Thursday, February 23, 2017

The feedback I value the most



I sat back from the laptop with a satisfied sigh. Zipping dialogue that revealed a dishonest character’s unexpected intentions and tight action that left the reader hanging from the cliff with my main character.

The chapter I’d just finished was golden. Or was it?
 
Writers live in a bubble.  We disappear into a world of our own creation all times of the day or night at our characters' beck-and-call. We pull the strings in that world, making characters' lives easier or harder with a keystroke or wish scenery into existence with the stroke of a pen.

We live it. We breathe it.

Allowing someone else into that world can sometimes be difficult, but it's very, very necessary. It can be hard to disassociate yourself from the work you've put together - particularly if you've poured your heart into it - and it can be very hard to be objective about it.  In fact, it's impossible.

Getting feedback on what we write is important. It helps us to bask in reflected glory of the soaring highs and points out those flat spots or plot points that need work.

But getting the right feedback is even more important.  I've spoken to writers for whom this is the struggle - to find the right person who can provide feedback to improve the work, not just stroke the ego of the writer or destroy their fragile confidence.

I have a number of people who I have drafted into my writing process to ensure that my writing gets the best feedback it can. While they are chosen because they reflect the reader I'm ultimately trying to reach, there is one key thing I ask of them so that the feedback they provide gives me the one thing I value the most.

Honesty.

Honest feedback is a gift. As I tell my reading group, if the writing doesn't work, I'd much prefer to hear it from you than a publisher or an agent. 

But honesty can be hard – for both giver and receiver.

I've been on the other side of the fence, providing feedback to other writers and hoping not to crush their hopes and dreams when I tell them their work didn't grip me or lost me at times. But at this point I've realised that if I'm not up front with the writer, then the feedback isn't that valuable. (I'm quite sensitive in how I deliver my thoughts.  It’s not feedback all guns blazing off the hip ...)

It can be harder to hear that what you’ve just poured onto the page needs some work. But, with the right feedback, it can fill holes, bring out underplayed story elements and take the writing to the next level.

And dealing with honesty also can drive a temptation to change everything to suit everyone. I’m still learning the fine art of balancing feedback, and to recognise that gnawing feeling in your gut that the reader might be right. And to follow up all honest feedback with a 'why?' to ensure I can see why something may not work.

There is one story about taking honest feedback that truly inspires me. When James Rubart received his Carol Award at this year’s ACFW Conference for The Five Times I Met Myself, his acceptance speech covered the fact that when he completed his first draft, the publisher told him it wasn’t working and he needed to start again. An author with a host of novels under his belt needed to start again. So he did. And his improved version was voted as novel of the year.

So honesty is what I value. 

Oh, and was my chapter golden? Partially. It was less of the huge gold nugget I imagined it was and more of a prospector’s pan with gold flecks at the bottom. But at least now I know which parts are valuable as I polish up the rest.

Pen in hand, tongue in cheek, David Rawlings in writing contemporary Christian stories that explore God, faith, 21st century church and our modern society. 

He was a finalist in the 2016 ACFW Genesis competition, blogs at www.davidrawlings.com.au and, like 99.5% of the Western world, can be found on Facebook.

 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Writing a great scene

It doesn't matter how long we've been writing, it's always good to go over guidelines you may have forgotten.

So I chose to follow Randy Ingermanson's hints for writing scenes. Basic stuff, yes, but if we don't at least write with some structure then we're going to do some awful rambling.

I have been checking & rewriting my latest manuscript and it has lifted the whole tone.

Goal: A Goal is what your POV character wants at the beginning of the Scene. The Goal must be specific and it must be clearly definable. The reason your POV character must have a Goal is that it makes your character proactive. Your character is not passively waiting for the universe to deal him Great Good. Your character is going after what he wants, just as your reader wishes he could do. It’s a simple fact that any character who wants something desperately is an interesting character. Even if he’s not nice, he’s interesting. And your reader will identify with him. That’s what you want as a writer. (Note he's taken it from the male perspective.)

Conflict: Conflict is the series of obstacles your POV character faces on the way to reaching his Goal. You must have Conflict in your Scene! If your POV character reaches his Goal with no Conflict, then the reader is bored. Your reader wants to struggle! No victory has any value if it comes too easy. So make your POV character struggle and your reader will live out that struggle too.

Disaster: A Disaster is a failure to let your POV character reach his Goal. Don’t give him the Goal! Winning is boring! When a Scene ends in victory, your reader feels no reason to turn the page. If things are going well, your reader might as well go to bed. No! Make something awful happen. Hang your POV character off a cliff and your reader will turn the page to see what happens next.

Now let’s look at Sequels . . .
The Sequel has the three parts Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision. Again, each of these is critical to a successful Sequel. Remove any of them and the Sequel fails to work. Let me add one important point here. The purpose of a Sequel is to follow after a Scene. A Scene ends on a Disaster, and you can’t immediately follow that up with a new Scene, which begins with a Goal. Why? Because when you’ve just been slugged with a serious setback, you can’t just rush out and try something new. You’ve got to recover. That’s basic psychology.
 Feel like you've hit a brick wall yet? Just keep practicing! It'll come second nature in time.

Reaction: A Reaction is the emotional follow-through to a Disaster. When something awful happens, you’re staggering for awhile, off-balance, out of kilter. You can’t help it. So show your POV character reacting viscerally to his Disaster. Show him hurting. Give your reader a chance to hurt with your characters. Eventually, your POV character needs to get a grip. To take stock.
Dilemma: A Dilemma is a situation with no good options. If your Disaster was a real Disaster, there aren’t any good choices. Your POV character must have a real dilemma. This gives your reader a chance to worry, which is good. Your reader must be wondering what can possibly happen next. Let your POV character work through the choices

Decision: A Decision is the act of making a choice among several options. This is important, because it lets your POV character become proactive again. People who never make decisions are boring people. They wait around for somebody else to decide. And nobody wants to read about somebody like that. So make your character decide, and make it a good decision. One your reader can respect

Randy Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist and the award-winning author of six novels. He has taught at numerous writing conferences over the years  He's worth listening to....


Currently Rita co-presents a Christian radio program with her husband, George. This is broadcast Australia-wide on Christian & secular FM stations. She has written five historicals & contributed to several US anthologies. She blogs at  ritastellapress.com & Facebook.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Re-write it yet another time...





My first effort at publishing was a success. How about that? That’s not something you hear every day.

 My first novel ‘The Manse’ was not the first story I’d written. In fact, it was not even on my schedule to write. I had written eight or nine unpublished novels prior to this, and I only started to write ‘The Manse’ because I was given an opportunity to contribute a serial to a bi-monthly magazine. As I began to write it, I had a vague idea where I would take it, but I only wrote about five or six hundred words every other month. This, dear reader, is not the way to approach the writing of a novel, but it is how I started out.



After two years of episodes coming out in the South Australian CWA magazine, the editor asked for an ending. She and the readers wanted me to bring it to a close. At this point I had a pink-fit. In my vague plan, I had reached the part of the story where the characters had just become established, and the first major conflict had been revealed – and they wanted an ending.
Believe it or not, this was a God given opportunity. I needed to tell the whole story, and I was losing my outlet, so following inspiration, I contacted the editor and proposed that I would wind the story up for the magazine – which would be a very unsatisfactory, unresolved ending – if she would allow that I could advertise the full novel for sale. She agreed. Only one small problem remained – well a host of small problems actually: I had to finish writing the whole novel, then I had to figure out how to publish it. Find a printer, right? Oh, and I’ll have to sort out a cover, and I guess I’d better get someone to read over it to look out for mistakes.
I did it. I published it myself, two teachers from school read over it and found a couple of spelling errors, it had a very dodgy looking cover, and I advertised in the CWA magazine. Between that outlet and various church contacts, I sold all 300 copies in no time. I had readers coming and begging for a sequel – which I thought was silly, as I had no notion of writing a sequel. One reader said she’d pray until God gave me a sequel. I was annoyed with this statement and got to thinking about how there was no opportunity for a sequel. But wait, there was that young lad, whose father had been killed suddenly...
Ok, so I wrote a sequel, actually a whole series that has six published titles, and one unpublished one.
In 1998, through a contact I had in Christian Book distribution, I had the opportunity to have ‘The Manse’ and ‘Green Valley’ (the sequel) distributed throughout Australia and New Zealand. He gave me this opportunity on the condition I sorted out that cover.
I found someone who was slightly more knowledgeable about graphic design than me (still not a professional), and I had someone who said they’d worked as an editor with an American publishing company go over the manuscripts again. I made some changes, and the 1998 version was released, and began to sell like crazy. ‘Like crazy’ means I sold them in the thousands.
In 2003 I was contacted by a publisher in the UK, who’d heard about my work. This publisher eventually accepted the first three books in this series. They went through another editor and re-write, with a professional designer on the cover this time.
All good – right? I’ve sold over 8,500 copies of ‘The Manse’.
Last year, to celebrate twenty years in print, I dragged the manuscript out – the UK version that has now been edited and re-written three times – and decided to get it ready for eBook. My giddy aunt!!! The writing was in such a bad way, I can’t believe I’d sold 25,000 copies of the series, and have avid Heart of Green Valley fans.

Christian writing in Australia has evolved at a rapid rate. I guess when I set out, I had no clue, and muddled along with the opportunities God put before me. Thank goodness the readers over the last twenty years didn’t know what I now know. Head-hopping; author intrusion; rogue adverbs (which I really actually like very much); elaborate speech attributions; loads of telling and not nearly enough showing; and an uncanny habit of using explanation marks for just about everything! These writerly sins were a solid part of everything I wrote pre-2012 – that’s like about eleven titles.
So here I sit. I did tell my readers I planned to release all of the Heart of Green Valley series to eBook. I re-wrote and re-edited ‘The Manse’ for the fourth time (and I admit, I skimped on the final editing as the opportunities to exploit the title for return are not there as they were twenty years ago).
This week I opened up the sequel, ‘Green Valley’ and groaned. This had been edited by both the American editor and the English editor. Obviously they had no idea either. I had thought I’d just have to make a couple of changes here and there. You know, cull all the adverbs, simplify the speech attributions, and sort out POV. No such luck. So far I have worked on the first scene, and out of about a thousand words, I’ve retained about twenty. Another deep sigh.
But I have to do it. If I was to put it up in its current format, the critics would move on it like a bunch of sharks at a feeding frenzy, and point out all of the issues. This ultimately would affect my reputation as a writer.
So be encouraged dear writer friends. Look at the bright side. You have the information at your fingertips today. You know what the writerly sins are, and can easily look up how to avoid them. Get ahead of the program and learn not to do it when you first write, so that you don’t have to spend half your life re-writing.


2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the first publication of ‘The Manse’, the first title in ‘The Heart of Green Valley’ series.
To read more about Meredith Resce and all of her work, visit www.meredithresce.com


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tuesday Spotlight - Anusha Atukorala



Each Monday and Thursday, Christian Writers Downunder's faithful and talented blog team contribute blogposts to inspire and inform aspiring and established writers. In 2017 we will be adding Tuesday Spotlights - posts that spotlight both writers and organisations that contribute to the writing scene Downunder. Our first on December 27 was on Nola Passmore, writer, editor, academic and the previous coordinator of Christian Writers Downunder. The next three will highlight the CWD Administration team: Anusha Atukorala, Paula Vince and Jeanette O’Hagan.


Anusha with Nola and Jeanette, Omega Writers Conference 2017


Today’s spotlight is on Anusha Atukorala.


Anusha Atukorala is a humble, gracious and faithful encourager and prayer warrior; a writer and speaker who is passionate about her faith, family, and writing. Her first book Enjoying the Journey is a collection of little God thoughts from everyday life. She has also had devotions and short stories published, including ‘A Dream Realised’ in Glimpses of Light. Anusha has been on the CWD Admin team for four years and her encouragement, wisdom, and prayer ministry is invaluable. Twice a week, Anusha faithfully posts the links to our CWD blog so you can read the inspirational and helpful posts.




Jeanette: Anusha, many people are inspired by your devotional book Enjoying the Journey and through your inspirational blog ‘Dancing in the Rain.’ What or who inspired you to write and to keep on writing?


Anusha:  Thank you Jenny for your generous words. It’s interesting that all my education was in my mother tongue, Sinhalese. But once I tasted Enid Blyton’s books as a little girl, my life changed forever! I devoured them as fast as I could and fell deeply in love with the English language. I scribbled stories and poems as a child, composed songs as a teenager and wrote reams letters over the years, connecting my passion for writing with my passion for people.

After I left school, I’ve been a Lab Technician, Analyst Programmer, full time mum, Charity Director and a full time volunteer. 10 years ago, when I failed to get a job, God nudged my heart. Yes, it was time to pursue my childhood dream and He called me to become a Christian writer. Yay! I’d been a believer for many decades at the time, so of course, God Himself was my inspiration.

Growing up, my Dad was a Director of a Newspaper group in Sri Lanka. Mum was a journalist. My family grew up with books, lots of them, so my parents are also a big part of that motivation. I went on to marry a lover of books and our son has followed suit. I’m very pleased that my son blogs regularly like his Mum!


Jeanette: Your mother was a prominent and award-winning journalist in Sri-Lanka. What influence has she her example had on your life and your writing journey? How important is family to you?


Anusha: Two things Mum pursued with excellence were writing and counselling. I’ve naturally taken to both like a Galah bird learning to fly, although I’m nowhere as professional as she was in either field. She was definitely my role model and championed my writing till the end of her days. 

My immediate family comprises two unique, amazing, priceless men! Shan and I celebrate 31 years of wedded bliss tomorrow. I’m deeply grateful to him for the many sacrifices he has made over the last 10 years so I could write. Without his support, or his hard work, I could not have pursued my dreams, so my Beloved (next to God) is the wind beneath my wings. Our son Asela (26) is on the Autism spectrum and has needed to has overcome numerous challenges to get to where he is today. I’m very proud of them both. So yes, family is very important to me, not least my 2 sisters and 4 brothers who too have been a significant part of my life.

Shan, Anusha and Asela, 2016


Having said that, Jesus made it clear, didn’t He,  that anyone who does the will of God is His brother, sister and mother? As I’ve travelled through life, I’ve met many remarkable people. Friends (I believe) are the family we choose for ourselves! That includes all you awesome writer friends. Thank you so much for being an integral part of my journey. I value you all.



Jeanette: And I've valued your friendship and that of other writers :)

Life isn’t always without struggle, yet you have a consistently positive attitude no matter what happens. Each week you find the silver lining, the patch of blue sky, the signs of God’s love and faithfulness around you. Where do you draw your strength from and how does this influence your writing?


Anusha: As a brand new Christian at 16, Jenny, there were times I wondered if my walk with God was authentic. My faith hadn’t been tested then. Now, 43 years and an abundance of life experiences later, I know that I know that I know. God has been good to me. I say that with tears in my eyes and a deep conviction within. CS Lewis said that “God whispers to us in our pleasures and shouts to us in our pain”. It has been my experience too. It’s those trying, tough seasons that have led me discover if what I believed was true. God has come through for me over and over again—not always changing my circumstances but always walking with me through my darkest hours, comforting me and giving me strength to endure. He has been both my Hiding Place and my Inspiration.



When I created my website 5 years ago, I was asked to give it a name and the Holy Spirit whispered ‘Dancing in the Rain’. I realise now as I look back that it was the perfect title. Not only have I been able to draw strength from Jesus for my hard times but He’s also enabled me to use those experiences to encourage and bless others. What an awesome God He is!

Jeanette: He certainly is! What obstacles in your writing and how have you responded to them? What are your goals and dreams?

Anusha: The biggest obstacle in the last few years, Jenny, has been my health. I’ve suffered from fibromyalgia over the past 12 years and the debilitating fatigue and pain hamper my creativity. Obstacle number 2 is a lack of finances to obtain professional help. I’d hoped that I’d be able to work part time job to finance my writing, but my body doesn’t allow it at present!

At Disneyland I learnt that the best way to enjoy each ride was by clinging onto the rails and going with the flow. The analogy has helped me in real life too—I’ve learnt to cling onto God with all I’ve got and then go with the flow of wherever life takes me. Exhilarating! As for goals and dreams… I’ve just been listening to an audio book called ‘Living Forward’ by Michael Hyatt/Daniel Harkavy. Their LIFE PLAN consists of answering 3 questions.
  1.           How do I want to be remembered?
  2.           What’s most important?
  3.           How do I get from here to there?

I’ve spent the past 2 weeks answering those questions and found they were excellent ones to propel me forward. As for my goals in 2017, I’d love to get two more of my books on their way to publication. I’m writing a book to encourage those struggling with chronic illness. I’m also working towards put together a few more books using my blogs of the last 5 years.

Jeanette: I look forward to seeing both those book published :) If you were to give advice to someone just starting out as a writer, what would it be?

Anusha: If God’s called you to be a writer, go for it. Read widely. Write as often as you can. Study the craft. Link with other writers. Don’t get swamped by the world’s demands. Choose wisely how you spend your time. Say ‘Yes’ when God demands a ‘Yes’, but learn to say ‘No’ when you need to. Spend sufficient time with God every day and walk close to Him. Know His heart and write out of that relationship in obedience and trust. Being is always more important than doing. Yes, integrity matters. Rejections will come—accept  them as part of the package. Persevere! Persevere! Persevere! A Christian writer’s life is rich (though not necessarily in monetary terms) and rewarding—and with His help, you can reach for the stars.

And don’t forget … He who calls you is always faithful.


Jeanette: Thank you Anusha for your wise and inspiring words, for your contribution to CWD, your encouragement over the years, and for taking time to talk to us. Wishing you all the best in what God has for you, your family and your writing.

Anusha: Thank YOU Jenny. I really enjoyed my chat with you. God bless you richly for all you do for us Christian writers at CWD. It is greatly appreciated.


Anusha is passionate about many things – Jesus, love, life, family, friendship, music and the beauty of God’s creation. Her first book Enjoying the Journey is a collection of 75 little stories centred on God’s reality in her life. Anusha’s had stories published in 12 Anthologies and she lives to share God’s amazing love with the world. 


She is deeply blessed to have two places she calls home; the little paradise island of Sri Lanka where she grew up and the beautiful city of Adelaide, Australia where she resides; well perhaps three homes—since our Father God’s heart is her first and best resting place.




Website: Dancing in the Rain: http://anusha-atukorala.webnode.com/

Monday, February 13, 2017

Remember your creativity!

It had been a long time since I had spent six whole hours at a creative writing workshop—so long that I wondered if I could even do such a thing anymore. Nevertheless, it was with a sense of almost awed expectation that I set out recently to drive to the NSW Writers’ Centre for a one day course entitled ‘Remembering your Creativity’, conducted by Sue Woolfe. I wanted this day to reignite my passion for novel writing—but was I aiming too high? After all, it was boiling hot and I knew the Centre was not air-conditioned. Hmm.

Fifteen of us sat with pens poised as our first session began, the fans whirring above us and some participants already mopping their brows. Yet, as our presenter explained her approach, all that fell away for me. In an instant, I realised what an absolute gift from God this day truly was. Here we were, being encouraged to remember the creative things we had enjoyed doing as a child. Here we were, being invited to write in a free-wheeling fashion, to decrease our conscious, logical brain activity, to be still and dialogue with ourselves. And, for me at least, that also meant dialoguing with God.

Throughout the day, Sue guided us through various activities in a gentle, affirming way. Here an exercise arising from a scene on a power point slide that, for me, evoked strong, almost overwhelming images from a visit to Turkey some years ago. Next, an exercise inspired by looking at our neighbour’s hand, which brought back a whirl of childhood memories of my old music teacher, as she reached across and gently showed me how to play something I could not seem to master. Then came a one sentence story starter, followed by a photo on a power point slide of a woman’s face. And at that point, I knew for sure God was right there with me, speaking insistently, whispering words of encouragement in a way I could not ignore.

Firstly, God used the story starter sentence to show me I had fallen into the trap of being all things to all people, believing I was indispensable, and almost losing myself as a writer in the process. But then God also spoke clearly through the photo we were given. You see, this beautiful woman bore an uncanny likeness to my grandmother—which left me gobsmacked, as the novel I had to put aside in all my busyness last year was one inspired by this same grandmother! As I wrote reams during each exercise—changing points of view, having our character move, respond to someone else and so on—God seemed to say, ‘See how I can restore the joy of writing to you—and tie it all in so well?’.

I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience recently in your writing journey that you might like to share with us. Wherever you are at, however, I want to encourage you all to remember your creativity and allow yourselves the joy of writing without any strict agenda and with the abandonment of childhood. Later, your words can be shaped in whatever way they need to be. But for now, remember your own creativity—and also that you belong to an amazingly creative God!


Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and two non-fiction works, Soul Friend and Becoming Me. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.