Saturday, 27 August 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Critique Circle

Can I recommend to you all to have a look at the Critique Circle website? Click here. It was set up in Iceland, of all places, with the purpose of giving writers a chance to critique one another's work.

It is also a great place for readers, because you get the opportunity to actually feed back your opinions to the writers. Haven't you often wished you could sit down the author of the book you're reading and tell them a thing or two? On Critique Circle you are asked to be polite and constructive, but the opportunity is there.

As a writer, you have to give critiques in order to earn credits to submit your own work. This means that everyone helps each other out. I have learned things to improve my writing by critiquing others' work - good examples and bad. There is a huge array of different styles and genres, so you can stick to reading what you like.

I have just uploaded my third short story, Dangerous Dreams, which will be rising to the top of the queue in about a week. The previous stories are much improved by the critiques I received, but it was also a great confidence boost to see that people liked them and thought they were good.

If you're a writer, or a reader, why don't you give it a try?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Thinking Thursday: The Parable of the Sower and the Christian Life

My Pastor preached a sermon on the Parable of the Sower, and applied it to those of us who are already Christians, rather than the usual application for evangelism. I personally found it a wake-up call.

At the end of Matthew chapter 12, Jesus says, "For whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Since chapter 13 starts with "That same day" it is possible that he was still speaking of those who do his Father's will. In any case, the lessons we can draw by applying it to ourselves are valid and worthwhile.

The sower sows the seed, and it falls on four different kinds of ground. If we consider the ground to be us, this shows us the importance of our response to what we hear. What is your response to the sermons you hear on Sundays and the scripture you read during the week?

The Path

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them… When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.

Do we feel that we have heard it all before and take no notice? Especially if the passage under discussion is a familiar one (like the parable of the sower). Or we are distracted, and not paying attention. I realised that many times I read my scriptures in a rush to get on and do other things. Our heart becomes hard, like well-trodden earth. The word is heard but the heart does not respond.

The Rocks

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away… As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

We lead such busy lives that we don't take the time to ponder on the word and let it take root. We receive the word with joy on Sunday but lose it on Monday, when we have to think about work and school and housework. There is no chance for the word to be established in our lives. It does not root in our heart and transform us.

The Thorns

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them… As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

What we allow to grow up around us, in our cares in the world can choke our growth as Christians. Our experience on Sunday depends on what we do on Saturday. Maybe we need to get to bed earlier in order to be fresh on Sunday morning. The word and our devotional life do not have a high enough priority in our life, and get crowded out by all the other things we try to do.

The Good Soil

Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty… As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

The word bears fruit when it is understood. Notice there is no criticism of the smaller yields, only rejoicing that there is fruit. However much fruit you can bear, if you are receiving the word and letting it root in you, it is enough. So this is how we should receive the word:

1. Listen. Pay attention. Make sure you know what is being said (or read).

2. Sift. Work out how the word applies to you and how you should respond.

3. Act. As the word transforms us, our lives change, and will also impact the lives of others.

Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.
Hear then the parable of the sower.

[based on a sermon by Pastor Pete Orphan, Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Thinking Thursday: Maybe We're Supposed To Run

It's funny to think about it now, it wasn't that long ago, but when I was younger, when I was a kid, I used to run. I used to run everywhere, something in me, I wouldn't stop. I ran to my parents, I ran to my bed, I just ran. And I think we're all sort of like that, we're on fire for life, with no responsibilities. Just living, and excited to get places.

And then at some point, I stopped. We all stopped. We just started walking. We started coping, getting comfortable, getting content. We were no longer on fire, we were no longer passionate, there was no longer the burning desire in our hearts. But we kept walking, fitting in. And you can call it whatever you want – proper, easy, normal, but it all just seemed so boring. Is this what it was about?

But maybe we need to get passionate again. Maybe life isn't about being comfortable, or content, or making it easy. Maybe we're supposed to be different, and be passionate, not lukewarm. Maybe instead of walking around, being normal, we're supposed to be radical. Maybe we're supposed to run.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Real People

In my Kestrel novel, I have been searching for ways to improve the depth of the characters, and therefore the plot. I suddenly realised that I have seventeen people from different races, different backgrounds, cooped up in a space ship meant for twelve, on a long, dangerous mission - and they all get on like best buddies!

Oh well, I never said I was an experienced writer! So now I am doing a lot of rethinking on each character to work out how they would react to the others. I want to see who would upset who, rather than arbitrarily making up scenarios. Truth to tell, I don't know my characters well enough. Too many of them are just there to serve the plot, which won't do at all.

But it's HARD.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Thinking Thursday: Wall Jumping

Have you ever seen a father stand his young child on a wall, then step back and open his arms? Without hesitation, the child jumps off the wall, and the father catches them. They squeal with the scariness and the joy of it.

Why do they jump so readily? Because they know and trust their father that if he asks them to do it, it will be safe. He will always catch them and never let them fall.

When God calls us to do something, why are we so scared? Because, unlike the child, we don’t know the Father well enough to trust Him.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Character or Plot?

David Baboulene is an author, scriptwriter, story consultant and PhD scholar of story theory. His book The Story Book features revolutionary new thinking on what makes stories work. He has written a series of articles in Writing Magazine which have been enormously helpful. Here is some of what he says:

Plot is character, and character is plot, because as soon as a character takes a meaningful action, his action is driving your plot whether you like it or not. Conversely, as soon as an event happens which elicits a meaningful reaction from your character, then his true character is developing in the eyes of the audience whether you like it or not.

Note that it is not the event which reveals a player's character, but his reaction to the event. The action he takes defines his character. Similarly, it is not the event which drives the plot (as you might expect), but the action taken by the character that defines the event, and drives the plot.

[You might have to read that a couple of times before you get your head around it. Here's some more:]

A player's character is defined only by his meaningful actions.
The plot is defined only by the actions taken by the players.

Better still not to think about plot or character as independent at all, because they aren't. Join them together and you get unity through thinking solely about Character Behaviours. Stories are about Character Behaviours. What characters do is who they are and what characters do is what happens.

When your writing has this unity of character and plot, your stories will burst into a third dimension of power that comes from consummating their relationship. And you'll know it and feel it when it happens, and you'll never write without it again.

[Extracts from Writing Magazine June 2011. See also]

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Thinking Thursday: The Plank

Luke 6:41-42
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

Jesus was pointing out that we need to put our own lives in order before we try to advise anyone else. But I want to use another meaning of the word 'plank' to give us a similar warning, related to a desire to witness to the cults.

In the early days of political electioneering, the candidate would go to a public place, find two boxes or chairs, and place a plank across them to stand on. From there he was able to address the crowd and explain his policies. From this, the expression arose that the ‘plank’ of a candidate was the main principle he stood for.

What is your ‘plank’? What do you stand for? It is admirable to desire to help people deceived by the cults, but it is essential that you make certain that you understand the truth first. Are you standing on the wrong ‘plank’? Do you need to get yourself right before you seek to help others? Indeed, many of us do not tell people we are Christians because we feel unequipped to answer their questions. So we need to strengthen our 'plank'.

Luke 6:45
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Feed on the Word of God so that the truth takes root in your heart. Strengthen the ‘plank’ you stand on. Then you will be equipped to serve God in reaching out.