Take Care of Your Characters

Have you ever been writing a story and get the worst writer’s block? Maybe you simply can’t figure out where the plot should go or why your characters are even in the situation in the first place. If you’ve had this experience, don’t worry. You are not alone. (If you haven’t, then I am jealous of your talent.) A good method to use when you get writer’s block is to focus on your characters. The plot is definitely the main element of a story, but the characters have a huge impact on where the plot is going.

If you’re like me, then you can get caught up in all the plot details like how Person A and Person B will finally fall in love and be together or how the hero will climb out of the hopeless situation he’s been thrown into. These, along with many other types of plot details, rely on characters. If you can figure out what you want your character’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations to be, then you can figure out where your story is going.

One thing I like to do in order to keep everything organized in my brain and give me a visual aid is make character sheets. I compile a list of all the things I would want to know about my character. And this isn’t limited to a simple description like eye color, hair style, body type, and clothing. Although appearances can give certain clues to the identities of people, they do not tell the entire story. You can also list personality traits. What mood are they in most of the time? Give both the good and bad side of their character. Also, list some other random facts about them. What annoys your character to the nth degree? What can they simply not resist? What is their sense of humor like? What are their greatest fears? Do they have any deep, dark secrets? All of these attributes can affect your characters’ actions and therefore guide the plot of your story in a specific direction.

If you’ve got all this stuff down already, then maybe it’s time for a plot twist of some sort; you may need something unexpected to happen. Well, this may sound harsh, but to do this, you’ll probably need to put your character through a little (or a lot) of turmoil. But don’t be afraid to be mean to your characters. A lot of the time, the most influential moment in a novel or short story is when something negatively impacts the characters, especially the main protagonist. If they take something for granted, take it away, whether it be an object or a person. It will cause them to either change routes or test their commitment to a certain path. Maybe they have a belief or a certain someone or something they believe in. Make them doubt it. Make them confused. They may choose to seek out another truth or maybe they will overcome it and have a new, stronger faith. Remember their worst fears? Use them. They could fall in defeat or overcome it.

I used a couple of these methods when I was in one of my creative slumps as I was writing one of my fantasy stories. I specifically turned to my protagonist’s loved ones. My young, orphaned heroine had recently begun to form a positive and growing relationship with her newfound father figure and mentor, and she couldn’t have felt happier or safer with him. The plot grew to a standstill because the protagonist felt too safe and had no reason to move forward in her quest, so I decided that this was the time the villain should strike and take away this new safety from my heroine. I didn’t exactly kill the beloved mentor off, but I left barely enough hope for the heroine to hold onto so that she would have the motivation to continue her quest and fulfill her destiny in my story. Saving him and the goal of her quest became the same, so if she believed that she could save her mentor, then she would have the motivation to fulfill her destiny in completing her quest.

You can use these concepts and techniques to both develop your characters’ identities and push the story forward. Thinking about your characters, their actions, their beliefs, their fears will help aim the plot of your story in a certain direction. Without your characters, there would be no story.

Written by Taylor Hayes

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Why Do We Love Movies that Make Us Cry?

Why is it that we humans willingly submit ourselves to the pain of a sad story? We spend hours watching movies like A Walk to Remember and reading books like The Fault in our Stars, even if we already know the plot is going to end badly. Moreover, tragic characters themselves seem to have a certain appeal. We find ourselves secretly rooting for their redemption. Many times I have caught myself longing for the kind of story line that I have just mentioned, and it got me to thinking, “why?”

Tragedy has a special power over us. Writers create these stories because they know they can influence our emotions in ways that comedy may not. The most common tropes of tragedy – the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, or the character that is beyond salvation – leave every fiber of our being screaming out for something better, something happier. Because we are created in the image of Christ, the idea of perfection is ingrained deep within us. Our world is fallen, but our souls cry out for more. When we see something sad, we subconsciously know it isn’t meant to be like that; it’s a result of the eternal striving for heaven that God created in us. The typical reaction to tragedy is twofold: usually, we cry or get upset first because the inherent wrongness of the situation irks us to the core. Then, we seek change. We plot how the story might have turned out if the characters had just done this or that instead. For this same reason, when we do watch happy movies or read happy books, we feel a sense of satisfaction when the story has a happy ending.

The wonderful thing about literature, including tragedy, is that it mirrors the real world. However, in the real world, we do actually have some power to create change. There are some things that we simply cannot conquer in our fallen world, like death and sin, but we, unlike fictional characters, have the freedom of choice. We can learn from the mistakes made by these characters so that we don’t have to make them ourselves. This is why I think we continually submit ourselves to tragedy: it can inspire change. When a writer brings a problem to our attention that leaves tears running down our faces, we can and should do something about it.

Written by Taylor Hayden

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The Web of Emotions

<p class=”Introduction”> I recently learned the programming language of HTML. A lot of nerds (hi- I’m one of you) will recognize this as the barebones language internet browsers will read when deciding what to show for a website. Everything is enclosed in “tags” which appear in angled brackets like <this>. Plain text has a tag. Images have tags. Tags have tags. The computer reads these tags so It knows what it’s doing with the next set of information, until it finds a new tag, or a closing tag. </p>

<h2>I wish life had tags.</h2>

<p class=”body1”> Imagine knowing exactly when you need to listen in because a conversation has a tag to tell you it’s getting interesting. It’d probably look something like <strong> to emphasize the important stuff before the closing </strong> when the subject turns to something far less interesting. Students could use this to know when a professor’s going to put a piece of information on an exam! Don’t want to see a horrifying image your younger/older sibling sent? Just read the tag beforehand and it warns you so you don’t burn your eyes to oblivion.</p>

<p class=”body2”> Of course, I sometimes forget that there actually are tags for everyone. They’re called “emotions.” They’re scary stuff for a lot of us to have, but hear me out. At their core, like any other HTML tag, emotions aren’t bad. They tell us something about ourselves. When I get angry because someone interrupts me, I know that the anger “tag” is telling me I like my opinion to be important to people, and when they interrupt me, I feel like they’re ignoring me. When I get sad because I don’t have coffee in the morning, that tag tells me I really like coffee.</p>

<p class=”body3”> So… if these tags are helpful, why don’t emotions help us? I’m glad you asked, because I seriously don’t know half the time. Continuing with our computer-nerd metaphor, if we’re reading tags to understand stuff, we also need to display it correctly on the metaphorical computer monitor- or, for humans, our behaviors. This means we, first, need to read the tag correctly. If I try to eat chocolate-covered espresso beans every time I’m sad, I’ll hurt myself further with my caffeine-driven run around the planet. Obviously, that tag isn’t being read correctly, because my behaviors in that case are harmful. Although, I’m still contesting that point because, come on– chocolate-covered espresso beans. </p>

<p class=”importantsetup”> Remember how I said HTML is basically the barebonse baseline of webpages? Well, there are a few more languages that can be used to spice up the internet a bit more. These include, but are not limited to, the following random acronyms: CSS, PhP, JavaScript, and JQuery, to list a few. These help refine and redefine sections of information so the computer can use and display them in a more appealing, proper manner fitting that of a well-built website. </p>

<p class=”spiritualknowledge”> God is a lot like these other computer languages. He can make us into something far better, and He can give our tags new meaning. He can even make things move dynamically (that’d be the JavaScript and JQuery working together)! But there’s one key component that HTML needs to have for these other languages to come in and improve everything. For each language, the HTML must be linked to that language and its corresponding file in order to enjoy the new functions. We can’t continue our HTML life and expect anything new if we don’t continually reconnect with God and constantly allow Him to redefine our body, paragraph, and section tags. We can’t expect our HTML emotions to help if we don’t turn to God for instructions on how to handle the information inside those tags.

But I still like chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Special guest writer: Isaac

Image credit: Isaac Miller

In the Beginning

I was recently bitten by the content-creation bug. You know what I’m talking about—the one that’s drawing everyone and their dog (or goldfish or gerbil or hedgehog) to places like YouTube and Vine to make a living by creating videos and other online content. To me, that sounds like the dream life, so I decided to try it.

The question, of course, lay in where to start. I had to rein myself in a little bit and decide what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. To figure that out, I had to answer another question: Why am I doing this?

I knew I wanted to keep my faith in the open, but we all know the dangers of that nowadays. Christians aren’t favorably portrayed, as we used to be, in modern media. It’s much easier to make “Christian” music or write a “Christian” blog and separate ourselves from the world.

The thing is, we’re not supposed to do that.

How do I know? Lots of ways. Take the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19, emphasis added).

Or John 17:14-19, where Jesus notes that neither he nor his disciples are of this world but are nevertheless in it. Verse 15, in particular, catches my eye: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” David Mathis wrote a great article on why this passage (and the phrase “In the world but not of the world” that was coined from it) means not that Christians should fall away from the world, but that we have been sent into it on a mission. I’ll let you read his article for more elaboration.

So we’re supposed to go into the world, avoid the advances of the evil one, and impact those around us. Cool. How does creativity tie into that? Dear reader, I’m so glad you asked.

When God created the world, he also created man: Adam; we all know him. He also created woman, Eve, when he realized one human wasn’t enough. Genesis 2:19-20 records one of the first things God told this man to do: “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.”

Writers, how many of you have struggled to find the perfect name for one single character? Yeah, this verse makes me cringe, too.

Remember also that God made Eve as a “suitable helper” (v. 20) for Adam (v. 20). She was made creative, too. Adam wasn’t meant to create by himself; he created in the pattern of God and with his fellow human.

So, what does this mean for us?

  1. Creativity is a built-in part of each one of us; it is God-given and it has a purpose.
  2. Creativity brings us closer to the Lord. God could have named all the animals himself and just told Adam what they were; instead, he let Adam do it with him, and whatever name Adam came up with was the one God ordained. It was a moment of trust and respect that will probably never be replicated in our post-fall existence.
  3. Our creative thoughts are not meant to be kept to ourselves. We’re supposed to use them for what God has told us to do, for the benefit of others.

When we use the materials, ideas, and abilities God has given us to bless others, we’re showing that we appreciate all those things—and that we love the One who made them. Any creator can tell you that the act of creation is an unparalleled experience. I believe this is why.

That’s not to say that everything you create has to be some praise and worship experience. Everything I just pointed out is simply describing the origin of creativity and the high standards set before us. For the Christian, it will shine through unexpectedly and subconsciously.

I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with my creative abilities yet. Right now, I’m just determined to be as genuine as possible. For me, being genuine means being loving, caring, passionate, discerning, and respectful, as Christ himself is. That holds true if I’m uploading my personality to YouTube or if I’m living a social-media-free existence. I want to live in such a way that, no matter what I’m doing, people see the difference in me and wonder why it’s there.

As the old saying goes, you can be anything you want to be—and the Christian label (or lack thereof) shouldn’t change the message we as Christians carry. As long as you are exercising the love, compassion, and attitude of Christ, you have the power in Him to create something truly amazing and life-changing.

Written by Catherine

Reprinted with permission from this blog.

Image credit: Kā Riley

Get’ch’a Head In the Game!

“Coach said to fake right
And break left
Watch out for the pick
And keep an eye on defense
Gotta run the give and go
And take the ball to the hole
Like an old school pro
He said, ‘Don’t be afraid’
What you waitin’ on?
To shoot the outside ‘J'”

Zac Effron. “Get’cha Head In the Game.” In High School Musical. Directed by Kenny Ortega, Disney Channel, 2006.

Dear writers who’ve been on the bench in the game of writing,

In the words of High School Musical, “get your head in the game!” For out-of-practice writers, sharpening writing skills can be easily achieved through more reading, more planning, more writing, and more believing.

Study the game!

Most members spend post-practice hours with their eyes glued to TV and computer screens as they study the moves of successful basketball games and MVP’s from years past. While there may be some sense of entertainment and pleasure, most of this is study: team members studying others. Every jump-shot, alley-oop, and cross-over is on replay as they study the moves of their predecessors finding ways to imitate them. The goal is to improve the craft of the game. The same technique can be applied to writers looking to improve their craft as well. Every newspaper, fictional story, pressing excerpt, and Shakespearean read improves the writing skills of the reader. Although the reader is simply reading, s/he is processing interesting writing structures, illustrative phraseologies, and other techniques that they may recreate. Each reading experience is a new example for an individual to study writing- study the game.


Before every game, players are making “ball their lives.” They eat protein-dense meals, workout, and take ice-baths. Bent like pretzels and other weird shapes across gym floors, each player stretches their taffy-like limbs in preparation for a good game. They rehearse clever, point-scoring plays and strong defense tactics again and again, plotting the moves of their opponents. Writers too, must prepare to write. Not in the sharp pencil, fresh sheet of paper kind of way! Writers must know their audience, desired topic, and theme. Like ‘ball players must consider the moves of their opponents, writers must also consider the reactions of their readers. When writing, one must anticipate questions the reader may ask or topics that may need further detail for him or her to understand. One needs a game plan for a great game, and a writer needs a plan for a great paper. Prepare!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Players spend hours on-end practicing the game of basketball. They often attend camps for faster moving on the court, dribbling with both hands, and defending their positions against bigger players. A team may split off and have scrimmages or practice games against one another. Day and night, players practice to maintain and gain skill in the game of b-ball. Similarly, writers must practice writing to maintain and gain skill. Practicing allows writers to retain grammar rules, correct sentence structure, and pen a clear flow of ideas. Writers also find that this practice increases their confidence in writing and makes for an easier writing process each time, as they are able to see progression with each experience.


Lastly, there must be more believing in the writer. The last thing basketball teams do before the beginning of the game is recite a series of chants that give them the confidence they need to do their best. Think High School Musical’s Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu), pumping up the team by loudly asking, “What team? Wildcats,” numerous times until they were excited. Writers don’t have to take such an intense approach, but they do need to believe in their writing abilities and themselves.

Review the game plan: one must read, plan, write, and believe. Get’cha head in the game!

Written by Ashley

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Another Letter to the Unsure Writer

Dear Unsure Writer,

Whether you’re experiencing hesitations because you feel inadequate in your skills, or you just don’t know where to start and how to proceed, you’ve come to the write (haha, pun) place. We all have times in our lives when we feel unsure of ourselves for one reason or another. However, you can’t let that stop you. Finding ways to overcome your inhibitions, while also building your skill set, is the key to gaining self-confidence.

First of all, the best way to escape the rut of insecurity is to dive in head first. When it comes to writing, sometimes you have to start by pouring words out onto the page. I often find that my best work comes when I force myself to stop thinking and just feel it instead. Then, I will go back and worry about the editing when I finish. Using this method really helps when the insecurity has become paralyzing and even getting started seems like an insurmountable task.

Now, on to the matter of developing your skills as a writer. If you feel uncertain because you think you aren’t a good writer or don’t have enough experience, then I have some reassuring news for you; you have more practice than you think, and you can always gain more. Even if you have never written a paper in your life, you still use writing skills often. Everything from emails to journaling counts as writing. All you have to do is learn how to apply what you already know to more formal types of writing. One of the best ways to do that is to read. Seek out those who have come before you and study their writing; find out what they did well and even what they didn’t. Read across every genre, style, and subject matter. Then, you can take the information you gather and apply it to your own work and put your personal spin on it. It may take a while to gain confidence and find your voice, but the more reading and writing you do, the faster you will improve.

Another way to build your confidence and skill is to find someone to help review your work and offer suggestions. If you are writing an academic paper, I would suggest visiting the University Writing Center. Having someone who is familiar with the requirements of formal writing explain things to you will be a big help in gaining confidence. If you are looking to write more creatively, try finding other writers who would be willing to form a writer’s group with you, anything from online forums to a friend or two who also love to write would suffice. Sharing ideas and suggestions and growing with other writers is an invaluable experience.

So, when you find yourself stuck and overwhelmed by uncertainty, grab your computer, or a pen and paper, and just write. Let all of your thoughts flow out onto the page; they can be organized later. Don’t be afraid to seek help with the revision process. Then, begin working on your skills. Talk to fellow students or writers. Read anything and everything. Before you know it, and probably without even realizing it, you will be a better writer.

Written by Taylor

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How to Combat Summer Boredom

Summer is finally here. As a student, I really look forward to summer every year. It seems like I have so much going on during the fall and spring semesters, and at least one aspect of my life is always completely out of control. If I don’t have eighteen projects due for my classes in the span of one week, then I’m preparing for a big weekend with the media team at my church. If things at the church aren’t crazy, then I’m dealing with some family crisis or my friends suddenly want to hang out until way past my preferred bedtime. The problem is that I care about all of these areas of my life, so I want to give them all as much attention as they require. During the summer, it seems like every area of my life comes to a screeching halt. Suddenly, there are no classes to attend, no homework to do, and maybe no one on campus to hang out with. I find myself wondering what to do with all of my free time. Maybe you do, too, dear readers. Don’t worry. I’ve got some ideas for you to combat summer boredom.

My first idea is a pretty simple one. During the school year, there are a lot of things that get put on the backburner. Summer is a perfect opportunity to get some of those things done! At different points throughout the year, I’ve wanted to read some of the Harry Potter series, re-watch The Office, play a video game called Undertale, clean out my closet, and have my sister come to stay the weekend with me. Now that I have a few months without anything too crazy happening, I can probably do all of those things and more. Maybe some of you readers have goals you always seem too busy to reach. They can be small goals, like the ones I listed, or really big ones. Even if your aspirations are too high to reach in only a few months, maybe you can get your start this summer.

Another thing you can try if you find yourself bored out of your mind is going on an adventure. I grew up in a small town where there wasn’t much to do and there weren’t many places to go. In this boring environment, my friends and I used to come up with small adventures to keep ourselves busy. We would go to our nearest movie theater and see the worst-looking movie playing, just so that we could laugh at how bad it was. We would buy sidewalk chalk and draw murals at our local park. We would take a road trip to visit the closest zoo on half-price ticket day. We would walk to the highest point in town to watch the sunset overlooking our neighborhood. Sometimes, we would even just sit in my living room and watch the first episode of a bunch of different shows on Netflix. There are all kinds of adventures to be had if you open up your mind and use your imagination.

phineas and ferb

My last tip for staving off summer boredom is to just rest and relax. I know it might seem counterintuitive to try to rest when you want to be busy doing something, but that’s kind of the point. During the school year, I tend to become so busy that I run myself ragged. Without the presence of that busyness, I realize how slowly time can move. This summer, I want to take a deep breath and revel in a change of pace. I want to take the time to appreciate the world and the people around me without distractions. I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer over the past few weeks, and that time has made me really hungry to understand my God more. I’ve never felt a hunger this strong, and I want to run with it. I want God to show me new things. I think the perfect environment to foster this desire is a few months when I’ll be taking things slow, when I can rest, be still, and know that He is God.

Those are just a few ideas to fight the beast of boredom. Hopefully your summer will be a fun, enjoyable few months. Even if your summer will be busy with classes, work, mission trips, or just life in general, I pray that the God of peace will give you rest.

Written by Becca

Image credits: Header image, Phineas and Ferb