Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Critique Muscles

Work that cerebral cortex!
You've heard of muscle memory, right?

Athletes will do an activity over and over again until their body automatically does something. They don't have to think about it, so they are able to focus on the bigger picture. They're not the only ones that use muscle memory though. We writers have it in our fingers if we type. My boys are amazed at how fast my fingers can fly over the keyboard. Even though it isn't always the highest accuracy, I still have good speed because I do it so much.

Do you exercise your critiquing muscles?

I've done some critiques with people along this writing journey, but it hasn't been regular. Lately I've had more opportunity to offer suggestions to people. I've found an online critique partner, and I'm participating in the ACFW critique email loop.

Even though having my work reviewed is a bonus to find those words and phrases I'm blind to, I think the greater benefit is getting to critique people.

I've been reading books on craft, quality novels, and blog posts for years now. I've assimilated a lot of knowledge. But nothing beats the application of knowledge to truly get it.

Now that I'm looking at other people's work and offering suggestions, I understand the reason for minimizing speaker tags. I see the flow of logic and the motivation/reaction unit so much better. By using it in other people's writing, I'm developing muscle memory in looking for these things.

The end result is that I'm then able to take it back to my own work and see weaknesses better.

Of course we're still going to have blind spots, but I'm amazed how things pop out at me more. It shouldn't be surprising. Practice makes perfect, right?

If you get a chance to participate in a critique group, remember that it benefits you in more ways than one. It's always good to help others and be a blessing when you are able, but you'll get more than other people's perspectives on your writing. Your perspective on your own writing will grow.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review - Daughter Of Light

On this fine Writing Wednesday I need to highlight a friend of mine.

Morgan Busse is a pastor's wife and one of the authors of the well-regarded Marcher Lord Press. She also plays a mean game of Fiasco, so you have been warned. She's been a member of the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour in the past, and that's how we connected at the ACFW Conference in Dallas last year.

Her first book released last year, called Daughter Of Light. I recently had the chance to read it.

Rowen is an orphan girl left on the doorstep of a military hero living outside a small village in the Ryland Plains. She grows up as an outcast from the tight-knit community, but when her father is killed in the war, it seems they are finally opening up to her. However, a strange mark appears on her hand, and when she touches someone with it, all of his dark secrets are revealed to her.

She is forced into exile as a witch, narrowly escaping being burned at the stake. Her only option is an offer from the White City, where as a favor to her father she is given the chance to become the bodyguard of Lady Astrea, daughter of Lord Gaynor. She hides her mark under a leather glove as she trains under the guidance of Captain Lore, a seasoned veteran who remains a follower of the Word, even as most of the culture has forgotten Him.

As Rowen wins the title of varor, there are forces building that will challenge her to the core. In the east, the dark Shadonae have risen once again, with a lone scribe fleeing for her life to reach the White City. From the south an invasion force mounts, and the assassin Caleb Tana is pursuing a bold plan that would free him from the banality of the army and allow him to retreat to his comforts back home.

Rowen plunges into the chaos swirling around her, wrestling with her own trials from her abandonment, exile,  and unwanted curse on her hand. Somehow she must discover the mystery of who she is and her strange calling before the world around her collapses.

Marcher Lord Press has cultivated a reputation for turning out the best in Christian speculative fiction, one that is well-deserved from what I've read from them so far. I'm pleased that Morgan continues in this tradition with a strong fantasy adventure that also challenges the heart.

Her characters make good heroes - they are determined to pursue what needs to be done despite their wounds and weaknesses. The drama from the plot is heightened by the internal conflict Rowan, Lore, and Caleb face. They are believable and sympathetic. I would have liked a little more about their habits or other desires, a quirk that grounds them, but otherwise they were well done. The secondary characters didn't stand out very much, but there aren't many of them to track.

The plot keeps the reader guessing. The conflict and suspense builds, and I never felt like the book dragged. There were no stretches of boring detail. The prose was crisp and kept the momentum growing. The best part of the book though is the heart. The theme of being damaged and dealing with what you've done, or what's been done to you, is a powerful message. The book is by no means preachy, but there are touching passages with opposing characters that make for a brilliant contrast. Rowen's damaged soul is an obvious point for this, but a surprising actor also plays a part in this. I was very impressed with how the theme was handled.

One of the best things was also the most frustrating. Morgan built up enough suspense that the one book couldn't contain it. There are questions at the end of the book whether certain characters are even alive. I wondered about the threat from the Shadonae, the war against the White City, and what would happen to Rowen. I liked that it didn't draw things together into a neat bow. There was enough resolution to the book, but I need to read the next one now. That's the frustration. I want it now.

Thankfully I don't need to wait long. The second book in the series, Son Of Truth, is set to release in a few weeks. I'll be adding it to my reading pile very soon.

Overall, Daughter Of Light is a very enjoyable and thoughtful read and an excellent debut. Yes, Morgan is a friend, but I've read enough fantasy that I'm picky, and I wouldn't say this without meaning it. With some more layering of the character traits this book could be approaching 5 star range. However, I would say it is 4 stars because a debut author always has room for improvement. Morgan's only problem is that she set the bar pretty high from the get-go!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

CSFF Tour - The Orphan King

A month has flown by already? It seemed just yesterday we were doing the tour for Shannon Dittemore and her book Angel Eyes (BTW, her next book in the series, Broken Wings, just released).

But we are now two months in to 2013, and it is time for another CSFF feature. This time we're doing The Orphan King, a new series by Sigmund Brouwer.

I didn't have time to read this book, but here's the synopsis from Amazon:
The future of the Immortals is in the hands of an orphan
 My greatest fear was that they would find us and make of us a sacrifice beneath a full moon. Now you, Thomas, must help us destroy the circle of evil. 
The last words of a dying woman would change the life of young Thomas. Raised behind monastery walls, he knows nothing of his mysterious past or imminent destiny. But now, in the heart of medieval England, a darkness threatens to strangle truth. An ancient order tightens their ghostly grip on power, creating fear and exiling those who would oppose them. Thomas is determined fulfill his calling and bring light into the mysterious world of the Druids and leaves the monastery on an important quest. Thomas quickly finds himself in unfamiliar territory, as he must put his faith in unusual companions—a cryptic knight, a child thief, and the beautiful, silent woman whom may not be all she seems.  From the solitary life of an orphan, Thomas now finds himself tangled in the roots of both comradery and suspicion. Can he trust those who would join his battle…or will his fears force him to go on alone?
It sounds intriguing, but the folks below will have more information on it. I was able to read Gillian's overview of book one, and she's writing about the second book in the series next (Fortress Of Mist), so definitely check her out.

Gillian Adams Julie Bihn Thomas Fletcher Booher Beckie Burnham Janey DeMeo Theresa Dunlap Victor Gentile Nikole Hahn Jeremy Harder Ryan Heart Janeen Ippolito Becky Jesse Carol Keen Emileigh Latham Rebekah Loper Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Megan @ Hardcover Feedback Rebecca LuElla Miller Anna Mittower Eve Nielsen Nathan Reimer James Somers Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler

Monday, February 18, 2013

Soccer or Football

I was talking to a friend this weekend who passed on an observation from someone else.

"Church can be like football or like soccer."

This piqued my curiosity. I am a sports fan after all. I love to watch American football, but I enjoy playing soccer more.

A football game is equipment and support heavy. All the helmets and pads. Several referees. A special kind of field with marks every ten yards. To do it right, it takes a lot of effort and resources.

Soccer can be the essence of simplicity. You need a ball and two spots for goals. That's it.

 The laws of soccer are actually very few, compared with the myriad of penalties and rules for what is acceptable in football. Try explaining to a football novice the difference between running into a kicker vs. roughing the kicker, or pass interference, or illegal formation. The wide receiver covered the tight end? What is that?

Of course kids can play a simple game of football in a park, and soccer can be done with huge stadiums and use a lot more resources. Still, the analogy holds: football is generally a lot of work to actually get to the game, while soccer can be done with a minimal of requirements.

When it comes to church, doing our Outreach Saga has convinced me that doing things simply like the soccer match is a valid way of meeting together as the body of Christ. I recognize that the big football game of Sunday morning church has its place and can do things we can't do in our small group. However, I think both can be used to meet the needs of people around us.

Are we willing to do something small and simple to reach people, instead of always going for bigger and showier?

For now, God's given me a soccer ball. I'm willing to play the game He's put in front of me.

What do you think of the analogy? Does it ring true, or do you have a concern about it? Let's talk about it in the comments below.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

That Editing Thing

Time for the paper to bleed
Howdy y'all.

I missed a couple posts between work and that editing thing. That fuuuun thing writers love to do.


I've talked about this before and actually liked it at one point. It felt good to go back and rework a few chapters for a contest. Fix the sagging areas. The sharp areas got some extra sharpening. Polish it up to be shiny.

On the novel scale it is a little...harder.

It is a real trick making the writing tighter, building up and tearing down, and keeping everything flowing together. I've made some changes to the plot to heighten the tension. Now I have to follow the consequences through. Stupid butterfly effect.

I'm also dealing with word count issues. Most authors have to cut a lot of words to get it into range for their genre. I've got the opposite problem. I need to add 15,000 words. I've introduced a new major hurdle for my protagonist to overcome, but I'll probably need to tweak some more things to expand the words without resorting to filler (Jenna was really, really, really, really, really tired from the flight).

It proves that writing a novel is a difficult task. I used to wonder if I'd finish my book at all. Now that I've done a draft, I wonder if I can wrestle it down and make it work from start to finish. I've come this far so I'm not going to stop. Thankfully I'm developing some trustworthy critique partners to help with things. (You should see how many times I use 'turning' in the text. Sheesh.)

What about you? What are your challenges with editing/revising? Are there parts of it you like? Any good tips for your fellow writers?