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.

How to Write an Unlikable Hero

A dark, brooding hero isn’t particularly nice to anyone, and he is particularly mean to a few nice people. A tragic event in his past has shaped his sour outlook on life. He might live on 221B Baker Street, or he may call up CIA agents just to tell them they look tired. He’s conflicted, fearless, and terrified.

Also, he’s very popular in modern YA fiction.How_to_Write_an_Unlikable_Hero

But, unfortunately, failure awaits those who attempt to write him. A dark, brooding, unlikeable character is … unlikeable. The chances are slim that he will hold readers’ attention through a book.

Many authors try to skirt the problem by throwing in backstory that explains how the hero became such a jerk. They think readers will pity and ignore the hero’s rough edges if they understand that he lost his parents at a young age.

Wrong. [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.

Write a Great Description in Three Easy Steps

Readers can’t relate to a story without narrative description. It happens in a vague world of shadows and smoke that readers have never visited—a world of floating voices and gunshots (splitting the silence, probably) but no real physical matter. It fails to engage the senses and ignite the imagination.Write_a_Great_Description_in_Three_Easy_Steps

If you’re like me, most of your descriptions may read like this: “It was raining outside.” Not exactly imagination-evoking material. Story worlds must come to life for readers, or stories never can. Vivid description is life-or-death for your story, but there’s a secret to pulling it off. Don’t believe me? Try these three easy steps. [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.

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.

Five Overused Clichés about Family in Writing (and How to Avoid Them)

Name a Disney film. Name both of the hero’s parents.

Not easy, right? Usually at least one of the parents is dead. Although Disney has other reasons for doing this, the main one is to develop sympathy in the audience for the hero. Sometimes it works. But it also comes at a price.

People, especially young adults, are surrounded by family. Whether they want to be or not, they are stuck with their family and have to interact with them every day. Though some might not admit it, familial relationships are the strongest relationships anyone can possess.5_Overused_Cliches_about_Family

Why aren’t we highlighting these relationships when we write stories? Most of your readers will have close friends from church or school. Many of your readers might have “significant others.” (I hate that term; isn’t everyone significant?)

But all of your readers have (or have had) parents. [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.

Set Your Novel Up for Success by Sharing Your Outline

It’s January, the month of new beginnings. You’ve made your New Year’s resolutions, and maybe, just maybe, one of them involves writing. Maybe you resolved to write a novel. An entire novel. And maybe this time you’re actually going to do it. So you sit down in front of a word processor with your fantastic new idea and start tallying up the word count.Set_Your_Novel_Up_for_Success

Not so fast. Before you get carried away, you should take a minute to set yourself up for success in your novel-writing endeavor.

First, you need an outline. If you don’t have one yet, check out my post on how to quickly create one. It doesn’t need to be complicated or too in-depth. But it should provide direction for your novel so that you don’t end up wandering aimlessly, or not moving forward at all.

Your outline is the skeleton of your story. You want it to be great; unfortunately, it isn’t. Not yet. You won’t be able to see its flaws, but they will be there nonetheless. Plot holes you didn’t consider. Flat/useless characters you thought were important. Exciting sequences that shouldn’t happen so rapidly. Your outline will be full of little errors and slip ups that you won’t notice, and maybe your readers won’t notice them either. But each of those mistakes is a missed opportunity for improvement. Also, a small flaw in your outline could morph into a huge muse-killing flaw in the final product. Sound bad? It is. Once you’ve written your draft, outlining errors are difficult and time consuming to fix. So how can you find them before it’s too late? [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 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.

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.

Writing Team Update

After much ado from engagements to interviews, ladies and gentlemen, we present your Fall Writing Team Interns and Kingdom Pen’s newest permanent staff member, the Director of Marketing. Prepare to unleash your best barbaric yawp in greeting these fine folks who will serve on the front lines of wordsmithing and kingdom expansion.writingteamupdate

’Twas a noble contest of great proportions. Many lances were splintered, and many inkwells emptied. In the end (and after significant deliberation), we crowned four victors, but for those knights and ladies not selected, we would like to remind you that there will be another opportunity to join the Kingdom Pen Writing Team in the spring! We are so proud of each of you who applied; it is truly overwhelming how much talent and passion the KP community has to offer!

So, today we invite you to lay down your battle axes and swords in favor of some appropriately nerdy confetti and goblets full of sparkling grape juice and welcome those who have been elected to serve the KeePer’s Kingdom. [Read more…]