Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Writing for Transformation

I spent Thursday and Friday of last week at Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference, and what an incredible two days I had! It's been eight years since I first attended and I was able to be there for only part of a day last year, but this conference never disappoints. Great worship time, excellent speakers, awesome workshops and clinics, and wonderful fellowship with friends old and new.

And, of course, meeting with agents.

Many writers go to writers' conferences with the intention of pitching the novel (or other writing project) to agents. I did, although pitching my manuscript wasn't my primary reason for attending. That said, I've seen the anxiety that agent appointments can bring—to the point where one conferee who I met in the ladies' room this year was sick with nerves before meeting with an agent. Why? Because writers want to be published. Many will say they need to be published. We want to be validated in our ability to write well and impact our readers. For some, it's a desire that haunts them day and night. I know. I've been there, done that—once upon a time.

In the last few years, I've come to realize a much more important reason for writing. God has showed me over and over that what He puts on my heart to write is as much for me as it is for my readers. The issues I address in my characters' lives often end up applying to my own life as well, although our circumstances aren't necessarily the same or even similar. And, incredibly, I've learned so much about myself—and about how God sees me—through my characters and what they learn about themselves throughout their story.

God is awesome that way, knowing just how to speak to us in the language we understand best.

As I thought about this today, I was reminded of a quote by author Ted Dekker. He said, "You are a writer for your own transformation, not for your success. Let go of the need to be better than you are and discover your true beauty right now through your writing. Your focus is to live life, not to publish books, so focus on your writing as a means to knowing God."

Maybe you're at that difficult place right now, yearning for success in some area of your life. But God doesn't call us to be "successful" as the world defines it; He calls us to be faithful. Then through our faith and trust in Him, He can use our gifts for His glory and the success of His plan to bring all people to Him. If you're discouraged about your current minimal or lack of "success," take heart. If you're living for Him and dedicating your talents and passion to Him, He will bring about what's meant to be in His perfect timing. Know that—and embrace how the gift He's given you can bring you even closer to Him.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean
 on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, 
and he will make straight your paths."
                                                                                                           – Proverbs 3:5–6

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Free & Low-Cost Christian Kindle E-books - 7/27/2014

Looking for some books to read on your Kindle this summer? Here are some of Amazon's free & low-cost Kindle fiction e-books as of Sunday, June 13. Click on the title to go to Amazon's site to download the book.


In Between (Katie Parker Production Book 1), author Jenny B. Jones (Sweet Pea Productions). Free.

Doesn't She Look Natural? (The Fairlawn Series Book 1), author Angela Hunt (HuntHaven Press). Free.

The Choice (Lancaster County Secrets Book 1), author Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell). Free.

Rocky Mountain Oasis (The Shepherd's Heart - Christian Historical Fiction Book 1), author Lynette Bonner. Free.

The Scent of Lilacs (The Heart of Hollyhill Book 1), author Ann H. Gabhart (Revell). Free.

Love Comes Calling (Against All Expectations Book 1), author Siri Mitchell (Bethany House). Price $0.99.

Emma's Gift: A Novel, author Leisha Kelly (Revell). Price $0.99.


Hopeful Parenting: Encouragement for Raising Kids Who Love God, author David Jeremiah (David C. Cook). Free.

God Will Use This for Good: Surviving the Mess of Life, author Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson). Price $1.99.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fiction Helps: Three-Act Story Structure

A while back, I took an online course on fiction writing. When the classes started, I found myself a bit disappointed—it seemed that we'd be learning a lot of what I already knew, and I wasn’t so sure that every good story had to follow three-act story structure. I stuck it out anyway, and by the course's end, I was so glad that I did. I still don't insist that you can’t write a good story without three-act structure (plenty of writers do), but the class made me see how it can make the actual writing part so much easier—kind of like having direction toward your destination. So what is three-act story structure? Here’s a basic overview of what the course taught me:

  • Hook. The hook opens the story with a life-changing occurrence in the life of the protagonist (the main character). This event brings about a journey in his or her life (physically, emotionally, or both), with that journey being the story you write.
  •  Backstory. In the backstory, the other important characters are introduced and their histories (as well as the protagonist’s history) are explained at least in part. Backstory also introduces your protagonist’s flaw. Flaws can be many things; for example, lack of self-confidence, inability to trust, materialism, or selfishness, to name just a few. Your protagonist’s flaw is what he or she needs to overcome by the end of the story.
  •  Trigger. The trigger occurs as the very last scene in Act 1, sending your protagonist into a crisis. It is brought about either by a strong physical or emotional event, often at the hands of the antagonist (the force working against the protagonist: a person, a community, or even an event like a hurricane).

ACT 2 (Even though this is a new act, note that the crisis often follows the trigger in the same scene)
  • CRISIS. The crisis is the protagonist’s reaction to the trigger. Although it is an emotional reaction, it may be shown emotionally (through description of the inner reaction), physically (as a outward reaction), or as a combination of both of these.
  • STRUGGLE. In the struggle, the antagonist hits the protagonist over and over with difficulties (physical, emotional, or both). With each obstacle, the stakes against the protagonist are upped a little bit more, working toward both the climax and the ending of the story.
  • EPIPHANY. The epiphany is the protagonist’s resolving of the emotional part of the story. He or she realizes his or her flaw and determines what needs to be done to overcome it. This realization propels the story into Act 3.

  • PLAN. With the protagonist’s knowledge born of the epiphany, the plan emerges. He or she decides to take on the outer conflict (the inner conflict was resolved with the epiphany) of the story by taking aim at the antagonist.
  • CLIMAX. The climax is where the protagonist finally battles it out with the antagonist and wins. It is the highest point of the story, and there should be a sense of relief afterward—not only for the antagonist, but also for the reader.
  • ENDING. In the ending, your story should come full circle. All the loose ends are tied up (unless your book is part of a series and this book is transitioning into the next one, then a few questions could remain) and, in most cases, the reader gets that “happily ever after” feeling.

      That said, most of my classmates were creating their stories using this outline. On the other hand, my novel was mostly written, so I had to go back through it and pick out each point of the acts (not as easy as one would think). I finally finished mapping out my three-act structure, and it truly did help me better develop certain parts of the story. I plan to use it with future novels as well, although we'll see how that goes. I've always been a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants girl, and there have been many times when I've started a scene without knowing how it would end until I finished it—and I love being amazed by how everything comes together perfectly in the end. But having a guide certainly can't hurt.

      So what do you think? Do you use the three-act story structure when writing fiction? If you don't, do you think you might consider doing so now that you've seen it explained?

photo credit: Nomadic Lass via photopin cc

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Free & Low-Cost Christian Kindle E-books - 07/13/2014

Looking for some books to read on your Kindle this summer? Here are some of Amazon's free & low-cost Kindle fiction e-books as of Sunday, June 13. Click on the title to go to Amazon's site to download the book.

Rekindled (Fountain Creek Chronicles Book #1), author Tamera Alexander (Bethany House). Free.

Wings of Glass, author Gina Holmes (Tyndale House). Free.

Courting Cate (The Courtships of Lancaster County Book #1), author Leslie Gould (Bethany House). Free.

Afton of Margate Castle (The Knights Chronicles Book #1), author Angela Hunt (HuntHaven Press). Free.

A Home in the West (The Amish of Apple Grove), authors Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith (Harvest House). Free.

Julia's Hope, author Leisha Kelly (Revell). Price $1.99.

The Guardian (Home to Hickory Hollow Book #3), author Beverly Lewis (Bethany House). Price $2.99.

Love Finds You in Paradise, Pennsylvania, author Lori Lough (Summerside). Price $0.99.

The Jewel of His Heart (Heart of the West Book #1), author Maggie Brendan (Revell). Price $3.99.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Free& Low-Cost Christian Kindle E-books - 07/06/2014

Looking for some books to read on your Kindle this summer? Here are some of Amazon's free & low-cost Kindle fiction e-books as of Sunday, June 8. Click on the title to go to Amazon's site to download the book.

Montana Reunion (Big Sky Centennial), author Valerie Hansen (Love Inspired). Free.

All God's Children (The Peacemakers), author Anna Schmidt (Barbour Books). Free.

Once Upon a Summer (Seasons of the Heart Book #1), author Janette Oke (Bethany House). Free.

The Heart of Thornton Creek (Queensland Chronicles Book #1), author Bonnie Leon (Revell). Free.

Chasing Sunsets (A Cedar Key Series Book #1), author Eva Marie Everson (Revell). Free.

Inescapable (Road to Kingdom Book #1), author Nancy Mehl (Bethany House). Free.

City of Angels (The Trials of Kit Shannon Book #1), authors Tracie Peterson and James Scott Bell  (Compendium Press). Free.

A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, author Cara Putman (Barbour Books). Price $0.99.

Georgia on Her Mind, author Rachel Hauck (Forget-Me-Not Romances). Price $0.99.

The Herbalist's Daughter (Book 1 Amish  Herb Shop Series), author Karen Anna Vogel (Lamb Books). Price $0.99.

Even Now (Lost Love Series), author Karen Kingsbury (Zondervan). Price $2.99.

Happy Reading!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Photo of Faith Friday: "When Oceans Rise"

Hillsong United's "Oceans" is one of my favorite songs right now. I think part of it is because I love the ocean. The sounds of the gulls and the water's comings and goings combined with the salty smell of the sea breeze put me in my happy place. But more than that, I love the song's words.

They talk about stepping out in faith and trusting God more deeply than ever before—"where my trust is without borders," in the words of the song. Trusting in God so fully can be tough, especially when we're raised in a society that prides itself on being self-sufficient.

But self-sufficiency is a hoax, encouraged by the Deceiver of our hearts. Satan is the one who tells us we need to do it all ourselves—and that we're never good enough. And, sadly, many of us believe the lies.

Alternatively, God wants us to rely wholeheartedly on Him. When Peter stepped out of the boat to walk across the water to Jesus, he did the "impossible" until his fear overshadowed his faith. It wasn't until he took his eyes off Christ that he started to sink.

Maybe you feel like the oceans of your life are rising right now. Take heart in knowing that with Jesus, the height of the waters doesn't matter. He walks above it, and so do you if you trust Him.

Never heard "Oceans" and want to take a listen? Here it is . . .

Friday, June 20, 2014

Photo of Faith Friday: "If We Don't Teach Our Children..."

Today was the last day of school for my daughter (yes, it is late—we had MANY snow days this year). As I look forward to having both kids home with me for the summer, I'm reminded how important my behavior is. Kids watch and emulate, and I want to make sure what they're seeing in me doesn't translate into behavior I don't want to see in them.

There are so many influences in the world that I don't want my kids—or any kids, for that matter—exposed to. And it's so true: If we don't teach our children to follow Christ, the world will teach them not to. My words to live by for the summer.

I want my kids to have an awesome summer with plenty of good memories that they'll carry for the rest of their lives, but more than that, I want their time with me to prepare them to resist the ugly parts of our culture that they're eventually going to face.

Bring on the summer!