Archive for July, 2015

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Simmer Starters – July 25, 2015

July 25, 2015

I’m sorry for the lack of posts lately!  My brain has been totally absorbed with new baby and family stuff and I haven’t had a lot of mental bandwidth for writing articles, barely adding a sentence or two to my book every few days!  But I try to keep up my Simmer Starters, because they are fun – and here is my collection for this week.

Change the Face of Female Villains (Barely Hare Books) – This was an interesting post…I’d never noticed before how female villains tend to fall into cliches more than male villains these days.  “What can we do as writers to break free of these chains and create female villains that are just as bad as the boys? What do female villains need to be as equally threatening, if not more so?”

How to Create a Rational Magic System (Chris Winkle, Mythcreants) – Oh, how I love worldbuilding…  Awesome, very thorough article about creating magic systems!

7 Ingredients of an Amazing Climax (Chris Winkle) – Also from Mythcreants…I just rediscovered this site and am enjoying a lot of the in-depth, helpful articles there.  This one helped me rethink my book’s climax and come up with some good ideas to make it pack more punch.

Learning the Craft (Steven Pressfield) – LOVE.  “If you and I want to take ourselves seriously as writers, we have to ask ourselves not just, ‘Am I studying the craft?’ but ‘Am I studying my craft?’ ”

Why We’ve Made Too Big of a Deal Over the Phrase “Looks Like You’ve Got Your Hands Full” (Katie Bennett) – A beautiful example of responding with grace in a world where mothers often respond to innocent comments with offense (and I’m guilty of that too!).

Help! Mommydom Leaves Me No Time For God (Holly Elliff) – Encouraging and convicting!  “Since these kids, at the ages they are at this moment, are God’s will for your life, does He intend to speak to you in the next decade or so when you don’t have free time? Of course He does. So how is that going to happen when you have so little time you can control?”

Praying the Bible (Tim Challies) – This is really a book review, but I might need to pick up this book because this approach to prayer has revolutionized my desire for a daily devotional time!  It has been so very helpful (along with deleting my Facebook app and sticking my Bible app in its old spot!  That was a very useful brain hack, and got me diving into the Bible multiple times a day the way I might check a social media app).

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Simmer Starters – July 18, 2015

July 18, 2015

I think I’m going to move my Simmer Starters to Saturday permanently, and do my regular posts mid-week. 🙂

Re-Imaging Jesus (Rebecca LuElla Miller) – “In the same way that the re-imagers want to make out that Christians are the new Pharisees, they want to hand Jesus the winebibber and glutton tag—only that’s now apparently a positive on his resumé.”

Why I Kissed Christian Fiction Goodbye – Part 1 (Brandon Barr) – I’m eagerly awaiting part two of this. Good thoughts here!  “Not all the fiction found in Christian bookstores, or on the Christian fiction section of your local bookstore, is bad fiction. Some of it is really great stuff. But all of these gems are limited in where they can go, and what they can say. They are also limited to being found only in Christian bookstores, or in the ‘Christian fiction’ section at the local bookstore, or quarantined within the Christian genres on Amazon. These stories will have little impact on the larger culture. If only a good Christian mystery could have the ‘Christian’ label axed and be placed with all the good Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, new age, authors who write mysteries and are actually speaking and influencing the wider culture. The same for every genre.”

How to Raise Boys Who Read (Thomas Spence) – “Hint: Not with gross-out books and video-game bribes.”  This is a sad article talking about the major gap between boys’ and girls’ reading ability, and the strange and rather bad ways our society has been trying to combat it.  It theorizes that screen time is to blame.  (My personal theory is that boys don’t like to read anymore firstly because the kinds of things boys enjoy reading has become largely politically incorrect and hard to find.  What do you think?)  The article ends on the fascinating note that homeschoolers do not even have this gender gap in reading ability.  Interesting…

Bad Reviews Sell Books (H.L. Burke) – A great post about how negative reviews can actually help authors in some cases.

7 Areas of Unbiblical Conscience Binding (Nicholas T. Batzig) – “To be sure, we should all be zealous to teach and exemplify every principle of holiness taught in Scripture; but more often than not, individuals who are most zealous for holiness fall into the trap of teaching their personal applications of a biblical–or a supposedly biblical–principle of holiness rather than simply teaching the principle.”

Seven Subtle Symptoms of Pride (Fabienne Harford) – Pride articles always leave me going, “Ow. Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow.” 😛 This one was very good.  “As seriously dangerous as pride is, it’s equally hard to spot. When it comes to diagnosing our hearts, those of us who have the disease of pride have a challenging time identifying our sickness. Pride infects our eyesight, causing us to view ourselves through a lens that colors and distorts reality. Pride will paint even our ugliness in sin as beautiful and commendable.”

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Worldbuilding: The Ripple Effect

July 14, 2015

The world of my book, Kraesinia, has actual purple mountains.

The world of my book, Kraesinia, has actual purple mountains.

The worldbuilding is one of my favorite parts of any good speculative fiction novel.

I may be unusual in this, but a really great speculation – a unique “what if?” premise – can sometimes sell a book to me all by itself.

And then, if the fictional world feels real and deeper than the page, and shows me amazing things that are different from the real world around me, sometimes that wonder is enough to keep me turning pages, even if the plot is slow or plagued by poor characterization.

Every fiction writer asks, “What if?”  Even if all they do is tweak a real event to write a fictional version, they have to speculate.  But those who write science-fiction and fantasy are asking “What if?” outside the bounds of reality.

And when you write outside the bounds of reality, every “What if?” has to come with consequences.

Even a small adjustment to reality can create massive ripples.

neonWhat if people were born with neon colored hair instead of blond, brown, black, red, etc.?  That seems very superficial.  But think of the consequences.  What stereotypes would people associate with various colored hair?  Would people say, “That pink over there,” instead of, “That blonde?”  Would people dye their hair?  How would it work out genetically?  What colors are seen as most attractive?  What (dyed) tones are seen as rebellious?

You get the picture.

Sure, it’s possible to create a world that’s tweaked so minimally that it creates a very small ripple effect.  And it’s possible to ignore the ripple effect and readers may still appreciate your story for other things.

But, I argue, the more ripple you have…the more FUN it is. 😀

The wizarding world of Harry Potter is made that much more fun by the fact that wizards use their magic to do almost everything, even sweep the floors.  If you had magic, wouldn’t you??

An Example of Poor Worldbuilding

In BBC’s Merlin, we are shown a fantasy realm where generally men have more power and control than women, as they did in medieval times.

Yet every once in awhile, randomly, there will be a battle scene and women will don pants and insist on their “right” to fight alongside men…and the men will inexplicably allow this with very little protest.  Huh?

If this is an unprecedented move on the part of the women, the men have a very odd reaction to it.  And if this is something women in their culture do regularly, well…where is the ripple?  If their culture had an advanced concept of women’s rights where it was common and acceptable for women to go to battle alongside men instead of hiding or fleeing, you’d see some women training with the guys, with swords and shields.  You’d see a lot of other, different attitudes toward women, I imagine, that wouldn’t fit with the tidy medieval setting the writers put together.

And although I hate “showing my hand” and revealing that my storyworlds were, in fact, built by me, and do not actually exist… 😛 another example is from older drafts of The Kraesinia Trilogy.

My Kraesinion culture had gotten very fleshed out, but the culture of the villains, the Drivvifundians, left a lot to be desired.  Drivvs are a reptilian race.  But until recently I had never thought about this aspect of them, beyond the fact that they have scaly skin.  I’d never even considered that they were cold-blooded!

Lizard sunbathing.

Lizard sunbathing.

Once I finally realized that this was an important aspect to work through, a lot of things had to be taken into consideration.  How do they keep warm?  How do they get energy?  Do they sunbathe like lizards in our world do?

I realized that because they get their energy from the warmth and light of the sun, their culture is partially a sun-worshipping one.  (Religion? – that will create an even bigger ripple effect right there!)  Furthermore, the necessity of soaking up sunlight to live would heavily affect their approach to battle and strategy, and give them an advantage – or a great disadvantage – depending on the locale of the battle, the weather, and the time of day.  It would make a big difference to the Kraesinions and humans fighting against them too.

There was a huge ripple effect needed here, and it took me years to notice it!  Now (I hope) the Drivvs are a much more interesting race, with more strengths, weaknesses, and peculiarities to make them fascinating to readers.

When you pay attention to the ripple, and play through your “What ifs?” down to the smaller details and implications, your worlds will be richer, deeper, and more wondrous for it.

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What are your thoughts?  What are some great examples of worldbuilding where you saw “ripples” of the premise down to the little details?  What are some examples of tiny waves that should have been big splashes in your opinion?

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Simmer Starters – July 10, 2015

July 11, 2015

Last week it completely slipped my mind to do my Simmer Starters!  And today I almost forgot again!  Ack.  So here are the most interesting links from the last couple of weeks, a little late in the day.  Enjoy!

Since there are a lot, I’ve divided them by my two most common topics.

Faith & Christian Living

Does God Love Everyone? – A Calvinist Struggle (Jordan Tong) – I appreciated this thoughtful look at a subject I got some discussion on from my last blog post.

What a Bikini Taught Me About Modesty (Phylicia Masonheimer) – “Modesty – the covering – was given to man and woman to protect them from the shame of nakedness. God was preserving the beauty of their bodies from a sinful world. Suddenly I realized that my bikini was not advertising my God-given value, but advertising the beauty of my body to a world that would never appreciate it the way God intended.”

Controversy or Complacency (Tim Challies) – Heh, this goes right along with my Sensitivity post!  Words for both the brash (controversial) and the sensitive (complacent) among us.  “The complacent Christian is the one who is afraid to speak up even when the situation is serious and in dire need of attention. He is the one who cowers before men and who would rather not speak at all than risk offending another person or risk taking sides. He would allow his Christian brothers and sisters to face spiritual risk instead of speaking up in defense of the truth.”

Sunday Thoughts: Training (Abby Jones) – “It says in Hebrews that our affliction is God’s disciplining and training for us. It is how God molds us and makes us into his children. This world, in some ways, is our boot camp, our basic training, and God uses trials and and sufferings to get us in shape.  Yet for some reason we always complain that our ‘training’ isn’t easy. Why oh why am I suffering?? We moan and complain when the Bible makes it very clear that God is perfecting us. You see that? Perfecting!  I don’t know about you, but that seems like something that would require a lot of work. Perfection isn’t easy.”

Fiction & Writing

Author Interview: Robert Mullin (Wendy Van Camp) – An interesting interview with one of my author friends, Robert Mullin, who wrote an epic sci-fi/fantasy I really enjoyed, Bid the Gods Arise (which I’d definitely recommend to adults! – and perhaps some mature teens as well).

Rock Your First Chapter, No Excuses (WritinGeekery) – As the title suggests, a guide to making your first chapter rock.  It suggests going back AFTER you finish the book to revise your first chapter, which I thought was really smart.  I can get so bogged down trying to make the first chapter perfect that I don’t move forward.

Brandon Sanderson’s 3 Laws of Magic – On this page you’ll find links to three articles with the bestselling author’s magic-writing rules.  I haven’t finished reading them all yet, but what I’ve read is really good.

The 3 Golden Rules of Writing a Young Adult Novel (Robert Wood) – While I didn’t agree with everything in it, as a YA author I found this a helpful article.  “So why do young adults – occupying a hotly debated age range of around thirteen to around twenty – need this genre so badly? It’s because adolescence is the most uniformly difficult part of life, the point at which we begin to ask the big questions and find answers we don’t like. YA fiction is an important part of this process.”

Feed the Right Wolf: ‘Tomorrowland’ and the Allure of Fatalism (Austin Gunderson at SpecFaith) – Despite plot holes I enjoyed this movie a lot, and this thoughtful review pegs exactly why.

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When God Says “As You Wish”

July 2, 2015

Last week I was chatting with a friend about parenting struggles.  She has a child who had gotten addicted to TV, and she had to do the hard work of cutting back screen time.  Not only was it upsetting to the child, but it was hard on Mom too!  Now she has to entertain the child during the time that was spent on TV before, or put up with the whining of a child who wishes they were being entertained instead of having to entertain themselves.

Parenting is hard! we agreed.  Challenging a child means challenging ourselves too.  It means putting aside our wants (peace and quiet, me-time) to help a child get over an idol or a disobedience issue.

And that got me thinking.

Most of us are familiar with that iconic line from The Princess Bride:

That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you.”

I definitely don’t deny the sweetness of that line (my husband and I sometimes say, “As you wish,” to each other!), and I don’t deny the beauty and practical love of deferring to others and serving them.

BUT.

That kind of deferential love can only go so far.

As parents, if we love our children, we can’t tell them “as you wish” for everything.  There are times we have to do the hard stuff: take away privileges, discipline them, limit screen time, let them make mistakes so they can learn.  We have to put them to bed even though they’d rather stay up all night, and feed them their vegetables even though they’d rather dine on sugar all day.

A parent who rolls over and says, “As you wish,” to every whim and demand of their child is not a loving parent, but a neglectful and lazy one.

He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.

– Proverbs 13:24

While there’s debate over whether the “rod” in this text is meant to be literal or metaphorical, the basic point is clear to people of all parenting styles – love disciplines.  Love sets aside my wants and needs, my mushy desire to never confront my child, my laziness, and the inclination to let things slide.  I have to get off my backside and intervene when my oldest is bullying the baby.  I have to take the time to talk to my daughter about her attitude instead of merely placating her wishes in hopes that she’ll stop whining.  Love doesn’t always give them what they wish, but rather sets aside what I wish in order to give them what they need.

Similarly…

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. – C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce”

God does not always say, “As you wish,” to His beloved children.  That is what He says to those He does not love.  And that is a frightening thought!  Those who happily go their own way, besotted with their sin, are those who are condemned to destruction, those who are hearing God’s, “As you wish.”

Those who go through trials, their desperate faith tested and stretched again and again, may wonder why God hates them so – but in reality, He is giving them His very best, not what they wish, but what He he knows they need.

You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. – Deuteronomy 8:5

And maybe it would have been easier for God to let us slide, wash His hands of us, and say, “As you wish.  Throw my law to the wind.  I’m done bothering with you.”

But He made us.  He knows what’s best for us, and what we were made for – and it’s Himself, and beauty, wholeness, and truth.  He cannot sit idly by while we twist His law and destroy one another and leave Him forever.  So he did something harder than any human parent will ever have to do – God left the peace and joy of heaven, entered this sin-soaked world as a Man, and suffered and died so that He could buy us back for Himself.

He gave Himself for me, so that I can have the strength in Him to confront my children’s sin – and my own.