Saturday, February 20, 2010

Baby Moose in Sprinkler

If you're having a tough day or just need a smile, then you've got to see this adorable video of baby moose playing in a sprinkler!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

When Your Characters Don't Behave

Last week almost every day of my writing felt like pulling teeth. I'd sit down at my laptop, bring up my chapter and . . . stare at the screen. Then when I'd start to type, something didn't seem right. I knew I needed to push through no matter what I felt, but still. It's one thing to be at my muse's mercy, it's another to sense something isn't flowing.

I should've learned this by now. What I finally realized was I was forcing situations on my characters. I had one direction I wanted the plot to follow, but my poor character was having none of it.

I've attended several years of the National Book Festival down in D.C. I've heard the likes of Sue Grafton, Nevada Barr, Mary Higgins Clark, John Sandford, and Clive Cussler talke about their characters as if they're real. As if they run the show. They'd say things like, "I got to Chapter 3 and my character wouldn't do what I wanted." I remember looking at these authors with skepticism. They sounded insane. Um, excuse me, but aren't you the author of these fictional characters?

Yeah, well, that was before I had characters of my own to wrangle. Now I know what they mean. It's all about the human condition, I suppose. If you have a character with this personality put into this situation, then 9 times out of 10 they're going to respond thus. And I was trying to force a round peg into a square hole.

So I gave up and let my character do what she wanted.

Lo and behold, I got unstuck! The words flowed again. Does this mean my characters know more about the story than I do? Hmm. Scary thought.

And just in case you're wondering, this character is the lead in my third novel (working title Flesh and Blood). Her name's Brynn Taylor, and she's definitely got some issues. I look forward to watching her figure her way out of them. :)

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Comparison Trap

The first time it happened was after reading a book that was everything I wanted my novels to be. The plot moved me, the characters were real, and the message was powerful. You’d think I would’ve been inspired to head to my keyboard, but instead I felt like throwing in the towel. Every time I sat down to write my own fiction I would think about this other author. There was no way I could write like her. My characters were cardboard. My plots lame. What was the point? How could I possibly write that well?

I didn’t realize I’d fallen into the comparison trap. All I knew was that I was miserable and ready to quit. In desperation I asked for advice from novelist James Scott Bell. He’s been my writing mentor for almost ten years, and as usual, his words hit home. He assured me I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. All serious writers and artists have been in my shoes, he said. What I needed to understand was that no two writers are the same. I had my story that no one could ever write like me.

Doubts come to all of us. Even best-selling, award-winning authors like Francine Rivers or Frank Peretti. It helped me to realize that others who are much further along on this journey still struggle at times. It showed me feelings of inadequacy are just that—feelings. They often have no bearing whatsoever on the real quality of what I write. We’ll always need to improve in our craft, but there are times when we must forget about what we lack and ignore the negative thoughts swirling in our heads.

As Jim Bell said, we all have a story to tell from our own unique perspective. Several years ago a bunch of CBA novelists got together to prove it. They decided to each write short pieces of fiction based on the same strict guidelines. All the stories had to include the same first and last lines. They had to include a case of mistaken identity, pursuit at a noted landmark, and an unusual form of transportation. Do you think these stories ended up sounding similar? Hardly. The authors wrote an amazing variety of tales (one even wrote in the point of view of a dog). Why were none of them the same? Because all the authors came to the challenge with their own toolbox of life experiences, and they wrote from their one-of-a-kind view of the world. (Those stories were published in book form, by the way. Check out What the Wind Picked Up.)

Jim shared something else with me. He compared writing to what God does with spiritual gifts. Not everyone has the same gift, but when we develop what God has given us, it contributes to the whole tapestry of the body of Christ in the world. He told me I needed to be the best C.J. I could be. And if I gave my full attention to my own writing, not comparing myself to anyone but just digging deeper into my story, the doubts would go away.

What would happen if we stopped looking to others for validation? My writing is never going to be like Karen Kingsbury’s. But on the other hand, Karen’s writing is never going to be like mine. Or yours. That’s the way God designed it. We’re all different, to reach different people. Someone who will snatch up the latest Ted Dekker might never crack open a Janette Oke.

In his latest writing how-to book The Art of War for Writers Jim says: “One of the biggest obstacles of all comes from comparison with other writers and worrying about your status in the publishing world. This is the way to ultimate madness. The writing life is crazy enough without you making it worse on yourself.”

Escaping the comparison trap is not only vital to your mental health as a writer, it’s also biblical. “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else . . .” Galatians 6:4. So dive into your writing without distraction. There are readers out there God is preparing right now to read the stories only you can write.

[Originally posted on Rachelle Gardner's CBA Ramblings blog]