July 6, 2015

You Should Tell, Not Show?

In my last blog, I focused on “showing,” not “telling” in narration, and I gave you an example of lousy narration versus that which will catch the eye of the beholder.

Let’s continue with the premise that good narration can be “telling,” not “showing” if handled properly. If you do need to “expound” about details that you simply can’t include in dialogue, then I suggest following the next few steps to good “telling:”

  1. “Paint” a picture with your words that includes as many of the senses as you can. (Remember my waterfall scene in the last blog?) Think of your reader as one of the characters so he/she experiences the same thing your characters are experiencing.
  2. If you are going to open your book (or each chapter, for that matter) with narration and not dialogue, hook your reader. That all important first paragraph of your novel will either inspire your reader to go on or cause him to yawn and put your book down. Check the opening paragraphs of best-selling authors and analyze how they grab your attention in that first paragraph.
  3. Even though you’re probably writing your novel in one predominant character’s voice, good narration often establishes an omniscient voice, one that is authoritative and sets the general mood of the novel. The earlier you accomplish this, the better. (Again, study the beginning chapters of some great novels. What voice does the writer present in the narration?)
  4. Do not expound for pages and pages of narration. That’s a sure-way to lose your reader. Condense and summarize if nothing exciting is happening to your character. Remember our literature AND our readers today in our fast-moving society are both a far cry from the novels or fans of that style or writing from decades ago.
  5. Dialogue is not always the way to go with back story. If details are not that important in a character’s past life, you can work it in to the manuscript so that your character is reflecting into the past. Don’t bore your reader with unimportant details!
  6. Shorten your narration to a few sentences if you’re describing secondary characters. You can’t always show every single action, dialogue, or mood of all your characters. It isn’t necessary. There are times when you will want to economize your method and just plain “tell” the reader what happened. But as a skillful storyTELLER, you can refine your writing style and keep your reader on the edge of his seat, even if you are “telling,” not “showing.”

So there you have it. Telling is not always bad. It depends entirely on the skill you incorporate to hook that reader and keep his attention through your spurts of narration.






Becky and Jim Fahringer

(Directors of the Montrose Bible Conference Center)

July 19th-24th


Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Paid Professional Critiques with Award-Winning Authors and Editors

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors


Award-winning Eva Marie Everson

will present Foundations of Fiction through Film

(6 sessions)

June 22, 2015

Make Those Characters Jump Off the Page


I recently read the first few dozen pages of a manuscript for a YA novel, which the author had decided to submit to a publishing company for consideration. Unfortunately, it didn’t take but about five pages before I realized the writing was “flat.” One of the characteristics of “flatness” is the lack of character development. The author failed to include hardly any physical features or any sense of the emotional or mental state, (i.e. their likes and dislikes, virtues and vices, qualities that make them human, not cardboard) of all the characters except the main protagonist, and those descriptions were scanty. I felt the author needed to do a study on character development, start his manuscript over again, and make his characters come alive.

So, how do you make your characters come alive in that next great American novel you’re writing? Let’s look at ten characteristics that will make those characters jump off that page:

  1. Make each character uniquely different with different names. A few years ago, a friend critiqued the first four chapters of the Amish fiction I wrote, and she caught a big mistake. I had two characters named “Joe.” Yikes!
  2. Give each character his own distinctive voice. After a few chapters, your reader should be able to tell who’s speaking without even looking at the tag.
  3. Have your characters working jobs or going to school or doing “something” relevant to the plot. If you’re writing a murder mystery, your main character probably shouldn’t be babysitting puppies for a living.
  4. When you name your characters, give them names that fit their personality, body type, nationality, etc. Now picture this: your character is a 220-pound Italian hunk, built like Superman and he’s a policeman, then you give him the name “Wilbur.”
  5. If you’re writing fiction with different viewpoints, only get inside the head of your main characters…and only one P.O.V. per scene. Over the years, I’ve read books by one of the leading writers of Amish fiction in the country, but I had much trouble following her because of the multiple P.O.V.s. In one book, there were 16 P.O.V.s. I was so confused, I had to start over and write down everyone’s name, who they were, and how important they were to the story. After about 75 pages, I gave up on the book. This author has a big name, but because I don’t care to try to unscramble all those P.O.V.s, she’s not one of my favorites.
  6. Build your characters a little at a time as you write the novel. The plot should “thicken” at the same time you start to describe your characters more vividly and get them totally involved in the action.
  7. Even though you’re writing fiction, make your characters authentic. Interview policeman, veterinarians, computer geeks, or whomever so you have a thorough understanding of their job descriptions. In book seven of my Keystone Stables horse series, I developed a scene with a barn fire. Before doing so, I went to the local firemen and interviewed them to get the details of how the fire company would handle a barn fire in a countryside setting. I asked what kind of equipment they needed, what certain names of the trucks were, and how they’d tackle the task. The account in my book is accurate and detailed, even though the book is fiction.
  8. Start each characters’ names with different letters. How confusing would this be? Sam told Susie that Stella was going to be with Savannah the night of the social. Sheesh! Who’s who in that maze of words?
  9. For at least your main characters, give them some depth by including some history about them. They didn’t just hatch from eggs the day you started writing about them. (Or did they?) Build character sketches for each of them. I know some writers who give their characters full families, birthdays, college degrees, bank accounts in Sweden, and so on to “flesh them out” all before the book manuscript is even started! Details DO matter when you’re writing about people. Write so that your reader thinks he/she can almost hear your characters breathe.
  10. Have your characters less than perfect. Develop flaws in their appearances or personalities, which they must overcome or accept as the plot unfolds. No one likes to read about a character, who seems too good to be true. In the long run, that character will be too good to be true, and he/she will turn your reader right off.

So there you have it. Flesh out your characters, and you’ll have a best-seller on your hands and on the shelves of book stores across the land.






Don’t miss meeting new writer friends,

gleaning from the experts,

and enjoying the special events!

July 19th-24th


Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors

June 15, 2015

“Write Tight!”

How often have you heard conference speakers, i.e. authors, agents, and editors, say to be a successful, published author, you need to write “tight”?

So in pen laymen’s terms, what in the world does “writing tight” mean? Could it mean you should wear skinny Spandex clothes while you’re in your creative mode? Or how about drinking 10 cups of coffee so that you are wired to the max and look like a scared porcupine?

Let’s take a look at eight qualities that define a piece of literature whether fiction or nonfiction as “tight” or stripped to its cleanest components:

  1. Use specific nouns: Not: The bird flew over. Rather: The raven flew over the barn.
  2. Pitch out as many adverbs as you can: Not: He spoke loudly and angrily. Rather: He yelled!
  3. Be positive in sentence inflection: Not: He didn’t show any respect. Rather: He showed no respect.
  4. Use active not passive voice with your verbs: Not: Bowser, the dog, was walked by Joe. Rather: Joe walked his dog, Bowser.
  5. Get rid of sentences that start with “There” or “There were:” Not: There was a lot of snow last month. Rather: Last month’s snow total broke records.
  6. Show, don’t tell; in other words, describe your action clearly: Not: Billy was really angry. Rather: Billy pounded his fist on the table.
  7. Watch for redundant phrases: Not: Millie blushed with embarrassment. Rather: Millie’s face turned bright red.
  8. Use down-to-earth language and throw out eloquent pedantic phrases and euphemisms that no one will know what the heck you’re talking about: Not: Mona’s face showed lines of agony and remorse while streams of tears flooded her poor anguished soul. Rather: Mona cried as though her heart was broken.

So, there you have it. We’ve listed only eight, but very important, tidbits on how to become a best-selling author, and your readers will be begging for more.





July 19th-24th


Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors


June 8, 2015

How to Turn Off Your Readers

You’re writing that great American novel. You’ve read tons of “how to write” books, studied your high school English books to the last dangling participle, and now you’re ready to start pecking away at the keyboard.

There are a few basic principles of writing good fiction to keep your reader engaged that must be remembered or your book will go flying out your reader’s window. Worse yet, while it’s being reviewed at the publishing company, the editor will send your manuscript back so fast, you’re characters’ heads will be spinning. Your story will never see the light of published day.

So, if you want to turn off your reader, or your editor, here’s what you do:

  1. Start your book by waxing eloquent. Describe beautiful settings, introduce action, and throw in a few pages of dialogue of minor characters. But don’t introduce your main protagonist until page 10.
  2. Write 20 pages of backstory with vivid descriptions and details of your protagonist’s past life. Tell every nitty, gritty little detail about him that doesn’t mean beans to the main story line.
  3. Have your plot direction the mystery of mysteries. “What the heck is going on here?” will run through your reader’s mind every time he turns the page and starts a new chapter.
  4. Develop a main protagonist that is offensive and says really outrageous or stupid things that aren’t justified. For example, women readers are very sensitive to male attitudes toward them. (The author’s attitudes will come shining through in the protagonist’s actions and words.)


  1. Make your main protagonist such a “cutsie” or upstanding citizen that your readers get turned off by his/her perfect life. Let’s face it. No one’s perfect except Jesus. Your hero/heroine has to have some faults, which endears him/her to the reader and cheers him/her on to win at the end of the story. No reader in his right mind would want to embrace a character who is so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.
  2. If you’re writing Christian fiction, preach it, brother! Fill your pages with scripture verses and holier-than-thou principles of goody-two-shoes living. Write a book that reads more like a Bible study than a novel. Yes, you want to embed biblical principles in your writing, but do it subtly through the eyes and heart of your main character, and your readers will get the hint.

So, there you have it. If you’ve decided you don’t want to ever be published, there’s what you do. Master these six steps, and you’ll definitely turn off any reader who’s brave enough to attempt to tackle your “eloquence.”




July 19th-24th




Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors


June 1, 2015

Five Elements of a Strong YA Book


You’re ready to start pounding the keyboard with a great idea for a novel to catch the attention of tweens or young adult readers. But where do you begin? What makes that story irresistible to the reader? What makes your manuscript a page turner?

Let’s review five elements, each which could take an hour’s seminar to explain in detail, that will help you write a winner. If you incorporate these five elements into your writing, you’ll have a finished product that will catch the eye of an editor and hook your reader until the last page:

  1. Develop memorable characters – Joe Schmo should not be a brown-haired, brown-eyed stereotype with no quirks or anything different about him; rather, he should have strong personality traits, perhaps be very courageous or very cowardice to gain your sympathy; he should, nonetheless, conquer his fears and frustrations and go after what he wants.
  2. Pace your action and intersperse it with periods of quiet. Kids love action, but if every page has Joe Schmo jumping out of a hot air balloon, swimming the English channel, or saving Mary Schmarey from a bomb that’s going off in three seconds, your reader will just get bored or he might need some nerve pills! Conflicting emotions and inward struggles are just as exciting to the reader as a jet plane flying under the San Francisco Bay Bridge!
  3. Develop witty, clever dialogue, but make sure it doesn’t all sound like kids’ talk. Brand your characters with certain styles of dialogue for variety’s sake, and for tween novels especially, “have dialogue on every page,” one of my wise editors once told me.
  4. Have your main character face challenges and problems that are very difficult to overcome. You need antagonistic characters to make life difficult for Joe Schmo, or you need to develop a plot that has Joe running in circles or, sometimes, running away before he gets the wisdom or courage to defeat his foe.
  5. Develop an “instant-recall factor” in your story line. Winning stories always have a plot or parts of a plot that stay with the reader long after he’s put the book down. What favorite books do you remember? What is it about their storyline that is so memorable? Write incidents that excite the reader’s mind or play on his emotions.                                               When I have book signings and my tween fans come to the table, I like to ask them, “Do you like to laugh or cry when you read? I have books in my Keystone Stables Series that will satisfy any emotion, and, hopefully, the characters and storyline will stay with my readers long after they’ve read the last page. To this end, we all should write!




July 19th-24th



Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors

May 25, 2015

On Writing: Those Pesky Possessives


Awhile back, I helped the ladies of our church proof  a cookbook before sending it to the printer. One of the questionable terms that came up in a few of the recipes was “confectioner’s sugar.” Did it have an apostrophe or not?

I checked out a bag of the little white powder at the grocery store, and the manufacturing company had it spelled “confectioners sugar” on the label.

One of the gals in the church took the time to look up possessives in an English book and found that, at least, in her resource, confectioner DOES use an apostrophe in this phrase: confectioner’s sugar.

Publisher’s choice? This is often the case with punctuation, and, unfortunately, the rules always seem to be changing.

So, FYI, I’ve included just a few of those pesky possessive rules for you to ponder. But don’t bet your life on any of these; in a year or two, some could be different, or the editor with whom you work might have her own idea.

Just try to understand the pesky possessive’s point of view.

Generally, a possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s to a word that does not end in s, and only an apostrophe to a word that does end in s. An apostrophe is not added to plurals.
Some Singulars: child, lunch, sheep, lady, man, passerby:

Singular Possessive: child’s, lunch’s, sheep’s, lady’s, man’s, passerby’s

Plural:  children, lunches, sheep, ladies, men, passersby

Plural Possessive:  children’s, lunches’, sheep’s, ladies’, men’s , passersbys’

Add an apostrophe to a word that ends in an s sound: for old times’ sake for conscience’ sake for appearance’ sake

Add an apostrophe and an s to a foreign name ending in a silent sibilant. Descartes’s invention Des Moines’s schools faux pas’s

Add an apostrophe and an s to the last word of a singular compound noun. the Governor of Maine’s the attorney general’s

Indicate common possession by making only the last item in a series possessive. Teddy, Peggy, and Nancy’s home

Indicate individual possession by making each item in a series possessive. Teddy’s, Peggy’s, and Nancy’s homes

The following types of possessives should be written as singulars. artist’s paintbrush baker’s yeast farmer’s market confectioner’s sugar florist’s wire printer’s ink writer’s cramp painter’s tape

So there you have some help for these pesky possessives that you sometimes see rarely and might use barely at all. Yet, when one pops up in your manuscript, maybe this little blog will help you use the correct form.

On another note, make plans to join the Odd Duck Society and attend the Montrose Christian Writers Conference this July 19th-24th. The faculty of 16 includes award-winning authors, editors, and an agent, all eager to sit down with you and discuss your projects. You might go home with a contract!



May 16, 2015

On Writing: Christian Horror

Have you noticed there’s a new genre out there for us writers AND readers to try to absorb: Christian horror. If you recall, the popularity of the “darker” genre seemed to start gaining popularity with Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness in 1986, and since then has branched out into a few other subgenres.

I’m trying to wrap my heart around the concept of this new genre, but I’m having trouble accepting it. The whole idea of “Christian horror” seems like such an oxymoron, a genre filled with opposites that cannot coexist on the same page. Can two be together unless they agree?

Ever since Harry Potter appeared on the scene, and then Twilight (plus dozens of other similars), these spooky fiction subgenres are running wild in the market at the moment, so everyone with a pen in his hand is jumping on the bandwagon to write a best-seller thriller, Christian or not.

At present I know of at least three different publishing companies (I’m sure there are lots more) that are now releasing Christian horror or paranormal novels. A few years ago, at my request, an editor at one of those companies had sent me a manuscript of the creepy genre to read so I could get a grip on what the Christian market is trying to present to its readers with this seemingly contradictory new type of book.

I’ve been told the main difference with a secular and Christian horror is this: the Christian book exposes the occult, witchcraft, demonic activity, or “whatever wicked this way comes” for what it is: evil. The book then presents the gospel of Jesus Christ with hope for the future to be delivered from such evil.

Anticipating that promised vision of hope in the resolution, I read that manuscript and just recently finished reading another paranormal novel with an open mind to see if I could accept the new genre as part of American literature that is not only a good read, but also presents the truth based on biblical principles and hope beyond the gory grave.

I must admit both reads encroached way too much into my comfort zone so that I put the books down and walked away often. When I reached the last page, I concluded that this new genre is not for me. It certainly won’t be for me to write, and I doubt I’ll ever pick up a horror or paranormal book of any kind again, whether it has the Christian label on it or not.

I’m not condemning this genre and its offshoots. If the books proclaim salvation through Jesus and deliverance from evil of any kind, then more power to them. I’m just saying it’s not for me.

Now a Word about the Montrose Christian Writers Conference

Please join us from July 19th to the 26th and meet one of our faculty members teaching blogging and social media


Don Catlett: media expert and advisor to multiple startups, has spent more than 14 years working at the crossroads of web design, photography, marketing, and social media. Since launching Clearly See Media in 2008, he continues to hone his skills as a digital advertising specialist for companies including Amazon Publishing, Lamplighter Publishing, QVC, The Shopping Channel, The Learning Parent, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Home Educating Family Magazine, Christian Homeschool Magazine, and AHEAD National Conferences. He also provides marketing direction and advice for building a presence with social media.

Please check out the week’s schedule at http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx



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