From a Certain Point of View

In Return of the Jedi, Luke confronts Obi-Wan about not revealing Darth Vader as his father. Obi-Wan responds with what I can only call thin logic that he didn’t lie when he told Luke that Vader killed Anakin, that it was the truth – from a certain point of view.

scott-eckersley-irtWpLLwRX4-unsplashPoint of view, or POV, in a manuscript describes from what character the scene is experienced. The reader is “in the head” of the POV character – what the character sees, the reader sees. Changing POV within a scene, or even a chapter, can confuse the reader by removing the perspective anchor. Referred to as “head-hopping,” maintaining what I refer to as “POV discipline” is a basic skill novelists need to master.

However, the perspective is a part of the equation. While working with an editor on the manuscript for Childhood, a novelette to introduce the main characters and situations of my upcoming novel Fatherhood, two recent revelations have revealed that perhaps I’m not as skilled in POV as I thought, and that POV can be a powerful yet subtle story-telling device.

The first example was a simple dialogue tag – “Dad said.” I, apparently mistakenly, have always avoided using Dad and Mom and other similar dialogue tags because they’re not names, defaulting to “her father” and so on. My editor made the change to Dad. I am fortunate to be working with an excellent editor. There has to be a correct reason for the change, and it tied to POV. In this scene the character POV is the daughter of the man who spoke. “Dad” is the daughter’s name for her father, therefore is appropriate (and conveys a feeling of family). “Her father” is rather stuffy. Point taken.

The second example is more subtle. My editor replaced “egg innards” with “slimy egg.” That bothered me at first, as I liked the description “egg innards.” Enter POV again though. The story is told through a young girl’s eyes, not a 52-year old man’s. While I may lob “egg innards” in casual conversation, she, as a twelve-year-old, probably not.

Can you see the connection? Going beyond POV discipline and using POV to inject aspects about the POV’s character is a powerful tool I honestly had never considered before. Editing is often tedious work, but this revelation has energized the process for me. I feel that a certain “tunnel vision” point of view has been lifted.

Photo by Scott Eckersley on Unsplash

Writing to Serve

IMG_7540I took this selfie before rehearsal for the second of five Easter services at my church. This is my fourth year singing in the church choir. We are a worship choir, not a performance one, meaning we focus on our church’s goal to help people become more fully devoted followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s not to say, though, that we don’t strive for excellence – we do. Several weeks of rehearsals one night a week together and listening to MP3s and studying our written parts during lunch, in the evenings, or whenever we can find time is necessary to create the worship atmosphere we strive for. Every church is different, I know. Then there are the pre-service rehearsals, a full set before the first (Friday) and second (Saturday), then a warm up Sunday. This picture is as we’re getting set to begin the Saturday full set run through.

Christian fiction writing is similar in the desire for both service and excellence. For me, my writing mission mirrors the church mission, to help people become more fully devoted followers of Jesus. Of course I also strive for excellence. When we, a group of 80 or so mostly (or solely) amateurs in the choir sing together, we sound professional because we want that excellence, not for ourselves but for those in the seats.

I want my writing to launch to that same level of excellence for the same reason, to benefit the readers. It’s a long, arduous process to conceptualize, write, and market a book. I admit I’m not the best at the latter but am learning. I have to, because I genuinely believe my story can help others, but only if I can get it in the right readers’ hands. To that end, I continue to strive for excellence, not for me, but for them, and Him.

Leaving Darkness, about leaving depression through faith, is available at major online retailers.

Photo by Greg Schaffer

 

Christian Bible = Fiction?

Today I received a response to a tweet, a snippet of a review of my Christian novel Leaving Darkness – “This is a very nice book of Christian fiction.” The response: “Christian Bible = fiction.” aaron-burden-113284-unsplash

My first reaction was “is that really necessary” but then I realized the opportunity to discuss something I’ve been wanting to address for some time.

I have found that many non-believers require evidence of the truth of the Bible first if they will accept it as God’s word. I get that. I’m a science nerd, grew up big on astronomy, and hold a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a MS in Information Systems Project Management. Postulate theory, then prove said theory to establish fact – the scientific method.

Some may argue that the Bible has passed analysis in many disciplines. A few examples off the top of my head include the discovery of archaeological finds in the Middle East, the Shroud of Turin, the Crown of Thorns (recently in the news because of the Notre Dame fire).  Others may argue the opposite – the archaeological findings only show that historically there may have been a man named Jesus of Nazareth, the Shroud of Turin has been carbon-dated to the middle ages, the Crown of Thorns came out of nowhere hundreds of years after the Crucifixion – valid, well-thought out arguments to disprove the Bible.

Here’s the issue as I see it though – you cannot, and will never find conclusive proof if you begin on the foundation of “prove it to me.” From John 20:29: “29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Yes, John goes on to note that Jesus performed many other miracles as “proof”: “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” However, that returns to the circular argument that if you do not believe the Bible is truth, then you won’t believe what John wrote about those signs Jesus performed as proof.

The bottom line as I see it: you first need faith, then you shall find proof, not the other way around. If you begin to read the Bible to find proof first, you won’t. But if you approach the Bible with an open mind and heart that the truth may lay within, you will. For me, as I’ve grown in faith, I see tangible proof of the truth of the Bible daily.

Now, I’m not going to profess I understand all of the Bible – I don’t. Jonah in the belly of the whale? Hard to swallow (pun intended). Talking donkey? Pretty difficult to accept based on scientific knowledge alone. That’s where faith helps to augment – not replace – lack of understanding. An interesting observation though is the stronger my faith becomes, the more I see the proof that skeptics seek but cannot see.

I respect and understand the view of the responder to my tweet and appreciate the opportunity to expand on my faith. I also welcome respectful responses to this post. What do you think? Does beginning with a walk of faith and an open heart lead to conviction of biblical truths, or does the The Christian Bible = fiction?

NIV Bible quotes from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Writing Tools – AutoCrit

Ah, AutoCrit – I have a love-hate relationship with you! No, not hate, maybe frustration at all of the possible ways you present to me that I may improve my manuscript. But that is also why I love you – and love wins out with you.AutoCrit

I need to issue a warning – AutoCrit will provide the writer with a tsunami of information. Everything from repeated words to verb tense to passivity (is that even a word?) to too many adverbs for the genre, AutoCrit is a very powerful diagnostic tool for the fiction author. And therein is one of its limitations – it is structured for fiction, not non-fiction. No, not limitation, feature – AutiCrit does not pretend to be something it isn’t.

AutoCrit examines a manuscript against industry averages to determine alerts on too many adverbs, sentence length and variation, and other variables. Is it perfect? I suspect not. But it does provide many paths the author ma choose to investigate.

That’s the key – “may choose to investigate.” Don’t choose them all, there’s simply too much information, else the writer will spend more time fine-tuning the manuscript to satisfy AutoCrit and not the readers. Never forget the readers are the primary concern.

I often say that AutoCrit has helped me become a better writer. I tend to use less adverbs and therefore produce tighter works. I also have shaken most of my passive bad habits. Not all, but I also catch them often before running an AutiCrit analysis.Adverbs, passive

AutoCrit won’t help with a bad story line – it’s not a developmental editor. Nor will it point out Point of View (POV) issues. You’ll have to diagnose and correct plot deficiencies and head-hopping yourself, or go the preferred route, hire developmental and copy editors. I did just that and learned much more, especially from the developmental edit process, but that shall be a post for another day.

Bottom line – I love AutoCrit. I have no interest beyond promoting a good product.

Screenshot from AutoCrit https://www.autocrit.com/

Plotter or Pantser

If you’ve been writing for some time the chances are high that you’ve heard of the terms Plotters and Pantsers or at least understand what both are even if you didn’t know there was a word for it. This post at The Write Practice explains both concisely.daniel-mccullough-146145-unsplash

I’d classify myself as primarily Plotter with some Pantser elements, although I’ve approached novel writing in a variety of ways. I had a general idea of the plot for my first novel and constructed around that plan.

My second novel all I started with was the end, as it was a prequel to the first novel. A great example is Rogue One to Star Wars: A New Hope. The writers of Rogue One had the exact ending in mind (even to the point that its last scene immediately precedes the first scene in A New Hope) but had to create most of the entire backstory. For me, that was Pantser in reverse, and a methodology I will not return to. I posted about the process and lessons learned in late 2016.

My third novel, Leaving Darkness, I meticulously planned out every chapter by  first roughing out the three acts, then dividing each act by two and repeating until I had 24 chapter synopses. While the end result was not exactly 24 chapters as I opted to separate POVs per chapter after mapping out the story, I stayed reasonably true to the outline. I wrote about this process that served me well two years ago.

For my WIP, with the working title of Fatherhood, I’m blending the two much like my first novel creation process but with a much greater experience base and many more tools available. I sketched out the three acts – I think that, for me, is an absolutely necessary process, and have completed the first chapter (in addition to a 10,000-word, five-chapter prologue that I intend to release for free as promotional material at the proper time).

Thus, at this point, I have the story framed and the main characters defined. Each act I’m approaching with a heavy dose of Pantser. I enjoy the freedom to create new character and scenes that fit the moment without being constrained by a detailed outline, all while keeping within the guardrails of the plot (yes, that’s a cliche but I like it and besides this is a blog post not a novel).

I’ve concluded that the best process is whatever works best for you is appropriate, but it’s worth dabbling in both styles with different mixtures of Plotter and Pantser to find what is an individual’s best combination. I’ve also allowed myself to be flexible and change that recipe as I desire. After all, writing is supposed to be fun, right?

Leaving Darkness is available at https://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Darkness-Greg-Schaffer/dp/1973644118/

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

Change of Identity

I originally started this blog with the intention of creating a platform to share my journey as an indie author. My first post was over two years ago, a short hello to describe my hope that “my musings will provide my peers and others interested in the indie space information, comfort, and encouragement.”Capture

That goal has not changed, but I have. I have since released a third novel, which also is my first Christian novel. Leaving Darkness relates how one lost in depression finds a way to the light from the Christian faith. With its creation, I realized my calling is not just to create fiction, but Christian fiction with a purpose.

I don’t mean to imply that all Christian fiction doesn’t have a purpose, so perhaps that isn’t the correct way to state my calling. More accurately, I am drawn to write about heavy topics and show how following Christ leads to solutions. I’m not a preacher and never will be. However, what I think I am is a simple person with a somewhat modest gift for writing. That gift comes from God, and I need to follow His will for using it.

Hence the change of identity, or rebranding. I have changed the name of this blog from Second Chance Publishing (under which I self-published my first two novels) to Leaving Darkness, not just as a reference to my first Christian novel, but to describe what I hope to do with my future fiction writing. My next novel, in development stage, tackles abortion.

Another reason for the name change is that my next novel I plan to traditionally publish (at least that’s my thought at the moment). Therefore, the previous tagline “An indie author’s musings” becomes inaccurate. I’ve changed that to reflect where I’m at today: “A Christian Fiction Author’s Musings.”

This isn’t to say I won’t change again in the future. For that reason, I’m keeping the secondchancebook.wordpress.org domain. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll open a small Christian publishing house and name it Second Chance Publishing.

Novelette

I’ve never written a novelette before but read somewhere that creating one for a book is a great way to market a book and your brand. I’m working on building my email list, something honestly I should have done several years ago when I wrote my first book, Forgiveness. Live and learn.ben-white-197668-unsplash

I’m working on a new novel tentatively titled Fatherhood and will share more about that book as it develops. Childhood is the novelette I’m developing as a prequel to Fatherhood. Fatherhood is told from the father’s point of view (POV), while childhood from the mothers. Childhood, as the title implies, presents how the couple met as children and the development of their relationship through college.

My main purpose for writing Childhood is to have a freebie to give away in exchange for a mailing address to build my mailing list. I understand that agents and publishers look closely at that as part of the author’s platform (a term I did not know of until my first writer’s conference a week ago, the Mid South Christian Writers Conference). Therefore, my plan is to create this 10,000 word or so novelette (complete with professional editing of course), add a nice cover, and self-publish through Ingram Spark as I have done with several other works. It may even generate some revenue, but it’s email addresses I’m interested in.

As I’ve written the first draft the past few days (5000 words, so about half done) I’ve realized another important benefit. I’ve progressed significantly with the development of the characters and the world building. I see this as such an important offshoot of the novelette exercise that I will probably continue to do this for all of my future novels. When I began five days ago (my goal is 1,000 words on average per day, so I’m right on track) I didn’t even have names for the two main characters. Now I have that, their background, some personality traits, and a great foundation for the conflict that Fatherhood will create.

I’ll announce here when the novelette is available. I don’t have a timeline, as I need to ensure its quality and therefore don’t plan to rush its release. But the process of creating Childhood has certainly been positive and exciting.

Interested in a freebie now? Receive a free copy of Forgiveness at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/kc5ix83t35

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash 

Time to Write

What is your best time to write? Without doubt, I find the early morning to be when my creative juices flow best. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m sure it’s in part due to being a morning person. I routinely wake up before 5 AM and am often in the office before seven. Incidentally, this is a complete flip from my college years. I joke that now I wake up around the time I used to go to sleep.federico-respini-314377-unsplash

I have daily writing goals measured in words, as with most authors, when I’m working on a novel. For me, since I have a full-time job (I own a small virtual CISO firm), I don’t have the luxury of time to have lofty goals of 5,000 words or more. No, for me if I can reach 1,000, on average, for weekday mornings that’s fine. Weekends I relax my goals somewhat; if family time permits, I’ll get in some time to lay down words, but if not, that’s fine. Balance is key.

Sometimes people assume that my job is highly technical but that’s not the case. Yes, there are technical elements for sure, but more so I focus on strategy and my clients’ business goals, not the minutia of what most people think about with regard to information security (firewalls, antivirus, and so on). At times I’m called on to invoke my writing skills as well, mostly when crafting policies and assessment reports. However, I  don’t get a chance to exercise my creative side, at least not in the creating fiction sense.

I think that’s a prime reason why I am a morning writer. By the time I’m thinking about, say,  how the GDPR may affect a client’s operation, my brain has shifted its creativity to security and privacy strategic mode. It’s more difficult for me to shift to creative writing in the middle of the day than to start at it fresh in the morning. Plus, and I have no proof to back this up, just a feeling, creative writing to start the day seems to fuel my mind for the other security and privacy tasks at hand.

Therefore, I try to block the first hour I arrive at my office for creative writing. It’s quiet as I’m usually one of the first to arrive at my office suite. I don’t have the distractions of writing at the home office. So long as I can resist the urge to check work email, if I can give myself an hour of uninterrupted time before tackling the day’s duties, I usually meet (or often exceed) the 1,000 word goal.

I wonder if a study has been performed to see when fiction writers prefer to practice their craft, and why – anyone know?

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

When Fiction Becomes Reality

“This isn’t for me. I don’t understand how my father could have enjoyed this. Something that tastes bad, makes me lose some of my God-given facilities for a while, is not productive of my time, costs money, and enables me to continue to wallow in self-pity seems pretty stupid, if you ask me.”

This quote is from one of the main characters in my second novel Temptations of the Innocent. The protagonist had bought her a drink at a bar. This was her first experience with alcohol and her reaction is after one or two sips of straight whiskey.

Alcohol is an acquired taste because of its perceived benefits.pexels-photo-606543 Coffee (of which I just finished my first cup of black in the pre-6 AM darkness) is another example (the benefit of increased alertness from the effects of the caffeine). She had not processed more than a couple of sips and therefore did not experience any benefit and the subsequent temptation to drink more. Hence her innocent reaction to alcohol, a point of view we seem to subdue after experiencing alcohol’s pleasing effects.

I wrote that quote probably sometime in late 2015 or early 2016, and quite possibly while enjoying a beer. I had long ago acquired the taste for beer, sometime in high school, and since then beer had become a regular companion – not daily, but certainly I’d enjoy a couple several days a week. I was a casual enjoyer of beer and wine, as years earlier the “perceived detriment” of a bad hangover became a strong enough deterrent to limit any imbibing to a few.

Maybe that snippet stuck with me in my subconscious. A few months ago, as I was standing in the shower feeling not hung over but drained after having consumed one more glass of wine than I should have the night before, I began to search for a reasonable response to the essence of my character’s stance on alcohol. I could find none, and since that day, I haven’t had a drink. I’m not opposed to moderate alcohol consumption nor have I quit, I just simply haven’t had a desire to drink. I may have lost the acquired taste for it, I don’t know.

Perhaps I didn’t write that scene just for the readers of novel, maybe it was subconsciously for me as well. That makes me wonder – when we write fiction, do we unknowingly embed messages to ourselves? If so, what hidden nuggets about our desires and goals are woven within our novels and short stories? Do we sometimes write fiction to unlock a desired reality?

As for me, I am thankful that I have never written a scene about the negative aspects of coffee. Yet.

Image: images.pexels.com/photos/606543/pexels-photo-606543.jpeg