Friday, February 29, 2008

Things Writers can learn from Watching American Idol

Because it’s Free-for-all Friday (or FUN Friday, I like to call it), and because American Idol is back in action, I’m thinking now is the perfect time for this post.

American Idol is all about following your dreams. And we writers know a little something about following dreams, right? The only difference is American Idol contestants use their voices in the physical sense. And writers use the voices in our heads. And where AI contestants are going for the record deal, we are going for that book contract.

Pretty much the same dif.

So as I watched American Idol this week, I thought of a few things that we writers can learn from watching the show.

  1. Some people think they’re good at something but they really suck. And I mean that in the nicest way. Singers, writers…there’re bound to be a delusional few in the bunch. American idol proves it in the horrible auditions where people are honestly surprised when they don’t get put through to Hollywood. And the rest of us sit home laughing hysterically at the television set.

I have known a couple of writers who I highly doubt are meant to write, except maybe in their journals. These people will probably never get paid to write but they are convinced that writing is what they’re born to do. I’m all for using your God-given talent. I believe in pursuing your dreams. But somebody needs to start teaching us how to realize how to quit when we’re ahead. A lot of disappointment could be prevented. Of course, that would also ruin good TV. Fox wouldn’t like that very much.

  1. There will always be someone to pat you on the back. Paula is very good at this. Even if the singing is atrocious, Paula can usually find something good to say. That’s just Paula. She’s too kind to be cruel. And that’s why contestants love her. Even if she does leave them scratching their heads.

Most beginning writers gravitate toward critique partners who insert all kinds of smileys and “love it!” comments in the margins. And, don’t get me wrong, we all need encouragement and attaboys now and then. But more seasoned writers know that it’s the harsher critiques that produce growth. Which brings me to…

  1. There will always be someone who says your work is dreadful-simply dreadful. Simon tells it like it is. Which doesn’t necessarily mean he’s right. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. But his words usually sting, nonetheless. So maybe his mother never taught him to soften the blow by saying something positive first. But, you have to admit, the contestants seem more interested in what Simon has to say than any other judge. Even though it hurts.

What writer hasn’t had someone slam their work? Who hasn’t gotten defensive over a harsh critique? I know I have! It’s not fun. But it’s part of life. And as soon as the pain from the sting lessens, we’re able to take a step back and consider whether the comment or critique has merit. If it truly does, that harsh comment, more than any other, will make us better writers.

NOTE: Making snotty comments to the harsh judge or the critiquer does not sit well with anyone. This only makes you seem difficult, unteachable and unprofessional.

  1. Dope isn't always a bad word. When someone (Randy) says “that was dope,” it means it was really good. But if a critique partner says, “that was a pretty dopey thing to write,” it probably means it was really bad.

Learning to differentiate may take some time.

  1. It’s all about song choice. You hear the judges on AI say it again and again. “Bad choice of song.” “Great song choice.” “Dude, that wasn’t the best choice for you tonight.” In the same way, we writers sometimes choose a genre completely out of our element. If we’re good at chick lit, for instance, trying our hand at historical might not be a good move. Not that it’s always wrong to step outside of our comfort zone and try something different but we need to know ourselves and our styles well enough to know what works and what should be left well enough alone.
  1. If you’re truly talented and work hard, your dream really can come true! It’s the ones who see criticism as a challenge, work hard to hone their craft, and have real talent who make it big. Many who got voted off of American Idol went on to sign music contracts and are successful today.

It’s true, the competition is fierce. For both singers and writers. But the one thing you hear publishes authors say again and again is that they never gave up. They kept pressing on, learning and growing. It sometimes takes a long time (many years, in fact) but it can happen.

God created us with a purpose, a passion and a promise. The first two are ours to discover. The promise is that if we’re operating within our God-given purpose and passion, He’ll do the rest. Sometimes (okay, often) not exactly how we expect Him to. And that’s where faith comes in.

Like the success stories of small-town people who made it big on American Idol, I am inspired when I hear about writers’ journeys to publication. I’d love to hear the story of how you went from unknown to published author. And someday, God willing, I’ll be the one leaving my story.

Hey, I’m hanging onto my dream.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Writing 101: Lesson # 4

Scenes and Putting Actions and Emotions in Dialogue
by Molly Noble Bull

In lesson # 3, we learned that a scene must end in disaster for the viewpoint character. But in fiction, a disaster doesn’t always mean a person died or the main character lost a fistfight. In a scene, a disaster simply means that the viewpoint character didn’t reach his or her goal for that scene.
Let us say that the teenage viewpoint character has a date with the cutest boy in school, and her goal in chapter one is to catch the bus on the corner and meet the hero at the football game. But she misses the last bus out. (Disaster)
More about scenes will appear in future chapters.

A couple of lessons ago, we learned that narration or narrative writing tells, like “Once upon a time there were three little pigs.” We also learned that dialogue shows and that a scene was that part of a chapter, book or story that takes place as it happened, second by second.
Scenes give the reader the feeling of actually being there.
Scenes can also describe emotions like being happy.

“She was happy” is telling, and good writers don’t tell they show.

“She smiled” is showing, and good writers show their characters saying something or doing something.

Not all dialogues contain the words “he said” or “she said.” There is something better.
Good writers often substitute a sentence that contains action for “he said” or “she said.”


“I’ll get it,” he said. (Okay)

“I’ll get it.” He raced to the door and opened it. (Better)

“I don’t understand,” she said. (Okay)

She shook her head. “I don’t understand.” (Better)

Here are some sentences that tell. Think of action words that show those same emotions and actions and write them in your sentences.

I will do the first two to get you started. Then you do the rest. Replace every “was” sentence or phrase with a sentence that contains action words, and remember, there can be many possible answers. I would like for you to get in the habit of actually acting out these emotion as if you were a character in a play or movie before writing them down on paper.

After hearing the news, he was sad. (telling)

He dropped his head, frowned and his shoulders slumped. (showing)

She nodded. (showing the word yes instead of saying it)

Show a character doing these things by their actions.

Write a non-verbal “no” that shows.
Answer: She shook her head.

He was thirsty.
(He was thirsty is telling. But when you describe him being thirsty by his actions, that’s showing. Describe him being thirsty. Then do the same thing with the rest of the examples below. )

Roger was disappointed.

Susan was also disappointed.

Nancy was hungry.

Judy was sick to her stomach.

Bob had a headache.

Mary was tired.

Jim was nervous.

Alice went inside.

Roger’s tooth hurt.

Susan’s arm itched.

George’s joke was very funny.

Lucy was very unhappy.

Jason liked to ride his horse.

He hated to do homework.

Sally liked to help mom in the kitchen.

Brenda was frightened of Pete’s dog.

Using as many of the telling sentences above as you like, write short dialogues. You will need at least three lines of dialogue and one action sentence for each. Below are two examples. Number your examples as I did below. Post no more than one of your answers below, and I will comment on it.

Example 1:

“I’m sorry, Roger,” the teacher said. “You failed the math test.”

“May I take it again, ma’am? You let me the last time.”

“No. You can’t. I have to turn in my semester grades in thirty minutes.”

He dropped his head, frowned and his shoulders slumped.

Example 2:

“Are you packed and ready to go camping, Susan?” her mother asked.

Susan glanced at the floor. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, you don’t look very excited about the trip. Is something wrong?”

She nodded. “My friend Mary has the chicken pox, and I just found a spot under my bangs.”

See you next time.
Molly Noble Bull

Monday, February 25, 2008


That word sounds so evil…like working with the enemy. Well, I do some collaborating, but I don’t consider Tracy an enemy…yet. Okay, maybe it’s not collaborating. Maybe it’s team writing. Or co-writing. Or…I haven’t taken the time to look up the difference. I just do it.

The question we get asked most whenever people find out we’re writing a book together is, “How in the world…?” Which is kind of funny. They don’t ask what the story is about or how we find the time to work together or what we’re going to spend our advance on or when we’ll be scheduled on Oprah. They just can’t figure out how two people can write one story and still act like they get along.

So if you've been thinking about writing a book with someone, let me try to explain how we do it. Maybe it'll help you find your own method. If you’re an analogy type of person, here are a couple for you. A.) If you’re into westerns: Tracy is the scout. She rides ahead, looks around, shoots down a rabid wolf or two, then lets out a loud whistle. I come riding behind with the wagon, kick up some dust, then decide it’s time to stop and eat. Hey, someone’s gotta do it. B.) If you’re into construction: Tracy and I work together to lay the foundation. Then Tracy and her hulking muscles puts up the studs and the drywall. I fill in the cracks, paint, and add a few rugs and picture frames. Tracy tells me whether I really should have painted the living room red instead of brown. We hold a thumb war to decide which color sticks.

If you want me just to tell you how it works, well, here is my attempt. Tracy and I are alto buddies. We’d been stuck together during church choir practice for quite a few weeks, and I’m one of those evil members who talks between songs, during solos…whenever I can fit a word in edgewise. The director’s my father, there is no grade, and I no longer live at home; I figure I can get away with it. Anyway, Tracy found out I’m a writer and mentioned that she’s always wanted to write a book. We joked about working on one together.

Then I started reading her blog and discovered that she, like me, is klutzy. She also has things happen to her that couldn’t happen to anyone else. In fact, we probably were invited to submit to an agent on the weight of Tracy’s bio alone. She survived a plane crash into a corn field in Santa Claus, GA. That fact right there is enough to make people want to read her stuff. I also discovered she has the perfect sarcastic and unexpected sense of humor for chick lit. I had an idea; she had the sense of humor; we decided to give it a try.

We arranged a long walk on the beach. A very long walk. An I-don’t-know-if-I-will-ever-be-able-to-walk-again walk. When we came home, we were writing partners as well as friends and choir buddies. We researched methods for co-writing, we came up with a loose contract (which we later refined and signed over appetizers at Long Horn), and we mapped out an outline for the story.

Time to actually start writing. We decided we’d probably switch off chapters, then edit it together to make sure we keep the same voice. But, just to make sure we were on the same page, we both decided to write chapter one, then compare notes. Well, though I’m the more experienced writer, her chapter was a lot more fun. After pulling out my funny lines, we stuck with Tracy’s version. I rewrote it, smoothing and embellishing, and handed it back to her for a yay or nay.


And thus was birthed our writing system. Tracy writes a section, emails it to me, and works on the next while I do the rewriting, adding in dialogue and other details as they hit me. I email it back, and the cycle continues. She doesn’t have to worry about grammar. I don’t have to worry
about direction. It’s a blessed thing.

And that’s how we write a book. Together. Last week we skipped town for a couple days on an Editing Escape. My mother sent along a wishbone to solve any major arguments. We didn’t have to use it. Yet. This week, we’ll put the final touches on our story and send it to our agent. Then we’ll decide which book we want to do next.

After we pull out the wishbone, that is.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Is it Worth The Effort?


Rest is really what takes your mind off the normal things you do every day. So if you normally write, then the opposite is restful-reading. Some people love science and math. Sometimes they do one thing all week and then reading an article on an interesting topic can completely reenergize them. Another thought, is busy worth it?

This week was a crazy one for our family. Our son was in Divisionals for Basketball, another son had his college music recital the same night, I had a personal appearance, and we have tons of business things going on. Not to mention that I spent time discussing contracts with my agent, a marketing company, and a sponsor for the Mrs. Montana pageant.

The craziness came in that none of these things were scheduled in the same town. We had to run up to a town an hour and a half away, back to home, back to the basketball tournament, back to town for the university recital, back to the basketball tournament, back to town for the personal appearance, back to the basketball tournament. So we put several hundred miles a day on our car. But no one knew our team would go as far as they did!

I'd say it threw a fly in the ointment, but it didn't. Even though it was a race to go back and forth to the other town for the tournament, it was with great joy we went back for every game the boys advanced to in the competition. In the end, our week was super busy, but well worth all the effort.

So that's the difference. When you add extra things into your schedule, can you say that those additions are worth the extra effort for you? If so, it isn't always exhausting. You may need some extra rest afterward, however, that just might be the sweetest you've had in a long time.

Weigh out the value of the busy life you are leading. Determine if it is one of satisfaction or stress. It makes all the difference in the world!

Please visit with me more over at my daily blog.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bride and Groom

by Molly Noble Bull

We are saved by Grace and faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior, Lord and King. Jesus is the bridegroom. We are his bride—the church.
As young brides, we must learn to do what our husband likes.
Jesus showed his love for us by saving us from an eternity in hell.
As the Bride of Christ, we must show our love for him.
In fact, Jesus told us how to show our love for him.
Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love me, keep my commandments."
Jesus also taught that he says what the Father tells him to say.
In Matthew 19: 17, Jesus also said, “But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
Therefore, we must keep God the Father's commandments too if we want to show our love for the Lord.
So how does a young bride discover what her husband likes in order to please him?
Let's say that she doesn't ask and he doesn't tell her how he likes his eggs cooked in the morning. However, she LOVES scrambled eggs. So on the first morning after the honeymoon, she fixes scrambled eggs for breakfast.
And he says, "You know what, honey. I hate scrambled eggs. I like fried eggs over medium."
Still, she likes scrambled eggs. Her mother fixed scrambled eggs every morning. Her grandmother fixed scrambled every day of her adult life, and she was told that her great grandmother did, too.
Life without scramble eggs would break a family tradition. If her relatives came to visit and she didn't serve scrambled eggs to everybody, they would be disappointed. And she really likes scrambled eggs.
She likes the taste; she likes the smell, and she likes the fact that while cooking them as well as while eating them, happy childhood memories flow into her mind. She often decorates the plate of scrambled eggs with orange slices and red apples to make the dish look more appealing, and she really feels great when she does that.
So on the second morning of their marriage, she fixes scrambled eggs again, and every morning after that, she scrambles her husband's eggs.
Her sweet husband still loves his wife, but he begins to think that she doesn't love him very much. If she did, she would show her love by doing what he asked her to do.
The Holy Bible contains a lot of information about what the Lord likes and dislikes -- what He hates and what he loves.
As the Bride of Christ, it's our job to find out how he likes his eggs and fix them that way—even if it means changing a family tradition.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fiction Writing 101: Lesson #3


(Part of this lesson came from Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain.)


Q: What is narrative writing? Also called narration?
A: Narrative writing is telling more than showing.
Example: [Once upon a time there were three little pigs.]

A: A scene is that part of a chapter, book or story that takes place as it happens, second by second, and gives the reader the feeling of actually being there. While narrative writing “tells,” a scene must “show.”
One way a scene shows rather than tells is by the use of dialogue. Example of dialogue:
[Three small pigs sat huddled together under a bridge, shivering and squealing from the rain and cold.
“I don’t know about you guys,” the first one said. “But I’m building me a house. I’ve had enough of being cold all the time.”
“What will you build it out of?” the second pig asked.
“Sticks. What else?”]

Dialogue is always enclosed in quotation marks.
(How are you) would look like this when written in dialogue.
“How are you?”
How are you, he asked, would look like this.
“How are you?” he asked.
I am fine, she replied—would look like this.
“I am fine,” she replied.

A: Goal

A: A sequel or a transition should follow a scene.

A: A sequel comes immediately after a scene, giving the main character the opportunity to reflect on what just happened in the story. A sequel also proves the reader with the opportunity to rest before going on to another scene.

A: Reaction

A: There are no strict answers, but I think a well-developed scene for an adult novel should contain from three to five typed, double-spaced pages. Scenes written for children and young people are shorter.

A: It depends on the type of book, but about three or less is about average.

A: A scene should begin with a hook to capture reader interest. It should also begin with a setting to let the reader know where the action is taking place.
First settings should be fairly detailed whether introducing the reader to a new story or a new scene or the main character. After a particular setting has been well established, transitional phrases like the ones mentioned below can be substituted for more detailed settings. The purpose for both settings and transitions are to inform the reader as to where the action is taking place and to move the action to another location.

Q: Name some transitional phrases.
A: Three hours later---
When they arrived at ---
At the fair grounds, --
One year later ---

A: You will know you are reading or writing a scene if it contains a second by second account of an event and contains all three elements all scenes must have.
and ends in DISASTER for the main character.

ASSIGNMENT: Buy some index cards and a black marker. Prepare to write information on those cards and tack that information above your keyboard. It will really help.
What to write on the cards.

CARD ONE: Elements of a Scene

CARD TWO: Elements of a Sequel

Not all scenes contain dialogue. We will discuss that in future lessons. We will also talk more about the elements of a scene and the elements of a sequel.

Below is a scene from my newest novel, Sanctuary. Who is the point of view character in this scene?
This scene begins with a goal for the main character, contains conflict and ends in disaster for the main character.
Tell in one sentence what the goal of this scene is. In your second sentence, describe the conflict in the scene. Finally, write a third sentences and tell how the scene ended in disaster for the main character. Then click comment and post your answers.


First in the Faith of our Fathers series

Molly Noble Bull

Chapter One

Benoit, France

“You do as you wish, Louis,” Pierre Dupre said to his brother. “But after the long walk from Paris, I want to stop and rest before going home. Mama and Henri will want to hear all about our journey, and I would like to get some sleep before I start telling our little brother tales of our adventures.”
“Could it be that my big brother is tired?” Louis asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Yes.” Pierre yawned. “I admit it.” He stretched his tired muscles and yawned again.
Louis threw back his head and laughed. “Sleep if you want. I intend to pay Rachel’s parents a visit before going home. I plan to ask their permission to marry her.”
“Is it not a bit late to be making such a request? We sail in two weeks and you said you would marry Rachel aboard ship, yet you barely know her parents. They might resent the fact that you failed to step forward with your proposal sooner.”
“I will ask their forgiveness for the delay, of course. And I will also encourage them to sail to England with us. I fear Rachel will refuse to go at the last minute if we leave her mother and father behind.”
“Rachel is strong-willed and unpredictable,” Pierre said. “And she is always jumping to conclusions. However, she is also a good and faithful daughter. Were I wearing your shoes, Louis, I would have fears as well.”
They stood in front of the small stone cottage where Rachel and her parents lived. They hadn’t slept much since heading home. On the previous night, they seldom stopped to rest. Pierre doubted that Rachel’s parents would welcome his brother into their home after they discovered why he came, and he had no desire to hear her mother and father scold Louis for his tardiness.
Pierre noticed a large tree surrounded by bushes a short distance away. “I will wait for you under that tree. It will be cool and shady there.”
“As you wish.” Louis smiled. “And sleep well, brother. I will not be long.”
Pierre watched Louis walk up to the front door of the cottage and knock. He found a grassy spot under the tree. With his brown jacket as a pillow, he stretched out and went to sleep.

Pierre awoke to the rumble of horses’ hooves and men shouting. He crawled on his belly to a bushy area near the edge of the tall grass. A young captain in the king’s army kicked down the door of Rachel’s house. Soldiers swarmed inside.
He’d defended his younger brother for as long as he could remember and often fought his battles for him. But he saw at least thirty armed men and he with no weapons. Pierre wanted to hang his head in shame because he couldn’t do anything to help.
“Please, we are innocent!” he heard Louis shout out from inside the house.
Shattered, Pierre covered his mouth with his hands to keep from calling out in anger and despair.
“No!” he heard Rachel’s mother say. “Have mercy! Please!”
Tears filled the corners of his eyes as Pierre heard more shouting, screams, and then silence.
“No. No!”
“Take the trunk outside!” the captain shouted to his men.
As they dragged a trunk out the front door of the house, the captain stood on the lawn outside. Sunlight glinted on the metal buckle of his jacket. The shiny object mesmerized a shocked Pierre as the other soldiers brought out furniture, clothes, and other items.
A thin soldier came out wearing a blue dress that must have belonged to Rachel’s mother. He paraded around in it, swinging his hips and making distasteful gestures. Laughter echoed all around the soldier in the dress.
Pierre fought nausea.
The captain opened the trunk, spilling its contents on the ground. Letters and papers blew here and there. The captain picked up a candlestick. The metal caught the afternoon sun, sparkling brighter than the buckle. From a distance, Pierre couldn’t tell for sure but thought it might have been made of gold.
The expensive-looking object would hold half a dozen candles or more. He’d never seen a design quite like it.
The captain waved the candlestick in the air for all to see.
“This is a Menorah and can only belong to a Jew. It proves the people who lived in that house were Jews!”
The rest of the men gathered around the captain, looking at the candlestick. When they tried to touch it, the captain jerked it out of their reach.
“Two Huguenots from this village conspired against the government of France. We only found one. We must find the other man and the rest of the Jews and kill them.”
The captain raised the Menorah in the air as though it were a kind of battle flag. “I shall not rest until the deed is done! Now, gather up all the papers and anything else you think I might want later.”
As the soldiers began doing as they were told, the captain leaned over and picked up something from the ground. Pierre thought it looked about the size and shape of a small wooden frame. The captain pulled a white cloth from his pocket, wiped off the object, gazed at it for a long moment and tucked it inside his jacket.
“Burn this house to the ground,” the captain demanded, “as a warning to all Jews and Huguenots!”

Sunday, February 17, 2008

After Last Week's "Activity is Rest" Post...

I know, you won't believe it! I've talked about rest in so many ways except one. Actually sleeping, lol!

We've had several weeks of travel. LONG travel, LONG meetings, LONG classes...exhausting.

So on Saturday, after basketball tournaments, we all took a nap. We just agreed, went either up or down the stairs, and napped!

My day was spent sleeping, watching basketball tournament game, napping, and watching a college basketball game at the University of Montana.

What a delicious day!

I haven't napped for the sake of napping in years. I've always got a "million" things to do. My list is usually multiple pages and never completely done on any given day. But I really do think I'm going to eke out a nap again one day soon. It just plain felt good!


Friday, February 15, 2008

A Prayer for the Road

(Previously published here.)

The road lies ahead of me. If I squint, I can just make out the broken yellow lines and a discarded flip flop alone at the center of an intersection. Fog hangs low obscuring what else might await.

I know that my road stretches ahead in unrelenting certainty, however far a life extends. It widens, narrows, bends and falls according to a design I cannot see. Some days it is easy, a path of light and heat and satisfaction. Green meeting blue and spilling over into song.

Some days I can hardly press forward, so crowded I am--by sin and sadness and the brokenness of Your beautiful world. I am mired by the weight of circumstances I cannot change.

The road is desolate in some places, dusty, barren and parched. The horizon disappears, and I finally begin again to thirst.

This road, my road, lies ahead of me, and I even know where it ends. And some days I want to get to the end so bad it hurts. I want to run past the pain I will see and experience, turn a blind eye to all those who might misunderstand me, flee even from the joy, for it is sure to remind me that I am sick and weak and wrong.

God, move me, pull me, entice me with  Your glory. Help me walk down a path that will not be tread by sight. You formed me for this road. It is for Your grace and Your kingdom. It is for the brokenness and the joy, the colorless days, the abandoned flip flops and love. For these I am made, for my good and Your glory.

When I close my eyes, the road transforms, and I can see You waiting at the end. I am clothed in white, bought with a  price. You are the bridegroom, I am Your bride.

I walk down the aisle, and I am changed. You teach me who You are, who I am. You splinter away my self-reliance and show me my need of your grace. One day, You will finish the work You started, and I will stand before you blameless, having learned all my lessons, seeing things as they really are. Seeing You. This hope keeps my feet on the path, and I walk.

I will take a step, then another. And when I don't think I can go on, You will pull me forward, the Author and Finisher of my faith.

You are at the end, and so I come. Imperfectly and beautifully, a journey in grace.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fiction Writing 101: Lesson # 2

Hooks, Description, Viewpoint and Synopsis
Molly Noble Bull

This lesson and future lessons include assignments, but obviously, they cannot all be graded here. On your own, complete as many of the assignments as you can, and if you would like, share one short answer each time by clicking comment. One comment per lesson, please.

Here are some examples of beginning hooks from my novels.

She’d seen him again.

(The first line from The Rogue’s Daughter by Molly Noble Bull. Zondervan 1986)

It was now or never.

(The first line from Brides and Blessings by Molly Noble Bull. Love Inspired 1999.)

I’m not one to go without a woman for long, missy.

(The first line from The Winter Pearl by Molly Noble Bull. Steeple Hill 2004 & 2007)

Death to Jews, she read. Death to all Huguenots.

(The first line of Sanctuary by Molly Noble Bull. Tsaba House September 2007)

Question: Do any or all of these beginning hooks capture your interest? If so, tell why. If no, tell why not.

Today, read settings A. and B. below. Then choose the setting you like best.

A. To the east, the sun pushed its way from behind the rocky mountain, dusting the dawn with orange paint. A chilling wind whistled down to the valley below.

B. Joe Travis peered up at the sun as it pushed its way from behind the rocky mountain, and he felt the chill of a whistling wind. Laurel would say that God was dusting the dawn with orange paint. All Joe knew was that he wanted to reach the valley below and home as soon as possible.

Point of View: called POV

Point of view (POV) merely indicates from whose mind and body the story originates at a particular time in the story. We call this person the POV character. Who is the point of view character in Setting B?

In fiction, a beginning hook is often used to capture the interest of the reader. Setting A. is an example of description, but it is not an example of a beginning hook. Dwight Swain (Techniques of the Selling Writer) would say that Setting A. is like a picture on a wall or a painting. Setting A. does not move. Therefore, it appears almost lifeless.
Setting B. is an example a picture that moves or a moving picture. Always describe moving pictures by having your characters move through your settings rather than merely observing them.


Does Setting B capture your interest? If so, is it a beginning hook? If not, how could Setting B become a beginning hook? Rewrite Setting B., turning it into a beginning hook.


Select a landscape picture from a magazine. Describe your picture in one short paragraph like I described the setting in example A.

Select a picture of a person or an animal from a magazine. Briefly, describe the person or animal you selected as you might describe a character in a novel.

Write a third short paragraph, placing your character in the landscape setting you wrote in your first paragraph.
NOTE: A character in a story setting need not be a human being. Your character could be an animal, an alien, whatever.

The Synopsis:

The synopsis of a fiction novel is a short overview of the entire book that tells what the story is about, a little about the characters and a little about the plot. A synopsis should always be written in the third person, present. Below is an example of a fairy tale—first written in the third person past and then in the third person present.

Third Person Past:
Poor and orphaned Cinderella thought she was in heaven when her fairy godmother arrived and provided her with a new gown, a coach and footmen so she could attend the ball at the king’s palace and meet the prince, but her joy soon turned to embarrassment when at midnight her dress turned to rags and her coach and footmen disappeared.

Third Person Present:
Poor and orphaned Cinderella thinks she is in heaven when her fairy godmother arrives and provides her with a new gown, a coach and footmen so she can attend the ball at the king’s palace and meet the prince, but her joy soon turns to embarrassment when at midnight her dress turns to rags and her coach and footmen disappear.
Write the plot of a fairy tale or favorite story in one paragraph as I did, using the third person past.
Write the paragraph again, using the third person present.
# # #

Two of my two long Christian historical novels are listed below—Sanctuary and The Winter Pearl. If you click on each of them, you can read about Sanctuary and The Winter Pearl, read free excerpts from these novels, read my bio and click to read discussions questions.


The Winter Pearl

That’s all for today. See you next Wednesday.
Molly Noble Bull

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sometimes Rest Is Activity

Today I helped to promote businesses in Missoula at the Missoula Building Industry Association Home Show. (Say that 10 times fast!) You'd think I'd be tired. But I'm not. I'm energized! The photo above is of Radient Floor Heating's booth. I played with customers as they walked by. If they wouldn't take off their shoes, I invited them to nap on the warm floor, lol.

I guess you might be able to tell I'm a people person, lol.

Then I beebopped in and out of vendors booths helping serve treats, chatting with potential customers, supporting busy folks by punching contest cards, or supporting not busy folks by encouraging people to stop and talk.

Sure, my feet hurt. But so do my cheeks from laughing!

Many, many people thanked me. Some asked me to come back tomorrow. I even have a couple of more official bookings for appearances from other groups.

So much fun that it took my mind off of worries.

I know that's not everyone's cup of tea, but I'm actually refreshed and energized from it. Isn't that what rest is supposed to do for you?

Think outside the box for creative ways to recharge. It isn't always sleep.

Please come visit me over at my daily blog:

And thanks for resting with me today,

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lesson #1: Writing Via Dwight Swain

Since I don’t know the writing background of those who will be reading these lessons on fiction writing, I am starting at the very beginning. For me, that means Dwight Swain because in my opinion, his book Techniques of the Selling Writer is the best of the best. This lesson is easy, but they will get harder as we move along.

I have included three discussion questions. Please take part in these discussions (My Questions. Your Answers) by commenting on this lesson.

Molly Noble Bull

Questions and Answers

1. What is a story?
Dwight Swain, author of Techniques Of The Selling Writer (University of Oklahoma Press), says a story is never about anything. Instead, a story is someone's reaction to what happened. A story is how someone deals with danger.

2. What is danger?
Danger in a story is change. When any given situation is altered, the results are a different situation.

Example: At the beginning of Gone With The Wind, Scarlett had Tara, her land. She thought she also had Ashley. But her situation changed, giving her the goal of trying to get back Tara and Ashley. Events changed her situation, causing her to develop new goals.

3. Why do readers read fiction?
Readers read fiction because it creates a pleasurable state of tension and escape for them.

4. What is reader tension?
Reader tension is the desire to know, immediately, what will happen next to the characters in the story.

5. What is a hook?
A hook is a writing device designed to catch, hold, sustain or pull the reader along from sentence one to the end of the story or book.

6. Why is a beginning hook important in fiction?
When I go into a bookstore to buy a book, I read the first line on page # 1. If the first line pulls me into the story and makes me want to read more, I read the first paragraph. If I like the first paragraph, I read all of page #1, and if I read all of page #1, I buy the book. Readers want to keep on reading books that begin with a reader hook because it keeps them interested.

1. Example (Strong hook based on an event): For several minutes he'd been watching her, standing there on the high bridge. Suddenly, she just leaned forward and jumped off into the icy water.

2. Example (Hook based on dialogue): "Why did you lie to me, Sally?" Tom demanded.

3. Example (Weak hook based on setting): To the east, the sun pushed its way from behind the rocky mountain, dusting the dawn with orange paint. A chilling wind whistled down the valley below, but it didn't seem to notice.

My Questions. Your Answers:

A. Why is example one a strong hook? What is it about it that makes you want to read more?
B. Why is example two a strong hook? What is it about it that makes you want to read more?
C. Why is example three a weak hook?

Please send your answers to these questions as a comment to this column. I will announce the names of those that got them all right next week and explain more.

7. What is a plot?
A plot is the skeleton of a piece of fiction.

8. What is conflict?
In fiction there are always two opposing sides. The two sides war against each other, resulting in conflict for the characters in that story. In a short story, those two sides could be something as simple as Tommy’s wishes as opposed to his mother’s rules. In a novel, conflict could be described as the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other.

9. How is conflict related to fiction goals?
Each of those opposing sides just mentioned have conflicting goals. For example, the Jones family own land, and their goal are to keep their land. The Browns want the land belonging to the Jones family, and their goal is to take the land away from the Jones family.

10. What is meant by a story’s major conflict?
In fiction, there are often many problems and conflicts, but there is only one major conflict. The major conflict is the one, big problem the two sides are really fighting over. Land was the major conflict between the two families above.

11. How should the reader be informed of the fiction goals mentioned above?
In fiction, the opposing goals of the two sides should be stated clearly in the manuscript by the main character either, in the dialogue or in the narrative.

12. What is the difference between a character’s stated goal and a character’s true goal?
A stated goal is what a particular character says that he or she wants. A true goal is what a particular character really wants. The two goals may not always be the same.

Example: Scarlett’s true goal in Gone with the Wind was to keep her plantation, Tara. To Scarlett, Tara represented love and security. However, at first she said she wanted Ashley.

Don't forget to post your answers as a comment. See you again next week.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Define Yourself

"What is she doing?"
"Can anything be done about it?" ~ Becoming Jane

If you haven't seen the movie, Becoming Jane, about the life of Jane Austen, I highly recommend it.
I haven't done the research, so I don't know how much is truth, but it was a great movie nonetheless.

Jane faced enormous opposition to fulfilling her calling as a writer. She was female for one thing, and of course in those days women did not seek any occupation other than that of finding a husband. Watching movies like this one and Miss Potter, really
make me realize how fortunate I am to be living out my dream of becoming a published author in the 21st century.
Many great women authors like Jane Austen have gone before us, paved the way, and made our journey that much easier.

Jane could have given up on the dream, married well and gone on to live a rather humdrum existence. But she defined her life as a writer. Writing was her passion. She lived and breathed it. And, as we all know, she went on to write a few good books.

How do you define yourself?
Are you at the place yet, where you can look someone in the eye with confidence and pride, and say, "I am a writer." ?
Or do you mumble something under your breath about trying to get published, but nobody seem interested, it's really just a hobby anyway...

As you will hear frequently on this blog, writing is hard work. If you know you are truly called to it, you must have the confidence to persevere. You will get rejected, probably more than once. It will hurt.
This is a big reason why we stress the importance of having a critique group, and belonging to a writers group such as American Christian Fiction Writers. It's imperative that you surround yourself with other like-minded individuals who will be there to pick you up when you fall, and cheer you on to the finish line, and rejoice with you when you succeed.
You must soak yourself and your work in prayer. Know what it is God has called you to do and trust Him to give you the tools to complete the task.
Believe me, this is one of my huge struggles. I lack confidence in a big way. It's a scary prospect to send out my work. Or even
to know there is interest in it...the "what if's" wake me up at night.
What if it's still not good enough?
What if I get told it's awful and what in the world possessed me to think I could be a writer?
What if I'm just kidding myself?
What if I'm really not meant to be doing this...
And on it goes.

I can tell you there is only one way out of this cycle.
Get with God and ask Him to give you peace. If you know you're in the right place, He will confirm it.
Define yourself as a writer, and ask God for the wisdom and courage to continue the journey.
I've been in Proverbs lately, and I leave you with a verse of encouragement from Proverbs 3, beginning at verse 21.

'...preserve sound judgment and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;

22 they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.

23 Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble;

24 when you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

25 Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,

26 for the LORD will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being snared."

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Some of my best moments are the first ones in the morning. You know the kind, groggy and just waking up. I love to loll a little in the pillows and let my mind wander.

I think we all assume that to get the best rest, we must be asleep. Sure, but...Our waking mind needs to play a little too. It helps our creativity and lowers our stress.

After taking Margie Lawson's class on defeating our self-defeating behaviors, I began practicing something I'd never thought of before. At night, before falling asleep, I do two things. First, I tell myself 5 positive things to look forward to the next day. Second, I tell myself several things I like about me.

This came out of that great class. Margie taught last month that in order to change our defeatism, we must change the way we think. Good plan! But how? Read on...

[Here's a picture of Margie Lawson (in the white gown) with a few of us writers at American Christian Fiction Writer's conference in Dallas September 2007. Psst, I'm in the red.]

Then I heard Sharon Roberts speak at a conference recently. She had an acronym for poor thought process. A. N. T's or Automatic Negative Thinking. It fit well with what Margie taught.

Now I'm working on giving myself a rest on those silly A.N.T's. Why should I degrade myself and repeat negativity to myself? Why should you? Does it make anything better? Does it help you sleep or be more productive?

They both taught something else: Write down those A.N.T's. Margie took it a step further. Write it over and over until it's all out of you. Then burn the negativity. Really, toss it in a fire. Somehow it helps you to let go of that self-defeating behavior. You release the negative energy.

I find it very interesting that two ladies in different businesses, who have probably never met, offered nearly the same advice. So I'm thinking there might be a message in there for us.

I'm going to try it.

In the meantime, I'm also going to keep on starting my day subconsciously the night before. I'm going to wake up pondering the wonder of the day to come. I'm going to stomp out those pesky A.N.T's.

How 'bout you?

May your day be blessed with positive thoughts and may you begin to love yourself a little bit more each day.
PS. Please remember to visit me over at these blogs:
God Uses Broken Vessels
Writing By Faith (I'm the Wed. poster there.)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mrs. USA

Happy Saturday! What's left of it, anyway.
Some of you mentioned you'd like to hear more from Tosca about her almost Mrs. USA experiences. :-) She has said she'll be happy to talk more about it. So...if you send me your questions--either to my personal email or to the writersrest email--I will pass them on!
Have a great weekend.