A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Friday, December 20, 2019

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is practically here! I hope your season has been at least as merry and bright as mine, so far. I’m still rejoicing over the release of Dronefall Three, which is now available in paperback as well. Doesn’t look like I’ll be having a white Christmas this year, but I suppose you can win them all, now, can you?

I’ve had a great year here on Stardrift Nights. I’ve broken my record for amount of posts in a year since I started. And I did my first ever series Writing for Christ. I hope to become even more active here come 2020. Watch me break the record again! 

I published three books this year. First my poetry collection Songs from the Small Hours, then Dronefall Two, Lightwaste, and finally Dronefall Three, Rainchill. I can see from my now slightly depressing post at the beginning of the year that I actually intended to finish the Dronefall series in 2019. Oops. But I’m actually glad I’m still working on it. And in January, I thought it was going to be a quintet. Ha! Now there are three more books on the horizon instead of two. And I’m happy about that.

 I didn’t quite make my ambitious reading goals, either, but I did get some good reading done this year. I checked off some of those classics I’ve been wanting to get to for a long time: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Ann Frank, The Great Gatsby…. I also tried some popular YA in the form of the very hyped Hunger Games Trilogy. (Yeah, I actually hadn’t read it until this year.) That wasn’t too bad. I should do a post reviewing that trilogy in the future. 

My favorite fiction of the year was definitely The Hound of the Baskervilles, by A. Conan Doyle. My favorite non-fiction…Creating Character Arcs by K. M. Weiland was great. I also really enjoyed Rocket Men by Craig Nelson which I read in honor of Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary this summer. 

The thing to remember when looking back on your New Years goals and resolutions is that priorities change over time…sometimes over a very short time, but certainly over the course of a year. I’m actually pretty pleased with how 2019 turned out. And I’m very excited to see what 2020 has in store.

So, have a ridiculously merry Christmas. Stare at your tree while drinking some peppermint hot chocolate with whipped cream as well as marshmallows. Go ahead and get that present you know they’ll be crazy about, even if it’s a little over the top. This is Christmas we’re talking here. Put up all the lights you can get your hands on—if half of them still work, you can still use it. Blast Trans-Siberian Orchestra, or whatever your preference may be and have some fun, because God sent his Son to restore joy to the world. Pass it on.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Rainchill Is Available on Kindle!

News at last! Today I got the email I’ve been anticipating literally since Spring—the email telling me Dronefall Three, Rainchill, is available to the reading public.

Now, it’s still just the ebook right now, the paperback will be fast on its heels. But for those of you who can’t wait you can go get the eBook right now. It’s 99c. And guess what? So are the first two books, so no matter what level you’ve attained in your Dronefall readership adventure, you have no reason not to jump in now and take advantage of the excitement. 

Guys, you have no idea how excited I am to be releasing Rainchill. I completed the first draft last year as my NaNoWriMo project, and I knew, even then that I had something uniquely thrilling to share. I know I keep saying this, but Rainchill is my favorite Dronefall book yet. I’m not saying it has to be yours, but I think you’ll be able to tell I had a great time writing this book, and I hope some of the enjoyment will catch.

Rainchill is a particularly suspenseful addition to the series. The Enclave finds themselves on the trail of their first killer robot—a monstrous mechanical hound with electric jaws. There are some twists and exciting reveals, and all while the tension between the church of 3.5 and the secret criminal underworld that protects them without their knowing continues to grow. I won’t give anything away! Just trust me, this one is worth the first two. When you hit Rainchill, you’re in.

So, run and get it. Give yourself an early Christmas present. Or, cozy up and start the series from book one. You’ll be snowed-in before you know it, and we all know that mean God is telling you to quit stressing and read books.

Get Book One, Dronefall.

Get Dronefall Two, Lightwaste.

GET DRONEFALL THREE, RAINCHILL! (sorry for yelling.)  

Monday, December 9, 2019

Making Scenes Immersive

Good immersive writing is nothing short of pure magic. To be able to conjure up bold tactile images and surround your reader with your story in stereo—that’s what takes good writing to an unforgettable level.

But how do you do it?

Details, Details. I know you get a lot of modern writing gurus warning against too many details. We have a lot of sparse, un-atmospheric, writing out there as a result of people taking them a little too literally. For the most part, you actually do want details in your writing. Details are important for characterization, building a setting, creating suspense, evoking emotions, foreshadowing and hinting, etc. Just be careful with your timing and try to incorporate them into your beats. Don’t be afraid of them. If they really do slow you down your story, you’ll probably be able to tell when you read through it. Only cut what actually needs cut.   

Remember who you are. That is, stay in your chosen point of view character’s mind. Staying focused with your point of view is a major help in keeping your reader in the scene. If you limit yourself to showing the things that your point of view character sees, feels, hears, and thinks, you’ll have a good start to knowing what details will actually help rather than harm the immersive quality of your story.

Keep moving. One thing to be aware of is long exchanges of dialogue without any action beats. I’ve found it’s a good general rule to not let your characters sit around and converse—that is, avoid the Counsel of Elrond. Even if you have a dialogue-based scene, try giving your characters something physical to do, even if it’s just walking down a street. I don’t really know why this works so well, but it does. My dialogue becomes much more natural and interesting if my characters are doing something—anything—besides just talking to each other’s faces.

Stay grounded. Don’t forget your setting at any point. Every scene happens in a very specific physical environment. It’s a certain time of day, in a particular place, with particular lighting and conditions. Keep your characters interacting with it. If it’s a hot day, this will affect what your characters do—how long they can keep running, how many times they pick up their water bottle, probably their tolerance for frustrating tasks. If it’s dark, remember they won’t be able to read subtle facial expressions. (I’ve definitely made this mistake.) These considerations will help your reader remember where they are, and stay there in their minds.

Those are my tips. Writing immersive scenes takes practice, and I’m still learning. But I hope you can improve your own writing by applying some of the tricks I’ve listed here.

Writing Challenge:
Find a scene in your current WIP that feels boring and flat. Take everything out but the basic action and the dialogue and re-write it. If there’s hardly any action, give your readers something to do. You could also experiment placing the same action in a completely different setting. Don’t hold back on details. You can trim them when you’re finished writing the scene. Compare the two scenes. Did it help?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

There are kind of a lot of things authors complain about. That’s understandable. Writing is hard. Editing is hard. Publishing is hard. Promotion is hard. Plots get tangled like those Christmas lights some of you have already gotten out. You get mediocre reviews, or bad reviews, or no reviews. You upload a cover and it ends up all shifted over to the bottom right and there’s an unexplained clipart anteater getting in the way of the title.

Writing is an overwhelming psychologically and emotionally demanding occupation. It’s easy to forget to stop freaking out over the latest plot-hole or formatting disaster and be thankful for how far you’ve come, sometimes.

If you write at all, you have something to thank God for. He gave you a passion, a talent, a mode of creative self-expression. It doesn’t matter if you’re amazing at it or get any recognition for it—you have a beautiful thing. You can paint pictures with words. That’s an art and a gift. Enjoy it, nourish it, and thank God for sharing part of his creative power with you. That’s no small thing.

I don’t introduce myself as an author. But people who interact with me enough times typically find out, eventually, that I’ve written and published several books. And they’re always excited to hear it. Unfortunately, being a bit of a Negative Nina, by the time they start asking me about it I’m already sort of shaking my head. Well, I’m really stuck right now. That new book was supposed to come out months ago. No, I just self-publish. Yeah, I’m pretty frustrated with the whole thing right now.

“Wait, you write books?”

Yeah. I write books. And that’s awesome. But I take it for granted. That’s kind of how things are. The amazing things in your life tend to get buried under all the piles of tedious, mundane, frustrating details. It’s easy to forget you’re triumphs and blessings and move right on to stressing over the next hurdle. If you write books, that’s not a little thing. That’s something that people put on their bucket-list and many never get the chance to do.

So, this Thanksgiving, stop and make yourself a list. An authorly gratitude list. Think about all the things you learned, the drafts that became whole new creatures through editing, the covers that turned out so satisfyingly evocative, the people who read your story and loved it. If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, you’ve probably hit some rough places. But God was faithful, and you lived. You grew. Great things happened.

Stopping to give thanks for the little things you have will quickly make you realize just how many and how big they actually are. Thankfulness in all areas of your life will reset your thinking and prepare you to take a leap of faith.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Rainchill Cover & Blurb Reveal

So, remember that, uh…thing that chased Halcyon for several grueling blocks at the end of Lightwaste? Well, you haven’t seen that last of it.

Dronefall Three, Rainchill is finally in the process of being released. I’ve hit several delays, as usual. I realize I keep telling people “It’s coming out this month,” and not making good on that promise. I’ve got many hundreds of thousands of words worth of novel manuscripts at this point in my career, but I’m still completely baffled by how some debuting indies actually release their books on an exact date which they tell the world a year in advance.

Actually, I don’t really know how anyone plans anything a year in advance.

But I will say now, you’ve got less than thirty days to wait for Rainchill. It’s coming! So, I think it’s about time I’ve released the back-cover blurb and the cover. Take a look:

The Official Rainchill Blurb:

Sometimes it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.

Halcyon Slavic’s brush with the hostility of mainstream society has left her scarred and wary. As the darkness of winter slowly lifts, she only wants to continue her drone-sniping in secret. But dark places are disappearing all over Budapest, and District Three Point Five can’t be spared. Soon, they’ll be under the same oppressive drone-grid Halcyon came to escape from.

In the midst of the stir, a monster of another kind emerges behind Three Point Five’s back. A canid robot takes the Enclave’s eyes from the sky to the streets. And before they can be certain what it’s come for, it’s made its first kill.

The drone-snipers are forced to face a new reality. Three Point Five is changing. Chaos lurks around every corner. The police won’t lend their aid. And the Christians are stalked by their most deadly threat to date: They’re called hellhounds.

Now, the cover isn’t actually the Official Final Cover, but this is more or less the design and the feel you’re going to get, probably plus a couple of small changes. But I couldn’t keep it a secret any longer, so here it is.

Rainchill is book three in the Dronefall series, and I’m excited to announce that, due to recent reconsiderations, it will be the third of six Dronefall books. Yes, I’ve been telling you five all this time, but as I write book four, I’m realizing that I’m going to need more room, so I’ve expanded. The Dronefall series is now plotted as a sextet.

I can tell you want hints about the content of Rainchill beyond what you’ve got. I’ll be cryptic, but I see no reason to keep any rumor-fodder from my theory-loving readers. Here are some whispers you may have heard:

·         Somebody ends up with a major injury

·         A couple of characters prove to have…complex loyalties

·         The first fatality of the series occurs

·         It becomes apparent that the dynamics between a certain two characters is going to be dangerous in the future….

Well, there you have it. There’s more to come on the subject of Rainchill, and the Dronefall series in general within the next several weeks before publication. Subscribe if you haven’t already!

  And also, if you’ve read any of the Dronefall books, or have any intention of doing so soon, I highly recommend you go here and sign up for my email list, and the free Guide to the World of Dronefall that comes with it. The guide is just my little attempt to help you get oriented in the rather complicated world where Dronefall takes place. There are a lot of forces in play, and the guide is a resource I created so that you can have all the facts in one place. It’s bound to enrich your reading experience.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Then Autumn Took Hold...

It always happens sometime around the end of August. I’ll be standing in the sun, smelling the new-mown grass, the sunscreen and the corn pollen and then suddenly…I recognize something in the slant of the sunlight. And in the middle of the close summer heat, something deep inside me whispers, “Oh boy, here it comes.”

And the mercury rises and falls and rises again, but there’s no stopping it. Fall is coming. For me, it’s one of the things that makes the merry-go-round of the year all worth it.

So, the equinox was on Monday. Specifically, it was at 3:50 am Eastern Daylight Time. That means the sun crossed the celestial equator and day and night were of equal length. Closer to home, it means my favorite season is officially underway, the leaves are allowed to start changing now, the air should get cool and crisp and start to smell like woodsmoke and spices and wet forest floor. And suddenly I feel like I’m ready to take on the world.

I don’t know the science behind that last seasonal change, but I don’t seem to be alone in the sentiment. Fall seems to be a favorite among creative types, particularly. I’ve got all kinds of plans to look forward to. Here’s an abbreviated to-do list:

·         PUBLISH RAINCHILL ALREADY!!! This is a requirement.

·         Finish writing Nightstare. This might be my NaNoWriMo goal.

·         Lay out the main events for the rest of the Dronefall series

·         Blog regularly (ehem.)

·         Write some short stories

·         Write some poetry

·         Work more on plot and character development, improve my craft, etc.

That’s just for my writing-life. I have other goals too. Like restarting the exercise regimen I dropped for no reason in June, and focusing more on my art, and my woodburning, and finishing recording that Irish tin-whistle CD, and planting bulbs, and GOING ON VACATION. It all sounds fun to me.

I sincerely hope everyone reading this is looking forward to Fall as much as I am. Set some exciting goals for yourself today and get to work on them. And then go outside and look around for the magical thing that’s starting to happen out there.   

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Christian Speculative Writers: Your Mission Matters

Don’t underestimate the power of this genre group. You probably do. I did. I have to admit that even though I am a diehard speculative lover not to mention an almost strictly speculative author, I only recently realized why it was so important.

Fantasy, science fiction, and futuristic genres are still somewhat neglected in the Christian market. The vast majority of modern Christian fiction still falls under “women’s fiction.” I feel like I probably rant about this all the time, so I won’t go into it again. All I’m going to say is that God created us with vast imaginative powers, and they were never meant to be limited to creating the love-interests of our dreams and stopping there. We’re made for so much more.

I don’t think it’s any accident that some of the most powerful and popular books and series of all time have been speculative fiction. The stories that draw masses of people tend to be the ones that expand our world to new horizons. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia…there is a reason those fandoms are huge. People are magnetized by the idea of worlds beyond what we know.

I think there may be a little resistance in some Christian writers and readers toward getting too creative with our fictional worlds. This is natural. It can be uncomfortable mixing the deepest truth in the universe with our own imagined realities. And yes, this is a unique challenge of Christian speculative fiction. But it certainly isn’t an insurmountable one. It is possible to create an entirely different world from what we know that doesn’t contradict any element of truth. But it takes and author with God-given wisdom and creative stamina to accomplish it.

If you think you’ve got what it takes, maybe you’d better start writing. Because Christian spec-fic is important. Here’s why:

Society has a lot of lies it’s really fond of, if you haven’t noticed. Once of these is the idea that God is small. They want to make him like all the other gods. One of many. There’s one here, one there, a different one on this island, another in that village. But the Judeo-Christian God was never and is not a local deity. They also keep saying that we’re going to grow out of him. They’ve been asserting that for a rather long time. But he’s not a god of the past. No matter how drastically the world evolves—flying cars, laser weapons, interstellar travel, nuclear war, come what may—he’ll still be the same God as he was when he hovered over the waters.

So, what does this have to do with spec-fic? Everything. This is the underlying implication in all Christian speculative fiction. You may be in a galaxy far, far away. He’d be there, and he’d be the same. You could be in another world, where reality only vaguely paralleled ours, where society was unrecognizable, where fantastic beasts roamed free under any number of moons or suns and the truth of Christianity would still be the truth. Everything can change, but God remains the same. He has no reason to adapt.

We know this for a fact. Christianity can be perfectly compatible with realities beyond your wildest imagination. A hundred years ago, our daily life would have been science-fiction. A thousand years ago, it would have been fantasy. Rome thought Christianity was a passing craze. Rome fell, and here we are, fifty years after landing on the moon.

Society thinks surely if the world as we knew it was turned upside-down, the illusion of Christian truth would dissolve. But looking at history, we know better. Our God is not just god of the mountain, or god of the temple—he’s god of the universe. He’s God of all possibility. If there turned out to be a multiverse, he’d be God of that, too.

And that’s what we, as Christian speculative writers, acknowledge. So, use that fantastic imagination of yours. Explore the far reaches of possibility. God is not small and truth is not fragile. Your sweeping speculative epics can proclaim just that. That’s the amazing mission of Christian speculative fiction. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Writing for Christ: The Content Question

I’ve got to admit it. I really just write what I want to write. There’s a lot of discussion out there about exactly where Christian authors should draw the line in content. There’s a lot of disagreement. I’m not going to give you a do/don’t list for this. Instead, I wanted to focus on the attitudes and reasons we include some things and omit others.

I don’t think there’s a clear-cut universal answer to this question. So much depends on presentation and context and how well the author can pull it off. But most of all, your reasons for writing certain things into your story is what makes the difference. Here’s where I try not to call it on other authors I read, but sometimes, as a reader, it feels distinctly like the author is just trying to shock, or imitate some popular author’s style, or make their writing “more relevant.”

I think most authors, even non-Christian authors, agree that when it comes to content, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. A lot of readers don’t appreciate graphic gore and gratuitous slashing throughout their reading material. Most humans have a certain threshold for witnessing violence, which is a good thing and should be respected. Pushing this threshold too much is just going to contribute to the amount of trauma and desensitization in the world, which I don’t think is something authors should be doing.

Apparently, a lot of authors, even YA authors, have a little trouble knowing when to stop on sexual content. This is something I don’t expect to see at all in Christian fiction—but it still happens. Why, people? There are certain things that basically never contribute anything to the story, and nobody should ever have to watch. So, can we not? (This is part of the reason I don’t read romance. The other reason is because I find them exceedingly boring and predictable.)
Swearing is one of the items on my personal Rather Long List of Things That Are Stupid and Unnecessary. It isn’t that I haven’t heard every possible variation of the F word in real life. I have. And I still think it’s obnoxious and rude. And I tend to expect a certain amount of swearing from secular media. But I have slightly higher standards for Christian writing. Use profanity in your Christian novel and you’ll earn an instant eye-roll from me. Why? Because you don’t need it and you know it. It is not hard to exclude, and contrary to what some might try to tell you, you will never hurt your art by leaving it out. Do it right, and nobody will ever miss it.

But I’ve ranted enough. Let’s get to the bullet-points.

·         Let’s face it, it’s your story, you alone control the content. Don’t let yourself make the excuse that you story, your characters, or your genre force you to write certain things. You literally have control over every letter that goes into your book. It’s a whole universe at your command. You can manipulate every detail to your liking. You never have to write anything that goes against your conscience. You’re a creative genius, you can find a skillful way to avoid it, and make your book even better by doing so.  
·         You have your own mission. Imitating some other author will never win readers’ favor. If you think you need to include certain things in order to write a masterpiece “in the tradition of” some big-name author, you’re missing the point. God made you unique, and your writing should reflect that. Be true to yourself in your art.
·         You are not restricted by the same constraints as a non-Christian author. Something that I think we de-emphasize too often is that Christians are actually freer than the average Joe. We get to write clean fiction. We are not under the pressure that mainstream authors are. No Christian should ever have to write profanity compulsively. You do what you want. Your audience is going to root for you. He’s not going to one-star your efforts to do what’s right. He’s cool like that.
·         Here’s a mental trick: Think about this. For every gross detail you choose to include in your fiction, there is some better author writing deeper, cooler, more popular books who didn’t include that. Clean content is an advantage. If you forgo it, you’re denying yourself that advantage. Do you really want to do that?
The fact is, your book will never please everybody. There will be people getting offended by the tiniest thing on one hand and people calling you cheesy for not including offensive content on the other. That’s how people are. So, don’t focus on pleasing people. That will be depressing. Focus on pleasing God. If you wouldn’t write it with Jesus looking over your shoulder, don’t write it.
Because, don’t look now, but he’s watching.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Writing for Christ: Writing a Variety of Christian Characters

I won’t judge people who accidentally make their Christian characters too homogenous too harshly. I see why it happens. But because of my upbringing and experience, I wouldn’t excuse myself so quickly. I spent the first 20 years of my life attending a Presbyterian church—but before you assume anything, know that the pastor is markedly conservative and has heavy Lutheran influence. But you should also know that my grandpa was a Pentecostal preacher at a “non-denominational” church down the road. He was descended from a line of tent-revivalists but also differed from some Pentecostals on some points.

What’s more, my family is musical, so we’ve crashed church services all around the area to give musical programs and lead worship. My sister has worked for Methodist and Baptist churches as a pianist. I’ve been to Catholic masses at monasteries and to quiet Lutheran Christmas services and Loud Mega-Churches with lightshows. I’ve even been to a Seventh Day Adventist church where the potlucks are especially special. There was also a church where people uh…fell over randomly. Yeah.

For a while my family regularly attended a tiny Methodist church in the middle of nowhere with a woman pastor. Now we attend a Missionary church, but I don’t really consider myself any particular denomination. I have my intricacies, of course, but I prefer “Christian.”

Even within a single unified congregation, people vary spiritually. They vary doctrinally. They have different priorities in their relationship with God. Don’t forget this when you create Christian characters for your stories.

Here are some helps to add variety:

·         Think about your friends. Oops. Authors don’t have friends. I mean, think about your casual acquaintances and the people you hide from when you see them in the grocery store. You can’t go wrong basing the attitudes and beliefs of your characters on those of real people. Does everyone you know agree with every detail of your own faith? Do they have the same standards? I bet they don’t. The people I hide from in the grocery store certainly don’t.

·         Visit other churches. I don’t know how normal it is to have been to so many different churches. I’ve had some unique opportunities. But I advise you to visit some other churches near you and get a feel for the kind of variety that exists even within denominations. Did you know some Catholics raise their hands and sing contemporary praise songs? It’s true. You’ll find there are churches with huge youth programs and others just miles away that apparently have no members under 50. Different churches attract different types. Size also has a major effect on the character of an individual church and the people you find there. (Or is it the other way around?) Ironically, as an introvert, I prefer larger churches. I’m not sure if this is universal or not.

·         Research denominations. If you’re going to place a character within a specific denomination, definitely research that denomination. You should research denominations anyway, just so you know. Denomination is going to affect your character’s views on how churches should be organized, evangelism style, predestination and freewill, end times, how they pray, and sometimes even how they dress or wear their hair.

·         Consider regional differences. Honestly, I don’t even know as much about this as I probably should. I know churches in the southern US are different than they tend to be in the north. Differences are sure to be even bigger when you start crossing national borders. Some Catholics in Mexico are…really different. Your characters are going to be influenced by their culture and location as well as the specifics of their denomination and their individual church.


·         Consider outside factors of culture and upbringing. Christian characters are going to be partly formed by their family life and education. Was your character raised Christian? Did their parents help or hinder their spiritual growth? Did they go to a Christian school? Public school? Were they homeschooled? Were their experiences positive or negative? How well do they know the Bible? Christian history? How informed are they on current events? Was their faith always affirmed or respected, or were they bullied or persecuted for it? All these things can affect your character’s worldview.

·         Don’t forget time-period. If you’re writing historical fiction, make sure you study out your time-period. Check your bible-translations to avoid anachronisms. Find out how Christians responded to the culture and current-events of the time, and decide where your specific characters stand on different issues. And when your 1834 character begins to pray, don’t, under any circumstances, allow them to start out like, “Lord, we just….” Try something along the lines of “Gracious and eternal God….” There’s no “just.”

Quick rabbit-trail: The profuse overuse of the word “just” while praying out loud is a very contemporary idiosyncrasy. It’s a vocalized pause akin to saying “like.” In fact, you can swap “just” out with “like” and you’ll find it serves the exact same function. That is, adding nothing.

Also, if you’re writing futuristic fiction, realize that while some odd individuals may still insist on using ye olde King James Version, you’re probably going to have most of your characters reading translations that don’t exist yet. Have fun.

·         Avoid focusing on divisive issues. You might be very passionate about infant baptism or Calvinism or head-coverings. You might be able to write a whole persuasive essay on your views on these things, but think twice before you give them the spotlight in your novel. Not only are you guaranteed to alienate a large percentage of your readers, but you’re also cheapening your story and turning it into an excuse to make a point about an issue. These things might be linked to deeper issues, but in themselves, they are pretty shallow. Give yourself some strong themes and explore them instead. Your readers will like you better, and you’ll probably like yourself better in the end, too.

·         Use differences to highlight Jesus and who we know he is. Rather than staging battles between different minor Christian beliefs, Christian fiction gives you the opportunity to show God’s goodness through the eyes of different characters in different situations who probably don’t agree on every point. Admittedly, some beliefs are wrong. Nobody is going to have it all figured out. But you as a Christian author have the opportunity to reconcile your characters’ differences and point to the deeper truth that we share.

Not all of your characters should be carbon copies of you as far as their outlook and world view. Variation will make them more believable and more interesting. You’ll find it isn’t actually that hard to incorporate more variety if you simply take the time to stop and give it some thought. (And you’re probably already addicted to obsessing over character details anyway, so might as well.)

Have you ever noticed the “just” thing?

Coming up next, my two cents on the content controversy. What should we write in? What should we leave out?

Friday, June 7, 2019

Writing for Christ: Writing Non-Christian Characters

My series on writing Christian fiction continues today with a very important and too often neglected subject. We’re here to discuss the non-Christian characters that appear in the stories we write. If you write enough books and stories, some time or anther you’re going to want to include a character who is a non-believer. You should, actually. It will grow you as a writer and as a Christian.
Something extremely important to remember is that you absolutely must respect you character. This can be hard with a character that disagrees with the most important thing in your life, I know. But I can tell when an author, screenplay-writer, or even an actor doesn’t respect their character. The result is painful. The character becomes a flat, burlesqued caricature devoid of life and dignity that only exists so to be a scapegoat for all the artist’s bile against certain viewpoints, characteristics, and ideas. They are never fully realized as a character.
No matter how much you disagree with a character’s religious views, you have to find some way to respect them in spite of it. Think about real people in your life. You probably know some real people who are strongly non-Christian. Maybe some of those people are actually pretty awful and you can’t find it in you to respect them. (Actually, you’re called to take it a step further and love them, but that’s another discussion.)
We’ll set those really nasty people aside for a second and consider the nice atheist next door that cuts tulips from her garden for you every April or May. What about your hilarious uncle who quit going to church before you were born? The genius doctor who’s looking for answers in all the wrong places? You do respect these people, don’t you?
Yeah, you do. You probably even love them. That’s because they’re real to you. They’re not just a set of beliefs you disagree with. They’re unique humans that God created. To create truly powerful fiction, all your characters need to be this real. It’s only fair.
So here are my tips for respecting your non-Christian characters.
Things to avoid:
  • Not giving them a conscience. God instilled a sense of right and wrong even in those who don’t know where it came from. Atheism does not automatically make you a psychopath. If you let your non-Christian character kill anybody they don’t like just because they don’t believe in God, you’re creating a strawman and sapping the credibility from your whole story. There are ways that Christianity clarifies morality where common-sense—or what society thinks is common-sense—can’t so well. I found this out in a secular ethics class during college. But nobody is going to go around killing people simply because they aren’t Christian enough to feel bad about it. Don’t be ridiculous.

  • Letting them be too easily challenged. Other points of view also have very strong faith in what they think is true. And there is a ton of authority behind the atheist POV. I’ve read a lot of atheist writers and they are very convinced of what they believe. Please, please don’t let some scrub-faced Bob-Joneser freshman stand up in Philosophy 101 and launch into a debate with his nine-PhD-toting atheist professor and stun him to silence with challenging questions. That’s not going to happen. You’re not going to argue the average atheist on the street into questioning their faith in one encounter. Don’t let anything crazier happen in your fiction.  

  • Having another character preach at them. Similarly, this is going to be ineffective and painful to read. You might have a truly watertight argument for a point you would love to make to an atheist, but I would highly recommend that you don’t use it. Okay, do what you want at Thanksgiving, but don’t use your fiction as wish-fulfilment. It’s going to seem fake, and your atheist character probably isn’t going to listen. (Neither is your hilarious uncle, but that’s none of my business.)

Things to remember:
  • You’re not required to convert every non-believing character. I know this is hard. Particularly if you actually ended up really liking said character. (In which case, congratulations. You’re doing great.) But if you can’t fit it into your plot, don’t force it. You could add something to suggest there is hope for this character in the future, if you want to send that message, but you don’t have to cram a whole conversion process into a story that isn’t built for it. 

  • Find a way to identify with them. If you can find a way to identify with a character, you’re well on your way to creating a character you can respect. Anytime you have a character that is different from you in some drastic way, try to find one thing about them that you understand. You can use it as a key to open up all the inner workings of their character, and it’s sure to add a note of realism.

  • They might wish there was no religion to separate them from their Christian friends. Many atheists see religion as something that divides humanity and turns it against itself. Sometimes they’re not going to feel like arguing. Chances are, they have some Christian friends that they really like and wish there wasn’t tension between them.  

  • They’re going to need a substitute for God. Bob Dylan was right about having to serve somebody. Or something. People have to have something to live for, or at least be in search of something to live for. Without God, people will build idols. Money, success, security, entertainment, the “good life.” It can even be something positive like family, or justice, or love. It’s not the thing itself that is the problem so much as the positioning of it. Sooner or later, all idols disappoint.

I hope this gets you brainstorming on how to craft believable non-Christian characters that will strengthen your story. Maybe all this was obvious to you, but maybe not. Just remember, all your characters need to be depicted as real people. All your characters need to be given a fair chance and to operate by a logic that is internally consistent. All your characters will benefit from you viewing them compassionately and respectfully. It might not be easy with some, but it will pay off.

Your thoughts? Have you written any non-Christian characters? Have you ever stood up in Philosophy 101 and stunned your professor to silence with challenging questions?

Stay tuned for the next post in which we’ll talk about how to add variety to the types of Christian characters in your book. After all, not all Christians are the same.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Writing for Christ: Including the Gospel

We now continue with our series on writing Christian fiction. Welcome back. I hope you got something out of the first post. This post is about how and when to insert the whole Gospel into a story. As we’ll see, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it, and there are times when it isn’t even the best thing for your book.

I think there’s some debate about the role of Christian authors. Actually, there’s some debate about the role of Christians, period. There’s a camp that seems to assume that the singular goal of everything a Christian does is to win souls. Evangelism is the ultimate calling for everyone. I don’t want to stomp on anyone’s toes but I would like to suggest that this might not actually be the case.

Hear me out. Evangelism is extremely important and I do believe everyone should live a life that points to God and be ready to evangelize should the opportunity arise, but that isn’t our only calling as Christians and certainly not as Christian authors. I think our calling can be identified more accurately than that, with more general and less constricting terms.

I think we’re called to glorify God through our art.

This can manifest itself in different ways. Sometimes we are simply called to create beauty and wonder in a world that abhors beauty. Sometimes we’re called to encourage and empower fellow believers. Sometimes we’re called to challenge and expose lies that have crept in amongst us. And, yes, sometimes we’re called to evangelize.

But how be we do this without turning a story and a work of nuanced art into a cheap throwaway tract, boring to Christians and meaningless to non-Christians? It’s all about putting the story first.

·         Have a character demonstrate the love of God. God is love. Honestly, one of the best ways to have Christ show up in your story is to let him shine through a character’s actions. Rather than forcing a character to tell another character that God loves them, have that character, driven by the love of God inside them, actively demonstrate that love to them. (Preferably in a way that moves the story.) Remember, action speaks a lot louder than dialogue, particularly in fiction.

·         Have a character do something that makes no sense without the hope of the Gospel. People who have the Gospel written on their souls are going to behave differently. They are willing to sacrifice in order to let God’s truth show through them. You can use a character’s decisions as an illustration of the Gospel message. But resist the urge to spend much time preaching about it after the fact. Your readers aren’t stupid. They can piece it together themselves. Trust them to see if they have eyes to see.

·         Have a character tell their own story as a testimony. Okay, Bad Kid is doing Bad Things and is headed down a Bad Road. Enter Wise Older Fellow Who’s Been There stage right. Wise Older Fellow Who’s Been There grabs Bad Kid’s collar. “Now, Sonny, let me tell you a little story about me when I was your age.” Okay, STOP. Not that way. It’s cliché and painful to read. You’re preaching directly at the reader at this point, whether you mean to or not. Instead, incorporate the other character’s past, not as a sermonette, but a bit at a time, illustrating your theme and developing this Wise Older Fellow at the same time. Let the testimony come as a biproduct.

·         Use the suffering of one character to bring light to the other. Don’t be afraid to let a character represent Christ in a way that’s this explicit. They don’t have to be Aslan or any literal Christ figure to do it. Sacrifice for love and truth is a very compelling plot device and can tell the Gospel story in a much more memorable and high-impact way than some character sitting down with another character over coffee and spelling the whole thing out in words.

·         Use the plan of salvation, but have the character only come to accept it gradually. If you really feel led to do the whole Romans Road thing word-for-word in the middle of your story somewhere, okay. But realize that you have effectively stopped the action and are interrupting the flow of your story with what could amount to a commercial break trying to sell the reader Christianity. But maybe you have a character who would probably do it that way, and they are in a situation where they likely would. Alright then, but beware the flash conversion. Most people need a lot more than just hearing it said to turn their whole life around and start believing it.

Another ugly truth you might want to keep in mind while writing evangelistic fiction is this: honestly, non-Christian readers aren’t likely to give Christian fiction the time of day. There’s a good chance that if you write Christian fiction, the vast majority of your audience is already Christian.

This does not mean that your art can’t potentially change your reader’s life. If you dedicate your work to him, God will use it. And even if your novel isn’t what ultimately turns a non-believer into a believer, it still is a powerful thing. The world is full of Christians who feel alone, unseen, and discouraged. Writing Christian fiction is a great way to reach out to them and lift their spirits. Novel-writing might not be the best tool for evangelism, but it can be exactly the right one for many other things equally valuable to God’s work in the world.

So, I would ultimately advise you not to try to make your novel a 113,000-word evangelism tract. Don’t feel pressured to spell everything out word-for-word. Let the Bible do that. Instead, find ways to artistically deliver the Truth and tell a great story.

Think of some novels that really spoke to you, as a Christian. Why did you appreciate them so much? Did they present the whole Gospel? How?

Coming up next, we’ll talk about writing non-Christian characters. I think it’s easy to put too little thought into these characters, and damage our stories by botching them. So, keep your eyes open for the next post.   

Friday, May 31, 2019

Writing for Christ: Avoiding the Instant Conversion

Welcome to the first post of this series on writing Christian fiction. Brew a cup of tea, open the window to hear the birds outside, and we can get started on today’s subject: how to avoid forcing a character to go from nonbeliever to believer in some abrupt unnatural way. If you’re like me, you want to make a conversion into a strong satisfying character arc, not a quick fix that no one will believe.

Compared to real life, novels are highly concentrated. Characters are expected to change somehow over the course of the story. We love character arcs. In Christian fiction, character change is often even more emphasized. Back in the day, Christian novels almost always had a conversion scene. It was about as expected as the kiss on the last page of a romance novel. (Do you ever just start flipping to the last pages of a bunch of romance novels in succession? So gross.)

Coming to Christ is a lot like falling in love. We all hate the insta-love trope. We hate it because it feels rushed and fake. Because it basically never happens that way in real life. Falling in love is a massively life-changing process, coming to Christ, even more so.
What are some ways to make the transition realistic and satisfying in fiction?

·         Character was raised Christian, but drifted. In this case, the character actually already has some foundation on which to build their relationship. Admittedly, something was a bit off about the relationship in the past. The character probably let a lie come between them and Christ. They need to overcome that lie over the course of the story to come back to him. And look! You’re already getting set up with a character arc.

·         Character is a seeker who’s been on the edge of Christianity for a long time. Once again, in this case, your character is at a starting point. They’ve already started learning the truth, whether or not the accept it yet. They might not realize it, but a character in this position is already in the process of reevaluating their world-view and is ready for a paradigm-shift.

·         Character becomes desperate for divine intervention. This makes for a much more dramatic story than the first two and should be handled carefully to keep it from being too melodramatic. Under these circumstances, your character is in dire straits and they’re hoping for a miracle. This miracle can come in many forms, according to the theme of your story and the specifics of the situation, but in any case, God shows up in an intense and earth-shattering way. Beware that there’s probably going to be a lot of moral and emotional mopping-up to do in this wake of this, and don’t end the book too fast with “happily ever after.”

·         Character has some ulterior motive, but later realizes it’s real. I don’t know why I keep having to equate this topic with romance, but this is basically the fake boyfriend trope. For whatever reason, your character is going along with a religious façade, trying to look like a good person, please somebody, whatever. Maybe they’re an organ virtuoso down on their luck. But they find themselves drawn to Christ in ways they don’t want to acknowledge at first. Eventually they find themselves in a situation where they have to ask themselves if it’s real.

·         Series! Obviously, if there’s the danger of rushing a character arc, considering stretching it out over a series is always an option. This opens up plenty of opportunity to get into the details of a complete change of world-view. Now you have time to explore the struggles of being a new Christian. That’s an important topic that the world needs to see, so if you feel called this way, go for it. Writing a series can be great fun. You’ll learn so much about your characters that you never would have known otherwise.
You may or may not want to include a conversion in you book. Think about the story you want to tell, and the theme you want to highlight. We live in a different age of Christian art—one with more freedom to think outside the box and tackle new issues. If your story feels too rushed or unrealistic, try experimenting with the above variations. If your story feels stale and predictable, maybe God wants you to tell a different one. There are many deep and thematically rich events in the Christian life besides conversion. Don’t feel pressured to build your story around that if your creative energy doesn’t naturally take you there.
Coming up next, in a similar vein, we’ll be talking about how and whether to lay out the whole plan of salvation in your novel. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Introducing Writing for Christ

Okay, guys. I’ve got a blog series in store for you. I’ve outlined eight posts on topics I think every Christian fiction writer will find useful. All the topics respond to issues I commonly find in Christian fiction—and hear other readers complaining about. I’d be delighted if you would join me for the next however many weeks this ends up taking us, to get a fresh look at our call as Christian fiction writers.

I’ve designed each post to minimize musing and fluff and maximize new material and practical advice to think outside the box and actually improve your fiction over the course of the series. There will be bullet-points, I promise.

The topics we’ll cover range from the usual things like the challenges of keeping content clean and making your book a story, not a sermon, to things we discuss less often like how to fairly and accurately represent non-Christian characters and remembering the pastors and clerical figures can be complete acting characters too. We’ll talk about showing conversion and character-change realistically and if and how the full Gospel should be spelled out in the book. I’ve done a lot of exploring on these topics and am eager to share my findings with you.

So, you might want to subscribe if you haven’t yet. And also, I would love to get some feedback and discussion going during this series. I’m sure these are topics you’ve considered and have plenty of insight of your own to share. Your questions and comments would add a great deal of value to the whole experience for everybody. Feel free to talk back.

Who’s in?