Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fiction Writing with Janice Thompson

For the past year I've had the pleasure serve on the Christian Authors Network board with Janice Thompson. I'm excited to spread the word about her new online fiotion writing workshops. Here is what Janice has to say about writing fiction, and what writers can gain from her workshops.

Janice, I understand you’re about to debut a new fiction course online. Why fiction? What is your background, as it relates to fiction writing?

Every writer hopes to one day write “The Great American Novel.” I started writing novels as a child, so the desire to craft “story” has always been inside of me. In the mid ‘90s I started writing with the desire to be published. After years of trial and error, my first novel hit the shelves in 2000. Since then, I’ve published over forty novels—everything from inspirational romance to cozy mysteries to Y.A. (young adult) to romantic comedies. It’s been a great run! I’ve noticed a trend in recent years. “Young” writers approach me, one after the other, asking the same questions and struggling with the same problems. I’ve worn myself out giving the same answers! (There are only so many times and ways you can say, “You’re head-hopping, honey!”) Because of that, I decided it would be easier to compile the information into a fiction course, will debut mid-June at I can’t wait to see what novelists think of this exciting new course!

You’ve started with a lesson on understanding the genres. Why is that?

As mentioned above, I’ve been published in multiple genres. My first book was a suspense-thriller. I’ve since written historicals, contemporaries, children’s, young adult, romances, mysteries and much, much more. Because I’ve been able to successfully cross genre lines, I feel qualified to teach on the subject. Before writers can establish themselves as novelists, they must develop an understanding of the fiction genres/categories. Choosing the best genre (or genres) is critical to your success. But with so many categories to choose from, how do you know which is your best fit? This lesson will give writers a thorough introduction to genre writing and will provide them with the necessary information to choose the one(s) best suited to their literary style and voice.

I see you’ve included a lesson on plotting. Is this based on your “Plot Shots” teaching, which you’ve offered at conferences?

Yes! I’m so tickled to finally be able to offer this teaching in a course format. I’ve become known as “that Plot Shots lady.” That’s okay. I can live with that! I’m a firm believer in laying out a great plotline. Why? Because every story needs a beginning, middle and end. Careful plotting will lead the reader on a satisfactory, realistic journey through each of those stages, creatively weaving in and out, up and down. The "Plot Shots" method gives writers the tools they need to plot their novel in twelve easy snapshots. It’s a fun and easy approach to plotting that won’t confuse or complicate the story.

Characterization is such an important component of fiction writing. Can you tell us more about your characterization lesson?

Years ago I developed a teaching that I call “Pandora’s Box.” It’s a layered approach to characterization, which uses the illustration of multiple boxes, one inside the other. In this lesson, I lay out the need for great characterization, then present the Pandora’s Box method. After presenting the method, I take the student through the process four times, using four fictional characters as a foundation. (Each character has a different personality, so the student learns how to apply the technique to the various personalities.)

So many writers struggle with P.O.V. (point of view). Is that why you included a lesson on that very tough subject?

Point of View (P.O.V.) is a critical fiction component. Employing to your best advantage is tough! Most of the young writers I know struggle in this area. The head-hop. Oh, they don’t mean to. . .but they do! My detailed lesson on Point of View offers students a thorough teaching on the various P.O.V.s (omniscient, third person, second person, first person), and gives specific examples and tips so that writers can become P.O.V. purists.

What is passive writing? Why have you included a lesson about it?

Many of the manuscripts I edit are written in passive voice. They’re loaded with passive verbs and include huge sections of “telling.” The author “information dumps,” which stops the flow of the story. Knowing the difference between active voice and passive voice is key to writing a great novel. Conquering the art of "showing" instead of "telling" will give writers an added advantage. This detailed lesson--filled with nuggets of wisdom from published authors--will give writers the tools they need to strengthen their stories and pull them into active voice.

Ack! Backstory! It’s so tough to add to our novels. Is that why you included a lesson on the subject?

Backstory. We all struggle with it, don’t we? In so many ways, it's critical to our story. After all, the reader needs to know where our primary character has come from--what she's been through--why she acts like she does. So, do you add the backstory or not? If so, can you do so without resorting to author intrusion? And where will you place it? At the beginning of the story? Elsewhere? Will it come out in lumps or snippets? This lesson offers students an intense look at backstory and includes tips for interjecting it without stopping the action.

Many writers struggle with finding their “voice.” Can you tell us more about that?

A writer’s “voice” is her/her “stamp.” It’s the author’s “personality on the page.” And many young writers haven’t “found their voice” yet. This lesson delves into the topic, in detail, giving perspective on this very personal issue. The lesson (titled “Themes, Style and Voice”) also covers the various themes found in popular books, as well as style components.

Can you tell us some of the top fiction mistakes?

Sure! After editing hundreds of manuscripts, I can point out some of the “top” fiction mistakes: Lack of a good hook. P.O.V. issues. Passive writing. Weak characterization. Poor plotting (no “belly of the whale” scene). Overuse of adverbs. On and on the list goes. Many writers simply don’t realize they’re making these mistakes until someone points them out. They wonder why the book keeps getting rejected. This lesson offers writers a thorough list, detailing the top twenty mistakes novelists make.

Why did you decide to add a lesson on humor writing?

I’ve been writing comedies for years and have learned so much along the way. Humor writing is tough stuff! Some writers are born with an overactive funny bone. Others have to work hard to be funny. (Ironic, isn't it?!) If you're interested in adding a little har-de-har-har-har to your novel, then you've come to the right place. In this light-hearted lesson on humor writing, I share my top ten tips for adding humor to your writing. The bonus feature contains another twenty tummy-tickling techniques, so hang on for the ride!

Putting together a book proposal is tough! What have you learned over the years?

Book deals are won or lost based on the proposal. If you've got a completed manuscript and you're ready to pitch it to an agent or editor, then this exciting lesson on query letters and book proposals will point you in the right direction, giving you all the confidence you need to submit, submit, submit! Students who use the information provided in this lesson can compose polished query letters and dazzling book proposals, sure to impress both editors and agents, alike.

Thanks so much for joining us, Janice. Where can people learn more about your courses? And where else can they find you on the web?

They can learn more at On that site, they will also find my “Becoming a Successful Freelance Writer” course, which many students have already taken. Folks can learn more about that one by clicking on this video: I offered a free webinar on the subject about six weeks ago, and it can be found here: We’ll be adding to the course list every couple of months, so stay tuned for more announcements!
Other places to find me on the web:
My website:
My blog:
My facebook page:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Little at a Time: A "God at Work" Story

A few weeks ago I tackled a huge summer project--reading Les Miserables. I've been wanting to read if for ages and finally added the title to my Christmas list this past year. I received it only to put off reading it, intimidated by the size of the paperback. Finally, I decided to follow a reading plan posted on a friend's blog.

On Day One of the plan she addressed those of us who might find a 1,400-page novel a bit daunting. She pointed out that reading 125 pages per week would get us through the book in one summer. I could do 125 pages in a week! Just in case I broke that down into daily readings, making it even more do-able.

Three weeks after starting the book I am rapidly approaching page 500. I am in love with the characters and can see why the friend who pasted the reading plan names Les Miserables as her favorite book of all time. And to think I would have missed the experience of this classic if I had continued allowing the hugeness of the book to hold me back.

Some things are just too big to face all at once. Then we receive the gentle reminder, "Just do one tiny bit at a time" and not only find that we can handle it, but that we can tackle even more than expected.

How comforting to know that, like this book that could double as a murder weapon, God allows us to take on His assignments in managable bits. Our trials, lessons, and opportunities to minister to others come in chapters rather than overwhelming volumes. Okay, I take that back. We might get what look like overwhelming volumes but He lovingly takes us through them a chapter at a time. In those moments when we find ourselves crying, "God, I can't do this!" He takes us by the hand, sits us down, and helps us break what we have down. "Today, all you have to do is this. Tomorrow I'll show you the next step." What a kind God we have!

Thank you, Father. It's true that you don't give more than we can bear. You assign us a few pages at a time, face the task with us, and often take us further than we thought possible. Help me to remember this as I face life's tough reading assignments.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Getting off the Guilt Trip--A "God at Work" Story

I’ve been battling guilt today—again! Why? I have a ton of work today before leaving town next week and my 8-year-old is clearly bored out of his mind. He spent much of yesterday entertaining himself while I finished a project that was due and I wish he didn’t have to do it again today.

Of course if I took half the day off to play I would feel guilty for not working. That’s what I do—I feel guilty when I work too much and guilty when I step away. If I work I’m ignoring my family; if I don’t I’m neglecting my responsibility.

Lately God has really been on me about this whole guilt thing. He has been sending me messages through other people who catch on right away when I start tripping myself up with guilt. He has made three things clear:

1) All this condemnation is coming from someone other than Him and I need to stop buying into his lies.
2) Giving into guilt is my fallback position and I need to develop a new one.
3) All this pattern does is, make it easier for those who want to place blame on me. They would rather not take responsibility and know I’ll take it on without a fight. How convenient.

I’d include a story about how God helped me overcome my struggle with guilt but that will have to wait until I actually have a good success story to share. I guess for today the success story is that I recognize how destructive and fruitless this habit really is (and I do believe it has become a habit). I’m sick of it and being sick of something is a great first step toward change!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Life in Defiance

While continuing to play the role of dutiful small town pastor’s wife, Ousie Pepper is consumed with secrets:
She hides bruises inflicted by her husband and the truth that he also abuses their children
She drinks
She knows who killed Daisy Chance

But she’s not telling.

As Hap’s rages grow more violent Ousie devotes herself to the study of a book on how to be a Godly wife. If she can become the woman that Hap needs then maybe she can stop his abuse, along with her need to numb the pain with the vodka she hides in a flower vase. But the transformation of Daisy’s mother, the protective kindness of a neighbor, and the appearances of a strange drifter named Elijah seem to be contradicting author Sheba Nelson’s messages of submission and secrets. Can she find the courage to speak the truth and find safety or will she be silenced for good by Hap?

Life in Defiance is Book Three in Mary DeMuth’s Defiance Texas Trilogy. Mary does an amazing job of weaving Ousie’s journey with the continuing mystery of Daisy Chance’s murder. While the abuse that takes place in the Pepper household and Sheba Nelson’s advice to Ousie is hard to take at times, the novel in no way suggests that a Christian woman should put up with abuse. In fact, the warped messages drive home Ousie’s need to escape. We see a strong faithful woman battling fears, a painful background, desire to obey God, love for her children, and an ache for change. Rather than reading as a novel about domestic violence, or even a murder mystery, Life in Defiance is a story of courage, closure, and forgiveness.

Mary DeMuth is an author with a uniquely beautiful style and voice who writes with raw honesty. I've grown to love Ousie, Emory, Daisy, Jed, Sissy and the other residence of Defiance (all except Hap--I still don't like him). I'll definitely miss them now that the series has come to an end.

Here is a little about Mary:
Author and speaker Mary DeMuth helps people turn their trials to triumph. Her books include Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God; Building the Christian Family You Never Had; Watching the Tree Limbs; Wishing on Dandelions; Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture and the first two books in the Defiance, Texas Trilogy: Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn.

National media regularly seek Mary’s candid ability to connect with their listeners. Her radio appearances include FamilyLife Today, Moody Midday Connection, Point of View and U.S.A. Radio Network and is frequently featured on Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint. She has published articles in In Touch, HomeLife, Writer’s Digest and The Writer.

Mary lives with her husband Patrick and their three children in Texas.

Visit Mary’s website

Follow her on her blog

Find Life in Defiance on Amazon

If you missed the first two books in the Defiance Texas Trilogy, you’ll want to read:

Daisy Chain
A Slow Burn

Thank you to Zondervan for providing me with a copy of Life in Defiance to review.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

God at Work . . . in Little League

This week I am starting I new feature on my blog: God at Work. My goal is to post a short piece about how I’ve seen God’s hand moving in my life or someone else’s. I’m hoping it’ll offer encouragement to others as I reflect on His goodness.

I’m going to start with a proud mom story.

Last night I had the fun of watching my son Nathan’s team win the championship game for their division. It has been amazing to watch him grow since he first started T-ball as a kindergartener. When we signed him up this year we had the choice of moving him up to the next division and keeping him where he’d been last season. While it would have felt good to send him ahead, we chose to hold off. Thankfully he didn’t mind as long as he had friends on his team! As I watched him hit almost every time he was bat, receive the game ball after one game, and finally make it to the championship with his team, I thanked God for giving us the wisdom to hold him back. Instead of being the youngest on a new team he was one of the oldest. For the first time, he was one of the stronger players, and we got to fully see and appreciate his growth.

How exciting is it to see growth—whether it’s in a skill, our careers, or in our walk with God. Usually, it takes awhile to recognize it. As with Nathan, sometimes we need to be held back for awhile in order for our strengths to fully blossom or be revealed. And when they do shine and we reap the rewards we have the pleasure of thanking the One who made it all possible.
What areas of growth have you recognized in your kids, your spouse, or yourself? Take a moment to thank God and seek His guidance for the next stage.