Thursday, September 21, 2017

Five "Fun Size" Pre-Writing Starters to Ground Your Story

How thrilling it is as a writer to settle your fingers on the keyboard and type “Chapter One.” But even when filled with the exhilaration of new-story-itis, starting a book-length endeavor can often be intimidating.
Whether you’re a plotter, a seat-of-the-pantser or something in between, it never hurts to launch out on a story journey with a roadmap in hand (or at least in your head). Yes, you might take some detours along the way, but giving serious thought to your destination in advance can pay off in the long run.
I find nailing down 5 core elements before I start writing helps immensely, and I try to approach them as FUN, not something that will strangle my story-telling freedom. In fact, I find working through “fun size” starters actually energizes my storytelling confidence and enhances my writing freedom.

·       Goal, Motivation, Conflict (GMC)

·       Story Concept

·       Story Premise

·       Moral Premise

·       500-Word Synopsis

For me, none of these “fun size” starters are stand-alones. I can start out with any of them and they feed off each other. If I’m trying to decide whether ideas have enough “umph” to carry them from beginning to end, I’ll run them through a few of these “filters” to see how they hold up.

It doesn’t take long to throw a few less promising ones back into the idea ocean—and for one or two of them to catch my imagination as possibilities. Once I’ve decided on the core idea, then I move back and forth among the five elements—playing, building, tweaking—until the idea solidifies into a story I’m excited to tell with an engaging beginning, rock-solid middle, and a satisfying end.
Goal, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC) – We all know how important it is for our protagonists to possess GMC. Lacking even one of them—or having a weak one—seriously sabotages our efforts. Into this GMC bucket, I like to throw giving thought to greatest flaws and fears—and the source of them, the worst that could happen if goals aren’t met, the lie my characters tell themselves, and how they will change by the end of the story. It’s fun, too, to give them a secret!
To get the juices flowing on GMC, I often simultaneously play around with the other 4 elements—and I do mean PLAY. This is a fun way to make the development of GMC somewhat less painful. I’m not one of those gifted writers to whom a full-blown story appears in my mind like a big screen movie and I just transcribe what I see. Coming up with a viable story can often be grueling, so anything I can do to break the struggle into more “fun size” pieces, the better things go.

Story Concept – There are a lot of conflicting definitions regarding concepts and premises, etc., but for my own purposes I personally like to think of the concept as the 1-liner idea that first sparked my imagination. The very high-level story question. For instance, this is where my upcoming April 2018 release, “Mountain Country Courtship,” started:
Can an abandoned-at-the-altar city guy and a small-town runaway bride find the home of their hearts in each other’s arms?
Not a lot of detail there, but it hints at conflict…and romance.
Story Premise – I think of the story premise as more detailed, involving a little GMC and plot. Again, this is not a “textbook” definition of the word – this is just what I do when I’m trying to get a grip on a new story that’s formulating in my mind. This was one of my first shots at it for the same book:
With opposing agendas and a mutual need to prove themselves, an abandoned-at-the-altar city guy and a small-town runaway bride are stuck working together renovating an old bed & breakfast inn as they race to beat the clock to accommodate an all-important wedding that could make or break their future—and their chance at love.
Just added some detail that made me give further thought about GMC and plot.

Moral Premise – I like to think of this as what the core of the story is REALLY about under the surface of the action and dialogue. Knowing this as you write can greatly strengthen the story as you subtly weave it into your scenes.
Wrestling the steering wheel away from God in order to control life’s outcomes leads to directionless confusion and distancing from love. Turning the wheel over to God leads to inner peace and room for love.
This moral premise established for me the characters’ current inward state—and how they need to change.

500 Word Synopsis – 500 words is about one single-spaced page or two double-spaced, so you must stick to the bones of your story. It forces me to pull the other “fun size” pieces AND critical plot points together to reveal if the story holds together for the long haul.
This mini-synopsis quickly spotlights areas that are weak, that haven’t been thoroughly thought through, and that aren’t yet solid enough to carry the story successfully to The End. Discovering those things early on with a 500-word investment (and performing needed triage) is so much better than getting blind-sided halfway through writing the book.
For a seat-of-the pants writer, this short synopsis on the page or in your head may be all you need to get rolling. For a plotter or planster (or a pantser who must submit a full-blown synopsis with a book proposal), it’s a great foundation for writing a longer, more detailed synopsis.
Keep in mind that when I’m playing around with these “fun size” starters I’m not trying to make the elements perfectly written for anyone else’s inspection and critique (although I have at times polished up some of them to use in a proposal or to flesh out my publisher’s art fact sheet questions). For everything but the synopsis, I’m usually sitting somewhere away from the computer with a blank newsprint pad on my lap and letting my pen flow as the ideas come.
For me, spending a little upfront time solidifying the high-level plot and characters—while having a bit of FUN—can make all the difference in the world as to how I approach Chapter One…and journey successfully on to The End.

Please share with us today how much YOU need to know before you start writing in earnest. Do stories come to you full blown and ready to transcribe as the “movie” rolls through your mind? What, if any, pre-planning do you do? How do you get your ideas to “gel” enough to determine if they hold sufficient substance for a book-length story?
If you’d like to be entered in a drawing for a copy of my latest release, “Mountain Country Cowboy,” please mention it in the comments section!

GLYNNA KAYE treasures memories of growing up in small Midwestern towns--and vacations spent with the Texan side of the family. She traces her love of storytelling to the times a houseful of great-aunts and great-uncles gathered with her grandma to share candid, heartwarming, poignant and often humorous tales of their youth and young adulthood. Her Love Inspired books—"Pine Country Cowboy” and “High Country Holiday”--won first and second place, respectively, in the 2015 RWA Faith, Hope & Love Inspirational Reader’s Choice Awards. Just out in May 2017 was ”The Nanny Bargain,” out now is “Mountain Country Cowboy,” and coming in April 2018 will be “Mountain Country Courtship” (the final story in the 6-book Hearts of Hunter Ridge series).
Mountain Country Cowboy. When he’s offered a job at Hunter’s Hideaway, single dad Cash Herrera immediately accepts. It means the former bad boy can start over and gain custody of his son, Joey. Still, small-town folk have long memories—especially Cash’s pretty childhood nemesis. Rio Hunter is now a lovely, courageous woman…and Cash’s new boss. Past betrayal makes them both wary, and Rio’s secret promise will soon take her away from Hunter Ridge. Yet working with Cash and teaching Joey about her beloved horses draw her closer to both. Can she create a loving family with the man who’s claiming her future?


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Touring Holmes County, Ohio -- The Heart of Amish Country

By Debby Giusti

Join me on a research trip to the heart of Amish country! Ohio is home to more Amish than any other state. The majority of its 40,000 plain people -- ranging from the most conservative Swartzentruber to the liberal New Order Amish -- live in picturesque Holmes County. My husband and I toured the area after the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat this summer, and I wanted to share some of what we saw and learned during our trip.

Our hotel.

We stayed in Berlin (pronounced Burr΄- lyn), at the Berlin Grande Hotel and were extremely pleased with the accommodations. Our room was spacious, modern, clean and comfortable. The Berlin Farmstead Restaurant and Bakery conveniently adjoins the hotel property. Like other restaurants in the Der Dutchman chain, the Farmstead offers a delicious assortment of Amish favorites, including homemade noodles, pies and baked goods.

My Ohio grandmother always made her own noddles and served
them with mashed potatoes and  gravy. I couldn't resist ordering
 noddles, mashed potatoes and gravy with turkey
the first night we ate at the Farmstead. Lots of
carbs but so delicious! 

Due to the rising cost of land and the growing population, only 8% of the Amish in Holmes County earn their livelihood by farming. Today, tourism is the leading industry, and the Amish work in many of the stores and restaurants.

Interesting to see an Amish man doing the
grocery shopping!

One of our first stops was Walnut Creek Cheese, that sells cheese but also a wide assortment of groceries. The main market is located in the neighboring town of Walnut Creek, but a smaller branch store was situated near our hotel. Both locations sold locally grown produce and fresh meat and sausages. Many of the dry products were sold in bulk, with spices, rice, flour and such packaged in plastic bags. I especially enjoyed seeing the buggies outside with the horses tied up to the hitching posts.

Flour, rice, cornmeal, tapioca and other dried products
are packaged in plastic bags.

Horses wait patiently as their masters shop.

We visited a number of cheese factories. Heini’s Cheese Chalet provided information on how they make their cheese as well as lots of samples. Other stores of interest were Keim Lumber Company, established in 1911, and Lehman’s that sells everything an Amish home might need from houseware to hardware. Dry goods stores and quilt shops abound in the area as well.

The ladies are wrapping the various brands of cheese for

Lots of yummy samples!

The countryside was dotted with lovely homes and picturesque farms nestled in the rolling hills. Many of the Amish build “case houses” on their property that provide storage and an area to hold gatherings, such as church services or funerals. The more liberal groups have phone booths near their driveways (but never in their homes) with solar panels that charge the batteries for their answering machines.

Such a lovely farm!
A group of neighbors often rent freezer space from a non-Amish person. The freezers are located in a small building close to the main road. The more conservative groups have ice houses on their property that are insulated with twenty-four-inch Styrofoam. Once nearby ponds freeze, the ice is cut into blocks and stored for up to eight months.

Well-insulated ice houses keep ice from December to August.

Thirty to thirty-five families form a church group or district. Within a year, each member hosts one of the services, held every other Sunday. The non-worship Sundays are spent visiting friends and family. To accommodate the congregation, furniture is removed from the home and folding benches are lined up for the women and men to sit on opposite sides of the room. The bishop presides over the three-hour service, followed by a lunch prepared and served by the hosting family.

Purple Martins make their nests in the tall birdhouses. The birds
arrive in April and fly to South America in the winter.
They eat mosquitoes and other bugs so the birdhouses
are frequently seen near Amish homes.
Ada's chick brooding house, behind the birdhouses, was where her family hosted church.

We visited Ada Yoder’s home. She and her eight children cleaned their chicken brooding house for the service her family hosted. She served meat, cheese, peanut butter and bread, pickles, beets and cookies to the congregation.

The bench wagon is filled with folding benches upon which
the Amish sit during their church services.

After the service, the benches are folded and loaded into a bench wagon that's transported to the next family holding church. Ada said a box of cookies are always included so the family has a snack to enjoy as they work on preparing their home.

A rather large schoolhouse near the main road.

Approximately 250 Amish schools are in the county. Parents pay tuition to cover the cost of educating their children through the eighth grade. The schools accept no state funding and are not required to administer state testing. The children receive report cards every six weeks, and the typical school year runs from mid-August to mid-April.

Notice the wedding tent between the barn (L) and the house (R).

Amish couples court for eighteen months. Six to eight weeks prior to their wedding, the bands are announced in church and serve as an invitation to the entire church community. Weddings are held in a neighbor’s home. Often two hundred to six hundred guests attend the wedding, and the cost of feeding the guests can be as high as $5,000.

The sign reads: Welcome to the wedding of Brian and Kathryn. Parking

The wedding took place under the white tent (L).The photo was taken later
in the day, when the bride's friends, wearing light blue dresses, chat under the
blue and white tent.

Two days are needed to prepare for the gathering with an equal number of days for cleanup. Since work is not done on Sunday, weddings are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The ceremony is performed at 8 AM. A meal follows and then the bride opens gifts. The guests leave by 4 PM. Two hours later, singles of courting age arrive for an evening supper and more gift opening.

A typical navy blue bridal dress handmade by
the bride.

The bridal attendants often wear chartreuse dresses.

If you’re planning at trip to Holmes County, consider taking “A Taste of the Backroads” tour. I learned so much from LaVonne as she drove us around the county. She was raised in the area, is friends with the Amish people and understands their way of life. Her tour included a number of stops at Amish homes where we were able to visit with lovely Amish families.

An Amish man and his young daughter.

The men gather at the flea market. The young boys join
the group as well.

One of the highlights of our trip was the Wednesday Flea Market and Cattle Auction held in Walnut Creek. The town was bustling with activity. Horses and buggies lined the streets and filled the parking areas. Amish families chatted with friends as they shopped or attended the nearby cattle auction.

The cattle auction was next to the flea market.

Whether you enjoy reading Amish stories or not, Holmes County is a charming vacation destination…a step back in time and a refreshing pause from the hectic pace of our normal daily lives.

Look-alike dresses handmade by this
Amish mother.
Have you visited any Amish communities? What do you find interesting about their way of life? Are there areas of the country you would like to visit for research?

The horses graze in the nearby pasture while the Amish
families enjoy the flea market and cattle auction.

Undercover Amish, the second book in my Amish Protectors series, releases in ten days. Leave a comment to be entered in two drawings for a copy of Undercover Amish and an additional surprise gift. The coffee's hot. Grab a cup, along with some of the baked goods I ordered from a Berlin bakery and let's chat about the Amish plain folks and their way of life.

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

Undercover Amish
By Debby Giusti

After Hannah Miller’s mother is murdered and her sisters go missing, someone comes after her. Now the only way she can survive is to entrench herself in an Amish community…and rely on Lucas Grant, a former police officer who is planning to join the Amish faith, for protection. But finding refuge for Hannah— disguised as Plain at a secluded inn—pulls Lucas back into his old life. And when Lucas discovers the criminals after them may be the people who killed his partner, the mission to take them down becomes personal. With the assailants closing in, though, can Lucas stop them…and finally put his past behind him to start an Amish life with Hannah?
Order here!!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Accept the Double Dog Dare to Adopt Another…

with guest blogger Dora Hiers aka Tori Kayson

After our beloved golden passed away last year, it didn’t take me long to realize how much I valued canine companionship. Someone to talk to besides my fictional characters and a reason to get my tush out of the chair. Visiting a shelter and loving on some puppies should fix that, right? Ha! Meet Bolder and Que, our adopted rescues. (Stop laughing! :) )

My decision to adopt another writing name surprised me as much as adopting these two hooligans. Why mess with a good thing? After all, with almost a dozen Christian romances already published under my real name, I’d built and established my Heart Racing, God-Gracing Romance brand. But I finally caved to the year-long nudge to venture outside that box, to write clean romance sprinkled with subtle themes of hope, grace, and second chances. A pseudonym would give readers clear expectations, number eight on Mary Connealy’s Top ten reasons you might want to publish under a pseudonym. (Awesome list, Mary!!)

So, Tori Kayson, author of Sweet Romance that Sizzles, was born. Kayson is a combination of my grandkiddos’ names, so it has special significance to me. You might be surprised how difficult choosing a pen name can be. All. Those. Names. To. Choose. From. And then googling combinations to ensure it didn’t compete with an erotica or enormously popular author. (Again, thanks to Mary’s list!!)

Myra invited me to share my experiences writing with a double identity, so here goes…


The Christening

Think the puppy created this mess? Wrong! Sweet and easy-going Que did this, the day after we brought him home. Apparently, separation anxiety is common among shelter dogs. The next two days we crated him, but he worked himself into a frenzy trying to wrangle through those bars. Thankfully, we found a sweet spot for him, hunkered down in our utility room with his bed and plenty of doggy treats.

By the time Tori’s first book released, extended family had forgotten about my second name. You can imagine the horrified reactions when hubby shared this strange female’s social media posts. Rather than let rumors propagate, I publicized my double identity.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The Cost

Since I intended to self-publish with a business name, a CPA advised me to form a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) and file a Doing Business As (DBA). A DBA in my county costs $26 and is a one-time deal, but the LLC drains $200 from my bank account every year. A block of ten ISBN’s will set you back $295 unless you catch a sale. Book covers range from a-dinner-out to go-ahead-and-reserve-the-whole-banquet-room. Scratch these expenses with the traditional publishing route, but you’ll still face…

The Confusion

Did I send the blog post with the links to the right book? Did I upload the book on Amazon with the correct author name? How many books was Dora supposed to publish this year? Wait, did I just write that little spiritual nugget in Tori’s book?

The Commitment

Managing multiple websites, blogs, and social media accounts requires a ginormous chunk of time. Would you want to maintain two websites and a blog…or two? Not me! I combined my author websites and blog into one WordPress account. Check out my one author, two names design here. What do you think?


To run, Que hobbles using both front legs. Bolder takes individual steps with each leg. Writers have similar end goals, but take different routes to get there.

  1. With multiple names, you might need distinct identities on social media. Consider which social media sites will provide the best return for your time and how to use them. Fiction Faith & Foodies covered my needs for both names on both Instagram and blog. For Twitter, one account tweeted writing related links while the other focused on reading and female interests.

  2. Uploading to Smashwords was a head-banger. Conversely, KDP was painless, so that’s my sweet spot. Others rave about BookBaby. Not everyone shares the same experiences. Be willing to try different methods.

  3. The marketing techniques/venues that create such a buzz for one name may fizzle with the other.


The little dude needs to burn off all that puppy energy and the big guy’s trying to shed a few pounds, so a robust walk every morning is a MUST, but that means adjusting my schedule. The same applies for writing with multiple names.

  1. How many books will you write each year? My goal for this year is one per name, but typically it’s four or five books. I depend on an Excel spreadsheet to track word count goals and keep me on target. You may prefer Scrivener or a day planner. Be flexible and allow for the occasional curveball. Puppydom tanked my word count for the first three months.

  2. Early on, I struggled to promote blog posts and books using Hootsuite’s free version. Now IFTTT applets populate my tweets and I hop on Twitter occasionally to respond and retweet. I’m not a fan of Facebook and only update my Author Page once or twice a week. Recently, I’m embracing the “less is more” philosophy and, after reevaluating my social media accounts, combined Twitter and Facebook. Why use two when I can accomplish my objective with one? Which brings me to my next point…

  3. Could I have stuck with my real name and adopted a new, inclusive tagline? I’m open to that possibility, especially now after a few trials and errors. Beefing up the book description and a properly designed book cover would let readers know that, while it’s not Christian fiction, they can still expect a sweet, clean romance that leaves them with a happy sigh at the end.


It took months to potty/yard train the puppy and deal with Que’s separation anxiety. Nowadays life is so much smoother, the days so much sweeter, and I’m finally able to truly enjoy these little darlings. The same goes for double identities. Prepare yourself for the ugly in the beginning, take time to adapt, and brace yourself for the occasional curveballs. Then, embrace your freedom and enjoy the ride!

Take a doughnut and chime in!
If you’ve been on the fence about adopting another name, have I convinced you to accept the double dog dare? What name would you use and what’s the significance?
How do you feel when your favorite author writes in more than one genre? Would you prefer that they use a pseudonym?

About Dora: Dora believes that a person should love what they do or choose to do something else. She’s doing exactly what makes her heart sing, and considers every day a gift. When she takes a break from cranking out heart racing, God-gracing romances, Dora adores reading, chowing down on her hubby’s lip-smacking home-smoked ribs, and sipping coffee on a mountain cabin deck. Life’s too short to be stuck in traffic, to drink bad coffee, or to read books with a sad ending. Dora and her real life hero make their home in North Carolina, but with a world full of amazing places to explore, that’s only a landing point.

Come hang out with Dora on Fiction Faith & Foodies, TwitterFacebook, Pinterest and Instagram. She loves hearing from reader friends at Dora also writes sweet romance that sizzles under the pen name, Tori Kayson.

Giveaway: Dora has graciously offered two giveaways, a Faith plants the seed, Love makes it grow Journal, AND I have always imagined Paradise to be a kind of Library Scarf.
Specify your choice in a comment (limited to US residents, please)

Kissing Santa Nic by Tori Kayson is FREE for Kindle today!
Firefighter Karley “Nic” Nicolas intends to win Merriville's coveted Police vs Firefighter Basketball game this year. Not only because her ex-boyfriend plays for the opposing team, but victory means a huge check for her beloved charity to honor her twin brother. Losing is NOT an option…until the reclusive detective Gray Newnan flashes his rare smile and makes her forget why she’s even on the court.

Detective Gray Newnan isn't ready to dive back into the dating scene. Two years isn't long enough to recover from his ex-wife's abandonment after learning of their son's autism. But after Karley's recent breakup with his coworker, Gray finds it difficult to stay immune to her giving spirit. From that first shove on the basketball court to discovering the true identity of Santa Nic, Gray must reconsider his solitary life or risk losing a second chance at love this Christmas.

Thank YOU so much, Myra, for inviting me back to Seekerville!!