Monthly Archives: June 2011

How To…Write A Story

I have a lot of friends named Sarah. Each one is charming and talented in her own way. This particular Sarah, Sarah Warren, is a writer. We met in the dorm freshman year at Baylor. There was a shared interest in Jane Austen and Thai food. A brilliant friendship followed.  She has her master’s degree in professional writing. I thought I would ask her to inform us on How To…Write A Story.

Since working to be a published author doesn’t pay the bills, I work telling the story of an engineering college at a major university, and I do custom invitations and corporate branding on the side.  So that’s my street cred.  I’m not the world’s expert on writing, and I don’t know everything, but I hope to pass on some helpful tips, which of course, you are free to ignore.
First, let’s talk about why you want to write a story. Do you need to tell the story of your business to clients? Are you 15 years old, and it seems there is no other (or less destructive way) to work out your angst?  Is Josephine March your hero, and to not write would squish your soul? 
No matter what you’re writing, I think this blog post will be helpful because even though techniques vary in genres and mediums, telling a good story well is foundational to novels, blogs, movies, documentaries and non fiction books.  Even Christ meets us in our humanity by telling us the ultimate good story.
I’m going to talk about story telling under the umbrella of fiction.  But non-fiction writers, don’t leave!  Understanding fiction and story telling is helpful to everyone.
I’ve heard it said before that to write a novel, you stick some characters in a tree and throw rocks at them for a few hundred pages.  It’s a pretty good description of a story. Stories have three basic elements:
       Characters
       Setting
       Conflict
Under the tree analogy, you’ve got characters who should be interesting, dynamic and sympathetic.  You need the readers to care that they’re stuck in the tree being pelted by rocks.  The tree is the setting, and the rocks are the conflict.  Ask yourself – what tree is going to make the story interesting, the characters vulnerable, and put the conflict in proper context.
Let’s look at Harry Potter.  I know some of you may not like those stories, but JK Rowling was a poor, single mum when she starting jotting down notes about Harry Potter.  Now she’s richer than the Queen.  She’s done something right.
Characters:  Harry, the protagonist, is flawed, courageous and destined for greatness – something he accepts and dreads.  He’s surrounded by his friends who bring their own charm and skills to Harry’s fight against evil.  Then, like all well-written antagonists, Voldemort is stronger, smarter and better equipped than the protagonist.  He cuts corners and is not bound to the protagonist’s ethical code.  Your story will fail if your protagonist is a vague sense of evil.  Good guys can’t fight non-existent bad guys, so remember your favorite Disney movies and make a real bad guy.
Tag your characters to help the reader remember who they are.  Professor Snape is described every time as having greasy hair and looking like a bat.  Hermione is always identified with book smarts, bushy hair and buck teeth.  I read a novel once with no character tags.  Half-way through the book, I still didn’t know who was who.
Introduce your characters meaningfully – doing what they do best.  Introduce an argumentative character arguing, a bully bullying, and an artist painting.
One of the most powerful tools when creating characters is to reveal the truth about them after the reader has already met the character.  I still consider one of my favorite moments in fiction to be the when Atticus Finch reveals he’s a perfect shot.  Suddenly, a whole new complexity to his character is revealed.
Setting:  The setting is interesting, cool (especially for kids), but it also causes Rowling’s “rocks” to hit Harry where it hurts.  Hogwarts is the only place he’s ever felt at home.  The magical world is a connection to his parents. 
Rocks: Once the setting is established and the complex characters created, the rocks become natural.  Rowling uses rocks to hurt Harry, take away his friends and home.  Create rocks that cause ethical dilemmas.  Hit him where it really hurts.
Rowling was so good at crafting those rocks that fans downright worried about their fictional friend Harry.  Here’s what JK Rowling said in defense of her writing to worried fans:
“I can do to him whatever I like. I’m allowed to torture him as much as I want. He’s mine.”

Next, you need to think about plot.  The plot is most simply the character’s journey in meeting the goalThroughout the book, there are other ongoing goals or unanswered questions.  These are called plates.  (Think about the circus guys who spin a lot of plates on sticks.  They have to keep spinning the plates or they will fall.  You keep returning to spin the plate.  If you forget to tie up this plate, at the end you’ll have a broken plate and an unsatisfied reader)
The plot is an uphill battle because the protagonist will have to struggle through out.  He will have successes and failures.  Ultimately, he’ll have a major failure, sacrifice himself and then will win against the villain who had the upper hand the whole time.
So that is the basics of writing a story.  Now here are just some writing tips:

  • ·      Fear not!  Half the battle that comes with writing is overcoming self-doubt.  I work on my writing all the time, and still my husband will come home to find me curled up on the floor saying, “I’m not a real writer.  I can’t do it.”
  • ·      Work hard but don’t be a perfectionist.  If it’s 90 percent perfect and in the world reaching people, it’s better than if it’s 100 percent perfect and sitting in your desk drawer.  (Wisdom complements of Jon Acuff).

  • ·      Read, read, read!  Read what you like.  Read in your genre.
o   I write young adult fiction.  When I was having a hard time with painting the proper setting, I read the Harry Potter books because Rowling does a great job with quick, vivid descriptions.  When I was having a hard time with quick dialogue, I reread the Sisterhood of the Traveling pants books because Brashares does a fabulous job with dialogue.  I learned from those books but maintained my own voice and style.

  • ·      Know your genre. 
o   Sequel: There’s something called sequel (not as in Lethal Weapon 4 or Pirates of the Caribbean 8).  In the world of writing, sequel refers to the character thinking, rationalizing, emoting or mentally reviewing the previous scene.  Each scene is composed only of action and then usually followed up by sequel.  The sequel in Rambo could be a short as: Man that was tough, he thought. 
o   Know how to phrase things for your genre.  Imagine a young adult story about a girl trying to ace her math test.  The author writes: “It was so complicated, she worried that her head would spin off.”  Now take that sentence in put it in a sci-fi or fantasy book.  The rules have changed and in this genre, her head might actually spin off.  Think about what you’re saying in each genre.  If you’re writing a period piece, you better make yourself an expert on period words, phrases, clothing, slang…everything.

  • ·      Know your voice.  Write the way you write.  Not the way someone else writes, even if that someone else is your favorite writer.
  • ·      Hang out at the bookstore and look at what sells and why.
  • ·      Don’t write long, complicated sentences to make yourself sound intellectual and important.  Usually you just sound like a poser.  Write simply and succinctly. 
  • ·      Don’t exaggerate.  Say what you want to say.  CS Lewis said it best:
Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

  • ·      Don’t set out to write a story about a cause.  Write an honest story with dynamic characters, and you will end up with a stronger story and deeper message.
  • ·      Write!  Writing is 10 percent talent and 90 percent dedication. 

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Up To The Mountain.

Odd though it may be, I think our lives have soundtracks. Certain songs that seem to find their way into our life over the years. Mine range from Jewel to Les Miserables. One of my favorite ‘soundtrack’ songs is this one. It is Patty Griffin who sings it , but it is inspired by a speech from Martin Luther King, Jr. It finds its way onto my playlist several times a year.  So beautiful and it seems to swell into my most vulnerable moments. It is a song often sung between God and me. When it seems I can’t go on any further. When hope seems too distant….but then I go on again. Because He loves me & He asks me to. 


“Up To The Mountain (MLK Song)”


I went up to the mountain

Because you asked me to

Up over the clouds

To where the sky was blue

I could see all around me

Everywhere

I could see all around me

Everywhere

Sometimes I feel like

I’ve never been nothing but tired

And I’ll be walking

Till the day I expire

Sometimes I lay down

No more can I do

But then I go on again

Because you ask me to

Some days I look down

Afraid I will fall

And though the sun shines

I see nothing at all

Then I hear your sweet voice, oh

Oh, come and then go, come and then go

Telling me softly

You love me so

The peaceful valley

Just over the mountain

The peaceful valley

Few come to know

I may never get there

Ever in this lifetime

But sooner or later

It’s there I will go

Sooner or later

It’s there I will go 

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All Creatures Great & Small

Well, Sophie got sick last week. Then she passed the stomach bug to Tait. Once he recovered the little houseguest made its way to my tummy. Finally, we are better. Sorry for my absence, but now I am back.

So, All Creatures Great & Small. Two reasons that this post formed in my head. First, I ( a full sized adult ) was completely put under by something probably smaller than a pen head. Second, I am watching Jurassic Park. (can you believe that it is almost a 20 year old movie???)

Great & Small. These dinosaurs are quite great. Very large & formidable. I’m not sure how scientific this movie is but I have seen fossils and they confirm that dinosaurs were great. Probably seeming invincible, indestructible and impossible to defeat to whoever was alive in those days. ( lets not use this as a forum for discussing views on the timeline of life on the planet…)

And yet they are gone. I don’t know where they went & quite frankly neither do you. Regardless of what you think. Very small things did quite a bit of damage too. Take the bubonic plague. It killed 75 million people in three years during a period know as the “Black Death”. That is a mean little bug.

I’m sure if you had been alive to have been chased by a dinosaur or observed the devastation of a plague that destroyed a continent, they would have seemed impossible to outrun or overcome. And yet, they didn’t last. Something defeated them. Theories abound but creatures which ruled the earth in one way or another were replaced. The earth & its people rebounded.

I find this a strangely hopeful thought. If you read my previous post you know that I have been getting real with fear. My own plagues & my own beasts. I don’t know what yours are, but you have them. The things that seem to dictate your life. Financial burdens, dysfunctional families, singleness, an unhappy marriage, depression, eating disorders, maybe you aren’t able to have children…whatever, we all have them. It seems like nothing can remove them.  And yet, T-Rex is here no more.

Your beasts & plagues aren’t as powerful as they seem. Neither are mine. Strangely Hopeful. I can’t say what happened to dinosaurs & bubonic plagues, but I do know what will remove the power from our adversaries. Jesus breaks through, looks the beasts in the eyes and His fire consumes them. Jesus breaks through, and breathes life back into dead bones.

Perhaps these aren’t the things you think of when you are overcoming a stomach bug & watching Jurassic Park…but, hey. I do. So, don’t bow down to your plagues & your beasts. And please do not attempt to recreate prehistoric animals in a remote island park. It doesn’t end well.

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Afraid of the Dark

The Dark…

I’m gonna be honest. Real honest. I’m afraid of the dark. Not the actual dark. Well, sure, I don’t want to be in the woods alone at night. But that isn’t what I’m referring to. I mean the ‘dark’. The unknown. It’s what may be in the dark that scares us. The imaginary fears that drain so much life and diminish our rest.
Our bodies naturally are made to sleep in the dark. We sleep best that way. But when we are made to be ‘resting’ we becoming alarmingly focused on what might be out there. Instead of laying down in a calm and refreshing environment we allow fear and anxiety to creep. Convince us that horrible things could and are going to happen. And then we dwell….we dwell on these things. They may be things that are absurd, or things your personally have experienced in the past. The child that is unhealthy, a massive character flaw exposed. Perhaps you are afraid of being abused. Worried that you aren’t ever going to be enough & if everything isn’t done perfectly the people around you will be able to see that in your core – you are a failure. Some other examples that people I know are afraid of :

What if I stay single? What if I’m dying and I don’t know it? What if I’m 50 and still broke? I just know that I’m going to be fired from work even though I give it my all. Could this weird headache be a brain tumor? My friends will probably all get bored of me. How am I going to cope with being abandoned again? I’m sure my spouse will leave me for someone else. Oh my gosh, I can’t breathe. That will hurt so bad…

Zap. Drained. Not only that but a tight paralyzing fear is coating everything. Is this stress or a heart attack? It could be a heart attack. I better google the symptoms of a heart attack…

And there we are. No wonder we are dry. In a single day we have remained single forever, died, carried the burden of a lifetime of poverty, become unemployed, fought cancer, been abandoned and betrayed, and given ourselves a heart problem.

We crash exhausted onto our beds. Only to wake up to the dread that today may be the day the horrible earthquake that destroys the west coast happens. I should probably spend most of the days outdoors, or near a doorway. Okay, that may be a bit exaggerated. You get the point.

I, you, we get on a roller coaster of fear & dread. We cannot get off. It owns us. We don’t tell people because we know it is stupid. But, our minds grow more fatigued every day. Then we are dull. We have no capacity for hope. No capacity for Kingdom. No capacity for dreaming into tomorrow. Certainly no capacity for others. How can a widow who is unemployed and has been the victim of a brutal physical attack have time for anything else other than survival.

I want more of God in my life & I know that if I keep investing in fear, that will be my greatest return. I don’t want an inheritance of panic, dread, hopelessness. I want peace, joy and rest. I’m asking God to fix my mind and the way I think. What I dwell on is what I am becoming. The world is worried. When I listen to the world, I get worried. When I listen to God I get rest.

“Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.


Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do your best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse…


Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into His most excellent harmonies.” – Philippians 4:7-9 ( the Message )

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How To…Cook For Company

This is my friend Elizabeth. She was in my pledge class at Baylor…Go Kappa! She has a fabulous blog that I hope you all check out. It’s loaded with tips on entertaining and yummy recipes. I asked her to share some tips with us on How To…Cook For Company. Enjoy!

Hi! I am Elizabeth Ann of Elizabeth Ann’s Recipe Box! I love spending time in the kitchen, cooking and baking for others, and I ADORE home-cooked meals with lots of friends and family around the table! I want to share a new favorite recipe of mine and give you a couple tips in pulling off a delightful dinner! A successful dinner party includes much more than a well thought out seating chart and a lovely main course. Many times people get stumped on side dishes. So let me share with you some of my “tricks of the trade!”

 1. Color, Color, Color. The more color on your plate the better! Vegetables, salads, and soups are all amazing first courses or side dishes. Don’t ever serve two whites together (i.e.potatoes and rice)! Pick one or the other and then add a vegetable!

 2. Speaking of potatoes, you should only have one starch/carb on your plate. For example, if your main course is pasta, do not serve potatoes with it. Or don’t serve rice and pasta as side dishes. Choose one or the other. 

3. A beautiful dinner would include a brightly colored first course and a meat, vegetable and starch for the main course. I paired this Maple Walnut Chicken with spinach and rice. Add a Cucumber and Bell Pepper Salad and you are set! 4. But above all, make sure you have WONDERFUL bread and an out of this world dessert, and your dinner party will be memorable! 🙂
Here is my new favorite summer time dessert! Enjoy!

Key Lime Pie
Graham crackers (I used a sleeve of graham crackers. . . looking back I would use two sleeves of graham crackers and double the butter and sugar)
6 TBS. butter
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup key lime juice (about a bag of 20 limes)
1 TBS. grated lime zest
3 cups (2 14oz. cans) sweetened condensed milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use 9 inch prepared graham cracker crust, or, to make crust: mix graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar in large zip lock bag. (I used a food processor and then mixed the crumbs with the sugar and butter in the zip lock bag). Blend well and press into pie plate. Bake for 7 minutes. Let cool. While cooling, in medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup key limes juice with 3 cups condensed milk and 1/2 cup sour cream and 1 TBS lime zest. Mix well and pour into baked graham cracker crust. Bake in preheated oven for 5-8 minutes, until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie. DO NOT BROWN! Chill pie thoroughly before serving. Garnish with lime slices (or lime zest) and whipped cream if desired.
Food For Thought 


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It Was Born On A Melancholy Evening

 The view from one of our houses in Seattle. 

It seems to me that in the stillness, the quite and remote places, dreams are born. Animals in the wild retreat into the wilderness to give birth to their young and human mothers bury themselves away preparing the nursery. These moments, in these seemingly unnoticed moments, God creates His masterpieces.
I’m sure that somewhere in the world a baby was born in a lunchroom cafeteria & maybe Steve Jobs came up with Apple’s ideas while attending a Coldplay concert. Either way, my point is this. Don’t underestimate your ‘unimportant’ moments. 
I have always loved writing, but never thought much of it. Then I had a melancholy evening. Well, two actually. The first was New Years Eve 2009. There was a party at our house, but I was downstairs alone with a bad case of food poisoning. Laying on the couch I began to think. Another year going by…what is God up to? Seattle seemed to be trembling with an expectation of the Kingdom coming. I was so moved as I sat and reflected on a city that changed my life. Mustering what energy I had, I pulled out Jady’s laptop & began to write. I started a blog that night. I felt alive when I closed the computer. God awakened something that evening.
It was a full year ( January 2011) before I would write another blog. Jady was out of town speaking at a youth retreat, my kids were asleep and my days seemed empty. We had just handed over the church we planted to the new pastors and I was preparing to move to San Diego. One melancholy evening I found myself at the computer. As I looked around a vacant house I was alone with my thoughts. So many of them. Thoughts on politics, God, people, funny lists , rants against injustice. So many thoughts with no one to hear them in my empty house. I sat down and wrote the first entry of Lark & Bloom. 
Now, my blog is no masterpiece. It isn’t mind-blowing or NPR worthy. It is just my voice in a quiet room. But it gives me life.  I get comments from people about how they love it, or it helped them through their day… it makes me thankful for unimportant, lonely evenings. 
If we are always in the spotlight, among the hum-drum of life, we miss it. There have to be seasons of restraint and simplicity. It feels like God is holding back, allowing others to run ahead of you. You will find that in those aching moments He is saying “this is the way, walk in it”. A new idea, a deep revelation of Him, a direction for your life, or simply a resurfacing of an old dream long forgotten. 
David wasn’t qualified to kill Goliath because he was a skilled soldier. He was able to kill him because he did something profound during those lonely nights out with the sheep. He wasn’t wallowing in self-pity or blowing it off as another wasted day. He met God. Alone with no one watching. A foundation was laid that could hold a kingdom.
Maybe tonight is a melancholy night for you. Or your soul feels overlooked and tired of the fight. God has something for you in these solitary evenings. Perhaps it is big or maybe it will seems small. No matter the size of the baby, when it is birthed from God it is destined for greatness. 

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Lift Up Your Eyes

Sometimes when I get tired I just zone out. Kinda stare off to space and freeze. My brain can’t work, I have no energy and I accomplish nothing. I get mesmerized by the blankness in front of me. You know what I am am talking about. You just stare at the wall or at the ground…fixated on nothing. Simply frozen…
It is the strangest phenomenon. Sometimes mid-afternoon my kids have worn me out and I waste time just staring…focused on nothing. The same thing happens in life. I fixate on something so hard that everything else is paralyzed. I can’t move. I have no faith, no direction, nothing is accomplished because I am fixated on a problem. Or I get so tired emotionally I just want to sit numbly. But, then I can’t seem to snap out. And I zone out even more unable to get my bearings. Time goes by and I feel stuck…I can’t snap out of it. If you feel that your heart & mind are stuck, you are looking at something too small. 
This is why I love the word of God. He knew we would get stuck in these mind traps which cause us to freeze and stop moving. What we look at is so important. We spend all day looking at our problems, our mistakes, our fears. We stare blankly at our bank statements. Re-read that painful email for the tenth time just to confirm that we are inadequate. Think about what we should have done, but didn’t…over and over… We waste our lives frozen and numb because we are looking down. There isn’t life in those places & therefore there isn’t life in us. God knew this would be our tendency. How do we snap out of it?
“I lift my eyes up to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…” -Ps. 121
“Lift your eyes up high, and behold who has created these things…” – Isaiah 40:26
“I pray the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you…” – Ephesians 1:18
Look up! The simply act of moving our eyes upwards creates a surge of life throughout our whole bodies. It starts with what we look at. The Solution. The Presence who changes our outlooks. Grace which bypasses all of our faults. Healing which mends all that is broken. Creativity that always has a another option to our perplexing problems. When I lift my eyes, I see God. When I see God, I am free from the smallness of my mind. I realize that I am not seeing the grand entirety of the situation that God is orchestrating. 
When I look up, Life floods back into my bones. So, stop looking at the relationship that didn’t work out. The bills that come without relief. The criticism that haunts your identity. Quit staring blankly at the mundane routines of life…Look Up! Lift your eyes & come alive again. 

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