2017 – A New Year, A New Word

I just re-read my entry for last January 2016 about my “Word for the Year.” And I’ll tell you the truth … I had tears in my eyes while reading it. I was excited about the “possibilities” of what lay ahead in the new year, and wow – did God deliver!

(Check out this post here about all the things that happened throughout 2016.)

Since last year’s word proved to be so prophetic, I was excited about what God might give me for this year’s word. He actually started laying it on my heart before Christmas, and I feel even more confident about this word as 2017 has begun.

This year’s word is: Balance.

There are so many things going on in my life right now. Work. Writing. Friends and family. Church. And the everyday things. Like laundry and housework. Cooking. Exercising. Just life in general.

And it all feels very overwhelming.

I focused a great deal on my writing in 2016, which was good and right and necessary. But in doing that, so many other areas of life kind of fell by the wayside. And now I’m having to pick up those pieces and try to put things back into some semblance of order.

I don’t function well in chaos. My type A, high C personality craves order, organization, systems, and a methodical pace of life. I want to make plans and keep plans. I love to make lists and actually check things off of it! I need down-time to think and just relax and BE.

This year, I’m striving to find that place of balance – where all the wonderful and necessary pieces of my life can find a way to co-exist. And not drive me crazy in the process!

I know what has brought me to this place, and while it’s not all bad, there are things I can do to improve my situation. Things I can do to help create that sense of balance in my life.

Last year, I had a Scripture to go with my word – Matthew 19:26.

This year, I’m reminded of the passage in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, the famous “Seasons” passage. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” It goes on to list a myriad of things we experience in life. And each one of them is needed. Each one must have its place in order for us to live full, abundant, fulfilled, and healthy lives.

So there it is – my new word for a new year. Balance. I’m putting it out there, and I hope to have some good news to report on this time next year.

Have you ever had a “word” for the year? Or maybe even just some goals or the dreaded “New Year’s resolutions”? Have they worked out in the past? If not, what are you doing differently this year to make that happen?

Please share in the comments. And if you have any tips or advice for finding balance in your life, I’d love to hear that, too!

 

2016 in Review

Well, this has been an amazing year, to say the least. If you’ve been following this blog this year, then you’ve heard about some of the things I’ve been up to, and more importantly, what God has been doing in my life this past year. I’m sure I’ll more to say about that later, but for now, I’d just like to take a moment and list all the wonderful things that have happened in the last 365 days.

Here’s a quick run-down of 2016:

  1. January – went to a writers conference in Greenville, SC, hosted by one of my favorite authors, Lynette Eason. Met some really wonderful people and had an extremely encouraging critique from another of my favorite authors, DiAnn Mills, and a very insightful mentoring appointment with Lynette. Got some really great advice from a number of the other author instructors while there as well. Felt renewed to continue pursuing my writing.
  2. February – made my self-imposed deadline of doing the “final” edits on my manuscript so that I could send it to a publisher who had requested to read it.
  3. March – entered the ACFW Genesis contest for unpublished writers, hoping to get some good feedback on my first 15 pages.
  4. March – also this month, I taught a day-long workshop on social media for my critique group.
  5. April & May – geared up for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference by creating all of the materials needed for pitching my work to editors and agents.
  6. May – a couple of weeks before the conference, I found out that I had made it to the semi-finals of that Genesis contest! This was so unexpected and exciting! That meant I was in the top 7 of my category. Wow!
  7. May – I went to the BRMCWC and had a wonderful time. Made lots of new friends and had great pitch appointments with a couple of agents and editors. I walked away with so much knowledge and even some requests to submit my work!
  8. June – Began outlining Book 2!
  9. June – After the conference, while I was working on getting my proposal together to send to the editors/agents who had requested it, I got another phone call … I had made it to the final round of the Genesis contest! This meant I was now in the top 3! The winners would be announced at the Awards Gala during the ACFW national conference in Nashville in August. And so, I made plans to attend.
  10. July – The publisher I had submitted to back in March actually offered me a contract. After a lot of prayer, I ultimately decided this was not an opportunity that God wanted me to pursue. But I was very excited to have received the offer. It reminded me that God has a plan for my writing.
  11. August – the ACFW conference in Nashville was amazing. Again, I made lots of new friends and had great appointments with more editors and agents. I didn’t win the Genesis contest in my category, but not to worry. Even being a finalist was more than I’d dreamed, and something very important happened during the Gala…
  12. September – I submitted my proposals to the editors and agents who had requested it, and then I waited … and began the actual writing of Book 2!
  13. October – I began the Citizens Police Academy with my local sheriff’s department. The 6-week program which took me through every aspect of how the department functioned, including real-life experiences of shooting my first shotgun and AR-15, plus a ride-along with a deputy (a female officer – which goes right along with my main character!). It was a wonderful experience that was important and necessary research for my writing, especially for Book 2.
  14. October – I received an offer of a contract from one of the agents I had submitted to! I prayed and felt God leading me to sign, so I did. I now have an agent! Just one step closer to publication!
  15. November/December – these months have been filled with the holidays, but I’ve managed to get in some writing here and there. I’m about halfway through Book 2 now!

What a whirlwind this year has been! Thank you for reading and for supporting me this year. I am looking forward to walking through more writing adventures with you in the year to come. Let’s journey together!

 

A New Season

Ah… Fall. My favorite time of year! I love the colors of the leaves, the crispness in the air! It’s the time to take long walks down leaf-strewn country roads. The time to wander through a corn maze or go to a Fall Festival. The time for apple cider and hot chocolate and all things “pumpkin spice.”

It’s the beginning of a new season. The heat of the summer is past, and as we look forward to cooler weather, we put away our tank tops, shorts, and sandals. I’m ready to break out my jackets, sweaters, and cute boots. How about you?

It’s a new season for my writing, as well.

I’m working on Book 2 in my series, and I’m finding that it’s a very different experience the second time around.

When I started working on Book 1, no one knew about it. Just me and the Lord. It was our little secret. I could work at my own pace. I could make mistakes. I could start, stop, and then start again. I had the freedom to create this little world of my imagination however I wanted.

After a little while, I let a few people in on my secret – those I trusted with my little dream. I even let a few of them read my work! It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

As time went on, more people entered my writing world, as I joined a writers group, then a critique group. I met more writers at conferences and made new friends.

But for the most part, my writing world was still “quiet.”

As I begin work on Book 2, it’s so very different. My writing world is crowded. There are more people involved. More who know about my little dream. More who ask me, “How’s it going?”

I’m trying to get published. Which means going to conferences, meeting agents and editors. Sending proposals. And waiting. Lots of waiting.

But there is still much to do during the waiting periods. I have social media to worry about. Did I tweet today? What should I share on Facebook? I need to update my blog. What will I write about? Am I “engaging” my audience? Am I building my “brand” and “platform”?

For, you see, that is what agents, editors, and publishing houses look at. It’s what they expect me to do – to market myself and my writing. But also, to write. All while holding down a day job. And cooking. And doing the laundry. And oh yeah, trying to have a life somewhere in between.

And I’m finding that it’s just much “louder” this time around. I’m not sitting in my writing room, just me and the Lord, playing with words, creating characters and worlds from my imagination.

There are expectations, people to please, audiences to find, pressures to excel.

And while all of this can be a good thing, it does a number on one’s creativity.

I’m finding that I must try even harder to shut out the “noise.” I have to be mindful to close myself off to the outside world and immerse myself into the writing world. Consciously. Forcefully, even.

The desire to write is still there. Maybe even more so, since I am re-visiting characters I have come to love. Like visiting with old friends. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.

It’s still fun. It’s still thrilling and terrifying. But it’s just different. A new season. But just as I look forward to sweater weather and bonfires, I can look forward to this new season – with all its possibilities and unexplored paths and new discoveries that are just waiting for me. And soon the new will become as familiar and comfortable as my favorite pair of boots!

What about you? What is YOUR favorite thing about Fall? What have you discovered through the different “seasons” of life? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

ACFW Conference Day 1

Hello all! As promised, this begins the run-down of my time at the ACFW Conference in Nashville, TN.

I’ll try not to bore you with ALL the details, because a LOT happened. But I will give you the highlights.

I met up with my friends from our local ACFW Chapter early on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 24, and we headed out. My friend Ane, who was driving, and my critique group leader, Ruth, and I. We stopped a couple of hours away and picked up another member, Cindy.

The day was lovely, even though it had started out with rain. But as we drove, the skies cleared up. We stopped for lunch just outside of Chattanooga in a little town called Monteagle. And we had a great time in fellowship together and talking about writing on the way. I felt like the conference had already started as I was already learning so much!

We arrived in Nashville a little after 3pm Eastern time. Nashville is on Central time, so it was 2pm there. That was a little weird to get used to.

The conference was at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville. It was a beautiful building inside and out. My room was very nice!

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I didn’t have the best view as I looked down onto the building across the street, which I later learned was the Music City Center.

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After little sleep the night before, and a 6-hour trip, I was tired. So I took a quick nap before meeting up with Ruth and Cindy for supper in the hotel restaurant. It was nice, and we sat near the window, where we looked out on a beautiful old church building and could watch people passing by on the street.

The conference didn’t officially start until the next day, so we had the evening off. We walked around the hotel, getting familiar with the surroundings, and visited the conference registration table to get registered.

We got cool nametags to hang around our necks. Each person had a unique set of ribbons. Mine had brown for the “First Time Attendees,” a peach colored one for our “zone” – which is the Southeast Zone. And I had a light blue one indicating that I was a contest Finalist.

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We also got a nice nice bag to carry our stuff in and an almost 50-page booklet with a map of the conference center, each day’s schedule of meetings and classes (and a description of each class), pictures of the conference staff, ACFW board, and the various editors, agents, and mentors available for appointments. Plus, lots of cool features, like an interview with the keynote speaker, best-selling author Ted Dekker. And a feature on the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the legendary Janette Oke. Yep, THAT’S the kind of company I was in.

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Among the various ads for books and publishing houses, there was a list of this year’s Carol Awards nominees. The Carol Awards are for “recognition for quality fiction published in the previous calendar year.” So many great books were listed there.

And then there was the Genesis Award Finalists. How cool to see my name listed among those! And the First Impressions Winners. That contest takes place in the Fall and is for the first five pages of a manuscript.

There were also pictures of the winners from the 2015 Awards Gala and the list of other nominees for this year: Mentor of the Year, Editor of the Year, and Agent of the Year. And a list of the MANY conference volunteers! It takes a LOT of people to make something this big go so smoothly.

There was even a helpful section called, “Getting the Most from Your Conference Experience.” How thoughtful!

I got settled into my room and had a good night’s sleep, anticipating the next day when the conference would actually get started.

Happy News!

I’m back from the ACFW conference in Nashville, TN. What a whirlwind! I’m not sure if my head has stopped spinning yet. I’ll write more about my experiences there later, but first, I need to let you in on a secret. I couldn’t say anything about it until now.

Back in March, I entered an ACFW contest called “Genesis.” It’s for unpublished writers. I had to send in a brief synopsis and the first 15 pages of my manuscript. There were 10 categories, and my category was Romantic Suspense.

Why enter contests? There are a couple of reasons. One, you get great feedback. Your entry is judged by published authors. The judging is “blind,” meaning, you don’t know who the judges are, and they don’t know who you are. The advantage is that you get honest, unbiased responses to your writing.

Another reason is that if you make it to the latter rounds, you can get judged by editors and agents. This is a great way to get industry feedback. Is your story “marketable”? Would someone be interested enough to publish it?

Plus, being listed as a finalist gets your name out there. You get noticed by those in the industry.

And finally, it’s good practice. It gives you a reason to look at your work objectively and to polish it as best you can. To put in the effort to “put your best foot forward.”

So, I entered, hoping for some good feedback. And then I forgot about it. Went on about my business. Focused on getting ready for the Blue Ridge conference in May.

The week before I went to Blue Ridge, I got a phone call. It was on a Wednesday night. I was settled on the couch, eating supper and watching TV. I didn’t recognize the number but the caller left a message. So I listened. It was a lady from ACFW who was calling to tell me that I had made it past the first round of judging and was now a “semi-finalist!” Wow! I was blown away.

Honestly, I had forgotten about the contest. As I said, I was hoping for some good feedback, and that was pretty much it. I never thought I would be a semi-finalist. In fact, I had to go back to the contest website to understand what being a semi-finalist actually meant.

I was in the top 7 of the entrants in my category! I was instructed not to say anything on social media since the judging was “blind,” as I explained earlier. But I did call and text a few close friends, and my mom, of course. J

Our entries now went on to the next round of judges. If we made it past that round, they would let us know before June 15th, when they would announce the 3 finalists on their website. That was about 6 weeks away.

I put it out of my mind, concentrated on the Blue Ridge conference, went, and had a great time. But as June 15th got closer, my mind drifted back to the contest. I was sure I wouldn’t go any farther. After all, I was up against 6 other authors who had risen above the hundreds who had entered the contest. It was probably some strange fluke that I had even made it that far.

On June 14th, I hadn’t heard anything yet. So, I didn’t make it. No worries. I mean, I never even thought I would make it to the semi-finals. Even that was totally cool and unexpected. I left work that evening and went home, taught piano like usual, and then settled down in front of the TV to eat supper.

And then the phone rang.

With a shaking hand, I answered. The sweet voice of my coordinator came on to tell me that I was a finalist! Top 3 in my category! She instructed me that I would receive an email that night with my feedback from the first 2 rounds of judging, and that I would have 48 hours to make any changes to my entry and send it back to them.

I couldn’t believe it. I actually wished I hadn’t answered the phone so she would’ve left a message so that I could play it back again and again to make sure it was real. And that I really had heard her right.

I got my feedback, went through it, and decided what changes I needed to make. I updated my entry and sent it back in.

After that, there was nothing left to do. This round would go to 3 judges who were editors and/or agents. I wouldn’t hear anything else until they announced the winners at the Awards Gala during the conference in August.

This blog post is already getting so long, so I’m going to continue the story later as I recap each day of the conference. Tune in soon to hear the rest of the story!

Happy Blog-iversary!

I just realized that this month marks 3 years that I’ve been doing this blog. Wow! How did that happen?

Time certainly marches on, and day by day, week by week, the years roll on. And here we are, 3 years into this whole “blogging” thing, and I still have much to learn.

I started this blog because of reading the book, “The Circle Maker,” by Mark Batterson. In it, Mark explains how he had a “circle” of people praying for him as he wrote his first book. And it inspired me to create my own circle of friends and family to hold me up in prayer as I wrote my first book.

The blog became a way for me to communicate with you all as I progressed through the process. And then something incredible happened.

I gained a little confidence. I got serious. I read books about the “craft” of writing. I took an outlining class. I spent nights and weekends holed up in my writing room, pounding away at the keyboard until I had finished the first draft. A whole completed novel! I really did it! And you prayed me through it!

Then, I joined a writers group – my local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. I started going to monthly meetings. I talked “shop” with other writers. I learned. And learned. And learned.

I joined a local critique group of 4 other women. I read their chapters and gave feedback. I shared my chapters and got feedback. And I got better.

And I kept writing. I wrote and edited and re-wrote and proofread and re-wrote again. I polished (and in some cases, wrestled) that little story into something else – a “manuscript” (which is what the publishing world calls it).

I began to see myself as a “real writer.” And then I did something truly scary – I attempted to get published.

I entered contests, sharing my writing with faceless, nameless “judges” who held my little dream in their hands. I went to writing conferences, meeting more writers and making new friends. I learned about “pitching” and what “one sheets” are. I sat down across from Agents and Editors and pretended to know what I was doing as I told them about my manuscript.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be attending the ACFW’s annual conference. This year, it’s being held in Nashville, TN. It’s my first time attending this large, national conference. I’ll write more about the conference later, but it’s hard to believe the path I’ve traveled in just 3 years. Going from a total newbie who knew next to nothing about writing to sort of feeling like I’m starting to get a handle on what it is to be a writer.

Most importantly, what I’ve learned in that time is that being a writer is truly what God has designed me to be. It is not just what I do, but who I am. And when I write, I feel like the best version of myself.

I’m so thankful for your continued support, encouragement, and prayers. Without them, I wouldn’t be here, still plugging away in 2016. My little “circle” has grown bigger, but it’s still as special to me. Thank you for continuing on this journey with me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share by leaving a comment!

The Elements of Fiction: Character

My last post on the Elements of Fiction dealt with plot, and it was hard to lock that topic down without morphing into this topic – characters. The two go hand-in-hand, just like peanut butter and jelly (I’m not a big fan of peas and carrots).

I said before that the plot IS the story, and without plot, you don’t have a story. Well, without characters, you don’t have a story either. Plot tells what happens, and the characters are the people to whom the plot happens.

I also stated before that the seed for my first novel began with a character. Once I discovered WHO this character was, the answers to the questions I had began to take shape.

A story usually has a “protagonist,” or main character, who wants or needs something and an “antagonist,” or the person or thing which opposes the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. Sounds simple enough. But of course, it’s not really that simple.

The protagonist must be special, someone the reader can immediately relate to, engage with, and root for. He or she must be both strong and fallible, real and flawed but also admirable and heroic.

Some novels may have a cast of characters that collectively represent a protagonist. Think Justice League of America. Or if you’re not a comic book nerd like me, think of the cast of movies such as The Breakfast Club or The Dirty Dozen. Each character has his or her own “story within the story.” Each has a personal demon to fight or circumstance to overcome. But their stories intertwine to form a whole entity that must prevail against a common antagonist.

Most books on writing will tell you, though, that this is hard to accomplish within a novel. Because a reader needs someone to latch on to, your story would be best suited by pulling out one strong protagonist for the reader to follow throughout the journey that is the novel. Otherwise, the reader might feel pulled in too many directions and can’t really focus on one particular character to identify with. They won’t have the same loyalty to a wide cast of characters that they will to one main character.

Now, this idea can shift according to genre. For romance and romantic suspense novels, there should be two main characters – the hero and heroine. Obviously, since the main point of a romance is for two people to fall in love, you must have two main characters who are both striving toward a common goal – to be in love. These novels will still have an antagonist – something that keeps them from reaching their goal. For a romance, it could be a person or persons. Perhaps a rival love interest, an angry ex, or even society that keeps them apart.

For romantic suspense, the antagonist usually takes the form of some kind of danger – a deadly threat to either the hero or heroine or both. Because of the suspense element, the two main characters are usually somehow involved in a criminal investigation, murder mystery, or a threat to the safety of others. Many of these characters have jobs in law enforcement, the military, or other public safety agency.

In the next few posts, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my characters (without revealing too much about the plot of the story!).

What kind of characters do you relate to the most? Are there certain traits that draw you to a character? Name a character who made a strong impression on you (for good or bad). Share in the comments.

My Word for the Year

This past Christmas season, my local chapter of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) had a Christmas party at the home of one of the members. We each brought a dish and a gift that a writer would appreciate, and we played the “White Elephant” (or some people call it “Dirty Santa”) gift exchange game.

It was a great time. But what I remember most about that night was a conversation I had with the hostess. We were placing the food on the table, and I noticed a plaque on her breakfast bar that said, “Hope.” Well, I have a thing with stuff that has my name on it. I have a number of pictures and plaques and pillows around my home that say “Hope.” Even my watch has “Hope” on the face.

Anyway, I jokingly told her that I might have to take that home with me since it had my name on it. She replied that a friend had given her the plaque because “Hope” was her “Word for the Year.” She went on to explain a situation involving the health of her grandchild and how she was clinging to “hope” in God for that situation.

What a wonderful idea. I had heard of people having a “word,” “theme,” or “motto” for their lives. I thought it would be a cool idea to pray for God to give me such a “word.” I tucked that little nugget away for later and went on about my life.

Fast-forward to New Years. On the first Sunday of the year, I was at my local church, and our pastor was starting a new sermon series for the new year: “Small Things, Big Difference.” He was preaching out of Zechariah about how God spoke a Word to Zerubbabel, who was the governor of the small colony of Jews who went back to their homeland to rebuild after their captivity in Babylon. The Lord spoke through the prophet Zechariah to give direction to Zerubbabel (see Zech. 4:6-10).

Our pastor challenged us that the Lord had a Word for us, too, and that He wanted to do something in our life that was only going to happen by the Holy Spirit and not by our own power or might. During the invitation time, he asked us to pray quietly and listen to the Spirit speaking to us.

Now, there have been only a handful of times in my life when I’ve felt the Holy Spirit speak very clearly and distinctively to me. And this was one of those times. And what He said was, “It’s possible.” The verse in Matthew 19:26 came to mind: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” This verse is repeated in Mark 10:27. And then Luke 1:37 has a bit of a different spin on it, saying, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”

There are a few areas of my life where this can be applied, but I felt this was specifically meant for my writing. I had been feeling a bit discouraged through the Fall with just the difficulty and enormity of wanting to be a writer and getting published. But this whisper from the Holy Spirit encouraged and challenged me. Yes, with God, anything is possible, and nothing is impossible. If His will is for me to write for Him and to have my work published, then it will happen. He will make a way.

So, I got my “word for the year.” And just like God – when I least expected it, and when I needed it most. I’ve ordered a refrigerator magnet, a plaque for my office, a bookmark, and a little silver stone with this Scripture on it, so that I can always be reminded wherever I am and whatever I am doing that “It’s possible.” Praise Him!

The Elements of Fiction: Plot

The “plot” of a story is one of the most important things about it, if not THE most important. Because the plot IS the story. It’s the answer to “What is your story about?” Without a plot, you would just have characters sitting around somewhere doing nothing. And no one wants to read that, no matter how interesting, exotic, or eccentric the characters are.

Some authors began writing their stories with the plot already in mind, and fill in the characters as they develop the story idea. Others may begin with a character, and then decide what that character’s journey will be, which develops into the plot.

The seed for my first novel began years ago with a character. I could picture it, like a scene from a movie playing out in my head. A female, strong, independent, put into a situation where she felt insecure and lost. Out of her element, in other words. She was in a small Southern town, but she was from somewhere else – a big city. And she had to learn to navigate her new surroundings.

My first question was, “Who is she?” And the next question was, “How did she get there?” Followed by, “Why was she there? And what was she doing there?” As I began pondering those questions, the ideas for the story and the characters began to form in my imagination.

I had to figure out who she was and then I had to give her a reason to be there. And once I figured that out, the other ideas began to fall into place. Now, it took years for those first ideas to formulate into something that resembled a plot. Well, a good plot anyway. Because a story has to be good, of course.

A plot is like the vine that my co-worker had growing out of its pot and up around his floor lamp in his office – it grows, and it changes as it grows. It starts from a small seed of an idea and morphs into something that takes on a life of itself. A plot idea must be many things: interesting, fresh and new, believable, but also engaging to the reader, unexpected, twisty and surprising, and solid enough to carry an entire novel.

But it begins with just one idea.

What kind of plots do you enjoy? Murder, mystery, suspense, thriller, romance, drama? Do you prefer character-driven plots or action-driven plots?

The Elements of Fiction: Setting – Part 2

In the last post, I mentioned the various aspects that go into creating a story. One of them is the setting. As in, time period and location in which a story takes place.

Today, I’d like discuss another facet of setting: the season in which the story takes place.

For my first novel, the story occurs during Springtime in Georgia. Southern Springs can be volatile times, with thunderstorms and tornadoes mixed in with days that range from warm and humid to cool and breezy. For this particular story, storms play a big role in the action that takes place. So I set the story in April. It’s one of the stormiest months in Georgia.

The next story in this series will happen during the long, hot days of summer. And the final story in this trilogy will happen during the winter as the protagonist will face an ice storm, another common weather occurrence in northern Georgia.

Each of these seasons affects the story in specific ways. So it was important for me to get the timeline just right so that nature itself becomes a sort of “character” in the story.

What do I mean by that? When you place your main character (the protagonist, or the “hero” or “heroine”) into a story, he or she will face many things. I’ll discuss plotting and character “goals” in a later post, but for now, we know that this character will go through some sort of struggle, trial, adventure, or journey from the beginning of the story to the end. Along the way, he or she will interact with other characters in the story, whether they are secondary characters or the antagonist (also known as the “villain” or the person or thing who opposes the main character).

A writer can use setting as an additional “character,” meaning the setting itself has a bearing on the story and the characters in ways that alter the character or thwart his or her ability to reach the goal.

Think of a character being stranded on an isolated island. If his goal is to get off the island and return to his normal life, the island’s location itself will work against the character to keep him from getting home. The weather, the plant life or animal life on the island (or the lack of life on the island),the dangers lurking in the jungles – all of these can create obstacles and threats to the character.

I think of the actor and martial arts expert, Jackie Chan. In an interview, I heard him say that the way he comes up with his martial arts choreography for a movie scene is to just put himself on the set where the scene will take place. He looks around at the things the set designers have put there as set decoration. He picks things up, plays with them, moves them around, and comes up with ways he can use these things in a fight scene. And then he creates the fight choreography from that.

I think a writer does much the same thing, whether consciously or not. Each scene has a location, and that location has a “set design.” And you can use the set decorations of the setting to add life and flavor, conflict and obstacles for your characters.

When my main character, Samantha, finds herself on a farm in Georgia, she finds herself out of her element and in strange, unfamiliar surroundings since she grew up in Chicago. The readers get to see parts of her personality in the way she tries to adapt to her new surroundings. And even more than that, the farm is a reflection of her father, a man she never knew.

Through the farm, she learns about her father. It represents her internal struggle of forgiving him, and her internal struggle of finding herself. It is both a place of discomfort, raw emotion, and even danger to her, but also is a place of peace and healing.

Have you ever thought about how a setting can work either for or against the characters in a story? Think of a scene from your favorite story. What pieces of the setting did the author use to work for or against the characters? Share your thoughts in a comment.