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)?

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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 Reason I Write

I know, I know, I’ve already written about this a billion times, but I’m writing this really late at night (early in the morning?) and I was for some reason awake pondering my life, when I realized I should dedicate an entire post to this subject. Plus, I don’t have anything else to write about at the moment, so why not this?

I’ve already told you the reason I write, and that reason is God. Let me go into greater detail:

I have a story I’m writing (trying to write) right now. You can read my post about the story here. Well, it isn’t going anywhere. I am stuck. I guess you could call it writer’s block, although that’s not all it is. I’m not motivated. I don’t know how to write what I want to write. I desperately want to finish this story, and I want to finish it well, but I just don’t know how. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Sometimes I don’t even know why I’m doing it in the first place.

Sometimes I wonder why I want so badly to finish this story. What is it about this story that I have to finish? Why was I so passionate about it when I first began? Why should I want to finish it now?

adult-1869621_640I’ve written for a lot of reasons over the years. I wrote a lot of stories for other people. I gave them as gifts, because I liked creating things and then giving them away to make other people smile. As I grew older, and I started writing more often, I discovered something that changed the way I viewed my writing. I wanted to write deeper stories, stories with more meaning. I no longer wanted to write for mere entertainment; I wanted to write about Truth. I no longer wanted people to enjoy my stories as gifts to them; I wanted their lives to be changed as they saw some deeper meaning in my fictional stories.

I started writing about the Gospel.

And that is still why I am writing today. Sometimes I get off track and start writing for a different reason. It is then when I lose my passion and sometimes my desire to write at all. And as I search for the why, for the reason behind my story, God ALWAYS brings me back to the Gospel. When I see it laid out before me like that, it could not be simpler. The Gospel is, and always will be, the reason I write. Its Truth is so compelling that I must write about it. I have to write stories about the Gospel. I can’t explain it, except that I know that God is real and that he loves me. He is Truth, and I must write about Him.

What is the reason you write? (and writing is not limited to fiction.) Also – are you going to participate in Camp NaNo this July?

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?

The Aftermath of NaNoWriMo

Okay, so like… weird title for the beginning of May? Actually not really. If you’re familiar at all with NaNoWriMo, you probably at least know about the one in April too. As if writers aren’t already weird enough to try to write a novel in a month once a year. No, we have to do it several times. Camp NaNo is a lot more laid back and a lot less intense – which probably explains why I failed this one. *sigh*

Oh well. Nevertheless, I wrote about 10,000 words last month, so I am happy about it. I also need to start blogging more often… I’m almost done with school, so hopefully by then I’ll be able to.

Anyway, I decided it was time to write a blog post again. I know, I know, I promised another Monthly Theme, but that would have taken a lot more brainpower, which is something I don’t have right now. (Chemistry tests really use a lot of brainpower, what with the transfer of energy to your brain cells, you know, and literally figuring out how energy is transferred in chemical reactions which takes a lot of brain cells which use a lot of energy and somehow this process is consistent with the second law of thermodynamics.)

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I wish this is what editing was like.

ANYWAY – I decided to write a post about NaNoWriMo and editing. That’s the only writing-related thing I’ve been able to think about lately. My goal last month was to finish my second draft. As it turned out, that was a MUCH bigger task than I originally thought. There was just so much that needed to be done to the manuscript, not to mention I somehow needed to add to the word count because it was too short (in my opinion, anyway). So I did a lot of worldbuilding and plot brainstorming. I’ve also gotten back into the habit of writing every day. That part is especially nice. I’ve missed it so much.

I feel like I should give you some sort of advice about editing here, but unfortunately, I don’t really know much about it. I’ve read a lot of articles that talk about it, so if there is one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this: don’t try to follow all the rules. It will only make it harder. Editing seems to be all about rules: grammar rules, puncuation rules, plot rules, dialogue rules, character rules, worldbuilding rules… and while some rules are good (like grammar), there are others that can be broken.

When you write your first draft, what are you doing? If you’re anything like me, you’re just trying to get the words down. Get the story out of your head and onto paper. (I wasn’t always like this, actually. I used to be a perfectionist and so my first drafts used to take FOREVER.) First drafts aren’t mean to be publishable. So, as a result, you usually end up ignoring most, if not all, of the rules.

I know I did. I have this weird quirk (and apparently it’s fairly common) where I have to write the first scene first. It sounds obvious, but I can’t write any other way. The first thing I EVER write has to be the first scene. Always. No exceptions. Anyway, because of that, my characters are all inconsistent. In the first few chapters, they are different than they are in the rest of the book, because I was still getting to know them.

My plot barely existed at all after the first draft. It too was full of logical inconsistencies (for example, one of my characters had lost something, but in the very next scene they had it again). The plot didn’t flow. My fantasy world also needed some work.

All of this serves two purposes: 1) I like writing about the writing process, and 2) I wanted to show you that first drafts almost never follow the rules.

My point is this: Editing is when you go back over your story and pay attention to the rules. I don’t know why, and I don’t know if this is a common problem or not, so hopefully you can relate to me, but for some reason writing rules always… unmotivate me. That’s not even a word. It’s like it blocks my creativity, somehow. I believe I figured out why – it’s because I am now writing for someone else. I am trying to make my book publishable, and so naturally I am no longer writing solely for my own enjoyment.

The moral: Don’t try to follow all the rules. Rules are good and they serve as guidelines (as long as we talk about writing rules), but if you try to follow all of them, you will get nowhere. I’ve read different articles about editing that completely contradicted each other.

beethoven-76652_640Writing subsequent drafts should be just as exciting as writing the first draft. You shouldn’t be writing just to please someone else and their rules they made up; you should be writing because your story is begging to be written.

I like to think of writing as this picture right here. It’s a music manuscript, but it isn’t complete yet. The composer has his primary notes down; he’s said what he has to say; the rest is just filling in the middle. Complementing the notes he’s already set forth. Writing a book is exactly like writing a symphony.

Did you do Camp NaNoWriMo this April?  Are you currently editing something?

 

A Year In Review

Hello everyone. As you will probably notice, I took a little break for the holidays and am just now getting back into writing blog posts. Today I’m going to look back at the year 2016, specifically from my writing POV. Of course, I only started blogging a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll have to fill you in on the rest of the year.

I wrote a couple of short stories – one of them is still sitting around somewhere waiting for me to go back and revise it. And the other one I hope never to see again.  You know how some stories are just simply horrific until you go back and reread them after a few months? But then you also have the stories that are still simply horrific even after you reread them. And yep, that was one of those stories.

There were also periods of time this year where I suffered from writer’s block. I had no ideas and thus nothing to write. It was terrible. But then I decided to do NaNoWriMo, so that sort of took care of that. NaNo was probably one of my two writing highlights of the year.

I was also able to edit a novel I’d written a while ago – the purpose being so that I could get it printed on this amazing machine called the Espresso Book Machine. That was really fun, and I consider it my other writing highlight of the year.

In addition to writing projects (and numerous ideas that only turned into a couple of scenes before I got bored – that’s what happens when writer’s block decides to linger for two months at a time), I also grew a lot closer to God this year. I think I can say that the overall thing I learned was that I need to trust him. I need to stop relying on myself for strength and instead place my trust in him. This year I learned that if I do that, he will always give me strength to face whatever is coming at me.

This makes me think of a verse from Proverbs: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (ESV) (That verse is from Proverbs 3:5-6, if you want to know.)

Throughout the entire year, God has been teaching me this, but there was one time in particular that comes to mind. It was during the week where I volunteered at Camp Attitude, which is a summer camp for special-needs kids and teens and their families. I was assigned to one kid, and for the entire week, I was just her special friend. It was very hard, but it was so very rewarding! During that week I learned to rely on God every day. I learned to trust him.

So, this year, I learned at least two very important things: Trust God, and writer’s block doesn’t last. Although… I seem to forget that little fact whenever I actually get writer’s block. But hey, this brings me to another very important point: When you’re going through darker times or when you’re really struggling with something, it can be hard to remember to trust God. I’m pretty sure every Christian has experienced something like this at some point in their life. I’m still trying to learn it myself. God is still teaching me.

Oh, I guess I shouldn’t leave without saying something about new year’s resolutions. I’ve never really been big on resolutions. Mine have always been something along the lines of “write something amazing” (2016), “build a hoverboard” (2015, and I epically failed… sorry, Marty McFly), or… wait, I didn’t even have one in 2014. This  year, though, my resolution (I guess it’s more of a “goal”) is to GET A BOOK PUBLISHED. I’ll keep you posted on how I do, because it’s very ambitious, especially if I decide to write the last two books of a trilogy at the same time.

So, this year has been somewhat of an adventure, a journey… and I hope 2017 will bring all new adventures. All you writers, what was this year like for you? Do you have any resolutions? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy New Year! I’ll see you in 2017!