If you are a Christian, write fiction for children and/or young adults, and are committed to improving your craft, you can now subscribe to become a member of Write for a Reason for a small monthly cost! 🙂
Do you want to get your story finished, make sure it is the very best it can be, so you can reach as many young people as possible with the good news of Jesus? If so, this Monthly Membership Programme could be just right for you! The aim is to inspire and inform, and to encourage each other with our writing.
When you become a member you will receive an in-depth look at one aspect of writing Christian fiction for children and teens, every month via email, and the opportunity to join a closed facebook group for mutual encouragement and support with other Christian writers. I’m soon hoping to build a ‘members only’ area of the website!
The material includes thoughts on the topic, examples and writing exercises, laced with plenty of encouragement, to help you on your writing journey!
Recent subjects have included:
And there’s lots more to come!
NO RISK – try before you buy – get the first month COMPLETELY FREE. If you don’t think the programme is for you after trying it out, no worries, just cancel your subscription and you will pay nothing.
If you have any questions about the teaching, I am always here! I may not have time to make individual comments on every exercises, but you are always welcome to send them to me – I may put the best on the Write for a Reason facebook page. 🙂
Ooh, I haven’t introduced myself! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Janet Wilson and I’m a publisher of Christian fiction for children and teens (Dernier Publishing) – I’m passionate about reaching young people with the good news of Jesus through excellent, relevant, fun stories!
We all need help with something the Lord has given us to do . . . if you feel your gift is writing, and want to do it to the very best of your ability, I’d love to be able to help you.
The cost? Just £5/month.
Please click below to join us! When you click subscribe, you will be taken to Paypal where you will give your details (your payment will be to Dernier Publishing).
I look forward to you joining us!
*You can pay with your PayPal account or with your credit or debit card, with any currency. At time of writing £5.00 is around 7.3 US Dollars, 6.9 euros, 460 Indian Rupees, 9.6 Australian Dollars, 9.4 Canadian Dollars, 90 South African Rand, but of course these figures may change according to the exchange rate.)
N.B. You can of course unsubscribe at any time.
Every month’s material is completely different, but here’s a sample from January 2017:
Happy New Year! Can’t believe another year has gone by . . .
A year ago in our monthly programme, we looked at how our theme affects our story (or at least, how it should!).
This month we’re going to look at a sister topic – the message we want to convey.
Let’s first take a look at our reasons for writing. Most of us have more than one reason. Here are some of mine, and I guess you will share at least one or two of these:
- I love to write
- I want to use the gift I have been given to serve others
- I see the need for decent novels for young readers
- I want to inspire kids to live good lives
- It’s amazing to see my name in print!
But here’s the biggest reason of all, and I know you share this one, or you wouldn’t be in this programme:
I want to share the good news of Jesus through my stories.
I can’t think of anything more exciting than hearing that lives have been changed because of my stories, or other authors’ stories published with Dernier. This is humbling, amazing, awesome. Suppose I just wrote to entertain, and my books became bestsellers – that would be incredible! But I wouldn’t consider that a success, compared with knowing that our books have touched lives for eternity. I can not even begin to express the depth of feeling in my heart when saying this.
Write down your reasons for writing.
Words are powerful, and in an amazing way, the Lord sometimes uses our words to touch lives. For some people, their gift is speaking – we have the written word. So, getting the message in our story right is essential to us as Christian writers with a reason.
Please find below a few thoughts that I hope will help you as you write.
According to google, a message is:
1. A verbal, written, or recorded communication sent to or left for a recipient who cannot be contacted directly.
2. A significant political, social, or moral point that is being conveyed by a film, speech, etc.
I like both of those, when thinking of Write for a Reason. It’s why we write – to pass on a written communication to young people we can’t contact directly, and to convey a significant point.
Many stories (be they plays, novels or films) are written purely for entertainment, although every good story should leave an impression on the reader. Children watching The Lion King, for example, may subconsciously come away with the thought that when we die we become stars in the sky in ‘the circle of life’. I read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, and in some way the Christian faith of the family prepared me for when I was taken to church for the first time as a teenager.
Others stories are deliberately infused with a thought, an idea, or a message that the author wants to get over to his/her readers. They might engender an interest in caring for the environment, or aim to show the terrible nature of racism or the futility of war. They might leave us with the thought that one person can do amazing things, or working in a team gets things done.
What have you brought away from the last book you have read?
What is the message you most want children/young people to come away with, after reading your stories?
Letting Readers Decide for Themselves
You know this, but we must make sure we don’t come over as preachy or pushy when conveying our point. Readers should be allowed the choice to take what they want from the message. Jesus said, Let the children come to me, don’t forbid them. But he didn’t say force them, trick them, frighten them or make them feel guilty! So when we write stories with a message, we must make sure we are gently passing on the good news in a way which is gracious, kind, and respectful.
There may be a place for preaching in a stronger way, urging listeners/readers to repent and turn to God, when somebody has expressed an interest, but personally I don’t believe a novel is the place for this. A novel is picked up primarily for enjoyment. Pushing our agenda is not acceptable in our stories, however much we believe our message, and long for children to know the love of God. The Holy Spirit is the one to do the convincing.
As I mentioned when I wrote about theme last year (just in case you’ve forgotten, or joined since then!):
“People will pick up a story because they want be entertained, not preached at. If you are reading this, you almost certainly want to do more than entertain with your stories, but as writers with a reason, we need to take care that our theme stays hidden, like bones underneath flesh. Bones sticking out aren’t pretty, neither is our message in our story! We should pray, then allow the Holy Spirit to work and leave our readers to draw their own conclusions.”
In any case, if the reader finds your story annoying, they will close the book!
An Essential Point About Learning for Ourselves
Here’s something to think about: If someone told you not to touch dogs, because they are dangerous, you might be tempted to touch one, out of curiosity/perversity. 🙂
However, if you read, in a story, that Shama touched a dog and she was mauled by it, you may be less likely to try it out for yourself.
What’s the difference? Because in the second scenario, you have made your own decision. Think about that for a minute, because this is part of the power of a good story. Young people reading our books, if they take away the message for themselves, rather than being told to believe it, are much more likely to defend that message.
So don’t tell your readers what to believe. Allow them to find it out for themselves.
It’s no good having a carefully thought out message, though, if the writing lets it down. Our stories should be brilliantly written as well as having a brilliant message! We should at least be aiming for excellence in both. 🙂 The two have to work hand in hand. Engaging characters, thrilling plots, good beginnings and endings, realistic dialogue . . . these essential elements need to be in place to enthral your readers. If you are reading this, you probably already have a good grasp of the basics, but we can all learn more, and go from good to great. If you haven’t done a writing course, why not consider doing the Write for a Reason course?
There are other ways to update your skills and keep learning, too – reading lots of novels helps, as does reading books on writing, attending writers’ days, joining writers’ groups . . . if these inspire you to write better, they are time and money definitely well spent!
What are you going to do in the coming year to further your skills in writing?
Obvious or Allegorical?
Jesus’ parables made people think, although the meaning was not always immediately clear; the disciples had to ask Jesus what the parable of the seeds and the sower meant, for example, because they didn’t get it! If you want to write a story where the meaning is hidden unless the reader searches for it, that’s great.
C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books were wonderful allegories, and point to Jesus. Sadly, though, as a child from a non-Christian home, I read all the Narnia stories and had no idea that Aslan was pointing to Jesus, because I didn’t know who Jesus was. However, my grandson loves the story, and it has helped him understand the purpose of the death and resurrection of Jesus. So make sure you know who your readers are, and what they will take from your book, before you start writing. Will they have someone who will be able to explain the hidden meaning to them, or will they be able to get it for themselves?
As Christians, particularly if we have been brought up in the church, we can be a bit naive when it comes to what life is really like for many children and young people in very different circumstances to our own. It’s not fair to readers to bring up a subject, then not resolve it in a helpful way. So the protagonist may find freedom in Christ, but what about the abusers? Will they get their comeuppance?
Once out in the world, you do not know how far your story will go, or who will read it. That’s incredibly exciting, but it’s also an awesome responsibility. We have to be really careful not to dig up big issues without resolving them, even if they are mentioned in passing. We shouldn’t treat problems lightly, that may be causing our readers pain. A certain percentage of our readers, sadly, will live in homes or communities where abuse, anger, violence and crime are commonplace. I heard about a family on our local estate, where a mum allegedly took her young teenage daughter to be ‘used’ by men. Just suppose this girl read your story, and you mentioned abuse, would she then know what to do? Would she realise that it’s not her fault? Would she know who to turn to? What message would she come away with, from your book? Would it help her?
If you have a difficult big issue in your plot, I suggest you decide if it is really essential, or if you could tell your story and get your message over in a gentler way. This may of course depend on the age of your readers. Recently I have been working with an author on a story for children about a girl whose parents separated due to violence in the home. I suggested the author change violence to anger. The reason for this is that violence in the home opens up a whole new theme that would need to be explored properly. The children in the story might need counselling if their mum had been physically abused, social services might put them on the at-risk register, their dad might have a court order against him, and all sorts of complications to the plot would have to occur. If you don’t want to have to deal with all that, and the emotional fall out, leave it out!
Hopeful and Realistic
Be careful not to ‘promise’ unlikely outcomes in your message. Does your story suggest a realistic ending for the protagonist, or has everything turned out too perfectly? Don’t let readers get the idea that if you become a Christian, all your problems will be over, because it simply isn’t true (we know that all too well, don’t we!). It’s tempting, after all your protagonist has been through, to bring them relief from all their enemies, but be careful how you do it.
This is something you will hear me saying a lot, but I see unrealistic endings in too many stories in unsolicited manuscripts – bullies turning into friends, children kneeling at the foot of a cross, a feeling of lightness after praying a prayer and everything being wonderful from then on . . . of course, all these things are possible, but what will your readers be taking away from your book?
1. Encouragement that this could also be possible for them? Or
2. That this only happens in stories?
If the latter, I would suggest that you have a re-think. Always leave your readers with hope, but not false expectations that may end up in disillusionment.
Fact or Fiction?
Sometimes our stories will include fantastic deeds, impossible actions, worlds that don’t exist, and every other kind of imaginative unreality. That’s great! Imagination is a wonderful, creative thing, and if used in the right way can inspire, thrill, and take your readers away to awesome places. Fabulous! Other stories are rooted in a more real world – some are a mixture of the two. One thing I would suggest, when it comes to your message, is that your readers should know the difference, and your message is rooted in reality.
If a girl has magic shoes, as in The Birthday Shoes by Mary Weeks Millard, readers are going to know that this is fiction – it’s obvious. The message in this fab book is that every person needs to ask Jesus into their own lives, even if they come from a Christian home. So the story is fictional, but the message is rooted in truth.
Which brings me neatly on to the next point!
Theology and Doctrine
I can’t leave out theology, when talking about the message in a story. Theology is a big word, but basically I use it here to refer to getting the message right, biblically.
I don’t know if it annoys/shocks you, but I’ve seen Bible story books for children that do not get the facts right. To my mind, there’s no excuse. Here’s one: in the Genesis account, God closed the door of Noah’s ark, but some stories say Noah did. Why not get it right? This might seem a small thing, but it matters, because God was responsible for the salvation of the people and animals in the ark, not Noah, and Jesus is the door . . .
So whether you are referring to a Bible story, or making a spiritual point, make sure you get the facts right, and the meaning right. If you’re not sure about something, do some research.
And here’s another issue to watch out for: we all have slightly different takes on certain teachings of the Bible – baptism, for example. Be careful, if you want your story to be read by children of all faiths and none, to keep a light hand when it comes to such doctrines.
There Will Be Haters
Be prepared! If you are writing a book with a Christian message, not everyone will like it, because the good news of the cross is foolishness to some. People may mock and scoff and even worse. We’ve had some vile comments on Dernier facebook posts, and although shocking in a way, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised . . . but be warned!
Still want to keep writing for a reason? Thought so! May the Lord make you fruitful in your writing, because we have the most important message in the world to convey through our stories.
As always, any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
And have a great writing month!
Yes, I would like to join the Write for a Reason Monthly Members Programme for £5/month*:
I look forward to working with you!