Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas [book review]

Story Sparks Finding Your Best Story Ideas & Turning Them into Compelling Fiction by Denise Jaden

Story Sparks. S.P.A.R.K.S. An acronym of author Denise Jaden’s own making, this concise 166-page book talks us and then walks us through how to come up with ideas and keep the idea train running at full steam.

Seek. Jaden encourages us to change our mindset from coming up with ideas to finding them. Transforming into an Idea Seeker. This means you go out, you search, you look for inspiration. Then when your list feels sufficient, you create. Treating ideas like something to be discovered transformed the idea process into something to enjoy rather than stress over.

Passion. What inspires you? Jaden challenges us to look for what we’re already passionate about and write from that place, rather than writing about what we think we should write. She says for our readers to feel deep emotions, we must write with deep emotions and passion. So, which ideas propel you to write?

Allies. Who do you trust to bounce ideas off of? Anyone? Jaden says we need allies on our writing venture. We need them not only to test ideas but to help spark new ones. But what if our ally steals our idea? Jaden says although we need to choose our allies with care, we shouldn’t worry about idea theft. “Each writer may start with the exact same idea, but each uses that idea to say something unique, perhaps even wildly different or opposed, based on their worldview,” (20).

Resonance. This is the part where we’re warned not to write a book because it’s trendy or selling right now. It won’t resonate. Instead, she says we need to think about what our story satisfies in readers. Don’t worry about the selling part right now, focus on the writing. What about our story will resonate with our readers? Can we make it better? More dangerous? Add higher stakes? Can something go wrong?

Kinetic Energy. At the end of the journey comes the momentum. Action happens first, then momentum grows. Jaden says, “As these elements come together, this ‘kinetic’ energy gives your ideas a unique momentum that will carry you through the actual writing of the story and make the process seem almost easy or effortless,” (31).

And that’s just part one. The following four parts are filled with great tips and inspiration for fanning the spark into a flame, developing the fire along with habits, and useful resources like prompts, themes, and even lists of names.

Reading through Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas and Turning Them into Compelling Fiction I stopped multiple times to jot down ideas, brainstorms, and topics to think about. I couldn’t believe how inspired I was—and that was just from reading! I worked through several of the exercises Jaden suggests and found them fruitful. This is a valuable read for anyone battling writer’s block, perfectionism, or just looking for new ways to keep their ideas fresh.

Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas and Turning Them into Compelling Fiction

Anyone who has been hamster-wheeling a story idea for years or has hundreds of pages exploring various approaches on their hard drive knows there must be a better way. There is. Successful young adult novelist Denise Jaden shows exactly how to create the captivating stories that prevent dispiriting wasted time. Busting the “visitation from the muses” myth, she shows that inspiration is a skill that can be learned by understanding how story ideas work (or don’t), fertilizing the ground for fresh and sound ideas, and moving swiftly through stuck points. Practical and inspiring, Jaden’s approach celebrates the imaginative sparks that make innovations of all kinds possible while pinpointing the precise tools writers need to fan their unique creative flames.

Jaden shares, “I think the idea that everyone has a story in them is universal. I speak with many people who say, “I could never write a book,” but when I start to delve into their lives and the possibilities for stories within them, something lights up.” The truth is, finding great story ideas does not have to be a gift or a talent grown from birth. It is a skill, and it can be learned.

In Story Sparks, you will…

  • Learn how and why stories resonate with us
  • Discover new and fun ways to come up with story ideas
  • Get help in choosing from ideas and then following through with them
  • Troubleshoot ideas for potential pitfalls
  • Find a lengthy appendix of ideas for getting unstuck

Denise Jaden, author of Story Sparks and Fast Fiction, fast-drafted her debut novel, Losing Faith (Simon Schuster), in twenty-one days during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Her second fast-drafted novel was published in 2012. She runs a fast-drafting challenge on her blog each March and lives outside Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas and Turning Them into Compelling Fiction releases August 25, 2017.

Story Sparks. S.P.A.R.K.S. An acronym of author Denise Jaden’s own making, this concise 166-page book talks us and then walks us through how to come up with ideas and keep the idea train running at full steam.

Sustaining Grayce [book review]

Sustaining Grayce

Remember when you were 14 years old? Remember how hard it was? Let me assure you, Grayce’s 14th year was worse. Here’s a shy, nice girl using all her energy just to keep it together when the school principle asks her a favour—carry co-student Peggy’s books to and from all her classes while she adjusts to her crutches. Grayce agrees to the task, not seeing much alternative, and is surprised when a friendship develops with the pretty, lively, now-one-legged girl.

Through 14 chapters we observe the birth, life, and death of a best friendship. We see how love can cover pain, and how prayer can make us strong. We see how telling the truth releases us from shame and takes power away from our secrets. We see how acting in kindness and obedience are scary but lead to good in the end.

Sustaining Grayce by Sandra Hare is a beautiful story you can read in an afternoon. It’s well-written and gripping. I did find it interesting how an unchurched 14-year-old had become such a master at biblical interpretation and correlation—that would be a miracle in itself—but most of the plot was engaging and believable.

If you’re looking for a sweet story about saying the important things and being vulnerable, I recommend this book.

Sustaining Grayce

Grayce is coping with as much stress as a fourteen-year-old can handle, and then she is asked to help Peggy, a fun-loving teen who happens to be fighting cancer. Share the laughter and heartache as Peggy and Grayce try to live normal lives amidst the craziness that swirls around them. Set in Lancaster, Pennsylvania during the late 1960’s, Sustaining Grayce explores how two girls with totally opposite religious beliefs and very different families can learn to love each other and the broken people surrounding them. Their story is a miracle made possible only by God’s sustaining grace.

Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days [book review]

If you’re like most writers, you want to write a book.

Fast Fiction book review

Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days by Denise Jaden

Even if you don’t call yourself a writer you might want to write a book. There are so many stories waiting to be told and, who knows, you might be the person to tell it.

What’s great about author Denise Jaden’s latest book Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days is she makes you feel like digging out the story deep inside you is possible. And the 30 days thing? Bonus.

I’ve wanted to write a book for a while now, maybe forever. As a kid I drafted a 100-page Choose Your Own Adventure of twin girls who get lost in Mexico while trying to find an orphanage (scary part—I experienced this trip IRL 10 years later with a friend…) and for the last two years I have felt like it’s time to try for real.

And I have. Tried that is. But I keep getting stuck and I have never known why. Fast Fiction tells me why: I didn’t know how to write a book. I didn’t plan it beforehand, I just sat down at the computer and expected it to come together. After reading Jaden’s book I finally get it. I do have a book in me I just didn’t have the tools to dig it out.

This practical, well-written guide is broken into three manageable parts. Before, during, and after.

Before the Draft

This section is all about preparing to draft—the most important part of writing your book!

I love how Jaden approaches drafting. It’s a time to dream, to think outside the box, and to try new things. After you collect your dreams and ideas you can begin narrowing your story idea into once sentence.

Then, you determine your plot. This is such valuable information. She breaks down the plots of familiar stories and shows you the practical progression a story needs to take in order to work. It makes so much sense and adds much-needed order to an otherwise overwhelming process.

Part one continues and covers characters, theme, setting, symbols, scenes, and story. I found this section not only valuable but inspiring. My notebook overflowed with ideas while reading this section. This likely says more about where I’m at in the writing-a-book process than anything else but I can’t wait to read through this again when I plot my actual book.

During the Draft

I skimmed part two because I am not writing my book right now. However, I came away with the assurance this would be what I needed to help me break up my writing schedule into achievable chunks. Part two also breaks down where you should be after each day of writing, and gives you prompts and questions to think about if you’re stuck.

There’s a handy summary of the progress breakdown at the end of this section so you can have a guide if you don’t require all the explanation and prompts. Jaden thought of everything!

After the Draft

Part three it scheduled to happen after your 30 days of writing in part two. So although the title suggests a 30-day project you’ll have to set aside more time than that to follow the plan laid out in Fast Fiction. What’s great about this is if you follow the plan you will have a first draft in 30 days and you’ll have planned it properly in advance (in part one). So when you reach part three (aka revisions) you will know your characters, plot, story, and purpose inside and out. Revisions might…even…be…fun?

One of the strongest tips in this section is the Why Should I Care? test. You read through your draft and think like your reader. Ask yourself this question and if you can’t answer it, this section or idea needs strengthening. Jaden suggests all sorts of ways to help you revise weaker sections like adding new characters and conflict.

Oooh conflict.

This section also suggests what to look for when reading through your draft. This is helpful because it helps you figure out why something doesn’t work. Once you know why, you can fix it.

I’m happy to give Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days a five-star rating. I think the only thing left to do here is test out the formula for myself. Is there a book in me? We’ll find out soon.

Denise Jaden is the author of Losing Faith (Simon and Schuster, 2010) and Never Enough (Simon and Schuster 2012). She lives in British Columbia with her husband and son, and is currently at work on another young-adult novel, which she fast-drafted during the 2012 NaNoWriMo. A portion of profits will benefit National Novel Writing Month.

This book was provided for review by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review (or even publish one).

Murder Simply Brewed [book review]

Murder Simply Brewed

Murder Simply Brewed by Vannetta Chapman

Just listen to this description of Murder Simply Brewed (An Amish Village Mystery) by Vannetta Chapman.

Spring has arrived in Middlebury, Indiana, and Amber Wright is optimistic about the growing profit from her collection of Amish shops—until she receives a call that Ethan Gray is dead. Hurrying over to A Simple Blend, she finds a solitary hole in the front window and the store manager lying next to the espresso machine, dead from an apparent heart attack. All the money is still in his register. When Amber hires a young Amish woman, Hannah Troyer, to take over the shop’s duties, the two women become fast friends—as well as amateur sleuths.

What now? As soon as I read the synopsis I exclaimed “I have to read this book!”

To which my husband shook his head.

An Amish murder mystery is not in my regular reading repertoire, not even close. But I was intrigued. Nay, hooked. What’s there not to love? Set in modern times this old-school teenager teams up with an Englisher to discover if the grumpy coffee-shop worker really did have a heart attack…or if he was murdered.

Of course he was murdered. It’s in the title.

I don’t know much about Indiana or the Amish culture but it didn’t distract me from enjoying this well-written book. Sure, people fell in love after, like, three days but how is that different from any other romance novel? And there’s a murder mystery! It was entertainment bliss.

It was!

The pacing was good, the characters were interesting enough (although I wish Hannah was the main character instead of Amber, I thought Amber was boring…but maybe Hannah will get to star in the next book), and I really couldn’t guess who the villain was.

Spoiler alert!

Although, if I’m honest I got lost when the culprit was revealed. Where did the snake come from? And what was that whole sugar-swapping thing again? How was that not a problem for anyone else? Oh yeah, and what was the whole Larry thing about? That didn’t even make sense! I mean, I know it was explained but it felt like an afterthought. Oh…and the solve seemed a bit too easy after all the mystery and intrigue and suspense building up to the climax. And, was anyone even punished? Did I miss that part?

But I liked the book enough to let all that stuff go.

I also enjoyed how the Amish facts were weaved into the storyline and I didn’t feel like I was in school. Most of the details weren’t random but instead elements to help move the characters towards solving the murrrrrder.

Would I recommend this book? Sure! Have fun, but don’t for a second take any sleuthing tips from Amber and Hannah. Would I read the sequel? Oh yes. Especially if Hannah is the star!

Murder Simply Brewed (An Amish Village Mystery) is available on Amazon, Zondervan, Barnes & Nobel, and Booksamillion in paperback, e-book, or audio book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review.

Love, in English [book review]

Love, in English

Love, in English by Karina Halle

Love, in English is now available! Pick it up on paperback or digital platforms.

My good friend Karina has been writing and publishing books for a few years and I’ve watched her career take off with pride.

Known for paranormal and supernatural stories, this is her first time writing romance.

While Love, in English isn’t a book I would typically review here I am happy to offer four-stars for this emotional page-turner.

And now for the review

With her first foray into romance, self-publishing maven Karina Halle has weaved a piece of her soul into the words and pages of Love, in English for her readers to discover.

Overall I found this a satisfying read. The emotional story, told by 23-year-old Vancouverite Vera Mills, kept me captivated well past bedtime for more nights than I care to admit. And although Vera overuses words like “just” and “totally” I could still identify with and even like her, despite not having much in common with her.

The narrative takes us from Spain to Canada and back to Spain again where we see Vera fall desperately in love with a married man. We struggle alongside as she wrestles with shame, guilt, and lust and empathize as she deals with the complications of inconvenient and forbidden love. Both the back cover and the prologue tell us this so I don’t know why I was surprised when they finally get together most of the way through part one.

I don’t know what I hoped would happen, everything was so complicated. Maybe that’s the point, relationships are never straightforward or black and white. And even the right decision hurts someone. You can’t get through life without a few battle wounds.

One thing I wish was covered more was the idea that choices made to appease guilt are still selfish. Although disguised as selfless all motivation behind the choice is to make yourself feel better. I found the book’s argument that love is selfish interesting as this is the most shallow (although probably the most exciting) form of love. I would have liked to see Vera mature in her understanding of love (advancing beyond lust and selfishness) and relationships.

Love, in English takes on difficult themes and doesn’t rush past the tough stuff. However, the story was a bit unbalanced as there wasn’t equal time spent resolving the problems as there was building up to them. The wrapped-up-in-a-bow ending didn’t feel cheesy (I was ready for the emotional roller coaster to end) although upon reflection it didn’t feel as realistic as the rest of the story. Still, a satisfying read.