As writers, words are our swords and pain is the process that tempers those instruments. Death, divorce, disease, job loss—with the crises we face mounting on a daily basis, we may sink into an egocentric realm of despair where we can’t write, can’t ideate. But through these stressful circumstances, God challenges and molds us. And when we endure, we can mine our experiences to commiserate with hurting readers.
Lori Z. Scott
Story Embers Staff Writer
Elementary school teacher Lori Z. Scott usually writes fiction because, like an atom, she makes up everything. Her down time is filled with two quirky habits: chronic doodling and inventing lame jokes. Neither one impresses her principal (or friends/parents/casual strangers), but they do help inspire her writing. Somehow her odd musings led her to accidentally write the 10-book best-selling Meghan Rose series and purposely write more than 150 short stories, articles, essays, poems, and devotions. In addition, Lori contributed to over a dozen books, mostly so she would have an excuse to give people for not folding her laundry. (Hey! Busy writer here!) As a speaker, she’s visited several conferences and elementary schools to share her writing journey. Some of Lori’s favorite things include ice cream, fuzzy socks, Batman, Star Trek, Star Wars, books, and hugs from students. Guess which one is her favorite?
Every story consists of tiny, pixel-like decisions that either make the big picture clear and vivid or fuzzy and muted. Whether you’re placing punctuation or determining which character’s voice should narrate a scene, each judgment call will affect readers’ enjoyment. Oftentimes, the difference between clunky and compelling text is a pair of scissors, and the acronym P.R.O.S.E. can help you recognize what to trim.
At conferences, in critique groups, and during meetups, I’ve talked to writers in all stages of their careers who struggle with social media paralysis. “Why can’t I just write?” they ask. “Won’t good books attract readers?” Although people will buy books without social media exposure, your chances of making sales and reaching a broad audience will be higher if you use it. But, if this digital platform is so beneficial, why does it put writers on edge? My guess is that you’ve wrestled with at least one (if not all!) of the three worries I’m going to describe, so roll up your sleeves and prepare to tackle each one with confidence.
As we stumble along in Jesus’s footsteps, we want the stories we craft to be a source of light to our broken and chaotic world. But we don’t own a corner on the lane of creativity. We share the space with hundreds of other authors, many of whom have different beliefs yet still sprinkle wisdom into their work. The general market holds many treasures in the children’s book category, inspiring young people to appreciate diversity, treat others with kindness, and develop strong values like truthfulness and responsibility.
Offensive line coaches in football think strategically. While they may love a quick score, they don’t expect a touchdown without a fight. Instead, they develop a series of plays with a singular goal: to advance the ball up the field. Football is a game of inches, and if each part of the plan is executed correctly, the ball should cross into the end zone. When writers craft stories, they also must think strategically. From brief encounters to full-scale scenes, the characters need to act and react in a manner that pushes the plot toward a specific outcome.
“Help you, I will.” As soon as you read those words, I bet an image of Yoda from Star Wars popped into your head. Every writer hopes that their characters’ voices will be just as unique and unforgettable. When characters lack recognizable verbal tics, conversations may flow together and confuse readers, especially if dialogue tags are scarce. In contrast, a distinct voice can be identified without any attribution at all. But when you’re balancing a wide assortment of characters, how do you make all of them sound different?
A few summers ago, I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Every little detail—the buildings, layout, animatronics, costumes, food, and music—whispered authenticity. As I explored, I got swept up in the magic and thrill of discovery. If I hadn’t known better, I would have believed that Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade actually existed, even if only on another plane that my muggle eyes couldn’t see. I wanted my surroundings to be real, so I embraced the playacting, which made the whole experience even more enjoyable.
My son is a skilled storyteller. He has notebooks and online files bursting with magic and mystery. When he visits, I often sit like a child at his feet and beg him to read his latest chapter. He always indulges me, settling into his deep narrator voice. When he stops, I pry him for sneak peeks at what’s ahead because, like a soap opera, I long for the next part of the adventure.
One of the downloadable worksheets here at Story Embers defines theme as “the broad moral topic or idea that your story addresses.” In general, you should be able to capture it with a single word, such as love, peace, kindness, courage, gratitude, or hope. If your manuscript is crafted well, anyone who picks it up will find clues in the title, word choices, plot, and symbolism to help them recognize the underlying meaning. But developing a relevant theme can be intimidating. How do you weave it into your novel in a way that’s both natural and impactful?
Action scenes strap readers in for a thrilling ride—or at least that’s what they’re supposed to do. Every millisecond must be engaging and accurately portray what’s happening. If the action crawls, it loses its impact or, worse, readers’ interest. And if the action hits light speed, readers crave more details, similar to the dissatisfaction of eating a fun-size piece of chocolate instead of a whole candy bar.