Friday, February 26, 2010

Meaningful Moments: The Rich Landscape of Story

by Ocieanna Fleiss
For me, plotting begins with the mountaintops, the big events that form my story’s structure. But like a young Amy Grant once said, “You have to come down from the mountaintop to the people in the valley below…”

The valleys—the soft spots between crises where I can relish prose and befriend a character. Even though they don’t make me breathe in awe like the jagged peaks, the wildflower-strewn valleys are often the most comfortable sections of a story. I relish sinking my toes into those grassy pages budding with meaningful moments and lush descriptions.

How to make the valleys inviting? Here are some ideas.

Not for Nothing
Non-peak scenes need a purpose too. In the classic, The Scarlet Pimpernel, the heroine Marguerite finally realizes her fervent, eternal love for her husband Percy as they engage in a tense, emotion-ridden confrontation. Not receiving the response she craves, Marguerite flies up the marble staircase, leaving engrossed readers in frantic anticipation. Does Percy love her? Surely he must, but why doesn’t he tell her? Why!
Instead of rushing off to the next plot point, the author gifts us Percy’s reaction. And when, “in the very madness of his love,” strong Percy Blakeney bends down and kisses each step where her “small foot had trodden,” it’s enough to make a romantic heart swoon—even though it’s after the big plot point.
To Do: Find the climax of your book and evaluate the next scene. Is it compelling and memorable? Can it be heightened?

Reveal Her Heart
Remember filling out one of those character charts when you started your novel? Those traits you so painstakingly described may fit perfectly into the lowlands of your story. In one of my works in progress, my character Maggie’s grandmother dies early on. It’s a significant scene, but not one of the “biggies.”
I knew I wanted to create a Christian heroine my readers would admire, but I hadn’t had a chance to paint her in detail. So I decided to use this less-crucial scene to give the reader a better view of her heart. As Maggie sat at her grandmother’s bedside, rather than letting her weep (too obvious), I put a song on her lips. She lifted her voice in praise to the Lord, accepting His will even though it hurt. This extraordinary response helped build a connection between Maggie and the reader.
To Do: Pick a slow scene you’ve been trying to fix. Find a way to reveal one of your protagonist’s traits and thus enhance the scene.
The Fun Stuff
I recently taught a literature class to middle-schoolers. I sent them on a treasure hunt for literary devices. Y’know—similes, irony, foreshadowing, onomatopoeia, personification, repetition, alliteration. They loved it. When done properly (not too much), these little morsels make a book rich and yummy, and the valleys are a good time to sprinkle a few in.

In the early scenes of Only the River Runs Free, author Bodie Thoene first introduces an old prophetess who foretells that a miraculous savior will appear on Christmas Eve and free the village from the grasp of an evil lord. Even though the townspeople know she’s crazy, the idea catches on, and hope circles like the flickering candles of an advent wreath. But Christmas Eve comes and goes, and everyone writes the prophecy off as the yowls of a crazy woman. But the reader knows that a young man has come to town, a man in disguise, a man who has the heritage and ability to change everything.

This is dramatic irony. The audience knows something the characters don’t. And it makes what could be a mundane event—a guy coming to town—into something readers enjoy.
To Do: Try sprinkling in some literary devices. It’s fun, and your critique group will tell you if you’ve overdone it.
Here’s a Web site to spark ideas.
So you can see, the mountains are important, but don’t forget about the valleys. Both are needed for a lusciously landscaped novel.

Ocieanna Fleiss (pronounced oh see anna) welcomes readers into a hope-filled world where courageous characters wrestle life’s obstacles with grace and humor. In Ocieanna’s books, the heart’s desire for love is fulfilled, not only by refreshing love stories, but by true romance with the faithful Savior. Married for eighteen years, she and her husband are raising four energetic kids in a home overflowing with laughter, love, and laundry.
Ocieanna's BLOG

About Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie
Julia Cavanaugh has never left New York City. But in 1890, the young woman must head west to ensure that the orphans under her care are settled into good families. After her final stop in Montana, she plans to head straight back east. But upon arriving in the remote town of Lonesome Prairie, Julia learns to her horror that she is also supposed to be delivered into the hands of an uncouth miner who carries a bill of purchase for his new bride. She turns to a respected circuit preacher to protect her from a forced marriage but with no return fare and few friends, Julias options are bleak. What is Gods plan for her in the middle of the vast Montana prairie?
Buy Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie HERE
What’s Next from Ocieanna?
Look for Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington to release in July! It’s another Summerside Press novel co-written with Tricia Goyer. Set in Seattle in World War II, it’s a story about the brave women who worked in the plants to build the fighter planes that helped win the war.

About the Free Book!
Are you craving a copy of Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie? Well, here’s how you can have one (cuz like I tell my kids, nothing worthwhile comes easy). Leave a comment giving me your greatest, goofiest, or growliest sentence—but it has to have a literary device. It can be any of the ones I listed (repetition, alliteration, personification, onomatopoeia, or one you come up with yourself. But it must be as creative as an elephant with a paintbrush!


  1. Good Morning Ocieanna,

    Its much too early to come up with a growly sentence that includes alliteration, etc. But I did bring plenty of coffee.

    Thank you for joining us here in Seekerville with the lovely mental picture of valleys filled with lush grass to wiggle your toes in. Doesn't that sound inviting on a cold winter day.

  2. Ocieanna,
    Thanks for the post. Wow, I find it so difficult to write those valley-experiences, but your points really make me pause to consider the importance of them...and how I can really work meaning into them all the more.

    I'll try a line from my wip:

    "She stared up at his Greek-god gorgeous smile like a three year old in front of a candy store window - mouth open, eyes wide, and possibly some drool. Was that God laughing or the strangers in the next booth?"

  3. THIS IS an AWESOME POST!! I tell you it is AWESOME. Your telling and explaining of the Scarlett Pimpernell.. and the man kissing the steps that she had ran up.. THAT is showing a story. That is story telling. That is awesome.

  4. Good morning, Ocieanna and welcome to Seekerville.

    You've painted a beautiful picture of our story journey through the novel. Peaks and valleys. Isn't it too easy to fall into the trap of just getting your point across rather than creating the landscape?

    I visited your suggested site on Literary Devices. Great list of elements to include in our work.

    Thanks so much for sharing on this last Friday of February!!

    I'm completely unimaginative today. Coffee and donuts. BUT if you look closely, you'll find creme and jelly filled ones, too : )

    Have a great day everyone!

  5. Wow, Ocieanna, what a unique and important perspective on writing, and quite frankly, one I don't believe we've talked about in Seekerville before, which is a first given the number of blogs on writing that we have done!

    Being a caffeinated drama-queen, I tend to LOVE those mountaintop scenes a little too much and sometimes have to force myself to sprinkle in the valleys so the peak experiences have true impact ... uh, and to give the reader and me a bit of a breather. :)

    And to be honest with you, even though the emotion-packed scenes that I love rev the old pulse, I have discovered that it is in the quiet, reflective valleys of my prose where I shed a tear, heal a wound or connect with God.

    I could not get the link above to take me to your blog, but I did find this exceptional article written by you on Fiction Fix, and it was absolutely WONDERFUL!!

    Fiction Fix

    Thank you for this excellent blog, and one to which I will refer back. Reading this today really whets my appetite to read your and Tricia's novel.

    And before I go, may I ask how you came to collaborate with Tricia (another excellent author, by the way) on Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, Montana?

    Thank you!


  6. I'll share my nursery rhyme I made up when I was a kid.
    Suzy Slew
    Fell in a shoe.
    She couldn't get out.
    She began to sprout,
    And she grew and grew and grew.

    Does that count?

    I love your name, Ocieanna! Very pretty. And your post is a very good reminder!

  7. Ocieanna, welcome!! Thank you so much for your wonderful post! It's a lesson I really needed as I'm having to work on layering right now.

    Thanks also for the link to literary devices. I was just wishing I could find some info as I read your post. :)

    Okay, my break is over. I've got to go work on taxes. Ugh.

  8. Pepper, I love that image of your character! :)

  9. I was talking at a discussion on goodreads the other day about the love finds you in series, and everyone was just raving about your book, and about how good it was!
    I am dieing to read it!
    So.... I'm going to try a sentence I'm not exactly sure it will be what your looking for but here it is!:)

    "The bird ran after the bug and then bug ran after the bird and they ran around in the cow herd"

    I think It creates quiet a visual anyway:)


  10. Wow, Ocianna, a literary device? Seriously? You don't mean like the device we type on right, like a computer.

    How about a simile?

    The trail twisted back and forth, up and down the mountainside like a prairie rattler only meaner.

  11. Hi:

    Ocieanna in Oceana sang “Oh! Susanna”,

    although alliteration was not a consideration,

    the cuckoos Down Under began to wonder

    if a deus ex machina made the sky thunder.


    Wacky is what I do.


    Vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

  12. This is a beautiful post, Ocieanna.

    You really, really made me think about the low points and characterization. (I love light bulb moments that make you grow as a writer!!!)

    Thank you.

    BTW-----Welcome to Seekerville.

    And please tell us the history of your lovely name.

  13. I love the LFY books and would love to read this one! You have a beautiful name, Ocieanna, and I enjoyed this post. I don't know how to be creative as an elephant.....just love to read Christian hope to be entered for this book. Thanks!!!

  14. Wow! I feel so welcomed and loved! Hee hee hee!!!

    You guys ROCK at the literary devices. Greek-god gorgeous. Friday in February (yes I caught it. Ha ha!). Suzy Slew fell in a it! Bird ran after bug. Like a prairie rattler only meaner...FUN! Cuckoos Down Under! GREAT job!

    So, about my name. My given name is plain old Ocie (it was my grandmother's name), but early in our marraige my husband and I were watching Pollyanna and he just started calling me Ocieanna...introduced me that way, etc. Silly man. But I started liking it.

    I edited six of Tricia's novels and two of her non-fiction books. We decided we wanted to write one together and the door opened for Lonesome Prairie and Victory Heights. She's a blast to work with.

    Keep up with those literary devices! And thanks for having me on Seekerville.

  15. Hi Ocieanna,

    I would love to win a copy of your book, Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie Montana. Hopefully you will accept the two Haiku below in order to enter me in your contest.

    A bright crimson rose
    Reaches up towards the sun,
    Then withers and dies.

    Hawk, pondering prey
    High above the golden field
    Swopes down and attacks.

    God bless you.

    Cindy Woolard


  16. Welcome to Seekerville, Ocieanna! I loved your post. Printed it in fact. Great ideas for enriching the valleys in our books. Lush, verdant, what's not to love about these moments when readers can catch their breath and soak in the emotion we build.

    Your book sounds wonderful! I've been hearing about this series on Goodreads.


  17. I enjoyed the post, but as I've already been lucky once this week (to be metioned in the Saturday post I guess), I'll leave the prize to someone else.