Week 5, Step 5: “The First Sentences and Chapters”

I will be the first to tell you – I stink at writing first chapters. To this day I’ve only written one first chapter that I actually like. For some reason I can’t seem to get the feel for how fast to pace my writing and add action but still add detail. It’s so frustrating. So here’s some tips that I’ve learned from all my struggles and pain that I hope will help you in some ways.

On First Sentences:

Generally speaking, every single sentence in your book should make the readers ask a question. If the sentence doesn’t make them ask a question, it needs to be either incredibly suspenseful or very descriptive. This is particularly true for sentences for your first few sentences. You’re probably wondering, “What do you mean, a sentence that asks a question? You mean all my sentences end with question marks?” Not really. Basically, what I’m saying is that your first couple of sentences must grab the reader, feed their curiosity, and get them to keeping reading the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next page, and the next chapter! Here’s an example from my first book that may help you:

“Jarah ran down the dark, narrow street.”

Now, here are some questions we as readers can ask ourselves about this sentence, questions that weren’t answered. “Who is Jarah? Why is she running? Why is the street dark? Where is she?”

Here’s the second sentence:

“Her breath was coming in short, painful gasps and her legs felt like they were made of putty.”

We can get some answers here, but we can still ask from questions. “So… Jarah must’ve been running for a while… But why? Why is she so tired?”

Here’s the third sentence:

“Tired as she was, she could not let the Egyptian soldiers get her.”

This answers some questions. We know that Jarah is being chased, but we also don’t know why she’s being chased.

Here’s the three sentences together:

“Jarah ran down the dark, narrow street. Her breath was coming in short, painful gasps and her legs felt like they were made of putty. Tired as she was, she could not let the Egyptian soldiers get her.”

Do these first few sentences grab you? How can you make your first few sentences grab your readers?

On First Chapters:

As I told you, I have a very hard time with writing first chapters. I wrote chapter one of “A Cry From Egypt” so many different ways and I’m still not completely happy with it! My first chapter for book 2 is going a little better, but I still feel like something’s missing. So if you struggle in this area, you’re not alone!

Here’s a few tips for you that I’ve learned through lots of trial and error:

1. Keep the pace moving. Have some excitement or adventure! Having an opening scene of someone cleaning a house, sharpening a weapon, sitting reading, or doing something else boring doesn’t make for an exciting first few chapters. But some sort of action sequence or a sob story that makes you feel so much for your characters is a much better way to start. And if all else fails and you run out of creativity, start with a party. :-) Seriously, though. Parties can show so much emotional and character development but also give some fun, humor, and action all at the same time.

2. Avoid unnecessary detail. Keep people guessing! Don’t tell people exactly how your characters look, exactly how old they are, and exactly what everything looks like. Not only does it not feed your readers’ curiosity, but it slows down your pace and makes things boring. Here’s an example:

“The eight-year-old blonde little girl with big blue eyes, tiny white shoes, and a flowing pink dress sat on a small wooden swing tied to a giant white oak tree, looking very sad.”

That is a ton of detail and almost all of it is completely unnecessary! We can say the same thing in half as many words:

“The little blonde girl sat sorrowfully on a swing in the shade of a giant oak tree.”

It sets up the scene with some detail but doesn’t slow things down. It almost makes you wonder why the little girl is sad.

3. Make sure everything goes fast! I’ve already mentioned pacing a few times. You need something that’s going to go keep your book moving and acting. No boring moments allowed! Keep pressing forward and try to keep the audience at the edge of their seats!

4. Introduce your main characters and villain in the first few chapters. And also make sure you introduce the problems in your story that your main character (or characters) has to solve. There are two problems in my story “A Cry From Egypt.” The first is that the Israelites are slaves in Egypt and want to become free. The second is that Jarah’s mother believes in the Egyptian gods and Jarah’s father believes in Yahweh. Jarah is torn between them and has to decide what she believes. Both of these problems are presented in the first two chapters.

So there are my tips! As I’ve said, most of this I’ve learned from trial and error. It’s alright if it takes you a little while. It took my seven years! Don’t be discouraged. Keep writing!

Suggested Homework:

1. Write a few different opening paragraphs from your story. Keep tweaking them until they every sentence is perfect.

2. Write your first two chapters if you haven’t already. If you already have, go through them and start deleting unnecessary detail and fine-tuning it using what you’ve learned today. If you’re writing a short story, write the first few pages and start critiquing them.

Week 4, Step 4: “Starting!”

Now it’s time to actually start your story! Here’s a few things to keep in mind as you begin your first chapter and keep going on from there.

First, you need some sort of an outline or plan for where your plot is going. People who don’t have an outline or plan often have stories that seem to be wandering aimlessly and have no point or purpose to their stories. Make sure that doesn’t happen!

There are three ways you can go about outlining:

Traditional Outline: This is when you write out the title of every chapter, which characters are in each chapter, and what happens in each chapter. While it doesn’t need to be THAT in-depth, knowing generally what happens in each chapter will keep you from wandering, getting writer’s block, or losing focus. I tend to use this approach, but not quite as detailed as I described above. :-)
Writing Backwards: For people who have a hard time outlining, this might work for you. It sounds kind of radical, but start writing your book right before or right at the climax. Once you have the climax and resolution written, go backwards from there. Now you know how the important part in your story (the climax) is written and what you need to do to get to the climax! People who write this way usually have a very convincing plot and great flow to their story.
Writing scenes from your story and then piecing them together: This works very well for some books and for some people. I’m in the outlining/beginning writing stage for my third book. My third book covers the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, and there’s no way that I’m going to write the whole forty years out! So I’m writing little sections at a time and going to tie them together with dialogue. It’s been a blast! And then I can write whatever sections I feel like that day. Stephen and Alex Kendrick, writers and producers of “Flywheel,” “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” and “Courageous” also use the same technique for their movies. They’ll write certain scene ideas down and color them. Pink=romantic scenes, purple=normal scenes, orange=comedy scenes, blue=sad scenes, and so on. Then they lay them out in order. If there are too many funny scenes close together or too many sad scenes close together they switch things around so that they can take their characters through a very emotional journey.

Second, avoid too much detail in your writing. People who read books don’t like a lot of information at once. They like to get only a little tiny bit at a time, enough to keep them guessing and make them read the next chapter. Don’t overwhelm them with information. They’ll stop reading your story if you do!

Third, if you’re starting at the beginning, come up with some kind of conflict to start out. For example, say you have a thirteen-year-old boy at home by himself building a robot. That would be a kind of boring opening. BUT… What if the house gets broken into while the boy is there alone? That would immediately grab people’s attention and possibly introduce the villain to your story.

Fourth, be super creative! Think outside the box and be suspenseful! Try hard not to copy anything that you’ve read before.

And finally…. Have fun! Writing is a blast when you have the time and creative energy to put into it. If you’re writing and it sounds forced or you don’t like the way it’s turning out, step back and take a break. If it still doesn’t get easier after that, it might be time to get your writing buddy involved.

Next week we’ll be talking about common mistakes beginning writers make in the first couple of chapters. So see how much you can get written in that amount of time so you can start critiquing your work! Happy writing! :-)

Suggested Homework:
1. Figure out how you’re going to outline/write your book. Are you going to do a traditional outline, put the pieces together, or write backwards? Make sure you have your main goals written out and know what happens at the climax.
2. Start writing! See if you can get one or two chapters done by next week! Go go go! :-)

Our First Distributor!!!

“Finding Christ Through Fiction” has jumped on board and is the first company to agree to distribute my book! We are so thankful. When I heard the name of the company I was thrilled because it is my hope and prayer that people will find Christ through my fiction. Please check out some of the wonderful books that they are selling now at their website below.


Week 3, Step 3: “Getting Accountability”

WEEK 3, STEP 3: “Getting Accountability”

Before you start writing seriously, there’s one really important thing you need to do first and that is to get accountability. That means to find someone – either a parent, sibling, best friend, english or writing teacher, aunt, uncle, cousin, or several friends – to make sure you keep on writing, even when you don’t feel like. If you can find someone who’s almost as excited about your story or your idea as you are to come alongside of you they will help you in so many ways, even more than you can imagine! Accountability/writing partners cheer you on when you’re tired or stuck, help you come up with ideas, and most importantly read your writing and give you help or encouragement.

A lot of people skip this step. Perhaps they don’t know people off the top of their head who are interested in writing. Perhaps they’re introverts and don’t want to interact with people. Maybe everyone they know that likes writing isn’t talented and they think they can do better on their own. But please, listen when I tell you… DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! I won’t go into every single reason why you absolutely need a writing buddy here right now. We’ll finish talking about it in week 13. But here are the main reasons why you need to avoid working alone.

First of all, you don’t have anyone to actually make you finish the book. People who write alone will often get bored or discouraged with their work and toss it aside and start something else. They end up never publishing their works, or not publishing as soon as they could have because no one was reading their work and demanding that they finish the book.

Second, your writing will never get better if you don’t have someone reading it and telling you what you did wrong and what you did right. There’s only so many things you can catch yourself. Some of my friends and writing buddies have caught things in my story that I thought were perfectly fine but ended up being really bad in a historical context. Even people who are the worst writers and critics can catch gaping holes in your story that you yourself might miss. At the very least they will find typos in your story that you won’t notice since you’re reading your own work and know exactly what you want to say.

Third, when you get stuck or lost you won’t have anyone to throw out ideas or cheer you on or pray for you. Imagine having your own personal cheerleader shouting, “Go! You can do it! I know you can! Write! Just sit down at that keyboard and do it! I know you can! Go go go! I can’t wait to read more!” That’s what writing buddies do for you. :-)

And last, but by no means least, your writing buddy is there to keep you moving towards your goal and point you in the right direction. We can often become so enamored with writing or with how awesome our stories are that we miss the point of Who and what we’re writing for. The prayers and honesty of your accountability partner will be able to keep you on track and keep your focus on God, no matter what. You might get distracted from the big picture while you’re in the writing world. But your writing partner, who isn’t as completely immersed in your world as you are, won’t be distracted from the original goal and will tell you when you aren’t meeting it.

Now… You’re almost ready to dive in head-first! Next week we’ll talk about outlining and actually begin to write! :-)

Suggested Homework:
1. Find at least one accountability/writing partner. The person doesn’t even have to be a writer. It just needs to be someone who loves you, loves your story idea, and is willing to come alongside of you and be your moral support.
2. Finish researching ideas for your story so that once you start writing (or if you’ve already started) you don’t get stuck and know exactly where you’re taking the plot.

Week 2, Step 2: “Getting an Idea”

There are those of us who have creativity flowing out of our fingers. We seem to have an over-abundance of ideas, characters, story-lines, or just ideas to making our lives and the world around us better. Then there are those of us who have talent but can’t come up with anything to write, or can’t seem to settle on a good idea. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I’m not the most creative person in the world, but I’ve also never gotten writer’s block. Those of you who are writers are probably out there saying, “Lucky!” Well… I would say “blessed” would be the right word to use there, because I can honestly say that it’s not my own doing.

There’s two really big reasons why I don’t get writer’s block. The first is that since I’m writing a series of four books, if I can’t seem to think of an idea for the book I’m currently working on I can just go on to another book and come back to my current book another day. But the second and most important reason is because my work is based on the Bible. My plot-line has already been written by the best writer in the whole universe – God! My job is simply putting together the puzzle pieces and intertwining my characters’ stories into what God’s already written.

For those of you who, like me, are writing historical or Biblical fiction, our job is a bit easier. For those of you who aren’t, you might be having a tough time. Let me tell you what I do to find inspiration and give you any suggestions that I’ve heard on how to get ideas.

First of all, I get a lot of my inspiration from God. God is the one who gave you the desire and the passion to write. And since He gave it to you, He obviously wants you to use it! So here’s my first suggestion:

Pray a LOT! Pray every single day before you write! 

Unfortunately, I don’t do this every day. There’s days that I’m so busy I forget. But thankfully God always brings my focus back on Him and He prods me to pray, especially when I’m stuck or confused. I can assure you that God’s inspiration is so much better than our own. He wants to give good gifts to His children, and He will want to help you get a new idea or write something better in your story.

I remember one day when I sat down to write. I had time to kill, but I honestly didn’t know what to do next. I knew that SOMETHING had to go into a certain chapter I was writing before I moved on to the next chapter, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. So I prayed. I said, “God, please write through me today and write whatever you want.” I started typing and wrote several pages.

A few days later I looked back at my work. I was surprised. It was actually very well written! But then something else took my breath away. I didn’t recognize what was on the paper. I actually didn’t remember writing a whole section of my story! But as I read it, I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s still one of my favorite parts to this day. It’s the part in my story where my main character, Jarah, is having a hard time loving and respecting her mom. She sees her older, prettier sister (who, by the way, has a very bad attitude) getting the love that Jarah wants – even though she’s the “good” daughter! Jarah is getting pretty angry and upset when she actually hears God’s voice speaking to her. He brings her a message of hope, comfort, and joy. It still makes my heart skip a beat to read that part, simply because I feel that it’s actually God speaking to me and not something that I wrote of my own accord.

So that’s my first suggestion for you all. Here’s my second suggestion:

Narrow down your options and research your genre.

As I mentioned, those of us writing historical or Biblical fiction have it a little easier because we already have our plot-line written for us. But then we have other troubles, like making sure everything is accurate and everything lines up with the historical/Biblical account.

First of all, if you’re writing historical fiction, you need to figure out what time in history you’ll be writing about. You could be writing about the first century church being persecuted. Perhaps one of your characters could even meet Peter or Paul! You could write something based on other ancient civilizations, like the Assyrians, Babylonians, or Incas. (I would love to see a story of hope and redemption about the Inca people. You should look them up sometime! They were so smart and skilled, even to the point of performing successful heart and brain surgeries!) You could write a book about the pilgrims, someone during the time of the reformation in England or Europe, or about the Civil War or the Korean or Vietnam war. There are so many options! Pick a period in history that you’ve always enjoyed learning about or studying, and start to come up with ideas from there. Research it thoroughly. I’m still finding obscure passages in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that I didn’t know about that will make perfect additions to my third book! I also found a really cool Jewish legend about Hur, Moses’ friend who holds up Moses’ hands during the battle of the Amalekies (Exodus 17) that I’m probably putting into my second book.

However, one word of caution for you. I would greatly discourage you from making the main character (or one of the main characters) in your story a prominent male figure from the Bible. Moses and Aaron are both in my book, but I rarely show anything from their perspective. Why? Because I didn’t want to add thoughts, feelings, dialogue, and emotions to the characters that aren’t in the Bible. I tried really hard to make sure when I took any liberties that they were in line with how the men acted in the Bible. The last thing I wanted to do was to add anything to God’s story or make Moses and Aaron out to be someone that they weren’t. I’ve read some good books with women of the Bible as main characters (Ruth, Mary mother of Jesus, Esther, etc.) and I have less of an issue with that because the women are rarely preaching God’s word or taking the public spotlight that the men have. So adding some dialogue and thoughts and emotions – as long as they line up with the Bible – is alright with me. But still, be very careful and prayerful as you head down that path.

For those of you writing fantasy or sci-fi, you have just the same amount of benefits and disadvantages. The benefits are that your possibilities for stories, weapons, characters, worlds, and languages are endless! The disadvantages is that there is a TON of Christian fantasy and sci-fi. So breaking into the market is hard, and coming up with an original idea that’s not already taken will be a lot of work. You have to make sure that you aren’t accidentally copying anyone. I had a friend once who wrote an almost exact paragraph from “The Hobbit” into his fantasy book. The funny thing was, he had never even read “The Hobbit”! Our world is so saturated and infatuated with the fantasy and sci-fi worlds that it’s easy to copy someone’s characters or ideas without even noticing it.

When you start to write your fantasy or sci-fi story, it would be a good idea to come up with a language or some different words to describe typical greetings (instead of “hi” and “bye”), towns, cities, landmarks, weapons, machines, etc. But be careful not to overuse these. I’ve read books where so many words are in “the other language” that I get lost, or have to read ridiculously long descriptions of whatever it is to figure out what I’m actually reading. Both are incredibly frustrating. Just use a sprinkling of your new words. Coming up with some words in your language will help your readers feel like they’re in another world and will help you start thinking about your world, too.

For all of you writers, the best way to get an idea going after you pray and narrow down your options is to come up with a main character, what the main character struggles with, and then what the main character does in the climax. Once you have the main character and their struggle down, everything else will start to fall into place.

So in conclusion, pray a LOT! Research, narrow down ideas that are overused (ex. four children who get into a new world through a magic wardrobe. Don’t use that. :-) ), and come up with a main character. Then you’re well on your way!

Suggested homework:

1. Set aside time to go in your room, or outside, or somewhere really quiet and pray for a long time. Ask God for wisdom, creativity, and the idea that HE wants you to make into a book book or story.
2. Pick a genre (historical fiction, fantasy, etc.) and narrow down your options. What era are you writing in? What is your world like? etc.
3. Research about that period of history, or what your new language or world is like. Save your research for when you write your research paper or use footnotes in your book or story.
4. Develop a main character and what the main character’s goal is in your story. Have fun with it!

First book review!!!

I got my first book review for “A Cry From Egypt” yesterday from Amy Blevins! I was thrilled and the review was so sweet and thoughtful that it brought tears to my eyes. I’m so glad that it’s having the impact on others that I’ve been praying it would have by God’s grace!

Week 1, Step 1: Writing for God’s Glory

Welcome to this eighteen-week blog series on “How to Write a Book”! I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you! At twenty years old, I’m a newly published author! I’ve had an amazing journey over seven years of turning my book concept into reality. My book is called “A Cry From Egypt” and it is set in Ancient Egypt during the time of the ten plagues. Jarah, my main character, is a twelve-year-old girl who is enslaved to the Egyptian nation. She watches as the ten plagues come upon the Egyptians but leave the Israelites alone. She is torn as she hears her mother’s opinions about the Egyptian gods and her father’s beliefs that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, is on the one true God. Around her is terror, hardship, conflict, and broken hearts as her brother finds out that he can’t have the girl of his dreams. Adventure, excitement, love, and faith come together when Jarah, her brothers, and the rest of her family find themselves at the culmination of four hundred years of history.

I started writing at a young age and thoroughly enjoyed telling myself stories and making up stories ever since I can remember. My dad told me stories as we worked together and my mom read me entire series of books throughout the course of my homeschooling. My dad also wrote my own history and writing curriculum so I got to do a lot of creative writing, but also learned how to write essays and book reports. I started my book, “A Cry from Egypt,” when I was thirteen years old as a school project, and it was just published this past Spring. Three more books will complete the series, which I am calling, “The Promised Land Series.” They will hopefully be released in the next few years.

A lot of what I’ve learned as a writer has been by trial and error. I’ve learned a lot by simply having a God-given passion for writing, a desire to speak the truth, and a desire to research and learn. What I’ll be talking about in this series of blog posts is what I’ve learned through this whole experience. There may be things I miss, or things that work very differently for you than you do for me. As you become a writer and develop your own style some of this information might be completely irrelevant to you. But I hope that, at the very least, it will inspire you and encourage you to start your writing journey and to write for God’s glory, which is what we’ll be talking about today.

First of all, let’s talk about why writing is important. A lot of people today, particularly young children, don’t like writing and don’t see why they need to learn to write well. There are several reasons why I believe writing is incredibly, incredibly important.

  1. God values writing so much that He gave us His word in a book – the Bible. The written word is powerful, so powerful that that’s the medium God used to give His word to us. The written word of God is His letter – His story – to us! Through the Holy Spirit, God’s word is alive and active and teaches us how we should live. The story of God’s plan throughout history is amazing! If you are like me and have been raised in a Christian home, we often become desensitized to the power and awesomeness of Bible stories. Think of the book of “Esther.” That book is written so well and is such a wonderful story of God’s hand of provision and His amazing humor.
  2. Stories passed down through generations. I’m sure all of you have a family member or friend who is a great story-teller. Whether it’s sharing family traditions, old family stories or legacies, or talking to a friend about what you did this week, stories are a part of our everyday life. It’s the stuff books are made from.
  3. Remember… The word “remember” is mentioned 227 times in the Bible in regards to us remembering God’s goodness and remembering what He’s done for us. Remembering God’s works and passing them on is something that must be incredibly important to God since He talks about it so much!
  4. And lastly, every life is a story! I’ve heard it said that everyone could write at least one story – their own! No matter how boring you think your life is, people can still learn from what you’ve gone through as a child of God. Journaling or writing down important events in your life is incredibly important. One day you can pass on those stories and your legacy and how God has worked through your life to others.

But writing isn’t the only thing that God thinks is important. Whatever you do… Do everything for the glory of God! This includes your life, your work, your friendships, your goals, how you spend every minute, and yes, even how you write.

A lot of Christians want to have God in their lives, but only in some parts of their lives. They want Him with them at church, or on retreats, or when life is tough. But most of the time they shove God into a corner and leave Him out of the rest of their lives. But God wants to be involved in every single area that we love, too, because He loves us. And our ultimate goal of being on this earth is to bring glory and praise to God! Particularly in the realm of writing, Christian books are no long Christian. Or if they are, it’s a very watered down Christianity. Let me share an example.

When I was about 17 years old and starting to really focus on writing my book, I went with my mom to a Christian book store. I hurried to the youth section and started browsing and reading the backs if the books. I was shocked by what I read. Every single book I picked up had romance at it’s core, not God. There was one book series that had a fourteen-year-old girl as the main character. In three books she had gone through five boyfriends and was back to her first boyfriend – at the age of fourteen! God was only mentioned once or twice, and even then the girl was “confused and praying about which boy should be in her life.” When our sons and daughters are fourteen, shouldn’t the last thing we want them to be focusing on is finding the right boy or girl so that they can have a good time? Shouldn’t their focus be on God and growing ever more Christ-like and closer to Him?

Today, the situation is not any better. I was in Barnes and Noble just a few days ago and was shocked by just some of the covers on the books in the Christian section. Our society today has made Christianity worldly and self-focused. We must take back the medium of writing for God’s glory and write books and stories that ultimately bring glory to Him, not glory to man or man’s failures. Don’t settle for anything mediocre. Put God first in your writing, even above status or fame. God is not going to bless your writing if you are not bringing glory to His name. You may have earthly success, but it will be empty, meaningless, and won’t fill the void in your heart that only God and His plan for your life can fill for you. See the scripture references below:

Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (emphasis mine)

1 Cor 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (emphasis mine)

1 John 2:15-16, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these thins will be added to you.”

Please, think and dwell on these verses and memorize them, like I’m trying to do. With God’s word in our minds and hearts and His power working through us, who knows what we can accomplish for His glory!

Next week I’ll be talking about how to get ideas. But for now, here’s the suggested homework for this week.

Suggested homework:

  1. I’m sure many of you have story ideas in your heads already. :-) But this week, pray a lot and talk to God about your story. Ask Him to give you a main theme that will ultimately bring glory to Him but also add scripture into your book in a new way that will make it exciting and make it come to life for those who might read your stories.
  2. Once you have a main theme, start finding scripture verses in the Bible that talk about the main theme of your book. (Ex. For the theme of love, John 3:16. For a character learning to forgive someone, Matt 18:21-22.)
  3. Memorize the scripture references above.
  4. Start thinking of characters and a plot-line that will work with the main theme of your book!

If you’re having a hard time, don’t worry, one of the hardest parts of writing is getting an idea and putting the puzzle pieces together! I’ll share some tips with you next week that I hope will be encouraging to you. And I promise that once you get the idea, words will just start to flow our of your fingers. :-) Happy writing!