3 Common Clichés and Where They Came From

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! (Depending on when you read this, it might be more like Happy almost-Thanksgiving.) Today, I am going to talk about three very common clichés in fiction. Surprisingly, all of them can also be found in the Bible. Not that that’s a bad thing, because the Bible isn’t fiction. It’s Truth. But it’s interesting to notice.

1. Ancient prophecies about the Chosen One.

Gosh, how many times have we seen this? It’s so common, I actually get disappointed when my favorite books do it. “Seriously? Another prophecy? I didn’t see that coming…” Prophecies are cool and all (especially in Macbeth), but really? Really? Authors can’t be a bit more creative?

And why do the prophecies always have to be ancient? Like, just why? And they’re always about some mysterious, powerful “Chosen One?”

Maybe the reason is because deep down, we long for a story like that. The earliest prophecy about Jesus actually occurred in the Garden of Eden, right after Adam and Eve sinned. And all throughout the Old Testament, we get glimpses of this Chosen One, this Messiah who is to come. There are actually hundreds prophecies about him. 

This brings us right into our next cliché…

2. The Chosen One is just your average Joe.

Once we actually meet the Chosen One (usually the main character), he’s nothing special. He’s the farmboy. The orphan. The nobody. He’s got no special powers, no magic, no knowledge of this greater world all around him, and nobody ever pays him any attention. He’s no one.

Not on the surface, at least.

Once he finds out who he really is, though… That’s when the story really starts to get exciting. By exciting, of course I mean “eye-rolling.” Because it’s so predictable.

But if we look at Jesus, the Bible actually says he was an ordinary guy. He wasn’t particularly good-looking, he was the son of a carpenter, he wasn’t rich or popular. His closest friends were fishermen, tax collectors, and other completely ordinary people.

I think you know where this is going… Jesus was also fully God, given incredible power by his Father, and he eventually saved the world. That’s putting it in the simplest possible terms, but yeah. He died, so we could live…

…which brings us to our next point:

3. If a dead body vanishes, it’s not really dead.

How many times have we seen this one? It doesn’t only apply to the Chosen One, though it certainly does many times (I won’t spoil anything, but I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples). Even villains. “Oh, is the villain dead? Bummer. Well, nobody saw his body, so… yeah, definitely alive.”

As a little side note to all the Sherlock fans out there… this is precisely why I refuse to believe Moriarty is really dead. I mean, who actually saw his body? Just Sherlock? Anyway…

Jesus, of course, was resurrected – and the story was spread that his body was stolen. Interesting, considering the Romans took practically every safety precaution imaginable…

Yeah. The bottom line is, if a dead body mysteriously disappears, then they’re not dead. Or in some cases, they’ve come back from being dead.

So that’s my take on clichés. I think it’s interesting that many of them can be found in the Bible. That just goes to show that there is only one Story, and deep down, all of us want to hear it again and again and again.

Do y’all have any Thanksgiving plans?

What do you think about clichés?

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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.

the paradox of free will (2)

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?

Joy to the World

In honor of Christmas, I thought I would write about joy. Joy through trials, that is. I don’t usually write on this topic, but it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing, and I feel like I should post it. It has very little to do with writing, actually. And honestly, how am I qualified to even write about such a topic as trials and suffering? I’m sixteen years old; how much have I actually seen in life? Not much. How much have I actually had to endure? Compared to some others, not much.

But I want to write this post to encourage anyone who is going through some sort of trial right now. I want to remind you that God will use whatever you’re going through in truly spectacular ways. I know it’s nearly impossible to see in the midst of trials, but He will bring something out of it.

Let me tell you a story.

advent-wreath-3008858_640Last winter and spring, I went through a period of depression. It lasted for several months. Everything was meaningless, even things that used to mean everything to me. It was hard to get up every morning and keep going. Even my spiritual life was meaningless. I knew I should find joy in Jesus; I knew He could help me find some meaning in this thing called life again. And even though I knew that, the depression and the tears lingered.

And God did eventually help me find meaning. He did help me find joy. But that’s not really the point of going through trials. The end goal isn’t to get out of them. God wouldn’t do that; He wouldn’t put us through hard things and then bring us back out of them without letting us learn something.

I was reading through some of my old journals the other day. About six or seven months ago, in the midst of my depression, I was writing things like this: “That fiery passion I felt for the Gospel? It’s gone…. I’m afraid I’ll never find it again. How can I lose sight of my calling now, after I’ve come so far?”

The Gospel is something that sets me on fire. At least, it used to, before everything turned gray and became devoid of any meaning. The Gospel has been the calling on my life since I was a child. I’ve always felt that nudge from God. But not then. It scared me. I was afraid I’d never be able to experience the Gospel and all of its beauty again.

And guess what happened? It wasn’t an instant change. Some parts of it were, definitely, and sometimes God does bring us out of our trials instantly like that. But not this one. This one was more gradual. I couldn’t really see God’s amazing work until I zoomed out. But His work was truly amazing.

This past summer, I had another opportunity to serve at Camp Attitude. I’ve gone with a group from church for the past few years, and it’s always an amazing experience. You get to volunteer there to serve disabled kids and their families, which sounds like a boring way to spend a week of your life. But while I was there this summer, God showed me what truly living looks like. He showed me what joy really is. After long, rough months of slogging through life, God showed me what it truly means to be alive.

That week at Camp Attitude was kind of like God chuckling to himself and dramatically reversing my vision of my life. But He works in smaller, less obvious ways, too. Just the other day, I realized that the first new book I wrote after being depressed for so long was Inferno’s Melody. The whole point of that book is the fire God places on our hearts. Of course I didn’t plan it that way. God did.

Seeing the way God works is what brings me joy. And when people say “joy through trials,” it’s easy to picture third-year Ron Weasley, trying to predict Harry’s future: “So you’re gonna suffer, but you’re gonna be happy about it.” But James 1:2-4 says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Like I said, I don’t have a lot of life experience. I haven’t been through the kinds of trials some people have. Paul, in Philippians, said he had learned to be content no matter what circumstances he got thrown into. I confess I can’t say that about myself while being honest about it. But this I can say: I have learned that you can have joy through trials, if not during them, then definitely after you see what God has done through them.

And what better time to meditate on it than during Christmas, when Jesus came down to Earth as a human? When he came to face trials for our sake? When he came to suffer so that we’d never have to suffer the eternal wrath of God? It doesn’t mean we won’t ever suffer – in the Gospels, Jesus promised us that we would suffer. But when we do, we can have joy because He has already overcome the world.

I hope this encourages you. If you want to talk, please leave a comment, or send me a private email on my contact page. Merry Christmas!!

Do you have a favorite story about how God has worked through trials (it doesn’t have to be about your own life)?

Are you looking forward to Christmas? How do you plan to spend the holidays?

A Year of Blogging and a Critique Giveaway!

Happy Saturday, everyone! Today marks a milestone for me: I started blogging exactly one year ago! (And yet, WordPress still likes to put a squiggly red line under the word “blog”. I don’t understand it.)

In honor of this milestone, I am hosting my very first giveaway! I will be giving away one (1) free critique of the first five hundred words of whatever you’re writing. I’ve seen so many critique giveaways lately, it’s like everyone’s in on it or something. So I thought I’d join in. You can find more details on how to enter at the bottom of this post. But first…

one year of blogging

After one year of blogging, my three most popular posts are…

My Crazy Writing Life (which, coincidentally, was my very first post)

#NaNoPrep: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome + Giveaway!! (the giveaway has long been over, unfortunately, but you can still read the post!)

Introducing: Inferno’s Melody (which is probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever posted)

And just for fun, I’ll also share my fourth most popular post, because it happens to be one of my personal favorites:

An Analysis of a Story. (I love writing about stuff like this.)

Man, I have learned so much by blogging. You’d think it’s just a fun way to be able to write and share my thoughts with the world, but no. It’s hard. I’m the type of person who doesn’t eagerly share my thoughts with anyone (unless these thoughts involve conspiracy theories about Sherlock or facts about quantum physics).

By blogging, I have gotten way more comfortable with letting other people read my writing and hear my thoughts. I have learned that perfection is an illusion (unless it’s God we’re talking about), and that realization is primarily what made me decide to (finally) let people read that book I wrote over a year ago. Although it may not seem like it, that was a big step for me. In fact, getting to that point was harder than getting to the end of NaNoWriMo, which is saying something if you’ve ever attempted NaNo.

Blogging is also very freeing for me. Writing is the primary way I express myself, but since stories take so long to craft, all of my thoughts build up inside, and blogging is a way to get them out. Here, I can tell you what I’m learning about God. Here, I can tell you about the reason why I write the stories that I do.

The last thing I want to mention is how amazing it feels to be able to inspire others. I’ve had multiple people tell me that certain things I’ve blogged about have inspired them. I can remember so many times when I’ve read other people’s blogs and felt greatly inspired, and I think it’s awesome that I’m able to be that person to somebody else.

And without further ado…

critique giveaway

The entry form for the critique giveaway can be found below! The form you’re filling out is technically a contact form, which was the easiest way for me to do it, so after you hit the “Submit” button, you will see a little notice that the “message has been sent.” This just means that I’ve received an email notification of your entry. Nothing you submit will be published or visible to anyone but me, with the exception of the winner’s name. 

If you win, you get to send me the first 500 words of whatever you’re writing… it can be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, whatever you want. It can even be an essay or something like that. The only limitation is that it must be completely clean and PG- (or better-) rated. If you win and your work doesn’t meet those requirements, I may have to choose another winner.

If your work is less than five hundred words, I’ll critique the whole thing. If it’s ridiculously close to 500 (like 502), that’s fine too. It wouldn’t make sense to leave a couple of words out.

You have until midnight on December 23 to enter. I would appreciate it if some of you spread the word through social media (it’s no fun if only a few people enter), but it’s not required.

The winner will be announced Saturday, December 23.

Good luck!

 

What’s something new you’ve tried this year? What has it taught you?

Introducing: Inferno’s Melody

Happy December, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I always get really excited about Christmas. I love picking out a Christmas tree, and decorating it with my family, and baking Christmas cookies and making a huge mess in the kitchen. It’s the best.

I like to use December to get a break from whatever story I happened to be writing for NaNoWriMo. You really do need that break, even if you don’t feel like it. I desperately want to keep working on it this month, but I’m taking a break anyway. I’ve got a couple of other deadlines I have to keep track of for other stories.

I wanted to write more posts last month, but, you know, NaNo keeps you pretty tied up. But today I thought I would tell you how it went. I thought I’d officially introduce you to my newest novel: Inferno’s Melody. I have never told anyone about a book two days after I finish writing it. Never. I almost didn’t post this today. I feel very vulnerable, baring my heart like this. But I think this is something I need to say.

Inferno (1)NaNoWriMo pretty much never goes the way I expect. This year, I’d expected it to be an epic mad dash of writing day after day and a brand-new story emerging from the smoking ashes. Well, I guess that technically happened, but not in the way I’d expected. You see, this is the third novel I’ve written, and I’ve come to expect the newest one to always be my favorite. I was in love with my first novel until I wrote the second one. And yes, I am in love with the story I wrote last month, but my heart isn’t quite there yet. Ironically, that’s exactly what the story is about.

I’d like to ask you all a question: WHY do you do what you do? Whether it’s writing, playing music, art, or another passion you have, why do you do it? What drives you? Do you do what you do for yourself, or do you do it for someone else? Why do you sit down and work at it day after day, even though it can be extremely frustrating at times? I think all of us have at least something that fits these standards. But what makes us do what we do?

For me, that thing… is not writing. *gasps from audience* I figured that out a few months ago, and, well, I decided to write a story about it. Leave it to me to make my entire life ironic. Now, don’t get me wrong here: I LOVE writing. It IS a passion that I have, and I AM driven to do it every day, no matter how hard it gets. But it is not my greatest passion, and here is how I figured it out:

This passion that you have, would you follow it to the end? Would you live your entire life in dedication to this passion? Would it be worth dying for? Or is it not quite that strong?

Writing, for me, does not meet these standards. Not by a long shot. It’s like trying to compare a candle to a bonfire. It can’t be done. The difference is so great, it just wouldn’t make sense. I found that there is another passion that I have. But I was trying to use writing to satisfy it. It seems to work most of the time, but I think later on, it won’t be enough anymore.

God’s love is perhaps one of the most compelling things I have ever known. And really, I think I’ve always known that. It took three novels for me to be able to say it outright like this, but it’s a theme that’s come up again and again in every single one of my stories:

A man dying for his enemies.

A boy being driven by fear until he finds that love is much stronger.

A girl devoting her entire life to a cause until she realizes that her heart is empty.

They are all the same story, and all of them are about me. No, I have never died for my enemies. But I would, if my passion led me there.

Yes, I have been driven by fear. It’s a terrifying ordeal. The thing that finally set me free was the Truth – and I promise, love is much stronger than fear.

Have I ever devoted my entire life to a cause, then realized my heart was empty?  I’m praying that I won’t.

You see, all of these characters had to discover something. They had to discover their passions. They had to discover love. When I say “love” I hope you aren’t envisioning the sappy, romantic love portrayed in the media – I hope you’re envisioning a desperate madness that extends far beyond the boundaries set up by this world. Yes, I have experienced this kind of love before. I have a Savior who loves me like that, more than I could ever imagine. And He has allowed me a very small taste of what it’s like to love someone or something else like that.

I want to say right now that whatever happens, I will always proclaim God’s name. I will always extend the message of his love to everyone else. Because this is what compels me, and this is what drives me. God’s love is burning inside of me like a blazing inferno, too hot and too bright to keep shut up inside.

Its melody is intoxicating, and I will always sing it for the world to hear.

Inferno’s Melody is not just a story. It is real.

I really want to hear what your passion is. Why is it so compelling to you?

Getting Into the Writing Zone

NaNoWriMo is officially halfway over! And I officially no longer have any idea what I’m writing about! But that’s the fun of it, right? I definitely think so. In fact, I’m starting to think that it’s my favorite thing about NaNo. Because normally, I would get stuck in a rut if I didn’t know where my story was going, but during NaNo, it feels good in an I-really-hate-my-writing sort of way to be able to see an entire book unfold right before your disbelieving eyes.

Anyways, the only reason I’ve actually survived NaNo this long is because I have found a foolproof way to trap that elusive fairy we all like to call The Writing Zone. No idea why I just used that strange metaphor there… but it fits. I have heard multiple people I like to call “experts” say that real writers don’t NEED to get into a writing zone to be able to write. Real writers should be able to write anytime, anywhere. In bed at midnight. In a crowded coffee shop. On a yacht stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At your desk at school when you’re supposed to be taking a science test.

I get why people say that, because, let’s face it: when you’re a bestselling novelist, you won’t always be able to crawl into an obscure corner of your room, put on your superhero cape, and pen your thoughts with your favorite purple pen. But hey, this is NaNoWriMo, and the point is to get the words written, no matter what it takes. And if you have to wear a superhero cape to be able to get into the writing zone, then I guess the experts will just have to rethink their philosophies.

filmmaker-2838945_640

I have several things I do to get into my personal writing zone, and for each writer, it’s probably different. But I’ll share some things with you, because they’re general enough to be applied to everyone.

1. I always write on the floor, at the end of my bed. It’s less comfortable than sitting on my bed, and that’s important, because I might be tempted to curl up and fall asleep. I’ve written in bed before, and woken up at three in the morning with my light still on, and my notebook or laptop still open. More than once. So now, I rarely (if ever) write in bed, or in any place I might want to sleep.

2. Pray. I’m trying to get into the habit of praying before every writing session. It refocuses my mind and gets me thinking about why I’m writing at all. Rather than merely writing the story for the story’s own sake, or writing because I enjoy it, or even writing in order to complete the most well-known international writing challenge, I am writing for my Creator. He gets all the glory. Not me.

3. Here is where the real magic begins: music. I like to listen to the same song every single time, and do you know what that has done for me? It’s rewired my brain somehow, and now every time I hear that song, my brain instantly goes into its writing zone. You may be asking, “What is this magic song?” Well, it’s not just one… I actually have several, depending on what story I’m working on. Pick one that you like, one that inspires you, and most importantly, one that won’t distract you. I’m one of those crazy people who can actually write with lyrics in the background. Yes, sometimes I do end up accidentally writing the lyrics, but if it happens, that’s okay. What do you think the backspace key was invented for?

4. Drink tea. Drink lots and lots of tea. Tea is for me what coffee is for other writers. My mom and I have an entire hoard of tea sitting in the pantry in the kitchen. I could probably drink a cup a day for an entire month and never have the same kind twice. I like to sip on something hot while writing. I think it feeds me ideas. If you don’t like tea, don’t skip this step. Just substitute your favorite hot drink, like coffee or hot chocolate or cider or whatever you want. It’s November, and hot drinks make you feel all warm and cozy in your little writing zone.

5. Write in the dark. No idea why I like to do this. Maybe it eliminates all other possible distractions, like that Harry Potter book sitting so invitingly on my bookshelf, or my half-finished drawing of my side character’s brother’s girlfriend’s neighbor’s archenemy. I think the dark also helps me feel cozy and snug in some weird way. (I think I’m seeing a theme here.) I like how the only thing illuminated by my flashlight is my notebook in front of me.

6. Wear a bathrobe. It makes you feel warm and cozy, and it goes perfectly with your tea and the dark. I mean, you don’t have to wear a nice, warm, soft, fuzzy bathrobe, but Sherlock Holmes went around in his flat in his dressing gown, and he solved all his toughest cases that way. There may actually be some scientific facts behind this. I’ll have to look into it after NaNoWriMo’s over.

And that’s it. That’s how I get the day’s words written. Sometimes I change it up a bit, but if I’m running short on time and I NEED to get writing done, this is what I’ll do. Feel free to let me know about your writing routine in the comments!

Oh, and since we’re on the subject of NaNoWriMo, I’d like to take a moment and fill you in on the novel I’m writing. You can read about it extensively here, but if you’ve already done so, you know that the tentative title was Grandmother’s Secret. Today, I am pleased to announce the actual title: INFERNO’S MELODY. Don’t ask why I named it that. I just did. I’ve also updated the plot summary on my “Stories” page, so definitely give it a read!

How is NaNoWriMo going? Do you have a specific writing routine you like to go through?

The Universal Truth

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

No, not that kind of universal truth. I’m pretty sure the above statement isn’t even true. Mrs. Bennett thought it was, but most of what she says is nonsense anyway, so we shouldn’t use her words as life advice. Today I’m here to talk about a different kind of universal truth. I apologize in advance if I ramble a bit, or if I use the same word four times in the same sentence. NaNoWriMo just started, and my thoughts are everywhere right now.

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I first learned about the Universal Truth from a wonderful lady named Kay Strom. (Her books are excellent, by the way.) According to her, a Universal Truth is like a theme, but it is way more specific. Stories, as you probably know, usually have a theme, that is, a recurring topic the book keeps touching on. It answers the question “What is this book about?”

Universal Truths are usually specific statements or messages about the theme. For example, let’s choose a common theme and look at how it’s presented in different books. I’m going to choose the theme of redemption, because that’s my favorite one. Right off the top of my head, two series (what is the plural of “series?”) with this theme are: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, and The Mission League by Jill Williamson. (I have not finished The Mission League series yet, so NO SPOILERS PLEASE!) Literary critics could analyze these two series and find a plethora of different themes present, but redemption is definitely present in both, so that’s the one I am going to use.

In Harry Potter, a recurring message we see over and over again is this: “Redemption usually requires a selfless act of love.” You know, when Lily did that thing to save Harry, and then later Harry did that thing to save other people. We also get a beautiful contrast between Harry and Voldemort – so similar, yet so different.

In The Mission League (or at least in the first book), we see a totally different statement: “God will keep pursuing you, no matter how long you try to run from him.” Like, throughout the entire first book, Spencer wanted nothing to do with God, but God kept showing up everywhere around him, and eventually Spencer couldn’t ignore it anymore. We also get an interesting contrast here with the villain, but I’m not gonna spoil it for anybody. Plus, who knows how it turns out in the rest of the series.

Both of these series have the same theme, but what they’re saying about them is different. And that is what makes a Universal Truth, my friend.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Universal Truth I’m presenting in my story. It was hard at first, because I’m a pantser who doesn’t know squat about the story before I start writing it. As it turned out, I couldn’t pin down my Universal Truth until I had experienced its trueness firsthand. Oh, it was definitely present in the story – I just couldn’t see it yet.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

-1 John 4:18a

That’s it. A simple statement, not even a full verse. It’s a Bible verse that I’ve known since childhood. Of course I’ve always believed it’s true. But up until recently, I hadn’t actually seen it applied to a real-life situation.

The thing about Universal Truths, to me at least, is that a story wouldn’t be worth anything without one. In the tens of thousands of words that make up my book-in-progress, 146 of them make up a paragraph towards the end. And this one paragraph is where the Universal Truth is revealed. Without this one paragraph, none of the other words matter. Without the Universal Truth, the story is nothing, the characters struggled in vain, and I wasted an entire year of my life writing an empty story.

Even though all stories have a climax, where the tension has never been so high, and everything finally comes together, the Universal Truth is like a climax of its own. Even if it’s woven all throughout the story, there is always a place where the reader stops and says, “Oh. This is what I’ve been reading about. This is what the author wanted to say to me.”

Kay Strom says that Universal Truths should always point to God. They should go beyond the story itself as they transfer the author’s passion to the reader. And really, isn’t that the reason authors write at all? Because they are passionate about something, and they want the world to see it too?

Is there a Universal Truth in your story? How is NaNoWriMo going (if you’re doing it)?

The Difference between Salvation and Redemption

I’ve been doing a lot of character development lately. It’s my new favorite aspect of writing. I’ve been reading a lot about the different Myers-Briggs types (and yes, each of my twelve main characters is a different type), delving into backstories, and figuring out their inner motivations.

My latest endeavor is to answer this question: What is it that drives them? What are they seeking, and hoping to find? These questions are closely connected to their inner motivations. Of course, all of them are driven by something different. No one is quite desiring the exact same thing, although they share the same external goal for the story. They all have different histories, and different character arcs. Every single one of them has a unique internal longing.

That being said, of course some of them will be similar. For example, and this is the main point of this post, two of my characters are seeking almost the same thing. I’ll call them Character A and Character B, for the sake of character-author confidentiality. For some odd reason, most of my characters have a habit of having intricate, secretive backgrounds which somehow always end up playing vital roles in future stories that haven’t been written yet. So, for the sake of a spoiler-free post, I will tell you their stories but not who they are. Get to the point, you say. What do these two characters want?

One of them is seeking salvation, while the other is seeking redemption. I had to stop and think about this after I wrote it. Don’t the two words mean the same thing? More often than not, they are used synonymously, especially when referring to the Christian faith. But no… they are not really synonyms. The root of the word “salvation” is “save,” and the root of “redemption” is “redeem.” Redeeming someone is very different from saving someone. Saving someone implies protecting them. From danger, perhaps. From death, even. Saving implies rescuing. But nothing more.

Redeeming someone, on the other hand, is more than just rescuing someone. Redemption involves a price. If you redeem something, you are buying it back. If you redeem something, it is yours. But it always comes at a price.

It’s easy to see why the two words are used synonymously when referring to Christ. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, gave us both salvation and redemption. He saved us from death – by taking sin upon himself – and serving the punishment for that sin: death. And because he paid that price for us, he redeemed us from sin. He bought us back to be his own. And now, if we believe in him, we not only are saved from death, but we belong to him. We are his children.

In the cases of Character A and Character B, one of them is seeking redemption, but the other is seeking salvation. This too is easy to see. Character A grew up in a dysfunctional family. As a child and teen he was abused – both physically and emotionally – by his parents. He was bullied by other children. He was wronged in a lot of ways, and this traumatic past has shaped the rest of his life. He doesn’t trust anyone but himself, not even God. In fact, he wonders if God exists at all. He wants salvation.

Character B, on the other hand, is haunted by a past she no longer wants any part of. She’s made mistakes; she’s been lured in by sin’s enticing temptations. Her sin hurt the people in the world she loved most, not to mention herself. She’s mad at God and feels she doesn’t belong anywhere, not even in the shelter of God’s love. She wants redemption.

So there you have the difference between redemption and salvation. Salvation is a rescue; redemption is a purchase. Character development is definitely one of the harder things about writing, but it’s also one of the most fun and rewarding aspects too.

My favorite resources for developing a character’s backstory or motivations are the Emotional Wound Thesaurus and the Character Motivation Thesaurus (both are from Writers Helping Writers. I’m very excited because The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is going to be released sometime this October!!) Even if you don’t need them as writing resources, check them out anyway. They’re awesome.

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Plot happens when many characters’ journeys cross paths.

A character’s journey, for me, quickly becoming more important than the plot of the story. It makes sense… the characters are the ones interacting with the plot. A lot of the time, the characters are the ones creating the plot in the first place. What would Pride and Prejudice be if Darcy wasn’t so proud in the beginning and therefore had no character arc? Or think about how the numerous plots of Downton Abbey would be different if none of the characters had distinct backgrounds, motivations, and personalities. No story would be the same without these elements. Characters are one of the primary driving sources behind any story.

I’m curious to know… have you done any interesting character development? And do you have any favorite books with well-developed characters?

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The Last Hurrah

Hello, friends, and welcome to the Monthly Theme! You probably noticed that my blog looks different. I was bored, so I redesigned it. I think that now it echoes my personality more.

I know I haven’t done a Monthly Theme in quite a few months, so really it shouldn’t be called “monthly.” But I came up with a pretty good one for the month of August…

Adventure!!

This may seem like a strange one to choose. As you know, by the time August comes around, summer is winding down, and the month is full of hot, dreary days.  By the time August comes around, we look forward to the cool, crisp promise of fall and the start of the new school year (or not…). By the time August comes around, we’ve done all of our fun summer stuff. It doesn’t even have any holidays.

I hold a different view. August, to me, has always been sort of a last hurrah. It’s always an exciting month. A few Augusts ago, I started writing a story. That story led to another story, which in turn led to another… the story kept growing bigger in my mind, and now I have an entire saga waiting to be written. This August in particular, I’ve felt very productive in my writing. It’s definitely been an adventure… I’ve been working on a LOT of character development (I hope to do a related post soon), a bit of plot development, and the story has been generally sitting on my mind. Last August, I went to Camp Attitude, which always holds tons of new adventures. And there’s always a church-wide camping trip at the end of the month (which I just got back from a couple of days ago). Not to mention that epic solar eclipse we had last week.

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Aside from personal adventure, there is adventure to be found in lots of fictional works. It’s a fairly common theme, if you could call it a theme, and even stories that don’t focus on adventure as a main part of the story at least contain hints of it. Adventure is associated with taking risks, with excitement. It’s associated with new experiences and the rush of adrenaline. Now, if you are positively paranoid about anything that promises danger and have no desire to do anything out of the ordinary, then perhaps a life of adventure is not for you perhaps Gandalf will invite thirteen dwarves to your house and you will get roped into an epic quest.

I think everyone, though, (yes, even Bilbo) longs for some sort of adventure. Something bigger than their ordinary lives. Like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Even if we don’t know it, we all know we were meant for more than this provincial life. (Hint: It’s because God made us that way. He designed us to live in a perfect world with him. We’re the ones who messed it all up.)

While our thirst for adventure can lead to moments of self-discovery, it can lead us into all sorts of other stuff too. Oftentimes, this is how characters start their journeys. The character wants an adventure, so he goes and finds one, and bam!, there’s a story. This isn’t the case all the time – sometimes a character is thrust into something without a choice. But consider the following questions:

Why was Lucy snooping in somebody else’s wardrobe?

Why did Harry trust a perfect stranger to take him to school?

Why did Christine agree to go with a creepy masked phantom?

Why did Neo choose the red pill?

Why did Roland stop fleeing his pursuers to help Mercy?

(That last question is from the first scene of my book. :D) There are answers to all of these questions, but the most simplistic answer is that they all wanted an adventure. They all believed that something bigger was out there. And that’s the key word here: belief. If Lucy didn’t have that child-like faith, she never would have been able to get into Narnia. If Harry didn’t believe what Hagrid told him, he never would have made it to Hogwarts. And so on.

So, while adventures presented in stories are somewhat romantic (meaning they are romanticized – that is, made out to be better or more illustrious than they actually are), adventures in real life are very different. Let’s face it: None of us will ever stumble upon Narnia. None of us will ever receive our Hogwarts letter. None of us will ever get roped into a magical quest. But all of us were made for more than this life we are currently living. And if we set out in pursuit of it, it will be an adventure.

Not the kind of adventure you read about in books, but the real kind of adventure.

One that lasts for eternity.

I’d love to hear about your summertime adventures! Also – do you have a favorite book where one of characters goes on an adventure?

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