What Makes a Great Story?

Coming off of our BHP Book Banter, I’m wading into the gridded, graphed, somewhat-unfamiliar world of data analysis. I like to imagine myself hacking through a dense jungle of spreadsheet rows and columns with a machete of clarity, because that sounds significantly more interesting than organizing survey responses.

Armed with that particular brand of melodrama, I found that while some of the sorting and graphing is a bit tedious, there are so many interesting comments and conclusions that it’s hard to be bored. I’m going to share one in particular that I think readers and writers alike will appreciate.

When readers were asked “What elements make a great story?” I noticed the feedback often clumped up in contrasting pairs.

Characters should be “flawed” but still “likeable.” Plots that are both “believable” and “surprising” make the best stories. Novels that “make you laugh” and “make you cry” were listed as favorites, often by the same person. The two most common adjectives applied to everything from setting to structure to and dialogue were “realistic/familiar” and “unique.”

HOpeAnd it made me think: good stories hold opposites in tension because The Story does too.

It doesn’t have to be Christian fiction, or even fiction written from the point of view of a Christian, for this to come through, although one thing that I think sets Christian fiction apart is seen in another comment made by several readers: “It’s not necessarily that the ending needs to be happy…but it needs to be hopeful.”

A special note for you writers—seeing these comments, I realized again that what you do is hard work. No other way around it. To write the novel described in these surveys you have to…

  • Give us characters who are better than us in some way so we look up to them…but also just like us so we can relate to them.
  • Portray a beautiful romance (which in real life can be a little dramatic, because lovebirds aren’t necessarily the most rational beings) without being cheesy, cloying, or over-the-top.
  • Maintain tension and suspense without slipping into melodrama or crossing the line into the improbability.
  • Make the heroes or heroines people with admirable qualities so we cheer them on the whole way, while still giving them deep flaws and weaknesses.
  • Plan a storyline that is complex enough to engage readers and keep them turning pages, but not so intricate that it becomes confusing.
  • Create an ending that has some element of unexpectedness, while still being nicely foreshadowed so it doesn’t feel like it dropped out of the sky.

Here’s the thing, though: you have everything you need to do this.

As a person of faith, you hold these contrasts together all the time. You believe that people are both made in the image of God and deeply broken by sin. You pray in the name of Jesus who was fully God and fully man. You listen every Easter to the greatest example of a surprising yet inevitable ending.

Aslan2

Another contrast from C.S. Lewis, who liked writing about paradoxes.

Keep telling your stories, Christian writers. The world needs them because the world needs more hope.

Readers, which of the bullet points above do you think would be hardest to balance? (Writers, if you want to chime in with which one is most difficult for you, you’re welcome to do so!)

Ask BHP: Where Can I Meet With Bethany House?

This week’s question is probably from an aspiring writer who asks, “Where could I meet with Bethany House’s acquisition editors? Which conferences will they be attending?”

This year, Bethany House editors are only going to be at the ACFW conference. Usually they’re at a few others, but if you’re planning to talk to Dave Long or Raela Schoenherr in 2016, you’ll need to do it there. (For more on what BHP acquisition editors are looking for, there are some detailed and helpful tips here and here.)

ACFW

I (Amy Green, fiction publicist) will be at Taylor University’s Professional Writing Conference, explaining how to get published by going through examples of proposals from debut authors who received a contract with Bethany House. Since I’m not an editor, I won’t be taking pitch appointments, but I’d be more than happy to look at proposals and give the “inside scoop” on dos and don’ts. The conference is still taking registrations for a limited time, so it would be fun to see you there!

This week’s post is short because I’m spending my time getting ready for our BHP Book Banter over on Facebook! I’d love it if you’re able to join in the fun. You can find out more about that event here.

See you soon!

BHP Book Banter 2016

Even publishers like to party every now and then!

We want to hear what you have to say, on everything from cover design to what makes a book one you’d recommend to others to how many author newsletters you’ve signed up for.

But instead of just pushing a survey at you, we decided to throw a party! Like our author Book Banters, this will be held on a Facebook event page. There will be a set time where I’ll be posting survey questions—the time on the event—but anyone can stop by for 24 hours after the event and answer the questions and take the surveys to be entered in drawings for prizes. That way, you can come and go as you’re able and not feel like you’re missing out.

And if you really like this tag, I found it here.

 

Last year’s event was fun and jam-packed with information that I compiled. Some was helpful for Bethany House, some I passed on to our authors if I thought it might be useful to them.

Once again, there will be a set time for the party, but you can feel free to drop by afterward to see the posts and answer questions. Feel free to invite all of your reading friends!

BHP Book Banter
Thursday, July 21, 11 AM – 1 PM

Hostess
Amy Green, Bethany House fiction publicist and lover of all things Christian fiction

Schedule of Events
Note that all the times below are in Central, so feel free to do a bit of quick calculating to figure out when to set your alarms and mark your calendars in your time zone.

11:00
Welcome and Costume Party—in a comment on the welcome post, you can share a picture of an outfit you’re “wearing” to the party that might be worn by one of your favorite Christian fiction characters. (You don’t actually need to wear it—just find an image to share with the rest of us…and be sure to tell us which character you’re representing!)

Starting at 11:10 and throughout
Surveys and Q&A—I’ll post surveys for you to answer, and you can ask me questions about Bethany House if you like. I’ll do my best to answer them! Feel free to answer as many of the surveys as you like—each one will enter you into a giveaway (mostly books, but also gift cards and a few surprises).

12:00
Inside Bethany House—behind-the-scenes pictures of what goes on at Bethany House, including our costume closet and cover roughs.

12:30
Shameless Self-Promotion Post—I’ll put up a post where you can fill the comments with links if you’re a book blogger and want others to join in the fun at your site. We love helping readers gather in communities and interact—that’s the fun of it!

1:00
Conclusion—the event is officially over. But remember, if you weren’t able to be there during the specified time, you can drop by the page at any point and respond to the surveys.

Giveaway winners will be announced at noon on Friday, July 22, so be sure to give your input before then for a chance to win books, gift cards, and other reader goodies.

RSVP

Get your “costume,” questions, and opinions ready, and I’ll see you on the 21st!

July Bethany House Books

Summer is in full-swing, and if you’re like me, you enjoy reading a good book, whether that’s beside the pool or inside an air-conditioned refuge from the heat. Ever since my days getting plastic toys and Pizza Hut coupons from my local library, I’ve put “summer reading” on the top of my to-do list.

For your own summer reading, I can highly recommend Bethany House’s July lineup—there’s something here for everyone, whether it’s the new series starter from Mary Connealy, a trip to Seattle of the past with Tracie Peterson, Dina Sleiman’s mix of romance and adventure in medieval times, or a Regency love story from Kristi Ann Hunter.

287671-NewRelease_July

Be sure to click on the covers below to read the first few chapters and see which story catches your attention!

A Beauty Refined by Tracie Peterson

Beauty Refined

Phoebe Von Bergen is excited to visit America at last! But when she accompanies her father from Germany to Montana in search of sapphires, she has no idea of his real plans. As handsome lapidary Ian Harper gets to know Phoebe, he slowly learns the truth about her family. Yet exposing her father’s deception could put Phoebe’s life in danger. . . .

An Elegant Façade by Kristi Ann Hunter

HUNTER_ElegantFacade_FR&SP.indd

Lady Georgina Hawthorne has worked hard to become the Incomparable for her debut season. She is determined to marry well—and Colin McCrae is not her idea of eligible. But as their paths continue to cross, their ongoing clash of wits has both Georgina and Colin questioning their first impressions as well as their priorities and ambitions.

Courageous by Dina L. Sleiman

Courageous

Inspired to become a defender of the cross, Rosalind of Ipsworth joins a crusade to set captives free from Saracen prisons. As she and fellow crusader Sir Randel Penigree train young recruits, the two find themselves unexpectedly drawn to each other. Amid many dangers, they are both forced to reconsider their priorities and the very nature of their God.

No Way Up by Mary Connealy

No Way Up

After ranch patriarch Chance Boden is wounded in an accident, he demands that the conditions of his will go into effect immediately: His children must reconcile and live at home for a full year or forfeit the ranch. He trusts hired hand Heath Kincaid to see it done. But when Heath suspects foul play, his desire to protect Chance’s daughter goes beyond duty.

Do you or your children participate in a summer reading program at your local library? If so, what are some of the prizes?

Prayer for Authors: July 2016

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Authors with Books Releasing in July:

Mary Connealy
Kristi Ann Hunter
Tracie Peterson
Dina Sleiman

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.”– 1 Chronicles 16:10-11, NIV

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For the ability to prioritize time with God even in a busy season with lots of things on the to-do list.
  • For readers to have a deeper or new understanding of their faith after finishing one of these novels.
  • For times of refreshment and encouragement in unlikely places.

As always, I’m grateful for and encouraged by those of you who take a few moments to pray for these authors. It means a lot!