Writerly Musings

Over the last few days I’ve spent a lot of time editing. Well, in reality I’ve spent a lot of time accepting or rejecting the edits that a beta reader made for When Life Hands You Lymes
As I work, I’ve discovered something funny: When the beta reader suggests a change for a scene that has been written during one of the last five drafts, I’m very likely to be like “Oh wow, that makes sense” and push accept. On the other hand, when he suggests a change for a scene that was written during the first ten drafts, then it’s much harder. It’s literally more difficult at times for me to be okay with changing one word of an older draft scene, than to delete an entire paragraph in one of the newer scenes. 
I think it’s safe to say that I get pretty attached to my characters, settings, and even word choices after I’ve worked with them for a while. I get to the point where I begin talking and thinking about the characters as if they’re real people. For instance, I’ll be shopping and will think, “Oh, Maddie would like to have that in her room” or “This is just the way Katie likes her coffee.” In reality, it shouldn’t be surprising, because I’ve literally spent thousands of hours with the characters during the last 33 months. (Which is more time than I’ve spent with any other people, except for my family, during the same time period.) Besides, I know that in order to make my characters come alive to the reader, they have to come alive to me. 

One thing that always makes me happy is when other people discuss my characters with me, as if they’re real. I have a handful of beta readers and friends who make little comments about what Maddie would like, or how Darrick totally did the right thing, and that makes my little writer’s heart extremely content.

There are some people out there who declare that their characters have a mind of their own, and the writer isn’t in control of anything that happens, and while I don’t agree with that, they do have a point.  After an author has worked for a long time to develop a character, then it is almost as if the character starts taking over. To explain the concept better, imagine your best friend. In all likelihood, you can predict how she would react to certain situations, and it wouldn’t work out too well if you’d try and make her react in a different way, just because you thought your way was better.

My characters react certain ways in certain situations, because that’s who they are. And, since I didn’t know the characters as well back when I was writing the plot, then sometimes the plot is totally outdated and needs help, because hey, the character isn’t going to step out of character just to make the plot work better. So when that happens, it sorta does feel like the characters have minds of their own.

And now I’m off to edit again. I hope y’all have a fantastic and victorious day!

* * *
What about you? Have you ever caught yourself thinking about a character (in a book you’ve written or read), as if they’re real? 

To-Do Lists, Monday Mornings, and Happiness.

A delightful “Happy Monday!” to y’all. This busy week dawned for me after a restless night where I kept waking up, checking the clock, and willing the morning to arrive so I could start on my mile-long list of things to do. 
I’m not even quite sure how I’ll be able to organize my time to fit everything in this week that I need to accomplish…but it should be a fun challenge. I have work to do for my non-writing job, a non-fiction book to read for review, City of Outcasts to finish (or nearly finish, anyway). I have a book I’m beta reading for a friend, short stories to write, my office to straighten (again), grass to cut, buuutttt…What I’m most excited about this week is that on Saturday I got the 15th draft of When Life Hands You Lymes back from a beta reader. So yay!
This is the most thorough going-over I’ve ever had from a beta reader. And that’s a good thing. There is only so much one person (aka me) can do to polish up a story. And, after 15 drafts and multiple rounds of beta reading, the book still had a far piece to travel.

Saturday afternoon, as soon as I got back from my non-writing job, I dove into reading through the comments the beta reader had made. I responded to quite a few of them, and gauged my reaction on the rest. That process alone took several hours. (Happy hours, I might add, because I was getting to work on WLHYL again!)

I had to take breaks to finish reading and reviewing a book, write 1,000 words on City of Outcasts, and send a few emails, but other then that I worked on the edits until midnight arrived, signaling the end of my work week.

Yesterday was brimming full with going to church, helping out with Sunday School, and then working in the nursery during the second service. I attended a baby shower after that, and the rest of the afternoon was bursting with a conglomeration of events (blessedly it also hosted a nap). It was a few minutes before 10:30 when I happily fell into bed, ready to peacefully sleep the night away. Only, by then my brain was like “Ah-ha! A new week is just around the corner, so let’s start thinking full-speed, cause guess what? You’ve got the16th draft of WLHYL to work through!” Needless to say, I’m happy that Monday has now arrived.

I hope y’all are as excited about this week as I am, and if you have any tips on how I can manage my time better, I’d be delighted to hear them. And now I’m off to beta read, so I can then dive back into editing. 

Contrasting Two Writing Styles {Snippets}

Hey y’all! Today I decided to let you see a bit of the contrast between Echoes and WLHYL by posting a segment from each of them. That way it should be easier for you to understand why I have to totally switch gears in my brain when going from working on one of the books to the other.

The first segment is from WLHYL, which is set in modern day Ohio. The story is about Madalyn Emerson, a teenage musician who’s struggling to overcome Lyme disease.

“You know what?” Katie asked when we were standing in line at the Ice Cream Shoppe an hour later. 
“You want a chocolate sundae with marshmallows, gummy-bears, pecans and sprinkles on top?” I guessed.
“You guess the most off-the-wall things sometimes, Maddie.” 
“You want a puppy for your birthday?” 
“What?” Mom turned and looked at me. “Did you just say you wanted a puppy for your birthday, Madds?” 
“No, not me. Katie.” 
“Katie? I don’t think they allow them in college.”
“No, Mother.” Katie inclined her head toward me. “I was thinking of getting a banana split and somehow your daughter turned that into a puppy. Don’t ask me how.” 
“A banana split? That sounds good to me, too. Somehow having the word banana in there makes it feel a little bit more healthy.” Mom studied the menu hanging up on the wall.
“With extra chocolate syrup.” Katie rubbed her stomach. “I don’t think I’ve had a banana split since my tenth birthday.” 
“I think if we name your puppy ‘Banana Split’ we should shorten it to just ‘Splitty’ or ‘Banana’. It takes too long to say all of ‘Banana Split.’” We were at the front of the line by now, so neither Mom nor Katie responded to my joke. Some jokes just don’t get the laughs they deserve. 
After Mom and Katie ordered their banana splits, the guy turned to me. “I would like a chocolate sundae with marshmallows, gummy-bears, pecans, and sprinkles on top, please.” All three of them just looked at me. “It sounds good.” I offered the guy behind the counter a smile. “Thank you.” 
“I’ll get the napkins when you two find a seat,” Mom offered. 
We found a booth and carried our treats over. I heard the ping of a text coming in and glanced down. It was from Emily. I silenced my phone and slipped it into my pocket. I didn’t want to be rude and answer while with people. 
Mom came up and handed us each a couple of napkins, “Let’s say grace now so we can eat this food before it’s a puddle of sugar and syrup.” 
I took my first bite as soon as Mom said “amen.” Yum-my.
random cute picture of the day

Now this second segment is from Echoes, which is set in a Medieval-type setting, in the fictional land of Kios. The story is told in duel narration by identical twins, Princesses Nicolette and Raquel. Raquel is the one narrating this chapter.

When we arrived at our table I felt a slight pounding in my chest. Although I held little regard for the king, I didn’t relish the forthcoming fight that would doubtlessly occur once the words City of Outcasts had been uttered. Oh, I knew he would be politically flawless and wait for privacy before trying to change the mind of Princess Rylie, yet there was no way under the sun he wouldn’t use his most convincing tactics.   
The thought of silencing him with the truth of his own daughters resounded in my head, not for the first time, but I cleared it away. I couldn’t betray my own echo. 
I lifted the skirt of my gown a mere inch as we tread up the carpet covered steps to the platform. Looking up I caught a quick and subtle wink from Keagan who stood expressionlessly at the wall behind my chair. His faith in me bolstered my spirits. He knew that the announcement tonight would go far in furthering our cause, and I knew he would stand by me no matter what. Literally and figuratively. 
The king held out my chair for me and I sat down. 
“Let us begin.” The announcers voice rang out after the king had taken the seat next to me. A cymbal crashed, doors swung open on both sides of the banquet hall, and a parade of servants dressed identically in yellow uniforms with green aprons filed into the room, arms laden with steaming dishes of food. 
Along with the procession came the mouth-watering aroma of baked lamb, sautéed spring onions paired with fresh goats milk cheese, and the yeasty deliciousness of crescent rolls. I refrained from turning around and giving Keagan an apologetic look. Our lives were so equal and entwined in the Inner chamber that I never felt quite right about feasting while he stood behind me on duty. He had reassured me time and time again that it was fine and he delighted in doing his job, but still it distressed me. 
“You are quiet tonight.” The king spoke to me as the servants filled our table with food. My eyes lit up when I saw the buttered peas and peppered cod. 
“Thank you.” I smiled at the maid serving me. “Tis a feast to be sure.” Then I turned to the king. “Aye, tis so. I have much on my mind.” 
“I hope I did not upset you this morning?” The king lowered his voice a fraction even though the noise of the banquet hall had risen to a pitch that was likely to produce a headache before the evening was over. 
I sucked in a deep breath before replying. Nicolette had repeated almost verbatim the words that had been exchanged as they broke their fast and I had to fight off a feeling of despair. This man sitting beside me really was trying to do his best for his daughter. He was trying to give her the advantages and desires of her heart that he had not experienced. 
“Sire, might we hire several echoes to help with the workload at the palace?” My eyes widened as soon as I spoke the words. What was wrong with me? 
“You are as fixated on the subject as your mother, may she rest in peace, was.” The king’s eyebrows lowered. “It must be the blood from the Turglar royalty in your blood.” He leaned back against his seat, half of a roll in his hand. 
“Tis a good thing, is it not?” 
“Aye, the changes your mother, may she rest in peace, brought to our country have brought us up from the heap of barbaricness and raised the lifestyle our people dwell in. I – I – I’m not sure if we’re ready to introduce echoes to the palace staff yet, my daughter.” 
“What difference does it make? You’ve publicly proclaimed that they are as human as the rest of us.” I felt my eyes going hard. 
“Aye, aye.” The king set his food down and licked his lips. “I don’t expect you to understand, Rylie.” 
“That is good because I don’t.” I wanted to slap myself as soon as the words escaped my mouth. I sounded more like a spoiled child than a princess ready to prove herself in the Year of Proof. 

Exclamation Points and Their Sneaky, Weasel-ly Ways

Confession: I was pretty pleased with myself.

Back at the beginning of my writing career, I used exclamation points like they were going out of style. This slowly evolved over time until I not only abhorred them in books (except for when someone is yelling or cheering or such), but I rarely even use them on Noveltea. Now, I must admit they sometimes sneak into my emails and texts like a prison-wide jail break, but that’s normally when I’m being frivolous with my writing style anyway.
So, I decided to search When Life Hands You Lymes and see how many exclamation points I had. I figured there would probably be a dozen or so, cause there’s some yelling that goes on, plus a surprise party. 
Y’all. I had EIGHTY-SIX exclamation points. No, really. Eighty-six. How in the world? And right there, the pleased-ness (yes, I just coined that word), I felt at my morphing into a non-exclamation-point-using author vanished. So, of course I had to look at each and every one of those exclamation points and see why in the world they were cluttering up my book. 
Thankfully in the space of two sittings I was able to significantly cut down on that scarily excessive amount of exclamation points and return my book to a much more respectful standing in the library of my brain. 
Here are some examples of exclamation points I change to periods or question marks:
* * * 
* * *
* * * 
* * *

Yet, despite my best efforts there were times when an exclamation point was really needed to convey the way the words was spoken. Take for instance, “Merry Christmas!” is the normal way to greet someone (on Christmas day at least), and if I had just written “Merry Christmas.” then the readers would get the impression that Madalyn wasn’t actually excited about Christmas. And yeah, we couldn’t have that. So, here are some examples of the exclamation points I kept:

* * *

Same thing with birthday greetings. No one texts “Happy Birthday, Best friend.” when they’re wanting to spread cheer and happiness, right? An exclamation point is practically required with that type of text:

* * *
And then there’s the case when someone was surprised and screeched a word in excited happiness:  
* * *
And that, folks, is the saga of my vicious fight with the semi-dreaded exclamation points and how I cut their number from eighty-six down to thirty-seven. I’m still slightly shocked that so many of them worked their way into WLHYL, and that no one pointed them out to me, but I guess maybe they were hidden pretty well… 
What about y’all? Do you have a hard time with those sneaky little bits of punctuation? 

When Life Hands You Lymes Editing Update

Two weeks ago I spent hours staring at my computer screen, trying to make sense of all the feedback I’d received from beta readers (aka Lymeaides) regarding When Life Hands You Lymes. To clarify: Their words made sense, but I had no clue how to incorporate the advice into the actual book. Fun, fun. 
The week was seriously so unproductive that it’s surprising my book didn’t launch an all-out revolt against me. (Or wait… Maybe that’s what the problem was…) Not only did I gaze fixedly on my computer screen for way too long, but I also took lots of random walks where I ate gobs of tingling tart, and sometimes mushy sweet, berries. Normally walks help snap my brain into gear, but unfortunately it was taking a lot longer this time.
On the plus side, I’d recently read a book where I had many of the same thoughts that people were expressing about WLHYL, so it made it a lot easier to listen to them. I’ve been working on WLHYL for so long that Maddie’s story is so incredibly ingrained into my brain that I sometimes forget what’s really in the book and what parts I’ve taken out. That can leave for some jumbled scenes that seem randomly thrown together for no reason, and that’s obviously not good. Since my brain tried to be helpful and kept subconsciously reinserting those deleted scenes, it was pretty difficult to figure out where the problem was. Humm… 

Then at the beginning of last week something shifted and I was suddenly like Oh! NOW I SEE! (Which, probably prompted some excited running around the pond and happy swinging on the swing and large gulps of iced (decaf) coffee, but I won’t say for sure, so you can use your imagination.) Then I hunkered down and actually accomplished a vast amount on the 15th draft, and was excited about the book again instead of looking for someone to rant to about it.

I did a lot of merging scenes and even changed the order of some small scenes. I took out over 3,500 words in scenes, and a few paragraphs. That’s kinda a big deal considering that this is the 15th draft of the book and the story has already been cut down a large amount. I also shortened some chapters so I could take out scene breaks cause they were chopping the book into unhappy little pieces.  Overall, the story now has a much more cohesive feeling then before, so it’s all worth it.

When Life Hands You Lymes still has a distance to travel, but it’s good to see the book moving forward after feeling like it was stagnant for way too long. Maddie’s story has been one that I’ve long been half-way delighted and half-way freaked out about, and it’s good to be in one of the “delighted” stages again.

And that’s it for today, folks. 

Beta Reader Feedback for WLHYL

This week I finally began the 15th draft of When Life Hands You Lymes; and believe me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. The problem is that I’m no longer sure what’s absolutely necessary to the story, what helps give it life, and what is just excess.

To give y’all a glimpse of what I’m working with, I figured I would post a compilation of some of feedback I’ve received from beta readers who read the 14th draft of WLHYL. I’m also posting some suggestions they had of how to fix it.

*I felt let down by the way a lot of scenes ended
-No hook, punch… making me feel like we’d left off in the middle of a scene
-A concluding statement, but it came separated from the action that made me want to see how the action led to the statement
*Some scenes made me wonder what their point was.
-No solid, intentional ending
-Nothing to build my expectation and then satisfy it
Questions to ask:
  1. What is the purpose of this scene? 
  2. How is this scene carrying the story forward? 
  3. What does this scene reveal about the plot or an important character? 
  4. What will the reader get from this scene? 
  5. How can I communicate that in an effective way that will leave them either with a greater understanding of the story’s events or with a desire to keep reading? 
Scene Endings:
*How does each ending tie a knot after the scene? 
*How does it leave you wanting to read more? 
*How does it convey purpose? 
*By the end of each scene, readers ought to know why that scene is in the story
Felt let down by events or thought processes that were never shown. Consider all the details you include:
*Are they important to the story? 
*Do readers need to know these details? 
*What expectations are they setting up? 
*Will the story fulfill those expectations? 
Only details that should be in the story are the ones that affect the story. 
There seemed to be a fair amount of repetition, especially with emotional scenes. Without anything new, or bigger, or better, it’s hard to keep the reader’s interest
Needed: 
*A steady build toward the climax
*A plunge to this emotional depth where she expresses hopeless and despair
*The next emotional plunge is deeper, where she wonders what her purpose of her life is
*The next emotional plunge is the deepest yet, where she contemplates suicide
Etc… 
Examine each scene and determine how it affects the story. 
*What does Maddie realize
*What does Maddie think
*What does Maddie pray
…that she hasn’t before

On the Subject of Positive Thinking – Authorish Thoughts

This morning I’m sitting on my adopted parent’s wrap-around porch with birds singing, fans blowing, wind rustling through the leaves, and soothing piano music playing. There are at least five bird feeders within my view, a pond is just across the yard, and we’re at the edge of the woods, so the wildlife activity surrounding me is constant.

Today I’m posting “part two” of my last post, which is actually the reply I sent to the aforementioned beta reader after he replied to the first email (which would be what I posted on Tuesday). I hope y’all enjoy seeing some more of what goes on behind the scenes in my brain when I’m working on a book. 


The email:

I agree with your first several comments, so no need to start there. In fact, most of what I’ve been pondering recently has to do with “positive” thinking instead of the issue of praise. 
First off, let’s define positive so we can make sure we’re on the same page. I just google searched “positive thinking defined” and this is what I found “Positive thinking is a mental attitude in wich you expect good and favorable results. In other words, positive thinking is the process of creating thoughts that create and transform energy into reality. A positive mind waits for happiness, health and a happy ending in any situation.” You might be gratified to hear that I don’t agree with that type of positive thinking, and if you thought I did, then therein lies at least part of the problem.
My definition of positive thinking is more along the lines of “Living life with the knowledge that everything works together for good to them that love Him and are called according to His purposes. With that in mind, chose to find the good in every situation, dwell on the positive, and be thankful and rejoice while refusing to be weighed down by worries or negativity.” 
 (Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
Luke 12:25 And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?
Proverbs 12:25 Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.)
With that out of the way, I want to tackle the idea of being “positive.” You seem to assert that the Bible does not support being positive, and I disagree with you there. The definition of “positive” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is: *Good or useful *Thinking about the good qualities of someone or something *Thinking that a good result will happen *Hopeful or optimistic *Completely certain or sure that something is correct or true. 
All of those definitions besides the last one (which is obviously a different form of “positive”) are pretty much the way I understand Philippians 4:8. 
I agree with you that it’s silly to put our fingers in our ears while chanting that everything will be okay and believing that our words alone will change the outcome, so rest easy there. However, I’m pretty sure you’re missing a vital part of how God has so intricately created us, and that’s what I really want to cover in this email. 
Throughout the years I’ve had the chance (through my non-writing job) to learn some about how the human brain works and it is fascinating how much the words we say and the thoughts we think really do make a difference. Since learning about some of the studies I’m going to share, certain verses in the Bible have made so much more sense to me. 
Although simply thinking about something doesn’t necessarily make it into our reality, it does have a much bigger impact on our reality than some people realize. For instance did you know that studies have shown that when you want someone to remember something it’s far more effective to say “Remember to do _____” instead of saying “Don’t forget to do _____.” This is because our brains have the habit of omitting the “don’t” and simply remember “forget to do _______.” Sounds crazy, but it’s true. 
Then there’s what’s called “The Law of Focus” and it states that “What you think about expands.” Now in reality, the law isn’t saying that it really does expand, it’s more that our consciousness of what we’re thinking about awakens and therefore we notice it more. There are so many things around us each day that our brains have effectively learned how to block certain things until we no longer notice them. (Take wearing glasses for instance, after wearing them for a while I don’t even notice that they’re there unless I think about them consciously.) 
A common example for explaining how the Law of Focus works is to imagine that you’re vehicle shopping. You decide you want a red pickup truck, and begin researching what kind of make, etc… would be the best for you. Now as you drive down the road and a red pickup comes toward you on the other side of the road, instead of simply passing it, your brain consciously observes it and you actually see it it because you’ve subcocniously singled your brain to be on the look out for red pick up trucks. (When I was little I once decided mustaches were freaky and wow, it’s crazy how many mustaches I began seeing.) 
This law makes a big difference in life once you’re aware of it, because it means you can pretty much choose what you become aware of. About four years ago I decided to become more thankful and consciously looked for things to be thankful about. Now when I’m in a difficult situation, my brain automatically begins finding things to be thankful for, which is not only very biblical, but is also quite helpful.
There are a lot more studies, books, and articles about the brain works and I think you’d find them fascinating and enlightening. For now though, I want to switch over to how I think that the Bible is in agreement with these types of discoveries. 
First off, Matthew 5:28 is a pretty good verse for showing how serious thoughts can be. In this verse we see that in certain situations we can commit sin by simply thinking something.
In Proverbs 17:22 we’re told that a merry heart does good like medicine. That’s pretty big. As I said in my last email, my doctor specifically told me when I was getting over Lyme disease that if I wanted to get better, I needed to focus on “good” (I forget the exact word) things to retrain my brain after so much pain. Her advice sounds very much like this verse to me.
Mark 9:23 says: “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things [are] possible to him that believeth.” This verse indicates that what we believe, what we think about, has a huge impact on our lives. It’s not us who has the power to make things happen, but we are supposed to focus on the One who does have the power and on what He can do, instead of negativity. 
For instance, next time you have to do something that totally freaks you out or that you really don’t want to do, think about your attitude. In my case, driving was a big issue for me. I felt like it was important to learn how to drive, but I was scared to death to have that power in my hands. Getting my drivers license was a five year process (which is a long story we won’t go into today). The last couple of years it was simply because life was too crazy to spend time on, but the first couple of years it was a big mind game. Every time I thought about driving in my mind I would be like “I hate driving. I don’t want to drive. I hate driving.” and then I would imagine everything that could go wrong. Not fun. Eventually I realized I was letting fear control me and therefore that was wrong. 
Over time I changed the way I thought and felt about driving by praying and consciously working on my mindset and attitude. Instead of saying “I hate driving” to myself, I began quoting verses like “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheth me” and “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” I also began praying that I would get over my fear and then I would rebuke fearful thoughts because I realized they weren’t from God, but from the enemy. Over time I got to the place where I would be like “Thank You, God! I’m going to enjoy driving today.” because I knew I was walking in His will, so therefore if anything happened, it was okay, because He had it all under control. 
Proverbs 10:24 (What the wicked fears will come upon him, But the desire of the righteous will be granted.) is another verse that helps show that our thoughts are important. 
And, I’m going to end with talking about Proverbs 15:4 (A soothing tongue is a tree of life, But perversion in it crushes the spirit.) and Proverbs 12:18 (There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.) These verses both clearly point out how important what we say is, and I’m going to go a step further and say I think the same “law” applies to our “inner talking.” Aka, when we beat ourselves up or dwell on the negative, I think we’re invariantly crushing our own spirits and piercing ourselves with a sword.
This email is just a little drop in the bucket when it comes to the subject of thoughts, but hopefully it will give you some food for thought.  
Hoping I made sense…
Lydia