Rewynwood’s Reviews: Writing Lessons From the Front

Title: Writing Lessons From the Front23463910

Author: Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 of 5


A complete writer’s workshop in a book . . . The first ten Writing Lessons from the Front are compiled into this volume. Lessons cover plot structure, characterization, point of view, evoking emotion, self-editing, creating and maintaining tension, writing historical fiction, plans and processes to get your book finished, self-publishing, and a complete writer’s checklist that will take you from prewriting to publication, including details on how to publish on CreateSpace and Kindle.


My thoughts:

As most everyone who knows me well would agree, I don’t often read non-fiction (unless cookbooks count, of course. Then it’s a different story.). It may or may not be a character flaw. I think there are at the very least two different types of non-fiction: recreational and educational. I do far more educational non-fiction reading than recreational (any suggestions?)

This book, Writing Lessons From the Front by Angela Hunt, is an educational read. I’ve recently decided I needed to take a more active role in learning how to hone my craft so that my stories can improve in quality. I always want to be moving forward, progressing, developing.

Some might wonder at it, but there is, in fact, a method to the madness of creative writing that goes beyond what the reader sees. People have skeletons, buildings have skeletons, and stories have skeletons — a basic structure that gives your story a sound shape and feel, sturdy, per se. It’s the (and we’re speaking figuratively here) muscle, sinew, and flesh that we build onto this structure that makes our stories so unique.

This book is loaded with knowledge on storytelling, compiled by someone who’s spent longer than I’ve been alive writing books. Hunt has penned well over a hundred books in a range of genres, and she also teaches courses on writing.

The lessons in this book range from the first stages of developing a story all the way to publication, offering loads of resources to help you write your story best. For myself, who never did any creative writing courses before jumping headfirst into my first project (The Journey Taken), I found the chapters on plot skeletons, character development, evoking emotion, and tension monumentally helpful. The plot skeleton, which is the first chapter, provided a vivid picture for me to visualize while constructing my plot for this new project I’m working on.

In the back is a section of checklists for every stage of the process as well, from prep work through the first handful of drafts. They give bullet point topics and details to focus on, building layers of depth and meaning for the story — like baklava, layers of flaky pastry and spiced nuts drenched in sweet goodness. Man, now I want to make baklava . . .

The chapters are clear on their respective topics and easy to understand, with examples that illustrate the point being covered. The chapters are:

  • The Plot Skeleton
  • Point of View
  • Creating Extraordinary Characters
  • Evoking Emotion
  • Plans and Process
  • Writing Historical Fiction
  • Tracking the Weasel Words
  • Tension on the Line
  • The Book of Checklists
  • Ruminations on a Life in Pages

I enjoyed this book and will certainly be coming back to it as I develop my craft. I highly recommend it to anyone aspiring to write fiction.

In the Spirit of Getting Ready

Hello and good morning! Can you believe October is almost over already? Many are anticipating Halloween, with its costume parties, trick or treating, and spooky games, but over here in the Writing Corner we’re making the final preparations to begin the first draft of a new project. Exciting, write right?

I think so, too. I have received much enthusiasm concerning ‘what’s next’, and I will very soon be divulging more details concerning it (so don’t stray far!). But today I want to share a bit about a question that was asked me that I believe to be in the spirit of Getting Ready.

I was asked how I centered myself and cleared my mind prior to writing.

An excellent inquiry.

The inquirer stated that they were experiencing trouble doing so themselves, having a hard time clearing their mind to get ideas out and feeling that they waste 10 to 15 minutes just trying to figure out how to begin.

Well, my dear inquirer: join the club.

After giving the matter some thought, I came to realize that my methods differ depending on what it is I’m trying to begin, whether a simple day’s writing or starting a new book. Every time I finished one volume of the TJT series and had to begin working on the next one, I repeatedly and without fail found myself intimidated by the idea of Starting. After all, the opening is an extremely important part of the story. It has to be done well, or who would keep reading? I’ve found myself stalling and (gasp!) procrastinating, struggling to come up with a decent way to start. However, the only thing I can really say that solved that was the inescapable need to just do it. The more I write, the more ideas come and the better they become.

For example: pushing an heavy wagon is difficult, but the initial shove that gets the wheels turning is the most strenuous. Once the wagon is moving it rolls easier and goes faster.

As for the simple, everyday writing, the method is pretty much the same. I would suggest beginning by

  • creating an environment that eliminates distractions. Put blinders on, per se. Turn off the phone and remove it far from your person. Close the door. If you’re like me and have a tendency to stare out the window, put your back to it, or draw the curtains if you must (although I, myself, loathe shades). I like having music playing quietly ─ orchestral, no lyrics ─ but others may not find that helpful.

Then,

  • focus on what you’re working on and recapture the thought train you were on when you left off. Sometimes I read a bit of what I’ve written the day before in order to refresh my mind, but it’s also helpful if you stop at a place where you know where you want to keep going with the narrative. That way you have a starting point for the next time.

Still, I’ve not yet found the infallible cure to the struggle. Not in writing and not in life outside of writing. Starting is hard and slow for me. I have to relocate my rhythm, which flees to the far reaches of the universe every time I let go for the day. My thoughts and words usually ‘buffer’ for a while before I can really get into it ─ but once that is achieved I try to keep it as long as possible.

I won’t lie and say it isn’t frustrating sometimes, but I often say that ‘noting worthwhile is ever easy’. I’m finding this to be true in writing more and more all the time, but the challenge has not yet discouraged me from pursuing it. Starting is hard, but the salvation in writing is that you can go back and make better whatever you began with. Trash can be turned into treasure with a second, third, and eighteenth pass. So just start.

Just start.

On Writing: Tension

Hello, everyone ─ and happy last day of August! September’s just around the bend, and I don’t know about any of you, but once those ’ember’s come along I get this cozy feeling inside with images of bread baking, chai, PUMPKINS . . . I could really go on and on. If cooler days are coming, and since it’s inevitable, we might as well focus on the delightful parts, no?

Today I’m going to share a bit about something I recently read in one of my writing books (yes, after seven volumes I’m finally actively studying how to write a novel the ‘right way’). Now, this book I’m reading is called Writing Lessons from the Front by Dr. Angela Hunt, a successful author of over 130 works. She also teaches writing (hence this book), and so far I have found great advice and some real brain exercises. Lots of things to keep in mind that I’ve never thought of before.

So apparently, in writing, there is a method to the madness.

The bit I’m going to share with you today is on ‘tension’, and the concept is that tension must exist on every page in order to keep readers reading. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every page needs to be packed with drama or thrills. The simple concept is ‘unanswered questions’. No, they aren’t supposed to remain unanswered, but stretching out the time between when the question is asked and when it is answered is the tension. It’s like a sandwich:

Question asked  >  time of tension/waiting  > question answered

Say Peter, James, and Martha are hanging out at the top of a cliff (a very precarious venue, by the way) and Peter falls off the edge into the ocean thirty feet below, to the abject horror of his compatriots. IS HE STILL ALIVE? (question asked). James and Martha can’t see him so they race to the shore at the bottom of the cliff (waiting), where they find Peter in the surf.

Let’s stop there for a moment and talk more about the waiting period. Sure, it’s fine enough to say that they ‘raced to the shore at the bottom of the cliff’, but that in and of itself is not a very tense moment. So what do we do? Trip them up! Place obstacles in front of James and Martha to slow them down, frustrate them as they try desperately to get the shore in time ─ if it’s not already too late, of course. After all, hitting the water from a thirty foot drop is perilous. Not to mention that Peter can’t swim, as Martha hysterically informs James while they dash forth. (There could be several reasons why James was never in the know about Peter’s inability to tread water, but that’s not where we’re going at the moment).

We have our first ‘obstacle:

  • Peter can’t swim

Let’s add some more trouble:

  • The vegetation at the back of the cliff is thick ad tangly, slowing their descent.
  • Maybe they find a sudden drop in the slop and they have to decide whether to risk jumping or backtrack to find a different route.
  • One of them slips on a randomly discarded banana peel and takes a tumble (earning some scrapes and bruises, of course).

That is some ordeal! Who would be so rude as to throw away their banana peel like that? (Maybe Peter tossed it after they ate their lunch?) Battered and breathless, James and Martha break through the mini crucible to the beach, struggling to run through the shifting sand, and finally make it to the water. James spots the orange shirt first, bobbing in the foamy brine, and hastens to pull his friend out. Behind him, Martha is close to tears. Battered by the waves, James can’t determine Peter’s condition, so the two of them haul his limp form to the shore. He’s cold to the touch, but couldn’t that be just from the water? Martha can’t find a pulse, but she’s shaking too much to rightly tell. James pumps on Peter’s chest and slaps his face.

At this point the question of ‘Is Peter still alive?’ remains unanswered. Right about now would be a good time to insert a section break or end the chapter, when the tension is highest ─ just before the question is answered. This would prompt a reader to forge ahead and find out whatever happened to Peter. Were I evil, I could stop here and refrain from telling you until my next post, but I’m not always as heartless as I’ve been accused of being and will answer the question:

James was on the verge of giving up when Peter’s body convulsed. Salt water spewed out of his mouth between gasping breaths and lung-raking coughs. Martha burst into tears, and James felt dizzy with relief. Etc, etc. The point is PETER IS, IN FACT, ALIVE!

In summation, the space between when a question is asked and when that question is answered is the home of ‘tension’, the fishing line that tugs on a reader to keep reading in order to find out what happens.


To learn more about Dr. Angela Hunt and her plethora of books, visit her website  — and add some titles to your reading list on Goodreads!

On Writing: Worldbuilding

Hello, everyone! These past couple of weeks have been wild with things going on, with the publication of the final volume 7 and my brother’s wedding ─ which was gorgeous, by the way. Here, I will show you a picture of them:

Aren’t they the best?

Anywho, things are finally beginning to settle down around here, going through the last stages of activity before regular routines are picked back up (for some, anyway) My brother (the married one above) goes back to Japan on Sunday, which is a super bummer, but that’s how it is in the service and we’re looking forward to his next visit. Our new couple are coming over tonight for dinner, so in between preparing for that I want to share with you a little bit about a subject in writing, fiction in particular: worldbuilding.

The concept of worldbuilding is exactly as the word describes: building a world, a template, an environment in which your story takes place, things like history, geography, mythos (legends and superstitions and whatnot), culture, wildlife (if your story involves fantastical creatures), and so on. The more in-depth you go the more realistic a place becomes, and sometimes (most the time) it’s the little details that make the biggest impact.

When I set out on this TJT project, I did not begin with worldbuilding before I started writing. There were a lot of things I did poorly and backwards when I began this project, actually, learning as I went, and I think now that doing even rudimentary worldbuilding beforehand is important. It helps dimensionalize the setting, and even influences aspects of the characters ─ this is the world they live in, after all. How is their home town/city structured? What sort of culture were they raised in? What history did they learn in school or were a part of? What is the land like around them? Arable? Arid? Prairie? Mountainous? The geography also influences the climate and weather patterns (which I’ve personally put into the category of serious worldbuilding, but it is a detail to keep in mind).

There is a lot of freedom in worldbuilding, giving your creativity ample room to stretch its muscles and make perfectly sensible just about whatever you want. For example: The people of Dalyss celebrate annually the Duck Festival, wherein they eat lots of duck-shaped food, dress up like ducks, and enter into the Duck River Run, where participants race their homemade ducks down the river’s current to a finish line some half mile downstream. The Festival was first instated thirty years ago by Baron Hans, whose life was saved during the Tinker’s Rebellion by a flock of ducks that caused a raucous when the rebels tried to pursue his flight, distracting them and allowing him to escape. The event was commemorated and made a local holiday.

Who knew ducks could be so influential? The above mentions 1) a cultural event, 2) an history of how it came to be so, and 3) an allusion to another event that took place in the town of Dalyss’s past. It also hints at how the townsfolk felt about their Baron, that they’d make such an holiday. These things give a place (and a person) depth and dimension.

I, personally, really enjoy the worldbuilding aspect of writing, more and more so as I’ve explored Sekon’dome and other places of Jasinda and all the possibilities available there, as well as thinking ahead to other stories I hope to write in the future. Regardless of on what scale your story’s world is built, from scratch or a preexisting environment (such as modern day or historical NYC or London) it will stand all the stronger for the extra thought and effort. You, and your readers, will fall into your world that much more thoroughly ─ and who doesn’t want that?


Don’t forget! The giveaway for An Odyssey’s End is well underway, so if you haven’t entered yet, now’s the time!

On Writing: Timelines

When I began my writing venture, I never really studied on how to go about it, taking with me only my fervor for the story and a basic understanding of creative writing from a middle school course. I never dreamed about taking into account the technicalities of the art, at the time it hardly even crossed my mind. I started out with a basic plot of events I wanted to take place and then delved right in. For me, everything kind of just came together as I went, and that first draft proved a massive learning experience on so many fronts. So, so many. With so many things going on, I developed a deep and lasting appreciation for timelines.

Timelines are vital, whether your story spans a few hours or a few centuries. Listing everything that happens in chronological order is monumentally helpful in keeping track of the goings on; it keeps you from getting bamboozled and making mistakes that will cause the very bloody murder of your story. For lack of it, my own would have perished in a most piteous mess of inconsistency.

I once read a blog post somewhere listing a few different ways in which to timeline, and there really are an infinite (okay, maybe not infinite, but there are a lot) of ways you can do this. One is to simply list the events with bullets or numbers, and another is to set up a timeline on the computer. What I have done is something perhaps a little more eccentric. My bedroom has ample ceiling space, so I took a spool of twine (it was on hand) and strung it up there from one end to the other and then clothespinned note cards with dates and what happened in that year. It spanned well over a hundred years and recorded the big points of my characters’ lives (color coded, even) leading up to the actual story itself. (I only took it down so my awesome new windows could be put in).

And that’s just the one timeline I made. The other, which records the events of the story itself, is laid out in an old calendar from ’09 that I never used and had on hand. It’s great because it has the day-by-day layout that I needed to keep track of, along with the seasons. It also helped me see better the events of the sub-plots so I could rearrange everything so it all flowed smoothly.

So, setting your world in order is a golden nugget of the profound wisdom of the word sages from past ages. And in addition to all its usefulness, timelines are also a great way to see your progression, and that is a huge boost in confidence and morale. Sometimes writing is a rough road of rocks and sinkholes, so it’s always good to have something to show you where you’ve been and all there is to look forward to.

On Role Models: A Skim off the List of Favorite Authors

Hello! How is everyone’s May coming so far? A little cooler than we were hoping for, no? The 85 days are coming. Until then, enjoy the sunshine when it’s here and not roasting you to a crispy potato chip ─ those days are saved exclusively for haying, it feels like!

Later this month I’ll be divulging some long anticipated information on volume 7 (so exciting!) but today I wanted to share with you a (very brief) list of some of my favorite authors:

Andrew PetersonAndrew Peterson ─ Author of the Wingfeather Saga, a tale that transcends age genres. Mr. Peterson, based in Nashville, is a storyteller through and through, sharing his gift through many different mediums. Not only has he written a fantastic series of four books, but he is also a singer/songwriter who travels the country and (sometimes) the globe spreading his love for stories and Jesus through music, creating albums like The Burning Edge of Dawn  and Light for the Lost Boy. He is currently in the process of turning the Wingfeather Saga into an animated short, and I cannot coherently relate how thrilled I am at this prospect. What I admire most about Mr. Peterson’s writing is his whimsy. It may sound silly (and in many ways, that’s the very definition), but his turn of phrase and usage of words is so creative that it gives the feeling of a finger painting ─ but a finger painting that’s as captivating as anything Michelangelo or Monet ever put to canvas. His ability to communicate deep subjects in a format any and everyone can understand without being heavy, crafting a tale with power and scope that inspires the imagination in both children and adults, is a truly beautiful experience.

Visit his Goodreads Page and website to learn more (and sample his music!) And don’t forget to watch this trailer of the animated short and check over at the Wingfeather page for news, art, and conversation – all about the saga!


Megan Whalen TurnerMegan Whalen Turner ─ Mastermind behind the Queen’s Thief series, the fifth volume of which is coming out next week (ah!) The day I discovered her was a fateful day, indeed. I heard someone say of her writing in the Queen’s Thief series that ‘it reads like a political historical fiction’, and I could not agree more. Each book is so chocked full that I can read them time and time again and never get tired, because how she crafts the story is so multi-faceted that no information is given too early. Just because you’re reading from someone’s POV doesn’t mean you’re privy to every thought and reasoning that would spoil the suspense and surprise. That’s what hooked me on both her story and her writing when I first read The Thief. How she developed her characters, and the personality of each, sent me head over heels as both a reader and a writer, because even though we experienced the story as Gen, we didn’t learn that he was actually Eugenides, Thief of Eddis, until the Magus and Sophos did, and how everything unfolded and came together to reveal a plot that was bigger than you thought just wowed me. I’d never read anything like it before, and I have to admire Turner’s ability to take that puzzle, scatter it, and put it back together so randomly that you never get an idea of the full picture until it’s staring you in the face, sitting back and marveling. I love her puzzle box writing, and you’ll be gathered to the fold as well, from page one.

Visit her website and Goodreads page to learn more, and check out these book trailers for The Thief!


Stephen R. Lawhead ─ Architect of such tales as the King Raven trilogy, Song of Albion trilogy, and the Pendragon Cycle, just to name a few, Lawhead easily fits in with the greats like C.S. Lewis and Tolkein for the depth and richness of his stories. As a scholar and award-winning wordsmith, spanning several genres, much of his work (including and especially the three series mentioned above) is based on and influenced by Celtic history and legend, bringing to vibrant life such renowned characters as King Arthur and Robin Hood in a new and realistic light. Even his original characters become so authentic, with their struggling, failing, and prevailing, that I felt more in tune with them, like they were real people and not just the glorified pawns some heroes and villains become in roles they play. The symbolism he puts into his stories and the artful way he speaks on the page has made him a staple on my bookshelf and an author I repeatedly return to for a gripping, well rounded, and inspiring story.

For more information and a complete list of his bibliography, visit his website, and check out this trailer for The Skin Map, the first book in his Bright Empires series!


Image result for wayne thomas batsonWayne Thomas Batson ─ Author of the Door Within trilogy, the Dark Sea Annals duet, and the Dreamtreaders trilogy, plus several other works, Batson is actually the first author I claimed as a ‘favorite’, and because of that he holds a special place in my heart. I was first introduced to his work years ago through the Door Within trilogy, which I happened to find while browsing the shelves at my childhood library. I read the first book, The Door Within, in one sitting, staying up past two in the morning because it engulfed me so completely. I wasn’t writing much back then, but his craft certainly helped me along toward where I am now. Not only did he make a story, characters, and plot that carried me away to a wonderful place, but I deeply admired the biblical truth and analogy with which he wrote, synonymous to both Stephen R. Lawhead and Andrew Peterson. Similar also with Megan Whalen Turner, it was an experience I had never had before, and I remember still now how it impacted me, how it made me want to be able to write like that, a good story ─ in all its layers. Someday I would like to meet this man and thank him for following his dream, which has in turn helped me follow mine.

Visit Batson’s Goodreads page or weblog for more information about his books and what he’s up to!


My own work hasn’t yet reached the level of excellence these masters have attained, but I always say that nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and I’m hoping that every drop of blood, sweat, and tears I put into forging my own style, every word I punch out on this worn keyboard, will bring me one step closer to what and where I want my writing to be.

Hello, My Name Is _

Greetings, and happy mid-April! Now that spring has officially sprung, the work around here is beginning to burgeon as rapidly as the daffodils! Clean-up and preparations for planting are in the works and quickly approaching, and in the midst of all this we’re helping to plan a wedding ─ all on top of working on two books at the same time.

Lost your breath yet? Some days! It’s all coming along swimmingly, though. Volume 7, the FINAL volume in this saga, is making progress. I’ve finished the drafts and pre-printing edits and am ready to print out the manuscript. With only a little over two months left, I’m praying we can get everything sorted out in time (!). I will have more information, such as the cover and synopsis and all that exciting stuff, for you soon, so be looking forward to that ─ I certainly am. I’m really happy about the cover and can’t wait to show you . . .

Anywho, today I’m going to talk about characters once more (because they are such an intrinsic part of any story, they warrant a lot of care and consideration. Parents brag about their children, authors yammer about their characters). The topic/ tip I have for this post is: when developing characters, work with them. Familiarize yourself with them. This is something I’ve learned over the past (what, is it five years already? Wow), and while it may be common knowledge in the writing community, I’ve discovered that I learn quite a few things the Hard Way.

I think the way you’re supposed to go about writing a story is to scheme your plot and develop your characters before you really get into the nitty-gritty of punching words onto the page. Did I? Pft! No. When I began this project o, so many years ago I did very little in the way of character development and just skipped ahead. I didn’t do character profiles, getting any sort of idea who these people were, and I didn’t know much about them.

However, as is per usual, the more time you spend with a person, the more you’ll get to know them. They open up to you and you notice things about them as they interact with their environment, the people around them, and their circumstances. This is how I learned who my characters were, and only after a couple of years did I get into the whole ‘character profile’ thing. I’d never looked into character outlines until a couple years ago, and there are as many different formats as there are people who use them, ranging from basic information (name, gender, eye color, hair color, etc.) to far more in depth details (phobias, neurosis, favorite book/song, and the like). The outline is basically just a list of questions to answer about your character to help flesh them out.

The chart that I currently use is pretty extensive, ranging from physical appearance, mentality, education, relationships, thought processes, habits, quirks ─ all sorts of things ─ and in truth I don’t always go into those details (right or left brained? Beats the bananas out of me), but I did like a few of the more thought-provoking questions that have pushed me to really consider certain aspects of these people that I never thought about before. They also give me an opportunity to answer the ‘why’ questions that are hidden underneath, and that wee three letter word is the meat and bone of everything. Yes, they may wear that, like this, hate that, but those are surface details. It’s they why they wear that, like this, hate that, no matter how trivial it may seem, that turns a caricature into a person.

But you won’t find much of any of this out until you work with them. That, at least, is how it worked for me. I learned about them as they traveled and fought and survived, as they thought at night when they couldn’t sleep, or were forced to make snappish decisions, or how they occupied themselves when they were bored. Pushed into corners, stranded all by themselves, crowded by other people or burdened by their expectations ─ each and every experience brings out the truth of a person, things that can’t come honestly while just trying to answer a question.

And here’s another thing (and it’s kind of a confession, too, I suppose). When I first began, I had characters that were simply there for a headcount (horrible, right?). They were kind of like NPCs (non-playable characters, in video game lingo), just there for the sake of it, but as we went on this journey they up and decided to prove to me that they were real people, too, with histories, hopes, fears, and purpose that helped drive the story. (Thock, Fwip, Bill, and Kai’Tor were all originally 2-dimentional characters at the start, can you see how they didn’t like that? Yeah. Bill and Kai’Tor were supposed to be dropped off at Udalak and never heard from again, and we all know how that worked out!)

So, through all this garble, I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: developing your characters beforehand may be a good starting point, but to learn who they really are and how they tick, you’ve got to work with them. Little by little they’ll turn into real people and not just ‘the hero’, the ‘sidekick’, the ‘villain’, and the ‘fillers’. They’ll become real to you, and therefore they’ll become real for your readers. So don’t be afraid to start writing even if you don’t know your cast all that well, you’ll get better acquainted as you go, and by the end they’ll seem like old friends.


Don’t forget, there’a giveaway running on Goodreads for the 4th volume in TJT, The Memory Quest – the volume where the truth about the king and current events is revealed, to much horror and dismay. All villains begin somewhere, and sometimes they weren’t always villainous . . .