Hi, Nicole! Thank you for having me on your blog today. Last time I visited I shared about my debut Novel, "No Other". Today, I'd like to share about my newest release, "In All Things", and some of my favorite elements of story-telling.
"In All Things" is the sequel to "No Other". The story picks up with Jakob and Meri ten years later. Jakob has put all of his effort into fulfilling his promise to Roger by making Meri's dreams come true. They've moved to Hollywood and Meri is a successful actress. But what you have to ask is this; was this really Meri's dream, or was it what he thought was her dream, and by achieving it was he really trying to prove himself?
Meri on the other hand has her own set of issues. She's tried to put the past behind her, but a part of her still craves her parents' approval – something most children want even when they come from an abusive home. She hopes that time and her success have brought a change of heart to her parents, but when she finds that it hasn't she sets out with determination to shove her success in their faces and shame them that way.
Both Meri and Jakob are faced with coming to terms over the fact that success has proved dissatisfying. Likewise, an unhealthy nature to their relationship has stifled their growth in Christ, and they have to overcome that, too.
Along with Jakob and Meri's story is the story of healing that takes place in Jakob's family. Though, some things get worse before they get better. This story is actually more literary in that sense than romance. It's very focused on the characters' personal journeys.
One of the questions I get asked most is how I go about developing my characters. I'm most definitely a character writer! For me, characters define the story. I may have a sense of what the storyline is, but how it will play out to completion is very much determined by my character's response to events within the story. I think an author has to allow room for this or else you end up with a puppet and not a believable character. I've found that what helps is for the author to know what has taken place in the character's life before the book they're writing. In detail! Like flesh and blood people, a character should be molded by events. In this book, "In All Things", this was a little easier because much of the back-story was laid out in "No Other". However, my characters have quite a back-story beyond that book, too.
When I profile my characters, long before the writing begins, it goes far beyond hair and eye color, height, occupation, etc. Those are the least important if you ask me. It's all surface stuff. To really dig into a character you need memories -- experiences that mold and define -- and you need both spectrums -- good and bad -- as well as stuff in between. These are the things that a person draws on when facing choices. They guide the course.
Another element of story-telling that I like, and believe adds depth and meaning to a story, is symbolism. If you'll notice on "No Other's" cover, and "In All Things", there is a farmhouse and a locket. Yep, they're important! The farmhouse is Jakob's childhood home, and it coordinates heavily with both stories' themes. In "In All Things" it becomes Jakob's personal mission to see the house restored. At the same time this is taking place within his family, which is still recovering from the lingering effects of their internment during WWII.
Meri's journey is represented through other objects, like the locket and a brooch in this story, but she is also very much tied with the farmhouse. Very much!
The last element of good story-telling I want to talk about is conflict. Without it you have a whole lot of snooze. There are different kinds of conflict, but since I'm a character writer I'm going to talk about my favorite, internal. As I mentioned, my stories tend to be character journeys and usually my main characters serve as both protagonist and antagonist. They are their own worst enemy. The nature of their struggle is a mixture of plot and character development. As mentioned previously, my characters are molded by life experiences. These frame how they will handle the external issues of the story
I'll use Jakob's situation as an example. I worked out his family's history all the way back to their immigration from Germany. He is of a dual culture, born in America, raised in a German home. He claims both cultures, speaks both languages, so in "No Other", when these cultures clash, he has a major identity crisis. It's very difficult for him to process why certain things have happened to his family. So that story started off with heavy emotional conflict right at the start.
That inner conflict evolves during the story of "No Other" so, in "In All Things" there is a new source that Jakob must come to terms with, as well as some unresolved old stuff..
Meri is a whole other story. In "No Other" her background isn't laid out in quite as much detail for the reader, but it is shown to have been pretty terrible. "In All Things" digs far deeper into this so the reader can see the pit she's trying to dig out of.
The process I use for resolving conflict is first to fully understand it. I do a lot of journal writing for my characters, where I ramble, in character, as to what they feel, what they think they need or want, and how they plan to get it.
Then I work on scenarios that might bring this about. Usually the first drafts are entirely too preachy because I'm trying to clarify the message to myself, but I go back and edit to try and make it so that the message is conveyed to the character, and not to the reader. I don't want to pull the reader out of the book for a sermon. I want them to experience the growth of the character.
The last thing I'd like to leave you with is this: We've all heard the phrase, 'write what you know.' I think it's equally important, if not more-so, that an author writes who they are. Yes, we have to learn the craft, pay attention to trends and whatnot. Those things are important. Just be sure that in doing so you don't lose yourself. The best stories come from the heart.
Nicole, I'd like to give away a freshwater pearl bracelet and a pdf copy of either book, "No Other" or "In All Things". I also have pdf files of the first three chapters of each book that I'll give to anyone who wants. Just email me at email@example.com
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Thank you so much for dropping by, Shawna! I'm sure whoever wins will love your book. Inspiring Mondays will be back next week.