Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Conflict and Tension, Part 4

Melanie Dickerson here. I hope y’all aren’t tired of my posts about Conflict and Tension, but I thought I needed to do one last discussion on HOW to add appropriate Conflict and Tension in your stories.

I have to admit, when I’m plotting, I don’t like making an outline or even filling out a worksheet on my characters or my plot. I have done the worksheet thing, and even created my own Plotting Worksheet, but I find that it doesn’t really help me. I have to work out my plot and characters in my head.

One thing I don't have trouble with is getting my characters to fall in love. The hard part is keeping them apart long enough. But that's a blog post for another time.
I also have trouble explaining my process, or even understanding what my process is! Sigh. I’m not methodical. At all. But, having said that, I think talking about certain aspects of your characters can help you figure out ways to create and add to the conflict in your story. 

We’ve already talked a little about the need for conflict. No conflict equals a very boring story. Every story must have conflict and tension or there is no story. But how do you create a conflict that works for your story?

Look at what you already have. I tend to start with a character that I know a few things about, then pick a fairy tale (when I’m writing my fairy tale retellings), and just let my imagination take it wherever seems fun, interesting, and romantic.

When I was coming up with The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, I remember I was thinking about fairy tales and familiar stories I might want to use as a basis for a story. I decided I wanted to take two stories and mesh them together. I started thinking about Robin Hood versus the person in charge of the forest. That would be instant conflict. What if my Robin Hood was a woman who was killing deer to feed the poor, and the hero was the forester who was in charge of catching poachers? And then I thought of Swan Lake. What if the forester fell in love with the “Swan” character from Swan Lake and [spoiler alert!] ended up shooting her? Just like in the Swan Lake story, the hero is in love with the heroine but doesn’t know her true identity. And then, when she’s in her alternate state—not a swan, but a poacher—he shoots her, then immediately realizes he’s shot the girl he’s in love with! Lots of angst and drama and CONFLICT!

That’s an example of something I learned from Mary Connealy many moons ago on the Seekerville blog, which is: Give the hero and heroine competing goals, or competing occupations.

So if you already know what occupation you want one of your main characters to have, then give their love interest an opposing occupation. An oil driller will fall in love with an environmentalist. A mayor will fall in love with a political protester. An aristocrat will fall in love with a poor governess (Jane Eyre). A duchess will fall in love with her betrothed’s brother (The Fairest Beauty). A margrave who disapproved of his brother falling in love with a servant will himself fall in love with a servant girl disguised as an aristocrat (The Beautiful Pretender).

I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Another way of adding conflict is to think about your main characters’ greatest fear and force them to face it. Do you know your main characters’ greatest fears? Do you know their goals? Their motivations? What happened to them when they were children that scarred them and gave them their greatest fears? This is all great stuff to use to create conflict and tension. And it’s not enough to know what their goal is. You have to know WHY that’s their goal, what their motivations are.

Does your character have trust issues? Use that. Do they have issues with rejection and abandonment? You can use that. What is their greatest strength? You can even use that, especially if their strength becomes a weakness by causing them to be prideful about that one thing. Make sure you challenge their strengths and weaknesses. You can use events, circumstances, the villain, or the other main character to do this.

As an example of the characters’ greatest fears causing conflict . . . In A Viscount’s Proposal, the conflict comes from the hero’s disapproval of the heroine, as well as her fear of marrying someone who wouldn’t feel any passion or genuine love for her, since that’s the kind of marriage her parents have. The hero’s stuffiness and arrogance, as well as his disapproval of the heroine, come from his fear of scandal—his father was embroiled in a scandal that got him killed when the hero was just a boy, which also led to his mother’s death. You can imagine their horror when, toward the middle of the story as they get to know each other, they each begin to feel an attraction for the other. Their fears are still there, so there’s lots of inner conflict now. Their trust issues also come into play, creating more tension and conflict.

So, your turn. How do you come up with conflict in your stories? If you’re having trouble coming up with enough conflict in your current WIP, have you mined their worst fears? Their goals and motivations? Their childhood scars and traumatic events? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

And if you're on Goodreads, I would love it if you would add my Aladdin retelling, The Orphan's Wish, to your Want to Read shelf!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Shades of Diversity

With guest blogger Toni Shiloh!

Y’all, I can’t believe I’m here on Seekerville. I’m so excited to be rubbing virtual elbows with some great authors. Thank you, Ruth for inviting me here to speak.

When I got the invitation, I immediately began to wonder what on earth I’d talk about. It’s a little intimidating when you know so many people will be popping in to say hi. So after praying and talking to some trusted friends, I decided to go with what’s been on my heart: diversity.

The word itself is quite broad and can mean a wide range of subjects, so just so you know, I’m talking about racial diversity as well as the lack of it in the publishing world of Christian fiction. It’s been my heart from the moment I opened my laptop to write my very first story to bring diversity between the pages. In fact, I started a group blog with that thought in mind. I wanted to show the readers that books featuring people of color (poc) are out there. I wanted to show the publishing industry that the books are available and what the readers are looking for.

In my journey of bringing more diversity, I’ve had many Caucasian authors come up to me and ask if they’re qualified to write a novel with a poc hero/heroine when they aren’t one. I know that fear can debilitate a person and bring on the dreaded writer’s block, but writer friends, 9 times out of 10, you don’t even have the same occupation as your hero/heroine.

As we do with anything, we must do our research. But when it comes to writing a poc hero/heroine, I would caution you. Not about researching, for it is best to use sensitivity readers (readers who are same race as your hero/heroine to ensure no offense is made), walk in the shoes of your reader, etc. But if you aren’t friends with a diverse group of friends, how can your work reflect that?

Now I know it’s hard if you live in a town that has a low percentage of ethnic diversity, but that’s what the internet is for! I’ve met many writer friends around the world who don’t look like me. What was an initial meeting of like-minded individuals has turned into a friendship I treasure. As believers, we have an even greater call to unite with our fellow man. So please, find a friend who’s not like you. Do life with people who aren’t in the same station as you. Your world will grow organically and automatically flow into your writing. 

Now for my reader friends, I’ve heard so many of you ask where are the diverse characters? Why can’t I find them? I’m so glad you ask! It does my heart good to know you want the stories so many authors are putting out. Unfortunately, not all Christian fiction is labeled as such when it comes to the bookstores or even the library. Often times, when a book is featuring a poc, the book is labeled under that ethnicity. It can be difficult to weed through the sections in brick-and-mortar stores trying to find that inspirational book written by a poc or featuring a poc, but never fear.

I do have some tips.

1. Do an internet search. A quick search will pull up the bestseller lists from your eBook retailers, giving you a starting point for names.
2. Ask an author. I love helping readers find new authors and other authors do as well. We are aware you read faster than we can publish, so you need to have other authors to read. We’ll happily connect you with other authors. It’s no different when you’re searching for diversity.
3. Ask a librarian. This is especially helpful. Librarians are aware of what books cross labels, like which poc writes Christian fiction or other inspirational reads.
4. Ask a friend. If you’re friends with an poc avid reader, ask them! Find out who they’re reading and why. Not only will you get a recommendation, but this is a perfect opportunity to open the flow of conversation. Sometimes we’re not aware of what’s going on in the background.

So now that you know how to find them, I feel it’s important for you to know how to support authors. Not just the authors of color who are writing hero/heroines of the same vein, but for those writers stepping outside their race lines and bringing diversity to the forefront. Again, I have some tips. J

1. Review. Beth Erin did an excellent post on do or don’ts for reviewing. I’m sure you remember how helpful it was, so I won’t say more.
2. Request. Request your local book store to purchase the books. Request your library to buy these books. Request your friends and family. Get the word out so that publishers and others will join the boat.
3. Follow. Please follow the authors who are bringing you diverse reads. We need the support so much! When we’re down and wondering why are we writing, a like, comment, or message from you bolsters us and keeps our eyes on the prize: readers.
4. Read. Perhaps the best and most enjoyable tip yet. Read our books. Knowing readers are picking our books up from the massive selection that is out there is the best thing you could ever do. Because our hope is you will become a fan for life. 

 I just want to thank y’all for stopping by and listening to my heart’s cry: diversity. I’d love to offer an eBook of my novel, Returning Home. It’s book one in my Freedom Lake series. Please let me know, what’s the last book you read where the main character was a person of color? If you haven’t read one, tell me which book you’ll pick to read that features one.

Bio: Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.

She spends her days hanging out with her husband and their two boys. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and president of the Virginia Chapter.
You can find her on her website at 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mining Your Family Tree for Story Ideas

by Jan Drexler

We tend to think our families are nice, normal, boring people, right?
Oh, sure, there’s Aunt Hattie, who was rumored to have been a flapper back in the 1920’s. Or Uncle Jack, who left home when he was fourteen and didn’t write to the folks he left behind for twenty years, after he had become a successful cattle rancher in Colorado.
But other than that…

From my very first book, I have delved into the roots of my family’s past to find characters and story ideas. One part of my family has solid Amish roots dating back to the Reformation, and that branch gives me some great fodder for my Amish stories.
Another branch is a bunch of ne’er-do-wells who ranged from murderers and thieves to river rats living along the banks of the Ohio River. I haven't started writing about that side of the family. Yet.
In this post, I hope to give you some ideas of how you can exploit use your own family stories in your writing. 
Don't assume this post is only for historical writers, though! Once you've found your story nugget, you can put it in any story setting you like!

Start with the Facts
The first place to start is with your genealogy. I use, but there are other websites to help you search for your ancestors. Almost every library has a genealogy room, and they are often staffed with people to help you get started. Or perhaps one of your relatives has already started a genealogy study - ask!
Old photo albums are another great place to start. Hopefully, someone identified who is in the pictures!

Once you plug in your grandparents’ names and where they were born, a whole new world starts opening.
A simple family tree grows branches as you find the names of your great-grandparent’s siblings and their descendants, and when you dig deeper, you find details that you might have skimmed over if you weren’t looking for stories.
For instance, you might find that your great-uncle had a wife who died in Ireland before he emigrated to America, and that he left three children behind.
Or you might find that the person you knew as “Great-Grandma” was actually your grandfather’s foster mother, who had only stepped in to take care of the children when your great-grandparents disappeared in a snow storm…
It's easy to get caught up in the "what-if's!"

Fill in the Missing Pieces
Through studying your genealogy, you can find out when your ancestors came to America. Further searching can reveal the ship’s manifest, listing the other passengers. 
Census records will tell you where you ancestors lived, who lived with them, and who their neighbors were.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Once you have your details – even only a few – you can let your imagination and story-building skills go to work. And remember: You’re writing fiction, not biography. Anything goes.

Expand the Playing Field
When you have your story nugget, you start expanding your knowledge of the time period and setting.
Let me use an example from my own research.
While working on my husband’s genealogy, I found that his great-grandfather emigrated to America from Germany in 1880, accompanied by his wife and two adult children, Barbara and Caspar…and a nine-month-old girl named Maria. 
Further searching revealed the name of the woman who would eventually become Caspar’s wife, who was traveling alone on the same ship.
Those are the bare-bones facts, but do you see the story fodder in these details?
Less than three months later, Barbara married a man twice her age who was living in Toledo. Augustus had emigrated five years earlier from the same town in Germany as Barbara’s family, so they must have known each other back then.
The story’s details keep growing, don’t they?
And what happened to Maria? After Barbara’s mother passed away a few years later, Augustus moved his family – including a five-year-old Maria – to a Nebraska homestead just south of Lincoln.

When I finally write this piece of family history into a story or series, I’ll research homesteading in Nebraska, ocean crossings in 1880, what the immigration experience was before Ellis Island, overland travel from New York to Toledo, and then to Nebraska.
I’ll use some of my favorite resources.
One is Historic Mapworks, where you can search maps from around the world for almost any time period. I have already been able to find Augustus and Barbara’s homestead using this resource.
I also use Google Maps extensively. Even though the maps are contemporary, you can still learn a lot about a place through their street view and 3-D features.
 After I get a sense of “place” through the maps, I start looking for source materials for research. I use internet search engines to start looking for books written about my subject. For this story I would search for European immigrant’s stories and homesteader’s diaries from Nebraska. I would also search for any other books written about these subjects.

Give Your Characters Life!
Once I have the setting, I start forming my characters. I use what I’ve learned in my research to create their Goals, Motivations and Conflicts. People are similar in all time periods, so while I’ll want to remain true to the culture of the time period I've chosen, my characters will have the same wants and desires that we do today.
When I write this book, I think Barbara will be an interesting person to learn to know. How did her experiences shape her life?
And then there’s that mystery: Whose daughter was Maria? What would she have been like as a young girl?

Dig Deep into Your Roots
Don’t tell me your family is full of boring people!
Think about why we write - it’s because we’re interested in people. We listen when they tell their own stories and our minds snatch the fascinating details out of the air.
When you mine your family tree, you're digging for those details. Those tidbits that cause your mind to start chasing the "what-if's."
Talk to your relatives. Ask them what they remember about your family. And it doesn’t have to be someone a generation or two older than you – my brother remembers stories from our family's past that I don’t, and he’s less than three years older than I am. 
Ask questions, then listen. What you hear just might be your next great story idea!

Have you ever mined your family tree for story ideas? Tell us about it!

One commenter will win a copy of my latest release from Love Inspired Historical, The Amish Nanny's Sweetheart. (US only please)

Love in Plain Sight 

As nanny for her nephew, Judith Lapp’s finally part of a vibrant, joyful Amish community instead of living on the outskirts looking in. But teaching her neighbors’ Englischer farmworker to read Pennsylvania Dutch wasn’t part of her plan. And the more time she spends with Guy Hoover, the more he sparks longings for a home and family of Judith’s own.

Guy figured he would never be truly accepted by his Amish employers’ community—even though the Mast family treats him like a son. But Judith’s steadfast caring shows him that true belonging could be within his reach…if he and Judith can reconcile their very different hopes—and hearts.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Weekend Edition


If you are not familiar with our giveaway rules, take a minute to read them here. It keeps us all happy! All winners should send their name, address, and phone number to claim prizes.  Note our new email address and please send your emails to

Monday: Missy Tippens and Connie Mann shared about Writing What you Know...and What You Don't Know. The winners of Missy's Cowboys of Summer are Lee-Ann (Martin) Brodeur and Chanel M! The winners of Connie's Deadly Melody are MJSH and JubileeWriter!

Tuesday: Julie Lessman talked kissing!!! The winner of a paperback copy of her writer’s workbook, Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets OR your choice of any of Julie's indie e-books, including her upcoming release, Love’s Silver Lining is Wilani Wahl.

Wednesday: Publishers Weekly Bestselling Author Debby Giusti talked about "My Writing Process," which led to a lot of interesting discussion about how an initial concept turns into a full-length manuscript. Debby is giving away the first two books in her Amish Protectors series, AMISH REFUGE and UNDERCOVER AMISH, along with a 2018 calendar/planner to one lucky winner. The winner of Debby's giveaway is Rose Blackard. Congrats, Rose! 

Friday: Winnie Griggs discussed Layering Texture and Emotion into your writing, and provided excerpt examples to illustrate her point. The winner of Winnie's current release, or choice of any of her backlist, is Bettie Boswell. 

Monday: Jan Drexler will share how she mines her family tree for story and character ideas. If you think your family stories are boring, think again! You have prime story fodder right under your nose!

Tuesday: Today we welcome the president of the Virginia chapter of ACFW, author Toni Shiloh with a post about diversity... and why it's important to the readers and the writers. Toni's giving away an e-copy of "Returning Home" to one lucky commenter. Stop by and meet Toni... There'll be fresh coffee waiting!

Wednesday: In her continuing series on Conflict and Tension, Melanie Dickerson builds on the other posts to talk about HOW exactly to create Conflict in your story.
Friday: Pam Hillman is your host on next Friday with Seamless Transitions: How to go from scene to scene without jarring the reader.

Mary Connealy,  Cheryl St. John , Tina Radcliffe, Missy Tippens, Lorna Seilstad, and Sherri Shackelford joined forces for this sweet contemporary romance collection, Cowboys of Summer! On tour next week with reviews and interviews with every author!

Short Blurb: As the summer weather sizzles, relax by the pool with stirring tales of handsome cowboys and the spirited ladies who wrangle them into romance. Six of Christian fiction's most beloved authors join forces to bring you a collection of humorous, romantic and heartfelt novellas set against the sultry heat of summer. 

Then, be sure to check out the Bookstagram Tour for The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy starting next week on @JustReadTours on Instagram!

Stop by Faithfully Bookish for an interview with Publishers Weekly Bestselling Author Debby Giusti. She's talking about her favorite covers and giving away two books and a 2018 calendar/planner. Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing.

Are you planning to be in the Black Hills area on Memorial Day weekend? Stop by the Rapid City Books-A-Million store on Saturday, May 26,  to meet Jan Drexler, along with other local authors!

Shout out to Seeker Mary Connealy, whose The Accidental Guardian made the 4/2018 CBA Bestseller's List!

8 Signs You Might Be Over Plotting Your Novel by Janice Hardy at Fiction University

8 Tips for Creating Summer Writing Time by Jeanne Takenaka at Learn How To Write A 

Evoking Emotions in Readers in a Masterful Way - Part 3 by C.S. Lakin at Live Write Thrive

Which Types of Readers to Use for Feedback by Annie Neugebauer at Writer Unboxed

How To Create A Compelling Book Cover by Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn

Cyber Attacks and How To Protect Your Computer and Data - 3 Part Series by Josh Moulin at My Story, My Way - An Indie Adventure

The Priority Parallax: Everything is Not as Important as It Appears by Kristen Lamb at Kristen Lamb, Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi