Friday, January 30, 2015

Is Tsu the New Facebook?

By Iola Goulton

Facebook has recently announced that Pages will have to pay for promotional posts from January 2015. This potentially has a major effect on small businesses, many of whom use Facebook to connect with their customers, essentially a form of free advertising. Authors will also be affected—after all, an author is effectively a small business—and people are considering how to adapt to the new regime, especially given concerns Google+ and other platforms might implement similar rules. Some are considering what other social networks they should be considering … like Tsu. Tsu (pronounced "sue") is a new social network, launched in October 2014 with a unique proposition: 90% of advertising revenue is returned to users based on how much ad revenue their content makes for the site. It’s currently invitation-only, although it's not difficult to get an invitation--all you have to do is visit the site via a member's link (like I suspect this is a way of creating and managing early demand. It’s not a new idea: Pinterest had a similar gate when it was first launched.
Screenshot of
As you can see, Tsu has a similar look and feel to Facebook, just in green (apparently, Facebook is blue because Mark Zuckerberg is red/green colour blind). Tsu has most of the same functionality, including the ability to use hashtags, and a mobile app. It has some points of difference other than the advertising revenue payments.
  • Posts can have titles.
  • Posts can be either “Friends Only” or public, which could be a useful way for authors and other small businesses to have a single page for business and personal use.
  • Posts can be shared to Twitter and/or Facebook.
  • Tsu makes it easy for users to connect with you on other platforms by displaying your social media links in your profile.
  • There are detailed analytics available for all users. This probably isn’t relevant for most private users, but will be important for power users.
There are some limits, which I suspect are to reduce spam:
Authors might find the 5,000-friend limit limiting (although Facebook also has a 5,000-friend limit for personal pages). However, users can Follow without friending (as in a Facebook fan page, or on Twitter), and Tsu actually recommends users only befriend people they "know or want to know". Advertising revenue is shared between the actual content creator and the chain who invited him or her, in what they call the "rule of infinite thirds" (mathematicians will observe the figures below don't add to 100%. I assume the remaining 0.7% is shared with people further up the family tree).
Image showing Tsu ad revenue split, from
Detractors say it is little more than an online multi-level marketing scheme (because people earn not only from their own accounts but from the accounts of their ‘children’), and that it’s not true engagement if people are engaging merely to get paid or help others get paid.

Is it worth it for an author to join Tsu? 

It’s hard to say at this point. The advantage is the potential to earn some money, but only if you or your 'children' post content that generates ad revenue (and how do you do that?). One disadvantage is that it’s another network to learn, and with all social networks, the return you get—social or monetary—is likely to be proportional to the effort you put in. The other disadvantage is there are no statistics about who is on Tsu, because it’s so new. It seems to be mostly tech-savvy early adopters, although I’ve seen a lot of Australian authors there (although not Christian authors, yet). Having said that, I haven’t looked hard—but I get the impression that most people are connecting with people they are already connected to, via Facebook or Twitter. If that's the case, is there any point in joining Tsu? The objective of any marketing effort, including social networking, is to connect with readers: specifically, those who read in the genre you write. If you write inspirational historical romance, these tech-savvy early adopters probably aren’t your target readers, so is it worth putting effort into a social network that isn’t going to connect you with the people you want—need—to be connected to? The inspirational historical romance author is probably better off with Pinterest, because the demographics of Pinterest match the demographics of historical romance readers—women over the age of 35. Writers in other genres—such as high-tech thrillers or certain non-fiction topics—might find an audience on Tsu. It's early days, so it's hard to tell. Should you Tsu? Ask yourself my new pet question, and be honest:
WIBBOW: Would I Be Better Off Writing?
Cognitive psychologist Wade Harman challenges potential Tsu users to ask themselves three questions:
  • Am I wasting my time?
  • Is this something I can share information about?
  • Will it help others?
These questions are valid for any social network. If it’s going to be a time-waster that doesn’t contribute to your long-term marketing strategy or help others in any way, it’s probably better not to add another social media network to your diary. What do you think? Do you see any advantages in joining Tsu?

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest ... or Tsu. I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2500.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pride and Prejudice's Birthday

By Lisa Karon Richardson

Pull out the party hats! Kazoos for all!

"What," you may ask, "are we celebrating?"

The answer, sweet reader is the fact that on this day, January 28th, in 1813, Pride and Prejudice was published by Thomas Egerton. Jane Austen would not have had the luxury of pre-orders or Amazon statistics to check on how her new baby was doing as it wobbled its way into the world. But just as it is for authors today, the release day of her novel must have felt like a culmination.

And frankly, it was the birth of a new literary era as well. Jane's novels were imbued with a sense of realism which had been wholly lacking in the overwrought gothic romances that were popular at the time. We have much to thank Miss Austen for. (Not the least of which is the creation of the superb Mr. Darcy.)

So, to celebrate I leave you with a glimpse of why so many find Mr. Darcy so very irresistible.

Are you a Jane Austen fan? Why or why not?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Writing Myths Perpetuated by Christian Writers, Part 1

by Gina Welborn

After being involved in numerous writing groups over the last decade, I've noticed a difference between Christian and non-Christian perspectives. This post is not about faith. This post is not about values. This post is not about language or sex in books.

It's about two myths I've repeatedly heard Christian writers tout as truths.

#1 Everyone Has a Book in Him/Her
#2 Called by God to Write

 My oldest daughter (11th grader) has done some fiction writing. She's encouraged her friends to write too. What she tells them is what I tell her:

Just write. Doesn't matter what you write, just write. Doesn't matter if it is good, bad, or even plausible, just write. 

When someone is first learning to write, he doesn't need rules. She doesn't need to hear how adverbs, head-hopping, and parentheses in fiction are bad. We need the freedom to create uninhibited.

For some people, writing is an escape.
For others, it's therapy.
A passion.

See, it's torture because not everyone is a writer. Not everyone is supposed to be. Worst thing in the world is to tell someone, especially a teenager, he "has a book in him" when he has no talent or interest, when he hates reading, when he hates writing a class report, when he's failing English, when he'd rather be out fishing or shooting hoops or rebuilding a laptop he took apart. True, he may become a writer someday, but he also may not.

It's okay for him not to be a writer.

Just like it's okay for me not to be a teacher (at home or in the public schools) or a nurse or an accountant or an insurance salesman or the city mayor. Oh, I could manage any of those if I had the training, but doing any would be torture for me. None are my personality. None are my interest. None are my passion.

What people, especially teenagers, need isn't someone trying to motivate them into something we don't want to do. What we need is someone telling us . . .

Find your passion. 

Maybe there is a book or more in you. Maybe there's a song in you. Maybe there's a company in you. Maybe there's a video game in you. Maybe there's a painting in you. Maybe there is the next corvette model design in you. The point is to find what interest you and pursue it. (I'm not talking dating or sex or drugs or criminal behavior.)

"But, whether we like it or not, failure is a necessary stepping stone to achieving our dreams. It may be one epic failure. Or a series of failures – such as Edison’s 10,000 attempts to create a light bulb or Dyson’s 5,126 attempts to invent a bagless vacuum cleaner. But, whether we like it or not, failure is a necessary stepping stone to achieving our dreams." ~Forbes magazine 

 The other day my friend Becca said, "I've finally given up my dream of being a ballerina." I wish I could say my response had been encouraging. I laughed. Not that she had the dream. Not that she couldn't physically be a ballerina. I laughed because it'd taken her decades to finally figure this out.

The other day College Boy said, "You told me I was too small to play football. So I went out for the team when I was in high school to spite you." Ouch. I hadn't let him play football when he was in elementary school because where we lived in Virginia, it wasn't a school-sponsored sport. Yes, I thought he was too small, but my reasoning had been financial. After I explained myself, he said he understands that now, but back then, he'd only heard "you can't physically do it."

As much as I love Becca and Matthew, I don't see how either one of them could have achieved a career as a ballerina or an NFL player, respectively.

Becca, though, creates the most beautiful scrapbook cards, which she shares on her blog. She also is a skilled violinist and talented writer with her first book coming out next month. She also works with her Army chaplain in counseling couple. Her first cards, first violin lessons, first manuscript, first counseling sessions would probably be considered failures by most. She didn't give up.

Matthew, though, played football and ran cross country throughout high school, and while he was never the star athlete, he excelled helping the stars shine brighter. He graduated with honors from one of the best schools in Virginia. He's earning a double major in mathematics and anthropology with a minor in theology. He listened when I said, "Follow what interests you.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” ~Henry Ford 

You may have a book in you.
You may not.

Either way, in the words of Juan Pablo, "Eeeeets okay."

Next time . . . Myth #2 Called by God to Write

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Maybe you didn't want to be a ballerina or an NFL player, but has there been a dream you had that you eventually had to give up? Or maybe you had a dream and people told you to give up, but despite the failures you pursued, and now today you can say ______.

Gina Welborn is the author of eight romances, including one ECPA bestseller and her newest release, Holly Daze, an Amazon bestseller in Christian Historical Romance and Short Reads. After a decade in Virginia, she now lives in Oklahoma with her pastor husband, their five Okie-Hokie children, and a slew of pets.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Blessings Bowl

by Anita Mae Draper

Have you heard of a Blessings Jar? It's only been this past year or so that this idea is making the rounds. Sure, I've heard of keeping a journal or list of your blessings as they happen, but the idea of a Blessings Jar is a visual representation. It works well for those of us who like seeing God's hand in our daily lives.

But I hadn't thought of starting a Blessings jar until I was on Facebook one day and saw this image posted by my friend and frequent Inkwell commenter, Elaine K:

My Blessing Jar, March 2014. Courtesy of Elaine K

In Elaine's status update, she said she was given this jar to keep her blessings in and that on January 1st she emptied out the packed-full container and that the blessings "...ranged from the simple (girl guide cookies and a good night's sleep), to family and friends, many by name, to answers to prayer, good experiences, and scripture verses of note. Some of the things I had forgotten and so it was good to be reminded again."

What a lovely idea!

The image of Elaine's Blessings Jar stayed with me. Of course, I see God's blessings every day, but usually, the memory of them fade away as new blessings take their place.

Then, while researching the website of Jill Eileen Smith for an upcoming ACFW Featured Author interview, I found her blogpost, The Blessings Jar, where she showed this image:

Jill Eileen Smith's Blessings Jar. Courtesy of Jill Eileen Smith

Jill wrote in her post, "I found a large jar, bigger than I’d seen in canning jars, bought a small stack of post-it-type notes and set it in the middle of our kitchen table. To add a bit of appeal to the jar, I topped it with my Yankee Candle candle topper."

Now, it may be just the angle of the photo, but what struck me about Jill's Blessings Jar is that its shape reminds me of ancient pottery, and that is in keeping with what she writes which is biblical fiction. Actually, the reason for the interview is because of her new release, The Crimson Cord, Rahab's Story.

So that got me thinking that a Blessings Jar could be as simple or elaborate as I want - should I choose to start one. Did I?

If I did, I knew what I'd put in it, for on Ukrainian Christmas, I received a phone call from my brother who is recuperating from a major motorcycle accident. During our conversation we got to talking about the past and he asked if I remembered reading to him while he walked his paper route. I said I remembered helping him because he was only 7 or so to my 15 yrs, and thirty-three thick Winnipeg Free Press newspapers are very heavy to carry when you're small and have to walk the route. I didn't tell him that mom probably told me to help him. But I didn't remember reading to him. He said I had. That he remembered me reading Dickens, or whatever book I was studying in school and that helped make his job easier. My brother blessed me with that memory.

A few days later, I received an email from my literary agent, Mary Keeley. While it wasn't news about selling a book, her compliment on my writing warmed my heart. My agent blessed me with her email.

Then my pastor surprised me at church one Sunday by saying I'd had a great idea for the Live Nativity Premiere and Pizza Party. You see, I'd planned a 'wrap party' for the Live Nativity we'd put on for the community a few days before Christmas and it was going to be a chance for the cast and crew to see the video I'd made of the production. I'd also planned to set up a photo booth so the actors could have a souvenir photo of themselves in costume, as well as a copy of the video if they provided a memory card or flash drive. Yet, a weather alert for extreme freezing temperatures had thwarted our plans and we had to cancel. But Pastor Lorne said we were going to try again this Friday night because it was a great idea. My pastor blessed me with his words.

I wanted to remember those blessings.

While Elaine and Jill have shown me that it's the blessings I put in a Blessings Jar that counts and not the jar itself, they've also shown that such a jar can have an inviting personality of its own. Here's the one I've chosen:

Anita's Blessings Bowl

Yes, it's a Blessings Bowl. You see, I have this large rose bowl containing dried rose and flower petals, leaves, etc, from flowers we've received over the past few years. The bouquet I received for selling my first story. The petals from Nick's graduation boutonniere.

It seemed natural that more blessings, like the ones I've mentioned above, should join the ones already in the bowl.

So I discarded the bit of plastic wrap I'd placed across the opening to keep out dust and dampness, and I have to admit that I like the rustling sound I hear when I drop in a blessing and then trail my fingers through nature's beauty.

Oh... I've just remembered another

Thank you for visiting me here. Leave a comment if you'd like to share your thoughts on Blessings, but it's okay if you don't have time. Whatever you do, I pray God blesses you richly in this coming year.

Thank you going out to Elaine and Jill for allowing me to share their Blessing Jars.


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their four kids. She writes cowboy stories set in the West, and Edwardian stories set in the East.  Anita is blessed to be included in Guideposts Books A Cup of Christmas Cheer collection. Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Management. You can find Anita Mae at

Monday, January 19, 2015

Shoveling Sand: Book In A Week (or Two)

by Susanne Dietze

First drafts, according to author Shannon Hale (Austenland, The Princess Academy), are about dumping sand in a sandbox. Later, during editing, you can build a castle out of it. But first, you've got to get the raw material into the box.

Build a Sandbox
Shovel sand into the box with me! (This one's from Lowe's.)
I found myself in a position of needing to shovel as much sand into the box of my novel as fast as possible. Dump truck style. Not pretty, not clean, but done. So I decided to try something other romance novelists have tried and even love: BIAW (Book in a Week). Except I expanded it to two weeks--Book in a Fortnight, if you will.

BIAW, the act of writing the first draft of a novel in seven days, is intimidating (if not downright crazy). I've tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and committed to write 50,000 words--1667 words a day--during the month of November before, and it was HARD.

But 50K words in a week (or two)? Does it sound doable? Impossible?

I think it's both, depending on the day. It takes some intense prep work, but that leaves an author time to do nothing (supposedly) but write over the course of the commitment.

I just finished shoveling sand into the sandbox for a novel--and I survived!

Now I can get on to editing what I've written into something prettier, smoother, and richer. But if you're interested in writing a quick first draft by trying BIAW (or BIAF or even NaNo), these tips worked for me. Perhaps a variation of them might help you with your first draft, adapted to your personal schedule and preferences.
  1. Pray for discipline and diligence. And grace and creativity, too. God has given you this story to tell, and He alone knows the plans He has for it. Maybe publication, maybe not. But if we write to honor Him, He'll be glorified in what we accomplish.
  2. Prep your non-writing life in advance. Plan easy dinners, choose a week without appointments or events, and figure out what sort of time frame is best for your work/family schedule.
  3. Prep your story in advance. I have a synopsis, a Pinterest story board, character worksheets with goal/motivation/conflict etc, and an excel spreadsheet broken down by chapter and scene, all ready to go before I sit down to write. Then when I camp out at my computer, I consult my excel chart and see what happens in what scene, and in whose Point of View I think I it should be. This helps guide my writing.
  4. Get a hot mug of coffee or tea, a snack, and a blanket so you have anything you might need at hand. Also have something to take notes with: either a Word document or a pen and notepaper/scratch pad .
  5. Set a timer for 45 minutes (or whatever works for you: I tend to listen to an album on my phone that lasts about 45-60 minutes). Write nonstop during that time, and then when the timer goes off or your album ends, take a break. Your body needs to do something other than sit all day (and your brain needs a break, too). Use the restroom, fold laundry, walk around your house, do some jumping jacks, brew more tea, add veggies to the stew in your crockpot.
  6. Take notes if something changes as you write. This happens to me a lot. As I write, I realize a character has a dog or a friend--or would never do what I have neatly written in my excel sheet that she does. No biggie. Jot down the info for reference.
  7. If I'm stumped by something happening in the story or need to do additional research, I make a note in the text (I use ***), add a note to myself on my scratch pad (ie "figure out if John does X and why") and then skip ahead to something easier to write. I go back later.
  8. I just said it but it bears repeating: Do not do research online. Or check email or Facebook or Twitter. This is time to get words on a page. To Dump Sand Into The Sandbox.
  9. In the same vein, this isn't the time to fuss over adjectives, syntax, or imagery, either. If it's not flowing, leave it to fix in rewrites, which are far easier for me than first drafts anyway. Sometimes, this means flat writing. "She wore a white cloak and bonnet." "He wanted to kiss her." etc. Just spit out what the action is and (wait for it) Come back to it later. (I just skipped an entire chapter because things weren't flowing, but the next chapter's fight scene was calling me ahead. It's OK!)
  10. The crock pot is your friend. Dump food in it in the morning. Family is happy at dinnertime. This takes some pre-planning, but I've got a recipe below to get you started.
  11. Some days you will get not meet your goal. That's ok. You may not even finish the whole book in your week/fortnight/month. That's ok too, unless you're on a publisher's deadline. But assuming you're not, just start again tomorrow and remember Life happens
  12. BIAW/F is an extraordinary thing, not the norm. At least not for me, as my physical and emotional health seem to suffer a bit from the isolation, prolonged sitting, etc. However, some people might thrive under this sort of self-imposed deadline. Either way, BIAW/F can be an effective tool to shovel sand into the box. Throughout it all, I tried to stay mindful of how it affected me and what tools I can adapt to my non BIAW/F-writing schedule.
Anyone else have any good tips?

Meanwhile, I'm happy to report this week I'm building a castle out of all that sand I dumped into the sandbox. I love the fine-tuning, the layering, the edits. Will it turn out to be pretty? I sure hope so. I'll let you know.

I like the details!
In the meantime, here's something I throw into the crockpot on heavy writing days. You can fancy it up when you're not in a big hurry, but on busy days, it's easy to make with pre-packaged shredded cheese, pre-cooked rice, a salad kit, packaged guacamole, etc.

1 pound chicken breasts or stew meat or pork roast
1 cup salsa, from a jar or fresh/deli style
dash vinegar (to make the meat shred easier)
Chopped tomato, onion, etc, if you have the time
Add above ingredients to the crockpot. Set the crockpot on low if you start it in the morning or high if you make it at lunchtime. At dinnertime, shred the meat and serve with:
grated cheese
the rest of the salsa
sour cream & guacamole
chopped veggies and anything else you like 
Served with a can of refried beans, rice, and a salad (kit! This is BIAW, after all), you've got a complete meal.
Susanne Dietze's novella, Love's Reward, is part of The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection, coming in May, 2015. She will probably do BIAW/F again, once she's recovered from this round. You can visit her on her website,

Friday, January 16, 2015

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

by C.J. Chase

As mom to three boys, my movie-going experiences are often limited to offerings Mom can sit through that are still boy-friendly. We did two family movies over the holidays: Big Hero 6 (a kind of Wall-E meets anime mash up) and the third (and last) installment in the Night at the Museum franchise.

My boys loved the first Night at the Museum movie—so much so we bought the DVD and they still watch it. (Middle son even went through a phase where he watched it regularly.) Down-and-out Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) takes a job as night guard at New York’s Museum of Natural History, only to discover that the displays come to life when the sun goes down. But can lovable loser Larry rally the sundry wild animals, famous historical figures, and even a talking rock when villains threaten to end their nightly adventures? The cast members are well suited to their roles, and the film has just enough fantasy and silliness to appeal to children while still having enough sophistication for adults to enjoy the jokes. (And fortunately, the bathroom humor was mild enough even for Mom’s sensibilities.)

As a former resident of the D.C. area (whose husband once lost our oldest son in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History—yikes!), I looked forward the sequel (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian), only to find it immensely disappointing. The whole thing felt flat. We watched it once, and never bothered getting a copy on DVD. So, I approached Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb with some trepidation. 

In Secret of the Tomb, something is wrong magic that makes the museum displays come to life. Alas, the solution lies with a 4,000-year-old mummy in London. How can Larry arrange transatlantic travel for the gang of artifacts?

Once in London, Larry and friends use the magic to bring the exhibits in the British Museum to life. Fans of British drama will appreciate Dan Steven’s (Downton’s Matthew Crawley) portrayal of Lancelot. Of course, the joke about newly awakened Lancelot crashing a production of Camelot went over the boys’ heads, but Mom enjoyed it (especially the Hugh Jackman cameo). And the fight inside the Escher drawing is appropriately weird.

Verdict? Much better than the second movie, and probably worth it just to see Robin William’s final on-screen role. (His last movie credit, to release later this year, is a voice-only part.)

The late, 93-year-old Mickey Rooney--also in his second-to-last-role--made a cameo as Gus (one of the former night guards/bad guys in the first movie) from a wheelchair. As a bonus, I’ve always had a soft spot for Dick Van Dyke, so I was happy to see him still spryly dancing in his short appearance as Cecil.

Sequels are seldom as good as the original, but this one recaptures some of the magic (yes, pun intended).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Forget New Year's resolutions, let's try "New Day Resolutions"

By Niki Turner

We're almost two weeks in to 2015, which means most of us who made New Year's resolutions have already fallen off the proverbial wagon. I know I have.

My failure doesn't make me want to turn to the anti-resolution side, but I am looking for better ways to keep my resolutions. I've come to wonder if maybe we should be narrowing our focus. Maybe it's not about the next year, or the next six months, or even the next month or week... what if the reason we continue to flop and fail at our resolutions is because we're extending our vision beyond the grace we've been given?

The Bible is full of "daily" references, but this one is probably the most applicable...

Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own worries. The troubles we have in a day are enough for one day.  
Matthew 6:34New Life Version (NLV)
I can relate to that statement, can you?

What if we made resolutions every day, not just on New Year's Day? Today may have been a no-good, terrible, horrible, awful, completely worthless day... which for many of us would mean the end of our resolve... but WHAT IF we just set today—with it's mistakes and shortcomings and disappointments and failures—aside, and really focused on this:
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,Because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning;Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,“Therefore I hope in Him!”
Lamentations 3:22-24New King James Version (NKJV)
His mercies are new EVERY MORNING. Perhaps that means we need fresh mercy not just once a year on Jan. 1 to succeed, to do His will, to accomplish our goals.

Have your resolutions already crashed and burned? Don't give up... you probably just need to renew your mercy and grace subscription. Daily. I know I do.

So unwad that list of resolutions and change the way you look at them... one day at a time!


Niki Turner, ACFW Colorado Coordinator
In Truer Ink
Inkwell Inspirations
Sadie's Gift ~ A Christmas Traditions Novella

Santiago Sol ~ Passport to Romance
Pelican Book Ventures, LLC
Release Date TBA

Friday, January 9, 2015

Rules with a Reason #4 - Crank up the Tension

 by Dina Sleiman
Almost any writing expert will tell you that one of the most important elements of fiction is tension. But in usual Dina fashion, I had issues with this. I don’t like tension. It’s, well—tense! Stressful. Upsetting. I grew up in a think positive, look on the bright side kind of home. I didn’t get the need for all this tension in my stories. If I wanted tension in my life, I could have been a lawyer, and I could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars right now instead of a pittance as a writer.

Then one day, I finally got it. The tension is the reason the reader keeps turning the page. Without the tension, they have no need to know what’s going to happen next. You mean my stunning imagery and characterization aren’t enough to keep them reading? Uh, duh, no they're not. Not against the screaming demands of everyday life. Readers need a darn good reason to keep them from putting that book down. In other words, when we say you need more tension, what we’re really saying is that you need to make your reader care more.

Oh! I can do that.

So I learned how to crank up that tension baby. And really, it was there all along, I just wasn’t bringing enough notice to it. You needed a minor in psychology to find my tension.

Here are a few tips for cranking up the tension in your story. (I know a lot of people say ratchet up, but that sounds like tools, which make me even more tense.)

1)      Make the goal and obstacles crystal clear. I know as writers our big mantra is show don’t tell. And I think that’s what I used to do concerning goal and motivation. I would have Dandelion the peasant girl smelling meat wafting from the castle and brushing her fingers along the stone wall, and you were supposed to know that she longed for that life and would do anything to attain it. Maybe in literary fiction that would work. But generally speaking, it’s an author’s job to make it clear through dialogue or internal monologue what the character wants, why they want it, and what’s keeping them from getting it. This is how we let our reader know what they should care about enough to keep reading that book. Some authors will go as far as to reiterate this every scene. To me, that’s overkill. But do give your readers reminders throughout. Preferably worded in new ways and reflecting the growth of the character as the story progresses.

2)      Make us care about the stakes. In order to keep the reader interested, something has to be at stake. Not only does the character need a goal and an obstacle to reaching that goal, but something bad has to happen if they don’t reach it. Again, this helps our reader care and become invested in the story. And truthfully, the stakes don’t have to be huge. They can be life or death in a suspense or an adventure book. But maybe the stake is as simple as the heroine being lonely or unfulfilled or never living out her dream. In a comedy, the stakes could be completely ridiculous. Think Seinfeld and the soup Nazi. Who cares! Except that we did care. The characters cared. In their minds it was life or death, and we loved the characters, so we cared too.

3)      Let us know what the character is worrying about. Now here’s another place I used to make a big mistake in my writing. I was never allowed to worry or complain growing up. I was supposed to stay in faith, and if I did worry, I kept it to myself. At some point I realized my characters made the same mistake. You don’t want your character to be whiny and bringing up their problems over and over again in dialogue. Maybe they don’t even want to admit it to themselves. But at some point, they need to. Because your readers need to know what they’re worrying about so they can worry along with them, and again, so they can care. If you character isn’t phased by their own problems, why would the reader be? And why would they turn to the next page if your character is doing just fine, thank you very much.

4)      Let us feel the character's emotions. Related to letting the reader know what the character is worried about, you need to let them actually feel what the character is sensing in a visceral sort of way. You need to let them experience the character’s emotions first hand as though they are living the story in a sort of fictional dream world. Is your character angry? What does that feel like in the body? Heat? Pressure? Head about to explode? If they’re sad or in pain, how can you as the author express that to allow your reader to enter the scene and loose themselves in it?

5)      End each scene with tension. I’m sure not every author will agree with this, but I’ve found it to be a very simple trick that really works. In other words, end each scene with a hook to remind us what we’re wondering or worrying about, and why we simply can’t put the book down. Often scenes end in a tense place naturally, but other scenes are resolutions to smaller complications in the book and end on a light or happy note. When I finish a scene, I look to see if there’s any good tension on the last page. If there’s not, I add some in the ending hook. For example, we just had a wonderful kissing scene and things are going great, and I end it with, “but how long could the illusion last.” Ta da! It’s a romance novel. There’s 150 pages to go. The reader knows something's got to go wrong, but without the reminder, they might just lose interest.

So those are my techniques for cranking up the tension. Authors, what tricks do you use to keep your reader's interest? Readers, what makes you really care about a book? What makes it impossible to put a book down?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Small Beginnings

I just finished a project that was literally years in the making.

I saw this beautiful quilt, Baltimore Bunnies by Anne Sutton of Bunny Hill Designs, in a local quilt shop seven or eight years ago. I had done very little applique, but I was so taken with this quilt, I decided I had to make one myself.

I got together all the fabrics, changing my mind over and over again as I tried to decide what I would use. I spent hours tracing and cutting out templates. I went to the hardware store and got washers of the appropriate size (to use to make perfectly round circles for flower centers). I made yards of green bias tape for stems and pressed and cut out yards of background fabrics and sashing.

Finally I was ready to begin. I made Block One (the one in the top left-hand corner, the one with 52 little leaves).  It was probably the most hideous thing I have ever made. The leaves were not smooth. The flowers looked like little wavy lumps of wadded fabric. The bunnies were . . . sad.

I looked at that block and realized that I wasn't ready for this quilt.  Sure, I could plow ahead and make it, but I knew already it wouldn't be the quilt I wanted. It wouldn't be that beautiful quilt in the shop.

So I put away Block One, and I tackled another applique quilt, but this one was very simple, just cute little Sunbonnet Sues but with pointed little cat ears coming out of the sunbonnets and tails out the backs of the dresses. It's cute and was a good way to start learning.

Later, after making some small wall hangings with applique, I decided to make Flight of Fancy, a beautiful
appliqued basket of flowers and birds. It turned out well and I was feeling more confident in my skills.

I did Henrietta Squirrel, a cute quilt that was a free block of the month pattern also from Bunny Hill.

Once it was done, I felt ready to try to do the bunny quilt at last. First I revisited Block One. I removed the flowers I had originally done and put on new ones. Though my technique was better at this point, I decided that, like new wine in old wineskins, the new flowers on the old vines and leaves was never going to work. So in June of 2013 I started fresh.

In December of 2014, 917 working hours later (not including all the prep work I did all those years ago) I finally finished my Baltimore Bunnies quilt. I took it to the quilter, and found out it won't be ready until May of 2015. That seems a long time away, especially since I've been waiting for this quilt for years already, but the quilter I took it to is a true artist and I know the wait will be worth it. I can't wait to see it when it's finally done.  And I'm glad I took the time to really learn how to applique before I did this quilt. I can't wait to post some pictures of mine when I get it back!

What does my bunny quilt have to do with anything? I'm not sure, except I always like to plan for the new year. I have so much I want to do. Sometimes I am eager to jump into something, but God in His wisdom knows I'm not ready. It seems like I'm treading water, wasting time, burning precious days of my life in futility, when in truth He is preparing me, training me, seasoning me.

 Zechariah 4:10 says, "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin." He loves to see us take the gifts He has planted in us and nurture them, use them and grow in them. He wants us to make something beautiful in its time. In His time.

What have you begun that seemed overwhelming to you until you grew into it? How have your small beginnings grown into something beautiful?

DeAnna Julie Dodson has always been an avid reader and a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage. This, along with her keen interest in history and her Christian faith, shows in her tales of love, forgiveness and triumph over adversity. She is the author of In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered, a trilogy of medieval romances, as well as Letters in the Attic, The Key in the Attic, The Diary in the Attic and The Legacy in the Attic, contemporary mysteries. Her new series of Drew Farthering Mysteries debuted in the Summer of 2013 with Rules of Murder, followed by Death by the Book and Murder at the Mikado in 2014 from Bethany House. Another Drew Farthering Mystery, Dressed for Death, is due out in Spring of 2016. A fifth-generation Texan, she makes her home north of Dallas with three spoiled cats.

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