What should I write as a Christian Fiction Author?

Write for whatever purpose God has called you to write.

He isn’t necessarily going to use us all the same way. Some might be called to reach outsiders. Others might be called to write for the Church. Some might even be simply called to represent our Lord well by writing excellent, top-notch entertainment.

That is going to be the best place to start as you’re praying and seeking guidance from the Lord. If he gives you a specific ministry focus for your fiction, that will layer on top of the basic of writing a well-crafted story. And it will be an extra level of challenge to do it while, say, exploring themes that (subtly or explicitly) challenge the Church and/or outsiders to reconsider worldly views and nudge them toward Biblical truth.

Not everyone’s up for such a task. It’s okay if you’re not. That doesn’t mean God can’t use you. He will, just another way.

Whatever you write, for whatever mortal audience, write it as unto the Lord. Follow God’s leading, obey the individual convictions and directions he gives you.

With gritty stuff, a general rule of thumb is: don’t glorify sin. Be as tasteful as possible without sacrificing story. Avoid also pretending there isn’t pleasure in sin for a season. Do be redemptive but without forcing it.


Before And After: Forgotten

Before Editing:

The sullen young man, trapped by the eternal night which so recently befell him, submitted to the humiliation of allowing his father to lift him from the cart and lead him up the steps of Uncle Benjamin’s home. He was a shepherd. His father was a shepherd. His father before him was a shepherd, and so was his father before him. Then a lion attacked his father’s flock, killing two young lambs. Josiah slayed the lion,  but the stubborn dying beast stole his sight with one final lash at him.

Blinded, he was a disgrace to his family, bringing dishonor where once he was honored. He tightened his grip around his guiding stick, a bitter taste in his mouth. Before his father whittled it down, this instrument was a noble staff to protect his sheep. Now unable to keep watch over his sheep and hence of no use to his family, his father brought him here to Jerusalem, to live out the rest of his days in asylum.

“Just one more, we’re almost there,” his father whispered, then called, “Hail, Uncle.”

His uncle’s voice called back, “Hail, Natan and Shalom, Josiah.”

As Josiah stumbled over the last invisible step, smooth but wrinkled hands clasped his hands,  already hardened in his nineteen years by many nights spent with his sheep in the hills of Galilee. His uncle released his hands then and, seizing him by the shoulders, granted him a stunning peck on his cheek right below the blindfold he had to have somehow managed to not notice. “My, how handsome you’ve grown. I don’t believe I’ve seen you since the Passover the year of your bar mitzvah, Josiah.”

His father started, “Well, as you can see…”

“Yes, yes, your messenger told me. Don’t worry, he’s safe here.”

“Thank you, Mary and I appreciate this, Uncle. Farewell, I must be off. Take care of yourself and mind your uncle, Son.” His father’s footsteps echoed down the stone staircase.

After Editing:

No choice but to submit to utter humiliation. Trapped in an eternal night, Yoshiyah ben Natan sulked as his father lifted him from the cart. He ought to be out leading his helpless flock, not helplessly being led up the steps of Uncle Binyamin’s home in Jerusalem.

He was a shepherd. His father was a shepherd. His father before him was a shepherd, and so was his father before him. That accursed lion. It’d killed two young lambs before Yoshiyah slayed it and the stubborn dying beast stole his sight with one final lash at him.

Blinded, he was a disgrace to his family. He tightened his grip around his guiding stick, a bitter taste in his mouth. Before his father whittled it down, this instrument was a noble staff to protect his sheep. Now unable to keep watch over his sheep, he was of no use to his family. Uncle Binyamin was all that stood in between him and a life of begging in the streets.

“Just one more, we’re almost there,” his father whispered before calling, “Hail, Uncle.”

His uncle’s voice called back, “Hail, Natan and Shalom, Yoshiyah.”

Yoshiyah stumbled over the last invisible step. Soft, wrinkled hands clasped his rough hands,  hardened in his nineteen years by many nights spent with his sheep in the hills of Galilee. His uncle released his hands, seized him by the shoulders, and pecked his cheek right below the blindfold. “My, how handsome you’ve grown. I don’t believe I’ve seen you since the Passover the year of your bar mitzvah, Yoshiyah.”

Had his uncle somehow missed the blindfold? Who treated a blind man so?

His father started, “Well, as you can see…”

“Yes, yes, your messenger told me. Don’t worry, he’s safe here.”

“Thank you, I appreciate this, Uncle. Shalom.” His father’s footsteps echoed down the stone staircase.


Character Interview: Dallas Keegan from Grave Obsessions

Gentle readers, we continue our series of character interviews. Recently, I had the delight of chatting with Dallas Keegan, the determined detective in Grave Obsessions, a novel released through Helping Hands Press on 3/22/15 by Patti J. Smith.

PBC: Dallas, what do you love most about your job?
Dallas: Seeing a case through to the end with the perp being prosecuted and sentenced.

PBC: So, any drawbacks or challenges?
Dallas: Even though I revel in the successful resolution of a case, it doesn’t bring the victim(s) back to life or stop the suffering of those left behind.

PBC: What are your greatest hopes and dreams?
Dallas: I would really love to have a special someone in my life and maybe even get married (did I really say that?)

PBC: What are your greatest fears? Weaknesses?
Dallas: My greatest fear professionally is “getting used to” the evil and morbidity thus dehumanizing the victims. Personally, because I immerse myself so deeply into each case, I’m afraid if that someone special shows up, I’ll not notice. My professional weakness is being a little disorganized and a bit of a slob. My lieutenant is on my back all the time. Personally, I drink too much wine and eat too much junk food.

PBC: Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
Dallas: Hobbies? Who has time for hobbies? If I were to have the time, I would love to learn to cook. As far as special interests, I’m considering applying for classes at the FBI Behavior Analysis Unit (but don’t tell anyone).

PBC: How about pet peeves? What annoys you?
Dallas: I have several pet peeves but will reveal the top three: 1) My lieutenant’s mood swings, 2) Being called out right before my first sip of wine, and 3) My partner’s southern drawl that gets high-pitched when she’s stressed out.

PBC: What do you value most?
Dallas: When all is said and done I value my growing faith. I lost it for many years and finally realized it is the glue that holds me together.

PBC: Tell me a bit more about your family and friends. What do you like about them? Dislike?
Dallas: My parents and sister are gone, but I have a wonderful Aunt in Connecticut who is a nun. She does her best to inspire me in my faith journey and holds nothing back concerning what she thinks I need to do to improve my life. I don’t have many friends due to my being a workaholic, but my partner and I are close. She’s fun to work with, but sometimes she puts her mouth in gear before her mind.

PBC: Dallas in your own words, could you tell us a bit about the author of your series, Patti J. Smith?
Dallas: Patti J. Smith has identity issues. She writes Christian devotionals, light romance then goes into the dark recesses of her mind and writes about me tracking down murderers, kidnappers and the like. She and I have different ideas on what direction I should go next, but I use my power of persuasion quite successfully … through sleep deprivation!

PBC: So, Dallas, what do you think of Patti? What do you like or admire about her? Anything you dislike?
Dallas: I think she has an incredible imagination and takes great pride in her work. She writes from the heart and integrates her faith in all genres. Dislike? She is too hard on herself at times and as for my character, she is procrastinating on my love-life (but I’m wearing her down!).

PBC: Dallas, if you had one question you could ask Patti, what would it be?
Dallas: You probably think it will be about my love-life, but my biggest question is … Will I burn out and leave the force?

PBC: Dallas, if you could spend a whole day with Patti, where would you go and what would you do together?
Dallas: We’re both observers so I think we would probably grab some fast food at the pier and head to the beach and people watch.

PBC: Dallas, what do you think of the cover of Grave Obsessions? grave obsessions
Dallas: It’s creepy but definitely grabs the reader.

Patti SmithPatti J. Smith is a multi-genre author, transitioning between suspense, light romance, and Christian devotionals. She recently retired as a background investigator which allows her to focus on her writing career, but most importantly, dedicate more time to her faith community and ministries. She serves as a member of the Association of Christian Therapists, Regional Coordinator for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and leads Rachel’s Hope After-Abortion Healing Retreats. Patti publicly shares her story of redemption in a variety of venues and appears in the newly-released documentary, “The Sidewalk Chronicles”. She is an avid blogger, reader and proudly admit to being a diehard Seattle Seahawks fan and Fantasy Football fanatic.

She and her husband, Michael, make their home in Vista, California.

Thanks for stopping in and chatting with us, Dallas! Readers, it’s your turn! Got any questions for Dallas about crime solving or anything else on your mind? Comment away. If one of your characters would like to chat with us here, send me an email and we’ll set a date.


Plotting v. Seat of Pants (updated)

Experts who happen to be plotters will tell you their method is the right way to write. Seat-of-pants authors (pantsers) swear by their method and got published that way, too. I believe your personality is a good basis for deciding which writing method is right for you. Especially consider whether you prefer to rely on your intuition (N) or prefer to rely on your senses (S) and whether you are judging (J) or perceiving (P). If you’re an SJ, you’re probably a natural born plotter and should stick to it. If you’re an NP, you probably are best at writing by the seat of your pants and should experiment with plotting techniques only to find the ones that will work with your natural strengths.

If you don’t already know your personality type, if pure seat-of-pants comes naturally to you and always produces better results than plotting does, you’re likely an NP.

If you couldn’t write like a pantser to save your soul, the thought makes you shudder, and you’re tempted to think pantsers are lazy and unprofessional, you’re likely an SJ.

If you’re somewhere in between these two extremes, you’re probably an NJ or an SP. Note these are only general preferences. An SJ’s characters may on occasion decide to talk back. The SJ is simply going to be reluctant to listen and far more eager to force the character to follow the SJ’s carefully laid plans. Likewise, an NP can learn how to plot and plan and may choose to do so. They are simply going to be eager to listen to their characters’ input and reluctant to force compliance with the NP’s carefully laid plan.
Further, despite psychologists’ common belief, God can change your preferences over time. I used to be a clear NJ. Now I have almost as many Perceiving tendencies. That said, I do still show the tendency to borrow from both camps that you see with NJ personalities and SP personalities. SP writers will tend to plan ahead on paper, but will be flexible about the details, keep their options open, and make changes as need arises. In brief, for the SP, the plan was made to be deviated from if a better way came along.

As an NJ with a strengthening P side, I’ve always mentally walked through my scenes and eavesdropped on my characters ahead of writing anything down. Sometimes I start writing before I’ve finished this activity, and I only put any of my prep work on paper if a story requires a lot of research and world-building details that I fear I’ll forget.

That was the case with one of the second of the novels that go with Users of Web Surfer, a collection of ten shorter works Helping Hands Press plans to publish. Most of the time, my NJ brain manages to hold onto an amount of advanced prep work that would amaze SJs who always write everything down. Especially when my main character is an AI-Man whose life is full of paradoxes. By the grace of God, I even came back strong after a concussion stole five hours of my life and misplaced my mental notes while I was writing the first draft of the first full Web Surfer novel.

As for my general methodology, I know one other NJ author who works the same way and is also good at keeping track of things in his head, though he has stereotypical male strengths and I have stereotypical female strengths. NJs typically like to have everything pinned down before we start, but just like we’ll write our mental notes down if we feel a particular project needs it, we’ll go fishing like a SOP if it feels right for that book.

The plotter’s favorite critiques of pantsers would absolutely be true for the plotter. Due to the way natural pantsers’ brains prefer to process data, the method’s effectiveness for them depends upon the knowledge the pantser has fed themselves with in terms of plot and novel structure. An intuitive who knows how to properly structure and plot a novel will actually produce similar results to a plotter with an ounce of flexibility in him/her.

Yes, Plotter, an intuitive can study plot structure rules and techniques, mentally jot them down, and, with practice, learn how to intuitively knock out a carefully plotted novel while having done no advanced planning as far as a computer or pen and paper can detect. This seems impossible or unlikely to you because you are not wired for that. If the intuitive writer’s sanity is fairly questioned, though, there is a method to our madness.

Andrea Graham studied creative writing and religion at Ashland University, has been envisioning fantastic worlds since age six, and has been writing science fiction novels since she was fourteen. She’s signed a contract for her Web Surfer books with Helping Hands Press and has co-authored novels that were primarily by her husband, Adam Graham. She encourages readers at christsglory.com and offers assistance to writers at povbootcamp.com. Andrea and Adam live with their cat, Joybell, in Boise, Idaho.

Find me on:
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To be Subtle or Not to Be Subtle

Dear Editor,

As a Christian writer, I want to make a positive spiritual impact on my readers. Specifically, I feel God wants me to be a witness to atheists and agnostics through my writing. Christian authors with far more publishing experience than I tell me, if I want to write for a non-Christian audience, I must not allow my Christian characters to make any references to our religious beliefs and only hint that they might have religious reasons for their actions. In short, I’m told, I need to hide my beliefs while trying to subtly influence the reader to believe, too.  This makes me uncomfortable, but I’m told I’ll only offend my audience if I do it any other way.



As I understand the Bible, in any context, a faith that is hidden cannot touch anyone in a way that will draw them toward the faith. What can touch people is a plain-spoken, humble faith that is neither fake nor forced but rather lived out naturally. When we do that in any setting, the only non-Christians you’ll offend are folks too hardened for the Holy Spirit to draw them by any means. In my experience, aside from those guys, it’s actually Christians you most have to worry  about offending.

That said, the bible does present one subtle form of Christian story telling known as the parable, which is essentially an allegory where the hidden meaning is religious. However, parables are only for people with ears to hear. Before a parable can touch an unbeliever, they have to be able to figure out what it means. The atheists I’ve heard from feel like Christians who write subtle are trying to trick them. No one likes to be tricked.

Any time we’re wanting to persuade an atheist to become a Christian, if we don’t want to be perceived as rudely crossing the atheists’ boundaries, it’s best to be direct, natural, respectful, and to wait until they indicate interest in hearing our logical, rational case for Christ’s existence with an open mind.

In fact, most humans of all persuasions prefer it to be disclosed plainly up front what philosophical/political/religious perspective a media item is going to be taking so we can make an informed decision whether we’re interested in “being reached,” persuaded to switch to an opposing viewpoint. If we’re not interested, with a few vocal, rude exceptions, the question then becomes whether the story is good enough to merit overlooking that.

If you write an entertaining enough novel, so long as it maintains a level of your philosophical/political/religious beliefs that’s tolerable to readers committed to the opposite view, they will happily read to the end. However, they will go on with their lives with what they’ve read having made zero impact on their beliefs.

Christians well know this when we’re consumers evaluating materials advocating non-Christian beliefs, but we sometimes conveniently forget it when we’re producing materials advocating Christian beliefs. Why? Well, it pokes holes in our “evangelism” excuse for writing to please a market where we’ll get more money but not actually be able to make an impact because their minds are already made up. The only religious reason for us to want that person’s money is the hope that person will leave a positive review that encourages someone who is willing to be persuaded to give our book a try.

If God has called someone to write fiction for evangelism purposes, that fiction’s target audience is open-minded unbelievers. It’s only a bonus if it’s also enjoyed by either Christians or closed-minded unbelievers who don’t mind (can tolerate) the religious content that organically arises due to the POV characters being “seekers of truth” (like the target audience) who find Christ near the end of their book or series and convert for *believable* reasons in a natural, non-canned way. It’d be most effective to open with the POV character considering Christianity* as a possibility but having questions they feel need answered before they’ll commit. It’s also best if they have an external conflict that can be enjoyed by anyone who reads the book’s genre. Why? Well, this audience typically seeks Truth from non-fiction and reads fiction for sheer pleasure. However, everyone appreciates a hero that we can personally relate to who is doing cool stuff.

*In a Fantasy novel, the POV character would be considering the validity of the Fantasy world’s Christianity analogue.

Of course, there is another option: pre-evangelism fiction.

Effective pre-evangelism fiction would feature a non-Christian POV character with a secular problem they solve with the help of a Christian who is just quietly living his or her faith in front of them, or it’d introduce the Christian as the POV character’s adversary. Either way, due to the Christian character showing the POV character love and respect while living in a way that’s consistent with his/her own beliefs, the POV character changes from being indifferent or hostile to Christians to respecting them without actually changing his or her own beliefs.

Here, the Christian sidekick/nemesis would need introduced fairly early so there’s no “gotcha” but Christianity isn’t even on the POV character’s radar as a possibility until the end of the series or the stand-alone book. Note authors’ first instinct is to make the POV character be of the same persuasion as us, as it is easier for us, but it’s harder on our audience if our audience is of another persuasion. It’s our job to give our audience a hero/ine they can relate to, which means it’s our job to research until we can see life through their eyes.

I consider fiction to be more suited for pre-evangelism than evangelism, but if God has called anyone to that, do it.


What Do I Put In a Synopsis?

The contents of a synopsis should cover the major plot points of your novel. Publishers ask for a synopsis to see whether you know how to plot a novel before they read it. So a good place to start is the theory that there are only seven basic plots and identify which one(s) your story uses. That basic plot is the template for what information to put in your synopsis. Highlight both where you follow the basic plot and your personal twists.

Here are two example templates I’ve created based on two of the seven plots.

Synopsis of Voyage and Return by Archetypal Plot

Hero is restricted somehow but open to a shattering new experience. He is young and naïve, and curious and looking for wonder, and perhaps bored, drowsy, or restless. Hero is thrust out of his familiar, limited world into a strange world unlike anything he’s known before.

He explores his new world, fascinated by its puzzles and unfamiliarity. Hero’s restrictions are lifting. However, he never feels truly at home here.

Gradually, his difficulties and frustrations increase, drawing bands of a new restriction around the hero. A Dark Shadow grows and becomes increasingly alarming.

Dark Shadow dominates more and more, and begins to seriously threaten Hero’s survival. Hero is now even more restricted here than he had been at home.

Danger closes in on Hero and his suffering becomes unbearable. Just when all hope seems lost, Hero escapes from death at Dark Shadow’s hands by returning to the world he came from. Hero loses the positive relationships he’d gained in the other world, but Hero has learned from his experience and grown in character, so his life has been forever changed positively.


Synopsis of Rags to Riches by Archetypal Plot

Heroine is young and living in wretched conditions at home. She is lowly and unhappy. A dark shadow looms of malevolent rivals who scorn and maltreat her. A helper arrives (or an event occurs) that calls her (sends) her out into a wider world.

New ordeals crop up.  Heroine enjoys a first, limited success. Along with her improved fortunes, she gains a relationship that becomes her Precious and bests her Dark Rival(s) for now. She is not yet mature enough for her final state of glory.

Everything goes wrong. Dark Rival’s shadow returns. Heroine loses all she’s gained and is separated from her Precious. She is overwhelmed with despair in her darkest hour.

Heroine emerges from this darkness into a new light. She is still not everything she could be, but is discovering in herself a new strength. Once she matures into this, her strength is put to the final test as she must confront the dark rival, who stands in between her and her goal. At last, she successfully resolves this conflict and the dark shadow is removed from her life entirely.

Finally liberated, Heroine is reunited with her Precious. She enters fully into her own as she is now ready to receive God’s full purpose for her life and use what he gives her wisely.

If you like this technique, you can read about all seven basic plots in: Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker.


Interview with Harriet Beamer

Gentle readers, we continue with our series of character interviews I am conducting. Recently, I had the delight of chatting with Harriet Beamer, the heroine of the Christian fiction novel Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus (April 24, 2012/Zondervan) by author Joyce Magnin.

POV Boot Camp (PBC): Harriet, what do you love most about the journey you are taking?

O, goodness gracious I am just so excited about the whole kit ‘n kaboodle, the adventure, meeting new people, seeing places I’ve only dreamed of and of course collecting new salt and pepper shakers along the way. It’s a big country!


PBC: So, any drawbacks or challenges?

Beamer: Well, I am older and so sometimes my knees ached and my back hurt. And I did get tired easily. But I didn’t let that stop me. Not with a whole country to see.

PBC: What are your greatest hopes and dreams?

Beamer: Oh that’s easy, Dear, I want to be a grandmother. Unfortunately, my son Henry and his wife Prudence are taking their time in that area.
PBC: What are your greatest fears? Weaknesses?

Beamer: I am scared to death of spiders, especially Daddy Long Legs. Yuck. And I will always and forever have a weakness for chocolate.
PBC: Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

Beamer: Yes. Salt and pepper shakers. I collect them. I have been for many years and have over 3000 sets and some singles. I just love them.
PBC: How about pet peeves? What annoys you?

Beamer: Those kids who wear their pants so low. I just can’t stand that and wish they have some self-respect. And misplaced apostrophes.
PBC: What do you value most?

Beamer: Family, Jesus. My dog, Humphrey, my memories of Max, my collection, friends, love, butter cookies, Christmas.

PBC: Tell me a bit more about your family and friends. What do you like about them? Dislike?

Beamer: Oh dear, now you make me all misty-eyed. My dear Max, my late husband died quite a while ago. I miss him terribly. He was a builder. Built the house we lived in for . . . so many years. And there is Henry, the spitting image of his Dad, and his wife Prudence. Who I adore. And then there’s my Humphrey—my Bassett Hound. My best friend and companion. Such a good doggie. He likes donuts.
PBC: Harriet, in your own words, could you tell us a bit about the author of your novel, Joyce Magnin

Beamer: Oh, I adore Joycie, that’s what I call her. She is just so smart and talented and funny. She makes me laugh and cry sometimes because she has a way with the bittersweet things in life. Did you know she plays video games? I think that’s awesome. But I’ll let you in on a secret, Joycie is not the most organized person in the world, a great writer but never look in her closets.

PBC: So, Harriet, what do you think of Joyce Magnin? What do you like or admire about her? Anything you dislike?

Beamer: Besides what I just told you, I think she’s terrific. I adore her sense of humor and well, you know Joycie is truly one of the nice people of the world.

PBC: Harriet, if you had one question you could ask Joyce, what would it be?

Beamer:  Why in the heck did you make me cross the Royal Gorge in a gondola? I was scared half out of my mind. Well, not as scared as that other woman—the one who was screaming. But still . . .
PBC: If you could change one thing in Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus, what would it be?

Beamer: That’s easy. I would have loved for the journey to last even longer, to visit more cities and towns and meet more people. But who knows, maybe Joyce will send me out on another adventure.
PBC: Harriet, if you could spend a whole day with Joyce, where would you go and what would you do together?

Beamer: Well, after I talked her into going hunting for new salt and pepper shakers, I would like to go to the Philadelphia Art Museum and then out for a nice lunch. Doesn’t that sound lovely?

PBC: Harriet, what do you think of the cover of Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus?

Beamer: HA! I love it. It’s just so . . . .so me

PBC: Thanks for stopping in and chatting with us, Harriet!

Beamer: Thank you! I had a blast.

Readers, it’s your turn! Got any questions for Harriet about her adventure or anything else on your mind? Comment away. If one of your characters would like to chat with us here, send me an email and we’ll set a date.




Want to be a trusted critique partner?

Most serious writers seek to partner with other serious writers in mutually beneficial critique exchanges. What can you do to be the critique partner everyone wants?

The obvious, of course, is to know your craft and what you are doing, but being knowledgeable isn’t key, trust is. To build trust, you need to not only know what you are doing and how to spot craft errors, you also need to have good interpersonal skills. I have honestly been learning that on my feet, but in my studies of this strange people I find myself a member of, I have finally figured out a thing or two, through much trial and error.

1) We must discern between our subjective viewpoint and objective reality. To complicate matters, there are different schools of thought that offer a suggested objective reality on what good craft looks like and some of them contradict. Unless our critique partner has the same literary values and beliefs, we’re going to be hopelessly mismatched and talking right past one another. First and foremost is learning to respect differences of opinion. Our craft isn’t like either scientific or spiritual laws.

2) We have to be humble.

Outside of the objective craft techniques of the editorial schools of thought that you and your critique partner have agreed to critique according to, when it comes to our subjective experience, we have to be aware a novel will have lots of readers before and after publication. The author has to consider all of those readers  equally. Further, we cannot know for certain what any reader will think but ourselves and authors need to only be concerned about the opinions of members of their target audience and their target first line readers: agents, contest officials, acquisition editors, etc.

3) We have to be tactful and considerate.

When the apostle Paul said, “Speak the truth in love” he didn’t mean to bluntly and tactlessly tell someone our honest opinion out of a genuine love expressed by wanting to see the work improved in our eyes, but takes no consideration for how hurtful our choice of words may be. Love is, among other things, kind and gentle. Good intentions aren’t enough, we have to have love permeating how we speak and how we act, especially in sharing a negative opinion.

Realize your critique partners may have put a lot of themselves into their novels and their characters. That plot twist, setting, or character you personally dislike? That might well be based upon an experience the author had or identifies with. If we’re not tactful and careful in how we address the issue, our attempt to help them improve their work will come across as a personal attack and criticism of the author. That is never helpful to anyone and not what an author should need a thick skin for . Since those are at best skin deep, this sort of thing can put an “inexplicable” chill on the relationship, though women tend to struggle here more often than men.

4) We must respect the author’s Vision

In my experience, giving a critique that attacks the author’s vision of their work is the supreme mistake that I suspect is behind most unpleasant encounters with an “unteachable” author who is  impossible to work with. From their vantage point, however, we’re audaciously indignant they’d dare rebel against our will for the novel we envision and brazenly expecting them to cooperate with us destroying their novel in order to create our novel. Both sides walk away from this battle of wills telling their friends a horror story about their nightmare critique partner or nightmare author/editor.

When we have our editor hats on, it is always vexing when an author wants everything their way. The complaint is sincere with student writers and some of them will make the mistake of sending us stuff before they are ready for us.  However, it is the author’s novel, not ours. We have no right to force on the author our will of how it should be written. Before you groan or protest, consider whether this will be good news to you when it is your novel.

The only exceptions to this are the publisher-author relationship, mentoring relationships, and partnerships where a co-author or ghost writer is  working in your world with your characters. Even in these cases, the author we’re working with will have voluntarily submitted to us, either to learn or for the writing credit opportunity.

Otherwise, whenever we’re critiquing someone else’s completely original work, we should respect the author’s vision of what their work should be. In that regards, an author does have a right to get their own way and can only surrender it voluntarily.  Again, only people paying the author money for their work have the right to ask them to give any of their rights up.

5) We must ask questions rather than assume we know the answers.

Readers come to a story and subjectively interpret what the text means through the lens of their life experiences and the core beliefs so important to them,  they refuse to suspend disbelief if we violate their core beliefs. If we’re not alert, we will also do this as critiquers and develop a vision in our minds of what the story is. When it turns out we were wrong, if we don’t know better, we assume our vision is accurate and that the author must fix their story so it continues to fit our vision, which we again are assuming is the author’s. Some of us, however, wouldn’t care if our understanding wasn’t the author’s intent.

When we decide we know what a text, a character, or story world should look like better than the author who created them, we’re being arrogant, prideful, and demanding.  Note, I don’t mean situations where the author clearly did poor research and all we’re doing is politely citing the research or firsthand experience we have handy–so long as we’re tactful, most will be grateful. Oh, they’ll be annoyed if an important plot point turns on it, but they can’t blame the messenger if all we’re doing is helping them with their research and we might also have the knowledge to help them untangle that, too.

So how do we critique humbly, tactfully, respectfully, and with objective discernment that doesn’t ignorantly or callously bull doze over the author’s vision, but also provides them more help than cheerleading’s moral support?

Instead of pointing out errors with a value judgment of how it must be fixed, point out potential issues and areas of concern and label whether something is an objective craft pointer or  just your opinion. If offering solutions is ever necessary, offer multiple possibilities or ask questions that will help them come up with their own answers. The important thing isn’t how it gets fixed, but that it gets fixed. If something goes seriously awry in your eyes, you can ensure you understand the author’s vision by stopping to ask them what it is.

Explanations are widely smeared, and we  shouldn’t volunteer information with a defensive posture when it’s our novel that’s being critiqued. However, we can critique far more effectively if we ask questions rather than assume we know the answers.

Respecting the author’s vision and helping them build according to that vision is key to a successful critique exchange. If we fail to do so, the best outcome we can hope for is the author politely nodding and thanking us, but quietly ignoring everything they consider our personal bias and/or an arrogant demand they rewrite their vision according to ours. If we’re lucky, they’ll figure out the “real issue” and fix it according to their vision on our own, but we may still find them unwilling to work with us again.

So what if we’ve done all we can and still don’t understand an author’s vision or don’t know how to edit a story according to the style and techniques they feel is best for it? We should pass politely and without judgment. That way, maybe someday they will have a project that we are perfect for and we might be able to partner with them then.

We should keep to these standards even if they fail, but when possible, choose to work with people who will be trustworthy in kind.

Also, when seeking a critique, we’d be wise to help potential critique partners by disclosing in advance what we are trying to do with a project, our vision and the styles and techniques we’ve chosen, especially if we’re not using the most commercially in-demand ones, such as writing in past tense or deep POV. This will help us find fans of our type of writing who will know how to critique it. It’s best to avoid problems to start with by making it clear in advance what kind of help we are desiring and looking for so our critique partners don’t waste both their time and ours.


Review: Illusion by Frank Peretti

What struggling young author doesn’t both leap and tremble in dread at the chance to review a book by Frank Peretti? He hardly needs any introduction, and I can’t help but wonder what difference my little review would make in whether anyone buys it either way, but I’d rather not stick my foot in it by commenting on his craft and the writing, like one of the most well known Christian authors is or should be subject to literary criticism and like this greenhorn has any business judging a seasoned veteran. He doesn’t use the deep POV I am passionate about, but his fans won’t care one wit and reaching your audience is the artistic bottom line. When it comes to reach, Peretti is at the head of the pack and he’s likely to stay there with his March release, Illusion.

Illusion has a familiar voice and style to Peretti fans. This falls on the thriller side of his works and ventures deeper into the realm of Science Fiction than he has gone in the past, with famous magicians Dane and Mandy, a couple pushing sixty who have been delighting and wowing audiences with the wonder of their illusions for nearly forty years, also roughly how long they’ve been married.
We meet them as Dane is forced to say goodbye to his beloved wife after severe burns from a car accident claim her life. In the next chapter, we back up forty years, to when Mandy was nineteen in 1970 and visiting a county fair with friends, excited to see an upcoming magic act. Before she gets there, she is slammed forty years into the future, a 2010 where everything from her life in 1970 is gone and she is alone. She ends up in a mental hospital, but escapes and makes her way home to Idaho, where she rebuilds with the help of a halfway house for troubled girls and a kindly, widowed magician she feels strangely drawn to.
Dane likewise is fighting to keep his grip on reality when this strange young woman is the image of the beauty he met and married forty years ago. She uses the fake name Eloise Kramer, which he recognizes as the name of his wife’s mother. Some readers may be disturbed by the young “Eloise” and the aged Dane’s increasingly obvious feelings for one another. For the most part, both of them handle the problem appropriately while each seeks to rebuild their lives after sudden catastrophe, with Mandy/Eloise needing to unravel the mystery of who she really is, mysterious and somewhat ominous figures seem to be shadowing her, and she becomes a rising star with her magic act as she discovers an ability to slip through time and space and do magic feats that will take a bit of imagination for the reader to visualize. How she does it even baffles Dane.
If you want to know answers yourself, you’ll have to read Illusion. 🙂




Dras Weldon Character Interview

Gentle readers, we continue with our series of character interviews I am
conducting. Recently, I had the delight of chatting with Dras Weldon, the
hero of the supernatural suspense novel The Strange Man (February 2011, Realms Fiction) by author Greg Mitchell.

POV Boot Camp(PBC): Dras, what do you love most about The Strange Man?

Dras Weldon: What, the dude or the book? ‘Cause I’m not a big fan of the dude. The book’s pretty boss, though. I’d really like it if I weren’t in it.

PBC: So, any drawbacks or challenges?

Weldon: Aside from being the whipping boy for the Bogeyman? No, no drawbacks at all. Why do you ask?

PBC: What are your greatest hopes and dreams?

Weldon: That used to be a pretty easy question. I’d say “XBOX, some cold pizza, a worn VHS copy of She-Vampires From Mars” and I’d be set. Now though, I don’t know. I’m all conflicted and starting to think about The Big Picture: Who’s God? Who am I? What do I believe? Plus there’s Rosalyn and all the weirdness there. We grew up together, but now…it’s just different. Like in a strange romantic sort of way that I’m not entirely comfortable discussing with a complete stranger, you know? I guess if I were being totally honest, all I want right now is for her to be safe.

PBC: What are your greatest fears? Weaknesses?

Weldon: Man, now you’re asking all the hard questions. I dunno. I guess the usual: Fear of failing, fear of letting people down, fear of clowns… Weaknesses? I don’t think we’ve got the room for that. Off the top of the list I’d say “lazy”. At least, that’s what everyone tells me.

PBC: Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

Weldon: Do I! Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Where to begin: Comic books, monster movies, monster magazines, video games, action figures—yes, they are called “action figures” not “dolls”—hanging with Roz, riding my bike. Pretty much everything I loved to do when I was eight is still my favorite thing to do. Who says you gotta grow up?

PBC: How about pet peeves? What annoys you?

Weldon: My brother. Hands down. That and when people don’t change out the toilet paper roll.

PBC: What do you value most?

Weldon: …Rosalyn. She’s the only reason I’m going through with this fight with the Strange Man. I don’t know why he’s after her, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve got to figure out a way to help her and stop him.

PBC: Tell me a bit more about your family and friends. What do you like about
them? Dislike?

Weldon: Wow, I’ve got to say what I like about them? Hmm… Well, I mean, my mom’s okay, I guess. I mean, she’s nice and cooks me supper a couple nights a week and gives me a little spending money when rent’s due—sometimes she gives me the rent too. I don’t really know my dad. He’s been sick for awhile, and super-busy before that. He was the pastor a long time ago, you know? He didn’t really have a lot of time for me. Not that I blame him! I get it. He’s important or whatever, but you know…yeah. Then there’s my brother. We never really got along, but he’s a little less of a skeeve since he married Isabella. She’s pretty cool (and really hot, but don’t tell my brother I said that).

PBC: Dras, in your own words, could you tell us a bit about the author of
your novel, Greg Mitchell?

Weldon: He’s alright, as moody writers go. We like a lot of the same movies and he bummed a few comics off of me (that he still hasn’t returned, I might add). I sorta wish he’d lay off of me, though. I’ve got enough going on in my life, yet for some reason he feels the need to bring demons into the mix. Okay, I change my mind. Greg Mitchell is a jerk.

PBC: So, Dras, what do you think of Greg? What do you like or admire
about him? Anything you dislike?

Weldon: Like I said, he’s a jerk who gets some sick pleasure out of watching gremlins chase me on my bike. I’m sure he’d just say he was trying to “teach me something”, but whatever.

PBC: Dras, if you had one question you could ask Greg, what would it be?

Weldon: Why pick me to face off against the Strange Man? My brother, Jeff, would have been much better at that. Why didn’t you go to him?

PBC: If you could change one thing in The Strange Man, what would it be?

Weldon: The ending. And maybe I’d add more bikini clad supermodels.

PBC: Dras, if you could spend a whole day with Greg, where would you go
and what would you do together?

Weldon: Are you kidding? I’m not so sure I’d want to spend any time with him after everything that’s happened. But, I guess if we got past all of that, we’d probably just go to a matinee and watch a campy monster B-movie. That’d be pretty great. …As long as he’s paying.

PBC: Dras, what do you think of the cover of The Strange Man?

Weldon: Awfully colorful for such a scary book, right? And I’m not on it. That stings a bit. Couldn’t they find a model in their folder of canned clipart that could perfectly capture my boyish grin? Or at least get close? Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

Thanks for stopping in and chatting with us, Dras! Readers, it’s your
turn! Got any questions for Dras Weldon about The Strange Man or anything else on your mind? Comment away. If one of your characters would like to chat with us here, send me an email and we’ll set a date.