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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Diary Of A Christian College Student: Chapter Five

Hey everyone, sorry this is late! My life has been pretty crazy, but I promise to try to be more consistent. I hope you enjoy part five of my story! 

* * *

Dear Diary,

That following Friday, I had to force myself out of bed—still worn out from my sleepover on Friday.

“Be quiet.” I mummer, as my alarm beeped relentlessly.

Don’t get me wrong—I love going to church. But lately, between the sleep deprivation of late night study sessions and my sleepover, I felt like I couldn’t sleep in long enough.

“OK, I’m moving.” I finally said, as my clock continued to beep. I slammed my hand on the off button and forced myself to sit up. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, picked out something to wear, and headed out the door, my little sister having about ten times more energy than me.

“Olivia, you look like a zombie.” My sister Elsie commented.

“I know” I admitted, walking out the door with my family.

With that, I headed into my car and followed behind my parents to our Grace Church—a familiar church that we’ve been attending since I was a kid. Usually, I ride with them, but today I decided it might be good to follow behind and have some time to myself to think. The road to Grace Church wasn’t super congested and it was a pretty easy drive, so it driving down the long dirt paved roads gave me a chance to reflect on my week.

How is it that I was having such a hard time adjusting to college—I’ve always liked school, and done well in it. I’ve never had a teacher who disliked me before, but for some reason, I get the vibe that my english teacher does. And my english teacher, of all people! English lit has always been my favorite subject—I love writing and I’ve been told that I can do it pretty well. Why does this teacher seem to have it out for me?

Even more frustrating was the fact that I’ve been looking forward to college since I was little. I always thought it would be an exciting experience—one where I’d be challenged in ways that would help me become the successful career women I’ve always dreamed of being.

But I never dreamed it would have been this much of a challenge.

Finally, after following my parents through the backroads to our humble little church, we arrived in the parking lot. And, As I climbed out of my car, I began to feel myself breath again. There was something familiar and comforting about being at church. The environment felt warm and homey—completely different from the cold environment of college life.

I walked in with my parents and Elsie and found our old familiar seat as the band began to practice. They were playing an old Newsboys song that I recognized from the Christian radio station—Your Love Never Fails. I felt myself get lost in the music until before I knew it, it was time for church to start.

The message was applicable, about how there is a season for everything and how some seasons test us—revealing our true colors in all of their hues. I folded my hands on the cover of my Bible and listened intently. It was as if the Holy Spirit was trying to catch me attention in this moment.

After church, I heard a voice from behind me. “Hey!”

I turned around to see the worship leader’s wife, Ms. Kerrie.

I smiled, grateful for another familiar face. “Hey Ms. Kerrie.”

“Hey Olivia, how have you been?”

“Ok…” I hesitated, forcing a grin. “First week of college.”

“Really? That’s great! How’s it going?”

I could have glossed over it in the moment. I could have answered with a simple fine, but somehow I knew she’d see right through it.

I shrugged. “It’s an adjustment. It’s sort of a different world than what I’m used to.”

“I bet.” She agreed. “I remember college—a lot of changes, huh?”

“Definitely.”

“You know,” she began. “If you ever want to talk, I’d be happy to meet with you one day. I remember college—it can be a confusing time in your life—trying to figure out who you are and where you’re going in life.”

“Sure,” I began. “I’d love to talk sometime.”

“Great. I’ll give you my number and maybe we can plan a day this week?”

“Yeah.” I agreed, feeling like perhaps this was a sign.

 Maybe God really does still have his hand on my life in the midst of this new season. 

“That would be great.”

With that, we exchanged numbers and planned a day to meet for lunch. And, with that, I felt a good feeling begin to wash over me. Deep down, I felt myself remembering something that I’ve known all along.

God is bigger than any university. 

I can handle this.

Diary Of A Christian College Student: Chapter Four

Hey everyone, sorry it’s a little late! I was pretty tired on Sunday and on Monday I was out most of the day! Nonetheless, I finally finished part four of my ongoing series! 

 * * *

Dear Diary,

“I can’t believe we survived our first week of college.” My best friend Dana said, at the beginning of our sleepover on Friday night.

“Me neither.” I groaned, remembering the details of my week—particularly the remark my English teach made on the first day of class. “I am so ready for the weekend.”

“Me too.” Dana agreed, rolling over so she was face-down on the pillow. “I’m beat.”

“How were your classes?” I asked, trying to communicate with my friend who looked dead-to-the-land-of-the-living. “I feel like we’ve hardly had a chance to talk since Monday.”

“Pretty good. I wish I had a class with someone I knew though.”

“Yeah, me too.” I agreed, leaning against a pile of pillows that had been thrown carelessly onto the ground.

Dana sat up and grinned. “I think I know who you wish was in your classes.”

I rolled my eyes. “Here we go again.”

“Come on, we both know you like him.” She teased, something that was typical in our girl-talks.

“It’s just a crush.” I shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. “No big deal. Besides, you liked Benjamin for a while.”

“Not anymore.” She scrunched up her face. “There’s no future there.”

“I still don’t know how you rationalized your way out of it.” I said, still in awe at my friend’s ability to get over a guy simply by using the old trick of self-talk.

“I don’t know how you’ve had a three year long crush and managed to stay sane.”

“Valid point.” I admitted.

“So do you think it’s mutual?” Dana asked. “Do you think he likes you back?”

“I don’t know.” I said, sighing more dramatically then the moment called for. “Who knows what goes on inside of guys’ heads? I’m not going to drive myself crazy over it.”

Dana laughed. “Alright, I won’t drill you.”

“Thank you.” I grinned, emerging from the mess of pillows. “How about you, any new guys in your college classes?”

“Not really.” Dana said, making a face. “I mean, there are some that are kind of cute, but I have to get to know their personality before I can tell.”

“Gotcha.” I nodded. “Yeah, I’m the same way.”

“So how is your English class going? Your teacher for that period sounds pretty rough.”

“Mrs. Manchester.” I said, letting out a slight grown. “A little better since the first day, but she’s kind of cold. Nothing like our teachers back at Holy Cross.”

“I’m sorry. Most of my teachers are pretty OK, except my science class is sort of killing me.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Just the evolution stuff. The worldview is very different.”

“I’m sure.” I nodded empathetically.

“The scary thing is, the way they word it, it almost sounds convincing.” Dana admitted, her hazel eyes holding a note of uncertainty as she clutched a pillow to her chest. “I mean, they make it sound so scientific and factual.”

“Well, that is sort of their job. If they didn’t sound convincing about what they were teaching, they’d be pretty bad teachers, wouldn’t they?”

“I guess.” She admitted. “It’s just different than I expected, that’s all.”

“It’s not ‘Saved By The Bell: The College Years’, huh?”

“Not even close.” She agreed, laughing at my 90s reference.

“We’ll get through this.” I said, trying to remember a Bible verse that would help us have peace about college, and the new stage of life we were entering into. “We just have to be trust God, and not our own understanding of things. Right now, college looks pretty crazy, but God has a purpose in all of this.”

Dana smiled and sat up, as if she had gained the strength she was missing from my paraphrase of Proverbs 3:5-6. “You’re right Liv. We’ve got this.”

“And we’ve always got each other.” I reminded her. “And Nathan and TJ.”

“The squad.” She joked.

“Yup, the squad.”

“And your future husband.” She added in a sing-song voice.

“Don’t start again.” I rolled my eyes, tossing a pillow her way.

The rest of the night, we watched movies, made cookies, and had your typical all-American sleepover. Nonetheless, my words remained in my mind throughout the night.

Trust God and don’t rely on your own understanding of things.

Those might just very well be the words that will carry me through all of this.

God has a plan, even when I don’t—and it’s times like these when we’re called to lean on Him the most.

And He will direction our path.

Whatever that may be.

Diary Of A Christian College Student: Chapter Three

Dear Diary,

They say there’s a season for everything.

A time to laugh, and a time to cry.

A time to be born, and a time to die.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh

A time to mourn, and a time to dance.*

In high school, it was a time of everything predictable. I’ve been around pretty much the same people since grade school. I knew the hallways as well as I knew my own home. I alternated between ordering the same three meals every day at lunch. It was a time when we were not-quite-kids and not-quite-adults. It may have had it’s confusions, but movies told us what to expect. It was a time of finding ourselves, a time for developing lifelong friendships, and a time for feeling things intensely, as if for the first time.

College, on the other hand, is a time of change. Nothing is the same anymore.

The hallways feel a million miles away from the halls of Holy Cross high school—cold and sterile. Lacking any sense of familiarity. With the exception of Dana, Nathan, and TJ, I haven’t spotted one familiar face. I may not have been friends with everyone at my old school, and it may have had it’s share of cliquey-ness and cattiness, but I could tell you the name of nearly every kid I passed in the hallways. These were kids that I went to school with from kindergarten to 12th grade. I knew what to expect. Now, it’s like a whole other culture.

On my first day here, I heard the F-Bomb dropped about ten times, in the presence of our professors. Sure, some of the students cursed at Holy Cross – that’s to be expected nearly everywhere. But never words like that, and never in the presence of teachers. If one of the adults at Holy Cross heard one of the students talking like that, they would have sent them on their way to the principal’s office in a second. The rules were strict and pretty obvious as to what you could-and-couldn’t get away with there.

Not to mention that there were about as many different kinds of lifestyles and beliefs among the students as there were students themselves. No longer were there moral absolutes – things that everyone knew to wrong. Things that were scandalous and gossiped about at Holy Cross were spoken about in broad daylight at Westside Oak. Nothing was off limits.

Perhaps the strangest thing was the student-teacher interactions. At Holy Cross, my teachers knew the name of every student in their classroom. They all shared a common faith and I could look to them not only as teachers – but as mentors and role models. Most of them were kind and seemed like they really wanted to be there, desiring to help each of us live up to our potential. As hardworking student who put her all into her work, I got along with nearly all of my teachers. Even instructors who taught subjects I struggled in were patient and happy to help me understand concepts that were difficult to me. Now, I’m lucky if my teachers even know my name.

One teacher in particular seems ready to stand in the face of all I believe in. My college english teacher asked on the first day who was Christian. Slowly but surely, I raised my hand, along with a handful of other students, uncertain of what she was doing.

“Alright.” She said, looking as if it was anything but alright. “You have your faith – that’s fine. But, in this class, I hope this won’t hinder you from being open minded to the reading material. We’re going to be reading a lot of different viewpoints. Not all of them will be consistent with fundamentalism. Most of them won’t be.”

Already uncomfortable with the way she was referring to my faith, I shifted in my seat, trying to figure out what she meant by that. She than went on to explain class procedure, as if to distract from that weird paragraph she just uttered. Finally, she handed us our first assignment – a short academic essay. My stomach churned as I read it – an explicit reflection an erotic encounter.

Was this really allowed in a classroom? Could they hand out something so full of filth to the students without any consequences? There was no way I would ever pick up something like this on my own, yet here I was, stuck reading it in school – of all places! I guess the shock on my face showed, as I stared blankly at the writing, because my teacher soon walked over to my desk.

“Ms. Bennett, are you doing alright there?”

I glanced up, trying to look less uncomfortable than I felt. I nodded my head quickly, hoping this moment would soon fade to the past. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Alright, I just want to make sure you can handle this class – that it’s not to hard for you.”

My face burned with frustration. Too hard for me? I was an AP student in my high school and made straight A’s in all four years of English! My dream was to become a journalist and write professionally. This was not “too hard” for me.

Although I suspected that she had a very different meaning in her words. It was a challenge; a dare.

A challenge I was willing to accept.

There’s no way I’m dropping there’s class now. I’m not going to prove my teacher right – that I can’t handle this. After all, I’ve always been a strong person. Right?

“No, it’s not too hard for me. I’m fine.”

I had just told my teacher that I could indeed handle this – no matter how horrible it may be. I told her I was strong enough to do it, even though it’s possible that my answer stemmed more from pride. I had made my declaration. I was strong and capable.

The only question was, did I believe it myself?

*Ecclesiastes 3

Diary Of A Christian College Student: Chapter Two

Dear Diary,

Today was my first day of college.

Dana came by early so we could ride to class together. Just like the first day of high school, we were both excited and terrified for what the future might bring.

“I can’t believe we’re going to be college students!” She exclaimed. “I feel old.”

I laughed at my best friend’s familiar sense of humor. “I know, right? It feels like I was just a freshman in high school.”

“I know, right?” She breathed, looking out the car window of the passenger seat.

Dana hates driving, so she managed to talk me into being the one to get us there.

There was a pause for a moment, as we both thought back to freshman year.

“I was so awkward as a freshman.” She said, with a cringe.

“Me too.” I nodded, keeping my eyes on the road. “I had a horrible acne problem and my social skills weren’t quite there yet.”

“Hey, at least you didn’t attach any bunny clip to your backpack! I thought it was cute but all the other girls thought it was childish – it was humiliating!”

“Well, now we have a chance to make a fresh start.” I took a turn as I spoke. “We have four years here – I guess now is the time to figure out who we’re going to be. What we’re going to change and what we’re going to take with us.”

“Well, I’m definitely taking my best friend with me!” She said, grinning. “And my faith.” Dana added, followed by a long pause.

We were silent for a moment. We both knew what the other was thinking, as we’ve had this conversation multiple times before this day. With the popularity of movies like God’s Not Dead, we were both terrified that we’d get a professor like the one in the movie. We’ve both heard the horror stories of universities and we were both worried that we’d end up living one of them.

“We just have to stay strong.” I said, trying to sound more confident than I felt. “I’m sure whatever happens, God will give us a way out.”

“I hope you’re right.” She turned to me as we pulled into the parking lot.

Westside Oak.

It was about ten times bigger than Holy Cross, the small private school that we grew up in. People flooded towards the campus from every direction – some texting, some talking to someone else, and some skateboarding. The freshman there all had the same fate ahead of them.

In just a few minutes, we’ll be walking into a whole new world.

I exhaled and got out of the car. This was it.

“We’re in this together.” Dana said, walking up to me.

“Right.” I smiled, looking back to my friend. “Together.”

With that, we began heading for the building, in search of another familiar face. Suddenly, as we were walking, we heard our names being called.

“Hey, Olivia! Dana!”

Dana glanced at me with a freaked-out look on her face. “They’ve been expecting us!”

I turned around and as soon as I saw where the voice was coming from I laughed. “Hey TJ.”

“Hey.” He said, walking up to us, wearing his familiar letterman jacket from high school. “What’s up?”

“Not much, just college. You?”

“Same.” He said, glancing around. “Have you seen Nathan?”

I adjusted my backpack and tried to look nonchalant. “No, you?”

“No, but he’s got to be somewhere. Our class is supposed to start soon and we’re in the same room. I was thinking we’d head over together.”

“Hey guys!” I heard a familiar voice say from a distance. I turned around to see Nathan rushing towards us. Dana shot me a familiar grin, the way she often does when we both see Nathan, since she knows I like him.

“So,” he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets

“So,” he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Are you guys ready for college?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Dana said, glancing at the frighteningly large building.

“What classes do you guys have?” TJ asked.

“English, Math, College Success, and Speech.” I replied, looking at my class list.

If I don’t have a printed list of my classes, their numbers, and a map, I’m sure to get lost.

“Nice.” He said, with his signature smile.

I whipped my phone out of my pocket and glanced at it. “I guess I’d better get going.”

To the first day of the rest of my life.

“Alright, we should all meet up again for lunch though – try to stick together.” Nathan commented.

“Yeah, let’s meet back here around twelve – no one has any classes around that time, right?”

We all shook our heads.

“Great, catch up with you guys later.” TJ said, walking towards the towering maroon building.

“Later.” I breathed, unable to take my eyes of the building, which looked frightening and a bit like a county jail. But then, that’s probably just my imagination getting the best of me. “I guess I’ll get going too.” I told my friends as I held tightly to the straps of my backpack.

“Bye Liv!” Dana exclaimed as I began walking.

“Bye Dana, bye Nathan!” I called back.

Suddenly, my friends got smaller and smaller in a distance.

As did my old life.

Diary Of A Christian College Student: Chapter One

Hey everyone, I have officially entered the Wattpad community! For those of you who don’t know, Wattpad is an online story sharing site that allows you to share your work with fellow readers! I have begun my first fiction work on the site, called Diary Of A Christian College Student.

Since I already have a faithful audience over here at WordPress, I decided to post my chapters here for y’all to read! I hope to publish a chapter weekly, and I hope you guys enjoy these writing shorts! My longterm goal is to publish a fiction series the traditional way, but I’ve heard that this is a good foot in the door. Since I love writing anyways, I figured, “Why not give it a shot?”

So, without further ado, here is chapter one of Diary of A Christian College Student!

* * *

Dear Diary,

They say that your faith grows the most in the face of adversity – in the face of major life changes. These are the times that make you grow – and show you where you ultimately turn in times of chaos and uncertainty.

If this is true, I’m in for huge spiritual breakthrough.

In just two days, I’m starting my first day of college at Westside Oak, a nearby university in the humble state of Indiana. Leaving my small, Christian school behind, I’m heading into the “real world” for the first time – at least that’s what my dad would say.

Not that Holy Cross Academy was perfect. It had the same problems as every school – cliques, mean girls, boy  problems, and everything else under the sun. But, whenever life felt like too much to handle, I always had my friends to turn to – especially my best friend, Dana Sanchez.

Dana and I have been friends since the 8th grade – when we sat next to each other in English class. We started off talking about the usual things – school, books, music, TV….but soon moved on to more personal details. We were both going through a rough patch during this time and helped counsel each other through it.

We’ve been best friends ever since.

Another close friends – who could be more accurately described as a brother – is TJ. We met when we were only kids and he used to annoy me like crazy. When we met at only eight years old, he would constantly pester me. One time, he planted a frog in my bag when I wasn’t looking, even though he knew I was petrified of frogs. I screamed so much when I saw it, but he only laughed, clearly getting a kick out of the whole thing. I later got even by telling him soda was made with cow pee. For a month he avoided any kind of soft drink like the plague.

Somehow, despite our bickering and childish pranks, we managed to eventually become close friends.

And then, there was Nathan.

Nathan and I have had classes together for years, but we’ve only become close within the past four. My relationship with him was easily the most complicated.

Two years ago, I developed a crush on him, and it hasn’t let up since. It happened on a day like any other. We were both taking a theater class together and we were assigned a skit where we had to play a couple. In that moment – a moment I remember like the back of my hand – I realized that I had feelings for him. I say “realized” because I suspect feelings were dormant much longer, but too subtle to notice at first. When you’ve known someone for so long, it can be difficult to see them any different than the way you always have. They’re familiar, snow on a cold winters day or the sun in the middle of summer.

Nathan had a naturally magnetic personality. His smile was genuine and his posture was confident without being cocky. More reserved and introspective than the other guys, I could easily have long conversations with Nathan, about life, school, current events or literature. I think he’s one of the few people in my life who understands my love of writing – my desire to share the depths of my soul with the world. With dreams of becoming a pastor and a hobby of sketching, he understood the burning desire to make a mark on the world.

The complicated part? He couldn’t be more oblivious to the fact that I liked him. The only people who know are my mom and my best friend Dana. Other than that, my secret crush has remained just that – a secret.

This year, in the midst of an entire new chapter to open, I had one major blessing to look forward to. Dana, TJ, and Nathan would all be at Westside Oak with me. 

No matter how much might change, and no matter how many trials I may encounter, I knew I had one thing I could count on.

Three crazy and amazing friends who would stay together.

No matter what.