Setting Mirrors Character Part 2

I’m picking up where I left off last post. I reviewed how the right setting helps the character reveal backstory and inner conflict in a natural way. Today I want to share a few examples of setting projecting mood.

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Secrets & Charades is my Historical Romance set in 1872. Dr. Evangeline Olson goes west as a mail order bride. A newly married couple who are strangers are going to be nervous and fearful until they get to know each other. Jake is a very practical man. Their first stop on their journey back to the ranch is at one of his line-cabins. It’s a soddie (a house constructed of dirt) that his men use if they are too far away from the ranch to make it home before dark. This is their non-honeymoon night based a a promise Jake made to Evangeline when they first met.

Evangeline scanned the dimly lit room. The lantern revealed bunk beds built right into the dirt wall, inhabited by insects. “That bed might move after all,” she muttered under her breath. “Would you prefer I cook?” She hoped her reluctance wasn’t obvious in her voice. “Show me what supplies you have.”

“I generally keep a few things on hand, but there’s other provisions in that box on the table. I’m gonna tend the horses. Watch the damper on the fireplace. It has a mind of its own.”

Evangeline’s hand trembled as she began the simple meal preparation. After placing two potatoes to bake in the hot ashes and securing a pan of beans on the fire, she set about cleaning the table with the underside of her dress. A spider met its demise as it crawled across the table.

“God,” she whispered. “I asked for a change. Help me make the best of it.”

As she reached into the box for the tin plates, she gave thanks for one blessing. “This is the least romantic place I could imagine. I hope Jake agrees.”

 

The dirt and dimness help emphasize her anxiety and her last line flows from her heart to her surroundings.

In this next example Jake takes her on a side trip on the last leg of the journey to the ranch. They visit the homestead he grew up in. This gives him an opportunity to tell her some unpleasant things about his past as they look at the run-down place.

 

Standing in the ruins of his past, Jake shared his history. “Ben taught my pa everythin’ he knew about ranchin’. They became good friends.”

“When did you move from here to your ranch?”

“After the war, I came home in pretty bad shape. The girl I’d hoped to marry had married my little brother, Robert.” Jake tried to sound matter-of-fact even though raw emotions lingered near the surface with his fatigue. “My pa died while I was off fightin’. I couldn’t bring myself to live in the same house with Robert and Nora, so I hired on as foreman for Ben.”

Evangeline nodded for him to go on.

“I was drinkin’ and carryin’ on, tryin’ to forget the war, not proud of my actions back then.” He removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. “Ben took me under his wing and showed me the light. Helped me forgive myself and receive God’s forgiveness. Came to Jesus because of Ben. I owe him my life.”

As they wander through the abandoned house and barn, Evangeline suggested they fix the place up. Her attitude gives him hope that this marriage can work.

There are times in the close confines of the wagon they fuss with each other because of fear and fatigue. Readers learn bits about their personalities as the story continues.

 

As you build your story world, think about places certain things can be revealed.  Places that seem natural for inner reflection or verbal sparring. I just completed a novella set in a blizzard on a ranch in Kansas. My settings are limited through most of the story. There are many scenes in the cabin, some in the barn. But key scenes take place out in the snowy woods, and in town.

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Don’t just write a setting for setting sake. Your last vacation destination to Merrimac Caverns might not be the best setting. Unless, the fear and anxiety you experienced while the tour guide led you through the dark recesses fits your heroine’s escape plans. Then bring up all those observations and link them to your characters feelings.

A tour of downtown Aurora in New Duet was necessary for my readers to understand Isabella’s new life. Evangeline’s first visits to shops in Charleton, Texas in Secrets & Charades helps readers know her better as she met its inhabitants. And the store room on the snowbound ranch in my novella gives a feel for the past without lots of verbiage.

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What is your favorite scene from a novel that brought you closer to the characters?

 

 

 

 

 

Why Narrow Your Audience Focus

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Whose your audience.

No matter how I asked, “What’s your audience?” The author I was speaking with insisted “my books are for everybody.” This from a conference attendee who’d heard from the podium and in the classroom many times—you need to narrow your audience.

I write Historical and Contemporary romance. And everyone knows women are the biggest audience for romance. Some men read romance. But the focus audience is women.

I can say Secrets and Charades audience focus are people who love historicals. Or those who love inspirational fiction. Adding those demographics, I have narrowed my audience more.

We need to define our audience to market to those most likely to read our books. Boys do not read girl books. They don’t. But girl’s read boy books. Whether the main character is male or female, a girl will read it. This is why there’s a huge need of middle-grade boy’s fiction.  Harry Potter is a boy’s book series read by people of all ages around the world. Most boy’s books stay within the demographics of boys and girls between the ages of nine and twelve.

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It is important to narrow your audience even on non-fiction. This same conferencee insisted everyone needed to read the miracles God wrought in their life and the devotional would impact everyone. Although everyone might benefit from reading these books, everyone will not read it. The category everyone does not exist in marketing. Although everyone should read the Bible, it is still catalogued under religious. And as powerful as the words of a non-fiction writer may be there still needs be a baseline for your audience. The Purpose Driven Life was marketed to church people but has been read by the unchurched.

I saw two wonderful devotion designed for middle schoolers. The author had written two versions reaching both boys and girls. There were places to doodle. It’s unique to that age. Not my idea for personal devotions but I have one friend who has always doodled when she listens to preaching. It helps her process. Although she is a grandma, she might use these devotionals.

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Having a narrow focus can draw all those who love your subgenre. It can also draw those who don’t. Mom reads my historical and tells her teenage daughter a bit about the story. She decides to read it then tells her friends. Statistically, most teens are reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I may find a new fan base with other-world readers. History is another world. However, most of my sales come from romance readers.

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An audience focus that is too broad is like a play marquee that reads A Play. Your audience may not buy a ticket.

Limiting your audience focuses your writing before you get started. Your vocabulary and jargon must fit your audience. This makes it easier to market your book when it’s finished. Defined readership helps when you write your proposal and during appointments with agents and editors at conferences. It sparks more interest in your writing if your marketing audience meets a need of their house. “My book is for everyone” is a novice response. And no matter how much you believe that, it won’t aid you in getting a contract or even self-publishing sales.

Anyone have any tips for narrowing your audience focus? Please share in the comments.

Interview with Author and Speaker Shellie Arnold

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I am excited to welcome Shellie Arnold to my blog today. Her debut novel The Spindle Chair captivated me. It’s the kind of book you can give to a friend who is struggling with their past and is more likely to be read than a self-help book. Check out my review on Goodreads.

My hubby loved it too. His words, “This doesn’t read like Chick Lit.” Not that he actually knows what Chick lit is, but if my guy enjoyed it so will other men.

Shellie, welcome to Writer’s Patchwork. Take a seat and help yourself to some Chai Tea. It’s a pleasure to have you here today. I am so excited (I know I already said that) to learn all that went into creating The Spindle Chair. Let’s get started.

Shellie Arnold

  1. Where did the inspiration come for the characters and their stories come from?

Thanks for having me as a guest.

There are two parts to answering that question. First, prior to illness starting in late 2002, my writing interests sat squarely on the non-fiction side of publishing. After God healed me on May 18, 2005, my husband and I prayed for eleven months before I started writing again. I didn’t take for granted I knew exactly what God wanted me to do. During those months I got pictures in my head, snapshots really, and a scene from what became The Spindle Chair. I didn’t know what those images were for, but in conversation with God I felt He wanted me to pursue fiction, even though that’s not what I’d been pursuing before. I started studying craft and attending critique groups working on what became The Spindle Chair.

The second part of my answer is, that I’ve always wanted to help marriages. When I realized what the pictures in my head actually were—scenes from a novel—I knew I could write about marriages using fiction, and actually show people’s struggles and emotions, history and discoveries. That’s the journey I hope to show through my fiction—a real journey through something tough, that ends with a stronger, healthy marriage.

  1. You have a passion to build strong marriages. Tell us about that?

I’m from a broken home. I remember the moment I knew my parents’ marriage would end in divorce. I was devastated, and as I grew older I was frightened of the idea of marriage. I thought “Either there’s no way to be married without hurting each other, or if there is, God isn’t sharing the secret.” When I knew God wanted me to marry, I pretty much told Him I’d only do it if He promised to teach me how to do marriage. I want to share all I’ve learned the hard way, in the hope it will help others who have as much stacked against them as my husband and I did.

  1. Why choose a pastor as your main character?

Great question! As a new author, I really have to prove myself, and one aspect of good fiction is the situations presented must be believable. I knew what I wanted my main character and his wife to go through, but I also knew I wanted God to speak to them through scripture. I felt it would be believable—or maybe more believable—to have a young pastor remembering scriptures he’d memorized as opposed to a new convert or an “inactive” believer.

I really wanted to show how a past hurt or trauma can affect a life and a marriage. And, I wanted to show that although facing that hurt or trauma so God can heal it is a painful process, that process doesn’t have to destroy your marriage.

  1. What would you hope your readers take away from your story?

Another great question, and thanks for the opportunity to answer it, because this is my heart: I really want readers to know that God is always at work in their marriage, even if they can’t see it. He’s always reaching, always trying to grow us, heal us, change us—not only to be conformed to the image of Christ, but to also “become one.” I hope readers will take away hope—both the belief and the knowledge that no storm in marriage is evidence of God’s absence, but rather is proof of His presence and work and purpose in their lives.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1941103871/

  1. Any other writing projects in the works?

Oh, yes. Many. I’m working on edits for book 2 of The Barn Church series. Sticks and Stones will be released in October 2016. I’m also writing book 3, Abide with Me, which is slated to release October 2017. The proposal for my first stand-alone novel is with the publisher right now, and while I’m waiting to hear back I’m writing that book. It’s about one-third complete.

I also write and produce video seminar teachings on various marriage topics, which are available through my web site www.shelliearnold.com. I’m giving away a complete teaching package BREAK THE CONFLICT CYCLE. Just log onto my web site and you’ll see it and other YOUR MARRIAGE resources available there.

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Finally, I’m working on my first non-fiction book. The topic is sexuality in marriage, and I have a much different take on the subject than other materials I’ve seen. I can’t WAIT to for that book to be published. I’m hoping for a 2017 release date for Awakening: Passion, Pleasure, and Sexual Freedom for the Christian Wife and the Husband Who Loves Her.

  1. Now for the question I always ask writers. (After all this is a writer’s blog.) What one tip would you share with up and coming novelists that you wish someone had told you?

Something I wish I’d been told…That waiting for the right agent is a smart choice. I had the opportunity at different times to sign with other agents, but I didn’t feel like I’d found a great match. That was difficult, turning down representation at times it seemed I was “missing” my only opportunity and wondering if I’d ever get another opportunity for representation. Some fellow authors thought I’d lost my mind.

Don’t settle for someone who doesn’t “get” what you’re doing, especially if you’re like me working in two genres (which is kind of taboo for a new author, and not readily accepted). Keep working on your craft, continue improving your work, and work on every project God tells you to work on. Eventually He’ll present you with the right match.

Giveaway

Shellie is giving away a teaching package called RISE TO FREEDOM to one lucky winner. She is also giving away a paperback copy of THE SPINDLE CHAIR to another winner. Just tell me in the comment section of this post on my Facebook page which item you would like to be put in the drawing for. You can be put in both drawings. I’ll draw the winners on Monday, December 14th.

More about Shellie Arnold

Shellie Arnold writes and speaks on marriage and family. She truly believes that despite baggage, neglect, or mistakes, when husbands and wives listen to God, they can live happily even after. Her passion is sharing how God has helped her do exactly that. She maintains a blog at www.shelliearnold.com, and is the founder of YOUR MARRIAGE resources. Shellie is a mother of three and has home-schooled for over twenty years. She lives in Ohio with her husband of twenty-nine years.

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Abuse a Common Core Dilemma in Novels

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Photo from Morguefile.com

We have a challenge to create believable stories. Writers must draw from the world around them, transforming life experiences and lots of research into a story that moves the reader. Love stories that stir the romantic in all of us. Mysteries with twists and surprises which leave the reader satisfied at the solution. Historicals and Fantasies with a you-are-there feel. Whatever the genre, every story has to have a core dilemma. Something readers can relate to on some level.

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Photo from morguefile.com

Core Dilemma

The latest novels I’ve read focused on the heroine dealing with abuse. Often verbal but at times physical. The two novels I have penned also deal with abuse on different levels. This topic is a very popular core dilemma in fiction. The storyline usually has the same key elements. The hero or heroine struggles to put the abuse in their past. They wrestle with the lies in their heads. And past abuse weighs heavily in their reactions to their present.

In some stories the abuse is in the moment and continues until deliverance takes place near the end of the story. Leaving the audience wondering how their life after the The End will all play out.

photo from morguefile.com

photo from morguefile.com

Time periods

Historicals may have a different story resolution than contemporary fiction. Laws and attitudes were very different in say 1840 or even 1950 than they are today. Domestic abuse was view differently in past centuries. A modern story may have a bolder response with organizations and laws to protect victims giving various options for the endings of contemporary novels.

photo by morguefile.com

photo by morguefile.com

Abuse is ever present

Why is it such a popular plot twist? Domestic abuse is a dark, ugly subject that is often easier to deal with in the pages of a novel. As the hero overcomes and becomes stronger the abused reader is given hope. The characters in our stories address the heart issues hidden inside the abused. Other characters either dear friends or villains can be influential in bringing healing for the reader. The friend can encourage or protect while the villain pushes the protagonist to face the demons of abuse and defeat them. Perhaps a crack in the armor of denial. Relatable story characters gaining victory over abuse brings hope to the reader. If the author is fortunate, he might get a fan letter saying his story inspired the reader to get help. What an awesome thought.

photo from moguefile.com

photo from moguefile.com

Victims know if your story rings true

Don’t soft sell the truth. Victims know the depth of their pain, and a whitewashed story of easy healing won’t fly with them. Be careful not to be too graphic lest you turn away readers who can’t stomach the details.

Get the facts right. Do your research. Present realistic conclusions even if the conclusion is a sad one. Some writers choose to mingle a lot of facts and provide strong secondary characters to bring about the healing. While others leave the ending unresolved in hopes readers will become aware of the problem and seek help for themselves or others.

As a Christian writer, my goal is to bring hope to a lost world. Not preaching or condemning but open a door to consider God is the strength needed to get through difficult times. So when I write about abuse He is the final solution that brings healing. Even if it requires the character to cling to their faith over time as layers of ugly abuse fall away.

What is a core dilemma pattern you’ve discovered in the last few books you’ve read?

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