Three Ways Exceptional Sci-Fi Authors Develop Themes

My favorite sci-fi stories always seem to be tight. The sci-fi elements, the characters, the world, and the theme are all closely intertwined. Whether the stories are relatively small scale (the movie Arrival) or full-blown trilogies (Jill Williamson’s The Safe Lands), they blend otherworldly characteristics with real-world issues to create a compelling narrative that not only entertains but explores and instructs.

But how? Theme was complicated before aliens and phasers and warp speed got in the way. Are you supposed to handle theme the same as you would for non-speculative genres?3_Ways_Exceptional_Sci-Fi_Authors_Develop_Themes

No, because genres differ for good reasons. Speculative stories are set apart by their diverse options for communicating theme. Sound scary? Maybe. But exciting too.

However, before we start discussing themes, we need to take a minute to talk about the genre.  Sci-fi stories are defined by their Primary Fantastic Element, which makes them surpass reality. For 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the PFE is the existence of the Nautilus. For the movie Passengers, it’s the ability to put people into hibernation while they hurtle through space for one hundred and twenty years. Perhaps your futuristic world features flying cars and surgically implantable bio-computers that enhance sensory detail, but only one element should be so drastically different from the real world that the story rotates around it. That is your story’s Primary Fantastic Element, and it is the axis of your theme. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Brandon Miller
Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

The Sheer Awfulness of Christianity

As much as I appreciate saying “you” instead of “thou,” I can’t help feeling that modern English has lost some of the richness our language once possessed. The word awful is a prime example. Today we use it to mean “bad” or “disgusting,” but its original definition was more along the lines of: “inspiring such awe and admiration as to border on terror.”The_Sheer_Awfulness_of_Christianity

I don’t think we have a word for that emotion anymore, or even any concept of what it looks like.

In my opinion, an understanding of the sheer awfulness of Christianity is the primary ingredient missing from Christian fiction today. I hope to combat this deficiency by delineating three areas where writers can improve their portrayal of Christianity.

God as an Antagonist

I will start with how we view God, since this forms the cornerstone for how we view everything else. We are in grave danger of misrepresenting God. Whatever led the ancients to craft gods in their own image is still at work today. Yet it has evolved. Instead of fashioning gods in the likeness of ourselves, we treat God as a servant who is beneath us. In Christian literature, God is often cast as the one prompting people to come to him and find the answers to all their troubles. God is essentially a mentor figure or sidekick. He is there to help the protagonist reach his goals through gentle reminders and friendly persuasion. Of course, God usually isn’t an actual character in the story. He’s seen indirectly, but this is still the impression we get of him. Although he seems nice, it’s like he’s tacked on to the plot. [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.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself When Your Story’s Theme Lacks Subtlety

Few flaws can kill a story’s theme and message as much as blatancy.

We’ve all read books that constantly hit us over the head with the author’s beliefs. Afterwards we resolve never to do this as authors.

But then we sit down to write and realize how easy it is to make this mistake.

5_Questions_to_Ask_Yourself_When_Your_Story_s_Theme_Lacks_Subtlety

Why Subtlety Is Important

As I explain in my article, “Is Fiction Inherently Worse Than Nonfiction,” literature’s thematic power lies in moving emotions, not reason. Generally speaking, stories don’t change readers by presenting new logical arguments. That’s the role of nonfiction. Instead, fiction changes readers by showing what it means to live morally versus immorally, and what the results are. [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.

Five Overused Clichés in Christian Fiction (and How to Avoid Them)

I have a love-hate relationship with Christian fiction.

On the one hand, the genre has immense potential, because it transcends what it means to live as a human being to explore what it means to live as a Christian. When these stories are done well, like Dave Swavely’s Silhouette, Richard Ramsey’s The Song (yes, I’m aware this is a movie), or Sigmeund Brouwer’s The Last Disciple, they often become my favorites.5_Overused_Cliches_in_Christian_Fiction_(and_How_to_Avoid_Them)

On the other hand, the titles I’ve listed are the cream of the crop. For every exceptional Christian novel I read, I typically wade through five or six mediocre ones first.

Why does modern Christian fiction fumble to tell a compelling story, especially compared to the lauded Christian authors of the past: C.S. Lewis, Fyodor Doestoevsky, and Alexandre Dumas? I believe one reason for this is modern Christian fiction’s reliance on clichés. [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.

Twenty-Seven Examples of Ways to Bend Clichés

Although some clichés used to be powerful writing tropes, they have become trite with age, bringing as much life to your story as a dead doornail. Writers are advised to avoid clichés like the plague, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. When manipulated properly, clichés can be worth their weight in gold.27_Examples_of_Ways_to_Bend_Cliches

A cliché is anything that has been overused to exhaustion and beyond: a character (the villain garbed in black who chuckles evilly while petting his cat), a plot device (the mentor who inevitably perishes), or a phrase/description/metaphor (“deader than a doornail”) so timeworn that readers’ eyes glass over when they see it. [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 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/

Why Theme Is the Key to Unlocking Your First Chapter’s Potential

First chapters are hard to pull off.

You need to introduce your protagonist, your story’s setting, and the beginning of your plot in an engaging way that entices people to keep reading. This last point gets hammered on again and again by editors and agents, which can make writing the first chapter seem imposing.

You may wonder whether it’s really worth it to throw yet another element into the first chapter.Why_Theme_Is_the_Key_to_Unlocking_Your_First_Chapter_s_Potential

At first you might assume it’s optional to include theme. I’d like to propose, however, that a strong thematic presence is far from extraneous and can actually be the missing piece you need to enhance a first chapter.

Theme Generates Excellent First Chapters

Few things intrigue as much as a good theme. Theme gives the reader a reason to care about your story, because it correlates fiction to the real world. The biggest mistake I often observe in newer authors’ first chapters is that they focus on an action sequence that’s supposed to be compelling. It might be compelling in film, where the audience could actually see the battle or gunfight, but in a text-based story it doesn’t work because readers have no reason to care about what’s happening. [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.

The Secret to Writing a Unique Conversion Scene

Sometimes it’s not just the secular market that has problems with conversion scenes. Many conversions in Christian fiction are skipped over, viewed as boring, or actively avoided, because when someone attempts to write an “original” conversion story, it ends up being one that people have already heard. The fact that Jesus died for our sins isn’t a major revelation in modern Christian fiction. It’s not strange, or clever, or unexpected.uniqueconversion

What are we supposed to do when the greatest story in the world becomes cliché?

Writing Unique Conversions

If you are writing for the Christian market, chances are that anyone who reads your book will be a Christian. At the very least, they will know enough about Christianity that the fact Jesus saved them will be old news. Thus, the easiest (and possibly best) way to write a conversion scene is simply that you don’t. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Brandon Miller
Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

How to Write Christian Stories without Annoying Your Readers

“Do I need to make my story Christian?” is often one of the first questions biblically-minded young writers ask themselves. After growing up on a steady diet of Veggie Tales and Adventures in Odyssey, it may seem natural to follow this fine tradition by writing stories rife with applicable Bible verses and modernized parables. Or perhaps you have the exact opposite in mind and are instead struggling with nagging guilt that your tale lacks prominent Christian themes.howtowritechristian

Actually, the question of whether a book needs to be Christian is, in a sense, irrelevant. Every action, spoken word, or inward thought in a story works in harmony to paint a picture of the author’s beliefs. A writer with a solid biblical foundation, whose aim is to write strongly and reflect God’s truth, will inherently write a “Christian” story, even if Jesus is never mentioned in it. [Read more…]

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Sierra Ret is a homeschool student who spent nearly her entire childhood with her nose buried in a book, and consequently decided she wanted to write one of her own (preferably filled with dwarves and elves). Actually getting her thoughts down on paper regularly has proven to be a far greater challenge than she first thought, but Kingdom Pen was kind enough to step in and give her some much-needed deadlines by honouring her with a temporary spot on their writing team. When not hermiting behind a laptop screen, Sierra enjoys gallivanting across Canada and adventuring near her home in rural Ontario with her family. Currently her chief fantasies include making a living as a travel blogger and someday moving to New Zealand. But above all, her chief aim is to live a passionate and meaningful life for the glory of God.

Creating a NaNo Outline When It’s Already November

Early October came and went and you said you had a month to prepare.

Mid-October came and went and you said you had two weeks to write a short outline.

The end of October came and went, and now you’re here in November with no outline, no plot line, and a looming deadline.nanooutlinepost

Take heart! Not all is lost. Most stories are about someone trying to gain or accomplish an objective that someone else doesn’t want to happen. That means your story only needs three elements to be a success: a hero, a villain, and a goal.

All right, let’s get to it. You have precious little time to waste writing yourself into and out of corners, plot holes, and poorly developed story worlds. You need an outline. But it doesn’t have to be super detailed—just a rough map that will guide you from word one to word fifty thousand. And that’s exactly what we’re going to figure out. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Brandon Miller
Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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 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.