Craft

How Things Used to Be

My family and I have discovered a new TV channel we absolutely love: ME TV. No, it’s not about being egotistical. ME stands for Memorable Entertainment, and its lineup boasts all the old shows that we used to watch when I was a kid. No fooling! It’s like my youth has been reborn! Everything from Rockford Files to Wagon Train, Perry Mason, to Dick VanDyke, Hawaii 5-0 (the REAL 5-0) to Family Affair, Columbo to The Guns of Will Sonnett…so many shows that, even at the earliest age, caught my imagination and introduced me to the power of story. Each show, in it’s own way, drew me in, making me a part of the drama, adventure, or romance. I knew, even back then, that I wanted to be a part of all that. Of weaving stories. Of letting them bring truths to life in a way that engaged the heart, imagination, and mind.

But as I’ve watched these old shows, I’ve discovered something. Something that absolutely astounded me. God is there. Up front and center. In these TV shows—Prime Time shows–shows that, all those years ago, visited countless homes every week, characters—beloved characters—quote Scripture, pray, and read the Bible. Faith is as much a part of these stories as anything else, and it’s woven in seamlessly. Even, at times, masterfully.

And here’s the thing: I didn’t remember that about these shows. As I’ve wondered why, I realized something. My not remembering wasn’t because the faith aspect wasn’t well done, but because it was a natural part of things back then. Not only of the shows, but of life. When this realization hit me, I found myself inexplicably moved. And saddened.

Moved, because God’s truth is so beautifully represented. Because the power of God’s Word and love is demonstrated so honestly, so realistically, that I want to jump up and cheer. The faith element isn’t tacked on or “Hollywood.” It’s just a part of the fabric of the characters and the story. And it’s perfect.

And saddened because of how much we’ve lost. After a few days of watching these old shows, I found myself fighting tears. I turned to my dad during a particularly moving episode of Wagon Train, where they offered a simple but beautiful prayer for God’s intervention during a crisis. “That’s what America used to be,” I said to him, pushing the words past a sudden tightness in my throat. “I miss that America.”

Friends, we’ve lost so much. Not just in the shows we watch on TV, but in our lives. Because odds are, if a TV show today showed the reality of faith and God as unashamedly as these old shows, there would be an outcry. Complaints about what folks were being forced to watch, about not being “tolerant” of other world views. But more than that. My heart breaks because, back then, Americans were proud not just of their country, but of the fact that we were people of faith. People who prayed for each other, people who acknowledged God freely, in every aspect of life. Who recognized and celebrated the positive impact of Truth. Shoot, people who understood there was Truth!

That’s why I believe so much in what we as writers, editors, agents, and speakers do. We may not have those kinds of shows on TV today, but we—you and I—can bring such stories to life in the pages of our books. So stay the course, friends. Let God’s love and truth shine bright in the stories and books you craft. Remind your readers that we are still, no matter what the world wants to think, people of faith. People who pray for each other. People who are moved and inspired by Scripture. People who understand that what makes us American isn’t freedom from faith, but freedom of faith.

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Fun Words

I don’t usually stay up late enough to watch Conan O’Brien but awhile back I caught a show during which he campaigned to bring back use of the word thrice.

Thrice. Indeed, a fun word.

Yesterday Karen wrote about beautiful words so well that today I thought we could play with words and look at those that are entertaining. I’d like to suggest some other fun words that I think just aren’t used enough.

Slapdash

Because I’d rather negotiate contracts, send out proposals, and encourage writers, I employ a slapdash approach to housekeeping.

Draconian

While Steve Laube is draconian regarding book proposals, cooperative writers are rewarded with praise and contracts.

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Beautiful Words…100 of Them!

As someone who has studied other languages (French, Spanish, and Russian), I love the physicality of words. When you speak either French or Russian, your whole lower face gets a workout. It’s as though you’re tasting the words as well as speaking them.

Happily, English has words like that as well. Consider the following:

• impecunious
• circuitous
• mellifluous
• exsanguinate
• ebullient
• flummery

Words like these are not only fun to use, they’re fun to say. The feel of some even reflect their meaning. Impecunious has a tight, stingy feel to it. Mellifluous rolls off the tongue. Flummery feels a bit foolish as it escapes you.

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Loving to Laugh


At least once a week I’m asked if romantic comedy is currently marketable. While sometimes this category seems hot and then cold, I’d say that sharp, witty, well-executed romantic comedy can find a good home no matter what the publishing season. Note that I take the adjectives I used seriously. This is not a category that most writers can whip off with little effort. Successful writers of romantic comedy are gifted with the ability to find humor in everyday situations and the talent to share that humor in an entertaining way. The writing must fly like a magic carpet. The reader is looking for a fun story.
One successful writer of romantic comedy is Gail Sattler. Here is a great tip from Gail:

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En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part Three)

Remember that old adage for retailers, “The customer is always right?” Well, for novelists seeking the perfect title, that should be “The audience is always right.”

Tip #4: Remember Your Audience! Novelists do a great job, on the whole, of keeping their audience in mind as they write. But sometimes when trying to come up with a catchy title or cover image, they go a bit far afield of that audience. The result is that readers who would love the story won’t even pick it up. And those who do pick it up may not find what they expected inside. So as you work on your title, remember who your reader is. For example:

Age range. If your book would appeal mostly to Christian women in their 40s and up, then don’t use a trendy title that will appeal to the twenty-somethings. And watch out for technology phrases. Unless your certain your core audience is familiar with both the meaning and use of something technologial, steer clear. For example, using RAM, bits, bytes, and bauds as words in your title may work for a younger audience, or one that’s technologically savvy, but for older readers? Odds are good you’d lose ’em. (Or have them writing you letters scolding you for misspelling bites.)
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Show or Tell: How Do You Know?

As we discussed last week, it’s okay to tell at times, but in fiction you want to show the important, emotion-laden scenes. That way the reader gets the vicarious experience along with the character. So how do you know when you’re telling rather than showing? Here are a few tips:

Beware the dreaded –ly adverbs.

“Get out of my novel, you –ly adverbs!” Alice said angrily.

Ah-ah-ah! Any time you use an –ly adverb (angrily, happily, stupidly, etc), you’re telling us what the emotion is rather than showing it. Instead, show the emotion, whatever it may be, through actions or punctuation. In the example above, the exclamation point tells us Alice is being vehement, but it’s not clear if she’s angry or frightened.

Alice stared at the page of her novel, her blood pressuring rising. Thirty-two! Thirty-two –ly adverbs on one page! What was wrong with her? “Auughh!” Her cry still echoing around her, she grabbed the page, crumpled it into a compact ball, and pitched it, as hard as she could, against the wall.

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Show, Don’t Tell

I’m From Missouri—SHOW me!

Okay, truth be told, I’m from Oregon. But in the 30 years I’ve been editing fiction, I’ve discovered a number of issues almost all writers face, regardless of how much they’ve written or been published. If I had to pick the top issue I see over and over, it would be Show, Don’t Tell.

What, you may ask, does that mean? It’s actually pretty simple. It’s the difference between telling us what someone is feeling, and letting us see it for ourselves through dialogue, action, and body language. For example:

Jack was so angry he could kill.

That, my friends, is telling. But…

Heat filled Jack’s face, his chest, his blood. His fingers tightened on the gun. Nobody did this to him. Nobody. His finger caressed the trigger, and he smiled. The fools thought they’d taught him a lesson, but they’d see they were wrong. They’d see it all right…just before they died.

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The Wrong Point-of-View

Last week we identified Point-of-View (POV). This week, let’s consider some common POV misteps.

What’s My Line?: When POV/voice doesn’t fit the character.

Here’s an example. The POV character is male and a construction worker. So is the following appropriate for his POV?

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Out of Their Minds: The basics of point-of-view

Ever been reading a novel, cooking along with the character, when you realize you’re not seeing things through that character’s eyes any longer? Somewhere along the way, something shifted and you’re inside a different character’s head. Jarring, huh? Probably jolted you out of the story, if only for a few seconds while you figured out what happened.

That, my friends, is what you want to avoid at all costs: Bumping your reader out of the story. Because once they’re out, any number of things can pull them away before they get back in.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Point of view. First, what is POV (point of view)? Anyone? Yes! That’s exactly right. (Hey, I’m a novelist too, remember? If I want to hear my imaginary class answering me, I can.”) Point of view is the “eyes” through which we’re seeing the story.

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True Words

Several months ago someone challenged me to read an article by Marilyn McEntyre entitled “Letting Words Do Their Work.” Because I respected the editor who made the recommendation, I hopped right on over the the link.

It’s not easy reading. Nor is it a “quick read.” But I’ll tell you what it is:

Powerful truth. If you’re a writer, speaker, agent, reader, or simply one who loves–truly loves–words, you’ve got to read this article. A few salient points that resonated:

“It is hard to tell the truth these days, because the varieties of untruth are so many, so pervasive, and so well disguised.”

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