Archive for the ‘Fiction Writing Strategies’ Category

The Best Advice for Aspiring Authors: Attend a Writers’ Conference

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Rachel Ann writes:

I wanted to extend my appreciation and admiration of your work. I have read The Book of Hours, The Black Madonna, and The Damascus Way. All three, distinct and fresh, spoke to my heart and I thank you for writing!

I am embarking on a novel of my own; I have been writing since childhood and I also wrote a play three years ago in college. My newest work is set in the French Revolution.

Thanks again for writing and for being a godly example of what a Christian writer should be!

Dear Rachel Ann,

I wish you every success in your own creative efforts. If you would allow me to give you some advice, here is something that I feel has proven to be of benefit to a number of other aspiring authors.

The most important advice I can possibly offer a Christian author is this:

Attend one of the major Christian writers’ conferences.

Eight are listed below. I have selected these because they are large enough, and so well-established, that every major publisher and agent will attend at least one of these each year, and perhaps more.

This is a crucial component of a successful conference. Do not be swayed by one that is quicker, closer, or cheaper. You need to have the connection to the commercial world, and see your work through the eyes of those people who have the power to offer you a contract.

Christian vs. General Market Conferences

There are a number of significant differences between one of these Christian conferences and the mainstream counterparts. Most of these began as church-based ministries, and ALL of them see their work as a service to our Lord. The same is true for the teachers. We come in order to serve God and further the Kingdom’s work.

Structure of a Writers’ Conference

The days are basically split in two. In the mornings are ‘major tracks’, ongoing classes designed to cover the basic nuts and bolts of your chosen direction—fiction, non-fiction, song and poetry, magazine articles and greeting cards, and screenwriting. The afternoons are focused upon the commercial side of the writing world—meetings with agents and publishers, classes on pitching and presentations and marketing, and so forth.

Advantages to Attending

Two other advantages come from attending such a conference. The first is, you have the opportunity to discuss your work with other authors, and know what it means to translate a private dream into a commercial reality.

The second is, you are granted a set of realistic expectations and tools for change. Both of these are vital components to growth and success.

The main Christian writers’ conferences are held annually (Click the conference name to visit its website): 

Writing for the Soul Conference
Denver, Colorado
February 16-19, 2012

Florida Christian Writers Conference
Near Leesburg, Florida
March 1-4, 2012

Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference
Near Santa Cruz, California
March 30-April 3, 2012

Northwest Christian Writers Renewal Conference
Seattle, Washington area
May 18-19, 2012

Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference
Near Asheville, North Carolina
May 20-24, 2012

Write to Publish Conference
Wheaton College, Illinois
May 30-June 2, 2012

Oregon Christian Writers Summer Coaching Conference
Willamette Valley, Oregon
August 13-16, 2012

American Christian Fiction Writers Conference
Sept 20-23, 2012
Dallas, Texas

A Reader Asks: Where Did Davis Bunn Grow Up?

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Betsy Bernhardt writes:

In The Great Divide almost all of the characters’ names (not all) have double letters in either their first or last names. I find that interesting–especially since your last name does, as well.

Now, would you share with us all just exactly where in NC you grew up?

Dear Betsy,

Every now and then a reader’s question offers a surprise, and this one is another first. I have never noticed that about the names before. The powers of readers’ observations sometimes is just astonishing. We have had readers write to correct the hair color of a child in two books in a series four years apart—no I am not going to tell you which books.

As for where in NC I come from, I was born and raised in Raleigh, then did my undergraduate studies at Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. I left from there to the UK, where I did a masters in international finance, something that every novelist needs, wouldn’t you agree?

How Many Times Should an Author Redraft a Story?

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Sameh writes:

We met at the 2009 writers’ conference in Cocoa Beach, where you taught the morning sessions on fiction. I appreciate your encouragement, as thereafter I seemed to find my voice, and set out to write. I was lucky to find a great mentor, Prof. Susan Hubbard. I completed the manuscript, titled The Little Grammarian, in January of this year, and have been revising and re-revising it since.

Dear Sameh,

I am very pleased to hear you have found a good mentor and are making solid progress on your writing career.

There are elements of ‘voice’ that are only learned through extensive first drafting. Because of this, I would urge you not to make the critical error of equating your career with this first novel. It may require several stories before your internal voice is brought into harmony with the exterior demands of the publishing world.

By this I mean, do not under any circumstances feel you can REDRAFT your way into a career. You must learn to focus BEYOND this story, and see the goal as becoming a published author. Not merely the author of this work.

No doubt during your training as a psychiatrist you came across a multitude of misconceptions that, unless caught early and dealt with well, could potentially have wrecked your career. I assure you, Sameh, this is one such issue when it comes to writing. You must first draft. You must face the challenge of the empty page. You must start a new story. And you must move on.

I wish you every possible success,

Davis

Writing Mainstream Novels Does Not Require an Author to Leave His Faith Behind

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Linda writes:

I just wanted to write and tell you that I have so loved your books in the Acts of Faith series. They are on my favorite-books-of-all-time-shelf. What a blessing they are to me.

Then while at the Christian bookstore I saw Gold of Kings and I purchased it right away. My favorite genre of books is Christian historical fiction and you have not disappointed, until The Black Madonna. I was disappointed in the phrase, “is she your lover” referring to Storm Syrell and Emma. I could not believe that the phrase was in your book. I thought, is this the same author that has written The Centurion’s Wife?

It is so hard to find good action/adventure/history fiction that is not filled with trash and filth. There must be hundreds if not thousands of authors willing to include horrible language,

explicit sex scenes and all the rest in their books. Which makes it all the more exciting when you find an author that writes as good as you and is also willing to keep it clean and glorifying to God.

I read in the front of The Black Madonna:

“Bunn has comfortably made the transition to mainstream readers, and his popularity shows no sign of abating.”

So that must mean that you have to forgo mentioning a relationship with God by any of your characters, or include things that would not glorify God to be accepted by the mainstream. They have so very many authors to choose from and we have so very few.

I hope and pray that you will still write so that ALL of your readers will be able to continue reading and loving your books.

Dear Linda:

I must thank you for writing such an open and heartfelt note. Sometimes the hardest words to write, at least for me, are where there is such a conflict of positive and negative, things I like and things that distress me. I just want to tell you that you have done a beautiful job at expressing your joy over these stories, and your distress over this one issue.

The most important thing I have to say is, I am very sorry that you found this point distressing. The reason I wrote this as I did was simply that I wanted to portray Raphael as a member of the other world, the realm not occupied by believers, out there where such casual comments are simply part and parcel of daily life. Cold, uncaring, heartless. Everything his affection for Storm gradually rescued him from.

But whatever reason I had for writing that does not excuse the sense of having offended you, and for this I am genuinely sorry.

As for your question, no, moving into the mainstream with some of my books is not as you have said, a departure from faith-based work. Instead, what I try to do with these books is write a book founded upon faith and Scriptural morals, but where the theme is not overtly evangelical.

That is the key issue for me and a growing number of writers and film-makers, how to take our stories of eternal hope and bring them to a world that is moving ever further away from God’s voice.

In any case, I do hope you find future works of mine, both those for the mainstream and those directed to the faith world, to hold to the values which clearly form the mainstay of your own life. May they uplift, and inspire, as well as entertain.

Again, thank you so much for writing from the heart.

Warm personal regards,

Davis

Readers Ask: How Do You Come Up With Your Story Lines?

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Amy writes:

How do you come up with the amazing story lines–it really makes you stop and think–I wonder if that actually could have happened–keep up the great work!!

Dear Amy,

Most of the story ideas come from one of three directions.

I can have a superb concept for starting off, a character or a ‘what if’ that just ignites me. I love the ‘what if’s’ most of all.

Or I can come across the special source, or information, or bit of research, or news item that is so astonishing I have to run with it. This happened with Lion of Babylon.

And then there is the rarest of all, when I see the story, beginning to end, a climax thrown in for good measure. Just bang, the whole thing is there suspended before my eyes. The Quilt was one such book. The Meeting Place, with Janette Oke, was another.

Readers Ask: Do You Write Supernatural or Science Fiction Novels?

Monday, July 25th, 2011

I have not written such a book that has to do with the supernatural in quite some time. The only two other stories were my first published novel, The Presence, and then eight years later, The Warning.  Both were big hits.

But there is a certain responsibility that goes with fashioning a story where the supernatural holds a positive edge, that is, it forms a component of the positive outcome, rather than being part of the negative – as with most of the current works currently  both in the inspirational field and the mainstream.

I have been working on this for quite some time now, and feel I have come up with a solid concept. Thankfully, my publishers at Simon and Schuster agree.

The story is entitled, The Book Of Dreams and will be released in late October 2011.

To Outline or Not to Outline?

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

A while back I posted my thoughts about outlining in a blog post titled, “Does outlining your fiction story stifle your writing?”

Here’s a response I received from Tina:

Love this. It’s so true that preparation does not dilute the art. Different authors just approach it in a different way, don’t we?

I just dive into writing the story, myself, while a friend of mine outlines in detail. He sticks pretty close to his outline, but has freedom in writing the ending and if the story changes, the outline changes.

I don’t think it changes all that much. I am more loose in my method and take a lot of notes and have a lot of different files that I play with as I write. My outline ends up being more of a chapter by chapter summary once I get to it.

I think my friend is blessed that he is so good at outlining, but in the end, we all must make an outline anyway since marketing usually wants to see a good map. I’m glad you posted this on Twitter. Great advice.

Nigel writes re-outlining: A great example. I like outlining. In the space of minutes to hours it allows me to really see if a plot is going to have all the right attributes for me to start writing. Lots of them don’t, so I outline again.

That way I see far more plots that I ever would if I sat down and typed 100k to find out the flaws. We do it in our group with both plots and characters, and that helps too, because I (we) are forced to look at genres we wouldn’t normally read or write.

And I’m only slightly jealous about not seeing the sketches!

Dear Tina and Nigel,

It’s great to hear from you both. Nigel, it’s especially good to have the response of another male author. Thanks for writing.

And for the female authors who question this in regards to women’s fiction:

I have just returned from lunch with Debbie Macomber, whose work has sold over one hundred million copies. Debbie not only outlines, she timelines – setting up her plots according to the date and the week and the season.

Just something to keep in mind.

Does Outlining Your Fiction Story Stifle Your Writing?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Question from a fellow novelist:

I have to admit, my plots have always dramatically changed from what I had in mind to begin with, especially when I reach the climax. Characters show up, plot twists are revealed, etc. That’s why I don’t outline the entire story before writing the first draft.

So I find it interesting that you do outline beforehand. Have you ever felt that stifle the actual writing, as if you have to “force” the story-in-the-making into the original blueprint of the outline?

My Response:

This is an excellent question. And the answer differs greatly between authors. The important thing is for you to find a focus on outlining that suits your artistic temperament. But let me offer you a few comments on my own perspective towards outlining.

First of all, writing a successful book is like juggling a half-dozen different balls. To achieve a solid work, you must maintain a sense of balance throughout. You need to maintain an emotive flow, constancy in pacing, solid point of view, three dimensional characters, strong dialogue, and a clear vision of the climax. To achieve all this without outlining is certainly possible, but this helps you maintain the balance.

In my classes, I like to remind students that for professional athletes, ninety percent of their practice time is spent honing the ten percent weakest portion of their skills. This is where outlining comes in. It is practice time. It is an opportunity for you to honestly focus upon what is your weakest point BEFORE you begin the first draft.

Outlining is never the finished version. You are not anchored to this. Instead, this process should be viewed as a blueprint. If you have ever built a home, you know that the blueprint keeps changing until the last brick is in place.

Just as one example, I have never had my climax be the climax I write in the outline. Instead, that climax becomes a high point usually somewhere around ¾ of the way through the story. It allows me the freedom to explore what might be an even bigger bang that could be inserted later. And if it is a surprise for me, it certainly is also for the reader.

As for stifling the artistic flow, let me tell you one story. We have friends in the Basque region of France. He is a doctor, his father was a doctor, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather.  The first three generations all were passionate about art, but did not have enough money to buy the paintings they loved. So they bought sketches. Back then, sketches were not expensive. Even successful artists would sell their sketches for pennies.

All this we knew because it was a huge joke among his friends. How their house is cluttered with sketches, how they have this tiny little bungalow in the hills, and they could sell some sketches and buy a mansion, but their father only gave them the sketches after they promised never never never to sell even one. And how they both love and loathe the sketches, and how neither of them have ever spent one franc or euro on art.

None of this, however, prepared us for what we found when we first went to their home.

The place is not special, just another Basque farmhouse with a wall around a back garden and a small pool for the children. But we walked in their door, and were just slammed back into the street by what we saw.

Every wall, every square inch of space, was covered by sketches. It was so much that we couldn’t take them all in. So we focused on one wall. Just one. And this entire wall, maybe forty sketches, were all from Rodin. And all of these sketches were preparation for just one painting.

The sketches were of two things only. The great-grandfather had bought two sketchbooks and framed each page, and now they hung in the order that they were drawn. The first sketchbook was of a man’s hand. The hand was open, it made a fist, it held a spear, a knife, it carved, it pleaded, it threatened.

The second sketchbook began with a woman’s form in a diaphonous robe, and transformed it into an angel. Nineteen sketches in all, a gradual building up, layer after layer, until there was no question that this was a true angel.

So my response to you, as one who shares Rodin’s need to prepare diligently, is that no. In no way does preparing and working and seeking and growing dilute the power of your art.

Florida Today Newspaper Says Davis Bunn has ‘Dual Appeal’

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Friends,

I feel so honored that Florida’s largest regional newspaper, Florida Today, chose to feature me on the front page of Sunday’s “Life” section.

Titled “Melbourne Beach author Davis Bunn has dual appeal,” the feature story by Chris Kridler opens as follows:

Davis Bunn is that rare novelist who travels two paths — writing inspirational fiction and mainstream thrillers — but walks both with a moral compass in hand.

“It’s a question of degree,” said Bunn, who has a home in Melbourne Beach and will lead a workshop at the Space Coast Writers’ Guild conference Friday. “If I’m writing for the inspirational publisher, there’s a clear statement of the faith issue. If I’m writing for the mainstream, I take what nowadays is called the ‘Blind Side’ approach,” appealing to the audience that made the movie “The Blind Side” such an unexpected hit.

Here are some additional excerpts from the story that I thought you’d find interesting:

On writing my first novel:

“I’d had this idea for a story rattling around in my head, and I just started writing,” he said. “I can still remember how the room smelled. . . . As soon as I started writing, I knew this was what I was going to do with the rest of my life. In that first moment, I could not believe how it felt.”

Bunn learned to write without teachers, penning seven novels in nine years before he got “The Presence,” an inspirational political thriller, published by Bethany House in 1990.

On being branded “the gentleman adventurer”:

“I often think of Davis in terms of gentleman,” [Carol] Johnson [former VP of editorial at Bethany House Publishers] said, “but it’s such an old-fashioned word, I’m kind of reluctant to use it. It seems to suggest someone a lot more distant than he is. He’s a very warm, caring person, and he’s just helping people all the time.”

On my life and travels:

At the house he shares with his wife, agent and sometime co-author, Isabella, on the ocean in south Melbourne Beach, the sound of the crashing surf seeps through the walls. This is their home and often their workplace, though Isabella, an international corporate attorney, also teaches ethics at Florida Tech.

For half the year, they live in England, where Bunn, 58, teaches writing at Oxford University. He’s an engaging teacher, whether at workshops or through his blog.

On finding your flame as a writer:

Bunn teaches more at mainstream conferences than at Christian ones (he suggests major writing conferences are an aspiring writer’s best door into the business).

“It is crucial that they come to understand what the flame is in them,” he said of students, “why are they driven to write, what is the burning issue in them that creates this need to get it down on the page. Because over time, I may feel when I see some of these things that it has a self-destructive edge to it, but some of the greatest work I know has come from this, and it’s not my position to judge.”

On co-authoring novels with Janette Oke

Bunn has written or co-written more than 40 published novels, and he’s written books under pen names, too.

He’s been enormously successful with Oke, selling more than 2 million copies of their 12 books…

Now that Oke is retiring, Bunn isn’t sure what his next inspirational book in that vein will be. “Lion of Babylon,” an inspirational thriller, will come out in June, and Johnson said Bethany House is sending out its largest number of advanced reading copies ever of the book, because of editors’ confidence in Bunn and in its crossover appeal.

I hope you’ll read the entire article, “Melbourne Beach author Davis Bunn has dual appeal,” and let me know what you think of it.

Where is the Cut?

Friday, January 7th, 2011

(Spoiler Alert)

Olivia writes:

I have a question for you. I am reading Gold Of Kings – I think I may  have missed something along the way.

How did Storm figure out that Claudia is working with the bad guys?

For some reason, I don’t know when and how she found out about that. Do I need to re-read some of it or can you tell me what happened. I would really appreciate it. I love the book – I just talked to my son who is a policeman and so much of what’s in the book is actually happening. Art theft is very prevalent.

You must have spent hours and days doing the research for it.  I just bought The Black Madonna the other day so that I will be able to read it as soon as I am done with this one.

My Response:

In any mystery, there must be a gap between what is stated and what is required for the book to move forward. This is as true in film as novels.

A famous director, when talking to students about their work, would shout over and over four words: Where is the cut?

What he meant was, what can you safely leave out?

Readers or viewers are then forced to engage more deeply, and follow closely the workings, become more visually and emotionally tied to the actions, and participate in the flow of tension and unfolding.

This means there is always the risk that some readers do ask questions such as yours. And the answer is, I hope and pray that the process of unfolding is clear, if not in the first reading, then the second.

There is no one point where all the evidence is laid out. What happens is, there are a series of issues which continually point towards Claudia being the culprit, or at least she’s willing to remain blind to who the buyers are and how they represent the killers of her own father.

The point where this is finally laid out is when Storm is in the restaurant in Istanbul, and discovers that several other museum owners have been attacked by the same foe, and in each case a close relative is placed in power. Someone with flexible morals.

I can only assume that the framework has been fairly well established, as you are the first reader who has made this query. It doesn’t mean there aren’t others, and if there are, I would certainly like to hear from them.

In any case, I hope this helps.