Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Growing Up

Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when the idea of paradise was completely unappealing to me. I was actually frightened by it!

I was a child then, probably not quite ten years old, and I refused to talk or think about life in the New World. My parents carefully avoided the subject during our Family Worship evening, instead focusing on things that were practical at the time to help me get through pressure at school, the stress of moving and finding new friends, and avoiding problems common to preteens. But no paradise. No talk of the resurrection. Even chatting about playing with animals in a worldwide garden was off limits. My parents were discerning and sensitive about the issue, and it paid off.

Looking back now, I realize how silly I must have seemed, but I still remember clearly my anxiety. At its core, it was a fear of the unknown. I didn't want to live forever. The mere concept of eternity was perplexing and overwhelming to me.

Around that same time, I remember hearing a brother give a talk about the meaning of "forever". He asked the audience to imagine a seagull picking up a grain of rice in its beak every hundred years and dropping it into the ocean. "How long would it take for the ocean to be filled?" he asked. "That's still just a fraction of the meaning of forever."

As a kid, that mental image was terrifying! I certainly didn't want to wait around on beaches, watching a bird carry stuff over the ocean every century! I assumed life just dragging on like that would be impossibly boring and tedious, that we'd all be reduced to mindless drones going about our endless daily lives.

Of course, things would eventually change for me.

Fast forward a few decades, and here I am studying the Bible with a young person of my own. Although he isn't my fleshly son, I've known him for most of his life and seen him grow up. And oddly enough, despite not being related by blood, I see so much of myself in him.

It's funny how young ones can develop sudden thought patterns that appear to come from nowhere. Things once accepted as facts are now picked apart skeptically. Pastimes once enjoyed are now avoided obdurately. Tastes and hobbies and fashions change.

But if I've learned one thing from my own parents, it's to be patient, understanding, and accommodating as possible.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Choosing the right tense and perspective in writing

Hope you brought your spiral notebooks and sack lunch today, because we're about to head back to school! Let's take it way back to 5th grade English class and talk about tense and perspective in writing.

Tense refers to the time the story occurs. For the majority of fiction, the past tense is used:
John scanned the horizon and gazed out at the endless sea.

This is the tense that most readers and comfortable with, and so it feels the most natural. However, some fiction is written in present tense, as seen in the following example:
John scans the horizon, gazing out at the endless sea.

Believe it or not, some authors even choose to write in the future tense, describing what characters will do and what events will happen. It's not very common, but it definitely can serve a purpose, especially in a story where time moves non-linearly (as in a time travel story, for instance).

Perspective, or point of view (POV), refers to who is telling the story. Most fiction chooses a third person perspective. In this case, the narrator is not a character in the story, and does not refer to the first person, "I", for the entirety of the writing. It's all about the characters in the story. (The two above examples are in third person).

In a story told in first person POV, the narrator is a character in the story:
I looked carefully through the drawers, searching for any clues she may have left.

First person stories tend to feel a bit more intimate. It's as if the narrator is standing next to you relating to you everything that happened to him or her. This can create a very compelling story, but there's a drawback: typically, first person stories are limited in their access to certain details. As the reader, you can only know what the narrator knows. The advantage of third person POV is that the reader can get insight into many different characters and situations at the same time. This is called "omniscience" in writing, and is a tool that can be used very effectively.

After starting Critical Times, some readers have begun to wonder why I chose to write in the first person POV with the present tense. (And not just a single person POV, but an alternating POV that switches narrators between police officer Luke Harding and his wife, Amy) It's a good question, and I'll try to answer it here as best I can.

First off, if the style of writing is throwing you off, that's understandable. This tense + POV is not very common in fiction, but I feel it was the best choice for this story. Why? Simply put, I feel it's the best way to get to know the characters while maintaining the tension.

The first draft of Critical Times was written in the traditional third person past tense, and it just didn't click with me. I wanted the reader to be able to get into Luke's head a bit more, to hear his thoughts and feelings, and the best way to do that was to have him tell the story. At the same time, if he was the only narrator, the reader wouldn't be able to understand all the struggles Amy, his wife, was facing, and the story would be missing too much on that end.

Additionally, the past tense just didn't work for me. I wanted the readers to feel like they were with Luke and Amy each day as they went about their lives, watching the news reports as society began to crumble, making decisions that would affect their futures. After making the switch to the current style, everything fell into place.

Again, I can sympathize with some who may feel confused by the tense and perspective, but I hope you'll stick with it to the end, since I feel it was the right decision for this novel!


For more a more detailed analysis of writing tenses and perspective, check out this article here. It has plenty of examples, and even mentions the elusive second person POV narrative style!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The New World

( I've been writing some children's poetry lately and thought I'd share a sample. Enjoy!)

In the New World,
What will you do?
Will you sail the seven seas?
Will you learn to play the flute?

In the New World,
What will you be?
A carpenter? An architect?
A zoologist trainee?

In the New World,
Where will you go?
Across the endless oceans,
Or to the depths below?

In the New World,
What will you eat?
The sweetest rhubarb pie?
The coldest ice cream treat?

In the New World,
Where will you live?
On a mountaintop?
In a field of katydids?

In the New World,
Who will you greet?
A resurrected ancestor?
Someone from down the street?

We cannot be certain,
Exactly what’s in store,
But the New World will be amazing
Of that, I am quite sure!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"The Unrighteous" Now Restocked

"The Unrighteous" was out of stock for a few weeks, but I'm happy to announce that the new shipment has arrived. You can purchase paperback books here: http://ekjonathan.bigcartel.com/

Friday, May 6, 2016

Writing Tools - The Story Grid Method

I recently came across a YouTube series of videos that has, in some ways, changed the way I write stories. But before I get into that, let me explain a bit about the way I work…

I’m a very gut feeling kind of writer. What I mean is, I rely a lot on my instincts when putting scenes together. Since, by nature, I’m a very visual person, I imagine that I’m watching the movie version of my story. I see the opening credits roll and see the establishing shot, the camera pans, and we get our first glimpse of the protagonist. (This may seem like an exaggeration, but in fact this is exactly how I write, even down to hearing the background music for each scene.) Since I’m “watching” my story as I write, it’s just a matter of describing what I see accurately so that the readers can “watch” along with me. And once I finish writing that scene, I ask myself, “In this movie version of my story, what would be the next logical scene?” I find that this sort of intuitive writing method usually results in a satisfying story.

In other words, I’m not a meticulous plotter. Although I do use outlines for parts of the story, and to get the action going again when I hit a wall, I feel that perfecting and polishing all the elements before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, in my case) really stifles things. Some of my favorite scenes from The Unrighteous, for example, were spur-of-the-moment decisions. (For example, [spoilers here if you haven’t read it yet!] Jack and Harold running away from the Welcome Center together and fleeing into the woods was something that occurred to me only when writing the previous scene, and it actually ended up becoming one of the focal points of the book, and one of the driving plot points. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how the story would’ve unfolded without it.)

I strongly believe that my emotional state while writing a story (be it sadness, anger, frustration, joy, excitement, etc), is the emotional state that my first-time readers will experience. So if something in the story surprises me while I’m crafting the novel, I can be pretty sure it’ll catch readers off-guard as well. On the other hand, if I’ve plotted it all out, carefully nudging my story and characters in a certain direction towards a key event, more than likely the readers will be able to figure it out long before the hammer drops. This is the equivalent of a movie that’s too predictable. It’s yawn-inducing, and results in a disappointing, even anti-climactic, experience.

Still, writing off the cuff sometimes results in me finding myself in a corner. This is good, I think, in a way, because it forces me to really push the boundaries to come up with a solution. (The airplane hangar scene in The Unrighteous is an example) The problem, of course, is that it can easily lead to writer’s block, and let me tell you, it isn’t fun to be there. It’s as if you’ve just put the movie on pause indefinitely, and the characters, story, plot, and all other elements are all waiting impatiently on the paper (or screen) for you to press play again. Believe you me, it’s stressful!

That’s where The Story Grid comes in. As the name suggests, it helps a writer to graph his or her story visually, to see which elements are changing with each scene. This is a powerful tool, because all too often, writers can neglect certain key elements in their story for far too long. A character that plays a key role in Act III, for example, is mentioned once or twice in Act I, but totally forgotten in Act II. There’s also the issue of what I call “dummy” elements; characters or objects in a story that are merely decoration–they’re completely static throughout the story and take up lots of page space. The Story Grid helps a writer to identify these elements and either A) make them actually do something, or B) eliminate them. This can enliven a story in a big way.

Another important element in most stories is the character arc. (I say most stories because there are few good ones out there where the characters change little throughout the course of the novel. But they are the rare exception to the rule!) Good stories hinge on dynamic characters, individuals who change (for better or worse) over the course of events. In my mind, plot is secondary to characters. You can have a static plot with dynamic characters, and still have a good story. On the other hand, a dynamic plot with static characters will leave the reader feeling empty. (i.e., the majority of what Hollywood likes to churn out. All action, no character development.) The Story Grid helps to keep character development at the forefront of the author’s mind by graphing a “polarity shift” of each character.

Aside from all this, there are plenty of other positive things to say about The Story Grid, but since this is a video series, I suppose it makes sense to just let it speak for itself! If you’re an aspiring writer (or even a seasoned one), I definitely recommend giving the video series a look.