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 is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with 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 entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here as he works toward achieving these goals.

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 Legends 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 claim one of her stories for free at: https://authorhopeann.com/rose-of-the-night/

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 is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with 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 entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here as he works toward achieving these goals.

Racing Time (Self-Publishing Experience)

I wanted to write a novella in one week. The math was simple enough; my novellas ended up around 25,000 words long so if I wrote 5,000 words a day for five days, I’d finish it Friday, leaving Saturday for rounding up any extra words which spilled over. racingtimepinterest

The actual thought of 5,000 words in one day was intimidating to consider, but I knew of another writer who had recently written 10,000 words in one day. If he could do that much, surely I could do half that amount and keep up the pace for a whole week.

The Course

The first order of the day was to map out the number of words to write along with when they needed to be written. In my case, I was writing a novella in one week, but this same structure would work for any wordathon, be it a novel in one month or a chapter in one day.

But that was just the beginning. Before I typed a word, I spent a week in preparation, going over the course my fingers were to cover in the next week. I looked up names, planned out characters, and outlined the story. It wasn’t perfect; in writing there are always some things which just happen. One character unexpectedly appeared halfway through my novella, and I didn’t work out the details of the climax until the day before writing it, (not something I’d recommend). But having an outline to work from, and knowing what was supposed to happen next, was a great help later on when I just had to focus on writing, not smoothing out numerous bumps and potholes in the plot. [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 Legends 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 claim one of her stories for free at: https://authorhopeann.com/rose-of-the-night/

10 Steps to Writing a Successful Poem

Staring at blank paper can be daunting. It’s just a piece of paper, but there’s so much it can hold! It is light now, but it has the potential to be a paperweight if the right words are written upon it. successfulpoempinterest

The same could be said about a poem. It could be a waste of space, or a Pulitzer Prize Winner. How does one write a successful poem? I have created this easy and simple step-by-step guide for you to use as often as you like!

Step 1. Select your foundation

A stack of clean white paper is required. Ivory or parchment is recommended, even a soft clay tablet and an authentic stylus works just as well if that’s your cup of Joe. Lined paper is heavily frowned upon because the lines interfere with the creative free spirit.

Step 2. Locate your weapon of mass construction

Pencils are the preferred writing tools for a poet. Pens are not commonly used due to the amount of erasing a poet performs when crafting. Unless you favor the strike-through look in your poem, repeat step one until you have selected enough paper to keep rewriting, or just simply stick with a few boxes of nicely sharpened pencils. And save yourself the trouble and purchase a package of erasers. I hear Sam’s Club has a great value pack. [Read more…]

Pitfalls and Strengths of Historical Fiction

By Sophia White

Time-travel, with or without the use of machines, has been a growing theme in fiction in the last century. It corresponds in many ways to a longing almost all of us have felt at one time or another: a longing to go back to another time, whether to escape the troubles that are pressing us now, or to enjoy a “simpler” life, or to experience history first-hand. But while actual time travel may not be a possibility in our lifetimes, books offer us the opportunity to travel to other worlds, and works of historical fiction offer a safe passage to time travel to former times. pitfallsandstrengthspost

Historical fiction is a story set in a real, past time and featuring some event or character that really was. A story that says “set during the American Civil War” but which makes no mention of the war, slavery, Conscription, major battles, or President Lincoln does not count –– it’s more like fantasy.

What makes historical fiction such a good genre to read (and to write)? One obvious advantage is the ability to learn history through the eyes, as it were, of contemporaries of the time in which the book is set (even if the point-of-view character is mostly fictional), without the bore of textbooks. One can learn all sorts of things in settings which make the knowledge seem crucial –– a teacher’s explanation that the weather was bad on a certain day in the early spring of 1064 probably sounds meaningless in class, but when one is reading a book set just before the Norman Conquest, the knowledge takes on importance to all of England.

History, when no longer a chore to be slogged through in a certain amount of time and quizzed on, becomes something interesting and fascinating, with endless rabbit trails to research and chase to their remote ends. Did you know that the Vikings sometimes ate whale, but not often, due to the danger involved in catching them? That carrots in eleventh-century England were purple, not orange? Or what happened to William and Matilda’s fourth daughter, or didn’t they have one after all? (Hint: the last one is still unanswered.) [Read more…]

How to Research Historical Fiction

How many of us have shied away from historical fiction because of research? Hand raises. Yes, it is a terrifying part of the process. Your biggest fear? That history buff reading your book with a disgusted face at your gall to say they used gold spoons in the Jamestown fort.

historicalfictionpost

I have been a part of a debate team this past school year. The bulk of the work on the team is research. Tons and tons of research. I personally have always loved researching. Fact finding is like treasure hunting for me. So over the school year I have had way too much experience at research. Which leads me to be able to share with you all some simple steps to attack the terrifying monster we call research.

 1. Pick Your Topic

Simple enough, right? Start very broad. Are you writing in the Biblical era, Revolutionary war, Great Depression? For example, let’s go with World War II. Great, we have a topic! World War II went on from 1939 to 1945. So now we have a time period to go off of. This may seem too basic, but trust me: you need to start as far out as possible. The next step is where we go in depth.

2. Mind Map

Now we get to start making our categories to research. If you already know how to mind map, you are good to go to the next step.  This process is easy to do in a notebook, or you could use a resource like mindmeister.com. Begin with listing your topic in the middle of the page. Then start listing some basic subcategories surrounding your topic. For World War II, I started by surrounding it with the topics: Cause of war, countries involved, aftermath. From these three subcategories, I began writing smaller categories connected to them. For example, Countries involved: America, England, France, Germany, Japan, Italy… [Read more…]

Is Fiction Inherently Worse Than Nonfiction?

A couple months ago, I came across an article from a semi-popular Christian blogger whom I generally respect in which she was explaining why she no longer read fiction.  While she enjoyed some fiction, as she explained it, nonfiction was simply more applicable to real life because it actually had information on real life, and for that and other reasons related to the lack of morality in a lot of modern fiction, she had simply stopped reading fiction. fictionvsnonfictionpinterest

The idea that non-fiction is inherently better than fiction is hardly an idea that I’ve encountered several times, sometimes by bloggers writing on the internet, and sometimes by other people in my life who don’t understand why I devote as much time to fiction as I do.  Often it’s presented like it was in the article before:

Why read stories about untrue things when instead you could read stories about life how it actually is? 

Within Christian circles, it can sometimes be set as a matter of holiness.  What’s the value in reading a fantasy novel about mythical creatures and ungodly magic , when instead you could be reading a theological work that would be bettering your spiritual life?  But the arguments aren’t always articulated.  Sometimes, people may not raise any verbal objections to fiction—but they show with their actions and reading choices that they simply have no use for fiction in their life because of these reasons.

In this article, I’d like to defend fictional works against the charge that they are less real, less useful, or less transformative than non-fictional works like biography, history, or theology.  While many may read fiction just for enjoyment and without any thought to these categories, the best fiction is the kind that is both enjoyable and useful.  And so, without any further ado, let’s examine the value of fiction.

1. Fiction is as Real as Non-Fiction

This point may seem to be hard-sell at first.  After all, given that non-fiction is about the world as it actually is, how could fiction be just as real under these categories?  To be sure, if we’re defining ‘real’ as giving us propositional truths about the world that we live in, fiction can’t win in that race.  However, this prompts the question about what is truly real.

Many today believe that the physical world is the most real world that we have.  However, this is a rather novel development in the scope of human history.  While they have disagreed about the nature of the spiritual world, most philosophers and theologians before the 1600’s tended to believe that there was a spiritual world that was more real than the physical world that we live in.  In other words, there are eternal concepts such as justice, goodness, or beauty that are more real than the individual cases we often see of them on the earth.

This is what led Aristotle, a Greek philosopher living over 2,000 years ago, to argue that literature (or poetry, as it was known back then) was closer to reality than the world we lived in.  In his Poetics, he argued that

“Poetry is more philosophical and more significant than history, for poetry is more concerned with the universal, and history more with the individual.”

[Read more…]

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with 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 entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here as he works toward achieving these goals.

Hard Love: How Shedding Romance Can Highlight Love

Stories follow a familiar pattern because it works. When it comes to character archetypes, we have the Hero, Villain, Mentor, Ally, and Love in just about every story. Usually, the weakest of these is the Love.  This is because in an adventure novel, the main story goal is not to “get the girl” (or boy as the case may be), which means your Love character will become the object of a subplot. This leaves less time available for pursuing the Love. Less time for the Hero to be rejected, overcome the rejections, and eventually win the Love. hardlovepost

As a result, romantic subplots usually feel unsatisfying because we get the sense that winning the girl (or boy) isn’t as important as defeating the villain. How many movies and books can you think of where obtaining the Love interest was way too easy, and seemed to just be tacked on at the end, like a bonus prize? Throw in some extra-marital romance, perhaps a kiss here and there, and this all adds up to cheapen love, rather than esteem it. Many books and movies bombarded us with the fantasy that “love is all you need”, but the “love” they speak of is NOT real love. It’s just the glossy icing on the cake, lacking the deep richness that true love actually renders.

“It is love that sustains romance, but our culture would have us believe it is the other way around, and that romance sustains love. We cannot perpetuate this myth in our stories.”

So many stories today want to pitch us the easy, cheap, and “free” kind of love which is just an imitation, a vapor that doesn’t last when divorced from its foundation, a foundation based on sacrifice; hard love.

For most young writers, I think they would be better off leaving out a Love subplot altogether. Pulling off a real, meaningful Love subplot that esteems the real deal is a difficult task. On top of that, it’s hard to write appropriate, believable, and positive examples of romance into your story. Even if your characters are married, for young writers, it can be difficult to pull this off.

However , this does not mean we should abandon love. We need stories that show what we are missing. We need stories with hard love. Therefore, for beginning writers, if you want to write a Love subplot, write one that doesn’t include any romance.
[Read more…]