Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Years ago a literature-loving friend sent me a 5x7 greeting card featuring a drawing by English book illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). If the photo of it posts correctly, you should see a young woman in a loosely flowing gown, long hair cascading down her back, and open books spread out around her. I immediately fell in love with the fittingly named “The Princess Who Understood Magic” and framed it for a spot above my desk.

This 1901 pen and ink illustration represents the wonder books have held for me since childhood—the promise of printed words strung together and pressed between the covers. Words blending with imagination to paint images in my mind and emotions in my heart. The magic of words. Amazing, isn’t it, how mere words printed on a piece of paper can be woven together to make you smile, laugh, cry, or hang on to the edge of your seat? They open doors to worlds and experiences far, far different from your day-to-day life. They can challenge you. Comfort you. Give you courage. Instill hope.

Kinda crazy, isn’t it? Magic.

One of Webster’s definitions of magic is “the art of producing illusions by sleight of hand.” Sleight means dexterity. Skill. So storytelling, if well done, can be magic -- “producing illusions by sleight of words.” That’s the art and craft of wordsmithing.

Take a few minutes and think back to the beloved stories that still linger in your thoughts. What was it that kept you entranced as a kid, a teen, a young adult? What was it about a book that recently made you, as a writer, wistfully say “I wish I’d written that”?

Why do these stories remain vividly in your mind? Was it a setting you could see, hear, smell, taste, touch? The jump-off-the-page atmosphere? Lyrical phrasing? Sparkling dialogue? Subtle humor? Could you relate at a profound level to a character or situation? Did the chemistry between hero and heroine echo through your thoughts days later? Did the suspense grab you by the throat and wouldn’t let go? Was it the page-turning plot? Deep-seated emotion? A life-altering premise?

If you look closely, maybe you’ll perceive a subtle pattern, a common denominator from favorite book to favorite book even though on the surface they may be as different as night is from day. What was the source of the “word magic” in those stories that won’t allow you forget them?

Then think about what you’re writing today. Does it excite you? Capture your imagination? Tug at your heartstrings? Does it daily draw you to your keyboard with anticipation? A sense of deep-down “rightness?” If not, why not? Could it be, perhaps, that your current work in progress is missing one of the integral elements you’ve come to cherish in your years of reading? A basic “something” that you subconsciously search for in every fiction book you pick up? A key element that would enrich not only your time spent on daily creation of the story, but also enrich what the reader will take away from it?

If you still possess those cherished volumes from the past, read again the scenes you recall. How did the author evoke the elements you’ve long remembered? Can you apply that bit of magic to your own WIP? If you’re published, what have readers/reviewers told you what they like most about your stories? Are you playing up those aspects in your next book? If you’re on the unpubbed contest circuit, what specifics have judges praised? Have you followed through with those elements throughout the manuscript, not just confining them to the first chapter that was judged?

If you have a few minutes, please share what bit of “magic” lingers from the books you’ve read – and what you would like to linger in YOUR reader’s heart and mind long after that last page is read and the book is closed!



An ACFW "Genesis" and RWA Faith, Hope & Love "Touched by Love" award winner, GLYNNA KAYE'S first published book DREAMING OF HOME is an October 2009 Steeple Hill Love Inspired release.


Vince said...

Hi Glynna:

What a wonderful topic. Even thinking about the magic is magic.

There’s a saying in philosophy that you cannot walk in the same river twice. The water moves and the river is different at each second. I think books are like that. You can’t read the same book twice. With each reading the book is different. Sometimes two readings of the same book are so different you might ask yourself: “Did I really ever read this book?”

Your book is like sheet music waiting to be played in the reader’s mind. For each reader it will be different. For dreamers it may be magic but for others the wonder may be: ‘what is all the fuss about’?

I think creative people should always remember that the ‘wonders of the written word’ are part author and part reader. We are in a partnership and that in itself is magic.

If you can tap into the universals and make the experience timeless, then you can create magic that extends beyond the human horizon and speaks to those yet unborn.

Thanks for the inspiration.


Jessica said...

OOoh, I like this post. Sometimes I forget about magic in the stories I'm writing, but I think it's important to keep the passion for the plot and characters.
So many stories from my youth...
I can't even name them all and I'm not sure what the common thread would be between Anne of Green Gables and the Outsiders. LOL

Wonderful post Glynna. Thank you!

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Glynna. Thanks for the inspirational post! I can't wait to read Dreaming of Home!!!

All the elements of story are important, but when I truly love a book its because of the characters. Their strengths, weaknesses, how they overcome, their world view--all the details about them that make them hop off the page and into my heart. To create characters that feel that real is my goal as a writer.

Vince, thanks for sharing the excellent point that the writer and reader are in partnership. That is indeed magical. And something I hadn't thought of.

It's drizzly here this morning. I've brought coffee and creamy oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar to warm us up.


Glynna Kaye said...

You're so right, Vince, it's a partnership with the reader. I know what you mean about books being a different experience for readers depending on what the individual reader "brings to the table."

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Jessica! Oooh, I love L.M. Montgomery, too -- but the "Emily of New Moon" series is actually my favorite. Captured my heart more than "Anne." Like Vince says, it all depends on the "magic connection" piece that the reader brings, doesn't it?

When I was writing this post, I lingered (probably way too long) in front of my bookshelves, pulling out my "keepers" and mulling over what they might have in common.

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning back at ya, Janet! I'm with you--a book that's wonderfully plotted "high concept" is empty to me if I don't identify in some way with the characters. They have to be REAL enough that I CARE what happens to them.

Joyce said...

What a great post--wish I had written it! Actually this is a topic I often ponder. At what point does writing transcend the ordinary and become magical? I believe the answer lies between the words, those tiny spaces where you can hear the author's heart beat, her soul sing and when those sounds and words resonate deep inside your own heart and soul and a kinship is formed. It's different I believe for each reader simply by virtue of the fact that we are all different souls. I love it when a string of words placed deftly side by side take my breath away and I put a book down knowing I've been struck by lightning and determined to mine the magic in my own words. The magic is out there. It always is. There must be something else in the air today, I posted a poem by Dickinson that speaks to this. Thanks for this!

Audra Harders said...

Mornin' Glynna! Loved the photo you posted.

Your topic makes me think of books that have been written to death. They are technically perfect, but all the magic has been filtered out through multiple revisions thanks to the structure of composition.

I love free writing a rough draft. My emotions shine through in their roughest, ugliest, most intense form. It's not pretty, but it gets the point across.

Then comes the cutting and shaping and pruning, not to mention the polishing and all of a sudden, the magic is gone.

I'm all for editing and revising. It only makes the book stronger. But careful not to exceed the point of diminishing returns!! Leave the flavor, leave your voice.

Leave the magic!!

Awesome post, Glynna! I'll be thinking about it all day : )

Glynna Kaye said...

Joyce -- beautiful Dickinson poem you posted on your site! There must indeed be "magic" in the air today for us to both be thinking along the same lines. :)

Still being a newbie author, with so much yet to learn (and I'll never learn it all!), I often find myself contemplating "making the connection" to the reader. And to, as Vince has often pointed out, "rewarding" a reader for taking the time to partner with us.

Joyce said...

For me the goal has been NOT to try and reward every reader. Just one. As I write I try to imagine that one person, that one soul who might have a reason for reading my novel and I write to her. It seems to work and it seems to take the pressure off of trying to please everyone--no author ever will. But if I please that one person and the others like her and on down the road then I'm good. So ask yourself, who do you want to read this book I'm writing and why. The trick I think is not to force the magic, not to come at your story with any preconceived ideas of where the magic will materialize. Simply write and if the magic is in you it will most certainly be in your words. Ah, there's the rub. Is it in you first?

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, Glynna, I SOOO needed this blog today -- thank you!! I am actually struggling on my current WIP because the "magic" doesn't seem to be there yet. Uh ... of course, I'm only thirteen pages in, but even so, that wonderful MAGIC is so essential to drive both author and reader through the book with laughter and tears and lots of life lessons.

So I did what you said and revisited some of my favorite classics (i.e. Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Thorn in Her Heart, Mark of the Lion Series, etc.) and discovered that what makes me tick is "chemistry." And I like drama, so I want drama in my relationships (yes, yes, I know ... my poor husband!). Something a little dangerous or deadly simmering under the skin -- whether it be an unlikely romance or a friendship that becomes more or a respect/admiration between two close friends ... I have to have that wealth of emotion ready to burst through.

My problem is that I am writing about two good friends (Sean and Emma)who eventually, mid-book, feel the spark of attraction, but not before. So because I can't utilize my favorite way of building magic (romance), I must do so in friendship instead. After I took your suggestion and revisited some of my favorite books, I saw examples of how that was possible, so thank you for steering me in the right direction.

Okay, back to the keyboard ...


Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Audra! I agree that there's a danger in over-revising, especially if you find yourself writing to the latest contest judge's opinions, then next month revising it to the judge that came after that one. And then the next one after that so that the essence of your story, the sparkle in your "voice," flatline to where there's no life anymore.

I must be an oddball (no comment from you, Ruthy) because I really love the revision stage. When I've finally got the basic story down on paper there's a big sigh of relief. And at that point I rub my hands together in glee and leap back into it to move things around, add layers, and play with the words. That's where I really go deep and bring out the "magic," whereas you're able to do it in the first write. I envy that!

Melanie Dickerson said...

LOVE this post, Glynna!

For me, the "situation" of a book has to be magic, a perfect coming together of characters and story and situation. I'm not sure how to make that happen, but I do like to go back to the stories and books I've loved and figure out exactly what it was that I loved the most about them. If I can capture that same feeling in my story, then it's a winner.

Right now I should be making some magic, but the pull of Seekerville was too strong. Must be magic.

Glynna Kaye said...

Thanks for stopping in, Julie! Drama that keeps the reader turning the pages is so important, and you do it well! Writers are always told to make the reader reluctant to put the book down. To end a chapter so they can't help but peek into the following one to see what happens next.

Now you have me hooked on your next book and it's not even written yet! Can't wait to see how how you "simmer" that friendship!

Glynna Kaye said...

Joyce -- I totally agree that there won't be a "magic" connection with every reader and you can't try to make it that way or you'll just water down the essence of your story and it will connect with NO ONE. Kind of like rewriting and rewriting to every single judge's comments and squashing the story, as Audra mentioned. Too many cooks...

In my early contest years, I remember rewriting to a judge, then entering it in another contest only to have the next judge pick apart the very thing that I'd rewritten to suit the last one. So I learned that unless I got the same comment from several judges and/or unless the judge's comments resonated with me (maybe that very thing had been troubling me about the story and I hadn't previously been able to pinpoint it), I leave it alone.

I'm sure, like me, you all can recall books that your friends oohed and aaahed over and they urged you to read it -- only when you read it, you couldn't see what all the hoopla was and it went to Goodwill rather than your keeper shelf.

I think your idea of picturing a single reader is a great idea, Joyce. I know I pray that my book will be picked up by the person or persons looking for in a book what I'm able to offer.

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Melanie! Some "situations" just sparkle, don't they? Capture our imagination and we just know, before we even crack open the book, that the blurb on the back has promised us something we're looking for. Romance. Fun. Mystery. Suspense. I think as writers it's probably a lifelong learning experience on how to deliver on that promise.

And I think that, as we've been discussing, that "sparkle" element can be different for everyone. One person picks up a book, reads the back and returns it to the shelf. The next person reads the same blurb, it "sparks" somewhere deep inside, and they carry it to the check out counter in anticipation.

JStantonChandler said...

Good morning, Glynna!

First of all, congratulations on your book coming out this fall!

Thank you for this post. I write fantasy and mysteries with a supernatural twist so the "magic" element I could defintely relate to :)

I believe there's magic in all great books regardless of genre. The books that stick with us are the ones that are able to transport us to another world, even if for a moment. We are able to dip into someone else's waters and see, hear, breathe what they are going through.

The book that first did that for me was Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle In Time". Sure, it's got elements of sci-fi and fantasy, both which catch my eye. But what really caught my heart was the realness of the characters, their struggles, their challenges, their emotions. I can identify with all three of the children: Charles Wallace, Meg and Calvin. It depends on the day, the circumstance, the emotion.

Thank you for reminding us that we have to find the magic in the story before our readers can. If it's not drawing us back to write it, what's going to draw our readers back to finish reading it?


Debra E Marvin said...

I'm going way back to Black Beauty. Was it because I was a young girl and some young girls fall in love with horses? Or was it some kind of magic. Magic equaling emotion.

The characters of BB were the horses given human thoughts. The draw came from feeling the words and not just reading them. I still read to be taken away so I'm in that world, only feeling what the characters are feeling, experiencing only what they are experiencing.

I played "Black Beauty" for hours, for days, probably more than one summer. I played in an abandoned barn. What a setting. I still smell it and see every detail. And for an only child, you can bet I had the imagination to do it. I want to feel that magic in what I read now and what I write. Thanks for the reminder that the magic is in me still.

Mary Connealy said...

I just fell in love with a book called Mischief by Jayne Ann Krentz and the key was the characters she created. Great story too, but the hero is nicknamed Cold Blooded Colchester. Notorious for being a dangerous unfeeling man.
The heroine comes to him for help and when he refuses she comes to the conclusion for some wacky reason that he's a man with 'nervous sensibilities' despite his reputation. The hero kind of likes that. He's very tired of being viewed as so cold hearted.

The whole book is the heroine reassuring him, patting him on the arm, offering to do the dangerous work so he won't be overset with nerves.

Meanwhile he's rolling his eyes at her behind her back and using his supposed nervousness constantly as an excuse to not do whatever hair brained thing the heroine comes up with that will endanger her life. And he's also falling in love with this woman who is trying to protect his delicate nature.

It's just hilarious. Of course, in the end all is revealed and he proves himself as cold and dangerous as he is and the heroine loves him anyway. She even convinces him he's not so darned cold blooded.

It's so funny. Absolutely magic.

Pepper Basham said...

Beautiful post, Glynna. Isn't it amazing that we all know what the 'magic' is, but none of us can really explain how it gets just kind of happens, I guess. I'd say it's God's inspiration in the hearts of Christian writers and the talent that flows from His love in us.

Mary and Janet, I agree with you guys. For me, the magic comes directly from the characters. When I remember a book, I might recall a scene from the book, but it's always because of the characters in that scene.
And Mary, I so want to pick up that book you're talking about. Sounds GREAT!

Glynna Kaye said...

Thanks for the congrats, Jen! Exciting times!

"Dip into someone else's waters" -- perfect analogy! For those few hours we step away from our own world and into that of another.

Ah, Madeleine L'engle! How I love her! In fact, "A Wrinkle in Time," "Wind in the Door," etc., were some of the books I pulled off my shelf when I was writing this post. It was REALLY hard to get it written, as I kept lingering with "old friends."

Glynna Kaye said...

Hi Debra! Black Beauty -- another favorite that's on my "keeper shelf" -- in hardback1 I had a paperback abridged version that read over and over when I was in grade school. Wore the poor thing out.

Just talking about these old favorites makes me want to find the time to reread them again!

Glynna Kaye said...

Mornin' Mary! I'll have to see if I can find that book, as I can see a playful element in it that is reflected in the books YOU write!

Glynna Kaye said...

Hi Pepper! That elusive magic! And God gives us all different elements of it. Even among the 15 Seekers, each of us has a special blend of it that's very different from another Seeker.

Glynna Kaye said...

Well, Ye Olde Day Job calls. I'll try to get away noonish and stop in again. Thanks for "talking books" with me this morning! One of my very favorite things to do!

Tina M. Russo said...

Joyce!!! Well put!

It is the characterization for sure for me also. I think about some books as though they were real people, thinking about the characters long after ...and in the best books, years after I read the book.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh yes, characters make or break the story for me. And they create that magic...

I love that magic.

Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield, my first chapter book that made a mark. Great story of raising children in humble beginnings and turning them out strong. Loved it. Still love it.

But Glynna, YES!!! I love revisions. Live for God but love revisions because....

They make the magic for me, so it's interesting to see that's another difference among writers.

My first draft has a skeleton of the magic, but no depth. The magic gets layered in, then cut, then layered again because tiny words, phrases, quirks make all the difference to me.

Green Mansions... Loved it.

So many, too many to name.

What a great, thought-provoking post and VINCE!!!!!!!! You rock, Dude.


Sandra Leesmith said...

HI Glynna, What a treat to get back online and find your post with all the magic you do so well. I have had the privilege of reading some of your work and you do bring magic into those characters. I think about them for days. When you Seekers read Glynna's Dreaming of Home coming out in October, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Right now I'm reading Mary's Montana Rose and had a hard time coming to the lodge to get onto the wifi and check email. I was so into those characters and the magic, that I didn't want to leave.

I'm like the rest of you, the characters are what brings me the magic and the universal truths they have to deal with in exciting and believable life circumstances that we all face. The settings just add sparkles to the magic.

Thanks Glynna for the post.

Glynna Kaye said...

Tina -- You're so right -- the characters in some books we read can almost seem like real people. Even as the author, I'll catch something during final revisions --notice something like "that's NOT how he would say that" and hope my editor lets me squeak in just one more little change!

Glynna Kaye said...

Ruthy! I'm thrilled that I'm not the only one who finds the "magic" not fully appearing until the revision phase. That's when the skeleton fleshes out with muscle and tendon and skin, the blood starts pumping, and the story takes its first REAL breath.

Glynna Kaye said...

Hey, Sandra! Thanks for pulling yourself away from Mary's "Montana Rose" and popping in to say "hi."

Sandra's one of the Seekers who sees the bare bones of my stories, then gets to watch it slowly flesh out. She's a fantastic first reader, too, and give such wonderful, honest, useful feedback.

Edna said...

That is a nice picture but I don't believe in magic, the Bible quotes on it a lot of times that this is very wrong, so is witchcraft etc. But I have to agree that I read books more that once,


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Edna, hooray for stopping by!

And I know what you mean, we always have to be diligent about what we let in... it's easy to be swayed by worldy or otherworldly things.

But I think this 'magic' is just the fanciful feeling of everything being right. The story jiving, the characters weighted perfectly, a good balance all around, everything fitting in the confines of the author's setting. A rarity to have that kind of balance. I love the feeling I get when a book (mine or others)jives that well. Those are the keepers that stay on the shelf.

And being Irish, I DO have leprechauns about the farm, living under hollowed trees, you know.


But they're all Irish Catholics, so we're fine.

Smiling here.


Glynna Kaye said...

Hi Edna! Thanks for stopping in! I totally agree with you that we're to have nothing to do with witchcraft or sorcery. That, naturally, isn't the type of "magic" I'm referring to, so thank you for clarifying it so there won't be any misunderstanding on the part of visitors to Seekerville.

What are some of your favorite "keeper" books that you've read more than once?