Five Quick Steps Toward More Mature Writing

I found this blog post by my friend Linda Yezak outstanding. I thought I’d repost it today for you all. I’d love for you to comment on the content.

Linda W. Yezak

Whenever I see a new client’s manuscript, I can tell almost instantly how mature the writing is just by flipping through a few pages. How? Because there are things that newbies do almost universally. But the good news is, of all the possible writing faux pas, these are the quickest and easiest to fix.

Here’s the caveat: These steps are primarily cosmetic. If an author hasn’t studied the craft, applying these quick remedies won’t help that much. But even newbies who have studied make these simple little “errors.” Taking steps to correct them is the fastest way to make your work appear more mature–even if you’re writing for kids.

Kill the adverbs: You’ve seen this said before. It didn’t originate with me. Be merciless. There are better ways to describe and stronger verbs to use. Using adverbs is quick and easy–and lazy. Don’t cheat your readers. Kill the adverbs.

Go easy on the specialty punctuation:

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Tips for Developing Ideas For Inspirational Skits

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In my last post I encouraged you all to breath in the nuances of the Easter season in order to come up with writing ideas for next Easter. I mentioned writing skits, reader’s theaters and other presentations. So for those of you who have never waded into the waters of writing for the performing arts I’ll share some tips to get your brain drifting over to this wonderful creative outlet for your words.

Due to my decades of experience (I’ve been doing this since high school) I’ve learned a lot about what works. Writing skits was my first love for many years. Often I was the go-to gal for all sorts of dramatic productions for church, homeschool groups and women’s retreats. Writing them myself was less work than searching through volumes of skit books. It was more fun too.

My first tip. A skit doesn’t always have to be funny. But it absolutely has to have a point the audience can grab hold of—an ah-ha moment. More importantly it needs to be performable and understandable.

Theme

Theme is the key. No theme equals no point. Humor for humor’s sake without a clear take home message will distract from the rest of the worship service.  So be sure the funny story in your mind speaks to a need of the heart. Consult the pastor on upcoming themes. Your skit might serve as the introduction to his sermon.

Relatable

Themes need to relate to where the church is at the moment. I will never forget watching a mission team of Eastern European young people who toured the US. Their gospel skits were outdated. One of the performers told me these were professionally written skits dating back to the 60s, but their 21st century American audience was bored and unmoved. So sad. If they had sought out a fresh source for sketches, those actors might have made a wonderful impact.

Who is your audience

What is the age of the audience you are targeting? Is it a women’s group, a retreat settings youth group, MOPS or perhaps unbelievers? Again, you can ask the group leaders what their meeting focus is before writing your skit. Weave their theme into your skit.

Heart focus

Check your heart before you write. Avoid the thing that’s bugging you about someone or something in the church. Stuff written from a heart of hurt and judgement tends to miss the mark.  It is wonderful if you’ve already traveled the road and have learned the lesson. Your desire to help others avoid your pitfall is always more powerful than finger-pointing prose.

Scripture based

Be sure there is a scriptural base for your skit. It isn’t necessary for the verse to be recited by a character. Especially if it is a lead-in to a pastor’s sermon. But the point of the verse has to be very, very evident. This is not like your literature classes back in high school where the class analyzes the play to discern it’s true meaning. Even with a clear theme and scripture reference the Holy Spirit will speak different messages to various people through the performance. Which is awesome.

 

Write to your cast

More people will volunteer to be part of a funny skit than a serious one. Trust me. People would volunteer before I’d even written a skit and ask for a funny part. There were a few who wanted to be the serious character. It was important to them to deliver the key message. So take the time to consider their requests.

This brings me to the point of writing for your own church family. Many sketches I found as I searched through the Christian bookstore called for a large cast, professional lighting and a stage.  If I purchased any of those, I usually had to rewrite to fit our need. It was easier to write one myself. My church family was small so my cast had to be as well.

Making it performable

I’d pray, and let the theme ruminate in my mind for a while. When an idea crystalized, I looked around the church and considered who was willing to perform and what their talent level was. This is why so many wanted to be in my skits. I made the characters easy for the performer to relate to. I gave the more complicated characters to the better performers and the newbies smaller parts until I became comfortable with what they could do. Mega churches tend to have a wealth of talented people. Which means the little guys I write for would never get a chance. If I write for the lesser experienced thespian, I have a greater chance of selling my work later to a publisher. A skit that is simple to cast and perform sells better.

Small cast and highlighting talent

Less is more when it comes to cast. It is easier to find two or three people to perform than twelve. Adults are not as willing to act as children. And who says all church skits must be delegated to kids only. You’ve been gifted with words, others gifted with acting. Just because they aren’t professionals doesn’t mean that particular gift dies with puberty. These actors can be inspired to hone their talent with wonderful scripts from you. Sharing their gifts with the congregation together with your words creates an offering of worship to Jesus.

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Ideas

Names of characters can help eliminate the need to explain who the character is. Mrs. Rambling Words, Holly Holyroller, Grandpa WiseOne. Can you see the characters in your mind? So will the actors and audience. This is pretty common in humorous skits. But serious fare can have names that speak to character. John Bunyan’s character names were fairly pointed in Pilgrim’s Progress.

 

Well-known settings

Setting your theme in the familiar is often the easiest way to get your audience’s attention. It’s also a great way to start skit writing because you already have a template to follow to a conclusion.  I’ve done parodies of game shows. Below are some ideas I used. You can customized any game or TV show to your theme.

  • The Price Is Right pitted characters with various erroneous ideas of Christianity as they tried to win the grand prize.

 

  • Who wants to Be a Millionaire had my contestant knowledgeable in myths about Christmas traditions but not about the true meaning.

 

  • My daughter wrote a wonderful skit for her youth group to perform based on the characters from Gilligan’s Island.

 

  • My family performed a TV newscast complete with interviews. I even wrote a newsflash based on a humorous story a member had told the church.

 

  • I stole some movie cast members when I wrote a “What if” play for the teens focusing on if Jesus were born today. We had the Men in Black make an appearance to protect the holy family.

 

  • I had a lot of fun creating a parody of What Not to Wear for a women’s retreat. “What Not to Put On” focused on a Christ-like attitude make-over.  We decide to film it ahead of time so we could be more creative. What I learned from that experience added to my writing toolbox and showed me just how naive I was about working in the film media. (That’s for another post.)

 

Times the thing

Don’t draw the skit out too long. Five to ten minutes is enough time to make your point. Unless this is a full length play or your sketch is the entire program for the day, keep it short.

Script types

  • Monologue: one person telling a story or giving an account of an incident.

Examples: Mary reflecting back on the life of Jesus, Peter’s account of walking on water, Teenage boy feeling left out, Overwrought Mom shares her day.

  • Reader’s Theater: Two or more people doing a dramatic reading.

The characters can be one individual or a few actors changing their voices to be more than one character. Sound effects and lighting notes add to these performances.

  • Choral Reading: Three or more people reading in unison as well as individually, creating a choir like quality that ebbs and flows.

Those who love to write poetry will find this less of a challenge than those who don’t.

  • Skits: Two or more people performing a slice of life or literature to make a point.

Scripts: Skits or plays written in specific format to perform before a camera.

  • Radio Scripts: A scene written for audio performance only.

The need for fresh material is out there. Someone writes these and gets paid. Someone writes them to enhance worship. It might as well be you.

Check out these site for wonderful examples.

https://skitguys.com/

http://www.christianskitscripts.com/main.htm

http://www.juliabettencourt.com/helps/skits.html

 

Any of you found your niche in skit writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

In future posts I’ll get into the nitty gritty of skit writing. So if you are not a regular subscriber you might want to go over to the right column and sign up so you don’t miss out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Easter is Time to Get Creative Writing Juices Moving

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Have you ever created a passion play for a church performance.

Tis the season to create. Holy week is upon us. How many of you are involved in a passion play or special Easter program? This is an opportunity to use your writing talent to magnify the message of our Savior’s resurrection.

As I reflect on celebrations of the past, I remember the joy in my heart when I saw my programs, readings, or skits performed. Christian writers have a unique opportunity to use their talents in a worship setting. Over the decades (I won’t say how many) I’ve been inspired to write numerous skits, often for the Christmas season and Holy Week. Some I have sold for publication. Others were too customized to my church family for anyone else to be interested. That’s not a bad thing. God can use our words for a small venue or a large one. Either way He is glorified.

An advantage of writing something to be performed at your church, you have a foot in the door to sell it later because the fine print states your work must have been performed before submitting. The publisher wants you to have gotten all the kinks out to make it easy on the group performing your work.

Worship is enhanced by a reading or performance. For some, the very novelty of it causes the listener to pay closer attention and recall the theme longer. Again, a well-written reading can be submitted for publication. Many excellent performers can’t write. (Yes, I know not all writers read well out loud.) But they bring your words to life in a performance.

Tis the time to get creative

So why am I mentioning this now? After all, Easter is a few days away. Because I want you to breathe in the season. Absorb the scripture passages. Allow your creative mind to ruminate over the events surrounding Jesus death and resurrection. If you do, lots of interesting writerly ideas will come to you. Get it on paper for next year. Your church will be thrilled to have a plan in place well in advance. Publishers want seasonal stuff six months to a year in advance.

What kind of things can you write?

Let me throw out a few ideas off the top of my head.

The last supper

What was in Judas mind?

A lesser disciple’s observations of events

Simon carried the cross for Christ. How was he impacted?

Who created the nails for the crucifixion or built the crosses?

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus discuss Jesus’ death as they remember Lazarus’ resurrection.

Recreate the Road to Emmaus

The donkey’s joy at carrying the savior.

The angels’ view of the cross

Pontius Pilate, his wife or someone on his staff’s account of events

Poetry capturing the emotion of the season

Devotional using the last words of Christ

Write a mime for an Easter song (yes, mimes are created on paper first.)

 

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What story ideas do the stain glass windows evoke in your writer’s imagination.

All of these can be readings, skits, or full plays. Reader’s theater is easy to perform, as well. This is not an exhaustive list, and I haven’t even mentioned how to create an entire service of worship.

This is just a blog to get you started. Over the next few weeks I will share my how-tos for skit writing and program creating. If you have never consider this type of writing, I hope to inspire you to give it a try.

 

Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss my how tos on writing skits.

 

 

 

An Interview with Edie Melson and a Giveaway

While My Soldier Serves-2

Today I am interviewing author, speaker and editor Edie Melson about her book of prayer for family members serving in the armed forces. I grew up as an Air Force brat and had a son who served in the military making this is a subject close to my heart. Below is the cover copy which gives the best introduction to the content of her wonderful book While My Soldier Serves.

With over 2.3 million active and reserve military personnel, there are that many families who are waiting at home and praying for their well-being. While My Soldier Serves features 111 prayers for their soldier and 53 prayers for the one who waits at home. These thoughtful, specific prayers target the needs soldiers face every day such as for wisdom, strength, faith, protection, encouragement, comfort, and their team. Prayers for the one who waits at home include fear, loneliness, patience, faith, strength, and community. Written so that it can be used by anyone who loves a soldier, it is perfect for parents, spouses, friends, or even groups who band together to pray for our soldiers. Foreword by Todd Starnes, best-selling author and contributor to Fox New

Welcome, Edie. I’ve so looked forward to this interview I see you admiring my wall of photos. My father, father in law and son all served their country with honors. I prayed fervently the eight years my son served in the Army for both him and his family. I wish this book had been available then. Please, find a sit on the couch and help yourself to some brownies. After you’re all settled we’ll get started.

Tell my readers why you decided to write a book of prayer for soldiers?

This book was born out of my own need while our son was in the military and deployed in Iraq as a frontline infantry Marine. I couldn’t find a book like this, so I began writing out my prayers in a journal.

Share your process for putting this book together?

I began organizing this book by looking back through my own prayer journals. I looked at the things I prayed for our son over and over again. Those became the major headings. I also discovered that I also prayed for myself while he was deployed. So I included those prayers as well.

Did you do any research for this book or was it a child of your heart that needed to be shared?

No research, except for looking for applicable quotes to use in conjunction with the Bible verses. A lot of these prayers came—at least in a small part—from those I penned in my deployment prayer journal.

Edie, your words are powerful and speak from the heart. I’m sure many will find comfort and confidence in this book.

Tell us a little about other books you’ve published and what you have coming out in the future.

I have another book for military families: Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle. This one was published in 2011, by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. It’s more a devotional and addresses a military family’s ongoing battle with fear. Later this month, Worthy is releasing a prayer journal to go along with While My Soldier Serves. And in late July, I’m releasing a second book of prayers. While My Child is Away: Prayers for When We’re Apart, addresses the emotions of a parent when a child is away from home.

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers with a non-fiction subject burning in their heart?

Consider the reader first. We all have stories and experiences that we want to share because God has moved so powerfully in our own lives. But first and foremost, we must understand that the books we write are for the readers first and us second.

What wise advice. I think with While My Soldier Serves you have tapped into a real need for military families. This is a good measuring stick for writers. Who is our readership and will what we want to share meet a need?

Thanks so much for stopping by and giving us some behind the scenes insights into how you crafted While My Soldier Serves

Enter a drawing

Edie Melson is doing a giveaway. Those of you with children, spouses or friends serving in the arm services are going to want in on this drawing.

She is offering a choice of While My Soldier Serves or the Deployment Journal. Comment on this blog or on my Facebook page to be entered in the drawing. If you share my blog on your social media let me know and I’ll put your name in again.

As always we will allow comments until Friday. Then I’ll contact the winner to get mailing information to pass on to Edie.

Edie Melson

 

Edie Melson—author, blogger, speaker—has written numerous books, including While My Soldier Serves, Prayers for Those with Loved Ones in the Military. She’s also the military family blogger at Guideposts.org. Her popular blog for writers, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month, and she’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Connections: Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers is a print expansion of her bestselling ebook on social media. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy, the Social Media Director for Southern Writers Magazine, and the Senior Editor for NovelRocket.com. Connect on Twitter and Facebook.

 

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Four Lists For Fear Management

spidey fear-smallerThis past week I got another email from my editor with some final edits. A knot sat in my stomach, and I couldn’t open the attachment. I chose to look at it earlier the next day. That gave me time to loosen the knot and talk myself off the ledge. This isn’t the first time I have wrestled with knots of fear and nervousness over an editor’s email. So, I’ve learned a few things to help me battle fear. I never open an attachment right away. I read the email but leave the attachment for a time when my mind is fresh and focused Because fear raises its ugly head often in a writer’s life (at least in this writer’s life), I have a few methods to deal with it. Some work others are just, well, stupid. Let me share my strategy lists with you. First, the…

Stupid list

Never work on the edits suggested. Instead, throw the manuscript in a drawer and ignore it.

Whine and complain about my inability to get it right.

Watch lots of TV and find other excuses not to work on my project.

Have an imaginary discussion/argument with my editor over the suggested changes.

Take on the mantras “I’m not worthy.” Or “I’m not good enough.” Recite them often.

Well you can imagine how much I don’t get done following this check list. An old teacher often said. “Stupid is as stupid does.” Doing stupid doesn’t advance my writing goals.

Knowing fear can bring on the “stupids,” I created a…

check list-tiny

Better list

Plan a time to rework and rewrite according to editor’s suggestion.

Watch less TV.

Talk to my hubby about my fears to help release the knot in my stomach.

Pray a lot for wisdom.

Meet deadline even if its close.

Tell myself “I can do this.”

 

This is obviously more helpful. But I feel I could do better yet. I have an ideal state of mind I hope to reach before I pass from this life to the next. Her is my…

 

Best List

Pray against my fears. Remind myself God has given me this opportunity and He will guide me.

Spend time in praise to God for all his care for me.

Rise early and get the job done. Allowing plenty of time to get it done.

Send project in before the deadline.

If there is no quiet place at home to work. (With my full house that can be a challenge.) Go to the library.

Share with my hubby how excited I am to refine this project.

Resist any and all distractions. Including my favorite TV shows.

Along with the attached reworked manuscript send a note of appreciation and thanks for all my editor does for me.

 

This list is still out of reach. My reality is a combination of all of the above because fear wrenches my resolve to follow the best list. And I am wracked with guilty if I follow the stupid list.

 

My real list

I pray both for wisdom and confidence.

I remind myself I am love by Jesus and draw strength from that.

I talk to my hubby expressing my fears while I share my strategy for completing the edits.

I complain about my shortcoming, mostly to myself and God.

I set time aside to get the project done after watching more TV then I intended. By then I’m no longer sitting on the fear ledge. My mind is fresh when I sit down to do it.

I meet my deadlines, even it is closer than I would like.

I send a thank you and word of praise to my editor along with the attached corrections.

When I’ve won the battle

After completing the project and turning it in I bask in the confidence high I get from pressing the send button. Then I take time to work on some new writerly thing while I feel empowered. Because, it won’t be long before I feel fears presents. It lurks just around the corner prepared to rope me in when my writing world gets tough again.

How do you deal with your writer’s fears? I’d love to hear your strategy.

 

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Photos To Get Your Writing Muse Moving

Today I thought I’d post a few photos as writing prompts. These are characters my husband capture on film from the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Each character may spark a story idea individually. You might be inspired by a combination of all three. Your mind may capture a single color or small detail that will send your fingers flying over the keyboard. Although these images might evoke a fantasy tale it doesn’t have too. Do you see a mystery? Do you hear their inner dialogue? Can you sense an adventure? What do you see with your writer’s mind? Share your creation in the comments. I’d love to read them.

 

autumnfairy-2

Photo by Charles Huff

Faire-living statue 3

Photo by Charles Huff

Merlin-2

photo by Charles Huff

Because I want to read all the comments I receive let’s add to the challenge and limit the word count to 100 words. It’ll give you practice for when you need to tighten up your manuscript by eliminating words.

Post your 100 word story in the comments.

If you’d like to subscribe check out the right hand column.

Reminder: One more day to comment on Tuesday’s interview with Aaron Gansky for a chance to win an autographed copy of his book Hand of Adonai.

Author Aaron Gansky Talks About His New YA Novel

hand of adonai smallerWow! That describes the latest YA fantasy I read. Hand of Adonia: The Book of Things to Come was more than I expected. Aaron Gansky understands the dilemmas (real or imagined) of teens and shared them freely with his readers through his characters. I loved it so much I bought a copy for my 17 year- old grandson. He can’t wait to read it.

Today I have invited Aaron to join me for a Q & A on Writer’ Patchwork.

Here is the cover blurb to give you a peek at the story.

At first, Lauren Knowles is thrilled to find she’s “clicked” herself inside Alrujah, a fantasy game she created with her best friend, Oliver Shaw. But the exhilaration of serving as a magical princess fades when she senses a demonic force – one they did not create – lurking in the shadows.

Though they created a world of wondrous beauty blue-leafed forests, shimmering silver rivers, and expansive medieval castles Lauren and Oliver soon find their secret realm to be an ever-changing land of dark oppression and deadly sorcery. With the help of Aiden Price and Erica Hall, two friends from their high school in North Chester, the four teens must find a way out a way that can only be discerned from the dusty pages of the ancient leather-bound tome, The Book of Things to Come.

Faced with questionable allies, invisible enemies, and increasingly dangerous levels of difficulty, the four must learn to work together, to trust each other … or be forever lost.

Welcome, Aaron. I’ve secured the dogs in the basement. They were concerned you might bring some of the monsters from Alrujah with you. Take a seat on the couch and let’s get started.

Aaron how long have you been on this writing journey?

I’ve been writing all my life, but I’ve only been taking it seriously (as more than a “hobby”) since college. That’s when I made the decision to actively seek writing and publishing as a career. That’s probably more years ago than I care to admit. But you asked, so I’ll tell; about 15 years.

For those who don’t understand the term can you explain what the YA genre is and how it is different from writing for adults?

YA stands for Young Adult. It’s a term that describes literature that is aimed at high schoolers. Usually, the protagonists are younger, in high school themselves. Other than that, there’s not a major difference between YA and adult literature.

Tell our readers how you came up with your story idea?

I’ve always loved video games, especially role playing games like the Final Fantasy series and The Elder Scrolls. I wanted to write a book that could spoof that particular genre with all its tropes and archetypes as a type of homage. But somewhere along the line, the book became more than that. The characters came alive and I found myself really rooting for them. They’re in way over their heads, and the fact that they designed the game only adds to their confusion and fear.

What kind of research if any did you do?

I played a lot of video games and read a lot of fantasy novels. Still do. I like sitting down on a weekend, logging a few hours on something like Skyrim and calling it research. It’s really a win-win.

Even though I don’t play video games, I felt like that’s exactly where I was. The settings captured my attention. The battle scenes reflected the video game storylines. Which games did you use as part of the blueprint for your story?

As I said earlier, the old-school Final Fantasy games (specifically two, six, seven, and eight) gave me many of my ideas. But when I began writing, Skyrim had just come out. That was probably the primary game influence for me. It’s pretty immersive and deep, and it still amazes me how deep the games mythology goes.

What do you hope readers learn from Lauren and Oliver’s story?

More than anything else, I hope they enjoy the journey. I didn’t set out to make a particular point. I think that’s an easy way to fall into writing something that reads more like a brochure or pamphlet. Instead, I wanted to tell a good story. What readers learn from it is really up to them. But I imagine most will discover the power of perseverance and hope in even the darkest of places.

What is the key to writing well for a YA audience?

You have to be completely real and honest. These are savvy readers, and if you talk down to them, they’ll know it. Instead, I write like I would to an adult audience. I don’t pull a lot of punches in terms of prose. Of course, I do try to make sure my writing is clean. I want adults to feel comfortable putting this book in the hands of their teens. But the teens will immediately recognize these characters as tangible people with their own struggles and insecurities.

You captured my attention and left me hanging at the end. What can readers look forward to in upcoming novels. How many are you anticipating in the series? When are they coming out?

The second book should release in 2016 some time. I’m not sure exactly when, but when I find out, I’ll be sure to let everyone know. The series was intended to be a trilogy, but it grew beyond that, and now I’m looking at a four book series. Along the way, there will be more characters (both from North Chester and Alrujah), more excitement, more danger, more laughs, and more triumphs. The story will get deeper, and even a little darker. The stakes will rise, as they must.

Hey everyone we’re doing a give-away.

Aaron will give out an autographed copy of Hand of Adonia to a lucky reader. How cool is that. It’s simple to enter. Post a comment here or on Facebook. And if you post this blog on your FB page or other social media I’ll give you more chances to win this awesome book. Let me know in the comments that you did. I’ll contact the winner and send their info to Aaron. I’ll give everyone until Friday to comment.

Aaron Gansky

Aaron Gansky’s Bio

In addition to being a loving father and husband, Aaron Gansky is an author, novelist, editor, mentor, teacher, and podcast host. In 2009, he earned his M.F.A in Fiction at the prestigious Antioch University of Los Angeles, one of the top five low-residency writing schools in the nation. Prior to that, he attained his Bachelor of Arts degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing where he studied, in part, under Bret Anthony Johnston, now the Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University.

His first novel The Bargain (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) was released in December of 2013. The first book in his YA Fantasy series Hand of Adonai: The Book of Things to Come was released in August of 2015. He has written two books on the craft of writing fiction; Firsts in Fiction: First Lines and Write to Be Heard (with Diane Sherlock).

Visit Aaron at his website. http://www.aarongansky.com

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