What Your Conference Blunders Teach You About Novel Writing

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” —Denis Waitley

Oops! Road Sign

Do you need to go to a writers’ conference to learn to write?

Yes. How else will you experience blunders that teach you about conflict; the hero’s greatest fears; obstacles, disasters, and ticking time bombs; and ramping up tension?

In going to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Indianapolis, my goofs showed me in my deep point of view* everything I needed to know about these writing principles.

* Deep Point of View is a writer’s technique to make readers feel they’re living inside a character’s mind.

Ramping Up Tension

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The night before I left for conference, I still had packing to do. I needed to finish my pitch to editors. And I needed a golf glove to complete my costume for the dress-up-like-your-character dinner.

Adding to that, I’d scheduled to attend a board meeting and regular meeting that night. I left for the meetings with barely enough time to stop and purchase a golf glove.

With all I had to do, I sensed a meltdown coming on just short of hives. Now, I knew how to write my characters’ emotions under escalating tension.

Obstacles, Disasters, and Ticking Time Bombs

mage courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
mage courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On the second leg of our drive from Virginia, my sister and I left with enough time to make it to the Conference’s Early Bird session. While we yakked, something felt wrong. Then realization slammed me. I’d tapped on the wrong hotel address in my GPS. We’d traveled twenty-one minutes back toward home! Panic set in. Could we make up forty-two minutes of lost time?

A second realization hit me when the low-gas light appeared. The trip meter said I had twenty miles of gas left. On all horizons lay miles of Ohio cornfields. My heart jumped to my tonsils. I prayed frantically as the miles of gas kept dropping and we passed exits without gas stations. Would we find a station before stranded with only corn to survive?

I pumped gas with six miles of gas to spare. And we arrived on time for the Early Bird session. Thank you, Lord.

Now, I knew how to write my characters’ emotions while disasters created a ticking time bomb.

The Hero’s Greatest Fears

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The conference parking information I received ahead of time was confusing. The info mentioned twelve-hour parking when I needed twenty-four. Rates would increase during the Colt’s game unless I moved my car. But move it to where? I feared I’d have no place to park.

When we arrived, parking was a breeze.

My greatest fears were unrealized. That was good, but how boring for you!


Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

During the conference, I left an interesting session to attend a mentor appointment. A writer was pitching her story to an editor at the mentor’s table. Bummed, I told a volunteer the mentor hadn’t shown up. The volunteer interrupted the editor and writer, thinking the writer was the mentor.

Embarrassed at her faux pas, the volunteer checked the schedule. My appointment was for the next day. The volunteer was unhappy with me. I could’ve crawled under a rock.

Now, I knew how to write my characters’ emotions when they were in conflict with other characters.

I’m thankful (now) for these events that showed me how to write emotions in deep point of view.

What situations have taught you something you could include in your creative work?

3 Elements Your Creative Work Needs to Stir Hope and Renewal

“Perhaps the greatest psychological, spiritual, and medical need that all people have is the need for hope.” — Billy Graham

Girl Holding Plant

When you hear a song, view a painting, or read a story don’t you want to be moved? Don’t you want your experience to be worthwhile—to understand a new truth about life or have one confirmed? Receive an ah-ha that changes your life for the better? Isn’t that part of the entertainment you expect?

Let’s look at the three elements a creative work must have to stir hope and renewal.

3 Elements to Stir Hope and Renewal

1. The Creative Work Must Give a Hint of a Basic Need.


In one of my mom’s paintings, a fisherman, dressed in a muted yellow rain slicker and boots, stands in a river, his fishing pole extended. The glassy water reflects a sunless sky. Gray stone buildings stand tall and sturdy on one bank. Down the river a brown bridge constructed of brick arches spans the river.

The possible needs hinted are:

  • Food source
  • Protection from the weather
  • Sturdy shelter
  • Rain for the earth
  • A way to cross the river
  • Solitude to renew one’s spirit

These needs draw me into the picture. I want to go inside the buildings and hope a fire blazes against the damp day. I hope and want to see the fisherman catch a fish to take home. I want to walk across the bridge and look down into the water.

2. The Creative Work Must Give Glimpses of Good and of Hope

In the story I’m writing, a young woman has put herself in a predicament because of her reaction to a deep hurt she’s experienced. Among all the obstacles and setbacks to overcome her mess, I show glimpses of how she can heal and become whole again, even if at some points she’s not ready yet to make the right choices.

Image courtesy of Zuzzuillo at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Zuzzuillo at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The painting of the fisherman gives a glimpse he can provide food for his family. His slicker and boots keep him dry. He may be renewing his spirit in his solitude. God has provided rain for the nourishment of his surroundings.

3. The Creative Work Must Satisfy Within the Realm of Reality

The painting didn’t show the fisherman catching a fish, but we know it’s possible, and that’s satisfying. The day is overcast, but we know the earth needs rain and the sun will shine again.


A story may have an unhappy ending. But if the choices the main character makes shows the ending is the only one likely without a miracle, the ending can be satisfying to most people. Such a story may move readers to make better decisions or raise their children to make good choices.

Personally, I prefer a story that shows us how the character overcomes obstacles and gives us ways to improve others’ and our lives. For me, the overcoming includes a growing faith and trust in God.

A creative work can renew us when it shows a need, glimpses of what is good in relation to the need, and leaves us with a measure of realistic hope and renewal.

What have you seen in a creative work that was behind the hope and renewal you experienced?

Brainstorming: Make Your Worst Idea the Most Unique Solution

“What is art but a way of seeing.” — Thomas Berger

Image courtesy of Sujin Jetkasettakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Sujin Jetkasettakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We know most of the standard suggestions for brainstorming, such as no analyzing, no judging, and no discussion. But if we look closely at our brainstorming exercise we may notice the ideas often fall into an invisible box. We’re bound tightly by the question we’re trying to answer and unconsciously discard words.

That’s good to an extent, but let’s see what delightful idea might arise if we list all the words that pop into our heads. Then consider the one we rank lowest. I’ll show this by giving an example for writing a romantic short story. Couple holding hands.

The question: What could the hero and heroine be at odds over that is not based on a misunderstanding.

Step 1. Brainstorm twelve or so ideas. Follow the standard rules, but if a word comes into your head and it seems like a random word, write it down.

Step 2. List the ideas, starting with the ones you think would work best to the worst.

Here’s my twelve for the main source of conflict between the hero and heroine:

  1. The use of a piece of land
  2. One is going to take over the other’s business
  3. A competition in which they’re on opposite teams

    A Competition
    A Competition
  4. They both want to buy the same exotic item for their art stores
  5. An inheritance
  6. They’re in different armed services
  7. Child rearing methods
  8. Hunting for sport
  9. Religion
  10. Capital punishment
  11. Teeth care
  12. Eggs
Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Notice 1 through 5 are common ideas that have worked. Idea 6 could work well, but 7 through 10 are so controversial they may not do well in a romance. Ideas 11 and 12 are the two that popped into my head that I would never have bothered to write down in past brainstorming sessions. Idea 12 is outside the invisible box. Ridiculous.

Step 3. But let’s go with the worst idea. Eggs.

Step 4. Now, forget the question and brainstorm what ever comes to mind about eggs.


  1. Egghead
  2. Faberge eggs
  3. Easter eggs
  4. Egg inspections
  5. Rare bird eggs
  6. Egging (as in egging a house)
  7. Human eggs
  8. Brown vs. White eggs
  9. Eggs and cholesterol
  10. Fish eggs
  11. Egg shape

I could come up with some story conflicts for several of the ideas, and most would’ve been unique conflicts. But what intrigued me involved a female author writing military thrillers and the man assigned to design the cover of her book.

The heroine wants to set the title inside an egg shape, because the main character is Major Eggleston. The hero insists the title should be set in an explosive star shape, a rectangle, or nothing. She argues the significant romantic element in the story suggests many women would enjoy the book. The cover needs to be softened. He counters she should stick to her primary audience: men who like military thrillers.

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I can see the conflict ramping up when he pulls rank because the book contract states the publisher will determine the cover. She changes tactics, pretending to be romantically interested in him. He doesn’t fall for her role-play, but he realizes he’s falling for her. And on it goes.

That was fun. Try it.

What low-ranking idea did you come up with while brainstorming, and how could you use it?