Four Types of Plot Clichés That May Be Dragging Down Your Story

A few weeks ago, I picked a random book off the library shelf and started reading. The book, Flashfall, grabbed my interest immediately. The characters were relatable and the story world was fantastic. Even better, the plot seemed fresh: miners struggling to excavate radioactive caverns where mutated creatures were trying to eat them. I hadn’t read anything like it.4_Types_of_Plot_Cliches_That_May_Be_Dragging_Down_Your_Story

Until I realized that I had.

After the fun of the first sixty pages, the mining ceased. It turned out that a familiar dystopian regime ruled the “unique” story world. The “interesting” heroine became just another strong female character who didn’t respect authority. (She also had a boyfriend, and another guy she liked.) Needless to say, she ended up inciting a revolution and probably would have toppled the dystopian government. I’ll never know for sure, because I was too disappointed to read the next book in the series. The clichéd plot killed it. [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 Write Christian Fiction for a Secular Audience

An enduring problem faces Christian writers who want to share their faith through their novels: if they include their faith in their books, it becomes “Christian” fiction. Christians read Christian fiction. Christians don’t need saved. Unsaved people read secular fiction, and they won’t ever end up touching an outspoken Christian’s book. Does that mean that no outspoken Christian will ever be able to lead someone to Christ through a novel? How in the world are we to use fiction to glorify God and bring people to Christ? Is the deck stacked against us and that’s that?secularaudience

No.

God is greater. Christians can (and will) change the world. But how are we, as writers, supposed to fulfill the Great Commission?

By writing stories so enthralling that they can’t be put down—or forgotten. [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.

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.

The Attack On Talent

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

 

By Emily Cozzens

 

There is a covert attack on talent that newbies and aspiring artists will discover as they break into their craft. It’s a parasite. I find it clinging to me when I hear the praise for my developing knack of writing. It disguises itself as humility.

Somehow, we think we’re terrible when we’re told we’re great. In a desperate attempt to keep our chests from puffing with pride, we supress reality.

Compliments are a challenge to accept. We know our mistakes in what we produce, and therefore our product is not up to the standard we perceive to be the standard the world wants. (Honestly, the world doesn’t really know what it wants.) We’re praised anyway, even with the small flaws glaring in our faces. But your fans don’t know where you went wrong. So they compliment you, but you fumble with an acceptance speech and end up with a hybrid mashup somewhere between, “Thank you” and “It was terrible, and I don’t understand how that thought could cross your mind.”

Chances are, though, they complimented you because they truly enjoyed what you presented 95 percent of the time. And the other 5 percent? They were probably asking questions worth asking.

Granted, there are empty compliments thrown around all the time, everywhere. Sometimes they hurt, when we see that somehow, our readers couldn’t find what seemed obvious to us, or didn’t take the time to really scrutinize what we presented.

But empty compliments do not mean that your craft is a waste of time, or terrible. Not at all. After seeing both sides of this equation, I’ve seen where the empty compliments originate. You’re not going to find any sort of compliment coming from a person who wants to tear you down.

There’s always going to be that person in your life that cannot seem to voice the good they see. The cynical, critical, pessimistic soul that always has something to say to you. “You’re doing it wrong.”

And there will always be that person in your life, so sweet and gentle, and scared of breaking your heart with any kind of feedback that’s less than positive.

When presenting your craft, your biggest challenge will be overcoming your own perception of what you’ve produced. You are your worst enemy when it comes to recognizing the merit of your product. This will spell the difference between getting a story published, or even making it out of your closet.

Earlier, I said that our little parasite disguises itself as humility. Of course, this article may not even make it into Kingdom Pen because of my lack of ability to write concisely, and stay on topic.

Ouch.

That parasite bit again. This is what we fight.

[Read more…]

Bad Is Good

Letting yourself write poorly Mr. Sso you can become good.

By Reagan Ramm

Daniel Schwabauer

“Bad isn’t bad. Sometimes bad is good.” – Daniel Schwabauer.

I hear it all the time: “My writing is terrible!”

Almost every beginning writer thinks that their writing is an abomination at one point or another. I’m sure you’ve expressed such sentiments about your own writing before, or perhaps you’ve talked to a writing friend who has lamented over the sad state of their literary work. While I believe some writers do this in order to fish for complements, many really are in despair about the quality of their writing, and for good reason, or so they think.

It’s disheartening when you think about how much of your time, effort, and soul you’ve poured into your writing only to come to the conclusion that it isn’t very good. To give up all the blood, sweat, and tears and not see the results is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever experienced. It can even be enough to make you quit writing completely.

I recently returned from the One Year Adventure Novel summer writing workshop in Kansas, and while all of the sessions were incredible, the one that stood out most to me was the last session. During this session, Mr. S said the profound words which I have quoted above, “Bad isn’t bad. Sometimes bad is good.” Mr. Schwabauer specifically asked us not to post this quote by him on the internet, but I couldn’t resist.

Of course, the context of that sentence is what is most important. Mr. S wasn’t talking ethics, he was talking writing. I wish all of you could have listened to the entirety of his talk, but you will have to settle for my meager summary.

Mr. S began by explaining how “Creating” and “Analyzing” happen separately. During creation, God first created, and then analyzed, concluding that His creation was “good”. This was God, though. Of course His creation was going to be good. Still, Mr. S insisted, this was the method God used. Perhaps we should try it on for size. We have to let ourselves create, first. We can’t be concerned about whether or not it’s “good” or “bad”. The mere act of creating is good, because it is helping us improve and we are using the creativity God blessed us with.

“Creativity is impossible when wrong or bad aren’t options,” Mr. S continued. It can be utterly paralyzing to sit down to write and then realize that whatever you type is going to be “wrong” or “bad”. “What’s the point?” you might think. Thus, you sit staring at a blank word document, cursor blinking impatiently, until you finally give up.

“Creativity requires risk, and risk sometimes means failure. You have to create bad things before you can create good things.”  Thus, creating something “bad” is actually very worthwhile! You have to get all of your bad stuff out of the way before you can be good. Not writing is the worst thing you could do, because you can’t get any better unless you practice. You’re just delaying yourself from becoming good. You’re prolonging your time as a “bad” writer.

In the writing world, many versions of a quote are frequently circulated, though who originally said it has been disputed. The quote goes something along the lines of:

“Your first million words don’t count – Be prepared to throw them in the trash.”

I’ve only written about 500,000 words. Does that mean everything I’ve ever written has been terrible and a waste of time? Not at all! My writing may not be very good, but that’s okay because no writing is wasted. Everything you write makes you better, and brings you closer to perfection. First you have to make it real. You have to put your writing on “paper”, and then you make it good later. “Bad isn’t bad. Sometimes bad is good.”

But don’t stay bad. Technical excellence matters. Your writing will help someone, even if it’s only you. Writing will help refine your thought process and skill. It can even improve your relationship with God, and God can use your own writing to talk to you. Creating is a god-like act.

Keep writing; keep improving. Let yourself be bad so you can become good. Don’t give up. Be excited. Bad is good.

Reality And Fantasy: Finding the Right Blend

Using your own life experiences to make your stories more real and fantastic at the same time.

By Lissy Jones

My mother always tells me the same thing whenever I write – “Write what you know”. I can’t stress this enough. Allow me to explain this with a simple example. Which is easier to write if you are a suburban Christian teenager – a story set in New York City about a young urban professional or a story about a suburban Christian teenager? Now, you may have a sibling that is a young urban professional in NYC, and that will make it easier to write the former, but generally, the latter is always going to be easiest for you to write. Think about it. You know the people in your neighborhood, you know what it’s like to be a teen, and it’s your life. I write my best fiction when it’s almost non-fiction. Having part of your personal story in your writing is like having climbing gear while climbing a mountain, versus free-hand climbing. It’s easier, and much less dangerous.

 –

But, my friends, writing direct biographies of our lives could be boring.  I know that I love writing partly because of the other world it transports me to – a world that I create. It’s only human to want to create things, as we are created in the image of the Creator. And when I’m writing what seems to be a narrative of my own boring (in my opinion) life, I tend to get bored. I have yet to write anything based directly on my life that is longer than a short story. And now, we are presented with a dilemma. So how do we fix that? Well, there are three ways. First, recognize the balance in writing. Second, learn to make reality fantasy. Third, research any topics you aren’t familiar with.

 –

Writing, like life, is a balance. It’s a delightful concoction with the perfect ratios of reality to fantasy. Every writer must be able to dream a little. I’m almost 100% sure C.S. Lewis didn’t possess a magical wardrobe that transported him to another world inhabited by talking animals. Yet, he spins a tale so real, the books have lasted years! So, what’s the magic ratio? In all honesty, friend, it varies. “The Chronicles of Narnia” requires more fantasy than, say, “The Grapes of Wrath.” A good writer is able to recognize exactly how much fantasy/reality he or she needs to add to the story. It’s like cooking – add a dash of reality to taste. If you reach the point where you read over your work and it sounds very “fake”, maybe reconsider some elements of your story, and make them closer to home. If you’re a girl who loves reading and writing, an illiterate boy who has just immigrated to America might be too hard to try to relate to. I like to play it safe and always have my main character be a girl, like me. Always have something in common with your character. A good way to do this is to make a chart comparing you and your character’s homes, families, personalities, and situations. This can help you see what you can change to get more in common. If, on the other hand, your story sounds like an autobiography, expand your mind a bit and add in some spice – perhaps you’ve always secretly wished you played piano from birth. Add that in! Also, consider changing one big piece of your character’s background. If you come from a two-parent household, making your character live with a single parent in a divorced or widowed family can add a fresh take on things.

[Read more…]

The Dread Factor: Dos and Don’ts of Writing Villains

By Eric Johnson

What makes the best villains work? The simple answer can be summed up in one phrase: lots of things. There is, however, an even simpler answer. Dread is what makes villains work. A good villain is a villain we dread, a bad villain is one we don’t. So how do you make your villain dreadful? Good question.

The most obvious question that needs answering is this: Why should my hero dread my villain? If you can come up with a convincing answer to this question, you’ve probably succeeded in making your reader dread your villain too. Hopefully, your villain will have some unique trait or traits that makes him or her more dreadful. However, there are a few basic dos and don’ts that will make almost any villain more intimidating.

First, the don’ts. It’s probably convenient to mention here that there are definitely exceptions to these guidelines. I don’t always follow them myself, but I think that even going against these concepts can be done better if you know what you’re contrasting. That being said, here is the little list of don’ts that I have compiled. Results may vary.

Don’t let the reader know that your villain is beatable. It may seem obvious, but I could probably think of several examples of stories that I have read, watched, or written where the villain is the underdog throughout the entire story. Everybody loves an underdog, they say, and that’s part of the reason why you want your hero to be the underdog, not the villain. It’s great to show that your hero is strong, but if the only way to do that is by showing that your villain…isn’t as strong, skip out on writing that scene.

Let’s say your villain has come face to face with your hero in chapter four of your novel. The villain has decided to kidnap the hero’s love interest. He’s not interested in keeping her alive for a dramatic rescue scene later. However, you don’t really want the love interest to die yet, so the hero channels his love for, well, his love interest, and soundly defeats the villain in a fist fight. Once this has happened, your reader has probably made a mental note of the instance. The villain just lost. They’ll come back in a dramatic way later, but why should we think that they’ll do any better in chapter eleven? This is not to say that the villain can never be outsmarted, outmuscled, or outanythinged, but I would recommend avoiding this when possible. Especially avoid having the villain lose when they’re in their element. Every time your villain is beaten, both the hero and the reader can rest just a little bit easier. That’s bad.

[Read more…]