Posts Tagged ‘character’

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How God Used My Fictional Character to Teach Me True Things

November 6, 2015

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What if our characters are real?  What if they are actually the souls of unborn children who died before birth, and God gives them to authors as inspiration for characters in our stories?  What if we will meet all our characters someday in heaven?

When I came up with that fun fictional concept last week, I didn’t intend to write a story about it.  I just thought, “Haha, this is a cool idea.”

But a dear friend urged me to write a story, so I decided I would have some fun with it.  I flung my “Is this the best use of this concept?” worries to the wind, and sat down and wrote the first thing that came to me, the idea that tugged at my heart – a near-death scene where I encountered my most precious fictional character, Kevin, from beyond the grave.

It was like lightning struck.

It was fun, the way skydivers find jumping out of a plane fun. 😛

The entire couple of hours I worked on the story, adrenaline buzzed through my body.  I poured out words without inhibition, completely honed in on the emotions of the scene, blind to everything around me.  When I finished it was like I was walking on air.  I floated upstairs and went to bed, worn out and slightly totally obsessed.

I knew this story would be exciting and interesting to write, but I had no idea it would leave me full of tension and aching with yearning.

I had no idea that for two days I would cry out to the Lord for help and wisdom, terrified that I had built my own character into an idol by envisioning him as a sinless saint from heaven.  (I already adored the guy as my character, and now he’s perfectly sinless and “alive”??)

I had no idea the adrenaline would leave me with muscle cramps and no appetite for half the week, and I would lose four pounds in four days from the stress of remembering the story, re-reading it (more aftershocks of adrenaline!) and sharing it with some fellow authors in my writer’s group and elsewhere (*terror* Will they despise this chunk of my soul??).  It was not a real experience, but as far as my emotions were concerned, it might as well have happened in reality.

And I had no idea that as time passed, God would suddenly hush the siren-cry of character worship and catapult me into a spiritual ecstasy so joyous that I (the totally introverted shy person!) would go grocery shopping and smile at everyone I passed and want to talk to them, even mentally fish for ways I could share the gospel as I went because I was full to bursting with Christ’s joy.

What is this madness??  God, who am I and what did You do with myself?? 😀 

For the first couple of days, I thought I had made the most horrific writing mistake of my life.

I prayed for wisdom and just waited for some convicting inner urge to delete the whole thing and never think of it again.

I felt like it blurred the lines between reality and fiction and was too close to a “ghost story” for my personal comfort.  I thought it was completely off-the-wall-weird and I deserved rotten tomatoes flung at my head.  I thought I had walked right into a swamp of temptation and my imagination had led me astray (it wouldn’t be the first time).

But I prayed that God would use this piece of writing for other purposes, to glorify Himself to me.

Suddenly, while thinking about the themes in the story, my heart was captured by eternity and my Savior in a new and incredible way.  I had been seeking the Lord in a stale fashion for a long time, going wearily through the motions because I should, despite having no deep feeling there…and suddenly I was all feeling.

My emotions were gushing over, uncontainable.  I could no longer gripe about any hardship, rather bursting forth with reasons for praise and gratitude.  I started delving into God’s word not because I should but because I was delightfully starved for it, and I got fresh bursts of adrenaline simply reading about heaven.  I overflowed with prayer of all kinds throughout the day, not just simple thank-Yous or petitions, but full-hearted, amazed exaltation.

Things that Kevin said in the story convicted, encouraged, and uplifted me.  His glorified zeal for the Lord was infectious!  I started applying his words to my daily life across the board.  Discussions about the story with fellow writers who read it led me to more snowballing epiphanies and spiritual joys, both about my stories and my real life.

Wow!  God really doesn’t care about my prayers being organized or eloquent – He is patient and doesn’t mind me taking time to formulate my words or pause for a minute just to feel in awe.

Wow, He has perfect, personal love for me.

Wow, Lord, You have given me the promise of heaven!

Wow, when I am suffering You cradle me in your almighty hands like a mother holds her hurting child.

Wow!  When I push my characters to overcome their flaws, and I’m sad about their pain but know it is best for them, that must be how God feels about the trials of our sanctification.

Wow to everything.

My “revelations” about God were not new. Mostly they were things I already believed, grasped, and agreed with in theory – in my brain.  But pouring them out on paper, experiencing them so intensely that I was physically in pain for days afterward, suddenly they became tangible truths wrapped tightly around my heart and flowing out of my actions and words.

And the timing was impeccable.

This week my daughter’s neurological issues worsened.

For some time we’ve been waiting impatiently for her neurology appointment in mid-November, watching her increasing symptoms with concern.  But in the past week week her speech clarity took a nosedive.  She struggles to speak articulately, a new problem that is deeply concerning.

A few weeks ago, I might have been a distraught mess at this new development, frustrated by my helplessness, and angry at the lack of speed in the medical world.

But it is very hard to feel grumpy or angry about anything when you almost died and met your character from heaven, 😉 and had him gently point you toward the earthly service of Christ and the love of God that holds us even through agonizing pain.

I have wept to see my daughter struggle, and wept imagining the worst.  Trust in God doesn’t erase pain, though He holds us through it.

But I am not angry, not despairing, because my eyes are set on life beyond this fallen world, and the Savior who bought me for that life.  He is the surpassing treasure that will sustain me no matter what else happens!

The road might be hard ahead.

But because of what I’ve learned from that short story, I feel prepared by God to meet it.

I am blown away by God’s kindness.  I can’t stop talking about it!  Not only did He revitalize my faith right when I needed it (so I could hold His hand tighter rather than flailing and panicking when things got harder), but He also taught me these lessons through one of the things I love most: writing stories, my characters, and exercising my imagination.  He used my favorite thing to touch my heart!  He could have brought me these lessons any old way – sermons, blog articles, a simple talk with a friend – but he chose to do it through my own passionate storycrafting.

I almost wept with joy as I realized that.  What a personal, sweet expression of His individual love toward me!  It was like a parent giving their child a new folder full of schoolwork, and decorating it with stickers of their favorite animal – or giving them glasses to see with and getting them frames in their favorite color.  But this was deeper and more delightful than those kinds of tiny tokens.  It was an approving and loving validation of my imagination’s worth and why He gave it to me.

God used my own fictional character I love to take rarely-applied truths from the depths of my mind and apply them to the depths of my heart.

I can’t quite express why that was so incredibly special to me, that He taught me this much and used this writing experience as the catalyst…but it was a gift, and I treasure it.

One friend has joked that my stories make me bold.  They break me out of my shell to talk passionately, or make me do crazy things (like snap surreptitious photos of random strangers just because they look like my characters).

I guess this is why God gave me stories.  To make me brave.  To make me bold.

I don’t think this particular story is “going anywhere.”  It’s esoteric, odd, and probably only touching for fellow writers who share the yearning for their character to be real.  It’s slightly messy, with no real plot.  It will never be published.  It’s so deeply personal and so true to my imperfect soul that I cringe at parts to think that I’ve actually shared this with anyone!

But I realize now it wasn’t for anyone else, so their opinions don’t matter. God meant it for me.

I will never forget this tiny story, because God used it like a lightning rod to set me ablaze again for Him. <3

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

– Revelation 19:6-10

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Simmer Starters – Mar. 6, 2015

March 6, 2015

First, I have to share these three Simmer Starter links that directly correlate to the series on love that I have going right now.  If you don’t check out any of the other links, read these!

The Three Sieves (Tim Challies) – Amen and amen!  This is on my mind too, all the time.  I love the 3 sieves notion.  “I know it is not the perfect standard by which to judge, but I often find myself thinking it: If others speak of me the way I speak of them, I would be devastated.”

10 Ways to Hate People (HeadHeartHand) – A very brief post with a self-explanatory title.

Seven Ways We Can Guard and Repair Relationships (Ray Ortlund at The Gospel Coalition) – Beautiful thoughts about love and grace in relationships with others.

Second, four links about writing and books:

Why Everyone Deserves to Tell a Story (ScribblePreach) – “ ‘I have a story idea,’ he said to the girl sitting across from him. ‘Do you want to hear it?’ ‘Looks like I don’t have a choice,’ I thought. What happened next was the last thing on planet earth I’d expected: I was riveted.”

99 Essential Character Creation Quotes (WritinGeekery) – This list is gold!  It takes a long time to read through, but is well worth it.

How Pursuing Your Gifts Impacts Your Kids (Jessica Turner, on Ann Voskamp’s blog) – Beautiful post about pursuing our artistic gifts even in the busyness of motherhood.  Your kids will see it, and enjoy it, and be blessed by it!  “My mom comes from a long-line of women who made time for their gifts. My grandmother loved to knit and read. My great-grandmother loved to embroider and sew.  This legacy of self-care and seeing it in practice made a huge impact on me. As I mother, I want to instill the same values in my children.”

No Boys Allowed: School Visits As a Woman Writer (Shannon Hale) – This is something that frustrates me about how we treat boys and girls and their reading habits…the concept that “boys don’t read books about girls,” or worse, that they should not.

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6 Favorite Brother-Sister Relationships in Fiction

December 8, 2014

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Romance.  Parent and child.  Sisterhood.  Brotherhood.  Sibling groups.  Friendships.  Partners.  Mentor and student.  Master and servant.  Leader and followers.

Personally, although I enjoy reading about many different kinds of relationships, I’m a big sucker for a strong brother-sister friendship, mostly because the trilogy I’ve been writing for almost 10 years, The Kraesinia Trilogy, centers around a brother and sister.

This kind of relationship is friendship, it’s family, and it contains the fun dynamics of opposite genders interacting, yet without the angst of romantic tension.

Here are six of my favorite fictional brother-sister duos!

1. Simon and River Tam (Firefly – science-fiction TV show)

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River: “I remember everything. I remember too much. And some of it’s made up, and some of it can’t be quantified, and there’s secrets, and…”
Simon: “Hey, i-it’s okay.”
River: “But, I understand. You gave up everything you had to find me. You found me broken. It’s hard for you. You gave up everything you had.”
Simon: “Mei-mei, everything I have is right here.”

I love this pair so much.  Simon is a capable young doctor.  River is a brilliant girl who is traumatized and not right in the head after years of being experimented on secretly by a government program.  Not only does Simon leave behind his career and everything else to rescue her from the facility, but he diligently and tenderly takes care of her throughout the show, hides her from the government, keeps her out of trouble (when he can…that’s a job and a half), and searches for ways to heal her hurting mind using his medical experience.  River, meanwhile, also turns out to be a psychic with epic battle skills.  Basically, they’re both awesome.

2. Nicholas and Kate Nickleby (Nicholas Nickleby – classic novel by Charles Dickens)

“My darling girl,” said Nicholas as he embraced her. “How pale you are!”

“I have been so unhappy here, dear brother,” sobbed poor Kate; “so very, very miserable. Do not leave me here, dear Nicholas, or I shall die of a broken heart.”

“I will leave you nowhere,” answered Nicholas— “never again, Kate,” he cried, moved in spite of himself as he folded her to his heart. “Tell me that I acted for the best. Tell me that we parted because I feared to bring misfortune on your head; that it was a trial to me no less than to yourself, and that if I did wrong it was in ignorance of the world and unknowingly.”

“Why should I tell you what we know so well?” returned Kate soothingly. “Nicholas—dear Nicholas—how can you give way thus?”

“It is such bitter reproach to me to know what you have undergone,” returned her brother; “to see you so much altered, and yet so kind and patient—God!” cried Nicholas, clenching his fist and suddenly changing his tone and manner, “it sets my whole blood on fire again.”

I have always loved Nicholas’s fierce protectiveness over his sister and his determination to do anything for the welfare of her and their mother after their father passes away.  Both Nicholas and Kate are smart, upright characters on their own, and deeply devoted to one another.  When I first read the book, their relationship reminded me strongly of my book’s protagonists, Kevin and Catherine, though my characters are less dramatic and, uh, Dickensian.  Teenage males in modern books don’t just “burst into tears,” and the girls simply can’t “swoon” spontaneously at an emotional moment.  (Well, they could.  But they’d lose all reader respect.  Hahaha.)  Yet it works for Dickens…mostly because he’s Dickens.

3. Katara and Sokka (Avatar: The Last Airbender – youth fantasy TV show)

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Katara: “I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me! I’m going back to the village. And I’m going to do whatever I can!”

Sokka: “…Wait! I’m coming too.”

Katara: “I thought you didn’t want to help.”

Sokka: “You need me. And I will never turn my back on you.”

This relationship has more moments of snark and bickering than tender affection, I admit.  But Sokka and Katara are close, having been effectively orphaned by the death of their mother and the departure of their father to war.  They may have entirely separate agendas at times, but they also work well together, and never abandon one another in times of need.  Katara is the caring, motherly figure and often the conscience of their little traveling band, while Sokka is a fierce warrior and provides regular comic relief.

4. Aquila and Flavia (The Lantern Bearers – historical fiction by Rosemary Sutcliff)

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Aquila leaned against a tree and watched her, making a discovery.  “You have grown up while I have been away.”

She looked up, the flowers in her hands.  “I was grown up before you went away.  More than fifteen.  And now I’m more than sixteen – quite old.”

Aquila wagged his head sadly.  “That’s what I say.  I don’t suppose you can even run now.”

She sprang up, her face alight with laughter.  “What will you wager me that I do not reach the terrace steps ahead of you?”

“A new pair of crimson slippers against a silver buckle for my sword-belt.”  Aquila pushed himself from the tree-trunk as she swooped up the skirt of her yellow tunic with the flowers in its lap.

“Done!  Are you ready?”

“Yes.  Now!”

Flavia was half a spear’s length ahead of him as they reached the steps of the terrace before the house and whirled about under the old spreading damson tree that grew there.  “Well?  Can I still run?  I can run faster than you can now, and I’m a girl!”

Aquila caught her by the wrist.  “You have sharp, hollow bones like a bird, and it is not fair.”  They flung themselves down on the step, panting and laughing…

This story, set in ancient Britain, is perhaps not as well known as the others I list here, but it’s one of my favorite books of all time.  The writing is beautiful and all the characters so real.  To be fair, Aquila and Flavia are separated for most of the story so we only get small glimpses of their relationship, but they are beautifully sweet toward each other.  The two of them are said to be so inseperable that their tutor once declared they should have been twins and it was cruel of fate to require Aquila to wait two years for his sister to be born.  I love to see a sibling relationship where there is no envy, meanness, or competition (beyond fun races, of course!).

5. Eomer and Eowyn (The Lord of the Rings – fantasy trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien)

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 And he looked at the slain, recalling their names.  Then suddenly he beheld his sister Eowyn as she lay, and he knew her.  He stood a moment as a man who is pierced in the midst of a cry by an arrow through the heart; and then his face went deathly white, and a cold fury rose in him, so that all speech failed him for a while.  A fey mood took him.

“Eowyn, Eowyn!” he cried at last.  “Eowyn, how come you here?  What madness or devilry is this?  Death, death, death!  Death take us all!”

Here is another sibling pair grown close through the loss of their parents.  Eomer and Eowyn were orphaned young and taken in by their uncle, the king, who raised them as his own.  Both hold high responsibilities as nobility of the Rohirrim.  We don’t get to see a lot of their relationship, given that they are side characters in a much, much greater plot and they are usually busy doing separate things in different places…like saving the people of Rohan and fighting for all of Middle-earth, for example.  But we see touching glimpses of their closeness, like Eomer’s utter grief when he discovers his sister fallen on the battlefield and believes her to be dead.

6. Carda and Michelle Chase (The Spacetime Legacy – urban fantasy series by K.M. Carroll)

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His twin sister Michelle sat at the kitchen table with a fork, a glass of milk, and an entire coffee cake.

Carda gestured at it in outrage.  “You took the whole cake?”

Michelle shrugged with a mischievous grin.  “I’m not getting a plate dirty, right?  Grab a fork.”

I don’t have a screen cap or anything for this story because it isn’t a movie – EVEN THOUGH IT TOTALLY SHOULD BE.  Carda and “Mish” are redheaded twins who discover they have magical powers, battle powerful villains, and save the world, then kick back and have pizza on the couch together afterward.  I loved this relationship for its casual, down-to-earth realness.  If Nicholas and Kate Nickleby are the dramatic, swooning, sobbing Dickensian example of siblinghood, Carda and Michelle perfectly embody the modern sib-set – more likely to poke sarcastic fun at each other than fall in each other’s arms and cry, but fiercely devoted best friends who always have each other’s backs.

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Most of these siblings remind me a little of my own characters, Kevin and Catherine – and in some cases they were inspirations in the very development of my characters!  They all have a special place in my heart.

Are there any other awesome, close fictional brother-sister duos I should know about?  Please let me know!  What’s your favorite kind of relationship to read about?

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Three Great Story Crafting Tips

June 5, 2014

The funny thing about writing fiction is that the more you know about making your stories good, the harder it gets to write them!

Here are some of the best writing tips I have learned and implemented recently, along with the great resources where I found them.  These have really revitalized my writing habits and brainstorming abilities!  I hope some of them might benefit you as they have me.

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This is probably the most epic picture ever taken of my sister and me (though not characteristic of our relationship at all!).

1.  The antagonist is everything.

Every story needs an antagonist.  If no one provides opposition to the main character, they will get what they want with no struggle – and hence, there won’t be a real story.

People hear the word “antagonist” and automatically think “the villain”, but the antagonist is not always an evil villain.  The antagonist is whoever is most opposing the protagonist in his/her goals!  They can, in fact, be a very good character who simply stands between the protagonist and what they want most.

I thought my book’s problem was that it lacked a “big baddie”.  It’s never had one.  After lots of fruitless brainstorming and playing with very contrived concepts, I finally realized that of all dangerous people and dangerous things in this story, the primary antagonist is the main character’s beloved younger sister, his fellow protagonist.

What?!  How?

It’s because the protagonist’s goal is to protect his sister at all costs…and she keeps putting herself in danger, darnit!  All the threats and dangers in the story – the snarky girl station guard with the robotic arm, government officials who wipe the sister’s memory, the evil army of invading aliens, the overly anxious auntie – they are only side-antagonists that also threaten to take his sister away from him in one way or another.  But she herself is the primary antagonist, and it was right in front of me all along.  Now I can really take this story’s plot arc and make it strong!

Chances are if you can’t identify or create the antagonist for your story (which is something you need to do, no excuses!), you might simply be looking at the wrong people.  What is your protagonist’s main goal, and who is getting in the way the most?  If no one’s getting in the way, who can you put in the way?

Definitely see Kristen Lamb’s blog for this post and many others on this subject of antagonists.

2.  What your protagonist wants is probably not what he/she needs.

” …we know that characters often work not toward the real solution but to a perceived solution. And characters frequently grapple with a problem that is ultimately recognized as only a symptom of the real problem.” – Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley

If a character doesn’t have a powerful goal…again, no story.  People prancing aimlessly through life are not interesting to read about.  So “find your character’s greatest want” is one of those rules guidelines writers are regularly given.  It’s always a great moment for me when I figure out what a character wants, because sometimes I have to get to know them for awhile before I can see their deepest desires.  But I learned this week that usually what the character wants most is a band-aid on their real problem, which is a soul problem, a lie they believe about the world or themselves.

(See K.M. Weiland’s character arc series for more on want vs. need, and the Lie a character believes, and otherwise amazing tips on character arcs.  Excellent, excellent stuff.  The link goes to the last post in the series, so scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the list of all the series parts.)

You could say most characters have an idol.  Their goal is to get or keep that idol (which may, in many cases, be a legitimate need or a good thing, like surviving – or in my book’s case, protecting one’s sister from harm).  But by the end of the story, whether their goal is achieved or not, the idol should be torn down.  They should have exchanged the lie for a truth, and that is a compelling and strong journey of character development.

I once read that a Christian can identify an idol in their life easily.  It’s whatever thing you can look at and say, “If I don’t get that, I will die.”  Only God should stand in that spot!

In the past I’ve been prone to thinking my characters are so godly that they truly do want God most of all!  What else could they want so badly?  …And that’s where I fail, because my characters end up A.) unrealistically lacking in flaws and therefore probably not even human, and B.) boring, because they have no tangible goals, so readers have no reason to root for them to win.

Goals aren’t all bad.  I’m using the word “idol” mostly as an illustration.  Your character must want something desperately, but what he wants is probably not what he actually needs, just as our idols are flimsy patches over the gaping hole in our hearts that should be filled by God.  By the end of any story with a happy ending, the protagonist’s real need should be filled regardless of whether he achieves his perceived need on top of that.

And on the topic of “If I don’t get that, I will die…”

3.  The stakes MUST BE DEATH!

What will happen if your protagonist does NOT achieve his or her goal?  If nothing in particular will happen except a little disappointment and then life goes back to normal…you’re doing it wrong (and so have I, many times).

In order for readers to care about your protagonist, death must be the consequence if the goal is not achieved.  And I’m not talking about stabbed-through-the-heart physical death exclusively.  Maybe they’ll die on the inside, psychologically – or maybe the consequence will be professional death, the destruction of their career.

Once the plot gets rolling, the protagonist must never get the same normal life back again.  That ship has sailed.  Either he returns to that normal world changed by his development from lie to truth, or he dies – physically, psychologically, or professionally, or in more than one of those ways.

Obviously my book revolves around a war in another universe, so death is a literal threat to both protagonists.  But as for my protagonist’s goal of protecting his sister, psychological death is also on the line for him because losing her will prove him inept in his responsibility to take care of her.  As the last remaining member of his family, she means everything to him, and he must not lose her even though everything in his life is dragging her away.  Ahhh, the stakes are high, exactly as they should be!

This tip about the three kinds of death is something I learned a few month ago from the book Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell.  That is seriously one of the best how-to writing books I’ve ever read – go get it!

I have to add that I found ALL of these resources through the direct or indirect recommendation of my author friend Kessie!  While you’re getting Conflict and Suspense you should check out her book too, because it’s awesome and I love it muchly.  😀

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What is the best tip you know about crafting a good story?