Three powerful Show-Don’t Tell-themes to put in your life-changing novel this season

show and tell Christmas themes

Anyone catch the snowball fight in Buffalo yesterday?

While I watched the Vikes struggle it out against the Panthers, the Bills and Colts had an epic pigskin fight in the snow:

Hubs said, “We could use some of that snow. It doesn’t even look like Christmas around here.”

Of course, we have a smidgen of snow, but admittedly, we are used to drifts and snow castles this time of year.

(this is NOT this year…this is from years past…)

So sure, you might tell us it’s Christmas time, but we’d like a little SHOW, er SNOW please.

Show me, don’t tell me!

The fact is, although the heart can be told something, sometimes it needs to see it to believe it.

I finished writing a novel last week—the epic finale to my Montana Rescue series. I was a little worried about it because I didn’t have my typical “truth teller” in the story, a wise old guy who drops in nuggets of wisdom. I had to rely on the transformation of my characters to reveal the truths of the story. But it occurred to me as I wrote that sometimes that’s the best kind of storythe kind that makes the reader take a second look, that makes them dig deep into the truths and appropriate them through the experience of the characters.

Like, oh, say, the Greatest Story Ever Told…the Christmas Story.

The ultimate Show-Don’t Tell, I Love You, and I’ll Prove It message from God. Jesus is the action and the words, the show, as well as the tell from God.

Our pastor said something this Sunday that is ringing with me: “Truth from heaven should affect our daily life.” It made me think about my life. Do I SHOW the experiences of truth in my life? Or do I just talk about it? And how does it affect my writing life?

If you want a powerful story, here are three themes we can take from the Ultimate Story to weave into our own.

  1. JUSTICE. The world is not fair. It’s a horrible lesson we learn as children. And it gets worse as we get older—we see the injustice in the world and it calls to us to fix it. But it never seems like we can do enough. Thankfully, this will end. God will enact justice upon our evil world. (Revelation 19:11-16). This is not the end. But what does that have to do with story? As inspirational writers, we need to remind the world of hope—that justice will prevail. Give your reader a sense of justice in your story, that taste of things to come.
  2. SACRIFICE. Thankfully, GOD is also not fair. Because if he were, we’d surely be doomed. This is what Christmas is about—God saving us when we didn’t deserve it. But it came at great sacrifice. There can be no redemption, no salvation without death. Even in your stories—your character must “die” to himself, to his will, to his pride in order to be transformed. Make your character sacrifice something of himself to show this death.
  3. REDEMPTION. BUT THERE IS HOPE. And that is the point of a great story. Do not leave your readers, or your characters despairing. Because we do not live in a tragedy when we have Christ. (Romans 10:13 – for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”). We show hope through the redemption of our characters. They should be different at the end than they were in the beginning. Think differently, act differently. Have a different life. Show us living in their happy ending. (we often say, have them DO something at the end they couldn’t at the beginning!)

As writers who want to make an impact on our world, we need to remember: We are the testimony. We are the purveyors of light. We are the vessels that reveal truth. Our stories should overflow with hope.

This season, give your readers a taste of what awaits us. (Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.)

Your story matters. Write something brilliant!

Susie May

P.S. One of our epic morning chats during the Deep Thinker’s Retreat 2017 will be about how to put reader-engaging themes into your story! If you want to write stories that impact the world, we’d love to help you. (in February, in Florida!) Join us for the 2018 Deep Thinker’s Retreat Feb 23-27.

3 Keys to a Happy Ending

Do you see that rainbow and pot of gold 10 days away?  That is the end of NaNoWriMo, the grand finale of the project that might right now make you feel a little like this.

 

And standing in the way of you and your finale is a giant turkey.

(I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get in his way. Besides, the Minnesota Vikings are playing the Detroit Lions, so that is a mandatory time out/no writing day).

So, let’s optimize this weekend, take a couple days off to hang out with our people…and consider our Grand Finale.

You know those movies where you finish a book and you think…did I like this?  How do I feel?  Often it’s because the author hasn’t give you the  3 Keys of a Happy Ending.

A great happy ending has three parts:

  1. Your hero/heroine is freed from the lie they believe, allowing them to become a New Person (and do that think at the end they couldn’t at the beginning)
  2. Your hero/heroine’s WOUND is healed. The wound is the emotional heartache from the Dark Moment Story. That think that he/she had always wanted but never gotten.
  3. Your hero/heroine receive a piece of the Greatest Dream. Something sweet and unexpected that is also pulled from the Dark Moment story.

 

The LIE is defeated by TRUTH.

This is the capstone of your ending. It’s what ignites the epiphany and change in your charcter. It’s WHY your hero is on his journey.  If you do nothing else, give your character TRUTH.

Now, let’s add all the Feels:

Heal the Wound:

Remember when we were building characters and we asked our character what their darkest moment in their past was? We pulled out of that the lie and the greatest fear and used those to create the inner journey and the black moment event.

But from this moment, you can also find The Wound. 

From the dark places of our past, those things that have hurt us, we’ve learned a lie…but we’ve also received a deep wound.  Something that just…hurts.  It could be rejection, or betrayal, or even grief.  Often, it has to do with a broken relationship.  We carry these wounds around with us, keeping us away from people who might pour salt into the wound, or reopen it.  Hence why people self-sabotage relationships, or veer away from anything substantial – their wounds simply won’t allow them to draw close for the fear of reopening.

Hello, it’s thanksgiving. Time to spend time with FAMILY.  We love them…but oh, they can hurt us, right?  Imagine your hero going to hang out with his family over thanksgiving. What are the wounds that might inadvertently be opened?

When you give your hero his HEA…heal one of those wounds by giving him what he wants.

And then…delight us with a piece of the Greatest Dream:

The Greatest Dream isn’t just about healing the wound or winning the day, or conquering their fear. It’s something deeper, something sometimes your character won’t even know or understand.

Start by asking: What is your characters’ happiest moment in their past?

We want to dig around in their past to find that one moment when everything worked, everything was right.  And, we want to extrapolate from that some element that we can then use in the ending.

Don’t let them off the hook by saying, “when I graduated from college,” or “when I got married,” – make them be specific.  You want to pinpoint an exact event, with details. An exact event allows you to take a good look at it, and frankly, if you want, recreate it.  Most of all, it allows you to find the nuances that pull out exactly why this was the happiest moment

 

So…while you’re eating turkey, or watching the Vikings crush the Lions, think:  How can I give my hero truth, heal his wounds and give him a piece of his greatest dream?

Then…okay, you can have dessert.

Have a fabulous thanksgiving!

 

P.S.  Another reward you can give yourself for finishing that epic novel is to bring it to the annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat and let us help you hone it into publication!  We specialize in individual help, getting to the root and power and magic of YOUR story. In short…we help you find the happy ending for your brilliant book.  Join us in FLORIDA in February—check it out here!

 

How the 4 Reasons People Read Help You Change The World

It was a rough weekend, wasn’t it?

Hard to process the ongoing tragedy, the idea of someone again so coldly, painfully hurting, killing so many innocent people.

It just takes the wind out of us, collectively, and privately.

I was watching the news last night, trying to process and pray for all the victims in the Texas church shooting tragedy when I got a text telling me a friend I’d known since high school had passed away. She was my age and left behind a son and a husband.

My heart is breaking, for our nation. For my friend’s family.

All I know is that this is not the end of the story.

I’m not going to debate theology on the question of where was God when life turned tragic. That’s a bigger conversation. Let’s talk about writing and story and why it matters when things like this happen.

People typically read novels for three reasons: Entertainment, Escape and Enlightenment. Historically, stories (books, movies, plays) rise when life gets hard. In the Soviet Union, reading and movie going was a huge pastime during the cold war era. Why? Because stories offer a glimpse at hope, meaning, even escape in the tragedy. In stories (well, most of them), although there is loss, there is also triumph.

Redemption.

Hope.

A glimpse at a happy ending.

I strive to put all those “E’s” into my stories. Still, the recent events have reminded me that there is another “E” that people need as they read: Enrichment. I love this word. (it’s so overworked, it’s lost its meaning) Synonyms include: preparation, regeneration, nurturing, elevation.

Enrichment is diving into the heart and soul of the reader and giving them something that matters. Truth. Hope.

I was in church yesterday, chatting with a woman who was frustrated with her book club because they often read books on the national best-seller lists, but that left her feeling empty, angry and discouraged. They even read 50 Shades of Gray, saying, this was part of being a “mature” reader.

Reminded me of junior high school when someone would say, “Don’t be a pansy. A little weed won’t hurt you.” Maybe not. But maybe yes. I have one body, one brain and little time. Why would I put something in my body designed to destroy it?

Being a mature reader doesn’t mean I have to put darkness in my head.

I can handle gritty. I can handle pain. I just want to be reminded of hope in the end.

I want to be elevated. Nurtured. Maybe even a little regenerated. Enriched.

Sure, this isn’t every reader. But in a world filled with hurt and darkness and tragedy, maybe we should try to do more than entertain (nothing wrong with that, by the way—I loved Thor!) and enlighten, and even help them escape. Let’s leave them with truth, hope and a reminder that there is a different ending to the story than the world wants to tell us.

Your story matters. The world needs it.

Keep writing.

 

Susie May

P.S. Are you the kind of person who wants to dig deep into your story, find the truths and metaphors and character journeys that will make your story matter to readers? That will entertain, enlighten, help them escape and enrich their lives. Then you might want to join us for our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat this February in Florida. (February 23-27, 2018) Learn, brainstorm, write, get feedback…create a story that matters.

The Starting Point for your Character’s Inner Journey

I am up north at the writing cabin this week, getting ready for next week’s Deep Woods Writing Camp.

It’s gorgeous here, quiet and last night I was able to catch up on one of my television indulgences, Blue Bloods. In the season premier, wise police commish Frank Reagan sat at the dinner table and talked about the loss of one of the main characters in a freak accident (I’m not telling you who). He said, essentially, that we sit for a while at the table, sharing the journey with our fellow hungerers, and it’s during this ‘meal’ we make an impact. When we leave, our empty chair is noticed, and not easily filled.

We sit among the hungry.

The book business can be overwhelming. I do a lot of “sample downloading” before a trip, then read through the samples to find the books I’m going to relax with on the plane, or on a boat, waiting to dive, or even early in the morning, on the beach. I’m picky with my time, my content…I want a book that will entertain, help me escape and leave me feeling nourished. The books that linger with me are those that leave me strangely healed, at least for the moment.

Healed. It’s not like I walk around with gaping wounds, but like everyone, I have little lies, painful emotional nicks and scratches and when I read a book filled with truth, whether it’s a romance, or general fiction, or suspense, I feel as if I’ve been fed. Someone at the table has offered me a morsel of nourishment on the journey.

Why are we here? More importantly, why do we write?

We sit among the hungry.

I attended a women’s retreat last weekend, and the speaker pointed out Matthew 9:36. When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Harassed. Helpless.

Hungry.

Hungry for grace. Hungry for forgiveness. Hungry for Hope. Hungry for love.

What have you hungered for? What has nourished you?

Grace? Hope? Redemption?

If you’ve hungered for grace—write a story about grace. If you ached for second chances—write a story of redemption. If you are hungry for hope…you get the picture.

Because if you hunger for it, so do others.

(and by the way, giving your character a hunger is the starting point for understanding his/her inner journey!)

Your job in this world, and especially as a novelist, is to pass the potatoes–to nourish those at your table with the nourishment you’ve been given.

Your seat at the table matters. Your story matters.

Go, write something brilliant.

Susie May

P.S. We are all about going deep in a novel, to understanding not just the plot and characters, but the life-changing themes a novelist layers into their work. If you want to learn how to write books that change lives, then you’re a good fit for our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat in Florida, Feb 23-27. We just opened registration. Payment plans available. Click HERE for more details.