I enjoy those, “They had one job” memes a little more than I should. The misspelled words, the literal photo drive on the cake instead of the photo, the toilet stalls that were installed too high for privacy… Some of those will draw a pretty good laugh. And yet, I become sober when I think of what God must wish to utter to the Christian. I can imagine him sitting in Heaven, looking down on us with disdain.
“You had one job,” he says, shaking his head and perhaps crying a few tears. “I sent my Son. He carried the burden of your sin, and you had one job.”
And we’re failing miserably.
What is that one job, you might ask? After all, the Bible does have several commands, and all of them go along with that one job. It’s easy enough to find in Scripture. In Matthew 22, the lawyer asks Jesus a question, testing him. He asks,
“What is the greatest commandment?”
Well, Jesus gives him two answers, but truly, they can be summarized in one word: love.
In verses 37-40, Jesus says,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Ask yourself, right now, how many of the ills of this world could be solved with simple, unadulterated love? Even the Beatles understood this, right? Love is all we need.
If we love, truly love, then we can step aside from our own wants and wishes to make life better for another person. Obedience comes second nature when you have love for your parents or authority. You want to please them and make them happy. Kindness becomes involuntary. Patience and compassion, a must.
The Dalai Lama once said,
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
Do we not see the daily evidence of this? And how can we expect the world to know love if we don’t show it ourselves? Just as the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 needed help to understand what he was reading, sinners need the help of Christians to understand love. Stop making excuses for why you can’t, or why you can be justified to withhold your love. Show it, don’t just tell it, every day of your life.
The Bible is clear. You cannot love God and hate your brother. So, if you’re out there spewing hatred for this person or that person, this political candidate or that one, this colleague or that one, this police officer or that criminal… I’m sorry. You don’t love God. It’s Biblical.
If you aren’t following the great commission and trying to lead others to the peace that surpasses all understanding, then you do not love your neighbors. It’s Biblical.
Christians, you have just one job. To love, truly love, the way Christ loves.
I am so excited about the 2016 ACFW Conference in Nashville this year! Every year, it seems there’s some reason I’m unavailable to go because it’s such a busy time of year for me and hard to take off work. This year is no exception, but thankfully Nashville is close enough that I can pop in on Saturday for part of the day and attend the gala dinner.
I’m also excited to participate in the Pre-Conference Mix and Mingle hosted by Laurie Tomlinson! You can find instructions on how to join the mingle there.
She’s asked that we answer the following questions:
Name: Monica Mynk
Location: Central KY
What you write/tagline/trademark: Contemporary romantic suspense and YA dystopian “Broken girls, seeking love, finding His truth”
On a scale of hugger to 10-foot-pole, please rate your personal space: I’m a reserved hugger. Unless we’ve been long-time Internet friends. Then, be prepared to be knocked over with a monster hug.
Something VERY serious: How do you take your Starbucks? Sadly, allergic to coffee, but I can do hot chocolate, even in the heat of summer. And I love, love, love tea!
The unique talking points that will get you going for hours: When Calls the Heart, Gilmore Girls, teaching, science, good books. It’s not hard to get me going for hours, actually.
Loved ones at home you’ll be missing: My husband, 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son
Conference goals we can pray for? My biggest conference prayer is for the safety of everyone as we travel, and of course giving thanks to be fortunate as I am to be multi-published with a company that gives me artistic freedom, support, and encouragement. So blessed.
Anything we can celebrate with you? The second novel in my Goddess to Daughter series, Medusa’s Hands, recently released.
One or two ways we can help you build your platform? I need book reviews! Happy to gift a copy in exchange for an honest Amazon or Goodreads review. Message me if you’re interested through my site contact page. And please, feel free to follow my Facebook and Twitter accounts!
The second installment of the Cavernous series will release in Fall 2016.
Callie Noland sits in an Alliance prison, recovering from wounds she received during a public stand for her faith—a stand which cost her status as First Daughter, and left her estranged from Ethan Thomas, the boy she loves.
Thinking Callie is dead, Ethan puts his heart and soul into finding her and joins forces with the rebellion. Meanwhile, Callie trusts God’s providence.
She draws inspiration from Psalms 94:16: Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will protect me against the evildoers? It’s as if God is saying the words directly to her. It’s time to take a stand against extremist leader Adrian Lamb. The Alliance people need to know she did not die. If she can just find a way out of this prison.
As early as elementary school, young writers learn how to construct sentences and put them into paragraphs. Throughout their education, teachers prod them to add more detail and deeper sentences. Before long, the more accomplished students can write a good academic paragraph, which often looks like this one: A good-sized block of text with very little white space. In fact, I’ve known of teachers who could predict the grade of a student assignment by just checking to see if the paper had several paragraphs structured like this one.
In fiction, the paragraph does not serve the same function. Breaks are much more necessary to keep readers engaged and to help them understand things like tone, attitude, urgency, and even which character is doing an action or speaking.
Here’s a checklist of good places to break paragraphs in a fiction scene.
1. When the acting character switches.
Example: Lainey brought Megan a piece of cake and handed her a fork. Smiling, Megan dipped the fork in the icing and licked it clean. “This icing is incredible. What kind is it?”
See the problem? Who says the dialogue? Lainey or Megan?
Now, if I move Megan’s action to the next line, it’s clearer.
Lainey brought Megan a piece of cake and handed her a fork.
Smiling, Megan dipped the fork in the icing and licked it clean. “This icing is incredible. What kind is it?”
It’s also a good idea to avoid sentences like this as often as possible:
Lainey handed Megan a piece of cake, and Megan began eating it.
One, it’s wordy. Repetition of Megan’s name kills the flow of the sentence. But also, you’ve tied two acting characters into the same acting sentence. A good story reads like a back and forth banter between characters with dialogue and action. A pattern something like this:
“Character 1 speaks.” Character 1 acts.
Character 2 acts. Maybe they don’t speak, but there’s some kind of reaction to character 1’s words.
Character 1 acts. “Character 1 speaks.”
“Character 2 speaks.” Character 2 acts.
2. When the speaking character switches.
Megan frowned. “Lainey, do you think Mark is coming?” Lainey nodded. “He should be here by eight.”
Just like the last example, this is confusing to tell which character gets the dialogue. But a simple line break makes all the difference. When I edit, I find that writers make this simple mistake all the time, and a lot of times they can see great improvement in their writing just by me going through and readjusting the line breaks.
Megan frowned. “Lainey, do you think Mark is coming?”
Lainey nodded. “He should be here by eight.”
3. When a pause in the text would increase urgency or emphasis.
Here’s an excerpt from my Christian fiction novel, Cavernous. It’s from a high-impact scene where Callie, the main character, learns that her world is about to turn upside down.
The anchorman dissolves into a photo of the US President and Vice President, which then cuts to a huge street riot. The remote slips from my fingers, and I clutch the edge of the couch. According to the caption, both men are dead.
Now, notice how breaking just before that last line increases the suspense.
The anchorman dissolves into a photo of the US President and Vice President, which then cuts to a huge street riot. The remote slips from my fingers, and I clutch the edge of the couch.
According to the caption, both men are dead.
What it does is forces the brain to pause a brief instant before reading the line, and then when you reach the new line, it places extra emphasis on the words. There you have it. Your chilling sense of urgency.
4. When there’s a transition in the type of action.
A red brick half-wall ran along the edge of the driveway, past the swimming pool, and several yards into the backyard. On the grassy side, three lawn chairs surrounded a glass patio table, which sat crooked on the uneven ground. Rain pelted the concrete drive and spotted the light oak deck.
Paragraphs like these show up often when the writer is wanting to convey a setting, and even with action verbs, they can feel a little like an info dump. Clever paragraphing can help.
A red brick half-wall ran along the edge of the driveway, past the swimming pool, and several yards into the backyard. On the grassy side, three lawn chairs surrounded a glass patio table, which sat crooked on the uneven ground.
Rain pelted the concrete drive and spotted the light oak deck.
Notice that we’re first looking at descriptive detail about a house. Then, the action transitions to the weather. Great place for a cut, and it gives a slightly shorter paragraph.
Note that you don’t want to get carried away with this. It’s great to cut back a little, but you don’t want to do this because writing in single sentences the whole manuscript would be cumbersome to read.
A red brick half-wall ran along the edge of the driveway, past the swimming pool, and several yards into the backyard.
On the grassy side, three lawn chairs surrounded a glass patio table, which sat crooked on the uneven ground.
Rain pelted the concrete drive and spotted the light oak deck.
5. When there’s a transition in the train of thought.
Lainey grimaced. She’d never make it on time. The last flight left in ten minutes, and it was a fifteen-minute drive. She could drive… It would take longer, but she’d at least make it to the wedding before it started.
See how Lainey’s mood changes in the midst of that sequence of thoughts? From defeated to hopeful. But a lot of readers will not pick up on the hopeful shift in that paragraph.
Why? Science has shown that people generally remember the first part of an interaction, and sometimes the first and last.
The popular show, Brain Games had a segment once where it showed two twins giving the same responses two an interview. One twin started with her redeeming qualities, and the other started with her flaws, ending on a high note.
It was amazing. Even knowing what was going to happen, my brain convinced me the first girl had the better personality.
The same thing will happen in your paragraphs. If you change the mood in the middle, readers will have a hard time transitioning. Better to split the paragraph at the mood.
Lainey grimaced. She’d never make it on time. The last flight left in ten minutes, and it was a fifteen-minute drive.
She could drive… It would take longer, but she’d at least make it to the wedding before it started.
6. When the location of action changes.
Yawning, Lainey climbed out of bed and slipped into her fuzzy slippers. She opened the curtains, blinking as the bright morning sun flooded her sight. As she shuffled down the hall, squeaks from the shower intensified.
Notice how Lainey starts off in her bedroom then moves to the hallway. Breaking the paragraph will help readers visualize a different place.
Yawning, Lainey climbed out of bed and slipped into her fuzzy slippers. She opened the curtains, blinking as the bright morning sun flooded her sight.
As she shuffled down the hall, squeaks from the shower intensified.
Last point–you need breaks in your paragraphs to make your writing more interesting. Perhaps this concept goes against every college or high school paper you ever wrote, but blocky paragraphs scream boring story. They just do. That’s true for blog posts, as well.
Making use of extra paragraphs in fiction is important because of something called White Space. Query agents and editors have told me that readers will often glance at a book with little or no white space and put it down. Here’s a great article from C.S. Lakin illustrating this and why it makes for better fiction. As Lakin points out, most often when you write with big, blocky paragraphs, you’re telling the story rather than showing it.
Or, better yet🙂 :
Making use of extra paragraphs in fiction is important because of something called White Space. Query agents and editors have told me that readers will often glance at a book with little or no white space and put it down.
Here’s a great article from C.S. Lakin illustrating this and why it makes for better fiction. As Lakin points out, most often when you write with big, blocky paragraphs, you’re telling the story rather than showing it.
Writing in a distinct POV can be tricky, be it first person, third limited, third omniscient–it’s easy to slip “out of character.” Violations of POV are one of the things I find most when I edit. One reason is that many writers engage in a practice called filtering.
I was introduced to the concept via Scribophile, a writing forum that encourages critique and knowledge exchange for writers. Michael Emmert, long-time writer and ACFW member, penned an article on the topic, where he quoted a conference speaker as saying:
“In writing there are no absolutes, but there are two important items to avoid: Filtering, and an overuse of adverbs.”
Well, I’d never heard of it before, but it made a lot of sense. Filtering is essentially delivering the story through a narrator rather than your POV character. Emmert compares it to pouring sand into a bucket through a screen.
Think about writing a story as if you’re looking through the viewfinder of a camera. Where is the viewer with respect to the reader? In a filtering story, the reader is held at a distance from the characters, as though they are peeking through a viewfinder. Without filtering, the psychic distance diminishes and the reader moves through the story as though they are the character. When the character’s heart races, theirs does, too.
Writing without filtering can be powerful, emotional writing. Filtering makes writing come across as bland and lifeless. It’s almost like the author doesn’t trust the reader enough to discern the character’s emotion and just has to tell them or explain.
Just as the lens is able to focus on a single daisy in the feature picture, a writer should be able to focus their lens as though they’re peering out from the main character’s eyes. What the character feels, the reader feels. What they hear, the reader experiences as a sound. What they smell triggers the olfactory senses in the reader to the point they can smell it themselves. In essence, the reader BECOMES the POV character. Removal of filtering is the secret to writing that gripping, can’t-put-it-down story.
Emily felt tired. She looked to her right, where Steve had already fallen asleep. He was curled up in the stiff, plastic chair and snoring. She wondered how he could possibly sleep with all the noise from the other bus passengers.
Notice how the writer is just telling everything. When an editor or critique partner suggests showing and not telling, a lot of times they mean a writer should stop filtering.
Now–let’s remove the filters.
Emily felt tired. Rather than telling how she feels, give her a couple actions to show it.
She looked to her right. Rather than having her look to the right, show what’s on her right. If it’s another character, just give their actions. It’s implied by mentioning it that Emily is looking and that’s what she sees.
She wondered how. Instead of telling she wondered, give it as the deep POV thought.
Emily yawned and rubbed her burning eyes. To her right, Steve sat curled in his chair, snoring. How could he possibly sleep with all the noise from the other bus passengers?
A lot of filtering words are sensing words and thought words–watching, seeing, feeling, hearing, understanding, realizing, wondering
Here’s a few other examples.
Emily looked at the passenger across from her, who was smiling. (filtering)
Versus: The passenger across from Emily smiled.
Steve understood that he needed to hurry. (filtering)
Versus: Steve nodded. He needed to hurry. (note the use of deep POV here)
Marsha heard a knock at the door, and she jolted backward, bumping into the kitchen chair.
Versus: Someone knocked at the door. Marsha jolted backward, bumping into the kitchen chair.
In most cases, filtering can be fixed by replacing with the action beat or deep POV thought.
Picture a scene with several characters at a dinner party. Your character walks into the room, and everyone is already seated. Lively dialogue is underway.
The challenge? Let the readers “meet” every character in the scene and attribute the dialogue to the speaker WITHOUT using info dumps or telling.
While action beats certainly help in this situation, it’s not enough to just say that Jim passed the bread to Susan or Katie crawled into her mother’s lap. If readers don’t know who Jim, Katie, and Susan are, they’ll lose interest. In other words, each character needs their own mini-introduction to establish their relevance to the reader and why they’ve earned their way into this scene. And, they need to be distinct enough that readers can tell them apart.
Here are some suggestions to help write an effective multi-character scene. Yes, it’s a lot of prep work, but the payoff can be fantastic–a lively scene that readers will love.
- Prior to writing, draw a sketch of the room using arrows to show the path of the character as they interact with guests. Include objects that are on the table or in the background that each character could interact with. Consider details like eating utensils, jackets hanging on the back of chairs, large purses, fluted glasses or napkins, pictures hanging on the wall, salt and pepper shakers, floral arrangements, etc. This strategy could also be used in a classroom, shopping mall, or anywhere else the character might encounter a large group of people.
- Plan the entrance of additional characters into or out of the scene. Will a server enter in a few minutes with a plate of food? Will an angry party guest storm out? Will a child change their seat to sit in someone’s lap?
- List each character in the scene with the characteristics that make them unique. Do they speak loud or softly? Are they friendly or reserved? Do they have any fidgeting habits or tics? How are they dressed? What are their physical traits?
- Consider how every character in the scene relates to the main character. Are these people who need introductions? If so, carefully crafted dialogue from the host will help us understand their importance in the scene. Are they people the character will recognize? Deep POV thought might help readers see the personalities and different physical attributes.
- Realize that it’s not essential to introduce every character at once. Give a general statement–the character walks into the room and there are fifteen women at the table. One empty seat. But then, let the scene naturally flow into how it would in real life. The character would meet the women in closest proximity first. Then, the woman at the head of the table might stand and tap her glass. A character close to her might speak, so the character would learn something about that one next.
Two more things–
First, don’t forget how essential it is to include sensory details. A room full of people is often bustling. A character will hear snippets of conversation, but maybe have trouble concentrating on the one happening next to them. There will be a myriad of sounds, smells, and textures.
Second, it’s helpful to give each character a name, even if it’s just a nickname assigned by the character. It can be very confusing to separate “the woman” on the left from “the tall woman” on the right and “the short woman” in the front of the room. Woman becomes repetitive and kills the story.
Good luck writing that next multi-character scene. Do you have more suggestions? Feel free to comment your own.
When I sat down to write Megan/Medusa’s story, I knew two things. I wanted Zach to struggle with alcoholism and Megan to struggle with bitterness. Here’s a guy who’s been after her since their teens, and she’s kept turning him down. He gets more depressed about it, dives deeper into his alcoholism, and widens the chasm between them even more.
Megan’s spent so much time resenting him and pushing him away that she doesn’t realize she’d be miserable without him.
In essence, they had a relationship prior to the beginning of the story, because they spent time together every single day. If their love was like a valley, they both stood opposing, their hands barely touching, but neither willing to leave their side so they could join in the middle. So true of a lot of early relationships, I think.
These days, many couples get caught up in pursuing individual wants rather than serving each other with mutual respect. It’s a challenge to take “me” out of the equation in order to become “we.”
In Medusa’s Hands, they awaken to this fact shortly into the story. But to find their way to a peaceful, loving unity, they both have to commit to change. There are so many challenges to this. Who changes first? What if I commit to change, but he refuses? What if I can’t change.
When I write, I usually have song lyrics in the back of my mind. If this story had a song, it would be Tanya Tucker’s Strong Enough to Bend. Medusa is a story about learning to bend.
17 more days!
What happens when a loose cannon runs for president, wins, and decides he can do whatever he wants? What happens when emotion replaces common sense and reason? What happens when distracted people forget their values and fall into the religion of opinions and vices?
When I sat down to write Cavernous in 2013, I never dreamed it would approach reality. But now, with the circus of the 2016 election campaigns, I’m not so sure antagonist Adrian Lamb wouldn’t fit right in to the mix.
The political disarray of Cavernous starts with a small Facebook group that goes viral and grows into over a million followers. Dissatisfied Americans throw their fits on social media, leading to the assassination of the president and vice president, which throws the country into a tailspin. One man rises up to set things back in order, convincing several US states to secede and form their own nation.
Far-fetched? At first, I worried that this plot might be. However, the character of Adrian Lamb was crafted from traits observed in several notorious extremist leaders throughout history. Anything is possible, and we must all take caution to choose candidates who reflect our values not only in their stated promises, but also in speech, policies, character, and personal lives.
Here are five traits Adrian Lamb possessed that should make a voter shy away from any candidate:
- Adrian focused his attention on attacking others rather than championing them. Remember that the president must lead ALL his or her constituents, whether they agree with them or not. It’s impossible to lead someone and vehemently oppose them at the same time. A good president will engage in civil disagreement, and realize that it’s policy or action they hate, and not the person.
- Adrian’s campaign was focused on problems rather than solutions. America is obese, we’re addicted to too many things, our schools are in crisis, morals are declining, and unemployment is too high. So, he took over the schools, banned the vices, implemented a forced religion (with his own version of the Bible), restricted food, and gave people assigned jobs. Maybe some of those things are true, but a person who does nothing but complain in the campaign will likely do nothing but complain in office. A solutions-oriented president will brainstorm, test out ideas, seek advice from wise counsel, and implement good practices.
- Adrian rewrote the rules to suit his whim. Lack of consistency makes it near-impossible to lead, and whims change. With Adrian, the more frustrated he became with opposition, the more rules he wrote to protect what he envisioned his perfect world. Before long, those disobeying his wavering rules faced terrible punishment, including death. It’s happened over and over in history. Think King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, for example. How far is any society ever from the point of punishment in a lion’s den or fiery furnace?
- Adrian sowed seeds of discord rather than unity. He pitted different groups against each other to draw attention away from his own misdeeds. This will come back to haunt him, because once they all realize what he’s done, they will unify against him. Good leaders bring people together to reach common goals rather than trying to consolidate their own power.
- Adrian revised history to distort modern truth. He relied on the disengagement and lack of knowledge of Americans, both regarding Scripture and historical fact. For so long, schools have struggled with students who have not seen the value in learning about the political mistakes of the past. He tapped into the frustration of overzealous folks who want to use religion to create a utopian world. They were blind and ignorant to the consequences of Adrian’s policies because they weren’t informed about historical tragedies and focused on their own selfish desires.
One of the scariest things about a leader like Adrian Lamb is how easily he convinced people to buy into his extremism. He catapulted himself into celebrity status with little, seemingly inconsequential requests. Then, voters were willing to give into his outlandish requests, like asking to be called lord rather than president. Finally, his constituents were easily tricked into giving up their free will.
Some may read this post and believe I’m assigning these traits to a current candidate. I merely believe these are issues to consider with all candidates. My support wholeheartedly goes to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I’ve lovingly disabled comments because I have no intention of engaging in a political debate about one candidate over another🙂 Thanks for understanding!
Cavernous is available on Amazon, for both Kindle and print. Book two in the series releases in Fall 2016.
Twenty-eight year old waitress Megan Carter cannot stop crossing paths with the ruggedly dashing Zach Allen, who resents her from brushing him off in high school. Zach truly loves Megan, but he can’t let go of his party boy persona long enough to show her he’s serious. Her heart’s so bitter toward him that she cannot love anyone, especially herself. As soon as she graduates beauty school, she plans to walk away and leave him behind for good.
When Zach’s stepsister Larissa disappears, her teenage daughter Kelsey shows up on Megan’s doorstep asking to crash for a few days. Her dad lurks in the background, making every possible effort to lure her into heinous crime. Convinced Larissa is in danger, Megan begrudgingly enlists Zach’s help. She starts to trust him and opens her heart, but before long she realizes he’s still struggling for sobriety and clinging to his past mistakes. How can she forgive him when he refuses to change?
Zach and Megan must overcome their differences to find Larissa and save Kelsey before she becomes trapped in a life of sex trafficking and degradation. In doing so, they fan the flame that’s burned between them for a decade, and put themselves at great risk. Can they stop Kelsey’s dad and follow their hearts to happiness before it’s too late?
Following these two, I’m planning to finish up the third and final book in the Cavernous series, Conceded. This is going to be a story about yielding completely to God. None of self, and all of thee. Full trust, full commitment, and full surrender.
After that will come Athena’s Baby, third in the Goddess series, and a couple of other side projects I’ve been working on🙂