Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Asperger's Syndrome

This assessment is for Mara, who is writing a YA novel about a child with Asperger's Syndrome. She asked about the likelihood of a teen with Asberger's taking a driving test, failing, and then wanting to take the test again. My response is below.

First of all, Asperger's is an autism spectrum disorder. These indivduals typically have more language preservation (as well as cognitive development in general) than people with Autism, but they are similar in that people with Asberger's have difficulties in social situations and also have restricted, stereotyped patterns of behaviors and interests. See this article here for more information about the disorder itself.

Now, on to Mara's question and the feasibility of her plot element centered around driving. I believe there are several "aspies" (as they call themselves) who drive, and drive well...but by and large, a fair percentage don't. On this website here (http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt53942.html) there is a sampling of posts by people with Aspergers who are writing in about whether they drive, why or why not. People with Asbergers have limited social interaction (although not as much as those with Autism) and actually most fear social encounters. So if this character managed to fight that enough to get behind the wheel with an instructor next to him...and then fails, it might be a tad unlikely for him to want to take the test again. At least any time soon.

Thanks for writing in, Mara! Hope this helps.

Just as aside for any author writing about a person with a developmental or mental disability: It's important in today's time to make sure to refer to these individuals as "people/children with Aspergers," or whatever disorder they might have, and not Asperger children or adults. The disorder does not define them as a person, and Regional Centers that work with them adhere to a person-centered planning model, which does not look at a disorder/disability from the medical model of what's wrong with a person. It would be considered offensive to refer to them any other way.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist@hotmail.com.

"The Character Therapist"

Monday, March 30, 2009

Scene Heartbeat Stopped - AED Needed!

So, over the weekend, I really worked hard on several chapters, exceeding my personal goals for those days. Which was great. I was working along, typing away, feeling the heartbeat of the scene like I felt my own.

Then it just stopped. I backed up, re-read what I wrote, trying to see how I could use the a literary Automatic Electronic Defibrillator (AED) to restart the heartbeat again. Again, much the same. The heartbeat was steady, sure...and then FLATLINED.

So, like any regular Jane who happens upon someone passed out and not breathing, I PANICKED. I emailed my crit partner. "Help!" I tried to tell my husband (this didn't help at all). I re-wrote variations of the end of the scene, but none of those helped me out, either. Whoa. My scene is D Y I N G.

After a phone call with my crit buddy today, I'm hoping we both can revive it, if it hasn't been too long since the last heartbeat. Wouldn't want some deranged scene from lack of oxygen or something. :) I'll have to let you know how it goes later.

Any of you have this happen recently? Not recently? Did your scene survive?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Character that Just Won't Quit

I'm about 3/4 of the way done through Blessed Beyond the Curse. Great news, as I had hoped to have this finished before the ACFW Conference in September, but it's looking like I'll have it done by May.

But I have this problem.

I have a character that won't stay out of my head for a different novel. One I haven't even started yet! So I did my usual things: write about her in my idea notebook, figure out her quirks, what makes her tick, etc. Now I'm blogging about her, hoping to put her to rest, at least for the time being.

Because I don't need the distraction she presents! Part of me wants to click on "New Document" in Word and begin typing away at her story. Maybe I should start with her backstory, to at least get something down in a word processor?

It's sad. I'll be writing about Kathy and Josh (from Blessed) and then she turns up, demanding I pay her attention like a spoiled cat. I reprimand her and continue with my typing, but this happens a few times each time I really get going into a chapter.

So, please, Little Miss OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), now that you've gotten some face time on my blog, leave Mama OCD alone!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought

This will be my first Therapeutic Thought on the blog, so let me know what you think. Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down? They won't all look like this, but gotta start somewhere!

Today I thought I'd talk about two types of forgiveness, which of course can be incorporated into our novels and lives. The first type is Restoration Forgiveness. This is the type that we most often want to encounter, but often eludes us fully. To have restoration is to have complete healing of the breach between two parties. Something as final as death or as inconvenient as geography can prevent this from happening. In its most ideal state, it looks like this:

1) Party A offends Party B
2) Party B chooses to forgive A
3) Party A, acknowledges the wrongdoing and accepts the forgiveness
4) Relationship between A and B is healed

Imagine two people hugging one another as a symbol of this type of forgiveness. So what's the other type of forgiveness, then? Release Forgiveness. Compare to the above:

1) Party A offends Party B
2) Party B chooses to forgive A
3) Party A never acknowledges the wrongdoing
4) Party B chooses to release Party A

This is the hardest type to experience, and many never quite make it to the fourth point, choosing to hold on to their offense and their grudge. It is very important, if one of your characters (or even if someone you know in life) has this type of problem, to acknowledge their hurt. If Party A never acknowledges the hurt, then Party B may never move on. A third party, though, (in many cases, a therapist) can help tremendously by just acknowledging the hurt, which in turn would help Party B be able to release it. Because before release is a possibility, the hurt has to be recognized and validated as an authentic, he/she-shouldn't-have-done-that hurt. Emotional health and healing will never occur as long as the bitterness is inside.


If you have one of your characters suffering from a hurt that hasn't been acknowledged, either by the wrong-doer or someone else, the chances of this character coming to a believable healing by the end of the book isn't feasible. Psychology tells us so. :)

If you have a hurt in your own life that resembles one that you need to release, tell someone about it that you trust, and let them help recognize the hurt for what it is so you can then release it and move on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


After reading this article about platform, I started looking at mine. The biggest thing going for me is my license in Marriage and Family Therapy. I loved counseling and learning more about how to help people with varying degrees of mental disorders. I also felt that this population was underrepresented in Christian fiction (although I will concede that there are a few authors out there who have included a secondary character here or there with a serious mental problem), and this became sort of a soapbox of mine. So Mind-Healing Fiction was born, as was my tagline, "Where Romance Meets Therapy."

According to the platform article, these things must be on your business cards, which you hand out at conferences or tack up on community boards, etc. Now platform is most essential for non-fiction writers, but it can't hurt for fiction. I love how Scoti Springfield Domeij wrote that a platform isn't all about YOU. It's about a "God-given passion, understanding how God gifted you, and using your writing and speaking to make a difference in the lives of others." He asks you to begin by asking who your audience is, how you can serve them with your distinct mesage/specialty/niche, and what information are you offering for your audience to benefit them?

Tough questions, some of them. But it's got me thinking about what else I can use this blog for besides just writing about my dream to publication. So, I'm asking for your help. I'd like to start a weekly "help" post, sort of like practical ways to fight a particular mental disorder or something like that. I could maybe highlight one disorder per month. What do you think about this idea? What could I call the weekly post? (Like, think Mary DeMuth's "Free Critique Per Week" kind of idea...something I would call the post every time.) Something catchy. And thoughts would be appreciated!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Adding a Thread

I just went through about four chapters of my WIP and added in a thread with my villain, making him increasingly, well, villainous. I've always thought that this was easier to do than the other way of just writing it in the first place. I guess it's part of the revision process, but it occurred to me about 3/4 of the way through that I needed to do this. Unfortunately, this meant resending a chapter or so to my crit buddy so she could read through the additional thread.

So in order to keep up with what POV I was using, and where this thread shows up, I started a spreadsheet of sorts to keep up with scenes and what happens. Eventually, I'll use this for my chapter-by-chapter synopsis. But it saves SO much time (duh!). I can just click on my chapter synopsis and know which chapter to bring up in my word processor to access what scene. (This may sound very simple to those of you longer in the biz and with more common sense, but I've always written my stories all out in one document, so I could just scroll through at will and see what I wanted to see. But being a part of crit groups, etc., working in chapter units is essential...so this had been a s t r e t c h for me. But a good one. :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Internet Difficulties

Over at a friend's house right now checking email and my blog - talk about going through withdrawals!  Our internet server is down...so I'll be back online when it's fixed and send crits to everyone that I can and make comments on others' blogs when I'm not pressed for time!

Sorry!  But the good thing is that I don't have to fight with my husband over the computer (b/c there is no reason for him to get on there without the internet) and I can just write! :)  Well, when Maddy's not fussing....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Writing Progress Meter

Okay. Seriously bummed out. My writing progress meter just blipped out! No joke. I hadn't updated it in a while, but when I went to do so a minute ago, a pop-up, uh, popped up and told me that the gadget was broken and that blogger recommended that I remove the gadget! So I did.

Jeannie = Bummed. Now how am I going to keep up with the percentage I have written? I don't do percentages on my own because that falls under "math skills." (I mean, what was the purpose of the writing meter anyway? To do the percentage FOR me.) Ah....this is a travesty.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Writing by the Rules

My crit buddy and I like to rant occasionally in emails to one another how we abhor the rules of the writing craft. Stifling our creativity - in our opinion - these rules only exist to make writing that much harder. More hoops to jump through to get this agent's attention/representation. It's aggravating, for sure, but then I have to remind myself that if the end goal is publication - seeking an outlet for all these ideas in my head that goes beyond taking up space on my desktop - then there has to be some conformation to these rules.

The rule I probably detest the absolute most is using adverbs sparsely (is that ironic, or what?). In English classes in high school - and even college - professors taught that your ability to weild adverbs and adjectives was like the icing on the cake, what could set your writing above par from your peers. Now, in publishing land, this rule is resolute: few IF ANY -ly adverbs in your writing! My fantastic crit partner catches them all for me, and I dutifully go back to my original and hite DELETE, but I get mad doing so (not at you, Katie!).

I think, what is wrong with that adverb there? It succinctly (great adverb there) tells the reader in just one word how my character is feeling or acting. But therein lies the problem, I suppose. Adverbs TELL. They describe, of course, by overtly telling. And authors are suppose to SHOW. This was a concept I hadn't thought about until reading books on the writing craft. So now I think twice about the Tom Swiftie or adverb (I've posted on this before, I'm remembering...but I told you...ranting helps get through the frustration) and try to find some creative way to express the same idea. And yes, using more words.

By the way, I've italicized all the adverbs, to reiterate how exceedingly much I love using them.

Are there any rules that just irritate you to no end? (Oooh...that reminds me about the no cliche rule! That deserves an entire post, though.) If so, tell me about it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Free Critique Response

I already received my Inspiration for Writers Critique back from editor and author Rhonda Browning White. Talk about punctual! Below are a few of the things I learned from this critique that I want to pass on:

1) Most publishers prefer the first line of each chapter be flush with the margin (so no indent). This goes for prologues, forwards, epilogues, everything.

2) To edit passive voice in your story, just to a search on words like were, was, there are, there were and because. Sentences with any of these words in it will either be passive or tend towards passive voice. We want active sentences - they are stronger and more powerful.

3) There are a few words that we often use in American English writing that are only appropriate in British English writing. (This was totally news to me!) Rhonda changed every backwards, forwards and towards to backward, forward and toward. There is no "s" on these words in American English...something I'd never thought about.

4) Whenever you make some sort of phonetic sound in dialogue, you use what Rhonda called the "Rule of Three." "Eeek!" or "Oooh." Three letters in repetition to get the sound across.

On really positive note, Rhonda liked my writing a lot! Below are some things she had to say that just blessed my heart to read:

"The prologue to your novel reads very well: it’s short, succinct and grabs my attention—all crucial factors to attracting an agent and publisher."

"Your writing is of high caliber...."

So yay! Rhonda also said that romantic suspense is in demand these days, and that my book would have a better-than-average chance of getting published once it's ready for submission.

Contest Mania

As posted before, I entered into the ACFW Genesis contest with my romantic suspense Blessed Beyond the Curse. But just a second ago, I also entered the Romance Writer's Association's Faith, Hope & Love chapter's contest for unpubbed authors called the Touched By Love contest (long name!). Here click here for the website. The deadline is April 1st, so it's right on the heels of ACFW's deadline of March 31st. And the mania continues! It's fun and exciting to put my stuff "out there" in the world of writing, agents and editors.

And my crit buddy just informed me of a free crit service by the Inspiration for Writers (click on name for website). They will crit the first 500 words (or first two pages) for free, as a sample to see if they would want to work with you and vice versa. Can't hurt...and it's free!

My first 15 pages of this book are going to be the most looked at pages of the entire thing. But that's how it goes.

Good luck to everyone entering everything! And let me know if you know of other contests!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Writing to Heal, Part Three

As promised, more on the idea of conflict and writing to heal. I like to think that whenever we encounter conflict, whether it's a person who cut us off on the way home today or it's a long-standing grudge that we've carried for years, writing through the conflict can be a way to make sense of it.

There's something healing about putting your own responses into the character's response (or what we wished we had done). We see in black and white the proof of what we did (or wish we had done) and we can either be proud of it or ashamed. If proud, great. You stared conflict straight in the eye and didn't lose your integrity. If ashamed, then you can further analyze why that was the case.

Writing should evoke emotion, as I wrote before. So if that emotion, evoked by words, can kill another bird with the same stone, i.e., make you think about something you said or did or didn't, then it's all the more powerful in the life of the word-writer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Writing to Heal, Part Two

I was thinking about this topic again this morning over breakfast. For writing to be healing doesn't mean that the world will suddenly look like you are viewing it from rose-colored glasses. Healing writing can evoke various emotions, some of which aren't on the "happy" continuum. Sadness, anger, regret, guilt, annoyance, confusion - only to name a few - can and do have their place in writing.

Personally, I like to work in little vignettes that have happened to me over the course of my life into my books. I'm grinning even now as I remember one of my favorites. Of course, not all of them are favorites, but it just goes to show how life is a writer's fodder. There will never be a drought of life (although you may certainly suffer from writer's block from time to time) from which you won't be able to garner material for writing. It's everywhere.

One of my favorite examples of a well-known author who did this is Karen Kingsbury. She wrote a series about the 9-11 attacks, and in her preface said it had been her own way to assimilate and try to make sense of what happened on that awful day. The story idea just came to her as she watched the news coverage. It was healing. And anyone reading her books (if you can get through one of her books without crying, my hat's off to you) also is taken on her journey of healing. As her characters cried out against what happened, we cry out. As they grieved the loss of loved ones and the feeling of security, we grieved. Healing writing at its finest.

So think about what issues you might have in your life currently, or in your past, that you might be able to heal - or at least allow to scab over - by writing. Usually our "issues" revolve around conflict, and as any student of the writing craft knows, conflict creates great plot. More on this in the next post.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Writing to Heal, Part One

On the side, I've been cataloging the reasons why a writer would write. There could be any number of responses: compelled to, for the money, for the accolades, to see your name on the spine on a book, for the sense of accomplishment.

But I'm adding to that list: writing to heal, or therapeutic writing. This is something that therapists use frequently when in session with a client. Keeping a journal is usually a homework exercise. Letter writing is also a common exercise, but either way, it's healing. You can journal your innermost thoughts on a piece of paper (or word processor) that doesn't talk back, try to get you to change your mind, or make you feel guilty for what you expressed. You can use bad grammar (well, unless you really want to be published), be repetitive, chase rabbits and have no apparent point...and that's okay!

In the interest of being transparent, I wrote my first novel for very therapeutic reasons. When I was fresh out of college, I did an internship for a year where I worked with college students. Being young and immature, I messed up. A lot. And the regret I felt really stayed with me. So I wrote this book, and the protagonist was a girl who looked strikingly like me and had lots of my character traits, but I wrote her doing things right. I wrote her doing things the way I wish I had done.

In essence, I rewrote my past. Well, to be more specific, I rewrote a portion of my past that caused me and a lot of others pain. In a way, I was asking for forgiveness through my writing. Forgiveness from God, forgiveness from the ones I hurt and forgiveness from myself. By the time I finished that book...I felt more complete. Whole. Forgiven. And that was worth the toil and labor for that book.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on writing to heal.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Inspiration for writers is a fickle thing, I think. I get some of my absolutely best ideas when I'm not even trying to think about the. Like that last time this happened to me, I was outside walking the baby and talking to her about my WIP (b/c she's obviously very interested). Then again, today I was jogging and thought up a great idea for a plot! It has both the elements of stories I'm most interested in: romance and therapy!

Then I got to thinking if I've pigeonholed myself with these two elements. My current WIP is a suspense, but the ideas I have floating around in my head (which I'll write down later on tonight before bed in my idea journal) don't necessarily have to do with suspense - although that element could be worked in, I suppose. I kind of did that with my current WIP.

Anyway...cheers to the unexpected, un-sought-after ideas that Providence just springs upon you.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Two days ago, I wrote my first synopsis for the Genesis contest. Amazingly difficult to do. Condensing a 90,000-100,000 novel to one single-spaced page? Man, you really have to know your stuff. You have to know exactly where you are going with the story, and exactly how you are going to get there. You have to know who your main characters are and who the extraneous ones are that you don't have to include.

You want to be able to wrap it all up by the end of the page, but not give absolutely every little tidbit away. Ideally, the person reading it would be intrigued enough to want to request a partial or full manuscript.

The consensus from my crit partners was that I did a pretty good job. I felt good about it, which is good. But I'm very anxious to get my feedback from the judges, regardless of how I do in the actual contest. The feedback is what I'm entering for.

So, here's to the Genesis contest submissions and my first synopsis!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let the Rhythm Move You

I just finished typing a fairly intense scene when my hero's foil comes into the picture. It was kinda fun to do (as writing is fun for me, anyway) because the hero meets this man under false circumstances, thinking he is something he is not. Which is always fun for the reader! So I'd write a bit and then read it, asking myself if it would work for the reader or if it wasn't feasible.

And the rhythm just moves me! I love it when things are clicking and I'm pumping out quality pages at a decent rate. Man...it's such a great feeling! Even stopping to take the time to reread and tweak it here or there doesn't stop the rhythm. I guess I'm lucky in the respect, because it helps me. I've heard of others who absolutely have to write everything first before going back to edit or revise. But I've just never had that problem to get back to it.

Okay...now I'm singing that song from C&C Music Factory "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)." Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reference Books

I never thought about needing reference books for writing before a few months ago. I reread certain books that struck me as fantastic, and that was about it. But recently, I've been buying several resources to help with the writing craft.

So now that I have these touted books on how to write better, I find myself in a quandary. I'm only allotted so much free time in a given day to write/read/edit/blog/email/etc. I find the motivation is around 20% or lower to read books that don't disengage me from my life as I know it. By this, I mean, books that don't have a plot and characters (i.e., these self-help writing books!). When I do put aside my computer from writing, I want to read books that make me laugh with a character that did something I totally would have done! Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer just doesn't cut it when I'm in that sort of mood.

So I'm realizing the sacrifice that is needed here. In order to make my writing time that much more valuable - to write more quality stuff in the time I have - I'm going to have to sacrifice some of that time to begin with. Ah. There in lies the rub.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

How To Find Your Story

Jeff Gerke wrote this amazing book, How To Find Your Story. My crit partner and I both bought it (it's an ebook, so you just download it right to your computer from this website) and we've been planning out our WIPs using the worksheet tool that he provides. This book is for writers who essentially are "character-first novelists," that is, you just get a character stuck in your head and you decide to write a story about him or her.

In contrast is the plot-first novelist, where the twists and turns are already apparent usually before the characters who will live through them are. (Jeff also wrote a book for these type writers called Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist, available at the above website in a bundle with How to Find Your Story.)

So we just got off the phone with each other, talking about our characters and what pitfalls and adventures we have in store for them, using terminology that we both knew (like escalating arms race, moment of truth, character knot, etc.). I just can't say enough about the book. I feel like now (after reading the book and especially after bouncing ideas off my crit partner), I have a DIRECTION!!! And knowing that is the harder part of the journey of writing a book, to me. My characters aren't swimming around anymore, but heading somewhere, and that's exciting!

Now I just have to find the time to actually write this good stuff. :)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mary DeMuth critique

Author Mary DeMuth does a free critique per week on her blog, So You Want To Be Published. This week, she critiqued the synopsis of my current WIP. You can read the post here.

I was almost embarrassed at how much better the re-write sounded! But, that's why Mary DeMuth is published, and I am not. :) Unfortunately for me, after I sent her the synopsis, I got a fabulous crit partner through ACFW who really helped me become more aware of my cliches. I really had a tendency to write using them. I find that the cliche sticks out in my head now, though, and I search for a more unique way to express what the cliche expresses. This can take several minutes for me!

Anyway...but thanks to Mary for pointing out a much better way to describe the plot of my book. Less passive voice and less cliches (and less run-on sentences, which was the result of my run-in with the Snowflake Method that indicated I should have a synopsis in about 5 sentences...see post here).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bibliotherapy for a Writer

Bibliotherapy is one of my favorite ways to structure therapy, especially for children. Frequently I use it with adults. So what it is? As the name might imply, it's using books in a therapeutic way to either 1) bring home a message or moral, 2) bring insight into the reasons BEHIND the symptomology, or 3) bring encouragement that other people, going through the same things my client is, have been there and made it through.

So, I'm taking my own advice and have now at my disposal, about 6 different books that should help me with the writing craft. I'm currently reading three at the same time: How To Find Your Story by Jeff Gerke, Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer by Renni Browne and Dave King, and Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell in the Write Great Fiction series.

Already I have my black moment (which is pretty knockout!) and I'm only on page 14 of How to Find Your Story! That's what I call having a good resource!

Will review the books on here when I'm done. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cutting Scenes

Is there anything harder to do than cut a scene? In order to write more from my hero's POV (like, 40% more), I've had to necessarily cut down scenes from my heroine's POV. When I have written something funny or charming, I don't want to let it go.

I know of authors who take all their "cut" material, either backstory dumps or portions they just couldn't include for whatever reason, and put them in a file on the computer. Maybe to reuse or not, but some just for sentimental reasons.

I shall be of the latter. If I was seeing a client (who happened to be an author) for therapy, and they spoke of this dilemma of getting attached to a scene that they had to cut or an editor said had to go, I would suggest they keep it in a personal file for personal enjoyment.

So, in order to walk the talk, I will be commencing on this exercise myself. Until now, I've had all the random Word files with scenes I've cut, or POV changes I've made to the same scene. I will be putting these all into a folder labeled, "Write Aways." Get it? I'm a HUGE fan of play on words. Away with the writing that necessarily has to go (according to other's opinions, usually)!!