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Christmas time-can you write?

Diana here:

This month the Pencildancers are sharing some things about their Christmas’s in the past, it might be a favorite gift, memory or a recipe. Be sure to check back every week or sign up to have the posts delivered to your inbox.

One thing that all of us here at Pencildancers.com agree on is that maintaining a writing schedule during the holidays is difficult.

In the past, writing comes second to my family during the holidays. There is just too much to do. The shopping, wrapping, along with the special events we are invited to take a tole on the day to day of an authors life. I used to grumble about losing the time to work, because not working means less money. Then I had an attitude shift. Christmas is once a year, and it’s not about me at all. It’s about the coming of Christ, and I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think money was involved. It even took the wise men with their gifts two years to get to Christ.

So, I’m now doing what I can to advance my career but at a pace that lets me enjoy Christmas, make new memories, and spend time worshiping.  So what does that look like?

Dictating on my phone snippets of dialogue that I think of while shopping, dropping into my facebook page (marketing) when I have time, and writing ad copy while I’m riding in the car, though I can’t do much of that since it makes me sick. But I can think about what to say and revise in my head, then write it down when we stop for gas or peanut m&ms--I mean food. Taking the time to enjoy the season leaves me refreshed instead of frustrated.

I’d give you my favorite Christmas cookie recipe but you probably already have it. Tollhouse Chocolate Chip cookies are my favorite, even if I have to tweak them to make them gluten-free and now sugar-free. When I smell warm vanilla, mixed with butter and chocolate melting in the oven,  I know Christmas is upon us.

Do you have traditions that you’ve carried over from your childhood? Have you kept them the same or modified them?

So whatever you do for the holidays be sure to take time for family and friends, listen to the stories told, hug the little children and you never know, you might be rewarded with a burst in creativity.
Merry Christmas!


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Making Setting Interactive

Years ago, it was appropriate to have long chunks of description about the setting. These could go on for several pages. No one thought twice about it. That’s changed in today’s publishing world. One of the biggest problems I see on this front in my editing is the information dump. The setting may be beautifully described and very vivid, but it goes on too long. And it’s static. 

Here’s an example from one of my editing clients (used with her permission).
We stepped off this elevator to navy and gold marble floors. A seating of two boxy and uncomfortable looking cream leather couches, two matching low coffee tables and two leather chairs with crazy pear shaped high backs in a golden color. The floor looked like it went up the walls with the glass marble effect on the two walls to the left and right of me. The office smelled strongly of chai.

Mulder pulled a gold key ring from his pocket and unlocked his office. The door opened into a long narrow hallway, with bright sunshine shinning at the other end. Both the floor and the walls were made of real wood, an oak or pine – I didn’t know. Every couple of feet glass light fixtures mounted on the walls reflected light onto the glossy floor. Even with the lights and the promise of morning light at the other end, the trek down the hall was dark and mysterious. 

It’s a list of what the room is like. If you have the characters interact with the setting, it brings it alive and makes it more real. In a movie, the camera doesn’t pan the room so you can get an idea of what it looks like. Instead, the characters move around the set. You know there is a comfy couch when the character kicks off his shoes and curls up on it.  You see the big screen TV when he picks up the remote and clicks it on.

I cut this down quite a bit in the example. It went on a good deal longer. And it wasn’t necessary. She could get the idea of wealth and opulence across in fewer words, and by having the characters interact with the setting. That makes it come alive and be real.  

Here is what it’s like with the characters interacting with the setting.
Stepping off this elevator, the odor of chai greeted us. My tennis shoes squeaked on the mirror-smooth navy and gold floors as we walked past a seating area with crazy, pear-shaped, high back, golden chairs. I saw my reflection in the walls with the same glass-marble effect. 

Mulder pulled a gold key ring from his pocket and unlocked his office. The door opened into a long narrow hallway. The floorboards creaked under our feet as we walked down the dark tunnel, only sunshine from up ahead lighting our way. Silly, I know, but the passage reminded me of ones leading to the dungeons in ancient castles. 

See the difference? In the first, there’s the smell of chai, but in the second, the character smells the chai. In the first, the floors are blue and gold, but in the second, his tennies come in contact with the floor and squeak. In the first, the hallway is long and dark with wood floors, but in the second, the floors creak and the passage sparks a thought. 

The setting is still described, but it doesn’t interfere with the action of the story. It comes alive when it’s treated as a character interacting with another character. It adds to the story, rather than detracting from it. It’s vibrant. And nothing is lost because of this. The point is to give the flavor of the place without dumping all the information in. And readers like to imagine places in their own minds.

Pick a scene from your WIP and make the setting more interactive. Have fun!

Setting and Storyworld

Jen here:

Story world

Story world, quite simply, is the world your story takes place in. In Star Wars, it’s a galaxy far, far way. In my book, Coming Home, it’s 1881 Oregon. It can be as complex as an invented world or as simple as the street blocks between home and school. But a different story world will create a different type of story at every level.


How are your readers going to know your story world unless you tell them about it, right? Wrong. Long (or even short) amounts of description just for its own sake pulls your reader out of the emotional experience. It’s like taking them aside to explain things. Again, if they are in your hero’s skin, they will experience it with your hero. Reveal it like bread crumbs, just dropping a bit as it’s needed.


One of the best ways to let us know that we are in the hero’s skin is through the senses. When you are editing a scene, think a moment about what information all five senses are giving your POV character. Sight and touch are easy and the most overused. But what about smell and taste? You can pull on deep emotions with those. They often evoke strong memories, and you can use that to your advantage. Don’t forget about hearing too.

However, you don’t want a laundry list of all the senses. When you are taking stock, think about which two senses will evoke the greatest emotional experience for your reader. Where in the scene would be the best place to put those senses? Where would they evoke the strongest reaction?

The key is not to just include the senses for the sake of it. But to give them to the reader as a clue as to how the hero is feeling. It all comes back to feelings. The more we know what the hero is feeling, the more we can relate and feel like we are there and in her skin.

Warning: only include things the character can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Don’t write “if only she knew what was waiting for her around the corner.” She can’t see it, so she doesn’t know about it. Neither do we. “She didn’t notice the car following her.” If she didn’t notice it, neither did we.

Even if she can see it, do you need to include it? If you tell us about something, we are going to think it’s important and relevant. So only mention the book on the sidewalk if it’s going to be important or if it’s important that your character noticed it.

Now, what does your character do with this information? Sometimes it’s enough to mention the smell of Mom’s apple pie. But what about a math book laying open on the sidewalk in front of the house? What does your hero think about that? What does she think it means? Is she confused, scared, mad, happy? How would your hero view it differently than other characters? The interpretation of the sense stimulus is just as important the stimulus itself.

Writing emotion follows naturally from writing about the senses because the senses often trigger emotions. And we need to treat writing about them the same way.

Like with any writing exercise, the first step is to just write and be in your creative brain. Then when you’ve had time to let it sit, go back with the editor brain. Be as concrete and descriptive as you can be. Go over every adverb. Can you make the verb stronger? Can you say it in a fresh way?

I bet you can. Now go write something awesome!

Jennifer and the other Pencildancers have just released Worthy to Write: Blank Page Tying Your Stomach in Knots? 30 Prayers to Tackle That Fear. Jennifer's latest books~ Protective Custody: A cop burned by love falls for a key witness in a crime implicating the town’s rich and powerful.  Coming Home A strong- willed young woman must discover her brother’s killer before she’s the next victim. The prequelBe Mine, is also available. Can a simple thank you note turn into something more? Get the first chapter of Coming Home and Protective Custody at www.JenniferVanderklipp.com