“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Mark Twain

Writing Craft Recap for July

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I have declared 2012 my year to learn the writing craft better. And once a month, generally on the first Thursday of the month, I will share some of the highlights of what I've learned.

I took two different online classes this month and learned so VERY much. Plus I read some wonderful writing magazines (learned from them too!).

So, here I go.

From the Summer Issue of ACFW Journal:
  •  Really, REALLY wish I were going here in September (kinda knew that already, but it was brought home even more going through this issue).
  • There is a difference between character history and backstory.
  • All six senses (including "intuition/the Holy Spirit speaking") can enrich your writing and add depth.
  • A great quote by Athol Dickson: "When you turn away from God, having known Him as He truly is, what you're turning toward is nothing."
From the September Issue of Writer's Digest:
  • Waiting for inspiration to hit may just cause you to wait forever (actually, I knew that before, but apparently needed the reminder).
  • Some people are getting published with NO ONLINE PRESENCE. (thud)
  • When in doubt, abandon the complicated for the simple.
  • You can actually practice being creative (and I'm gonna do that :D).
  • It is often best to do "big picture" revising first, and hold off on the nitpicky stuff.
  • Aim for professional, not perfect.
From the ACFW Description, Dialogue, and Dirty Words online course by Jeff Gerke:
  •  Description is not telling. The reader wants and needs it so that the story can advance. It’s part of your job as novelist to convey not only what the people are saying but what everything looks like.
  •  A good rule of thumb might be limiting description to what the character sees/acknowledges/processes through the senses and mentally.
  • Having a picture of your setting in front of you makes a HUGE difference in how descriptive you are.
  • If the writer doesn't describe it, it doesn't exist for readers.
  • The goal of description is to reveal for the reader everything s/he would notice if s/he were really in this setting.
  • Be sure all the images you point out or the viewpoint character notices are consistent with the mood you're trying to create.
  • All the mechanics of fiction—vocabulary, punctuation, formatting, dialogue, and prose—ought to not be noticeable in and of themselves but should rather become vehicles ushering the reader into the middle of what’s going on in the story.
  • Great dialogue is realistic, layered, and appropriate for the character and the moment.
  • Let your characters communicate and respond via the subtext beneath their words, not their words themselves.
  • It is quite possible to create the feeling of profanity without the use of profanity. In fact, doing so is superior to using profanity in your fiction. It’s the better way, in my (Jeff Gerke's) opinion.
From the Savvy Authors Writing and Researching Historical Fiction Class, taught by Cindy Vallar:
  • Writing historical fiction is basically a two-stage process – first comes the research, then the writing. (Confession time - I did this BACKWARD)
  • Cindy Vallar is a HUGE source of historical information/links - and so gracious with her time!
  • In historical fiction, the historical aspect of the story propels the story rather than any romance you incorporate into it. In historical romance, the opposite is true.
  • A reader’s sense of time, place, and the world s/he enters depend on you, the writer.
  • There are WAY more different kinds of librarians than I ever imagined.
  • The best time to begin your research is prior to completing the entire story line of your novel.
  • When researching history, writers should access primary resources whenever possible.
  • In crafting your story, you must decide whether it will have a history-driven plot or a character-driven one.
  • Whether your character is fictitious or real, make certain you don’t judge that character based on today’s standards and morals.
  • Nothing destroys a story faster for a reader than anachronisms. They have the potential to stop a reader and damage your reputation as a writer. 
Like I said, a VERY productive month of writing craft learning in this brain of mine. Watch for my post next month, when I'll share, among other things, what I learned from a month of membership in the Bestseller Society.

Questions? Comments? Observations? What was most interesting/helpful to you?

    Traveling Rough Roads With God's Strength


  1. I really needed to be told that "if the writer doesn't describe it, it doesn't exist for readers." Thanks for sharing. Phee

  2. Loved reading this, Jo! A mini class of its own. =] Thanks! =]


  3. Phee - that one stood out to me too. A "duh" thing, but hearing/reading it made a BIG difference!

    And you're very welcome, Peejers. Hope you got something you could use :)

  4. Love the Dickson quote. It's also good to hear someone showing a way for people to write about real people without being profane. Since I won't read a book that has a bunch of profanity, it's hard to find good books. Even Christians seem to have take up the habit, in person and in their writing. They feel the profanity is needed. I say it is no! Thanks foe sharing with us. :)Angie

  5. It really was a great discussion, Angie - made me think a LOT. And isn't that quote something?

  6. Hi Joanne,
    Thanks for sharing with your informative post.

  7. Thanks for sharing all these tidbits with us, Joanne. I can definitely testify to the wisdom of doing "big-picture" revisions before the little things. I'm bad for doing the little ones first, and then I'm super not-motivated to go back and do any bigger changes that mess up my little ones. It makes more work, too.

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Gail and Janet.

    And Janet - that is DEFINITELY a struggle with me, and I'd never heard this before. I KNOW it will help.

  9. Great post! I definitely agree w/Jeff on the profanity issue, but I'm wondering if I'm in the minority on that sometimes.

    Also LOVED LOVED the historical research info (since it's what I write). In my Viking novel (not pubbed yet!), I tried to balance my strong main character with the historicity of her life story....very tiring! But the end product was worth it. Since there are lots of gaps and overlaps in the Viking sagas, I had some "play" room as far as the life stories/personalities of the main characters.

    Very helpful!

  10. Heather, that historical research class was probably one of the very best classes I've taken - PERFECT for exactly where I am in my writing journey. I know I'll be referring back to it over and over. Glad my post helped you :)

  11. I am very interested in the difference between character history and character back story. Is back story what pertains to the novel and history what pertains to the character development? Do you know of any good resources about these two aspects of character development/plot development?

  12. Precarious,the best resource I can point you toward is the ACFW Journal, where I learned it. It's on page 18 - and was written by Rachel Hauck. Perhaps she has more information at her site?

    But to boil it down - character history is in very small doses - maybe a line of prose or dialogue. It doesn't stop the story. Backstory stops the forward motion.

    Thanks for coming by!


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