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 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 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 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 Christian wordsmith, avid reader, and dedicated authoress. Her time is taken up with writing, reading, archery, knife throwing, playing with inspirational photos, helping care for the house and eight younger siblings, and generally enjoying the adventures of life on a small farm at the crossroads of America. She has self-published fairy tale retellings on Amazon and is currently working on several projects including a fantasy novel and futuristic trilogy. You can find out more about Hope and her work on her website as well as links to download her first Legends of Light novella for free!

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…]

Profile photo of Hope Ann
Hope Ann is a Christian wordsmith, avid reader, and dedicated authoress. Her time is taken up with writing, reading, archery, knife throwing, playing with inspirational photos, helping care for the house and eight younger siblings, and generally enjoying the adventures of life on a small farm at the crossroads of America. She has self-published fairy tale retellings on Amazon and is currently working on several projects including a fantasy novel and futuristic trilogy. You can find out more about Hope and her work on her website as well as links to download her first Legends of Light novella for free!

Why Everything In Your Story Must Tie Into Your Theme

Character or plot?  The debate about which one is more important to a story has gone on for a while and will continue to go on for the foreseeable future.  Many valid arguments are made from writers and readers on both sides, with many concluding that the best answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Yet, while character and plot are certainly important to a novel, I’m going to suggest in this article that if you’re only asking yourself if your novel should be character-driven or plot-driven, you’re missing a key element of your story.  It’s like having two legs of a three-legged stool.  With great plot and great characters, you can indeed write a fun story.  But until you have the third missing element, you won’t have a great one.

And that missing element is theme. Tieintotheme

Now, immediately upon reading it, there are going to be some people who are going to wonder why theme is all that important.  Perhaps it’s good to have, but no way is it as central as characters and plot.  After all, if theme is given a large place in a novel, doesn’t the novel simply become preachy and unreadable?  These are the objections that may very well be raised against this thesis.  And to be fair, the latter is a valid concern.

But what I’m going to attempt to show in this article is that theme is an integral part of any novel, and that a failure to develop it is, in the end, a failure to use literature to its true potential.  Characters may endear themselves to us.  Plots may grip us.  But it is theme that teaches us.

Prolegomena: Theme or Message?

[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.

Writing For Christ By His Guidelines

By Rolena Hatfield

I always need renewed vision when I’m writing. I’m constantly needed to be reminded of my purpose in why I’m writing in the first place. And recently I’ve been challenged to stop and think…

Why is writing so important to me? Why do I spend hours at a time clicking away at the keys to add words to another page?

Or maybe the question should be: why should writing be so important to me?

Is the answer “because I love it” good enough? Or “because I have something to say”?Writing For Christ Pinterest

Should these be the answers that justify the hours and hours of time we pour into our stories? I suggest that they should not. There is so much more to writing than our love for it and because we have something to say. And it all lies on this one fact; that we belong to Christ. (“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead: And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” 2 Cor. 5:14-15) Therefore we represent Him in all that we do.

So how should we reflect, nay, radiate whom we represent?! I would like to propose this idea, which has given me new inspiration to continue writing for Him.

Why not let God’s Book be our inspiration?

Think about God’s Book. Since God wrote it, the book is perfect; therefore He is a perfect author. And we don’t have many of those in our culture today, do we? In fact, He’s the only perfect author I know. Which also means His book is the ultimate example for me, in everything I do, including how I write.

So how do we create our books in light of His perfect Words? How do we radiate His Words in the words we write?

[Read more…]

What Does it Mean to Write for Christ?

Write For Christ PostWe talk about this idea a lot around here at Kingdom Pen, but what does it really mean to write for Christ? How exactly do you write for Christ? Does your story have to be out-right religious or blatantly about God in order to write for Christ?

I think the mistake we as Christians so often make when creating “Christian” stories or art in general, is we feel the need to proclaim that our work is Christian. We put God in a nice churchy box called “Christian” and make sure to parade this box around throughout our stories. As a result, quality is usually sacrificed on the altar of “a good Christian message.”

The reality is that God is so much bigger than we often make Him out to be in Christian fiction. Your story doesn’t need to be openly “religious” or even mention the name of God in order to write for Christ, and bring Him glory. Additionally, if you are writing for a non-Christian audience, sometimes it might be best to leave the name of God out of your story, as it could potentially alienate the ones you are writing for.

What? I’m confused. How can you write for Christ without talking about God? 

I am definitely not saying you should leave God out of your story. In fact, doing so would make your story unrealistic. However, God is so big, He’s everywhere and anywhere at any given time. We can write for Christ without blatantly coming out and talking about God or using His name in our writing. To write for God, we merely need to do one thing: Glorify Him. To glorify God, we need to reflect His character.

We reflect God’s character in two ways: quality and truth.

Quality

Our writing needs to be of the best possible quality. We need to write well, and do our best. God is perfect, so to reflect God, we need to get our writing as close to perfect as we can. A great message does not trump story, nor does a great story redeem a horrible message. Both are vital.

As a quote attributed to Martin Luther goes,

“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

Of course, we will never be able to attain perfection, and getting frustrated with our work will not help things. Sometimes, the only way we can get better, is to let ourselves write poorly. Practice is the only way we can get better. So we don’t have to be perfect to reflect God. We just have to do our best, and always strive to get better, never resting on our laurels. That honors God.

Truth

We also reflect God in our writing by demonstrating His truth.

What is God’s truth, and how do we demonstrate it?

God’s truth is truth. Anything that is true is of God. Jesus said He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). God is described as “the Spirit of Truth,” (John 16:3). God is truth; therefore, by writing about and displaying truth, we are writing for Christ. So many dark and disturbing stories today claim to be about truth, even ones written by Christians, but they are not displaying the real and ultimate truth, but a temporary distortion of the truth which Satan has wrought on the world through our sin. These dark stories which claim to be about “real life” are really just depicting a temporal illusion.

As C.S. Lewis’ Aslan points out in “The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe”, yes, there is a deep “magic” which decrees that the White Witch has ownership over Edmond for his treachery, but what the witch did not know was the deeper “magic” which proclaimed that if someone willing and blameless took his place, the death would be reversed. In other words, God’s truth is the “deeper magic” which cancels out and surpasses the false reality sin has created in our world.  

Displaying truth can take many forms, but ultimately, our stories should advance a theme which corresponds with God’s truth. In other words, yes, our stories should have a positive and moral message, but this should arise from the plot and characters, and not sacrifice quality by being tacked on unrealistically.

One example of displaying God’s truth is how we portray love. Love is often displayed in novels, and in our culture, as a feeling. I feel this, and I feel that. And the other person feels this about me. Love has come to reflect a very selfish idea, and it is true that there are different forms of love. However, the idea that true Love is about, “how much pleasure can I get out of this relationship or the other person?” is completely false. The world says love is about consuming. Writing for Christ could mean showing that true love is about sacrificing, which is what God proved love to be on the cross. John 3:16 describes it very well. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Another example of displaying the truth of Christ is advocating truth itself. In our Postmodern world, many people are denying that objective truth even exists. People like to say, “well that’s true for you, but that’s not true for me.” Objective truth exists, it’s God’s truth. So by writing a story with a moral showing that truth is truth, regardless of what people believe, you are writing for Christ.

By writing stories displaying and promoting Hope, Joy, Courage, Perseverance, Humility, Faith, Altruism, Peace, Mercy, Grace, etc. we are writing for Christ because we are reflecting the character of God. We may or may not include God in our writing, by name, but by displaying His truths and saying, “this is true,” we are putting God in our writing, and we are writing for Christ.

Also, if we strive to write for Christ, we will not be writing alone. If we abandon ourselves to God, then He can use us for His glory. He will guide us as we craft and develop our stories.

If you think about it, there are infinite ways to write for Christ and to glorify God. By writing for God, glory will not only be brought to Him, but we will be taking part in the spreading of God’s kingdom on earth. We can spread truth, and free the culture from its pervasive lies.

The beautiful reality is people are starving for these kinds of stories, and not just Christians. Truth and reality are far more wonderful than the fake. By combining God’s truth with a high quality story, we can write novels which deeply impact Christians and non-Christians alike. The Lord of the Rings, and the Chronicles of Narnia are two great examples of this playing out. Writing for Christ is truly a noble pursuit.

Writing for Christ = Glorifying Him = Reflecting His character = Doing our best to demonstrate His truth and wonderful mastery.