Wednesday, April 25, 2012

To Prologue or Not To Prologue

Best I could do...

When does your story start?

That's silly, you may say. At the beginning. Duh.

But when do you really begin?

In my WIP, my inspiration was an image of a body in the water that is found by a Thai fisherman. From there I started asking how he got there, and the story took off.

I initially started the story with the fisherman finding the body. I recently revised it to show the person found in the water running for his life in the jungle, to make the suspense immediate and to show more connection to events later on. So my first chapter was Travis running and getting caught, and the fisherman finding his body in the water. I then shift to Jenna, Travis's sister, who is a medical student on training in the ER, showing a day in her life to introduce her character and skill set, for chapter two.

I just got the results back from a writing competition I entered. The feedback was positive, with constructive criticism revealing things I needed to work on. One repeated comment was that I wasn't starting with the protagonist in the main conflict right away.

One judge suggested the first chapter be a prologue. Another thought I needed to start with Jenna, and show her getting the news about her brother right away.

These are good thoughts, but I think the contest is limited by only being the first 15 pages. In the next chapter I introduce the other main character and his connection to Jenna, with chapter 4 as the point when Jenna finds out about her murdered brother.

My dilemna is how to handle the opening. Is a prologue the right way to go? I've struggled with this for a while. I understand why it would work that way. I also hear readers skip prologues. I never do, but then I read the acknowledgements and almost anything else in print in the book.

So this is a question for my writing friends. What do you think about prologues, and how would you suggest arranging the structure here?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Short Term Missions

I'm a fan. What can I say?

"How about WHAT you're a fan of," a random surfer could ask.

Well, random surfer, let me tell you what I like.

I like it when people take a period in their life and dedicate it to the Lord.

It is no secret that I support mission work. Today is Mission Monday if you needed any other hint. I've blogged frequently about Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a non-denominational mission organization that I did two training programs with in the 90's. (Yeah, way back then.)

When I was 18 I attended their Discipleship Training School (DTS) in Lakeside, MT. Even though they have these programs all over, the rustic mountain location was a great place to get away from distractions and spend time with God. We spent three months learning about God, His character and ways, His word, prayer, evangelism, and missions. This time changed my life, from letting me see the depth of the Father's love for me to His heart for the whole world to come to know Him.

Our school then did a two month outreach in Asia, with my team going to Thailand and the other to Taiwan. Now we put our newfound knowledge and experience to test in the real world. We went to parks and prisons to share about His freedom. We did acts of service and prayed for a demon-possessed man chained to a bare-bones hut in a remote village. We tried to love as best we could. We even played Christian music in a Thai disco on New Year's Eve

This changed my life forever in so many ways. I not only knew more about Jesus, I had experienced so much of Him. I got away from the small town in Idaho and saw the big, bad world. I learned that we are incredibly blessed in the West, and that there are tremendous needs around the world. Even though I have not been called (so far) to work overseas, my heart has been to shine a light on these needs to people here at home since going.

But this is not the biggest way that my life was changed by a short term mission trip.

My older sister, 15 years older, was often like a second mom to me. She got active in Campus Crusade for Christ while in college. She served a couple of summer outreaches with them, and became dedicated in her walk. At the time our family was not going to church back home. When my sister moved back for a while, she started taking me to the local Southern Baptist church where I got saved and ended up becoming a true disciple in my high school years.

If it weren't for her influence, and the influence of her short term trip, I may not be standing here today. (And I'm literally standing - I have this cool desk that elevates and...never mind)

This is why I'm an advocate for people to do some kind of trip or service to the Lord where they get away for even just a few months and dedicate it to Him. The rewards are more than you can imagine - IF you let it transform you, and you stay with the Lord.

It isn't a panacea to all problems. I have had friends who have done these trips and have not continued leaning on God afterwards, and they have had trouble in life. I've had my share of trials too, but by trying to stay close to Him, I have by His grace weathered every one so far.

YWAM is awesome, but it is not necessarily for everyone. There are many ways Christians could partake in the type of experience I am talking about today. I encourage anyone reading this to consider taking a similar opportunity if possible.

It may just change someone's life. Not just your own.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Writing Through The Pain

The red area - it burns!
Sometime you have to write through the pain.

No, literally, you have to write through the pain!

I'm fighting some low back issues for the last couple of weeks, and it may be time to get some injections into the back. Even though I'm in the medical profession, it doesn't mean I like getting needles poked into me any more than the next guy. But I'll be alright, although it is a little depressing to be limited when spring is coming and Idaho is actually having a spring. And who knows, there might be something to write out of all of this. ;)

So much for my hook. Yes, I am dealing with some pain, but sometimes we have to write when it hurts figuratively as well. The subject we're dealing with may be close to our own trials or troubles. We may be exposing feelings or thoughts long buried. It may be just good ol' writers' block pinning us down on the proverbial mat, and no matter what we do we can't wriggle free from its grip.

What do we do?

It isn't fun to hit the difficult parts, but if you believe what you're doing is worth it, then it is imperative to power through. In my WIP, I touch on human trafficking. It is not pleasant to deal with some of this, and I have some characters saying things that I find abhorrent. I don't see a way around it. If I want to see this story to fruition, it has to go there.

One way to break through is to keep writing. If it freezes your progress, it can be difficult to keep momentum. When I hit a point like this, I found setting a timer and making myself write whatever crap that comes out helped a lot. It pushed me through the tough part.

As a Christian, I believe another method is certainly prayer. If it is a personal pain, writing about it can be cathartic but it opens old wounds. Again using medical analogies, sometimes festering wounds need to be opened so the bad stuff can be drained out and true healing can begin. Prayer and Bible study can help with the spiritual healing.

Sometimes we may need to get up, stretch our legs, and move out of the situation to clear our head. If we're beating our heads against the monitor (hopefully still figuratively here), it might be best to leave and return with a fresh perspective.

At the end, it is important to always get back up again. If it is worth fighting for, don't stay down. Push through it. And here's a little musical interlude to help with the mood ;)

What say you? Have you had pain (figurative or literal) you've had to battle to keep going?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Displaced People

Are you glad you have a home? Are you proud to be an American?

What if that were taken from you?

Did you know that there are people in the world that aren't refugees that do not hold a citizenship in any country? There are people that haven't been chased out of one country into another due to war or persecution, but they just aren't counted.

One situation is in the hill tribes of northern and western Thailand. They are technically eligible for Thai citizenship, but the regulations for getting it are often too cumbersome for rural tribes.

Why does this matter?

It limits these people in getting jobs or accessing services, and it makes them especially vulnerable for human trafficking, from labor-based slavery to sex slavery. They are not protected by laws that are otherwise designed to be a resource for workers. They can't even own the land they live on.

The good point is that organizations like International Justice Mission are working with these tribal groups to facilitate registration and walk them through the confusing processes that are in place currently. By being an advocate, they do prevention work to keep these people from being so vulnerable for abuse.

These things happens nowadays. Thankfully there are many groups working to help this problem. Sometimes we can make a difference before the problem of trafficking actually happens, and working with vulnerable peoples and lifting them up economincally and providing avenues for justice will be the ways we eventually end the problem of modern day slavery.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On Violence

Sometimes Writing Wednesday can tip into...Tipped Thursday? Hmm, I'll have to work on that one.


The massive success of the book and movie version of The Hunger Games has brought up the subject of violence in literature again. Some people look at the deeper meaning of the story, and some people can't get past the teen on teen violence.

They must not remember high school.

Kidding! However, the world of Christian fiction has an interesting dichotomy. Sex and naughty words are a no go, but violence is tolerated/accepted much more. Mike Duran has a good post on this conundrum that I recommend.

I've talked about it at length here. My most recent post linked to a couple of articles that took opposite viewpoints.

I also participate in blog tours for books regularly. In 2007 there was a book featured that had some scenes that stimulated my thoughts on the topic of violence.

It ended up spurring six days of posts, with some great discussion on all of the posts. Since it seems relevant with the Hunger Games discussion, as well as catching me up quickly to my blogging delay, I present links to each of the posts.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6

The take home points were that the Bible is not sanitized when it comes to violence, but it is also not written to entertain but to narrate events that happened and to show consequences. If a Christian author uses violence, it should fit the story and not be done in a gratuitous manner, and they should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in how to show it. We can't be afraid of the professional weaker brother, but discernment is always a good thing to exercise.
What say you? Have you noticed excessive or gratuitous violence in a CBA book before? Is there a level for "too much?"

Monday, April 09, 2012

Smart Giving

Here on Mission Mondays, I like to bring out on occasion ways for people to make a difference right where you are. We don't always have the opportunity to go to places with needs (and there's always the needs right where we are anyway), but if there's a issue that touches your heart, it is nice to make a difference.

For instance, Idaho doesn't seem to have a high rate of human trafficking (although I'm sure it is more than we know), but it is an issue I care deeply about. Therefore I like to support organizations like International Justice Mission.

How do we know what we're doing makes a difference?

First of all, you can check with a group called Charity Navigator. This organization rates groups by financial stewardship and accountability. If most of the money goes to help those it is intended for, it gets a good money number. If it has policies in place to be transparent and accountable, that score goes up.

This is not the only resource people should use, but it is helpful to get an overview, especially if you're looking at a new charity you're not familiar with or it is a hot topic issue (the Haiti earthquake for example).

Christianity Today had a helpful article that reviewed ten different strategies that are popular for charitable giving right now, from clean water initiatives to giving animals through charity gift catalogs and laptops for disadvantaged kids. Several economists looked at these from a cost benefit and effectiveness rating. There were some surprising findings.

Corrective surgeries scored a little lower than one would expect, due to the higher cost per benefit. The gift catalog of giving assorted livestock or animals didn't rate very well, and this may change what I do next Christmas (even though my kids enjoyed this). The laptops initiative scored the worst and clean water projects scored the highest. Check out the article for more in depth information.

We all want to know that what we're doing to help really helps. Hopefully these two links help with discerning the best way to give in the future. It doesn't hurt to do our homework.

Have fun telling that to my kids though...

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A Laughing Matter

LOLZ! So funny!

Last week I was part of a blog tour for the book Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos. One aspect of the book that was always brought out was its humor in the way it dealt with serious issues of faith. Matt's sense of humor didn't resonate with everyone, but everyone recognized it was a valid device to get points across.

So how do we make others laugh in our writing?

I am writing a suspense. I hope it is suspenseful. I hope it keeps people turning the pages. But I also want there to be some laughs in the midst of it. Not only do I enjoy that type of writing, I think it helps control the mood. If a writer can disarm a reader with a laugh at one point and hit them with a gut punch of drama later on, the reader has more of an emotional ride from it.

I'm the type that really enjoys laughing. My favorite writing combines suspense, good characterization, and a sense of humor. Some of my favorite authors are James Scott Bell, Tim Downs, and Rene Gutteridge. They are all known for a clever or witty voice. Even in a serious book, they have moments where the reader is disarmed by a funny comment or piece of dialogue. Heck, I read the romance Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones because of her humerous writing.

I try to do that in my own writing. I like to find the little surprise or twist that catches people off guard. I don't know if it is working, but if it makes me smile after reading it over again, my feeling is it has potential.

What do you think? Do you try for humor in your writing? If so, how do you go about putting the funny in there?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Do You Believe?

  • Men trapped on fishing boats forced to work, by not being allowed to go on shore.
  • Whole families conscripted into working for brick-making plants in India due to a past debt.
  • Women used to due hair extensions in Western beauty parlors.
  • A children's choir from Africa touring a rich country to accolades, only to find the performers are paid next to nothing.
  • Young girls tricked into prostitution by the false promise of good jobs in Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia or in the United States.

Last week I posted the video of the song 27 Million, sung by Matt Redman and LZ7 to bring awareness to all of the people worldwide in slave conditions. The idea is that there are 27 million people in slavery around the globe RIGHT NOW.

All of the above scenarios are part of modern day slavery and human trafficking. It happens in rich and poor countries, in the West, East, North, and South. Some critics say abolition groups focus on sexual aspects of trafficking. It just happens to be very common, but there are many variations of slavery altogether.

Is it unreasonable to think we can change this?

If African slavery was ended in Europe and the United States, why can't it happen now?

If a committed group continues to cry for justice, will the cry be heard?

I believe in a God of power and justice, so yes, I believe it will be heard. I believe it can happen.

Don't forget. Read and get educated.

There will be more...