My Honest Review of “Beyond the Circle”

Hey, everyone! After much recovery from NaNoWriMo, I’m back to blogging. And today, I’m going to give you my honest opinion of Ted Dekker’s newest adult series: it’s a two-book series called “Beyond the Circle.”

I did a review on the first book, The 49th Mystic, which you can read by clicking here. The sequel, Rise of the Mystics, came out in October, and I was so excited, I read it in a matter of days. However, I was… not very impressed (I’m cringing as I’m typing this). Don’t get me wrong: Ted Dekker is a brilliant author, and Rise of the Mystics is some great storytelling. But I wasn’t very happy when I got to “The End.”

There won’t be any spoilers in this post, but if you’re VERY sensitive to sentences that very vaguely talk about things that might could possibly maybe happen, then I’d suggest reading the book first. 😉

Now, I went into Rise of the Mystics very hopeful and very excited. The 49th Mystic was amazing and promising and, simply put, awesome! (The villain was pretty epic too!!) I’ve got no problems with that one. Rise of the Mystics, however…

Let me start with the stuff I did like.

The storytelling. Ted has a natural gift for storytelling, and it shines through in this one. And overall, it was a great story. The characters were complex, the protagonist had a great character arc, all that stuff writers are supposed to say about other people’s books.

The story itself. It’s a gripping story, minus the fact that the beginning is really confusing. It’s definitely fast-paced and has that traditional thrilling Dekker suspense vibe. I won’t tell you too much about it, seeing as it’s a sequel and the story is just a continuation of The 49th Mystic. Plus, I promised there wouldn’t be any spoilers.

My problem is with the theology. (gasp!) If you’re unfamiliar with the series, theology plays a huge part in the story. Characters quote Scripture right and left and have huge, life-changing encounters with God. Which is great. Because encounters with God are very real things, and Scripture is of course the Word of God, and thus it is the source of all Truth. Ted’s not denying any of that, but the way he started interpreting parts of the Bible made me wonder what he was leading up to.

At first I just stopped reading for a second and made a mental note about it. No big deal. But as the story went on, the problem just got bigger… and bigger… 

And bigger.

And let me say, I was NOT happy with the way it ended.

Green was better.

And if you’ve been in the Dekker fandom for any length of time, you’ll know that the ending of Green is something we Do. Not. Talk. About.

At first, it seemed like Ted was trying to present a certain truth from the Bible, but the way he explained it didn’t quite feel right. Sure enough, it led to problems later in the book. Major problems. Like I-can-literally-point-to-a-hundred-specific-Bible-verses-that-directly-contradict-you kind of problems. Does the Bible say we should love everyone? Yes, because God made everyone, and all human beings are made in his image. Jesus personally told us to love our enemies. But that does not imply everything else that happened in the story… which I will not tell you about, because #spoilers. 

So… those are my thoughts. I enjoyed “Beyond the Circle” in general, but I am definitely still upset about the theology presented in it. All in all, I was disappointed. It’s a great story, it had great potential. It could have gone amazing places.

As a side note, Ted and his daughter Kara just came out with a children’s series called “The Dream Traveler’s Quest.” I actually really liked that series, but it was literally the same story, and thus some of the same theology. They presented deep truths in a way that kids can understand – a feat I admire – but once again, I started to question their theology at the end. It did have a better ending than Rise of the Mystics, though, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Have you read “Beyond the Circle?” What did you think?

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The Sequel Game

Hi, everyone!! NaNoWriMo’s halfway over, it’s less than a week till Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations are popping up all over the place. (Like, why? I’m a HUGE fan of Christmas, but I draw the line at getting a tree before Thanksgiving.)

At the end of this post I’ll have a little tip about NaNoWriMo, but first, I need to talk about something. One thing I’ve noticed about the writing world is that there is a plethora of advice floating around on the Internet. Everybody wants to tell you how to write a book. Which is great, because there’s actually a lot of really great advice out there… how to structure a plot, how to develop a character, how to add in backstory, how to do worldbuilding…

But one thing I’ve noticed that nobody can explain is that most of the writing advice I’ve ever seen is for either writing standalone books or the first book in a series.

What do you do with the rest of the series?

The first thing you need to realize about sequels is that there are different kinds of series. Probably the most common type is where each book picks up where the other one left off – think A Series of Unfortunate Events, or the Harry Potter saga. The other kind is where all the books are related, but you can honestly start anywhere and read them in any order because they don’t relate to each other much. The Nancy Drew series is a good example. 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we need to look at the very first thing you’ll come to when reading a sequel – the beginning. (duh.) In a first or standalone book, you’ll want to introduce the reader to the main character, give them a reason to like them/root for them/get emotionally attached to them. I’ll assume you’ve heard all that a million times and don’t need a reminder. 

It’s different with sequels. In a sequel, the reader already knows the main character, and they must have cared about them enough to pick up the sequel. It’s a good idea to restate a few basic facts about the protagonist – especially if it’s a series like Nancy Drew, where you don’t know which book the reader will pick up first.

The next point is backstory. It’s difficult for me to give advice on backstory, especially for how to handle it in sequels, because every series is structured differently. Unless the main character’s backstory is a mystery and a central part of the plot, you’ve probably already shared most of it, if not all of it, with the reader.  In sequels, we don’t need to be reminded of all the details. Just go over the main stuff.

And this makes sense, because people naturally think about the important parts of their past. Like in Harry Potter we learn in every single book that Harry is an orphan because his parents were murdered by Voldemort. That’s important. The fact that Dudley bullied him is not quite as important.

Plot structure is the big one. Of course each individual book should have its own climax and everything, and the main character should have a character arc. But in a series, this is multi-faceted. The series needs to have a plot structure as a whole. There should be one point where we reach the climax of the whole series. Like an individual book, the series should have a definite turning point somewhere around the middle. The same idea applies to character arcs.

Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to writing sequels… there is SO much more to think about! Real quick, let me give you a survival tip for NaNoWriMo…

If you’re behind (like me), you need to find a way to get those words written. What I’ve done is set a timer for thirty minutes and start writing. Don’t do anything else. Don’t check Facebook, don’t look at Harry Potter memes, don’t do the dishes or fold the laundry. Just write. At the end of thirty minutes, check to see how many words you wrote.

Then, take a ten to fifteen minute break (maybe it’s finally time to fold that laundry), then do it again. Write for thirty minutes. Don’t think about all the typos you’re making, don’t think about how stupid the scene probably sounds, just write.

You can keep going with that cycle for as long as you want. Usually what happens for me is that I get more and more words written every time. Sometimes I can even get up to 2000 words per hour. It’s a very exciting way to see your word count grow!

That’s all I have for now (I should probably get back to my NaNo novel…). But let me know in the comments if you have any advice to share about writing a sequel. And best of luck to you if you’re doing NaNoWriMo!

Have you ever written a book series?

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

#NaNoPrep: A Writing Survival Kit

Ah, it’s October now, isn’t it? You know what that means. Fall weather, pumpkins, and Halloween. Oh and also NaNoWriMo is less than a month away. Which means it’s NaNoPrep Month!!!

I did a NaNoPrep series last year, and everyone seemed to like it, so I thought I’d bring it back this year. I love the thrill of NaNoWriMo. The anticipation just gets bigger every year! For the past two years, I’ve kind of gotten anxious toward the end of October, because I never have any idea what I’m going to be writing until a week or so before it starts. For some reason, this year is different. I’ve been planning this project for months, and if all goes as planned, it’s gonna be a sequel to Inferno’s Melody (last year’s project).

Today I have a little survival kit for you. If you plan on participating, these tips might be helpful.

a writing survival kit

  • HealthThis is a big one. Let’s start with physical health. It may seem obvious, but writing is easier when you take care of yourself. Try to avoid staring at a screen for four hours at a time. It makes your eyes tired. Get up and exercise once in a while. Drink water. You know, the obvious stuff.

Mental health is important too. Take breaks and do stuff that’s completely unrelated to the story. Otherwise, your family might think you’ve gone insane. “Who is that you’re talking to?” they might ask, having just overheard you murmuring condolences to some invisible being. “Oh, nobody,” you respond. “I’m just apologizing to poor Kirk for what I’m about to do to him.” 

Your spiritual health is even more important than the other two. Don’t neglect your Bible reading just because you’re writing a new novel. Seriously. This is important. Spend time with the Lord.

  • Chocolate. I said this last year, I’ll say it again: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Best noveling snack there is. Dark chocolate has health benefits, too, so you don’t have to feel guilty about eating too much. Just wrote yourself into a corner? Your characters decided they don’t like you anymore? Take some advice from Professor Lupin and eat the chocolate. You’ll feel better.
  • Goals. My friend once gave me this advice. NaNoWriMo is structured in such a way so that it breaks down into manageable daily goals. To reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, you have to write approximately 1667 words per day. This is manageable, but may seem overwhelming at times. Instead of daily goals, try aiming for weekly goals. I like to have a number in the back of my head that I know I need to reach by the end of the week. That way, if I don’t quite make my daily goal, it won’t feel like I’m behind too much.
  • Focus. You know when your brain works best for writing. If at all possible, write at the same time every day. That way, you’ll get into a rhythm and be able to focus more easily. Also, that leaves you the rest of the day to do normal stuff and not worry about when you’ll get your writing done. Personally, I write my best stuff late at night, but I’ve met other writers who like to get up early, or write over lunch or a mid-afternoon snack.
  • Tools. I’m talking about your favorite pens (hey, it’s important! I can’t write without my dark blue ballpoint pen!), a special notebook (I like to decorate the cover of mine with scrapbook paper), a computer and your favorite word processing program, and of course your favorite book series to read when you get blocked and need a burst of inspiration.

So, if you’re embarking on an epic writing journey this November, best of luck!  May the creative force be with you. May the words be ever in your favor. I plan on doing several more posts for the #NaNoPrep series, so check back in a few days! (And yes, there must be a hashtag in front of it. It makes it look cool and official.)

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

If you have any other survival tips, let me know in the comments!

The Truth About Clichés

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about clichés. Writers are told to avoid them like the plague. They are a horribly awful very bad idea. A big no-no. Clichés are a sign of lazy writing, amateur writing, and all sorts of other writing that you’d never want to associate with.

Think of the young, orphaned, teenage protagonist who is secretly the Chosen One but doesn’t know it until an old, bearded, magical, wizard-like mentor tells him.

Think of the Super Evil Bad Guy who has a bazillion evil traits and zero good ones, who’s so evil, there’s no hope of redemption.

Think of love triangles, dark and stormy nights, ancient prophecies that always come true, and my personal favorite, quests for magical artifacts.

By the way, I am definitely guilty of most if not all of the above.

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So if you’re not supposed to use clichés, what are you supposed to do? Well, you’ve heard it before. You have to twist the cliché. Do something unexpected with it. For example, if you just have to have a Chosen One in your story, perhaps you could give your protagonist a big ego about his special status. Or maybe the Chosen One isn’t the protagonist at all.

See, agents and editors hate clichés. Readers notice them, too. They roll their eyes and might even stop reading altogether, and that’s the last thing writers want. The solution? Be original.

But that’s not what I’m aiming for. I want to go deeper. Twisting clichés is fun and entertaining, and will probably improve your writing, but there is a line that you are not allowed to cross.

People are afraid of originality.

Let me say that again, just to make sure it sinks in:

People are afraid of originality.

We live in a culture that is addicted to comfort, and can’t handle the unfamiliar. We all have our comfort zones, and we are perfectly happy staying inside them. And yet, we get tired of the same old, same old. If we still read books at all, we are absolutely terrified of anything original. Clichés are familiar, something we know. They’re tried and true, they’re safe. Comfortable. Boring, even. So when authors twist clichés, it’s a win-win. The book still holds that hint of familiarity, and yet it’s something different, something fresh.

But when the author does something completely original – well, that’s when people aren’t sure what to think. Even agents and editors shy away. That’s why J. K. Rowling got twelve rejections before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published. Sure, there are probably lots of clichés in the Harry Potter franchise, but it’s just that no one had done anything quite like that before. No one knew what to think. And now, twenty years later, millions of other authors have been inspired by her books.

But being original – really original – is hard work to begin with. Even if you do manage to create something amazing, you’ll have to deal with rejections and general disinterest. And I shouldn’t even mention the workload. Tolkien spent years writing The Lord of the Rings. Twelve, to be approximate. And that was just one story. Before that, he wrote The Hobbit, and before that, he was developing the language and lore of Middle-earth.

In conclusion, I highly discourage it. Don’t be original. It’s way too much work. It won’t pay off right away, if ever. Stay in your comfort zone, keep your readers in theirs, and everyone will be okay. Twist those clichés, insert plot twist or two, but don’t go crazy with your originality. Stay safe. No one wants that idea that doesn’t quite fit in with anything else.

Okay. Let me say what I came here to say.

Be brave, dear writer. Pursue things that no author has pursued before. Step out of your comfort zone. Leave behind the familiar. Write about things that scare you, terrify you even. Write about things that make you sad. Write until your tears stain your notebook. Write to embark on a journey of discovery. Write a real, honest story, not the watered-down version that people like. And when you’ve finished, take another step, perhaps the hardest step of all. Let other people read it. It will take them outside of their comfort zones, yes. But that’s good. Let them embark on this journey of discovery, too.

And don’t give up. Giving up will be the easiest path, I can guarantee you that. You may fail. But you can get up again. You can keep trying. You may get ten rejections, you may get a hundred. But you can keep writing. If it’s a story that tugs at your heart and won’t let go, God put it there in front of you for a reason, and you had better keep writing it.

What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) clichés?

What authors have inspired you?

A Proper Fangirl’s Guide to The 49th Mystic

I am SO VERY EXCITED FOR THIS POST. Seriously. I would say Ted Dekker was my favorite author, except I’ve already given that title to J.R.R. Tolkien.

But, if you’re a huge Ted Dekker fan like I am, I’m willing to bet you’ve read his latest book and LOVED it. Dekker did a lot of interviews/video series about it, and in almost every one of them, he claimed that The 49th Mystic is the culmination of his entire career. As an author, I kind of brushed his statement off… because every book I’ve ever written has felt like the culmination of my career.

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But he was right. The 49th Mystic is truly something special. It’s not like his other books. But then again, it is. It reminds me of some of his older stuff, like the Circle Trilogy. It’s part epic fantasy, part thriller, part theological disquisition. And plus, the villain is pretty sweet. Like Marsuvees. ❤ ❤ ❤

(Why on earth did I put a bunch of little hearts next to Marsuvees’s name?!)

For the sake of everyone who has not yet read the book, this is going to be a spoiler-free post. However, I highly encourage you to stop reading this post right now and go read the book first. But in case you need a little extra encouragement, I’m going to give you 6,781 reasons that you should read it:

  • It’s reminiscent of the Paradise Trilogy. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that it takes place in a small, sequestered town. We get glimpses of another world… there’s some magical books somewhere… and did I mention the super-fancy, super-evil, super-good-looking, super-amazing villain who shows up out of nowhere and starts taking over everything?
  • The way it ties into everything else. Dekker is a master of weaving different series together. You can read them independently, but it’s so much more fun if you read them all, because then you get the full picture! Also, The 49th Mystic made some connections that I wasn’t expecting. If you’d like, it might be interesting to read The 49th Mystic, Green, and Immanuel’s Veins all at the same time. No spoilers. Just sayin’, it’s a good idea.
  • It’s the long-awaited continuation of the Circle Series. Okay, kind of. The subtitle is “Beyond the Circle.” And let me tell you, it is EPIC.
  • The villain. Oh wait, I’ve already mentioned him. Moving on…
  • The characters. The main character is nice and all, but I like the side characters the best. I usually do, actually. Not to mention the villain. And there were some pretty awesome side characters here. No spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.
  • The sheer epic-ness of it all. Dude, it’s a seriously amazing book! And the theme… the way the theme plays out, all the deep theological points, definitely awesome.

Yes, that was in fact 6,781 reasons. I counted them myself.

About the only thing I didn’t like about the book was that you have to wait until October 2 for the sequel. Two. More. Long. Months. To go. (And The 49th Mystic came out in May, so back then it was even longer.)

You know, I think it’d be fun to start an official fandom for Ted Dekker. There used to be one. They used to have an annual Gathering (no joke). But now? There are no memes, no fanart, no fanfiction, no cool merchandise. If you can find any of it, it’s a very rare treasure indeed.

But you know what? None of that matters. Great books don’t exist to have the loyal following of avid (and frankly obsessive) fans. No, great books exist to change you, and the truly greatest books point you back to God, to display His glory.

And I can say with confidence that The 49th Mystic will do that.

Have you read The 49th Mystic? What did you think?

Interview with Pam Ogden!

Today, I am soooooo excited to have the opportunity to interview my friend and fellow author Pam Ogden! Her first book, He Made Me Brave, released on June 14th, and there is SUCH a cool story behind it, that I wanted to share it with all of you.

20180626_184515Six years ago, Pam and her family adopted a little boy from South Korea. Now, they are working through the adoption process again – and if you know anything about it, you know that it is very long and very expensive. He Made Me Brave is the story of their last adoption, taken from Pam’s travel journal when they went to Korea. It’s a story filled with overwhelming emotion and God’s redeeming power. It’s a love story, it’s an adventure story, it’s a testimony of God’s work. Thus, it is my great honor to be able to introduce you to its author.

~~~

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Talia: What inspired He Made Me Brave? What’s the story behind the creation of this book?

 

pam ogden author headshotPam: My inspiration was fear! I didn’t mean to be writing a book, honestly. A few days before we left for South Korea, I noticed that recording my thoughts, and especially very concrete details about what was happening around me helped to ease my anxieties.  Somehow, writing down the “reality” was a very effective way to combat my tendency to catastrophize and was the only thing that seemed to keep me grounded and present in the moment. I had so many fears about the trip, flying, meeting Hudson for the first time, and my competence as a mom, and all of those fears were coming to one giant climax simultaneously. I was just lucky enough to find a tool that helped me cope with those fears, at exactly the right time.

I kept my iPad nearby through the entire trip, and concentrated on my tactile observations anytime my anxiety threatened to overwhelm me. At first I had no plan for what would become of the journal after the trip. It was purely a tool for my personal use. But as I read over it the night before we met Hudson, I realized what a colorful record of this landmark event was emerging. I thought that someday I might share it with him.

When we decided to start the adoption process again, we pulled out our souvenirs from the trip to South Korea, and then I was reminded of the travel journal. I read over it for the first time in five years, and the descriptions reawakened all the memories and emotions from the trip. I decided to share some of the entries on my new blog, to give my friends and family some history for our second adoption. I was shocked by the volume of feedback I received, and how many people suggested that I turn the entries into a book.

During Thanksgiving break, on a whim, I submitted a partial application to the publishing company Lucid Books, but I had no expectations there. I intended to self-publish on Amazon, and hopefully raise some money for our second adoption. To my complete surprise, I received an email and then a phone call from Lucid, praising the work that I had submitted, and offering to publish the book!

Talia: Wow, that’s an amazing (and very exciting) story! Especially because you never even considered publishing it! You said your inspiration was fear, and in your book, you talk very frankly about your anxiety. Was there any part of the book that was particularly scary for you to write or to share with other people?

Pam: Because I wrote the book for myself and didn’t intend for anyone else to see it, it wasn’t scary to write at all. Actually it was very soothing.

But once I started the publishing process, knowing that people would be reading all those private thoughts was nerve wracking! I was unsure about how both my skill as a first-time writer and also my very personal reflections would be received. It’s terrifying to be that vulnerable; to allow my raw and unpolished thoughts to be exposed. I am hopeful that people will find it encouraging and validating, and especially that the people who played parts in the story will find themselves represented well.

Talia: I know exactly what you mean! Writing, especially sharing your writing with others, is being vulnerable, and sometimes, that is very hard to do. I am glad you decided to share your book, though–and I have no doubt it will encourage other people! Did you ever dream of writing a book before you wrote this one?

Pam: I have always dreamed of writing a book. I never felt like I had anything important enough to say, though, honestly.

Talia: Do you plan to continue writing?

Pam: I hope to! I published this book to help with the second adoption, and I would love to write a second book about our trip to Japan to pick up this baby. The stories of both adoptions are so interconnected, it would be more like a sequel.

I guess a second book is really in God’s hands, though. The adoption process is such a volatile and unpredictable animal, I am still hoping and praying that there will be a second adoption to write about.

Talia: That would be so cool if you wrote a sequel! You’re right, this whole thing is in God’s hands. I love how in He Made Me Brave, you can see God’s hand throughout it all. You can see how He was working through every part of your story! What are your hopes for this book as part of your current adoption process?

Pam: My hopes for the book are twofold. Of course I would love for the book to be so successful, that it helps to fund our second adoption, but I know that is an unrealistic goal for a first time author.

So I hope that the book will be a platform for me to build on, both as a future author, and also as an advocate for international adoption. Not many people know about the current decline in adoptions from other countries. One statistic I saw showed an 81% drop in adoptions from foreign countries in the last ten years. The problems are not solely trends in personal or individual family preferences. The changes that our government is making in the adoption process are causing fees to soar astronomically, and delays to stretch on indefinitely. Also, the statistics for children who are institutionalized for their entire childhoods, and then are expected to care for themselves when they age out are horrifying. I would love to use any exposure the book brings me to raise awareness of this problem. And if our story compels a reader to donate financially to our adoption, then we would be incredibly grateful for that, too!

Talia: It’s sad that not many people know about those problems. I know it’s caused unbelievable stress for some families (probably you, too!). I think the goals you have for your book are very good ones. Who knows, God may use you to call others to help, maybe even to consider adoption themselves!

Now, because I just have to know, who are some authors who impacted you as a writer? Inspired you as a reader?

Pam: My favorite authors are Victor Hugo and Joan Aiken. Both of them describe the world and humanity in a way that inspires a sense of romance and wonder without sacrificing reality. I love writing that can both tell a story and also appeal to my love of poetry and metaphor, and my favorite stories include themes of redemption, mercy and compassion.

Talia: love both of those authors! Victor Hugo is absolutely amazing, and Joan Aiken too. The way you described their writing is spot-on, and I think those themes you listed are part of what makes a timeless story.

This brings us to the close of our interview, but I just wanted to say thank you so much for being willing to do it! It was a lot of fun coming up with questions and seeing how you answered, and I liked getting to hear a little bit more about your book. I’m sure God will use it all for His glory.

~~~

If you like, you can visit Pam’s blog.

Or, do her a favor and buy her book on Amazon. 😀

pam ogden author headshotHomeschool mom and pastor’s wife Pam Ogden had dreamed of being a mom since she was a little girl.  She and her husband wanted six children, but their plans were waylaid when high-risk pregnancies and premature births threatened their first four babies.  In 2012, they adopted their son, and in 2017, they started the process to adopt one more child.  Pam graduated with honors from George Fox University, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Writing and Literature, and a Master’s degree in Counseling.  Pam loves her small-town life in Sweet Home, Oregon, with her husband, Jason, and their five children: Kelly, Luka, Ivan, Ember, and Hudson.  Pam and Jason hope to add one more child soon.

 

The Paradox of Free Will

Happy summer, everyone! Today I have something a bit out of the ordinary… This has very little to do with writing, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, so I might as well share it with you all.

Free will. It’s the source of many debates, scholarly books, and carefully-formed opinions and worldviews. As Christians we know that God is sovereign, that He controls everything… but we also are free to make choices. If everything is predestined, if God has known since before the beginning of time precisely what will take place in the universe, right down to our most mundane choices… then do we really have free will?

Disclaimer: I’m not a theologian. I’m not saying I’m right. I’m merely offering you a simple metaphor.

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Let’s start with this. Sometimes I like to break the fourth wall. Actually, what’s more fun is not even breaking it, just touching it a little, acknowledging that it’s there. Like this little dialogue between two characters from my first novel:

“What if I’m just stalling?”

“Why would you stall?”

“Because it’s always what happens in all the books.”

“Is this a book?”

“What if it is? If this were a book, the author would be controlling our every action and everything we say. Do you have free will of what you say and do?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s not a book.”

See the irony? Heheheh. My characters have no idea what they’re talking about. But, just for a moment, let’s actually consider it. Consider an author. This author is writing a book, yes? But the question is, do the characters in the book have free will?

Well… yes, they do, obviously. That should be a “duh” question. The characters make their own choices, whether good or bad, and one way or another, they endure the consequences of those choices.

But then again, doesn’t the author already know what they’re going to do? That’s kind of what an author does, you know? The author has complete control over what happens in the story, and yes, that includes characters’ actions and thoughts. That doesn’t really give the characters much freedom if the author is controlling them, does it? Hence, the paradox: Yes, the characters have free will, but the author still has sovereign control.

“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)

God is the founder of our faith. Some versions use the word author instead of founder. God is not only the founder and perfecter of our faith; He is also the Author of Life, and we are all characters in His story. This story has been going since the beginning of time, since that moment God said, “Let there be,” and there was.

Unlike the stories I like to write, and every other story in existence, God’s story doesn’t end. It doesn’t have “The End” stenciled in fancy lettering on the last page. It will go on for eternity.

It’s not the answer to this puzzling mystery, but it’s a way to look at it. It’s a way to wrap our minds around a tiny piece of it. The mystery of God’s sovereignty and our free will may never be explained fully, maybe not even for all of eternity.

Maybe paradoxes don’t bother you. But if you’re anything like me, you can’t let them rest. But I can rest in this: God is sovereign, and His knowledge encompasses this mystery and countless others. God, my Creator, has written – is still writing – His story.

What do you think? Is author/story context a good way to look at God’s sovereignty and our free will?

Lessons from Lemony

Why are you doing an entire post about Lemony Snicket? Isn’t this a writing blog, not a fangirl blog? Why Lemony Snicket, and not one of your top favorite authors?

If that sounds like you, let me tell you now: you’re asking all the wrong questions.

If you’ve read his books at all, you know there’s no one else quite like Lemony. He’s a very good writer, and yet he broke almost every writing rule I know of. His books are, in all honesty, pretty ridiculous, and yet I couldn’t put them down. How does he do that??

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Probably the most important thing I learned from reading Snicket’s books is that you shouldn’t be afraid to break the rules. I don’t mean this in a bad way, as in, actually doing something illegal. I mean rules about writing. Have you ever heard that you should never, ever, ever stop the story to explain something to the reader? That’s one of the biggest no-no’s of the writing world.

And yet, Snicket is notorious for stopping in the middle of an action sequence to extensively define a word. Or starting a new chapter with a completely unrelated story about his own life. Or breaking off to engage the reader in a Very Fascinating Discussion about the water cycle, which has nothing to do with the story at present.

But here’s the thing. Lemony Snicket actually increased my vocabulary with all of his digressions. If not for him, I still wouldn’t know what the words austere or ersatz meant. And if you just skim over the parts about his past life, you’ll actually start missing important clues. Even the water cycle ended up being important.

So, takeaway #1: Don’t be afraid to experiment with the rules. There are times when they shouldn’t be broken, but if you follow them too strictly, you may end up missing something.

The characters are next on the list. Now, the characters could be better, and by that I mean most of them are static characters (meaning they don’t change much over the course of the story. I like to see characters’ struggles as they change.) Toward the end, Snicket went a little deeper, but overall, his characters are just memorable. You can’t help but love every single one of them, and if you can’t love them, you love being annoyed by them.

Each of the characters has their own talents, whether it’s inventing, reading, cooking, poetry, mycology, or even villainy. Side characters tend to have quirks rather than talents, such as being a horrible violin player, or having a bad taste in fashion, or being in love with the most boring job in the world.

Takeaway #2: Make each character memorable. Give them a tag, something that separates them from all other characters. Give the reader a reason to love them. I could write an entire series of posts just about how to accomplish that, but we must move on to the next thing I love about Lemony:

20180426_211727His secret codes and messages. Everyone loves the challenge of finding and decoding hidden messages. Like the letters “VFD” hidden in the eye symbol. Like when the first letter of every sentence spells a word. Oftentimes these messages are hidden in plain sight.

I actually have suspicions that he hid a message throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven’t found anything yet, but the illustrator, Brett Helquist, once hid a secret, encoded message in the illustrations for a different series, so it’s not completely unreasonable. (The series is Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, if you want to know.)

I also love the importance Snicket placed on books and libraries. Every single one of his books features a library of some sort, even if it’s just a tiny collection of books. Usually, one of these books contains the answer to a puzzling question of a mystery. Books contain knowledge, and Snicket reiterated that message over and over. It’s kinda refreshing, seeing as we live in a world overrun by technology. It’s like that feeling you get whenever you walk into a library. You know, it feels almost shut off from the rest of the world, because decades if not centuries of knowledge rest on the long rows of bookshelves, and it’s one of the few places where you can truly say, “The world is quiet here.”

Have you read anything by Lemony Snicket?

What do you think of his unique style? His ridiculous characters?

10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing

Hello, everyone! Today, I will share ten super-secret, insiders-edition-only, banned-by-federal-government tips about starting out as a writer. Because, let’s face it: You can go to any author’s website and get awesome advice, because published authors clearly know what they’re doing. Or, you can approach any writer who’s had more experience than you, and they can give you advice. Right?

Right. But not all the time. See, there’s this misconception going around that aspiring authors start out clueless, but as they gain more experience, they become more confident and learn how to make the right writing choices.

*cricket noises*

10things1Maybe I’m just different than everyone else, but I was the opposite. When I decided I wanted to be an author, I knew EXACTLY what I was doing. And now, three and a half books later, I have absolutely no idea what the heck I’m doing. Sure, I’ve definitely LEARNED  lot… but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying that there are things that aspiring authors need to hear. And sometimes, people are so eager to dole out their prestigious advice, they forget to say some of the most important things.

Looking back, there are several things I wish I’d known when I started writing. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. The experts know what they’re talking about. Most of the time. They’ve traveled this road ahead of you; they themselves learned the same things. When they give you advice, their goal is to save you the pain of learning the hard way. I remember getting annoyed at experts, because I already knew how to write, so how dare they try to tell me any differently? It turns out that they were right all along. Go figure.

2. You will cry. You will have bad days when nothing works, and you will cry because of how miserable you are. You will have good days when everything is glorious, and you will cry because of how beautiful it all is. You will cry for your poor characters whom you torment so relentlessly. You will become emotionally attached to your story. And this is a good and necessary thing, because you want your readers to become emotionally involved too, don’t you?

3. Every writer is different. Best method for writing a book? There isn’t one. And this is one example of when you should take professional advice with a grain of salt. Lots of people will tell you that you need to outline your book before you even start writing it. If that sounds lovely, go for it. But if, in middle school, being forced to write an outline for an essay was worse than being dragged off to Mordor and tortured, then for heaven’s sake, DON’T OUTLINE!!! Many people will tell you that you need to do some planning before you start writing, that you need to figure out your characters, the plot structure, and the theme. Try it if you like, but if it makes your creativity dry up (as it does for me), then don’t do it.

4. Just be yourself. You know that author you look up to? The one whose books you devour? That author you want to be just like? I wrote a post about this a while back, which you can read here. My advice to you is this: be yourself. The best authors weren’t concerned with trying to be someone else.

the end5. “The End” is not the finish line. Oh my, this is a big one. I used to think that if I could just finish writing the book, I will have accomplished something big. This is true, but in reality, hitting “The End” is just like climbing the first 100 feet of Mount Everest. After that, you’ve got editing and publishing and marketing (oh my!). I actually don’t know if there’s a finish line at all.

6. It’s not all fun and games. Sure, it might start out that way, but I can guarantee it will get harder. Your characters won’t listen to you. The muses won’t show up. Your carefully-planned-out plot will spontaneously decide to wear a hole in itself.

7. It shouldn’t become your identity. It shouldn’t overtake your mind to the point that you think about nothing else. You shouldn’t lose sight of the real world because your are living in the one you made up. It’s not healthy, and it doesn’t glorify God.

8. Persistence is key. You will be tempted to give up time and time again. But if you keep going, you will grow. If you don’t give up, amazing things will happen. Writers are known for doing the impossible.

9. Writing is a highly unique learning process. You don’t learn from a textbook; you learn by doing. Every author embarks on a journey – a journey to learn, to create things no one has ever created before. How can anyone teach you how to do that?

10. God will use you for things you never imagined. I wanted to shake the world. I wanted my stories to ignite a spark in the hearts of many. But that’s not what God wants for me right now. Instead, he showed me a much smaller idea: to show the love of God to one person. One. God will use you – and your writing, if that’s what he has called you to do – to accomplish things your wild imagination could never dream up.

That’s all I have for now, but I hope these tips helped you! Feel free to share any of your own tips in the comments!

What’s something you wish you knew before you started writing?

Seeing the World through His Eyes

Some people call it stepping into their shoes. I call it seeing through their eyes. Either way, it means basically the same thing: taking on another’s viewpoint, thinking the way they think, seeing the way they see, experiencing things the way they experience them. It’s crucial when writing, because every character interprets the story differently. Everyone’s the hero in their own eyes. And as authors, we must learn to adapt a viewpoint other than our own.

Empathy is a big part of that. Usually, empathy grows with writing. I have found that the more I write, the more I am able to empathize not only with my characters but also with real-life, flesh-and-blood people I know. I am able to take on their point of view, see situations the way they do, and thus understand their reactions to them. It’s a gift… and it’s also a curse I sometimes wish I didn’t have.

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Since seeing the story through the main character’s eyes is such a big part of writing, you can imagine the lengths authors go to. As you probably know, writers are a bit crazy. We are known to do all sorts of weird stuff in an attempt to see through our characters’ eyes. Like listening to classical Russian music for twelve hours straight (I haven’t done this yet, but I need to), or running through the woods at midnight screaming bloody murder because you think a serial killer is chasing you (also on my to-do list). Or joining the Mafia, getting kidnapped by the local Dark Lord, or stealing nuclear weapons from the government. Let’s keep it legal, people. And did I mention safety?

The point is, you should strive to see things the way your characters do. Simply knowing who they are is not enough. Empathizing is not enough. In order to write well, you have to actually be able to look at things and interpret things the way they would. I PROMISE that it gets better and easier the more your write. But it never hurts to step into your character’s shoes for the day and see how they would react to your everyday circumstances. Unless your character is a psychopath. Please don’t ever try that.

That’s not all there is to it, however. If you have mastered the art of viewing the story through the character’s eyes and not your own, you have mastered one of the most difficult aspects of writing. But as a Christian, I don’t want to limit myself merely to my characters.

I have often asked God to let me look at the world the way He would–not through my own sinful eyes. Not through the filter of my own selfishness or anger, not in light of my own problems, but with love. And not my own incompetent love. God’s perfect, unconditional love.

It’s amazing what a simple prayer like that can do. Sometimes God does it without me even thinking to ask. He has shown me issues in this world that I am passionate about. He has honed and deepened the calling He placed on my life. And when God helps me look at the world through His eyes, I am overwhelmed by a fierce love not often felt. Instead of being afraid of all the evil in this world, I see people who are lost in the dark. People who have never heard God’s name. It’s terrifying and saddening at the same time. The little things that used to matter fall away, and instead I see a bigger picture.

It’s like that song by Brandon Heath called “Give Me Your Eyes.” Technically, I shouldn’t put the lyrics on here because they’re copyrighted, so you should look them up yourself. I use the chorus as a prayer sometimes. And really, we all should be praying it all the time. It’s not just for crazy writers. According to Philippians, God wants all Christians have the same mindset that Christ did.

So, seeing the world through you character’s eyes is crucial if you want to write a good story. But seeing the world through God’s eyes will help you write a great story. One that will help you, the author, grow. One that glorifies Him.

 

Have you ever sought to see the world through another’s eyes?

If you’re a writer, what was the hardest character you’ve ever written?