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?

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#NaNoPrep: Fantastic Words and Where to Find Them

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with Newt Scamander or his magical beasts.

One of the biggest issues all writers have during NaNoWriMo is… yep, you guessed it, writing. Duh. If you do the math, 50,000 words divided by 30 days is approximately 1,667 words per day. That may seem feasible, but you’re going to be writing nearly 2,000 words every. single. day. for thirty whole days. It’s definitely possible, but is it easy?

Um… no. It is not easy.  What will you do when writer’s block strikes (and, unless I’m wrong, writer’s block is a part of every writing project)? What will you do when you get bogged down and the story is barely moving at all? Where are you going to find these elusive, magical words?

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

Unfortunately, you probably will experience writer’s block at some point during NaNoWriMo. Writing prompts are a great place to start. Pinterest has literally thousands of them, and the NaNoWriMo site also has some. But everybody suggests writing prompts, and sometimes, they’re not that helpful.

Here’s a list of ideas to get you started. If you have anything to add to it, definitely let me know!

Write backstories. Last year, my novel featured twelve characters who were either main characters or main supporting characters. I still don’t have all of their backstories. NaNoWriMo is a great time to explore your characters’ histories. Write detailed, extensive scenes from the past. And even if it doesn’t end up in your final manuscript, it counts, because it’s a part of your first draft.

Go off on tangents. Do you have a random scene stuck in your head that won’t fit anywhere in the manuscript? Go ahead and write it. Do you know about the history some ancient dark lord that used to rule your fantasy land? Go ahead and explain it, even if it has nothing to do with the present moment. Do you know the names of all the plants growing by the side of the road? Go ahead and name them all.

Write up a ridiculously detailed acknowledgements page. I did this last year, because I was desperate, and ended up not counting it because it felt like cheating. It’s not cheating, because it’s a part of your first draft, but I’m such a perfectionist that it felt like it. In your acknowledgements, name all the people you can think of, even fictional characters who have inspired you. While you’re at it, write up other front matter… a table of contents, a copyright page… anything and everything you can think of.

Have a couple of scenes lingering in the back of your mind and save them for a rainy day. I found this technique immensely helpful. I am a pantser, so I don’t do much planning before I start writing. But I do plan the basics. I tend to mull over my story in my head and watch scenes as if I were watching a movie. Because of this, I ended up writing a couple of detailed scenes, without actually writing them down. It’s very reassuring to have that. If you sit down to write one day and realize the words won’t come, you’ll still have those mental scenes to whip out at a moment’s notice.

Utilize NaNoWriMo’s word sprint tool. Maybe you already do. Word sprints are the best! You set a timer and see how many words you can write before the time runs out. You can either race against yourself, or get other people involved and race against them. Last year, I actually set a personal record for how many words I could write in half an hour. It was because of a word sprint. Use them! They help!

If you know any other helpful tips, definitely let me know because I may actually add it to this post.

What are you writing for NaNoWriMo this year? Do you have a personal experience you’d like to share?

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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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Fear (and an exciting book announcement)

I must admit, I was a little scared to post this. Fear is almost always a part of the writing process. What-ifs are a very common form of writing-related fear: “What if I fail?” “What if no one likes it?” “What if I don’t meet my deadline?”

I’ve asked myself all of these questions before. I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid I won’t ever finish this beautiful story I love. I’m afraid that when I finally do finish it, no one will like it. I’m afraid of letting myself down, but I am also afraid of letting everyone else down. I’m afraid they will compare me to so many better authors, like I compare myself to my favorite authors. I’m afraid I won’t meet my goal before my self-imposed deadline (especially during NaNoWriMo).

There are three main reasons why I am writing this post: 1) to (hopefully) give myself motivation to actually finish editing my book,  2) to attempt to push past some of my fears of rejection, and 3) because I am so very excited to finally and (in)formally announce this book. I wish I could say it is getting published, but I’m not quite there yet. I hope to publish it one day. That’s my goal, anyway. So now I’m going to tell you about it.

I’m secretly afraid no one will like it.

But here we go.

*deep breath*

The Title: Twelve

The Plot (I apologize, for I have not had much practice writing synopses): 

For years, Roland has been searching for the rest of the Artifacts. He already has one of them, ever since a strange old man gave it to him and told him to seek out the rest. But someone – Pravus is what he calls himself – is out to settle a personal grudge with Roland, and claim all the Artifacts for himself.

One night, while being pursued, Roland stumbles across a woman who has been attacked, only to discover that she shares his goals. They escape their pursuers together and then set out to locate the rest of the Artifacts.

As it turns out, there are in fact twelve Artifacts, each belonging to a separate person. Once they are together, the twelve set out on a quest that is as ancient as Time itself. All they have to guide them is one riddle, and the knowledge that Pravus will stop at nothing to find them. But every step they take seems to take them closer to Pravus. No one can be trusted, because Pravus is obviously getting his information from somewhere… and it very well could be one of them.

The Characters (I will not introduce all twelve; only my favorites):

I would share some pictures from my Pinterest boards (because each character has their own separate board), but I’m not sure how legal that is. I would have to download all the images from it that I wanted to use, and sometimes I just get really paranoid about copyright laws. Instead, I’ll give you the links to each character’s board. The things I’ve pinned will hopefully help you get an idea of the character’s personality. Please forgive any minor spoilers, but there won’t be any major ones.

Roland (main character):  Roland is… honestly, hard to describe. He’s a very complex character, as two sides of him are constantly dueling one another. He refuses to explain this to anyone else. Although he is the “leader” of the quest, he does not possess many leadership skills. Or social skills, really. Aside from these flaws, he is very adventurous. Here is a link to Roland’s Pinterest board.

Shea: Originally I had aimed to base Shea off of Sherlock Holmes. Somehow, in the writing process, this didn’t happen, and instead she is now somewhat based off of myself. She is quiet and observant, and always has something on her mind. She keeps many of her thoughts to herself, but likes to figure things out – solving riddles, translating unknown languages… you get the picture. Here is a link to Shea’s Pinterest board.

Kirk: Kirk is definitely one of my favorite characters I have ever written. He is an ESTP, which is about as opposite from me as you can get. (I’m not sure if it’s exactly opposite, but almost.) He is openly rebellious, sarcastic, and conceited. None of the other characters like him, but he serves as the comic relief for the reader. Here is a link to Kirk’s Pinterest board.

George: The last character I am going to share is George. I love him almost as much as I love Kirk. George is there to make sure everyone behaves themselves, and to ensure that logic is always being considered. He and Kirk are foils of each other. (If you don’t know what a foil is, it’s a character who possesses opposite traits of another character, in order to highlight the other character’s traits.) George is calm and diplomatic, and serves as a secondary leader next to Roland. Here is a link to George’s Pinterest board.

And finally, some excerpts:

(I made fancy graphics for these!)

“Fine,” he said, much more softly this time. “I suppose if your little secret is more important to yo

How about a memorable quote? I’ve always thought of this one as the “inspiring Gandalf quote” of my book. It doesn’t sound nearly as awesome out of the context of the story, though, so just keep that in mind.

Courage,

And here is the last excerpt I will share today:

another exerpt

 

Confession: I actually edited this one a bit before I posted it. And please excuse that run-on sentence at the end.

That’s it for today, folks! I hope you enjoyed everything I shared. Please note that anything I said is subject to change, because I am still in the revision process.

Are you working on a book or a story you would like to share? What do you do to combat writing-related fears?

Evil: Villains and How They’re Presented

Hi guys! Whose life is super busy right now? Mine is. That’s why I haven’t been able to post anything for… yikes, a long time. ANYWAY, I finally have this month’s Monthly Theme planned out. This month’s them is Evil, and I’ll tell you why.

Next month is Easter. So, next month I’m going to do the theme of redemption. But in order to understand it, you have to see what we’re being redeemed from. Thus, this month I’ll be looking at evil. Plus, I’ve wanted to write a post on villains for a while. So here we go.

There are so many villains out there… Lord Voldemort, Darth Vader, Prince Humperdinck, Professor Moriarty, Inspector Javert, the White Witch, Agent Smith, Loki… (apparently lots of them have titles in front of their names… except for Loki.) There are also some stories with multiple villains. Like, I don’t know… maybe something like LORD OF THE RINGS?! You’ve got Sauron, Sméagol, Saruman, Gríma Wormtongue, the Orcs, the Uruk-hai, the Witch King of Angmar, plus the rest of the Nazgûl, and if you want to consider the entire history of Middle-earth, you’ve also got Morgoth, (confession: I have never read The Silmarillion, so when I read it, I will give you the list of all the villains), not to mention Balrogs, giant spiders, fickle wood-elves, goblins, unfriendly residents of Laketown, Azog and Bolg, and last but not least, Smaug. (Come on, you should know by now that I can never pass up an opportunity to mention Benedict Cumberbatch.)

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aw look, it’s cute little smaug

I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked writing villains. Let me define what I mean when I say “villain,” because I have very specific criteria that all my villains have to meet…

  1. They have to be male. I don’t know why, but I just can’t see myself writing a female villain. I have nothing whatsoever against female villains, and lots of my favorite stories have female villains. It’s just that I don’t like writing them.
  2. They have to be evil. There are all different types of villains out there, and different ones work for different genres. For some stories, the villain may not be evil at all, like Biff from Back to the Future. In other stories, the villain may be the personification of evil itself… like Voldemort. For me, I always have to have the Voldemort type in my stories.
  3. I’ve always read that the villain should have a backstory that defines who he is, and that he should have some sort of motivation to oppose the hero or whatever he’s trying to do. In other words, he shouldn’t just be evil for no reason at all. Maybe you know that he wants to take over the universe but you don’t know why. (I’m guilty.) And… this is always a problem I have. I NEVER know why my villain is the way he is. But, a couple weeks ago, I figured out his entire backstory and now I’m SUPER excited about it!! No, I will not be giving you any spoilers.

Anyway, I’ve always liked writing my very specific villains. But there is more to evil than villains, just as there is more to good than heroes. The villain and the hero are mere representations of very real things in this world. I once wrote an essay for school on the nature of good and evil. It’t too long to recount here, but in it, I emphasized that the entire world has fallen short of perfection. We are all sinners; therefore, we are all evil. All sin is evil in God’s eyes. All of us have given into temptation; all of us have chosen to follow another god besides the Creator of life; all of us have chosen sin over righteousness; all of us have been born into this sin nature; and all of us will die like this. Everyone in this world is a sinner; therefore everyone is destined for eternal punishment. There is no hope for us. Evil rules our lives and there is no escape from its bondage. We are, and always will be, slaves.

Unless a Savior comes to redeem us.

Unless our Creator himself comes to pay for our salvation.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There should be a sort of desperation when we realize how evil we truly are. When we realize that this evil has been holding us captive ever since Adam and Eve sinned long ago in the Garden of Eden.

star-wars-1204193_640I think villains are meant to portray this. Bad guys are there to provide conflict for the story, yes, but there is also something more. What happens if the villain wins? Hmm? Think of your favorite story. Now ask yourself, what would have happened if the villain had won?

I don’t know, it depends on the story. Sauron would have ruled Middle-earth and everyone would have been his slaves. Voldemort probably would have killed everyone and taken over the wizarding world. If Biff had gotten his way, Marty’s life – and the entire space-time continuum – would have been ruined forever. If Prince Humperdinck had won, Westley would be dead and Buttercup would have been doomed to a horrible life of misery. And if the White Witch had won… never mind. Don’t even get me started on Narnia. There is sooooo much symbolism in the story, I don’t even know where to begin. Needless to say, all of Narnia would have perished in fire and water, borrowing her own words.

Do you see that? That’s desperation. Most people classify the things listed above as “stakes.” In any good story (and this applies to most genres), there are high stakes. The hero has to win. It is this fact that forces the hero to fight against the evil. We instinctively know that evil is not natural, that it was never meant to be. And when it threatens to become the highest power, we know we have to fight it until there is nothing left in us to fight with.

Villains are people who represent the very real presence of evil in our world. They are a sort of twisted reality – they are a nature contrary to what was meant to be in the beginning of time.

That’s all I have for now. I don’t know if this post will end up having more parts to it or not, but rest assured that I do have a couple of things planned for the month of April, and they are very compelling issues, so I will be forced to write them. I’ll probably have a ten-part series next month, knowing me, but I guess we’ll have to see.

Do you have a favorite villain? Why do you like them specifically? What would have happened if they had won?

What Is Love? – Part 1

Today, I am happy to announce something exciting for this blog. I’m going to (hopefully) start having a Monthly Theme. One of my best friends actually suggested it to me. (Thanks, Alison!) Every month, I’ll choose a theme that is commonly found and explored in books and write one or two posts on it… or three… or however many it takes to satisfy my geeky writer’s analytical something-or-other. The part of me that likes to analyze things and connect them to other ideas.

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am only a writer who has a passion for the Truth that sets you free, and I love studying the Bible to see what it has to say about themes commonly found in stories. Themes like love.

love-794333_640Love is a fairly common theme in books. There is an entire genre dedicated to love: the romance genre. The entire plot is about the relationship between two people. Take Romeo and Juliet, or Pride and Prejudice. (I suppose that Romeo and Juliet could be considered a tragedy rather than a romance, but for my purposes, I am calling it a romance.) The plot is about love itself. The premise of each of these books is slightly different. Is it forbidden love; do two characters fall for each other but they are forbidden to marry? Or do they hate each other at first, and then over the course of the story, they fall in love?

Of course, there is more to love themes than the romance genre. If romance isn’t the main plot, it is almost certain that it will be a side plot. Take pretty much any book ever written. Like The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Romance subplots are actually pretty rare in the Sherlock Holmes books, unless the mystery has to do with a love affair, but in The Sign of the Four, Mary Morstan is a main character, and Dr. Watson ends up falling in love with her. Another example is The Lord of the Rings. It is in the fantasy genre, but look at Arwen and Aragorn. At one point Éowyn loved Aragorn too, creating a love triangle. Even my current novel has a romance subplot. The main male character is in love with the main female character from the very first scene, and as the story goes along, their love blossoms into something beautiful. I won’t give anything away, but by the end of the story, the climax hinges on their love for each other.

But there is more to love than romance. Romance implies feelings of attraction; it implies the fluttering of the heart whenever you are together; it implies flirting and courting and soft-spoken conversations under the twilit sky; it implies constant thoughts of the person of interest and of future marriage; and perhaps it even implies marriage itself. Romance is reliving conversations in your mind word-for-word; it is the heating of the cheeks whenever he looks at you (or she, if you’re a guy), it is the desire for physical contact and special attention; it is a friendship with something more in mind. A romance plot is the progression of a romantic relationship; it is two people who may or may not love each other in the beginning but end up together in the end (except in the case of Romeo and Juliet); it is obstacles getting in the way of the relationship but love prevailing in the end. Romance is a relationship between two people. But romance implies nothing more than feelings.

And feelings are not the source of truth, are they? True love implies something more than just feelings. More than just a relationship.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love romantic stories. I love it when two characters are in a relationship with each other and I get to see their relationship progress until the end of the story. Romance is good. God created it when he created Adam and Eve. He created men and women to love each other, and he created emotions, and he created marriage. Romance makes for an excellent story, and yet when it comes to love, if you’re only looking at romance, you’re missing something. You’re missing something important.

What are we missing? Let’s look in the Bible.

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I’m not going to go into all of the passages today, but I will mention a few. Let’s start with the Gospels. Jesus is the ultimate example of love. He loved us so much, he died for us. And did we deserve it? No. Of course not. We turned away from him. We rebelled. We didn’t deserve to be saved; in fact, we all deserved death. But, because God loved us, he sent his Son – his Son – to die and save us. That, my friend, is true love.

The Bible also talks about other aspects of love. It contains passages pertaining to what marriage should look like, it shows us God’s love for us and how we should follow his example, and in places Jesus tells us some pretty unexpected things about loving one another. And of course, what blog post about love would be complete without mentioning 1 Corinthians 13?

But I don’t have time for all of this today. This is a three-part blog series, so during the next two posts I’ll be sharing some of my favorite passages that talk about love. And I’ll talk about what God’s love looks like and how it is the perfect example of perfect love. Appropriately, I will be posting the third and final part on Valentine’s Day. And yes, I did plan it that way. I plan everything.

In the meantime, let’s talk romance books. Which ones are your favorite? And do any of them have a theme of true love? I’d love to hear from you!

An Analysis of a Story

Today I’m going to talk about what makes a good story. No, I’m not going to discuss the roles of the protagonist/antagonist; I’m not going to talk about a good plot, setting the stakes, introducing conflict, or what makes a compelling character arc; I’m not going to talk about how to create a truly magical fantasy world. All of these things are valuable to a story and are worth knowing, but today I’m going to talk about something called… well, I don’t actually know what it’s called.

What makes a story stick with a reader?

(Don’t get this confused with what makes a reader stick with a story. Today we’re flipping that and looking at it the other way around.)

What is it about some stories that stick with us forever, while other stories we forget about within a week, even though it was wonderfully written and kept our attention? What common element can be found in all timeless stories, stories that will never be forgotten, ever?

Like The Lord of the Rings. It’s one of my personal favorites, and I think it is definitely classified as a timeless story. In fact, this example works out perfectly, because Sam Gamgee (who is the best character in the entire saga and no you may not argue with me) actually tells us about, in his opinion, what makes the best stories:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something…. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

He said this to Frodo in The Two Towers, and he is completely right on every point he made. And he stumbled across that element that should be in all stories if you want them to stick with the reader forever.

Readers want to see characters who fight until the end, even though it looks bleak and impossible. Even though evil will win for sure. Readers want to see characters fight for what they believe anyway. They want to see characters hold on to what little good is left. And of course, good wins in the end. Because these characters fought, even though they had lots of chances to turn back and give up, even if tragedy struck or the darkness ruled, the characters fought and they won.

Readers want to see the timeless truths that are written on their hearts. Everyone, regardless of their religion or worldview, knows instinctively about the constant battle between good and evil. Everyone, whether or not they have ever heard the good news of the Gospel, has an internal longing for redemption. Redemption from anything that holds them captive. And all the best stories illustrate this.

We are a fallen race. We know we are lost. We long to be redeemed. And because of this universal need that drives us, the great stories stay in our minds. If a story depicts an epic display of selfless love, or a dramatic rescue, it will affect us. If we are Christians, the story will especially resonate with us because we know about the saving grace of God. If we are not Christians, the story will leave us thinking about greater things, things that are beyond us, wonderful things we cannot even begin to imagine. And it will still resonate with us because we know that there must be some truth in it somewhere.

And we know that achieving redemption is never easy. There is always a struggle, always a fight. Usually there is a sacrifice. The Harry Potter series is another wonderful example. Regardless of whether or not it was intended, there are countless redemptive messages within that series. The darkness keeps pressing in, evil is overtaking everything, and yet there is a glimmer of hope. There is still the promise of redemption. And the characters had lots of chances to give up. But they never did. They kept fighting until the end, despite tragedy, death, and the general feeling of hopelessness. And they won.

See, all the good stories have that element! A fall from grace and perfection, the long fight against evil, and finally one savior who redeems them all and defeats the evil. This is the Gospel. Sometimes at the end of the story we even get a little glimpse of the end of the end – where everything will be made right again. In The Return of the King, in the very last chapter, we see this. Frodo sails away to the Grey Havens, which is a place where there is no evil and no pain. That part always makes me cry because it’s just so good.

Whether we realize it or not, the Gospel is written on the hearts of humanity. We know the struggle between good and evil is real, and we know we need a savior. Sadly, many of us do not have a personal relationship with the one true Savior: Jesus Christ. And yet, these stories still resonate with us. And maybe, one of them will strike a chord within us and leave us wanting more – and maybe we’ll be led to the Savior.

If you take any great story – any story that has stuck with you from the first time you’ve read it – and you analyze it, I guarantee you will find a story of redemption.

I’ve shared my favorite stories with you, but what are some of yours? Which stories have stuck with you? What was it about them that drew you in so much? I’d love to hear from you!