First Lines

In editing and rewriting, I have struggled with those first lines. The first line on the first page is probably the most important as you are trying to reel readers in, but even the first line of succeeding chapters have a place of importance, and it seems to take me awhile to warm up to my subject or my scene. I am now going through several books and writing down their first lines. These lines are not necessarily famous or even great. In fact, most are so simple, I wonder if I am just trying too hard.

“Joshua Poldark died in March 1783.” Winston Graham in Ross Poldark

“The treasure of Hookton was stolen on Easter morning 1342.” Bernard Cornwell in The Archer’s Tale

“Roger woke and shot upright on a gulp of breath.” Elizabeth Chadwick in The Time of Singing

“A cold wind blew down from the snow-covered mountains, hissing through the narrow streets of Thebe Under Plakos.” David Gemmell in Troy Shield of Thunder

“Weeks had gone by since winter had lost her blinding white beauty.” Ginger Garrett in Wolves Among Us. (For those who say not to start with weather, these last two are rather beautiful to me.)

“Elizabeth Middleton, twenty-nine years old and unmarried, overly educated and excessively rational, knowing right from wrong and fancy from fact, woke in a nest of marten and fox pelts to the sight of an eagle circling overhead, and saw at once it could not be far to Paradise.” Sara Donati in Into the Wilderness  (Now, there’s a sentence! Excuse me, while I pause to reread this book.)

“In 1959 Florence Green occasionally passed a night when she was not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not.” Penelope Fitzgerald in The Bookshop

“On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” Anthony Maara in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“At dusk they pour from the sky.” Anthony Doerr in All the Light We Cannot See

“Now I believe they will leave me alone.” Wallace Stegner in Angle of Repose

This is rather fun, and I could keep going, but I have also found this exercise inspiring, so I need to cut this off and go read. I mean, write.

My Takeaways from the Writing Conference

It’s already been a week since I attended my first Writers Conference. I’ve been busy correcting my manuscript (more on that shortly), and writing some flash fiction for a contest. But I want to take a few minutes to give you some highlights of my takeaway from the conference. First, it was exciting, disappointing, and fun. Exciting just to be there; disappointing to receive my critiqued manuscript full of red marks; and fun meeting and hearing from other writers.

I attended several workshops, heard from the faculty during two panel discussions, and listened to the main speaker, Torry Martin.

At one workshop led by Larry Leech, I learned about the importance of having an “adorable antagonist.” A villain is needed for conflict but should not be used just as a scapegoat. A villain should be likable in some way and the bigger (s)he is, the greater the victory for the protagonist.

From DiAnn Mills, I heard about creating good dialogue. A writer needs to know what motivates their characters, to understand their top emotions and what type of body language they would use to express themselves. Gestures and body language help to “show and not tell.”

During a panel discussion, the members of the faculty were asked to give and explain some of their pet peeves concerning writing. Among these were: exclamation points, misuse of pronouns, using the passive voice, run-on sentences, indefinite “it” beginning a sentence, and the overuse of being verbs. When I heard this last discussed, it struck home with me, and I had to wonder if my writing was guilty of this. I didn’t have to wonder long. When I received my critique the next day, the use of many “be” verbs was heavily marked.

The main speaker for the conference, Torry Martin, spoke on the importance of networking. He stated that we don’t need to be a “bon vivant” to network. (Always good to learn new words and how to use them). Since most writers (including myself) are introverts, this was good to know!  Torry had a lot of good advice on networking, and if you ever have a chance to hear him, I highly recommend taking the opportunity.  I particularly appreciated his way of looking at networking from a spiritual perspective. He quoted Philippians 2:3 (“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves”) several times during his lecture, stating that all networking by Christians should be done with this verse in mind as we want to do all things under Christ’s leadership.

In all, I enjoyed hearing from different writers and having a chance to mingle for a couple of days. I know I have a great deal of work to do, but I left inspired and encouraged to keep at it.

Any conferences or workshops that you have attended lately? Or plan to in the near future? I hope this has encouraged you to check some out.

Going to a Writers Conference

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On Friday I will be attending my first writers’ conference–the Christian Writers Conference in Spartanburg, S.C. I’ve been pretty excited for several weeks now, but I can now add: scared, nervous, and a bit intimidated.  My first class will be on “How to Get the Most Out of the Conference.” That was an easy enough choice, but choosing the right class in the different workshops is a little more difficult, though it’s great to have so many interesting ones to choose from.

There are many writers conferences out there, and even though I haven’t yet been to one, I can already recommend that if you’re into writing at all, that you look for one that you can attend. Besides the classes that are available, attending a conference gives you the opportunity to meet other writers and others in the industry. I especially hope to connect with some writers who might live in my area.

Also, for any of you on facebook, I started an author’s page under the name–P.M. Gilmer. I’m posting and sharing news about reading and writing, so if you’re on facebook, check it out and give me a follow. I’ll be sharing some highlights from the conference on there (probably through Twitter) when I can, but I will definitely be sharing more right here when I get back.

How about you? Are you attending any writers’ conferences this year?

Research: An Ongoing Process

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Writing a book of historical fiction obviously requires quite a bit of research which I enjoy, but can also find challenging. I know some writers feel they should do all their research before they put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. Of course, you need to do some research to make sure you have your timeline in decent order, but because I have characters that tend to show up unannounced or do things I wasn’t expecting, research is an ongoing process for me. To give you more of an idea of what I have been writing about, I decided to share a few of those areas of research.

archery-847876__340In one case, the brothers (sons of David) are practicing their archery, and all I know about archery is that it requires a bow, some arrows, and, hopefully, some targets. I know these young men didn’t run down to their local sporting goods stores for their equipment, so where did they get it? How did they make it? And how far advanced would they have been at this time? Was archery even a thing for the sons of David? (I know they must have learned to use a sling at some point. Surely, their father taught them that!)

In another scene, I picture Bathsheba coming into the palace garden, a small dog trotting at her side. Wait a minute! Did the Israelites have dogs as pets? Did they even have dogs at all? (They didn’t, but I cleverly worked around that).

Much of my book revolves around horses and chariots. This was not in my original game plan, and not knowing much about either, I’ve had to work at learning more about these two subjects. Having the internet is a wonderful thing for both finding the exact information you need or pointing you to books and articles that can deepen your understanding.

After writing most of my manuscript, I found a book, The Horsemen of Israel: Horses and Chariotry 20170210_105239in Monarchic Israel (Ninth-Eighth Centuries B.C.E.).  At first, I read most of this book online, but was eventually able to find it at a reasonable “used” price (looks brand-new). After reading through several chapters, I needed to go back and change quite a bit of what I had written and was also able to add interesting details about the way horses were trained and first introduced to Israel. I have found this book helpful on several levels and plan to give you a more comprehensive review in the future.

Then there is that trip to Egypt Solomon takes with two of his brothers. Not in my original outline, but it has been interesting to do some studying in that area.

Knowing more about the people and the way they lived helps me to better understand Bible characters who are familiar, yet can seem so distant. Of course, not every detail I uncover will end up in the finished manuscript (or it would be a few thousand pages), but every one that does enhances the story and makes the characters come alive, both for myself and my future readers.

You don’t need to be writing a book to do research. Every time you “google” something, you’re doing some type of research. What about you? What are the kinds of information you enjoy finding? Does it help you on your job? Your personal Bible study? Or are there certain areas (science, history, etc.) that you just enjoy learning about?

The Ophel Inscription–Writing from the time of King David

Half the fun of writing historical fiction is the research. Sometimes I can’t find what I’m looking for (or scholars disagree on certain findings) and that can be frustrating, but more often I run across “fun facts” that I had not even considered (which makes it sound like most of my research is serendipitous and maybe it is). I may not always be able to add these “fun facts” or details to my story, but learning more about the culture of my characters helps me, as the author, to know my characters in a more rounded way.

As most of you know, I’m writing a story about Solomon during the time of King David, so I was intrigued when I ran across an article concerning a find in 2012 by Israeli archaeologist, Dr. Eilat Mazar. From the Ophel mound between the Temple Mount and the old city of David, a pottery shard was found containing seven letters. Now known as the Ophel Inscription, there is still quite a bit of debate about those letters and what it all means, but there are those who have concluded that the letters are Hebrew, making the find highly significant concerning the kingdoms of David and Solomon.

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Hebrew letters on a 3,000 year old pot gives credence, not only to the existence of King David living in Jerusalem at that time, but also suggests that the written language was not just for the rich and their rulers.

I have no problem believing the Bible concerning the existence of King David and that he ruled in Jerusalem, but have wondered about how literate were the people of that time. After all, David was not raised as a royal son, yet he wrote psalms from an early age, so one must believe that both reading and writing were more common than some may assume.

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From one article (link to follow): “The Ophel inscription–though untranslated–joins the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon as part of a growing body of archaeological evidence supporting the biblical truth that ancient Hebrews were literate. Rather than inventing a post-dated history, they had the linguistic and cultural tools in place to record it from the earliest days that Israel was recognized among other monarchies of the ancient world.”

https://answersingenesis.org/archaeology/shard-shows-written-language-at-jerusalem-when-david-ruled/

Studying the history of the Bible and reading more of different archaeological finds continues to make the characters of the Bible more alive to me. My prayer as I write of stories in the Bible–specifically, Solomon and imagining what his life may have been like as he was growing up in the court of King David–that the Bible will also become more alive to others who will one day read my stories.

 

Writing Contests: For Better or Worse

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In the past few months, I have entered two different writing contests. Though, of course, I hoped to win (or at least be a finalist), I mostly entered these contests in order to receive feedback from those in the industry (other writers, publishers, editors, etc.) Well, I got my feedback.

I did not win. I did not place. I did not even impress.

When I received my scores, I already knew I was not a finalist, but it was still painful. Looking at the first judge’s scores, I saw 4’s and 5’s and hoped that meant the scores were from “1” to “5”. Since the next judge had some 7’s and 8’s, I knew it must be out of 10.

In both contests, I received comments from three different judges (anonymous so as to protect them from irate and sensitive writers). In both contests, the first judge dislikes my story and has little (if anything) good to say. In the first contest, the second judge was a bit more middle of the road with her/his comments, and the third had at least a few good things to say. In the second contest, both the second and third judges had encouraging things to say, even though they weren’t totally sold. I had to wonder if they were doing a bad judge/good judge routine.

My first thoughts upon reading the comments was to want to throw my beloved “work in progress” into the deepest sea. But, from following a recent online discussion among members of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), I know that receiving such a wide range of comments is not unusual, and that I am not the only one that might feel a bit confused by the seemingly inconsistencies of the judges. (One person said they had received a 67 and a 98 from two different judges in the same contest). None of us enjoy receiving criticism, but it would seem to be more helpful if the comments were more consistent across the board. But, judges are human and they do not all like the same kind of stories.

Takeaway: Though I have struggled at accepting the comments, I have been able to go back through them and find what is helpful and what is just one person’s opinion. After I sent in my last entry, I changed a few things and have a few other areas marked to be either omitted or rewritten. So, if I had been a judge myself, I have to admit, I would have been of the same opinion in several ways. Will I enter more contests? Yes; definitely. Overall, it has been helpful and has made me work harder to perfect my writing before sending it to an agent.

Are you wondering about the shells? All are olive shells found on the same beach (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), but none of them are the same. Basically the same shape, but different colors and sizes. I picked up the shells that attracted me and wanted to keep. So are our stories and those works in progress. Not everyone will be interested enough in what I write to even desire to pick it up. Some may be interested (even when I finally get it right), but maybe not enough to read it through. But, I will work at polishing my stories and finding the readers who will be interested for their enjoyment.

Any writers out there that have been entering contests? Have you found them helpful? Worth the submission fee or not? Not every contest is for every writer, so it’s important to find some that will benefit you and will be worth that entry fee.

 

 

The End! Or, at least, the Beginning of the End

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I just came to the end of my book. Not one I am reading–the one I am writing. And like so much of this book, it was kind of unexpected.

Ok, I have some rough spots and a couple of places I know I want to rewrite, but I actually came to the end. I was planning on another chapter. Actually, have it started and sort of have an outline for that final chapter. (In my mind, that is, which is where most of my outlines actually live).  So, I was working on finishing up this chapter, started adding a bit, then realized as I completed the chapter that I really could end the book here. I’ve long since conceded that it is going to take another book to tell the story I want to tell. Since I have (gasp) 113, 308 words, perhaps it is time to wrap this up. But, I have so much more to say! You think because you’re the author that you’re in control, but, no, not really.

I want to tell the story of Solomon–growing up in the court of King David. What was it like to know you were the chosen prince? When exactly did he know that? What did his brothers (and others) think of that?

So, I started telling the story. And, along the way: Solomon’s brothers are fighting; Solomon wants his father to raise horses to drive chariots; Solomon’s mother seems to be the only one who really thinks he is special; and Solomon and two of his brothers take a trip to Egypt.

So, over 100,00 words and Solomon isn’t even king yet. But, he will be soon. I can’t wait to begin writing that story, but first–I need to work on my platform. Do any of you follow your favorite writers on facebook? Twitter? Why? What do you look for? Or what do you enjoy about what they do? I hope you will all stay with me as I begin to share more of what I’ve written and begin my search for an agent.

 

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