Novel Rocket

Sunday, January 25, 2015


by Cynthia Ruchti

I visited friends in Texas this January, grateful to see them and almost as grateful to exit the snow and ice covered bitter cold of Wisconsin for those few days.

During an especially warm stretch, my friend and I took long walks, both in the countryside and around her neighborhood. I stopped often to take photos of what might have seemed common to her but registered as remarkable to me, the one weary of the bleak midwinter.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Writing Comparisons—Key Differences Between Success and Failure

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains ChristianWriters Conference and the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy. She’s also the Military Family Blogger at Guideposts. Com, Social Media Director for SouthernWriters Magazine and the Senior Editor for Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Success Vs. Failure

As writers, we’re warned early on to avoid the trap of comparison. Each of us has a different path to success—and a different path to publication. These varying ways of living life as a writer aren’t good and bad or even better and best—they’re just different.

Today I want to encourage you to do just the opposite.

While we shouldn’t judge our value as writers by looking at one another. There are some comparisons that can make a difference between fulfilling our dreams or losing heart and quitting when success is just around the corner. These are some key differences between successful and unsuccessful writers.

1. Goals vs. Wishes
A successful writer sets goals.
An unsuccessful writer makes wishes.

2. Striving vs. Complacency
A successful writer finds others who are further along on the writing journey and strives to catch up.
An unsuccessful writer finds others who are further behind on the writing journey and relishes being ahead.

3. Taking Responsibility vs. Whining
A successful writer takes responsibility for making the dream happen.
An unsuccessful writer whines about all the reasons the dream will never happen.

4. Acting vs. Talking
A successful writer invests time, energy and money in learning how to write better.
An unsuccessful writer talks about writing better.

5. Belief vs. Unbelief
A successful writer believes in her dream.
An unsuccessful writer believes it will never happen to her.

6. Positive Companions vs. Negative Companions
A successful writer surrounds himself with others who are willing to pay the price for success.
An unsuccessful writer hangs out with others who make excuses for not attaining their dreams.

7. Talks About Ideas vs. Talks About People
A successful writer talks about ideas.
An unsuccessful writer talks about other writers.

8. Takes Responsibility vs. Places Blame
A successful writer takes responsibilities for failures.
An unsuccessful writer looks for others to blame for failure.

9. Rejoices in the Success of Others vs. Rejoices in the Failure of Others
A successful writer takes joy in the success of others.
An unsuccessful writer takes joy in the failure of others.

10. Embraces Change vs. Avoids Change
A successful writer looks for ways to embrace change.
An unsuccessful writer looks for ways to avoid change.

11. Afraid of Mistakes vs. Afraid of Trying
A successful writer isn’t afraid to try something difficult and make mistakes.
An unsuccessful writer believes that not making a mistake is better than ever trying at all.

And ultimately... 

12. Keeps Trying vs. Gives Up
A successful writer never gives up.
An unsuccessful writer quits.

This is my list. What would you add?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Don't Start Your Story Unless You Know These 5 Things

What? Five things?

"Rachel, I'm a pantser, I don't like to plan."

I hear you! I'm not asking you to plan. I'm asking you to know 5 things

Even for the plotters, these 5 Things will make a difference in your story. 

So let's get to it.

A story has to be about someone ordinary doing something extraordinary. 

I can't design scenes, develop characters or even answer, "What's the story about?" without knowing WHO I'm dealing with -- internally.

I design my character with these 5 critical elements:

Dark wound of the past.
The Lie he believes.
The greatest fear.
The secret desire.
What can they do in the end they couldn't do in the beginning?

Once I know the answer to these five elements, I can answer, "What's the story about?"

Granted, these elements are fluid. They should adjust and deepen as you write BUT putting these stepping stones in place before you write the first line will aid help your journey.

Think of it like this: You're going to at least look at the road map before pulling out of the drive.

There's still plenty of time to take a side road and veer off the beaten path to keep things interesting.

But knowing the wound --> lie --> fear will keep you focused. 

We use this structure over on My Book Therapy to help struggling authors get to the next level.

Let's break it down a bit:

The Dark Wound. Something from the past that will be dealt with and healed during the story. The epiphany derives from this dark wound. Be specific. If your protagonist grew up in a rough household, design an event that told him, "Life is hard and love is not worth it." 

The dark wound forms a Lie. This is the lie the protagonist believes about himself, God, others. The more detailed the better. And the more personal, the better. If the protagonist dark wound is his parents harrowing divorce, then the lie he believes is that marriage doesn't work, love is painful and not worth the effort. Even more specific, our hero might have been told that when he was born the family fell apart. He was one kid too many. So he believes he's not wanted. 

See how it works?

On to the fear. 

Growing up our hero's lie becomes a Fear. He fears he'll never be wanted. That whatever he touches is destroyed. The more specific you are about the wound, the more specific you can be about the lie and fear. But remember almost all fears come from the lies we believe. 

Your story is about overcoming the fear, replacing the lie with truth and healing the dark wound. 

What makes the protagonist face these issues? What gives him the courage. 

The Secret Desire. This desire contrast the fear.  It tells the hero, "I am worth something. I'm really good at teaching. I'd be a great teacher. I can help kids." Or, "Love is worth pursuing." 

The secret desire is always about overcoming the fear. The desire cannot be separate from the wound --> lie --> fear equation. 

Once I have this sketched out, I asked, "So, what will he be able to do in the end he couldn't do int he beginning?"

Perhaps forgive his parents. Maybe quit his job and go back to school. Fall in love. Whatever the case, it must come from healing the wound, embracing truth and conquering fear! 

This becomes my story spine to which the plot and all other aspects will connect. If the plot or story lines are not ultimately about healing the protagonist and getting them to a grand epiphany, I realign where I'm going.

The scenes in the middle of the book are about confronting the lie, facing the fear, and eventually winning. ;) 

Stories are about a slice of life where the protagonist is launched on a specific journey by external events that reach the internal fears and dreams. 

Make sense? 

From the movie, The Patriot:

Benjamin Martin's dark wound is his past war crimes. His fear is going to war again. When war comes to his front yard, and takes his sons, must decide if he’s going to fight. But the lie he believes is that he's barbaric  not honorable. If he goes to war, will it be Ft. Wilderness all over again? 

But when Gabriel is taken, Benjamin must fight. He must retrieve his son. Protecting his family is his desire... I think how intently he feels about them is somewhat of a secret desire. I also think he wants to redeem himself in his own mind about the kind of man he is.

He's launched on the journey of healing -- the inciting incident -- when he goes after his son. 

What can he do in the end he couldn't do in the beginning? Fight with honor. Believe in himself. 

Now, go write something brilliant! 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Redemption in the Hunger Games?

I’m reading James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers again (excellent book) and flipped open to page 104 today: “The writer who understands redemption is on the border of enduring fiction.”

I read this three days after seeing The Hunger Games, a movie that disturbed me greatly—and, truth be told, still does.

I think I’m beginning to understand why the movie so bothers me: No redemption—or is there?

Literary redemption

Redemption Scene from The Shawshank Redemption
I have not read the books. I saw the movie with my wife, a children’s librarian, because I thought it would be an interesting experiment—a movie buff who hasn’t read the book watching the movie with a reader who generally doesn’t appreciate movies. Plus, it was at the bargain theatre.

From Bell’s book: “Flannery O’Connor talked about the need for a story to show ‘grace being offered.’ …  Redemption is bound up in choice. The right choice brings about redemption because the wrong choice will leave the character in a worse moral condition.”

First of all, what do I mean by redemption?

Redemption: The action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

This includes, but is not limited to, the traditional Christian understanding of redemption: Where Jesus Christ laid down his life to save humans from their sins, and the price of those sins, eternal separation from God.

Lies and more lies

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book—and you want to—you may want to stop reading.

Katniss and Peeta considering suicide
At the climactic moment, after being lied to by the games’ organizers that both could survive, Katniss (the book’s main character) and Peeta, a young man from her District and also a participant in the game, are faced with a horrific choice: one of them must kill the other to survive and win the game or they both must kill themselves, choosing to go out on their own terms.

There is no redemption—no way to save or be saved from sin, error, or evil. In fact, what Katniss’ gambit (pretending to be star-crossed lovers willing to commit suicide) does is force the game’s organizers (who are clearly evil) to offer a faux redemption and reinstate the rule change that two participants from the same District could win together. There will be repercussions for all involved.

But wait

Earlier in the movie, after finding Peeta injured and dying, and after hearing the lie that there could be two winners if they were from the same District, Katniss risks coming out into the open to retrieve the medicine Peeta needs to survive.

And even earlier, Peeta, seeing Katniss nearly starving to death and being in love with her, contrives a way to get a loaf of bread to her that saves her life. Self-sacrifice! There is redemption, then.

But Katniss doesn’t really love Peeta the way he loves her. She has another young man back in District 12 she’s in love with. But she knows the “star-crossed lovers battling against insurmountable odds to survive” is a powerful myth that will resonate with the television audience watching the game.

So her love is “ends justifies means” love—she will love Peeta if it means they have a better chance at survival.

What does it all mean?

The phrase the end justifies the means refers to the morality of an action and is based solely on the outcome of that action and not on the action itself. Example: Telling a lie that has no negative effect on anyone, and saves someone grief, is good.

But there can be no redemption in a lie. “O how terrible for those who confuse good with evil, right with wrong, light with dark, sweet with bitter.” Isaiah 5:20 (The Voice)

Think about that quote from Bell again: Redemption is bound up in choice. The right choice brings about redemption because the wrong choice will leave the character in a worse moral condition.”

At the end of the story, all of the characters are in a worse situation than they were before—alive, but morally compromised. I walked out of the theatre, dejected and oppressed rather than encouraged and freed.

At the end of the Harry Potter movies, even the darker ones, good triumphed—often at cost, but it triumphed. That does not happen here.

What do you think? Have I missed something essential by having not read the books?

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as former editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor/writer at, where each Tuesday he takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How to Keep Your Head in Your Story by Jennifer Slattery

Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. She also writes for, Internet Café Devotions, and the group blog, Faith-filled Friends. When not writing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her teenage daughter and coffee dates with her handsome railroader husband.

They say, to write the best tales, writers must become completely immersed in storyworld. This is great when the house is quiet, the kids are gone, and the rest of your world stops. But how we stay in the story when life pulls us from it?

It happens to me every story. 50K or so words in, I encounter something unexpected that steals my time and keeps me from my work-in-progress. When this happens, the plot I’d just begun to immerse myself in begins to disintegrate. The longer I’m away, the more it fades until I’m left with a looming deadline and a bunch of random ideas on Post-it notes.  

The longer I’m away from my keyboard, the harder it is to write. Perhaps you can relate. If so, the next time life pulls you from your computer, try the following to keep your head in the game:

Work on your story daily even if for only ten minutes.

I can already hear your retorts: “I don’t have time. Life got crazy, remember?”

My counter: I doubt that any of us truly don’t have ten minutes to write, revise, or read our work-in-progress. Ten minutes.

We can all do that, right?

Steal a few moments during commercials, maybe? Revise the last page you wrote while you’re waiting for noodles to boil? Or maybe all you do is jot down some random brainstorming ideas on a notepad. What you do isn’t as important as the doing.

We all have lots of hidden moments sprinkled throughout our day, moments wasted mindlessly. So why don’t we use them to further our stories? I suspect the answers to that question are:

1.     We haven’t developed the habit of making the most of every moment and therefore live a chunk of our life on autopilot.
2.     We assume our time is only valuable when we produce something. For example, we might dismiss the idea of doing anything writing related while watching television, convinced we haven’t enough time to write anything of value. But during times of chaos, we should alter our goal from production to caring for our muse.

Don’t have access to your computer? That doesn’t mean you have to leave storyworld completely. Simply print your novel out and set it by your bedside table—on top of your remote. Ah-ha! Are you rethinking your availability? Then read it for ten to fifteen minutes before going to bed.

Here’s why it works: Our brains are amazing, slightly obsessive machines that love to camp out on whatever is dominating our lives at any given moment. When chaos comes, that chaos fights to occupy our every thought, stealing our creativity and making it all the harder to rekindle it. But if we’d but find ways throughout our day to think dig into our story, we’ll find our brain will have a tendency to stay there, working out details and visualizing scenes. Then, when we return to our keyboards, not only will the plot and characters be fresh, but they may have even deepened as they’ve had time to percolate.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever tried any of the above, and if so, what were the results? What do you do to stay in the story when life gets crazy? Share your thoughts with us; we can all learn from one another. 

Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. 

When Dawn Breaks:
As the hurricane forces Jacqueline to evacuate, her need for purpose and restitution motivate her to head north to her estranged and embittered daughter and into the arms of a handsome new friend. However, he’s dealing with a potential conspiracy at work, one that could cost him everything, and Jacqueline isn’t sure if he will be the one she can lean on during the difficult days ahead. And then there are the three orphans to consider, especially Gavin. Must she relinquish her chance at having love again in order to be restored?

You can buy a copy here:

On Barnes and Noble:


Sunday, January 18, 2015

That I May Publish

“That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works” (Ps. 26:7, KJV).

“With the voice of thanksgiving.”

I have had six books published, as well as a few ebooks now out there on the world wide web. Each one has been a thrill and given me great satisfaction. But each time I’ve been in danger of falling into a pit.

There is the pit of pride that tells me I’ve done this great thing and now I’m worthy; the pit of doubt that says it really isn’t that good and no-one will read it; and then the pit of despair that says I’ll never be able to do it again.

I have seen these pits gaping before me each time I’ve held a new book in my hands. They can threaten to drag me in and bury me in darkness, but I’ve found the life-line that keeps me from falling in – it’s that little thing called thankfulness.

The writer of the book of Hebrews said: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28).

The Greek word used for thankful in this verse is charis, grace. Thanksgiving – gratitude – grace. One leads to the other and all lead to an outpouring that will bless, lift up and encourage others. That’s the pattern of life God has ordained for us all in this world, in His kingdom.

Holding a new book in your hands kind of makes you feel like you’ve just been handed a kingdom – the kingdom of imagination, the kingdom of an audience of readers, the kingdom of purpose and fulfillment. Without thankfulness that feeling would be fleeting. We would indeed be tempted to pride, to self doubt and to despair, because without thankfulness, without recognizing where this gift has come from, we realize in the depths of our soul that it is all just a mirage. Without recognizing the plan and purposes of God in and for our work, there can be no true substance to it.

There would be no charis.

So let us publish with the voice of thanksgiving, pouring out grace. And “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16). 

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her first novel, One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was short listed in The Word Awards. Marcia also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan.

Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can be downloaded here.

Her most recent release is the second book in a fantasy series,

The Ambassadors

To learn more about her writing and speaking ministry visit Marcia’s Website