Three Ways to Use Death in Storytelling

Our theme for this month was death, which might seem like an odd theme to encourage young writers to focus on. Is it healthy for Christians to dwell on death? Isn’t the difference between us and the world that we don’t focus on death in the way that it does?

On the contrary, however, death is central to the Christian faith.death_in_storytelling-1

The cross obviously stands central in Christianity. But it isn’t just Christ’s death that is central to the Christian faith. It’s our own deaths as well. Our spiritual death in Genesis 3 sets the whole plan of salvation in motion. And the reality of our physical death urges us to make the most of our time on earth by winning others to Him.

I once heard a pastor say that his goal was to teach his congregation how to die well. Death is, after all, the final test in our lives and the point where we need to have either accepted or rejected the claims of Christ.

Death is central to the Christian faith. By extension, therefore, it ought to be central to our storytelling. Although not all stories that Christians write need to encompass death, it ought to still have a prominent role overall, and when we use death in our stories, here are three ways it can be done biblically. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

Questions to Consider Before Killing Off a Character

As writers, we are sometimes accused of gloating or chuckling evilly to ourselves in dark castles over the sorrow we cause readers when we kill favorite characters. I won’t confirm or deny that, but I will say that writers who reap tears from readers will feel the deep satisfaction of a job well done, because they’ve made readers care about the characters.deathquestions

But whether we weep over our characters’ deaths, rub our hands and grin over them, or indulge in both reactions by turn, several points must be considered when deciding if a character needs to die, how he should die, and the end result.

Does Your Character Really Need to Die?

Not everyone has to die. Otherwise no one would be left to mourn the deceased, and where’s the fun in that? Also, sequels tend to need living characters to fill the pages and bring readers back to your stories. In all seriousness though, depending on what you are writing, it’s likely that a character (or two, or ten) will die—but you must have a reason. [Read more…]

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Hope Ann is a speculative fiction writer who lives on a small farm in northern Indiana. She has self-published three Legend of Light novellas and is the Kingdom Pen Writing Team Captain. Reading since the age of five, and introducing herself to writing at age eight, she never had a question that the author’s life was the life for her. Her goal is to write thrilling Christian fantasy and futuristic fiction — stories she longed for while growing up. After graduating from homeschool, Hope now teaches writing to several of her eight younger siblings. She loves climbing trees, archery, photography, Lord of the Rings, chocolate, and collecting shiny things she claims are useful for story inspiration. You can find out more about her at: http://writinginthelightpublishing.com/

True Courage

‘Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s the courage that counts.’

While this quote from John Wooden might not be literally accurate in every instance, there is a good amount of truth in it. In writing, and in life too, one success won’t establish your character forever. It will build him up, giving him strength for the next challenge, but more challenges will come. And it is during failure that a character learns the most valuable lessons. But, in success or in failure, a character’s courage or lack thereof will affect how they act and react, no matter what the theme of your story. truecourage

Courage, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the ‘mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.’ Or, as the common saying goes, courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to continue on despite fear. A character needs courage to move forward, to lead, to make decisions and then hold up those decisions. They’ll need to fight, to rescue, to confront… they might not feel brave, but they continue forward anyway, even when there seems to be no hope. Without courage, a character will have a hard time making any sort of rational decision and then sticking to it.

For some characters, gaining courage might be part of the plot.

[Read more…]

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Hope Ann is a speculative fiction writer who lives on a small farm in northern Indiana. She has self-published three Legend of Light novellas and is the Kingdom Pen Writing Team Captain. Reading since the age of five, and introducing herself to writing at age eight, she never had a question that the author’s life was the life for her. Her goal is to write thrilling Christian fantasy and futuristic fiction — stories she longed for while growing up. After graduating from homeschool, Hope now teaches writing to several of her eight younger siblings. She loves climbing trees, archery, photography, Lord of the Rings, chocolate, and collecting shiny things she claims are useful for story inspiration. You can find out more about her at: http://writinginthelightpublishing.com/

The Bildungsroman: What It Is and How to Write One

The transition from childhood to adulthood is an important transition that everyone has to make.  So it shouldn’t be too surprising to find that this transition is a common motif in literary works.  Coming of age stories are staples among children and YA literature, but all of this may raise some questions.  What exactly makes a story a coming of age story?  Does a character just need to be at a certain age, or does a story need certain elements to qualify?  And how do you write a coming of age novel?  This is potentially a large topic, but in this article, I’ll try to sketch out the basic elements of a coming of age novel and then examine how to do one well.  bildungsromanpost

In the literary field, a coming of age novel is often known by the German term, bildungsroman, which means a novel of formation, education, or culture.  This is an important element of the coming-of-age novel to understand:

“The story often represents a time of formation where the protagonist has to figure out who he is and where his place is in the world.  At the beginning of the book, the protagonist often has a lot of potential, but lacks refinement and solidarity of character—something he’s going to have to gain by the story’s end.”

Many times, this bildungsroman will have a plot resembling the hero’s journey.  Unpacking what all the hero’s journey looks like would take longer than I have space for in this article, but if you’re unfamiliar with the term, this video does a pretty good job of showing what the stereotypical hero’s journey looks like:

Essentially, the young protagonist is sent out on some sort of mission in order to save the community he grew up in and, in the process of doing so, end up discovering himself as well. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

8 Common Cliches of Coming-of-Age Stories

There is a theme which abounds across a number of genres. One in which young men are torn from their farms and thrust into events which will change the course of an age,  young women rise up to fulfill prophecies, and youths are thrown into conflicts where they must fight for their very survival. The settings and characters change, but in each story a once young and immature man or woman is thrown into circumstances which forever alter their lives and thrust them into adulthood. commoncliches

The lines around a coming-of-age story are a bit vague. In them, the main character begins as a youth and reaches adulthood by the end. This can either be the focus of the book or, as in some of my works in progress, merely a result of the character development throughout the story. But, however it’s written, the meaning of adulthood ought to be clearly depicted, not fictionalized as some modern books portray.

Coming-of-age stories are only as compelling and gripping as the plot, characters, and emotions inside it. Though the focus of this article will be on the latter two points, the first one is important because it is the structure around which the character grows. Really, ‘coming-of-age’ is only a sub-theme of the greater character development which should take place throughout any book. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Hope Ann
Hope Ann is a speculative fiction writer who lives on a small farm in northern Indiana. She has self-published three Legend of Light novellas and is the Kingdom Pen Writing Team Captain. Reading since the age of five, and introducing herself to writing at age eight, she never had a question that the author’s life was the life for her. Her goal is to write thrilling Christian fantasy and futuristic fiction — stories she longed for while growing up. After graduating from homeschool, Hope now teaches writing to several of her eight younger siblings. She loves climbing trees, archery, photography, Lord of the Rings, chocolate, and collecting shiny things she claims are useful for story inspiration. You can find out more about her at: http://writinginthelightpublishing.com/

How to Do a Character Archetype Well in Four Easy Steps

Character archetypes.  Most of us know common examples of them, even if you aren’t initially familiar with the term: the untested but eager youth, the aging mentor, the shifting ally, or the comic relief.  Character archetypes are essentially universal types of characters who appear over and over again in literature.  In the hands of a skilled writer, they can be used masterfully.  Yet, too often, in the hands of inexperienced writers, healthy archetypal characters turn into one-dimensional stereotypes, which can make it hard to distinguish an archetype from a stereotype.

In our latest video for Kingdom Cinema, we discussed many of the differences between an archetype and a characterarchetypepintereststereotype .  If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d encourage you to watch it HERE, but if you don’t have time, or if you just want a refresher, archetypes and stereotypes are similar in that they both appear over and over again in fiction, but whereas an archetype is just a general form for a character, a stereotype is a specific kind of character that doesn’t have much depth or personality to them.  Another way of looking at it is that an archetype is a general description of a character that can be developed, and a stereotype is a character who never moves past that description to form any personality or depth of their own.

This of course leads to a question: given how grey the line can sometimes be between a character who’s an archetype and a character who’s become a stereotype, how as a writer do you write an archetype well, in a way that doesn’t become stereotypical?  It may seem difficult at first.  But follow these four simple steps, and you’ll be well on your way to writing interesting archetypal characters.

1. Know the Archetype Well In Its Basic Form

[Read more…]

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

All Art is Christian Art

All art is Christian art. That’s a rather bold statement. Immediately, objections start to pop into our minds. “But what about modern nihilistic art?” “What about a novel that teaches spiritualism?” “What about someone screaming viciously into a microphone with zero identifiable words?” All of these are good objections, but rather than disproving my statement, they lead us to the deeper question that lurks behind them all.  allartischristianpost

What is art?

We are Christians and we base our lives and beliefs on the Bible. Let me bring you to the very beginning of that book. Genesis 1? Yes, Genesis 1:1 words 1-5, “In the beginning God created…” Two words stand out most in this string of five words. “In the beginning” is kind of like an announcement that a big statement is about to be made. Then we get to “God”: “In the beginning God.” Now that’s something. God is preeminent because He is first. How fitting for the first four words of the Bible. But if He was in the beginning, how does the story continue? Well, God created. God created. The first doctrine we hit after the preeminence of God is art–creativity. Art comes before the doctrines of marriage, work, sacrifice, etc. Perhaps this is because art is what is most obvious and sometimes most important to us. We know God exists by His art. We are deceived, rarely by argument but more often by the art that is tied into the argument—the emotions, the symbols, and the imitations of cosmic ideas.

“God created.” That is our first introduction to art in the Bible. Shall we move on? Shall we keep looking for the meat of what art really is? No! It’s right here! Let’s slow down a bit and dig into the depths of richness right before us. [Read more…]

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Daeus is the published author of two books, Edwin Brook and Treachery Against The House Of Fairwin. He is a Christian seeking God’s face when he remembers to and finding that that is all he was seeking when he seeks for something else. He is a joker who takes himself too seriously and a sack full of ambition who likes to relax. Among his top interests are poetry, reading, philosophy, theology, gardening and permaculture, athletics, marketing, psychology, and interacting with his friends. You can also find him participating in such activities as ranting about the glories of frozen raspberries or making impromptu music for every occasion.

He also is a fanatic over The Count Of Monte Cristo. Be thou forewarned.

If you would like to sample his work, you can get a free copy of his novella, Treachery Against The House Of Fairwin at the link below.

Foil Characters: What They Are and How to Use Them

So, if you’ve been following my articles for a while, you may have noticed that I talk a lot about the purpose of literature being to teach and to delight.  However, the instructional part of literature can be easily misunderstood.  After all, what does it practically mean to teach with literature?  Does it mean to include random sermons midway through the novel?  To end your book with a detailed explanation of what the book was supposed to do?  Hopefully not, but then what does it mean? foilcharacters

Many things go into a successful theme in order to make a novel instructive as well as entertaining.  However, one of the most important ways that a theme is brought across is by using the various characters in your book as positive and negative character examples.  Today, I’d like to talk about one specific way that characters can be used as character examples: and that’s through the use of foil characters.

Foil characters are one of my favorite writing tropes to utilize for several reasons.  One reason I enjoy utilizing foil characters is that you can use them to develop your theme very well while still being subtle, thus avoiding the preaching that too often happens in Christian fiction.  Another reason is that they add a good bit of beauty to the literary text through the use of parallel.

Of course, talking about how much I like foil characters doesn’t help much if you don’t know what they are.  So, without further ado, let’s dive in. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

Why Minor Characters Should Be Flat Characters

Four years ago, I was beginning a rewrite of A Darkened Light, which was my second full-length novel and my current work-in-progress at the time.  It had become clear during the first draft that most of my characters were rather bland: that while a couple characters had some interesting things going on with them, the majority of my characters—including my protagonist—were kind of replaceable and largely tools of the plot without much of a personality of their own. flatcharacters

So as I prepared to rewrite the book to flesh out the characters as well as to revamp aspects of the plot, I was reading some articles on the importance of writing three-dimensional characters and had an idea: why not give all of my characters secret backstories, intricate personalities, and subtle motivations?  I would make all of my characters interesting and three-dimensional in their own right.  And in doing so, I would be able to solve all the problems that I had with my characters being rather bland.

So I went ahead and did it.  I took the ten to twelve most important characters in the book, found a list online of fifty different questions you should use to develop a character,  and filled it out for all of them.  It would be great, I thought.  Now all my characters would be three-dimensional and interesting.

As it ended up turning out, though, while they did end up being more interesting for the most part, many of them still failed as characters because I missed an important fact:

Not all characters are supposed to be round, three-dimensional characters. 

In fact, many characters actually work better if they are more flat and one-dimensional characters.

This article is thus going to try to argue for why most (not all, but most) minor characters should be flat ones. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

The Challenge of Love: Writing Love

Why does love in so many books or movies get relegated to the narrow confines of romance? Yes, romance is love, though much of what is portrayed nowadays is a very shallow love at best. But there is so much more to love than a love triangle or tangled romance. Love can be deep or shallow, directed towards self or others, portrayed in a godly manner or otherwise. There is so much one can do with love as they create characters and stories, be it the presence of love or its absence.  challengeoflove

The most important love which affects your character’s life is their love for God.

Whether the story takes place in the real world, or in a fantasy one ruled by a Great King, the love (or absence of love) for God molds and shapes the character and his worldview. At one end is a character who loves because of the grace and love given to him, who follows such love by obeying the orders of their God, and who shows the same love to others. On the opposite end is the one who disregards the love of his King, who loves only himself and works only for his own gain.

Of course, between these two, there is a wide range of characters, from those who love but don’t trust, to those who are lukewarm, to those who love greatly but place their love on the wrong object or show it in the wrong ways.

There is always going to be some love somewhere: be it for self, for a child, for a leader, for a nation, or for a god. And that is where fascinating backstories can come into play. What does the character love most above everything in the world? Why does he love? And is the object and reason of his love the greatest there can ever be, or might someone else come to his aid and claim that love for his own? And does the love of one beget more love, as in the case of loving God, or does it cause bitterness and hate further down the road?

The most difficult love in your character’s life will probably be loving their enemy.

[Read more…]

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Hope Ann is a speculative fiction writer who lives on a small farm in northern Indiana. She has self-published three Legend of Light novellas and is the Kingdom Pen Writing Team Captain. Reading since the age of five, and introducing herself to writing at age eight, she never had a question that the author’s life was the life for her. Her goal is to write thrilling Christian fantasy and futuristic fiction — stories she longed for while growing up. After graduating from homeschool, Hope now teaches writing to several of her eight younger siblings. She loves climbing trees, archery, photography, Lord of the Rings, chocolate, and collecting shiny things she claims are useful for story inspiration. You can find out more about her at: http://writinginthelightpublishing.com/