I used to think there was something wrong with me. At least with my reading habits.
I could zip through any novel anyone handed me in just a few days’ time. I could enthuse about the characters, the story, and the writing until people went cross-eyed. I could understand what the author was trying to say through it and often thought about how it applied to me.
But even though I had a stack of wonderful nonfiction books that I so wanted to read, I had to force myself through them. Even when I developed a reading plan to study some of these books, I had to take it one chapter at a time. Sometimes only a half-chapter.
Why? How could I breeze through a four-hundred page novel, but drag myself through a forty-page nonfiction study?
Some of it may have been the different style of writing. Nonfiction tends to have a wider vocabulary and harder concepts. They take time to think on and understand before you move to the next chapter. By their very writing, much of nonfiction is something to ponder, not breeze through.
But can we also face it?—sometimes fiction writers get a bad rap. In movies (more so than books), we’re portrayed as ditzy idealists who spend our days in the clouds, out of touch with reality, and consuming far too much coffee. At best, we're misguided dreamers. At worst, we're hypocrites and liars. More often than not, it seems nonfiction works are applauded as world-changing books.
And they are. I could give you a list of nonfiction books right now that have been revolutionary to me (Crazy Love by Francis Chan, Love Riot by Sara Barrett, Steadfast Love by Lauren Chandler, It’s Worth It by Macey McLain, and Priscilla Shirer’s books, for starters).
None of this is meant to bash nonfiction. There is a huge ministry there, and it is exactly what reaches some people. Some nonfiction authors have fantastic writing styles that make it easy to read.
But few people realize the powers fiction writers hold. Sometimes not even fiction writers themselves.
Few people realize that novels are world-changing books, too.
It took me years to decipher my problem with nonfiction. Here’s what I’ve noticed—a few things that prove that the novel you’ve been wanting to read might just be even more meaningful than your average devotional.
Life is tough. Really tough. Each of us have our own problems we’re trying to scale. Whether or not they’re “big” in comparison to things in the world or another person’s problems doesn’t matter. They are big to us.
I’m no exception. And when I’ve been going through the hardest things in my life, when I was hurt or angry or overwhelmed, I didn’t turn to a deep theological tome. I searched for an escape.
And I found that escape in fiction. I’d take a book off my shelf—maybe one I’d read a dozen times before, maybe one I hadn’t gotten around to reading. I’d pop in a movie. I’d lose myself in someone else’s world for a while. For a couple hours I’d travel the streets that connect London to Neverland, break codes in World War I, and explore revolutionary Philadelphia.
And as they battle pirates, race against opposite agents, and stop plots that could have changed the course of American history, I battle right alongside the characters. I return to my own world with a new hope that if they could solve their problems, then so could I.
Once I dive into a story, I become best friends with characters who have the same feelings I do, even though our situations are vastly different.
I’m not a codebreaker in World War I (never have been, either), but when Margot de Wilde cuts her hair to lash out at the snobby matron at the hospital, I understood. I understood that deep-burning anger that made me want to do something drastic. (The Number of Love by Roseanna White)
I’m not a girl with a mysterious healing powers, but I understood Kynet’s desire to protect those she cared most about and to make the most of the gift she’d been given. (Healer's Bane by Hope Ann)
I’m definitely not Anastasia Romanova, but as she struggled to forgive the people who had hurt her so deeply, I thought of those who had hurt me and struggled with her. (Romanov by Nadine Brandes)
Characters get angry. They get scared. They make mistakes. They cry. They feel overlooked. They keep things locked inside that they wish they could shout to the world.
My feelings are shown to be something valid, even if I feel like no one in my world hears them. Something real. And I realize that my feelings are okay. They’re normal. I’m not alone. I can work through them.
Anyone can spout off a string of colorful Christian-ese that means nothing. (Heads up: nobody beseeches anybody anymore. It’s a shame, but it’s true. Just saying.) I can’t count the times when we’ve read a family devotional and the author has said something along the lines of “You shouldn’t judge others” or “You must let God free you from your chains”—and there the devotional ends. Thanks for nothing! Even if they lay out exactly why we should do these things, there was no follow through. Being the logical, analytical person I am, I need practical, real-world examples of how these things work.
Fawkes showed me how to seek truth as a young person in a world full of diverse voices more than any sermon ever did.
How to Train Your Dragon showed me what it looked like to find your place in the world as you grow up better than any how-to book.
Big Hero 6 showed me it’s okay to hurt, and how it looks to hurt the right way better than booklet on grief.
Fiction drags us into the adventure even if we don’t have the hope to look for one anymore and shows us hands-on what victory looks like.
So, at long last, I’ve come to grips with my novel-istic tendencies. And I've learned that those who step into that world are not just naive liars. Fiction is a way to reach people who would never pick up a devotional as well as people who would.
Because deep down, we all long for adventure. And fiction serves it up beautifully right next to the answers we need.
COVID-19. It came out of nowhere. One day, it was overseas and only as close as a newscast. The next, I was walking out of the elementary school I worked at for an impromptu four-week break, watching students pack up everything from their lockers. The next, those four weeks became five months.
Everything then was COVID, COVID, COVID. And I'd decided my newsletter wasn't going to be one of them. I was going to stay upbeat and positive and be like, "What COVID?"
Well, here it is.
It's impossible for something as earthshaking as a pandemic to leave such a big part of our lives as writing alone. Suddenly, I went from having two solid solitary hours (not counting my work breaks at school) devoted to writing to being constantly surrounded by people (albeit people I love) and chores vying for my attention.
A learning curve, to be sure.
But what did I learn? And what did I change?
When you're only scratching out thirty minutes in a corner with a notebook and headphones, you appreciate those writing sessions more. Things I took for granted--like quiet, headphones, and having time to write at all--became very precious. The help people gave me by taking on chores and other responsibilities so I could have that time became very valuable (more on this later).
As I head back into "business as usual", I hope I'll never forget this time and the gratitude it built in me.
With less time protected for writing, I had to learn to get more done in less time. I quickly discovered what was important and what could wait. This meant some days I didn't check email so I could write.
I made goals and figured out what I needed to do to meet them. I made a schedule of what I needed to work on each day and did all I could to stick to them. The days that I knew what I needed to do were so much more productive than those I didn't. Goals are nothing if I have no plan to get there.
I took the chances that came to me--whether it was short story contests or five free minutes to scribble a paragraph down. Never let yourself feel guilty for taking those chances.
As a result, I hope I've built some good habits that will last me my writing career.
Sometimes it's easy for us writers to forget we need other people in on this journey. People are not stumbling blocks. They want to help us get where we need to go.
I let my family in on my goals. After all, they were at home all the time just like I was. Once they knew what I was working toward, some of them began to help me protect that writing time. It's okay to ask for help! It's okay for that one basket of laundry to wait an hour so you can write! The world will not end because of a few socks that aren't folded yet! (I don't think so, anyway.)
I found a time to connect with other writers--to encourage and to be encouraged. I engaged with the content in my writing lessons and virtual conferences. I asked more questions than I thought I had in me, then figured out how to apply the answers. I learned to value an email to a writer friend just as much as editing thousands of words. But at the same time, I learned to not let those connections distract me when I really needed to be writing.
For the first time in my life, I had to go a day, sometimes more, without writing. Siblings, chores, and a new puppy that demanded attention conspired to keep me from my notebook. It was frustrating. It was stressful. It was MADDENING.
But I learned to still let my imagination work behind the scenes. To take that time to read and imagine. Just because I wasn't in front of a paper, didn't mean I wasn't still creating. To not punish others for a day that I couldn't write by having a poor attitude about it. To still use that wordless day to do good. To trust that those days still had infinite purpose. Writing isn't everything.
COVID-19 was a learning curve. A long one at that. But I hope I've learned things, started habits, and built relationships I'll never regret.
*I would also like to add a huge shout-out thank-you to my family for all they did to help me have time and energy to write during this crazy time! Any writing I didn't get done was not for your lack of effort to get me writing. I so appreciate it!*
*How has your writing been during this crazy thing called a pandemic? Has it been easier or harder? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
In other news, it's been pretty warm here . . .
A few weeks ago, I shared about some authors that impacted me. Today, I'm sharing about some books that did the same.
I'd never realized how character motivation impacts the stories we love the best. Then I read this book. Plotting became easier and my stories became stronger--because readers could feel with my characters.
This book has a little bit of everything! Better than that, her tips work. It's a great reference resource. (The Plot Skeleton is a fantastic little book that makes sure your plot has everything it needs as well!)
I was unable to find a picture of the fantastic little book Word by Word by Linda Taylor. Intimidated by editing? Say no more! This book de-mystifies editing and encourages writers along the way.
These young adult fiction books handle topics that real teens face in ways that real teens react to them. They take a unique, fresh touch on the themes, and inspired me to do the same.
*Which books impacted your writing? Share your adventures in the comments!*
What is an indie author? (No, it has nothing to do with Indianapolis.)
I didn't know the answer for the longest time. People threw out the phrase "indie author" right and left and I just sat there in bewilderment. I later found out that indie is just short for independent. Independent (or indie) authors publish their books themselves. They may only independently publish, they may publish traditionally (with an established publishing house) and independently, or they may be publishing independently as a step to traditional publication. They're independent.
But indie authors get a bad rap. In fact, most people don't count them as "real" authors. General opinion is that indie authors:
---are authors who have simply been rejected by all other publishing companies
---not willing to put in the work to traditionally publish their book
None of this is actually true. But why do we believe it?
With the rise of resources like Amazon KDP, a lot of authors previously unable to do so are now able to show their work to the world. Anyone--literally anyone--can publish a book.
Unfortunately, most of these people are not authors. So we now have a ton of books floating around on Amazon that have poor formatting, poor covers, and ever poorer writing.
That means that the indie authors that did it right are getting lumped with those who didn't put in the work.
The truth is, most indie authors do even more work than traditionally published authors.
---write the book
---self-edit the book (and then pay professional editors to polish the manuscript)
---format the book so it's nice to read
---pay a professional cover designer
---market the book
---and take care of all the business things, too.
While traditionally published authors do the same, they have in-house editors, designers, and marketers to work with.
Indie authors have a lot to work against. And there's a good deal of them that are writing fantastic books. So today, let's remember those indie authors and let them know their skills and work are not unnoticed.
*Who are your favorite indie authors? Share your adventures in the comments!*
Today, I want to share with you three pieces of advice that impacted my writing. And by impact, I mean they blazed like a meteor out of the sky and left a giant crater in my writing. And there's nothing to do after a crater but rebuild. And I'm so glad that this advice helped rebuild my writing.
Some are things I wish I knew when I began writing. Some are things I've learned the hard way. Some are things other writers passed on to me. And now I want to pass them on to you. I hope they help and encourage you!
I was excellent at making goals. But I rarely met those goals. Why? Because I had no plan to get myself there. When I took the time to sit down and figure out how many words I needed to write to finish the novel by the end of the month, I felt freer and more able to meet them. I knew that no matter how bad a writing day I was having, all I had to do was edit this many words. It suddenly made bad writing days look very good, because I knew I could still reach my goals.
Onto a more technical note. I always thought adverbs--those little "ly" words like slowly, beautifully, or snarkily (not sure that last one is a word)--were so bright and sparkly. But the truth is, if I had to use a "ly" word to describe how my character said or did something, then I had a weak sentence on my hands. I hadn't made the best use of my action words. Eliminating adverbs from my edited drafts has led to so many brilliant sentences I never would have had with those "ly" words. As a result, my novels are so much stronger.
When I was working on Author of Peace, I remember someone told me they believed I would find a niche market, and that would just kind of be my thing. I was like, "Niche market, great!" I really didn’t mind the idea. But the idea that I couldn’t do any more than a niche market? I wasn’t so crazy about that. But then someone told me to write what God had given me to write. So many writers talk about having to write for the market. But the bottom line is if God has given you this book, then He will take it wherever it needs to go. So just be you and write the story that He has given you. Don’t doubt what He can do through the book you’ve written, no matter what that book is.
*What advice has impacted (or left a crater in) your writing? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
A couple months ago, I watched Disney’s 2019 remake of Aladdin (thanks to quarantine). For a few hours, I was dazzled by color, visual, a culture so unlike my own, and sheer story magic. (And I don’t like musicals, so that’s saying something.)
I must confess, I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the story of Aladdin. Which got me thinking about the fairy tales that intrigue me . . . and the ones that don’t.
One that doesn’t is Cinderella.
Don’t get me wrong. I had my fair share of Cinderella when I was younger. My sisters and I would snuggle on the floor with our stuffed animals and best friends and watch it at every sleepover we hosted.
But as I’ve gotten older, and I think about the stories a little more, it lost a bit of its allure.
I’m not the only one. In a poll put on a community for teens and young adults (specifically writers), eighty-eight percent said they’d rather read an Aladdin retelling than a Cinderella retelling.
Their reasons were (almost) all the same.
Cinderella is overdone and gets really old.
(Well, and that she falls in love for no reason, but that would be a whole ‘nother post, ladies and gents.)
Sure, this could just be because there’s a lot of Cinderella retelling books out there. (A lot.) But why did this story get tired out faster than Aladdin? Especially when they share the same general plot?
Because when I sat down and thought about it, Aladdin and Cinderella are basically the same stories. An underprivileged orphan rises to royalty due to magic—magic that can only last for a limited amount of time, in which they are left to themselves to rise to royalty again.
So what makes the difference between a tired-out character and a timeless one?
*Note: This post is based on the original fairy tales, not based on my opinions on the Disney remakes (of which I have not seen Cinderella) or original films (of which I've never seen Aladdin), although some details may reference them alongside other retellings.*
Let’s start with Cinderella herself, shall we? (Read the abridged original fairy tale here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella) Cinderella is the favorite fairy tale princess of countless little girls. And she has a right to be. She has spunk and perseverance. She refuses to give up on her dreams and holds them as tight as she can. (After all, a dream is a wish your heart makes!) She is kind even in the face of her family’s rejection.
But take the magic out of her story. No fairy godmother. No pumpkin carriage. No glass slipper. Is there any sign that she would have gone to the ball? Is there any sign that she would have gone to the ball? Is there any sign that she would have met the prince? Is there any sign that anything would have changed?
No. In fact, even in the original Disney Cinderella, the mice are responsible for her first dress, and once her sisters tear it to shreds, she gives up and flees to the garden. She doesn’t set about developing a new plan. She doesn’t start a new life or find a way to chase her dreams. (And her animal friends have to free her later so she try on the glass slipper, too!)
Fair reaction. But without her animal friends or the fairy godmother, Cinderella would have been scrubbing floors to infinity.
Aladdin is similar to Cinderella in many ways. (Read the abridged original version of Aladdin here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aladdin) He has spunk and perseverance. At the opening of the original fairy tale, we find him taking care of his mother (it’s how he got in the lamp mess in the first place!). Even in the Disney version, where he is an orphan, he fights his way towards the change he dreams of. He works towards his dreams (although in rather misguided ways).
Does Aladdin never lose heart? Sure, he does. (One Jump Ahead Reprise, anyone?) In the original fairy tale, he is in despair when the genie appears (sound familiar?). But he doesn’t let himself stay there and wait for someone to come rescue him. Even when the genie disappears, he chooses to be himself and fight until he can’t fight anymore. He doesn’t wait for the bad guys to go away. He faces them down himself (fair, with the princess’ help). He refuses to be the victim of a society that labels him little better than a thief.
Here is where the fairy tale and the Disney versions go off, though: in the original, Aladdin did the same Cinderella did. He rode on the success of his magic. In this case, I like the Disney version where he loses it all and makes that choice anyway much better.
And there's the secret that Disney used to create a sparkling timeless character.
Both Cinderella and Aladdin had almost all the things they needed to do that. They had dreams. They had positive characteristics. But Disney took the final step in creating Aladdin into a character that we return to over and over again. He works towards his dreams. He acts, whether or not he always gets it right.
*Another note: Just an interesting aside--this secret works to create interesting protagonists and interesting villains. For instance, the excellently-written villain in Wayne Thomas Batson's Dreamtreaders worked towards her dreams just as much or more than the protagonists in that trilogy.*
Aladdin--and protagonists who fight for their dreams with him--inspires readers (and watchers, thanks to Disney) to be stronger—and reminds them they don’t need to wait for a glass slipper or magic lamp.
*Which is your preference—the Aladdin type or Cinderella type? What do you think makes a strong character? What retellings have changed up these stereotypes? Share your adventures below!*
Yes, you. The one reading this entry.
I know how it feels. When I first started studying writing, I thought I had it pretty well figured out. Come up with a story, slap some words down any which way, boom, you've got a novel.
So many things go into a novel. So each time I read a book, scanned a website, or came home from a conference, it was with a notebook full of things I needed to fix on my manuscript.
Maybe you're in the same spot?
The thing was, though, that even when I was discovering all the things I'd done "wrong," there was always something I'd done right. Maybe my word choice needed help, but I had a strong story concept. Maybe my characters were kind of blah, but the plot was solid. Maybe that whole paragraph--that whole chapter--needed deleted, but there was one sentence in the middle that was gold.
It's called learning. And no matter how many things I learn, I'll still be doing it every single day. And so will you.
It may feel like you're doing everything "wrong" and that you're just dragging yourself to the computer or a notebook for yet another edit. But you're not. There's always something you're doing right--I'm willing to bet several things.
And one day, you'll get to a point where you might be sitting in a conference session or reading a book and you run across a point--but instead of reaching for your notebook, you think, "Huh. I'm doing that already."
It's called learning.
Look for those right things. Celebrate them. And while you're at it, look for those "wrong" things and celebrate them, too. Because the secret is that when it comes to learning, there's no wrong answers. The fact that you've learned you're doing something "wrong" shows it's only a matter of time until it becomes right.
What's something you're learning to do right? Have any thoughts on this entry? Share your own adventures below!
And now, without further ado, the funny writing graphic of the month!
Imagine you have one wish. I don't know how you got it. Maybe you found a magic lamp. Maybe you picked just the right dandelion (and if so, it most likely came from our backyard). Maybe it's your birthday.
But for whatever reason, you have a wish. But you don't get to choose what that wish is. This is a wish that already has the outcome assigned.
This is a wish to have all the right words to say.
To never have to stumble over words again. To never slip up and say the wrong thing and hurt someone's feelings or ruin a surprise. To never stand there racing for an answer to a question while the interrogator looks on. To never wonder what to say when someone shares something exciting or depressing with you.
Would you take it? Would I take it?
I don't know why this hypothetical question ran through my mind one day. Maybe I just hadn't slept well the night before. And at first, I thought it sounded pretty great. I mean, what could be bad about always saying the right thing? Think of all the people I wouldn't have to try to explain myself to! Think of all the pages and sentences I wouldn't have to delete and rewrite! Think of how much editing time would be saved!
And it's not all about me, either. Think of all the people who wouldn't have their feelings hurt. Think of all the plans that would either rest in a back drawer (as they should) or go on to change the world (as they should) dependent on my advice. Think of all the people who would have their day brightened or be encouraged.
What could be bad about that?
But then I wondered, if I had all the right words to say, where would there be room for God? If I never experienced weakness, would I appreciate His strength so much? Would I even let Him work in my life? Or would I merely assume I have all the answers?
"And He said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
What about you? If you had that wish . . . would you take it?
Dear Bad Review,
You know exactly why I’m writing you. Don’t even give me that look.
I wasn't sure what name to put in the header. Some people call you Fear. Some people call you Insecurity. Some people call you Discouragement. I decided to go with Bad Review.
I know what you’re doing. You’re smirking and laughing and eating snickerdoodles because you think you’ve won.
Not by a long shot. You thought you were so clever. That you could use my very favorite thing against me—words. You thought you could take something designed for good and twist it into a dagger. You thought . . .
Well, never mind what you thought. It didn’t work. It’s not exactly like this is an uncommon trick. You try it on everyone in one form or another. You just try to make it look a teensy bit different each time. But it all boils down to the same thing: words that tear us down, rather than build us up.
Or do they? Because here’s what you don’t know—we’re team players. We have the Person on our team Who CREATED words. (How’s that for even?) And He can take the words you try to twist and twist them right back into something even better. Did you know knives can make excellent pens? I mean, ever heard of constructive criticism? Or all things working for good? Or rising out of the ashes? Or . . .
Well, you get the point. I’ve enclosed a pen so you can head back to your drawing board. The pen’s empty, though. Like your threats. I just thought I’d write you a note so you didn’t waste those snickerdoodles.
Well, this is it. 2019 is nearing its final page.
Years are funny things. We spend all this time at the beginning of the year planning what we want to do this year, what goals we will meet. We say, “This is the year we’re going to finish our first book, self-publish our first book, or pitch our first book, or land our first contract.”
But most studies show that eight percent of us this year met the goals we wanted to meet.
Maybe it just seemed too hard, so we took a rather permanent time-out from them. Or maybe something else swooped in like a Tasmanian devil and turned all our plans into a tornado. Or maybe something even better than we imagined sailed in—and also turned all our plans into a tornado.
Because of all this, sometimes the end of a year is a confusing time.
Let’s face it. We have no idea what’s going to happen in this next year. Setting goals is great. In fact, it is very helpful. It’s fun to imagine and dream big and try to reach those dreams. But staking your year on them is kind of like having your character jump on a dragon before you remember they have no experience.
Did I mention it was a carnivorous dragon?
In a sense, we are characters in an epic. But the thing about characters is that they are not the writer. They don’t know what will happen in the pages ahead until the pages turn. Maybe things get better. Maybe things get worse. Maybe they wish they had just stayed on the page they were on.
We only know what has happened in the pages before, and the page we stand on.
We may love the pages before. We may never want to leave. After all, why give up something safe and warm and familiar for something unknown?
Or we may hate the pages before. They haunt us whenever so given the chance. We’d rather they’d never made an appearance in our story at all.
But in the end, the characters really are dependent on the author. The Author has this all planned out. It may look bleak, or perfect, or maybe not exciting at all, but the Author knows how all the pieces and twists and turns will fit together.
Maybe that’s why we can have fun setting goals and trying to achieve them. Because even if we fall, we’ll fall right onto the page we’re meant to be on. And from what I hear, this Author has never written an unhappy ending.
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!