Thursday, May 17, 2012

Crafting A Story

I’m often asked two questions about writing: Where do you find ideas for stories or articles? And, how do you create an opening sentence/paragraph?

Whether fiction or non-fiction, story ideas surround you. Inspiration is best drawn from life. Yesterday’s blog post about the hummingbird in my garage is a good example. This summer, a devotion I wrote about spider webs and sin will appear on the Christian Devotions website.

Don’t overlook or discard even the simplest life experiences to create a basis for an article, devotion, or fiction character. Almost anything can be used as an analogy to a scriptural principle.

Are you raising a special needs child? Caring for an aging parent? These are relevant subjects in Christian publishing. How-to articles on topics such as home schooling or money saving tips for one income families are marketable.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it, anyway—God provides many of my ideas. When I don’t have a clear-cut subject to write about, I pray and an idea comes. As you gain experience, the process becomes easier. Do I ever get writer’s block? Sure, but so far, prayer has fixed it.

One caveat to this is, if I start stressing about ideas, it’s often a sign I’m overcommitted and need to take a time out.  

As a new writer, I used to agonize about how to start an article or story. Now I just throw my ideas onto the page and see what appears—kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Then I can organize those thoughts into a cohesive piece.

For fiction, I learned the acronym CCR (conflict, conversation, revelation) at a writers’ conference. CCR can be used sometimes for non-fiction. Begin your article/story with one of these elements and the rest will flow.

Suppose you sit beside a couple in church, at the doctor’s office, or the DMV. (You’ll hear many interesting things there!) Fiction writing is similar. You’re eavesdropping on your characters’ lives. Build characters from these daily experiences, create plot points, and maybe even discover a conflict or conversation to open your story.

I previously blogged about hooking a reader from the opening sentence/paragraph of your WIP. It’s a must, if you don’t want an acquisitions editor to toss your article or manuscript into their slush or rejection pile. Here’s the example I wrote for the Hook 'Em post that also reflects CCR.

You said you wanted to be a father,” Katie wailed.
“But not like this. Not now.” Steve shifted, twisting the brim of his hat between his hands.
“If not now, when?”
His eyes narrowed. “After we bury your husband.”
She sniffed. “But he isn’t dead…yet.”
I opened with all three.
Revelation: Katie’s pregnant.
Conversation: dialogue between the two characters
Conflict: Steve doesn’t want to be a father. Katie’s husband is still alive. 
Just so you won’t think the worst of me (haha), here’s the second part of the conversation from Hook ‘Em:
Katie touched Steve’s arm. “You promised to take care of me.”
            “Fatherhood wasn’t part of the deal.”
            “I’ll be a widow by the end of the week.” Her hand tightened around his arm. “Tell me what I’m supposed to do.”
The baby’s father is likely the dying husband, though we don’t know that for sure. This leads me to a revelation—I don’t always know what my characters will do. They morph into whatever they choose sometimes. I follow basic Christian principles and won’t violate those, but otherwise, my characters do as they wish. 
Once you’ve established who your characters are, allow them to have a conversation that would naturally flow from their situation, even if you end up moving it to another part of the book or story. The important thing is simply start writing.
With non-fiction, consider your article’s objective and try to craft a sentence that hooks. At times I’ve been stuck and started writing what I knew would become the third or fourth paragraph, but it forced me to start. Write what you know, the facts, and craft the story around that. Try not to over think or engineer something profound. Start writing and the sentence you’re seeking will usually evolve.

A good hands-on writer’s workbook is the “Writers Advance! Bootcamp 2012 Marching Manual” available on Amazon. I attended the bootcamp in February. This was the first conference where I received my class handouts in a workbook format. It is chock-full of fiction and non-fiction worksheets and industry information like writing query letters, your author bio, social networking, writing as a ministry, editing, basic elements in a novel, plotting, and many other subjects.

Those who’ve followed me for any length of time know my motto: If you can’t attend a conference, good writing resources are the next best thing. 
Now, I want to hear about your writing this week. Do you have a solution for writer’s block? Share it in the comments below. Thanks!

12 comments:

  1. I don't usually have a problem starting--I have a problem with continuing. Sometimes a good prompt or question will get me started but I have a hard time keeping at it. One thing that helps is to be in a class or around other people who are interested in my writing.

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    1. Yes, that's equally frustrating. I agree, if others support your work and encourage you, it's much easier to push through writer's block. Proverbs 27:17. Thanks for stopping by, Kristina. I hope to hear from you again.

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  2. Thank you Laura! I have a kid's devotion (DevoKids @ ChristianDevotions.us) in progress and have been stuck as they want me to write it from the child's point of view, rather than me telling the story. You post showed me how to approach it. THANK you!! Cyn

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  3. I love your hook, Laura! I'll be sure to keep CCR in mind when redrafting!

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    1. Thanks, Catherine. I'm glad the acronym helped. I hope you stop by again.

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  4. Thanks, Laura, for some great ideas. I find that when I spend the first part of my day listening and talking to God,I am most open to hear His thoughts on what I should write that day. And He's got MUCH better ideas than I do! Visiting from B&BB.

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    1. You're welcome, Lori. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Hi Lori,
    This made me smile, I have written all my life, starting way back on the back deck of my grandparents cabin cruiser on the Hudson River in update NY. I wrote in those black and white composition notebooks. Right now in my life, I am trying to combine my photography and writing. Short inspirationals. I am going to look into your books and articles. I am your newest follower. Blessings.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience. You created a wonderful picture with your words. I remember writing in composition books, too, before I got a computer! Thanks for becoming a follower. I look forward to hearing from you again.

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  6. Hi Lori,
    Just had to come back and tell you how inspirational your testimony is. Just read it. You and I more in common. 1986 changed my life forever, as I lost my hearing, the ability to discriminate sounds and understand speech. For 13 years I only heard sonar blip like noises even with a hearing aid. A few months after learning this was "forever", I wanted to end my life as I did not have a clue how to be the "active" mother of three precious children, then 12, 10 and 5. Having been saved 9 years prior to this, I felt so ashamed I could not even form a prayer, but HE heard my heart, when I saw His hand reach out just as I opened a full bottle of tylenol, then felt his hand grasped mine, I knew how REAL Jesus is. I wrote a poem shortly thereafter about this. Thank you for being such an inspiration to the world for Him. Big hugs and blessings.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your testimony. Jesus is amazing in His love for us! God bless you.

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