Monday, July 21, 2008

Putting YOU in Your Story

Missy here. I love the Food Network. And late Saturday night I watched Episode 27 of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Original air date: 3-10-08). On the show, a woman said an amazing thing: "The food has a lot of love in it, and you can always taste it when people cook with love."

I love that quote! It was like a light bulb came on and I wanted to shout, “So true!”

And of course, it got my writer brain thinking. About whether or not we write (cook ) with love.

Do you love your genre? Your theme? Your characters? Do you love your setting? Your plot? Your own writer’s voice?

Do you love your word choices? (If you’re like me, you sometimes agonize over choosing the absolutely perfect word.)

Do you love your story?

If you do, I can just about guarantee the reader will know it.

Okay, so let’s assume we all love our stories. (No, we won’t count how badly you hate it by the time you’ve revised it 14 times, right before you finally send it out.) So if we’re good on that front, then how can we add that little extra “oomph” that makes a judge or an editor stand up and take notice?

What do you bring to your story that no one else can bring to a story?

If you don’t know, then it’s time to think about it. (This might help you look at branding yourself, too.) Look at your stories/ideas/premises/settings/characters/themes and see if you can find a pattern. For me, it’s writing a small town setting somewhere in the South (with all the conflicts that go with small-town life). And it’s writing stories about families and family dynamics. All but a couple of my manuscripts also have a faith element. And I always write romance. Even when I tried writing women’s fiction, I ended up with the husband and wife reuniting. I found I couldn’t do otherwise!

I realized I’d found my niche. (And my tag line: Faith, Family and Finding Mr. Right.) Why? Well, probably because for the last 18 years I’ve lived mostly in smaller towns in the South and have been a stay-at-home mom focused on my family. I suspect if I tried to write a story about a high-powered executive in New York or L.A., I would have a really hard time.

I’m able to write, not necessarily what I know, but what I live and understand and love. And there’s that word love again. I’m writing what I love.

Okay, so what about you? What do you write about? What do you love about your life? How do you put, well…YOU into your stories?



  1. Missy, this is a totally fascinating post, because I think you've hit the nail on the head. There's a part of us in each story. Kind of funny when you think if you pick apart enough Nora Roberts' books, you'd actually be able to piece together a Nora doll!

    I love romance, hence the genre. I love God, and I'm having a real good time interjecting a soul into my new works without preaching at people since I find that pretty darned annoying.

    And I love a snarky, quick-witted humor so I'm having a ball utilizing that quirky side of my character with my characters and it seems to be working if my current contest results are an indicator.

    But I love, love, love my CBA-aimed books and am determined they'll get published some day. While the current stories entertain (I hope), those books touch the heart and soul of women, so I'm not giving up on one dream to pursue the other, I'm just biding my time and working my fingers to the bone to get that first nod of approval that bears a paycheck in hand.

    And, speaking of hands, these hands have gotten out a delicious pineapple/nut-studded carrot cake sporting cream cheese frosting and a fresh pot of Folger's Vanilla Bisciotti coffee. Amazing scent roaming the house right now.

    And, I've got a Kona blend going right beside it, some frothed milk (no soy, sorry, the carton was totally empty...) and a selection of syrups and whipped cream toppings.

    Settle in, have fun, ladies and gents. It's Monday in Seekerville and I've recovered from our beautiful wedding, have worked heinous hours this past week, and managed to re-edit ten chapters of my WIP so that when that inevitable (praying!) request comes, this baby will be ready for the editor's desk at Superromance, HQ.

    And now, off to find that carrot cake.


  2. Hey Missy,
    First, thanks for stopping by my blog the other day. It was very nice of you :-)
    This is a great post! I don't know what part of me is in my stories. I think I'm probably still finding my voice.
    But I don't think I'll ever write something without romance. Impossible.

    Ruth, your food sounds delicious. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to teleport????

  3. Carrot cake and good coffee trumps a pack of Funyans and an RC, definitely. Thanks, Ruthie!

    I thought about what I enjoy writing and was surprised at a common thread.

    I like the outdoors and animals and so critters keep crawling into my stuff. Even the few citi-fied people I tried to write about owned cats.

    My virtual zoo has included horses and mules; dairy cattle; beef cattle; oxen; chickens; sheep; dogs; cats; other poultry including peacocks; songbirds; hawks; buffalo; deer; raccoons; possoms; wildcats; barn owls ... but no hogs. I don't do hogs other than in a frying pan

    I suppose if I put some people in there my stories might sell better ;-)

    PS -- Funyans are my kids' favorite snack: onion-flavored corn chips shaped into rings. See? Carrot cake sounds way better!

  4. Ann, carrot cake is way better, LOL!

    And your critters will thrill people who also love animals, sensing a commonality.

    SAT word of the day: commonality.

    Hey, Tina just sent over some Italian cookies. Amazing!

    Thanks, buddy!


  5. The reason I love this post is because it is so easy as a writer to look around and compare. I'll think, "Wow, she is a brilliant writer." or "If only I could write like that." But God has brought me to the place where I've seen that each person must write what He has put them in their heart to write the way he or she is uniquely wired (speaking from a Christian's POV anyway). I have been writing devotionals from slices of life for years, and that is where I am most gifted. But I'm trying to grow in the area of short fiction stories, which are fun to write as well. Even in those, though, they are typically scenes from--you guessed it--slices of my life or someone I know.

    Great post!

  6. Hi Missy, Great idea to focus on love and what "brand" peeks through in our writing. The idea of brand has always scared me. Too much introspection I guess. But I'm like you Ann. I love the outdoors and animals and always have one cropping up in my stories. Most critiquers comment on my settings so I guess that love shows through also.

    Yummy Ruthy, carrot cake is my favorite. Another love. But I have chocolate velvet coffee brewing here. Need the extra caffeine at this early hour. smile

    Missy, you're right on about your stories. They do give the flavor of small town living and I love the Southern element. You can just feel that family love too. That's why I love your stories. Happy writing.

  7. Great post, Missy! I totally agree with you!

    I've noticed that when I write something I'm passionate about, I wake up every morning, eager to work on it. And I'm always sad when I have to say goodbye to the characters at the end of the story.

    Oh, and I love the Food Network, too--which is probably why I'm struggling with these extra pounds that won't go away.

  8. Ruthy, congrats on surviving the wedding!! I know you really helped make it special for the happy couple.

    Okay. I have to know. Did you really make a carrot cake this morning? Or is it a cyber cake? You sounded so convincing on the aroma factor that I'm thinking it's real.

    And hey! There's another theme you might need to put in your stories: food!

    Thanks for stopping by at the ungodly hour of 4:20!


  9. Hi, Jessica. So good to see you this morning.

    You know, I think it takes a while to find our voice. And I have a feeling it'll be something that morphs and changes a bit over time. It's fun, though, to look at your manuscripts once you have several and to look for similarities. It may also be easier for a critque group to find it than for you to find it yourself. All of a sudden, someone will read your work and say, "This is it! You've found your groove." :)


  10. Ann said: I suppose if I put some people in there my stories might sell better ;-)

    Cracking up, here, Ann! :) But let me tell you that when they were coming up with my cover for my first book, they said covers with animals and children sell best. So you're all set with your zoo of animals to put on covers!

    Just don't forget the people, too. LOL

    Also, just from your posts here in Seekerville, I see that you probably write with humor, too. If not, then you need to try it!


  11. Lauralee, you made a great point about not comparing ourselves! We each have our own life experiences and gifts. We can't write what someone else writes, even if we think it's the best thing since sliced bread.

    It sounds like you've found your niche! That's great. :)


  12. Thanks, Sandra!

    You know, I love your childrens' book and the sweet spirit there. I can't wait to read one of your novels someday, too!


  13. Debby,

    I've had that same feeling of not wanting to leave characters. I even had a book that I procrastinated on finishing because I couldn't let them go. (Most non-writer people would probably think we need medical help for saying something like that! LOL)So you're right. It's a good sign when we love a story so much. I truly think it'll come through to the reader.


  14. I wrote for a lot of years before I got published.
    In those years I wrote whatever suited me, contemporary, historical, action, sweet, long and short.
    No matter what I wrote, underlying it was romantic comedy. That's not exactly a genre in the traditional sense. But it's my voice.

    What I love fundamentally is romantic comedy suspense. And I think there's some of that, no matter if I'm writing sweet or cozy or cowboys.

    So I'm with you on this, Missy. And my fingers are now coated with frosting

  15. Mary, that's I'd never thought of. A writer might write in several genres but with essentially the same voice. Like you said for you--romantic comedy with some suspense.

    Does that mean I could try writing historicals as long as it's in a small southern town with family relationships?? Ack! I can't imagine the research! :)

    Missy (who loves to read historicals, though. Hmm...)

  16. Mostly, I guess I put my fears into my stories. I don't know how one doesn't reveal oneself through their writing. How can that be possible? Especially when you find yourself laughing, crying, cringing, and sighing along with your characters. Some of you, the author, has to come through if you write with emotion. Does it not?

  17. Eileen, I agree. We do have to put ourselves out there and be honest and open in our writing--even showing our fears. As a judge in contests, I can say that the stories with emotion are the ones that really grab me. Lack of emotion is probably the most common problem I see--although it's hard to pinpoint. It's just that something is missing.


  18. Argh! It seems like every time I turn around I'm running into that branding thing! BUT I know it helps 'define' you (ok, me) so I'm chewing that over as I write. Emphasis here on AS I WRITE!

    Thanks for another great post!

  19. Great post Missy!

    I do love my stories, my characters and the way that I can put my faith out there through my characters and I always write romance too :-)

  20. Oh, my!

    Such a very lot of company in such a short stretch of time.


    We're low on coffee?

    Not to worry, Gloria Jean's has sent a full lunchtime array of sweet, frothy, Oreo-laced drinkable goodness and there's straight up good 'joe' for you hard cores among us.

    Also sweet lemonade, Southern style in honor of Missy Tippens who is related to a person that got invited to Derek Jeter's All Star party last week.


    Derek Jeter is a party in and of himself, LOL! And young enough (almost) to be my son.

    Of course if A-Rod is after Madonna for real... Oops. Strayed off-topic. Sorry.

    And the carrot cake is wiped out, the plate licked clean! Great job, guys.

    Lunch is Roadhouse Grilled chicken sandwiches, laced with ranch dressing, fresh lettuce and a hint of a secret spice. Great fare, and if you're doing Atkins or low-carb, just eat it without the homemade bread wrap.

    And what???? Mary brought broccoli and cheddar soup? Thanks, girlfriend! Awesome.

    Dessert is later. Healthy food first. Well, nothing in Gloria Jean's repertoire of icy, frothy goodness is healthy but I can't wear a bikini anyway, so who cares?

    And Missy, the carrot cake is real. Stop by. New recipe. Needed to try it out.



  21. G'day, ladies, I was asked by a very special woman to stop by and make sure all needs were attended to.

    I see the food's arrived and Gloria Jean mentioned she sent, ah, yes, I see it now, a full afternoon service for all visitors.

    I'm here to serve, ladies, and you gents, too, a nice bunch of blokes, aren't you now? Use me to help create the perfect coffee ambiance, I'm at your beck and call.

    Captain Jack

  22. Patty, I hesitated to even use the word "branding" for that very reason! LOL Because it is so intimidating. So just ignore it and think about what you love to write about. :)

    Pam, isn't romance wonderful? I don't think I'll ever write anything else.

    Ruthy, I'm so jealous! I'm left to partake of virtual food (and some real dark chocolate M&M's, I admit) while you get REAL carrot cake!! Why do you have to live so far away??

    Uh, Capn' Jack, I could use a little afternoon pick-me-up. How about a skinny latte with sugar-free hazelnut? And maybe a neck rub?

  23. Aye, darlin' Missy, your accent alone makes me tremble... And waiting on you, the blog princess of the day, puts my heart aflutter.

    But that accent. So deep South...

    Reminds me of a New Orleans miss I once knew...



    Yes, one cinnamon-laced skinny on its way to the lovely lady and that's no-calorie whipped topping beneath the sprinkling. And the neck rub?

    Glad to, me darlin'. Take a seat for just a moment, let me check this next visitor.

  24. Missy, I think it's good that branding is coming up in front of me every so often--it's making me think about it without the rush or feeling like I need to come up with something. It helps me think about what I really love writing and what I WANT to write. But worry about it right now? Nope. Don't need to. *grin*

  25. Patty, me darlin', perhaps a raspberry/mocha/vanilla chip frosty would help reveal your inner 'brand' of writing wisdom, hmm?

    And a pirate ditty, mayhap?


  26. Oh wow, first we had Orlando Bloom serving us lattes and now it's Captain Jack Sparrow. 'Fess up--who's the Seeker with these kinds of contacts???

    Thought-provoking post, Missy. I can honestly say I love ALL my characters and their stories. In fact, sometimes long after I've "finished" a ms. (and I ALWAYS use the term finished loosely), I find myself thinking, "Hey, I wonder what Character X would do in this situation."

    As for themes, I continually return to forgiveness, reconciliation, and self-esteem issues--stuff I've personally dealt with often over the years. And just the other day as I was writing a scene, what came out of the character's mouth was exactly the spiritual truth I needed to be reminded of just then. It jerked me out of the story like a brick to the side of the head.

    Oh, Cap'n Jack, could you bring me a blackberry iced tea, pretty-please?

  27. The fun comes when I forget about all the things I'm supposed to do to make it a good or publishable story--show vs. tell, action, snappy dialogue, plot twists, etc.--and just tell my story.

    Then it's me on a page and I'm enjoying myself. 'Course if I didn't want to be published, I could leave it that way but I do so I eventually have to bring in those other voices and hope I don't lose myself in the process. The trick is finding a way to keep me while incorporating the best advice.

  28. Blackberry iced tea it is, my precious, and perhaps a foot massage? Sea sand can be oh, so useful, you know...


  29. Ah, Patricia, wise and beautiful all at once.

    Have ye any rum, darlin'? I find a good chaser of rum lets me be true to myself in all sorts of situations.

    How about a frosted caramel latte to help find your inner muse?


  30. Myra, isn't it cool when God uses our characters or story to teach us something?

    Myra, I think someone mentioned it already, but I love your new photo!

    Patricia, you're wise to want to just tell your story. That's what the first draft is for. You can let the other voices in during the re-writes. :)


  31. I heard someone say once (writing conference) that basically a writer has the same theme running through all her stories.

    Generally we are working out issues in our subconscience and the page is a stage that allows us to finally get it right.

    I agree with this.

    I tend to write a lot about lost loves and staring over and family.

    I am sure we all can come up with our theme.

  32. Tina, I've found I usually write about opposites attracting (my parents came from two totally different socioeconomic levels and my husband and I are opposites in several ways). I also write about people wanting to be loved and accepted for who they are--a big thing in my life.

    All of it keeps popping up over and over! :)

  33. Hey, Missy! Great post.
    I thought I was a little weird because I LOVE my books so much. I mean, I wrote them. Shouldn't that take the mystery and awe out of them? Somehow, it doesn't. I'm not writing what people told me I should write. I'm not writing what I think is the most saleable genre or setting. I'm writing what I LOVE. I hope it shows. And I hope there's an editor out there who will LOVE it too!

  34. Great post, Missy. And I finally understand this branding thing - I think! What do I bring to my story that no one else can? I've struggled with that, because I was thinking HUGE, philosophically meaningful mumbo-jumbo. You boiled it down to reality for me.

    I wrote 3 historicals that have some similarity to my current work. But I finally hit my stride when I started writing contemporary, set in a small central New England town. Yeah, like where I live. I've always loved stories with great character relationships. Not necessarily romance - a strong friendship story line sings to my soul as much as, maybe even more than romantic love.

    I also find I always put some thread of mystery or suspense into everything I write. And I like real people, just like the people where I live. So no spies, no high-power L.A. dudes, not even a fashion model. I don't know anything about those kind of people, so how could I write about them?

    Most people I know don't have major handicaps or hugely devasting life stories (a la Extreme Makeover Home Edition!) Not that having those issues in your book is bad, I just don't know anything about them so wouldn't be able to write a believable story.

    Finally, according to my counselor, I use humor to cover my true emotions. She could be right. In any case, I put a healthy dose of humor into my writing, just to stave off boredom.

    Thanks again, Missy. I'm afraid to ask Cap'n Jack for anything, because the rum is sounding good (it's been a long hot spell here in MA - Ruthy can attest to that, too :D and my 3-year old son is competing, proficiently, with Mary's Reeves boys - LOL)


  35. Good for you, Melanie! :) I'm sure someone will discover you before you know it. :)

    Tammy, it sounds like you've found your niche, too.

    The thing I'm going to work on when I get some time (ha!) is to update my website so that the theme/photo matches my brand better. Something homey and southern. But that's when I get some time. :)


  36. Tina said: "Generally we are working out issues in our subconscience and the page is a stage that allows us to finally get it right."

    Lucky me - I've got more issue than Carter has liver pills (what does that expression really mean? My mother always uses it & we don't know a Carter, except Jimmy & I don't think that's who they mean) Oops, there's that humor camouflage again.

    Seriously, I agree with you, Tina. Not only can I work out how I feel about issues that are important to me, I can take out my aggressions and rage by naming a character after whoever is bugging me and then kill 'em off. Great therapy!


    P.S. I just noticed how much I look like my mother in my photo. Can't decide if that's good or bad ;D

  37. Okay, I didn't answer the questions so I get to post again! HA!

    What are some common themes in my books? Hmmm. Okay, that's deep. I'll have to think about it. But I've noticed that all my heroines are really young. And I find it impossible to give my hero blond hair. Is that too shallow? Sorry.

    My heroines tend to be cynical and deal with fear issues and a desire to be independent while desperately wanting to be loved. In one book, the heroine tries to force herself into a job she hates because she thinks it's more worthy than what she really wants to do. I did that for many years. Another heroine is really uptight, terrified that she's going to end up just like her mother. And yeah, that's me, too. I never planned that at all. Writing is good therapy.

  38. Melanie,

    No, I wasn't talking about blonde hair or age. LOL!

    It does sound like you're finding your theme, though. The type stories and characters you love to write. (Like you said, it's cheap therapy!) :)


  39. Melanie - no blonde heroes - LOL!

    I'm avoiding redhaired heroines. Not criticizing anyone who has one, it just seems like there's an awful lot of redheads out there. Myself included - but mine's not entirely natural.

    Seems like red is the new blonde :D


  40. I read an article once that gave the statistics for how many heroines had red hair. It was something like 60% I think! And yet redheads only make up a very small percentage of the population. Red is popular for romance heroines.

    I tried to make my last hero a blonde but it just didn't fit. I'm planning to try again with my next one. I'm thinking if I can just picture an actor as my hero, like, say, Heath Ledger, it will stick.

  41. My last heroine had pink hair (from a bad dye job). :)

    And the current one has red hair! LOL

  42. The heroine in my next mss I'm proposing has dark brown hair. At least at this point. I may end up changing it. But that hero will have auburn hair! LOL (He's the brother of the current heroine.)

  43. That's a cool twist, Missy. You don't often see redheaded heros. But I've known so many cute redheaded guys.

  44. Melanie - I pictured Matthew McConaughey. Okay, confession...I was trying to imagine what my son will look like when he grows up and I came up with the fantasy that that is who he'll look like! It's the hair - my son's is curly like Matthew's.

    I don't necessarily like (or dislike) books that tell you what actor the hero looks like, but it sure helps to have one in mind when writing.

  45. Missy,

    This is a great post. I never set out to put myself into my characters or my stories. In fact I tried really hard not to. But after they released, so many of my friends said they saw aspects of me in there.

    So it's strange how it slips in whether we're conscious of it or not.

    Thought-provoking post!



  46. I always fashion my characters (at least my heros for sure) after a celebrity look-wise. I have to have someone in mind when writing because I think it helps me authenticate their movements, etc. I'm a very visual person though. And more of a visual learner than auditory.

    Cap'n Jack's here! Woot! Who really goes there?


    Fun, fun post...and the comments are fun too!

    Seems we have creative pirates ravaging Seekerville today. LOL!

    What fun!


  47. I've always said that if you bore yourself, you're going to bore your readers, too--so love and passion for the genre, the work and the craft are critical. But might I point out that you must sometimes be forced to express tough love? You love your children unconditionally, but that doesn't mean that you don't have to discipline them once in a while.

    Here I'm talking primarily about scenes, passages, even individual phrases. If you really love that passage, it may be one of the first candidates for for revision or trimming. Ask yourself if you love, for instance, a character's snappy response because it's clever and witty, or because it's perfect for the character. When revising, evaluate closely not only the passages that catch your eye because you know they're not up to snuff, but also the passages that arrest you because they are phrased so perfectly. If perfect phrasing suits the rest of the manuscript, exclellent. But if it's only a bit of showing off calling attention to itself, consider a bit of tough love for that slightly misbehaving child.

  48. Bill, that's a great point. Just last week I cut out a bit of dialogue that I loved (and yes, thought it was clever.) :) I had bypassed it through earlier revisions, but I finally gave in and did the snip-snip because it didn't work anymore with all the other revisions I'd done.

    Painful to cut, yes, but it turned out better without it. So I guess I used tough love. :)

    Thanks for your comment!