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.

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.

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…]

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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 or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.

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.

How God Fits into Character Archetypes

By Mark Kamibaya

The character archetype system (roles that characters play in a story) is used by many authors. It was invented by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (basically Sigmund Freud version 2.0 but without all the libido). Carl Jung broadened the field that Sigmund Freud revolutionized. He coined the labels extrovert, introvert, sensing, feeling, thinking, and intuiting (the basis for the Myers-Briggs Personality Types) and gave authors character archetypes.how_god_fits_into_character_archtypes

According to the original list by Carl Jung, there are twelve archetypes: the Innocent, Everyman, Hero, Caregiver, Explorer, Rebel, Creator, Lover, Jester, Sage, Magician, and Ruler, none of which are bound by genre. [Read more…]

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.

Three Tactics for Battling Your Way Through NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year when we fasten our capes, buckle on our swords, brace our fingers, and begin to fight—ahem, write.

Fifty thousand words written in one month. Are the warriors who attempt this venture insane or courageous? Perhaps they are both, but whether you defeat NaNo or merely survive it, the fight will strengthen you in your day to day struggles against word counts and plot twists. After all, producing a five-hundred word article is nothing compared to writing two thousand words a day for a whole month.3tacticsslider

With this major battle before you, here are three tactics that can give you victory in your quest.

1. Deadlines

Yep, those things that nag at you when you try to ignore life—or writing. But deadlines make sense. No one enters a war with the whole fight laid out before them. Instead, a soldier is assigned one mission at a time. Wars are divided into battles, and battles into maneuverers. Conquered piece by piece, what at first seems overwhelming becomes at least doable.

Fifty thousand words in a month seems like a huge amount, but 10,250 a week breaks it down a little. If you plan to write six days a week, that’s only an average of 1,725 words a day—which is roughly five hundred words multiplied three and a half times! That’s not so bad. [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/