“Improvisation. That’s why we call creativity art, isn’t it?
I’m an author and also an author coach. Part of what I do is help an author grow personally in order to deepen the author’s storyline or character drawn inside the pages of their manuscript.
We writers embrace imperfections in our written characters’ thought patterns or behaviors so that the story can twist and turn just as much as real life does.
Like jazz, the development of a good story means the endings are kept strategically hidden in misunderstandings, physical barriers, or something in the past. I’ve discovered a group, Teaching Tolerance, which has developed a test for discovering anyone’s own historical or cultural bias, implicit bias. You can see here how you might use a character’s natural bias to direct his or her communications or meditation or self-talk.
Proverbs 20:5 alludes that the purposes of a heart run like deep waters, but someone with insight can draw them out. What is your character’s point of view?
Can a writer love the antagonist?A writer should learn to love the enemy of the protagonist. Did Jesus love Judas Iscariot? How could He?
Learning about your antagonist’s unique place of belonging or setting helps you shape his or her believable thoughts, recognizable appearances or dialogue with the accompanying accents and activities that would be true to the character.
From an unlikely source or through an accident that turns out well, insight emerges. Imperfections make your characters relatable. They string you along. When you love them through their story, you emulate God’s love for our imperfect selves born into an imperfect world.
Even settings can wrestle for hope.
Developing a setting can help hide or reveal your plot or your characters. The light we cast onto the flaws of our story characters is an act of kindness, though sometimes it is severe mercy.
Did Hagar run to the desert to escape, only to be visited by the God of her hated mistress, Sarah? “I see you,” God said. “Eat. Drink,” and, “Go back to your hated mistress. I have a plan for you. Your own son will make a great nation because I have ordained it.” “Me?” Hagar said. “Yes, Hagar, I see your need and your mistreatment. Yes, you,” God said. So, Hagar dragged herself back to Abraham and Sarah. In faith. And, God blessed her walk of faith.
When you draw on your own experience with fear or temptations, or from experiences of those close to you, you will understand that it is not impossible for the antagonist to be redeemed. If you determine to defeat the antagonist when thwarting the antagonist’s purposes, you must feel that grief. It was written that Jesus loved the rich, young ruler who turned away.
Imagine a master chef who creates a gourmet menu for a special entourage. She selects the best cuts of meat, the freshest organic grains to grind, the salad and herbs from her garden, and the cream from her cow. Someone sells her a tropical fruit, unknown to her, promising it will provide the hit. She shreds the fruit and tops the salad with it, only to discover that the fruit is poison.
“But everything I used was of the finest quality,” she argues to the police.
“Everything except that shred of poison you added.”
Use a shock point to hook the reader into how or why the poison was added, and by whom.
Empathetically draw the audience into the truth but do not dilute consequences. Make them meaningful.
A writer can find the image of God originally shaped in the arch-type enemy. This, a starting point for where a character departs, helps the writer make choices for the character. A writer can have the character diverge from her image of origin and from her calling by refusing to be rescued. When you know your bad character’s history and psyche, you will draw her story accurately.”
A Conversation with Tonya Jewel Blessing and Laura Bartnick
Tonya Jewel Blessing: I recently learned in two quick minutes how a blurb on the back of a book cover can sell books or dissuade potential readers from choosing a book.
We all know how important spelling and punctuation are in a book. But, I don’t think I realized that English basics are just the beginning of what matters in a book blurb until two media professionals picked up my novels. Each of my books have a professionally written, third-person description on the back cover. I realize this is paramount to converting book browsers to buyers.
At a recent media convention, a man connected with a film production company selected my first historic Appalachian novel, The Whispering of the Willows based on the book blurb on the back cover. The verbiage ‘similar to modern sex trafficking issues’ also sparked a conversation about the plot of the book. He promised to buy it for consideration.
Another reader-influencer looking for compelling stories at this media convention passed over my second novel The Melody of the Mulberries based on its book blurb. The reactions of both people, who visited the author booth, initially surprised me. Then, as I perused the other author stations, I found myself doing the same – picking up a book, reading the back cover, and making a purchase decision based on a couple of paragraphs about the story.
Laura Bartnick: Capture Books began to market The Whispering of the Willows in earnest to the Amish/Mennonite sector and to the West Virginia readership when the publisher could show that:
a) women’s issues were creatively handled, and
b) significant community involvement absolutely changes the course of a girl’s life after she is a victim of rape.
c) timing matters. Reverberating southerners became passionate readers of The Whispering of the Willows after National Public Radio broke the news about the West Virginia opioid crises. After the report featuring the opioid documentary by filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon, produced in part by the Center for Investigative Reporting, where a female judge, a church social worker, and a policewoman joined forces to creatively alleviate the crisis in the hardest-hit county, Capture Books decided to offer BLESSING’s novel to this community.
d) the women in the novel did not wear pants.
While BLESSING’s exquisitely clever sequel, released in the fall of 2019, is marketable to a lover of Americana and to a Christian romance-loving readership, the acquisitions gentleman seeking a modern hook with a correlation to a “cause” failed to find that kind of subject matter on the sequel’s cover.
The lesson learned is that listing a cause as a keyword or subject-matter can reach potential cross-over markets.
Book blurbs are also written for librarians, advertisements, flyers, and online bookstore platforms. Each of these has a variety of required words, suggested keywords and phrases, and are written specifically to hook certain types of readers.
I spoke with a very frustrated author last week who reported that she wasn’t earning royalties from her publisher on her book and wanted my opinion. I looked up her title and discovered there was not a single word of book description, and her book was only listed in one category. It simply wasn’t selling because there were no keywords alerting people to the existence of her book. Even if potential readers looked up the exact title, there was no book description to explain what it was about.
Tonya Jewel Blessing: My first novel was picked up by Tantor Audio Books because of its record sales in late 2018 after we marketed directly to the opioid epidemic on Amazon. Subsequently, my sequel has been steadily picking up new readers and finding its own voice with historical romance and Americana lovers. Since I didn’t know I could write a sequel in the beginning, my publisher did not market to sequel readers. Consequently, many who read the first book think it is a stand-alone novel.
I agree with E.A. Bucchianerif in that, “There is much to discover that’s not on the back cover!” YET, if the book cover doesn’t spark interest, the book won’t be read. Listed below are some tips for writing a book blurb.
Laura Bartnick: Yes, and here are some more clues to what works and what doesn’t on the back cover:
“I wrote this because…” or “My character is based on…” is better placed inside the book as a prologue or author’s note.
Larger fonts with less copy will catch a reader’s attention.
Aim for a description of keywords written to the interests of a reading group.
Getting an editorial endorsement printed on the cover will garner immediate interest and give the author borrowed authority.
You may also want to put the name of the publisher, the logo, the subject matter or genre, and the price of the book onto the back cover.
During the holidays, I had the opportunity to host the inventor of a well-received artists’ pastel, the Terry Ludwig Pastels and his lovely wife in my home. I learned how his creative need for widening a small array of pastel colors to vastly more colors begat an ingenuity to create them himself.
For Terry, learning how to mix and shape these new pastels for personal use led to bulk mixes of the pastel shaped chalks and also to the business of selling them to other artists. Soon, the success he received outgrew his ability to paint and to run the pastel business. Fortunately, in retirement, Terry’s son, Geoff, continues to run the family business.
INGENUITY COLORS THIS WALL
Soon after, another company came to my attention, an innovative and ingenious company that actually grew in lean times when other companies gave way to the competition.
Braun Brush Company is one of America’s oldest family-owned industrial brush manufacturers. From the start, Emanuel Braun, a German immigrant, implemented handmade, quality manufacturing techniques to produce brushes as effective household tools. They became popular. Who doesn’t need a variety of brushes, right?
However, at the turn of the century when the industrial revolution started, the factory, like most small manufacturing businesses, fell on hard times. Mass production by machine, whether inferior in quality or not, overwhelmed them. Authors and publishers might relate to the phenomenon as they experienced the mass marketing of self-published books took over the marketplace.
Again in the 50s, when China began mass production of common household items to America, Braun, could have given up production of his homemade brushes.
Instead, Braun began identifying a person at a time needing one unique brush. He could still fill that market of one each time he designed a unique brush making his mark up, because the machines were making multiples for the masses, not unique needs. Finding one-of-a-kind niches, inventing brushes for commercial institutions such as NASA and nuclear plants for cleaning silos, sustained Braun’s brush business.
REINVENTING THE WHEEL – A GOOD INVESTMENT?
Artisans and business people are often warned not to waste time or resources in trying to reinvent the wheel. In this instance, I’ve learned the opposite is true. It helps to be willing to reinvent the wheel for different purposes and vehicles. Thinking about this, it may be common sense that the same wheel would not suit all purposes, nor does the same brush.
I have discovered, time and time again, that one person may be a visionary while others must get on board with the business sense, varieties of production needs, or sales in order to make the business succeed. Each person must use ingenuity to succeed in creating a full picture from the puzzle pieces.
NOT EVERY CREATED THING IS PRODUCED FOR ALL
Some people mass-produce their art for those who decorate personal spaces with reproduced poster art printed on less quality paper, sold, and appreciated en mass, ie. think the paperback novel or Kindle readers.
Some people want to see their own work up on the wall, ie. think the vantage press hardcovers or those who use their books for establishing a legacy.
Some only want to produce enough work to give gifts to friends, club members, and business associates. Others need to make a living and are able to gain the aid of professionals to either become a classic household name in a genre or form.
In readers as in the art world, there are those who collect, those who invest in local artists and masters. You understand, if you have an original signed and dated piece from a local artist, author, or a master in any era, it is safe to say that only those who come into your space will likely see it.
Like showing off a beloved library, an original art piece may be the dictating factor for how the rest of the space is decorated and furnished.
KEEP UP WITH HUMAN APPETITES
Finding and selling to the markets basically means that the creator has discovered a way to feed someone’s appetite. It comes down to that.
It’s great to create new stories and new things, but there are some things that are universal patterns and needs requiring some pattern of format or reformatting. This is true in writing a widely read book.
A novice author dreams of seeing his or her book mass-produced. For me, when the self-publishing phenomenon happened, when all manner of marketing and social networking advice overwhelmed me, I floundered and moved into low gear. The transformation of the bookselling industry was about to spit out the hobbyists from the author-entrepreneurs. And, I wasn’t ready to give up. In digging in my heels, I had a lot to learn.
One of the things I learned related to finding a niche of readers, and describing my book as the answer to their appetite for discovering the source of creativity and learning to follow a true pattern of success.
In 2020, when I approved the final revision of my book, Welcome to the Shivoo!, I smiled thinking, “That’s a book I want to buy and read myself!”
Authors and publishers aim for more readers and merrier times. Whether this dream becomes fact, real art always comes from the heart. When an artisan believes in his or her process and skill, adapting ideas to reproduce stories in a bigger way and by a preferable means becomes real-world work.
What a delicious assurance.
Occasionally, authors believe they have written their only masterpiece. With the work and expense required to establish themselves, it feels unlikely that another manuscript so heartfelt and well-researched will ever pour from their fingertips again. They want their books to be mass-produced, and when at first this fails to happen, spirits fall in chorus like a requiem.
It’s simply the excitement and pathos of a first book singing out a delicious moment. But, there is a whole new career awaiting.
Getting a book published produces a bell-curve of an overwhelming high and extreme low of emotion before the reality of the artisan’s business work ethic sets in. However, it is unfounded to think that new inspiration can never spurt to the surface again considering the wellspring of ingenuity contained in the life events of any artisan.
When a writer has found one passion, another passion will likely emerge parallel to the appetites sparking at the time. An opportunity to produce a sequel or a similar brand of book will begin to tug at a sleeve. The question is, will the creator accept being the vessel in the future? Will the creator continue to find the hope and motivation as Braun found to prepare for a future society, to accept this new manuscript in the new language of a new people?
I like to keep a notebook, camera, and recorder nearby to document the interesting things that pass through my life so that I may one day adapt them into new art, or writing, or sales systems.
Every day, you and I are just like Emanuel Braun who was beckoned and wooed by life’s need to survive in New York’s transitioning society and the crux of needed creativity. You cannot blame your competitors who found a rung on the ladder before you did. Learn from them. You cannot hold customers captive without new products. Keep inventing.
You and I are the ones who must continue to get gritty, work late nights and early mornings, research, edit, barter, and train.
A shivoo is a boisterous load of fun! The maker culture understands good fun. There was, however, a century or two in church history where humor was considered sacrilegious.
Historically, if rectors or ministers wasted their parishioners’ time by telling jokes in the pulpit, they were sorely reprimanded or even discharged for desecrating a holy calling.
Maybe the governing bodies had a point. After all, there isno verse of Scripture that instructs good Christians to be silly or to laugh.
A doctrine of good humor may be difficult to pull out of Scripture by chapter and verse. But there are parallels in the extravagance of good humor compared with the extravagance of God’s rich tenderness for us. For, God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 2:4-5). Don’t we know that life without laughter is a living death? Life without God’s powerful rescue through His Son’s work is permanent death. Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us—He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children (1 John 3:1). What loving parent doesn’t thoroughly enjoy the learning curves of a beloved child in speech, in toddling, in playing . . . pretending, and in the ongoing wonders of discovery?
These days, getting the laughter rolling in a spiritual education class and also in the pulpit enjoys an allotted time-frame.
It is counter-intuitive to look on the funny side of the events rather than the logical and just side of things. There’s a special form of intelligence to brandish the one-liners rather than the guilt. And, that’s what God did for us by sending a counter-intuitive way out of the punishment that He Himself instituted (death for sin). And, a counter-intuitive personal sacrifice (His beloved genetic Son’s life for ours’, the created ones) is what became the model and essence of all goodwill.
I’ve used a lot of silly words in my book’s essays for the purpose of lighting up some ideas being conveyed. Does this technique make it fall into the secular box for you rather than into the “sacred speech” box?
WHERE IS THE HUMOR?
Before we separate and relieve serious teaching and preaching of lightweight joking or wry and witty smart talk, we want to consider the importance that the Lord Himself puts on cultivating the fruits of the Spirit. Goodwill, love, kindness, graciousness, contentment, redemption, joy, allspring from the development of good humor.[i]
Maybe the Lord assumed that human beings would not have to be supplied with chapter and verse to discover the importance of laughter. Instead, He taught us through His own creativityand example of creation so that we should pick up and ingest the ability to mimic His goodwill and good humor through personal experience and natural expression.
I love that God is an entertainer, and when we mimic Him, we become the best lil’ entertainers we can be ourselves. My fellow writer, Kathy Joy, is a humorist who couldn’t help but write me this note, “Glad to know Shiv-oo-lery isn’t dead!” after reading this book. In The Melody of the Mulberries, historic author Tonya Jewel Blessing encompasses her story of a family’s search for forgiveness with the humor of discovering an aging, onery parrot in the Appalachian hills.
Because our Creator’s good humor is modeled for all people by His common grace, potentially all people are able to pick up and mimic God in good humor, kindness, gentleness, forbearance, graciousness, joy and love. All the more then, Christians should open wide, be infilled with the Holy Spirit’s power and with access to the light of God’s written word, and spill it out like rain over others.
The Apostle Paul advocated for remaining in a state of joy at all times when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. In chapter four, verse 4 he states, “Rejoice in the LORD always, and again, I say rejoice!” Rejoice is the active voice of beingfull of joy. Paul’s mandate to those who are already full of love and knowledge? Hey! Put some notes of happiness into your hearts at all times because of Who the LORD is. Rejoice means “ACTIVATE JOY, PEOPLE! Recycle it. Again, now.”
And because we have confidence in the risen Savior––Who has promised us many benefits in eternal life––shouldn’t we mimic His ironic patience, entertaining goodness, and merriment in our every action and reaction? Proverbs 17:22 clearly equates a merry heart to good (and needed) medicine, using a spice of humor to describe the opposite. A broken spirit tends to dry up the bones.
PRAY FOR BUOYANCY
You cannot manufacture joy. It is a divine gift that we must submit to, and one that we typically experience when we remain in the LORD’s fellowship. When David was severely disciplined for his theft, adultery, and murder, he repented and then prayed, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation!”[ii] If you lack joy, ask the LORD to open the eyes of your heart. These are a creative’s marching orders: find God’s good humor.
Find the exclamation point.
You may have already discovered, sometimes incredible amounts of creativity are required to produce buoyancy in conflict. What did the Puritans do without television and radio and cell phones? Maybe they had lively parties with debates, singing and playing instruments, logging uses for medicinal herbs, creating educational material, cooking for groups, planting, harvesting, reading, developing businesses, quilting, writing, storytelling, and reciting. I’m not sure if they danced, but many Christian communities do.
We learn from tragedy, epic or otherwise, but tragedy is a genre of literature—believe it or not— which is considered entertainment. One of the fruits of the Spirit is longsuffering.[i] How can anyone suffer for a long while without some fits of humor to prop them up? Humor is absolutely necessary to human survival, and that is why the Creator gave some to each of us.
When I met my husband, I discovered one of the most delightful senses of humor ever to cross my landscape. I fell in love with him. Gratefully! I had been too serious for way too long. Recently, he told me an old story about how some hungry hospital staff used to steal left-over breakfast items, the “safe” ones, from the top of the trash barrel to eat during the morning break. The aide, my husband, arrived to scavenge just after the coffee grounds had been tossed on top of a plate of bacon. What did he do? What any low paid, hungry man would do. He washed off the bacon and re-plated it. As he carried his cache into the lounge, a nurse spied him. “I hope you’re planning to share that?” she asked. He shared it. . . in all good humor. My husband confessed this story recently to the nurse initially involved for the purpose of sharing a laugh about the old days—for bonding. For human cheer. What a gracious gift God gives us when He brings us funny people, and stories of situations like that. Some light-hearted communication can bring us great joy.
I think God enjoys silly human jokes.
The end of the book of Jonah shows that God enjoys pulling out a practical joke, or poking a bit of His own irony at Jonah.
I see the humor in Job’s memoir, “Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.” The comment is so absolute and desperate and bland, I can’t help but smile.
Can humor haunt you, tag you, gag you when you are too serious? Can it open the shades and throw into a dark room the rays of light?