Thinking Thursday: Review of Epic

Epic

Last year, on a day out, I found the book Epic by John Eldredge in a charity shop. The concept intrigued me, so I bought it. I read it very quickly, and here is my review on Goodreads:

What a brilliant book! since it’s only slim, it’s not daunting either, nor is the tone in which it’s written. I got this in a charity shop, but will be buying copies to give away. It’s perfect for Christians and non-Christians alike.

If you ever wondered what Christianity is all about once you take away the religious trappings, this is the book for you. If you’re already a Christian, it will thrill you and help you understand why the story is so important. Non-preachy, uses modern films as examples, this book explains simply the real story we find ourselves in, even if we don’t know it. Highly recommended, in fact, if I knew you would take it seriously, I would buy it for you.

Looking at the other reviews, they are a real mixed bag. Some people expected something different, and so they didn’t like it (After all, you don’t expect a book called Epic to be so small!). Some people didn’t like all the book and film references, and I suppose if you aren’t familiar with them, the references wouldn’t make sense. Some people didn’t like his style.

All these things are hazards for any book. Leaving those aside, the book has made a deep impression on a lot of people. Often as Christians we forget the bigger picture, or were never taught it in the first place. Our own personal struggles gain a new perspective when we look at God’s great plan. Here is part of the book description:

For when we were born, we were born into the midst of a great story begun before the dawn of time. A story of adventure, of risk and loss, heroism . . . and betrayal. A story where good is warring against evil, danger lurks around every corner, and glorious deeds wait to be done. Think of all those stories you’ve ever loved–there’s a reason they stirred your heart. They’ve been trying to tell you about the true Epic ever since you were young.
There is a larger story And you have a crucial role to play.

If you don’t know the Epic, it’s time you found out.

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Thinking Thursday: Dealing With Destiny

[Taken from Women’s Bible Study Conference (Wales) 2016, speaker Penny Curley]

Dealing with Destiny, knowing where we are going.

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Destiny is the inevitable succession of events. People say the only certainties in life are death and taxes.
…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)

Death is not our destination, it is just part of the way
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:8)
…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.(1 Cor.15:17,20)

There is something more beyond.

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-3)

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Cor 5:1)

At the end of C S Lewis’ book The Last Battle the people think that the world is ending, Narnia is gone. But Aslan explains that now they will get to see the real Narnia.

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev 22:3-5)

How should we face our destiny?

The Bible does not shy away from death. Woody Allen famously said, ‘I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.’ Mark Ashton wrote a book called On My Way To Heaven which many people found very helpful in dealing with death.

Florence Chadwick was a long distance swimmer who tried to swim the fogbound Catalina Strait. She was defeated by the fog, and found after she gave up she was only half a mile from the coast. She later accomplished the swim by clearly visualising the coast even though she couldn’t see it.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13)

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

Final Thoughts
Dealing with Doubt – not a wall but a bridge
Dealing with Depression – not a curse but as a gift
Dealing with Destiny – not an end but a beginning

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Writing Wednesday: Meta-Documents

In the IT world, metadata is information about the data, such as when it was created, updated, deleted, who by, how big the file is, and so on. In writing, especially fiction, meta-documents are documents about the novel, rather than the novel itself.

I talked last week about outlining, and the outline is a meta-document, but unlike most other meta-documents, you produce it before you start writing the novel. The other documents you produce during the writing process, to help you keep track of things.

Whatever you may think before you write your first novel, you will soon find it absolutely vital to devise some way of keeping track of these details. Otherwise you may have a hero whose eyes change colour, a place that’s down the road in one chapter and several hours away in another, or lose track of the passing of time.

Some writers keep a notebook with a page for each character, some have a file on the computer that they can keep adding to, lots of people use spreadsheets, because they are perfect for making lists and not hard to learn. Writing software usually includes space for this, and I use yWriter, so I’ll be illustrating what I mean with screenshots from yWriter. (I think it’s really great, and the best thing is, it’s free!)

Timeline and Pace

Details

Timeline
It may not be important to know what day it is, but you need to keep some track of time, otherwise you may have children in school for six days in a row, or have two groups of people who take different times to do things but meet up again on the same day. Your timeline can be as simple or detailed as you like.

Ratings labels

Pace Chart
The pace of your novel is how often there is action, tension, comedy, romance or just exposition and progression of the story. When you track the pace you can see how this balances out. Is there too much action without giving readers time to catch their breath and think about the story? Is there a big chunk where there’s no action and readers might get bored?

yWriter has Action/Reaction and Plot/Subplot switches on every scene, and allows you to configure your own ratings, which then appear in the Details screen show previously, where you can rate four different things out of ten.

Characters
Characters
You need to keep details of every major character, and you might find you need some minor ones too. I don’t draw up character sheets in advance like some people do. I don’t work out their birthday, schooling etc., unless I need it for the story. But as I’m writing, every time I mention something about a character, I write it down. Next time I need to mention it, I can check it.

If you’ve been following posts on my author blog about my novel Intruders, you will have seen pictures of actors who look like my characters, just to make descriptions easier.

Locations
Locations

I had been writing Intruders for years when my son asked me what the spaceship Kestrel looked like. I had no idea. That’s why there were no descriptions of the scenes there. I made a rough sketch, but soon found as I improved the novel that I needed to know lots more details. The same goes for all your locations. If you write the details down you can refer back to them later.

Items

Items

This list refers to any object or other thing that you need to keep details on. What sort of gun is it, who did it belong to, where was it used or lost? You might need details of the weather in a certain place, or the terrain. It might be an object that gets stolen or is a vital clue.

You may be the sort of planner who likes to decide all these details ahead of time, or someone who just makes them up as they go along, but you need to write them down somewhere. That way you can be consistent through the novel and not jerk readers out of their absorbtion with a jarring error.

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Thinking Thursday: Dealing With Depression

[Taken from Women’s Bible Study Conference (Wales) 2016, speaker Penny Curley]

Dealing with Depression, knowing what is true.

Sorrow

What is depression and what does it look like?
A quarter of British people will experience mental health problems this year. There were 8.2m cases in the UK in 2013, two thirds of those are women. Possible symptoms are many and varied, including appetite, insomnia, agitation or slow down, fatigue, worthlessness, reduced ability to think clearly or make decisions, suicidal.

Depression has been described as like sitting in the depths of a murky sea. Winston Churchill said he was pursued by a big black dog.

What causes depression?
Depression is a state of being whereas sadness is a process – Jim Winter (Depression, a Rescue Plan).
– Sadness not given time and space
– Overwhelming external pressures
– Chemical or hormonal imbalance
– Genetics
– Physical diseases can induce depression
– Depression can be a disease in its own right

Christians can get depression, it’s nothing to do with our spirituality.

So what can you do if depression is affecting you?
– Tell someone you trust
– Talk to your GP
– If your GP prescribes medication, take it!
– Be content with small steps towards feeling better
– Look for joy in the small things
– Chat with God, all the time, don’t worry about big prayer sessions

So how can we help someone else?
Case study: Elijah. In 1 Kings 17 & 18 he has had some amazing experiences, culminating in the standoff on Mount Carmel. But straight after, when he has brought an end to the drought, we find him terrified, alone, despairing, and depressed.

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:3-4)

God lets him sleep, feeds him, more sleep.
”What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9) God has a conversation with him, asks questions, listens to what Elijah has to say. Then God puts things into perspective.

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

God speaks to him gently, and asks the same question, gets the same answer, but He is patient. Small things speak to people, you don’t need to thunder and roar. God’s solution was to give Elijah hope, help and purpose:
Hope: anoint new kings (1 Kings 19:15, 16a)
Help: Elisha to be his replacement (1 Kings 19:16b)
Purpose: train Elisha, only you can do it.

When you look outside yourself and start to do things for others, it gives you purpose and lifts you.

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Writing Wednesday: Square Brackets to the Rescue

When you’re writing your novel, do the words always flow? Do the ideas always come in the right order? Do you always have all the information you need at hand while you’re writing a scene? If you do, I’d like to meet you, because you are a phenomenon.

[Square brackets] to the rescue.

Inspiration

Piers Anthony

Author Piers Anthony writes an epilogue in the back of each of his books about how he wrote it and what went on in his life at the time. They are a fascinating insight into how he works. While he is writing one story, he will often get an idea for another one. He doesn’t want to lose that inspiration, but he doesn’t want to stop the flow of what he’s currently writing. So he writes the new idea in square brackets and carries on.

When he types it up later (he writes in longhand) he takes out all the square brackets and saves them for later. He claims he never gets writer’s block, because if he’s stuck on one story he simply switches to one of his square bracket ideas and works on that instead.

Research

If you are writing a scene and find there’s information you don’t know, just put it in square brackets and find out later. You should have done major research beforehand – for example, the first part of Intruders is set in a quartz mine on an asteroid. But some things come up as you formulate a scene – like, what injuries do you get from an explosion underground? Have the doctor talk around square brackets and get the scene down, with all the dialogue and reactions and consequences.

I remember reading that the early drafts of Star Trek scripts used to have [technobabble] notes in them for the advisers to supply whatever bit of technical language they needed.

Note to Self

Sometimes you know a scene will need more work, or you mention something that’s got to be woven in somewhere else in the story. Put a note in square brackets and you won’t forget. Here’s one of mine: [Reuel doesn’t want to wear a hat again]. Curious? I’m not telling – yet. Maybe you’re not happy with a scene or some dialogue, but can’t see a way to improve it right now. [should be more angry] or [this needs more detail].

Work On Later

Maybe you’re writing and you get to a bit that you’re just not in the mood for. [love scene], [fight], [technical bit], [journey]. Put it in square brackets and carry on.

If you use a computer, not longhand like Piers Anthony, it’s easy to use the Find facility to find all your square brackets and make sure they’re sorted out. Using square brackets gives you the best of both worlds – keeps track of everything without interrupting the flow of what you’re writing now.

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Thinking Thursday: Dealing With Doubt

[Taken from Women’s Bible Study Conference (Wales) 2016, speaker Penny Curley]

Dealing with Doubt, knowing what is real.

Toss coin

I don’t have all the answers but am just opening doors for you to think about things.
A little boy began to realise that the cartoons on TV were not real, and sometimes the people on TV were only pretending. When he was told something he would ask ‘Is that in real life? ‘ Sometimes we feel the same way and want to ask the same question.

Dictionary.com says doubt is a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.

Is it OK for Christians to have doubts? Yes.
George Verwer: Faith is not found in the absence of doubts but in the midst of them.
Chuck Swindoll: Doubt is the raw side of honesty as opposed to rank unbelief.

There are two kinds of doubt, intellectual and emotional.

1. Intellectual
Doubt can come from people who question your mental capacity or think you are swallowing fairy tales if you are a Christian. Have you ever been asked the question, Isn’t Christianity put together by clever people over many years to deceive people?
Karl Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses.

We can also ask, Is God still God even if I don’t believe in him? Did Jesus still die if I don’t accept salvation?
The truth doesn’t change because I don’t believe.

There are two responses which will help counteract intellectual doubt:
Response 1: Look at the lives of other Christians past and present. Would they have suffered so much, even died, for a lie? Remember and share what God has done in your life.
Response 2: Look at other people’s discoveries, eg Stuart Burgess at Bristol University, or Alister McGrath at Oxford University. I don’t have time or brain power to research everything, but I can read others who have done the work. They assure me of the robustness of the Christian viewpoint.
When people question you, don’t be afraid to say, ‘Right now I don’t know but I can go and find out. ‘

2. Emotional
This is much more subjective and internalised.
Does God really love me? Why doesn’t he answer my prayers?
Other people’s answers are not enough, we have to work it out for ourselves.
Blondin pushed a wheelbarrow across a tightrope over Niagra falls. One day he asked the watching crowd, ‘Who believes I can put a person in the wheelbarrow and cross?’ Everyone cheered and said ‘yes!‘ Then he asked for a volunteer.  No-one answered. They didn’t believe so much that they would act on it.
I’m not sure what will happen, but I know who is pushing my wheelbarrow. I know who holds my life.
A young girl was afraid to jump into the swimming pool until Daddy said he would catch her. Our doubts and fears disappear when we rely on God.

How does God respond to doubt?
There are many great characters in the Bible who had doubts.

John the Baptist had great conviction, but in Luke 7:20 he sent his disciples to ask Jesus questions. Jesus’ response reminds John of what he already knows, and points him to the evidence – of scripture, of prophecies fulfilled, of changed lives. Those who don’t doubt are rare – it’s normal.

Jesus had questions from Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. He gives patient explanation and a demonstrative miracle. He points them to scripture. He reprimands them for not knowing. He asks questions of his own. Sometimes he just refuses to answer.

Thomas:
Not ‘doubting ‘ as we call him, his nickname was ‘the twin’.
So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
John 5:16;7:5;8:59;9:34;10:39 were all cases of opposition to Jesus – so Thomas had good reason for pessimism.
Thomas was the practical one. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5)
Thomas was real and honest – when they told him Jesus was risen, he needed to see for himself.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
How does Jesus deal with Thomas’ doubt? Jesus doesn’t rush to put him straight, he gives him time to think. As Thomas shows his willingness to believe by being with the disciples Jesus shows himself to him and greets him with ‘Peace’. Jesus gives him all the reassurance he needs and then commends us for believing without seeing.

Final thoughts:
Genuine doubt comes from a desire for truth, and a reflective Christian is a healthy Christian.
What you do with your doubts determines whether they will help or hinder you.
Know in whom you are trusting, he will keep you safe.
Have mercy on those who doubt. (Jude v22)
“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

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Writing Wednesday: Outlining (Adept)

On Wednesdays I am talking about the writing of my new novel Adept, the second book in the Flight of the Kestrel series. Something I should have mentioned earlier is outlining.

Outline

There are many people who prefer to take an idea and just write and see where it goes, but even for those, there comes a time when you have to do some work on the structure of the story. Others like every detail planned out before they start writing, and most of us fall somewhere in between.

If you use writing software, like Scrivener or yWriter, it will have outlining facilities built in. I use yWriter (read my review here) and it breaks chapters down into scenes and provides a heading and a description box for each scene, as well as the writing area for the actual contents of the scene. This allows easy rearrangement of scenes and chapters by drag-and-drop if you need it.

When I looked at my list of chapters and scenes for what I wrote on the fly during NaNoWriMo a few years ago, several things were immediately apparent. For one thing, it’s way too short. I also realised that characters had changed in the development of the first book, Intruders. But one thing took me a while to notice. See if you can spot it:

Ch1 Sc1 Parks, Hoy & Reuel captured
Ch2 Sc1 Parks returns
Ch2 Sc2 Breakout
Ch3 Sc1 Escape to park
Ch3 Sc2 Back to Kestrel
Ch4 Sc1 Red alert
Ch4 Sc2 Bokans attack
Ch4 Sc3 Tanu critically hurt
Ch5 Sc1 Introducing Kestrel and crew
Ch5 Sc2 Report of mission

I know the cryptic headings give little away, but I wrote about it last week. I was so eager to start with some action, that I don’t introduce the Kestrel and crew until Chapter 5. Would you read a book all the way to chapter 5 when you had no idea who anyone was? I don’t think so.

Post-Its

Outlining gives you the opportunity to get all your ideas down and put them in some sort of order, and then spot weaknesses and holes. You can do it on paper or on screen, use Post-its or file cards, and it’s important to always carry something to capture more ideas as you get them. You will find that taking an overview of your story will spark all sorts of new ideas.

So, how do you outline? Rather than re-invent the wheel, I recommend Chandler Bolt’s recent blog post in his Self-Publishing School, with links to other sites for more details on each of his points. As you have seen if you’re following Writing Wednesday, I have already started revising, but I should really make more time for working the outline into some sort of shape before I get too far.

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