Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Character Sketch

Making a Character Real

So I have spent some serious time writing my latest book, right?  I even sent the first three chapters to a top agent in the business. Just what I'm supposed to do, right?

And this top agent was so very kind to not only read my three chapters, but provide some very good feedback that helped me tremendously.

In fact, it stopped me in my tracks.

And...made me stop writing for a few weeks!

But that's okay. As a result, I went back and made the suggested changes that the agent offered.

What changes were those?

She told me she needed to know more about my main character in order to like her. She said something was lacking. And she was right.

The Character Sketch

As an artist, I love to draw and paint. But I tend to be impatient. I want to get what's inside my head down on the paper FAST before I lose it.

And the drawing rarely comes out like I want it to because I rushed it.

Pablo Picasso often completed hundreds of sketches before he ever put paint to canvas. My art professors agreed with this method and would often have me complete many sketches before actually starting the painting.

I have learned it is the same in writing.

We writers tend to have our characters completed inside our heads, but forget many important details when we finally put them down on paper.

But this is easy to remedy with the Character Sketch.

There are many ways to complete this task. There are character worksheets, which I have blogged about here before. There are sketches that are in paragraph form where you free write about your character.

And there is another way to complete this task: Asking questions.

Questions Questions Questions

Get out a piece of paper and ask yourself these questions about your main character:

  • What does he/she look like? What does her face tell us about her personality? Does he have any unusual characteristics?
  • Does she speak quickly or slowly? Loudly? Softly? Why?
  • What kind of clothes does she wear?  How does she do her makeup? What does his hair look like? What does this tell us about him?
  • Where is this character now? How do her surroundings add to the sketch?
  • What's in his background? What does he do for a living? What about her family? What's her education?
  • What kind of person is he? Relaxed? Busy? Pleasant? Obnoxious? Intelligent? Dense? Kind? Cruel? Thoughtful? Forgetful?
  • What kind of thoughts are going on inside her head? Is she emotional? What does she believe in? Is he opinionated?

Bringing It All Together

Now that we have a sketch about your main character, it's time to bring it all together. Take some time to select some of the answers to your questions.

Write three paragraphs about your character keeping your reader in mind. Write about the main theme that ties her to the most important plot points in your story.

Why should your reader care about this character?

Drawing of my son I completed years ago...

Getting It Right

In drawing, sketching is light and easy. The artists uses a light touch because this isn't the final drawing. Lines will need to be erased before the final drawing is started. There is light shading and no darkest darks.

Character sketches should be the same way. You should be willing to take away details and add some if need be.

And that's what happened with my character. This nice agent wanted to like my main character, but there just wasn't enough there to grab her attention.

I had to go back and add some details that would make the reader like her, want to be friends with her, and want to know even more about her.

It's the same with drawing. In the finished drawing, you see more details. You see the darker shading and values. Now the drawing comes to life!

So, as you can see, the Character Sketch can be an excellent tool to help you develop your characters. It takes time and causes you to slow down and really think about those details the reader needs to know in order to "get" your character and care about what happens to him or her.

You want your reader to turn the page in order to find out more, right?

Good strong characters will do the trick!

Your turn: How do you develop your characters? Do you have a tool that works best for you?


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Types of Writing

Since I will be teaching the many types of writing and asking my students to compose different types of papers, I thought I'd give one type a try here on my blog:

Persuasive Writing.

Hotel Review

This past weekend, my husband and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary by returning to the hotel where we spent our honeymoon:

Little America in Flagstaff, AZ

Little America is situated in the forests just outside of Flagstaff, AZ nestled among the beautiful pine trees.

Upon entering, we were greeted with the cozy lobby.

After checking in, we made our way to our lovely room overlooking the green lawns and pine trees.

Our room was large and comfortable with a big soft bed. There was a separate vanity space for us ladies to use for getting ready. The bathroom was also very big and had a powerful shower head. I thoroughly enjoyed a hot shower at bed time! The towels were high thread count and extremely soft. There was ample drawer space in the room and bathroom for toiletries. 

View from our room

We really enjoyed our morning walks along the inviting forest trails. One trail was 1 mile and the other was a 2 mile jaunt. The 70 degree temps made for a lovely respite from the extreme heat of Phoenix. Afternoon rains were a treat as well since we came from the desert. 

The hotel boasts a classy restaurant that proved to be a little bit too expensive for us ($30.00 for salmon!) but that's not a problem because the hotel is close by to a plethora of restaurants to choose from including some that have been featured on the Food Network cable show "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" which I will also review here on my blog soon.

All-in-all we had a wonderfully romantic time at Little America. The staff was helpful and professional. Our room was sparkling clean. It's a perfect hotel for a romantic get-a-way or time with the family. The hotel has a heated pool and playground for kids and we saw many families there enjoying the amenities. 

During the summer months, there is a lot to do in Flagstaff:
 Hiking, zoos, Cardinals training camp, sky lift for site seeing, historical museums to tour, etc.

The only negative was that I found 3 bugs in our room including a black spider underneath my pillow. Luckily, it was dead and didn't appear to be a poisonous spider! Other than that, everything was fine. Room service was kind enough to send us two champagne flutes to toast our anniversary. 

Little America is as beautiful as I remembered from way back when. I hope we can visit in the wintertime some day to see the grounds covered in snow and the trees lit up like Christmas.

I give the experience 4 out of 5 stars and recommend this hotel for your next visit up north!

Your turn: Have you ever written a review?  What hotel is your most favorite or least favorite? Would you be willing to write them a review?


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Now What Do I Write About?

Ah, the Writing Process. It can be fun...or a pain!

Now that you are ready to begin writing a story for whatever purposes, you will need to select what it is you want to write about.

This step in the process is usually the easiest step for me because I have about one thousand stories in my head! Many of those stories have been there for decades just waiting for me to put them down on paper for others to read.

Some are better than others. Some would make better screenplays than books, but they are there...bugging me to put them down on paper.

But what if you don't have any idea what to write about next?

What do you do then?

The Big Ideas

In the writing process, it's always best to begin with the Brainstorm.

This is where you take a break...relax...and jot down any ideas that come to your mind. Still stuck? How about looking at some prompts for ideas?

Your worst day ever
Your best day ever!
Favorite restaurant
Best class you ever took
Favorite teacher
Favorite vacation experience

...and on and on.

For my next project, I remember how the idea came to my mind as though it was yesterday:

I was subbing for a 6th grade teacher back in 2005. I had to give a spelling test to the class. As I read the words, I noticed they seemed to link together nicely as though they were taken from a story.

So, I used the words to create a story as I gave the test.  I had to say the word, then use it in a sentence. The kids seemed to like my story line. It was a murder mystery!

And now, seven years later, I am finally putting that story down on paper. It has been haunting me for all those years! It feels good to finally organize those thoughts into a book.


Still having trouble? Try freewriting for a few minutes. Just let your mind wander about a certain topic or idea...

Jot down anything that comes to mind. Nothing is wrong in this exercise.

Did that help?


Now that you have some words or ideas written down, it's time to collect those ideas. Start to organize your thoughts. Do some light research if you need to. Collect some facts or details.

Begin to construct an opening paragraph or scene.

How does that feel? Is the story coming together for you?


Now it's time to make connections.

Start to write your first draft thinking about your readers. What would they need to know about your topic? Who are your characters? What's the hook in your story?

Don't think about it, just write it down.

Now read it.

Is there anything missing? Holes in your plot? Need more facts or details?

Now is the time to go back and add them...

Thinking Like A Writer

With that first draft, see if you can find someone brave enough to read it for you.

Listen with care to their suggestions and comments.

Think like a writer. How can you make your story better?

So, how has this process helped you? Perhaps you are already past all these steps and ready for a beta reader to read your manuscript.

Well done!

Most writers need a little push past that first step in selecting what they want to write about. Some topics are more intimidating because they require some in depth research and study while others are pure fantasy.

Either way, I hope the selection process doesn't slow you down. Take the time to really think about what it is you want to write about next. Make sure it is something you are passionate about. Perhaps try a topic you've always wanted to write about but were afraid to try.

Go for it!

But most importantly...just write!


Friday, July 20, 2012

Where Would You Go?

As many of you know, I had the privilege of serving the Lord on a short term mission trip this summer in Slovakia. 

I am convinced that serving the Lord in another part of the country or the world is a great way to get your mind off your circumstances and the materials things of this world.

 It helps your get your focus on the Lord, the needs of others, and the importance of the gospel message.

So if you had the chance to serve the Lord out of this country....where would you ask to be sent? Where do you feel the Lord is pulling you? 

Have a blessed weekend everyone!!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Writing to Learn

Writing to Learn

As I get ready to embark on this new journey of teaching writing, I spent some time yesterday flipping through the textbook, browsing through web sites, and considering my lesson plans in order to get an idea of what I wanted to teach this year.

And why I wanted to teach it.

So what is my goal for teaching writing this year?

Well, after working at a university where I had the chance to assess some writing assignments of our students, I realized there are many young adults out there who do not know how to write effectively...or creatively...or simply for communicative purposes.

This fact really concerned me.

Learn About Yourself

I realized many students out there do not write to learn. They write to communicate something, to pass a class, or to inform...but they are so used to the rudimentary writing assignments that they rarely go beyond and explore what's out there.

And that's what I want my students to learn!


I want my students to learn how to write...just write...about themselves. Their favorite memories and why, their fears, their goals, their hopes, their dreams. What angers them, what makes them laugh?

This can be done by writing in journals, class discussions, and many other ways rather than the usual prompt written on the board.

Learn About Others

There's more to writing than a teacher providing a prompt and students writing about it in an essay form.

The peer review is an important part of learning how to write. Many of the college students I encountered at the university where I worked did not understand the peer review concept. This told me they were never taught this process while in high school.

And that's a disservice.

I long for my students to learn how to read each other's work with a good critical eye. I want them to learn a little more about each other by listening to each other read from their own work. And I want them to learn how to receive constructive criticism about their own work. All this is part of being a writer and an artist.

So many of us pick up a book to escape reality. We long to disappear into another world. I love to read non-fiction to learn about someone else's experiences. I love to read about history and scientific facts. I long for them to explore a genre they may never have considered before.

There is so much to learn from writing that I am afraid so many of our college students have missed out.

Learn About Your World

Let's face it, blogging is here to stay.

There are millions of blogs out there and more on the way. I choose to read blogs each morning rather than the news paper because news is happening every second of the day. Many blogs have proven to be reliable sources of information.

Other blogs are out there for fun information or for reflection.

I want my students to learn more about what's going on in the world and blogs are a great place to start.

I want them to learn how to formulate an argument and defend it. Blogging is a great source for this! I want them to learn how to review a movie they loved or hated, a book, or even a shopping experience in a local grocery store.

Simple ideas like this can create a writer before you know it!

Writing to Learn

So, as you can see, I have a lot of plans for this school year. 

But my goal is to teach students, not assignments. I want my students to walk away having learned a little bit about themselves, each other, and the world out there.

My hope is for my students to enter into the academic world with a set of skills that will follow them all through life.

Your Turn: What is it about writing that you love or hate? If you could, what would you teach young people about writing?

D.C. Heath and Company (1995). Write Source 2000. Washington, DC: DC Heath and Company Publishers.


Monday, July 16, 2012

In Whom Do You Trust?

As a writer, I often find myself looking for that perfect word to use in a perfect sentence that holds together a perfect paragraph.

Needless to say, I often fail.

But when I do succeed, it's a great feeling.

In Whom Do You Trust?

Last weekend I had the awesome privilege of traveling through the Tatra mountains into Poland on a sightseeing tour with three travel companions: Deidra, Diane, and Tanya.

These mountains are about 6,000 feet above sea level, so the air was cooler and the sights were lovely. It was a nice respite from the heat we had had in Slovakia the past week.

On the way home, however, I had no idea the Lord was planning another life lesson where the word for the day would be TRUST.

In What Do You Trust?

The little car we were traveling in began to have some trouble climbing out of the mountains. It simply refused to shift into third gear leaving all four of us ladies inside a bit worried. 

We stopped to check the fluids in the car, but all was fine. Yep, it had to be the steep incline. 

We all stopped and prayed and asked the Lord to relieve the anxiety we all had and to let Him know we understood His sovereignty. 

Four women headed out alone deeper into the mountains in a foreign country as the sun began to set. 

What is Trust?

After we made it to the next town and the car was still struggling, the driver, Diane, decided to stop and perhaps have us spend the night in this little town. We could tell she was very worried and we all knew how far away from our host family we were. 

I began to have some concern because I did not budget for another hotel stay. And I certainly did not budget for a bus or train ride back to Slovakia. 

So I closed my eyes...and prayed silently for guidance. 

Instantly, I heard the Lord tell me to ask Diane to call her husband.

"Why don't you call your husband to see what he thinks?" I asked. 

She agreed and stepped away to speak to him on her phone for a few minutes. I prayed some more.

A few minutes later, she told us her husband felt it was alright for us to continue since most of the way home now was downhill. He said we only had one more hill to climb and the car should be fine. 

I felt so much better. 

One more hill to climb...

Our God Is Greater

Well, we drove out of that little town into the mountains. And we began our climb. The little car struggled some more, but we kept going. 

The sun began to set. The rode we were on was darkening. A car passed once in a while. Four women alone in the mountains. 

I began to pray again. 

"Do you trust this car to get you home?" the Lord asked me. "Or do you trust ME to get you home?"

"You, Lord," I answered. "I trust You."

I felt that peace that comes only from trusting in the Lord. 

Home Again

And the little car made it out of those mountains. We all began to converse again, as women do when stuck in a car together. We talked about our marriages, running, mission work, our kids. 

I was never so happy to be in the presence of a wife who submitted to her husband than at that moment. 

What if Diane had been one of those wives who doesn't submit to her husband?  What if she had refused to call him because she thought she knew better than he did?  Or what if she argued with him and decided not to take his advice?

I thanked the Lord Diane did listen to her husband and in the end, listened to her Lord.

Whew! What a trip that was!  What should have been a 5 hour trip turned into almost 9 hours for us and even more for Diane and Tanya who still had another 2 hours to go until they got home. 

My travel companions...Deidra, Tanya, and Diane. 

Word Lessons

So the word for that day was TRUST. 

I learned more about that word that day than I ever thought I would.

I wanted the Lord to see I trusted Him more than that car. I knew He was with us and no matter what was His will not ours. 

And His will is perfect.

So, today my question for you is, in whom will YOU put your trust?

Think about it...


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Paths of Research

"Work will make you free..."


While on a mission trip in nearby Slovakia, I was able to take a day trip to Poland for the purpose of seeing Auschwitz.  Many people cringed when I told them about my plans, but if you know me at all you will know that WWII history is my most favorite historical subject. 

And not to see Auschwitz would have been the biggest regret of my life. I have always wanted to see it. 


For one of my books, I will set my protagonist inside a concentration camp during WWII. As a result, I wanted to see the most famous and the largest of all the camps. 

When we think of Auschwitz, we mostly conjure up the harsh black and white images taken by the Nazis as they documented their abhorrent work. Yet they were more than proud to document their efficiency in carrying through the Final Solution.

I wanted to walk where so many have walked before. I wanted to see for myself the gates, the barbed wire fences, the barracks, the famous guard towers and so much more. 

As I walked, I was mostly struck by the heat. I had no idea the prisoners had to deal with such heat. I thought they only dealt with the harsh winters, but if a prisoner survived the winter they had the summer to deal with. On average, a prisoner lived only two months after entering the camp due to the harsh conditions: torture, disease, hard labor, starvation.  

Two months. 

We walked through the rooms only to be hit hard by the humidity. The sweltering heat made it hard to breathe. I began to complain. I even felt faint. 

One visitor did faint and they tried to carry her out. 

Then I thought about how she would have been shot if this had been 1944. 

Our guide took us outside where we saw the area where prisoners once had to stand at attention for 19 hours. If they fainted, they were shot. 

It was hard to complain about the heat  after that.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Birkenau was the scene of Hitler's Final Solution carried out by Heinrich Himmler. This leader of the SS (Schutzstaffel) was the mastermind behind the extermination camps. He and his Einsatzgruppen were extremely organized and, therefore, admired by Hitler because they could carry out the gruesome task easily. 

Himmler himself is responsible for over 6 million deaths. Birkenau saw up to 10,000 people killed in the gas chambers a day. 


As I walked the paths of Birkenau, I almost expected to see the ghosts of prisoners walking by, it was that eerie. 

At one moment, we heard the enthusiastic singing of some girls. They were singing in Hebrew and clapping their hands. We saw them walking by proudly waving the Israeli flag. My heart was so warmed with this sight. 

Then, it hit me. I wondered if any of the female prisoners had sung the same song while there at Auschwitz Birkenau. I got chills. 

The Results of Research

Researching for a book can be a fun experience. 

But I knew this trip would not be fun. I knew it was essential, but would not be pleasurable.

This research was fascinating to say the least. This was the first time I had the chance to walk where my characters will actually walk. I saw the barracks where they will lie almost freezing and starving to death. I saw fences that will enclose them into this hell on earth.

I am forever changed just from visiting Auschwitz. I firmly believe every human being should travel there if for no other reason than to ensure this atrocity never happens again. 

...Yet the worldview that caused this horror is still out there. 

That means it could happen again. 

Will it? 

I suppose we shall see.

But I am happy to say that there is life at Auschwitz now. It is no longer a death camp. It is a Memorial to those who were murdered. For those who suffered. For those who lived. 

Yes, my research took me down this path. I said goodbye to Auschwitz  hoping I would not be back again.

Once in a lifetime is enough. 

Your turn:  What are your reactions to this post? Would you go to Auschwitz if given a chance? Why or why not?


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

English Camp 2012

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him will bear much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing."    - John 15:5

Dobri Den from Lucenec, Slovakia!!

I am here teaching at the English Camp 2012 and loving every minute of it! So far, we have been able to tour Budapest, Hungary and enjoy a Slovakian barbecue which consists of venison Gulash. 

Needless to say, we are having a great time!

English Camp

My class is made up of 11 students...the best ever!  I love these kids. They are super smart and eager to learn English (and teach me Slovak!). Along with my two lovely translators, Nicky and Dominicka, we are having fun playing games, listening to Bible stories (The Prodigal Son today...) and learning English words. 

We teach in a small school in town during the morning then after lunch I teach an art class. I have about 12 students in my class along with some translators who love to do art projects too!

Feet to Faith

So why am I here?  I am here to spread the gospel message to these kids both in words and in deeds. I want them to see Christ in me. I smile and laugh and giggle with them as well as serve them. Somewhere in there I teach them too. 

But the second reason I am here is to teach my son, Nathan, an important lesson. 

I want my son to see that we are to put feet to our faith. I am here to show him that sometimes we are to leave our comfortable home, loved ones, and friends to go somewhere far away and share God's message of hope. 

Sometimes we are called to walk across the street!

But the life of a Christian is on of action. So that is the lesson I want to leave him with. learn what others are doing for Christ all over the world. It is amazing!

Well, that's what I am up to. I will be back in the USA in 10 days. We will visit Poland this weekend. I hope to blog about that experience!

Your turn: How do you see the Christian faith? As a verb or just a noun?