Self Therapy: Tweaking an idea

Ideas come and go. I’ve learned over the years the initial spark is just that, a spark, not a roaring fire that will burn long enough to write an entire book.

Let me give an example. When I started writing what is Lost In NashVegas, I came up with a story of country girl who owned a fishing shack in central Florida. There was something about her wanting to buy or maintain an old house she loved. I can’t remember all of the details, but that should give you a clue. No details.

My agent said, “Nope!”

After brainstorming with her for a few minutes, we came up with the idea of having the Heroine be a songwriter. Okay, I can do that. I know nothing about it, but I can do it! I’m naive and eternally hopeful that way.

Scratching the surface of songwriting research, I put together another synopsis and three chapters.

My agent said, “Nope.”

My heroine wasn’t sympathetic. I wove in several major plot points but never really managed any of them. I had a stolen song, an unwed pregnancy, all kinds of stuff. Literally, a country song itself!

Also, I used a very cliche theme but I didn’t know it. Roller coasters. So, I opened with my character waiting to sing at the Bluebird Cafe (which I had all wrong) and feeling like she was on a roller coaster.

Disappointed I wasn’t hitting my agent’s hot button after two tries, I forwarded it to Susie Warren. She called. “The roller coaster is a cliche.”

“Really?”

“And you need something like . . . the three things she’s thinking of or wants or something.”

“Oh, good idea.” (I dedicated the “three things” in the book to Suz.)

That and more songwriting research got me a proposal my agent loved. And so did Ami and Thomas Nelson. The name was Country Princess.

During the ACFW 2005 Nashville conference, I toured the city, and learned enough to feel good about writing the book. But when Nelson asked for a more Nashville centric book, I had to go back to the city.

I was flawed in my approached to the book by avoiding the real heart and setting of the book. Nashville. I felt intimidated by Music City and my ability to get inside Music Row and find out how things worked.

When I went back, Nelson gave me a two key connections, and I’d managed one on my own, so I was able to really learn about songwriting.

What I learned from this process is the power and necessity of knowing the details of a profession, of a city, of a “how things work.”

It made the story more authentic, more powerful and frankly, easier to write.

One of the mistake I see of new writers is skimming across the surface. The dialog is surface, the setting, the very feel. I see moments where the story could be deeper and the dialog more true.

So, do that research. Whatever you need. Over time, it becomes second nature.

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Doctor’s Notes: Secret #3 to making our readers cry over our heroes!

I’ve been studying lately secrets to making my characters not only unique, but the kind of heroes that cause readers to cry over them. I’ve discovered three secrets that hold the keys to great characterization. Secret #1 is Compassion. Secret #2 is Strong Motivation.

And now, Secret #3: Sacrifice – We love a man who sacrifices. Whether he sacrifices his noble cause, his dreams, faces his fears, or even sacrifices the woman he loves for the greater good…sacrifice is the key to a hero that makes us cry.

Why do we love Jack Bauer – maybe some of you don’t but I do…and it’s because Jack continually sacrifices himself for others…for American, for Audrey…I for one was in tears at the end of last season. I just want Jack to be happy!

And do I even need to mention Sommersby?

Ask: What sacrifice can your hero make – (and it needs to be something we understand and believe) – that would make us love him?

These three secrets hold the key to turning your character from just a nice guy to character that lives on in a readers heart by making them cry!

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5 Secrets to a Best-Selling Novel

Frustrated? Confused? …Dreaming of the day when an editor calls and says, “I MUST publish your book?” Don’t laugh – it could happen! It does happen – all the time – and you could be next! What’s holding you back? Flat characters? A Saggy plot? Lackluster writing? Let the Book Therapists help. We believe that deep inside every troubled story lies a deep-seated problem. But it’s not beyond hope… Your book simply needs therapy. Stop by MY BOOK THERAPY and…get published!

Ask the Doc: Finding material for scenes

I have the big picture for my plot ~ but I am stuck on figuring out individual scenes. How do I come up with scenes that don’t drag?

Good question! I am loving the new show, Journeyman, a time travel show about a guy who gets snatched (by who, what cosmic force?) to be sent back in time to “put right what once went wrong” (to quote my favorite time-travel show Quantum Leap). I love time travel shows, and this one is stellar because of the layers of relationships and trouble his “bouncing” causes.

It also raises a lot of questions. Like, what if he gets killed back in time? Or what if he changes something that affects his life, or the life of someone he loves? What if he’s in the shower when he gets snatched back in time, or, like this week, what if he’s alone with his small child, and leaves the child in danger?

It’s questions that drive a reader, or viewer, through a story. And not only the big questions, but the small ones, also. I’m currently writing a story about a MN girl who moves to Siberia with her husband and two preschoolers. Yes, the big question is…will she survive? But there are smaller ones built into the big one – how does one GET to Siberia? What does one wear in Siberia? What does a family eat in Siberia? All questions I can use as fodder to create scenes (or episodes, perhaps) and drive the plot forward.

As you are creating your plot, ask: What questions are naturally generated by my characters profession, situation, or even location? The answers will help you find the right scenes to craft, while keeping kindled the energy of the plot!

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Frustrated? Confused? …Dreaming of the day when an editor calls and says, “I MUST publish your book?” Don’t laugh! it could happen! It does happen – all the time – and you could be next! What’s holding you back? Flat characters? A Saggy plot? Lackluster writing? Let the Book Therapists help. We believe that deep inside every troubled story lies a deep-seated problem. But it’s not beyond hope… Your book simply needs therapy. Stop by MY BOOK THERAPY and…get published!

Reading Up: Charles Martin

When my agent suggested reading Charles Martin, I bought “The Dead Don’t Dance” right away. I devoured this book. Personally, I think it’s his best. But I haven’t read the sequal, “Maggie” yet.

What Martin does well is paint on the page. He’s lyrical and magical in his phrasing. He takes the time, (sometimes too much) to put emotion on the page. In “Dance” I felt the emotion and love of the hero for his wife and the pain of their devastation.

In a season where fiction writing seems to be all about “tension” on every page, Martin creates a story of tension that evokes emotion on every page. In love stories or relationship stories, true emotion is just as much a drive to the story as tension or conflict.

We can get weary with too much tension such as anxiety, stress, strain. So, there needs to be a balance of negative and postive emotion while driving the story forward. Charles Martin is one to read and learn.

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Sign up now for our monthly, Book Therapy blog feed and get:

5 Secrets to a Best-Selling Novel

Frustrated? Confused? …Dreaming of the day when an editor calls and says, “I MUST publish your book?” Don’t laugh — it could happen! It does happen – all the time – and you could be next! What’s holding you back? Flat characters? A Saggy plot? Lackluster writing? Let the Book Therapists help. We believe that deep inside every troubled story lies a deep-seated problem. But it’s not beyond hope… Your book simply needs therapy. Stop by MY BOOK THERAPY and…get published!