Shuffling the Cards


The hard thing about writing Christian novels–and this is a self-imposed standard, mind you–is that for the novel to be good, it has to (1) have a good story, and (2) have a spiritual message. That’s not always easy to manage, and one finds many Christian novels out there that are good in one or the other of those categories, but not necessarily both. It’s a challenge, but that’s why not everyone can write novels, as they say.

The good thing about writing Christian novels is, as a Christian, you have Someone you can turn to when things get rough. And things have been rough this time around. I’m not new to writing. I’ve published 25 books of one ilk or another and written even more than that, but I still consider myself a student of the craft. And after having taken a year off from writing (big mistake!), I found myself quite rusty in getting started. I plotted and replotted my fourth book in the Heretics series to get ready to write, and finally decided I’d better just start writing, even though I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

Seven chapters in, and many false starts, and I knew that something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I belong to a website called TheNextBigWriter.com (which I highly recommend, BTW) and one of my colleagues there put their finger on the problem right away. “You’ve got several subplots going on, but so far no main plot.” Bingo. In addition, each chapter changed POV, and confused the reader to no end.

Why was I doing this? It was the fourth book in the series. I had left the third book with a cliffhanger and I felt obligated to tie off all the loose ends. So I was connecting all the dots. Problem was, anyone who was coming in new was totally lost. It was way, way too complex.

So I turned to my writing partner–God–and prayed. Of course, in these projects, I pray throughout the whole process, but this time my prayers were more focused: “Lord, help me figure out this mess!”

During a visit to the chiropractor, while I was lying on the table getting stretched, I worked it out in my mind. It was somewhat like surgery. First, I would minimize whose point of view I used, limiting it to three or four people in the entire book. Second, the first two chapters that had been spent resolving storylines from the previous book would be shrunk and combined into one chapter. Then I went on to minimize storylines, focusing on three main ones and figuring out exactly what I was really trying to say with the book.

Sometimes you need to bull ahead and just write your book. By doing so, sometimes the answer comes to you. Sometimes. Other times you need to back away and take a more objective look. I often spend a long time, months even, doing chapter summaries to plan my books. In this case, I had to do a combination because my chapter summaries weren’t getting me where I needed to go. But in the end, bulling ahead with the writing wasn’t either. So you have to figure out what works.


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