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.
Shortly after I graduated from high school, I decided to watch a horror film for the first time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, because I’d never been a fan of scenes designed to startle the audience, and the prospect of demonic activity layered onto suspense intimidated me. My gut urged me to discount the horror genre as unfit for conscientious Christians, but I knew I needed to experience it at least once to evaluate it fairly. So I went to see The Conjuring 2 with my best friend.
Somewhere along the road, every fiction writer will be asked to participate in a critique. It’s practically a guarantee. Whether you’re new to critiquing or are already teamed up with an epic partner (who should probably read this article too), you should aim to provide the best feedback possible. This can help you grasp facets of the craft that you couldn’t before. Aiding and encouraging others also builds relationships.
You’re curled up in a comfy chair, happily reading, when a male character murmurs, “Oh Sally, you’re so beautiful. The thought of another day without you makes my sun go dark and the stars burn out in despair.” Or a supposedly sweet and docile female remarks, “Our neighbor sure has a sick truck. I’d like to trick my ride out like that.”
Some Christian writers believe that their characters should sprout wings—or at least tote a halo throughout the book. Others, taking the negative approach, think their characters should be devils who transform into angels (undoubtedly due to a five-minute conversation in which the understanding of spiritual realities is suddenly knocked into them). If our characters resided in heaven, this stance would be acceptable—but they don’t, and it’s about time we pushed them off the cliff into reality.
For thousands of years, audiences have been enamored with stories of heroes going on quests to save the world. From Robin Hood to Luke Skywalker to Wonder Woman, the trope’s variations are endless. But recently a new trend has taken over fiction and film. The traditional hero has been replaced with a more relatable “hero” who’s afflicted with as many flaws and vices as he is virtues (sometimes more). Instead of Saint George slaying the dragon, we encounter characters like the Punisher, a tortured man who murders bad guys in the name of justice.
The trouble with Christian writers today is that, instead of leaving everything behind as Matthew did, we sometimes stay huddled in our own little booths, waiting for excitement to tap on our windows. But not only does this mentality ignore Christ’s greatest commandment (“go into all the world”), it also stunts our growth. Only interesting people can craft interesting books. And being an interesting person requires one crucial element: adventure.
Writers are liars. We spend hours trying to make imaginary people and places seem realistic enough that the line between fact and fiction blurs inside readers’ heads. We want the sensory details to be so tangible that they can see, hear, and feel everything the characters experience. But readers aren’t the only parties we need to convince. Our characters should be tangled up in the deception too.
After I finished the draft of my first full-length novel, I eagerly sent a copy to a friend for feedback. Much to my dismay, she flagged one of the most important scenes: an argument between two of the protagonists. She said it seemed out of character for both of them, and I had to agree. They lacked a reason to be emotionally invested. But how could I rectify the mistake without altering the story’s outcome?
At the beginning of May 2021, I maxed out my schedule. That may sound stressful, but it was actually a happy occasion. I began a new job I felt good about. The sad part? I lost writing time. Thankfully, I prepared for the shift in my routine months beforehand. If I could only work on projects during the evenings and Saturdays, I knew I’d slip into a pattern of releasing books three or more years apart—especially considering the complexity and monstrous size of my epic fantasy novels. I didn’t want to make readers (or myself!) wait that long.