The Writing Bubble

Ah, here we are, at the very end of summer. It sure went by fast. School’s about to start (if it hasn’t already), and it’s almost the season for pumpkin spice and apples and crunchy orange leaves and NaNoWriMo. Perfect time for writing, if  you ask me. It’s very cozy to sit in Starbucks with your laptop and the rain drizzling down the windowpane and the steam from your latte warming your face.

Writing is interesting in that it has bubbles. You know what I mean. Genres, audiences… the like. Lots of people will tell you to stay in your bubble, but those people are only concerned for your public face and not your actual self.

the writing bubble

It’s okay if you want to stay in your bubble. Lots of writers do. They find their niche, settle in, get comfortable, and stay there. Personally, I like my little YA Fantasy bubble, but occasionally I’ll branch out into sci-fi or middle grade fiction or poetry. There’s nothing wrong with bubbles, it’s just that… well, if you stay in them, you’re missing something.

It’s just like music. You can spend your entire life mastering one instrument, but by doing so, you miss everything else. You miss an entire world of skills, songs, and beauty. I’ve spent about ten years of my life taking piano lessons, and it’s taken me that long to realize that there is so much more out there. Music is more than mastering one classical song after another. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of other instruments. And if that’s not enough, there is so much more you can do with music. You can compose a film score. You can be in a band. You can become a YouTube star. You can conduct an orchestra. You can write Broadway musical.

The same goes for writing. You don’t have to stick with your genre, for example, YA Fantasy. You could try writing for middle grade instead. Or branch out even farther and try sci-fi, or historical fiction, or horror or contemporary or thriller or romance.

Or, if you’re especially brave, you could venture outside the fiction bubble. Try nonfiction. Write a memoir, a biography, a cookbook, a Bible study. Or… don’t write a book at all. Write movies. Write plays. Write Studio-C-style sketches.

And if you really want to get outside your bubble, don’t use words at all. Write music to tell a story. Paint a masterpiece. Perform a dance.

See, storytelling is so much more than writing. Every author, every poet, every screenwriter, is telling a story. Every artist, every composer, every dancer, has a story to tell the audience. Creativity is a gift, a means to express yourself, to share pieces of your heart. Use that gift. Even though not everyone tries to tell stories, that’s usually what ends up happening.

Think about it. Traditionally speaking, every book has a theme. Every song has a chorus. Every painting has a focal point.

I’m not saying you should try something outside your bubble. But why not? Don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t tell me you’re not good enough. With experience, you’ll grow. Every storyteller starts out as an amateur.

I’ll close with a quote by J.R.R. Tolkien. I always go back to this quote, and it sums up storytelling pretty much perfectly:

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

What’s your writing bubble?

Have you ever tried anything different?

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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?

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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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 3

Today, as you probably know, is Valentine’s Day. And today, I am posting the final part in my blog series about love and romance. (If all this sounds new to you, you can read Part 1 and/or Part 2.)

valentines-day-2042048_640Today I’m talking about what it means to love one another. I have even MORE Scripture passages to go through than I did last time, but hopefully it won’t be quite as long. Jesus, in all of his teachings, tells us a lot about how we ought to love. He never mentioned giving people pink hearts and chocolate, but that sometimes works too, especially today…

Anyway. Like I said, romance is awesome, but if you’re only looking at romance, you’re missing something. If you look at how Jesus loves us, you’re getting the picture of true love. But, now that we know what true love is, how on earth are we supposed to love each other?

I’m going to start in exactly the same place I left off last time. In John 15:12, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Now I’m going to jump right in to today’s verses; but don’t worry, I’ll come back to this one.

The first verse is from Matthew 5, which is called “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus says a lot of things here, including the command to love our enemies. Most of the sections in this chapter start with the phrase “You have heard that it was said…” and then Jesus gives a common saying, such as “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Then he proceeds to explain exactly why the particular saying is wrong. Such as:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (ESV)

If that command doesn’t go against human nature, I don’t know what does. Love our enemies? Pray for people who hurt us and maybe even want us dead? Humans naturally love those who love them and hate those who hate them. But Jesus commands us to love even the people who do not love us back.

And did Jesus himself love his enemies? Oh yes. Last time I referenced the verse in Romans that says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And if you’ll remember, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, he cried out to his Father to forgive the very people who were crucifying him. And so, if we believe in him, He will help us to love our enemies.

Another passage (and this pertains directly to Valentine’s Day) is Ephesians 5, part of which says:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

human-1215160_640I would suggest reading all of Ephesians 5, because the whole chapter talks about love, but this is the main part I wanted to share because it talks about husbands and wives. Again, we see a mirror. (I just love mirrors! Don’t you?) Love between a husband and wife is meant to mirror Christ’s love for the church. Once again, I would like to direct you to the Circle series. Dekker illustrates this beautifully, both between a husband and wife and between God and his church. Unfortunately, I’m refraining from actually using it as an example, because I don’t want to spoil anything about it in case someone out there is actually reading it.

My next verse (man, I’m really flying through these this time) is 1 Corinthians 13. This is a very well-known chapter, and it’s all about love. What are all the qualities of love? If we are to act in a loving way, how should we act? These are the things it talks about. And this time, rather than quoting the chapter and explaining what it means, I’m going to go through it and list all the things it says about love. I love lists.

Love:

-Is patient and kind

-Does not envy or boast

-Is not arrogant or rude.

(So far this list is looking pretty bad for Kirk, one of my characters.)

-Does not insist on its own way

-Is not irritable or resentful

-Does not rejoice at wrongdoing

-Rejoices with the truth

-Bears all things

-Believes all things

-Hopes all things

-Endures all things

-Never ends.

What a nice conclusion; I’d never noticed the way it ended before. And if you look at Jesus’s life, you’ll see that he perfectly fulfilled all of those things. Once again, our love for others is meant to mirror Jesus’s love. This is where it all ties back to that verse in John. If there’s one thing I want to say in this post, it’s that Jesus commands us to love others in the same way he loved us. I’m going to wrap this up with one more verse, and it’s from Colossians 3:14.

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

I love that verse. The use of the phrase “above all these” is just like “the greatest of these” at the end of 1 Corinthians 13. And love binds everything together. In perfect harmony. So poetic. *dreamy sigh*

So. This concludes my first Monthly Theme! I’ll be back in a few days or so with another post about who-knows-what. Maybe I’ll blog about music. We’ll have to see though. Meanwhile… if you have any suggestions about what next month’s Monthly Theme should be, please let me know! I’m still looking for ideas. Again, if you have anything else you’d like to say about the verses I shared, please feel free to do so. Or you may add verses you thought of but that I didn’t list here. I’d love to hear from you!

What is Love? – Part 2

Welcome back to my first-ever blog series, entitled “What is Love?” Last time I explored the theme of romance in books and looked at how romance is different from true love. (If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.) Today, I’m going to be looking at what exactly true love is. There is plenty of Scripture that talks about it, and there are plenty of books out there that illustrate it.

I cannot write anything else in this post without mentioning the Circle Series (by Ted Dekker, if you don’t know). If you’ve never read this series, do it. Read it now. I’ll wait for you. Go ahead. The minute you’re done with it, tell me and we will have ourselves a nice, long conversation. It’s definitely one of my most favorite book series ever. It has lots of different themes within it, but the main theme is the Gospel, which is of course about love. In fact, the series pretty much changed my entire outlook on the Gospel. I’m not going to spoil anything about it… but it illustrates God’s love for us and our love for each other, and it’s just such a good series YOU HAVE TO READ IT.

Now I’m going to share some Scripture passages and talk about what they have to say about love. As I was looking through all the passages I want to share, I was debating which ones I should do today and which ones I should do next time. Should I open with what God says about loving one another, and end with God’s awe-inspiring love for us? Or should I open with the Gospel and conclude the series with how we ought to love one another? After a long debate with myself (I tend to overthink things…), I remembered the verse found in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” So, then, it would make sense to start with God’s love for us, and end with our love for each other. Because our love mirrors God’s perfect love.

merry-christmas-590226_640Jesus is the ultimate example of love because he died for us. I touched on this the other day. An obvious verse is John 3:16. Practically everyone knows this verse, but in case you don’t, here is what it says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Since this is such a well-known verse that all young Christian children probably memorize, the words can sometimes become empty. I know they can for me. It’s like, “Oh yeah, John 3:16. That verse that talks about God’s love and eternal life.”

Have you ever had that problem with writing before? Maybe you’ve written a simply amazing sentence or paragraph, and you read what you’ve written and you just sit there basking in its awesomeness. Then you go back and read it again. And again. And again. As you keep rereading it, it starts to lose its flare. After a while, you’re not even reading the words anymore because you know exactly what they say. And because you’re not reading them, you’re not really hearing them. And so all meaning is lost.

art-painting-285919_640But if you read, if you really read those words as if it were your first time reading them, they suddenly have meaning again. It’s the same with John 3:16. “For God so loved the world.” If you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. In the beginning, God created the entire world and everything in it was perfect. There was no sin, no death, and Adam and Eve had direct access to God their Creator. But after they sinned (in other words, after they completely turned their backs on the very person who breathed life into them), sin entered the world, they no longer had direct access to God, and the universe was then in disarray and chaos. BUT. God so loved the world.

One little thing here before I go on, because my mind just works like this. John’s choice of conjunction here is very specific. I just said “but” (to make a point), but John said “FOR.” If you connect the end of verse 15 with the beginning of verse 16, it makes perfect sense: “Whoever believes in him may have eternal life, for God so loved the world.” The reason we can have eternal life is because God so loved the world. John goes on to explain this. God loved us so much that he gave us his one and only precious Son, who died for us. If we simply believe in him, we will have eternal life.

Have you ever known anyone else with love like this? Who would give up so much for a world that hates him? Who would turn his back on his only son in order to save a bunch of sinful rebels? There is only one person like that, and his name is God.

Another verse is from Romans 5:6-8. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And shortly after, Paul adds, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23.)

These verses illustrate the immensity of Jesus the Son’s love for us. Like Paul said, not many people would die for someone else. And even if you did, you’d have to really love that person. So if it takes great love to die for someone who is very close to you, how much more love did Jesus have? He died for us before we ever loved him. He chose to love us while we were still turning away from him. (Again, I would like to direct you toward the Circle Series.)

The last passage I’m going to share today acts as a bridge between this post and my next post. And you can see why:

“‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.'” (John 15:12)

church-535155_640So we have just seen how Jesus loved us. And now he commands us to love others in that same way. Love unconditionally. Love without expecting anything else in return. Love sacrificially. Love others as Christ has loved you.

There is a lot more than that in this verse, though. To truly understand all of it, we need to look at the context. This is part of a long conversation Jesus is having with his disciples. I literally filled an entire page with everything that happens before this verse and all the events that lead up to it. Unfortunately… this post is already way longer than I wanted it to be, so I’ll share a few things and leave the rest for you to find.

The conversation takes place after the Last Supper and after Judas had already left. One thing I find very interesting is that Jesus begins his speech with the words “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) He goes on to say lots of other things, but comes back to the commandment to love one another. Then after that, he says finally, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” Shortly after that he is arrested and then crucified.

Perhaps another time I will talk about this more in-depth, but for now I’m going to leave you with Jesus’s command to his disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

And… my next (and final) post in this series will be about how Jesus instructed us to love each other. By the way, if you have anything you’d like to add about the verses I shared, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you!

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.

cross-66700_640

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!