Usually, I like to acquaint readers with children’s classics and older stories still worth reading in our postmodern world. Thought I’d take a break and enjoy some tongue-in-cheek (or morsel-of-meatloaf) ruminations on how to write a novel.

I’ve written four — three middle grade or YA and one women’s fiction, each in various stages of completion from first draft to polished enough for a major house to take a look at it — and reject it (sigh). But the rejection letter offered kind encouragement and several suggestions. Give me time, and someday I’ll have good news to share on a release date!

While I’ve enjoyed writing since I was eight years old, I did not pursue the passion of writing fiction until four years ago.  I’ve penned memorable letters to the editor on various issues, at least my local post office clerk thinks so, and I had several magazine articles published while my children were small. In a fateful decision back in 2009, I took the Nanowrimo challenge and found that I could write 50,000 words in thirty days. I haven’t looked back.

Authors have their own styles, their own methods, the work routines that make them the writers they are. I’ve decided I’m a meatloaf writer.


Consider the average meatloaf recipe: collect ingredients, mix them together, add a dash more basil, a little puddle of ketchup, an additional handful of rice cereal until the mixture looks and smells about right. Press it together in the bowl then plop it into the pan. Continue to push and shape until you have formed a rectangular loaf. Bake until cooked through. Now you know a good portion of my meatloaf recipe.

I seem to follow the same procedure in writing. First, I gather characters and my story idea. I mix them together to start the writing process. As the story progresses, I add plot twists, new characters.  I press them together trying to make sure they blend well into a recognizable theme, and plop them into my first draft. It’s recognizable as a story, but needs shaping, finesse.  I continue to revise, edit, add, subtract until the conglomeration of words forms a worthy story.

My novelist friend Steve considers my writing recipe a horror. He’s more of a gourmet, who knows exactly how a meatloaf ought to be put together and plans accordingly. Other writers out there: what’s your recipe? What creates a delicious novel for you?

ChristianFic – How Edgy is *TOO* Edgy

Disclaimer! This post contains potentially controversial—possibly offensive—ideas. Continue reading only if you’re prepared to take a risk!

Last week I read a current, best-selling ChristianFic book in which the narrator told us the main character was urinating. I rolled my eyes—did I really need to know that? After a double-take, I kept on reading.

Another ChristianFic best-seller I read in 2005 included a female character who had intimate relations with a male temple prostitute and drank to excess (among other things). I found it disturbing, but wanted to know how the character’s redemption would unfold. I kept on reading. Would you have kept on reading?

Deep down, I hunger to see depictions of God’s raw power, the things He’s famous for—actions that defy physics—and showdowns between angels and demons. Things the mainstream would label as Paranormal or Sci-Fi. I would read about that. Would you?

No names, please, but we’ve encountered ChristianFic publishers and agents who won’t accept manuscripts that contain topics like teen pregnancy, addictions, child abuse, or pre-marital sex—even though the purpose is to reveal God’s heart for lost sheep. And… one person’s idea of edgy may be tame by another’s standards. Would I read about things like this? Would you?

Some of us at The Scriblerians have been told we write edgy. Is there a market for us or should we sanitize reality to fit in? Tell us what you think.

Ideas From the Most Ordinary Sources

classifiedsIt doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional novelist or a middle-school student assigned to write a short story. To find new character, conflict, and plot ideas, pay close attention to ordinary life around you. More precisely, look at what people buy, sell, and eat.

At lunchtime—either at school or work—notice the selections, whether purchased on site or bagged and brought from home.

Chili, corn chips, and baklava? You may imagine a south Texan introvert living with his Greek grandmother, and there’s the start of an interesting situation. (So as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, begin with a compliment if you’re unsure what a particular delicacy is. “That looks/smells good. What’s it called?”)

In a grocery or discount store checkout line, strange combinations of purchases may inspire you.

Bandages and a set of kitchen knives (for a clumsy chef?)

Tomatoes and an opera CD (for a disgruntled patron of the arts?)

Now I’m thinking of a story about a chef who is also a disgruntled patron of the arts and goes on a killing spree at an opera house.

And don’t forget to look in the classified ads for hidden gems.

There’s one from many years ago I’ll always remember.

FOR SALE: Loveseat and a pair of women’s motorcycle boots

Now that’s a writing prompt.

What kind of ordinary thing or situation has sparked an idea for a character or story for you?

Using the Arts to Create Setting by Cynthia T. Toney

photo credit: cuellar via photopin cc

photo credit: cuellar via photopin cc

Perhaps you’ve written a middle-grade or young teen novel.  Or you’re reading one.

It’s natural for many of the scenes to take place at school or at someone’s home. Or maybe at a sporting event. Those places make up a big chunk of a young person’s world if he doesn’t drive.

But I love it when a story surprises me with a scene that takes place at an art fair or museum, a dance recital, concert, or movie theater (some do consider movies “art”).  Although a change of scenery can play a part in the plot, it doesn’t have to—not for me, anyway.  I simply enjoy reading and writing about young characters’ interactions in believable artsy settings where they might easily find themselves even if they don’t drive.

Opportunities abound for vivid writing to engage readers. Scene descriptions that employ sensory detail such as color, smell, sound—and often taste—make what’s going on with the characters in a scene all the more exciting. And there’s occasion for characters’ reactions to their surroundings, or use of elements in their surroundings as props, to reveal their personalities and relationships or show character growth.

Reading and writing novels that use the arts to create setting have been a fun way for me to learn about some of the arts I’m less familiar with. Whether a character visits a junkyard sculpture booth at an art fair or attends a street music performance, you may find an art-loving character a lot more interesting to read and write about.

If that character is a jock or a farm kid or a villain, even better.

Is there a novel you’ve read in which one or more of the arts added to the pleasure of reading the story?

Cynthia Toney

Cynthia Toney