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Allison Pittman Award winning author Allison Pittman, A high-school English teacher also serves as director of the theater arts group at her church. She is also the co-president of a dynamic Christian writers group in the San Antonio, Texas area, where she makes her home with her husband and their three boys.

Favorite Verse: Lamentations 3:22-23 -Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.


 

 Always Look For a Story: by Allison Pittman


 

Always look for a story:

 They are everywhere. The other night, my sons and I went out for ice cream. We each had several scoops in waffle cones with toppings—easily $20 worth, but I’d only paid .64 cents because the girl behind the counter was a former student of mine. She’s a brilliant girl who now works at Baskin Robbins; her neck was covered with hickeys. We ate the ice cream while we were waiting in line to get a car wash. Our car, like the five in front of us and the five behind, was covered in mud due to a freak rainstorm the night before where the rain was mixed with dust and ash from a huge fire miles to the north of us. There was a single black rubber boot sitting on the ground right by the carwash control box. Since we couldn’t find a good song on the radio, we turned it off and told each other the stories that surrounded our little outing—and it was wonderful!

 

Read, read, read, read, read. 

Think of it as on-the-job training. An apprenticeship. Think about the authors you love, then figure out why you love them. Pick apart their scenes; notice how they write dialogue; map out the details in their description. Then shamelessly pirate it.

 

Don’t write what you know. 

I say this all the time…most of what we know is boring. And really good fiction transcends what we know. My series centers around the lives of three women who meet in a frontier brothel. I personally know nothing about that life, and my research tells me that all of them would have men a violent, but inauspicious death by the time they were 22. What fun is that? When you’re writing fiction, you control everything—as long as you stick to the basic laws of physics and gravity, pretty much anything else goes.

 
 Instead, write about what you wish you knew. Write about a life and a world that is more exciting, more glamorous, more dangerous, more amusing, more romantic, more fanciful than anything you’ve ever known. Don’t write about the lessons you’ve learned—you’ll come out with a story that glides far too easily to a resolution. Instead, write about those things that continually trip you up. Create characters with the same shortcomings that you have—they’ll come across much more believable if you’re down in the pit with them. Is that the same thing as writing what you know? Not really. I’d rather have a conversation with somebody who shares my questions than with somebody who knows all the answers.

Remember, you are not your story

You need to have a good, healthy buffer between what you write and who you are. I have a very dear friend who is working on a novel based largely on events in her own life. We’re in a critique group together, and there was a time when she simply couldn’t take any kind of criticism—no mater how constructive. It just seemed as if every bit advice was a personal judgment. She needed to put it away for a while so she could revisit it and see it for what it is: a story. A novel—something that has a life of its own away from her. When that happened, both she and the story were stronger because of that detachment.

 

Chances are, as you begin to try to sell your manuscript, you’re going to face some rejection.

Editors have dozens of reasons why they aren’t going to pick up your story, and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with you. Be very certain that you can make that distinction before you start pitching your idea.

 

Study the craft.

What makes for a good story might be subjective; what makes good writing is not. Stilted dialogue is stilted, whether it’s in a mystery, a romance, or a futuristic adventure. Showing is better than telling in any genre. Nobody can teach you how to come up with a great story, but there are lots of ways you can learn how to write it. Go to conferences and workshops—I don’t regret one dime or one minute I spent listening to other writers. Buy (and read!!!) books on the craft of fiction. Self-Editing for Fiction writers is priceless, as is James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure.

 

Write. This might seem obvious to anybody outside the writing “life,” but if you’re in any kind of a critique group, or other writing organization, you know that many of us spend a lot more time talking about writing than actually writing. We talk about our stories, we practice our pitches to editors, we complain about how hard it is to get published, we wish and moan and dream, because that’s so much easier than sitting at a keyboard looking at a blank screen. Go. Right now. Open that Word file and get to work.

 


 

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Web Resources for Writers

There are many web sites with great information for Christian writers. Below are some that you might find helpful.

 

  • American Christian Fiction Writers
  • Christian Writers Fellowship International

  • The Christian Writer's Manual of Style
  • Writer's Digest
  • Writer's Market
  • The Writer's Magazine
  • Christian Writer's Market Guide
  • ACW Press
  • Writer's Edge (Manuscript Service)

  • More Author Tips

     • Words of Advice: Chris Fabry

     • Writing Advice: Maureen Lang