The temperature in Georgia is in the 90s, which makes me long to dive into the cool waters of the local swimming pool. But that’s not the immersion I’m talking about today. Instead, this post focuses on the various techniques authors use to get “into” their stories.
Let’s begin at the beginning…
My story building process is fairly simple.
I spend quite a few days, if not weeks, brainstorming before I write the first three chapters and synopsis—that’s the proposal I submit to my editor for her approval. The story opens with an inciting incident and “The Meet,” when the hero and heroine come face-to-face on the page for the first time. In those initial three chapters, I hint at the conflict—both internal and external—as well as the hero and heroine’s goals and motivation. The beginning reflects the tone of the story and serves as a hook to draw the reader into the adventure.
After completing the first three chapters, I grab my AlphaSmart and write the rest of the story as a rough draft. Once that framework is in place, I rewrite and revise.
|Working with my AlphaSmart is part of my story building technique.|
I recently emailed the completed manuscript for the first book in my new AMISH PROTECTORS series to my editor. For the two-weeks prior to submission, I spent long hours, usually from pre-dawn to midnight or later, at my computer. Yes, I took time to pray, cook, shower, attend church, and wash a few loads of laundry, but that was the extent of the outside activities or domestic chores I tackled. The rest of the time was spent totally immersed in the manuscript.
Looking back on the last few books I’ve written, I realized Total Immersion has become the final step in my writing process. Keeping my complete focus on the characters helps the story come alive and sinks me more deeply into the world I’m creating. Blocking out external distractions enables me to live in a fictional place that takes on a reality of its own. For this book, I became the heroine, a woman on the run who hides out with an Amish widower and his spinster sister.
Since this story is the first in my new suspense trilogy, I used other forms of immersion early in the writing process to better understand the Amish. Some of you may recall the blog I wrote on my trip to Ethridge, Tennessee. The small rural community is home to a sect of Old Order Amish that plays a part in this story. Seeing their homes, workshops, buggies and schoolhouses firsthand helped me transition—at least mentally—from my ordinary life to the Amish world.
In years past, I lived near the Amish in Pennsylvania and Ohio and draw on those experiences as well. I also follow a number of Amish blogs, read articles and news reports on various aspects of Amish life and even correspond with one lovely Amish lady who invited me into her home during my visit to Ethridge. YouTube videos on the Amish and television programs, such as the PBS American Experience: The Amish, provide excellent visuals that also add authenticity.
Bottom line, total immersion puts an immediacy and edge to my writing. At the end of my two week marathons, I’m exhausted but happy. I usually have a bit of carpal tunnel and an aching back and derriere from too much time sitting at my computer, but seeing the final draft of a new story makes the push to completion worth the effort.
|An Amish schoolhouse in Ethridge, Tennessee.|
I’m always eager to learn new tips so I asked other authors how they become immersed in their stories and received the following responses.
Janet Dean, author of "A Daddy for Christmas" in Home for Christmas, writes:
“For me, the most important thing I can do to immerse myself in the story is research. Once I have a feel for the times I set the story in, the characters’ occupations and the events that shaped them, I am able to put myself in their shoes and write their stories.”
Keli Gwyn, author of Make-Believe Beau, provided the following:
“I write historical romances set in California’s Gold Country where I live. To prepare to dive into my story world, I take advantage of my location in two ways. I go to our local library, where a file cabinet holds microfilm versions of our local newspaper (the state’s oldest, dating back to the 1850s). I pop the reel containing the year my work-in-progress takes place onto the vintage microfilm reader—which I know how to operate because I lived in the heyday of microfilm—and scroll through several issues of the paper. Seeing the actual advertisements and articles my characters would have read helps put me in their world.”
Keli continues, “Another way I travel to the past is to walk there. To do that, I head to our historic downtown area on foot. Many of the buildings date back to the Gold Rush Era. Two of the businesses do, as well. Placerville News has been around since the 1850s, as has Placerville Hardware (the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi and the second oldest business in the state). Both have the old, uneven wooden floors and some display cabinets that are original. Just being inside those stores makes the years fall away. I can imagine my characters standing there by my side.”
Cate Nolan, author of Christmas in Hiding, shares the following:
“Music does it for me. For every book I write, I create a playlist as I am getting to know the characters. The length and number of songs vary, but for every book there ends up being one song that just absolutely puts me in the story. For Christmas in Hiding, it was "How Great Thou Art." For the book I'm currently writing, a song from the TV show Nashville - "I Know How to Love You Now" totally captures the reunion romance. For another one that I'm revising, it's Hillsong United's "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)". Yesterday we were watching the Olympics, but I needed to get some writing done. I put my headphones in, put on Oceans, and I was instantly in my story world. It sometimes takes a while to find the right song for the story, but once I do, it's magic.”
Glynna Kaye, author of The Pastor’s Christmas Courtship, says:
“I sit down at my desk, open the document, and put my hands on the keyboard—and pray! Sometimes I’ll read portions of what I wrote the previous day or incorporate redlining I did the night before. I do, however, have a brief pre-writing task—something I learned from a workshop led by mystery author Sue Grafton many years ago. I take 5-10 minutes to journal in a Word Doc the challenges of the next scene, brainstorm solutions, .etc. Record prayers for my writing. That usually shakes any ‘block’ loose so I can get down to business.”
Jill Weatherholt, author of Second Chance Romance, shares this:
“One way that I truly get immersed in my story is by taking my Neo Alphasmart out on the back patio and spending time with my hummies.”
|The setting is important to Jill Weatherholt when she writes.|
Look who often stops by while she's working.
Missy Tippens, author of The Doctor’s Second Chance, writes:
“I used to use scents or particular music to immerse myself. But most recently, I answer the questions about my characters using James Scott Bell's software, Knockout Novel, based on his book Plot & Structure. It really helps me learn more about the characters, which throws me into their story on a deeper level.”
Patricia Johns, author of The Lawman’s Surprise Family , says:
“I keep myself immersed in a story by blocking out all other stories. I don't read romance or chick lit while I'm writing, because it's too close my own genre. I'll read something completely different, and that helps me to keep my story ‘pure’ in my head.
“This might seem a little odd, but I also make a practice of thinking of my next chapter before I go to sleep at night. It helps to get the gears moving in the right direction, and maybe I even mull it over while I sleep! Anyway, it works, and I'm able to get writing first thing the next morning.”
Leann Harris, author of The Cowboy Meets His Match, adds the following:
“I did a police academy. The best thing about it was the relationships I developed with the cops who ran the academy. Afterward, I was able to ask them questions and float situations by them.”
Pam Hillman, author of “Love is a Puzzle,” in The California Gold Rush Romance Collection, provided the following information:
“I use photos of the hero and heroine in the Document Notes in Scrivener. Not the POV character, but the one that he/she can see. Occasionally, I’ll add a different character, or the location, or a ship, boat, pathway that sets the mood. And, I use an app called Relax Melodies, especially if it’s raining, or storming.
“I can see the pictures as I write, and I play the music as well. Mostly nature sounds. Wind blowing. Rain. Birds chirping. Thunderstorms. I crank it up for hurricane-like weather, and it really helps set the mood. I might listen to quiet ‘elevator’ music if there are distractions in the house while I’m writing and if there’s no specific sound in the scene I’m working on. I don’t always listen to music, but if I’m having trouble getting into the scene, I’ll see if that helps. But I always listen to the rain/wind/thunder clips when writing storms. With Relax Melodies, you can layer your sounds. So I can add birds chirping and soft wind and chimes, etc.”
| Here's a screenshot of the opening of Pam Hillman's |
"Love Is a Puzzle" and a pic of her hero, Nick.
Tina Radcliffe, author of Safe in the Fireman’s Arms, has a unique approach to story immersion:
“Since I work on multiple projects at once, I use sensory emotional triggers to switch back and forth. So for example when I work on a rom-com, I click a link that takes me to the movie ‘Failure to Launch.’ My funny trigger. When I have to move to something romantic, I watch PeriodDrama Kisses."
Tina continues, “I always assign either a movie or a television show to each book I write. I watch it over and over to stay in the book when writing. For Stranded with the Rancher it was ‘Doc Hollywood.’ I'm working on a rom-suspense now and I'm deep into season four of ‘Criminal Minds.’”
How do you immerse yourself in your stories? Share a tip or technique or comment to be entered in the drawing for a pre-release copy of PLAIN TRUTH and a surprise gift.
To celebrate my September release, PLAIN TRUTH and my new trilogy, I’m serving a typical Amish breakfast. I hope you’re hungry! Grab a plate and help yourself to the ham and sausage, biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, cornmeal mush, cereal, fruit and juice. Since I live in the South, I’ve also included grits. The coffee’s hot. So is the tea. Enjoy!
Happy writing! Happy reading!
Wishing you abundant blessings,
By Debby Giusti
AMISH COUNTRY SECRETS
When widowed doctor Ella Jacobsen is attacked and left for dead in her children’s clinic, the peace she’s found in Georgia’s Amish country is shattered. Someone is after something in her clinic and wants her out of the way...but what are they looking for? Ella knows only that her life is in the hands of army special agent Zach Swain. Zach can’t resist the vulnerable but headstrong Ella, who stares down danger to care for the people she loves. With one look, the loner soldier goes from investigator to protector. To save Ella, he must uncover the secrets that swirl around the idyllic community. And he needs to do it fast, because Ella is running out of time.