Finishing What You Start: More Thoughts And Ramblings Of A Christian Writer (Part Two)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a great night last night and that you have an awesome and blessed 2018! 

For those of you who don’t know, I started a blogging series last year that I sort of never finished. Yeah, I know. Bad blogging etiquette. But, the good news is, I’m back! And I’m ready to continue the series!

The truth is, right after I started it, a lot of craziness happened in my personal life that you can read about in previous blog posts and on my Instagram account here. Nonetheless, things are finally getting back to normal and I’m feeling healthy and happy—ready to jump back into blogging!

Today, I would like to continue this series by discussing the topic of plot, and how it plays into the fabric of a story well told. It’s is one of the most important aspects of a novel and it can literally make or break a story. Further, while this blogging series is about books, I’d like to use two movie examples that I believe demonstrate my point well. I will then, branch off those movies and discuss how I believe a plot can be best formatted.

The first movie that I would like to talk about is the movie Footloose, with actors Dennis Quaid, Kenny Wormald, and Julianne Hough. I watched a few months back for the first time and was honestly seriously impressed with the storyline. It starts out with three characters who are all grieving in their own ways.

There’s the small town reverend, who’s grieving the loss of his son—who died in a drunk driving accident, his daughter Ariel, grieving the loss of her older brother, and Ren McCormick, grieving the loss of his mother. The reverend grieves by banning things that he considers dangerous, like dancing, music, and books in hopes that it will discourage the reckless behavior that killed his son. Ariel grieves by engaging in reckless behavior. And Ren grieves by dancing and listening to rock music. Needless to say, worlds collide when Ren comes to live with his uncle in Georgia and tries to host a dance in the very town that the Reverend outlaws dancing in. Things come to even more of a climax when he falls for Ariel, the pastor’s daughter.

I don’t want to give away every detail of this movie (in case you want to watch it for yourself), but the story progresses as the characters learn to understand each other—and they each find that none of the others are as bad as they initially assumed. It’s story about forgiveness, dealing with pain, and trying to see life through another’s eyes. This kind of story was what most authors would consider to be character-driven, as the characters are essential to the storyline.

The second example that I would like to use is the box office classic, Star Wars. In Star Wars, the characters live in a galaxy (far, far, away. Sorry. I had to do that) where their community is torn apart by war and ‘the dark side’. Meanwhile, a young Luke Skywalker is called to be trained in the ways of a Jedi to save his galaxy. So, with a little help from the ever memorable Yoda and Han Solo, he fights Darth Vader and redeems his homeland. There’s more to it (and a lot of sequels), but that’s the basic idea of the first movie. Many authors would consider Star Wars plot-driven, as it is more driven by the fight against good and evil than it is by their characters and their various quirks and individual issues.

Both of these types of stories are good options and both movies are phenomenal in-my-humble-opinion. The type of story that an author chooses to write is really a matter of personal preference. There are good stories in both styles. Personally, I’m usually more drawn to character driven plots, but I can also think of some great plot-driven books and movies that I love—including Star Wars and The Left Behind Series.

However, it is important in both styles that there’s a consistent flow to the story. It should gradually rise in action throughout the story and have some kind of resolution at the end. I also believe, that while a story should remain interesting throughout, there shouldn’t be a catastrophe on every page. Sometimes, the reader needs a chance to breathe, and recap earlier events. Too much at once can be a little overwhelming for the person receiving the story. Thus, a story should have natural ups and downs.

Here’s an example below

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It is also important for stories to be original. Too often, I find books and movies that seem like an exact carbon copy of something, with a few minor changes. This seems to (sadly) especially common among Christian fiction. When something has been done well, and has gotten a good reception, I can see how it’d be tempting to want to make something like it. We get ideas from other great works, and naturally, there are going to be elements in our stories similar to other stories out there. That’s sort of inevitable, and there’s nothing wrong with being inspired or having some familiar tropes in your own novel. 

Nonetheless, as writers, our job is to create original storylines that touch people emotionally and intellectually, which means we can’t copy line for line. There is so much potential out there for great stories—especially stories from a Christian worldview. There is so much that has never been done that we have the chance to explore. All we have to do is a little soul surfing, to figure out exactly what that is, and what it looks like for us.

Movies and books that have gotten it right.

God’s Not Dead. 

The Christy Miller Series.

To Kill A Mockingbird.

Miracle On 34th Street.

The Left Behind Series.

How about you? What do you think makes a good plot? Is there anything you’d like to add? If so, feel free to share it in the comments below! 

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Liebster Award

Hey everyone, big news…I was recently awarded a Liebster by I Love Jesus 1175! Thank you for the award and congradulations on winning a Liebster yourself!

The rules for the Liebster Award are:
1. Acknowledge the blog that gave it to you and display the award
2. Answer the 11 questions that the blogger gives you
3. Give 11 random facts about yourself
4. Nominate 11 blogs and notify them of their nomination
5. Give these blogs 11 questions to answer.

My Questions Are 

  1.  What is your favorite part about blogging?

Hmm, that’s a hard one…as a writer I pretty much love everything about it! Nonetheless, the best part for me would probably have to be interacting with my readers. I love making new blogger friends and discussing various posts with with others! It’s always great to hear feedback on my writing and encourage my friends and readers!

2. What is your favorite item that you own & why?

This is another tough one! I’m not very materialistic, so the most important items to me are the ones that carry value outside of themselves. Truth be told, the most important thing that I own would probably have to be my Bible. It has always been such a blessing to me, as it’s led me through some of the toughest times in my life. Without the Bible, I’d pretty much be stumbling around in the dark trying to figure out life on my own. Thus, I believe that the Bible is the most important item that I own.

3. What is your best life memory?

Honestly, I’m not sure I really have one best memory. As I read this question, I have a couple of favorite life memories. Some that come to mind are the time that I got baptized in middle school, the time I accepted Christ, and the time that my dad started coming to church with me and my mom. Those moments were really special to me.

Some other moments that were really great were the time I published my first book, the time I sang a song I wrote in a talent show, my 17th birthday, high school graduation, and passing my drivers (written) test.

4. What is a hobby you enjoy doing (other than blogging)?

One of my favorite hobbies outside of blogging would have to be writing fiction. A big reason why I’ve been somewhat absent from my blog over the past couple of months is because I’m hard at work on some books that I hope to publish in the near future. I’ve always loved books (reading and writing) and it would be a dream come true to publish a novel someday.

5. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be & why?

I’d probably have to say New York City. I’ve always wanted to go there and it looks really cool in movies and television shows (Friends, anyone?). I’d love to plan a trip with a group of close friends someday. Especially since going on a road trip and and visiting New York are both on my bucket list!

6. What is one thing you would like God to do in your life in 2018?

Truth be told, I have a lot of hopes and dreams for 2018! I plan to take more classes for college and I hope to get a car and a new job soon. I would also like to try to publish a book, as soon as I finish the manuscript and find a good agent. Nonetheless, ultimately, I want to grow spiritually and grow closer to God in the following year. So if there’s one thing that I would like God to do in my life, it’s to help me grow closer to Him.

7. What is your favorite food?

Probably either cake or cookies. I love desserts and have a major sweet tooth!

8. Do you have a job outside of blogging?  If so, what is it?

Currently, I’m actually between jobs. For the month of December, I worked a seasonal job at Yankee Candle, which was a lot of fun! After New Years, I’m going to start throwing some resumes out there, and hopefully, something will stick!

9. What is your favorite thing to read?

Ultimately, the Bible, as mentioned above. Nonetheless, I also really love reading novels and I’m currently reading an awesome book titled The Odds Of Lightning.

10. What is one thing you are thankful for?

My family. It has been a rough couple of months and I’m thankful to have my family nearby through all of it.

11. What was your first job?

My first job was as a sales associate at Gymboree. It was actually over the summer of this past year, and it was a really good experience! There’s a feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment that comes with entering the work force and I’m thankful for my opportunity to work there. I left because the store closed down in my area, but it was fun and I’m grateful for that experience!

Eleven Random Facts

  1. I’ve already worked my first college internship.
  2. Two of my best friends share my middle name (Marie).
  3. I love basically every TV show from the 90s.
  4. I’m part Italian and part Irish.
  5. Christmas is my favorite holiday.
  6. The last movie I watched was Footloose (the 2011 version).
  7. I’m currently wearing a turquoise shirt.
  8. I love watching movie trailers.
  9. Almost all of my family members live in the area.
  10. My favorite Gospel is the Gospel of John (His opening is so profound!).
  11. I prefer paperback books to ebooks.

Nominees

Dainty M. 

Fearfully Wonderfully Me 

Mandie’s World 

The Godly Chic Diaries

Byron Serfling 

Consecrated Tree 

Karina Thought 

Unfiltered Freckles 

Unashamed of Jesus 

Concealed Foundation 

Christ, Crafts, and Cuisine 

Questions 

  1. What was your first job?
  2.  Describe one of your best friend?
  3. Do you have any siblings?
  4. What are your Christmas traditions?
  5. What are your New Years Resolutions?
  6. What was the last movie you saw?
  7. What is your favorite book series?
  8. What always puts you in a good mood?
  9. What was your best moment from 2017?
  10. What was one of your most difficult challenges in 2017?

I hope you guys enjoy this challenge!😃

 

A Prayer For Christmas

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This Christmas let us remember the reason for the season.

Let us, in the midst of the cooking, the wrapping, and the shopping, take some time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

Let us reach out to others, remembering to put them before ourselves and helping those who are less fortunate.

Let us pray for the homeless, the veterans, those away from family, and all those who have situations much more difficult than our own.

Let us remember those closest to us, and spend some time with friends and loved ones as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Let us never take anything for granted but be thankful for what we do have, as we anticipate a new year filled with hope, resolutions, and promises.

Let us take some time to enjoy the little moments, those small nameless moments that get pushed aside for the glamor of Christmas, because someday those small moments won’t be so small anymore.

Let us remember those we miss, be thankful for those that we do have, and move forward with the hope and knowledge that someday we’ll be see our deceased loved ones once again.

Let us put aside our busyness, our stress, our fear, and our worries, remembering that in the midst of all of the stress of life, we have a Savior who understands, and a peace in the midst of chaos.

Let us deck the halls, enjoy our Christmas dinner, exchange gifts, and surround ourselves with love, because this season only comes once a year.

And, despite the fleetingness and busyness of this season, let us keep its spirit in our hearts, so that in some ways, this holiday may last all year long.

* * * * *

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, see, the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:8-14

 

Life Giving

Right now, we are right in the midst of my favorite time of the year : The holiday season.

I know this isn’t true for everybody, but for me, Christmas has a way of bringing me joy without fail. Last night, my family decorated the tree together, hauled out the decorations, and reminisced through a pile of ornaments. Later that evening, my mom and I watched a new Christmas movie, and soaked in every inch of the holiday season.

In other words, a perfect Friday night.

Among Christmas, there are so many other things that bring me joy. Talking to a close friend over lunch and spilling-our-guts through the beauty and pain of life. Getting a new book from the library that I’ve been waiting to read for months. Seeing family members that I haven’t seen in a while. Engaging in meaningful work. Writing a new story. Cold air after a far too-long-summer. Reading a posts by blogger I find particularly inspirational (right now I’m totally obsessing over Sarah Bessey’s blog, and I’d highly recommend checking it out!).

These are just some of the small things that feed my soul, and some of the things that I’m slowly learning to allow myself to chase after. 

In the world that we live in, it can be all too easy to get sucked into a cycle of negativity. We go on Twitter and see people arguing back and forth over politics. We turn on the news and hear one mass shooting after another. We get caught up in an ever growing list of tasks, leaving us with little time to breathe and live in the moment. We let meaningful connections slide, as we get caught up in the busyness of life.

Sometimes, we don’t even realize how immersed we are in the everyday stresses of life until someone points it out for us. A couple of days ago, I was venting to my mom about how lately, everything seems to be setting me off. I’ll see a snarky political tweet and groan inside. I’ll hear someone talk about how bad this world is getting and feel deflated. I’ll scroll past an article with a conspiracy theory laced view that seemed totally out there and want to scream.

Needless to say, I wasn’t doing well.

In response to that, my mom encouraged me to be a little more selective about what I give my attention to, and to-maybe-spend-a-little-less-time-on-Twitter.

Since then, I’ve taken her advice, and I can already feel my mood improving.

Granted, there are some stressful situations that we need to stay present in. We can’t very well just decide not to do math homework because it makes us anxious. We can’t skip going to work if we’ve had an off day and really don’t feel like it. Sometimes, we have to push through.

However, oftentimes we have more control over other things than we think we do.

Do we really need to follow that twitter hashtag that we know is just going to annoy us? Do we have to listen to that extra fifteen minutes of the news when we already have an ever growing migrane—and when it will still be there tomorrow? Must we Google every big decision that we have to make, rather than simply talking to someone who already knows us about it?

Sometimes, we all just need a break. 

Sometimes we need to chase what we find life giving—and give our souls a chance to breathe.

Sometimes we have to run towards what makes us feel alive, rather than what makes us feel dead inside. 

Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

God knows we can’t go on adrenaline twenty-four-seven, and that sometimes we need a break. That’s why Jesus went off to pray by Himself during his time on earth. That’s why in the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites a day to rest. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30 that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

So this week, take some time to find your place of rest and chase what makes you feel alive. Shut out the voices of negativity and embrace joy.

And never forget that God is with you—something that we can always find peace, hope, and joy in.

 

Thankful List 2017

Hey everyone, despite the fact that this has been a bit of a rough week for me, I wanted to post ten things that I’m thankful for, as I do pretty much every year. For those of you who are wondering, I am doing better (though I’m sure it will take some time) and as much as has gone wrong this year, there has still been a lot that has gone right.

Thus, here area some things that I am thankful for in 2017…

  1. Family – In the midst of all of the changes that have happened this past year, some good and some bad, I’m thankful to have a family that I could turn to through all of life’s moments. I’m thankful for both my parents and my extended family, who have supported me as I’ve gone through my year, and my transition from kid to adult.
  2. Friends – Someone once said that friends are the family that we choose for ourselves, and I can truly say this of my friends. I am thankful both for the friends that I grew up with, who are as comfortable as an old favorite sweater, and for the friends that I’ve met over the last few years, who have been there for me in ways that words cannot even begin to express. I am thankful for the long talks, the lighthearted times, and for all of the times in between.
  3. Faith – As always, I am thankful for my salvation through Christ and the ways that He has sustained me through this past year. I am thankful that I can always turn to Him and that we serve a God who has a grace for us when we fall short. I am also thankful for the ways He has led me to places far greater than anything I could ask or imagine.
  4. My school – I feel super thankful to be at a school that shares my faith and values, and for the flexibility it has given me to further pursue my passion for writing, a part time job, and time with family and friends. I have had amazing professors this past semester who have shown me grace through some of the trials I have gone through and who I have learned so much from. I have always enjoyed the classes I have taken that have helped me learn about faith in addition to academia.
  5. My job – Right now I am at my favorite part time job so far. I love the store that I am at (which is beautifully decorated for Christmas) and I love the people I work with. They are all super friendly and I get along with them all really well. Working has been an exciting thing for me this year, and I am thankful to have the opportunity work part time while going to school.
  6. My church – I am super thankful to be able to say that I’m at a church that I love! As I’ve mentioned before, during my teenage years, I was at a church that wasn’t healthy and I’m glad to be at a really good church now! The pastors are all very cool, the people are nice, and the church is very real – which is something that can all too often be hard to find. I am thankful that God has led my family to my church and I really like it there.
  7. Books – This year, I have made it my goal to read more, and I am thankful to say that I have found quite a few books that I have loved! Some of these awesome titles include Four Weeks, Five People, Every Last Word, Someday, Someday, Maybe, and A Walk To Remember. I would highly recommend any one of these!
  8. Writing – Honestly, I think writing (after God) is the one thing that keeps me sane. I absolutely loving disappearing into another world or writing down my thoughts in a blog. Also, I have a couple things in mind for book releases that God willing, should be showing up in print soon!
  9. Health – As always, I’m thankful not just for my own health, but for the health of those around me. This past year my grandpa had to have back surgery, but thankfully, he’s doing better now. Meanwhile, I have also become more aware of the importance of mental health, and have taken steps to better get my OCD under control. So far, though I still struggle, I’ve been doing a lot better.
  10. Food, water, shelter – These things, like health, are also something to appreciate. Especially after the terrors of all of the hurricanes this past year.

How about you? What are you thankful for? Feel free to discuss it in the comments below! 

On Dealing With Grief

Note: I plan to finish my series on writing good fiction, but right now, I feel God calling me to write about something that I have been dealing with lately. 

. . .

We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” ― C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

Recently, over the past week, I have dealt with my first significant experience with death. My great grandma passed away. 

She has been experiencing health problems for a while now, and last month, she was rushed to the hospital after being found unconscious. I thought, as she was recovering, that we were past the worst of it, but a couple of short weeks later, she passed away.

The funny thing is, I can still remember her vividly. When I was younger she used to come down to visit on a regular basis, and I can still remember times when she’d come over for the holidays or go to the mall with us, or go to the photo studio with me for Christmas pictures. She stopped visiting as often as she got older, but I still remember the times that she did. Meanwhile, the last couple of days in the present have felt like a blur, like they’ve all blended together in some sort of surreal dream.

Nonetheless, in the midst of it, there’s still a peace. 

Before my great grandmother passed, she used to read books by pastors such as Joel Osteen and Max Lucado. She had a next door neighbor who used to talk to her about Jesus, and my great grandma once told us that she knows Jesus and is confident about where she is going when she dies. And as a Christian, this gives me some peace. 

I’m not going to use this post to give easy answers to life and death. Nor will I try to turn this into an opportunity for some sort of lesson. However, I would like to take the chance to say that if you’re going through a grief of your own, I get it. It may be different than mine, but grief is still grief. I would also like to note that as Christians, there is hope for us when a Christian family member or friend dies.

Revelation 21:4 says of Heaven, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[a] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Meanwhile, in John 14:2 Jesus says, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” 

Death is never easy. It is one of the hardest things we have to deal with on this earth, but it is not forever. Someday, God will abolish death when He creates a new Heaven and a new earth, but in the present, God will give us peace when we morn.

In the beatitudes, Jesus gives comfort to those who experience trouble on this earth. 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:3-12. 

If you’re mourning right now, take comfort in Jesus and give yourself grace as you grieve. Death is never easy—but as Christians, we can find hope in the fact that it is not forever.

Someday we’ll see our loved ones again, in the biggest family reunion of our lives. 

“Christians never say ‘good-bye’, just ‘until we meet again’.” – Woodrow Kroll 

Thoughts And Ramblings of The Christian Writer (Part One)

“The Christian in the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” 
― Francis A. Schaeffer

From the time I was a little girl, I’ve been an author at heart. I have always loved telling, creating, and reading stories. Whether it be a book I found at the library, a movie that I just saw at the local theater, or a real person’s growth and testimony, stories fascinate me beyond belief. Being a storyteller is an integral part of who I am.

As most of you (hopefully) also know, faith is an integral part of who I am. If I was to rate each part of myself, faith would always come up on top, as my relationship with God is the most important thing in my life. And while there are many great Christian authors who do not include their faith much in their stories, I cannot imagine keeping my faith out of my stories. One way or another, Christianity is bound to play some sort of role in my writing—it is simply the way God has called me to write.

Nonetheless, like many other people have pointed out, Christian art doesn’t exactly have the best reputation right now. Some may pin it on the fact that we live in an increasingly secular society and others may blame it on small budgets, but a fact still remains.

Oftentimes, faith based stories come out sub-par. And as a Christian and a writer, this is something that I find quite sad. 

I don’t think it is because Christians are inherently bad at storytelling. I also don’t believe that it’s because Christianity makes for a weak storyline—look at the Bible! I believe most of our problem is in our approach, and that with a little hard work, we can create stories that are both well made and and reflective of the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

Thus, I have decided to create a short series on writing good Christian fiction—and the first part of this series will be on writing good characters.

One of the most important things in writing a good story is creating a strong cast. For me, characters are the first thing that draws me to a story. That said, one of of the biggest problems that I’ve seen in (some) Christian fiction is that the characters exist for the story—not the other way around. 

In real life, we live amongst a wide variety of personalities, narratives, and temperaments. Ask me to name my five closest friends and I can point out specific traits that make them unique and special. However, in a lot of Christian novels, I have only seen a few personalities represented—and they’re often in extremes for the point of showing a character come to Christ.

Elaborating on this, many character only have struggles that are dramatic, cliche, or too-subtle-to-notice. I have seen female protagonists who come across like a damsel in distress, but rarely female protagonists that battle stubbornness and hard-headedness. I seen male protagonists who struggle with lust or anger, but rarely male protagonists who struggle with overeating, or self image.

Furthermore, I haven’t often seen characters who have quirks or interests that aren’t essential to the story or lesson. In The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, Tibby loves filmmaking, Bridget is impulsive, Carmen is introspective, and Lena is noticeably introverted. Those details aren’t necessary to the book (though, I suppose Bridget’s impulsiveness could be argued as essential in the first book) but they added life to the characters. They made them feel real and they made them relatable to the audience. Meanwhile, in The Hunger Games, there was a guy named Peeta who’s a baker. Corny? Maybe. Memorable? Absolutely.

In short, it is important to know your characters intricately, and for them to be written as if they have a life outside of the story. It’s important that they feel like characters we can get attached to and relate to. And, considering the vast diversity that we have in our churches, it is important that they represent a variety of different personalities and people. The kind of books that I love the most are the ones that  make me feel like the characters are my best friends. This is something we must do if we want our stories to feel real. Interview your characters. Stick them in various situations and see how they react. Consider how they would think or fall in love. Or how they would dream.

The kind of characters that become the most memorable are the ones that feel the most real. It is our job, as authors, to breathe as much life into them as we can.

Christian books/series/movies that get this right.

  • The Christy Miller Series by Robin Jones Gunn
  • The Left Behind Series by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
  • SouledOut Sisters Series by Neta Jackson
  • There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones
  • October Baby 
  • Do You Believe

How about you? Do you have any tips on how to create good characters? And have you read any books that you feel do an exceptional job with this? Feel free to share in the comments section below!