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.

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.

Step-by-Step: Storycrafting Process

My brother ran a ½ marathon last weekend.   For him, this is a regular occurrence – he has a wall full of finisher medals from marathons and iron man competitions around the country.  I love seeing him cross the finishing line – so much triumph in his face.

It’s exactly how I feel when I finish a novel. 

I handed him a water bottle as he met us in the finishers area.  “I’d love to run a marathon someday,” I said.

He leaned over, groaning a little, stretching out.  “You might not say that around mile 10,” he said.  “When everything starts to hurt and you think. . .why did I do this?”

Yeah, he’s right.  I amended my statement to reflect truth:  “I’d like to SAY I ran a marathon!”

We laughed, but that’s a little like the conversation I have with aspiring authors.

“I’m going to write a book.”

I love it when I hear people declare this!  I love standing at the edge of a brand new project, seeing the possibilities of the story, the twists and turns, the character growth, the amazing ending.  So much potential embodied in that statement.

And so much struggle.  Because writing a great story doesn’t just happen.  From idea to finished story, each chapter and step in the character journey is wrestled out of our brain (and hearts).   As Hemingway is reported to have said, “It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.”

The problem with writing a great novel is that we want to rush ahead to the good stuff, to the chapters and happy ending without stopping to take the time to work through each step.  But without completing the characterization and plotting, the themematic exploration and developing the storyworld and the tension, it’s akin to me jumping off my sofa, grabbing my old running shoes and leaping into the crowd.

I’m going to die, long before mile 10!

First Scene and Synopsis ImageAnd this is why, I believe, aspiring authors give up around chapter 7. (or before). Because enthusiasm can only fuel us so far down the journey.  Without proper preparation, we’ll fizzle out when we get to the mire of Act 2.

At MBT, we have a Peptalk every Thursday night to encourage and train our members on the craft of storycrafting.  This year, one Thursday a month, we’re building a book together, working through the process step by step.

Last week, we opened up our private Peptalk to the public to take a peek at what we do.  We quickly summed up the process, then talked about how/when to craft the Inciting Incident.  We outlined our goals for Chapter 1, then Rachel Hauck and I shared some tips for getting the story on the page.

And, because we had such an overwhelming response, I thought it might help if we shared the replay.

Get the video replay of the class – Build-A-Book:  Inciting Incident and Getting the Story on the Page.  (You’ll also get the PDF Slides that are rich in the content we talk about.)
 
Quickly, here’s a rundown of the process we cover:

  1. Start with your Story Seed (or idea that sparked the story)
  2. Decide on your Genre
  3. Discover your Setting
  4. Create your Characters
    1. Find the Dark Moment Story
    2. Use the Story Equation (a MBT Tool) to build the plot
    3. Put your elements together in a loose plot (using our grid for story structure)
  5. Ask your Storyquestion
  6. Create a short premise
  7. Create the Act 2 elements (we use a 4 Act plotting structure)
  8. Decide on your Inciting Incident
  9. Craft your home world/Chapter 1 elements
  10. Put together your plot & Tell Yourself the Story

WRITE!

You can run a marathon (aka, write a brilliant novel!)  You just need to plan for success.

Have a great writing week and Go! Write Something Brilliant!

smw sig without background

 

 

 

Susie May

 

The What and Why of Writing: Spiritual Journey

When my agent and I sat down to discuss my debut novel, Wish You Were Here, she gave me a lot of specific feedback to improve the manuscript. One thing she said surprised me:

The spiritual aspect of the novel is weak. You either need to strengthen it or remove it completely and we’ll pitch the book to the general market.

Wish You Were Here was an inspirational contemporary romance – and yet the spiritual thread was almost non-existent. Why? I was:

  1. a novice novelist.
  2. so nervous about writing a heavy-handed “we now interrupt your regularly scheduled reading” spiritual message I skimmed over the spiritual truths.

What: As the author, you decide what kind of spiritual journey your main character is on. A character’s spiritual journey involves what they believe about God when the story begins – and how their belief changes as the story progresses. In My Book Therapy, we recommend discovering a specific event – a Dark Moment in your character’s past – that shapes who your main character is and, consequently, affects their relationships with others and with God.

Why: Every author, whether they are writing for the general market or the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) market, weaves the truths they believe into their novels. As a Christian, I present a biblical worldview in my contemporary romance novels – and I try to do that in a natural way that flows with the story, instead of slowing it down.

Here are a few tips to help you develop your main character’s spiritual journey:

  1. Know the Lie your character believes. To do this, you need to know the Dark Moment of their past that shaped who they are and how they interact with others and with God.
  2. Write a scene early in your book that confirms this Lie in your character’s life. Your character thinks she’s the one who’s never been picked all her life? Prove it. Have her younger sister get engaged. (I did this in my novel Catch a Falling Star.)
  3. Bring Voices of Truth into your character’s life. They believe a Lie about themselves and/or God, so create someone who knows the Truth – and tells them. Maybe a neighbor or a co-worker.
  4. Throughout the rest of the book you must:
    1. Allow your character to realize the Lie they believe
    2. Give them a chance to try to overcome the Lie
    3. Face their Black Moment – where once again the Lie seems true
    4. Achieve their Happily Ever After where they embrace the Truth about who they really are and about who God is

 

Consider the manuscript you’re working on: Have you developed the spiritual journey for your hero and heroine?

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