Thursday, January 31, 2013

Debunking some CBA/ABA Myths

I hear writers ask this familiar question quite often lately. "Should I write for the general market,or the Christian market? WHERE DO I FIT IN!!!???"

Usually, their manuscripts fit into one or two categories.

1.) Clean fiction with little spiritual theme.


2.) Edgy fiction dealing with gritty topics (and perchance has not-usually-Christian-accepted language) yet has a strong spiritual element.

The answer to this question isn't a pat one. If you write in the above two areas, it indeed makes it a little difficult since it doesn't fit "nicely" into the preexisting mold.

I think, though, that it'd help to debunk a few myths I've seen bantered around.
A friend of mine, Patrick Carr,
wrote this fabulous "epic fantasy" (2/1/13).
The main character is the town drunk.
It is published by Bethany House, a CBA publisher.
He debunks 3 of the 4 myths I mentioned!

Myth #1: Christian fiction has to be filled with tame conflict that doesn't affect the potential readers sensibilities. i.e.... No sex. No violence. Almost perfect characters.

Krista's Thoughts: That is as far from the truth as could be these days. Christian fiction has morphed into covering pretty much every topic out there. There are books that touch on homosexuality, sex, alcoholism, prostitution, and a range of different levels of violence portrayed.

Now. Some say that Christian fiction has loosened its boundaries TOO much, and others feel there is a long way still to go, but that's a topic for another day.

And it is still important that we don't "condone" sin in our books either. Although there have been a few that I've read that are borderline... but again, separate topic!

Truth: No topic is off limits in Christian fiction (although select publishing houses may still have more stringent guidelines.)

Myth #2: For a book to be "Christian" you need to either a.) beat someone over the head with the Bible or b.) have a fantastic conversion scene.

Krista's Thoughts: Bologna. In fact, I've heard many publishers/professionals say that overt preaching and unrealistic conversion scenes are the death of a manuscripts these days.

Jesus used stories (parables) to tell his message and as writers, He's called us to do the same. It isn't our job to stand on a fictional pulpit and preach, but to pen the words God impresses on our heart and tell the story He's given us, and let the story be the message.

Tacked on religion will only turn people away. Realistic, authentic Christ-loving is much better.

Truth: As a novelist, tell a story. Don't preach.

Myth #3: If you write for the general market, you obviously aren't a Christian.

Krista's thoughts: Go read Matthew 7. That is all.

Truth: They shall know you by your fruits, not your literary association.

Myth #4: If you write for the Christian market, you won't be able to do the great commission and "reach" people for Christ.

Krista's thoughts: I have so many points I could make here. First, yes. Writing for the CBA market gives you an audience of mostly Christians. And I, for one, have a heart for encouraging people in their current walk with Jesus, to challenge them to take that next step in being sold out for Jesus, to not buy into the idea that once you know God, you're good and need nothing else.

I also think there is value in making people smile. Even Christians.

We as Jesus-followers need watered too. Christian fiction has helped ME in numerous way, and I hope that my novels will do the same for others.

Second... I've had a LOT of people who do not profess to know Jesus read my books and either 1.) hate them or 2.) really like them and compliment me on not preaching to them. Our books, CBA or ABA, are seeds. Someone, maybe even just one person, will pick up your book and be like, "UGH! Another Jesus book." But my prayer has always been that God will use that little seed of the words that they read, regardless of how few or how many, to plant a seed of desire or curiosity in their hearts. Or maybe to water a seed that was already planted there before.

Truth: Don't underestimate what God can do, regardless of what association you chose.

So there you have it. No divine answers to that perplexing question. But I pray that as you mull around the answer, that you go into it prayerful and armed with TRUTH, not over-generalizations.

Discussion: Are you targeting the CBA or ABA with your writing? Or are you on the fence? What influenced your decision?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reminders vs Repetition

We all get busy and need reminders. 

Those little Post Its stuck to everything around the office or house help to solicit the "oh yeah" response.

I don't know about you, but I need two or three reminders in more than one place to yank my attention away from where ever it is.

In the movie Romancing the Stone, Joan Wilder used one of the many Post Its stuck around her house to blow her nose. The message she wrote on the Post It read: buy tissues. 

I like gentle reminders. Even in the books I read.

At times a story can be so compelling I may not hear someone in my house talking to me or the phone ringing. Or sometimes, while engaged in a book, a little sound in the house like the cat mischievously leaping to the floor will scare the snot out of me. You too?

Wrapped in the pages of a story, I may forget a minor detail placed early in the book. Well, it seemed minor at the time, but later the same detail became a key. I turned the page and found the "key" again. I stared at it and vaguely recalled something from earlier in the book...what was it? Annoyed, I had to flip back, digging for the first mention of the detail and its context.

In those engaging times, I like having a gentle reminder of the key information rather than interrupting the story to research previous pages to satisfy my need to find out who the reappearing character is or why an object suddenly returned to the scene. 

As a reader, I do expect the author to differentiate between the moments I want to be reminded and the needless repetition used to fill pages. They have to read my mind, and simply know when to drop the clue.

As a writer, I need to be careful to provide reminders and not mundane repetition. 

A reminder is a spice needed to enhance the scene. The spice is a character, object, or etc not often used in the story, yet plays a reoccurring key role. Not the antagonist, but the secondary character who creates a problems or mysteriously lends a hand.

Introduced early in the story, this teaser is dangled periodically to: 

heighten suspense, 

erupt a comedic moment, 

stir a romantic heart to pulse wildly, 

add vivid color to the setting, 

plant a clue or red herring. 

This teaser deepens a story, adds a third dimension, brings life and realism to a plot.

I want to share with you a wonderful example of the effective reminder.  Ruth Axtell Morren introduces Doyle a rector, in Bride of Honor. Doyle is a persnickety secondary character who lives by the rules. He also happens to be Damien's superior. Damien, the hero, wants to please his superior but fails. 

Doyle is ornery, and gets my boos every time he enters a page. Although, without his sardonic intrusions, the story would leave a bland aftertaste. 

Doyle doesn't appear that often in the book, yet I know him well thanks to Morren's gentle and timely reminders.  For example, on page 127, Doyle pays a late night visit to Damien. In truth he hadn't made an appearance in many pages and I became so engaged in Damien and Lindsay's story I had forgotten who he was. Doyle. Who is Doyle?

Great, I'd have to plow back through past pages to find his name and figure out who he was and why I should care. Grumble. 

Yes, yes, I know Damien is uncomfortable with him, but why? What significance dose Doyle hold. 

To my surprise, before I flipped back to research Doyle, Morren whispered on page 127: "The whole household was aware of the delicate relationship between him and his superior since the incident with Jonah." quote used with permission from Ruth Axtell Morren.

Oh, I remember now. The incident with Jonah. Yes, that was when...( spoilers here) 

"Boo!" I shouted recalling my disdain for this man. Yes, Doyle needed to make an appearance at this time to kindle my sympathies for Damien. Thank you. And on I read without a hiccup or wasted research time clogging up the flow of the story.

On the other hand, let us not go overboard and fall into diverse repetitions.

The nagging

The insults to the reader repeating, repeating, repeating causing the reader to cry out "I don't need you to tell me again . . . I got it already!"

 How can you tell what is a reminder and what is repetition?

1. A reminder is like the fly on the wall, there, but not obviously seen. A reminder is like the red paint in the color purple. There but not blatant. 

   Repetition is the annoyance seen everywhere. It is the dust on the piano, the mosquito on a summer walk. There for all the masses to see and dislike.

2. When did you last mention the teaser? How many pages back? How many scenes before? If the mention was the last scene, the last chapter, the last page it is repeated information. 

   An orchestra conductor waves a baton in a designated pattern to keep the beat of the music and communicate other essential directions to the instrumentalists.  The conductor has so many things to communicate during a performance, but will always bring his baton down for the start of a measure as a reminder. To count all the directions, loud soft, who plays now, who needs to stop, would be a great number. Hidden in those directions, dropped at the right time, is the down beat, the reminder of the current speed. A reminder without which the orchestra would not be a unit. 

How has a reminder enabled you to keep turning pages forward in a book you've read?

How have you used reminders to keep your reader tuned into the story?

Without mentioning any books, have you been avalanched with repetitious details, introspections, etc in a story? 

Adding meat to a story helps to fill those repetitious paragraphs. Recently, Michelle Lim from  My Book Therapy did a chat class on brainstorming chapters/scenes. Her checklist provides a wealth of ways to turn repetitious words into meaningful paragraphs. 


photos courtesy of

This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary Christian fiction with a focus on the homeless population and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Writing When Life Gets Hard

Photo by David Castillo Dominici
You have experienced it. The days when there are no words. The days when life gets in the way...when life is hard. You sit in front of the computer screen and try to will the words to come, yet they don't. They are frozen in the blizzard of your fear, anxiety, pain, and hurt.

So what does a writer do when life interrupts? Here are some things to consider:

  • Journal - Write down your journey through this difficult time. Getting your feelings down on paper may free you up so that your creativity can come to the surface. There really is something therapeutic about  sharing your heart, even if it is only to a bound journal. 
  • Research - Rent - or check out from the library - a book or DVD about the geographical area of your novel. Immerse yourself in the history. Let your mind wander and dream up new possibilities for your story.
  • Escape - Sometimes you need to get away from writing and just escape. Many times I like to read, but sometimes I don't even have the energy to hold a book. It's too tiring to visualize the story in my head. So I pick out a movie on Netflix and escape into someone else's life for awhile. There can be benefits to this escape, because sometimes new ideas will come that will transform your WIP.
  • Exercise - Yeah, I don't like this one either, but I have to be honest and say that I have "heard" that making your body move will improve your attitude and outlook on life. Getting your blood pumping and the oxygen flowing will make our brain cells come alive. Or so they say. :)
  • Worship -  Spend time with God and you will always come away renewed and energized. God is the strength of your heart. He will be with you in the hard times and will renew your passion and your story for His glory.
So when your days are long and your heart is weary, trust that God will make a way for you, even in the midst of whatever trial you are going through. Though you may set aside your writing for a time, please know that God will redeem the time for His purpose. He will renew your mind and jump start your creativity to spin the story that He has for you to tell. 

What do you do when life gets in the way of your writing?

This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is a minister's wife and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Four Brainstorming Tools for Those Wandering in the Land of Writer’s Block by Lindsay Harrel

So glad to welcome Lindsay Harrel to The Writers Alley today! She has a GREAT post for you!

We’ve all been there. The Land of Writer’s Block, that is.

It’s a scary place, full of evil creatures that cackle at you for your ineptitude, and vines that suddenly grow up from the ground to choke the confidence right out of you. A place that leaves you digging in the dirt for gold because you just can’t seem to reach them thar hills in the distance.

In fact, do they even exist?

 Yes, they do! And you can get there, I promise. There’s a well of creativity inside of you just waiting to be tapped. You just need the right tools to do it. 

Tool #1: Freewriting

Let’s travel back to ENG 101 for a bit. Remember when your teacher would ask you to write whatever you felt like for ten minutes straight? It didn’t have to have a theme or be grammatically correct. The only rule? You had to keep writing, even if all you wrote was “I can’t think of anything to write.” Because, hey, that often leads to waxing philosophic about what you do and do not know about life, right?

If you feel absolutely bone dry and don’t know what to write about, just try some freewriting of your own. You may not use anything produced in that exercise, but it gets the creative juices flowing. And who knows? You may subconsciously stumble across just the thing you need to fix you scene or dream up a plot twist.

Tool #2: Interviewing

Ever feel like you have no idea what your characters would do in a certain situation? Does everything you can think of feel untrue to who they are as people? Well…why not ask them what they’d do? Yep. Rock it like the journalist you are and conduct an interview.

Susan May Warren and the awesome peeps over at My Book Therapy recommend this technique and it works great. Ask your character what motivates her, what lie she believes, what one moment in her past defines her, and what her greatest dream is.

Just don’t be surprised when she answers you. *wink*

Tool #3: Storyworld

When I’m plotting a scene, so often I think about what happens and who is involved. But maybe you’re drawing a complete blank and you don’t know what comes next. Have no fear—storyworld is here to save you! Say what?

Yeah, so you don’t know what happens, but do you know where the scene is set? If not, imagine a creative setting. Then begin to build the storyworld in your head. Ask yourself what it looks like, smells like, feels like, tastes like, and sounds like. Then begin to figure out who is there, what is happening, when and where it’s happening, and why it’s happening.

Tool #4: Your Phone (or Skype)

How does your phone help you brainstorm? Because you can use it to call up a writer bud and talk through your ideas with them.

For my current work in progress, I got on the phone for three hours with my critique partner, Melissa Tagg, and she basically came up with the hook for my story. I was almost there, on the cusp of a great idea, but she came through and helped deliver it to me. Getting someone else’s perspective is just as helpful in the beginning stages of a story as in the revision stage.

So, although you may feel like a permanent citizen in the Land of Writer’s Block, just remember—there is an escape! Use the tools you’ve been given and soon you’ll be livin’ it up in the Hills of Gold.

Your Turn: How do you deal with writer’s block?

 Since the age of six, when she wrote the riveting tale “How to Eat Mud Pie,” Lindsay Harrel has passionately engaged the written word as a reader, writer, and editor. She has a bachelor’s in journalism and a master’s in English, and is published in the Falling in Love with You anthology released by OakTara in October 2012. Lindsay lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband of six years and two golden retriever puppies in serious need of training. Connect with her on her blog or via Facebook or Twitter (@LindsayHarrel).

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What's Up The Street for Next Week?

Photo credit:
Did you catch Amy's post yesterday? Our new Alley Cat posted yesterday, so if you missed it, scroll down and check it out...a great post on making sure your heroine is not exhausting. ;-)

It's a new year! Are you dealing with writer's block??

Use the Alley Cat posts to bust that block right out of the water and into the exciting world of back to writing.  We've got the Genesis deadline coming up in March, which is just around the corner. While it might not be fun to put together that synopsis or fight our characters into submission, tighter the lasso and snare the next great idea!

Tips for getting the most out of your next month before the Genesis:

  • Brainstorm with a friend or another writer. Be willing to put their suggestions into action.
  • Make changes to your first 15 pages and then send it a good full month ahead of the deadline to a couple friends willing to read it for you. While you wait, work on your synopsis. 
  • Browse the Alley Cat database or shoot us a question...we'll brainstorm with you and get you on your way!
Lindsay Harrel is guest blogging on Monday so don't miss that. She'll be chatting about writer's block too (which is by no coincidence what inspired this weekend edition post. ;-)

Check out Mary's post about repetitions and reminders this week.

You'll get more tips on fine tuning your Genesis or Fraiser entry on Friday with Casey. She'll be bringing it in a special way, so be on the look out. ;-)

Have a great weekend and don't let contest "freeze" or worry over no ideas stop you from working on your stories!

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Exhausting Heroine

As the new cat on the Alley I wanted my first post to be something deep and moving. I was praying about it and God gave me this. He sure has a great sense of humor.

So… we've all been there. You know, wishing you could stretch your hand through the pages of that open book to slap some sense into the heroine. I mean, I am a woman and I can admit that sometimes women can be exhausting! -Fictional and otherwise.

Of course there needs to be conflict in your story. I have yet to see anything worth reading take shape without a hearty helping. Often times, the conflict is the most vital ingredient to your plot. But does there have to be so much . . . drama?

Building conflict in your story is a lot like making a pizza. There is the bland, starchy foundation. We here in St. Louis go for thin crust in a big way, but for your story, the base can’t be flimsy so let’s go deep dish. Be careful not to tip your hand by revealing all the flavors and that one secret ingredient to come, but toss up something that says right off the bat why the cards are stacked against your characters. At this point, usually somewhere in the first 15-20 pages you are simply establishing that the conflict is there.

And can I just say, as a side note, I've never understood those people who think the crust is the best part of the pizza. I mean, it’s completely necessary (and delicious) but it's just one layer that begins the creation of the pizza—or the conflict. If the crust is the best part you might as well save yourself the extra calories and order breadsticks. Just sayin’!

Okay, so back to your story. Next, you make things a little saucy—throw in some spice to kick up the flavor and suddenly your conflict is more robust. Something is revealed that ups the ante and awakens the reader’s appetite. Be careful, not too much sauce because it can weaken the crust, but spoon over enough here to entice the reader to invest in how the hero and heroine are going to defy the odds.

Now you make things interesting when you start layering on the toppings. Maybe some danger, competition, doubts, betrayal. Bam! Yes, we get it. Falling in love isn't always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes it’s a tough journey. A lesson in trust, forgiveness, or sacrifice. Or maybe even a throw-caution-to-the-wind-and-risk-it-all angle where a heart is even more exposed and vulnerable.

Things are looking pretty tasty at this point. But sometimes, an author decides to toss on a few anchovies here. This is when your main character becomes what I like to call The Exhausting Heroine. Oy, there are far too many of these! 

These are the kind of women who stand in their own way. They deny their happiness, run away, cry, lie, hide from their feelings when we, the reader, know that they will eventually put on their big girl pants and make the right decision. (The resolution is essentially the cheese—the glue that pulls all the pieces of the conflict together.)

And yes, I realize my pizza metaphor is totally out of control at this point, but let’s just go with it.

Drama can’t just be thrown in to lengthen the story, because, quite frankly, it aggravates the reader. It makes us lose sympathy for the heroine, and most often has us rolling our eyes and stifling the urge to yell at our book like a man watching a football game—berating the players who can’t hear him to let them know they are blowing the game (Or their Happily Ever After.)

You want to create a story that can pull off these self-deprecating moments and make them about something more substantial—meatier—than insecurity. We all have insecurities, don’t we? But if that hunky hero is on bended knee, handing over his devotion and his love and the girl runs off spouting “It just couldn’t work out” sob stories . . . well, sister needs a good slappin’!

Make your conflict big! Make me care, sympathize, and maybe even crave another slice of trouble before you wrap it up. Conflict doesn’t always have to be frustrating, it can be fun or suspenseful.

So, as much as I loathe a wimpy, self-sabotaging heroine, I got to thinking about how God might be able to say the same thing about me. Ouch!

You see, He is the ultimate hero. He’s offered up every part of himself, given his love, grace and forgiveness without question or pre-requisite, and yet . . . sometimes I run away. I question if I deserve a Happily Ever After. Sometimes I doubt that his plans are really for my good. Even when, like any great hero, he shows up and saves me time and again, I still have moments when I let my head commandeer a heart that knows better.

How do we get out of our own way and really live in our Happily Ever After?

Put your trust in the Hero that will never let you down. Oh, yeah, and when your prince gets down on one knee, for heaven’s sake, say YES!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...What ingredients make conflict really work for you without trying your patience? And have you ever read, or maybe even felt like, an exhausting heroine?

Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little mischief makers and would challenge anyone to a cutest family contest. Represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Reasons We Write

We all have reasons we write, but are they the right reasons?

See what I did there? Okay, tongue twisters aside, today I want to challenge you to some introspection. Let me use myself as an example. The past week or so, the current stage of my writing career has become increasingly clear to me. My manuscript is being reviewed by a couple different publishers I have an uber amount of respect for, and in December, I had a really good perspective about that. Pray about it, be at peace. I trusted that I had spent months crafting this proposal, and that God would lead me and my stories where He would have me. Then for whatever reason, the reality started to dawn on me now that it's January. The possibility of hearing back from publishers is becoming more of a reality. What had been so easy to trust God with suddenly became much more challenging.

Up until now, my approach has been to keep writing and crafting stories until one of them sticks. My philosophy has been that if a traditional publisher is not interested in my manuscript, I am not yet ready for a readership. Now I know that's not necessarily true for everyone, especially genres that are a hard sell in CBA, I have felt like it's true for me. I know God has called me to be a writer. Otherwise I never would have found the courage to follow this dream. So I've sort of always assumed there's a reason for that calling, and the reason is that someday I'll have readers. :) And I really, really hope that is true. I mean, really hope that is true.

But here's the thing. I had this ah-ha moment Sunday morning. At some point, I have conflated the idea of writing books out of obedience God's calling with the idea of someday being a "successful" author. Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with dreaming about touching readers' lives, or even being on a bestseller list. These are normal dreams. But the thing is, they are not the same as our calling. The Bible says our calling is "sure." Solid. Stable. Reliable. True. Can I say the same thing about someday hitting the NYT Bestseller List? Simply put, no.

If we aren't careful, traditional ideas of success come to mesh with our confidence in our purpose, so that good news makes us feel assured of our calling and bad news makes us doubt it. Oh, how easy it is to fall into this trap. But friends, we must guard our hearts against this impulse. God is always, always on our side, assuring us onward to complete this task He has put before us. His whispers to our dreams, His guidance, His love is all we can be assured of, but it's also all we need.

Being published does not mean you will be assured of God's purpose in your life.

Likewise, being unpublished does not mean you are doing something "wrong," necessarily.

Success in the eyes of the world, while nice-feeling, is not the same as success in God's eyes. Consider the woman who cleans bathrooms for a living and hums songs of praise under her breath, then consider the business executive who is rude to a child on the way to a meeting. These are extreme examples, but they illustrate the point. For us as writers, it is all-too-easy to consider publishing the ear marker of whether or not we've "made it." But that's really such an illusion. I'll venture to bet that even after we someday get published, we will still battle against feelings of fear and insufficiency, only with different stakes.

And here's where it gets hard. Here is the question I came to on Sunday, and I think it's the only way to really challenge yourself to a true answer about the state of your heart.

If this book gets rejected--if I write another dozen books and they all get rejected--what will keep me going? If I never do get to hold a copy of my own book in my hands, will I grow discouraged enough that I just stop trying?

Suddenly the answer became strikingly clear to me. No, I will not stop writing. Do I want to have a published book? Absolutely. Do I want to be able to tell people I'm an "author" instead of someone whose books are only on Microsoft Word? Yes. Do I feel discouraged when challenges prevent movement into the next stages of my writing career? You bet.

But at the end of the day, these things do not define my calling, and thus, they do not and can not sustain me. These traditional considerations of what defines success are dangerous. There will always be another step and an ever-lurking step of failure. The only way you can escape the discouragement and pressure that comes from these challenges is to cast your perception of success in another place, and really, that place is much more beautiful anyway, tailored for you. The call of God upon your life.

If you're struggling with silence or harsh critiques, I want to encourage you today that these things do not define you or your writing. The only One with that power is the One who has authored your story. He has a plan for each of your days, and He has been leading you all along. Don't give up hope. Don't give up faith. Don't give up your dreams.

Have you ever struggled with feelings of inadequacy? How do you shift your focus to a higher calling?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How your personality type affects your writing

Image by Mr Lightman,

Before we got married, my hubby and I did a relationship course written by Gary Smalley, in which we learned about the four different personality types. A lot has been written about the four basic temperaments, but of all the explanations I’ve heard, Smalley’s is the clearest.

He compares the four personality types to animals: the lion, otter, golden retriever and beaver.

The lion is a natural leader: bold, confident and assertive.

The otter is the socialite: playful and optimistic.

The golden retriever is a loyal companion: calm and gentle-natured.

The beaver is the details-person: organized and analytical.

For us as a young couple, this knowledge was an eye-opener, and something we’ve carried with us for over a decade of marriage. I learned that I’m a golden retriever/ beaver, while my husband is a lion/ otter. What do they say about how opposites attract? J

Each personality type has its particular set of strengths and weaknesses, and knowing these has helped us better understand and appreciate each other, instead of rubbing each other up the wrong way.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how else my personality type influences my behaviour – in particular my writing.

It’s become obvious to me that each temperament has strengths that will benefit our writing, and weaknesses that will make our journey more difficult.

Each person usually has one or two dominant temperaments. Reading over what I’ve just shared, you may instantly recognise yourself in some of these descriptors. If, however, you’re still unsure of where you fit, you can take a quick personality test here (you’ll need to scroll to the bottom of the page). We’ll wait until you get back. 

Got it figured out? Good. That’s the first step. Knowledge is power. If you’re better aware of your writing strengths and weaknesses, and understand that they flow from the core of who you are as a person, you’ll be able to stop fighting them and start working with them.

That means maximizing your strengths and developing strategies  - in line with how you think, what makes you tick - to compensate for, or overcome, your weaknesses. Remember, no one personality type is “better” than another. They’re just different.

Let’s take a look at how this works for each personality type.

Image by John Barker,


Writing strengths:
Lions are confident and determined. They love a good challenge, are goal-oriented, and have a “just do it” mentality. While a dozen other writers are still nervously plotting, talking about writing, writing about writing, and doing everything BUT write, Lions have already finished their first book and are onto the second.

Writing weaknesses:
Lions have an arrogant streak, which means they can be unwilling to accept feedback. Their boredom with details can be a hindrance when it comes to painstaking work such as research or line editing.

Self-help strategies:
  • Focus, in your quiet times with God, on developing humility. Even the Lion of Judah, the greatest leader this world has ever known, served others by washing their feet.

  • When you receive critique, instead of becoming angry or dismissing the criticism, give yourself an exercise. Tell yourself, “She’s probably wrong in what she’s said, but I’ll just humor her a little. I’ll back up my original version, then try implementing the suggestion, just as a theoretical exercise. If it stinks, I haven’t lost anything. If it turns out great, well, there ya go.” Approaching critique with such a mindset can help a Lion to embrace change without fighting against their own personality type.

  • Those pesky details: Lions are great problem-solvers and incredible leaders. Why not harness these traits to enlist the help of others? Ted Dekker pays college students to research his books for him. Many published authors corral support from others when it comes to tasks of administration and marketing. If your Great Aunt Mildred was an English teacher for fifty years, and would love nothing better than to pore over your manuscript weeding out punctuation errors – turn her loose with a blood-red pen. Show your appreciation in a way that truly honors your helpers. Then do what Lions do best, and turn your attention to the next project.
Image by Bernie Condon,


Writing strengths:
Otters have the ability to splash words onto the page with a carefree zest that many stodgier writers envy. They have vim and flair. They take joy in their craft. Otters also make the best social networkers. They have no trouble building a tribe of fans, because they love people, and people in turn are naturally drawn to them.

Writing weaknesses:
When the task becomes hard, otters quickly lose momentum. Their computer files are littered with the corpses of unfinished manuscripts that started strong and then fizzled. Otters can be disorganized, and have no patience for “boring” but essential tasks such as editing. If it ain’t fun, it don’t get done.

Self-help strategies:
  • Keep it fun. Set goals that have rewards attached. Social rewards work well for otters. For example, fifteen minutes play on Facebook after writing for an hour. A Skype chat with your writing buddies once you reach chapter ten. A chick flick and coffee with a friend for pushing through that sagging middle. A girls’ weekend away once you finish editing your MS.

  • Harness peer power to keep you motivated. Ever heard of #1k1hr? Next time you sit down for an hour-long writing stint, jump on Twitter first and announce your plans to the world. Use the hashtag #1k1hr, and you’ll soon rally a group of eager writers who can cheer you on and celebrate with you when you reach your 1000 word milestone.

  • Give editing a social, interactive element by joining forces with a critique partner or group.

  • Beware of distraction. Social networking is your strength, but spending hours on Facebook each day won’t get that manuscript written. If you’re all play and no work, consider using an app to limit the time you spend on social media sites.


Writing strengths:
The writing world is full of beavers. Highly creative, organised and meticulous, beavers like to have every detail mapped out before they begin writing: each twist and turn of the plot, the intricate backstory of their MC going back two generations, and the height/ eye colour/ favorite ice-cream flavor of each supporting character.  Beavers thrive on research. They set high standards for themselves, and consistently produce quality work.

Writing weaknesses:
Beavers may become so bogged down in their systems and plotting that they struggle to begin. Beavers are perfectionists, and highly self-critical. For a writer, this can be crippling. A beaver can become paralysed by an empty computer screen, a harsh critique, or a sense that their book is not where it should be. Writer’s block is a common malady for the beaver, who often takes an all-or-nothing attitude – if they can’t make it perfect, they can’t bring themselves to try. Beavers may produce very slowly, because they cannot help but edit ruthlessly as they write. When it comes time to submit, a beaver may fret and worry over perfecting every final detail of a manuscript, and struggle to ever hit send.

Self-help strategies:
  • Don’t forget to play. When you feel yourself floundering beneath self-criticism or getting bogged down in details, find ways to recapture the joy of writing. If you usually hole up at home to write, shake up your routine by taking your laptop to a crowded café and doing some people-watching.

  • Try taking frequent short breaks in which you do something else creative to engage the right side of your brain – painting, scrapbooking, pottery, playing music. 

  • Sometimes the best thing a beaver can do is to step away from their project for a time to regain some perspective. Immerse yourself in reading for pleasure alone. Do something that inspires you, like wandering through an antique bookstore or taking a fun research trip. But don’t let yourself stay in limbo. Give yourself a deadline, and get back into it.

  • Loosen up before a big session with the technique of free writing – perfect for shutting down that picky, left-brained internal editor beavers struggle with so much.

  • Don’t isolate yourself. Engage in community with other writers.

Golden Retriever

Writing strengths:
Relaxed and easy to work with, the Golden Retriever is every editor’s dream. A Golden Retriever is calm, dependable, and doesn’t stress out under deadline.

Writing weaknesses:
Laziness can be a real problem for the laid-back temperament of a Golden Retriever, who may lack motivation to initiate tasks or carry them through to completion. The Golden Retriever can also be very stubborn, and dislikes change in any form – both of which are bad news when large-scale edits are required.

Self-help strategies:
  • Get an accountability partner who will be tough about holding you to your goals. Golden Retrievers are people-pleasers and dislike confrontation, so if the accountability is genuine, they’ll rise to the challenge.

  • Appeal to your easy-going nature by making it easy to write. Rather than setting a lofty word-count goal, which all sounds like far too much work – especially when your favorite show is on TV – give yourself a goal of 500 words, and try to hit it twice a day.

  • Because you struggle with change, approach edits as an open experiment. Save the whole document with the file name “Original” and the title, and make a new copy entitled “Experiment.” In this new document, take any suggestions you’ve been given and simply give them a go. If you need to reassure yourself that nothing has really changed, click back on over to your original document, still safe and sound and untouched right where you left it. In this way, you’ll give yourself the freedom to play, knowing that any changes you make don’t have to be permanent. Chances are, you’ll find once you’ve actually made the changes that you like it better that way anyway.

So, that’s it from me – the four personality types as they pertain to the writer’s life.

I’m interested to hear your take on this. What is your dominant personality type, or types? Do you have any tips to add that have helped you in your writing journey?

Karen Schravemade lives in the land of Oz and likes to confuse her American friends by using weird Australian figures of speech. When she's not chasing after two small boys or cuddling her baby girl, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website and Twitter.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Where Will You Go? I'll Find You": What Les Mis Taught Me about Creating Believable Antagonists

Have you ever read a book where the antagonist appears to have been clipped out of the Sunday cartoon pages?

It can be a challenge to create a believable villain.

One that has dreams and fears. Compelling backstory shared in small tidbits. True-to-life dialogue makes this character a man you love to hate.

My favorite literary antagonist? Inspector Javert.

Read on to find out why and what he taught me about the heinous art of villainy.

Let's begin at the end (this short scene may contain spoilers if you haven't seen any film version of Les Miserables).

Javert: I'm glad I had time to myself. I needed to think... about what you deserve. You're a difficult problem. Move to the edge.
Valjean: Why aren't you taking me in?
Javert: You're my prisoner. Do what I tell you! You don't understand the importance of the law. I've given you an order. Obey it. Why didn't you kill me?
Valjean: I don't have the right to kill you.
Javert: But you hate me.
Valjean: I don't hate you. I don't feel anything.
Javert: You don't want to go back to the quarries, do you? Then for once we agree. I'm going to spare you from a life in prison, Jean Valjean. It's a pity the rules don't allow me to be merciful. (He frees Valjean from the handcuffs) I've tried to live my life without breaking a single rule. You're free.

 This is the compelling end of the 1998 film version of Les Miserables. Although there are many film versions and the recent musical version is emotionally compelling and visually spectacular, Geoffrey Rush is my favorite in the role of Javert.

I quoted from the last scene of the movie, because it provides a number of insights into Javert's character that are demonstrated throughout the novel. The importance of the law and keeping justice are motivating elements in Javert's life, shown clearly in this scene.

"I need to think about what you deserve." How does your antagonist put his world together? Justice is the main lens through which Javert sees his world, therefore whether a character receives fair treatment is important to him. What is the motivating force that drives your antagonist? How might this cause his hatred of your protagonist? How does this influence what he thinks of your main character and how he might react to him or her?

"You're a difficult problem." Your protagonist views your antagonist as a problem to be solved, but don't forget your antagonist views your protagonist the same way. Look through his eyes for a few minutes. What  types of specific problems does your protagonist create for your antagonist? How does that further his fuel in opposing your hero/heroine?

There, out in the darkness
A fugitive running
Fallen from God
Fallen from grace
God be my witness
I never shall yield
Till we come face to face
Till we come face to face

This is the first verse of "Stars", a theme song for Javert in the 2012 musical (and previous Broadway versions). My favorite version is sung by Philip Quast in the London production.

Val Jean has thwarted Javert at every turn since he evaded his parole many years earlier. Javert's worldview does not allow for redemption. Javert views it as his God-given purpose to capture those who have disobeyed the law. He exacts the same harsh standards on himself as he does on others. Javert's lie is that character change is not possible. Just as Javert cannot change his past, he also believes he and others cannot change their future. Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his family, his identity is forever as a thief.

What is your antagonist's lie? How does it affect how he interacts with your protagonist?


"You're my prisoner. Do what I tell you! You don't understand the importance of the law. I've given you an order. Obey it. Why didn't you kill me?"

Life should be well-ordered. The law gives Javert's life meaning. His mother was a prostitute, his father a thief. Javert was born in a jail cell. He will do everything he can to make sure he does not become like his parents. When he strikes out at a prostitute, in some sense, he is trying to bring order to his disorderly past. 

Javert is flabbergasted that Valjean didn't take the opportunity to kill him in a back alley chase. He doesn't understand the changes in Valjean, who promised his soul to God when a priest forgave him for stealing precious candlesticks. Valjean's decisions are now based on mercy, not justice. Javert does not comprehend Valjean's new worldview.

What does your main character do that puzzles your antagonist? Disturbs his/her worldview? 

Javert: But you hate me.
Valjean: I don't hate you. I don't feel anything.

As Christian writers, forgiveness is a main theme in many of our novels. Our salvation itself is based on Christ's forgiveness of our sins. And we are called to forgive those he has placed in our path.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace. (Ephesians 1:7, NASB)

Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22, NASB)

Javert cannot comprehend the mercy of Valjean. Valjean has a chance to kill Javert, but doesn't take it. Valjean doesn't hate Javert, he pities him.

How can your main character show grace and mercy to your antagonist?

Do you have a favorite antagonist in a book or movie? What villain do you love to hate...and why? 

What techniques do you use to create a strong antagonist in your own work?

 Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also a reviewer for Library Journal, Christian Library Journal, and Title Trakk.