Monday, December 21, 2009

Checking Your List and Checking it Twice!

Missy here. While Santa’s checking his list, I want us to check our lists, too. And as much as I love the excitement of Christmas gifts, I’m not talking about your wish list. I’m talking about our writing.

A couple of years ago, I saw a list of points that a bestselling author had made regarding her stories. This author had listed 10 points that are most important in her work, that she always makes sure to include.

I loved the idea. And in April of 2008, I made my own list of key elements using what I’d learned during and after the publication of my first book and also taking reader feedback into account. I wanted to be sure to include all these things in my stories so that readers would see my name on a book and know what they were buying. I wanted to create a reliable product time after time. (I know it’s hard to think of our babies as a product, but they are!)

Since the new year will be here before we know it (OMGosh, where did 2009 go??!!), I decided to pull that list out and review it. To see if it needs updating. But before doing so, I thought I’d share it with you. And of course, challenge you to create your own!

So first, here’s my list:

Missy Tippens’ 10 points:

  • Clever opening hook that gives great character description.

  • Snappy dialogue without bickering. Subtle humor within dialogue, but balanced with emotional reactions.
  • Internal growth as hero and heroine face their worst fears, yet risk reaching for their greatest desires.

  • Emotional plot points. Yank reader heartstrings.

  • Unique characters who are opposites in some way. Contrast them with quirks and physical attributes/socioeconomic class/personalities/job type.

  • Deep POV.

  • Lots of dialogue and white space.

  • Emotional ending that comes full circle to reflect the opening.

  • Family/small town stories (plenty of secondary characters).

  • Faith element.

Looking back at this, I can’t think of anything I would change right now, although I think I’ll update the faith element point to make it more specific. I hope I’m doing a good job incorporating each and every point into each and every story. I think I need to print this and put it in my notebook for each wip so I can actually check items off as I’m reviewing the complete manuscript.

So now… YOUR TURN! I hope you’ll work on this privately, even if you don’t share with us here in Seekerville. What do you have that’s unique to you that you bring to your stories? What voice/style are you known for? If you’re not sure about this, think about contest feedback and critiques you’ve had. What strengths are mentioned most? Do you make readers laugh? Do you scare them? Do you make them cry or sigh or think or grow? I’m sure the 10 points will be different for different genres—as well as different for each author. But I think it’s a good idea to think these through so you can focus on your strengths and what will make your work stand out.

Though I’m making you work today, at least I’m offering a reward! For those brave souls willing to share (and who leave me contact info), I’ll enter you in a drawing for a copy of my most recent release, A Forever Christmas, as well as a copy of another Steeple Hill Love Inspired book of your choice. (LI, LIH or LIS. I’ll order it and have it shipped to you. The book you choose must be available at the time I order.) And so that I don’t make you work too much, I’m only asking that you post 5 of your 10 points because I know it’s not easy to come up with this list! It may take a while to figure out all 10.

For those not entering the drawing, I’d still love to hear any of your points you’re willing to share! We can all learn from each other.


P.S. If you want to enter the drawing but already have a copy of my books, I’ll send you two LI’s of your choice instead.


Edwina said...

Great topic!!
1. 1st chapter that "reels" the reader in.
2. POV that readers can relate to
3. Protagonist that readers love
4. Antagonist that readers love to hate - but grow to love
5. Every chapter ends w/hook so readers can't put book down!

Pepper Basham said...

Good morning, Missy.
I'm keeping this checklist on my desktop. It's a great reminder.
I love accentuating the positive - thanks for that. I'm usually focusing on the bad comments the judges say
1. Beginning hook
2. Humor
3. Loveable heroine/protagonist
4. Fast pace - it's a reflection of my mental state ;-)

Pepper Basham said...

Btw, who's up for some strawberry-Belgian waffles with whipped cream?
Hot choc - the best kind, with homemade whipped cream, choc syrup, and cherry on top.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, Pep, I'm SO IN on the food, sweet thang!

Yum. Ruthy-kind-of-breakfast! YES!


Hey, Missy, I love these points and you're spot on (in my humble but should be humbler opinion) in your take.

No doubt Mary will correct us both.


1. First chapter that sings 'gotta read more' in one way or another.

2. Smokin' hot hero, maybe a little tortured, but with a sense of humor because men are SO not worth it without a sense of humor
(Kidding, Dave...) :)

3. Heroine who isn't afraid to pull herself up by the bootstraps, regardless of her personality quirks. No wimps allowed. I'd have to smack her and that wouldn't be pretty.

4. A plot with reflective plot points tucked within to mirror what's going on with the protagonists but trying to incorporate Cheryl and Jeff Gerke's advice to not to "sneaky telling". Why is it the things that annoy me in other books, I'm guilty of in my own???

5. Snarky humor or snappy reparte because boring people annoy me too.

I get annoyed a lot it seems.


Hey, coffee bar is set up. Choices galore, flavored (chocolate raspberry, chocolate velvet and pumpkin spice), plain, regular, wonderful 8 o'clock coffee, Columbian grind AND creamers of all kinds.

And blessings to all.

Belinda Peterson said...

Great post. I don't have a list but I think I need one. Here it goes.

1. A plot (does that count?)
2. Setting
3. First paragraph that raises questions.
4. Characters that stay true to character yet grow.
5. Humor.

I'll think of more and add to this list. I'm revising right now so this is a good time to jot notes about what's missing.

Missy Tippens said...

Good morning everyone! Whoa! Edwina gets the prize for showing before 5 am!! :)

Edwina, nice job on your points. I really like #4. It makes me wonder if you do some suspense or you maybe just like to have a character in there to create problems for everyone. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Pepper! Thanks so much for the waffles and hot chocolate. YUM! I love waffles with lots of butter (just call me Paula Deen) and drowned in syrup. :)

Thanks for sharing your points! You're right about using it as a good way to accentuate the positive. If we get some negative feedback, it's a nice way to turn back to focus on what we strive to do best.

I'm still laughing about the fast pace due to your mental state, though. :) Kids will do that to you!

Missy Tippens said...

G'morning, Ruthy! Thanks for the caffeine fix! So 8 O'clock coffee is good? I don't think I've ever tried it.

I love your points! And after reading your manucript (the upcoming Winters End--y'all've gotta buy it!), I see you're right on target for meeting your points! So Ruthy honey, you can check those off your list. [grin]

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Lindi! Yes, a plot counts, cause you sure better have one!! ;) But I suggest you be more specific. What makes a Belinda Peterson book special?

And hey, I can answer that! (She's my cp.) :) Light humor is one (which you listed). A meaty faith message--but we're not konked over the head with it. A touch or suspense or a secret. A heroine we can really sympathize with.

Now I'll be like Mary after she offers advice and just say, "You're welcome!" :)

Ann said...

Like the list. Good stuff to work on.
My list ... sort of ... while the boys are out sledding:

1. Open in middle of action
2. Main characters meet ASAP
3. Search and destroy my pet cliche's, lame words and phrases, and repetitive words and phrases.
4. Show growth in character's faith
5. Seek and destroy anachronisms
6. Cut out "As you know, Bob" dialog where I put info dumps in quotes

8 O'Clock coffee (Columbian) is one of my faves!

Janet Dean said...

Excellent post, Missy! I love check lists and your list of elements to include in your stories is excellent.

My readers expect emotional stories with characters who feel real and a dash of humor so I keep that in mind when revising. Actually I'm sure most readers want the same. Another element I focus on is conflict/tension. I try for strong first chapters and bigger than life happy endings.

Pepper, I love Belgium waffles! What a great way to start my day. Thanks!


Julie Lessman said...

Hey, Missy, FUN topic!! And I had to laugh at your point of "plenty of secondary characters" because I remember when a contest judge gave me a 50% score, primarily because there were too many secondary characers -- she claimed they took away from the hero and heroine's story. Uh, I obviously didn't listen to that judge, which I think is a good thing because I totally agree. Good, solid, fun, quirky subordinate characters build the framework for a great story, one with depth and reality.

And "write on," Edwina, you stole my list, girl, ESPECIALLY point #5, which is an absolute must for me. Having every chapter begin and end with a hook or a bit of drama is so necesary, not only to drive the reader's interest, but mine as well. My list would look something like this:

1. 1st line, 1st paragraph and 1st page that "reels" the reader in.
2. Multiple POVs to round out and support the story.
3. Protagonist that readers love OR begrudgingly admire for a strength (i.e. Scarlett O'Hara).
4. Antagonist that's not too evil, but evil enough that readers can relate via the sin in their own lives.
5. Every chapter begins and ends w/hook so readers can't put book down!


Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning Missy,

What a great list and it so does reflect your style. What I love in your books is the small town element and all the characters. Makes me feel at home and comfy.

Yum, the waffles are terrific and the coffee. Oh my. I also have wonderful pears to share. They are so delicious this time of year.

Gina Logue said...

This post really got me thinking. Thank you.

Here is my list:
1. Opening with action (something unexpected happens)
2. Imperfect characters who are strong, who are more interested in doing something than having internal monologue
3. Quirky and unusual situations that allow readers to experience something new
4. Light and fun atmosphere
5. Happy ending. Always.

Come to think of it, these are the things I look for in a book when I'm reading, too.

Missy Tippens said...

Ann, your kids are so lucky! We rarely get enough snow for them to sled. Maybe once a year. They'd be jealous!

I love your 6th point: "As you know, Bob" dialogue!! LOL Great point. That drives me crazy to read it. I sure hope I seek and destroy it in my own writing. Thank for the reminder to include it!

Enjoy your quiet until the kids come back inside freezing and hollering for hot chocolate. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Hey! I just had a thought. For anyone I've scared off with "homework," I hope you'll stick around and at least tell us whether or not you've finished your Christmas shopping. Anyone got last minute panick shopping to do like me??

Missy Tippens said...

Janet, thanks for stopping by! Do you have a bunch of family there yet?

You know, one thing you can add to your list is characters that come alive on the page. You definitely have that. I try to study it to see what you do that makes me hear your characters talking in my head after the story is over! :)(And no, Ruthy and Mary, before you say anything smart, I have to add that it doesn't mean Janet's stories drive me insane.) (grin)

Missy Tippens said...

Good morning, Julie! Thanks for your list. I LOVE #3--protags you love or begrudgingly admire. You do that SO well! And I think it's something that can really add depth to a story

Don't make everyone sugary and likable. Making us admire a character at the same time we wonder how on earth he/she can be heroic makes for nice conflict!

Thanks for sharing.

Missy Tippens said...

Thank you, Sandra!

Hey, I love pears! We've been buying them regularly for a couple of months now. they've been excellent this year.

Now, back to sipping my coffee before it gets cold...

Missy Tippens said...

Gina, you have some great points!! A couple that I really liked...

Characters who act, don't just think. I love that! I have to remind myself over and over to make my characters proactive rather than reactive. Even if they make the wrong decisions and march ahead into a blunder, at least they're acting. Also, those bad choices create conflict! :)

I also really like your one about quirky/unusal situations that allow readers to experience something new. That's something I've never really thought of. But I know authors who do it well (I immediately think of Colleen Coble), and I love those books! So thanks for sharing that one. It's giving me something to think about! :)

Erica Vetsch said...

Such a fun topic! I love lists! I have lists of my lists!

Things to be sure to include:

1. Start with a snappy first line.
2. Make sure SOMETHING is happening besides the romance.
3. A bad guy lurking that could foil the h/h plans.
4. Action-packed ending.
5. At least one secret.

Merry Christmas!

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

You have me on my toes this morning Missy. I going for my second cup of coffee and did someone say waffles!
1. opening chapter that rocks!
2. stop myself from being pronoun happy
3. bring on the drama and emotions that go along with it to get a WOW reaction from a reader
4. Make my hero a tiny bit more likeable
5. Double check and make sure there is no head popping going on
6. Make double chocolate chip cookies for a 2nd grade Christmas party, eat many to test them!

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Erica!! So you're a list of lists maker??! I love it. :)

I like your #2. Something happening besides the romance. I've had to watch for that one, too. Although there have also been times I've had to watch out for everything else BUT the romance happening. I guess I need to add both to my checklist! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Great ones, Kerri! And mmmm, I love the one about making double chocolate chip cookies! ;)

You know, I'm not a cookie baker. Give me a cake or pie to bake anyday. But I vowed to be a better mom this Christmas and bought the ingredients to make real, homemade cookies (not the slice and bake kind). :)

I'll have to let you know how it goes if I ever get them baked. Of course, the whole idea is to get the kids invovled, too. So I'll have to pull them away from video games, texting, Facebook and TV to get them to help. Wish me luck! :)

Myra Johnson said...

Super list, Missy! I'm a pantser, so I don't have an actual checklist like this, but these are definitely points I try to keep in mind as I write.

I also really like Erica's point about having something happen besides the romance. In real life, there's ALWAYS something else going on, so without some external conflict going on in the characters' lives, the romance aspect can get kind of redundant.

I'm happy to say my Christmas shopping is done--except for the groceries. I need to figure out how to feed three growing grandsons (2 of which are teenagers, plus their mom & dad) for 5 days.

Missy Tippens said...

Myra, I'm with you on the groceries! I forgot how much kids eat when they're out of school and home all day. Plus, I have a nineteen year old at home as well! I've already made two extra trips back to the grocery this past week. LOL

Missy Tippens said...

I'm going to do some cleaning and try to drag the kids out of bed (yes, it's 11:00!). I'll check back in later. I hope we have some more lists posted! Even if it's a shopping list. :)

Mary Connealy said...

Missy, did I tell you a Christmas fiction table at Parables had YOUR BOOK, MYRA'S 'One Imperfect Christmas' Debby Guisti's book she wrote with Margaret Daily Christmas Peril, and my book all together on one table.

It was so COOL!

Mary Connealy said...

I love your list, Missy.
I think we need to tag it somehow as something we all need to refer to regularly.
My List-things I'd add:

Explode your beginning
Refine your premise-Have each character dealing on some deep level with the same issue.
I think those are in your list just in my own words, so ignore it! :)

Vince said...

Hi Missy:

Great list. I’d love to attend a workshop on this if you would give it. After reading three of your books and looking at this list, I can say that you definitely ‘walk the walk’.

I’m about to do a first revision of my WIP and I will make such a list and check it on every page. This is a resolution for 2010.

Below is my tentative list. Much of it comes from my experience as an advertising copywriter and may differ from what a fiction writer would use.

1. Capture the reader’s interest with the first line to pull the reader into the action.

2. Don’t rely on action alone! Write the first chapter so that it offers the promise of many future rewards for reading within the rest of the book. (This will be like a mini coming attraction of the goodies to follow. For example: the heroine opens a letter, “They want me to go to Monte Carlo to escort Prince James to the New Year’s Ball.”) Learn from advertising: promise, promise, promise. Let the reader know that there’s great stuff to come.

3. Have two to three anticipatory events (AEs) per chapter so the reader will always be looking forward to something happening (or knowledge to be gained) and then reward the reader with frequent resolutions. (“What gets rewarded gets done.” If I want the reader to keep reading: then I must reward the reader for reading. Rewards must come often and not just at the end of the book.)

4. ‘Five-sense’ every page of the copy. Try to involve three senses per page. Writing comes ‘alive’ when the senses are engaged.

5. Color-code the vicarious emotions being felt by the reader on each page. As an author I am creating a ‘reading experience’ and I want my reader to get plenty of emotional vitamins: for example, I want her to experience the feelings of being loved, desired, cherished, wanted, needed, being victorious, being envied, as well as feeling negative emotions, like fear, despair, anger, and jealous. (Experiencing these lows will make the highs feel even higher.)

6. Individualize each page in some way. Write something that only I could have written to make the writing mine.

7. ‘Reward-check’ each page: how many rewards for reading are on this page. Do I have any ‘sparkles’ (poetic expressions), ‘tugs’ (emotional pulls on the heartstrings), ‘new experiences’, ‘interesting facts (factoids), etc.

8. Check the weaving of theme strings: if I am writing a romantic-suspense-inspirational, are these three elements being proportionately woven organically into the story line?

9. Write short paragraphs, short chapters, and short sentences with long sentences woven into the copy every so often. Keep POV as simple as possible. Let experienced writers handle fancy POV changes.

10. Write a ‘stand up and cheer’ HEA first and make the rest of the book deliver on the fantastic ending. (I did this with my WIP). Then double the reader’s HEA emotional pleasure by writing an epilogue. Use every ‘tug’ I can in the epilogue. (I want the reader to order my whole backlist. : ) )

This is just a working list. Of course, I assume I’ll have a high-concept story line and a cast of secondary characters that, while memorable and quirky, always support the main plot and never detract or compete with the hero and heroine for the reader’s attention. Also, the heroine has to be someone I would fall in love with and the hero has to be someone I would enjoy being ‘vicariously’ in his body for the length of time I spend reading the book.

Now, with this list in hand, I have to see if I can ‘walk the walk’ like a real romance author and deliver.

Missy, I loved your post. It made me really stop everything this morning and really think about how to prepare for the revision process.



Missy Tippens said...

No, Mary, I don't think I had anything about premise in my list. I need to add that!

Over the last couple of weeks, I re-read The Moral Premise--reading all my highlighted sections from the previous read-through. It's really helped me keep focus in revising my proposal.

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Vince. Thanks for your great list. I should also add anticipatory events and reader rewards on my checklist! I love your theory and plan to look for those rewards to show up more often in my writing. I've got to remember it's more than just a chapter hook or a big ending. It's something I should spread throughout the manuscript.

Thanks for taking part today!

Tina Pinson said...

thanks Missy,

Your post has given me more to think about.

My points:

1. I'd certainly want to draw my readers, snag em, reel em in and keep them through out.

2. Characters that they can relate to and remember. Love and even hate and learn to love.

3. A story that gives the reader an escape and my characters a place to grow.

4. Deep Pov.

5. Good Dialogue.

I'll work on the others, but that's a start.

Melanie Dickerson said...

The list is a great idea, Missy! I'm not sure what I'd put on my list! I like ultra-romantic settings and scenes, especially the first kiss scene, so I'd be tickled if my readers remembered me for that. I also like to incorporate a God moment in the final scenes, where the characters realize how God has brought them through their circumstances, and how they've changed in the process. Other than that, I want the usual--sparkling dialogue, an exciting first line, hooks at the end of every chapter.

Great food for thought, Missy! Which is the only kind of food I need right now!!!

Sheila Deeth said...

Neat idea, and neat list. Thanks for the idea.

Project Journal said...

Hi all!

I'll be back later to read your post, Missy. Just stopping by quickly to let you all know that we made it (safely, thank goodness) back from Boston yesterday. It took more than 4 hours when it should've taken 2 1/ was crazy! Really dangerous weather out. Our windshield wipers iced over and we couldn't see out the window at all : /

However, the concert was FANTASTIC!!! Lol! Alicia and I were 3 people from the very front of the stage and we were SO close to David! It was amazing : )

I also wanted to let you know that I got my acceptance letter in the mail from Colby-Sawyer and I recieved the Presidential Scholarship. This entails $48,000 four year scholarship. : ) I was very excited, as you can imagine! This pays for about 1/4 of the money every year.

Talk to you all later!!

Pepper Basham said...

Congrats, Hannah. What great news! Praise God
That's a testament to what kind of student you are.

Missy Tippens said...

Great start, Tina! Thanks for taking part.

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Melanie!

My son's girlfriend just sent a package to our family. Guess what's in it...

Two large tins of cookies! One full of sugar cookies. One full of no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies. AND a container of puppy chow! (Do y'all call it that too? Chex cereal in melted chocolate, peanutbutter and powdered sugar.)

Anyway, YUM! We'll be eating well. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Sheila. Thanks for stopping by!

Missy Tippens said...

Congratulations, Hannah!! That's wonderful news!! Woo hoo! I know your mom is thrilled. :) (Moms love those scholarships!)

I just checked out the school website. It's beautiful!

Walt M said...

I have never thought about this. (Also, I'm not sure I should even be entered, as I won last week. However, the temptation of two LIH's, particularly if one of them is Janet's next novel, is too much to leave on the table.)

1) A heroine I can fall in love with as well.
2) A fractured hero.
3) Characters facing death several times.
4) Somebody in the book drawing poltical observations that makes the reader think the same is true today.
5) A sage that challnges the readers' perception of reality.
6) Every chapter with a hook ending, so that the reader has to keep going.
7) Historical detail that can't be second guessed or has the reader actually looking into it.
8) Somebody who's got a lot of one-liners that will maket he reader laugh.

And I'll work on the rest.

Missy Tippens said...

Excellent list, Walt! And you can definitely see a genre difference. I don't want to put my characters at risk of death several times each book! :)

Of course you can be entered again. My contest is totally separate from anyone else's. :)

Cara Lynn James said...

Love your list, Missy! I think mine might be close to yours.

Have a very merry and blessed Christmas and a wonderful trip to see your family.

Missy Tippens said...

Cara, I can't wait to read your book! I don't think I've ever even read one of your manuscripts in a contest. So I'll be anicipating its release!

Project Journal said...

Thanks Pepper and Missy! wouldn't believe how many people I've emailed and they've gone and checked out the website! I wasn't expecting that at! Yes, my mom is so pleased! You're totally've been through this already ; ) And Pepper, I try to be the best student I can even though I disappoint myself sometimes : )

Missy, loved the post!! Very cool! This is one of those insider author things. I definitely see your list in A Forever Christmas. That ending...I am still speechless! Honestly, I was just as nervous as Sarah! Lol! I know that's sounds so stupid, but I was so into the characters that I just felt so nervous, giddy, and then finally peaceful by the end. Woohoo! Everyone should definitely read it! It'll put you in such a Christmas-y mood, if you aren't yet : P I told my friends...if you're going to try and read one book before Xmas, read A Forever Christmas, you WILL NOT be disappointed!

Okay, I'll stop rambling, though I could totally talk to you all day!

Vince said...

Hi Walt:

I like your list. I think I would enjoy your writing. Your numbers: 4, 5, 7, 8 are ways of rewarding the reader for reading.

I really enjoy it when there is a historical fact that I challenge and find out I was wrong. I read one book by Georgette Heyer in which there were crossbows used a couple of hundred years before when I thought they were invented. I check it and Heyer was right. I check about four more facts in that book and Heyer was right on all of them.

I also like a wise man who quotes Confucius or other sages in situations where they are natural to the story line and right for the character. A good quote is a gem you can take away from the book and enjoy using yourself.


Missy Tippens said...

Thank you, Hannah! I'm glad you liked that ending. I loved it myself! Kept putting it (or slightly different versions of it) into each different plot I worked through. :)

I'm still jealous over the concert! How fun would that be? And I bet David has grown up a bit by now. He's about your age, isn't he?? ;)

Walt M said...

Thanks, Vince. Glad you like the list. In my current WIP, my heroine's sage is a Buddhist nun, who is the Mother Superior of a nunnery (and goes by the name of "Mother").

Charity said...

I would love to be entered!! Please enter me. Thanks!!


Project Journal said...

Yes, I definitely DID enjoy the ending! It was so satisfying! Job well done, Missy, job well done! : )

David!!! It was incredible! Sis and I were SO close to him....memories : ) Yes, he's like newly 19 I think. However, if I ever got enough of his attention, I wouldn't live because I my sister would kill me! Lol! She LOVES him, like way past what you and I love him, Missy : ) But, yes, it was so worth it! Some of those mothers, though, down on the floor...lemme tell you! They were mean!!
Talk to you later,