Category Archives: Writing

Research Makes a Good Story Great

In the South, when we invite you to a barbecue, the only meat being served will be slow smoked pork, so if you’re expecting hot dogs or hamburgers, you’d better head to a cook-out. What does this have to do with writing fiction? Everything because nothing is more distracting in a story than when an author gets the facts wrong.

When I started writing fiction, I never dreamed I would spend so much time researching, but accuracy is important. I just finished reading a book that is supposed to be set in coastal Georgia less than two hours from where I was born and raised. I’m already a little irritated that the characters have yet to utter a “y’all”, but then they say they are looking forward to the barbeque, and I’m expecting pulled pork sandwiches or ribs. But no, they are eating hot dogs and hamburgers. It is so wrong. It would be fine if they were somewhere else in the country, but barbecue is an important part of Southern culture. You just can’t get something like that wrong. And now that I think about it, those characters haven’t once eaten grits or pecan pie.

Lately, I have spent hours learning about helicopter pilots. So much so, my daughter asked me if I was going to become a helicopter pilot. Did you know a helicopter can cost over $300,000.00? I didn’t, but it changed the plot of my next book. This girl wasn’t going to be able to afford to buy her own helicopter, so I needed to figure out how I was going to make the story work. When I wrote my flash fiction piece, Waterford Crystal Daydream, I wrote lists of Irish slang and watched videos of glass blowing, taking copious notes. I probably spent more time researching than I did writing the seven-hundred-word story, but I loved it. (And now for a shameless plug, if you want to read Waterford Crystal Daydream, go to www.splickety.com and register for a free subscription. Spark will arrive in your inbox next month with my story. Yes, I said free.)

Of course, all this research is good news for me because I love it. I did spend several years as a research attorney. Although sometimes, I probably go a little overboard, going down rabbit holes or getting bogged down with an insignificant detail. Like the day I spent two hours trying to figure out what kind of flowers are at the beginning of My Fair Lady. I had my answer in five minutes after I put the video on Facebook.

Research for fiction writing isn’t just about an online search. It is about experiencing all aspects of your characters’ world, and it can be a lot of fun. For example, when my heroine wanted to learn to stand-up paddleboard, I bought a paddle board and learned how. That being said, I have been on a helicopter, and it resulted in terrible motion sickness, so I won’t be experiencing that again, but won’t it be funny when my big, strong firefighter finds himself trying to keep down his breakfast while impressing the female pilot. Oh, I can’t wait to write that scene.

Research is also great for brainstorming, not to mention, it’s a legitimate way to procrastinate. It can supply material for new scenes or even new stories. You might find an interesting blog post to share on social media. As writers, we spend a lot of time in front of a computer, but research takes us out into the world, engaging with God’s creation in all its forms, so we can share it with our readers.

What factual errors irate you the most when you’re reading fiction? What are some fun things you have gotten to do in the name of research?

Why We Need Critique Groups

A published novel is always the work of a team. One of my favorite parts of books is the acknowledgment’s page. Go ahead and call me a book nerd, but I love to see all the people that have contributed to a finished manuscript. Almost always the name of a critique group will be included with a list of names. At my first writers’ conference, I set out on a mission to find my group and prayed God the right people in my path.

 

My First Critique Group at the 2016 ACFW Conference. Photo credits Kailee Diaz. Also pictured Amanda Everett and Lauren Luckhart.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a year since I met four aspiring authors at the AmericanChristian Fiction Writers Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. We live in four different states and are of all ages and stages of life. I fill the role of the old lady with three kids.  These talented women have provided much-needed critique, prayer, encouragement, and often just the right phrase or word. I credit one of them with writing the best opening line for my book blurb and pitch.

 

But one critique group wasn’t enough for me, I now have two more groups of writers to help me on my quest. I need a lot of guidance. One group is mostly for encouragement and has a cute name, but when one of us needs a quick edit, we can hop on our private Facebook group and someone is usually available. Plus, it’s nice to have a safe place to be honest, and let’s face it, vent about the ups and downs of the publishing industry, but only so we can pray for each other of course.

After attending my second writers’ conference, I learned about the Word Weavers critique group that met near my home. Last weekend, I joined them for the first time at the Panera Bread in Fleming Island. At this gathering, one person reads aloud what you have brought and the rest follow along, jotting notes and making suggestions on their own copy. Yikes!!! (Yes, that did deserve three exclamation points.) Nothing like having people you’ve only met once or twice discuss your writing. I certainly didn’t need the cup of Hazelnut coffee, the fear of their thoughts in this open forum caused adrenaline to pump through my veins like I was sprinting for my life. By the way, I forgot to mention as the writer, you are not supposed to respond to the comments. Good news, they were very kind and liked my piece, while they also made valuable suggestions.

This, my friends, is not always how my critiques go, and I’m usually very glad to be by myself and several states away from the person commenting on my work. I may, just may, call her a name or shout my disbelief at her opinion. But most of the time, after I take a few minutes or hours or sometimes days to process the critique, and even when I disagree with a comment, it points to something I need to alter. This is how we learn and grow, and sometimes it is a little painful but well worth the results.

In writing, as in life, the best friends are the ones that will tell you the truth even when it hurts, and trust me nothing hurts more than seeing a red line drawn through one of your brilliant sentences. But it also feels amazing when one of your critique partners starts her comments with “this is some of your best writing,” or “I love your voice.” The best part of my groups is that they care enough to point out the problems, but also pour on the praise when it’s warranted. We all cheer when one of us wins an award, signs with an agent, or publishes a book.

So, since, I don’t get to include an acknowledgment’s page with my flash fiction stories in Spark, and I’m waiting to hear back from an editor for my book, I want to say thank you to the fantastic members of my critique groups. Y’all are the best! Thank you: Kailee, Lauren L., Amanda, Lindsey, Kimberly, Hope, Kelsey, Anna Grace, Lauren C., Jenifer, Victoria, Kelly, and Shari.

How do you take constructive criticism? Do you have a group of friends or a person that will tell you the truth no matter what?

Christian Fiction?

Summer reading for our family.

Christian Fiction? If you’re like I was, the first time I heard this term I thought: I don’t want to read about people during Biblical times doing good all the time. What fun would that be? But I was so wrong.

Fiction written for the Christian market is so much more than you have ever imagined. Yes, there are authors who write during Biblical times, and from what I hear, those books are amazing. If you are interested in that, Francine Rivers has a highly-acclaimed series. But there are books written in every genre you can imagine: Suspense, Contemporary Women’s, Speculative, Historical, Young Adult, Middle grades, Historic Romance, and my current genre Contemporary Romance. A librarian gave me my first Christian Fiction book, and I read the first 100 pages without stopping, staying up well past midnight. What I’m saying is these books are page turners.

So why does it matter if you’re reading books written with a Biblical worldview? Well, if you’re not a Christian it doesn’t matter, but for those of you who are following Jesus, I believe all our entertainment choices influence our walk with Christ. I’m not suggesting everything you read, watch, or listen to needs to have a Gospel message, but it is important to avoid things that go against the Bible’s teachings and glorify sin. What that means to you is a personal choice but know even if you take the book jacket off to disguise what you’re reading to the world, God still knows. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

But what about the entertainment value . . . the quality of the writing? I will tell you from my experience, it is excellent. And there are so many choices, you will never run out. You may even recognize some of the authors. The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) has a search engine for finding just the right book for you. Check it out. https://www.fictionfinder.com/   Also, from time to time, my daughter, my sons (when I can convince them), my husband, and I will be posting reviews of books we have enjoyed on this site. We are of diverse ages and preferences, so that should also be a jumping off point.

But for now, check out the authors and books I have listed below. Please leave a comment with your favorite books or authors. If you want a recommendation, I will do my best.

One last thing for those of you with tweens and teens, implore you to check their books, even the ones assigned for school. For reasons I can’t begin to imagine, schools aren’t assigning the classics as much anymore, and the books chosen may have themes that you don’t want your children exposed to without your knowledge. I’m not suggesting banning books but take the time to be aware of what your kids are reading. I’m just as guilty as the next mom of being “too busy” to vet every book my kids read, so I love having Christian authors to turn to. Obviously, I would be sure those are appropriate also. It is impossible to write about real adults without exploring real adult problems and temptations. If you have questions, please ask.

Okay, I’m off my soap box. Here’s the list:

My List: (Mostly Contemporary or Historic Romance or Straight Contemporary) These are in no particular order. Books I recently read will be at the beginning because I am now over 40 and the memory is going. The nice thing about these books is your teen can read most of them too.

  • The One True Love of Alice-Ann; Things Left Unspoken – Eva Marie Everson
  • Still Waters – Lindsey Brackett (coming in September, set on Edisto Island, SC)
  • The Thorn Bearer – Pepper Basham
  • The Lost Heiress – Roseanna White
  • The Memory of You – Catherine West
  • Her Lakeside Family – Lenora Worth
  • Then Came You – Becky Wade
  • The Christmas Family – Linda Goodnight
  • Safe in a Stranger’s Heart – Angel Moore
  • Lighthouse – Eugenia Price
  • When Crickets Cry; The Mountain Between Us; Unwritten – Charles Martin (Carlton has read most of Mr. Martin’s books and recommends them all.)
  • Just Between You and Me – Jenny B. Jones
  • The Wedding Shop – Rachel Hauck
  • Redeeming Love; Her Daughter’s Dream; Her Mother’s Hope; The Scarlet Thread – Francine Rivers (these are historic but not the Biblical times books I mentioned above)

Young Adult/ Libby’s List (Either Libby or I have read these)

  • There You’ll Find Me; So Not Happening; In Between – Jenny B. Jones
  • Czechmate; Bolivia Knight – Felicia Bridges
  • Sunset Beach; Christy Miller Series – Robin Jones Gunn
  • The Healer’s Apprentice; The Merchant’s Daughter; Fairest of Them All – Melanie Dickerson

Historic (Carlton read the first two and recommends them)

  • The Shiloh Trilogy – Karl A. Bacon

Middle/Elementary Grades (These are books the boys have read and really enjoyed)

  • The Kingdom Series – Chuck Black
  • The Prince Warrior Series – Priscilla Shirer
  • How to Almost Ruin Your Summer – Taryn Souders
  • Dead Possums are Fair Game – Taryn Souders

 

 

© Leslie DeVooght 2017