Sunday, January 27, 2013

Plotting It Out...

The Plot Thickens

While teaching my students about plot last week, I had the pleasure of helping them figure out what will happen to their character in their stories. 

Some students got it right away, while others struggled.

But it sure was fun when I could see that "light bulb" go off above their heads when they figured it out!

What's the big deal with plot?

Well, without it, a story lacks structure. If that's your intent, go for it!  But I believe most writers long to have a structure to their story that makes sense. 


Because that's how our Creator wrote His stories!

Joseph and His Dream Coat

I have been reading through Joseph's story in the Bible as inspiration for my second book in The Dragon Forest trilogy. 

In this story, we are given some exposition on Joseph...a "day in the life" of this young man. In this section, we discover that he isn't liked by his brothers very much. They hate and envy him! Uh oh. 

That sets up the "inciting incident" where a big event will happen to him that will forever change his life. From that one moment, his life will NEVER be the same again. 

Not all inciting incidents are negative. In the first Harry Potter book, Harry's "incident" was receiving an invitation to Hogwart's. That was a good thing!

In the film, Tootsie, the main character gets the acting job of a lifetime. That's also a good thing!

But, usually, the inciting incident in a story is an event of such huge proportions that the main character is forever changed. 

Forever Changed

For Joseph, the inciting incident that comes his way is that he is sold into slavery by his brothers because he tells them of a dream he had where they are bowing down to him. 

After that, bad things and good things happen to Joseph, but we see him as a changed man in the end. And that's what makes the story so wonderful!

My students struggled with what their inciting incident would be in their stories. Most writers do.

Here's some examples:

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is given the Ring. 

In Cast-away, Tom Hanks survives a horrible plane crash. 

In The Dragon Forest, Peter enters into the forest and meets the Dragon.

In Wall-E, the little robot's life is rudely interrupted by the landing of a strange spaceship.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss takes the place of her sister as Tribute in the games. 

As you can see, these incidents are life changing. When the character comes out, he or she will not be the same person as when they went in. 

Plotting It Out

So, as you ponder what to do with your character in your story, think about that one incident that will happen to them. How will it change them? For the better or for the worse? 

That's the fun part of writing! It's your world and you can be as creative as you want with your character. 

At the end of Joseph's story, he is reunited with the brothers who sold him into slavery. They see that Joseph is now a powerful leader in Egypt. And when they see him, they bow down to him just as he had dreamed.

The beginning meets the end. Joseph's dream came true, only he wasn't there to rule over them as they once thought. No, he was there to help them survive the famine. 

An excellent story that has good plot structure!

Have fun plotting out your story! Look to other works of fiction for their inciting incidents if you need inspiration. 

Your turn: how do you come up with your "inciting incident?"  Are you inspired by an existing story or real life experience?


Monday, January 21, 2013

Involved or Committed?

"Consider bacon and eggs. The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed."
-My Uncle Andy from Texas


It's so easy to be involved in things, especially as a Christian. I have been involved in many ministries through the years: Women's, Children's, Prison, Youth, etc.

But what got me about my Uncle's little saying was the word "committed". 

As Christians, we tend to want to be involved in so many things at church. Involved to help out, or to be around our friends, or to meet new friends. 

However, we are called to be committed. 


It was warm out yesterday in Phoenix. Warm in January is a good thing! We had bright sunny blue skies and nice pleasant cool air. So nice to sit and relax in such weather. 

But when you are running 26.2 miles in such warm weather, it's a whole different story!

To help with the warm temps, the marathon event planners had young men out along the path with hoses blasting the runners with a cool mist of water as we ran by. The icy water felt so good on our exposed skin as we ran through the mist. 

And the thirst for water! Oh, how thirsty I was at every water/Gatorade station! I knew I was on the verge of becoming dangerously dehydrated, so I forced myself to drink and I took salt capsules. The water tasted good and satisfied for a while...but then the thirst returned. 

I wanted to quit at mile 23. My body gave out. I had to sit down for a couple of minutes and PRAY hard for strength. I wanted to quit, but I didn't. The Lord heard my prayer and gave me strength. 

The guys spraying us with water were involved, but we runners were committed

See the difference? 

Jesus said:

“Whoever drinks of this (earthly)water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:13-14

God wants us to thirst for His righteousness as we thirst for water on a hot day. He wants us to feel the pain of commitment toward Him...the pain that makes us yearn to quit. The pain that makes one more step feel impossible!

And through Him we can continue. 

Through Him, we finish the race!


As this year begins, I prayed and asked the Lord to place me where He wants me to be in service to Him. I long to serve Him, but need to know where He wants me. So, I pray and then I wait for His answer. 

Tempted as it is to run ahead and hope to find Him there, I won't. I will wait. 

I will thirst for Him as I did for that water yesterday!

And I will pray about not just being involved, but committed to Him in every way.

Thank You, Lord. 

Your Turn: How are you involved in serving the Lord? How are you committed to Him? 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Courage to Continue

"But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison." Genesis 39:21

This week, I posted a quote in class for my students to contemplate. As I read it, I also took the time to really think about the meaning of the quotation:

"Success is not final; failure is not fatal. Courage to continue is what counts."  -Winston Churchill

In order to encourage critical thinking, I asked my students what this quote meant to them. They each came up with very thoughtful and astute answers. 

I was moved.

The Lord Was With Joseph...

This week I have been reading about Joseph's story in Genesis because his story greatly influenced my story in The Dragon Forest 2.

In my story, Peter, the protagonist, is innocently thrown in prison just as Joseph was. How he reacts to his situation will reveal much to the reader just as Joseph's reaction reveals much to us.

So many times we are thrust into a "prison" innocently, and other times we are thrown into a prison of our own making.

Either way, the Lord remembers his own. The Lord is with us in that prison.

Courage to Continue

But the message I received from Joseph's story goes along with Churchill's quote: Joseph had the courage to continue.

Do we?

Often times we reach that goal we've worked for ....then stop growing, reaching, or dreaming. We stop improving. Why? Complacency, I guess. That comfort zone is awfully comfy!

And other times we hit an obstacle. And we FREEZE in panic. We stop. We convince ourselves that failure is fatal. There is no recovery, we say to ourselves, and so we give up.

But what we glean from Joseph's story is that even though he was innocently imprisoned, the Lord was with him and he found favor in the sight of the jailer. The Lord gave him favor...


That's the message we can take away from Joseph's story and so many other stories of people who weathered the storm only to find God there with them...and the clear blue skies that come after the storm.

I know, that's a lot of metaphors, but if it helps us visualize the contrast between sin and glory, then so be it!

I hope you are as encouraged as I am just by reading the words in Genesis 39:21. The Lord was with him!

And He is there with you too. 

Have the courage to continue on, no matter what.



What is Theme in Writing?

What is Theme?

I began teaching my middle grade students about theme in writing this week.

As I spoke about writing, I wondered how many writers out there really know how to reveal the theme of their work to their readers.

So, what is theme?

It's the universal message or truth about life the writer wants to convey.

In the movie, Braveheart, we have the universal truths or messages of "We will not be owned" or "Freedom!"

In the book, The Hunger Games, we see the universal truths or messages of "Survive at all costs" "We will not be broken" "Stick it to the man!"

As you can see, in movies and in novels, there can be many themes weaved throughout like a thread in a tapestry.

How does a writer convey theme to his readers?

Why, through literary devices, that's how!

Feeling words
Tone of Voice

How your character speaks, reacts, moves, and thinks will reveal the theme of your work. 

In The Hunger Games, we had Katniss' inner monologue to guide us. We could read in her words the pain of living in fear, starvation, and pressure. 

The words you select will convey the theme to your readers, so choose wisely. 

Coming up with a theme can be tough, but not impossible...

First Things First

Most of my students want to begin writing their stories NOW because they love to write. However, I tell them they must first learn how to write before they begin. 

Developing the theme of your work first will help establish the tone and mood of your work.

Tone- the attitude of the writer revealed through the narrator (speaker) to the reader (listener).

 We can know Suzanne Collin's attitude toward government institutions and manipulations just by reading the words of her characters. 

Mood- the feeling the reader gets from reading the story. The atmosphere or the feeling of the piece. 

Most readers felt Katniss' pain after reading the first book in the series. We could feel her frustrations, angst, and fear. We could visualize the contrast between District 12 and The Capitol. 


All by the descriptive words the author selected. 

So, before you begin writing your story....think about what the theme is that you want to convey to your readers. 


Most readers want some sort of message, truth, or lesson from the book they are reading, whether it is "Love conquers all" or "Justice prevails" or "The murderer always returns to the scene of the crime" or "Never underestimate the power of a woman scorn!"

Let's face it, most readers read to escape the mundane. We want action, adventure, romance! Give it to us!

There are so many themes out there. If your're struggling to find one, sit back and think about the themes of your favorite movies. Why are they your favorites?  Probably because the themes relate to your life or personal worldview. 

In the end, your work has a chance to make an impact on someone's life. You have the chance to send a message or teach a lesson just through the words you select.

How fascinating is that?

That's what I love about writing. 

Your turn: How do you come up with a theme for your work?  Do you have a process or do you just wing it?


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Appreciate Your Life

Think About It...What Do You Appreciate?

On Monday, my boss announced to all of us in a meeting that one of our co-workers lost her husband to cancer last week after a long battle.

All of us stood in shocked silence. 

I thought of my co-worker and how she loved her husband. She called him her best friend.

I immediately thought of my husband and what we have together.

He is my best friend, too.

When I arrived at home, I made sure to hug him and tell him how much I love him.

I hate cancer.

I have lost so many friends to this disease and I have had many friends lose their loved ones to it.

Certificate of Appreciation

As a result of the news, I have spent much time this week appreciating what I have in my life. 

My husband. 
Our healthy son.
Our home.
Our life together. 
We laugh, a lot. 
We tease each other, a lot.

Of course, I asked God why. Why do so many people...young and old and every age in between...have to fight this terrible disease?

But I know the answer. 

 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."  Romans 8:28

All things work together for good...even death. 

So, how will you take the time to appreciate what you have this week? What words will you use to express that appreciation?

Life is short. 

Don't let it go by without appreciating it.