Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to Get Sarted

In my last posting, I mentioned how I began writing my first novel by jumping into the project with wild enthusiasm. Don’t do it. First do some research and arm yourself with the proper tools. It will save you a lot of time and frustration.

You can start before your nest is empty by teaching your students the basics of story writing: structure, plot development, character development, dialogue, point of view. There are myriads of books that concentrate on specific aspects of story telling. To get started, you only need a few.

First on the list are a couple dictionaries. I was amazed to find several words that appear in my mom’s dictionary are missing in newer editions. Likewise, new words like google and tweet don’t appear in the older editions. Get both to broaden your vocabulary. I also have Spanish and German dictionaries for foreign words I may wish to sprinkle into my manuscripts, when appropriate.

A thesaurus is a must. I use Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. It assists with word choice and explains differences in meaning between similar words.

A couple classics are Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Elements teaches one to write with simplicity and orderliness. Self-Editing introduces editing techniques used by professionals.

The best comprehensive book I’ve come across is Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. It demonstrates how to group words into scenes and scenes into stories.

My favorite newer book is The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. It gives a battle plan for writing a novel, covering tactics and strategies for developing, finishing, and publishing a story,

I found all these books at my local bookstore. They are also available through Amazon.—Quinn

Friday, August 24, 2012

Do You Have a Story?

Today, I shall complete the final scene for my third adventure/suspense/speculative fiction novel. It took me about a year and a half to write Kokoweef. But the main character, Skip Jackson, had been flitting around my mind for several years before I had a plot.

How about you? Do you have a story you are longing to tell? It could be factual or fiction. It might be just for fun, and you’d never dream of sharing it with anyone except your family. Or maybe, like me, you’d want it published.

Now because of the way I am, I started by jumping in with wild enthusiasm. After I had completed a 122,000 word novel, I thought I’d read a how-to book on writing, just to confirm what a fabulous author I was. My ego deflated in about a half chapter. By the time I finished reading, I realized I had broken almost every rule there was, and I had an incoherent mess. Humbled, I spent the next couple years revising, devouring books on technique, and taking writing courses.

I found there are many classes available through colleges and universities. What fit my lifestyle were online courses where I could work at my own pace. Writers Digest offers several. A big one that is Christian is Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. I chose the Long Ridge Writers Group. It is secular, but there are many Christians in it and I didn’t find anything offensive.

In many areas across the country, guilds and writers conferences offer critique groups, workshops, and mentoring clinics for all levels of writing, novice through professional. Many specialize in non-fiction or particular genres like mystery or romance. A couple of the biggest Christian conferences are the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference and the Mount Hermon Christian Fiction Writers Conference. In addition to teaching, editors, authors, and teachers are on hand to give participants advice on their works in progress.

When a manuscript is ready for publication, it is time to write a proposal and find an agent or editor. The competition is stiff, so it is best to meet them face-to-face. So this fall, I am off to a conference to “pitch” Kokoweef. Wish me luck.---Quinn

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.---Proverbs 3:4-6

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Did Your Family Tree Grow?

Now that you have time for hobbies, you might consider finding your family’s roots. I started while still home schooling, intending to spark interest in history. It began when an elderly relative bequeathed some antique hymnals to us. One had a name written in a child’s hand. We did some detective work and found that the little girl was a 4-great aunt who was born in Canada in the mid 1800s and died young.

With that discovery, we dug deeper. Our family’s story paralleled America’s story. Missionaries came from Leiden to Plymouth. Advertisements written by William Penn drew persecuted Quakers and war-weary Germans who cleared the land and established farms, towns, churches, and schools. Familiar names like Alden, Standish, Adams, Crockett, and Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, kept cropping up. Family members served in each of our nation’s conflicts, starting with King Philip’s War. Uncles and cousins fought and died on both sides of the civil war. As the nation grew, our people followed the Westward Expansion. Perhaps the most interesting discovery I had was my husband and I are 12th cousins, both descended from William Brewster, the spiritual leader of the Mayflower.

My fascination with genealogy continued after my nest was empty. Family anecdotes of the Dust Bowl and the English civil war inspired published short stories. Someday I hope to organize my material into a history of the United States.

If the genealogy bug bites you, you can get started by gleaning as much information as you can from family members. With your parents’ names and places of birth, you can find their birth, marriage, and/or death certificates. On these will be data about your grandparents. With that information, you can find great-grandparents and so on through many generations. My tree goes back to the 1580s. My husband’s goes back to 1066.

A good place to begin research is at your public library or the historical society in your hometown. Also, there are free online sites such as Family Search which has a huge data base. The USGenWeb Project covers every state and many counties. It includes census, land and cemetery records, history, bios, and picture galleries. is excellent and has a free fourteen-day trial offer.

In many areas, like-minded people have formed genealogy societies where they share methodology and trade data. But a disclaimer. While this hobby is exciting and rewarding, it is also highly addictive.---Quinn