Writing Exercises

I have always enjoyed various writing exercises. So this exercise is one in describing a “mood.” The goal is to use vivid imagery and all 5 senses to give the reader an accurate “feel” for the emotions of the character. The following three snippets are each describing a different emotion… see if you can figure out what each paragraph is trying to convey:

1)    The sun was warm on her head and shoulders as she stood on the front lawn holding the hose. The water hissed and sputtered at the spigot where it leaked out in every direction. The leaky spigot did not keep the water from gushing through the hose, however, and as she held the nozzle in her hand and pressed the rubber lever a steady stream of water sprayed out over the lawn. Drops of water began to slowly collect on the long, green blades of grass. The thatch that had been dug up earlier by the slit-seeder began to change color from light tan to a darker brown as the water from the hose rained down upon it. Water began to pool in the patches of dirt where the old grass had died off and the new grass seed had been planted. And still the sun beat down. Although the air itself was mild, the warmth of the sun on her shoulders began to grow increasingly hot. Her shoulders and ears began to burn. She passed the spray of water back and forth across the grass; at her feet, the water that dripped down from the leaking spigot began to pool and the cold water brushed up against her toes causing her to jump slightly. She could feel beads of sweat beginning to form on her face and so she moved down the lawn into the shade of the tree that stood at the corner of her house. Even as she walked she held the lever of the hose nozzle compressed so that the water would continue to spray out over the lawn, activating the new grass seed and causing it to begin to grow. The fingers on her right hand began to cramp and she switched the nozzle to her left hand while she flexed the fingers of her right hand and then shook it out. She put her right hand in the stream of the cold water and felt the muscles begin to relax.

2)    A soft wind swept through the trees, across the field and down the hill to the frozen lake, brushing up the powdery top layer of snow as it passed and causing the tiny crystals of snow to dance through the air on shadowy legs. The silver moon gazed down over the landscape, its brightness magnified by the whiteness of the snow. Stars, like brightly glowing snowflakes peered down from the clear black sky, their light not competing with the brightness of the moon and yet still starkly visible against the dark canvas in which they had been painted. At the edge of the field stood a grove of trees. Crystalline branches covered in ice sparkled in the moonlight. The wind whispered across the snow, a soft voice, so quiet that one would have to strain hard in order to make sense of the words. The ice-coated branhes clinked together as the wind passed over and around them. A set of footprints crossed the field, winding from the trees down to the frozen lake. Pools of shadow lay at the bottom of each print because the snow was so deep. Whoever had passed by had been forced to trudge through snow that was nearly knee deep. Despite the whispering of the wind and the clinking of the branches, a quiet seemed to fill the air, a silence so thick and heavy that it lay over the top of the snow like a down-filled blanket. No animals ventured out of their warm burrows or hiding places this chilly night, no howls or chirps disturbed the silence of the darkness.

3)    While the kitchen was still as colorless and austere as the rest of the palace, it was the only place where smiles were seen and laughter was heard; not often, but it did happen every now and then. Gregoire had grown up in very solitary circumstances. The other servant-children did not laugh or joke; in fact they hardly even talked. They were a quiet lot, and they kept to themselves. In the kitchen, however austere the decoration, at least there was noise and color. All was clanging of pots and loud-voiced cooks and hustling here and scurrying there. Where everything else was strict, orderly, tidy, and sterile, the kitchen was a place of life and seeming chaos. Sauces were stirred briskly and batters were whisked. Eggs were beaten and meat and vegetables were chopped into tiny pieces and thrown together in steaming skillets. Cooks moved about the kitchen as if performing a dance, white aprons whirling as they moved from counter to stove and back again. Smells of all kinds of different foods wafted up from various stoves and mingled together, creating smells that would make anyone’s stomach rumble loudly. In the morning, the smell of bacon could always be identified, along with the crackling and popping of grease in the pans on top of the stoves. Some mornings would find the kitchen rich with the smell of cinnamon if one of the cooks had decided to make a coffee cake instead of the usual bacon and eggs. In the warmth of the afternoons there was always some sort of brightly colored fruit salad to go with whatever the main course was to be. The cool evenings often brought the scents of spiced meats and warm aromas of different sauces that would be poured thickly over bowls of pasta or rice.

Have fun!

~ jenelle

Forgive me

I am sorry I never got around to posting last week. It has been a bit crazy around here what with everyone getting sick, me joining a new aerobics class (a first for me! so far I love it), and weaning my 18month old from her pacifier… a truly horrifying experience for a few days. In all the hubbub, the blog completely slipped my mind.

Of course, I have my doubts as to whether or not anyone actually reads this, but I suppose it’s the principle of the thing, right? I said I’d post at least once a week, and last week got forgotten. Sorry.

Let’s see, in the past few weeks I have been furiously re-modeling my first book. As it is the first in the series, it is the one that needs the most work. I feel as though it is mirroring the bathroom remodel that is also currently underway at my house… I’m leaving the walls in place, and the original sink and tub, but I’m re-tiling, re-painting, and putting in new up-to-date fixtures in. :) Like the metaphor?

I think I’m pretty much done with the first 3 chapters. I am now moving into the “meat” of the story. I also have an editor reading over my story as I refurbish and fine-tuning a lot of what I’ve edited/re-written. It is a fun process, because I’m doing the big stuff, while my editor is looking for all the nit-picky little details like when I’ve been redundant or where I’ve said something twice just in different ways… like I just did there… did YOU catch it? He’s also looking through for small discrepancies between stories, making sure all my characters stay IN character, and tightening up spots where I’ve used 3-5 “weaker” words when one “strong”one would be plenty.

So, if anyone actually reads this… what sorts of things would you like to see posted here? What are you curious about? What would you like to know? What would make you come back to check for updates or even… perchance… make you recommend this blog to a friend? Comments are welcome!

Hope you are having a lovely week.

~ jenelle

CLEAN FANTASY

Let’s face it: the ability to describe a book or movie as “clean” and/or “decent” is becoming rarer and rarer. In an age where those two words are almost said with distaste or as though they are synonymous with “boring” or “corny,” a writer who desires to enchant her audience without sex, cuss words, or excessive violence must work two to three times harder than the competition, especially if they want to venture into the world of fantasy. However, as evidenced by such writers as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and more currently Stephen R. Lawhead and even Terry Brooks have proven that it can be done. Perhaps this post will be seen as “unfair” or “narrow-minded” on my part, but I have always thought that authors who resort to using expletives and sex in their works are falling into laziness in their writing. Sure, you’ll get a reaction from people, sure, you’ll get some shock value, but after that wears off, you have left your reader dissatisfied because your story was not good enough to carry itself without such tactics.

On the flip side of this arguments is the fact that there is an appalling amount of “bad” writing in the Christian fiction section of the book-store. When a friend of mine was asked why I do not write “Christian fiction” or have an overwhelming desire to go with a “Christian Publisher” my friend told me she was tempted to respond by saying, “Because Jenelle is a good writer.” While at the time, this made me laugh, thinking back on it makes me sad. It should not be thus. Shouldn’t Christian authors be held to a higher standard than the rest of the world? I admit, just because something is “clean” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is well-written. I do not believe that Christians should write just for other Christians (and here is the heart of why I will not necessarily go with a Christian publisher), because your sphere of influence is very limited and while it may be “kingdom focused” it is not “kingdom expanding.” If you limit your target audience to 14-18 year old Christians, that is the audience you will get. Your books will be sanctioned by Christian parents and their children will read them because you are a Christian author, and they may love them, but their non-Christian friends may never give you, as an author, a chance. I do not think this is the answer any more than resorting to writing “edgy” fiction.

Colossians 3:17, 23 – And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

Mark 16:15 – He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

2Corinthians 6:3, 4a, 5b – We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance…in hard work… in purity…”

As a Christian, I am more moved when I see/read/hear God’s truth coming from an unexpected source. When I hear a country song on a secular radio station that talks about Jesus, when I read a fantasy fiction book (that I picked up somewhere other than Lifeway) that is well-written and portrays some aspect of the Good News (whether on purpose or accidentally), and when I watch a movie that inadvertently points to Christ, I always come away feeling amazed at how God works through the most unlikely of sources to point to Himself and Truth. I always think, “Wow. Think of how many unsaved people are probably listening to, reading, or watching this! And they are hearing God’s Truth.” I’m not saying that Christian radio stations, movies made by churches, or Christian authors going through Christian publishers are bad things. I think they’re great! I just have to wonder sometimes, if that’s really “Going into all the world…” or if it’s merely “settling.” Settling for a smaller audience, a friendly audience, a receptive audience, an audience who will more often than not overlook poor quality if your book/CD/movie mentions Jesus in any way on the back cover.

So, what do I think is the answer? I think we need to throw out both approaches. I think Christian artists should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one. I think Christians should LEAD the way when it comes to well-written books, quality music, and blockbuster movies. I have always had a problem with Christian artists following the trend. I once went to a … I’m not sure what it was, actually, we walked into the auditorium and discovered that some kind of, apparently free, event was being held there… but there was a huge audience and the whole point of the presentation seemed to be playing clips of Christian music that were “alternatives” to whatever was “hip” at the moment. I walked away from that with a really bad taste in my mouth. If the music out there isn’t worth listening to, then why should Christians be trying to make “clean” or “alternative” versions of it?

As a Christian and a lover of the fantasy genre, I am committed to writing stories that are both filled with adventure and excitement without also being filled with worldly “smut,” for lack of a better term. I want to write books that inspire, that excite, that send the imagination soaring. I also want to write fantasy that parents can approve of for their teens to read, and fantasy that the parents may want to read as well! I hope that my readers will hold me not just to the standard of Christian-principles, but also to the standard of excellent writing.

~ jenelle

A response

I have so far sent queries to two agencies. I have heard back from both of them. The first one just sent me an email that said they had stopped responding to queries they are uninterested in, and so if I haven’t heard from them again in 30 days to assume they don’t like me. Ok, it actually said to assume that they weren’t currently interested in my manuscript. However, this morning I heard back from the second agent I queried and she asked for the first 5 pages of my book. Now, either she was intrigued by my query, or she asks EVERYONE for their first 5 pages. I don’t know which it is. Either way, it’s exciting to be asked for pages.

I have been editing and polishing The Dragon’s Eye out of existence er, until it shines. Based on the reviews I got from the ABNA contest (you can read what they had to say here), I have rearranged the first three chapters, cut entire paragraphs, and added a few bits of dialogue here and there. I am amazed at how much my writing style has changed in just a few short years! I am excited to get The Dragon’s Eye up to snuff. As I have been chopping my manuscript into sawdust sanding the rough edges off my first book (well, technically my third book… but the first in this series), it has been fun to be able to be brutally honest with myself about where it is obvious I simply had no idea what I was doing when I wrote this book.

I have never enjoyed editing this much before. It’s fantastic! This is probably because instead of focusing on the tiny errors such as commas and semi-colons and spelling mishaps… (although, I’m not ignoring those mistakes either, don’t worry), I am re-writing a lot of plot and dialogue and straight-up story. It’s like going through my book with a machete.

Stay tuned! I’ll let you know if I hear anything more from the agent.

~ jenelle