to rise.
Faced with a horrible diagnosis, I turned to prayer, Scripture, and reflective meditation on what I had read and prayed about. Only, I would forget what I had read and prayed about. Frequently. I finally bought a spiral-bound notebook and started writing down what I read and prayed about. A year later, I looked back at the now-full notebook and wondered, "Could someone else benefit from what's in here?" Then, I prayed. And then, I called my agent. A few years later, my book "Peace in the Storm: Meditations on Chronic Pain & Illness" was published and has been reaching readers like myself, patients of chronic pain & illness, ever since. Such a blessing!
Writing the devotional is a highly personal pursuit, fueled by insight and inspiration born from experience. Not all experience needs to be that of the writer, but ideally each devotion should be linked to a "ripped from real life" instance in someone's life. I liken writing a devotional to being a "spiritual reporter," combining life's events with the place God takes within it all.
As they are extensions of our faith, devotionals spring from Scriptural reflections. Reading Scripture regularly and listening to the passages resonate gives the right context for the meditations you craft for each topic. I also spent much time in an empty church, sitting quietly, reading passages, then sitting quietly again. The waters of the Word can refresh us whenever we partake of them, but they truly nourish us when we let them soak into us completely.
Devotional structure will be unique to each project, but ideally each project does have a structure, an arc, a way in which it builds and carries the reader through to greater insight, comfort, or encouragement. At the same time, devotionals are often read in pieces, and not linearly, so the author needs to keep this in mind (avoid referring to a previous devotion, for example).
Writing "Peace in the Storm..." was exhausting for me, but what motivated me to keep going was the thought of my audience. Each day, I prayed for and thought of someone who would read what I was writing, someone who was suffering with or from the particular problem, or asking the particular question, that I addressed in the devotion I wrote that day. Keeping the reader close to mind and heart enables the words to flow as from a friend to a friend, a very effective and empathetic voice.
Blessings to you!
Whether we're writing fiction or non-fiction, we want our prose to carry the feel of immediacy, or a sense of time and place that draws the reader in to the exclusion of all other distractions and detractions. Compelling central plots do this to a certain extent, of course, but to carry someone along for the duration of a book requires some hooks-within-the-hooks. Immediacy boosts action to a more lively level, and it helps root scene and character to-the-minute instead of somewhere, out there, in time.
For example, let's say you and I just won a shopping spree (here's the plot hook), but the event takes place in the wee hours of the morning on an excruciatingly hot day and the air conditioner in the store is broken (here are distractions from the initial excitement of the primary hook) and we're both just getting over the flu. Feel your enthusiasm waning, even just a little? What if we added a treasure hunt within the spree, perhaps a very valuable diamond ring is hidden somewhere among the merchandise, and we get to keep it if we find it - a hook-within-a-hook that can motivate beyond the heat and discomfort and bring an immediacy and action to something that might otherwise be more descriptive than dramatic.
Immediacy is helped along by avoiding gerunds (pardon the pun!) and connective phrases, and by precision. "We were looking in the shoe department hoping to find..." becomes "In the shoe department, we found..." or "We were running out of time..." becomes "We only had six minutes left..."
In non-fiction, creating immediacy makes facts come alive. This is not the same as fictionalizing a situation or place, but rather is expressed in the way various details are described. For example, perhaps you need to write a piece about your church's Sunday prayer service and potluck. Beyond the "who, what, when and where," paint in the "why." Why does one person always bring a fruit salad? Why does a particular worship song bring tears to a young man's eyes? Why does the assortment of dishes provided always seem to satisfy, even if no one plans it down to the ingredients? The "why" allows for personalities to come forward and details to leap to life in their daily context - immediacy in the making. It also helps build empathy between the reader and story.
Another strong technique for non-fiction is to write about what's going on outside a particular place or event as a backdrop for what is going on inside. I was able to do this in an article I wrote for Saint Anthony Messenger Magazine (www.americancatholic.org) last year, when I contrasted the freeway traffic humming outside a school with the beautiful music of a children's choir within it.
For inspirational non-fiction, such as a devotional or prayer book, immediacy comes from the specific examples you can write about that illustrate the point you are trying to get across. Think Our Lord teaching in parables. So, an essay on coping with pain becomes lessons learned from someone's journey through a dark valley of pain.
To create your own sense of immediacy while you are writing, practice this: Imagine your reader only has sixty seconds to spend on your story. Imagine the seconds ticking by (or place a clock that ticks off the seconds next to your workspace) as you write. Feel the pressure of that time passing, disappearing, and taking away your reader. At the end of the minute, put your work aside for awhile (a few hours, or even a day). Revisit it, and see the difference in what you wrote while under the immediacy of pressure - you might really like it!
The more in-the-moment writing can be, the more powerful, and immediate, the pull for the reader to keep reading, no matter what else is going on in the world around.
Joy and peace,
Simply Salsa teaches to celebrate life by weaving real-life stories—from the author, from women today and from women in the Bible—to illustrate the victory available to all. The riveting examples ignite in the reader a passion to overcome their own trials such as disabilities, tragedy, devastation and unfairness. Each chapter sings with a Latina flair, a bit of sass, a dash of humor and plenty of inspiration drawn from God’s Word to empower the reader to triumph, bring back joy by learning to conquer fear.
Although blind, Janet Perez Eckles has been inspiring thousands to see the best in life. She achieves this through her keynote messages as an international speaker and through her writings which appear in more than 28 books, in hundreds of articles, in her own inspirational books including her #1 bestselling release, Simply Salsa: Dancing without Fear at God’s Fiesta. She and Gene, her husband of 36 years live in Florida. Since her passion is to inspire you, she invites you to visit:
This new release information was uploaded by Cecelia Dowdy. Happy reading!
Today, Mount Hermon Writers' Conference begins. I wait all year for this particular conference and, believe it or not, was so awed upon stepping foot on those "holy grounds" four years ago, I prayed to God right then to please move me to Mount Hermon, someday, somehow. Little did I know, God took me seriously and answered my prayer. I can almost--as they say in the South--swing a cat and hit the side of the conference center from my driveway.