Marji Laine

I Love a Good Mystery!

Interview-Janice Olson

I have a special interview for today. I’m NOT chatting with Janice Olson, author of Serenity’s Deception and Lethal Intent. I’m speaking with her hero, Philip Bradley. Philip is the hero from Janice’s novel, Lethal Intent, the 2nd stand-alone novel in her “Texas Sorority Sisters” series. Here’s YOUR challenge. In which hero archetype that we’ve studied would you think he falls? Continue reading

Author Interview with Janice Olson

One of my most-honored mentors is the current president of the Dallas chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the DFW Ready Writers. Janice Olson leads one of the critique groups I frequent and has personally taught me so much, so I’m delighted to support her debut publication! Woohoo!

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Steps to Gold Medal Writing

2012 London Olympic Logo

Though I hardly ever watch television, I’ve been glued to it for the past few days enjoying the Olympics. I end up with a plethora of emotions while I watch. But high on that list is the total wonder at how the athletes pour everything they have into their task. They train, practice, and participate in competitions in order to build their strength and hone their talent.

Not unlike a writer’s journey.

Training is as essential to writing as to sports. The women that I’m watching weren’t born in a backbend … probably. They learned the skills they needed to accomplish the given tasks and it started with simple somersaults. Writing, likewise, takes education – basics.

My training consists of books, online classes, and critique groups. I’ve devoured texts about plotting, characterizations, word-painting, even social media and website designing. I flag pages and make highlights. I pull out my WIPs and practice what the books suggest. I do the homework for the online classes and observe the homework of others so I can learn from their successes and mistakes. And I’ve learned tons from the critique groups that I participate in. Full of both published and pre-published writers, these groups have taught me not only how to write, but also how to read what I’ve written with a reader’s eye. Priceless.

Practice for the athletes is like a full-time job. Spending hours in their field going through drill after drill to develop muscle memory.

Writing practice doesn’t require drills per se, but it does require writing. My work will only get better if I do the drafting and then follow through with the rewriting and revisions. The president of our Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers, Janice Olson, explains it this way at our meetings:

We are writers; that means we write.

That simple. So I too make this a second full-time job. (Home-schooling my three girls is the first.) I spend every spare minute at my computer, limiting my social time, though that’s part of my career, and just writing. Head back, eyes closed, typing away.

Participation for the athletes comprises their goals. Stepping through the ranks of successes at competition, the performance is always key.

That’s where writing differs. In my opinion, the writing (practice) is key. And I think a lot of would-be published writers would agree with me. See our participation means sending out query letters and proposals and hoping for manuscript requests. I know I shied away from that part of the process, except for one shy email, for a solid year. My story wasn’t ready, I kept telling myself and everyone around me.

But how can I know my writing is ready if I don’t get it up on that diving board and give it a little push? Sending the stories, articles, proposals out to agents or editors provides writers with the feedback, like a cheering crowd, that lets them know that they can do this.

So I’ve started pushing my latest novel off the diving board. (I highly recommend taking the plunge!) So far with pretty favorable results, and who can say what may come? At the very least, I will certainly learn another step to this wonderful career I have.

With the right training, tons of practice, and a little courage a writer can win gold. Click here to tweet this.

Your turn: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far in your writing journey?


Writing a Synopsis

I’ve learned quite a lot about writing synopses over the last several weeks. Mostly from my failures. I’m still not sure I have everything together, yet, but I thought I should at least share what I have learned.

The summary has to cover the major plot points and address the protagonist’s journey. Efficient, but inclusive, the writing must give

spoilers, completing the picture of the concept. Vague writing has no place in this type of proposal. And while concise, the synopsis should still interest and enthuse. After all, it’s the first impression that an agent or editor will have of a writer. Geared to hook the reader with an overview, a writer’s entry will go a long way to achieving success when the reader comes to the end and is excited to keep going.

Yeah, well, that’s the plan anyway.

I started my synopsis going through my protagonist’s arc. Her regular life and goals started my essay. Then I explained how my inciting incident thwarted her progress. That much was easy, but I write mysteries and suspense. As I tried to describe the plot and all of it’s twist, my writing became hopelessly confused. Even I was confused and I wrote the thing!

So I started over. This time I thought I had a handle on it! I explained my protagonist’s arc from her point of view, then I added a major plot point from the hero’s point of view. From there, I set up the antagonist’s point of view, describing the details of the plot that way and finishing it up with general paragraphs that tied all the strings together.

It was better. Less distracting. But boring. Thank heaven for my critique partners. Lynne GentryJanice Olson, and Kellie Coates Gilbert took me by the hand and walked me through a new process. With their help, and some blogs that I found on the subject, I finally think I have a well-rounded read that hits the high points without becoming confusing or bogging down into details.

Let me tell you how I did it.

First, I used Beth Anderson‘s suggestion of breaking down my story data into single sentences. Doing that, I could easily see what were actual plot points and what subplots got in the way. This became the skeleton for my synopsis.

From there, I used Vivian Beck‘s suggestion of beginning with a back cover hook. She also suggested  an introduction to my characters. I sort of weaved that into the starting place of the story that I’d already figured out. I added the Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts like she suggested too. I’d learned a lot about that from Susan May Warren’s book on the writing craft From the Inside Out.

After that, I went back to my plot points and added each as a couple of sentences. Making sure I used the Action, Reaction, and Decision that Vivian Beck suggested. (And she gives a great example of it!) I’d also learned that before, from a couple of the craft books I’d read. Just hadn’t thought of using it in a synopsis! Bravo!

From there, I added my ending that I’d penned in my skeleton with some muscle and skin on it. But I wasn’t done yet.

As a final section, per Kellie Gilbert’s advice, I nutshelled the protagonist’s arc and a broad theme of the book culminating in the spiritual lesson that my protagonist learned. (I do write Christian fiction!) It easily fits on a single page, reads smoothly, and covers the most important pieces of my story without getting knotted in the myriad of details.

As with any writing, but especially in this first impression piece, avoid to be verbs (passive), unnecessary adverbs or descriptions, and be careful of grammar rules. Oh, and synopsis writing should always be in present tense.

Your Turn: Do you have any tips for synopsis writing? 


Learning from Failure

I'm so pleased to be involved with an awesome group of folks in the DFW Ready Writers. They are a local chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers. Last Saturday, I got to go to the January meeting of the group and the new president, Janice Olsen, suggested that we, as writers, can learn a lot more from our failures than we can from our successes.

Seems like that's true of anybody, though. When I taught elementary, we had a discipline expert come in with a discussion on empowering the students. Her focus was to teach them that their behavior is
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