Carrie Schmidt is one of my favorite people. Her heart for books, authors, and the reading community is like no one else I know. She seems to do nothing but eat, sleep, and breathe bookish EVERYTHING. The woman wears more hats than shoes on a millipede. I don’t know HOW she juggles it all. But I’m getting ahead of myself. FIRST, let’s get you introduced properly.
Schmidt is an avid reader, book reviewer, story addict, KissingBooks fan, book boyfriend collector, and cool aunt. She also loves Jesus and THE Story a whole lot. Carrie started the popular blog ReadingIsMySuperPower.org in 2015 and since then has had the honor of co-founding the Christian Fiction Readers’ Retreat and JustRead Publicity Tours. In addition to these endeavors, she is a regular contributor to Seekerville and has written for magazines such as RT Book Reviews and Christian Market. Carrie now lives in Georgia with her husband, though her roots range from East Tennessee to Central Kentucky and northern Illinois.
You can connect with Carrie on ReadingIsMySuperPower.org, Facebook @meezcarriereads or @meezcarriewrites, and everywhere else social at @meezcarrie.
DEAL ALERT: *Subscribe to the Publishing Gatekeepers newsletter (https://publishinggatekeepers.com/newsletter-signup/) and receive a tip sheet on 12 ways for getting past the gatekeepers.
Now for the fun stuff! I have to admit I am partial to my Fast Five. 🙂 So settle in as I hit Carrie with rapid-fire.
CC: Milk or Dark Chocolate?
CS: Milk. Always milk.
CC: Print or E-book?
CS: Yes. LOL. I love having print copies around me, so I can hug them occasionally. But with the amount of reading I do, I pretty much read exclusively on Kindle these days because I can enlarge the font to an obnoxious size to reduce eye strain 🙂
CC: Cat or Dog Person?
CS: Dogs. There’s nothing quite like the unconditional love of a dog.
Morning Person or Night Owl?
CS: The last time I was a morning person was as a little girl when I would wake my parents very sweetly pre-dawn with “I waaaaaked uhhhhh-uhhhhp” lol. I’m definitely a night owl!
CC: Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter?
CS: WINTER. But, I should clarify – I mean the northern Illinois kind of winter that I grew up with. The winters we had in Kentucky and now in Georgia really don’t count lol.
CC: How did I not know you grew up in Illinois. I guess since first met you when you were in Kentucky, I just assumed you were a Kentucky girl. Well, let’s see what else I don’t know.
What is your favorite Bible verse?
CS: One of my favorite Bible verses is Micah 7:8 – “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.” (NIV). This became one of ‘my’ verses after a season of deep depression and panic attacks in my 20’s and early 30’s. It’s a sweet reminder to me that, even though we may go through times of darkness and/or brokenness, the enemy doesn’t get a vote in our worth or the power of the Savior who is our Advocate. That promise that the Lord will be my light is so tender to me.
CC: Amen. That is such an encouragement and one I need to highlight in my Bible.
What do you like to do when you AREN’T reading or writing?
CS: I love puzzles (word or jigsaw) and I occasionally get the urge to pick up cross-stitching again.
CC: I love puzzles too, but the cross-stitching impresses me. It looks so neat, but I’m not sure I”ve got the patience for it.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? (And I’m laughing as I ask this because I know the answer even before you give it.)
CS: Confession: I don’t want to be a writer. I love reading too much lol. But I DO want to help writers. Everything I do – from my blog to CFRR to JustRead Tours to the Art of Writing Conference and this book – has come from a heart of wanting to give back to the authors who have so many times “stood between my heart & Satan’s knife” (to quote Andrew Peterson’s All the Poets I Have Known song). I love fiction in nearly all its forms, and I love being able to connect authors and readers, in many ways as the go-between for the two groups. That’s why I accepted the invitation to write my section of Getting Past the Publishing Gatekeepers. It also gave me another way to honor my sweet Dad who went home to Jesus almost a year ago. He always told me I would write a book someday, and now I have.
CC: We appreciate you so much, Carrie! Both on the reader and author side of things. AND I ADORE that your Dad told you that you’d write a book someday. He must be getting a real kick out of watching you from Heaven.
Let’s talk about Getting Past the Publishing Gatekeepers.
Remember when Dorothy finally reached the Emerald City only to be halted by the Gatekeeper, blocking her hopes of seeing the Great and Powerful Wizard?
The path to publication is like that. Agents, and Editors, and Publishers, oh, my! Each one is a barrier between you and a publishing contract.
But what if you understood what agents, editors, publishers, and readers really want?
If you’re struggling to get past the publishing gatekeepers, this book will give you a behind-the-scenes peek at how to win the heart of each type of publishing professional. In fact, Getting Past the Publishing Gatekeepers won’t just give you a peek—it will give you a guided tour. In this book, four publishing professionals—an agent, a publisher, an editor, and an influencer—share what it takes to unlock each “gate” within the publishing industry.
Getting Past the Publishing Gatekeepers is a must-have resource for all aspiring authors, and it offers insights to help multi-published authors as well.
Purchase your copy at Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books Depository | Bookbub | Goodreads
CC: You have a real heart for the publishing industry, authors, and books, and I know that is why you agreed to be a part of this great writing resource. Tell our readers what perspective you brought to this collection. How is it different from other writing resources out there?
CS: My perspective is a bit different than the other authors of this book, because I’m talking about what happens after you’ve made it past all the other industry gatekeepers. You have a published (or soon-to-be) book and now you need to get it read. How do you find readers? How do you keep them once you’ve found them? I think the book overall is different from other writing resources because it is written from four separate professional perspectives, each of us bringing our own years of expertise to our distinct sections. It’s like going to a writing conference and taking four different classes without having to change rooms.
CC: I love that and so much cheaper than a writing conference!
What is the most important thing that you hope writers walk away with after reading your section of the book?
CS: My ‘most important thing’ is really three things lol. First, I pray that they are encouraged that their story matters – the one they’re writing & the one they’re living. Second, I hope they walk away with a new perspective and appreciation for readers & influencers and the voluntary-but-vital role each plays in promoting an author’s books. And finally I want them to close the book feeling less overwhelmed about how to find & keep readers.
CC: I love all those things, especially the last one, and I think this book really has given writers a way to feel lest overwhelmed.
There were a couple of places where you talked about surveying readers. Was there anything that you found surprising when conducting your surveys? Or were your thoughts confirmed?
CS: Mostly my thoughts were confirmed … BUT I was surprised when I surveyed readers about what most influences them to try a new-to-them author. However, the surprise wasn’t what does influence them. It was what doesn’t. Two things that I honestly thought would show up, didn’t. You’ll have to read the book to find out what they were 😉
CC: Ha! Ha! I see what you did there, but it is absolutely worth picking up the book to find out!
Thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your wisdom and experiences. As my final question, I have my usual “Fun Question”.
If you could travel anywhere without worry about cost, where would you travel?
CS: I would love to travel to Scotland some day…. but it would need to be in a private jet or something because flying terrifies me. So I’d want a big plane with just me & my travel companions (and the pilots, of course lol) and a big recliner or bed where I could just take some kind of pill and not wake up until I got there. Hence the need to not worry about cost 🙂
CC: Ha ha! It sounds like you’ll need a good dose of bravery should the opportunity arise!
Reader, what would be YOUR mascot?
As I’m still trying to read through my book for the challenge, I’m going to post another answer to one of the questions a local 8th grader posed to me during her “Ask an Expert” project. As a reader, I thought you might find it fascinating, and if a writer, I thought it might be helpful. So here’s this month’s question:
How do you decide how to form the book? Notes, pre-made plans, etc?
In the writing world, we have two classifications (technically three) of writers. Plotters, pantsers, and what I like to call plansters.
Plotters are the people who plan out every event that is going to happen in their book before they write it. They look at the structure of story, and determine what needs to happen when. Some do high-level plotting and just look at major turning points in the story. Others go down to the nitty-gritty of what will happen in every scene of the book.
Pantsers are those who sit down and write without anything more than a general idea in their head. They see where the story takes them, which can mean lots of revisions and edits as they get rid of rabbit trails or dead ends from the book. These writers tend to have a natural feel of story, and I really recommend new writers don’t just sit down and write. Try to think through the story and plot things out so that you can learn to understand the important elements of Story and when they happen. I spent two or three years studying story structure and plotting things out before I discovered that plotting wasn’t how my brain worked.
Plansters is a category name of my own making . We are the rogue black sheep of the writing world. We want to be plotters, but our characters just won’t allow us. I’ve discovered I cannot plan out an entire book even on a high level without my characters taking over, laughing in my face, and taking the story in a different direction than I expected. What I have discovered is I can do a high-level plan of where I need my characters to be in the next 1/4 to 1/3 of the story.
For right now, I’m shooting for my hero to join the board of a house of refuge where possible counterfeiting may be taking place so he can investigate the institution. However, I only have general ideas of what is going to happen to get him there or the order of those general ideas. So as a Planster, I am working toward that goal, but often sit down with no idea of what is going to happen in the scene I am writing until it ends up in words in front of me. This makes for slower writing, but I enjoy it.
All writers do brainstorm though. Before I sit down to write or plan, I’ll think through: What are the possibilities of this chapter? What are the promises to the reader that I need to fulfill? Are there clues I need to drop? What problems need to happen? What is expected in this chapter? What would be unexpected? I don’t always do it, but when stumped, I’ll write down every single idea that comes to my head, whether ridiculous or not and push until I have no other ideas. Then I look back at my list for anything that might be unexpected and would push my story forward in a fun and exciting way. I also do a lot of brainstorming with other writers. They help to push me to think of things in ways I never would have before. They help my stories to become better.
One thing to note is NO writer is the same. Every writer is going to develop their own methods and comfort zones for developing Story. It might even change with every story they write. If you are a new writer, spend some time studying writing craft and trying to plot out the various parts of your story. If you want to know more about story structure, I have a few posts on that on my Writing Resources Page under Story Structure.
Now, I’m off to let my characters look at my plan, laugh at me, and then go their own direction while I follow behind trying to make sense of their actions. At least every day writing is an adventure!
What questions do you have about writing and the writing process? Maybe your question will end up as a post. 🙂
Voice seems to be one of those elusive things I have encountered as an aspiring author. What is it? How do you know what your voice is? How do you know if it is unique? Until recently, I just avoided the whole issue because it seemed so convoluted.
But the day must come when we chase down that elusive concept in order to fully develop into who we are. So here it is, wrong or right, my own view and explanation of voice.
An author’s voice is not one tangible element in a novel, it is the culmination of all the flavors an author brings to their writing. From genre choice, to settings, typical characters, humor, to even word choice – it all goes to develop a unique voice.
Take a look at this picture:
What story comes to your mind?
My first thought was a woman lying in bed, fumbling for a shoe to throw at the cat that never stops meowing out her window. Typical image? Yes, but give me time and I will develop it into a storyline that is unique. What if she killed the cat by accident? And what if it was her neighbor’s prize winner? Or even better, there was a note attached to it revealing a danger no one could have foreseen. Oh, so many ideas are skittering through my mind…
Maybe your first thought was a mystery, a ghost story, or something altogether different. Your author voice can change depending on your genre choice, and most of us tend to pick a particular genre and stick to it.
Mary Connealy has a voice I love. She has humor focused on the cowboy days of the west. Her females are almost always strong, independent women with quirky ways. Her characters are always unique and at odds with each other. Whenever I pick up one of her books I know there will be an element of danger, sweet romance, a splash of humor, a cowboy setting, and characters that make me smile.
Jen Turano is another author with a unique voice. Whenever I pick up one of her books, I know they are going to take place in a city setting, with characters who are oddball in some way, danger will ensue, and hilarity prevails. When I need a good laugh, I turn to her or Karen Witemeyer.
My friend and critique partner, Joanna Davidson Politano, will be releasing her debut novel in October. While I won’t share details of her story now (you will have to wait until next month) Joanna has a voice that makes me swoon. Whenever I read her submissions, I know I will step into a Regency world clouded with mystery. Her books read like a mix of Bronte, Daphne Du Maurier, and Dickens. To read her work is to float through a world that entrances and intrigues, and I absolutely cannot wait for you to read her books!(Okay, swooning over.)
Bottom line, your voice is what a reader can expect to find when they pick up your book.
Finding Your Voice
Evaluate your writing. Do you notice certain trends? Are your stories dialogue heavy? Witty? Detail oriented? Do you add humor to your work? A little? A lot? Do you have odd ball characters? Do you choose a particular type of hero?
What settings do you tend to choose? Cities, the country, a particular region? Are they darker, brighter? Winter, Summer, Autumn, Spring? That can change with each book, but if you notice a particular trend, that just may be part of your voice.
Is your writing very formulaic or is it organic? Susie May Warren is very formulaic in her writing. She works in twenty chapter patterns and has a plan of what has to happen in each segment of her story. For others, there is no discernable pattern beyond the standard three-act plot.
By evaluating your writing, you can determine your strengths and weaknesses, elements that you want to refine and improve upon, maybe even elements you want to weed out of your writing altogether.
My voice is still developing, but I have decided that my voice includes a few elements: Danger and murder plots, women who are independent but get into lots of trouble, heroes who generally fall into the law enforcement category, clear villains, a splash of humor (although nowhere near the amount I thought I would have), and broken families. Forgiveness, redemption, and family are strong threads in what my stories encompass. Do I have a lot of work left? You betcha! Is my voice completely clear and finished? Nope, but I am working on it.
Now it is your turn to share. Comment below.
What do you want a reader to expect when they pick up your books? Have you discovered your own voice? Do you agree or disagree with my view of author voice? What would you add to this?
Characters are more than just the sum of their actions. In the previous weeks, I discussed character archetypes and negative/positive personality traits, but all of these really just boil down to actions. So what more do you need to create a living, breathing, well-rounded character?
To give your characters the breath of life, you need to give them a past full of good and bad experiences, even though their full back story will never be revealed to the reader. Susie May Warren does a fantastic job of explaining how she does this in her book The Story Equation (SEQ), and I highly recommend getting it. For the meantime, here is the basic process derived from her SEQ.
Developing Character History
Your character is who they are when they walk on the page due to their histories. As an author, it would be impossible create a comprehensive life story for your character from birth to the time they walk on the page. Many of those details are not important.
The important details of our lives are those life-altering parts. Those moments in time that end up wounding you, burying a lie deep into your heart, and creating fears. Susie May Warren calls these Dark Moment Stories.
Dark Moment Stories
These dark moment stories aren’t as vague as “my parents divorced.” As bad as divorce is, moments within the divorce will be what really shaped the experience of your character. They are the stories that can be retold in detail to another character.
For example, take a story of a four-year-old boy whose father walked out on him. That memory is so painful, so poignant it becomes immortalized in the mind, twisting and growing roots down to the soul.
He can remember his Dad loading up the car, ignoring the son as he followed behind asking questions.
“Daddy, where are you going?”
“Can I go, Daddy?”
“Why is Mommy crying?”
“Can I help?”
Then it happened. Dad closed the door, separating the boy from him forever. The boy runs to the window and watches as the car putters off into the distance without one backward glance from the driver.
Imagine the wound developed by that. What fears would develop from that experience? The fear of abandonment. The fear of being unworthy. The fear of being out of control.
Lies will develop from this experience. I’ll never be good enough. I am unlovable. I can’t trust people. People I love will always end up leaving.
These lies and fears developed from the wound determine the actions of our characters and make them believable. The wounding story is what makes us sympathize the character and even connect with the character. You don’t have to have your father abandon you to understand the feeling of abandonment.
Bringing your characters to life means giving them experiences that readers can connect to and identify with. Give them experiences that define who they are at the beginning, but are overcome and redefined at the end.
Exercise Your Brain
This week, come up with your own dark moment story for a character (or use a real experience, we’ll never know!). Then tell us the possible lies and fears developed from that dark moment story. Come back and encourage one another and comment on the different stories.
*This is an expanded edition of my guest blog post to Southern Writer’s Magazine on December 14, 2016.
Crafting the Perfect Chapter – It’s Elementary, My Dears
Before becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I taught fifth-grade students to analyze writing. I hadn’t given much thought to applying what I taught to my own writing until I substitute taught a fifth-grade reading class. That day, I discovered a crucial concept for every fiction writer.
Students all over the country are forced summarize every chapter they read by looking for these key things: Somebody… wants… but… so… then…
We, as writers, need to zero in on every chapter we write to make sure we can answer: Somebody… wants…. but…. so… then…
How do we do this? It’s elementary, my dears.
To illustrate this concept, I will use chapter eight of George Washington’s Socks. I will assume most my readers have not had the enjoyment of reading this children’s novel, so I will just give a very brief introduction to the story.
George Washington’s Socks
A mysterious rowboat transports five adventurous kids back in time to the eve of the Battle at Trenton where they experience the American Revolution. Through encounters with Hessian soldiers, revolutionaries, and even George Washington himself, Matthew, Quentin, Hooter, Tony, and Katie watch history unfold before their eyes as they see first-hand, the grim realities of war and the cost of freedom.
– Amazon.com Blurb
Somebody… wants… but… so… then…
Let’s break it down:
Who is the central focus of this chapter? This can be one or two characters if you are splitting your story between points of view, but even if there are multiple points of view, a chapter is generally about one person. Who would students identify as the main character for your chapter?
In George Washington’s Socks there are five focus characters, however, chapter eight focuses solely on the perspective of Matt.
This is the goal of the main character for this chapter only. What is it that the character wants to accomplish in this small timeframe? More often than not it is a small goal that builds into something bigger.
For Matt, his initial goal in the chapter was to return General Washington’s cape.
No story is engaging without conflict, and neither is a chapter. What obstacle does the character face? It can be internal or external in nature, but it needs to be plausible and, if at all possible, unforeseen.
Matt’s challenge comes in the form of a captain who believes Matt is a rebel soldier.
This is the reaction to the conflict. What does the character do? What does he/she think? Do they change their goal? What about the supporting characters? How do they respond to the conflict, and how does their response affect the main character?
Matt changes his goal. He goes from wanting to return General Washington’s cape to retreating to the safety of the boat.
This is where a consequence occurs or an additional problem is added to the plot. There could be a hint to the subplot, or a difficult obstacle the character must face, or it could leave the reader with a cliffhanger. Whichever course you choose, the “then” is used as a hook for the next chapter.
Matt’s chapter doesn’t end with him being forced into battle. His “then” is the fatal injury of the only man who can get Matt home.
Combine all the elements and you get:
Matt wanted to return General Washington’s cape but a Captain thought he was a rebel soldier trying to desert, so Matt tries to return to the boat. Then, as Matt is being forced into battle, the only man who can get Matt and his friends home suffers a fatal injury.
Somebody… wants… but… so… then… is a quick, easy summary that drives to the heart of a chapter. Do each of your chapters contain these elements? Could you summarize them in this way?
Even scarier…. could a fifth-grader?
I challenge you to share one of your chapters in this way, and just so I am being fair, here’s my example from chapter one.
Kessara wants to pay off her grandfather’s debt, but she doesn’t want him to find out she had to save the family name again, so she goes to the cemetery at midnight to retrieve her secret stash of money. Then as she is returning to the carriage she stumbles upon a clandestine meeting between two criminals who spot her.
What do you think? How would you break down one of your chapters?