Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Daughter of Helaman by Misty Moncur

Today's spotlight is Daughter of Helaman by Misty Moncur.

It's the story of a teenage girl, Keturah, who wants to join Helaman's 2000 Stripling Warriors.

Although she does encounter gender-based obstacles to her dream, most of them are of her own making. That's what makes this story so unique, it's not as much about a girl overcoming a restrictive society as it is a girl overcoming her own view of society.

There are many memorable characters and scenes, but it was Keturah's dedication and spirit that pulled me through the story. She stands at the crossroads of youth and adulthood where there are so many possibilities ahead. These possibilities are both thrilling and overwhelming. Her choices strengthen some paths and close off others. It is an exciting time of life.

The story also explores the multifaceted relationships between the characters. Sometimes Mother is a mother, other times a friend, other times a healer. Keturah's childhood friend, and fellow soldier, might become her betrothed. While her captain, and trainer, might just steal her heart. She doesn't have long to find her way before the Sons (and Daughter) of Helaman have to march against the Lamanites.

I asked Misty how writing this story was special to her.
The thing that makes my first novel special to me is the knowledge and faith I gained while writing it. The Lord blessed me . . . and opened my mind to details in the scriptures I had never noticed before. As I wrote Daughter of Helaman and continued on to the next books in the series, I learned to write by the promptings of the Spirit more than by the promptings of my outline. I learned so many things about myself during this process and my testimony increased so much that even if no one else ever gets much from it, I know it was totally worth writing.
She also shared some great advice for all writers.
As a writer, you . . . become attached to your writing. You put so much of yourself into it, and not just your thoughts and ideas. Completing a novel takes a lot of your time. It steals your sleep. It takes an emotional commitment--you have to basically develop a one-sided relationship with your characters (sometimes at the expense of your real relationships with real people!) And the whole time you're wondering if your voice is even worth being heard.

Though I am completely emotionally involved with my characters and the scriptural events I write about, I really tried not become too attached to the actual writing in Daughter of Helaman. Knowing I was going to have to share it with others by publishing it, I didn't want to get possessive of it, to think of it as only mine, or become too attached to something an editor might want to change. Still, I love it because it is mine and there is a piece of me on every page and in every character.
I agree. While writing a novel isn't the hardest job in the world, it's not easy at all. Then it takes courage to share your creation with the world.

So, let's jump right into the very beginning of the story. It starts with danger.
I crouched, still as stone, behind the broad leaves of an evergreen tree, watching the men below me. Usually when I came to the high cliff above the falls, I watched the stream meander through the valley down below or daydreamed while I gazed at the large temples in the distance.
Today I watched for my brother. Micah had left a month ago to recruit boys for the Ammonite army, and he was supposed to return to the village today. But though I watched for him all morning, I hadn’t seen him yet. Instead, I saw the small group of men traveling north toward Ammonihah. They stayed near the West Road but skulked in the cover of the trees.
Lamanite spies.
If you liked that you can read the first few pages, and then get your own copy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Quick Update: The Third 'R'

So, I done me some 'rithmatic and I've got me a lot of reading to do.

My goal is to read all the Whitney finalists by April 23rd, and the goal is in sight. I have 13 books left which calculates to reading 1 book every 2 days. *whew*

I'm going to keep posting spotlights. I have 3 that are close to being done, and several more in the works. I hope to get all 35 books spotlighted before the gala. If not, I'll post a few after the gala.

My biggest hurdle, other than time, is that there are still two books I haven't been able to get my hands on.

Wish me luck.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Whitney Finalist: With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

Today I'm going to spotlight With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo.

When I read the title, I immediately thought, "Romance," but I ended up being surprised. This is a story about growing up, wrapped in a murder mystery, wrapped in a historical. So, why the title?

First, this book is all about love and it's many faces. It's about love in a family, in a community, between friends, and yes there's a bit of innocent crush going on, too. This isn't an in-your-face type of theme. In fact, I didn't really catch on to it until I'd finished the entire book. It was cleverly woven into the events of the story.

Second, the main character's last name is Love.

This is a character-driven story, but Tess also worked in the time period so well it felt natural. I guess that would be my main point in this spotlight, the story just felt natural.

I would introduce the characters and setting, but Tess does it so well in the first few paragraphs:
It was the eighth of July, 1957, when Ollie's daddy slowed their rusted-out Chevy pickup near the junction of Highway 29 and Carter Road. They had come to set up for a three-day revival. Ollie sat in the truck bed with her sisters. She was thirteen and the oldest of Reverend Love's five daughters, followed by Martha, Gwen, Camille, and Ellen. Ellen was at Ollie's side, clutching Baby Doll Sue and singing "Mama's Little Baby." Ollie noticed her sister was getting the words twisted up and wrong--again.
It may have been only nine o'clock in the morning, but the summer sun was already high in the sky and sweating up the land. Fields of soft green barley laid themselves out across the earth in perfect rows--as if God had reached down and combed them just so. Ollie noticed a carved-up plank of wood that someone long ago had shoved into the dark Southern soil. It read: Binder, Arkansas.
Want to read some more? Go ahead, I'll wait.

Tess was so kind to tell me some of her personal feelings about the story.
I wanted to tell the story of characters who were in a broken situation, but who didn't consider themselves broken people. I love Jimmy and how, even though he has been terribly mistreated, he still has a deep river of conviction about who he is and what he can someday become. I love Ollie because she sees a boy who needs a friend and lets nothing stop her from being that person.

I grew up in a somewhat tough situation. It wasn't as bad as Jimmy's, but it was really difficult at times and, in spite of the chaos that surrounded me, I believed in myself. That was what got me through. So, when I started writing, I wanted to share that part of my personal experience on some level and I guess With a Name Like Love is that story. It celebrates family. It celebrates friendship. It shows us that we can overcome trials. It is really a piece of my heart.
I enjoyed this story, and couldn't believe this was a debut novel. There were so many layers to it, and it was put together well and felt natural. I suggest you get your own copy and see for yourself.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Pride & Popularity by Jenni James

Our next spotlight is a retelling of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, with many of the major characters replaced by high school students.

While I don't consider myself an Austen fan, I do enjoy her writing. I've read Pride & Prejudice and liked it. Surprisingly, I liked it more than my wife did, who is a true romance fan. (I'm not sure what that says about me, but, thankfully, this spotlight isn't about me.)

When I heard that Pride & Popularity by Jenni James was a faithful retelling, I had two reactions: "Hmmm, sounds interesting," and "Sigh, another one?"

This book was light and enjoyable. The scenes were snappy. The characters and situations were interesting. And Jenni manages to stay true to the original story line. Which, I think, makes the writing that much more impressive.

Since I'm familiar with the original, once I figured out which characters were Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, Bingley, Lydia, Wickham, Charlotte, and Collins then I knew how things were going to turn out. The story doesn't try to keep these roles a secret. In fact, several of the characters are named after their archetype. The real fun was in seeing how they were going to fill their roles. Jenni did a good job of making enough changes to keep things modern and interesting.

I asked Jenni what made this story special to her.
Pride & Popularity is special to me, because not only did it begin my fascinating craving for the writing world (Teaching me that writing a book was WAY more fun than reading one!), it also launched a career I never knew I would have four years ago. It has changed my life in more ways than one, and allowed me to contribute to the world. I've written several books (10) since beginning this one, and all are slotted for publication through different publishers over the next couple of years. I hope every single one gives a happy voice and cheerful hope to those teens who are struggling to find their way right now, or the ones who'd like to break from the norm and read something light and fun for a change.
And here's a bit of the story to get you hooked.
As I spun around in the crowded hallway by my locker, Madison caught me up in a bear hug. She had gone to stay with her cousins in Florida for two months of summer break, and she had come back tan and beautiful. I laughed as I removed a piece of her streaked blond hair that was caught on my backpack. 
"Wow! Maddi, you look gorgeous. You obviously had a great time in Florida." 
Madison sighed. "It was wonderful!" 
"So, tell me, did you find some amazingly hot lifeguard to sweep you off your feet?" 
She rolled her eyes. "I wish." then she glanced at me suspiciously. "So how about you? Did you find anyone this summer?" 
I laughed. "Yeah, right. I just hung out and did my theater gig. Besides, every guy I'm remotely interested in ends up too self-centered and a total jerk anyway, so--" 
"You know, Chloe, one of these days some guys is going to prove you wrong. And when he does you're going to fall for him hard. Personally, I can't wait."
If you're looking for a light, clean, teen romance, you should get your own copy.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Smokescreen by Traci Hunter Abramson

Action, drama, conspiracy, friendship, danger, Navy SEALS, art, love, and bullets--but not in that order. There you have it: Smokescreen by Traci Hunter Abramson.

Okay, okay. There's a lot more to it than that, but I don't know what else to say. The story held me from beginning to end. I didn't even have time to try to figure out the mystery because I was so worried about what was going to happen next.

The cool thing is that, this book wasn't all about action. The characters also develop solid and deep relationships while crazy men are on the loose hunting them.

Both sides of the story worked together to pull me along and raise the tension.

I asked Traci what she felt made this book special to her, and you can get a feel for how she can juggle the human-side of the story with the all-out action:
Smoke Screen gave me the opportunity to go back and develop characters I had grown very attached to in Lockdown. Quinn Lambert had become very three dimensional to me, and I discovered things about him in this book that I hadn't considered previously. I also had a great time getting to know Taylor and seeing their relationship develop.
For the suspense side of things, I enjoyed using some of my CIA background in the development of the story. Writing about CIA headquarters and some of the work I was able to do while I was employed there always feels like an opportunity to go back and visit a time in my life that I very much enjoyed. And of course, I loved seeing how the rest of my Saint Squad was doing since their last book.
This is the fifth book in the Saint Squad series, but if you haven't read any of the others that's fine too. This book stands on its own.

Here's a few paragraphs to pique your interest:
Five men. Five targets.
Quinn Lambert visualized the mission once more in his mind, a mission the whole world was watching on the evening news. Once again pirates had commandeered a vessel in the Indian Ocean, only this time the two Americans on board weren’t just a couple of innocent bystanders who happened to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, these two hostages had been specifically chosen because of the ransom they could command.
Hotel tycoon Monte Eastman and his wife, Georgia, had boarded a friend’s yacht in Sri Lanka for an extended vacation. Four days into their voyage, pirates had intercepted them and had taken control of the vessel. The ransom demands began within hours. If all went as planned, another hour would be all that was needed to end those demands permanently.
If you liked this, you should pick up your own copy.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thank You Dan Wells

This morning I was having problems with an electronic gadget, so I took it into the store to get fixed. It always takes a long time, so I decided to grab a book to read. I grabbed Dan Wells's latest. I've been looking forward to reading it for some time.

I got to the store, explained the situation, then I sat down to wait and read.

It was a good time, no one bothered me. I did notice one person behind the counter look in my direction a few times, but whatever. My device was fixed in, surprisingly, record time, and I was on my way.

It wasn't until I left that I realized I was reading a book that was clearly titled "I Don't Want to Kill You".

I'm not saying that the book had anything to do with my uninterrupted reading time or even the speedy repair, but you never know.

Has anyone else gotten better service or more attention using this little trick? If so, I'd like to hear about it. If not, it might work for you.

Whitney Finalist: Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams

As the title says, the book starts out as anything but ordinary, spends some time trying to get close to ordinary, then turns its back on ordinary altogether and sprints headlong into the abnormal.

I enjoyed Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams. The whole book kept me off balance, in a good way. As soon as I started to get my feet under me, things would shift again.

The story starts with fourteen-year-old Lacey who's mother has a mental illness. It's not taken lightly--it's not the "mom is crazy and we all have to walk on pins an needles" type of story. Instead, Lacey truly loves her mother, and their daily life incorporates all of Mom's quirks and symptoms into a "normal" routine for them.

That's the thing about mental illness, it affects everyone. My oldest child has Autism. It's not severe, but it still shades everything we do and affects all our plans. I remember quite a few years ago having a conversation with several of my neighbors. A family that just moved in asked what restaurants we liked. I shared one of our favorites--the food was decent and the playplace was arranged in such a way that it was easy to see the kids and also keep an eye on both exits. A good friend of mine put his hand on my shoulder and said, "John, I don't think I've ever considered that. Most kids don't try to escape." He didn't say it in a derogatory way, and it really made me think how much my "normal" was really not that normal.

Back to the story. We get to accompany Lacey on a day that turns out anything but "normal", even for her. And when I say day, I mean that the entire story takes place in a single day, but it doesn't feel rushed or forced. That's not easy to do. By the evening, the story dives into the darkness and deliciously creepy and downright scary. I love a good scary story, especially one that isn't gory or crude.

I asked Carol what made this book special to her:
Many years ago, I was walking through Utah Valley University when I met a woman who was 45-years-old and about to become a great-grandmother. A GREAT-GRANDMOTHER! She, her daughter and her granddaughter all had, or were going to have, babies at or younger than 15 years of age. So, I began a novel about a little girl who's very young mom is sort of losing it. But I couldn't make it work, no matter what I tried. Later, much later, I looked back at the book. I had two novels there, somehow, twined together like wrestling snakes. I pulled them apart and began the story of a matriarchal family and a little girl with Progeria. The book was published as Pretty Like Us. Then I went to work on the story of a child who's mom is suffering. That one became Miles from Ordinary. I think that's what makes the books important to me--that I was able to pry the two apart and they were published (after much revision).
I also like what makes Lacey succeed, what makes her strong. That she can finally get free of something she has had to carry for too long. I think there are lots of kids out there who are suffering in similar ways.
Before I give you a taste of the story, I need to share a warning: when my wife read this book it freaked her out a bit and she had a hard time getting to sleep. You've been warned.
There are mice. 
Lots of mice. Running all over my room. Letting out crying sounds that grate on my ears. They crawl on my feet. My legs. I feel them on my arms. Soft things with toenails like blunt needles. 
“Momma?” I say. She’s dressed in a long nightgown. Her fingernails are sharp like the tops of just-opened cans. “We gotta get rid of the mice. We gotta call an exterminator.” I hand her an old-fashioned phone. 
“You’re right, Lacey,” Momma says. But instead, she cuts at her face with her nails. Deep wounds open up, split wide, and blood, dark blood like ink, makes paths down her face to the floor. She cries. 
“Stop that,” I say. “Stop it now.” 
But Momma doesn’t listen. Just cuts and cries. 
* * * 
I AWOKE with a start, my heart thudding in my neck. My whole body felt like I’d been dunked in an ice bath. 
“Only a dream,” I said to myself, then glanced at the clock: 3:46 A.M. I started to close my eyes. The wind nudged at the house. I could smell the magnolia tree. 
Something moved in the corner.
Ooooo, that's creepy. I like it. If you like it too, you can read the rest of the chapter and get your own copy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth

I'm a firm believer that writers should read stories outside their favorite genres. For me, Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth is one of those books. It's a Regency-era, light romance with a bit of comedy.

I have to admit, it took me a while to get into this story, but once I did I found it had quite a bit of humor and some interesting character perspectives. As I expected, there isn't a lot of action in the book, although there were some fun scenes near the end. Instead the drama lies in who knows what and who has what power. There were many times I had to stop and remind myself that "Miss Delacourt didn't know such-and-such". And even going so far as to try to tease out the motives behind different character's actions (which made me feel like quite the socialite).

There are a lot of different characters each with their own motives, knowledge, and background. The descriptions of the period were good. I got to "see" the clothing, furnishings, transportation, and social activities. And a lot of time spent working through the social ladder of the day.

I asked Heidi her thoughts on the story:
I wrote the first Miss Delacourt book 15 years prior to this one for a class and never really expected it to be published. As a result, I wrote it to please myself and it turned out to be fairly autobiographical when it comes to the central conflict. So, it was a pleasure to revisit the story between these characters who had a lot in common with my husband and me to give them more air time. After 15 years, I had a different perspective on things and hopefully a more mature one. 
Also, it was a fun challenge to make a sequel work in a genre that "doesn't do sequels". Really fun. Oh--and I adore the cover 
 Here's a taste of the writing from the Prologue:
     Sir Anthony Crenshaw was the happiest of men.
     . . .
     Why, then, did he feel such a presentiment of doom when the butler entered and placed a thick letter, the address scratched out in a familiar chicken scrawl, into his outstretched hand? The vellum inside was sure to be replete with more of the same, and since the author rarely had anything to say that promised even a hint of good news, Sir Anthony was tempted to toss the whole of it, unopened, into the fire that burned merrily in the grate. The thought that the composer of this ominous epistle, though in and of himself a harbinger of doom, rarely committed his nay-saying to paper and ink stayed his hand. Reluctantly, he broke the wax indented with the seal of the seventh Duke of Marcross and took in the shockingly brief message.
     Tony,          Reed is dead. Come at once.                                           Marcross
     Reed dead! Sir Anthony thrust the letter with shaking hand into the fire as he should have in the first place. As tragic as it was for his cousin, a man in the prime of life, to have met his end so suddenly, it was tantamount to disaster for Sir Anthony. He would mourn Reed's death, but he would mourn the demise of his own freedom that much more. Just a moment ago he had been himself, Sir Anthony, a man free of any constraint except for that of impending wedded bliss. Now, he walked from the room with feet like lead, as Crenshaw, the recalcitrant heir to death, duty, and the Duke of Marcross.
If you want to read more you can purchase the book here

Monday, March 12, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Rearview Mirror by Stephanie Black

Best first chapter of the finalists I've read.

I don't know what it was about the first chapter of Rearview Mirror by Stephanie Black, but when I got to the end I had to find my wife and read it to her. I'm definitely going to pick this apart once all my reading is over and figure out its secrets.

If you've never read one of Stephanie's books you're missing out. She's very talented. She's won the Whitney Award for the last three years, so she's the one to beat. And this category is no cakewalk either.

I've met Stephanie several times over the years. She is always pleasant and incredibly nice. I don't know where all those dark, creepy, mysterious thoughts hang out in her psyche, but you'd never know it to meet her.

I asked Stephanie what made this book stand out for her.
"One thing I particularly like about this book is the way several story lines feed into the main plot, all adding layers of interest and tension."
It's true. The storylines wove together nicely. And as for interest and tension (and creepiness and surprise and twists and layers of mystery), this book has them.

I wish you could read the whole first chapter, and lucky for you, it's already online. Here are the first few paragraphs to whet your appetite, and a link to the whole thing. Enjoy.
    Sleet whipped Linda Taylor across the face. She bent her head and trudged along the muddy path that led deeper into the wooded acres of her property. Bare branches dotted with spring buds wouldn’t provide much shelter, but this was exactly what everyone wanted for her, wasn’t it? Linda, cold and wet and alone. Shoved aside.

    On the top of the bank that sloped down to the creek, she stopped and listened to the water rushing onward to oblivion, unheeded. Just like Linda. She tried, but did anyone care?

    The wind tore at her hood, pulling it off her head. Sleet and rain soaked her hair, but she didn’t bother to fix her hood. It would only blow off again. She’d freeze out here, but better frostbite than going home to be insulted and ignored.

    She glanced over her shoulder, but saw only the empty path, bumpy with roots, and the gray-brown branches of trees trembling in the wind. No one cared enough to follow her. When she was dead of hypothermia, they’d realize what they’d done to her. Linda wiped her face with numb fingers. She’d forgotten her gloves. Why hadn’t someone at least brought her some gloves? How could she possibly remember her gloves when she was so upset?
Go ahead, click here to read the whole chapter. Then click here to learn where to buy it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Bloodborne by Gregg Luke

I've been shoulder deep in Whitney Awards since the first of the year, and I've used that as an excuse not to blog. That was plain stupid because I've been reading some really awesome books, and I should be sharing.

So the blog drought is over, and I couldn't be more pleased with my first Whitney spotlight.

Bloodborne by Gregg Luke

My wife met Gregg several years ago at the Whitney Gala, and we've been friends ever since. He's one of the nicest guys you'll meet, which is surprising because, man, can he write a tense story with some of  the most despicable bad guys you've ever met.

He's made it to the finals several times before. And this book is good too. I had a hard time putting it down.

I asked Gregg what made this book special to him.
"I love taking actual facts and weaving them into an adventure. All of the medical details and geographic references in Bloodborne are accurate--except for the Armageddon virus. But I made that up using characteristics from existing viruses, so its existence is plausible"
Did I mention that Gregg is a pharmacist? He knows his medical details.
"One thing many people are surprised to find is real are all the facts about the island of Ni'ihau. It really is part of the Hawaiian archipelago, and it really does have the largest lakes in the island chain." 
I'd never heard of that island before. If you have, let me know in the comments. Sorry for interrupting again, Gregg, please continue.
"Over all, I think the thing I liked most about the story was the relationship between Erin Cross and Sean Flannery (aka John Ferguson), how they combined their respective talents to stop the bad guys from wiping out the entire population of Ni'ihau, and how Erin helped Sean uncover his mysterious past."
I want to thank Gregg for answering my questions and for his friendship. Before we go, I want to let the book speak for itself. Here are the first few lines:
Erin Cross's phone plinged and vibrated, indicating the receipt of a text message. The incoming number was a string of zeros; no name was attached. She pressed View.
You are about to die.
What to read more? I know you do? Go here to learn how to get your own copy.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Whitney Awards and Me

Several years back, Robison Wells asked me to serve on the committee for the Whitney Awards. I was both flattered and perplexed. I wasn't an author and wasn't a publishing insider. Maybe that's why he chose me. I don't know, and I didn't ask.

I wasn't a complete newb. I had started my own company and founded a non-profit, so I knew how that side of it worked. I also knew technology.

But I was a newb in so many ways. By-laws--I could handle. Analyzing and improving processes--good there. But one of my responsibilities was to judge a category.

Over the course of a year, anyone can nominate novels for consideration. At the end of the year, a select group of judges reads nominees and votes to narrow each category to the five best novels.

It was hard. I agonized over each book. Thinking of their strengths and weaknesses. Thinking of the hundreds of hours each author spent on the work. I would narrow things down and re-read scenes and sections until I finally came to a decision.

The great thing about the Whitney Awards, is that it's not just about a select group of judges. Once each category is narrowed down to five finalists, they are sent out to a much larger group, called the Academy, made up of booksellers, publishers, authors, and other publishing professionals. This large group casts their votes, which determine the winners.

To be a part of this process sparked something for me, but it wasn't until I went to my first gala that I really saw what the Awards were about. I met many authors and editors. I saw people moved to tears of happiness and sadness. The conflicting emotions of people cheering on their friends who won, while hiding their own ache of losing (Consolation Chocolate Cake anyone?). I saw, not a group of competitors, but comrades in arms.

I know I'm waxing a bit poetic, but it really struck me how cool everyone was about it. And how many friends I made.

Then the next year came. I saw authors roll up their sleeves to do better. Maybe this year was their year to win. I heard people talking about the Awards with anticipation.

It's awesome to be a part of something that can inspire my friends, but the awards do more than that. They help readers find great books. They bring writers together. They add some excitement to our little corner of publishing.

I'm grateful for Rob. I still don't know what he was thinking, but whatever it was, it worked. I've been involved with the Awards ever since. I'm not on the committee anymore, but I try to help in whatever ways I can.

I encourage everyone to go read one of the past winners or finalists. They are great stories, told by great people.

And to all my friends competing this year, Good Luck.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Becoming a Writer

Most software projects have testers. These are the people who get paid to break my code and report problems for me to fix. Without them, my work is a lot harder.

Over the years, I've worked with many people who made the transition from tester to programmer. It seems like a good fit: both of us work with software, we speak the same "language", and we're both detail oriented and have technical expertise.

But it isn't an easy transition. There's one hurdle that I see many people struggle with. You see, testers and programmers have a different view of software.

A tester knows what the program is supposed to do, and they know lots of ways to break it. They know what they are looking for, then perform tests to verify there's nothing wrong.

Programming is different. No longer are there right and wrong answers. There are often many right answers--many different ways to make the software work. Answers that all appear correct to the user, but they each come with a different set of limitations. In fact, there are even wrong answers that will still appear to work correctly for now, but will come back to bite you later.

It's no longer a black-and-white world. It's not whether something passes or fails. It's about more than that.

What's interesting is that I see a similar transition when my friends who are readers become writers. As a reader, we get into the story, the characters, the setting, the writing. We can spot when an author makes mistakes like plot holes or confusing story lines or bad grammar. A well-written story feels like it is inevitable. "Of course he'd make that decision," we say to ourselves even though the decision surprised us.

But as a writer, there isn't anything inevitable about a story even though many beginning writers think so. I used to think so, too. You feel like the story is driving you. Once you are done, you bristle when someone gives you negative feedback. You struggle with how to tweak your story without ruining it.

Well, let me tell you. There are no right answers anymore. There are many ways to tell your story once you get to the heart of it. You an cut out whole characters, change locations, have people make different choices, introduce any conflict you want at any time or take it out again. And you can still have your story.

Once I realized this, I wasn't just telling a story, I was crafting a story. I could experiment. If the changes didn't work, I'd put it back the way it was. I started looking at other stories, not just for entertainment, but so I could see how the masters crafted their scenes, flowed their dialog, and built their settings.

It's a different way to look at story, but for a writer it's much more useful.

Here's an experiment for you. In your current story, go back to a previous scene and change something major. Have a character get hurt so they can't have that conversation or can't accomplish their goal right then. Or put a different character into the scene and watch what happens. For me, the story re-flows around the change all the way to the end. I can then decide which path to take.

Have fun. Experiment. And keep writing.

* I went searching for a picture that would show that "there's more than one path you can take." I think Mike Fleming captured it with this one. I like it. If you like it too, you can check out his work on Flickr.
Creative Commons LicenseUnless otherwise noted, all posts on the John Waverly blog by John Waverly are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
* Background image based on Night Sky theme by Ray Creations