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.

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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:

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?

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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.

Writing For Christ By His Guidelines

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?

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Rolena is a country loving girl who wears cowgirl boots and has dreamed of being Cinderella since she was four. She has an explosive imagination that leads her on crazy adventures in other worlds, yet she somehow always ends up back at her desk with a pencil and cup of coffee in hand. Beside writing at late night hours and devouring books, she has a tremendous love of music and musical theater. She blames them both for not being able to stay off a stage since age eleven, becoming a vocal teacher and now directing dramas. Her favorite places to be are up in her library (yes, she has a special room in her house just for books), outside for a romp or any place with people. On her shelf of favorite books you’ll find The False Prince, Once on This Island, Princess Academy and Bella at Midnight. Her favorite thing to do is laugh. Though she has tried to stop writing, she’s never been able too and has no intentions of doing so in the near future. Or ever for that matter.

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.


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.


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.

Viewing Your Story as a Form of Art

The-Art-of-WritingAs Christians, all of us likely have some message we are trying to actively communicate in our writing. And those of us who are not actively trying to communicate a message still can’t keep their worldview from slipping into their work. As Douglas Wilson writes in Wordsmithy, “The independence of art from worldview and worldview concerns is a myth. Every work of art is produced within a framework of worldview assumptions. […] It is not whether certain values will be propagated by art, but rather which values will be propagated.”

As Christian writers, hopefully our central concern is less on what values we should propagate, but more on how we should propagate them in our novels. We have all likely read that book where the author just preaches the morals through the characters rather than showing us them through their actions. We have all likely seen that story where the values are poorly presented in the book. We have all likely seen such examples of unsuccessful ways to communicate messages in a story. Most readers not already in agreement with the author will tend to reject such messages that are so blatantly preached through such works and will be turned off by it. They reject it because the art was sacrificed for the message.

Stories, therefore, will most effectively communicate their message when they are first a beautiful form of art. By pursuing aesthetic perfection in our stories, we will be taking important steps toward more effectively communicating our message. “Art forms add strength to the worldview which shows through, no matter what the worldview is or whether the worldview is true or false.” Francis Schaeffer, in his work, Art and the Bible correctly points out the power that forms of art hold in their ability to persuade. Like the old adage goes, “Give me control of the nation’s songs, and I care not who makes the laws.” Even as songs, poems, and paintings are works of art, even so are stories likewise a form of art. As Annie Dillard wrote in Living by Fiction, “Aesthetic perfection in a work of fiction carries with it a certain felt tension of tone which not only awes the reader, so that he judges the work to be absolutely excellent, but also inspires him to consider it more deeply.” As a form of art, although the message of the novel remains important, a story is first and foremost a work of art. In other words—it’s supposed to be a good story. And simply being a good story can be enough.

In an answer to the question of how a person can read literature to the glory of God, Leland Ryken in The Christian Imagination replies that it is, “By enjoying the beauty that human creativity has produced and recognizing God as the ultimate source of this beauty and creativity.” As a form of art then, stories must pursue a type of perfection in the grammar of the writing itself, in the depth of the characters, and in the intricacy of the plot. When this has been done, a well-crafted story will more powerfully bring out the message contained in the story. The better the art, the more powerful the message becomes. As Schaeffer writes, “The effect of any proposition, whether true or false, can be heightened if it is expressed in poetry or in artistic prose rather than in bald, formulaic statement.”

How does this art communicate the message? In his blog post “How Stories do their Work on Us,” Jonathan Rogers writes, “Being mere mortals, we can’t really understand any of those things if they aren’t grounded in what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. You can talk about grace until you’re blue in the face, but you aren’t going to come up with a definition that improves on the parable of the Prodigal Son: a father, arms outstretched, welcoming a rebellious and wicked son back into his home.” In order to communicate their message, stories do not need to be explicitly Christian. Although Christ’s parables bore powerful Christian messages in them, many did not have explicitly Christian characters in them. In Esther, we even see an entire book of the Bible that doesn’t mention God. And although Esther details real events which actually happened, it also forms an excellent story, told by the greatest story-teller of all: God Himself. And so, although Esther is not explicitly Christian, it remains still a very Christian book and still presents many truths for us to grasp. Art in stories therefore communicates the message by giving us examples of people  who either hold to or reject the truth, and then goes on to show us the end of such course of action. We learn by example.

So what does it mean then, to refine the perfection of the form of art which is your story? What makes a good story? There is no easy answer because there is no single right answer. Like the multiplicity of well-done paintings and the different forms they can take, stories can go many different, yet legitimate, ways. As Christian writers, we ought to be assured that, to some extent, the message of our story will take care of itself, since we cannot keep our worldview from infiltrating our story. But although no easy answers can be given for what makes a good story, advice can still be given and received, like it is in any other form of art.  Read recent articles by Kingdom Pen about how to make your character their own person or how to learn from your poor writing in order to get some of this advice. Through these articles, when we first understand that stories are another form of art, we can work to refine our understanding of and our skill in the craft of story-telling. And through that, we can pursue greater aesthetic perfection in our stories.

So where does the rubber meet the road and the theoretical meet the practical in this article? Compare The Lord of the Rings to your average modern Christian fantasy work today and you may be able to see the difference. Although modern Christian writers mean well, many focus more on the message of their novels than on the art form of it, and thus sacrifice the beauty of their story to the message being told. And while the message of our story is important, it is most effective when the story is first pursued as an art form. Don’t sacrifice the quality of your story for preaching your message. Relax, and let the message slip into your story. While there is nothing wrong with explicitly Christian stories, don’t be afraid to write an implicitly Christian novel. We can rest assured that we can still communicate specifically-Christian morals while writing in a less-explicit framework. When we pursue our stories as a form of art, we will more effectively communicate our message. And as the beauty of the trees, waves, mountains, and stars all proclaim the glory of God, so our stories will express the truths and beauty that ultimately find themselves in the glory of the risen Messiah.

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.

Meaning And Balloons

Does your novel have a point? We live in a world starving for meaning and purpose. People look for it in all the wrong places, but God is the only purpose, and the only One who can bring meaning. Does your novel point back to God? Does your novel have meaning?


 By Kathryn Comstock

It is happening in everything: school work, literature and even writing. Meaning is being systematically removed and instead, we’re told that “it’s all relative”. There’s no real meaning in anything. This is called deconstructionism.

I heard an analogy that meaning—what deconstructionism does to meaning—is like a red balloon. One person can come up and say it’s a blue balloon. Another can say it’s a green and pink balloon. Yet another person could say that it isn’t a balloon at all; in reality, it’s a pen. I could go on with examples forever, but you get the picture

Now, according to what the American education system teaches, (because it’s really they who are furthering this kind of thinking), everyone would be right. Meaning is considered to be relative. Because of this, the balloon can be anything or any color people want it to be, based on their thoughts and their desires. This probably sounds crazy, but it is what many people say they believe these days.

So, how does this apply to writing? I’m glad you asked.

As any writer knows, there’s something specific you’re trying to get across when telling a story. If you’re like me, the character may actually be an exaggerated reflection of one aspect of yourself, a person you admire or someone you’re close to. The scenes and situations you put in mean something, and it’s something very specific.

I’ll use an example from my own writing. Currently, I’m working on a story about a girl who escapes from a Nazi death camp like situation. She runs away and ends up, unknowingly, in the governor’s house. The butler agrees to let her spend the night (he isn’t aware she’s a prisoner) in exchange for her working an international dinner that his boss is putting on. Now, because of the fact that the governor has kept Kiah (my main character) and her family imprisoned for so many years, she has developed a deep and intense hatred for the man.

Her first errand at the party is to serve drinks, and she meets the governor. At first, she doesn’t know it’s him. He strikes up a conversation with her and, having no preconceived notions herself, starts to think that he’s a nice guy and all that. This is when it’s discovered he’s the governor. She gets super embarrassed and ends up dropping her tray, shattering and spilling everything she was carrying.

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